Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”
Photo by Dawn Lamper. creationswap.com

Do you know what tomorrow is? November 13?

It’s World Kindness Day.

Haven’t heard of it?

Neither had I.

Not until I saw it on a “Content Calendar” created by Amazon for bloggers and other creatives like me. But apparently it’s been around since 1997 and even has an official flower, the Cosmos bipinnatus. Pretty little thing.

(In other news, National Button Day is coming up on Friday, November 16. Don’t miss it.)

Humor aside, perhaps we really do need a day every year to reconsider the merits of kindness. Especially now.

For clarity’s sake, let’s review the word’s definition.

Kindness is the quality or state of being kind – and that is, having a sympathetic, helpful, forbearing, or gentle nature. (Combined definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.)

We can all think of someone we know whom we consider to be kind. And a few whom we think are not.

We also know what it feels like to extend kindness, and to be on the receiving end of such a gift.

(A door held open, a garden bouquet, or some of Mom’s fresh cookies come to mind.)

And all too often, we write off certain people as “unkind.” The truth is, they probably do the same to us. We can all seem cold and unfeeling at times.

We know what kindness is and what it isn’t – and that we don’t see true kindness nearly enough.

In today’s world, strength and power are prized over self-sacrifice and humility – two components that are necessary to make an act kind.

Kindness goes farther than tolerance, which is also touted as a modern virtue. But tolerance of others – simply living side by side with them without doing them harm – does not require the deeper level of compassion that kindness brings to interactions.

Kindness creates connections; when it’s sustained over time, it builds bonds.

Kindness is about extending grace and love. It’s meaningful because it’s a movement of the heart.

The giver’s heart touches the heart of the receiver, and both feel the tug of something more.

A vastness…the Truth.

Our hearts are connected to our souls, friends, and our souls know what’s what….

That every person is to be valued beyond measure. Every person is imprinted with the eternal.

We are here to love and be loved. And acts of kindness remind us of that.

Few of us are actually cold as stone. Most of us beat with warmth at our core.

Imagine…. if we were really convening with our hearts, souls, and Maker before we set out each day….

If every decision was based on the principle that each person unequivocally mattered….

If we always took the time to look into one another’s eyes….

And listened for as long as necessary to find common ground until we could say in all sincerity, “I sympathize. I understand.”

That would be a kind world. We wouldn’t need World Kindness Day.

There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

It’s a picture I look at every day. One that sits on my bedroom dresser, reminding me that my job as a mother is not unique, and that if generations before me did, I too can get through any challenges I face today. Sometimes, I even think, ‘Perhaps these women are cheering me on.’

Who are they? They are my great grandmothers. Many greats, in fact.

But before we go there, let’s start here.

This is me with my mom, Kathleen, in January.

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Yes. She’s beautiful. In all ways.

Now, here is the photo – of the mothers we share – posed in 1924.

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The little girl is my mother’s mother – Elaine.

Diagonal to the upward right is her mother – Gretchen (my namesake).

The woman standing to the left, wearing glasses, is Gretchen’s mother – Ruth.

Seated, with Elaine on her lap, is Ruth’s mother – Sarah.

Seated on the far right is our matriarch, Sarah’s mother – Nancy.

Is a 5-generation photo like this one rare? Absolutely.

Is it notable that these women would want to document themselves for a future generation? I don’t think so.

I think that if every family’s women could have, they would have.

In fact, if we look closely enough, we find that they did.

In small, almost imperceptible ways, each one of our mothers – the immediate ones and the ones of long ago – have passed along a bit of themselves to each one of us.

My grandmothers each have stories, of course. But there’s not enough room for them here. So, consider with me for a moment, the role of names.

In Biblical times, lineage and names were very important. A name’s meaning was an indication of to whom a person belonged, their character, and calling. Today, the same can be true.

We do not live our lives in a vacuum. The same God who created us and our parents knows our every thought. Wouldn’t it make sense that His hand was in the choosing of our names?

In her book, Becoming Myself, Stasi Eldredge asks,

“Do you know what your given name means? It’s a good idea to find out. And if you don’t like the meaning you initially discover, press in to find out more about it. Ask God to reveal to you why he named you what he did.” (p. 222)

So let’s look my grandmothers’ names:

Nancy means grace.

Sarah means princess.

Ruth means companion or friend, and vision of beauty.

Gretchen is a derivative of Margaret, meaning pearl.

Elaine is a variant of Helen, meaning shining light.

Kathleen means pure.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that each name’s attributes are idealistic and intended to encourage its bearer to aim high.

And isn’t that God’s calling? For us to become like Him? With His support? To ultimately come home to Him?

I am descended from these women – born of each one of them. If I string my grandmothers’ names together – as a lineage banner over me of God’s love – I get a message that looks something like this:

I give you My Grace, dear Princess. Walk with me, be my constant Companion and my Friend, for I long to be yours and you are a Vision of Beauty, like a Pearl surrounded by ugliness. I have made you to be a Shining Light, a sign of my Pure and eternal Love. 

Sound strange?

Check out this echo in Song of Songs where the Groom (God) speaks to the Bride (Us):

You are all-beautiful, my beloved,

and there is no blemish in you.

Come from Lebanon, my bride…

how much more delightful is your love than wine…

You are an enclosed garden…a fountain sealed….

a well of water flowing fresh from Lebanon. 

– Song of Songs 4:7, 8, 10, 12, 15

This Mother’s Day, I looked back at my grandmothers with gratitude for the life and the love they extended to me down through the ages by virtue of their perseverance and hope. The names they gave their children are not only evidence of the desires of their hearts, but also of God’s heart.

Consider your name. Consider your family’s names, and how they whisper to you of Love.

The women in the photo I look at every day are more than just my grandmothers – they are examples of how I know that He loves me.

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.

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

Just Having Her Here

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Me and Mom.

Mom came for a 4-day visit and left yesterday. She lives in Florida and I’m in Maryland, so visits require scheduling and travel.

Over dinner Sunday night, we discussed family mysteries and unanswered questions – particularly the ones we wish we could ask the women who came before us and who have since passed on. There are many puzzle pieces missing, and while we have plans to do a little research, we know it may only get us so far.

Thinking about these women – my grandmothers and their sisters, all the ‘greats’ on my mother’s side – I wonder endlessly.

Which qualities did they like most in themselves? Which did they like least? Where, if at all, did they find emotional connection? With whom did they have their closest relationships? In times of trial, poverty, war, disease, abandonment, and the loss of husbands and children, where did they find strength? In several cases, we don’t know anything about their faith lives. So I wonder… How did they carry on? What did they believe?

And finally, what were their greatest successes? And by that I don’t mean the worldly definitions of success….I mean – at the end of their lives, what did they want to be remembered for? And do we remember them for that?

In the midst of this conversation, Mom turned to me and said,

“You know my story, right?”

I nodded weakly. It was such a loaded question. I know so much about her life, but to know her story? A person’s depth is endless. Another human being can hardly fathom it. How I’d love to say I fully know her, that I can understand her every experience, thought, heart and soul’s desire, but I am limited in my ability, and there is more to discover all the time. I hear something new every time we talk. Each encounter with every person I meet is like that – if I’m listening.

And Mom and me? Our time together is finite. Just like everyone’s. It’s not because of geography.

Her desire that I know her – that I know her story – is the great call of each soul. We all have this need to be fully known. And there is only One who can meet this need, who knows our story better than we do, who has been writing it with us and for us since before time began.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

-Luke 12:6-7

They are Yours…

Saturday night I received this photo from my dad via text message.

Then he wrote:

“Just left Seattle for 7 day cruise to Alaska. Our first real vacation since 2002….Have a great week!  We will!!” 

There was a party hat emoticon at the beginning of the message, and a smiley face at the end. I think it’s safe to say he and his wife were looking forward to this trip.

And at 8:15 last night as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I realized that at that moment, both my mom and her husband, as well as my mother- and father-in-law were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. One couple to Dublin, the other to Budapest. It’s my mom’s first trip to Ireland – place of her grandparents’ birth, and yesterday was my mother-in-law’s birthday. Great way to celebrate, right? Special days for two women I cherish.

I’ve known about these three trips for quite some time; they’ve been marked on my calendar for weeks. But having all three sets of our parents out of the Continental U.S. at the same time feels a bit strange. At 43, my husband and I are grown-ups (at least our kids think so), and we have been for awhile, but a part of me still wants to know that Mom and Dad can be accessed easily. If we need them. I know we are very, very blessed to still have all of our parents.  But knowing something doesn’t always protect you from your emotions. And with two sets above the Atlantic, anxiety started to rear its ugly head.

The churning inside only lasted a couple of minutes, as my mind started to explore the what-ifs. But I cut off the worries by reaching higher.

“Lord, I trust in You. I know You love them so much more than I do. Lord, I trust in You. Please keep them safe. Lord, I trust in You.” 

The peace which surpasses all understanding came, as He promises us it will when we put our faith in Him. And when my mind starts to get the better of me, I’ll repeat that truthful refrain.

Lord, I trust in You. 

Bump in the Road

image“Mom!” she yells. “Why are you turning around?”

“There’s a sign back there. I want to take a picture of it. For my blog.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

And for once. For once! She doesn’t press. ‘Because’ is enough of an answer. I thank the Lord for this small mercy.

I don’t know how I could explain it to her anyway….The many reasons why I called her grandmother yesterday, just because I needed my own mom for a few moments…

When I dialed Mom in Florida I looked at the clock and assumed I’d need 10 minutes to vent – to really get it all out. Ten turned into 30, and Mom listened patiently – to all the ways the state of the world had gotten me down. She offered only words of encouragement, a tiny bit of advice, and the gentle reminder that, “The devil loves to see us stewing in anger.”

Deep sigh…I know. I KNOW. And don’t our moms often tell us the truth? Whether we really want to hear it or not?

And then later I see a sign. Literally. A SIGN. Telling me again that all the things I vented to my mom about are just BUMPS. Bumps. And I have been forewarned.

This world is not perfect. And it will continually disappoint me because I was not made for it. I was made for more.

I crave the purity and loveliness of the One in Whom there are no imperfections. And so no matter what might fall or spring up in my path today, I must keep my eyes on eternity and on Him whose perfect sacrifice has washed me clean from the ugliness I loathe in myself and others.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33

Look again at this photo. On the left there’s a father with his child on his shoulders. Dad carries the weary child, and from the new vantage point, the child can see a bit farther. It’s exactly the way my Father in Heaven wants to carry me. And you.

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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.”

Kathleen_Aidan  Kathleen_Kiss_Cate

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)

Gretchen_Kathleen2014PEO

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.