From Gray to Grace

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.  Haruki Murakami

Last week’s tragedy will never make sense.  No answer will ever be good enough.  Understanding will likely never come.  A life cut short.  Senseless violence.

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ERNIE ORTIZ 1949-2019

It has been said that we’re all one phone call away from dropping to our knees. And nothing has ever been more true. Human life is fragile and fleeting. Most of us naively walking around as if we have all the time in the world, as if our days are not numbered, as if we have some sense of control…and sadly, we do not.  And while life itself is a gift, we don’t always live like it.  Our words, our actions, our brokenness speak for themselves reminding us that we are all fallible humans.  Even the best of us walk the line between sinner and saint daily.

So it is no surprise that at some point, we all find ourselves here…struggling with loss in its many forms, be it friendships, relationships, marriages, jobs, hopes or dreams, but I feel it is the loss of life that hurts the most.  It’s inescapable.  Unavoidable.  The grief, the permanency, maybe even the unknown…it fills our thoughts, occupies our hearts and often leaves wounds that never quite heal.

Statistically, death occurs on a bell curve with our most vulnerable moments at the beginning and the end of our life spans.  If you’re lucky, it’s something one only deals with during their latter days.  We know that death due to age, illness, and disease remain tragic, but a life taken too soon, a life snuffed out, a life robbed at any age hurts as if it’s been compounded tenfold.  Many will tell you that time heals all wounds.  Maybe.  More realistically though, time only allows for space between the hurt.

Finding peace is all circumstances isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s a lot of work.  If you’re not a Christian, I honestly don’t know how you do it.  For me, knowing that I have a God who walks beside me is something that I don’t take for granted.  When I am weak, He is my strength.  When I am lost, He is my rock.  Christ’s ultimate sacrifice reminds us that death doesn’t have the final say.  Uncle Ernie was a believer, I take comfort in that.  Our lives, our very existence is not in vain.  On the mountaintop and in the valley, there remains a plan and a purpose for each of us.

In the days and weeks to come, stories will be told and photos will be shared. In talking with family, we have chosen to focus on the “dash” and celebrate a life LIVED.  As poet Linda Ellis explains, “He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.”  And what a dash it was!  Countless adventures, innumerable memories, and a bounty of friends.

When you’re a kid, life seems so black and white.  There’s good and evil.  Right and wrong.  The lines are clearly drawn.  As we grow up, move from adolescence through adulthood, we realize that life is actually more of a marbled gray.  Dark shades, complicated, stressful, and uneven as we navigate day to day living among the broken, but intermixed with bright hues, beautiful, joyful, and full of promise!  As we all inch forward, I pray that we move from that marbled gray into grace!  Life is too short to live any other way.  Let us approach each other more tenderly and offer love, patience, and kind words…only then can we truly find resolve (and maybe even peace) along the way.

Rest Easy, Uncle Ernie.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

2 Corinthians 5:1

Teen Birthday? Whatever, You’ll Always Be My Baby

I’m one of those moms who tends to go overboard with my kids’ birthdays.  Elaborate cakes, carefully planned parties, and that oh-so-perfect gift.  That being said, I had a little epiphany today–today being my son’s birthday.  As the memories came flooding back of the day he was born and the tear drops started forming, my left brain made a striking realization.  Turns out that my “overboard” approach to celebrating these special days, has a lot to do with my own personal fear of my children growing up.  So, to borrow a phrase from my mommy handbook…”you may not understand now, but I have my reasons.”

My little boy came bouncing into this world three weeks early after a healthy pregnancy turned troublesome.  I was so ready following a month of bed rest, a week of being repeatedly induced, and swelling that made me practically unrecognizable.  Our little bundle was gorgeous and perfect in every way.  And despite some post-pregnancy bumps, we finally settled into parenthood and the real fun (work?) began.

Sean was an easy baby except where sleep was concerned.  That kid hated to sleep and when he finally did fall asleep, it was never, EVER for long (a phenomenon that still holds true.)  His saving grace was his sweet little brown eyes that sparkled in the most amazing way.  Excuse my “mom-gush”, but that boy’s eyes “smile.”  Even to this day, he will be as ornery as any boy can be and follow it up with this look that could melt just about anything…especially my heart.  (Let it be noted that while these smiling eyes occasionally get him OUT of trouble, it’s the same smiling eyes that serve as his TELL when he’s trying to put one over on me.)

Like most kids, Sean has inherited qualities from both my husband and myself.  He has a terrific sense of humor like his Dad.  He’s such a funny kid with a quick wit and the ability to turn a phrase…especially when you least expect it!  Fortunately, he’s a good student like his Mom and manages to keep his clownishness at a reasonable level and not get into trouble at school.  Sean is a huge sports fan like his Dad and has enough good sense to choose the Kansas Jayhawks over every other team (like his Mom.)  Sean loves to build things and has a knack for figuring things out sans instruction booklets…that’s a Dad thing.  At the same time, he likes to watch ridiculous comedies (Kicking & Screaming, Even Stevens Movie or Christmas with the Kranks) over and over like his Mom.

So here’s where it comes full circle.  I don’t just love my son.  I really, truly like him, too…and thus, the overboard birthday parties.  I enjoy baking him extra special chocolate birthday cakes, I like creating and planning parties that reflect his favorite things, and I put a lot of thought into his gifts…all to purposefully mark the day when God blessed me with his precious child, a child who despite my objections, continues to grow up.  Let’s face it, time is ticking.  And while I am perpetually celebrating my 22nd birthday (lol), my little boy is racking up the birthday candles and moving ever closer to birthdays that I won’t be able to plan.  And it’s all coming too quickly.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a gift more wonderful than anything I could have asked for.  Happy birthday, Sean.  I love you.  You are my sonshine…cheesy, but true.

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.  ~Author Unknown

Parents are Perpetual LOSERS (Looking for the Win Column)

“The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest” – Unknown

I guess it’s fair to say that we’ve hit the “rocky stage.”  It’s the craggy valley where your kids try your patience, serve up dozens of complaints, defy you at every turn, accuse you of the most outlandish things (like purposefully ruining their lives!) and all before Cheerios.  I believe the marketing industry categorizes this phase of adolescence as “tween,” but that sounds a little too benign for this particular stage of development.  And while I’m not sure how we got here, (as far as I can tell) there are no posted signs for the nearest exit.  The most baffling part (at least for me) is that just when I think things can’t get any crazier and I start wondering who these children REALLY belong to, I find myself the recipient of a hug and a warm smile.

04-ecardSo what’s up?  It’s the same old story.  Only it seems all the more confusing since I’m the Mom actually living through it.  I feel like the victim of some kind of psychological warfare, thus making it hard to balance what I know is age appropriate behavior with these outrageous episodes.  I know enough to realize that I wasn’t the perfect child.  Yet, I still seem to think that on so many levels I had to be a little easier than my two kiddos.  “Can I have this?  Can you get me that?  If I do this, then will you…” (fill in the blank with some outlandish request), followed by, “Do I have to?” and “You CAN’T make me!” It’s like we stepped back in time and I’m the mother of toddlers again.  Suddenly, the automatic kid response to everything is “No” accompanied with eye rolling (that’s new) and foot stomping.  I shudder to think of what might happen if the two actually got along long enough to conspire against my husband and I.  My sweet, darling daughter often takes her cues from her older brother which only seems to compound the problem.  And whoever said that boys were easier than girls doesn’t know squat about my household.  So what’s a Mom to do?

Basically, I pray a lot.  I try to understand where they’re coming from and channel my own tween years.  I take a deep breath and sometimes I actually have to ESCAPE to my happy place.  I remind myself that parenting is not easy.    In fact, it’s pretty much a thankless job.  And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most.  That’s the part that hurts so much.  The lack of gratitude.  These children have EVERYTHING.  I’m not just talking about material things, these children absolutely have the whole, wide world laid out before them!  My brain knows that their lack of gratitude isn’t something I should take personally, but still my heartstrings can’t help but feel heavy and pulled and sometimes even FRAYED at the end of the day.  It’s tiresome, worrying and basically not much fun.

On bad days…well, it’s bad.  Good days (as in 24 continuous hours of bliss) are hard to come by.  That’s why I’m trying to hang on (and find hope in) the little things.  I’ve secretly started calling these rare occurrences “Mom-tastic Moments.”  They’re the small victories that I tuck into my heart and hold on to for dear life.  They stack up like this….

win column

Like with anything, the good times are unpredictable and unscheduled.  The outrageous moments seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.  And since this parenting thing doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to call upon my own life experiences to get by…and sometimes that makes for a parent-child disconnect.  For example, I remember how much my husband laughed when he overheard me telling our newborn, “If this breastfeeding thing is going to work out, you’re going to have to learn to FOCUS.”  Needless to say, my baby didn’t choose to listen to me (even at two days old) and we had to move on to bottle feeding.  Short-term loss, long-term gain (the kid had to eat right?)  And many years later, my rational approach to life still gets trumped by these two irrational beings.  I’ve read all the books, researched and googled every problem, and (in desperation) I’ve even tried to reason with them!  Most of which has gotten me nowhere.  So while I’m still neck-deep in this motherhood thing, here’s What I Now Know (WINK) about parenting:

  • THERE’S POWER IN NUMBERS.  Don’t go at this parenting thing alone.  I know the two parent household isn’t the norm for everyone, and that’s okay.  As much as you can, involve the other parent, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and even trusted friends.  Role models do not have to be blood related.  Many times things that I have harped on my kids about become an “aha” experience when the same advice comes out of the mouth of an adult other than myself.  I’m way over feeding any sort of parenting ego…if there’s someone else who can aid my efforts and serve as a voice of reason, then by all means 🙂
  • MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS KNOWN.  Not all things go as planned, but I’m slowly finding that if I speak up about what I expect from my kiddos then at least we’re all on the same page (if only for a brief second.)  No–this doesn’t mean everything will go perfectly, but it’s better than having that horrible conversation after everything has gone wrong only to hear your child say to you, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that’s what you wanted in the beginning” or “I didn’t know that’s how it was supposed to go down.”  Although they sometimes act like three-year olds, I find that things go a lot smoother when I approach them with clear “big kid” expectations.
  • DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY.  This is probably the hardest one.  I really try to live by the golden rule.  I’m not sure this is a priority for my kids…and I have to remind myself to cut them some slack.  Science reminds us of all the growth and development that takes place in a child’s mind.  Researchers have proven that a “mature,” functioning brain (complete with a rationale for risk taking) doesn’t exist until one’s early 20s.  Obviously, they’re not going to be perfect.  I often remind myself (and them) that we all have feelings, words and actions both speak volumes, and that we’re a family that LOVES each other.  Some days are better than others.
  • IT’S OKAY TO BE A LOSER.  This one is going to need some clarification.  Remember how I mentioned short-term loss, long-term gain?  That’s parenting in a nut shell.  We lose a lot in this exchange:  sleep, control, time, energy, money, arguments…and the list could go on and on.  The gains don’t typically take place in the parenting trenches.  Often times they come much (much) later.  It’s a miracle to me that any of us signed up to do this! But then I think about the gains:  smiles, hugs, love, and eventually…appreciation, respect, and wisdom 🙂  This is big picture stuff, and the big stuff never is (and maybe shouldn’t be) easy.
  • CALL YOUR MOM (a lot.)  She has a way of putting things into focus.  My mom reminds me that I’m not the first mother to go through this and that it’s all NORMAL.  I need to hear it and you probably do, too!  Mothers who have graduated into “grandmotherhood” have an insight and a perspective that just cannot be matched.  Besides, acknowledging your mother’s hard-earned wisdom is a heartwarming way of showing your mother how much you love and appreciate her…even if it took you decades to get there!  No one person has had more influence on my life than my mom…and she deserves to know that!

I am far from the perfect parent.  There are still days when I’m as far away from the win column as any one person can get.  I lose my cool more often that I like.  But, like most of us, I’m in it for the long haul–these kids have my whole heart 🙂  For some crazy reason, (as irrational as it sounds) I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  And when my children are 40…well, maybe (just maybe) I’ll get that win column tally mark I’ve been waiting for….  Hope you get yours, too!

😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)

Lest We Forget

11988726_429047497291597_5725020903439229141_nI was not anywhere near the tragedies of 9-11…at least not physically. We watched the events unfold on television while sitting on a couch in our tiny apartment on a seminary campus just north of San Francisco.  Like most of the country, we sat dumbfounded.  No one spoke.  Everyone cried, including my newborn son.  It was a lot to take in.  Clearly the world had changed.  I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again.

My mother-in-law, Karen, woke us up with the news that day.  Given the three-hour difference between New York and California, my husband and I were still sleeping.  Karen was helping to care for our newborn son (she had been up feeding the baby) and held him in her arms when she came into the bedroom.    I remember her voice, mostly a whisper, saying, “You have to see this,” as she ushered us into the next room.  It didn’t take but a moment for us to realize that this was not good news.  Over the next few hours we watched news coverage of our country being attacked.  Like a bad movie, it all seemed so surreal as report after report showed one plane crash and then another and another.  Time stood still.

Eventually, there were phone calls.  Lots of phone calls.  While the East Coast was under attack, it didn’t take long for family and friends to try to reach out to one another…making sure everyone was accounted for.  Living in the Bay Area, it occurred to us that San Francisco could easily be on a target list.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but looking at my baby, Sean, I remember thinking THIS WASN’T THE PLAN!  If you know me, you know I have these random (and possibly irrational) thought outbursts.  Sean and I had already been through a bumpy pregnancy, a scary delivery, followed by two hospital stays and he wasn’t even two weeks old yet.  I cried.  What kind of a world was this?

Panic is an interesting emotion.  It builds upon itself and opens the door to sadness, fear and anger.  Nothing seemed right.  Immediately, I prayed for those at the scene.  I prayed that there would be survivors.  I prayed that help would arrive on time.  I prayed for justice.  I worried about kids who were at schools and people on the freeway trying to get home.  I especially prayed for those in the air.  Eventually, we learned that Steve’s uncle’s flight was diverted to Canada.  My mother informed me that large passenger planes had been forced to land at the small airport in the tiny, Kansas town where I grew up.  Everyone was on heightened alert.  And this is where we stayed emotionally, not just for the day…but for days and days which eventually stretched into weeks.

There is another memory that I will forever carry with me about this particular time in our nation’s history.  On the way to church the next week, there were armed soldiers on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Dozens of them.  The beauty of this national landmark and the breathtaking scenery surrounding it took a backseat to the reality of life in the United States at that moment.  My heart sank.  Would it always be like this?  Could we find our way back?  Would anything ever be the same?  I know I was not alone in asking these questions.  Yet, it’s at times like these where we find our faith and ultimately our strength.  That Sunday we praised, prayed and sang to an all-powerful, loving God.  This, I will always want to remember.

America is a great nation, founded on wonderful principles that continue to fill its people with a sense of pride and purpose.  Our country rallied.  We made plans, sought out ways to ensure the safety of our people, and moved forward.  Some would say that THIS IS the American way.  The days since have not always been easy.  The threat of terrorism has become the new normal.  And we’ve had to adjust.  The world is different and we are different.  A swell of nationalism permeated every part of our country during those times.  Many laid aside their differences as we came together in prayer and resolve.  In the following months and years much was sacrificed to apprehend those responsible for this unbelievable tragedy.  The events of that one day dramatically affecting every part of American life.

Unfortunately, in the years since the attack we have seen that sense of unity erode.  Nowadays, America is known for its political infighting.  Activists of all kinds have sought to divide the people in countless ways.  Those spewing hate have managed to turn neighbors against one another.  Agendas have created word wars and many have been hurt…even killed.  All of this within our own borders while the threat of terrorism still looms large.  I hate what happened to our country on 9-11, but in remembering the tragedy itself we can find hope.  Today (on the anniversary,) in every way and shape imaginable WE REMEMBER.   Today, at every turn we recall the significance of this day and remember the lives lost.  Today, we seek to honor and recognize the true heroes among us.  Today, social media is filled with symbolism and pride as we cannot and will not forget what has happened.  Surprisingly, I find comfort in this type of remembering.

I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again…lest we forget.

9-11 Timeline

When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.  –C.S. Lewis

College Bound? READ THIS.

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  -Art Williams

Congratulations!  You’re about to embark on an exciting adventure!  And if you’re anything like I was at age 18, then you had one foot halfway out the door during senior year.  I originally offered this advice to my niece when she made her BIG move, but I thought I would offer it again here.  (Original post-January 5, 2017.)

  1. Moving away from home/going to school takes guts. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props. In doing this, you have already proven one thing: you are WILLING to take chances. Kudos.
  2. In many ways, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways, you’re not prepared at all. This is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s absolutely normal.
  3. Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too. How you deal with these things will make all the difference. My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino. It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.” You can always choose. Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  4. Never date a man with hair better than your own. Random, I know…but really. Who needs the competition? I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State. I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.
  5. Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too. Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college. I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today. Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too. This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful. Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years. Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  6. Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday. “When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, always pray.”
  7. Keep an eye on your drink. Again, another random one…but this is vital. There are bad guys (and girls) out there. People who do not have your best interest at heart. People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires. These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink. I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.) It was not always well received. I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of. I didn’t care. In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with. If someone wants to buy you a drink, great. The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together. At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink. Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.) Be on guard. Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  8. You’re not expected to peak now. While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life. Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on. Life is a series of journeys. Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  9. Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work. Look people in the eye, but more importantly, watch what they say and do. I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company. Do not ignore this! Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice. We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point. So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. End of story. You owe no one an explanation.
  10. Finally, know this…you can always go home. ALWAYS. There is no shame. You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again. This IS life. Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone. You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.) This is an incredible blessing.

SPECIAL NOTE:  You cannot live on Ramen.  You will try (we all do.)  But I repeat, you cannot live on Ramen.  

Remember, there are a lot of people rooting for you, kid!  You got THIS.  Welcome to your next adventure!

The old is gone.  The new is here.  2 Corinthians 5:17

“Eye” Opening (A Lesson in Perspective)

The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you see them in the rearview mirror. -Levi Lusko

It had been a long season…one of more “downs” than “ups.”  Sometimes life is like that.  They say that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child…and, wow, do I get that now.  Still, I held out hope (even if it was just the tiniest glimmer.) I had been looking forward to this day, a day where we could all unceremoniously start a new chapter.  It had arrived…without fanfare and without jubilation.  Only numbness and fatigue.

I had gotten so used to the old pattern, the barely breathing pattern where the emotions were so close to the surface that it was practically a miracle if no one noticed.  The questions still resounded in my head, “if only…could I have…and what if?”  Pointless questions really.  I had gone over them a thousand times in my mind. Day after day.  I prayed.  And I kept praying.  I trusted that the lesson would reveal itself.  Maybe.  Someday.

In the quietness of that afternoon I found myself searching out a needle and thread.  Crossing a “finish line” meant that I could now tend to things that I had put off.  The scattered stuffing of the basement tiger could no longer be set aside.  I asked, “Don’t you think it’s time we got rid of this?  Maybe it’s time to throw the tiger away….”  No.  It was a gift.  It was still useful.  It was a part of the family.  In reality, it was huge, it had a hole, it was getting stuffing EVERYWHERE.

When I finally found the sewing supplies I needed, I headed downstairs.  Needle in hand I realized that I forgot to bring my reading glasses.  “There’s no way you’ll be able to thread the needle without them,” the voice in my head noted.  Uggghh.  I tried any way.  Nope.  Tried again.  Ain’t happenin’.  On the third attempt I adjusted my perspective.  Moving the needle in front of the golden belly of the tiger changed the background just enough…allowing me to focus.  Suddenly the eye that had eluded me stood out clear as day.  The black thread easily went through.  Victory.  (I needed that.)

I stitched up the stuffed tiger and ran my fingers over its new battle scar.  Not bad.  For the most part, the new stitches were practically undetectable…that is until the last few.  Probably where the hole started, I thought.  Damaged faux fur, but totally fixable.  With the right perspective…totally fixable.

For I know the one in whom I trust.  And I am sure that He is able.  2 Timothy 1:12

Love Story: The Pen Remains Mighty

More than kisses, letters mingle souls. –John Donne, author and poet

When my children were little, they loved to sing this little ditty from Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues:  “We just got a letter, we just got a letter, we just got a letter…I wonder who it’s from?”  Maybe you’ve heard of it? (And if not, sorry for the brain worm!)  They would sing this song on the way to the mailbox daily.  The song continued no matter what kind of mail had arrived.  Electric bill…sing.  Junk mail…sing.  Not at this address…sing.  You get the picture.  When an actual package, card or letter would arrive (grandmas are awesome for this,) there would be absolute pandemonium–sheer unbridled jubilation!  As holidays approached, especially birthdays, the anticipation level in the house was off the charts.  Today, they’re “super chill” teenagers, but I can still feel this same anticipation meter slowly (and in the most cool manner ever) rise like in the “old” days! It makes my heart smile.

I had one of those heart smile moments just the other day at church.  As part of our CARDS ministry, a large display sits in the gathering area outside the Sanctuary.  This portable, mini Hallmark booth houses handmade greeting cards for all occasions.  Anyone is welcome to browse and choose one of these colorful creations in exchange for a $1 donation to the larger ministry which sends these amazing little gems overseas to our service men and women (who then fill them out and send them home to their families and loved ones.)  It’s a beautiful circle of love, one that mutually benefits the card crafters, our country’s service personnel, military families and friends, our church community and, above all, brings honor to our Creator.  It’s such an amazing mission ministry, but here’s the part where my heart smiled.  While walking through the gathering area with a group of elementary girls, one young lady stopped to pause.  And while it’s not unusual for the kiddos who participate in our Wednesday night children’s ministry programs to check out the display, she pointed several out to me, and shared that she had recently bought one herself.

I was taken aback, fourth graders aren’t your typical greeting card shoppers.  She said it was for her mother’s birthday.  Later, when I had an opportunity, I asked her about the card.  She told me that she had been scoping the cards out for weeks, trying to pick the very best one.  At the same time, she started saving her coins.  When her mother’s birthday arrived, she had reached her $1 goal and chose a card.  She said, “I’m a kid.  I can’t go to the store…I wanted my mom to have something beautiful to open on her birthday.”  And just like that, the mission field expanded.  Heart smile…can you feel it?

I always tell people that amazing and wonderful things happen at church!  And while I believe God is truly everywhere, it seems as if the Holy Spirit is palpable here…how else could we get filled up each week, ready to share the Good News and be Light to others?  When I went home that night, I thought about that little girl and the card she gave to her mom.  As a mother myself, I know what treasures these gifts are!  Written on that card in ink pen she would find more than her sweet child’s fourth grade handwriting and autograph, she would experience thoughtfulness, a child’s innocence, and unconditional love.  Words written on mere paper, yet guaranteed to leave a permanent mark on a mother’s heart.  In an age of texts and emails,  it is gratifying to know (that on so many levels) the pen remains mighty indeed.

 

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 3:3