It Is a Wonderful Life

Unless you were born yesterday, you’ve probably seen It’s a Wonderful Life, the Jimmy Stewart classic about a man who discovers the true impact of his life. Flip through enough channels on your TV in December and you’ll eventually come across it. I’ve watched it almost every Christmas for the past 30 years or so.


I always cry at the same scenes: the one in which druggist Mr. Gower embraces George after realizing George prevented him from making a deadly mistake, and the very last scene in which Harry raises a glass and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.”

This is one of my favorite movies simply because I want my life to look a lot like George Bailey’s. George always does the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant or downright heartbreaking. His first selfless act is jumping into a frozen pond to save eight-year-old Harry from drowning, losing the hearing in his left ear as a result. He gives his college money to Harry and stays on at Bailey Brothers Building and Loan so people don’t have to go “crawling to Potter” for loans. He forfeits his honeymoon money to keep Bailey Brothers open after a run on the bank. He stays in his hometown yet again so Harry can pursue opportunities outside of Bedford Falls. Although he never attends college or fulfills his own dream of becoming an architect, he designs affordable homes in Bailey Park so his neighbors don’t have to pay greedy Mr. Potter’s exorbitant rents elsewhere.

The list goes on.

George certainly isn’t perfect. He grumbles about living in a drafty, old house and having too many mouths to feed on too little for too long. He barks at confused loved ones when he finally arrives at the end of his rope, sure he’s about to go to jail for something his absentminded uncle Billy has done. A lifetime of endless giving without receiving any outward reward catches up to the weary George, who is sure his life has amounted to exactly nothing.

It’s not until George meets the angel Clarence and gets to see what would have happened to all of his friends, neighbors, and Bedford Falls itself if he’d never been born that he truly understands every life he has changed through every act of kindness and generosity. It’s this ripple effect that fascinates me. We all have opportunities to change someone’s day, week, year, or entire life by doing the simplest things: extending kindness and grace when we’d rather not, giving when we’d rather take, and being selfless when we’d rather think of no one but ourselves.

When this movie was released in December 1946, it wasn’t the immediate or overwhelming success modern viewers might suspect. People were still reeling from the devastation of World War II and weren’t quick to embrace the movie’s dark themes of financial ruin, desperation, and suicide. Even the FBI got in on the action as anti-Communist sentiment began to simmer, releasing a memo that called the movie out for its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This . . . is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, . . . this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.” (

Wow. Really? That’s quite a stretch.

Think for a moment what life on this planet might have been like without the gift of you. No one is a mistake. Each life, no matter how brief, has purpose. God’s plan is perfect, and you were perfectly created to live the life He mapped out for you before time even began.


Ice-Skating as a Metaphor for Life

Have you ever watched young children ice-skate? They spend more time scrambling, flailing, and crashing than they do balancing on those two thin blades. But they do it joyfully and don’t give up easily. In fact, even with fingers turning a frosty shade of blue and backsides longing for a soft place to land, kids will beg for “just one more turn” on the ice before allowing themselves to be dragged homeward.

skate child

Most of us realize as we age that it’s much easier for small children than adults to learn how to do anything that requires balance: ice-skating, roller-skating, skateboarding, skiing, or riding a bicycle. Not only are they closer to the ground, ensuring a shorter and less painful fall, but they’re also fearless and determined. They don’t understand what danger is or what it means to not be able to do something.

I grew up in Massachusetts, down the street from the local park, which includes a pond small enough that it freezes solid every winter. When I was a kid, the city allowed folks to skate on the pond after a city worker drove a truck over it v-e-r-r-r-r-r-r-y slowly to ensure the ice was thick and stable enough to support the weight of skaters. Yes, sometimes the truck almost fell through. (These days, skating is prohibited no matter how cold it gets and stays, but an indoor rink sits only a few miles away.)

I owned a beautiful pair of white skates. Every winter, I’d rush up the street to watch both children and adults take to that slab of ice as soon as the city posted the sign saying it was safe to skate. I’d push a chair in front of me for balance. I’d spy other kids stagger and dodder, ankles turned at painful angles. I’d watch with envy and fascination as adept adults escaped to the center to move in graceful figure eights and tight spins.

skate pro

Ice-skating is much like life. You start out slowly, wobbly, unsure of your ability. You fall down—a lot. You get up and try again—a lot. You collect bumps, bruises, cuts, sore muscles, and a battered ego to boot.

You learn to persevere, to keep trying until you get it right, understanding that proficiency comes only after an awful lot of practice. Even if you someday end up at the Olympics, you start out on your knees and your rear end.

Unfortunately, even as a kid, I was full of fear: fear of falling, getting hurt, looking foolish, failing. I never learned how to skate on that pond or anywhere else. My skates remained white and beautiful from lack of use. I also never learned to roller-skate, roller-blade, or do anything else that required balance and intrepidity. (Yes, I can ride a bike, but other forces are at work there.)

And it has cost me dearly. Not only did I miss out on all of the fun of doing those activities, I missed out on the priceless opportunity to discover the places fearlessness could deliver me from and, more importantly, lead me to.

When you understand that fear is the only thing holding you back from achieving any goal, you begin to pry its grip from your life, one experience at a time. When you believe that you can do anything—start a business; raise healthy, happy children; write a book; become a mentor; lose weight; teach; go back to school—that’s the point where fear takes a back seat to unadulterated courage. Fear has only as much power as you give it. Fear—like love, forgiveness, and faith—is a choice.

See you at the next Olympic games.


Journal Gems

In my last post, I introduced you to the journal I’ve been keeping since my children were quite young. Today I want to share some of the shiniest gems in there.

Luke (age 3) decided that he didn’t want to go to preschool one particular day.

“How about if I go to your preschool today and you go to my office?” asked his dad.

“OK,” Luke replied. Then he thought about it for a minute and added, “I can’t. I don’t know how to drive.”

Yup, that’s the only problem with that plan.

red wagon

Here’s a perfect example of how children see everything literally. Taking a walk around the neighborhood after dinner one night, Luke (5) was pulling Jake (3) in a Radio Flyer wagon. He was moving a bit too slowly for Dad’s liking.

“Pick up the pace, Luke,” said Dad.

“What’s a pace?” asked Jake quizzically. Looking over the sides of the wagon onto the ground, he asserted, “I don’t see any pace. Where is the pace?”

Jake (4) slept in his clothes one night because he fell asleep during an early-evening time-out. The next morning, I told him to put on clean clothes.

“I’m tired of looking at you in those grungy clothes,” I explained.

“Then stop looking at me!” he retorted.

Jake (4) was singing the alphabet song one day and somehow convinced himself that O had managed to secede from the long-standing union of letters. Wanting to impart this newfound wisdom, he asked, “Mommy, did you know that O is not in the alphabet?”atom

Jake (5) asked me one night, “Mom, did you know that everything in the world is made of atoms? Not my friend Adam. A different atom.”

One night during dinner, I asked Jake (6) if he liked his art teacher.

“I like my teacher, but I don’t like doing bossy art,” he replied.

“What’s ‘bossy art’?”

“It’s art you have to do because the teacher tells you to. That’s what I call it.”

While Luke (8) and Jake (6) were playing Hangman, Jake said, “Let’s do an eight-letter word.” After a few seconds, he added, “Actually, I don’t know any eight-letter words.”

One day, Jake (age 8) and I sat waiting for a swing bridge to open and close to allow a boat to pass below. I told him I thought it was ingenious for someone to design a bridge that’s connected to a permanent road and that can also pivot.

“You know who I think is a genius, Mom?” Jake asked.


“The guy who invented donuts!”


Luke (11) and Jake (9) were roughhousing at bedtime.

“Is anyone going to bed tonight?” I asked, exasperated.

“That’s so last night!” Jake exclaimed.

My neighbor had given me a book called Three Steps to a Strong Family. Luke (11) noticed the title and remarked, “You’re going to need a lot more steps.”

strawberryOne day, while picking strawberries at a pick-your-own farm, Jake (11) noted all of the squashed berries on the ground and wailed, “Oh, the straw-manity!”

In the checkout at Walmart one evening, I pulled the cap off a deodorant stick that Luke (16) was buying so I could smell it. When I replaced the cap, it pinched my finger.

“That’s dangerous,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s right up there with bears and alligators on the danger scale,” Luke quipped.

After peering intently into the side-view mirror outside his passenger seat window in the car one day, Luke (16) exclaimed, “Hey, I am closer than I appear!”

pigeonOne evening, I received an email from my sons’ high school about the early-release schedule the following day. A few minutes later, I received a recorded phone call reiterating the same information.

“I already got the email about this. Why are you calling me too?” I asked my phone in exasperation.

“Where’s the carrier pigeon?” Luke (17) said nonchalantly.

Finally, while Jake (15) and I were shopping for school supplies at Walmart recently, I spotted a pencil holder that looked just like a miniature recycling bin. It even had a working lid and tiny wheels. I oohed and aahed over it for a few minutes, rolling it along the shelf and gushing about how adorable it was.

“You’re such a goober, Mom,” Jake remarked.

“I know,” I agreed.

“But you’re the good kind of goober,” he added.





The Journal

Hypothetical question of the day: Suppose your house was on fire and you had time to save only one thing. What would it be? (Assume your family and other assorted pets are already safe and secure outside the raging inferno.) For some reason, I’ve thought about this many times. And I know exactly what I would risk life and limb to retrieve: an irreplaceable journal in which I’ve written the funniest, most adorable things my children have said and done since they could, well, say and do things.

If you’re in the season of parenting young children, I urge you to write everything down. Make time for it. It takes just a few minutes now and then. You will forget all the things you swore you’d remember, because there’s too much to remember and your brain-on-small-children is operating—just barely—on things like drool, stains that will never come out in the wash, and sleep deprivation that could pass for torture.

Your journal doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty. Mine is page after page of scribbling, crossed-out words, and commentary added after the fact. It’s literally coming apart at the seams and has stray bits of paper falling out at the corners. I tell myself that someday I’m going to type all of those handwritten notes into a tidy Word document. Yup. Someday.

I’m so grateful that I have this precious journal. Every so often, I reread the entire thing. The best part is that my poor, fried brain still recalls the details of each situation: the sparkle in my boys’ eyes when they smiled, the sound of their tiny voices, the look of surprise when they encountered something new and fascinating.

When your children are no longer babies or toddlers, and you’re feeling overwhelmed by bigger kids with bigger problems, you’ll thank your younger-mom self for recording the slices of sweet memories that still have the power to make you feel blessed to be someone’s mom.

Irma and God

People around the world waited and watched to see what Hurricane Irma would do last weekend to those of us in Florida. I’ll give you the short version of what happened on the west coast of the state: much less than what we feared, expected, and prepared for. And I want to give credit where credit is due. Almost everyone I know prayed that God would spare us widespread death, destruction, and devastation. And He did.

God is good.

Every Floridian knows that a hurricane draws its power from the water that surrounds our peninsula: the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, even the Everglades, which is a basically a “river of grass,” as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas called it. Once a hurricane hits land, it quickly loses power. Irma could have ripped up Florida’s east coast and then gone on to cause catastrophic damage to the entire eastern seaboard. She could have veered up the state’s west coast, gaining fuel over the gulf. But she hit land at Fort Myers and forged a path directly through the center of the state, away from both coasts, losing steam all along the way.

God is good.

I abandoned my little rental house because I believed that a Category 5 (or 4 or 3 or even 2) hurricane would rip it to shreds. Because Irma sputtered over land to a Category 1 storm before she reached the Tampa Bay area, I returned to find my house exactly as I’d left it, inside and out (minus a few roof shingles).

God is good.

Most people heeded the evacuation orders for coastal and low-lying areas. Most shelters allowed evacuees to bring their dogs and cats so desperate people didn’t have to choose between saving themselves and saving their beloved pets, as often happened in the past. Some shelters also catered to children and adults with special needs so every family had a safe, welcoming place to go.

God is good.

My family and friends in New England called and texted before the storm to send their best wishes and prayers for my family’s safety and well-being. After the storm, they again checked in to make sure my children and I were OK. Even though she’s 1500 miles away in Massachusetts, my wonderful friend Brenda even offered her home to me if my home became unlivable.

God is good.

Neighbors helped neighbors prepare for the storm, covering windows with hurricane shutters and plywood, sharing extra food and supplies, and promising to check in afterwards. Although stores were crowded and shelves barren of essentials, shoppers were by and large respectful. Motorists patiently waited in line to get gas.

God is good.

After the storm had passed and residents surveyed the damage, neighbors again went to work for one another, cutting felled trees and hauling away the chunks, cleaning up leaves and other debris, and removing all those shutters and all that plywood.

God is good.

My church organized volunteers to collect and distribute water, food, and other necessities to those in need. My son and I, along with about fifteen others, traveled to a nearby Easter Seals facility to clear the property of tree limbs and to lay fresh mulch on the playground and flower beds. This is a place where children and adults with physical and emotional disabilities spend their days, receiving essential therapy and engaging in activities that expand their otherwise limited world. Although it’s located less than a mile from Sarasota Bay—the street dead-ends at it—the campus sustained only minor water damage and a loss of electricity. Three greenhouses on the property supply organic vegetables and herbs to local restaurants as a source of income for the facility. Constructed of only wood frames and plastic shells, they withstood the storm intact.

God is good.

Disasters have a way of bringing out the best in human beings, causing us to empathize and sympathize. People are circling the wagons, stepping up, and doing whatever they are called to do. They’re donating money and delivering supplies, hope, and reassurance in both Florida and Texas. To date, more than $300 million has been donated toward relief from both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

God is good.

God is never the author of our trials, suffering, and literal and figurative storms. But He promises to bring something good out of every bad thing that happens to us. He proved again, in the form of a hurricane named Irma, that He keeps His promises.

Teen Speak

Most teenagers spend an alarming amount of time on social media. And most parents of teenagers know that the sly little devils have a language all their own, which consists mostly of acronyms used to camouflage the true meaning of their conversations should a wary parent stumble across something no parent is meant to see. Case in point: “PIR” means “parent in room,” and “MPTIABIROWMBRN” translates to “My parents think I’m asleep but I’m really out with my boyfriend right now.” (Not really. I made that one up.)

Even when your teens are speaking directly to you—meaning you can see their lips moving and you hear what could be described as actual words emerging from those lips—they’re still using code. Let me help you, hapless parents, decode this insidious foreign language so you’ll be only eight steps behind them instead of the usual eight bazillion.

Uttered: “I’m going to bed. Good night.”

Translation: “Even though it’s only 7:30 p.m. and it’s still light outside, I’m going into my room to lie in my warm, cozy bed to Skype, Facetime, IM, text, tweet, and/or maybe even actually talk on my phone to all of the friends I just spent all day with at school and will see as soon as I get there tomorrow morning.”

Uttered: “Is it OK if I’m home by 10 p.m.?

Translation: “At 9:45, I’ll text you and ask if I can be home by 10:15. Then I’ll text again at 10:00 and ask if you’ll extend my curfew to 10:30. At precisely 10:43 p.m., I’ll careen into the driveway on two tires and waltz through the front door as if I’ve arrived home at exactly the time I said I would. When you mention that I’m actually late and should have called or texted, I’ll remind you that I’m not supposed to talk on the phone or text while I’m driving (your rule). When you say I should have called or texted before I left wherever I was to let you know I was on my way, I’ll say something completely inane such as, ‘But I knew I’d be home in, like, five minutes.’ Then—and only then—will I acknowledge that I was indeed late and mutter several words that sound remotely like an apology.”


Uttered: “I have something going on after school today.”

Translation: “Although I’m making it sound like I have something incredibly important to do this afternoon—saving someone’s life or contributing in some small way to world peace perhaps—what I’ll actually be doing is meeting my friends at Starbucks to imbibe large quantities of caffeinated beverages, take photos of one another to share instantly on Snapchat, and poke fun at old people, which is pretty much everyone except us.”

Uttered: “I’d like four pieces of bacon, six eggs, and five pieces of toast for breakfast, please.”

Translation: “Even though I look very hungry and you honestly believe I’m going to eat all of the food I’ve asked you to prepare for me, here’s what’s really going to happen. First, I’m going to eat the bacon because, well, it’s bacon. Then I’ll inhale the eggs as if I haven’t eaten in seven years instead of the seven hours while I slept last night. About one-fifth of my way through the toast, I’ll sit back in my chair, feeling very full and distressed from eating too much too fast, and declare that I can’t even look at any more food (at least until lunchtime). I will note that your face sports a decidedly disdainful look as you flush untouched toast down the garbage disposal.”


Uttered: “I’ll tell you about that later.”

Translation: “I’m close to 100 percent certain that with all of the forces fighting against your memory—your rapidly advancing age, innumerable job responsibilities, and extensive grocery shopping lists, not to mention all of the inconsequential minutiae I expect you to remember for me on any given day—you will forget within the next three seconds what you just asked me to explain to you and I’ll never have to ‘tell you about that later.’”

Paula and the Horses

Paula and I have been friends for 34 years. Although we attended the same university, our paths never once crossed there: She was in the engineering school; I, liberal arts. We met at Ann & Hope—or, as we called it, Ann & Hopeless!—the department store at which we both worked during college.

Paula lives in the town next door to the one where she grew up in Massachusetts. I grew up a few towns over. I have spent the last 20 years living in Florida and rarely get the chance to venture north anymore, so my best friend invited me to visit this summer. She arranged my flights, put me up in her home, and treated me to meals at our favorite eateries. She didn’t do any of this so people would gush over her and think she’s the nicest person on the planet. She was just being Paula.

Horses are Paula’s favorite things. An accomplished equestrian, she spends every Sunday morning at a local stable, where she leads horses from their stalls in the barn to outdoor paddocks; mucks out their stalls; brushes their coats and cleans their shoes; and rides her favorite mare, Rosie, around the indoor arena.



The day I accompanied Paula to the barn was cool, sunny, cloudless—truly spectacular. But Paula shows up when it’s pouring rain, when it’s 90 humid degrees in the waning days of Indian summer, and when it’s 12 degrees below zero (not counting the wind chill). It’s her refuge, her escape, the thing she looks forward to all week.

Horse people are a breed apart, so to speak. They live, dream, and breathe horses. They toss around words like forelock, withers, hands, mare, stallion, gelding, pony, quarter horse, and Friesian. They treat their animals’ ailments with acupuncture and chiropractic along with the usual prescribed medications. They spare no expense for their four-hoofed companions. And owning a horse is by no means cheap when you factor in boarding fees, hay and feed, veterinarians’ bills, and saddles, bits, blankets, and other accoutrements.


Paula feeds an eager Cajun his allergy medication. Like humans, horses can acquire allergies, which usually manifest as welts on their hides rather than as respiratory symptoms.

The first bit of advice I received on this particular day was “Don’t ever stand behind a horse,” because, in my haste to get out of everyone’s way, I had positioned myself directly behind a horse. Unless you’re used to being around these massive, imposing animals—they can weigh up to two tons—or you’ve already been kicked by one, it may not occur to you that there’s a safe place to stand . . . and a not-so-safe place. Check.

Horses, like all animals, have distinct personalities. Some like to nuzzle; others will bite; still others like to squeeze and push their hapless caretakers into the nearest wall. (You can almost hear them snickering when they get to do this.) Some are wary of strangers; others run to welcome humans with unfamiliar faces. Some kick their stall doors and literally champ at the bit in their haste to leave their stalls; others quietly watch all of the goings-on of their equine neighbors and wait patiently to be released from their square confines into fresh air, fresh grass, and freedom.

Wherever there are horses, you’ll find a dog or two. No exception here. Jane is a Jack Russell terrier. Did you make the connection? Her name is . . . Jane Russell. (Now there’s a dog owner with a sense of humor.) Jane is allowed to wander wherever she likes. Ginger, however, is not. Still a goofy puppy compared to the older, more seasoned Jane, Ginger tends to get underfoot, not a good thing around very large, powerful prey animals that are easily spooked and tripped. So Ginger is banned from the arena, where novice riders learn how to read and control their horses with the slightest twist of a shoulder or gentle cluck-cluck of the tongue.

Taking care of horses is a lot of work. But when you love, admire, and respect these superbly formed running machines with their huge eyes and soft muzzles, no amount of work or dedication is too much.

Paula thinks so.