Tag Archives: love

Tree Trauma

Tis the season of gifts. You have your list and I have mine. Retailers are working as hard as they can to make sure we want to give what they have. Thankfully, our family’s gift lists have been trimmed down over the years due to our intentional simplification. Today I found a picture of Christmas from about 20 years. We were in a large room and the gifts were all over the room, a huge pile in front of each person, above our heads. We were sitting down, but still. And, this was just our celebration with one side of the family. Everyone had at least 15 gifts; there were 11 of us in the picture. You do the math.

In the Christian faith, we mark this season before Christmas as a time of watching and waiting. We decorate with the focus on a few candles. Sunday by Sunday we light one candle, then two as we talk about gifts, The gifts we talk about in Advent are the ones God wants to give us: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. That’s it.

The older I get the less I want wrapped, bought gifts and the more I desperately crave God’s gifts.

Last week, we put up our tree. I love having the tree up and lit early so I can enjoy it for all the weeks leading to Christmas. Because of our empty nest, we are short on labor around here so I decided I could assemble the four pieces of our artificial tree by myself, get the stand and skirt on it, get the lights working, add all the red ribbon by myself and then coax my husband into adding ornaments with me later.

This proved to be a very difficult task for one person. It is still hot here in Texas so I was in a full body sweat by the time I got it all up, MOST of the lights working and ribbon swirling sort of attractively around it. For some reason my dog chose that time while I was distracted and sweating to help herself to a whole bag of pepper jack cheese. This cheese thing, plus the sweating really dampened my Christmas Spirit which comes and goes anyway due to the over-the-top nature of all things Christmas.

When my husband got home I shared my work of art and told him he had just enough time to add ornaments with me before the Cowboy game. He was motivated and moving fast. Then, in the midst of it all, I had a huge wave of Missing My Children which hit without warning as we put up ornament after ornament with their preschool and elementary age faces plus all the baby’s first Christmas ones and the ones we love the most and the ones that always make us laugh. So, yes, I started crying and telling my husband no one warned me about the empty nest tree part.

He coaxed me to move onward mostly because of the Cowboy game. At the last touches the tree seemed to sway a bit, then a bit more. He quietly asked if I’d secured the stand with the three big screws provided. I told him there were no screws provided and that I was sure we didn’t need them as long as no one ever brushed up against or came even remotely close to the tree. He disagreed.

What happened next involved both of us at times prone on the floor under the tree, yelling at each other better ways to do what needed to be done, needing a flashlight, dismantling the whole thing and sweating.

It’s up now, no longer swaying and quite beautiful.

Between the heat, the dog eating the cheese, the Empty Nest meltdown and the after the fact securing, I’m back where I started, just needing God’s gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.

Every one of us has our seasonal challenges, some are bigger than others, of course. May God’s best gifts continue to soothe you and yours this season.

 

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Wear Love

I just made a homemade Valentine for my husband. I’m a left-handed person who has always been terrible at cutting things out. It all goes back to elementary school when they gave lefties those green-handled scissors. Why did they do that? What magic were those rubber green handles were supposed to create? Whatever it was, all they did for me was create havoc on my artwork.

So, the glittery construction paper heart I made him looks, well, left-handed. I made it, though, because I have a greeting card aversion. I can’t believe cards are $7 now. And, they don’t say what I want to say. I rebelled and made my own. He will like it.

Valentine’s Day is a love day. Every day is a love day. Right now, lots of people seem to be trying to figure out ways we can express love better to each other…beyond race, beyond culture, beyond religion, beyond political differences. Because a lot of hate is coming out right now, and anxiety and fear, it seems super crucial that we love.

When I walk each day, if I go really far, I end up under a highway. I think it is scary there. My dog really hates it there because it is loud. There is graffiti there which is sad. However, it is the nicest graffiti I’ve ever seen. It says, “I Love You” in big white letters. I don’t know who wrote it but whenever I see it, I imagine it is a message for me and one I’m supposed to share.

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How do we do it? In the Message translation of scripture, Colossians 3:14 advises that we wear it. “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

Wear love. That’s it. Let it wrap you up like your favorite yoga pants and soft t-shirt. Take comfort in it…but then wear it. Let it be the part of you that people see.

Love…feel it, wear it, share it, live into it. Imagine the people you are finding the most difficult to even like right now and picture what it would mean to love them. Love when it is scary, when it is difficult, when it is fun.

Make somebody a heart. Wear love. I believe it is our way forward.

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The Under Toad

I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.

In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.

After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.

I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.

One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything.  It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.

I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.

Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.

How do we manage our Under Toads?

Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:

Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.

Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.under-toad

Music works every time.

Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?

Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.

Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.

Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.

Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.

Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.

Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.

Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.

 

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Milestone Moments

60 years. My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I know, that’s a lot of years of marriage. We chose a low-key celebration at their home. All four of their children were present for the day, which is rare, along with some significant others and a few grandchildren. We played games, ate their favorite barbecue, remembered a few stories together, teased each other and then played more games.  My family is like yours, awash in family dynamics, so we had all of that going, of course.  We had a family meeting to talk about the future which was brave and important and something I would recommend every family do.

Our different resentments, issues and decades long baggage were all present and accounted for. Through the day, we had tears, tension and laughter.  Some of us were hot and would crack a window secretly until other people figured it out and were freezing. We repeated the window thing all day.

We asked my parents to please tell us the secret to marriage. My dad said the secret is just two words, “Yes Ma’am.” I like that. Then my mom chimed in and said the secret was respect. I like that too. She still calls my dad her boyfriend and repeatedly tells us how much she likes him and how cute he is. She made a couple of clear, heartfelt speeches telling us how much she has loved her life, her work, her travels, her children, her grandchildren and great-grandson. Alzheimer’s evidently took the day off for this anniversary milestone, so imagine that.

60 years takes you through so many seasons, so many dynamics, so many homes and jobs and friends. 60 years presents different challenges at different times and my family has weathered a few.

Almost everything these days makes me feel grateful, blessed and amazed. Milestone moments highlight the blessings.

We all looked at their wedding pictures. They still have the cake topper from their wedding cake. Some of us did little photo collages and put the pictures on Facebook or Instagram so others could see our celebration.

My husband’s grandmother always used to remind me that I was rich, rich, rich. On Saturday it felt like she was so right.

Baby Lessons

Mondays and Tuesdays. Those are normally the most difficult and routine days of the week, filled with back to work,  school and chores usually. It seems those two days are the least likely to be fun.

Not so for me right now. Life has fallen pleasantly so that I’m spending Mondays and Tuesdays with our two month old grandson while his mom returns to her Speech Pathologist job. It’s worked out even though they live 5 hours away. I’m helping only for a season, which makes it even sweeter.

We are only on week two, but already we have both taught each other things.

He’s been exclusively breastfed so far so taking a bottle has been hard for him. I had to teach him the first lesson: you don’t always get the meal you want, sometimes you just have to eat. Thankfully, I’m very persuasive.

The rest of the lessons, he has taught me:

-Everything is worse when you are tired, wet or hungry. Address those things and life is much better.

-Warm baths also change everything.

-When things are not working, change something. Even just rolling over can lend a whole new perspective.

-Try music.

-It’s nice to have colorful, beautiful things to look at.

-The more people who love you the better.

-Sometimes you just need to be held.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lock Eyes and Smile

Even though it was 27 years ago, I still remember my daughter’s first smile. I’d been giving and giving and giving to that child. I shared my body with her. I gave birth to her which was a pretty major endeavor. And then for those first six weeks or so it was that endless cycle of nursing, diaper changes, getting to know her, miles and miles of rocking her to sleep. On this one, crisp October morning she locked eyes with me and smiled. It was a for real smile not a gas or accident smile. I remember being astounded. I even said out loud to her, “You mean you’re going to give something back?” It filled me, that smile.

So fast forward a few decades. Her son is now six weeks old. He’s been smiling a bit but those were just accidental smiles amid the myriad of faces he makes awake and asleep. I love all his faces. His mad cry face is one of my favorites, but I like them all. I just happened to be there the week he started to smile (because I can’t quit going back to take him in.)

He locks eyes and smiles. I wish I had words to describe how that felt…like connection, wonder, rebirth, joy, love. Then of course, I was beside myself trying to get him to smile again and again. He has a crooked smile and it is gorgeous.

And now he joins that great company of people, all around the world who can gift one another with a smile. A smile is the same in every language amazingly. It cuts across cultures, traditions and socio-economic classes.

The day my grandson smiled at me, I decided I was going to do that too. If he could bring that much joy to me, I can share it. So, I’m practicing: just lock eyes and smile; lock eyes and smile. Strangers seem to like it. Wait staff at restaurants do too. My husband enjoys it and so does my big football player son. You have to look up from your phone or your work or your computer and notice people to do it. It takes practice.

Mother Teresa, always wise and perceptive, said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” I’ve learned it from babies.k smile Lock eyes and smile and see what happens.

Already Wrapped in Layers of Love

We are getting ever so close to our first grandbaby’s due date. I bought Half and Half that expires after his July 1 due date, so it’s close! We all: friends, extended family and of course, his parents and grandparents are just abuzz with anticipation.  When we will he come?  How will it unfold?  What will he look like?  What will he need?  Will we be able to   provide for him?  Will he like to be rocked? We have rocking chairs poised and ready. I wonder if he will like being swaddled? We have many blanket options on hand.

The baby showers are happening. Relatives and friends are layering in the love and good wishes already. I even had a surprise Mimosa shower (that’s my grandmother name–it’s a long story and yes, I love it.)  My coworkers gave me children’s books for Mimosa’s house.  The titles of those books, “Love You Forever,” “You’re Here for a Reason,” “I Love You Night and Day,” “How Do I Love You?” and “Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You” speak of the messages that will be layered in and lavished on him immediately upon birth.

On Saturday, my daughter and I had fun opening all the packages of crib sheets and little hooded towels. We took the tags off of countless cute outfits and tiny socks. We created three piles of laundry to wash and fold and put away in his nursery. You know it is real when there is laundry involved. You also know he is already a Texas Aggie because he had one whole pile of maroon clothes.

I found myself thinking of other pregnancies and babies being born around the world. I know not everyone is wrapped in layers of love before they arrive here. Not everyone has good prenatal care and their own room and scores of relatives and friends awaiting them with open arms. Some babies won’t have enough to eat or even medical care from the very beginning much less multiple rocking and swaddling options on hand.

As we prepare, I pray for our grandson but also for all the others. I pray for layers and layers of love and anticipation for all children. Isn’t that really how it should be?