Tuesday, December 18, 2012

7 Minutes of Wonderful

Last Friday I sat, heavily with a sigh, on my couch with a paint brush in hand.  

I had been painting a special sign for a courageous young woman.  After stenciling the first coat of paint for the words that tell the story of her life, I went to my computer to check email and work on a design.  Facebook was up on my screen from earlier.  The top item  on the news feed was something about a tragedy in Connecticut.  I walked to the family room, paint brush in hand, and turned on the CNN.  What I saw and heard, as we all know, was horrific.   2 hours later I still sat there.... frozen with sadness, fear and heartache.  My paint brush still in my grips...now dry and useless.  

Many thoughts have run through my head since Friday's senseless shooting in Connecticut.  Several things I feel very strongly about and thought, very seriously, about blogging on (including one that was done and ready to hit "publish" till my gut told me otherwise). 

I could write about how I feel about gun control issues.

I could write about how I feel about people's views (like Mike Huckabee) about God being "taken out of schools".
I could write about how I feel about the challenges mental health patients and their families face in this country.
I could write about many things.....

Instead of all those things....all good topics, but all controversial divisive ones..... I have chose to write about something else all together.  

Life.  Living your life.

Two of my favorite movies are Field of Dreams & Steel Magnolias.  I could watch them over and over and always get goosebumps when I hear The Voice speak to Ray Kinsella or laugh right out loud listening to Ouiser Boudreaux be grumpy and sassy!  My favorite movie quotes come from these two films.  

Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: 
We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. 
Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days". I didn't realize that that was the only day. 

I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special. 

The parents of the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary won't have "other days", but hopefully they had more than "thirty minutes of wonderful".

The loved ones of the brave adults who risked their lives, and lost, won't share "other days" with them, but hopefully they recognized many of "life's significant moments"

This always happens.  A tragedy that makes us all shake our heads, cry and wonder "Why?".  We live in the moment, savoring all that is truly important to us........for a short while.  Then back to our normal lives.  

Working... Cleaning...  Painting(for me).  
Cooking dinner....  Folding laundry....  Signing school papers.  
Grocery shopping....  Running errands. 

The busy-ness of life.  And life's most significant moments pass us by because we have lost focus on living our lives.  LIVING our lives.  

I say "I love you" to my kids every time they walk out the door.  Every time. 
I am sure they don't think about it...as it has become a habit... a routine.... a normal moment.  
But it isn't normal to me...it is significant.  
And that is what I told my 11 year old on Friday afternoon.  

I knew that Luke would be hearing of the shootings and wanted him to hear it from me.  
I told him about what happened (without a ton of detail) and he asked "Why?".  
I told him....
"I don't know why this happened.  I wish I did know.  But I just don't.  
But there are a few things that I do know.  
I KNOW that I love you.  
I KNOW that Dad loves you.  
I KNOW that many, many, many people love you.  
I KNOW that every day when you leave for school, or practice, or just to play outside with pals I tell you I love you because I want you to KNOW that.  
I KNOW that you are one amazing young man who I am lucky to love. 
I also KNOW that God loves you and is with you always.  
I KNOW that if something happened to you tomorrow I would be heartbroken, but I would KNOW you are with God and I would be ok.  
I KNOW that if something happened to me tomorrow you would be very sad, but I would be with God and you would be ok.  It wouldn't be easy or fun...but with the comfort and strength of God we would be ok.  
So, we can't live our lives being afraid that something bad will happen.  We have to live our lives KNOWING how blessed we are and living that out."

Luke and I both had a bit of tears welled up in our eyes and we hugged each other tight. 
It was a significant moment.  
It wasn't 30 minutes, more like 7 minutes....but it was something quite special.

That sign I was making when I sat down in my family room?  
It is finished now and I hope that when this young woman looks at it she is reminded of her significant moments.  Her much more than 30 minutes of something wonderful.  
Her life.  What a blessing. 

May you KNOW that you that every time you walk out your door,
you are loved.
May you recognize the significant moments.
May you get at least 7 minutes of something special.
May we not return so quickly to the busy-ness of our lives.
May we live our lives....fully & aware. 

May we all remember the lives that were lost on Friday...and change.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Piece Of My Heart

21 years ago today I was making Hamburger Helper in the obnoxiously-decorated-in-bright-primary-colors kitchen (what was I thinking?!) of our our shotgun style slate blue home in Pensacola, Florida.  Craig had run to Blockbuster Video to get a movie for the night.  I was about one week overdue with our first child.  

We never got to eat the Cheeseburger Macaroni flavored dinner or watch the movie.  

In the wee hours of December 1st, 1991....around 2am....our first son was born.  
Zachary Patrick came into our lives after a long drug free labor, several hours of pushing and then ultimately a c-section.  That whole night is a blur for me....up until they said "It's a boy!" and I heard him cry.  Then Craig and I cried too.  There was a rush of emotion that I can never adequately describe in the written or spoken word.  It was overwhelming, big, amazing, scary, palpable, breathtaking, paralyzing, joyful, humbling, frightening, incredible.....  It was just indescribable.  

What I also can't describe is the love we felt for this little 7lb 10oz human being with sweet blue eyes.  It was a feeling we had never experienced before and would only happen 3 more times in our lives. 

I don't remember who said this, 
but there really are places in the heart you don't even know exist 
until you love a child.
-Anne Lamott 

Zack turns 21 tomorrow.  Sigh.  It is so hard to believe!  Sometimes those 21 years seemed to have crept by at a snail's pace (like when he was a colicky baby or a grumpy 13 year old!) and yet, looking back it feels like just yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time.  
The huge-ness of the love...........oh my.  

Zack was a sweet baby who dealt with 14 ear infections in the first year of his life.  There were many sleepless nights spent at ERs.  He has ear tubes on this 1st birthday....what a great gift!  

He learned as a young baby to have strength and tolerance and courage.

Zack was a smart toddler who talked fluently and adult like at a very young age.  He knew how to give directions in a car to someone, point out and name all 50 states and read sight words by age 4.  

He learned as a little dude to have a thirst for knowledge and learning.

Zack was given his first guitar at age13.  It was his Grandma's guitar that she had played for many, many years.  He was excited about the guitar but grumbled at the thought of lessons and practiced the assigned lessons with attitude.  But, in the quiet of his room or the basement he played songs he liked, searched the internet for guitar tabs and picked the strings....constantly.... as he had discovered a passion.  

He learned as a young teen that finding a passion in life can be something to carry you through good and bad times.....and can end up being something you share with the world.

Today Zack is a man.  He is someone we love more than words can express.  

He is still someone we would step in front of a truck for.  He is still someone we would allow to fail even if it hurts our souls to see because we know it is what will make him a better person.  He is still that little boy who sang "The Wheels on the Bus" a zillion times in the car with us.  He is still that guy who drove us crazy with the teenage caveman grunt answers to every question.  

But, as a man, he is much more.

He is someone we admire.  He is a guy who is strong in his faith.  He is an honorable dude.  He is a thoughtful human being.  He is one of our 4 biggest blessings in this life.  

Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  
It is to decide, forever, to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
-Elizabeth Stone

Yep.  Our children are those places in our heart that we didn't know existed before, outside of our bodies.....4 little chunks of our hearts strolling around life.  

One piece of our heart is......
walking around downtown Madison on campus gaining new knowledge every day, singing and playing guitar for mission teams in West Virginia, being a loyal, fun friend to many, and loving others deeply and genuinely like God intended him to.  

May you feel some kind of HUGE love that is indescribable in your life.
May you be grateful for the passions, thirst for learning and 
joy that others can bring.
May you recognize that the pieces of your heart that may be walking around 
are another piece of the big puzzle called LOVE.  

Happy Birthday Zachary Patrick Stevens.
You are loved & blessed.
Always and All Ways.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Common Ground

On the night before the election all is not quiet, the phones are ringing and the tv ads are still annoying.....

Yes, it is the day before the election.  Tomorrow is very important for our country.
But what is more important is what happens on the days after Tuesday.

I normally do not get political in public, and I will do my best to remain neutral here.  But sometimes things are important....and inspiring.  So I want to share those with you.

Our country has been, for the last 12 years or so, experiencing some tough times.  9/11, Hurricane Katrina, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, stock market crash, Wall Street fiasco and near collapse of a global banking system, a real estate roller coaster, an election in 2000 that divided people and much more.

It seems that more and more, each election, we become a divided nation.  The "sides" are settling further to the right and to the left.  This leaves a moderate, independent, Christian woman like me left smack dab in the middle...and feeling a bit alone.  I have friends & family, all who I love and respect, who are passionate about the Republican platform and candidates... and some who are equally as passionate about the Democratic platform and candidates.  Where it all goes wrong is when I see these people engaging in conversations, on social media sites and at the grocery store, that are not full of honor, care and common respect.

It feels like we lost sight of what makes our country great.
It feels like our country is like this flag looks...cracked, separate and not cared for.
What has happened to our love and respect of our country and what made us what we are....different people with different religious and political views all coming together?

What has happened to our common ground?

We should be able to be a country that doesn't look like 2 toddlers fighting over a toy.  This country needs a mom!!  We need someone who loves both sides passionately, for who they are as individuals, but treats them equally.  We need someone who can wade through the mess of issues and arguments and come up with a compromise.  We need someone who can set aside selfish ideas, past hurts and bitterness and make the best of a situation because they care about both "kids".

How does this happen?





But interestingly, I saw a glimpse of what this could look like today.  I went to downtown Madison today to see the President of the United States.  I have been to many of these rallies over the years.... my first few were Mondale/Ferarro and then a Reagan one....many others throughout the years for both parties.   I love the idea of a country being in awe of, and sitting in respect of, its leaders.
I respect the Office of the President, no matter who is in it.

So back to this morning....
I went downtown in the wee hours with my sister and mom.  As a bonus, we found out my dad was getting to town early for a meeting and going to the rally as well.  What a great coincidence!!  So he joined us on the square.  We stood there, in the beautiful sunny fall morning for hours.  We talked, caught up with each other, laughed, listened to the speeches, chatted with people around us, tapped our feet to the music of Bruce Springsteen and listened to our President together.  We grabbed a quick cup of coffee on our way out of downtown and dad dropped us off at our cars.  It was a great morning!

What does this have to do with politics and the state of our country?  Well...I will tell ya. :)

My parents divorced 17 years ago.  I was 28, was married and had 2 children of my own at the time.  It was a shock to me and hurt deeply when it happened.  I know I am not the only child of divorce, but it is hard for every  child-no matter what age they are-when it happens.  It was a tough, rocky divorce and it....to be quite honest...divided our family for many years.

I love both of my parents.  I adore them.  They are not perfect, but either am I.... or anyone.
They both are as amazing as they are human.  This divorce was so incredibly difficult for both of them in different ways.  They have come a long way in these 17 years and worked hard to come to the place they are now.  They both have very full, happy lives now and I am happy for them!!

But mornings like today have not happened very much.  As the years have gone on it has gotten a bit better, but nothing like today.  Today, my parents chose to set aside any hurts, disagreements and anger.  They came to a place where their love of their children (and President Obama) far outweighed any awkward feelings that would make them hesitate to spend time together.  They found common ground.
I was so very proud of them today.
I love my parents.

If only the political parties, their supporters and the country would do the same.
If only we could put aside our junk.
If only we could prioritize the country's well being before our own.
If only we could set aside the anger and push past the awkward
     to come to a place of mutual respect.
If only we could all behave in ways that we can be proud of.
If only.......

So, tomorrow......
as you go to vote,
as you watch the tv reports,
as you talk with others about results,
as you go about your day and the days to come....think of these things....

May you come to a place where your love of our country 
far outweighs your disagreement with someone.
May you respect the new President, whoever it is.
May you work toward behaving more like honoring adults than fighting toddlers.
May you be grateful to live in a country where you are 
privileged enough to "have a say".
May you be proud of yourselves and those around you.
May we ALL find common ground. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dandelion Wishes

Who remembers being a kid and making wishes while blowing a dandelion?  Do you remember closing your eyes tight and wishing for that Barbie doll that all your friends had?  Do you remember believing it would come true?

Do you know the story behind this folklore?
It has been said that the seeds of a dandelion carry wishes and dreams to loved ones.  I can vaguely remember loving to find this weed like, humble plant, picking it, closing my eyes and wishing for something.  I am pretty sure that I didn't think it was carrying them to loved ones...but, for me, rather it was like a little hopeful prayer being blown heavenward.

I have found myself looking for a dandelion or two these days....
I thought I would share with you some of the things that I would have wished for.

I wish....that teenagers could look at themselves and see how truly amazing they are!  

I wish...
that other teens could look at people around them in high school, respect each other and acknowledge that someone different than them might be equally as cool as them.

I wish...
that teachers knew from every parent how much they are appreciated for all the time, love, devotion and passion they pour into their jobs.

I wish...
that the American people could tell the difference, with both parties, between a politically motivated answer and an honest one.

I wish...
that my Gram was still alive so I could go sit on the floral couch next to her in her green chair, have some Panera take out soup, and talk about what I wish for.

I wish...
that kids on the bus weren't so mean to the driver and other children...making it hard for my sensitive guy to ride in peace.

I wish...
that there were more people like my favorite cross walk guy....who waves at everyone with a smile.

When I think of a dandelion I can't help but be amazed that this plant that most think is ugly and without purpose is the one in which this folklore is part of.  Peoples' hopes and dreams are big, important things.  And, yet, here we are choosing from a whole big prairie of beautiful flowers this simple, colorless weed.  

But when we look closely to this simple, humble useless plant we can see extreme beauty.  Well, at least I do.  The intricate lacy detail of the umbrella like petals are unbelievably exquisite.  The long thin stems that stretch out from the seeds are fragile looking but strong in nature.  

I wish...that cancer had not taken a beautiful, loving woman from her family 5 years ago.

I wish...
that I could lose 15 lbs in a day.

I wish...
that there was a way to adequately express how much I love and admire my husband.

I wish...
that I could have the pleasure of seeing my kids grow up but at the same time never see them leave.

I wish...
that I could adopt 12 children from Africa.  Seriously.

I wish...
that car accidents never would happen.

I wish...
that a parent never had to feel alone in the raising of a child.

I wish...
that I could fix things.  Big things.

I wish...
that I could find a great pair of jeans that fit perfectly.

I wish...that one amazing blogger could truly know her impact on the world.  

I wish...
that the laundry would do itself.

I wish...
that people were more kind to each other.

I wish...
that Ann Romney would quit calling my house, leaving messages from "the party did not divulge their name" and call me "Sean".  

I wish...
that Thanksgiving was a longer holiday since it is my favorite.

I wish...
that my children grow up to love themselves, others and God.

I wish...
the sun would shine every day.

I wish...
for world peace. ;)

I wish...
that I knew the story of everyone who bought my signs.

I wish...
that my daughter gets to mother someone one day.

I wish...
that my sons get to father someone one day.

Did you know that a dandelion can grow in rich or dry soil?  
Did you know it can thrive at sea level or 10,500 feet?Did you know that it can grow in an untouched field but also in a crack in a sidewalk in an urban city?Did you know that it multiplies at amazing rates and is impossible to get rid of?Did you know that a dandelion adapts and transforms to live in the environment it lives in...and survives?Same can be true of our hopes and dreams. 
Thankfully there are fields of them out there...... 

I wish...everyone felt loved.

I wish...
that all my wishes came true. 

May you have the childlike need to find a dandelion.
May you close your eyes and make a wish.
May you believe that even if your dandelion came from a crack in a sidewalk of a dirty street that it can thrive.
May your wishes come true.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What do you know?

There are very few things that I know.

I "think" many things...
I "feel" lots of stuff...
I "assume" a bunch...
But "know"?   Not as many as I would like to say I do.

Here are a few things that I do know.  For sure.  No doubt.  Absolutely.  Without hesitation.

My parents love me.
I love my husband.
Macaroni and Cheese provides the perfect love-hate relationship for me.
The Wisconsin Badgers are the best college team EVER.
Autumn is my favorite season.
A cup of Starbuck's coffee (or hot chocolate in my case), just in the holding of it,
      makes you feel cool and hip.
I have the best  in-laws...ever.
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
The love I have for my children is mind boggling.
Big family get togethers are one of life's greatest gifts.
Chocolate has healing properties.
God loves me....and I love Him right back.
The color black is my wardrobe friend.
The Green Bay Packers were ROBBED by the replacement refs this past Monday night!
I am forgetful.
I am human.
I am a mess.
I am ok with it.

A reminder of the last few from the list came the other night.  There was a rare...and much hoped for... moment in our house.

Our son, Zack, is a junior at college.  He just lives about 20 minutes away but we try and treat it like he is hours away.  We talk on the phone rarely, text a few times a week and see each other every once in awhile.   Zack is 9 years older than our son Luke and 13 years older than Noah.  These brothers love each other....but have not, because of the age gap, been very close.

I have longed for the little dudes to benefit greatly from a close relationship with their older brother....and vice versa.  I personally, and with admitted bias, think that all my kids are pretty awesome and could learn a lot from each other.
A mom dreams this....hopes for this...and prays for this.

So back to the other night.....
Zack had come home for the evening, at the request of his dad to help with some heavy lifting.  For the first time in over 2 years(other than Christmas and summer) he brought laundry home as well.....so he was here for awhile.  Bonus! :)

The moment....
Luke is now playing trumpet.  He was practicing in his room as Zack arrived.  When he came down Zack talked to him about it and asked if he could see the trumpet.  Luke brought it down and proceeded to teach his musically gifted brother about an instrument Zack knew nothing about.  The pride on Luke's face was priceless.  He knew more than his older brother about something.  There was genuine interest on Zack's part and pumped up pride on Luke's part.  Good stuff.  As they talked, the subject of cleaning the trumpet came up.

Here is where the list comes in.....remember from above....
I am forgetful.
I am human.
I am a mess.
I am ok with it.

Luke told me......back in August....that he needed a trumpet cleaning kit.  He has reminded me several HUNDRED times since then.   Each time I say, "Oh sorry buddy, I will get it in the next few days."  Then I forget.  (insert eye roll directed from me toward me)

Luke told Zack about this and they gave me a hard time.  I said "Luke, leave me a note and I will get it tomorrow".  So...........what did they do?  Zack got a whole pad of yellow post-it notes, started writing on them and sticking them EVERYWHERE.

Luke was laughing and giggling so much as he watched Zack do this.  Luke has the best laugh.  It is infectious and delightful.  It is like music in our house.  Then Luke joined in and wrote one himself.  The photo above is the collection of some of them that I put on the refrigerator, together. On the fridge was the one in the center, "You Know."   Yep, I sure do.

The two of them were bonding over their common fondness to make fun of me.  They were getting close while ridiculing me.  They were being brothers.

I loved it.

I can take any amount of ridicule if the end result is my kids having tight relationships with each other.
I can handle all the razzing they can dish out if it ends up with them being a team.
I can withstand all the teasing they can throw at me if it means they are friends.
I am ok with it.

So, on National Siblings Day..... I can now add one more thing to the list of things that I know without a doubt.......

I know that I love watching my children love each other.

(disclaimer~~~ the next day I asked my husband if he could get the cleaning kit for me because my daily list was too long!  See...still a mess. )

May you know a few things for certain.
May you count your blessings that you have a few things.
May you know..........that loving others is one of your biggest blessings.
May you know.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Market Lesson

Sometimes it is good to slow down.

Sometimes it is important to focus on the "now".

Sometimes it is beneficial to look around and learn.

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be able to do all these things.

You have to slow down to do the Farmer's Market on the square in Madison, Wisconsin.  One of the nation's biggest farmer's market happens spring through fall.  Dozens of hard working people taking pride in their harvest by displaying it so beautifully.  Hundreds of men and women shopping for fresh veggies, flowers and (especially because it is Wisconsin) cheese bread and curds.  Children running and rolling on the state capitol's lawn.  It is like a scene from a great movie...

To truly enjoy the market you have to focus on the "now".  It would be easy to be just another shopper, going with the traffic flow around the square, buying a box of tomatoes or a jar of honey and miss the true simple beauty of the market.  It would be easy to be thinking of the laundry back at home, the long "to do" list waiting on the kitchen island, worrying about something that happened the day before or planning the next day's events.  It would be easy to put your head down, get to the booths on your shopping list, pay the farmer and move along.  But to do those things would be tragic.  When I have gone through the market this way I miss the good stuff....the real stuff...the life stuff.

Luckily last Saturday I was not alone.

My husband's two aunts from Iowa were visiting Madison.  Aunt Mary and Aunt Thieleane have wanted to come to the market for many years and I was so happy when they wrote that they had plans to come!  When we met downtown their excitement was big and palpable.  The very first booth brought "ooooohs!" and "aaaahhs!".

I knew then that it was going to be a special morning....for them..........and me.

Aunt Thieleane & Aunt Mary

Let me back up a bit.  I want to introduce you to 2 people who I loved very much.

Grandma Evadeane and Grandpa "Steve"

They were my grandparents-by-marriage...but that didn't change how special they were to me. Thielen and Evadeane Stevens were two loving parents who taught their 3 children many things.
I admire all the lessons taught, but the one that always stands out is this:
Their children care about people.  All people.

They look people in the eye, ask questions, listen and learn each person's story.  My father-in-law and his sisters, the 2 aunts from Iowa, are so good at this.
They are a rare breed......one I am glad to follow behind and hope that some rubs off on me.

So.... back to the market.

I enjoyed walking the square with them.  It took us about 2 hours to get around the whole thing.  Most people do it in much faster amount of time.  But those are people who are keeping their heads down, picking their bunch of radishes, handing over the cash and heading to the next booth.  Not Mary and Thieleane.

Heads were up.
Eye contact was made with the farmers.
Asking questions.
Showing interest.
Listening to answers.
Thanking the farmers.
Leaving with a smile.
Every time.

Grandpa and Grandma Stevens taught them this.
They know that each person has a story.
They care about that story.

Before they started a conversation a vendor would be hard at work, concentrating and serious.

After, when leaving, the vendor was smiling, engaged and...I think....feeling honored.

Let's be clear.  These 2 women have LOTS on their plates.  They could have been walking the square thinking of the challenges they are both facing, the lists of things to do, the friends and family who have health issues and more.  But, even with all this in their lives they wanted to engage in conversation and show their respect and gratitude for the hard work of these farmers.  They treated each person with dignity and great interest.

This is a bit of a lost art everyone.
We are all way too busy and in a hurry to stop, look the waitress...the grocery store clerk...the school's office admin...the bank teller...the child in the eye, ask them a question and listen to the answer with interest.

So, what did I learn that Saturday?

I learned that maybe if I just slowed down, focused on the "now, and looked people in the eye and listened to their stories that I......we.... might just start a kindness comeback!
A graciousness revolution.

That would be the best market lesson ever.

May you keep your head up as you walk the "markets" of your daily lives.
May you focus on the "now" instead of the yesterdays, tomorrows and next weeks.
May you look others in the eye.
May you want to learn someone's story.
May you show them you care about that story.

Thank you Aunt Mary and Aunt Thieleane....
for the flowers, the fun morning, the car ride home.... and the life lesson.
Love you both!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Born to.......

Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 45.  At first blush this seemed like a big number. It thought it would feel different than 40 did.  I loved 40 and thought that 45 would be harder.
It wasn't.

The day yesterday was full of the people I love, places I adore and moments of joy!   Throughout the day I found myself being overwhelmed with the feeling of being blessed........

The morning started at the early hour of 5:45 when the alarm rang.  This is unusually early for me in the summer.....and especially on a Sunday.  But this was a special day. One of my dearest friends (pictured below) was going to be doing the message at our church.  It was her first time doing so and she was a bit (well more than a bit!) nervous.  Since we all know that a good hair day does wonders for our confidence I put on my ex-hair designer hat to help out.  She crept quietly in at 6:15am......with arms full with a vase of flowers, gift and card for my birthday!
Here she was.... about to speak in front of thousands of people over the course of the day full of services, and she was thinking of me!!!  Wow....am I blessed to have her in my life!

After she left I was using the alone time in the hushed house to work on a custom layout for a buyer.  While sitting at the computer, listening to the birds chirp outside, a "ding" went off on the computer.  It was an email Facebook notification.  My daughter, Taylor (pictured above with my friend) , was sending me a private message all the way from Romania!  It said "log into Skype".  Yay!  I got to see her smiling face on a sunny day in Craiova, Romania...wishing me Happy Birthday!
Here she was... across the earth, working with a team to help orphan teens/young adults make a transition into the real world and she was thinking of me!!  Holy cow....am I blessed to have her in my life!

Then off to church.  It was Next Gen Sunday at our church.  It is the annual day where the youth of our church serve on the worship teams, greeters, ushers, venue pastors and more.  To walk into the service and see one of my home group high school gals up leading/singing was amazing!  To see a good friend of my daughter's welcoming people and do announcements and the benediction during service was so fun!  To sit with a dear friend who was visiting our church for the first time and my husband, son and mom was very special.  To listen to my dear friend deliver an inspiring message about devoting our time and love to the many children and teens of the church community was fantastic!
Here I was... at one of my favorite places, surrounded by people that love each other but love others more....and nothing was about me and my birthday.  Just the way I want it....I am so blessed to have the community of Blackhawk Church in my life!

Back at home..... It was a quiet afternoon.  I got to spend a quick moment with a sweet neighbor who brought a handmade card, done in my favorite colors.  I was able to spend some time painting in the new studio with the sun shining through the windows.  I got to chat on the phone with a few loved ones.  I sat down on a couch and cuddled with my two little dudes, Luke and Noah.
Here I was... at home with family, nothing big happening.  Just the way I like it...... I am so blessed to have this home and family and not need any hoopla!

For dinner we headed to my aunt and uncle's house for a family picnic on the lake.  The family "shorelines" are one of my favorite parts of the summer.  So far, whenever there has been one, we have not been able to go.  So, I was thrilled when there was one scheduled for yesterday!  There is lots of laughter, catching up, grilling out and eating.  The lake was quite still and quiet....with just a faint noise in the distance of a band playing.  At the end of the evening a surprise homemade key lime pie came out with a single candle in it!  My aunt had learned that key lime pie was my favorite and made one for the first time to celebrate my birthday!
Here I was... with family that I love dearly, on a lake that holds many special memories, sitting around a fire pit laughing......I am so blessed to have moments like this in my life!

We got home from the shoreline and sat down at the table to play the priorly promised game of Apples to Apples. It was Craig and myself, our college son Zack, his girlfriend,  Luke and Noah.  We were interrupted for a quick moment by a special surprise.  In walked (without knocking because they know this is their home too!) 3 of my favorite high school gals!  They are my daughter's friends, but they have become my daughters as well.  They came with a card and cute monkey cupcake for me!
Here I was... with a college kid and girlfriend choosing to spend their night with us boring adults...and a gaggle of high schoolers on their way to a hangout night, stopping by to give me a hug...... I am so blessed by these young people and am so grateful for them!

Throughout the whole day I was side by side with my husband.  We don't need big stuff, celebrations or gifts.  We just are lucky to like being together.  He does so much for me and our kids.  He spent part of the afternoon mowing the lawn and trimming bushes and trees...one of his least favorite things to do.
Here he was... could have chosen to sit and watch the last bit of the Olympics, but instead was doing something that he knew would make me happy.  I am so blessed to share my life with this man!

So, that was my day.  I went to bed thinking of all of this...and more.  Many people think about what they "were born to do".  This thought is what I fell asleep to......

Some are born to heal people.
Some are born to invent things.
Some are born to raise children.
Some are born to teach.
Some are born to lead people.
Some are born to follow.

What was I born to do?


And do so fully aware of how blessed that life is....and grateful for it.
That is what I born to do.

May you find yourself on your day of birth feeling abundantly blessed.
May you know what you were born to do.
May you live that purpose out well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bricks & Mortar

Being laid off from a job.
Having a marriage end.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Losing a child.

These are all things that, when I hear about them, I think "I don't know if I could handle that".  I bet you have thought the same thing....

The last one is the hardest for me.  As a mom who fiercely loves her 4 children, the thought of losing one brings me to tears.  How could I survive that?  How could I ever be a happy gal again?  How would I ever be able to go on?

Here is the thing.  I know moms who have had to find answers to these questions.  They have had to struggle through the heart breaking grief.  They have had to go on.

I marvel at them.
I admire them.
I pray for them.
I learn from them.

A few story snapshots...

Recently a family within our church suffered an incredible loss.  Their family of 4 were having a picnic at a local park when a car lost control on the nearby street and hit them.  They lost their 7 year old, precocious, sweet little boy in that moment. How do you get past that loss?

A special woman in our family got the call that 2 of her 4 daughters were in a car accident.  Inexplicably, she lost a daughter that night.  How can you smile again after that unfairness?

A young woman from our town was abducted and killed.  Her mom is what has prompted me to write this blog entry.

I have been thinking about these questions for a few months now.   In each of these situations the parent have shown grace, perseverance, and illustrated that there is a way to "get through". I have wanted to write about it.  But I didn't have any good answers to the "how" questions...........

Until the other day.

I was grocery shopping.  I had finished and got in line to check out.  Who was my check out gal?  The mom of the murdered girl.

I love this woman.  I don't know her at all, but I love her.  She is a shiny bright light every time I see her.  She is always smiling.  She is kind and personable.  She is amazing to me.

So what happened the other day to bring an answer?  Glad you asked. :)

She was talking about something that was a hard time for someone else....a job loss.  She said, "sometimes you just have to get through by laying one brick on top of the last one....till you have a big strong wall".

I have not stopped thinking about this since.

Bricks and Mortar.

What are the bricks?
I think that the bricks can be:
~a day
~an event
~a success
~a relationship
~a story
~a feeling
~a goal
~a tragedy

Each brick in our life's "wall" symbolizes something that make us who we are.
Each wall is unique.
They can be laid in different patterns.
They can be different shapes.
They can be forming different size walls.

What is mortar?
Mortar is the the workable paste that binds the bricks together.  Mortar is usually made up of limestone, sand and a cement.
The mortar is the glue.
The mortar is what helps to build a strong wall that can withstand many things.
The mortar creates a mighty structure that can endure an impact.    
It forms a sturdy barrier that can survive a storm.

I live in the midwest.  Tornados can appear in a blink of an eye and wipe out a town, village or neighborhood.  I am always amazed at the home that is vanished....except for the brick fireplace.

Except for the built-to-last-with-steadfast-mortar brick fireplace.

I wonder what makes up the mortar of the parents of the 7 year old boy?
I wonder what ingredients are in the mortar of the woman who lost one of her 4     beautiful daughters.
I wonder what is in the mortar blend of my favorite grocery store check out woman?

Everyone's mortar will look different.  But what does mine look like?

What makes up my mortar?  What do I have in my life that will is helping to build my life's wall?  Will it stand strong if, or when, I need it to?

For me there are a few ingredients.
Faith, Family and Friendship....and in that order.

My faith in God is the ever growing foundation for who I am and who I want to be.  He is the ingredient that can endure any impact, sustain any storm wind and remain standing at the end of it all.  I can hold strong to my life's wall and survive anything.

Would it be bearable?  No.
Would it be easy?  Not a chance.
Would I do it with grace?  Probably not every day.

But...could I do it...and still shine a bright light?  Yes, with the help of my mortar.

May your life's wall be built strongly.
May your life's wall endure the storms.
May you know what makes up your mortar.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flip Flopping

Everyone has a metaphorical road map of their journey through life.  Each person's life path would look different if it were mapped out.  Some of those maps have detours and rest stops....some have merging traffic areas and cross walks..... some show slower country roads and speedy interstates...some have pit stops and others have complete u-turns!  Each of us has a map that we can look back on that has a route that we didn't see ahead.  The sign posts along the way were blank and vague.  

Don't you wish that the sign post would be clearly marked?  Don't you long for the clearly labeled map?  Don't you want the destination to be transparent and highlighted?

What is funny, when given perspective, is how more alike some of our paths are than previously thought.

My example of that is my brother and I and our maps.
Matthew is 15 months younger than me.  He and I were very different growing up...and still are in many ways.   Matthew went to college, got his bachelor's and masters.  I went to college and failed to get a degree.  I got married after college and started a family soon there after.  Matthew dove head first into the business world after school and waited for marriage.  Matthew loves to work out.  Ummm......let's just say I would prefer to poke a fork in my eye than go running. ;)   We are quite different.

But we are also very similar.  Matthew and I are both incrediblely passionate about what we believe in.  We are both intelligent in differing areas.  We both were given the DNA gifts of drive, creativity, entrepreneurship...and stubborness.

If we were to both take out our maps and look at them, our lives' paths look very different
as well........but similar too.

This past month I have done just that..... taken the maps out and pondered about how much we have flip flopped...or traded... our maps.

My map........ up until a short time ago.....
             ~went to college
             ~failed out of college
             ~"merged" with Craig, got married at 21
             ~took the detour of expectedness and went to cosmetology school
             ~had my first of 4 children at 24
             ~had 3 more children over the next 13 years
             ~established great clienteles in a few different salons...but longed to be a real      
                 "business woman"
             ~changed thousands of diapers, wiped hundreds of runny noses, said
                 "because I said so" more times than I can remember.
                    (and I said I would never say it!)
             ~moved with my family many times.

Matthew's map....up until a short time ago....
             ~went to college and graduated
             ~went for his masters in business and graduated
             ~took the on ramp to the entreprenureial world with passion
             ~sped down the interstate by launching several incredible start ups
             ~owned..and still does...several businesses
             ~"merged" with Shana, got married and desired to be a dad
             ~shares his passion for networking with the communities he has his life in

Very different maps.  But the thing that stands out to me is that he had a desire to be a parent and I had a desire to be a legitimate business person.  Neither of those longings negates the importance of what we had been doing...it just was a need.

So, about a month ago our maps did a flip flop.  Within three days of each other our desires became real for us both........

On April 27th Matthew and his sweet, beautiful wife, Shana, gave birth to their first child!  Gavin arrived safely much to the delight of family and friends...but mostly to 2 people who had yearned for him for a long time!  My brother finally became a dad.


On April 30th, our family broke ground in our backyard to make way for a studio addition for my business.  Cellar Designs' legitimate studio was born that day.  I had (for myself), finally become a real business woman.

While Matthew was delighting at the sight of amazingly tiny kissable feet,
I was rejoicing at the sight of strong concrete footings being poured.

While Matthew was building a foundation of fatherhood by reading to Gavin, I was watching the foundation of a business being built up for Cellar Designs.

A flip flopping of maps..........   Why is it that we led such different lives?

I believe it is so that we can, as adults, learn from each other's map.  I am constantly wanting to (figuratively) take out Matthew's map and get guidance from it.  I talk to him and glean knowledge about the business world from him.  And I am pretty sure that my map of mothering 4 kiddos might be a great resource for him in the years to come.  We can share our map (life) lessons with each other and, hopefully, succeed in what our hearts' have desired for many years.

April of 2012 will always be about birth for both of us.
A chance at something always hoped for.
A destination that had been on the map....but not found...until April.
For that...and for both of us...I am grateful.

May you be open to the detours, speed bumps and pit stops of your life's map.
May you know that your longings and desires can happen...if you are patient.
May you be wise enough to look over the shoulder onto someone else's map.....
and learn.

May you love the journey.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Fair Wage

What is a fair wage?  What amount of money is an appropriate compensation?  What exactly do you see as a good income number?  Am I making enough?  Do I deserve more for the hours of work I put in?  Does my boss value me?  How come that person makes more than I do?  Should I ask for a raise?  If only I made more I could afford that new outfit.  If only I was paid more I could go on trips.  If only I had more money I would be happy.
If only..........

These are all questions that we have all asked ourselves at one point and time or another.  I know that, for me, I had these thoughts many times when working I was 12 hour days in a salon....or when I am up painting till midnight in the quiet of our house.   We all think these things.  We all do.  Even you.  It is natural.

The only problem with this is that, for me, my job that holds the most responsibility doesn't have easy answers.  That job, of course, is my position as CMO.
 Chief Momma-ing Officer!

Being a mom is the hardest, most challenging, frustrating, joy-producing, exhausting, exhilerating, tear-your-hair-out, worry-generating, humbling and amazing job I will ever hold.  There are days (and nights when they are babies...and teens!) that I would like to throw the towel in, give up or trade with someone else.  Anyone else. :)
But...there are days when I wouldn't change jobs for anything.  Any one thing.

So, how do we get compensated for this job?  What is the pay off?  Why won't the government offer a tax deduction for CMOs?  What is a fair wage for this position?  Where are the rewards?

These questions rarely get answered.....in a practical way.
But, if you choose to look in the right places you will find the answers.
For me, they come by way of notes, letters... and texts.

The other morning my youngest, Noah, dug deep down into his backpack.  He was looking for something.  He said, "Momma, I made you something the other day but it isn't in my Thursday folder.  It has to be in here somewhere."   I couldn't see any of his carrot red hair as his whole noggin was inside his backpack trying to find this thing he had made!  Then the red hair emerged and his freckled face arose from the abyss with a huge grin and raised his hand in the air.  In his hand was a crumpled piece of white paper.
"Here it is Momma!  I found it!".  I carefully uncrumpled it and found.......a paycheck.
A big, fat paycheck!!

Dear Mom,
I mes you today.  I'll love forever and ever.  I can't wat to see you after scool today.
Love, Noah

A precious note from a 1st grader..... a treasured letter, from our son, found back at home after Craig and I returned from moving him into his dorm room freshman year of college...... a clump of flowering weeds, held by a sweet little dude, picked for his momma....or a high school English assignment that is written about me, given as a gift for Christmas, by my amazing daughter.........or a text that says "loveya momma"..............

Sigh.  There are the answers.  These are appropriate compensation.  That income number is enough....in fact it is plenty.  My boss values me.  I couldn't possibly want more.  Paid in full.  

I have my answers.  I just need to remind myself of them...sometimes daily.

May you love your job.
May you receive the compensation that you need.
May you look for the answers in the right areas.
May you feel valued for what you do.
May you be grateful for the answers.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Threshold Wisdom

I recently was in Boston.  It was not my first visit to the city but it was the first time that I really was able to take in the sites and get a good feel for it.  I loved it!  It had an energy to it that was palpable.  Some of that, I am sure, was due to the fact that the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds were being played there.  I had gone to watch my Badgers...and saw them play their best game of the year only to lost to the #1 seed by ONE point.  Sigh.....

Oh my, sorry, I digress.   The Badgers and Packers have a way of doing that to me... Back to the story.

The energy in Boston was amazing.  That city oozed intelligence (over 300,000 college students) and overflowed with the "salt of the earth" quality of the people.  I love that combo!  As we toured around on our trolley bus I took lots of pictures.  I kept noticing that many of the buldings, entryways, churches and gates to the different universities and colleges had quotes or mottos engraved on them.

This one was at one of the entrances to Harvard University.
"Enter to grow in wisdom"

I am sure that the many who are admitted into Harvard already are quite intelligent.  But there is a difference between being smart and having wisdom.  Wisdom is gained with maturity....exactly what will happen to those students who cross that threshold and experience college for 4 (or more!) years. 

This one was on the side of a beautiful historic church.
"Behold I have sat before thee an open door."

I love the power of these words.  An open door.  For me...this is a beautiful image of God.  He is an open door.  We can walk in or out through it.  It is each person's choice to make.  God's open invitation.  This choice we have is a right that I am grateful that we all have.

These 2 photos started me thinking.  The words that companies, teams, organizations and homes use to mark their thresholds can be so powerful, encouraging and set a tone for all.  Some examples are.....

This is on the threshold of a library.
(notice the "open door" again...)

These words are what you would read when entering the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

These simple 3 words greet people at a exquisite church.

This banner adorns the tunnel entrance for the Green Bay Packers!!!

And, (humor me one more time here folks!), 
this plaque is hung on the wall of that entrance for all players to see 
and feel the pride that history of this team brings. 

I am not sure where this one was taken but there are signs like it all over the world....
in the halls of locker rooms everywhere.  
Players touch these words before they leave for the field, court or rink.  
The words are a last minute "pep talk" to help them focus on why they play the game.

So this led me to think about what kind of motto or statement would hang in other people's homes.  Shouldn't we all have a motto or touchpoint that makes a clear statement for our lives and how we want to live them?  Shouldn't we all have words hung on our threshold that send us off out into the world with a sense of purpose and who we are?  

I thought about what words I would want to hang above the threshold for our home....  
Silly me... we have some!!    Many years ago I painted my first "typography" project.  It was on an old, weathered piece of barnwood.  I wanted it to be words that defined our family and what was important to us.  It hangs in our kitchen, above the door to our patio and backyard.  I know it isn't above the main threshold of our home but our kitchen seems to be the heart of the home anyways. 

 It says SIMPLE GIFTS, and is flanked by words that represent 
what we see has the gifts that we have been blessed with in our lives... 

This is a beautiful handpainted ceramic tile piece of art that is at our front door.  
It has been in Craig's family for many years hanging in his grandparents home.   
We are honored to have it in our home.  

And this is by our back door to the garage.  It is the last thing we see before we leave our home.  
It is a license plate that was owned by Craig's grandparents.  
His family says it means "God's Blessings" in Dutch.  
Other translations I found say it means "named best".  
It can be like that touchpoint for the athlete going out on the field for our family.  
When we see it, as we go out into our days, we can focus on the blessings and 
what we are named for..... and live that out.  

May you encounter many open doors in your life.
May you have gained wisdom through maturity.
May you have used that wisdom to discover what your motto for life is.
May you use those words to focus your eyes on your purpose.
May you find a way to have those words grace the threshold of your abode.
May you live them out well, fully and with passion.