A lot of life was packed into yesterday. A beautiful and courageous young woman publically dedicated her life to Christ through baptism. Five recent birthdays were celebrated. An adorable one-year old baby boy, who’s every day of life is a miracle, was dedicated to God. The shortened life of his baby sister was celebrated and remembered. A young couple got married and we fêted with delicious food and lots of laughter.
The day held a lot of tears, both happy and sad.
It was a long one, yesterday, but of the good sort. From sun-up to sundown I was running from one task to the next; food, flowers, photography, advice, ideas, hugs – involved. Today I’m exhausted. But I wouldn’t trade the involvement for anything. Sometimes life is so beautiful, it hurts.
Yesterday morning, as I was standing at the counter creating a pear, pecan, and raspberry vinaigrette salad for 35 people, I suddenly experienced a moment of intense gratitude. As I julienned the pears, my thoughts had been focused on the list of things yet to accomplish. Flowers on the tables. Appetizers for the afternoon party. Balloons – where were the balloons to be released in honor of the sweet baby girl? And the frosting – it still needed to be whipped before I applied it to the two-layer cake for the evening’s wedding reception. And…
I paused. Pear in one hand, knife in the other, I was suddenly compelled to listen to the sounds around me. Grampy, as he searched for the right spoon to stir his famous punch. Mary, as she worried over the potatoes and whether they would be crispy enough. Grammie, as she joked with one of her three daughters. Prateek, as he wheeled in a cart full of his son’s ventilator equipment that makes it possible for the little miracle boy to spend the day with us. Yddo, video camera in hand, interviewing the oldest great-grandchild who, at two-and-a-half, is clearly the boss of the clan.
And there in lies the gratitude. Thankfulness for the big family who adopted me into their midst years ago. Appreciation for the chance to be involved, to help, as they experience a day so full of both happiness and regret. And deep gratitude for the knife and pear in my hands and the knowledge of the task before me so ingrained that completion does not require conscience thought.
Suddenly I am back in a dark brown cabinetry kitchen with a squash-yellow refrigerator and standing at another counter with a too-big apron tied around my waist. I am making nachos and it takes all my concentration. I am seven years old.
I had begged Mom for the opportunity to make dinner by myself. Wisely, she suggested a very simple menu and I’d never been so proud as I placed the platter of crispy nachos on the table before my family. From then on, throughout our childhood to the time we all left for college, my siblings and I had a rotating schedule – three meals a day, three kids. By the time we were pre-teens, Mom and Dad rarely had to cook.
By the 3rd grade, I had a part-time job outside our home. And by the time I enrolled in college, I’d worked at everything from janitorial to babysitting to long, hot summers on the farm. I’d worked alongside my parents on mission trips, Vacation Bible School programs, banquets, and even a couple of TV programs. We camped, hiked, rode dirtbikes, and traveled the U.S. My dad spent one long, muggy summer sanding and refinishing a huge gymnasium floor by himself, instead of contracting the job out, so that he and Mom could afford to take us to Disney World. And though they didn’t quite understand the obsession, they supported my love of horses in every way possible.
Now I’m an adult. And the busy life of my childhood has morphed into an extremely active adulthood. The kitchen counter in the church in Texas is a long way from the kitchen counter in our home in rural Pennsylvania. And with the bustle of activity around me and a long-list of things to accomplish, it’s a strange moment for a walk down memory lane. But the gratitude in my heart and the symbolism of the pear in my hand are not to be denied. I’m here because of my parents.
Knowing that the day would be as hectic as any other, I’d texted them earlier that morning to let them know what I was up to and to tell them how much I loved them. While it wasn’t the usual conversation we often have, I knew they’d understand. Like I said, I’m here because of them.
I know how to prepare a salad because my mom taught me, and then trusted me to branch out on my own at a tender age. She laughs about it now and claims it was all a part of her diabolical plan to never have to cook again. My brother is a very competent cook and my sister and I took to the kitchen with alacrity. As a teenager and young adult, she ran food service kitchens at schools and camps with delicious and competent results. I’ve catered and thrown parties for years. We both love to experiment. We joke that someday, somewhere we’ll start our own business.
I know how to work hard and I possess an intense need to be of service because my dad first led by example and then taught me by putting a paintbrush in my hand on community service day when I was 6 years old. My parents read us Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue stories about secretly helping others and then supported us when we wanted to follow the example of the stories and leave anonymous notes and gifts for their students, never doubting the heart behind little packs of gum and pictures drawn in crayon.
From camping trips to music lessons to mission trips, each one of those activities and skills learned as a young family has become something we can share today. All three of us spent many summers working at summer camp. Like my parents, my siblings are both teachers and the connections they have with their students is wonderful to behold. My parents support of my love for horses made possible my involvement in equitherapy. My sister sews clothes for students and, with her husband, leads out in song service and produces hilarious talent shows. My brother coaches basketball that encourages sportsmanship and teamwork; he still spends summers at camp. There is always someone in need of assistance. And we learned quickly the feeling of joy and satisfaction earned when you do something for someone else; not for the acknowledgement, but for the service.
As I finish the salad, set it on the table, and enjoy a big hug from Grammie, my heart is full. I love this family dearly. And I’m grateful I can be there for them on this bitter-sweet day. Later in the evening, I will spend time with a lovely young couple. They may not have a lot of material goods but they possess a lot of joy and love and big ideas and they’re ready to embark on their journey to make a difference. My friends and I will be there to support them too.
I find myself wishing my parents were there to receive the hugs too. The gratitude should be for them. I’m here with the skills and desire to be of help because my parents taught me those skills and values. They led by example. So when that lovely, warm feeling of joy and satisfaction bubbles up inside of me, I realize I can’t possibly thank my parents’ enough. But I’ll try.