Gold Star Day

Well last Saturday was certainly a gold-star day. Remember the feeling of getting that star on your grade school paper, or the taste of the glue when you were allowed to put one wherever you wanted it? Perfection.

My grandson, Carter, was born last Saturday morning. A snowy, blowy, cold winter morning made brighter by the birth of a child. So ironic that this new, beautiful life was brought into my world on the one-year anniversary of a day that almost shattered my faith in humanity. Carter was born on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

That morning, Mark and I were at the hospital with the in-law’s, joyfully anticipating Carter’s birth. We were able to cry, congratulate, hug and love our growing family as he entered the world.

By noon, Mark and I were home celebrating with a champagne brunch.  After a short nap we returned to the hospital with Hannah, Emma and Kate, where for the first time since the same date last year, I truly felt that all was right in the world. We were actually the larger, more boisterous family! A photograph in that hospital room showed every one of us at our smiling best – no scowls, no closed eyes, no one turned away.

I am enough of a realist to know that moment of perfection was fleeting, but I am also cognizant enough to know that particular moment was divine – that despite all the cruel, crazy evil in this world we can find our moments of perfection in the birth of a child.

I was given the true gift of Christmas last Saturday.

Carter & Gramma

 

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Warm Glow

Black and white negatives. I don’t even remember when or where I found them, or how they got on my desk.  Occasionally I held the strips up to the light, thinking “it’s been at least a decade since I’ve used film” or “I can barely make out any faces.” I did however recognize my brother Pete. Of course I recognized him, he always stood out.  I was pretty sure I saw Andy and George too. But for some unknown reason I concluded that these negative’s were Pete’s, not mine and I often wondered why they made their way to my desk. Pete died almost two decades ago yet artifacts of his keep appearing in the strangest places.  These were obviously not something that needed my immediate attention. So I kept putting them down, still within reach, but definitely out of priority range.

But I kept these film negatives on my desk knowing that one day I would make prints.  I would tell myself that I would get to it eventually. A label applied to many an item on my desk.  It’s what I do – get to it eventually.  I put off doing anything about it; I didn’t even rank them it in priority as there is so much going on in my life and in our world that needs my immediate attention.

Well, I got to it last week. I’m not sure if it was the holiday spirit that got me reminiscing or something more mysterious. On the other hand it may have just been the frenzied pre-holiday ritual of clearing my desk before December knowing that not much else will be accomplished in the last month of the year.  But I took those negatives to the camera shop and lo and behold, they were mine. Snapshots in time, circa 1980.  A flashback to a time of wonderment, excitement and electricity and a trip back to a place of laughter, friendship and yes some debauchery.

I’m still not sure when he put those negatives on my desk, but I’m pretty sure I know why I printed them when I did. It’s the holiday season, a time to laugh, love, reminisce and feel the warm glow of all those souls (both departed and still with us) that have touched our lives.

May the spirit of those souls that have touched your life keep you warm, smiling, and full of love this holiday season.  Share that warmth with everyone you see.

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With Grace There Is Hope

Serendipity. What a great word. It is fun to say, it is fun to hear and it is so descriptive when used appropriately.

I find it serendipitous that I can use serendipity here since I was also able to use it in my essay about my first mission trip with an Early Response Team to New Jersey. The serendipity evident in my first trip was about a chance meeting. On this trip the serendipity was found in my worksite location.

I travelled back to New Jersey last week with a friend I had made on the first trip. Along with one other traveling companion we rode the 8 hours with great anticipation for a fabulous workweek. When we arrived it was apparent that Judy had labored over her decision on which team to place me. I was assigned to Team 1 that was to go to work at a church in Union Beach. As it turns out I was assigned to work at the Grace UMC, which was the same church that was my first assignment as an ERT last November. At that time, their congregation was so frazzled and emotions were so raw that they were unable to make decisions and we were asked to leave without having accomplished any work. Over the course of the last six months the congregation had begun to heal and last week I was able to begin to rebuild this vital community church.

Through Gods grace I saw hope in Union Beach last week.

Privileged to have been able to spend last week with the First UMC Warren Mission Team, I would like to express my gratitude:

To Gary and Skip – thank you for treating me like one of the guys – even if it was the “fall guy”. You were so quick to teach me and include me. Your humor, happiness and kindness were infinitely appreciated.

Anita, thank you for always getting us to the job site, for always laughing at my stupid jokes and for not throwing my GPS out the window. I look forward to once again being in your van in the seat behind you!

To the smallest woman with the strength of Xena, Warrior Princess – Mona I thank you for great conversation, for being my friend and for knowing whether to cry uncontrollably or laugh hysterically right along with me.

I am not easily intimidated, however Dave, you had me shaking. At first, whenever you were watching me, my screw would immediately leave the drill and fall to the floor; when you instructed me, you had to repeat it at least once; when you teased me I wasn’t quite sure if you meant it or not. But I quickly found out you really are quite the charming gentleman. Dave, I thank you for letting me see that.

Ah Menno, no matter how much you wanted to join in the teasing and haranguing, your huge heart and astounding humility had you quickly and quietly apologizing for your joke. Thank you for your kindness and earnestness that filled my heart every day.

Donna thank you for your quiet patience, your calm perseverance and warm smile. You softened the hard work of our days.

To Larry and Jim, thank you for nourishment and sustenance. Your culinary skills are only outshone by your charm. And Jim, thank you for occasionally taking the heat off of me in the ridiculing department.

For your tremendous spiritual guidance, I will be forever grateful to you Pastor Rick. I will always remember to take with me the focus that I learned on this trip while striving to give away my heart at every opportunity. I will always try to be sensitive to the Spirit of God and follow that spirit where it leads me. I will also be thankful for your dry wit and lunch suggestions.

Judy, I wholeheartedly thank you for including me on this team. Your leadership was resolute; your kindness toward me was heartwarming. You and your friends are amazing.

Greg, thank you for your honesty and your friendship.

And to all those on Team 2 that I didn’t get to know very well I thank you for not joining on the “It’s Kristina’s fault” chorus (even if the motive was simply to stay out of the blog). But more importantly thank you for the moments we did have together. I will treasure every one of them.

Through Gods grace this team was brought together, brought into my life and heart and brought hope to some people in New Jersey. Some people think that serendipity occurs by sheer chance, I believe it is the hand of God. Last week, serendipity was the hand of God bringing people into my life and giving me a second chance.

Rememberance

At this time of year (around Easter) I spend time reminiscing about the souls that have touched my life. This essay is a tribute to unconditional love and awe inspiring moments.

It was a beautiful January morning.  The kind we seem to get every January nowadays. The snow had melted; the sky was a cerulean blue.  That magical yellow orb, high in the sky, spread warmth across my kitchen windows like butter melting over toast.  Looking outside I saw nothing but clear skies and the promise of warmth.

However, in my heart I was hollow.  For this was the day that I would have to lay our beloved Rufus down.

I went through the motions of getting breakfast ready.  After pouring the coffee, I knew I couldn’t eat a thing and since Hannah had planned to come with me to the veterinarian’s office, I knew her appetite would be non-existent as well.  So I gathered my hot steaming cup of Joe and sat on the living room floor with our dog.

The cancer came on quickly and was taking him from us even faster.  He hadn’t been able to muster that “catch me if you can” glint in his eye from the edge of the driveway for weeks.  He looked at me with his deep, melancholy brown eyes, obviously asking me what was happening to him.  I didn’t know how to tell him that it was almost over.  That soon he would be running through fields of sunflowers, chasing deer, pulling cat tails and chewing a never ending supply of organic rawhide.

The drive to the doctors’ office was too short.  Rufus couldn’t muster the strength to poke his head the window.  The air was cold, not the warmth I perceived in the kitchen.  Tears wouldn’t stop.  They silently fell as Hannah and I tried not to look at each other.  I lifted Rufus out of the car and we made the slow, sad walk to the barren examination room.  Even the doctor cried with us.

Hannah wasn’t able to stay in the room during the injections, but the doctor was kind enough to give the three of us as much time as we needed for acceptance.  As Hannah and I sat on the floor of the cold barren room, we felt the soul of our beautiful canine pass its way from his lifeless body into our hearts and smelled the result of his body’s last emission assault our noses.  Yes, our beloved Rufus passed gas.  We accusingly looked at each other before we realized that it was from him.  Then we looked at each other for permission to giggle, and we did.  We knew then that it was OK to leave.

The day was still breathtakingly beautiful, so we drove to the Family Life Center and walked the labyrinth.  We silently completed our circuits and silently hugged each other at the center.

We drove home and tried to muster a hunger for lunch.  A quiet calm enveloped us as we sat at the table together.  We didn’t smile, but we did reminisce.  As we ate in our “goldfish bowl” of a dining room we were joined by miraculous menagerie: a flock of birds at the feeders; 4 deer staring at us through the front windows (remarkably not eating the roses); an unknown cat, stoically perched on the boulder just outside; two turkeys peering from the edge of the driveway; and a pack of squirrels unusually calm in their scurries up the walk.  Never before had so much wildlife appeared so magically and so needed.  We were enchanted.

God was with us all that day and is with us every day.  God warms us when we felt cold inside.  God cracks a joke when we are reaching despair. God gives us peace when we need quiet contemplation. And God gives us friends to lift us.

 

 

Melt Down

Climate change has ushered in an unpleasant phenomenon that I have dubbed the “January Thaw.”  As I cruise through life with an appreciation of the seasons that can best be described as awe & protest, I desire consistency.  In spring and autumn I wish to bask in the season’s beauty and moderate temperatures. In summer and winter I must complain of the weather severity and quiver with anticipation for its seemingly never approaching end.

But these last several January’s I have not been unable to complain to my full potential because mid-month has shoveled in a mind-boggling and body confusing 60 degree melt down.  Snow disappears, t-shirts must be dug out and the hounds make the house look like a mud wrestling pit.

Many people love these mid-winter teases. I however am completely unamused.  My brain is not fooled. I know for a fact that it is only days away before sub-freezing temperatures grip me like Flick’s tongue to the lightpost. My body however is completely fooled.  Normally, after that January thaw I am completely incapable of keeping myself warm again. No matter how many sweaters I don, no matter how many logs I put on the fire or how much anti-freeze I consume, once I thaw – I’m done with winter.

Until this year.  Being a woman of a certain 52 year old age, I have come to the phase of life where I often wake up in the night, usually damp (not the good kind) and my internal furnace bathes me in a flush of embarrassment inducing heat (also not the good kind).  This was actually working out for me this winter.  For the first time in my life my fingers stayed warm in December and I was able to wear my Uggs without socks in January.  I didn’t wear a down coat once.

Then came the thaw.  60 degrees, Cleveland – really? I not only dug out t-shirts, I was looking for tank tops, shorts, capris, bathing suits and extra strength Dove deodorant. I was not pleased.  I let others know I was not pleased.  I threatened to move to Montreal for the remainder of the season. My internal furnace was exhibiting itself as a supernatural red flare starting in my toes and exiting with a blush across my cheeks and a plume out the top of my head.  In December it had been merely acting invisibly as an internal combustion engine, but during the January Thaw it was on display in all its raging glory.  I intensely disliked the January Thaw this year.

Luckily winter has returned.  I went cross-country skiing this morning in merely jeans and a hoodie and I was ecstatic.  In a couple of weeks, just before spring break I will begin my annual lament about this interminably long winter season.  I am consistent.

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Let’s Make a Deal

Many people proclaim that they have “made a deal with the devil”.  I on the other hand, made a deal with God.

I grew up without religion. In response to a request to go to a fundamentalist Baptist church with a schoolmate, my father, an avid atheist, once proclaimed to me “I don’t care if you go to church with your friends, you just won’t be dragging me there.”  I went to church with my friend and while in awe of the full submersion baptisms going on, I declared that I would rather bathe in private, without assistance and with shampoo.  Throughout junior high school, our house was the haven for errant Catholics, the place where friends would come hang out after telling their parents they were walking to mass.  I often served a breakfast buffet.  My mother, a lapsed German Lutheran, was much too busy being co-dependant with my alcoholic/drug addict brother to bother giving me any religious instruction.

As I grew up I developed a strong sense of independence.  I had no need for my dysfunctional family, I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, and I was fiercely protective of my own integrity. I knew I had the strength to persevere, to make decisions, stick to them and make them work.  The family I created was going to be normal. Then my first marriage fell apart and my ex stole my children away to Texas.

In the depth of despair, unable to find a way on my own, I made a deal with God.  “Dude, if you just help me get my kids back, I promise to take them to church most Sundays.” I pleaded, I prayed, I cried and I screamed. One and a half years later, my children came home to me.

Seventeen years later I continue to make deals with God.  Raising 4 children has meant that I plead, pray, cry and scream a lot.  But now I know someone is listening.  Now, instead of just asking for things, I do things.  I am still searching for a comfortable definition of faith, spirituality and religion, but God and I are working things out.

 

Fast Friends

“May I share your table with you” I asked the woman sitting by herself at a four top in the crowded coffee shop early this morning. She was wearing very plain clothing, a neutral toned cardigan and a small white cap around her bunned hair.  I presumed she was a Colonial employee having a cup of joe before her day began. “Please do” she kindly responded.

Thirty minutes later and I was blessed to have made this friend.  Although we never exchanged names, we had a great time together.  She is from South Haven, Michigan and I am from the Detroit area.  We had that in common. She works a farmers’ market for a friend twice a week; I used to manage a market. The markets she goes to are in the Chicago area. I used to live in Chicago.

We discussed working and retirement, husbands and holidays.  By the end of our half hour we had talked about some of her 10 children and all 4 of mine (both of our youngest are 14 years old).  We laughed about the challenges of certain ages; we smirked at the truth that “there’s one in every family”; we bonded over what it was truly like to be a grandparent.

I found out that she was in Williamsburg with her husband, for whom she had purchased space in a woodcrafter’s conference for him for Christmas.  She even added on a stay in one of the colonial houses.  It was a very special trip for just the two of them.  Turns out she’s Mennonite and not in costume.

I love chance encounters. What a wonderful way to start the day.

Road Trip

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    I love a good road trip.  Airplanes sure get you there faster, but travelling by car offers so many more fabulous opportunities to grow, to love, to heal and to sing. Whether I travel alone or with companions, I treasure each adventure and all the experiences that each trip brings.

To be in a car with my offspring offers opportunities for them to share hopes, dreams, fears and adventures that they otherwise would keep to themselves or not even contemplate sharing with a parent. There is something about looking straight ahead, out a window or at door handles that allows them to share their inner most feelings.  It may be because they cannot see mom’s facial expression reacting to every detail of their love life, school life, social life, or lack of life that they are expressing.  It could be that they feel trapped and think the only way out is to reveal tidbits of their psyche.  Regardless of the motivation, I love hearing the details of my children’s lives.  On road trips we also find common ground in belting out songs that we both agree on.  We make sure to compliment each other on our vocal prowess and pay nominal tribute to each other’s favorite musical genres.  I also love it when my children nap on a road trip.  For no matter what their age – infant, teen, twenty-something – there is no more peaceful view than that of a sleeping child.  All worry, concern, fear and emotion turn to calm when your child rests peacefully.

Family road trips are a blast.  The car is overflowing with energy, lethargy, dread, anticipation and sometimes dog breath.  Our usual route is the dreaded I-90 across a bit of Ohio, less of PA and the interminable New York State.  There is name-calling, finger poking, game playing, raucousness and laughter.  Someone is usually singing aloud with their headphones on or torturing us with “The Song That Never Ends.”   Then finally comes the book on tape and occasionally silence when all but the driver (me) have exhausted themselves with play.  That silence is usually broken by someone (not me) breaking wind, reviving the boisterous shenanigans of the entire car-full.  Sometimes on road trips with the children we convince each other to step out of our comfort zones.  I’m sure my children will never forget the time I goaded Ross to moon a busload of Catholic schoolgirls or when we created a condiment laden “iced tea” for Max.  But road trips with a carful are always fun, exciting and a test of family ties.

Road trips with my husband are full of adventure and remind me of why we fell in love in the first place.  I love that we can talk about the same things over and over only to come to the same conclusions each time.  We exhaust ourselves with comments about family members, co-workers and friends; then sit in a comfortable silence until the adventure begins.  We meet people along the way, marvel at the sights and sounds and make new memories for future reminiscing.  When we road-trip together we leave behind the routine, the mundane and the tendency to take each other for granted and re-connect.

But the most rejuvenating road trips for me are solitary.  For hours I sing to my favorite music.  I stop for pictures, snacks, and wildlife, even yoga – whenever I feel like it.  I love the exhilaration of driving down long stretches of road with nary a thought to my plans.  I let go of the everyday and notice the minute details of the passing landscape.  I experience each new moment as exactly that – new, unique and wondrous.  I usually open my window to let all my senses take part (even in winter).  I love the feel of the breeze and I want to smell the air (even when it’s foul like last night passing some unknown manufacturing plant).  I love the challenge and freedom of setting my own coarse, of meeting my own passing acquaintances and letting go of most of my responsibilities.   For me, it’s restorative. Each solitary road trip keeps my “run for the hills” instinct in check.  I get to run for the hills for a short while, find my center, then run back as fast as I can to the life I built . . . to the life I love.

I love a good road trip.

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Does the Feeling Last?

Dear Emma,

Last time I was in Dayton we did a bit of talking about your becoming a parent.  One of the most thought provoking questions you asked was in response to my statement of how much joy a baby brings on the day of its birth.  Your question was:  ” Does that feeling last?”  I was struck by your question because it is not something that I have reflected on often enough as a parent.  So I will do some reflection now, for you.

The day you were born started as a regular workday.  In to work at 8:30, lunch at noon, a strange cramp mid-afternoon, home by 5:30.  Your dad made spaghetti for dinner while I mowed the lawn (yes, I mowed the lawn on my due date!!).  Later in the evening I went upstairs to get ready for bed, vomited, then sat on the toilet where I thought I was going to deliver you.  Labor came on so fast and strong that I thought something was wrong.  An hour and a half later, you were born, a 1/2 hour late from your due date!!

When you slipped out and they set you in my arms all wet, with a shock of thick, black hair I cried such tears of joy.  I felt more love for you than I have ever felt for anyone or anything in my life.  The feeling was so overpowering and overwhelming that it gave me a whole new look at life.  Even in the delivery room, the warmth of the emotion filled the whole room.  Our recovery room, and hospital room for the next day was the most glorious place I had ever been.  When I left the hospital the sun was brighter, clouds were more captivating and I even felt a stronger love for your dad and for my mom (who was there with me for a couple of weeks).

I spent minutes, hours and days just looking at you, holding you and reveling in your beauty and my change in attitude towards life.

The next emotion that came into my life was fear.  After a week of our being home from the hospital your dad was traveling again.  By the second week home, my mom had to leave and I was absolutely petrified to be alone with this small wonder.  I was afraid that I wasn’t going to do things right.  I had never babysat much as a kid and I didn’t hang around a lot of people that had babies yet.

After fear came pride and happiness.  Pride for each new milestone: walking, talking, welcoming your brothers, your first day of kindergarten, becoming a brownie scout, resilience in trying times, making new friends, swimming, intelligence, graduation, self-sufficiency, etc…   I feel sheer joy for the fact that you have gotten control of your life in Dayton, against many odds; and that you have made a well thought out and reasoned decision to become a parent makes me proud too. I have so much pride and happiness in celebration for all you have accomplished and all you have persevered.

Anger plays a role as a parent too:  pushing your brother into a wall requiring our near-do-well au pair to maneuver our health care system for his stitches, minor infractions requiring grounding throughout middle-school and high-school, having a party at our new house before we moved in, etc…

Sadness rears its ugly head over time too.  I was often sad to see your disappointment at your dad’s lack of involvement.  I felt your sadness to the depth of my heart when you called me and subsequently left Dayton in your junior year.

In the end, becoming a parent elicits the full range of emotion, but nothing can take away that “to the core” feeling of love.  Every moment I spend with you is such a blessing.  I can still just sit and look at you with wonder, joy, pride and amazement.  Just like childbirth, which obviously hurts like hell, the pain and negative emotion is completely and utterly outweighed by the joy of having you in my life.  So no, Emma, the feeling never goes away.  But it is important to take time to remember it –  especially when your child is a toddler, a teen, a young adult and a parent herself.  There is no greater love than what I have in my soul for you.  Your entering the world changed me, my life and how I love – forever.

Where The Wild Things Are

The night Max wore his wolf suit . . . and made mischief of one kind . . . and another…

Was the night I started to worry.

That very night in Max’s room a forest grew . . . and grew . . .

And I looked for Max – in the forest – I cried out to him, held out my arms  for him.

And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

Those claws sunk into him, they ripped him up, they shredded his suit, they tore his life apart, and they…

…made him king of all wild things.

Max was empowered, he was living life in wild rumpus mode, he felt invincible.  We couldn’t find him.

Then all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat so he gave up being king of where the wild things are

My beautiful boy was home.  The child that has so much heart, so much love, so much feeling was back.  He had…

…sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day

Max worked so hard to become all he was meant to be.  He smiled, he loved, he soared.

But the wild things are calling him back.  They are gnashing and clawing and rolling their eyes at him again.  He wants to be king, he wants to work, he wants to love, he wants to live.

Please pray that Max finds his way to sail back to us.