Sunday, December 7, 2008

Perfection is Not the Goal in Family Foundations

Linda Crow: Perfection is Not the Goal in Family Foundations

Recently, I created a gingerbread church from scratch, with stained-glass candy windows and a roof of candy shingles.

Since this was my first attempt, I gathered tips from experienced bakers and researched blueprints in order to prevent catastrophes. Even so, when I assembled the sections, I found odd structural problems.

None of the research advised that when your cookie sheet goes "boing" in the oven, your walls might warp, turning your creation into a wonky funhouse instead of a sweet fairy tale cottage.

I added candy to detract but only felt dissatisfied. I considered placing a gift-laden sleigh on the bowed roof to imply the cause of sinking, but I knew that camouflaging the flaws compromised the integrity of basic gingerbread principles. (I'm serious about this stuff!)

So, I heated a knife in a candle flame and painstakingly cut through the thick royal icing, removing one section at a time to begin again.

After reassembling it with truly flat pieces, I added ribbon candy, peppermints, gumdrops and dripping icicles, which I then enjoyed with a clear conscience -- no artful deceptions on my church!

My experience made me think about how real homes and churches get off-kilter, literally and figuratively, when they're built on shifting ground or with compromises in integrity.

Sometimes, couples try to candy-coat flawed relationships by buying more stuff, as if to say, "How could our marriage be bad? We have worked together to buy a great house, take tropical vacations, fill a four-car garage and enjoy lavish Christmases."

But if there are foundational flaws, the sugar frosting belies the funhouse incongruity in their hearts.

My parents, celebrating 66 years of marriage on Dec. 14, built my childhood home on a foundation of faith in Christ, and my brothers and I enjoyed the sweetness of a loving home as a result.

There weren't a lot of Dr. Phils or premarital counselors in 1942, and I'm sure there were bumps and cracks along the way, but they have always painstakingly sacrificed whatever it took to stay true to their vows and to God, their foundation.

No family is perfect, and I've learned through gingerbread baking that perfection is not the goal. I now embrace small glitches that prove my gingerbread wasn't stamped out in a factory but rolled out by my hands.

However, I'm grateful to know that when my marriage or my individual life shows signs of cracking or warping, I can bring the pieces to God, who straightens crooked hearts and rights wrong thinking.

And that is the good news of this season -- through the events of the first Christmas, God provided a way to re-build, restore and renew our relationship with Him and with each other. Those are indeed good tidings of great comfort and great joy.

Merry Christmas, and happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Check out Linda Crow's blog,, to see pictures of her gingerbread house.

See yesterday's post for pics of this house.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Play with All Your Heart Today

When I was seven, my parents bought a brand new piano for me, before I ever had a lesson. That seems rashly optimistic, but my parents really wanted a piano player, with a fervor usually reserved for prospective doctors and lawyers. I can’t explain their unity and intrepidness in this goal, but when I was born, my father declared, “Now we have our piano player!”

Even though I wasn’t very good, you should’ve heard my folks go on about my playing. No matter how many times I bungled notes, they told me they loved it.

I thought, “What’s wrong with them? Can’t they hear the mistakes? I can’t finish a song without messing up, yet they think I’m headed for the Lawrence Welk Show!”

Now, every morning before school, my 15 year-old plays a collection of popular ballads she has learned from the Internet. As she practices, she tinkers with chords, misses notes, uses the pedals wildly—she’s all over the map, so to speak. Yet her music gives me a warm “Christmasy” feeling, one of peace, contentment and pride.

My joy comes from her expressing her God-given creative spark. I can feel her heart in the ballads. Notice that perfection is not even a remote consideration in my appreciation. I love that girl, and her music moves my heart.

When I was the young pianist, I couldn’t get past the mistakes, but my parents heard music above the flaws. Now I do the same thing with my daughter.

We created beings know our frailties all too well. We regularly bungle the gifts our Father has given us. Sometimes we start and don’t finish; sometimes we get a little crazy and miss the mark.

For instance, you may feel that you have not excelled at parenting lately. You may feel that your house is a mess, that you are scattered between home, church and work. You may have lost your patience with a family member in spite of your sincere desire to love him.

You only notice your flaws, while your Father who loves you sees your efforts and hears the music of your life above your clinker notes.

Missing the mark doesn’t surprise Him. Perfection isn’t even a remote consideration in his love for you. He delights in you even now as you sit soaking up these words.

Whatever you do today, “play” with all your heart for the One whose ear is inclined to you 24 hours a day. Don't let inner accusations and missteps drag you down. Your soul longs to express itself to its Creator, and He longs to hear music that is uniquely yours!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What a Difference a Year Makes

Oh, how a year can change your perspective.

Last September, we deposited our son, Jordan, in his freshman dorm room.

I was one sad mom.

What’s worse, I think he was unhappier than I was. His expression said, “What am I doing here? I really don’t want to be here. This is a mistake.”

Every mom will understand this: even though a child is old enough to vote, pay taxes and live with a complete stranger in a tiny, musty dorm room, if he’s troubled, your heart is also troubled. After we left, I prayed for him daily.

Throughout the year, Jordan grew to tolerate campus life, and in May, he returned home with a new independence and a boat-load of laundry. We spent a wonderful summer with our son and his laundry, and then before I knew it, it was time to make the second deposit.

Imagine my surprise when I read his first email this year:

Probably one of the best weekends ever. We set up a slip-n-slide, and at first, it was us and another guy, and it was starting to get lame even though it was fun. Then groups of people started showing up, and eventually, we had over 50 people slipping and sliding. We also had at least another 30 people actually sitting and watching, like it was a performance. We were kind of dubbed the most welcoming room and the room with the best chemistry between the two roommates. We will probably be hosting a lot of movie nights. Classes are okay so far.

I’d say one year made a big difference, wouldn’t you? I think my prayers for him did, too.

We all have moments when we think, “How did I get here? I don’t want to be here!” Sometimes our discomfort drives us to God, which is ultimately a good thing.

Also, when we’re dreading situations such as job interviews, root canals or resolving soured relationships, it helps to remember that prayer can work out kinks, whether in the circumstance or in us. Rather than merely enduring, we can end up rejoicing, like Jordan.

God loves turning our negative expectations upside down:

Do not remember past events; pay no attention to things of old. Look. I am about to do something new … I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:18-19).

God cares about what you’re going through. He knows just how to make a way through your personal wilderness, and if he chooses, instead of a river, he can put a slip-n-slide in the middle of your desert.

Whatever your trouble is, pray, and then watch with expectant eyes. He is about to do something new!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Whatever You Do, Go the Extra Mile

Whatever You Do, Go the Extra Mile

Olympian swimmer Dara Torres possesses a stunning physique and fierce athleticism, but what sets her apart from other top athletes is her age, 41.

Torres inspires me because at 45, I started running again, which is neither easy nor graceful. I call what I do "slogging," for "slow jogging," because I'm ridiculously leaden. My allergic post-nasal drip is faster than my gait.

But this morning, I had the best slog of my life.

Mid-route, as I neared two runners, they began hooting, pumping their fists, jumping around and singing the Olympic anthem at the tops of their lungs on a Saturday morning in the middle of a quiet neighborhood street. It was quite a heady experience.

A while after I passed them, I realized I hadn't needed to slow to a walk anytime during my run. In fact, my legs felt solid, my breathing was adequate, my calf didn't cramp, my laces stayed tied. I seemed to be morphing into a real runner.

Before long, I noticed I was about to match my own distance record. Fueled by pride and adrenaline, I decided to keep going, and I went a full extra mile!

I thought about Torres as I ran. She's used to slicing through the water to confidently gaze at her time. I'm used to looking for sprinklers to run through and collapsing in my yard. She has hundreds cheering her on. I have my husband, George, and his friend, ironically named "Victor," encouraging me and annoying the neighbors. Torres has the life of a champion; I have the life of a tryer.

So I wonder: Does Dara truly ever exult in the small things, like going one more lap in the pool or holding her breath a few seconds longer?

Because I sure exulted this morning: "Thank you, God, for this beautiful day! Thank you for legs! For breath! For no hot flashes during this run! Thank you that I can thrill over small things. Thank you for helping me go the extra mile. ..."

And that's when my thoughts changed perspective: "The extra mile! Wasn't that exhilarating? Guess what? You can get that same great feeling again today if you go the extra mile for someone else. Encourage someone the way Victor and George encouraged you; give your all to whatever situation you're in; don't discount small beginnings and rejoice in small victories -- go the extra mile."

1 Peter 4:10-11 says, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others ... If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ."

Whatever you do today, go the extra mile. You're golden!

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

Sunday, June 15, 2008

God is the Author of Life

It all started with reading Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, followed by a close friend's serious cancer diagnosis. Then, there was the death of a former high school classmate.

Death has been on my mind a lot lately.

Actually, I think about dying at some point every day, not in a morbid way, but in an "Are you ready? Is there unfinished business? How do you want to be remembered?" way, which is constructive, to a point.

What's not constructive is allowing myself to be tortured by the fear of leaving my children and husband. As a believer, I must draw the line of rumination there. I can't give in to hand-wringing.

Henri Nouwen spoke about the unique relationship of a trapeze team. When the flyer lets go of his bar and hangs in mid-air for a split second, he has no security. He cannot see his catcher nor control the catcher's speed or method. But at just the right moment, the flyer's "savior" arrives and whisks him to the base.

Most of us believe death will be like that frightening moment of suspension. But 2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us, “We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.”

In other words, we will not be left hanging for one moment because to let go here makes us present there.

*Sometimes when I sit down to write, I face the blank screen and feel uncertain and anxious—the term is “writer’s block.” After this sad, question-filled week, I’m comforted by the thought that although life is uncertain, it is not unwritten. That is to say, God is the author of life, and he has never suffered writer’s block. He is not uneasy about the future at all.

*That’s why Christians shouldn’t despair. Death is simply another part of each of our stories.

Paul says, "When you sow a seed, it must die in the ground before it can live and grow. And when you sow it, it does not have the same body it will have later. What you sow is only a bare seed, maybe wheat or something else. But God gives it a body that he has planned for it" (Corinthians 15:35-38).

The key phrase is: "that he has planned for it." We who trust in Christ can know that as the story of our life unfolds, we are in His sight and in His thoughts, safe in the strong hands of our savior and "catcher" who has planned for us to be with Him forever. Nothing can pry us from his loving grip.

*section that was edited/partly omitted that I re-inserted here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Had a Mother Who Read to Me (Mother's Day 2008)

Here is my mom with me probably in 1963. On the right is my mom winking because she is feisty like that. Just yesterday, she told me she saw Tina Turner, who is 68, on Oprah. She said "That Tina said she loves being 68. She has learned a lot and loves her life and doesn't care that much what she looks like. I say, 'Wait 'til you get some 80 on ya, Tina; then let's see what you say!'" And we both cracked up. "Get some 80 on ya?" where did she get that? My mom is funny and has great cheekbones. I did not inherit them. Below is the newspaper column in the Muncie Star Press honoring her.

COLUMN: Thanks, Mom, for Opening my Mind, Heart
By LINDA CROW • May 10, 2008

When I was little, I often clutched books as well as dolls close to me at bedtime, cherishing them equally. In fact, some of my earliest, happiest memories are of my mother reading to me. Although it has been 40 years since I've held my childhood books in my hands, I can still remember many illustrations and recall my mother's voice ringing out the phrases of my beloved stories.

My favorite was about three little siblings who built a snowman but forgot about him after they went inside for the evening. The deserted snowman gazed longingly into the picture window as the children decorated their Christmas tree. It's hard to overstate how the snowman's loneliness broke my heart; in fact, all of the compassion I've had as an adult for others or animals has never surpassed the intensity of sympathy I had for that storybook snowman!

Now I realize that I was so moved because my mother read with such enthusiasm and expression that she completely drew me into the story.

One day, I asked Mother whether she remembered this story, and she said yes, although she couldn't remember the title. Neither could I, so I searched the Internet with only one sentence and one scene committed to memory.

Guess what? I found it: The Snowman's Christmas Present, by Irma Wilde.

A week later, I opened the book for Mother in my home and read the words that evoked memories of being smaller, sitting securely on her lap with her arms around me, smelling a hint of Dove soap and brushing against her cotton sleeves and gingham skirt: "This is the story that the Snowman told to the Big Red Sun at sunset on Christmas Day." We turned to the page where the snowman remained outside, and I shared with her how that scene affected me, how her reading formed a life-long love of reading in me.

Mothers do so many big and small things for their children, imparting important lessons, meeting their children's every physical, spiritual and emotional need as best they can. But sometimes, in the most quiet, unassuming, unplanned ways mothers touch their children's souls for a lifetime without realizing it. That's what my mother's reading did for me.

I am 45; my mother is now 82. I write this thank you to her today as a way to "rise up and call her blessed" (Proverbs 31:28) for investing her time and herself in me for so many years. And although my mother was -- and is -- absolutely wonderful in every way, I would like to offer this poem by Strickland Gillilan as a tribute to the precious gift she gave me when she lifted me onto her lap and opened not just a book, but also my mind and my heart. Thank you, Mom, ... I love you.

The Reading Mother

I had a mother who read me things
That wholesome life to a child's heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that every Mother were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold,
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be;
I had a mother who read to me.

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

Saturday, April 5, 2008

God of the Infinite Chances

Just as if I were starring in my own classic sitcom, I managed to back into my co-worker’s car in the parking lot last week. My gas tank cover hooked her fender, leaving her car with scratches and a nickel-sized hole and my gas tank cover twisted up like a soda can tab.

The only thing worse than the initial impact of the fender bender was the awkward moment of returning to the building to inform my co-worker, “I have some very bad news about your vehicle.”

And the consequences just kept rolling in. I had to tell my husband, face my co-workers and re-live the incident every time I saw our vehicles.

Although I’ve always been a pretty conservative, prudent driver (read: grandma in a Camaro), I’m even more aware now that I’ve blown my one “get out of jail free” card--a first-time forgiveness insurance policy protecting me from a premium increase--and cannot afford another wreck. So every time I start my car I tell myself, “Whatever you do, don’t mess up.” That’s a lot of pressure!

Every unfortunate decision or sin has consequences. Not only should we confess to our Father, but we may also have to confess to the person we’ve wronged or to a third party who can hold us accountable in the future. Confession is humbling, but it’s the only way to start reparations.

My stomach knots up whenever I see my mutilated car and know that I alone am to blame. Likewise, just when we’re beginning to find peace in the process of confession and forgiveness, remorse can sucker punch us with shame. When overwhelming regret condemns us again and again, we should remind ourselves that what’s past is past and that we’ve learned where our weakness lies, where our strength lies (in Him), and how to avoid that kind of mess in the future.

Sometimes long after the event passes, we harbor fear that we’ll trip up again. We certainly don’t want to re-live the pain--or worse--wear out God’s forgiveness policy. But God does not want us to live in constant fear of anything, including sin.

Insurance companies may not forgive us “70 x 7” because they’re not all that into holiness, grace, mercy, etc.--but God is.

It is often said that “God is the God of the second chance.” Isn’t it wonderful to know that He also has a second, third, 43rd and 1000th-time forgiveness policy?

I’m so glad that “Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Knowing how relentlessly forgiving our Father is should make us want to live obediently inside the circle of His best will for us every minute of every day. But it’s comforting to know that when we do mangle our lives, He doesn’t demand that we pay a perpetual debt. Jesus paid that price once for all, and the same mercies that are brand new every morning also endure forever.

We bring our ugly mistakes to God, and He turns our wreckage into something beautiful. It’s a crazy policy when you think about it, but that’s our Father: the extravagant giver of unmerited favor, the God of infinite chances to those who know and love Him.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Feeling Lost? Here's a Message In A Bottle

You usually get a 2nd Cup of silly here, but I do enjoy writing with a little more depth once in a while. Regarding my columns, I try to speak to people who aren't yet committed to following Christ and then with the next column, to those who are committed. However, all of my columns appear on the religion page, and to be honest, I don't think many people go there on purpose. Unless they're my parents. And sometimes not even them! ["Mom, did you know my column is in today's paper? No? Well, it is."] Also, I did not title this piece; the editors did.

Feeling Lost? Here's a Message in a Bottle

For the first time since the General Hospital Luke and Laura phenomenon of my senior year in high school, I'm hooked on a television series.

Lost is ostensibly about the survivors of an airplane crash on an uncharted Pacific island, but the reason the show is wildly popular is that every week, the double meaning of the title becomes more and more enthralling.

Each Lost character has his own backstory that brought him aboard Oceanic flight 815, allowing writers to address themes such as the existence of God, fate vs. destiny, good vs. evil, dualism within characters, relationship dysfunction -- particularly between fathers and sons, faith vs. science and redemption.

Plus it's just so ingeniously written that it's completely captivating.

So, I've been thinking about being lost a lot lately, specifically, that while a person can be physically disoriented, he can also be confused in his spirit, his heart or identity.

Maybe you can relate to these "lost" moments from my life:

When I was a child, I skipped up to my father in a department store and took his hand, only to look up and see that I had grabbed a stranger's hand instead. I was so panicked I couldn't speak and ran away. I wasn't running toward anything because I wasn't thinking at all; I could only run away.

I'll never forget the first time I was driving when suddenly I whispered, "Where am I?"

Once I lost my toddler daughter only to find her curled up behind a toilet in our half bath, smiling mischievously at me.

I remember when my husband took my little dog for a short car trip without my knowledge. When I couldn't find her, I was heart-sick, believing her to be lost.

I also remember how lost I felt when my college sweetheart broke up with me as I looked down the road at the rest of my life without him.

And then there was the moment as a young adult that I realized that I was living in a state of lostness, desiring a meaningful life and unconditional love but feeling depressed instead. Again, I reached out for my Father's hand. This time, I recognized the sure grip of a faithful God. No more confusion or running -- His hand was the right thing to reach for.

Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message, said that we're all stuck on a personal "I-land," where we are so lost that we don't know who we are, who God is or why we're here. In this sense, we are born lost. We're merely existing, just surviving. The message in a bottle: "I have made a way to rescue you from your I-land!" floats by everyone on his I-land, but only a few realize the need to be rescued or believe that it's possible.

If you're confused, afraid, lonely, hopeless, or empty, open the message in the bottle with your name on it and know that help is on the way. Your rescuer is closer than your next heartbeat if you'll just reach out. For the rest of your life, you'll feel your Father's presence, and nothing will be able tear you away from His firm grip -- you'll never be lost again.

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What Not to Wear--Spiritual Edition

What Not to Wear, Spiritual Edition

On TLC’s fashion makeover show What Not to Wear, a makeover subject is introduced to outfits put together according to new rules designed especially for her by the show’s hosts. If the subject stays within the guidelines and avoids old habits and haunts when she shops in New York City, she’ll do well at her “big reveal,” where the hosts will lavish praise on her for staying true to their directives even though she may have struggled.

When we’re sensitive to the Spirit of God, we too have moments of revelation, seeing ourselves in the 360* mirror of truth, and it’s not pretty.

The Spirit then shows us a new way of living, one that best fits why our creator made us in the first place. If we focus on him and avoid old habits and haunts, we’ll do well in the “big city,” and in the end, God will lavish on us the words we long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In Ephesians 6:14-18, we find familiar “rules” for dressing for spiritual success.

Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God's justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God's saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God's message that comes from the Spirit.

But we’ve read these guidelines so many times it’s easy to blow across them. So just for fun, let’s flip the passage and look at What Not to Wear, Spiritual Edition.

*Don’t get bound up in hypocrisy and deceitfulness, which are ugly and hurtful. Be straightforward and virtuous from the smallest button to the largest overcoat.

*Don’t slip your feet into grungy shoes that bring nothing but trouble to others— be the one who walks into a room with good news, comfort, peace, compassion and hope. Wear shoes suitable for moving swiftly into spiritual battle for yourself or on behalf of others. Who says sensible shoes can’t be beautiful?

*Don’t wear a flimsy smock of faith. Go for quality and durability. You’ll be glad when you face harsh weather and adversaries.

*Your hat is a banner over you, creating first impressions. Who is your designer? Know your Savior and King above all!

*Your most important accessory? Not your denomination. Not your worship music. Not your financial giving statement. It’s the Word of God. Outside your body, strictly speaking, it’s an accessory, but meditate on it until it’s deep in your heart and first in your thoughts.

*Don’t be lazy about your spiritual attire, returning to old habits and haunts. Stay au current. Notice what God is up to in the world and join him. Be in constant communication with your Life Coach.

It’s OK to look forward to the final “Big Reveal,” but until then, get your spiritual fashion rules down, express your creativity and uniqueness, work with passion, and have loads of fun in the big city!
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