Monday, August 22, 2011

If you think I'm a jerk...

If I didn't know me, I'd think I was a big jerk.

Well, yes, I am a big jerk, at least sometimes. I'm vain and selfish, and I tend to leave my shoes around the house for people to trip on. I like things done MY way (i.e. the right way) and I talk too much. Way too much. So in fact, I am a bit of a jerk.

Jerk is really not the word I want to use. I'm thinking more of a word typically used to describe a woman who is vain and selfish and likes to show off. And maybe I'm really one of those too.

I'm pondering this today because I'm going through pictures from my anniversary event on Saturday. I put some on Facebook, because that's what you do with pictures, and I love to share pictures. But I saw my smiling face, my pretty dress, my beautiful family, and I thought, what a b....., I mean "jerk."

I mean, really. I imagined someone who doesn't know me really well looking at these photos. I'd think, "Who does she think she is? She really needs to get over herself. How embarrassing, posing for photos like she's a young bride or something. She's almost 50 for God's sake. And all those kids and grandkids. Does she have to keep throwing it in our faces that she's got this perfect family? Man! How annoying!"

I suppose someone who doesn't know me well might think these very things, and I can't blame him or (more likely) her. (I know it's we girls who tend to judge one another harshly.) I know sometimes I've seen pictures of Facebook friends' homes or vacations and felt a twinge of jealousy. But honestly, I mostly feel happy for them. Really.

I LOVE photographs. I like photos of the sky, and puppies, and houses, and trees, but mostly I love pictures of people enjoying life. I could spend hours looking at photos of babies and weddings - even if I don't know the subjects. Good photography is one of my passions. And even poorly taken snapshots from cell phones can be wonderful - if they tell a story about someone's life. I love that.

Pictures of my family, and yes, well, myself are important to me, too. My closest friends know that one of my big sorrows is that I had very few wedding photos, and not a single full length one of myself. Those same friends also know that I did not have a "dream" wedding. It was a difficult time in my life, and I'm sure there are many who thought we wouldn't last 25 days, let alone 25 years. So this occasion was extremely meaningful to me, and photos are a big part of it.

The thing is, when I share the blessings of my life, I feel, well, like a jerk sometimes. I know that many of my friends are single, not by their own choice. My photos highlighting my 25th anniversary might bring them more than a bit of sorrow. I know my friends who long for a baby might find my large family to be a sad reminder of their suffering. My four grandbabies, who all live within minutes of me, remind the grandparents whose kids live across the country that they won't see their grandchildren until Christmas.

And that makes me feel like a jerk.

Sometimes I think about sharing more of the negatives of my life. Facebook is tricky. I usually aim for a balance: lots of positive encouragement, good news when I have it, a sharing of blessings, tempered with an occasional prayer request or acknowledgment that we're going through a tough time. I err on the side of the good because I really don't want to be that complainer whose every status features the word "annoyed."

But I'm thinking maybe I should share more "reality." Instead of pics of me in a pretty dress, I could show the mismatched outfits I wear around the house, or the many pairs of jeans I have that highlight my muffin top. While you look at those photos of Aaron and me lovingly staring into one another's eyes, I could tell you stories about some of the difficult spots in our marriage, and perhaps recommend one of the several marriage counselors we have met. While feeling a little jealous about the beautiful ring I'm wearing (thank you to my wonderful mother-in-law!) I can make you a cup of coffee so we can chat about the possible foreclosure of our house. We could take a drive to chat some more, but we'd have to pray for a cool day, because there is no air conditioning in my van. Maybe we should just hang out in my kitchen, since coffee is kind of expensive. I can make you a cup, but it might be hard to find a spoon, because my kitchen drawers have no fronts, and several of them have no backs, and the silverware tends to fall behind them. And when we're done we'll have to wash the dishes, because there's not a working dishwasher.

Now, wouldn't pictures of all that be refreshing? Oooh, we could even include shots of our current day trips - to the DHS, applying for food stamps! Or more couple pics, of Aaron and me arguing (more like crying) over bills, or bleary eyed from computer job searches! Yay!

I think I'll stick with the pretty ones, and take my chances. :)

Because I know that my friends and family understand. You know that I truly want to share my joy with those I love. We've shared so much sadness - the loss of our baby daughter, the challenges of Aaron's health, the job loss, the financial strain - that we want to share our happy moments as a way of saying, "God is so good to us. We know you are suffering sometimes, and so are we. But there is so much good in our lives. Let's celebrate."

I hope that comes across. And if you still think I'm a jerk, that's OK. Message me and I'll send you some pics of my kitchen, and you'll feel much better.

In the meantime, enjoy the above photo. A quick search of my computer did not reveal many unflattering shots (duh, I'm vain, remember? Those get deleted ASAP)but I did find this one with such a very "revealing" angle. And you thought that blonde was natural, right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

endless summer

It's summer in Michigan - a particularly scorching, dry summer. The lawns are crispy, yellow beds of straw. It's a good thing I didn't buy any annuals this year, because if I had, they would certainly be just leggy stems holding up tiny faded blossoms by now. Even so, I miss them. My budget didn't allow for them. I didn't even buy The Ferns, the ones that adorn the gazebo, the ones that I hang as soon as the last frost melts. They herald Summer, and I love summer. Even summers like this one, summers of simplicity and even want.

I was blessed to be able to vacation last week. We went to a resort in Virginia that we had no business visiting. As I told the saleslady giving us the timeshare pitch (hey, we got free breakfast and water park tickets!) we are so broke we can't even afford to pay attention. We only took the trip because we had paid for it almost two years ago (we "won" it in an auction for our parish.) We knew the incidentals of the trip were still more than we could justify, but we went. Aaron and I were weary; our boys needed us to be with them. So we spent a week in the mountains swimming, hiking, eating ice cream and having adventures. The highlights included episodes of me facing My Greatest Fear: heights. I navigated the zip line and conquered the chairlift with style. And sweaty palms. And more than a few tears. But I hope I taught my two youngest boys that we it's good to push the boundaries of what makes us comfortable. And I solidified that I am a super-cool mom.

Today is John's 12th birthday - the event that kicks off our family summer week of celebrations. John is such a wonderful boy. Really. Mothers say things like this about their kids all the time, but in this case it's true. He is gentle (most of the time) and quiet and polite. He says "I love you, Mom" about a dozen times a day. (And that's a lot, considering we only see each other for a few hours.) He is TALLER THAN I AM. Love that kid.

I have shared that John was our only "planned" child. That makes me smile when I think about it. Of course God plans all children, but John was the one I waited for and thought about before he began. Does that make sense? There are five years between him and his elder brother Joey. We missed him. When he arrived it was like a reunion.

We will spend the week celebrating John, then Rachel, my eldest who will be 25 on Friday. 25! Oh my goodness I must be old! Then we remember Celeste's birthday into heaven on the 23rd. It has been six years. It takes my breath away....

On the 25th my mom will be 83, and we will celebrate that was well. She is my hero lately more than ever. She cares for my 90 year old dad day in and day out. Mom is the ultimate example of patient love, of living out marriage vows. She inspires me.

And speaking of marriage vows, can it really be that it has been 25 years since we said ours? August will bring a celebration of that, too.

The summer is hot and dry and heavy with concerns sometimes. But it is full of refreshment; the blessings of family. John, and Rachel, and Celeste, and my mom, and Aaron, and all the others, my children, my sons-in-law, my precious grandbabies - they are my lemonade, my ice-cold watermelon, my luscious ferns, my ever-blooming endless Summer. Praise God.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


As I hold my newborn granddaughter in my arms, marveling at her full head of almost-black hair, stroking her petal soft cheek, smelling her baby perfume, I'm transported back to the six times I experienced this joy myself, and the one time it was withheld from me.

My heart is full with memories. All at once I'm there; welcoming my firstborn, so like me I'm breathless. I am only 21, naive, inexperienced. I have never held a baby before. Will I break her? Will she break me?

Only sixteen months later I am in the same hospital, in the same room, in the same bed, gazing into the eyes of a chubby little girl who is gentle and observant from the very first. Now she is the Mother, and as I help her to walk to the bathroom, as she recovers from the birth of her second-born, I'm overcome with the surreal nature of it all. Could it be that she is now a parent, I the grandmother of this little one and three others? Wasn't I just moments ago wondering at the birth of my own daughters?

Then, I recall the four boys that followed. The long labor that brought me my firstborn son, who at 19 continues to tug at his Mama's heart. My next, my biggest baby, my boy who is so righteous and strong and pure; a champion. My fifth child, the only one we "tried" to conceive, who we teased because he was bald. He was like a little lamb, so sweet, so quiet. Now, at 11, he is as tall as I.

When the sixth one came, I prayed for a girl. I got another son; he teased us from the first moment, rolling and turning and playing hide and seek. When he is born I am in love, so thankful for another son, so enthralled with his black hair and rosy face and spunk. Now he reads stories to me and falls asleep singing. I am smitten still.

When I am 40, and I think my baby days are over, I am waiting for a little girl. I can't believe she is a girl! The blue baby days are gone; these are brilliant in pink. When she arrives, she is so tiny I can't believe she is mine. And she is not pink, as she should be. With this precious angel I am denied the blessing of holding her in my arms at birth. I am denied much with her, but I am given more than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. She leaves me at such a young age to go home to heaven...but she is my baby forever, my purest, sweetest blossom that will never ever fade. I miss her, but then I look into the eyes of my newborn granddaughter....

My fourth grandchild. As the first three arrived - and one, only eight weeks ago! - I am each time so overcome with joy and gratitude that I can hardly stand. How can it be that I am so fortunate? How can it be that my family has been so blessed in the treasures worth more than mountains of gold?

So last night I held my newborn granddaughter. I looked out the window of the hospital room, and I saw the hospital next door when her aunt, my seventh baby, had lived her whole life. I imagined that I could look right into the room where she had lived and blessed us and then died. It was, in fact, possible.

I smiled. As I had arrived that evening, I was handed a parking pass marked "Children's Hospital." I remembered the hundreds of those I had collected during my daughter's life. I reached to turn off the radio before I parked; I stopped, stunned. I hadn't heard her song in at least a year. And there it was. Break Away. My baby Celeste's song was playing. She was watching over her niece, celebrating with us.

I held my newborn granddaughter in my arms.

Here name is Gianna. Gianna Celeste.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

dreaming big

Yesterday I picked up an issue of Oprah's magazine "O" and read an article that got me thinking.(Oprah-haters, hang in there.This is a good one.)

The article was about "getting what you want out of life" or something like that. Come to think about it, aren't all the articles in this magazine about that? But anyway, this one focused on a technique that I find intriguing, and even helpful. It involves three steps.

One, think about what you want - that "Big Dream" you have convinced yourself that if realized, would make you FINALLY happy. Examples in the article included a woman who wanted to own her own business and another who longed for a baby.

I pondered my own life and realized I don't have a "Big Dream" like these. I have a wonderful family, and I like my job. I don't think climbing any particular mountain, or winning any award, or even writing a best-selling book would provide me with ultimate happiness. But that's not to say I don't dream of something. I forced myself to come up with a few things I dream of that I believe would really, really thrill me. And call me materialistic - most of what I came up doesn't deal with achievements I want to succeed at - they are things I want to be given!

The first big dream I've had since childhood, and I'm quite certain I "inherited" it from my mother. I want a house. Not just any house. Like the little girl in "Miracle on 34th Street", I want a particular kind of house. It's not so much large, as spacious and airy. It is new, clean, and organized. And most of all, it's beautiful. It has a modern, gorgeously appointed kitchen. It has durable, attractive furniture and stylish accessories. Its walls are painted all my favorite colors. The laundry room is big enough to turn around in, and it has a real floor. The carpet is unstained; the windows mildew-free. And best of all, it's mine, and I live in it with the people I love most.

The second dream is to travel - regularly - to exotic locations. On these trips I would be treated to wonderful meals in upscale restaurants. The beaches of my dreams are pristine and uncrowded, and there is always a cute cabana boy within earshot who can bring me a fresh towel or a drink with a little umbrella in it. The ocean is turquoise; I can see it clearly from my suite. My darling husband accompanies me, of course, and he enjoys every minute of making sure I'm having fun, and loves taking me out shopping for some new jewelry while we're there. The weather is warm, the breeze balmy; I am in paradise. Ahhhh.....

My third dream is the only one that involves any commitment or sacrifice on my part, although to me is seems just as impossible as the others.I dream of being thin and beautiful.I am thinner than I've been in over 30 years, and I look amazing.I can wear any type of clothes, and my closet is full of beautiful outfits. And I'm not just thin, I'm healthy and strong. And my joints don't ache!

OK, so there it is, in black and white. My impossible dreams. So now, onto the next step: I'm to put myself in the dream, and imagine it has come true. I am living my dream, touching it and feeling it. So, how do I feel? I'm told to come up with three adjectives to describe this.

In my dream home:
Successful, joyful, indulged

On vacation:
Successful, cherished, peaceful

Successful,beautiful, accepted

(Yes, I've noticed there is a common theme.)

All three also make me feel something I'm having trouble putting my finger on. I think it's something like "appreciated." As if having these things would make me feel that God really loved me, that He would be allowing me to have something I want so much, because He loves me and wants to give me pretty things and happy experiences.

I never claimed I wasn't shallow.

Anyway. Step 3: I'm to look at my life, right now, and identify in which situations I already feel these feelings. When do I feel successful? Cherished? Peaceful? Beautiful? Accepted? I'm told to realize that of course I have many current experiences that provide these feelings, and to enjoy them, and live in the moment.

The bottom line is that we don't want things or even experiences. We want to feel something. Something our lives are probably already filled with.

It's an interesting experiment. I'm now left pondering the truth that I am indeed blessed with many people and circumstances in my life that make me feel all of these wonderful things and more.

But I still want to be thin and beautiful, living in a gorgeous house in between Caribbean vacations. Sigh.

What do you dream of? What feelings are YOU longing for?