Sometimes I forget to spit out the seeds…

I Can’t Even

When you complain that you’re not taken care of, but you don’t ask for help….

When you have unconditional love handed to you, and you spit on it….

When you say that you haven’t been heard, but you’re not talking to the ones who love you….

When you have everything you’ve ever asked for, and you walk away….

When someone gives their life for you, and you think they’re out to get you….

When you get a second (or third) chance, and you stupidly screw it up….

When you invest in the lives of children, and then you disappear….

When someone you care about is passionate about something, and you’re indifferent….

When people offer you a lifeline, and you willingly fall into the abyss….

When you gossip about a problem instead of trying to help….

When you’ve had the advantages of being brought up in a loving home, and you choose to be miserable and alone….

When you chase after something so hard, and then you catch it, but you’re afraid to hold on….

When you don’t know how to pray, so you just say “Jesus” whenever your heart contracts in a reminder of the pain all around you, and you hope no one thinks you are swearing….

When your heart and mind are so full of everything that’s wrong, and you word vomit it into a blog post….

 

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The Last First Loose Tooth

My husband thinks I’m a little crazy.  Maybe I am, but I’m fairly certain it’s the standard sort of crazy that comes with being a mom, or maybe just being a woman in general.  He thinks I’m crazy because I get emotional over things like giving away baby clothes, switching from a car seat to a booster, and long “baby” legs hanging off my lap.

My daughter’s loose tooth stirred up emotions in me that, surely, a tiny tooth is unworthy of.  That husband of mine looks at me with a cocked eyebrow and amused smirk whenever these things come up, but I can’t help it.  You see, this daughter….this 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter….she’s our baby.  She’s THE baby.

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It happens in every family.  It isn’t always the same story, but it’s the same ending.  Because childbearing comes to an end.  No one goes on having babies forever.  (Damn, you, menopause!)  Those babies grow, and they grow fast.  Mothers all over the world urge younger mothers to savor it, because it goes by so fast.

Some couples make a decision to be done with adding to their family, and so they know when the last is the last.  They savor every milestone, knowing they won’t observe it ever again.  Maybe that makes it easier, or maybe it makes everything bittersweet.

Some couples think they know when the last is the last, and then are surprised with a second (or third!) round of lasts.  I imagine that’s all kinds of emotional ups and downs.

Some couples don’t realize they are in the “last days” until they are well into them.  Perhaps secondary infertility comes upon them, or they had planned to have more but changed their mind.

I fall into this last camp, of being caught unaware.  My babies arrived at fairly regular intervals – every 18 months to two years – for twelve years.  My family grew steadily, and we rejoiced and thanked God for every blessing.  We knew He would plan our family perfectly!  And while I knew there would be an end, I didn’t know when it would be for us.

I still don’t know that it is the end, but as I mentioned before, my “baby” is going on five years old.  When that tiny tooth came out, in the middle of dinner, and I exclaimed and teared up and declared her to be “so old” yet “still my baby,” my family chimed in.

We listed all the things that are no longer part of our lives….nursing, diaper bags, pacifiers, sippy cups, strollers, and car seats.  And then my kids melted my heart when they expressed their desire for more siblings.

“I want a baby brother!”  My youngest boy is my number three child, with five sisters following him.  Since he was able to talk, he’s been wishing for a little brother, and as a teenager, he still feels that way.

“I want TWIN baby brothers!”  The idea of a baby boy is a novelty after the string of girls, so that sentiment is shared.  And of course…twins!  So much more exciting.

“Hey, maybe Baby Sawyer is already on the way.”  My oldest son, who is practically a man (sob!) chimed in with this comment, accompanied by a big grin.  We had the name Sawyer picked out for the last three pregnancies, and yes, it was due to our obsession with LOST.

I smiled through my mixed emotions and thought, “Wow.  God is so good!”

In January, I wrote about the sense of failure I struggle with, never feeling I am doing a good enough job with my family.  This night, though….the night of the Last First Loose Tooth….filled me with relief that something had gone right.  It was just a few minutes out of what might have been a difficult day, but to God be the glory!

There was no, and never is any, expression of, “Ugh, no!  No more babies!” from any of my children.  Sometimes you hear of kids from large families who grow up to renounce and detest the idea of many children.  My heart aches at that possibility, but so far, so good.

My children know family is important.

My children know babies are blessings.

My children know siblings are valuable.

Mama might be crazy, but she sure is blessed!

 

 

 

 

New Year, Same Me

I admit it.  A brand new year gives me all kinds of glorious visions of a better me.  Technically, I don’t partake of the whole “New Year’s resolutions” thing.  I don’t write it down or make dramatic declarations, but if I’m completely honest, it’s there – almost as intoxicating as those rows of empty spiral notebooks, pretty binders, and new pens that make back-to-school time my absolute favorite.

As 2015 came to a close, I thought about how long it had been since I had blogged.  When I finally checked in here, I was surprised to find it had been seven months since I published anything.  My heart panged with guilt as I recalled the stone on a shelf above my desk, with the words “write every day” on it.

I didn’t keep that commitment, and I missed a lot of writing potential in the second half of the year.  Mundane summer “adventures.” A new doctor who offered hope and ultimately had some success in treating my whacked-out self. Home school struggles.  My grandma passing away.  A busy soccer season with three of my kids playing for a local Christian school.  The kitten who showed up at my house, wouldn’t leave, and adopted himself into my family.  My baby sister’s  whirlwind engagement, bridal shower, and wedding.

Opportunities missed, though  not lost, since there are no rules about blog posts having to be current events.  I mentally added my dry spell to the running list of failures I had going in my head.

Like a flashing neon sign, the word “failure” was plaguing my subconsciousness, and I had been vaguely aware of it for months.  It was clouding my days and giving me sleepless nights. I’m not normally a sarcastic person, but my brain was giving me a very bitter lashing on a daily basis.

Every mommy blog and meme on the internet:  “I know it feels like you’re not appreciated and that you’re not doing life well, but you’re doing great, Mama!  Go motherhood!  You are succeeding!”

My bitter brain:  “Uh, yeah.  No. You don’t just feel like you’re failing.  You actually ARE.  You suck at everything.”

My middle and high school students are behind in their school work, and they don’t seem to care.  FAIL.

I haven’t worked on painting the interior of our home in over a year.  FAIL.

I frequently lack in patience with my little ones, and probably don’t read to them enough.  FAIL.

My teenager doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.  FAIL.

According to a spiritual gifts test, mine is hospitality, and I never invite anyone over.  FAIL.

My bathrooms are never quite clean; my laundry is never caught up; our sheets don’t get washed nearly often enough.  FAIL.

I’ve lost count of how many years behind I am on scrapbooking.  Ok, no I haven’t – it’s 10.  Ten years behind.  TRIPLE FAIL.

Now I’ve cataloged a portion of my transgressions, and I’ve sat on it for a few days.  Stuck.  Unable to tie this thing up as something other than a keeping-it-real, honest motherhood kind of post.  God knows, I could write a truck load of those.  Having eight kids has given me plenty of material for that kind of thing.

I went to church yesterday asking God for direction.  Not just in my writing, but it was definitely on the list.  We sang the song, “Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration)” by Rend Collective.

When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally

I know that most of the “sins” listed above aren’t really sins.  Laziness or procrastination may have played a minor role in some of them, but mostly they are simply life happening.  But does that matter to Satan?  He will tempt me to despair over anything he can get his hands on.

The truth is I am NOT enough.  But my God always is.  Sometimes that means  He equips me to do things better, and beyond my natural ability.  But sometimes that means that His grace covers my deficiencies.  And I am grateful; for even when I suck at everything, God is somehow glorified.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I woke up this morning, after eight hours of sleep, feeling like I’d just finished a full day of hard physical labor.  My energy level picked up, but not much.  I managed to get a load of dishes washed, help my little girls straighten their rooms, sort and file six months worth of paperwork, and turn dozens of frozen bread ends into bread crumbs.  The last was an effort to make room in my freezer while we were trying to determine if our full-sized freezer had died.  Turns out it had just been left open, and we didn’t lose any of the contents.  Praise God for mundane victories, right?

I paused between projects to get a bit of fresh air.  I moved to our huge screened-in porch, which is one of the focal points of our new home.  New, still, in my mind, sixteen months after moving in.  I’m sitting in a wicker chair I inherited when my grandma moved from her large home in the woods of western Massachusetts, to a tiny apartment here in upstate New York. Outside, I can see the bright blue sky, visible through the greenery of a tall, sprawling tree next to the driveway.  The wind whips through the branches, and also makes the loose sheets of plastic that covered the porch screens for the winter flap around wildly, with a sound that is actually quite lovely and peaceful.

Gazing across our driveway to the side yard, I glimpse a sea of green grass with an abundance of yellow dandelions. I never can understand why people spray chemicals to kill those lovely flowers.  Our “neighbors,” row after row of headstones, decorated with flags and flowers, receive many visitors today.

Looking down the expanse of the porch, I see towels and bathing suits, hanging on hooks and draped over benches; evidence of a pre-lunch swim in the creek.  A path of small mismatched rugs extends from where I am to the door, covering the tile that isn’t really meant for outdoor conditions, and gets dangerously slippery when wet.  The stacked up bins of shoes and boots sit near the door.  A crate we found in the barn attic, filled with century-old encyclopedias, acts as a table for the spigot-ed jar of bubbles and basket of sidewalk chalk.

The house paint is chipped, the ceiling fans are ugly, and the metal nameplate by the door bears the previous owners’ names.  (Why in the world haven’t we taken that down yet?)  The pieces of wicker furniture would look so much cuter if they were painted to match and had new cushions.  But despite these flaws – and perhaps even because of them, because I know there will never be an end to maintaining and improving this home – I am filled with thankfulness for what God has blessed us with.  The exhaustion that threatened to overtake me a few minutes ago has receded a bit, and I feel refreshed.  The refreshment is mostly mental and spiritual, and my body is still weary.  But it’s enough to get me through the day.

When Hope Sinks

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I envisioned it being many things.  I had just begun to experience some health problems, for the first time in my life.  One of my purposes in writing was to both vent my frustration at not being “well,” and catalog my journey to wholeness. Because I was sure that “wholeness” was where I was headed.  I had confidence in the wisdom of doctors and the power of God to heal.

I haven’t published nearly as many posts as I’ve written, in my head, or uncompleted in my drafts folder.  I became weary of chronicling every dead end I encountered.  Trying to escape my tunnel vision, I wrote about other things that God laid on my heart.

Sometimes my brain is screaming with all the things I want to write about what I am going through, but I silence it.  Because it is redundant.  Because it is whiny.  Because the world doesn’t need one more pity-party.

The other day I was feeling so stuck, and stifled, and wondering why blogging about my “journey to wholeness” had become so stale.  I thought about my previous posts, and I suddenly saw a pattern.  They were all about hope, followed by hopes dashed.

I put hope in everything…..

Hope in a “miracle” supplement, supported by hope in a TV doctor.

Hope in a nutritionist-to-the-stars and her metabolism-healing plan.

Hope in coffee, which I had never drank before, to combat fatigue.

Hope in a new doctor, and then another new doctor, to not give up on me.

Hope in WebMD, or an online survey, or some other method of self-diagnosis.

Hope in natural remedies to treat my self-diagnosed conditions.

Hope in another blood test that will surely reveal the elusive cause of my misery.

So many times, I was sure that wholeness was just around the corner.  But it wasn’t.  It still isn’t.

As I thought about this pattern of hope, I heard in my head, softly and slowly:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Through every instance of building up my hope, putting it all on that one thing, I was still praying….still trusting God.  But He wasn’t my focus.  He wasn’t my source.  And when that one thing turned out to not be the thing, my hopes were shattered.  By losing focus on my Savior, I set myself up for devastation, again and again.

This realization comes on the cusp of new hope.  A new doctor.  A fresh view.  A different approach.  But I am very consciously fixing my hope on Jesus.  And turning it back to Him as often as I need to.

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.                     I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.                     On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.                               When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace.                       In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

Confessions

I recently realized that a blog site I have been reading also has a “confessional” section.  Anyone can post their “confessions” anonymously as a way to vent.  Others can offer their support with “like,” “hug,” or “me too!”  I can see the value in that….for commiserating about the hard parts of life.  For getting things off our chest.  It’s also a pretty dark place, with people telling secrets that are heart-wrenching, or scary, or even dangerous.  And there’s no way to reach out to those people, due to the anonymity.  More on that another day…..

Today, I thought I’d share some of my own “confessions.”  Nothing serious, or heavy….just for the fun of it.

My bathroom floor is absolutely filthy.  My kids rotate bathroom duty, so the essentials (toilet, sink, garbage, etc.) are taken care of.  I always intend to get in there and tackle the floor….but I don’t.  Between the painted tiles that everything sticks to, necessitating a scrub-by-hand-on-your-knees approach, and the claw foot tub that is impossible to clean under, it’s the worst job in the house.

I fake-nursed in order to sit on the couch longer and not feel lazy.  When I had nurslings, and they fell asleep at the breast, I would often just pretend they were still eating so I could rest some more.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who used that tactic.

I like mayonnaise on my cooked spinach.  Just a little bit, mixed right in.  Creamy, vinegary…yum!  My husband thinks it’s very weird and gross, but I’m the only one in my family who eats cooked spinach, so whatevs.  All for me.

My kids are not allowed to say the “f” word.  No, not that one!  I mean, obviously that one, too.  But also the one for gas.  I hate that word.  It makes me gag.  Sometimes I really can’t believe that anyone says it.  If you say it, I might judge you a little bit.

Of all the changes in my body after having children, I mourn my feet the most.  Stretch marks, loose skin, and other unmentionable things, are permanent evidence that I’m a mother.  And I’m fine with that, really and truly.  But my feet.  They are more or less the same length, but the ligaments seem to be permanently relaxed, so they spread when I’m standing.  I can’t buy strappy sandals anymore, or cheap sneakers, because they usually don’t come in a wide width.  I didn’t know how much I loved cute shoes until I couldn’t wear them anymore.

I served my family leftovers for dinner four nights in a row.  I always plan my menu with a leftover night in mind.  But this week, my mother-in-law brought me a bounty of Easter dinner leftovers.  With the weekend leftovers already in my fridge, we were set for the week!  I added a couple of frozen pizzas one night to break up the monotony, although monotony wasn’t really a problem with the number of choices we had.  Last night I served it up on platters and called it a “smorgasbord”.  I call that a total win.

I made up a song about corn bags, and now I’m forced to sing it every night.  My mom made my kids each their own corn bag for Christmas.  The first time my little girls used them for bedtime, I sang an impromptu song as I delivered the warmed-up bags.  It’s to the tune of “We Got a Dollar” from The Little Rascals.  “I got a corn bag, I got a corn bag, I got a corn bag with zebra stripes (or princess crowns, or sock monkeys)!  I got a corn bag, a warm corn bag, a warm corn bag with zebra stripes!”  If my husband or older kids try to sing the song and deliver the corn bags, they protest loudly.  I’m stuck for life.

So what about you?  Leave your confessions in the comments!

We Can’t Be All

In my last post, I talked about embracing your place.  Seeing the eternal value of serving others in mundane, physical ways; specifically in the role of motherhood, but really, in so many others, as well.  Immediately after publishing that post, my mind was swirling with an addendum.  What if, along with embracing our place, we embrace each other?

Let’s call this Christianity 101.  In a way, it’s really Humanity 101, because the basic premise applies to us all, regardless of spiritual beliefs.  But bear with me as I stick to the Christian verbiage, because I’m not sure what the secular translation would be.

The Body of Christ.  Sunday School basics, right?  We all have our own part to play, based on our gifts, skills, and passions.  If we work cohesively, it’s a beautiful thing.  If we try to take over someone else’s role, it just doesn’t work.  If you’re familiar with Psalty the Singing Songbook, you might remember the song about the Body of Christ.

“I am the eye, I go blink-blink.  I am the eye, and I can wink.  I am the eye, but I can’t think.  That belongs to my friend the brain!”  And so on, each part declaring their strengths, while acknowledging that they can’t do it all.

Even worse than shoving our self in a position that belongs to someone else is if we devalue their role.  If we mock their passion as something unworthy of their efforts.  You may think you’d never do that, but it happens subtly.

What does that look like?

It is usually expressed with some version of, “there are more important things to do/fight for/promote”

If someone lobbies for the change of unjust laws, someone else will say that this is just our temporary home. Why bother?

If someone stands up for freedom of religious expression, someone else will say there is no persecution here; others are dying for their faith.

If someone fights for quality school lunches, because there are kids in our country who rely on that meal to sustain them, someone else will say that somewhere else in the world there are children actually starving to death.

If someone tries to defend children’s rights to genital integrity, someone else will say that children are being murdered in the womb.  Death is worse.

If someone decides they are going to stop wearing leggings, or bikinis, or low-cut tops, and encourages others to consider doing the same, someone else will say that it only matters what’s in their heart. Only salvation matters.

We end up tearing each other down, belittling causes and ministries that are not only dear to someone’s heart, but also God-ordained.

If you don’t feel passion for another person’s cause or ministry, that’s fine.  We are not all required to be a part of all things.  Remember that Body of Christ thing?  Do what you are designed, or called, or gifted to do.

Jesus is…. Loving.  Compassionate.  Blunt.  Serving.  Forgiving.  Confrontational.  Patient.  Humble.  Cunning.  Strong.

He is all those things, and we’re supposed to represent Him to the world.  To be those things as we do His work, whatever that is for us, personally.  To live so that others will see Him.  In us.  How can we be all of those things?

We can’t.  Jesus is all.  We can’t be all, and we can’t do all.  Embrace each other, and trust Him to use each of us to cover all the bases.

Embrace Your Place

I got a call from my husband at about 11:00pm.  “We’re at a gas station now, but I think Jr.’s going to need an x-ray tonight.”  Ugh.  Seriously?  I was in my pajamas, settled in bed with my laptop, thinking about actually going to sleep soon.  But my husband had to get up and out the door for work in the morning, and I did not, so it was logical for me to take the kid to the ER if he did indeed need to go that night.

My 15-yr-old son walked through the door, shivering because it was freezing outside and he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, in too much pain to change after playing basketball at our church’s open gym night.  He also was holding a paper towel full of ice on his wrist, and it was dripping coldly all over him.

As soon as I saw the pain in his face, and how gingerly he shuffled down the hall, my annoyance at being disturbed vanished. “Can we get a coat on you?”  He winced.  Nope.  I threw a sweatshirt over his shoulders and grabbed a blanket and my purse.

In the next 18 hours (after three hours in the emergency room, an inconclusive set of x-rays, a visit to the orthopedist, a temporary cast on his possibly-broken wrist, and a padded and wrapped possibly-broken elbow on the OPPOSITE arm) I began to do something I had not done in quite a while.  I took care of my son.

I held doors open for him.  I buckled his seat belt.  I held the ice pack on his wrist when his hand went numb.  I put pills in his mouth and held a cup to his lips so he could drink water.  I untied his shoes and pulled them off.  I prepared him food and drink when we got home, and tucked a blanket around him on the recliner before I passed out on the couch.

In the days that followed, I continued to serve him.  There was so much he couldn’t do.  Put his sweatshirt on and off.  Put his socks on.  Wash his hair.  Open a pill bottle.  Pour himself a drink.

This first-born child of mine is independent with a capital I and has been since he was very young.  Yes, he’s still needed me.  To talk to him.  To teach him.  To guide his decisions.  To drive him where he wants to go.  To grant permission for the things he wants to do.  To embarrass him by dancing in the kitchen.  But he hasn’t NEEDED me.

There’s something different about serving him now than there was before.  Babies and toddlers need parents to provide for their every need.  To do everything for them.  The willingness to do those things springs from our love and adoration of them.  But then they learn how to do things for themselves, in leaps and bounds, needing us a little less every day.  We rejoice with pride at their new accomplishments.  But there’s also a pang, with each step toward independence, at the unprecedented separation.  It’s as it should be…..and yet….

I have served this boy-man of mine through this time of healing, and it has been my pleasure.  I’m reading my own words here, and I know it seems like I’m romanticizing something small and mundane.  Of course my child, who is closer to being grown than being born, doesn’t need me to care for his physical needs anymore.  Of course, when the need arose I took up that care again, willingly.  So why all the emotional blather?

This past weekend I attended a women’s conference called IF:Gathering.  My church hosted an IF:Local simulcast, and I was there for over 15 hours over two days, worshiping God, enjoying time with some amazing friends, and being fed spiritually.  What I gleaned from the women who shared from God’s Word and their hearts is worthy of a dozen blog posts.

From my notes:  Embrace your place….when God is ready to use you, He will find you!  and Service is preparation for battle, not performance.

In our small group discussion time, we addressed a question about how to focus on the eternal a midst the practical.  A wise woman in my group (a.k.a. my mom) reminded us that during the years when our lives are consumed with the 24/7 acts of service associated with raising children, we are also ministering to their souls.  We are attending to their eternal souls with our practical, mundane, sometimes thankless service to their physical needs.

Whether they are just hours old and completely vulnerable, or approaching adulthood and quite capable….

Whether the ones you are serving are your children, parents, and siblings….or your neighbors, friends, and strangers….

Serving practical needs IS eternal, because those you are ministering to have eternal souls. 

Mothers, your mothering makes you great.  Your service to your children is service to your King, and it’s preparing you for whatever He has for you in the future.  Never, ever, believe the lie that what you do is only valuable in the moment.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Weddings and Funerals

As a child, I never would have imagined that in adulthood, there would be family members I would only see at weddings and funerals.  I don’t mean distant branches of the family tree, but close relatives…. grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins.  Even as my cousins and I seemed to have less in common as we got older, I still envisioned adulthood peppered with family reunions and occasional holiday gatherings.  I have written before about the gradual absence of all but my immediate family. But inevitably, that wedding or funeral comes around.

My grandfather died last week.  He was a very handsome Italian-American named Joe; the first generation of his family to be born in America.  Family rumor has him as one of 13 children, but everyone I’ve talked to can only name six of them; the rest are assumed to have died in infancy.  I have memories of he and my Armenian grandma taking us to the donut shop for donuts-on-a-stick and stickers from the vending machine by the door.  It seemed that every time we visited, he was eating basturma (I remember it pronounced BAS-too-mah), which is air-dried, cured beef.  He was always thrilled to see us; so proud, and so protective. Coast bar soap reminds me of him, and I’m not sure why.

At 87 years old, and in failing health after a couple of strokes, Grandpa’s death was not a surprise.  A midst the predictable feelings of sadness, there mingled a few other emotions as I began planning the logistics of our trip to bid him farewell.

Stress as I made arrangements for leaving our children behind while we spent two days in New Jersey for the viewing, funeral, and burial services.  My in-laws were more than willing to watch them for us, but I needed to type up instructions so the kiddos wouldn’t try to con their way into endless screen time and no chores.  Also on the docket were a light school plan and medical authorization forms, just in case.

Indecision as I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to bring our 3-yr-old with us.  She is needy at bedtime, and also my “baby”.  She would be a great buffer for those awkward moments with estranged family members.  (She ultimately came with us and was spoiled rotten.)

Embarrassment when I thought of showing up overweight after not seeing many of these people for several years.  Adding to that embarrassment was the struggle to find appropriate clothing to wear when I haven’t been shopping for my larger body.

Anger when I thought of those family members who’d shunned myself, my parents, and siblings with no explanation.  For years, I’d known the time would come when we’d be forced to spend time together.  That time had come, and it felt like I was about to enter a hostile middle school cafeteria.  No logic.  No rules.  Just “I don’t like you.”

Excitement when I thought of the ones whose love is evident.  The ones it is a joy to spend time with, no matter how long it’s been.  The ones I can talk to and laugh with and be myself with.

Anxiety at the thought of actually leaving my children, although I had no doubt that they were in capable hands.

I spent the week praying for grace, strength, safety, and peace.  I prayed that Jesus’ love would shine through me, regardless of what was going on around me.

In the end, the good moments far outweighed the bad.

The bad…. In addition to the terrifying drive around Philly, there was the anticipated family angst.  The “shunners” were very inconsistent with their shunning.  One moment avoiding eye contact and bee-lining it away from me, and the next carrying on what seemed like normal conversations, but felt like a big game of “let’s pretend.”  It was unnerving, confusing, and a little sickening.  But those moments were few.

The good…. I got to see many family members and friends, who all came together to honor my grandpa.  I enjoyed great conversations, good food, and laughter.  My grandma did not make her usual inquiry about whether or not I was pregnant again, to which she generally responds “thank God” when the answer is no.  In fact, she proudly announced to several people that I have eight children, and told one of my sisters what a blessing my kids are.  Wow.

I came home feeling inspired to make more of an effort to remain connected.  I thought about hosting a family reunion when our house is more hospitable.  I kicked myself for bringing my camera and not taking any pictures, especially of all the cousins together.  I don’t know if anything will change in our family dynamics.  My bet would be on “probably not.”  I feel sad but resigned to that fact, and just grateful for the good times that we had this week.

My grandpa and I weren’t really very close, but every time I saw him, his face lit up with a smile.  He liked to tell the story of when I was little and just learning to walk.  I’d fall forward and end up rump-in-the-air to reveal a heart on the bottom of my diaper cover.  I’m 36 years old, and until he lost the ability to talk a few years ago, that was still a memory he shared often, and with joy.  And he called me “my Michelle.”

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Family is Everything

I spent the first six years of my life surrounded by extended family. My cousin Joey was my first best friend, and our moms helped each other with life….one watching the kids while the other went shopping; drinking coffee and chatting on a regular basis. There were grandparent, aunts and uncles, and second cousins nearby, and very much in my life. Many of us would even go on vacation together every year, to a resort in the Catskills. I remember the entire caravan of cars pulling over when I got carsick. I’m not even sure how they made that happen without cell phones.

On Christmas Day, 30 years ago, my family moved to another state. My father’s profession is very specific, and jobs weren’t to be found just anywhere. He saw an opportunity and took it. My cousins then became my first pen pals. Family gatherings suddenly occurred only 2-3 times a year. It was a tough transition for my mom, I know, but as I remember, it was rather seamless for me.

Birthdays were celebrated with just my parents, my sisters, and myself.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were small affairs, as well.  There were no grandparents at choir and band concerts, talent shows, marching band competitions, or even my high school graduation party.  It sounds kind of sad, but in reality, I never felt the lack.  I credit my parents with that amazing feat.

They never spoke of the absence of family; at least not with us kids.  They made a lot of effort to keep those other relationships close, and didn’t complain when it seemed to be a one-way street.  But when it came right down to it, and those people were missing out on our growing up, my mom and my dad filled every gap.   We were always enough for each other.

When I began to have kids of my own, I started to realize what had been missing in my life.  The way my kids are growing up became a clear contrast to my own childhood.  While I never felt deprived, they surely are blessed.  Every birthday party is attended by grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and cousins.  Every soccer, basketball, and baseball game is attended by one or both sets of grandparents.  They’ve grown up in the same church as my in-laws, and more recently, my parents as well.  I’ve rarely needed to find a babysitter outside of the family.

Christmas Eve is always at my parents’ house (pizza bread, shrimp cocktail, and antipasto!).  After our own morning traditions on Christmas Day we head to my hubby’s parents’ house (ham, turkey, broccoli salad, pink stuff!).  Later in the day, my parents come by our house to hand out presents.  For Thanksgiving, we alternate years; each year content to be where we are, but missing the other side of the family, as well.

We do have family members out of state, most notably my sister and her family.  We miss them so much, but we make the effort to keep close, despite the distance.  We also have some family that we rarely see, though they are close by, and that is sad.  But our cup is overflowing, and I’m so thankful for that.  I’m thankful that God hasn’t put it on my plate to be far from family, as I know He’s done for others.

This fall, a wonderful thing happened to my family.  My grandma and step-grandpa moved to town!  We haven’t been able to visit them for several years, due to health-related issues.  Now they are only 25 minutes away, and will be present at birthdays, holidays, and many things in between.  My children are now getting to know their great-grandparents, which I think is amazing.  Their childhoods are so richly steeped in their heritage, and I hope that will resonate with them throughout their lives.

Family is not an important thing.  It’s everything.  ~ Michael J. Fox