Miracle

From my place in the cubicle farm, I could hear Lori answer her phone.

“Well, hi-eee,” she exclaimed! “How are you?”

Clearly she was excited to hear from somebody. I returned my attention to my work, but a few moments later, Lori poked her head into my cube as she was breezing by on her way to the front entrance.

“Lisa’s here,” she whispered loudly.

I stood up and wandered out to the open area in front of my cubicle watching Lori make her way to the locked entrance doors.

“Lisa,” I asked? “She’s here? Now?”

“Yes, right now!”

I looked around as Lori waited to meet Lisa at the door. It seemed everyone was busy at work. No one was milling around. I wanted to run through the office and spread the news that Lisa was here! But I waited. I didn’t want to disappear just as Lisa was arriving.

Lori was opening the door and there she was. Lisa was here! Lori was explaining how she wasn’t going to hug Lisa because she’d just come down with the cold virus that’s been making the rounds. I’ve long since put my share of viruses behind me. I wasn’t holding off on the hugging.

Soon word had spread that Lisa had arrived and my coworkers had formed a circle around our unexpected guest. Every face held a beaming smile. Everyone was clamoring for a hug. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that not a one of us was sure we’d ever get to see Lisa again.

She looked beautiful! I was struck by how bright and blue her eyes were. I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before in all the years we’ve worked together, but her eyes were striking. In a way, she reminded me of a cancer survivor. But it wasn’t cancer that robbed Lisa of her hair. Her long brunette locks were gone due to the brain surgery that was necessary after she suffered a brain aneurysm in late November. Her hair was just beginning to grow back in, no longer brunette but salt and pepper gray. Again, I was struck by how beautiful she looked.

She told us her story and everyone was murmuring about what a miracle it was that she stood before us today. In a more private moment, I asked when she might come back to work. She thought two weeks, if all goes well between now and then. I told her how much we’ve missed her and her eyes welled up with tears, not for the first time. She said what a gift it was to be standing there today and the word miracle came up again.

“I don’t know why me,” she sniffed, wondering out loud why her life had been spared.

“Why not you,” I asked?

“Because there are so many others whose lives have been cut so short. It’s not fair.”

I didn’t have any words for her at that moment, but just reminded her how glad I was that she would be able to come back to us. Some of us are close friends around the office, but we don’t make a habit of getting too emotional. But today, the professional boundaries were set aside for a while as happy tears were shed and hugs abounded.

After Lisa left and the excitement died down, it wasn’t long before it was time to pack up and go home. Only then did I begin to realize why her. I’m sure there are many reasons why she’s still on this earth. One of them might be to remind us that nothing is a given. As I thought about Lisa, I realized, I’m not entitled to anything. What’s important is not whether I have all that I want in life, but that I can appreciate all that I already have.

Do you believe in miracles? I do. I saw one today.

New Year’s Eve 2011

It’s hard to believe 2011 is closing its doors already. This is a year that made an impact on me, made me contemplate who I am and who I will be in the future.

This was a year I’d anticipated with some trepidation. It ushered in the end of so many things that were an integral part of who I believe myself to be. If you read here regularly, you know where this is going.

2011 brought with it so many lasts. We enjoyed watching one of our kids get all dolled-up for the last high school prom. We watched our daughter embrace all of those high school activities – classes, sports teams, games, volunteering, Relay for Life, hanging out with the high school crowd – for the last time. We celebrated the last high school graduation in our family. We saw her play her last days of fast pitch summer softball. We enjoyed what will probably be the last summer my oldest son comes back from school to live at home.

In all my years of motherhood, I never realized how hard it was going to be for me to say goodbye to those things. I never knew how much I was embracing my own role as a mom until I felt the panic of a future that didn’t hold all of those things I held so dear to my heart.

2011 made me contemplate me. A lot. And eventually, I began to let go of the panic. I began to open my eyes to what lies ahead. I began to understand that as much as I wanted to hold tight to that phase of my life, the future holds promise too.

I realize that it’s impossible to stop time and our lives have to move forward. My kids are living good lives, as evidenced by their successes. They are focused, dedicated to their educations and their jobs. They have good friends who enjoy coming around our house; friends I can see holding places in my kids’ lives for years to come. They’ve nurtured relationships with people we’ve come to love as much as our own children. I am so very proud of who my kids have become. And if anything, that should make me happy, not sad.

Letting go of my kids’ childhoods means letting them grow up. And they have grown up to be wonderful people. Letting them spread their wings means making room in my heart for everything they’ve become and all that they’ve yet to discover about themselves. Letting them take flight means letting myself come back to me. I will always want to take care of them, but it’s okay if they don’t need me to do that as much as I used to. I can get back to learning and growing again without feeling guilty that I am taking something away from them by doing so.

In many ways, this  was a difficult year for me, but one that I can see was very necessary. With each passing day, my angst eased a little bit. 2012 is on the door step and I’m welcoming it with open arms.

Happy New Year, everyone – family and friends, online and otherwise. May the next year bring you peace and happiness. And in case I haven’t told you so lately, I love you guys!

Warm

I drive into work, alone, just like any other day. The December streets wear the gray haze of the cold.

I find a parking spot in my ramp, turn off the ignition, and step out of the warm car. The outside air hits me.

Cold.

I walk along 7th Street. Traffic flows, a blur alongside me. The wind circles around and seeps inside my jacket, down my neck and over my shoulders.

Cold.

Other people walk too, hurrying to wherever it is they go each day. We don’t look at one another. We give no indication that we are aware of one another. Everyone wears the same demeanor.

Cold.

Alongside the sidewalk, the traffic narrows to a single lane. The light rail construction has the traffic slowed to a crawl. The light is green, but brake lights glow red.

Kiddie-corner, across the street a young man walks toward the intersection. He’s carrying a small boy on his shoulders, securing him there with a firm grip on the little guy’s knees as they near the corner. The man tilts his head upward periodically as he continues to move forward and I can see him talking to the boy. I can’t hear what they are saying but the little boy smiles, very content to have his daddy’s attention while he rides on his shoulders.

I have reached the corner opposite the man and boy. They need to cross over to my side of the street and I need to cross to theirs. The traffic light turns green and the walk signal tells us to cross, but the slowed traffic running perpendicular to us has stopped unexpectedly, leaving some vehicles stranded in the intersection. A police car has stopped right over the crosswalk, and he’s got nowhere to go. The officer motions the man to cross. I begin to cross too, from my own side.

I watch the little boy as he sways and bounces gently on the man’s shoulders as they approach me. They are nearing the police car and the boy’s face begins to light up. I can’t see the police officer inside the car, but it is obvious to me that he is waving to the boy. The boy’s mitten covered hand waves furiously back and forth toward the windshield of the police car and his smile stretches from one ear to the other. Inside his bulky little jacket, I can almost see his  tiny chest swelling with pride. He got to see a real live police car up close and the police man waved at him. He looks down to catch the man’s eye. He wants to make sure his daddy witnessed this event too.

As they pass me by in the crosswalk, I realize I am watching the little boy intently and I feel the smile that I hadn’t noticed stretching across my own face. A little self-conscious, I drop my eyes from the boy’s face, only to catch the eye of the young father. His smile fills up his entire face too.

“Good morning,” he says to me. Heartfelt.

“Good morning,” I reply with enthusiasm, happily surprised by this moment in my day.

I contemplate this moment in the split second before it passes me by. It is different, special, rare. I grab on to it before it dissolves and take it with me. I look at it periodically throughout the day and my smile returns.

Warm.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day already. Where has the year gone?

I hung out in my kitchen last night, an activity I find myself enjoying immensely more than ever before. Maybe it’s an age thing.

First thing after I came home from work, I had boxes to unpack. I had a Pampered Chef party a couple of weeks ago. (For those not in the know, this is one of those home party businesses that sells kitchen products.) The merchandise arrived yesterday and Kacey, who is home for the holiday weekend, helped me separate and sort all of that fun kitchen stuff. We bagged up the orders for the guests first, and then gathered up all of my stuff. The beauty of hosting one of these shows in your home, is that as the hostess, you earn free and discounted products based on the amount of purchases made by the guests. And I did quite well. My kitchenware has been nicely refreshed just in time for the big cooking and baking season. (de-I, you will be pleased to know that I now own a set of stainless steel mixing bowls!)

After a quick dinner, I set out to prepare some things for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s home today. I made a cream cheese filled pumpkin roll for dessert and a snack mix to keep the hungry guests at bay until dinner is ready to be served.

In between all of this activity, I spoke with my sister, who called in a panic. It seems the requisite episode of family dysfunction had occurred in the form of a phone call with one of the brothers. Hearing her side of the story, it seemed he was upset over nothing. I’m guessing some kind of stress – work, family, life, who knows – prompted his complaints. Who ever knows why some people feel the need to stir the pot. Regardless, my sister was worried there might be a dark cloud over Thanksgiving. I told her I was sure our brother just needed to blow off some steam and she was the unlucky recipient. I said Thanksgiving would be fine, and even if it didn’t happen exactly as planned, we’d be okay.

Sigh! Why does this stuff have to happen within families? It’s tempting to let it sour my attitude about the holidays and family functions, but one nice thing about getting older is coming to the realization that no family is the picture perfect family. Everyone has their issues and no one is immune to conflict.

I just read a wonderful book called An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski. It is the true story of an unusual friendship that is formed between a successful, single woman, Laura Schroff and an 11 year-old panhandler, Maurice. Maurice lives in a world of drugs, violence and poverty. One day while begging for change on the street, he asks Laura for some change. She passes him by at first, as if she hadn’t seen or heard him. But for reasons unknown, she comes back to him and offers to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. It was the beginning of a lasting connection that enriched and benefited both of their lives for years to come.

Understandably, the book describes many instances of what is wrong with this world, with people and among families. Near the end of the book, I read this passage:

We all want relationships that are healthy and resolved, and sometimes that simply doesn’t happen. But the beauty of life is that inside these disappointments are hidden the most miraculous of blessings. What we lose and what might have been pales against what we have.

Those words struck a chord with me. Over all the years of my life, how often have I wished for something better or easier or more carefree within my relationships? How many years have been spent expecting things to miraculously change, only to find disappointment time after time? It rarely occurred to me to consciously be grateful for what is. And yet, somewhere, underneath it all, I can see that I am thankful for what is, even if I didn’t know it. Despite the flaws within my family, I wouldn’t wish for any other family. Given the chance, I would never go back and change the people who were predestined to be my parents, my siblings, my aunts, uncles and cousins. In spite of all of our quirks, I know, this is right where I belong.

This morning as I began preparing stuffing and thinking about when the “back-up” turkey needs to go in the oven, I realized something. I don’t love the occasional fighting and bickering that happens. But I do love my family’s silly nature. I love the way we reminisce about the past and find things to laugh about together. So maybe I don’t love the fact that my brother once wore a favorite radio station t-shirt on Christmas that stated across the back, I have to poop. That may have been a little much! But I love the goofy banter that takes place at family gatherings. I love the chaos and the noise and everything that makes us unique. And I am thankful that in spite of all of our imperfection, we have abundance.

Dear family, I love you … even though you can’t all possibly hope to be as perfect as me! ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Change of Scenery, Change in Attitude

Morning traffic on my way to work has been unpredictable lately. I used to be able to hop on the freeway and zip into downtown, but recently it’s been stop and go, creep and crawl, sit and wait for no apparent reason. One day it took me twice as long to get to work as it ever does. I complained to my friend, Erin earlier this week about the traffic. She has an hour-long commute on a good day and she brushed off my complaints, saying I had nothing to gripe about.

I don’t think people see each other on the freeway. There’s a lack of respect for others, because no one sees each other. They just see cars; not the people inside them. If a driver wants to move in front of you, they will, whether there’s room to merge into the lane or not. There’s no regard for the speed limit. It’s just eyes ahead, seeing nothing and no one.

I stopped being sure of what time I needed to leave home to get to work on time. I was bored seeing the same billboards and road construction and endless lines of cars and trucks and buses. I got very tired of that drive. This week, I decided to travel through the suburbs into the residential part of the city that leads into downtown. The new route gave me not only a change of scenery, but a chance to slow down, an opportunity to think, a sense of perspective.

On the city streets, not everyone is in cars. Not everyone is oblivious to everything around them. People walk in the city. They cross the street. They wait for buses. And when I drive by and glance at them, I find them looking at me. Our eyes meet. I stop and think about who this person is that I’m connecting with for those few moments of my day.

High school students gather on street corners. There’s a chill in the air these mornings and they huddle together as they wait for their school bus. At one busy intersection, a boy trudged through the cross walk with a snail’s pace, holding up cars from proceeding through. He deliberately glared at the drivers as they remained stopped, waiting for him to step up on the curb. Just as he was finally about to reach the safety of the sidewalk, he turned around and lunged back to the middle of the street. My windows were up. I could see his friends yelling at him, but couldn’t hear. A car began to move toward him then slammed on its brakes. I saw the boy’s face light up with laughter as he sauntered back to his friends. I was shocked by his daring and disregard. .

This route takes me through old neighborhoods. The houses sit so close together that you can imagine someone reaching a hand out a window toward the neighboring house and almost touching. Many of them are unkempt. There are so many more people outside in these neighborhoods at this time of day than I’d see in my own neighborhood. Different people. “Non-traditional people” is what my mind thought. But hey, who am I to judge?

Young adults wearing dark sweatshirts walk the sidewalks, with their hands jammed in their pockets and hoods pulled down over their eyes. A disheveled man with untamed facial hair stood smoking a cigarette on one corner by a run down apartment building. An animated guy in baggy clothes strolled briskly down a sidewalk, gesturing wildly and appearing to be talking to himself.

There’s one man I’ve noticed in particular this week. He waits for the bus in a part of the city where I’d not want to live. I’ve seen him twice now and he has stayed in my thoughts. He looks like an aging motorcycle type; a white guy with grey hair long enough to pull back in a ponytail. He wears jeans, and work boots and a flannel shirt. He stands on the corner looking up the hill toward where he’ll be able to see the city bus coming soon. He’d look like a real tough guy, were it not for the dark-skinned little girl he holds in his arms against his chest. She’s maybe four years old and she curls her body against him, her head tucked into his shoulder as she sleeps. He seems too old to be her daddy; maybe not quite old enough to be her grandpa. It’s none of my business, but I wonder who she is to him.

It was slightly rainy both days that I saw these two. Maybe he was taking the bus by choice, but something told me he wasn’t. I don’t know. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to assume that people who ride the city bus would actually prefer not to if they had another choice. Regardless, I felt bad that the man and the little girl had to stand in the rain while I was warm and dry inside my comfy car, heading to a job that pays the bills and lets me indulge myself a little now and then.

Erin was right. I have no reason to complain.

A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Even Kacey said, “Christmas came too fast this year!”

She’s growing up. She’s learned to appreciate the spirit of the season, the joy in the days leading up to Christmas. She has learned that Christmas is more than that one perfect gift waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.

It was a wonderful Christmas. And that had to do with more than just putting together a perfect holiday. Because it was definitely far from perfect. But…

In spite of daily doubts as to how long I might remain employed, I am still employed. The outlook for my company is slowly beginning to move in a positive direction again. There are many children who don’t find their heart’s desire under the tree on Christmas day. I am grateful to be able to make some of my kids’ wishes come true for another Christmas.  I know that I am one of the fortunate ones. The homeless man I see in the skyway during my walk to the office each morning is a constant reminder of just how fortunate I am.

I was surrounded by my children on Christmas. And my sister is back in the state after several years in another and we were able to share Christmas again for the first time in six years.  I miss having my parents here, but they are in a warm climate, which is best for their health and well-being. I’m glad they have the resources to enjoy a winter home that benefits their health. Again, I know that I am fortunate. My uncle who spent his Christmas in the  hospital battling cancer, and the coworker of Brad’s who spent his in the hospital having surgery on a brain tumor were reminders of how blessed I am to have my family all safe and sound.

No, the holiday was not without its share of stress. I am not proud to say that I wasn’t always on my best behavior. At times, I let little things get to me and allowed pettiness and bitterness to seep into my mood. There were moments that I allowed the poison of my attitude to be reflected in my words and passed on to those around me.  There were episodes of the inevitable family dysfunction on Christmas day that threatened to make me swear off from any and all family functions in the future. But then I think of  the little nieces and nephews and the way they nearly exploded with excitement and anticipation. I think of an unexpected smile that was sent my way and a prior grudge that seemed to melt away on Christmas day. I can still feel the warmth of my children’s spontaneous hugs; big, loving bear hugs from my now grown boys and my beautiful teenage girl. I think especially of the wordless lingering hug from Jake. He does not give hugs easily or often but this one was heartfelt and sincere. I think of  Brad’s girlfriend, traveling through a major winter storm to get here on Christmas Eve, and the way she fits right in and accepts all of our craziness. I think of the Christmas cards that filled our mailbox this year, bringing with them love and cheer from family and true friends.

I am happy to say that by the time my guests started showing up on Christmas Eve, I tossed all the stress right out the window. I stopped worrying about whether the meal was perfect or whether there was enough room to fit all those people into this modest house. I stopped caring about all of the snow melting on the clean floor in the foyer. The house was loud and crowded and happy. We ate. We drank. And we were merry. And I truly felt it.

There may never be that perfect, utterly peaceful and flawless Christmas that manages to go off without a hitch. But the ones I’ve been given? I’ll take ‘em. They are just fine with me.

Perspective

Awake before the sun today. I had my alarm clock set, but my internal alarm had my eyes open before it went off. Kacey had a volleyball tournament today and I had to have her at school to catch the bus by 7:00. I tossed on a t-shirt and shorts and got her there by ten to seven. The bus was already there.

I swung by the post office on my way home. I had an envelope for Brad that I’ve been meaning to send off – some toothbrush heads for his electric toothbrush and a copy of the Darius Rucker CD I promised him weeks ago.  Nothing too exciting. Of course, the post office isn’t yet open at that hour of the day. I swung through the drive-through on the side of the building and tossed my envelope in one of the boxes there.

Driving the short distance home from the post office, I realized the streets of our little city were quite empty. There’s something I love about being out while the day is just beginning. It’s like the world hasn’t come to life yet and I get to be there before all the hustle and bustle begins. I’ve always been a morning person. I can think so much more clearly when my mind isn’t being assaulted by activity and noise.

When I got home I went out for a run. I love the fact that the gym doesn’t open until 8:00 on the weekends. It gives me an excuse to run outside again. I welcomed the sounds of birds singing, crickets chirping, geese honking, and the general hum of life in the air. I needed this today. It helped me think and put things in perspective. I needed some perspective.

I’d been allowing my thoughts to turn in a pretty negative direction last week. There was a lot of doubt and self pity running around my heart and head. Today things look so different. You want to know why? Two things.

On Thursday, while sitting in the bleachers watching Kacey’s volleyball games, I became aware of some excitement going on in the next section where most of the student spectators were sitting. The boys were calling out to one of their classmates who was just coming in to the gym. I could hear them all shouting, “Tyler! The MAN! Tyler!”

I looked back toward where their accolades were directed and recognized the boy they were welcoming. He had been a classmate of Kacey’s since her early grade school days. It wasn’t clear to me why everyone was making such a big deal of his arrival and presence. I hadn’t realized Tyler had become so popular.

Later, after the games were over, I saw one of Kacey’s team mates holding a newborn baby. She was parading that baby all over the bleachers and I was worried she would drop him. I leaned over to Mark and said, “I wonder whose baby that is?” Mark just shrugged. I thought about the viruses already making a strong impact in the schools and worried about the baby catching something. Who was allowing their newborn to be so easily exposed?

Soon all of the junior girls were flocking toward the girl holding the baby, begging for a chance to hold him too. I watched the whole scene with curiosity. Someone asked whose baby it was and a young, blonde girl said, “It’s my baby.” I thought I recognized the blonde girl, but couldn’t quite remember where I had seen her before. She was absolutely eating up all the attention as her classmates oohed and ahhed over the baby. Suddenly, Tyler appeared at her side (looking a little shell-shocked) and it all came together for me. Two years ago, I had run into Tyler and his mom at conferences when the kids were freshman. The blonde girl had been Tylers girlfriend even back then. She had been there that night I talked with his mom at conferences when the kids were just starting their high school lives.

And now Tyler is a father. He and his girlfriend have just begun their junior year of high school and they have a newborn. Sixteen years old. Maybe seventeen. And they have a baby. I know it happens all the time, but this hit too close to home. I felt almost sick as I watched all those girls marveling over the baby. I wondered if any one of them stopped to think how difficult the next few years are going to be for this new little family. How many pitfalls will they face? How many opportunities lost? I truly hope they are able to make the most of their lives in spite of this. The odds are against them though.

And I thought I had problems.

Driving home from the game that night, Kacey and I talked a little bit about Tyler, his girlfriend and the new baby. I asked if the girl had been in school last year during her pregnancy. Was she back now? Kacey said she didn’t remember seeing much of her and guessed she was taking online classes. She approached the whole subject with an air of disbelief. She just can’t imagine being in that position. GOOD!

Kacey told me something else Thursday night just after we got home. A sixteen year old boy who attends her school was driving to school that morning. There may have been dew on his windshield and the sun was blindingly bright that morning. The rumor is that this combination made him unable to see what was in front of him. His car hit a 33-year-old woman who was out walking her three month old child in a stroller. He couldn’t see her. The baby is fine. The mother suffered head injuries and died in the hospital that evening. For both the boy and the woman, and for their families, the day started out as normal as any other. And in the blink of an eye, their lives have been irrevocably changed. I can’t imagine the anguish and heart ache that is being experienced by the families of each of these people.

And I thought I had problems.

I needed to run today. I needed to feel the air on my skin and see the sun in the sky and the wildflowers surrounding the ponds and the mist that hovered in the distance over the railroad tracks. I needed to breathe the fresh morning air and remind myself that I am able to run. I am able to see and hear and smell and experience. I am free to leave my house to go for a run. I have a home to return to. I have my family to return to. They are safe and healthy and as happy as can be expected.

My plans about the kids and life might not come to fruition as I’d expect someday. Who ever said everything was going to work out the way I planned? The world as I know it might come to a screeching halt tomorrow, next month, or five years from now. Am I going to let that stop me from enjoying the gifts I’ve been given today? Am I going to let my fear of the worst cripple me?

No.

(Could someone point me toward this post the next time I decide to host a self-pity party? Thank you!)