Thursday, May 29, 2008

Swimsuits Are For The Fishes

We have all heard the phrase that things are "for the birds" (for example, dieting is for the birds). But I've coined a new phrase of my own - swimsuits are for the fishes! I mean really, the swimsuits that are in stores today are not made for real people. If you want to get your mind off of your problems, just go bathing suit shopping, and soon you will be so depressed about your body image that you forget everything else!

Last week I determined that since summer was here, that I had to give in and try to find a new bathing suit. I headed to the mall with a good attitude and browsed through all the colorful suits hanging on dozens of racks. I filled up my arms with lots of choices and marched towards the dressing room. About 37 bathing suits later, I left the dressing room with a pout on my face and headed to the next store. After trying at least 25 more bathing suits in that store, I succumbed to defeat, and went home.

Why is it that apparel companies think everyone in America weighs 100 pounds or less, and that we all want our swimsuit bottoms to sit lower on our pelvis than normal underwear? Seriously, it's inappropriate for even tiny waisted teenagers to wear these swimsuits, and certainly not appropriate for grown women! Can't they find a happy medium between itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polkadot-bikinis and "granny" swim suits? Does the apparel industry understand that grown women want to be covered up, but not so much that we look like we are a throwback from a Doris Day movie?

Oh well - I guess I can't change the industry, but I can complain! A few days later, I did find a few swimsuits that I could live with (as long as I didn't look at them in the three-way mirror). But as I thought about my pursuit for the perfect swimsuit that would fit me perfectly and hide all of my flaws, I remembered something important. We can't always change things about ourselves that we don't like, but we can like ourselves for who we are and how God made us.

Now if there are things we can do to improve our image and self esteem, such as eating healthier, lose a few pounds for health's sake, or change that bright orange nail polish to a summer pink, then by means, do it! But if there are things we can't change, then we need to make a conscious choice to love ourselves no matter what we look like in a swimsuit. If you are like me, I would prefer to focus on having fun and spending time with my kids at the pool or the beach, instead of obsessing over what everyone might be looking at that I refused to look at in the three-way mirror!

Two great truths I came across in God's Word about self-image came to mind:

1) Galatians 6:4 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life in mind.(The Message)

- in simple terms - worry about what we are doing for God, and not what the mirror is doing for us! Whether or not the mirror is our friend is beside the point - God does not want us to compare ourselves to others, or beat ourselves up for our flaws.

2) 1 Samuel 16:7 - "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (NIV)

- God is not worried about what we look out on the outside, He only cares about the inside! Let's spend our time trying to dress up our hearts, instead of just our bodies.

I am still sticking to the fact that swimsuits are for the fishes, but nonetheless, I plan on enjoying some sun in the fun with my family and friends this summer, and try not to let my mind be overtaken by self defeating thoughts. God loves me as I am, and that is enough for me! God loves you just as you are, and that should be enough too!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Celebration of Marriage

Yesterday was a wonderful day. My husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage. I am sure that makes me officially old, even though I do not feel old. I guess the fact that my oldest daughter is 14 years old, could attribute to my oldness, but I still feel about 25!

We had a fabulous anniversary day together, as we lounged by the pool all day, soaked in the sun, and watched the kids play in the water. I know that doesn't sound very romantic, but in my opinion, it was the best day ever. Enjoying the beautiful outdoors with my main squeeze, spending time with the kids, and cooking out delicious steaks that evening, is more than I could ask for. My husband topped off the day by saying, "he would rather be hanging out with his family than anywhere else", and these were sweet words to my ears. What more could a girl want than a loving husband, great provider, and super dad who loves his family?! Now don't get me wrong, I'll go for a romantic evening of candles, good food and private conversation any day- but you can't beat the love felt when spending time with family.

In years past, there were times when we struggled, and we still have our moments like any married couple, but God has blessed our relationship and I am so thankful. I remember a day years ago, when we were experiencing some rough times. The stress of jobs, small kids, finances, and relationship issues can be overwhelming for young couples. One day, I found myself crying out to God for an answer to our problems. For some bizarre reason, I decided to go get my car washed at Auto Bell (for the first time in many months). I sat in the car wash waiting room, feeling low in spirit and clueless about how to be a good wife, when I looked down at the table beside me, and there lay the book "The Power Of A Praying Wife", by Stormie Omartian. My heart skipped a beat. God has sent me a book! There was no one else to be found in the car wash that day, so I was sure God had arranged for me to have it.

I took the book home and began reading the first chapter - to my surprise, Stormie's husband's name was Michael - my husband's name was Michael! Kind of creepy huh? But a wonderful supernatural-surprise-which-gives-you-chill-bumps kind of creepy! From that day forward, I made a commitment to always pray for my husband, even when I didn't feel like it, or feel like he deserved it. I made a commitment to stop asking God to fix my husband's flaws, and start asking Him to open my eyes to what I could fix about myself that would improve our relationship. It was hard, and still is, but well worth it.

I truly believe it was that commitment to praying for my marriage that has led to the success of our relationship. Is life a peaceful harmonic melody at our house all the time? I would be lying if I said yes. We aren't perfect. We argue, fuss and squabble over silly things. We disagree about how to spend money or who we should visit first at Christmas. But no matter what we are going through, I know I can take it to the Lord,and that He will hear my prayers, and I trust that He will help us work through any issues, big or small. As long we continue to make Him a priority in our family, I know that God will continue to bless our marriage.

On a final note, I didn't really need an anniversay gift (but what girl doesn't love gifts?!) As usual, my sweet husband came through with flying colors. A few months ago, I had misplaced one of my diamond stud earrings (again). I was devastated, but no matter how hard I looked, I could not find it. And believe it or not, he really wasn't too hard on me about losing it (again). Without my knowledge, Michael had taken my still existing earring to the jeweler, and purchased a matching stud for it. What a man!

So with love to my wonderful husband Michael - happy 18th anniversary!

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Monday, May 19, 2008

A Habit Of Rudeness

I am frustrated. It seems that everywhere I turn, someone is rude. In fact, I think I must have a sign around my neck that is invisible to me, but visible by everyone else, that says "Be As Rude To Me As You Possibly Can".

Let me give you a prime example of what I mean. Last week my family and I decided to grab some dinner out. We were coming from different directions, so we drove two cars. My husband and kids were already at the restaurant, and I arrived a few minutes later. Parking was scarce, so when I spotted an open space, I stopped the car. There was a woman standing beside this empty space, standing outside of her car but leaning into the open door speaking with the driver. I was really in no hurry, so I patiently waited for her to finish her conversation, checked my phone messages, cleaned out a few pieces of trash in my car, and then looked up to see if it was clear to park yet. She then slammed her car door, moved to the other side of the open parking space, and began making exaggerated gestures in my direction, summoning that it was okay for me to park. Then she began mocking the way I had rested my head on my hand while I was patiently waiting for her to move, and yelling at me. Honestly, I was in shock, and wondering what in the world had I done to this woman? I had not beeped my horn, made ugly or impatient gestures at her, or yelled out the window to ask her to hurry up. I was completely confused why she was acting this way. I parked and got out of my car, closed the door, and began walking towards the restaurant, and she proceeded to yell curse words at me across the parking lot, call me an ugly name several times, and make a few physical threats. I simply made sure not to make eye contact and walk as quickly as I could towards the safety of the restaurant where other people were around. This woman scared me.

A few days ago I had stopped in CVS to get a few items, and upon leaving the parking lot, and since there were no cars behind me, I slowed down to answer a phone call. While talking on the phone, I was unaware that someone had exited the store and apparently I was blocking their car from leaving their parking space. This man proceeded to get out of the car, stand in front of my window, cuss, and flail his arms around in the air! I apologized and moved on, but was in awe of his rudeness (and the fact that I seem to attract these people somehow! )

Obviously these were extreme situations, but things like this happen every day to people all over America. It seems that today's society is caught up in a habit of rudeness, and people seem to feel fully justified in treating others rudely.

Someone cuts you off in traffic, practically causing you to wreck, then makes rude gestures to you as if you have done something wrong. The store clerk hates her job, so she treats her customers as a major inconvenience in her day. The drive-thru clerk can't see you when you are ordering, therefore no need to be polite or friendly. The boss knows you are required to be subordinate to him or her, so feels no obligation to treat you with simple consideration. The woman who bumps into you at the mall looks at you like you have just assaulted her and mumbles some words under her breath as she huffs off. The receptionist at your child's school is annoyed that you even called, much less the fact that she had to take a message. I could go on, but I"ll stop there.

What is happening to our world? What happened to the days when people said please and thank you, excuse me and no problem? What happened to the days when people opened the door for you, instead of knocking you out of the way to get through the door first? What happened to general kindness and consideration of others? What happened to patience and wearing a smile?

I think we are all guilty, myself included, of not making a conscious effort to be polite, friendly, kind and considerate of those around us. I have found that wearing a smile, not only on our face, but also in our heart, is a choice we have to make each day. But when the rest of the world seems to be in a bad mood every day, and then they inflict their bad moods on you and me, how do we handle that rudeness in a Christian manner? When our blood pressure is rising and anger is pursed at our lips, how do we keep from acting like everyone else?

Jesus is the only answer. Despite criticism, harsh treatment, judgement, hatred, insults, etc., Jesus never responded in a rude manner. Oh how I wish I could be more like Him, but at least we have His words to remind us of how He desires for our hearts to be full of love towards one another. Here are a few great verses to memorize into your heart so that you can call on these scriptural truths when someone is treating you rudely:

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger"
Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Proverbs 10:32 “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse."

It is not easy to be polite to others, when they are not being polite to you. I have heard preachers tell stories of fighting rudeness with kindness, and how it often turns people around. For example, a grumpy store clerk was not speaking to anyone in line as she rung up their items. She was short and curt with anyone who spoke to her. But when someone asked her how her day was going, if she was enjoying the weather, and complimented her appearance, her entire demeanor changed. She smiled and engaged in the conversation, then told the customer to have a nice day as he left the store.

Did she have a bad attitude, or did the people in line? The world may never know. But this is a great test for us all to take. We should ask someone being rude to me, because I had a rude look on my face, even inadvertently? Is someone being rude to me, because I was not very polite to them? Is there something I should change about my own attitude and behavior that would deter rudeness being fired in my direction? Would a stranger that I come in contact with know that I am a Christian based solely on my brief interaction with them? If I am honest with myself, would I have to say that I too have gotten caught up in society's habit of rudeness? Hmmmmmm.

It takes a true Christian heart to be kind to someone, when they so obviously are not giving you that same courtesy. But isn't that what God calls us to do? To set ourselves apart from the world, to be different, to act in gentle love, and keep watch over our lips. To have an attitude of love, and a smile on our face, despite our circumstances.

Yes all that is true, but we all know that it is not easy. It takes practice. I need practice. Maybe that is why God is bringing so many rude people into my path. Is it possible that God is working on my heart, and trying to soften my heart towards people who have bitterness in their hearts? Is it possible God has a purpose for me by subjecting me to so many bizarre situations of rudeness? Without a doubt. I have come to believe that whenever something continues to happen over and over, then God is at work on something in my life. He knows our weak areas, and it is His job as our Father to help us see those weaknesses, and gain strength in areas of our life where we are struggling.

So far, I am not sure that I have pleased God with my responses or actions to rude people, but I am committed to turning my attitude around. The next time a person is rude to me, instead of entertaining thoughts of vengeance, turning away or giving them a blank stare of disbelief, I am going to say a quick prayer, and ask God to help me respond in kindness. Even if the person does not reciprocate in kindness, at least I will be able to walk away knowing that I responded in a Christian manner. It only takes a spark to get a fire going.... maybe my spark will make a difference.

Have you ever seen that insurance commercial where someone does something kind for a total stranger, then that person does something kind for another stranger, then that person does something kind to someone else, etc., etc.? There is a domino affect of kindness, all as a result of one person's small act of kindness. It is a wonderful commercial with a great lesson. If we spread kindness, even through one interaction with a stranger, and leave a sweet fragrance of our presence on the lives of those we come in contact with, maybe they will share that fragrance with someone else. Maybe just responding one time in kindness to a rude comment or grumpy look, will transfer kindness to many people throughout the day.

It's worth a try, and despite the outcome, I know God will reward us for our obedience to live in His ways. It only takes one person to make a difference, and with God on our side, who can be against us? Will it be easy? Nope. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. Make someone smile today! :)

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Scary Truth About Kids Internet Games

My kids have branded with me the title, "strictest mom on earth". If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words, "but everyone else gets to do it!", or "my friend's mom's don't care!", I would be a rich woman.

I admit, that Michael and I are more restrictive about what our children can and cannot do than many other parents we know, but we know in our hearts that we are trying to raise them in a Godly home and teach them good traditional values, even though we live in a non-traditional society. These restrictions include the normal parental type things, but also very limited computer usage, primarily because we have been stung before with the internet teaching our kids about things they had no business learning about at their ages, and the peer pressure they experience to visit certain sites. So as a result, they can use the computer for homework and a couple internet games that I checked out and deemed safe. Despite the trends among teens today, my kids are very internet deprived: they are not allowed to have a My Space page, or visit other people's My Space pages; they cannot have a Facebook page, or visit Facebook; they cannot search for videos on YouTube; or visit any other non-monitored sites where potential predators could be stalking, or where other teenagers are ranting and raving about everything under the sun, while using every curse word that was ever invented in the english language.

Normally my children are frustrated and even aggravated by not being allowed the same unsupervised internet freedom as their friends, but today, my two sweet middle school daughters are giving me a little more credit than usual.

Last night after being at the beach for three days, and enjoying a long but pleasant mother's day with three important "moms" in my life, we returned home around 8:30pm. We had only been home for two hours in the afternoon in between mothers day gatherings, and I was ready to rest for a while. But no sooner had I sat down, the doorbell rang.

I opened the door, to find a policeman standing in front of me. Knowing that I had not committed any crimes and had no reason to bolt out the back door, I politely greeted him, as he confirmed my name and address with complete accuracy. He then proceeded to inform me that someone from California had contacted the local police department because they thought someone in my house had threatened to commit suicide while playing an online internet game. The purpose for his visit was to check on the well being of our family.

What??!! I was appalled at the thought, but then just laughed it off. What a ridiculous accusation. I was sure that he was at the wrong house, but after calling the station to doublecheck his info, he confirmed he was at the right house.

I assured him that there was no one in my home who was emotionally disturbed, and that we certainly did not have any family members with suicidal tendencies. Since my 11 year old daughter was the only one who had played on the computer during the brief interval that we we had been at home, I calmly asked her if she had said anything about suicide on the game she had been playing, and with wide eyes, she adamantly said no. After a brief private discussion with the officer, and after convincing him that me and my family were safe and mentally stable, he said goodnight and left.

I came back into the house, only to find my daughter having an emotional breakdown, because she was convinced that she was either going to be arrested or seriously punished. Since she had previously told me she had not said anything about suicide, I was a little taken aback by her reaction. After wiping her tears, consoling her, and assuring her that honesty is always the best policy, she admitted that while she was playing the popular children's internet game of Club Penguin, she had playfully said to another penguin who turned down her request to play, "I hate myself, I'm going to kill myself!". But she was just fooling around, and thought nothing more of it. For some reason, kids in her school run around saying that, just as a funny expression in response to silly comments, but not with any real meaning. We had a long talk about the severity of that statement, and that it should not be said again and she sniffed, and agreed to comply.

Here is the scary part - when the officer had arrived, and explained the reason for his presence, he informed me that the caller from California had provided them with all the information they needed to check up on me. The caller had somehow tracked down my personal computer's IP address from where my daughter had been playing the game. The caller had somehow researched and confirmed my internet account and retrieved my full name. And the caller had looked up my home address. This mystery caller; this mystery stranger from across the country whom we have never met; this person who was playing a game with my young child on the internet, on a children's play site, mind you -- knew enough information about me to send an officer directly to my front door.

Until yesterday, I thought Club Penguin was safe ( I thought it was merely a site where kids played against or with the computer, not against or with total strangers from around the world. I had no idea that a complete stranger could track down all of our personal information and be able to end up at our house.

The shocking fact that total strangers can find out so much personal information about me, down to the IP address of the computer sitting in my kitchen, is a scary revelation that has stuck in my mind all day. I was disappointed in myself that I didn't check this site out a little further. Me, the official strictest mom in the world, had allowed her kids to play on a site where they could interact with people unknown to me. ........... but in my defense, it was a kid's game, with cute little penguins who waddled around and scooted innocently across the screen!! Who knew?!

Obviously, Club Penguin website play is no longer allowed at my home. This time we were lucky. It seems that the person who tracked us down was only looking after our best interest. But what if that had not been the case? What if the person who showed up at our front door was not an officer, but a violent criminal, or a sexual predator, or a kidnapper? The thought sends chills up my spine.

This goes to show, that you never know who your kids could be talking to online. You can never be too careful. If you are like me, you would assume that only kids would be playing on the kids game site, but that is not so. And like me, you may think that your kids are great kids..... they would never visit pornography sites; they would never bad mouth other kids on IM or start painful rumors about innocent school mates; they would never upload inappropriate pictures of themselves to Youtube or to their My Space page; they would never talk with strangers online. NEVER SAY NEVER. Good kids make mistakes. Good kids get caught up in the ways of this world, and the temptations of the amazing technology that is available today. Good kids get hurt.

I am just a mom, not a perfect mom, not an all knowing mom, but just an average mom. But I know with all my heart that the internet is a scary place. It is a boiling pot that holds millions of poisons that are just waiting to seep into the minds of innocent children, and adults. It holds millions of opportunities for child predators to seek out and locate children who think they are just playing a safe and innocent kids game. It holds bits of information that allows total strangers to show up on our doorsteps.

I truly believe that most parents today give their kids far too much internet freedom, even if they think are strict parents, and it can only come back to haunt them. Just a few words of advice from an average, every day mom trying to raise good kids:

1) never let your kids have a computer in their room
2) always have the computer in the family room where constant supervision can be monitored
3) invest in some internet security to block inappropriate sites
4) talk to your kids about child predators and the dangers of talking with strangers online
5) check the history on your computer frequently
6) check out every site that your child visits, even if looks innocent; play the games yourself first
7) never assume that your child knows better

Sometimes I think how much easier it might be to allow my children to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it, with whomever they choose. It would be much less hassle to not try to keep track of their friendships or get to know their friend's parents before they can spend the night at their house. It would prevent a lot of arguments and headaches if I just said "yes" to every request pertaining to their ever evolving social life, and said "that looks great honey!" to every t-shirt and mini-skirt that reveals just a little too much. Life could be so much easier if I just trusted them to make good decisions, and put all my faith in the hopes that I have done a good job raising them so far and that they know right from wrong.

But God didn't call me to just be the friend, the supporter, the pal, or just the one who pays the bills, cooks dinner and washes their clothes - He called me to be the parent. He entrusted my precious children to my care, and God expects, and commands, me to care for them just as He would do. I know they are His, but they are mine in this life, and it is my duty to raise them.

So today... I'll take that extra credit that my girls are bestowing upon me, even if it is for brief time. Today they have seen first hand how people can find out who they are, where they live, and how to get to them. They now truly understand the dangers of the internet, even though my husband and I had tried to warn them many times before. Today, they saw a policeman standing at our door, and the warnings of danger hit home.

Today, I'm proud to wear a big sign around my neck that says "Strictest Mom In The World". I know that one day, they will thank me for it, and possibly, if I am lucky, they may even ask to wear it themselves.

Proverbs 22:6 Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost.
(The Message)

Proverbs 22:15 Young people are prone to foolishness and fads; the cure comes through tough-minded discipline (The Message)

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