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Lice and Long Hair Don't Mix
Every Friday my column appears in a number of newspapers. Today's is a condensed version of a blog post from a while ago, On My Trip to Kenya. If you've stopped by here to read my column for this week, check out that blog post for my thoughts!

Instead, I thought I'd post an older column that you probably haven't read. So today, for your reading pleasure, is my tale that's now three years old of coping with my daughter's lice.

Photo by allygirl520

Recently, a friend warned me that one of my daughter’s playmates had lice, so before Katie went to bed that night, I called her over to take a peek at her scalp. As I parted her hair, I was greeted by a bug running for cover.

I did what any normal mother would do. “Keith,” I shrieked, “get over here!”. He ambled over, not too worried, and gazed at the offending creature. “Huh,” he said. “Look at that.” He’s a pediatrician, and pediatricians have no sympathy unless someone is coughing up a lung.

I insisted that he leave right that instant and get some lice killer shampoo. He asked if it could wait until morning. I gave him That Look. Off he went.

We stayed up until midnight as I picked eggs out of my daughter’s hair. We changed everyone’s bedding, even mine, because she likes to crawl into bed and wrestle in the morning. We banished all stuffed animals to garbage bags in the garage for two weeks. We vacuumed the sofa. Basically, I overreacted. But let me reiterate: my kid had something crawling in her hair. I think I was entitled.

The next day, I ran an internet search for information about lice, and found a very comprehensive site put out by Harvard University. But the more I read, the more I felt that these people had far too much education to understand the real world.

First, Harvard went to great pains to declare that having lice is not a big deal. It doesn’t cause any illness or infection, and it’s not nearly as transmissible as a cold or flu virus. They went on to say that kids with lice should be allowed in school, because we let kids in who have colds. And colds, to Harvard, are far worse.

Obviously no one at Harvard has ever done laundry.

But here’s the thing, Harvard. I knew Katie wasn’t going to die, or get a debilitating illness, or be disabled. I was not worried about her health. But I was worried because my kid had bugs in her hair. Bugs. In. Her. Hair. Pardon me if I think that’s a big deal, but I think having insects crawling on one’s scalp is enough to cause most mothers to go into panic mode.

Harvard then went on to explain how lice tend to like clean hair, so there should be no stigma attached to it. Again, I understand. I know that it was not Katie’s fault that she got it.

But it would be my fault, I think, if she failed to get rid of it. While clean kids get it, dirty kids rarely get over it. It’s not easy to fight the little buggers; you have to comb those eggs out, and they’re sticky little things. You have to kill all the little babies. You have to wash your child’s bedding and toys. But some parents don’t do all this. And then a few weeks later the child has a full blown case again.

It’s almost guaranteed that there will be at least one child per classroom who has chronic lice, and I know some parents who make sure their children’s hair is not “clean” at school as a precaution. It’s not that they swear off shampoo; it’s that they pile on the gel and hair spray. Apparently the bugs don’t like goop, so it’s like putting a “No Trespassing” sign on your children’s heads. We’re going to do that from now on, even though Harvard failed to recommend it.

They did, however, try to put a positive spin on the lice thing in general, proving once again that academics are overpaid. “A few lice on the head should not cause alarm; rather, they present an opportunity for parents to spend the needed time with their children in order to find and remove the offending insects.” What a great bonding opportunity!

If any of you would like such an opportunity, we saved a few eggs in a plastic bag to use in a science experiment later. I’d be glad to give them up. Personally, though, I’d suggest a game of Monopoly or a walk around the block. But then, I don’t have a Ph.D., so you’ll have to make that judgment yourself.

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Yearning to Live Radically
Have you ever been tempted just to chuck everything and live a totally different life?

U.S. service members visit Swazi orphanage dur...Image by US Army Africa via Flickr

I don’t mean chuck your family; I hope you all know me well enough for that. I mean chuck this daily grind that we live and do something completely wacky and outrageous.

I read this story about Lucy Buck, a producer on Big Brother who gave up her job and her life and moved to Uganda to start an orphanage. After my recent trip, I understand that rationale.

Today, two years on, Lucy has not only set up her own children's charity, named the Child's I Foundation, but is about to open the doors of her own orphanage in Kampala. An incredible achievement for a girl who is just 32 years old.

With the help of a team of enthusiastic volunteers, she has transformed a once derelict house in a quiet suburb of bustling Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Where once bricks were exposed and plaster was crumbling, now, bright jungle and underwater-themed murals cover the walls.

In just a few weeks time these newly-painted rooms will become home to Lucy's first tiny wards.

Read more.
People’s biggest need, I think, is to feel purposeful. We want to feel as if we were created for a purpose, and as if we are living out that purpose. It goes along with our need for God. Without God there can’t be purpose; everything has to be random. You can recreate your life to make it meaningful anyway, as many without faith have attempted, but in the end we want to feel as if we are connected to something larger. We need to know that there is a greater plan than the one that we can see.

And there are days when I wonder if what I’m doing is really the best use of the 80-odd years I’ve been given on this earth (or however many I end up having). So many in history have risked all to live a big life, and I have to admit being very tempted towards that calling.

A few years ago our family made the decision to move to Kenya for the year. We had saved up money so we wouldn’t need to ask for support; we had found someone to live in our house; we had even found where Keith wanted to work. We had arranged work for me to do. And then doors kept closing in our faces. I won’t go into the details, but the final nail in the coffin was when our acceptance package arrived from the missions organization—and it had been burned to a crisp. It was in a plastic bag, in ashes, our address the only thing visible, with a note from the post office that someone had set the mailbox on fire, and this was all that was left.

It was our “burning bush” experience, except the thing burning was paper.

I surveyed a bunch of friends to ask them what they thought it meant. Was it more opposition that we were just supposed to overcome? Was it a sign that we weren’t to go? Or was it a sign that we were to persevere?

A very wise friend said to me, “If God wanted to get your attention, how else could he do it? Are you really saying to God, ‘could you just be a little more subtle?’” I decided he was right. We were already feeling as if things weren’t working out, so we said no. I was heartbroken, because I so wanted my kids to experience life overseas.

Then four months later the violence broke out after the election in Kenya, and houses were burned, and life was chaotic. We would have been smack in the middle of it, and I’m sure my mother-in-law would have had a heart attack watching the news. It was easy, in retrospect, to see why God didn’t want us to go that year.

And yet I feel as if our chance passed us by. Now that the girls are teens they are much more attached to our church, and to friends. It’s harder to leave for a year, and I don’t think we’d have their support in the way we did then. I do plan on going for an extended time, but it will be after they have grown.

Thus I am back here, questioning again the point of my life. I find myself so attracted to stories of people who have given up everything to live a more important dream. Not all of these people have moved overseas; some have simply taken in a bunch of foster kids; others have given up good jobs so that they could start an inner city ministry. I know one couple who felt so burdened by the plight of prostitutes that they gave up their jobs and started a ministry helping prostitutes find another way to support themselves and get off of the streets. They live in the red light district in Toronto; they have sacrificed much, and yet they see what effect their work is having.

I was thinking about the story of Esther lately. In that story, the king allowed Haman to issue an order to kill all the Jews, and Mordecai wanted Esther, the queen, to intervene. When Esther wrote to Mordecai saying she didn’t know if she could help because the king could kill her, Mordecai said something interesting. He wrote back:

Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance from the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:12-14)

I love that. It is not that God NEEDS us. If we don’t help, He will simply raise up help elsewhere. But He does want to use us. If we don’t step up to the plate, someone else will, but we will miss the blessings. How many blessings are we missing because we're content with a small life?

I am not saying that we all need to do something dramatic to be in God’s will. He may be calling you to be just where you are. But at times I feel that’s a copout.

At the Orphanage #4 ~ NicaraguaImage by cromacom via Flickr

There are 12,000,000 street children in Africa, and countless more in Asia and South America. There are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care and up for adoption in our continent. Who should take care of these children, except for Christians? If the church as a whole stood up and did its job, we wouldn’t have a foster care crisis. We wouldn’t have older kids who are eligibile for adoption languishing in the system because nobody wants them.

And yet am I willing to disrupt my family life to take any in? I’m not sure. I need to talk more to God about it. But if I’m not willing, who is? Why do we always assume someone else will?

I am in awe of Mary Ostyn, whom I interviewed recently, who has adopted many orphans from overseas, as well as some from here. Her love flows. Does mine?

Perhaps I am drawn to the dramatic out of a bit of pride. When you do something dramatic, you can “prove” that you love God, that you are a good person, that you make a difference. When your life is less dramatic, all those things may be equally true, but they’re not as evident. Perhaps I just want to be one that other people look at and swoon over me.

But I don’t think so. At heart, I think I want to help, I just can’t figure out how to do it. This world has so many needs, and I don’t think I should just be confined to raising my own children—as important as that task is. So I will keep praying, and keep talking, and keep thinking, until I feel a peace. Or until I see something else burning.

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Wifey Wednesday: A Rant on Those Who Desert Their Marriages

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Usually on Wednesdays I say something inspiring, practical, or cautionary. But at least I give advice.

Today I just want to rant, and I do hope you'll excuse me. First, a bit of background. I have to admit that I like country music. When there's nothing good on the Christian station where I live, the dial always goes to country. And when I'm driving three hours to a speaking engagement, chances are I'm listening to country all the way there, singing to make sure I don't get tired on the road.

But one of the songs that's way high at the top of the charts right now makes me so mad I could spit. It's by the Zac Brown Band, called Highway 20 Ride, about a dad who feels badly because he can't be with his son. Here's a snippet:

A day might come you'll realize that if you see through my eyes
There was no other way to work it out
And a part of you might hate me
But son please don't mistake me for a man that didn't care at all

And I'll drive
And I'll think about my life
And wonder why, that I'll slowly die inside
Every time I turn that truck around, right at the Georgia line and I count the days and the miles back home to you on that Highway 20 ride

The whole song has a very melancholy ring--the music, the lyrics, the beat. It tells the story of a guy who says "there was no other way to work it out", so he left, and he only gets to see his son every other weekend. He feels lousy, because he loves his son and wants to be with him, and that's fine. I understand that. He's sad, and he hopes one day his son will understand.

But his son won't. Trust me. He says he loves his son, but honestly, if you love your kid, you stay. Period. Perhaps the song is really about a dad who lost custody because of a court case (which happens far too frequently), but it doesn't mention that, and so I doubt it. I think a marriage has fallen apart, and he only gets to see his son every other weekend, and he's feeling sorry for himself instead of doing something about it.
Photo by Pink Sherbet

Frankly, I don't care if you're sad. I don't care if you're feeling helpless. It's YOUR KID. Make your marriage work, or live right next door and see them everyday anyway. It's not rocket science. I know many couples who have split up who still both spend a ton of time in the kids' lives.

Whether or not you feel badly bears absolutely no bearing on whether you were right in doing what you did. Somehow we think that as long as we feel badly about something we're exonerated. No, you're not. What matters is not what you feel; it's what you do. And perhaps if as a society we spent less time worrying about how we feel and more time worrying about what is the right thing to do we wouldn't have as many marriages breaking up as we do.

Now I have to put my regular caveat in here: I know some marriages can't be saved. I am not saying you should stay with an abusive spouse, or with someone who has serial affairs. But most marriages break up for far less than that. And whether or not you feel guilty doesn't really matter. What matters is how the child feels, not how you feel. If you feel that badly, then go back and pick up the pieces of your marriage. I am sick and tired of hearing how badly people feel for not being able to see their kids, or for having let their marriage fall apart. Feelings don't matter. Actions do. And feeling badly doesn't help your child who is lonely and who is feeling as if his or her whole life has fallen apart.

You are the adult. Once you are the adult, it means that you put responsibility before your feelings. That's what adults do. And your responsibility to your child comes first. I keep hearing people on the radio talk about what a moving song this is, and I wonder, "what is the little boy thinking who is hearing this song"? I don't think he thinks it's such a great song. I think he wishes his father would stop feeling sorry for himself and come back home where he belongs.

Trust me, as the child of divorced parents, I can honestly tell you I didn't particularly care how unhappy my father was in the marriage. I really wasn't interestd in the fact that he loved another woman. I still don't. What mattered to me as a child was not his feelings. It was the fact that he left us.

Today I'm not angry at him. I feel more sorry for him, because he missed out on my life, and he doesn't really know my children well. But I do understand the emotion in this song, because I have experienced it my whole life, and I believe even more strongly that self-absorption is pathetic. Feeling badly won't make up for leaving your child. I'm sorry if the marriage was awful, but that child never asked for you to get married. That child never asked for that relationship--that child only came afterwards. And now you have a responsibility.

Unfortunately, too many people feel that they don't have to live up to their responsibility because life is making it impossible. In this vein of thinking, life is something that happens to them, as if they have no control. "The marriage fell apart". "We couldn't fix it". It's as if the marriage is something external to you, happening to you, instead of something in which you have a choice. They like seeing themselves as helpless because then they can justify to themselves why they didn't try harder or take the road less traveled by. It wasn't their choice, you see.

There is always a choice. Maybe it's a choice to keep loving, even when your spouse doesn't, because you know it's the right thing to do. And studies show that in these situations, 5 years later more than 80% of married people consider their marriage "good" or "very good". Just because it's rotten now doesn't mean it always will be. Even if someone leaves you, you still have a choice in terms of how you treat your child. You can move to the same neighbourhood. You can fight for access. You can love that child anyway. You have a choice.

So take it. That's what makes you an adult. Stop wallowing, shut up, and go home. There. I think that just about sums it up.

Now, on a happier note, what advice do you have for us today? Do you have anything to say to make a marriage stronger? Or do you want to "rant" yourself? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!


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To Love, Honor and Vacuum Quote: A Life of Your Own
Quick thought from To Love, Honor and Vacuum:

Don't let your life completely revolve around your husband. If you don't talk with anyone else, socialize with anyone else, or go anywhere without him, there is no mystery in the relationship. Instead of a lover, you become an obligation because you pressure him to fulfill all your emotional and relational needs. That's why you need to keep a life of your own. God made you uniquely you. It's okay to pursue your gifts, interests, or hobbies and to expand your horizons. Don't wait for your husband to fill all the space in your life; ask God to help you fill it with the things He wants to grow in you!

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Walking Uphill Both Ways

Children During Recess at the Chattaroy, West Virginia School 04/1974

Don't kids today have it good?

Blogging buddy Tracey reminded me of that recently in her post "When I was a Kid...", reflecting on how easy kids have it today. 'Twas quite hilarious. Here's a snippet:

There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little rat-finks!

And we didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove! Imagine that!

And our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long. Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back inside... you were doing chores!

And car seats - oh, please! Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on. If you were luckily, you got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling "shot gun" in the first place!

I remember cartoon Saturdays. I loved Scooby Doo, but Scrappy Doo spoiled it for me. What else do I remember?

I remember heating up leftover Kraft Dinner in a frying pan because there were no microwaves.

I remember seeing a movie in a theatre that I loved--and then never getting to see that movie again unless it happened to be an ABC "Movie of the Week". And if it was, you know that they cut tons out so that it fit neatly into two hours, with commercials.

I remember wearing jumpsuits that fell to the bathroom floor when you had to go because some adults thought jumpsuits looked hip.

I remember never having anything to do on Sunday afternoons because my friends were busy with families, and there was nothing on TV.

I remember TV with circle dials that you had to turn to find a station. And there were only four.

Old telephoneI remember having to dial a telephone, too. No automatic dial or touchpads for us.

I even remember party lines, when you couldn't make a call if your neighbour was on the phone. Adn I remember busy signals. As a teenager, all my friends' phones were always busy (I think they were avoiding me). And I couldn't just pop up in their MSN or Facebook chat box, or call them on Skype to get their attention, either.

What about you? What do you remember? How have things changed since you were a kid? Let me know!


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Do You Worry Too Much?
It Takes a Worried Man
Are you a worrier? Many of us are. My grandfather fretted about just about everything. He was the kindest, sweetest man, but he still had two heart attacks in his 50s (which he survived) probably because he was a big worrier.

But usually when we're worrying it's because there's something important going wrong in our lives. And how do you turn off the worry if it's something important?

I think worry is based on two things: either we're afraid that we're going to lose something important, or we're afraid that we're going to lose control. We like to keep the illusion of control because then we feel like we can protect the things and people that are important to us. When the things that matter to our hearts are threatened, worry follows.

When I was pregnant with my son, and was told that he had a serious heart defect, I worried about everything. What would happen if I needed an emergency C-section, and then they whisked him off to another hospital to do surgery on him, and I couldn't see him? What would happen if he got put on the heart transplant list? What if he crashed at birth? Would we have to decide whether or not to intervene? I tortured myself with all of these scenarios. How would I make the big decisions with regard to his care? What would I do if.....

Often the reason that we worry is because we're playing possible scenarios in our head, sort of like an inner movie theatre, trying to plan our moves ahead of time, so that if something drastically bad happens, we're prepared. The problem is it doesn't really prepare you. It just scares the living daylights out of you, because you're imagining all these possible things that might happen that are absolutely terrible, and that's what you're concentrating on.

In the end, with my son, only one scenario actually happened of the dozens that we imagined. It's like that with whatever's on your mind, too. Only one future will unfold, no matter how much you think about all the other possible ones, trying to steel yourself to what may come.

And when we try to steel ourselves, we think that if we just imagine it, we'll make ourselves stronger. But then as we imagine it, we realize how weak we really are. There's no way I could handle losing a child! Losing a job! Losing my house! Losing my marriage! And we fall apart more. Besides, what we're really doing is saying that I need to make myself strong enough to handle it, so I will practice now. What we forget is that we can't make ourselves strong enough. In the end, our strength doesn't come from our own mental and emotional gymnastics; it comes from our ability to lie at God's feet and let Him help us.

In this context, let's look at exactly what Jesus said about worry. He told us two things: first, we shouldn't worry because God knows what we need before we ask, and He takes care of the lilies and the birds, so why wouldn't He take care of you? In other words, don't worry because God is there to take care of you.

But let's the back the truck up for a minute and look a little deeper at what this means. God is there to take care of you WHERE YOU ARE AT. He doesn't take care of possibilities. He doesn't take care of your scenarios or your what ifs. He takes care of you where you are. Perhaps the reason you can't handle all the scenarios that go through your head is because God isn't there. God is in the here and now, not in everything you can conjure up in your imagination. Only one scenario will actually occur, and in that scenario, God promises He will carry you. He will be smack in the middle of it. But He's not in the middle of all your fears.

With that in mind, let's look at the next thing Jesus says in Matthew 6:33-34:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has trouble of its own.

You might read that and think, "Oh, great. Jesus is saying that today is bad enough, so I have to focus on today or I'll never get through it to deal with tomorrow", but I don't think that's what He means. I think what He means is that you can't control what happens tomorrow. You don't know what's going to happen, or what you're going to have to do. And trying to prepare emotionally for it doesn't help because you don't know what it is that will unfold.

Instead, keep your eyes where they're supposed to be. Seek God, because He's the one who will look after you and carry you. And then concentrate on the here and now. God is in the here and now; He is not in all your imaginings of possible crises. He is here to carry you through what is real, and He will do that. If we're worried about tomorrow and playing all the possible bad things that can happen, we're missing how He's carrying us right now. His grace is sufficient for us, but it's only sufficient for us in the real; not in the imaginary.

So live day by day. Don't worry about tomorrow because you don't know what's going to happen. Don't flee from God, which is what you're doing when you start to imagine all the different things that can happen. Instead, feel God now. Learn to experience Him. Talk to Him. Take your worries about today to Him. Enjoy the blessing of the day that He has given to you.

The only thing that God wants you to do is to live today well. Live this day as He wants you to. He has given you enough time in this day to accomplish His purposes for this day. You don't need to do anything else. Live in the future, and the unknown, and you will miss those purposes.

It's interesting that in the New Testament when the apostles go through tests and crises, God shows up. But He only shows up in the middle of those crises. He doesn't give them strength beforehand; He gives them strength at the time. Jesus said that when they are taken before kings and magistrates, then the Spirit will give them the words. He doesn't give them the words beforehand; He gives them the words at the time. God works in the present, not in your fears for the future. He often doesn't prepare us until we need Him. So worrying about it doesn't work.

I spent a lot of time worrying about scenarios with my son that never came to pass. What did happen was that the decisions were far easier and more obvious than I thought they would be. We can always imagine far worse than what actually happens. But more importantly, God was there to carry me.

So don't worry about tomorrow, what you will eat, or drink, or who you will love, or who will love you back. Live today. Love today. Talk to God today. And perhaps, if we focus more on being alive and present IN the present, our problems with worry would go away.

Want more help with overcoming worry? My book, How Big Is Your Umbrella, walks you through how to handle storms that come. And my DVD set (which you can watch on your own or in your Bible study) takes us on a humorous look at the ten plagues of Egypt--and then turns more serious as we look at the things that can "plague" us modern women today.

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Does God Have to be Good?
Okay, I have to admit that I wrote that headline just to be provocative. A better one would be: does the fact that you believe in a Creator God mean that you necessarily believe in a God that is good?

And I think the answer would have to be no.

Today, for Spiritual Saturday, I thought I'd elaborate a bit on my understanding of the amazing benefits of the fact that our God is, actually, good!

On Good Friday I wrote a post on how pain is an intricate part of life, and we don't have to deny pain in order to prove our spiritual bona fides, so to speak. But we often still struggle with why God lets bad stuff happen. One thing we never tend to ask, though, is whether God is actually good. We just assume He is, and that's why we're in such a conundrum.

But does it necessarily follow that God has to be good? Let's go from first principles. What does it mean to be good? Does it not necessitate a standard for what is right and wrong? And if there's a standard, good can't be relative. Good has to be linked to how God defined it.

However, most cultures do not have the view that God is actually good. They may believe He is holy, but they often mean something different by that that we do. God is holy because God is God, and therefore anything He does is right. But God is outside our realm of understanding, and therefore we will never understand what good is.

Take the ancient Greeks, for instance. They believed in a multiplicity of gods, most of whom were engaged at any one time with war with other gods, or with stealing men's wives, or with in general making life difficult for those here on earth. The gods were to be served and placated, but never really understood or befriended. The gods were not necessarily one's ally.

In tribal religions in the Caribbean, South America, and Africa, there's a similar view of God or of "the spirits". The spirits are mean. They're unpredictable. They can curse you or cause you pain at any time, and so the main job of humanity is to make the gods happy with you at best, or else fail to notice you at the least.

Christianity, though, says something very different. Our God is not actually omnipotent, because there is something our God cannot do. Our God cannot sin. He cannot lie. He is good, because He is The Good. We don't have to fear Him. He doesn't ask us to operate by a moral code that He Himself doesn't already operate by.

When you serve a God who MAY lie, or who MAY do mean things, then morality often becomes relative. In Islam, for instance, it's wrong to lie to other Muslims or to rape other Muslims, but it's okay to lie to unbelievers or to rape unbelieving women captured in war. They do have a version of the Ten Commandments, but those commandments only apply within the Muslim community. Outside the Muslim community anything goes. Christians, though, are never allowed to do any of these things. A commandment is a commandment; it's not relative. Our holiness is defined in the same way God's is; we are to be absolutely holy, as God is holy.

That may sound onerous, but it isn't. It actually makes life so much easier, because we know what's expected of us, but even more so, we know what we can expect from God. Do you realize what a luxury it is that we get to wrestle with the question "why does God allow bad things to happen?" I know we fuss over that question, but it assumes two very important things: God is good, and He loves us. We who grew up in the Judeo-Christian culture take those assumptions for granted, but most of the world does not share this view.

When we lived in downtown Toronto we had frequent conversations with Muslim neighbours. Around the time that our son with Down Syndrom was born, we got in a conversation about birth defects. They had a family member with disabilities as well, and they had interpreted it as God punishing them for something. God was capricious, and so this family member was essentially hidden so as not to bring shame on the family.

I won't go into the reasons that I think God allows bad things to happen, because that's another post, but the very fact that we believe God loves makes us approach life differently. If you don't fundamentally believe that God loves you, and if you fundamentally believe that God can do bad things, then where is the joy in serving God? Is there not just primarily fear? There isn't necessarily even relationship; it's just a subject to a master, understanding that the master might do anything he wishes at any time and you really can't predict what those things will be because God doesn't operate by any rules that you could also understand; they are all above us.

Just because Islam is monotheistic does not mean that it actually has anything in common with Judaism or Christianity. It doesn't necessarily believe in a loving God; it doesn't believe that there is an absolute right and wrong--there is only what Allah wills, which is unknowable anyway. And because Allah doesn't operate by any logic that we understand, it's hardly surprising that Islamic societies tend to be anti-intellectual (the academic progress made in the Ottoman empire was largely made by Christian slaves from the Byzantine empire).

I love God, and I know He loves me. I know what right and wrong is (even if I don't always do them). I know God will never do wrong. And that makes life so very, very much easier to live, even if we do struggle with the question of suffering. I'll take that struggle over the alternative anyday.


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Ending Marriage's Bad Rap
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston was beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Angelina Jolie, by some accounts, seems to be copying Brad Pitt’s infidelity in spades.

Disastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Yet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship. In their book, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

You have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

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A Bit of This and a Bit of That...
Thought I'd just throw up some links of things that I've seen lately that I think are neat!

First, Great post on how to get your kids to clean their rooms. You need a system! Reminds me of this post on age appropriate chores I wrote a while back.

And along those lines, here's another good post on how to get little ones to help you tidy! And another very worthy one (with pictures!).

Here's an interesting article on why a woman decided to be a SAHM. I like the feel of this article--I might chronicle my own journey soon in a post!

Now for something complete different: Here's what's supposed to be a feel good article about teachers in Reader's Digest: 20 Things Your Child's Teacher Won't Tell You. It's written by the American Federation of Teachers, so it's slanted. I find things like this a little difficult to read. One point, for instance, says:

4. We don’t arrive at school 10 minutes before your child does. And we don’t leave the minute they get back on the bus. Many of us put in extra hours before and after school.
Ah, but I know teachers who DO arrive 10 minutes before (or sometimes after class is supposed to begin) and they leave early. Some do work long hours. But not all.

The truth is some teachers are amazing. Some do have a calling. But not all do. I don't understand why teachers get so defensive about this. If you're a great teacher, parents will know it. We parents talk about who the good teachers are. We try to arrange to get our kids into your classes.

If you're a lousy teacher, though, parents know that, too. We're allowed to criticize electricians, pastors, plumbers, and cashiers. Why is it so sacrosanct to not criticize teachers? Hint to you teachers: it makes you look incredibly thin-skinned, and makes us not take you seriously. We love the great teachers. If your unions would stop whining, we may appreciate the rest of you a little more, too. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's how we feel! You do yourselves no favours when the line taken so often in the media is, "teachers are awesome. They do a great job. The fault lies entirely with parents." We know some parents are lousy, but not all are, just like with teachers. When you take "it's everybody's fault but ours" line, it sounds like you're just passing the buck, and it's hard to respect someone who does that.

Another note: whenever I post on teachers, I invariably have commenters questioning my right to post on this, because I homeschool my kids.

That assumes that the only people who have a stake in the education system are parents whose kids are there right now. But I have friends with kids having great trouble in school because of teachers, or curriculum, or bullying. I have nephews and nieces in the school system.

But more importantly, aren't we all stakeholders in the education system? First, we're stakeholders simply because our tax dollars go to fund it, and so we all should have a say. But secondly, we're stakeholders because all our future doctors, nurses, clerks, garbage collectors, lawyers, designers, and computer engineers are currently in school. If we care about the future of our country, we care about schools, whether our own children are in public schools right at this minute or not.

I hope that addresses that concern!

What do you think on these issues? Any great suggestions for kids' chores? Why did you decide to stay home (if you do)? Any thoughts on schools, teachers, or thin-skinned unions? How do we help teachers and parents get on the same page again? I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues!

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What Would You Most Like to Win?
I've been asked to donate prizes to a bunch of different blogs lately, and it occurs to me that I'd like to start giving more to my regular readers!

I already mail a book every month to the blog that sends me the most new readers, but it's a bit of a hassle to have to go to the post office all the time.

I do, however, have a bunch of audio downloads of talks I've given that are funny and really practical! They're all about 45 minutes long, and you can download them and save them on your iPod, burn them to a CD, or just listen off of your computer.

So here's my question: if you were to win one, which would you prefer?

Want to listen to a download now? You can find them all here!


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Wifey Wednesday: Why We Are Not Interchangeable

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Today I want to talk about the glaring stupidity of some otherwise intelligent people.

For the last few decades in academia there's been this idea that men and women are interchangeable. Give a boy a doll and he'll grow up to be a nurturer; give a girl a truck and she'll grow up to be a mechanic. The reason that girls are "girly" and boys will be boys is because we treat them that way. Treat them the same, and they'll grow up virtually the same.

I was immersed in this thinking in university in my Sociology courses. It was all about the Sociology of Gender, and how gender is merely a "social construct".

No, it's not.

Boys are boys. I've known boys raised almost entirely by women to be pacifists who desperately want toy soldiers for Christmas. I've known girls raised to be tomboys who secretly play with Barbies. We are different.

One woman, whom her parents androgynously named "Jesse", reports on growing up in a gender-neutral household.

When I was 2 years old, my father started building a big house behind our tiny starter house. For days leading up to the arrival of the giant trucks and backhoes coming to dig out the foundation, my mother tried to get me excited. "Don't you want to watch the big trucks?!" she'd tease. When they finally arrived, the neighborhood boys parked themselves on our property, transfixed. I glanced out the window and immediately turned back to my toys, ignoring the commotion. As my mother recalls, "It was really a wake-up for me."

This now-infamous family anecdote wasn't the first time my parents tried to shake off gender stereotypes. As a toddler, they dressed me in overalls and cut my hair in an androgynous bowl cut. I didn't have Barbies; I had wooden blocks. Even my first name is evidence of their experiment in gender neutrality. You can't imagine how many times I've had to explain, "No, not Jessica, just Jesse. Like a boy."

...But my parents' little project in gender neutrality (namely, me) was, from the get-go, a total failure. As soon as I could speak, I demanded they replace my overalls with a long, pink, lacy dress. Far from gender-neutral, I was emphatically, defiantly a "girl."

And no where is that more evident than in our sex drives. We are motivated by completely different things. Men are far more visual than women are, which does not mean that women never ogle; it simply means that men are more likely to (women are becoming increasingly attracted to the visual lately, too, but I think that's in part a reaction to our pornographic culture which has started to rewire women's sexuality, rather than a typical reaction).

Anyway, I was thinking about this when I saw this article: Women March Topless in Portland. A bunch of women (and some men) got together to march through the downtown completely topless to show that we should respond to topless men and women in exactly the same way. We shouldn't sexist and make women cover up; we should see it all as equally natural and not think twice about it (or stare, either).

Not everybody got the memo, apparently, and several men did ogle.

Ty McDowell, who organized the march, said she was "enraged" by the turnout of men attracted to the demonstration. The purpose, she said, was for society to have the same reaction to a woman walking around topless as it does to men without shirts on.

I'm not sure why women want to be treated in exactly the same way as men, but it's completely unrealistic and shows a misunderstanding of male sexuality. And it's an implicit "blaming" of men for being who they are. There's something wrong with men, in this line of thinking, for wanting to look at naked women (I do think there's something morally wrong with that, but let's not kid ourselves that men aren't naturally drawn to it, even if they should resist the temptation to stare).

So what does that mean for us as wives? Realize that your guy is not the same as you. He honestly is tempted by what women look like. It doesn't mean he's evil if he struggles; it simply means that he is a man.

We can use this to our advantage: it's always fun to buy some pretty lingerie, and most of us feel much more confident with a little bit of satin than completely naked anyway. When we take time to "visually" get ready and prepare ourselves, he usually appreciates it!

At the same time, I do think women need to be careful about modesty. So many fashions today are very revealing, especially of cleavage. With summer coming, let's watch what we wear. Don't wear anything too form fitting in church. Watch what your teenage daughters wear, and if you have any influence over the youth or young adults at your church, talk to them about modesty. Don't be judgmental, but help young women understand it's not only about being "pretty"; it's also about being kind to our brothers in Christ by not providing a stumbling block.

Is it our fault if men ogle? No. That's their choice. But you wouldn't wave a bag of Oreos in front of a friend who is trying to lose weight, and similarly, we should be careful how we dress near other men. Your body belongs to your husband, not anyone else. So don't show it off to anyone else. That line is always difficult to find, and I do struggle with balancing modesty with fashion. But the struggle is worth it. It shows we respect and understand men. And that's important.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do it? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!


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Teenage Relationships in the Age of Texting
In a recent post about friendships, one commenter asked what was going to happen to teens, who spend their lives on social media sites but don't actually interact in person very much.

It's something I'm concerned about, too. I see so many teens that I know relating to other teens solely on the basis of technology. Many teen boys now have sleepovers with multiple TVs and Playstations so they can play Call of Duty together. Girls spend their lives on Facebook writing back and forth. I've been in groups of teens where everybody is texting--each other! Rather than just talking, they're clicking. It's strange.

We at least escaped much of this until we were adults. I spend far too much time on Facebook, etc., and I'm the first to admit it. But I do have real friends. And my husband and I got to know each other the old-fashioned way: we talked face to face. We didn't have to add smiley faces to the ends of sentences because we were there in person, and we could read each other's expressions.

Now it seems like so many relationships exist primarily online. People start dating online, and the world knows about it because their Facebook info changes. I know one guy who realized his wife was leaving him when her status changed from "Married" to "Single".

The internet has its benefits, but it's also changing how we relate. We talk in 140 characters, rather than in real sentences. We don't know how to look someone in the face. And even at university, where you would think the goal was to find a life partner, stats show that sexual activity is actually down because more people are simply using porn. When they're not, they're "hooking up", so that serious relationships in university are getting rarer. When I was in college, everybody was seeking out their mates, and many of us found them there. Today that's becoming increasingly difficult because real relationships aren't happening.

I was talking to a friend of mine, the mom of 4, about this and she dismissed it. Her sons, who are in their late teens, know how to have real relationships, even though they text all the time. But I pointed out to her that she and her family eat dinner together every single night. They grew up learning how to talk to one another, and so it's already natural.

What about all those teens who do not grow up talking around the dinner table? What about the majority of kids who don't have dinner with their parents, who rarely talk to their parents, and who are living in an almost entirely online world? Will they know how to share their thoughts? How to talk? How to get to know someone in real life?

There's so much in our society working against marriage and strong relationships. Pornography pulls us apart, and makes an intimate sex life much more difficult to achieve because so many are battling images they can't seem to get out of their heads, or addictions they can't seem to break. All around us are messages that we should do what makes us happy, and not necessarily what we have committed to. And now we have added to all that the takeover of the friendship realm by computer. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm not looking forward to seeing the results.

So what do you do in your house to make sure that your kids know how to live in the real world? Let's talk about it!

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Movies That Surprised Me
At the request of a friend, I'm going to start writing about movies or books that I've enjoyed on Mondays. We'll call it Media Mondays! And you can follow along and link up about media that you want to talk about, too!

Cover of Cover of Couples Retreat

Today, two movies: Sherlock Holmes and Couples Retreat.

Because we don't get any TV channels, we watch more movies than usual. I like it because at least I'm choosing what to watch, rather than mindlessly hitting the remote control. But because I'm so used to being choosy I don't put up with much. And I often turn off movies halfway through if they're pathetic.

Sherlock Holmes is one I should have listened to my instincts about and shut off. I didn't enjoy it one iota. They wrecked it. The Sherlock Holmes books are some of the great classics of the English language, but they tried to portray them using an action flick with a supposed paranormal tilt. All through the movie, I kept telling myself it would get better. And although everything had a logical explanation in the end, it wasn't worth sitting through to get to. So don't watch it.

Now for one that pleasantly surprised me: Couples Retreat.

It's rude. It's crude. If you watch it, fast forward through the massage scenes and hit fast forward as soon as Joe picks up the brochure. Just trust me.

But here's the neat thing: it's a movie that in the end says very clearly and loudly these things:

1. Marriage is worth it.
2. Don't get divorced for stupid reasons.
3. Don't have an affair and mess up your marriage. Your marriage, even if you're miserable, is worth way more than that.
4. If you've grown apart, the solution is not to break up. It's to find each other again.
5. Working it out with someone you already have is infinitely easier than trying to find someone else.
6. The single scene is awful.
7. Having someone to love is amazing. Who wants to go to Appleby's alone?

If a movie says that, then it's time to say a prayer of thanksgiving!

The problem, of course, is that the movie is peppered with lots of things Christians would find objectionable. But the overall message is a good one.

Does that mean you should see it? Not necessarily. It has some funny moments, and I think overall it's a good film, but it is crude, and it depends on what you and your spouse like. I also find it interesting that the four men are all kind of dumpy, or at least ordinary looking, while the women are all drop dead gorgeous size 2s who spend a lot of time in bikinis. So watch with caution.

But just like the movie Knocked Up, I'm glad it's out there. Knocked Up was way more crude than Couples Retreat, but the message was a great one: don't get an abortion. Try to make relationships work, and family matters.

When Christians start taking these movies and complaining about the swearing or the crudity, I think we do ourselves a bit of a disservice. We need to remember that these movies were not made for us. We already know that abortion is wrong; we already know that you should stick it out in a marriage. But the majority of our culture does not necessarily believe these things.

The fact that movies like these that speak directly to that culture are actually made is an amazing thing. They demonstrate the emptiness of the pursuit of self-fulfillment and happiness above commitment and family, and isn't that what we want? Ultimately fulfillment and happiness can't be found when one lives a self-centred life. It's only found when we learn to share and commit, and these movies say that.

Yes, there's much that's objectionable. But I am so grateful they're being made, and rather heartened to see people like Vince Vaughn, who was once a playboy, making a movie extolling the virtues of settling down--and staying settled down. If people watching it get a better view of marriage, then more power to them!

In the meantime, I'm doing my own version of Couples Retreat in real life, at the end of April. Keith and I are speaking at a Family Life marriage conference in Ottawa, and if you're in the area, I encourage you to join us!

But if travelling to Ottawa is geographically impossible for you, then I have another great opportunity! On March 10-12, A Woman Inspired "One" Online marriage conference is running! It's mostly meant for women, but if you want some help, encouragement, and inspiration to grow your marriage, what a great opportunity! You don't even have to leave your home. And when you sign up, you get access to all the seminars, even those you can't attend live. You can download the .mp3s afterwards, and listen in.

Best of all, I'm giving away a free ticket to someone who comments in this thread! So if you'd like to attend an online marriage conference, just leave a comment! And I'll give the prize away on Friday!

For those of us who are married, our marriage is definitely our most important earthly possession. It smooths life's rough patches, it helps us give stability to raise great kids, and it provides us with health, companionship, and happiness. Don't ignore your marriage. If you're frustrated, or having trouble, go to this conference. It could just be the boost you need to rescue your love life!

So leave a comment to win. And I'm rooting for you!


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What You Focus on Expands
I've been trying to find some order to what I blog about, just to help me figure out what to write and when to write, and to help you figure out when you want to read (although I'm sure you find all my posts absolutely incredible and enlightening!).

But at the suggestion of a friend, I'm launching Media Mondays, where I give book and movie ideas, to go along with Wifey Wednesdays. And now I think I'll add Spiritual Saturdays.

So that's what this is: Spiritual Saturday.

Spiritual Saturday

One of the reasons I love blogging is that I can get all my thoughts out without worrying about editing or who is going to publish this. So much of what I write is eventually for publication, and it's stressful. Blogging is my release.

And so I want to share something that happened to me a few weeks ago.

I spoke at a retreat, after a week of feeling very jetlagged and rather ill. I was not at my best. But the retreat went well, everybody said. People shared their thoughts of the one point that really hit home, and many had those "one points". I should have felt good about it.

But I felt as if something had been missing. I have given that same retreat in the past and felt much greater power, and it seems to me that sometimes I feel the Holy Spirit's strength, and sometimes I do it in my own strength.

The next day, at church, the sermon was on exactly that: how to have the Holy Spirit work through you, instead of doing it by yourself. And I found myself desperately praying for "thirst". Thirst for God, thirst for Him to work, rather than me.

On Monday I was reading my devotions, and my Psalm for the day just "happened" to be 42. Here's the first two verses:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

It was so timely! And so I read on. And here's the point: I was desperately worrying about what was wrong with me. Why wasn't I experiencing God? That's what David was doing, too. He was consumed with feeling alone, with wondering why God wasn't there. And this is what David kept coming back to:

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you....
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me. Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him...

In both cases, David is feeling alone. He's burdened. And the solution is not to think about how alone or burdened he is. It's to remember God and what He has already done in your life, and then to turn your attention to the hope you have in God.

God doesn't ask us to DO anything except hope. Except Remember. Except think and meditate about Him. He doesn't want us to work ourselves up into knots trying to reach some major level of spirituality. He just wants us to focus on Him.

And it reminded me of this clip from the retreat, where I talked about this exact thing:

When you're down, focus on God. Don't put yourself through a guilt trip. Don't worry. Just focus on Him, remember Him, and let Him do the rest. He is the source of our hope, not our own effort. And that was a good reminder for me last Monday!


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Emergency Room Blues
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Last week I came down with an *ahem* bladder infection. For those of you who have never experienced such a thing, imagine consuming four Obesity-R-Us sized pops at your favourite fast food joint, and then hitting the road to Niagara Falls, where you stop to take a scenic tour, all without bothering to relieve yourself. When you have a bladder infection, that’s how you feel. All the time.

It hit me late one night, rendering sleep impossible. After tossing and turning for several hours, I decided to head to the ER before dawn to beat the rush.

There I reported in to triage, where they made me—you guessed it—pee in a cup. I tried to explain to the nurse that peeing is what hurts, but to no avail. Then I sat in the waiting room with a decade’s worth of Golf Digest magazines, for two hours, to get the full ER experience.

When the doctor finally saw me he asked if I had been experiencing any fever. That was when I made my major tactical blunder. I told him the truth. I admitted that in my night of not sleeping, I had suffered quite bad chills, followed by sweats, which unfortunately bears a remarkable resemblance to a fever.

None of this would have been so bad except that we had returned from a three week trip to a Kenyan orphanage (more on that in an upcoming column). This caused this doctor, and my husband (who is also a doctor, and who had by this time joined me), to run around in circles shouting, “Malaria!!!!” Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it’s important to make them look silly because I’m bitter.

I valiantly attempted to argue that it was a bit of a coincidence that malaria and a bladder infection should hit me at exactly the same hour, and that perhaps this wasn’t malaria at all, but they were unmoved. Seems doctors are more committed to “science” than to “women’s intuition”.

Now malaria is not nice. It causes you to have fevers, and chills, and nausea, and sometimes death. And then it recurs. Well, not if you suffered the death part, but otherwise it tends to pop up every now and then.

Therefore, it was decided that along with the typical blood work, which consisted of taking eighteen vials out of both arms, I should also be tested for malaria. And thus began my entry into the “Voodoo Doll Impersonation Contest”, for to find malaria, one blood test is not sufficient. Three are needed in the space of twenty-four hours, although I was poked far more than that because my veins started collapsing in protest.

Protest seems to be a natural reaction to almost everything that occurs in a hospital. It’s just not a fun place. The ER is covered with signs telling you how coarse and abusive language will not be tolerated, but I sometimes wonder if hospital administrators realize that normal people probably wouldn’t curse as much if you didn’t make them wait for hours, and then keep them in a hall with no privacy, and then tell their loved ones they have to stay out in the waiting room. It’s rather inhumane.

Sleep is downright impossible in a hospital, too, with all the bright lights and the constant chatter on the overhead speaker. If you’re sick, a hospital is the last place you want to stay. Most of us could recover much better in bed, where you could actually get some shut eye.

So that’s where I headed, after all my treatment was complete. And I realized that, as much of a pain as it was, after being in Kenya I am infinitely grateful that we have a hospital with experienced nurses and good and careful doctors. Even if they do err on the cautious side.

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The Reason for Etiquette
I am not one of those people who rejoices in etiquette. I'm one of those people who avoided a certain person at family reunions for about 15 years because I was certain I had forgotten to send someone a thank you card after my wedding.

I'm committed to etiquette enough to feel guilty when I don't do it, but not committed enough to follow through. It's the worst of both worlds.

routing around people obstructionsImage by cc511 via Flickr

Nevertheless, I do believe that simple politeness is one of the cornerstones of our society. Saying please and thank you; deferring to those who are older than you; offering to help a young mom struggling with a stroller while trying to enter a door, or an older person struggling with a walker. These are the things that keep our culture functioning.

They serve another purpose, too. They remind us that we are not the centre of the universe, and that others deserve our attention and deference at times simply because they, too, are people. I must admit to getting a little bit teed off when clerks who are waiting on me at a store won't look me in the eye, don't say thank you, and treat me as if I'm an inconvenience. It's important to be polite to those who are around you because it's how we keep everything running smoothly.

And it even goes deeper than that. Our society has devolved recently so that we don't just have political differences; we tend to dehumanize the other side. They're not wrong; they're evil. They're beyond the pale. And when we start thinking of the other side as evil, then it's easy to believe that they don't deserve common courtesy. In fact, they deserve much worse than that. They should be lectured, hectored, or ostracized. And we see this in much of political discourse today, even just at dinner parties.

I was reminded of that when I saw this picture today, which is making quite a stir in my home, Canada:

Taken yesterday at the nuclear summit, Obama is lecturing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in front of reporters, about something.

I don't want to get into the politics of it; that's not the point of what I'm trying to say (except to point out that this won't work out well for Obama in the long run; note Harper's fist. He's not happy). The point is this: it is tradition that one does not lecture or insult the democratically elected leader of an allied nation in public, in the same way that it is a tradition that one does not bring up politics or money at a family Thanksgiving dinner, or insult a host's politics, or question their religion. You just don't.

You give them the benefit of the doubt and you give them the courtesy to save face and you keep your thoughts to yourself until a more appropriate time to bring them up.

Yet I have found lately that these common courtesies are being thrown out the window. The only reason I can think of that President Obama would feel free to harangue Harper is that Obama truly thinks he is superior in some way, and that superiority means that he is no longer subject to the rules of etiquette (or perhaps he thinks that Harper is so far inferior that he is no longer deserving of the rules of etiquette). Etiquette helps us from becoming prideful, and it helps us from dehumanizing or judging others too harshly, because it forces us to act humanely.

Recently, though, when I was shopping, my youngest daughter said, "thank you" loudly to the cashier as we left and then said to me, "Honestly, Mommy, you never say thank you." She took me aback. I thought I always said thank you. But I guess sometimes I mumble, or if I'm in a hurry, I don't.

Increasingly I think we're getting lazy about such matters of etiquette. And while they may not fall into the same category as the picture above, if we don't take care of the little things, we're going to find ourselves in a mess of our own making. Our lack of humility will be apparent to all, and we will become boors.

So I want to make it a practice to say "thank you" more. I recently bought some cards and I am going to start writing thank you cards--even to people that I don't always particularly appreciate (in fact, perhaps especially to those I don't always appreciate when I see that they have done something worthwhile). It's part of recognizing the good in others, and recognizing the lack in ourselves. That's what healthy societies are built on, and when we forget that, and just rely on our own self-image, we are heading on a slippery slope indeed.


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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