A life well lived ...

My mom recently turned 80.

As with my dad, we took this opportunity to let my mom know how she has impacted our lives. Each of her 10 grandchildren, her 3 children and their spouses wrote her a letter expressing our gratitude for the ways she has played a role in our lives

When families do this themes start to emerge. The measure of a life is seen. Influence is more easily traced. My mom, a fierce advocate of family, loyalty, intergity and kindness, a person who never seeks the limelight, who never draws attention to herself, is a veritable giant when it comes to having influence on those in her innermost circle.

I had the privilege of gathering all these letters and reading them, often with tears streaming down my face.

These are a few the lessons I picked up:

1. Your family sees you clearly. This cannot be helped.

Here is how one grandson put it:

"I look around at our holiday gatherings and see a whole family that is enjoying their struggles. All of your offspring are happily and confidently pursuing lives that are meaningful to them. They love their lives, and they love each other and they love spending time together. This cannot be an accident. You are clearly doing something right. The way you have lived your life has resulted in a clan of thriving people."

And another:

"You have taught me how to work hard and how to rest, how to love and be loved, how to speak and how to listen, and how to serve others and be served."

And another:

"You have shown me how to be strong when things are difficult and how to treat everyone I meet with kindness."

2. Showing up matters. Show up as often as you possibly can.

A few quotes:

"For as long as I remember you have been on top of every activity and event that we had going on. Even now I am almost positive that you know my soccer schedule better than I do."

and ...

"One of the greatest lessons you have taught me is that you can show people you love them by simply being present. For me, that meant you came to everything from my 2nd grade youth soccer and tee ball games, middle school band concerts and track meets, piano concerts, high school swim meets, track meets, softball games, marching band competitions, my auditions for all-state band, spring training in Orlando to see my first college hit ... You taught me that if a person you love is doing something they love, your presence at that event is the ultimate expression of love and support ... your presence gave me even more joy in what I was doing because I knew you were sharing it with me."

3. The little things are always the big things. Don't be fooled.

Again, a few quotes:

"Every year I look forward to your twice-baked potatoes, banana bread, and Sunday school rolls, because no one is able to make them quite like you."

"I will always remember our Friday afternoon hot dog picnics ..."

"Thank you for showing me how to rock a simple hairdo."

"I will always remember when I was a little boy and you drove me to the end of Hammond Road to see what was there."

I will spare you the rest of the details and lessons from these letters for they are many ...

I simply wanted to share a bit of what I learned through this poignant family exercise.

Your family sees you clearly, you cannot help but impact them. For better or for worse ...

Your presence really matters.

Do the small things with great love, for in the end, the small things are really the big things.

If you see my mom, wish her a happy 80th year - she is truly one of a kind.

 

 

 

 

Of The Empire ...

At times, poetry speaks more eloquently than any other form of speech.

Mary Oliver's poem - Of The Empire - is an example:

"We will be known as a culture that feared death

and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity

for the few and cared little for the penury of the

many. We will be known as a culture that taught

and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke

little if at all about the quality of life for

people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All

the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a

commodity. And they will say that this structure

was held together politically, which it was, and

they will say also that our politics was no more

than an apparatus to accomodate the feelings of

the heart, and that the heart, in those days,

was small, and hard, and full of meanness."

My fellow Christians, please remember that throughout history when we proclaim "Jesus is Lord!"

we are, at the same time, proclaiming that the Empire is not.

Amen.

Service to others ...

"Service to others will help you become deaf to a voice inside of you that does not believe in happiness."

(Hafiz - Persian mystic, 1320-1389)

Forgive ...

#1 on my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children is ...

Forgive.

If there is one thing that can save family relationships,

hold marriages together,

heal old wounds

and protect new wounds from festering

it is the simple, yet costly act of forgiveness.

I love how Jesus puts it when his followers ask him how to pray.

He tells them to pray:

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"

or

"Forgives us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Tricky, Jesus .... tricky.

Do you see how he connects these two actions into one unified request?

We ask for the forgiveness of the Divine, our Creator, for all the ways we fall short, mess up, fail, wound, hurt.

And then ...

We turn right around and forgive all of those who fall short, mess up, fail, wound or hurt us.

Does this mean we allow abusive parents to still abuse us? Nope.

Does this mean we give our drug-addicted children drug money? Nope.

Does this mean we gloss over pain and heartache and mean words and broken promises? Nope.

There will always be hard conversations to have, truth to share and boundaries to set.

Always.

But, at the same time, we can also always forgive.

Always.

And we can start with the smallest of things - a word said in anger, a miscommunication, a forgotten birthday.

If we practice forgiveness in the small, we will be experts at it when it comes to the big.

If there is one thing I would leave all of us with as I bid a fond farewell to this little run of posts about parents and adult kids, it would be this:

Forgive each other in the same manner in which you have been forgiven by your heavenly Parent ...

If we can do that we may just spare ourselves and those we love from an abundance of unnecessary pain.

There is freedom and joy in forgiveness.

It is a gift you can give at any time; the greatest gift you can ever give to another human being.

And in the paradoxical way of the Kingdom of Jesus you will find that it is simultaneously the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Amen.

The year mom swore a little ...

Ok, one last little bit of hard-earned wisdom about the power of laughter in the parent-adult child system, especially around the volatile holiday season.

One Christmas I ruined everything by trying too hard.

WAY too hard ...

My daughter was bringing home a new boyfriend.

My brother and his family were coming for Christmas Eve dinner.

I - in my own mind - was going to crush it.

I was going to do all the traditions, have a great tree, cook a superb meal, make everyone feel welcome, have a few little surprises for my nieces who are Jewish, get just the perfect gifts, blah, blah, blah ... you know the drill.

Whole dang thing went south on me because no one - especially my adult husband and my 3 adult kids - didn't cooperate with all my ridiculousness. How dare they?

So I spent the bulk of Christmas Eve in bed weeping, pretending I had the flu, while my entire family laughed and celebrated at my dining room table.

Sad.

The next year I came up with a new plan - This would be the year mom swore a little. (Or, a lot depending on the circumstances.)

This created all kinds of fun for everyone involved.

A well-placed, polite little swear-bomb can sure lighten the mood, people.

Especially when young adult kids push back on all our best-laid plans.

Happiest. Christmas. Ever.

Now, I know the Bible discourages coarse language. I get it.

But what do you think is worse?

A cry-baby mom in her bed thinking bad thoughts about her family on the eve of our Lord's birth ...

or a nicely placed little cuss word?

Laughter - it works every time.

Try it.

Set the whole thing trembling ...

I love me some Freddy Buechner ... a Presbyterian pastor with a knack for turning a phrase.

The smallest acts of kindness, even circumscribed within our own families, can, as Buechner says, "set the whole thing trembling ..."

Stay kind, my friends ... stay kind.

Kindness can change the world.

Listen to how Buechner puts it:

"Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble.

The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.

Our lives are linked together.

No one is an island."

(Frederick Buechner, b. 1926)

Laughter and grace ...

Getting to the end of this little blog journey through my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children ...

Point #2 is Laugh.

Simple, right?

Not so simple from my experience ...

One of the very first things to go when parents and adult kids start to tangle is our sense of humor.

Rather than laughing at the ridiculousness of our arguments, we clamp down.

We get defensive.

We get hurt, so we get serious.

Unfortunately, this has a multiplying effect on our angst.

Try this next time you find yourself in a brawl of sorts with your adult children, or with your parents:

Laugh.

At yourself.

Make a self-deprecating joke to lighten the mood.

Shake your head and grin at your OWN ridiculousness.

Agree with your adult child about your behavior and giggle at it.

And when you do this, you may just find the momentum shifting ...

For, as the great German theologian Karl Barth said:

"Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God."

Amen, Karl Barth, amen.

The perfect storm ...

I have been thinking lately about why it is often so hard for adult kids and their parents to be kind to each other.

Of course if we have not practiced kindness during the early years of family life, it is hard to all of a sudden become kind. It can be done, of course, but is much more difficult than starting the whole deal off with kindness as a central focus.

But for families who generally lean toward kindness, we often find ourselves shocked at the newfound kindness deficit which appears as our kids grow up and move out.

I wonder if this lack of kindness has to do with the fact that middle-aged parents and young adult kids are going through intense life stages simultaneously.

In my own life, I am noticing this ...

My adult kids are all in their 20's. They are all either in, or about to be in, graduate school programs. They are figuring lots of important things out - what they want to do with their lives, who they want to spend their lives with, where they want to live, what they want their lives to look like, etc. This stuff is not easy. It is one of the most stressful stages of human development.

My husband and I are in a totally different stage of life. We are happy with each other, happy with our work, settled in where and how we live. However, we are walking alongside our own aging parents, while aging ourselves. This is causing both of us to consider our own mortality; face the fact that there are not lots and lots of decades left for us to pursue our dreams, chase our goals, rediscover ourselves. We are confronting the brevity of life. This ain't for sissies either.

And, we are caring for our parents who are all in various stages of healthy aging. No matter how "healthy" aging is, though, we all know where and how it ends, right?

These simultaneously occurring stressful stages of life often "pile on" in family life.

The various parties, using much of their energy to navigate their own season of life, often don't consider what the other parties are facing - what unique stressors they are confronting - and this can create a perfect storm of short fuses and an empathy drought.

Hard stuff. Easy to be unkind.

But, when I snap at my mom. Or my son snaps at my husband. Or I feel hurt when one of my kids isn't kind in the moment, it might help for each one of us to look the other in the eye, consider the stage of life they are in, the battle the other is fighting, drop the fists and reach out our arms for a hug.

This perfect storm of family developmental stages is intense. Don't forget you are all in this together. 

Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

And in a harsh world ...

"I become more and more certain, as the years go by, that wherever friendship is destroyed, 

or homes are broken,

or precious ties are severed,

there is a failure of imagination.

Someone is too intent on justifying himself, or herself, never venturing out to imagine the way things seem to the other person.

Imagination is shut off and sympathy dies.

If we know what it is that makes other people speak or act as they do, 

if we knew it vividly by carefully imagining all that may lie behind it, we might not quarrel.

We might understand.

Often we could heal the wounds.

But even where that is not possible - even where fuller understanding only leaves us rather sad and helpless, it would still give us the power to be kind - to act yes, but still to be kind - to go on being kind.

And in a harsh world, God knows that even that is something - to go on being kind.

(A. Powell Davies, 1902 - 1957)

If you want to be holy ...

Back to the Top 10 List for Parents of Adult kids ...

#3 on my list was Be Kind.

There is so much that could be written about kindness.

And it is a mystery to me why it is often so hard to be kind to those who are closest to us.

Here is a little sentence I carry around in my head from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor who writes like a dream.

He wrote:

"If you want to be holy, be kind."

The end.