Am I Really Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Am I really smarter than a 5th grader?

Lately, I’ve had reason to wonder.  But, not only wonder, but ponder, lament, worry, and any anxious words with the power for me to wallow in my bedcovers.  On many occasion,  I’ve watched Jeff Foxworthy prompt some  Noble Prize worthy contestant to humbly stare into the camera of Jeff’s game show and say, “No, I’m not smarter that a 5th grader.” 

Now, I’m living it, but have lifted the bar, working in classrooms of 8th graders through Seniors. 

True, our son only graduated two years ago, but I’ve hula-hooped out of the school loop.  Either, it’s a new crop of kids, or ones I knew, but have shot up like sunflowers, slimmed down, filled out, or have gotten contacts.  Smartboards have kicked chalk into the dust, turning teachers and students into virtual John Maddens, slashing lines across maps and drawing—well, I’m not sure what most of the squiggles are—but explaining themselves through a magic pen voodoo.  We won’t go into all the ways Google Apps is linking the students to teachers, their documents, and the ability to do their homework on their smart phones—but not smart enough to keep that information from the uninformed teachers of that techno-capability.  (BUSTED!)   

Then, some of the basics are being changed.  I knew Pluto had been voted off the planetary list, but did you know we have a new Southern Ocean?  And who knows where commas go anymore?  They are being bounced around like balls in a Bingo tumbler. 

While the classes that tingled my interesting in high school are still my favorites, most of eye-glazing ones continue to have that ability.  Honestly, I’m trying, but my mind wanders to my to-do list at home, or what the kid across the room is sticking up his nose.  But, some things I’m newly fascinated with, and am picking up more of the dynamics in The Miracle Worker than snickering at whoever had to read Helen Keller’s line of ‘Wah-wah.’ (Oh, like you didn’t?  I had even learned Braille in Primary School because of her and still did.)

Today, one girl posed a plethora of questions, each oozing with youthful frustration. “Why do we need to learn about landforms?  How boring!  And we’ve had math questions in Science!  What’s up that?  And, they’re making us learn about the Dust Bowl in English!  Why, do they keep mixing the subjects up?” 

I was her (circa 1979), not understanding how everything worked together in an intricate ballet.  That had to come in the ‘ah-ha!’ moments sprinkled through life experience.  Come on, none of us is book-smarter than an any-grader on all things. 

And it’s ok.  We were created with unique gifts and graces for us to use wherever God chooses to place us.  If we try our best, ask for help, use the resources available, work on our weaknesses, and develop our strengths, the result can’t help but form us into being ‘swagnificent.’  (Teachable Moment Alert: This is gift is your new uber cool vocabulary word to use at your discretion.  )  

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put into practice. And the God of peace will be you.  Philippians 4:9


“Noah, Aren’t You Coming In Out of the Rain?”

Somewhere, between asleep and awake, a rumble of thunder caused me to smile and snuggle in the blankets further. Living in parched Kansas, the excitement of this moisture laden gift would not allow me to lazy it away.  Up and onto the porch is where my nightgown clad body bounded. 

Soaking in the freshness  no candle company can copy and feeling a heat-breaking promise breeze across my shoulders, I giggled with awe-filled joy.  How this experience has been missed!

My thoughts ran to Noah, and how the earth was before rain’s invention.  Scholars say it was watered with the first natural underground soaker system, seeping upward from the depths.  Very nice and very affluent, but how absolutely blah. 

Us post-flood folks have so much to be thankful for!  Let’s take a look:

  1. Those sounds.  Thunder booming, lightning crashes, and the downy soft drops pattering, what orchestra can truly replicate that?
  2. The smells. When a storm is brewing, the dust carries in a moisture rich preview on its back. The main attraction is coming.  Then, it descends, fresh and crisp, briskly clearing the stagnant senses.
  3. Quenching.  One can almost hear the giant slurp as the ground sucks it up like a giant sponge. Our souls do the same, the much waited end to a long, tired season.
  4. Our expressions would suffer without the sprinkles from ‘showers of blessings’, ‘the storms of life,’ and ‘a thundering crowd.”   Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, we are blessed to paint a colorful word rainbows.
  5. Greening up.  The miracle of a little water to turn our crunchy yards brilliant and, our flowers smile again.  And it doesn’t cost a thing.
  6. A cleansing.  Even the earth gets to be the smelly kid after a bit.  Everything needs a bath on occasion.  An April fresh start.  Doesn’t everyone need on occasion?
  7. Comfort.  When scared of storms, my mom assured me that lightning was God using his flashlight to find the flowers, and the thunder was to wake them up for a drink.  A lesson in purpose behind the life’s tempests.

Although flood’s point was to wipe out a world of sin, as a sort of cleansing baptism, we reap the benefits of the consequence.  Just like the cross.  An agent of execution has become the central symbol of sacrifice and promise, confirmation of a down pouring of life-giving love. 

After the flood experience dried up, I wonder if Noah stood on his porch in his nightshirt and lifted his face to the blessing.

Who knows?  But for now, I’m going to jump in puddles with both feet, dance in the cloudburst, and celebrate God putting us here at this time. 

He no-ah’s what He’s been doing all along!


A Jesus Conversation with a Future Malibruize Barbie.

Her bull dozer attitude was backed up by a frame that predicted her future in Roller Derby with the name Malibruize Barbie.   Peppermint Patty with a Mixed Martial Arts personality. 

So, let’s call this member of the Lollipop Guild that.  Patty. 

Patty is a regular after-school church kid.  On this Vacation Bible School evening she was on a mission.  Her medium brown hairline cow lick bobbed as she stomped through the hallway, her flowered cotton dress awkwardly flapping .  A nervous worker handed her off to me, and I scooted her in the bathroom.

Before leaving, I re-routed her escape plan to include washing her hands.  Her  milk chocolate-colored eyes questioned me in the mirror as she squished the hand soap button continually.

“Why are you always here?” she interrogated.

“Well, I like helping kids learn about Jesus.”

She looked down at her slickery hands, slathering the lather up her forearms, sliding over the elbows, up to her arm pits, lost in thought.

Well, I just don’t care much for Jesus.”

What? My gut twinged in quivers of shock.  Once introduced, doesn’t every little kid love Jesus?  What is this child doing at Bible School? She’s in the easy age crowd.  Sing some old faithful songs, sit her on your lap as you tell a Bible story, and goop up a popsicle cross with some pony beads and felt.  As long as she keeps coming in the door, she should be good until Jr. High.  

Not that we don’t take our jobs seriously.  Eternal life is at stake and a great priviledge to be entrusted with them.  We take their faces home with us every night and pray for them.  For one to not care ‘much for Jesus’ at this age, is stunningly unusual.

Patty’s reflection gazed back at me, waiting for a reaction. 

And immediately, those thoughts flew into the great beyond, right along with this year’s airplane theme.   Feelings of inadequacy crashed my confidence, and guilt radioed a May Day to my inner evangelism responsibility.  

“Now,” she continued, “I’ll talk to you about God….”

Whew!  At starting point.  Holy Spirit swooped to the rescue.

Quicker on my feet than normal, I responded.  “Oh, Patty, I have good news for you!  Jesus is God’s son, so it’s like they are tied together.  I bet you’ll learn more about him tonight, and my guess is, you’re going to like him.  He’s my very best friend.”

A skeptical expression wrinkled her face, making her eyes narrow.  “Ok,” she puffed. “I suppose I can learn about Jesus tonight.”  Out the door, her grubby pink flip-flops trudged, sans any excitement.  I followed, picking up her trail of cast off paper towels.

Later in the basement, I watched a story scene play out.  A master storyteller cradled the attention of 4 year olds to 6th graders in his skilled palm.  Vivid scenes of what Jesus had sacrificed for them, played out in real time to total silence.  The love of Christ demonstrated itself as it wrapped around their hearts.

Which made me ask, why do I occasionally get so creeped out when a door opens to share Jesus to an unexpected person?  Or sometimes even  get defensive?   When someone spouts off “I really don’t care for Jesus,”–or something stronger–, why don’t I simply ask “why?” and then listen.  And love.

God will provide the starting point, orchestrate the follow-up, and already knows the ending.  I’m simply a tool–pun sort of intended. 🙂 

“Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.  2 Timothy 1:9

Drenched in a Spray of Flame Quenching Grace

The last few days, I have not felt myself, physically.  After almost 50 years on the planet, I can diagnose myself almost better than a doctor.  You know what I mean.  At first stuffiness, can’t you sense a sinus infection coming on, or experience has taught you that the think-I’m-Gonna-Die-Flu will pass in a few hours?  If my heart gets to racing, it’s apparent I’ve OD-ed on caffeine, and my mitral valve gets rather cranky about it. 

But this is different.  I’m puzzled as the twinges and symptoms new to me.  Of course, I Google and WebMD with the thought that if I diagnose it before the doctor does, I win the prize of a smidgen of control in the situation.  Of course, every website reads, ‘In severe cases, the hangnail on your pinky may cause death.’  Great. 

The thing I dread most is I’m a month and a half from the half century mark, and we all know what that means.  If I so much as go in for a nosebleed, the minute the doctor sees my chart they will want to throw me down for the privacy invasion test of all times.  The run of the scope into places I shudder to think about. 

Surely, whatever this is will go away.  I can wait it out.

Cliff finally caved and is watering our very thirsty half-dead tree in the front yard, he swore he wouldn’t due to our crazy water bill.  I decide to hobble from my deathbed to fix some soup.  The low-grade fever has me going from muggy to chilly like a thermal ping-pong ball, so I wrap an afghan around my shoulders.  It isn’t long until the soup is bubbling, and comfort is a bowl away.

 Suddenly, a poof of flame shoots around my arm!  The blanket’s fringe is on fire! I slap to put it out, but it flares again. I flop it to the sink, but since I have had  enough energy to do internet medical research the sink is full of pots and pans.

A flash of fire flys beside my cheek and I smell the stench of cattle being branded.  Instead of a panicked gut reaction of “Oh my goodness, my hair is on fire and I could end up maimed for life!” it calmly said, “Really? I’m feeling terrible and now this?”

 I swat the poof of burnt hair away, oddly feeling no heat. 

The afghan flares, a trail quickly running up the side.  I run it outside and holler at Cliff, who has not a clue I’m going to add firefighter to his resume’ in mere seconds.   Immediately, he douses the flames.  And me.

He has a look of fear from a too-close call mixed with ‘she may need a babysitter from now on.”

Of course, like the pain in my side, I pooh-pooh it off.  Nothing is damaged, but the blackened afghan. I’m fine.  All is well.

Until I sit down.  Singed  hair stench overtakes me, and I run my hand through my hair.  No scorched spots.  I shuffle to the bathroom and look in the mirror, expecting curled, crunchy, shorter strands and an immediate hair appointment in my future.  None. 

That leads me to think about the flaming afghan wrapped around a sluggish thinking me.  No burns on me.  And the yellow tinder box of dead grass in the front yard I stood over with Cape Inferno would have sent the whole town up in seconds.  What about the timing of Cliff watering a tree he hasn’t watered all summer long?  It’s the one time all day he’d taken a break from his  TV Olympic career.

There’s no explanation but grace.  A wonderful fountain of grace dousing the fiery darts of carelessness.

He protected me in my own home, why not trust him in the doctor’s office? 

So I went. I was sick, but nothing that can’t be taken care of with a few shots in the rear and me getting more serious about taking care of myself.  And yes, I will be having that test.  How bad can it be?  After all God held my had on a stroll wearing a Blanket O’ Fire.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers ,they will not sweep over you .When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah 43:2


When the Prayed for Answer Breaks Your Heart

Our family’s prayer was simply for ‘definite direction’ in regards to family member’s issue.  ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ would have sufficed. When the answer came it was swift, harsh, and with a creative twist no soap opera collaborative team could cook-up.  One of our own’s heart was brutally yanked from the body and lay weakly pulsing in a mess on the floor.  

This was not the way I had in mind on how God should answer my prayer—nor the rest of my family’s.  Or the hideous timing.  Company was staying at our house,  and we were moments from appearing at a very public event in honor of other family members.  All six of us huddled in the bathroom, breathless and injured with our wounded warrior before facing the world.   By the grace of God, we survived—even the devastated one , who will be nominated for an Oscar with a stunning performance in Everything is Just Swell in My Life

At one point our entire family, including our normally warring cat and grand-dog, camped on Cliff and my bed as we tried to comfort and work through the confusion. 

In our passion to try to right a wrong that is not our responsibility to fix, we have done some things right and some things we have done wrong.  The gambit of  dramatic feelings, advice, and actions have clattered noisily on a continuous roller coaster track.

 Helping with Vacation Bible School this week has helped jerk me up to back off of how I think God should move in this.  I had been delving deep, searching Scripture for the perfect scenario and revelation to back up my Holy Spirit Jr. attitude.  Instead, Flash Skyrunner, the bumbling wannabe pilot, shared a profoundly simple message:

No matter what happens, TRUST GOD. 

No matter what people do, TRUST GOD.

No matter how you feel, TRUST GOD.

Of course, I knew this.  Who doesn’t?  I toss this truth around as casually as a sprinkling of salt at supper.  But it’s another thing to put it in action when all you see  are the shreds of your loved one bleeding in front of you.   

Trusting God means letting him pick up that pulverized heart and heal it.  Trusting God means stepping back and allowing him to do a new thing in that life, even if starts with the swing of a demolition ball.  Trusting God means I’m required to lay the responsibility that he gave me for a season that started with the first introductory wave of morning sickness twenty something years ago on his altar.

In the trusting, he has equipped me an invaluable gift.  As long as I have breath, an unseverable umbilical cord of prayer is there, connecting the three of us.  Although, this incident is sticky with new questions to the end result, through the bonds of prayer, our faith dependent isn’t on the outcome, but only the goodness of God.  Our baby was his baby first, and he has promised good to his children–especially the brokenhearted.

I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait and for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:13-14.


What Happens When Your Son Climbs on a Casket.

When it was announced Baby #4 was on the way, we knew it was a girl. Like lay-down-the-deed-to-the farm-and-spin-the-wheel-in-Vegas sure it was a girl.  After being blessed with three of them, we really believed God didn’t think we could handle a boy.

And after The Boy arrived, we still wondered.

Oh, he suckered us in with his sweetness and chocolate-eyed charm…until he got mobile.

There was no cabinet high enough; no obstacle intimidating enough, or no situation scary enough.  “No’ was a word he didn’t comprehend.  No amount or type of discipline would deter him. Even with five of us to watch him, he could vaporize in an instant.

Losing this 1 ½ year old at the ballpark put the world in a panic.  The creek was walked, the parking lot scoured,  and under the bleachers searched only to find The Boy had walked up the hill to our house, got in the backdoor, and helped himself to pizza. Car seats or front door locks could not hold our Houdini even escaping to visit the neighbors—sometimes in clothes and sometimes not. 

A waterbed was victim to Baby Chucky wielding a butcher knife, creating a miniature Titanic in my bedroom.  Astonishingly, I’d lost my wedding ring that morning and found it under the bed bladder.   Had he not played Ginsu warrior, who knows when I would have found it.  (He swears he was being God’s answer to my desperate prayers.)

  A perfectly timed announcement of the grocery store owners’ retirement came on the heels of one historic day where he destroyed the cigarette island, punched holes in the hamburger cellophane, and climbed up with the broccoli.  Somehow I arrived home with shoe  polish and Camel cigarettes.  I left shaking and swearing we would starve before we went back, as did the owners.

But the day of my nervous breakdown dealt with a funeral I could not get a sitter for.  A dear friend had lost her 16 year old boy in a car accident.  The Boy would not settle with coloring books or anything from my magic mom bag.  I finally conceded and took him out to the front lawn of the gym so he could run some energy off.  The next thing I knew, he’d dropped his pants and proceeded to water the grass.  I snatched him up and decided to wait in the van, hoping to make an appearance with the family at the cemetery.  As we fell into the caravan of vehicles, I glanced in the rearview mirror to see he had deposited all of his chicken nuggets and Golden Arch trash through the open van window in someone’s yard.

 The cemetery was a playground of throwing gravel at ladies’ legs, climbing tombstones, and trying to tear the hood ornament off the hearse—all with me holding his hand!  The final nerve was when I waited to be the last in the receiving line.  Someone asked me a question.  As I turned my head to answer, I felt his hand shift in mine funny.  I glanced to see him grab the brass handle on the casket and hoist himself up on the lid.

Throw me in the ground and cover me up!

Somehow we have survived the 20 years to this date.  Somewhere between discovering huge vision problems, a couple come-to-Jesus parent-teacher’s conferences, and sticking in the molding and shaping process, the kid hasn’t turned out half bad. 

“Mom, let me get that.  You don’t need to be carrying it.”

“Do you need me to put that laundry in?”

“Sure, I can run to the store.”

Who would have thought?  When he was six, I was sure he’d be stealing cars.

An older man near and dear to our family’s heart passed away.  Even if Cliff and I hadn’t have gone, nothing would have kept Cole from this funeral, sure to be a packed house.  Dean Mantooth had taken a special interest in Cole, flooding him with VHS tapes of ballgames he’d filmed of my son’s team. He kept the rest of us in stitches with his color commentaries and good intended sideline coaching.

“Mom, does this look okay?” Cole asked as he straightened his tie, wearing the requested University of Kansas colors—dressed like a banker without Mom having to make not one suggestion about appropriate funeral dress. 

  Due to a sound issue at the church, our basement overflow crowd filtered up to stand anywhere they could hear. Cole let all the ladies go ahead of him, finally settling in an awkward and uncomfortable corner.  I couldn’t help but think of the epic casket climbing experience and how far we had come.

Funeral bulletins fanned, fluttering a classic picture of Dean resembling Clark Gable, with his bomber jacket, ascot, and pipe. Memorializing this colorful sweetheart’s life, a story burst through the quiet hush.  When Dean was a youngster, he climbed the town’s water tower and threw rocks onto the roof of a revival tent meeting.  “Hallelujahs” rose loudly from the manifestation of Dean helping out the Holy Spirit. He also locked the doors of the church from the outside during another church meeting, causing quite a hullabaloo and severe punishment he would never forget. Mixed in were stories of his compassion to others and relentless dedication to his family.

A great testimony of a once blue bundle of energy, orneriness, and creativity the world would have been in such worse shape without. 

As we waited outside for Dean’s last ride, a huddle hooligans Cole has shared dugouts, Playstation marathons, and an occasional adventure I cringe at the re-telling of, respectfully stood— looking the role of the men they have become somewhere between this day and stress shrieking moments that forced their parents’ first gray hairs to pop in.

On the way home Cole reluctantly asked: “So, how important is Robin and Karsten’s baby shower?  Like is this something I should go to?”  A step in the right direction– with a titch of molding and shaping still to come.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Psalm 127: 3

(Because my daughters will read this:  We love you and are amazingly blessed by you.  And besides, The Boy refuses to watch The Gilmore Girls with me.)