Bees

Two dwarf Rose of Sharon bushes stand guard on either side of our front porch. Over the past seven years, they have grown at a slant, leaning towards each other as if they’re trying to hold hands like a stooped elderly couple. Once summer gets really good and hot, they put out beautiful, white blossoms with petals as soft as chiffon. It only takes a moment of listening to the buzzing to know I’m not the only one who loves these flowers.

The bees can’t get enough of them. Big, fat bumblebees and smaller, quick honeybees dart in and out of the blossoms all day long. Recently, their busy movements prompted me to sit on the front porch and watch them work. I attempted to see how they harvest nectar and gather pollen but their work was too miniature for my eyes. So I did the next best thing, I googled “honey bees.”

That’s where I learned what these vast armies of tiny insects are capable of. It takes 8-12 worker bees working their whole lives just to make one teaspoon of honey. One-eighth teaspoon of honey (the life’s work for an industrious lady bee) is easily what is left in the curved crevices of the plastic, bear-shaped squeeze bottle before I throw it away.

There are three jobs available for employable honey bees. They can be a queen (a difficult job—she lays around 200,000 eggs every year), a worker (those are the female bees we see flying around), and the drones (the male bees who mostly remain in the hive…where they belong—barefoot and impregnating). Within these three career tracts, there are various sub-specialties. For instance, some chew the honey when it arrives to make it thicker, while others construct the series of waxy containers that make up the honeycomb.

However you look at it, a beehive is a remarkable, natural illustration of teamwork at its best. Every bee has a job and gets the work done. Their most important motivation is the health of the community, and the only way to keep the hive buzzing is for everyone to work together.

I love being a part of a team. I like to collaborate to make a pretty good idea amazing. I like to see what happens when you put a bunch of different people with a variety of skills and experiences together and let them loose. There’s a palpable excitement in the room when a theoretical project starts to materialize into something real.

Whether you’re the boss or a lowly drone, we could all learn a lot from the bees.

Summer Road Trip

In an effort to get away from our daily routine and to make some priceless family memories, we loaded up the minivan a few weeks ago and headed to the beach. As much as I enjoy these annual trips, the worst part is always the drive.

We try to make the long car ride bearable. We bring pillows and blankets, pack snacks we don’t normally have at home—like Oreos and Pringles and Fruit Roll-Ups and juiceboxes promoted by Disney characters—and choose a bunch of DVDs (Thank you, Lord, for the car DVD player!) to bring with us on the 8 to 10-hour ride. But at some point, we all get a little punchy.

It doesn’t help that six people are hurtling down the interstate in what amount to a 6x7x17 foot box and there’s no escape. If someone pulls out nail polish and starts painting her nails, we all suffer. If someone brings a package of very pungent beef jerky in the car and begins to eat it with loud, smelly snapping sounds, one person’s snack becomes a shared (and unwelcome) experience. And if someone just can’t take another minute in the car so he begins to repeat the same phrase over and over again (“Why, Mama? Why, Mama? Why, Mama?”), then we all have to dig in and fight this steep descent into vehicular insanity.

I’ve learned a few things when it comes to making these epic voyages:

  1. There are two types of people in this world—people who never want to stop for non-bathroom/gas station-related reasons and people who do. If you and your spouse are in two different categories, this may require some compromise. Like you may never get to buy any peaches from roadside vendors or shop at quaint, little antique stores or stop to see the place where a monk made 125 miniature replicas of the world’s most famous buildings. But we do always stop at a rest stop to eat the turkey sandwiches we packed for lunch and sit outside for a bit. If we can find a shady patch of grass, we might even kick a ball for a few minutes.
  2. When we’re not playing movies on the DVD player, we enjoy listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and the Pandora music channel called “Family Road Trip.” There’s a lot of variety on this channel and most everything is fun to sing along with. Personally, a silent car would make the trip last twice as long.
  3. We used a GPS app this year called “Waze.” It helped us get through the more traffic-prone areas of major cities or stretches of the interstate that always seem to be under construction every year. This app is user-informed. It takes the information from the many people using the app and devises a plan to get you around the worst traffic. It even tells you if there’s roadkill or stalled cars coming up. There are times when “Waze” sent us through small towns we would’ve never known existed otherwise. For instance, south of Birmingham we jumped off I-65 and went through Columbiana, Alabama where they had sectioned off their downtown for a BBQ cook-off. (Before you ask…no, we didn’t stop.) I enjoy imagining the lives of the people in these small towns, both in the past (some houses looked as old as the hills) and the present.

In the end, the best advice I can give you for any long car ride is actually something I learned from the song “Take it Easy” by The Eagles. “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy,” because—believe me—they just might.

Ezra hat

This is what happens when a five-year old has been in the car too long.

Alarmed

At nearly 2:00 am—just an hour or so after the 4th of July yahoos had finished firing off their last bottle rocket—my daughter came in our room in distress. At that moment, I was dreaming I was at the grocery store and every item I picked off the store shelf to put in my cart was falling through unseen holes in my cart and onto the floor, so not a bad dream to interrupt.

“There’s a noise in my room!” she cried. I followed her to her room and saw that the smoke alarm just inside her door was going off in bursts of violent sound every few minutes.

“I think it’s just telling us that the battery is about to go out,” I told her, groggily. I climbed on a chair trying to remember when we’re supposed to change the batteries in the smoke alarm: Labor Day? Memorial Day? Well, this one was getting changed on the 4th (or rather the 5th) of July.

I saw that the battery required to operate this smoke alarm was the obnoxious 9-volt. I looked in the plastic shoebox where we keep batteries and saw enough AA and AAA batteries to choke several horses but no 9-volts.

I climbed back up on the chair to see if I could just remove the weak battery and go back to sleep and save this home improvement project for another day. But that wasn’t an option. I took out the battery but the phantom chirping continued. I started to pull the smoke alarm from the ceiling but this only revealed a tangle of red and white wires attaching the smoke alarm to the house. I felt like I was in an episode of MacGyver, attempting to choose which wire to cut to diffuse a bomb.

I must have been thinking those exact thoughts when my daughter brought me back to reality. “Mom, what am I going to do? I can’t sleep in here.” I took her to her brothers’ room where we settled her on a mattress on the floor. The chirping was still persistent but distant enough for her to sleep.

Once back in my room, I remembered a smoke alarm chirping situation from years ago. We had been in our current house for a few months when the smoke alarm chirping began. We checked all the smoke alarms—all of them nearly brand new—and they were fine, but the chirping continued. It seemed to echo in different parts of the house. Was it coming from the upstairs linen closet? Or maybe the hallway? Now you could hear it on the stairs!

After almost a week of searching, we finally found the culprit. We had renovated the basement, adding a drop ceiling to what was once an unfinished space. The workers had built the new ceiling right on top of an old smoke alarm attached to a wooden beam from the existing ceiling. The discovery and removal of the smoke alarm was a huge victory for our entire household. Our home had been exorcised!

Smoke alarms can be very effective. The sound is not meant to soothe. It’s meant to create alarm and a sense of urgency. Even when there is no reason for alarm, they can make you feel panic and a desire to flee. It’s not a peaceful feeling.

While effective, it’s not what I normally want to experience in my home. What I really want is peace. But where does that peace come from? If it only comes from everyone always getting along and everything turning out perfectly—every meal, report card, family game night—then peace will always allude me.

Finding peace is a choice. It’s not something the world can give you. Instead, it’s something you must find by letting go of fear and worry and giving those things that alarm you to Someone big enough to carry them for you.

 John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Proud to be an American

This is the first Independence Day our African-born son will be in the U.S. He doesn’t know anything about George Washington or the Declaration of Independence, but I can already tell he’s beginning to appreciate his new country. Because in order to truly appreciate anything, you have to know what life is like without it.

Our son likes us to tell him the story of how he came to live with us in America. With his limited English, the story is short and to the point. It goes something like this: (You’ll have to imagine the charades-like actions that go along with it.)

“Mama and Papa got on a plane and flew to Congo. The next day, Ezra came to us at the hotel. Then, after a few days, Mama and Papa and Ezra went to the airport. We rode on three planes (This is his favorite part). On the first plane, Ezra slept like a baby. On the second plane, Ezra was crazy! He would not sleep. He did not want to sit down with his seatbelt fastened. On the last plane, Ezra slept again but just for a little bit. Then Papa carried sleepy Ezra off the plane and his whole family was waiting for him!”

Anytime we’ve been in the car for an extended amount of time, there’s a bit of confusion involved. He needs to be told and retold who is coming and where exactly we’re going and how long we’ll be there. When we first arrived in Lynchburg, Tennessee for half a week of church camp at the beginning of the summer, Ezra sat in the rec hall and asked me, “Mama, America?” He wasn’t so sure where that church bus had taken him.

America isn’t perfect. There are things about our country that are frustrating. Groups of people still don’t receive equal treatment. Those with wealth have greater opportunities for education and healthcare and general happiness than those without.

Even considering these possible disadvantages, an American is far better off than so many in this world. We may complain about our leaders (Don’t even get me started about this upcoming presidential election) but at least we get the people we vote for. If they’re horrible, then it’s our fault and a new election process will come in a few years and we can start again. So many citizens of other nations aren’t truly allowed to vote, even for a bad leader. They have no recourse for corrupt government practices. Their situation seems hopeless.

I’m grateful for the nation of my birth. I’m proud to be a citizen of the United States. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else. Seeing this privilege from the vantage of our son who will soon become as a U.S. citizen, I can understand a little better the beauty of this gift.