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.

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It’s the waiting

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest…

The imagining is easy.

I can dream it’s all roses and sunshine and coffee and doughnuts…

I picture the colors, the scents, the enthusiasm, the rush…

I’ve lived it before and loved it so dearly.

But now…

there are no colors…it’s all gray

there are no scents…it’s all air

there is no enthusiasm…just nothingness

the only rush is in my impatience…

I know fulfillment will come,

but for now…

it’s the waiting that’s the hardest.

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photo credit: www.keithcraft.org

Endure

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#Lent2015 #rethinkchurch

Endure

Isaiah 40:27-31

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Top Ten: Life Lessons from a Navy Seal

I’ve missed a few of my ‘top ten’ days, but I’ve been saving this link for the right moment. As this is back-to-school time, I thought this might be the right time to share it. It’s time to get out of bed, make the bed, and start a productive day.

Navy Admiral William H. McRaven tells the top ten lessons he’s learned from being in the trenches. They’re so simple, but so true. Here’s the list, but the article is so much more than just the list. Read it here:

http://nypost.com/2014/05/24/10-life-lessons-from-the-seal-who-led-mission-for-bin-laden/

10. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

9. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

8. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

7.If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

6. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

5. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head-first.

4. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

3. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

2. If you want to change the world, start singing when your up to your neck in mud.

1. If you want to change the world, don’t ever ring the bell.

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Top Ten: Life lessons from sandcastles

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10.  The obvious, it’s free! All that’s needed is sand and hands. Buckets and spades are bonuses!

9. The other obvious: imagination stimulation!

8. Unchanging physical properties– The force of water v. the strength of sand; construction qualities of wet sand v. dry sand; incline v. recline; condensation v. evaporation…the list is somewhat endless…

7. When to stop— There are limits to how much sand can be built up, how deep a shovel can effectively slice without causing a collapse, how much water can be added to make the correct ‘paste’. Observing such limits and working within them builds structural and personal integrity.

6. Where to start–Start too close to the tide line and the masterpiece will be washed away before it’s even built; start too far away from the water source and water will be distantly inaccessible. High tide? Low tide? Research and reconnoiter before beginning the task.

5. Use what you have–Hands are all that’s really needed, but shovels and pails are great too. Need a new angle or a deeper scoop? Manipulate what is available…squeeze the bucket, turn the shovel…make it work! Adaptation is a crucial life skill.

4. Get more–If the sand is too wet and slippery, add dry to soak up the water. If it’s too dry to stay in place, add a bit of water. Want decor? Go find shells and sea grass. Want a different dig? Might be time to spring for a new spade. Sometimes is best to seek other options.

3. Networking–If you begin to build it, they will come. Little boys, big boys, curious onlookers of every age. Helpful advisors, eager engineers, passing critics. Listen to the advice, accept the outstretched hand, ignore the scoffers. The sandbox of the world is filled with diverse friendships waiting to start.

2.Dealing with loss–Inevitably, the sandcastle will become part of the shoreline again. But crying over a flattened sand structure is as useless is crying because there is sand. Millions of architects have knelt in those tiny grains and constructed greatness only to have it washed away with the timeless tide. Beginning this job is knowing that this is a temporary investment but the memory of it will be long-lasting.

1. Beginning again–Survey the scene, take stock of materials, and plan for the future. Yesterday’s masterpiece was colossal…for yesterday. What’s next? Breathe the salty air, admire all the expansive greatness and have a seat. Start anew, start renewed…but don’t let the ocean keep you from your sandcastle.

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Lucky Charms

We don’t often eat Lucky Charms cereal at our house…too much sugar, too early in the morning. But, in a moment of  maternal weakness, my little cherub got her request at the grocery store…a vibrant red box of oaty, marshmallowy goodness. At least I had the foresight to buy a box of Cheerios to combine with the Charms to balance out the nutritional value a bit.

The opening of the box began the competition…who could get the most marshmallows in their bowl? Or more accurately, who could brag about having more marshmallows in their bowl, regardless of the actual mallow count. My son eats the cereal dry, but my daughter likes hers with milk. He digs through to find the colorful clumps; she eats the soaked mallow/oat combination on her spoon. He makes a dry mess; she makes a wet one. They both enjoy themselves.

This morning, he woke up before she did and burrowed down into his bowl of Charms like a paleontologist. She came in and snuggled on the couch a bit. As she was finally coming around to admitting she was awake and cognizant, she realized that he was eating the treasured breakfast bits, so she asked for some as well. He, in a fit of kindness, brought his bowl over to her, reaching out in a gesture of goodwill to give her his breakfast. She looked at me in awe and then at him in awe, and said, ‘Thanks’. Then, he ran off to play, with a glimmer in his eye. He had done a good deed to start his day…or had he?

As I got milk for her cereal, I realized there were no marshmallows in the bowl. He had picked them all out. She had not noticed, being so overwhelmed with his kindness.

I added some cereal to the bowl so as not to start a civil war, poured on the milk, and gave her the bowl. She began to eat happily. Then, I stepped around the corner and glanced into the playroom at him. He looked up from playing Legos and met my eyes. We exchanged a look that indicated we both knew what he had done. But nothing was said. He had shared, that’s what she thought, that’s what she learned. He had withheld, that’s what I knew, that’s what he learned. Lesson accomplished.

Oh, but wait, the real charm was this…the luck of being grown up and realizing I do the same thing. I make my ‘personal donations’ look good, but I hold back what I really want. Money, time, love,…hmmmm…

God sees, and he knows, and he gives me that same knowing look I gave my son. He has given me all the lucky charms I could ever want, and he will continue to do so as long as I have needs. I should share the good stuff when I have it. My unused coats, my excess books, my spare change, my extra time, my open hugs… I need to give away not just my oats, but my marshmallows, too.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:7-9 (www.biblegateway.com)