Wisdom of the Ages: Grandparents

Happy Summer! ~ I wrote this post last summer and I’m just now posting it. So I’m happy to report that my hydrangeas are having their best year ever despite the heat and last year’s questionable guidance from the garden store. Perhaps, I, myself, have become an old wise person figuring out my hydrangea woes without any reliable help. Wouldn’t that be something?! 

Anyway, this post isn’t really about hydrangeas or even being older. It’s about how much we matter to each other. I felt this most keenly from my grandparents. Maybe you feel it from a spouse or close friend, and ideally, we all feel it in our relationship with God. 

Still, I would like to acknowledge the unique role grandparents play in our lives. My own grandparents left an indelible mark on the parts of me that I like the best. And, as a mother who has watched her children grow up in the light of their own grandparents, I will be forever grateful for their love and influence. So for all you wonderful grandparents, pretend like I’m giving you some freshly cut hydrangeas from my yard. After all, it’s the thought that counts and I know your grandbabies think the world of you. I also know how right they are. ~ Love, Lara

I have always liked old people. They were nice to me. They knew stuff and never made me feel bad for all the things I didn’t know. Sometimes they would give me candy or money or tell stories that felt like a comparable treasure.

Grandparents were the ultimate old people. They were this magical mix of love and wisdom that assured me that the world was good and that I was too. I haven’t had a grandparent in decades.  The last time I did, the internet didn’t exist. If we wanted to know something we had to go to the library or ask an old person. I preferred the latter. This summer, my treasured hydrangeas that once boasted showy blooms and giant emerald leaves became stunted and deformed dappled by the powdery mildew of fungal disease and rust-colored spots.

I searched the internet and read until I was thoroughly confused by the array of diagnoses and conflicting remedies. For the sake of clarity, I went to the garden store fanning my sampling of diseased leaves like a bad hand of dealt cards similar to the one Kenny Rogers cautioned about in his song, The Gambler, “you got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.” I told the sad story of disfigurement as if I were writing my own country song. All the while, the garden store employee hmmed and hawed making twisty faces with her mouth at all the right parts of my lamentation as if she understood both my plight and the solution that would cure it. When I finished, she pulled out her cell phone to do her own internet search.

I left dubious with a $20 fungicide and a deep longing for old people. I grew up when music television was the rage and neon clothes the norm so I hardly feel nostalgic for anything old-fashioned. But my longing isn’t so much for the good old days (whatever they were) but for grandparents. In these days of information overload, I miss the simplicity of the plain way that old people spoke that could tell you whatever you needed to know in less than a sentence. There was comfort in their knowing. Read more

If You Know Love – You Know Enough

When I had my first child a friend sent me flowers with a card that read, “You know more than you think you do.”

 I knew nothing. Those early days of motherhood felt like ninth-grade algebra all over again. I failed algebra.  I didn’t know how to solve for X to determine the time Tammy would get to her grandma’s house if she was driving 53 mph; had 315 miles to travel; and needed to stop at a rest area three miles off the highway to buy strawberry-banana flavored Hubba Bubba chewing gum with the $1.50 she had in her pocket.

Nor did I have any idea how to compute how much sleep deprivation it takes to enter a state of psychosis where hallucinations appear of Tammy blowing giant pink bubbles big enough to make her car fly like in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  I just knew I was close to that level of sleep-deprived psychosis after only the first week of motherhood.

Days were a rotation of nursing, changing diapers, moving my son from the bouncy seat to the swing to the second bouncy seat, back into my arms where I jiggled and cooed and sang ridiculous songs of my making while I paced the house careful not to trip on the baby paraphernalia that multiplied like some other kind of advanced math which used exponentials and ellipses into infinity.

My children are grown now. I’m no longer on the carousel of routines, rules, homework schedules, extracurricular activities, adolescent moodiness, or teenage drama. Things are pretty quiet now, sometimes uncomfortably so.  I miss the strangest things too– such as the orange clay at the threshold of the front door from their baseball cleats and the smell of their hair at the end of the school day. I can still picture my oldest son grinning amid the branches of the crape myrtle tree that he would climb every day after school, and I can hear my younger son’s laugh exploding like endless bubbles of carbonation.

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Rise to the Occasion

Hi ~ I thought I would send this a little early as I hope it will be a good reflection for Holy Week. I haven’t had the best Lent. It’s felt a lot like wanting to run but not having the endurance I need. So many stops and starts and even meanderings into driveways to pet random cats that it’s easy to feel like quitting. But one of the things I love about God’s mercy is that it allows us to start again, wherever we find ourselves. So that’s where I am this Holy Week — laying down my failures and preparing my heart for his rising that redeems us all. So if you are like me and huffing and puffing to the finish line ~ keep going. It’s never too late. love~Lara

Sitting on the couch one afternoon, I asked God what his will was for my life. Trying to answer such an important question sometimes feels as amorphous as wondering what life will be like in another millennium or what ice cream flavor best describes my personality. It’s both too big and too maddening to solve.

Besides, I was recovering from a stomach virus and feeling particularly puny so the only answer that kept going through my head to the weighty question of what God’s will was for my life was merely to lie down. It hardly seemed like a directive from God. Even a self-help guru would perhaps find the suggestion counterproductive. After all, we are Americans. We stand up. We work. We get it done. Lying down is not a solid life plan for anyone other than a cat.

Yet when I think of the glory of Jesus’s resurrection, I realize it was only by laying down his life that his miraculous rising was possible. While seemingly paradoxical, I think this is true for us too. By laying down resentment, expectations, estrangement, disappointment, ego, and envy we make life better for ourselves and others. The triumph of Easter was only possible because of the surrender that preceded it.

Since infancy when we balled our tiny hands into fists, it seems like our instinct has always been to hold tight. Conversely, surrender is a radical act of love, none more so than Jesus dying on the cross for our salvation. For many of us, surrender sounds wobbly and weak. Or gazing at the crucifix, it just seems painful. So, I get the great reluctance that surrender invokes. Yet the plain truth is we can’t rise without first laying down what we were never meant to carry. There is so much in life that we hold on to that entombs us. The more we lay down our hurts, put to rest both big and petty grievances, and surrender our whims for God’s Holy Will, the closer we are to our own rising. Read more

Greatest Love Story Ever Told

I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. There’s a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercialism of heart-shaped love contrasted with the stark smudge of an ashen cross gives a whole new meaning to opposites attract. Both symbols convey entirely different perceptions of the nature of love.

There is an element of realism inherent in the black ash symbolizing death that the puffy red heart celebrating love glosses over with its shiny facade. And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, à la doilies, hyped-up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is surprisingly refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead. (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent deserts, and red roses. I like the juxtaposition of it. But there is a commonality that exists between the two. At the core of each is love, and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV). Read more

Gift of Time: Use it Well

I sometimes suspect that my 15-year-old dog stole one of our two cats’ nine lives. Besides the obvious signs of aging — gray muzzle, cloudy eyes, and limping gait — he still acts like the overly needy, exuberant black lab that almost caused me to wreck the car on the drive home from the shelter the day we adopted him.

Without warning, he leapt into my lap and completely obscured the windshield with his shiny black head whipping around to give me kisses until I frantically explained that really it is OK for us to sit 8 inches apart. All these years later, he’s still not convinced.

When I came home one day a few months ago to find him with his eyes glazed over, his breathing labored and unable to stand, I figured maybe he wasn’t going to live forever after all. He wouldn’t eat, barely drank and he went hours without lifting his head. My husband and son had to carry him in to the vet since he couldn’t walk.

The three of us sat in the cubby-size examination room while our vet, ever so gently, said there was not much that could be done for him. It was time. With everyone in agreement and despite any logical reason to hope, I decided it wasn’t. I knew it was unreasonable, perhaps, even unfair to the dog.

This time, I was the one who couldn’t bear separating.

In the tentative days that followed, after Gus had an IV and some medicine to help with arthritis pain, I kept wondering why I was fighting so hard to eke out even a few more days with this dog. Death is a natural part of life and Gus had lived a good, full life. No one likes to lose someone they love, but we all get that life is finite (even if love isn’t).  We all understand that grief, no matter how painful, isn’t something to fear. It’s just a higher plateau of love.

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Hope: It Means so Much More

When I was little, I thought the best gifts came in big boxes. If they were both taller and wider than me then I knew with certainty there was a great gift inside. Once I discovered shiny trinkets, I felt quite the opposite. It was tiny boxes that magnified the glimmer of something costly and precious that I most coveted.  Nowadays, I just buy my own gifts and I am not very particular about the shape or size of the box. I give them to my husband to wrap so he has an inkling of what he bought me, giving him special instructions to put any clothes in a gift bag in case I happen to need to wear them before Christmas.

I don’t pretend that any of this is romantic or that the Three Wise Men would be impressed with my self-giving. It just seems like a practical solution to the pressures of gift-giving. And, there’s so much pressure. So much of gift-giving feels transactional. Christmas lists have been replaced with links that specify everything from size to color. We ask people what they want so they won’t be disappointed or so we don’t waste money on something that would otherwise end up in the top shelf of the hall closet. Just as often, we give money as a gift because we’ve been conditioned that it’s the one-size-fits-all solution to the woes of the world.

We look to material things to convey the genuineness of our love and affection, and inevitably they feel inadequate. Perhaps that’s what the Grinch realized when he said, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…means a little bit more.”  Yet it isn’t a little green man that I think about at Christmas no matter how wonderful it is that he converted from greed and grumpiness. It’s a baby in the manger. Read more

Grand Plans: Have You Made Yours?

Most days I feel like I’m seventeen, only without the boyfriend drama and with a credit card that I didn’t “borrow” from my mom. Those are good days. Days where life still feels full of possibilities and bending over to pick up the clothes I’ve strewn about my bedroom doesn’t make me sigh or wince.

Then there are other days where I catch glimpses in a street window or store mirror and I’m so struck by the older version of me that I put my readers on and examine my reflection more carefully. I can’t help feeling betrayed like I just awoke from a sleepover where unbeknownst to me some mean girl drew lines on my face as some cruel practical joke. My eyes are puffier, my face thinner, and I try to reconcile these physical changes with the young, silly girl I still feel like inside.

And while I’m not quite elderly, I’ve aged enough to know that there’s nothing silly in this getting old business. It’s complicated. There are the pesky forms at the doctor’s office where you have to decide whether you want to be resuscitated; who you are giving power of attorney to when you can’t make decisions for yourself anymore; setting up wills and estate planning; who gets what and what the woo-ha do we do with the lifetime of accumulated stuff that the priest warned us we can’t take with us when we go but we bought anyway because it was on sale. Surely, God appreciates a bargain. Read more

Thank You May be the Best Prayer Ever

I love pretty stationary – especially the kind where my name is printed in scrolly pastel font that makes me look like I hold a fancy title in a foreign land where I live in a castle with 100 obedient cats. I know it’s hard to believe an ordinary name on card stock can conjure all that. Yet a blank notecard isn’t limited by possibility, only its weighty perimeter.

Gratitude is kind of like the stationary we write thank you notes on. It’s limitless in the places it can go. There have been countless studies that extoll the merits of gratitude. It has the power to not only reshape our brains but almost every aspect related to a meaningful life. According to an article at Harvard Health Publishing, “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

We hear so much about gratitude in the month of November. We even see the word written in its own scrolly font as if it too ruled over its own castle. It’s a frilly word and we are given all kinds of suggestions of ways to harvest it in our lives presuming that the sole reason for growing it is to keep it for ourselves. We are told to stockpile it, meditate on it, and use it to make our lives more fulfilling.

Yet like so many positive messages that get twisted into an emphasis on self instead of others, we often forget how important it is to share gratitude. It means way more when it’s given away than when we keep it for ourselves. Gratitude gives life meaning, grows relationships, and sustains us during the times between the hardships and the harvest. So often we are encouraged to feel gratitude because it makes us feel better, happier, and healthier. While most of our gratitude originates from those whom we are closest to, it’s often these same people whom we neglect to share our appreciation. Instead of giving gratitude to the people we love we sometimes take them for granted instead. Read more

Duct Tape and Jesus: When Not to Speak

Parenting is a weird gig. Just when you think you have figured out one stage in your child’s development, they morph into a more perplexing one. By the time they become teenagers, a once pivotal milestone like potty training seems almost trivial. After all, what’s a little pee on the kitchen floor among family?

As children get older, the mistakes they make can feel a lot harder to clean up. More is at stake, yet our roles as parents require us to say less. While this is warranted in the name of their growing independence, I can’t help but feel like the more freedom they have, the less I do. My expressed opinions, insights, and experiences are sometimes seen as unwelcome intrusions into the lives of my young adult children. I’m in a season of self-censorship where I try to say less in general and, more specifically, not say anything irritating. As you can imagine, this is a losing battle. It turns out that almost everything I have to say is irritating.

I call these the duct tape years of parenting, not because I sometimes feel like binding my beloved children with duct tape to make them listen to me. It’s because I realize I’m the one who needs restraint.   I need to step back so that they can step in and manage their choices and responsibilities. Even though I realize how important this is for both them and me, I still struggle with what I mistakenly consider a God-given right to express myself.

Yet, when you really examine the life of Jesus, it becomes clear that he used few words to teach, minister, and heal. His emphasis was never on self-expression but on selflessness. He didn’t force his beliefs. He didn’t dictate or demand. He merely offered a path. Jesus gave us free will to choose whether we wanted to follow him. Sadly, duct tape is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. Jesus didn’t use his power to force but to empower us to choose for ourselves. While God hopes that we choose the goodness and light of love that he offers, he knows that not all of us will.

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Growing Like a Weed: Time to Slow Down

Hi all~ Some of the best memories I have of being a kid are from all of the freedom that came from empty summer days. Wandering around the neighborhood, time wasn’t measured by a clock but by the streetlights that told us when to return home. Ordinary days were made precious by the absence of agenda. Here’s a little reminder to schedule a few days like that for yourself this summer! ~ Love, Lara

While trying not to get killed by drivers who are such avid readers that they peruse their cell phones at 70 miles per hour on the highway, a patch of weeds caught my eye. Tall Y-shaped weeds with black pepper-like seeds that flourish on overgrown lawns overwhelmed me with a surprise rush of nostalgia.

I’m not sure why weeds invoke memories of my childhood but suddenly I longed for the hot summer days of emptiness that I associate with neglected turf. It hardly seemed like anything worth missing, yet neither did all the ordinary moments of youth which were more notable for their familiarity than anything fantastic.

There was something about the monotony of long days without schedules or supervision that captured time. For us children, it was ours. All of it. In the long stretches of daylight that marked the summer season, time stopped being a series of moments or a rhythm of routines. Time stopped being a watched clock; a metric of accomplishment. It ceased to be a threat that marked life’s passing. Time was merely vast space where we grew in communion with the weeds unperturbed and oblivious to expectations or the flamboyance of the flower. We didn’t need to be more and we didn’t need to have more.

Summer was a time when sticks were treasured for their versatility and a shallow stream or puddle of rainwater had no depth to the ways it could entertain us. The inevitability of stepping in ant beds and skinning knees; the passions of play; and the pangs of hunger from being so engrossed in imagination that we merely forgot to eat; all felt quite unremarkable. Boredom was a great inventor and the unstructured hours of empty days made it possible to create anything.

There was so much of everything in those days of nothing.  Of course, I didn’t know that then.

All of it feels like such a stark contrast to life now where information whizzes at us faster than the cars on the highway; where we get pinged with reminders of where to be and what to do; where we are pestered by the constancy of trying to maximize time; of somehow trying to immortalize it with the vanity of accomplishments.

In that moment, the humility of the highway weed seemed less like a nuisance to eradicate and more of an invitation to ease my growing resentment of time. I acknowledged the ways I sometimes begrudge its toll on my aging body instead of feeling gratitude for the continued gift of life. It made me realize how much I lament time’s passing instead of languishing in the many gifts of the moment. Best of all, it reminded me that when we stop striving to fill time with tasks that we deem noteworthy, we can empty ourselves of the expectations and judgment that keep us enslaved to busyness; that keep us distracted from the glory of an ordinary moment.

The solstice marks the astronomical start of summer and the longest day of the year. It originates from the Latin words sol for “sun” and sistere for “to stand still.” When I was a child, time stood still and in the vast emptiness of that space, time wasn’t the enemy. It wasn’t something I needed to master or outrun. It wasn’t something I had to fill to prove my value or something I was trying to erase as it reconfigured my body.  It was just stillness – both an untamed lawn to run through and a roadside weed that reminds me that no matter how old we get slowing down helps us to grow.

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