I am a word nerd. I love words. When I had a boring job in Half Moon Bay back in the 1970’s, I entertained myself by reading the dictionary. I still have the lists of words I learned. Words are great, wonderfully great and terribly great. Words can harm, cut down and poison; but on the other hand, words can build up, inspire and heal. Just like I have comfort foods such as creamed tuna and pumpkin pie, I have comfort words, “Providence,” “hope” and “sublime” to name a few. I am always excited when I learn a new word.

Sometime in the 1990’s, my family was watching “Home Improvement.” Jill was having one of her talks with the fenced-obscured neighbor, Wilson. She was having trouble with her older son, Randy, and mentioned to Wilson that she believed that Randy was probably trying to “individuate” from her and Tim. That word caught my ear. I had never heard it used that way, and I took a psychology class in college (my worst graded class, by the way — that may explain a lot).

Individuate! Not only did I love the word and the way it gave my tongue a mini workout, I also understood immediately what Jill was talking about. As my children have grown, I have witnessed them “individuating” away from me. For some of them this came early, one at about a year and a half and one at three years old when she declared in front of many witnesses, “It’s my life” (this one was going to move out when she was 8), but the others were in the typical age range of 12-15 years. This is a hard stage of parenting; but I am in it for the long haul. I think I can, I think I can …

As I do with words and other things, I like to add my own spin. I think it is time for me to “individuate” away from my kids.  It was natural and exciting to pour myself into these little lives….but eventually, their personalities began to take over. Early on I should have known things were bad when after we got a set of Laurel and Hardy movies, I called my sister bemoaning, “Linda, I need to get out, I think Stan Laurel is hot!” Symptoms continued, singing the Rescue Rangers theme song while doing dishes, penciling in the “Good Luck Charlie” Christmas movie on the calendar and being more conversant with people under the age of 20 than my peers.

Those are the harmless aspects to full immersion parenting; however, things can get ugly. They are nice for awhile and then they turn on you. If you are not prepared, it can be brutal. “It’s not fair.” “You never do anything for me” “You like everyone else more than me” and, the topper, “I hate you” can certainly wear down one’s defenses. At first, I would indignantly defend myself as being a perfect and fair parent (LOL) and try to hide my hurt feelings. As they individuated away from me, I also had to individuate away from them.

My first step toward individuation was to build some strong battlements. I couldn’t be so sensitive. I had to garner some courage and fortitude to handle their time of individuation. In the process, I was delighted to find myself again. I didn’t need to spend every minute with them. I didn’t need to hover over them; I could pursue some interests of my own. I could listen to Barry Manilow instead of Tupac and Two Chains.

I still have young ones at home, and am appreciating the things that I used to love. Funny, I caught the 13-year-old listening to Barry Manilow awhile ago. That’s the best of both worlds.

Eviction Notices

evictionIt’s a New Year. Resolutions abound. Lose weight, quit smoking, be nicer and manage money better are many common ones. I have one so far and that is to hang laundry on a warm, breezy summer morning. Unless I move, that’s not gonna happen in Pacifica. For some reason that simple act of housekeeping provides a gentle comfort. Funny how things are.

Seriously, I decided that my resolution this year was to give notice to some things in my life, particularly things in my mind. In Pink’s song, Perfect, she sings, “Change the voices, in your head, make them like you instead.”  I’ve met some voices that like me, but I have to write some eviction notices first.

Despair – You are hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises (my head). You have caused unnecessary distress blubbering about how things will only get worse and never change. Well, that is gonna change, today. I understand that you may visit from time to time on future occasions; but know this now- you will be asked to leave when Hope says so. Hope has been waiting to reoccupy her residence; therefore, without further ado, adieu.

Worry – You are also hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises with your cousin, Despair. I thought inadvertently that there might be a good purpose to your visit, worrying about this and that; but, alas, those things never came to pass and I was needlessly upset. I don’t know much about Trust, but Trust is so willing to move in and is excited about our new relationship.

And last of all, the longest resident in my mind that needs the boot – Fear. You are hereby given immediate notice to vacate said premises. I know you think this is your turf, and you even balk at my order to leave and threaten grave things if I force you out, but like your cousin, Worry, much ado about nothing. You have been here far too long.  A couple of years ago, I met Courage and he said he could help kick you out. So I have invited him to come and live with me. I do not know him very well, but am anxious (oops, that little kid’s been kicked out too); I mean I am eager to get to know him and have him help me with the many things I do.

Solomon wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Far be it from me to argue with a Hebrew King, but there is something new. Today is new, this moment is new. Each new day breathes new hope, trust and courage. Last year was a tough year in many respects, but for our kids’ sakes…..for our own sakes, we can embrace and cultivate more hope, trust and courage. Happy New Year!


Be Ye Not Troubled


Christmas 2012

“Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” wrote C.S. Lewis.  In that Stable, a Child lay in a feeding trough. It is His birth that we celebrate today. For Christians around the world, we manage to put down our theological clubs and grab hands and bow before Whom we call King, Lord and Savior.

The Man who gave us “blessed are the peacemakers”, “I have come that they might have life” and “I am the living water” also gave us “be ye not troubled.” Someone who has a greater perspective of things temporal as well as things eternal gently urges us to “be ye not troubled.” Certainly words we can always embrace.

Times are tough. Fiscal cliffs, budget cuts and politics at its worst dominate the newscasts. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is utterly frustrated with the ineptitude of our elected officials. My sister who lived frugally for many years would be better equipped to deal with the mess that is in the nation’s capital. I cannot even watch the news anymore without disgust. My words to Washington: Do your job. But in the angst of this frustration and disappointment, I gently hear, “be ye not troubled.”

Times are tumultuous. I have a lot of kids. Just some low level sibling rivalry can stir up a hornet’s nest. Most of the time I can handle it, but there are days when I just hang my head. There are other family members who will never be happy, people who run to trouble and seem to revel in discord. Family stress can be very tiring. Yet, still His words beckon, “be ye not troubled.”

And, finally, times are tragic. It has been a year of loss. Expected losses when death was seen coming, maybe even a relief; unexpected losses when death snatched a beloved before our eyes and unimaginable losses when death went on a rampage. There are no answers, no words, nothing to assuage the piercing and painful grief.  “Be ye not troubled” seems so far away.

Jesus Christ did not promise rose gardens, American dreams or healthy families. Of His many gifts He did promise, some are provision for the present, patience for the perplexing and the peace that surpasses understanding. That peace, His peace, enables us to “be ye not troubled” when times are tough, tumultuous and inevitably tragic.

Have a blessed Christmas Day. Be Ye Not Troubled.

Be Strong and of a Good Courage…


Things have been a little stressful lately. Christmas is coming, and the gander is getting mean. Once the Christmas music started playing, I was enamored with the season; however, when the rubber met the road (shopping for many), that blissful state went out the window.

This past weekend was tough, trying to clean things up so we could decorate and get the tree. Well, some work got done, but amidst a lot of bickering and sibling squabbling. After one such altercation, one of the kids took off for a bike ride. Normally, that would be fine, but he didn’t take his phone, and he was mad and hungry.

For a helicopter mom, this is a recipe for distress. After I got the other ones occupied, I took a ride down to Linda Mar where I thought my son would’ve gone. While I was driving, all those fear-generated thoughts began to surface. Bike accident, won’t come home, or worse; my mind can go to town. Stress levels were rising.

And then….I remembered Éowyn and Joshua 1:9. I have been combating fear for decades. Having children only exacerbated this very weak weakness. But as I was driving, I remember Éowyn and how she stood up to the Nazgûl, fearless, ready to die, pulling off her headgear and exclaiming, “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”

Equipped with this image and the powerful and en-couraging words of Joshua 1:9:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I pulled out my mental sword and began slaying those fear-mongering thoughts. I entrusted my son to the Lord, went to Taco Bell and had a burrito with Ellie, and then went home. He showed up soon after. He was fine. And I had won a small battle.

We are commanded to be strong and courageous. For folks like myself, that is fearsome in itself, I am such a wimp, I will never be brave. I am a runner, I run from fear, from discord, from difficulty. Sometimes you gotta turn around and fight. I have been en-couraged by this verse many times, and by the grace of God, I will become fearless and noble like Éowyn.

A Movie, a CD, and a Feather from a Turkey

Eloisa's Turkey

December 2012

I have had a few awesome epiphanies in the semi-century I’ve lived. One day, I will write about them.  I have had many epiphanettes, too. In sweet serendipitous simplicity, my most recent occurred not too long ago.

Early in November, I had lunch in the City with an old friend. We talked about movies. I had told him before of how the French film “Of Gods and Men” had changed my life and urged him to get it. He told me about “The Mission”. I knew about it, but had yet to see it. After lunch, we headed over to the Green Apple Bookstore, the place where I would like to be buried unless I die in the fall, and then I’d like to be buried in the holiday section of Joann’s. Anyway, since John generously picked up the lunch tab, I had book money….yay!! Well, to get to the point, “The Mission” was there and I got it.

Days later, I got around to watching it. It is a good movie, not as good as my aforementioned French film, but there was a scene that moved me and became a part of this three pronged epiphanette.

Robert DeNiro plays a slave hunter who captures natives in the south of Brazil and sells them to a slave trader. He eventually becomes a priest, and in an act of penance climbs the mountains to the Mission above the Falls with a load of his former wares: swords, guns, shields, etc. It is a treacherous hike, and his burden is very heavy. He allows no one to help him. Once he reaches the summit, he collapses under his load. His fellow priests attempt to cut the load from his back, but he refuses. He only allows the Natives to cut it loose. One Native cuts it off (in what seems to be an act of forgiveness) and hurls the load over the falls. DeNiro’s character weeps, the Natives applaud.

This scene immediately spoke to me since I feel like I have hauled a great deal of my past around like DeNiro’s burden. Inside my load were most of my regrets, all of the guilt and shame from my mistakes and some from other people’s mistakes, as well as the should’ves, could’ves and would’ves. I have been groaning over this load for a long time. My joy and gladness has been asphyxiated, and now it was time to cut it off.

The second prong in my epiphanette came when I purchased a CD at Target. I was looking for Engelbert Humperdinck’s Christmas CD, but instead purchased a Carpenters Greatest Hits CD (for $5.00). I listened to the Carpenters all through the ‘70’s. Karen Carpenter’s was the only voice I could sing along with and stay in tune. So in no time me and the girlies were singing “Top of the World” and “Only Yesterday” together in the car. That happy girl I was from the ‘70’s seemed to perk up and reappear. And I wasn’t ashamed of her and her nerdy music. Joy and gladness began to breathe anew.

The final part of the epiphanette prong is the feather of the turkey my daughter made at school. On each of the feathers of this art project she wrote something she was thankful for. One feather read “I am thankful for having a great life.” This little girl shares a room with her three sisters and her mom (it is a big room). She is joyful, she is happy and she abounds with love for Jesus and her mom. I don’t take any credit for this, this is her personality. Her expression of “having a great life” convicted me and reminded me of an excerpt from my devotional. Mrs. Cowman quotes George Matheson in her Streams of the Desert:

You may be very discontented with yourself. You are no genius, have no brilliant gifts, and are inconspicuous for any special faculty. Mediocrity is the law of your existence. Your days are remarkable for nothing but sameness and insipidity. Yet you may live a great life. (emphasis mine)

John did no miracle, but Jesus said that among those born of women there had not appeared a greater than he.

John’s main business was to bear witness to the Light, and this may be yours and mine. John was content to be only a voice, if men would think of Christ. (Feb. 24)

I have a great life too. I have had many difficulties, great difficulties at times. But I also have a great God. And He has been faithful to me through these difficulties. Eloisa’s feather reminded me of that, and her contagious joy and gladness also breathed new life into mine. While I carried around my bag of burdens, joy and gladness were anemic at best. I am cutting off  the load… apologies only for my mistakes (not for anyone else’s) and then moving on, no more regrets, no more time given to hand-wringing and worry. Matthew 6:33-34 is my mantra. It is time for joy and gladness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah!


The Queen’s Speech

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here together to celebrate this great day of Thanksgiving and partake in this great meal before us. I am taking advantage of this occasion to address all of you children since I seldom have you all together in one place.

Today is indeed a day to be thankful. Thankful we have so much food to enjoy and to nourish our bodies, thankful for the abundance of life that we have been given, and thankful for our family members who surround us.

I have some things that I have wanted to say to all of you for some time. I know most of you will understand what I have to say, and the little ones will not. However, I think it is appropriate at this time of my life to express them.

I want to thank you kids for the 11 greatest days of my life. The days of each of your births and the day of Elizabeth and James’ wedding equally occupy that honored position in my life.

I remember each of your births so clearly, even when I was medicated. I remember the thrill of holding you for the first time, the few days we had alone (except for the oldest, of course) until we went home, the quiet night in the hospital where I just stared at you. My heart even now fills with such joy and love that I don’t think it can contain it all. I thank you for all your smiles, all the funny things you say, all your questions (even though they drove me crazy), all your hugs and kisses. (I still get them.)

I thank you for all your love letters, your encouraging texts, your faithfulness and your very distinct personalities. I even thank you for your reproofs, your criticisms and your honesty. I thank God for your lives, your gifts and for the unique illumination that you give the world. I am amazed at the depth of character you have all acquired despite the difficulties we have all been through. As you take the reins of your own lives, I hope that you continue to contribute to that depth. You all have blessed me beyond measure.

I also want to take this time to apologize, but I am going to do this once and for all, at least for the past. I have spent too much time apologizing for things I have been responsible for and for things others have done. But I feel I owe you all one.

I look back at the past 25 years of parenting and realize how far I have fallen short. God sent you to a mom who is insecure, fearful, undisciplined, scatterbrained, and too often short sighted. I apologize for my shortcomings. But I hope my strengths have somehow balanced things out. I hope my lackadaisical attitude has given you room to grow into the people you were meant to be. I hope my “ADD” has given you all a variety of opportunities that has become a mosaic of understanding of the world around you.

I want to emphatically say, and have you understand, that all of you are the best things that have happened to me. I wanted five, he wanted 10. I have been doubly blessed. I know I have expressed certain regrets when I’ve been overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness; but, for the record, I want you to know that though many of your births were unplanned by me and your dad, they were not unplanned by Him who brought you to me. Your lives have meaning and purpose.

You all are a part of a bigger plan, a bigger story, in which I play only a supporting role. May you be blessed in your stories, in your lives and continue to be a blessing to the world.


‘In Flanders Fields’

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae

Ninety-four years ago, the Armistice was signed to end World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Hostilities ended in most of Europe and a fragile peace was achieved in the following June when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in France. For Americans, November 11th is Veterans Day. In other parts of the world, it is Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. This short poem by Canadian physician and Lt. Colonel John McCrae was written in 1915 in the wake of his friend’s funeral; and it is read in memory of those who died in this very bloody conflict.

“The War to End All Wars” was the maiden conflict of a century of warfare. Untold millions died untimely and unnatural deaths since the end of this heralded conflict. Civilians and soldiers side by side spilled their blood. From the fields of Flanders to the diplomatic base in Benghazi, blood continues to be spilled, war has not ended.

Politics aside, men and women throughout our country’s history have been willing to give their lives, their blood for this country, for us. They may have felt their lives were wasted; but they were not. They may have felt alone and abandoned on some parallel in Korea, or some jungle in Vietnam; but they were not, not by their families. Some gave their lives under compulsion, some volunteered; regardless, their sacrifice is sacred. And it behooves us as a citizenry to press for changes in our government to minimize this kind of sacrifice. There must be a way.

We have entered the 21st Century still bleeding. “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” So as is the nature of man, the bleeding will continue. And we will continue to remember.

On the third Thursday of this month, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is fitting that this month begins with All Souls Day, the day we remember all who have passed, and continues to this day when we remember all who have served and sacrificed, and finally, Thanksgiving, when we remember all we have. Thanksgiving is indeed a balm of Gilead, a comfort to those who mourn. Thank you, Veterans, for your sacrifice and service; and to the heavens, thank You for their lives.

Land of Misfit Toys

The holidays are coming, all the stores have Christmas decorations already. The shows will be on soon too. You have no doubt seen the poignant “Island of Misfit Toys” scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rudolph, the protagonist misfit, finds himself with his misfit elf friend on an island with toys that are broken and useless, and because of their condition: unwanted. Rudolph understands how they feel. His glaring red nose caused him to be shunned by his peers and overlooked by Santa.

This classic stands the test of time because we all at one time or another have felt like a misfit, an outcast, unwanted, if you will. It appears to be almost a rite of passage. Dr. Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection writes: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need in all women, men and children.” During the holiday season, these feelings of belonging and love are what make the time special; conversely, if conditions are not so healthy, the season can be lonely at best, tortuous at worse.

Our sense of what is worthy to love and want is somewhat skewered. Not many of us are endowed with the beauty that graces the magazine racks at Safeway. Fewer of us have the soaring intellect and amazing persistence that garners PhD.’s like a Hot Wheels collection. And even fewer are born into homes that can provide advantages that only the wealthy can afford.

The message of Christmas, happily, as heralded from the angels is “for all people”. Not to the beautiful or the wise or even the rich. Not the 1%, the 99%, or even that infamous 47%, but the 100%. The Man who was born in a barn brought a message; His irreducible message was and continues to be: You are Loved. A love that transcends deservedness, a love that for most of us is incomprehensible and a love that does not judge. A love for all seasons, for all misfits. A love that meets that need in everyone of us. A love that cost Him His life, so we may have eternal life. True Love.

So instead of pining for perfection and whining for “winning”, we can embrace our misfitness (I made up that word), love it and maybe wrench some good from it. After all, this whole world is really a great big archipelago of islands of misfit toys. There is no place that imperfection does not exist. In the end, Rudolph saves the day, not in spite of his imperfection, but because of it. Our imperfections, which to us seem to alienate us from an ill-perceived perfection, are what really unites and connects us anyway.

I hope you all have a WONDER-ful holiday season.

Hope for the Helicopter Mom

My name is Donna F., and I am a helicopter mom.  I have many children, so one would think my condition was inevitable. On the contrary, early in my parenting endeavor, I just didn’t let my kids go anywhere. When they were young, our yard was big enough to please them.

However, at about 12 or 13, they were hankering to get out the gate. Often, I relented as long as they weren’t alone. At this point, the symptoms were self-evident. Rubber-necking over the fence until I saw them turn the corner, preparations for exit in case of sirens, a reasonable respite while they got to Walgreen’s, did some candy shopping and make their way back to the corner where I could see them. If they violated this inner timetable, the heart palpitations began, my face became flushed (this was before perimenopause) and a host of tragic scenarios sprung from my very active imagination; until, of course, I saw their smiling faces come around the corner. Then I would decompress and try to act like I didn’t freak out at all. No need to worry the kiddies.

I think my condition worsened with the acquisition of cell phones. I let out the leash further with the older kids, the younger ones still stayed inside the gate. I called often, checking up on them. I had all their friends’ numbers. Their friends, being nice as they are, were very patient with my affliction. I prided myself in knowing where each of the ten was. They may have hated me for it though.

I knew I had a problem when I took to texting like a kid takes to Halloween candy. I admit I scoffed at this new form of communication at first; but once I started, there was no stopping. Good thing for me, my children prefer texting to verbal communication. We’ve had many heart-to-hearts via text. I have a collection of favorite texts from my kids. Some are heartwarming. Very few are severe. It may be a little harder for them to text “I hate you” than it is to say it.  Yet, I noticed that even this good thing has limitations.

One time, my older son went into the City on a date. He told me from the get-go that I was allowed five texts. This is where helicopter mom syndrome (HMS) becomes serious. That was a hard night, but I survived with the five texts. I timed them carefully. One – arrive safely? Son – yep. Two – have enough money? Son – yep. Three – don’t be alone in the house? Son – yep, that’s three, Mom. Four (after I waited awhile, lest I push it) – what train will you be on? (I had to get him at the bus stop.) Son – idk. (Yikes! Breathe, just breathe.)  Five – Where the hell are you? This particular child feels it is necessary at times to teach his mother to not worry. So he didn’t answer that one for awhile. Next text from him – be at bus stop in 20 mins. Relief. Don’t you just love teenagers!

Although I am still in the throes of helicopter mom syndrome (having four teenagers still at home), I have learned to trust them, trust them to respond to my texts, trust them and their abilities to get around and trust them to keep their cell phones charged. Once in awhile, I have to fall into Childhood Mother Mode (CMM) when their phones do die or I cannot locate them. When I was growing up, my parents assumed I was at school and then would head home. They didn’t worry if I had missed the bus; they figure I’d get home eventually. So when all my helicopter mom devices are of no use, I have to just trust (and pray). Maybe that’s what parenting comes down to anyway.

The Shepherdess

Years ago, at a church service, the minister prayed over me. As he prayed he said that he saw me as, and I quote from my journal entry, “a shepherdess, gathering the sheep that have gone the wrong way, bringing them back to the right path.” After church, I wrote it down. I wasn’t, and am still not, too sure of its meaning, but from a mother’s point of view, I certainly feel like a shepherdess.

I’m always keeping watch over this flock of mine. When the kids were little, we had a chain link fence all around the property at San Pablo. They were not allowed out the gate. For the most part, this worked, they were able to play all around the yard and I kept an eye on them. My adult children still bemoan the memories of “never going out the gate.” Well, when they turn 18, there are not more gates, no more fences; the shepherdess is no longer needed in that role. Four of my kids are out the gate. I am so proud of them too. Even though I have an adult child who lives with me, he stays pretty close to home and doesn’t give this shepherdess’ heart much worry. However, there are some who like to play close to the fence, that imaginary parameter I set for our kids. When they get close, I have to pay attention.

As I’ve gained experience in being a parent, I’ve adopted a philosophy where I give my kids a lot of freedom within this imaginary yard, if you will. That freedom differs from kid to kid, and of course, gives the appearance of not being fair. (By the way, it will never be fair, ever. Just accept it and move on.) I let Ricky do things I would never let others do because Ricky was so street smart. He outsmarted the buck who chased him from McDonald’s one sunny morning in San Pablo. Ricky was not gonna give up those 15 Sausage Muffins.

I am so thankful for cell phones. Most of my kids here have one, and that gives them more freedom because I can keep tabs on them. For the most part, they respond to my endless calls and texts. They are good sheep. If you look close at the above painting by Millet, it looks like the shepherdess is actually texting. I don’t know about French laws in the 19th Century whether texting while tending sheep was illegal, but I bet that cute shepherdess was texting the neighbor shepherd, “hey dude, meet me at the well at Angelus.” On the 18th birthday of my baby lamb, this shepherdess is going to put her crook down and take a long nap beside some still waters.