Disney-fied

Do television commercials ever make you cry? I’m sitting here at the computer, weeping, watching a YouTube video made by the Disney company. It shows clip after home video clip of families popping the news to their kids that they’re going to Disney! As if the kids’ elated reactions aren’t enough to turn on the tears, get a load of this voice-over narration:

Disney memories keep our children young in our hearts, and color our tomorrows with the best of our yesterdays. They sing to us whenever we need them to, and dance to us in our dreams…which is why they’re so important! And here’s the best part: your Disney memory can begin this very moment.

Follow the link a little further, and you’ll connect to an equally weep-producing video with this voice-over:

To all the memory makers, the ones who know there are only so many moments before the sword is passed [a boy pulls a sword out of a theme park stone], only so many mountains left to climb together [a family rides the roller coaster down a thrill hill], and only so many days before she finds her own Prince Charming [a costumed prince kisses the hand of a pre-teen girl]—so to all those who know that the best memories in life are the ones you hold on to for a lifetime, don’t wait! Let the memories begin at the place where dreams come true.

Oh, brother.

Help me out, here, everyone. Disney: the source for beautiful family memories or insidious purveyor of unrealistic, worldly ideals preying on the sentimentality of the future guilt-ridden mothers of America?

What do you think?

The model of marriage as a model for more

Sixteen days until Jen and Dan’s wedding, so says the Countdown app on my Sony Dash (love that thing!).

It seems like Craig and I are long past the years when we attended the weddings of our peers. Now we are going to about one wedding each year, mainly those of couples whom we’ve mentored through the “Couples Mentoring Couples” program at our church. There are even a few weddings of friends’ children that have worked their way into the mix. I love weddings, but let me just say right here: maybe we need to find some younger friends.

In any case, mentoring engaged couples is, first of all, humbling. The time comes to mind when we postponed one mentoring session because an after-church argument sapped our enthusiasm for the cause. If nothing else, we are real, right? It’s a good thing for a couple to see a genuine example of a not-so-perfect marriage, I suppose, especially when Christians and Christian literature tend to water down our real problems to something akin to this: “He spends too much time washing his truck” and “She spends too much time in Bible study.” I wish I had those kinds of problems.

Most of the arguments in my house, admittedly, are related to such nuances as tone of voice, choice of words, sleepiness or wakefulness, and enthusiasm for this or that activity. While we (I) sometimes panic about money, we rarely argue about it. For us (me) it’s more like, “I can’t believe you said that” and “Don’t look at me like that.” I swear, it’s like kids on the playground with me sometimes. Note to self: grow up.

Next to being humbling, mentoring engaged couples is just plain enlightening. For example, one of the things we cover in our sessions is the role of men and women in marriage. The Biblical model is that the man is the head (read here as “servant-leader”), and the woman is to submit to him by being a helper-lover (that is, a helpful encourager and lover of her man, his children, and their family together).

Now, I know that this is the model that the Bible describes in Ephesians 5:22-33 and other places, but I don’t know that I agree with the book that we use in our mentoring sessions. It describes this model as the best because it is practical to have one person in charge rather than two people competing for leadership. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, but I don’t think that co-leaders necessarily compete for leadership. I think that many egalitarian-style and co-leader arrangements work out well, especially when the partners (in classrooms, in business, in marriage) recognize that one person is good at some things and the other is good at other things. And whatever one is good at, that is what he or she should do (plus the things that no one wants to do, because, let’s face it, somebody’s got to do them).

Nor do I agree with those (few, I hope) who suggest that the man should be the head and the woman a helper/lover because they are, by virtue of their gender-based hard-wiring, naturally better at those roles. This natural bent toward their assigned roles may be true for some men and women, perhaps for many or most men and women. But I would suggest that there are not a few guys who are happy to relinquish the driver’s seat to someone more able simply because they have an easy-going attitude…or because of fear, lack of confidence, or secret shortcomings. I’m not saying that those guys shouldn’t step up to the plate and be men in their family responsibilities—just that they may not be naturally good at leadership.

Likewise, many women are intense, lack fear, overabound with confidence, and act as if they have no shortcomings. Decision-making, planning, and needs identification and alleviation are a snap for them. These women are experienced, capable, and assertive—real “get-it-done” girls. Playing the role of the meek helper/lover is a stretch for them. It can be done, but it comes with a lot of character reassignment and a lot of suggestion swallowing—not natural for some, and certainly not easy.

So if these roles are not practically ideal or universally borne out as our true nature as men and women, then what’s the real reason for them? I think I’ve found it.

In his book “That You May Believe: New Life in the Son,” Skip Ryan talks about the Wedding at Cana, as documented in John 2. There, the party runs out of wine, and Jesus replenishes the supply by turning into wine the water from large jars used for ceremonial purification. Ryan suggests that this is not just a miracle showing Jesus’ supernatural power. It is also a signpost that reads, “This way to the real wedding.”

Consider what he says about the role of Jesus and the church in the wedding that Jesus describes. He says, “John is giving us a signpost to the greatest wedding of all, and telling us that the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, will have His bride, the church, presented to him spotless, because she will be wearing his righteousness. Why does a bride wear white? It is a direct indication that, in the plan and economy of God, He intends His church to be white and spotless. That is the historical background to the white dress a bride wears. It is the purity given to the bride of Christ by the Bridegroom, who gives to her His own perfect righteousness.”

You thought the white wedding dress was a symbol of virginity, right? Wrong. In the marriage ceremony, the groom is a representation of Christ and the bride is a representation of the church. Together they are a model of God’s heavenly intent for his people: perfect righteousness effected by ultimate sacrifice.

Would it be too much to say, then, that in practicing our marriage roles as God intended that we will gain a deeper, even more profound understanding of what Christ has done for us and of who we are in Christ? In fulfilling his Biblical role as servant-leader, wouldn’t a self-centered man or one who feels ill-equipped to lead his family come to understand more deeply the humble sacrifice that Christ made for us as an expression of his love for us? Wouldn’t he be able to see that just as a man can create security and stability for his family by serving and leading them, even more so, Christ has created eternal security for us by redeeming us?

Likewise wouldn’t a capable or even self-sufficient woman be able to see that in submitting to her husband’s leadership, she is demonstrating the trust and obedience that the church should have in Jesus Christ? In receiving the direction that her husband offers, isn’t she acknowledging our powerlessness as believers to be effectual in our own righteousness? In allowing her husband to do the work that he sees fit in their relationship, isn’t she being the object of transformation that the church is to Christ?

In this sense our marriages are a lifelong devotional exercise. In them we rehearse what it means for Christ to be who He is and the church to be who He intends us to be.

It is a challenge to fulfill these roles because of our imperfections and our lack of trust for the other person. Don’t get me wrong, in many cases the lack of trust is more than justified. A man may not lead or lead well because he is lazy, unwise, unwilling, or simply because his wife overpowers him. A woman submitting to this kind of man may be walking with him down a path that leads to destruction. But a man must not lead blindly, indulging his whim or vices, without thought of the consequences or of his responsibility. To the man, this is the message: be more like Christ, leading as one who is pure and worthy.

Likewise, a woman may not be willing to submit or play the “second fiddle” role of helper because she is productive, capable, and self-assured, or simply because she doesn’t trust her man. Burned once she may be unwilling to set herself up again, even to a man who is repentant and committed to not only their marriage but to his Christian life as well. To the woman, this is the message: in submitting do not stagnate, but grow in sanctification, trusting more.

I’m not sure how to advise a man who leads where his wife will not follow. Nor am I sure how to advise a woman who has only a poor leader to submit to. I trust that I will be enlightened on these points as well. Stay tuned.

Memorial for a difficult person

Sometimes death catches us off-guard.

It happened to me this summer. Someone died, and being me, I immediately took up the self-imposed charge to create “something to say” about a person who was, frankly, not that easy to get along with. She wasn’t surrounded by friends…ever, as far as I could tell. She wasn’t particularly nice…although with medication she was nicer.

Standard funeral readings didn’t seem to fit. Too many lean toward the grandiose, seem overly spiritual, or make the person sound like more than she was. Hardest of all, most readings I found didn’t seem to fit my aunt, who was a troubled person and often brought trouble along with her.

Writer that I fancy myself to be, I came up with the paragraphs that follow, and I gave them to my mother to read at her sister’s funeral. The feedback from another aunt was that it said everything she wanted to say. I share what I wrote, not to shine the light on myself, but to offer to anyone else in a similar situation where positive memories are limited. Please feel free to use it for your personal reflection or for a memorial portion of a service, at no charge from me. If you do use it though, drop me a comment.

If you have found this because you have lost someone, please accept my condolences.

-Cheryl

Death is the end, but it is also the beginning. It’s a time to look back on what has passed, to mourn over the person whom we’ve lost, and to rejoice that her suffering, seen and unseen, is over. As one life has ended, we begin to live knowing that our days on earth are limited, but that our presence here is valuable. We begin to look forward to our own futures. We live knowing that for as much as God has ordained the events and circumstances of our lives, He is also walking right alongside us to guide us. All we have to do is let Him.

Death is the closing of a door, but it is also an opportunity. As we look back on what Diane walked through in her life, we see what has gone before in all of our lives–highs, lows, joys, sorrows, pleasant memories, and deep regrets. As the door has closed on her life, each of us has the opportunity to transform our pasts into a force for future good. Where we have suffered, we have the opportunity to sympathize. Where we have fallen, we have the opportunity to pick others up. Where we have seen God’s blessings, we can rejoice and share those blessings with others, making ourselves the greatest blessing of all.

Death may seem like the final word, but it also represents a blank page where we write the story of the rest of our lives. Diane’s story lives on in our memories and echoes in our hearts. We have seen her life come to a close, but the rest of us don’t know how our stories will end. We don’t know, any of us, how much time we will have. In the meantime, ask yourself–what do you choose? How will you contribute? What good will you do to honor the God who made you and encourage the people around you?

The rest of your story is yet to be written–the big question is this: What do you want your story to say?

Torn about Irene

Overflowed banks at the base of the waterfall at Silver Lake Park in Dover, Delaware

I know I’m crazy, but 36 hours post-hurricane Irene, I find myself wanting more.

I am such a sucker for a good storm. It’s exciting, suspenseful. It’s dark and a little dangerous—the ultimate change of scenery. It’s a spike on the chart of the everyday. It’s an adventure…without the hassle of leaving home.

As I look around, though, there’s a lot that I don’t want: day 2 of no electricity (like my parents and in-laws), my home under 4 feet of water (like the Trenton train station), and restrictions against going outside for fear of electrocution caused by downed live electric wires (like in Hoboken). And how would you like the possibility of the state giving the order to release the water from behind an overly taxed dam such that it submerges your town (as had been considered for one flood-related engineering emergency in Vermont)? If that’s not the ultimate in your tax dollars at work, I don’t know what is.

As I reflect on the fact that I am unscathed and wishing that the weekend’s events had been a bit more dramatic, I have to say, I’m curious. I wonder whether I should have revised the prayers I said early Friday afternoon to be more inclusive. Before the storm came, I rode my bicycle through my neighborhood and prayed for preservation of the homes. I rode past the middle school and prayed for safety of the students and their families. I rode through the park and prayed specifically for the trees to stay standing. I prayed for my family’s bungalow in Seaside Park, NJ that it wouldn’t end up free-floating in the Atlantic, a lifetime of summer memories and our vintage Archie comics floating out along with it.

Ultimately, I got everything I asked for (and for that, I am thankful, of course). Should I have prayed for more areas, I wonder, with more specificity? Should I have made a virtual circle of the whole east coast as I circled the neighborhoods on my bike? Should I have put my hand on the electric meter and prayed for the integrity of the middle states grid? Should I have prayed that the trees of Silver Lake Park be standing, but not in 6 feet of water, as they were on Sunday morning?

I don’t know. What I do know is that the sun is shining now, and the aftermath of the storm is not something that is affecting me directly. It’s a good thing. I wonder if the post-Irene feeling that I have is like the one athletes get when they make it to the semis but get knocked out on the eve of the finals. Not having to fight the big guys is disappointing, but I’ll tell you what—it’s also a relief.

Sunshine Quotations


We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
— E.M. Forster (A Room With a View)

You are the only shadow standing in your own sunshine.”
Fabio Viviani (Top Chef)

Neglected Blog Guilt?

It’s a 21st century emotional plague. So common, it borders on cliché. One more disease of the informationally overpriveleged.

Forgive me, cyber-universe…I’ve neglected my blog.

Actually, nix that. I don’t feel guilty, and I’m not really sorry. To borrow my favorite phrase from Top Chef, Season whatever-it-was, the truth is that my blog “is what it is.” Whatever you may think about my level of dedication, there is no avoiding that my life does, should, must, has, and always will come first. If I find my back to the family for hours on end, my eyes twitching from overuse, my brain unable to remember the name of the drug that I was writing about five minutes ago, then I’m going to say that the blog can wait. End of story.

It was only ever a personal writing diary anyway, right? Musings. Thoughts. My substantive protest, however invisible, against the legion of “I NEED MORE COFFEE” post-ers on Facebook. (Please, people, get your coffee already—and for the love of your soon-to-be ex-Facebook friends, quit posting about it!). My blog was meant to be a low-impact mental exercise, a way of keeping the virtual pen in shape, a means to accumulating material that, while read by only a precious few, could someday be compiled into a longer form medium with little to no additional effort.

But then, like Mom’s homemade pies on a 1980’s sit-com, things caught on. I had followers. People reading me who didn’t know me. People lurking and not telling me so, until they expressed an opinion and I realized I wasn’t so invisible after all. And I started to produce, for the group, to meet the expectations, to keep it all going. And like Lucy on the candy production line, there was bound to come a time when I couldn’t keep up.

That time came around a year ago when two things happened. The first was an uptick in my professional writing. Let me tell you, much as I love musing, it doesn’t do much to bolster the college fund. Sorry, blog fans, but you lose to a paying job any day. The second was that, in step with my professional expansion, I had new business cards made, and they had my blog address printed on them loud and clear.

Kiss. Of. Death.

With all that said, I’m bucking the trend. I neglected my blog, and NO REGRETS, MAN! It’s still here, and I’m still here, and both of us are what we are and, like Popeye said it, that’s all that we are. Stay tuned readers, but don’t feel like you can’t touch that dial.

Pleasant surprises

The kids are just back to school after Spring Break, and, looking back, I’m astonished at the number of pleasant surprises that can happen in one week off.

First, the weather—temperatures in the ’80s for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Just when I finally got both of my children outfitted in pants that fit, here comes the sweltering spring sunshine that makes you want to drag out your shorts. No matter. With our late winter wet down, the heat was a welcome change for me, and for my growing grass.

That’s another pleasant surprise—the growing, growing, growing. Growing kids are quite amazing. They report over 2 cm each, since Christmas!! No wonder they needed new clothes. Then there’s the growing flora all over my yard—it’s a joy! The bushes at the corner of my driveway have merged into one fuzzy, tentacled muppet of a thing—so crazy and enchanting! And another pleasant spring break surprise—the church I grew up in, where I visited yesterday, has grown to an astonishing size. What a pleasant surprise to be there with old faces and new, a new pastor, a fresh outlook, a super cool antique of a building with a new coat of paint. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but, again, I’ll take it.

Another surprise—the green of spring! And as I mowed down the new growth, inspiring yet more, I noticed that the once one square foot of ground cover under the bushes in my backyard has expanded to take up the entire end-to-end span of the back of my house, about 75 square feet! Perennial progress—a pleasant surprise! And as I surveyed the yard, I wondered, how many shades of green are there in nature? I count at least 2 in my yard, 3 on my bushes, and 3 or 4 more in the lawnscape outside where I’m writing. As I mowed the grass yesterday I noticed darks and light, color variations from new growth, my favorite blue greens to set off the tried and true forest greens.

Speaking of forest green, I was pleasantly surprised on my Spring Break excursion to my parents’ home in New Jersey, as I drove my husband and children to my high school alma mater, the school colors of which were (brace yourself) forest green and gold (Ugh!). All of us were bowled over by the amazing natural setting that I appreciated pretty much not at all back when I was a teenager. As we drove up the hill to approach the school, there were only trees all around, just budding with the first inkling of leaves. And my son said, “I want to go camping here!” I was retroactively thrilled to have had the opportunity to traverse such a beautiful space every day for so long. A long forgotten memory, pleasantly recalled.

On that NJ trip we made more pleasant discoveries—the crazy Fort Nonsense, built atop a steep hill as a fortification for the Continental Army; Jockey Hollow, home to some of George Washington’s troops, who slept 12 men to a cabin, through the worst winter of the 18th century; Ralston Park, a can’t miss community playground that Hayley spotted from the road, and wouldn’t let us forget until we stopped so she could play there.

There were other pleasant surprises last week: a clearing in my schedule that allowed me to make a long-desired visit to a sick friend; a quick stop at the Borders bookstore by the hospital where the $4 bargain bestsellers were practically throwing themselves into my handbag; clear breathing for the asthmatics in the group in a place that usually wheezes them out.

But the best surprise of all, the one we couldn’t have predicted in a million Spring Breaks, was the one that I must swear you to keep secret from my sister, Linda, whose birthday is coming up on May 1st. Linda, if you’re reading, stop now…or else I won’t give you the cupcake that we got for you from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ, home of TV’s Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. Yes, we road tripped it to Hoboken, expecting to buy a cake at the bakery, and happened on the entire extended Valastro family selling half-price cupcakes out on the sidewalk. We had no idea it was the 1st Annual Cupcake Day at Carlo’s. We ended up on film. We signed release forms. We shook Buddy’s hand. My poor father held a cupcake in his kung-fu grip for almost an hour on the ride home. Let me tell you, though, it was the highlight to end all highlights.

Unless you count the guy that we saw getting arrested on our way into town. Now that was totally awesome.

Reset

Yes, I know. I haven’t posted in over a week, and I know you’ve had one of two reactions:

(a) “Something awful must have happened, and Cheryl must be pinned under a large, overturned piece of mahogany furniture and unable to drag herself over to the keyboard!”

(b) “Something wonderful must have happened (on Cheryl’s Wheel of Fortune appearance), and Cheryl has been enjoying herself so much (on vacation in Aruba) that she hasn’t had time for her normally scheduled activities (like writing on her blog and dusting off her newly acquired porcelain dog).”

Truth is that by way of an unexpected chain of events, I have taken on some new writing work, for which I am very thankful, but which has given me a little bit of a challenge. In the last week, I’ve been wondering, how do I fit it all in?

This is the cliché of the working mother’s dilemma, isn’t it? And believe me, I’ve heard the advice—and I’ve even given some of my own. “You can do it all, but not all at the same time.” I think I remember reading that in a magazine article written by…oh yeah, me…at around this time last year. What can I say, but “Writer, appropriately prioritize thyself!”

I’m not perfect at the priorities thing, but I figure that even though I’m filling up more of my days with writing obligations, I am also needing to do the same things I did before, not so thrilling things like grocery shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and much more my cup of tea things like cookie baking, tennis playing, and viola practicing. What I’m realizing is that I can fit it all in, but it just takes a little more planning, a little more waiting, and a lot more creatively fitting in-ing.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a husband who picks up the slack. Boy, Craig, have you picked up the slack. Yup, lots of slack being picked up by Craig.

What I’m loving the most is that together times with the family have become more precious—more of a break, more of a reconnecting time. I didn’t think that a walk to the park to throw the Frisbee could be so refreshing, but, let me tell you, after a long day it’s a welcome change of scenery and a great opportunity for hugs, encouragement, laughter, listening, and real relaxation. I know the “honeymoon” may wear off, but for now, I’m glad.

My Life

As you may already know, I’m reading a bio of Edgar Allan Poe right now, and I’m really learning a lot about someone whom I thought was mostly a homeless wine-o who wrote occasionally between binges. The “homeless” part isn’t quite accurate (although he often had three homes in one year), nor is the “occasionally” part (he was actually fairly prolific at times). But alcoholism was surely a part of his profile, and sometimes his writing dry spells were strongly connected to it.

When Poe once failed to deliver a promised new poem at a Boston lecture, reading instead an obscure and infinitely long snoozer of a poem he wrote when he was 11 years old, he covered by saying that he intended to make the substitution all along, as a way of mocking on the Bostonians and their already questionable taste level. I will make no such excuse for my own week long posting dry spell. The truth in my case is that the kids were off from school due to snow, etc. for about a week and a half, followed by 3 days of 2 hour delays, which takes its own kind of toll on the writing schedule.

So as I’m sitting here in bed, killing time before the delayed start of today’s school day, icing my aching Wii tennis shoulder, and marveling that a former classmate of mine has friended (not my favorite) high school English teacher on Facebook, I am restarting the writing process with some reflections about my life, inspired in part by last night’s Tivo-d viewing of the Vancouver Olympics:

If my life was a…

…weather prediction, it would be 2 millimeters of ice followed by 4 inches of powdery snow.

…piece of furniture, it would be a well used, super cozy chair-and-a-half.

…vacation spot, it would be the Wii Sports Resort.

…sport, it would be the biathlon. Uphill skiing crossed with shooting at a half dollar sized target a football field away? Oh yeah, it certainly feels that way sometimes.

…fruit, it would be a mango. So good, but so hard to get a grip on.

…song, I fear that it would be sung by a washed-up, big haired, spandex wearing, rock pompous flash in the pan from the ’80’s. I’d prefer Eric Clapton, but I’ll take whoever I can get.

…dance, Hayley says it would be the tango. I guess that’s better than the hokey pokey. I’m just thankful it’s not the chicken dance.

…school, it would have dried cranberries on the lunchroom menu every single day.

…musical instrument, it would be the bassoon. What other instrument sounds like it’s laughing pretty much all the time?

The season of chill

As I’m writing this, my children are upstairs “putting away books,” making more noise than a stampede of dinosaurs at Jurassic Park. They’re screaming, yelling, sliding furniture, laughing, and slamming doors, and you know what? I’m OK with that.

This, I think, is a sign not of neglectful parenting, but of my incredible calm and relaxation, the likes of which can only be derived from nearly two weeks of not really having to be anywhere, at any time, ever. Sure they’re making noise. Sure the tide will turn. Sure one of them will walk out of it crying, injured, or in need of intense therapy in adulthood. But right now I’m not really worried about that. I am so de-stressed, so drama free, so many miles from the blacked in squares of last year’s calendar, that only a trip to the ER might snap me out of it. Even then, I say “might.”

I guess I’m at the end of my drama rehab—honestly, it’s been going so well that I stopped keeping track of the days. The original idea was 40 days to drama-, worry-, and stress-free living, with the holiday season providing the best growing conditions for those particular strains. The initial hairy drama encounters and their subsequent highlights are recorded in my Drama Rehab Journal (see the column on the left of this page), but I’m happy to report that the closer I’ve gotten to the finish line, the fewer near occasions of drama there have been. And over the stretch from Christmas to New Year’s Day there’s been nothing to report.

I’m thankful to be starting off a new year with a more relaxed outlook. I fear that once the schedule inevitably revs up, my one step forward will turn into a fireman’s pole worth of sliding back. But I’m not going to worry about that, because I’m staying out of the worry business. This year I’ll try to avoid scheduling crunches, scheduling conflicts, overcommitment, and under-enrichment. I’ll practice rolling my eyes and smiling more, gnashing my teeth and steaming less. During these winter months I’ll try to make our home a haven for my family—a static-free environment where we can shut out the stress and recharge ourselves with mutual support and free-flowing home-baked goods.

Craig and I gave the kids a Wii for Christmas, and we told them that it doesn’t work in an environment of negativity (sort of like how we told them that the man from the car dealership said no snacks allowed in the minivan). So far that’s encouraged sharing and equitable turn-taking, but I think it applies to more than the Wii, doesn’t it? My 40 years of experience as myself has taught me that I don’t really work in an environment of negativity. It’s about time I did something about that.

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