Archive | February 2011

Who Needs a Dinner Bell?

The first home we ever owned was situated at the mouth of a cozy little cul-de-sac, which gave every neighbor on the block an unobstructed view of our house and yard. Clearly, then, my husband was not thinking of my reputation when he slapped the lid on my flaming hash-browns one Saturday morning and rushed out to the front curb to extinguish them. And this only days after we moved in!

First impressions are not always right, but in this instance, our new neighbors were given a fairly accurate indicator of my culinary skills (or current lack thereof). In the five years we lived there, it was not at all uncommon for them to look out of their own windows and see smoke pouring out of mine. My husband often teased me, “Who needs a dinner bell when you’ve got a fire alarm?”

It wasn’t that I was incapable of cooking a decent meal. It was just that I was (and am) so easily distracted. I’d barely get dinner in the oven before I was completely absorbed in some other project. I wouldn’t give the meal a second thought until it had burnt to a crisp and its charred, smoldering remains triggered the smoke detector.

At least now I’ve learned to use a kitchen timer. And I’ve come to realize that delicious, nutritious meals don’t just happen. They require attention to detail and diligent work.

If you are anything like me, there are countless things vying for your attention these days. Some of them — like folding laundry or watching the news — can be done on autopilot without causing harm. But other things — like building a marriage or raising kids– may crash and burn if you don’t tend them carefully.

Healthy marriages and happy children don’t just happen. They require attention, commitment, and work. We mustn’t wait until we smell the smoke before we give it.

A Fish without Fins

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m posting a poem I wrote for my husband even before he became my husband. I gave it to him way back in February of 1987, and he still proposed a month later, so he obviously wasn’t marrying me for my poetic devices. I hope you’ll enjoy my little walk down memory lane. You’ll be gratified to know that I’ve omitted several stanzas here, for the sake of brevity.

As a peacock without feathers,

As a bear without its fur,

As a postman without letters,

As a cat that cannot purr,

As a bee without its stinger,

As a fox without its tail,

As a bell without a ringer,

As a ship without a sail,

As a dinner with no courses,

As a bride without a gown,

As a carousel with horses

That cannot move up and down,

As a cow without her udders,

As a lion with no teeth,

As a window without shutters,

As a door without a wreath,

As a Cupid without arrows,

As a Santa with no sleigh,

As a birdhouse without sparrows,

As a needle in the hay,

As a park without a pigeon,

As a fire without heat,

As a car without its engine,

As a heart that cannot beat,

As a duck without its bill,

As a possum with no pouch,

As a rod without a reel,

As a shrink without a couch,

As a clock without its hands,

As a suit that has no pants,

As a half-time without bands,

Or as Paris without France,

As tea without a kettle,

As a hen that cannot lay,

As an athlete with no medal,

As a childhood without play,

As a summer without rain,

As Bo Peep without her flock,

As a track without a train,

Or as Star Trek with no Spock,

As a gaggle with no ganders,

As a sock without a shoe,

So I tell you, Douglas Flanders,

Would I be if not for you!

Show Some Appreciation

As soon as my husband made it to work yesterday morning, he called home to say that he’d broken his glasses and could I please bring him his back-up pair?

I was still in my fuzzy bathrobe, so I quickly changed clothes, grabbed my coat and keys, and drove over to the hospital to make the delivery. Being out in the bitter cold of the early morning served to remind me how very blessed I am to have a husband who works so hard to provide for his family. So as he was leaving for work today, I told him, “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asked curiously.

“For going to work every day,” I answered. “I get to stay home where it’s warm, but you go even when it’ freezing outside, and you never even complain about it.”

This statement elicited the sweetest smile. “You’re welcome,” he said sincerely, then gave me a hug and headed out the door. He would have gone regardless, but having his hard work recognized put a spring in his step that even the cold winter weather couldn’t chase away.

Dealing with a Difficult Mother-in-Law

Dealing with Difficult InlawsA friend of mine recently asked my advice for dealing with an overly-critical mother-in-law. No matter what my friend does, it is never enough, and she is growing tired of even trying to make this woman happy.

What follows are a few guidelines I gave her for living at peace with demanding personalities. This strategy works equally well with difficult bosses, neighbors, or spouses, so give it try next time you find yourself dealing with anyone who seems impossible to please.

First, weigh her complaints.

If they have no basis in reality, dismiss them. If amid all her faultfinding you discover a legitimate concern, address it. Apologize if you have wronged her, adjust your attitude, and mend your ways as needed.

Second, avoid conflict.

As much as possible, try not to do things you know will upset her. If she hates to be kept waiting, don’t show up two hours late for lunch. If she resents the time your kids spend with their other grandmother, don’t flaunt the fact that your mother accompanied you on your last family vacation.

Third, forgive her.

If you feel weary of even trying to please her, she has undoubtedly hurt your feelings. Let go of any bitterness you may harbor toward her for past cutting remarks. Wipe the slate clean and, in the future, approach her as if you had no bad history together, but were meeting for the first time. If it is necessary or possible to limit the time you spend with her, only do so to protect yourself, not to punish her.

Fourth, show consideration.

Pick one or two things you know are important to her and make every effort to do them consistently. Birthdays and Mother’s Day are a big deal to my own mother-in-law. She wants to be remembered with a pretty card, signed by her son, and delivered precisely on the big day. The most important thing to her (getting the card on time) and the most important thing to me (including a long, newsy letter from home) are two different things. If I can’t do both, she’d much rather I send the signed and sealed card in a timely fashion and save the news for later, so that’s what I do.

Fifth, always be respectful.

Someday when you are older, you may be a little cantankerous yourself, so treat your mother-in-law with the patience you’d want your daughter-in-law to show you. It may be impossible to keep her happy, but at least you can keep your conscience clear by behaving toward her in a way that is above reproach. Let your actions be based in love, your words be seasoned with grace, and your opinions be held in humility. Make it your goal to do right by her, whether it pleases her or not.

NOTE: This post was adapted from the monthly “Family Matters” column I write for THE NORTHEAST TEXAN. I also want to offer my apologies to the lovely lady pictured above, whoever she is. I picked the photo (from Microsoft Office stock photos) only because I loved this woman’s persnickety expression.

Pray Your Way to a Smoother Day

I was reading the biography of George Muller aloud to my children this week and ran across a quote concerning the value of prayer. Muller claimed that “four hours of work after an hour of prayer would accomplish more than five hours without prayer.” It was a belief that he faithfully put into practice throughout his life.

Muller’s comment brought to mind a poem by Ralph Cushman that I memorized many years ago. It goes like this:


“The Secret”

Church and port of Ronne, Denmark on sunny dayI met God in the morning
When my day was at its best,
And His Presence came like sunrise
Like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O’er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them
Brought to us a peace and rest.

Then I thought of other mornings,
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I, too, had loosed the moorings
With the Presence left behind.

So I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way;
You must seek Him in the morning
If you want Him through the day.


Although I normally do begin and end each day in prayer, I must confess that the longer my “to do” list, the shorter time I spend on my knees. Lately it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done I want to do.

“Want” is the operative word, I think. God has promised in His word to supply all our needs, and that includes the hours and strength to do each day what truly needs to be done. Perhaps if I took a cue from George Muller, I’d have an easier time differentiating which is which.