Hello & Good-bye.

My first loss, big enough to still rattle around in this 5-decade-old heart & mind,

was a dog we had when I was a 2nd grader.

Happy the Beagle.

In my childhood, there were 2 “Happy the Beagles”.

Happy1 was our dog in the big red house, with the woods out back.

Then, in my 4th year, we packed up and headed south, so my Pops could become Dr. Dad.

Sadly, Happy wasn’t invited to Grad School, so my parents sent him to live on a farm.

After the years of study & deadlines & student housing, my folks rewarded us with Happy2.

She was as goofy and dumb as Happy1, and we loved her.

She loved us too and the freedom that came with living in a suburban neighborhood.

Maybe too much freedom, because one day, as I sat in Mrs. Klopfenstein’s 2nd grade classroom practicing my cursive, Happy2 made a break for it and got smooshed on the State Rd. our little neighborhood drive spilled off of.

It was a devastating loss and I was six.

So…

lots of drama, even more tears, and significantly less memory of the fact that Happy2 was mostly Mom’s dog, because of the letting out and feeding thing.

Which I think now, as the Mom, is pretty normal.

In the moment of my parent’s telling me about Happy2, none of that mattered.

It was my first real encounter with loving and loss, and I was a snot-pouring-out-of-my-nose wreck.

When I think about that first good-bye, it makes me smile.

Not with any specific warm feelings for Happy2 (honestly, I can barely remember her).

No, my smile is for my 6 year old self.

If I could, I would scoop that chubby, brown-eyed, drama queen into my arms and gently tell her that she will have a lifetime of “hello” AND “good-bye”.  And even if she doesn’t think so, she will have everything she needs to get thru with JOY.  I would hold her face in my hands, look her straight in the eye, and tell her, “sometimes, it will feel like just when you’re ready to say “hello”, it will be time, too quickly, to say good-bye”….

To her health,

To her sense of security,

To the people she LOVES,

To her dreams, and

To her place.

But she will never, ever, have to face any of that without the One who always Welcomes and never Sends Away.

Everything she needs.

Last year, my family said good-bye to someone we love.

And it was all…

Too soon, too painful, too much.

And every memory of him is doing it’s job, reminding us, we were not meant for Good-bye.

Our shoulders aren’t broad enough.

Our bodies aren’t strong enough.

Our hearts aren’t big enough.

And yet, even now, as we walk the broken road of grief that is ours,

we’re still able to find the Grace waiting for us along the way.

Still more joy and laughter and belonging and LOVE to be gathered up, and LIVED.

And so we will, with a deeper understanding of the Good-byes still to come and the part they play in our Hellos.

Until then, I’m going to try and talk the Hubs into Happy3.

Wish me luck!

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The Next 359.

suzelaugh

I’m not a big one for resolutions.

In the years I did write things down, I always felt liked I tricked myself into thinking I was someone I wasn’t. Like for 5 minutes at the beginning of a new year, I was organized & structured & disciplined & diligent.

Then…within moments it seemed, I wasn’t reading or journaling or eating right or exercising or praying or well… actually ANY of the things I had written down as a New Year resolve.

So, no more empty words.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about the year that was and wondering what God wants me to leave there and then, as I turn toward the new…

what will it be He wants me to pack up and carry forward?

Leave behind.

Carry forward.

2014 was a difficult year for my people.

There was heartache and sickness & brokenness & death.

People I love – with my whole heart – are not who they were just a few months ago.

Because the doctor called,

the papers got signed,

they lost their way,

God seemed to be silent, or

they stood behind a big empty hole in the ground & put someone they love into it.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of great stuff too – it’s just hard to see thru the haze of struggle.

So, the part of 2014 I’m leaving behind is the ditch.

You know that place you end up when you get punched in the stomach by life?

I’ve spent too much time there – wondering what God was up to.

Doesn’t mean I won’t end up there sometime this year – but hopefully I won’t get stuck in it…

much.

When I turn my head and look at the wide-open space of this New Year and I start to smile.

And I know what I’m carrying forward into it…

JOY.

If you know me, you know I LOVE LIFE.

I love every nook and cranny of living it (even when I don’t understand it all).

I think this affection for LIVING has its roots in the fact that I’ve been told, more times than I care for, that my health is in a precarious spot.

And for reasons I don’t always understand, and I’m really trying NOT to figure out, I can easily access a deep well of JOY.

Even when I wind up in that ditch I was talking about – it’s not long until my heart is pounding, my eyes are squinching, and I’m aware of a deep desire to bounce!

I’m not talking about giddy or silly or even HAPPY.

It’s JOY.

And because God is way more than kind…

I have a strange ability (it’s almost like a superpower really) to access that JOY,

even in the most difficult of times.

Not every time.

But mostly always.

So, what I’m carrying forward this year is JOY.

The deep, life-changing, truth that sometimes is like a groundswell inside me:

Unspeakable. Unquenchable. Unexplainable.

But still so very real – JOY.

Lavished up me by the God of the Universe who has so much LOVE for His children.

Our job is to hold our hands out, turn our faces toward Him, and watch what happens.

No way to earn it.

Just RECEIVE.

And that… is JOY.

And this year, I’m going to hold it high!!

The Big Five Ohhhhhh.

I’ve been thinking about this birthday a little.

The big Five O.

When I think about it too long, my mind, of course, wanders to the 5’s.

15

25

35

45…

Not my favorite numbers.

But this 5 doesn’t yet have its twin.

There it sits, all alone on the backside of Zero.

Not zero is in a void or nothingness – but rather zero as in nothing.

The kind of nothing that holds hope, tho – not the nothingness of despair.

Nothing for certain.

Nothing’s been written.

Nothing fractured yet about this decade.

Nothing decided…

except for the Big Love that has carried me through every decade of my life so far.

And it is this Love that compels me to turn toward this decade with anticipation…

no matter what it holds.

Knowing life like I do, I believe it will offer its share of heartache and celebration this decade.

Crammed into every moment there will be victories to applaud and loses that require a deep sadness.

Required because the cheering & the grieving are necessary,

so that every moment can settle in and do its good work in my heart and in my life…

even when it might be the absolute last path I would ever chose to walk.

I’m more than grateful today.

To be celebrating another year.

And there’s now brow-wiping here.

No feeling of “whew, I made it”.

Rather, I’m grateful today for all the moments my story could have turned left and for reasons He only knows – God decided to hold me on the path of Life He has chosen for me.

And so, my gratitude is rooted in the Grace I see as the gift of my life.

One breath in, one breath out.

For the next 365 days.

A gift.

And so, that’s my prayer for this year, for this decade of 50.

That I would live my life as an offering of generosity of LIFE & LOVE.

And somehow, some way, God will step in and do His thing, and miraculously…

when the celebrating and the grieving reveal themselves, I will be present & accounted for.

No more, no less…

and that will be plenty.

 

 

Achey Joy.

My heart is hurting.

No big disaster.  No tragedy.  Not even a close call.

But still…my heart is fighting for JOY today.

It’s achey in all the places coffee and a good book and my comfy blanket can’t reach.

Has that ever happened to you?  Life seems good, and yet

Children are sleeping & fed & not flunking,

the Dr. isn’t calling,

work is fine & even sometimes fun,

there are groceries in the cupboard and gas in the tank,

and yet.

I lift up the corner of my life and peak underneath, and there it is…

A harsh word.

An unmet expectation.

A momentary sting.

Hurt…

just sitting there – unspoken, untended, and unforgiven.

And left like that, all it can do is make my heart hurt.

Cause my heart to ache deeply.  As in, so far down that I almost forget it’s hurting.

Almost. 

Then it bubbles up, catches my breath and I have to fall to my knees,

scoop up all that hurt, and hand it to the only One who can restore the JOY.

No need for me to fight for it after all.

A gift freely given and deeply needed.

Today.  Tomorrow.  Every Day.

Grateful.

Strangers.

Today, I am struck by how KIND and GENEROUS and BIG and TRUSTWORTHY God is.

Image

The Husband & I. Has nothing to do with anything.
I just like this picture!

The church where the family & I attend and the Pastor Hubs  & I work started a new teaching series today, called “Welcoming the Stranger”.  It’s about Immigration.  Mostly.

Before you get all scared about it being political (like I might have done for 5 minutes), start yammering on about “the separation of Church & State” (like I maybe did for 10 minutes) and, well….you know the drill Fear takes us through.  Trust me.  It’s an important topic for people who love God & follow Jesus to talk about.  Some have even said this Immigration issue will be THE compassion/justice issue of our lifetime.

I don’t know about all that.

All I know is that today, I gathered with my church family & we sang & prayed & celebrated & learned about what God has to say about the Immigrant.  About the traveler.  About the foreigner.  The alien.  The Stranger among us.  And if you’re not aware — God has a lot to say about it.

Some of His favorites were Refugees.  Aliens.  Immigrants.

Like, Abraham.  Moses.  Ruth.  David.  And, oh yeah…

Jesus.

Really, God has a lot to say about it.

You should read His book.

But before you do that — I’d ask you to watch a story.  It will help you understand, as it did me — that God’s always got a plan.  And that plan transcends homelands and documentation and language and the world’s version of right & wrong.  As my Pastor (not the hubs one, just the Sr. one) said today, “Is the issue of illegal immigration an important one?  Absolutely.  Do we need to recognize that there are laws that need to be followed?  To be sure.  Don’t our borders need to be secured?  No doubt.”

To which I add a hearty, Amen.

But no matter where you stand on the Politics of the thing – here’s the deal…

Don’t ignore the humanity of the “thing”.

So, check out the story of Alexandar Najarian.  Also known as Dad to my MIL & Pappa to the Pastor Hubs. 

I bet you’ll see what I saw…

Extending a welcome, to a person who isn’t anything like you, who doesn’t speak your language, has radically different customs as yours, and might not yet know your God…

could change the trajectory of a whole family’s life.

It did mine.

I bet it did yours too.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.    Hebrews.

 

Longing.

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Life!

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”  Bob Goff

When I was younger – as in forever ago & sometimes 2 minutes ago — I was sure I would make a BIG splash in the world.  I couldn’t tell you if it was my personality or the way I was raised or an external expectation that kept calling my name.  All I know was that it was & still is sometimes, something way down deep inside of me that was longing for MORE.

Always.

And if it just stayed there, buried in my gut, sleeping like a hibernating Mama Bear,  I might be able to say to you — it’s no big deal.  But it never stays quiet for long.  This urge, this push, this MUST HAVE hum, almost vibration — that I can feel at all times — tends to want to take over.

And if I’m not careful, It will turn my ahead away from the people and things that really matter.  The people & pursuits that ACTUALLY give me life.  Who are usually standing right in front of me.  Like a kid on the midway, with 5 bucks in my pocket, I fall for it.

Every.  Stinkin.  Time.

So here’s what I”m learning to do.

I’m practicing the life-changing discipline of making the longing serve me.  I’m done being it’s servant.  Pushing, hiding, striving, jumping…when it says so.

And so, when I feel it picking up speed…

While I read someone else’s stories,

when I see pictures of someone else’s life & accomplishments,

& as I’m a part of other people’s celebrations…

                                                                                   I’M JOINING IN!

See, the LONGING wants me to believe that there is only LIFE if it’s ME that’s winning or accomplishing or celebrating.

But LIFE happens whenever LOVE wins.

And LOVE keeps winning when the people in my world, step up to their LIFE and participate in it.

And maybe, just maybe,  when that happens, because the longing is now serving me…

I will be there to whistle & cheer & cry & clap & yell at the top of my voice…

WELL DONE!!

HOPEcoming.

This weekend we went back to the University where the hubs and I met (and oh yeah, I got a degree).

It’s a gift, really…to walk around a place where your heart came alive for the very first time.  It was good to hold his hand & walk through the valley, remembering a much more “robust” version of him yelling my name to “wait up”.  I’m awfully glad I did.

30 years later, we’re walking those sidewalks with a Freshman roaming the campus somewhere & a 15 year old holding my other hand.  It’s a pretty amazing feeling to step back into the space where you first began to understand there was going to be a life beyond…accompanied by the very people you dreamed about, but didn’t know yet.

Know what I mean? 

It’s just like Hope to tap you on the shoulder, in the very place you almost gave it up. 

It’s happened to me so many times – in so many places…

Hospital hallways, church pews, in the doorway of a child’s bedroom begging God for something I didn’t even have words for, and yep, on the sidewalks of my Alma Mater’s campus. 

The other day, when the 48 year old version of me was strolling along, I looked over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of my 18 year old self…

Looking lost, full of doubt & fears, and reciting a litany of reasons why IT would never work out.

And then, just when I was about to call her name & tell her not to worry…

Hope walked up and put His arm around her, and we both smiled and went our separate ways.

It’s good to go back.

Sometimes it’s even necessary…

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The FairGirls, under the AU bleachers.

So you can keep joining LIFE as it moves forward.

Why not?

Why not?

Every now and then, I think…I should be writing. And then I think, “why aren’t I writing?” And so, in response to the answer…here we go!!

Their names.

Yesterday, everyone I know who watched, listened, read, or otherwise absorbed the news…

had their world rocked.

We watched in horror as the story of a tragedy began to unfold.

A story that took place in the hallways and classrooms of an elementary school in a town I had never heard of and probably will never visit,

but suddenly felt like was MY town.

My whole life I have felt like teachers were heroes.  Probably because I was surrounded by them.

My grandparents were teachers (& farmers too).

My dad was a teacher (& a coach, & a principal, & an administrator).

My sister & brother in-law, 2 nephews, 2 nieces, & a cousin — all stand in front of a room full of students of various ages.

Some of my dearest friends are teachers & my children have each had at least one teacher who has literally changed his/her life (mostly it was the same teacher – 2nd grade rocked!).

All of these people, who I love with my whole heart, have stood in doorways welcoming students, done their time on the playground & in the lunchroom, and wondered if they could face another day standing in front of classrooms full of ants-in-their-pants students trying to get their point across, and then, the very next day had moments of deep connection with a student who finally “gets” it (whatever it might be).

Yep, my beloved teachers have seen it all.

Almost.

While the teachers in my world have told me stories that have made me laugh my head off as well as move me deeply,

none has told me a story like yesterday’s.

My grandparents told me stories of lunches in pales and long treks thru the snow to a one room classroom…

not a story of hurling their bodies between their students and a bullet.

My Dad has told me stories of paddling students & difficult teacher negotiations, but never a story of school lockdowns and assault rifles.

My sister has never had to hide her 1st graders in cabinets so a masked intruder wouldn’t harm them, AND

My nephew has never had to help his students escape out a window in the back of his classroom or barricade the door.

Where would we be without our teachers?

These men & women who walk their underpaid selves into under-resourced classrooms every morning and spend the day teaching our kids how to read, write, solve problems, sit quietly, be a part of a group, listen to directions, stand in a line, follow directions, share, raise their hand, ask a question, participate, and…   LEARN.

They’re not perfect.  I get that.

Some of them stay too long.

Some of them have lost their passion.

Some of them have forgotten the time & the reason they became a teacher in the first place.

But lots of them are really good people.

Doing really good work, no matter what roadblocks or parameters the school system (or the government) puts in front of them.

And they have names.  Names that mean a lot to me.

Carl, Marjorie, Jim, Dawn, David, Matthew, Abbey, Jessica, Karen, Jeff, Sam, Richele, Christy, Fran, Judy, Brad, Tina, Pam, Ed…

My list could go on and on.

But there is another list of names I find myself thinking about tonight…

20 kiddos.

6 adults.

Names that were written on desks and doorplaques.

Names that won’t ever again be called over to the reading corner or in from recess, or ever again asked if it’s OK to go to the bathroom (for the 27th time that morning).

And so, in honor of all the heroes in my life & yours,

and the grieving hearts in NewTown, CT & in every corner of our country,  their names…

The children: Charlotte -6, Daniel -7, Olivia -6, Josephine -7, Ana M. -6, Dylan -6, Madeleine -6, Catherine -6, Chase -7, Jesse -6, James -6, Grace -7, Emilie -6, Jack -6, Noah-6, Caroline -6, Jessica -6, Avielle -6, Benjamin -6, Allison -6.
The staff: Rachel -29, Dawn -47, Anne -52, Lauren -30, Mary -56, Victoria -27.