Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

Every year I send out a Christmas letter to my family and some of our friends. I've edited this one slightly, but this is it.

We're heading into Christmas 2009 pretty sad as my mother-in-law, Rose Marie, passed away last week. She was 80, mom of six, grandma of nine. We'd gotten a call late morning saying she wasn't doing well and she was gone by the evening. She was with most of her kids and those who couldn't be there spoke to her over the phone. She wasn't in pain for which we are very grateful. She'd been saying for the last few years that she was just going to fly away and was ready to go. One of my friends said she pictured Mom going from our loving hands into the arms of her Savior which we find comforting.

So, tissues in hand, we are getting ready for the holiday. My husband's very busy at work with projects due by the end of the year. He's headed to Bangkok for a two weeks in late January, but as he has escaped business travel for most of this year, I'm trying not to grumble about it. He's found time to do a little genealogy research here and there, which is an interesting hobby.

We will have been married for 25 years next August and are planning to celebrate with by going to Europe for a couple of weeks. We'll be taking the kids, but they have told us that if we hand them cash, they'll go off to shop and leave us alone to play kissy-face. Sounds romantic to me...sort of...

Our oldest has decided that he wants to be a middle school math teacher. He did Intro to Teaching at the high school where he spent time at one of the local jr. highs, and loved it. He's been accepted to a college in middle school math education and is looking forward to going. He's checking into music there also, as he'd like to continue with the bass. We just have to figure out where he'd store it as the dorm rooms are small.

He spent part of last summer up at the Christian camp he goes to and took the counselor training program. He was given a cabin with some special needs kids and enjoyed the challenge. He spends a lot of time with his friends and not so much studying (although finals are this week, so he's actually studying). He's playing in the top jazz band and orchestra this year, and is heading to San Francisco for an orchestra field trip at Spring Break. He's reveling in being a Senior - life is good at the top.

His sister is likewise looking forward to his going away to school as she has designs on his room. She's a freshman this year and is enjoying high school. She got off to rough start as one of her good friends passed away in October from the H1N1 virus and an underlying heart defect. Her friends have pulled together to help each other through, and are very tightly knit.

She's playing the alto recorder in a Renaissance quartet with three friends. They wear costumes and they sound and look lovely. She's thinking that she'd like to play in an orchestra when she graduates college. She wants to ditch the honors science and math classes but I told her she'll at least need the math classes to manage what little money she might earn wisely. Sean told her she could live at home, which earned him a big eye roll. She spent a week at flute camp down at our old school, playing flute six hours a day and is signing up for more next summer.

I have more grey hairs, more wrinkles and am more (well) rounded. I did my usual trips to Galena and in the Spring we explored the wine region of Eastern Iowa. They produce some respectable wines, particularly using the Chambourcin grape from Missouri. In the Fall we went to a grape stomp in Elizabeth, Illinois, standing in tubs, stomping on grapes and staining our feet purple. We then sat outside, overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards, drinking wine and eating crackers with cheese and honey and jam while admiring our pretty purple tootsies. That was a very good day.

We spent a week with my family up at the lake in early June. We're usually there over the 4th of July, so it was much chillier than normal. I ended up in the Urgent Care Clinic with a case of systemic poison ivy which landed me with prescriptions of Prednisone, which is a drug that makes you wired and nervous, and, I'm told, irritating to be around. I was wired and nervous, anyway, everybody else was irritating...or irritated, it was one of the two. Fortunately, I'm over that.

At the end of June, I went to Texas as a delegate to the Inaugural Conference for the Anglican Church of North America. I got to see my cousins and had a great (albeit warm) time. Texas in June – 102 degrees 90% humidity. I ran VBS again at church for what was my 13th and last year. I'm tickled with the lady who's taking it over from me as she's very enthusiastic about it and is already working on curriculum. I'm also teaching the K-1 class on Wednesday nights. We have about 12 kids who show up on a regular basis and I love them all.

I have bible study twice a week – we've begun a study on Daniel at church and I'm doing a study on Isaiah with our couples group women. Instead of doing housework, I've been learning Braille and am considering going back to school to get a Masters in Special Ed. One of these years I'll decide what I want to be when I grow up – which would, sadly, require me to grow up. I have also started to blog a bit, which helps me to think things through. My blog is entitled “In a Hole...There Lived a Hobbit.” after the opening lines of The Hobbit. I took one of those on-line quizzes about which character from the Lord of the Rings are you? And I am a hobbit in my love of food and company – which explains my rounded little self. I do not, however, have hairy feet.

My parents are mostly fine. My mom has had some health issues, but has more energy than she has had in a while, so it's good to see her moving around. We were with her side of the family in Minnesota, for a reunion and for the interment of my aunt's ashes. We saw the homes my mom grew up in, and had a wonderful time getting to know each other better. Dad is consulting still, which keeps him busy to the extent he wants to be busy. They are a part of a church dinner group and they have a lot of neighborhood activities where they live.

Our dog is snoring away right now after a couple of days at the kennel while we were busy with the wake and funeral on the south side. She's more of a couch potato and is barking a bit less as she matures. Which is good.

We are excited about our kids finishing finals and being able to sleep in, although they'll both have essays to do over the break. We are looking forward, also, to spending Christmas with my husband's family. It will be good to gather. We hope that this letter finds you healthy and well and enjoying Advent

Wishing you all the hope of Christmas.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rest In Peace, Rose Marie

My momma-in-law passed away quietly this past Wednesday. We got a call around noon that she wasn't doing well and she was gone by 9:00 p.m. Aged 80, mother of six, grandmother of nine, aunt of eleven. She was our momma bird.

She'd not been doing well the last year or so after a stroke took her vision and parts of her memory.

She was little, funny, sometimes quite acerbic, at times self-absorbed and at times very generous and perceptive. We went through bouts of liking and not liking each other. But, over the last fifteen years, it was mostly all liking. Despite having diabetes for 46 years, she really didn't complain hardly at all. She just kept on going which I admired about her.

It's been a surreal couple of days, with her going as fast as she did, and as the events go on I'm becoming sadder. I know where she is, and am happy she's no longer trapped in her earthly tent, but I'm heading into "sorry for myself" territory now.

Mom was ready to go. Over the last couple of years, usually before we'd go to the dentist, she'd tell met that she'd probably not need another appointment because she was just going to fly away, which we'd chuckle over and tell her that we wanted her to stay with us. Until we saw her on Wednesday and her breathing was labored and we just wanted her to be able to sleep. She wasn't in pain, but her breathing was difficult and would stop momentarily and then continue. So I prayed that she would fly away home, told her that she was free to go at any time, and handed her off to her Savior.

Thursday, we sat down with a lovely man at the funeral home and went through a myriad of detail: what casket went with her outfit; what she'd hold in her hands; what book could be used for sign in. Then there are the flowers, the luncheon, the obituary, the wake hours, the funeral mass decisions...on and on. Thank you God for email as her children decided these things on line.

The wake was Friday. A mixture of people came - family, friends from college, friends from the old neighborhood, friends from church - and talking to those friends enables you to not think about the next day for a bit. I was very touched that so many folks, many of whom had never met her, made the trip down - a good hour or so - to see us.

The funeral is tomorrow and then we'll head over and clean out her room at the nursing home later. Progressively, as she's moved from the apartment there to the assisted living wing to the nursing home, our trips with her stuff have gotten more manageable. Most of it's in our basement and we're hoping to have a clean out party in the not too distant future. I don't mind the stuff - I have a huge, high tolerance for mess - but it should go if it's not being used and some of it really belongs to my husband's siblings.

But that last bit can wait. We'll be together at Christmas, all the McCarthys, and we'll have some time to mourn and laugh together. Now it's off to bed with me. Tomorrow promises to be a longer day than today. Sadly, my black fuzzy crocs don't go with funeral clothing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

The house is pretty quiet this morning. The dog, seeming to sense that everyone is in a turkey coma, is curled up snoring in my spot on the couch. I am relegated to the next cushion over, which is actually more comfortable to sit in, not having been compressed by years of being sat on. Thanks, Amy.

We spent Thanksgiving yesterday with my folks, just six of us, as my brother's family spent the day with his in-laws. It was a quiet meal with an overloaded table. I made a gratin of butternut squash and sweet potatoes with Gruyere and garlic infused heavy cream. I don't know if anyone else liked it, but at least I did as it was a lot of work to make. I also made green bean casserole, which everyone does like, to make up for the squash gratin, which again, I liked.

We came home to a Thursday paper the size of a Sunday paper, filled with ads for stuff I neither care about, nor, in some cases even knew existed. When my husband asked me if I was going to the store to pick up some of the computer stuff he had his eye on, I told him that if he woke me up and drove me, I'd be happy to go. As he's still sleeping and I'm typing in my pjs, my evil plan to stay in and relax worked!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where Norman Rockwell expectations meet reality. I have friends who eagerly anticipate seeing their families and friends who dread it. For us, it's a mix.

Neither of our mothers are doing all that well. Sean's mom had a stroke last year and is in a nursing home. My mom's health is difficult and her memory is worse, which makes the holidays - and indeed any get together - a bit of a minefield to negotiate. Our kids don't spend much time at the table with us, heading down to the basement between courses, which means we don't have a lot of memories of spending time with them at the holidays.

On the brighter side, however, yesterday at All Souls, our church put on a brunch for the homeless. Fliers were passed out at the local PADS shelters and a great deal of food was donated. I didn't have much to do with it, other than picking up some of the donated food and dropping it off before the brunch started yesterday. It sounds like we didn't get as many folks as we were set up for, but there's significant movement toward doing this next year and word will get out along the way. We're in too small of a building to do much more, but I believe we're called on to work out that part, and yesterday was a start.

And it focused me on what to be thankful for: the generosity of the local grocery stores and restaurants; the blessing of a pastor's family who understands what living out faith means; a parish of people who get excited about the opportunity to serve; the security that no one will kick us out from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., leaving us to wander the city until it's time to find shelter anew; that we have both of our mothers still with us; that everyone in our family has jobs; that we could go and get the stuff from the paper in our car at 4 a.m. if we chose to do so; and that we have choices.

So it wasn't a Norman Rockwell holiday, but it'd be hard to fit all that thankfulness into a single picture frame, anyway.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Between two hard places, clinging to the Rock

We've been reading the book of Isaiah in our small group bible study over the last couple of years and are about half way through it. We're a group that's been together for the last 18 years, so when we meet for bible study we often answer about five questions from the study guide, taking our time and delving deep. And then other times, we just talk if we didn't all get the lesson done, or if something important has happened in our lives.

Last week we weren't able to meet, so I've had a couple of weeks to mull over the lesson. We are reading in Isaiah 36 and 37 about how the Assyrians sent an emissary to King Hezekiah offering "peace." From the south, there is an offer of "aid" from the Egyptians. Both offers get quotation marks around them because they come with strings attached. I'd say that the king was between a rock and a hard place, but from a Christian perspective, it's very evident that he's between two hard places and is clinging to the Rock.

I've been thinking about what the Assyrian captain of the guard said and the reaction to it. He speaks in a language that all can understand, seeking to seduce them with offers them land and food, neatly weaving lies with truth. The aid from the Egyptians can't be counted upon (true). That when the Assyrians conquered a variety of other kingdoms, the "gods" of those kingdoms didn't save them (again, true). And then, oh so smoothly, he slips in the idea that Hezekiah's God won't save his people either - blithely equating the LORD to these other "gods." Whoa, Nellie.

In response, the people remain silent. The king and his men tear their clothes in mourning over the blasphemy. King Hezekiah goes to the house of the Lord and prays, acknowledging God as the Creator of heaven and earth and laying out his concerns. And, we hear from Isaiah, God has Hezekiah's back. He causes a rumor to arise that diverts the war machine of Assyria elsewhere. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, dies by the sword when two of his sons kill him while he is in the temple of his "god."

These passages are not only reminding me how to pray in general, but to grieve over blasphemy. Not to shake my head and to be snippy about it, which I'm really good at, but to mourn. Then their example tells me to bring that sorrow to God and let Him deal with it. Seeing that, when faced with the blasphemy of the Assyrian Captain, King Hezekiah's men didn't respond directly to him at all, but went to God instead.

I understand addressing blasphemy from those who claim Christianity. It is a fine balancing act to tell the truth in love while leaving no room for question that the statements or the behavior is unacceptable, and that, left unchecked, blasphemy has severe consequences.

But here we see someone who doesn't believe insulting God, and the response of the believers is silence, mourning and prayer. I'm no theologian, but it strikes me as a good pattern to follow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Forming His Own Bubble

Engagement, marriage, first car, second car, bird, first house, first child, second child, second house, third dog...we been adding since 1985. Then, the other day, our son received the college acceptance letter he's been waiting for. He's excited about it, and so are we, but the fact that life will be changing for us is now a reality. We will only be three around the dinner table.

His sister is thrilled. She loves the idea of being an only child. She's eyeing his room for where the best place to sit while applying her nail polish, filling his room with the noxious odor of teal or blue or whatever shade by Opi. He hates the smell of nail polish.

I've watched my friends go through this - in varying states of joy and tears. We want our children to grow and to thrive. We have dreams of what they'll do when they grow up. We just don't want them to go to colleges that are farther away than the local high school.

I do remember how exciting it was to go to college and loving the independence and the parties and even the classes. I was in charge of when I got up and went to bed - limited only by class schedules and homework. I want him to have that experience and he'll have a great time. He has friends going there and, knowing him, he'll make more friends and learn a lot and become a great teacher. I'm certain of it.

But it's so odd that's he's old enough to do so - that we're all of a sudden here. I find myself alternately not thinking about it and deluding myself that this "down-sizing" is temporary. He's going to get married, eventually, and have kids and then our family will grow. Kind of like the liquid in a lava lamp - bubbles that stretch, separate and rejoin in sometimes larger forms. We're in that stretching phase that will result in his forming his own bubble. We won't be the same and it feels kind of thin, somehow.

In the words of Proverbs, we've trained our child up on the way he should go, so that when he's old he will not depart from it. Our job, while not ending, is changing as he prepares to continue on that path. He'll be walking on it, but not holding our hands, or even walking within our sight. And I'm reminded that God gives us children like library books - on loan. They shape and change our lives and we are richer for it. But then they need to be returned - sent on to shape and change the lives of others. And, as with many things that God has for us, I pray that He'll give me joy about it, because at this moment, I confess that I'm a little sad.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I am contemplating going back to school. Eventually my beloved would like to change jobs and do something totally different - perhaps becoming a banjo maker in the hills of Tennessee.  Which raises the inconvenient question of income, because apparently apprentice banjo makers only pull in five or six figure salaries if you count the numbers after the decimal.

So I'm thinking about re-upping my teaching certificate, long lapsed.  I'm in the process of learning Braille, which I started learning for the fun of it, as I'm a language geek.  Then the other day my friend Karen told me that there are grants that could pay for a masters' degree in Special Ed. working with children who are blind or have low vision.  And not just teaching, which I love doing, but also working out mobility and orientation issues.  Which would be kinda cool to do.

So I'm embarking on some praying and some research.  Finding out what jobs might be available, where I could do student teaching, etc.  I found a couple of universities which have the program online and could arrange local student teaching.  As I tend to move at glacial speeds, I'm pretty sure that next week will still find me in research mode. So no banjo making just yet.

The Gift of Encouragement

Our son went to a retreat at a local Catholic church this weekend.  Prior to his going, we got a call asking us to write a letter of encouragement to him and to send it with him in an envelope as a surprise.

It was a lovely thing to sit down together and talk about how much we love our firstborn, what we are excited about for him, and what we think he does well. After our conversation, we wrote a three page note.

In doing so, we put into words what we already knew but probably hadn't said to him: that the stuff that we nag him about is minor - cutting his hair, practicing his bass - nothing stuff.  We tease him and tell him that his parents are secretly Amish and that when we nag him about whatever annoys us, he should be thankful that we're not making him wear those short black pants.  And he'll sigh like he's been cursed with the parents from 1472 and roll his eyes - not that you can see that's what he's doing beneath all that hair.  In comparison to so many people we know or hear about, however, we have no problems.

I know he knows we love him, because we tell him a lot, but it's good to write things down, by hand, on paper.  It's something he can save, like I saved the letters from my parents and my grandmas that I got when I was at college.  Letters that told me that they loved me enough to sit down and write to me.  There's something about a handwritten note that is more intentional and more real somehow, particularly in an age where everything is on a screen of some sort.

So I'm going to try practicing written encouragement.  I do have to find something suitable to write on, post-it notes don't work well.  I'm thinking that this would be a nice present for each kid for Christmas...not replacing gift cards or electronics...but giving them something that won't get obsoleted or outgrown.

A few days reflection on this post prompts me to add that these notes are best done when things are going well.  When I couldn't haul Mr. Sunshine out of bed on time for church this morning because he'd been up talking to a friend until 1:30 a.m., I was very glad that we'd written the letter on Friday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Praise of a Monday

Some people dread Mondays - and I get it - I used to. But every Monday I get to go to Bible study with this fantastic group of women at All Souls in Wheaton where I attend church.  We've been working on Beth Moore's study on King David called A Heart Like His, which is pushing us to look at our lives through the clarifying lens of Scripture.  The viewpoint this gives me is sometimes uncomfortable, however this happens in a wonderful circle of comfort and support and it helps me to live better.  We pray for each other and share each others' burdens and joys. 

Yesterday we did something that was totally unplanned and utterly lovely.  We went upstairs to watch the video portion of the lesson only to find that the projector wasn't working with the VCR.  So, given the gift of a suddenly open half an hour, we decided to sing. We are blessed to have, in our company, a couple of gifted pianists/organists, one of whom played several hymns for us. 

We ended with the hymn This is My Father's World.  When we were at our old church, a church battling within and without, the verse of this hymn that says "and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet." would play in my head every time I went there.  It reminded me that God is in control, and, no matter what we are going through, that He is sovereign.  It also served to focus me on the reality that my job was to remain in the Word and to love my neighbors and not to despair.

And reveling in the hymns we'd sung yesterday morning brought me to thinking about how much I like the music at All Souls.   When we first started at this church I remember thinking I'd like some music written after, say, 1845.   I had an hour long chat about it with our pastor and about 45 minutes into the conversation, I decided I'd lost and now I'm glad I did. While I like contemporary Christian music, so much of it is about people's reactions to God, rather than about God.  The theology embedded in what we get to sing on a Sunday morning - or a Monday by surprise - is so deep.  We have these old hard bound hymnals that came from a church in Canada. I'm sure there's some story attached to how we got the hymnals;  I'll have to ask at some point.  

But yesterday morning, singing with the women, standing around the piano by the altar, where we got the books from wasn't the point.  We raised our voices in spontaneous worship to God.  Singing the songs that our parents and our grandparents before them sang, some of which were penned before their parents were born.   The quaint, familiar songs that tell of our loving, majestic and sovereign Lord.  Words that were true then, are true now, and will be true when our grandchildren sing them.  

It was a great Monday.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Prayerful Processing

One of my friends asked me a while ago how I was praying about something, which got me to thinking about prayer. The kind we come up with, not the kind which are read in church, composed, many of them, by the able hand of Cranmer. I've been mulling on the question ever since, meaning to write about it. And then there was this last week, with the death of my daughter's friend, when writing about it seems to be more necessary.

My initial answer to my friend's question was that sometimes I pour out my problems before God, tattling away on whomever richly deserves it - right up until God gently reminds me that what I'm kvetching about is, rather inconveniently, something I've also done - except probably worse or bigger. Sometimes I'm so upset that God gets to hear that I can't even find the words to pray (and probably enjoys the uncharacteristic silence). Then there are times, too, when my heart is so full of joy or gratitude or peace that I scramble to find words that are big enough to express what I'm seeing or feeling.

And sometimes, like today at the funeral for a fourteen year old, the broken request for His grace and peace wells up, overflowing the confines of my soul. It is the only thing I can do. The funeral home was filled full when her pastor presented the good news of the gospel. Kids sat, holding each other. And God's grace was present.

I'm sure there were many other people praying there today. Aching questions asked of God about why this happened, now, to her. Even if we knew the answer to that one, this beautiful child would still be separated from us, and there wasn't any way anyone could have known, or done something differently or better or anything to have saved her life. There were prayers of thanksgiving for her presence in our lives. And prayers of gratitude that this was a child who was well loved by her parents, adored by her friends, and who lived her short life well.

At the burial, one of the moms said to me that this is where the girls find out that there are things that we mothers can't fix. While our daughters already know that, it is more true right now because this isn't a matter of forgetting to do something, or be somewhere. This is too big and no one can fix it. We just have to live through it.

As her pastor said, we know where Michelle is, and we rejoice in her life and in the fact that she's safe. So the prayer now is one for us. That God's peace, which passes my feeble understanding, will be with us now and always.

Declaration of Interdependence

Perhaps because we're looking college in the eye - the reality of our family living in two places instead of one...well, three in one place and one in another...I have been wondering why we place such an emphasis on raising our children to be independent. As if living their lives separately is a good thing for either of us. So, I'm going to rebel (albeit late as my kids are teenagers) and aim for interdependent kids.

Should they be able to move out and live alone, supporting themselves and buying us a beach house with any extra that they earn? Sure. I'm not looking for them to live at home forever, exactly. I do want to take the vacations with my beloved that our children would not want to take. I want to go to the National Parks and the churches of Europe and meander around, stopping here and there with a sketch book and pencil, not that I can really draw anything worth looking at. Which wouldn't be the point. Sean will take beautiful pictures and we'll marvel at what we'd have seen that day over a glass of wine.

But I also want to spend the rest of my life with my kids and their kids and, if this low sodium diet doesn't kill me off, with their kids' kids. I need us to be part of each other's lives.

So why do we place this value on independence? It certainly isn't biblical. Honoring your father and mother doesn't involve sending them the odd e-mail and never seeing them. Raising your child up in the way he should go so that when he grows old he doesn't depart from it doesn't imply that you'll be absent as he continues on that path.

I think this whole "ideal" of raising independent children is a lie. Just like that old perfume commercial which told us that women could "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man" as if anyone, male or female, can do all that stuff and not keel over from exhaustion, no matter how nice they smell.

The fabrication goes that we should have at most two kids and the sooner we bring them up to go off and be independent, the sooner we can go back to our lives, as if children somehow make you put off living a life. So we are to start training them early to live alone by using toys that teach them to play quietly by themselves on a computer or in front of the tv while we're on the laptop, the phone, nose in a book....whatever it takes to hang on to an identity other than "Susie's mom." And I'm not innocent of the above, I'm just questioning why I've done what I've done.

We are told by the media that we are "worth it" that we "deserve" stuff - and one of those things that we deserve is our "me" time. But why is that, aside from advertisers obvious interest in getting us to buy their products? I can't see what I've done that is so remarkable that I deserve anything. I'm just a housewife. I live a nice life. I volunteer - at stuff I love doing. And if I "deserve" it - who has to give it to me? Where to I go to cash in this chip? And why is the goal to be so alone?

So how to break this cycle of independence and work on interdependence?

When they're babies, independence is impossible as their needs are too immediate and physical. You're face to face with them while nursing. Your body is tuned to theirs as cutting the umbilical cord didn't actually serve to sever much of anything.

But as they grow older, the connection is far more mental and as such is strewn with exit doors. There's the pre-teen angst of junior high boys. You hope the walls of your house survive the fists that pound on them in frustration. The slamming of doors, the forgetfulness, and the realization that you're using your Lamaze techniques far more than you did during labor. Then follows the teenage moodiness (theirs and mine), the hormonal swings and the strangeness of a generation we're not a part of. They stomp off to their rooms, where you're not really welcome despite the fact (which, by the way, you shouldn't bring up) that you paid for the room and the door, and there is more separateness. Their language is different, their music - only somewhat less so, and the technology they view as normal was inconceivable when we were their age. All obstacles to overcome on the road to interdependence.

So I'm seeking the chink in the armor. One way I've stumbled onto, is to find what they love, whether it be video games or card games or music or whatever, and work out a way to do some of it with them. Putting down my laptop, my CrackBerry (which I love and my entire family entirely hates), or my book and playing a game with them. Some games I'm horrible at and they laugh at me, but I actually beat my son at chess the other day. A game I taught him after he beat me at checkers when he was four. Things I wouldn't have thought to do, but things I'll miss doing when they're away. Things that keep us together and make us laugh.

As we get closer to sending our son to college (if the college applications ever get done), I find us all in the same room more often. I suspect it's the looming threat of separation, even though I do want him to go to learn to be a teacher because he'll be a great one.

But I never want either of my kids to think that they need to, or should, do it all on their own. There are a lot of folks who have held their hands as they've walked toward adulthood. Their teachers who helped them learn, the friends who gentled their rough edges, the family that loved and reared them are all part of the world into which God intentionally placed them. We're none of us meant to be independent or alone.

So I'm going to help them to see both the gifts God has given them and to recognize the gifts God has given to those around them so that they can weave their lives into the tapestry, supporting and being supported by it. I want them to know that they are part of the body of Christ...where neither they, nor any other part, can say "I have no need of you."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Today was one of those days when leaving the hobbit hole was hard. My daughter's friend died last Thursday. She was fourteen: a sweet, gifted child. Two of my three trips out were routine - to drop off a forgotten thing at school, a run to the grocery store for lunch supplies. The third trip was back to the high school. Back past the news van parked out to cover the kids coming back to the high school for the first time after the death, back to pick up my daughter and two of her friends to take them to the wake.

The girls chatted in the car; they'd not done what was next. I knew, though. It was like that moment last Thursday afternoon, just prior to telling my daughter of the news of her friend's death. That moment before adding one of life's truly hard experiences into a formerly innocent life. The moment a parent doesn't even think to dread when her child is little.

We went in to the funeral home and saw their teachers from Junior High. All in a cluster, teary eyed and reaching out to the girls, telling them how grown-up they looked, how beautiful. And then on into the viewing room. Into some other reality, standing in a line of people who are all either crying or staring up at the ceiling trying not to. Inching toward what cannot possibly be real. A still, young girl wearing her Homecoming dress. The one she was supposed to wear this Saturday.

The girls move forward. Touching the pictures on the easels. Holding their tissues and each other. Wearing the t-shirts that they'd made a couple of days earlier, saying in the colors lime green and purple - her colors - that they would love her always. That they would never forget her.

I remember the first time someone my age died. Junior year in high school, a couple of years ahead of where they are now. We weren't close, but I still remember his name and always will. He was the first to go home.

We approach her family - there is nothing to say in such a situation. If the pain were smaller, there would be words that could contain or somehow control it. But there are not, because the death of an only child - or any child - doesn't come with appropriate words. "I'm sorry" is all that comes out through the immense thing that has lodged itself in my throat, disabling my vocal chords.

Her father hugs my daughter and her friends. He tells them the truth - which is that we will see her again. We are Christians so we will. The separation, however, is agonizing. We were created by God to not only worship Him, but to love and to live with each other. Which is the truth too.

Tomorrow is Wednesday and the funeral. The third of the triad of experiences. The finding out, the viewing, and then the formal saying good bye. And then, starting Thursday, there is the rest. The living without. Sitting with a different lunch buddy. Not getting texts from her when she gets to school. Not hearing her laugh or seeing her smile. Learning to breathe past the hitch in your throat - to keep going. Which they will all do. And the rest of the world will go on around them as if nothing had happened.

My daughter is growing up. Sometimes I don't see it when it happens and just realize later that she's taller or more mature or somehow older. Mostly, this growing up makes me rejoice. Although I pretend to be sad about her being as tall as me, or the same shoe size, or entering high school, the reality is that I want her to thrive. To grow up into the wonderful young woman I know she will be.

I just wish, like every parent, that I could wrap her in cotton wool, mark her with a "Fragile" sign, and protect her from pain. But, I can't and so I'll do what mothers do. Walk beside her, holding a box of Kleenex, and praying for God's protection and grace over her all the days of her life.