Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WE ARE FAMILY



Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.  ~Jane Howard

            This weekend I attended a reunion of the “Leslie ” side of my family tree. I experienced an instant connection with people I’d never met because we shared the same heritage. I searched faces for evidence of my grandfather and listened to memories made years before my birth. My time there reminded me of the value of family.
            I am so grateful to my mother and two fathers for giving me such an incredible childhood. One thing I’m particularly thankful for is how my natural father and my stepfather treated each other around me. Mom and Dad (Carroll) divorced when I was three. Mom and Daddy (Charles) married when I was around four. During school summer vacation, Mom and Charles took me to Mississippi so I could spend a few weeks with Carroll. When we arrived, both my fathers would take the time to have a beer together and talk. I can’t tell you how much that added to my security and peace.
            You see, when I was a child, divorce was NOT a common thing. In school I may have been one out of three children who did not share the same name as their mother. It made me feel out of place, different—an oddity. But what I DID have was two daddies who loved me.
            Years later history repeated itself. My first husband left me and Neal found me. We followed the example of my parents in providing security for Amanda and to insure even more security, Neal was able to adopt her, giving her his name.
        Eleven months later Rob was born and every other year after we had a new baby until we stopped at five. We were the Apple Corps, sometimes lovingly called the Apple Mafia in the sense that we were (and are) a tightly knit group of trusted members who may fight within but will fiercely defend from attacks without.
            Isn’t that what a family should be? A place where love is lavished, order is created, a place of acceptance and safety, a place to learn, a safe place to fail, and a place where success is celebrated. Through the years we practiced this in our little clan and my kids friends often expressed the wish that they were also “Apples.” Therefore, we emotionally adopted them as part of our family and shared the love. Even today some of these “kids” bring their families to visit us—an unexpected reward for opening our home.
            Why am I giving you this history? Because of something I heard at the reunion. One of my cousins is a teacher. She noticed that one of her little students just hadn’t been herself lately. When she asked the girl what was wrong, the child told her she hadn’t eaten in two days. My cousin immediately sent an aide to buy the little girl some lunch. The aide returned and placed the food on the  girl’s desk, but the she wouldn’t eat it. When asked why, she answered that she was saving it for her little sister at home. That broke my heart. Things at this small child’s home were out of her control and she was hungry.
       This child needs security—she needs family. And even though she isn’t on our branch of the family tree, she is still a part of the my tree—the family tree of mankind.
       Last Thursday night at our writer’s group one of the members who works with the homeless said there is a severe shortage in the food banks. People are hungry. In this economy, men, women, and children are struggling. Shouldn’t we come to the aid of those suffering in the family of mankind?
       Some of you may have bitter memories of family life. But don’t let that taint your minds as to what a family really is—a place of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and support. Close the door on your past, open it to the present and future. There is a psalm that says God places the lonely in families.  Open your heart to those who need family love. Be a brother or sister, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather to those who need support, who are hungry, who are lonely.

After all, we are family.

Friday, July 23, 2010

WHEN JUDGEMENT HAS A FACE


“The more one judges, the less one loves.” ~ Honore de Balzac

When is it right to judge? I’ve been asking myself that lately. Just when order seems to settle in my life, emotional chaos explodes. Then, as I pick up the pieces, I find certain things I must re-examine.

I know there are actions we are free to and must judge. Harmful behavior such as telling lies, murder, stealing, deceiving others, cheating, and slander need to be exposed and condemned.

But, what about when our judging goes beyond the above actions? Is it right to pronounce a sentence on others because they do not hold the same beliefs and convictions as us? I’ve spoken before about how easy it is to blurt out a stinging condemnation in righteous indignation against a group of people, a culture, or a nation, because we don’t see individual faces. 


Statements like—“the reason people are poor is because they are lazy,” or “all homosexuals are going to Hell,” or “Christians are bigots and hypocrites,” or “Republicans/Democrats are evil”— are easy to make when they are pronounced as a blanket statement on faceless masses.

But . . . then . . ..

Then one day our judgment gets a face. And the face belongs to someone in our family or to one of our dearest friends. Let me tell you, when that happens,  judgment turns bitter on the tongue.

Maybe that is why God told us to leave the judging up to Him. He has relieved us from the burden of pronouncing sentence on the thoughts and intentions of other people’s hearts. Furthermore, He instructed us to love instead because according to God, “love never fails.” 


We don’t even know our own heart, which is called “desperately wicked” in the Bible, so how can we know everyone else’s?

We don’t know their journey or hear their prayers in the night. We don’t know their life-story or the struggles they are fighting through. We don’t know their journey or their end. We don’t know their heart. God does.

God will judge, I firmly believe that. I also believe that He has laid out the best path for us to follow. It is up to us to decide whether to walk on it or the path of our own choosing. The path others walk on is none of my business, but loving them is my business and my responsibility.

About now, there may be a few who are reading this post just itching to express their objections. Three years ago, I would have been among them. But some of my judgments now have faces.

That changes things.

It forces me to dig deeper in my understanding and my faith. I have to draw nearer to God and decide either I trust Him or I don’t. Above all else, I must trust His love for those I love and I must be patient with their journey.

I’m so relieved that God has given me permission, indeed commanded me, to love others as myself. No matter what path they have chosen.

And by my love He will be reflected.






Friday, July 16, 2010

OLD DOGS AND NEW TRICKS



“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.” ~ Mortimer Adler

For the past two weeks I’ve spent my days and nights with little blank slates who filled their mental blackboards by asking: Why? What? How? When? Where? With plenty of Nonni! Nonni! Nonni! punctuating each and every sentence. In other words, I’ve been keeping my grandchildren.

Every day I answered questions, played imaginary games, chased them in an effort to save their little necks, laughed with them (and at them) fed and bathed them, read bedtime stories till they finally fell asleep.  Soon after, I collapsed in bed hoping they would sleep through the night.

I raised five children, but even just having one or two at a time kept me running.   HOW did I do it? These little munchkins wore me out.

Tonight it is once again just Neal and I. I’ve had a few quiet hours to reflect on the past couple of weeks with our grandbabies. I’m reminded of how children are in a constant state of learning. Their eyes are sending pictures to their brains, their legs are taking them on adventures, their fingers are reporting textures, their noses and tongues file away scents and tastes. All of this information is categorized and filed away to use later in trying to understand and discern the world around them.

I also got to spend time with some of my children. Last Sunday I visited with my son, Rob. Plainly put, he’s just smart. (He takes after his dad.) As he talked, I listened in amazement to his insight and knowledge. In fact, I had to resist the urge to grab a pen and paper to take notes. Rob reads voraciously, he takes classes, to enjoys spirited discussions. He is also in a constant state of learning—and so am I.
If you think about it, no one has learned so much they cannot be taught. I can learn wonder and curiosity from my grandchildren. My sons and daughters teach me a broader perspective. I read, observe, ask questions. Who cares how silly my questions sound, I learn.

When I’m in a situation where I know more than the teacher because of my age or experience, I still learn because I keep my mind open to them instead of closing it. I learn from my failures instead of cursing them. I learn disappointments and unmet expectations.

You know, the only thing that keeps an “old dog” from learning is a sleeping brain.  

This week, keep your eyes and ears on alert and discover something new, something you didn’t know.

Your slate isn’t too full, keep writing on it!



Sunday, July 11, 2010

A WORD ABOUT WEEDS


They know, they just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants, they just know and therefore, I’ve concluded weeds must have brains!” ~Dianne Benson

This weekend I’ve been weeding my gardens—all 12,475 square feet of them. After three days of tugging, digging, sweating, thinking choice bad words, and giving up before starting again, I’ve come to a conclusion. If I were a plant, I’d want to be a weed.

Why? They grow and flourish anywhere. Their roots go deep. It doesn’t matter if we have floods or drought, they grow. And weeds can be very pretty. But few animal or insect finds them appetizing. Weeds are survivors and are very prolific. Don’t fool yourself, the weeds will win!

In my jr. high and high school days, if the demographics were plants we had hothouse flowers, spring bulbs, Walmart annuals and perennials and weeds. Of course the hothouse flowers were the popular students. Spring bulbs had their bright moments but soon faded into oblivion. In order for the Walmart annuals and perennials to shine they needed a lot of care and coaxing. But the weeds, they didn’t need a thing. People considered them the least desirable, even a pain, but the weeds dug in even though they weren’t the “popular” kids.

Years later I’ve found that the hothouse flowers have faded. The spring bulbs still shine for a season. The annuals and perennials are no longer coaxed and have disappeared. But oh, those weeds! How they have flourished!

I was a spring bulb, but my husband was a weed. My goodness, how he has thrived. The girls may not have given him a second look, but believe me, if they knew him now they’d be so sorry. Not only is he one of the most thoughtful, romantic of men, he is very successful. I’m learning to be a weed from him.

Why am I writing this?

If you feel you are not as smart, as glamorous, as important, as pretty, as wealthy, as desirable, as anything than those around you, don’t worry about it. Dig in, grow in your own soil, love who you are.

Be a weed.



Saturday, July 03, 2010



“A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success”

What is best, praise or encouragement?

I believe we learn more from encouragement. Someone wrote in an article about parenting about the danger of too much praise, especially empty praise. The writer gave the example of a mother watching her son play T-ball. He just stood there and never making an effort to swing the bat and hit the ball. Still, she called out, “Good swing, Son. Good swing.”
Did that little boy learn anything? Well, he learned that success didn’t involve his trying. And, as you know, this could hurt him in the future.

The author suggested the parents of this little boy use encouragement instead. To say to him, “Tough day out there wasn’t it Son? When we get home, let’s practice before supper. We can do this everyday before the next game.”

What is more important, praise or encouragement that comes in the form of gratitude?

I don’t know about you, but gratitude does it for me. We all need to hear what we did right—especially those of us who are parents. Every day holds plenty of reminders of things we could have done better, but to be told what we did right (without having to ask) and the positive impact we had on someone’s life will lift our spirits like nothing else can! Gratitude chases away the black clouds over our heads.

What is more important, praise or encouragement that helps others reach their fullest potential?

 While praise offers a momentary bright moment, encouragement changes things. Many of us have a preconceived impression of our limitations and ourselves that paralyzes us. However, those with unprejudiced vision may see what we’ve missed and encourage us to try, to do, and to move. Their encouragement and help breaks our paralysis.
Am I saying praise isn’t important? No. Sincere, honest, praise is (as Martha Stewart says) a good thing. But encouragement puts “hands and feet” on praise and changes circumstances and people.

My hope for you this week is that someone encourages you. I also hope that you will look for an opportunity to encourage others.