31 Days, Day 1: Ben by Michael Jackson

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Ben by Michael Jackson

Such a sweet song!  A 14 year old MJ sings his heart out in this ballad about friendship with a….rat. What a waste of a good song! I was still in elementary school when the movie and song came out in 1972, so I never saw the movie but my older stepsister did and once she described the storyline to me I wasn’t interested in ever seeing it. But the song was so lovely and poignant, reminding Ben that he always had a place to go and a friend he could count on – despite the fact that he was a killer rat.  I guess even cold-blooded murderous rodents need companionship. Just don’t turn your back on Ben. He’s got other friends of his own kind and they’d just as soon snack on you as sway along to your music. The swaying trick only works on cobras, and even then probably only in the movies.

If you’re interested in the movie (though I can’t imagine why), you can read about it here.

Just look at Michael Jackson in this video. He really had amazing talent, and he looks so normal. He’s such a cutie pie! What happened to him??? He doesn’t even look like the person he was before his untimely death but I can see the resemblance in his eyes. So sad.

(And totally off the subject, I apologize on behalf of the entire decade for the fashion – and I use that term loosely – you see on Michael in this video. The flowers! The bell bottoms! The patchwork! The polyester! The fringe! The Texas-sized collars! All I can say is one day our grandchildren will snicker at their parents’ skinny jeans and hoodies. In 1972 this was what cool looked like, people.)

Here he is just seven years later singing what is probably my favorite MJ song of all time. The video is simple and spare, so what’s on display is his voice and the emotion he puts into the song.  Also, the song appears to be about an actual human this time and the only questionable fashion choice on display is the debatable pairing of purple with turquoise. (Caution: there is one mild swear word in the song.) Whatever else Michael Jackson may have been (and I won’t get into that here), no one can deny that he was incredibly talented. Even when singing about rats.

31 Days of Sentimental, Silly, Sweet, and Sometimes Sappy 70’s Songs

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I think I must be missing the “serious” gene.  There are so many lovely and useful subjects I could choose to write about for 31 days straight, and instead I choose to regale my readers with a compendium of 1970’s songs that have stuck with me for one reason or another. (Yes, I know a few big words. I’ll stop showing off now.) I’m joining The Nester and a whole bunch of amazing writers to write for 31 days on a subject of our choosing.  This is my second year attempting the challenge.  I didn’t finish it last year, which is ironic considering my subject:  31 Days of Procrastination.

I love music, always have. I’ve heard it, sung it, memorized it, collected it and enjoyed it throughout my life. When I was a young teenager I even recorded it off the radio on one of those black cassette recorders. You know the ones:

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I think I still have a few of those old cassettes around here somewhere. I felt like my life had a soundtrack because there was always music around me. Like many other people I know, certain songs can bring back such vivid memories they can take you back to a particular moment in time just like a musical time machine. Or is that just me? Anyway. I grew up in the 1970’s and my musical tastes were wildly varied and ranged from the soft pop of Donny Osmond to the disco of the mid to late 70’s to the more “rock” sounds of REO Speedwagon, not to mention the occasional country song.  Every Saturday I would turn on my radio and listen to the American Top 40 (with Casey Kasem, may he rest in peace) and write. every. song. down.  I can’t even tell you why I wrote them down but I did.

For the next 31 days I’m diving into the archives to bring you some musical memories from the 1970’s. I’m going to try to include a link to the song so you can either listen if you’ve never heard it, or refresh your memory if it’s been a while. I’ll add my commentary and maybe even a little trivia, because for some reason I can remember vast amounts of trivia even if I can’t always remember where I put my car keys, and sometimes I’ll share a memory that the song brings to my mind. If it’s one of your favorites I’d love to hear your memories of it.

So read along, tap along and sing along as we stroll our way down a musical memory lane.

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Day 1:  Ben by Michael Jackson

 

Move: Finding Church (A One Word 365 Update)

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Time just flies.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since our move to Virginia was set into motion.  A year of unknowns and questions about whether we were doing the right thing.  Were we scarring our children by making them move away from their friends and further away from family?  After all, they were 2 and 5 when we moved to South Carolina so it was pretty much all they knew.  Concerns about ourselves – could we start over in another place?  Weighed against all the worries and concerns was the soul-deep conviction that moving was something God was calling us to do.  Security is not to be found in places, things, even people – our only security is in Him.  Sometimes I think He likes to shake things up.  After all, if we get too comfortable it’s very easy to buy into the illusion that we have life all under control. Complacency is not consistent with faith, in my opinion.

One of our first priorities once we moved was finding a church.  Our church in SC was a dynamic, outward-focused church body led by a passionate man of God.  We knew that we were not going to find a carbon copy of Lifesong Church here in our new town but we were sure (hopeful?) that we could find one with a mission and vision that resonated with us.  With daughters ages 10 and 13, it was vitally important that our kids get involved, something that had never happened during our years in SC.  While it is not the fault of the “church” as a whole, when we moved away after 7 years, neither of my children had a single church friend. I can’t explain it or put my finger on the exact reason why, but there it is. So high on the “desired qualities” list was a church where our daughters were, if not excited, at least willing to go.  The teen years are hard enough even with strong family support – we wanted our children to have other Godly adults around them who could mentor them along the way.

We also wanted a place where we could serve in the body, and not just a place where people went to be served.  We believe in small groups and the part they play in a healthy church body. We didn’t want a clique or a closed group or a place that required you to dress “just so”. We wanted a church who was community-minded.  That sounds kind of like a wish list, which I guess it is. There’s no perfect church because they’re all full of imperfect people, right?

We visited several churches before we found one that both girls were excited about. Coincidentally, Jon and I felt it was the right place for our family.  In fact, God confirmed it for us in lots of little ways.

Our teenager has jumped right in with both feet, which is totally out of character for her.  She’s already active in the youth group, sings in the youth praise band, and just came back from her first youth retreat, where she wrote a worship song in response to the message she heard. The leader of the youth praise band is going to help her figure out the chords so they can set it to music  Y’all.  My heart is spilling over that my little girl is hearing/feeling God stirring in her heart.  And she’s responding with music. I can’t even.

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Our younger girl is attending Sunday School, which hasn’t happened in yearsYears.  She’s not complaining about going to church anymore.  She’s made friends there that she looks forward to seeing.

The preaching is straight from the Word. The pastors are speaking the Truth in love and it is obvious that God is moving in that place.

But can I be honest here?  It’s scary, y’all.  These people at our new church all know each other.  This is a church that broke away from a larger church body over theological issues and a crisis like that tends to bond people. I’ve stepped out in faith, pulse pounding in my throat, walking into various church functions with a smile on my face and terror in my heart. I’m an introvert and I’m shy (those don’t necessarily go together, despite what you may think) and between the two of them I’d just rather stay home and read a book, thank you very much. All the middle school (or junior high, if you’re my age) feels are back:  do they like me? Did I say something stupid? And I going to say something stupid? What am I supposed to say? And then sometimes I get so focused on NOT acting shy that I go too far the other way by getting all loud and talky.

And tonight I’m doing it again, that stepping out with heart pounding and smile pasted on my face.  I’m going to my first choir rehearsal and I don’t know if I will know anyone there, but I’m still going. I never thought I’d sing in a choir or worship team ever again.  I truly thought that time in my life was over, until last Sunday when they asked for volunteers and I felt that little voice whisper, “Go.” So I am, trusting that He’s got it all covered.  Next Monday I’m going to a new ladies’ Bible study group and I’ll be nervous all over again but I’ll go, trusting that it’s going to get easier.  It will, right?

Sometimes I get weary of the “new” and I wish for just one situation where I feel at home.  The stores are different (no Publix, BiLo or Ingles, but there IS Kroger).  The gas stations are different (there’s no QT!), the restaurants are different (no Zaxby’s, or Krystal, among others).  I hear no Southern accent here except for mine.  I’m not kidding: people ask me where I’m from.  It would be nice to escape to a friend’s house where I’ve been there so often it feels comfortable and familiar or at least a store that I know like the back of my hand.  I’m getting there.  We do have some friends.  We’re making connections and memories here and I know in a few years I will read this entry and smile and shake my head at the 2014 version of me that had no idea what blessings God had in store.  I know this as well as I know my own name. But there are days when I feel old and I remember that when they were my age my grandparents and parents were settled into life in a town they had lived in nearly their whole lives, and here I am, the one who left her home state for another one and now lives somewhere else entirely. I feel so unsettled some days.

But I digress.

Here’s the thing:  these people at our new church? They’re people just like me and each one has a story. I don’t know theirs and they don’t know mine but if I stay home curled up on the couch with my book, tempting as that may be, we’ll never get the chance to share.  Who knows? Maybe something in their story will resonate with me or something in mine will touch them.  Well, God knows, and I have to believe that He puts me (and us) into the situations of His choosing so that He can use me.  Nothing is wasted in His world.

So I look ahead and I move forward knowing that God is putting people in our lives that we need and who need us, and sometimes the two are even folded up into the same person.  And I’m eager to see what lies ahead in the life of this church, and in our lives as part of this church. God has great plans for us here.  I just know it.

Five Minute Friday: Hold

Lately it seems the only time I write is Friday, when I link up with brave writers all over the world to write for five minutes, just five, on the same one word prompt.  Hopefully it’s just a season and soon I’ll be back here spilling my guts and asking tough questions much more frequently.  Anyway, if you want to play along with the FMF crowd, check out Kate’s blog here.

Mark Schultz sings a great song about raising children called “Roots and Wings”.  There’s a line in it that says, “it’s only for a moment you were mine to hold” and I’ve heard it reverberating in my head the past few months.  It seems like only yesterday my girls were babies and now none of them are even remotely babyish.  As I get older time appears to speed up.  Those days that felt endless with a grumpy teething baby and napping and diapers and mess after mess, well they take on a soft glow when I look back at them now.

My oldest is grown with a not-so-little one of her own.  I look at her and can still see the face of my first and so adored baby girl.

My middle one is on the cusp of becoming a young lady.  It pains me yet brings me such joy to watch her growing up.  One day she was lining up 75 My Little Ponies and sorting them by color, and now look at her:

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My baby…well, just don’t call her “baby” within her hearing.  She may be double digits but she’s still on the small side, and she still needs me.  A lot.  Sometimes I chafe against all that neediness, but then I think about how I’m going to miss it when it goes, as it inevitably will.  What will I do when I’m not actively, daily mothering?  What will I be?

And while I want to hold on to all three of them with both hands, it’s my job to let them go.  I’ve done it once.  You’d think that might make it easier but it really doesn’t, because now i know what letting go means.  We hold them for a moment and then we let them fly.

Five Minute Friday: Ready

It seems like forever since I joined up with my FMF pals!  Between getting the kids back in school and trying to find a new rhythm to life, writing has slid further and further down my to-do list and that’s just not right.  So today I’m stepping in and stepping up to write from the heart, for five minutes, without polishing, editing and all that other overthinking.  Want to play along?  Go to Kate’s blog for all the details.

I don’t like change and I am a careful person who likes to think through the details and all the eventualities before making a big move.  When we moved here to Virginia three months ago (has it really been only three months?  Seems like years.) I kept a notebook.  It had diagrams of all the rooms in our new house so I could decide how to place furniture, lists of things to pack, all my notes on doctors (apparently we require a lot of professional care), and information on schools and activities for my kids.  It was a great help and I still consult it regularly.

I think this cautiousness is born of my need for control, which is related to my frustrated perfectionism.  This is something I struggle with constantly.  I’m always giving things to God and then snatching them back like He’s untrustworthy or something.  And yet time and time again He has proven to me that He alone should be in control of my life and that He can be trusted.  He created me and He knows me – who better to direct my life?

But even with all my careful planning I still wasn’t ready when the day came to move.  I’m not sure I ever would be completely ready.  There were still so many preparations yet to be done.  But you know, sometimes you just have to jump off the diving board, ready or not, because if you wait until you feel ready your feet will remain stuck there.  Just like kids playing Hide and Seek, life keeps coming, ready or not.  There are so many things I would never have done if I had waited until I felt ready:  have my first child, get married, adopt, buy a house, take a job, leave a job, and on and on.  But here’s where the trust comes in:  God is there and He’s my soft place to land.  I know He’s got my whole life in His hands and I don’t have to wait until I’m completely ready because He’s always and forever ready.  He fills in my empty spaces and bridges the gaps so I don’t have to have it all together before I take that first step.  Sometimes He just wants me to trust Him enough to jump – ready or not.

Five Minute Friday: Tell

Life is crazy these days, but I’ve been writing this post in my mind ever since I read the prompt last Thursday night..  Five Minute Friday is an online gathering of some of the best and bravest writers in the world, where we write for five minutes on the same one-word prompt.  If you want to play along, check out Kate’s blog for all the details.

Tell me your story.  I want to hear it.

Use words, use body language, but more than that, use your life.  I promise to listen.

Tell me when you first met Jesus and what led you there.

I want to know how following Him has changed you.

I need to hear what God has done for you.  How He saved you, how He’s saved you over and over since then, from bullies and betrayals and bad decisions.  Tell me about it, because He’s saved me too.

Tell me what passions He’s set on fire in your heart.  I need to know because we might share them.

Tell me what dreams keep you up at night, those God-sized things that stretch impossibly big and can only be reached if we stand on His shoulders.  I want to know.

Tell me what breaks your heart and what heals it – the things that make you cry and the ones that make you laugh.  I need to know these things so I can pray for you and so we can build a relationship.

Because you know what?  God made us for relationship.  First with Him, and then with each other.

You can trust me with your stories, I promise. 

And if you ask me to, I will gladly tell you mine.

Fifty Things

It’s a big day for me. I’m hitting the half-century mark today, and to be honest, I’m still a bit in denial. But I keep trudging forward, albeit a little more slowly and occasionally with a limp (until I work out the kinks). In honor of my half-dollar’s worth of years, here are fifty things I’ve about me you might or might not know.

1. I never got over my crush on Donny Osmond.  Nope.  Still swooning over here.

2. I thought I was an extrovert until a couple of years ago.  Now I realize I’m an introvert who likes people. 

3. I lived with my great grandmother for a while when I was in elementary school. That marked me in more ways than one.  We watched a 13-inch black and white TV and only turned it on for certain programs.  No elementary aged child should be that excited about The Lawrence Welk show, but frankly I was just thrilled to see her turn it on.  I didn’t care what we watched!  But I loved The Carol Burnett show. :-)

4. I learned to read at the age of four.  And I am a very, very fast reader.  I can go through a book a day easily if given the time to sit down and read.

5.  In fact, I usually have two or three books in progress at any given time.  I keep them stashed all over the house and in my car so I’m never caught without something to read.  I have on occasion read an entire book on my iPhone.

6. I got my first library card at eight and it changed my life.  I read the entire Nancy Drew series and the entire Hardy Boys series at least three times.  Maybe four.

7.  Also, regarding the Hardy Boys TV series, I was Team Parker Stevenson.  Too much fan competition for Shaun Cassidy.

8.  But I had Shaun Cassidy’s album.  Two of them, in fact.  Possibly three.  Did he record three?  I had them all, however many there were.  I may or may not still have the very first one, with Da Doo Ron Ron on it.  (What does that title even mean??)

9.  I have an incredible memory for song lyrics.  Ditto movie quotes, especially from “The Princess Bride”.

10.  I also tend to break out in song randomly, usually in reaction to something I just heard.  And even if I don’t sing out loud, you can be sure I’m singing in my head.

11.  When I was a kid, I used to write out lyrics to my favorite songs (in multi-colored ink!  With Bic banana markers!) and post them on my wall.  With glue.  Oops.

12.  I started my first blog in 2009.

13.  With my first two daughters, I was firmly convinced each was a boy until the moment a medical professional told me they were girls. 

14.  There’s a rumor that when my first daughter was born and the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” my response was, “Are you sure?”  I don’t remember saying that but it makes a good story, and I do appreciate a good story, so I let it stand.

15.  One reason I was convinced I would have boys is that I am not the most girly-girl around, and I figured I would mess them up  I have three girls now and so far, so good.  God knows what He’s doing.

16.  My biological father died the day after he turned 50.  If you think that’s on my mind a lot lately, you’d be absolutely right.  He missed so much of life, and most of the health problems that caused his early death were brought on by his own choices and bad habits.

17.  I am a diabetic, like my paternal grandmother and my paternal half-sister.  That is also something on my mind lately, as I would like to live a good long time and that’s going to require me to make healthier choices.  I am much better at self-indulgent choices than I am at responsible ones.

18.  My children have been telling me lately that at 50, I’m “halfway to dead”.  I would have considered myself 3/5 or 2/3 of the way, but considering that my great-great grandmother died at 100, maybe half-way is more accurate.

19.  I came in third place in my school spelling bee when I was a 6th grader.  I was eliminated on the word “echelon”.  You can be sure I never ever forgot how to spell that word again.

20.  My middle daughter won her school spelling bee in 5th grade. I would be lying if I said I got no personal satisfaction in that win. (I was also incredibly, incredibly proud of her!)

21.  I didn’t attend my first concert until I was around 20 years of age.  It was David Meece, Russ Taff, and Pam Mark Hall, and it was awesome!

22.  Since then, I have had the joy of seeing many artists perform live, usually in the company of one or more of my children.  This may be a way of making up for lost time, or a way to bond with my children, or both.  However you look at it, I spent an evening with One Direction recently and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Furthermore, I liked it.

23.  Speaking of concerts, I fulfilled a nearly lifelong dream when I saw Barry Manilow in concert back in the mid-90’s.  I would have loved to see Air Supply, but alas, they broke up before I had the chance.

24.  Again, not ashamed.  Though maybe I should be.

25.  I like to say that I’m not very competitive, but I can be ruthless in a game of Spades.  Like, embarrassingly so.

26.  I have a wicked sense of humor.  One of my gifts (at least I think it’s a gift) is my ability to find humor in anything.  The challenge is finding funny that doesn’t hurt or insult someone.  Which means I don’t get to exercise my fluent sarcasm much.  Sad.

27.  Especially since my children have taken to quoting Matthew 5:37 to me:  Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no. (paraphrasing here)

28.  In line with the humor/sarcasm theme, I have a whole-hearted appreciation for irony.  I also enjoy a good farce (referred to in our house as “stupid humor”) a la Monty Python.  

29.  I am nearly always willing to laugh at myself and I like being with others who don’t take themselves too seriously either.

30.  Despite my ever-ready snicker or smirk, I feel very deeply about certain causes.  In fact, I cover the caring with humor sometimes as a defense mechanism.  If I let myself fully feel all those feels they would very likely overwhelm me.  This world is just so harsh and unfair, you know? 

31.  Moving on… I am a frustrated perfectionist.  What this means is that if I don’t think I can do it perfectly, many times I just won’t start.  Or more likely I’ll start and never finish.  

32.  I took three years of French in high school and never made less than an A.  In my senior year I took Latin because there were no more French courses.  Again, nothing less than an A.  I still don’t know what kind of career would have utilized those mad language skills.

33.  People tell me that I should write a book about my great-grandmother that I lived with.  (I know that’s technically grammatically incorrect but I stuffed a rag in my inner perfectionist’s mouth so I can get on with it already.)  Granted, some of the people who say it are my relatives, but still.But I haven’t because of #31. 

34.  I was painfully shy as a child although I’m less so as an adult.  But I am still somewhat socially awkward, and at times painfully so. 

35.  I have lived enough years to (mostly) stop caring what other people think of me.  That’s their business, not mine.  You’d think that might make me less perfection-y, but it doesn’t.

36.  If you could make a business out of judging and being critical, I’d be the next Steve Jobs.  But I’m working on finding a positive in it by setting up a proofreading and editing business.  People will pay you to point out their mistakes?  Sign me up!

37.  When I was a kid I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up.  I still think I’d enjoy that. 

38.  I worked as a Human Resources Manager for many years, despite my lack of a college degree.

39.  Did you catch that I never finished college?  Didn’t even complete the first year.  I got married instead. 

40.  (Are you still with me?)  I became a Believer…ok, not exactly true.  I grew up believing, but I became a follower of Jesus Christ at the ripe old age of 17.  I went to church off and on my entire childhood and knew the Gospel, spending each invitation hymn white-knuckled in the pew because I knew God was calling me.  Thank Him He never gave up on me!

41.  I sang alto in school and church choirs for years and on the church worship team as well.  I’m still struggling with some feelings about my last experience on a worship team and this is something God is helping me wrestle into submission.  (Hey, just keeping it real!)

42.  Because feelings are normal and good, but they do NOT get to own us.  It’s the other way around, actually.  Clearly I am still working on this one.

43.  I was married for the first time at 19, and divorced at 26.  It was a trauma I would not wish on my worst enemy.  However, God has redeemed that experience because as you know, with Him nothing is wasted.

44.  Which brings me to this.  The song “Unredeemed” by Selah is like my faith theme song.  If you haven’t heard it, go listen to it now.

45.  When I was a senior in high school I was set on a course that would lead to the adoption of my youngest daughter in China, over 20 years later.  Just one more example of how God works things out in His time. 

46.  I am an extremely picky eater and always have been.  The list of things I do NOT eat is long and varied.  I have a daughter who is also a picky eater (more extreme than I am) which we now know is a result of sensory processing issues.  It is hard to advocate for her in a world where people don’t understand why she won’t try certain foods or why we don’t make her clean her plate, but I get it because I have been there.

47. I acted in plays in high school.  I used to think I wanted to be the star and get all the accolades but now I think that’s just added pressure.  I just love being a part of the cast and the feeling of belonging that comes with it.

48.  I had an article accepted for publication by a magazine recently, for the first time ever.  To say I was stoked would be understating the situation.

49.  I like to think I’m fairly realistic about life and about myself.  I know that I tend toward the practical side of things, like my mother does.  I have ceased being surprised to hear her words come out of my mouth.

50.  I am going to have to make myself hit “publish” on this post or else I will edit it to death and spend a week doing it.