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A Moment for Gratitude

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.

In my head

Yep, this is a lazy post. But this is where I’m at and I couldn’t say it any better.

 

 

 

God, grant me wisdom and patience. Please.

Super Woman vs Abiding Woman

In the context of my post regarding the ability to ask for help this comparison really struck a chord, particularly #1-7. Points to ponder.

 

Courtesy of Royal Daughter Designs

Are we free?

“One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come here to justify
One man to overthrow
In the name of love!
One man in the name of love…

Free at last, they took your life.

But they could not take your pride.”

Pride, by U2 – written in honor of MLK

I’m sitting at home today, enjoying a day off, because Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his life sharing a dream of freedom. His dream was one of freedom from prejudice, freedom from hate, freedom of choice, freedom to disagree, freedom to live your individual dreams regardless of who you are or where you come from. It was a pretty spectacular dream and he gave his life sharing the wisdom of that vision, making sacrifices and risking everything as he desperately tried to lead a nation torn by hatred and prejudice into some semblance of unity.

Why should that be so hard?

I wonder what he would think of our nation now? I recently watched the movie (and read the book) “The Help.” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed, cried, or been inspired to violence so much during one film. Obviously violence would not be the answer but heaven help me, some of those characters made me see red! We all know enough about history to know the truth behind those character representations. But that was years ago, right? We’ve improved, haven’t we?

Sometimes I think we have. And then I hear derogatory and ignorant comments and comparisons about a Muslim president. I read about unemployment rates for African Americans vs Caucasians. For every inspiring song, such as the one quoted above, there are two promoting prejudice and discrimination.

For such a heavy topic, this is a pretty weak post. I don’t have answers. And my thoughts and questions on the subject of prejudice are a whirlwind in my mind as I try to puzzle out the answers. Is it a national catastrophe that the President chose to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas and temporarily terminated the tradition of a White House Christmas tree? He has a right to his beliefs. One could argue the Christmas tree is more pagan than Christian anyway. And prayers in our schools? You can’t force a child to participate in prayer anymore than you can deny a child the right to pray. Where’s the balance? And why is Hollywood still dominated by Caucasian themes?

While this is just a sample of the questions I have, there is one thing I do know. I am a Christian. I’m a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. And every promise He ever made was directed to ALL His children with no qualification for gender, ethnicity, or current state of perceived righteousness. He created everyone of us. And I’m grateful for His obvious love of creativity and diversity.

An oversimplified statement perhaps. If we could just see each other through His eyes… But then, not everyone believes in Him. So, no answers. Just a rambling about a subject heavy on my heart.

And perhaps a pledge, that despite the lack of answers, I can still take a page from MLK’s book and be the change I wish to see. It starts with me.

Let freedom ring.

Ride Hard

I recently saw this poster with the slogan “ride hard and earn the downhill” and was immediately drawn to the message and the design. I like the sentiment when applied to life. Work hard, reap your reward.

For those who, like me, have an inherited, instilled, or self-taught hard core work ethic, this idea is perfect. We don’t mind working hard. If you pressed, we might even admit to enjoying it. Part of the attraction is simply a job well done, a sense of accomplishment, and a knowledge that what you are accomplishing is making life better for someone else. I can’t speak for everyone else but a part of me also hopes that because I’ve worked hard now at the nitty gritty then maybe later I can work hard at enjoying some of the simpler pleasures that I never seem to have (or make) time for.

It doesn’t really work out that way though, does it?

Someone once said (and I’ve quoted this before) that life is like licking honey from a thorn. Days like today, that analogy especially rings true.

Our friend Jarret passed away. He fought for nearly 2 years against a rare form of cancer, having been diagnosed the August after his May graduation from college. And he really fought. He gave it his best shot, sharing his journey of faith and hope without glossing over the darker days. Even his blog title, survivingcancersoon, spoke of his attitude: he was never giving up.

Jarret reminded me of another favorite quote, by Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

So he fought hard. He touched a lot of lives. And now he’s gone. It really doesn’t seem quite fair. Why are we working so hard?

Life isn’t like the poster says after all. It’s actually a little bit of a crapshoot, equal parts Russian-roulette and bingo. Work hard. Do your very best. Your number might be called. Or, you may just be a little unlucky.

When you first get the news that someone you care about has died, it’s a little hard to focus on anything but how damnably unfair it is. He celebrated his 29th birthday in October. He wrote a message of love and hope to his friends at the New Year. His doctors were trying an experimental chemo and it seemed to be working. And now he’s gone.

But I would be truly unfair to his memory if I let my thoughts, and this post, stop there. Jarret believed in a second coming. He believed in a God who’s grace did not have to be earned. He wrestled with God. He admitted that he was even angry with God at times. But he never stopped believing in a Heavenly Father who sacrificed everything so that, while Jarret had to fight with all he had for his earthly life, he did not have to worry one moment about earning his eternal life. The work was already done. The price paid. The gift offered. Beyond that, Jarret also believed that God was with him every step of his struggle, knowing that God’s gift wasn’t a one time only deal but a relationship, a lifetime journey towards an eternal life spent together.

In one of his last posts, Jarret said “Good days, bad days…  Shaken faith, full of faith…  I’m so in love with the idea of God’s return it literally makes me giddy.  I know many of us share different faiths, but I can’t be afraid to tell you about one of the very few things that keeps me going… If I put faith into action “the word” says I can move mountains- with that being the case, why can’t my cancer be cured? Why cant I project great things about the future? We’ll see what God has to say about it, He’s the only one who can make the decision.  In the mean time, my playbook leads me to one play-  HAVE FAITH!!!”

My heart is heavy and I’ve shed a few tears, thinking about the pain his family and friends have gone through – watching this journey, hoping, and then saying goodbye. It isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. It still pisses me off. But it also makes me all the more grateful for a God who simply says “believe in me and I will give you eternal life. (John 3:16)” You’re working hard to pay the bills, make a difference, survive cancer but I’ve got eternal life covered. Just believe.

Maybe the poster isn’t so far off. Like Jarret, I will continue to ride hard, work hard. I will make that choice not because I need to prove myself worthy of salvation but as a tribute to the amazing gift of eternal life; not to earn it, but because I already have it.

Thank you Jarret for taking this incredibly hard journey with such grace and faith. We’re going to see your incredible smile and all that attitude again. And you better be rockin’ that fro!

Amazon Women Don’t Need Help, Right?

Strength.

I admire the juniper tree. Each tree is uniquely statuesque, growing at eccentric angles while clinging tenaciously to the smallest crack in a rock, the most minuscule patch of dirt. They can be found throughout the northern hemisphere – from the Artic to Africa to the mountains of Central America. They make the most of their situation and, unnerved by buffeting winds, freezing rain, scorching sun, or heavy snow, grow ever stronger. The berries contain healing properties and the cones and needles provide food for a variety of creatures. Perhaps I also feel a certain kinship because both the ancient Asians and the Native Americans view the Juniper as female, representing female strength, athleticism, longevity, and fertility.

I’ve always been strong. Both in mind and body, my inherited strength caused me to grow up much taller than average, opinionated, with straight A’s, and a body built like a female linebacker. As a fourth-grader, I failed to listen to the advice of my father (don’t pin your strength against the boys!) and arm-wrestled a group of 7th and 8th grade boys. I won. Every time. It went over so well that it was the one and only time I ever arm-wrestled a member of the opposite sex. The nickname “Amazon Woman” has stuck with me ever since.

My strength has both rescued me and gotten me into more trouble. Load a tractor-trailer bed with 12 tons of 90 lb bales of alfalfa by myself? Sure. I’m 14 and I think I’m invincible. Little brother (who isn’t so little) over the side of the raft in big rapids and stuck under the boat? No problem. Grab him by the collar and haul him back in. Soldier through multiple injuries and one dramatic 3-month bout with a tough strain of strep that nearly cost me my junior year of high school? I’ve got it. There may have been a few B’s that semester but I made it – prayers from my family and good attitude in place. A dislocated shoulder during a basketball tournament? Pop it back in myself and keep playing because the game is at risk. Consequences: agony and physical therapy. But we won. No problem.

Get stuck in a situation where I need help and ask for it? Yea, problem.

My mother, bless her, has occasionally accused me of being a feminist. I’m not. If you are, that’s just fine. It’s just not who I am. I believe that I am a strong person who happens to be female and who God chose to bless with certain talents and abilities. That means I will do whatever it takes to reach my goals, learn new things, or share my talents whether or not society considers my actions more appropriately male or female. That may be a little ambivalent so allow me to explain a little more.

I crochet. I sew. I even know how to cross-stitch. My mother taught me to cook and bake from a young age, just like she taught my little brother. I like to decorate my home and throw parties and arrange flowers. A little girly, no? I also own and regularly operate several saws, a wood lathe, a drill, a complete set of tools, and a set of ramps so I can change the oil in my car. I’ve ridden dirtbikes since sometime around  the 3rd grade and I help my dad with the repairs. I’ve spent a Sunday afternoon taking apart a carburetor, cleaning it, and putting it back together. Yes, it worked. 🙂 I spent the summers of my youth working on various farms and learned to drive a stick on a tractor long before I was old enough to have a drivers license. I threw bales, swathed alfalfa, and learned to weld.

I am a firm believer that anyone can do anything they want with the right work ethic and attitude. Society’s gender roles have nothing to do with your abilities as an individual. So I’m not a feminist, Mom. (wink)

However, it has always strained my somewhat limited stores of patience to see a female take advantage of gender roles and male chivalry (or stupidity, or libido) to manipulate her desires, often out of a sense of entitlement, or sheer laziness. I’m not sure why but there seemed to me an overabundance of this type of female when I was a teenager and I decided early on to never be like that.

Really, life should come with warning label: never say never, and never strive for superiority based on someone else’s perceived shortcomings.

Now here I am, 30 years old, and still learning how to ask for help. I CAN do it myself. God knows, I’m not a wimpy girl striving for male attention. I’m capable, damn it. Sometimes too much so.

I’m thinking this is going to be a lifetime journey, kind of issue. So just in case you have a hard time asking for help too, let me share what I’ve learned.

First of all, accepting help does not reflect poorly on your own abilities. In fact, it may reflect more positively than you realize because it suggests that you are comfortable with yourself and your abilities; you have nothing to prove. Letting a guy open a door for me does not mean I am not capable of doing it myself. It means that he would like to do something for me to show he’s looking out for my best interest. If he knows me at all, he no doubt knows what I’m capable of. But even if he doesn’t, I do. And I don’t need to prove my capability at the expense of his generosity.

I still remember the day I had that epiphany. I was always taught to be polite and respectful. As an independent and opinionated teenager, it cost me a lot sometimes (too much!) to accept help. I could do it myself. Sounds more like a 2 year old, doesn’t it? I thought if someone was lending a hand it was because they thought I couldn’t do it myself. My dear forebearing father had been trying to tell me otherwise. But it wasn’t until a guy friend, a peer, offered to help me with a chore that I finally caught on. Of course, my response was a polite no thanks, I can do it. However he responded with “I never doubted that”; his tone of voice and the look on his face suggesting his confusion – what did one thing have to do with the other? Perhaps I was just finally willing to hear but it all clicked into place for me in that instant. I started laughing, to his further confusion, and graciously accepted his help.

Yea, I still forget sometimes. The boss says “let me help with that” and my first thought is “oh no, she thinks I can’t do it!” But I’ve also learned: when in doubt, ask. Don’t assume you know what motivates another’s actions.

Okay, so accepting help is a skill I’m definitely learning.

Asking for help – that’s an entirely different ballgame, my friend. And I haven’t figured out all the rules as yet.

After the many, many times both friends and coworkers have been on my case for not asking for help, I’m assuming at this point that there is a flaw somewhere in my thought processes. For quite awhile, I may have arrogantly assumed that they simply didn’t understand my capabilities or my character especially when one friend told me I had a hero-complex. haha! But I’ve since come to my senses.

The hardest part of asking for help, for me, is the knowledge that my needs very likely will cause the other person inconveniences. I absolutely HATE that. God saw fit to create me as a particularly capable person. I’m supposed to be the one helping other people. I love to help others. Have you heard of the 5 love languages? Often times, an individual will communicate in several love languages such as words of affirmation, time spent, and physical touch. I have one love language (in how I SHOW love vs receive it) and it’s particularly well-developed, to the point that my family likes to tease me about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’m super woman. I cannot possibly do everything myself. However, in most situations where it’s obvious that there is too much for one person to do then a solution is naturally born due to the work environment, etc. In those situations it is not necessary for me to ask for help and the situation is often viewed as team effort anyway. The real problem occurs when it’s not so immediately obvious that I need help and is therefore necessary for me to ask for it.

As I see it, every time I ask for help, I run the risk of inconveniencing that person. I understand that there is a bit of a double-standard here because I wouldn’t want anyone asking me for help to worry about my inconvenience. But there it is. Perhaps there is still a bit of arrogance in me over my strength and capabilities. Or sometimes I just don’t think about it. I am capable of doing it, everyone else is busy too, so I’ll do it myself if it takes hours of overtime. In my thinking, that’s not being a hero, it’s just getting the job done.

I forget to ask God for help too. Now I know inconvenience is not an issue with Him. To state the obvious, He’s God. In Matthew 11:28, He says it pretty clearly: “come to me… and I will give you rest.” And that’s just one of many invitations to come to Him for help. Asking for help just doesn’t come naturally. Noticing a beautiful sunset and praising His artistry, that comes naturally.

The last 6 months or so have been particularly grilling. I’m exhausted. Overwhelmed. In need of help. I don’t know why it’s been that way. But I’m fairly certain God has been using the circumstances to show me that I need to ask for help more often. I’m getting better at it. Slowly. God and I have had long conversations about exactly how much help I need (no comments from the peanut gallery, please). And I’m learning to ask my peers for help too. Man, just the other day I called a good friend and asked her to get me some medication because I was home with the flu. Go me! 😉 Of course, she was happy to do it. And, of course, I worried the whole time that I was inconveniencing her. But she says she was glad to help and I have to trust her.

It would be nice if I had some epiphany like that day with my friend in high school. It’d be nice if I could ask for help as easily as I accept it. But perhaps it doesn’t come easy so I can better empathize with those who ask for my help. Who knows what is up God’s sleeve but I’m sure it’s going to be a great lesson learned. Someday. For now, be rest-assured that I’m working on it.

Now, I need to build this fence in my backyard and I was wondering…

My Sister’s Lil’ Bump

I had the privilege of taking some photos of my beautiful sister, her little pregnant belly, and her equally photogenic husband. Here are a few of my favorites…

View more here.