Valentine Cop-Outs

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Some of our friends have rebelled against Valentine’s Day. “It’s too commercial.” “I don’t need a calendar to tell me to express love and affection.” “My husband knows I love him every day.” “I don’t need flowers or chocolate to prove my love.” “Hallmark doesn’t run my life.” Okay. Is everyone done with the nay saying? Now, let me set the record straight.

Phil and I stand with the full and complete celebration of Valentine’s Day. We do. I’m sorry that a sappy card offends your sensibilities. It doesn’t offend ours. If that heart-shaped box of chocolates makes you feel too commercial, send it to our house. And flowers? I mean, c’mon, what’s not to love about flowers?

If our society has set aside a day to honor love, why wouldn’t we want to jump on board? Of all the things in our current culture that I don’t support, love sweet love is actually something I can heartily get behind. So, if you’re in love, stop with the excuses. Bust a gut, people. Let’s get this done.

Men, if you’re financially strapped, worry not. Write a heartfelt love letter and make cupcakes. 99% of women love cupcakes and love letters. And the other 1%? They’re just pretending they don’t love cupcakes and love letters. I have no idea why.

Oh, and women, if you’re on the receiving end, be gracious and appreciative no matter how small the gesture. My husband and I counseled a young married couple years ago who were having marriage problems. She was feeling unloved. He was trying hard to prove his love. Finally, we looked at the young woman and said, “What would make you feel loved? What could your husband do that would make you feel like he had truly made an effort?”

Her reply was remarkable, “You know that scene in a movie where the guy picks up the woman in a private jet and takes her to some place unexpected like Paris or Rome. Yeah. Now that’s real love and romance.”

We were dumb-founded. Her young husband could barely afford gas and a movie ticket. And now she had dangled this horrific expectation in front of him. That’s emotional abuse and it made him want to quit trying.

Defining romance by what you see in movies is never a good idea. Movies have multi-million dollar budgets. And the guy in the movie is not even in love with his co-star. Yes, I saw the scene where her midnight gaze brought a tear to his eye. But it’s all a farce. He’s an actor. He never takes out the trash. He doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night to care for nauseous young ‘uns. A word to the wise: Never take romantic cues from people who don’t do their own laundry.

A world of people are looking for love. If online dating commercials are any indicator, there are thousands upon thousands who are hoping to meet that special someone this year. So, if you’re blessed to have already met the love of your life, stop worrying about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. Show a little heart. Buy the flowers. Write the note. Buy the woman in your life all four of the Doug and Carlie books. (Ooops! Did I actually write that? At least I didn’t say, “Go to Amazon.com and order today.” Oh, shoot. Now I’ve done it).

And if you get the notion, you can even step out on a limb and take the love of your life to Paris. Paris, Tennessee, is less than an hour from our house. Yes, it has an Eiffel Tower as well as a Pizza Hut. That’s called a Valentine’s Day win!

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Two Birthmoms…Our Heroes

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It was Mother’s Day 1995. Another childless year had gone by and another Mother’s Day sought to remind me I was nobody’s mom. I felt invisible in a crowd of corsages and illegibly handwritten cards declaring love for Mommy. I sat in church crying the same tears I had cried every year on this day…and praying the same prayer, “Oh God, if it could be your will, PLEASE just give us a child.”

As the pastor began to speak of the love and admiration we should show to moms, I felt my husband’s arm around me. It was his silent way of saying, “I feel your pain too. I want you to be a mom.” It reminded me of what a sensitive dad he would be. We prayed daily for a baby. But, in the course of six years, every pregnancy test had been negative and every year brought more discouragement. We knew God knew the future and had a plan, but to our human understanding He often seemed silent. Painfully silent. How could I have known that beyond our little world were two women whose love and courage would change our lives forever?

It was the Fall of 1994 when we first contacted an agency in our area to talk about adoption possibilities. The moment we met our counselor, we were impressed. Her enthusiasm lit up the room. She understood our financial situation and decided to trust God with us that if it was His will for us to adopt, He would provide along the way. He did so miraculously and we were approved by February of 1995. Then came the waiting. We had waited so many years. We joked that waiting had become our specialty.

In January of 1996, it appeared the waiting might soon be over. Our counselor told us a birthmom named Karen had chosen our profile page and would be calling us that night. The moment we heard her voice, we liked her. She was articulate and kind. She asked a lot of questions and we could tell she loved this baby intensely. He was two months old now. At the time of his birth, she had been unsure of whether she was going to place for adoption or parent so she placed him in a loving foster home while trying to come to a final decision. She had chosen now to seek an adoptive couple and wanted to meet with us as soon as possible. The meeting we had with her and later with both her and her parents confirmed to us that God had not been silent all those years. No. He had heard every word…responded to every prayer. His timing was flawless.

Karen was 21 and in college. She and her parents had agreed on adoption and had prayed for a Christian couple. She said the moment she saw our picture she knew we were the ones. Only God could cause such an ordinary-looking couple to seem extraordinary to her. As she read our profile, the decision was confirmed. The birthfather was supportive of the adoptive plan though he chose not to meet us.

The moment we first met I reached out to hug her and can still remember thinking, “This is the woman we have prayed for.” We met our son a few days later. Like every set of new parents, we thought he was more glorious than any baby we had previously seen.

In fact, after the first meeting with him, I called a friend and said, “I’d just like to apologize.” With confusion my friend asked, “Apologize? Apologize for what?”

“I want to apologize for all the times I said your little baby was the sweetest baby on earth. Without even knowing it, I lied. Today we met the sweetest baby on earth.”

Stephen became our son January 23, 1996, the day he turned three months old. The dream had become reality. Phil was a real dad. I was a real mom.

As we watched Stephen blow out the candles on his second birthday cake, we said, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful son…and could you give him a baby brother or sister?” Should we dare to even dream for a SECOND miracle? Trusting God’s timing, we began to pray daily that God would provide a baby, if it was His will.

Less than three months later, the phone rang. My husband’s mom had been showing off pictures of her grandkids, when one of the observers said, “Are Philip and Lisa wanting to adopt again?” Philip’s mom said an enthused, “YES!”

She (my mother-n-law’s friend) worked with a woman who had told her just that week that she had decided to place her soon-to-be-delivered baby for adoption and was looking for a Christian couple. The birthmom called us a few days later to set up a meeting. She lived a few hours away and was 35 years old, a college graduate, single mom of a 12-year-old. We met her at the favorite meeting place for all parents…McDonalds. Cathy would turn out to be God’s next blessing in our lives.

She was pleasant and kind but was obviously tired. Seeing Cathy actually carrying the child in her body helped me realize again what love both these women had for these babies. They nurtured and cared for them for nine long months. Her 12-year-old supported the decision to place for adoption. The birthfather too agreed with the decision though chose not to meet us. She asked lots of questions and even made notes in a spiral notebook. As we were leaving, she told us to drive by the hospital…so we would know where to come when she called. This was her way of saying she liked us. Two days later she called and confirmed her decision to place the child with us.

The next few days were spent getting legal paper work set up and trying to prepare for a new member of the family. Three weeks after our meeting, she called Philip from the hospital only minutes after giving birth to say, “Hey Dad! You should come see this beautiful boy!”

He was indeed beautiful in every way. The time spent with Cathy and her family at the hospital the next 24 hours was precious. We met her parents, son, and brother. I’ll never forget a walk I took with her around the hospital that night. I told her the same thing we had told Karen. We wanted the absolute BEST for her and for her beautiful baby. If she decided to parent, we would understand, love her, and support her decision. We held hands and both had a good cry. She held fast to her original decision and the next day found us crying and hugging as we all prepared to go our separate ways. Jonathan has been a blessing and a JOY to our hearts. We are still amazed that God said, “yes” twice! It is often said, “God moves in mysterious ways.” Our lives have been a testimony of such. On more than one occasion, we have said, “God, thank you. Thank you for the terrible waiting, the wondering, the negative pregnancy tests, the searching…and the provision that has been beyond what we could have ever hoped for.”

We also thank Him for these two loving and courageous women. How could we begin to say thank you to the women who carried and nurtured our sons before we even knew them? How could we begin to say thank you to them for choosing life? For understanding the meaning of the word sacrifice? For loving the boys beyond what most people will ever understand?

Our family tree is now blessed with two fine sons. But always at the roots will be Karen and Cathy…our family heroes.
*The birthmoms’ names have been changed in respect of their privacy.
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Take Down that Christmas Tree, Friend

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Friends, it’s mid-January and it’s time to make a clean break. The party’s over. Hold my hand and read these words very carefully. Take it down. Walk slowly toward the corner of your living room and take the Christmas tree down. Don’t think about it. Don’t stop to watch the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special” on video “just one more time.” No. Put the video away.

Take the lights down. Take the fuzzy Santa door knocker down. Take the dried up poinsettia and deposit it in the trash can outside the laundry room. No. No. Don’t put that poinsettia in the garage. Stop! Don’t do it! I don’t care what your Aunt Ethel said about caring for that dried up poinsettia until next Christmas. No. I promise with all journalistic integrity that next Christmas you will be able to purchase a poinsettia at a reasonable price. IF there are no poinsettias for sale next December, I will come to your home and string popcorn. I’ll make gingerbread cookies. I’ll even sing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” a cappella. I promise.

However, if you choose not to take my advice concerning the poinsettias, I can’t protect you from the mild depression you will experience when you look in the garage in mid-April and see 4 or 5 dried up poinsettias piled in a corner next to a dusty Bowflex machine. That just has “failure” written all over it. It’s the New Year. You don’t need the stress. I have full confidence in your tenacity and ability. I am cheering you on. Go get that Christmas box. It’s time to fill it to the brim.

Even after reading my first paragraph, some of you may STILL be experiencing a lack of motivation in taking down your Christmas items. For you, let me provide this very solemn warning. I realize there are people who leave their icicle lights up year round. I know. There are people who leave their tree up until July. Some people leave the dusty Santa stocking on the mantel for months and months. It happens. To some of you, this may seem perfectly “normal.” Let me illustrate how quickly “normal” can take a terrible turn. Take notes.

You see, it all starts with leaving up the tree and the lights. Pretty soon there are 26 stray cats living inside the house. Next comes an addiction to the shopping channel. Pretty soon you’re eating dry cat food late at night and stalking David Letterman. You may even start selling “Elvis memorabilia” on-line. I’m serious. A year-round Christmas tree can severely blur your reasoning. You start to believe that the Hawaiian shirt from your high school graduation party is the EXACT one Elvis wore in “Blue Hawaii.”

What’s that? Yeah, I know. You’re putting down your phone or computer and getting the Christmas box out of the attic, aren’t you? Good for you. And don’t forget about the poinsettia. While you’re at the trash can, why don’t you go ahead and toss that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” CD? Go ahead. Make the world a more beautiful place.
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Weird Christmas Stuff

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I admit it. I’m a traditionalist. I like to celebrate Christmas the way we celebrated it last year. I like to celebrate Christmas the way we celebrated it ten years ago. Yes, I even like Christmas the way it was in 1973 when I got an Easy-Bake Oven and a Barbie camper.

Let’s start with the food. Unless I live on an island in the South Pacific, I don’t want to eat coconut shrimp for Christmas dinner. I love coconut shrimp. Everyone loves coconut shrimp, but coconut shrimp cannot take the place of ham or turkey. This information is in the traditional Christmas rule book in a chapter entitled, “You Should Just Know Better.”

Let’s take rye bread, for instance. I like rye bread just fine if it’s a Thursday in February and I’m eating a Reuben sandwich. But Christmas dinner requires rolls. Hot, white, carb-laden rolls. Yes, I know. I know that white rolls are not “nutrient dense.” Let me fill you in on something, friend. People who talk about nutrition at Christmas dinner will find coal in their stockings. How’s that for density?

Let’s talk holiday home décor. Again, why are we messing with stuff that doesn’t need to be messed with? Everyone needs to take a page from my parents’ Christmas decorating guide. When our family celebrates Christmas with my folks, I have the full assurance of how things will be. There will be a red rickety little sled on the fireplace mantle. I think my parents acquired that sled when John F. Kennedy was president.

My dad will have picked out a “less than ideal” live tree from a tree lot because he felt sorry for the tree with the crooked base or the big bare spot. He and my mom will decorate the tree with the decorations given to them during 56 years of marriage. There’ll be all those little apple ornaments from their years in teaching. The homemade ornaments collected down through the years will be placed on the tree with great care. And when the ornaments are all on, they’ll say in unison, “It’s the prettiest tree we’ve ever had.”

If I walked into my parents’ home to find a 10 ft. artificial tree flocked in expensive fake snow and covered in new matching shiny balls, I would feel grave disappointment. At that point, they might as well just serve lobster bisque for Christmas dinner with whole wheat pita bread and hummus.

I’ve written about this subject before, but it’s worth repeating. Red and green are the Christmas colors, people. They have always been the Christmas colors. They shall remain the Christmas colors. Pink, lavender, and salmon are not Christmas colors…nor shall they ever be. Refer to the traditional Christmas rule book under the chapter entitled, “Frosty the Snowman Should Never Wear Bermuda Shorts.”

I realize that some of you love to experiment with your Christmas celebrations. You love to change things up, introduce new foods, and decorate in new ways. I can appreciate that as long as you know why we celebrate Christmas. God sent His son to a fallen world to bring hope and redemption. So whether you eat turkey and dressing or caviar on crackers, join in the song of the ages. The Messiah has come.
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Christmas Sadness

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There’s a problem with this time of year. Those who experience grief, sadness, or disappointment experience it all the more as the rest of us run around putting up lights, singing of Christmas cheer, and wondering why some people can’t even muster the energy to care about the ugly Christmas sweater party. If you’re grief-stricken, sad, or disappointed this Christmas, I’m very sorry. This column is lovingly dedicated to you.

Have you lost a family member this year? Or last year? Or even ten years ago? When you put up the Christmas tree, do you have to sit down and cry a few times as certain ornaments cause you to recall precious memories of the one who will be glaringly absent from Christmas dinner? Do you find yourself wanting to avoid parties, dinners, or the merriment of the season because you’re just too sad to care? You’re not alone.

When you watch Christmas movies or Hallmark commercials that feature parents and grandparents passing down long-held holiday traditions to their perfectly-dressed children, do you wonder what that life would have been like? What would it have been like to be loved and supported? Cherished? Respected? Do you wonder what people would think if they knew the violence, agony, and difficulty of your own childhood? Do you find yourself wondering why your own parents couldn’t have been more like…well, like parents? You’re not alone.

Did you experience the agony of separation or divorce this year? The one person who promised to never leave you walked right out the front door, never looking back. You wonder if anyone understands the searing pain of loneliness. You’re not alone.

Are you financially strapped this season? Already in debt up to your eyeballs? Behind on bills? Wondering how to pay the electric bill much less buy presents? When people say, “Christmas isn’t about all the presents,” you find yourself thinking, “Yeah. Tell that to my family members.” You’re not alone.

Did you always picture what it would be like when your own kids were grown? Did you envision them marrying lovely and supportive spouses and having beautiful respectful kids? Every Christmas they’d all gather around your table and everyone would be happy. Thankful. Blessed. A life pulled right from the Norman Rockwell picture hanging in the dental office. But it didn’t turn out that way. Perhaps addiction, rebellion, or selfishness crept in and ruined your vision of the picture-perfect Christmas. You raised your kids to be one way. But they chose a different path. I’m sorry. You’re not alone either.

Christmas is a magnifying glass of sorts. When you’re happy, you’re all the more happy in December. When you’re suffering, you’re all the more suffering. I can’t solve that problem. I can’t make the disappointing loved ones in your life less disappointing. I can’t bring back those who have passed on. I can’t go back and give you a more ideal childhood. All those things are out of my control. And out of your control too.

Hallmark movies are great but Christmas is not, nor has it ever been, about a perfect family or a perfect life. Only one person led a perfect life. And blessedly, Christmas is about Him. This Christmas I take joy in celebrating the one who completely understands us and all our disappointments. The one who is not surprised by the suffering, the grief, depression, or even the addictions. I celebrate Christ because He offers us something glorious…hope, redemption, love. A love that never fails. So, here’s to all the bruised and broken. You are loved. Merry Christmas.
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I Don’t Like Greek Yogurt

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I like Greek people just fine. I mean, it’s not that I’ve known that many Greek people, but the ones I’ve known I liked just fine. Oh, and I love that movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Who doesn’t love that movie? I will go to my grave loving any movie that features an insecure middle-aged woman who goes through a life transformation and then meets the man of her dreams. That right there is called a winning story formula, people.

I totally respect the Greek language too, even though I don’t know it. At all. I’m a public school kid and public school kids don’t take Greek. I think it’s because kids who learn Greek would probably be all haughty going around saying they know the roots of words. Then one day the kid’s grandma would accidentally say, “It’s Greek to me.” And the haughty 8th grader would say, “Then let me see it, Grandma. I know Greek, remember?” So, even though the New Testament was written in Greek, I never learned Greek because I never wanted to make my grandma feel inadequate.

My husband actually made an academic trip to Greece a few years ago. He brought back all these incredible pictures of the Parthenon and the Greek Isles. He was really smart when he left for the trip but he was even smarter when he got home. Yes. I realize it’s because the Greeks play a huge role in human history and the arts and all the stuff that’s supposed to make us really smart.

With the Greeks being really smart and everything, I’m a little surprised their yogurt tastes so bad. Yogurt is a 4.1 billion dollar a year industry in the United States. Yes, billion with a “b.” And according to Wikipedia (which sometimes gets stuff wrong but most of the time gets stuff right), Greek yogurt has been responsible for most of the yogurt industry’s recent sales growth.

It’s not surprising to me that Americans act like Greek yogurt tastes so good. It’s higher in protein with a lot less sugar, and that makes us feel all grown up when we eat it. It’s also why it tastes like sour cream mixed with chicken livers. Okay. It doesn’t really taste like sour cream mixed with chicken livers. But it doesn’t taste sweet and yummy either. It’s pasty and protein-ish tasting. (Yes, I know “protein-ish” is not a real word).

Remember the rice cake phenomenon of the 80’s and 90’s? Remember how your cousin, Gloria, was determined to put every food known to man on top of a rice cake? Low-fat peanut butter. Sugar-free jam. Low-fat cheese. Eventually we learned the only thing that tasted good on a rice cake was a huge blob of ice cream. When rice cake eaters started gaining weight, the trend all but disappeared.

I’m convinced that’s what will happen with Greek yogurt. People will start adding caramel sauce, Ghirardelli milk chocolate chunks, and leftover birthday cake to Greek yogurt. And when they do? Well, that’ll teach the Greeks to stick to architecture and romantic movies.
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The Smartt View…Hope for Middle School Girls

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Some things never change. I was sitting in front of our local middle school recently and observed clusters of kids in every size and description. Some looked confident. Others looked scared. One young girl stands out in my mind…because she looked like me. I wanted to run up to this young lady and hug her and never let go. I wanted to tell her to hang in there and not give up. I wanted to remind her that this is just middle school. That’s all it is. Nothing more.

As I observed this young lady, it was 1976 all over again and I was in 8th grade. We had just moved from a small Kentucky town to a large school in Texas. I was a tall, strangely disproportioned, insecure 13-year-old. That’s the nice way of saying it. Just thinking about being 13 makes me want to see a therapist and eat a doughnut. For all you teenage girls out there, I’m sending you a hug…and a message.

The only thing that saved my life in eighth grade was joining the Jr. High Speech Club. Mrs. Harpool single-handedly saved my disproportioned and dysfunctional life that year. Mrs. Harpool didn’t see a tall, insecure, strange-looking eighth grader. She saw someone else entirely.

She pulled me aside one day before a speech competition and said, “Lisa, stand tall. You have a gift. You have presence. You can do this.” Just writing that makes me want to cry. You see, the other eighth graders saw someone completely different. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

When I look back on eighth grade, there’s a strange realization that hits me. I was succeeding in speech and drama competitions and doing well in academics. But it wasn’t enough. I would have GLADLY traded all of it…just to be beautiful for one day. I didn’t want to be a success in speech or academics. I wanted to be beautiful and popular. I wanted to be liked by boys and respected by the other girls. I wanted to be a trendsetter and a “somebody.” Everyone said that middle school trauma was “character building.” I didn’t want character. I wanted a boyfriend.

I never succeeded in the “middle school world.” It wasn’t my destiny. I never went to a dance. No boys ever called. The girls managed to set their own trends, without my input. I know there are girls out there who are having the same experience in middle school right now. Lean in close…and listen carefully. Take my hand. Someday it won’t matter. At all. I promise.

This column wouldn’t be complete without a word to those who are on the middle school “inside track.” If you’ve managed to steer clear of the “ugly stage” and people consider you a “trend setter,” you have an opportunity to do something really valuable today. You see, there’s a girl, probably in one of your classes or in your neighborhood. You need to pay attention. This girl has something valuable to contribute to your life. She can teach you things and bring a ray of diversity to your life. If you ignore her, middle school won’t be a time of “character building” for you…and you’ll have to go through “character building” later on in life…when I PROMISE it will be more painful. If you alienate people or treat them poorly, you’ll go through an “ugly stage” that is far more destructive and harder to shed.

As for the tall and insecure girl who was an 8th grader in 1976, everything turned out remarkably well. She dated very little…and married a prince. She was never in the spotlight…and learned to love people who leaned against the wall. The world never considered her beautiful…and she learned the precious art of conversation. She was never a trendsetter…and she learned to look at eternity. If she had to go back to eighth grade, it might be tempting to try to change the way history unfolded. But looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing.

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