Parker’s Story

parker

I always love the movies when someone sees someone from afar at the beginning of a movie, and they instantly know from that moment on that this one person is really, really special. Then, the rest of the movie is chaos and mayhem as the character tries to figure out what exactly that something “special” is.

A few cases in point: Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale, (sort of) August Rush with Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, or While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, and Peter Gallagher.

If you haven’t seen these movies, you really should. They are all fantastic (particularly While You Were Sleeping)!

The story you are about to read, however, isn’t about a movie from 1995. It’s actually about a story from my own life that has a similar element to it (although, sadly, it’s not a crazy Beth style full of mishaps love story. I know, too bad!)

Let’s rewind a bit to Canal Days back at the beginning of June, and perhaps even a bit before that.
When I was planning the Faith & Family Night event for Saturday night featuring Love & the Outcome and the Sidewalk Prophets, I prayed a lot.

A lot a lot.

I prayed for good weather. I prayed that we would somehow come up with all the sponsorships that we needed. I prayed that I would somehow, someway figure out what the heck I was doing and not make a train wreck out of the whole thing.

I think my most fervent prayer was this: that even if it poured down rain and we ran out of money and the Sidewalk Prophets ended up playing an acoustic set in my driveway for 12 people, at least one heart somewhere in the general vicinity of the 46774 zip code would be changed for the better by something they saw or heard at Faith and Family Night.

Well, I’m happy to report that the weather was perfect on Saturday, June 8th. I did not manage to singlehandedly bankrupt the Canal Days Festival Committee (yippee!) By all accounts, the evening was far from a train wreck and an estimated 4,000 people turned out in the park for the show. (Considering that in previous years we normally drew crowds of about 40 for a show, I was happy with 4,000!)

The only thing I didn’t know was who my ‘one’ was—my one person that I had hoped for, and prayed for. I knew it was likely that I would never really know, and I was actually very content with that as I stood backstage with my sound and lighting guru Nate, looking out at all of the smiling faces who were singing and praising the name of Jesus in Schnelker Park.

I watched as one little boy, maybe my son’s age, caught my eye near the front of the stage. He was singing along with Dave of the Sidewalk Prophets to one of my favorite songs, ‘You Love Me Anyway’, with his eyes closed and his green wristband strapped arms raised in the air.

I’m pretty sure my heart smiled.

For me, that was the face and the moment from Faith & Family Night that I won’t ever forget.
(Okay, so maybe I should be completely honest here. Perhaps the reason I noticed the little boy was his t-shirt. He was wearing a completely awesome blue t-shirt that, at first glance, looked like a Superman shirt. I am a lifelong Superman fanatic. If e-Bay had been around when I was 5, I would have sold my little brother online so I could have his Superman underoos. Anyways, the t-shirt the little boy was wearing wasn’t a Superman t-shirt—instead of an S in the middle of the chest, it had a cross. To quote my own son at age 3, “Jesus is the best superhero ever, Mommy!”)

A few days after Faith & Family Night, I received a message in my “Other” mailbox from people I am not currently friends with on Facebook. This box usually has some interesting mail in it; on this particular day, however, I found a message that said the following: “Beth, here is a picture of my son who LOVES Jesus at the Sidewalk Prophets concert.”

Right below the message was a picture of the moment I remembered from Faith & Family Night. The little 6-year-old boy in the blue Superman style t-shirt, arms up in the air was in my inbox.
His name is Parker, and he may very well be my Faith & Family Night one.

Several days later, I made an appointment to go over to Parker’s house to find out more about this little kid who I had been told talks to the kids on the school bus about Jesus. Parker was smiling out thru the window at me, and he was waving a small piece of paper in the air.

“Look what I’ve got!” he said as soon as I walked in the door. Upon closer examination, I realized he had torn off the page that the Sidewalk Prophets had autographed on his ‘Live Like That’ CD cover.
To put it mildly, the autographed sheet was looking incredibly loved.

“Whose name is that?” Parker asked me, pointing at the different signatures. “What instrument do they play?” he wanted to know. I answered his question, to which he replied “Wow! Wow! Wow!”

On a nearby couch, Parker’s mom, Valerie, sat covered up with a blanket, her multi colored medications lined up in dozens of syringes in front of her on the coffee table.

I actually remembered Valerie as well Parker from Faith & Family Night, because she had been in a wheelchair, sporting a freshly implanted medical infusion port on her chest with IV lines racing up and down her arms. While waiting in line for a Sidewalk Prophets autograph, she had nervously asked me, “Do you think they will take a picture with me even though I’m in a wheelchair?”

Without hesitation, I had replied, “Sweetie, you’re in a wheelchair. I’m pretty sure they would do anything you asked them to as long as it isn’t illegal or immoral.” She laughed, and sure enough, got the picture she wanted a few minutes later.

This particular night in Valerie’s living room, however, she began telling me the story of how she is currently battling Lyme Disease, and how she didn’t always attend Christian music concerts; in fact, it wasn’t until Parker was born after a difficult pregnancy and was placed in the NICU that she had her first real encounter with our loving and merciful Savior.

“It was 2 am in the morning, and I had snuck out of my hospital room and went down to the NICU,” Valerie told me, “and the beeping and the noises from Parker’s bassinet was driving me crazy. I didn’t know if he was going to be okay.”

Valerie stopped for a moment, drawing a shaky breath before continuing on. “My Mom had been going to church for several years, and had been asking me to go with her, but I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t need any of that.’ Then, at 2 am in the NICU, I dropped to my knees because I couldn’t handle this on my own anymore. I prayed, ‘God, if you are there, I need to know. This is too much for me.’”

What happened next, says Valerie, changed her life forevermore.

Parker’s respiration levels immediately leveled.

His heartbeat regulated.

The beeps were silenced.

“There was just silence,” recalls Valerie. “The hairs on my arms literally stood on end. It was incredibly powerful.”

From then on, Valerie said, she was going to follow Christ.

So was Parker.
She remembers a time when Parker, just 3 years old, was playing outside with his Tonka trucks. Parker had lined up the trucks, talking to a broom in his hand as Valerie and her mother watched from the porch, wondering what he was up to.

Eventually, it dawned on them he was preaching the story of John the Baptist to the Tonka trucks.

At 6 (and 1/2!), Parker still knows his stuff when it comes to Bible, and he still has a big heart for Jesus.

Parker remembers when he was 5 years old, driving along in the car he heard a song on the radio and prayed that Jesus would come into his heart and live. That day was so special he can even tell you the exact day it happened: September 30th, 2012.

Of course, I wanted to talk to Parker about music since it’s kind of my thing. Parker says some of his favorites are Skillet and the Newsboys—he really likes the songs “Monster” by Skillet and “God’s Not Dead” by the Newsboys. He also likes Chris Tomlin, and of course, the Sidewalk Prophets.

While I wanted to know more about Parker and his musical favorites, he wanted to know more about the Sidewalk Prophets; for instance, who was standing where on stage? Who was the guy wearing the hat? Who was the guy with the beard? Who was the happy guy playing the drums? Do you think they remember me? Where was the tambourine? (Sadly, I did not have an answer to that question!)

When I managed to squeeze in a final question of my own, I asked if there was anything else I needed to know about him, Parker responded enthusiastically, “I’m a big Christian! And I’ve read the whole Bible!”

He proudly held up his copy of the Beginner’s Bible. I was notably impressed.

Parker’s mom Valerie says that since attending Faith and Family night earlier this June, and meeting the Sidewalk Prophets, Parker is more aware of Christian behaviors and his faith. According to Valerie, the knowledge that everyone around him at Faith and Family Night knew God and knew the words to the songs made a huge and lasting impression on him.

That’s quite a coincidence, since Parker has made a lasting impression on me.

After getting to know Parker, I was pretty sure he might be interested in a career in music. Pair up his love of music with his public speaking tendencies at the tender age of 3 and the fact that he’s super cute, and I think this kid could go pretty far.

Granted, Parker does want to go far in life; however, he wants to go there as an astronaut, not as a musician.

This started me thinking in a roundabout way again about Parker’s blue t-shirt, the one that initially made an impression on me because it reminded me of Superman. In the new Man of Steel movie about Superman, it is revealed that the S on Superman’s chest isn’t really an S at all, but a symbol for hope on the planet Krypton.

I’m thinking that the way Parker’s blue t-shirt is reminiscent of Superman is quite serendipitous because it is replaced with a cross; Jesus is the ultimate hope, the one true hope that we have in this world.

When Parker’s mom, Valerie, was on her knees in the NICU, He was there to give her hope in one of the darkest times a mother can ever face. It’s obvious, at least to me, that His hand has been on Parker ever since.

That same hope now shines in and through Parker. His smile, his laughter are his school bus testimony;  my hope has been re-affirmed in the goodness of people because of him.

For this, I am very thankful that Parker is my Faith & Family Night one.

Very thankful.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
1 Timothy 4:12

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Lessons in Love From My Father

I originally wrote this tribute in 2012 for my Dad on Father’s Day.  I edited it and am sharing it again this year because I received such a positive response to it last year.  Happy Father’s Day to you and your Dad from me and my Dad!  ~Beth

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I spent a lot of time thinking about the words I wanted to say about my Dad this week in a Father’s Day tribute.  How does one accurately paint a picture with words someone who has been there for you every moment of your life, beginning with your first breath?  It’s a daunting challenge to be sure, but one that I will face like I face the other challenges that I write about every day.  I only know how to write about what I know, about what is written upon my heart.  In this heart of mine, a heart that is a composite of beautiful scars and held together by colorful patches, I carry the love and laughter of my father written in an ink so permanent that time and space, scars and patches, could never erase it.

I’ve always been told that as a new baby, I belonged to my Dad from the moment he first held me in his arms.  My first night home from the hospital, my parents didn’t know what to do with me, this 6 pound, 8 ounce screaming pink bundle of little girl fresh from the womb. It wasn’t until my Dad laid down on the couch, and my Mom placed me, his brand new baby girl against his bare chest, that I finally settled down, content to listen to the beat of his heart.  As I understand it, I spent many a night like that, chest to chest with my father, cradled safely in his arms, sound asleep and at peace in the big, scary world I had been born into.

To my Dad, I imagine I grew up far too quickly, just as my own six year old son has grown up in the blink of an eye.  I still remember just like it was yesterday how it felt to be my son’s age, and how proud I felt to be my Daddy’s Queen B.  I was quite positive that I had the strongest, bravest, most handsome Daddy in the whole world.  When I was with my Dad, I was always so proud to be his little girl, to walk beside him and hold his hand.  When the sun would shine on his flaxen blonde hair, he reminded me of my Barbie’s Ken doll, and I knew, I just knew that I was the luckiest girl in the world to have a Daddy like that.

I can still remember how he smelled, like Old Spice and soap and the leather of baseball mitts.  To me, it was the best smell in the world.   My Dad’s eyes were so blue, like the waters on the lake he would take me fishing on, just the two of us, and teach me how bait my hook with real worms and cast my own line, important things that every little girl needs to know how to do.

There were many other important lessons I learned from Dad that I know I wouldn’t ever have learned from anybody else if he hadn’t been there for me.  From my Dad, I learned to love nature while following him around in the woods, my brown hair in a ponytail swinging behind me, pink rubber barn boots on my feet as I walked behind him, surrounded by the magic I saw in the trees and rivers and heard in the life hidden where I couldn’t see.  My Dad, though, had a gift, and could always see what I couldn’t, and as we walked he unlocked the mysteries I so longed to see:  the doe and her fawn nestled beneath the branch of a tree, the family of squirrels high up in their nest in a tree, watching us as we passed by, a coyote, hungry and on the prowl in the distance.  My Dad taught me the importance of being still, the importance of watching and listening to the life that surrounds you, on our adventures in the wilderness.

I remember when I was maybe 7 or 8, I was finally learning how to ride my bike without training wheels.  Since my family lived in the country, the terrain was not exactly what you would call friendly for learning to ride a bike on.  Once I had finally gotten the basics of riding my bike down in our gravel driveway, I wanted so badly to ride my bike with my Dad while he went on his evening run out on the country roads. Reluctantly, he agreed, but the bike ride ended up being a disaster.

My sky blue banana seat bicycle, and I, took a beating that afternoon. I lost count of how many times I ended up in the ditch, or sunny side up in the middle of the road.  My dad ran his entire two mile route and back while I was still trying to make my way up the first hill past the grain silo less than ½ mile from our house.  As my Dad ran back by me, he said encouragingly, “Don’t give up, Beth!  Go just a little farther than you think you can. I know you can do it!”

That was just the encouragement I needed.

I felt like it took forever for me to find my way back home that night; the sun was sinking low in the sky, fiery orange touching the perfectly paralleled rows of corn as they stretched out as far as my eyes could see.  Yet, as I finally rolled up on my bike to our white, two story farmhouse sitting on the hill nestled between the pussy willow trees and peony bushes, I saw my Dad standing by the mailbox, still in his running clothes, waiting for me.

He had been waiting there for me all night.

That night, I learned from my Dad two important things:  first, you never, ever give up.  Always keep pushing, just a little bit further than you think you can, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.  This truth has served me well during my life, and I owe it all to my Dad.  The second thing my Dad taught me on that summer Indiana night as the fireflies began to light up the night sky is that you never give up on the ones you love.  Never. Even if it takes forever, no matter if it feels like it lasts a lifetime, if you love someone, you keep waiting patiently for them to come back home to you.

Now, I wish I could tell you all that my Dad and I remained the best of friends forever, my Dad the hero of my heart, and I, the Queen B of his. Time has a way of passing even when we don’t want it to, and sweet little girls grow up into willful, headstrong teenagers, no longer children but not yet women, rare hybrids who think they don’t need their fathers anymore.  I think I may have been more willful and headstrong than your average teenage girl, and to put it nicely, I am quite certain there were times that my father didn’t know what to do with me.    My Mom tried enrolling me in Kaydean’s Charm School for girls; however, I was kicked out and she was given a full refund after one session.  I was beyond hope, I guess.  Military School might have been a better choice for me, but I probably would have managed to get kicked out of there, too.

My senior year of high school my strong-willed, insubordinate attitude was coming to a boiling point.  I was an interesting dichotomy at that time in my life, my personality divided into two distinct, parts, sometimes jointly exhaustive and sometimes mutually exclusive.  The reality of that time was that I was a good girl, a sweet girl, a smart girl, a girl who was overwhelmingly successful at everything she did.  I was loved and adored by everyone that I met.  I had a huge heart, and even bigger dreams, and every reason in the world to believe that I could go out and make those dreams come true.

Yet, in my mind, I was unworthy of all of my successes.  I was a catastrophe, never good enough, not smart enough, completely unlovable.  All the love in my heart, all the dreams I held so dear, didn’t really matter because I didn’t believe in myself enough to go out and make something with what I had to give.

My Dad taught me an important lesson about the lies I was telling myself, the untruths that were holding me back from a future I wanted to run towards.  I needed so desperately to know that I was loved, and my Dad found a way to reach me in the middle of the unlikeliest of situations.  In the middle of an Indiana cornfield, my Dad showed me what it meant to be loved unshakably.

I was up to no good with one of my friends one night, trying to be stealth and ninja like while en route to a toilet papering (TP) raid. It will probably surprise no one who knows me that I made a wrong turn into the middle of a cornfield, getting my Mom’s red Ford Astro minivan imperviously stuck in the mud after a hard rain had fallen earlier in the day.   Believe me, my friend Nikki and I tried everything we could think of to get that van out of the mud.  If I had been the Incredible Hulk, I would have lifted it right up and ran with it all the way to County Road 800 East.  Unfortunately, if I was green at all, it was from the thought of what was going to happen to me when my parents found out where the van was at, and how it came to be stuck there.

There were times in my youth I tended to be a little bit delusional, and this was one of those times.  I thought that my parents wouldn’t notice that I had left with my Mom’s van that night, but when I came back home, I had no van, just some really lame excuses and thinly veiled questions like  “Where does Dad keep the shovels at again?”

The next day, the van was still stuck in the mud out in the middle of the field, and Nikki and I were back, furiously trying to dig the Red Devil out.  I was sitting with my back to the road when Nikki said, “Um, Beth, somebody is coming.”

“Who is it?”  I asked, not bothering to turn around and look.  I was busy digging!

“I think it’s just the farmer guy,” Nikki replied, not sounding very sure.

Then, I heard a voice I would recognize anywhere as it erupted in a stream of expletives that I can’t possible repeat here, leaving a death sentence hanging in the air over me.

My dad was standing right behind me.  My mom was, too, but I wasn’t worried about my Mom.  If there was going to be bloodshed, it would be by my Dad’s hands, not my Mom’s.

I was caught red handed, or rather, shovel handed, with the Red Devil up to its axles in mud.

Of course, my Dad demanded to know just exactly how the van ended up in the middle of the field.  I replied innocently enough, “I made a wrong turn.”  My Dad opened the sliding door to the back of the van, which revealed two cases of discount store toilet paper, and several cans of silly string and shaving cream.  He looked at me knowingly, and I knew that he knew exactly what I was up to.

In that moment, I was pretty sure my Dad had done some TPing of his own in his younger days.

“I swear I don’t know how you, of all my children, always manages to be the one to get into so much trouble,” said my Dad, shaking his head and pounding his fist on the hood of the van.

He was right.  Up to that point, I was the reigning queen of catastrophes in our family. In fact, I pretty much still am.

“We will talk about this later, young lady,” my Dad told me, after confirming that both Nikki and I were okay.  “In the meantime, consider yourself permanently grounded, and I think it goes without saying that it will be a long, long time before I ever let you drive one of my cars again.”

To me, this sounded reasonable.  A life sentence without the possibility of parole and never having to drive again was preferable to the alternative of the electric chair, which was what I felt like I deserved.

Later, after the van was extracted from the field and the steam rolling out of Dad’s ears had dissipated after he received the bill for the new transmission, towing service and other repairs, we had the discussion he had promised.  There are a few conversations that my Dad and I have had over the years that stand out vividly in my mind, and this was one of them.  Even though my Dad was unquestionably angry with the choices I had made, even though I made a royal mess of things that night in the cornfield, my Dad loved me anyway; in fact, in my muddles, he grew to love me more because I had revealed for all to see, including myself, that no matter how I old became, I would never be too old to deeply need the love of my father.

How nice it would be to honestly say I never disappointed my father again with the choices I have made in my life, and with the subsequent spectacular failures that followed, but I can’t.  What I can say is this:  my Dad has established a consistent pattern of showing me that when I am in my darkest places, and when my heart is shattered into a million pieces on the ground all around me, he will be there to protect me, to guide me, to help me pick the pieces up one by one until I am tenacious enough to start fighting my battles on my own again.

With everything that I am, I thank my Dad for showing me here on earth a piece of what my heavenly Father’s love for me must be like.

When I am disobedient, He sets me straight. If I’m stuck in the mud, He tenderly pulls me out, sets me straight while loving me any way.

As I sit amidst the broken pieces of my heart, shards littering the ground around me, He picks them up one by one even as it causes His own hands to bleed with grace and mercy.

When I fight with everything I have to climb insurmountable hills with a shaky and unsteady gait, He’s there, too, encouraging me to press on, whispering in my ear, “You can do this!  It’s just a little farther now!”

As I’ve wandered in the desert of my own sinfulness, dying on the inside for a quenching drink that only He can provide, too stubborn and willful to confess my sins, He’s been there waiting by the mailbox patiently for me.  No matter how long it takes for me to come to my senses and come back home to Him, He has always been right there waiting for me, waiting to bring me back home to where I belong.

So, it is with much love and gratitude in my heart for all of these lessons, and the ones left unspoken, that I thank you, Dad.  The older I grow, the deeper I appreciate how blessed I was to have a man like you for a father when I was growing up.  I am infinitely more blessed now to watch you be a Papaw to my Alex, your grandson and spitting image.  If I had one wish to give that would change the world and make it a better place, my wish would be this:  that all the little girls in the world who don’t have a Daddy like you were to me would find one just like you to call their own.

I love you, Dad!  Happy Father’s Day 2013 from your oldest daughter who shall remain always, your Queen B.

OBB Photos to Appear in June Young Salvationist Magazine!

I officially have something new to add to my resume as of this month:  I am a published photographer!  Whoo-hoo!

2 of my pictures of the Oswald Brothers Band, Zach, Jacob, and Nich Oswald, that I took at the 2013 Winter Jam, were published in this month’s issue of the Young Salvationist magazine (www.YoungSalvationist.org).  The pictures appear alongside a great interview with the band about their current projects, their recent appearance on Winter Jam, and their faith.  It’s really a great piece, and you should check it out both for the interview and (of course!) my delightful pictures.

Watch out, world…I can not only write with laser like precision now, but take one heck of a picture, too.  Who knows what I may master next….Riding a unicorn?  Building a castle made of marshmallows in the sky?  Finding that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? 

Stay tuned for details.

Did You Know?

I have a newsflash for y’all:

Spin: The Blog is not my only blog.

I know, crazy, right?

Well, it’s true.  My other blog, http://www.ConsiderJoy.com, is my personal blog that features stories about my life and faith.  Sometimes, I weave in some musical tidbits, but more often than not, it’s just a place for me, my random thoughts and experiences.  Having typed that out, it sounds considerably more boring than it really is; however, if you don’t believe me, you can always head over in that direction and check it out for yourself!

The reason I am pointing out my other blog today is that over the course of the last week I’ve received a rash of e-mails from some of my sweet readers wondering what kind of trouble my for King & Country loving 6 year old, Alex, has been up to lately.

Surprisingly, he hasn’t been up to much (trouble) lately, but we did have a very interesting conversation that I blogged about over on Consider Joy.  I called it ‘Kindergarten Theology With Alex’, and you can read the full story by clicking here.

Check it out, and be sure to let me know what you think!

Blessings,

Beth

Dealing With the Spiritual Blah-dee-dahs

I’m about to be very real with you, so buckle up.

I’ve been experiencing a significant case of the spiritual doldrums lately.  No doubt this kind of thing happens to the
best of us, and in my case, it happens to the rest of us, too.  While this summer I was on fire (and really, for full effect you have to read that as “on fi-yah”) for the Lord, as of late I’m just kind of feeling ho-hum.

Kind of dull.

Kind of blah-dee-dah.

Don’t get me wrong or anything, I’m still all in, Team Jesus all the way.  I’m just lagging in my usual joyful exuberance and inspirational overload that I’m used to; hence, the overabundance of stories lately on my blog about drunk driving pet squirrels, car jacked three-legged turtles named Stumpy, and dog poop.

I admit, a big part of my problem is other people.  If I didn’t have to deal with other people, particularly other people who I find annoying and downright stupid at times, I would be fine.  In fact, my life would probably be so fine I’d waltz around spontaneously singing show tunes and dancing with an umbrella in the middle of Broadway Street in the rain if the opportunity presented itself.

Unfortunately, my life is not a screenplay and I am not able to write out all of the annoying and seemingly stupid people who are keeping me from singing show tunes and dancing in the streets.  I’m kind of stuck with them, and if I’m being honest, a few of them are really bringing me down.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, either.  Two weeks ago, my BFF and I had one of our traditional GNOs (girls night outs) that consists of a trip to Barnes & Noble after our boys are put to bed for a cup of joe and a shared dessert of the decadent variety.  We catch up on all the things we don’t normally have a chance to catch up on during the rest of the week.  Normally, there is a lot of laughter involved.

The entire evening costs way less than a trip to a mental health counselor with far better results.

Our last GNO, however, ended up being more of an all out vent fest.  It seems that my BFF and I have a lot in common, including the same taste in annoying and stupid people.  We ranted, we vented, we griped for two hours about everything that was wrong with these people, everything that wasn’t going the way we wanted it to in our lives, and everything else that we could think of that was remotely negative.

The fine staff of Barnes & Noble had to throw us out of the store because we weren’t done with our tirade yet; so, we left and continued our diatribe from Fort Wayne all the way back to New Haven to my friend’s house, where we sat in the driveway and continued to talk for at least another 45 minutes.

Maybe it was the coffee talking, but I don’t think so.

Here’s the thing.  One would think that after all of this pent-up stuff was let out, we would feel better, right?  The truth of the matter is, I know I didn’t.  I know my friend didn’t, either.  The next day, I felt just as insipid as I did the day before, and perhaps even more so.  I really thought that a GNO with my Bestie would make everything better.  It didn’t.

Where did I go wrong?

As I strolled along my street the next morning, the beautiful fall leaves creating a colorful tapestry beneath my feet, I mulled over the night before in my head.    Seemingly out of nowhere, the following conversation took place in my head: (Side Note:  Mom, if you’re reading this, I apologize.  I know it makes you nervous when I start talking about the voices inside my head.  I promise you, though, they are completely harmless and I have been taking my medication 🙂

Voice:  ‘You know where you went wrong, don’t you?’

Me: ‘Uh, no.’

Voice:  ‘You did a lot of talking.  You did a lot of complaining and griping.  You didn’t do any thanking for what is going right, and you didn’t do any praying for what you want to see changed, or for what you need help with.’

Me: (Silence)

Voice: ‘Oh, and Beth?  Maybe you should consider praying for those people you’ve labeled annoying and stupid.  Maybe they need your prayers more than anyone else.’

Me: (More Silence)

That’s where the conversation ended.  I had nothing more to add, primarily because I knew the voice in my head was 100% right.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it, though.

After some thought, I realized that perhaps my friend and I needed to revamp our GNO into a GBSNO (girls Bible study night out).  We could still do our traditional Barnes & Noble thing.  We could still have coffee and chocolate or whatever other calorie laden dessert strikes our fancy at the Starbucks counter.  Just from now on instead of babbling on and on for over two hours about all that is wrong in our worlds, we’re going to have a purposeful time of prayer and Bible study.

Yep, we’re going to make positive changes in our world and it feels really, really good!

Tonight is our first GBSNO and we’re cheating a little teeny bit, or rather, we’re celebrating in a big way our new adventure.  We’re taking our GBSNO on the road to the Hundred More Years concert tour featuring Francesca Battistelli, the Sidewalk Prophets, City Harbor and Andy Cherry.  There will be absolutely no ranting allowed in the car on the way to the show,  though.  Praying will be allowed, as will reading the Bible.  (Well, I won’t be reading the Bible since I will be driving.  That would be kind of dangerous I suppose.)  I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

What I want to know is, how do you deal with the spiritual blah-dee-dahs?  E-mail me at beth@bethstauffer.com.  I’d love to hear your story!

38 Day No Fear/No Limit Challenge: Teenagers and Rap Musician Edition

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To an untrained eye looking at my life the past week, it probably would not look like I was taking my 38 day No Fears/No Limits challenge very seriously.

Aside from getting my planned fitness in like the good little girl that I am, I didn’t have time to do much of anything else besides work (and work some more, and then a little bit more).  Granted, my work is totally fun to the point that calling it work is sort of a misnomer,  but one might question how exactly doing my job relates to facing my fears and having no limits.

That’s a good question, and I’m going to try to answer it right here, right now.

I spent a lot of time with teenagers this past week.

Teenagers used to terrify me.

I’m not sure if that’s because my own teenage years were riddled with such angst and hormones that I developed an allergic reaction to teens or what.  Perhaps I was concerned that being a teenager is contagious, sort of like the plague, and if I spent too much time around them I would inevitably catch this disease and be forced to go back to high school.  Who knows.

With this being said, I attended a party with the very same high school students this past week called the “Grind Hard Endurance Pre-Homecoming Game Party.”  I’m pretty sure I would have run away screaming at the thought of anything called “Grind Hard Endurance” a few short years ago.  To me, that just sounds wrong, especially when used in conjunction with a party for teenagers.  (For the record, Grind Hard is a reference to an energy drink, like Red Bull or Monster.  Go figure!)

At this party, there was a live performance that took place on the roof of a moving Chevy 1500 van by real, honest to goodness rappers by the name of Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce.

I’m so not joking.

As much as I love music, and you know I love music, if you offered me $1,000,000 right now to name one Kanye or Jay-Z song I wouldn’t be able to do it.  I literally know nothing about mainstream rap music.

I’m definitely more Barry Manilow than Mo Cheez.

In fact, when I was in high school the en vogue rappers of the day were MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.  (Come to think of it, I even had both of their albums…on cassette tape.  Ha!)

Yet, here I was reporting live from right smack in the middle of a high school party with real rappers singing from on top of an old Chevy van (Do rappers even call it singing?  Rapping? Rhyming?  Anybody know the correct terminology here?)

I knew I was going to have to talk to Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce for my story; if I’m being completely honest here, I was freaking out and not in the same way I would be freaking out if I was going to meet Barry Manilow.

First off, I was going to have to get past the two nefarious looking body-guard type guys standing with their arms folded across their chest by the stage.  They may have been wearing the equivalent of my body weight in gold chains around their necks.  Neither one looked like they would enjoy small talk, nor did it appear that my sweet self and trusty press pass would be able to get anything by them.

Either one of those two guys could have snapped me like a twig if they wanted to, that’s how big they were.

My next problem was, if I was going to risk my life by approaching Shaquille O’Neal’s less personable brothers, I needed some questions to ask Mo Cheez and Nyzze Nyce.   As I’ve mentioned, I know nothing about rap music, and as a result, I had absolutely no intelligent questions to ask these guys.

In my mind, I pictured the following conversation:

Me:  (After flashing my press pass and introducing myself) What was your name again?  I didn’t catch it. (This, of course, would be a lie.  I just didn’t know anything else to ask.)

Mo Cheez:  Mo Cheez.

Me:  Yeah, how do you spell that?

Mo Cheez: M-O  C-H-E-E-Z

Me:  Whatever possessed your mother to name you that? (I mean, really, that can’t be the name on his birth certificate, can it?)

This is where the story ended in my imagination.  There’s probably no good ending once you’ve insulted a rapper’s mother.

            My other problem with interviewing Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce was the small issue of me being sort of uncomfortable by their attire.  I’ve done a lot of interviews before, just never where I’ve had a clear and complete view of the person’s boxer shorts.  (For those of you wondering, they were Polo by Ralph Lauren.  You’re not welcome!)  The only men’s underwear I’m used to seeing on a regular basis these days are Alex’s Lego Ninjago and Batman underpants as I’m doing the laundry.

As I mulled over these things in my mind while the music blared, I could feel the panic starting to swell up inside me.

It was then that I remembered my challenge to myself that I made last week:  “No fears, no limits.”

I had this.  Really, I did.

I’m happy to report that I ended up interviewing Mo Cheez and Nyzzy Nyce, and indeed they were both very nice.  (They aren’t the only ones around here who can rhyme!)  Even the nefarious looking bodyguards turned out to be not so nefarious.  I don’t think I asked too many stupid questions, although I will say that any questions I deemed really stupid I saved to ask my new friend and Mo Cheez’s official DJ, Kevin Kohrman.  Kevin very kindly gave me a very basic primer on rap music, Mo Cheez, and Nyzzy Nyce at a local event on Saturday.  Thanks, Kevin!

The funny part of this story is, on Saturday at the previously mentioned local event, I went into Domino’s Pizza for a minute to interview the owner.  As I was inside, I bumped into what at first glance was just a normal guy picking up his Domino’s order.

“Hey, Beth, right?” he said.

I had no idea who this guy was.

Then, I spied the Polo by Ralph Lauren underwear sticking out of the top of his jeans.

I took another look at his face and realized that this was the rapper Mo Cheez, and tried not to die laughing at what a dork I am sometimes.

            (Side note:  Do you call rappers by their rap names when you run into them at Domino’s?  Or just when performing?)

           (Side note 2:  I had to bite my tongue really, really hard not to ask Mo Cheez if he orders his pizza with mo’ cheez?  I totally found that funny, however, I’m guessing no one else probably would.)

Friends, the moral of this story is, have no fear and know no limits.  If I can party with teenagers and interview up and coming rap stars, I have no doubt that there is absolutely nothing you can’t do.  Don’t let your mind defeat you; you might be surprised what you can do if you put aside the fears and limitations you have set for yourself in the confines of your mind.

The song Mo Cheez and Nyzze Nyce collaborated on, My City, was just picked up by Sony Records and is now available on iTunes and Amazon.  You can also view the video which was made in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42aXYD3p_ZI&feature=g-like

Pink Elephants; Or, Grace’s Live Like That Story

Dear Readers:
          I’m so happy to tell you that following excerpt of the story you are about to read has recently been accepted for publication in Guideposts magazine and will appear in the magazine sometime in the summer of 2013!  The editors are very generously allowing me to share it with you all first on my blog for a short time. 
          To answer a few questions that I inevitably get after I give the in demand Pink Elephants speech version of this story…First, yes this is a true story, with the exception of Grace’s name, which has been changed at the request of her family.  I wrote this story on May 11th, 2012. 
          Second, in the past there has been some confusion about what this story is actually called.  I always refer to this story as my Pink Elephant story.  Everyone else seems to refers to it as my Live Like That story.  In all actuality, it’s Grace’s Story. 
          Third, everyone always wants to know if the Sidewalk Prophets like my story.  That question I can’t answer, although I can say that I personally gave them a copy of the story and thanked them for such a great song before I started sharing Grace’s story with the world.  The ‘Live Like That’ song has probably sparked hundreds if not thousands of amazing stories, most of which I’m sure are even more amazing than the one that follows. 
          Finally, I just want to say a quick thank you to my Gracie girl who inspired this story.  I’m so honored and blessed to have watched you grow and to be able to call myself your teacher.  A special thank you goes out to your family as well for allowing me to share your story.
Much Love,
Beth
_______________________________________________________________________________
         I drew back the curtains on the patio doors at 8:30 a.m. on another Friday and was greeted by a beautiful, sunshiny April morning. Smiling at the thought of spending some quality time outside later with the kids, I took a sip of the triple berry smoothie we had made this morning together for breakfast. Music was playing softly in the background, and the children were all playing purposefully.
          Today was shaping up to be a really great day!
          Turning around, I did a quick sweep of the classroom, my eyes looking for any imminent disasters or potentially missing children. I first spotted Norah, Jesse and Kendra in the log cabin playhouse that is set up in the corner of our classroom. I walked over and knelt down in front of the window, pulling open the green plastic shutters. “Good morning, friends,” I said cheerfully. “What’s going on today?” I ask.
          “We got a customer!” 2 year old Norah yells excitedly, jumping up and down, while Jesse and Kendra run over to the window to greet me.  “You want some frozen yum-yum?” she asks, shoving an orange bowl shaped like an ice cream cone with a similarly shaped spoon out the window at me.
          “Well, I’d love some,” I reply, taking the bowl and spoon from her. “What’s the Yum-Yum special of the day?” I ask. In our hometown of Fort Wayne, Yum-Yum’s is the popular local frozen yogurt shop that sells a variety of different flavors and over a hundred different toppings to choose from.
          While the topping bar is nowhere near as healthy as, let’s say, a salad bar, and probably dramatically reduces any health benefits the frozen yogurt may provide, it sure is appealing to the preschoolers I work with!
          “Broccoli,” says 4 year old Kendra, laughing hysterically.
          “We don’t got no broccoli,” says Norah, hands on her hips. “Nobody’s gonna buy that!” she says.
          “How about a cup of chocolate/vanilla swirl?” I ask. “And don’t forget the gummy bears!” I add as an afterthought. Norah takes the bowl and spoon back from me, turning away with Kendra to discuss how many pretend gummy bears are too many pretend gummy bears to put on teacher’s frozen yum-yum.
          One year old Jesse comes over to the window and stands on his tippy toes so his chin is just over the window of the log cabin. He reaches his pudgy little arms out through the window while giving me a big smile. Big spaces of pink gum still show where his teeth haven’t quite come through yet, and his wide blue eyes twinkle as he says, “Bethie give hug!”
          I reach out and pull him through the window, giving him a big hug. “You’re going to be such a heartbreaker when you grow up, Jesse,” I say, giving him another hug and nuzzling the top of his head with my nose.
          Just then, Norah and Kendra reappear at the window with my bowl of frozen pretend yum-yum. Kendra hands it to me as Norah says, “We decided you don’t get any gummy bears. Sugar isn’t any good for your teeth.”
          I chuckle to myself and say, “Good point. Thank you, ladies.  Have a good morning!” I stand up and turn around, smiling at my co-teacher,Tara, who is on the other side of the room preparing materials for an activity later in the morning.
          Out of the corner of my eye I notice six year old Grace sitting on a bean bag chair in the reading corner all alone, elbows on knees, cheeks in hands, brow furrowed and deeply in thought. I grab a bean bag chair from the stack in the corner and sit down next to her. Reaching into my pocket for change, I say “Penny for your thoughts?”
          Grace looks over at me and gives me a weak smile. “Miss Beth, can I ask you a question about something that is bothering me?”
          I nod, patting her on the shoulder. “Of course, always.What’s on your mind?”
          “Do you hear this song?” she asks, referring to the music playing in the background. I pause for a moment, feeling like I’m on the game show ‘Name That Tune.’  Thankfully, it doesn’t take me too long to recognize the music.
          The song that’s playing is ‘Live Like That’ by the Christian music group Sidewalk Prophets.
          “Yes,” I say, beginning to wonder exactly where this conversation is headed.
          Grace taps her fingers against the side of her face and looks at me as if she’s sizing me up, trying to decide if she should pose the rest of her question to me or not. I smile encouragingly. Very seriously, Grace says “When I hear this song, it makes me feel happy in my heart and makes me want to live like that, too. But I don’t know what that is. Live like what? Do you know what that is, Miss Beth?”
          I draw in a deep breath, very aware that what Grace has experienced in her own life is not what the song is referring to.
          To date, Grace’s life has been far from easy. Her life has been filled with interactions with Child Protective Services and rejection by the parents who were supposed to love and cherish her.  She’s experienced the selfish death of a parent and the repeated loss of divorce. Grace has half-siblings she’s never met, and ex step-siblings she loves but will never see again.  By the age of 3, she had lost both of her grandparents, the people who loved her unconditionally and provided her with a sense of stability for much of her life, to death. 
          When your first six years of life are a rollercoaster ride of rejection, repeated loss, suicide, death, broken families, and divorce, understanding the concept of living a life like that might be a stretch.
          I look at Grace leaning into me and see that she is looking up at me with those wide, doe brown eyes of hers, expecting me to be able to help her make sense something that I’m not completely sure I’m capable of explaining to a six year old even in the best of circumstances.
         I begin to feel a strange mix of emotions stirring inside me.
        While I’m happy that this sweet, serious little girl so much like myself at her age would trust me with questions weighing heavy on her heart, I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be tackling such deep, philosophical questions before 9 am on a Friday morning sans coffee.
          ‘You’re just a preschool teacher,’ I say to myself, trying to come up with an acceptable out. ‘Stick with what you know, like ABCs and 123s. Leave the important life lessons for someone else.’ Then, with a glance to my left, I see Grace’s expectant face, patiently waiting for my reply. It is then that I realize that aside from Tara, I am probably the only person in her life that personally knows the answer to her question, ‘What does it mean to live a life like that?’, and who, with the help of God, attempts to live a life like that every day.
         I realize that I need to tell Grace what it means to live like that not just for her sake, but for my own sake as well.  Beginning simply, I say to her, “Well, it means to live a life like Jesus.”
          “Oh,” says Grace dejectedly, her body sinking into the bean bag chair. “I can’t do that,” she says, burying her face back in her hands, tears forming in the corner of her eyes.
          “What do you mean, you can’t do that?” I ask, puzzled .
          “My Dad won’t let me move that far away,” she replies.
          “Oh, no, no, no. That’s NOT what it means.” I say, trying to hide my smile while I pause for a moment to silently ask God to help me find away to explain this to her that she can understand.
          In a moment of brilliance I say, “You know what? I think I know where we can find the answer to your question!”
          “You do?” Grace asks, a glimmer of hope rising up in her voice.
          “I do!” I reply with conviction as I stand up and toss my bean bag chair into the corner.  I stretch out my hand to her, take her small hand in mine, and say, “Come with me.”
          Together we walk over to where I keep my bag and I pull out my trusty blue leather Bible with silver edged pages. The cover is worn and soft, and the place on the front where my name was once imprinted has rubbed away. I hand it to her, and opening it up she says, “This is your Bible!”
         “Yes it is,” I reply. “In the Bible, a great man of God named Paul wrote many books about how to live like Jesus, or like the song says, how to live like that. Would you like me to read some of what he wrote to you?” I ask.
          “Yes please!” Grace responded, looking intently at my Bible.
          I turned in the Bible to the 12th chapter of the book of Romans, verse 2, which is one of my favorite verses in book of Romans and quickly read it to myself: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
          I point out the verse on the page to Grace and say, “It says ‘Don’t copy the behaviors of the world, but be a new and different person witha fresh newness in all you do and all you think’. Paul is telling us that we should try very hard to be good, kind, helpful, and patient so that when other people around us see us they will notice that we are different.”
          Grace’s eyes brighten. “So Paul wants us to be like a pink elephant at the zoo!”
          “Say what?” I ask, thoroughly confused, thinking I must have heard her wrong.
          “Pretend like we go to the zoo to see the elephants and all of the elephants are gray, but one was pink. We would notice the pink elephant for sure. Paul wants us to be different than everybody else so we will standout like a pink elephant for Jesus!”
          “Yes, that’s exactly right!” I say, somewhat hesitantly, mulling over what she has said, kind of struck by her unique understanding of the verse I had read.
          “What else does Paul say?” Grace asks, turning some pages in the Bible.
          “Well,” I say, flipping to a verse I had read in Bible study yesterday, “Here in Phillippians 2:14-15 it says ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.’ Did you know that I love to go out and night and look up at the night sky because stars are so bright and beautiful?  Well, here Paul is telling us that we should be like those bright stars by showing others how to behave. We should be a good example for others to follow. People should see Jesus’ light shining through us.”
           I looked at Grace where she sat, and I could see the light streaming from her face as she listened with her trademark intensity to my words.  I continued,  “You know, Jesus stood out in a crowd. He was like a star lighting up the sky. Thousands of people followed him around because they could see that he was different. He cared about people and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right. Jesus would stop and talk to people thatother people would not talk to. Do you remember Zaccheus the tax collector?”
          “Yep, he was a wee little man!” Grace said, quoting a line from the popular children’s song about Zaccheus, the wee little man who climbed up in the sycamore tree.
          “Indeed,” I reply, laughing. “He was also a tax collector,which meant that no one liked him. Jesus didn’t care about that, though! He even went to his house for dinner.”
          “Zaccheus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!” Grace sings.
          I look at Grace, and see that she is watching me with her thoughtful, big brown eyes. Her hands are folded in her lap and her legs are folded criss-cross applesauced in front of her. The long chocolate brown braids I had weaved in her hair in the early hours of the morning are draped over her shoulders, and her face is relaxed and peaceful. Her demeanor is changed from earlier and I know that I have answered her question about what it means to‘live like that’.
          I smile, thinking to myself about the song that sparked this conversation and begin to think about how lucky I am to be able to live like that in my daily life as a teacher to so many unique and wonderful children like Grace.
          As a teacher, there are things that I adore about all of the children I care for. Norah is tomboy awesome. How can you not love a girl who refuses to wear girl underwear because “boy underwear is better because it has superheroes on it?” Rokke is a sports nut, and will only sleep with abasketball, baseball bat or football…forget the stuffed animals. Addison is a girly girl. I can’t remember ever seeing her dressed in anything besides a tutu. Kendra is a future teacher. One of my favorite things is to watch her line up all the dolls and pretend to read to them, just like I do with my students, only Kendra always holds the books upside down. Austin is Mr. Fix it.  I truly believe he can fix anything. When he was two, he fixed my broken CD player and taught me how to use my iPad. Alex is the future rock star. He makes up great songs, plays the guitar and the drums and prefers to write with a sharpie over anything else.
          Then, there is Grace, and she is…well, she’s just this gem of a girl.
          She’s the pink elephant in a zoo full of beautiful, albeit, gray ones.
          When one of her classmates falls down, she’s the first one by their side to help them back up again. If it’s someone’s birthday, she’s organizing the decorations and leading the chorus in singing ‘Happy Birthday’.  If you knock over your paint cup during art and spill all your paint, she’ll gladly give you hers. When it’s time to clean up the room to go outside, she’s busy cleaning up with a smile on her face and a song in her heart while everyone else is busy grumbling and complaining. If another child hurts her feelings or pulls her hair, she is quick to forgive and slow to act in anger.
          It is my sincerest prayer that if I am ever blessed with a daughter, she will be just like Grace because she is one of the kindest, most gentle and loving little girls I have ever had the honor of teaching.
          This past February, however, I wasn’t thinking about being blessed with a daughter in the slightest. On Superbowl Sunday of all days, I succumbed to the worst headache of my life, which ended up not being a headache at all, but a stroke.
          About ten minutes into my two week stay at the hospital, I was desperate to go home; I missed my work, my life, my normal. To be honest, I was terrified and I was angry that I might never have my work, my life, my normal again. I didn’t dare to think about what the future might or might not hold.  If I could just go home, I reasoned, this whole nightmare would be over and I could pretend that it had never happened.
          As I lay there in my hospital bed, struggling with memory loss, weakness, and a brain that at times felt like Jell-o, one verse from the Bible repeatedly came to me from the book of Proverbs, chapter 3 verses 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
          Since this Bible verse seemed to be one of the few things I could reliably remember at the time, I knew I should probably heed what it said; so I began to pray not just for lightning quick healing, but for unfailing hope that good things would come out of this experience. I was very fortunate that my prayers for quick healing were answered. God also answered my secondary prayer by literally pouring down love on me from my friends and students, my student’s families and co-workers, my family and church family, and even those I met while in the hospital.
         Yet, of all of the people who cared for me with their love, prayers and kindness during this time, I have to say that a little six year old girl with chocolate colored braids and doe brown eyes touched my heart the most.
          Every day that I was in hospital, my best friend Sarah came to visit me, and every day, Sarah had a special delivery for me from Grace. Some days, it was a card, some days, it was a picture she had drawn. Once, she had a video of Grace singing “You Can’t Keep Jesus’ Love in a Box” for me, and another time Grace had written a story about the two of us. In the story, we both marry handsome princes, live in a castle, have pet unicorns and live happily ever after.
          Of course, the story was probably my personal favorite!
          I delighted in these little tokens from Grace, because I could see she had poured her heart into every little detail; through her gifts,this sweet little six year old girl told me the very things I needed to hear at a time in my life when I needed to hear them the most: You are missed. You are loved. You are not forgotten.
          Grace didn’t know it, but she was already living a life like that. At least, to me she was.
          How she knew to live a life like that, I’ll never know. For most of her life, she has witnessed exactly the opposite messages in her own family, by those who are supposed to love and protect her. How many times has she heard messages like you’re not important to me?  I don’t love you enough to keep you. You’re not important enough for me to stay. I won’t miss you. Leave me alone. She never loved you. Messages like these, even when heard just once, cut deeply and last a lifetime.
          For a child so young, it is unthinkable to me that she has experienced such cruelty in her lifetime, yet remains so tender hearted, gentle and good.
          Thinking about the sadness and pain that Grace has experienced in her life weighs heavily upon my heart as I notice that a few ofthe children have started to dance. I pause to listen and hear the chorus of another one of Sidewalk Prophets songs, ‘Love Love Love’.
          ‘That’s it’, I think to myself. ‘Love! Grace may have experienced tragedy and loss in her life, but she has also been loved deeply by her grandparents and… by me! Doesn’t it say in Proverbs ‘hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers up for all offenses?’ Love is the answer!’
          This thought gives me a rush of hope, because in this messed up world that we live in there are many other children out there like Grace who are living in broken apart, ravaged families. The idea that the love and prayers of just a few people can turn a child in wasteland of elephants into a shiny bright, show stopping pink elephant amazes me.
          While the problems of this world are large, the solution is simple: what we need is more love, and more pink elephants.
          I closed the Bible on my lap, and put my arm around Grace.“Guess what I was just thinking about?” I asked.
          Grace shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “Don’t know.”
          “Do you remember when I was in the hospital?”
          “You don’t have to go back do you?” she asks.
          “No, no,” I reply. “I was thinking about all the nice things you sent me when I was in the hospital. Did you realize you were being a pink elephant to me when I was in the hospital? So…I don’t think you need to worry about what it means to live like that. You’re already living like that, Grace,” I said softly, giving her a hug.
          Grace looks up at me, her beautiful brown eyes meeting my blue green ones. She smiles and says, “I think you already know, too. You’re the one who showed me how to be a pink elephant!”
          My eyes began to fill with tears for this precious, precious child who has taught me so much more about living a life filled with love, kindness, and courage, and how to truly shine for Jesus, than I could have ever taught her. “Oh Grace, I think we’ve both learned so much from each other,” I say, giving her another hug.
          Grace stands up and points at the other children who are dancing and laughing in the middle of the room. “Let’s dance, Miss Beth!” she says, smiling and pulling me towards the dancing as she sings “You can see it in the stars above…”
          I smile and give her a twirl, laughing and joining in the singing of the lyrics to another one of the Sidewalk Prophets songs, Love, Love, Love: “and when you think you can’t, you can with love!”

A Father’s Day Tribute to My Brother, Superman

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Some of my fondest memories as a child took place with me at the helm of my invisible jet, about six years old, dressed in my Wonder Woman underoos, a gold tiara sitting atop my head with matching gold cuffs adorning my wrists.  Flying beside me, red cape flapping in the wind, was Superman, AKA my little brother, Brent, age 4, dressed in his post Clark Kent underoos (unless of course, it was Wednesday; he was always Batman on Wednesday!)

      Together, we were the most amazing crime fighting duo the world had ever seen.  Our biggest nemesis?  Our baby sister, Stacy.  She was a triple threat to the dynamic duo of Wonder Woman and Superman: she was super cute, super cuddly, and a super big attention hog.  This spelled super big trouble for my brother and I, who were more prone to getting into trouble than being cute and cuddly at this point!
       Besides fighting our evil baby sister, my brother and I were also duly sworn to rid the world of vegetables (especially beets and broccoli, yuck!), baths (which was more my brother’s preference), and bedtime (which was more my own preference).
             Even though my brother and I both outgrew our underoos along, long time ago, our superhero adventures continue on yet today, some 30 years later as parents to our own children.  As a grown up Wonder Woman, a preschool teacher and a mom,  instead of ridding the world of vegetables I’m creating clever tricks to help encourage preschoolers make their veggies disappear via digestion (instead of feeding them to the dog under the table).
          I make bath time fun with bubbles and glow sticks and shaving cream paint and all kinds of other wacky stuff that has my 5 year old running into the tub instead of running away from it.  Finally, when it comes to bedtime, naptime, anytime sleepytime I am, without a doubt, the reigning champion of getting kids to go to sleep.  No child can resist succumbing to my top secret, highly patented good night forehead/eyebrow massage.  100% satisfaction guaranteed on that!
             On the weekends, instead of flying around in my invisible jet, I drive around in my navy blue 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Mini-van, helping people in any way I can while sharing the love of Jesus that I have in my heart.  Sometimes Batman (AKA Alex), my new crime fighting companion comes with me, unless it’s a Sunday.  On Sunday, he informs me that he’s Jesus, his favorite superhero of all.  Hearing those words from my sweet little boy does wonderful things to Wonder Woman’s heart.
      The real superhero of this story, however, isn’t me, or my alter ego, Wonder Woman.  My life is a comparative walk in the park when placed side by side to the life of that boy wearing the red cape and the Superman underoos in this story.  The real hero in this tale is my brother Brent, who I think is unparalleled by any superhero when it comes to being a father, a role model, and an example of a man that is a true hero to his 6 year old son, Skyler.
      My brother the superhero didn’t take the traditional path to become a father to Skyler.  Brent is not Skyler’s biological father, but he IS Skyler’s father in every other sense of the word; most notably through the loving act of adoption.  According to the dictionary, a father is “a man who exercises paternal care over other persons; a paternal protector or provider.”  After meeting his future wife Kerry, and her son Skyler, in 2007, my brother has done just that.  He works two jobs, and sometimes three, to make ends meet for his family so Skyler can have a decent home to live in, food to eat, and the clothes and shoes that young growing boys require.
      Whenever my brother isn’t working, you will frequently find him with his little superhero in training, Spiderman (AKA Skyler), if not right by his side, then somewhere nearby, watching his Daddy with eyes filled with admiration and wonder, especially if they are fishing.
       For this calm, cool, and collected Wonder Woman, a moment like this is really something to see:  my little brother, his arm around his son, helping him to cast out his fishing line on Grandpa’s pond.
      The tenderness between my brother, Superman, and my nephew, Spiderman, is as palpable as the beating of my heart.  To see Brent being a Daddy to Skyler, a little boy who had no father at all until he came along, moves my soul and fills me with hope for all the other little boys out there in the world who are waiting for a Daddy to call their own.
      I feel I would be deceiving you, my readers, if I led you to believe that my relationship with my brother is as simple and carefree as it once was when we were Wonder Woman and Superman (or Batman, if it was a Wednesday).  It’s not. Over the years, there has been dysfunction and sinfulness in both of our lives that has damaged our relationship and left scars that are still painful and sore, leaving a canyon between us that in recent times has been difficult to bridge.
      What remains, however, indeed what was never lost, is the tremendous amount of love that I have for my brother, and the respect that I hold near to my heart for the kind and selfless human being that I know he is.
      If you haven’t read my blog about “Forgiveness and the Broken Dowel Rod Incident of 1983”, this might be a good time to do so!  Another example of what a rotten older sister I was took place right around the height of our WonderWoman/Superman adventures, ironically, once again in 1983.  My parents had made the grave error of allowing me to watch the movie “Mary Poppins”, and as movies and books had a track record of doing, made my little 6 year old brain think about what might happen if I tried to do some of the things that they made look so easy to do on TV.
      For a six year old, I was pretty smart; smart enough to know that if I was going to try out one of my bright ideas, I probably shouldn’t be the one to try it myself first.  I needed someone gullible, someone not quite as smart as me, but trusting. Fortunately, I knew just the person. My brother not only had the alter ego of Superman as child, but he was also very much like a golden retriever: bright eyed, eager, willing to do anything I asked just as long as I asked nicely and with the promise to love him forever.  If Brent had a tail, undoubtedly I would have been injured by it.
      That fateful fall afternoon, I coerced my brother up into the low loft of the barn above the old chicken coop, Mom’s umbrella in one hand, a bag of M&Ms in the other (my brother’s reward…Hey, even a golden retriever gets a treat for performing a trick!)  I knew in no uncertain terms we were never, ever supposed to go up in the loft, but had my Mom known what I was up to, the two of us climbing up into the loft would have been the least of her worries, I suppose.
      “Brent, do you remember when we watched Mary Poppins on TV last night?”  I asked my brother.  Brent nodded, eyeing the candy in my hand.  He looked up at me with his adorable, ruddy red chubby cheeks and big hazel green eyes that were framed by the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  “Do you want to fly like Mary Poppins, Brent?”
      My brother thought about it for a nanosecond, then grinned from ear to ear, his deep dimples forming caverns in his cheeks as he nodded, his brown hair falling across his eyes.  I popped open Mom’s umbrella and handed it to him.  “Now, all you have to do is walk right off the edge, bubby.  You can fly!”
      Without any hesitation whatsoever, my brother took off running, umbrella held out straight in front of him like it was a lance and he was a knight riding into a joust.
      ‘Uh oh,’ I thought to myself.  ‘Maybe I should have told him he needed to hold the umbrella up, over his head, to be able to fly.’
      I dropped down on my stomach and pulled myself by my elbows over to the edge of the floor of the loft and peered down. There, lying on a pile of hay with a delirious look on his face, a look that I don’t think I will ever forget as long as I live, was my little brother.
      “I don’t think it worked, Bethie,” he said sadly. “Do you want me to try it again?”
      Brent sat up slowly, and from his new position, I could see that the other side of his face looked like he had been run over by a Mack truck.  Yeah, that was going to be hard to explain to my mother.
      I started sobbing big, huge, hot tears that ran down my face, burning my skin like fresh molten lava.
     “I’m sorry, Bethie!  Please don’t be mad at me!”
      My dear, sweet, naïve little brother thought I was crying because I was mad at him.
      No, I was crying because I knew my parents were going to kill me.
      Alas, my parents didn’t end up killing me, and my brother the superhero ended up living to see another day to fight crime with Wonder Woman, so long as we both stayed the heck out of the barn.
      I think this story perfectly illustrates the very things I love the most about my brother, and why I think he really is a Super Man.  For one thing, he’s fearless.  For another, he sees the good in people, and believes in the good in people, even to the point of his own detriment (I am really sorry about that, bro!) Most of all, my brother doesn’t quit. Failure is not an option for him. When he landed face side down on his first attempt at flying, knocking himself into delirium, he was ready to do it all over again if it would make me happy.
      My nephew Skyler is a lucky kid to have a man like my brother in his life, a guy who will never give up on him no matter what, a father who will always see the good in him regardless of what life may bring his way.  Most of all, Skyler is so blessed to have a fearless leader for his family, a man who is not just super, not just a hero, not just a father, but a Daddy in ever sense of the word.
      So, on this Father’s Day 2012, I want to wish a very happy Father’s Day to my little brother, Brent.  Brent, you may not be so little anymore; in fact, you’re a good head and shoulders taller than I am.  You may not think much of what your life has turned out to be, for I know it isn’t what you dreamed of as a little boy; I want you to know that I am proud of you for the sacrifices you are making, the difference you are making in Skyler’s life, so that he can have a small glimpse of the beautiful childhood we had, and a chance at a future even better than the one before us.
     You may not think of yourself as Superman anymore, but I do; others may not be able to see it, but I swear when I look at you I can still see that red cape tied around your neck, and if I close my eyes, I can hear it flapping in the wind, just as I once did as Wonder Woman in my invisible jet with you beside me as we raced off, together, to fight the bad guys of the world.
      I love you, and I will continue to pray like a warrior for you and your family every day of my life.

A Letter To My Aunt Janne

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March 10th, 2010
Dear Aunt Janne:
          I can see in my mind’s eye a picture taken of the two of us in the summer of 1976.  You were lying on white blanket spread out on the green, green grass.  You were barefoot and wearing a pair of Levis, a sleeveless shirt and one of those fabulous pairs of over sized dark sunglasses that everyone used to wear in the 70’s.  Your brown hair was cut short, but it gleamed in the sunlight, shiny and straight, like I always remember it being.  My age could have been measured in weeks as I sat upon your chest in my yellow sundress and matching wide brimmed sunhat, my tiny bare baby toes resting upon your cheeks.
          You were looking up at me and smiling, and you were happy.
         I’m sure there must be many other pictures of you taken over the years in our family’s photo albums:  birthday parties and Christmas, barbeques and other rituals of the American family.  Yet, I don’t recall any other pictures where you look so young and fresh faced and happy.  I have so many memories of you, and yet  I feel so sad because I can only remember this one picture of you taken almost 30 years ago.
        Most of my happiest childhood memories are of time spent with my Grandmothers, and whenever I remember Grandma Whiteleather, somehow you  are always there, too, in the shadows of my mind.
         I vividly remember the apartment you had in the basement off Highway 9.  You had a waterbed, which to a 5 year old girl was both incredibly sophisticated and exotic.  You always had interesting Asian décor, also very sophisticated and, well, exotic.  Come to think of it, you even had your own cat, your own money, and no one to tell you what to do.  Even your car was cool:  a powder blue vintage Volkswagon Beetle, the same shape as the birthmark on my left leg.
         I wanted to grow up so badly to be independent and free to do whatever I pleased just like you.
         I remember now how you would always take me for walks on the grounds surrounding your apartment in Columbia City to see the animals.  We would walk thru the tall grass, hand in hand, and I can still feel the grass tickling my cheeks and smell the sweetness of clover in the air.  You would always have a carrot or an apple in your pocket for me to give to the horses.  I remember being frightened of the horses, and you would always tell me “Beth, it isn’t animals you should be afraid of.  It’s people that you have to watch out for.”  At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant.  Now, I’m afraid I do.
          As I grew older, so did you, and things changed.  You moved to Fort Wayne with Grandma, and I stayed in my childhood home.  I’m laughing now thinking about the time you told my Mom you were going to take me to the ballet and instead you took me to see an R rated French film at the Cinema Center.  I think I would have preferred the ballet, but you were convinced that I should learn about the world and the “life lessons” in the film.  The only life lesson I learned from the movie was that naked French men are hairy, and more than a  little scary.  I haven’t seen another naked Frenchman since that day at the movies.  I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
          Aside from the world of French films, you opened up a whole world of other things to me that I would not have learned about otherwise.  Because of you, I had my first tastes of Oley’s pizza and Fannie Mae chocolates.  Because of you, I learned how to properly cleanse my skin and use an eyelash curler.  I listened to INXS, watched MTV and learned how to order Chinese food for delivery.  I also learned that it is not a good idea to let anyone who weighs more than, let’s say 80 pounds, walk on your back like you see the tiny Asian women do on TV.
         In retrospect, the things I remember the most about you are the things that you would tell me during our little Aunt/Niece adventures.  I must admit that much of what you told me, while I could sense it was important, I didn’t really understand.  I would file it away in my mind for future reference.  In the years since, flashes of these nuggets of your wisdom would come back to me and I would have an “Aha!” moment.  Other times, I would scratch my head and wonder how you could have gotten things so wrong.
        Once, at Grandma’s apartment when I was 11 or 12, I remember the two of us were sprawled out on Grandma’s bed watching TV and eating chocolate.  My hair was damp and we both had green, mud caked faces from the facials you had just given us.   While I don’t remember exactly what TV show we were watching, I remember the general gist of it:  teen girl sees teen boy and falls madly in love.  Various hijinx ensue, but love overcomes all and teen girl and teen boy live happily ever after.  To me, this show was precisely the natural order of how things should be in life.  I recall feeling caught off guard when you turned to me and said, “Beth, never marry for love, marry for money.  If you marry someone with money, you can learn to love him later.”
         I didn’t say anything in response, but I knew deep down in my heart that you were wrong.  What you were saying conflicted with everything I had ever known in my entire life.  Was I really supposed to believe that every fairy tale I’ve ever read and every Disney movie I’ve ever watched was a lie?  That my parents relationship, that their marriage and our modest family life, was a mistake?  I knew what I knew, and from that moment on, I felt sorry for you.
        I don’t recall things ever being the same between us.  In fact, this is probably the last clear recollection I have of the two of us.  When I graduated high school, I can remember you walking in to my party, thrusting a card and a small box at me before turning on your heels and walking right back out the door.  Your written message to me inside the card was par for the course:  you told me what you really thought, that I was making a mistake by wanting to be a teacher and that I should do something exciting with my life like being a journalist or writer.  Inside the box was the gold necklace Grandma had always worn before her death the year before.
         I don’t think I ever told you that this was the most precious gift anyone had ever given me.
          I think that day at my party was the last time I ever saw you.
          Now, after all these years, I’m sitting here with a heavy heart and tears streaming down my face thinking of you and gold necklaces and mud masks  and picnic pictures and so many other things that I haven’t thought about in a long, long time.  My heart is breaking for you, for the pain you must have felt that drove you to take your own life today.
         I want to understand why, but maybe it’s better somehow that I don’t.  I don’t want to know how it feels to live with chronic, disabling pain in poverty thousands of miles away from my childhood friends and family.  I’ll never know what it feels like to grow up never once hearing your father say “I love you”, or to live an entire life without experiencing the unconditional love and support of your father.
         Most of all, I pray that I will never, ever know what it feels like to be in so much pain that the only choice I feel I have left  is to die alone and cold in my front yard by my own hands.
         I wish that I could tell you that I cared about you, and that you influenced my life more than you could have ever possibly imagined.  Truly, I will regret never taking the time to tell you these things for the rest of my own life.  Hearing these words from me may not have changed the events of today, but everyone deserves to know that they are loved and that they made a real difference in someone’s life.
          In your death, you have taught me even more lessons about life, ones that I won’t soon forget.  Reflecting on your life has taught me about the influence I have with the  special children in my own life.  This influence may not seem like much to me, but I see now that the words that I say and the things that I do may one day mean the whole world to my own beloved niece, Alyssa.
         Because of you, I know with certainty that Alyssa is noticing me in the little moments we share together–from the trips to Build a Bear and camping out underneath the stars at Grandpa’s pond to our red, white and blue 4th of July manicures and girls only time together just hanging out, the two of us, nibbling on fine chocolate and watching ‘Beauty & The Beast’.
          How can I ever thank you enough for giving me a glimpse of myself as both a child and aunt thru Alyssa’s beautiful brown eyes as I reflect back on the   relationship that you and I once shared?
         For just as I once gazed up at you adoringly with my green eyes as I twirled, barefoot, in the Kentucky bluegrass, my dark brown pigtails floating behind me as we ran, laughing, hand in hand thru the pasture, I’m now the one who is smiling at a little brown haired girl, braids flapping in the wind as she looks over her shoulder, smiling at me as if to say “Come on, Aunt Beth!  Catch me if you can!” as we run together thru the grass towards my Indiana home.
          Whenever my heart is aching for you, and my mind is filled with the violent images of your death, I will take comfort remembering you the way you looked that day on a blanket in the grass in 1976; it is my heartfelt prayer that in death, you have found the peace and rest that always seemed to elude you during your life.
Love,
Your Niece, Beth

Forgiveness and the Broken Dowel Rod Incident of 1983

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Matthew West has a new song out on the radio these days, and not surprisingly, it was love at first listen for me.  I love Matthew West’s music, always have and most likely always will!  He is such an incredibly talented singer, writer, and from what I can tell, human being.  My friend Sarah and I love going to concerts and nevermiss an opportunity to go see him in concert, never ever.  There’s only one other group I can say that about~and if I had to pick between the two…well, that would be a real dilemma for sure!

            Anyway, getting back on track…Matthew’s new song is called “Forgiveness”, and I was immediately struck by the song the first time I heard it.  In fact, I was pretty disappointed I couldn’t download it off of I tunes yet!  I’d like to share the lyrics that open Matthew West’s single, “Forgiveness”:
“It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word
Forgiveness”
            Writing doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
            As I sat in my car listening to this song driving home from an emergency diaper wipes run to Target, a few very honest, somewhat painful thoughts occurred to me.  In my own life, my experiences have been somewhat opposite of what the song describes.  You see, I guess I’m what my Grandma Bricker would have lovingly described as a fool.  Let me explain; you see, one of her favorite expressions was always “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Her second favorite expression relative to being a fool was this one:  “Never kiss a fool and never let a kiss fool you.” I’m guilty as charged of violating my Grandma’s good advice on all counts.
            Being the fool that I am, many a time I’ve given away forgiveness like a millionaire passing out penny candy.  I’m really a nice person, too nice some might say, and I truly desire the best for others.  I don’t want to carry around bitterness and anger towards those I care about, so I forgive, even when the other party isn’t sincerely seeking repentance.
            As you might imagine, circumstances such as this has led in the past to the opening up of a whole new can of worms, but I digress.  The one thought I can’t escape from as I listen to Matthew West’s song, however, is there is one person I haven’t ever been entirely able to forgive, at least not completely.
            That person is me.
            I wonder, driving along in my car, why that is?  Why can I forgive others so easily, people who in certain cases have blown my life apart with their selfishness and deceits, while I can’t forgive myself for seemingly minor infractions in comparison?
            Most likely, it’s because I know my own pain and suffering is a direct result of my own sin.  For me at least, it’s easier to forgive others for the worst possible infractions than it is to forgive myself for the most inconsequential matter.
            I remember a time when I was a little girl, probably 6 or 7, and for some reason my Dad had brought home a bunch of dowel rods from work that he was going to make into something.  What, I haven’t a clue, but it doesn’t really have any bearing on the outcome of the story.  My brother and I had a jolly good time playing with those dowel rods—they made great swords, javelins, jousting lances and sticks to beat on each other with.
            All was well until I, in my infinite wisdom, decided that I would line up the rods across the arms of my Daddy’s red leather recliner to make a royal throne like Cleopatra had in a movie I had watched the night before.  Without a care in the world, I climbed up on my throne, sat down, and heard a crack as all the dowel rods snapped in half.
            To say the least, I was in a heap of trouble.
           (I should point out at this point that my brother was taking a nap and was nowhere remotely near the room during this time.)
            So, I did the first thing that came to mind.  I hid the dowel rods behind the chair.  Surely, that would take care of the problem, right?  After all, I was Cleopatra, Queen of Denial!
            My Dad came home at 3:30 pm like clockwork and went to looking for the dowel rods right away.  I sat at the dining room table, coloring in my Strawberry Shortcake coloring book, trying to look nonchalant, as my Dad walked around the living room, looking over and under the furniture for what I knew was the dowel rods.
            I saw my Dad approach the red leather recliner, saw him reach behind the chair and pull out the dowel rods.  All cardio-pulmonary function in my young body ceased inside me.
            “What the hell?” I heard my Dad mutter, his face reddening with anger as he looked at the broken dowel rods in his hands.
            “Beth Ann!”  my Father said, setting the broken pieces down in front of me.  “Do you know what happened to these?”
           “Brent did it!”
            The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about what I was really even saying.  My Dad shook his head and sighed, and I watched his as he slowly retreated towards the stairs to where my dear, sweet, unsuspecting brother played in his bedroom.
            Moments later, I heard yelling, and crying, and I knew my brother was getting a spanking for a crime he didn’t commit.  I was filled with guilt and shame, filled with the knowledge that what I had done to my brother was directly causing his current pain and suffering.  It was all too much for my tender heart to bear.
            I flew up the stairs and confessed all to my parents and brother, tears streaming down my face like never before.  I begged my brother and my Dad to forgive me with all of my heart.  My brother, who may well be the one person on earth who has a bigger heart than me, was an easy sell.  My Dad, well, he forgave me…eventually.  I think he needed to forgive himself first for jumping the gun and not investigating the case of the broken dowel rods a little more thoroughly before dishing out a punishment.
            As I sit here now, thinking about those darn dowel rods, I realize that I still haven’t forgiven myself entirely for what happened that winter afternoon so many years ago.  I still carry that guilt and shame around with me, along with the sound of my little brother’s cries echoing in my heart.  If I’m being really honest, a part of me feels responsible for every dumb thing my brother has ever done since that day, as if that little lie I told set in motion a chain of events that would change his life forever.
            My brother disagrees with me.  He says he doesn’t even remember the Broken Dowel Rod Incident of 1983.  My parents, who are now grandparents to my own little boy, take a strange delight in giving me a hard time about said incident as recently as this past weekend.  I personally don’t think I will ever stop cringing every time I see a dowel rod.
          Of all of us in my family, I think my brother is the only one who has the right idea when it comes to forgiveness.
            The most important point I’m trying to make with this story is, sometimes the one person who needs and deserves forgiveness the most is our selves.  Sometimes, we are the most difficult one to give love and forgiveness to.  My question to you is this:  If we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ and Christ himself, but have not given our own selves the same act of mercy that Christ himself died to give to us, then what good is any of this for?  How can we treat others with love and compassion if we have no love and compassion for our own sinful selves?
            By all means, I say this not as a get out of jail fee card to go out and sin because we’re forgiven kind of thing.  That’s not at all my intention.  What I’m really saying is this:  Be a mirror for the world.  Forgive yourself.  Love yourself (and God).  Accept God’s grace.  Then go out into the world and reflect these things to everyone you meet.
            I once read the following saying:  “Remember you don’t forgive someone for his or her sake; you forgive them for your own sake.”  This is never more true than when you are talking about forgiving yourself.