Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life's Tests

I remember the night that my son, a freshman college student, experienced his first full-fledged anxiety attack over impending final exams.  As to be expected, he was feeling overwhelmed by the large volumes of material he was required to know and regurgitate on his cumulative exams. I remember the feeling well. Finals are scary—no doubt about it. I did my best to reassure him that the task before him was indeed doable and that I had complete confidence in his ability to do well.  After our conversation, as I crawled into bed and rehashed our discussion in my head, I had one of those adult realizations regarding the true insignificance and relative ease of those college exams in the grand scheme of life. I realize in his present age and state, my son would likely disagree with me.  However, one day, he, too, will understand that academic tests are predictable and manageable. It is funny how age and perspective changes everything.

In recent years, I have come to understand that the most important tests in life do not come with scheduled test dates, class notes, textbooks, or professors with office hours.  In fact, the greatest tests in life generally come with absolutely no warning at all—tests like your spouse becoming a victim of corporate downsizing and losing his job of 23 years, the abrupt loss of a loved one, or the sudden and unexplained illness of your child.  These are a few of the tests life has thrown at me in recent months.  I don’t have a mathematical formula, a theory to memorize, or a graduate assistant I can consult as I face these cumulative tests. Furthermore, they multiply. Each test seems to morph into additional tests as new situations develop, people react to those situations, and life just happens.

The professor in this great class of life is the Almighty God, and as a Christian, it is my time to apply what He has been teaching me throughout these many years under His tutelage. My response to these tests and my ability to be a witness of unfailing confidence in His greater plan determines my grade in this interactive classroom called life. Without doubt, I believe all of life’s struggles are intended to point us toward faith in God’s timing and His plan for our individual lives. I also believe life’s triumphs and blessings are intended to do the same—direct us to the one who provides the blessing. What a challenge it is to us all to keep this in mind when we find ourselves in the midst of either circumstance! It is indeed a moment by moment struggle, but God does gently nudge us onward.  He has provided quite a journey for me during these past 18 months....

In the coming weeks, I plan to write about some of the lessons God has taught me about the absolute sovereignty of His timing.

 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”—Romans 8:28

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mama's Rules for Life

My sweet Shannon, words cannot express how proud I am of you and your many accomplishments, nor can even the most eloquent of words conjure up the wealth of emotions that swell inside me when I think about the intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated young lady you have become.  Although I often feel that you have life figured out far more than I did at your age, I have been contemplating the thoughts I want you hold dear as you begin your adult life and venture from our home into a life all your own. Keeping in mind that you love lists as much as I do and knowing that you have a list for items you want for your new apartment,  groceries, clothes to buy for work, your favorite Bible verses, and even a checklist of the character traits of the man of your dreams--I have decided to present you with yet another list.  The ideas that follow are some of the important principles I believe are of great value as you begin to navigate life on you own.

1.   Keep God number one.
2.   Embrace learning. While this seems simple, realize that Texas A&M University does not hand out degrees.  You have worked exceedingly hard to obtain the skills needed for your profession.  As you begin your new job, realize that the real learning is just beginning.  In fact, learning never stops. Life changes, job requirements change, technology changes, and you, too, will change—study and reflect constantly. Just as you had to complete assignments to meet the specifications of different professors, every boss you have will have his/her own way of how things must be done. You may not always agree with their methods; nonetheless, respect their position.  As you learn the small details to accomplish your daily tasks, ask questions to understand the big picture of the business services your company provides. You will appreciate your place in the company more as you gain greater understanding of how the entire operation works.  Every position you hold within in the company allows you to ask more questions and gain more working knowledge of that all-important big picture.  Those who get the “big picture” at work get promoted. 
3.   Learn to say no to nonessentials. You are about to be bombarded with countless opportunities to be on committees at work, join service organizations, teach children’s Bible study, head this committee, join that….  You will have friends who are committed to some activity every evening of the week. Busy does not equate to happy.  You must have “me” time to recharge and reflect on the direction of your life.  With that being said, choose your commitments carefully.  It is impossible to do all things well.  Contrary to your resume, you are not superwoman.  Pick activities that fulfill you and choose to spend time with people who encourage you to pursue your dreams.  Likewise, be aware of becoming entangled in the details of life. Don’t get trapped by the idea that you must live your life exactly like others. You alone must evaluate and determine the essentials and nonessentials in your own life.
4.   Surrender control. Understand when it is your place to take control and your place to accept the authority of others. When it’s someone else’s circus, don’t try to tame their monkeys.  Likewise, learn to accept help from others and appreciate the talents they can bring to the table.  Leaders know their own limitations and bow out gracefully to let others with different strengths and talents take over in the right times and circumstances. Successful teams are made up of individuals with varied skills that come together as equals to contribute to a common goal. Sometimes your talents will naturally put you in that leadership position; other times your colleagues may be better qualified to lead. The best leaders inspire and empower others; therefore, they facilitate. They do not dominate!
5.   Keep it classy. Despite society’s definition of this term, class is not a result of the company you keep, the clothes you wear, the money you earn, or related to material success in any way. Instead, class is a delicate mixture of respecting yourself and respecting others. Remain humble enough to admit your shortcomings and be brave enough to offer others a helping hand because at some time or another, we all stumble….
6.   Marry your best friend. God provides a partner for life—someone with whom to build a future and to share life’s blessings and disappointments. Pick a man that has integrity and puts God and family first. Find the man who sees you exactly as you are—the good, the bad, and everything in between--and loves you for ALL that you are. Marry someone who challenges you every day to be the person God desires you to be and strive to encourage him to do the same. When God offers His right companion, accept this tremendous blessing and guard it earnestly.
7.   Don't give up you when you say “I do.”  With no one to blame but myself, this is what I did for many years. I became Patrick’s wife and then Shannon’s and Jason’s mother. I truly believed that in order to be a good wife and parent that I had to put all of you first all of the time. Somewhere in those years, my dreams faded, my self-worth became entangled with my husband’s or children’s success, and my personal identity became blurred as I focused on my role in our family. It has taken me many years to rediscover my own identity, and I pray that you do a better juggling job than I did. I believe you can take on many roles in life without sacrificing yourself in the process. In your mission to raise a family, remember to stay true to you.
8.   People are more important than possessions. Nothing you own, no matter how great its material value, will ever be as precious as those you love. Love passionately because our time in this world is short. We have no guarantees about our allotted time in this place nor the time God provides others. Consciously choose to devote your time and attention to those you love.
9.   Time is limited—use it wisely. Determine your priorities and spend your time there. If you are not careful, you can easily get caught up in the unimportant details of life and weeks, months, and even years fly by quickly. As Mr. Cloudt likes to remind us, major on the majors and minor on the minors.
10.   When life gets complicated, see rule 1. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

My Apple-Induced Sin

Last night I had the great pleasure of completely frustrating my techie husband. After 25 years of marriage, I have to admit it’s fun to occasionally upset his apple cart—oops, did I say “Apple”?   I did the unthinkable to an IT geek such as himself.  Are you ready for my great sin?  Yep, I did it; I actually bought an Apple iPad. My husband has dominated and controlled all technology purchases in our household since the day we married.  After all, he’s the IT person. After years of technology submissiveness on my part, who knew I could be such a rebel?  But this time, to his complete and utter dismay, I had the final say. Poor hubby-- all he could do was simply stand there, shake his head, and let it be.  For once, this new gadget is completely and wonderfully mine.  After showing me the latest laptops, talking enthusiastically with the Windows guy at Best Buy, my hubby was completely confident he had sold me on a new touch laptop.  I stood obediently quiet and let him ask his “smart” questions and find the perfect laptop for  me.  In all honesty, I admit the snazzy new laptop he selected was pretty spiffy, but when I started calculating the costs, I couldn’t help but mentally compare the price to the iPad I’ve been wanting for months now.  I deposited the laptop and its accessories on the counter, abandoned my mortified husband and the overly-excited Windows guy who was drooling with anticipation of his latest retail sales victory, and purposefully started questioning the Apple guy.  It turns out my “evil Apple” product was cheaper!  My poor husband was devastated, but to his credit, he pretty much kept his mouth shut.  Anyone who knows my husband well understands what an accomplishment this was for him!  All that being said, I did catch him apologizing to the Windows sales guy for my poor judgement.  Then he had to excuse himself and go collect himself in another section of the store while I made the payment. Now, really, honey? Now it’s my mission to prove him wrong!

To explain the significance of this techie battle in our household, you must understand a few things about my family.  First, I  live in a household of geeks.  Everyone has their specialization in computer usage.  My husband and daughter are the business techies.  Hubby is in IT and absolutely loathes Apple products.  Daughter just graduated from college with a business degree and loves Apple for her phone and uses her iPad for Pinterest, keeping up with friends on social media, viewing recipes, etc., but like her father, does not see Apple products as serious business machines. She is fiercely loyal to her laptop for “real computing.” When she received news of my new purchase, her response was, “Mom, iPad rule—it’s not a laptop.” Like father, like daughter… what can I say?  My son, a recent high school graduate, is his own kind of techie.  He swears on the value of Windows products, but he secretly enjoyed his school-issued iPad this past school year.  I caught him! But he, too, is skeptical about my new purchase. As I worked to install my fancy Office 365 subscription on my new baby, he scoffed, “Mom, I wouldn’t have bought that. You can use free apps to do the stuff you do.”  Hmm, because we all know that I have no need for any “real” computing!  There’s an app for all that frivolous writing stuff I do on the computer. Can you understand my frustration with these people?

Secondly, it is very difficult to truly OWN my own devices in this house. We have purchased laptops for me in the past, but somehow MY laptop always becomes family property. Most recently, our dinosaur-era desktop suffered an agonizingly slow death.  It had been giving up little by little each day.  It had grown so slow in processing that I became accustomed to clicking on internet explorer then going downstairs for about 20 minutes and completing chores before expecting it to actually be ready for use. One day last month, without much warning, it simply gave up.  It had lived a long and prosperous life, so it was time, but its abrupt and complete demise caused hubby and I to have to share MY laptop.  Needless to say, this has not been going well.  In the summer, I enjoy blogging, working on stuff for school, keeping in touch with friends, etc.  Unfortunately, sweet hubby completely took over my laptop.  Worse than that, he did not seem to understand my despair with this situation. When I questioned him about purchasing a new computer, he replied that there were plenty of times the laptop was free for my use.  Umm, sure, that works perfectly if I like using the computer at midnight!

So, finally, here I am, celebrating my first technological victory in the Sartor household. I am perched comfortably at the kitchen table with my diet green tea and happily writing my first blog of summer 2014 on my iPad in Word.  After a few hiccups with getting an appropriate keyboard and case, I am officially in business. Hey, family,  as it turns out, Word works just fine on my new device. Imagine that!  Mom actually did her homework. And even better, while  I’m working, I can send an iMessage to my daughter, play my favorite Pandora playlist, check out a new recipe for dinner on Pinterest, transfer money using my bank app, check my email, take a picture of my adorable Boston Terrier, enter calories from lunch in my calorie counter, and the list goes on and on.  Sure, I know a laptop can do many of those things, but laptops are just so boring! My new baby is sleek, sexy, and incredibly rebellious.  Even middle-aged school teachers like myself deserve a little fun! I'm sorry, honey ;)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Non-Material Girl

It is an odd sensation when you discover that all the time you thought your children weren’t really paying attention to you, they were secretly analyzing your every move. In a lengthy phone conversation with my daughter this afternoon, she admitted to me that she is a bit unsettled with the current direction of her life.  I was surprised to hear this. In my eyes, my daughter has life figured out far more than I did at her age.  At 20, she is entering her senior year of college. She will graduate with two bachelors’ degrees and a master’s degree and obtain her CPA before she reaches the ripe old age of 22.  She has a prestigious job waiting for her upon graduation.  She has worked hard, made good decisions, and stayed true to her chosen path.  She has positioned herself well and can truly choose her destiny from here.

With all of this opportunity, however, it is apparently my life she envies. This news is a bit of a shocker. My life is certainly not one that grabs the attention of others. I met her father during my senior year in high school.  We dated all through college and married as soon as we both graduated.  We both worked in our chosen fields for the first year or two of marriage, but then the baby bug hit me, and I was willing to give up my professional life to be a stay-at-home mom.  I worked a variety of part-time jobs so that I could spend the bulk of my time raising babies and maintaining the house.  Since my mother did not work when I was growing up, I felt very torn about working and trying to maintain the June Cleaver kind of household I dreamed about creating when I was younger.  My part-time jobs were a compromise, but I never felt like I fully accomplished either of my life goals completely—being super mom or being the professional writer I aspired to be in my college days.  These were the conflicting dreams that nudged my conscience as a young wife and mother. Today, I wrestle with “the what ifs” and realize I could have probably reached a better compromise for myself and my family.  However, as I ponder this, my thoughts are interrupted again by my daughter’s words.

“From what I can see, you and Dad did everything perfectly,” my daughter explains on the phone. “I just want a life like you and Dad have.” Perfectly, really? I am floored. She never knew of the times we worried about having enough money to pay the bills when I first starting staying home.  She doesn’t know how many times I questioned what happened to my intelligence as I folded clothes while watching yet another episode of Barney with my two toddlers or cleaned up spilled cheerios on the floor. She doesn’t know how unstylish I felt in comparison to my working friends who could continue to maintain their appearance while I tried to keep our expenses to a minimum. She doesn’t know how many times I felt like I gave up such a huge part of myself to try to be the super mom I believed she and her brother deserved. She doesn’t know the pressure her dad felt as the sole bread earner for our young family. She doesn’t know how many handyman jobs her dad completed late at night or on weekends to keep the household functioning smoothly. She doesn’t know how often I wondered if staying home was even making a difference….

I must say, I am relieved to discover that she never perceived my restlessness or questioned our simple lifestyle choices.  It also seems she does not resent that we never took fancy vacations, nor does she feel slighted that we drove a modest car.  I had secretly worried that someday she might. Instead, she openly admits she wants to model our lifestyle. This is quite an unexpected development! I need to process this for a moment….

Quite frankly, I believe it comes down to this. As a child, she knew, without doubt, that she and her brother were the center of our world. Consequently, she felt loved, protected, and cherished.  She saw a loving, committed relationship and a stable home provided by her parents—something she realizes now many of her friends never experienced.  She saw a mom and dad working side by side to make a HOME. Indeed, it is this that she envies.  She has achieved her professional status in the world.  In her job, she will be able to afford what she needs and even some of what she simply wants. However, this status does not impress her. She values family over fluff.  She wants a committed partner and a home filled with love. She understands that status does not bring happiness; she seeks sincerity over superficiality. As I hang up the phone and slowly absorb our conversation, it suddenly dawns on me—we have raised a non-material girl in today’s very material world. I am suddenly feeling very accomplished….

Monday, July 22, 2013

And I Thought I Loved Him Then....

This morning, I find myself in a rather sentimental mood, for today my husband and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. As I look back over the past years, I can only conclude God has had a mighty hand in our marriage. While I realize it sounds a bit cliché, I am truly blessed to be married to my best friend. When I look back on our wedding day, I remember the love I felt as I repeated my wedding vows with my handsome husband-to-be.  In the words of one of my favorite songs, I am reminded of how “I thought I loved (him) then.” As a young bride, I had no idea of what was still yet to come. All these years later, I realize that my love for my husband has greatly multiplied as we continue to walk through life’s experiences together.

Our love story began at a very young age.  We met in a high school math class during our senior year of high school, started dating, and attended our senior prom together. We were the high school sweethearts people like to talk about that really did end up getting married.  After high school graduation, he had plans to go off to Texas A&M University and be in the Corps of Cadets.  Following just one visit to the beautiful campus, I decided to join him. We learned to navigate the campus and college life together. By the end of our sophomore year, I was pretty certain he was the boy I was supposed to marry. 

However, during our junior year, it became clearly apparent that he was indeed God’s chosen partner for me. I realized that my care-free, fun-loving boyfriend was turning into quite a man…a man that was concerned about providing a future for me, a man that understood the importance of a Christian home, a man that made promises and kept them, a man that fiercely believed in doing the right thing regardless of the cost, a man that I could love for a lifetime. We were engaged after our junior year of college. After dating for five years, we were eager to get married and start our life together. We married almost immediately after graduating from college on July 22, 1989.

A few years later, when I became pregnant with our first child, I saw a new side to my young husband.  He shopped for baby furniture with me, painted the baby’s room, discussed baby names, and slowly but surely embraced his new role as a father-to-be.  When my delivery did not go quite as planned, and I was forced to have an unscheduled C-section, I remember him standing by my side and joking with the doctors, both Aggies, about the upcoming football season. The moment our child was born, he effortlessly slipped into his new role as father. While I felt like I had been hit by a truck after the 30+ hours of labor, he absolutely bounded into fatherhood. He immediately learned to change diapers, held and comforted that newborn baby, sterilized bottles, and washed loads and loads of tiny baby clothes while I was still trying to recover from a difficult delivery. Even though I know he was absolutely exhausted, his bright blue eyes beamed with pride as visitors came to see our daughter.  I distinctly remember him coming home from work one afternoon and telling the story of reaching into his pocket for something during his work day and laughing sheepishly as he pulled out a diaper (an unused one—thankfully). This is how much he embraced his role as a new daddy! How do you not love a man like that?

Several weeks later, when I resumed teaching night classes at the local community college, I can remember coming home to see daddy and daughter in the living room watching Monday Night Football.  Such a precious sight to see! This became a regular occurrence which later included our second child as well. I can remember the evening that he and his father worked until after midnight to put together the swing set for our daughter’s second birthday. I can also remember countless Christmas Eves with many hours of tab A to tab B assembling various toys for both of our children, yet he never once complained.

Over the years, my husband has attended many impromptu tea parties with my daughter, read countless princess books, and played the role of Prince Charming in many of our daughter’s adventures. He built a dance room for my daughter, the aspiring ballerina, and attended literally zillions of dance recitals, performances, and competitions. As our daughter got older and busier with high school, my sweet husband got up early on many a Sunday morning to cook breakfast with her so that he could make sure she received his undivided attention.

He built an impressive rendition of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field with Legos with our son, attended and coached countless sporting events, and has actively embraced whatever interest my son is currently pursuing. I can still remember my toddler-aged son following his daddy around the house with his Fisher Price tool belt slung around his waist. He was Daddy’s shadow from a very young age. My husband spent hours with my son building and launching model rockets and later, building and flying model airplanes.  He learned the game of tennis and has traveled all over the area to my son’s tennis tournaments. Lately, he has acquired an interest in shooting sports as my son is quite the competitive shooter. I feel certain that one day my son will truly understand the depth of his father’s support and realize that Dad has always been his greatest fan.

Today, I know my husband is the reason my daughter has high aspirations for her own Prince Charming. Her daddy has taught her what a true gentleman looks like.  She will settle for nothing less. For this, I am especially thankful. My husband is the reason my son is already becoming a young man of character, courage, and conviction. For this, I am also exceedingly thankful.  For me, my husband has been a steady rock to lean upon during life’s tribulations, a constant Godly example of integrity and strength, and a committed and loving partner in every part of our life together. I am exceedingly blessed. I continue to love him and this life even more as I realize the depth of his unconditional devotion to our family.

As I conclude this reflection, I look down at my phone and notice this email from my sweet husband: “We have reservations for dinner at 5:45 p.m. Look nice!” One day, I suspect I will look at this time in our life together and think again, “And I thought I loved you then.” I am eager to see what type of grandfather my husband will become, and there is absolutely no one I would rather share the front porch and our rocking chairs with in our ripe old age…and, yes, I know in my heart that I will love him even more THEN.
*The song I am referencing is Brad Paisley's "Then."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mom Therapy

Since many of you enjoyed my blog post, Footprints, this is the article I wrote in July 2010 after returning from my daughter’s New Student Conference at Texas A&M University.  So as not to disrupt the original piece, I will provide a 2013 update at the end.

It was one of those deja vu moments. I adjusted myself in the uncomfortable seats in Rudder Auditorium as I prepared myself to listen for crucial parental instructions at my daughter’s freshman orientation at Texas A&M University. For an instant, I felt as though I actually left my body and stood briefly in the auditorium’s perimeter. I could acutely recall sitting in the same auditorium 25 years before with my parents preparing to be a freshman myself. In fact, I could actually see the three of us sitting there; it was an odd sensation. I remember my parents being more overwhelmed by the circumstance than I was at the time. Neither of them attended a major university, and the college terminology was like a foreign language to them. I felt like I had to lead them through the process. At the time, I was young, clueless, and eager to taste the freedom of being away from home, and I did not fully understand the magnitude of the journey that beckoned before me.

Something suddenly jolted me back to reality. I looked next to me and noticed my daughter focused intently on the speaker. Thankfully, she had not noticed my momentary time travel. I know her so well. She is taking it all in, but she is so much more equipped to process the information than I was at her age. Still, I know she is a bit intimidated by the impending urgency of it all. Does she know how proud her father and I are of her? I wonder if she fully understands the opportunities that stand before her. I can feel her slipping into her own life with more certainty and gradually moving out of ours. It is an unsettling feeling….

My daughter truly doesn’t need this orientation. She has been born and bred to be an Aggie. She could personally lead the campus tour, quote Aggie scripture, and she is insanely comfortable on this huge campus. It is her territory now. I am the one who needs the orientation. Oh yes, I can read the requirements, billing information, etc., but the formality of it all firmly reminds me of my place in life now. It helps me to adjust my stance. I am not the one walking this campus in the fall. I find myself wanting to fill her head with more and more precautions…”don’t walk alone on campus at night,” “try to study in the afternoon during your breaks,” “don’t forget to separate your whites from darks.” The warning bells constantly go off in my head. “Yes, Mom, I know,” she dutifully replies as I remind her of just one more thing. I know she isn’t really listening, but I feel better knowing that I tried to prepare her for the hundreds of things that she will suddenly confront that she has never encountered before. After all, these are the easy things. But what about the difficult choices? How do I possibly prepare her for these? I know very well that they will come.

She is a mini-me in so many ways, but so much braver and more secure about her path. I wish I could take the credit for that, but it is not my doing. I sense her growing anticipation. She has set a very determined path…double major in business honors and finance followed by a law degree. She wants to make a difference, and undoubtedly, she will. I admire her ambition, her passion, and her work ethic, but I worry about her absolute certainty. I try to caution her that her goals and priorities may change, but she turns a deaf ear. Her green eyes burn brightly with determination and purpose.

She craves her independence, and she hungers for freedom. She has proven herself very capable of making good decisions, so I do not worry that she will abandon common sense and become a wild child. That is not her nature, but still I worry. Will she choose supportive, caring friends? Will she stay true to herself and her values or allow others to influence her path? Will she meet a young man that causes her to re-evaluate that intensely focused path? And, if so, will she understand that changing priorities does not mean personal failure, but simply an altered route? I know her well enough to understand that family will be hugely important to her down the road, and I pray she finds someone to love with all of her heart.

Suddenly, I realize that it is time; I must bow out gracefully. It is truly her moment now. I stand ready if she calls on me for guidance and support. Her father and I will always be her biggest fans. Meanwhile, I pray that she embraces this time in her life, seizes every opportunity that comes her way, and builds friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. My friends that have traveled this road before me tell me that very soon I will be replacing those senior pictures that I just proudly hung in my hallway with college graduation pictures followed by wedding pictures. Really, wedding pictures? I guess life must go on….

July 2013 update—my daughter is entering her senior year at A&M.  She will receive three degrees in May 2014--bachelor’s degrees in business honors and accounting, and a master’s degree in accounting.  She has a job waiting for her at Deloitte in Houston when she graduates. Yes, I am very proud!  As she exits A&M in May, her brother, my high school senior, will start his life as an Aggie in the fall of 2014. I will be hanging two graduation pictures in my hallway next June! I wonder what my thoughts will be when my baby boy attends his New Student Conference at A&M next summer….

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Embracing Ambiguity

Ahhh, summertime!  It’s the time to do what I want to do when I want to do it—there’s nothing better.  Tonight, I am enjoying bantering back and forth via text messages with my daughter on how to set up a PowerPoint presentation for one of her business classes in college.  Meanwhile, I am sipping my Diet Coke and perusing the Internet to see what’s happening in the world.  I never have this grand luxury during the school year. Life is good!

“Mom, I’m freaking out,” my daughter texts. “What about?” I respond absentmindedly. “This presentation, duh?” she answers. “It’s so freaking ambiguous.” My detail-oriented accounting major wants to know exactly what she has to do the make the coveted A, but the professor’s instructions are just a bit on the vague side.  She is instructed to make “dynamic, powerful slides.”  The ambiguity creeps in with the unclear definition of dynamic. “She’s so picky, and I have no idea what she wants,” my daughter wails.

I understand her frustration.  She is accustomed to clear, straight-forward expectations. My daughter is one of those people who wants every “i” properly dotted and every “t” crossed.  Tell her exactly what you want, and she will definitely meet and probably exceed your expectations.  Ambiguity is her worst possible adversary, or so she is convinced this evening.

No doubt about it, ambiguity can be perplexing.  None of us enjoy being put in a position in which we do not know how to succeed. We do not relish the idea of stumbling into dark and murky waters. We prefer clearly-defined plans, calculated risks, and known outcomes.  Unfortunately, that is not how the cookie of life always crumbles.  In my youth, I admit I would have wailed in frustration just as my daughter is doing tonight.

To be honest, I have spent the greater part of my life trying to outsmart uncertainty with plans A, B, and C, and sometimes even D and E. My husband can attest to this, and yes, I am just a teeny bit on the compulsive side.  I admit it has taken many years for me to reach this conclusion, but I believe I have finally discovered something quite profound.  Ambiguity is my friend. What? Yep, my friend, not my foe!  I will take it even one step further-- ambiguity sets me free.

You see, without clearly defined boundaries, I am free to allow my brain to wander and venture outside of the box.  In fact, ambiguity gives me permission to throw the entire box out the window.  When nothing is certain, anything is possible! How I wish I had learned this years earlier!

In fact, this blog, as it turns out, is quite an experiment in ambiguity.  I truly believe blogging is like jumping out of an airplane blindfolded. Each time I throw a post out to cyberspace, it is like I am recklessly jumping myself. With each post, I say a little prayer that I land safely in friendly territory. The process is risky, suspenseful, and even a bit spine-chilling. What if people hate what I write?  How do I know if what I am writing is relevant to others? Will people tell me what they think? Who is reading my stuff anyway?

Despite these uncertainties, I am sailing fearlessly ahead into these murky waters. I am deliberately choosing to be uncomfortable. One of my latest Pinterest quote finds says, “If it doesn’t scare you, it doesn’t challenge you.”  I admit that I have been entirely too timid and hesitant about pursuing my dreams. Writing forces me to cross-examine my life.  It allows me to categorize my thoughts and reflect on things that challenge me, perplex me, and inspire me.  What I discover about myself nudges me forward.  My destination is undeniably ambiguous, but I am fiercely certain that I will be benefitted by the journey.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keeping Christian "Cool"

“Susan, is Victor in CSU (Christian Student Union)?” I innocently asked a student one morning before school. I knew the group was meeting in the auditorium, and I was trying to locate Victor to give him a field trip permission slip he had requested before I rushed to my duty station. I was absolutely floored by Susan’s reply.  “Mrs. Sartor, there is no way Victor is in CSU.  He doesn’t look anything like a Christian.”  I know my mouth was hanging open.  It took all of my Christian courage and steady application of 1 John 1:9 to not snap back, “And what exactly does a Christian look like?”

Hmmm, I guess I don’t “look like” a Christian either by Susan’s standards.  Victor, in my mind, was a likely candidate for CSU membership. He had written essays about how he enjoyed singing old hymns with his dad and grandfather in a small church his family visited when they stayed with his grandparents.  He had written that he appreciated how the simple wording of the old hymns clearly gave all the glory to God.  “He certainly writes like a Christian,” I mused. But let me consider this concept of “looking like a Christian….”  As much as I can tell, Victor looks like most of my other 7th grade boys.  He wears blue jeans, t-shirts, and athletic shoes to school.  His hair is neat, and he looks rather ordinary to me.  Granted, I haven’t noticed any halo radiating around his head, and thankfully, he isn’t dancing in the aisles of my classroom and loudly singing any praise hymns while I am instructing the class.  Perhaps that is what Susan is looking for….

Interesting enough, I haven’t seen a halo on Susan either, but I guess she does have “a look.”  She and her friends wear t-shirts with variations of the phrase “I love Jesus” daily to school.  The kids she hangs out with sing in church “rock” bands and wear skinny jeans. I guess they “look like” Christians.  She regularly attends the CSU meetings and is available to help with every possible service project the group takes on. Is Susan a better Christian than Victor because of this? Is it my place to judge?  Is it her place to judge Victor?  Absolutely not!

It disturbs me that we, as Christians, sometimes get caught up in our “holier than thou” mindset.  The Bible clearly identifies Christians of all types—doctors, beggars, wealthy kings, lowly servants…. I don’t believe any of them have a certain “look.”  We cannot ascertain a person’s spirituality by his or her clothing, words, church affiliations, or even actions. I assume we judge others in our own selfish efforts to elevate ourselves in the eyes of our Christian friends and possibly even gain some points with God.  I am sure Satan has a powerful role in this, and I am equally certain God is not impressed with our human efforts.  

Equally disturbing is the trend for Christians to try to prove their great spirituality to others. As a society, we are extremely caught up in appearances and self-affirmation. As Christians, we seek to please other Christians. We believe we must attend a certain church, dress a specific way, listen to the most popular Christian music, be seen in public with only our Christian friends, participate in a youth group, save the children in Africa, and the list goes on and on.  Social media makes it possible for us to easily broadcast all of the great things we are doing and gain that self-affirmation we crave. But in all honesty, are there any of these deeds that an unbeliever can’t do just as easily? What makes these actions tied with the concept of Christianity such great acts of faith? And who are you or I to judge their value anyway?

Clearly, our spiritual mindset determines the value of our actions, and this can only be determined by God as He is the only one who knows the true motivation of our heart. Approval from our Christian friends, although a nice boost for our human ego, should never be the intended goal of Christian service. When we judge others as not being proper Christians because they do not follow our Christian game rules, we have a serious ego problem. I often wonder how many unbelievers are completely turned away from the Christian life because of the difficulty of playing the Christian “game.” Sadly, our human efforts to obtain salvation, or even Christian approval, completely nullify one of the greatest concepts in the Bible—GRACE. 

Grace is all that God is free to do for man because of the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  God has done it all.  Everything. He has provided the means for our salvation and a divine system which allows us to remain in fellowship with Him and live the Christian life.  Regardless of how noble and gracious we appear to our human peers, we are completely helpless to approach the throne of God based on our own human merits.  We are so entirely helpless, in fact, that God holds our hand through the act of salvation. All we have to do is BELIEVE in the total work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit finishes the deal and permanently seals us into God’s Kingdom. God’s grace is sufficient, and it is magnificent! How dare we try to complicate it!

Because “I faith it” and I believe God is the author of salvation, I have complete security in my divine inheritance. My character is not in question because it is God’s integrity that makes salvation possible, not my own.  In addition, my relationship with God is personal.  I do not need to wave a Christian flag, style my hair a certain way, or follow any other human mandates to prove my Christianity.  Nor do I feel the constant need to wear my Christianity on my shirt, for it is best worn in my heart. My relationship with God is MY relationship with God. It is not for others to judge or criticize; indeed, there is no such thing as human perfection. I must realize when I hold others to some man-made standard to validate their spiritual status, I doubt the ability of God to save any and all that come to Him. I know better--God’s power is infinite!

To be clear, I enjoy spending time with my Christian friends, find satisfaction in helping others in need, and have no problem wearing a shirt that expresses my faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I agree that Christian service is valuable when done with the proper spiritual mindset. However, I do see great harm in judging the spiritual status of others because they live their Christian life differently than I do. As Christians, we need to encourage our Christian friends, not belittle or judge them. God’s purpose for each Christian’s life is individualized because God, our creator, recognizes our individuality. He grants our spiritual gifts, which determine how we best serve in our Christian life, with complete understanding of our human personality and strengths. We are purposefully designed by an omniscient creator. Therefore, I believe God purposefully schedules our divine appointments with those who can best benefit from our personal Christian witness. As a result, my means of Christian service or witness may look quite different from yours.  If we take our job of representing God in this world seriously, we will understand that it is our duty to spend our time in the study of truth so that we are always ready for His next divine appointment.

My pastor likes to say, “Living the Christian life is a human impossibility.”  We need to focus our attention on the One who makes the Christian life a possibility.  I truly believe when we are properly oriented to God’s plan for our life, it will be perfectly evident to others, even if we don’t have the t-shirt to prove it! Our Christian witness is not in the company we keep, the clothes we wear, or even in the church services we attend.  God will place us in the right places at the right times to let His light shine in this world.  We need only to follow….

*Please note that names in the article have been changed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


On a blistering hot Friday afternoon, I looked down to see my son’s size 13 footprints in the soft dirt as we made our way around the university campus. We trudged around the perimeter of the largest central campus in the nation on this incredibly steamy afternoon. We were completing the typical prospective student tour, but it was much larger than that.  We were in search of his future—a grand journey, indeed! Well, maybe he did not see it that way exactly, but I could perceive his growing anticipation in his posture.  With each step, he was picturing himself here. As I gazed back at the sculptured dirt, I couldn’t help but contemplate what footprint he might leave with this place and what imprint it might also leave on him.

Footprints are powerful marks of identity.  Almost as unique and identifying as our fingerprints, they clearly state our presence.  “He’s been here,” my son’s footprints echoed in the dirt.  But as easily as they are left in the pliable dirt, footprints are just as easily erased. My footprints had once marked this place as well.  Not too many years ago, I, too, envisioned leaving my mark not only here, but on the world. I understand his anticipation. Youth allows that fearless, “I can do anything” voice in your head to take full stage.  It is a persistent voice that drives us to believe in ourselves and charge ahead despite our hesitations and fears.

The wind blew slightly and I remembered my first walk around the campus as a prospective student.  I, too, had been full of dreams and purpose.  The leaves whispered reminders of those days. Memories came flooding back to me. I could see my roommate frantically rushing to the Architecture Building to turn in a late but fabulous project.  I stood under the arches of the Quad and remembered how many times I waited for my boyfriend to meet me there.  I saw a shadow of my younger self leave the campus newspaper office in the wee hours of the morning and make my way back to my dorm through a silent, spooky campus. I remembered the faces, the fears, and the triumphs of my college experience, and shuddered briefly in the intensity of the memories.

Caught up in my own thoughts, I caught my son eyeing one of the engineering buildings with a quizzical expression. I guess he was pondering his destiny at that moment as well. Just as suddenly, I looked down at the university sidewalk I traveled years ago and looked up to analyze my son’s expression one more time. I noticed that the sun had shifted and I stood in my tall, handsome son’s shadow…almost like his presence truly overshadowed mine.

While this place certainly left an imprint on my soul, I have found my larger place in the world.  In the most vulnerable time of my life when I was bursting with questions, this place treated me gently and helped me find the answers. I pray it does the same for my son. I hope he learns the value of great friendships, the spirit of cooperation, the self-satisfaction of a job well done, and becomes completely comfortable with who he is and wants to become. I am willing to let his larger footprints replace mine as he finds his place here. After all, he is my very tangible imprint on this world. It is time for him to embark on his own journey. Honestly, I would not have it any other way.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Voices in My Head

My purpose for creating a blog is quite simply to quiet the voices in my head.  The first voice says, “You are a liar. You tell your kids to follow their dreams, and you gave up on yours.” It is a critical, accusing voice that reprimands me for not practicing what I preach. In all honestly, I have always been moved by the power of the pen. Writing is my coping mechanism.  I get flustered when someone confronts me verbally, yet I can compose an eloquent argument on paper. In my teen years and early twenties, my response to conflict was to write about it.  My husband would be shocked to know how many letters I wrote him that he never received.  It is probably a great blessing to our relationship that those papers were crumpled up and tearfully tossed into the trash can instead. Venting on paper keeps my emotions in check and allows me to remain objective in person.  Over the years, I have composed countless replies to life’s injustices, but they were never shared.  The process of writing them was therapy enough.
I studied journalism in college and planned to be writer, but I got married, then I had children, then I forgot all about my dreams and became consumed with their dreams.  I have no excuses--life happens. As my children have gotten older, I have constantly encouraged them to find their passion and embrace it.  When my daughter started college, I encouraged her to find a job that would allow her to love what she does every day. It was then that she gently reminded me I had not done the same. Instead of writing, I have spent the last 23 years teaching writing. In all honesty, the hours of a teacher make family life far easier than those of a writer; it was a logical compromise.  However, teaching is not the same as doing.  This much is true. While teaching has its obvious rewards, it is not my true passion. I envy and admire my co-workers for whom it is. Unfortunately, teaching has never challenged me in the way that carefully crafting an editorial did in my college years.  The loaded question resonates in my mind: “Don’t you regret selling out your dreams, Mom?”  Do I?  I think if I am honest with myself, I must admit that I do.  Regret is different than resentment, however.  I do not resent my choices; I regret my actions.
The second voice in my head is the ever-present interrogator.  It creeps into my head and asks countless questions like: “Who are you?” “What do you stand for?” “Where is your passion for life?” “Lady, what happened to your fire?” Questions like these keep me awake at night. I have decided it is time that I answer them. I am writing in hopes that as the pen (or keyboard in our modern day) and I reconnect, I will be able to settle these questions once and for all. And thus begins my blogging experience….