Category Archives: Friends and Family

If I Had It To Do Over Again…


All States 2013-0051-1

This morning, I was looking through my mountain of books in order to determine which to keep and which to give away.

In one of the books, I found this poem on a bookmark:

If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger-paint more and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
I’d see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often and affirm much more.
I’d model less about the love of power
And more about the power of love.
—-Diane Loomans

Young mom who may be reading this, take those words to heart.

This time with your little ones goes by in the blink of an eye.

For this moment in time, you have been given a miracle, a window of grace in which you have the privilege and joy of watching your little ones explore the world around them.

Is there anything more enchanting than being a witness to the wide-eyed wonder of a child discovering delight and joy?

Don’t miss it.

In  the midst of the dirty dishes, diaper duty, tantrums and sibling squabbles, the bills, the fatigue,  the piles of laundry, brightly colored toys everywhere… the beauty of life is unfolding.

The passage of time is swift and you will turn around and those moments will be gone.

Don’t miss it.

Just last night, my nearly 18 year old son told me that he is so ready to leave our small town for New York City and begin the next chapter of his life story. One eye is on the present moment, the other eye looks ahead to see a future sparkling with excitement and possibilities.

I share in his sense of expectancy and anticipation. Yet I think there will always be a tiny part of my heart that wishes for just a little more time.

And there will definitely be a part of me that sees this in my mind’s eye as I talk to my son, both today and in the coming years:

josh0006🙂

During this time of year, especially, we would all do well to stay awake to the beauty and wonder of this beautiful place called now. 

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A Sweet Victory


We found out yesterday that our son Josh is now a full-fledged member of the All-State band!

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Josh with his beloved oboe

This has been a long, three year process.

Back in 2010, my husband and son wandered into a local pawn shop during an outing. They had never been there before and never went again. But that day, Josh discovered an oboe for sale. He had been playing the clarinet in the high school band for the past year but was looking to increase his repertoire.

He paid $40 for his new treasure…and a love affair was born.

It was definitely not love at first sight, though.

The oboe is an extremely finicky and difficult instrument to play. He hated it at first. Then he heard his girlfriend play it and loved the sound. He decided then that he would learn (and master) this instrument that was capable of making such beautiful and stirring music.

He switched to the oboe in his high school band and began private lessons. He decided in the fall of his sophomore year to audition for All-States. He knew he wasn’t  yet ready to make it, but he wanted to try.

The first audition did not go well. He was extremely nervous and when it came time to sight read, his mind went completely blank.

Still, when he walked out of his audition, he had a smile on his face. He was both relieved that it was over and filled with a new resolve to dramatically improve his skill.

A new goal had formed in his mind and heart: he wanted to make the All-State band by the time he was a senior. He threw himself into his private lessons and played the oboe in three different bands.

He  improved in his junior year audition, coming within just two points of making the band. Sight reading was still something that needed some work so he concentrated on that with a laser-like focus.

He also joined our church’s worship team and was now playing the oboe in four bands. He relentlessly practiced his sight-reading and continued taking lessons. Our house was often filled with the sound of his music (which I loved).

This past Saturday were the auditions and his last chance to realize his dream.

I woke up and saw his stuff in the kitchen  and had a nostalgic moment, knowing that this was it.

All States 2013-0049-1Next  November Josh will be away at college.  There will be no more All-State auditions after today.

All States 2013-0051-1But today he is here and the day sparkles with the possibilities of a dream being realized.

When we arrived at the high school and crammed into a crowded cafeteria filled with student musicians from all over the state. Josh was quietly confident, able to joke and laugh with his fellow classmates. He alternated between chatting, practicing, and reading his favorite book, Catcher In The Rye.

When they called his name, he smiled as we all cheered for him, grabbed his music, clutched his oboe, and disappeared down the hallway into the audition room.

He would later tell us that as he placed his music on the music stand, one of the judges instructed him to turn to piece #18 and begin to play.

Josh was startled. “18? You mean 19?” he asked hopefully. He had been practicing #19 for months, thinking that that was the piece he would be required to play.

“No, #18,” came the reply. “Please begin.”

There was a moment of sheer panic.

He had practiced the wrong music!

This was his last chance and everything he had worked so hard for was in jeopardy.

He would have to sight read. The moment of truth was upon him.

And he did it!!!

The very thing that had undone him two years before proved now to be the point of his triumph.

What a fabulous lesson for all of us!

Josh had a choice to make when he fell short the first time he auditioned. Would that failure define him? Or would it spur him on to make progress, to improve, to master the very thing that had threatened his dream?

I happen to think that just taking those first steps toward a dream, being willing to enter the arena—rather than sitting on the sidelines and playing it safe— is a win.

And if you find that you falter or stumble?

So what?!

We all do from time to time. The only time failure is permanent is if you quit.

Failure is an excellent teacher…if you are willing to learn.

Thomas Edison tried over 1000 times to invent the light bulb. When asked how it felt to fail 100o times, his reply was, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”

Whether you are still trying to find the courage to take the first step toward your dream or you have just taken your thousandth step, don’t give up.

The very next step may be the one that leads you to victory!

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Extra Time


Uncle Duane and me

When my brother and I took a road trip to our hometown a couple of weeks ago, one of our main priorities was to spend time with our Uncle Duane.

Back in February, our entire family headed to Pennsylvania to say what we thought would be our goodbyes to our beloved uncle. (I wrote about that here and here).

It turns out doctors can be wrong. He wasn’t supposed to live to see April but he is still alive and kicking in November!

Simply put, my uncle is a warrior. He is a WWII veteran and his frail body houses the heart of a fighter.

His goal for our trip was to purchase a laptop and a printer. And to get a Facebook account! 🙂

So, my brother and I happily picked him up the day after we arrived in town.

It was hard to see how much effort it took for him to do such a simple thing as get into the front seat of a car. Yet he carries himself with such dignity that we could not feel sorry for him. We simply—and happily— adjusted our pace to his, just glad to be with him on a sunny autumn day.

I am not in any way a patient person. I have one speed…fast.

However, that day, I was content to match my pace to my uncle’s. I had all the time in the world to give to him.

Love does that.

Later in the trip, he showed me a box of letters and documents from our ancestors on my dad’s side. (Uncle Duane is our family historian).

I looked with wonder at the documentation of my first relative to come to this country. His name was Samuel and he was born in 1777 in Switzerland. He came to New York City in the 1800s, and became a citizen. One of his children was born in 1813 and was my great, great, great grandfather.

I was able to read a few letters from some long-gone relatives who were first generation Americans. Even though there was nothing earth-shattering in their words, I was absolutely fascinated to read about their day-to-day lives, their struggles, their joys. I wondered what they looked like? Would I have enjoyed spending time with them?

Among the letters were photos of my Uncle Duane and Aunt Dot touring the midwestern family homestead that had been  built in the 1800’s. It was still standing well into the early 1980’s.

After I finished looking at the letters, I was able to talk to Uncle Duane about them. I was able to ask him questions and hear his memories and stories.

“I want more time,” I thought as I hugged him goodbye, fighting tears.

Time with our loved ones is such a precious gift. It is also the easiest gift to take for granted.

I am already looking forward to the next time that I get to see my uncle.

Regardless of when that is (whether on earth or in heaven) I will always be grateful for the “extra time” I had with him on those sunny October days.

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A Visit To The Guidance Counselor


Photo credit: Google

I had a surreal moment this morning.

My husband, our son, and me sat in his guidance counselor’s office at the high school to discuss the college application process since this is his senior year.

Wait a minute…wasn’t it just yesterday that the three of us sat in this very office for the first time to discuss our son’s transition from homeschooling into the high school?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I sat in the school parking lot after the first day of school searching for  his red hair in the sea of students as they streamed out of the building at the end of the day? Practically holding my breath wondering how it had gone…then exhaling with relief and a smile when he declared that the day had been “a great one!”

I looked at the young man sitting beside me, confidently telling the guidance counselor that he had already finished his college essay, had lined up his teacher recommendations, and was registered to take the SATs for the second time.

I listened with parental pride when the guidance counselor told us that Josh qualified as a New Hampshire scholar. His hard work, laser-like focus, and dedication have paid off. I had nothing to do with it; this was all my son’s effort. It’s who he is.

I silently gave thanks to my very good God who had taken my hand and stilled my trembling heart all those years ago when He placed me on the road of homeschooling with this promise: “Your children will be taught by the Lord and great will be their peace.” (Isaiah 54:13).

I knew I could not possibly take on the herculean task of educating my kids on my own, but He used this verse to assure me that He would help me give them what they needed. After all, they are more His than they are mine. His love for them amazingly eclipses my own. He knows that I would give my life for both Josh and Julia…and He has already given His for them. (John 3:16).

I listened to Josh tell the counselor about his dream of being a writer. I listened to her tell Doug and I what a fine young man we have raised.

And I fought hard to hold back tears.

Ann Voskamp wrote on her blog the other day, “Your Father is bigger than your failures.” 

I have made so many mistakes as a parent. The other day, I was scrolling down my newsfeed on Facebook, seeing all these fresh little faces, proudly posing for their first day of kindergarten. These photos trumpeted hope and the promise bright new beginnings.

I found myself wondering what I would do differently if I had it to do over again. If I am honest, lots of regrets immediately filled my mind.

If only I had…”

“If only I hadn’t…”

“If only I had been more like…”

We are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we? We try so hard to be the “perfect” parent but there is only One who is perfect. (James 1:17).

The truth is that we are broken people trying our best to parent other broken people.

There will be hurt feelings, misunderstandings, temper tantrums, disappointment, heartache…as well as laughter, togetherness, inside family jokes, road trips, and sweet memories.

The fact is that I don’t have another chance at parenting my kids through childhood. But I know that I have done my very best to prepare them to live their God-given stories in this world.

Rather than looking back, I will look forward to the precious day that is right in front of me. I will celebrate the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). I will treasure the days as they slip past, rushing toward graduation day in June.

I will stop taking guilt trips. I will instead rest in the knowledge that His love and His grace mercifully cover my mistakes and fill in the holes.

I will let go of the things that don’t really matter and focus on the things that do.

I will thank Him for the privilege of being a parent to our two red-heads who fill my heart with such joy everyday.

I will continue to mentor the young moms in my area of influence and encourage them to stop trying to be supermom and concentrate on filling the role of being God’s “Plan A” for their children.

I will endeavor to demonstrate the same grace that He has shown me.

I will savor the music of a house full of teenagers.

I will resist the urge to hover and simply walk alongside.

I will listen more than I speak.

I will not take today for granted.

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” 

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Hello Again!


So, this has been an uncharacteristically long blog break for me.

I knew it was time to start writing again when someone asked me, “Have you quit blogging?”

Not at all…I have been busy living life and while I was doing that, my computer keyboard quickly gathered dust.

This has been an unusual summer in many ways. Here are some things I have learned:

1) My husband and I thrived during our 5-week empty nest experience.

Our son attended a five week Advanced Studies Program at a local boarding school and our daughter flew to the United Kingdom with the People To People program to tour London, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

Photo: My world traveler. :)

They had the time of their lives.

And while Doug and I did miss them, we reveled in having time alone. It was peaceful, fun, happy, and joyful. We have been together for 23 years (married for 21) and his smile still makes my heart race.

Of course, we weren’t completely alone because we live with a very needy and neurotic Bichon Frise, Buddy. The instant the kids left, he proceeded to glue himself to our sides. He even went so far as to sleep beside us with his head on a pillow!

He is a tad spoiled.

Photo: Buddy

2. Our kids are living an entirely different life than we did as teenagers.

This summer, Josh and Julia’s various friends have traveled to Spain, St. Lucia, California, New York City, Texas, and Ireland.

When I was a teenager, my friends considered the fact that my family went to my uncle’s beach house in Myrtle Beach every year exotic! How things change!

3. Our daughter is moving to Scotland.

Well, at least she is planning to apply to college there.

She was completely captivated by that land and is determined to live there at some point in her life. After hearing her stories and seeing her fabulous photos, visiting Scotland is now on my bucket list!

4. I love Les Miserables!

My brother, Doug, and I saw a performance while the kids were gone. Our little town provides professional Broadway-caliber actors a chance to escape the madness of New York City or Boston in the summer and perform in a Norman Rockwell-like setting.

I had seen the movie but there is something about seeing this powerful story play out live on the stage that is intoxicating.

The gorgeous music alone is worth the price of admission. It causes a  heart to soar and then to break and it is glorious. However, it is this story of the sheer beauty of grace and redemption and love in the face of unrelenting, merciless law that  is so beautiful.

You can read how the story showcases the Gospel message here.

5. I learned some family history.

Given that my dad’s family is Irish and Julia was going to be in Ireland, I called my aunt and uncle to discover some history. I learned that my grandmother’s family were from Northern Ireland and they were sheep farmers. Their names have long since been forgotten but I am grateful that somewhere along the way, one of them decided to come to America and begin a new chapter in our magnificent country.

I also learned that our family history reads like a soap opera: tragedy, love affairs, struggles with vice, etc. My aunt thinks I should write a book about  it because (in her words): “It would be a blockbuster.”

Maybe so. Stay tuned. 🙂

6. Life is sweet. 

While looking for something while the kids were gone, I came across a photo of the two of  them when they were eight and seven. I know I say this all the time on my little corner of the internet, but it was yet another reminder of how very fast time goes.

When they returned from their various adventures to live under our roof once again, we noticed the changes immediately. Both possessed a greater level of maturity and a deeper zest for life. 

They have truly begun to live their own stories and it is a beautiful thing to see.

I am very grateful for the “preview of coming attractions” that I received while they were gone because it makes me even more determined to treasure the moments and days of the coming year as our son enters his senior year of high school.

Our house is once again filled with the tremendous energy and boisterous laughter of  the kids’ friends. One afternoon while a bunch of them were waiting for Julia to get ready to go to the beach, one of them sat down at the piano and began to play. The happy music mingled with the sounds of chatter and laughter for a few wonderful moments and then with a flurry of last minute activity, they were out the door and the house was quiet.

And my heart is full.

“God, today is the last like this. This place, this people, this moment—it will never again be just like this. Cause my eyes to see everything in my life afresh. I may not pass by here again. Now is not a forever grace but amazing grace.”—Ann Voskamp

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Perspective Change


Photo: Josh writing at sunset on Lake Waukewan

My son writing at sunset by the lake

I saw my son on Saturday.

He needed some supplies from the store so my husband, my mom, and I drove to the school to meet him.

He walked out of his dorm in response to my text and all of a sudden it hit me with razor-sharp clarity: he is a young man on the verge of adulthood. No longer my little boy.

He hasn’t been for a long time.

Yet, I found myself mildly surprised by this realization.

We only got to spend about forty five minutes with him, as he had to get back for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament with the guys in his dorm.

That entire time, I looked at my son through new eyes. He seemed to have grown in the two weeks since we had seen him. He looked thinner to me (“They have been serving Mexican in the dining hall,” he said with clear distaste). His skin was tanned from spending so much time outdoors in between classes.  (After nearly a solid month of rain, the golden, beautiful sun has mercifully and delightfully re-emerged here in our part of the world). He looked tired but happy. Content. At peace. His smile was easy, his words were relatively few. He gamely answered our many questions, but did not offer nearly as much detail as I would have liked to hear.

(“He’s a guy,” my husband explained to me later).

I will always be his mother, but our relationship has undergone a subtle yet significant shift.

His daily presence in my life is no longer a given. Earlier in the summer he went to Canada and now he is gone for a total of five weeks. He now knows what it is like to meet life on his own, to make the choices he deems best, to experience things and people that do not include us.

At the end of our time together, he hugged all of us, thanked us for coming, and headed toward his dorm without looking back. I realized that I was hoping for a final wave but it was not to be.

Surprisingly… happily… I realized that was okay.

My independent son is moving forward into a future bright with possibilities. It is not really in his nature to look back. He possesses the gift of fully living in the present.

And that makes this mama’s heart a happy one.

“So rolls the changing year, and so we change;
Motion so swift, we know not that we move.
—-Dinah Craik

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Bon Voyage!


My husband and I just returned home from the bus station, where our daughter was joining twenty eight other students from all over our state to begin the first leg of  their journey to the United Kingdom. The hours before she left were a flurry of activity and last minute picture-taking.

Julia Europe-0002-1-2

Julia Europe-0007-1-2

We met her fellow travelers at a local bus station, which would take them to Logan airport. After a group photo for the parents, they kids boarded the bus, their first leg on a journey to another land and exciting new adventures.

Julia Europe-0037-1 Julia Europe-0050-1Doug and I stood with the other parents, waving at the bus until it was out of sight.

Several moms were wiping tears from their eyes, but not me. Instead, I felt an odd mixture of pride, happiness, gratitude…and a certain hollowness. A part of my heart was speeding toward Logan airport, further and further away from me.

I texted our son, who is at an advanced studies program at a boarding school in the same town. Today was a day when visitors were permitted. Did he want us to stop by? Did he need anything?

My phone buzzed almost immediately with his cheery reply: “Nope! I’m good!”

As we drove homeward, I looked over at my husband, this man I have loved for twenty three years, who has shared this parenthood journey with me  and smiled, however tremulously. 

“We did good,” I told him in a quiet voice.

We have raised two independent, smart, fun kids who are unafraid to take on the world, to risk, to stand up for what they know is right, to be a good friend to others. They both have clear goals and big dreams. No they are not perfect (nobody is) but they have survived our often imperfect parenting and thrived. Proof that God takes our sometimes inadequate, broken efforts, infuses it with His grace, and transforms it into something beautiful and good. His mercy makes me weep.

Julia texted us from the plane before they took off for London. They would arrive at Heathrow airport at 1 a.m. our time. As I drifted off to sleep, I thanked Jesus that He watches over our loved ones when we cannot. Knowing that He was in the U.K. with her gave me peace.

I was jarred awake by the ringing of the telephone.

I glanced wild-eyed at my bedside clock. It was 2:10 in the morning.

Sheer terror flooded my heart as I stumbled across the room to pick up the receiver.

“Susan Brown?” The voice was low, serious in tone.

“Yes?” My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest.

“This is So-and-So from the parents’ phone tree.” Pause.

“Yes?” My voice was high-pitched, unrecognizable to my own ears. What went wrong?!

“Just wanted you to know that the kids’ plane just landed safely. Please call the next parent on your list.”

What?!?!

I could not believe it. I told my husband  the message and he was incredulous as I was. Everyone knows that phone calls after midnight are never good news. Why would they scare people like that?

It took me a few hours to get back to sleep. I reached for my Bible and turned to Psalm 121, a psalm that always comforts me. Verse five caught my eye: “The Lord is your Keeper.”

I looked up the meaning of “keeper” in the original language and learned that it means: “to guard, to observe, to keep watch, to protect.”

Peace settled over my heart. He is still on His throne, regardless of what happens on earth.

I cannot be with my kids as they experience new places and new things. But Jesus can and is.

Not only does He keep and protect me, He guards, observes, keeps watch over, and protects my children at all times. He loves them even more than I do.

I needed that reminder.

Maybe you do too.

He goes with your loved ones where you cannot go. He is working in ways that you cannot see.

His love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:7).

He is with us when we get those late night phone calls, whether the news is bad or good or ill-conceived.

I am so grateful for the tender loving care of Jesus, that spans continents, time, and all eternity.

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Joy at Sal’s Pizza


“The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children.”—Elaine Heffner

One of our very favorite places to eat is Sal’s Pizza. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere relaxed and casual, and the pizza is fresh and very tasty.

My husband, daughter and I stopped in for dinner yesterday afternoon. It was raining heavily and the sky was dark, but inside the restaurant was bright and cheery.

Just as we started to eat, a mom and her young kids tumbled inside, a flurry of activity and laughter. As the mom ordered the pizza for her family, the kids began to run around, full of energy. They were not being obnoxious, just kids being kids.

I heard the young man behind the counter tell the mom that it would be a 20 minute wait.

I could not help but think back to my early days of mothering when such a long wait combined with high-energy kids would have sent me into meltdown mode.

Not this mom.

She rounded up her kids and took them outside. Sal’s is located in a strip mall with a large overhang that protects the customers from the elements.

For the next several minutes, she joined them in exuberant play.  They ran, danced, twirled, and chased. I saw her youngest child gleefully clap her hands as she watched her siblings from her seat in the stroller. It wasn’t long before she was lifting her chubby little arms in the air, a signal that she wanted to be able to join in the fun.

Her mom willingly lifted her up, spun her around, and placed her on the pavement. With a huge grin, she gleefully toddled around as fast as her legs  would take her in an attempt to keep up with her brothers and sisters.

The mom took the lead in leaving the protected covering of the roof to dash out into the rain, arms opened wide, face upturned and wreathed in smiles, spinning wild. Her kids did the same…and my heart was filled with joy as I witnessed their utter and complete joy as they fully lived these precious moments.

An ordinary rainy Monday afternoon at the local pizza place had been turned into a time of magical fun and breathless laughter, all thanks to this mother who seized the opportunity to make what could have been a boring wait into a celebration.

On our way out, I could not resist telling her what an amazing mom she was and how much I had enjoyed watching her have so much fun with her kids.

Her face registered surprise, then broke into a big smile as she thanked me. “I just love everything about being a mom,” she said.

“It shows,” I told her. “I really wish I had done more of this kind of thing when my kids were little. Keep up the good work. You never get this time with them back.”

She waved in farewell and  took her son’s hand as he excitedly led her back into playtime.

We walked back to our car, their laughter ringing in our ears.

I thought about many things as we drove home.

Our son is away until the end of the month at an advanced studies program at a local boarding school.  Our daughter will leave tomorrow for a three week trip to Europe. The house will be so silent for a time.

One of my dearest friends had texted me earlier in the week to say that her 25 year old nephew had been killed in a motorcycle crash. Every mama’s worst nightmare. How my heart grieves for his mom as she confronts such an unimaginable loss.

We never know how much time we have with the ones we love.

The days of parenting our little ones can seem long and endless. But the truth is, those days are strung together like a shimmering necklace for us moms to treasure in our hearts, long after those days are gone.

If you are in that season right now, truly cherish these moments. No, they will not all be fun. Oftentimes, it will seem like drudgery: dirty diapers, crumbs on the counter, spilled milk, mountains of laundry, sibling squabbles,  toys strewn about the house, doctor visits, homework battles, etc.

But if you can look above the day-to-day routine and remember that your children are miracles and gifts, you will be rich beyond imagining.

Don’t take things so seriously.

Smile. Laugh. Play more. Worry less. Pray hard.

Celebrate the little things. In the end, it is the little things that end up being the big things.

Search for joy and beauty in the midst of it all. It is there, I promise.

Study those sweet little faces. They change so fast.

Listen to their dreams…and dream right along with them. Share in their sense of wonder.

Treasure the feel of their little hands folded into yours.

Keep in mind that the childhood years are not the time to be overly concerned about having a perfectly clean house.

Turn off the TV and the computer at some point during the day and truly be all there with your kids. This day will not come again.

Don’t be so uptight. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child.

Know with certainty that you are God’s “Plan A” for your child(ren).

Love with everything you have.

Above all, don’t ever take this time for granted. This time and those little souls have been entrusted to you.

Make the most of it.

Then watch those ordinary days become extraordinary.

“Sunsets, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not just because they are beautiful, but because they are fleeting.”—Richard Paul Evans

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The Importance Of A Father…


When I logged onto Facebook this morning, this was the first thing I saw…

This beautiful young woman’s name is Jessica Giddens. It had just been announced that she was voted homecoming queen at her high school. The man standing so proudly behind her is her father. He is a soldier in Afghanistan and he had flown home to escort her to the game.

The beauty of this moment brought tears to my eyes.

I love the look of sheer joy on her face…made all the more radiant by the presence of her father, I am sure. That moment would not have been so sweet without him standing there to share in it.

There is nothing like a father in a girl’s life.

My dad has been gone from this earth and my life for eleven years.

I still miss him everyday.

Last week, I was pulled over for not having a current inspection sticker on my car. (Turns out that the garage had done the inspection but had forgotten to add the new sticker. I was oblivious). While the officer wrote up the pink warning slip, my eyes filled with tears and I thought, “I wish my dad were here.”

The thought seemed to come out of nowhere and I felt a bit foolish, longing for my dad’s presence when I am 48 years old.

On the other hand, does any man protect you like your dad? (I am extremely blessed to have a husband who does. Yet, when my dad was still alive and he and my mom came to visit, he would always pull me aside and ask, “Is there anything you need me to do around the house? I’ll take care of it.” 🙂 ).

Yesterday, was my “baby” brother’s 44th birthday. He came over for a grilled steak dinner, complete with cheesecake topped with strawberries for dessert. (None of that was made my me…mercifully. I wanted him to enjoy his birthday dinner).

As I watched him interact with my kids and my husband and talk on the phone with our mom, I realized something: He has adopted much of my dad’s mannerisms. The way he stands with his hands in his pockets. His hearty laugh. The way he strolls around the house while talking on the phone and holds the door open for a lady.

I love my brother for himself but I also love that in many small ways, he gives my dad back to me.

If you are blessed to still have your dad with you, call him. Visit him. Let him know what he means to you. Life goes by fast and you only have one father. No, he is not perfect. But then again, neither are you.

Extend grace.

“Because death is the only thing that could have ever kept him from you.” —Ally Carter

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The Empty Next Chronicles (Part II)


“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” —Mignon McLaughlin

And that is what Doug and I have done for twenty one years.

So, when confronted with a (temporary) empty nest,  we were ready for it because we are best friends.

But first we had a choice to make. Our lives have been in somewhat of a holding pattern lately due to a situation beyond our control. We had hoped we would know something by last Friday…but it was not to be.

Decision time: would we focus only on the one thing God has withheld for us, allowing it to cast a pall over our weekend? Or would we deliberately choose to set our sights on all of the rich blessings He has graciously given us?

We chose the latter.

He is always speaking. He had said no to something we had wanted (on our timetable) but I knew He had so many more “yeses” to share with us that day and I intended to find them.

He had given us a glorious day. We live in a beautiful place. We enjoy a good road trip, so we took off for the North Country.

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We told our dog Buddy that we would be gone for the day. He was clearly broken up by this news.

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As we headed out to the car, we spotted this:

Thornton-Franconia-0009-1A huge mama snapping turtle was determinedly crossing our front yard in search of a place to lay her eggs.

All creatures great and small
The Lord God made them all

Our first stop was the Sugar Shack, which was voted the #2 best place for breakfast in our state.

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Thornton-Franconia-0017-1I am not typically a breakfast person but since a good friend and I had walked seven miles very early that morning, I was ravenous.

The staff was no-nonsense, the decor simple and rustic, and the food was delicious.

While we were enjoying our meal, my friend Karen texted me to remind me that the annual Lupine Festival was beginning that day. It was only a half an hour north so we decided to go. We had made the trip last year and it was lovely.

Turns out that this year…not so much.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we saw FIVE lupines. And five lupines definitely does not constitute a “festival.”

Last year, this was the scene  at one of the lupine fields:

This year, that same field looked like this:

Thornton-Franconia-0043-1Not a lupine in sight.

I must admit that I was disappointed that we had driven so far for nothing, but then I remembered a passage from Susan Spencer-Wendel’s book Until I Say Goodbye. 

“Events rarely happened as anticipated…but were perfect moments nonetheless. Because I did not have expectations…accept the life that comes…don’t force the world to be the one you dream. The reality is better.” (p. 348).

Accept the life that comes. That right there is a recipe for the stress levels in our lives to drop by several degrees.

Despite the fact that there were no lupines, there were still such beautiful things to see.

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On the drive back south, Doug and I talked about our years of parenting. As I looked across the front seat at my husband of twenty-one years, the fifty year old man with silver hair morphed into the man he was when he was a father for the first time at thirty-two. I remembered our mutual wide-eyed panic when my parents left to return home when Josh was two weeks old. Could you do this by ourselves? Raise another human being?!

It had all seemed so scary at the time.

But with prayer, perseverance, and the ever-important sense of humor, we made it.

Were we perfect? Not even close. No such thing.

But we love our kids with our whole hearts and we did the best we could. We are a team. There is such a sweetness to that truth.

Our next stop was to a place called The Basin in the White Mountains. It is absolutely beautiful, peaceful, and serene.  I saw the fingerprints of God everywhere I looked.

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We ended the day by having dinner with my mom and brother at a local eatery. Jeff joked that they were just cheap substitutes for the kids, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even if my family wasn’t family, I would have them as friends. We laughed the night away. (We also did a lot of shouting to be heard because we were sandwiched between a party of twenty and a party of seven!).

But it’s all good.

That was the first evening of the hockey playoffs between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins. Clearly, we are in Bruins territory but my brother proudly wore his Penguins hat and T-shirt. As we exited the restaurant, there were four guys in a convertible who were clearly offended (but good-naturedly so) at Jeff’s brazen Pittsburgh display.

Noticing this, I raised my arms in the victory sign and yelled, “Pittsburgh!!!”

We native Pittsburghers are black and gold to the bone.

(Sadly, my enthusiasm was misplaced, as Pittsburgh lost later than night. They are currently down two games. Here’s to a win for the third game!).

The last night of our empty nest, I headed to our church for Bible study. On the way there, I was praying not only for the safe return of the kids that evening but for the holding pattern we are currently in with no end in sight. At the church, I was reminded of God’s greatness, His love, and His goodness. That He is always at work, even when we cannot see signs of His hand.

These truths were still ringing in my ears when I pulled into my driveway…and saw this:

Rainbow!-0001-1-2Isn’t that just like Him? To send me the sign of His promise, shining right through the storm clouds!

His promise that He is in full control at all times. That He can only do good to those who belong to Him.  That He keeps His promises…all of them.

As I said at the beginning of this post, He is always speaking.

At 9:15, the side door burst open and our kids tumbled into the kitchen, full of the energy unique to teenagers. Julia dropped her bags the instant she saw me and literally sprinted across the house to tackle me with a hug.

The next hour was filled with exciting stories of their adventures.  As the conversation wound down and fatigue started  to take over, they began to head for bed.

“So what did you do when we were gone?” our son asked. “Did you spend your all your time crying and missing us?” He was kidding. (I think).

I smiled at him and said, “Missing you, yes. A little bit of crying too. But Daddy and I had lots of fun.”

He returned my smile as he hugged me good night,

“The two of you always do.”

**********

I would say that  Doug and I will be ready for the empty nest when it comes for good in two years. We have lots of plans.

Of course, we won’t fully be alone…

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🙂

“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 

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