When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Moms: Our Real Heroes

Moms: our real heroes

Mom & me

I just spent the past several weeks with my hero, my mom. Diagnosed with colon cancer in December, she chose to  have the surgical procedure–difficult under any circumstances, but especially at age 90.

As her surgical team prepped her on that early Tuesday a.m., they all remarked at how amazing she is for a woman her age. “We don’t see many 90-year-olds come through here,” one nurse commented. “Usually their health is compromised and there are too many risks.”

Mom and I both knew that even though she’s strong, this surgery presented lots of unknowns. We prayed together the night before and attempted to say good-byes–just in case. I hugged her extra long before they wheeled her into the OR. A compassionate nurse called me several times while I waited during the almost 4-hour surgery to assure me everything was going well.

While I helped Mom during her recovery, I had time to think about what makes a mom a hero. A while back, I had chatted with Mom and thanked her (you can never say it enough) for all those little things that made a difference while my brothers (four of them!) and I grew up. Things like always being there, packing school lunches, staying up late to sew cute new outfits for me–and for my dolls, too. Mom’s response to my gratitude surprised me. “I don’t think I did anything special,” she said. “I did what moms are supposed to do.”

Maybe that’s an important part of the mom/hero equation. They don’t think they’re doing anything out of the ordinary. They simply do what moms are supposed to do.

I love this quote from Jill Churchill in her book, Grime and Punishment, There’s no way to be a perfect mother–and a million ways to be a good one.

My mom is the first person to admit she wasn’t a perfect mom. It’s the million other ways that she was and is a good mom that make all the difference. So take heart if you’re in the thick of momhood. Once you accept you’ll never be perfect at it, then you can consider the myriad ways to be the hero/mom who leaves her kids and grandkids a lasting legacy.

Some of my mom’s “good-mom” techniques:

  • Be committed.  Mom was all in. 100% there for us. That’s no easy task day-in and day-out with a tribe of kids. We never wondered if she would be home when we came in from school or playing outside. We never once worried if she would have dinner prepared or if she’d be there to tuck us in at night. She was always there–except for the day she gave birth to our youngest sibling– but we’ll overlook that!
  • Set high standards. Mom insisted that we tow the mark. We learned to be honest, to care about others, to help with chores (without getting paid) and without complaining. We knew better than to be disrespectful. She had a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Give selflessly. When I became a mom, I realized this was hard work–without vacations. You’re always a mom. You really can’t take a break or go on a sabbatical. Mom’s job consisted of being home full-time. She tended to the needs of five uniquely different children, managed mountains of laundry, cooked, cleaned and stayed up late to get it done.
  • Stand up for what you believe is right. Mom loved imparting her wisdom and values to us. In the early 1970s when I was a young adult, Mom expressed her opinions on some of the crazy cultural views–like something called “open marriage.” The purveyors of this philosophy touted the advantages of having multiple partners to”enhance” your marriage. Mom didn’t mince words. Those ideas had no place in our family. Period. (I recently read a review on the book, Open Marriage. The reviewer said it was a bad idea in 1970 and it still is  today). Mom knew what she was talking about!

I’m thankful God’s plan for my mom’s life included more time for me to thank her again for being my hero. You really can’t say it enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas: God’s Special Delivery

I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas  with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as  we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists. winter

“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.

I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.

I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!

The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.

I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.

As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.

Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!

Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”

How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.

“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”

They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.

“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.

Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.

We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.

The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”

Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.

“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.

They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.

Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.

Dear Chris and Jeremy,

We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!

I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.

I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.Mother Teresa

Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In God’s Care

Last Sunday I had nursery duty at our church. I always enjoy taking my turn, because I remember how challenging it was trying to keep wriggling toddlers still for the duration of the service. Moms and dads really deserve a break on Sunday mornings. How much easier it is to throw in the towel and stay home rather than getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door–an exhausting and nerve-wracking experience for many of us moms. I recall arriving at church feeling way-less-than spiritual after using my outdoor voice to communicate with our sons during the ten-minute drive to church.

Since I now attend a small church, we usually have only one or two toddlers in our nursery on a Sunday morning. I put out a bucket of crayons, every color of the rainbow and more, so they can color their weekly Sunday school pictures. Then we read stories–Bob the Builder is a favorite, and eat snacks, usually Cheerios or Goldfish crackers. But this past Sunday, the usual crew had graduated to the preschool group, so I just had one infant to care for. I spent the entire hour cuddling baby Brandon. He snuggled into the curve of my neck, making sweet cooing sounds. His silky hair and soft skin still had that fresh newborn fragrance.

As I held him, I couldn’t help but think of our own grown sons who once spent Sunday mornings being held by faithful nursery workers. I thought of the promise of holding grandchildren some day and the privilege of sowing love and other Christian virtues into their lives. I remembered being 10-years-old and holding my newborn baby brother with my mom’s watchful guidance.

Babies bring a sense of wonder, tiny packages of life-time potential. I prayed for baby Brandon, entrusted to my care for an hour on a Sunday morning. For only a few short years, our children are in our care, subject to our influence. Then they become more independent, venturing off on their own to after-school events or to a friend’s house to play. Soon they’re applying for drivers licenses, colleges, and jobs in far away places. Finally, we simply have to entrust them to God’s care and pray that He will guide them in making wise life choices.

There’s a time when we realize we no longer have control, a time to let go and let God work in their lives. I pray that God will do what I don’t have the power to do in my sons’ lives, or in my homeless baby brother’s life, or for our precious nursery babies.  Dear Lord, please bless them and keep them always in Your care.

Are you struggling to let go of someone you love? 

Forever Changed, Forever Grateful

I was 18-years-old when I found out I was pregnant with our son, Chris. Randy and I were very much in love, and we were both excited about becoming parents, but fear of the unknown brought a lot of apprehension.

Movies always showed women writhing in pain during childbirth. I’ve got nine months before I have to deal with that, I convinced myself, trying to muster up some courage. A friend who had recently become a mom, reassured me there was nothing to it. Having a baby wasn’t nearly as traumatic as Hollywood portrayed. I wanted to believe her, but somehow I knew she was holding out on me. Several months into my pregnancy, I realized there was no turning back. Once I made it through childbirth, our lives would be forever changed by a tiny life joining ours.

On a February day 39 years ago, Robert Christian arrived, and yes, our lives were forever changed by this amazing miracle of God’s creation. It didn’t take long for romantic notions about motherhood to wear thin.  Chris had colic and usually cried all night. Randy and I took turns walking back and forth with Chris across our postage stamp apartment trying to quiet our squalling infant. I’m not sure how we survived those early parenting days. Parenthood is not for the fainthearted.

Three years later, Jeremy Barret joined our family. Another indescribable blessing. As much as I loved our sons, I was astounded by the amount of time and work it took to be a mom. While my friends were busy pursuing academic goals and their careers, I was watching Sesame Street and reading Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am. I packed more lunch boxes than I can count and sat on bleachers watching every imaginable sporting event.

We survived chicken pox, wisdom tooth extractions, colds, the flu. Chris learned to play electric guitar while Jeremy attempted to master the bassoon. Years passed as quickly as the more seasoned moms had predicted. Why hadn’t I believed them? One day I was sitting at grade school Christmas programs, then at high school graduations, and then unbelievably walking past empty bedrooms with that hard-to-swallow lump in my throat. 

I observe our now-grown sons, more keenly aware that the opportunity to influence a child is the most demanding, most heartrending, most rewarding job a woman may have in her lifetime.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Becoming pregnant at such a young age wasn’t convenient. We weren’t ready. We certainly weren’t mature enough to understand what being a parent requires. Yet there is no way to describe the depth of love we have for our sons and the pride we feel for the men they have become.  Amazing that God entrusts us with the precious commodity of life! I am forever grateful.