Jedi Training Academy

Oh, Disneyland.

I know.  An overpriced tourist trap with two hour lines and twelve dollar soft drinks.

And I love it.  No apologies.

The rides, the lights at night, the beauty and the attention to detail absolutely everywhere.  The deliriously happy kids, and adults laughing like they haven’t laughed in years.

One of my favorite Disney attractions is the Jedi Training Academy.

I adore this show.

The set up is this:  a great number of powerful padawans are identified and brought to the Jedi Training Academy.  These padawans range in age from 3 years to 12 years old.  They are dressed in the brown robes of the Jedi, with sparkling princess costumes and Spiderman tennis shoes peeking out from underneath.  They are issued light sabers and given lessons on how to battle their enemies.

Not the least of which is the importance of fighting fear.

The teachers prepare the children with different light saber maneuvers.  They show them how to swing, duck, and attack.

And they remind them of the importance of believing that they can win.  Of knowing that they have the advantage over the dark side simply because they are on the side of light.

Have faith, young padawan.

After walking the kids through a few training routines for the crowd, the students are arranged in front of the stage in two lines.

In a cloud of smoke and a flash of light, the stage transforms into a spaceship.  And two villains from the dark side emerge, sometimes the Seventh Sister, sometimes Darth Maul, and always, Darth Vader.

The kids snap to attention when the villains appear.

They are Disneyfied villains–down to the last gleaming button–in black fabric, swirling capes, and tall wicked boots.  And they are miked to a sound system, and they are scary.  That Darth Vader breathing machine, that nebulizer of death, wheezes over the loudspeakers with a sharp and evil intent.  The Seventh Sister moves over the children like a panther.  They threaten and posture, and the kids back up a little, their dragging and playful light sabers held suddenly at attention.

But the Jedi instructors are still there, shouting direction and courage.  The kids glance at them and nod and look back at their opponents.  There is the occasional smile or older boy who has played this game before, but to most, it is serious business.  This battle is real to them.

And one by one, these toddlers and youngsters line up to give this fight their best shot.  Darth Vader towers over them.  The Seventh Sister is light on her feet and hard to catch.  Some of the smaller children stagger back at first, eyes big and round.

But what amazes me is that, of the one hundred children I have seen go through this process, I have never seen one cry or even look out into the crowd  for a friendly face.

They may hesitate, and their fear is real, but these little guys dig deep.

And they stumble forward, they swing tentatively, and then harder, and then harder, and they duck and they jump as the Master calls out direction and help.  “You can do it!  Fear not!  Swing to the left!  Cut to the right!  Cut to the head!”

And, miraculously, the kids win every time.

Darth Vader, Darth Maul, the Seventh Sister, they all stomp away, furious and defeated.

Then, the Jedi Master teaches the children one more thing.

“For your last lesson, know that even if you win the fight, you have not fully beaten your enemy if you fear him.  It is actually fear that you must defeat, not another living being.  When you beat fear, there is no opponent that has power over you.”

When you beat fear, there is no opponent that has power over you.

You’ve got this, young padawan.

Your Master will never leave you.  You will never face an opponent alone.  You are guaranteed every victory when you fight for light.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you.  Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  Is 41:10

A Good, Good Father.

These dads.  The difference they make for mothers and for children.

A great father brings identity.  The lack of a good father can steal it.

A study published in 2013 says that the absence of fathers in mice   causes brain damage in offspring, in the part of the brain that controls social and cognitive behavior. The implication is that the same could be true for humans.

But, we already know that.

Children do not need scientists to tell them how much pain is caused by an indifferent or angry parent, how they question everything about  who they are and why they were born when a parent is cruel or habitually careless.  Or how much fun a Dad’s love can bring, and confidence, and courage.

The wonderful inverse of this fact is that the presence of healthy fathers encourages healthy brain development in children.

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The good news is that, no matter the condition of our earthly fathers, each one of us has a devoted father in the form of Abba God.  He made us and loves us and likes us, even in our brokenness and mess and mistakes.

No exceptions.

And in that unconditional love, we get to see our worth. Our value.

When my husband came in to my life, he saw me for who I was.  He saw my wounded and damaged heart.  He saw my hopelessness in relationships.  He saw my cynicism and my anger.  And he promised to love and cherish me in spite of all of it.  And he has done so, every day since.

I knew he was the one when he came over to paint my house.

I was in the middle of trying to fix up a horrible dump that I was renting in a terrible neighborhood.  I was young enough to think that painting the brown walls a pale yellow would make up for the strange man that walked through my yard at night, whistling ballads from another time under my window.

That one act of kindness would have been enough to show me who he was, but then he showed up with a box of tools.  And he went through the whole house fixing everything.

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He worked two jobs during the week, and, on the weekends, he drove two hours to come to my city. When he wasn’t working on my house, he came to the mall and waited for me to finish my shift so he could take me to dinner.  He walked the mall while I worked and bought me presents to pass the time.

He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t a smooth talker.

He was good.

He was quiet.  He was tall and tan.  He was dark-haired, but there was such a golden glow about him that my mother always called him blond.

He was generous, and he was a caretaker.  “He would make such a great dad.” I remember being surprised at the thought.

A great dad. That was one of the most important things to me that he could be.

I wasn’t even dating him at the time, and he still wanted to be around me, no agenda.

I felt safe with him.  I didn’t feel that queasy twinge of regret, vaguely wondering why I was with him.  I didn’t feel a mania either, but something different, something deep and sure.

He was unexpected.  And yet, he felt like someone I had known all my life.  He always says he wished we met and played in the sand box as kids.  He wanted to share his whole life with me, even the moments that had already passed.

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I was dating someone else, and once, just once, he told me, “I hate to see you with him.  You deserve someone who treats you better.”

And then he waited.  And he worked on my house.

And I came to my senses, and I left the other guy.  And I went with him.  And he treated me better.  And we got married.  And we had a bunch of kids.  And he’s still treating me better, all the time.

And watching him be a great dad to our kids is one of the best gifts of this life.

So thankful for my good man and for all the good men.

You make a difference in this world just by doing your best, giving your all.

You can be so hard on yourself.  Please know that just being here means you are helping us live our best lives.  Even in situations where you can’t be there all the time, thanks for making yourself known with cards and calls and texts and gifts.  Everything you do to reach out, we notice, and it has an impact.  Nothing is wasted with a child, with relationships.

Early mornings and late nights at jobs that are sometimes boring and challenging and infuriating and uncertain.  Trading your time to pay for football helmets and baby food and stuffed animals and college tuition.  For the things a family needs, for houses and medicine and braces and cars.  Thanks for fixing everything around here, for opening jar lids and for cleaning all the yucky messes.

Thanks for being generous with yourself.  For giving your all and not giving up when women are moody and the kids are testing.

There is a song about the way the love of a good father influences his children.  I love this line,

You’re a good, good father.  

It’s who You are,

It’s who I am.

It’s who I am.

The love of a good father defines his children as good.

Thanks for your love and for all that it carries.  Thanks for showing us that we are good.

Thank you for everything.

Happy Dog and Pony Show. For Father’s Day.

My father was so tall.  The way he threw back his head to laugh, he could make anything look like fun. I was about four, still in ruffly pants and shiny curls.

There are pictures in an old album of that day.  I think my uncle even had a mustache back then, so dark and swarthy, he looked like a Spanish pirate. In flannel.  With glasses.

I remember their hilarity, they laughed out loud all morning.

I was curious, peeking around corners, watching the construction.  With my little red wagon, horse bridles and buckles, and maybe some duct tape, they built a small buggy and hitched it in on to my uncle’s Doberman. They planned to take me for a wild ride.  It sounded fun.  It looked fun.  And I loved their handsome giggles, dimples showing.

The laughter, I loved, the joy and the silliness of these grown men.

On the other hand, I had always been a little bit afraid of that dog.  She never hurt me, but still. She had a “liver” coat, a color which, to me, was about as appealing as its name.

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And looking down her long sloping snout, all I could see was a swirling vortex of drool and steam and pointy teeth.

The wagon was good, I was used to that.  It was a little bumpy, but sometimes they put a blanket in for a cushion.  I liked it.  The horse bridles were fine.  I hadn’t had the great fall yet at that time, and I loved everything about horses.

But the dog, she and I kept our distance.  She was so hard and sharp all over, and jumpy.

By the time they finished the cart and harness, they were laughing so hard they could hardly stand up, and someone had out a giant camera, a silver box that blinked and caught time.

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They came into the house.  I took one look at that liver-colored dog, the straps and the wagon.  No blanket.  And, just like that, I changed my mind.

I did not want to get in that wagon.  I did not want to put my life in the control of a dog that was, at best, a toothy acquaintance.  I did not trust her.  Too many angles, too little fur.  Suspicious.

I did not want to put myself in the hands of these near hysterical men.  I had seen their exploits and bucking stallions.  My heart pounded.   Mayday, mayday!

As a mother, I now call that feeling “Daddies do it different!”  And I smile brightly and make sure I know the location of the nearest ER, and I send them on their way.  A bandaid here and there is worth an adventure with Dad.  Dads have a way of planning these beautiful disasters that usually turn out alright.  And the kids get tougher.  And the memories are priceless.

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But I didn’t know that then, and I shook my head.  They laughed and said,  “Come on, come on, it’ll be fun!”

“No.” I whispered, a mixture of wanting to, but not, a sick feeling at disappointing them, and fear of the dog, and of bravery at saying what I felt, a tiny voice in a room full of deep and boisterous sound.

My grandmother was there.  She must have agreed with me, because when I whispered “no,” she grabbed me up and hugged me against her plump chest, and said, “This little baby does not have to get in that wagon.  You boys take it right back outside!”

She tucked me next to her and got out a lapful of books.  I felt some relief, but I peeked out from under her soft arms at my uncle and my dad, giving up, disappointed, no more laughing, sighing out loud the way that big boys do.  The last thing I saw was the tail of that liver colored dog walking out the back door.

I was a tiny adventurer who got afraid.  I wanted to do it, but I didn’t.

I wish someone had put a stuffed animal in the wagon to show me it was safe and familiar.  I wish my grandma had said she’d hold my hand and walk next to me if i wanted to try it.  I wish I would have known that a chance to ride in a Doberman-dog-and-pony-cart would not come again.  I wish those men had tried harder with me.  Not just that day, but every day since.

But it’s hard when a child is pushing you away, and the women around them circle to protect.

I think I would have said ok, and I think it would have been crazy fun.  Bumpy, yes.  But, then, Daddies do it different.  Gloves off.  Rub some dirt on it.  Get back on.

It can be hard for moms too, when something looks like a danger to a child, a child they looked death in the face to bring into this world.  Like I always say, if men gave birth, you would never see a baby on a motorcycle.

There is a balance in this child rearing thing.  And it’s a challenge to find that balance when we don’t know how to be a team and the moment takes us by surprise.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and try it, that dog and pony show.  The wild ride the men had planned, holding on to my grandmother’s hand.

We need the men and women both, in our lives.  It’s important that moms and dads look at each other and know it, that we all look at each other and know it.  And love and respect . And help.  And share.

Fathers are so important.  

Mothers are so important.  

Blessings on all your efforts.  

Thanks for all you do.  

Sometimes I Consider Throwing in the Towel, but That Would Only Make More Laundry for Me.

Laundry.

Sometimes I keep up with it, homemade dryer sheets and all.  And I even enjoy it, the daily rhythm of sort, wash, dry, and  fold.

Other times, I wash and dry as many loads as I can before I stop and fold.  When I’m in a laundry-folding-procrastinating-phase, sometimes I pile load upon load upon load on top of the dryer.  It becomes a game, how many loads can I pile before the whole thing starts to molt, scattering socks and dish towels as the dryer does its thing, rumble and toss.

And then, when the pile threatens to come crashing down, I start stuffing it.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.  Cram it down.  Not a game anymore, this is war.  Me against gravity, my silent protest against years of housekeeping.  Screw it.  I was made for more than this.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.  One more day, I bet I can make it one more day.

My sister says that I manage my laundry like I manage my feelings.

Sometimes, I keep up with them.

Other times.  Well.  You know.

Stuff, stuff, stuff.

And I am not aware of them until life does its thing, and I feel it, and I am rumbled and tossed, and I am scattered.  The pieces fall where they may and land, jaggedly, on whoever stands the closest.  I used to land on my kids, hard and loud, but the pieces of me fall more evenly, now, and more in a heavenly place.

This is the post that didn’t want to be written.  It still doesn’t.  It is still stuffed down inside of me.

Some things are crammed in the middle of the pile, like laundry Jenga.  Pull too hard on those jeans, and everything explodes.

You just have to start at the top and work down.  I’m working my way down.  Some layers get stuffed in there for so long, they are molded in that stiff dried clothes formation.  How does that even happen?  It’s so weird.  A soft washcloth, let it dry all wonky in that hard little wad, and it’s never the same again.

Thankful for the great laundry service in the sky.  Fold me, Lord.  Deliver me from the endless loads and hard little wads that try to take over my days.

Jesus.  Your load is light.

Speaking of a light load, I have a few left to do today.

See you on the other side of the teetering tower.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . .  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  Mt 11:28, 30