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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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Zach had to work till closing time tonight at Chick-fil-A.  On the way to pick him up, I passed three bars–“taverns”, if you will.  All of the parking lots were full.  It was a little before 10:30PM on a Friday night.

On Fridays during the 5PM hour, “Pat’s Pub” is the feature on local talk radio.  Complete with the sound effect of callers’ favorite libations being poured, people gather over the airwaves to talk over their views on the news.  It’s a congenial hour of radio broadcasting.

I’ve been Facebook messaging back and forth the past couple of days with a friend who also is an adjunct faculty member at the community college where we’ll both find ourselves in the classroom in a couple of weeks.  She commented that she thinks one of the reasons she likes working there so much is because of the large number of employees who share a common set of faith beliefs.

The intersection of all of these snippets from the day in just the past few hours set me to thinking–to the tune of the theme song from the TV show “Cheers”.  (I may have seen part of one episode of that program sometime while channel surfing, but other than that, the only thing I know about it is the iconic nature of the thing and some of the words of the theme, which is played every week in conjunction with the  aforementioned “Pat’s Pub” radio segment.)

That idea of being glad you came because it’s “where everybody knows your name” is powerful.

There is something magnetic about a place where you feel known–and cared about.  What makes for a better time than being with people who know you and still love you–or, at the very least, will listen to you and interface with your life?  What makes for a more stressful time than being in a room full of strangers or, worse in my opinion, in a room full of people you know but with whom you feel you have nothing in common?  (That, in my lexicon, defines “loneliness”.)

The bar is full tonight.  There is never dead air space during “Pat’s Pub”.  It’s a plus in the workplace to know that you are among faith friends.

Day after tomorrow is Sunday.  My church will probably have at least one visitor.  So will yours, since it’s vacation season and people come to visit as well as go away to visit.  Will those people feel that , when the last “Amen”  of the morning is said, they’ve been to a place where they were known, where somebody understands life, where somebody thinks their particular life is significant enough to try to understand…in the larger, figurative sense of things, will they be glad they came to a place where everybody–especially God–knows their name?  I can be part of that for someone, if I’m paying attention–so can you.

…Dare ya.

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Maybe whoever said not to talk about politics or religion in social conversation was on to something.

Twice in as many days, I have read a string of comments and counter-comments on Facebook that have, in my estimation, amounted to a verbal spat. In both cases, the precipitating issue was political.   I must confess that I have, on occasion, “vented” in my own Facebook status or in this blog about things political.  I have also from time to time raised a question about someone’s strongly expressed opinion, just to pose another possibility. Mostly, though, I appreciate the uplifting and encouraging comments that I regularly read on Facebook–and I feel that a few minutes have been well-spent if I can be on the giving as well as receiving end of some each day.   So, I was quite surprised at the vehemence bordering on meanness that came through in the “conversations” I observed. And I was grieved.

In both cases, the “Facebook fights” I encountered appeared to have erupted over either a) a difference of opinion or b) a misunderstanding of what someone said.  What do we do in face-to-face conversations when either of those situations occurs?  If the goal is to be diplomatic or gracious or really to understand, we ask a question.  In the news feed eruptions, instead of being asked a question, the commenter was jumped on verbally, and, most surprisingly to me, was the object of name-calling.

I grieve because the “fights” were started and perpetuated by Christ-followers.  I have no way of knowing if those to whom the counter-comments were directed were also Christ followers.  But, I’m pretty sure Facebook fights are not an application of the Golden Rule or the command to love our neighbors.  And, if it matters if we are winsome in matters political, we will never get there by ugly argumentation with our fellow travelers.  Even in perilous times when the truth seems to be a rare commodity, we stand to gain more ground by speaking the truth in love to those who disagree with us than by screaming the truth at them in high-pitched voices.

We live in troubled and troubling times.  It’s putting people on edge.  It’s sending some people over the edge.  Some are lining up on the edge.  Many are lining up on opposing edges.  But, we need to seek not to let it make us edgy with each other.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man….” (Colossians 4:6)

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The first time I think I ever did anything that could be considered “activist”, in the commonly understood sense, was back in the 80’s.  When the opportunity presented itself, I joined with a group of up to maybe ten people who peacefully picketed the local abortion clinic one Saturday morning a month.  We carried signs with pro-life messages, occasionally carried on conversations with each other, silently prayed as we walked, and gratefully gave thumbs up or acknowledging waves to people who honked to affirm the message of life.  My husband and children usually spent that time at the public library, located kitty-corner from the abortion clinic.  (I wonder what their recollections of those Saturday mornings are.)

My friend Janice was the catalyst to my involvement as a political activist.  She urged me to “run” for a precinct committeeman position, and that was my initiation into the way grassroots politics work.  I have to admit that I’ve spent a freezing cold first Tuesday of November morning or two with my school-age children (civics education!), standing outside a polling place, telling voters that the candidate I supported would appreciate their vote when they pulled the lever/pushed the button. (Not legal to do that anymore–I hope it was then.)  I have made phone calls and knocked on doors in GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts.  Sometime my candidate won, sometimes he lost.

I got goosebumps and tears when I attended the huge support-the-troops Rally for America up at the Kruse Auction Park in Auburn, IN, several years ago when the Afghanistan/Iraq War on Terrorism was just heating up.  I don’t know that my school-age son recalls the event with great fondness, but it was the right place for our family to be on that day…

dscf01682That’s how it was today.  I attended the local “Tea Party” to add my sign and my voice to those of my fellow Americans who have had enough of what is currently trying to be passed off as “government” and who stand ready to act with courage and persistence to bring change that will preserve and advance liberty, not deconstruct and weaken it.  (There’s an album of images from the event on my Facebook page.)

I don’t list these things here to brag or boast.  But I was trying to analyze if they have a common thread.  I think they do.  It is…belief.  I believe life is sacred and that, from the moment of conception, that which it is politically correct to call a “fetus” is a living human being–a baby.  I believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people.  I believe the men and women who have volunteered to put their lives on the line to purchase and maintain my freedom should have the support and undying gratitude of all their fellow citizens and their government.I believe in the republican form of government that has been established in the Constitution of the United States of America and that it does not come without cost, without eternal vigilence and a focus on what is true and right.  So…I act.  I speak.  I affirm.  I persuade.

Question to myself:  Am I as ardent an activist for the Cause Which Matters Most?  I believe in God, and in His Son Jesus as the only Savior and Hope for sinful mankind.  I believe in grace offered to all who believe that Jesus died to take the punishment that all of us who are sinners–that’s everyone, Folks, if we take the Bible’s word on it–deserve, and that it can be mine if I accept it as a gift I can’t repay from a God whose love for me knows no bounds.  That is everyday belief for me.  So–what is my everyday activism that goes along with it?  I know this–a sign or a picket or a rally won’t cut it.  This belief is bound up in relationship with the Creator God of the universe and His Son, the Savior of the world.  So my activism must follow suit–it must be bound up in relationship with those with whom I interact, those to whom I speak, with words affirming and persuasive.

What does it look like to be an activist for that belief?

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“Look at my eyes.”  I’d be on my way to Alaska or Ireland (dream destinations requiring funding) if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that to a child or student of mine.  We ask for that focused attention when what we desire to communicate really matters.

While standing before the mirror with electric curling brush in hand this morning, trying to become presentable for the day, I mulled over the activities of yesterday.  Thursday was such a gorgeous spring day that Melanie, over for her usual Thursday morning with Gramma, and I went outdoors for awhile.  While we  sat on the front porch, having previously walked around the neighborhood a little bit, my neighbor Barbara  appeared outside her house across the street.  We exchanged a waved greeting, and I got Melanie to wave to her too.  Then we crossed the four lanes of Rudisill Boulevard to have a little spring visit with Barbara.  Thinking about that this morning, it hit me squarely in the forehead: not once during our five-minute neighbor chat yesterday did I ever truly make eye contact with her.  I had my sunglasses on, and I was holding Melanie.  Our conversation was about what was growing–the green, living things in front of my neighbor’s house and the little just-turned-1 1/2-year-old in my arms.  As we spoke of those things, it was to them my gaze traveled.  But, in the whole of our chat, I cannot recall once locking eyes with Barbara.  I regret it.  (How many times have I told my own kids it is only good manners to look at people when they’re speaking to you?)

Still working on the hair as I stood in front of my morning mirror, my mind immediately jumped to a contrasting situation from my late afternoon Wal-Mart stop yesterday.  The young guys (twenty-somethings?) in front of me were buying beer; the cashier appeared, by their treatment of her, to be invisible to them.  Although pleasant enough in manner, she was clearly not a woman that young adult males would have labeled physically attractive.  In fact, “attractive” was not the first word that would have come to my descriptive mind either.  But, we are not all born beauties, and how I am treated in the checkout line is far more important to me than the appearance of the cashier.  My turn came;  among my purchases were two cartons of fruit juice.  I noticed that the check-out lady double bagged those and, as I removed those items from the bag carousel to my cart, I thanked her for it.  She finished checking out and bagging my order, I paid, and was leaving with my usual, “Thanks–I appreciate it”, when, in that split second, something made me look her in the eye.  That split second eyelock, concurrent with my words of thanks, transformed her face by a resulting radiant smile.  I didn’t linger beyond the moment and, really, forgot all about the emotional transaction till I was dealing with my own face–and hair–in the mirror this morning.

Now I’m thinking about it.  We ask for focused attention when what we desire to communicate really matters.  But, how often do we offer it when what we desire to communicate–gratitude, empathy, passion, truth–really matters?

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Magnetic Poetry

“an egg is tiny”
“we never chant or read”
“must sleep for I am behind in two languages”
“puppy drool is a gift”

These are just some of the creative(?) arrangements of words currently displayed on my refrigerator as a result of various family members’ manipulation of the magnetic poetry pieces that live there. (Can you tell my family “poets” are mainly male?) There have been times that lines a bit more poetic have appeared–the current collection must be the result of too much sugar and too much caffeine over the holidays.

The box that holds the magnetically-backed words that aren’t being used on the fridge–there’s not enough room for the whole set; judging from the current offerings, I think it’s time to rotate some of the current vocabulary off the refrigerator door!–resides on top of a movable kitchen cabinet. When that box got knocked off the back of the cabinet day before yesterday, I dreaded the sight that surely awaited me when I pulled the cabinet away from the wall to pick up the spilled pieces. I was pleasantly surprised to find only a few scattered poetry pieces on the floor behind the cabinet–the rest of the pieces, true to their magnetic qualities, had stuck together during the spill.

As I collected the fallen pieces, I was struck with an analogy: Doesn’t something like that happen in the family of God? At least five times this past week, a heart cry for help, either in the form of a prayer request or a statement of the “this is a hard time” variety on Facebook, has appeared on my computer. Almost immediately, the responses of “I’m praying for you” or some other expression of “I’m standing with you in this” started to appear. In some of the situations, positive change came about rather immediately; in at least one of those situations I know of, the pain is ongoing, but the hurting one has been strengthened because her faith family has stuck with her in this time when life feels spilled out and messed up.

I want to be “magnetic” for my brothers and sisters, to have the drawing power of being a pray-er and an encourager that will help steady and hold and lift up in times of upset. I can’t do it on my own, but I can do it in Jesus’ name.

Here’s one refrigerator poetry offering that didn’t make my first citation above: “beauty of eternity”…Can that start here and now? I think it does when we hold tight to one another through caring and prayer in the face of life’s messy places.

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