When You Journey to Bethlehem

“Christmas is really for children, isn’t it?” The casual remark made by a friend wounded me deeply. I had recently miscarried and was told I would never be able to carry a child to term. All month I had struggled to survive emotionally, bombarded hourly with toy advertisements and commercials featuring adorable kids sneaking downstairs in their pajamas. If Christmas was for children, what could it offer me? I had no children, and never would, it seemed.

I wasn’t the only one silently suffering in the season of good cheer. My Bible study leader had recently lost her son to suicide. My neighbor had just buried her mother. And a colleague had passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind a wife and three children. All around, nativity sets were on display. But what we saw there made our hearts burn with grief. We saw a father, a mother, a child…each of us saw what had been lost.

Slowly, we journeyed on during the long, lonely month. Alone and disoriented by grief, we needed rest, but no one seemed to have room us, or for our endless pain, not at this busy time of year. We didn’t know it, but we were journeying to Bethlehem, too.

That season, I was often thinking about the people at the Inn, who had no room for the holy family. Who could turn away a woman in her final month of pregnancy to sleep out of doors? And when her cries of labor began, did their hearts burn with shame?

Maybe not. Indifference is the most comfortable of evils.

When the baby took His first cry, they were, however, probably a little relieved. “See,” they must have thought, “the babe is brought safely into the world, and I have no part to play in that story now.”

(If they had only known!)

So, my friend, when you are hurting at Christmas, never forget this:

Indifference was part of the miracle. God was with us there, in the cold, in the dark.

And so this is what I now believe about Christmas: God’s silence is never to be confused with indifference. He is not indifferent to your suffering. Nor to mine. Let others turn you away, or turn you out, or pretend not to hear your cries… God is near. God is not indifferent. God is at work. If the story is bleak, it’s not over.

Christmas is the fulfillment of a sacred promise made to the whole world, but those who have made the long and weary journey to Bethlehem can rejoice with relief. The aching grief over what should have been becomes the very place He chooses to fully give Himself to us, and welcome us at last to Bethlehem.

Christmas is neither the beginning nor the end of His story of Love, but the miraculous middle. We who travel to this place in the dark of night, find that the miracle in the middle is more than enough to see us safely, and joyfully, on to The End.

And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2: 10-11 KJV

© gingergarrett.com

The Best Christmas Is Yet to Come!

Several years ago, my parents sold their home in Texas to be closer to their grandchildren. The first Christmas with the family together was glorious; we ate, played, and shopped nearly every day. One afternoon, I picked up my five-year-old daughter Elise after a fun day with Grandpa and Grandma.

I noticed she was looking out the minivan window, a sad expression on her face. “What is it, hon?” I asked.

“It’s Grandpa and Grandma. I just feel really sorry for them,” she whispered.

“Why?”

Elise sighed. “I was just wondering, aren’t they ever going to have kids of their own?”

I chuckled all the way home.

Children can know the facts without understanding them. Sure, Elise knew that her grandparents are also my parents, but she was not yet able to comprehend the full meaning of that fact.

She had a shadowy understanding that children grow up to become adults and one day have kids of their own. Of course, my daughter will know, just as her grandmother and I do, that childhood is only the beginning of a great adventure, and the sweetest surprises—not to mention the deepest sorrows—in life come with time.

I do wonder if I’m like Elise in my understanding of Christmas. Every year, I set out the same crèche. I bake the same cookies. I sing old hymns and carols, light white candles, and wrap presents. I understand Christmas so very well…or do I? Do I know the facts but lack the ability to grasp the greater implications?

What if Christmas is a mystery we will only truly comprehend much, much later? What if this Christmas here on earth is only a dress rehearsal for something far more wonderful?

Are the deepest joys still to come? I believe so, though I cannot comprehend them yet.

One day we will wake up in our Father’s House and discover that the real Christmas morning has arrived. We’ll be surrounded by family and friends, feasts and laughter. I believe I’ll also be awash in dog hair and slobbery kisses. There’ll probably be a horse sharing my hot cocoa and peppermint stick, too, but I won’t mind. In heaven, my horses will have impeccable table manners.

I cannot comprehend the mystery of Christmas, but there is one thing I’m sure of: the best is yet to come.

An Actual Miracle Occurs…

The most glorious mothering-moments always seem to go terribly wrong for me.

My fifth grade daughter invited a friend, Grace, for a sleepover. Grace’s father is a church leader, a detail which will be important later, and one which my daughter will refer back to in therapy years from now.

My daughter (nicknamed Lolo) and Grace were happily cavorting when their time was rudely interrupted by my teenage son returning home with a few of his friends. Elementary school girls love to antagonize teenage guys, and teenage guys will frequently escalate the return-fire, in order to put an early end to hostilities. (I am frequently reminded of President Truman at these moments.)

I had been working in my home office for about an hour, trying to escape the conflict, when Lolo and Grace came storming into my office, hands on hips.

“Tell the boys to stop scaring us!” my daughter snapped.

I raised my eyebrow, words being too much of an effort by this point.

“They put a big rubber snake in the kitchen to scare us!” Grace said.

“We can’t get to the freezer for popsicles,” Lolo added.

I yelled at the guys but they didn’t reply from upstairs. They had music blaring. So, with a groan which was more a precursor to arthritis than actual aggravation, I walked from the office to the kitchen. There it was, a giant rubber snake, thrown across the kitchen floor.

Shaking my head, I bent to pick it up.

It lifted its head and hissed at me.

The girls screamed bloody murder.

Stumbling backwards, shrieking, I did several things simultaneously. (Incidentally, this is where my heroic part in the tale ends.) I grabbed a phone off the kitchen counter and threw it over my shoulder to the girls. My son and his friends turned off their music, so I knew they had heard my screams. Which was timely because I had two commands.

“Everyone, jump on a dog!” We had two Pyrenees, one weighing 90 pounds and one weighing 160. If they came into the kitchen, the fur would hit the fan.

And… “If this thing bites me, call 911!”

The girls began sniffling and breathing in ragged gasps, so I knew they were starting to bawl. I had to work quickly.

Looking wildly about, I spied a lacrosse stick propped next to the back door that leads to our backyard. With a deep breath for courage, I stepped closer to the snake—which coiled and lowered its head menacingly—and slowly opened the door before grabbing the stick.

The snake was light brown with darker brown markings, but I didn’t know whether it was venomous. A little known fact is that even nonvenomous snakes can flatten their heads into a triangle shape to scare off bigger predators.

Gently attempting to scoop the snake into the lacrosse stick’s net, I only succeeded in angering it. It struck at the net, and I briefly lost bladder control as it rapidly slid toward me. I screamed and jumped back as it slid right under the couch by the backdoor.

My heart was thundering in my ears. If the snake crawled out of the other side of the couch, it would be in my den. We would have to sell the house. I bent down, racking my brain to remember the patron saint of snakes, which I realized was probably Satan. I didn’t know where the snake was under the couch, if it was venomous, or if dust bunnies were any protection. My only real hope was that all the socks and wrappers my kids threw under the couch would form a protective barrier.

I wrapped my fingers around the edge of the sofa and lifted. The snake was coiled on the far end, nearest the door. It opened it mouth and reminded me why I had been screaming moments earlier. The girls shrieked on cue.

Then, thank the Lord, I had a spiritual epiphany. God can talk to animals! He called them in pairs to the ark, didn’t He? Passing along a message to a lone snake would be no problem for Him. Plus, imagine my reputation at church when the leader’s daughter told her father of how Ms. Ginger prayed to the Lord and He answered her prayer and all our lives were spared.

Clearing my throat, I steadied my trembling hands and lifted one to the heavens. “Lord,” I began, with a backwards glance to be sure the girls were paying close attention, “you can talk to animals. You can do anything! Would you please tell this snake he has to leave my house right now? I’ve left the door open for his convenience.”

I AM NOT MAKING THIS NEXT PART UP.

Instantly, the snake uncoiled and slid out the back door.

My jaw dropped in disbelief. Slamming the door shut behind the creature, I turned triumphantly to face the girls. We had just witnessed an actual miracle.

The girls were pale. Grace stood slack-jawed, her eyes wide. “Ms. Ginger, you sure know some bad words.”

Turns out…

The whole time I had been dealing with the snake, just prior to my grand act of faith, I had treated the girls to a stream-of-conscious-swim-through-the-dark-river-of profanity. I had been so terrified, so blind with panic, that I had been completely unaware of what I was muttering the whole time.

I looked at Lolo. “I cussed? Like, the really bad words?”

Lolo nodded, her chin quivering.

Grace was a little more helpful. “You didn’t just use them. You conjugated them.”

Well, then.

A call was made to her father to explain why Grace had learned certain words at my house that day. I found it ironic that I was a woman blaming a serpent for my sin. Maybe it would make a pithy sermon illustration, I suggested. He was quiet for a moment. Apparently, this was not the first time Grace had heard those words, but at least I had used them in the context of abject terror. Which, technically, gave me the moral edge . I decided to give him a pass, though. God had certainly given me one that afternoon.

I do hope that one day in the future, a therapist will put down her pen and say, “Wait…go back to that part about the snake. It actually left?” Because it did. Immediately. And my daughter knows now that when we pray, God listens more to our hearts than our words.

And that’s probably the real miracle for me that day.

Ask for the Impossible

I was going to an important meeting, so when I merged onto the highway, I pulled to the far left lane. Some people drive; I zoom. This is the reason my friends have kindly suggested that I never put the Christian fishie on my car. (And I know the proper term is Ichthys, but fishie is much more fun to say and we are all in dire need of much more fun.)

Too late to exit, I realized that up ahead ALL lanes of traffic were stopped. As I inched forward over the next half-hour, I saw that five lanes had been narrowed down to one. And it was raining.

I was going to be late for my meeting, which drives me nuts. I run on Lombardi time. (If you’re not fifteen minutes early, you’re late.) Thanks to my GPS app, I could watch my ETA grow further and further away. All I could do was breathe.

And pray! I always remember prayer a fraction of a second later than I probably should. After all, I am, for the most part, a Christ-follower. Occasionally my language lags behind but I am also a Texan so I’m sure Jesus makes allowances for that. (“You all may go to hell and I will go to Texas,” as Mr. Crockett said. That quote still makes my heart thrum with joy. )

Anyway, I remembered something Beth Moore said about praying for the Red Sea to part when she was sitting in traffic. I felt stupid, but I asked God if He would part the traffic like He did the Red Sea. And I knew of course that this was impossible, unless all cars pulled over to the left and right emergency lanes. Oh, wait—traffic was stopped in those, too. So much for parting anything at all.

But I prayed. And reminded myself not to waste my precious hours on this planet with a grouchy attitude. I knew my prayer was silly but I prayed it anyway because when you are in an impossible situation, you might as well ask that the impossible be done, right? Because prayer is not always about getting what we ask for; it’s about remembering that more things are possible than we know. Prayer is about our attitude when we’re in an impossible situation.

Suddenly, I saw men wearing reflective vests weaving in and out of the cars just in front of me. Startled—because men normally aren’t walking on the highway—I strained to see what they were doing.

They were moving traffic cones. In the blink of an eye, the car in front of me sped off and I saw that all lanes of traffic were now open. The sea had, indeed, parted.

Because I prayed? No. But the timing is suspicious.

Perhaps, if you believe in such things, and I do, God used the moment to remind me that my imagination is woefully limited. If I could not foresee such a humanly possible answer, then I really have no idea what “possible” even means. I have no clue what could be happening, and what might happen, in the divine realm.

So, ask for the impossible. Pray in a way that embarrasses you. It’s good for your heart to be reminded that what we see is never the entire story. Wonderful things can happen in the blink of an eye.

And if you see me in your rear view mirror, pull to the right. I’m probably late.

Irma, Harvey and the Wrath of God

The last blog post I wrote was about my pledge to meet every wound with love. And then, as often happens, it seems I was due to be tested on this principle. Did I really mean that post? Would I really greet my wounds as a chance to let Love make my life more beautiful?

If they are my wounds, yes.

I did not foresee that my son would be in a flour fight (yes, baking products turned into projectiles) and that someone would throw a hard ball at his face, shattering his nose.

That was certainly a wound, complete with streaming blood, a trip to the ER and a head CT.

I did not greet that wound with love. In fact, if you hurt my kids, I will unleash a scorched earth policy that would leave Sherman breathless.

I was furious that the event organizer thought it wise to allow teenage boys to pack flour into bags, creating hard objects to throw. Teenage boys are universally renowned for their ability to turn any object into an instrument of pain and/or destruction.

My own son, in fact, found a way to explode a can of green beans from the inside out, thereby creating an explosion so loud that we have yet to see the birds return to nest in our backyard trees. Adults do not look at canned produce and see the potential for explosions. We just don’t. But if we are in charge of teenage boys, we must think like teenage boys.

But, to continue, my son was injured through the negligence of a third party. It was, in part, a deliberate injury and the fault was squarely on the business’s shoulders. So when the business owner called me in the ER, the Mama Bear in me raged. Even King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, warned that few things on earth are as dangerous as a mama bear.

However, I tried to make it clear that my fury was at the decision that led to the injury, not necessarily the person who made it.

On the way home from the ER, we listened to the news from Charlotte, and then the dire warnings about Hurricane Harvey. One person opined that America was facing the wrath of God for her many sins. And of course, with Irma making her US debut this weekend, even more people are suggesting that all these events aren’t actual weather: they’re divine punishment.

I know they’re wrong. Because on that night on the way home from the ER, I suddenly understood one of the least favorite references in the Bible: the wrath of God.

I have always hated references to the wrath of God.

Who wants to believe in a raging God?

Not me. Ever.

But…what if the wrath of God is quite different than anything we had imagined?

Follow me on this:

Every one of us yearns for justice. Yearning is now said to be the final stage of grief, in fact. That’s why it’s so silly to talk about closure when we’re dealing with deep wounds. Closure isn’t possible. The two ends can never match up again: what was and what should have been are forever separated in this life.

So we yearn for justice. Real justice, not just prison time. Real justice would go after the root of our suffering.

Ask any parent in a pediatric cancer ward what they would do to Cancer if they could. Ask a grieving father what he would do to Heroin. Or a victim of human trafficking what she would do to Pornography and Rape.

Their wrath wouldn’t be pretty. But it would be just.

So, I do want to believe in the wrath of God and you do too. But as God’s children, His wrath is for us, not directed at us. He’s not coming to destroy individuals. He is coming to destroy evil.

I like to think that when God’s wrath is poured out on earth, all of humanity will cheer as we see every form of cruelty, all manner of disease and torment thrown into the pit of hell.

We will at last know the truth and the truth will make us free.

It’s time to stop fighting each other. We must fight for each other.

We can’t destroy each other and find justice. There is no Us versus Them. Celebrities speculate that God has already picked sides. I would argue they are right: God is on our side.

So I don’t fear God’s wrath. I hope one day to see it, and finally see the end of all suffering.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

Let Your Wounds Become Windows

Untitled design

Recently I bought a lantern that absolutely enchanted me. Made of tin, an artist had painstakingly punched thousands of tiny holes in the metal, until a breathtaking design of complexity was evident.

The plain tin box, when lit from within with a candle, was truly lovely. Its light was nothing like the harsh glare of a commercial bulb or even the inconstant glow of an open flame. More than just the light, more than just the lantern: together, they were a thing of rare beauty.

Ironically, C.S. Lewis compared us to objects made of tin. “[God] is beginning…to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.”

I understand so well.

Transforming plain tin to rare beauty is a process both painstaking and painful. The more the tin is pierced, the more elaborate the final pattern. If I had been that piece of tin, I would have demanded a much simpler design.

And if I run my hand along the inside of the lantern, I can still feel the rough edges of the strikes. I feel something quite like them in my heart, too. Each regret in my life has left a rough edge, and each loss has created a wound.

The wounds are what I should have been, how I should have acted, and all the terrible things that should never have happened. I am pierced through with the reality of my own failures and the failures of a broken world that promises happiness and delivers scorn.

I am just a plain tin box wishing to be a thing of beauty, but each failure, each loss and regret, is another nail piercing me. I find no pleasure in the process, and no glimpse of a design. Certainly, I see no beauty.

It takes faith, as raw and real as the wounds, to believe that a Master Artist can use all this pain to create beauty. When we look at the news, it seems impossible. But then I take a deep breath and remember that I am not responsible for changing the headlines…just my attitude. I have to meet each wound with Love. I need faith to hold on, and wait for the beauty to be revealed.

I believe the final design of my life will be made more beautiful because of my regrets and wounds, not in spite of them. I believe that there is hope for me, for you, and for this aching world. I believe that Love is still, and always, at work.

May every wound become a window.

Pranking My Mother

Would you like to meet my mom? First, try to imagine Betty White from her Golden Girls role. Now, change her bouffant hairstyle to black. And add a large bejeweled crucifix from an Avon catalog hanging around her neck. Got it? That’s my mom. She’s epic. In the best possible way, or the worst, depending on which side you take when I tell you this next story. In fact, I tossed and turned last night in bed, questioning whether I should even admit to the final phone prank. It’s so diabolically juvenile…

Anyway, my mom is the kindest, gentlest, most trusting woman God ever created. She loves the Lord (since she’s from Oklahoma, His name is actually pronounced The Lard) and for this reason alone, I’ve questioned my own faith many times. After all, what sort of God pairs a mom like that with kids like me and (name redacted) my brother?

One fateful year, Mom decided to get a job. She’d stayed home to raise us but now that we were on the verge of maturity, she decided to leave us without daily supervision.

We were on the verge all right. But it wasn’t maturity.

Her first job was answering phones for a prim, proper and thoroughly uptight Southern Baptist church. Play along with me. Her job involved picking up the phone and answering in the sweetest voice imaginable, “Main Street Baptist Church. How may we save you?” Or something to that affect.

Oh, boy. So much to work with here. For my brother and I this proved an irresistible target. We were delirious with anticipation.

Her second week on the job, we began our first wave of assault. My brother, a master at accents, tried a few voices with me before settling on the one we were sure sounded the most like Satan. Not that we had ever heard from Satan. Which was surprising considering how much of his work we carried out on a daily basis.

My brother cleared his throat, practicing one last low growl. I dialed the phone.

“Main Street Baptist Church. How may we save you?”

“I’d like to talk to the pastor.” (Make sure you imagine this in the voice of Satan.)

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“The Prince of Darkness.”

“A prince? My goodness. Hold, please.”

Our call went through and we hung up. We stared at each other in astonishment. There was blood in the water now.

And unfortunately, since Dad refused to pay for cable, prank calls were the only available entertainment that summer.

The next day, I dialed again. (On the job training had taught us that prank calls are less likely to be exposed if you space them well.)

“Main Street Baptist Church. How may we save you?”

“I’d like to talk to the pastor.” (again, in the voice of Satan)

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Lucifer.”

“I’m very sorry, Lucifer, but he’s in a meeting. Would you like to leave a message?”

“No message. I’ll pay him a visit.”

“Wonderful! What time should we expect you?”

“6:66”

“We’re looking forward to it. See you then!”

And then, apparently, the pastor grew tired of having calls put through from Satan and meeting times set aside for the Prince of Darkness.

Mom moved on to more suitable employment.

She was hired by a school textbook company on the sale support team. Her job was to answer the phone and take the orders for textbooks from the field salespeople. Sounds easy. Until you factor in her children, two unsupervised criminal masterminds.

Every day, she would jot down her orders, then walk them down the hall to the warehouse manager, who would instruct the warehouse team to pull the orders and ship them to the schools.

After she established herself as the nicest, sweetest, most patient phone operator in the company, she began receiving the most unusual orders. Since the company’s inventory was not computerized yet, the inventory manager spent hours in the warehouse trying to find the obscure textbooks she placed orders for, including, but not limited to, “Animals and How They ‘Do It.‘”.

I am not proud to type that.

I am ashamed.

Remember, we were children. We were idiots. Worse, we were bored.

That summer my brother and I honed our creative skills, straining the limits of credulity, and slowly, the future began to take shape for us.

I became a writer. My brother has gone on to become a wildly successful fraud detection expert. He buzzes around the city in his convertible foreign sports car, and he still makes prank calls.

To me.

Often while sitting in my driveway.

The last prank call ended in an argument about whether fish have feelings.

He’s that good, people.

Or that bad, depending on where you are in your faith walk. As for me and my house, we do serve the Lord (or the Lard, as the Okies say), and my children have gotten away with exactly NOTHING.

I feel pretty good about that….but there was a price. When the hymn writer wrote, “Jesus Paid It All,” I doubt he had any of this in mind, but I’ve read the fine print in the gospel and indeed, all my sins are covered. Which is why I never miss church, if I can help it.

I figure Jesus wants to keep an eye on me now.

How to Define a Patriot

Last week I drove my teenage son to a United States Marine Corp recruiting office. Enlisting has been his dream since he was a toddler, but encouraging the dreams of a toddler was easy. Seeing your son step up to defend our country in an age of terror and brutality? That’s hard on a momma’s heart.

And then I remembered a story from long ago, one that gave me courage.

Several years ago, my parents sold their sold their ranch in Texas and moved to Georgia to be closer to their grandchildren, including my three kids. My kids were always begging to go over and raid Grammy’s pantry, or build something in Grandpa’s workshop.

One afternoon I picked up James’ little sister, my five-year-old daughter Elise, from their house after another fun day with my parents.

On the way home, I noticed that Elise looking out the minivan window, a sad expression on her face. “What is it, hon?” I asked.

“It’s Grandpa and Grandma. I just feel really sorry for them,” she whispered.

“Why?”

Elise sighed. “I was just wondering, aren’t they ever gonna have kids of their own?”

I laughed all the way home.

Elise understood that her grandparents were also my parents but she was not yet able to really comprehend the meaning of that fact.

Of course, I knew that, in time, Elise would understand. But children can know facts without understanding them. I wonder, then, if I am like Elise in my understanding of the founding of our country. The story seems familiar. The holiday has a set routine. Every year, I grill out. I watch the fireworks. I buy sparklers and of course I wear red, white and blue.

I understand July Fourth so very well…or do I? Or am I like Elise, with an understanding of the facts but no ability yet to grasp the greater implications? What if the gift of freedom is a gift so profound that the world is still discovering what was accomplished so long ago?

I wonder, too, if on that night when the rockets really did glare red, and bombs did burst in air, if those patriots understood the transaction that was made. By their blood, we live in freedom. That’s the oldest story ever told, isn’t it, that by another’s blood we are set free? And yet, although it’s a story I first heard in a nursery, I still do not fully comprehend the gift.

On those many years ago when the skies exploded with smoke and fire, and the ground trembled as mothers clutched their hearts for fear of ill news, the world changed forever. I want to pause this weekend and reflect on the change, because soon my son will take his place to hold secure what was won. Like the others beside him, he won’t be there for fame or wealth.

You see to some people, our heritage is defined by what we’ve achieved. But Americans are patriots, and patriots are defined by our sacrifices. What we sacrifice determines who we become, as individuals and as a country.

So on this July Fourth, I will put my hand over my heart for the mothers whose hearts were broken. I will lift my face to the skies as fire once more lights up the dark night. And I will say to those patriots of long ago and to the patriots of today:

God bless America. Let freedom ring!

On Father’s Day, I Celebrate the Miracle of Survival

My dad’s parenting style can best be described as “No Lifeguard on Duty.”

He was and is an inventor who holds several patents, including a timing mechanism for military-issued explosives and another patent for children’s toys. That pretty much gives you an idea of what I was dealing with growing up.

(And for the record, he is my absolute all-time hero, although I believe one of my therapists once referred to that as Stockholm Syndrome, which was
clearly wrong because I grew up in Texas, not Sweden.)

Now, I had one burning desire as a kid: I wanted a dog, just like my friend Heather’s. She had a Cocker Spaniel named Toby. His fur was the color of butterscotch and his ears were like cool velvet. He had expressive brown eyes and followed us everywhere, always wagging his tail.

I thought all dogs were like Toby. I begged my dad for years to get me a dog like Toby.

Then when I was seven and my brother Steve was nine, my dad gave us our very first ever dog.

The male dog had been found abandoned and starving. His breed was already notorious back then for being used in fighting rings. He wasn’t in the best of humors. Dad left us in the backyard with the dog and returned to his workroom. We were not permitted in the workroom.

I bounced toward my new Best Friend Ever and he bared his teeth, the fur standing up on his back.

My brother Steve was the first to realize I was in trouble. He held the door and yelled at me to slowly back up into the house.

We knocked on the door to my dad’s workroom. “Dad, the dog you gave us just tried to kill us!”

“Go tell your mother.”

The problem was, Mom was not currently in the mood to let us live.

You see, the day before, she had returned home after an afternoon of serious dental work. Her cheeks were swollen, packed with cotton and she was unsteady from the meds. Steve and I quickly discovered she was verbally helpless, so when a plumber arrived a short while later to replace a pipe, we carpe diemed. Hard. Steve got to the door first.

“Hi there, son. I’m looking for your mother, Mrs. Garrett?”

Steve stepped outside while I held the door, nodding with a mournful expression.

“No one told you?” Steve asked. “You cannot call her that. EVER. It sets her off really bad, sir.”

“Really bad,” I echoed.

“Uh…what should I call her?”

“Snuffy,” Steve replied with a somber expression. “She only answers to Snuffy.”

So all afternoon, the plumber yelled things like, “Hey, Snuffy, can you bring me a towel?” Or, “Snuffy, come in here, I think I found your problem!”

My mom would brace herself against a wall, garbling furious but unintelligible rants while Steve and I looked at the plumber in sad desperation. Our eyes downcast, we’d sigh heavily and nod, as if to say, “Yes, this really is our mother.”

So now Mom wasn’t going to save us from our new dog.

However, when the entertainment value of the plumber and my mom wore off, Steve and I snuck outside and found (found being a loose term for seeing nice things left unguarded) a stash of long thin metal tubes.

Our eyes met and we both knew…

We ran around back and slipped the tubes over our arms, then slowly approached the dog. His eyes glowed with hellfire as he bared his teeth. We approached cautiously. When his body went completely still, every muscle frozen, we braced for impact.

Sure enough, the dog lunged for us, attacking me first, those jaws of death clamping down like vices on my arm as he shook me side to side like a ragdoll. He crushed the tube from every angle but he just couldn’t get to the juicy filling inside.

I was screaming.

In delight.

“That was so awesome!” I yelled to Steve. “You try!”

So he did. And it became a thing. If we wanted to play with our dog, first we’d cobble together makeshift body armor. That dog mauled us for countless summer hours. Talk about family fun!

Soon I wondered what I had ever seen in Toby; what good is a family pet without that rush of adrenaline, or the delayed-onset muscle soreness from fighting a mighty battle the day before?

We loved that dog. He was and is, to this day, one of the best memories from childhood that I still carry.

However… I would NEVER let my kids get anywhere near an animal like that. I’m pretty sure in this modern age my dad would have been arrested. But things in the day were different. There was no lifeguard on duty. Anywhere.

In fact, I don’t think lifeguards had been invented yet. But danger? Well, that’s the universal language of childhood and we were fluent.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. It’s a miracle we all survived.

What the Campers Saw

While we’re on the subject of body positivity and big bottoms, I’d like to share a cautionary tale.

One year I was scheduled to lead a group of little girls on a camping trip in the North Georgia mountains. The evenings would be chilly.

While shopping for a fleece pullover, I spotted the cutest pair of jeans on the clearance rack. Miraculously, the jeans were my size. Then I read the fine print on the hang tag: Ultra Low Rise.

Hmmm.

Worth a try, I thought, as I yanked them on. My waist was like bread dough. Fluffy white mounds kept rising out of the waistband. I kept mushing them back down, to no avail. Clearly, in your late thirties you retain more than water.

Then I turned around. Plumbers Crack doesn’t adequately describe the sight. Think: Swedish fjord.

However, I loved everything else about the jeans: the whisper-soft denim, the magical spandex blend, the heavy stitching that acted as a discreet guardrail for my thighs.

But the waistband was too low. Ultra low.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany.

(I always regret epiphanies.)

I could buy the fleece pullover and only wear the jeans while wearing that top. The fleece hung well past my bottom line. I could be both comfortable and modest. Ultra Low Rise would be my secret.

Fast forward to the second night at camp. I had run out of ideas to entertain the girls. I had already taught them how to ding-dong ditch, although ding-dong-ditching a tent requires more creativity and we may have been mistaken for a bear once or twice. But oh, the memories! If you’ve never seen a troop of nine-year-olds racing down a mountain path carrying flashlights and running for their lives, well, you should have been my co-leader.

Except for the moment this next thing happened.

We decided to build a fire and roast marshmallows.

My co-leader and I selected a site near a Park Ranger’s station and the public restrooms. She got the fire started as I hauled our supplies to the site.

The girls wiggled and danced with anticipation of an actual marshmallow roast. Their first ever!

At the edge of the seating area near the fire, I dropped the last load of supplies, then bent over to rummage through the pile looking for the marshmallows.

As I bent over, my fleece top fell forward and up, exposing the fluffy white muffins.

AT THAT EXACT MOMENT, a wasp flew down my pants. Into the fjord.

I jerked straight up, sealing it in between my cheeks.

It stung me. I screamed and swatted my rear end.

It stung again.

I screamed, swatted my rear end, and added a hop.

The wasp stung me repeatedly as I danced around the fire, swatting myself in the rear and screaming.

The girls all stood slack-jawed, watching.

“What’s wrong with your mom?” one of them asked my daughter. “Is this a thing she does?”

No one moved or offered assistance. I was in unbearable pain and completely panicked.

I bolted for the public restroom, still screaming. The other leader screamed my name, asking me what was wrong. I was unable to speak. My girl ran behind me yelling, “Why are you doing that? I don’t like this game!”

I yanked opened the door to the Women’s Restroom at the same moment a Park Ranger opened the door to his office, stepping out into the melee.

Once inside, I fumbled with my button and zipper before wrenching my pants off. “A wasp got stuck in between my cheeks,” I managed to gasp to my daughter. “It keeps stinging me!”

“Ma’am, this is the Park Ranger,” the poor guy yelled through the closed door. “Are you all right? Do you require assistance?”

“Stay back!” I screamed like a savage. “Don’t come in!”

Next, my hands went for my underwear.

Terrified the wasp was going to fly out from my bottom and sting her, too, my daughter turned and flung the door open to run away.

The wasp fell to the ground, dead. Flat as a pancake. Perhaps he died happy. I don’t really know.

What I do know is that a Park Ranger got a lesson in first aid that will chill him for years to come. He may have made the sign of the cross, or been reaching for the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. I don’t really know that, either.

“I see your mom’s butt!” someone yelled.

My daughter slunk away from the crowd, the night stars reflecting the hostile glare in her eyes. I had ruined her life. Or at least the part that involved outdoor activities with other people.

The Park Ranger grabbed the door and shoved it closed.

“Sh…sh…should I bring you some ice?” he stammered.

“And plenty of it!” I snapped.

My cheeks were swelling up. I would never be able to get those jeans back on. Plus I had to pack my cheeks with so much ice that even the crew of the Titanic couldn’t miss me.

“And can you ask my daughter to find me some pants I can wear?” I called out, wiping the sweat from my forehead. I stared at the underwear and jeans crumpled on the floor at my feet, together with the flattest wasp I had ever seen.

Turns out, glute muscles are also an incredibly powerful flower-press.

Not that I was going to suggest that to the campers.

I wouldn’t want to see that badge.

Not incidentally, that was my last time leading a camping trip. And I have never, ever bought or worn ultra low anything since that day.

And so, while I lecture my daughters on modesty, I always break out in a cold sweat, remembering that fateful evening.

The modesty test in our household is simply this: would you want to get stung on that part of the body?

If not, keep it covered.

And please, friends, for your own safety, beware the Ultra Low Rise. Mother Nature always gets the last laugh.