Friday, January 13, 2017

The Happy List v.1

It's cold here.

Really, really cold.

That means I'm spending a lot of time indoors which gives me too much lots of time to think, surf the internet, read, shop online, and apparently, blog about it all.

Some of the blogs I read do a regular "Friday Favorites" feature which I always enjoy. I'm a fan of reading a hodgepodge of mostly useless but sometimes helpful ideas, products, and activities from people I don't know in real life but kinda like to think I do. Sitting here this morning, after having braved a freezing cold trip to Trader Joes and deciding I was never leaving my house again, I thought to myself, "Self, why don't you just have a little fun (remember, I'm having FUN these days) and write your own little list of what is making you HAPPY this week." I thought Self had a good idea, so here we go- for better or for worse.

Just so we are clear, I'm not promising this is a new regular feature. I'd loooove to say it would be, but there's that whole issue of mine with sustaining new ideas...sometimes yes, sometimes no. It's really hit or miss and there's no way of predicting the outcome at this early juncture. Stay tuned. 

1. Trader Joe's Ultra Moisturizing Hand Cream

I'm starting with this because 1) It's right in front of me, and 2) I don't want to set the bar too high and have your interest pique right at the outset, but I also don't want to kick this off with a total loser. Hand cream seemed a safe bet.

I actually literally picked this up this morning and the nice TJ checkout gal and I had an extended conversation about it. She was really curious to know what I thought of it and I promised I'd report back. This is what people living in freezing temperatures talk about. 

Here's what I think after one use thus far: I like it. Helpful? No? Okay, I like how it goes on feeling really thick and moisturizing but it soaks in quickly and before you know it you are typing away on a keyboard with no greasy, slippery feeling in your fingertips (slippery is not a benefit when typing). For you smell-sensitive people, there is definitely a scent, but I find it a pleasant one. Not floral-y. I do not do floral scents. Shudder. But it's not a citrus-y scent either. I will do citrus scents. I am smelling my hands right now and I can't put my finger on how to describe it. Maybe a combination of baby powder and coconut? (Somewhere there is a perfume chemist fainting dead on the floor at my inability to describe a scent accurately). 

Anywhoooo.... For the one hour I have been using this hand cream, I am downright pleased. I will be keeping it in my desk drawer so I can have nicely moisturized but not slippery hands on these dry, bitterly cold days. (Have I mentioned it's cold?)

2. Plan To Eat

Okay, so I wasn't going to put this out there until I had been using it a little longer because of my very public struggles with meal planning and sticking with any plan relating to meal planning...but....this really is one of my favorite finds of the past couple weeks.

Here is what I can tell you, in the past 10 days I have only gone to the grocery store 3 times (That is record setting for me. I have been known to go to the grocery store 3 times in a single day.) I have had an advance plan for dinner every night aaaand- here's the kicker- have gone into the dinner hour knowing not only that I had a plan but that I had the ingredients on hand!

Whoop! Whoop!!

Here's where this site is making a difference for me. I don't necessarily hate to cook. I have many recipes I like and that my family likes. In fact, what I don't like are any meal planning services that tell me what to prepare. I KNOW WHAT WE LIKE, and I like finding new recipes for myself. What I HATE (yes, all caps) is making a grocery list for multiple meals, from multiple recipes, spread across several days. All the flipping back and forth to lists, the writing down, the cross-checking of ingredients...bleccch. Just put me back to bed. 

Enter....PLAN TO EAT!!

I get to import all of my favorite recipes (and it's super easy to do), drag and drop them into a calendar, and voila!! They produce my shopping list!! I can easily edit the shopping list based on ingredients I already know I have on hand, or items I want to add, or substitutions etc... and the list will be right there on my phone when I'm ready to hit the dang store. (Sorry for the colorful language.) 

I cannot over-emphasize all of the versatility of this site. I'm only still learning it all myself. It will adjust recipes based on quantity for you, you can create separate store lists if you shop different places for different things, you can add friends and then you have access to your friend's recipes as well (hello, Sister!!), you can easily shuffle meals around on your plan....I'm just agog, AGOG, I tell you, how user friendly and adaptable this site is! I. Am. Loving. It.

It is also very affordable. You can do a 30 day free trial and if you decide you want to stick with it you can either pay $4.95 a month, or $39 a year. 

I mean, come on! How much is your time worth? I'm quite sure I saved nearly one billion dollars in quality of life currency over the past 10 days by not going to the grocery store, pushing my cart through snowy, icy parking lots, every. single. day. (Which would normally be what I would have done.)

Plan To Eat. Friday Fave for sure.

3. The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

So, one of my "happy goals" of 2017 is to read more fiction. I always enjoy fiction but when I'm in a more introspective, ponderish, broody place I start reading more non-fiction in the areas of theology, spirtuality, self-helpish sort of stuff. The former Psychology/Religious Studies major in me eats it up, and it does me good in a way that fiction doesn't. However, reading fiction and escaping into other places, time periods, and imaginary people's lives also does me good in a way that all of the deep-dive intellectual stuff can't. 

I started one book at the beginning of the month but I wasn't liking it. I used to never abandon books. I can count on one hand the number of books that I've started and not finished in my lifetime. But using my One Word as my guide, I decided that to continue reading a book that wasn't making me "happy" was silly. I moved on.

Luckily, my second try was a winner. This is not great literature (please look to someone else's recommendations if that's what you are looking for), but for me this book did what I wanted it to do. It sucked me right in and kept me turning pages and interested right until the very end. 

Now, I can't tell you how much I dislike the cover art for this book. If you read the book you get where this image ties into the story, but it really gives the wrong impression for the overall nature of the book. The book is historical fiction but it jumps back and forth between past and present, ultimately tying the two together. I'm a fan of that literary technique (or whatever you want to call it). The historical part centers on the Royal Romanovs of Russia just before they are overthrown by the Bolsheviks, and then following their not so friendly removal from power. It was entertaining and interesting and is one of those that finds you going to Google to remind yourself of all that history that you once learned but have since forgotten.

Okay- just a long sleeve tee... I know. But, I have been shouting from the rooftops for months now, "MY KINGDOM FOR A NOT BOXY, NOT TUNIC LENGTH, NOT SLUB FABRIC, SLIGHTLY FITTED LONG-SLEEVE TEE!!!"

The neighbors are so thrilled I have finally found one.

I think Nordstrom has probably had this basic for an eternity but I was always happy with my long sleeve GAP tees so that is what I went with for years. UNTIL THEY CHANGED THEM. (She crumbles into a heap unable to function for days.)

And now I've been on a long-sleeve tee quest and it has been harder than it should be because it seems we are never going to leave this fashion cycle of everything fitting big, and "slouchy" (which is just a new euphemism for tent-like), and tunic-y, and otherwise TOTALLY WRONG for someone who is only 5'1" with curves. 

All you tall, willowy people look positively lovely in your flowing fabrics and ponchos. I promise you do and I even envy you. But that is the wrong direction to go when you are short with curves. Without at least a semi-defined waistline, you are headed straight to Oompa-LoompaVille. You can take that to the bank and cross-stitch it on a pillow, my friends.

So, this tee is saving me from that fate. 

FYI: In case you are looking to purchase one yourself and not sure about sizing: Based on reviews and the sizing recommendation that says it runs a little small, I went with a Petite Medium. (That was my other excitement with this tee. It comes in Petites sizing!). The PM was right for me. It's still fitted enough to be great as a layering piece but loose enough to be worn out its own. (If you know me in real life, that might help you with sizing. If you don't then that will be zero help at all. You're welcome.)

Thanks, Nordys. I've found my will to live again.

I enjoy following a few real bloggers out there. (I say 'real bloggers' as in people who are clearly trying to cultivate a following and make some money out of their hobby- and actually blog on a regular basis- unlike, ahem, fake bloggers like myself.)

Anywhoooo... I had a handful I followed and kept up to date with but hadn't added anyone new in awhile. I don't like getting too many on my list because then it starts to feel like it's just something that clogs up my email and reading all of them becomes another 'to do'.

However, somehow this week, and I honestly can't remember where or how, I stumbled on this gal and after reading through a few of her posts I decided to subscribe. I'm really drawn to her more minimalist, capsule wardrobe approach but she does it in a way that still looks fun and not like you are just wearing a "uniform" all the time. (Although truth be told, I'm a big fan of a uniform. I lean toward finding combos I like and sticking with it. Like a good long-sleeve, semi-fitted tee! Just sayin'.)

Now this gal is young, and tall, and willowy, and no kids, so we pretty much have everything in the world in common but I like her anyway. I also like her emphasis on responsible shopping and hunting down ethically made products.

She's doing a 10 x 10 day challenge right now with her friend and fellow blogger, Style Bee, so now I'm getting hooked on her too. My blog list may have just increased by two...

Check her out! She's fun!


Hope you enjoyed this first-ever-possibly-not-last-I'm-not-making-any-promises Friday Finds, Fun and Favorites!

Have a great Friday, a restful weekend, and don't forget to BE HAPPY!!


Friday, January 6, 2017

Seek and find

The following is a sermon I gave in January, 2013 on Epiphany Sunday at Magnolia Presbyterian Church. I am choosing to post it here mostly for posterity but also because Epiphany has become very special to me over the years and even more so in the past year.

Permit me one more memory from December, 2015. When we were meeting with Father W and Deacon S to plan Tracy's service we spent a great deal of time just talking about Tracy. Father W encouraged us to tell stories, share memories, and to offer up our own feelings about who Tracy was and what she meant to us.

Because Tracy and I spent so much time together as part of her parish women's group, I had a lot of insight into her faith and her spiritual journey. I was trying, but struggling, to put into words what my heart desperately wanted to communicate to Father W about Tracy's heart for God.

I eventually stammered out something very close to this (while going through multiple tissues), "She might not have been traditionally religious in the sense that she didn't read the Bible much, she wouldn't have been able to quote scripture to you, and she didn't necessarily go to church every Sunday. But from the time she was a teenager, she was on a journey. She felt God in her heart. She didn't always know what the "right" answers should be when it came to doctrine or theology, but she was....a seeker."

Father W nodded and smiled the whole time I was speaking. He then said simply this,

"To seek God is to find God."

In those words, he brought me enormous comfort.

Since then, I have looked up those words and found they originated with Gregory of Nyssa and the quote is actually completed this way,

"To seek God is to find God. To find God is to seek God."

I like the wholeness and the circular nature of the longer quote. Faith can so often feel like an endless of journey of seeking and finding and then losing your way again.

To me, Epiphany reminds us that the journey is worth it.

And that if we continue to seek...we will find.

(Please note: This was written to be spoken, which is always a bit different than if it were written only to be read.)

We Have Seen His Star
January, 2013

Years ago, I remember reading a Bible story to my oldest son, Jack. Jack is now a pretty big kid, almost 18 years old, but at the time he was maybe about six years old. Close to the age of some of you kids sitting here today. I don't remember exactly which Bible story we were reading but I remember that when we got to the end of the story Jack looked at me and asked me very seriously, "Did that really happen?"
Now I don't know about you but sometimes I get to this point in the church year- 12 days out from Christmas- Epiphany Sunday- after all of the traveling, family gatherings, eating, gift giving and receiving- and finally having returned home to mounds of laundry and a startling return to school and the daily routine- sometimes I feel just like my little Jack did when he asked me that question so long ago. I can't help but look around at times and ask myself, "Did that really happen?"
This amazing, miraculous piece of our Christian story. God choosing to be with us in the most humble, surprising way. A little baby, born in a manger. Angels greeting shepherds with the incredible words, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
When we gather together on Christmas Eve and light candles and sing familiar carols, it's so much easier for it all to feel just that close. But now...almost two weeks after...Christmas Eve is already feeling like a memory. I'm sure it is for the kids among us. School is starting back up and I'm sure that some of you even already have reading to finish, projects to complete or you know that all of those things will be coming soon. Grown ups are back to full work-weeks and anxious to get all of the clutter of Christmas put back in the boxes and put away for another year. Soon, all of the tangible evidence of Christmas will be gone. No more decorated trees, wreaths on doors, lights on houses...
Did that really happen?
And that's what I love about Epiphany. Just when we are all tempted to put the Christmas story behind us and start pushing forward toward Easter- we pause to revisit the Nativity one more time. We take time to hear again one of the more puzzling parts of this familiar story and consider what it means for us.
When we read Bible stories downstairs in BLAST one of the things we sometimes do is to identify together 'what does this Bible story tell us?'- and 'what does this Bible story not tell us?' This can be useful when we are learning some of the more familiar Bible stories because it is interesting for the children to see how sometimes we remember stories based more on tradition than what is written in scripture. I remember when we did this a year ago with the story of the wise men the kids were particularly fascinated to realize how much of our retellings of the birth Christ are rooted more in our own imagination than in the words of the Bible.
For example: the kids were surprised to learn that nowhere in the words of Matthew does it tell us that there were only three wise men. We don't know where the wise men came from other than it was east of Jerusalem. We don't know the names of the wise men or even how they came to recognize the importance of the star they saw and why they would know that meant a new king had been born. We don't know how long they traveled or how old the baby Jesus was when they finally arrived. And even though we often refer to them as Kings, we don't know that they were kings at all since the Bible doesn't tell us so. And finally, other than knowing they took a different route home to avoid that evil King Herod, we don't know how their lives might have been different after having seen and worshiped the son of God.
So, that was a pretty long list of things this Bible story doesn't tell us. But anytime we go through this process in BLAST of figuring out what we know and what we don't know we always finish by asking one question. In fact, you would find this question printed out in big letters on our bulletin board down in the BLAST room. The question we ask then is, "What's the Big Idea?"
The reality is that the stories in the Bible often have some big holes. And that's why allowing some degree of imagination to fill in the gaps is completely understandable and even useful. Using our imagination to consider there might have been a fourth wise man named Hank, or whether the Innkeeper might have been a bit cranky about all the interruptions that big night helps us remember that these are real stories about real people. People who lived and breathed and had good days and bad days, but were all part of God's story. But even when we use our imagination to try and give some color to these stories we have heard so many times, there is still information missing that we might wish we could have. But if we look carefully, usually we can find a bigger message, beyond the details of the story, that we can take with us and apply to our lives.
So, What's the Big Idea in this unusual story about some unidentified wise men who followed a star to find the Baby Jesus?
Bible scholars far more knowledgeable than myself have come up with some pretty interesting answers to some of the questions as to the details of the story. There are educated guesses as to where the wise men came from, how many there were, who they were and why they were interested in the possibility of an infant king. But I want to keep it simpler than that today. I want to look at this in much the same way we would if we were downstairs in our BLAST class.
So, what's the Big Idea?
Well, the first thing we can say is that this story emphasizes yet again how incredibly important the birth of Jesus was. Important enough that men in a foreign land, not of the Jewish faith, decided to spend considerable money and time to witness this newborn king. We don't know how far they traveled or how long it took them to get to Bethlehem but it is easy to imagine that it couldn't have been a simple journey and yet the wise men clearly refused to give up on their quest to follow the star. We should be just as determined and courageous in our own decision to follow Jesus.
Second, the fact that these wise men came from somewhere other than Jerusalem and were not Jewish reminds us again of the angel's words from the gospel of Luke that he "will be for all the people." Jesus didn't come only to save the people of Israel, but to save all people. He didn't come to show God's love only to the Jews, but to everyone. The wise men are one of our first examples of just how far God's love can and does reach.
Third, one thing the scriptures do tell us very clearly is that when the wise men did find the Baby Jesus the very first thing they did was to fall down and worship him. We have no idea what sort of faith or understanding of God these men had and yet once they were in the presence of the Son of God they could nothing else but worship him. Somehow they knew this child was more than just special, he was holy. The wise men then are an example to us all of what our response should be to the presence of Jesus in our lives. Our response should be to worship him.
Finally, as I read and re-read this passage of scripture over the past week, the words that kept jumping out at me are the ones I then chose as my sermon title, "we have seen his star". Those words spoke to me for two reasons. The first, is this is another one of the clear and indisputable details of this story. The wise men saw a star that was in some manner so unusual and remarkable they knew it meant something extraordinary was happening. In fact they go so far as to call the star "his star" meaning the new king's star- demonstrating that they absolutely believed the star and this baby were unquestionably connected. Certainly other people must have seen this star if it was so noticeable, but as far as we know, only the wise men saw the star and followed.
But perhaps more importantly for us today, the other thing those words kept bringing to mind for me is the thought that WE have seen his star, too. You, me, kids, teenagers, grown ups... we have all seen his star. We have heard the story, we have sung the songs, we have celebrated his birth. We too have seen his star. What will that mean for us?
Will it quickly fade to nothing as we become busy again with daily routines and obligations? Will the star become a distant memory until sometime in February we find ourselves wondering, "did that really happen?"
Or, can we find in ourselves the determination of the wise men and keep following that star throughout the year, however long it takes, wherever the journey may take us, until we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus?
We have seen his star. We don't know how the wise men's lives might have been changed after having seen and worshiped the son of God, but I can't help but believe that their lives were changed. And my prayer for myself and for all of us this Epiphany is that having seen his star, our lives will also be changed. I pray we will all be moved with greater urgency and passion to follow the star, to fall down and worship the son of God, and to share our gifts with the world that God created and loves so much that he gave his only son.
We have seen his star- may it continue to shine in you and in me so that the love of God might be known to all people, everywhere.

"For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him."
Matthew 2:2

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Clap your hands

Here we are again. January. 

Fresh start. New calendar (unless you are like me and use a 17 month calendar and therefore are still using the same calendar you were 6 days ago). Goals. Dreams. Resolutions. All that January jazz.

A few thoughtful and possibly bored friends have asked about my One Word for 2017. Even Annie asked me last night if I had made my One Word choice. I can't tell you how much it pleases me that I have become known for such consistency. That is never not often the case with my grand and bold ideas. But here I am- five years into my One Word approach to the New Year and I'm still hanging in there! 

Can I get a WOOHOO?!

Of course, probably the reason choosing One Word for the New Year works for me is its simplicity. 

Note to self: keep things simple.

(If you want to read about my past One Word selections you can go here and find all of my previous posts relating to my One Word.)

Having now done this a few times, I'm finding that arriving at my One Word looks different every year. One year I made lots of lists and charts and Venn diagrams to finally settle on a word, and another year the word came to me in December and I never looked back. There have also been words I struggled against only to realize that the struggle was indicative of how much the word was needed. 

This year has been another fight to the death battle between myself and my One Word.

Okay, maybe not fight to the death....more like icy stares across the room while lobbing passive aggressive phrases like, "Bless your heart", and "No, really, I wanted you to have the last cookie. It's fine.

I like the word just fine. It's perfectly useful in conversation, writing, and for naming one of seven very small men who live in a cottage in the woods. It just makes me nervous when I think about carrying it around for an entire year. 

First the word...and then an explanation.

In the words of Matthew McConaughey, Alright Alright Alright... 2017 One Word of the Year is....


Huh. Really? Happy? As in, the superficial second cousin to Joy and Gratitude and Generosity and Contentment?

Yes, Happy.

Believe me, I tried to go with one of those A-List words. I worked SUPER hard to get Joy to apply for the job. But Happy kept finding her way to the front of the line, resumé in hand, ready to get to work. 

I wasn't sure what my DEAL was with Happy until I read this:

We are highly suspicious of happiness. We really do want to be happy - secretly of course - but we'll tell everyone else it's joy we want. Because isn't joy the holier aim? Isn't happiness against the rules?
And then on the next page, this:

But this happiness we seek is not a wimpy emotion. Happiness has been advertised as some kittenish, fluffy feeling. In reality, happiness can make your heart race with excitement- and sometimes with a bit of fear. Because on our happiest days, we are worried it won't last. (emphasis mine) ~Jennifer Dukes Lee from The Happiness Dare
And there it is.

Happiness can leave us feeling vulnerable, especially when we know what it feels like to go from feeling so very happy to so very sad. Opening ourselves up to happiness again can be a risky endeavor.

Last night when Annie asked me what I had chosen as my One Word this year, I very hesitantly told her I was leaning toward Happy.

With all the wisdom and innocence of childhood she smiled and said without reservation, "That's a really good word, Mom."

I was beginning to think she was right...but I just. still. wasn't. sure.

And then I found myself up at 3am unable to sleep.

Sidebar: I'm here to tell you that the whole middle-age-mom-insomnia thing is no joke. Thank you to my darling children for giving me so many sleepless nights for the past two decades that my body now believes waking up in the middle of the night is normal and FUN and necessary. Bless your hearts.

I tried and tried every trick in the book to get back to sleep but they were all to no avail so finally at around 4:30am I got up and pulled out a little book of blessings I often read before bed at night. (Maybe if I had remembered to read this before going to sleep I would not have needed it in the hours before dawn, but that's neither here nor there now.

I never look ahead in this book so I had no idea what the blessing for this day would be...

It was one of those moments I found myself both laughing and crying. Quietly, that is. (It was 4:30 in the morning, mind you, so a full LOL would not have been okay). 

I got so tickled by the words, "I recommend having fun...". I looked it up and of course there are other translations with loftier words like mirth and joy and merry, but I felt this translation (NLT) was chosen just for me. It's actually quite rare to find Bible translations that utilize the exact words 'happy' or 'happiness' much (again, JOY is a bit of a scripture hog) but even more rare to find the word 'fun'. I'm loving it.

So, you only have to throw so many bricks at my head before I figure out to duck, and you only have to give me three or four obvious signs before I finally say, " want me to go this way..." 

I'm quick.

Now that I've gotten my head around Happy, I'm pretty excited about it. Because the thing is, true happiness really flows out of all of those other good words. You can't be happy without being grateful. You can't be happy without a balance between work and rest. You can't be happy without contentment. You can't be happy without being attentive to your health. (Although God did tell me to eat, drink and enjoy life so....). You can't be happy without giving to others. And you can't be happy without choosing joy. 

Now that I think about it, maybe Happy isn't the superficial second cousin after all? 

Maybe Happy is the wise grandma who has experienced a whole bunch of life with all of its ups and downs and yet still bakes cookies, and sings songs, and takes time to lean down and whisper in your ear...

Now, you know, dear, I recommend having a little fun....

Have a blessed 2017, friends! 

May we all be happy. 

These people and pups bring me a whole lot of happy.
More of this, 2017. More of this.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keeping watch

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up, Christmastime meant cousins. Oh sure, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too...but truth be told, the cousins were the highlight. I'm not sure when and where it all began but at some point my mom and her sister must have made the decision that neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night would keep them from celebrating Christmas together. So even as they settled into different states, a day's drive apart, we never missed a Christmas with one another. 

For the most part we alternated houses each year, so the only thing we ever needed to know was if it was a "Portland year" or a "Spokane year" because everything else was just details. We never questioned this arrangement, or balked during the years when it was our turn to cram ourselves into the car and make the long winter drive over-the-mountains-and-through-the-gorge-to-our-cousin's-house-we-go.  It was just the way Christmas was. And we loved it.

I think sometimes it was almost more torturous to be the ones doing the waiting rather than the traveling. At least when you were on the road you had some sense of forward progress. You knew how much longer it would be (because you asked every 10 minutes), and you had the thrill of feeling yourself inching ever closer with each passing mile sign (and you shouted out every single one).

To be the ones waiting at home was agonizing.

This was long before cell phones and the ability to stay in constant contact with loved ones on the road. While we were waiting for our Portland family to arrive, we might get a single call all day updating us on their travel schedule IF we were lucky. And that was only if they were lucky enough to find a stop with a pay phone and Uncle Dave was willing to spring for the call. (Not always a sure thing. His kids still love to talk about having to share a small fry growing up.) But other than that, all we could do was wait. And wait. And wait. And asking mom how much longer it would be was useless because she didn't know either.

So, she'd do what she always did when all other attempts at distraction failed. She told us to go watch out the window.

And we did...for what felt like hours. It might have been minutes though. I'll be the first to admit that childhood recollections of time are seldom accurate. But it felt like we hung over the back of that living room couch staring down at the highway for close to a lifetime.

My childhood home, the home in which my mother still lives and where we all still spend Christmas every year, sits atop a small, pastoral hill. When we were kids, all of the trees surrounding the house were not nearly so tall and full as they are now and we could see all the way from our big living room windows down to the sleepy highway that lead to our gravel country road. Back in the day, the number of cars that came down that highway was not substantial, so great excitement would ensue each time one appeared. Inevitably though, my older brother would quickly tell us why that couldn't be their car because it was the wrong color, or too big, or had the wrong shaped headlights.

(Okay, I'm not really sure he commented on the headlights, but he was always much wiser than either my sister or I about which cars were actual prospects and which ones didn't deserve a second glance. We were foolish enough to get excited about delivery trucks.) 

But just when we would start to fear that they really never would arrive, a set of properly shaped headlights, belonging to a car of the right color and size, would turn onto our gravel road.


We would fly off the couch and race to the front hallway screaming, "THEY'RE COMING!! THEY'RE COMING!!"

And at long last, when that same set of appropriate headlights would finally make its way up our long, sometimes icy, snowy road and swing into our carefully shoveled driveway, the hysteria would give way to...


Let the festivities begin!!

I think maybe I see Santa?
Singing "Up On the Housetop".
We were practically The Osmonds.
I feel like Valerie is about to go all "Junkyard Dog" on someone here.
Don't Tracy and I look a little frightened?
P.S. We LOVED The Sunshine Family!!

Inevitably someone (me) ended up mortally wounded/deathly ill and in need of medical attention.
Christmas can be a dangerous time.
Thankfully, I had a doctor with a terrific bedside manner. 
Yep, that's a turtleneck with a Fa La La La sweatshirt.
I've always been festive.

Matching footed pajamas?
I think we were drunk on eggnog.
I kid.
Okay, so maybe that matching jammies thing wasn't a one time deal.
Or ended in childhood.
And that cousin Christmas only grew....
How did we get so lucky?
The next generation.
Pure love.

This year, as we string lights, decorate trees, sing Christmas songs, and wrap presents... sometimes I find myself asking, "How do we do this? How?"

What do we do with an absence so great?

And the only answer I can come up with is this...

We celebrate all that she loved. We remember that there is a Light no darkness can overcome. We share memories and make new ones. We carry the past into the present, and have faith in the future.

On the days it feels hard to celebrate and carry on with the traditions she loved so much, I picture her keeping watch.

I think of her giddy with excitement, anxious to share with us the incredible gift of perfect joy that she now knows. Always the hostess, I imagine her waiting with happy anticipation to usher us in and give us the grand tour.

And I believe that, for her, the waiting will be but a minute. It isn't agonizing or endless because she now lives in that beautiful space outside of time. She is both happy in the now, and in all that is to come.

For us, the waiting is longer. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that as much as the distance stings, I do hope for the wait to be very long. I feel okay saying that because I know she hopes that, too.

But when that day does come, I take comfort in knowing that one of the first voices I will hear will be hers. She will throw her head back and laugh in that way that only she can, and then proclaim for all to hear....

She's here!! She's here!!

Forever and for always.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jumpin' In

Let me just start by saying, this is not a sad post.

At least it's not intended to be.

I feel like I need to start with that disclaimer since I will be mentioning loss, and sorrow, and grief, and falling into pits and stuff.

But I swear, it's not sad.

It's more of an explanation. And maybe a bit of an encouragement. If nothing else, it's something to read on Sunday afternoon instead of doing laundry and I can promise it is at least as good as that. Maybe.

You see, this week will be the 13th birthday of our two little ones who never came home.

Thirteen years is both long and short. Say, if you were talking about how long it has been since you had a really good homemade chocolate chip cookie, thirteen years would be a loooong time. (A criminally long amount of time, if you ask me.) But if you were talking about how long you'd like to spend with someone you love, we'd all agree that thirteen years is but a blink.

In terms of loss, thirteen years might seem on the outer edge of how long it is socially acceptable to speak of such things. I mean, at least out loud. Or in writing. Ahem.

And in truth, I do get that. I don't enjoy dwelling on despair or feeling as though I'm dragging anyone into a well of sad feelings they really didn't ask for. And it's a conundrum because while I might have melancholy feelings, and wistful feelings, and, yes, sometimes even weepy moments every now and then, I'm really okay. I choose to remember because I'm not really sure how I couldn't and because that's how we continue to love those whom we have lost.

We remember them.

But I could do all of that without putting it into words and making my story public. I could opt to remember privately. There is nothing wrong with that and many, many days that is what I choose to do. In fact, that might suit me better given my reclusive tendencies.

However, there is a reason that over the years I became more and more open about my experience with infertility and loss, and I can tell you why in two stories.

(If Tracy were reading this over my shoulder, and she might be, she would break in at this point and say, "Tom, I can name that song in two notes." Because she just would.)

The first involves my cousin Tracy and her legendary ability to make a friend of anyone. Waaaaay back when we were both in our 20's and early years of marriage, she became pregnant and had a baby. At the same time, I tried to become pregnant and couldn't. She was having trouble with some aches and pains related to pregnancy so she started seeing a massage therapist. I, on the other hand, was seeing a fertility doctor because of that whole not getting pregnant thing.

As was Tracy's way, she became quite friendly with her massage therapist, learning all about her life. The therapist had twin toddlers who were the happy end result of a difficult run with infertility. This lead Tracy to tepidly open up to her about my struggles and her concerns with how to offer any support. The therapist asked her lots of questions about my doctor and my treatment, none of which Tracy had good answers to since she didn't really have all of those minute details. But her massage therapist friend would not be so easily dissuaded. See, she'd been there and she'd be damned if she was going to let someone else flail around on their own.

Finally, she said to Tracy, "Do you think I could just call her?"

A total stranger to me, connected only through another friendly acquaintance, refused to stay in her own happy bubble world of a successful pregnancy and birth and motherhood because she knew there were people on the other side. She not only wanted to help, she had to help.

She did call me. We talked for an hour that one time. She gave me information I had never gotten from any doctor. She gave me encouragement to make changes I didn't know I needed to make. More than anything, she gave me hope and she made me brave. I never spoke to her again other than through Tracy who would report back to her my own happy success. But because of her, I changed doctors and was pregnant two months later. I'm not exaggerating when I say I believe she changed my life.

(And by extension, of course, Tracy also changed my life with her fantastically friendly ways. But the list of ways in which Tracy changed my life is long and deep and will require a lifetime of blog posts to capture.)

The second story is not my own and not at all original. It's a modern day parable of sorts and I'm sure you've heard it before. But it bears repeating because it speaks to my larger point of being vulnerable enough to share our stories, to the extent that we are able, for the good of those who might be standing on the outside.

A man was walking along one day when he suddenly tumbled headlong into a pit. He hadn't seen it coming. It was dark. It was lonely. And he had no idea how to get out.

He started calling up from the pit, yelling for help.

First a doctor walked by. He peered down into the pit, tossed in a prescription, and kept walking.

Then, a priest walked by. He looked down at the poor man, offered him a prayer, and then he too kept walking.

Finally, a friend happens by and hears the man's cries for help. He thinks for a moment and then without hesitation jumps into the pit with him.

The man looks at him astonished and says, "What are you doing?! Now we are both stuck down here in the pit!"

His friend answers, "I know. But I've been here before and I know the way out."

And I would add that sometimes we may not even be able to show someone the way out of the pit. But a friend jumps in and says, "This is awful. I'm so sorry. But I'll stay here with you until you can find your way out."

So, that's really it. That's the answer.

I keep telling my story and being honest about who I am and where I've been, because you never know who might be in a pit needing someone to jump in with them.

I'm grateful to every single person, whether they be close friends, family, or momentary acquaintances, who ever jumped in with me.

And because I'm always ready for a little Christmas, I'll leave you with this thought:

Happy Sunday, friends!