My Grandfather: King of the Little Things

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James Bodenbender was born in 1933. He died on November 13, 2016. His mother was dearly loved by all who knew her for the way she made her home a haven to those who entered. His father died when he was just 10 years old. He didn’t graduate high school, because he signed up to join the army. He fought in the Korean War, serving his country well. He was a scrappy young man with a love for beer and ladies. Always ready with a swagger and an outrageous story to tell.  He was a boxer, and no stranger to bar fights. Apparently even once fighting a peacock in a bar! That’s the man I’ve heard tale of, but he isn’t the man I knew in my lifetime. He would always tell us stories…elaborate, unbelievable stories. We never really knew if they were true or not, but then again, Grandpa was such a character anything seemed possible. Some were from his boxing days…or stories about other interesting characters he knew. We had nicknames for him…Grandpa Dundee because of his Crocodile Dundee hat and most well-known, Grandpa Holy Mackerel…due to his vivacious love for the phrase: “Hoooooly Mackerel!!”

What I didn’t know about my grandfather is that he achieved the unheard of honor of working his way from general laborer to superintendent in his construction career, educating himself on engineering by reading books. My mother described his work as blowing up mountains to build roads and bridges through them. I’m sure it was much more complex than that, of course. But, he was a proud, hard-working, intelligent man who did not allow the lack of a traditional education to keep him from educating himself and achieving his goals.

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He married my grandmother, Marge, and they had six children. Their relationship was tumultuous, as he continued his outrageous antics. Both with fiery personalities and a strong will, they divorced while the children were still young. Proud and stubborn, neither admitted it much, but a tender place remained in their hearts beneath the pain. For, they did dearly love each other once. And, that kind of love doesn’t just disappear.

Doris was the woman I saw him with the most when we were growing up. He would smile with his entire face, eyes disappearing, as he put his arm around her, or my mother, or me. Many of our family vacations included visits to the various places he lived. He usually lived in places that had hills or mountains…so it was always a beautiful drive. Much more to feast our eyes on than the flat lands of our home in the Midwest. I especially loved to visit him in the fall when the trees were changing colors. Gorgeous tree-covered mountain splendor. We would play car bingo and eat snacks on the way. He had an Atari and an Intellivision that we loved. And a keyboard that played different rhythms. One time, we found the best walking stick ever and walked around the mountains with our find. My brothers loved it! You really can’t beat a good walking stick. Grandpa was telling us stories about mountain lions (which may or may not have actually lived in the area) while we walked. Doris was a southern lady, and always looked at our grandfather with such admiration. She was welcoming and kind, although they two had their troubles. After they parted ways, he moved to our small town for a time, much to my mother’s delight. She always had a special bond with him and it meant so much to her to have him close. My youngest brother, Sean, took a special liking to Grandpa in those days and they’ve continued their bond through the years. They  are two peas in a pod, full of bologna, crazy antics, and unbelievable stories.  His time with us included a whirlwind road trip, a pet pig (in town), and holidays with his famous grin.

Elaine was the woman who loved him during the last 12 years of his life, caring for him in sickness, watching the Molly B Polka Show, and laughing with him. They called each other each night at 7pm if they were apart.  Grandpa loved her and her children and grandchildren as if they were his own. He was so grateful for her part in his life, and so are we.

Reflecting on his life and love in the last few weeks, I wrote…

We talked today about the thing that matters most as we reflect back on our lives…love. He held my hand tightly, whispering, “There’s so much love…so many different kinds of love…in this world. So many, I don’t even know. It’s the only thing that matters.”

My grandfather was a simple man, shopping at the Goodwill store and flea markets. Oh, how he loved a good deal! He found simple treasures everywhere. Jars and jars of his beloved marbles. Bells he collected, rescuing and repairing the broken ones to fill his time. In the last days of life, he said, “You don’t think the little things matter much, but they do. They mean so much. The little things are everything.”

He loved nature, building a house in the country with a fish-filled pond near the woods where deer and the occasional fox would wander. He made the best venison jerky around. He fed the birds and laughed at the squirrels from his porch swing. A mighty, strong man, he overcame a stroke, various forms of cancer, heart disease, and more throughout his time on earth.

Regarding one health scare in 2009, (from a former blog post):

“Grandpa was just battling for his own life in the hospital recently. He woke up not able to walk. He crawled to the door and drove himself to the hospital. After frightening a nurse when he motioned to her to come to the car (it was the middle of the night.), someone finally brought him a wheelchair and got him into the hospital. Yes…most people would have just called the EMS. Grandpa Dundee is not most people. After being told, his chances were very grim. And if he walked again, he would have to recover in a nursing home, Grandpa said, (not so sweetly) that he would have none of it. He walked out of the hospital several days later. And he is currently at home, in his house in the country, refusing a nurse’s care. Watching the squirrels slide down the pole (that he greased, so they couldn’t steal the bird seed in the bird feeder!) And eating his six year old turkey jerky. Because he can.”

He lived 7 more years after that.

Much of his last days brought back memories of watching our mother at the end of her life. I wrote these words one week ago:

At the end of her life, my grandfather sat beside my mother’s bedside, just to her left, for 4 weeks. While others were in and out, it was mostly the three of us: my youngest brother Sean, Grandpa, and me…sitting by her bed, interpreting her moans, listening to her raspy breathing patterns, stroking her hair. Me singing or saying a prayer. Mom occasionally waking for a one-liner.

I have buried three of my children, and I can honestly say…those 4 weeks of watching her suffer were the most traumatic of my life…of our lives. It was an honor and a privilege…beauty in the broken…but it was utterly…life-changing…devastating.

The three of us understood like no one else what she endured. My love for our grandfather…and desire to honor him for staying with her…with us…is beyond description. Not only did we not want to leave her in those days…we didn’t want to leave each other…like soldiers in battle together.

Yesterday, I walked into the hospice center…and sat beside him to his left…

We spent so much time with him this month, soaking in his last days. He spoke some of his regrets and I reminded him of the grace and forgiveness Jesus gives us. Nothing can separate us from His love. While looking through boxes of pictures and other mementos he kept throughout the years, I sat in awe, picturing him with a proud grin as he cut out newspaper articles from when his son ran for County Sheriff, my feisty mother’s letters to the editor on a crusade to right the wrongs of the world,  or when his grandchildren were featured in the newspaper for their sports achievements. He was quiet and proud, spending so much time alone. But, it was evident that his family was never far from his heart. I had no idea how much every note, every picture displayed with pride on his refrigerator…meant to him. How he treasured every little piece of our lives. He was in hospice care for 3 weeks at home and spent one week in the in-patient facility before passing on to glory. He said several times that those 3 weeks had been the best of his life, surrounded by love and family. He had seen his family more in the last 3 weeks than he had in the last 30 years. Those words pierced my heart in a way I hope to never forget.

Many precious hours have been spent holding my grandfather’s hand the last few weeks. In the picture above, as my sister-in-law, Megan, and I were holding his hands, he put them together. Such beauty in the holding of a hand. Even when there are no words spoken, love is expressed.

Time stops at the beginning and the end of our earthly lives, so that we soak in the moments that matter. I wish we stopped a little more in the middle, sometimes.

 

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What Family Looks Like

Families are full of broken people. Mine is no exception. To be completely real, I come from a long line of brokenness. Tonight, the Irish melancholy has settled deep into my bones, as I reflect on a single question.

“Which list do you want to read?”

Tim and I were helping with our town’s Memorial Day celebration to honor our local fallen heroes. And, in addition to singing the national anthem and America the Beautiful, we, along with several others, would each read a list of names of the brave men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedom.  Our friend was asking which list I wanted to read.

It was a simple question. But, I can’t shake it. The last names tell much more of a story than a page could hold. And, so did his question. My mother was married three times. I called two of those men “dad”. After the second divorce, I wasn’t calling the third by that name. A trail of broken pieces left me hesitant to let anyone else have that title. I understand with the logical side of my mind that people get married young and things don’t work out sometimes. I understand that dads don’t always know what to do with daughters when there is no wife/mother to come alongside and guide them. I understand that sometimes leaving seems better, when the marriage relationship has turned hostile and the mother wants the father gone. It is hard to write these things, because even now, I worry about hurting the ones that left, the ones that did the best they could, the ones who maybe want to say it wasn’t personal. But, none of that logic mattered to my young heart. I learned quickly that people will leave you. People who are supposed to stay, leave. I still struggle with the leaving, even the good kind.

I couldn’t shake the question “Which list of names do you want to read?”. All day, I thought of it, and my answer. Which came so quickly. And, held within it more than the one word response I gave.

That question really posed another question, “Where do you belong?”

I didn’t give the real answer…that I don’t belong with either list of names. Or that I never really felt like I fully belonged anywhere, growing up. If you saw me being the life of the party, or the getting crowned Homecoming Queen, or riding on some boy’s motorcycle, don’t be fooled. The louder and brighter someone is, the more they’re trying to cover…sometimes. At least I was. I only felt at home on a stage, playing the part of someone else.  Back then. It’s interesting how God has brought me to a place where I still stand on a stage, but I’m required to be the most real, and tell the most sacred stories of my heart. No hiding behind a character. No hiding behind anything. Sometimes I wish I could hide. But, the truth is always more freeing than what we choose to hide behind.

I always wondered what family should look like. My mother was family. She made me crazy, but she was always there. Until she wasn’t. Until cancer took her home. I could relate to my father’s sisters the few times I saw them, and occasionally to my family on my mother’s side. There are similarities that only family can have sometimes. I see those glimpses in my father, too. And, I remember the parts of them they left with me.

But, family that isn’t broken. What does that look like?

I suppose we all wonder that. Because we are all broken in some way, and every family has it’s pieces left behind wondering. A couple weekends ago, I was feeling lonely, missing my mother, realizing as Timothy has grown up and James doesn’t want to hang out with mom so much, the full effect of having the generations so crisply cut off around me. I am a daughter without her mother and mother without her daughters. I have beautiful sons. But, my daughters are not here. I realize this truth starkly each time I have to go somewhere alone. A place that it would be handy to have my mom with me, or my girls. I miss the familiar laughter that once filled her kitchen with an ache that words fail to describe. I miss what was and what would’ve been.

I was missing them so much as I drove to a craft fundraiser some beautiful people were hosting for SGM a couple Saturdays ago. I was reflecting on family and the expectations we place on people, just because we are related. I was hoping some people in my family who lived nearby might come to the fundraiser. There are a couple who support what we’re doing to reach out to families. But, most are busy with other things. I understand. We are busy too.

But, on Sunday of that same weekend, weary from a string of events and standing in front of people and telling the story of our Faith, Grace, and Thomas over and over again, we hosted the SGM Ice Cream Social at our church. It is hard to ask people over and over again to come to events and support SGM. Many of the same people give, again and again. We are always so grateful, and don’t want to be a burden. As we began to serve more than 185 hot dogs and about 9 gallons of ice cream to those who filed in to support SGM, I realized…

This is what family looks like.

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Thank you to those of you who serve alongside us in this ministry, in so many different ways, and thank you to our amazing church. You are our family. And we are so grateful for the beautiful ways that our Father provides.

If You Really Want to Be a Non-Conformist

I was on my daily walk this morning, thinking thoughts and listening to John Mayer’s lyrical genius and folksy melodies.

As he sang:

“Don’t be scared to walk alone. Don’t be scared to like it…

Dream your dreams, but don’t pretend.

Make friends with what you are…”

I nodded, smiling, alternating between a walk and a jog. You never know, who or what God may use to speak to your heart. It’s good to be open and listening.

How much we sometimes want to be liked and understood by others. How difficult it can be to stand alone, while it seems most of the world is walking a different way. But, maybe, just maybe…we can embrace and enjoy a bit of solitude.  Now that I’m working from home, I’ve experienced more alone time than ever in my adult life. I have some friends who have been called to truly stand alone…more alone than I have known. Moms, whose children are grown, and husband’s have passed. I thought of them, as my feet pounded the pavement, praying as I walked…that they would feel the Lord’s presence, His love piercing through the loneliness.

I thought of our kids, and how important it is to teach them to stand on their own, to be independent. To have the courage to stand for what is right, and the grace to respect others when they disagree. Not to be swayed by the influences of others, or deceived by the political correctness that permeates our world. It isn’t popular to ask them to choose the narrow path. Sometimes the Lord calls us to do things outside of the box, making no earthly sense.

If you really want to be a non-conformist, follow Jesus.

Girls, if you really want to shake things up, really want to be different, put away the spandex and stilt-like heels, and dress modestly. Be courageous enough to be noticed for your true beauty. Boys, if you really want an adventure, really want to change the world, turn things upside down living for Him. Know the truth and be set free by it. Keep your word, have respect for yourself, uphold integrity. Really want to be strong? Resist the constant flow of temptations to compromise. Anyone can give in and cave. Dare to be different. Dare to stand. Dare to walk the path you’re given with grace and strength. Embrace the person God created you to be.

And, if no one else stands with you… “don’t be scared to walk alone…and don’t be scared to like it…make friends with what you are”.

I’m kind of liking it.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. ~ Romans 12:2

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

My life is surrounded with boys. Most of the time, I’m fine with that.

This weekend, however, I was having a bit of male overload. Sometimes men/boys are abrupt, brash, and every once in awhile, not always patient and sensitive with girly ways. (Most of the time, they could earn the title of sainthood with their understanding…just every once in awhile….notsomuch.) I understand that they speak a different language. I know they like to be active, get dirty, think it’s funny to make inappropriate noises no matter how old they are, and other unpleasantries. I’ve embraced a love for watching football, baseball, golf, and even playing the latter. Not as well as they do, of course, but I look cute doing it.

Usually, I take the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach. I feed them yummy food and laugh while listening to their stories, overlooking their sometimes rugged ways. And, even to some extent appreciating some of it.

This weekend, I was feeling a bit done when each of them took a turn displaying their abrupt man-ness. They were busy, tired, or distracted, but it felt personal. And, I was thinking I’m outnumbered here, with these man people. I sat at the feet of Jesus, feeling a bit sorry for myself for a few minutes.

Then, I dusted myself off, and joined in shooting BB guns with the Tims, James, and Hannah (Timothy’s girlfriend). The next day, I put the grubby worms on the hook and learned to take my own fish off when we spent Labor Day fishing. I caught 12 fish! Tim and James each caught 2. I laughed and forgot about being done with these man people…the ones I love dearly. I can (and do) fill books with the reasons I’m grateful they are walking through this life me. They are my gifts, most precious.

And, anyway, if you can’ t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em. :)

Happy Birthday, Sweet Thomas ~ The Day Jesus Came Near

Happy 14 years in heaven to our sweet Thomas Patrick, who taught us about believing without seeing, and clinging to the hem of His garment. You brought heaven as close as a whisper, sweet boy. Today, we celebrate your life together as a family…your birthday and mine. Dreaming our dreams of you…until we hold you again.

Every time I look at this picture, I remember the day Jesus came near and kept His promise never to leave or forsake us. He came to carry our sweet baby home, and filled my heart with peace. That’s how I know He is who He says He is. That’s why I cling to Him still. I can never tell the story of Thomas without sharing the hope of the One who met us there, filling my heart with songs of joy in place of sorrow. If you ask me how I know that Jesus will carry you through the darkest valley, my answer will always be, I know…because He carried me.

Today, we will celebrate Thomas’ life and birthday mine (which was July 12th) together as a family, with dinner and a movie.

And, we remember always, the day Jesus came near…

Mamas Stop Searching

It’s tempting to have a heart that wanders. The Israelites mastered the art of it quite well, even with the Lord speaking audibly to them, giving them visible affirmations of His presence.

They wandered, often choosing the wilderness instead of the promised land.

We all do. When my children were younger, I was still so young as well, and in moments tempted to spread my wings, searching for the next thing to fulfill my wanderlust. A career? A calling? A dream to pursue? The Lord would always gently pull me back toward home, reminding me that I already had a calling, no need to search for something more. What could be more important than these lives, standing before me with brown eyes beckoning?

There were moments when I wondered what I was missing. After all, I once was a girl who longed to be on the stage, felt at home there, playing the part of someone else, reassured with accolades, affirmed with applause. But those temptations passed, quickly by, paling in light of their soft little boy cheeks, brown eyes looking up at me, filled with stories to tell and mouths to feed. I melted at the truth, the intense reality of the gift that they would tell me the stories of their hearts.

I was given a voice. Not as grand as many.  Nothing special, really. But, a voice nonetheless. For singing, for speaking words, for praying, for worshipping, for comforting, for admonishing, for encouraging. A voice meant to lift up, to speak love, to impart grace. Do I use my voice for that? Do I count it for the privilege it is? Sacred, this fleeting gift.

I watch the mamas, searching for something else. Something that gratifies, satisfies, fulfills. But, nothing will. Nothing will, like listening to their stories and soaking in the gift of them wholly. I am among those rushing by without noticing, sometimes, swept into the flurry of the days. But, when I stop, the fullness of soaking them in astounds me. We need not rush, striving and seeking, dear mamas, for what lies right before us, sleeping soundly in their beds.

I sing on a stage, often. Humble stages, church stages. Sometimes to worship my God. Sometimes to honor my country. Sometimes to celebrate the joining of two lives. But, last night, when James couldn’t sleep, and he asked me to sing to him, something soft and quiet to help him rest, my heart swelled. I sat on the floor, in the dark, quietly singing Amazing Grace. My God, my boy, and my humble voice, being used for the purpose He planned. I closed my eyes, remembering the gift of singing to Timothy and James as babes nestled safely in my arms, singing over my mother in her last days, singing over Thomas in his last moments as Jesus carried him home, singing worship songs through tears on my face in my room. The fullness that comes from doing exactly what we are born to do evident and flowing abundant, more so than anytime I stood on a stage.

I was chatting with some mamas yesterday, beautiful mamas whose hearts are firmly turned toward home, moms who know the value of being there and soaking in right now. They were talking about the practical matters of raising and training up our children. I was reflecting on the years I spent on the details, wondering if my children would ever grasp this or that, would I teach them adequately? Would they ever learn? I don’t worry about that anymore. (Not that I don’t still worry about some things!) It has all become quite simple and ridiculously free.

The most important things to know to mother boys (and maybe this is true for girls as well, but I don’t know a lot about that):

Honor God with your life. Live it. What you do speaks volumes more than what you say.

Teach them to see God’s hand in everything, to love His Word.

Be available. In the morning, in the middle of the day, in the wee hours of the night.

Listen, and truly care about their stories. Love what matters to them. It is a sacred gift that they want to tell you their stories. Value and respect it.

If their rooms are messy, close the door and go bake them cookies. Your time is limited…they will not be there to make a messy room or eat your cookies forever.

If boys fill your kitchen, no matter how many, no matter how tired you are, filling their bellies and listening to them fill your house with their laughter and stories will fill your heart more than anything else on planet earth. It is a gift that they want to be in your kitchen.

Stop searching and enjoy them.

Give them…and you grace, abundant grace.

Laugh with them.

Embrace who they are and encourage them to soar with their gifts.

 

Wanda Wilmetta

Yesterday, we dressed in our funeral clothes and stood by the grave to say goodbye to my great-uncle Ken, a man I didn’t know well. You can tell a lot by a person if you look at their family, though. And, in seeing the love they had for him, I know he was a wonderful, loving husband, father, Paw (Grandpa), uncle, brother, and friend. He will be deeply missed by many, including my father, who loved him dearly.

I saw my father for the third time in a month. Possibly a record for us, as we are swoopers. We swoop in and out of each other’s lives. I think I can say that, and he won’t mind. We’ve come to terms with it. And, we’re both swooping in more often, it seems. (Besides, it’s 4:00am, and one of those nights where I can’t sleep, and we all know I’m more honest and free with my words in the wee hours of the night/morning.)

I watched my Great Aunt Mary, wife to Ken, strong and beautiful, standing by his casket, draping the white cloth over the top of her beloved, with the children robed in white and bearing incense standing near the priest. I come from Irish Catholic people, I noted. As I looked around me, I was reminded of the Kennedys. I’m not sure what my family would think of that estimation. Hopefully, they would be honored. That’s how I mean it, of course. I wonder if they notice that I am soaking in the history each time I’m around them, taking note of their memories, being filled with the music of their laughter, and aching with them today as I see their tears, recognizing the curly (and, in my case, unruly) hair, expressive personalities, and womanly curves of my aunts. Recognizing, because of my own reflection. I want to know their stories, and learn about who they are.

During the service, they read some of my favorite verses from John 14:1-6, verses I have clung to, many times, through many goodbyes:

 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, thereyou may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Ken is buried beside my Papa and Grandma, my father’s parents. I saw our family name etched on the stone. It caught my eye immediately as our heels scraped across the drought-stricken dirt, no sinking in the mud on this day, while we listened to the prayers of the priest. I walked over to their grave to pay homage to the grandparents I often saw during my weekend visits when I was a young child. I noticed their middle initials, and inquired, seeing my grandmother’s name, Wanda W. What could her middle name possibly be? How could they have found another W name to go with Wanda?!

Wanda Wilmetta was the answer. Oh my, was my reply! Now that is one sassy name! And, my grandfather, whom we affectionately called Papa…was called Edgar Leonardi. Wanda Wilmetta and Edgar Leonardi somehow found one another, two with very distinctive names and personalities. He with his inventor mind, and she with her love for vibrant color, looking gorgeous in violet. She even had violet lipstick and a bright violet suede jacket with fringes. She was fabulous and kind and had a sweet quavery voice. I loved when she would let us get french fries at the Dairy Queen across the street. (Of course, I would get french fries…and not care about the ice cream. Ha!) My Papa always told my cousin Mary Lynn and I that we were beautiful. They drove big cars, Lincolns or Cadillacs, I think, and lived in a big house filled with eclectic furniture and a Victorian flair. They had a white dog named Egore whom I’m pretty sure was deaf. At Christmas, it was always exciting. Santa would leave a huge bag of presents for us on the porch. I loved that. I had a nurse’s uniform and a little cart for all my “equipment”.

  

 

It is good to remember…and to learn where we came from. It helps us to know who we are, and shapes who we will be. We are meant to connect and show love. Just as joy and grief dance their dances sacredly together, so must history and future intertwine. I come from a long line of strong, sassy, beautiful, colorful, amazing women. From both sides of my family.

Wanda Wilmetta, whose name is as vibrant as the color pallet of her wardrobe and whose eyes disappeared when she smiled, is among them.

Some Musings About Fathers ~ Leading by Example

I spend a lot of time on the golf course with my sons. Timothy, I have followed behind, careful not to distract him from his focus. He never wanted me overly involved in golf or anything else. He greatly values his independence, and has always been that way, from the day he was born. James doesn’t mind my presence a bit. He will still hug his mama and allows me to walk with him on the course, rather than staying many yards behind. He talks to me in between shots.

God made my boys very different. They each have their own unique personalities. As a mom, I have the privilege of enjoying their boyness, listening to their stories, standing in awe as it becomes evident that bodily noises remain hysterical to them no matter how old they get, making them treats, encouraging them in their pursuits, nurturing them, and praying my heart out for them.

But, I don’t know how to help them become men, to inspire them to rise to the occasion, to lead by example, to show them how to throw a ball, change the oil, run a piece of construction equipment. That’s why God have them a father.

I am so grateful for my husband, and the gift of fathers to our children.

Yesterday, as I walked the golf course with James, the other father in the group felt compelled to give advice, not only to his son, but mine as well. Relentless advice. With every shot. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, and he meant it for good. James did not seem annoyed as he listened patiently, but, it was bothersome to me. I realized that my husband doesn’t do that. It made me grateful for his quiet way. I remember years ago, thinking and praying about his quietness, sometimes concerned because he didn’t parent or communicate the way I did. I didn’t understand that he could inspire, often without a word. He led so much more by example than with many words. Again, I don’t always understand what it takes to grow a young man, to inspire him to be more than he thought he could. My husband, quietly does it. He does it with our children, and other young men who have come into his life, and worked for him over the years. He is the kind of guy you can respect and trust. He leads by example, and by allowing a person to try something and maybe even get it wrong. He doesn’t hover over them, requiring perfection, or hounding them to get it right. He gives a little advice when asked. But, he doesn’t push his opinion on our boys or others. He is humble. He never told them what sport to play, or discouraged them from trying something. He supported their choices with his presence.

As a mom, I don’t always understand what is needed to grow the heart of a man, to shape and mold him into what he needs to be to lead his family, love his wife, work hard to support and protect his family and home. But, my husband does. And, I’m so grateful. Believe me, I’ve learned a great deal about the hearts of men and boys as God has surrounded me with them. In many ways, I’ve taken the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. But, this girly-girl can only do so much in the land of boy. I’m so grateful we are in this together….so grateful for the gift of dads.

When you drive into Paris Island, (the place where basic training is held for Marines, otherwise known as “boot camp”), there is a sign that says, “We Make Marines”.  A shaping and molding takes place after they spend time there, a proven formula, that transforms young men into Marines. I like to think the same is true for a good dad. Many could put a sign in their own yards: “We Make Honorable Men”. Men who will love and serve Jesus, love their families, work hard, and be good citizens. As parents, we do this job like anything else, imperfectly, filtered through our own weaknesses and sins. But, it’s good to have a goal, a word picture, a standard to rise to. Boys need that. And, so do we. It’s also good to have a road map, a plan. We have God’s Word for that, and we can pray for the wisdom, the strength, the perseverance to parent the way we should. Good dads are strong enough to know when they need to lean on Him.

I’ll never forget, after many years of going to church without my husband, the day when we sat in the church pew together. As he folded his calloused hands to pray, I noticed a very young James look over at him and fold his hands carefully to match. I realized that in all my years of telling about the Lord and reading scripture (all important and necessary and good), that one act from his father, leading by example was just as needed, just as powerful in shaping his life, if not more so than any of my words. Showing sometimes speaks volumes more than telling, especially in the hearts of young men.

 

Graduation, Memorial Day…And the First Day of the Rest of My Life

I like to say, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. My friend Tracy hates that saying. But, I like it. It’s akin to…”His mercies are new every morning” (See Lamentations 3). A promise I heartily embrace, often needing the grace of a fresh start.

Tuesday, in the aftermath of our oldest son’s graduation celebration and our annual Memorial Day festivities, I sat in my new office (i.e., the patio Tim built just days before the party), soaking in the reality that a new beginning of monumental proportions was upon us. The birds sang, the sun shone down, and I breathed slow and easy. I didn’t feel the usual overwhelming grip as I read through the emails and looked at the upcoming schedule of events to plan, speaking engagements, interviews, and fundraising opportunities. I felt peace. I felt free. Free to serve the Lord and take care of my family’s needs. Gratefulness swept over me. Eucharisteo. Soaking in this moment. This first day of the rest of my life. (For those who may have missed the announcement, I will not be returning to my full-time school job next year, but will be working from home to devote my time to family and serving through SGM.)

I reflected on the weekend.

For months before our oldest son walked down the aisle of the high school gym robed in royal blue, to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, the emotion poured from my heart and the tears fell freely from my eyes. The idea of this season coming to an end, even as we anticipate the new beginnings in his life, has not been easy to embrace. He has always been here, after all. Our entire marriage. Our entire adult life. Through the losses. Through the celebrations.

I dreaded what I will affectionately refer to as the “building of the shrine” and procrastinated the task until just a couple weeks before graduation day. But, it turns out, as I sat in my living room surrounded with the pictures that told a story of his life….of our lives…I smiled and laughed. Joy bubbled up, and I was able to embrace and celebrate the gifts of our family. Pictures from my own graduation were strewn in the midst. Pictures of my mother young and healthy, and alive. Pictures of  husband Tim, also wearing the blue graduation robe, looking much like his son. The tears didn’t fall until the “shrine” was complete….and his life literally unfolded before me. Eighteen years…years filled with great blessing.

 

Later that week, just a few days before graduation, I was reminded of a sweet classmate of the 2012 class that was killed by a drunk driver in the second grade. Her family would be receiving an honorary diploma, in Cassie’s name, during the ceremony. I looked again at my shrine, and the unfolding of Timothy’s life, and was humbled by my weeping over what was about to change. In that moment, I realized, we had been given all these years to tell his story. I thought of Cassie’s family, who long to be able to shed their tears over the sentimental passing of years filled with memories, instead of the ache of missing, that I also know well. I desired joy and celebration for what we had been given. And, when graduation day came, that’s exactly what filled the day. Joy and celebration. And, pride (the good kind….the kind that knows that God has been faithful when we are faithless, that somehow, despite all our inadequacies as parents, our son is filled with the character and qualities we have prayed for and more….because of His grace.). The only tears during the ceremony for me, were those shed for Cassie and her family.

The party was such busy fun. Friends and family filled our yard and garage. Corn hole was played, food was eaten, laughter rang out. I felt like I was in a blender greeting, thanking, filling, smiling, hugging, and saying goodbye to guests. It was splendid fun. And, joy abounded. We had tents with tables beneath in the yard and tables filling the garage. Children ran around happily, and bellies were filled with delicious food.

 

Have I mentioned how much I love these boys? My Tim and Ian….so proud of them.

And, love these boys, of course.  My Timothy and James….so proud of them. Cute brothers!

 

The next morning, we arose early to attend the Memorial Day services hosted in our tiny town, by the American Legion Post 316 and the Sons of the American Legion. Our band, One Way, was performing a couple songs, and I had the honor of singing the National Anthem and reading some of the names of the Veterans who are no longer with us. We were also blessed to hear the story of a local Vietnam Veteran, Steve Wing. The tears flowed freely as he spoke of his service and the sacrifice of one of his fellow servicemen, his friend. It was a beautiful time to honor those who serve our country.

 

The Saturday before, I did make a trip to the cemetery. A rare trip. Most of you who have been reading here know I don’t visit the cemetery much. I like to think of my babies and mom in heaven. The cemetery is not a comforting place to me. But, I went. It seemed they needed to be included somehow as we celebrated Timothy’s graduation and remembered those who served our country….and those we love who are no longer with us. I decided they needed red, white, and blue flowers. Sometimes I go. Sometimes I don’t. This year, I went. There aren’t any pictures of my time there, though.

As we look ahead to new beginnings and adventures, I hope you’ll continue to join our family and pray for us and for this ministry. God is working in mighty ways. I have much to share about coming events and other blessings that have already occurred. Thank you to all who support us, and stay tuned!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…and mine. Love to all…

P.S. Thank you to those of you who offered your prayers for my friend Tracy, and her family, as we celebrated the life of her mother, Louise on Thursday. Your prayers were felt, and the Lord’s hand was evident through all the events of the day. It was a beautiful time of remembrance for a very special lady.

A Flying Leap of Faith…Some Big Life Changes…and More Goodbyes

The last thing I should be doing is writing a blog post.

In just a few days, a very large amount of people will be coming to my house to celebrate our oldest son’s high school graduation.

And, my house is a mess.

What we affectionately call the “graduation shrine” has been built. You know…the display of pictures that tell the life story of our kids. I had put off going through the pictures for so long, dreading the memories and missing that would inevitably flood my psyche. It turns out, I laughed out loud much more than I cried as I weeded through the years tucked safely in Rubbermaid containers. There was one moment when the display was finished and my boy’s life was laid out before me that the emotion came, waves crashing hard and fast. But, most of the time, I laughed and smiled fondly. We have been given such precious gifts. Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us…that we should be called His….and that we, for however long or briefly, should be entrusted with the care of these precious, amazing people. I get to be called Mother by each of them. Mother to Timothy, firstborn and first to steal my heart. Mother to Faith and Grace, running in heaven’s meadows until we meet again. Mother to sweet Thomas, who taught us about believing without seeing. We will never forget. And, Mother to James, the one who came to stay, and brought joy with him.

I get to sit in my front room surrounded by memories, sweet and precious. I live in a house, that has known grief, but is mostly filled with laughter and joy…all the sweeter because we have wept.

For the past six years, I have worked as a paraprofessional assisting special needs children in a typical classroom. I have been with the same student for five years, and the class of children, moving up a grade level each year. Working full time has always been a bit of a stretch for me, as I struggle to maintain home life and Sufficient Grace Ministries. My heart has often been torn between the three commitments, and I admit to doing things out of order at times. Just trying to survive the day the best we could. I love the students I work with more than I can ever express. They have taught me about the impact we can have on another life, just by being willing to truly care and listen and  love. They have inspired me with their gifts and abilities. H., who often reminds me of my Ian, and draws me beautifully designed pictures. K.B., strong like his father, but kind-hearted and thoughtful, a deep thinker, who notices much that others miss. B., who always took time for my J.P. and C., who never leaves without hugging me. He has hugged me goodbye, almost everyday, since first grade. A., whose enthusiasm for life and bright smile always bring joy to my heart. And, so many others. Especially my J.P., who swears he will never miss me, and teases me relentlessly about my fear of cats and anything else he can think of, who is sometimes stubborn and willful, and independent, and amazing, an overcomer, a hard worker, a wonderful artist, a quick-witted, Mario-loving,  incredible, intelligent, and sometimes very sweet boy.

But, the time has come for a very hard goodbye.

After many prayers and some recent changes in my position, I will be leaving my current job, and will be working with the ministry full time. Sufficient Grace has grown in recent years, and we’ve found that it is difficult to run the ministry effectively while not being able to devote the time required to fulfill it’s needs. This will help us keep up with our shipments and correspondence, as well as develop the plans we have on our hearts to better serve grieving families, through a possible perinatal hospice, more hospital seminars, meeting with families in person, more online support, and more availability. It will also help to have someone organizing the growing number of volunteers serving SGM. I have had so much on my heart and a vision for the growth of this ministry. While I wasn’t expecting to leave my job so soon, God’s timing isn’t always what we expect. Holly, Becki, Tim, and I are all on the same page about SGM, understanding the growing needs. We look forward to seeing where the Lord will take us on this adventure as we take a big leap, trusting Him.

I also look forward to being available for the ministry, and for our family. Some days, it has seemed like we are lacking a wife and fully focused mother. It will be good to put things in order again…God, family, ministry. In the past, I have not been compensated financially for my time with SGM. We, as a board, have been discussing how that may change now that I will be leaving my job to devote more time to the ministry. We will be ironing all of that out as we move forward, but one area we have discussed will be our family’s health coverage. The ministry will be covering that cost, beginning when our current coverage ends, and we are prayerfully looking into ways to ease that burden through funding. The Lord is certainly aware of the needs, and He has been faithful to provide.

Since many of you have supported SGM, I feel it’s important to disclose these upcoming changes, and to ask for your continued prayers as we navigate these uncharted waters. We will also meet with our lawyer to make sure everything is appropriately handled in keeping with non-profit organization rules.

Thank you for your continued support for SGM and for your prayers. Please keep praying, if you don’t mind. I truly stink at goodbyes, and as grateful as I am for what the Lord is doing, there is also a painful tearing of my heart as I leave these children and teachers, whom I have grown to love so much. All in the midst of preparing for my oldest son to graduate, with plans to enlist in the Marines soon. Goodbyes abound. And, I am being stretched…and clinging to Him, still.