The Grumble Box

When our children were in elementary school, they began to drag down to breakfast with sour faces, complained aOctober 2015 015t scrambled instead of fried eggs, and whined they didn’t get the biggest cookie in their lunches.

They wanted striped shirts, not plain ones, and plain socks, not striped ones. They didn’t want to take the dog outside (the one they’d begged for and promised to take care of), and the toys were much too big a mess to clean up.

I prayed about what to do.

When the rescued people of Israel complained in the desert about manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, and manna for dinner, God was angry and sent them poultry to eat–so much poultry it piled up and spoiled, causing people to sicken and die.

If God considered complaining so serious an offense, I neeAugust 2015 111ded to take notice and teach my kids to be thankful for what they had and to do their work without complaint.

Then I came across Psalm 142:1-2,  which says: “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble.”

So then, there were at least two kinds of complaint to consider—the legitimate need to share feelings and the self-centered whine. I had been working hard on the first–practicing the art of looking in my childrens’ faces and really listening to them.

It was the second that concerned me. That’s when I instituted the Grumble Box. October 2015 014

A Grumble Box can be made from anything. It can be a cardboard box with a colorful design and a slot cut in the top, or a decorated spice can. I wrote a little ditty for ours and taped it to the top of the box. It read like this:

When gratitude doth tumble and resulteth in a grumble, please deposit thou a coin, thy mouth for to humble.

“What’s this?” the kids asked when they came in the kitchen.

“This is the Grumble Box,” I said. “We all need to be more thankful and complain less. WAugust 2015 008hen you whine about doing chores or taking care of the dog or whatever, you’ll have to put a coin in the box.”

“What kind of coin?”

“It might be a penny, a nickel, a dime, or a quarter depending on the whine.”

“What about you?”

This took me aback.  “Um,” I said, “yes, of course–me too. If I grumble I’ve got to pay.”

The kids were suddenly more interested. “What will you do with all that money, Mom?”August 2015 090

“We’ll give it to kids who need it. We’ll put it in the globe bank for Children of the Nations.”

Children of the Nations is a non-profit that provides food, homes, schools and medical care to children  whose lives have been ravaged by war, poverty, disease, and death in the Dominican Republic and several African countries. For more info see

For a while, the Grumble Box filled up quickly. When the kids tumbled down to breakfast, I’d ask if they’d all made their beds.August 2015 100

“But Mom,” one argued, “we’re just going to sleep in them again tonight!”

“Oh dear,” I’d say. “Grab a penny for the Grumble Box.”

“What? ” they’d holler. “All I said was…”

“Oh my—I guess you’d better make it a nickel.”


“You drive a hard bargain–how about a quarter?”

One time I informed the kids we’d be cleaning the garage on Saturday.  “Okay,” said one of the boys, shoulders slumped, “I guess you’d better give me my allowance in small change.”IMG_2367

The Grumble Box proved to be the reminder we all needed to complain less. It became a light-hearted way to remember to think before we spoke, retrain our mouths, and practice self-control.

We also learned to be more thankful for what we had.

Every time we emptied the box into the bank and took the bank to Children of the Nations, we looked outside ourselves to see some hungry child get a full belly, or go to school for the first time, or find a place to belong in one of the small family-style orphanages.

And that was the best lesson of all.





By His Grace, To Be His Lenses

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Ps. 19:1, 2, 411087717_10153205131874214_4981049671247812487_o

I’m a Psalm 19 woman–one of those for whom God makes truth palpably clear, a doubting Thomasina who must press my fingers in His handprints to believe.

And His handprints are everywhere. I remember the first shock–the first obvious evidence of this great and awesome God we cannot imagine Who bends down to eyeless worms to give us glimpses of His beauty and majesty.

I was in high school Biology, a staunch and self-righteous Catholic, dropped off at Mass weekly by embattled parents who agreed that children should attend church, though they August 2015 038themselves came only during truces, when they played Chinese checkers by night.

I remember following them across the parking lot at those times, eyeing the hand-holding hopefully, wondering how long it would last. But it was never long.  I became religious, but I didn’t yet know the saving power of grace and forgiveness. I didn’t know Jesus.

In high school Biology, I bent over the eye of a microscope, fiddling the little mirror into place until it should reflect enough light to illuminate whatever mystery hid in the elodea leaf on the glass.

At last, angled light penetrated the leaf, the lens magnified the mystery to giant-sized, and I gasped at the glory of God evident in the tiny cells.Sept 2015 004

There I saw chloroplasts– glowing green factories that turn light energy into sugar to feed every part of plant and tree. They bustled about like stained-glass nannies in the cry ward.

I remember the vision yet, though I never saw it again. It hooked me on the reality, omnipotence, and incomprehensibility of God–in awe that He allowed me to glimpse such things about Him.

For why should He show me?August 2015 233 In those teen years, I drank, I swore, I feared my mother, and was ashamed of my father. I practiced the sacraments, but my heart boiled with evil, like one of the white-washed sepulchric Pharisees Jesus condemned to their faces.

But He had mercy on me and showed me not only chloroplasts but what they meant.

Later, I saw His handprints in the births of our four children, though I nearly died with the first. I slipped along towards Him and He sent me back, so I might see His handprints again through the lenses of children and parenting.

In them He revealed how His fatherhood of me could inform my ignorant parenting of themAugust 2015 195

and how depression, self-loathing, and paralyzing fear had no power against love, laughter, and the light in children’s eyes when they presented me with tender words I didn’t deserve, written in childish scrawls on handmade Mother’s Day cards.

Through the lens of His word I learned that time doesn’t heal all wounds save by the glare of Holy Spirit truth, the shedding of tears, the embrace of thanksgiving, the blood of forgiveness, the balm of kindness, the steel of humility, and the ferocity of abiding love.

I see His handprints through the lens of the Perseids meteor shower, when Big Bang rocks crash through the atmosphere–red, green, and blue–and my blink of tiny dust bows to Him in the vastness, beauty, and testimony of His creation.

I see Him through the lens of rest in SabbathOct 2015 004 sheep fields, the cares of the week floating away with the tumble of clouds and the quiet certainty that just as no one could mistake the artist in my pottery, so I cannot mistake my Creator in the gifts of peace and changing sky.

And I want to be a lens–that others might see Jesus, too.

Maybe you’re a Psalm 19 believer, too? Do you see His handprints through the lens of His creation? Do you want to be His lens to others?Sept 2015 055

Lord, thank You for this amazing creation that speaks of Your majesty. By Your grace, teach us how to be Your lenses that we might reflect, magnify, and illuminate the mystery of You to others.

No Limits

Recently I began cleaning out boxes of old photos, cards, and papers. There is such a painful sweetness about looking at little faces all grown up, the penciled “I luv u momy” scrawls and handmade birthday cards offering bike shows for a gift or “brekfast in bed.”Sept 2015 002

Moms are especially blessed in that our lives “pass before our eyes” every time we clean the house. The process sparks not only memories but evaluation–a chance to think, to confess, to address, to rejoice.

We sift through books, report cards, term papers, chore charts, prayer lists, and letters. We unfold a paper found on the floor and quietly tuck it into our son’s bookshelf when we see it’s a heartfelt letter to his girlfriend, not meant for our eyes.Sept 2015 118

We find beer bottles from an unauthorized party that occurred when we went on an anniversary trip and we discover how to pray more specifically for that child.

We sweep leaves off the trampoline after the Perseids meteor shower with our nature-minded son and order a new closet door after the skateboard went through it with our more impulsive son.

August 2015 115We file receipts from Easter shoes that prompted tears because they were black and shiny like our dog that died; and receipts from volleyball uniforms and slippery fabric for another daughter to wrestle on the sewing machine for her first boy-girl banquet.

The procession of mundane tasks in a mother’s life also fosters a closer look –who is this child? How is she made? What are his strengths? What is he afraid of? What are her weaknesses? How do we listen better to this one? How can we best pray for that one?August 2015 056

But this recent cleaning was different—a time travel back through decades—and I was privileged to find this poem written by one of our precious daughters many years ago as she stood at a crossroads wrestling with how much control to give God over her life.

It comes at a perfect time.

I like it because it’s honest and wise and cuts me to the quick. It highlights the stakes. It forces us ask ourselves how small a box we’re offering God in which to put our futures, when He has no such boundaries.

I can’t figure out how to format the poem properly but here it is, for the crossroads in all of our lives:14932_10151349341009214_1835112752_n

No Limits

I invited an artist to come to my house–“Paint me a picture,” I said. “Make it a field with flowers–Yellow, blue, and violet.” So he painted a field, just as I’d asked. And it was pretty.

I invited a chef to come to my house–“Cook me a dinner,” I said. “Make it a pasta with herbs–Parsley, basil, and thyme. So he cooked me a dinner, just as I’d asked. And it tasted good.

I invited God to come into my life–“Give me a future,” I said. “Make it a house with a family–husband, two kids, and a dog.” So he gave me a future, just as I’d asked. And it was nice.

My next-door-neighbor invited the artist to come to hiSept. 2015 076s house. “Paint me a picture,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just watch.”  So he painted a picture, as he saw fit. And it was breathtaking.

My next-door-neighbor invited the chef to come to his house. “Cook me a dinner,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just watch.” So he cooked a dinner, as he saw fit. And it was delicious.

My next-door-neighbor invited God to come into his life. “Give me a future,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just submit.” So he gave him a future, as He saw fit. And it was amazing.

OldCompBackup 038One day my neighbor invited me over for dinner. I looked at his painting. I ate his dinner. I evaluated his life. “I don’t get it,” I said. “I had the same artist, the same chef, the same God. Why is everything you have so much better?” 

And my neighbor just smiled and nodded his head. “The secret,” he said, “is no limits.”