Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Far, Far Better Thing

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”  Thus speaks Sydney Carton, unexpected hero of Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities. The themes of redemption and self-sacrifice are what make this novel so beautiful, so real, so true. Though Carton has wasted most of his life in the grip of alcoholism, at the last he sees an opportunity to do one great, selfless deed. The irony of it all is that had he chosen sooner to bend the knee, to acknowledge before God his own powerlessness and need for salvation, he would have, no doubt, been able to achieve many great things. Sydney is not an evil person; far from it. What he is, like all of us, is broken. Until one day, wandering the streets of Paris in despair as the horrors of the French Revolution rage all about him, he recalls the words spoken at his father’s funeral: I am the Resurrection and the Life. In that moment, he sees the truth. Thereby strengthened, knowing that Heaven awaits, he is able to perform the act that will ensure the future happiness of Lucie, the only person he has ever truly loved.

Self-sacrifice is a difficult concept to teach to children. In our society today, kids are taught that “It’s all about ME!”  Indeed, it is our nature to be selfish and self-absorbed.  Years ago, my daughter received as a birthday gift from a well-meaning friend a cute little pink purse. Inscribed on the front of the purse were the very words, “IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!”  Later, while we were going through the thirty-odd birthday gifts Ally had gotten, she commented, “I don’t think I’ll take this anywhere; I’ll just use it at home. I don’t want anyone to think that I REALLY believe that.”  She was six at the time.  I was so glad that she understood that it isn’t “all about me”, and we talked for awhile about what “it” really is about-God, Jesus, and other people.  Not that my children can’t be mean and self-centered at times, but they do know that it isn’t right.  They, by and large, don’t have that sense of entitlement that many young people seem to have these days, but I can’t take credit for that. It was a God thing all the way.  They took their difficult life experiences and allowed them to transform into something beautiful.  All my husband and I did was to try to encourage and foster that sense of compassion and servanthood.

I know from personal experience that as soon as we let ourselves start sinking into that pit of despair brought on by focusing too much on our own problems, we lose that sense of being a part of something so much bigger than ourselves.  It’s not that we won’t have times of doubt and sorrow, grief and uncertainty. We are human. Sometimes we go there, and it’s okay-for awhile.  Then the time comes to get up and lay it at the feet of the Master and get moving. It happened to some of the greatest people in the Bible. We should not think that we are immune to it. There are no perfect people with perfect lives.  I believe that true maturity begins to emerge when we realize that we are NOT the center of the universe, and are able to get out of ourselves in our darkest times and go be a blessing to someone else. It’s not about what we feel like doing. If that were the case, we would all be like those unfortunate folks in the movie Wall-E, floating around in our chairs and never doing anything worthwhile. What if Jesus had decided he didn’t happen to feel like going to the Cross on that beautiful, scandalous night? Where would we be?

This past weekend, the youth at our church participated in the 30-Hour Famine to raise money for world hunger.  I was impressed that these teens, ten of them, were willing to give up food for thirty hours in order to help others whom they will never even meet or see. According to their youth pastors, who weathered it with them at a two-day lock-in, there was not one complaint about being hungry our tired. Not one.  Along with the pledges they collected, they did two fundraisers in two days- a yard sale and a church lunch. They had to cook food while they themselves were fasting. No complaints. That’s amazing.  But they did it out of an understanding of agape love-love in action. In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, when a teenage girl makes the statement that she cannot possibly love a particular person, she is informed by a cherubim: “My dear, love isn’t something you feel. It’s something that you do.”   This is the crux of the whole matter, the heart and soul of Christianity, and a rather radical idea in our world today.  We need to remember that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He told them very pointedly that they were to follow his example.  When did we lose that?

I have not become so cynical that I think most people are terrible, or purposely set out to do the wrong thing. In this imperfect world there are sociopaths and psychopaths and people who are mentally unbalanced. There are some who are a little bit mean and nasty.  There are those so broken that they have allowed bitterness to become their destruction.  But by and large, I think that most people want to do good. The problem comes in trying to do good without God. I myself know that I can’t love the unlovable in my own strength. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit working through me. In the movie The Grace Card, which I just watched last night, a minister learns firsthand that to love one’s enemies takes complete and total surrender to God.  It’s not just about tolerating our enemies, or ignoring them. It’s about actually loving them enough to pray for them and help them.  It is the greatest commandment, and it’s much harder to live by than a nice little set of rules.

By the time Sydney Carton went to the guillotine in the place of Charles Darnay, he had broken every one of the Ten Commandments.  That didn’t matter.  His place in God’s kingdom was secure the moment he accepted the unconditional love of Christ. It’s a love we cannot wrap our brains around. It’s a love that we sometimes reject, because we just can’t quite believe that it is real. We beat our heads against the wall in frustration because we want to do the right thing on our own. If we would simply say, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord,” we would be so much better off.  We would then begin to truly see the way we need to, and realize that to love the rejected, the ugly, the outcast, is to love Christ Himself.  To walk with Him every day is the greatest joy we can have, but it does involve some things that may be hard. It involves self-sacrifice, and sometimes keeping our mouths shut and not saying the words that leap into our heads (not that that has ever happened to ME-yeah, right), and being kind and compassionate when we really want to slap somebody. It’s a great and incredible adventure. A friend of mine describes it as “a dance, choreographed by God.” (Thanks, Yvonne). Storytellers and artists and musicians might describe it as a story by the master Storyteller, a painting by the master Designer, or an opus by the mightiest of musicians. However we look at it, it is the life we all secretly long for- a life that, while filled with toil and tears, is also staggeringly, wondrously beautiful. The scars that mark us only make us more lovely in His eyes.  I pray that all people, everywhere, will join the dance, the journey, the story in which all Creation has a part. I want everyone to know my friend Jesus, and have a more abundant life than they ever dreamed. This is my prayer.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” –Philippians 1:21

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kind Hearts, Country Vets, and God

“I've wanted life to be easy for you. Easier'n 'twas for me. A man's heart aches, seein' his young uns face the world. Knowin' they got to get their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin'.”

                In Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, Penny Baxter echoes what I think every parent feels. We dread the day when our children must face the world, yet we know we cannot shield them. Yesterday we got the phone call horse owners dread: “He’s down.”  Now, horses do lie down occasionally, to roll around in the mud, which our horse loves to do, or to soak up the sun. But yesterday, Legend was in obvious distress. Out to the pasture we flew, although we had several pounds of shrimp thawing for a birthday dinner for my mom and sister and had planned on a quiet family evening. Sometimes, there just aren’t options or decisions. You do what must be done.

                Knowing the symptoms of colic ,Kara, the young lady who cares for our horse as well as four of own,contacted the vet at the equine hospital. Still in her church clothes, she went to her job at the small animal clinic and cared for the dogs as quickly as she could. Meanwhile, my daughters got Legend on his feet and began walking him. He was reluctant, in pain, confused. It was difficult to see him that way. As the afternoon wore on, even though Legend did manage to expel some fecal matter (being as delicate as possible here) , he nevertheless would try to lie down and roll as soon as the girls stopped walking him. Rolling is the worst possible thing a horse with colic can do, so we had to keep him on his feet. Five times he went down. The last time, it took four people to get him up. No more waiting now. A horse trailer was procured. The owner of the trailer, Susan Somebody, did not even KNOW us, yet she came from Mobile as fast as she could. Kara called Dr.Stewart, who also did not know us, and told him we were on our way. He said he would meet us at the equine hospital. No questions asked.

                Through it all, my daughter Raina maintained her composure and her humor. She said she wasn’t scared, but I know she was. She is fifteen and this colt means the world to her. For my part, I had in the pit of my stomach a dread that was doubled. I love Legend, too, but I love Raina even more. I did not want her to lose her horse. Back at home, my mother and my son, who was sick, sat a vigil, waiting for updates. Finally, my husband took Ally and my sister home while Raina, Kara, Susan, and all the people who happened to be with Susan and Kara headed for the hospital. I sat with Raina and I prayed with all my might. Earlier, my husband had anointed Legend and prayed for him, too .God’s eye is on the sparrow, is it not? Then His eye must be on a sorrel colt with an r-shaped crescent on his forehead.

                Arriving at the hospital, all I could think about was How will we ever pay for this? What if he has to have surgery? But to do nothing was not even a consideration. We got Legend into the examination room and Dr.Stewart, who has graying hair and kind eyes and gentle hands, gave the colt a quick once-over and began treatment. It didn’t take long. Raina stood by Legend’s head and helped and watched. Legend was very calm, especially once the pain medicine kicked in. Dr.Stewart said that we could take him home, but that he would have to be watched carefully all night. We live twenty minutes away from where he is boarded. Kara said she would do the night watch. To say we were grateful is a staggering understatement.

                I could only pay half of the two hundred dollars we owed right now. Dr.Stewart agreed-again, no questions asked. He said that if Legend did not get better, to call him and he would do whatever was necessary and we would work out a payment plan later. Wow. Who does that? And who volunteers to get up every two hours to check on a sick horse when she has to go to work the next day? And who on earth puts everything on hold to come rescue a horse belonging to people she doesn’t know? God’s emissaries, that’s who. Salt-of-the earth folks with caring and compassionate hearts. See, we tend to think that we can figure out who the good people are based on their appearance or social graces or level of education, because man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. I know all I need to know about these people because in the Bible it says, “By this they shall know you are My disciples, that you have LOVE for one another.”  Love was in great supply yesterday.

                We settled Legend in for the night and went home and had some butt-kicking shrimp scampi. We were tired, all of us, including my sister who had walked the horse as much as she could despite her bad knees and my mom who gave support simply by staying there at the house praying with my son. Raina in particular was exhausted, her feet blistered, but she said she was glad she had had the experience. I think sometimes she doubts how much we love her, as all children do and adopted kids in particular. I think yesterday dispelled any doubts she had. She saw her father, who is not really a “horse person”, walking the horse when she and Ally just had to rest. She saw how her grandmother shed tears of worry and concern, even though she doesn’t like horses AT ALL. (“I don’t like any animal that’s bigger than me,” is what she says. She prefers cats and small dogs.) She saw how our friend Kara was willing to sacrifice her afternoon and evening and night and go in to work on almost no sleep. And she saw how people we didn’t know came through because it’s just the right thing to do. Additionally, she knows that we are far from wealthy, that we live, like most people these days, from paycheck to paycheck. Yet we did not hesitate. We want her to be able to frolic with her yearling for many years to come, for them to grow up together. The r-shaped mark on Legend’s forehead is God’s mark. R for Raina. They belong to each other.

                I believe that all things happen for a reason. Last night I connected with my daughter in a special way. Last night we were reminded, once again, of God’s grace. And as we hauled the colt to his feet over and over again, and he became angry and frustrated and bit Raina on the arm because he could not understand that she was doing what was best for him, I thought about how we are much like that. God knows what is best, but we resist. We don’t trust Him enough. We don’t get that He is always teaching, helping, leading, and guiding. However big Raina’s love for her colt may be, and even bigger our love for Raina, God’s love is infinitely greater. It cannot be explained, defined, or measured. In time of need He sends blessings-maybe in the form of kind hearts and country vets.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Blink

“Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!”

In the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, the young Emily Webb, who has died in childbirth, pleads for a chance to relive a day of her life. Although she is warned by others among the dead that this is not a good idea, she chooses to do so anyway. The result is a feeling of regret, deep regret, that she failed to really see the important people and events in her life. Furthermore, she did not notice or appreciate the little things at all. Thus it is with all of us. Life is full of little moments that go unnoticed. Our recollection of major events may even be somewhat hazy, and we certainly take for granted, often, those we hold most dear.

                Yesterday I attended the memorial service for my husband’s aunt, whom I actually only met once, many years ago. Hearing the way her minister friend spoke of her at the service makes me wish I had really known her. But the experience did even more than that, for me. You see, while I do not believe that every moment should be “cherished”, because some moments are just too awful, I do believe that every moment should be noticed. The bad things can be learned from and make us appreciate the wonderful things even more. I realize this is kind of a no-brainer, but yesterday I had a very profound moment of perspective about my kids.

                I love my kids. I think of myself as resembling the Italian mama described in the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, who “yells at her kids and slaps them around and hugs them a lot.” Disclaimer: I do not actually “slap my kids around”, but I am very emotional .I do fully admit to yelling at my kids, but I also hug them and squeeze them and tell them how amazing they are-because they are. If I ask them, “You know how much I love you,right?” I get the head-shaking, half-smiling, somewhat exasperated, of course, Mom!  When I tease them and ask if they want me to make their lunches, complete with sandwiches cut out in the shapes of duckies and hearts, or attend a birthday party with them to make sure no one is mean, I get the lifted eyebrow and Mom! That would be soooo embarrassing!

                I think that we are doing pretty well. In seven and half years we have all come a long, long way, despite mistakes and misunderstandings. I have three kids who are smart, compassionate, loving, creative, self-sufficient ,funny , and (sometimes) responsible. We have dealt with criticism from some people who don’t really understand what it is like to suddenly become parents of three older children with attachment disorder, but mostly we have had tremendous support and encouragement from family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful. Still, I would be the world’s worst liar if I said that I have cherished every moment. I haven’t. I have, however, tried to learn from all of the messy, confusing, sometimes tragic events that have occurred in my life, both before and since the arrival of the children.

                One thing I do know is that there are no words to really describe how I feel about my children-or my husband, for that matter. Sometimes just looking at the four of them moves me to tears and I am completely overwhelmed. I do not deserve the blessings God has given me-but then, who does?  I think of those little moments, good and bad, and I realize that there is nothing that I would really change. I think of the night I danced with my girls out in front of Shakes after eating a frozen custard shake that could potentially have put me into a chocolate coma. There we were, under the lights, out there for the people flying by in their cars on the highway to see, although I doubt they noticed. We were making up our own moves and laughing hysterically, and I tucked the memory away in my heart. I recall the first-ever completely unsolicited hug from my son. I remember birthdays and Christmases and Easters and completely ordinary days. I try to focus on the details, and if I don’t journal them, I simply file them away in my memory. This is because there is something else I do know-the staggering, heartbreaking, unreal reality of losing someone you love.

                So I come back to yesterday. I saw my children watching their “Granna” as she cried quietly. The song “Go Rest High On That Mountain” was playing. My husband leaned forward and embraced his Aunt Gayle. I grabbed my son’s hand and I thought, I have lost my father and I do not want to lose my mother. I do not want to lose my sisters. And, oh, Father God, please, please do not let me outlive my children or my husband. Earlier, I had pointed out my children to their Granna and their Aunt Gayle, and both of them gasped. They actually gasped. They had not seen the kids in three years and they literally did not recognize them. As the kids moved forward to hug them, I almost didn’t recognize them either. For just a moment, I saw them through other eyes. They are not little kids, they are young adults. My youngest will be thirteen in a few short days. They all look older than they actually are. Some of this is purely related to physical development, but they also have old eyes. You have to look very deep to see it, but it is there. What they suffered in the years before they came home to us initiated them too soon. I wish I could get those early years back for them, but I cannot. Because I cannot, I encourage them to focus on the now-and the future.

                Yesterday I got just a glimpse of who my children will be. I have not had them long enough to be ready to let them go. I cannot look at them enough or spend enough time with them. It is all too fleeting. It is all too fast. My sister is fond of saying, in regard to children, “Don’t blink.”  It’s so true. Life itself is so very brief, and in an instant, someone can be gone. Pay attention to the little things. As Steven Curtis Chapman says, “Don’t miss the miracle of the moment.”  Dan Fogelberg said, “There’s magic every moment.”  Robert Frost-“Nothing gold can stay.” William Wordsworth-“Nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower.”  This is a common theme among poets and songwriters as well as ministers and theologians. Thus when Emily asks, “Do people ever realize life while they’re living it?” the reply is “Well, the saints and poets-maybe they do, some.”

                Be a poet. Be a saint. Turn up the music. At the end, let us all be able to say, like Jimmy Buffett, “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ask The Animals

Before I begin, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear. First of all, I am not a “tree hugger”. I do not think animals are more important than people, and I have both feet firmly planted in the pro-life camp. I have no idea why there has to be such a divide between Christianity and conservation. The Bible has plenty to say about good stewardship of God’s creation, and about having dominion, which means “to rule over” and “to take care of.” I would never place the life of an animal above that of a human being, BUT that does not mean that I do not have compassion for all of God’s creatures.  If God sees every sparrow that falls, if He knows when the young ravens cry out for food, if He made certain that two of every kind of animal went on the ark, then He must regard all living things as having value. So do I. I believe that some animals were placed here to be companions for man. I think of dogs and horses especially, as these two species seem to me very different from most others in the way they relate to humans. But I have owned-and dearly loved-rats, and rabbits, and turtles, and many other kinds of critters. From them, I have learned much about life, and about the Giver of life.

I have read that, in 80 percent of investigations regarding animal cruelty, it is discovered that neglect or abuse of children, or some type of domestic violence, is also going on in the home. The way people treat animals is often an indicator of how they will treat other human beings. Many serial killers started out mistreating animals, then moved on to bullying smaller children, and it went from there all the way to murder. I am not saying that every child who commits an act of animal cruelty grows up to be a murderer, and I also realize that some people are misguided, ignorant, or mentally ill. However, repeated, wanton torture of animals just for the fun of it is not normal or acceptable.

My husband dislikes cats. He is fond of animals, but he just can’t stand most cats, with a few exceptions. Nevertheless, he would never actually harm a cat, and he has even allowed us to feed a couple of strays that were hanging around right before Hurricane Katrina. The cats holed up under our house and then vanished after the storm. My husband does not hunt but we have friends and relatives who do, and when they share venison with us, we make stew or chili and thank God for His provision. So, although we are animal lovers, we have what I consider to be a balanced attitude. We wonder in God’s amazing creation, we love and care for our pets, we do not harm anything harmless. Some people shoot the armadillos that tear up their yards, and that’s their business, but we honestly enjoy looking at the armadillos more than the grass so we leave them alone. We like to think of our home as a safe haven. For three springs in a row, a bird found her way into our laundry room, nested there, and raised her family. A wounded butterfly once lived in our house for two days, feeding on the sugar water we left out for her.

What lessons can we learn from animals? Well, there is unconditional love. There is full obedience to the Creator, what some would call instinct. Either way, it’s a lesson in how God designs us all for a special purpose. There are lessons about the cycle of life and acceptance of death. At our house, we make such friends of our animals that yes, it hurts to lose them. We grieve and we mourn, and then we let go. We all understand, our children included, that loss is part of love. Sorrow is the price we pay for loving. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our children came to us with wounds and scars. Their dogs and rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs, fish and turtles have been instrumental in their healing. My son would not be who he is today but for a little dog named Hermione, the first creature with whom he truly bonded. She is our angel in fur.Our horse, Legend, whom we just got for our daughter at Christmas, was a rescue who was nearly slaughtered. I have a feeling that this colt is going to have some important things to teach us, too. Many of our pets were rescues, and they have given our children a sense of true compassion. Sometimes this love for all living things causes near-chaos, like when my son rescued an injured squirrel from the road and the rodent went bonkers in our front room, or when we had to go back and pick up the broken-winged moth from the highway, or when we got two almost-dead rabbits foisted off on us (they lived, and thrived, and one is living still.) I would not trade these experiences for anything. I have had funerals for goldfish, tried to save newborn bunnies, and chased a very confused wren through the house while the dachshund tried mightily to capture and eat it. I have been bitten and scratched, knocked down, had mud tracked through the house, and cleaned up various other substances. I have sat and stroked the head of a dear companion of thirteen years while he drew his last breath. It’s been worth it, every minute.

I know that not everyone loves animals, or desires to have a bunch of pets around. But I do wish that everyone would just take a look, sometimes, and see what God’s creation has to teach us. I think that in every star, rock, tree, bunny rabbit, and hedgehog there is something He is trying to say. One of the greatest joys in life, to me, is trying to uncover those hidden messages. He speaks in many ways, and His manifold works are a part of the story. “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you.”  -Job 12:7

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Out of the Box:Musings on FAMILY AFFAIR and THE MIDDLE

I suppose that it is only natural that I, who was born in 1966 and who is raising children in the 21st century would choose a 60s sitcom and a current one as particular favorites. However,it is neither nostalgia nor familiarity that cause me to view FAMILY AFFAIR and THE MIDDLE with such affection. I guess my daughter summed it up well: "Everything's not always terrible-but it's not always perfect, either." Indeed, these two sitcoms feature less-than-ideal parents in less-than-ideal circumstances, doing the best they can with what they've got. In FAMILY AFFAIR, we have Uncle Bill and Mr.French daily muddling through various crises that come with growing up. Sometimes they do it well, sometimes, not so much. Nevertheless, they try-and they love their kids. Uncle Bill lives in a Manhattan apartment, with a high-power career and plenty of money, but his struggles are no more or no less than those of the Heck family, with two working parents and three kids with various, shall we say, idiosyncracies.
  I do relate to both shows in different ways, for different reasons. The Davis family is non-traditional and formed rather unexpectedly. True, my husband and I were slightly more prepared for the arrival of three children than Uncle Bill and Mr.French were-but only slightly. I say this because I don't know if anyone can ever truly be prepared for such a major upheaval. Like the Davis children, our children came with a tragic and traumatic past. The great thing about FAMILY AFFAIR is that Buffy, Jody, and Cissy, no matter how secure they become, no matter how much they are loved, ever forget that they were once orphaned and separated. It is not continually dwelt upon, but it is a thread that runs throughout the series. There is an underlying sadness that is not normally seen in sitcoms. For example, after the first episode of THE BRADY BUNCH, no one ever mentioned the lost spouses/parents. It was as if they never existed. The past never happened. That, my friends, is NOT reality. You do not ever completely forget. You move on, you find happiness, you accept what has been and you look to the future, ideally, with hope, but the the sorrow of loss does not ever just go away. Thus, when Buffy is taken back to her hometown and sees the store where her mother bought Mrs. Beasley, she says wistfully, "It was the last thing...the very last thing." The only sitcom that I know of that came close to doing this as well is the sweet and charming FULL HOUSE, for which I have a reluctant and almost guilty affection. Cloyingly saccharine though the show may be, the two older girls never forget their mom-and no one expects them to.
 In FAMILY AFFAIR there is also the matter of the children's behavior, particularly in the first season. They behave and react in ways that children who have been through trauma naturally would. The fact that they have endured so much also explains the fact that they get along better than most siblings and are unusually close. When my children were younger, this was very true of them. However, since my trio does not consist of twins and a much-older sister, but three children rather close in age, the dynamic has always been different. Now that they are all teenagers (well, the youngest will be thirteen in two weeks, so that counts) there is much more friction. Still, they are fiercely protective of one another and never want to see each other hurt. I would be a bit freaked out if they got along as nauseatingly well as Wally and Beaver Cleaver, but I would also be upset if they hated each other as some television sibs do. This is, after all, REAL LIFE.
 The mention of real life brings me to THE MIDDLE, which, like FAMILY AFFAIR, we all enjoy together because we GET it. See, there's this family, and they don't have a lot of money. Mom and Dad work really hard just to make ends meet, the kids aren't always as appreciative as they ought to be, Mom doesn't usually cook homemade meals, and a lot of things get done on the run or at the last minute. It is so staggeringly close to our actual lives that we will collectively shout, "That's SO US!!"
I have never been the kind of mom who cut out little sandwiches with cookie cutters for my children's lunches or baked adorable and delicious cupcakes for class parties. In fact, there have been times when I have -GASP-forgotten the class party and had to run to the grocery store at six-thirty A.M. to buy a bag of house-brand chips. So be it. I don't stay up until one A.M.making a Pilgrim costume- I have to go to work the next morning. It makes me happy that Frankie Heck once took her sick child to work with her and parked him in one of the used cars on the lot with a book and a blanket. She works because the economy is bad. She doesn't even LIKE her job. Fortunately, I do like mine, but would I rather be home? Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes I feel that way. My life is what it is, however, and so we deal with what we've got and do the best we can, all of us.
 Unlike Mike Heck, my husband is extremely romantic and makes a point of doing nice things for me. That's what I am used to, but the recent Valentine's Day episode of THE MIDDLE made the point that love is shown, often, in the small details of life. The Hecks love each other. They stick up for and support one another-sometimes in odd and unexpected ways. (That's SO US!!) The youngest child is odd, the middle one insecure, the eldest unpleasant and self-serving most of the time. They are REAL KIDS-and, like my own real kids, every now and then they remember to thank their parents for what they do. The parents mess up, often, and the kids ultimately forgive them. On FAMILY AFFAIR, Uncle Bill spends a lot of time trying to figure it all out. So do the Hecks. So do we, and so do most of the families that I know. My family is nutty and offbeat. We yell at each other sometimes. We argue and debate (I recently found out that this is because all five of us are "word-smart.) Sometimes things break, like the vacuum cleaner, and sometimes a pipe leaks and we have to patch it. Sometimes we hurt each other without meaning to and we have to patch that as well. We go to school and church and ballgames and horseback riding. We watch movies and play games together. We eat as many meals together as we can, in between ball practice and horses and homework and the dog puking on the rug. We muddle through. That's life. The Davises and the Hecks, we salute you.