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.

When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

Kids never cease to surprise, and my daughter gave me a real gem today!

She and one of her best friends happen to be working on an in-class team assignment this week. It entails researching a famous explorer. By Friday, the two girls are to have prepared a short presentation for their peers, and at least one of them is to have a basic explorer ‘costume’ which can fit over the school uniform.

The explorers were chosen for the students. The girls ended up with Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1569).
Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Today, on the car ride home, my daughter said to me, “So we had this idea for our presentation.”

“Yes?” I inquired.

“Well, Francis Drake had two wives. So we thought we’d dress up like them.”

I held my breath and stifled a disbelieving giggle.

“Was he married to them both at the same time?”

“No. One died.”

This quick answer zapped my funny bone, so I leaned down over the wheel as I steered through downtown Annapolis, desperately trying to make sure my daughter couldn’t see me laugh in the rear view mirror. A comic classroom scene was running amok in my imagination and it just couldn’t be contained.

I asked,”Was one of you planning to stage your death during the presentation?”

Then she laughed, and belted out, “No! But that’s pretty good, Mom!”

The whole car was guffawing now.

She continued, “We were going to dress up one of our American Girl dolls as Francis Drake, but the teacher said ‘No,’ it has to be one of us. He had a beard, Mom. Ick.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t really know what to say just then. I was a little deflated for her. I understand that the point of the assignment is to talk about the explorer’s achievements. I get that. And I don’t want to diminish him or other men in any way.

But I also saw something else in the motives of these two girls – something altogether innocent and lovely: They like being girls. And they thought they could still tell the story – as girls.

There was a time when these thoughts might never have even entered into their minds.

But that wasn’t the case today. Today they wanted to dress up as two women who were there in the wings of history – women who were every bit as real as Sir Francis Drake.

Something about that is good news to me.

Like the lily among thorns, so are you, my love, among the daughters.

-Song of Solomon 2:2 (AMP)

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

imageIt was 9:15 this morning and we were sitting in the doctor’s office, hoping to solve the mystery of my daughter’s stomach pain – pain that had driven her to the school nurse’s office every day for the last four days, and noticeable enough that even her little brother had asked if we could pray for her over breakfast.

There had been no fever. No vomiting. No digestion issues. Just some mild nausea, loss of appetite, and pain. Just pain.

After a few long minutes, the quick strep test came back negative. Severe constipation was also ruled out. We were down to “a probable virus,” and “call us next week if it’s still there, the pain moves, or gets worse.”

Hooray. Just the diagnosis I wanted.

I was trying to stay positive as I looked at her downtrodden form. She sat on the examining table, hunched over, somewhat pale, and unshowered. Yesterday, she’d come home from school and climbed straight into her pajamas. But – believe it or not – letting her sit on the couch all day didn’t seem like the right course of action.

Despite the pouring rain outside, I made a suggestion.

“How ’bout we drive over to Rockville and pick up your dress? You’re missing school anyway. We can get some lunch while we’re there.”

Surprisingly, she perked up at the idea of spending two hours in the car (one each way), just to pick up an Irish dance dress that she already owned, but which had been altered to fit her growing pre-teen body.

“Sounds great!” she declared.

We made a detour by home so she could shower (my idea), and headed out.

I indulged her in a few minor ways.

I let her sit up front.

I let her choose the music (and then a comedian) on Spotify.

I didn’t ask her many questions; I let her steer the conversation.

Overall, I did my best to listen well, and by the time we arrived at the seamstress’ shop, my daughter was coming back to me. One tiny smile and wiggle in her seat at a time.

We got the dress and time was passing quickly. So we giggled our way through lunch at a very poorly-serviced and obnoxiously loud Chipotle, and then ran through Starbucks. She asked for a pink cake pop. I gave it to her. Gladly.

Tonight her belly is much better. Since it’s day 5 of this…whatever it is …maybe she was on the mend anyway. And I’m sure her brother’s prayer had something to do with it. But I also think it’s like this….

Sometimes, things just aren’t right. You don’t know why, or what’s really wrong. Stuff just bugs you. Life gets to you (and your body) in ways you can’t understand.

And what you need – maybe all you simply need – is to hang out with your mom for a little while.

Today, my shocking revelation was …I am the Mom.

And my presence was all that was needed.

My daughter confirmed this lesson on our ride back to Annapolis, when she glanced over at me and said, “Today was the best. Thanks, Mom.”

Today? The best? A doctor’s appointment? Torrential rain? A long drive for a fairly boring reason? A mediocre lunch in a fast-food place?

To all the Moms out there who – like me – think you’re not doing enough: Most of the time, all that’s needed is for us to Show Up. And you can do that. And they love you for it. So much more than you know. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

How She Made a Good Choice

imageAs parents, we’re all doing our best to convey our values to our kids. And if we have faith, we are also hoping they will grow to share that faith in time.

Once in awhile, I am blessed with a reminder that my efforts are being rewarded.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer doing routine admin stuff when my daughter appeared at my side.

“I thought you were at Emma’s* house, honey?”

“I was. But then she and the others started watching a show I didn’t think you’d like me to watch. So I left.”

“Really? What show was it?”

“I don’t know.”

She awkwardly pushed herself into my lap – and she’s ten, so she doesn’t fit there so easily anymore. I hugged her and asked,

“What was it about?”

“Ghosts, I think. It gave me a bad feeling. I thought I shouldn’t be there.”

“A bad feeling where?” I asked, suspecting she wasn’t talking about a ‘Scooby-doo’ ghost.

She pointed to her stomach.

So I asked,

“Do you know why you felt that? Do you know Who was talking to you?”

“God.”

Yes,” I said. And I am so proud of you for listening to Him. It took courage and strength to leave that situation, and I am amazed and so glad that you did.”

She gave a big smile of relief and went off to spend the rest of the afternoon with her brothers. By bedtime last night, the three of them were worn out from laughing and wrestling so much.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on for our children’s hearts. And  today, I am so thankful my daughter is growing strong and skilled in fighting back. She heard and obeyed the Voice that has promised to lead her on the path of peace and joy.

On the way of wisdom I direct you,

I lead you on the straightforward paths.

When you walk, your step will not be impeded,

and should you run, you will not stumble.

Hold fast to instruction, never let her go;

keep her, for she is your life.

-Proverbs 4:11-13

*Not her real name.

Mom!! Hear This!!

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“MOM!! Guess what!??!”

“MOM!! Listen to this song I wrote!”

“MOM!! Can I have Patrick over?”

“MOM!! Can we play on the X-box?”

“MOM!! What is this word?”

“MOM!! He’s annoying me!”

My kids have developed a habit in the last few weeks of beginning all of our conversations with “MOM!!” It’s gotten so bad that last night I had to take a time-out in the middle of the evening’s activities before my husband got home. I went into my room, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.

A few minutes later, I heard the door squeak open, and my daughter came in cautiously. When she saw that I was awake, she lowered her voice to a loud whisper and asked,

“Mom!! What are blackheads?”

Sigh.

So here I am. Font of knowledge. Scheduler. Cook. Mediator. Taxi driver. Captive audience. Etc. And I love it. Most of the time.

But there are days I get a little worn out. And then, well…

My kindergartner can dress himself, of course, but he’s taken to waiting for me to help him on school mornings. I think it’s because it’s  time for just us, and it makes him feel that his day is off to a good start.

Yesterday, when I entered his room, he was half out of his p.j.s, playing with Pokemon cards. His whole face lit up, and I heard the usual, “MOM!!” followed by something which I can’t recall now.

I sank to the floor and said, “C’mon bud, you’ve got to get dressed and downstairs for breakfast.”

But he just stood there in his pajama pants, smiling at me.

Then, he folded himself into my lap and kissed my face saying, “You’re the best mom ever.”

I nearly cried as I hugged his little body and touched his soft skin.

It’s amazing how one small thank you can more than make up for all of the unacknowledged gifts we’ve given. 

And today, as I hear the birds sing, see the flowers bloom and the sun shine, and feel my heart beat again, I know it is a new day. A chance to start again. One big gift, filled with limitless gifts.

And for all the Lord does for me, I can truly touch His heart today. With thanks.

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works,

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty,

and wonderful is his power.

-Sirach 43:29-30

Concerns for My Daughter

I’m catching a mid-morning flight and trying to leave the house quietly. But my daughter is up to say goodbye.

She’s always been an early riser, but I’m still surprised to see her standing there in her pajamas, her blond hair a tousled mess.

“Honey, you should be asleep.”

She turns her head ‘No’ and whispers while moving in to hug me tightly.

“Did you leave Daddy a schedule?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. But who’s driving me to dance?…What is the plan for tomorrow?…Did you remember to tell Dad about…?”

She has a list in her head.

Just like me.

Maybe that’s not a good thing.

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See – the list making – the idea that we can finalize plans, has become for me an extension of my perfectionism – something I do not want to pass on to her. Having a few ideas about what I’d like to do is one thing. Expecting them to happen just as I’d like, is another.

I want to tell her to relax. Enjoy. Don’t anticipate.

But it’s hard to convey these things effectively. And there are even bigger things that I must teach her. Things I believe are essential for her to understand.

If all of Scripture could be boiled down to two central messages, they’d be: 1) Be not afraid. 2) You are loved.

More than anything else, these are the things I want my daughter to know. And sometimes I worry she isn’t getting these messages.

‘But maybe she’ll see,’ I think. How can I help her see?

These were my thoughts in Bible study Thursday night, where we were discussing Jesus’s mother, Mary – the one person in history other than Christ himself who best exemplifies a person exercising full trust in God’s providential care.

To the root of her being, Mary was humble and put her faith in God. She had no silly notions that she was in charge of her life. As the angel told her that she would bear God’s son, she declared herself “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Her ‘yes’ – given despite the questions she had – showed she accepted the full weight of His authority, love, and protection. From within that sacred space, she then assumed her role in God’s plan and prayed from her deepest depths, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)

Mary’s life was anything but easy, and it’s impossible to overstate how agonizing it must have been for her to watch her son die on a cross. But everything we know about Mary leads us to this conclusion: in the role that God chose for her, Mary was fully cooperative, and God used her as His instrument to point others to Christ – to Himself.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Mary’s last words in the Bible, concerning Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana, are to the servants – and all of us – “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)

We too can magnify God – make He who is invisible, visible – by fully leaning into Him and asking Him to fill us with His love. Then, His love flows into our words. And into our actions.

Lord, I thank you for your mother, Mary. I ask that you make me more like her, and that Your Will be done in me. Make me a vessel that magnifies your Love, projecting Your radiance to my beloved daughter.

Holy Moments – Day 22 – Dawning Light

30226_Decisions_Ahead

“Mommy – What does ISIS stand for?”

Her blue eyes peeked out at me from behind her purple bedspread. It was time to turn out the light. Not the time to launch into a discussion like this. And what did she mean “stand for?” I took the literal route.

“ISIS is an acronym. The letters I-S-I-S are short for the longer name of a group calling itself the Islamic State.”

“Some boys on the playground were talking about it and what they did in Paris.”

“Hmm.” My mind reeled. What did she know? I didn’t want her to worry. We work so hard to keep her safe, happy, carefree…

I asked her what she’d heard and it was just vague details about attacks. She’d heard of Islam, so we discussed the fact that there are people in all religions who can become extreme and bend their views into hatred of others who have different faiths. I stressed that this is wrong, that God loves every person, that He created every single one.

“Will they come here?”

“There are people in our government and all over the world working very hard to protect us.”

“We’ll be warned, right? And we can run to our house and lock all the doors. Do we know what they look like?”

“Some of them. But it’s more like we’re watching their emails and telephone calls. Get some sleep, ok? I love you.”

Oh, Lord. I couldn’t tell her the whole truth….What do they look like?

They look like my friend from middle school – Mary – whose mother was Syrian and father was Lebanese. They look like guys I dated in high school and college – Italian. They look like the Greek guy at the deli around the corner from my office building in New York City. And they look like Zaidan – the Lebanese gentleman I worked with for years at a nonprofit civic education group in Washington, DC, where our mission was to encourage young people to participate in the democratic process.

What do they look like?  They look like us. And what’s on the outside has nothing to do with it. 

My daughter’s questions, posed on the first day of the week, led to 6 days of soul searching, long-bouts of reading articles on Facebook, and a general unease. I wanted to say something about this historical moment. But what?

On Saturday, as my daughter and I were listening to Christian radio and she was singing her little heart out, she gave me more to chew on…

“I want to sing a song for the talent show later this year, but if I choose one of these, I’m afraid everyone will laugh at me or think I’m weird.”

It wasn’t bedtime. It was time to dig deep. I’ll spare you the details of that discussion. But as I tried to bolster her spirit for a lifelong journey of faith, I was also coaching myself. In a time like this, when the world feels akimbo, maybe it’s appropriate to get out a wrench and tighten up the nuts and bolts.

All of the events of the last week have reminded me that choosing to walk through the narrow gate is never easy. It requires a daily commitment, a re-surrendering of my will to God’s will, because for me and for most of us, the natural instinct is to “run to our hous[es] and lock all the doors.” The world is quite frightening, and the Lord’s commands aren’t easy either. If we truly try to follow any one of Jesus Christ’s teachings we quickly find that he was, in every sense, radical.

But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who hurt you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27-28

ISIS is no exception to this command. Each terrorist deserves God’s mercy as much as we do – which is not at all – and still God offers it, freely. Yet, how often do we hear prayers for our enemies from our altars? How often do we pray for them as we close our eyes and ask for protection?

Every time I publish a blog piece, I expose myself as a believer. I wonder sometimes how much of a risk I’m taking in proclaiming the Bible as Truth. I remember that Christ’s message was not one of perpetual comfort in this life, but of eternal peace in the next.

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.”  – Luke 12:4

If anyone proved the veracity of this statement, it is Jesus himself, for if we do not believe in the truth of the Resurrection – the Son of Man literally brought back to life and walking the earth in his flesh and blood – we are not truly Christians. And the power Christ invoked is the same power promised to those who love Him.

I pray…that you will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead… – Ephesians 1:18-20

If I could say only one more thing to my daughter, it would be the one thing Jesus says most often: “Don’t be afraid.” And this is not some self-help advice meant to puff up her ego. NO. Why? Because God never meant us to face our fear alone. From the Old Testament to the New, scripture is consistent on this – there is no place we can go to escape God’s loving presence, and He wants us to call on Him. When we admit our need for Him, he is endlessly forgiving of our failures – of our desire be self-sufficient and to ‘go it alone,’ of our judgments and anger toward our enemies, of our hiding from His power, of our foregoing His assistance, and of our acting as if He doesn’t exist. He stands ready at all times, offering us the safety of His eternal love. We need only to surrender to Him again. 

Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your right hand hold me fast. – Psalm 139: 7-10

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, I ‘will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:5

Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:8

As I have told my daughter, sometimes carrying this message of hope will make me unpopular. But I remember these words of Christ as well, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18). Knowing that He is with me always and experiencing His powerful love has created within me an unshakable joy and peace that is more than enough to get me through the tough moments. See, I can only serve one master, and I learned some time ago that serving myself is a dead end.

Holy Moments – Day 12 – London Town

I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.

I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.

Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.

Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.” 

But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartener came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.

My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.

She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”

Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.

I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.

Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.

But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.

What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.

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I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:

  • Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
  • Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
  • Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
  • I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
  • I love you.

Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.

Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.

 

Songs – As We Are

My daughter is sitting next to me….writing a song. She does this from time to time. This one is about listening to her own heart, making good choices, guided by Jesus, instead of by following what everyone else is saying. Oh how I pray she stays on this path.

Today her vision is clear, and therefore her words are too. I’ve been wanting to write as well. But the words haven’t come easily for me. I tell my daughter this, and she reminds me that a blog piece doesn’t have to be long. I smile because she knows me well. Usually, I am rather verbose.

‘Nevermind,’ I think. My only point is this. The Lord hears me – however I try to express myself. However I come to Him.

I was reminded of this just this morning as I fumbled my way through prayer time, scribbling in my journal what felt like nonsense. But before closing my Bible my eyes fell on 1 Corinthians 12:31 and there was a message for me:

“Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. The Way of Love. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” 

So I kept my eyes open as the hours passed by. Awaiting His Word. Looking for His Way. And David Crowder’s music kept popping up in my day. This song reminds me that I can approach God as I am. Anytime. Anywhere. To lay it all down. Because I am Beloved.

For Kathleen…Mom…A Gem

When did you first realize your mom was a person?

When did you understand….that she had once been a child…

Kathleen_Baby_1946

who experienced her own, unique childhood…

and became a young woman…

who had dreams, hopes, and fears…

which may or may not have been realized…

by the time she became your mother.

Did you…kind of think…her development ended with your birth?

I ask because, if you’re like me, the realization that your mother is (or, may she rest with the Lord, was) a full-fledged individual with her own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, successes and failures, has been a gradually dawning, but incredibly powerful one.

We celebrate Mother’s Day because we love mothers. According to the demands of the job, which they fulfill with devotion, mothers bring us into the world, welcome us, nurture us, feed us, teach us, encourage us, comfort us, discipline us, sacrifice for us, challenge us, and in short, care for us all their lives and ours. Once a woman recognizes that she wants to “mother” in any kind of capacity and follows-through on that God-given desire, limitless possibilities to love other people emerge. So we celebrate mothers and all they do and have done for us.

Gretchen_HSGrad_1994   Gretchen_Mom_Wedding

But did you catch the gist of that last paragraph? We typically think of moms in terms of what they do for us.

But my mom is a precious jewel. Not because of what she does and has done for me, and my sister, and my kids, and so many others…No. She’s precious just because she is.

Over time, I have been privileged to learn that it is better to listen than to talk. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” So when my mom starts telling me about her life, I pay attention. And this sparkling gem of a woman has shown me many things through the stories she tells. Here are just a few:

Enjoy the ride. My mom spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She liked to rollerskate down those enormous hills and stop herself by catching a rope at the bottom. I’m freaked out just thinking about it.

Know your strenKathleen_Sewinggths and use your skills. My mother has a quiet strength and is always willing to work hard. After she finished high school, there wasn’t money for college. So she worked to pay for it. She used her talented hands and the sewing skills she’d learned from her mother and grandmother to make gowns for sorority girls.

Always, always, always be kind. Some 30 years ago, my mother was in a post office when an elderly man cautiously approached and asked her for help with a form. He said his eyesight was poor. She noticed the form was for a change of address. As she filled it out, she kept asking him to repeat the street names; he was difficult to understand. Finally, she guessed on the spelling of each one and read them back to him. He just said, “Yes, yes, that’s fine.” Then she handed him the pen and showed him where to sign. He signed only an ‘X.’ It occurred her that this sweet, polite gentleman probably could not read.

Take a deep breath and stretch – yourself, your resources, your time. For as long as I can remember, my mom has worked or volunteered on a nearly full-time basis. And she pushed herself. I’ll never forget that day when I was in fourth grade in Jacksonville, Florida and a special delivery arrived: the **pink!** Buick my mother had won for her stellar Mary Kay sales. It was a dream come true – for both of us!

Kathleen_Gretchen_France_1993

Later, when I was in college (paid for by loans and my parents’ savings), she was single and money was very tight. But in my junior year, she still managed to come to France with my sister to visit me. I am so very humbled by this thought, because until recently when she explained this to me, I never knew…..how hard it was for her to get away from a rather low-paying job she endured to ensure her daughters’ educations….how far her commute was for that job….and what her monthly take-home actually was. Though she can certainly be thrifty, I was shocked. I asked her, “My gosh, Mom…How did you do it?” “Lots of soup,” she said.

Put your “face” on. My mother is always “put together.” Hair and makeup in place. She jokingly calls this her “face” and we say she won’t walk to the end of the driveway unprepared for the day (kidding, but only kind of!). But I’ve learned the secret behind this daily routine of hers. If you take time and care to present yourself well, you will present yourself well. You’ll feel better, more self-assured.

My mother’s also in good shape, doesn’t overindulge (chocolate doesn’t count!), and sees her doctor regularly. These things aren’t optional, and they don’t have to be avenues of narcissism either. It’s about loving yourself enough to treasure your health and well-being. Where’s the story for this one? Pictures are the proof. She’s in her late 60s, has never colored her hair, has low blood pressure, and low cholesterol. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, Remember who you belong to. My mom knows she’s a child of God and that He loves her. And she looks at everyone else in the world this way too. She knows people are on their own paths, so she’s not preachy. When she’s most open and her vulnerability is on full display, there a deep beauty in her humility before her Creator.

She passes on the love she’s been given…to her family…and her friends. If I said to her, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19), I know she’d say, “Amen.”

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One final thought…Last year, my mother was presiding over a convention of nearly 1,000 women, finishing her term as President of the Florida State Chapter of P.E.O., a sisterhood devoted to the education of women and an organization to which we both joyfully belong. She had served on the Board of Directors for seven years, moving up through the positions one by one to President, and having gotten to that level of leadership not by self-promotion, but having been nominated and selected by her sisters. There were myriad speakers and presentations over the 3-day event, but I was in deep awe of just one – my mom.

I wish I could find a word stronger than “proud” to describe how I felt. Her personality and skills were on full display, and all of the determination and perseverance that carried her through the ups and downs of her life had prepared her for this moment. It brought to mind that wonderful verse from Esther: “And who knows but that you have come…for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

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Every single life, every single woman’s life, has a purpose. In fact, it has many, many purposes, rippling out from the deep fountain of her soul. 

Thank you for being you, Mom.