Tell Somebody

I guess I’ve always been a writer.

Somewhere in elementary school (I think 3rd grade) there was an essay contest. The prize was the most famous Care Bear of all, Tenderheart Bear. The topic was something along the line of telling about someone who loves you a lot. That was a no-brainer.

tenderhart bear

Tenderheart Bear

 

I wrote about my mom. I wrote my essay about how she was simply the best mom ever. Not just really great like regular moms, but over-the-top great because she was both mom and dad to me. I told about how she did all the jobs of a mom and dad and she did them all well. I wish I had a copy of that essay now. Those written words are long gone, but the feelings behind them are exactly the same. She was the very best mom any girl could ask for. She raised 7 children, most of them with a not-super-helpful husband, and the rest of them without one at all, after he passed away when I was very young.

I remember the way the tears were perched precariously inside the rims of my teacher’s eyes when she explained that I had won the contest with my essay about my mom. In a matter-of-fact way I told her, “I knew I would win! I have the best mom ever. And now everyone knows it.”

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My momma and birthday cake. What could be better?

I had my picture taken at school with that Tenderheart Bear. He’s gone somewhere now too. But I will never forget that day. I felt proud. I felt important. But not really because of my essay or because I won the contest. I felt proud that even though I didn’t have a mom and a dad, my mom by herself was super amazing. And I was getting the chance to tell somebody about it. Everybody.

 

Today, my amazing momma would be 80 years old. EIGHTY. It’s been exactly four years now that I got the sudden call telling me she was gone. Just like that. My amazing momma was no longer part of this world. No longer part of my world.

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Easter 1983. The only time I recall ever going to church with my mom.

 

It doesn’t matter at all that I am a grown-ass woman. I am a little girl every single time I think of my momma. Every year on this day—her birthday and the day she left us— I cry my ever lovin’ eyes out. I suppose it might always be that way.

I do cry because I miss her, but that’s not the main reason. I cry because I wanted to be a better daughter. I didn’t see it then, but looking back I really can’t think of that many times when I did something lovely just for her. For no other reason than to make her happy. I can’t think of many times that I just told her with words or deeds how awesome I really thought she was. She deserved to know. She deserved to actually hear it while she was still around to let it sink in. She deserved to hear the words I love you a billion times more than she ever did.

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Seven Kids. The first college graduate. That’s one proud momma. Big day for both of us.

 

I don’t feel like I talked about my mom very much when she was still around, either. I should have been telling someone–everyone– how amazing she was all the time, just because it was true.

I look around at kids treating their moms like complete crap, and I think, man, you will regret that so much when she’s gone.

I see husbands and wives ignoring each other in favor of their phones all the time. Like, ALL THE DAMN TIME. What the heck is so important that you can’t bother to even look at the person you are with? You’d rather stare at a screen and fake-talk to other people somewhere else?

Sometimes I go for several days without talking to a single one of my friends. In the course of a few days, can I truly not spare a few minutes just to call or email one of them to let them know how much they mean to me? Of course I could. This is simply a personal failure.

I want all those moments back that I wasted.  But I can’t ever, ever get them. I can’t go back and tell my momma how she’s the absolute best and how I would never be anything without her. I can’t go back and make her laugh anymore, or buy her some peach-pink roses for no reason. I can’t surprise her with gyros for her birthday lunch or help her peel way too many potatoes to mash ever again.

The best I can do is to tell somebody. Tell somebody how much I loved her and how wonderful she was. That’s a start.

But even better than that, I can tell somebody how wonderful they are. Somebody who is still here—right here with me on this earth, right now—what I see in them and how they affect my life. I can tell somebody else the great things I see in them.

And I can hope that by telling folks how much they mean to me, it will inspire them to do the same. Because believe me, no one wants to be thinking of a loved one on what would have been their 80th birthday, wishing they’d spoken more into that person’s heart while they still had the chance.

Do you love someone? Do you see something wonderful in a person?

Tell them. Tell somebody. Tell everybody. Today.

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The Thing is Not the Thing

My husband’s primary area of gifting is working behind the scenes. He’s a fixer. He enjoys a task to tackle with his hands, a specific process that works toward an end he can see with is own eyes. So it was never any surprise to me when he signed up to go rebuild neighborhoods after hurricane Katrina, after ice storms in the midwest, after the devastating earthquake of 2010 in Haiti.

He’s worked with Samaritan’s Purse and Vineyard Mercy Response. These organizations are well-equipped and always ready to descend on any area that needs rebuilt after a widespread disaster. So when they get the call that help is needed, they go into action immediately. Volunteers and materials are organized, temporary command centers are established. There’s no time to mess around. They can’t be late. The well-being of entire communities depend on their ability to know what to do, how to do it, and to do it quickly.

My hard-working, task-oriented husband is just the kind of dude they need. And typically, it’s folks just like him who volunteer to give up a week of their lives and vacation time to take on long days of manual labor to help others in need. It’s a really cool thing.

So when you combine the well-oiled machine of a disaster relief agency and teams of folks who are all about gettin’ it done, you’d expect that everyone from the highest person in the organization down to the newest volunteer would be all about the tasks at hand.

But one lesson my husband brought back from his trips tells a different story:

The thing is not the thing.

One of the mission leaders, a man who had been on staff with disaster relief organizations for many years, held that as his mantra: The thing is not the thing.

The first time my husband heard that, he understood what the guy was trying to say, but at the same time, he thought okay, but the thing kind of IS the thing when you need to rebuild someone’s home in a week so they have a place to stay. But it turns out, they were really both right.

The team got the message. The thing is not the thing. The thing is not hanging drywall when the homeowner starts telling you about how she lost her husband in the storm. The thing is not clearing tree branches when some of the folks from down the street need a few bottles of water. Caulking windows or installing piping or rewiring electrical boxes aren’t the thing when a family needs prayer to keep looking for their still-lost loved ones in piles of memories and rubble.

The people are the thing. The thing you’re really there for. Connecting with them, listening to them. helping them understand that no matter what’s been lost, hope can always be found… that’s the thing.

And here’s the deal: What I’m noticing is that the thing is not the thing whether the disaster around us is a hurricane or just a bad day at work. Because it’s true that all of us are fighting hard battles that no one else may know anything about. But the thing is us. Every one of us. The thing is that we all keep that shred of hope, and that we all help others see it in the midst of our big and little disasters, and in our joys and in the plain old humdrum days.

live now.

A phone call telling us a friend had taken his own life. A message from another friend that his father had passed away, when he had just spoken to him that morning. A friend buried a parent after she had just lost her husband.  A family member with a back injury, and it looks like surgery is on the horizon. A car accident–luckily it didn’t result in any harm to either party. All of this just in the past month or two.

And again last night, a dear friend who awoke to find her daughter with blue lips and a lack of gaze in her eyes. Thankfully she has recovered, and already has that twinkle back in her eyes. Thank you, Jesus.

But that feeling. That empty feeling. My friend said it best… she couldn’t get the “what if” out of her mind.

This. All of THIS.

It reminds me that we only have one life. Every single moment of it is precious and important. We have to make the most of all of the moments that we get, whether we feel like they are spectacular or not.

We have to make a choice to enjoy and pursue and live in the moment…

and listen

and notice

and make a difference

and not sit this one out

and give of our gifts

and pray and serve

and make others understand that they are WORTH IT.

Worth our time, our attention, worth a place on our schedule. Worth space in our hearts. Worth our heartbeats themselves.

I am the first to admit, my calendar sometimes looks like a cage. All those black lines, squaring up and rounding out the minutes of my life… scribbled in and squeezed into and running and running together. Sometimes I look at my days and think “what have I done?” and not in the way of wanting to know what I have accomplished or checked off the to-do list.. but what have I done with my time that matters?? Actually matters? To me? To others? To eternity?

today is the best day

I don’t want to waste a second. I love so many people and I want them to know it. I care about many things and I want them to be evident. I have so little time and I want to use it. I want God to use me in this little span of time that I am borrowing. I want to live.

live now

moments, present and accounted for.

Two years ago today I was waking up in India. Probably at all the wrong time of day, as I was still getting used to that other-side-of-the-world time change. Even while rubbing my eyes, I could still see that moment. That face. That gratitude that seemed to make no sense to me. A frail little man, brown skin all wrinkled, bowing his head to me in thanks, clutching that little fuzzy blanket against his face even though it had teddy bears printed all over it.

ImageA small fleece blanket, purchased in bulk. Various colors, prints, patterns, handed to beautiful human beings who were made in the image of God. Men, women, and children, most whose bodies were in various stages of leprosy. And it was my turn, and it was a flurry of activity. I tried to soak it in, see every face, look in every pair of eyes, whether they were blind or not. But time and nerves and culture don’t always allow everyone’s eyes to meet, and I was feeling as if I’d never really grasp the depth of this moment. Like I was a bit outside of it, not totally present.

Awake the next day, I tried to get my mind back into that moment. I was trying to recall all the faces and colors, the exact moment of that exchange.That moment the man pressed that blanket to his face in pure, complete gratitude. The whole experience floods my mind, even today. Apparently I was there after all.

But I wondered what that moment meant to that man, exactly. Was his demeanor a typical expression of gratitude, or was he, like me, trying desperately to cut through languages and culture and awkward interactions to show just how life-changing that moment was as well? Was he awake somewhere, trying to stay in that moment like I was?

I don’t know and I guess I never will. What I thought I knew for sure was that there’s no way that moment could ever be topped. That was the pinnacle of all New Year’s Eves, from now until eternity. And no other New Year’s Eve moment–or perhaps any moment–would ever be that good.

But now, I’m not so sure I was right about that.

I’m realizing that it’s not the best or biggest moment that really counts. It’s ALL of the moments. We have to make all of our moments count, because every one of them contains heartbeats and breaths and smiles and memories that we will never be able to replicate exactly. Never ever. So we have to make them count, not by trying to balloon all of them into enormous moments, but by being present in every one of them big or small. By noticing things that help us savor them.

Fast forwarding to last night, New Year’s Eve again. This time, I was in my own small-town kitchen. I made pepper jack pasta from scratch and broccoli from the freezer. I laughed with my husband, son, and daughter-in-law. We watched several episodes of Breaking Bad. We said “Happy New Year!” at 12:00 and headed off to bed about an hour later. Hardly momentous or earth-shattering. Hardly that memorable moment in India two years ago, right?

But last night, in my un-exciting New Year’s Eve, I felt really present in all the moments of the evening. I noticed a lot. My husband is such a polite eater. He folds his napkin meticulously after each use. The sauce was incredibly smooth and spicy, just the way we all like it. My daughter-in-law swings her hair to the side a lot like I did when mine was as long as hers. Her nose wrinkles up a little when she laughs at something, which I love. My son gives a heavy sigh when something is bothering him and he wants to talk about it but wants you to ask him what’s wrong. And he’s becoming more polite every day, with lots of thank-yous and pleases, and carefully handing the butter around the table, a lot like his amazing father. I noticed, noticed, noticed, until my senses were full and so was that tank that holds all my joy, wherever that lives.

No fireworks, no watching the ball drop. No noisemakers or parties. No incredible travels or culture shock or big things. Nothing that would make anyone say that an incredible experience had occurred. But I was there for every single moment, and they counted.

And this year, I’ll be noticing and counting.

Spitting in its face

This week I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Helen Keller, which is indeed my favorite quote of all time:

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.”

This mess isn’t going away anytime soon. It won’t stop just because we vote for so-and-so. It won’t stop if we take away guns or give out guns to everyone or throw money at people who say they’ll do either. It won’t stop when we sing God Bless America or when we don’t. It won’t completely stop at all. There is simply evil in this world. If there’s any doubt of that in your mind at this point, then I certainly am at a loss to try to convince you. As long as we live in this world there will be evil. There will be wrong. There will be suffering. There will be things for which we have no explanation or framework to understand them, other than just calling it out for what it is: pure evil.

Our job, then, is not to explain it or make excuses for how it could have happened in the first place. Our only job is to stare it in the face, call it what it is, and do whatever small part we can to offer some hope.

Evil is a person who take lives for no apparent reason. Offer to mourn with the grieving families. Evil is a person who preys on innocent children to do them harm. Offer a safe haven for children you know so this doesn’t have to happen to them. Evil is a lifetime of horrific abuse visited on a person from which they had no escape. Offer them the truth that they need not be ashamed, and that they are special and loved no matter what.

Evil is all around us, my friends. But so is hope. As long as any of us are standing, so is hope. Let’s not just sit In our cozy homes wrapped up in cozy blankets on our cozy couches, shaking our heads at what the TV tells us. Offer up some hope… Look evil square in the face and tell it that you’re launching an assault and there’s nothing it can do about it.

Then GO. Do some good. ANY good. Good just done for the sake of doing it offers a glimmer of hope and spits in the face of evil. And I think that spitting in the face of evil sounds like the most lovely thing I’ve heard all week.

grief and shiny things

I have two confessions to make:

1) I cried in the middle of a store this week.

2) I have a weird love affair with seasonal tabletop decor.

You know, like tablecloths and dishes of every color. And fancy napkin rings (even though I despise cloth napkins). And all varieties of drinking glasses. And useless decorations that will sit on top of the table and take up space where the food should be sitting, getting in everyone’s way. Yeah, that stuff.

I love plates shaped like maple leaves in the fall. I love the red and gold and silver sparkly-trimmed business around Christmas time. I adore hydrangea blue-purple splashed on top of yellow fabric in the spring. I love cups with watermelon-shaped ice cubes in the summer. Just thinking about it….oh, glory!

When I was a little girl, I declared it my life’s mission (in addition to being a paleontologist, of course) to grow up and have a big tote full of decorations and dishes for every season and holiday of the year, which I would change and update whenever the time was right. Every time I walk past the seasonal displays–shiny, colorful, sparkly– I still dream a little dream. It’s a sickness, really. I’m sort of a junkie. In theory anyway.

This weekend I was in Kohl’s to pick up a few things (which was strange enough for me) I looked at the seasonal decor (duh!) and saw some of those pretty tablecloths. My heart skipped a beat because I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and I really wanted a pretty table for dinner.

Then I spotted it. It was shiny and silky and heavily beaded… A beautiful Christmas-y table runner that immediately reminded me of the one that my momma bought me years ago, for absolutely no other reason than I fell in love with it. At the time, I was a single gal with a crappy apartment, no guests coming over for a dinner party, not even space to have one if I wanted to. We were out shopping together, so I know it had to have been a long time ago. I was swooning over this gorgeous, red silk beaded runner, and saying how I couldn’t wait to have a house to decorate for the holidays someday. Then I bounced along, down the aisle to look at the next shiny thing. She put it in the cart without me even noticing, and it has been mine ever since we finished that shopping trip.

My Mom’s love language was clearly gifts. I didn’t know that then, but looking back now I can see it. She had the habit of telling me to put things in the cart/bag if I even slightly mentioned in passing that I liked it. I had to talk her down quite a few times from buying me lovely but completely unnecessary things. She had lived a hard life growing up and basically had nothing. She had to quit school after 8th grade because her family couldn’t afford clothes and books for her to attend school. Besides, they needed her to work to help them keep food on the table. So to her, having things you want means that you’ve pulled yourself up by the bootstraps, and you’ve made a good life. Purposely denying yourself something nice when you have the money to pay for it just didn’t make sense in her world…which I suppose is the reason I drove her so crazy during the last few years of her life.

But standing there in Kohl’s this week, surrounded by seasonal, sparkly, unnecessary things, the tears welled up in an instant and flooded my eyes as I thought about my momma. It only took a second to go from wow-that’s-gorgeous to my-momma’s-really-gone?

And just like that, I was one of those weirdos who cries in public. Oh dear….

But I guess that’s what it’s like when grief sneaks up on you… When you’ve been too busy to give it its proper due, it just sneaks up from behind while you’re in the midst of all that busy-ness and takes what rightfully belongs to it: your attention.

It’s been nearly a year since I lost my mom. We’re about to have the first Thanksgiving without her, which was always her favorite holiday. I keep thinking to myself that I’ll be fine, that she would want us to have a happy day and not be sad about her being gone. I keep telling myself I’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. But then again, I thought I’d be “fine” looking at fancy table decor too.

In all honesty, I’m only half looking forward to this holiday, but I’m trying hard to be thankful anyway. Thankful that I had a mother who was so giving, even if sometimes it was to her own detriment. Thankful that I have a home in which to host family, no matter how dysfunctional, for the holiday. Thankful that we’ll be sharing a meal, since there are some who won’t get such a luxury in their whole lifetime, let alone once a year.

I’ll have a few shiny things on the table this year, but certainly not a tote full, as I’ve long since lost interest in storing up that much of anything. But this year when I pass the potatoes across my shiny, patterned tablecloth, I’ll remember how my momma always brought a little sparkle into our lives. And for that, I will always be thankful.