One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

The burnt chicken on the cover speaks to me. Maybe because it sums up my current mojo…My mojo for like, the last 15 years.

When this book was released in the spring of 2018, it was the week of my youngest son’s First Communion, and despite the fact that family were coming in from 4 states to celebrate, I made a little time to read it – late at night, curled up in my bed, laughing out loud – because I just couldn’t put down this page-turner, Jennifer Fulwiler’s, One Beautiful Dream.

Having recently ‘met’ Jen through podcasts of her daily Sirius XM radio show and our shared connection in #hopewriters, I knew I couldn’t miss out on this book. I too am caught up trying to navigate the treacherous terrain where family life meets personal passions, and I desperately wanted to know how to say yes to them both.

Jennifer is a master storyteller with a coach’s spirit, and this book did not disappoint. Through this memoir, she has lifted me up – painting a raw and honest portrait of motherhood, faith, and a desire for something more.

After describing a harrowing supermarket experience in Chapter 1 (achieved while pregnant with 2 toddlers in tow) she writes, “On the average day I found myself exhausted, my brain running in the red zone like a car about to overheat….All of my personal goals had been buried for so long that I was starting to forget what they were.”

Amen to that. I have been there and you probably have too. This friends, is a woman I get. She is unflinchingly real.

Life with a young family feels – more often than not – like only partially controlled chaos, but there is deep and meaningful beauty in it, and Jennifer Fulwiler has found it. As a fellow Catholic convert, mother, writer, and survivor of disastrous supermarket visits and pointed (i.e. ‘unsolicited’) advice from “Green Bean Ladies,” at the supermarket, I salute Jen in this achievement. I love it.

Oh – and Jennifer? – if I were ever to come to your home, I would devour your burnt chicken and bless the hands that prepared it, too.

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.

Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:

“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”

Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.

“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”

“What?!!” I feigned surprise.

She smiled.

“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.

“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”

“Not really.”

“Huh. Who does?”

Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.

“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.

Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”

“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”

“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”

She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.

Right away he responded with this.

I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.

You are going to do great…I have faith in you…

Did I read that right?

I read it again. And again.

After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.

A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.

Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives. 

When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?

Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.

Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.

Or so I keep telling myself.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.

My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.

In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.

And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

I made my little boy cry last night, and I am not proud of it.

It was a typical Thursday. We live in Annapolis and my daughter had Irish dance class in Columbia, which is about 40 minutes away. (Yes, for this particular style of dance, her experience level, and the coaching, the drive is worth it.) So – I was bringing her and another dancer home, when she announced that she was hungry. Understandable at 6 pm after an intense workout. I put my plans for reheating the leftover Mexican casserole on the back burner, so to speak.

We stopped at Chick Fil A. There was another passenger in the car: my 8-year old son. He’d been with us for the entire trip up to dance and back (as he often is) and I was fairly sure he was hungry too. So I fed everyone.

The other dancer’s mother picked her up and we headed home, but not before making yet one more stop to drop off some paperwork for my oldest child’s Boy Scout troop that was due before the coming weekend.

We got home at 7:45. I told my little guy that his dad would be late, and to get a shower. He obeyed me. Then I sat down with my oldest son (age 15, who himself had just arrived home from school and crew practice) to discuss his day while we ate the aforementioned casserole.

At 8:15 my youngest walked into the kitchen and propped his skinny arms up on the far side of the island. I turned around from the sink, hung up the towel, and faced him.

“Ok. So you’ve got 15 minutes before bed. Want to go read a bit before lights out?”

Surprise, bewilderment, and sadness crossed his face all at once.

“Aren’t we going to have dinner?”

I was taken aback.

“You ate at Chick Fil A. Are you still hungry?”

His eyes began to flood. He nodded slightly.

I handed him a banana from the fruit bowl on the counter between us.

“Oh, bud. Come sit down.”

We walked over to the table, and as he slid into a chair and opened his banana, his welling eyes spilled over and he began a full-on cry.

“What’s wrong?” I stammered. But even as I said it, I knew.

“Is it about having dinner? Or just being together…at dinner?”

“Being together,” he managed to say.

I was convicted in where I’d wronged him, and also deeply thankful that all the sacrifices my husband and I make to force as many family dinners a week as we can are paying off. Dinner is often late and preceded by many “appetizers” – plates of cheese and crackers or apples meant to “hold you over” until everyone is home and able to sit down. But our kids love to be together. We are bonding a family, and this little boy’s crying heart was proof.

I coaxed him into my lap, grateful that he’s still small enough to kind-of, almost, fit there, and snuggled with him.

We talked it through. I apologized for all the running around, for failing to explain the day’s turn of events better to him as they were happening, and for not paying closer attention to how he was feeling along the way. And I told him that being together was important to ALL of us.

As a down payment on my renewed promise to reconnect with him, I let him stay up an extra 15 minutes, and we read together. Actually, he read to me, which is what he wanted, and I tell you, after all that driving, it was sort of nice to lie on his carpet and hear a story about a brave mouse going on an adventure.

I’m reading a great book right now called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. Marx is a journalist who spends a year with football coach Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colt, and his team at Gilman High School. The book was published back in 2004, but the lessons for raising kids – especially boys – are timeless and perhaps more important today than ever. Ehrmann argues that our lives are to be other-centered rather than self-centered, and that we find purpose when we choose this path.

When we focus on building and sustaining meaningful relationships over success by any other measure, our lives are more fulfilling and we find the satisfaction that we crave. Empathy is the key. We must develop empathy for one another – the ability to be touched by the pain and plight of others.

I looked at my son and wanted him to know that he was understood. Known. Heard. And cared for.

All it took was a couple moments and a renewed commitment to pay attention to the things that he values. Time with his family. Hugs and laughter at dinner every night.

I could do that. Just BE with him.

And you can do it too.

There is someone you know who has a silent crying heart right now. And your empathy is the key to changing things just a tiny bit for him or her.

Will you stop your endless driving, and sit and listen today?

A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.”

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

We WANTED It – Parting Thoughts on Philly’s Super Bowl Win

We WANTED It – Parting Thoughts on Philly’s Super Bowl Win
Photo by Fredy Martinez on Unsplash

So we won the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia triumphed.

And people were congratulating me this week.

As if I had anything to do with it!?!!

Well, I suppose if you count the prayers, hand-wringing, fist-punches, screams, and vaulting I did from our couch during the game, then maybe I did.

My explosive reactions were almost as entertaining for my family as both teams’ impressive plays and the better-than-usual commercials.

It began with the first Eagles touchdown.

I leapt off the couch, clapping and yelling at the top of my lungs….

And sensed that the room was strangely quiet.

I looked down to see four faces staring back at me in amazement.

My husband chuckled.

“What?” I said, “They scored! THEY SCORED!!”

I started high-fiving everyone with both hands as my daughter asked, laughing, “Mom?!!? What’s happening to you?”

Admittedly, the display was out of (current) character for me.

“I’m sorry. The cheerleader in me just came out.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how deeply I empathized with everyone watching back home in the City of Brotherly Love.

I hadn’t realized that….I truly felt what was so simply and perfectly expressed on an Eagles billboard I’d seen on the highway in PA the day before.

WE WANT IT.

It was time for the city to have the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and WE WANTED IT – BAD.

When the the game ended with Brady’s last throw meeting a mayhem of players in the end zone, my husband yelled, “That’s it!! That’s it!!” and we all screamed and cried, reveling in victory. The little celebratory scene in our family room was re-enacted millions of times over hundreds of square miles.

And yesterday was – literally – the Eagles’ day in the sun. I wasn’t there in the throng of a million loyal fans, but I poured over my family’s and friends’ photos of the city’s parade, exulting in what one friend called “the enormity of this thing.”

Indeed. The enormity of the thing.

Have you ever wanted something SO BADLY and wished for it SO LONG that when you finally get it you’re somewhat flabbergasted?

The excitement is just….well, mind-blowingly fun. You feel like a kid on Christmas morning. There’s almost no other way to describe it. You want it to last and last.

It’s too bad that every day life can’t bring the elation of this week, but if it did we couldn’t appreciate the joys of heaven.

Meantime, we rest in this…

Something we know for sure….

God loves Philadelphia. (wink wink)

And I’m fairly certain there will be Super Bowl wins for everyone in the great beyond.

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!

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.

Is Your Schedule a Gold Mine?

Is Your Schedule a Gold Mine?
Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Do you think of your schedule as a gold mine?

Let me explain.

If you are an adult – and especially a parent of multiple kids – you’ve almost certainly faced (at least once) a constrictive schedule dominated by ‘who needs to go where, for what, and when.’

Right?

Two weeks ago I found myself in a surprising position. A schedule that for years had allowed me to serve in a volunteer leadership position on Thursday nights suddenly steamrolled my plans. As the fall sports schedules were released and carpools were worked out, I challenged myself:

How can I drive from Columbia to Annapolis, make dinner, and handle homework questions in between 5:45 and 6:45?

I know! I will use the slow cooker and pray there is never a traffic jam.

Yeah, right.

I have worked logistical miracles before, but seriously?

Thankfully, I came to the sober realization that I needed to step down from leadership and take a back seat to my kids’ plans for Thursday nights.

I tell you this because my first inclination was to say, “I take a back seat to my children,” but the Plan for me was: You get to spend more time one-on-one with them.

See the change?

How often do you view your schedule and say:

Wow! Today I get to go to the dentist!

I get to walk my dog two times!

I get to cheer up a friend!

I get to coach my child on handling disappointment!

I get to give a presentation at work!

I get to choose my own attitude!

My kids are at three very different and important life phases right now: elementary school, middle school, and high school. Their needs are discrete. They often don’t share details with me.

But if I am fully present to them – I hear what they don’t say directly.

I get to listen more.

In the last few days I’ve heard…

  • My second grader say that he visualizes drawing red circles on the ceiling with lasers, and I learn that his mind is like a painter’s, creating anew in the abstract.
  • My middle-schooler say that a teacher asked her to show a new student around, and I hear in her voice that this has made her feel valued and confident.
  • My high-school freshman explain that any boy who would someday want to date his sister must be “smart, kind, and considerate – opening doors for her on dates and stuff,” and I understand that despite his constant chiding of her, he feels protective.

Observations like this are gold – gold mined in the quiet moments between life’s scheduled events.

Our days are filled with opportunities to participate in creation, because we are made in the image of the Creator. His imprint is within each one of us, and He has given us the ability to work in collaboration with Him.

Our choices can work with His plan for our best interests – or against it.

And when we go with Him, blessings abound.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11