Journaling a Legacy

Rebecca Waters and I met when she and my husband worked together at a university in Cincinnati. Andrew, the new guy on the faculty, had a tiny office/former closet in the basement of the girls’ dorm. Becky and some of the other professors, all women, had offices upstairs. I remember going to visit him and seeing them. They were always so sweet and friendly. We had just moved to back to the US and didn’t know anyone in Cincinnati, but they welcomed us. That’s the kind of women they were.

keysNot long after we moved to Cincinnati, I came home from work, threw my keys on the kitchen table and went out the back door to read the mail while the dog ran around and did her thing. When I closed the sliding glass door, I heard the safety bar fall into place. I was locked out! Andrew was 20 minutes away in class. I was six months pregnant, and it was 90 degrees out. Becky to the rescue! She brought his keys to me on her way home from work that day.

I remember taking our new baby Hannah, our firstborn, to visit Andrew at school. We walked past the classroom where Becky was teaching. She stopped class to look at our new baby, cooing over how sweet she was. I remember how happy she was to meet Hannah. If you’ve got kids, you know how much you love anyone who loves your children.

I also remember a Christmas party at her house. We somehow showed up an hour early. She met us at the door and let us hang out in her family room while she finished getting ready. And to think Andrew and I had been arguing about how we were running late on the way there!

Becky has gone her own way since those days, and so have I.  She’s written a book and has a blog about writing, and I live in a different state. We don’t see each other anymore, but we keep in touch on Facebook. A while back, she asked me to write a guest post for her blog. I readily agreed. That post happened today.

So here’s to Becky, and here’s to her inviting me to write. Thanks, Becky, for years of steady friendship and caring and for giving me a spot on your blog!

To read the post, click here.

 

Unexpected Ways

Pretty-Church

Random church picture

My husband and I both grew up in pretty conservative churches where we sometimes both got the idea that we were required to do certain things to maintain our status as Christians: read the Bible every day, invite people to church, volunteer for or participate in every event the church had to name a few. As an adult, I see the value of these things and I realize that my thinking as a child may have been black and white and not allowed me to fully understand the church’s teaching on these topics. However, I also understand that they’re not essential to my faith. For example, reading the Bible every day can give me guidance and help me know Jesus better, but if I don’t do that I am not somehow condemning myself forever. I may be cheating myself out of a deeper relationship with and understanding of God, but I’m not less valuable to God because of that.

A few months ago, Hannah came home feeling guilty because she hadn’t asked all of her friends to church yet. She’d received instructions in Sunday school that every Christian should ask all of their friends and the people they come into contact with to church if they really cared about them (at least that was what she understood the lesson to mean). I told her that the Bible never tells anyone to ask someone to church. I can’t think of any instances of Jesus telling his followers to invite their friends to the synagogue. Sure, they invited them to him, but they did that because their lives were changed from being with him, and they wanted their friends to experience the same radical love that Jesus had shown them.

This is way more than just a perfunctory invitation to a church service. I told her that we show our friends Jesus by the way we act, the way we love others, the way we care about people who are in difficult situations. We talked for a long time about how our life makes a statement and can draw people in or push them away and how truly caring about a person is more important than inviting them to church. I told her I think that you only have probably one chance in our culture to invite a person to a church event, so you shouldn’t squander it at the very beginning by giving them the idea that you’re only being friends with them to add one more notch to your Bible belt. I also emphasized that when we do care about them this way, we earn the right to talk about things that are important to us, and we have natural opportunities to tell them about our faith.

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My lovely, happy girl, Hannah.

Not long after the Sunday school lesson and our discussion of it, her school let out early. In true junior high fashion, great swarms of students went down the street to our local Runza, a Nebraska fast food favorite. Of course, the place was packed with middle schoolers without parents. She and Alex waited a long time in line. When they finally got their food and sat down, Hannah noticed a group of kids causing a lot of trouble and making a mess of the place. After plenty of complaints, the manager came out and told them to leave. They mocked him and laughed at him, threw ice and food on the floor and tables. When they finally left, they stood outside the window and laughed at him as he cleaned up their mess. Hannah saw it happening and got up to help him. She picked up ice from the floor and wiped down the tables with a rag he gave her. When they finished, he thanked her and gave her two coupons for free meals. (Note: Alex says he didn’t notice any of this happening, and, while that seems hard to believe, knowing the boy’s capacity for living in his own bubble, I believe it!).

Right about the same time, Alex, who had an obsession with Rubik’s cubes, had one at church. That day, a woman we know told him her brother loved Rubik’s cubes when he was younger and had one that was left solved at their mom and dad’s house. Sadly, her brother passed away in a tragic and unexpected accident as a very young man, and her mom kept the Rubik’s cube on a shelf to remember him. Unfortunately, a visiting kid grabbed the Rubik’s cube and messed it up, and her mom felt sad now that the reminder of her son was gone.

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Alex, with a Rubik’s cube, of course.

Our friend from church asked if Alex would mind solving the cube if her mom brought it. He agreed, and a few days later we found ourselves at the store where the woman works, meeting her mother. As Alex started working on the Rubik’s cube, I watched him, 13 years old, just a hair taller than I am, at the very beginning of being a young man. I wondered how that mom felt when she looked at him. Did she remember her boy when he was that age? I wished I had told him to give her a hug when he finished because I thought how nice that would be if I were in her shoes. Within a minute or two, he had solved it and handed it back to her. And lo and behold, with no instruction from me, he hugged her.

Those two events, so close together, they hit me hard. I watched our two oldest children live out their faith right in front of me. They did what they could and used their talents and interests to right injustice and relieve suffering. Even though they didn’t invite anyone to church, offer to stop and pray with someone or quote Bible verses, they showed them what Jesus’ love means in action.

Living our faith can be more difficult and tricky than the traditional instructions for living that Sunday school taught us. Living God’s calling may be less about deciding at church camp to be a missionary and more about committing whatever we do to Christ, looking for ways in our everyday life to right injustice and demonstrate the kingdom of God on earth.

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Gratuitous picture of the third child, who was left out of this blog in every other way. Poor little thing 🙂

Sunshine and Happiness

Today the sun came out and the air warmed up. And by “warmed up,” I don’t mean the arctic blast from the past few months turned into simply a less Arctic-y blast. I mean it warmed up. It is currently 64 degrees outside. I rolled my windows down in the car on the way home from work and didn’t turn into an ice sculpture. In Nebraska in February, that’s saying something!

The weather alone serves as reason for happiness today. It promises spring, which, at this point, can’t be too far away. In addition to that, though, I had a good thing happen. A few weeks ago, a representative from the Archdiocese of Omaha contacted me and asked me to write a guest post for their school blog! Today I found that had been published. If you’d like to read it, click right here. It’s about homework and perspective and balancing activities and family time and school work. You’ll love it!

I’m going to stop writing and start enjoying the last few hours of sunshiny balminess. Hope you enjoy your day, whatever your weather is!

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My kids love me for posting this picture of them doing homework for the world to see.

The Holiday Rush

It's the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It’s the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own drummer boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It happens every year about this time. Between the end-of-the-semester crazy time at work and Christmas preparations, we have all sorts of school programs, band concerts, piano recitals and now, since we have teenagers, finals to worry about. Add to that list cold weather and ever-increasing darkness as the winter solstice creeps closer and closer and the fact that, for whatever reason, in the winter I like to hunker down with a blanket and a knitting project and binge on Netflix until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a recipe for disaster. I sometimes find myself in the midst of a sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled afternoon scurrying around to try and get as much done as possible at work before going home to get as much done as possible before going to bed. 

Not only do I feel this, but I’ve managed to pass it on to the next generation. My daughter sometimes comes to me at almost 14 years old and laments that she’s tired and doesn’t have time to study amidst all the band practices and concerts of the season and conflicting advice wells up in me. Part of me wants to tell her to let up and give herself a break. Take some time off. Don’t put too much stock in those finals because it is, after all, just junior high, for crying out loud! Another part of me says no way. That’s when she learns how to juggle so much and be productive in a safe environment. I mean, if she tries too much and fails at some of it, she’s just in 8th grade. That failure affects nothing in her future but may teach her a valuable lesson. Besides, she’s got the energy and enthusiasm of youth on her side.

I look around and see that we are not alone in this. In fact, I’m surrounded by a lot of college people who are staying up later and working harder than I am, and I realize I’ve actually learned some things about holiday time management that I didn’t know at their age.

So which one is right? Isn’t that the question all firstborns like my daughter and me struggle with at some point? The longer I live, the more I think it’s both. Let up and lean in. Don’t do too much, but do all you can. And how in the world is that even possible?

  1. Prioritize. Yeah, I know. That’s what they all say. But seriously, I ask myself this all the time: What will I wish I’d done now when I look back at this time in 20 years? Work harder to do some job with excellence or take time off to play with the kids? Since I stumbled upon this technique of imagining my future self talking to my present self, I have used it relentlessly in decision-making, and I have been amazed at how helpful it has been in helping me focus on what’s really important. It also leads me to the next point.
  2. Pay attention to now. That may sound contradictory to saying look at the future and work toward it, but it’s not. If you’re like me, it can be easy to get too caught up in memories of the past or fears of the future. I can’t do much about past events, but if I’m worried about the future I can affect that by what I do right now. I just realized this morning that our oldest daughter has only five Christmases left before she goes off to college. That’s five, people! The Christmases and birthdays as a solid family unit don’t stretch out endlessly before us anymore. They’re limited. How do I make those count? Not by making the perfect gingerbread house or buying the best present ever. By being present with her right now. I want to decide what I think is important for my kids’ futures and do the things in the present moment that work us toward that goal. That’s not just true for people with kids. We can do that in all areas of our lives. What do you want to remember about this time of your life? Work to be present for it.
  3.  Lower expectations. In school I used to want to have an A in every class. Not just an A, but the highest A. Then I realized that if I implemented suggestions 1 and 2 above I would not get the highest A. I began to lower my expectations because there are more important things to do than study, and studying all the time will not help me be present any more than studying less. If I want a perfect house, I have to sacrifice more important things (like my sanity) to get that. If good enough is really good enough, I have more time and energy to devote to the things I feel are higher priorities.

    Yes, that is indeed my youngest wearing a turkey headband. I’m lowering expectations, remember?

  4. Give up control. This is a big one. I used to be pretty type A. I wanted a schedule. I wanted things to go according to that schedule. I thought if I could list it and plan it I would be happier. But then I moved overseas. There nothing happened the way I thought it should, and every day became an exercise in accepting what I don’t understand. I remember standing at a bus stop and seeing a trolleybus roll up. It had its destination written on a card at the front, but it was in a language and an alphabet I didn’t know at all. I just said to myself “what the heck?” and got on, not knowing where it was going or if I’d get where I needed to be. Guess what. It went somewhere. With me on it. I don’t even remember if it went where I wanted to go or not, but I remember that moment because it was a moment of surrendering control. I’m still alive, so it must’ve worked out ok, right?

So now you’ve heard my ideas for getting thru the holidays. What are yours?

Things I’d Never Say If I Didn’t Have Kids

You said WHAT?!

You said WHAT?!

There are just some things I never dreamed I’d say until I had kids. I mean, some words should never come out of a sane and culturally-appropriate person’s mouth (see #1). Some phrases sound completely ridiculous when spoken to anyone but a three-year-old, and when I hear myself saying them I just hope no one heard me…or wish someone were here to laugh with me about them if they did! So, in honor of the start of the school year, I present you with a list of some of the things I have said over the years to my children.

1. Do not put that toilet brush in your mouth again.

2. I prefer to use the bathroom without people in the room with me/talking to me/sitting on my lap.

3. Please stop picking a hole in my hand.

4. We all wear clothes when we leave the house.

5. Do not stand on top of a table next to a second-floor, open window while wearing socks.

6. When something is in the trash, it needs to stay there and should never be removed and placed in your mouth.

7. I can’t wait for school to start.

8. Which restaurants have kids eat free tonight?

9. Shorts must be longer than your underwear if you’re wearing them in public.

10. When your father is sleeping, do not jump on his stomach.

11. Let’s buy a hermit crab!

Don't ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

Don’t ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

12. Did you just poop?

13. Never trust a cat alone in a room with an un-caged guinea pig.

14. Say that again, but this time at least sound like you love him when you do.

15. I think a 12-passenger van is exactly what we need.

16. Eat one more bite. Do it because you love me!

17. You’re only allowed four squares of toilet paper in this house!

18.  You’ll understand this when you get bigger.

19. What would the Wiggles do to cheer you up if they were here (while in the ER getting stitches in a 2-year-old’s head–followed by our family singing a medley of the Wiggles’ greatest hits)?

20. Let’s use our vacation money to visit relatives every summer for the rest of our lives!

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Please do not eat while leaning over my computer.

I know there are more. I wish I’d written them all down! Doesn’t every parent say that at some point? I thought I’d remember all of the funny things. Now middle age has hit, and I can barely remember where I parked my car, much less things that happened ten years ago!

I’d love to hear some of the funny things you’ve said to kids or things your parents said to you. Chime in with your funny stories in the comment section!

Hannibal, a Hermit Crab, and a Hairy Dog

One year ago tonight, we slept in a hotel in Hannibal, Missouri. We smuggled our dog in, although this will remain our secret since I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule. We had her with us because we had everything we owned with us. One year ago today, we packed up everything and headed west.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

 

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

My oldest girl and I drove the car. The un-air-conditioned car. She held the dog on her lap. I chose to drive the car because I didn’t like the alternative: our 12-passenger van. The weather people predicted thunderstorms and lots of rain, and the thought of navigating that enormous thing over the prairie with all of our most important earthly belongings packed tightly around our invaluable children in the back pushed me to choose the car. Of course, the only rain came on the very last leg of the trip, when our son had just guilted me into driving the van so he could see me for a while, but we all survived anyway.

The little one brought her hermit crab, so in the back of my mind I worried that a small Rubbermaid container would not be enough room, that the hermit crab that had lived three or more years would die on the trip and what would become of my child’s emotional health during a big move when she’d already left everything behind?! Of course, it lived until a few months ago and she remained emotionally healthy, but that’s a story for another day.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I'm sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without complaining.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I’m sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without much complaining.

So, anyway, we stopped in Hannibal just so we could see Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and it did not disappoint. We had dinner in a quaint little restaurant and walked down to the river. The town has fixed up the riverfront to look like it did when Mark Twain lived there, and if you visit during regular business hours (which we didn’t), you can tour some of the homes. We settled for looking at them from the sidewalk.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone's eyes and blinding them. At least that's what they claimed.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone’s eyeballs, turning them to small spheres of char, and, therefore, blinding them. At least that’s what they claimed.

He's a stranger to hard work.

Yep. He’s a stranger to hard work.

We took the obligatory tourist picture of our boy acting out the famous paint-the-fence scene from Tom Sawyer.

We got up the next morning and drove the rest of the way to our new home. We rolled into town around dinner time. I snapped a photo of the water tower in town as we drove by. I pass this every day on my way to work, and I almost always think of that first day here. Especially on rainy spring days when the green fields contrast with the purplish blue sky. You can’t see it in this picture, but the colors stand out so beautifully on days like that.

Don't judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

Don’t judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

We didn’t have a home yet, although we would in a few days. My family, along with the dog, spent the weekend in the dorms at the college, where I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule too, and one of the very first things I did after settling our stuff in was take my daughter to buy a cage for that hermit crab!

Although my husband and I moved a few times before the children were born, including a move to and Ukraine and back, we had never moved with children. I didn’t know what to expect, how they would adjust, if the move would traumatize them in some way. Not only did I wonder how the children would adjust, but I also wondered how I would do. I left behind friends and a support network, a place I had struggled for about a decade to feel like I belonged before I finally found my niche.

In the end, it was worth it, and everyone just settled down into life in the small town without much trouble. Surprisingly, it felt like home pretty quickly.  Here are some things we learned in the transition:

1. Wherever we go, there we are. We don’t leave ourselves behind, which means we bring all of our baggage with us when we move. Real change takes more than just a change of location. We can’t expect that everything that we hated in the old place will just disappear when we move. For example, I hoped that leaving a job in the mall with daily access to a food court and unlimited refills of every soft drink imaginable would help me improve my dietary habits and lose weight. Not true. I found that my new job boasted a pretty great cafeteria where I could eat lunch AND breakfast, and for a small fee could get as much Mt. Dew as my tummy could hold.

2.  Sometimes taking one step to change something really does change a lot of things. Seems contrary to number one, and maybe it is. Sometimes I am afraid to change things in my life. I prefer the known to the unknown, so I just stay in whatever mess I’ve made. Taking one step in a positive direction gives me a different perspective and encourages more positive change.

3.  The negative scenarios usually don’t happen. I worried that the kids wouldn’t like their new school, for example. I thought maybe it would take a long time for them to adjust to being somewhere new. That was unfounded, though. The principal told me a few months ago, “We love your children! They fit right in at the very beginning. I forget that they haven’t gone here all along!” The feeling is mutual with the children. When I ask them what they like most about living here, they say that they like the school and the people in it the best.

4.  We have to let go of some things to get other things. And its corollary: We don’t need half of the junk we keep around. This applies literally and figuratively. We had so much stuff in our house. Moving forced us to get rid of it and leave behind the things we never used. Even the kids gave away a lot of their toys. And guess what. We hardly even remember what we gave away!

5.  We’re not as indispensable as we think we are. I loved my job in Ohio. I knew I did it well, and I was proud that I could pierce ears and help manage that store, but now that I’m gone someone else does that job. Almost all of the people I knew there have moved on to other jobs in other places, and nobody there even knows who I am. And I’m OK with that.

This time, the change was good, and we all survived. Even the hermit crab!