Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Of Mice and... Teachers

Riddle: What’s furry, 30 years old, and sits on a shelf above my writing desk observing every word I type?
I’ll give you a really big hint.

If you happened to be part of Portage Alliance Church between 1983 and 1988, you may remember a rather large but harmless rodent named Charlie Churchmouse. He spoke with a Texas drawl and started every conversation with “Howdy there, Buckaroos.” 

Charlie is a hand puppet fashioned under my sewing machine and brought to life on my right hand. He used to interact with kids and adults alike, mostly on Sunday evenings when it was safest for church mice to be out and about. In his retirement, he perches on a weighted jar and remains silent except for rare occasions when he decides to chat with my grandsons. He’s still pretty cute, for a 30-year old mouse.

With 130 children on any given Sunday, there are now more volunteers serving in my church’s children’s ministry than there were people in the entire congregation 30 years ago. I am thankful for and proud of these folks who give their time and energy to build into the next generation.

I wonder how challenging it would be to entertain a roomful of today’s children with one homemade hand puppet. Kids are constantly exposed to a barrage of digital moving images, sound effects, and interactive everything. The books I read to my grandsons at their house are never merely books. Each page includes something to hear or to pull or push or feel or smell. I don’t envy today’s teachers—whether at school, church, or elsewhere—who need to compete with all the distracting gadgetry. I suppose much of it serves as useful resources as well. I hope so.

Recently, I heard the leader of PAC Kids’ ministry coaching his volunteers on a Sunday morning before the children arrived. He reminded them their curriculum is only a tool, not something to get through at any cost. If a child returns home able to name one thing he or she learned and saying “I had fun,” the hour together was a success. The most important thing is the relationships built, so kids receive loving and wise guidance from a trusted friend. 

And it occurred to me that relationships are best built with no gadgets at all. 

Carl Jung said, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

As we end another school and church ministry year, I want to say thank you to teachers everywhere. After parenting, yours is the most important job in the universe. If you are one who truly loves and cares about the children in your charge, you not only deserve the summer off, you need it. May the next two months refresh and reenergize you. And if, like Charlie Churchmouse, your tenure is over—congratulations! 

I love something Andy Rooney once said: “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

But don’t put away your hand puppets just yet.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Real Doll

I might be in big trouble with Mattel Toys. Using their raw materials, I invented the “Dr. Lisa Doll” and soon everyone is going to want one. 

Our infamous Dr. Lisa Graham celebrated a birthday recently and I thought she might find it fun to own a doll fashioned after herself. With no ability to start from scratch, however, I went on the hunt for existing Barbies. Unfortunately, the only “doctor” Barbie doll I could find had blond hair. That wouldn’t do, not when the real live version wears a gorgeous head of brown tresses only God could create. So I bought two Barbies—the blond pediatrician in a white lab coat, stethoscope, and pink mini-skirt (what else?), and the brunette princess in a fancy ball gown and tiara. I figured I could simply remove the tiara and swap the heads. Easy-peazy, right?

Who knew Barbie doll heads didn’t simply pop on and off like they did when I was a kid? Though Heaven knows, I tried. They just don’t make things like they used to. Bummer. (Although on a side note, I do appreciate Mattel adjusting the impossible figure of yesterday’s Barbie doll to something slightly more realistic in terms of human measurements.)

With the heads refusing to budge, the only thing to do was swap the dolls’ outfits, which took a lot longer than one might think. At least two things haven’t changed: her shoes still don’t stay on her feet, and those blasted little high heels still hurt when you step on them.

And let’s not forget the accessories. The pediatrician Barbie came with a little baby in her arms. Although Dr. Lisa certainly treats several young patients, the majority are adults. So I removed the baby and replaced it with a stack of miniature white towels made by cutting up a washcloth. Those of you who frequent the clinic will know all about the white towels. Some like ‘em hot.
For her second prop, the Dr. Lisa doll holds a teeny version of the Forks Over Knives cookbook. This was easily accomplished by snagging a picture of the book from, printing it, and cutting it out. 

I then attached a tiny pink “Dr. Lisa” name tag to her white lab coat, and back into the box she went, the word “Barbie” now covered by the words “Dr. Lisa” on the front of the box. I gift-wrapped it before Mattel Toys Inc. could catch up with me.

Of course, that left me with a blond princess wearing a tiara and holding a tiny baby doll for the remaining box. I’ll save her for the day somebody needs a Prom Queen Mommy doll.

My intent was to sneak the gift into Dr. Lisa’s office anonymously, but she’s too clever a sleuth. Or I’m too dumb a sneak. Anyway, she knew it came from me. But that’s okay, because she loved it and this way, I get to blog about it.

Mark my words, this doll is going to take off. I’m sure all Dr. Lisa’s patients will want one of their own. (Admittedly, a few might want one merely so they can stick pins into it when she prescribes an end to their cupcakes, but I can’t help that.) 

Do you suppose Mattel Toys will give me my fair share of the profits? Yeah, me neither.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dads I have Known

This Father’s Day marks a milestone of a different sort for me. I was 27 years old when my father died, 27 years ago. Which means, as of this year, I had a father for half my life. Though I wish it could have been more, I am one of the lucky ones when it came to dads. Mine was tender-hearted, fun, and faithful to my mother and to God. In a world where many are not as fortunate, I do not take this privilege lightly. I still miss him.

In the years since pancreatic cancer claimed dad’s life, I’ve come to appreciate some great dads and this column is my tribute to them.

Peter came into our family when he married my mother. At 30, perhaps I should have been more mature, but I remember crying over the idea that my siblings and I would be sharing our mother with a stranger. But that stranger turned out to be a sweet guy whom we quickly learned to love. It came as a blow to all of us when a year and a half after the wedding, we lost him to heart failure. 

I began to suspect that hanging on to fathers was not my number one talent.
A few years later, a terrific fellow named John joined the family and I’m pleased to report he and mom have celebrated 14 anniversaries so far. May they enjoy many more. 

And I did manage to hang onto my father-in-law for 35 years.

Early in our marriage, I witnessed my hubby become a dad. Like most new parents, we had no idea what we were doing or what we were in for. But when I observe other women forced into the role of both mother and father, my admiration soars both for those single moms and for my husband. I couldn’t have done it without his presence, and I find a special joy in seeing him interact with our kids now, as adults. Sometimes they ask his advice, sometimes they need to borrow his tools, and sometimes he requires their youthful brawn. 

And now, I enjoy the blessing of watching one of our sons fathering and I am impressed. He’s a patient teacher, a gentle disciplinarian, and a happy memory-maker. He makes me proud.

My friend Jake Enns  played the role of dad/big brother/mentor in my life for several years and I’m not sure who I’d be if it weren’t for Jake’s building into me and believing in me. Through his guidance, I learned to lead people and soar with the gifts God gave me. Jake turns 70 this weekend, and so this is a public Happy Birthday, too. God bless you, Jake!

I’ve also been privileged to observe friends take on their father role with courage. Several men come to mind, all guys I consider my brothers – Ken, Chris, Greg, Jerry, Ray, Derek, Tim, Doug, Larry, Noel, Nathan, Corey, Peter, Stan, Pat, Shaun, Dave, Shane, Paul…. I could name many more. I hope you guys know who you are and how much you are appreciated.

We live in a society that routinely undervalues dads. Too often there’s a valid reason for that. But I’m here to say a lot of great dads live among us, too. To them, I say thank-you, hang in there, and don’t let anybody tell you your role isn’t important. May the best Father of all fill you with joy in your journey and courage for the calling. You’re not perfect, but He is. He’ll help you when you ask.