Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Hallmark(ish) Christmas

Photo by Mourad Saadi
I'll admit it, I love Hallmark movies. From the weekend after Halloween to New Year's Day, I watch them.  I don't watch them 24/7, because, you know, I do have a life, but I like to watch the new premieres they have on the weekends.  I like them because they put you in the Christmas spirit.  They show beautiful towns and Christmas traditions, families, carols and most of all, love.

My husband has tried to put a damper on my Hallmark movie watching ever since he saw a comedian talking about them.  He points out that they all have the same plotline.  That they don't want women to work and they all focus on a single woman needing to find a man by Christmas.  While I get where the comedian is coming from, I don't think the jokes are completely true.

The premise of most of the movies is that we work too much instead of focusing on what is truly important in life, family and love.  Yes, they all do end with someone falling in love and a kiss in the last few minutes of the show, but who doesn't like a happy ending?  In life, there don't seem to be that many happy endings, so sometimes you just want to curl up with some hot chocolate, a Christmas cookie and a warm blanket and watch a heartwarming movie about love.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him."  I always thought of this verse in the context of marriage, but I recently heard someone say that we are never really alone.  We are not alone, because we have the love of God right by our side.  For many, he does give a marriage partner as a helper, and to others, he gives the gift of good friends, family and church companions.  God never leaves us completely alone, because he is a God of love.  There have been times in my life where I have felt completely and desperately alone, but it was then that I looked to the promises of God, knowing that he was there even when I couldn't feel him.  It was also in those times that he brought me the comfort of friends and the love that only he could provide.

Wherever you are in life right now, know that it doesn't matter if your life looks like a Hallmark movie.  If your house doesn't look like a Pinterest board, you haven't baked any cookies, you haven't shopped for all those gifts and you haven't found that right person to kiss by midnight, it's ok.  Because you are completely and utterly loved by God.  The Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who came down to earth as a tiny babe, so that we could wrap our arms around him and hold him as a child.  Come and see this love that God has sent for you in the manger this Christmas.

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." 
 ~Hamilton Wright Mable

Let's go out and spread that love and light to a world that desperately needs it.

Merry Christmas from Pancakes and Perseverance!

Peace and Love to you,
Alisa Laska

Photo by Gareth Harper

Monday, November 26, 2018

Jealous Of The Thankful

Photo by Alex Geerts

Thanksgiving morning I found myself lying on the driveway underneath the bumper of my car.  The temperature was 12 degrees and I was holding a heat gun and a hammer.  Inside, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was starting, and I wasn't feeling very thankful.

Let's back up a little. This Fall has not been kind to my car.  In the last month and a half, I have had a rock hit my windshield, causing a dent in my line of sight, a flat tire and then, out of nowhere, as I was driving along the road to preschool, a huge branch dropped off of a tree at the exact second that my car drove past it, smashing my windshield and denting my hood.

But life wasn't done with my forward to Thanksgiving Day and the popping out of a dent in my bumper.  You know how people nickname their cars?  Well, my car's new nickname is "Job."  No, not the pronunciation of the word similar to what you go to 9-5, Monday through Friday.  No, the nickname of Biblical proportions.  As I said, Fall, life, or something else has had it out for my car.

In the midst of this craziness, enter November.  Each November, a number of my friends take up the lovely practice of posting each day on Facebook something that they are thankful for.  It's a beautiful devotion that I have done myself a couple of times.  It's a reminder to think each day about what God had done in our lives and to be reminded of all of the many, many things we have to be thankful for.  This year I decided not to do it.  For one, I was just busy this year taking care of my car problems and dealing with life in general.  But, last year as I was writing about all the many things I was thankful for, I tried to look at it from an outsider's perspective.  I realized that it almost felt like bragging.  Look at me and all these wonderful things I have to be thankful for.  Someone reading it might be single and be sad that they aren't married.  Someone struggling with infertility may be frustrated seeing my thankful posts about my kids.  I realized that it might be hard for someone to look at what I'm thankful for and wish they had some of those things.

Oddly enough, the reverse happened to me this year.  As I was going through my car problems and child-raising issues and hubby-working-all-the-time challenges, I began to read the thankfulness posts of my friends and acquaintances.  I found myself wishing I was thankful for those things too.  The kids with wonderful grades, the date nights, the kids who invited Jesus into their hearts at 18 months, the time and money to travel the world.  That green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.  So much so that I actually considered emailing some of the Facebookers and pointing out that their posts might be inadvertently hurting other people who aren't able to be thankful for those things this year.

In that moment, I had to stop and check myself.  I was about to complain as Job did in chapter 10 verse one, "I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul."  I realized that if I did, in fact, give voice to my complaints that I would be allowing that jealousy to poison my soul and leave it full of bitterness.  I realize that it wasn't really the Facebook posters' problem, it was my own.  My own insecurities about my parenting, my frustrations with my children and their reading levels and behaviors and the comparison of them to other kids. My anger about my car problems, my busyness, and the crazy level that was rising in my life had contributed to this jealousy and came to a head on Thanksgiving morning as I lay under the bumper of my car.

Ephesians 4:31 urges me to get rid of this bitterness.  All bitterness.  This has been a struggle for me in several areas, and I am learning to release it to God because it's too heavy to carry around.  I don't need it in my life.  When I need to hear things, God speaks them to me. Today, Hebrews 12:28 reminds me that "We are receiving a kingdom that can't be shaken.  So let us be thankful.  Then we can worship God in a way that pleases him.  Let us worship him with deep respect and wonder."  (NIRV)

Let us be thankful.  This is not a command but an invitation.  Thankfulness is a state of being, a state of mind in which we switch our brains from what we want, what we wish were the case, what we are jealous and sad about, to that which is bigger than ourselves.  No matter how much the Enemy tries to mess with us and literally throw rocks at our cars, it doesn't matter, because we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Nothing we do, nothing that happens to us on a daily basis, can shake the Kingdom of God.   For this reason, let's remember to "give thanks in all circumstances" as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us.  In all circumstances, God is still God and his Kingdom is firm and steadfast.

If we do these things, if we live thankful lives, then we can worship God with the right frame of mind. We can worship God with deep respect and wonder.  The only right way to do it.  God is worthy of all of our respect and honor, just because he's God.  Not because we are having a great day, our kids are doing well and we got a great parking spot at work.  No.  Because He's God.  Because he's God, we have to look at him through eyes of wonder.  We may not understand what in the world is going on in our lives right now, but we can know that the God of Wonder is walking with us through it and he's calling us to a deeper understanding of himself.

The Message version of Hebrews 12 goes on to say that God is not an innocent bystander.  He's actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn.  He won't quit until it's all cleansed.  Today I've been reminded that God needs to torch the jealousy in my life and replace it with a deep sense of awe and wonder.

What in you needs to be cleansed and healed in order to draw on the infinite wonder and majesty that is God?

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Fall is brilliant in the coming.
A chill dances on the breeze
Cooling and stealing away summer’s heat
Trees begin their painting
Golds, oranges, reds
Pumpkin entices
With its deep autumn aroma
Boots walk us
Scarves warm us
Fall festivals keep us busy
As the slow boil of Fall turns to Winter freeze
I look longingly at the bathing suit in my drawer
And whisper
Goodbye summer.

~Alisa Laska 2018

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

You Had Me At Kayak

I met my husband in South Carolina.  We spent most of our courtship dodging alligators and ducking snakes falling out of trees. 

Let me explain...

I won't go into how exactly we met.  (I'll leave that for another memoir blog!)  But, I will say that about a month after we met, my husband bought me a kayak.  I have to say that I freaked out a little bit at first.  I mean, this was a huge gift for someone whom he had really just met and had only been talking to for about two months or so.  I wondered what I should do?  I finally decided to accept the kayak and then if we happened to break up, as many relationships do, I would simply give him back the kayak.  Sounds good, right?  Well, we never broke up.

Turns out, he had me at kayak.  (Or so he likes to brag!)  Here is a picture of our two kayaks.  Mine is the blue one at the top.  South Carolina was a gorgeous place to live.  The winters were a little boring, but we were lucky to have met in the springtime when the world was at our fingertips as far as outdoor activities go.  We could walk the boardwalk, hang out at the beach, go for a motorcycle ride or do what we liked best at the time, go kayaking on one of the rivers. 

It turned out that kayaking was the most relaxing things I had ever done.  Amidst the exhausting demands of ministry (I was a full-time youth director at the time), I needed an outlet to unwind.  We would paddle around, exploring the low country of the Carolinas.  We would time the tides just right so we'd never have to paddle upstream against the tide.  (Smart hubby!) 

It was beautiful!  The trees in the background with Spanish Moss hanging low, the old Southern plantation homes along the river to gaze at as we paddled.  My blood pressure dropped a few points each time we pushed off. 

We did have our fair share of  funny incidents.  Including the times when we'd see a small alligator pop up out of the water, or just see his eyes gazing at us.  (Supposedly, according to hubby, they are scared of kayaks due to the Native American boating traditions.  I don't know if he made that up to make me feel better or not!)  A time or two, we also had to dodge a snake falling out of a tree.  Needless to say, I never got out to do some swimming in the water!  I also dropped hubby's sunglasses into the creek at one point, which I thought were a cheap pair.  He told me later that they were his new designer-brand glasses.  (Oh, young love!) 

Kayaking turned out to be what I liked to call my "Three Hour Vacation."  I have always wanted to have that inscribed on the side of my kayak.  It's the most relaxing three hours I can think of.  The inscription reminds me of one of my favorite things to do near water--check out the boat names.  I've seen some funny ones over the years, including a gigantic boat in Annapolis named the "Minerella" with a literal helicopter on the top, aptly named the "Glass Slipper."  I've seen many named after women or places or funny sayings.  Doing a Google search, I found these beauties: 

She Got The House
Seas The Day
Reel Therapy
Unsinkable II
Taco The Town
My Other Boat Is Also A Boat
Bacon In The Sun
Knot For Sail
Liquid Asset
Row Vs. Wade
Missing Peace
One More Toy
Grounds 4 Divorce
Sails Call

Many of these could tell their own story if we let them.  My favorite that I saw recently is below.  Life's A Journey.  Whether we're courting our future husband or just on a three-hour vacation, it's important to take time out from life to rest, relax and enjoy someone's company on a sea-battical.  Just bacon in the sun...

Monday, October 15, 2018

In need of editing for your project, proposal, paper or grant?

Photo by Freddy Castro
Do you have a project, proposal, document or college paper in need of editing?  Need a little help writing content for your blog, website, or business social media account?

Ever thought of searching for a grant to grow your business or finance your dreams?

I can help!

As a freelance writer, I have written and published articles and chapters in a book, as well as ministry curriculum.  I am currently a content editor for the Deeply Rooted curriculum series by I have a passion for writing and editing and a goal to expand my freelance writing and help others to improve their pieces of writing and grow their businesses.  See below for details:

Need help editing or proof-reading your papers, proposals, documents or college papers?  Need a lesson written for youth or preteen ministry?  Help with content for a retreat or youth group lesson?

Research/writing/and follow-up on Grants for you or your business:

Contact Alisa Laska,

I look forward to partnering with you to make your writing the best it can be,

Alisa Laska

Thursday, October 11, 2018


This Summer I was a reader for Jonathan's new book, and I wanted to pass along the information about it because it is an excellent book on the topic.  He uses his own experiences as well as his many years ministering to youth and parents to craft a well-written book that speaks to so many hurting teens and children and those who seek to help them.  Check out the rest of the blog for info on the book and how to order it.  Let's do our part to stop bullying in its tracks.

Parents and teachers would love to help hurting kids, but the truth is they don’t know how.

Why? The reason is quite simple: bullying has completely transformed in less than a decade.

Today bullying has no boundaries. When the bell rings, kids might leave their school campus, but they can never escape the other world, a world where mockers and intimidators thrive. Ironically, they carry a gateway to that world right in their pockets, because they see that world as an avenue of escape… but in reality, it’s putting them in bondage.

In The Bullying Breakthrough (Shiloh Run Press, November 2018) author and youth culture expert Jonathan McKee provides real-world help for parents, teachers, and youth leaders who often feel ill-equipped to deal with today’s bullying culture.

Check out his book on Amazon

Dr. Jim Burns describes Jonathan’s new book as “both disturbing and incredibly helpful.”

Author Josh McDowell calls it "Jonathan's most vulnerable and insightful book yet! An eye-opening peek into the world of bullying today and what we can actually do to prevent it."

Social researcher Shaunti Feldhahn claims this is “Jonathan’s most important book so far,” describing it as “an essential guide to preventing and stopping bullying behaviors.”

With chapters including, Digital Hurt, The Escape Key, Meet the Principal, Real-World Solutions, and more, McKee shares his personal story of pain and offers a sobering glimpse into the rapidly changing world of the bullied. With more than 20 years of experience working with teens and studying youth culture, McKee provides helpful ways to connect with kids, open doors of dialogue, and give kids the encouragement they need and the validation they’re searching for. . .too often in all the wrong places. Parents and youth leaders—anyone who interacts with kids—truly need this book.

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; The Guy's Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket, and the new fiction book, Bystander about a school shooting on a high school campus. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website  And for youth workers on his other website along with his wife, Lori, and their three kids live in California.   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Coffee Person

Photo by: Alisa Laska
A friend of mine said one day recently, "I don't know how parents of toddlers can get through the day without multiple cups of coffee."  I wholeheartedly agreed.

For most of my life, I would have smiled and went on with the day, not really agreeing but wishing I did.  You see, I never used to like coffee. Shocking, right?  The tase of it made me think of sour beans and the caffeine made me shake and kept me up at night.  Coffee was just not my friend.  However, I always wished that I liked it, since coffee is such a part of our culture.  Everyone drinks it, everyone talks about it, there are so many flavors and coffee shops and special cups and, well, you get the picture.

And then I had kids.

It wasn't until my second child had turned two that coffee turned around for me.  She still doesn't really like to sleep through the night.  She'll have nightmares or random cries or make noise or whatever it is that wakes me in the middle of the night.  Sometimes multiple times.  Don't even get me started on the nights she is sick or getting sick and she wakes up literally six or more times...

Another contribution to my newly-found interest in coffee is this place:  The Lobby Coffee Bar
I love it.  I've spent many days here writing, editing, emailing or just hanging out with the hubby.  Located at Chesapeake Church, The Lobby supports local mission work to end hunger and also mission work in Honduras.  Who wouldn't love to go somewhere where the profits help others?

Coffee snuck up on me, but now it's a full-blown thing.  I can't get through my work days without it and other days I'm just tired.  Also, it's Autumn and the Pumpkin Spice and Brown Sugar Lattes are out, so, there is that.

Coffee, you have corrupted me, what can I say?  Anyone want to meet up for a cup?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tired in the waiting

Photo by Annie Spratt
Those of you who know me well know that I've been going through a mid-life crisis of sorts.  (No, I haven't gone out and bought a red sports car...yet...)  After a season of ministry, I am in a season of waiting, wondering, dreaming and praying about what I will do next for my career.  I haven't just been sitting around.  I have been momming, writing, editing, teaching and serving.  I am loving all of these experiences, and I can see God working in all of them. These "mini-callings" are shaping me and growing me for my next career, I am sure.

But, I can't help the wanting-to-know.  I am patient, but only for so long, and then I just wish that God would spell it out for me.  Like, if he'd hire a sky-writer and write it across the sky, that would be good enough for me.  :)  I keep having these moments where I think I've figured it out, along with the many reasons God has asked me to wait.  I feel like it will be a huge "aha" moment where I will know why God chose that path for me.  But, maybe it won't be.  It's hard to tell.  Those couple of false starts recently have caused me to realize that sometimes God just calls us to wait.  Not only to wait, but to be content in the waiting.  To pray for contentment if we don't have it, and to rest in knowing that he has it all in his timing.

This week, two verses popped up in my life about this topic.  As Margaret Feinberg so aptly put it, this is the "sacred echo,"  when God repeats something in several ways or places in our lives.  The first was this verse from the Message version of Romans 8:26-28,

"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.  That's why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good." 

I love the part where we get tired in the waiting and God's spirit is right alongside of us, helping us along. He knows our wordless sighs, our aches and groans, and turns them into prayers. How many times have we come before God not even knowing what to say?  We lay our hearts out before him and the Spirit prays for us.  The spirit keeps us present before God.

The last line captivates me, knowing that every detail of my life of love for God is worked into something good.  I may not be doing something huge for him at the moment, but every little detail of my life is something he can use for His glory.  How amazing is that?

The other echo came during a leadership class at church last night.  Our pastor reminded us that we just need to keep going while we are waiting.  Waiting is not a passive thing, where we get to just lie down on the job.  No.  We can do as the Psalmist wrote in chapter five, verse three:

"In the morning, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly."  

I will choose to wait expectantly.  I will pray and wait and dream big dreams for God.  And in the waiting, I will move and act and serve and be and do.

I am tired in the waiting, but I will wait expectantly, Lord, with palms outstretched and the eyes of my heart wide open.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tips For Air Travel With Kids (And Grownups!)

For the second part in my series on traveling with kids (see car travel tips from Part One, here: Road Trips With Kids, I enlisted the help of my sister-in-law, who has had a LOT of experience traveling with kids all over the world for this guest post.  Enjoy!

Garmarjoba. Bula. Salam. I’m Alisa’s sister-in-law, Deb….and due to my husband’s job we live overseas. We have lived in the Republic of Georgia, Fiji, and have recently arrived in Qatar (hence my array of greetings). As you might imagine, we have done our fair share of air travel with kids….so that is why I am doing a guest post here! (If you are interested in reading about our adventures, check out my blog here: Next Stop...the World! ).  We just changed our duty station this summer, so I’m a little behind on all of our adventures!  Due to our transition this year, we’ve had to take a lot of flights since March! We’ve had 9 flight itineraries to keep track of. Of those, only two were round-trip and two were international (one across the Pacific and one across the Atlantic)…, needless to say, we’ve racked up some frequent flier miles in the last few months….so enough of the intro, here are my tips for air travel for kids:

1. ALWAYS carry extra clothes in your carry-on. I really try to minimize the amount of stuff in our carry-ons but after having to spend a fortune on a t-shirt for myself after someone was an infant and I just couldn’t handle smelling like throw-up for another flight...I learned my lesson! For the kids, I always pack a complete outfit plus a spare set of underwear. For myself, just an extra shirt (I can deal with wet pants if a drink gets spilled on them….kids have less patience). My husband likes to tempt fate. I use a packing cube to really compact the clothes and keep them contained at the bottom of a backpack so they are not really a burden and just available if needed.

2. Airplanes, once airborne, are COLD!! In the US, carriers do not give out blankets any longer (even for transcontinental red-eye flights, as we sadly least they don’t if you end up flying back in steerage like we do). So even in the hot summer, I’ll pack a sweatshirt and warm socks for my younger child and myself (my teen is in charge of his own carry-on now…I remind him, but if he opts not to pack anything….not my problem). 

3. Snacks! I know this was on the car road trip list - common theme here! Though, if flying internationally, check importation restrictions. For example, when we were flying into Fiji/Australia/New Zealand we could not bring any food items that contained cheese, whey protein, honey, meat, or fresh fruits/veggies from the US. So, if we brought those snacks we had to have them consumed before disembarking from the plane (and all our bags, including carry-ons, were x-rayed before leaving the airport to verify we didn’t leave the airport with any of these items). 

4. For the snack consumption, I try and throw a couple empty plastic bags (subway sandwich bags are perfect) to hold the trash in our seat….as it seems like it is forever before the flight crew ever comes by to pick up any trash.

5. Meals – staying on the topic of food. If you are flying internationally, you have the option to select special meals in advance. Being a vegetarian, I have learned it is best to request the vegetarian meal. While there is typically a vegetarian option, sometimes they are out of that option by the time they get to your seat. Most airlines will offer a kids’ meal (typically the adult meal but with fewer sauces and more treats). Flying internationally, sometimes the meal is what kids from that nation will enjoy…not always chicken nuggets. If you have picky eaters like we do, we have learned that you can never go wrong with the fruit meal….who doesn’t like fresh fruit? My only caveat to all of this is that if your flight leaves late at night I would skip the meal request. When we have flights that leave after 7 pm, we won’t request the special meals for the kids. Special meals are delivered before general meal service (added bonus), but with late flights, the kids typically put on their eye masks, hunker down, and fall asleep. With special meals, you are obliged to take them and will be woken up and given them. So then you have a meal tray to deal with and a potentially fussy-trying-to-get-to sleep child….not fun (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…lol).

6. For our seats on the plane, once our tickets are booked, we always try to select our seats beforehand. Our preferred arrangement is my husband and teen in one row and our younger one and me in the row behind them. That way when my younger one inevitably kicks the seat in front it is just my husband being annoyed not some stranger who might get really annoyed. If seats are in groups of three, we will select the aisle and window seats as well. That way if the flight is not completely booked, someone is less likely to pick the middle seat when selecting a seat…..about 1/3 of the time this works and we end up with an empty middle seat and extra room to lay down and rest on!! I will typically go ahead and sit in the middle seat during boarding though, since my younger one doesn’t like strangers. If someone does board and say the middle seat is theirs, I point to my younger one and ask if they mind if I sit in the middle and give them the aisle. I’ve never had someone say no.

7. As I mentioned in the first point, I try to keep items in our carry-ons to a minimum. Less stuff in the carry-on keeps it lighter so the kids can carry it themselves, plus it is small enough to stow at their feet. I’ve tried packing books, games, toys, etc….and they all go untouched. The only thing the kids really want to use is their iDevices (and if available – watch in-flight movies)….so sometimes on an 11-hour flight it is worth it to choose your battles….and this is not one worth fighting! Unlimited screen time it is….so it’s a treat! We pack everyone’s iDevice, CHARGER, adaptors (if needed), and a small notebook and pen/pencil. (Our notebook is 5x7 size). The notebook provides so many options of games….hangman and tic-tac-toe are our go-to’s. Though you can also draw pictures, make a bucket list of what to do when you get to your destination, etc.

8. If you get stuck with a long layover en-route to your destination (13-hour layover survivor here!), lounges are wonderful! Some credit cards give you free entry (they have high fees though…boo!). I have a priority club membership for $49 year where you can get access to lounges worldwide. It then costs $27 per person for entry (for myself and up to 3 guests). Note: members may be free depending on which plan you sign up for. If you travel a lot then you may want to upgrade to a membership that includes 10 free entries a year. If you would like to get 10% off the cost of membership (disclaimer….I earn a free guest entry), then send me a message via the contact form on my blog  Next Stop...the World! and I’ll send you a referral!!! Talk about win-win!! You’ll want to check before you fly though, because some clubs limit the number of guests/or don’t allow kids, but most major airports have multiple participating lounges so if you have a long layover you can just find a different lounge that will work. What is so wonderful about hanging out in a lounge vs walking the halls of the airport? It is so much quieter than the airport…no constant PA announcements. They have free food and drinks (well I guess not free since you paid the entry fee).  The unlimited food and drinks are typically healthier than the fast food options that are available out and about in the airport and some beer and wine is typically included. The seats include comfy, den-like furniture with more charging stations nearby. There are bathrooms scattered through-out (and since entry is controlled I feel comfortable leaving the kids to run to the restroom or letting them go alone if I happen to be flying alone with the kids). Speaking of the restrooms, you can check in advance, some of the lounges will have showers (with towels, shampoo, soap)…before or after a really long flight it is nice to freshen up….it always makes you feel much better to get some of that airplane/airport grunge off. 

9. Miles & Points. Everyone in our family has frequent flier accounts with all the American carriers (most international carriers have code shares and the American carrier will give you miles for your trip). It is always worth signing up for an airline’s frequent flier program – it is free and worst case scenario, your miles expire…best case you take a free trip! In fact, on one of our trips this summer we all flew to St.Louis on one airline on miles and flew back to Charleston on a different airline but also on miles! Simply entering frequent flier numbers when traveling helps make trips to visit family (or just be tourists) much more affordable! You can also pre-enter your passport info (and TSA precheck/trusted traveler info) to your profiles – just another way to make check-in go smoother! The best way to earn more miles quickly is by signing up for an airline’s credit card. They typically have sign-up mile bonuses (50K miles is pretty typical) as well as other benefits like one free checked bag, and, as of this writing, United’s card will even give you a $100 credit when you sign up for TSA precheck/Global Entry. Somewhat related, once you get off that airplane and make it to your destination you might need a place to stay! Some hotel groups have credit cards where you earn points towards nights at hotels. Our favorite card is the IHG card. They have domestic and international locations at a variety of price points (we try to pick places with free breakfast….and then eat a big enough breakfast to skip lunch). You also get one free night per year, and opportunities to earn bonus points with promotions they offer all the time. I can think of several trips we have taken where lodging was ‘paid for’ with points! If you sign up with this link: then we both benefit – you get 80,000 Bonus Points after you reach the initial spending requirement and I get 10,000 points for everyone who discovers the wonderfulness of the IHG card!!! In addition, with both types of cards, with your regular purchases, you also earn miles or points towards future trips/stays!

Well…..I think those are my major tips for flying with kids. There are of course hundreds of tips about travel (my favorite travel pillow - Trtl – hands down)…but, just like parenting, in the end, you just have to do what works for you and your family! Thanks again for the chance to contribute to your traveling with kids series! Now to motivate everyone to book a trip somewhere….here’s a beautiful Fijian sunset photo!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Surviving A Road Trip With Kids

Photo by Andrew Neel
I recently took on the challenge of driving my two children, two and six, to upstate New York by myself.  I generally don’t like to do this.  I usually enlist the help of a grandparent or friend, or wait until my husband is available to go along.  This time, however, no one was available.  I was really nervous about the 5 ½ hour drive, but I really wanted to attend my Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration.  So, we set out on the trip.  I brought the usual snacks, books, toys and Etch A Sketches.  We did several stops and even had their favorite foods, hamburgers and chicken nuggets.  It went a little better than anticipated, but there was one hour where they were fighting so badly and grabbing each other across the seats and screaming.  I had had enough and was at my wits end.  Finally, I put in a CD of children’s music.  Magically, they began to calm and sing along.  I had peace and quiet for those 20 + songs at least.  Whew.
When I pulled in to my destination, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had survived the trip.  Just barely, but we did.  After this experience, I decided to enlist the help of my mom’s group for some road trip ideas.  (MOPS/Moms Next at Grace Brethren Church, check us out this Fall!)  Nothing is better for ideas than other moms who are in the trenches!  Steal and enjoy these ideas from mommas who know how to road trip with kids and please post your own ideas in the comments so we can continue the conversation.  Look for the next blog in this series coming soon from my sister-in-law who travels all the time with her kids.  Happy summer!  Alisa

Audio books have really cut down on the amount of time spent on the tablet.
Puzzles and brain teasers really kept our kids entertained.
Rubix cubes
Etch A Sketch
US map:  when you see a license plate from a state, mark it off on your map.
A cooler full of sandwiches and drinks.  Lots of snacks!
Bring a travel potty for emergencies.  (Especially for those potty training kiddos!)
Travel Aquadoodle or books from Target with the water pens.
The Color Wonder sets.
An unusual amount of snacks, but not too much water.  (Less potty breaks!)
Usborne sticker books, car bingo games, Target $1 spot for new little trinkets, notebooks and activity pads.  Bring out a new option every few hours.
For long trips, make a chain link where each child gets to rip off a link every hour.  (They loved the times when they fell asleep and woke up and got to rip off two or three links all at once.)
Melissa and Doug Scratch Art activity pads.
Travel bingo game.
Plan stops where there is a Chik Fil A if possible.  Playtime and good food (and great service!) make getting back in the car so much easier.  (As long as it’s not a Sunday!)
And my all time favorite response…
Leave the kids at home…lol.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Patience of a Rice Krispie Treat

How's your summer been going?  I have to admit I have a harder time writing blogs during the summer time.  I sit down to write, and then my kids demand a juice box, a movie started, or more likely, my daughter will shout "I have to go potty!!!"  (We are in the thick of potty training, friends, and it ain't pretty...)  At the moment, one tiny human is watching the Wheels on the Bus movie and the other is blessedly still asleep, so here goes...

It's been a rainy couple of days here and the kids are getting a bit antsy.  After a fun week of staycation with my sister and family visiting, we were used to gorgeous sunny days, boat rides, water park trips, and Six Flags adventures.  Now, it's three thunderstorms a day.  I do love watching thunderstorms, but my kids do not.  So, yesterday, we decided to embark on a cooking project.  I have planned a couple of these for rainy days such as these.  I'm trying to be one of those really cool, prepared moms.  I haven't gone as far as Pinterest, but we do have some notecards in a box for "sunny days" and "rainy days" with ideas my son and I have written on them.  We picked "cooking project" and decided to make rice krispie treats.  It seemed like a fun and easy task.  The iconic dessert/snack that people have made for years.  Wow, was I wrong...

It turns out that making rice krispie treats requires the patience of a saint.  Step one:  Melt butter at low heat in a saucepan.  That took about ten minutes.  Step two:  Melt several cups of mini marshmallows in the pan.  This was supposed to be quick, but literally took about 30 minutes (the entire start to finish time the recipe claimed!)  

I was so worried about it burning, that I kept it on extremely low.  This gave me extra time to fold some towels, entertain my son and start building an ark...

Eventually, thirty minutes later, it began to melt, and I stirred constantly.  My son had long since lost interest.  His contribution (during his sister's nap) was to add some secret ingredients.  He went with sprinkles (a child after my own heart!) and M&M's:

After the sticky mess finally melted, I mixed it with the cereal and wrangled it into the pan.  After attempting to flatten it down with the spatula several times, it finally looked somewhat edible.  We cooled it in the fridge during dinner.  

Making this concoction really tested my patience.  I learned long ago never to pray for patience or God will test you on it.  (Thank you, Gloria, one of my college roommates, for that advice!)  But, I must have accidentally said a little prayer, because I was getting a test of patience that I wasn't expecting.  The waiting reminded me of the last year or so of my life, as I've been waiting on God.  It takes a lot of time.  It takes patience.  And it's often messy.  As I've figuratively "waited for the marshmallows to melt,"  there have been times when I've gotten frustrated and wondered if I was doing the right thing.  Just like our cooking project, God doesn't want us to sit around, waiting for things to happen.  He wants us to keep busy in the waiting.  Serving him, praying, talking with trusted friends, and being open to his presence and work in our lives.

The waiting is often messy work.  It doesn't come easily.  Sometimes we mess things up and have to scrub and scrub to make our lives better again.  Sometimes God allows the messy things into our lives to grow and stretch us.  But, like all these dishes, they are worth it when we look back and see what God has done in our lives.

A few times during this process, I was tempted just to give up and go to the store for some boxed rice krispie treats.  (So much easier!)  But, I had already gotten this far, so I persevered.  In life, it's easy to give up and go the easy way.  But, if we persevere, God's plan is so much better.  As I took a bite of my rice krispie treat (after eating all of the food on my plate, of course!)  I was amazed by how good the homemade one tasted.  I had waited and waited,  and the work had paid off.  (The sprinkles didn't hurt, either...)

Persevere during this rainy week!  Make some sprinkle-M&M-krispie treats, go bowling, paint, read, do whatever makes you happy as you wait for the sun to return.  Share your rainy day ideas in the comments!

Look for my next series of blog posts on keeping little ones entertained on road trips.  (Something we all need help with!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Mile In Her Shoes: My Year as a Substitute Teacher, Part 2

Photos by: An elementary school student
Although my year as a substitute teacher was challenging in many ways (see part one here: ), it was overall a good experience.  The reason I chose substitute teaching for this year of my life is that it is flexible.  I could set my own days and hours and take off days when I needed to.  (When my kids innevitably got sick.)  There is no contract, so if you want to stop, you can, and you have the summer off to care for your children.  There was a long application process, but there was no interview to get nervous about, and only a half-day orientation to schedule.  I also found that most schools don't require their teachers to dress up very much at all.  I was expecting to wear dresses or dress pants every day, but many schools were very casual. 

The staffs at pretty much all of the schools I worked in were very nice and eager to help.  The front desk staffs in our county are all extremely nice and made the days go smoothly.  They welcomed me with a smile and often some humor.  The principals were also very nice, although I generally didn't have too much interaction with them unless I had a very challenging student.  I found the sweetest people to be the Special Education teachers.  They left very detailed plans and those I saw in person were very clued-in to how I was feeling and what I needed for the day.  They have some of the toughest jobs in the county, and they do them very well. 

There were also a few random things that made me smile.  Schools welcomed substitute teachers in, and when it was teacher appreciation week or holiday time, we had free food for lunch.  (Much better than the cafeteria food, I must say!) I also received artwork from students, many of whom I had just met.  They were willing to share what they had made and even made me personalized portraits. (So cute!)  Elementary school students were quick to accept a new person.  They would often run up to me, hug me, and say "I love you," after I had only been in their class for a short time.  The world can learn a lot from young children about acceptance of new people. 

I learned a lot about the educational system this year.  It was something I really didn't know that much about, except for my own experiences growing up and hearing about it from my youth ministry students.  It was very interesting to observe and be a part of the education of students at all grade levels, including Special Education classes.  It gave me a better idea of how schools and individual classrooms work.  I also learned a lot about discipline and managing a class.  Some from simply trying things and a lot from asking teachers and other subs what works for them.  I feel like I improved a lot in this area and I've been able to use this knowledge with my own kids.  For example, many of our schools use a clip chart for discipline.  They start in the middle of the chart and move their paper clip up or down depending on their actions.  Up leads to a reward at the top, down leads to a disciplinary action at the bottom.  This has really helped with my own kids and I found it invaluable in the classroom as well. 

I learned once again that I love to teach!  On the occasions where I was able to teach a lesson (vs. watching the class while they did a computer assignment or packet), I really enjoyed it.  I had several favorite days of teaching this year.  One was the day I got to sub for middle school English.  We read an interesting story together, discussed it, and then they were to create their own ending.  With my love of English and experience from various writing retreats, I jumped in and asked some leading questions.  I loved seeing their answers and their creativity with the new endings. 

My other favorite lesson this year was the time I got to teach the Bible in public school.  "How?" you might ask... I was teaching middle school social studies and we had a lesson that day on Old Testament history and Moses.  I just could not believe it when I read through the lesson plan. I was very excited.  I have a graduate degree in Biblical studies, so I felt it such a privilege to share this lesson with the students and to use my knowledge to inspire them to learn this part of Christian history.  I knew that God had chosen me that day for that lesson.  Just another reason I love looking back at his plans unfolding in my life. 

Another lesson I enjoyed that ended up really helping a student was one on communication and conflict management.  This was a health class lesson for middle schoolers.  I presented the material and added my own nuggets of wisdom.  I was fascinated by their responses and how much they felt that violent reactions were the best way to deal with conflict.  I learned just as much from my students that day as they learned from me.  I also loved to throw in a life lesson or two each day so that I was adding my own nugget to the day's lesson. 

After this health lesson, a girl came up to me and told me that she was being bullied by a group of girls at the school in a particular situation.  I listened, took her very seriously, and helped to connect her with the school counselor.  I was honored that she trusted me enough to share this situation with me.  If I subbed the whole year just to help this one person, then it was all worth it.  Teachers are invaluable as mentors for students. Listening, caring and pointing students in the right direction is what can make the difference in a life. 

The students I remember most will be the ones who remembered me from week to week and shouted, "Hey, Mrs. Laska!"  or said "You were the best substitute ever!"  I also loved it when students simply said "Have a nice day" when they left the classroom.  These polite responses showed me their character and their parent's good teaching at home.  I would encourage all parents and friends of students to teach them to respect their substitute teachers through politeness, kindness and following the rules when a sub is present.  Ironically, I had to teach this lesson to my own son this year.  He thrives on routine, so the few days he did misbehave at school were on days he had a substitute teacher.  This really upset me, but I took it as an opportunity to teach him about respect for new teachers.

Although being a sub was often challenging, there were many positive things about it, and I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time teaching and learning from my students. 

In the last part of this series, I will write about a lesson I did not expect to teach--active shooter training.  Coming soon...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Mile In Her Shoes: My Year As A Substitute Teacher, Part 1

Photo by Luke Stackpoole
Imagine that you had to look for and begin a new job every day.  You have to figure out how to get there, decide which of the five parking lots to park in, and get buzzed in at the entrance.  You have to find your supervisor, the employee lunch room, and the room where you will work that day.  This will be harder than it seems, because each place of employment will be set up like a maze, and you will rarely receive a map.  You'll meet your new colleagues and those you will supervise minutes before you actually have to do the work.  If you get there early, you'll have a little time to look over the plans for the day before jumping in head-on.

You'll also be doing a different job each day.  A different age, grade, and subject.  You may even have to teach something you know absolutely nothing about, like high school French, or something you've completely brain-dumped, like middle school Algebra.

You'll also have to deal with rude, obnoxious, and whiny people all day long who think they have a free day because you took the job.  You may even find out you are working that day an hour beforehand, so you'll need to race to get that shower in.

Sound like a fun job?  I hear they are hiring...

A day in the life of a substitute teacher includes all of these things, although not quite so extreme every day.  I had a half-day of training and was thrown into the world of teaching.  Granted, I have worked with middle and high school students for years, but not in the school setting.  I never expected that 1st and 2nd graders would bring me to the end of my rope!  Substitute teaching was quite the experience, so I wanted to share a bit about it on my blog.  For the first part, I'll focus more on the negatives, but in Part 2, I'll point out that there really were a lot of positives.  I enjoyed spending time with students in a classroom setting and learning so much about the educational system.

Besides the things mentioned above, one source of frustration is the low pay for subs, especially if you aren't a certified teacher.  I added it up, and if I had worked every day of the week, and had summers off, as most teachers do, I would only have made $18,900.  Fortunately, I only worked part-time, so I wasn't expecting to make tons of money, but compared to the "regular" teachers, who make $40,000-$100,000, according to our county's website, this is a lot less.  I do understand this to some degree, as teachers do all of the planning, grading and guiding that we aren't able to do.  They work extremely hard, and deserve every penny they make!

Another very challenging aspect of substitute teaching is the lack of training and the challenge of discipline in the classroom.  As I mentioned, I only had a half-day of training.  I realize that those studying to be a teacher would already have a four-year degree in this and basically know what they were doing.  Youth Ministry, my previous profession, takes a different approach to students than teaching in a school setting does.  Teaching involves a lot of discipline, rule-setting and enforcing, and basically not having the students like you, because you need to "lay down the law."  Youth Ministry revolves around the concept of building relationships in which we share the love of Christ.  Not that there is no discipline involved, but we approach things from a different angle.  This was hard for me.  I wanted to go in and talk to the students about their day-to-day struggles, but I was too busy getting them to sit down and be quiet.  I can tell that the regular teachers do have a good relationship with the students and can help them when needed, but it takes time.

It's challenging to discipline when you come in and don't know the particular system in that classroom and you don't know any of the student's names.  Usually, when I asked a student what their name was, it was to clip them down for bad behavior.  Behaviors really ran the gamut this year.  I wouldn't say that every class was terrible.  In fact, many classes were very good.  But, I did get to know who the "trouble-makers" would be when they walked in and got really excited that there was a sub that day.  My most challenging experience was the time that I asked a girl who was talking, singing, dancing around and texting on top of her desk to sit down and quietly do her Math. She replied, "I'm going to get you fired."  Respect is often lacking, and it's hard to build it in a short amount of time.

Seven and a half hours feels like a very long day.  I had to get special shoes, which I call my "teacher shoes,"  because they aren't very attractive, but they keep my feet from hurting quite so much after walking around on them all day.  The foot pain is real!  You also can't go to the bathroom very often, so you have to be very careful not to drink too much water and to time your bathroom breaks well.  Another job hazard with subbing in different buildings with different students each day is the gigantic amount of germs you are exposed to!  I am a bit of a germophobe anyway, so I used many bottles of hand sanitizer this year.  I got sick more than I usually do.  In February, I came down with bad laryngitis.  It was pretty hard to discipline that week!  The worst was the day that I got pink eye.  The day before, I had picked up the germs at a middle school somehow.  By Friday night, my eye was incredibly red and itching.  My doctor's office was closed, so I had to spend more money than I made that day to go to the Urgent Care center.  (I am still bitter about that one!)

One thing that made me sad about substituting was that I really didn't get to teach that much.  By teach, I mean standing in front of the class, explaining a concept in a way that will teach and inspire the class to learn.  I realize education has changed, but the times I was able to do this, I really enjoyed it.  Elementary classrooms do allow subs to teach, but middle and high schools often ask students to do their computer work the whole time or to fill out a packet.  Some of those days were very boring and felt like babysitting.

I have learned to respect teachers so much this year.  They are stressed and exhausted from a challenging job.  They have many pressures put on them and they have to deal with many challenges.  I would encourage you to take every chance you get to encourage teachers and appreciate all that they do for their students.  Coming up next time, I'll share some of the positives about teaching and some of the good things that happened during my time on the job.

Monday, June 11, 2018

How I Lost 20 Pounds While Eating Pizza

Photo by Jez Timms
I announced last week on Facebook that I have lost twenty pounds since January.  I was excited to share the news, since it was a very challenging accomplishment.  Since many people have asked, I thought I would share how I did it in case it is helpful to others on the same journey.

I've carried around an extra twenty to thirty pounds since my son was born seven years ago.  I've tried running, as well as various exercise videos and classes.  Exercise alone has not seemed to work.  So here is my "secret":  Calories in/Calories out.  I can eat mostly anything I'd like to as long as I take in less calories than I burn that day.  Sounds simple right?  It is and it isn't.  I realized that I am not the type of person who can give up bread forever, eat no sugar for a month, or eat only salad.  I'm just not.  I have excellent willpower with many things, but food is not one of them.  (Food seems to be an acceptable sin in the church.  I mean, have you been to a Methodist church dinner in the South?  Everything tastes so good because it's either fried or cooked with bacon.)  I knew I had to do something that would be sustainable in the long-term.  (AKA still allow me to eat my favorite foods--ice cream and pizza.)

I began to track my calories. (There are several free apps that are great for this!)  I learned that a good calorie range for women seeking to lose weight is 1250-1400 per day.  At first, this seemed like an incredibly small amount.  I was pretty hungry for a couple of weeks, and very tired.  Although I wanted to quit, I kept going.  My stomach eventually shrank and my body got used to the smaller amount of calories per meal.  I was amazed to learn just how many calories I had been eating and how much fat certain foods contained.  I began to swap things out.  Almond milk instead of regular.  Mini oranges instead of orange juice.  Wraps instead of bread.  I still allow myself to eat things like pizza (which I can't live without!) but I try to eat less of them.  Two small slices instead of three or four.  One scoop of ice cream instead of a bowl.  A quarter of a large cupcake instead of a whole one.  This felt more sustainable than completely cutting these things out.

I also increased my exercise.  I aim for 3-4 times a week.  The more the better! I've also heard thirty minutes a day is a good goal.  I enjoy cardio-strength classes (Shout out to Body and Soul Fitness!), exercise videos, yoga and dance.  It's all about finding something you like to do and will want to do.  I have been weighing myself each day, which has been a fascinating study in how the body processes food.  It is recommended to only do it once a week, but it has helped me to see when I have gone in the wrong direction that week.

I haven't lost as much weight per week as I had hoped.  My goal was two pounds, and I've been landing around one.  Two major challenges for me have been stress-eating and dish-to-pass/celebration meals.  Stress-eating has been my go-to for a long time.  I wish I could say that I just pray away the stress, but I usually go for a bowl of ice cream after a long day at work or a draining day with the kids.  This has been a hard habit to break, and I can't say that I've completely broken it yet.  However, I've tried to replace the need to treat myself with food with something positive like a movie, reading or yoga.

I also have trouble with eating at celebrations and restaurants.  Due to my childhood, I learned to eat as much as I wanted at these occasions.  If I have a stressful day or week, it is especially hard to eat healthy at a restaurant or a mom's group gathering.  (Note to moms:  If you have to go to McDonalds, choose the Happy Meal, it is not really that bad calorie-wise compared to other menu items.)

In a way, the "life change" I am experiencing has felt a bit like my experiences with fasting.  It has involved a lot of disciplining my mind and body and not always saying yes to cravings.  I really like food.  I wish that I didn't.  (I'm convinced that skinny people must just not like food that much.)  I don't think that will change, but my choices can.  I learned that I really can say no to that cup of hot chocolate or that third piece of pizza.  That has felt freeing.  A really cool thing that I didn't expect was that the less food I ate, the more it tasted better.  If I only eat dessert occasionally, it tastes so much sweeter than it ever did.  Waiting to eat certain things helps them taste better.  My body has also started to reject very salty foods (I made the mistake of eating Burger King fries recently, wow!)  and I feel sick if I eat a really fatty meal.  Our body really knows what it needs and doesn't need.

I'm not finished with my lifestyle change yet, and I know that I will continue to struggle with food.  However, I am excited to see change happening in my mind and body and feel blessed to share this journey with you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Hit Refresh

Photo by Tim Marshall
I need to hit refresh a lot. 

Our dryer has a setting where you can turn the dial to the refresh section and choose 30, 40 or 50 minutes to "refresh" the load.  What this means to me is that I've left the laundry in the dryer overnight...or let's be honest, sometimes for a few days at a time.  I am turning this dial, because the laundry has been sitting there wrinkling for hours and there's no way I will get to it anytime soon. 

The definition that fits this best is:  "To freshen in appearance, color, etc., as by a restorative."  Let's hope that load of laundry stays fresh until I get home tonight.  Or, maybe I'll get to it in the morning...

Sometimes I also need a refresh button for life.  Mornings like today, I have been running non-stop since the alarm rang.  I exercised, refreshed the laundry, took a shower, checked our schedule and email, made my son and I breakfast, tied his shoes and shooed him out the door just in time to make the bus.  My daughter woke up late, so I quickly gave her food, got her dressed at breakneck speed and put more laundry in the dryer.  It was pouring outside, which required her special dinosaur raincoat and ice cream umbrella.  We were running late.  She would no doubt miss the fine motor skills time at preschool and be scarred for life. 

I need a refresh button for today.

The other definitions for "refresh" that struck home with me are: 
"To provide new vigor and energy by rest, food, etc." and "To make fresh again; reinvigorate or cheer." 

After the middle-of the night diaper change and the early morning alarm, I sure could use some of that energy and rest right now.  Instead, I'll settle for some coffee and a few minutes to watch the rain. 

Looking up a verse for this concept, I found this one for the first time:  "The Lord replied, 'I will go with you.  And I will give you rest.' "  (Exodus 33:14)  How cool is that?  I'm sure I am totally taking it out of context, and I know my seminary professors would kill me for this, but I am going to mention it here, because what a message!  God will go with us, and he will give us rest. 

If, like me, you need a "refresh" button for life, think about this verse today.  Dwell on it. Walk in it. God will go with you.  He will give you rest. 

Thank you, God, for the refreshment that comes from you just when we need it. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Gym Class

This year, I've had a wide range of experiences with substitute teaching.  Look for a series on this next month as I finish up the year.  Yesterday, I taught gym class.  Right up there on the list with subjects I never thought that I would ever teach, including Algebra.   It's the end of the year, and there aren't as many assignments available, so I thought, "Why not?"

As I looked through the plans for the day that the teacher had typed up, I came across a worksheet on the male reproductive system.  "No!"  I thought quickly.  "No, no, no, no, no! They do not seriously expect a substitute teacher to teach this, do they?"  I quickly looked through the plans and discovered that it was a personal learning day in health class, so they had to read about it on their computers and fill out the worksheets on their own.  "Ok, I can do this," I thought to myself. As long as they don't ask any questions...

The ironic thing was that I had to break up two couples from making out during the class where they were supposed to learn about the reproductive system.  Insert faceplant emoji here...

I went on to teach aerobics and stretching and toning class, both of which involved a worksheet.  As the regular teachers like to say, "You just have to keep them from killing each other."  Ok, I can do that...

The whole experience brought back so many memories of my own gym class days.  Just walking out onto the gym floor was like  Déjà vu.  All of the repressed memories came flying back.  The awkwardness of 7th grade, in which we had to change our clothes and take showers and learn to put on deodorant.  The 3rd grade square dancing, during which we had to touch boys' hands and risk being infected by cooties.  The Maypole dances with streaming colored ribbons.  The roller skating around and around the gym.

So. Many. Memories.  For me, a shy, overweight, non-athletic female, most of my school years were spent dreading gym class.  I did like the roller skating, the occasional volleyball game, and the tennis matches.  I had a hate-hate relationship with the pull up bar and I despised having to hit the ball and run the bases during softball.  I couldn't run the mile for the presidential fitness test and push ups only eluded me.

Many of the other students loved gym class.  A chance to get away from academics and let loose while playing their favorite sport.  I think of one girl in particular every time I think of gym class.  She was the most athletic person in our school, and she was good at every sport.  She played hard, she played rough and she enjoyed every minute of it.  I was the polar opposite.  I was counting the minutes until gym class was over.  I was the academic type, and prayed constantly that gym class wouldn't bring my grade point average down in my run for class valedictorian.  The semester on track seriously questioned this as I could not run to save my life and I couldn't jump more than a foot.  Thankfully shot put helped me out a bit with my grade.

My funniest memory to look back on was during our badminton section.  My nemesis (later turned good friend) Nate was playing next to me and as he went to swing the racquet to hit the shuttlecock, the racquet got stuck in my very long hair. I screamed and probably punched him in the arm.  "My hair!"  It took the rest of class to untangle my hair and my pride from his racquet.

My best memory of gym class happened during the last semester of my senior year.  I have very bad recollections of the male gym teacher at our school.  He was harsh and demanding and favored the athletic students in the class.  I always tried to stay away from him as much as possible.  Senior year, we were playing soccer (a sport I actually liked), and as we approached the goal, I made an assist to the gym teacher and he scored a goal!  Afterwards, he came up to me and said, "Nice assist!"  I will never forget those words, as they were the only positive ones I'd heard from him in four years.

It's amazing how a thing like teaching gym class will bring back a flood of memories.  What do you remember about gym class?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Photo by Antonina Bukowska
"Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.  Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.  Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.  Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance."  

~Yoko Ono

How To Enjoy Your Life

Photo by:  Veri Ivanova
Last week, I attended a dance performance and met a few of the audience members sitting near me.  One of them was 91 years old.  She, too, loved dance.  She said that some of her favorite times in life were spent volunteering at the Kennedy Center and watching many of their shows.  Her most memorable moment was meeting Soviet-American dancer and choreographer, Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Now, she loves watching Dancing With the Stars.  (I so want to be her when I grow up!)

She grabbed me by the arm and asked, "How old are you, twenties?"  (I immediately loved her even more!)  I corrected her, and she replied that I am still young.  She went on to remind me: "Enjoy your life.  I am 91 years old, and I am near the end, but I've enjoyed my life.  Enjoy yours."  She is now battling cancer, but she continues to attend as many dance performances as she can.

There is so much wisdom in talking to friends in their nineties.  They have seen in all, experiencing so much in 90 years.  If we listen closely, maybe we won't make quite as many mistakes in our own lives.  I loved her admonition to "Enjoy your life."  So many days, we forget to do that.  As they say, "The days are long, but the years are short."  Some days, I am definitely not enjoying my life.  Last week, I spent two sleepless nights getting up constantly as my sick two-year-old woke up and needed me to comfort her.  I got frustrated and extremely tired.  I wasn't enjoying myself.  But there was a moment.  During the 3:00 am wake-up, I laid her against my chest and rocked her in her chair.  I gently sang and prayed over her.  A beautiful moment as I remembered her infant days and enjoyed the closeness of our relationship.

I don't believe we are put on this earth to be happy.  I believe there is more to strive for than a happy and safe life.  I believe that I was put on this earth to love and serve the Lord and to encourage others with his love.  This has not always put me in my happy place.  I have been stretched out of my comfort zone, led to do things that weren't part of my personality type, and have been deeply hurt at times by other Christians.  Serving God involves suffering, but it is incredibly fulfilling.

We may not be put on earth to be happy, but I do believe that God wants us to enjoy our time here.  If he didn't, he would have made everything black and white, with cafeteria food and boring days.  Instead, he created color.  He made sets of trees to bloom in a different color each week.  This year, I have enjoyed the pinks, the purples and the whites.  He paints with glorious color.  He directs a beautiful symphony of music.  He created the majesty of animals in the wild and he paints us a glorious picture each morning and every evening as the sun rises and sets.

Part of enjoying our life is to remember this in any circumstance.  A friend reminded me of that as she spoke about living in a hut in Africa in her twenties and being happier with people who were so content with their lives than she had ever been in the United States.  I experienced this as well.  On my first international mission trip to the Dominican Republic, I had one of the most profound moments of my life.  As we arrived and walked up the side of a hill, we passed homes made of sticks and cracking mud, walked by babies covered in dirt and mothers cooking meager plates of food.  We came to the clearing and heard the villagers singing to welcome us.  They weren't running up to us and asking us to help or needing us to give them money.  They welcomed us with joy and singing.  I remember tears running down my cheeks as I realized this was real.  Extreme poverty was real, just a plane ride away, and yet it came hand in hand with great joy.  This was a defining moment in my life.

Remember to enjoy it.  You only get one.  You won't be happy every day.  You may not be happy most days, but if you persevere, you will find deep joy and enjoy life as you fulfill your purpose.