The Cheesecake Factory Girls

We sat outside, the twinkle of the white lights giving the night sky a blissful glow.  There were five of us, four young ones…and me.

They call me their favorite mom-friend and I take it as a great compliment. Each one of those girls holds a unique and special place in my heart.  Each one has impacted me in ways they will never fully understand.  Each one has challenged me and given me both a hope and a dream for what my daughter could someday look like.

In a world that tells you teenagers are selfish and obnoxious, these girls are proving that the world is wrong.  They are smart and funny and sensitive and sweet.  They are aware of the world around them and possess maturity beyond their years.  Come to think of it, most of the teenagers at our old church possess these qualities.  It is why we had such an amazing body of believers.  Because where there are amazing teenagers, there are more often than not amazing parents standing behind them.

This was a parting dessert.  I wanted to gather the four of them together at one time, and in one place, to tell them just how much they meant to me and just how proud I was of them.  I fumbled with my words.  I’m better with a keyboard than I am in person.  I’m all awkward and Gen X that way…

You don’t find young people like these four girls often. They are kind, considerate, thoughtful, sweet, witty, smart and they are all drop dead gorgeous on the inside and the out.  One of the four asked if she could go to China for her sixteenth birthday so that she could serve little ones in an orphanage.  And she did it.  The others have served in Haiti, in Mexico and in downtown St. Louis.  Not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

These girls have impacted my life by giving me the encouragement I needed on the hard days of parenting.  Because I know their parents.  I know that the Cheesecake Factory girls are merely a product of God’s grace and firm, loving parenting.  And the three couples who parented these four girls are some of the people we most dearly miss.  They are the three couples who were at the top of the list of reasons we should not move away.

It’s not that these are abnormal teenagers by any stretch of the imagination.  We spent a portion of our evening at the Cheesecake Factory looking for the hunky Australian waiter who worked there.  We never found him, unfortunately.  But in the looking, I fell in love with the Cheesecake Factory girls even more.

They are regular teenage girls who exhibit grace in extraordinary ways. The Cheesecake Factory girls are a picture of true beauty.

When the world says that teenagers are out of control, I always remember the Cheesecake Factory girls and I take heart.  There is hope for me and there is hope for those of you who are currently in the trenches of raising young children.

Why do people say these elementary years are the easy part of parenting?  Because they’re not!  They are fun years and I am going to miss the young years desperately, but they are not easy.  These are the years when all the battles must be won.  These years of childhood are the years when it’s the hardest.


If we win the battles now, what delight awaits us!  We will raise our own Cheesecake Factory girls…and boys.  Teenagers that are fun and delightful and a joy to spend time with.  The fun years await us if we’re willing to fight the fight right now.  Join with me as we battle for the deepest parts of the souls of our children, won’t you?

This weekend I am thankful for grace, for godly examples and for the Cheesecake Factory girls.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”  1 Timothy 4:12

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Me them then…or is it them me now?

I engaged in a bit of retail therapy yesterday.  After a day on the battleground called motherhood, I escaped for a few hours into the Mecca of all home furnishing stores.  Did you know the power that four simple little letters can wield?


Say it slow.  Let it roll off the tongue.


I rolled a cart through the golden aisles, little fairies giggling and blowing pixie dust on me as I danced past.  When I entered the showroom, a beam of light appeared from nowhere casting an ethereal glow across the cheap, yet terribly stylish, furnishings.

I actually think walking through there made a few of my wrinkles disappear.

I found something I loved in every room.  I bought Christmas presents for Tia and resisted the urge to grab the arm of the woman in yellow beside me and shake it in excited glee.  Oh the organizational wonderment to behold!

I ate Swedish meatballs in the silence of my reverie, all while visually digesting the wonderment that stood before me.  It was like being at the spa, only no strangers were touching me and it didn’t require the sacrifice of my first born to afford it.

I left with a few treasures in my basket and a considerable amount of satisfaction at how much I got for the amount.  I piled my treasures in the back of my (smokin’ hot) minivan and off we drive toward the glowing orange orb in the sky.

It was as beautiful an evening as one 30-something could possibly experience.

As I made my way down the road, I slowed to a stop at a red light (always a good idea).  I glanced in my side mirror to see a truck in the lane to my left stopping next to the car that was directly behind me.  Inside the rusted truck were two girls who didn’t look old enough to be wearing makeup, much less operating a vehicle.  They motioned wildly at the older gentleman in the car next to them so he rolled down his window.

“Hey there, Grandpa,” the girl in the passenger seat yelled, smacking her gum with the force of a perturbed cow.  “You’re pretty cute.”  Head thrown back.  *giggle, giggle, giggle*

The poor old man shook his head and rolled his window back up.  The girls drove forward and pulled up alongside me.  I had my window down and the radio blasted all the current Christian hits of today. I bobbed my head up and down to the beat and drummed my fingers on the side of the car.  I rarely drive with the windows down these days, but last night was so perfect I couldn’t resist.

Giggle tweeny bopper looked my way and I tried to ignore.

“Hey,” she called, still giggling uncontrollably.  It was the silly giggle that reveals complete and total immaturity.  I turned her way and smiled.

“Hey,” I said back with a grin.  “How are you guys doing tonight?”

The driver laughed.  I briefly contemplated asking her to give me proof that she was indeed old enough to drive.  “We are, like, so. great.”  She said.  Her words were emphasized with two smacks of her Hubba Bubba.  Whoa…they were doing great.

“So what are you up to?” Giggly asked. And just then the light turned green and the line of cars began to slowly move.  I waved as the Silly Mobile pulled forward with a squeal – was it the tires or the girls?

And then I laughed. It was the knowing laugh that completely solidifies you as a full blown grown up.

The total lack of respect for others aside, those girls reminded me a little bit of myself.  I remembered the day that my best friend Lindsey and I, also both barely legal to drive, made the trek from our house to a friend’s out in the sticks of St. Louis.  We had the windows down and our music blaring and we hung our heads and arms out the windows laughing uncontrollably and altogether reveling in our youth.

Life was a joyride.  It was a wind in your hair, laugh at the world adventure.  We were silly and crazy and completely free of the responsibility of adulthood.  There weren’t children or husbands or mortgages or bills.

I can honestly say that at that moment in my life, the very last thing I wanted to spend my hard earned money on was a kitchen scrub brush and a watering can.

Home furnishings weren’t exciting.  Freedom was exciting.  The wind whipping by as we headed to the Lake was exciting.  Life was a grand adventure just at the tip of our fingers.  And as those girls peeled out, shrieking with laughter at…um, nothing…I shook my head.  They are me back then.

And as I glanced at the IKEA bag glimmering in the evening sun next to me, I let out another laugh.  I am them now…or not long from now.  The wind still whips through my hair and my music is still loud.  Only, more often than not, the music is sung by talking vegetables and my minivan is loaded with practical things like kitchen scrub brushes and watering cans…and place mats.  Really, really cute place mats.

Life is still an adventure, isn’t it?  I think it might even be a little more grand.

Someday those silly little girls will understand.

The Art


A ten year old girl sits intently over her metal framed desk, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as her pencil scratches furiously across the lined paper.  She sighs, erases, then places pencil to paper again.  An adventure is spilling from her fingertips.  It involves a hot air balloon and a chicken.

She knows it’s brilliant.

With a modicum of flair, the girl hands it to her teacher looking much like the Cheshire Cat.  Two days later, her story come back with a bright red smiley face and the words GREAT JOB!  The teacher pulls her aside later and tells the girl to never be afraid to use her imagination and to keep telling stories. 

So the girl does.

A thirteen year old girl sits in her bedroom with the blank pages of a journal on her lap.  It is the place where the angst of teendom spills forth in childlike poetry.  She pours out her heart with emotion and gives full expression to every hurt, every confusion, every fear, every joy.

She lays the journal down and immediately feels the need to write some more.

So she does.

A sixteen year old girl sees a younger classmate hurting and wants to help.  She’s not good with words unless she is able to put them on paper so she decides to write a devotional.  With great fervor, she writes a seven day devotional in which she hopes to convey God’s love in a way that replaces the pain with hope.  She never found out if she succeeded, but she begins to wonder if her passion could be used for good.

So she continues to dream.

A nineteen year old girl is called into her professor’s office.  She sees her paper on his desk and suddenly fears she has made a grave error in her writing.  She listens in awe as he instead praises her paper and asks if he can submit it to a local writing contest.  “You know we have a Professional Writing Major here, don’t you?” he asks.  “You should think about that.”

She thinks, she decides, she declares.

A twenty year old sits on a train from Prague to Ukraine.  She is alone with a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a copy of Jane Eyre.  She puts down her book and looks out at the changing leaves and rolling hills of a foreign land.  She picks up her pen and journal and writes.  She uses “Thee” and “Thou” and feels like Charlotte Bronte on a grand adventure.

She feels romantic and poetic.

A twenty three year old girl is newly married and sitting in her empty apartment, her eyes glued to the computer screen before her.  She has her first big break.  A book.  And she is terrified.  So she does the only thing she really knows how to do, she writes.  Most of it isn’t fit for publication, but she works out the kinks through the melodic clicking of her keyboard.

Her dream is coming true.

A cough cough year old girl gets up long before the sun to make use of the few brief moments she’s allotted with her thoughts.  She pulls out her dusty journal and for the first time in years touches pen to paper.  It’s as if her first love has been there waiting for her all along.  Life flows from her fingertips and she quickly puts her pen back down, almost breathless.

She forgot how much she loved the art.

This same girl is digging back into the recesses of her imagination and letting it run free again.  Hot air balloons and chickens suddenly don’t seem that strange.  In fact, it feels like a fantastic adventure.

Today I am speaking at a local career fair on the art and craft of writing.  What will I say to them?  Perhaps, chase your dreams.  Or maybe, don’t be afraid to use your imagination.  Should I include have a back up plan?

What advice would you give young minds eager to jump into their own futures?