Tag Archives: family

Beautiful encounters ..

Yesterday I went to my great aunt Shirley’s funeral.. and today we are off to celebrate the life of my husband’s cousin’s husband’s father.

I know.. I know.. it sounds like the plot line of a sitcom … but as an author?

I don’t think I could make up souls as beautiful as these.

I bet you all believe me that my great aunt touched my life..

.. but I also bet that your eyes keep drifting back to the line my husband’s cousin’s husband’s father in doubt..

Well I’ll admit that I didn’t know a lot about this man’s past.. and he was very likely not perfect. None of us are.

So if I didn’t know him well … why do I want to take time to celebrate Mick’s life?

When I saw this man at a family function? There were always a lot of people around. Family and friends gathered around having a good time. People he knew really well. Yet he walked around and had great conversations with everyone there..

He even made time for his son’s wife’s cousin’s wife..

.. even though he wouldn’t have needed to..

He always asked about how my kids were doing and how I was doing.. listening closely to what I answered. He always listened so carefully. He had this way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the room to him at that moment.

I spoke to Mick a couple weeks ago .. as we celebrated an auntie’s life. He told me about some of his medical conditions and told me about the miraculous way he pulled through them.

Not bragging..

Mick explained how Blessed he was for every moment he had on this Earth with his family .. and that he would only admit defeat when God told him he was done. Not anyone else.

He used that story to encourage me to keep reaching for the stars for my son. To not listen to anyone who said I should accept limitations.. until I saw the limits myself.

He always ended our conversations with a hug. He always told me to let him know if I needed anything because that was what family was for..

Family..

His son’s wife’s cousin’s wife…

Family.

Watching Mick walk away that last time reminds me of a beautiful butterfly I saw this summer. It landed next to me on my truck. And sat there forever allowing me to enjoy its colors and take pictures of it. The miracle of something so beautiful is so much better than anything found in fiction.

And then?

Then the butterfly took flight .. off to brighten someone else’s day.

Leaving me to feel so Blessed at that Beautiful encounter.

I am so thankful for every single beautiful encounter I had with my husband’s cousin’s husband’s dad.

.. and that is why I am going to celebrate his life today.

.. the best gift..

Last night we sat in the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree during the last moments of New Year’s Day. The last moments of the holiday week.

Knowing that I should be a responsible human this week and take down my Christmas decorations, I sat back and enjoyed the beautiful glow while I still could.

Looking off to my left, I saw the cat peacefully slumped on his perch.. also staring at the tree. The writer part of my brain instantly started a narrative… A story of how this cat was sad to see the holiday season over. How all the work to make the holiday special.. made the next few weeks seem empty and hollow. Depressed at having to return to his work schedule..

Ha.. this particular cat was only exhausted because he had used all his ninja skills to evade the preschool age kids who just wanted to “love” on him.

… and his only longing glances at the tree? Involved wondering if he would be left alone with the tree long enough to make it to the top before I called his name.

I think everyone deals with holiday “hangover” emotions as their holiday week comes to an end. Whether it is exhaustion because they worked too hard .. worked at keeping up with the messes.. or keeping up with the activities.. or exhaustion from socializing. Or frustration because the holidays weren’t as magical or as smooth as they imagined.

Sometimes that emotion is reigning in the peace gained on vacation.. steeling yourself for returning to work. Or being lost with no holidays to look forward to …

HA!

… and I know there are a lot of people who are looking forward to the peace that a “break” in the holidays with give them. Looking forward to the stability of getting back to a normal schedule.

As I watch Miracle Max give a yawn before stalking off to the kitchen to see what holiday treats were left on the counter… I think about what emotions I am recovering from.

Over the seasons in my life, I have been the over achiever mom (where we did EVERY holiday tradition we could think of).. the crafting mom (where we made so many crafts and cookies)… the exhausted mom (where we did .. almost nothing).. the sick mom (where I wanted to be more but we were stuck in quarantine)… the responsible mom (where I was trying to see if schedules would help keep our “special needs” in control).. the budget mom (yeah.. well..)…

At the close of each of those seasons? I sat just like I am now.. looking at the tree. First running through the memories of the last weeks. Then carefully thinking about what worked well and what didn’t. Making mental notes on what to take with me into next season.

The 2018 season of life was a good mix. We prepared and then rested.

We worked hard to clean up for family events.. and then relaxed into enjoying them.

We crafted gluten free treats and homemade gifts.. then we sat by to watch others enjoy them.

We worked and planned and decorated.. then played games and watched Christmas movies together..

We had big family gatherings where we had loud noisy fun…  then enjoyed quiet discussions over coffee..

Holidays are more than the magic of a full stocking on Christmas morning .. more than lights and decorations.. and even more than the extra calories in the Christmas treats..

.. and I have learned to celebrate family all year long.. so Christmas isn’t the only time to do that..

What I will take with me into this next season?

Balance…

The balance that we learn during the holidays? I want that balance for all year long.

I love to celebrate family… I love to find joy in each season.. I love to find small things to look forward to… to share gifts of the heart.. to follow passion and dreams..

Those gifts I have already learned..

.. but I don’t always remember to relax into enjoying … often forgetting to enjoy the lights and the quiet of each season .. or remembering to rest..

So the gift of this season for me is finding Balance.

What gift did you unwrap this Christmas?

Good bye 2018..

This year..?

This year had its fair share of sorrows.

Well .. more than its fair share really..

Hard decisions… overly full schedules.. sick family members… missing family members … hospital stays… guardianship paperwork… disappointments… extra expenses… broken appliances…

…family members who won’t move into 2019 with us…

… and I didn’t quite finish writing the sequel in my book series like I promised myself.

To many people my year would look like a disaster.

But there were also moments that shined brightly. Laughing with my kids… watching my daughter shine on stage … watching my son gain confidence.. dancing in the waves at sunset… directing 2 great casts to showcase their talents.. a fabulous family vacation or 2… finished projects.. watching my nieces and nephews grow into amazing souls..

Our moments are NOT confined to the years that they occurred in..

I will still miss loved ones tomorrow.. that doesn’t stop today.. with the end of 2018..

We will still be figuring out my son’s future plans tomorrow .. that won’t be confined to this year..

My unfinished book.. will still be waiting to be finished in 2019…

Soo?

…if our moments aren’t confined to the year.. why should the year be defined by them?

The moments in 2018 weren’t completely bad. I got to have one last sweet hug from our Auntie.. I sat and talked to a wonderful man for a long time.. not knowing it would be the last time I talked to him. But it was beautiful.

I could go on and on..

My 2018 won’t be defined by the good and the bad … the easy and the hard… the wonderful people who lifted me up .. the people I helped in return.. the finished and the unfinished..

The end of 2018.

The end of the year is just a moment in time for us to pause and take stock of our lives…

A moment to decide if you like where you are headed.. a moment to decide if you need to adjust your direction before we take that next step..

Then we step into 2019.. and just keep moving forward..

.. finished plans

“.. and it is finished!”

20 years after I started.. I put the last photo in a frame and closed every painful prong..

Flipping it over, I let the memories flood over me as I studied each picture in my daughter’s collage..

Ok ..

It wasn’t really finished. I opened up those painful prongs one more time and straightened a couple pictures .. and… changed places of two..

.. but then it was finished..

When we started this project 20 years ago.. the plan was simple!

Choose 1 picture to represent every year of her life..

Add in her newborn picture and her graduation photo..

Waa Laa… Easy peasy plan… and Go!

At the time I made that plan? I’d only been a parent for a year.. with my second on the way.

BWAHAHAHA…

I had no idea what life had in store for me… how big my adventures with my kids would be.. NO idea how big my kids’ personalities would be..

I had NO idea how many pictures we would take each year..

After 5 years? … after only 5 years, the task of only picking 1 picture was too daunting.. and I did not chose that year.

The rule of no one else in the photos was quickly set aside.. and the rule against school photos.. gone..

The plan was to display this collage at my daughter’s graduation.. but it wasn’t finished ..

So the new plan was to finish it before the open house. I pulled 200 pictures to fill 20 slots..

Sooooo….?

So.. the new plan was to fill board after board with pictures that represented my daughter’s life… for the open house… then I’d finish the collage later…

..That was 2 years ago…

This morning I was supposed to be cleaning.. because we have a houseful of guests coming to celebrate the New Year with us!

..so naturally ..

I pulled that collage down and started pulling pictures to put in each year’s slot.

I started pulling one picture for each missing year.. but they didn’t fit the sized pictures I needed… they weren’t following the rules.. and it still wasn’t working the way I planned..

The more I sorted?

.. the more I realized…

Life doesn’t follow rules.. and it doesn’t take plans into consideration…

So instead.. ?

I started pulling the pictures that showed the light in her eyes .. the ones that emphasized her beautiful soul… and sense of humor..

.. and before I knew it… ?

It was finished..

Parenting is like that…

Parenting doesn’t follow rules.. and it doesn’t take plans into consideration…

We started out with ideas.. a road map.. an “easy peasy” plan for success..

.. and then we went off-roading.. so far off road that our parenting job could not be more different from what we thought..

But .. you know what??

I think it’s better than what we planned..

This life? …it is so beautiful…

I have a collage full of pictures to prove it..

.. angel wings..

Everyone should have an aunt .. whose face lights up every time they walk in the room. The aunt who laughs at every joke they tell.. (no matter how many times you tell it).. and claps at every performance you give on the living room “stage”..

My kids had that..

Whenever they went to Auntie and Uncle’s house, my daughter always had a “show” planned to show her auntie. And my son always looked forward to hearing “how tall he had gotten”… and he would smile as he called her his “medium sized” auntie.

This year we watched this beautiful soul battle against cancer.

And it was hard.

Yesterday she lost the battle to cancer..

.. but she won.

She won her angel wings.

.. and we won..

We won the beautiful legacy she left behind..

My kids learned that people can have an unfamiliar accent.. and not be a stranger in your heart. My kids learned that people can look different from us and they can be called family… She taught them what a generous heart looks like… what love looks like…

She showed everyone who came to her house that they wouldn’t leave hungry..

.. she showed her grandkids that they were the most beautiful things in the world to her..

.. and.. she raised 2 beautiful, amazing daughters… I can’t imagine the depths of the legacy she planted there..

Today?

Today we are all trying to imagine a world without Auntie in it. A holiday with no heartfelt hug from her.. family get together with no “Lumpia” (probably not spelled correctly) or other Philippine dishes.. (..though I imagine we will continue to hear about her first cooking disasters told through laughter.. and a few tears..).. not seeing her sneak dollars to each of the kids in the family.. making each kid feel like they are her favorites..

.. but I am so glad that I get to know what a beautiful world it was while she was here with us..

So today .. Auntie gets a new body.. a heavenly body.. one without cancer or pain..

.. and she gets her angel wings…

But honestly? She already had those.

guided by my shadows..

Last year, while shopping for a new Christmas tree.. I fell in love with one that sported pine cones, berries and a soft sprinkling of snow on the branches.

But.. when I saw the price tag?

Yup.. when I saw the price tag on that beautiful tree .. I hesitated.

With a smile.. I could clearly see the memory of my Aunt Diane leaning close to me.. like we were conspicuously conspiring against the “over commercialization of Christmas”..

She would lean in and whisper .. “We can make this.”

Her confidence always impressed me.

AND.. we always were able to make what we set our mind to.. exactly the way we wanted.

So last year? I smiled at my Aunt Diane’s memory.. and set about making the tree I wanted..

ok.. ok..

..it took me a year.. but I did make it..

As I added pine cones and berries to each branch.. I thought about how we are often guided by the shadows around us.

The shadows of the influences in our past.. and in our present..

Sure the shadow of the summers working with my Aunt Diane guided my hands into making a beautiful tree..

.. the shadows of her advices..

“ok.. that didn’t work. Try again.”

“By taking it apart.. you know how to fix it.”

“The only way to know is to jump in and try.”

.. but it was the shadow of my Aunt’s confidence IN ME that guided me to EVEN try..

I glued berries through tears.. remembering her chatting while we worked on crafts together… remembering her laughter…

As I chatted with my girl while we crafted this beautiful tree.. I was thankful for these beautiful shadows that guide me.

But not all Shadows are beautiful as they guide us.

My Aunt beat cancer her first time through.. but the second time it came…??

I drove hours to visit her when her body became weak. I stayed nearby and watched her visit with others..

.. but I never told her how important she was to me.

It was too hard.

What was even harder?

The months after her funeral. The months wishing I had been strong enough to tell her. To speak through tears and sadness. To admit that I was going to miss her until I saw her again.

We are guided by all the shadows in our lives.. the sweet ones.. the funny ones.. and the sad ones .. They ALL shape us into the people we become.. and guide us in the paths we choose in life.

And I have been Blessed by SO MANY shadows in my life!!

This week?

This week as we got together with family….

.. and we watch another loved Auntie battle with cancer..

Cancer is hard. It’s hard to battle.. it is hard to watch..

.. and it is really hard to accept ..

I think about the shadows of memories this Auntie has given to my husband.. to me .. and to my kids.. Her beautiful soul. Her happiness to give.. her capacity to love .. her smiles and laughter.. her joy..

I think about the smiles these shadows will give for years to come..

I’m still not great at telling people how important they are to me.. but this time the shadows reminded me to at least say “love you Auntie” .. and I am so thankful that I got a chance to tell her again this week.

As my family put the ornaments on our newly designed tree.. we found one that our Auntie gave my kids .. She bought it for them when they were small.

.. and I realized…

Christmas trees are full of Shadows.. shadows of Auntie from my childhood and from my adulthood.. shadows of my kids when they were little.. and now that they are big.. shadows of growing as a family.. and shadows that make us tear up..

.. and this Christmas tree?

This Christmas tree shows me exactly how much I have to be thankful for..

..among the weeds…

We planted a garden this summer.. the way we usually do.. Planned which vegetables we wanted to plant.. the way we usually do. And then my husband installed the irrigation system.. the way he always does..

… and then life happened…

This time of year usually finds me knee deep in green beans and surrounded by quart jars of dill pickles..

.. but life happened this summer… and we have neither..

With graduation events.. family trips planned… and family emergencies that weren’t… laughter and camping that were scheduled into our plans… finding a sick kitten in the driveway tube that wasn’t.. lawn mowers that wouldn’t start…  to-do lists that wouldn’t end…

img_0462

… with no rain… high temperatures… and no extra time to weed and pamper the vegetable plants…?? The garden didn’t do well… and by the time we remembered to check on it.. the weeds were high and it was definitely too late to replant…

Wandering through the weeds today, I noticed a couple plants had survived.

One was the reliable zucchini plant. It’s not very exciting but we are really good at growing zucchini in our garden.

More exciting to me.. there were quite a few tomato plants. I always enjoy tomatoes.. especially the little cherry sized ones. NOT to mention fried green tomatoes…

img_0790 YES.. the tomatoes were a good find.

As I pulled back some weeds to give these plants some room to grow.. I stumbled across a couple cucumber plants. Struggling to survive without sunlight.. choked out by the tall weeds.. but still alive.

Excited to see so much surviving in this overgrown and neglected garden, I started pulling weeds with more energy.

As I knelt there in the dirt… I realized our lives are like my garden..

There are seasons where we will not have the energy or resources to water our talents or hobbies. We may not have the time to weed out our bad habits or negative thoughts..

And harvesting? That will have to wait.

When I first became a mom.. the only thing I paid attention to? Yup.. watering those baby plants. The other corners of my garden were virtually forgotten..

When my son was diagnosed with Autism.. and then a mood disorder… Yup.. the corners of my garden grew high with weeds again..

I didn’t water my friendships… I didn’t weed out my worries… I didn’t take time to read for fun.. or to write for enjoyment.. My adventure plants were nearly choked out…

…and my self care?

I don’t think that plant survived…

Doctors and friends often remind me that I never take enough time for myself.

You see?

My “zucchini plant”? My boring, stable.. always present … can’t kill talent?

Taking care of others..

And I do it really well… sometimes too well. So well.. at times.. that I over-volunteer.. I over-work myself.. over commit …

…under eat.. under sleep.. under relax ..

… and forget to leave enough energy to enjoy my interests…

My tomato plants…? My exciting adventure plants… my love to read and write… my love to play baseball in the backyard? .. to watch Jane Austen movies?

Those plants are surviving.. but they don’t have a lot of fruit on them.

And those cuke plants? Friendships and relationships?

Pulling back the weeds, I always find that they are still there. Ready to listen .. and to laugh. But I need to go looking for them more often.

Surprisingly… after the really long year ?

My garden is full of ALL KINDS of interesting things. I pulled out unique plants I have never seen before, beautiful weed flowers.. and huge pricker bushes.

I find that all kinds of beauty.. and ugliness can come from struggles in life. Doubts and bitterness… anger… fears… they can ALL take root in your garden. So can surprise friendships, new knowledge… new skills… blessings in unexpected forms.

While I walked my journey as a parent of a son with Autism.. I had doubts as to whether I could be a good parent.. I had anger that my son had to endure so much.. FEAR that we would never make it past each “phase”… fear that I would fail my son…

… but…

But I also found some amazing friendships among the flowers that walked with us… Paraprofessionals, special education directors, speech therapists, teachers… students in his classes… parents of his peers…

I developed a huge knowledge data base.. that I found could be applied to all kids..

I developed a vast amount of patience… that I didn’t know I had… Patience that I apply to every aspect of my life.

When a difficult season of life was over?

I found myself kneeling in the dirt… pulling weeds.. letting the sun shine on forgotten parts of my life.. finding friendships that I had neglected…

Today I pulled out those pricker bushes… all the fears and anger… Remembering how happy and thriving my kids are… I threw those fears in the pile with the doubts and exhaustion….

But… when my hand came across a weed flower? A friendship I hadn’t expected.. one I didn’t plant… and I certainly didn’t plan for?

I simply smile… and clear the plants surrounding it.

And today.. as I looked around my garden…? Among those weeds..?

I realized that some of my favorite things weren’t planned for…

.. thrive

img_0574As we traveled home from dropping my daughter off at her first apartment, we pulled off on a scenic overlook.

High on a hill overlooking the beautiful Lake Superior, the colors were vibrant.. the lake was calm… The whole area was stunning.

Everything was thriving.

Except one tree…

There in the middle of all the green trees.. in the midst of the green grass growing high… right next to one of the largest supplies of fresh water in the world… ??

Right there was a very brown, very dried up tree.. The brown was such a contrast to the greens around it, that you couldn’t help but notice it.

As I snapped a few pictures of it, I wondered what was eating at it. This tree couldn’t thrive in the most optimal environment.. so something had to be eating at it.

I enjoyed the view for another moment and then continued down the hill to the beach below.. img_0591

The lake was unusually calm.. and it was a beautiful place to take pictures..

As I tried to get artistic with a pile of rocks, my foot came to rest next to a stump in the sand. At first, I thought it was a rock and tried to move it… but it wouldn’t budge.

So I shifted my footing and snapped a picture of it.

A stump… from a tree… that had survived and grown on a sandy beach. No dark rich soil.. No minerals and nutrients… nothing to shelter it from the winds.

As I pushed on the stump again, I could feel how solidly the roots were planted still.

img_0676 Here was a tree who had lived in an environment full of difficulties and right next to a turbulent body of water.

And yet?

Yet.. this tree dug its roots down deep.. deep enough to hold on and thrive for a number of years.

Again my attention was drawn to the brown tree on the hill.

So often we are like these trees.

Some of us are planted in fertile soil.. in a beautiful environment… with so many blessings…

Yet?

And yet… we let things eat at us. Anger.. disappointment… something from our past that we feel like we can’t let go of… Something that has a deep hold on us..

But those things eat at our roots.. and steal the joy from our lives if we let them control us.

When we let those things go?

When we let them go.. they can’t control us anymore. And we can thrive…

I have met a number of people in my life… who are like the stump on the beach. Some of them were parents of kiddos with extreme special needs. Some were people with the most horrific childhoods.. Some survived diseases.. some survived without parents…

But… ?

But they ALL survived…

What stood out about these people?

They stood on the shores of those turbulent waves… they dug their roots down deep…

..and they survived…

In fact?

They didn’t JUST survive.. With smiles on their faces.. and counting their blessings … and reaching out to help others… They were thriving…

I snapped a couple more pictures and thought about my daughter that we just dropped off at college.. I thought about my son that stood there beside me… We have no idea what the future holds for either of them. We have no idea where the future will take either of them…

A smile came to my face as I whispered a prayer for them.

My prayer? … as I sat there in the sand?

My prayer for my kids is that they will thrive wherever they are planted …

… my smile?

My smile is because I believe they will…

Cousins weekend…

Ever since my family moved home to Michigan, I started a new tradition where I picked one weekend, over the summer, and invited all of my nieces and nephews to my house for a sleepover.

Now.. one of my nephews was too old to enjoy this.. and.. some were too young..

..but every year I get a few to come..

Ha! By a “few”.. I mean 10 or more..

This year.. I had 18 kiddos at my house..

Age range .. 4 years to 20!

Doors were left open… noses were skinned… heads were bonked… snow cones were spilled.. a bean bag lost its beans… shaving cream in the eyes… stubbed toes… there were hurt feelings.. disappointment over the rain.. and cancelled bonfires..

…but there was also.. laughter .. games… late night talks.. talking in sleep… snow cones.. sundaes on Sunday… frog hunts.. snuggles… hugs… movie time… swimming… a small obsession with the kitten.. good food… some amazing fairy/gnome/snake houses craft time.. and a lot of new memories made…

Some people ask how me how I can do it?

Well?

I don’t do it by myself. My husband stayed this year for some of it. A couple of my Sisters-in-law stayed and pitched in. This helps with the mixed aged groups. And everyone sends food.

But over all?

I go into this weekend EXPECTING them to act like kids.. and then? I expect chaos. I plan certain activities to give them focus. I provide spaces for them interact.. I give them my expectations.. but give them the freedom to make choices.

And I don’t know? It just falls into place..

But what I do know?

I know that these kids all look forward to it every year… counting down the weeks until it happens.. talking about “next year”…

And every year.. I fall in love with these blessings who create huge messes a little bit more.. until my heart is near to bursting…

So this morning as I clean up beanbag “beans” in my living room.. mop my kitchen floor.. kill the flies buzzing my head… clean up the craft supplies in the garage.. and put away the bounce house..?

I find myself planning for next year…