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Family Life Badge

Yesterday I met with a boy scout about his Family Life Badge. He was one of the young men who hiked in New Mexico this summer. 

"Did your dad go too?" I asked.
"Yup. He had a personal trainer to get ready. Actually my mom gave it to him for Christmas." I wondered about the reaction last December, when he unwrapped an inconspicuous, ribboned box. Perhaps he was hoping for tickets to a hockey game, or a power drill. 
"Six months of a personal trainer? Gee, er, thanks hon. That will be...um...great."
I have no idea what the price tag is for a gift like that. Pay someone to make you sweat harder. But his dad got where he wanted to go.
Benjamin has a therapist who has cranked up the energy recently. She is determined to get him ready for life. One week she assigned him to interview six people about their jobs and what skills are required to accomplish them. This of course happened on my watch, not hers. Another time she told him to call a friend and arrange a playdate. Let me try to describe how Ben responds to the phone. He can text just fine, in fact he is quite particular about capitalization and punctuation, and will take a full five minutes to scribe two sentences including a closing. But when it comes to speaking into the phone he holds it six inches from his ear just in case there is a leech waiting to squeeze out of the tiny holes, and the volume of his voice would not wake a sleeping baby. We had the playdate, which involved two boys splashing in the same pool, exchanging perhaps six words in two hours.
"Hi, Ben," with prompt. 
"Hi, Alex," also with prompt.
"Bye," with prompt. 
"Bye." Spontaneous. Small success. 
I notice my resistance to this therapist. She comes in with a lot of ideas about what we will do. It is not that she does not have good suggestions. She researched a farm that gets special needs kids together with ponies, and a bowling league he can join. But the follow through involves a bunch of effort. And cash.
I wonder what a marriage coach would look like. She comes barreling into your life barking out orders about exercises and playdates. Then she comes back the next week to find out if you followed through. Sounds exhausting. 
But maybe it would help couples get where they want to go.

Secret Service

I sometimes have opinions about how other people spend their money. Ridiculous, I know, but entertaining in a pathetic sort of way.
"Hey, you there. Don't have such a pricey car. And, lady you coulda gotten away with cheaper shoes. Just sayin'."
Recently I read about the cost for providing Secret Service protection for presidential candidates. It is going up. In 2000 it cost the taxpayers $54 million. In 2004 that jumped 50% to $74 million. This past year the powers that be sunk $113 million into the effort. With a population of 311 million that ripped twenty seven cents out of my pocket, an amount I had ear marked for more significant things. Like a third of a bar of soap.
Be that as it may, I observe that someone with a check book decreed that presidential wannabes are worthy of safekeeping.
My thoughts immediately migrate to marriage. Who is coughing up loose change to protect that? Personally I hold sacred vows on a higher plane than even the inhabitant of the Oval Office. His term lasts four years or maybe eight but my marriage is slated to soar into eternity. What safeguards do I have in place?

Money is not the only barrier against attack. These daily emails are called moats because they are intended to provide a puddle of defense. Mentoring is another strategy for circling up the wagons around a couple.

But the glaring embarrassment is how many couples have no plan at all. Our culture is largely mute about the issue. Home security systems get more airtime than marital security by a long shot.
So, not wanting to be nosy or anything, but hey. What are you spending on protecting your marriage this year?




I was looking through a catalog for gift ideas when I got to the page called "Christmas Essentials". It had candy, and stocking stuffers and ornaments. I was taken aback by the claim that the contents of this page were essential. There are traditions that have shown up consistently at our house on the twenty fifth. Even in lean times, or years I was eight months pregnant I still rallied to decorate a tree, and scatter gifts beneath it. We have always filled stockings, which I made as each child was born. I find it funny that the baby who could once almost squeeze inside his stocking, which turned out to be the smallest, has since grown to over six feet tall. Now even his foot does not fit. It is easy to drown in expectations around Christmas. The s'posed tos loom larger than life when you go to the mall, or even the grocery store. You are supposed to have a house festooned with garlands, a table laden with cookies and fudge, hundreds of cards addressed and mailed, and a gift for every teacher and friend. This is hard to accomplish while you still go to work and wash clothes on a regular basis. Yet while many of these adornments are lovely, they are not essential. I do not actually have to send you this card. Your holiday will proceed adequately without it. Your sense of wonder will not be measurably diminished. But mine would. Sending cards is one thing that I will tighten my grip on, even as the candy thermometer gathers dust, and the stockings stay packed in a box. Because remembering you, and our connection, is more important than the strings of lights on my tree. Even as I write your name on the envelope, or hand it to you after church, I will think of you and what our relationship continues to mean to me. My love for you is essential. Four of our children are traveling home for Christmas. Two others made the trek for Thanksgiving. Getting here from California or Chicago is a lot of work. Yet something tugs on their hearts enough to wrestle with luggage, and long lines, and security checks, to wake up under our roof. This astounds me. The twins asleep in their bed will tumble out soon and traipse downstairs to crawl in my lap. The one playing video games, the one with autism, consciously chose to bring the computer to sit next to me. Another comes home today from Maryland where he went to visit his girlfriend. Connections, it turns out, are essential. If our son and his wife miss their connecting flight in Dallas, they will not be happy. They will be stranded. If we do not find a way to connect with our daughter in Ireland on Google Hang out I will probably cry. I can bear the distance from you, and from our children for days or months on end. But at Christmas I need to hold your name in my mouth as I write the address, or hold your gaze when you walk through the door. "Here you are. I missed you and I still love you." I can believe the illusion that this core desire to connect begins with me. Appearances do not suggest otherwise. But all I need to do is look to the top of my own tree to see where it comes from. The Lord could no longer bear the distance between Himself and the children who wandered as far as possible from His lap. So at great inconvenience God traveled through time and space, to wake up under our roof. "Here I am. I missed you and I still love you."

Christmas Letters

I have been reading a stack of annual Christmas letters lately. Maybe you have too. I notice that I tend to do what my mother warned against... comparing myself with others.
Yet in another way the comparison is a measuring stick. Friend Y chose to mention their summer trip to the lake, the status of kids in college, and the irresistible appeal of grandchildren. Friend Z elaborates about her husband's health, and the acquisition of a new beagle. Friend W reflects on the death of a close friend, and her daughter's engagement.
These are what sifted to the top after twelve months of macaroni and cheese, schlepping to work on frosty mornings, and whittling the piles of papers and dirty socks. She or he left out any details about angry outbursts or bounced checks. The polite Christmas letter is mute when it comes to discouragement, even though the Real Christmas story is thick with fear.
Perhaps no one would even open Christmas letters if they droned on about dinner fare, or laundry tips. A lengthy diatribe about our struggle with finances does not seem worthy of the stamp that ferries it.
Although the particulars differ, the lives of my friends are not vastly unlike my own. We have a daughter in college, and a son who got married, although we do not have a beagle. Perhaps we are still on the right road. 
When I take long trips I look for reassurance that I am indeed on track. Even as the silent signs report that yes, this is still Route 80, I calm down. If the terrain is unfamiliar, and I am tired of driving, I am grateful that someone I have never met planted this sign forty years ago to lessen my sense of abandonment on this isolated stretch of faded gray pavement.
The appearance of GPSs has hacked a chunk of the uncertainty away. Now a little screen stuck to the windshield does the reassuring. 
"Yes, this is still Route 80. Keep going."

You are traveling along a road called 2R1. You may be still looking for the on ramp, or you may have turned so many corners you are unsure if this is still the same route. The terrain has changed drastically, as have the skies.

But I am here to calm you down. Even though the horizon is unfamiliar, and you are tired of the journey, you are not alone. You are still on Route 2R1. Keep going. 

Frosty Windshield

This morning I climbed into the car and started him up. His name is Frodo, a name which came with him when we bought him five years ago. But the windshield was frosty and it was hard to see through it. I yanked on the emergency brake, and reached in the back for the scraper. I tried to rub off the film of white, and was partially successful. Benjamin asked what I was doing, since he hasn't seen much ice in the last nine months.

"Trying to clear the windshield so I can see," I grunted.
I tossed the scraper in the back seat and put the car in reverse. By the time I had rounded the first corner I tried squirting the window washer, since the air was only barely freezing. Bad idea. Now it was as opaque as the frosted glass in a shower door. I pulled over to the side of the road and scraped again. 
I drove slowly, and noticed that when I focused on the ice it was nearly impossible to see the road. If I focused on the road, the streaks of ice were less obscuring. It is an interesting phenomenon, this ability of our eyes to zero in on one spot. Even cameras and IPhones can do it now, but eyeballs invented it.
Since my son went to college for videography I have begun paying attention to the way movies will use focus to swivel my attention from a person to the action behind them. Fuzzy and sharp take turns.
The other day a friend was complaining to me about her husband. He does not put his keys where she wants him to. She seemed to be bidding for confirmation from me that this was indeed annoying but I kept my cards close to my chest. I was, frankly, more annoyed at her. 
Now it is not as if I am innocent. I have wasted precious mental energy on the same triviality. I gathered evidence to prove that John refuses to close cupboards as if there were a stenographer following in my steps to build a court case.
"Your Honor, the defendant, John Llewellyn Odhner left forty three out of fifty nine cupboards open after removing a dish over the last twenty four days. I submit this to the bench as exhibit A that Mr. Odhner is incompetent at finishing tasks."
But I am learning. The trouble with focusing on my husband's mistakes, is that it hijacks my attention from his goodness.