Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On Birthdays and Celebrating

I was tucking the girls into bed the other night when Ainsley said she was almost too excited to sleep. She asked if I thought I would be able to get any sleep at all. Because, you see, the next day was my birthday. Remember birthdays as a kid? We'd mark off the days on the calendar and countdown for months before the big day. Party plans and wish lists were in place well before the expected month rolled onto the calendar let alone the week. Wishes were made well before the candles were lit and when the day finally came, it was time to celebrate BIG! But as we get older, our birthdays are not quite as eagerly anticipated anymore. When they arrive the alarm still rattles off so very early in the morning and the to-do list doesn't take a holiday. Oh, and gravity doesn't  stop either. We begin to feel a little childish to clap our hands and say to anyone listening, "It's my birthday," with our greying hair and crease lined foreheads. But it is a day to be celebrated irrespective of age, or maybe because of it.

You guys. I turned 48. That means in two years I will be 50 years old. My AARP card will come in the mail and I'll be eligible for senior discounts for dinner before 5:00p.m. That used to mean you were so old--- a half a century, {for the love of Willard Scott}. But now I know better. Being old has nothing to do with the number of years you've walked the green earth. Age is in the heart. I know people 20 years younger than I am who are old in their spirit. I also know people 20 years older than I am who have an enviable skip in their step that I long to emulate. 

It's a funny thing this aging. We're told to fight it, resist it, and lie about it. Youth serums and age-defying potions fly off of the shelves (and a few into my medicine cabinet), but maybe aging well is more about embracing our age rather than battling it. Since I don't know how many birthdays I'll get to have, I intend to celebrate each one well and good. I keep getting an unwelcome refresher course in the brevity of life lesson, and I got the message: It's so quick, this life. I don't plan to spend any of it begrudging how many years I have had the good fortune to be around for it.

My girls surely captured the idea of celebrating and could hardly contain their excitement and anticipation for my day. They had been crossing off the days on their calendar even if I was not.  Ainsley wanted to know what theme I wanted for my party because every party has a theme, right? Love seemed the obvious choice since that is what I celebrate. They ran with it and covered the made-from-scratch cookie cake with hearts and sentiments of love without end. It was a hilly terrain of smudgy brown, white, pink, and red frosting hills, and it was perfection. I was told that the four figures inside the goopy heart were meant to represent our little family. Divine. Oh, to be loved, to be celebrated.

We sat around the dinner table where their dad and I drank wine and ate salad and deep dish pizza (God bless hot carbs!) and my heart took flight. I thought I might burst with love and gratitude for the people around that table. On so many birthdays before, I wished for this very thing--a family of my own. And there around the table sat my wishes come true. My whole world. My whole heart. The theme of love was prevalent both in the mountainous frosting and in my heart. Gracious, I am so fortunate.

So here's to love and aging well.

Another upside to getting older is that you care a lot less about how you look taking a selfie in your car.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why I Don't tell Facebook What I'm Thankful For

I'm over at  The Glorious Table  today. Stop over and see why you won't find any 30 Days of Gratitude Posts from me on Facebook.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Gleeful Greeter

So Ainsley applied for a job at school. Apparently it's not enough to be in class for seven hours: her day must also include a vocation in the first grade. 

Catty comments aside, I do like the idea of everyone having their own job in school. I like that it offers each student something in which to take pride aside from their schoolwork. 

Each child was asked to select from a list of potential roles and rank them in order of preference. There must have five or so choices on the list, but there really was only one that appealed to Ainsley: Able Ambassador. The ambassador accompanies new students and their parents on tours of the school and assists new students once they are enrolled. On her application, Ainsley added that what set her apart from other candidates was that she knew where everything was in the building and was friendly. Seemed true enough.

"Need the restroom?" Right this way.

"A trip to the nurses station?" Gotcha covered!

"Looking for the gym?" Follow me.

 Any leadership role within a small group is Ainsley's song. Her second, and admittedly reluctant choice, was that of Gleeful Greeter. The greeters stand at one of the school's entrances or just inside the building by the staircase. Their job is to greet students as they come in each morning and wish them a good day. Not as exciting as the Ambassador's role, but valuable all the same. Ainsley wasn't terribly excited when she learned all of the ambassadors slots were filled and a Gleeful Greeter she would be.

She attended a brief training in which the teacher told the team that their task was simple, "To cheerfully greet students and wish them well." She went on to tell them that their welcome was to remain unchanged irrespective of anyone's reactions (or lack thereof) to their friendly salutations. 

If no one said good morning in return, they were to carry on. If someone dissed their attempt to offer a high five or hand-shake, keep it up. In other words, they were to continue to greet everyone cheerfully even if not a single soul said Good Morning in return or extended any kindness to them.

 After this training, Ainsley was up for the challenge and excited to give it a go.What a life lesson this turned out to be.

She came home after her first day and said she kindly greeted more than 150 kids that morning. Some happily returned a kind greeting, while others ignored her altogether. But she was unmoved. She talked about how fun it was to cheerfully welcome so many of her classmates into the their day. Such a sweet and tangible example of how good it feels to brighten someone's day whether or not it's reciprocated.

I love the lesson for us all: You are lovely and kind. Be that. Keep being that no matter how anyone responds. 

Isn't that it? If we let someone's dismissal (being ignored) or someone's attitude (dismissing us) cause us to turn our light off, to leave the kindness behind, everyone misses out. People in our circle miss the encouragement and warmth of a friendly greeting, but the bigger loss is that we miss out on the joy that comes from extending the best of ourselves to others.

On the days in which I have intentionally sought to share kindness, the results were unmistakable.  I saw people's shoulders relax, their face soften. It's as if those kind words were exactly what they needed in that moment. All I did was note something lovely that I saw in them and speak of it. Have I changed lives? Maybe not, but I have changed moments.  Encounters that could have been routine became moments of encouragement and light for someone.

The world needs more Gleeful Greeters, turns out, and I'm all in. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Hearted Homecoming

So we were in Illinois last weekend. It was such a treat for me to bring my little family back to the home of my youth. My dad still lives in the house they bought the very month that I was born. My walk through the front door brought a flood of nostalgia as I entered the place where so much love and laughter was poured over me.

Since we landed in Chicago in the late evening and drove down from there, we didn't arrive until midnight. But my dad was up and waiting just as he and my mom used to be when I walked in at about that time so many times before. But this time I hadn't just come from Gully's or Doyle's and smelled only of soap and Goldfish crackers rather than stale beer and nachos. This time I didn't come in alone. In front of me walked my dear husband hand-in-hand with a sleep-walking girl of only ten. In my arms I carried a sleeping little darling only seven years of age.  My people in my home, oh the fullness of my heart. Yet my mom wasn't there to greet me as she had been every other time, but I sensed her nearness all the same. 

The girls slept in the room that had been mine where this plaque remains firmly attached to the door. I still remember how thrilled I was to find it since rare are the miniature license plates, key chains, or just about anything with my name on them.

After a sweet sleep we visited a reindeer ranch, apple orchard, and the girls raked just about every fallen leaf they could find in the spacious front yard. Another reason to miss autumn for the built in playground it provides.
On Saturday we all went to the Homecoming game at my alma mater the University of Illinois. I cannot explain my sheer delight in finding October there. The crunching leaves beneath my feet, the gorgeous spray of color in the trees, the crispness in the air. Home. 
Showing my girls a bit of the glory that is college pre-game tailgating made my heart soar. At one point as we walked through the sea of happy co-eds, Emerson turned to me and said, "This is where you went to college?" and I was so proud to tell her yes. 
We had so much fun with my dad at the game in sweatshirts and closed toed shoes. Emie's even wearing a knit hat! Oh, autumn, I've missed you! 

The most fun of the weekend was reconnecting with family and sharing my girls with some of my mom's dearest friends. These women knew me when I was the age my girls are now. They see me in them and say the things my mom would say if she were here. How much Ainsley looks just like me and how Emerson's demeanor is so like mine. They speak of what dear girls they are and how polite and well behaved. My mom's essence is ever near in the presence of her friends and what a gift they are to me. I regret not getting a picture with each of them but their faces are forever etched in my heart. 

So though my mom wasn't there to greet us when we arrived, she most assuredly was there. Her essence, her love, her encouragement was everywhere I turned.

This chalkboard has hung by the home's backdoor for as long as I can remember. I know we kids tried to erase it more than once but I'm so glad we never succeeded. This encouraging decree in my mom's consistent cursive remains to this very day. I love it now more than ever. I can hear her urging me on to savor the moments and know she would want all of our days to be great. I know she's front and center in the great cloud of witnesses in heaven cheering  us on. I don't know how many days I will have or what they will hold, but I can promise to appreciate what is great about today and will savor the present moment. Thanks, mom for that and so many other things.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who You Are When No One's Looking: The Epilogue

Happy day here since Ainsley was awarded the school's Character Award for her grade. Awards and recognition aren't what make me crazy about this girl, but I'm so happy that she was honored. She wanted this bad last year which made today all the sweeter. 

Here's the post from June that tells the sweet story of the power in celebrating the success in others.

Who You Are When No One is Looking 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Genevieve Georget: Isn't She Lovely?

You all know how finding wonderfully crafted sentences can make my entire day and how reading beautifully chosen cadence weaves this lovely tapestry before me. It's something I want to wrap around my shoulders while I sip my tea. Well that happened last week with my new friend Genevieve Georget. Okay, we're not exactly friends nor have we ever met or had any kind of correspondence, but she feels like a friend to me. I immediately wanted to share her with all of you.

The post that introduced me to her was one she had originally published a few years ago, but recently shared again on Facebook. I had never heard of her before, but found her words in my newsfeed and I liked her immediately. So did a whole bunch of other in tens of millions of people! Maybe I don't really need to make an introduction after all since you've likely already heard of her and feel like you have already been introduced. I read that she, a successful wedding photographer in Ottawa, just wanted to dip her toe into writing again and then, much to her great surprise, the words she shared took rocket speed flight.  Her post kind of broke Facebook for a few days. The Zuckerberg people actually contacted her and asked if she was a celebrity pretending to be someone else. The explosive growth of her page made no sense to them because regular people don't typically garner that kind of attention in one week. Though she's not a celebrity, there's nothing regular at all about this gem of a girl or her gorgeous gift with words.

Her post was an essay about a visit to Starbucks that was everything routine and yet so much more. She wrote of how her dear barista called her life golden when she heard she and her husband were on their way to Italy for a getaway. And it wasn't spoken with any malicious intent or sarcastic banter, the girl really thought Genevieve's life deserved a gold star. She wrote of how she greeted this girl for her daily coffee in great clothes on her way to an exciting and fulfilling job, and how on that particular day on her way to a European vacation, her life did seem pretty sparkly.
"This is what she saw. Therefore, this is what she knew."

"And truth be told, there is darkness in this kind of knowledge. Especially now, when so many of our connections happen only five minutes at a time…fully filtered and perfectly hash tagged. In our defense though, it’s not entirely our fault. That battle we’re fighting…those rough days were having…they don’t tend to translate very well when you have twenty people in line behind you for coffee or a hundred and forty characters to spell out your day."

We don't show most people our battle scars and wounds, certainly not when we are still raw and healing. It's become a bit trendy to share vulnerabilities or struggles with the world, but only once they are tidied up and mended. Though still valuable, this type of sharing can feel more akin to a successful spot removal tutorial rather than a compelling narrative with the spill still in full view.. Rare is the public post that highlights the unedited version of us where we're still blotting things up. Yet there's something so lovely about this type of unveiling where we let others in as we're still tidying up. 

But Genevieve let us see her. She gathered her list of real time loss, fears, and insecurities and typed it all out for everyone to see. She went on to share the wisdom she's gathered through reflection on the less glistening parts of herself. How she's learning that these are actually the golden parts, the shiniest parts after all. And how even when she doesn't have it all figured out, she's grateful for the entire picture of her life, not just the polished parts.

"I do know one thing for sure; that even with all of my frailty…all of my fears…and all my faults…none of those things make my life any less golden.

Scars tell stories. Scars mean survival. Scars mean you showed up for the fight instead of running from it.

And we’ve all got them…even the sweet girl serving my coffee. She’s fighting her own battle…defending her own frontline…struggling in her own way. And maybe it’s not about collecting gold stars for the perceived reality we give the world on Facebook…but it’s about the purple hearts we get for living bravely among the real one.

Because life requires guts…it requires bravery…and it requires vulnerability."

So I don't really know Genevieve Georget, but I sure find her lovely. I like her so much already and would love to sit across from her with a steaming cup and open heart.  Her words feel like a soft blanket on a chilly day. Her voice makes me feel like she's pulled up a chair next to me and whispered, "Me too." I love that her unfiltered words were the ones the world carried into viral stratospheres. The internet is full of crazy, and sometimes it's impossible to understand why certain phenomenons and tidbits are so crowd-pleasing. But this one I understand and it encourages me greatly. This lovely girl was simply herself in bold braveness and half of the sky took notice and said, "Yes, more please!" 

I love how it baffled Facebook and they just couldn't imagine why millions of people were sharing her post if she was just one of us. But that's precisely why her words took flight. When she told us about her battles and wounds and we got to see that she is still standing, it inspired the bravery in all of us to stay in the ring and fight the good fight. So I'll keep leaning in to listen to the words she shares and will keep writing and sharing. I'll share with even more bravery from my own little perch because of the shiny trail she's blazed before me. 

Carry on, lovely. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Be my Guest

I'm honored to be guest posting today on a friend and fellow For the Love Launch Team Member's blog, Unveiled and Revealed. 

Come on over by clicking the link above. I wrote this post two years ago but it easily could have been two days ago. Goodness the times goes quickly, but I was there for each minute. I was definitely there.

Little Things the Heart Finds

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Birthdays in the great Beyond

Happy Birthday, mom!

Today you would be 77. I think you would have liked that number, liked the way it sounded though it would have surprised you that you were actually "that old". But instead of celebrating here with us, you are in heaven. It's only your second birthday there so that must make you feel a little bit younger. The whole "renewed body" trade-in, must add tremendously to one's youthful glow. You also have a few new friends there to celebrate with this year. Judy's there now which is still so impossible to believe. I'll bet you were so surprised to see her arrive in mid-June, as we were to see her leave the party here. But I'm equally sure you have had a big time catching up and showing her around the place. We're fine here. We really are. We miss you terribly and sometimes, even still, I think to call you to see how you are. Fortunately I stop myself before dialing the phone since I already know how you are. New, restored, healed, whole.

I'm really glad I don't complete those calls since the ringing phone would only send dad racing for it before it had a chance to ring the second time. Remember how he used to do that? How you would tease him that it was not a footrace to put the receiver to his ear before it had a chance to ring more than once. He still loves the phone more than anyone else I know, and that's a good thing. Just means he's well connected to lots of loving people and dear friends. He's doing fine. He really is. You'd be so proud of him. We sure are.

The girls and I talk about you a lot. I'm making sure they know you, mom. I promised myself that I would, and I am. I'll turn anything into an opportunity for them to learn a little more about you. "You know who loved chocolate cake?" "Granny did," I tell them. Or we'll be making a plan for a vacation and I'll tell them about how you loved to travel and used to count down the days and carefully laid out things to pack a week before you left. They're getting to know you, even still. Sometimes they'll bring up facts about you before I have the chance to. Emerson will say, "Granny loved to sing," and I'll let her know how right she is. She loves to sing, too. Maybe the gift of a beautiful voice really does skip a generation and she's the recipient of your talent once removed. She loves to travel too, that girl. She definitely has a wanderlust like you and I shared. Remember when she was brand new and you came to visit us in Minnesota? It was your birthday. It was your 67th birthday. Ten years ago today.

We went out to lunch to celebrate and I reluctantly left that two and a half month old baby with my friend Jean so we could go to Enjoy for lunch. I remember not being entirely engaged sitting across the table from you. I was anxious without Emerson right on my lap as she had been for the sixty plus consecutive days before then. I remember how the waitress asked if we wanted dessert and in my mind I was hoping you would say no.  I wanted to go home, to get back to her. But you said yes and we sat there longer than I wanted to. I wish I would have savored that time. I wish I would have been fully present and realized that baby girl was more than fine at home with Jean. That you would not be fine for much longer. That soon you wouldn't know how to order dessert, or walk alone, or know just exactly who I was. I'm sorry about that. About all of it. Sorry that I was distracted that day, sorry that you got sick. I really am. I have learned so much since then though. Truly. I now sit and savor every moment.

I'm learning that there's nothing more important than being fully present right where I am. I get the brevity of this life. I kind of wish I didn't, but I do, and I am grateful for that.

I wish you such a Happy Birthday. A day of celebration and time to linger at the table with loved ones surrounding you who are fully engaged in the celebration. Loved ones who haven't a care in the world about what's going on away from that table. Order dessert, two even! Enjoy it all, savor it all, I'll sit with you as long as you like when I get there.

Friday, October 9, 2015

"In Every Gardener there is a Child who Believes." Robert Brault

Ainsley has wanted a garden for a long time. I have been reluctant to oblige her because, Texas. We live on the surface of the sun. I wasn't entirely sure that anything left outside under the dirt could actually survive here. Also? I wasn't a good gardener in the Midwest even with its rich dark soil and plentiful rains,  nothing I planted there grew terribly well there either.  But, Dirk, at long last gave in to baby girl's pleas and prepped a spot in our front flower bed for her to plant her seeds.

She's been collecting seeds for months. I mean lots of seeds. She carefully scraped seeds off of strawberries and out of cucumbers, apples, and watermelon. She kept them in a basket in the windowsill where I assumed they were shriveling up into useless crumbs. But when it was time to sow them she carried them out to the garden like so many nuggets of gold and planted them carefully into the soil. She has since tended to them with daily watering and loving care and has every confidence that she'll grow blossoming apple trees and patches of hearty melons. The plot is  18x24" mind you, but the girl has faith that this is just a beginning, and she can transplant them when they begin to grow.

Her faith is so beautiful and inspiring to me. She believes without a doubt that she will reap a beautiful harvest for all that she has sown. May it ever be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Timehop Tuesday
This post was originally published in June of 2013

The other day little Ainsley's face was awash with fresh tears and she was calling out to me. When I asked what the matter was, she could barely speak the words through heavy sniffles and sighs. But when she finally caught her breath this is what she said: "When I'm in second grade I'm going to have to learn about silent "E"s". We should take note that she will be in the second grade in no fewer than three years.

Listen. I know silent "E"s don't scare everyone. I know silent "E"s may be some people's favorite. But for this little moment in time, my baby is afraid of their looming nearness. In just 1,095 days she'll be chased down by the likes of well, like, side, and drone. It is freaking her out. We don't always understand why people are afraid. We certainly don't always understand why they are afraid of what they are afraid of. But all of us, somewhere deep in our inner parts, know what it is to be scared. And we can extend the hand of grace and meet people where they are in their battle with fear.

It might be tempting for another mom to hold her tongue and resist saying, "Are you serious right now? You are a sobbing hot mess over a silent E. A silent E you will probably not have to even talk about for a thousand more sleeps!!?" But that's not me. I blow it in other ways, I'm reasonably sure. But empathy for a fearful heart is where I Rock the Casbah. I've.been.there. And I just never want to judge a frightened heart. I also don't want to give fear titanic power over anyone, least of all one of my children. Because there's something else we all have in common in our fear, our battle, our struggle. We just want one moment of validation. We want someone to say that they understand that life is scary sometimes and remind us that we know the dragon slayer--the fear conqueror. That never, not for one instant, are we alone in our fear. It doesn't always mean the fear disappears instantly but it does mean we are not alone in it, and that my friends, is very good news.

Now, some two and a half years later, silent "E"s are a regular and welcome part of Ainsley's life. I don't remember any notable trauma when they were introduced into her world and she appears none the worse for wear. Yet another example that our "what if" projections on to the future are almost always more terrifying than the real thing.