Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Follow the Bouncy Ball

Our school district made the decision to issue iPads to all the 7th graders this year to use for school work.  Good-bye “Mom, I left my History book at home!” calls, and Hello “my child is ALWAYS on that iPad.”  I wish I could say that ChellBell only uses the iPad for school-related activities, but looking at her folders, she is getting plenty of use playing all kinds of games. 

One of her favorite games these days is Bouncy Ball, where you bounce the ball certain ways and navigate through a maze and get to the finish line.  I don’t get it – it has no appeal to me – but she is completely absorbed.  Or was completely absorbed, until she got to level 34. 

Up through Level 33, Chell was pretty good at whatever Bouncy Ball techniques were required to nail each level and move on.  She mastered the ball-bouncing-and-maneuvering tricks and quickly moved from level to level. 

But Level 34 seemed to be a different (bouncy) ball of wax.  She struggled to get that ball to bounce high enough at the right time, time after time.  I saw more frustration from her than any school-related assignment has caused her this year, and I swear she would have thrown her iPad across the room last week if I had not intervened.

Being in seventh grade, and seventh grade being, well, the one year most of us would never want to revisit, has challenges of its own.  Chell and I were talking about some of those challenges and frustrations yesterday.  I reminded her that God allows us to have challenges in our lives because that’s how we learn the lessons He needs us to learn.  How He makes us stronger.  How He makes us more like Him.  And then we take those new-found skills and life-lessons  into the next set of challenges we face.

Life is kind of like Bouncy Ball.  Really.  Sometimes we coast, and we master the challenges with ease and think, “Oh, this life thing isn’t so difficult!” And then we hit level 34, or the seventh grade, or a new work situation, or new challenges in our marriage, and every technique we used to get us through before just won’t work.  And we get frustrated and want someone to fix it – or let us skip this level – or whatever we can do to make it end. 

But to get to the next level, we have to master the challenge in front of us, work through the problems to find the solution, evolve, change, grow up  – whatever is needed -- until we “get it”.  Face the challenges head on, learn the lessons, become a stronger person (or a more humble person, or a better friend, or a better communicator) until we master this level. 

So stop seeing your challenge as a frustration or a road block.  See it as a level for you to master, a time to learn more about yourself, who God is, who He wants to be in your life, and what He wants to do through you.  And look forward to mastering this level so you can move on.

One bouncy ball at a time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Post-Christmas Post

What a great Christmas Day - the girls sleeping in late, watching them open their gifts, especially Emmy, who is just beginning to understand this Santa character and the story of the baby Jesus.  Worshipping with my family and laughing around the dinner table. Stomachs stuffed, hearts full. 

Wrapping up our day with one of the most beautiful and poignant excerpts about the holiday by Max Lucado:

Christmas Night

It’s Christmas night. The house is quiet. Even the crackle is gone from the fireplace. Warm coals issue a lighthouse glow in the darkened den. Stockings hang empty on the mantle. The tree stands naked in the corner. Christmas cards, tinsel, and memories remind Christmas night of Christmas day.

It’s Christmas night. What a day it has been! Spiced tea. Santa Claus. Cranberry sauce. “Thank you, so much.” “You shouldn’t have!” “Grandma is on the phone.” Knee-deep wrapping paper. “It just fits.” Flashing cameras.

It’s Christmas night. The girls are in bed. Jenna dreams of her talking Big Bird and clutches her new purse. Andrea sleeps in her new Santa pajamas. 

It’s Christmas night. The tree that only yesterday grew from soil made of gifts, again grows from the Christmas tree stand. Presents are now possessions. Wrapping paper is bagged and in the dumpsite. The dishes are washed and leftover turkey awaits next week’s sandwiches.

It’s Christmas night. The last of the carolers appeared on the ten o’clock news. The last of the apple pie was eaten by my brother-in-law. And the last of the Christmas albums have been stored away having dutifully performed their annual rendition of chestnuts, white Christmases, and red-nosed reindeer.

It’s Christmas night. The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.

The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stop watches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips.

And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is in reality, a reality. “Come and behold him” we sing, stirring even the sleepiest of shepherds and pointing them toward the Christ-child.

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty. All of a sudden he’s everywhere.

In the grin of the policeman as he drives his paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage.

In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children.

In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer.

He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas.

He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes.

And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.”

Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.

It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half-price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade.

But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?

It Began in a Manger
© 1995 by Max Lucado

Monday, December 16, 2013

Harry Styles and the Manger

It's a weird sort of deja vous having a middle school girl in the house -- seeing her live through many of the same moments, struggles and joys I remember going through at that age.  One of ChellBell's biggest distractions for the moment is a boy band called One Direction.  She is particularly distracted by Harry Styles, which if you have actually seen his hair will realize that he was aptly named "Harry."  This distraction is not too different from my own 1980's infatuation with Menudo, New Kids on the Block, and Duran Duran.  My Mother rolled her eyes but knew what it was all about -- seriously, she had the Beatles and Elvis.

So being a good Mom, I was online at precisely the moment concert tickets went on sale and spent the equivalent of a plane ticket to France to get Chella tickets to see Harry and his gang in the flesh.  (Don't get too excited -- the concert is 8 months from now, so it will be a while before I see the joy on her face that justifies the expense of the tickets and the bewildered confusion from the hubby when explaining my purchase).

When I went online to get tickets, there was a VIP package that would allow Chella to actually meet the band and spend time backstage with them.  Backstage with One Direction -- I can't imagine too many things that my daughter would want more.  Unfortunately, the price was a bit restrictive at $1000 per ticket for the experience, so Chella will have to settle with seeing them from afar.

ChellBell is starting to learn that in life, most people watch from afar.  It's the minority who are backstage or up close, meeting celebrities or rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.  It's the minority who have the right bank accounts or the right name or the right affiliation to have inner-circle invitations and experiences. Unfortunately, those kind of encounters are not open to the general public -- we can't just all hop backstage and hang out with Harry Styles.  That's reserved for the few who can afford it, rather than the masses.

At church this morning, I had the privilege of sharing the Bethlehem story with my little friends in PreK and Kindergarten, telling about the long journey made by Mary and Joseph so many years ago, and what was undoubtedly utter disappointment and frustration when they couldn't find a hotel room in Mary's late stage of pregnancy.  And - as we all know - they ended up in a barn, with Jesus being laid in a food trough shortly after his birth.  And then the Angels sent the message to the shepherds -- considered the lowliest of people -- that a Savior had been born.

For many years, I thought God planned Jesus' birth in the barn -- a lowly place -- because he thought of us as lowly.  And that He first reached out to the shepherds because Jesus came for the lowly.

But it finally dawned on me that God placed Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a barn, because the barn was open to everyone. If Jesus had been born in a palace, the guards would have only let the elite in, and everyone else would have had to watch from afar.  Even if Jesus had been born inside the warm walls of a Bethlehem inn, surely the Inn Keeper would have judiciously chosen who was allowed to come in and see the Son of God and who needed to stay back behind the velvet rope and watch from afar.  But the barn doors were open to the public.  There were no special Ticketmaster VIP passes required.  Everyone could get to Him.  The Savior.  The God of the Universe in flesh.   Everyone could access Him.

God came to us in a lowly place, not because he thought of us as lowly, but because he wanted to extend the backstage pass to the general public -- to give everyone a chance to meet Him.  Stand in a room with Him.  Come face to face with Him.  Not just those who have the right bank accounts or the right names or the right affiliations.  Those things don't matter to Him.  He wants all of us to have access to Him and to not have to watch from afar.  He came for all of us, to know us, to give us hope.

"In a lowly manger sleeping, Calm and still a Babe we see, 'Tis the Holy Child of promise, Light of all the world is He." 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


The most difficult question someone could ask me is, "Where are you from?"  There should be a simple answer to that, but when you've grown up all over the world, there's not really one place you hold on to as your "hometown."  Chris and I have been in Dallas for almost 18 years, so I guess we could call it Home, but isn't Home the place you return to?  The place you go for Thanksgiving or Christmas?  The place you take your kids to say, "Right over there is the hill where I learned to ride my bike..." and "That is where I went to elementary school..."

Simply put, Home has always been where family is.  Whether that's been on the East Coast, in the South, across the ocean, or here in Dallas, Home is where your loved ones are.  Because isn't that really where we are from?  Home is not so much about the physical place, but about the memories in that place.

My Mom seemed to always be intentional about creating memories with us -- as if she knew that our memories would be the thing that define Home for us.  There are definitely some "big" memories, but the ones that seem to stick most are the small ones -- like surprise sleepovers that she would arrange for us, like getting us up for the sunrise service on Easter morning but softening the blow with homemade sweet rolls, opening one gift on Christmas Eve, family dinners around the "fancy" table, very intense Yahtzee games, singing around the piano.  There were also memories that weren't as picturesque, as my Mom and I think differently and tended to clash on our approach to things.  But there are also those moments and memories of talking it out, explaining our sides, and agreeing to disagree and still have each other's back.

So if you ask me where I'm from, I will tell you that Home is where the heart is... Which means a big part of Home is wherever my Mother is.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  And many more... xoxo

Friday, May 18, 2012

16 years and counting...

It has been a while since I have taken time to sit down and write, but I didn’t want today to pass without trying in my limited way to celebrate Mile 16.  It’s easy to mark our 16 years together with the big events – welcoming two girls into the world, saying goodbye to people we love, building our first house, promotions, vacations – but the truth is that who we are together is made up of small, maybe even insignificant moments that have made us “us.”  The quick kiss as we run out the door for work.  Impromptu cravings for spicy fried chicken.  Waiting for Arrested Development to return to TV.  Sushi dinners.  Feeding the dogs. Thursday night crazy cleanings to get ready for the house to be cleaned.  Making Good News Club snacks.  Jumping on the trampoline with our girls. Laughing.  Lots of Laughing.
Thanks for sticking it out with me all these miles, all these years.  In your cool, calm, patient way, you have been my biggest cheerleader.  You have taken good care of our family and somehow keep loving me despite my flawed way of starting things that don’t get finished, spending way more than my share of the money, working way too late much of my life, and losing my cool instead of counting to 10.
You are a perfect balance for me, and I am overwhelmed that I get to live life with you.  I genuinely love and respect who you are to me, to our girls, to your colleagues, to your friends, and to my friends.
Happy Anniversary to you, my best friend, my “other half”, my love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thinking back to cooler times...

After taking 8 weeks of maternity leave earlier this year, it was just implausible that we would also go on a family vacation this summer. First, I don’t think my boss would be crazy about the idea of me taking more time off, and secondly, vacations just aren’t the same with a newborn in tow.

So, instead I reminisce.

Normally I would reminisce about our week long trip to the beach in Sanibel, or our two week trip to Asia that we took last summer. But with the heat here in Dallas ringing in between 111 and 113 for the past week, I am reminiscing about a colder place.

Washington D.C.

Chris, ChellBell, and I took the week of Christmas a couple of years ago and headed to D.C., one of my favorite cities in the US. It was the Christmas before Obama was inaugurated, so the place was a ghost town. Seriously, everyone was saving their vacation days for the inauguration, and we pretty much had the city to ourselves. We stayed at the newly opened National Gaylord hotel, and one night we were the only guests in the hotel. If you have ever stayed at a Gaylord property, you know how big they are and how it would be a little freak-ish to be the only people there. And it was.

We had a blast that week. We brought construction paper and made a Christmas tree with cut-out ornaments on one of our walls. (We ate at the same restaurant several times, and the owners ended up buying us a little Christmas tree for our hotel room and giving it to us one night at dinner!) We introduced ChellBell to all the notable things in DC, went to the National Cathedral for the Christmas Eve service (sigh….), and then went snow tubing in Pennsylvania on Christmas Day.

Ah, to be back in snow right about now… I think I will go crank the air conditioning and live in this memory a little longer.

My favorite picture of the trip? This one of ChellBell in front of the Smithsonian’s massive doors:

Want to tell all about a great vacation or a place that makes you reminisce? Come join us at Friday DayDreamin' over at RWeThereYetMom (click the button -- it will magically take you there!!):

Thursday, August 4, 2011

120 months on a scale of 1- 10

Dear ChellBell,

Today you turn 120 months old, and it doesn't take a math wizard to figure out that your age has just jumped up to 2 digits from having only one for the past 9 years and 364 days. This is a milestone that won't be topped until you hit 100. In other words, today is kind of a big day.

In all of time, or at least since I've been around, it hasn't been good enough to measure things with words. Words like "good" or "great" or "horrid" or "fantastic" just weren't enough. We've always had to measure things with numbers - to score things. We'll say, "how would you rate that?" or "on a scale of one to 10, how was it?" and 10 is always the best. It represents greatness. It represents perfection, and something that couldn't be better. We use the phrase "a perfect 10" to refer to someone who is crazy-beautiful or a balance beam routine that has no flaws. You just can't get better than 10.

It seems less than coincidental that you are turning 10 today, because these really are the best days of your life. Don't get me wrong - growing up is great, and of course getting married and being a Mom can be great also. But at 10, you are discovering how big the world is and who you are choosing to be in that world. Your responsibilities are still relatively light and your days still involve recess and lunch with friends and summer camp. And you have your whole life ahead of you. These are definitely good days. A 10 on a scale of 1 - 10.

You have changed drastically in the past 10 years. So drastically, that it seems like there is no way the time should have passed as quickly as it has. You have gone from being a tiny baby to a silly little girl to a smart and hilarious young lady with so much potential, and you've done it all in what seems to be the blink of an eye. So fast. I might even say Too fast. But with every turn in the road, with every change, with every milestone, you have become more amazing than before.

I love you. I am proud of you. I am proud to be your Mom. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and that you love being 10. Regardless of what this year brings for you, you will always no-matter-what be loved by your family. Our home will always be a safe place to ask questions and talk about life. You will always be important to me, and I will always be grateful to have you as my friend. And I will always feel that having you in my life rates a perfect 10.

Love, Mom

Cella's 10th from Rebecca Darling on Vimeo.