A Small Tribute to Philadelphia: My (Other) Hometown

A Small Tribute to Philadelphia: My (Other) Hometown
Me. Ready for Sunday’s game. Do you know who to cheer for?

Two nights ago our 7-year old son asked the question of the moment.

“Dad,” he said, “Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?”

My husband made eye contact with him.

“The Eagles.”

“Why?” the boy asked. I knew he was looking for an answer about strategy or tactics; our little guy is into that sort of thing.

My husband narrowed his eyes.

“It is the will of God.”

There was a pause.

Then – raucous laughter from our son, along with the rest of us.

My husband smirked and went back to eating his soup.

That exchange?

Something about it strikes me as…

Oh. So. Philadelphia.

Do we really believe it is the will of God for the Eagles to win?

Not exactly.

But will they?

Darn right.

In our home, we are loyal to Philadelphia.

It’s a family tradition.

Philadelphia is often misunderstood. Some people just don’t get the mix of wry, sardonic humor and subtle faith. They call it brusque and cold, but however you see it, the city and its people are the genuine article, a place unto itself. And it’s a place I love, because it loved me first.

I spent my high school years in the suburbs of Philly, having moved there from Florida, and upon my arrival I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Blessedly, I was warmly welcomed by my peers, and that was important for me at a time when life didn’t feel so stable.

You find that when you’re “inside” Philadelphia – when you enter its homes, schools, and neighborhoods long enough to take your coat off and hang around for awhile. There might not be many newcomers, but a newcomer can be accepted. You can read a little about that here – where I also briefly talk about Philly’s famous food – the cheese steak.

Philly also gave me my partner for life – my husband of almost 20 years – as well as his entire loving family, and many friends who are close enough to be family too.

And so, without getting mushy and listing each person individually (a very long list), I’ll just say this: I cheer for the Eagles because I am loyal to MY Philadelphia – all of the people in and around that particular city who have shared with me the formative experiences that over many decades have created the life I cherish today.

How about you? Where do your loyalties lie and WHY?

I’m willing to bet that if you have an allegiance, it’s to a person, or people, or a place, that nurtured you and gave you hope. And that’s a good reason to continue to be faithful.

So consider Who you ally yourself with. And choose well.

Oh – and on Sunday – choose VERY well. Fly Eagles Fly!

Are You Still Living in Middle School? The Pressure’s Off.

Are You Still Living in Middle School? The Pressure’s Off.

My middle-school daughter stood at the podium, reading into the microphone. Just her – in front of 800 fellow students.

‘Slow down, honey. Oh, slow down.’

That’s what I was thinking as I watched her this morning. She shared her own thoughts printed on an index card, about why she loves her school. She was breezing through them so quickly I was afraid she couldn’t be understood, and worried that her dad wouldn’t be able to hear her clearly on the video I was trying to make with my phone.

She was nervous.

Terrified, actually.

Unusually so.

And she had told me she would be.

“You’ll be fine,” I tried to reassure her, “You’ve done this before.”

She’s often been selected to read at church, and she’s enthusiastically volunteered to dance in the end-of the-year talent show.

But now she’s 12.

And middle school is different. Isn’t it?

Sometimes I think we enter middle school….and we never leave it.

There is a constant pressure to change from who we naturally are into something else.

Something cooler and better.

Think about it: The world is bent on convincing you that you are not doing enough to make yourself feel great, look perfect, be organized, love effortlessly, and live carefree. We, as a society, are literally paying billions every month in an attempt to buy this mythical life for ourselves.

Even in my work – writing – there is pressure to do more, and be more, than I am. In the so-called “blogosphere,” bloggers ‘should’ publish all the time, grow an audience, and create products.

The fact is, I may not be doing enough for you, friend. Every time I publish a post, I can see whether someone has “subscribed” or “unsubscribed,” and the latter gives me pause.

I want to encourage.

I want to share stories that make people smile.

I want to write words that count.

I want to do something that matters.

Don’t we all?

To do this – to live in a way that MATTERS – requires slowing down, and listening with every breath to the One voice that guides me toward my true purpose, which is to serve others out of a deep gratitude to the One who gave me life.

I am in a place of reflection about this blog, friends. I’m wondering how I can better serve you as my readers.

Please take a moment when you have some free time to write me an email at gretchen@gretchenmatthews.com and share your thoughts with me. I welcome them.

In what areas of your life do you need encouragement? What do you need to hear more of? Less of?

And bear in mind the words of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

Slow down. Embrace yourself. You are loved.

The Cardinal Sign

The Cardinal Sign

Today I feel wistful. And thankful.

Thankful for what I took to be a ‘sort’ of sign.

Now please understand – I’m not a person who looks for signs.

I lean on the One who tells me to trust in Him, not in the ways of this earth. And so I’m not searching around for material things, wondering if they hold some cosmic meaning for me.

But every once in awhile, life seems to line up in way that speaks to me of comfort and peace beyond my understanding, and the only correct response can be, “Thank you. Thank you for this moment of grace.”

Today would have been my paternal grandparents’ 76th wedding anniversary.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you’ll remember that my family celebrated their 75th anniversary with them last year (in 2017). My grandparents were in good health and in great, great spirits. However, they both passed into eternal life within weeks of the magnificent event, and the rest of us are left to contemplate how blessed we were to have this amazing couple with us for as long as we did.

All grieving families go through a mourning process that includes shock and sadness. It’s been an up and down year for each of us, but overall, it has brought us closer together. And joy has been a part of these long months, too, as we welcomed our family’s newest member – my sister’s first child, my beautiful nephew.

My heart held fast to these memories as I clasped Grandma’s gold cross around my neck for the first time this morning. My aunt just gave it to me on Saturday during our first visit together since some sad days last February.

As I held onto the necklace I was thinking about God’s words, “And behold, I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20).

I stepped over to the mirror to take a look and just then a cardinal appeared to my right in the bush outside my window.

The brightest, fattest, reddest, cardinal.

It has been said these birds are the spirit sign of a loved one you’ve lost.

And so I wondered…

I was transfixed, rooted to the spot, as it sat there swaying on the branch, its wings, head, and breast glinting in the sunlight.

It stayed long enough for me to hear my mind compete: “I will not move until it does.”

And then…finally…it cocked its head and took flight.

I firmly believe there is an unseen reality and One God who is with us always.

He lives to show us He loves us. He lives to show us His love.

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??

$250 for Christmas Joy!?!??
Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

On the radio yesterday, a DJ reported survey results. People said they would pay $250 to find Christmas joy – the kind they knew when they were kids. (Apparently, most people surveyed would also be willing to fork over $145 to have someone else wrap their gifts.) Now, I know many people hate gift-wrapping, but $250 for Christmas joy!?!?? Craziness.

I once knew a Jewish man who had tremendous Christmas spirit. When his three sons were very young, they had a devout faith in Santa Claus. They knew all about Santa’s generosity and good cheer, so naturally, they wondered if he would stop at their home come Christmas Eve.

To honor their own holiday traditions – while also sharing the spirit of the season – the man and his wife hatched plan. On Christmas Eve, the family did a little art project, and then the joyful father climbed out a window and onto his roof. As the little boys stood watching in their pajamas, their dad placed a decorated poster next to the chimney. It said:

Dear Santa,

Just a reminder: We are Jewish. You don’t need to stop here tonight. We wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love, The Jacobs Family

Friends, this is the Christmas spirit. And it cost virtually nothing but time and love.

It demonstrates the largest Truth of season: It is NOT about us.

It IS about caring for others and spreading joy because we see that we ourselves have been loved.

But maybe you don’t feel joyful. Maybe you think you have nothing to celebrate because you’ve had a rough year or you’re not with the people you think make your holidays complete.

If that’s the case, try these three steps – now or starting tomorrow – to reignite your Christmas or holiday mojo.

1) Close your eyes and begin a mental gratitude statement. If you believe in a higher power – talk to that power. If not, imagine all of the people closest to your heart standing in front of you.

Express thanks for as many things as you can think of, starting with the immediate and going from there. “Thank you for the fact that I’m breathing. Thank you for my beating heart. Thank you for my hands and feet and brain and muscles and my capacity to feel the ground beneath me.”

Move out into your surroundings, the people in your life, counting each thing consciously and with the understanding that even the trials you face are building character in you. Be grateful for this. Be thankful for what you have learned. Don’t stop your list until you simply cannot go on anymore.

2) Get out of your head. Think of a holiday song you enjoy and sing it out loud. Whisper if you must, but verbalize the cheerfulness you’re starting to feel.

3) Decide that you will give every person you meet today a free gift: your smile. Look each one in the eye – especially the annoying, angry, impatient, or rude ones – and smile, with good intentions. Imagine the individual as he or she might have looked as a child. See each person’s vulnerability and humanness. Pray or simply ponder the following over them: Grant this person peace and comfort.

Why do I recommend these steps?

Because gratitude, hope, and generous actions yield joy.

And true Hope is not wishful thinking, but instead it is the firm expectation that something good will occur based on a pattern of goodness that is now present and has come before.

Hope is open to everyone.

Joy can be yours.

I pray you will find both – free and overflowing – this holiday season.

My Husband: My Stylist

My Husband: My Stylist

My husband is my stylist. For real.

There’s a small pile of clothes on my dresser right now, awaiting the judgment of my stylist, who has been away on business for a couple days.

I ordered a few fall items last week, and I won’t rip the tags off without consulting my husband first. Not because I’m looking for his permission (gosh no!), but simply because he has a better eye than me, and I appreciate his input.

I first realized this when we were dating, and he convinced me to a buy a classic navy sundress from Ann Taylor that I wore for 5 years. It was flattering. It hugged my curves in all the best places and skimmed over the less-than-perfect parts, and the color made my blue eyes pop. But I wouldn’t have picked it on my own because it was, at the time, more than I would typically spend.

My husband’s fashion sense was confirmed during our engagement as I chose a color for the bridesmaids dresses. He actually knew (and could spot) the difference between cornflower and periwinkle blue.

Have I told you that I hate to shop?

Really. Hate. To. Shop.

Years later, I complained one June about needing to buy a couple new dresses, as we had a slew of Christenings, weddings, and sundry parties to attend in the following months.

That afternoon, he waltzed into our kitchen with two new shifts that he had bought straight off the Lord & Taylor racks in under 15 minutes. One fit me perfectly. The other needed minor alterations at the shoulders.

No joke.

I told him other women would laugh at me if they knew, because they’d think I have no ability to dress myself.

He shrugged. Then added, “I appreciate your body more than you do,” and smiled in a come-hither kind of way.

Ahem.

Alright, then.

It has taken some time, but I have accepted that my husband has a legitimate point. He values me (and my body, I guess) in ways that I don’t. And he is looking out for me and the image I put forward in the world.

So – I wonder – am I doing the same for him?

I might not have his same ability to find a garment that is both “on trend” and “spot on” for someone, but am I helping to create a positive impression of him for others?

I hope so.

Do I know his faults?

Of course.

Should I tell you about them?

Probably not.

In the last week, I’ve heard a few women speak poorly of their husbands or other men in their lives. Often, it’s just venting – relieving frustration that builds up in hectic times when we aren’t leaving enough space for deep connection with one another.

But we have to be careful.

There is a fine line between venting, complaining, and disparaging – a downward cut that slices into the bonds of love between us.

We are called to build one another up, to clothe one another with affection and caring. This process happens face-to-face, and when we speak of one another while apart.

Beautifully woven life stories are created when we consistently choose to celebrate our strengths, rather than focus on our flaws.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. – 1 Peter 5:10

How to Help Your Kid With Homework

How to Help Your Kid With Homework
Photo by Angelina Litvin, Unsplash.com

My oldest is a high school freshman, and since it’s September, we’re in a transition time. Last night things got pretty intense. The workload reached a crescendo and there was a math test scheduled for this morning. He got home from crew practice at 6:30, plunged right into his work, and was cursing loudly in frustration – way up in his room – by the time dinner was ready at 7:30. I knew we were in for a long night.

But rather than let him tough it out, I proposed a different solution. “Bring it down to the kitchen,” I said. “Let’s look at it together.”

He knew I wouldn’t do it for him. And the truth was, the content was not at all beyond his capability. And I told him so.

“You know this stuff. You can do it. You just don’t like the quantity or the methodology.”

All in all – across two subjects – it was about 8 pages, required to be handwritten, and admittedly, his handwriting is abysmal.

What to do for him?

Just BE with him.

I fell back on a lesson I learned fourteen years ago.

In 2003, our extended family lost a precious member, my husband’s cousin, P.J.. I’ve written about the loss of him before. After the funeral, P.J.’s mother (my husband’s aunt) asked us to bring our son (the same one now doing homework) to their home where the family was gathering informally. We ended up being the last guests there. Our infant son fell asleep on Aunt Karen and Uncle Jim’s bed while the four of us stood over him watching – for what may have been 15 minutes – in silence.

I called my mom the next day.

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her, “The grief is unimaginable. They just lost their son. I can only imagine they were thinking about him as they looked at ours. I had no words to console them.”

My mom replied, “Just being present is a ministry.”

I have never forgotten that.

Just being present to someone in need is a ministry.

So last night, I was fully present to my son.

No phone.

No books.

Nothing but him and me.

I made tea for him – with lemon and honey.

Gave him cookies.

Reminded him to breathe.

Read the directions to him again and again, but didn’t do the work for him.

Told him stories from my high school days to make him smile and reassure him that yes, he will survive even this.

And I lasted with him until bedtime at 11:00 – 1 1/2 hours later than usual for him.

Being present is a ministry.

And you are fully equipped for the job.

Who needs your ministry now?

Do You Get Sick of ‘Perfect’ Posts? Me Too.

Do You Get Sick of ‘Perfect’ Posts? Me Too.

Do you ever look at carefully curated Facebook or Instagram posts and think, “These people are making me sick. I can’t take any more of his/her ‘perfect’ life.”

I’m with you. There are days when I have to shut it all down, reminding myself once again that these worlds are a VIRTUAL reality, not life in itself.

Earlier this week, my husband and I posted a huge block of our 2017 summer vacation photos on Facebook, which we use to stay in touch with far-flung family and friends. It’s a helpful vehicle, and the grandparents have learned to download pictures they’d like to save so that I don’t have to print and mail copies. But as I hovered over the ‘post,’ button, I pondered the implications. Every action has a reaction.

What do people think when they see my family so seemingly carefree?

The truth about a family is what’s happening before a photo is taken, and after.

I’m not going to pretend we have major issues, crises, or drama in our home right now. I’m not going to make this more than it is. But little struggles can be stresses – even on vacation – so here’s a story along those lines.

My daughter ran past me in the hallway of our rented beach house, rushing to the garage. “Oh God,” she said, “My retainer. I’ll find it.”

This kid. Age 11. And her retainer is literally holding things in place while we wait between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of who knows how much orthodontia to make big teeth line up in a tiny mouth.

I knew what she’d done. She’d left it in the mesh side pocket of a chair for 5 hours under the beach tent, which had just been folded up and dragged back to the house minutes before. Bad news all around.

I immediately blamed myself for not remembering to have her leave it at the house in the morning before we’d set out for the day. Instead, she’d had to improvise in our sandy shelter, fearful she’d lose it while playing in the surf.

In the garage, tensions were rising as equipment was tossed about and my daughter explained to her dad what had happened.

“Did you find it?” I interrupted.

“No,” my husband said firmly. “We’re going back to the beach. How much is it going to cost when we don’t find it there?!!?”

He let out an exasperated sigh and they left.

After I told our other two kids what was up, I headed out too.

I talk about God a lot in my blog, not because I expect that all of my readers will share my beliefs, but because my experience shows me that He shows up in my day-to-day.

People think faith is about religious doctrine. But it’s not. It’s about opening yourself up to the possibility that God cares about you. You personally.

So as I walked, I approached Him in honest conversation.

Lord?

I felt His presence like a blanket on my shoulders.

‘Here I Am.’

Thank you for being there. For being… here. For always being here. Even when I’m not paying attention. And I know I haven’t been… paying attention. Not for awhile. I’ve been ignoring you this summer. I’m so sorry.

Thank you for not ignoring us. Thank you for this vacation week. For the great time we’ve been having together. For clearing my mind. For the quiet.

As you know, we’re missing this retainer. I don’t know if we’re supposed to find it. I’m ok with your plan if we’re not. But either way, please bring us your peace. Help us all to be ok with whatever happens next.

St. Anthony – my friend – I wonder what it was you lost and found? You know I hate your rhyme – but if you could ask the Lord for help as well that would be great.

Lord, please help. Please help.

By the time I got to the beach my husband and daughter were giving up. They had searched the spot where the tent had been and looked resigned and defeated. I told them I’d be back when I’d completed my own turns through the sand.

After about 5 minutes of shuffling my feet into layer upon layer of hot earth, I looked up to see my own likeness coming toward me – the 40-ish mom from the generic family that had spent the day 20-some yards away from us – tired and concerned in her wet and sandy bathing suit.

“What are you looking for?” she called out.

I explained.

“What color is it?”

No sooner had I uttered the words, “It’s pink, green, and…” then we both looked down, and two feet ahead, half- buried at a 45-degree angle, there it was.

I held it up and looked at her in amazement.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, breaking into relieved laughter. “Wow! Wow!! This is a beach! I mean, I was praying about it, but… It’s a beach!”

She smiled and said, “That’s what I do, too. I pray too.”

I looked at her straight on. “Thank you!!! Really. Thank you.”

“It wasn’t me.”

I nodded appreciatively.

Because we both knew.

It wasn’t her.

The “perfect” in this life isn’t what WE make of it.

It’s what HE makes.

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

My husband performed something of a miracle this week. He made bacon.

He didn’t cook bacon. He MADE it. From scratch.

He cured the pork all week long and then smoked it on our back porch this afternoon.

When he pulled the slab of mouth-watering goodness out of the smoker, cut off a thin slice, fried it in a pan for just a minute, and gave me the sizzling piece – I thought perhaps I could live on just this for the next few years.

My husband’s slab of homemade bacon. Right out of the smoker.

I have often said that there are five reasons I could never be a vegetarian:

1. Pancetta.

2. Prosciutto.

3. Salami.

4. Carpaccio.

5. BACON.

Note – four of these are cured pork and the first and the last are very similar. Bacon is smoked, while pancetta is not.  (A little shout out to Bart Simpson fans here! I absolutely love this clip too!!)

It was a GREAT afternoon!

If you’ve eaten at our home, you know my husband is a culinary wizard. I like to say that I cook for sustenance and to feed our family during the week. But on the weekend and when we entertain, the love of my life cooks for fun and relaxation. He’s made his own marshmallows, candied oranges, corned beef, sausage….even his own hot sauce (after growing his own peppers first – multiple kinds for the right mix of flavors, naturally). And these are just the things that immediately come to mind because he’s made them in the last year or two! We’ve been married 19 years. Do the math. The number of delicious meals he’s made is mind boggling!

People say my guy is a “foodie,” and I guess that’s true. But I think he’s also gifted. And what that means for me and our kids is that we’re very, very blessed.

If you ask him, my husband will tell you he enjoys cooking. And he likes to see people take pleasure in the fruits of his efforts.

Which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Because when you bless others with a God-given gift, it will bring you joy.

What are your gifts? Do you know?

Do you often sell yourself short?

Don’t think you have to have stellar musical ability or athletic prowess to be considered gifted.

One could argue that the world needs people to exercise their ‘quieter’ talents even more.

Are you a good listener?

Are you patient and calm when others would rush a tender soul?

Do you create warm and inviting spaces where people like to gather?

Are you a natural ‘encourager’?

Are you good at problem-solving?

We all have gifts, and no two of us are the same. Imagine if everyone used his or her gifts to their fullest extent.

Your gifts were given to you for two reasons: to help build up the world, and to bring you joy in the process.

That’s something delicious (like bacon!) to think about today.

 

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, Amen. – Catholic Mealtime Prayer

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!

Folly and Sparks! Have a Joyful 4th!
Photo by Kristopher Roller, StockSnap.io

As I understand it, my great-grandparents’ marriage started off with sparks. Of the good sort.

Just 17 years old, Bessie Lowe was bound and determined to marry James Smith – the young man of her dreams. It’s not clear whether Bessie’s groom-to-be was afraid to approach Bessie’s father about the marriage, but in any case, Bessie was the one who told her dad about the engagement. According to a quote in an old family photo album, Bessie’s dad told her he and her mother had seen the folly of marrying too young. She came back at him. “Well,” she said, “We would like to see the folly of it too.”

Bessie and Jimmie were married on the 4th of July, 1916, in Grants Pass, Oregon. After the ceremony they held a family picnic where everyone – and I mean everyone – played baseball. Firecracker that she was, my great-grandmother ran the bases in her wedding dress.

Times were simple and lean and about to get leaner. In 1932, Jimmie lost his job as a truck driver for a lumberyard, so he took my grandpa (and later, grandpa’s sister) to live on the family’s farm while Bessie worked as a washerwoman in a Seattle laundry. The family was separated for two years, seeing one another only on holidays. Decades later, my grandpa choked up every time he spoke of this, remembering it as a great injustice that his beloved mother should ever have had to work that hard under such awful conditions. And yet Bessie did – for the love of her family and to help provide for them. Further, she kept her chin up, never losing the laughing spirit that sparked that running of the bases on her wedding day.

I knew Bessie only when I was a young child, and what I recall best are her eyes. People tell me she had one brown and one blue, but in my mind I see the way those eyes crinkle at me in delight. She sits on a piano bench in her living room, studying me with her whole face, body, heart, and spirit. She radiates joy. She throws her head back and laughs, letting ripples of happiness shake her whole frame.

The lesson in all of this is that the same woman who told her dad of her plans to marry the man she loved, played America’s game right after saying her vows, and toiled at an awful job to care for a family she adored who – to the very last among us – remembers her as laughing, made one critical choice above all others: she consistently chose joy.

Do you choose joy every day? Do you have the kind of faith that trusts that Life is Good, and you – even you – are cared for regardless of your current situation?

I believe that my great-grandmother must have. She trusted in the Presence that pushed up the flowers in her yard year after year, and brought her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren back to her when she’d gone full seasons without seeing them.

Right to the end, hers was an all-embracing, loving, grateful smile that no one could dismiss.

My great-grandmother Bessie Smith, always smiling.

On this holiday of family picnics and fireworks, may we press fully into that kind of joy.

 

Creating New Memories of Dad

Creating New Memories of Dad
Ashe Gold

Have you ever revisited a memory only to discover that your recollection was, in some way, skewed?

This happened to me recently.

I was thinking back to when I was 12 or 13, spending a day with my dad. We were in Morocco. Epcot’s Morocco.

My folks had recently divorced. At the time, my sister and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida, with my mom but for reasons I can’t remember, this day-trip to Orlando was just for Dad and me.

We were having a blast – “hoofing it” as Dad always said – walking quickly all over the park to take in as much as we possibly could in 12 or so hours. Just before dinner, we stopped at Morocco, and as we admired the leather goods in the shops, I told Dad I needed to visit the ladies’ room.

There, I discovered what every adolescent girl dreads.

And dear God. I was not prepared. No purse. No supplies. Nothing.

Feeling slightly nauseous, with butterflies in my stomach, I marched outside. Dad was standing by a dim streetlamp, basking in the sunset over the man-made lake.

“Dad, I need a quarter.”

He looked down at me with his calm, bright blue eyes, smiled and asked, “Why do you need a quarter?”

“Uhmmm. For the machine in the ladies’ room.”

His forehead wrinkled and lips puckered in perplexity.

Time stood still for me.

Perhaps a millisecond later, he began to fumble ferociously for a quarter, patting his shirt pocket and the pockets on the front and back of his shorts without feeling anything. Finally, he found the handful of change, opened his palm, and fished out one shiny 25 cent piece.

I took it from him without a word.

When I returned, he was fidgety. There was a crisp air of uncertainty about him.

“So,” he tried to sound casual, “Where would you like to eat? We can go anywhere in the world!”

So Dad. So typical of Dad to attempt humor just then. And I showed my gratitude with a grudging smile.

We settled on Japan, where, over my first-ever bowl of udon I also felt for the first time that necessary parting of ways – the separation that comes between the child and the parent, and in this case, between a girl and her father. Things would be unsaid. Experiences would be unshared. Life would be lived separately.

But there is more.

I used to think this story was about me and the time my monthly cycle began at Epcot Center. And it is – in a very small way. What’s more important however, is that Grace showed up that day, and taught me a lesson for life about men.

My dad is a gentleman through and through. That doesn’t mean he always responds with composure or perfect words the first moment of a challenging situation; it means that he will respond correctly when given the fullness of an opportunity. The distinction is important.

This little incident was a building block planted by Grace in my life. How do I know? Because my father’s response to me – initially awkward, but full of love and tenderness – was a foreshadowing of interactions I would later have with my husband. By looking back on this memory, I can see that I was being taught that today I am to give my husband room and time to respond with the love and compassion I know he has for me, even if the circumstances of any given situation take him by surprise.

Men get a lot of bad press these days, and yes – there are more than a few out there who are behaving poorly and thus becoming fodder for headlines, memes, and tabloids. But I’ve been blessed to know many good men – righteous men who through their actions, big and small, show their love and concern for the women and children in their lives. Fathers especially, who shepherd their families with perseverance and thoughtfulness. They aren’t showy or prideful about their contributions; they do it out of the purity of their hearts, and we would do well to honor them appropriately and regularly for it.

The love these men express is a reflection of the bigger Love – the eternal Love. The One that brought all of us into being through the free gift of Grace and uses individuals to do work in the world. Love is an unparalleled force that we cannot escape, and we desire it above everything else.

Relationships with parents can be complicated. Holidays like Father’s Day can stir up a whole host of emotions. But deep within, many of us want to feel or say something more than, “Have a beer on me, Dad!” “Play some golf!” “Take a load off!” or the generic, “Enjoy your day!” Even if our dads have passed on and our interactions were troubled, we want to have hearts of gratitude for these men who touched our lives so deeply.

The not-so-secret secret that Grace teaches is that gratitude is a practice that can be learned. So here’s an exercise for building gratitude for your dad (and indeed any man in your life) that you can try – today.

1) Think of time when he was tender to you. An isolated incident.

2) Visualize yourself through his eyes. Remember that you were his child. Consider how he must have felt as he looked at your face. However imperfectly he expressed his emotions for you, try to imagine the stirrings of his heart.

3) Add the emotion you feel from this “imaginative view” to your databank of knowledge about your dad. Assume his best intentions. Grant him a bit more grace in your heart and you will want to act toward him accordingly.

Can the past teach us about the present?

Does Grace always show up in our life’s story if we look closely enough?

I believe the answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’ And we can respond with gratitude today if we can gradually come to believe that there’s a God who was walking with us then, and who walks with us still.