Hey Jude is Still the Best Way to Close Down a Bar

I won’t claim to be a big time Beatles fan.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re GREAT!  I love a lot of their songs and if I was around during their heyday, I would probably be among the throngs of screaming girls hanging on their every word, buying posters and otherwise going ga-ga for them.  So, obviously, I think a lot of the Beatles.  Still, I don’t own any of their albums or CDs and I don’t know all the lyrics to any one of their songs.  But, there is one ditty that I just adore–Hey Jude!

I probably first heard the song as a kid in passing.  I imagine that I came across it in somebody’s parent’s album stash.  Still, not much of a blip on my music radar.  My next encounter with the Beatles was fleeting.  I’m sure I saw someone on campus wearing a t-shirt and thought to myself, “Oh, yeah.  I like the Beatles…cool.”  I’d hum a few songs here and there.  And at one point I thought about buying one of their CD’s at the local music store, but the new SneakerPimps release won out…a consequence of being a broke college kid and having to make tough financial choices.  So the Beatles went by the wayside and I moved on with my life, but this was college and some things never die.

The Beatles resurfaced again a little later when I became acquainted with college radio.  You know how it goes, one DJ likes 80s Punk, someone else likes Big Band, there’s always a girl whose show revolves around man-hating, angsty girl bands (one of my faves), and the list goes on and on.  Basically, anyone can get a show.  Thus one mild-manner fellow played the Beatles and I loved it.  For the most part it had loads of elements to it—fun and poppy early stuff, catchy numbers that quickly become brainworms, ridiculous karaoke-type songs (Yellow Submarine anyone?), and later more thoughtful ballads.  Who couldn’t find something to love in such a varied set!

All of this brings me to Hey Jude.

Senior year in college.  Just when you’ve gotten used to the college lifestyle (and all the perks that come with it), you suddenly realize that all good things come to an end.  As the cliché goes, “there’s a reason and season for everything under the sun.”  It was inevitable.  And while most of my crew would extend their college plan an extra semester or go on to work on a master’s degree, I was on course to graduate in the spring.  It was all part of my super strict, no room for errors, by the book, four-year college plan.  Sure, many tried to get me to stay in our little bubble…”Go an extra semester, minor in Spanish, go to grad school,” they all said.  But as much as I loved them and loved that life, I knew my time was done.  So in January while celebrating a birthday at our favorite hangout, Louise’s Bar Downtown, I strolled over to the jukebox to pick out the last song of the night.  I had stood at this jukebox before.  I knew the song choices and for nearly two years I had always picked the same song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka…well worth the quarters I sunk into the machine.  (SIDEBAR:  I really do like that song.  It reminds me of peanut butter milk shakes, holding hands, and simpler times.  However, amongst a college crowd, it always garnered groans and head turns…which made the song extra fun for me!)  But this song was going to be THE last song of the night.  It had to be special.  We were here to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, the start of my last semester in college and CLOSE DOWN THE BAR.  Obviously, the pressure was on!  So I dropped two quarters and selected Hey Jude and never looked back.

That semester whenever we all got together, it had to be Louise’s, we had to CLOSE DOWN THE BAR, and we had to listen to Hey Jude.  It became for us the exclamation point at the end the evening.  It had to be the song we sang or hummed walking out the door.  It had to carry us home.  And it always did.

On graduation night we ended up at Louise’s–where else, right?  My dear friend (and roommate) had a roll of quarters and waltzed me over to the jukebox.  She said that tonight we were CLOSING DOWN THE BAR with $10 worth of Hey Jude.  I couldn’t think of a better parting gift.  We made the selections and walked away.  About an hour into the repetitive Hey Jude track, the bartender kicked us out.  Apparently, the crowd was a little upset at what they considered our buzz kill music.  We were escorted out that night (the first and last time that has ever happened to me), but we had the biggest grins on our faces.

My Son as John Lennon 2012

My son as John Lennon (2012)

I left town two days later to a new job, a new town and a new state.  There I found new friends, my future husband, and a reawakening to faith.  Hey Jude and I would occasionally cross paths during the years and my mind would wander back to those days.  But recently my ten-year old son came home from school with a project that brought the Beatles back into focus.  Together we researched the band, their history, their ride to fame, and their music.  Hey Jude walked back into my life.  After a particularly long day, with the kids finally in bed and a disastrous kitchen mess waiting for me, I searched YouTube for Hey Jude.  I  played it over and over!  In the quiet of that night, as I was getting ready to CLOSE DOWN my kitchen, I played it just one more time–for me.  It is the perfect way to cap off an evening and I finally know why…Hey Jude is soothing enough to change the course of a night, thoughtful enough to make you appreciate everything going on around you, profound enough to wake you up to life’s blessings, and long enough (7 minutes) that when it’s finally done, you’re really ready to say goodnight.

Take a sad song and make it better.  –Hey Jude by the Beatles

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BFF BDAY XOXO

Angels

“Angels” in the school Christmas program 🙂

Most friendships don’t span a decade, let alone three and counting.  Some can’t believe it when I tell them, others say we’re lucky, and still some might wonder how we’ve managed to stay in touch for so long.  All I really know is that I couldn’t ask for a better friend.  We’re truly blessed to have each other!

Today is Amy’s birthday.  I can’t really remember the exact circumstances that brought us together.  We met in kindergarten and the way we tell the story is that we were the two shyest girls in the class and that was a good enough reason to start up a friendship.  I remember Amy’s long blonde hair and her quiet voice.  Her mother managed to snap a photo of the two of us side by side in the Christmas program…and we’ve probably taken hundreds of photos together (sans the angel outfits) since then.

The details escape me, but I image we had a funny little friendship in the beginning…if you’re the shy type, this might resonate with you.  I have grade school memories of sitting next to each other (not really talking, we were shy remember), softly laughing together and of course, playing “mystery” on the playground… but not much else.  Fortunately, our friendship became a lot more animated in junior high–passing notes, trying to arrange classes together, going to the movies, dreaming about driving and staying over at each other’s houses.  Eventually, her family became my family and vice versa.  Thinking about afternoons at her house reminds me of putting Chex mix inside sandwiches, munching Cool Ranch Doritos, avoiding her cat (my parents were dog people so cats were totally new to me) and the awesomest (is that a word?) phone in the world–it was CLEAR!  Amy was so cool!

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Today…solving the world’s problems over coffee!

Back in those days we talked about boys, rattled on and on about teachers, and took several classes together.  We were partners whenever a school project came along.  And when we couldn’t be paired up, we  took our show on the road to the public library and managed to do our school work there together (with lemons in tow!) I can remember going to football/basketball games and school dances, all the typical things that fill up a tween’s life.  Along side that, I remember jumping out of Mr. Sherwood’s classroom window, the 9th grade water balloon fight (poor Mr. Adams) and telling Amy’s mom that she just might need glasses (poor thing couldn’t read the blackboard–does that date us or what?)

High school was much more fun, so much that I can share very little about our adventures 🙂  Let’s just say that we managed to have plenty of good times and maintain straight A’s…oh wait, there was that B in geometry.  Nevertheless, it was all basically harmless and good-natured and thank God no one ever got hurt!  We spent countless hours driving around in her little blue Dodge Shadow, stopping daily by Sonic, and making plans for the weekend.  Amy is the reason why  I agreed to go  to the prom, the ONE person I would go watch in the school plays, and the only reason I got through speech class without getting sent to the principal (“You want me to squawk?” You must be kidding me!)

And alas, we graduated high school and moved away to college.  We chose two different universities (approximately an hour away from one another) and the fun continued, but on a less frequent basis unfortunately.  I loved visiting Amy and she likewise.  We maintained communication via phone (no cell phones or text messages back in those stone ages!)  Her friends became my friends and my friends hers.  And the discussions continued… about boys, teachers, classes and now–OUR FUTURES.  Amy had big plans for us to study in Europe–her in France, me in Spain.  I on the other hand wanted to adhere to a four-year college schedule and find a job ASAP!  We both stuck to our plans and still managed to stay connected despite being an ocean apart.

I loved hearing about her adventures overseas.  Her new friends, college life abroad, and the French lifestyle.  Amy traveled and in some ways I felt like I was going along for the ride.  A terrific pen pal, I received loads of postcards and photos.  Through it all our tiny, Kansas hometown remained our connecting point.  When we couldn’t see each other during visits home, we often ran into each other’s parents or siblings.  One of my brothers would tell me that they saw her with her sister and that she hadn’t changed a bit.  I, likewise, loved running into her family and asking how she was doing and when her next visit would be.

Our friendship eventually moved bi-coastal with me on the west coast and her living on the east.  Still, she made the trip out to San Francisco to be the maid of honor in my wedding and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

As I write this I can’t help but smile.  There’s so many stories I could relay, so many memories that I wish I could share and there just aren’t enough pages for me to tell you all the things I love about Amy.  Her kind heart, her loyalty, her fun-loving nature, her sharp mind, her perspective, her ambition, her courage, her faith and the list goes on.  I know that I wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t met my yellow-haired friend all those years ago.  Amy always says that we live parallel lives, and it’s my favorite phrase to describe our friendship–and “Amyism” if you will.

Today we still live hours apart (but both in the Midwest) and visit each other whenever we can.  Our life paths have crossed, intersected, gone off in different directions and yet, whenever we get together it’s like no time has passed at all.  I LOVE that!  In many ways, life has changed and moved in directions that neither of us ever would have (could have) anticipated.  And in other ways, we’re the same little girls who met all those years ago in kindergarten.  Except that now, while we both maintain our “shyness,” if and when we get the chance to sit together, we can easily talk to each other for hours and hours… only the laughter between us today is much, much louder!  Happy birthday to my dearest friend, YOU ARE LOVED!

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

Proverbs 27:17 NIV

The Tribe Jayhawk

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud Jayhawk!

The Kansas Jayhawks lost the 2012 NCAA Championship game 67-59 on Monday night, but for so many the sting of defeat is already gone.  Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but I sense something different in the Jayhawk nation…something that I hope lasts for a really long time.  I’m talking about gratitude.  You see my alma mater has had a little problem in the past.  Believe it or not, people actually think KU fans are “arrogant” and “haughty”.  Some have even called us “snobby” (and these are the so-called nice comments from people I know and like–you can imagine some of the other names that get bounced around in less polite company!)

I’ll admit, we’ve been spoiled in the past.  Filled with expectations and on occasion, “hard” on our team.  However, this year fans watched, rallied and cheered on a team that was highly questionable compared to past teams and the season was initially dubbed a “rebuilding” year.  Nevertheless, the Jayhawk faithful rearranged their schedules to watch games, purchased additional cable/satellite packages to see them play on networks like ESPNU and donned their KU garb to support the team.  And something wonderful happened…we WON!  And we kept winning–games that polls, commentators, and basketball insiders said the Jayhawks couldn’t win.  That’s when the fun really started!  Around town, at work, in schools, and even before morning worship on Sundays, fans were talking about this unbelievable team.  We were bonding over the near heart attacks and close calls.  We were beaming at Thomas Robinson’s amazing season.  We were marveling at the transformed Jeff Withey who showed up to play this year (thank you Danny Manning and Andrea Hudy!)  We were developing an affection for Tyshawn Taylor during BOTH his ups and his downs.  KU fans were making room in their hearts for less familiar faces on the court–Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and many others.  Basketball fans were (re)discovering this team.  We were falling in love all over again with the Jayhawks…and isn’t that how love happens…when you least expect it!

The thing I have enjoyed the most has been the “love fest” we saw among fans during the NCAA tournament.  In some ways, the tournament was like undertaking a strenuous new exercise program.  There were heart bursting moments, heart attack inducing first halves, heart warming game finishes and ultimately a heartbreaking loss.  It was a real workout!  And post game, the sentiment that ran through everyone from the coach and players, to alumni and fans was true gratitude.  Coach Self gushed about his team and the love he has for each member.  The players spoke of each other like family (not just family, but a family that actually loves each other.)  Sports writers went on and on about how this season exceeded the expectations of so many.  And everybody talked about gratitude.  Gratitude for the effort the team put into the game, gratitude for the talent of the coach and coaching staff and gratitude for the overall “ride.”  This is not a “cinderella” story, the history of the KU basketball program is anything but that.  This is a story of finding $20 dollars in your pocket–you didn’t expect it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t know where it came from or why, but, man, isn’t it AWESOME?  What an amazing season…and just like that it’s all over.

Some people will read this and think I’m going over the top (and those who know me well, know that I’m known for such things.)  Still the whole experience reminds me of something I read once about tribal affiliation.  Many think that tribes are part of the past.  We’re civilized now, right?.  Advanced even.  Yet our thinking, our brain wiring retains some ties to ancient society  Years ago our survival depended upon being part of a tribe.  The tribe was our family.  It was a source of pride.  People were grateful for their tribe.  Nowadays, people equate tribes with regions of the country, brand loyalty, and of course, sport team affiliations.  Today’s tribalism is a source of social recognition, socialization and symbolism.  For myself, being a Jayhawk is not just about belonging to the tribe of my family (yes, we’re ALL Jayhawk fans!), but it’s a reminder of my personal opportunity to grow in education and life knowledge.  The time that I spent in Lawrence taught me so much about who I am and what I believe.  It prepared me for so many different experiences.  It opened doors and took me places that I couldn’t have imagined.  I’m part of the Tribe Jayhawk.  And so here’s where my personal gratitude to a school that I love comes full circle with the gratitude that I feel has infiltrated the hearts of so many Jayhawk basketball fans this season.

In this life, nothing is promised.  In the big scheme of things, college basketball (and sports in general) are like the wind—fleeting.  So when you have the opportunity to see gratitude (even if it’s in something as commonplace as sports), I hope that you’ll recognize it.  More than that I hope you make gratitude part of your every day life.  Nothing makes my heart sing like seeing those around me recognize the blessings in their lives–they are abundant if you just take a moment to look for them.

I don’t know what next’s year basketball season will be like.  Early reports show that the Jayhawks will have a good team.  I know that there are many fans who EXPECT the KU basketball team to be top-rated every year.  Regardless of early predictions, I hope that we will remember this season–and the spirit of gratitude that it brought with it!  A gratitude that made the Jayhawks a better team and the rest of us better fans.

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud and grateful Jayhawk!

The Birthday Sister

My Mom used to dress my sister and I up in the same outfits.  This looks cute on twins, but when you’re four years apart one of you is bound to look WRONG!  Case in point, a twelve-year-old in footie-pajamas and an infant wearing a belt.  Okay, it wasn’t quite that ridiculous, but it was pretty close. 

Today is my little sister’s birthday.  Whenever I think about her a few things (other than our wacky forced wardrobes) come to mind.  First, I think about how blessed we are that we did not grow up fighting.  I’m sure that we had our squabbles and  a few tiffs come to mind, but nothing major.  The lack of fighting left room for laughter and lots of good times.  I remember sharing a bedroom and staying up talking and telling stories.  One Christmas season we decided to change our pre-bedtime ritual into a singing contest.  We would each pick a favorite Christmas song and start singing it at the same time.  Whoever could get the other sister to start singing their song first was the winner.  It was a lot of fun and I have to admit that as the older sister I had the advantage.  You see, at the time my little sister only knew two songs all the way through–Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  She always sang one and if I sang the other and sang loud enough she would always end up joining in.  Before you start thinking I’m the bad guy, I must confess that it took me several nights of singing “complicated” songs like the Twelve Days of Christmas before I finally realized I could save myself a lot of breath and time by simply singing one of her faves.

We did all the fun things sisters do, like playing dolls, playing house, playing Barbies (which is like dolls, but different), playing store, playing school and even playing adoption agency!  I know what you’re thinking, “WHO plays adoption agency?”  But you should keep in mind that it was at the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid rage thus adoption agency makes perfect sense.  Speaking of Cabbage Patch Kids…boy did we LOVE those dolls!  I remember when we got them for Christmas.  My Mom could only snag boy Cabbage Patch Dolls (the height of the rage remember) so my sister ended up with Ramsey and I had Peyton.  Hers came in a cute little non-gender outfit with short curly hair and, after attaching a hairbow, she immediately reassigned Ramsey’s gender and he became a she.  I on the other hand, felt obligated to keep Peyton a boy–after all he came in a sporty little blue and white sweatpant suit and was bald.  Nonetheless, we loved those dolls and took them everywhere.  In the winter we bundled them up in blankets and carried them around like real babies, in warmer weather they could be found tagging along to Grandma’s, the grocery store, etc… like real babies.

If you asked my Mom to share some of her favorite memories, I wonder if she would remember the time we were playing “K-Mart.”  Yes, we weren’t just playing store on that particular afternoon, we were playing “K-Mart.”  And when you play K-mart you must have layaway and of course, blue light specials.  We arranged the living room, and calculator in hand, we took turns being the shopper and the cashier.  We tape recorded the specials (trying to make our voices sound like the coolio K-Mart managers) and played them back all afternoon.  Oh, those were the days.  Purses full of fake money and the ability to “purchase” things we already owned.  We sure knew how to have fun!

In many ways my sister and I are very different.  She has loads of dark, curly hair and I have loads of lighter, straight-ish hair (that’s code for boring and constantly permed!)  For a little sister she ended up taller than me (a family curse where the eldest daughter ends up the smallest in the bunch.)  She has always had perfect teeth and long, slender fingers which I always envied.  She’ll pay money to see a scary movie and I have to turn the channel when a horror pic trailer makes its way onto a TV screen.  She truly LOVES children whereas I would say that I like most kids.  She is the favorite aunt, hip to all the new fashion trends, music and kid-slang and I’m the aunt who you’re not sure if you want to show up at your graduation (can you say group t-shirts and caricature signs!)

We’re also similar in my ways.  We both love comedies, Mexican food, the Donna Reed Show and to shop.  It’s funny how we’ll like the same scent of perfume without consulting one another.  We both try to “lay low” at family events to avoid getting picked on by our brothers.  We also know exactly when to roll our eyes and shoot a “here we go again” glance at larger, extended family functions.  And we both love to laugh.  As little kids we would  get the giggles and hardly be able to contain ourselves (even on the rare occasions when we were in church.)  As teens we laughed through the dishes and the Uno games that determined who was going to have to sweep or wash!  We laughed when our Mom called us Frick and Frack (I’m Frick), Ding and Dong (I’m Ding) or Mutt and Jeff (I’m Jeff.)  We could hardly contain ourselves the one afternoon when we decided to cover every photo in the house with post-it notes (adorned with a smiley face), all the while waiting to see how long it would take our Mom to notice when she got home from work!  (Ha ha, Mom, it took you a while….) 

So many good times.  I love my sister for all of these fun memories and so much more, but recently I’ve come to love her in a new way.  In the last few years I have seen a strength in my sister that makes my heart burst.  While she has always been a key figure in the lives our nieces and nephew, I saw her finally put herself first and  fight through a difficult personal situation…and come out the winner.  I know that she still has her good and bad days, and most people wouldn’t believe all that she’s had to deal with and the challenges that she’s been through.  Still, I’ve seen her take steps to become more independent, I’ve seen her change her course, I’ve seen her make realizations and discoveries that have deeply impacted her life.  I’ve seen her come from a place of brokenness and rise up to a place of responsibility and change for the better.  I’m so proud of her and all that she has accomplished so far.  I pray for her daily and I know that God has a wonderful future for her, one with promise and hope.  She is special and this birthday marks a tremendous turning point for her. 

So my darling, sister, here’s to a year unlike any other.  One with less worries and stress.  One with more happiness and success.  And one with courage and loads of side-splitting laughter and joy!  Happy birthday, sis…may God bless you today and everyday.  YOU ARE LOVED!

A sister is a forever friend.  Author Unknown

Just Say NO! (And Why Yes Can Leave You Feeling Blessed)

The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.  Anonymous

Balance.  Very few have it, everyone wants it, and there are a zillion resources out there for how YOU can achieve it.  If only it were that easy.  For me the idea of a balanced life is like trying to catch the wind with a butterfly net.  I keep telling myself that things will all fall into place when I learn to balance my life more effectively.  Like millions of others, I just don’t have the time to make a plan, read all the books or the money to acquire a life coach.  Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of obligations and commitments and not only do I not have a life jacket, I don’t even know how to swim!

For weeks now I’ve been whining (what me whine?  I know you can hardly believe it.) and complaining about being too busy.  I have a list a mile long of things that I “need” to do in addition to the things that I “have” to do.  I am weighed down with housework, parenting, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing, etc….  I am buried beneath books that I promised myself I would read.  I am surrounded by commitments I had made to my kids’ school and our church.  I felt pressure to eat right and get back on track with an exercise routine.  The days were getting longer and nights were getting shorter and I found myself moving further and further away from any trace of balance in my life.  I had so many good intentions, but I was losing the battle.  In sharing these thoughts with family and friends it seems this lack of balance had become some kind of common malady for the masses.  The real kicker was that I felt like I had created all of this imbalance on my own.  I felt like it was all my fault because I hadn’t mastered the art of saying “no.” 

“Just say NO when the requests come.  You can do it,” I kept trying to tell myself.  You don’t have to make cookies for every school event.  Every birthday party doesn’t have to be a big blow out.  You don’t have to get it all done in one day.  No one said you had to be perfect.  I began to think that the key to finding balance was to guard my yeses and carefully weigh my noes.  Simple right?  I was certain that I had stumbled across the answer of a lifetime.  The ultimate trick to achieving balance.  In my mind’s eye I  could picture the scale coming into perfect balance.  I was a genius.

My genius was short-lived.  It wasn’t long before I was back in the pit.  I hadn’t guarded my yeses enough and I weighed only one “no” and that “no” was rebuffed.  I hadn’t thought about that.  I naively thought that if you told someone “no” that they would politely back off.  Note to self–that’s not always the case.  

I was feeling pretty low and right on cue, the guilt crept in (and sometimes that’s the worst part.)  The guilt that reminds you that you have everything that you need and so much more.  The guilt that says stop bellyaching and look around…you have a home, food, money in the bank, good health, a wonderful husband and family, and great friends.  The guilt that prompts you to realize that your life is better than so many others and that you have NOTHING to complain about.  The guilt that says maybe they asked because you can….  Uggg!  Now I was completely out of balance and racked with guilt. 

I was starting to feel nauseous.  I can’t win here.  Life started piling up.  Can you plan the class party?  Can you bake cupcakes?  Can you organize this?  Can you volunteer for that?  Would you mind doing (fill in the blank)?  It was getting to the point where I wanted to stop answering the phone and venture out of the house only in disguise.  My life scale wasn’t just unbalanced, it was on the verge of collapsing.  And that’s when it happened.  Right on time and in His time, the weight began to lift.  I saw the whole situation with fresh eyes. 

I had burdened myself with countless projects and obligations and I asked God to help me honor my commitments.  I asked him to forgive me of the pride that fooled me into thinking I could take on so much.  The Holy Spirit put into my heart a reminder that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I clearly need His help and I needed to ask for it.  I prayed for discernment and that God would help me weigh my yeses and noes.  What I received was something that I didn’t expect.  In every project that I had dreaded or wished that I had said “no” to, I found God’s love.  In my commitment to teach, I found willing and joyful students.  In my commitment to lead, I found dedicated and giving volunteers.  In my obligation to help a friend, I found time to talk and share life stories.  In mundane office work, I found community.  In tedious organizing, I found a renewed sense of purpose.  In class, I was reminded that God calls us to serve.  As it turns out, I was blessed when I said “yes.” 

My house is still a disaster.  The laundry pile grows in the dark.  I dread making dinner every night.  I’m still not sure that I want to answer the phone.  Obviously, as I write this my life scale remains lopsided (I am human after all.)  But I’m beginning to wonder if the idea of balance is a box we chain ourselves to or an imaginary oasis we’re not meant to find.  In the meantime, I have resolved to keep one eye on the scale, the other eye fixed on God, and my hands ready to serve…when asked.

The Birthday Brother

I smile because you’re my brother.  I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.  –Author Unknown

Little brothers are g-g-g-great!  If you can swing it, I highly recommend having one…and I can say that now because I don’t live with mine and haven’t for years.  And I am especially reminded of how great it is to have a brother because today is my littlest bro’s birthday.  (Insert birthday horns here!)

I dont’ remember the day my youngest brother came on the scene.  I think I might have been three or four and those kinds of things don’t really register when you’re little.  What I can honestly attest to is that I can’t remember a day in my childhood when he wasn’t around.  His cute little, round-cheeked, skinny self running around the house…usually right behind my other brother.  To this day I still refer to them as “the boys” (notice the plural) because they were always together!  And together they managed to get into all kinds of adventures.  But this blog is an ode to the birthday brother so I’ll try to stay on task.

My memories include all the regular little brother stuff like how he would play with toy trucks, get dirty, play sports, get dirty, bother me, and get dirty (of course it didn’t help that our backyard at the time was nothing but dirt.)  But he did other things, too, and some of them still put a grin on my face to this very day!  I remember the summer he wouldn’t wear shorts.  I’m not sure of the real reason behind this abnormality, although I have my theories, but he just flat out refused to wear shorts one summer.  Instead he opted for jeans!  Jeans in the hot, dry western Kansas heat.  I can remember it was a family effort to try to convince him to wear shorts.  It was a battle we lost.  I can still picture him on the sidewalk in front of the house with a pair of black jeans on…and his little shirt was tucked in!  But those jeans were the least of his worries.  During one of the summers when he did wear shorts that boy had more mosquito bites than the whole population of GC!  He had welts the size of ping pong balls and they always got infected.  He practically bankrolled the Campho-Phenique corporation that summer!  The mosquitoes sure must have thought that kid was sweet (I’ll throw him a bone, after all it is his birthday!)  Other summer memories include his obsession, or was it superstition, with Gatorade gum and sunflower seeds.  (Upon a recent trip home a story was relayed to me that he is still crazy about sunflower seeds.  A little bird told me that he uses his prechool-aged son as a pack mule for carrying around three different flavors of sunflower seeds at a time.  If you’re ever in need, check his boy’s backpack for sustenance!)

My littlest brother was also a bit of a clown and could be counted on for a laugh or a quick remark at anytime.  This orneriness landed him in trouble once or twice (ha ha) and he was lucky that he was such a cute little boy– it was his saving grace!  As a consequence of his cuteness, little girls were always buzzing around, going to his ball games and calling our house.  Not sure if he’ll admit it, but I think he secretly liked all the attention.  Things got weird in high school when girls my age were asking who’s “that guy” and it turns out they were pointing to my kid brother!  It got even weirder when a friend of mine called and I started chatting with her when she interrupted me to say that she was actually calling to talk to him.  Awkward.  But as fate would have it, he is now the father of two beautiful girls and a darling little boy and I can’t wait to see how he handles the consequences of their “cuteness.”  I can already hear him saying, “Well things were different when I was your age….”

I could go on and on about my littlest brother, but I will stop short and relay my two favorite stories.  The first takes place in Allen Fieldhouse during a Jayhawk game.  I remember him sulking because he had to accompany my folks on a weekend visit to see me in Lawrence.  Poor guy!  He happened to be in trouble (again?) and my parents were afraid a typical grounding would be ineffective if they were out-of-town.  I’m sure the house party invites were already out by the time my folks told him he had to go with them on their road trip.  He was not very happy.  So while thousands of Jayhawk fans were screaming at the sight of the Jayhawks and Jacque Vaughn running through the tunnel, my brother sat sulkily in his chair sucking on a soda.  Nevermind the awesomeness of seeing the Jayhawks play at home.   Nevermind being on the hallowed grounds of basketball history.  Nevermind that it’s next to impossible to get tickets to a Jayhawk game.  As the saying goes, “Beware the Phog,” but that afternoon it was more like the Phog should beware him.  Hell has no fury like a boy who lost his house party!

And my all time favorite story takes place back in high school.  He was a freshman (I was a senior) and he was having a hard time relating to his math teacher (and that’s putting it nicely.)  As I bounded around the corner in JDA, I almost fell over myself at the sight of my brother sitting in the hallway.  This floored me for two reasons:  1) I didn’t know teachers put high school kids in the hallway and 2) I wouldn’t have imagined that if a teacher did put him in the hallway that he would have actually STAYED!   Okay, you’re thinking what is so exceptional about this story?  Well here it is.  I used to tell my friends that my brother was destined for great things, if only he would put all his energy into good instead of evil.  It’s a little dramatic, but I think it was right on.  As a kid, my brother was a good-hearted, funny, spirited, adventurous people magnet…what he didn’t realize was that he was also thoughtful, kind, intelligent and a born leader!  Today, my dearest little brother is a TEACHER and works at our old middle school where he also coaches football and freshman baseball.  In a twisty sort of tale that is all his own, he found his way out of that high school hallway and made his own round-the-way path to success!

He’s no longer the round-cheeked, skinny fella tagging along after my brother.  He’s much more than that.  He’s a terrific son, brother, friend, cousin, husband, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, child of God and TEACHER who puts his energy into good and making a positive difference in the lives of others. He’s the teacher with a story that even the orneriest child can relate to.  But let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a little funny to know that as a 30-something year old man you can still find him hanging around in the hallways at school!

On your birthday, may you find joy, blessings and lots of laughter, little brother.  Enjoy your day.  YOU ARE LOVED.

A brother is a better defense than a strong city.  Proverbs 18:19

 

They Grow Up So Fast (and a dozen other cliches….)

Here sleeps a girl with a head full of magical dreams, a heart full of wonder, and hands that will shape the world.  -Author Unknown

WARNING:  SAP ALERT!!!  You know those TV shows and movies where the teary-eyed parent goes into  flashback mode.  I trust you’re familiar with that slow fade producers use to signal that we’re going back in time.  And heaven help us if they actually use the wavy picture trick!  Well, I’ll fess up.  For the last week or so I’ve been camped out in that dreamland because my baby girl just had a birthday!  (Dissolving…now.)

I’ll begin the tale with the fact that I didn’t really want a second child.  Every step of the process with our firstborn was difficult from pregnancy to post-pregnancy.  Blessed as we were with one child, I sort of thought we should leave well enough alone.  One baby is good.  But as it typically goes, my plan was not His plan.  When we found out that I was pregnant with our little girl, we could hardly wait to share the good news!

We started calling people on a drive out to beautiful Colorado.  Smiling and happy we passed the miles jabbering along telling everyone we knew.  The pregnancy was off to a great start!  I had such a wonderful doctor who was an angel throughout the process.  She eased my fears, reminding me that every pregnancy is different.  She was right, every pregnancy is different.  While our son was born in record heat for the San Francisco Bay Area…our darling girl was born during record cold in Kansas!

Everything was iced over the night she was born.  My folks had fortunately arrived early–ahead of the date I was to be induced (which was the following Monday.)  We all passed the time laughing, cooking and eating (my Mom is a great cook!) and of course, playing with my son.  We were so busy hanging out that at one point we didn’t even realize that somebody’s car had slid off the road into our yard and ultimately onto our mailbox.  (To our credit, we all thought we heard “something,” although none of us bothered to check.)  Still, the tire marks and the downed mailbox post told the story.  To top off that evening, Steve and I decided to brave the bitter temps and go to Wal-Mart and just walk around, supposedly that’s great for pregnant woman who want to speed along the process.  While it never worked for our son, that night I awoke Steve to say that it was time! (I say that I awoke Steve because I did not go to bed that night.  Our little girl had given me the worst insomnia I have ever known and I had grown accustomed to watching late-night infomercials while the rest of the world slept.)

Off we went into the still of an icy night.  Everything progressed smoothly.  I was told that she would probably be born in the late morning or early afternoon.  I passed the time in a horrible hospital gown (whose idea were those things anyway?) watching Bible documentaries (Steve was with me remember) on the History Channel.  When he managed to doze off (I still had the insomnia), I couldn’t even change the channel.  Tethered to an IV, I had little mobility and the remote was conveniently still in Steve’s possession.  Oh well.  I gained a great deal of Bible knowledge that night!

Soon it was time.  Nurses scurried around us.  Steve and I were ready.  I fixed my gaze on the giraffe painting across the room.  Only one thing was missing–my doctor.  As wonderful as she was, we were on her time schedule now and I was told not to push until she arrived!  Yikes!  So we waited.  Finally during the noon hour (and probably the doctor’s lunch break) our baby girl arrived.  It was the easiest delivery ever…what a blessing!  As our little girl tells the story, she “couldn’t wait to get out of there.”

We had no visitors the first day of our little baby girl’s life.  The weather didn’t permit travel that day.  The hospital was quiet.  We talked on the phone with my folks who were caring for our son, and many other well wishers who called that day.  Steve had some business to tend to and I was on my own for a while.  Nurses would bring our little girl in and I would look at her in amazement.  She was beautiful.  Big cheeks, a tiny amount of downy hair, and such a small bundle of a body.  Thinking about that day still brings tears to my eyes.

Throughout this week I have relived that day a thousand times as well as countless other “baby girl” memories.  I remember that her nursery was pink and purple with butterflies and bunnies.  I recall that she had her days and nights mixed up.  I remember the colic and the switch to soymilk.  I can’t forget when she fell down the steps or how quickly she learned to walk, practically skipping crawling all together.  I remember how she didn’t even own a doll until she turned one.    I remember her first Oreo, her first lollipop and when she learned to talk… “oh, wow, oh, wow.”  My mind goes back to the holidays we’ve celebrated and, of course, her birthdays:  the Elmo one, the Barbie princess one, the Mermaid one, the cookie baker one, the High School Musical one, the let’s eat at McDonald’s one, the Pop-Princess one and now–this one.

Back to reality and the producer brings everything back into focus.  Each birthday is a blessing and nothing is promised.  My baby girl (who is no longer really a baby) has turned seven.  As I write this it is bitter cold outside, and as far as I know our mailbox is intact (no ice.)  I still spend way too much time walking around Wal-Mart and my insomnia is merely a thing of the past.  My daughter, who once had her days and nights mixed up, wakes up with the sun and soundly sleeps through the night in a bedroom that is still pink and purple filled with butterflies and bunnies.

Happy, happy birthday, darling Casey.  You are so very LOVED.

Every good and perfect gift is from above…. James 1:17