Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

“I’ve Got The Memories…”

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The Folks

Vaccinations abound!  We were finally able to celebrate Christmas this past weekend with my parents.  Although masked, I walked into their house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and gave my mom and dad a BIG, FAT hug.  I’ve seen them a couple of times over the past twelve months but not much, and the only physical connection we’ve had was a slight bootie bump at departure.

My folks are aging, like us all.  They’re pondering a downsize.  This is great news for them!  They will get all of the Christmas eating without nearly as much fuss.  I turned 55 this year, the minimum age for most retirement communities, and if I could get Julie to go, I’d sign up tomorrow.  Food, food, food!  BINGO and a built in Uber.  Who could ask for more? Some even have a a soft ice cream machine with all-you-can-eat sprinkles. My mom will be in heaven.

It may be this year or maybe the next, but they’re considering options which is good I think.

As I watched the seven grandchildren this weekend, I pondered the good times we’ve had on Meadow Wood Road.  And, I pondered the memories from my grandparents’ homes.

One had a screen porch with a black swing, and as I remember it, a patterned orange and green plastic cushion that would withstand nitric acid.  My brother and I would sit on the swing and count the many cars that flew by on Hoffmeyer Road.  We would each pick a color and could only count our colored vehicles. Each car was one point. Most points won. Chad would always choose white.  He’d encourage me to go with my heart – a color that fit my personality – like orange or yellow or purple.  Who wants to count boring white cars?  I’d think to myself.  In an afternoon, he would rack up 80 points rubbing it in as the hours passed by.  I might have one, maybe two if the Dukes of Hazard drove by.

At my other grandparents’ house, I have distinct memories of a powder green naugahyde couch, my brother and I in matching blue silky pajamas my mother had made for us, trying to knit.  My grandmother was a master and looking back on it was likely working to break typical gender roles.  Why couldn’t a boy enjoy knitting?  I concur.  But this boy did not.  It’s actually hard.

As I begin to ponder moving from the house where I raised my girls, occasionally I find a hint of melancholy set in.  The same is true as I think about my parents’ and my grandparents’ homes.  My eldest niece said it best on Saturday, “I have the memories.  That’s all I need.”  Pretty sweet.

Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

Proverbs 15:30

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.  Proverbs 15:30

Julie works for an organization in Charlotte, Share Charlotte, that brings the nonprofit community together with individuals and corporations.  If you want to make a donation, go to their website and you will find the nonprofit that strikes your fancy.  If you want to volunteer with teenaged boys who occasionally drive their parents crazy, just click those filters and opportunities abound.

As part of Do Good Week, their push for volunteerism, each staff member picked a charity to volunteer for.  As is typically the case, Julie, the Pied Piper, enlisted the whole fam to help.  She chose to feed 100 homeless folks at a local shelter.

We shopped for food, set up an assembly line, and bagged sandwiches, fruit, chips and homemade, well slice-and-bake, cookies to go.  Then four of us delivered the goods.

Our Zoom Sunday School lesson today was based on Proverbs 15:30.  But what in the heck can you do to lift others’ spirits when you can hardly leave your house?

As I thought about it – maybe a lot.

Perhaps you pay your housekeeper even if she isn’t coming to clean.  Or maybe you call that single friend you know is at home alone.  Notes, texts.  Checking on great aunt Lou-Lou.  Even getting takeout from a restaurant that is no doubt struggling to survive this shut down would be helpful.  I’d actually appreciate it, if you’re able, to keep paying your monthly dues to the Y!  Consider it a donation.

There are boundless ways to give, even from your favorite armchair.  There are infinite ways to spread good news to those in need.

In conjunction with several other nonprofits in the area, our Y in southeast Raleigh, a marginalized community, opened a one day food pantry.  Hundreds and hundreds of cars lined up filled with individuals and families who need help.  People are hurting.  People are hungry, like actually hungry.  I can’t even imagine being worried about providing food to my family.  These people live in our communities.  They are our neighbors.

Now is NOT the time to pull back – to be cautious with your time, effort and money.  Now IS the time to step it up.

As I slapped ham and cheese on endless pieces of white bread, Julie looked at me and said, “Now is the time for us to take our eyes off ourselves.”  Sometimes that’s hard to do when your own salary has been cut and your kids are eating you out of house and home.  And yet, isn’t that exactly what we should be doing in this increasingly fragile time?

Where is God?

This won’t be the first time I’ve wondered why God doesn’t step in to fix the situation at hand.  I’ve wondered when I’ve seen mass shootings that seem so needless.  I’ve wondered with terrorist activities.  I’ve wondered when those among us die at an early age or when I’ve seen, in my work at the Y, a child who has been physically or emotionally abused.  Does He not see the suffering?  How can He not act, not do something to get His world back in order?

If I were God, certainly I would immediately knock Corona to its knees.  Or, perhaps step in early on and not allow it to happen in the first place.  Where the heck is He?

As I sit in my five bedroom, 3800 square foot house, my most recent vacation still dancing in my mind; my children in private schools; my refrigerator so full I can hardly get the door closed; my twenty rolls of toilet paper scattered throughout my many bathrooms; my healthy children sleeping late with the ability to begin their online classes this week; my beautiful fiancé safe and sound at her home in Charlotte; I scoff at myself for even questioning why I’ve been thrown a curve ball this week.  Seriously, I am complaining about anything?  It’s ridiculous.

I don’t believe that God punishes us, but if He was a God who did that, He would certainly have reason.  Look what we’ve done to our earth?  This quarantine has given God’s creation a chance to rebound from the incessant wear and tear we put upon it.  He might want me to stop dreaming about more and to be satisfied and thankful for all that He has already given me.  Who knows?  He might take all of this, and make something better than we could ever imagine.

But I don’t think that God is intentionally trying to teach us lessons by creating hard times.  No, I think that the world just happens, and God picks up the pieces, supports us, often through our friends and neighbors, and puts us back together.

I’ve seen this story before.  I’ve experienced really hard times and come out stronger for it.  With time and patience, if you watch closely, you might see His hand at work again.

 

Re-imagine, Meaning, Connection

(View Justin Yopp’s Ted Talk above)

I’ve shared before about the group of men I met in 2010, about six months after Lisa died.  Two psychiatrists from UNC formed a grief group, Single Fathers Due To Cancer.  I apprehensively attended the first meeting.  Four years later our monthly get togethe’rs subsided, replace by annual reunions.

The grief I felt ten years ago next month, seems far away.  In fact, I have isolated it because it is grueling to go back.  The pain, the disbelief, the fear – I don’t ever want to feel that again.  It’s easy to isolate those feelings when you’re happy.

Recently, Justin Yopp, one of our group leaders, did a Ted Talk titled More Than Grief.  He shared our story, seven men who struggled together and, in time, moved forward.

I didn’t know at the time, but Justin was learning from us.  He works with those experiencing loss on a regular basis and listened very closely as the seven of us shared over this 48 month period of time.  Justin shares in his talk that he saw three distinct steps in our recovery from grief:

  1. Re-imagining – Justin describes our grief like a trip.  We were on the highway, moving forward, when suddenly the road stops.  The map says the road should continue, but it doesn’t.  Justin began seeing growth with each of us when we began to re-imagine what life might be again.  For a very long time, we recanted our loss.  For a very long time we lived in the here and now trying to figure out how to manage our day to day lives.  But slowly, conversation turned.  We began to dream again, to imagine another road.
  2. Finding meaning – Justin argues that when we began changing the focus from our loss to helping others, there was movement toward our futures.  When we were able to consider how our group, and how we as individuals, might help other men going through similar situations, it helped us heal.
  3. Connecting – Finally, Justin saw in us a connection that was rare.  We weren’t best friends, but we knew a heck of a lot more about these guys we saw just once a month than we did about folks we saw on a daily basis.  The deep and intense level of sharing was surprising.  This connection and ability to share was crucial to our healing.

What the seven of us learned, what Justin and Don our leaders learned, is that you can create new paths, and you can move forward.  It just takes work – and maybe a couple of other really good men.

The Race Grows Sweeter in the Final Lap

There is a show on Amazon Prime called Modern Love.  It tells all sorts of stories about love – dating, marriage, adoption, young love and the episode we watched last night was about love between two older adults.

It starts with a road race.  A seventy year old woman has her eye on this distinguished, very slow running, soft-spoken gentleman.  She finishes the race before him but waits at the finish line to engage this man she’s had her eye on for some time.

At their first dinner together, Margo tells Ken, I have respect for your 35 year marriage and your sweet wife Betty, but I think you might have room in your heart for me.

He did.

It’s funny to think about folks in their 70’s having crushes and starting over.  But not being as far from that decade as I’d like, it is less surprising than it might have been ten years.  Julie and I are Margo and Ken, minus a few years.

The connection between them is sweet… and funny… and electric.  They sit in bed snuggled tightly together at night.  They read together, have afternoon drinks in their garden, run, go to parties – eyeing across the room – clearly more interested in each other than anyone else.

It doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize there are two story lines in this show.  One is the building of their relationship.  The other is Margo dealing with the loss of her new lover.  It isn’t clear how much time they had together, but this touching love story wasn’t a long one.  It was, however, maybe the most powerful of the series.

As Julie and I sat in the den watching our TV, the tears just flowed.  As Margo shared at Ken’s funeral:

Old love is different – it’s more realistic. We had already been through many ups and  downs in life.  We had learned to compromise, survived loss and mistakes.  Yes, old love is different, and yet it is also the same.  Ken and I did everything that young people do – fell in love, traveled, planted a garden, remodeled a house.  He called me sweetheart and on nights when were out a party, we came home after and sat on the rim of the bathtub, flossing our teeth, and gossiping about the evening.  Every time we passed each other in the house, Ken made it a point to stop and kiss me or squeeze my shoulder or grab my hand (maybe because he was afraid he might lose one he loved again; I get that).  He and I often told each other we are so lucky. 

Young love, even for old people, can be surprisingly bountiful.

Margo’s words rang true for us.  We have had our own ups and downs.  We have loved before.  We have had hope.  We have lost.  We have grown.  Our life maturity has led us to an honest, real, and different sort of connection.

Many couples meet later in life.  I think many also reinvent their relationship as time goes by.  My hope is that all have the opportunity to experience mature, honest love.  It takes a lot to get there:  pain, suffering, loss, and a few hard knocks.  But if you’re open and willing, if you pour in, you might receive in beautiful ways.

High Deductible???

Year-of-the-high-deductible-health-plan

I’m cramming!  Cramming in every medical appointment that I can possibly think of.

My work’s fiscal year is October 1.  That is also when our medical insurance renews.  I have a high deductible health plan.  That means I pay out the wazoo until I hit the deductible.  Then I’m golden til the next year.

It works well if your entire family contracts Ebola.  It is less useful for the sniffles.  I had never met my deductible until this year, and I was strategic about it.  I had shoulder surgery on Oct. 4, 2018.  I met my deductible in the first week of the plan year, and I’ve seen every doctor in town since.  I have had major back issues and taken care of them – or at least tried.  I’ve had my shoulder rechecked to ensure all is well.  I tackled my toenail fungus last November, and I’m thankful to report it is gone – WHOOP WHOOP!  I’m sure I picked that up in the Y shower.  YUCK.

I saw a counselor to make sure I was mentally sound – still in question, but it was good to talk some things out.  I had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy and an ultrasound of unspeakable parts, just in case.  I talked to my doctor about my poor sleeping habits, saw a sleep doctor and am on a drug to give me rest.

All this and I have three more weeks to go!

I’m hitting the chiropractor again, getting my ingrown toenail sliced open and perhaps steroids shots in my back.  The only thing I hate worse than physical pain is financial pain.  I gotta get it all in before my plan goes back to ground zero.  October 1, its back to suffering.  I do not plan to go to the doctor again unless I lose a limb – or two.

If I have a prescription, it shall be filled, this month.  I don’t care if I need it or not.  I might get pink eye again… at some point in the future, and there is one refill left on those little drops!  Maybe I have an anti-nausea suppository refill.  I better check.

I may get Botox, pectoral implants and see if they can do a bladder lift by the end of the month.  I don’t even know if that’s possible, but I might as well ask.

I’ve been overlooking issues for years simply because I don’t want to spend so much stinkin’ money on medical care.  I don’t like to go to the doctor, but I also don’t like fungus on my toes.  I’m not going back for some time, so I guess I’ll invest in some heavy duty flip flops.  And fellas at the Y, would you please do the same?  I’m finally clean here!

Expectant Joy

I went to a guitar playing church in Charlotte last Sunday.  My church here in Raleigh is more pipe than string.  It’s fun to have a little worship diversity every now and then although a bit uncomfortable for a bow-tie, suit wearing stuff like me.

It is interesting that often just the right message or quote or phone call comes when you most need it.  I got it in the sermon last weekend.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s coming – lots of fun fall weekends at various kid’s parents’ weekends.  A getaway with Julie in November.  An impending wedding.  A new house.  I’m not 100% sure what lies ahead, and yet, it is exciting!  All good stuff to look forward to.

But therein is my problem.  I spend way too much time looking forward – not basking in the goodness of today.

The pastor at this church called it “expectant joy.”  We expect it to come at some point in the future.  But what about today?  Is joyful stuff here, and we can’t see it because we are so focused on what might come?  Will we ever really see joy?  Will we ever really enjoy it?  Or will we continue to hope for more?  Will we look forward to tomorrow until tomorrow doesn’t come?

He told the story of a single mom he knows who has four kids.  If you looked at her life from the outside, you’d see a lot of tough.  Finances are tight.  Hard relationships from the past.  Loss.  Illness.  But she exudes happiness.  It seeps from her inner self.  She has discovered that recognizing what you have today and being thankful for your blessings is the way to live.

Maybe that is part of the struggles in our society – spending too much time expecting and not enough time enjoying.

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