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Today, my eldest son, Gabe, turned 27.

It has been an eventful year for Gabe.  Just a little more than a year ago, he became a homeowner (bought a fixer-upper down the street from our house).  Little did he know then that in a year’s time, his little house would become “home” for his little family.  On New Year’s Day of this year, he married Rachel and to that marriage and to our family, she brought Ethan, a little four-year-old snips-and-snails-and-puppy-dog’s-tails of a boy who calls me “Gramma Amy”.  Oh, and somewhere in all that, Gabe switched from almost five years of employment in the airline industry to working for a company that makes medical implants and prosthetic devices.

What do I celebrate on the anniversary of the birth of my first-born?  I think the thing I celebrate most is that the boy has become a man.

Gabe is a red-head.  I never put much credence in the “red head, hot head” stereotype, but I have to admit that emotions always came quick and hard from the boy.  Because, I believe, we are probably more alike in some ways than either of us would like to admit, there were plenty of sparks between us in Gabe’s growing up years.  (Looking back, I know now that I could have doused a number of those flare-ups with the foam of kindness and a gentle word.  I have acknowledged this to Gabe in the intervening years, and, thankfully, he is a very forgiving son.) The man is another matter.  One of the things I love seeing in Gabe these days is the gentleness and patience with which he treats those he loves.  He’s patient with the old folks, with his siblings, his nieces, his wife, and especially with the little boy he’s taken into his heart in his role as “daddy”.  (Ethan calls Gabe by his given name, for that is how he first knew him, but, yesterday, when he was sick with a bad cold, his tearful wish for “Gabe” to be home from work so he could be with him told me that “Daddy” can go by a first name just as well.)

I mentioned the fixer-upper house.  Even though it was a stressor and even though it took many helping hands to get the place ready to bring a bride and a little boy home to, Gabe launched in to really do some very nice fixing of the place.  He had the great good fortune–blessing–of having a job as a teen-ager and college student working for a friend who mentored him in all kinds of handy-man skills.  By trusting him to work along side at first and, eventually, some on his own, the man helped equip Gabe with the confidence that he can fix and repair and remodel things.  With his handy dandy, do-it-yourself book to guide him, he took on tile installation, ceramic tile installation, and a lot of other projects that I probably don’t even know about.  He’s not afraid to try and he has this great desire to make the house a place that can become a home.

A man is wired to protect and shelter.  There is no where this ties in more closely than in the realm of spiritual nurturing.  When Gabe first became serious about Rachel, one thing I’ll always remember is his out-loud musings about and recognition of the huge responsibility that would mean spiritually.  It takes a man to humbly recognize that that is a God-sized task that cannot be done on one’s own.

In spite of the things I see these days that make me smile at the man my son has become, one thing hasn’t changed from the little boy days and that, too, makes me smile.  This boy-grown-to-man still loves to have fun.  (We always teased him that his middle name should have been “Fun”.)  That bent is a wonderful asset in the family life Gabe has chosen.  I love to hear him and Rachel laugh together.  I love to see him delight in Ethan’s delight over something fun they plan to do together.

We wondered for what God had gifted the little boy.  The answers are unfolding more and more everyday as we see the boy morphing into the man.

Happy Birthday, My Son.  This mom is awfully proud of you–proud of the man you’ve become.

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Rachel

My friend Jon’s blog, Levite Chronicles, is very inviting.  Not just in the sense of being a place one wants to be, but he literally invites thinking and reflective writing from his readers.  I have not spent much time in the blogging world since I returned to the work force in August 2009 as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.  However, when I do blog hop, Jon’s place is always one of my stops.

In a recent post he listed “20 Questions for Reviewing 2010”.  I find in that list enough thought provocation to keep me thinking and, if I choose to take the time, writing for a long time.

The first question on the list is “Who do you know better than you did at the beginning of the year?”  The first person who comes to mind in answer to that question is Rachel.  She is the young woman who will become my daughter-in-law in just 10 days. She has already established her special place in my heart.

When I think of what I love best about Rachel, four things pop out immediately.  The first is one of the first reasons I heard from Gabe about why she is so  special.  “She really cares about people,” Gabe replied in answer to my early queries about this young woman who had caught his eye and was capturing his heart.  He obviously judged her aright.  Always ready with an offer to help after a family dinner, giving up her time and her possessions to help a co-worker who comes up a little short on both from time to time, not wanting to put anyone out during the process of wedding planning–those are just some of the evidences I’ve seen so far.  When we opened gifts at our family Christmas celebration this past weekend, I could see the “I have paid attention to who you are” stamp all over the gifts that were given by Rachel and Gabe.

The next two things I love about Rachel have to do with laughter.  I love her laugh.  If it was translated into words, one of the adjectives one would have to use would be “delight”.  When Rachel laughs, it’s as if she is just so tickled about something she can’t keep it in.  It always makes me smile.  And, when Rachel laughs, very much of the time these days, I hear my son’s laughter too.  This special girl has the ability to make my son smile and laugh in a way that I’ve never seen in all of his fun-loving twenty-six years of life.  That is something a mother has to love.  May the two of them always together find something in life to make them smile and, even if they have to deal with dark days along the way, always be able to return to the laughter of their early love.

Finally, I love to watch Rachel the mom.  With this marriage, I am gaining not only a lovely daughter-in-law, but an all-boy, cute-as-a-button, smart-as-a-whip, four-year-old grandson.  I love to see Rachel interact with Ethan.  She does not let him get away with murder, which would be very tempting when he looks up at you with those big hazel eyes in his little elf-like face.  She is tough and tender, and it is clear that they have a very special relationship.  She is very nurturing and in her quiet way she teaches and trains him as they interact.  And, best of all, it is clear that she truly enjoys her son.  I am happy to see Gabe and Rachel in their parenting roles for this little guy, and I hope that he will someday realize how blessed he is to have two people who love him so deeply.

I will always remember the first time Rachel stopped by the house on her way to work and Gabe simply introduced her with, “This is Rachel.”  Indeed.

This joyful journey of knowing has just begun.  The beginning has been one of the riches of 2010.

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From the Mouths of Babes

Here are some funnies from 20-month-old Melanie when we spent part of last Saturday together (If you know Melanie, these will make you smile more than if not, I think):

At breakfast:  Before starting  in on her pancakes, the request comes, “Read a poem.”  (This has been done in the past when just Melanie and I share the breakfast table.)  I ask her, “What poem would you like?”  Her answer:  “Little Orphant Annie” (James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet)  (I think when she’s old enough to really understand all the words–right now, I’m pretty sure the rhythm is the hook–I’ll have to set this one aside.  Too scary!)

At the zoo:  We were rounding the part of the African exhibit where the next thing we would see was the hyena.  Having been told this by the Grandparents, Melanie was ready when the lady next to her, looking at the mammal with her little boy, asked him, “What is that?”  Without missing a beat, Melanie answered, “Hyena.”  I think the lady was surprised.

At home:  Gramma is getting lunch things put on the table.  Seeing this, Melanie asks, “Are you ready to eat, Guys?”  The Grandparents look at each other and can’t help but laugh.

Later at home:  Playing with the Fisher-Price barn animals, walking the dog down the arm of the couch to the floor, Melanie explains, “The dog is scampering down the couch.”

Did I mention we enjoy being grandparents?

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It just dawned on me sometime in the last week–we are going through those teenager years again.  (For those who may not know our family so well, I say “again” because our older children are 25 and 23,  so we’ve already walked through their adolescent years.)  Granted, Zach turned 16 in February, so on the calendar he’s already been a teenager for three years.  But it has just been in recent months and weeks that some of the usual “biggies” of teenagerhood –driving, relationships, thinking about the future (i.e. college), etc.–have moved to the front burners.

Realizing we find ourselves at this stage of the journey once more, I can’t help but wonder what we’ve learned since the first time we took the trip.  I can sort out several ways that I’m hoping we’re wiser this time around:

  • I think we’re clearer on the “why’s”.  I heard myself saying last night something along these lines:  “When you’re deciding what’s right and wrong and how you will act and choose in a given situation, your chief considerations have got to be “What does God’s Word say about this?” and “How will my choice reflect on who God is?”  In the past, I hate to admit, we might have given more weight than we do now to choices based on how it reflects on the family or on the individual.  The example that the teenager had brought up (it was not the issue of the moment) was how people dress for church.  There are not any verses I know of that specifically tell me what to wear or not wear as I enter the sanctuary on a given Sunday morning in 2009.  Should my conclusion be that it doesn’t matter?  I don’t think so, even though we live in a culture that doesn’t think that much really matters as long as you feel good about what you’re doing.  There are commands that God gave worshippers of other times and places which I need to think about in terms of their broader applications for today.  The applications to my now are rooted in getting a grasp of who God is, what He is like.  Just as the teen who knows his parents well has a pretty good idea of what will fly or not in terms of choices and behavior, so as he gets to know his Heavenly Father will he be better and better able to discern what pleases Him and is in keeping with who He is and who He wants to be in that teen’s life.  That, ultimately, is way more important than what I think (hopefully there will be some matchup there) or how it reflects on our family (if it’s good enough for God, it should be good enough for us!).
  • Having said that, some things don’t matter.  The hardest part of parenting teens, for Michael and me, is the constant stream of requests from said teens  for permission to do this, do that, which means constant decision-making on our parts.  (Decision-making ranks right up there on our list of major stressors in life.  We are not naturally very decisive people–very odd, considering we are both first-borns.)   While we are very pleased that we have a  teen who respects the house rules and the makers of them enough that he willingly asks first, checks in, keeps us posted, etc., sometimes it would be nice not to have to sort out the reasons for a “yes” or a “no” in response to the “May I?”  Realizing that some things are really not a big issue lightens that load somewhat (that has to always be balanced with “choices have consequences”, of course, and the trick is to discern how significant the choice of the moment really is:  Will going to this movie instead of that one be a life-changer?  I am not big on recreational shooting, but will an evening of airsoft in the company of the guys in a physically safe environment warp my son for life?)  Learning to discern big from small, significant from insignificant is something that I think maybe we’ve gotten a little better at since round one of teenage parenting.
  • I hope we talk less but say more.  Not that we don’t spend time in conversation with Zach.  But I am hopeful that the words that come out of our mouths as parents are less fluff and more substance.  I do know that I am more inclined to be direct with the truth, rather than beating around the bush.  My goal is to be Biblical and to speak the truth in love in such a way that Zach will see it as a good thing, a loving boundary for his good.  (I know I have one former teen in our family circle who would have appreciated it if I’d arrived at this mode sooner!)
  • I believe we are more in tune to the specifics than to the generalities.  By that, I mean I think we’re more aware of the unique personality and maturity of this teen when any given situation comes up.  Not that we make the rules to fit the teen–there will always be some non-negotiables, rooted in moral truth.  But I find myself as a mom less and less inclined to say, “When Gabe and Ellen were teens…”  This is the deal:  That was then, this is now.  And they were not who Zach is.  Those are huge factors.  (I have a bit more understanding now of where my parents were when we older two kids used to accuse them of letting our younger siblings get away with murder when they were teens.)

The jury is still out on this one; there’s lots of road to cover.  We’ll travel it in the same way we traveled the first time we were here–by God’s grace.  But I’m hopeful that we are more savvy travelers for having been here once before.

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205I met my great niece today. With a full head of dark hair and shiny bright eyes, Annaleigh Faith was born Wednesday morning after a harried and hurried trip to the hospital–she arrived about a minute after her mama got there (and with that, I believe the story of our own daughter’s birth twenty-three years ago is trumped in the family annals, in terms of high drama! The only detail for which we may still hold the storytelling edge is that we fled for the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, leaving our door wide open and our sleeping 19-month-old alone, not having time to wait for the neighbor who was on her way across our apartment complex to come and care for him!)

Great-Gramma (my mom) held this precious little bundle for the first time and the cameras were clicking. While Mom was holding Annaleigh, the baby’s daddy spoke from across the room and the most amazing thing happened. That little person, only four-days-launched into the big world outside the womb, turned her head in the direction of that voice. A little later I saw her do the same thing when her mama began speaking from a different location in the room. At this very tender age, that little one, who has been hearing those voices for the past nine months, sorts them out from the cacophony of other voices (we do tend to all talk at once in my extended family!) and lets her eyes be led in those directions.

That is such a clear picture of how I think God would have His own dear children be. Jesus referred to us as sheep and said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Have I been listening so closely all along that I can distinguish that loving voice from all others? Do I turn loving, expectant eyes in the direction of that voice when I do hear it?

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Thankful for Thieves

Thanksgiving season thieves gave us major holiday gifts on two different years of our lives.

The first time it happened was Thanksgiving 1992.  I was 7 months pregnant for Zach.  Gabe was 8 1/2 and Ellen was 7 years old.  We were planning to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with Michael’s folks in Michigan.  Then, on the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, Michael was a little late getting home from his evening of work at the Taylor U. library.  Finally, just about the time I was beginning to worry, he called to say he’d gone out to get in the car to come home and had found no car.  Police figured that our 1986 Monte Carlo had been broken into and had been taken as part of local gang activity.  The vehicle was later recovered–abandoned, partially stripped of some valuable parts, and smashed up a bit.  Lacking our own wheels, we didn’t go to Michigan for Thanksgiving after all.  We were graciously loaned a vehicle by one of Michael’s co-workers and her husband, and we spent the last half of Thanksgiving break car shopping.  We ended up buying one the best vehicles we ever owned–a rose-colored (beige?) Dodge Aries.  An economy car for a family of soon-to-be-five was quite a stretch but it served us well for a number of years with very few problems; it was a blessing in disguise that the Monte Carlo was stolen, for we had been making nearly monthly–and expensive–trips to the shop with that one.

What we did do that year was be thankful–together, and in peace and quiet.  We were thankful that it was just a car that was stolen.  We were grateful for our generous friends who loaned us their van and for the ease with which we found a replacement vehicle to purchase (and that at the hands of a very nice, non-hard-sell car salesman).  We enjoyed the relaxing holiday without the hectic stress of travel.  Even though we missed being with family on the family day of all days of the year and though we didn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving meal (I had cooked turkey the Sunday before, but we were planning on Thanksgiving dinner in MI, so I hadn’t prepared for all the traditional foods), we decided we liked the low-key celebration before what so often becomes a busy December.  I still remember the fun of an after-dinner walk in the fallen leaves at Foster Park.  We liked that celebration so well, in fact, that we have spent most of our Thanksgivings since that time at home.  At this point, Zach is a bit on the disappointed side if our Thanksgiving plans take us away from home and from the opportunity to simply relax and be family with no other expectations or demands.

Our second Thanksgiving “gift” came more recently:  If you’ve read here for long, you may recall that post-Thanksgiving thieves broke into our house and cleaned out our electronics holdings last year.  Michael, Zach, and I had gone out to a movie and dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving; Gabe was at work.  We arrived home from one of the most pleasant evenings out we’d had in a long time to find that all of our computer and AV items were totally gone–cords and all.  My new digital camera was taken as was a stagecoach bank full of coins that was in Gabe’s room.  But, after the first few minutes of intial shock and awe passed, we were swept over by a powerful sense of peace and thanksgiving.  So much could have been worse:  The only damage to our house was a small door window pane broken to gain access.  All of Zach’s movie projects–irreplaceable–could have been taken, but they were backed up on an external hard drive which was left behind.  Zach’s early Christmas present of a new digital camera was sitting in plain sight on the piano, but was for some unexplainable reason left behind.  Right next to the TV corner from which everything–TV, DVD player, VCR–was taken stood our just-decorated Christmas tree filled with ornaments of great sentimental value.  Not a needle or decoration was out of place.  No ransacking had happened.  No one was home at the time of the break-in, and the thieves had left by the time we arrived, so no ugly confrontations happened.  And what was taken–just stuff.  Nothing of personal value was touched.  The longer we thought about it, the funnier it got.  Other than my nearly new camera, everything that was taken was essentially on its last legs; our thieves definitely got the short end of the stick, as our insurance company came through very well for us in the aftermath of the robbery. 

The gift these thieves left behind was a non-electronic Christmas season.  There was a little bit of inconvenience from time to time due to the lack of a computer.  And we missed–a little bit–our weekend movie nights during the holidays.  But, it was very freeing not to be faced with the lure/burden of email or Facebook or TV time during the month of December.  Something was added to our holidays, rather than taken away.  As with most losses, an opportunity to refocus on what matters presented itself, and the result was a huge thankfulness for the constant care of a good God and for the gift of one another.

Do I wish for a stolen car or a post-Thanksgiving break-in this year?  Not really.  But, as I look at our family tapestry, these several dark threads that I will always associate with the Thanksgiving season add a depth and richness to the picture that would not otherwise be there.

And, I am thankful.

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It was Thanksgiving 1996.  Things were the same but not the same.  Michael’s family had spent many Thanksgivings together in the years since I came into the mix by marriage in 1982.  But, the siblings had always before gathered at the folks’.  This time, one of Michael’s sisters was the hostess.  We were festive together…but not quite.  You see, Tony was dying.

My brother-in-law (husband of Michael’s other sister) had been diagonosed earlier that fall with a malignant brain tumor.  Surgery and treatment had slowed things down a bit, but they had left Tony changed in many ways and had left the entire family with a verdict that ended with a death sentence.  As it was, Tony had highs and lows over the first half of the next year and he died late that summer.

I have two memories of the Thanksgiving I’m recalling: One is that before and during dinner, we were trying very hard to be normal–but things weren’t normal, so it was awkward.  The other is that things totally changed after dinner.  As we began to share around the table, words and emotions and sentiments tumbled out that should have been a regular, steady trickle of love and affection over many years before.  But, it was a case of better late than never in some respects, and I believe some new good things in the family began that day that have been sustaining in times since then.  The culminating expression of that table time was some singing together.  I’m not sure what else we sang, but I do remember this one:

God will make a way, when there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side.
With love and strength for each new day–He will make a way…
He will make a way.

And He did. 

Fast forward to the winter after Tony died.  Michael was starting a second masters degree.  He thought he was done with his schooling when he got his library degree in the late 70’s.  But the tenure process at his job demanded another degree and, in the library world, unless you want to teach librarians, a second masters degree is more practical than a doctorate.  So, not knowing entirely how it would be paid for or how the course work would be juggled with the daily on-the-job and with parenting three young children, we began the journey.  Our theme song for the trip was, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way…”

And He did.

Now it is 2008.  We know that a year from now, Michael will not be working at the same job he has currently (his is likely ending in May, 2009).  What we don’t know is what he will be doing.  That means we also don’t know if we will be living where we live now and have for the past 18 years, or whether we will be somewhere else.  In fact, there is a great deal we don’t know about life on the road ahead (always true for all of us, but moreso in the face of the current uncertainties.)  But there is one thing we do know:  “God will make a way when there seems to be no way…”

He did–and He will.

   

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