Nurturing Joy

Hi sons!

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we had a lovely day. Your dad was out of town for work, and although I would normally have been disappointed about that, I read an article last week that said exactly what I needed to hear — that you, my sons, are the gift and that mothering you is an honor and a privilege. It was a perfect reminder.

I want you both to know the joy you bring to my life. I hope that you are actually rolling your eyes as you read this in 2030 because you have heard me say it before on numerous occasions. I hope that I’m “that” mom who has so much love for and faith in you that you might even take it for granted, and yes, maybe even with an eye roll. If that is the case, I have been successful. It’s my job to love you like a crazy person (and boy, I sure do!) because I’m your mom.

But there are other nurturers in your life now in 2014, and there will be many others between now and when you read this, and I don’t want you to take them for granted for a moment. These are the nurturers who love selflessly and do so through acts of service for children who aren’t theirs. I’m talking about your teachers, coaches, pastors, extended family, and family friends.

Currently, for instance, you two are enamored with Ms. Barbara, your Sunday School teacher. Barbara does not have children of her own. She sees you and other children at church as her own and volunteers hours of her time for you all. Lovingly, she does it with joy in her heart. You two love Ms. Barbara so much. Telling you boys that you will see her when we are trying to put your shoes on to leave for church (of course, while you play with your toys and tell us you’d rather stay home and play), and we say, “Don’t you want to see Ms. Barbara?!”, it immediately shifts your attitude and you begin helping with your shoes and running to the garage. When you see her, you run to her for hugs, and she lights up as if you are her grandchildren and lovingly embraces you. I pray that as you read this in 2030, you recognize with gratitude her mark on your lives through her nurturing love, and from other nurturers that you will meet along the way.

With Ms. Barbara in Sunday School just before Halloween, 2013.

With Ms. Barbara in Sunday School just before Halloween, 2013.

The world needs more Ms. Barbaras. I pray with all my might that as you read this, the world is placing more value on our nurturers. Nurturers are the reason our world functions. Nurturers pick up the pieces and ask for nothing in return. We should celebrate them a heck of a lot more often than one day out of the year – a day we often see as an obligation to make a phone call so not to “disappoint” our mothers. And as a mother myself, it is also the day so many of us expect gratitude from others.

So, for me, this Mother’s Day, instead of waiting to feel appreciated for what I love to do and choose to do, I want to celebrate my own mother and all of my nurturers and their sacrificial love for me. I also want to celebrate the privilege I have of being your sole nurturer. I am humbled by the opportunity to love you recklessly just as I have been loved in the same way by my own mother (and she by her mother…). I am truly grateful, as well, for my nurturing “second mothers” and my nurturing God, the source of love itself!

Happy Mother’s Day! Hail to the world’s nurturers!

With gratitude and crazy love,
Mom

Social Grace

Hello princes!

I read an article recently that has really made me think: Are you a crappy friend too? It has encouraged me to observe my behavior in social settings and personal relationships. Friendship is important to me, as it is for many people. I spend a great deal of time thinking about, praying for, and planning for time with my friends. I truly care about them deeply. However, I don’t know that I show it as well as I’d like. I don’t know that I have the grace that so many friends and mentors in my life seem to possess and reveal so effortlessly.

Recently, as I’ve noticed my friendships are not where I want them to be, I’ve started to pay attention to how much I say to others, how much I listen, how I feel when I am with the other person, and how that makes me behave. It’s been quite astonishing, actually. I’d like to share my findings with you:

1. I talk too much when I’m uncomfortable. This fact is not astonishing. It just is. If I’m uncomfortable with someone (new friendship, conversation is not jiving, something awkward between us), I start talking, even if it causes me to make a fool of myself. I need to observe my social anxiety rather than react to it.

2. I don’t listen nearly long enough to others. I hear them. I take in what they say and truly care about what they are saying and the story they are telling. However, I find that I’m spending time thinking about how to react to what they are saying (what to say that is the perfect response), and I quite likely make them feel like their feelings are not important to me. The article points to why this is true for so many of us, and that is the astonishing part for me. I talk when I just need to listen because I have a desire to connect and be valued and heard. I’ve just been going about it in ways that are not productive. Yup. Bad friend.

3. Just as I was in junior high school, I’m still hung up on the desire to be liked by everyone. There it is. I admit it. I want everyone – yes, everyone – to like me and respect me. It’s stupid. I know that is impossible, but hey, the first step is admitting it, right?

4. What this all points to is that now, at the age of 40, I’m still not quite comfortable in my own skin. I feel loved, happy with my life, and safe. Why on earth am I still struggling with this and seeking outside approval? I have no idea if I’m alone in this, but there it is. Again, first step, right?

So, my sons, here is what I hope for you as you read this in 2030, but not-so-secretly, I’m writing this advice to myself, too:

1. Listen to people. Ask them questions and then truly listen to them without thinking about what to say to help, encourage, or even connect. Your listening is the connection.

2. Be happy with a few close friends. Know that you cannot be everyone’s best friend. No one can do that. As Aristotle said, “A friend to all is a friend to none.”

3. Stop expecting to be liked by everyone. You will only lose with this one. The loved ones in your life will stay and you will attract the right people for you into your life. Know that.

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4. Try your hardest to see the best in everyone. Although everyone cannot be your best friend, the people you meet can be moved by how you see them. Focus on helping others around you feel what we all want to feel – liked, respected, valued, and important. I imagine the results will be significant.

I’m going to take my own advice. I pray that it will enhance my relationships and that I begin to find the best in myself as well. Also, my sons, I pray that as you read this in 2030, you see the best in you the way that I do.

Love,
Mom

Lent Reflection

Hi sons,

I’d like to share with you that the past six weeks have been enormously moving and transformational for me. Giving myself the opportunity to write about my spiritual journey through Lent has renewed my faith in surprising ways. Thank you for listening and for giving me the chance to reflect on God’s faithfulness in my life and how it all connects back to the cross.

Here is a summary of what I have taken away from my Lenten study (Adam Hamilton’s Final Words from the Cross):

1. Forgiveness is essential. It is essential for love, for health, and for life. Jesus forgave 2,000 years ago, He forgives us today, and He wants us to forgive others and ourselves.
“Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34)

2. Paradise is real. He invites us all (That’s right. All. Every single one) to join Him in Paradise.
“Surely, I tell you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

3. Community holds us together. He expects us to take care of each other, and not just those like us, but also those in need. And not just those we think deserve it, but anyone in need. The Kingdom of God is supposed to start here on Earth. Right now!
“Behold your son!… Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27)

4. Relationship with Him is something for which we are created to crave, and He passionately craves this relationship with us as well.
“I thirst.” (John 19:28)

5. Cry out to God however you need to in times of need. Life is tough, and He can take it. He wants to take our burdens. He’s in that business, you know.
“My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

6. Surrender your burdens, your life to Him, and you will be free. You will know what it is like to be absolutely loved and taken care of.
“It is finished.” … “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (John 19:30; Luke 23:46)

The first five weeks of my Lenten study revealed truths about my past, and I’m realizing that the final week revealed truths about my present. I think that is why it has taken me a bit longer to write this as I have been processing it all. I have recognized over the past few days that I need to truly surrender my burdens and follow Him. I need to let go of my fears and simply trust. As you can see, my sons, I’m still learning and growing. We all are.

Anyway, Happy Easter (a bit late)! He is risen! The Lamb has overcome!

All my love,
Mom

Thirst: Lent Week 5

“He longs for you. He thirsts for you My children, once you have experienced the thirst, the love of Jesus for you, you will never need, you will never thirst for these things which can only lead you away from Jesus, the true and living Fountain. Only the thirst of Jesus, feeling it, hearing it, answering it with all your heart will keep your love… alive. The closer you come to Jesus the better you will know His thirst.”  – Mother Teresa

Hi sons,

As I continue writing my thoughts during Lent this year, I find that every significant spiritual experience in my personal faith journey so far is coming up each week. Without my having planned it really, it is helping me put into words why I believe and how it all connects right back to the cross. In my effort to give this gift to you of writing my thoughts, I am actually giving myself a gift, too. These reminders are renewing my faith in profound ways; so, thank you.

In this week’s Lenten study, Final Words from the Cross, Adam Hamilton discusses one of the final moments in the life of Jesus when he uttered, “I thirst.” I didn’t expect to connect so personally to these particular last words. In fact, when I saw that these are the words we’d cover this week, I nodded and said to myself, “This is yet another revelation of his humanity, so I’m curious about what else Hamilton can discuss.” But as I read the chapter and thought more about it and ran across Mother Teresa’s above words, I came to yet another revelation about my faith — a reminder of my own spiritual thirst and of God’s for me.

Hamilton writes that John’s Gospel is the only one that records this particular statement by Jesus and that John often hints at deeper interpretations of seemingly unimportant statements. For the words, “I thirst,” we find that again, there are a number of interpretations of this deeper meaning. Hamilton discusses these as well as other Gospel accounts, and each has significance for me. Yet he covers one interpretation that really strikes me. He refers to John 4:10: “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask of me and I would give you living water and you would never thirst again.” And John 7:37: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Hamilton makes a strong point that it is indeed significant that “the one who offers living water is now thirsty himself” (Hamilton 95). Could this possibly mean that the thirst Jesus felt was also for you and me? And that if we are to follow him, we need to understand that thirst?

Well, as scary as this is for me right now, I want to write about a particular experience of my own recognition of this thirst in my life. Fifteen years ago, at the age of 25, I don’t think I realized the depth of God’s love for me until I went on a weekend-long silent retreat. As you know, I’m not Catholic, but a friend who is very dear to me invited me to attend with his group. I was in such a difficult place in my life at the time. I’ll be honest. I was completely lost in all aspects — relationships, career direction, financial, loneliness… I figured, “Why not?” It turned out to be one of the most important things I ever did in my life.

The priest explained something on the very first night that I had never truly heard in the way he described. He said that God comes to us and that God wants a relationship with us. In fact, God passionately wants a relationship with us. As I write this, the word “thirst” comes to mind. I recognized in that moment as a young, lost adult that I was desperately “thirsting” for God as well, and I was realizing for certain that the feeling was mutual. Before that, I didn’t believe He was really seeking me (an insignificant person). However, after that first night of the retreat, I decided to open myself up and listen to Him for the full weekend.

Well, He had a lot to say to me. Thank goodness I brought a blank notebook and a pen. I wrote my prayers down as well as my thoughts on what I was reading or hearing in the sessions and about what I felt like God was saying to me as I walked around the beautiful grounds of Saint Ignatius Jesuit Retreat Center. I even wrote about what I was feeling as I sat with my group during meals. It was a beautiful and enlightening weekend that actually changed my life in numerous ways.

I remember on the very last morning of my retreat weekend I sat alone outside, far away from everyone, staring out at the gorgeous view. I said to God aloud, “I think I understand all that you want me to do, but I’m scared. The changes are huge, and I don’t know if I have the strength to make it all happen. Please help me.” Boys, I won’t go into detail about what all of those things were, but I will tell you that within a week, my life had moved into a completely different direction. I recognized that the brokenness I had felt was caused by earthly desires and pressures and that if I turn to Him first, He will lead me. That very week, my self-concept and attitude about my life shifted into promise and hope. I finally felt worthy again — worthy of God’s thirst for me. I mattered.

We all matter. We are all worthy and loved. He thirsts for every single one of us. Princes, I pray that as you read this in 2030, you feel worthy and truly recognize at the core of your being the thirst God has for you, and that Jesus suffered in order to satisfy it. I believe we are all created to thirst for a relationship with our Creator and “the true and living Fountain.” Drink up and open yourself up to give it back to Him and to His creation.

Cheers!

Love,

Mom

Faithful Sorrow: Lent Week 4

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46)

Hi sons,

I am a little later than I had planned to be in writing to you about my 4th week of Lent. It has been a busy and fun visit with family for spring break, and you two have been so happy – running around and enjoying a lot of attention.  But despite the excitement, I have been quite pensive, particularly regarding my spiritual journey and what it means in all areas of my life.

One thing I learned from reading the chapter from my Lenten study is that these words Jesus spoke were actually a quote from one of the psalms (Psalm 22). Scholars have come up with a few possible explanations for his use of these words in that moment on the cross, including the possibility that he was seeking comfort by speaking one of the psalms aloud, just as we might do by reciting our favorite poem or singing our favorite hymn. Other scholars point to the idea that Jesus was suffering and was lamenting to God over his physical pain, and that really, it was an act of faith in the worst of circumstances.

I don’t know if you have been in an extremely difficult situation yet as you read this in 2030. I know I have a few times – a situation where your despair is so difficult that it seems like you will never recover.  But I find that we can go in one of two directions when the bottom is stripped from beneath us. One direction is to throw our hands up and deny God and try our best to take control of the situation, even if it means to take an unhealthy turn in an attempt to cope. The other is to allow ourselves to go through it – all the nasty stuff – with the knowledge that we are not alone. If this means saying these words of Jesus or by using our own colorful language, it is quite all right. In fact, it is an act of faith.

I’d like to share a particular difficult moment in my life. I am not going to share with you the details of what I was going through, but I will tell you that I had reached “the end of my rope” (please pardon the cliché). It was about ten years ago, which was around 2004. I remember it was raining heavily, my workday had just ended, and I was driving home. I was angry and completely finished with the personal struggles with which I was dealing. I cried and yelled at God. I held nothing back. I remember saying out loud, “I know I can’t escape problems in this life, but I’m done with these. It’s time you took these away and gave me a new set of problems.” Of course, I said a lot more, but that part I remember well. I also remember that I had quite an attitude about it. I was miffed.

I recall letting it go after that. I had surrendered it and chose to have faith that it would be worked out, as it was out of my hands. I remember how easy it all was and that there was really no other option but to let it go.

You know what? Those problems did go away. Within days. In almost miraculous ways. Looking back, it is still amazing to me, and I am still grateful today for my “new set of problems.”

It is okay to yell at God. Whatever the meaning was for Jesus in saying these words as he suffered on the cross, it was acceptable to him to use these words when he was reaching the end. So, it’s okay for us to use whatever works for us in order to give up and let go — to surrender and believe the truth that we aren’t alone.

Now my momma heart wants to believe that you two won’t have to go through anything so difficult that you will need to cry out in pain. I want to believe that you will grow up and realize that everything you touch turns to gold. Of course, I know this will not be the case, because as I said years ago while driving in the rain, we cannot escape problems in this life. And honestly, I know you wouldn’t be kind and compassionate if you never had a problem in your life. Therefore, I hope you will read this and remember it when you hit a really difficult time. Whether it is a problem or a loss, it is absolutely acceptable to cry out, yell out to God/the Universe. Then, my sons, you will feel relief when you recognize that the issue isn’t yours anymore since you will have given it away.

So, I know the whole idea of surrender isn’t easy — especially in a culture where everyone strives to achieve and create his or her destiny. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for that. I am all for making things happen, but in the weak moments and in the difficult ones over which we have absolutely no control, it is the way to go. The alternative just isn’t pretty. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.

By the way, I’m still working on my “Why Jesus?” answer, but as I write more about my Lenten journey to you and allow myself to be completely vulnerable and honest, I’m getting closer.

Thanks for listening, my princes.

xo,

Mom

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Unpacking Surprises

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” – Joan Didion

Hi princes!

This week, I have been “spring cleaning” the house. Although I don’t necessarily enjoy the process, I do end up finding little gems from my past that get me thinking and reminiscing. For instance, yesterday, I found some special items from the day I married your awesome dad, as well as a page on which I had written Didion’s above words for an assignment sheet I gave to my high school students. It really spoke to me this time, especially concerning this blog that I am writing to you and why I enjoy it so much. I think Didion’s words are pretty spot on. I continue unpacking more surprises about myself.

Well, in the box where I found those things, I also found something very special to me — a cute little story I wrote at the age of 12.

As I’m sure you both know by the time you read this in 2030, I’ve always been a creative type. I have been interested in the arts my entire life – music, drama, visual arts, poetry, etc. I honestly don’t know what it would be like to be any other way.

For a while, I thought it was a weakness of mine that math and science weren’t subjects that I found easy and enjoyable. I remember around 6th grade I recognized I excelled in the language and history areas of academics and had to try a bit harder in the math and sciences. Sadly, like so many young people, I didn’t take pride in the fact that I was strong in one or two areas. Instead, I focused on the fact that I was weak in the others, and as funny as it sounds now, I cried over my very first B, which was in Science. If I could go back now and talk to the young me, I’d say that no one can excel in everything. If one did, it would be very hard to excel in any one thing.

Well, I remember it was during that period in my life when I was given that special assignment I kept all these years. I remember that I couldn’t wait to really put my creativity to work. “Finally, an assignment I’m excited about!” I thought. I recall that our teacher asked us to create a creature/character and write a children’s book, and be sure there is a moral to the story at the end. I ran home and began working on it that day. It’s funny now, actually, since my eagerness that day makes me think about Ralphie in the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, when he runs home and can’t wait to start his writing assignment about the Red Rider B.B. gun he wants for Christmas.

Anyway, I put great detail and care into that assignment, and the finished product surprised even me. I was so proud of it. I became quite attached to that little character, which I named “Bleeper.” In fact, I had plans for him — plans that included more books about him where he would be an educational tool somehow for kids. I still adore my little character whose characteristics, now that I look at it again, are similar to my dad’s, and this makes me love Bleeper even more.

Well, I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here is my story for your enjoyment/amusement:

Bleeper P1

That’s right. I chose to write about love. Surprise, surprise. Ha

Bleeper P2

Indeed. A preacher in love with a teacher. I was a rebel. No doubt.

Bleeper P3

You have to give the 12-year-old me some props for the rhyme. No idea how I came up with this. I will stop my commentary now so that you can get to the good stuff. lol

Bleeper P4

Bleeper P5

Bleeper P6

Bleeper P7

Well, even though I wanted to do more with him, I never did try and publish anything for Bleeper. (Don’t cry. It’s sad, I know). But instead, here it is — published by means of technology for the 12yo me, and now for you.

“So, what’s your point, Mom?” you ask. I’d say my point is that there is no shame in creating. A story, a song, a painting, a play, an idea, even a blog. It might be bad, or it might not. It doesn’t matter because it’s yours. And, well, it’s fun. Creativity is something that sets us apart from other living creatures. In fact, one cannot argue with the fact that our world’s “creative types” build, innovate, and inspire. Even if you choose a career that requires little to no creativity, I hope you have something that you enjoy creating.

A friend of mine, who is an elementary school teacher, posted a photo recently of her students’ artwork. She wrote in the caption, “I love how children create without inhibition.” I absolutely agree. I think we all should — young and old. If your inhibitions exist simply because you are afraid of what others will think of your work, maybe Bleeper has inspired you.

As for me, I write. It allows me to find my truth in a creative way, and in a way that surprises me. Actually, I think that’s what I love about creating. We can sometimes surprise even ourselves.

All my love,

Mom

 

Lent Week 3: Behold Your Family

He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19: 26-27)

My dear sons,

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death. Obviously, I have been thinking about him all week, about his influence on my life. It is interesting the connection I’ve noticed with this week’s Lenten study, which covers the final words of Jesus. This week’s study fits perfectly for me in a profound way in that it reveals not only my dad’s gift of love, but also the necessity of community.

Grief is an interesting thing. Loss is so raw, so painful and seemingly impossible to get through when one is initially hit with it. I will never forget saying “goodbye” to him at the young age of 20 (roughly the age you two are now as you read this). I had no idea what his influence on my life was exactly. I just knew I loved him and would miss him terribly and that the thought of him being gone from my life forever was unbearable. I knew it was coming, but denial was definitely my way of coping at that age, even as I cried and said “goodbye” and needed reassurance that he knew I loved him very much.

I remember the day I got the news, just a few days after I said “goodbye.” I was in a meeting at my sorority house and had a feeling come over me that told me to leave the meeting and call home, and I did. My sister answered in tears and told me to call back. I knew but didn’t want to believe it. My mom called back about fifteen minutes later to tell me he was gone. She was so kind to call one of my best friends down the hall first to tell her to please go to my room to be with me when she called. Not only did my friend come, but she also grabbed every sorority sister she could on her way. Therefore, 10-15 friends surrounded me and comforted me while I cried. My sons, those young women took me in as their true sister and held me in a time when I needed it. They beheld me as their sister as they recognized the pain that we all experience in our lives. They recognized that I needed them, and that really, we all need each other. I pray that you find a community with which you can find this sort of bond. If you can’t find it, my sons, please build one.

This passage also means a great deal to me because your grandpa did just what Christ calls us to do – to take care of each other and to take on family as one’s own, especially when there is a need. You see, my sons, I’m not sure when I will tell you this, but your grandpa adopted me and my brother and sister when we were very young. He married my mother and loved us all as if we were his very own. Our biological father just wasn’t emotionally capable of being a dad to us, so your grandpa took over, and we never once felt like “step children.” We were his.

He was quite a character. Everyone knew when he entered a room. His personality was very big, and pretty much everyone loved him. He was handsome, tall, loud, and easy to be around. A bit gruff, but I think that is part of what people liked about him.

Well, I have created a list of specific lessons he taught me by living his example. I’d like to share these with you in this post. I want you to know all about your grandpa, and I know that between now (as I write this) and the year 2030 (as you read this), you will have heard many stories about him – the funny ones, the lovely ones, and the not-so-great ones, as no one is perfect. But here in this post, it is important to me to spell out for myself and for you the details of his positive influence on me as well as on those who were fortunate enough to know him well.

Here they are… Your grandpa’s life lessons as revealed by the way he lived his life:

1.     Say what you think/feel – No nonsense!

People found your grandpa refreshing to be around because you always knew where you stood with him. If he thought you were full of it, he’d tell you, and somehow, you loved him for it.

There is a funny story your grandmother tells about an experience they once had in a meeting with their small group from church. One woman was being a gossip and saying negative things about a church leader. My dad said quite strongly, “You need to drop it.” The lady kept talking and bringing it up, so he said, “If you bring it up again, I’m leaving.” Well, she just couldn’t help herself, so he got up and said, “Come on, dear. We’re leaving,” and he walked out of the door. My poor mom had to somehow leave gracefully and shares that she was certain they’d never be welcome again with that group. My parents got phone calls the following day from people saying they had never been so happy after what he did.

Have you ever been around someone and felt like you just didn’t know where you stood with him or her? That never happened to people who knew your grandpa. If he was annoyed by you, he’d tell you, but if he was proud of you, loved you, thought you were terrific, funny, etc., he’d tell you that, too. The compliments meant a great deal when they’d come because they were real. Everyone loved him for it. I try to be like that – upfront and honest. But it’s hard sometimes, I admit. This gives me another reason to admire him.

2.     It’s okay to be proud sometimes.

Your grandpa would come home from work and would have had a good, productive day, and he’d share it the moment he walked in. If we got an award or a teacher said something nice about us, he’d share that with anyone near him. If we were performing on a stage or playing a sport on the court or field, he’d yell to everyone around him, “That’s my daughter!”

Now, humility is important. Don’t get me wrong. And I know that pride can be a fault, but in these sorts of instances, it’s okay. It’s more than okay.

3.     It’s okay to come home, take off your belt and shoes, sit in your recliner, mess up your well-groomed businessman hair by massaging your scalp to clear out the AquaNet hair spray and eat an entire raw cauliflower as a snack in front of the television. And ice cream out of the tub if you plan to finish it.

Yup. I told you he was a character. Gosh, I loved him. I’d sit next to him on the sofa and take in the joy and relief he was feeling as he was home – at the one place in the world where he could be completely comfortable.

 4.     It isn’t worth fighting over small stuff. 

Your grandpa knew when to argue and when to just let things go. He’d let out his frustrations with no problem, but once it was out, he’d let it go. Often, if he didn’t like something (particularly a decision my mom would make), he’d just go with it, knowing that it wasn’t worth fighting over. He somehow had the perspective in life to know what was important and what was not. I work very hard each day to be like him in this way. Again, it’s tough.

5.     Laugh loudly. 

Your grandpa was known for his very loud and infectious laugh. It was distinct yet not so loud that it would hurt one’s ears. People would know when he was in an audience if it involved laughter because they’d hear him, even if he were on the other side of the theater. It went with his personality, I think. I can still hear it 20 years later, and I’m so grateful for its uniqueness. He didn’t hold back his laughter, or his tears.

6.     It’s okay to cry at heartfelt commercials and “chick flicks.”

That’s right. He was a real “manly man” to others (although I apologize for the description. I think the term is total b.s.), but he had no problem crying when he felt emotional. You should feel free to cry, too, my sons. It is a part of being human. There is nothing weak about it. Unless you think being human is weak, which of course, it is not. It’s anything but weak.

7.     Don’t embarrass too easily. It really doesn’t matter what others think of you. It matters more how you treat others. You have no reason to be embarrassed for who you are or what happens to you.

Your grandpa had some hilariously embarrassing moments. I’m sure you’ve heard some of those stories. One was when his pants fell down in front of a crowd at a restaurant buffet. No joke. He ate too much and unbuckled his belt and forgot about it as he carried two plates back up to the buffet. It’s hilarious, but I’m glad I wasn’t there. Anyway, he was able to laugh at himself later as he didn’t take himself too seriously. (As a side note and going beyond that, I have learned from my own experience that although it runs counter to what you might think, not taking yourself too seriously earns you respect from others).

8.     Pray.

Your grandpa would pray or would encourage your grandmother or one of us children to pray before each meal. We always held hands. I know he prayed in private, but I am so grateful for all of the nights when I was a child when I’d be falling asleep with my door open (along with everyone else’s door in the house), and down at the end of the hall, I’d hear your grandparents praying together quietly. I’d hear your grandpa praying about various circumstances occurring for him personally or within our family and community. Often, I’d hear my name and drift off to sleep knowing that I was being prayed for, as well as those I loved. It was a wonderful way to fall asleep as a child. Actually, it’s a wonderful way to fall asleep for anyone. Boys, I hope prayer is a natural part of your routine.

 9.     Apologize.

Your grandpa had no problem with apologies. He knew when he’d messed up, and he fessed up and asked for forgiveness. He also knew how to forgive. He spent most of his adult life forgiving himself, so forgiving others was cake for him. If somehow he had gotten too angry at one of us during the day, he’d either come into our rooms at bedtime to apologize or yell in the hall from his bed during our “Goodnight John Boy” moments (That’s an old expression from an old 70s television show called, “The Waltons”). Now, I know that sometimes my mother would be the one to remind him to do this, but he never hesitated. He knew it was essential and not a form of weakness at all. It takes strength to apologize when we know we were wrong. Don’t hesitate to offer one when an apology is warranted. No one is perfect, so make sure others know when you wish you’d handled something differently.

10.  Dance.

I remember when he was happy about something, and he’d dance a jig of some sort. I remember giggling when he’d do that, just from the happiness I felt from seeing his expression of his.

Your grandpa was quite a dancer. He and your grandmother would dance and dance at wedding receptions. He could really lead a partner around the dance floor, and when I got old enough to dance with him, some of my best memories are of those dances. I remember when I was 15, and we were at a restaurant that had a great jazz band and a dance floor. I remember that as we waited for a table, he invited me to dance with him, and I did. It was one of my favorite memories with him, and I’m so glad my mother caught the moment on camera.

Boys, I never had the chance to dance with my dad at my wedding or have him walk me down the aisle, but every time I hear his favorite kind of music (jazz), I feel his presence and try to dream up what our dance would have been like, and it brings me back to that time when I was 15. I think we would have definitely chosen jazz, and I would have let him pick the song. At least that is how my pretend memory plays in my head.

Your grandpa chose to live his life to the fullest. Although life wasn’t always perfect as my post might make it seem as I’ve reflected on his influence, it was always meaningful. The overarching lessons he taught just by living his life his own way have been a gift to me, and hopefully, to you. He lived and loved. That was it. I read the following sentence online somewhere recently, “If you fit in, you’re doing something wrong.” I think he pretty much lived by that motto.

I am so grateful after all these years to remember these details about him and to have ridden through the raw and painful grief process long enough to have the emotional ability to write this post with a smile (Okay, and maybe a few tears). I know I will see him again one day, as my post about Paradise discusses. He lived his life as a father to me by truly beholding me as his very own child, and my heart continues to overflow with gratitude. I was and always will be his little girl.

I love you both so, so much!

Mom

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Prince 1, The Birthday Boy!

Prince 1,

We had such an amazing weekend celebrating you! Upon your request, we planned a party with a firefighter theme and hired a magician to entertain you and your friends. You all just loved it! It was a great day!

Here are some photos:

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The spread :)

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The “flaming sweet peppers” were so easy. I saw a photo of the idea online somewhere and had to do it since it looked simple and so cute. Also, the adorable “fire extinguishers” and straws were designed by Frosting and Ink.

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The roses were from your dad, who gave them to you to give to me, and it meant so much to me. I decided to make it part of the decorations and added the fire truck bow. The strawberries are “inside out” chocolate strawberries – an idea I got from My Fridge Food, although I can’t find it now. She suggested using an egg carton to let the chocolate cool, and it worked great. Anyway, they were a hit!

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Gluten free, nut free vanilla and chocolate cupcakes! Paper cups and circular toppers designed by Frosting and Ink, and the adorable fire truck and fire hat toppers were made by Edible Details. I had bought the ribbon a few months ago when I was shopping at Michael’s and realized that it would fit perfectly on the cupcake tower. It was super cute, if I may say so myself. :)

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firefighter favor bag

Here is one of the favor bags that were filled with a firetruck toy and the goodies that fell out of the fire truck piñata. The sticker and tag were also designed by Frosting and Ink.

I hope you have fond memories of this party. You were so happy, and that made us over-the-moon happy. We are so proud of you and the amazingly kind, gracious, inquisitive, bright, imaginative, loving, and witty little guy that you are. I imagine that with the admirers you have now at the age of 4, you probably don’t know what to do with the many you have as you are reading this in 2030. We love you!

xo,

Mom

Paradise: Lent Week 2

Today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

Hi sons,

This week for Lent, I was overwhelmed with hope, and it wasn’t a feeling I was expecting to have when I started reading the second chapter of my Lenten study. I figured that this sort of hope would come later – as in closer to Easter. When I read the specific last words of Jesus for the second chapter, which Adam Hamilton covers in Final Words from the Cross, I expected simply a discussion of the afterlife. Instead, I received much, much more. I was led to experience a great deal of hope by way of God’s mercy as evidenced by these words of Jesus, spoken to a lowly criminal, as well as its connection to my own personal, spiritual experiences, which I had never truly realized were connected to the cross. Sounds pretty big, huh?

As Jesus spoke these words from the cross while undoubtedly experiencing excruciating physical pain and mockery, he showed mercy to the criminal beside him who simply asked Jesus to remember him. And right there, without hesitation, Jesus showed mercy and offered salvation. He did not say, “Well, let me ask you a few questions first.” He simply offered his grace.

It is significant that the very first person to be offered salvation through Jesus was a criminal – a lost outcast who had done terrible deeds. It is significant because this means that if a criminal can be offered salvation, then we are all offered salvation. It is also significant because Jesus showed this sort of grace throughout his ministry and sought out the lost. This is what he expects of us as his followers as well.

Additionally, I had never stopped to consider Jesus’s use of “Today” in this passage. It just never occurred to me until I read this chapter. There are a few beliefs out there about what happens to us when we die.  Among Christians, the two main beliefs are that there is one judgment day for all and the other belief is that we will immediately meet Christ when we die. I have always believed the latter. Hamilton spells out why he, too, believes it will be immediately, and I was reminded of numerous experiences of my own that explain why I have always believed this. It was a true gift for me to be led to biblical passages that support this, including this very significant passage from Jesus’s final words.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about those stories of my own here, about why I believe we will meet Christ immediately when we die. It isn’t just the near death experiences that we have all heard about from those who have been brought back to life, although that is indeed significant. But I would like to take you back to a story about your great grandmother. Many years ago before your grandmother was born, your great grandmother lost a little girl named Elizabeth during birth. It was very sad, and she grieved for the rest of her life for that loss. About forty years after the loss, when your great grandmother was dying, she sat up, smiled a peaceful smile and said, “Oh, my precious Elizabeth!” and died soon after.

I hope you don’t mind if I tell another story. When I was about 4, I became very ill and had grown worse and worse over the course of a few months. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for tests, and things were not looking good, and my doctor and parents had grown very concerned. I remember the morning of the appointment well. I was sleeping on the floor of my parents’ room. I remember having an out of body experience as an angel came to me. I was in the dark, and the angel was so bright and loving and kind. She said to me, “I am going to put oil on your head and it is going to make you feel all better.”

I do not recall anything else she said to me other than that. I remember feeling the oil on my head with my hand when she was finished and getting up to tell my mom all about it. My mom looked at me surprised as I grabbed her hand to make her feel the oil on my head, which of course, to her, was not there. However, she knew immediately that something huge had just happened. Of course, at the age of 4, I had never heard about the ancient practice of using oil for healing. In fact, I didn’t really even know I was gravely ill. My mother tells me that when we went to the appointment that day, there was no sign at all of any illness, which baffled the doctors.

Now, I don’t know why this happened and why it doesn’t happen for all other precious children who suffer from serious illness. This is something with which I struggle spiritually. I want to ask God, “Why me and not all others?” This is something I will always ask and plan to ask when I meet Him. But it happened to me. I remember it like it was yesterday, and no one can convince me otherwise. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it has been the basis of much of my faith because it showed me from an early age that there is indeed something beyond us that we cannot physically see day-to-day, and it is a natural part of us as human beings to seek a connection to that which is beyond us. I believe our Maker put that there because we are meant to find it.

I could tell you many other stories of visits from my dad since he passed away twenty years ago. I remember the time during a special family event when I felt a cool breeze over my face, smelled his unique scent, and felt his hand on mine while he whispered he loves me — just to let me know he was there. There was also a time when he visited me in a dream. I had and have continued to dream about him, but this time was different. He came to me and was very excited and adamant that I pay attention. He pulled me in with him, and we were flying above the most beautiful place I had ever seen. The dream was in perfect, vibrant color. It was the most amazing garden surrounding a gorgeous white monument. He just wanted me to see it. It was just like him to be excited and to want to share something huge with me. I woke up and knew I had been with him. It was yet another reassurance of my faith.

The word “Paradise” as Jesus spoke about can be translated to mean “the king’s garden.” When I read that reminder this week, I thought about that garden my dad showed me in his visit with me since he passed away. What a gift he gave to me!

It was a few years after that when I saw an interview on television with a young girl named Akiane, who was an art prodigy. She would see visions and paint the most amazingly beautiful paintings. One of the images this show displayed was exactly the garden that my dad showed me that early morning, and I was so surprised to see it as I recognized the place immediately. It is called “Supreme Sanctuary” and Akiane painted it at age 11. It is unique, vibrant, and amazing:

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Boys, I doubt. I think it is a normal part of our growth in our faith. But my love for you and the miracles you are to me and your dad, as well as my faith community, my prayer life, and my reminders like the ones I’ve mentioned in this post bring me back to hope, and my faith continues to grow, despite my moments of doubt.

I am so grateful for a God of love and mercy who comes to me – who comes to all of us – to offer his grace through Jesus to join him in Paradise.

I pray that as you read this in 2030, you are opening yourselves up to the source of love and grace.

All my love,

Mom

On Forgiveness: Lent Week 1

My lovely sons,

This past weekend was a special one for me. I went to a charity event on Friday evening, got to spend quality time with you all weekend, went out on a special date on Saturday evening with your dad, and then we all went to church on Sunday and discussed the first chapter of our Lenten study with our group. It was busy but wonderful.

I spent a good part of the weekend thinking about my faith. Last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), I attended a talk about world religions. I learned many things I did not know about five of the world’s largest religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I learned not only about their beliefs and practices, but also their history, which was fascinating. There are inspiring aspects to each one, and our speaker left us to consider at the end, “Why Jesus?” It struck me that I knew the rehearsed version from my childhood, the one that probably (?) all Protestants expect: “Because he died for my sins, and he is the way, the truth and the life.” But I did not know my own answer – the answer that is at the core of my very own faith – in my very own words. As a writer, I am determined to come up with that answer, and hopefully, by the end of this Lenten season. Maybe with you as my audience, you can help me.

Week 1:  “Father, forgive them.”

For the first week of my Lenten study (Adam Hamilton’s Final Words from the Cross), I have been delving into the depth of Jesus’s statement from the cross as recorded in Luke, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34). As Jesus was being spat upon and tortured on the cross, he had to work extremely hard just to speak, and he chose these words. Truly, he lived his ministry until the bitter end of his physical life on earth by showing mercy to his tormenters. As Hamilton reveals, “them” in this passage is really all of us since we were all there in a spiritual sense on the day they crucified him, and we are all in need of mercy. In fact, he has already shown his mercy! He just wants us to accept it.

Forgiveness is a subject that can be uncomfortable for me, especially as I get older and accumulate more years of both needing mercy and needing to give it. If I’m being honest with myself, I’d say that often, I don’t like to think about it. In fact, I might even lie to myself most of the time about grudges I hold and guilt I feel because of my own past indiscretions. This week has reminded me of the ultimate act of mercy and what it all means for me. It means I must face those grudges and feelings of guilt, lay them at the cross, and let them go.

I have also been reminded on a smaller, human scale that we all need forgiveness in our lives. For example, where on earth would my marriage with your dad be if we were not merciful towards one another? The same is true for family relationships (I know our family is no exception) and long-term friendships. Forgiveness is truly necessary.

Boys, I know that by the time you are reading this in 2030, you have needed forgiveness and that you have been wronged and have needed to show mercy towards others. I know I’d be kidding myself if I believed anything else. As your mom, this is a truth I must face. So, my prayer for you is that you recognize the freeing power of forgiveness and that you know what it is like to forgive others as well as yourself. Through Jesus, God has shown us all that we are worth it.

All my love,

Mom