воскресенье, 31 октября 2010 г.

An Unexpected Lesson

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Michael Lampert

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.
~Mark Van Doren

Jack had the grip of a muscle man. When he shook your hand it felt like every bone inside would break. The kids knew it too, and feared for their lives when the mood struck him to give out giant bear hugs. He spent his spare time in physics class ripping apart telephone books with his bare hands. Everything about him was strong and assured. Challenging him in physics was a constant play in kinesthetic learning.

When it came to Newton's second law, one push from Jack was all it took to get the hovercraft going at relativistic speeds, or when we karate-chopped boards, Jack led the class by breaking eight boards stacked high. Demonstrating momentum conservation was a favorite for Jack because he could crush a cinder block on my chest with a sledgehammer as I lay between beds of sharpened nails. Jack was a joy to teach because he could pretty much do anything, so I was surprised with his reaction one day when I challenged him with a lesson on pulleys.

Our topic for the week was how pulleys and ropes can be used to increase your mechanical advantage. Jack was excited because he knew it meant he would get to push and pull things. To get the point across we went outside to do a "pulley" tug of war; it was to be Jack against the entire class, with only a few pulleys to help him. The class was sure this time there was no way Jack could outgun them, but Jack rigged up his side perfectly and to their dismay he confidently won the match.

But now it was time to get to the formality of learning and to apply what we learned through written work. Each year I end the unit with a lesson that I call "Thematic Pulleys." It is my chance to use the right and left sides of the brain together. I ask the kids to integrate art and physics into a theme using pulleys. They solve a problem of their own design, drawing it artistically on paper, yet with absolute physical accuracy. The kids come up with the most amazing drawings, some suspend spaghetti dinners with meatball pulleys on noodle ropes, or "Monopulley" game pieces with the prices of real estate representing weights, or others go for a "Beatles" theme, with records being the pulleys hanging the instruments and players of the band. The beauty of the designs are endless, entertaining and simply brilliant.

Jack sat and pondered the assignment. "Mr. Lampert," he said, "I can't draw." I was somewhat taken aback; this was the kid who I thought could do anything. This was Big Jack, self assured Jack, rip-a-telephone-book-in-half Jack. But a delicate drawing was just not his cup of tea. I assured him he could do the assignment and mused to myself, "I wonder what he will do now?" I had hit a weakness inside him, and as a teacher, I was excited to see how he would respond.

The day the assignment was due there was no Jack. Everyone turned in their work except Jack. I was curious what had happened but went home that afternoon rather tired from the week and I ended up crashing solidly on the couch, fast asleep. I awoke at dusk to a "clippity-cloppity" sound approaching down the driveway. There was a loud knock at the front door. I cracked it open slightly, quite curious about the ruckus. Suddenly a horse shoved its head right into the house! I heard a "Whoa there!" from behind the horse, and there was Jack. "Hey Lampert!" he sheepishly said, "I have something to show you. I brought you a horse to ride; mine is tied up over by the basketball hoop. Come on, saddle up!"

"Okay, this is pretty cool," I thought. I had not ridden a horse in over twenty years, so this could be fun. I got my courage up, and after Jack apologized for the mess the horse made on the driveway, we went riding a short way up the hill to his barn. As we entered, I saw hanging on the wall a whiteboard with Jack's rudimentary drawings of pulleys, ropes and various mathematical calculations. This was a good sign. He had obviously been busy doing physics today.

We dismounted and walked to the middle of the arena. There I was impressed to see what Jack had been working on. Suspended from a high girder was a strong rope winding through several pulleys; at the end was a pallet loaded with at least four hundred pounds of hay and old tractor parts. Jack said to me "Okay, Lampert, hop on!" He explained to me how he had figured out the exact lifting force needed and then, with just one arm, Jack grinned as he pulled the entire weight and me up and down with ease. "What do you say Lampert? Is that an A?" he asked in seriousness. "Jack, that's an A-plus!" I said proudly as he let me down.

I was quite taken aback by Jack's work, and as I rode home I reflected on the lesson, realizing that I had learned a lot that evening. Around me was the beauty of the horses, the open fields, the red sky and the peace of the Oregon countryside. While earlier I had mused to myself about how Jack might solve his shortcomings integrating art and physics, here Jack had clearly stepped up to the challenge. He created a masterpiece that went above and beyond the requirements for the assignment. He demonstrated that students can and will solve pretty much anything you present them. Jack was strong physically, but more importantly he was strong-willed.


Heathcliff in Jeans

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: Angela Polidoro

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath --
a source of little visible delight, but necessary.
~From Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

When I was a teenager, I was a hopeless romantic. I was a Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, liebestod (love in death) sort of romantic. Love wasn't real unless it was a dark passion. After reading Wuthering Heights far too many times, my idea of the perfect love was the ruggedly handsome Heathcliff, banging his head against a tree trunk, begging his love to haunt him for the rest of his days. What could be better than a man who loves even your ghost?

I went to an extremely small international high school in Nairobi, with only twenty-five guys in my senior class. Needless to say, there wasn't much of a selection, and I graduated without having any romantic experiences. College would be the place where I would realize my romantic destiny.

When I got to freshman orientation, I ended up spending a lot of time with the son of one my dad's former colleagues. Short and more than a little goofy, I couldn't imagine him shouting my name into the sunset, his face strained with the intensity of his passion. But he did pay me a fair share of flattering attention, and I decided to give him a shot. When he kissed me a few days later, injecting his tongue into my mouth and letting it sit there like a paralyzed slug, I realized that he was no Heathcliff. Perhaps, love just wasn't as grand as my favorite authors had convinced me it would be.

The rest of the year didn't yield any promising entanglements -- most of my suitors were frat boys or, in at least one case, an unfortunately creepy guy who wrote poems about me. I would be returning to Kenya for the summer and I didn't have a single romantic story to spin to my high school friends.

Of course, that was when I met him -- the night before leaving for the entire summer. We'll call him Heathcliff. Tall and dark-haired, Heathcliff had a wounded past, which only made him more intriguing. Though I had only just met him, I wanted to soothe him and help heal his deep wounds. We talked through the night and went on a leisurely midnight drive through the rural roads surrounding our school. And it certainly didn't hurt my growing infatuation that, upon discovering I had not yet learned to drive, he immediately insisted I get behind the wheel of his car. "Ah, this is it," I thought. "This is what Emily Brontë was thinking of." And it was -- the thrilling, exuberant, and frightening high I had been waiting for. When he kissed me at the end of the night and told me that he looked forward to spending time with me the next year, I could swear I almost swooned.

And then I had to leave... for the entire summer. When I finally returned to the U.S., I couldn't wait to reconnect with Heathcliff, who I had only spoken to a few times over the summer. I had grand plans for our reunion -- I imagined that our first midnight drive would be repeated countless times. I dialed his number on my cell phone with trembling fingers. No guy had ever made me feel this way before -- no one had made me experience this aching sense of anticipation and desire.

When Heathcliff finally answered his phone, though, I could tell something was off. He didn't seem to be the same cool, witty, sensitive guy who had charmed me so many months past. He claimed that he was now the owner of two businesses that he had formed over the summer. Because of this, he would not be returning to college. He was too busy running his business and cruising around in his brand new Camaro. Not only did Heathcliff not sound like the guy I had been dreaming about for months, he also didn't sound like a completely sane person. I left our conversation feeling confused and not a little bit stupid. Had I imagined everything? Did I create Heathcliff from thin air?

In spite of this, I wasn't quite willing to give up. I tried to justify his odd behavior: Maybe the phone call had been a fluke? Maybe he was just joking around and I was too dense to get it? I called and left him a message, pledging to myself that I would give up if I didn't hear anything back.

One day, my friend, Sarah, called with some juicy gossip. She'd talked to Heathcliff's old roommate, who said that he had spent the entire summer on drugs -- hard ones. Of course, instead of convincing me to stay away from him, this news made me want to help him all the more.

A few weeks later, I got a call, and when I heard the husky voice at the end of the line, I knew immediately who it was. Heathcliff! My heart sped up. He explained that he had spent the past month in the hospital. He had bipolar disorder and his summer had been consumed by a long, manic free-for-all. He had done drugs and spent money he didn't have (that explained the Camaro). He said he'd turned things around now.

We started dating. I was certain that my love would turn him around. I gave him all I had, telling him my every secret and even arranging to bring him to Kenya for a month over the summer. Though his unstable behavior often made me cry, loving him meant being in pain, and I had convinced myself at the tender age of nineteen that losing him would mean the end of me.

A year later, he broke my heart, not only by rejecting my love, but by starting to do drugs and party again. And though at first I thought I couldn't live without him, I eventually moved on. I didn't embrace a life of revenge and anger, I didn't commit suicide, and I didn't join a nunnery. Instead, I lived one day at a time, discovering for myself what it was to be an adult and what it was to be a person on my own terms instead of someone else's. I lost my first passionate love, and I am happier for it.

I learned that Heathcliff is not all he's cracked up to be.


The Best Coloring Book Ever

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Rebecca Olker

Simply having children does not make mothers.
~John A. Shedd

"Mom, I need a new coloring book." I was sure my mother would understand. Anyone looking at my old coloring books could see that I couldn't continue to use them. Using each crayon in my sixty-four-count box, I had sampled every page.

With barely a glance she said, "They're fine, Becky. Go on and play." My neighborhood friend, Denise, and I slowly made our way back to my bedroom. I knew I was meant to be an artist. I loved to color. I was just never able to translate the beauty I saw in my mind through the crayons onto the page. What I really wanted was a sketchpad, a true artist's pallet. Not the scratch paper Dad brought home from work, with writing on one side. I wanted a blank slate.

I slowly flipped through the pages, hoping to find a fresh place to start. I wanted to create perfection, just the right combination of colors, blended and shaded. My dream was to create the kind of picture with which people could identify. Until then, I would settle for just being able to stay inside the lines of a pre-printed picture.

I was still flipping through the pages with the blind hope of a child, when I glanced up to see my mother in the doorway to my room. "Hey, I found a coloring book for you," she said. Denise and I grabbed all the crayons we could carry and ran after my mother. We followed her down the hall and all the way to the family room at the other end of the house. We were so excited we were giggling like, well, like little girls. So, where was it? It had to be super special for us to have to use it in the family room!

"See this wall? That is your coloring book. But only this wall, understand?" We froze. This had to be a trap. I may not have figured out all of life's rules at that young age, but there were a few I had down pat. Don't draw on the walls was one of the biggies. I couldn't move. I just stared at my mother and wondered why she was trying to trick me. She gave me a little shove toward the wall. I looked at my crayons. If this was really going to happen, this would be my masterpiece -- a blank wall, all for me. I slowly drew a line then quickly looked to see if my mother had changed her mind. She just smiled and went back into the kitchen. I became engrossed. For hours I colored, drew, created.

Being the fourth of five children in a neighborhood full of children, word quickly spread. Soon the room was full of kids of all ages, vying for space to leave their own mark on the wall. Being allowed to draw on a wall was so unheard of it was like being allowed to eat ice cream for breakfast. My mother quickly blocked off a small space for my older sister to draw on when she came home. I wasn't worried about losing the space. I was sure a teenager would think that this was baby stuff and walk away. But age made no difference that day. Even my older brothers, who were normally "too cool" for such things, were eagerly grabbing crayons to scribble and draw. The room was filled with laughter and shouts of "look at this!" and "give me some room." All too soon, there were no empty spaces left to fill.

Thanks to my mother, my dream of drawing on a blank canvas was realized. She gave me this unique opportunity to draw outside the confines of a coloring book and to experience the magic that is possible when we are not restricted by boundaries. I learned later that my parents were remodeling the house and that my canvas was the wall destined to be knocked out. After the demolition crew came and went, most of us combed through the debris of plaster and drywall trying to find our pictures, remembering, and perhaps, reliving the joy.


My Cancer Triathlon

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

BY: Susie Leonard Weller

I awoke from my first colonoscopy exam to hear the five words no one wants to hear.

"You have a cancerous tumor."

I was initially more distressed about the possibility of needing a colostomy than dealing with Stage III colorectal cancer.

My surgeon's goal was to alleviate the blockage in my colon before surgery and to ease the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. She promised me "better living with a colostomy."

After my initial diagnosis, I'd been enjoying the blissful delusion that a quick surgery would take care of everything. I'd recover during Christmas break and return to teaching just after New Year's Day. Who would have thought that it would prove to be just a warm-up compared to what was coming?

I'd been propelled into the cancer triathlon: radiate, medicate, and operate.

I wasn't prepared for this endurance contest. I am grateful that my family, friends, and co-workers jumped in to help me get in shape for the race of my life.

But first, I needed a cover for my colostomy bag that would feel soft and not so sweaty. Since my version of sewing includes a stapler and duct tape, I was particularly grateful that my husband, Mark, had the skills to sew me a customized colostomy cover. He turned a well-worn flannel pillowcase into a soft bag, complete with Velcro fasteners. The diamond on my wedding ring may sparkle, but nothing compares to soft flannel next to my skin.

I was ready for the first milestone -- a tattoo on my backside. The radiation staff wanted a marker to focus their beam. I hoped I wasn't setting a precedent and told my children this was no reason for them to get one, too.

For six weeks I attended a new spa treatment center I called the "Cancer Clinique." Two attendants enthusiastically greeted me each morning and had me lie face down on a white linen sheet before giving me my unique treatment. After I'd exposed my delicate areas, they demurely draped me with a towel and the whirring began. A slight sense of warmth enveloped me and then it was time to go. I was getting a sunburn but without the benefits of a total tan. I've always enjoyed the sun, but I'm no longer appreciating the effects of radiation.

Simultaneously, I began training for my second event -- wearing a chemo pump for forty-two days and nights. Although it fit in a fanny pack and the infusion lines hid discreetly under my clothes, attached to the port in my chest, living with a pump 24/7 wasn't easy. Try sleeping with a three-and-a-half pound metal pack around your waist or showering while tethered to a three-foot line.

And the chemo drug itself was no picnic. It's abbreviated as 5-FU. (What can I say? The name says it all.) Perhaps the drug marketers should disclose what it really means: fatigued, flue-like, frail, frazzled, and fearful.

Like all athletes, I needed a break from training. My friend gave me a ticket to the U.S. Men's Ice Skating Championship in Spokane, WA. I was enjoying a night of superb skating when during the first intermission I heard a strange, beeping sound. My chemo pump was in alarm mode and the screen message kept blinking.

"High tension." Was that describing my blood pressure or the machine?

I called my home health care nurse.

"Get home immediately; there might be a clot."

Normally, the chemo pump has a reassuring click and whirring sound that goes off every hour. But at that point it sounded like a muffled ambulance siren going off every minute during the eighteen-mile drive back home. Thankfully, it was just a kink in the electrical line.

Earlier in the week, I'd purchased a "Chocolate Crisis Center Meltdown Bar."

Who knew it would come in so handy? I soothed myself munching on chocolate while watching the rest of the skating routines from my couch.

After completing the radiation and chemo components, I prepared for my third event -- the big surgery. I e-mailed everyone I knew to ask for prayers, especially the SOS prayer, also known as "Save Our Sphincter." Not only was my surgeon going to remove the cancerous tumor and do a hysterectomy, she was optimistic about re-attaching my colon. After living with a colostomy for six months, I was hopeful too.

My biggest job had been to run the race the best way I could. Now, it was time to let God handle the rest.

I'm grateful for a successful surgery and for a surgeon with small hands to maneuver in tight places. Most of all, I appreciate my support team. Triathletes get all the attention, but it's those behind the scenes who make their participation possible.


Throw Away the Key

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Deborah Shouse

Locks keep out only the honest.
~Jewish Proverb

My godparents Bel and Max met in England during World War II. They became mess hall friends for nutrition's sake: Max liked only meat and Bel liked only vegetables. They began their relationship by swapping foods from their mess trays. Soon they were sharing other parts of their lives.

When they moved into a rickety old house in Berkeley, California, Max carried Bel across the threshold. Then he said, "Hand me your house key."

She did, and he took both their keys and threw them out into the yard.

"I want to live in a home that's open to whoever needs it," he declared.

And so they did. Their home was never locked. Friends wandered in and out, stopping for dinner, taking a cold chicken leg from the refrigerator or curling up in an easy chair for a quiet read. Supper time was always a mish mash of opinions and people: the Kurdish student and the Israeli dissident, the Dallas lawyer and the manufacturer's rep from Denver, the rabbi without a congregation from Brooklyn and the priest with the small church in Santa Fe.

Still, Bel had grown up in Chicago and knew well the value of locked doors.

The unlocked house both exhilarated and terrified her. Sometimes she would lie awake in bed, expecting what her mother would have called "the worst." Robbery, rape and death raced through her mind. And all because her meshuggeneh husband refused to lock the doors.

One Friday night, well past midnight, Bel heard a door open. She heard footsteps and then stumbling. Her hands turned icy and she clutched the covers. She wanted to scream, but her voice dried up in her throat. Then she wanted to be quiet, so the robber would take what he wanted and leave. Downstairs, the furniture scraped and a drawer opened. She nudged Max, but he didn't wake up. She pushed the covers into her mouth so she wouldn't cry out. Then she heard the squeak of the screen door and the closing of the outer door. She shook Max's shoulder. "Max, someone was just downstairs. I think we've been robbed."

"Are we all right?" Max asked sleepily.

"Yes," Bel said.

"Then let's go back to sleep. We'll assess the damage in the morning."

The next morning, Bel could hardly bear to go downstairs. She took one cautious glance at the living room and saw only its familiar rumpled sofas and stack of papers beside the easy chair. The kitchen drawers were all intact; the refrigerator still stocked with leftovers. The Friday night candlesticks were still on the dining room table, her grandmother's sterling was still in the sideboard. Only one thing was out of place: a fresh loaf of challah bread rested on a doily in the center of the dining room table.

"Max, did you buy that challah?"

Max shook his head.

As they settled at the table and drank their morning coffee, Bel said, "Max, we have to lock the house. Something bad could happen to us."

"Or, something good," Max said, as he bit into a piece of fresh buttered bread.


Tears in the Bathroom Stall

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Preteens Talk

BY: Cheryl Kremer

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter
And those who matter don't mind.
~Dr. Seuss

As a sixth grader, I began noticing how other kids were separating into cliques. There were the geeks, the jocks, and the popular cool kids. I wasn't sure where I belonged. And I think that was the problem.

Our teacher had assigned "secret buddies" for the coming week. The purpose of this assignment was to do nice things for your buddy without letting them know who was doing it. We could leave encouraging notes on their desk or mysteriously leave a card in their backpack or book. Our teacher wrote each kid's name on a piece of paper and threw them into a bucket, then we each closed our eyes and drew the name of the classmate who we were to secretly befriend and support over the next five school days.

By the middle of the week, everyone, including me, had turned this assignment into a contest to see whose secret buddy could leave the best gift. Instead of encouraging notes, we left stationery sets on our buddy's desk. Instead of giving compliments, we were giving bubble gum, lollipops and even money. It seemed that everyone was getting cool presents from their buddy. Everyone except me, that is.

My buddy followed our teacher's directions without a fault. I received handmade cards, notes with nice thoughts and countless smiley face pictures proclaiming that I was one of the nicest girls in the class. My buddy seemed to think highly of me from the notes that were left, but the lack of gifts made me wonder what was up with whoever had pulled my name.

On the last morning of our assignment, I walked into my classroom and noticed that there was a package on my desk. At last, my buddy had grasped the idea that everyone else had! I ripped open the tissue paper and just stared down at my desk. There sat a canister of perfumed powder. The girls sitting near me giggled and went off about the "old lady" gift I had received. To make matters worse, the powder had already been opened. I felt my face turn red as I shoved it into my desk.

I tried to forget about the embarrassing gift, but when I was in the bathroom before recess, the same girls who had seen me open the powder started talking trash about my secret buddy for giving it to me. I quickly joined in. "How lame," I heard myself saying. "What could my buddy be thinking by giving me such a stupid gift? My grandmother wouldn't even want it."
The girls laughed at my remarks and filed out of the bathroom. I stayed to wash my hands and let the water run through my fingers as I thought about what I had just said. It wasn't normally like me to say mean things like that about someone.

As I turned off the water, I heard a creak. I turned around to see one of the bathroom stall doors open. A girl from my class took two steps out of the stall and looked up at me. There were tears streaming down her face.

"I'm your secret buddy," she whispered to me. "I'm sorry about the gift." Then she ran out of the bathroom. Her sobs stayed with me long after the door had closed.

My secret buddy was a girl named Rochelle, a girl who came from a poor family. She and her siblings were targets at school for those who felt they were better just because their parents had money. Yet through all the teasing and harassment, Rochelle never had a bad word to say back to anyone. She just took the horrible treatment silently.

I was sick to my stomach as my cruel words ran through my mind. She had heard every single thing that had been said. And, once again, she silently took it in. How could I have been so mean?

It took me a few days, but I finally found the courage to face up to Rochelle and apologize. She told me that she had felt bad all week about not being able to leave any cool gifts for me. Her family could not afford it. So finally, her mother had given up the one thing that was a luxury to her so that Rochelle would have something to give. Her mother had assured her that the nice girl Rochelle had talked about would like the powder. Rochelle couldn't wait to get to school that morning and put it on my desk.

And I had ruined everything for her.

What could I say to Rochelle? How could she ever forgive me for making fun of her?

Along with my apologies, I told her the truth. I admitted that I had only said those things to be cool, to try to fit in. I didn't know where I belonged, I explained.

Rochelle looked me in the eyes and said that she understood. She had been trying to fit in, too. "We aren't that different from each other, are we?" She smiled. Her simple words, spoken from her heart, found their way straight into mine.

Up until then, like everyone else, I had avoided the "Rochelles" of the world. But after that day, I gained respect and admiration for people like Rochelle -- people who give from the heart.


Counting Our Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

By Jane McBride Choate

Why not learn to enjoy the little things — there are so many of them.
~Author Unknown

"We're not getting a paycheck this week."

I wasn't particularly alarmed by my husband's words. After all, he had gone without a salary in the past, and we had always made do. Mentally, I congratulated ourselves that we had no debt outside the mortgage on our home.

With two partners, my husband owned a small engineering firm. When times were tight, he and his partners went without paychecks, making certain their employees were paid. I was grateful to be married to such an honorable man.

Two weeks passed, then four, then six, all with no salary in sight. The bills arrived with depressing regularity, though, and we lived off our savings, a spotty food storage, and faith in the Lord.

The fall of 2008 marked an economic downturn for the entire country. Caught in the spiral, clients who had always paid on time in the past now failed to pay their bills.

Christmas approached and I wondered how we would find the means to buy even small presents. I didn't mention this to my husband, knowing he had worry enough on his mind. I searched bargain bins and put my creativity to work.

In the meantime, I joined freecycle.com, an international organization devoted to preventing more items from ending up in already overburdened landfills. As a freecycle member, I could post items online that I no longer needed or wanted and other members could respond. In the same way, I could answer others' posts if I saw something I needed.

Four weeks into our doing without a salary, I noticed two messages listing pantry items. I e-mailed back immediately, saying that my family could really use the food.

In freecycle, the first person to answer a listing is usually the one who receives it. When I noticed the time the listings were posted, my heart sank. Several hours had passed.

Surely the items had already been taken.

To my surprise and delight, both freecyclers e-mailed me, saying that the food was mine. They gave me their addresses, and we arranged a pick-up time.

I went through the boxes of food like a child opening presents on Christmas morning. Cans of vegetables. Potato flakes. A cake mix. Even fresh fruit. My husband, teenage daughter (the only child remaining at home), and I feasted that night!

A quick friendship developed between an older lady and myself. She gave me other foodstuffs when she had more than she needed. I drove her to various stores and did errands for her, as she was unable to drive. We sent each other inspirational messages and discovered we had much in common, including a deep faith in our Creator.

My membership in freecycle encouraged me to clean out clothes, books, and household goods that we no longer used. As I uncluttered my house, I felt as though I were also uncluttering my soul, ridding it of old grudges, resentments, and fears.

I wrote our four adult children, explaining our situation.

I also mentioned that we would be cutting back on Christmas presents that year and suggested they do the same. As a gentle hint, I told them that the best present they could give their father and me was to get out of debt.

In previous years, I had kept a gratitude journal. Every day I had recorded things, both large and small, for which I was grateful. As frequently happens with good habits, this one slipped away in the busy-ness of life. I revived it, listing five things every night as I wrote in my journal.

Small occurrences found their way into my gratitude journal. A shiny penny found during a walk. A letter from a friend. An unexpected phone call from a long-distance relative. A hug from my usually standoffish teenage daughter. The feeling of sunshine on my face.

Everyday things became a cause for rejoicing. When was the last time I had been thankful for a washing machine and dryer?

When had I last given thanks for friends who listened to my complaints without sharing their own? (Shamed, I resolved to mend that nasty habit.) When had I last thanked God for a strong body, even though it wasn't in the shape or condition I desired?

My priorities began to shift. I stopped thinking of what I didn't have and began to think more of what I did. At the same time, I looked around and realized that others were suffering as well. I took time to send notes to friends and church members who needed an extra dose of love. I prayed more and complained less. I counted my blessings.

Our financial situation hadn't changed, but my attitude had.

Nearly eight weeks had passed since my husband had received a paycheck and Christmas was upon us. I had managed to buy and make modest presents for family and friends. I refused to give in to the temptation to apologize for the humbleness of the gifts, knowing those who loved me would understand and accept my offerings.

One evening my husband returned home, a wide grin stretching across his face. "Money came in the mail." He went on to explain that one of his customers, also a victim of the slow economy, had sent a long overdue check.

We had gone nearly two months without a paycheck. Not only had we survived, we had thrived.

I took stock of our lives: we had friends, family, and faith. We were rich indeed.


Bonding over Bats and Bunfires

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Susan Farr-Fahncke

Camping: nature's way of promoting the motel industry.
~Dave Barry

We hadn't done it in years. I mean, with all these kids, who has the time -- or the energy? My husband announced last week that it was high time we did it, and if we had to tie the kids to a tree, this weekend was IT.

Happily, I accepted this romantic invitation and spent two hundred dollars getting ready for it. Into the cart went the bare necessities: marshmallows, chocolate, fruit, tin foil and, oh yeah, mosquito repellent -- lots of it! The more loaded my cart got, the more excited I became. I could already see the thousands of stars overhead, smell the clean mountain air, and feel the cool river. Ah, camping. It had been too long since we were one with nature.

I looked forward to finally being able to use those nifty fold-up chairs we had given my husband last Christmas, as well as the brand new tabletop tiki torches I bought on a whim. I couldn't wait!

Friday morning arrived, hot and sticky, and we all looked forward to higher elevations and cool mountain breezes. Landing the perfect spot next to the river, complete with a shallow swimming hole, we unpacked and were happy as wasps on a watermelon.

After settling myself in one of the technologically advanced fold-up chairs, soda in hand and feet lazily parked on the footrest, I began to let the beauty of nature relax me. I happened to breathe just ever so slightly in the incorrect direction, and BAM! The chair folded up with me in it. My soda landed neatly upside down, lid intact, but being all folded up, it was hard for me to pick it up (a major priority for me -- I need my Diet Coke!). I only had one hand poking out of the chair, so all I could manage was to yell for help. Marty flopped around, laughing so hard that he couldn't help me get up (or so he claimed).

Eventually, I righted myself and the clearly dysfunctional chair, and saved my soda.

What a woman! Feeling like a pioneer in the mountains of Utah, I now felt ready to deal with anything.

Suddenly, our tiki torches caught fire -- not just the wick, but the whole bamboo part! We had to douse them several times because periodically they would catch on fire again. And again. The flames spread like, well, fire, straight down the sides of the torches until one of us, in panic-stricken hysteria, would trample, drown, or smack it out, only to have the whole thing begin again minutes later. The problem was that we needed those torches! Our camp swarmed with every type of flying insect, and the only thing that seemed to keep them at bay were those blasted torches. Heck, they scared me, too.

At last, it was close to bedtime, and somebody (they all claim it was me, but I don't remember it that way at all) had the bright idea to light sparklers -- as if we didn't have enough fire in our camp. The children danced around, shooting sparklets leaping from their hands. It was wonderful, truly a Kodak moment, until I heard Marty say, "Uh, Sooz? Your butt is on fire."

Sure enough, my hiney had a little flame shooting out of it. I didn't even know! What does THAT say about the extra "padding" I have?! Immediately, I sat down, squashed it and was folded up in the chair again, all in one fell swoop. We figured my bum caught on fire because I was lighting sparklers for the kids, and the embers must have somehow found their way to my bootie. They burned a hole in that stupid chair, too. Good.

Leaving my husband to get the three-year-old to fall asleep in the tent (like that was going to happen), I sat outside with the other children, warming by the campfire and gazing upward at the summer night sky.

"BAT!" my fourteen-year-old son screamed suddenly in a perfect Shirley Temple voice.

"B-b-bat! Bat! Bat!" he screeched, pointing to the treetops overhead. Squinting into the night sky, I couldn't see a thing. Wait, there was something. Several somethings. Wings spread, tiny heads and pointy ears. Yup, bats.

"BAAAATTTS!" I screamed, running and tripping my way to the tent, dragging the eight-year-old behind me.

"Bats, bats, bats!" I screamed until I ripped the zipper open and threw both kids inside, stumbled in, and tightly zipped every last form of nylon protection between us and those fanged freaks.

It was a nerve-wracking night. Every noise seemed to be a bat-in-waiting. At long last, morning came, and we ended up having a wonderful day of hiking, waterfalls, eating dirt-covered food with our dirt-covered hands, and having fun. As nightfall approached, we packed up and headed for home. Another night in the woods was more than I was willing to risk.

In the end, we had a little bit of disaster, a lot of fun, and came home exhausted, but with a new appreciation for God's beautiful creations: showers, roofs, and sturdy chairs.


Never Alone

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

BY: Kristen Clark
If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.
~Mary Engelbreit

My husband Lawrence and I were celebrating our fourth Christmas together and we were working to establish our own holiday traditions. I had never had children and each of the past few years we had enjoyed the holiday season with his three precious kids, whom I now felt privileged to call my own. I expected this Christmas would be much the same and the thought of each of us being alone and apart on Christmas Day had never crossed my mind.

Lawrence and I decided to spend Christmas at our cabin in the mountains in New Mexico, which was our usual practice, and we hoped our kids would join us; however, the older two had different ideas. Our older daughter chose to stay in California, where she was attending college; our son opted to stay in Mississippi to work through his college break and save money for his spring semester abroad in Europe. The visitation period with our twelve-year-old wasn't scheduled to start until noon on December 26th, but there were no flights available that day to pick her up in time, so we agreed that Lawrence would leave on Christmas to fly to Houston and bring her to our cabin in the mountains. Our family would all be in different locations and apart on Christmas Day!

I pondered this reality and remembered a conversation a few weeks earlier during which my friend complained that she would be alone on Christmas Day. She elaborated in great detail about her long-standing tradition of having the entire family at her house to celebrate the birth of Christ, open presents, swap cookie recipes, exchange hugs and kisses, and feast happily on an oversized turkey and enough fixings to feed a small army. This year she agonized over being unable to orchestrate her historic family tradition. She also wept over the idea of being alone, and my heart ached for her.

Remembering that conversation made me wonder if I, too, would find myself terribly alone and missing my family, and that's when I realized I could make a choice about my attitude toward Christmas. It was then I decided that I would not allow whatever happened (or didn't happen) on Christmas Day to negatively impact my spiritual condition or my heart's content. I would not entertain thoughts of disappointment or resentment, nor be captive to preconceived ideas about what the perfect Christmas should be. Come what may, I resolved that I would not be depressed about being alone!

Instead, I would rejoice in the gift of my husband and family and love them from afar. I would appreciate the blessed day for what it is and celebrate the birth of our King and God's presence in my life. I would imagine the angels proclaiming from the Heavens, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men!" I would be content in my aloneness, trusting that this too would pass and that soon I would be reunited with my husband and our youngest child.

Christmas morning came, and my husband and I awoke in our cabin in the mountains, just as planned. We called our kids and other family members to tell them all how much we loved and missed them. I later took my husband to the airport and kissed him goodbye, after which I dined with friends, appreciative for the invitation. Finally, I went home to our empty cabin.

Christmas day became Christmas night and I walked out onto the front deck. I was alone as I inhaled the crisp mountain air and admired the glistening blanket of snow. I was alone as I lovingly thought of and prayed for protection and safety for my family. I was alone as I whispered to the stars my thanksgiving for the birth of our heavenly King. And I was alone as I humbly and graciously received God's precious gift -- His divine peace about the fact that I may be alone this Christmas, but with Him I will never be truly lonely.


четверг, 21 октября 2010 г.

It's in the Little Things

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Diane Stark

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.
~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

It was one of those days when there was way too much to do. I had fallen behind in most of my household chores. I hadn't been to the grocery store in nearly forever and we were out of pretty much everything. The laundry was piled up well above the tops of the hampers and the house was stretching even my reasonably loose standards of cleanliness. And besides all that, I had two article deadlines and needed to spend some serious time at my computer.

All of that, and my four children were on a break from school. They were thrilled to be home and asked me repeatedly how we would spend their day off.

They were going to be disappointed with my plans for the day. There was absolutely nothing fun about them. Nothing special, nothing school break-worthy at all.

The kids woke up that morning, expecting their usual bowls of cold cereal. But we were out of milk, and my kids hate dry cereal. There were no eggs and no bread, which left few breakfast options. I searched through the freezer, hoping for a box of frozen waffles. No such luck. I rooted around in the fridge, finally finding a tube of buttermilk biscuits. I sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar, baked them, and gave them to the kids.

"I'm sorry that I can't offer you anything better this morning, but I haven't had time to go shopping," I said. The kids didn't bother responding. They were too busy shoving my makeshift cinnamon rolls into their mouths.

After breakfast, I started a load of laundry and sat down at the computer. My youngest daughter, Julia, walked toward me, wearing her I'm-about-to-whine face. "But, Mommy, I thought we were going to do something fun today," she said. "Since it's our day off from school."

"I know it's your day off, but it's not Mommy's day off," I explained. "I have work to do."

"Can you play a game with me?" she begged. "Like Candy Land? Or beauty shop?"

I sighed. I really didn't have time to play. I desperately needed to get some work done. But then I had an idea. "Can we play beauty shop while I work?"

So I got my article done, and my toenails painted at the same time.

My oldest, Austin, volunteered to fix lunch so I could keep working. The younger kids were thrilled with his selections. Not exactly the choices the food pyramid people advise, but the kids had fun and I met my writing deadlines.

Shortly after lunch, we made the trek to the grocery store. Austin pushed the cart, while the younger kids collected coupons from the little dispensers scattered throughout the store. I got what I needed -- with a few additions from my entourage, of course.

Back at home, the kids decided to play "grocery store" with the coupons they had collected during our trip. They lined up the canned goods on the kitchen counters and the snacks on the island and pretended to re-buy our groceries.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I cleaned house, folded laundry, and started dinner. The kids continued with their game until my husband, Eric, walked through the door.

He spotted me and grinned. "So how was the kids' big day off today?"

I began to explain that we hadn't done anything special because I'd been too busy with chores. But the kids interrupted me.

"Daddy, did you see Mommy's toenails? She let me sit under her computer desk and paint them while she typed!" Julia said. "It was so much fun!"

"And, Dad, we had the best breakfast today," said Austin. "Have you ever made those special biscuits for Dad? They were awesome!"

Eric gave me a questioning look and all I could do was shrug. My two middle kids, Jordan and Lea, piped up to tell their dad about the coupon game and Austin's special lunch. "We had such a great day today, Dad! It was a blast!"

I looked at my children's faces. They were lit up with excitement. Excitement about makeshift cinnamon rolls, a most unhealthy lunch, coupons from the grocery store, and painted toenails.

"You guys really had a good day? You're not disappointed that we didn't do something fun?" I asked.

Austin shrugged and said, "Life is only as fun as you make it, Mom."

I nodded, realizing how right he was. Happiness is far more about our attitude than our circumstances.

I hugged my kids and thanked them for reminding me to look for happiness in the little things.

Julia smiled and said, "And the little things that make you the happiest are us, right, Mommy?"

Wow, my kids sure are smart.


понедельник, 18 октября 2010 г.

Have a Little Faith

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Emily Weaver

So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.
~Genesis 50:21

I don't think my husband and I really understood what we had gotten ourselves into. Sure we knew things would be tough. We were both still in college, newly married, and our first baby had just been born. Life was chaotic, money was short, but we had more than enough love to get us through. What more did we need?

Life soon taught us that love doesn't put food on the table, nor does love magically make baby formula appear.

This reality was all too real as I looked helplessly at the neatly lined-up canisters of baby formula on the drugstore shelf. There were dozens of varieties. Name brand, off-brand, specialty, soy- and lactose-free. The one thing they had in common, however, was that they were all out of my price range.

I opened my purse for the hundredth time that morning and wanted to cry. I had $2.23. Not enough for a can of formula.

My sweet baby boy was sleeping in the shopping cart and at that moment panic set in. What would happen when he was hungry and I had nothing to give him? Sure I could ask my mom for help or my mother-in-law, but considering they were miles away, it wouldn't help me today. An unexpected car repair had taken every extra dime we'd had that month. And now my baby was going to go hungry.

I bought four packages of ramen noodles instead, and silently wondered if they were on the list of "okay foods for a three-month-old infant."

My husband was waiting for us in the car and after securing the baby I plopped into the passenger seat.

"What are we doing?" I choked back a sob. "We are barely making rent, barely getting studying done, and now we can't buy formula for our baby! We don't even deserve him."

My husband took my hand and kissed it, with tears of his own forming.

"Have a little faith, Em," he told me. "We knew it was going to be hard. I'll think of something. I won't let our baby starve, and neither will God."
At that moment something in me just snapped. My husband always had to throw the "faith" card into everything. I had never been one to pin my hopes on such an abstract idea and at that moment it seemed almost comically frustrating to me.

"Faith?" I asked in a snide tone. "You think faith is going to, right this minute, feed our newborn? Do you think faith is going to magically fill our fridge? If God really wanted to help us He would have never given us a beautiful baby and then allowed him to go hungry. Faith hasn't helped us much up to this point, Ryan. Why should it suddenly help us now?"

Ryan was quiet. He didn't chastise me, or lecture me, or even say anything to make me feel his disapproval. He just kissed my hand again and started the car.

"Well, I still have faith," was all he said.

The ride home was silent. I was worried about the night ahead. I had enough formula for one bottle, maybe two if I mixed it thin. In the morning I would call my mom, swallow my pride, and ask her to transfer money into my checking account. If only I could have bought one can of formula to tide us over until payday. Still, better to put away the ego and ask for help instead of letting my baby starve, I supposed.

My thoughts were interrupted as Ryan pulled into the small post office parking lot.

"Stopping for the mail," he announced. "I forgot to get it yesterday."

Our apartment complex didn't offer mail service so we had to stop at the post office every day and check our P.O. box. It was rainy and cold and I cursed this inconvenience as I hopped out of the car.

I inserted the key into our box and was surprised to find another key nestled among the pile of letters. Attached to it was a note:

"You have received a package that was too large for your post office box. Please use this key to retrieve it in box 40C."

What could the package be? We weren't expecting any sort of large delivery.

I located box 40C and turned the key. When the door opened my heart skipped a beat. I instantly recognized the symbol on the large box as the logo of the baby formula we had been using for our son. With all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, I tore open the package to find two full-sized cans of formula inside, with a coupon for two more free cans to be redeemed at the store.

Still in shock, I ran outside to my waiting husband. I showed him the precious delivery and began to cry tears of relief. Knowing my child wouldn't go hungry that day or the rest of the week even, was the most uplifting sensation I had ever experienced.

"I don't know what to think," I told Ryan. "I can't believe that today, of all days, we would be so lucky to get free formula samples."

"Do you have faith now?" Ryan asked me with a smile.

That day was the beginning of my own relationship with God. I learned He is always by our side. He never lets us walk alone. We just have to have a little faith.


Define Normal

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Natalie June Reilly

Divorce: The past tense of marriage.
~Author Unknown

The house is deathly quiet now, but I swear I can still hear my poor Jeep Grand Cherokee panting heavily out in the garage after toting seven-plus Reillys around town for the past seven-plus days. Ah, the out-of-town guests have left for home; they boarded a plane just this morning and I am finally free to sit down at my laptop in my skivvies with a tall Coke and a short line to the little girl's room.

For the past week I have been entertaining my out-of-town in-laws; I took them to and from the airport, hauled them around town, fed them my famous homemade fried potatoes and scrambled cheese eggs for breakfast, played board games and charades around the kitchen table with all of the kids for hours and employed every sleep-able piece of furniture I own. When the boys weren't at my ex-husbands house -- taking full-advantage of the ultimate bachelor's pad -- my cozy, little house was stuffed like a summer sausage.

My friends don't seem to understand this bizarre relationship I keep with my ex-husband's family, especially considering that I've been legally unbound from that particular contractual obligation for almost ten years now, the unspoken rule that states that I am to put up my in-laws whenever they're in town. I mean, it's not like I don't have the paperwork to prove it.

"It's just not normal," they observe.

Well, that may be true, but I like to think that I was granted joint custody of my quirky, well-meaning "out-laws" -- as I like to call them -- in the final decree of my divorce. My ex-husband doesn't seem to mind that I'm still close with them. In fact, I think he likes it; those are the ties that continue to bind us as a family, and I think it's been healthy for our boys to see that we can all still get along. And, besides that, whoever said that there was anything normal when it comes to family, anyway?

I happen to love my sister-in-law, a woman who was once married to my ex-husband's big brother. Over the years we've become sisters of sorts. I know it sounds kind of complicated, but she and her three children are very close to me and my two children. We all seem to get along great; it's as if, somehow, we belong together, in some crazy, not-entirely-dysfunctional way.

When I look at her two boys and her daughter -- who are almost exactly the same ages as my boys -- I see a strong family resemblance and I can't help but conclude that it is exactly as the old saying goes: Blood is, in fact, thicker than water.

All I know is that when I watch my kids hanging out with their cousins, laughing and enjoying one another in a way that only family can, I know that my decision to remain close with my out-laws is something I'm meant to do, if not supposed to do. The contented expressions on my boys' faces say it all, especially when we spend the day with friends and family -- at the request of my ex-husband -- consuming two lanes at the local bowling alley, scarfing down greasy food and making the Clampetts look more like the Kardashians.

The thing is my out-laws are good people -- a little crazy sometimes -- but then again, aren't we all?

And now that they've all packed up their bags and are headed for home, I realize more and more how desperately I miss seeing their faces. I realize how quickly time is getting away from us as our kids are growing up, graduating and grappling with their own futures.

Truth: Life is too short to be spent fighting with family -- in-laws, out-laws and the like.

This sweet time in our life should be spent wisely, say, playing board games around the kitchen table with a humongous dish of homemade chicken nuggets and French fries placed strategically within everyone's reach, while everyone is eating, laughing and clamoring all at once -- pretending to be pseudo-normal, but really coming off as looking more like what a family is supposed to look like, and that is happy. At least happy is what my family looks like to me and that's what matters most.


Bell of Truth

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Morgan Hill

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
~Matthew 19:29

I was nineteen years old, alone in a studio apartment in Kansas City. It was the Christmas season and self-pity had gotten the best of me. With no job and the rent barely paid, all I had was a box of cereal, a carton of milk, five dollars in my bank account, and a single one-dollar bill in my purse.

Earlier that year, I'd made a fateful decision. I was forced to quit college due to lack of money. So, I packed up two suitcases and got on a bus with only fifty dollars in my pocket. My parents were getting a divorce, and I had no financial support. My temporary minimum wage job had ended. I was new to town, alone and friendless.

So here I was in Kansas City, sitting on my Murphy bed, staring out the window. I began to think, "No one really cares if I live or die. I could be lying in the gutter somewhere and it wouldn't make a difference."

I thought, "I've got to get out of here, get out of this room, before I do something I'll regret."

I buttoned up my old lime green coat. It had once been part of my new college wardrobe. Now it had holes in the elbow and was torn at the shoulder where white stuffing poked out.

I walked down the five flights of stairs with the dollar in my pocket. I opened the door to bitter cold. The icy wind smacked me in the face, making my eyes tear. I began to walk. And walk. I had no destination. I just knew I had to get out of the apartment. Eventually, I came to a park with benches and a fountain, where I could sit, cry and pray.

With my eyes closed, begging God for help, His wisdom, a sign, anything, I heard a voice. A man was speaking to me. Was it a sign? I opened my eyes to find a homeless drunk sitting next to me and asking me for a date!

I headed back toward the apartment. By now the sky had opened up, delivering a combination of rain, sleet and snow. Without a hat or umbrella, my tattered coat soaked up the freezing rain like a sponge and wet hair covered my face.

Walking past fancy stores that were beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, I felt embarrassed by my "little match girl" appearance. A few steps later I stood outside a small coffee shop, gazing in the window. Here, even in this coffee shop, women were wearing furs and beautiful clothes. What would it feel like to be sitting and chatting with friends over a nice warm cup of tea, looking good, watching the dreary weather outside? I wondered if my one dollar could buy me a cup of tea. Then it occurred to me that with tax and tip, I couldn't afford the tea and I continued homeward.

Cold and wet, I asked myself, "Could life get any more miserable?"

It was then that I came upon a Salvation Army woman ringing the bell in front of a red bucket.

"Well," I thought to myself, "you've got your arms and legs, your eyesight and your health, so you're a lot luckier than a lot of these folks The Salvation Army people are trying to help." So I reached in my pocket and gave my last dollar to The Salvation Army.

Back at my apartment, I opened my mailbox to find one envelope, my bank statement. I already knew what it said. But when I opened it to file it away, I noticed something wrong on the statement. It did not show the expected $5 balance, but now reflected a $105 balance.

I always knew exactly what I had in my account, balanced to the penny. Something was wrong. I wasn't about to spend money that was not mine. I called the bank. I wasn't taking any chances. The bank employee said it was indeed my money, but I knew better.

Donning the tattered, wet green coat, I marched back out into the cold. My bank happened to be directly across the street from the fountain I had sat at crying just a couple of hours earlier.

I walked in. "May I see the bank manager, please?"

I'm sure I looked an awful sight; well-dressed people were staring at this cold ragamuffin demanding that the bank officer remove the mistaken overage.

While he went into back offices to check out the error, I waited patiently in a leather chair that squeaked when I shifted in the seat, water dripping from my hair. Upon his return, he looked puzzled and sat down, scratching his head. "I can't make any sense of it," he said, "but it is indeed your money."

"That's impossible. I know what I had to the penny, and this appeared out of nowhere."

He said he understood my concern because it had not appeared on previous statements. "Our records indicate that a deposit was made into your account last July and we just now caught it. That's why it appears on your bank statement for the first time in December. But it is definitely your money and you need not worry that we'll be asking for it back."

When money is tight, a person keeps track of each and every cent. I knew without question that I'd never made such a deposit back in July, but I couldn't convince him.

I walked home, thanking God for the extra money, which I used for a discount plane ticket to visit family for Christmas. My spirits healed as I shared that holy holiday with them.

A few months later, I told someone about the mysterious appearance of the $100.

"Hadn't you just given your last dollar to charity?" she asked.

"Well, yes."

"So, don't you see?" she replied. "You were rewarded hundredfold!"

The tiny hairs went up on my arms and a chill moved up my back. I call this the bell of truth ringing my spine. I had just experienced a blessing, a Christmas miracle.


Tripping Out

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Jess Knox

In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.
~Daniel L. Reardon

On a hot August morning, after waking me up way too early, my dad handed me a red T-shirt with orange lettering on it. "McCheesey?" I grumbled.

"McChesney." It was his mother's maiden name.

"Looks like McCheesey. These are McDonald's colors. It looks like we're selling cheeseburgers."

Mom chuckled. Dad scowled. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip.

The reason for the shirts (we each had one) was to identify which branch of the family tree we fell off at a reunion. In rural Wisconsin. I wasn't even trying to pretend that I wasn't miserable.

From the moment we arrived, parking our car between a compost heap and a tree stump, my worst fears were confirmed: I was at a picnic. I don't "do" nature. I appreciate bike rides and walks, but only on pavement. Put dirt in the picture or, God forbid, bumblebees, and I'm out. I've camped twice in my entire life -- once in the pouring rain (bye-bye sneakers) and once at a Christian camp, where I didn't last three days. Dragging me to a family reunion in the woods was just plain cruel.

"Why didn't they host the reunion up there?" I whined.

"Up there" was a modern lodge on the top of a hill. It had bay windows, through which I could clearly see banquet tables, indoor plumbing, and a snack machine.

"Because this was cheaper," my dad replied curtly.

"This" was a creaky cabin with picnic tables crawling with daddy long-legs.

To be fair, I wouldn't have been much happier in the lodge. Thermostats or not, I don't like family reunions. I think they're dumb. I know everybody complains about them. I know nobody looks forward to old people jabbering on about insurance or new moms insisting that their big, barfing baby is adorable. But my distaste for family reunions runs deeper than simple annoyance. I am opposed to them on principle.

It's the same way I feel about networking. Anybody I actually care about is someone I met naturally and is a friend of mine on Facebook. These people in the woods were folks I never e-mailed and barely knew the names of. Spending an entire day with them just seemed silly.

"Put on your shirt," my dad said. He'd finished unloading the car and apparently had time to nag me again.

"It's goofy."

"We all look goofy. Put it on."

I mumbled something and wandered into the cabin without my McCheesey shirt.

Inside, I came face to face with my next gripe of the trip: the menu. Countless Tupperware containers filled with unidentifiable casseroles and the occasional Jell-O mold littered the dining area. But for all the food, none of it looked edible. Not to me. I was a picky eater. Growing up, my parents and I had an arrangement: any time the adults ate weird food (i.e., something other than a hamburger), I got McDonald's on the way home. That day, we were too far from civilization to observe the pact. There would be no French fries.

"Have a Sloppy Joe," my dad suggested.

"I don't like Sloppy Joes."

"It's meat and ketchup. It's basically a hamburger."

"That is NOT a hamburger."

"Then have a SALAD."

He knew I hated salad. Out of spite, I put a small dollop of Sloppy Joe on my plate, the kind that said, "See, I TRIED it." Then when he turned his back, I filled the rest of my plate with potato chips.

Throughout lunch, I was passed around to a variety of family members who I had either met once, met several times, or never heard of at all, and they all asked me if I remembered them. An uncle talked vaguely about the time he spent in Egypt working for the government. An aunt asked about college. A cousin filled us in all too thoroughly on his recent stomach stapling procedure. And that's when I decided it was time to use the bathroom.

I really did have to use the bathroom, but I also really needed an excuse to escape. My plan was to pee, then hide. I could read behind a tree until it was time to leave. I could listen to my MP3 player. If anybody asked, I could tell them I'd been in the bathroom the whole time. I could blame it on the Sloppy Joes. No one would doubt me.

Little did I know the bathrooms would not be my salvation so much as the last straw. The bathrooms, if you can even call them that, were squat, square boxes of concrete that looked like above-ground bomb shelters. They were comparable to rest stop bathrooms, the kind you find along interstates, but these were cleaned far less frequently and didn't have running water. They were damp, dark, cobwebbed cubes with toilets. And, for some reason, there were no doors or sinks.

That sealed it. I stomped back to the cabin, sunburned and full-bladdered, and begged my dad to drive me to the nearest city. I needed a toilet. I needed McDonald's. I was getting mosquito bites and totally creeped out being this close to a green lake. We'd made our cameo. We'd eaten some food. Couldn't we leave?

But instead of caving under the weight of his little girl's misery, my dad exploded.

"I ask you to do ONE THING for my family. Can't you deal with it for ONE DAY?"

I recoiled.

"I don't want to be here either, but I never ask you to do ANYTHING. I was hoping you could put up with it for ME."

I was speechless. I'd never been yelled at like that before, certainly not for my behavior. I was a good kid. I did my homework. I said thank you for everything and never hit my cousins. I was freakin' charming.

The rest of the trip, even our stop in the Wisconsin Dells the day after, was soured by the argument. Sure, the backwoods of Wisconsin are not the most ideal vacation destination, but the whole outing was a bust -- all because I refused to let it be anything better than that. I made the day lame by refusing to swim in the lake. I made it boring by not even tasting the potato salad. I made it regrettable by remaining bitter.

Somebody on the family trip always makes things difficult. That trip, I realized the pain in the butt was me.


A Wrinkled Kiss

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Robyn Langdon

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
~Hebrews 6:10

I was not nervous, but neither did I know what to expect. I was taking my children to a nursing home to serve the residents. It was an opportunity presented through a group of people in my church who regularly reached out in love to the elderly. Though my children, ages seven and five, had not been around older people very often, I was pretty sure they would be comfortable enough to interact positively without being too frightened.

We were asked to help the residents paint a pot for their garden, and then serve cookies and coffee. My kids are always up for a craft project, and anything having to do with paint especially excites them. They gladly plopped down at one of the tables next to the residents and began to paint little animals onto the clay pots, with minimal apprehensive glances at the shaking hands painting beside them.

It was during "snack time" -- as my son, Josiah, endearingly referred to it -- that I was stunned and filled with pride all at once. After passing out cookies, my children finished their crunchy sweets in no time, and began to follow me as I meandered and mingled among the residents. If you've ever been to a nursing home, you'll be able to relate to the fragrant wet-diaper-mixed-with-antiseptic-soap-and-Bengay smell that permeated our noses, even as we tasted the cookies. For me, a former certified nursing assistant, it was no big deal, but I feared that my kids and their hypersensitive young noses were not going to tolerate the environment much longer.

It was then, while I was predicting how many more minutes they would last before whining to go home, that I observed one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. No matter how long I live, I'll never forget it.

One particularly fetid woman had taken a fancy to my son, even being so bold as to hold his hand and squeeze his cheeks. (My son is extremely handsome, bearing the cutest freckles splayed across his sweet little face.) She would beckon him over to her if he wandered too far away. The lines were etched so deeply in her face that I guessed she must have been at least ninety-five years old. Her hands held the beauty of age spots and long, twisted fingers that shook when she reached up to touch him. I was just about to retrieve our jackets and tell them it was time for us to leave when this lovely, endearing woman pointed to her face and puckered her lips to ask him for a kiss.

I felt my eyes widening in curiosity at what he would do. While I could not condone any disgust or rudeness from my son, neither could I force him to do anything awkward or embarrassing. And while I stood there pondering my next move, Josiah amazingly and without hesitation reached out, braced his hand on her wheelchair, and puckered his own pink lips to meet hers. Gentle. Sweet. Unafraid. A smile filled her ancient face, and her delight shone just as bright as if she were decades younger. My charming son could not help but smile in response. Needless to say, my proud tears slid down to the upturned corners of my mouth.

We left that day different from when we had arrived. God had revealed His tender love through my son's courage and grace. It is a wrinkled kiss I'll never forget.


воскресенье, 10 октября 2010 г.

Time for Myself

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Susan M. Heim

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..."
~Isaiah 30:15

My husband and I both work from home. We have four children, so the times when I am alone in the house are few and far between. Like many work-at-home moms, when I do get a chance to be by myself, I fill that time with more work, whether it's related to my career or taking care of the household chores. Most of the time, I don't mind. After all, I wanted this "gig" as wife and mother, and I knew from the start that it often entailed putting others' needs before my own. But, other times, I can't help but feel a little resentful.

One day, things really came to a head. My husband was heading out to the gym, just assuming I had nothing to do but watch the twins. My older boys were making plans with their friends without consulting me -- plans that involved having me drive them quite a distance from home. The twins, being young, wanted my undivided attention. Even my work clients seemed to be more demanding that day. Nobody bothered to ask if I might have plans of my own. But, the truth was, I rarely did have any plans for myself, and everyone knew it. My life revolved around them, and they took advantage of that.

The next day, when the kids were at school, I headed for the movie theater -- alone. I'd never been to the movies alone before, so I was a little nervous. Would I look pitiful going to the theater by myself? Was I being frivolous by seeing a movie when so much work awaited me at home? I forced myself to swallow these thoughts and buy myself a ticket. And then I walked into the theater with my head held high and enjoyed every minute of the movie. I laughed and felt my good spirits return. For a couple of hours, I was nobody's wife or mother. I was just myself.

From that point on, I decided that Fridays would be mine, at least for a couple of hours. Some Fridays, I head to the beach with a good book. Other Fridays, I go shopping and indulge in a little "retail therapy." I may pick up a little fast food or a gourmet coffee just for myself. I really look forward to my Fridays after a long week of caring for my family.

By forcing myself to slow down and put the needs of my family out of my mind (well, almost), I also feel closer to my Creator. Sitting alone on the beach, I'm not focused on the children's safety around the water. I'm drinking in God's majesty and feeling his Spirit in the air and the waves around me. Even at the theater, I think about what God might be trying to teach me through the story I'm seeing. When I buy myself a yummy treat, I thank God for being able to savor His bounty and for always providing for my needs. I realize that I'm not solely responsible for caring for my family. God is taking care of all of us; I don't need to do it all myself. And He is taking care of me when I'm feeling overwhelmed or overburdened. I just need to remember to carve out time to be with Him -- alone.


Opportunity Cost

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: Kathryn Z. West

A penny saved is a penny earned.
~Benjamin Franklin

Some people learned everything they needed to know in kindergarten. Call me slow, but it took me until college to figure out one of life's most practical lessons.

It was my college economics professor who introduced me to the term "opportunity cost." When you choose one thing, it's a tradeoff at the expense of something else. If you go to the football game, you can't go to the movies. If you have dessert with lunch, you can't have it with dinner. If you go to law school with student loans, you'll be working for twenty years to pay them off. It's a lot more than a theory; it's one of the practical realities at the heart of almost any decision we make.

At the ripe age of nineteen, I had my eye on a summer term abroad. I knew my parents didn't have the means to send me to Europe; they were barely sending me to college. But I had a choice: Accept this limitation as my destiny or figure out a way to pay for it.

Working as many as three jobs each summer, I had managed to cover state school tuition and board for both my freshman and sophomore years. Having been living within my means, I decided it was my turn to live outside of them for a change. So into the debt pool I dove, head first. Voilà, I was heading to Europe.

I had barely enough money for my flights, tuition and board at the University of Dijon, and "living" expenses. I even opted out of meals on the airline to save a few bucks. Lucky for me, my sister gave me a travel pack of butter cookies. They were dinner and breakfast on my flight over.

I had to cut similar corners (if you call eating a corner) to subsidize my journey. For instance, baskets of baguettes were abundant for breakfast at the convent in Dijon where our student group stayed. God forgive me, but I'd snatch what extra pieces I could to bring back to my room for later. (Initially I just gorged myself, but I learned soon enough that I was no squirrel.) How else did I sustain myself? Besides careful choices every step of the way and the kindness of friends and strangers, I found the answer in peanuts. I'd buy a bag a week and ration them -- for lunch, for snacks, for dinner.

Don't feel sorry for me. I traveled almost every weekend -- to Nice, Venice, Lauterbrunnen, and Paris twice. The accommodations were modest at best and I was mostly hungry, but that's not what I remember. It's the canals, the horn blowers in Wengen, and sleeping on the pebbled beaches in the south of France that I recall.

When I returned home, I was different. Surprisingly not as skinny as you'd have expected, but I had a resilience and confidence knowing that I had made my own way. When I shared the grisly details with my parents and sisters, they asked why didn't I call -- why didn't I tell them I needed more money: all I needed to do was ask. Today, our country is in the midst of a credit meltdown, and I am reminded of my summer abroad, the loan I took and repaid, and all the peanuts I ate that made it work. It's what my economics professor said: It's not that we can't have what we want, but whatever we want has a cost -- a price we must pay. Or, as my business law professor put it, there's no such thing as a free lunch. And when I think back to my summer opportunity, I know what it cost: Courage, sacrifice, and peanuts.