Beautiful Stories

I am obsessed with stories.  I’m not talking about books….although I do enjoy a good book (if only I had the attention span to read one).  I’m talking about sitting down and hearing somebody tell their story – learning about their life and the experiences that make them who they are.  It’s not something I have always known how to do — nor did I always understand the value of knowing somebody’s story.  Knowing a person’s story gives you deep insight into who they are and how they react to situations. 

Let me give you an example.  I avoid baby showers.  It’s not that I don’t like the idea of a baby shower or that I don’t like babies.  And, my hesitance to attend them has nothing to do with the person who is pregnant.  People who know my story know exactly why I avoid them.  I didn’t get to have a shower with my own baby.  He was premature and I was sick and he was actually born 2 days before my shower was scheduled.  I didn’t resent not having one per se, but I did feel cheated.  Not cheated of gifts, but cheated of a “normal” pregnancy with all of the normal things that go along with it.  Later, we had a foster baby.  She was our neice and we took her home from the hospital and loved and cared for her for 6 months as if she was our own baby.  Again, while she was (and is) a blessing to us, it was a very difficult time in our lives.  Baby showers bring all of those feelings to the forefront.  So, I’m not a scrooge.  I avoid baby showers out of respect for the expectant mother — because inevitably, I cry.  And, baby showers are not a time to cry. 

Recently, I was in the nail salon.  Normally, I take my iPhone and listen to music while I’m getting a pedicure.  It’s sort of my zone out time.  This particular day, I left my phone in my car and didn’t realize it until my feet were already in the water.  I despaired over it for a moment and then picked up a magazine.  I began to listen to the people talking around me.  Next to me was a woman who was probably in her 70’s.  The woman giving her pedicure commented on how long it had been since she’d been in.  She began to talk about the chemotherapy and radiation treatment that she’d been receiving for breast cancer.  As I listened to this conversation, I realized that these two women had known eachother for a long time.  They talked about their kids and the pedicurist’s recent trip to Vietnam.  There was silence for a moment and suddenly the pedicurist asked the woman, “Are you scared?”  She answered “no — it just is what it is” and went on to describe her faith and why she was not afraid of death.  When she left, the women hugged and she said “I’ll see you in 3 weeks”.  I marveled at this relationship…..one that exists only in a chair in a salon.  These are people so different that they only met by chance and would never be friends outside of this scenario.  And yet…they know intimate details about eachother’s lives.  They talk about faith and give eachother advice.   This only happens because they have both shared their stories with eachother.  And, through telling those stories, they have developed a trust in eachother.  It’s beautiful.

Knowing your own story is even more important.  It sounds strange to say — because who knows our story better than us?  But, there are things about all of our lives that shape who we are and how we respond  — and sometimes I think that we don’t even acknowledge them.  I think it’s important to process the experiences in our lives and share them in appropriate ways.  I’ve relied heavily on this as I’ve moved to a new area and made new friends.  While I try to be somewhat of a chameleon and blend into situations, I strive to listen to what people are saying.  Many people are guarded at first meeting, but I have become amazed at what you find out by asking the simple question, “What is your story?”.  When you are genuinely interested in listening to people, they will share with you amazing things.  And, you quickly learn that everyone is amazing in their own way.  Nobody’s life is mundane or boring.  And in listening to these stories, you learn that people are trust-worthy (or aren’t!) and good (or not!) — and how to respond to them.

When we first moved here, Jake had no interest in sports at all.  But, after school started, I noticed that he started asking questions about football.  He wanted to watch and learn about the game.  We realized that he had been listening to other boys talk at lunch.  He figured out that football was important to them and so he was learning about it so that he could participate in the discussions.  He didn’t care about football as much as he cared about being able to connect with people.  What an amazing thing to understand at his young age!  But, it’s something we can all learn to do…we just have to want to. 

I’ve recently been dealing with a stressful situation that nobody in my current context (besides Lloyd) can relate to — because they don’t know the story — they didn’t live it with us.  I’ve had to reach out to friends who are far away to talk about it and process it.  It feels so good to know that somebody KNOWS you — that you can pour out your heart to a friend who knows your story and they will understand you.  It’s like going home.  I long to develop those types of relationships in my new home…but they will inevitably be centered around things that we experience here and now.  Our experiences are what connect us – but we have to be willing to share and to listen.

There is a saying that “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason”.  It’s cliche but it’s true!  Try asking somebody about their story and really listen.  You will be amazed at what you hear, because I really believe that all people want is someone to listen. 

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Thoughts on Father’s Day

I’ve been thinking about a Father’s Day post for a few days.  Several different things have run through my head on how I wanted to present my thoughts.  I have written, erased, edited and walked away from this post for a couple of days now.  In the end, I think it’s just impossible for me to put into words the feelings I have because I don’t think it will do justice or properly honor the men in my life who have been examples of great dads.

Relationships are complicated.  But, I really do believe that in most cases, people do the best they can with what they have to work with.  Sometimes, it’s not much.  Parenthood does not come with a manual.  The only thing we know about being parents is what we learned from our own experiences.  How those experiences inform our own parenting varies from person to person.

My son has an amazing dad.  He is teaching Jake how to be a man — that it’s important to work hard and provide for your family — but to never put your work ahead of your family.  He has shown him that it’s okay to take risks.  It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.  He shows him how to treat women in the way that he loves and shows affection for me.  Most importantly, he loves God and is teaching Jake to follow Jesus.  And, the thing is that Jake really has no idea that not all dads are this way.  And, that’s okay.  He will someday — and hopefully it will result in a continuation of the cycle.

I got a call this morning that my own dad was admitted to the hospital last night.  He has a bad heart and has some tests run to figure out what is going on.  My dad and I have not always had the best relationship, but we have come a long way over the years.  I love him with all my heart and he knows it.  I haven’t always been good at telling him, but I have tried to make sure that I do it as often as I can now because you never know when you might not have another chance.

I know most people told their dads they loved and appreciated them today.  Keep telling them.

 Happy Father’s Day to all of the amazing dads out there.

Life according to Jake

I had one of those days.  You know the ones….when everything and everyone irritates you….for no reason at all.   I woke up tired and cranky and from the moment I got out of bed, nothing seemed to go right.  Things that I normally wouldn’t get worked up about — well, let’s just say I made mountains out of mole hills all day.  I can point to several reasons why the day went like it did. Lloyd’s out of town and I don’t sleep well when he’s gone. Tomorrow is Jake’s last day of elementary school, which is pretty emotional for all of us.  I managed to unintentionally make somebody angry the other day and even though I have apologized (twice), I think they are still mad and it’s still weighing on me.  I just feel a little defeated by life today.  All day, I kept thinking of things I would blog about — and they mostly centered around how irritating and stupid I think people can be.  Lloyd and I have a saying, “Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you”.  Today, I got eaten by the bear.

And, then I was going through Jake’s backpack, full of all of the items from his desk at school.  I came across a composition notebook that had “warm up journal” written on the front.  His teacher would ask a question and they would have to answer it as a writing exercise.  There were questions like “What was the coolest thing you did this summer?” and “What was your favorite part of the weekend?”.  Reading them brought back memories of our trip across country last summer and going to see various museums on the weekends when we first moved here (and had fewer commitments than we do now!).  But, then there were things I learned about him from questions like “If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?”.  Jake answered:  “I only wish I had one more year to see my family and friends” (back in Washington State).  I learned that if he had one superpower, it would be to be invisible so that he could sneak out of the house.  I learned that he would like to invent a dog trampoline and he’d like to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by producing the longest running cartoon ever.  I discovered that his favorite thing to do in the snow is stay inside because his ears freeze too quickly and he’s worried about Diptheria.  Whatever that means.  I learned that he thinks he’s apathetic about soccer. If he had one billion dollars he would save his money and get a job.  If he could have any job, it would be a classical composer.  If he was to go to a deserted island, he would bring a box of candy, a bottle of sprite an Xbox 360 with a game and controller, his best friend Cameron, his 2nd grade picture and Lola (our dog).  I learned that his favorite thing about spring is Easter because we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I learned that he thinks that Jayson Werth needs to learn to catch a ball.  And, then there was this:

Describe your dream house.

His response was “Really, I don’t have a dream house.  I like where I live”.

 

And all of a sudden, all of the things I have been irritated about all day just seemed so silly.  Instead of complaining about all of those things, I needed to stop and count my blessings.  My life is full of them.  But, the biggest one of all is my sweet, smart, handsome, witty, insightful son who teaches me something every day.

Happy Heart Birthday

It has been 11 years since I handed my baby boy over to the nurse in the hospital. It was a hot summer morning in Phoenix and the hallway was bright. I remember he watched me as the nurse took him into the operating room and all I could do was ask Jesus to be with him and comfort him.

It was the first time I had seen my husband cry.

I remember friends and family waiting with us. I remember how tense it was whenever we would get a call with an update. I remember with vivid clarity the nurse who came out to tell us that the surgery was over and they were sewing him up. She was petite with short brown hair and very compassionate eyes.  But, the thing I remember most is an absolute confidence that my baby was going to be okay. I knew it. 

It was touch and go for a few days — and there was a day that I got down on my knees and begged God not to make me bury an infant.  But within a week, he was out of the hospital and we were ready to move on with our life.

Jake’s short life has not been easy, from a medical standpoint.  He’s got more “ologists” than most people I know, young or old.  But, today, the scar is pretty faded and if you didn’t know about his rough start, you probably wouldn’t guess it.  Peronally, I think he is an extra-ordinary child – but I realize I’m a bit biased.  He smiles with his whole body and his enthusiasm is contagious.  He’s vibrant and full of energy.  He’s talented and smart.  He’s compassionate and justice driven.  And, he is funny.  He’s really funny.

It’s not lost on me how blessed we are.  I am thankful for every day that God has given us with Jake.  But, today, I am just thankful that we can have an ordinary day.

Jake – June 5, 2000 just hours before his open heart surgery.

Running with a purpose

I’ve been trying to be a runner for about 10 years.  It all started when we lived in LA and I saw an ad for a training program for the Honolulu Marathon.  I had never run a day in my life but decided to sign up for it because I really needed something to distract me from the fact that I really didn’t like living in La-La Land.  The program I ran with required that you raise money for Aids Project Los Angeles.  It wasn’t a cause near and dear to my heart, but it was as good a cause as any, in my opinion, and I set about raising the $3000 needed to get me to Honolulu.  Many of you reading this today helped me reach that goal and again, I thank you.  It was a wonderful experience…I met amazing people and I really believe it helped me keep my sanity over the 6 months that I trained.  But, when I crossed that finish line, I swore I would never do it again!

I kept that promise until a few years ago when I got the itch again.  The Rock and Roll Marathon was coming to Seattle and I really wanted to run the inaugural race.  So, I signed up and went about training by myself.  I was faithful with my runs but didn’t train on hills, which was a big mistake.  I ended up breaking my foot during the run and by some miracle — and the encouragement of my dear friend Janet, I crossed the finish line and got my medal.  I spent the next several months in a boot and was told I would likely never run long distances again.  That was fine with me. The truth is that I don’t really enjoy running long distances — I really just like finishing the race and getting the medal!

Then my husband got the bug and started running.  He’s a natural runner (read:  fast) and I am too self conscious to run with him, but we had an idea to run the Arizona Rock n Roll 1/2 marathon relay as a celebration of my 40th birthday.  We had a great plan — he would run the long leg (8-1/2 miles) and I would run the remaining 4-1/2.  Easy enough, right?  What we didn’t fully think through was that I would be entering the race with sub-8 minute mile runners.  This proved to be disastrous as I tried to pace with them and was exhausted after the first mile.  Lloyd joined me on the course and we finished it together but it was hot and it was hard and it wasn’t much fun.

I had set a goal to run a race a month during 2011. After that race,  I wished I could take back the public announcement that I’d made.  I skipped February and then ran the St. Patrick’s Day 8K in DC in March.  It was fun, but I continued to be frustrated at how slow I am — and my foot still hurts.  April came and went — and then so did May (although, to be fair, I was signed up for the Warrior Dash and ended up having to skip it because Jake had a piano recital that day).  I joined a running group for beginners and realized, sort of at the last minute, that I was signed up to run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on June 4th. I remember thinking it would be fun and I could wear lots of pink (those of you who know me know that it’s sort of my signature color).   We have had a very busy week and last night I was exhausted.  I didn’t want to do it, but drug myself out of bed this morning at 5:45 and got ready to go.

As I walked from the Metro toward the start line, I was looking around at people who made up the crowd of 40,000.  Right in front of me walked a mother and daughter, hand in hand.

It’s hard to read, but the girl’s “In Celebration of” sign says “my mom”.  Mom is wearing the Breast Cancer Survivor pink shirt.  Tears just started to fall down my cheeks.  The emotion completely caught me by surprise as I looked around and saw all of the pink shirts.  There were women of all ages wearing these shirts. Each one of them has a personal story of sadness, pain, fear, happiness, triumph and hope – probably all on a daily basis.  And with each one of them was a husband, boyfriend, sister, friend, child…there to support them.

As I ran the 3.2 miles, instead of taking in the sights of DC, which always leave me in awe….I took in the signs on the backs of the runners and walkers.  And, it was even more awe-inspiring than the history and architecture that surrounded me.  It is the people that make up the city that really matter.  I took note of the names and prayed for them as I ran through the streets.  I thought about my friends who’ve struggled as their mothers have fought this terrible disease.  I thought about my great-aunt, who died several years ago.  I thought about my friend Mia who was my age when she died, leaving behind a husband and two young kids.  I’ll never forget the day she told me she had cancer.  I remember exactly where I was standing and the look on her face and the words that I could not find to respond as I just hugged her.  It was devastating — and yet so inspiring to watch her walk through the rest of her life on this earth with such grace and dignity and love.

When I was about 1/2 mile from the finish line, I saw one of those pink signs on the ground.  I had to stop and pick it up.  I thought about how I would feel if I got to the finish line and the sign bearing the name of the person who inspired me to run was nowhere to be found.

Ms. Betty Mitchell, I don’t know you — but somebody loved you enough to put your name on a sign and run for you.  It was a privilege to take it across the finish line on their behalf.

So today, I didn’t care that I’m slow or that my foot still hurts.  None of that compares, not even a little bit, to the struggle that the women fighting breast cancer face.

One final note:  Even though today was about breast cancer – we are all painfully aware that it isn’t the only form of cancer that takes our loved ones from us.  As I ran, I thought of my grandfathers.  My dear friend Julie.  And of course, sweet Dylan.

And as I was walking back to the Metro through Judiciary Square, I was reminded of that one more time.

Thanks for inspiring me, buddy.

Heat and Humidity

Before I start, I will point out the obvious — I’m working on personalizing the blog a bit.  I took that sunset picture a few years ago.  Lloyd and I spent our anniversary on the Washington Coast.  It was one of the driest springs on record and the sunset made it seem like a summer day, even though it was only March.  A couple of years later, we spent our anniversary at the beach again and it snowed.  (edited to add:  I have since updated the blog.  The picture referred to is this below)…

Speaking of weather….

The humidity has really set in this week in DC.  I’m told that it’s more like July weather, so we are hoping for a little reprieve.  However, I do not like to complain about heat.  After spending most of my summers in Phoenix, I feel like summer is supposed to be hot.  Besides that, my PNW friends have been talking about the fact that they are still running their furnaces, so I’m greatful that we aren’t dealing with that.  And to a certain degree, I sort of like the humidity.  It makes me feel like I’m on a tropical vacation — but only when I can be barely dressed and lounging around under a fan or next to a pool with an umbrella drink.  Then, it’s sort of sultry and sexy.  When I have to walk to work feeling like I’m breathing through a wet sponge and end up sweating like a pig for the first hour that I’m in the office – well, there’s just nothing sexy about that. 

But, I get really tired of people telling me that the heat in Arizona is better because there is no humidity.  Most of the people who tell me this have never actually lived in Arizona, so they don’t really know what they are talking about.  Let’s do a little comparison. 

Yesterday, the temperature in DC topped out at around 97 degrees in the heat of the day.  With the humidity, the heat index was around 103.  Hot.  And there was a heat advisory in place.  Today was the same story, although a cold front is moving in so now we have severe thunderstorm warnings.  By contrast, in Phoenix, the high temperature today will be around 97 degrees with negligible humidity.  So, yes…today, DC feels hotter than Phoenix but only by a few degrees.  But, it’s early June.  That will soon change. 

Let’s tackle the notion that in Arizona, it’s a “dry heat”.  First of all, yes….the humidity is not as high as it is in other places.  But, in those “dry heat” areas, the temperatures generally are much higher than the more humid areas.  I have suffered through temperatures in the one-teens and never once thought to myself that it was any more tolerable because it was dry.  In fact, once the temperature passes the 110 threshold, it’s just plain miserable with or without humidity.

And, then there is the monsoon.  Monsoon season starts in Arizona anytime from about June 15-July 1st’ish and can last all the way into September (it all depends on dew point, but I won’t geek out on you that much).  Even with a “mere” 50% humidity, the average 105 degree July day can feel like 134 degrees.  One hundred thirty four degrees.  That, my friends, is hot and makes today feel downright comfortable.

At the end of the day, it’s almost as if we always feel the need to one up eachother in the weather department.  Let’s just agree that summer can be hot.  And, where it’s not hot, people are wishing it were.  (I promised I wouldn’t complain about the weather.  I did not promise I wouldn’t complain about people who complain about the weather).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check the radar and read about hurricane season, which started today.