Monday, July 30, 2012

Team Jesus

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This past Sunday, our pastor encouraged us to take a firm stand in our faith.  He made the analogy of associating with a sports team.  Some people are Patriots fans, some Cowboy's fans.  In our house, we are Steeler fans.  When the kids scrape their knees from falling off a bike, they bleed black and gold.

It's a good analogy, a way to show how we identify with a certain group, form loyalty and stick with them even when they are having an off season.  He went on to say that it's not okay to be wishy washy about our faith, that we must go all the way.  He said, "it's like being pregnant...either you are or you're not, there is no in between."

It made me wonder about why so often I am prone to distraction, why I so easily wander off the path.  In the bible, Jesus often makes the analogy of him being the shepherd and us being his sheep.  Sheep, by instinct, tend to flock together but so often they are prone to wandering off.  Maybe they are left unattended or maybe they think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence and they get lost.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus tells the story of the shepherd leaving his flock of 99 to go and find that singular lost sheep. It's an amazing story of redemption, one that rings so true to me as I feel like Jesus is constantly throwing his hands in the air and running after me as I make a break for the nearest ravine.

I'm the distracted sheep, following along until I see a pretty butterfly that catches my attention and causes me to wander off.  So often, what starts off as a simple little detour, leaves me in serious danger.  As far as sheep go, I'm a major pain in the ass for the shepherd.  But he always finds me.  He always rescues me and he always shows me the way home.

It occurred to me that the reason I can so easily wander off is because I am consistently on the fringes of the flock.  I purposely position myself there so I can see the view and make an easy break for it when something else catches my attention.  The sheep in the thick of the crowd can't get away so easily.  They are protected by the sheep around them, led naturally in the right direction.  Even if those sheep wanted to, it would take a significant effort to break away.

In this same way, I need to be willing to surround myself completely by Christ followers, to make a place for myself in the center of the crowd.  I usually resist this because I know there is going to come a time when I see something that distracts me and they are going to keep me in place, push me along in the right direction and cramp my style.

In the end, that's a good thing because I will stay focused and end up where I need to be but man, it's not going to pretty for those poor sheep who surround me.  They are going to need to be tough and thick skinned and forgiving.  It's going to be hard for me too.  When you're in the center you can't lag behind, you have to keep up the pace.  You have to go with the flow and take care not to trip over anyone.

Even though they are easily distracted, sheep become distressed when they are away from their flock.  So too am I distressed when I am away from my church family for too long.  There is a comfort and a love when you are surrounded by people who share your purpose.  When I'm away for too long I start to feel stressed and even afraid. While I indulge in being distracted, as soon as I realize I'm alone, I panic and am desperate to join my group again.

It's time that I make myself accountable not only to myself but to my fellow Christ followers.  Yes, I've been on God's team for a long time.  But I've been warming the bench.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Gateway Drug Of The Internet

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Unbeknownst to our children, my husband and I routinely sync our apple devices (phones, ipads, touch) so that we can share downloads and calendars.  What this does, in essence, is give us a big brother view of everything our kids are doing on the electronic devices because they often use our phones and ipads.

They're not old enough to understand this so when we question them about a game they were trying to play on the down low they look at us with mouth agape and say, "how did you know that?"

Instead of explaining we say, "because we know everything.  We have eyes everywhere and they're always watching you!"

Someday when they're grown up and struggling with uncontrolled paranoia and searching for answers via the internet, they are going to stumble across this blog and it will suddenly all make sense.

So after a recent sync up, we got notified that our daughter had downloaded an app called "Plumber Crack."  If you haven't had the pleasure of hearing about this before, it's a game where an animated plumber is crouched under a sink and his giant butt crack is showing out of his pants.  The object of the game is to chuck an ice cube into his moving and sorry to say, hairy crack.

If you succeed, you get points and the man wiggles his butt in an ( I'll admit) pretty hysterical way.  Anyway, my husband sees that she downloaded the app, elbows me in the ribs and says, "Do you see what YOUR daughter just downloaded?"

After he and I played the game for a few minutes and laughed uncontrollably *cough*, we realized that apps such as these are like what the marijuana of the drug world is to the porn of the internet world.  They are a gateway to the seedy underbelly of the internet, a one track course to the disastrous destruction of our children's innocence.

Okay, so maybe I'm getting a little carried away and overly suspicious.  It's just a stupid butt crack game after all, I know that but the point is because it seems so seemingly innocent, it blurs the lines of appropriateness.  If we say it's okay for her to download a game like this then we open the door to the kids pushing the envelope even further and before we know it, we end up in a predicament.

Technology is making it virtually impossible for parents to draw the line.  It used to be simple: no television in the bedroom, no computer in the bedroom, no cell phones.  But then comes along something like the Nintendo DS that make it easy for kids to (and we didn't know this when we bought it) chat wirelessly or browse the internet.   Now they know what's out there and before you know it, they're making videos and sharing them with friends.

After we got our ipads, the struggle got even worse.  Lets face it, an ipad is virtually irresistible to a kid with all of the great, amazing education apps out there we were happy to let them use it.  Problem is, all it takes is a quick browse of the app store and they are finding a plethora of things that raise the hairs on the back of our necks.

It's clear that we can't keep them away from technology.  Banning such things isn't going to teach them how to be responsible. In effect, that would only make them even more attractive.  I suppose the only answers are to stay on top of every single thing they do (talk about a big job) and educate, educate, educate.

While we've always taught them about being safe online, it's becoming increasingly important to stay on that topic.  With so many new things available for curious little eyes, it's important to not only keep informed but to have a firm grasp on what we will and won't consider acceptable in our family. Problem is, we don't always have the right answers to what is and isn't acceptable.

Boy, it was so much easier for my parents when I was growing up.  Carpal tunnel syndrome was the biggest danger I was in from playing Pac Man on my Atari 2600. Oh and maybe picking up the phone to call a friend and hearing something inappropriate on our party line!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Growing Pains

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I'm not going to lie to you.  I totally don't miss things like wiping poopy butts, zipping and unzipping of pants or tying shoes.  Sure, those are the delights of having a child but when you have three (or more) children, those little delights turn out to be tiny little speed bumps set right in your way so that you trip over them and land smack on your face almost every single second of the day.

And what used to be cute and sweet just gives you occasion to roll your eyes into the back of your head where you see a little man screaming and pulling out his hair saying, "for goodness sake, why didn't you just freaking buy the velcro sneakers for crying out LOUD!"

When my kids got old enough to buckle themselves into the car or dress themselves in a mostly acceptable way, I breathed a sigh of relief.  And suddenly the tiny little speed bumps started to be spaced further and further apart until one morning after waking up late (and by late I mean a quarter to seven), I walked downstairs to find my oldest standing at the stove slinging eggs which when finished, she plated with a side of cinnamon toast and a smiley face made out of ketchup. The youngest two sat quietly at the kitchen table, swinging their dangling feet and waiting patiently for their breakfast.

People, she had already made my coffee and I was just about to sing "good golly hallelujia" when I suddenly started to feel obsolete and unnecessary.  It took a minute of me sitting and blowing on my hot, freshly made coffee to talk myself down from that ledge.

"They still need you.  They still need you.  Who is going to wash their clothes? Without you they'd be crusty and stinky in less than 36 hours.  You're still needed."

Of course, they need me for more than just laundry.  I still get to kiss boo boos and scare away monsters that cause middle of the night nightmares.  I'm still very much a necessary and relevant part of their lives.  I always will be but things are definitely changing.  That neat arrangement we once had where I did everything and made decisions without question is now under construction.  We now have to accommodate a variety of personal preferences and political beliefs (my youngest is vehemently opposed to any child labor that involves picking up toys or clothes.) I have to handle their growing independence and by extension, my growing fears towards said independence.

I have to keep reminding myself that if my mom were alive today, I would still need her, now more than ever and my kids will always need me too.  Our relationship will undoubtedly evolve over time and while that will take some adjusting, it will prove to be rewarding to watch them grow up into capable, independent individuals.

For now, though; I'm going to savor every orange they can't peel, every wrapper they can't open and every problem that requires a desperate cry for "Mom!"

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Fountain Of Love

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In the town next to mine there is a giant fountain that sits on the corner of a busy street.  It's surrounded by steps where passersby can stop to take a break from the sun and enjoy the cool mist that floats up out of the fountain and dances in the air. The water spews forward, splashing down onto a pool of water that trickles down to a shallower one that drains and eventually recycles.

It's the perfect place to have lunch or eat an ice cream cone. People flock to it everyday, enjoying the simple beauty of fresh overflowing water.  I drove past it the other day,  just as I happened to say a prayer of thanks; for everything in my life; my love, my home, the food on my table. God gives to me generously and while I am always eager to receive, I'm not always sure what I should be doing in return.  It's tricky because I want to do what the gospel says; love everyone and be generous while being careful not to think that I can earn my way to heaven.

Is it enough that I sponsor a child in another country or give to our church? Is it enough to make meals for a family in need? Do those things even come close to paying it forward?

I didn't like the answer because it's never fun to realize that you're not doing enough and it's going to require you to give a lot more than you're comfortable with.  No, there will never be enough that I can give.  Doing one thing here and there doesn't fulfill my responsibility because generosity isn't like paying a tax bill that comes once a year.  It's more like putting a penny away every single day, even when it's your last penny.

Besides, it stands to reason that if I would like to be blessed everyday then by extension I should be blessing others everyday.  I might not be my job to love, feed and shelter ever person on the face of the earth but I'm still responsible for doing my part daily.

Giving is much like the water in that fountain.  It spews forth from the source, God himself.  He allows that to splash down on me, soaking me with blessings that I neither earn or deserve.  I can't selfishly soak up every last drop.  I must allow it to wash over me.  I can absorb some but then I must allow the rest to trickle down into the shallower parts; the parched, needy, hungry and unloved people.

When it's done right, that love should drain right back into the source and the whole process will repeat in a connected circle of love.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beds and Meds

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So, what have I been up to this week, you ask?  Well, mainly two things: re-decorating my oldest daughter's bedroom and weathering the storm of her taking adhd meds for the first time.

Both have been equally exhausting.

Last Sunday, I made the mistake of pointing out that someone was selling a cheap and in very fine condition bunk bed that would look perfect in her bedroom.  The idea of it was about as irresistible to her as a spotlight is to a Kardashian.

And so began the torturous process of cleaning her room that looked less like a place for sleeping and more like a place for dumping nuclear waste. The trash in there was epic! The smell coming off the dirty clothes that were stuffed into nooks and crannies was noxious.  On the plus side, I found 40% of the dishes that had gone missing from my kitchen.  Spoons and cups and bowls littered the underside of her bed, her closet, the space between her dresser and the wall.

It took an entire day of 5 people working round the clock to clean, sort and empty her room.  After the walls and baseboards were scrubbed and her carpet shampooed we finally had a blank slate but then began the arduous task of piecing everything back together again.  On the plus side, because it was 99 degrees outside and the humidity was enough to choke the life from our lungs, we were happy to have something to do inside.

And like I mentioned, she finally began that course of adhd meds.  We had a delay due to our incompetent mail pharmacy but she finally started.  Day one was a dream come true.  Day 2, 3 and 4, not so much.  While she is super focused, she is also super hyper.  Imagine flinging a small rubber ball in a room made of concrete and that's what she's been like.

She was never like this before.  Sure, she was inable to concentrate but this- this is out of control.  On the plus side, she doesn't have the side effects I was afraid of (insomnia, stomach problems, anxiety).  The meds work really well for a few hours and then the hyper comes on in full force.  It's like the meds cap her adhd much like you would a bottle of soda and then shake it up a bit. When they wear off, the bottle un-corks and everything comes spewing out and it's a giant, explosive mess.

The doctor's recommendation? Up the dose.  Say wah?

They reassure me that this is all natural.  These things take trial and error and I do believe them.  I know that right now really sucks but that things will get better and when I look back, I'll say, "wasn't that the pits but I'm glad I pushed through."  This reminds me of those last few hours of labor when the pain is so intense that you think you'll never make it and you still have to push.  It seems impossible.  You're already spent and you haven't even reached the hard part yet.  I know there is reward in the end and I'm trying to focus on that, trying to reassure myself that I need to remain calm; not panic, not worry.

If I had the unwavering conviction of someone who is adamantly for the drugs this would be easier.  The only thing keeping me going right now is the hope that one day in the not so distant future, she is going to turn to me and say, "my life is so much better now."

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's A Dirty Job

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All this summer funning means my house has fallen into serious disarray.  Like...stinky, cobwebby, sticky, dusty, handprinty, piles of laundry disarray.

And since I couldn't take it for one more single second, I decided today was the day.  While there is redemption in scrubbing every nook and cranny of my house, there is also a sinking feeling of disillusion that I really suck as a house keeper. Because this level of filth doesn't develop over a few weeks of neglect.  No, this sort of thing takes months of committed laziness.

Some of you that know me might be rolling your eyes and shaking your heads right now but I swear it's true.  Because sure, maybe I wiped down the counter tops when you dropped by that day but didn't you notice the piles of dead flies that were stacked up on the billowy pillows of dust laying on my baseboards?

Next time you come over, I'll show you my shower and my closet.  But just so you know, you might have nightmares afterwards.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

It's fitting that I'm doing all of this cleaning on Friday the 13th because for real...things are terrifying around here.  I dared to move my couch and ottoman and found a vast wasteland of trash.  I braved the dark corners underneath my sink and found mutations of some sort of slime that had been left to evolve for so long that it was practically growing opposable thumbs!

I've had the TV radio cranking all day long but the true soundtrack to my cleaning should be the shrieking violins from the Psycho movie.  I swear that I heard the tinkling sounds of the Halloween theme song when I lifted the toilet seat cover in our spare bathroom.  Blood curdling stuff!

I'll openly admit that I brought in the reinforcements and have made my kids clean with me.  The way I see it, they are shorter and much closer to the ground so they make great baseboard dusters and garbage picker-uppers although with kids it's a two steps forward, one step back sort of process.

Regardless, at the very least I'm not cleaning alone.  I wish I could say there was an excuse for my negligence.  I could lie and tell you it's because I'm so busy or because I've been sick but the truth is, I don't enjoy cleaning. Especially during the summer when the sun is so bright and inviting.  How can I clean the refrigerator when the pool water is sitting outside looking so refreshing and beckoning me, seducing me with it's promises to make me feel good all over?

If being a stay-at-home mom means keeping a clean house then I am an epic failure.  A sun-kissed, thirst-quenched failure.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How Friends See You

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I think you can gauge how much your friends love you based on how you look in their pictures.  If someone takes a picture, tags me on Facebook and I want to die of sheer mortification, I start to doubt how much they like me.

My friend Laura and I recently "hiked" (and by hiked I mean we drove our car) to the top of Castle Craig in Meriden with our kids and we took a picture of ourselves perched up there, glistening with sweat from the oppressive humidity yet happy to be in each other's company.  And before I put that picture on Facebook, I texted it to her for "quality assurance."  I wanted her to look at it, see if she liked herself in it and then give her stamp of approval- or not.

I thought she looked beautiful but I would never have posted it if she didn't like it.  Even if by some magical camera trickery I had somehow managed to look like Sophia Vergara (I didn't- not even close), I wouldn't have posted it.

I extended that courtesy to her because I like her a whole lot and that's what you do for people you like.  You care enough to make sure they feel special, confident and proud of themselves. I want my friends to look at a picture I take and say, "oh, I really like that, I look good!"  I don't want them to grimace and say, "Oh my goodness, I look horrible! Delete it!! Now!...or I'm going to punch you."

I hope they look back on their pictures 5, 10, 15 years down the road and say, "I looked really good and my wonderful friend Licha took that picture of me."  I want them to see themselves the way I see them...gorgeous from the inside out but most importantly, I want them to feel good about themselves.

I believe that how a friend photographs you is how they see you in real life.  They try to focus on your best features, make you smile and  show the world the beauty they see in you. They will protect your reputation, speak only the best about you, take your mind off of things when you're having a bad day but not attempt to solve your problems, offer their shoulder to cry on and build you up. Sometimes from the ground up.

Another friend, Kim and I have a mutual, unspoken understanding when it comes to taking each other's picture.   We only shoot from the best angle, get just the right amount of light, recommend poses that reduce the amount of chins that show and never, I mean NEVER shoot each other's arm fat.  Because that would be cause for a immediate dissolution of our friendship. So I trust her and know that any time she takes a picture of me, it's going to be flattering. We believe that this is a bond that only a couple of fat girls could understand although deep down we know it's not true.  It's true of any friends who love each other deeply.  I know what I'm self conscious about, she's self conscious about the same thing so I capture her the way I want to be captured.

There is a big difference between an acquaintance and a true friend.  Never let your acquaintances take your picture...they will never be able to see your inner beauty the way a true friend can.  And they won't think to tile the camera just so- so that your face won't look as plump when you're retaining water!



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Fun

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I'm so enjoying my summer, people.  I never want it to end.  Seriously...having my kids home all day, relaxing, going to the beach, picking fresh berries, spending countless carefree hours with friends.  What's not to love.

I might have to go into a seasonal depression when September arrives.  It will be the only way I can express my true grief over the end of the summer.  I haven't always been a summer lover.  Mostly because it meant hauling around three sticky, sweaty, grouchy kids in the heat and humidity of summer.  But now, they are at that perfect age...the age where they can find their own flip flops and take a dip in the ocean while I watch from a close distance and sip a frozen margarita.

Interestingly enough, we didn't spend any big bucks on vacation or summer camps this year and yet, it's been the most fun ever!  We've had campouts and cookouts and playdates.  There have been sleepovers and day trips, fireworks and family.  We've laid on the shore and "hiked" to the the highest point between Florida and Maine and summer is only half way over.  Most of our outings have cost zero dollars and it just goes to show that you don't need a fancy, expensive vacation to have fun!

What have you done this summer that was super fun yet didn't cost a thing?  Please share and give us some ideas!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Not So Great Expectations

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Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, once said, "High expectations are the key to everything."
On the surface, that quote seems so inspirational.  It sounds like something one might say in a commencement speech or in a football huddle during half time.  Think big, expect great things and you will succeed.

Except that sometimes you won't.  And unless you are exceptionally mature and wise (a very small percentage of people), you are just like the rest of us and when things don't turn out the right way, you start to beat yourself up a little bit.  In my case, I've been known to kick myself in the kidneys, give myself a bloody lip, break a few bones and leave myself bruised, battered and moaning on the floor.

Because I'm not that mature...yet.

So that philosophy of high expectation made me start to think.  Maybe expectations aren't such a great thing after all.  Maybe low expectation is where it's at.  

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have goals or determination, only that we must measure our success not in what we accomplish but how happy we are when while we're doing it.

At the time of his death, Mr. Walton was the wealthiest man in the U.S. but was he happy? I don't know.  If he wasn't, it doesn't matter how much wealth he amassed.  Without happiness he would have been an utter failure in life.  Success and money don't guarantee happiness.  If you're smart with your money, they might get you to a comfortable place with reduced financial stress but a stamp in your passport to happiness? I think not.

So maybe the quote should go, "Happiness is the key to everything."

In my opinion, expectations are the key to disappointment and disappointment is the foreplay of misery. Expectations and entitlement go hand-in-hand and when we start expecting to be treated a certain way or expecting life to turn out a certain way, we are playing Russian roulette with our happiness.

Think about it...aren't nearly all of your disappointments in life a result of having an expectation?  You expected to be married by a certain age, that your husband would bring you flowers, that  your kids would not embarrass you in public.  You expected a friend to call on your birthday or that your boss would recognize you and give you that raise.

What about when you get your feelings hurt? Aren't those heartaches the result of dashed expectations as well? Maybe the key to happiness is to never expect anything?  Imagine it, if you don't expect to wake up every morning then every day is a gift, a joy.

When you do wake up, you feel overwhelmed with gratitude.  The sunrise would look that much more beautiful, the smell of fresh brewed coffee would be that much more intoxicating.  Everything would look and feel differently when viewed through the filter of no expectations because suddenly the world wouldn't seem as harsh.

If I don't expect to be loved then every smile makes my insides come alive.  Every moment would be experienced as if I'd somehow won the lottery with the prize being the privilege of living.  It means that everything in my life would feel like a success and all of it would make me joyful because I was not expecting it.

Living like that means that every time my fingers reach for a light switch,  my breath catches a bit in my throat and when the light turns on, I'm surprised and elated that my world is lit up. Simple things fill me with contentment.

No disrespect to Sam Walton but I think his quote is crap. Expectations are NOT the key to everything. They don't unlock success, love or happiness.  I'm more inclined to agree with Bill Waterson, the creator of the much beloved "Calvin and Hobbs" comics who said,  “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.”

I think he was on to something.  Life would be so much easier if we were happy and happiness would come so much faster without expectations.  Leaving expectations in your life and not expecting disappointment is like keeping a shark in your bathtub and not expecting to be bitten.  And sure, you could probably recover from a shark bite but why take that chance?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Melanoma: What you need to know

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Summer is officially here and after months of cloudy skies, the sun can prove pretty irresistible.  There’s nothing like enjoying a nice day in the sun but it’s important to remember that excessive exposure is a huge risk factor in developing skin cancer.  

The melanoma research foundation reports that just one bad sun burn can double your chances of developing skin cancer later in life.  Melanoma is more common than prostate, colon and lung cancer in men over the age of 50, is the most common form of cancer for young adults ages 25-29 and the second most common in young adults ages 15-29. Rates of the disease have tripled since 1980.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that affects skin cells called melanocytes; cells that produce skin color.  They are responsible for giving our moles their dark color.  Most of the time, these moles are benign (non-cancerous) skin tumors but sometimes a mole can develop into melanoma or a new mole can be a sign of early melanoma.

There are several risk factors but the causes of this type of skin cancer are exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and exposure to artificial radiation from sun lamps and tanning booths.  Risk factors include age; young adult to middle age, fair skin; melanoma is more than 10 times more common in whites than in African Americans, red or blonde hair, family history, excessive exposure and having a suppressed immune system.  

 The good news is that we are in control of our exposure and through prevention can greatly limit our risks.  We can limit our time in the sun (it’s best to avoid exposure between 10am and 2pm), avoid tanning booths and take precautions when we do go outside.  Also, it’s important to wear SPF of at least 15, wear clothing that covers our skin, and wear a wide brim hat and sunglasses.

A girlfriend of mine recently went to her dermatologist to have a mole removed from her neck.  She wasn’t worried about it, she wanted it removed for aesthetics but when they sent out the tissue for testing, the results were melanoma.  She’s lucky that she happened to catch it because most of the time, melanoma is hard to detect.

Symptoms include a mole that has any of the following characteristics:
-uneven shape
-ragged edges
-uneven color
-change in size
-change in texture
-bleeding
The ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms; Asymmetry, Borders, Colors, Diameter, Evolution.

Remember, most moles are benign but if you notice any of the above changes in your moles, it’s important to see your doctor.  Most of us don’t consider getting checked by our dermatologist yearly but it’s a good idea to have an annual scan of your body by someone with a trained eye.  A doctor can is also able to do something called “mole mapping” where a series of photos is taken of a patient’s moles and compared from year to year to see if any significant changes have happened.  That’s because it’s impossible for a doctor to remember each patient and often, we don’t pay attention to the small details of each of our own moles to be able to accurately tell if they are changing.  A doctor can also teach you how to do a thorough exam but as we all know, there are parts that we can’t reach or see.

My friend’s mole was removed completely and since she caught it early, she didn’t need the harsher treatment of chemotherapy.  The key to successfully treating melanoma is recognizing the symptoms early and survival in patients is directly related to early detection.  Malignant melanoma is virtually preventable with simple behavioral changes!

 For more information about warning signs, risk factors and prevention, please visit www.skincancer.org







Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Investing In People Can Reap Great Rewards

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Last summer, we welcomed a young man named Rob into our home.  He'd lost his job, his apartment and had been living in a friend's truck for weeks.

 It wasn't even an option.  We love Rob.  He's a tall, thin, hipster with a shaved head, thick gauges in his ears, tattoos covering his body and a flare for the self-destructive.  But if you take the time to look past the crusty exterior and often hostile attitude, there is a quality to this young man; a vulnerability that is endearing.

He usually has something funny to say, is always willing to make funny faces at the kids,  be their jungle gym and make them laugh with his seemingly endless ability to burp.  Even the dog loves him as he has the perfect length of legs for her to sprawl out on them from head to toe and is always willing to scratch her butt.

My husband met him through a church men's group which Rob was only attending as a condition of being allowed to live in his parent's basement for a few weeks.  My husband liked him immediately and soon, Rob was at our house every weekend, watching Steelers games and eating us out of house and home.

I love him but our relationship is confusing.  Part of me sees him as a friend and the other part of me sees him as a son; an association that often requires me to dole out heaping doses of tough love and in the process, have my heart broken.

The truth is that under all of those calluses life has given him, there is an amazing person.  He is loyal, loving, silly and stuffed with oodles of potential. Most people stop seeing that potential when he quits yet another job or borrows money and never pays it back or calls them hateful names.

He lived with us for a few weeks and during that time, I learned how much pain he'd endured during his life.  The question then was not, "why is Rob so screwed up," but, "how is this young man still alive?" I learned that in a way, he and I are not so different.  We both project anger as a defense mechanism.

It made me lenient on his often miserably moods.  He is prone to a raging and fiery depression that spread through our house like smoke.  It choked ever last drop of joy from the air and it often felt like a struggle to love him but we perservered.

The reason we can't quit him is because my husband and I both know the power of redemption, that at some point in our lives we were saved by someone willing to look hard enough to see our potential and give us a shot.

For me, it was the dentist's wife whose house my mother cleaned.  She saw a spark of intelligence and offered me a college scholarship that helped me earn a degree.  For my husband, it was the man who gave him a job he wasn't qualified for; a job that catapulted him into a lucrative career.  Those people changed our lives.

 And maybe we don't have much to offer Rob except for a place that he can always call home; a place where we will always welcome, always love and never judge.  But there is a part of me that keeps saying to stick with it, that he's going to turn out successfully but only with our support and us telling him that he can make it.

He came "home" last week after being away for over six months.  I didn't know how much I'd missed him until he showed up at our door.  I couldn't stop smiling.  He brought with him a young woman who he really likes.

 We're only ten years older than them but the whole situation felt very "meet the parents."  She was delightful; smart, funny, charming. Where he is impulsive and emotional and neurotic, she is responsible, calm and pragmatic.  They are a perfect pair.  Rob has changed.  He's calm and relaxed and probably the happiest I've ever seen him.  I couldn't get over how much taller he seemed.  He usually crushes my face into his chest but this time I felt like he was squeezing me into his belly.  Honestly, I think he seems taller because he's standing up high, proud of what he's achieved over the last year; a new job, a new place to live, a lovely girlfriend but more importantly, happiness.

 I couldn't have been a prouder "mama."  I know that Rob still has a lot of growing to do but what a pleasure it is to see him on the right course.  The heartache was worth it because it's rewarding to go through the ups and downs and see someone come out on top.

 We all have some crustiness about us.  In our attempt to deal with what life has handed us we often do things that hurt the people around us.  We are all in need of having someone in our lives that can see past all of it and focus on that glimmer of hope and potential inside.

The definition of the word invest says, "to devote one's time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result. We did just that and Rob was definitely worth the investment.  We all are!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Meaning of "I AM"

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The question, “who are you” seems like an easy enough one to answer.  I am a woman, a wife, a mother.  I am a Christian, a writer, a really bad dancer.

But do those things really make up the whole of who I am? I don’t think so.  They are mostly simple descriptions of my much more complicated self; one that thinks and loves and has a unique filter for viewing the world.  I am lots of things.  Sometimes I’m so complicated I don’t even understand myself!

So that question isn’t so simple after all. That’s why when a stranger asks who we are, we so often end up shaking our heads, shrugging our shoulders and saying, “I don’t know. I’m just me.”

How could one possibly describe who they really are without writing an epic series of memoirs that would take up an entire book shelf; one that is constantly growing because we are constantly changing!

The only way you can really know someone is through an invested relationship. Only then can you know the delicate nuances that make up a person; their routine, how they prefer their coffee, what sort of things will make them smile.  It takes time and patience and investment.  It also takes love, to fully accept someone.

I remember having an argument with my mother once wherein out of sheer exasperation I threw my hands in the air and said, “I am who I am, mom!”  What I meant was that I wanted her to stop trying to change me  and start accepting me, crimped hair, Milli Vanilli blaring from my cassette deck and all.

“I am who I am”  is a verbal way of stripping your clothes off and standing naked in front of someone saying, “Here I am, this is it, all she wrote, take it or leave it.”   It makes no excuses, gives no explanation and offers no pleas.  In the book of Exodus, God sends Moses to ask Pharaoh to free the Israelites and Moses asks God, “who shall I say sent me?” God answers simply, “I am who I am.”

There was no name or description big enough to capture him.  “I Am.” It’s simple yet within those two words is held all possibility and eternity.  It’s not something easily understood without a healthy mix of curiosity and faith.

Experts have debated those scripture for centuries.  They’ve dissected each line and each word trying to find the hidden meaning. If we, as plain little humans, can’t find the words to describe our deeply intricate selves, then how could God possibly make us understand the mind boggling complexity of him?  He just is who he is and we need to accept that; no excuses, no explanation, no pleas, take it or leave it.

Many would disagree but I think God is entirely simple when he relates to his children. He’s not trying to confuse us.  He wants us to listen and understand.  I think he meant exactly what he said.  “I am who I am.  If you want to really understand what that really means, then get to know me.”  He’s courageously stripping himself down, being vulnerable and revealing his heart to us in those words.

In essence, he’s begging for our acceptance and love.  He’s in front of us, arms stretched, exposed.  He said it to us in the beginning and then showed it to us on the cross.  And all we have to do is love him back.