In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday, 7-22-2015, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here's number 10, to my firstborn niece, Rachel.
I always knew I wanted children, that was a given. But I couldn’t imagine being ready for that responsibility. We’d been married just under four years when you were born and we were definitely enjoying our freedom. Weekend trips, spur of the moment adventures, it was hard for me to imagine setting that aside for a couple of decades to raise a child.
And then you, my first niece, were born.
It was six weeks until I could get my hands on you. Six long weeks of you growing and changing that I missed. But finally, finally, I got you in my arms. I can still feel your tiny form, just big enough for your head to rest on my knees, your legs tucking in at my waist. I remember touching your brand new skin, inhaling your newborn scent. (Surely that is the aroma that flows from Heaven’s Gate.) Magnificence.
And that’s when I knew.
The epiphany came sometime between me reaching for you, and you looking up at me. In that very moment, it all became clear to me and I knew I would gladly give up any fleeting worldly pleasures for the joy of parenting.
Three years later—give or take a few months—-my first child was born. Oh how delighted you were. As far as I can tell, you’ve never stopped being enthralled with your Trellace--your "twin cousin." I’m so thankful that you love each other as you do.
I’m so proud of you sweet girl. You have grown into such a beautiful young woman, pursuing your dreams and, of course, making your own mistakes. I wish there was a better, easier way to grow up; I’d prefer you never had to have a bad day, much less learn a difficult lesson. But you’re doing it. You’re making it on your own, finding your own way. And I couldn’t love you more, or be more proud of who you are.
God gave you to our family, that’s true. And I do thank God for the gift of you. But you let me into your heart. You let me love you and you have loved me back. Thank you, beloved girl. Thank you.
I love you so my Rachel. Today on your birthday, I celebrate you, thanking God for your life, and thanking you for sharing it so generously with me.
I love my Rachel!
I've seen lots of memes lately that say something like, "I just love meetings that last twice as long as they should, says no one ever." So here you go: my very own "Says No One Ever," statements.
That's what I've never heard. What about you? What can you add to this list?
I'm turning 50 this week. I'm pretty thankful that I get to see this milestone birthday since I have known far too many who didn't get to have this privilege. So, to celebrate, I plan to write 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. I'll write most to friends and family, but also a few to institutions (like Gardner-Webb University Divinity School and Oakley Elementary School), a few to people I've never met (like Bob Newhart who makes me laugh out loud), and even some to people who have already passed on (like Beth Daniels). And yep, I'll post them here. Or at least most of them anyway.
So I invite you to join me on a journey of gratitude. 50 weeks, 50 notes. You're welcome to ride along with me just as an interested observer, or maybe you want to take your own journey of thanksgiving. Share with me who you want to thank and how you go about doing so. Maybe you're not a writer. No problem. Phone calls, visits, artwork . . . there are all kinds of ways to express our appreciation for the gifts we have been given in life.
Let's get started then; we've got some thanking to do!
The workers building a retaining wall at my house had only talked to my husband and hadn’t yet met me. That particular day, I’d been gone when they arrived and got back after they were hard at it. The foreman saw me pull up and waited for me to get out of the car.
“Hey there!” he greeted me, “You Jay’s wife?”
“Well,” I told him, getting the groceries out of the car, “I’m his first wife.” I walked on towards the house.
“Um,” the man clearly wanted an end to the awkward silence, but couldn’t seem to form any actual words.
“I’m also his only wife,” I said, as the poor fella started breathing again. It’s one of my favorite gags. I introduce my husband as my former boyfriend, my ex-fiancé, or as in this case, my first husband. (I make my own fun.)
Indeed, back in the late eighties, I finished my bachelor’s degree and married my college sweetheart. Coincidently, so did my roommate and my two closest girlfriends. Today, more than two decades later, all four of us are still happily married. Talk about non-traditional marriage: according to today’s statistics—at least two of our four couples should be divorced by now.
No matter what Americans believe about marriage, surely we can all agree that the rapid dissolution of so many families is alarming. I know a number of couples who have suffered divorce and listen, they all have valid reasons: chronic unemployment on the part of one spouse or the other, affairs, addictions, and just plain irreconcilable differences. Without question, marriages often fail despite the determined efforts of one or even both of the partners. And sometimes, marriages should be terminated long before they are: I’m talking about abuse here—physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional. Seriously, if you are in an abusive relationship, get out immediately. You and your children will be better living in a shelter than with an abuser. No exceptions.
But back to my college friends & me. What has held our marriages together?
One could argue that church-going is one thing. All four of us go as couples with our children to church on Sunday mornings and every other time the doors are open. But you know what? So do a lot of other couples who have faced divorce. Going to church is important, but it doesn’t guarantee a long-lasting marriage. The divorce statistics for couples in Sunday school are the same as for those who skip it.
All eight of us are hard workers. Among us are three teachers, a couple of business people, an engineer, a scientist, and a minister (who also happens to write compelling blog posts). But none of us would be considered wealthy by American standards. In fact, each of our families have been through lean years in which one of the two spouses was laid off, under-employed, or in school for further education. Financial distress is often cited as the primary cause of divorce, yet our relationships have persisted through such troubles.
Not that it’s been easy; none of us would be the millennium version of Ozzy and Harriet or Mike and Carol Brady. No, our marriages have included real-life frustrations; plenty of times it would have seemed easier to give up. So why didn’t we? I don’t know all the reasons, but I know one.
See, while the divorce statistic is the same for church-goers and party-goers, church-going does not equal faith. In all four of our marriages, we’ve either found or sustained a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, despite our struggles (or maybe due to those difficulties), we’ve all grown closer to God. All eight of us have aspired as individuals, as spouses, and as family members, to know God better and to be more like Christ. All eight of us have also failed resoundingly many times; but we’ve managed, by grace, to return to the path of spiritual formation, even when detours have distracted us from our objectives.
Marriage. You can hardly check a news feed without stumbling upon some so-called wisdom about it. Too bad Jesus isn’t on social media. If he were, he might say something like, “Strive first for the kingdom of God & his righteousness, & all these things will be given to you as well.” #Matt6:33NRSV #lovealwayswins.
*This piece was first published on June 29, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.
This was first published on the cover of my church's newsletter, May 2015 edition. Want to know more about my church? Check out our website at www.fbcwvl.org.
When I was at Gardner-Webb Divinity School (a school--by the way--that has always been friendly to women in ministry), I took a number of assessments intended to gauge my proficiency for various aspects of ministry. I took so many that after a while, they became tedious and frustrating. One of them seemed particularly unnecessary for me personally. The instrument was intended to discern whether or not I would be one of those pastors who put her congregation before her own family. Of course this is certainly a legitimate question to consider, but I was confident I had this one in the bag. Just as I suspected, the results indicated that I was highly unlikely to sacrifice my husband and children for my ministry—no matter how much I loved my church family.
That was then.
It’s a lot harder now that my three children are spread from Asheville to DC to Greensboro and I have a ministry position I love. I often want very much to be in two places at once. I want to hear my son play organ at his church in Greensboro and I want to lead children’s activities at my own church. I want to attend a band concert that meets at the same time as a small group meeting at church. And it’s hard enough with just my own kids; add beloved nieces and nephews, and I start seriously researching self-cloning methods!
Mostly, I think I stay pretty balanced. I miss some meetings here and some concerts there; it works out. But planning for the month of May, it’s been particularly challenging for me to meet the needs of my family without feeling like I’m neglecting my ministry here. See, my younger daughter has a weekend retreat Memorial Day weekend. It’s a big deal for her. I’ve gone for the last three years and have planned to go this year. The only problem is that the very next weekend, my niece is graduating from high school in Baltimore. Attending both of these milestone moments will mean I have to miss two Sunday mornings in a row. I can’t stand that! So even though I know the right thing is to be present at each of these events, I’m sad that I can’t also be worshipping with my church family.
Priorities aren’t always clear-cut are they? And even when the answer is obvious, the solution isn’t always pain-free. My daddy always says, “With everything of value, comes some sacrifice.” When I strive to be the wife and mother I am called to be while also being the minister God called me to be, I feel that sacrifice most acutely. But then, these are the things of greatest value to me: honoring God in my home and in my ministry.
To God be the Glory!
Because she was a big-girl, she didn't need Mommy to walk her into the classroom. She preferred, instead, to ride in Daddy's car with her older brother and sister. Moments after they pulled away, I wrote this piece about the angst of parenting: letting go. I thought a re-run was appropriate on this her 17th birthday.
The last few weeks, everything has been about Margaret: the new clothes, the new shoes, the perfect lunchbox and backpack. I’ve smiled and encouraged. I’ve been positive and reassuring. Yep, kindergarten is a good thing and I am truly excited for Margaret.
So today is the day. She has climbed into the back seat with her two older siblings, thrilled to be riding to school with Daddy and the big kids.
“No more pictures Mommy! I’m ready to go!”
And she is ready.
“Have a great day!” I shout as I wave goodbye to the car that has already started down the road.
My voice breaks and I turn to go inside. I move in slow motion, distracted by a physical pain I can’t place. I stop, trying to find the source of the sting. Awareness dawns. It’s this moment. It’s this moment when white knuckles unclench and heart strings snap. Dull and pulsing, sharp and piercing: it’s surreal. I make my way inside to the familiar.
The moments before this one have been wonderful. I loved having babies. I loved the late night feedings. I loved the terrible twos. (I called them the terrific twos.) I loved preschool. I loved the cute things my children said in their innocence, like Margaret insisting she would “stay her shoes on.” I loved that. I loved the way my little ones laughed—at anything. I loved the spontaneous hugs. I loved the dependence.
In the infant days, people often said with a note of annoyance, “Margaret is such a Mommy’s girl. She won’t go to anyone else.” I’d smile and say, contentedly, “Yeah. . .I know. . .” I loved that. The preschool years have been delightful. I don’t want them to end.
Before today, I tried to think of a way to slow things down. I could delay her going to kindergarten a year. I could homeschool. But, in the end, I realized that no matter what I did, these years would still be over; she would still be five years old; she would still be growing up.
So here I am alone, in a quiet, empty house, trying to put words to this ache. But maybe I can’t. Perhaps when the heart takes over the brain, the feeling just won’t be expressed. “This,” the heart says, “this you must feel. You cannot write it or say it, touch it or mold it. You must be here, inside this broken place to understand it.”
Oh puh-lease. Already I challenge myself. Aren’t you over-sentimentalizing again? Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that my words, always so faithful to me, fail me now. And I know that my heart hurts so much that surely it must be broken in there.
I wonder how the healing will take place. Will the skin of one area of my life bridge the gap and connect with the skin of another? And will this healing leave some evidence of itself? I hope so. I want something from this rich, precious time of my life to remain visible. I want a scar.
So I gather photos and artwork, mementoes that once I had little ones. These who are now so independent, were once not so much so. I did the right thing! I remind myself. They are independent; they are confident. Still, I want my heart to show that it isn’t easy to do the right thing. I want the scar.
I decided a long time ago that I could either have company when my house is messy, or not have company. So one Wednesday when my youngest (leader in her high school marching band’s saxophone section) announced that she wanted to have the section come over on Friday night before the football game, I was far more concerned with what they would eat than with how my house looked.
Still, I wasn’t totally indifferent about the house’s condition. There are a dozen or so saxophones and many of them had never been to my house. I figured some of them had parents who are far better at the details of life than I am. I straightened up, cleaned the bathroom, swept the floors: that kind of thing. But there was still a lot that could have been done. A lot.
They arrived, I welcomed them with soft drinks, snacks, and pizza, chatted briefly with them, and then disappeared for most of their visit. The first chance I got to speak to Margaret about it was on Saturday morning.
“Hey Margaret, sorry I didn’t get to vacuum downstairs or anything before your friends arrived.
“Oh it was fine. When we were coming in, I said, ‘Sorry about the house,’ but then I opened the door and said, ‘hey wait, this isn’t too bad . . . for us. It’s usually a lot worse.’”
“Great. Lovely. Thanks for that Margaret. I’m sure they all went home telling their parents, ‘Poor Margaret has to live in squalor. Thank you mom, dad, for keeping our house so nice and tidy.’”
“Pfft,” Margaret blew off my comment. “Actually they all loved you. They were talking about how great you are. One of them said, ‘Margaret, your mom is just the coolest!’”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a payday. As parents, we do a whole lot for which we will never receive any credit at all. Plus we are all flawed and we mess up regularly. But every now and then—during school programs, at concerts, or as we observe our kids with their friends and with other adults—we get a payday. We have a moment when we know without a doubt, despite our countless failures, somewhere along the line we have done something right. And those moments? They are absolutely priceless.
I’d love to hear about your favorite parenting payday! Comment below and tell me all about it!
About work and school
Because he’s Daddy
What are some things your dad says or said?
Please welcome guest blogger Grace Schmidt. Since 2008 or so, I've been working with high school seniors and some college students, tutoring them in creative writing with a focus on college admissions and scholarship essays. This post is Grace's Common Application essay responding to this prompt:
"Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
I thought she did such a great job on it that I wanted to share it with you as an example of an essay with a fresh approach that's entertaining and well-done. Grace generously gave me her permission to post it; enjoy!
“Come on, come on, come on! There’s nobody in line for the Teacups, Mommy!” Charlie and I raced to the best ride in all of Magic Kingdom as our parents walked behind us, pushing Martin in the stroller. Smiling, the cast member welcomed us aboard as Charlie and I got into a lavender cup. We waited for Daddy to join us (he always spins the teacup the fastest). Once the ride began spinning faster, I felt the pressure of that giant ice cream sundae I ate all by myself at the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street earlier.
To the seven-year-old palate, the food at Disney just might be the best in the world. All-you-can-eat buffets filled with macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and ice cream. Those amazing fries from Casey’s Corner. The pastries and confections from the Main Street Bakery. Plus all the wonderful foods at the Epcot World Showcase. The World Showcase features pavilions representing eleven countries from around the world, where people can listen to cultural music, see performances, watch CircleVision 360-degree movies about the country, and of course, eat. There’s the sweet School Bread with sliced almonds and custard on the top from the Norway pavilion; from Japan, the icy and sweet kakigori; and from Canada the ketchup chips that taste like the world’s best batch of french fries with ketchup.
The Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot’s Germany is one of my favorite places to eat. There, you can eat your fill from the buffet, then Polka with other guests center-stage. It’s like a massive dance party. Of course, the parks are always throwing parties for their guests. For example, last May my family drove all the way down to Orlando for the weekend when we heard Magic Kingdom was having a twenty-four hour celebration day. We woke up at four in the morning, got ready, and headed from our hotel to the Magic Kingdom for the six o’clock opening. We rode all the rides in the park that day, and even fit in two twenty-minute naps in the Hall of Presidents and the Carousel of Progress. If not for those two naps, my mom and I might not have had the energy to dance as much as we did at the two a.m. party in front of Cinderella's Castle.
We are not normally the type to let loose in public, but something about being with thousands of strangers and being stupid-tired inspired us to dance like no one was watching. We danced, Veronica Mars style, boxing the air, to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” We sang, full volume, along with Frozen’s “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door.” And if we had not been so hungry, we could have danced all night! Instead, we went for ice cream--my favorite: the giant sundae I always got when I was a kid
And it was good, too--until I began tasting it for the second time as the Teacups whirled round and round (some things never change). But then, the music stopped and the Teacups slowed, and like magic, I’m all better. Indeed, at Walt Disney World, I am free to be myself: past, present and future. After all, it is the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Grace is a senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville. Upon graduation in 2015, she plans to attend a state university in North Carolina. Grace is a little bit fond of the Wonderful World of Disney. Just a little bit.
He knew where this was headed. We had just watched our children perform in the musical Oklahoma! five times in a row: Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, plus three evening shows and a matinee. Involuntarily humming to ourselves that beautiful morning about the cultural and socioeconomic struggles of the 19th century American Midwest, we literally could not say no to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s incessant subliminal intrusions.
“What do you think?” I asked him. “About a month or so to get these tunes out of our heads?”
“Well,” he said, “It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew more of the words. I only know a few for each song.” He started singing.
“Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends! Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends! Da da da, duh da da da, da da da tuh dah dah dah, but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends . . .”
Yep, I’m thinking a month. At least.
(Good thing it was totally worth it!)