The Ultimate Career

When I was in college contemplating marriage and motherhood, I was told over and over again from numerous sources not to waste my life on a husband and children. I was told that if I really wanted to make a difference in the world I should seek success in a professional career. I was told I would be fulfilled only if I “found” myself and made a great deal of money. I was told it didn’t matter who raised babies, any competent adult would do. What I was told and what I felt was true was very different. Now, many decades later, I’m so grateful I listened to my heart.
The decision I made to marry and have my first child was a choice made with faith-filled naiveté, hope and youth. Twenty-four years later, the decision I made to have my last child was made with faith-filled reality, wisdom and age. I certainly knew about all the work, risks and problems involved with my choice, but I also possessed a deeper awareness and understanding of the potential joys and rewards. Even then, all those considerations dimmed in the new light that this decision was not just about me any more. My inner spotlight was now focused outside myself. Interestingly, I discovered that my life had become more important as my own needs became less important.
Life eventually teaches us what is most meaningful and what is most meaningful is the love of family. That’s it. A career is a means to sustain life, but it isn’t a meaningful life. The love and service we offer our spouse and child is the most important work we will ever do and the best way to find our self by losing our self. We might get detracted and focus on commitments that matter less along the way, but ultimately life will teach all of us that our greatest joys and sorrows, regrets and rewards will always come from home.
This doesn’t mean family life is easy. On the contrary - real families are full of victories and failures, triumphs and tragedies. Spouses who are loved and adored sometimes return that devotion and sometimes they don’t. Children who are nurtured and protected sometimes grow up to be strong, well-adjusted adults and sometimes they don’t. There is not always a direct correlation between the quality of our love and the outcome of our marriage or parenting. There is a direct correlation between the quality of our love and the individual growth of the man or woman who does that loving.
So for all you working hard at the sacred craft of soul care - don’t give up. There is no clear easy path through the overwhelming and conflicting commitments we have to our spouse, children, friends, church and community. Yet, we must never forget that our heart-felt acts of service and small daily efforts do matter. The eyes of God see everything.
There is nothing more important to do with our lives than offer something beautiful to our spouse or child . . . whether it is a back yard rope swing, forgiveness, a finger paint masterpiece hung on the refrigerator door or most important . . . our unconditional love.



Most parents are professional worriers. I mean if we don’t – who will? Our children race around like there is no tomorrow so somebody has to step up and worry about those crazy rascals – right? Wrong. Half of all the hospital beds in this country are filled with constant worriers. Mental stress can lead to migraine headaches, arthritis, heart trouble, cystitis, colitis, backaches, ulcers and depression. Worry robs us of the moment because we are too busy living in the past or the future.
I’ve been picking the brains of older wiser parents ever since I brought home my first new baby. I wanted to know what they knew . . . quick . . . like I preparing for war before the battle. I was always surprised by the #1 answer I received when I asked, “What do you wish you’d done differently while raising your children?”
“I would enjoy them more.”
Joy and worry are like oil and vinegar; they don’t mix well. In the past I believed parents who told me to enjoy my children had a loose screw upstairs or were simply so old they forgot the hard parts. I knew being the mom was exhausting. I certainly didn’t appreciate all those sentimental grandmas and grandpas telling me to enjoy my sleepless nights, potty training, barfing marathons, science fair projects, Cub Scout pine wood derbies, proms and driver’s license practice sessions. What I really wanted was for someone to validate how hard it is to be a mother or at least feel sorry for me and tell me I could go back to bed. I think I was also searching for some one to guarantee that all my hard work would be worth it and all my children were going to turn out all right.
Now I realize that all I’m really in control of around here is - me. Now I know for certain that I will love each of my children forever no matter how they turn out. So most of the worry and self pity is gone - leaving room for a lot more joy.
Worry is and always will be a fatal disease of the heart for it signals the end of gratitude and faith. Fear takes up so much room, that there is little space for anything else. Because I’m a grandma now, I know that the years when you have your children at home are few and precious. Before you turn around, you have to share them with a spouse, grandchildren, the in-law family and the world.
Abdicating my self-appointed role as the family worrier has set me free to enjoy my life one day at a time. I used to have preconceived ideas about how events and people were supposed to turn out. Now I just show up, smile and see what’s going to happen next. We don’t even know if we’re going to be alive tomorrow, so getting hives over anything in the future is rather pointless.
When we let go of worry we are finally able to savor the peace and joy that is ours for the taking. If we are paying attention, each day has at least one blazing moment of splendor. Like a sunset, if we don’t look west and relish the gold, the moment passes and the day is done.


On the Road to Fuddy-duddy

I got in a car accident the other day. The problem is I have often pointed out to my teenage children that I have never received a ticket or caused a car accident for fifty-four years. Now I’ve done both. When I stopped at that stop sign, looked right and left and pulled forward, I had no idea how that red car appeared out of nowhere. Like magic - poof! There it was. Crunch.
I am an insurance company’s worst nightmare. I immediately pulled my van off the road, raced to the other vehicle, made sure she was alright, hugged her told her I was sorry for ruining her car and her day.
I think I’ve officially entered my fuddy-duddy stage. I can see through my glasses pretty well straight ahead, but they don’t work so well when I look right or left. I guess what I really need is wrap around glasses so I can see on the sides of my life.
Someone once said to me, “Be nice to old fuddy-duddies on the road. You will become one of them sooner than you think.” Boy, were they right. When I looked around me at my 35th high school reunion, I wondered how all those kids got looking so old so fast. Then I realized I was one of them.
I don’t like to complain about getting older. I mean the only alternative is dying young. I’ve always been happy to tell everybody how old I am on my birthday because if I wasn’t that old, I’d be dead. I have also learned not to take life too seriously because we’ll never get out of here alive.
They say that the joy of life is the ride. What they don’t say is that while you’re on that ride you’re going to get in some accidents right after you change your insurance from comprehensive to liability because you’ve never been in an accident before and you’re tired of paying those premiums. Then . . . wham! You wreck your car, someone else’s car and your pride. There you are minding your own business and suddenly you cause an accident, get handed a FTY citation and still have to pay to get your car fixed on your own dime. Then you have to attend traffic school if you don’t want the bad driver points on your record.
Well, I refuse to be intimidated or humiliated by reality. The real miracle is that I’ve never been in an accident before when I’ve been in so many near misses – my fault and their fault. The real miracle is that no one got hurt. I think we add years to our life and life to our years when we stop a hardening of our attitudes. We don’t have to wonder, “Why me?” “Why now?” The real question is, “Why not me?” “Why not now?” Bad things happen to everybody. Some times it’s our fault and sometimes it’s the other guy’s fault. We don’t have to spend the rest of our life feeling picked on. That’s life.
After the accident, the auto body guy said it wasn’t worth the money to fix our thirteen year old van. It would cost more to fix it than the vehicle was worth. But I fixed it anyway. I don’t think you have to give up on cars or people and send them to the junk yard just because they get a little older or a little banged up. I’m just not ready to let go of my old van . . . my sense of humor . . . or my love of life.


Providing Comic Relief

I’m always trying to get my children to take me seriously, but I’m seldom successful. Take the other morning for example. I have a son who takes roughly a quarter century to get his shoes and socks on. If I don’t remind him to dress his feet long before we need to go somewhere, the whole family winds up sitting in the van breathing exhaust fumes while he slowly and painstakingly ties his shoe laces in quadruple knots. So I walked into the kitchen, placed my hands strategically on my hips attempting to look like a person with authority and said, “John, you need to hurry up and get your feet on.”
For some reason I can never get my mouth to say what my mind is thinking. It’s embarrassing. It also doesn’t help that I can’t even get my own children’s names right when I address them. I know perfectly well who I’m speaking to but my mouth never cooperates. Say, for instance, I’m standing directly in front of my daughter Ashley. As I open my mouth to address her, it goes something like this . . . “Ap, Ab, An, Am . . . . A – s – h – l – e – y.
I don’t know what my husband and I were thinking when we named all our daughters with names that start in A and all our sons with names that start with J. It makes me sound like I have a serious stuttering problem every time I attempt to address one of my own children.
I also try to get my children to be truthful, but that attempt always back-fires. Take the other day for example. A very important person I was trying to impress with my professionalism called my home and asked to speak to me while I was occupied in the bathroom. When my young son answered the phone he was suppose to say what we’d practiced together . . . “Hello may I help you?” Instead he said. “Who you are? What you want?” After the caller asked for me I heard him reply, “She can’t talk cause she’s . . .” then I heard my son tell the caller exactly what his mother was doing in the bathroom. I never had the nerve to return that phone call.
The other day I was quietly sitting in church minding my own business. The closing song had just finished and I knew it was my turn to walk to the front of the chapel and say the closing prayer. When I stood up, my young daughter had a sudden attack of attachment anxiety and grabbed my skirt trying to hold me back. This was her usual behavior so I pulled away, reassured her and started walking up the aisle.
She was persistent and called after me, “Mom, Mom, Mom!”
I ignored her as I walked up the long aisle and approached the steps to the podium hoping everyone would think it was someone else’s little girl shouting.
Then my daughter stood up on the bench, cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Your skirt’s falling off Mommy! Everybody can see your underwear!”
I glanced down. Sure enough; my skirt actually was falling off. I realized I had just been exposed to the whole congregation during my long walk up the aisle. I reached down and pulled up my skirt while embarrassed church elders covered their eyes.
“Thank you honey,” I said into the microphone just before I bowed my head and said the closing prayer. “You can sit down and be quiet now.”
Maybe mothers weren’t meant to be taken seriously. Maybe we actually plan to provide comic relief for our families . . . and church congregations. Of course we never do dumb things by accident. I mean telling our children to hurry up and get their feet on, stuttering a long list of grunts before we can say our children’s names or strutting down the aisle at church in our underwear is all carefully planned . . . right? It’s all part of our clever attempt to help others feel better about their own goofiness by comparison. Right? Yeah right.


Baby Blessings

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one. Bringing home a new baby changes your life . . . forever. Newborns have a distinct way of literally waking up the entire family. God gave babies the ability to cry for a very good reason. They can’t be ignored. This new little person might be small, but they let everyone in ear shot know when they are hungry, tired, bored or in need of a diaper change. Babies demand our attention, our time and a life-time commitment.
It’s a good thing God let people start out as bundle of soft cuteness. Babies are simply irresistible. There is nothing more beautiful than a newborn just out of the bathtub with a shiny nose. On the other hand, babies need constant care day and night. Some babies are good eaters, sleepers and poopers and some aren’t. Some babies adjust easily to new people and situations and some don’t. Some babies are easy to sooth and some aren’t. Some babies have a happy pleasant disposition and some don’t.
Parents never know what flavor they have until the weeks and months of sleepless nights and busy days stack up on each other and wear you out. Then right about the time you’re ready to throw in the towel, your newborn smiles at you and you’re ready to try again for the rest of your life. You see God also gave babies soft round cheeks and charming toothless grins for a reason.
When I brought my first premature baby home, I was more than hyper-vigilant. I was afraid that if I stopped watching her, she would stop breathing and die. So I stared at her like a hawk, even peeking when I showered. After a few weeks of no sleep and constant anxiety I realized I couldn’t go on like this forever. So I got on my knees and cried. Then I asked God if He would please watch over her while I slept. I had forgotten that God was already watching over both of us.
That was my first lesson in learning the difference between what I could actually do something about and everything I was worried about. As the years went by and more and more babies came to my house, I learned other things as well. I learned that everybody has several chances to have a happy childhood and I wasn’t going to miss my second chance. I learned to laugh at myself. I learned to relax and enjoy my children. I learned to worry less about how my sons and daughters looked to others and more about how they were feeling inside. I stopped trying to control them and worked more on controlling myself. I learned to make big and little choices with my heart.
And I learned about loss. When three of my babies didn’t come home from the hospital with me, I learned to never take anything for granted, especially babies. Everything can be taken away. I also learned that days melt into weeks . . . weeks race into years . . . and children grow up.
In the end, I suppose the best thing I’m still learning is how to love. So now I’m back on my knees again asking God to watch over my grown children and grandchildren while I sleep. I have learned to leave the universe in God’s hands - not mine. That’s where it was and is all along.


A Prayer for Caleb

In my family we have a secret code to communicate our love for each other when we are out in public. We wink. When one of us is about to perform or speak, we look for a family member’s face in the crowd. Then we wink at each other. Closing one eye and winking is our secret code for saying, “I love you. You can do it. You’re wonderful.”
About three years ago, my grandson Caleb was born into our family. He must have known before birth that he would never be able to speak to us because he was born with one eyelid permanently closed. So, he is always “winking” at us, always communicating, “I love you. You can do it. You’re wonderful.”
Caleb has one eye lid permanently closed because he is missing one of his eyes . . . and he is also missing his brain. All the doctors said he would die soon after birth. They were wrong. Caleb is three years old. He is a medical miracle. The doctors say he can’t see, hear, speak, think or move. Those who know and love Caleb understand he has his own unique way of experiencing the world and communicating his love to those around him.
After Caleb was born the hospice people told us to buy a burial plot and continually warned us of his imminent death. We soon learned you can not live well in a state of fear and sadness. We decided we could spend Caleb’s entire life anxious and scared he might die at any moment, or we could celebrate each day we were blessed to have him with us. In the beginning, my daughter April celebrated Caleb’s birthday every week instead of every year with balloons and cupcakes because we simply did not know how long we would have him with us. We stopped the cupcakes after we gained ten pounds, but the celebrating goes on.
We all prayed for a miracle when we first learned about Caleb’s condition. We got one. Caleb’s birth, life and mission have had a deep and lasting impact on our lives. His spirit, eternal identity and most of all the loving, individual relationship he has with each of us is truly a miracle. Because of Caleb we know that each of us has a divine purpose and that the physical body is a sacred gift we should never take for granted. We better understand the worth of a soul and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Caleb’s five year old brother Matthew said, “Grandma. The doctors said Caleb was going to die, but he didn’t. That’s the first miracle I ever saw!”
Sometimes Caleb’s baby brother Mitchell pulls out his feeding tube while they hold hands riding together in their double stroller. Sometimes the only intervention that can get Caleb’s heart rate up is when his older brothers Josh and Matty crawl in his crib, hug him and sing, “I am a Child of God.” For the past three years, Caleb’s parents have spent 24 hour days without much sleep humbly and gratefully caring for their four sons.
If you have a moment please offer a prayer for the little boy who has never been able to utter a single word and yet has taught everyone who knows and loves him – all the secrets of a rich and meaningful life.

The Real Expert

New mothers often ask me for advice about how to nurture or raise their children because I’m the mother of ten and I’ve written lots of books full of parenting information and ideas. What I think a mother needs most is renewed confidence in her own instincts. I vividly remember trying to follow my pediatrician’s advice to keep my newborn’s feedings at three hour intervals. I was pacing the living room with a hungry baby one day trying to hold her off for another hour when I suddenly realized how ludicrous my actions were. I knew my baby was hungry and that if I fed her she’d be happy. Why was I allowing some “expert” to tell me what to do with my own child? I immediately sat down and fed my hungry baby. We both stopped crying.
I whole heartedly believe that mothers should read all the latest information they can find and be willing to listen to other’s advice. Then neatly tuck all that material in the file drawer for later reference and look into your child’s eyes. No matter how incompetent you feel as a new mother, you are the one person in the world that spends the most time with this totally unique new person – the one person who knows and loves your child best. On those hard days, if you pray and ask God to help you understand and act on your child’s most vital needs, you will be taught by the only true expert who knows and loves both you and your child.
Feelings of perpetual incompetence are part of being a mother. They start at birth with feeding and sleeping issues but soon grow into discipline and independence issues. Though the issues change, the feelings of mothering incompetence remain constant. You’re never been the mother of this child at this stage in their development before - until the day you die. The truth is, even if you don’t have all the answers and know just what to do, you have made a commitment to be there for your child and care – forever.
There will be times when your baby, toddler, teen or married child will come to your with a tummy ache, a skinned knee, friend problems or a broken heart and you will not be able to take all the pain away. So you will hug each other and cry together. In the end, knowing someone cares is what children need most.
Maybe you’ll never become a nutrition expert, understand the current discipline techniques or get over the empty-next syndrome, but you will always be vital to your child’s sense of well-being. You move from diapers to driver’s licenses to dorm rooms and back to diapers faster than you think.
While I was walking out the door after visiting my daughter who had recently given birth to her third child, she looked into my eyes and asked, “What do you do when you feel overwhelmed Mom?”
“Get on your knees and pray,” I told her. “Have a good cry. Then get up and go back to work.”

Bridal Shower Philosophers

Men and women bond differently. Males stare at the same football game on TV. Women talk. When someone in our gender decides to get married, we like to gather, gab, eat goodies and give each other presents. It’s called a bridal shower. Bridal showers don’t have anything do with bathing like my young son asked. Bridal showers are parties we women give each other to celebrate our decision to join our lives with a man. Our sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, or friend is about to become someone’s wife and create a brand new family. So we set aside a Saturday afternoon to honor her choice and wish her well on her new journey.
Bridal showers used to bug me. I got tired of all the silly games such as contests to see who could make the most beautiful toilet paper wedding dress or pin-the-lips on the groom. I thought they seemed silly and trivial. These days I actually look forward to the bridal showers I’m invited to. These days I see the multi-generational bonding of women to honor our newest bride as an important feminine cultural rite of passage.
Every woman who attends a bridal shower is at a different place on her life’s journey. The oldest woman present is usually a widow longing for the touch of her husband’s hand. The retired woman is wondering what to do with a spouse who is suddenly under foot and home all the time. The middle-aged woman is trying to find a rare quiet evening to spend alone with her husband without the children. The newlywed has most likely faced her first reality check with her knight in shining armor. The single woman wonders if the opportunity to marry will ever come. Every age and circumstance has its own set of challenges and joys. Yet when we join together to wish our daughter, sister, niece or friend well as she begins her new journey, there is power in the room – the power of united women to bless our newest bride with tender words of advice offered with gentleness and love.
After all the games are over, refreshments served and presents opened there are usually a few quiet moments when the women in the room contemplate their own marriages, widowhood or singleness. The woman in charge often asks each guest to give the soon-to-be bride marital advice.
A hush comes over the room as each woman becomes contemplative. Then the words come - words like:
“When my husband and I ran into a rocky patch in our marriage I tried to change him. It didn’t work. I finally figured out that you can’t change anybody but yourself. I changed me. That has made all the difference.”
“I have learned that love is a choice not a feeling; you make a choice to love.”
“Love is a verb - what you do, not how you feel.”
“If you love your husband exactly as he is, then he becomes all you’ve ever dreamed of.”
When the words stop and everybody goes home, there is a feeling of hopefulness that we each take away. We know we will gather again when another of our own chooses to become a bride. Even as we slowly step toward death, we know some new bride will be stepping into marriage. The circle of life will begin all over again - all because one woman and one man choose to love each other.

Pay Day

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of raising a family the continual noise, chaos, conflicting schedules and constant demands can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get discouraged. Family building is a wild ride that invites us to throw out every single ounce of pride and selfishness.
Like a roller-coaster ride, family life is full of hills and valleys. On the way up we feel like laughing and on the way down we feel like screaming. Sometimes we wake up, stare at the ceiling and wonder how we are going to get the kids to do their homework, practice the piano, clean up their bedroom, brush their teeth and be nice to each other for one more day. I mean what’s the point? We just have to turn around and do it all over again the next day. Finding a moment to relax and simply enjoy our children seems like an illusive dream.
Amidst the chronic drama of every day life most parents wish they had several body clones. Then we could be in six different places at the same time. For a typical week day schedule means that Cub Scouts, youth activity, church planning meeting, choir concert, baseball practice and a baby shower all fall on Thursday at exactly 7:00 p.m.
Real families don’t look like those fake photo shoot models in the slick magazines or play out like the contrived plots of Hollywood movies. Real families try, fail and try again. Real families give each other headaches, hassles, hugs and heart failure. Real parents find ourselves wondering if our children even learned one thing we tried to teach them over the blare of their loud music and quarreling. It’s easy to grit our teeth and wonder what we were thinking when we got ourselves into this whole mess.
Then suddenly pay day arrives and we’re ready to go back to being the mom or dad for one more day. Golden moments are God’s pay - our salary and year-end bonus all rolled into one. These moments are like sunlight dancing on water, unexpected flashes of light that make tears come to your eyes.
Moments like . . . licking vanilla ice cream with Joseph on the warm west steps . . . discovering Arianne’s secret garden hidden in the trees, feeling April’s soft infant skin on my lips while I blow bubbles on her belly . . . hearing the crack of the bat when John hit his first run . . . laughing while Jordan flipped cartwheels in the living room the night before he got married . . . rubbing warm noses and soft checks together with Alisa at bedtime . . . holding Amy in the oxygen tent at the hospital . . . listening to Ashley sing like an opera star while I’m peeling potatoes in the kitchen . . .cheering as Aubrey made her three-point shot . . . and jumping to my feet after Jacob made the winning tackle.
Much like fireworks in July – golden moments are inner explosions of joy that fill your whole body with color and brightness. Time stops just for an instant and takes your breath away.

Feeding Souls

I’ve been taking notes at funerals. This is what I’ve learned. Those who don’t really know the deceased usually get up and preach a sermon. On the other hand, when the speaker truly loves the departed their remarks generally fall into two categories. Category #1. This person fed my body. You’d be surprised how many funeral talks discuss what delicious food the deceased person prepared and served. Apparently feeding people leaves a genuinely lasting impression. Category #2. This person fed my soul. Invariably the speaker will tell the congregation a few experiences about how the deceased impacted their life.
In the past I used to believe that if people didn’t have to eat, my life would be so much better. But I’ve been reconsidering that mind set lately. I’ve decided that if we didn’t have to eat every few hours, we’d lose our reason to gather. I now believe that physical hunger is God’s secret gift to us – the daily thirst that keeps those who care about each other coming back for more.
As a newlywed, if someone had told me how much of my life would be spent shopping for food then preparing and cleaning up after meals, I wouldn’t have believed them. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As the mother of ten children, I’ve often found myself wondering when this feeding frenzy will end. I’ve dreamed about what my life would be like when my family looked at me and saw a tired woman instead of Sunday dinner.
Mothers of newborns feel like morphed human pacifiers. Mothers of toddlers long for the day when eating a family meal won’t require rain coats and fire truck hoses for clean up. Mothers of school age children hear themselves spouting phrases like, “You don’t like that? Eat it anyway. There are children starving in China.” Mothers of teenagers watch hopelessly as their offspring inhale colossal quantities of everything edible on the premises. Mothers of married children are not surprised when their growing posterity comes home to visit - precisely at dinner hour. I’ve decided we can find frustration and resentment with all this eating business or we can unlock the secret and start having fun at our own banquet.
What if universal hunger is the biggest reason we stay connected? What if feeding those we love was not a daily drudgery but a pleasure? If we were not required to feed our newborns every few hours day and night, would we develop that tender bond that can never be broken? If we didn’t prepare a warm meal every evening for our family, would we ever get together and talk to each other? The gift of hunger actually keeps those we love coming back to be fed again and again at our table.
In my early days of mothering I used to say, “All I do all day long is feed one end of these kids and clean up other. Nothing I do really matters.” Now I deeply respect people who choose to feed people. For I understand that nourishing my family is one essential way to show my love. I’ve learned that when we serve with joyfulness, we not only give food to bodies - we also nurture spirits. Now I choose to focus more on the sustenance I have to offer than what family members decide to take away from my buffet.
Someday I hope those I have lived with and cared for will be able to say, “She fed me – both my body and my soul.”

Creating Visions

Sometimes you look back and think about the people who had the greatest impact for good in your life. When someone sees something more in you than you see in yourself, they change your future.
I took Drawing 101 at Brigham Young University back in the 1970’s from a graduate student. Though I don’t even remember his name, I will never forget his gentle mentoring. At the time I was working several jobs to put myself through college. I had space in my schedule for one elective course and signed up for an art class
After the first assignment was completed on the first day of class, I compared my work to all the other students. I quickly discovered I was enrolled in an art class where everyone else already knew how to draw very well. Go figure. I guess they were all looking for an easy A. I, on the other hand, took the class to learn how to draw.
This teacher gave us a new assignment each week to complete outside of class. I was a hungry student and often experimented with my drawing homework. I found that trying to produce something with my unskilled hands that even came close to what I saw with my eyes and felt with my heart was difficult. Yet at the same time this attempt was a gentle lesson in awareness. Drawing required singular focus, time and patience. I had to quit “thinking” about drawing and allow myself see and feel everyday objects with new detail, appreciation and wonder.
This master instructor taught me how to view the world from a different perspective. For example he would crumple up a piece of paper, set it on a table and shine a light on it. Then he would ask us to draw the shadows - not the paper. Or, he would ask class members to draw two minute flash portraits of fellow students to force us to draw out and develop abilities untapped by our usual consciousness.
These drawing exercises allowed me to view my everyday surroundings in a fresh way for I was learning to pay attention to the intricate details of form, shape, light and shadow. I carried a pad and pencil everywhere and sketched whenever I had a spare moment. I began to more fully notice and appreciate the small and large wonders all around me - like tiny blades of dew covered grass or leafless tree silhouettes backed by a flaming sunset at dusk.
At the end of the semester, each student was invited out in the hall one at a time. Then we were asked to open our portfolio and told to display our work for the teacher. I placed my pictures side by side on the floor in the long hall next to our classroom and waited. The teacher slowly walked down the hall, carefully studied each picture then turned and looked me directly in the eye.
“Janene,” he said with a broad smile, “you are the only student in my class who has earned an A.”
I was dumbfounded.
“Why?” I asked confused. “Why are you giving me an A when everybody else in this class draws so much better?”
“Because,” he answered, “you are the only true artist in this class. The other students know techniques that reproduce camera-like copies. You are the only one who had the courage to fail, the only one who took risks, the only one who did more than I asked and the only one who explored your soul. You are a fine artist. It doesn’t matter what art form you choose after you leave my class – for I know you will bring light, life and beauty to this world all your days.”
This gentle teacher saw something in me I did not see in myself. I have lived a different life because his vision of me opened up a new vision of myself.

Looking Good

Looking your best just isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. I mean if I fix my hair, put on my make-up and wear stylish clothing all the time – when people stop by to visit me on a Saturday morning before I shower, they will not even recognize me. Sometimes we women spend too much time working on our outward appearance and forget to notice our inner beauty.
I give myself one day a week when I’m simply good enough - in the raw. I don’t walk around naked, but on that day I let me - be me. I shower and brush my teeth but everything else goes ‘el natural. No make-up, no hair style, no uncomfortable clothing. I love my Good Enough Day. I look forward to my Good Enough Day. I don’t even leave the house unless it’s on fire. I try not to do anything I have to do. Instead I find activities that replenish and refresh my soul. This is my “fill the well” day. For I have learned that I can’t water a garden of souls if my own source of water is dry.
People who obsess about how they appear to others always seem stiff and fake, like they’re afraid their make-up will crack or the wind might blow their hair out of place. They hardly notice you when you speak to them because they are too busy posing. Gosh can’t we women just get over ourselves? Why is it that we are often so self-absorbed about the way we look? Why don’t we take a closer look at who we are on the inside . . . and I don’t mean our gall bladders. How about the capacity of our hearts to appreciate God’s blessings or the depths of our compassion for others?
Inside every stiff self-conscious woman is a child who begs to be set free. Remember dancing in the front yard in your new petticoat? Remember rolling in the sand and digging in the dirt without worrying about ruining your clothes? Remember how the wind used to feel in your hair before you starting worrying about whether or not your hairspray was going to hold up?
The point is – we have been given a glorious beautiful woman’s body. We can give birth to new human beings and provide their entire food supply for months. We can snuggle with our husband at night and cuddle with our children during the day. We are soft with round curves for a reason. Shouldn’t we be grateful for arms that hug, lips that kiss and tummies that are soft enough to be a pillow for someone’s head. If we have ears that can hear and legs that can move, shouldn’t we be dancing? Shouldn’t we delight in the wonder of being a woman?
Why do we mature females waste so much time complaining about our weight or our hair turning gray? It’s not shameful for our bodies to demonstrate that we enjoy eating or that we are getting older and wiser. Perhaps the real shame is our ingratitude for the unique and incredible mind and body God gave us. There are cultures in the world where it is considered beautiful to have a large heavy ring in your nose. So it’s past time to re-examine and stop accepting our culture’s narrow definition of beauty.
There is a light that comes to a woman’s countenance when she lets go of self absorption. Truly looking good - is being good and that only happens when we feel gratitude for the wonderful woman’s body, mind and soul we have been given - then choose to share our light and love with all those around us.

Keep the Melody Going

My daughter Ashley was asked to play a piano solo for the whole school in junior high. She worked hard and prepared well for her debut by memorizing a song that was both beautiful and entertaining. I was sitting in the audience that day when she walked up on stage and sat down on the bench ready to begin. Because I am her mother I noticed all the color drained from her face. She was scared but she took a deep breath and began.
She played the first section of the song remarkably well. I noticed that each time she would get to the beginning of the second part of the song, her mind would go blank. Without batting an eye she simply started over. This happened three or four times. What Ashley didn’t know was that she and I were the only ones in the whole auditorium that knew there was a second part of the song.
Ashley finally finished and walked off stage. I met her in a corner of the school hallway. She was mortified, certain she had flubbed up big time in front of all her peers.
“Ashley, it sounded wonderful,” I told her.
She didn’t believe me. She knew what the song was supposed to sound like and was certain she had failed in her performance.
During the rest of the school day Ashley was surprised when many of her peers expressed sincere admiration for her solo. They told her the song was awesome and envied her talent. Ashley finally realized that by playing the melody three or four times it sounded like she had played a complete song. She was the only one who knew how much better she wanted to perform.
Mothers are like that. We know how much we want to demonstrate our love for our children but often fall short of our own unrealistic expectations. We feel inadequate when we lose our patience, forget to pick up a child after gymnastics, neglect to sign up as room mother or have say no when asked to baby sit a grandchild. What we don’t realize is that if we keep the melody going, everything will work out. The melody is love.
It doesn’t matter if our homes look like a page right out of Better Homes and Gardens. It doesn’t matter if we’ve put on a few extra pounds. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have our children involved up to their eyeballs in every extra curricular activity. It does matter if we take the time to truly enjoy and love our children and grandchildren in the moment – for the moment passes.
I’m often asked to play the piano at church. Because I’m asked to play extemporaneously, I’ve had to develop a skill I refer to as sight-reader neglect. This means I choose which notes not to play with my left hand so I can keep the melody going with my right hand. The congregation can’t tell the difference. I have learned to accept the fact that I can’t play every note in every chord every time.
As mothers we also have to learn commitment neglect. We have to be able to say, “I choose not to wash the windows. I choose not to sign up my child for soccer.” We can’t do everything and keep everybody happy all the time. Over-committed and over-scheduled mothers don’t have enough time to take an unhurried stroll in the evenings.
Once we understand that love is the melody, we can choose our activities and commitments more wisely. God is the only one in the audience who should really matter. When we truly love ourselves and our families, God will conduct our lives, lead us to inner harmony and compose a personal masterpiece with our souls.

Learning to Fly

I received a shiny pink and white bicycle when I was eight years old. Problem was, I didn’t know how to ride and I was too scared to learn. I figured if I hid my gift in the garage, both the bike and I wouldn’t get all scratched and dented. I remember sitting on the cold cement floor, staring at my bike and wondering, “What if I wasn’t afraid?”
Then I imagined myself riding that bike around the block and up to the white church on the corner. If I was really brave I’d pedal over to the small grocery store near our home to buy some penny candy. I could almost feel the wind on my face whipping my hair back. I could almost taste that bubble gum.
Finally, I rolled that bike from the garage, steadied my feet on the pedals and took off. The handles wobbled and I forget how to make it stop. I wiped out. Before the day was over, I was covered in blood, sweat and dirt. Finally I found an inner sense of balance I didn’t know I had. I still remember the explosion of joy I felt when I finally learned to ride. I was flying.
Years later, I was shopping with my baby daughters at the mall and spied an author signing books. I loved to write. Problem was I didn’t know how to get published and I was too scared to learn. I figured if I kept my writing in the drawer, I wouldn’t get all hurt with criticism or rejection. Yet as I starred at that author from a distance I wondered, “What if I wasn’t afraid?”
Then I imagined myself sitting at a table signing books I’d written. I could almost see my first book cover. That day when I got home I shipped off a manuscript to a publisher. Eventually I collected a pile of rejection slips, but I kept writing and sending my work out. Then one day it happened. I still remember the deeply satisfying pleasure of reading my first byline on a published newspaper column, magazine article and finally a book. It was like flying into another world of possibilities.
Even more years later, I was listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It made me weep. I longed to play the violin like that but I was fifty-two. I’d never seen any one my age take up the violin. I thought I’d missed my chance. I was scared I might be too dumb to learn. I wondered, “What if I wasn’t afraid.”
Then I imagined myself sitting in an orchestra gracefully gliding the bow across the strings. I could almost hear the music and feel my cheek resting on the polished wood. So I took lessons and joined an orchestra. At first I didn’t know how to hold the bow or position my hand on the strings. In the beginning I had to think very hard and tell my hand where to place each finger on the strings for every single note. I’ll never forget the first time I played an entire song without focusing on my finger placement. It was like flying in my soul.
Now when something seems impossible, scary or hard, I ask myself, “What if I wasn’t afraid? Then I try. I’m certainly not an Olympic speed bike racer, a famous author or an accomplished violinist but I’m gradually learning that all personal growth is mostly a matter of conquering our fears. When we let go of being scared to try, we can listen to that gentle voice who tells us who we really are and what we might do. Life is not about competing or comparing - it is about whether or not we choose to fly.

Recitals, Rescues and Rewards

I used to get so nervous for my children when they had to perform in front of others. I appeared calm on the outside and always reassured my child before a performance. Inside my heart would thump so loud I could hear the pulsating sound in my ears. I had this horrible feeling of dread that if things didn’t go well, my child’s precious self image might be shattered for life.
I don’t think or feel that way any more. I am older now and I’ve witnessed the results of both the positive and negative experiences my children have. My instincts to protect my child from anything difficult have also changed. Most of the time my children perform at about the level of their preparation. So when things don’t go so well, they learn to be better prepared the next time. Other times, they simply freeze up because they’re nervous in front of strangers. In the past I have been tempted to rush up in front of the crowd and say, “She really can do this much better at home. So please quit staring at her and stop making her nervous.”
I am not tempted to do that any more. I know that sometimes we perform well and sometimes we don’t. We learn something we need to know from both experiences. Our focus should be more on our motivations and less on outward show. I’ve also learned that how we appear to others matters less when we have the quiet confidence and peace of mind that flows from personal character.
One day I glanced out the front bedroom window, because I thought I heard someone crying. Out in the driveway I spied my young son struggling to make his two-wheeler stay upright. The bike was over-loaded with newspapers he had folded then placed into large deep canvas bags on each side of the bicycle. There must have been extra ads that day because his heavy bags were bulging even more than usual. My son was frustrated and my first impulse was to rush out and rescue him. I knew I could easily take him around on his route in the family van.
Then I was stopped by this sudden and unmistakable impression, “Jordan will need to do many hard things in his life. You need to let him practice and struggle now so he will be ready then.”
I cried - but I did not go outside and rescue my son that day. I followed the impression I’d received and stayed inside. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Eventually Jordan wiped his eyes, steadied his bicycle, rebalanced the rolled newspapers and peddled away on his newspaper route. He did not know I was watching from the window. He did not run into the house and ask me for help. He found the determination and confidence to solve his own problem. Since that day I have seen Jordan struggle through six long years of school to become a doctor. He had to work hard. He did not quit. He had the inner confidence and determination to steady his life, rebalance his priorities when a new wife and three children entered the picture and still achieve his dream.
So now when my children are up front or frustrated with a difficult task, I do not ask God to help them perform flawlessly or to solve their problems. I do ask that my child will learn what they need to know from the experience they are about to have. For I have learned that all life events work toward our good if our motivations are pure, if we work hard, and if we trust ourselves and God.

Pets Heaven

Pets are universally hailed as a great way to teach children responsibility. After various and multiple animals have lodged at my residence, I’ve discovered that pets also teach children about courage, tenderness, commitment and death.
Whenever one of my children asks for an animal I carefully inform them that I have enough living creatures to house and feed. So if they want a pet, they have to be the one who takes care of them. I let them practice being responsible for a sibling’s pet for a few weeks to see if they are really up to the task.
Each of my eager children quickly demonstrates their budding reliability with a responsible week or two and then this incessant plea, “So can I get my own bunny today? Please. Please. Please.”
Inevitably I am forced to keep my promise and we bring home yet another bunny, flock of chickens or pigeons, cat or duck. Though my child is naive and unaware, I know what’s coming. Everything will go well for a while. This day after day responsibility of caring for a pet begins a tender kind of attachment my child has never felt before. Even after caring for their human siblings, my child knows that someone else is ultimately responsible. They know someone else does most of the work; someone else does most of the sacrificing.
When you willingly take on the total responsibility for another living being, something changes inside your soul. This swelling of heart in your own child is a gentle and moving event to witness. I find my previously frightened little girl braving a blizzard to check on her pet rabbit. I discover my ten-year-old son who has always been terrified of dogs, bravely defending his flock of chickens against huge stray mongrels. I find a mostly self-absorbed teenager tenderly stroking his pet cat. None of this courage, devotion or tenderness is required when I ask my child to pick up their room or clean up the dishes after supper. After all this personal daily effort to keep their pet alive, they learn what it means to be loyal and committed and what it feels like to love in a deep and profound way.
Then it happens . . . someone lets their dog run loose again and my child is forced to face the dark side of death. When my young son or daughter goes back to check on their furry companion they find instead an empty cage, or the remnants of their pet in feathers or left over body parts. After this tragic and horrible experience, I find myself trying to comfort an inconsolable weeping child. I always long to place their beloved companion back into their empty aching arms.
So we talk about how their pet will someday run toward them and jump into their arms in heaven. We discuss bunny cloud nine or pigeon paradise. Yet in the end, nothing can truly comfort a child who has sacrificed, cared for, played with and taken pleasure in their living companion.
So when my children plead for yet another pet, I ask, “Are you sure you want to do this?” What I’m really thinking is, “Am I sure I can go through this with my child again?” And the answer is always - yes- because there is a gift a child receives when they love and care for animals. This gift gets them ready to love and care for each other. The child, who strokes their dying bunny, will someday become the adult who knows how to commit to, sacrifice for and love their own spouse and children. For personal sacrifice, commitment and courage teach all of us to truly value those we care for and love.

Choosing Motherhood Again

Motherhood is definitely not for wimps. When you’re pregnant your body turns into a science fair project only you’re not in charge of the hypothesis, experiment or outcome. After the baby gets here, you’re sucked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on and wet on. Then later you get kicked, punched, screamed at, disobeyed and run away from. You eat cold meals, wear stained clothes and never get any sleep. When your children are finally old enough to help you, they won’t. When they’re teenagers they ask you to hide in your bedroom when their friends come over. When they leave for college they only call home when they want something.
So why in the world do we do it? We choose to be a mother because if we didn’t - children would die or never be born. Society would cease to exist. The world as we know it would come to an end. I know of no other life’s work that can make that claim.
I firmly believe that those who do the most good in this world are often invisible and receive the least credit or payment. Mothers are like that. They are too busy planting and nourishing to contemplate the eventual harvest. Yet, if we give our whole hearts to the growing season we will someday reap a return of souls who will feed the world with the love they’ve known.
When governments, financial institutions and nations fail, mothers offer the answers – brand new people wrapped in flannel. We give the world fresh human beings with novel ideas, unique talents and answers to age old problems. For we have chosen not to put ourselves first. We have chosen to be the stewards of a new generation. We have chosen to be the moral earth where the rising generation’s roots can sink deep in time honored values. We have chosen to offer our time, our talents and everything we have so that our children can grow up knowing there will always be a smile in the audience, forgiving arms to return to and a push of encouragement when they need to fly.
No community or nation will survive without us. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless. It doesn’t matter if anyone else, including our own spouse and children appreciate us, if we do. For when we grasp a glimpse of what is means to be a mother and how our actions or failure to act will affect thousands for generations, we will never undervalue our contribution again.
Motherhood frees us to love someone more than our self and gives a dimension of sacredness to everything we do. Motherhood frees us from selfishness and creates a gentler world where someone is always looking out for the children. Motherhood frees us of from a life of get and offers us a life of give.
After years and years of nurturing, feeding, hugging reading and cleaning, we will be granted the ability to love and the opportunity to be loved. Our hearts will open to the value of another human being in ways we do not now comprehend. We are transformed as we transcend self. So on those hard days, choose motherhood again with even greater tenderness, and commitment. I absolutely promise you that every sacrifice you make for your child will contain your life’s greatest meaning, every choice to love, your life’s greatest purpose.

Quality of Life

Years ago my obstetrician called me at home to educate me on the laboratory results of a blood test he’d ordered earlier.
“At your age, your chances of having a baby with severe genetic defects are one in twenty-two,” the doctor said. “After the blood test, your chances are one in two. You have a fifty-fifty chance of having a child with serious problems. Do you still want to continue this pregnancy?”
“Of course,” I answered.
“I can order an amniocentesis to confirm,” he offered.
“No,” I answered. “The results won’t change my choice to have this child.”
“Well, it’s your decision,” the doctor answered. “But remember this choice will negatively affect the quality of life not just for you - but your whole family.”
After I hung up, I felt stunned, unsure how to feel. So I cried. My two-year-old saw my tears and asked me why. It was difficult to find words to explain.
“The baby inside Mommy might be different, I finally answered.
“What’s different?” he asked.
“Different means the baby might not be the same as you and me.”
“Different isn’t sad Mommy,” my young son said.
He was right. I stopped crying.
When I told my husband about the doctor’s report he said, “What ever shape our baby’s in, she’ll still be our little girl and we’ll love her and take good care of her.”
I had a friend who decided to be sterilized after her second child. Why?
“I have two healthy children, so why should I take the chance of having one with problems?” she told me. “I just don’t want to take that chance again.”
My daughter Alisa was born a few months after my doctor’s phone call . . . perfectly healthy. Will she have challenges during her life time? Yes - we all do.
My grandson Caleb was in the ICU of a local hospital with RSV for a month. Because Caleb was born without a brain and requires constant care day and night, the doctors kept urging my daughter April to consider Caleb’s quality of life and her own and to reconsider her decision to actively pursue urgent care.
“They have not been able to grasp what a privilege Caleb is and how immensely he is loved and adored,” April said after one long tiring day in the hospital. “Today I met with several doctors and told them our family story. When I finished, they were all in tears. I explained how Caleb is surrounded by love and how our family’s quality of life has been richly blessed by his presence. The resident doctor came up to me later and said, ‘Thank you for reminding me what quality of life really is.’ The respiratory therapist has also been a skeptic. Today we replaced Caleb’s mask with a nasal devise while I prepared to hold him. When they took off the mask, Caleb’s whole face lit up in a big smile when I said, ‘Hello my sunshine boy!’ Then I just smothered him with kisses all over. Caleb couldn’t stop smiling. When I glanced at the therapist, he had tears in his eyes. I held Caleb for almost two hours and he never stopped smiling.”
Every parent takes a life-altering chance each time they conceive a child; but the chance is not between having a “normal” child and one with “problems”. Every child will have challenges - be they physical, emotional, social, mental or spiritual. Each parent is given the soul altering privilege to learn the true meaning of devotion in the midst of those challenges. That deeply personal choice is what creates quality of life. The chance is really a choice - to love - whatever the chances.

Shopping At the Ultimate Store

One valuable way to look at our life is to view living as a shopping spree to the ultimate store. This shop has everything for sale . . . expertise on a musical instrument, a mansion in the best neighborhood, a prestigious career or a loving relationship with our spouse or child. There is only one condition – at this marketplace we can only buy things with time.
Contrary to the world of money where some have a little and some have a lot, we’re all equally given twenty-four hours a day. The only variable is we don’t know how much time we have before we die. So, time is limited. It is not possible for any of us to be so rich in time that we can buy all we desire. So there are vital choices to be made.
One day after taking a tour of a friend’s lavish house, my husband asked me what my dream house would look like. I had a hard time coming up with an answer.
“When I was young I used to dream about what I wanted my home to feel like,” I answered. “I guess I never got around to dreaming about what it would look like.”
Family relationships are like bank accounts; it’s important to make more deposits than withdrawals. It takes maturity and wisdom to define success in terms of the quality of our home life instead of money, career or status. Spending our time wisely requires that we carefully evaluate our choices each day and clearly differentiate between wise investments and unnecessary expenses. Should I read a book to my child or close one more deal at the office? Should I take a walk with my husband or go to another meeting down at the church? Time spent on people always brings a greater return than time spent on things.
We all daily hear that quiet voice who tells us to slow down and savor our relationships at home. Our best investment advisor is and always will be our heart. When we listen to that inner voice and spend our time accordingly we will always have an excellent return on time well spent.
One of the blessings of growing older is that we have the benefit of looking back on our life and evaluating how we’ve spent our time and whether it was a wise investment. The problem is that we often don’t have the time to go back and invest differently. Our mistakes or wise choices have been compounding and it becomes more difficult to change their direction.
So, it is imperative that we begin today to view time as our most precious commodity. If we treasure our time more than our money, we will be a wiser steward of our most important and sacred trust – our relationship with God, self, family and friends. We’re all on a shopping trip in the ultimate store. What do we really want to buy? How much time are we willing to spend?

Children - Our Greatest Treasures

One day I was waiting in line for my child’s evaluation with his new kindergarten teacher. A stylish young mother and her son sat in the chairs next to us because the teacher was running behind. I was obviously eight months pregnant and hovering on the huge side of big.
This young mother stared at my belly and asked, “Why do you want to do that again?” Her question caught me off guard. I blushed. “This is it for me,” she added. “Boy am I ever ready to get this last one in school. Now it’s my turn for me.” She was wearing beautifully tailored clothes, her hair was elegantly styled and her long fake fingernails were polished pink with jeweled flowers on the tips. “Just bought that,” she finished pointing to a shiny red sports car in the parking lot. “Nice huh.”
I looked down at my protruding mid-section and asked myself . . . Why am I doing this again? My worn maternity clothes were stained orange across the belly with my preschooler’s spaghetti from lunch. I still had dirt under my fingernails from playing in the sandbox. My wind-blown hair was stuck to several sticky kisses on my cheeks. The old van I drove was covered with mud and still smelled like hot dog and marshmallow smoke from our last family camp out. Yet, I knew exactly why I was doing this again.
I cleared my throat several times, turned to this woman and asked, “What if a highly important person brought you to the opening of a diamond mine and said you could go inside and gather as many diamonds as you wanted? But, there was one condition. You only had a certain amount of time before your opportunity was over and then you couldn’t gather any more diamonds. Would you do it?”
“Sure, who wouldn’t,” the stylish young mother answered.
“What if some of the diamonds were hidden in the rocks and you had to work really hard to find them and keep them?”
“I’d be willing to do whatever it took to get those diamonds because then I’d be rich,” the young mother answered. “Even one diamond is worth a fortune.”
“That’s why I’m doing this again,” I answered patting my abdomen.
I’m not sure that woman understood what I was trying to say. But I noticed that my little boy, who was seated next to me, took my hand and quite literally beamed. Children always know when they’re somebody’s treasure.
Wiping runny noses, changing messy diapers, fixing endless meals, sorting dirty laundry, soothing crying infants, waiting up for teenagers, supervising homework, cleaning up after the stomach flu, washing dishes, bringing in a paycheck and picking up after another toddler tornado doesn’t seem like important work. It is. Loving and serving children of all ages is the only work that really matters. The value of each person’s soul is priceless.
So, the next time you’re in the middle of cleaning up yet another mess, repeat these words . . . Children are my diamonds. I’ll do whatever it takes to nurture their souls because then I’ll be rich with love forever.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

When the nurse hands you your soft pink newborn in the delivery room, she might as well say, “Get ready, get set . . . say goodbye.” For loving someone means saying good-bye so many times you almost can’t stand it any more.
I remember the first time my oldest daughter insisted she be allowed to walk to school by herself. I didn’t want to make her paranoid and insecure so I went along with the idea. She didn’t know I secretly followed her hiding behind every bush and tree. Years later, after her wedding reception, I remember collapsing on the couch with my husband moments after she drove away with her new groom for their honeymoon.
My husband turned to me and asked, “After all that . . . they just leave?”
I encourage my children’s independence . . . I really do. Yet I always feel awkwardly adrift after they go. I’m never ready and find myself staring at the horizon wondering where they’re going without me.
Today I watched my daughter Amy try on her wedding gown for a spring marriage. As she turned in the shimmering dressing room lights and looked up at me with her rich brown eyes, I realized she had become a stunningly beautiful and elegant woman. In my mind’s eye I saw her looking up at me in two other flowing white dresses, first as an infant on her blessing day at church and then as an eight-year-old still wet and shivering after her baptism. Where do the fleeting moments go? When did she grow up? People always tell you to notice the firsts – first tooth, first two-wheeler, and first date - but they forget to tell you to savor the lasts – like the last time your daughter takes your hand before she steps into a new life as someone’s wife.
As I watch my sons and daughters leave my home one by one I’m always surprised by the wave of enormously powerful emotions that wash over me. Loving my children, watching them grow, chart their own course and sail away has been the most important privilege of my life. Yet, I’m so glad they make return visits often with new soft pink babies wrapped in flannel for me to hold.
Then, all too soon, it is our children’s turn to take our hands as we go where they can not follow. When my mother-in-law died I was standing at the hospital bed stroking her soft fingers. The tables had turned and this time it was her children’s turn to help her go ahead - without them.
“You’ve been the best mother in the world, “all her children echoed each other as she took her last breaths. “You did a great job. We love you Mom. It’s all right if you have to go now. We’ll miss you but we’ll be all right”
Truly loving someone means - letting go – over and over again. When you just can’t stand it any more, say a prayer and feel the presence of someone who loved you enough to let you go. It doesn’t make it any easier . . . but if you let yourself feel everything, the joy and the pain, you will know for yourself that when you left heaven long ago, someone cared, someone wept, someone is missing you and is hoping you’ll come back home some day.

Nose Prints and Fine Art

When I was younger, I used to clean the house when I knew people were coming over. I don’t do that any more. At my age, you lose the desire to impress visitors and work more on welcoming them. Family and friends forget the way our house looks five minutes after they leave, but they always remember how we treat them. After a few decades we learn to accept the fact that people actually live at our house and we can’t keep it looking like a museum unless we want to scare off the locals.
Take the other day for example. I knew several women were coming to my home any minute. Before they arrived I walked into the living room and noticed smears on our shiny black piano, lip smudges on the French doors and nose prints on the china hutch. Twenty years ago I would have whipped out the cleaners and whipped those greasy smeary messes away quick as a wink. But I’m older now and I’ve learned that lip smears and nose prints are evidence that children like to be in this home. Besides that, every smudge and smear reminded me of one of my grandchildren. When you become a grandma, you earn the right to leave smudges where they lie. What used to annoy you now makes you feel all fuzzy inside.
When I looked at the china hutch, I remembered watching my grandson Mitch taking his first hesitant steps and doing a nose plant on that pane of glass. Wiping off the evidence of his victory seemed kind of disrespectful. When I saw the smears on the shiny black piano, I remembered the impromptu family concert on Sunday night when my daughters stood around the piano singing a song about Jesus. I was washing a mountain of dishes in the kitchen and when I heard them harmonizing, I cried. You see while they were growing up I tried to encourage them to get along with each other, practice the piano and sing - without a lot of luck. Now they do it without being forced, bribed or scolded. Now they do it because they love singing, playing the piano and each other.
The finger prints on the French doors have been there for about two months now. They reminded me of Sophia and Samuel who live far away and can’t come to visit often. Sophie and Sammy smash their lips and noses on those panes of glass when they visit because it makes their cousins Emily and Sandy giggle. Sometimes they kiss each other as they each stand on opposite sides of the glass. When I see the lip and nose print ghosts they’ve left behind, I can’t bring myself to wipe them off because I don’t know when I’ll see them again. I like looking at something tangible they’ve left behind.
While I was looking around the living room I also noticed a tiny white sock the newest baby to the family left behind. I had it proudly displayed on the fireplace mantle. Emma Joy’s mother Teresa lets me hold her every time she comes to my house. She seems to sense that grandmothers and granddaughters need smuggle time, warm new skin next to warm old skin. Holding newborn grandbabies smelling like pink lotion and baby shampoo is God’s sweetest reward for surviving sleepless nights with their parents.
I think our homes should be a haven where real people feel safe and loved. They aren’t supposed to look like a trendy hotel lobby to impress visitors or meant to be as sterile as a hospital. In fact, now that I have a few grey hairs, I think nose prints and lip smears just might be the finest works of art I ever display in my home.

A Quiet Man

I used to feel perplexed that my husband didn’t like to talk much. I’m a word person. I always have something to say about everything even if I don’t know what I’m talking about. I even make a living with words. Written and spoken communication is important to me.
I used to wonder, “How do you know how a person feels if they don’t write it down or tell you?” Now I know.
After many years together I have grown to deeply appreciate and respect the quiet man I married. I have discovered that for a male who doesn’t say a lot, my husband sure knows how to communicate “I love you” in a thousand different ways.
Ross knows I hate to put gas in the car because the gas cap is stubborn and I always hurt my hands trying to pry it off. For some reason gas magically appears in my van whenever it runs low.
Ross knows I feel bad enough when I do something dumb like backing into his company owned truck with our family car. So when I walk into the house all teary-eyed and apologetic, he just hugs me and tells me not to worry.
Ross knows my favorite treat is orange sticks. Whenever I feel a chocolate/orange marmalade attack coming on, a box of orange sticks suddenly appears in my closet.
Ross knows that trees feed my soul. When I look out my kitchen window while washing the supper dishes each evening I see a miniature forest my husband carefully created and maintains for me. Even the wild peasants and deer feel sheltered there.
Ross knows I savor the succulent flavors of just-picked fresh fruits and vegetables. Every spring he prunes and sprays dozens of fruit trees and carefully plants and waters a large garden of vegetables for me to harvest and enjoy.
Ross knows sometimes I feel sad and he can’t fix it. So when I can’t stop crying he takes me in his protective arms and strokes my forehead until I feel better.
Ross knows how much I love children and how I always dreamed of raising a big family. So every single day, without complaint, he goes to work so I can stay home and rock our babies and grandbabies and eventually great-grandbabies.
Ross knows that writing is as important to me as eating. He quietly supplies me with a desk, computer, paper and printer so I can stay in the word business.
Ross knows I need a healthy husband, so every morning he gets up at 5:30 and goes for a five-mile walk. He sacrifices his sleep so all the children and I can have his undivided attention during the evening hours when he returns from work.
Ross knows I crave a clean house and car. He picks up his own dirty socks and takes them to the hamper and hand washes the dirtiest pan after supper. He takes the van to the car wash whenever it gets dirty and even sprays off the mats.
Ross knows I get scared or worried sometimes. So, he knells with me at our bedside every night and invites God into our life as we pray until all my fears go away.
Ross knows I relish good music. He worked hard, saved and then bought a shiny black piano for me instead of a sleek red super power truck for him
Ross knows I enjoy a good laugh. He brings home a funny story or joke every day and makes me chuckle. His cheerful nature invites me to enjoy life’s journey while we ride out the ups and downs together.
Ross knows I am reassured by physical affection and attention. He kisses and hugs me whenever he leaves and whenever he gets home and sometimes he even does it in front of everybody with a huge sweeping dip and passion . . . at church.
Ross knows it brings a sparkle to my eyes when I feel like his queen and sweetheart. So he dances with me in the kitchen, takes me out for a date every week and keeps my bed warm every night.
Even though words are my trade, I have learned that actions always go deeper and speak louder. For a quiet man, Ross communicates remarkably well.

When Children Leave

Children leave home. This separation is a universal rite of passage all parents and children have to go through if they want to develop a healthy adult relationship. As a parent we know the day is coming, but often put off feeling the angst of separation. I mean who really wants to think that after several decades of devotedly caring for and loving someone night and day - they just leave? Even if you are the child who has been looking forward to growing up and leaving home for years . . . when the day actually arrives, you still get a major lump in your throat.
I’ve been through this parent/child separation routine many times. So why doesn’t it get any easier? Sooner or later we all have to deal with the bewildering feelings of loss that accompany our children leaving home. Marriage, college, career or religious duties hover on the foreseeable horizon and we have to face reality . . . our days of living together are numbered.
One foolish way we parents attempt to soften the blow is by thinking about all the every-day irritations that this separation will eliminate . . . things like how nice it will be to have wet towels actually hanging on the rods in the bathroom instead of being tossed in a heap on the floor. We imagine a huge reduction in our grocery bill because the food our child usually eats will now hang around in the refrigerator for days. We contemplate quiet peaceful nights where we go to bed early because we’re not up late worrying that our child has been in a car accident or the victim of a hormone driven dating partner.
Our child, who is also thinking about this major life change, is likewise trying to make it easier on themselves by doing the same thing. They think about how great it will be to finally eat potato chips in the living room, let dishes stack up in the kitchen sink, sleep in on Sunday and come home when they darn well feel like it.
This psychological attempt to make the break easier seldom works. Yet, pretending not to care makes both parent and child a little testy during the days and weeks before the actual separation. Its like, “Yeah well if you’re not going to feel sad when you leave - then I won’t either.” That attitude is all a big smoke screen. Underneath all this pre-separation crankiness is something incredibly tender.
As the parent you tell yourself that you’re not sure your child can make it without you. Yet somewhere deep inside, you know they can and you don’t know how you feel about that. Your deepest fear is that you don’t know if you can make it without them. As a child you have lack of experience and naiveté on your side so you’re pretty confident you can make it without your parents. How difficult can adult life be? Your parents make it look pretty easy. Yet, there’s a secret part of you that still wants to take all your old stuffed animals with you when you go.
At times of separation, love and loss get tumbled around in our heads and hearts until both parents and children feel a bit dizzy and unsure. If we’ve shared a healthy loving relationship, parting is - as Shakespeare put it so well - such sweet sorrow. Each child is a piece of sunshine and when they leave it feels like someone turned out the light. It’s hard to say good-bye. It helps to know that though we have to let go of living together . . . we never have to let go of loving each other. Though our roles and stewardships rightfully change, our love remains constant. And where there’s love, the light is always on and children find their way back home.

What You Did Right Today

Adolescents are the most maligned age group in our culture. In six years they have to go from being a carefree child to taking on the responsibilities of an adult. It wouldn’t be so bad if nature wasn’t playing tricks on them. First their nose, hands and feet start sprouting. Then hormones blast through their body like a run-away freight train.
It’s easy for us adults to shake our heads and roll our eyes when the teens in our life make mistakes. It helps to remember that adolescence is not a terminal disease – it is an incredibly vulnerable time for young people. We adults can make a huge difference if we try to ease their way through this sometimes painful passage to autonomy.
I taught English 1010 at Utah Valley University on Tuesday evenings. One fall semester, I noticed a quiet young man on the back row. He never said a word, never made a comment and never smiled. I worried about him.
My assignment was to teach everyone enrolled in my class how to write several different types of essays. I told the students to write about what was important to them and encouraged them to be honest. Many of the papers I read and critiqued were incredibly personal. One student wrote about being raped; another about his drug addiction. This quiet young man on the back row wrote an essay that helped me understand why he seemed so unhappy. He had dropped out of high school when he got his girl friend pregnant, had to go to work full time after they got married and was now providing for a family all before he was old enough to vote. The couple was having a hard time making ends meet. His marriage was on the rocks and this enrollment at the local college was a last ditch effort to prove to his wife that she would have a decent future with him. Going back to school had been a rough go and he was ready to quit.
At mid-term I had a private conference with each student to go over their work. When this quiet young man sat down in the desk next to mine, I took out the writing he had turned in and began discussing his work with him. I pointed out specific places in his essays that were beautifully written and expressed my sincere confidence in his potential. Quite unexpectedly this young man burst into tears. Obviously embarrassed, he didn’t say anything for a while.
“You’re the first teacher I’ve had in my whole life,” he said haltingly, “that told me something I did right.”
I was stunned. This young man had gone through his entire school career without even one adult telling him one positive thing about himself. It broke my heart.
Years later I was sitting at a restaurant when an older gentleman approached me. “You don’t know me,” he said. “You were my son’s English teacher. Your class inspired him to continue his education. The positive experience he had with you influenced his decision to become an English teacher so he could do for other young people what you did for him. Thank you.”
It’s so easy to look at our adolescents, especially those who have made mistakes, and only see what they do wrong. They are already acutely aware of their failures. Our young people need to be told they can accomplish their dreams even after set-backs. They can’t do this if we don’t take the time to tell them how wonderful they are. Because of this young man I always look at the teens around me and wonder, has anyone told them what they did right today? Then I make sure I’m that person.