Heaven Scent: A Eulogy for a Prayer Warrior

Memorial Day. A traditional day of remembrance. Flowers are placed in cemeteries. Honor is offered for our country’s fallen soldiers. Flags are flown with pride. And a few burgers are grilled for friends. Solemnity intertwined with celebration. Kind of like a funeral.

This past Tuesday, I attended a funeral for the mother of my friend Mary. Her mother, also named Mary, was 94 and some might say it was time. But it’s always sad to lose a loved one, especially a parent. The service was beautiful and reverent. A ritual and spiritual reminder of what followers of Christ live and hope for in this life.

My friend wrote and read a eulogy for her mother. It was so beautiful. So inspiring. So appropriate for Memorial Day–a day that seems fitting to also honor the prayer warriors in our lives.

From Mary~

“One of my first memories of mom was her kneeling at her bed praying. For most of us, all that we say and all that we do will someday fade away. Not many people are recorded in history or have memoirs written. Mom is like that. The meals prepared and set at the table have been consumed – her piano playing has ended. The stories we hold dear to our hearts today will likely be lost.

But mom gave us more than what we can see and taste. Mom prayed. I have asked mom how did you get through your marriage; how could you live at the nursing home and not go crazy. Her answer was consistent. Prayer. Her rosary was never far away. I even saw her hold it while she slept at the hospital. Her life may fade, but her prayers will not.

In prayer we come to God trusting he can hear when we can’t see him. We believe he hears because he’s greater than we are. We believe he answers because of the hope we have.

I’ve taken classes on prayer and I’ve taught prayer. I’ve done research on the rosary. One thing I learned is that rosaries were assembled by whatever was available. The beads have been fashioned by shells, seeds and even rose petals. Some rosaries are still made from roses. I love the thought of a fragrance of prayer left on fingers after holding rose beads. That’s what mom’s legacy is for us… the residue of the fragrance of prayer. Prayer that loves protects hopes and directs. Thanks, mom for that gift to all of us.”

Mary G. Lehman, 1921-2015

Mary G. Lehman, 1921-2015


I Loved It Until I Hated It: Mad Men

When the hit television series, Mad Men first made its appearance on AMC, I was enthralled–as were most regular viewers of this iconic TV show set in 1960s New York City. The sets. The clothes. The corded telephones and Selectric typewriters. The smoking. The two martini lunches. It was all so nostalgic, glamorous and interesting.

I was also appalled. The smoking. The chauvinism. The corporate arrogance. The deceit of powerful men living indulged double lives while their wives and secretaries were supposed to relish the role of making men’s lives easier. It was ugly. And it shocked me to consider the not so long ago engrained cultural acceptance of women and minorities being treated so horribly in the workplace.

Curious, I followed the lives of the show’s flawed (Don Draper) inspiring (Peggy Olsen and Joan Harris) and damaged (Betty Francis) characters. I rooted for them and hoped they’d figure out how to navigate their world and emotions. And for the most part, the series delivered. But the finale made me want to throw my cocktail glass at the screen as does much baby boomer B.S.

Sure, I’m all for extending gratitude to a generation of dreamers who marched for equality and tried to break from oppressive cultural mores. But as a child of baby boomers, and one who doesn’t much appreciate that generation’s nauseating search for significance, the final episodes of Mad Men featuring Don Draper wandering the open road trying to, I don’t know, lose himself, find himself, gah! It made me want to throw up. At least the dastardly Don of previous seasons seemed self-assured in his ability to leverage his creative brilliance and earn a living. Desperate Don seems to believe his failings are irreparable. That he is worthless. And do any of us really want to believe we cannot be redeemed?

I prefer fiction that holds a mirror up to society and our inner lives, exposes our brokenness and then shows us how to endure, change, make our lives and the world a better place.

In some ways, the final season of Mad Men delivered on that score. But mostly, it fell flat.

PeggyPeggy’s storyline should have ended last week with her bitch stride down the hallway at Mccann-Erickson. Instead, she’s not “complete” until the writers give her a cuddly and supportive boyfriend. Puke. Sure, Stan is probably one of the most likable characters on the show, progressive and smart, deserving of a confident woman like Peggy. But for crap’s sake. Really? A cheddar cheese love story ending for one of the most impressive and generation defining female characters to grace my television set? Pah-lease.

JoanKudos to Joan for launching her own business. But I still wish she’d kicked her self-centered boyfriend to the curb instead of him walking out on her. “At least she didn’t cry about it,” someone tweeted me about my lament. True enough. I’ll give it a pass.

BettyBetty changes little over the course of the show. But then, Betty was one of the few characters who seemed to understand how real life works. It’s a bitch. And she stood strong through her hard knocks. She divorced her lothario husband. She did what she knew how to do to take care of her children and eventually sought self-improvement through the pursuit of a college education. She knew who she was and was unapologetically stoic until the end. Bravo.

DonFinally, Don and his hippie dippy cross-country road trip and retreat attendance. It bored me. “I’m rich. Women love me. My life is so hard.” Wah wah. Old Don would have rolled his dreamy eyes at weepy Don. If I let the suggested storyline slide by about Don Draper shedding his skin and coming to terms with his failures, then I want a payoff that includes redemption and a return to his responsibilities, mainly his children. Enlightenment is not obtained through obfuscation and avoidance of consequence. Period. The final scene made me want to scream and ceremoniously tear clothing, evicting meditation Don from my consciousness forever.

In retrospect, I hope the cynics are right about the finale’s ambiguous ending and that Don did create the iconic Coca-Cola commercial that the show signed off with. Because if that’s true, then maybe Don still remains a shill for corporate America, but at least in that scenario he returns home to New York, where his children live. That maybe he seeks forgiveness and resolves to change his selfish and reckless ways. Like Pete. Like Pete?? Ick. Yes. Like Pete.


What I Wish I’d Known Before Going to College

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Soon, young people across America will graduate from high school. And many will head off to college in a few short months. I have no grandiose thoughts to share when it comes to one of life’s great transitions. No lofty commencement style speeches to make. But I do know a few things now that I wish I’d known back then. So strap in. Cause I guess I do have some grandiose thoughts to share!

1) A willingness to work hard is more valuable than above average intelligence. As an 18-year-old high school honor student, I presumed my aptitude would carry me through college as well as it had in high school. It did not. And the ensuing frustration I experienced when discovering I wasn’t the smartest person in the room occasionally led me to question my ability and worth. So brace yourself. College can be hard. But life is hard. Egos be damned. A strong work ethic prevails.

2) Education is never a waste of time, even if you change your major. Some folks in my hometown didn’t put much stock in “book smarts” and viewed college as mostly an expensive means to employment. But we can never completely know where educational exploration might lead. Take a variety of classes. Learn something about the world, not just about your chosen field. In my opinion, every college student should take at least one course in ethics, philosophy, logic and economics. Please provide your college course recommendations in the comments section.

3) Figuring out how to get things done is more important than being done. If you already knew everything, it wouldn’t be called higher learning. So stop rushing through your homework and studies in a frenzied attempt to check items from your daily to-do lists. The red Solo cups can wait. Learn to value the process of discovery. Network. Ask for help.

4) Avoid taking early morning, late evening or summer classes whenever possible. Because it sucks. Period. You’re welcome.

5) Seek community. Study groups. Lab partners. Sorority sisters. Well, I actually have no idea about sororities. But I do know it’s important to connect with people who are experiencing the same challenges and incremental successes that you are. You are not alone. Somebody out there understands what you’re going through. Find them.

6) Internships! I’m pretty sure I made the short-sighted mistake of thinking paid part-time employment waiting tables was more valuable than an unpaid internship in my field of study. Recent college grads tell me that many internships are paid and that the long-term networking, skill acquisition and work experience are priceless. Check it out. Let me know. Please share your insights in the comments section.

7) Make time to discover extracurricular athletics and the arts in your college community. Whether it’s ultimate frisbee, pick-up basketball or a trip to an art exhibition, lay the groundwork for a full life. Plus, exercise and art appreciation are good for your health. Trust me. It’s true.

8) Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Find a local church, chapel or campus ministry. Getting and/or staying connected to the Creator and Sustainer of life will center you on what’s most important. Remind you of your worth beyond a GPA. Provide a purpose beyond achievement for your own sake. Encourage you when you’re feeling lost or low. And continually point you toward the only true source of fulfillment and joy.


The Inmates Don’t Run My Asylum and Other Thoughts on Parenting

Photo Credit: Amber Gehring

Photo Credit: Amber Gehring

Last week on the blog, I asked you for a bit of parenting advice. Today, I’m going to share some. Because I had an epiphany when someone recently complimented the hubs and me on our ability to get our teenagers to church on Sunday mornings when most teens might prefer to sleep in.

In case you didn’t know, non-compliance doesn’t have to be an option, especially in matters you deem important. Yes, parenting is certainly a challenge since children, much like adults, usually have their own ideas about what they prefer to do with their time. But unlike life for adults in the wider world, life in our home is not a democracy. I like to tell my kids, with a smile of course, that I prefer the tyrannical dictatorship style of household governance. If you think you want to go this route, I suggest you begin early.

Don’t misunderstand. I can be as cuddly and gushy as the next person when it comes to being enamored with my own offspring. We often hug and kiss our children and tell them we love them. I’m usually not a yeller and I am, in my opinion, extremely tolerant of messes and mistakes. We’re open to hearing out any well-reasoned arguments. But I am rarely, actually never, open to extended debates with children. Because ultimately all Johnson asylum authority is centralized at the top of this house’s laundry pile. She who feeds and clothes the inmates deserves some modicum of respect.

I do not claim to be a parenting expert. And these tips are by no means exhaustive or meant to be the final word. Just some thoughts on what’s worked for us so far. So here goes…

Do not argue or debate with your kids. It should be clear from get-go street (as my mom used to say) that you are in charge and will not be lured or bated into defending your rules. Keep your cool. Simply state the reason for the rule and let that be the end of it. To me, it doesn’t matter if a child claims to not understand my reasoning. Because let’s be honest–most moms like to brag about how their kids are so brilliant or gifted, which to my mind means they probably do understand your reasoning. They just don’t agree. There’s a difference. And compliance does not require agreement.

Say yes when you can and no when you must. This has been some of the most beneficial parenting advice I’ve ever received. But it often requires me to not give immediate responses to my children’s requests. I sometimes pause and ask myself if there is any harm in saying yes even if my initial instinct is to say no. If your go-to response is “no” simply because you don’t want to think about a request or might be inconvenienced by a request, that’s unfair. Even dictators must let the masses have their way from time to time to avoid an all out revolt or worse, simmering resentment and strained relationships.

Your no must mean no. This is why you must think before you respond. Because once you establish a “no”, you must be willing to engage any defiance and endure any backlash with determined stoicism and resolve. So once you’ve said no to that toy in the store, DO NOT, relent to your toddler’s torture. Let ‘em scream bloody murder for all you care. You’ll get no evil eye roll from me. I’ll applaud and clap you on that steely spine of yours. I get it. You’re trying to establish authority and teach your youngster that no amount of squall can sink your ship. Stay strong sister! Because if you allow nagging, screaming or tantrum throwing to wear you down and make you buy that damned toy just to get your kid to shut up, you’re only teaching your kids to nag, scream and throw tantrums every time you say no. On the other hand, stick by your no, and after a while, sometimes a long while, kids do learn we mean business and will accept our rulings without the theatrics. An added benefit to not buying my kids stuff every time we  ventured into a store is that today, they are thoughtful consumers who carefully consider whether an item is truly worth spending their (or my) resources on. Score one for the dictator!

Teach responsibility early on. If you do everything for others, they’ll let you. (This also applies to your career, volunteering, and probably your marriage. But let’s just focus on the kiddos for now.) We all remember the Barney “Clean Up” song and how we happily encouraged our kids to pick up their toys only for the little rug-rats to gleefully dump the toy bucket over again. But why stop when they’re little? I tell you the truth–I will leave an empty granola bar wrapper on the counter for an entire DAY while waiting for my teen son to get home from school so he can throw it away himself rather than throw it away for him. You must think that would drive a person insane. Yes, well… I’ve already alluded to living in an asylum. But in this asylum, the inmates clean up their own messes.

When you’re wrong, say you’re sorry. This is a tough one for dictators like me. But, apologizing when we’re wrong does not undermine our authority. It legitimizes it. So, if you overreact, get angry, apply too much pressure or inadvertently say something that hurts your child’s feelings, apologize. Be tender. Be humble. Always, always, always be loving. Loving does not equal weakness just as being weak does not equal love.