Friday, May 27, 2016

To my daughter on her graduation day

Was it 14 years ago that I sat in a festively decorated school auditorium and watched my four-year-old daughter “graduate” from pre-school?

The Thornridge Preschool did not skimp on the pomp and circumstance. Our daughter, Sabrina, wore a tiny white satin gown and a matching white graduation hat. The teachers made dozens of pastel tissue paper flowers that covered the small stage.

Our daughter was over-the-moon excited for the celebration. She had ordained that the post-graduation festivities would include McDonald’s Happy Meals for everyone.

That night, her dad and I sat on metal folding chairs and watched our little daughter walk up the aisle then sing with her classmates. The whole thing was adorable. Most of the time, however, Sabrina was distracted, admiring the little boy named Riley standing next to her. Riley was the class clown, and whenever they sang, Riley would sing theatrically, throw his arms out to the side like Pavarotti. Sabrina thought he was hilarious.

When it came time for the end, the teacher had the children read a graduation poem. I don’t remember the exact words (something about I’m leaving you forever), but I do remember that I began to weep profusely. It was an over-the-top, stick-a-knife-in-your-mama’s-heart song about growing up and never being your baby again and how life was going to change and waving goodbye.

I thought my heart would crack in two.

And now I am on the morning of my daughter’s graduation from Seabreeze High School. In the blink of an eye, fourteen years have passed. And in her closet hangs a red satin graduation gown and cap waiting to be worn. I am proud of her, much more proud than I was when she was four.

How can my heart contain so much? How can the memories not spill over in one huge hormonal wave of sentimentality?

Certainly this graduation carries more weight. She has accomplished a great deal. She has a perfect academic record: straight A’s from kindergarten to senior year. She has studied long hours and carried a monstrosity of a backpack. And she has had challenges. She faced off with a classmate bully in fifth grade, a girl who stole her best friend. And, then we moved her from one state to the next in the middle of high school.

But through the good days and the hard ones, my daughter continues to amaze me. She has earned the title of National Merit Scholar and then an incredible college scholarship. She is beautiful, and talented, and kind. She can draw the perfect cat’s eye liner and singlehandedly got the school newspaper up and running. Not only that, but she just found an elusive creature on her Nintendo DS Pokemon game. While I don’t always completely understand, her joy makes me happy.

I know her. I love her. And, I’m so incredibly proud of her.

So when she crosses that stage this time, I know I will be a mess. A big, fat, sloppy mess. Because this time means even more. We are in transition, her and I. I know that life is changing. And this graduation is the real thing.

So today I’ll focus on the now, not tomorrow. I’ll celebrate her yesterdays and hold my breath just a bit as I think about our future. I’ll take it one step at a time and thank God from the bottom of my heart for this gift of us, of today, of joy.

So proud of you, Sabrina.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Que Sera Sera: God Grant Me Serenity

Two things are currently freaking me out a wee bit.

One is a dull ache in my tooth. At my last visit, the dentist told me I need multiple crowns. This is no surprise to me - I have terrible teeth, chock full of silver. But, I hate the dentist. No, let me be truthful, I abhor the dentist. And, I really hate spending excessive sums of money on my teeth.

But it's hurting a bit more - and that isn't good.

Then, last night, I saw a weird little dark blob at the top right-hand corner of my laptop screen. It had dripping lines coming down from it.


I panicked. I googled. And, yes, it is probably a bad, dying screen issue. And it will spread and grow, and obliterate my laptop screen - the screen I use for work - every day - every minute.


I want to fight these things. I want to swish something in my mouth and make that tooth problem disappear. I want to download an app and make that icky dark blob go away and restore my computer screen to its beautiful newness.

But it isn't going to happen.

So today I dialed the phone number to our dentist...slowly. And I called our tech team at work about my failing laptop.

I am trying hard to accept these things that I cannot deal with what is smack dab ahead of me. But everything in my being resists. Like everyone else, I prefer my life to be well-ordered, smooth-sailing. Why do these ripples need to come?

Many of my friends are going through stuff that far surpasses my own little issues. When I'm feeling too morose about teeth and computer woes, I can't help compare it to the unexpected news that came to Mary - yes, the virgin Mary of the Christmas story. Suddenly she found out she was pregnant. And unmarried. And bearing God's child.

What if she didn't want it? What if she was completely and utterly freaked out by what was about to happen? She probably tried to blink her eyes and pinch herself and pretend the angelic visit was just a dream. But as her belly swelled, she knew it was real - inevitable - this was not going away any time soon.

She had to accept it.

In Luke 1:38 it records Mary's response: "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled."

How do we exhibit that sense of serenity in the face of challenge?

There is an old song, made popular by the chipper Doris Day, that goes "Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be..." She sings it in this nice lilting voice, but true acceptance is much harder.

Pushing past fear requires more, doesn't it? Perhaps this prayer- used by Alcoholics Anonymous - by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says it better: "God grant me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed."

Serenity is realized when we acknowledge that we are not in charge. It is about coming to the end of us and the beginning of Him. It is understanding that we can't figure it all out, we can't control our lives, and that is okay if we take whatever it is we're frantically holding and place it in His hands.

Easier said than done - I know. But it's true.

So I'm praying today. I'm asking God to calm my worries and still my fears. And I'm doing what I know I need to do. I'm going to the dentist. I'm calling about my sad little laptop. I'll face these things and the next ones and the ones after that.

The good news is that I won't do it alone.

I don't have to be like Doris Day, skipping and singing. I can wince and moan and kvetch, all the while knowing that I have placed my future in God's capable hands.

My serenity is not something I can find on Google. It comes from praying without ceasing. Expelling my worries and breathing in His presence..

"Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." I Peter 5:7

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Crying in Home Depot at Christmas

So, I had a slight little meltdown in the middle of Home Depot.

We were there to by a new kitchen faucet, a cement-spreader-thingy, and a Christmas tree.

My daughter and I have always held out for live Christmas trees. We would go to a nearby tree farm and chop one down. Or, if we were lazy, we would go to the Menard's parking lot. But, it was still real.

I didn't care that it was messy and left a trail of needles coming in and going out. I didn't care that I was terribly allergic so my hands and arms would be covered with a prickly itchy rash when I was done decorating (even if I wore gloves). I didn't care that it slopped pine-needly water all over our carpet or - one year - tipped completely over, ornaments and all, because I bought a tree with a wobbly crooked trunk.

I loved my real Christmas tree.

But this year I had a small dilemma. We had given away our rusty, inept tree stand when we moved. We thought we'd buy a new one. The new ones were $30 and the tree was at least $40 for a decent one. It made sense to buy a fake tree, right?

I circled the fake trees five times. They were all lit up and stately. There was not a crooked trunk among them. They even sold fake pine tree spray for ambiance.

My husband and I talked about it like grown ups. Maybe this was the year to do it. To buy a boxed-up, nicely portable tree. I could do this, couldn't I? It made sense. Perfect sense.

But I couldn't.

So we went and looked at kitchen faucets.

Then Milt had to find his cement squeegee thingy.

And then I sat down on one of those metal low carts used for toting lumber, and I started to cry.

It was okay. Nobody was there. And I was kind of PMSing. But I cried. Big sloppy tears. Because we've moved. And it's 80 degrees in December. And it doesn't feel like Christmas at all.

Milt was a wee bit concerned. He said I should go ahead and buy the real one. Either way. "Maybe you need it for your mental health"...said my loving husband.

But I didn't. I bought a $75 fake tree. When I got home I kept looking at it in that box. And I thought about Christmas. And I realized it wasn't all bad, this new way of celebrating. We went to a Christmas boat parade and watched lit up Santas and snowman glide down the River. We admired decorated palm trees. We put up Christmas lights without freezing - actually we got kind of hot. I went to church and sang carols, led by a bearded dude in shorts, wearing flip flops.

And I realized - like the Grinch - that Christmas is more than just a tree.

So last weekend we decorated our new tree - we are naming him "Wesley" as his boxed label says, "7-foot Wesley Spruce."

He is beautiful and kind. And he doesn't make me rashy.

Merry Christmas to each of you - no matter what your circumstance may be. Some Christmases fit our hopes and tradition and expectation. Some decidedly do not.

But, you know. And, I know. That Christmas is not about the right tree or the perfect cookie or the most beautifully wrapped present.

Love to you all this Christmas - as we celebrate our Savior who was born and the new life we have been given. As you hug your children and love on your parents. As you sing sweet carols and lick a peppermint cane.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Monday, November 2, 2015

In praise of ordinary days

We have had a flurry of activity lately.

Good friends came for a visit and filled our weekend with great food and conversation. The weekend before we went to Miami, traveling with three teenage girls to an anime convention.

And now it is Monday, and I'm taking a deep breath, because we have one more busy weekend coming up.

But - today - nothing is on my calendar. Just the regular, ordinary, everyday stuff.

And, I'm thankful - today - for ordinary days.

This the kind of day where the biggest "to-do" is filling up my favorite Votes for Women mug with multiple cups of coffee and booting up my laptop. I woke at my regular time of 5:15 a.m. (not quite as painful thanks to daylight savings time) and walked with our dog and my daughter to her bus stop.

I've spent the morning working, writing and returning emails that have sat for too long in my inbox. Later, I plan to wipe off the shelves of the refrigerator and run a sweeper over the rug. Maybe I'll empty the trash can in our bathroom, and pay some bills.

If I get crazy adventurous, I'll make sloppy joes for dinner.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the sort of person who loves change. I look forward to special events. I adore holidays and traveling and long visits with dear friends. But sometimes, I just need ordinary.

So today, I'm celebrating it.

Thank you, God, for this ordinary day.

Help me to never take it for granted, but to know that each day, each ordinary moment, is precious.

There is time to wiggle my toes. Time to sigh deeply and take five extra minutes in the shower.Time to scramble an egg and stare out the window.

Thank you for the wind in the trees and for the sun shining so brightly. Thank you for my daily work, the tasks set before me that return month after month. Thank you for today.

For this ordinary, plain-old, regular, non-spectacular day... I am deeply thankful.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Army Wives, Wax Donuts, and the Friends Who Know Me Best

Lately I've been binge-watching the show Army Wives on Netflix.

I never saw it the first-time around. And now I can watch the complete series as I sit on my orange couch in a quiet living room, emptying a bag of Mint Milano cookies. Dangerous stuff.

When I deep dive into a new book or series, I feel like I'm entering a new, unknown world. And, right now, I'm enjoying being an Army wife.

I am struck by what it means to live and serve in the Army. I stand in awe of the commitment made by these individuals - not only what it means to commit to serve and fight, but what it means to be the wives and families of those in service. One of my former students, now an army wife, confirms that much of what the show portrays is true.

I don't know how I would live with such a sense of impermanence. Army wives must be ready to pack up and move every few years. That means a new house, new friends, new schools for their kids. They cannot invest too much in their own careers, because a move would require that they pick up and go. For me, that would be a huge struggle.

They also exist under the constant threat of deployment. Sometimes they get a few weeks of warning, other times not. I watched one episode where a single mom was being deployed and panicked when she realized she had no one to care for her daughter. How little I realized about military life!

The show revolves around a group of friends - four wives and one husband. Pamela (the fiery, redhead police officer), Roxie (the bar owner with short skirts and a sassy attitude), Denise (the elegant, motorcycle-riding paramedic), and Claudia Joy (the commander's wife who is also beginning a law degree).

Their friendship runs deep. And, in each episode, those bonds are tested and strengthened. They walk through depression, divorce, sickness, death. They cry. They laugh. They call each other. They take walks. They bond over coffee and glasses of wine. And sometimes they come around one another with no words at all.

They are moms, wives, and friends. And the more I watch - the more I thought about how much I value the circle of female friends in my own life. I have my writer and artist friends who challenge me to be see beauty, be creative and take risks. I have friends from childhood, people who have known me through summer camp romances and bad haircuts.

I have work friendships, women who raised eyebrows with me during those way-too-long, way-too-boring meetings and understood my consuming need for 3 o'clock M&Ms (no peanuts, please). And, in my new town, I'm building friendships . . . slowly. I met these friends through Instagram, church, and even my daughter's art camp where she served as a volunteer.

Army Wives reminded me to never take these friendships for granted. While I don't have a huge number, the ones I have I hold dear.

My friends make me laugh. They enjoy my adoration for Gilmore Girls and a strong cup of coffee. They understand my obsession with vintage and my odd addiction to chocolate waxy donuts. They know I am clutzy and that I can appreciate "real" literature as well as a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Friends understand all the varied parts of me. I am so thankful for the company of women.