“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.

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

The small voice spoke from the silence of the back seat.

“I am thankful for Mike.”

“I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say?”

“I’m thankful for Mike. He told me how to get the cars on.”

“Which cars?”

“The new ones. For my Anki Overdrive. I didn’t know how to get them on right and he told me today at lower lot. I’m so thankful for him.”

“Oh. Oh yes, that was certainly nice of him. So, you’re thankful for him, and his friendship.”

“Yes.”

End of discussion.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see my little boy smiling to himself.

My son received a car and track system from Santa at Christmas, and got a couple new components for his eighth birthday this past weekend. I didn’t know he had any questions about how these supplementary pieces would work, because he never had questions before. But with kids, sometimes things are hidden from you.

In any case, he has a friend. A friend who helped him. Gave him a few directions while they stood in line, waiting for their parents to pick them up from school.

And my young son is vocalizing his gratitude about that friendship.

Letting his gratitude LIVE in his heart, and not be a fleeting moment of forgotten, “Thanks.”

Wonderful.

Why do we – as adults – make so little of gratitude?

And find it so hard to verbalize it?

Or allow ourselves to get hung up….

On what others might think if we just said the words, “Your kindness means so much to me”?

Or on the timing of such a remark?

Or on the “appropriateness” of it?

Why do we let the moments that touch us – go?

Isn’t life lived in the tiny, every day moments?

Shouldn’t we be most grateful when they are undeniably beautiful?

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

For My Aunt, Who “Mothers” Me

For My Aunt, Who “Mothers” Me

My aunt is not a “mother” in the technical sense, but she has a mother’s wisdom which she has used to guard me zealously.

Graduation from UCLA Law School, 1976.

A corporate attorney who graduated from UCLA Law School in 1976, my Aunt Sue is one those razor-sharp legal minds who broke ground for the women of my generation, showing the world that female attorneys are every bit as savvy-smart as any male counterpart. Growing up, I wanted to be just like her. I even looked like her. Until 1996, I was positive I would follow in her footsteps and go to law school.

To ensure I was on the right path, I first became a corporate paralegal at a large, conservative firm in NYC just after college graduation. I worked on mergers and acquisitions – “deals” as we called them.

In that year, Aunt Sue and I had a few important late-night conversations. She offered practical professional advice which I now understand, also had broader meaning. “Dress for the job you want to have,” she told me, “but make the suit your own.” Heeding her words, I learned to bring femininity to my wardrobe; accessorizing starched navy and black suits with scarves, jewelry, and cute shoes. She taught me that you can do a job and still be you. 

One of my favorite photos. Me and Aunt Sue, 1977.

When I told her I was anxious about putting millions of dollars worth of bank notes through copy machines, she said, “Remember – no one’s life is in your hands.” It was true. I was not a surgeon. None of the flashy bankers or company owners was going to die in a 20th floor conference room because of my work. “The worst that could happen is that someone loses money,” she stated plainly. And money preservation was not part of my job description, anyway. I wasn’t at the negotiating table, and even if I were – it was only money. Despite all her success, my aunt always knew that money was just a means to an end – not the end in itself. 

But the best piece of advice she gave me was actually a discovery exercise: “Figure out who holds the power for you.” In my position, who had the power to help me achieve success? I pondered this for days, thinking it must be the attorneys I was working with. They could give me good recommendations for law school and beyond.

But it turned out, the real power was held by people who worked 15 floors below us.

In 1994 and 1995, there was an enormous amount of paperwork for mergers and acquisitions sent out to signing parties for review at various stages of a transaction. With anywhere from 5 to 35 signatories on each deal, my job as a paralegal was to put the documents (approx. 30 of them) into a set which could then be copied, collated, and tabbed for distribution to the parties. Usually, the final versions of each document came together in the late afternoon; they needed to be copied and Fedexed out by 7:30 p.m.

I soon learned that the guys in the copy room “held the power.” If they didn’t hustle, rancor would fall on me and the youngest attorneys. So I made sure that I did everything I could to get my “jobs” to them quickly, and then, to show my appreciation. I knew the copy guys’ names, a few things about their families, and when time was really tight, I got into the fight with them.

One night I was standing at an industrial copier at 7:15, reloading paper bins and prepping Fedex boxes when I got a massive paper cut on my left hand. Blood ran down my arm, but I had to keep going, so I raised that hand above my head and did what I could with my right. Soon, the copy guys spotted me, and the next thing I knew, someone was bandaging up my hand. The Fedex guy appeared and we loaded his hand truck with 30 or so boxes. I was a mess of gratitude at the end: a skirted, heeled blonde with an untucked shirt, askew hair, and a clunky mass of white gauze on my left hand. I was not the picture of professionalism. But I had been successful in my job and I knew who to thank, and that was very satisfying.

It was a feeling that I experienced many times that year. The equation was reflex: the more I invested in my relationship with the copy room guys, the more they helped me. I never missed a deadline.

My aunt taught me that the people who “hold the power,” deserve our gratitude and respect. They are often the hidden ones, the crew behind the scenes, and we have a moral obligation to see them as the individuals they are. We must give credit where it is due, and honor the contributions of all. What my aunt was really saying was, “Succeed. But be kind.”

Trying out corporate law as a paralegal before “buying” into law school loans turned out to be a wise decision. In the end, I decided against a law career. I feared I was disappointing my Aunt Sue, but we are different people.

And that’s how it always is between mothers and their kids, isn’t it? What we share brings us close, but cherishing the uniqueness in one another cements our bond. 

Today, my aunt and I talk all the time, discussing the things that matter to both of us: family, friends, love of animals. We try to live joyfully, embracing the lessons of the past, but living in the present. I rely on her for strength and assurance, and am grateful for the way she shepherds our family through changing times.

Me and my aunt with our husbands. January 2017.

That has never been more apparent than in these last few years, when she so graciously and selflessly cared for my grandparents at the ends of their lives, and in the last couple months, when she has managed the long and often tedious process of honoring them in their passing – sorting through memorabilia, dispersing belongings, helping us all to say goodbye.

My Aunt Sue never had children, but she “mothers” beautifully nevertheless, and I honor her this Mother’s Day.

Why Ugly Decorations Are Good

Why Ugly Decorations Are Good

Two unofficial members of our household made their seasonal debuts at our home yesterday, so I thought I’d take a moment to introduce them to you on this, day four of my Month of Good News 2016.
This is Lucy, Guardian of the Front Porch.

lucy

She’s been with us for about a decade. I think I got her at Michael’s craft store for about $6, back when I was trying to make sure our oldest son gained an awareness of the changing seasons. He and this little scarecrow were about the same size, but she didn’t acquire a name until my daughter came along and dubbed her ‘Lucy.’ The name stuck, and now our youngest son has an oddly strong attachment to her.

And this is Cheese.

cheese

I don’t know who named him. But he is a remnant of my brother-in-law’s surprise Halloween-themed 40th birthday party, which was held in 2001. My husband insisted that we keep this lovely trinket as a souvenir. Once, I suggested we get rid of it – an idea for which I was nearly tarred and feathered.

Little did I know that Cheese would become our children’s all-time favorite Halloween decoration. It moves around the house throughout October as the kids desperately try to recreate the famous “Great Shriek” scene of a few years back, when Cheese was placed in my bed. I encountered it unwittingly and responded accordingly.

As you can see, I have a love/hate relationship with Lucy and Cheese. We have other knickknacks that are better looking, and they are displayed as well. But when the kids begin to feel festive in October, these are the two decorations they are most excited to see. From now until January 6, there will be many kinds of holiday embellishments in our home. Thus, Lucy and Cheese ring in the holiday season – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

Today I was looking for a quote about holidays and found this one from Philip Andrew Adams, an Australian humanist, social commentator, broadcaster, and filmmaker:

“To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance.”

I don’t know Adams, so I can’t say whether we’d agree on other topics, but I do think holidays are a time of reassurance, especially for the young and young at heart.

The traditions we keep – like putting out certain decorations – remind our spirits that there is a continuity that cannot be shaken. This speaks Truth to our souls, in a time when we need solidity and comfort. 

For this, I am grateful. Because even if they are ugly, decorations show we have reason to celebrate and give thanks. Good news, for sure.

Finding the Essence of Holiness

Finding the Essence of Holiness
Assateague
Horses on the beach at Assateague Island, July 2016.

I started the day with thanks. The best way for me to start any day.

But this wasn’t just any day.

Some friends of ours had invited my kids and I down to their campsite at Assateague Island to spend an afternoon on the beach and enjoy a couple meals.

Ever since I was a little girl, when I poured over the book Misty of Chincoteague (and all the others in the ‘Misty’ series by Marguerite Henry), I had wanted to visit the islands where Spanish galleons had wrecked and descendants of their live cargo – horses – still roam wild and free.

Today was going to be a monumental day.

It turned out to be more than I’d dreamed.

We drove 2 hours from Annapolis, had lunch at the camp, and crossed the dunes onto the beach. The sight took my breath away.

Horses. Everywhere.

Bays. Chestnuts. Paints. All gorgeous. Breathtakingly gorgeous.

In that moment, I thanked God again for this day, and was reminded of the words of Anne Lamott in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.

There is ecstasy in paying attention.

You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world,

where you see in everything the essence of holiness,

a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. (p. 100)

It was impossible to look on these creatures, surviving here in this unlikely place for hundreds of years, and not see the presence of the Creator.

But that wasn’t my only moment of joyful surprise for the day.

Mid-afternoon, I saw an older woman on a boogie board taking on some huge waves and it looked like so much fun I couldn’t help myself. I ran right out there too. I never even stopped to think about how I looked: pale-skinned 40-something woman who bears all the evidence of her four decades and having birthed three kids. And I’m so glad I didn’t. Letting myself wonder about what goes on in other people’s heads robs me of the fullness of Life intended for me.

The surf at Assateague pounds the beach with tremendous force. These were not gentle lapping waves AT ALL. As I jumped into the sea and the first two swells crested, I lost my footing. The aggressive waves threw me down headfirst – one right after the other! But did I quit? No!!!  I got back on my board, sandy hair and all, and headed out to sea.

The next 20 minutes were exhilarating – riding the whitecaps and kicking back out for more – as were the following 5 when I strolled onto the beach and flopped down with all three of my slack-jawed kids. Each one kept sneaking peeks at me like they’d never seen me before in their lives. Finally, my daughter summed up what they were all thinking.

“I can’t believe you just did that, Mom.”

Yes, I did, kid. Yes, I did. And it felt so good.

Giving thanks opens us up. It changes our outlook, removes our inward gaze.

It’s kind of a sin when you think about it. To not give thanks with everything you can muster, for every good thing that comes your way.

I’m so glad I took every opportunity I could that day.

Every perfect gift is from above,

coming down from the Father of lights,

with whom there is no alteration

or shadow caused by change.

– James 1:17

For a brief video of the horses being startles by my kids’ boogie board being washed ashore, click here.

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

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We attended a wedding and got a thank-you note. But I wasn’t expecting one. The bride and groom had already sent us a note for the gift we’d given them. ‘Hmm,’ I wondered as I opened it, ‘maybe they were worried they had overlooked us, so they’re sending another one.’

Nope.

“Thank you both so much for joining us as we celebrated our big day. We hope you both had a great time as well!!”

Who does this?

Who spends postage to thank guests for their presence, instead of their presents?

Almost no one. And that’s why it’s so remarkable. And sweet.

The truth is, we are grateful to have special people with us, in good times, bad times, and in-between times. The trouble is, we neglect to tell them we are thankful that they are there.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Something to think about.

A Good Time to Thank a Husband

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DC Metro (fisheye) by ChrisDag https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdag/

The 10 a.m. Metro train had just pulled out of New Carrollton station and my friend Marcia* and I – stay-at-home moms – were standing in the aisle, holding on tight to our kids – 7 total between the two of us. On this temperate July day in 2010, we had decided to take them into DC to the Hirshhorn Museum. My husband was already at work in the district, and hers was in Eastern Europe on business.

Initially, I didn’t give it much thought when Marcia’s phone rang. But I could soon tell from the lilt and excitement in her voice that her husband was calling, and I remembered it had been several days since they had been able to talk. I was amazed by what happened next.

Handing the phone to her kids, she said, “Daddy’s calling! And he can’t talk long, but tell him thank you for working so hard and for making it possible for us to enjoy this special day.”

In turn, each one of her four kids greeted their dad with enthusiasm, thanks, and a happy, brief recounting of what was going on in their lives.

The entire conversation lasted about 5 minutes. And as we slid into the underground tunnel, I was gobsmacked by the deep conviction I felt.

When was the last time I had thanked my husband for his hard work and for making our lives at home so comfortable?

There is an acceptable and shameful practice in our society today of badmouthing men. It’s often subtle. You know how it goes. “My husband just doesn’t know how to _________,” or “Men just don’t get it” – whatever the ‘it’ of that moment is. These conversations are always tinged with an air of female superiority, and you don’t have to know much about the nature of God to know He wouldn’t approve.

God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:27

I’m as guilty as any woman of this. I’ve made sexist comments about men that I wholeheartedly regret. Especially now that I have two sons who are among the greatest treasures of my life, and I rely on my husband night and day to help me understand the way these boys think!

But the larger issue here is that the insidiousness of ingratitude threatens to tear apart the foundation of marriages. This works both ways of course, but a woman’s affirmations to and thanksgiving for her husband can go a long way toward bridging a gap that might be gradually growing between them.

And saying, “thank you,” when we don’t feel like it, or when we also want to be acknowledged for our contributions is hard, yes. But divine help is offered to us.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian says, “You have to know that whatever has crept into your relationship so silently and stealthily as to not even be perceived as a threat until it is clearly present–such as making idols of your career, your dreams, your kids, or your selfish desires–can be removed. You have to trust that God is big enough to accomplish all this and more.” (p. 19-20)

So what are my idols? Comfort? Free time? Fear and worry? A desire for recognition or accomplishment? Books, TV, Facebook, etc. – entertainment of any sort?

An idol is anything that I prioritize ahead of honoring God. And I know from experience that if I’m not putting my relationship with God first, then my marriage – which is a blessing from God – will suffer.

I see most clearly when I regain the right perspective: God is the Maker, Sustainer, and Giver of all good things. And when I listen to Him and give Him thanks, my heart is transformed from stone to flesh, and I can be the loving wife I want to be.

*Not her real name.

Holy Moments – Day 24 – Thunder Road

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How do you know when everything is right with the world? For right now. Not the big world – out there. I mean the little world. The one that matters most to you. The one within the walls of your home?

One of the ways I know it is when the people I love express themselves with music.

We were driving home from Philadelphia on Friday night, having spent a relaxing and very happy Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, and then relishing an afternoon of catching up with a close friend whose camaraderie with my husband spans nearly three decades.

We had been fed – in every sense of the word – and I could feel that all was well when the conversation started to wind down and we turned to music. The shuffled iPhone selections weren’t quite as satisfying as they had been, probably because they weren’t being ignored any longer. My husband grabbed the phone and tried out the voice command ‘Siri.’

“Play ‘Thunder Road.'”

‘Thunder Road.’ I couldn’t help but break out into a huge grin as the opening notes hit the speakers.

I pictured the very first Bruce Springsteen concert I’d been to – in 1999 – with my husband and the friend we’d just visited that afternoon. We’d reveled in a 3-hour concert during which Springsteen took NO breaks while still insisting that his band did. I’d never seen a performer so committed and passionate, never realized the depth of his lyrics. We were leaving the stadium when our friend declared, “That was a religious experience.”

An appreciation for beauty can do that to you.

‘Thunder Road’ finished playing.

“Play ‘Jungleland,'” my husband said, and he told our daughter to take off her headphones.

She plays piano, and she liked hearing the piano in this song so much that we played it again. There were other songs, too, a panoply of lovely and lively sound that stirred the minds and hearts of the five people in our car, carrying us home and bringing us together.

Beauty and love will do that – bring people together. And right there, all is well, and we can see the Something Greater than ourselves.

 

Holy Moments – Day 23 – Thanks for the Bounce

He was intent on taking his Spider-Man wallet to the mall. It wouldn’t even fit in the tiny back pocket of his jeans, so I assured him I’d keep his money safe in my purse. All $.75 of it.

What he thought he’d buy with those five nickels, three dimes and twenty pennies, I have no idea. But he wanted to find something.

My husband and oldest son were camping for the weekend, so I had taken my little guy and his older sister to the mall on Saturday to get some early Christmas shopping done. And wow – were we productive! We spent 2 1/2 hours moving from store to store, searching and finding – it was one of the best days shopping with kids I’ve ever had! The best part was, I didn’t hear a single complaint. Not a one. We were  in the Christmas spirit and the second to last week of November hadn’t even started. Miracles are everywhere….

Our last stop was in the Marbles Brain Store, where the kids were looking for a gift for their older brother. While trying out every gadget in the place, my sweet little guy emerged from a corner with one of those magical, classic toys. A blue rubber bouncy ball.

His eyes were aglow with delight.

“Mom – I want to buy this.”

“Well, it costs $1.99 and you only have $.75 in your wallet. That isn’t enough.”

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His face fell, and it about broke my heart.

“I tell you what. I’ll buy it for you, and when we get home, you can pay me back from your piggy bank.”

“Really?!!”

He was SO surprised. This kind of thing had never been done before. Mom buying a toy – for me! – spontaneously?!? Unheard of.

“Yes.”

“OK!!!! Thanks, Mom!”

When we got home and I took the ball out of the bag for him, he ran off giggling. I had no intention of making him pay me back. At this point, he’s 5, and not earning the coins that are in his bank; they are just pieces he’s picked up here and there. We can discuss larger lessons about hard work and sacrifice when he’s older. For the moment, I was content to just to see him enjoy this gift.

But what surprised me, was what happened next. Hardly a minute had passed when he came running back into the room and threw his arms around my waist and squeezed. Just squeezed. A good, loooooong, hug-squeeze.

“Thank you SO much, Mommy,” he said.

Hearing those five words was absolutely the very best part of my day. And therein was my lesson.

If I want to warm the heart of The Giver, all I really need to do is to run to Him with arms outstretched and a deeply grateful heart. I couldn’t pay Him back for all the blessings He’s given me if I had all the riches in the world.

I wish you and yours a joy-filled and blessed Thanksgiving.

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.