Category Archives: Life

… background heroes…

… always in the background

Sometimes, heroes can be someone who doesn’t rush forward into the public’s notice… someone who’s actions aren’t “big” enough to gain applause… or gratitude from others.

Sometimes… a hero’s only photo might not be front page of the newspaper..

…but rather…

… in the background of someone’s selfie…

Anyone who knows me… knows that my life’s work is helping kids. Encouraging them to be their best selves…. helping them to enjoy life… volunteering any way that I can…

Anyone who knows me… also knows that I haven’t been able to work consistently. With my son’s mood disorders, I have always needed to be available to be his support.. and his chauffeur.

Being available? It doesn’t exactly line up with being employable..

(Some of you just argued that I’m an author.. And I agree that it’s a noble and rewarding career. But there is a reason it’s called “starving artist”.. lol)

But the last few months I have had to slow down. Slowed down volunteering. Slowed down all activities…

In these slow times… I am noticing a different kind of hero.

Heroes that hang around in the background.

Heroes that don’t bring attention to themselves… that don’t post what they are doing on social media (shocking I know)…

… heroes that no one even realizes are there.

Lately, I have been seeing these heroes in the most unlikely of places.

But my favorite?

My favorite unnoticed hero is often found in the background of our family selfies. (Often with a reluctant smile on his face..)

This man has supported every club that I have started…

.. he has agreed to every scheme I come up with…

… he welcomed every extra blessing that I have brought home to live with us…

… always adjusting the budget to fit whatever way I feel our family needs …

Supporting my week long “editing marathons”…

..not grumbling (too much) when the kids’ Netflix marathon days affect his ability to work..

… dealing with our artistic “messes” …

… our cooking experiences .. (and disasters)…

… adapting to our gluten free.. dairy free.. yeast free… egg free… food restrictions… and ALL the added expense that comes with it… without batting an eye…

As a mom… I get told that I’m doing a good job all the time. As a volunteer… I get told “thanks”.

But my husband… he stands behind me .. handing me the tools I need… mentally and financially… but he doesn’t always get noticed back there…

He may not get noticed by others… but I see him.

.. and I know that I wouldn’t be able to “be Julie” without his unnoticed support behind me…

… and I don’t celebrate him enough…

So this year… while we are slowed down for a novel virus?

I’m going to be thankful for my heroes..

The Storyteller…

Time Capsule … 2011?

Every family has a storyteller.

In my husband’s family.. that person was Grandpa Bennett.

Stories being told of Uncle Loren and Uncle Erwin… two souls that I never met… But the memories would bring out a fond chuckle from Grandpa..

… and a smile from my husband.

Some of my favorite stories were ones he told of my sweet mother-in-law.

How .. as a child… she had prayed for each chicken before he “harvested” them. He would shake his head at the memory.. and joke that they never raised chickens after that.

But more than the stories he told … I loved to see the happiness in his expression.

The joy that shone from his face…

… it took your breath away.

Grandpa

Grandpa Bennett turned 98 this last March.

98 years on this earth.

Can you imagine the changes he witnessed in this world from 1922 .. until 2020? It is no wonder he had so many stories to tell.

World Wars…

Great Depressions…

Computers..

Not all of it was good… it couldn’t have been..

… yet every story I remember him telling? He would tell with a happy chuckle.

…and every person he talked to? He greeted with a smile.

This week, Grandpa Bennett lost the fight with his weak heart… and he went to be with His Lord.

He will be missed by so many.

…by so many…

The next time our family can gather..?

He won’t be sitting at the kitchen table.. He won’t greet everyone by name as we arrive..

… but he will be there.

He will be there in our hearts. Alive in the stories he told us of his childhood… and beyond…

And he will be there alive in his children and all of his grandchildren.

Because the love that Grandpa gave freely grows in his loved ones still.

And when we listen carefully?

We can still hear that joyful laugh!

Thank you Grandpa Bennett for sharing your stories with us…

… and your joy ….

.. and thank you for raising such an amazing daughter.. so that I could have an amazing second mom.

May we all follow in your footsteps…

The world I choose to live in…

The world I choose to live in? Is very big…

.. and full of love…

Over the last six years, our family has chosen to bring young people from around the world into our home, into our lives .. and into our hearts.

.. and I have loved every minute of it.

I started hosting exchange students so that I could share the country that I love with the rest of the world…

… what I got?

These beautiful souls… they gave me the world.

A big beautiful world.

But ever since January?

The world has seemed a little smaller. We have been watching as the Corona virus has edged closer.. covering distances that look so far away on the map.

Edged closer to us in the USA..

… but scary for us… closer to my adopted exchange children scattered around the globe…

My current exchange student watched as it affected her country… the beautiful Thailand.

… we watched how it affected the countries on the other side of the world, while we continued to live life … trying to enjoy every moment…

As countries started to go into lockdown, we watched Italy where one of our girl’s family lives.

.. along with the UK where she was at school. Checking in when she was trying to get back home to Italy after the flights were getting cancelled.

At the same time watching Egypt… checking in with my sweet Egyptian girl when I hadn’t heard from her in a while.

.. and South Korea… Relieved that their numbers weren’t as severe, even being close to China…

.. and Turkey… talking with my girl there as she needed to leave her college and return to her hometown. To pray as she took a long bus ride with possible sick people….

… then as it got closer to our part of the world.. I added Brazil to the countries we watched…

… and Columbia… the daughter that just went home…

… And we watched Liberia where my sister was working…

… Not to mention ALL of the pieces of my heart that live in Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium…

We watched as this virus shut down each state in the US… one by one. As the sick count grew.. and the deaths started to rise…

…and I could go on…

I have family around the world now…

… and a love for people and places around the world…

… a love for food from around the world….

But this virus has taught me something else…

As I watched all of my daughters talk about being quarantined.. a few saying that they can’t even STEP outside. They can’t go to the store.. or work..

All of them saying they need to stay at home.

I can see so much clearer how similar we ALL are..

We all are a little worried about the virus…

…we are ALL worried about each other….

We ALL miss our family a little bit more when we can’t see each other….

…and….

Ha… and we are all very bored and can’t wait for it to be done.

In this world that I choose to live in?

It is so easy to see how we are all in this TOGETHER…

…together in love and spirit… even if we are separated by miles and oceans…

And even though my heart hurts a little bit more today… having the pieces of my heart divided all around this big beautiful world… I am so thankful for this world that I choose to live in.

Today as I pray for my family here in my house.. my family here in Michigan.. my family around the world…. I pray they stay healthy… but I also pray that they have joy and laughter in their lives while they are quarantined…

…. and a healthy dose of patience with the world… as we ALL are trying to figure out the next step…

.. a whole new world for all of us!!!

Love from my family to yours!!!

The foot of the cross..

Yesterday was Good Friday…

But…?

… but on Facebook it was a strong complaint day.

As I read through the negative reactions to the Governor’s choices and the strong opinions of my fellow man…

… I began to wonder if I was the strange one?

You see?

Good Friday is a “grounding” day for me.

When we are born again in His love? We are urged to go forward and “sin no more”.

But then.. we are reminded that “all HAVE sinned”..

… and that all will sin again…

But yet on a day 1987 (ish) years ago? We are told that God sent His Son to die for those sins.

He died for my sins… from the free choice He gave me…

Every day of the year, I try to go forth and shower God’s love to those around me. Every day I try to do God’s work.

Every day.. I try to connect with God and listen for the sound of His voice.

But on Good Friday?

I sit at the foot of the cross…

An empty cross.. because Jesus isn’t still hanging there. He is alive and risen…

But when I sit at the foot of that cross?

I can check in with myself. I can stare at the shell of my forgiven sins and ask myself if I am doing the best I can…

Am I listening to God’s voice? Am I going where He asks me to? … and not where I want to be sent?

Am I turning away from all temptations? Even the little innocent ones? Am I being strong when I want to relax my guard?

Am I turning to God when I need help? Am I asking Him for His strength instead of powering through on my own weak self?

Or am I telling myself that I need not trouble Him with prayer.. when it is just for me?

Am I kidding myself that I don’t need forgiveness for prideful thoughts.. because they don’t really hurt anyone?

.. no one except me…

Am I making sure that my relationship with God comes first? Then my work in the name of God comes second?

As I sat at the foot of the cross yesterday… I ignored the specks of the world… and I saw the planks in my own eyes…

… but then?

Then I hear Jesus’s words echo through the ages … “Forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

… He forgives me for every sin I added to His cross.

So as I rise from the foot of the cross.. I am ready to celebrate the new life He has given me..

…ready to celebrate the joy and hope from finding the tomb empty…

Empty chairs…

This theatre season, my cast worked through enormous obstacles to perform Les Miserables.

And then .. on opening night?

Covid-19 starting shutting down all assembling of groups.

So 10 weeks of hard work.. and the kids were only allowed to perform for their families. The cast was heartbroken… but they wiped their tears… and performed an awe-inspiring opening night.

I could NOT have been more proud.

For me?

This experience is a little surreal…

Surreal in the sense that everything was so different from where we were 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I was reminding the kids to hang up their costumes and to clean up their own messes.. and to turn in tee shirt money.

And today… I am JUST praying that each of my cast members stays safe and healthy..

And alive…

But it is also surreal for me in the sense… that ALL of my life I have been studying Plagues and epidemics .. and pandemics. The Black Death.. the Spanish flu (that started in The US)… siege sicknesses, the viruses that wiped out the Natives, etc..

Not so much for the illnesses or the deaths… because death and suffering saddens me…

…but how those illnesses.. and the fear… and the chaos affected the people. And how those effects changed the course of history.

How poor people could suddenly own land…

…How our children still sing “Ring around the rosies”.. to ward off evil spirits…

And here we are… smack in the middle of what WILL BECOME history. Someday, kids will be studying about the Covid-19 pandemic of 2019.. and wonder how the “population coped with the terror” and the isolation..

I wonder if the history books will tell how we had a shortage of toilet paper… and no shortage of the conspiracy theories?

Or will the future history books say that the “population” learned from the history books of the past? Will the history books state how we all chose to obey isolation and quarantined ourselves at home?

Will the history books say how we banded together to give each other hope for a future?

Because we WILL have a future.

Even the worst plagues… the survivors dusted off their hats.. picked up the pieces of their lives.. and made a future for themselves.

And little by little?

We learned from them. From the survivors. We learned to wash our hands. We learned to quarantine ourselves if we have been exposed. We learned not to panic.. and not to take the virus to the next town in our panic.

We HAVE so much knowledge at our fingertips THANKS to the records and observations kept of those pandemics in history.

Because we have learned from our history? We find ourselves in quarantine BEFORE it gets too bad. We find ourselves bored and creating funny memes about isolation “cabin fever”.. while we wait for the virus to run it’s course.

But … we will ALSO find ourselves with a better future.

A future that MAY hold graduations later in the summer. A future with delayed vacations.. delayed celebrations ..

A future with strange new school routines.

A future that has changed us all in small ways…

For me? I’m praying that my future has our cast performing Les Miserables when the crisis is over.

And I’m praying that when we hear Marius sing about empty chairs and empty tables… that there are no empty chairs in our community..

I’m praying there are no empty chairs in our cast…

And I’m definitely praying that we did our part enough.. that I won’t have ANY empty chairs in my family.

But even if we never hear our cast sing a song rejoicing in “one day more”… ?

I’m happy that our nation and our schools gave them their best chance at being able to sing another day.

Stay safe everyone! And God be with you!

The Story of our pages …

Life is what happens when you are busy making plans… or so it is told.

Spring time is often a busy time in our household.. and we live by plans…

We plan to do our jobs..

we plans to get our kids to their functions…

We schedule fun in… so we don’t forget to relax…

… and we try to schedule time in to visit family.

But each morning we wake up .. and we turn another page in our stories… … Some pages we get to write… and can be exciting…

…some pages are full of surprises…

… and not all of those surprises are happy ones…

While we were busy writing birthday parties into our pages.. and senior pictures … and book launches….

… life added illness to our pages…

… and sadness…

This week a beloved grandma took ill suddenly… and our family watched and waited to see if she would pull through…

… we turned each page, praying and hoping…

But with the waiting?

Her children and her grandchildren told fond memories of her… my husband recalling all the delicious foods she cooked over the years.

… and laughter…

My husband’s family is full of so much laughter…

Today.. a beautiful lady passed from this world and into the next… but she will still be alive in our memories… and she lives on the pages of our stories.

The page we are on.. today?

It’s a sad one…

…. but because Grandma lived?

….the story of our family’s life is full of pages of happiness, laughter…

Not to mention all that good food..

Thank you for every happy memory Grandma Great!! We loved every minute…

Thank you

This weekend we performed Grease at Maple Valley..

…and by “we”…  I REALLY mean..

“I wasn’t anywhere on stage at all.. nor did I play an instrument .. nor did I make sure a microphone was on.. nor did I make sure the lights were pointed at the right part of the stage. But I did HOLD back the curtain so it didn’t get caught in the Grease Lightning tires.”

So when everyone congratulated “ME” on a job well done? I feel like I’m a fraud for saying “thank you”.

You see?

I actually do a very small part of the magic you see on Maple Valley’s stage.

I have 2 other directors who help me. Miss Rachel directs the music .. but she doesn’t stop with her job description. She stays until the end and helps with blocking and characterization. She encourages these kids on and off the stage. I can’t imagine doing this job without her. Then our Mr. Rosin picks up the slack where we need it, helping kids learn music they miss in rehearsal and helping kids perfect their scenes near the end of production .. which frees me up to fix scene changes and costumes.

I had 2 student directors this season. Maddy and img_8288Emily. These 2 girls were workhorses. They kept us all organized and helped me come up with ideas and carry them out. I called them the “2 halves of my brain”.. and I appreciated all of their work. Emily took over the administrative side of my brain.. while still performing. And Maddy kept the backstage crew (and me) organized.

Our choreography was designed by a student, Kayli. She spent hours creating the choreo.. and hours teaching and reteaching the choreo. She spent extra time making sure it was a dance that would be fun for the kids to learn and perform. And it SHOWED!!

The performers!! Where do I start? This group of performers are talented, motivated .. and I encourage them to be responsible and take on leadership of their own roles.. and often give them other roles as well. I ask them to design their own costumes.. create characterization for the chorus roles.. and push them out of their comfort zone. And they OWN the stage and they Wow the audiences that come to see them.

The tech crew was led by a former graduate, Liam. I told them our needs and would guide them with levels.. and they organized everything else.

Our set crew volunteers on the weekends and late nights (and show weekend intermissions). Building and painting our set outside of rehearsal time. My poor husband guides a group of parents and students to create the set that we need.. often with poorly drawn sketches that I give him.. and the tight restrictions of a smaller school with a small door access. We had a dad design and build our Greased Lightning car!! And yet they do it with grace and help me keep the kids on a good budget. These sets give the performers a high class set on a small school budget.. and they don’t get enough credit.

The backstage crew often comes in at the end when the set is finally complete.. and has to learn the show (and its cues) in a short time. They fight the tight constraints of a small stage, change elaborate scenes in a small amount of time.. and patiently listen when I say we need to do it faster. These kids are in the back in black.. and are never in the spotlight. But they help the performers to shine .. The backstage crew is as important to me as any of the performers are!

The parent extraordinaires… so many of them. Coming in day after day to alter 30 prom dresses. Searching totes for the perfect costume for each performer. Moms and friends who go to every Goodwill in a 50 mile radius looking for pants in a very specific size and style.. or the prop I can’t seem to find. Moms who create 7 felt poodles for poodle skirts, because I think it would add a nice touch. Parents who come up with ways to print giant posters and fake magazine covers.. and others who contact the newspapers to get the show publicity. Moms and sisters who take pictures to capture the memories. Moms who take time from their busy schedules to make sure we have posters and tickets.. and a thriving concession stand… and programs that not only look good but have staples too. The ticket sellers, the potluck organizers, the bottle cap searchers, the snack providers, the clean up crew.. I could list every single thing these amazing people do.. but it would take forever.

Our orchestra pit are volunteers who take time out of their busy schedule to make our stage come alive with the magic of a live orchestra. This adds so much energy to our productions. They Bless us so much!!

And the makeup and hair crew.. making everyone look beautiful and era appropriate!!!

And me?

All I did was keep these groups organized and on a schedule. Encouraged them to keep their grades up.. and their chins up.

By the time production weekend comes along? They don’t need me at all. They own this stage.. they own this auditorium..

The beauty of Grease belongs to this whole group.. mostly Maple Valley students.. with some beautiful adults sprinkled in for support.

As for me? I’m in the back… holding back a curtain. My only job left? Being available for support if they need it.

So if you tell me “good job”…

…and I say “thank you”..

What I REALLY mean is.. “thank you on behalf of All of us directors, the talented actors, the backstage crew, the tech crew, the parents, the supporters… etc.” #theatrelife

Clouds..

I am fascinated by sunrises and sunsets… as are a lot of people. I take pictures of them frequently.. trying to capture their beauty on my phone.

Trying…

I never quite succeed.

But over the years I have found that the most beautiful light displays.. are (usually) the ones with clouds.

I know .. I know..

Cloudy days usually represent .. rainy days.. and gloom.. and sadness…

..but…

Without clouds.. would we see our sunny days quite so clearly?

Without hard times and struggles.. would be see our Blessings as beautifully?

Or would be just learn to take them for granted..

Would sunrises with no clouds.. become so mundane … that we forget to wake early just to watch with wonder?

Hmmm..

A life without clouds.. without tears.. without strife or hard times sounds inviting…

But for me?

The morning after a 3 day migraine.. the morning after helping my son through a long ordeal… the morning after dealing with conflict…

I am filled with hope for the future.. conviction that I will make the most of every moment…

.. and the sunrise never looked so bright.

So I will take my sunrises with clouds.. or without…

… and I’ll keep trying to capture their beauty on my cell phone …

No…

Growing up, we had a dishwasher.

For two girls who did the dishes for a family of nine? It was so cool..

…except …

Except for when my mom took it away.

Now.. I don’t remember the Reason why she took it away… exactly.. because, as is typical for young kids…?

I only remember the punishment.

And our punishment was to hand-wash dishes… until she was satisfied that we knew how.

We asked my mom to change her mind and let us use the dishwasher again..

..and she said “no.”

I remember promising to make sure every dish was clean before it got put away..

.. she smiled and said she knew I would .. because I would be hand-washing those dishes.

… the answer was still “no.”

So we hand-washed those dishes.

.. every day…

.. for … forever…

Then one Saturday? My mom left to go grocery shopping.. and I remember filling the dishwasher full of dirty dishes… and standing there impatiently willing it to run faster…

.. then as soon as it was finished running its cycle?

I hand dried all the dishes.. washing any that didn’t come clean.. drying out the dishwasher thoroughly… and even fanning it with a towel to cool it off..

When I was done? I was exhausted…

NOW?

Now, I know it would have been easier to just hand wash those dishes.

Sometimes, I think I haven’t learned that lesson still… That young girl showed me an important message..

…and I still don’t listen to what she is telling me.

Every day I pray .. I pray for my kids… I pray for their health.. I pray for their life… I pray for the plans they want or the plans we think will be good for them…

Basically, I am asking for God to give me the thing that we want on Earth.. if it’s according to His will…

Having a son with special abilities?

Most of the times, these aren’t selfish things..

Healing from one of my son’s surgeries, answers to autism puzzles… successful days at school…

.. an easy day every once in awhile…

… and similar prayers for my daughter… health and happiness .. and a little success on stage..

…but sometimes?

Sometimes, God says “no.”

Most of the time I accept that .. but occasionally I ask again.. wondering if I promise to be extra good.. if that will change the Almighty’s mind…

When the answer is still “no?”

Then I just keep on going down the path set before me… no matter how hard it is…

But I admit…

.. sometimes on a Saturday morning? I try to make “my plans” work and do it my way. I load that “dishwasher” full of good intentions and hard work.. and wait impatiently to see if it will finish working… before God returns and sees that I ignored His answers…

… but at the end of the day?

It’s exhausting!

.. and it would have been easier to hand-wash those dishes.

Today, I was standing in Barnes & Nobles talking about my books .. and I realized that I incorporated that lesson in my storylines …

.. I show Emma praying for the easy way out… praying to make everyone happy even if it isn’t what she wants… praying for loved ones to come home without the answers they need…

… and then praying for the strength to handle all the extra work and stress she causes herself…

.. I can write it into the pages for Emma … but I still struggle to write that lesson into the pages of my life..

Instead of doing the things God has laid before me.. in a slow patient fashion.. I continue wanting to do my things .. my way…

I guess I can learn a lot from 9 year old me…

What about you? What do you do when the answer is “no?”