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Last year, we sent the kids to their grandparents for two weeks out of necessity. As in: this move is NOT going to happen unless I get these kids out of here. I’d come to the end of my abilities to pack boxes and clean and move stuff with two summer-lovin’ children under foot, so we begged (I mean, it didn’t take much) the grandparents to find it in their hearts to save these poor children from their stressed-out parents.

They obliged. We moved. And we all lived happily ever after.

Then summer happened again, only this time there was not a pressing need to send the children away. But work schedules being what they are, Camp Nana and Papa as we’re calling it, has become our summer thing, and this year it again stretched almost two weeks because that’s what had to happen.

I’m writing this now while the house is still quiet and the kids are off visiting baseball’s greatest stadium (Wrigley Field, if you didn’t know) for the first time, but by the time you read this, we’ll all be together again in a van hugging the mountainous curves of Pennsylvania on our way back home.

I’ll admit: I felt selfish when I told people the kids were going away for two weeks. I mean, it’s not like I have another job and need someone to take care of them for me, and even though it’s hard sometimes and I’m exhausted, it’s not like I wasn’t going to survive summer if they didn’t go. I didn’t need them to go, but I wanted them to go, and I will tell you without hesitation that I look forward to days when my time is more flexible on a regular basis.

But I will also tell you that the idea of nearly two weeks without my kids terrified me. I had plans, no doubt, but I was worried that with so much time, I would end up doing none of the things I had planned.

Do we look too eager?

Do we look too eager?

That partially came true. My house is still messy in spots. I have not cleaned like I thought I would. I talked myself out of having a yard sale and took the stuff to Goodwill instead. (Because really, an introvert’s nightmare is inviting strangers to stop by your house all morning and dig through your unwanted stuff and maybe make conversation.) I barely kept the dishes clean, which happens during an average week in our house.

This vacation was not a total loss, though. Far from it.

Here are some things I learned:

  • My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    Alone time is good but it can easily turn into loneliness. I enjoy solitude. And quiet. And with a husband who works a full-time job with sometimes odd hours, I got a lot of that. I read many books. I wrote. And eventually, I got lonely. He would come home from work and I’d talk his ear off for 20 minutes straight because I hadn’t uttered a single solitary word out loud all day. When my life is busy with kids all day, I don’t think I need anymore of people. But, as it turns out, I might be lonelier than I think. News flash: introverts need people, too. We just don’t always need them as much as extroverts.

  • I have a lot of feelings. The first day without my kids, I was tired from a long day of driving and dealing with a lot of emotional thoughts. I cried for the better part of a day. I’m not usually a frequent crier because I don’t make regular space in my life to deal with my emotions, so when a major event triggers the tears, a flood of biblical proportions occurs. When I’d gotten past that day, I figured I was good to go. Then one night, Phil came home from work and I just cried without a reason, at least not one I could identify. I concluded that I had more time to think and feel and think about how I feel, which set me off again. I don’t think these are bad things, at all. I think it’s a sign that maybe I need to let myself sit with my feelings more instead of pushing them into a back closet because I don’t have time to deal with it.
  • My mom is a superhero. I’m pretty sure this has been true my whole life, but I’m only now seeing the irrefutable evidence. Every day, she posted pictures to Facebook of all the fun things they were doing. Legoland with their uncle! Parade! Carnival! Splash pad! McDonald’s for every meal! Fireworks! Gardening! A trip to Wrigley Field! It wore me out just thinking about it. (And did I mention she doesn’t drink coffee? She MUST have a superpower called unlimited endurance.) I’ve slept in past 8 a.m. more days these last two weeks than I’ve probably done in the last six years. She makes it look easy, but then again, I am just getting the Facebook version. (No offense, Mom. You’re still a star in my book!)

    Let's make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

    Let’s make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

  • I’m not responsible for an unforgettable summer. When school ended, we had plans. We were going to do family things and go on adventures and make summer memorable. And now it’s halfway through July and we’re headed to the beach soon and we’ve barely come up for air since the first week school was out. Then I remembered all the fun things the kids have been doing with grandparents (see above) and the experiences Phil and I have had with and without them and our upcoming beach trip. And I realized: they’ve ALREADY had one heck of a memorable summer! So, thank you, grandparents all around, for making memories with our children so I don’t have to wear  myself out entertaining them daily.

My kids have been my best teachers these last six years. Now I know their absence can serve as the same.

Have you ever been separated from your kids, spouse or parents for an extended period? What did that time teach you?

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She squeezes my neck and wraps her legs around my middle.

“I’m going to give you the biggest hug ever,” she says.

The world around us drifts away as all my senses narrow in on this one moment.

“Promise to miss me?” I whisper as I look into her eyes, the tears already pooling in mine.

“I promise.”

She jumps into the car that will take her away for two weeks and waves “bye.” I circle the car to redeem a promised hug from my son and he doesn’t stop talking until I almost squeeze him too hard.

More hugs. More waves. A tearful good-bye in the parking lot of a Ruby Tuesday in Somewhere, Indiana and then they’re off and we’re off and I’m sloppy crying all over the dash of our now quiet, half-empty van.

kids with nana and papa

They were happy and safe, our kids, in the capable hands of their grandparents, and this was not the first time we’d sent them away.

Two weeks without them was cause for both celebration and sorrow.

The tears were a bit of both.

She hands the baby and pack of wipes to her husband, who takes both and the hand of their young son and wanders to the video game area while she retreats back to the bathroom.

A move I well remember.

She lingers at the mirror as she washes her hands, checking her reflection, and I can almost hear her thoughts. Maybe this is her first chance to pause all day.

We have done this, traveled with babies, and I remember the exhaustion of changing diapers then taking my break or tag-teaming at the rest stop. I remember desperately and silently pleading that they would sleep for just one hour so we could have a noise break in the car.

The memories pushed forward through time until they were almost happening live as I watched this young family.

My kids were in another car in another state.

But for a moment, I forgot they weren’t with me.

My kids will never leave me.

Years ago I would have protested that statement, wanting nothing more than relief from the demands of parenting little ones.

Someday, I thought, they’ll be gone and we’ll have our days to ourselves again.

I believed that because we’ve been parents most of our married years, there would come a day when we would gain a measure of freedom. Parenting is exhausting and the thought that it might NEVER END filled me with dread.

Someday, they’ll leave. It became the mantra that would get me through the toughest days.

I lived for “someday.”

But the truth I’m discovering is both better and worse.

They will never leave because they are imprinted on our lives.

My heart bears their handprints; my soul their footprints and I cannot look at the world around me without thinking of them.

We pass construction equipment and I turn to tell my son, only to remember he’s not there. A train winds through the mountains and I point, ready to announce it before remembering the back seats sit empty.

Even in the silence, my husband and I recite the funny things our kids have said. I hear our daughter’s made-up songs in my head.

Because these two little humans have changed us forever and whether we know them for another day, another decade or nearly a lifetime, we are permanently marked.

I know now why women with grown children still tell the stories of their kids’ childhoods, why the growing up seasons are hard to accept.

I want my kids to grow up, to mature appropriately and become who God intends.

But wanting that does not mean I want to forget or erase the memories.

I want to remember.

I wake to a quiet house, well past my normal time to get up.

Husband at work, kids on vacation, and the house is mine for the day.

In half-awake, half-slumber, I’m sure I hear the kids rustling around in their room, certain their giggles fill the hallway as they greet the day.

But no, I remind myself, they’re not here right now.

It’s only the memories.

The house is quiet and empty of people but it’s full of memories.

And I’m beginning to think the best kind of life is the one that remembers.

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I used to love grocery shopping, especially in the early days of my relationship with my husband when we planned meals together and had oodles of time to wander the aisles dreaming of dishes to create together in the kitchen or daring to try something completely new.

Photo by Jenny Rollo, courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Photo by Jenny Rollo, courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com

Then we had kids. And we made decisions that affected our finances and before long grocery shopping was a necessary evil. A stress-inducing, let’s-get-this-over-with errand. Even then, though, we had flexibility to shop during the daytime hours. On rare occasions we’d find ourselves in a pinch for dinner at the end of a long week and we’d be in the store scanning the aisles for something quick and not too expensive. Because take-out or pizza delivery wasn’t an option. That’s where we first saw you. Maybe you were a working single mom in the same boat as us, looking for a quick meal at the end of a long week. Or maybe your situation was otherwise. But here’s what I want you to know: I see you. And not in the oh-look-at-her-can-you-believe-some-people-are-like-that kind of way. I. See. You. I know you think people are staring at you and judging your decisions and coming up with all kinds of neat and tidy solutions for your life that they know nothing about. I know this because I’ve done that, to my regret, and I’ve felt that unseen pressure to hide what’s in my cart, to shush my children so they don’t say anything that would draw attention our way. I’ve fumbled with my money and my WIC checks and my SNAP card at the register, certain that everyone in line is both staring and trying not to stare at the circus act that is our family. If you catch me looking at you, it’s not to judge or stare. It’s because I want to see you. I want to look at your face and smile. I want to tell you you’re doing fine and you’ll get through this. I want to. But I probably won’t because my courage leaves me the moment I open my mouth. I see you. And I hear you. Ridiculous, right? Because who doesn’t hear you snapping at your kids asking them to just make a frickin decision? It’s hard not to notice the frustrated words that come out of your mouth. Maybe other people can tune them out, but I don’t do that because the words I hear from your mouth are the same ones I’m thinking and sometimes saying. I’ve wandered the aisles muttering, speaking forcefully to my kids when they’re misbehaving. I’ve threatened and yelled and sighed with exasperation. So, I hear you, but I don’t blame you. I know that it’s hard to make one more decision in a long line of decisions you make every day and hour to keep your family afloat. And the grocery store isn’t exactly peaceful. I see you. I hear you. And I know you. I know you’d love nothing more than to fill your grocery cart with fresh fruits and vegetables but when it’s a choice between eating for a week or eating for a day, eating for a week, even when it’s not the food you want to eat, wins every time. And I know you feel like a bad mom when your kids ask for grapes and you have to say “no” because when you get home the grapes will be gone faster than a snowball in July and you know that the $5 or $6 you spent on grapes could have bought five boxes of pasta instead. I know that some days you’d rather have anything else than peanut butter and jelly, and that you know ramen noodles aren’t healthy but cheap and filling. I know you aren’t ignorant and I know you want what’s best for your kids, but sometimes, the best is too far out of reach. I know. And I’m sorry. It’s a battle our family is still fighting as we emerge from our lowest point, financially. But can I also tell you this? Your kids see you, too. I know you feel unappreciated and like all they do is take and you have nothing left to give. But someday, they will know, too. They’ll remember all the days you did your best with what you had. They’ll remember what a treat it was to have ice cream. They’ll see how you sacrificed yourself for their good. They’ll see, and I hope they’ll thank you. In the meantime, keep the faith. Do what you have to and don’t worry about the people who think you should be doing something else. And if a strange woman gives you a smile and gushes nonsense in the grocery aisle, just know she’s trying to help you feel noticed.

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When Throwback Thursday comes around each week, I find myself thumbing through a bin of photos looking for just the right one to capture that week’s sentiment. More often than not, I spend a whole morning looking and remembering.

A few weeks ago I found a bunch from a family vacation we took out West to Utah and Arizona in 1993. The one where we drove through the desert and saw awe-inspiring rock formations and stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon breathless and speechless.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

My brother is that white speck at the bottom.

Later that week, I was thinking about all the places I want my kids to see in their life. How I want to take them to Niagara Falls because it’s closer than it ever was from where I grew up. How I want them to experience people and places all over the world. How I want them to remember road trips as fun and exciting, not torturous boredom. (Our daughter just agreed that traveling U.S. Route 30 from here to our hometown sounded like fun. Parenting win!)

I want them to see beyond the small slice of the world we live in. And I have my dad to thank for that.

Last year, I wrote a little bit about my dad, but recently I’ve discovered another way he has quietly shaped my life: He planted in us–my brother and me–a sense of adventure.

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

My dad showing us how tall this tall cactus really was!

I was not what you would call a risky child. Constantly worried about doing the wrong thing or getting in trouble, I was a stick-to-the-rules-and-nobody-gets-hurt kind of girl. And trying new things was not high on my list any day of the week.

But I remember loving the idea of seeing new places.

I couldn’t tell you from memory what our first family vacation was, but I can tell you that I remember taking them.

The one that probably stands out the most is the one I mentioned earlier. It was our longest trip by car, spanning two weeks, and we packed a lot of sightseeing into those weeks. (And remember this was before the days of Google and GPS, so we planned our trip with maps and travel brochures. Old school!) Arches National Park. Zion National Park. The Grand Canyon. Utah. Arizona. And lots of places between there and our home state, Illinois.

What I always remember from those trips, imperfect as they were, is my dad. He made sure we experienced things in our childhood that were missing from his. When he saw the Grand Canyon, it was his first time also. Sharing that awe gave me a greater appreciation for whatever we were experiencing. No matter what we were doing, Dad made it an adventure.

We had this sort of unofficial rule that we couldn’t eat at places we could eat at if we weren’t on vacation. We avoided McDonald’s and Wendy’s whenever possible so we had to try new things.

Confession: This terrified me. I was so insecure in my growing up years that I didn’t know what I liked, including what I liked to eat. Ordering at a familiar restaurant was easy because I would usually just get the same thing every time. New places, though. I could hardly make up my mind and would usually just panic at the last minute and order the first thing I saw. I also had an overactive imagination (serves me well as a writer though!) so I’d imagine all the trouble we’d find by visiting a new place.

For my dad, though, it was part of the adventure. And a necessary part of the adventure. I don’t remember every off-the-beaten-path place we’ve been to, but I know my husband once found his new favorite barbecue sauce at a joint attached to a gas station. If we’d been traveling alone, we might have missed it, but my dad pulled in ready to try something new. We’ve eaten at family restaurants and new-to-us fast food places.

And I survived every single one of them.

With two young kids who I’d only call picky about when they eat not what they eat, we don’t do this enough on our travels, but my husband has a similar sense of adventure to my dad, and he builds on my childhood experiences by taking me places I’d never venture into alone. (And trust me, I’m not sorry he does it. I’d have missed out on a bacon milkshake if not for my husband.)

I’m still less of an adventurer than some people I know. I won’t be the first to volunteer for something new and even when trying something new, I’m still hesitant sometimes. I still crave the familiar and comfortable but my life is so often enriched by the unfamiliar that I’m learning to embrace those times.

I don’t know if my dad knew that’s what he was doing all those years we went on vacation or if he just brought us along on trips he thought would be fun. But I can definitely say that my increasing love of travel, of seeing new places, of visiting local eateries, started with him.

So, even though it’s hard beyond words sometimes that our family lives 800 miles from our families and hometown, our living in Pennsylvania is part of a lifelong adventure we’re passing on to our kids.

My dad took us across the country on vacation. That led me to take a trip across the ocean for a semester of college. Then it was a trip across the eastern states to make a life with my husband. Where it will lead next, I don’t know, but I’m so very thankful for a father who challenged us to see a world outside our hometown.

I’ve heard said that the best things parents can give their children is roots and wings. Because of mine, I have both. And so, I hope, will my kids.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the dads out there!

What is one thing you’ve learned from your father?

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Today marks the first day of summer break, which also means it’s the beginning of the first summer of two children home all day after having one in school all day all year long.

Pray for me.

I joke. A little. But I’m determined to make our summer fun and relaxing since last summer was full of stress and moving and settling in and all kinds of new things and did I mention stress?

So, the kids and I are going to have fun. And sometimes my husband will be with us. And I might be able to pause to tell you about the things we’re doing.

And I might not.

So if things get a little quiet around here, just imagine us having all kinds of summer fun. Or me tearing my hair out. Or children fighting because they of so much togetherness. Because all of that and more is what’s in store for us this summer.

I can’t commit to blogging regularly while keeping the kids entertained, or at least occupied, for the whole summer. So, I’m giving myself the freedom to walk away, if  necessary. You’ll still see some book reviews here because for me, summer is about TONS of reading. And some of you will be ecstatic to know that one of my book-related goals this summer is to finally read all–yes, ALL!–of the Harry Potter books. A dear friend is loaning me the ones from her personal collection. The first two wait patiently on my bookshelf. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you want to see all of what I’m reading (all the time, not just in summer) you can find me on Goodreads. There’s a link to my profile on the right side of the blog.

And I doubt I’ll be able to give up Facebook and Twitter or Instagram for the summer, so feel free to look me up there, too.

I hope you have a wildly fun summer. And a relaxing one. And that you find joy whatever the months ahead bring.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you around!

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I don’t want to bore you with all the reasons my kids make me laugh, but it’s time for another installment of “Things My Kids Say That Make Me Laugh.”

kids picnic

 

Here are five of the recent gems.

  1. The kindergartener (like all other elementary school girls in the U.S.) belts out “Let it go, let it go…” (Frozen soundtrack, in case you live under a rock … and if you do, I might join you there). Her brother quips, “Let what go?” His comedic timing is perfect, even if it’s unintentional.
  2. They were playing together in another room when the kindergartener came running in: “Mom, Corban says I’m a tattle-taler and I’m not!” I had a hard time not laughing at her when she said it. I can’t wait till she understands irony.
  3. I spent two hours this week (in one day) coloring with my son. When our daughter came home from school and noticed the pictures, she said to me, “Did you color those?” I told her I did. She said, “Those are beautiful. Almost as beautiful as mine.” Um, thank you?
  4. We were talking about the plan for Saturday morning when my husband needed to drop me off at writers group, then come back and pick me up a few hours later before we took him to work. I mentioned there would be a funeral at the church so there might be a lot of cars. Our son immediately tuned in to the conversation: “Where’s the funeral? We’re going?” This made my husband and me laugh because earlier this spring we took our kids to two funerals in the span of a month. And to the four-year-old, it was no big deal that we might be going to a funeral. We’re so weird.
  5. And this same kid who used to be shy around people and new situations sits in the Chick-fil-A where my husband works and yells out “Hey, Matt!” and “Hey, Kim!” to my husband’s co-workers, even if they’re in the middle of a conversation. And it’s loud. And frequent. It’s hilarious. (Or not.)

Probably those were mostly “you had to be there” situations, but in case you have an active imagination and know our kids at all, you can get a good chuckle out of them.

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In 1928, a 16-year-old girl was assaulted in the woods by a stranger while attending a picnic. Months later she learned she was pregnant. Sent away to live, first, with relatives and then at a Lutheran home for unwed mothers, the girl became a mother faced with a choice: give her daughter up for adoption to a family or keep her and live with the stigma of being a single mother.

She’d carry the decision to give up her daughter, whom she named Betty Jane, mostly in secret for almost 80 years. And then a miracle answer to prayer: a phone call would reunite the two women and renew a relationship that even eight decades couldn’t destroy.

the waitingThis is the story of The Waiting, a debut book by Cathy LaGrow, whose grandmother is the woman, Minka, who gave up the child and on her daughter’s 77th birthday prayed for a chance to see her baby girl one more time. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

So much more than a family history, The Waiting is a stunning narrative that reads like a novel. (It could be a movie and we’d all be ugly crying. It’s that good.) LaGrow, and contributor Cindy Coloma, have pieced together a story that spans almost a century, thousands of miles and two families connected by blood but with no idea either existed.

I was impressed with the details and meticulous research, the emotions that practically jumped off the page. I could see the story unfold, and I’m so grateful for this family sharing their lives and the incredible way God brought together all things for good.

I was moved to tears and had to set the book down a few times for fear that if I engaged fully, I’d be unable to go on with my day. Steadfast love, forgiveness, sacrifice and so.much.joy make up the overall themes of this story.

By the end, I wanted to meet Minka, a remarkable woman of 100 years whose vigor, patience and dedication are inspiring. A story like hers could have easily died with her and reminded me of the importance of sharing stories across generations.

You can read the first chapter here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’ll want to keep reading.

It’s hard to imagine a woman living such a full life in spite of the crushing loss. And it’s harder to imagine that God could bring such beauty out of the brokenness. But she did and He did and The Waiting tells it beautifully.

 

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Months ago, as I was considering the word that would define my year, one word settled in my soul. After a year of releasing things and people and feelings and stories, it was time to enjoy.

OW_enjoyAnd in the months since choosing that word (or did it choose me? I don’t know), I’ve thought about what it looks like to enjoy life.

You ready for this earth-shattering, groundbreaking revelation?

I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Whew. I feel better.

When I think about a life filled with joy, a person that embodies the very word, I do not fit the bill.

Isn’t the joyful person carefree and bubbly and spontaneous and upbeat? If you know me at all, I am none of those things, so what does it really look like to enjoy life?

I read a quote recently by Henri Nouwen (it was on the Internet, and I haven’t actually read any of his books, shame on me!) that said: “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”

Okay, there’s one clue to this mystery. Sometimes, maybe lots of times, joy is a choice. And not a one-time choice.

That is the theme I’m seeing repeated in these first few months of the year.

When I started this joy journey, I thought of course this year would be more enjoyable because the past few years have been so awful that anything–anything–had to be better. In some ways, I was right. We are healthy in multiple ways, finally thriving after years of merely surviving, and that in itself is a reason for joy.

Still, this fear: What if it doesn’t last?

What would you say are the best years of your life?

I posed this question on Facebook after Phil and I had a conversation about “the best years of your life.” At various times in our life, people have told us “this is the best time of your life!’ They’ve said it about high school (sorry, not true); college (um, maybe?); the first year of marriage (nope); seminary (not even close); and parenting young children (sigh). I’ve heard it said your 20s are the best years, your 30s and so on for every decade of life.

Which is why I posed the question. I suspected people of varying ages would answer the question differently. And I was right!

The responses I got ranged from high school to middle age to retirement.

And I’m beginning to think the answer to enjoying life is this:

The best days are now.

The best years are now.

If we choose to let them be.

Maybe you want to throw your computer across the room when you read that. Part of me wants to give myself a stern talking to for saying those words because I have been in some days, some years that I would not consider as best and I would have cussed out anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.

But here’s another truth: Even the best of times have their faults, and if I’m looking for perfect circumstances before I let myself enjoy life, I’ll die empty and miserable, having wasted the days and years I was given waiting for something better.

When I think back on the life I’ve lived so far, high school wasn’t great, but I made some good friends. Would I do things differently if I could? Absolutely. But I had no idea who I was or who I was becoming, and I think that’s another key to enjoying who you are and where you are. College, too, had its high points, including an unbelievable semester living in a manor house in England and traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Paris and Italy. I’m constantly dreaming about going back. But college was also a time of messy self-discovery. I learned some hard lessons and made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.

If I had to answer that question, I’d say my 20s were pretty great. Post-college, I made some amazing friends, had some great experiences of hanging out, going to concerts, traveling and doing the kinds of things when you’re young, working full-time and have no other obligations or attachments. But I struggled in those years to enjoy my job and I desperately wanted an other of the significant kind in my life, and even after I found him, he spent a year in Iraq, which was another of those best-worst times. Even then, I didn’t know who I was.

And my 30s? They’ve been full of marriage messes and family messes and learning to parent and failing and getting back up and figuring out what God has planned through all this. Even though I crest the hill of my 30s next month and look at the downhill toward the next decade of life, I can’t say that my 30s have been the best, either.

So, where does that leave me? Hoping that in my 40s life will get better? It’s possible. But it’s also possible it won’t. I could get cancer. My husband could die. My kids could give me crushing grief.

I don’t know what the next decade of life could bring, so I have to draw a line now and say: This. Right here. Right now. This is the best time of my life because it’s the only time I have. <Tweet that>

best time

I know it’s not easy. I know it takes work. I’m working at it every day. And I know it’s worth it.

I hope you’ll decide to work at it, too and find it worth the effort.

On Friday, I’ll share some specific ways I’ve found to enjoy life, even when it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

In the meantime, ask other people the question: What would you say were the best years of your life? The answers will surprise you.

And if you care to share your answer, leave a comment here.

Let’s help each other choose joy in any and every circumstance.

 

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  1. Notice mouse droppings in the pantry of the old farmhouse you’ve just moved into.
  2. Convince yourself that it’s probably not recent because no one has lived here for a while.
  3. Accidentally drop a large piece of pizza between the fridge and stove.
  4. Forget to clean it up.
  5. Ask husband if he cleaned up the pizza the next morning when you notice that it is gone.
  6. Conclude that you definitely have a mouse in the house.
  7. Freak out.
  8. Ask friends what they recommend for traps.
  9. Buy traps.
  10. Place one glue trap between the fridge and stove to catch the mouse on its path from the pantry to the counters.
  11. Wait. Overnight, if possible.
  12. Avoid looking at the area the next morning when you wake up.
  13. When children insist the trap is moving, call husband out of bed to dispose of mouse and trap.
  14. Breathe a sigh of relief and continue to enjoy your new home.
  15. Forget about mice for months.
  16. While using the step stool to put away spare sheets in the hall closet, decide to finally clean up all the accumulated plastic bags on the floor of the pantry so you can return the step stool to its rightful place.
  17. Notice mouse droppings.
  18. Convince yourself that those are leftover mouse droppings from the last mouse because you aren’t a terribly thorough cleaner and you can’t remember how well you cleaned the pantry anyway.
  19. Collect plastic bags to take to recycling.
  20. Jump and scream when you move plastic bags and a little mouse scurries across the pantry and disappears into the wall.
  21. Run to the bedroom and jump on the bed where your 4-year-old retreated when he heard you scream.
  22. Take deep breaths.
  23. Convince yourself you can finish the clean-up job without screaming.
  24. Don gloves and gingerly pick up plastic bags until you can see the floor again.
  25. Move glue trap to the spot where you saw the mouse disappear.
  26. Recycle plastic bags at the grocery store.
  27. Tell husband about the mouse.
  28. Forget mice exist.
  29. Get on with life.
  30. On an unsuspecting day when you’re sitting at the computer and the children are running through the house, scream as you see a grey blob scurrying across the kitchen floor right toward you.
  31. Freeze.
  32. Run into the bedroom and jump on the bed with the kids while hubby is getting ready for work.
  33. Point and shriek when you see the rodent peeking out from behind a chair in the bedroom.
  34. Watch in horror and awe as your husband tries to trap the mouse in the hall closet.
  35. Scream again when the mouse escapes into the kids’ bedroom.
  36. Wonder out loud if maybe it’s time to move again.
  37. Take husband to work.
  38. Eat lunch when you get home.
  39. Let kids play outside so you can wash the dishes that piled up from the day before when you were sick.
  40. Remove from the kitchen the cardboard boxes for recycling and boxes of donations to take to Goodwill.
  41. Go back outside and play (which actually means ignoring the mouse problem.)
  42. Decide to walk to the park and back, which will kill about 2 hours of your day.
  43. Have fun at the park.
  44. Invent errands to run when you get home from the park.
  45. Go shopping at Target for water bottles and the grocery store for canned pizza dough because you wanted to make homemade dough but the kids wouldn’t leave your side.
  46. Attempt to roll out canned pizza dough.
  47. Curse and yell at the pizza dough that will not stretch correctly.
  48. Decide to go out for dinner.
  49. Eat at CiCi’s pizza.
  50. Go to another park.
  51. Return home for the fastest bath times in human history.
  52. Go to Chick-fil-a early for indoor play time before hubby gets off work.
  53. Tell hubby about your terrible horrible no good very bad day that also had some good points.
  54. Let the 6-year-old girl call her grandpa to talk about why she’s scared of the mouse.
  55. Sing children to sleep.
  56. Wear slippers to bed.
  57. Go to church the next morning because it’s Sunday and it’s the best place to be.
  58. Talk about your mouse problem and how it’s scaring the children (just the children, of course).
  59. Come home from church refreshed.
  60. Eat lunch.
  61. Enjoy family nap time.
  62. Pretend the mouse has vanished.
  63. See mouse scamper through the kitchen the next morning while everyone else is sleeping.
  64. Wake sleeping husband and convince him to put traps on the path.
  65. Send your daughter to school the next day with hope that the mouse will be gone by the time she’s home.
  66. Send hubby and son to Lowe’s for manly purchases.
  67. Clean parts of kitchen with fear and trepidation while they are gone.
  68. Convince yourself mouse is nothing to be afraid of.
  69. Let husband and son back in the house as husband points out the mouse scurrying across the kitchen.
  70. Leap onto the bench at the counter/peninsula while husband resumes attempt to catch the mouse.
  71. Watch him squeeze himself into the pantry while trying to trap the mouse.
  72. Sigh with dread as mouse disappears. Again.
  73. Spend the rest of the day battling big emotions and crying.
  74. Lie down for a few minutes before picking the girl up from the bus.
  75. Work together as a family to cook a delicious dinner.
  76. Put the kids to bed.
  77. Bait a trap with peanut butter.
  78. Discover mouse droppings in a place that makes you want to puke.
  79. Watch Doctor Who to take your mind off things.
  80. Hear sounds from the kitchen.
  81. Send husband to investigate.
  82. Breathe easier when he tells you he has caught and disposed of a mouse.
  83. Sleep soundly that night, without slippers on.
  84. Tell kids the good news the next morning.
  85. Put daughter on the bus.
  86. See mouse scurrying through the kitchen as you and son prepare to leave for playdate.
  87. Tell husband to bait another trap, even if it means the mouse will be your problem later in the day while he’s at work.
  88. Hear sounds in kitchen before you and son leave.
  89. Tell hubby that mouse may already be caught.
  90. Leave for playdate and enjoy time outside of the house.
  91. Return from playdate to learn that second mouse has been caught and disposed of.
  92. Spend next two days tiptoeing around your house, jumping at slight movements and shadows, ears alert to any kind of noise, unconvinced that mouse problem is over.
  93. Tell Facebook friends you need prayer because you are going crazy over this.
  94. Get on with kitchen/laundry chores because it can’t wait.
  95. Report mouse problem to landlord.
  96. Wait for landlord’s call.
  97. Consider getting a cat against landlord’s policy.
  98. Write longest how-to list on the face of the earth.
  99. Leave readers hanging in suspense because you really don’t know how this is all going to turn out.

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I was a teenager the first time I saw a body lying in a casket.

My grandma’s second husband, a man not related to me by blood but who had become like a grandfather to me, had died and we were at his funeral, the first one I remember attending.

I couldn’t look at the body. It weirded me out to see the shell of a person I’d last seen alive looking like he was sleeping. I half-feared he would open his eyes and sit up. Looking at him felt like an intrusion of privacy. The world spun a little and I had to leave the viewing area.

Up to that point, I hadn’t known a lot of people who had died. A great-grandmother I knew a little had died a few years earlier but I didn’t go to her funeral.

In the last 20 years, I still don’t know a lot of people who have died, but I’ve attended more than a few funerals.

Last week, my husband and I took our kids to one.

To me, he was a kind, old man at church. He didn’t say much. I’m not sure he heard much either. My husband had more contact with him. I knew his wife a little better. Though they were members of a church we no longer attend, going to the funeral seemed like the right thing to do.

There, I learned about his sense of humor. About mystery trips he would plan for his family. How he loved flowers and gardening and making yard ornaments. I thought he was just a barber.

Funerals fill me with regret.

In my 20s, an elderly neighbor I’d known my whole life died. She was a sweet woman who always had a kind word for my brother and me. She’d been a widow as long as I’d known her. I rarely thought of her as anything else. At her funeral I learned of her vibrant Christian faith. I had recently become a Christian. I wish I could have visited her and talked about her life and faith.

The stories she could have told me. Gone forever.

I’m driven by a passion for these untold stories, the seemingly ordinary lives of those who walk among us. I wish I could tell them all before it’s too late.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say

it is well, it is well with my soul

The man’s family ended the funeral with this hymn, a tear-inducing testimony of faith. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this song at a funeral.

A decade ago, I was a newspaper reporter, taking my turn on weekend rotation, which meant a visit to the county jail to check arrest reports for publication in the next day’s edition. It was a task I’d done before, not one I’d enjoyed, but I was comfortable enough being buzzed into the facility and hearing the door click behind me while I copied information off the reports.

This day was different, though. An officer met me at the door and assumed I was there to collect information on a tragedy I knew nothing about. He handed me a press release about a family of four who had driven off the road near the river and drowned in their van. I spent the rest of the night making calls, seeking information and photos of the family. It’s a story I’ll never forget, and I’m sure I didn’t do it justice.

Later that week, I attended the funeral. No one told me I couldn’t be there, but I still felt like an intruder. I sat in the balcony. I took notes on the service. Our photographer took photos before being asked to leave. I was certain I would be the next one escorted out. I listened to family members talk about the faith and togetherness of the four who died. I watched as four coffins left the church in multiple hearses.

And I remember the words from the hymn and how a grieving family in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy sang those words and meant it.

It is well with my soul.

This is what I want my kids to know about death.

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

That it is a part of life. That joy and faith can exist in times of grief. That life in these bodies does not go on forever. That there is hope beyond the grave.

We’ve taken them to weddings, baptisms and infant dedications, all sacred moments in the family of God. So, too, a funeral.

They didn’t view the body, but we talked about death.

In the bathroom of the funeral home, our 4-year-old son, the thinker, talked about the man who’d died. He calls him “the dad who gave us the bunk beds” because that’s how our kids knew him.

“Yeah, he died,” Corban said.

“Yes,” I replied. “And he’s with Jesus now.”

“And someday we’ll be with Jesus,” he observed.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“How do you get to Jesus? I wonder how you get to him.”

While that might seem like a theological question requiring an “ask Jesus into your heart” kind of answer, I think my son was thinking about the mechanics of the process. Like could a person take a highway to heaven or fly in a plane?

I simply answered, “It’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?”

He seemed satisfied.

Since my husband’s uncle died a few months ago, we’ve talked to our kids about death. Because we want them to know why people they’re used to seeing aren’t around anymore. The conversations got a little morbid for a while. They would say things like “We’re all going to die someday,” and my husband and I would cringe when they’d ask specifically about family members who were someday going to die.

It’s an uncomfortable topic, for sure, but I want my kids to be comfortable with death. Not morbidly fascinated or afraid but informed and hopeful.

Death is a part of life and it’s part of God’s story in this world.

They will read the Bible someday and read about death. They will someday learn that some deaths are more tragic and unexpected than others. They will attend funerals of family members, maybe even friends. They will know that there are limits to our life in a human body but that God promises eternal life that can’t fully be comprehended now. I want them to know that death is not the end; it’s a door.

We won’t have those discussions all at once. They’re only 4 and 6, after all. But we’ll take their questions as they come and continue to include them in the life–and death–of the family of God.

How have you handled this topic in your family?

When did you begin talking to your kids about death?

What advice can you give from your experiences?

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