Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cruising through Life

I usually play by the rules, and until fairly recently, wouldn’t even cut the tags off of new pillows. This is not to say I’m perfect. Just ask my husband, my kids, anyone I know, or a few policemen who have issued tickets to me.
Admittedly, I make tons of mistakes, but I try to learn from every one of them. One huge mistake I made almost three years ago has been stuck in my head all week.
It was December 2007. Michael wanted the two of us to go to Hawaii. The thought of spending so much money while the kids stayed home left me with more guilt than I was willing to carry, so he booked a cruise for the family.
At the time, I was teaching, helping to prepare students for our annual musical, and frantically buying Christmas gifts. I was anxious to sail away on December 26; however, my daily schedule left little time to think about the cruise, or read the packet of information regarding our trip. This is my feeble attempt to explain why Victoria almost missed the boat. Literally.
Passports were not yet required to cruise to Mexico. My three oldest children had driver’s licenses, and Elise had an identification card. I didn’t bother getting one for Victoria. She was only thirteen, my baby, and I had never been asked to produce her birth certificate, although I carried every time we flew. I decided no one would question her. Obviously, I had not yet met the lady at the cruise terminal.
One by one, she checked our tickets and identification, then turned to Victoria. I verbally verified that the girl standing before her was Victoria Michel, my child, my baby, too young, I thought, to require additional identification. When asked about her birth certificate, (the one required according to the information I received, but never read) I assured her that Victoria did indeed have one, but it was at home, three hours away. (Oh, did I mention we were cruising out of Mobile, Alabama?) I don’t even remember the rest of our conversation. I just kept talking and talking until the lady said, “Go on, but I don’t think they’ll let you on the ship.”
As we stood in line to board the boat, Michael gave me the look I know so well. It’s the one I get when we are in the middle of an argument, right before he says, “I’m sending you to law school.”
I calmly explained our situation to the next lady, and was told, “You can board, but I don’t know what you’re going to do in Mexico.” Mexico! I had forgotten about Mexico! This was my first time out of the country. The closest I had ever been to the border was Taco Bell. As soon as we were settled in our rooms, I called my sister, who went to my house, found Victoria’s birth certificate, had it notarized, and faxed it to the ship. The document provided Victoria’s name, age, citizenship, and the fact that she is my child. So much information for one little piece of paper. Once I had Victoria’s birth certificate, I traveled in confidence, knowing I could produce her identification upon request.
Documentation is not a new idea. The apostle Paul rejected the need for letters of recommendation, asserting he needed no such letters to authenticate his authority. (I could have used his help at the cruise terminal.)Rather, he said, the lives of the people to whom he ministered were enough confirmation of his ministry. I like The Message version of his words in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, “You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it-not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives- and we publish it.”
I wonder what the letter of my life reads. Do my words and deeds indicate I am a child of God? Does my response to the actions of others, and situations outside of my control, show a maturity in Christ? Am I storing up treasures in Heaven, or more focused on accumulating stuff on earth? Can I travel this journey, in confidence, knowing my life publishes all of the really important information about me? These questions challenge me daily.
And speaking of challenges, I’m now faced with a packet of information about a class trip Victoria wants to take to France. I’m reading every single word of it.
Ronny may be reached at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stay on Fire without Burning Out

Hearts in Touch
By Ronny Michel
The look on her face had me puzzled. Wasn’t it the expression she had a few days earlier upon realizing the actual size of the mini Blizzards at Dairy Queen? Yes, that was it, but tonight there was just a dab of fear mixed in. What could have possibly caused Victoria to break rank during the first quarter of the football game and run to one of her cheerleading coaches?
I learned soon enough. Mrs. Eymard found me in the bleachers and said, “Victoria left her straightener on and she’s worried the house might burn down.”
I missed the next several plays of the game as I sent text messages, arranged for someone to check on the house, and took a little trip back in time to a winter afternoon when I was the stay-at-home mom of two preschoolers.
Michael had come home for lunch and built a fire in the fireplace for me to enjoy while Monique and Geoffrey napped. As I relaxed before the fire, God gave me instructions about my future. Little did I know, my future would cast me with five children, a full-time teaching position, and a husband whose job included much travel. Less did I realize how many times I would return to that afternoon, that fire, and that precious quiet time with my God. I’m grateful I paid attention when I heard the Great Teacher impress upon my heart, “I’m going to show you how to stay on fire without burning out.” And although many, many words have been written on the topic, God knows me, my love of simplicity, and my limited attention span, so His lesson was reduced to three easy points.
Feed the flame. The love and energy I have for God, my family, and the precious people and activities He places in my life will grow if I keep the fire burning. Wood is necessary for a fire; proper diet, exercise, and rest for a body; and the spiritual nutrition of God’s Word and prayer are needed for me to burn brightly for Him.
Remove the ashes. Spent ashes in a fireplace should not be allowed to accumulate, but must be removed. I must release my grip on things that are over. Clinging to the past is draining, and hinders the new things God wants to do in my life. I must always move on with God.
Stay within the boundaries. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting. The same fire, if placed on a coffee table, would be destructive, cause people to flee, and may even require professional help to extinguish. I have to know and stay within my limits to maximize my life. As much as I would like, I cannot change others. I have a difficult enough time trying to make changes in my own life.
Back to the present. Monique unplugged the very hot straightener before any damage was done. Our team won the game. And I was reminded of a simple lesson that has seen me through the complexities of life.
Ronny may be reached at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Untangling My Messes

I tried to ignore it, but it would not disappear. Every time I sat at my desk, the shiny confusion challenged me. Left by my daughter, Lauren apparently thought I would be able to untangle the two chains. Both were gifts; neither cheap. Both were knotted; neither could be worn in their present state. Both were Lauren’s; neither Lauren nor I could fix the problem.

Oh, don’t think I didn’t try. Armed with straight pins and a pair of reading glasses, I did my best to free the necklaces from each other. Every time I tried, I failed. The precious little pile of confusion was worthless despite the original price tags.

One day, Victoria walked in, looked at the mess on my desk, and said, “Hey Mom, want me to try to fix this?”

“Sure”, I said, “Every time I try, it seems to get worse.”

Merely minutes later, two freed necklaces dangled from Victoria’s hands. At that moment, she earned the title, The Untangler, and is the only person we go to with knotted necklaces.

I wish that jewelry was the only thing that ever got mixed up, but it hasn’t been that way in my life. There are times when my emotions are in a maze, situations become complicated, and words only add to the worry. And every time I try to fix things, they seem to get worse. When I can’t think of one more thing to do or say, I pray. Even if the prayers are finished, and the dilemma doesn’t change, I do. There’s just something about putting my problem in the Hands of the One Who soothes my soul.

God brings clarity to my confusion, straightens out the snags in my thoughts, and frees me from fears as I trust Him with my future. One day, I’ll learn to go to God immediately, for He is the only answer to my questions. As David wrote, “And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.” (Psalm 39:7)

Ronny may be reached at

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Still A Child

My sister, Kay, sat at my kitchen table, and began to give me the doctor’s report on her daughter, Tiffani. My daughter, Lauren, soon joined us. She was returning from her job where, in her words, she “labored on Labor Day.”

Suddenly I heard a familiar sound and announced, “The ice cream man.” Lauren and Kay raced out of the house, and I followed them. “Don’t forget Tiffani,” I shouted. If the prescription and IV fluids she received at urgent care didn’t help, maybe a “cartoon character-shaped ice cream on a stick” would.

The following night ended with my husband and I stopping at the store after the quarterback club meeting. Victoria needed to make a poster. I walked in, grabbed twenty poster boards (to be prepared for the next time), a gallon of milk, and was headed to the register when Michael announced a detour. “Let’s go down the ice cream aisle. Every time I shop I check to see if Blue Bell has any new flavors.” Yes, that really happened.

You might think we are all in our second childhoods, but that’s impossible because we have quite obviously have never left our first. Now that could be a good thing. Jesus thought so much of childlike natures that He used a little child to illustrate a big truth about His kingdom. While the disciples were jockeying for position, Jesus called a child to stand among them, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

What did Jesus mean when He said that we must become like little children? Well, probably nothing to do with a love of ice cream, but everything to do with trust and humility, characteristics which abound in precious young lives. Just as children are dependent upon their parents, I believe that Jesus wants us to totally trust that He will not only meet our daily needs, but be there, already waiting for us, when tomorrow arrives.

Children also trust that parents will do what they say they’ll do, without thought as to how it will happen. I believe Jesus wants me to trust in His Word, whether or not I fully understand His ways.

I cannot resist a child who stands before me and holds up his arms, begging me to lift him from where he is, and take him to heights he cannot achieve on his own. While I am limited, Jesus can do the impossible. When I humbly reach up to Him, He faithfully responds.

Although we can never recapture our childhood, we can change and return to the humility and trust we had as a child. And I think it’s okay if we also find joy in simple pleasures, like ice cream.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Light Your Path

I crept down the stairs at 5:00 a.m. to dry a batch of clothes. I didn’t want to awaken Victoria, who was sleeping on the couch because her room had been painted, and I didn’t want her smelling the fumes, and her furniture was still out of place. Discovering Lauren had already done the laundry the night before was a pleasant surprise. Still not wanting to disturb Victoria’s sleep, I decided to return to bed, but not before turning off the lamp and the light which had been on all night.
Forty-five minutes later, I headed back downstairs to begin breakfast. I decided not to turn on any lights, and attempted to navigate the stairway by memory. Apparently I don’t have a very good memory because just as I was thinking about loading a flashlight application onto my phone, I missed a step. Suddenly I didn’t care that everyone else was sleeping. I screamed. It didn’t do much good because no one woke up. Not Victoria, who was around the corner, but wearing ear plugs. Not my husband or son. Nope, Michael and Geoffrey remained asleep. Not even Lauren, although she later told me she heard a scream, but thought it was one of her crazy dreams.
I managed to get up, hopped into the kitchen, and began to fry bacon, Victoria’s breakfast staple. Someone falling down stairs and screaming may fail to disturb her sleep, but the smell of bacon works every time. I put a bag of ice on my foot, waited only a few seconds, and then called my husband’s cell phone. At least he responded to my call, if not to my screams.
I have to admit Michael took very good care of me, except when he ran into my foot. Twice. My foot stayed elevated, and iced, and while I waited for the Aleve to kick in, he went shopping for ice cream and chocolate candy.
Most of my day was spent alone, and while I don’t mind being alone, I don’t like being immobile. The lack of activity gave me much time to think, and to pray, and to think about how I should spend more time praying than thinking.
My little trip down the stairs (pun intended) resulted in a minor inconvenience, which left me with a major lesson. I was so foolish to choose to walk in darkness when there was an abundance of light available.
What greater foolishness it would be to walk through my life in darkness, without the Light of God’s Word guiding me. Psalm 119:105 clearly states, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The Bible contains the guidance I need for my life. If I turn my back on the wisdom it contains, I will be unsure of my steps, stumble, and fall. But I never have to be without it, for God’s Word is available to me. It’s my choice to read and obey it. And it’s your choice, too. May we both choose wisely.
Ronny may be reached at