Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Red Cup of Starbucks and Why as a Christian I'm Okay With It

Spoken words are just as powerful as printed ones.
Sometimes even more so.
The American Christian world, it seems, is losing its marbles over the redesigned Starbucks cups. Just in time for the holiday season, the company has intentionally decided to eliminated the words Merry Christmas from its new design.

There are articles splashed across the interwebs of how this redesign is emblematic of the Christian culture cleansing of the west.

There's been talk of boycotts.

Of protests.

Of a revolt!

You know what I think about this red cup redesign? Good.

Now, before you draft that hate letter to me, let me publicly declare that I am a Christian and I believe God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins. I also believe that maybe this red cup shake-up is getting under our skin as Christians because there's a truth there we don't really want to admit to ourselves.

Because maybe we need the reminder to say it intentionally out loud more often, instead of relying on some printed words on the side of a cup to be our mouthpiece.

Because maybe rushing in and out at the counter for our Gingerbread Latte and tossing out a hurried Merry Christmas over our shoulders as we side step quickly to avoid running into the next customer is not enough anymore.

Because maybe, just maybe, God wants us to slow down and really think about what those words really mean to us as Christians and why it's important we say them.

And maybe it's time that we take that responsibility on personally - and not expect a big business to do it for us.

One of the most interesting internet challenges meant to counter attack the redesigned cup asks people to "prank" Starbucks by giving your name as "Merry Christmas" so they have to write it on the cup. The challenge makes you have to look at the barista and say the words Merry Christmas out loud.

Look, it's not the cup's responsibility to declare your faith and it's not up to a franchise to speak on your behalf. If you truly believe in your heart of hearts that those words need to be said, then you take responsibility and say them. Now, if Starbucks passes some sort of coffee house rule that forbids us from personally saying the words Merry Christmas, well, that there is a different situation that requires a totally different blog post.

Throughout this holiday season you'll probably see me quite a few times with a bright red Starbucks cup in my hand - and you'll probably see me many more times without one. Doesn't matter. I'll still smile, look you in the eyes and wish you a very Merry Christmas. And I might even invite you to my church.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An Open Letter to the Girls who Bully Alexis

Thank you! No, really, I mean that. Thank you. Because if it weren’t for you – if it weren’t for the pain you intentionally inflicted and your desire to break one particular human spirit, the rest of us in this world might never have met such an incredible young lady.

I was so angry when I saw the passionate post her Mama wrote. Reading about your behavior sent me spiraling back to the days when I watched my own daughter get bullied. It made me furious to think of another child so close to my home going through the same thing. Except I wasn’t as courageous as this Mama; I just sat quietly. I encouraged my daughter to let it go and watched her get more and more sullen and depressed because those girls never let up. I made a mistake back then. Mamas need to stand up. Because when one Mama stands up, other Mamas stand up with her. 

I pray that you realize it’s time to let up.

Then I started reading more about Alexis. Learning who she is --- and my anger quickly gave way to something else: awe. 

I want to introduce to you this beautiful daughter of mine, her mom wrote.

And what an amazing girl we were introduced to!

We read about how Alexis is a talented cartoonist, has an amazing voice, and is full of spunk and spirit, always trying to make others smile. So many of us don’t have half that talent or near that bright approach to life.

We read about the inner strength of this child who has grown up without a father, who has mourned the loss of a sibling, and who is being monitored for a heart condition. Let me tell you: that there is a strength most of us couldn’t imagine enduring, and yet picture after picture shows her smiling and laughing.

And still, there was so much more to Alexis:

She runs marathons to raise money for special causes. At just 13 years old.

She volunteers to wrap Christmas gifts for free at the mall. At just 13 years old.

She volunteers to work at fundraisers. At just 13 years old.

She’s active in her church. At just 13 years old.

As I read, just as thousands – yes, thousands of others read along with me – I quickly came to the realization that this is no ordinary child. This is a girl with a purpose in life that far exceeds the standard middle school expectations.

Alexis has a passion for animals and, with her skills of giving CPR and IV fluids, has rescued and saved animals for years.

At this point I’m thinking this would be enough. This would be enough to make me so proud if she were my daughter! I would be so proud to simply come in contact with this precious gift of a child who makes what I do pale in comparison.

And yet her passion extends even further with her desire to find ways to fight against and put a final end to Yulin.

Yulin? I had to admit – I had no idea what Yulin even was.

And here’s where I thank you again. See, I – along with the thousands of other people who were introduced to Alexis, were exposed to something we may never would have been.

I learned that Yulin is a festival in China each year – a grotesque, demeaning, awful dog meat carnival. (I’m warning you, Googling it will result in traumatizing photos.)

There are worldwide petitions and activists determined to stop this atrocity from happening – yet here I was, complacent in my little world of comings and goings and coffee dates with friends that I never even knew it existed. Alexis taught us something. She pulled open the curtain and shined a light on something important that God placed on her heart. We should all be so lucky to have such an audience like the one she has today. 

Make no mistakes: there's not a single one of us who feels sorry for Alexis. If that's what you think you're incredibly wrong.

We're impressed by her. In awe of her. We have respect for her. We’re excited to see what else she can teach us, how she will decide to use her voice and undoubtedly how she will work to improve our world.

Thank you. Thank you for allowing all of us to be introduced to Alexis. Because we think she’s incredible.  A shining light for our future. And we're so thankful that she's here. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Forgotten First Chapter

A lifetime ago I took a creative writing class at the private Roman Catholic university I was attending because it made total sense at the time that as a girl who had a long, detailed list of debate questions with the Catholic religion, I ought to pay an exorbitant amount of money in tuition getting schooled by a bunch of nuns. Except, none of my classes were actually taught by nuns. Apparently creative writing did not attract the habits. I kind of felt cheated because it really was a lot of money and you'd think I could have experienced at least one semester of a ruler rapt against my knuckles just to say I survived.

Anyway. My actual point is to tell you I just came across one of my old writings from one of my classes. Our assignment was simple: Write a first chapter of a fiction novel. Since it was a gazillion years ago I have the original on a floppy disk somewhere -- but I wanted to share it with you so I retyped it. Except my chair at my desk is too short so now my shoulders hurt but I can't change the chair because it looks super cute and I threw out all our old phone books because who actually has a need for a phone book, what with Google at our fingertips? Well, except they were useful to sit on. Suffice it to say, there are errors in there. Understand my editor hasn't seen the first draft yet. Also, I don't have an editor. I'm practicing sarcasm. I also didn't include the entire first chapter here because you never realize how long a chapter is until you have to type it out word for word. If you want the rest of the chapter or the rest of the book you'll have to be broker a sweet deal with a publisher. For me. Don't steal my words. It's not nice. 

So. Here it goes. I wrote it about a year before I got pregnant with Avery. 


Often times when I’m sitting all alone, minding my day, a thought just pops into my head, disturbing all that silence that was just up there. And try as I might, I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head. It just keeps droning on and on and on, which makes it quite difficult to enjoy the weather or listen to a conversation I may be involved in. Lately it’s been stuff about dying and what that would be like. Oh, not that I would want to, don’t get me wrong. I have no business doing that sort of thing at this time in my life. Still, I find it fascinating that one minute I could be here, running around and jumping about like a wild bird taking off for its first flight, and the very next minute be lying still on the ground, dead. All the folks in town would line up in their Sunday best, dabbing lacy handkerchiefs at their eyes, waiting to gawk at me lying dead in the casket, saying things like, “my, what a shame to take a life so young.” They wouldn’t know I’d already be watching them from heaven, holding on to the hand of an angel, watching them make quite a spectacle of themselves sobbing and dabbing away.

                My sister’s name is Maury. Actually it’s Maureen, but she’s got a nickname so everyone just calls her Maury. She’s beautiful and looks exactly like my mother with the same golden hair and deep blue eyes. “A reflection of the soul,” my grandmother likes to say clasping her hands over her heart and casting her eyes up toward heaven in a must absurd and dramatic way. Maury says I’m morbid for always talking about death and dying and says I have no business planning such a thing. I tell her I’m not planning it, just thinking about it, but she says that’s one in the same as far as she’s concerned. She’s thirteen and Mama says I ought to mind my older sister because she’s wiser and knows better. I tell Mama that she is the only sister I got and being that she’s only a year and a half older, how much wiser could she possibly be? Then Mama tells me I best quit sassing her if I know what’s good for me. Well, I certainly do know what’s good for me, so I go on outside to think some more about dying.

                I like to imagine what Mama would lay me out in. I’m sure she’d go to town and get one of those fancy while satin dresses, fringed in lace, with a long satin ribbon around the waist and white gloves to match. I really would like one of those brimmed hats, but I can’t imagine how comfortable that would be to lay in one. Besides, it would get all creased and wrinkled anyway.

                When my Daddy died last year, Mama put him in a suit. Everyone kept going on and on about how handsome he was and how good he looked. Personally, I thought he looked stiff and uncomfortable in that get-up. Funny this was, I don’t recall Daddy ever even owning a suit, much less wearing one. I know he wore one for his wedding to Mama because I seen the picture of them on her dresser, but that was the only time. I believe it would be safe to say that my Daddy only wore a suit when he went to church, which, for him, would have been his wedding and his funeral.

                For the most part, Daddy was always wearing those heavy coveralls, filthy with grease and oil. His hair was just about as greasy as his working clothes, sticking out all over the place, never being combed just right. Even straight out of the shower he still looked as if he had a layer of grime on him that couldn’t be scrubbed off. He’d come out smelling like a mixture of Irish Spring soap and WD-40. It sounds unpleasant, and I suppose it’d take some getting used to for one who’s never smelled it before, but it really wasn’t all that bad.

                I don’t look like either of my parents, but bear a strong resemblance to Daddy’s Uncle Arthur, whom I have never met, but take on the word of adults that I do indeed look like him. Daddy’s uncle was killed in a war when Daddy was very young and left behind a wife and newborn child that no one has ever seen. I wonder sometimes if that child looks like him as well. I’m not even certain if it was a boy child or a girl child. But if it were a girl child, who did indeed look like Daddy’s Uncle Arthur, then I sure would love to catch a glimpse of her now as an adult so I could prepare myself for what I would look like in the future. If she is beautiful, I know I would have a most pleasant adulthood. And, if she were to be ugly, then I would know now to buckle down on my schoolwork so as to ensure me a right and proper position as a career woman.

                Maury, who is as pretty as they come, tells me that if you are beautiful then a rich man will surely want to marry you. Then you won’t have to work and you get to buy anything you want on store credit. “However,” she says, turning her nose at my short cut hair and my boy’s blue jeans, “if you are not, then you will have to work in factories all your life until you are eighty.”

                Well, that seems like an awful long time to be putting in at a factory, so for my sake, I pray that Daddy’s Uncle Arthur’s child is ravishing.

                Maury says I ought to grown into my body someday but not to expect too much. I’m long and lanky, with not much curvature, which I know is important. I decided to cut my hair short after seeing Julie Andrews play Peter Pan. I sure wish now I hadn’t because Maury says people often mistake me for a boy and someday I may even become convinced of that myself. Maury and I don’t look anything alike. Maury stands straight and tall and has creamy skin and thick hair. I slouch too much and Mama says if I keep that up I’m bound to become a hunchback.

                Mama and Maury are real close and always talking about clothes and ribbons and hair styles. I used to go on over to the garage and help Daddy when he was working, but since he died I don’t go there too much. Once in a while I stop over to per that old mangy dog, Roscoe. Daddy found him before I was even born in a drain ditch when he was just a puppy, but now he’s almost completely blind and lies around panting like it just might be his last breath.

                I try not to stay home too much, or when I’m there stay up in my room and out of Mama’s way. Mama’s been in a mood of sorts since Daddy died. Maury says it’s just me being dramatic and sensitive because she doesn’t see any problems with Mama. I remind her that’s because Mama actually talks to her where she usually just slides me a sandwich across the table without saying much of anything. Maury tells me that I’m just jealous because she and Mama have a kindred relationship. Fact is, I’m jealous because she has long hair, it has nothing to do about anyone’s relationship.

                See, we’re not allowed in Mama’s room. That’s a private area which we only go in if we’re armed with a can of spray Pledge in one hand and a dusting cloth in the other. Yet, every night before bedtime Mama calls Maury into her room, sets her down at the vanity, picks up her silver antique hairbrush with real camel hair, and brushes Maury’s long hair. “One hundred strokes to bring out the shine,” Mama always says. Maury and Mama sit in there for what seems like hours, staring into that vanity mirror and talking all quiet. I love to go dusting in Mama’s room so I can try to brush my hair. Mama caught me once and yelled at me to quit dawdling and get back to work, then asked why on earth I was trying to brush a bald head.

                I don’t understand why Mama brushes Maury’s hair with that silver brush. Mama’s always telling me how much older she is yet she can’t even seem to brush her own hair. And if Mama really wanted to, I reckon she could brush my hair for me, too. I know it’s short and all but it still could use one hundred strokes for shine.


There you have in. A strange fascination with death in a first chapter of a book that will never be finished, written before the birth of a girl who will never grow old. In my story, the girl is 11 years old. Avery died at eleven. I know it's ridiculous to even entertain this thought - that somehow my words created a destiny for a child - or that somehow, if I had just written the pretend story I would never have the real story I needed to share. I know, it doesn't make rational sense. I blame the stress in my shoulders. Because, really, this chair is way too short. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In This Moment

There was a gaggle of boys at the pool yesterday. Ten years old, maybe eleven. Jumping all over each other, laughing, dunking heads beneath water.

I found myself watching from my chair, laughing when they laughed even though I had no idea what was so funny.

I turned toward my own son struggling his way down the length of the pool, his instructor at his side, voicing words of encouragement every few strokes. He hates the front crawl. His strongest is the elementary backstroke. He could float on his back for days. I could tell from where I sat that my boy did not want to be doing that front crawl.

The boys pulled themselves out of the water. Skin and bones dripping as they pushed and pulled each other toward the locker room.

"I wonder what Brody will be like if he gets to be that age," I thought.

I snapped aware: what do you mean if he gets to be that age? I chastised myself. What kind of mother thinks like that?

But there's a truth in that. A hard, scary truth that mothers who have lost children know without ever wanting to. There is no guarantee.

Now, before you go all thinking how morbid and awful that is and judging me thinking I haven't figured out how to effectively grieve the loss of my daughter, I invite you to look at things from a different perspective....

I have no preconceived notion of what my child is supposed to be like. Because I know that time on earth is not guaranteed, I can simply enjoy him. Every second of every day he is here amazes me.

I don't care if he plays sports or chess -- as long as I get to see him smile.

I don't care if he considered cute by the girls or a gawky dork -- as long as I get to hear him laugh.

I don't care if he excels at Math or changing carburetors -- as long as I get to listen to him tell me what he has learned.

I don't care who he asks to prom -- as long as his heart skips a beat when she enters the room.

There is a beautiful gift given to parents who have lost children.... an ability to see life for what it is: a moment to be treasured and enjoyed and poured into. Whether we get one more moment or a thousand more - each and every one is a sacred gift. We don't squander them.

Yes, I wonder what my son will be like if he gets to be ten. I do so pray the Lord grants me that. But in the event He doesn't, I'm not going to waste my time wishing my child was someone he isn't.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Way this was Supposed to Be

This school year was supposed to be the one that officially began Brody's elementary education while ending Avery's. They were supposed to be at school all day, together. Sibling bookends - one in Kindergarten and the other in 8th grade.

This was the year I was supposed to be able to join the car pool lane. No more parking and walking my child into the preschool rooms. This year I was supposed to pull up and wish my kids a good day and watch while the older sister made sure the younger brother stood in his class line.

This was the year my kids would finally eat in the same cafeteria during the same lunch hour. Their daily schedule lining up just so.

This year, Avery was supposed to fill me in on what her brother acted like on the playground and in the hallways. She was supposed to be my spy.

This year Avery was supposed to be at the top of the student food chain. The treasured final year, filled with class fundraisers and a class trip where the students slept in hotel rooms in Minneapolis or Cleveland or St. Louis - the location something they were supposed to pick together.

This year Avery was supposed to take her graduation photo which would hang forever in the halls of the school. In the same hall that held the graduation picture her grandmother is standing in.


Brody entered Kindergarten alone. His title of Younger Brother crossed off and Only Child penciled in above it.

Instead of watching Avery walk into school as an 8th grader, I marveled at how big the Tulip Tree planted in her memory at the front of the school property has grown in just a couple years.

Instead of meeting with her teachers during Back to School Night, I held back tears.

In Brody's classroom, parents sat on too tiny chairs, our knees up past our ears, as we watched our squirming children on their carpet squares. Each child introduced their parents, we described our families.

"Our oldest daughter is actually relocating to Australia and is traveling there as we speak," I began. "And we sponsor a 16-year old boy in Haiti, so we have a son there, too." Before I could say anything else, Brody piped up, "And my sister, Avery, died and is in heaven."

I thought about the many children I have.... how they are scattered like the wind; across the world and in heaven. I thought about the ones I have given birth to and the ones I haven't. I thought about the baby that never made it to the point we knew if we would have had a son or a daughter. I thought about the boy born and named by a woman who would later drop him off at an orphanage, praying for a better life for him. I thought about my oldest, whose bravery and courage surpasses anyone I have ever known; oh, how she deserves a happiness that blows her mind!

God has blessed me with many children... but He has placed them where I can not easily reach out to touch them.

There's a new music teacher at our school. She sent out a request to borrow any available acoustic guitars so she can teach students.

Avery's guitar has stood silent since she died.

I dusted it off and brought it to the school. Our family's last name written on a piece of masking tape on its back. Ready to be picked up again. Eager to make music.

This is the year my oldest has moved to Australia, my youngest has entered Kindergarten, and the son I share waits in Haiti. This is the year Avery makes music through the halls of the school she loved so very much.

And this is the way it's exactly supposed to be.