Talking about My Brothers

The interesting thing that happened today, in addition to getting my 10,000 steps

was a phone conversation with my cousin who loves to study and talk with others about relationships. I had to think about how to express what she loves to do, and I’m not sure I’ve got it just right. She wants to learn what it takes to have good relationships with other people in order to love well. She and her husband have helped others through Marriage Encounter workshops, and she is also the person who comes to any family event armed with questions to spark discussions. She likes hearing what others have to say. And don’t we all feel good when someone wants to hear us?

Today’s question worth thinking about was “what does it mean to be a good sibling?” I have four brothers, and I would call all of them good. It was an interesting exercise to define and talk about what “good” meant.

We are not above wearing cheesy reunion T-shirts for the sake of family togetherness.

Although we Smiths grew up together, we have gone our separate ways, lived our very different lives, in different parts of the country. We all have families of our own. Because we are talking about siblings, not friends or business associates or any other connection, making family of origin a priority has to be part of the definition. I love that my brothers, from time to time, have all taken the initiative to connect with each other, with parents and with me. We visit each other and make it a priority to be at family reunions and landmark events. We don’t stalk each other. We don’t demand to know every detail of each other’s lives, but when there is something to talk about, we are pretty sure we can find a family member who will take the time to be a good listener. We want to help each other when there is a crisis.

My Dad died a few years ago, and I love the way my brothers have taken care of Mom since then, each in their own special way. My youngest brother’s wife died this year and there we all were, wanting to share the loss and grieve together. One of my daughters had a pandemic wedding this fall and once again, family showed up to help and witness the special event.

Because we have met often over the years, our children know each other and have a special regard for family as well. They try to make sure that no one gets left out of the “cousin club”. I am so proud of all my nieces and nephews for their efforts to stay connected even as they have started their own families and gotten very busy.

Proud of the way the next generation of cousins has stepped up to honor family.

My brothers and their families are all interesting people and we have a common history. Those things should be more than enough reasons to want to know each other, to initiate and pursue connection. We aren’t doing it perfectly but we are learning as we go. It’s fun.

I would wish that everyone could have the blessing of good relationships between siblings, or other family members. I know sometimes it isn’t the case because living as family is a complex, and often messy business. I am glad today that I took time to think about how I can be a good sibling to my brothers. It is a topic worth much thought, just sayin’.

Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

Family on Mother’s Day

We don’t all fit on one screen, and my family will know this isn’t our Mother’s Day screenshot, but it’s us the time before.

This has been such a strange day, happy in many ways, but with a pervasive sadness that feels almost like a home that I keep coming back to. In a way, I value the sadness too because it’s a precious emotion, indicating depth of feeling. I pretty much only get sad about things I really care about, and mostly those things are relationships.

We got word that my Aunt Irene (but we always said “Auntie Irene”) died today. She was 94. It was exactly two years ago on Mother’s Day that her husband, Uncle Bob, died and I think she has been trying to join him ever since. She was the last of my father’s siblings. One more generation of that family is now gone. They were all interesting, loved, important people to their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. At times I was very close to Auntie Irene and I wish now I had been more attentive to her in these last couple of years. Some things about being 94 are probably okay, but when you consider how many of your friends aren’t around any more at that age, it has to be lonely. I am sad thinking about the loneliness of old age.

One of my nieces who has miscarried and lost her unborn children was gifted, anonymously, a beautiful Mother’s Day orchid with a note attached. It reminded me of several women I know who grieve on this holiday. It reminded me that I used to feel that way, and I want to hug them and cry too. These things would not hurt if we did not love. But loving is worth hurting.

Lastly, nothing speaks depth of family relationship like a reunion, so we all braved technology and Zoomed together this afternoon. (Well, almost all of us – it’s bittersweet when some of our special adoptees can’t get on the internet highway and join us.) It’s always a wonder to me, to see the faces appear on my screen, one after another – the family matron (my mom), the elders (my generation), the next tier down (all the cousins), and the littlest kiddos who have no idea what they are part of. North to south, east to west, we are all over the country but together on the screen because something tells us it’s important. Our stories are not all perfectly happy, but we are together, trying to build depth into our relationships. I look at them all and want to tell them “Please, don’t ever let loneliness have the last word. You have a family. You belong and are loved.” But I might not have actually said that. I should have.

So I hope that this day so closely connected to family relationships was a good day for you. I hope you know that whether you are a single, or a couple, or a whole tribe, you are capable of family relationship because you were made to need something of what that offers. A good Creator would not have created us with desires that couldn’t be fulfilled. It wouldn’t make sense. Have hope and love those around you with all your strength. Make family a reality.

The Last Day

12-31-2019

This morning is my cry time. It just hit me hard that this time I looked forward to so much is ending already. One daughter has left already, in the dark, on the trip to the airport three hours away. The other one leaves this afternoon. We have spent a week together, wearing ourselves out with talk, food, and as much activity as we could pack into a week of weird winter weather.

I am not put off by stillness or being alone, but the contrast is so vivid right now that I can’t not think about it. I’m looking at the special things they bought to eat and drink, but didn’t finish. I’m putting away the last puzzle we agonized over before we found out that one piece was missing. I’m trying desperately to think of what adventure I can plan next to mask this feeling of missing people I love.

I want to hug my kids again and tell them how much they are loved, and how much I hope they will always love each other. I want them to see how beautiful they are, how unique, how disarming and precious in those moments when they struggle.

There are always a few struggles even in the coming together. This winter gathering seemed characterized by the words “awkward” and “ bizarre” which we heard a lot, and said a lot in our conversations. Even in our commonness we are awkward and bizarre, and memorable because of it.

We are family, with the chance to display a special kind of love to the world. God help us to do do that.

Autumn and Family

A past Thanksgiving in the place that is now my home.

I’m not sure I can blame it on the season, but there is something about fall that makes me miss my family in far away places. Sitting here at breakfast with the husband, I even miss our  family members that live down the street. Maybe I’m thinking longingly of Thanksgiving gatherings. Maybe it’s the thought that the long winter is coming and we should see people now, before travel gets risky. Maybe it’s because life is so obviously changing for all of us and I feel the need to KNOW how it’s affecting everyone.

We do a lot of sitting and talking. Good stuff.

Mom and I were sitting in her living room, doing our sunrise chat one day this week. She brought up the fact that many of our southern family members had moved recently. They were in houses she had never seen, so she didn’t know how to picture them at home. We started reflecting on how much better we know someone if we have visited them in their home – or at least we think we know them better. We know where they sit to relax, where they stand to talk on the phone, where they let their cat in and out, where they set the table for a meal. We know a lot of things, if we’ve been there. 

This topic is also on my mind because it was just a year ago this summer that we moved.  For quite a while friends and family didn’t know where to picture us. Even scarier, we didn’t know where to picture us. We were kind of floating and fitting in. A year into being Hayward residents, I feel like we are gradually setting our stamp on our home. There are beginning to be ways that it reflects who we are, our interests, our activities and priorities. As that happens, I feel the need to be known.

I am grateful today, for all the times I’ve been able to visit friends and family in their homes. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been able to host them in my abode. Those sharing times add to my awareness of their personalities. I know the ones who find minimalism comforting, and the ones who surround themselves with ALL their treasures. I know who is handy with tools, who loves creative touches, and who spends most of their time outdoors. I love knowing these things.

 And since this is Saturday sabbath, I have to consider that God is leading me to think about what I consider my “real home”. What will I find there and in what style am I getting ready to decorate it? From what I have seen of God (who I believe came up with the idea of home and family), the good things here on earth are meant to show us, in a small way, what he will let us experience in the future. He is such a hopeful God. 

I know not everyone is comforted by their knowledge of family togetherness. Some have never known a family. Some would like to forget what they know of family.  If that’s you, I want you to know that when it is done God’s way, family is wonderful. My family experience is not perfect – no one’s is, but even the hard and sad times have purpose. They create a holy longing for the perfection that will come when God makes bad things good again. I think it’s that simple, maybe. Just sayin’… 

Anniversary Thoughts

January 14, 2016, 43 years since I married the husband.  What have I learned in all this time?

There are always new things to discover in a relationship, new ways to look at old things.  

It is better to work on familiar problems with a person you know and trust, than to start over from zero with someone you don’t know.

The husband and I are both persons before God first, then we are a couple.   

Praying for my husband gives me a whole new reason to be interested in his growth.

Praying with my husband, before God, is the safest way to be vulnerable.

Letting the culture tell me what to expect from marriage is a big mistake. Every couple I’ve known is unique.

If I have to have things done my way, just do them and be glad.

If I want help I must be willing to let him help in his way and be glad.

We were not brought together because of the things we have in common but because of our complementary differences.

Bad feelings change over time.

Good feelings change over time.

Being in trouble together brings us closer, thankfully.

Nothing makes it easier to forgive than needing to be forgiven, but don’t keep score.

It is okay to take care of myself and avoid the martyr complex.  I am more fun when I’m having fun.

Asking kindly for things works really well. 

I say I have learned these things, but actually, I’m still working on many of them and seeing progress.  God has given me marriage and family as a school.  There are “treasures” of learning as a result of keeping covenant over time – I am humbled and blessed to be in a safe and loving relationship that allows me to learn and grow spiritually.  Thank you, Dennis, for being a faithful man who has never held me back, never “lorded” it over me, never intentionally been unkind.  I would marry you all over again.

Love, the wife.

ourwedding
Once upon a time, a long time ago…

 

A Lesson Through Family

family blog postAnd by “through family” I mean through the experience of having children and to some extent by being a child.  I can hardly begin to name or number the  “aha!” moments when something going on between me and my children has caused me to stop and wonder if I am being taught a lesson.  I have so come to believe that the family was intended to be God’s school of life, teaching us how he wanted us to view him in his role as father, teaching us how to grow strong, smart, productive and fulfilled as children.

So lately, I am alongside a few family members who are struggling with feeling significant, cared about and noticed.  They are on my mind daily, sometimes hourly and sometimes for every minute of the hour.  I want them to know I love them.  I’m not a person who routinely stalks others or obsessively calls or texts (well, maybe a little too free with the texting…) but I do get desperate at times – wanting them to know how I value them for just being themselves.  I love them.  I want a word better than love to describe how I feel.

For these reasons, something in my reading today just leaped off the page for me.  Here it is: “Love always wants to be known.”  Have you felt the truth of this?  It’s also true that I want to be loved but this is talking about the giving side of the equation, not the receiving.  I somehow feel that if I could communicate love to someone, it would help them.  They would not view their circumstances in the same way.  They would not feel alone. They would have their “I AM LOVED” armor on and it would protect them.

And then I get it, suddenly, a richer, wider view of God.  This is what he wants me to know, really know.

 He loves me.  That’s where my experience of him is supposed to start. 

Okay, there is Jesus giving up a previous position, going through the human thing and dying for my sin.  That’s big, but honestly, I sometimes have trouble relating to it.  I sometimes miss the “why” behind it all.

 He loves me and wants me to know it.

In his book “The Divine Conspiracy” Dallas Willard quotes another writer, Julian Norwich, “…for God wishes to be seen, and he wishes to be sought, and he wishes to be expected, and he wishes to be trusted.”  In my frustrating, doubting times,  I’ve wondered how I could become convinced of this.  More often, I’ve wondered how I could convince others of this.  I think I know how it’s happening with me.  Again, Dallas Willard explains it in a way I totally understand.

“Persons rarely become present where they are not heartily wanted. Certainly that is true for you and me.  We prefer to be wanted, warmly wanted, before we reveal our souls — or even come to a party.  The ability to see and the practice of seeing God and God’s world comes through a process of seeking and growing in intimacy with him.”

I have to want God, want to be loved by him and to know him. And maybe that is the question for many.  Who is God that I should want to know him?  Is that your question?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Verse, Same as the First…

Four generations of sons

Today, walking around in the yard, I met a jet black cat with one long white tooth visible on one side of his closed mouth.  I had seen him other times and to this point he had always made himself scarce when he saw me noticing him.  Today I stretched out my hand and spoke softly and he immediately turned and approached me.

Years ago, as I remember it, our neighbor who was doing yard work, came to us to report finding a batch of feral kittens.  He knew there were die-hard animal loving children in our household and figured we would help solve his problem. He was right, of course.  We raised this batch and my daughters named them after famous people.  One that became a favorite of Julie, my oldest, was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  He was Hammy, for short, and continues to live with her today.  His unique characteristics are that he is small and compact for a male cat, has a sociable nature in a cat-like way, and is mostly black with a few crazy white marks.

In shape, size and nature today’s kitty was a match for Hammy and I wondered what genes they might share and if they had both started life in this same neighborhood.  The tooth was a little unnerving but other than that this little guy was fun to pet.  I think we have a bond going and I am calling him Snaggletooth.

The theme continued later this morning as Mom and I were conversing about our family relationships and how they also do replays.  My dad often told stories of his early years at home and the influence his dad had on him.  Even as he married and went out on his own, his dad was always involved in some way, giving feedback and support.  Interestingly, my dad also has a very similar relationship with one of his sons.  And taking it one step further, that son has a very close, remarkable similar relationship with his only son.  And by now, it is almost beyond surprising, that this third generation son is very much the same with his fourth generation son.  The sons may not have always agreed with the fathers (how rare, right?) or the fathers with the sons but there developed a high degree of compassion and appreciation in each case.  After a few generations of repetition these things start to jump out and be noticed.

Further on in our talk Mom’s early childhood came up.  She had a younger brother who was born last in the family and spent a lot of time with her.  They were often together as children and she would pass the time making up stories to tell him.  Their mother died when they were still young adults which added another layer of closeness to their brother – sister relationship.  As she talked about it, I noticed how much it sounded like the way I feel about my youngest brother.  Another comforting familial replay…

I’m not sure what all of this means, except that awareness of family influence and nurture might cause us to think more carefully about our parent – child interactions.  Seeing patterns over such a long time period might give new meaning and strength to biblical references about blessings or cursings that last to the third and fourth generation, or longer.  Just saying, it is interesting and food for thought.

Six Months

Remembering Dad
Remembering Dad

That’s roughly how long it has been since my father died. November 16th, today, would have been the end of his 87th year.

There are many things I have enjoyed doing, and I plan or hope to do them again. And there are people I love and enjoy that I plan on seeing again.  It’s possible I may not do those things, or see those people, but since I don’t know that, I don’t even think down that road.  Death however, is different.   As Mom put it, “you know he’s not coming back”.  You know your experience of that person on earth is over.  Final.  Done. You know.

That sadness of missing someone is so much like wave action.  It’s suddenly there with a force that catches me off guard.  Since I wasn’t living close enough to see Dad on an every day basis, it’s not as bad for me.  In fact, my days are very much like they were when he was alive.  It’s when I look at the pictures of last Thanksgiving and other visits home that it’s very real to me.  He’s right there, washing the dishes, watching the Packer game, sleeping in his recliner. This will be the first year without him and I know it will be a bit difficult.

But what have the last six months done for me?

  • I realize what a planner Dad was.  He saved and set aside what was needed for Mom to continue without making drastic changes in her manner of living.  It was a gift, and now we know what it is like to receive that blessing.
  • I realize that I’m not just missing the person Dad was the day before he died.  I miss the entirety of his life and all that I remember about him.
  • I recognize the parts of him, the habits, the attitudes that I’m probably going to perpetuate in my own behavior and I have an oddly protective stance toward those parts.
  • I resolve to be mindful of my relationships and the time spent on them. I am so thankful for the extra visits home I was able to make the last couple of years. They were so worth it.
  • Lastly, I realize how much 60+ years of marriage can affect someone, and how much my Mom is missing Dad. I want to make sure that she knows others are remembering and missing him too. I want her not to feel alone.

Dad, hard at work, last Thanksgiving.  Such a great time.
Dad, hard at work last Thanksgiving. Such a great time.

I haven’t posted much lately. Everything I write sounds strange and awkward to me. I’ve decided it’s a stage and it will probably pass, so I’m not worried.  But I couldn’t let November 16th pass without acknowledging Dad’s birthday. I might also add that any sorrow I have is purely earthly, not eternal.