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.