Friday, May 30, 2008

Going Coconuts

Yesterday, the kids and I cracked open a real, honest-to-goodness coconut. Wal-Mart had them for $1.50 each, and the kids looked at me with those big puppy eyes, so I figured, why not? It will be fun.

Famous last words.

We got the coconut home, and the kids took turns shaking it, listening to the liquid inside. I really didn’t have a clue how to crack the thing open, and I was starting to imagine pictures of coconut milk spilled all over my freshly mopped kitchen floor, when I noticed a little tag on the coconut. There were instructions.

I never bought fruit that needed instructions before.

The tag said, “Drain milk through soft eye.” I didn’t know coconuts had eyes. You learn something new every day. I located three eyes, and none of them felt soft. But, genius that I am, I got a screwdriver, and voila! Two of the holes punched right open.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds to drain the milk. It doesn’t just pour out. That would be too easy! Instead, you have to shake it out. And while shaking the coconut up and down, you have to try not to spill it all over everything.

I had a coconut milk bath. I wonder if there are anti-aging products in there . . . Then, we each tried some of the clear liquid. Why did I think it would be white, like cow’s milk?

Next, the instructions said, “Pound open at groove.” Sure enough, there was a groove around the entire circumference of the coconut. Do they grow that way, or did somebody put that there?

I pounded it on the counter.


I pounded it with the screwdriver.


I pounded it with a hammer.

Still nothing.

Finally, my brilliant, eleven-year-old daughter suggested I pound it with the claw end of the hammer. I gave it a try. I pounded and pounded and before long, crrrrrraaaaaack! We were successful.

I thought my work was done, but I was wrong. Getting the milk out was easy, and pounding it open was a piece of cake compared to the next phase.

The meat of the coconut (did you know it is called meat?) is sealed inside, apparently with super glue. I looked at the tag. No more instructions. I was on my own.

I spent the better part of an hour getting that white meat loose from the shell, tiny piece by tiny piece. The kids were long gone, playing happily in the backyard, while their dear mother slaved away on the coconut that they had so desperately wanted.

By the time I finished, I had little furry coconut hairs all over my clothes, my hands were sore, and I was starting to wonder what crazy lunatic had taken over my body when I agreed to buy the darn thing.

But then, I tasted it. Now, if your only experience with coconut has been the little tiny shredded things that come in a bag, you are missing out! This stuff is sweet and delicious, and tastes very little like the furry white stuff that sits on top of a cake. After tasting it, and tasting it some more, and then a little more, I decided that all the work was definitely worth it.

Isn’t that the way it usually happens? The best things in life rarely come without some sweat and elbow grease. Whether it be a great marriage, or a successful career, or a long-lasting friendship, the good stuff never comes easy. There will be frustrating moments, and sore spots. And the progress will often seem slow, coming tiny bit by tiny bit.

But if we just hang in there, and keep chipping away, we will eventually reap the benefits of our labor. And the success earned from endurance and hard work is always much sweeter than the easy, store-bought variety. In spite of the rough spots and the mess and the difficulties, the end result is always worth the effort.

Proverbs 14:23 “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

Filling Up Space

Today is the day I’m supposed to write this column. I have been sitting here, staring at this screen, trying to think of something witty or wise to say to you. And I’ve got nothing.

Nothing, I tell you.

The well has run dry. Not that it was ever that abundant in the first place, but I can usually come up with a little trickle of something, if I think about it long and hard.

Today, nothing but dust.

I seriously thought about asking my dear editor to leave my column space blank. For doodling purposes. You can never have enough doodling space, in my opinion.

I briefly considered plagiarism. Would anyone really notice if I started out with, “Call me Ishmael,” or perhaps, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”?

But no. Somehow, I need to fill up this space with original thought.

Did you ever notice how we do that with our lives? We think we need to fill up every blank space, every little moment with stuff. It doesn’t even have to be valuable stuff. But for some reason, we are uncomfortable with empty space.

We carry our cell phones and our laptops with us everywhere. We turn on the television the moment we wake up, and leave it on until we leave the house or go to bed. In the car, we listen to music, or talk radio, or books on tape. We pick up our children from school, only to take them to music lessons or karate class. We don’t want our lives to be dull and boring. We don’t want to waste time, so we fill up every nook and cranny of our lives with . . . stuff.

For me, the desire to fill up space began when I was very young. If I got a new notebook for school, I couldn’t wait to write in it. If I got a new lunch box, I couldn’t wait to fill it with a thermos full of red punch and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As adults, we fill up our houses and our garages with a bunch of stuff, most of which we never use.

I wonder why. Is it because we don’t like emptiness? Is it because deep down, we are trying to fill up a hole in our hearts?

Naaaaa. I just like stuff.

But we need some blank space in our lives. For doodling purposes. We need some sitting and thinking time. Or even some sitting and not thinking time. We need some lying on our backs, finding animal shapes in the clouds kind of time.

Even God Himself, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of the universe, took one day out of seven to rest. He saw the value in being still. He saw the value in blank space.

So today, dear readers, I’m going to take a stand. I’m not going to waste your time saying something, when I have nothing to say. I’m going to pause, and give you some much needed quiet time.

Or I would. But it seems I’ve run out of space.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wild Party

Last Friday night, we had quite the party at my house. Oh, yes, there was loud music, and dancing, and much wild behavior, all night long, until the wee hours of the morning. There were lots of pretty girls.

There was also pizza, and sodas, and cake, and ice cream, and a piñata.
Oh, did I mention that this was a slumber party, celebrating our daughter’s eleventh birthday? And, did I mention the girls were her two cousins and three of her best friends – ages nine to twelve?

It was a rockin’ party, let me tell you.

We started out the evening in typical birthday party fashion: pizza, presents, cake, piñata. Next on the agenda was a water balloon fight. Unfortunately, our piñata time was interrupted by lightning, and we had to go inside, with promises to do the water balloon fight in the morning. So, after a symphony of squeals and shrieks at the loud thunder and lightning, the girls finally settled down to watch a movie: “It Takes Two”, with Mary Kate and Ashley.

Next, there was a dance competition. There was one grand prize winner, with a tie for second place. So of course, there was a dance-off to see who took second place. It could have been a reality television show, I’m telling you. Very high drama.

Then, at ten o’clock at night, it was time for makeovers. My dear friend Linda (who just happens to sell Mary Kay) stopped by to teach the girls about skin care and make-up techniques, just for fun. (No, I don’t allow my eleven-year-old to wear make-up. Except at ten o’clock at night on her birthday.)

The make-up revelry continued for a good two hours! Then, it was craft time. We decorated pillowcases. Now, in my ideal world, pillowcase decorating provides the perfect segue to bedtime. But apparently, eleven-year-old girls don’t know the meaning of the word segue. (Well, okay, neither did I until I looked it up. But I wanted to impress you.)

At 2:30 a.m., I quit being the cool mom, and became the Mean Mama. “Girls, get in your sleeping bags, and go to sleep. NOW!”

They did as they were told – or so I thought. I went to bed.

At 4:00 a.m., I was awakened by a shriek. I darted out of bed to check on the girls.

They were spinning.

Yes, spinning. They were standing up in their sleeping bags, and spinning until they fell into one another. The room was filled with giggling, dizzy girls. Apparently spinning is great fun, and has potential to become an Olympic sport.

Mean Mama got meaner. “Girls! Lay down and go to sleep! NOW!”

They did as they were told.

Or so I thought.

Now, during this whole ordeal, I did have adult support. Although Mark fled the scene shortly after the lightning show, my dear friend Jana stayed the night. She is a saint.

At 6:30 a.m., I heard little girl voices, but I was too tired to care. Jana whispered, “Renae, did you hear that?”

“Yeah,” I answered. But I didn’t move.

So, dear saint that she is, she got up and checked on the girls. A few minutes later, she reported with a laugh, “It is your daughter and your niece. My daughter is asleep, so the rest can do what they want.”

Some friend she is.

Still, I was too tired to do anything about my little night owl. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was very, very weak.

Finally, at 8:30 a.m., I dragged myself out of bed. Started the coffee. Parents were due at 9:00.

When A’s grandparent’s arrived, I sneaked into the slumber party room to find six little girls, out like lights. I gently called out, “A-, your grandparents are here. Time to go home.”

The girl stretched and said, “But I thought we were going to have a water balloon fight.”

“Well,” I whispered, “everyone is asleep.” Suddenly, like dead bodies popping out of their graves, six little girls sat straight up and said, “Water balloon fight? We’re not asleep! We want a water balloon fight!”

Within minutes, my front yard was filled with squealing girls and flying balloons. I’m sure the neighbors just loved that.

Now, I do have a reason for sharing all of this with you, my dear readers. I simply want to ask you a question: why haven’t one of you invented a way to bottle the energy of the young and sell it to the old? Coffee just isn’t cutting it. I could have used some of that eleven-year-old go-juice about 4:30 a.m. Honestly, I could use some of it right now.

I would invent it myself. But I’m just too tired.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Golden Years

I don’t want to get old. I want to stay young, vibrant, and healthy. But despite my wishes, I am watching my body fall apart, before my eyes.

Yep, I have found a couple of gray hairs. (But you’ll never see them, thanks to my very talented hair dresser.) And my knees creak. Not only that, but I am finding I desperately need an afternoon nap. I rarely get one, but I need it.

At least I still have all my teeth.

But I am encouraged by a recent study, performed by sociologists at the University of Chicago. It seems that, despite the stereotypical belief that old people are lonely and miserable, the golden years really are golden.

In this study, people ages 18 to 88 were polled periodically from 1972 to 2004. It seems that, while there were ups and downs in happiness levels, the overall happiness level increased about five percent for every ten years of age. And the happiest people? You got it! The 80 and above crowd.

A separate study showed that 75 percent of people ages 57 to 85 are engaged in social activities at least once a week. These activities include meeting with friends and family, and attending church services, among other things. The study also showed that people in their 80’s are twice as likely as those in their 50’s to do at least one of these activities weekly. And social activity is directly linked to happiness.

The key finding in these studies is contentment. It seems that with age comes an acceptance of one’s life. With age comes the wisdom to be thankful for the good things, instead of dwelling on the bad. With age comes objectivity, and the ability to let go of past disappointments in favor of the good stuff.

I once heard it said that a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes, a smart person learns from his own mistakes, and a fool never learns. If this is true, why aren’t more of us wise? Why aren’t more of us catching on, before we reach our eighties, that life just is what it is? We really can make the choice to be content. We don’t have to trek through decades of disappointment and bitterness and misery before we find happiness. We can have it right now.

Unfortunately, too many of us have to make our own mistakes again and again before we will learn. And by that time, most of us will have traded in our original teeth for a new set. A few stubborn folks will never learn to be content. They will go to their graves as miserable as they ever were. But of course, none of you reading this would fit into that category.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if more of us could learn from those who have gone before us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find true and lasting happiness in our twenties, or thirties, or forties, or even fifties, and carry that with us for the rest of our lives? We can. We just have to make the choice to be happy with what we have been given in life, instead of being disappointed with what we don’t have.

So what if I never win a Nobel Prize? I have an amazing husband and two beautiful children. So what if I never hit the New York Times bestseller list? I have family and friends who love me, a roof over my head, and a car to drive. So what if I can’t afford gas for that car? Just think how healthy I’ll be when I start walking more.

Happiness really is a choice. I may not be wise, but I certainly don’t want to be called a fool. I will learn from my mistakes, and from others’ mistakes. I will do my very best to be content with what I have.

Just as soon as I get my kitchen remodeled.

Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

Friday, May 2, 2008

If I Were President

In a few months, it will be time for us to elect a new U.S. president. But many people are less than thrilled at the choices being presented for that office. So, political activist that I am, I decided to take a poll. I decided to ask everyone I could find what they would do, if they were president of the United States.

Unfortunately, the only people I could find, at the time of this official poll, were both under the age of twelve.

And they both live in my house.

Here is what Foster (age 6) and Charis (age 10) had to say, when asked what they would do if they were president:

F: I would make all cars against the law, so I could ride my bike and my scooter anywhere I want.

C: I would make a law that says all ice cream has to be sold for a penny.

F: Free ice cream.

C: More chocolate.

F: We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want.

(I must interrupt this article to assure you that yes, I feed my children. Regularly.)

C: More shopping malls.

F: Sisters have to share their scooters.

C: Boys have to leave girls alone.

F: The flowers wouldn’t die when you pick them.

C: World peace.

F: Everyone would take care of everyone else.

Well, there you have it. My two little politicians. I’m so proud.

Wait, what’s that? You want to know what I would do, if I were president?

Well, (blush,) since you asked, I suppose I’ll tell you.

If I were president of the United States, I would . . . (drum roll please) . . . resign immediately! I wouldn’t want the job, and I personally can’t figure out why anyone would want it!

Think about it. Long hours. High stress. And no matter how hard you work to try to please everyone, and keep everyone safe, and take care of everyone, you are always going to be criticized, and slandered, and even hated by about half the people in the world.

I am so glad we live in a country where we get to choose our leaders. And even when I don’t get my way, even when my candidate doesn’t win, I hold great respect for the office of president. Like I said, it’s a hard job, and I wouldn’t want it. But somebody has to do it.

So, this November, when all the votes are counted, I will take a few moments to either cry or celebrate. Then, I will accept the decision of my fellow voters. I will do my best to support, and not criticize. I may discuss issues, but I will not slander a person. I will treat the office of president, and the person who holds that office, with honor and respect. I will pray for God’s wisdom to be given to that person. I will pray for wise, experienced counselors to surround that person.

And I will thank the Lord for allowing me to live in such a great country.

Romans 13:1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except which God has established. The authorities which exist have been established by God.”