Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hallelujah Toffee

We were hiking in "The Ditch" - the Little man and I. And although it felt like we were going in circles, that aimless feeling of mine was only one-sided. He informed me that he knew exactly where he was going, the empty oatmeal bucket tucked under his chubby arm. Inside the vast depths of that cardboard cylinder lay treasures, soon to be deposited in a well-speculated location. Priceless things like bottle caps, two golf balls, one broken water gun, a piece of Trident gum (unchewed), some paper clips, and one of Mom's Gladware lids. It was an amateur "geocache" in his mind and with confident strides, we meandered around the bushes until the Little Man found the exact place to deposit it.

Job done, we walked back towards our home because I had been informed that it was time to draw the map.

An old man soon overtook us on the walking path, our small steps quickly passed by his long and surprisingly brisk stride. He pointed to my son and smiled at me over his shoulder, only slowing a bit.

"Do you know how many of those I delivered?"

"How many?" Was he speaking about kids, oatmeal boxes, or treasures untold?

"I stopped counting at 5,000 babies," he announced, his sneakers firmly planted and no longer moving forward as he spoke.

"I stopped counting at 2. I think I have three or so," I quipped. He didn't laugh, but he did move back towards us.

"I was the only baby doctor between Boise and Salt Lake City..." Somehow, this old man in sweat pants and a golf invitational t-shirt couldn't come back from the past. After regaling me with stories of women delivering twins and breach babies, he meandered like the Little Man on a hike, wandering to topics like malpractice insurance and educational standards and Halloween candy.

When my son's whine to go home and get a drink shook the doctor from his nostalgia, he waved good bye and sped away, his white sneakers squeaking on the black asphalt as he picked up the pace.

I wondered about that number later on. 5,000. That's all I seemed to remember out of our conversation. A number. And I felt bad that the old man wasn't memorable for just being himself, that it was his work that stuck with me.

Then, I wondered about that whole Dr. 5,000 thing. How do you deliver that many babies and still feel the marvel of each baby? Each forming life? Surely there were days when the work was drudgery, not awe. When mothers came for checkups and nausea complaints and it all just blurred together, and Dr. 5,000 just wanted to get home to barbecue or watch Sportscenter. Did the reverence of new life give way to monotony somewhere around 3,200? It's the thought I have had with every prenatal exam. It's not because they make me feel irrelevant. If anything, they always try to assure me how relevant I am. But sheesh, really? After delivering that first 1,000 babies, doesn't it all blur together? (It's obvious to you all why I am too jaded to be a medical professional.)

Before I could get too judgmental towards Dr. 5,000, I looked at my own little life. As I lug the baby and diaper bag and purse and siblings with lollipops out of the office, might those medical professionals wonder how I survive another day of monotony, so glad he or she doesn't have to understand my drudgery as he or she goes about another exciting day in the office?

And I wonder if the only thing that keeps it all from becoming a blur is the unique moments, in and of themselves. The treasure walk, the stranger on the path, the child right here in front of me. When there is a face to it all, suddenly it is so much more than a number. I'm not sure which number our children were in the long line of baby deliveries our ob/gyn had racked up, but we sent them a baby announcement for each of our children. Because they were ours, and that was something to shout about!

Perhaps because it's the individuals that make the day-in-day-out life suddenly pop with...well...with life.

Other numbers are resonating in my head today - it's the curse of loving numbers mixed with a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Thirteen stairs to the bonus room. Four fingers tapping seems so much better than when you try to throw the thumb in there to make five.

In the overwhelming fight against poverty, numbers like 27 million (the number of people living as modern-day slaves) or 26% (the percentage of people worldwide that live in extreme poverty - this is an improvement from 52% only 30 years ago). These numbers don't really make sense to me. If I'm supposed to be encouraged that only 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes instead of 40,000 (the rate in the 1980s), it's still such an unfathomable number.

Until you put a face to it.

Suddenly, you can never lose count, even after 5,000...because they have faces and stories. Life beckons with something more than a number.

Number 15 is Benard, and he is our family's newest member.

So, he's no longer just Number 15. He's ours. My kids talk about him like he's a brother living in another state, they pray for him at night, we write to him when we know he can receive an email.
He tells us to be careful of the bears in Nevada!

An orphan living in the Mitumba slums of Nairobi, there was no hope for this sixteen-year old. With good school records but no funds or family, Benard was certainly facing insurmountable odds.

Picture taken by Greg Burns, Nairobi, Kenya.

Odds - those funny things. Another math term I love, or hate, depending on the context.

In this case, though, odds could not predict what would happen to Benard. God Himself intervened and Benard is now in a boarding school, all food, books, and other necessities supplied. There is a tidy amount of money available if he should have a medical emergency. There is a bi-annual summer camp held where Benard sees friends in the program, and sees life outside of the congested city. Perhaps best of all, Benard will soon have legal guardians, the closest thing to parents he has had in a long time. And not just any legal guardians. These two.

Andrew and Stephanie.

While Compassion International must draw the line somewhere and stops sponsorship of children after the eighth grade in Kenya, Bridge Ministries now comes alongside and sponsors these older at-risk and orphan kids who would otherwise be left behind.

For many years, we have watched Andrew and Stephanie prepare for their God-given mission to these young people. And we have prayed as Bridge Ministries came alongside to support them.

But I have felt a bit powerless. I'm a stay-at-home mom. My income for the year - $0. When your heart is so moved by something, and you have very little power to help, sometimes you almost wish you didn't even know about it.

However, this year might be a little different. Finally, I think there might be something I can do. And maybe you can too!

My family has a secret toffee recipe that we love to stir up at Christmastime. This year, we are selling it, and all of our profits will be going to OneLifeAfrica. Hooray! For every 70 pounds of toffee that we sell, one more student will get food, education, school supplies, mentoring, even summer camp.

If you are local and would like to help, you don't have to have a large bank account to be a part of this. The goal is not to just make money for these kids, but to spread the message.
  • Come pack toffee on October 29th or November 5th (email me for location and confirmation).
  • Come out and buy some toffee at the Minden Gazebo Lighting and Santa Parade (Dec. 2-3). Or the Douglas High School Craft Fair (Dec. 3, 9-3). We are selling Hallelujah Toffee in 1-pound and 1/2-pound sizes. Check out for more information.
  • Throw a Christmas party and offer toffee samples. Tell the story of what we are doing. And if anyone wants to be a part of it, they can throw their own Christmas party or purchase some online.
  • Pray for these students. Their names and stories are listed at OneLifeAfrica.
Last week, Andrew and Stephanie came and ate hamburgers at our house. Funny, huh? Next month, they will be in Nairobi and we sat around eating burgers and watching the kids show off for the guests. We talked about Hallelujah Toffee and they smiled big smiles, dreaming of what it might mean for their students.

Join us if you would like.

We love because He first loved us. Such freedom here.

Resting in Him,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When You Become Twitter Fodder

I know, I know.

I'm a slacker. If you want an excuse, the truth is that I watched movies on the couch this summer instead of writing. It was t.o.u.g.h. All that browsing channels and turning the volume up and down. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Not only were my fingers busy with the TiVO remote control, but I was often knee-deep in summertime spontaneity. You should see the mileage I got out of our swagger wagon, and that one endless bottle of sunscreen. [Have you ever had one of those - where you think to yourself, "This bottle can't possibly have any more liquid product in it?" and then, you proceed to lather skin for entire months? I even offered it to a complete stranger at Dollywood when I saw how burnt she was becoming. (Spontaneity gone wrong.)]

The entire summer is a big blur of campfires, cameras, soccer cleats, ice cream, packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking...

And now, just this morning, I gave myself the "Let's get back to normal" pep talk. Then, I went to Wal-Mart.

I should've known that wasn't going to help my odds of normalcy.

Like the Titanic heading out for her maiden voyage, I set out with utmost confidence - predicting that I'd be home no later than 12:30. "Maybe even earlier," I told my husband. A smile and a wave at Daddy and we were off, me and my little three-year old son. Looking back, I wonder if Real Gil knew the disaster coming. How do you stop somebody you love? he must have asked himself...

Settling the Little Man into the blue WalMart seat with ease, deftly steering with one hand while the other held my well-organized 3x5 grocery list, I even rebelled a bit by entering through the EXIT doors, just to be carefree. Then, of course, my not-so-carefree personality took over as I spent a full sixty seconds to swipe germs with that little antibacterial wipe. Or two. Okay, I stole from WalMart. It will not be my last offense. Read on, my friends.

First to the prescription counter, where Little Man smiled expectantly until Maria gave him a lollipop. Then, it was chew toys for the dog...Captain America paper products for someone's birthday party on Saturday...milk, buttermilk, sour cream...candy treats for camping... One by one, I carefully checked items off of my list. I even compared the prices, calories, ingredients. Then, after bagging two perfect little limes in the crowded produce section, I maneuvered my overloaded cart towards the front of the store.

That's when the Titanic metaphor really sunk in. (Har, har!)

The checkout.

I'd like to call it indescribable, but that just won't do in a blog post. So, I'll try my darndest.

Remember that game, Catch Phrase? Let's pretend we're playing a round, okay?

I tip my head to the side, lick my lips, look up, then I look you straight in the eye. "Prolonged... Colossal...Um...Opposite of fast." [Dramatic pause. I lean forward.] "Like doing an internet search on the World Wide Web when my computer screen was blue and the cursor blinked...Like watching Teletubbies indefinitely..."

Oh, I know it! LONG!!? No. Torture?!

The iceberg looms.

I chose a line, diving for one like it was a lifeboat. And the clock ticked. Five minutes later, I was officially late and still four deep in the line.

Oh yeah, this is funny too. I was supposed to be home because - crazy as it seems - 1) my dear husband works in the afternoon
. "Puh-lease," I say with a roll of my eyes. "What's that all about? Calm down, boss man." 2) I had a high school girl coming to our house for algebra tutoring. (I included that second one so that I sounded smart.)

Two silly-I-know deadline thingamajigs.

Anyways, for one reason or another, all exterior signs of a relaxed supermom out on the town with her son were gone. In its place was a territorial bargain shopper with a looming deadline and a low tolerance for standing still. A friend of mine happened to be right in front of me in line. I'm pretty sure God put her there so that I wouldn't start yelling inappropriate things. It didn't stop me from glaring at the smart lady in the front of the line with her wad of coupons, all tightly wound together in a knot of rubberbands. I'm pretty sure she knotted those on purpose, so she could unwind them slowly, every twist of her wrist smacking us non-couponers with her sensible thriftiness. "Silly people [smack!] throwing away money with your full-priced Cheerios [smack, smack!]. I haven't paid full price for cereal in 22 years.[smack]"

As the knot came loose and her wad unfurled, large gusts of coupon-fluttering-wind hit my grimaced face. Coupons? Come on, people. Throw money out the window, shower it from the rooftops. Waste it readily. Really, what's more important - you saving money or me getting through this line? I hate to imply that you are being self-ishhhhhh, with your little two-for-one, then double-off with the cloth bags so you get 5% more discount.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a glorious sight. So unassuming, they were, and yet, so enticing. Four blue lights with little numbers on them - 1, 2, 3, 4. All glowing, welcoming me closer like a mosquito near a bug zapper.

Vacant. All of the self-checkout counters. And I'm an optimist. Surely I could slap bar codes across a glowing, red laser beam with surer speed than this line. Waving goodbye to my friend, I stepped out of line and right into the wreckage of my day.

There's that saying: experience is something you don't get until right after you need it. It was sometime around the $120 mark when I realized I might have needed it. Self-checkout means self-sabotage.
Obviously, I had not received this diagram in the mail.

Someone sighed rather loudly. That's when I looked up and saw about ten people standing behind me in line for the self-checkout. One of those four "most-inviting blue lights" was out, and my zucchini was not under the Z's in the touchscreen menu.

"Can't you open something else up?" complained one loud voice.

The dear little attendant marched right to me, thank you very much. If anyone was in doubt as to who was holding things up, I'm pretty sure she enlightened them all. She might have even pointed to me and rolled her eyes, but I wouldn't know because I was wrestling with the plastic bag holder.

She promptly licked her thumb and forefinger, and opened one of the bags for me. "Try this trick," she said with a smack of her gum and a smug look on her face. EW. Like I was going to lick my fingers after touching that oh-so-convenient touchscreen dozens of times. Type A, people.

She stepped back and even hollered at the line. "If you have one item only, come directly to the podium."

Left unsaid was, "The rest of you, stay. Balk. Laugh at the silly flibbertigibbet with her 66-cent yogurts. Take pictures if you would like. Twitter away."

I can see her back in the staff lounge still laughing at me, her beehive hair moving in time with her guffaws. "You shoulda seen this freaky lady in my line today. She had the audacity to haul all her junk through my empty line. But I got her good - I brought in that group of fake shoppers we have hidden over in the Vision Center, gave 'em all some foul breath and told 'em to breathe down her neck. If that weren't enough," she chortles, taking time to wipe her blue-lined eyes. "I moved zucchini off the z's and put it under the 's' for squash! That's funny stuff..."

My total climbed steadily, and I've never been more excited about it than today. But the items in my cart seemed to be regenerating, doubling before my eyes. When Beehive Lady came to help me again, I actually suggested, "I'm thinkin' about just paying for what I've already rang up and just ditching the rest." She looked at me like I had suggested a new hairdo, or a bottle of Purell near the self-checkout line. So, I put my head down, like a donkey to the plow.

Evaporated milk $1.04

Lunch napkin $1.62

Kids paste $2.28

When the bottle of toothpaste exploded on the scanner AFTER I had rang it up, I actually looked up for the Candid Camera folks to pop out. Silly me. The only cameras were the ones on folks' cell phones - the ones pointed at me. I swear, I heard a click. If you see me on some bash-WalMart-idiots site, I can explain.

Worse than the idea of a cell phone camera was the unmistakable sound of smartphone typing. I could see the twitters flowing fast, faster than water into a capsizing ship. "I'm gonna drag this lady and her snotty kid to the arcade and make her lick germs." "I'm gonna key this lady's car. Or pop her kid's birthday balloon." Can you twitter the California Howdy at people? If so, they did.

Right about then, my friend from the "traditional" checkout line stopped with her cart to see if she could help me. I smiled at her and waved her concern away. "Oh, nah. I've got it. Thanks anyway..." While the computer slowly garnered its last bout of energy to calculate my ever-growing total, I glanced longingly at her groceries so carefully organized. Cold items in one bag, dry goods in one, produce in another. My groceries were spilling onto the floor, and purple toothpaste oozed down the sides of two plastic bags. I looked over at the original checkout lady and whispered my apologies, like the prodigal son. I may have reached out an empty hand but then grabbed it tight against my heart.

At $257 dollars and 46 cents, I paid. There may have been cheering behind me. I pretended I didn't hear it. My receipt eventually printed and Beehive lady only said, "Stop pulling on the receipt. It's printing as it spits out. Wow! That's a long one!"

Bless her heart.

I'm home now, and in retrospect, everything looks a little clearer. When it comes right down to it, do you think the folks in line are actually thankful for me? I made them all look smart, savvy, shrewd, normal when held so closely against my abnormality. And anyways, everyone likes to complain about WalMart, especially on facebook or twitter. I just gave them more fodder. To that, I say, "You're welcome."

I'm going to bed now, and I'm hoping sleep can get that persistent and boorish phrase out of my mind.

"Unexpected item in the bagging area."

Oh yeah, that's just my self-respect, dripping off the checkout counter. Pshaw. Just leave it there with that coagulated wad of purple 'bubble-mint flavored' toothpaste. Drip, drip, drip.

I gotta find me some coupons.