Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas, Family & Friends!

A common theme that has been running through my mind all year is the importance of relationships. While God does hold us accountable as individuals in our connection with His Son, he looks at us as groups in ways that are foreign to those of us in western society. God set the stage in Eden for families by declaring, "It is not good for man to be alone." He then gave Adam what he knew he would need: Family. Years later God blessed all the families of the earth through the faith of one man, Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament we see him relating to the family, the nation, of Abraham's grandson Jacob (Israel). Generations of people were blessed by this association.

Centuries passed. And when the time was perfect God sent His own Son in a wrapping of human skin. He wanted to make a way for us to experience the righteousness that belonged to members of His family through relationship with this Person who came to us as a baby. Chris Rice sings,

"Fragile fingers sent to heal us,
Tender brow prepared for thorns,

Tiny heart whose blood will save us,

Unto us is born..."

From His birth, Jesus was on a mission. Two thousand years later we still marvel at the wonder of this plan. In Christ, we can join the family of God and enjoy all the privileges and blessings that entails. My favorite verse this year, one I have adopted as our family verse and emblazoned on a plaque by our back door is this:

"From Everlasting to Everlasting the Lord's mercy is on those who fear Him. His righteousness belongs to their children and grandchildren." Psalm 103:17

Unto us is born...a Savior who can connect us to an everlasting Father who is full of mercy and goodwill toward men, who can bring peace to our troubled times and hearts. I wish you JOY this season and hope that only God can give.

Much love to you and yours--

Dawn and family

Monday, August 15, 2011

Everyone Needs a Hero

I took myself school shopping today. I have long since outgrown formal schooling, but I work at one and if I am not tired of seeing myself in all of last year's clothes, I'm sure the kids are. So this was a mission of compassion, really.

I went alone, which was probably my first mistake. I loathe shopping and it affects my digestive system in an adverse way. I also don't know what looks good on me and usually have to straw poll the entire dressing room. But today, I was a woman on a mission. I was shopping clearance racks and I just wanted to get the whole thing over with.

An hour into the excursion, I teetered to a dressing room laden with prospective articles. I tried on pants first. Then shirts with pants. Then pants with shirts again. I was nearing the end of the pile and was standing there clad only in my undergarments when I noticed a long sleeved button-down shirt I had not tried on yet. I put my left arm in the sleeve and started my right arm in the other to hitch the shirt into place when, just past my elbows something locked. That's right. The shirt just locked onto my arms like some sadistic straight jacket with super glue. It was hot in the dressing room and my arms were damp. Now beads of sweat began to form on my forehead. I looked at myself in the mirror and gasped. I was not wearing any of my best underwear--the kind your mother tells you to wear when you go out in case you're in an accident. They looked as tired and saggy as I felt. I don't generally choose to spend a lot of time naked in front of a mirror and certainly not in department store lighting. No one could see me like this! I couldn't get either arm out of the sleeves and both were pinned behind my back. Panic rose in my throat.

What should I do? RIP the shirt off like The Incredible Hulk and sheepishly pay for the remains? I struggled against the sleeves. They were well-sewn and felt even tighter than before. I needed someone to pull the shirt down from behind me. Maybe...I could push the handle down on the door with my knee and get the attendant's attention. Wait. Did I want the attendant's attention? Did I want to be seen like this? Would this story make the six o-clock news? I thrashed harder now, determined to get the blasted garment off if I had to dislocate both rotator cuffs in the process. Inch by inch the shirt fabric squeaked down each arm, first the right, then the left, until one (now hairless) arm was free. I yanked my captor off and whipped it triumphantly to the floor, panting with the effort.

I quickly donned my own safe (loose) clothing, pushed tangled hair out of my eyes, and gathered the clothing pile to return to the store clerk. I felt like a disheveled Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth after a very eventful Superman moment. "Did these things work for you today?" she asked smiling sweetly. I couldn't even respond. Evil did not triumph today. I would live to fight future dressing room battles. But next time? I'll bring a friend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Place to Hide

I have always been on a quest for the perfect niche--a space just big enough for me to hide, think, spy on the world, imagine. One of my favorite spots as a little girl was in a mammoth evergreen tree that was directly across the street from our house in the neighbors' front yard. It had long, arching branches that hung just low enough for a nimble eight year-old to chin-up and swing onto. It wasn't a pokey kind of evergreen. It's bark was smooth and reddish in color. I spent hours there, sometimes alone; often perched on the lowest branch with other barefoot and sunburned children like so many baby birds. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the smoothness of the worn wood, breathe in the tangy scent of the sap that left dark sticky patterns on my hands by the end of the day. The tree would sway in the wind and seemed pleased to be hosting small children in its branches. I felt important in the tree. I felt strong.

In those days, I used to have vivid nightmares. The common theme was a monster of some kind that was intent on catching me and I was unable to run. I would wake up, heart pounding, sweating, convinced the dream was real. In one boost of adrenaline, I'd be off my bed, down the hall, and into my parents' bed where I would worm my way between them and burrow under my dad's arm. Sometimes, I would throw an arm or a leg over one of them just to make sure they stayed put. If I squinted in the darkness, I could barely make out the form of my dad's .22 rifle in the corner by the dresser. I knew no boogie men or bad guys could touch me here. I felt safe.

Years later, an older version of me discovers a brand-new hiding place. It is my fifteenth summer and I am following my boyfriend, Ron, up the ladder into the hay loft of his dad's barn. I am terribly smitten with this boy whose head is a mass of curls the color of ripe wheat, his sky-blue eyes brilliant in a face tanned from hours of fieldwork. He has something to show me and he moves off toward one wall, selectively pushing heavy bales of hay aside as he goes. I stand in the shaft of light from the trapdoor, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. Outside, it is sweltering and the June bugs are singing their tinny songs. Below us, calves sleep, piled against one another, ears twitching to keep the flies away. A tiny window at the top of the loft lets white light stream down to the hay covered floor and dust motes dance in its path. Ron motions me over, smiling. I crawl over bales and look where he points. Five newborn kittens snuggle in a cave of straw with their mother in the safety of the darkness. Ron hands me a tiger-striped kitten whose eyes aren't even open yet. Her tiny red mouth mews at me. I stroke her velvet fur and hand her back. The mother cat purrs and blinks at us with half-opened eyes. What an ideal place to hide something so perfect and defenseless!

One of my favorite verses of scripture is from Psalm 91. I absolutely love the imagery: (1) "He who lives in the secret place of the Most High will find rest in the Shadow of the Almighty. (4) He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection."

There are days in adulthood when nightmares aren't my imagination, when I feel as defenseless as a blind kitten. How many times do I still long for that safe place--a lap big enough for me to sit in, a cozy bed hemmed in on either side by someone Bigger and Wiser and Stronger? Somewhere I can go and just breathe. Just be. Just rest. God promises to be that place for me. The secret place of the Most High--covered with his shadow, his wings, his protection. Who can harm me? What evil can touch me here in this secret place? Here, I find peace as he whispers his faithful promises to me. And I am able to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ties that Bind

Every interaction with another person is an opportunity to either make a connection or sever one. Just as our brains are constantly making new connections increasing cognitive intelligence, our words and actions can make connections that increase our social intelligence.

The great thing about social intelligence is that it can be taught and learned. Not everyone is born gifted in social skills. Quite the opposite--we are actually born handicapped, thinking only of ourselves and our wants and needs. Any action counter to this innate inclination grabs our attention. The other night, I was eating at Burger King with my two young grandsons. They had finished their chicken nuggets and milk and I bought each of them a warm, double chocolate cookie for dessert. Cohen, 4, took a huge bite out of his (picture: Cookie Monster) and fully half broke off and landed under the table on the dirty floor. He looked at me, cheeks full of chocolate, eyes full of alarm.

"Nema!" he mumbled around his mouthful in desperation. "Get my cookie!"

"Oh, Cohen," I lamented as we both beheld the cookie lying in a muddy puddle from our boots. "It's full of germs now." I glanced up at two year-old Sawyer who was passively observing the drama as he knelt in the booth beside his brother, holding his intact cookie. "Maybe Sawyer will give you a bite of his?"

Sawyer, Chocolate Lover that he is, did not even hesitate. He handed Cohen his untouched cookie with a smile. Wordlessly, he watched Cohen devour half of it in one bite. Cohen kept pushing the cookie past his chocolaty teeth as he watched for our reaction. "Save some for Sawyer," I warned. He squeezed the entire cookie in his mouth, noted the look on my face, and reeled out a half-inch sliver from the edge and handed it back to his brother. Sawyer popped the remnant into his mouth without complaint. This, for the uninitiated, is not normal toddler behavior. This was Heroic Generosity.

My seventh grader comes home with Tales from Junior High nearly every day which I try to use as springboards for discussions about social skills. Victoria was in a play recently where she had a rather large part. It involved weeks of practice, memorizing of lines--a lot of work. She met many new friends as no one in her little network was in the play. She was especially nervous for the last performance as everyone in her school would be attending. When it was over, she texted one of her friends to ask what she thought of the play. "What play?" the friend replied absentmindedly. "The play I was in," she prompted. "Oh, that play...what was it about again?" Victoria patiently explained the plot and ended with her own question. "Weren't you paying attention?" No response from the friend.

Here was a teachable moment: What was Victoria looking for? Simply, "Good job--you did great!" would have sufficed. Why couldn't the friend give that? We talked about what her motives might have been for withholding good. Regardless of whether she liked the play or not, found it entertaining or boring, when your friend does something big you encourage and support them. It's an unwritten rule. Likewise there are a number of things you don't do in seventh grade: You don't trip your friend in choir so she falls flat on her face and then laugh along with the whole class. You don't make comments in the locker room. You don't tell others her secrets. You don't tell her you liked her hair better before she cut it.

If only children were the only ones who lack social savvy! Adults can behave just as badly and sabotage their relationships without even knowing it. Some of my personal pet peeves go like this:

Me: Don't you think that guy over there looks like your brother John?
Friend: No.

Me: I just love the new coffee flavor from Caribou!
Friend: I don't.

These are pretty minor, but basic. Some among you, and I suspect you are lonely, would say, "What? Aren't I entitled to my own opinion? Do I have to agree with everything you say?" And to this, I would respond, "Yes. In matters that don't matter--AGREE. It's polite."

This is something I have taught my children. Is it dishonest? Perhaps. But a little restraint can be a balm in everyday conversation. Everything doesn't have to be a debate where you defend your platform. That makes you tiresome. Sometimes, you have to do more than just be agreeable to protect peoples' feelings and it is called employing "tact." Example:

Me: I got my hair cut.
Friend: (clearly hating the New Do but realizing I can't glue the hair back on) Oh, you are just aDORable. You could shave your head and still be the cutest ever.

That isn't actual lying, by the way. My friend loves me. My friend thinks I'm adorable. Hair will grow back but hurt from too much honesty can cause wounds that fester forever. Tempering your own opinions, curbing envy, and bridling moodiness are very healthy to relationships.

Me: We are going on vacation to Florida next month!
Friend: Must be nice! (jealous) I hate the beach! (more jealous)

There are many variations on the above theme: I got a new job, bought a new house, I'm pregnant--can all be announced to unenthusiastic friends who (apparently) hate jobs, houses, and babies. GET OVER YOURSELVES, I say in my head to these people. Put yourself in someone else's shoes for five minutes and allow yourself to feel happiness for them. Then, speak.

What these insensitive rebuttals are is Conversation Killers. My husband and I have an analogy that we call, "Keeping all the balls." Here's how it works: I say something to you, toss you an imaginary ball:

Me: Hey, did you watch the Oscars last night?

You: (catching the imaginary ball) No, I don't watch that crap! Hollywood is full of a bunch of godless weirdos and I never even go to movies so what do I care about who wins a naked statue?

You kept my ball. You did not throw it back and have effectively shown me you are not interested in playing with me. Or if you are, you will determine the rules. Suppose, even if those were your truest feelings, you had responded with:

You: No, I missed it! Did something interesting happen? Tell me about it!

You have just tossed the ball back like a good sport insuring that the game will continue for some time. For extra credit, you might practice the fine art of The Segue. After politely tossing the Oscar Ball back and forth a few times, you could change the subject and introduce something else:

You: Did you happen to catch the last episode of NCIS?

This is totally acceptable and, with practice, you can get really good at it.

It is impossible to learn this level of social network building unless you develop an Interest in Others. Again, since birth, our primary interest has been ourselves, so this takes some cultivating. Since it is easiest to be interested in those who are most like us, start there. For instance, if you are a stay-at-home mom who homeschools and makes bread every day from scratch, begin with someone in this camp: Practice being interested in her curriculum, her children, her recipes and don't try to one-up everything she does and resist the evil imp in you who wants to turn each interaction into a competition. Once you get comfortable playing catch with people similar to yourself, be daring--branch out: Ask a mom who works full-time and has 4 kids in the public school how she manages to do it all. Compliment a single woman from church who is going back to school on her ambition and inquire about which class she finds most challenging. Engage a senior citizen in line at the grocery store by commenting on the contents in his cart and the rising cost of food. Ask a preteen girl on your block what she thinks of Justin Beiber's haircut.

There are basics, such as smiling and using eye contact to engage others. But relationship building is about so much more. Take turns with those conversation balls. Don't expect the other person to keep lobbing them into your lap while you start a collection. This is no fun at all for the pitcher and, once they run out of balls, they'll find someone more engaging. On the other hand, don't chuck all the balls like missiles at someone forcing them to run in self-defense. Real conversation is a sport, a dance, that requires a lot of practice and good timing.

I'm convinced that all of us long for meaningful connections with others. I work at an elementary school and every day I see things even from the very young that destroy these ties: Jealousy, sarcasm, teasing, ball-hogging, score-keeping, comparisons, pride, gossip, insensitivity. No one has to teach these qualities--they come as part of the human package.

But we are not without hope! New and better skills can be learned to replace the ones we're born with. My favorite building tools are a set of questions which I make a conscious effort to employ every day:

-I was wrong, I'm sorry, will you forgive me?

-What do YOU think?

-How do YOU feel about that?

Some of the best advice I've ever heard on relationships comes from the book of Philippians: "Don't act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves. Don't be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others." Phil. 2:34

Lord, give me a humble heart like yours that seeks to serve, not be served; that looks out to the good of others before myself. On my own, I want everything to be all about me. Help me love like you love, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

50 Favorites for 50 Years

*porch swings and hammocks *the aroma of line-dried sheets *lilacs in a vase *bare feet in wet sand *textured fabric like corduroy and velvet *music with no words that makes me cry *a cat purring in my lap *red hair and freckles *light through stained glass *minnows that nibble at my toes *the amazing eyelashes of llamas *random acts of kindness *the smell of chlorinated pools *horses' soft noses *a good story *the scent of cut grass *moving water *skipping stones on a smooth lake *hummingbirds *the smell of burning leaves *the sound of rain on glass *a good fire *dark chocolate *small children with missing teeth who lisp *babies' laughter *words fitly spoken *loyalty *bravery *generosity *the colors of fall on a rainy day *the way the air glitters when its really cold *root beer in a frosted mug *worship that makes me forget myself *the sweet smell of babies' heads *a gift for no reason *the color of the sky *down pillows *marine fish and the soothing sound of the bubbler *frost patterns on a window pane *old people who hold my hand too long *sticky-fingered toddlers who think they don't need to hold my hand at all *cotton candy *the companionship of an old dog *the imagination of a kitten *friends who "get it" without lengthy explanations *the last bite of an ice cream cone *feeding ducks *dragonflies *the smell and texture of new crayons *the simple faith of a child

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wisdom Through the Decades/50 Years in Review

Decade 1:
-You can't tie your tooth to a doorknob with string and expect it to pop out.
-Baby robins make lousy pets.
-Gum is really hard to get out of hair.
-Not all dogs are Lassie.
-What goes up must come down only faster.
-Sleep is a waste of time.
-Spinning in circles is fun.
-There might be monsters in the closet.
-A friend is anyone you're playing with.
-It takes forever for Christmas or your birthday to come.
-Grownups know everything.
-You have lots of questions.

Decade 2:
-It's a bad idea to wait until the night before your lesson to practice.
-If your friend jumps off a bridge, you should back up.
-Everyone is watching you. Some are making fun.
-Love does hurt.
-You enjoy slouching and chewing your nails.
-Sleep is a waste of time--except on weekends.
-Spinning in circles is still fun.
-Real Bad Guys are way scarier than closet monsters.
-Don't tell your bff secrets you don't want the whole world to know.
-You are invincible.
-Adults don't know much.
-You know the answers.

Decade 3:
-You can set a child on a potty but you can't make him go.
-People are too busy with their own lives to evaluate you.
-Gum is really hard to get out of hair.
-A chicken doesn't get done if you cook it upside down.
-Watched pots won't boil, but when you look the other way, they run over.
-Napping is a luxury, especially with a toddler.
-Spinning makes you feel sick.
-Church is twice as long when it's your turn in the nursery.
-True friends can be any age and the more the merrier.
-One red sock turns everyone's underwear pink.
-Your children think you know everything.
-You start to question your own answers.

Decade 4:
-The lines around your eyes and mouth are laugh lines.
-Clothing sizes are running smaller so you buy bigger sizes.
-75% of your day is spending finding food and cooking it in mass quantities.
-You pay attention to storm warnings and plan accordingly.
-You wear sunscreen and seatbelts religiously.
-You look forward to going to bed early as much as a night out.
-Watching others spin makes you feel sick.
-Your skin absorbs lotion like the Mojave Desert.
-A few close friends are better than a multitude of peripheral friends.
-You take calcium and load up on fiber.
-Your teenagers think you don't know anything.
-You figure out a few answers only to have more questions.

Decade 5:
-The lines around your eyes and mouth are wrinkles.
-You can't tell if those are gray hairs without your bifocals.
-You don't need cookbooks anymore--the recipes are all in your head.
-Teachers and doctors are all adolescents.
-You grow hair where no hair has ever grown before.
-Hair that you want is less plentiful and durable.
-Sometimes you feel dizzy even if no one around you is spinning.
-You need to stretch before you walk to the mailbox.
-Your best friends are related to you.
-Christmas and your birthday come more often than usual.
-Your grandchildren think you know everything.
-You admit you have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Five People Who Changed My Life

I am My Childrens' Mother. It's all the title I need. Put it on my tombstone.

There was a day when I aspired to all manner of greatness, supposing my life's path was entirely mine to choose: Should I be a veterinarian? Or an artist? How about a lawyer or a journalist? Motherhood never even made the list. I suppose when I got married at the ripe old age of 18, I must have entertained the thought on some level that, "We could have a baby," yet I was shocked to discover, a mere three months into our marriage, that I was "with child."

She arrived September 15, 1980, red-faced and screaming, sporting a full head of silky, dark hair. We named our daughter, Kimberly Dawn. She looked just like a live doll--which was no help to me whatsoever since I had never played with dolls. I had to learn everything on the real deal. We called Kimmie our experimental child and regretted not having had so much as a chimpanzee to practice on. I studied hard and learned quickly--middle of the night feedings, hours of colicky crying--life was no longer all about me...

Kimberly turned 30 last fall and is married, the mother of three. She is a beautiful soul, living out her faith with authenticity. No one makes me laugh harder or more often than she does with her off-the-cuff (sometimes inappropriate) humor. She is organized, diligent, and incredibly tenderhearted. She serves her family tirelessly and selflessly with kindness and creativity. Kimmie is generous and dependable; when she makes friendships, they are lifelong. She is compassionate and quick to help those in need. Despite her parents' bumbling efforts, God has chosen to show off his amazing grace in Kim's life and she is a living testament to His faithfulness.

July 23, 1982 we welcomed our second surprise child, Amy Joy. (Birth control? What is that?) Her skin was rosey, her tiny head covered in down so fine and blond it was barely visible. We didn't hold her as gingerly and Most Things Baby seemed easier the second time around. Amy wore all her sister's hand-me-downs and played with the toys Kimmie had outgrown. I felt like a full-time mom now, with two little people to keep track of. My days were filled with diapers and nursing and laundry and play dates at the lake with my girls and our friends. I thought these babies would be little forever...

Amy is 28, married, blessed with her own two year-old, mini-me. Amy is probably the most intelligent person I know; an artisan of words with an eye for beauty, and a hunger for the divine. She is fearless in social settings, quick-witted in conversation, and charmingly transparent. She loves order and appreciates quality work, bringing these to any project she undertakes. Amy is passionate and lives large; creatively and with intention. Her worldview is expansive--missions and adoption are dear to her heart. She possesses an uncanny ability to read my mind, and spending time with her is like holding a mirror to my own soul.

The September she turned 6, Kimberly skipped off to Kindergarten, leaving Amy and me home alone every morning. I began to long for another baby. When Michael Alden loudly entered the world on July 10, 1987, we thought our family might be complete. He was a darling, chubby-cheeked baby that grew quickly into a busy, curly-haired toddler who repeatedly lisped how much he loved me and how beautiful I was in his little-man voice...

Michael is 23 and towers over all of us at 6'2." Diagnosed in his teen years with Bipolar Disorder, he has faced challenges that have made ordinary milestones much harder for him to achieve than for many people. I admire Michael's persistence and his honesty, his impartial kindness and his ability to forgive. Non-judgmental, Michael ignores gossip and social status, offering friendship to those who are hurting. My son has taught me to think outside the box, to celebrate every success, and to find, within my mother-heart, a tenacious love I didn't know I possessed. Michael continually amazes me with his unconventional insight and hilarious interpretation of people and events in his life.

In the fall of 1988, both girls were in school and evenings and weekends were filled with spelling lists and birthday parties, swimming lessons and dance classes. From sun-up to sun-down, I chased our energetic son all over the house and yard. When I began to feel particularly run down as winter approached, I made an appointment with the doctor to have my thyroid checked. He told me [surprise!] Baby Number 4 was on the way. I stared at him in disbelief. I was already feeling overwhelmed with my 15 month old who kept me running all day long then up half the night with recurring ear infections. This was not part of our plan! The doctor read my expression and moved toward me. He held his obstetric stethoscope up to my stomach and placed the earpieces in my ears. I heard the familiar gallumping of a baby's heart and tears trickled down my cheeks. Too late for second thoughts--my plans were about to change...

Stephanie Elaine made her grand entrance on May 19, 1989. Even her labor was easier than all the rest and she was Our Dream Baby from the beginning, landing right in the middle of a busy pool of activity with barely a ripple. She arrived ready to wait her turn, grinning at everyone who looked at her. I told people, "If you have 3 children, you might as well have more. You're already out-numbered so it doesn't matter!" We kept her in the playpen to protect her from the others...

Stephanie is 21 and was married last fall. She is still a bright spot in the lives of everyone who knows her. Innately artistic, graced with too many gifts to number, she refuses to be impressed with herself and always strives for excellence. Stephie is fiercely loyal with high ideals and expectations of herself and others. She is the companion I want on long trips because she's as content in silence as she is in conversation. Observant, Stephie notices people and discerns motives that others overlook. Lavish and unpretentious, playful and serious, confident and reserved, Stephanie is difficult to define but genuinely herself.

The next eight years were a blur. We moved four times between two states. There were wrestling matches and baseball games, science fair projects and math competitions. Chicken pox and flu bugs came to call, along with assorted bumps, cuts, bruises and trips to the ER. Tiny fingernails needed to be clipped, faces washed, shoes tied, hair braided. There were broken toys and broken hearts. I spent hours each week hunting; for homework under beds, ticks in hair, car keys in the produce aisle, pacifiers under cushions, and overdue library books that were left out in the rain. Seeing my child successfully plunk through a piece of music at a piano recital far exceeded any joy I had ever felt over any achievement of my own. I mourned each child's disappointment and heartache more intensely than the child did himself. I considered Motherhood my highest calling.

On August 16, 1997, God answered our prayers and granted us a bonus child. Victoria Marie arrived, indignant and perfect, via cesarean section to a waiting room full of thrilled siblings. She came at the peak of familial chaos; two teenagers in the house and two active grade-schoolers with schedules that slowed for nothing. Tori spent much of her babyhood strapped in her carseat or on various laps at basketball games and concerts. She was a baby on the go...

Victoria is 13 and I am thankful for the time she has left in the nest. She is the most empathetic, compassionate person I know. Victoria is a thinker, a processor, a theologian. She is affectionate and expressive, entirely devoted to her family. Raised virtually among adults, Victoria is an old soul and can converse beyond her years, yet innocent in ways that break my heart when I see her startled realization that the world is quite different from how she imagined it. She is the child of our old[er] age, the culmination of what will be nearly 4 decades of parenting before we are done. No child has ever been more wanted or celebrated.

My years of mothering have expanded me in ways I could never have foreseen. Intellectually, I've proofed papers and reports, becoming the human embodiment of both spell-check and thesaurus. I've been study partner, audio book, and driving instructor. Alternately, I've become coach, chaperone, counselor, chauffeur, chef, and cheerleader. Justice system aspirations were fulfilled as I served as parole officer, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, judge and jury. Needs for artistic expression were met designing costumes and elaborate birthday cakes, and helping with grade A report covers and poster layouts. I know more that most guys on the street about bullies, eating disorders, learning disabilities, prescription drug interactions, and stain removal. I've delivered puppies, kittens, and bunnies who then ate their own babies. I have learned to answer questions about God to satisfy a three-year old that would make theology students stutter. I can debate the pros and cons of childhood vaccinations, cloth and disposable, public vs. private, and contrast several popular reading programs. I have photo documentation of preschool through college graduations. I survived three daughters' weddings and witnessed the birth of one grandchild without fainting. What more could I possibly want from my life?

One snowy day, a few years back, I walked up to the high school with Stephanie for her 7AM Early Bird orchestra rehearsal. She was carrying her heavy book bag and trumpet. I dragged in her violin and her lunch. The orchestra teacher met us at the door, holding it wide as we blew in from the sub-zero temps and exclaimed, "Stephie! Don't you feel bad having your mom haul all your stuff around for you? I'm sure she has better things to do!" I just smiled while Stephie answered for me, "No, she likes doing this." And the truth was? I did. I did not have anything better to do.

All I have ever wanted to do and more, I've done as a mother. Nurturing babies, muddling through teen and toddler angst, seeing each of my children at their absolute worst and shining best culminate in this reward: Intimate association with peers who share an inheritance in the Kingdom, individuals I respect and admire, my very best friends. I am truly blessed for having these five people in my life.