It’s funny to track the differences between my childhood in the 1970’s and 1980’s with the world that my kids live in now. The ways we shopped (from fussy department stores to low-budget Kmart) and played (biking through the neighborhoods with abandon), how we listened to music (records and cassettes) and what foods we ate (TV dinners were a treat! Who wouldn’t want your fried chicken leg, mashed potatoes, corn, and soggy brownie to all taste exactly the same!?) were so different from what they expect today.


One big change is how my kids watch TV. With the help of things like online streaming and DVR recordings, they have, at the touch of their fingers, a bajillion (trust me about this number…I’ve done my research) options. But there’s one thing they don’t get to experience much, and that’s commercials.


My sisters and I had so many commercials memorized. We knew—and still know—plenty of jingles (“My Buddy, My Buddy, My Buddy and Me!”)

and taglines (“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? Good question…uh one, uh two, uh three, crunch.”)

We could sing along to the record compilation commercials which ticked off one snippet of a popular song from some bygone era at a time, the song titles scrolling by with the words in white or yellow. We would act out the Folgers commercial where the older brother comes home early to surprise his family for Christmas and brews them coffee so strong that it literally rouses his family from their upstairs bedrooms. (“Peter! Everyone’s asleep. I know how to wake ‘em up!”)


One commercial we talked about a lot, which I often think of when I’m cutting up a tomato, is the one for Ginsu knives. It showed a man breaking a board with his hand and then trying the same method to slice a rather mealy-looking tomato. It should come as no surprise that the man’s hand did not in fact cut the tomato…it shmooshed it. The commercial went on to show an amazing knife which could cut a can, and then, without losing dullness, it could perfectly slice that tomato.

It cut meat and halved a block of frozen spinach, and it hacked away at a 2×4. Then the announcer asked us what we’d expect to pay for such a wonder tool. “But wait,” he told us, “Here are some steak knives and a spiral slicer and a meat fork…” It all sounded too good to be true.


That’s what I remember most about commercials from that time—products which seemed so good and yet were so cheap. Could we trust these advertisers? Was this a trick, a scam? Could I really cut an aluminum can that easily? We wanted to know! This wariness was the start of my cynicism and mistrust. If it sounds too good to be true, it must not be true.


Then I learned about a word we don’t use very often anymore—faithfulness. When we do hear it, it’s usually in reference to a marriage, or less often a friendship. But mostly it’s just in old church hymns. If you dive into the Book of Psalms, we see faithfulness used nearly 80 times. King David, one of the authors of the Psalms, pairs faithfulness with love and says that God’s faithfulness reaches to the skies. But David also says that God’s faithfulness protects him from wrongdoers. The assurance of God’s enduring faithfulness gives David strength when he’s having a rough time. So what is this quality which is as multi-faceted as a Swiss Army knife (and sharper than a Ginsu)?


Faithfulness means keeping promises. It’s means being reliable and truthful and following through. It suggests associations which are personal and connected. And to some people, especially those who have been continually hurt and disappointed, it sounds too good to be true. But it is possible and available. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s your homework: Read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Watch God weave His promises all through this crazy drama. Watch God bring it all around to a faithful ending, even down to the burying of Joseph’s bones in the Promised Land. Then recite the following verse to yourself: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Bearing with one another

Last week I was honored to speak at a Mother/Daughter Tea at a church in town. It was a lovely event with tea and coffee and cupcakes and lavender sachets. I came away believing that we really should institute a regular afternoon tea time.


I shared a story with these dear women about my dental struggles.Several years ago my dental hygienist pointed out some worn down spots and asked me if I grind my teeth. I’d been having ear aches that weren’t infections, and once I started thinking about it I realized that my jaw was always sore. She asked me if I was under any particular stress. At the time, we were in year three of what would eventually be four years of trying to bring our adopted son home from Africa, so yeah…I was stressed.


During that time, I had unknowingly directed my stress and frustration and worry on my poor mouth. I was clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth, causing damage to my gums. I would go on to have gum graph surgery and my dentist recommended I use clear plastic aligners (instead of braces) to correct my misshapen bite.


I’ve been through dozens of this plastic teeth movers now and from one aligner to the next, you can hardly tell there’s any change. It’s a tiny tweak, slight modification. But over the many months, the minor modifications add up to a new bite that will cause less stress on my gums and help me keep my teeth.


At this point in my talk, the women I shared this with were probably beginning to regret inviting me to their Tea. But I went on to explain that in relationships with each other, we can create bad habits. Dysfunction doesn’t usually happen overnight. It’s a slow teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching process. And this can be the case with mother/daughter relationships. An irritation or misunderstanding becomes a habit of slamming doors and shouting names. It’s hard when these habits become formed, but they don’t have to remain forever. That kind of stubbornness is a sin and God will always be on the side of breaking those sinful patterns, especially when they disrupt our families.


So we must look to Scripture for guidance. In the book of Ephesians, we see what the Apostle Paul thought was most important to say to fellow Christians while he was in prison in Rome. Ephesians 4:2-3 gives us some essential truths.


“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (NIV)


In other words, be humble and gentle as Jesus was when he washed his disciples’ feet, choosing the posture of a servant over the attitude of a bully. Tolerate the differences you see in each other because you choose to love in an unconditional way. Then work diligently, with expectations of restoration, to become one as you join together in harmony to sing a beautiful hymn of goodwill.


If we can do these things in our relationships with each other, we can take those small steps toward healing. It will take patience, and sometimes there will be setbacks, but the sweetest fruit often take the longest to ripen.


This morning, as I was walking around the back of the house after watering my flowers, I spied a lonely Cozy Coupe sitting forlornly by our shed, covered in cobwebs with a puddle of rainwater in the seat. For those of you unfamiliar with the Cozy Coupe, it’s a plastic ride-on toy designed to look like a car. Our version is reddish-orange with a yellow top. The front wheels spin 360 degrees (in case your child needs to spin out in some gravel for a quick getaway). It has a steering wheel with a (once functional) horn and a pretend key in the ignition to get the fun started.


I originally bought two of these from a yard sale for my daughters who are nearly 15, so I have no idea how old these cars actually are. My two younger sons have also had their turns with these toys. Where my daughters used the cars to take baby dolls on trips stopping to refill their gas tanks along the way, my sons would sit in the cars at the top of our sloping driveway and ask for a push to go careening down the hill.


This morning, seeing the tiny, pitiful car, I fully realized that we are done with the Cozy Coupes. All four of them are too big for these toys. Their legs are too long to sit comfortably inside. The plastic wheels aren’t designed for their weight. It’s time to move on.


I asked my youngest son Ezra to help me roll these cars, along with an old tricycle, out of the shed and up to the house where we could hose them off and wipe them down. I explained that we would make three signs that said: “FREE” and we would tape them on the toys and put them by the road.


Ezra liked the idea (especially the water hose part) and he started singing a little song: “Gimme money! Oooo! Gimme money! People gimme money for the cars…”


“Ezra,” I said, “We’re giving these away for free. That means they won’t give us any money.”


“No money?” he asked. “Oh. It’s okay.”


We got the cars and bike ready and we pulled them down to the grassy strip next to the sidewalk in front of our house. After the toys were situated, Ezra said, “Me sit here when people get the cars. Then I say, ‘Good luck’ and then people leave. It’s okay? You want chair too?”


I took a deep breath. I didn’t really want to sit by the side of the road all morning. Be a fun mom, I told myself. You can unload the dishwasher later. “Okay,” I answered, as we walked back down the driveway to the garage to get a couple of chairs.


Before we had returned to the road, there was a pickup truck pulled up next to the toys and a sedan in the driveway. It literally took 5 minutes for people to notice the FREE stuff we were giving away.


It’s been said that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” I know that this is mostly meant as a warning. It’s advice not to be taken in by scams that are just too good to be true. But there is actually free stuff out there.


There’s grace and love and sunshine. There’s free smiles and there’s free hugs. It is possible to get things for free with no strings attached. And somedays, if you’re really lucky, there’s a FREE Cozy Coupe by the road and a little boy wishing you “Good Luck!”

*Disclaimer: Not actual picture of a Cozy Coupe.

Cleaning Pennies

When I was growing up, my mom’s answer to a good 50% of our questions was: “Look it up!”


Of course, this was long before we could ask our phones questions, like “Hey, Siri, what’s the best way to fix kale?” or “Hey, Siri, is Willie Nelson still alive?” or “Hey, Siri, what’s an electric pressure cooker?” We had to struggle and work for answers. We had to open actual books and thumb through actual pages to figure out the capitol of Luxembourg.


It seems like a lifetime since I cracked open an encyclopedia and only 5 minutes since I looked at Wikipedia. (How else was I going to find out what mincemeat was?)


Back in the day, next to our set of World Book Encyclopedias sat our 15+ volumes of Childcraft books, illustrated reference books published in the early 1970’s that taught my sisters and me everything—from planets to poems, from pumas to Purim. We poured over each one, fascinated by the pictures and the text.


One of the many facts I learned from the Childcraft books was how to clean coins. For some reason, this was a fascinating task for us.


We would gather the pennies from all over the house and pile them on the kitchen table. Then we would mix a solution of vinegar and salt together in a bowl and drop the pennies in, one by one.


We would watch expectantly as they were scrubbed clean. Impatiently, we would pull them out too soon to inspect their progress, and, seeing that they still held on to the dullness of age and abundant use, we would drop them back in. There were times when we forgot all about them and left them to soak for hours. When we finally remembered, we were rewarded with shiny copper coins, gleaming at the bottom of the bowl.


We would fish them out and lay them on paper towels to dry. Our fingers would hold the sharp smell of vinegar and metal for the rest of the day.


Like that acidic solution we used to clean pennies, there are times when my heart requires some pretty abrasive scrubbing. I think of King David as he wrote Psalm 51. He had committed adultery and murder and he had been found out. He was weighed down by his grave mistakes.


Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.


Why is it that we often have to be taken so low before we see the need for a good scrubbing? How many times do I have to die to myself before I can fully realize the blessings available to the unselfish? But that is what the Lord desires for us—to forgive us and to instruct us and to cleanse us. I’m so thankful for His never-ending supply of grace.

Good guy or bad guy?

Watching movies with Ezra, our five-year old son, is not exactly relaxing, that is, unless you like to give a running commentary explaining dialogue, plot twists, character analysis, and generally how the movie will end for 90 minutes nonstop.

His most frequent question is: “Mom, good guy or bad guy?” Pointing to the questionable character on the TV screen—the one who just lost his temper or just laughed in a creepy way or just stole something, Ezra will interrogate me for information so that he can guess what might happen next. He is trying to formulate which characters he should root for and which characters he should hope will fail.

His “good guy or bad guy” questions aren’t just limited to when we’re watching movies. When he saw the characters from the movie Frozen on our paper towels (don’t judge…they were on sale), he pointed to Elsa, the ice queen who selfishly turns her kingdom to ice and consequently endangers her little sister just because she feels like “letting go.”

“Good guy or bad guy?” he asked as I slid a piece of toast on top of Elsa’s picture. He’s seen the movie several times so he knows that Elsa’s actions are bad, but in the end (spoiler alert) she makes things right with her sister. Good or bad? That’s a tricky philosophical dilemma to wrestle with at 6:30 a.m.

Before bed, I read Ezra a book about the story of Zacchaeus, the man who was too short to see Jesus as he was teaching to a crowd of people. As the song says, “He climbed up in a Sycamore tree. The Savior he wanted to see.” I read the story which touched on Zacchaeus’ reputation as a dishonest tax collector. Then Ezra pointed to the picture of Zacchaeus and asked: “Good guy or bad guy?”

I explained, “Zacchaeus was a bad guy then he decided to be a good guy. Sometimes people change, especially after they meet Jesus.”

I thought a lot about our conversation. I thought about Ezra’s need to categorize people into good and bad and I thought about the monumental task of changing your status and reputation from one side to the other.

When word got out that Jesus had eaten at Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus was confronted by the people of the town. They couldn’t believe that he had dined with a “notorious sinner.” Zacchaeus could’ve decided that he had too much bad press to hurtle in order to change his life around but instead he promised to give back all that he owed and then some. This had to be difficult and fraught with a variety of consequences.

I went back to read the story again and I was surprised to see that it took place in Jericho, best known for its wall that came tumbling down after the Israelites marched around it for a week. It may be a coincidence that this interaction between Jesus (Prince of Peace and Light of the World) and Zacchaeus (town creep) happened in a place known for tearing down walls that prevent people from realizing their Promised Land. Or maybe that’s what Jesus is all about. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

The barber shop

Today, my son had his second haircut since coming to America. In case you’re keeping score, that’s 7 months living with us and 2 trips to the barber.

As a white mom of a black son, I am definitely learning a lot about caring for our little fella’s skin and hair. I’ve asked friends and scoured the internet for advice. I’ve mostly tried to keep him moisturized and comfortable. I’ve done pretty well with the skin part but the hair is tricky. I’m not even familiar with all that goes along with Caucasian curly hair, so I’ve had a steep learning curve. I’ll just say that remembering to keep his hair picked out and adequately oiled hasn’t been my strength.

Luckily, I have a friend who suggested I take my son to her brother’s barber shop. Even with this trusted friend’s recommendation, I felt a bit nervous. Anytime I have to go somewhere outside of my comfort zone, I feel a certain amount of apprehension. In this case, I didn’t fear for my safety. My main worry was that I would be told I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of my boy. I was afraid I would be standing in a room full of unsympathetic men who would judge my parenting skills and see that I was lacking. I was afraid they would question my ability to care for a little boy who looks different than me. I was afraid that they might tell me that if I can’t get this right then I will most definitely fail when it comes to guiding him through the big things like what he should do during random traffic stops.

During the 15-minute drive to the barber shop, I thought about a white friend’s experience at Walmart just after she had adopted her African American daughters. An older black woman was looking at my friend and eventually approached her. My friend told the story this way: “The woman said, ‘You know, you need grace.’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am. That’s right. We all need grace.’ The woman shook her head, exasperated and said, ‘No. Grease. Grease. Those girls need grease in their hair.’” That was the kind of helpfulness I was anticipating.

When I entered the barber shop, I was greeted by the same man who had cut my son’s hair back in May. He and the barber in the chair next to him both remembered us and greeted us warmly. The news was playing on the television as my son climbed into the barber chair. As it was Election Day, the two major party candidates were filmed voting for themselves at their respective polling stations. We all watched and shook our heads simultaneously.

As the barber spread an apron across my son and gently snapped it at the back, I showed him a picture on my phone illustrating what we had in mind for my son’s haircut. The barber started to pick out my son’s hair and I watched my son wince each time he slid the teeth into those tight curls. I knew I had failed him. I knew I hadn’t prepared him for this haircut. Tears started to roll down my son’s cheeks.

The barber stopped and offered him a sucker. He gave him a toy from his counter to hold and he told him to squeeze the toy when it hurt. He kindly explained what he was doing and why. Then he sprayed oil in my son’s hair and got back to work. He picked and shaved and brushed him off. This sweet man worked until our son had a haircut he was proud of. The barber in the chair next to him gave me a half-gone bottle of hair product to use when I pick it out so that it will be easier and less painful for everyone. The owner of the shop—my friend’s brother—approached us as we left to make sure I had a pick. They made it so easy to ask questions. All of the men were beyond helpful and spoke to me without any trace of judgment.

On the ride home from the barber shop, I thought of a time after my twin daughters were born. I was frantic. One of my girls didn’t nurse well and she wasn’t putting on weight. I didn’t know what to do. My husband had to talk me down from taking her to Kroger to weigh her on a produce scale.

Those feelings of inadequacy came rolling back. Feelings that you’re not doing right by your kids, like you’re responsible for these little human beings but you actually have no idea what you’re doing. Then I remembered my friend’s story and I thought of the misunderstanding with the woman at Walmart. Unbeknownst to her, the woman essentially summed up parenting in a sentence: You know, you need grace.

Amen. Give it and receive it.