The 2018 graduation season has begun! I love getting the announcements from young adults who have followed dreams and reached new heights. So far, I've attended one ceremony and plan to go to at least two more. I'll make eye contact with my graduate, standing on tiptoe and making a fuss; I'll read all the names; I'll pay attention. When it's done, I'll weave through the masses, give quick hugs and high-fives, and then I'll make my way to my car to wait for the traffic to clear. And it will be worth it. In this post, a re-run from 2017, I explain why.
The 2017 graduation season has been an eventful one for the Lawrimore family and friends. First to turn the tassel this year was our soon-to-be daughter-in-law who received her undergrad degree from UNC. As for high school, we have two nephews, one niece, and our daughter’s boyfriend graduating.
It’s a big year. And I won’t make it to all of the ceremonies (two happen at the same time on the same day), but I’ll do my best to get to most. Those graduates who I don’t get to see in person will know I wanted to be a part of their day. They will know I am not casually dismissing this moment in their lives.
Now, I love graduation ceremonies. I don’t even mind bad ones. Wait. That’s not exactly true. There is one exception: a 2016 graduation ceremony I attended at a “Christian” school was so offensive that it required every iota of self-restraint I possess to keep from opening up a great big can of Aunt Aileen all up in that place. To be fair, I was already ticked off at the school because I felt they had done an awful job of educating my beloved nephew. As a whole, they missed the blessing of his uniqueness, his gifts, his potential. (If I’m completely honest, I’d concede that a good bit of Aunt Aileen had already been spilled in these judgmental halls that, by their infinite ineptitude and unmerciful demeanor, had in essence been using the name of God in vain. But I digress.) Anyway, the graduation for less than 40 students lasted for over two hours. Not much fun for Angry Aileen.
Still, I’m glad I went. In fact, I would do it all again to be there when my nephew graduated. Totally, completely worth it.
In general, though, I love the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I love the academic regalia of the faculty, the students in caps and gowns, the formal presentations. But even if I couldn’t stand that stuff, I would attend graduations. You see, I believe that it is positively irrelevant whether or not I enjoy the graduation ceremony. On that day, at that moment, it’s not about me; it’s about the graduates.
Let’s say I’m attending a graduation and I don’t like the speaker. Or the music. Or even the institution where the ceremony is held. Maybe it’s the experience that is unpleasant. The seats are uncomfortable; it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet; or the ceremony is way too long and if someone had just thought this through, for goodness sakes, we could have been done a long time ago.
It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: it matters that I’m there. And it matters that you’re there too.
By attending graduation, you are saying a number of things. First, you are telling your beloved that you care about transitions. High school graduation is the first major transition for these kids since they left home for kindergarten. It’s a big, big deal. By being there at the moment of transition, you are saying to the student, “You are not making this change alone. You, graduate, are not being thrown out of school, into a black hole of uncertainty all by yourself. I am right here with you.”
Secondly, you are telling the graduate that you will be there for endings, not just beginnings. You will be saying to them, “You know how you are concerned that the friendships you’ve made over these last years will end? Know this: your relationship with me? It is forever. I will still be your sister, brother, uncle, aunt. I will still be your mother, your mentor, your lifelong friend. I know it feels like everything familiar is ending. But I’m not. I’m here. I will always be here.”
Thirdly, you are saying, “Your celebrations are my celebrations. When you succeed, I delight.” Sure, these graduates will have other—probably (hopefully) more significant—accomplishments over the course of their lives. Celebrate those too. But graduation offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the completion of an extended task. Finishing that which we have begun is an important habit to develop and maintain. By attending graduation, you are saying, “Finishing things matters. This is a big deal.”
Finally, you are saying to your graduate that inconvenience will never be your primary concern when it comes to milestone moments in that student’s life. So what if you had to drive all night to get there? Who cares if the experience isn’t exactly pleasant? You are there to witness three things: the processional, the graduate’s walk across the stage, and the recessional. Everything else is just extra.
It’s true: I love graduations. But I love the graduates more. So I’ll be there in the audience, watching for my graduate. And when I make eye contact with my beloved, I hope the message is clear: “You matter to me and I will always be here for you. Always.”
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, my father-in-law, JB Lawrimore, suffered a heart attack; a week later, he had bypass surgery. The operation was a success and the doctors expect him to have a complete recovery, thanks be to God.
Having a remarkably shallow threshold for ick, I (intentionally) never gave much thought to how this procedure was accomplished. Thus, I was shocked when my husband informed me the night before surgery.
“They have to stop his heart to do the surgery,” my husband told me. “They will reroute Dad’s blood through a machine that will do the work of his heart.”
Say what now? A machine? You’re telling me a machine is going to take over for my father-in-law’s heart? Nope. No way. There is no manmade contraption that could handle that job. Oh, maybe a machine could pump blood through JB’s body; I get that. But the real work of my father-in-law’s heart? That job is much more than simple mechanics.
For example, how would that machine respond if it detected the voices of Barney and Andy quibbling over the rampant crime in Mayberry? JB’s real heart manufactures a deep belly laugh that crinkles his eyes, scrunches up his nose, and arrests any conversation previously in process. That same laugh might bubble up at any time, like when he’s sharing an anecdote from his childhood or one from just last week. Spontaneous, but also predictable, JB’s infectious laugh spreads through a group like a hysterical virus. Trust me: there is nothing mechanical about it.
Plus, a machine would have long ago shut down the nonessential milk bone operation that JB’s heart kicks off every time he drives up his driveway. His truck’s approach triggers the barking dog next door who immediately runs to the the designated meeting place by the fence. She waits as JB reaches into his hiding place and pulls out a treat. “Hey there girl,” he says, “Do you need a bone?” Instantly, that fussy old mutt morphs into pure sweetness as JB hands her the milk bone and scratches behind her ears. “There you go. That’s a good girl.”
Also, I have to wonder if this is a brand-new machine. If it is, it won’t have what it takes to do the job of JB’s heart. See, his heart shows evidence of extensive use. It’s been stretched significantly five times (grandchildren will do that to a heart), but it’s been broken too. Indeed, his life has been a beautiful one, but not one without his share of grief and pain, disappointment and loss. He’s outlived his parents—which he expected, no doubt—but he outlived his youngest brother too. Losing a brother who was closer to his son’s age than his own . . . if his heart had been manmade, it would surely have shattered.
And what about the lights in this device? It will need some with maximum luminosity that won’t dim over time. See JB’s heart shines for lots of things—the first shoots of new growth in his garden, a prayer of thanksgiving, the music of the church—but there’s nothing quite like the Granddaddy Glow his heart has emitted for the past two and a half decades. As each new life joined the family, JB’s heart light found a new height of brilliance. And yet, inexplicably, as JB’s five favorites have grown beyond cradles and playgrounds, to marriage and careers, his heart appears warmer and brighter with the passage of time. It’s a self-sustaining, never-fading illumination of abiding love. That kind of light—well it’s just not something humanity can manufacture.
I know this: no matter how advanced medical science becomes, there will never be a mere machine that can do the job of JB Lawrimore’s heart. But, I sure am grateful for that fancy contraption—and the skilled medical professionals who operate it—that kept it pumping though his surgery. As a result, JB’s heart can keep right on working for many years to come. To God be the glory!
(an Advent Devotion I wrote originally for Asheville's First Presbyterian Church's Advent Devotional booklet in 1999)
I always got the back seat. The very back seat. The one in our 1972 Chrysler Station Wagon that faced oncoming traffic. My older sister and younger brother sat in the middle seat, behind Mama on the passenger side and Daddy in the driver's seat. The windows, fogged from the cold, made fresh drawing slates for us to sketch Christmas trees decorated with thumb prints and lined with fingernail garlands. Eight-track tapes sang Feliz Navidad, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. Finally! We were on our way to Christmas.
It was a tradition, that trip. Almost every year, the five of us traveled great distances to be with my Mother's family for Christmas. I got my big Raggedy Ann doll in Atlanta, my dollhouse in Tulsa, and Redhead, my very favorite doll, at home in Wilson, North Carolina. The trip was just part of Christmas.
I liked the trip. I liked my hideaway in the wayback. With Redhead and a paper sack full of books I could ride for hours reading and napping and reading some more. I liked the car games we played as a family. (I can still spot an X or a Z on a billboard a mile away!) I liked having Daddy (a Baptist pastor by trade) to ourselves with no one to minister to but us. I liked that Mother was free from her at-home responsibilities. In that station wagon we found hours of forced respite, hours of what would now be called quality time.
We would arrive at our destination, spill out of our car, and race to the bathroom or the fridge, whichever need was greatest. Tins of homemade goodies beckoned us to just taste one. Packages, their bows crushed from the journey, fought for a place under the tree. Hugs and laughter, "You're it!" "Come See!" Refreshed from hours of unhurried family and private time, we were ready to celebrate!
And so it is with advent, our journey to Christmas. My prayer is that this year, I will take time to prepare my heart for the celebration of Christ. This year, I want to spend the Advent season resting in Christ so that, when the time comes, I can fully celebrate Jesus' birth.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
In the monthly newsletter that I send out to subscribers . . . Wait, what? You're not subscribed? Well, you better get on that right away! There's a subscribe form at the bottom of the mobile screen or on the side of the laptop screen. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Okay, got that done? Excellent.
Anyway in my monthly newsletter (it's short, about a two minute read), I offer short info-bites, cute beagle pics, and something I call an "Aileenism." (A friend--shout out to Destiny--labeled my oft-repeated sayings Aileenisms years ago. It stuck.) In celebration of a full year of Aileen Goes On, the Newsletter, I give you all 12 Aileenisms.
Oh also, if you already subscribe, would you comment below and tell me which newsletter feature you like best? Thanks! You're the best. No really: you are literally the absolute best!
I use this daily and I find it quite helpful in stressful situations. For example, it helps minimize my annoyance with such things as slow moving traffic (maybe there's a wreck ahead) gum-smacking cashiers (maybe he's trying to quit smoking), or obnoxious fans at football games who scream at the players even though their team is already 50 points ahead and continue their disruptive behavior through the marching band show (maybe they should stay themselves right on home until they learn how to act right . . . ) Okay so maybe I need to work on this a bit more, but you get the drift.
Saying "I can't" shuts out the possibility of success. Instead, choose one of these options.
It calms the haggard parent, soothes the anxious spouse, and encourages the overworked employee (or employer). What is this wonder word, you ask?
"What can I do to help?"
Or its identical siblings:
“How can I help you?”
“What else can I do?”
“What can I do for you?”
Try it. It's magic!
And once your children, spouse, or co-workers learn the question, all you have to do is remind them. Such subtleties as these are sure to bring about instant results.
I have never thought that I had all the answers. Frequently, when I state my opinion, I add, "I could be wrong." I've been wrong many times in my life--including times when I felt absolutely certain I was right. Realizing that I could be wrong frees me to consider other opinions. In these days, when our opinions polarize us into static affiliations, how lovely it is to enter into balanced dialog. Maybe I'm wrong, but it surely works for me.
As a mom--and okay as a spouse, sister, daughter, you name it--I have, on the (not so) rare occasion, said too much. You?
When we are in the midst of any conflict, what most of us want is to hear some version of, "You are so right. I am completely at fault. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I am blessed to know someone so brilliant and generous." Unfortunately, the fact that this pretty much NEVER happens does not dissuade us from pursuing that end.
At some point, I learned that if I stop before I'm finished, I have much better results. By not backing my loved one into an ideological corner, I create the opportunity for continued dialogue. Additionally, I give us both a chance to think about what has been said already. Of course, it is not easy for me to quit talking before I've said absolutely every single solitary thing I could say on the matter. But I try to remember that a few well-chosen words are always more effective than a monotonous lecture. When I do, I bite my tongue, and stop talking. Even if I'm not finished.
In this time of extreme opinions and divisive conversations, I find it helpful to ask myself the question, "With which part of this can I agree?" Like this:
Comment: Majoring in History is stupid. You'll never get a job in that!
Response: Yes, some people do say that. That's not my opinion, but I can see why you think that.
Comment: University of Academics is the best school in the country! You'd be crazy to go anywhere else when you can go there!
Response: Yes, University of Academics is considered an excellent school and I am pleased I was accepted there.
Comment: Low fat diets are better than low carb ones.
Response: Yes, I know a lot of people have succeeded using that strategy.
In time, you can begin to disclose more details of your opinion, but start by naming something you can affirm; then move into the more contentious aspects of the conversation. Return to this method frequently throughout the discussion.
Admittedly, it was Dr. Phil's idea; his life law #8 is "We teach people how to treat us. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying something something similar: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."
In any case, when my kids were young, I used the statement above to stop unwanted behavior. As in, "You are acting so ugly right now. Did you meant to teach me that you shouldn't be allowed to stay up late?" Or "I'm learning that I should not let you go on sleepovers, because when you come home you are grumpy."
Over time, the statement morphed into a sort of shorthand that stopped the kids before their actions got the better of them.
"You sure you want to teach me that?"
"You're teaching me something."
"Oooh! I'm really learning right now!"
In no time, they got pretty good at hitting reverse just as soon as they heard those words. A beautiful thing for a parent, that's for sure.
I can't remember if someone else taught me this saying or if I read it in a children's book or something. There's even a slight chance I came up with it myself--doubtful, but possible. In any case, it's a great question to help kids (or adults) deal with bullies. It works like this.
Bully: "You are a poo-poo head!"
Person to self: If this bully says this 1000 times, will it make it true?
Person realizes that there's no such thing as a poo-poo head & that the bully can't change that no matter how many times the statement is made.
Person dismisses insult.
For me, this kind of exaggeration shows just how impotent the bully really is. In fact, it strips all their power away and turns bullies into nice, regular people. Well. Maybe not exactly nice, but better anyway.
Children go through a phase when they are absurdly preoccupied with what is and is not fair. Parents, it's a battle you cannot win once your frontal lobe is fully developed. Just don't try. Here's what I came up with to combat the inevitable.
Question: "How come he gets to do it and I don't? That's not fair!"
Response: "True. But then the fair only comes once a year. It's not September, so you are out of luck."
Sarcastic? Totally. Flippant? Absolutely. But the response doesn't leave much room for discussion.
Otherwise I'd get caught in a loop like this.
Child: "How come he gets to do it and I don't? That's not fair!"
Me: "Well his friend invited him, and yours didn't."
Child: "Well I could invite my friend."
Me: "Then I would have to drive."
Child: "You always drive Favorite Child of the Day! That's not fair!"
Me: "That is inaccurate."
Child: "It is not."
(And on and on until I finally give in and let the child do what I don't want them to do while setting a precedent that whining is okay.)
So when your beloved says, "That's not fair," be sympathetic and be genuine when you respond, "Yep. You're right, it's not. But then the fair only comes once a year." At the very least the kids will be stymied by your reply and have to take a minute to figure it out.
In keeping with the message of this Aileenism, I confess, this is not an original idea. I mean, Moses had it engraved in stone, so there's that. Also, it's one of those "DUH" things that everyone knows, right? But the thing is, we so often fail to comply. We tell little white lies or half-truths (which, contrary to popular opinion, are not truth). We say things like . . .
I emailed you! You didn't get it?
You should have gotten that by now--stupid USPS.
I never speed.
Traffic! Sorry I'm late.
And the ultimate lie we've all told: "I don't have time!" What we usually mean is, "This is not my priority." But then that's next month's Aileenism: "We only have time for our priorities." True statement.
"I don't have time!"
"I wish I could, but I'm too busy!"
"You're [fill in the blank]? I don't have time for stuff like that!"
Have you ever said something like that? I know I have. But the thing is, we make time for the things that matter most to us.
People argue this point with me saying things like, "I have to work overtime or I would lose my job!" And I say, "Maybe. But not going to your kids' orchestra concert or school play could cause you to lose your relationship with them." In this case, the fear of unemployment is greater than the fear of being estranged from your children.
Another argument I've heard is, "You do not understand! I am slammed from 5 am until 10 pm 7 days a week. I cannot add anything into my schedule!" To that, I answer, "No you cannot. Your schedule is already full of your priorities." This person would need to downgrade something, remove it from the daily schedule, and then add the new obligation.
Me? I read a lot. That's because reading is a priority for me. I don't clean my house as often as I should. Not a priority--not when there are books yet to be read.
See what I mean? We only have time for our priorities! So, if you're spending time on things you don't consider valuable, then think about making some changes. Priorities--they're what come first.
Back in the 90's, I worked for a small regional college: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma--Oklahoma's ONLY public liberal arts university! (I was a recruiter.) At my suggestion, we held the college's very first visitation day for potential students. The event was well attended and was considered a success by the university. Me? I was still reeling from the mistake I had made six weeks previously.
We had designed these way cool invitations and though we had a shoestring budget, we got permission to have them printed professionally. They arrived and looked perfect! Well, mostly. One problem: when I okayed the proof, I had failed to notice the incorrect date emblazoned in the middle of every invitation.
My mistake cost the university money we didn't have; we had to trash the originals and reprint them with the correct information. Today, I literally cannot remember much of anything about that event other than those flubbed-up invitations. I could describe those down to the font size! I was absolutely mortified by my error.
Here's the thing, though: I have NEVER done that again. Whether I am ordering t-shirts or announcements, for work or for personal use, I check the proof carefully and have another person or four check it as well. I learned from my mistake. The successes I experienced that day are forgotten. But my failure? That lesson has stayed with me forever.
Messed up lately? Consider it a life lesson. Value your mistake as a step on the journey to a better you. Mainly, be sure that you don't waste it! Cause that? That'd be a huge mistake!
“That pizza smells good,“ my four-year-old nephew Banks said, his blue eyes sparkling. We were sitting on the back porch of the cottage where our family (16 of us in all) was staying for a week of fun in White Lake, NC. Banks and I were working on a craft project while others were splashing in the lake or working in the kitchen. I had the terribly burdensome task of amusing the youngest, and cutest, of our ranks.
“It does smell good, Banks. I love pizza,” I told him.
“Is pizza your favorite thing?” he asked me, not looking at me, still focused on his task.
“No, pizza’s not nearly my favorite thing. “
“Well what is, then? “ Banks looked up at me then, his head tilted to one side as he waited for my answer.
“One of my favorite things,“ I said, meeting his gaze, “Is playing with my nephew.“
Banks nodded without changing his expression, and went back to work. In a few minutes he questioned me again.
“Nephew. Is that somebody that you love?” Banks, not knowing the meaning of the word, “nephew,“ had figured it out for himself.
“That’s right, buddy, a nephew is somebody that you love.“
(Originally published August 15, 2008; Banks' birthday is October 7.)
We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.
It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.
“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”
Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.
“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.
“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.
“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)
Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)
Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.
So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”
And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
During the last 3-4 years, my mother has had more knee replacements than anyone ought to have in a lifetime. It's a long complicated story, but suffice to say you do NOT want to get an infection when you get a knee replacement. Curing that infection is not a matter of proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and a prescription for a Z-pack. It's an ordeal that requires not one, but two additional surgeries, along with in-home IV antibiotics and so much more. And all that was just for the first knee. Getting the second one done was yet to come--overcompensating as it was for the pain and infection in knee-number-one. It's been ridiculously frustrating and also rather frightening for Mother and therefore for all of us who love her.
You can imagine, then, my alarm when my sister called last night, beginning the conversation with, "Mama's fine. She's fine, really. She's in the Emergency Room, but she's fine." Naturally, I assumed that she was not fine in the least. Worst case scenarios raced through my psyche at a heartwrenching pace. Thankfully, Mother really is fine. It is not a blood clot as first thought; instead it is a common and treatable (though painful) condition that is (somewhat) easily corrected. Last night, the emergency personnel conducted the appropriate tests, applied the necessary treatment, and released her. As a matter of fact, she called me first thing this morning, sounding just like herself, getting ready to head to church. So she's fine. (Allow me to remind myself of this one more time, if you will; it's been our experience that where Mother's knees are concerned, everything is serious. She's okay though. Really.)
But that's not the whole story. Not even close.
My parents, though they are 79 and 81, are business owners who lead full, complex lives. (If something happened to either of them, our whole family would feel as if they'd been struck down in their youth.) Back in 2001, Mother and Daddy purchased Together Forever Wedding Chapel in North Myrtle Beach, SC; in 2008, my brother and his family moved to North Myrtle Beach to join our parents in operating Together Forever. So when Mother's knee gave out on her Saturday, my sister-in-law was nearby; Hal and Daddy were there too, completing one wedding and preparing to begin the next one. Mother wasn't in such dire straits that she wanted the business to come to a standstill to attend to her needs, so when she decided she should go to the ER, she asked her daughter-in-law to take her. After confirming the plan with Daddy and Hal, Mother and Kim took off, sans husbands.
Now, I have never taken for granted--I don't think--the gift of my sister-in-law's love for my parents. Even before she married my brother, Kim has been committed to our parents. She doesn't think her devotion to them is anything that remarkable; it's just who she is. But I recognize her unselfish commitment as extraordinary. You see last night, as my sister Dawn and I talked on the phone, trying to suppress our urges to drive straight to North Myrtle Beach, we would remind each other in turn, "Kim is there. Everything will be okay." We knew that Kim would not allow our mother (who--let's be honest--is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) to be ignored or overlooked. We knew that together they would ask the right questions. "Kim would tell us if we should go down." We could sit still, trusting Mother to speak for herself and Kim to back her up. "Don't worry. Kim's with her." And because she was there, we could breathe in and breathe out while we held our phones in our hands, waiting for an update. "Kim will tell us if she knows anything at all." We never doubted it.
That's power: the power of a sister who joined our family through marriage and instantly committed to be there for all of us, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
It was the second time in a week I had experienced the power of a sister.
My own beloved mother-in-law has been seriously ill for most of the summer. She was admitted to the hospital (for the umpteenth time this summer) on Friday, July 28, 2017. At the time, I was actually in North Myrtle Beach for my family's annual gathering there. When he heard the news about his mother, my husband Jay, who had not yet left Asheville, went immediately to his parents' home that Friday night. He spent most of Saturday in the hospital with his mother and was about to go over on Sunday morning when his dad called him from his cell phone.
"Jay, come to the hospital now. Overnight, your mother's health took a dangerous turn. Come now." He quickly explained to Jay that his mother had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit and was having a procedure done that required anesthesia. Now, my mother-in-law has had muscular dystrophy for 50 years or more and her lungs and heart don't always play nicely together any more. Adding anesthesia into that cocktail of concerns could end badly. Not doing the procedure would definitely end badly though, so they made plans to proceed.
As Jay got into the car, he called his sister with the urgent message; simultaneously, I happened to call my father-in-law. When he answered, he was distraught, beside himself with fear and anxiety. I'd never--in 30 years of marriage plus 2 and 1/2 years of dating--heard him sound that way. It was heartbreaking. I awakened my daughters to go with me to the hospital which, under the best conditions, was a ninety minute drive. Next, I called my son's fiance; my son was about to lead in worship at his church so I was hesitant to call him directly. I knew Addison would handle it and that together they would figure something out. (They were more than two and a half hours away, but arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.)
Oh wait. Did I mention that I had just had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery? Yeah, so that was about a week and a half old at that point. Pain was still pretty pronounced and function still limited to the slightest tasks. The surgeon's post-op directions had said to avoid using my hands for lifting anything over two pounds, or pushing, pulling, or twisting. (You might be surprised at how many activities those restrictions eliminate.)
"Get food, don't lift anything heavy, get caffeine, what else do I need, where are the girls, don't hurt your hands, is there anyone else to call, maybe there's a shortcut, is Jay at the hospital yet . . . " My brain was grabbing at whatever it could find so that it didn't have to process the possibility of losing my mother-in-law. It didn't work. "What if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies . . . " it was the cadence of the cacophony in my mind.
"I'm going with you." My sister, laden with a knitting project or two and her sling bag, wasn't asking me. She was ready to go when we walked out the door.
"I don't want to take you away from everyone," I looked from Dawn to Mother and around at the rest of the family.
"It's what we do," Mother said. "This is what we do."
We arrived at the hospital, emotion running high. The procedure was to take 15 minutes and when we arrived it had already been 45.
Dawn took a seat across the waiting room, present yet not intrusive. "I'll just be over here if you need me," she said, taking out her knitting.
I did need her. I needed her, for example, to run errands--it turns out that even in a crisis, people need to eat and dogs need potty breaks. But I also needed her to share the experience with Jay and me and the rest of the family. I needed her to be there in the flesh. My first best friend and playmate, my teacher and mentor, my friend and confidante. My sister's presence helped me to be my best self. That's a powerful presence right there.
Incidentally, all 12 of my mother-in-law's immediate family members made it to see her when she came out of anesthesia. She's still recovering, but for now the urgency has subsided. She welcomes your prayers for her continued improvement, as do we all.
So there you have it. Two mothers plus two sisters, at least in my life in the last week, equals the circumstances surrounding one emergency room visit plus one critical ICU patient, raised--that is, lifted--from untethered desperation to grounded hope by the power of two loving sisters.
Also, one more thing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that when Hal learned what was happening, his response was, "I'm so glad Dawn could go. If she hadn't been able to go, I would have gone with Aileen."
It's what we do. It's just what we do.
Published Originally Oct. 7, 2011
“Where has the time gone?” I say to just about anyone who will listen. “Don't get me wrong; I want my children to grow up (the alternative is unthinkable). I just want to know: Where has the time gone?”
It’s baffling. I can't figure out how my brown-eyed girl (born just yesterday), is today a young lady looking at colleges. Or how, overnight, I went from buying my little boy light-up Batman sneakers to shopping for size 15 Nikes™. And how--how in the world--did my baby girl get to her last year of middle school already, when just last night I was sneaking her ragged pink blankie into the laundry?
Where has the time gone?
I don't know, but I think I’m looking for it in the wrong zone. In Greek, there are two words for time. There’s Chronos—time that is measured, ya know, chronologically. And then there is Kairos—time that is measured by experiences. Chronos dissolves into seconds, days, years. Kairos, though . . . Kairos remains.
Chronos counts birthdays by ordinal numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, . . . . But Kairos thinks back to a ballerina party that blended over the course of chronos into a makeover session, a Firefighter party for preschoolers that ended as a pick-up basketball game for teenagers in the church gym, and a ladybug piñata in our backyard in Sanford, NC that exploded into one surrounded by teenagers in our Asheville garage.
Chronos sees the seasons come and go and checks off another year. But Kairos sees differently. Kairos sees the Queen of Hearts, Angelina Ballerina, and Thing 1, all with curly blond hair; a puppy, a robot, and a number of clowns, all making lots and lots of noise; a pediatrician, Hermione Granger, and Toy Story’s Jessie, all of whom were far more grown-up than they should have been. Kairos remembers . . . the ball dropping, its year changing in that chronos way all the way down; sandcastles washed away one year and built back up the next; trips to Houston, trips back home, & trips back out again. Kairos smiles remembering all the games of Barnyard Bingo, Blink, & Bananagrams; all the books we've read—from Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton to Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling; all the hours of Veggietales, American Idol, and Psych. And Kairos weeps, weeps as faded faces and sharp memories come to mind: Wayne, Paxten, Matthew, Caleb, Cliff . . . . Chronos, distracted by the clock’s ticking, the days passing, just can't keep up.
Chronos says things like, “How long’s it been . . . .”
Kairos says, “Remember when . . . ?”
Chronos, nervous and fretful, checks its watch and marks days off the calendar.
Kairos flips through photographs and artwork, videos, mementos.
Chronos grows anxious.
Kairos becomes nostalgic.
Where has the time gone?
Chronos doesn’t know.
But Kairos does.
Kairos says, “Look around you. It’s all right here.”
Published on: May 13, 2009
There's some stuff here you might not get as it pertains to my family directly. The first one you must get though so I'll tell you. The earliest memory I have of my mother is of my brother's birth. All the books said, "When you bring the new baby home, let dad bring the baby in so your arms are free for the one who was the baby up till now." (That would have been me.) So when Mother came in first, after being gone from home for a week, (I was 3 and 1/2) I was supposed to run into her embrace. I didn't. I met her (probably with my hands on my hips) and said, "Where is my brother?" Mother had a good laugh at the psychologists who did not know everything after all. Okay, one more. To amuse me during laundry time, Mother let me (ahem) teach her how to fold wash cloths. She was a very slow learner. I had to show her over and over again.
I remember . . .
arms free just for me,
laundry lessons, “See?”
“Big G, little g. What begins with G?”
I remember . . .
“Slide your feet, follow me.”
“Make each cookie the same.”
“In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
“Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow.”
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
“Somewhere over the rainbow.”
I remember . . .
Watermelon, fresh cut
Strawberries, fresh picked
Ice cream, fresh churned.
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
Paper pills with handwritten quotes.
I remember . . .
Coupons: “by-one-get-one free,”
Substitute teaching, (even GT)
Sand dollar birds on a tiny tree.
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
A late night crash: “He’ll be okay.”
The itch that would not go away.
A circle send-off: “We love you, Jay.”
I remember . . .
“It’s better to love, no matter how it ends.”
“Go take a shower, you’ll feel better then.”
“We’ll be happy to have you, no matter when.”
I remember Mama.
I remember . . .
The freedom in our family,
“Be who you are. We love you that way.”
The shelter of your shoulder,
“Come to Mama, that’s right, do what I say.”
The meaning of every message,
“As long as we’re together, it’s a really great day.”
I remember . . .
On Mother’s Day,
Saturdays and every Sunday.
I remember Mama.
And with full and grateful heart,
I rise up and call you blessed.
(Proverbs 31:28, paraphrase)
They had already been married six years by then, so it caught her completely by surprise. It was 1931 and they lived in Brazil at the time, far away from the small towns in South Georgia where they spent their respective childhoods.
“He just tossed it over to me.” Grandmama loved to tell the story. “Just tossed it! The diamond only--it was in a little pouch of course; else I guess we would still be looking for it!” Grandmama laughed easily, particularly at her own jokes. “Asked me did I want to get it made into a ring.” She’d be fiddling with her ring by this point in the story, moving it this way and that so her diamond would catch the sunlight and throw it all over us. “Can you imagine? When I’d never seen something so pretty in my life.” The way she looked at it even then told us she hadn’t found anything yet that could top it. “Your Granddaddy wadn’t one to go and buy gifts much, so I told him right quick that I sure did want him to have it set into a ring!”
I heard the story nearly every year of my childhood. Grandmama loved that ring; I am certain I never saw her without it. She wore it with great joy and pride for more than sixty years until her passing in 1994, five years after Granddaddy died. She left her ring to my mother who wore it with as much love as her mother had.
My mother’s attachment to the ring extended far beyond the monetary value and physical beauty of it. That ring was a symbol for her parents, their love for each other, and their devotion to the family that grew out of that love. Mother wore it all the time. She was wearing it each time she welcomed a new grandchild (a total of eight in as many years). She was wearing it when she and Daddy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. And she was wearing it in January 2015 when she had an allergic reaction to a medication that resulted in an urgent 911 call.
The first-responders got Mother stabilized and out of immediate danger, but that did not alleviate her own sense of impending doom. As her heart raced and her breathing slowed, she fought to stay conscious while the EMT’s strapped her to a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance, bound for the closest hospital.
Her throat and tongue were too swollen for her to speak audibly, but she remembers crying out in her own mind, “I need to tell someone that I want Baker to have my mother’s ring!” She had made the decision, but had not yet told anyone, not even Daddy. She was terrified that she would die without anyone knowing.
Mother (who the grandkids call Gangi—which sounds kind of like “Angie” except “Gangi” is pronounced with two hard G’s) and her oldest grandson (Baker) have always had a close relationship. She stayed with us for three weeks after his birth and spend much of that time holding our cuddly boy. As he grew, Baker continued to look forward to his time with Gangi. Whenever she was around, he had what he called “a hug attack.” Actually, preschool Baker’s speech was hardly decipherable; his malady sounded something like “uh hud atat,” making the condition all the more adorable. Back then, he would climb onto her lap and snuggle in until the attack subsided. Relapses were common and frequent and Gangi was always willing to administer the necessary treatment.
It was this special connection—one that neither has outgrown—that prompted Mother’s desire to give Baker Grandmama’s cherished ring. Once she recovered from her near-death experience, she put it in writing that Baker was to receive the ring. That summer, she told him that she wanted to give it to him and that he could fashion it in any way he wished for the girl of his dreams. By that time—Summer 2015—Baker and Addison had been dating for over three and a half years. Mother already loved Addison and though she didn’t tell Baker then, it was Addison’s hand that Mother hoped to see adorned with the ring. (Only time would tell.) She told Baker that whenever he was ready, she would give it to him. In December 2016 at the annual Christmas visit, he went to her privately and said “Gangi, I would like to have the ring!”
I asked her how she felt about the whole thing, wondering if she questioned her decision or if she missed having the ring on her own hand.
“Oh no! I am completely happy about it,” she replied. “My heart is absolutely filled with joy knowing that this precious ring will be carried on into another generation. My parents were married 65 years and it would mean so much to them that their commitment to marriage and family continues in this way. They would be just thrilled that their beautiful diamond now glistens on the hand of their great-grandson’s fiancé.” Mother, unabashedly biased, added, “And I KNOW they would LOVE Addison!”