Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Even when...


I knew this week would be a lot.
Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Baby Shower at work.
We’ve got to fit it all in, these moments are important.
We’ve got to appreciate what it means to be alive and in love and human.

We won!!! We jumped and cheered! Champs… again!...
“I’m thinking about taking the kids to the parade,” he says as my heart sinks.
So many people, what if they get separated, or have to potty?
I’d rather you not.

As it turns out, a fever meant everyone had to stay home. Exhale…
I head to work, peaking at the parade they are live streaming in the cafeteria.

We set out the cookies and await the adorable coworker who is about to pop.
“Sounds like there was an active shooter at the parade,” someone says as my heart sinks.
We smile and celebrate new life while we anxiously peek at our phones, how many lives lost?

“At least 8 children shot” the broadcaster announces as I drive home.
“Children’s Mercy is treating children whose parents can’t find them.”
I can't wrap my mind around it. I shudder.

I spent the weekend prepping cookies and cards, but not my heart. Not for this.

I pause before I pulling in the garage, grateful for a fever that kept them home.
I text my girlfriends. We exchange digital hugs through words and heartbreak.
My kids, unaware of the today’s news, smile when I walk in. “Mom!”

I knew this week would be a lot.
I’ve got to fit it all in, these moments are important.
I’ve got to appreciate what it means to be alive and in love and human.

Even when I’m heartbroken. Even when it hurts.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Hope-filled ideas.


I want to write more.
I tell my husband as we drive towards home.

This is my intention for 2024.
I tell God, and now you.

I want to find the hope-filled ideas.
That are always sitting beside the sadness.

I want to offer beauty.
To anyone who is looking.

I ache for meaning and purpose.
It seems to be in shorter supply lately.

I fear there is too much pain now.
Too much to hold alone, anyway.

I offer my heart, to you and to God.
And to anyone who is looking towards home.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Remembering Grandpa


He was born on January 23, 1929. He was named Raymond Glenn but everyone called him Tommy, if you asked him how they came up with Tommy he would simply say “I have no idea.” He grew up in a little white house on Felton St. where his folks kept horses and chickens. His dad knew Tom Pendergast, or at least knew a guy who knew the guy, and so Grandpa drove asphalt trucks and helped pave downtown Kansas City when he was a teenager. He and his friends would pool their earnings to rent a plane and fly over Kansas City, which apparently was a thing young boys were allowed to do in the 1940s (which is wild to me).

One day he walked into a soda shop in Independence and saw Margaret Crick on the other side of the counter. He began to frequent the shop and occasionally would bring his sister, whom my Grandma mistook for his girlfriend and teenage antics ensued I’m sure. Before long things were sorted and they were smitten, a love that would last his entire life.

He had enlisted in the Navy and was often out at sea, but Grandma would make the train trip to the coast to see him when she could. They planned a December wedding while he would be home on leave, and Grandma wrote the invitations by hand… twice, because the date got changed due to Navy stuff. They were married in Independence, Missouri on December 21, 1952 where they would settle down and raise their family.

When he got home from the service Grandpa learned to build homes. He started R.G. Construction and built many of the homes up-and-down 39th Street and the surrounding areas. He built Grandma their first home on Overton which has a big picture window in the front, “Because she’d seen it in a picture from California and really wanted it – so I figured it out.” In a few years’ time they built their forever home on Christopher Circle just off 39th Street. To my mind, there are few better places then that home my Grandpa built.

They welcomed four children: Jill, Chris, Ray and Pat. Grandpa was a great dad. He coached football and helped decorate the Truman gym for school dances. He built a swimming pool in the backyard when the kids were old enough to be strong swimmers, and he always balanced his business with his family to ensure he could be there for them for whatever they needed. He took them on epic vacations, including the time he rented an RV to go to the beach and parked too close to the water – the family woke up during high tide and nearly floated off to sea.

As time marched on he became a grandpa, my Grandpa. When I was two I nearly choked to death on a piece of chicken and he saved my life by sticking his fingers down my throat – a heroic act I rewarded him for by nearly biting off his fingers. No matter how far away we moved, he would make the drive to Grandparent’s Days at our schools and recitals – all the way to Albuquerque if that’s what it took. He had a great smile and an easy presence, very assuring and gentle. I don’t remember a harsh word from my Grandpa, no matter how much of his adding machine tape I wasted pretending to run the business, no matter how many games we drug out, no matter how many of his secret stash of cookies we discovered.

When my Grandma died unexpectedly his world was turned upside down. For thirteen years he visited her grave daily, regardless of the weather, regardless of the holiday. Even in the midst of a big Christmas celebration he would stand up around noon and say, “I’ll be back” and drive over to sit with her for a while.

One summer evening several years ago I happened to be giving him a ride home from a family dinner and asked if he’d show me around his old stomping grounds. He showed me his house in Sugar Creek, and the house my Grandma lived in on Main Street, and the house he built her on Overton. As I pulled in the driveway that night he said, “I know some folks think I shouldn’t be going out to the cemetery every day, but Kate, she made me who I am – she was my everything.”

Even as his body and mind grew tired, he enjoyed his eleven great grandchildren. He attended ball games and concerts, and especially liked to have Gwyneth sit next to him on account of her red hair and the fact that he and his sisters had all had red hair when they were young. I am forever grateful that my kids got to know Grandpa and see his wonderful smile and lovely blue eyes shine at them, the way they’d shone at me when I was little.

On December 20, 2021 my Grandpa went to be with my Grandma where they can together know God’s perfect peace. He was gently and well cared for at home until the end by my Aunt Jill and her wife Suzanne, who made many sacrifices to ensure his wishes of staying at his home on Christopher Circle could be met. We’d had dinner with him just last week and though he was having a hard time knowing who we were, I’d always tell him I loved him when we’d leave and he’d always pat my back and say “I love you too babe.”

When Grandma died Grandpa asked me to think of what to put on the headstone. I came upon a saying that I hold in my heart this cold December morning as the world marches on without my beloved Grandparents in it: “In our hearts there is a promise that says death can never win, and a hope that will sustain us until we meet again.”

I love you, Grandpa.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Fragile Miracles: reflections for Thanksgiving week

I sat on a dear friend’s hospital bed on Friday. We held hands as she told me about the tumors they’d found throughout her body. My tear-soaked mask concealed the contorted face that one makes when the despair is so heavy. My brain begged my heart to be steady, but the sobs broke through and my broken heart took the reins. I couldn’t comprehend how her strong body could be riddled with cancer, or how  the world could go on without her in it.

Just weeks earlier I’d stood in disbelief as nurses hooked my husband up to machines and drew copious amounts of blood, suspecting a heart attack but discovering a stroke. Through confusion and numbness I texted my children words of encouragement, and where to find their socks. He lay with his eyes closed for a few days, mostly processing what had just happened, and the realization that this is how life goes sometimes – one minute you’re playing pickleball and the next you’re facing the fragility of this human experiment.

The list goes on, of course. My colleague just lost his mother. My beloved grandpa is on hospice. And one of the smartest, funniest, kindest people I know is coming to the end of his fight with cancer entirely too young. I can only imagine the countless other stories playing out amongst my friends, colleagues, and the stranger in line at the grocery store. We all come to realize, sooner or later, that this human business is fragile and must be handled with care.

And yet... in a few short days we will sit down to tables filled with food and family and we will give thanks. Our bodies will be nourished to continue on this journey for as long as we each have. And we will be thankful. We will laugh and be filled and know that this is the best day, because this is the day we were given. If we're lucky, and paying attention, the sun will catch the leaves just so and time will stop for a moment as we stare. We'll take a bite of pie or stuffing (or green rice if you're an Allen) that will remind us of Grandma and we'll feel her with us. We'll eat until we're stuffed full and then laugh until our stomachs hurt and realize that these bodies are miracles, even if fragile miracles.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

What is your Rabbit Pose?

As a child of the 80s I experienced a particular dread when it came to the annual Presidential Fitness Test. This physical fitness program conducted in the U.S. from the mid-1950s until 2013 was designed to increase strength and flexibility, the latter of which was nothing short of humiliating for my long-legs and stiff muscles. Needless to say, by the time my education was complete and I found myself in my early 20s in a suburban yoga studio I did not expect many accolades from the ever-observant instructors. I needed blocks to simply sit in a Lotus position, and don’t even think about an elegant Forward Fold. However, the most unexpected thing happened one afternoon when the instructor began introducing us to a new pose, Sasangasana or Rabbit Pose. My instructor stopped the class and asked everyone to look at me. She said with astonishment, “That is the most perfect rabbit pose I’ve ever seen.” I thought to myself, “Well this doesn’t even hurt.” I wouldn’t have thought much of my momentary Rabbit Pose fame except that it happened again, and again, at any studio I practiced at. And I came to realize that everyone has a rabbit pose: the thing which they were uniquely designed to do, so much so that “it doesn’t even hurt.”

My second public confession is this, it took me 20 years to find my career rabbit pose. I majored in Engineering because math comes easily to me, but I quickly found that running calculations, conducting site walks, and reviewing shop drawings was more akin to touching my toes than a rabbit pose. I began a quest to align my skills to a role that I could call my rabbit pose and traversed project controls, project management, program management, and even a brief stint in proposals on this quest. I am incredibly grateful for each of these roles and the ways they grew me and continued to hone my direction towards the north star that was my purpose, my rabbit pose. I learned about clients and the complex challenges they face. I learned about project financials and the careful balance of schedule and quality and scope. I met many professionals along the way who have found their rabbit pose, designing and executing in alignment to their skills and their passions. But I also met many who, like me, had not quite found their purpose. And, to my surprise, I found that what I enjoyed most was helping them on that quest. Suggesting roles, making connections, and speaking truth into their incredible strengths so they could say “yes” to a stretch assignment or a role they would have never thought of before. I also noticed that I especially enjoyed taking complex ideas and making them simple, whether for a client seeking Earned Value Management reports or a professional who was struggling to grasp the meaning of EBT, I could build a simple graphical approach that “didn’t even hurt.”

After twenty years of stretching and straining, I am excited to have recently moved into the role of Director of Talent Development and Management at Black & Veatch. While it isn’t effortless and no one need stop what they’re doing to observe my contortion, I do have a deep sense of assurance that I have arrived very near what I was meant do – my rabbit pose. For years I have read Leadership and Talent books for fun, like on vacation. And I can’t resist asking everyone, from my esthetician to loan officer, “How did you decide to do this for a living? Do you love it!?!” My deepest hope every day that I log-on is to help my fellow Black & Veatch colleagues realize their best selves, find their rabbit pose, and help us collectively add the most value possible to our clients.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Forty Things I've Learned in 40 Years

  1.  If you buy an “I’m sorry your Dad died” card at the same time you buy a “I’m sorry your dog died” card, take great care putting them into their respective envelopes before mailing – though your boss’s recently widowed mother will get a good laugh from the whole thing.
  2. Always end a visit with your grandparents with “I love you” – linger a little longer – you never know when it will be your last goodbye.
  3. Make a budget and stick to it, trust me on this, it is no fun but the alternative is worse.
  4. Breastfeeding is challenging, like whoa. Some babies just get it, some don’t, all moms are rock stars regardless.
  5. If you think breastfeeding is challenging, wait until you teach her to drive!
  6. Delivering a delicious, homemade meal to someone is the best way to improve your mood and theirs.
  7. In a moment of utter despair and crisis, kind words and prayers make a difference – offer them generously and receive them with gratitude.
  8. Set two alarms, otherwise you’ll find yourself standing in a college campus intersection, sobbing and begging the first car you see to drive you to your Calculus 3 final that starts in five minutes.
  9. If you’re 39 weeks pregnant and suddenly think you’ve peed your pants – your water just broke – trust me on this.
  10. Unless you want to be hospitalized and lose a significant amount of weight, do NOT brush your teeth with tap water in Mexico.
  11. Before signing your child up for a youth sport… like ice skating, as an example… do a tad bit of research on the cost – some things escalate quickly.
  12. Take pictures – lots and lots – your children will grow old someday and want to recall your smile.
  13. If your car slides off the road on an icy night, get everyone out of the car and far from traffic. More cars will hit the same patch of ice and you’ll watch your brother get pinned between them and you’ll regret not taking better care of your little brother.
  14. When opening a can with a pop top lid, do not hold a crying baby on your hip whilst trying to negotiate teenage emotions with your tired brain, otherwise you will end up in the ER for 5 stitches.
  15. If, while getting a pedicure, you note that the establishment you have found yourself in has a very dirty fish tank – put on your socks and leave immediately. Toenail health is a rather precarious thing that is very, VERY hard to regain.
  16. A true friend brings you a bag of Peanut M&Ms, or a frosted sugar cookie, when you need it the most – treasure these people.
  17. If your child receives a large amount of cash for Christmas – do not let them carry it around IKEA for an hour only to discover they think they set it down somewhere. You will backtrack that irritating maze for hours only to conclude it was stolen.
  18. Choose your battles very carefully. It is easier to effect changed behavior through praise and by example than by punishment – this applies to children, spouses and coworkers.
  19. Life is uncharted, the future is what you make it. A hard, sad, discouraging chapter is not the end – mourn, lament, breath and believe there will be better days ahead. If you find this hard to believe, find people who will convince you and treasure them the rest of your life.
  20. Phases of the early years with little ones can be tough but they are always short-lived. The same goes for the fun stuff, too. Everyday is a challenging gift with kids, grace upon grace as you struggle to enjoy and endure all at the same time.
  21. Always tell the truth. Always. Your integrity is worth protecting.
  22. Never ever, EVER send an unkind email response to one person about another person – you absolutely will accidently send it to the unintended audience and you absolutely will feel bad about it ten years later.
  23. Planning ahead is lovely, but you really learn how ingenious you can be when you have to fashion a baby outfit out of a swaddle because someone’s had a blowout.
  24. There are only one or two dusks a year when the cherry blossoms gently fall into the tidal basin in Washington, D.C. If you happen to find yourself anywhere near the East Coast on one of these evenings run, don’t walk, to this glorious event and soak in the Narnia that it is.
  25. No one comes through forty years of life unscathed. Therapy works. Everyone should have a good therapist. If the therapist knows EMDR, all the better.
  26. Michigan beaches are better than ocean beaches. No salt. No sharks. Don’t DM me.
  27. Life is not a race, or a contest. You can only pick two or three things you really care about at any one time. If you’ve chosen something different than someone else be happy for them, not jealous or judgy – neither are a good look.
  28. Confirm your flight the night before, otherwise you might miss your dinner with Micky Mouse.
  29. If a group of all-male students insinuates that the only way you earned an A in your Circuits class was through unbecoming behavior, do not quit engineering school – just look forward to the day you can enjoy your well-earned spot on the stage at graduation.
  30. Vacations with children are so much work and a lot of money – but when your little boy lays in bed on a cold winter night and drifts off to sleep by saying, “Mom, remember Colorado? I really liked Colorado. We should do that again” you will know it was worth it.
  31. One day the doctor will call with bad news – your head will jump to terrifying thoughts that do you no good. Be sure you have some truth in your back pocket that can be the pillow you rest your tired head on – God is near, she is loved, you are strong, God is near, God is near, God is near.
  32. Have cash on hand, especially if you are going to Santa-Cali-Gon Days (or Missouri Town Fall Festival) (or Weston Apple Festival) because you ARE going to want kettle corn and an Artic Lemon and possibly a turkey leg or a craft.
  33. Don’t spend too much time wishing things were different, especially the things that are out of your control. Focus on making the best of it, seeing the best in them, and being grateful for the good that can be found.
  34. If you notice a coworker crying on Christmas Eve, don’t ignore or pretend not to notice. Ask if everything is alright, and then sit for a while as he tells you about his wife’s sudden passing and how he’s facing his first Christmas without her. You’ll become his go-to for mom advice as his kids get older and when he retires he will thank you for being a true friend.
  35. If you find yourself in an impoverished border town as a young missionary who thinks you know a whole lot, buckle up because the world is bigger and far more complex then you could imagine. God has work to do on your closed-mind and heart.
  36. Your children and your spouse will find interests, and haircuts, that you don’t particularly care for. Listen to the weird music, ignore the hair, watch the TikTok – lean into the things you don’t understand and love their core.
  37. If you interview with a construction company on a bitterly cold day, don’t leave your coat in your car. They will think you want to walk around in a hard hat in the out-of-doors, the audacity! You will freeze.
  38. When the fire alarm goes off at work, grab your car keys. It will be days before they let you back in.
  39. Pay close attention to what you are uniquely good at. Leverage and capitalize on it, it’s what the world desperately needs.
  40. It all boils down to a choice between love and fear. Choose love. In the end, love wins.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Saint from Mumbai

There once was a remarkable man who stood in my kitchen and told me stories of God. He was as unlikely a saint as any corporate colleague who finds himself on a business trip, sitting through days of meetings, and invited into a teammates home for dinner. Yet, he was a radiant beacon of hope and encouragement and belief – and his presence warmed my entire home one bitter January night.
He had traveled from Mumbai through the most auspicious circumstances which he relayed with such glee that you couldn’t help but nod in wonder and belief yourself. He relayed the story of his visit to a visa office in India where he had nervously watched countless people denied visas to the United States. He earnestly prayed that God’s will be done and decided to march around the visa office seven times – Joshua style – before entering for his visa appointment. Inexplicably the woman at the desk smiled and handed him an approval. He headed directly to the church across the street and gave thanks to God who had surely made a way. At the conclusion of his story he was so overcome with joy that he threw his arms around my husband saying, “I just need a hug!”

My children were drawn to him just as readily as the adults, and they drug him by the hand to their playroom where he knelt and admired their treasures. After many minutes of genuine interest in all that they had to say and share, he graciously turned in my direction and commented, “This is remarkable, in India children often have only one toy.” I was struck by his delivery, not a measure of malice or irritation, only wonder and gratitude for this moment – these children – this place.
As we sat for dinner, he welcomed our children’s prayers for grace, so simple and short, and he asked to take their picture so he could share this moment with his church back home. He listened to their stories from school that day and shared his own stories from home in India where he lived in a small apartment with his brother and parents. He praised the meal and took two more plates full, saying it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. His mother’s cooking, he shared, is her ministry. She always makes enough to share with neighbors or his coworkers. When his coworkers ask what her secret is to such delicious food, he tells them it’s the prayers for those who will enjoy it.

His faith poured out of him like pure light. Not in dogmatic rules or judgmental dualism, but in genuine love and joy and peace and hope. Every story he shared was strung with a thread of God’s goodness and when he listened to others speak his eyes were full of grace and patience.
Before departing that evening, he insisted we pose for pictures. Though their encounter had been brief, he and our four-year-old daughter had made fast friends and he asked for a picture to remember her by. Only three months later she would be overcome with months of medical challenges and he would send beautiful messages of encouragement and prayers from back in India.

The short visit was over in a matter of hours. Over the coming months he would send greetings and well wishes for our daughter’s health, and prayers. His emails were a bright spot in my inbox, a little light of joy through the wires across the world.
Eleven months after he filled our home with so much warmth I received a call that he had been killed in a train accident in Mumbai. As with all tragedy, I could not understand why this would happen to someone so pure of heart. I was devastated to think of the light that had been extinguished, a light the world needs so badly in this time. I was also so grateful for the few hours my family had experienced with him in our home. I will never forget Aloshe and the glow he brought to our home one cold January night. I pray a bit of the light he radiated can be reflected in his memory.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thirty-five years after cheating death

Thirty-five years ago this week… “Four persons, including a Kansas woman and her two small children received injuries of varying degrees when a truck tractor pulling two semi-trailers careened out of control Tuesday morning on Interstate 40 and struck a small foreign-made car head-on.”

Thirty-five years ago this week my mom and dad, in their mid-twenties, had loaded all that they had into their two small cars to start their post-graduate school life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My one-year-old brother slept in his car seat, me asleep in the hatchback of our brand-new Nissan Sentra driven by my Mom, as Dad led in another car a few hundred feet ahead.

It was the early 80s and truck driver safety regulations had not yet evolved to require adequate sleep breaks. The driver had probably been pulling his rigs all night and by the time 6:30AM rolled around he had gotten drowsy. Heading down Interstate 40, just east of the Washita River bridge, the truck crossed the center median. Mom remembers thinking, in that brief second before the impact, ‘Why is that truck taking a left turn?’

My memory of that moment consists of a few scant details. I know my dad watched the entire horrific collision in his rearview mirror. When my own children were one and three I finally gained some understanding of what he must have endured in those moments – walking up to a car containing your young wife and two babies, crushed to an unrecognizable heap, dreading what you might find. I remember that he lifted me through the broken window and placed me in the grassy median. I remember my brother sitting beside me, probably bleeding from the head injury he’d suffered, though I have no recollection of blood that entire morning.

My mom, who was trapped in the car for over an hour before the fire department used the ‘jaws of life’ to remove the roof of the car and extract her – suffered deeply gashed legs, badly bruised face and broken arm but was miraculously alive. She remembers simply asking one question of my dad, over and over, “Are the kids ok!?!” The sensation of being trapped, hurting, and not being able to hold your crying babies must have been excruciating.

The emergency crew determined my brother needed to be life-flighted to Oklahoma City. It would be 24 hours before he would see another familiar face, as my Dad stayed with my Mom and me, and in the absence of cell phones it took several hours before our Kansas City family would hear the news and make their way south to the Intensive Care Unit where Christopher would grab my Grandma’s neck and not let go for days.

I rode along in the ambulance with my Mom. In the small-town hospital my few scrapes were examined, and it was determined that I had escaped virtually unscathed. Mom’s arm was set, her gashed legs bandaged. The next day the newspaper headline read, ‘Quartet cheats death in car-truck smashup.’

Thirty-five years ago this week we all should have died. A semi-truck, barreling down the interstate, crossed a grassy median and hit our car head-on. I did not have on a seat belt. The roof collapsed on my brother’s head. The steering column crushed my mom’s legs. The car was unrecognizable. The highway was shut down for hours. And yet, we lived.

Thirty-five years ago this week, at three-years old, suddenly awakened from my un-belted sleep by an abrupt jolt I came to know one thing for sure – there is MORE. It was a deep knowing that I didn’t have language to express for many years. But when I was asked, at twenty-five, about the start of my faith journey I found myself suddenly back in the crumpled hatchback of a 1984 Nissan, gasping in the unknown of what-just-happened!?! And every crevice of fear that had been cracked open by this life-changing moment was filled with a knowing that no matter what there was MORE. Did the MORE save our lives that day, or does the MORE also visit the child who doesn’t make it out alive – filling her with peace, too? I have wondered about this a hundred thousand times, as I gave the wreck far more of my thoughts growing up then I ever let on. But the MORE has always stayed close and brought me deep comfort. Even as we recently received difficult medical news for our own young daughter a few weeks ago I could feel this knowing, “Katie…” it whispers, “You are not alone, I am here, there is so much MORE.” More to come, more to love, more to trust in and hope for and MORE than I could ever imagine.

Friday, March 23, 2018

You can be a person of hope

“This would probably be easier if I was a person of faith.” She’d just described one of those difficult life situations that plague us all, a situation none of us imagined when we fantasized about adulthood. I knew what she was asking for and I also knew that any words I could muster at the end of that long day would not rightly honor the depths for which she was yearning. “Keep moving forward, things will work out,” was all I offered.

I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. I’ve got plenty of religious clichés in my back pocket. Was I really honoring her question by keeping those tucked away or was I cheating her on an invitation?
I could have told her about the dream I had a few years ago: I was standing in a hotel lobby and Jesus (the one and only) walked through the sliding doors. While others reacted in awe I ran. I ran from room to room of the hotel looking under beds to find the scared ones. I coaxed them out, I held their hands, I brought them to him with assurance, “It’s ok! He can’t wait to meet you! He loves you!”
I could have told her about the NPR story that took my breath away. The one where a scientist described the recording devices that are able to pick up a whole world of sounds no human has ever heard, the sounds insects make by vibrating branches to communicate with one another. If there are whole symphonies happening around us, what other imperceptible possibilities must there be!?!
I could have told her about being in junior high, sitting in the sanctuary, listening to the nun presenting to our confirmation class. When the elderly sister spoke of God in the feminine we all shuffled uncomfortably in our seats. As her talk concluded and questions began the first one was obvious, “Why do you call God ‘she’!?!” And like the Grinch’s heart, my mind grew ten sizes that day as she replied, “Why not?”
I could have just told her the truth, “It wouldn’t be easier, but it would be different.” When suffering is framed in a grand, loving narrative it finds comfort. When the chaos of the unknown has a master conductor of unheard symphonies, it finds purpose. When fear is met by a creator beyond the limitations of our very language, it finds love.
Or I could have kept it simple… “Faith means hope – you can be a person of hope. In fact, I think you’re already well on your way.”

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November Regret

I read about grief recently, how it comes in waves. The waves are strong and overpowering at first and you feel as though you’re drowning but in time they settle down and only come around in smaller and less frequent intervals. The reader was urged not to resist these moments but rather let these waves wash over you with the assurance that in time they will pass and you will not drown.
For me the waves come mostly in the fall. Or perhaps they are most notable in the fall because this when they are accompanied by the sharp pains of regret.

In high school I had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. He and I had done theater together and I completely adored his gentle, funny demeanor. We had bonded over a few plays but we weren’t terribly close so I never inquired too deeply into his diagnosis.  I did know he had gone through treatments and was in remission when he graduated a year ahead of me, and in a pre-Facebook age I assumed he had gone off to college to enjoy a wonderful life.
The following fall I ran into him at a sporting event. It still stings to recall the moment because his smile and words were so kind and upbeat, “Hi Katie, it’s me!” He opened his arms and I hugged him, gingerly. It was clear his cancer had returned and the young man I had laughed with backstage during many a dress rehearsal was hardly recognizable.

At this point I’d like to say I was mature beyond my 18 years and grabbed his hand and sat beside him and listened closely to his story. If I had a do-over I’d have looked him in the eye. If I had a do-over I would have let him make me laugh, he had a brilliant dry humor. If I had a do-over I would have told him how much I admired him, how much I treasured his friendship, how grateful I was that we had run into one another that night. If I had a do-over I would have treaded tenderly into the “how are you doing” conversation and if he was ok to talk about it I would have listened, bravely.
Unfortunately, though, I was not courageous. His bright smile, excited to see a friendly face, was met by my fear. I didn’t know what to say. I stammered. I made very lame small talk. I told him it was great to see him, because it truly was. But I begged off quickly. One last tender hug and that was it. ‘He’s probably going through treatments again, he’ll be fine’ my ridiculously naïve eighteen-year-old self thought.

A month later I learned he had passed away.
I never cried so hard in my life. Certainly there was deep mourning for a precious, young life lost to a hideous disease. But also, there was intense regret. How could I have been so heartless, so fearful, so unkind? How could I have missed it so entirely, a chance to be a friend in moments that must been so lonely and terrifying?

I went to the funeral. I wrote his mom a letter. I told her how wonderful he was and how he would never be forgotten. I told her about how he would make us all laugh and how he would save my place for curtain call. I told her that I know someday we will meet again and I look forward to finding that same smile awaiting me at the final curtain call. She wrote me a long letter back and told me it meant a lot to her. I didn’t tell her that I had been a coward just a few weeks before.
For the next several years I would find the changing leaves always brought on a huge wave of sadness and regret. I would call my mom on a long drives and just sob, “Why didn’t I just TALK TO HIM!?!”

With time and years, the waves diminished, but the lesson was not learned.
In early November of 2008 I had a birthday party to plan and work to do and two little ones to care for so when I ran by my grandparents’ house I didn’t have much time to chat. My grandma asked me how the party planning was coming and I sat down for a few minutes to tell her all of the details. She had thrown some noteworthy parties in her day and it made me proud to be following in her footsteps. But when I got up to leave she urged me to stay. I remember thinking it was odd how much she kept insisting, “Just stay a little longer Kate.”

At this point I’d like to say I stayed. If I could have a do-over I’d have sat for hours. I’d have listened to her stories of when she was first married, of being a young mom, of starting a business, of when I was born. If I could please have a do-over I’d have thanked her for making my childhood magical. If I could have a do-over I’d have held her hands and listened to her voice and soaked in every last second.
But I didn’t take the invitation. I said I had to go, I’d see her soon.

Two days later I got a call that she’d had a massive stroke. I cried hysterically the entire way to the hospital, “why didn’t I just stay a while like she asked!”
She would never regain consciousness, though I begged her, and God.

My grandma had been a pivotal figure in my life and losing her, especially so unexpectedly, felt like a loss I could never fully recover from. And, once again, the loss was compounded with the deep regret of our last conversation being cut short by my busy-ness, and the assumption that we’d have more time.

It was nine years ago tonight that I left her house too soon. The wave hit me as I sat at an intersection near her house looking at the beautiful fall leaves. “It was tonight…” the wave crashed in. “You should have stayed….” regret quickly followed. “She kept asking you to stay, remember?”
I remember.

And regret still stings, and I am still so sorry that I didn’t stay. The same way I regret that I didn’t treasure the chance meeting with my friend with cancer. But, I am also slowly lessening the grip that regret has on me every early November.
Tonight I realized that the self-loathing ‘how-could-you-be-so-stupid/selfish/fearful/busy’ part of regret only serves to shame me for being human. In its place I must insert grace. No matter how much I try to be present and connect and listen well I will never feel that I have done any soul the justice it deserved when it departs this earth. It will never be enough.

The truth is that life is busy and hard and we are all doing the best we can with the skills and courage we’ve been given. We can all strive to get better and do better. But there will always, always be a gap. I was once asked by a wise friend, who had surely realized all of these things long before I ever did, “what do you think your grandma would say if she heard you beating yourself up so much about leaving that night?” It took no time for me to hear her voice, “It’s alright Kate, don’t worry.”
So, as the early November memories wash over me this year I am trying to experience the grief without the regret. There are so many good memories to treasure; I cannot let the last one hang round my neck so heavy any longer.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rudolph Moment

For those of your who have followed our very drawn out house hunting process, you know that I had a specific list of  house qualities. A great yard for the kids to play, four bedrooms, a nice kitchen, move-in ready, those were all things I hoped to find. But whenever we walked into a house the thing I was really imagining was a big Christmas gathering and whether we could host LOTS of friends and family comfortably. Back in February my Aunt told me about a house that was in the process of being flipped that had four bedrooms and might be just the place. I drove by that very day and KNEW it was the house for us (before I'd even gone inside... seriously). I've only felt that "knowing" one other time: the day I met my husband. Thankfully we were able to purchase this perfect-for-us home in July after it had been completely remodeled by the most meticulous and kind older gentleman and his family. It was a tremendous blessing.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve and at last the house that was in much disrepair a year ago was brought to life in the fullest. My poor Aunt was suffering with a terrible cold that was going to make hosting a big family get together very difficult. At about eleven that morning my Grandma called me to ask, "do you think you might be able to host tonight?" I felt like freaking Rudolph, and YES I would be happy to guide the sleigh tonight! Brandon and the girls sprang into action, sweeping and putting away toys, prepping for the forty guests we would soon have the opportunity to host! We rearranged some furniture, set up tables and spread out table clothes.

I felt like a kid on Christmas (I mean, I was literally an adult on Christmas so it's not a tremendous leap). And as the guests arrived and I got to see the kitchen full of food and conversation and plenty of space for everyone to sit and laugh and enjoy I was full up with gratitude for this perfect-for us house! For those few wonderful hours I felt as though everything was just as it should be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Anapra Visit

In 2013 we opened a library in Anapra. It sits on a corner of two dirt streets in the center of this 10,000 person neighborhood of Juarez. Most people in Anapra survive on around $70 per week for six days of factory work. Public schools are not free, nor do they have libraries. Books are rare. Except at this library where the shelves are filled with over 1,000 titles covering everything from llamas in pajamas to what to expect when you're expecting. This corner of Anapra has become a portal to adventures and to learning. This little library tells a story, too; to the single mother, the elderly grandmother, the tired father, the confused teen, the curious child - that they are valued, worthy of investment, and have a place to belong.

Over the last six months we have added another large space in an "L shape" to help with the library overflow. The building sits back-to-back with the library with a door between the two. The main room is ideal for tutoring and game playing and crafting. The smaller room is great for guests to sleep or potentially a quiet place to read, when needed. For the first time we now have a safe place to stay that does not require inconveniencing our friends or crossing back to the U.S. at night. The space is bright and welcoming, though it is not yet fully finished. The floors are still bare concrete and the walls need paint. One thing at a time and patience, these are things Anapra has taught me.

The library, the new expansion, the books, the activities, none would be possible without Estela. She, and the small group of women she has empowered and entrusted with this ministry, are some of the most incredible leaders I have ever met. Despite their own personal challenges, despite the daily struggle to make ends meet and just stay warm, these women serve selflessly. They show up to open the library. They greet the patrons with hugs. When someone new comes they get to know them, they ask about their story, and they listen. Despite only having a sixth grade education Estela manages the library and the volunteers and the programming like a seasoned pro. She laughs about the unlikely role of 'librarian' but it fits her talents perfectly.

It comes as no surprise that Estela spends her time pouring into others. Glancing around her living room there are photos everywhere of family and friends. Her story is as rich as the array of photos on her walls. Someday I'd like to do it justice by taking the time to really write it all out. But again, one day at a time... one project at a time. For now she is busy running a library among other ministries, and taking care of her grandchildren. She has 17.

In the early days of ministry in Anapra Estela learned of a young mother whose palette house had burnt to the ground and left her and her five children homeless. Estela worked with her contacts in the US to build this mother a new cinder block home and they soon became close friends. Bertha and her five, now-grown, children continue to help Estela with ministering to the needs of others. Bertha hosts Vacation Bible School every summer which has grown to serving over 200 children on most days of the four-weeks that it runs. Two years ago Bertha suffered a debilitating stroke that left her badly crippled and blind. The people of Anapra and local nuns went into downtown Juarez to tell Bertha's story and request donations for a much-needed surgery. Donations received, along with those from the US, enabled the surgery to save her life and some of her sight. Recently Bertha worked with Estela to begin a Pajama Club at the library. Though she struggles walking long distances, and only has partial sight, her enjoyment of the children is all that is evident when she sings songs and reads stories to the little ones cuddled up on blankets in their pajamas.

Though much has been done in Anapra in the twenty-plus years Estela has been doing ministry to her neighbors, there is still more that is needed. As winter set in last year Estela visited an elderly woman who was living up on the mesa above Anapra. When she arrived at her house she was surprised to find the woman living in a palette house with her six grandchildren and no blankets on the beds. The woman explained that they had hung the blankets on the outside of the walls to try to keep out the bitter wind. Estela reached out to us and shared the story. As a minimum they needed a heater and blankets, but ideally we'd get a house built. We shared the story, we found donors, and a house was built. During our visit we piled into Estela's van and headed up the mesa to see the new house and to meet the woman and her grandchildren.

Lorenza is a petite woman. She was quite but grateful. Her six grandchildren sat quietly and watched as we stood in their 10 ft. by 20 ft. home, beds in each corner, neatly swept. Two more babies lay sleeping, more grandbabies who need watching while their mother is at work. The home sits a stones throw from the edge of the mesa, which is how one granddaughter ended up falling down the steep hillside and breaking her leg several months ago. Estela points to the granddaughter and notes that her leg is healing well. Lorenza tells us that she prays often for those who help the poor, then asks us if we would like to take a look inside of her old house, which she now uses for storage.

Entering someone's home is so personal, especially when they've built it with their own hands. When I was younger, before I had babies of my own and bills and real life experiences, I avoided looking inside a palette house too closely for fear of making the owner feel shame or embarrassment for their fragile dwelling. But Estela started in a palette house. When Anapra was first settled 30 years ago everyone lived in palette houses and those houses meant hope and space to raise kids and having your own plot of land, it is what drew Estela and her husband to this place. Now I know that putting a roof over your children or grandchildren's head is admirable, no matter how meek.

Before we leave the mesa Lorenza comments on William and his size. She tries to hold him but he is overdo on a nap and wants his mama. We walk to the mesa edge and take in the view. Lorenza tells us the best night is the 4th of July. The children line up along the mesa edge to watch the fireworks that light up the sky in the US. The proximity of such severe poverty against the green grass and malls and fireworks of the US has always bothered me. It is the accepted reality of life in Anapra.

Saturday is the busiest library day. The shaded patio out front is quickly filled with readers. A few children grab a game from the shelf and take it outside to play quietly together. Inside many mothers have found their book on the shelf, bookmark right where they left it. The elementary-aged children head to the new space where a long table awaits them. They line up for 90 minutes of tutoring from a local teacher. Nearly 100 people will visit the library from 10:00 to 2:00, and yet it is never chaotic.

After the majority of the patrons have left for the day we sit down to a lunch of homemade tamales and champurrado - a truly special Christmas treat. Several similarly delicious meals were served during our visit including empanadas, burritos and flautas. All wonderful and filling. But knowing the amount of work it takes to make tamales they were extra special.

Estela's son wants to make the visit extra special, so he offers to drive the big girls up to a new scenic overlook that was recently built in Juarez. Walking out to the domed portion of the overlook requires a special amount of bravery as the grating you walk on reveals how high above the road you are. Everyone wants to see the view so they are brave.

Border towns are unique in the blend they find between the two cultures they share. Juarez is no different. Estela and her family celebrate Thanksgiving every year, though they wait until Saturday since the holiday is obviously American and no one has Thursday off work in Mexico. This year was no different, and we gladly join the festivities. Rather than turkey we are served delicious grilled chicken with tortillas and mashed  potatoes. For our part we bring chocolates to share and a store-bought tres leches cake.

Sunday morning and seventeen hours of driving await us. We know the line at the bridge could be long so we should leave early. We give hugs and promise to return soon. And we take pictures, to remember.