Celebrate Little Victories

About a year ago, I drove to a friend’s house to return something I’d borrowed from her. As I pulled behind her car in the driveway, I saw that her car door was opened. Puzzled by unconcerned, I shut the door and walked up her front steps to ring the doorbell. The person who met me at the door was my friend, but in a slightly different state. Her t-shirt and shorts were covered in dust. Tufts of dryer lint stuck up in waves all over her dark hair. She was frazzled and unkempt.


Before I could ask her if she was okay, my friend explained why she looked so exasperated. She had driven home, unlocked the front door, and made several trips from her car to carry groceries in to her kitchen. After a while at home, she prepared to leave again but couldn’t find her keys.


At the beginning, her search was calm. Finding the keys seemed like a guarantee. After hours of searching, she became desperate. She had even looked in the dusty nether regions behind her washer and dryer to see if they had fallen there (that explained the dryer lint in her hair). Where could they be? They had to be somewhere on her property.


I helped her look—in the pockets and hidey-holes of the car and in the endless jungle of monkey grass along the driveway. We looked behind the dresser in her entryway and under the table in the kitchen. Every time I would start to look in a new place, she would say, “I’ve already looked there but you can try again.”


Eventually, I started pulling up sofa cushions. She watched me for a moment, but left to tear apart another room, convinced it wouldn’t be behind the cushions she had already checked. When I lifted the cushion on the armchair, I heard a clinking noise. “I found them!” I yelled like I had won the lottery.


She ran in the living room to see me holding them up in the air triumphantly. We could never explain how they got there or why she didn’t see them the first time, but none of the frustration and confusion mattered once we had those keys.


I’m surprised she didn’t invite all of the neighbors in for a party like the woman in Luke 15, the parable of the woman who found the lost coin. My friend was exhausted but relieved. It went from bad story to good story, the tide had turned.


My son recently asked me what I thought heaven would be like. I fumbled an answer about how we don’t really know a lot of details but we know it will be great. Now that I think of it in light of those lost keys, I wonder if heaven will be a 24/7 celebration. Our loved ones who left earth before us will be there and we’ll be in a constant state of delight. The frustration and suffering of our mortal bodies won’t matter because we’ll be in the presence of Jesus. Every worry will melt away and we will bask in the glory of contentment and peace.


And my friend will be happy that she’ll never have to find lost keys or pick dryer lint out of her hair again.

Soccer Mom

I am a soccer mom. If you’re not sure if you’re also a soccer mom, take this easy quiz:


If you have a sunburn that includes your nose and forehead (nothing covered by sunglasses), your legs from the hem of your shorts to your knees, and one side of your body predominantly over the other…you may be a soccer mom.


If you have very specific opinions on collapsible, camping chairs and have occasionally experienced jealousy when seeing other people with far better chairs—usually ones equipped with built-in umbrellas…you may be a soccer mom.


If you can find most or all of the following in your van or SUV: a ball pump, water bottles, long socks, and lots of grass…you may be a soccer mom.


If your son or daughter would consider the name “Messi” a compliment…you may be a soccer mom.


I grew up in a family where sports were an afterthought. Neither my sisters nor I played anything other than the piano. As teenagers, we attended many sporting events to cheer on our classmates, but it wasn’t life changing. In fact, “being competitive” was something I considered a character flaw. I’m beginning to change my mind.


On Sunday afternoon, I watched my son’s team play three games. Our team lost the first game, won the second game against a different team, and then had to play that first team—the ones who beat us mercilessly—again for the third game. All of us parents were dreading that third game. The boys were exhausted. I was praying for a freak thunderstorm to rush in and force us to call it off. But the whistle was blown for the game to begin.


They started off strong, defending positions to keep the other team from scoring but their defensive wall began to show some cracks. By halftime, it looked hopeless. Our team hadn’t scored and the other team was making it look too easy. Many parents yelled at the referees to make better calls, but deep down we all knew it was only going to get uglier.


I watched my son with a mother’s eyes. I looked for tears of frustration and signs of despair, but saw none. He would attempt passes that were quickly stolen by the opposition. Even when our coach moved him to play goalie and he failed to defend two goals, he kept on going. He played hard and called to his teammates as if there was still a chance for them to turn things around.


If this were a movie, I would finish the story with a triumphant ending: “They called timeout with minutes to go. In the huddle, they made a plan and Coach gave them a pep talk to end all pep talks. When playing resumed, they scored fifteen goals in a row and won!”


Since this wasn’t a movie, I have to report that they lost the game. I’m not sure about the final score because I stopped counting somewhere around 6-0. When it was over, I expected my son to be disappointed. He was mainly hungry.


As we prepared to leave, one of the players from the other team passed us. He said to my son, “Good game” and my son responded, “Thanks.” In that simple exchange, two ten year-olds taught me the healthy side of competition. They both played hard, but someone had to win and someone had to lose.


While he was on the field, my son was laser focused on the roles he had to play for his team. Because he gave it his all, when the game was over, he could walk away feeling good about what he had done. He knew there would be many more opportunities to prove himself later. He didn’t need a token trophy for participation or even a consoling ice cream cone. He hopped in the van, a true competitor.


Even if he had won the World Cup, I couldn’t have been prouder.

Road Trip

Like many of you with school-aged kids, our family experienced the time-honored tradition of the Spring Break road trip last week. As required by (Murphy’s) law, there were ups and downs, laughter and tears. And throughout the week, I kept thinking my kids were growing up too fast. I wanted to make mental snapshots of those moments—good and bad—just in case it’s true that if you take a picture it will last longer.


We started out in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a.k.a. Redneck Vegas). Our son played in a soccer tournament there and we cheered him on with applause muffled by mittens and gloves due to the freezing temperatures. There were chapped lips and runny noses, but in spite of the cold, it was a memory. I watched my daughters, the girls who are teetering on the precipice of teenage-hood and all that entails, snuggle in one camping chair, sharing ear buds as they listened to music on my cell phone. Click. A moment to remember.


After the tournament ended, we drove five or six hours to Charleston, South Carolina. While there, we rode a carriage tour, driving through old, antebellum neighborhoods and a boat ride narrated by the captain who shared historical facts about the firing on Fort Sumter. As I watched my kids peering over the side of the boat at dolphins swimming alongside us, I knew it was a memory. Click. Another moment to remember.


Considering that four-fifths of our family enjoys history, this was almost a brilliant, unanimous success. To counteract the educational part of the trip, on the day before we left Charleston, we drove to the beach to find a small area (about the size of, say, five beach towels laid side-by-side) to call our own for a couple of hours. It was a mass of wind-blown and seagull-harassed humanity but it was a place where sand meets ocean so we checked it off our list. Click.


Halfway through the week, we set out for Atlanta, Georgia. It was another long car ride ending in a hotel room check-in, but we were getting to be pros at this…sort of. We sent dad out to the parking lot three times to get things we left in the van thinking we wouldn’t need them in the hotel. The next morning, we toured the Coca-Cola Museum. If you’ve never been there, it’s a combination of propaganda machine, soft drink shrine, amusement park, and free sample bar. In other words, we loved it. Seeing my kids’ faces as they tried a horrible tasting soda from Italy was worth the price of admission. Click.


The night before we left Atlanta, we ran out to get a bite of supper and got caught by an unexpected thunderstorm. Midway between the restaurant where we were trying to eat and our hotel was Centennial Olympic Park. We ran to the shelter of a nearby hamburger stand—closed for supper, unfortunately—to wait out the storm. Under the eaves of the building, we could see the fountain show with shooting water and pulsing lights and rousing, classical music. We watched the water show, punctuated by the thrilling notes of the Olympics theme song. Lightning, quickly followed by rumblings of thunder continued during the display. Then something wonderful happened: my almost thirteen-year old, my daughter who has never been a big fan of thunderstorms, slipped her hand into mine. We held hands and watched both shows—God’s and man’s. We were wet and hungry and a little shaken by the storm, but it was a memory, and a moment I’ll always remember. Click.

Worth It

Last week, I heard a news story about snow geese. These majestic birds fly from Mexico to Alaska around this time every year. I’m sure the people on the ground appreciate their flight as an annual source of wonder and beauty. This year has been a different experience for many along the route, especially those in Idaho.


Thousands of the geese have dropped out the sky, D.O.A. Wildlife specialists have determined they’ve been affected by avian cholera, a disease that kills birds very quickly, sometimes even in mid-flight. Oddly enough, for some of the ailing geese, their last action is to fly upside-down just before they drop to their death.


What must these sick geese be thinking? And how about their flying buddies? Goose #1: “Dude, look at Steve. He’s flying upside-down. That’s hilarious.” Goose #2: “Not cool, man. I think he’s sick. Show some compassion.”


When I heard this story on the radio, the wildlife specialist interviewed didn’t seem especially concerned about the snow geese population declining due to this disease. He said to use caution if you come upon a dead bird (Check—no one has to tell me twice to step away from a dead animal), but otherwise they’ve got the situation under control.


These geese made me think of Christ’s words recorded in Luke 12. He tells the throngs of people who have gathered around Him how they should fear the Lord who can hear even the whispers we utter in secret. Then He says that the Lord—the same God who sees our guilt as plainly as if we had our every sin printed on our t-shirts and tattooed across our foreheads—this same God knows if an insignificant sparrow falls to the earth. This sparrow, worth only a few pennies, merits the attention of the All-Knowing, All-Seeing, Always and Forever. Christ’s logical conclusion is that He must care infinitely more about you, the one He made from His own image. The one He loves enough to count all the hairs on your head.


I feel bad for those geese. Avian cholera is probably a pretty bad way to go. As a rule, flying upside-down seems like something only Daffy Duck should be able to do. So it’s comforting to know I serve a God who knew about the snow geese epidemic way before I did. He knows and He cares and He thinks we’re worth it.

The Water Cycle

When my son was in first grade, I was a chaperone on a field trip to the science museum. On such outings, the teacher usually assigns students to your care and then the fun begins: You have to withstand the pleading looks the students give you at the gift shop and open all their juice boxes during the lunch break. Being a field trip chaperone involves a lot of head-counting and bathroom supervision. It’s mostly easy and I always learn something new. For example, on this particular field trip, I learned about the water cycle.


Behind the science museum, there’s a natural swamp so they use this area to teach about things like tadpoles, aquatic plants, and water conservation. When the young tour guide explained the stages of the water cycle, she held up a drawing depicting evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Being an attentive chaperone, I was only halfway listening to her spiel. The majority of my attention was focused on the six- and seven-year olds I was charged to protect and prevent from embarrassing their teacher by falling into the pond. But then the tour guide said something that caught my attention. She said, “All of the water in the world is recycled. It’s used again and again. New water isn’t made; it’s just moved.”


For some reason, her words hit me. Of course, I was previously familiar with the concept of the water cycle, seeing how I’d already been to first grade, but I never thought about the fact that new water wasn’t created. All the water there is in the world is all the water there is. We can dam rivers and dig canals and fill reservoirs but the water there isn’t new. We can even burst clouds with rockets to make it rain, but the drops that fall are ancient and experienced.


There are many places in nature we find a cycle. We see it in the seasons, planets, and plants. The merry-go-round of birth, life, and death is continuous and yet unique. We see this theme throughout the Scriptures with references to new birth and dying to our sins.


When Nicodemus, a prominent religious leader of the Jews, secretly approached Jesus one dark night, he was told he had to be reborn in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus had a shortsighted view of the life cycle of humans. He only knew the part about birth-to-death. He didn’t know there was another birth available, a spiritual one that guarantees eternal life.


Nicodemus must have remembered Jesus’ words: “whoever believes in Him will not perish…” when he helped to prepare Christ’s crucified body for the tomb three years after their late night discussion. As he poured the burial perfumes and wrapped the motionless limbs, did Nicodemus watch the lifeless body expecting to see this resurrection Jesus had described?


We know it didn’t happen as they buried him, but three days later. His body was renewed and Jesus rose from the tomb, walking and talking and even making breakfast for his Apostles. The darkness of his death was only a part of the story.


As many of us pause this week to remember this pivotal series of events, I’m grateful to note Christ’s sacrifice is enough to keep this cycle going. My life here is only a part of the story. And like the water droplets that continue to fall and evaporate and form clouds and fall again, His grace is sufficient. It’s all I need and it’s always there.