Monthly Archives: August 2017

Gift


This week I found myself again passing along a piece of wisdom and advice to a new friend from a wise old friend. Years ago after major surgery, my friends and colleagues were showering me with food and gifts and loans of books and videos to help me pass the time in recovery. While my friend was making a drop off, I protested how unnecessary all of this was. She stopped me dead in my tracks, asking me what I’d have wanted to do if it was one of them? “Help”, I had to sheepishly admit. Well, she said, then this was my gift to them…letting them help me. I had no good rebuttal.

Exactly a decade later, I again had the chance to practice being on the receiving end when Megan became ill. This time I got my friend’s advice right. So many people, even strangers, stepped forward to help us get through that time that it was almost overwhelming. But I let them. Showers of cards and gifts arrived at the hospital, from as far away as Europe. Peoples of literally every faith prayed for her. A dear friend’s sister-in-law, who I’d never met, became my first and only friend in Little Rock. She offered me clean clothes and a shower, to bake in her kitchen if I wanted, and the healing love of her golden retriever. Though I couldn’t bring myself to tear away from the hospital to take her up on it, it was deeply comforting to not feel alone in that strange city. That generosity repeated itself when another stranger had a care package and helpful advice waiting for us when we transferred to Cincinnati. Another friend texted me nearly every day for the four months in the hospital, just to check in; I’ll never forget that she was always there if I needed someone to talk to. An old friend from my hometown asked if there wasn’t some familiar treat she could send me. My instinct was to say no thank you, I’m fine. But I knew she just wanted to do something, anything. For the next several weeks, I was warmed by her kindness every time I broke into a box of the world’s best cashews. I’d learned my lesson. The year Megan was sick was by far the hardest of my life, and I’d undo all she’s had to endure in a heartbeat if I could. And yet I look back on that traumatic time with some measure of reminiscence for the love that so many showered on us. It’s an incredible reminder in this often ugly world that good and love will always win.

It’s now my turn to pray for and do what I can to support my new friend as she goes through her significant trial. And I’ll continue to pass along to others in need the wise words given to me all those years ago. It’s now my turn to receive the special gift of giving.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  –H. Jackson Brown Jr.

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Changed


Everything changed again yesterday. We’re now two down, one to go, as we moved our middle child into the dorm. We knew she was ready. I thought I was ready.

And it’s ok.

We’ve done this before. We know the change is permanent and that nothing is ever the same again. They’re still your child, and they always come home, but it’s still forever different.

And it’s ok.

Except this is the child who was robbed of part of her childhood. This is the one we came within hours of losing. When you come that close, you forever worry about losing them again. It’s tempting to want to wrap them in a blanket bubble on your couch and never let them go. But that would only rob her again. She deserves to stumble and live and crash and soar. She deserves to be free. I’m the one who’ll struggle. I’ll find a new path, with a new hole inside after the change. I’ll celebrate her victories and try to catch her when she falls. I’ll keep loving her.

And it’s ok. Go take the world by storm sweetie.

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”  –Dr. Seuss


Taken for Granted

I once spent some time with a middle-aged Russian woman. We never conversed, and I don’t recall her name. I’d been assigned to work on a project for two weeks in a remote village in Russia, five hours from Moscow. The village of 20,000 in the middle of Russian farmland didn’t have a hotel or restaurant, though we did eat at the local disco one evening (a whole other story). We stayed at the company’s “guest house” (do NOT think plush Swedish villa), and the Russian woman was our cook, laundress, and house cleaner.

I have three memories of her. She was always there with breakfast ready when we awoke in the morning, and again with dinner underway when we arrived back at the house, after we finished our work for the day. Every day but one, dinner was some version of “mystery pork.” Most were fairly tasty if basic, but the other picky eater in the group and I became the “canaries”, carefully testing a small bite before signaling the all clear. Breakfast was generally safer, but I was still really grateful to have 2-3 choices (though also basic) in the plant cafeteria at lunch. I’ve wondered if she always served pork because that was the cheapest choice on an allowance she was given, or if that was simply her only choice at all. By the end of the two weeks, several of my teammates came to believe that she only pretended to speak just Russian, that she really understood some English after all, as she hovered in the kitchen while we ate. We’ll never know for sure.

Though we never spoke, midway through the trip, one event made me decide I liked her. Given the utter lack of entertainment in the village, we hired a driver to take us to Moscow for the weekend. Ahh, to eat something other than pork, and to sleep in a real hotel bed that didn’t resemble a cot, with a heater adequate to keep out the March cold! Before we left for the city, we were told to leave any laundry we needed done on our bed, along with money to pay her to do it. How much money, we asked? Our teammate gave us a rough idea, but it was all pretty ambiguous. I took my best guess, rounded up, and hoped I’d been fair. When we returned Sunday night, my clothes were clean and neatly folded on my cot. Most of the team’s were. But two of our colleagues’ beds were empty. As we compared notes over the next couple of days, we discovered the pattern:  those us us who’d received our clothes immediately had paid her the most, either relative to the amount of our laundry or in total. One of our delayed colleagues, who’d left a respectable sum but also a mountain of clothes, got his back Monday night. She made the last guy sweat it out until Tuesday night, when he was down to his last clean clothes. I like my colleagues, but it was amusing to watch her school us all with a very clear and simple lesson.

But my starkest memory occurred in my last 15 minutes with her. I’d cleared my stuff out of my room, hauling it into the foyer to wait for the driver to take us the long drive back to Sheremetyevo Airport. When I unexpectedly went back into my room, I realized she’d already been there. While the room hadn’t yet been cleaned, I noticed she’d already taken the trash out. Well, some of the trash. What was missing were two unopened foil packages of crumbly Pop Tarts and half of a large chocolate bar I’d purchased in Moscow, still in the wrapper, displaced by my Moscow souvenirs. 

She took my used food. 

From the trash.

Items of literally zero value to me were worth taking from the trash to her. It was a jolt reminder of how much I take for granted in my very comfortable life. We’d struggled sometimes when I was a kid, but I never went hungry. I’ve never taken food out of someone else’s trash. In that instant, she gifted me with an even bigger lesson, one I’ve not forgotten in the years since. I’m so very blessed. I pray that she and her family are as well.

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.”  –Wayne Dyer