Christmas Selfie Project

This year’s crop of family at Christmas.

Christmas is an exhausting week, or at very least an exhausting 48 hours. There are so many traditions and expectations tied to Christmas. But really, when you take away all the expectations and traditions, what it boils down to, at least for me, is family. Lots and lots of family. And it isn’t always the same crew every year. As our families grow, some aren’t always able to make it to ALL their gatherings in that short 48-hour time frame. Of course they are missed, but we all understand–Christmas is an impossible holiday to manage.

Because of this, I decided to try something new this year. I planned to embrace the chaos by taking a selfie with all the individuals I saw from my family this Christmas (sorry Uncle John, I somehow missed our selfie…I’ll take it next year). At these gatherings I typically think of them as a group of people…not this year. These crazy selfies made me stop and appreciate each and every individual in my life and what was unique and good about each person,  I embraced each individual as a gift and I’m treasuring these pictures as I’ve been shuffling through them on my phone this week.  (The selfies also gave me another great insight… I am going to make a more concerted effort to comb my hair on Christmas morning from now on.)

Merry Christmas family! Thanks for being the unique people that you are!

Ripping Off the Band-Aid on a Mom’s Heart

Love in the Band-Aids.

Moms have it rough. Dads, too. But I can only speak from the mom POV. You don’t understand your mom until you are one—what it is to love someone so much and be so helpless when your kids are suffering. Love so strong you would gladly take their pain in trade. When children are small you can take them to doctors. You can put on Band-Aids. You can help them with homework. But when big problems happen, the things that Band-Aids and math flash cards won’t fix, we are left abandoned with emotions almost too hard to bear–especially when the world around us judges our momabilities from a point of view of complete and utter misunderstanding. You must stuff your emotions deep where the world can’t see them and courageously wear them only as scars on your heart.

  • What do you do when your child spends the first seven years of school either under a desk or banished to the corner of the classroom?
  • What do you do when your middle schooler spends three years paralyzed by OCD and can’t participate in any of the activities he used to love?
  • What do you do when your child tells you he doesn’t think he’ll live past 14?
  • Or when your kids are wrongly accused and punished for actions they DIDN’T take?
  • Or when they are punished and ostracized for actions they DID take?
  • Or when your child is so mad at the world that he is mad at you —the person who probably loves him the most?
  • Or when your kid’s lifelong dream of military service is crushed by injury?

You worry. You treat. You advocate. You helplessly advise. You seek help. You cry. You cry. You cry.

  • And what do you do when years later your son hands you a fluffy stuffed sheep, for no particular occasion, and tells you he thought of you when he saw it?
  • Or when your child profusely thanks you for grilling pork chops after a long work shift?

You cry. You cry. You cry. And you rip the Band-Aid off your heart and see that the scar doesn’t look quite as bad as it once did.

Your kids only know the childhood they lived through. They don’t compare it to the one in their mom’s dreams —the one where they were high-fived by a soccer team, or had a best friend, or went to camp like other kids. They only know their childhood. The one you held their hands through and made the best of. It’s the only one they’ve experienced. And they only know their mom, for better or worse, the only one they ever had.

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

Say goodbye to where you’ve been. And tell your heart to beat again.

Tears were rolling down my face this afternoon as I pulled out of the office. I had to park the car on the side of the road and soak in the words of the song (above) that “just happened” to be on the radio. It was more than a song—really a prayer for my friends and loved ones who are suffering this week.

October has been a month where my heart has nearly flung out of my chest more than once watching not one, but many of my friends and family go through life-altering events.  And really most of the hardest stuff has fallen this week. This song just weaved its way into every moment.

My friends from work have a baby daughter who has been suffering from a terminal illness. I found out today she took her last breath. You’re shattered. Like you’ve never been before. The life you knew. In a thousand pieces on the floor.

I helped move my Grandma’s furniture and belongings into a new memory care facility. Yesterday’s a closing door. You don’t live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you’ve been. Tell your heart to beat again.

My mom arrived home from the hospital, settling in for a long recovery with a new knee. And words fall short in time like these. When this world drives you to your knees. You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be.

I stayed with a friend during elective surgery this week, as she recovered. Beginning.
Just let that word wash over you. It’s alright now. Love’s healing hands have pulled you through.

A friend and neighbor from work had a brain tumor removed on Tuesday. So get back up, take step one. Leave the darkness, feel the sun. ‘Cause your story’s far from over. And your journey’s just begun.

This song says it all. I love songs that do that.Feelings aren’t my favorite thing. Ouch. I try to avoid them where possible.  But I’m feeling them all today. I wish I could take the pain for you, my friends. My heart’s beating…beating hard for you all.

Voices In the Lives of Youth

youth

Try to keep up. Youth move so fast it is like a blur, but their hearts and minds are worth chasing.

Tonight I watched a basketball game. No, it wasn’t the NBA. It was better. It was a level 3 freshman scrimmage. I whistled and cheered like no NBA game I’ve ever attended. In fact, frankly, it was better than any NBA game I’ve ever watched. Why? Because I was there to cheer for someone special. Not my daughter, or cousin, or niece, but another youth whom I adore. And might I say she was awesome! She is just one of the youth I have the privilege of leading every Sunday night.

Each of our lives take us on a journey. That journey often leads us on a mission.  If you’ve been touched by cancer, you might be dedicating your life toward support for finding a cure. If you’ve been suffering from a mental illness or an eating disorder, you might turn your extra time toward helping others in recovery. For me, I’ve come to understand it has always been about youth.

For 15+ years I’ve spent time investing in youth as a leader in scouts, or as a room mom, or as a volunteer teaching kids.  My children struggled in school for a variety of reasons and my volunteering, at first, was a necessity to help them survive and, I hoped, to thrive. I soon came to understand that it was a lot more. I was a voice–an important voice–a voice that made a big difference in every youth I encountered. I had a tremendous power to lift up and inspire with the simplest of kind words or encouragement. Not the fake kind. The kind that is based in real truth. Something that no parent can do. My kids always used to say, “Of course you think I’m great, you’re my mom. You have to love me.”  That is hard to hear as a parent, but I understood what they were saying. There is truth in it. I do love them unconditionally and they know it. Even when I speak the truth about how valued they are, it is masked by parent-child fandom. They needed other voices–adult voices they could believe.

Today, I can picture and remember every child I’ve ever worked with and helped and cared about. It causes my call to burn in me ever stronger. These days I’ve dedicated my weekends as a youth leader at my church. And, I haven’t looked back.

I’ve always liked the Search Institute’s concept of assets. There are 40 assets they have identified as key to helping a child grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.  Nine of those assets are at the core of what I focus on today. Primarily, the first one–Other Adult Relationships. I’ve seen first hand how the lack of these adult relationships or, even worse, negative adult relationships, have really hurt. I’ve dedicated my time to be a positive voice in the lives of youth because I believe so strongly in how those voices can make a difference.

Nine (of 40) Important Assets for Youth

Other Adult Relationships: Receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

Caring Neighborhood: Experiences caring neighbors.

Community Values Youth: Perceives that adults in the community value youth.

Youth as Resources: Given useful roles in the community.

Service to Others: Serves in the community one hour or more per week.

Neighborhood Boundaries: Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.

Adult Role Models: Adults model positive, responsible behavior.

High Expectations: Adults encourage the young person to do well.

Religious Community: Spends one hour or more per week in activities in a religious institution.

So, as for basketball, I can’t wait for more games…and volleyball, band, track, musicals, geology museum visits, piano recitals, science projects, and whatever else I get the privilege to attend and add my voice. Youth are amazing and they are the future. I love their energy and their questions and their honest evaluation of what life is dishing out.

The truth is that their voice speaks to me as much as I hope mine speaks to them.

Our Secret Christmas List Uncovered

starbucks

Mmmmmmm. Peppermint hot chocolate and a cheese danish is the perfect complement to secret plans.

My husband and I have a Christmas tradition. It was born out of our lack of money (see post on Hurricane Wilma), but it is my favorite tradition of the Christmas season. Just after Thanksgiving, we go on a date to Starbucks. He orders a venti chai (no water) and a coffee cake. I order a grande non-fat, peppermint hot chocolate (with the whip for once) and a cream cheese danish.

There we sit with our special Christmasy red hot cups and a pad of paper (the kind with the lines on it that real estate agents leave on your door). We write down a list of the people on our hearts. That, of course, includes family members, but also  includes friends, even acquaintances, who are weighing heavy on our minds–especially any that have been hurtful or difficult in some way, whether they know it or not. We consider each name and ask ourselves one question, “What do they need?”

This is a harder question than it sounds. It isn’t the same as “What do they want?”  And, really truly knowing what someone needs is pretty tough. We’ve all been there, right? Where people think they know what we need and it couldn’t be further from reality.  So we are very careful with this question. Sometimes it is really less about what they need and more about what we need to do to be a better friend, daughter, son, uncle, sister, coworker,…..[fill in the blank] to this person.

As we consider each name we try to come up with a gift, often a secret gift, and surprisingly it usually costs little or no money at all. Occasionally, our ideas are actually physical gifts you can wrap and put under a tree. But more often then not, they are special actions we deliberately take during the Christmas season or throughout the year.

Christmas has been tough for me over the past 10 years. It has been hard not being able to participate in the gift giving to the degree I’ve desired. I’m thankful my kids have generous grandparents and have always had a very merry Christmas where toys and games are concerned. I would have been sad if they had missed out on that joy. It is part of the magic of the season and no amount of listening to people harping about how we are all so materialistic will change that. Christmas gifts are fun! There I said it.

At the same time, I’m so glad that tough times led me to thinking about Christmas in a whole new way–a way I look forward to with much anticipation each year. And no matter how much is in my bank account, I’ll never do Christmas without my list again.

Are you on our list? I hope so… and be ever on the lookout for your secret gift.

I Want to Hug a Comma

strunk-and-white

Thanks to my editing mentor, I own the illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An illustrated grammar book, you say? Strange, but true.

Commas give a lot of people heartburn. They have certainly given me my share. But, this weekend was different. This weekend I wanted to give that pesky punctuation mark a great big hug.

When my kids were growing up they drove me crazy with commas. They used commas where periods needed to go. When reading their school compositions, I would always have to take a really deep breath first. Talk about a run-on sentence!

I am also a recovering editor. Ok…I still edit…but I am doing my best to repress the silly arguments editors around me used to have over misplaced modifiers, nominalizations, and yes, punctuation, like commas.  Grammar nerds! You’d think there were better things to discuss in this world. My favorite comma debate topic: Should we use serial commas before and in a list? In case you are wondering, here’s my position: It isn’t technically wrong and it just might save you some serious embarrassment, so why not always use the comma just in case.

THE CASE FOR SERIAL COMMAS

I will eat apples, bananas, and figs. Comma not really necessary but it isn’t hurting anybody.

I would like to introduce you to my parents, Bill Gates and Martha Stewart. Yikes! Those aren’t my parents. Get a comma, STAT!

But, I digress.  You have either abandoned reading this post or you are still wanting to know why in the world I want to hug a comma.

It happened this Saturday morning when I was awakened by my oldest son. He had come over to our house after finishing his night shift. His new manufacturing job has been challenging, but it has provided him study work and he is discovering the benefits.

Shoulders back and head high, he stood like a giant at the foot of my bed and said in a monotone, nonchalant voice,

“Well, I got my first paycheck with a comma in it.”

He is a man of few, well-chosen, and subtle words where happy emotions are concerned. I’ll interpret his statement for you.

Woo hoo! Hooray! Let’s celebrate! I’ve done it! Take THAT adult world!

This was a major milestone. And, he came by to share it with us. He has struggled and fought and learned the hard way through life, and now at 22, he finally did it! He got a paycheck with a comma in it.

So, my dear comma, thank you for making us pause, slow down, and reveal your bounty. I have never truly admired just how remarkable you look in a number. Thank you, dear comma! You made our day.

bed

Illustrating grammar does make it a more colorful subject. From The Elements of Style.

I’m In the Army Now (or…I Didn’t Know I Signed Up for This)

army

Just a small portion of the gear that now covers the upstairs of my home.

November is designated as Military Family Month. I’m still figuring out what that means, but I am getting a taste of what it feels like.

My son’s first semester in the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) has been…well…tiring.  To earn his two college credits it requires him to go to class two days a week.  That makes sense. Two hours. Two credits.  Until you add on the rest of his week. For his two credits he is also required to attend physical training (PT) on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings at 5:30 a.m.  This requires him rising at 4 a.m. to get ready and requires me rising at 4:30 a.m.  to drive him to the light rail station in the Cranberry Crush.  (I’m getting more and more motivated to help him buy a car, but for now it is me and the Crush.) Although I am tired from this early morning commute, from what I hear of PT, I can’t complain. He informs me that he hasn’t been to a PT session yet where there hasn’t been a least one cadet who has thrown up from the intense workout.

And if that isn’t enough, he has required labs on Fridays and Saturdays, lasting 4 to 10 hours, also beginning no later than 5 a.m. At these labs he has done a great variety of activities from walking off a high dive blindfolded in full combat gear, crawling through mud to escape a dark building, being a security guard at the GOP debate, cleaning football stadiums, setting up barriers for parades in the middle of the night, and rappelling down walls.

My house is also now covered in camouflage. Funny how it is so easy to see.  I find it trailing up the stairs and where it stops, I find a sleeping man where a boy once was.

Military families, I salute you. Thanks for giving your time to take care of our soldiers. You’ve all given your lives to service and, so far, we’ve only given two credits.

Lessons from Hurricane Wilma: 10 Years Later

guatamala

The girls in Guatemala and me. Who knew we had so much in common?

Anniversaries are a good time to reflect. This week (technically, October 26, 2005) is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Wilma, the fourth costliest hurricane on record according to the National Weather Service.

It was the first costliest for me.

I can still remember watching the TV, our eyes glued as the storm sat over the Yucatan Peninsula for three days instead of the predicted 28 hours. The newscasters said things like, “The fact that this Category 5 hurricane is sitting over Cancun is really good news. It will take some of the strength out of it before it reaches Florida.”

Oh, really? That’s good news? Not for the people in Cancun. Not for our friends and employees. And definitely not for us.

It has been a very long 10 years. Ten years of recovering financially from a startup business, which was quite literally destroyed with a gust of terror. Ten years of rebuilding, not once, not twice, but multiple times. Being innovative and on the cutting edge wasn’t as marketable as we thought, especially when we later hit speed bump number two: the economic recession.  Ten years rebuilding careers and rebuilding bank accounts.

This week also marks the first time in 10 years my husband and I finally looked at each other and said, “I think we are finally there.” We are on a trajectory that doesn’t take us back under water (knock on wood). A trajectory of hope. Wow! Almost exactly 10 years later. It has been a long 10 years.

When I was in Guatemala doing a home visit with my friend’s sponsored child through Starfish, we sat in a circle with her family and they asked us questions. In the midst of her little bedroom that she shares with four siblings, she asked me, “Have you ever experienced any hardship and what is your advice for getting through it?” She explained. Her perception of people from the United States was that we are very rich and we don’t have to struggle.

I told her my story. How we had built a business and worked multiple jobs to survive while we built it. How we had put all of our time and money into it and how it was crushed in an instant by a hurricane. How we lost everything and that put us into huge debt and how we had to muscle our way back. I told her it was because of our education and a lot of caring people that we were able to recover. You can lose all your money and all of your things, but nothing can take away your experiences and your knowledge. Those are treasures beyond value and that is what makes it possible to rebuild. To dream again. (I think it was the best “stay in school” speech I’ve ever given.)

I remember the shock on her face as the translator relayed the story. She couldn’t believe that someone in the United States would have those kinds of troubles. Both of our eyes were opened that day. We are all alike. We all have wounds and struggles and hardships. They are not all the same, but this broken world is broken for us all.

The lessons I’ve learned in the last 10 years have changed me in so many ways.

I’ve been humbled. And I’ve learned how to humbly receive. Having someone pay your water bills or help you with your mortgage will do that.

I’ve been loved. And I’ve learned how to have an incredible marriage.

I’ve been judged. And I’ve learned how to shake it off and be understanding.

I’ve been hungry. And I’ve learned how to feed others.

I’ve been given gifts. And I’ve learned how to give more.

Do I wish it never would have happened? Sometimes. Am I glad for the perspective it has brought me? Absolutely.

As an added bonus to my learnings, my husband and I are now expert couch critics when watching Shark Tank. Here’s to the next 10 years! I can only hope I gain as much perspective as I’ve gained over the last.

cancun-office

In memory of TekTrek and our little office in Cancun. A dream that blew away.