Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived
Me and some of our “Founders.” Having a bit of fun in Des Moines, Iowa,
at the 74th Convention of the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, September 2019.

Are you choosing what’s significant over what’s short-lived?

Alright. It’s a loaded question. And I bet you’re caught for a second – not sure if you want to read on.

Hear me out.

I spent a good portion of the last week in Des Moines with 6,000 of my sisters from the P.E.O. International Sisterhood celebrating the 150th anniversary of our founding. We hail from across the U.S. and Canada and every year give out millions in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to women pursuing higher education. We also have our own college – Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri – which we’ve owned outright and supported since 1927. Formed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869 by seven bright young ladies at a time when women’s education was hardly a foregone conclusion, we have never forgotten to be grateful to God for opportunity. We are drawn together by the core values and virtues to which we adhere: faith, love, purity, justice and truth. Check us out at www.peointernational.org.

Officers are chosen from among our sisterhood of 258,000, and Friday evening, I was standing with one of Iowa’s past state presidents who had been charged with the enormous responsibility of bringing so many women together for 4 days of meetings and parties. Though she had done a brilliant, brilliant job – she was, of course, exhausted – and still considering all the ways that each day could have gone better.

No matter how much goes right (and there was an overwhelming preponderance of excellency here), you will always catch wind of every little thing that doesn’t.

So I encouraged her.

“Look around,” I said. “Just look at all these women enjoying one another and making meaningful connections. Real connections. That’s what matters. You did this. Well done.”

I wanted to elevate the reality of the situation for her, because too often we lose the significant as we chase the ephemeral.

If you are like me…

  • you’ve got a to-do list a mile long
  • you haven’t called your best friend this week
  • you haven’t connected with that new friend you promised you would
  • but your phone is almost never beyond arm’s reach
  • somehow, you have found time to look at Facebook or Instagram…and you think you know what’s going on in acquaintances’ lives….and that matters to you….

Consistently, we are choosing the short-lived over the significant.

Where are our priorities?

Four days of deep, eye-to-eye contact with women I love from all over the country – some I know very well, some I would give anything to know better – reminded me that THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.

Working on a long-term vision together.

Revisiting our ideals.

Or just sharing the day-to-day aches and pains.

Breathing new life into one another.

A quick text or a “your kids are so cute” comment on social media is no substitute for longer, substantive, and yes – face-to-face conversations.

We do not intimately know one another until we sit in the same space, hear the tremor in one another’s voices, watch and clasp each other’s hands, and see the crinkles at the corners of our eyes as we speak – or don’t speak – of love, woe, and everything in between.

We use the excuse that we are busy and can’t “get it together.”

We wear it like a badge of honor.

But c’mon. We know better.

We know small efforts yield big results.

So let’s just start.

Let’s get together. For coffee. For conversation. For the sake of love. And life. Women’s education and a sisterhood that endures. The future of the planet. Some other lofty goal that God has put on your heart.

For all that we know is good.

Choosing the significant over the short-lived.

For real.

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.