Grandparenting, revisit

We’ve had two consecutive weekends of family reunion. This past Saturday, July 27 2019, my mother and her brothers gathered with their children and grandchildren. As we talked and laughed, I remembered my grandparents, the patriarchs of this crew, and the impact they had on me, so I re-share this post from March 2015 — my thoughts on grandparenting.

I have so many memories of my grandparents. I was blessed to have a great-grandmother until I was twenty-four, and grandparents until I was in my forties. Growing up, these three were central to my life. They were at every birthday and major celebration, and we often visited them since they lived just an hour away. Time with my grandparents was a highlight of my childhood; I eagerly looked forward to every visit.

Now, when my husband and I are anticipating a visit with our own grandchildren, I can clearly remember countless hours spent with my nose pressed against a window waiting for visits with my grandparents.

My husband asked me once, “Do you remember why you wanted to see them so badly?” Without hesitation I responded, “They were always happy to see me!” And that is the truth. Every time we visited our grandparents, they gushed; their faces lit up; and they hugged us exclaiming how much we’d grown — even if they’d seen us just a couple weeks earlier.

My great grandmother, who lived to be 95, would always meet us at the door smiling through the window with her sparkly eyes as she watched us climb from the car. She laughed as she hugged as at the door and welcomed us to come in, take off our coats, and have something to eat.  On special occasions, like Christmas Eve or Mother’s Day, the WHOLE family would visit her — that meant twenty or more people all squished into her small living room — on couches, chairs, stools, and the floor — listening to her share stories of days long past. I don’t ever remember being bored. I remember feeling enveloped in love. And I remember her sour cream cookies — oh, man, such melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

My grandpa and grandma’s house was about five minutes away from my great grandmother’s. As a young girl I learned to recognize the signs that we were getting close — we crossed the draw bridge over the Saginaw River, drove past the huge houses on Center Avenue, then turned at the gas station on Pine Street. The anticipation built as we drove the last four blocks, and I could hardly wait to burst out of the car and run to the door to ring the bell. My little grandma (we called her that because, well, she was little, but also to distinguish her from ‘great’ grandma) was often already standing at the door, an apron tied around her waist. She dressed better than anyone I knew –color-coordinated and accessorized in classic styles– and was always cooking something fabulous for us. She would open the door, and right behind her would be grandpa. Grandma would give us a kiss and a squish, then we would get the same from grandpa. Whenever my grandparents hugged me, I felt like they had had their noses pressed against the glass waiting for me to get there.

I’ve seen my mother and father do the same thing with my kids.

My mother always fills the fridge and the candy dishes in anticipation of our visits. She has the beds freshly made and something special set on a table for each one — a set of towels, a photo album, a pair of earrings. She hugs each grandchild and listens to every little detail that they are willing to share. She watches at the window waiting for the grandkids get there and is always sad when they leave.

When we travel to see my dad, I always give a call as we leave our house. It has never been less than a four hour drive, but when I say, “We’re leaving now,” he says, “I’ll be watching out the window for you.” It doesn’t matter how long it takes us to get there, he is always standing in the door when we drive in. He laughs his soft laugh as he envelops each grandkid in his arms like he’s been waiting his whole life for that hug.

That’s what grandparents do — they love their grandkids like it is their sole created purpose. It’s innate — a grandparent does not need to be taught this behavior.

We were driving to Cincinnati to see our little muffin when she was just an infant, and I was watching the GPS from the time we pulled out of our driveway. The original ETA was projected shortly before 5pm, but the GPS didn’t know about the rush hour traffic in Dayton. We got stalled for a bit, and when the traffic started moving, I began to text our son updates: “We should be to you in 30 minutes.” “20.” “10.”

He replied, “Come right in, the door is open.”

He didn’t have to tell us twice. We burst through that door to find our sweet girl sleeping on his chest. We sniffed her, touched her, held her, hugged her. No script needed.

For almost forty-eight hours we took turns holding that little girl, talking to her, smiling at her, loving on her. We didn’t need a guidebook, a demonstration, or practice. We knew exactly what to do.

Driving away at the end of our visit, we were already thinking about how soon we could plan to get back. Since then, we take every opportunity to clear the calendar, load up the car, and drive to our girls — to see them, hug them, chase them, and just love them.

Grandparent love is possibly the purest form of love on the planet — it doesn’t expect or demand, it doesn’t judge or condemn, it just loves with no strings attached. It anticipates arrivals, waiting at the window, noses pressed against the glass.

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.”

Proverbs 17:6

Children are a heritage of the Lord

Twenty-two years ago today I gave birth for the first time.  She was a healthy baby girl.  I remember gazing at her sleeping in her little bassinet next to my hospital bed.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with the gravity of the situation.  My husband and I had chosen to have a baby.  We had done all the prenatal care, childbirth classes, and reading we were supposed to do, but suddenly it was real.

To be fair, my husband brought a delightful young boy to our marriage.  He had been through this experience before.  It was not new to him.  And, for over two years, I had been sharing the responsibility for our son’s life, but this was different.  This was flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.

What if I messed up?

Well any parent out there who is alive and breathing knows that in twenty-two years I have indeed ‘messed up’.  Parenting isn’t pretty.  It has beautiful moments, true, but as a whole, it’s a series of decisions, hugs, tears, guesses, steps, missteps, apologies, kisses, and prayers. And somehow, miraculously, we are blessed with human beings that in some ways resemble us, in other ways surpass us.  They make us proud, worried, amazed, confused, and humble.

The one we are celebrating today has a very tender heart.  Her name, which we gave her, means ‘full of grace, mercy, and prayer’.  She has the kind of grace that loves people.  She especially loves those who have been overlooked, especially children who have been overlooked.  She has mercy on them.  She sits down with them, looks them in the eyes, and listens to them.  She prays for them. She prays with them.

She’s not perfect.  She’s kind of loud, she’s pretty goofy, and she’s clumsy. She’s pretty hard on herself.

So today I pray for her that she will see the One who loves her, even when she feels overlooked.  I pray that she will sense Him sitting down with her, looking her in the eyes, and listening to her.  I pray that she will know that I am praying for her and with her.

She’s not perfect, but she’s perfectly His, and amazingly ours.

Psalm 127:3

Children are a heritage of the Lord,

offspring a reward from him.

Loved by God

I have a disability — I’m a labeler.  I tend to put people in boxes and sort them — liberal, conservative, fat, skinny, rich, poor, smart, stupid, white, black…  It’s very limiting.  When I place people in a box marked ‘liberal’, for instance, a whole bunch of stuff gets stuck on them that may or may not have anything to do with them.  Same thing happens in the conservative box.  I like to hang out with people in some boxes, but not necessarily in others.  I feel comfortable getting tossed in with ‘smart’ people, but not really with ‘skinny’ people.  When I mingle with ‘black’ people I feel cool, when I mix with ‘white’ people (even though I, myself, am white) I feel boring.  I have even created boxes such as ‘too-rich’, ‘too-white’, ‘extremely conservative’, and ‘way too fat’.  Those boxes are placed on very high, or very low, shelves so that my access to them is limited.  I probably wouldn’t mix with ‘those people’ very well, now, would I?

This disability impacts the richness of my life.  It keeps me away from a variety of people, diverse opinions, and new ways of thinking. It causes me to think that I am better than those who somehow don’t fit in the same box with me. It sometimes even makes me afraid.  I mean, if I have labeled others, certainly they have labeled me.  Surely they have put me in a box full of stuff that doesn’t necessarily apply to me. They probably think that I am a rich, conservative, skinny, white lady.  I can assure you that very few of those words are accurate descriptors of me.

I hate being labeled.  I wish people would just get to know me and value me for the person I am.

But it’s kind of hard for them to do that if they are stuck in a box on a very high or very low shelf.  Isn’t it?

I guess if I want others to get to know the true ‘me’, I may have to invest in getting to know the true ‘them’.  After all, not all those I have dumped in the ‘skinny’ box have eating disorders, nor are they all models or superior athletes.  Some are just genetically thin.  Not everyone in the ‘stupid’ box is actually ‘stupid’.  In fact, probably no one that I have placed in that box is truly ‘stupid’, maybe misinformed, maybe ignorant, maybe scarred, but probably not ‘stupid’.

I think I’m going to have to recycle all my boxes and destroy my internal label-maker.  Actually, I think I could do with just one box — just one label:   Loved by God. Everyone could fit in the one box and I could hang out with everyone in there.  We all have that one thing in common — we are created by and loved by God.  It seems to me like everything else is irrelevant, don’t you agree? He created each of us.  He loves each of us.  He doesn’t rate us or sort us based on skin color, political orientation, body shape, or socio-economic status.  He looks at His kids and He loves us.

He doesn’t have a favorite.  In fact, He would love it if we all tried to share our toys and get along with one another.  He hopes that we will see Him in one another and grow to love one another.  He has created us to complement one another and to encourage one another.  Not to label one another.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps we all developed the same disability.  It’s not too late to recycle those boxes.  Any of us can change.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

He that does not love, does not know God.

I John 4:7-8

God loves me dearly, a re-visit

I’m re-visiting this post from November 2015 because ’tis the season of nostalgia. I have such fond memories of my childhood Christmases and many of the center around music. This Christmas hymn sank deep into my fibers way, way back, and its truth is an anchor for me today.

I can still hear us sing-shouting the words:

God loves me dearly, grants me salvation

God loves me dearly, loves even me…

I was standing in the front of the church dressed in my Christmas finest — floor-length dress with plaid skirt and white ‘blouse’ top, black patent-leather shoes, white tights, and a bow in my hair. The place was packed. We had practiced and memorized each word to each song and all the words of the Christmas story…”And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field…” Our grandparents had driven an hour to see the event.  

This. Night. Was. Special.  The most important night of the year.

He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer

He sent forth Jesus, and set me free…

Mrs. Hollenbeck had stood in front of us week after week making sure that we knew each word, enunciated clearly, and sang as loudly as we could. She smiled when we sang and always said, “Good job!” One by one we stood in front of the microphone and shared our lines as loudly and clearly as we could…

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David…” The most important night ever.

Now I will praise you, O love Eternal

Now I will praise you, all my life long…

When every song had been sung and every line had been said, we processed down the middle aisle to the back of the church where the elders stood smiling at us, holding brown paper lunch bags that were filled with peanuts in the shell, one big orange, one beautiful apple, a candy cane, and a few other Christmas candies. This bag was pure gold. The narthex (usually called a fellowship hall now) was crammed with families and coats and hugs and smiles. We bundled up and were transported from bliss to bliss…from church to Christmas Eve merriment at home.

The best night of the year.

Therefore I’ll say again, God loves me dearly,

God loves me dearly, loves even me.

Yesterday we were visiting my in-laws and worshipping with them at their little country church in the middle of Michigan’s Thumb. We sang this song, even though it’s not Christmas Eve, and as we sang it, I was transported back in time to the front of Zion Lutheran Church in the early 1970s. I was standing with all my siblings and all the other children of the church, saying lines and singing songs that would sink down into the fabric of my soul and would begin to define who I am.

I was reminded yesterday of that — of who I am. I am more than wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, writer, teacher…I am a child of God.

And God loves me dearly, loves even me.

For God so loved the world [and me and you], that He gave His only Son…”

John 3:16

Changing

I got home at 2:30 am today. That’s a real time.  I left the Washtenaw County Courthouse around 2:15 and drove through a mostly abandoned Ann Arbor, past the medical center, and the VA.  I was less than a mile from home, near Gallup Park, when I thought, “Oh, I better watch for deer—” and as I said it,  one appeared, as my son would say, “at eleven o’clock.”  I stopped in the middle of the road, met eyes with the critter, and nodded for him to go ahead and cross.  I swear he nodded back and then sprang across the road in front of me.

After over seven hours of chatting with the two agents from the Associated Press, entering tallies into my iPhone app, and playing countless rounds of CandyCrush (yes, I re-installed that dumb game on my phone!), I was not quite ready for sleep.  So I plunked down on the couch and read.

A friend recently loaned me a book called, Still Alice, which chronicles the life of a woman about my age who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  It is told from her point of view from before the diagnosis until she no longer recognizes the people in her family or even herself. I read and I cried.  I’m not sure what touched me more, her sense of loss, or the ways that her family learned to love and care for her as she became something that she had never been.

Around 4:30am, with only about thirteen pages left, I decided I was too drained to finish the book, so I crawled into bed and knocked out.  I woke up of my own volition around 11.  Chester may have been willing me awake, because when I stirred, he leapt to his feet and pleaded with me to take him outside.  Apparently I understand deer and golden retrievers.

I took him out, went back to the couch, tried some more to conquer Candy Crush and pushed away thoughts of eating, making tea, blogging, and working out. I wasn’t sure I would do much at all today.  My body ached and I was tired. I didn’t feel hungry and I wasn’t even really interested in tea.  Maybe I would just lose the day to couch-dom.

I hadn’t been in my position long when the front door opened.  My husband entered and found me looking, I’m sure, pathetic in my jammies with a glazed look on my face.  “I thought you might be up.  Can I make you some lunch?”

“I guess I should eat something.”

“Can I make you some tea, too?”

“I’ll come join you in the kitchen.  Maybe if I washed the dishes my hands would feel better.”

He sautéed onions and spinach in butter and stirred in scrambled eggs, just how I like them.  I washed dishes and told him about my night downtown.  We ate and laughed together and by the time he left I was ready to go back to my book, to think about driving to the gym, and to sit for a few minutes at my computer to blog.

It’s not lost on me — the connection I am making between my life and the book.  I am a someone I have never been.  Sometimes I don’t recognize myself.  Yet, I have a husband, and children, who are learning new ways to love and support me.

Oh, and I think I am learning to talk to animals.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Not just for women, but about women

When did the shift happen?  When did it become ok to portray women as competitors and even enemies of one another?  Do you know what I am talking about?  The images are everywhere — magazines, television, movies, books.  The idea that I need to be better than other women — thinner, smarter, more powerful, sexier, better dressed — permeates our culture in such a way that potential allies are turned into suspects.

I believed the lie for quite a while.  Very few women passed enough tests and criteria to be allowed into my inner circle of trust.  Once in, they were placed on an extremely high pedestal from which they will surely never fall.  But getting there took a pretty special combination of traits — honesty, humor, authenticity, strength, and the resilience to let my crap bounce off of them.  Few were chosen.

Many were kept at arm’s length for whatever reason — I could fabricate a reason in a heartbeat.  I missed out on the blessing of many female friendships because of my insecurities and the belief that I needed to be suspicious of the enemy.

That belief is a lie of the one and only enemy.

Women need one another.  

I knew I needed my inner circle  — I had a best friend all through elementary school who remains so high on the pedestal that the mention of her name brings me pause. I had a partner in crime through middle and high school whose name can still bring out the mischievous teenager in me.  I bonded with a dear friend in my freshman year of college who was so steadfast that though our time together was short, she remains on the pedestal today.  My dear friend from the rest of undergrad has earned the title of aunt to my children and godmother to my baby because of the way our hearts are knit together.   These women…they had a hand in shaping me.  I didn’t suspect their loyalty.  I didn’t question their motives.  They unconditionally supported me.

But I believed they were rare and that real women didn’t act that way.  Real women wanted to judge me and outdo me.  They were suspect and not to be trusted.

I was wrong.

We all need each other.  We need encouragement.  We need eye contact.  We need to be heard and understood.  We need affirmation and acceptance.  Unconditionally.  When we don’t get it, sometimes our claws come out.  We start thinking that others are the competition. We even behave as though we are trying to outdo one another.

I have been noticing a lot of women lately.  I have been noticing they aren’t out to get me.  They are reaching out to me: inviting me to lunch, or to go on a walk, or to visit their church.  They are encouraging me: through email, text, Facebook, and in person. They are befriending me.

I am beginning to believe that most women really want to be in relationship with one another, not in competition with one another. Is it possible, that our media is (gasp) giving us an inaccurate portrayal of reality? (It’s just a question, folks, not a political statement.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here.  Instead of trusting my long held and faulty beliefs, I am going to trust God and take a few chances on some women. I think they can be trusted.  I mean, they are taking a chance on me. 

Romans 12: 10…16

…be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves…

live in harmony with one another…

Love that lasts

During this time of transition, my husband and I are visiting many churches — some of them because he is speaking there, others because we want to get to know the area and find a church home, and still others because we want to learn where those we are serving with are worshiping.  Today was option three.

We worshiped with one of my husband’s coworkers at an area church that is focused on outreach — they are very intentional about connecting with the community in very tangible ways. Pretty cool place.

The message today was centered on how to have love that lasts — sure, marital love, but also love between friends, between parent and child, etc.

I will take a short commercial break to let you know that my husband and I, along with a half-dozen other couples, were asked to stand in the aisles of the church and dance.  It’s not what you think…the pastor had all the married couples stand like they often do at weddings.  Then he asked those who had been married five years or more to remain standing, then those who were married ten years or more, etc.  Finally, all the couples who were married more than twenty-three years were invited into the aisles. Music was played.  The couples danced, and then were invited to sit as the years ticked on.  You know the drill.  The final couple standing had been married forty-three years! What a blessing!

The pastor then suggested three methods for planning for a ‘love that will last’.

  • Worship God
  • Work on yourself
  • Serve your spouse

Three steps.  Should be easy, right?  Read them again.  Not so easy.

However, I have to say that after twenty-four years of marriage I have to agree with his strategy.  Although we are flawed human beings who have not always put God first in our lives, we did marry with the intent of serving God together.  I believe that this foundation is the sole reason that we are still together after all these years.  It hasn’t all been a walk in the park.  There have been some (very) difficult days, weeks, months, and even years.   The grace of God coupled with our commitment from the beginning to hang in there, no matter what, has held us together.

Now, I may have started this marriage thinking that both of us were perfect and that we were perfect for each other, but I have since faced reality.  I will admit that I noticed his flaws before my own.  Shocking, I know.  But I remember quite clearly one day, in a living room with sculpted brown carpeting, when I was very upset with my husband. He had the audacity to suggest that he was not the one who would ever make me happy.  What?  Well, then, why in the world did I marry him?  Amidst my fussing and fuming, he reminded me that the only one who would truly bring me contentment would be God, since He is the only one who is not selfish or flawed.  Well, then.

It may have been about that time that I began to look in the mirror.  Small glances at first.  A lot needed to be addressed; it would take a life time.  I’m still working on it.

As far as the third area that the pastor suggested, I must say that my husband has always been better at serving me than I am him.  In fact, it began on the night that he proposed to me.  He washed my feet, yes, literally washed my feet with a basin and a towel, and then told me that he wanted to serve me for the rest of our lives.  And, so far, he has done that.  Even during the ugly times, he has put me, and the children before himself.  He has gone without to make sure that we wouldn’t have to. He has stayed up late and gotten up early to make sure that we could all sleep as much as we needed.  He has worked his tail off to provide for us.  But most importantly, he has served us by serving God first.  We haven’t all always appreciated that, but it was precisely the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I will ever be as much of a servant to him as he has been to me.  I still get distracted by protecting myself, you know, kicking butts and taking names.  But, it is getting easier all the time to take care of him, especially when I realize how well cared-for I have been.

This morning was a good reminder of how blessed we have been.  I am glad that we have this grace period to pause and take stock. We are rich to have a love that lasts.

Matthew 19:6

…what God has joined together, let no one separate.