What a Difference 20 Years Does (and Doesn’t) Make….

Best friends...summer of 1993.

Best friends…summer of 1993.

High school looks so much cooler on TV.  –unknown

A 20 year high school reunion…sign me up!  Couldn’t wait to get there. Loved high school. The opportunity to see familiar faces…not just classmates, but people who I had grown up with and those who helped (in big and small ways) influence and shape my life. Yes, yes–a thousand times yes, I would definitely go!

As the momentum for the big weekend began to build, my mind was flooded with memories. Memories of old friends, teachers, dance team days, newspaper staff, cruising Main Street, school projects and parties.  The floodgates really opened up while looking through the school yearbook, hearing songs from the “glory days” and chatting with my best friend about who might attend (do you think he’ll be there…and would she actually show up?)  The “do you remembers” tapped into a part of my heart that burst with good times and great adventures.  Let’s do this!

Imagine my surprise when the RSVPs started to roll in (thanks to facebook we could see this in real-time) and not everyone clicked “yes.”  What????  This was going to be great, this was going to be so much fun!  How could you not want to be a part of this?  My mind quickly rationalized the obstacles of time, distance and money.  The realities of job and family commitments.  Okay, I understand that, but if you could attend…wouldn’t you want to?  Shouldn’t you want to?  As I counted the days and shared my excitement with family and friends their comments and perspectives gave way to a different idea.  What if, they suggested, high school wasn’t so great for everyone.  That our teen years can be/are/were difficult, lonely and confusing.  The possibility that maybe there were people who one couldn’t and wouldn’t want to see (ever again?)  That perhaps there were some who just wanted to move on and did so without ever wanting to look back.  To be honest, I just had a hard time accepting this…until….

A mere two hours before the first scheduled event, a panic ensued that I had not anticipated.  Not really prone to nervousness, I immediately dismissed the incredible dread that was building up in my stomach and the wave of jitters that was creeping in from all sides.  And a nagging thought settled on my spirit–did I really want to do this?  Followed by a worse thought–COULD I REALLY DO THIS?  I remember sitting across from my best friend at our hometown Pizza Hut and NOT being able to eat a thing.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be!  I hadn’t driven four hours for this.  I hadn’t made plans to meet up with old friends only to become a “no-show” myself.

reunion photo 2013

20 Year Reunion for Garden City High School Class of 1993

In my 20 minute panic attack I think I experienced a little bit of what might hold someone back.  Doubts that probably mirror some of the teen angst from 20 years ago.  Will anyone notice me?  Will I be remembered?  Followed by, will I be remembered well?  Have I done anything of significance in the last two decades?  Have I grown and changed in positive ways?  Will I foul up anybody’s name? Let me sidebar here to tell you what a good, dear, sweet friend I have.  She talked me down from this insane moment of fear.  She reminded me how much I had looked forward to this.  She convinced me that we would have a wonderful time.  We talked.  We prayed.  We shared.  We ate bread sticks and pizza.  And (finally) we went.  30+ classmates and spouses took part in the reunion activities.  It was fun (and funny at times) to see each other again.  Who had changed and who had stayed exactly the same.  The hugs abounded and the memories came alive (especially as the class yearbook was passed around!)  There was much chatter about where everyone lived now and who was married and with how many kids.  I loved meeting my classmates spouses and later at the picnic, seeing their kiddos.  It was fun to hear the stories again and remember the good times.  How much we still had in common after all these years and how life and time had changed each of us.  And yet, throughout the weekend one comment came up time and time again as classmates marveled at how well we all got along NOW.  Now?  It never occurred to me that we didn’t get along back then.  Maybe the conversations didn’t flow as easily in the old days?  Maybe we held on a little too tightly to our cliques and groups?  Maybe it was just harder to fit in?  But, perhaps it was something else.  I sort of chalked up any divisiveness and separation to adolescent self-involvement.  I know this was true for myself.  I don’t really remember not getting along with anyone, but I do know that I was completely absorbed with my own friends and interests.  My world was small then and in order for it to make sense, I’ll admit I approached it with teenage tunnel vision.  And doesn’t it make sense that in our early days we would gravitate toward those whose worlds most resembled our own?  It’s not an excuse, it was just a consequence of immaturity.   And I think this is why reunions have the potential to become so much more.

Today, twenty years later we probably have a lot more in common than ever before.  Sure we grew up in the same town and our families’ lives were often intertwined, but that may have been the extent of it.  Now we can relate to each other on so many new levels like jobs and careers, marriage and relationships, pregnancy and parenthood, divorce, illness, faith and every other degree of success and loss imaginable.  We’ve matured and with that we’ve grown… allowing circles to open up and boundaries to blur.  In a strange way, it might actually be possible for us to grow closer 20 years after graduation!

A four-hour car ride home makes for a great time of contemplation.  I smiled to myself as various conversations replayed in my head.  I thought of those who had moved on with great success knowing how hard they worked…their positive attitudes and energy making my heart soar.  I prayed for those who had braved great and difficult challenges and who appeared to come out stronger for it.  And somewhere on the wide open prairie, the song “Bruises” by Train came on the radio.  Bruises of triumph and pain.  Bruises that remind us that we’re all human, imperfect and in the same boat.  Its chorus reminds us that all these things “make for better conversation, loses the vibe that separates, it’s good to let you in again, you’re not alone in how you’ve been….”  It was the perfect ending to a reunion weekend, and guess what?  I can’t wait to do it all over again!

Cows, Corn, Choruses and Mary

maryAn amazing, creative, kind, talented, colorful, generous, godly woman (who was hands down the best grandma EVER) is no longer with us.  She was a dear, sweet friend…and today my heart hurts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mary four years ago.  She had a great laugh and a wonderful southern accent, a beautiful singing voice and an infectious (sometimes ornery) smile.  Mary possessed a super sharp wit and not only was she fun–she was funny, too.  One of the things that immediately caught my eye was her sense of style.  She had a pair of shoes in every color imaginable and for every occasion.  I had never seen a grown woman wear bright sunflower yellow shoes and yet she pulled it off with ease!  She had all the sensibility of a refined, southern woman with just the right amount of whimsy and fun.  This was Mary.

The more I learned about her, the more I liked her.  Her passion for God, her family, music and the church were contagious.  I loved to hear her take on a scripture and the  joy she found in discovering just the right hymn for Sunday morning.  Always thoughtful in her role as worship leader, she fought hard for every verse (especially in the long hymns) and I’d never met anyone who loved Epiphany more than her (…will those three kings ever get here?)  She was such a gifted musician whose leadership and presence will be dearly missed throughout the music ministries at our church.  A music teacher for nearly two decades, so many have come forward with their stories about Mary both in the classroom and out.  I loved to hear about her adventures (and misadventures) at school and imagine that she would have easily been a favorite teacher among her students.

Mary’s love for her family was at the forefront of all she did.  And as far as I’m concerned, she truly earned the Best Grandma EVER award.  The time, energy and love she put into Ari, Aidan and Braxton is beyond words.  She absolutely adored those children with all that she had!  I knew that she was instrumental in exposing them to music and theatre, but imagine my surprise to see her at a dusty ball field on a hot summer night cheering on her grandson, planted on uncomfortable bleacher seats during basketball season and sitting through never-ending student talent shows.  Young at heart, she found time to nurture those kiddos in every way and we always looked forward to seeing the boys in church on Sunday mornings.  She extended her “Nana qualities” to my children as well…affectionately referring to my son as a “sapsucker” and looking out for them as if they were her own.  We all looked forward to hanging out at Ms. Mary’s house, Nerf gun wars, perler beads, swimming and enjoying lemonade poolside.  It wasn’t long before my son claimed her as his own “Augusta grandma.”  And how she loved Harris and the boys!  Speaking so fondly of her wedding and sharing cute stories of her own children growing up.  Always with such affection she referred to her little Harris and Robbie.  It makes me smile when I think of these two grown men whose mother’s eyes lit up whenever she talked about them.  So fun-loving and playful, Mary was a wonderful storyteller and had some truly wonderful life experiences…and I’m so glad she shared.

I know I’ll miss the way she could convey a message with a simple raised eyebrow or smirk.    My heart hurts to think that we won’t be exchanging text messages in the school parking lot while waiting to pick up the kids.  I will miss our days as teammates in the never-ending Nerf battles with the boys (for your information she was a great shot, often pegging the kids with little effort.  The best part was the apron she wore during these battles.  It had a large pocket that she used to load up with ammo.  She looked all “granny,” but was totally “Rambo”–it was quite the sight!)  I will miss watching her play the piano at church and what a natural she was as she portrayed various characters during Vacation Bible School. She was always good for the “whether” report on Wednesday nights, too.  It was that time between KIDS choir and Worship on Wednesday when she would tell me “whether or not” she was leaving me with a feisty, ornery group of kids or a team of cooperative angels!   I will miss her silly ringtones and how she carefully matched each tone with her loved ones (Harris’ tone was the absolute BEST.) And how I enjoyed Super Bowl parties at her home and the way she would cut up during meetings at church.  That was Mary.

Differences-Hymns-ChorusesWhen I think about Mary there’s one story that always comes to mind.  She often clipped out cute little anecdotes, comics and quips about church and church life.  She offered these up during our weekly worship design team meetings.  One of the first ones she ever shared with my husband and I was about traditional hymns versus praise songs.  It had us rolling with laughter and she pulled it out on more than one occasion.  It always comes to mind as we drive through rural areas because it comically compares cows and cornfields with the “thees” and “thous” of traditional hymns.  Mary got quite the kick out of it!  I can still hear her reading this story. The way she drawled out the words “Martha, Martha, Martha…” through laughter.   While I’m sure Mary had her preferences between hymns and praise songs, she knew that honoring God wasn’t about one style over another.  It wasn’t about your way or my way, it was and IS about praising God…a key part of a life well lived.  This was the way she carried herself both inside and outside of the church:  joyfully and purposefully, both cows and cornfields as well as “thees” and “thous.”  I will always appreciate her humor and the way she balanced her faith journey with fun and joy all the while holding on to the traditions that mattered most.  That was so Mary.

Like so many in our small town, my life was touched by her life.  I thank her for honoring the Lord by sharing some of her life lessons with me.  I love her for modeling a good, Christian woman for myself and many others.  I’m blessed by her generosity and willingness to serve our church.  And I’m happy to have called her a friend.  The cows, corn and choruses will never be the same.

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.  –Voltaire