A Tribute to my Father-in-law

“Look around and take what you want,” she said. We sat in her living room the afternoonIMG_5102 after the funeral mass and family lunch. It had been a busy few days, and we all appreciated the moments of rest. After a decade-long conquest with Parkinson’s and several months in the hospital, my father-in-law had passed away a few days earlier. The preparations, flights, drives, visits, calls, hours with family and friends at the wake, church, and cemetery were done. Now, we sat in the front room in peaceful silence, and his widow spoke.

 

“Look around and take what you want.” Those were the words to my husband and his sister. Not said in despair or sadness, but rather in a spirit of openness and generosity…Gary doesn’t need anything now. Take what he left. Take what you had given him that will remind you of times together. Take mementos. Take pieces of his life back home with you.

I looked around the neat house from my vantage point, and thought, he didn’t really leave anything. An avid Yankees fan, Syracuse and Cardinal Hayes alum, he had hats and shirts and some wall art…but he didn’t really have “stuff”. He didn’t buy for himself, though he could have. He didn’t fill his life with tchotchkes and dust-collectors. So what was his “stuff”?

His favorite room in the house was his little office. Maybe 5’x7′ with two windows to light IMG_5104up the all important computer desk. Here he kept his spiral notebook of contacts, from his elementary school classmates through his coworkers in education. Beside that, his 75th anniversary edition of the Cardinal Hayes High School alumni directory. He kept phone numbers of his children taped at eye level. On each of the three walls were notes and photos from his grandkids. In the computer were stored countless emails from people he’d known his whole life and research he’d done to help others with their illnesses or debts. To the left of the computer screen sat the Facebook Portal that he received for Christmas so that he could stay in touch with his classmates, colleagues, family, and peers from Hawaii to Germany, and all places in between.

Gary was a relational man. That’s where his “stuff” was. It was in his heart. It was in his conversation. It was in his connectedness to others. Throughout the house, there are pictures of trips that he and his beloved took to Europe and Disneyworld, photos from cruises and dinner parties, and framed reminders of events that they shared together. That’s the “stuff” of his life.

When he would travel by train to see our family eight hours away, he would always IMG_5105strike up a new friendship with a seated neighbor. One time he told me that the best conversation starter was the phrase “So, how’s your life going?” It was an open-ended opportunity for hours of chatter about the present, past, and future. When an issue arose about which he was ignorant, he would spend hours researching it online to learn what he didn’t know. He would call us to share his newfound knowledge because that was his “stuff”, sharing knowledge. Sharing relationships. Sharing life.

We have spent two weeks this summer, traveling around upstate New York and landing back at his home on Long Island. We have thought of him numerous times and wanted to share our new experiences with him…the kids’ first time at his alma mater Syracuse University, their impressions of the breath-taking Letchworth State Park, his grandson’s photos at West Point and big dreams of attending there in a few years, the shark that was caught on a fishing trip in Freeport, his granddaughter’s love of socializing with girl cousins…the list goes on.IMG_5107

This week back in his house has had me considering his legacy. To “look around and take what you want” of Gary means to live the life we are currently living to its fullest and share generously with others. He didn’t want trinkets and “stuff”. He wanted relationships and connectedness. My son is at camp this week with Long Island kids who live eight hours away from our home. Yet, he invited a buddy to come over and hang out after camp…and has been invited to the young man’s bar mitzvah. My daughter has bonded with her girl cousins while her brother has been at camp…and they have had tea and done crafts and played outside and talked non-stop.

Gary, I’m typing this on your computer, probably still feeling some jellybean residue on the keys…but I want you to know that we get it. We’ve looked around and we want to take YOU with us. We want your awareness of people, your desire for relationships, and your genuine love for humanity. We want that…and we miss you dearly.

IMG_5106

My dad and semi-gloss paint

I’m sitting here at the keyboard with semi-gloss paint on my fingers from giving the

hand

bathroom a makeover today. It’s summer time, and my summer bucket list is full of painting projects. They will all end with coating the trim work with a lovely layer of white semi-gloss.

According to paint authority Sherwin-Williams:

“Higher-gloss paint finishes can also help brighten dark spaces. Under most common lighting conditions, a combination of semigloss sheen and light-colored paint is an optimal wall covering method to brighten a dark space.”

Even home expert Bob Vila says:

“Semi-gloss is more durable and easier to clean. The higher the gloss, the easier the cleanup of messes like fingerprints and smudges. For objects and areas that get a lot of use and therefore require frequent wipe-downs—bathrooms, kitchens, playrooms, kids’ bedrooms, and any other area children may feel tempted to draw on walls with Crayola—semi-gloss is often the wiser option. Because the surface is slicker, it’s more resistant to moisture and easier to go over with a damp cloth or special sprays designed for minor household disasters.”

Yay! That’s what I’ve been doing. But I learned it from my dad years ago.

You see, Dad taught me that ‘semi-gloss is forgiving’. It covers a multitude of stains, scuffs, and various oopsies. It rolls into itself on a surface, making a smooth surface over time.

So, semi-gloss is like forgiveness, which is another topic with which dad had experience. Dad was a truck-driving farm-boy who just really wanted to be a church pastor. During a time period when being a divorcee was taboo, he was not allowed to even teach a Sunday school class. That left a big ol’ scuff on dad’s interior. A scuff that could only be covered with a thick application of forgiveness.

When pastoring didn’t work out, Dad sought to be a college professor. He loved adding to the palette of knowledge older adolescents were acquiring, and he happily shared his knowledge of God and people for years. But as the hues of administration began to fade into different shades, Dad’s Biblical views became too ‘vintage’ and he retired. Stains of betrayal and disappointment colored his life until he wiped over them with forgiveness.

Family splits, chronic pain, loss of parents and friends…all of life’s dents, dings, smears, blemishes, and scrapes have battered Dad. As they have the rest of us. But forgiveness covers it all. Forgiveness doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t erase the stain, but it does make the surface clean and ready for future use.

Once I asked Dad for help with a  secret project for my kids. I bought a can of black chalkboard paint for him to use. His dubious look was greater than when a younger me had broken curfew to go to a concert. I know my dad’s affinity for white semi-gloss, and yet I was asking him to use black. He knew that this project for my kids was going to get crayon marks, paint streaks, and various sticky messes on it. He wanted me to use the most ‘forgiving’ paint possible. One that was going to make  perfect, usable surface. One that would clean up easily from oopsies.

Dad knows that life is a colorful, messy array of positive and negative experiences. Ones that broaden our perspectives to see beautiful panoramas. Others that will scrape away our delicate finishes and leave discolored blotches. More importantly, he understands that life doesn’t end with those experiences.

Renewal and forgiveness make all things news. What’s the alternative? Allowing the scuff to remain visible? Walking around with the smeared faults of others on display?

Forgiveness is restoration, the beginning of something new. 

 

Colossians 3:12-14 (emphasis mine)

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. {Wear these around instead of the drab scars of  disappointment and hurt.}

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  {God forgives us each time we scuff his love toward us. He sticks with us through our sins, so we should forgive others and stick with them.}

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  {Love is what allows us to forgive. We must have love if we are going to forgive. Love for the other person and love for ourselves if we want to grow from the hurt.}

Dad would go through phases when he would paint a lot. And then the house would seem new to us. Fresh and untainted. Forgiving those who have wronged us can give that same renovated feeling to our lives, preparing us for whatever is coming next.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I will think of you with each coating of semi-gloss paint I use, for the rest of my life. And hopefully, I will work to forgive and restore the way that you have as well.

towel

 

You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

IMG_0010      IMG_0006     IMG_4495

Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

IMG_0013(3)             IMG_0012          IMG_0102

Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

IMG_0009

Mueller-ed

To understand this post more richly, you might want to read the previous post about George Mueller, a pillar of faith in God.

Here’s some backstory too:
IMG_0102

On the day of our church’s annual Easter egg hunt, we engage in a mission project of some type. Before releasing the children to hunt eggs, we work together on a project to help others. Then, we share the Biblical story of Easter…how the selfless sacrifice of Jesus saves us from our selfish sins. After these two events, we turn ’em loose to hunt eggs and play outside.We started this itinerary about three years ago.

The first year, we spray-bottle painted onesies and shirts for the youth to take on their summer mission trip. It was a great IDEA but messy to execute in an small enclosed space with over-zealous, candy-craving children. The picture here was my experimental attempt…I didn’t take pictures the day of the egg hunt/spray painting bonanza because…well, there were 50 kids trying to spray paint. (It was a good idea…just not for this function…here’s the pinterest link.)

The next year, we collected health care items (combs, brushes, travel size shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste/toothbrushes/

deodorant/soaps and washcloths) for a few weeks prior to the egg hunt. On the day of the hunt, we had parents and kids move through an assembly line to drop one of each item into a gallon-size ziploc bag. These health care kits were given out during our youth group’s two mission trips that summer. This activity was MUCH more suited to the event…families worked together, it was quicker, not as messy…much less stIMG_0023ress!

This year, we are planning to stuff Socks of Love. We have collected health care items again, and the plan is to stuff a man-sized sock with shampoo/conditioner/soap/toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant and roll the matching sock up and stuff it inside too. We’ll tie them off with a bit of ribbon or yarn and presto! A sock of love for the visitors at our local food kitchen.

So here’s how we got Muellered (unexpectedly blessed at our point of need):

I met Wednesday with our youth minister Jason to go over the schedule for the upcoming egg hunt. We have collected lots of hygiene items, but very few socks. We were saying, somewhat disappointedly,  that we’d have to go out and buy them, as they were of primary importance. When I went to church Thursday morning to sort out the hygiene items for our assembly-line next week, I discovered 55 pairs of socks! Jason had not purchased them…he had not mentioned the need to anyone else, nor had I. But there they were 55 pairs of lovely, clean, wonderful socks…awaiting their higher calling. IMG_0022

The first year, we painted 101 shirts and onesies for distribution in the Dominican Republic. Last year, we assembled over 75 health care bags (more were assembled after the egg hunt day, so I’m not sure of the total) for needy people in our state’s capital and in the Dominican Republic. This year, we will be able to hand out, at a minimum, 55 socks of love.

I love my church, our mission projects, the faith it builds in me, and the amazingness that is my God.

Stay tuned for an update after the egg hunt!!!

Get to know George Mueller

If you don’t know who George Mueller was, you need to.

George Mueller was a rotten Christian…a Christian who made fun of other Christians. A questionable Christian who partied too hard, gambled too much, got arrested too often. He was invited to a Bible study by another Christian friend, and he went…to harass the attendees. Imagine Saul, the persecutor, without the threat of death. Never did rapscallion Mueller think that Bible study would change his life.

After a week of attending, he realized his actions needed to change. He asked God for forgiveness and began his life transformation. Mueller decided to focus his attention on helping poor people and orphans. With this decision, Mueller lost all financial funding from his parents. He truly felt this mission field was where God wanted him to serve, so he began studying Scripture, meditating on what he read, and praying.

Prayer became George Mueller’s bread of life…literally. He never asked people for contributions to his orphanages…he just prayed. Time after time, God supplied for the 300 orphans. Food would be left on the orphanage porch by anonymous donors. Neighbors who just felt ‘led’ to bake loaves and loaves of bread stopped by and donated their goods. Milk showed up for the children. Clothes were always provided. Volunteers were always available. George Mueller only talked to God about his needs…and God was the only one who needed to know.

From his book, Answers to Prayer:

‘Truly, it is worth being poor and greatly tried in faith, for the sake of having day by day proofs of the loving interest which our kind Father takes in everything that concerns us.’

‘Through reading of the word of God, and especially though meditation on the word of God, the believer becomes more and more acquainted with the nature and character of God, and thus sees more and more, besides His holiness and justice, what a kind, loving, gracious, merciful, mighty, wise, and faithful being He is…’

‘If we, indeed, desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and , therefore, through the trail, be strengthened.’

‘Because he delights in the prayers of his children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter.’

‘May the Christian reader be encouraged by this, should his prayers not at once be answered; and, instead of ceasing to pray, wait upon God all the more earnestly and perseveringly, and expect answers to his petitions.’

Want to read more? Great! Go get his book Answers to Prayer…it will transform your faith and your prayer life.

For a quick biography, click here. And there’s always wikipedia, though I don’t always trust it, I did get Mueller’s loving little face photo from there. So here’s that link, too.

The woman who saved my life

Our first child was just about four days old, and we had left him home with the grands to get out of the house for a few hours. We got lunch and stopped by a craft store. I wandered aimlessly because what kind of craft project could I possibly work on after creating life just 100 hours prior. No paper, wood, or paint appealed to me. While wandering, we saw the mother of a friend.

She asked how we were doing, post-birth, and I said, “Oh, the baby’s great”, with all the feeling I could muster, which wasn’t much. My trembling hands gripped the empty, pointless shopping cart, and I endured the typical questions about the birth and our exuberance. Jean, her name was, gave me a meaningful mom-ish look as I excused myself to the restroom. I wobbled into the gray, overly perfumed lavatory and barely made it to the sink before the tears came. I gripped onto the cool white porcelain basin and begged not to go home. I couldn’t handle this new life. I couldn’t handle being a mom. 

I don’t honestly know how long I stayed in the bathroom; it wasn’t long enough for my husband to come looking for me. But it was long enough for the well-meaning mother to go on about her business. Her business…it angered me. Why didn’t she mind her own business? She had daughters and grandkids…she knew that the first few days and weeks are sleep deprived. She should’ve just smiled and waved and left us alone. I didn’t want to talk about the baby. And now, he was on my mind and I had to go home to him. Geez. How could she be so inconsiderate.

My uncertain emotional state (and the need to feed) led us back home instead of further out for the afternoon. I held the baby and fed him. I made the appropriate gestures of affection. I met his needs. But my heart ached for him to be back in my belly and for my life to be mine again. Why wasn’t this like babysitting? Why wasn’t this like teaching? I’d done both of those for years. Where was that feeling of joy and success? I’d never felt so overwhelmed and depressed.

Later that afternoon, Jean’s daughter Shelley called. ‘Oh good grief!’ I thought. ‘Couldn’t she just leave well enough alone?! I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t have anything to say. He’s a cute baby. We’re great. Yay life change.’ *Sigh*

‘Mom said she saw you today.’

‘Yes. It was nice to see her.’

‘She said she was worried about you… She wanted me to see if you’re doing all right.’

Seriously. Did this woman know when to stop?? How much more invasive could she be?

And then the tears started. And they couldn’t stop. I couldn’t even talk, so Shelley did. She had gone through postpartum depression and anxiety with both of her children. She knew what I was experiencing. She knew what it was like to put on the marginally happy face and give all the right answers to the questions. She knew how it felt to hold your own flesh and blood and NOT feel that warm fuzzy feeling that everyone was expecting you to feel. She wanted to take a break from it before it even began too. The numbness, the fear, the emptiness, the panic attacks…she’d been through it all…twice.

And that’s why her mom wanted her to call me. Because her mom recognized it in my eyes when she saw me. When I gave my vague answer ‘Oh, the baby’s great’… Jean knew the baby was fine, but I wasn’t.

What I considered an inconsiderate invasion was actually an inexplicable intervention. I needed more than an afternoon out. I needed a friend who knew my pain, knew a doctor, knew a medication, and knew it was all going to be all right. And that’s what Jean gave me. In telling Shelley to call me, she answered my prayers before I even prayed them. She opened a door of communication that I had been leaning against to keep everyone out. She gave me the chance to enjoy my precious son while I was still sane enough to hold him.

In the following days and weeks, Shelley came over, held my hand, wiped my tears, called her doctor and got me an appointment. I got on medication and by the time my son was six weeks old, I knew I was going to be the best mom that he could ever dream of having. And I knew that if I ever got the opportunity to reach out to help someone who was hurting like I had been, I would be the Jean to them.

She gave me the gift of motherhood.   IMG_2737