Saturday, December 9, 2017

I just returned from a wonderful visit to see my brother and his family in Charlotte, NC.

While I was there I was able to reconnect with Robin and Ellie, my best friends from college. It had been 25 years since I’d seen Robin, but Ellie and I have kept in touch.

Ellie’s husband Johan, was recently a victim of downsizing. He was elated because it freed him to pursue his own dreams. Ellie went kicking and screaming. She went from living a life of leisure in Connecticut to learning how to drive a fork lift for Johan’s bourgeoning business in Charlotte.

While leaving Costco, something blew off Ellie’s cart and a kind woman ran to retrieve it. And who might that kind woman be? Robin. Definitely a God thing! They were meant to be reunited.

Ellie insisted on picking me up from the airport because it would give us more time to visit.

I told her about my recent trip to Santiago with Dane. She knows I’m a ditz and always appreciates my stories.

When I was checking out of our hotel, the man at the desk asked me, “Habla Ingles?”

“No habla Ingles.” I stupidly answer. Of course I know what he’s asking. It’s just me being ditzy. 

Looking rather incredulous, he asks me again. 

“No habla Ingles.” I repeat a little more firmly.

“Habla Espanol?” 
“No habla Espanol.”

At this point, he’s not sure where to go and finally asks, “Americano?”

The second night I’m in Charlotte, we all meet for dinner and we talk about some of my most embarrassing moments. 

Like the time I went to class with a big curler in my hair. All the second glances I was getting served to puff up my ego a bit. 

Like the time I hit the dirt when a giant leaf came dive-bombing towards my head. I watched “The Birds” when I was five years old and have been terrified of them ever since. The shadow of that leaf looked exactly like a big bird.

Most embarrassing of all was the time I got caught eating Robin’s food. Robin is 5’7” and weighed 98 pounds. I am 5’8” and weighed 150 pounds.

Robin always had snacks in our room. Since I was forever trying to lose a few, I never had snacks, but it didn't keep me from sneakily munching on hers. 

One day I came into our room and found Robin peering into what she thought was a toy surprise from her cereal box, possibly a little magnifying glass. 

She had accused me earlier of eating her "Donkey Kong" cereal, which I flatly denied. 

When I walked in and saw her with her “toy,” I was thrilled she’d found the missing glass piece from my watch. 


Not only had I been snacking on her cereal but I had pawed through it so much that the face of my watch had come off in the box. How gross, how mortifying. 

My beloved sister-in-law, Shannon, appreciates my stories just as much as my college friends. I can’t express how thankful I am that my job allows me to fly in for a quick visit and laugh with such abandon, because laughter really is the best medicine.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

One of the greatest blessings in my life was the special bond I shared with my mom.

My older brother used to tell me I couldn't even formulate an opinion without consulting her first. He would ask me something simple—like, what was my favorite color? I'd ask my mom what her favorite color was. “Green,”  she'd answer. 

“Green,” I'd tell Jeff.

 It exasperated him. "Why can't you come up with anything on your own?” 

"That is what I came up with on my own!" I'd answer indignantly and turn to my mom, “Huh Mumma?”

My life became a series of “Huh Mumma’s?” I never stopped seeking her affirmation.

Today is Brett’s 15th birthday. His first birthday without my mom. I know if she was here, we would rehash some of the funny stories, ruminate about the positive impact “The Baby” has had on our lives. She never once called him Brett, always The Baby.

It was only because of a heart-wrenching chain of losses that my mom was living with us when Brett was born. Oh, how thankful I was to have her by my side every day! 

All those days of carefully measuring and re-measuring Brett’s ever growing head, not wanting to believe the horrifying numbers. The days and nights of trying to get him to drink one ounce of formula on the hour, every hour. The seemingly impossible job of trying to keep the oxygen cannula lined up with his tiny nostrils.

When we brought Brett home they provided us with a "mother tank" of oxygen that had a 50 foot long cord allowing us to walk around the house with him. Anytime we'd pick him up we'd pull on the cord several times, ensuring we had enough slack to keep the cord from pulling against his face. 

Several days after he was no longer on the oxygen, I watched my mom pick him up and then "pull" on an imaginary oxygen cord. It was hilarious to watch because I found myself doing the same thing. We both had gotten so used to the cord that long after it was gone we were still “pulling” air. It was hysterical. I’m sure if I were to see her today, I could reenact it and we’d laugh just as hard now as we did then. 

The Baby, who is fifteen years old today, is still like a baby—a giant, content baby. 

Today, I’m thanking God for allowing my mom to be here in Michigan…from the day Brett took his first breath fifteen years ago to the day she took her last. 

Our awesome God knew just what I needed…”Huh Mumma?”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

”We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirement of life, when all we really need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” I jotted that down without noting who said it, but apparently it resonated with me. Winston Churchill described success as "going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm." I love it.

I was reminded of that joke about the optimist and pessimist. Some psychologists decided to perform an experiment on two little boys, one an eternal optimist, the other a perpetual pessimist. They locked the pessimist in a room with every thing a boy could ever dream of owning. There was a merry-go-round, an umpteen amount of popular video games, a live pony and all sorts of other toys to charm the daylights out of any little boy. Surprisingly, when they came to check on him in a hour, they found his dreary little self just sitting in a corner.

They were incredulous. ”Why are you just sitting there??? Why aren't you playing with all the fun things we've provided for you?"

He answered dejectedly, "If I tried to ride the pony it would probably buck me off, the merry-go-round would make me dizzy and the video games are too violent..."

They left him moping in the corner and went to check on the optimist. They had locked this little boy in a room full of nothing but manure. When they came to check on him, he appeared to be having the time of his life! He was diving in out of the manure, happily flinging it about—generally just having a walloping good time.

Again, they were absolutely incredulous. ”What are you doing??? How could you be having so much fun?”

The happy little lad answered joyously, "I figured with all this manure, there had to be a pony in here somewhere!"

Talk about optimistic enthusiasm! I do believe we need to be enthusiastic about something, and as Christians we have something far greater than the prospect of a live pony to make all the "crap" worth wading through. We have the assurance of eternal life. We know despite what wretches we are, we are loved unconditionally. We have God's word to direct, comfort and empower us. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are steady sources of love, encouragement and prayer. 

Yet I still have days when all I see is the manure. Days when I feel far from God, when I feel hopeless and inadequate. Days when I act just like that wretched little pessimist—moping around because I've let all the sad stuff blind me to all the good stuff.

Let's face it, crap happens. In so many ways, losing my mom has been the crappiest thing that's ever happened to me. She was the epitome of optimistic enthusiasm, and it was contagious, and I will never stop missing it—but I’m also never going to stop striving to be like her, hoping one day my attitude will lift others up the way she could always lift mine up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One of the things I’m missing the most about my mom is hearing her laugh. Talk about laughing with abandon! I’ve never met a person who laughed as easily as she did. 

Every time I think about the following story, it makes me laugh.

I often complain about the state of our public schools. Horrified that students who can’t even write a complete sentence are getting diplomas. It’s certainly not doing the students any favors.

But do I actually do anything about it? Do I even have any idea who sits on our school board? No. Apparently I’d rather sit in my warm, dry home and belly ache about it.

Not so with my friend Stacey. She does the grunt work. She makes it her business to learn everything about the people running for seats on our board of education. Her efforts convicted me I needed to vote. I asked for a cheat sheet so I’d be sure to vote for those who uphold the same values I hold so dearly.

I gave my mom the same cheat sheet, and begged her to vote as well. It was five years ago and her illness had already progressed to the point where it was a real feat for her to go anywhere. But, by golly, she did it.

The cheat sheet turned out to be useless. Though she lived in Canton township, it was Van Buren schools.

She said when she entered the room it was completely empty save for the poll watchers. They were jubilant to see her! Turned out she was the only voter who showed up that day, but she was living proof that there were still people out there who cared.

“But, you didn’t actually vote did you?”

“Of course I did,“ she replied. ”I couldn't possibly disappoint those people after the overly warm reception they gave me.”

“Well, who in the world to you vote for?”

“I have no idea, I just picked some names I liked and voted for them.”

“Mom! For all you know you could have voted in a child molester!” 

The idea that my mom (at my urging) may have been the sole determinant of who is sitting on the board of education in Van Buren township struck us as so funny we laughed until we cried.

Oh, my goodness, did I ever love laughing with her. 

Yet another attribute I’m striving to emulate—to laugh easily and often. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

I’ve always adored my mom, adored everything about her. Her humor, her love, her affection, her wisdom, her faith, her eternal optimism and boundless gratitude.

She’s been completely homebound for at least the last three years. But there was never any mention of having cabin fever or bemoaning the fact she spent so much time alone. I can't conceive of her complaining about anything.  

I did talk to her everyday and saw her most days. If I called and she didn’t answer, it would take all of about 15 minutes before I’d start panicking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent Bob or Loretta rushing over to check on her, only to find out she’d just had to use the bathroom.

She knew every boring little detail of my life. I’d tell her where I was flying and she’d remember every leg of my trip. I remember calling her once and her answering, “You’re on that long sit in Salt Lake aren’t you? If I were you, I’d tell Delta those long sits are totally unacceptable.” 

“Yep, mom. I think that’s been passed along.” 

But oh, how thankful I am for the job I love (long sits and all), because it has allowed me and the kids so much time with my family… regardless of where they lived. 

The sad reality is some of my mom’s pain was my gain. A year or so after losing my dad, she came to live with me and got a job with United Airlines. She hated that job with a passion, but because she never complained about it, I never knew how much she hated it. And then 9/11 happened--and they let her go. I expressed my sympathy.

“Are you kidding me?” she answered, “if I knew how, I would have been jumping up and clicking my heels together all the way to the car.” 

She moved back to Florida after losing that job. No doubt God’s hand was in it because Craig needed her. But when when God took Craig home in 2002, she came back to live with me again and Brett was born just four months later. 

Those first few months of Brett’s life were awful but she was right there beside me…helping care for him, encouraging me, and never losing her sense of humor. Looking back there was seemingly so little to laugh about, but because my mom found so much humor in things, we’ve always laughed a lot, regardless of our circumstances. 

She made her own fun. She always got a kick out of teasing the kids. After picking up Caitlin from school they’d stop by the house, because my germaphobic Caitlin wouldn’t suck her thumb until she’d washed her hands. 

There were some wretched muskrats in the swampy area behind our house. Caitlin left the door open while she dashed in to wash her hands and when she came out, my mom, sounding as horrified as she could, said, “Oh honey! You left the door open and a muskrat ran into the house.” Caitlin let out a blood curdling scream and my mom would laugh about it to this very day.  

She took on the job of driving Dane to school. Just like me, Dane isn't a morning person. Neither of us want to be talked to or talk. Of course, knowing this made my mom talk incessantly. One morning she asked him what time school started. The clock in the car said 7:28. Dane answered 7:30. She stomped on the gas pedal, driving as fast as the car would go. When the clock flipped to 7:30, she let off the gas. “Shoot! You can’t say I didn’t try.”

Another time she was driving him she said, “I was thinking today we could shoot up to Michigan Avenue, hop on 275 to M14, take M14 and then get off at Sheldon…what’d ya think?” Dane answered, “To go where?”

She lived in three of our houses. Always in the basement. Not a nice finished basement, mind you, but rather a dusty, spider filled, cement floored basement. My cousin Cass came to see us one day and when her little daughter Emma, who was only about four at the time, saw my mom’s bed downstairs she came up to me with her serious little face and asked, “Can’t Aunt Judy live in the nice part of the house?”

I told Caitlin once I didn’t want to live without Gramma. She said it was one of the meanest things I’ve ever said. I tried to re-phrase it, “I’d prefer not to live on this earth without her. My hope is that Jesus will return and I won’t have to.”

How could I bear not talking to her everyday, discussing every topic under the sun, laughing with her, getting her wise advice on everything?  How could I bear not having someone who loved me unconditionally and consistently reminded me this life is but a blip and how we’d only know in Heaven how much GOOD Brett’s life is bringing to this earth? She focused on the things she had to be grateful for more than anyone I knew, and encouraged me to do the same. 

Just the other day she was saying how many years she prayed she’d live long enough to see Caitlin married to a man who adored her. And God answered that prayer. But she didn't think she'd live to see her first grandchild.
I never wanted her to think like that, never wanted to believe her life would end before Jesus returned.
I know God planned the perfect timing of my grandbaby’s arrival. When we celebrated his impending birth last weekend, Dawn Baker said a sweet prayer, quoting Psalm 139.

When I got home, I picked up my Bible and turned to the psalm, it’s easy to find because I have Brett’s ultrasound picture tucked within it’s pages. Next to “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” I wrote Brett's name. A few verses later are these words, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious are Your thoughts, O God! How vast the sum of them?” In the margin next to these verses, I’d written, “How often do I only yearn to hear Mom’s thoughts? Teach me God, how to hear Your thoughts.” 

I’ll never stop longing to hear her affirming and encouraging words, or being able to relate funny stories to her. She always got such a kick out of my stories. I know the void she left will never be filled.

One of my biggest fears was her dying alone. Not only did she not die alone, but both of my siblings were in town and we were ALL there with her. It was truly a miracle. We couldn’t hope for anything more than for her to go painlessly and peacefully into the arms of her Savior and be reunited with my dad, my brother, her sister and brother, her parents and many others. I will choose to focus on God’s mercy and grace in letting her leave us just the way she’d always prayed she would.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

When I turned 50 several years ago, my sister had her boys dutifully come to the phone and wish me a happy birthday. After my oldest nephew’s “Happy Birthday, Aunt Laurie,” there was a small silence. I think he felt compelled to add something more and finally surmised that my life was "probably more than half over." He obviously had a grasp on probabilities. It cracked me up. Bless his heart.

Today is my brother Craig's birthday. It’s hard to fathom he’s been gone more than fifteen years. Oh, how he is missed! Especially his humor and eternal optimism.

One of my sweetest memories is of us lying on a hillside, watching for Jesus. We were probably only about six and eight. We'd just watched a film at church about the Rapture. The movie scared the daylights out of most of us, worried sick our prayer of salvation might not have "taken" and we'd be left behind to experience horrors beyond description.

It certainly didn't scare Craig. He was thrilled to know Jesus was going to return ANY day, possibly that very day. He convinced me to go outside and watch for Him—maybe we could be the first ones to spot Him in the sky.

Craig never stopped longing for Christ's return. He lived his life knowing "that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us WITH we do not lose heart...though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen. For was is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:14-18)

 It IS a sobering reality that my life is "probably more than half over," but I don't lose heart, I know I will see Craig again, and I know our eternal glory will far surpass any of this world's heartache.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I had a trip last week I thought was going to be a complete bonanza. All we had to do was ferry an airplane (no passengers) from Detroit to Quebec City, pick up a group of people, fly them to Boston and then ferry the aircraft back to Detroit. Does it get any easier than that?

I packed lots of reading material and was prepared to enjoy my easy day. It was not enjoyable, at all.

Turns out a fancy-schmancy Spanish insurance company had chartered a couple of our 747's for their little jaunt from Quebec City to Boston and had specifically requested to have Spanish-speaking only flight attendants. Uh-oh. No hablo espanol. We did have four flight attendants who spoke Spanish, so it should still be okay. It's a 52 minute flight from Quebec City to Boston, for crying out loud. How hard could it be to pass out Pepsi's and snack boxes?

I vowed to be the happiest, most eager to please flight attendant they'd ever laid eyes on and it wouldn't matter a lick that I didn't speak Spanish. They were a happy bunch and the boarding seemed to be going seamlessly. I was working in the back, nodding and grinning and trying to be as helpful as possible.

All the announcements were being made in Spanish, so I had no idea a man in the upper deck had somehow managed to crack his head open and they had subsequently paged for a doctor.

A passenger came up to me and in halting English told me she was a doctor. I wasn't sure how to respond. Well...bully for you... so is my brother-in-law? I just nodded, trying to looked suitably impressed. She didn't appear to appreciate my response to her little bit of braggadocio and started pointing at the ceiling until I finally understood she was saying that "they" had paged for a doctor. They did??

I led her to one of the Spanish speaking flight attendants who told her they'd already gotten a doctor to bind up the wounds of the klutzy Spaniard upstairs.

Shortly after I got that cleared up some passengers came to me to help them find their seats. Surely, I could handle this one. I took their boarding passes and motioned for them to follow me. Their seats were in row 76. I led them back and back and back and... discovered the rows ended at 68. Hmmmm...this was a toughie. I motioned for them to take some empty seats until I could sort it out. They weren't understanding me, so again, I hailed one of the Spanish speaking flight attendants and after he explained the problem to them, they looked at me and laughed.

The flight attend added some comments of his own and they looked at me and laughed even more heartily. It was very unsettling. It's no fun standing there like a stooge being mocked at in another language. Hey! I wanted to say, don't you think I might be able to figure out what "muy estupido" means?

It was actually the very first time I'd ever been on a 747 so I had no idea that rows in the 70's were in the upper deck. What an idiotic way to do it...who had thought up such an illogical way of numbering the rows anyway? That was the one who was muy estupido...not me

I asked the spanish speaking flight attendant what they were finding so funny and he said they were a little incredulous that a flight attendant didn't know how many rows there were but, no problemo, he had cleverly turned it into a big joke. Har-dee-har-har. Oh, well. Live and learn. I guess I should be happy I gave those people such a big laugh--a little unexpected bonus thrown in for them, free of charge.

As I started making my way through the cabin and closing bins I noticed a girl crying in an exit row. The man next to her was unsuccessfully trying to soothe her. It was evolving into all out wailing but I didn't want to stare. Maybe a boyfriend had just broken up with her or something...they're a passionate people, right? I certainly didn't want to risk saying anything muy estupido again.

I continued closing bins and by the time I circled back there was major drama going on with the weeping girl at the exit row. When a flight attendant had attempted to brief her about her exit seating duties, he wisely determined the shrieking wasn't going to cut it for the "willing and able to assist in an emergency" response we require. We would have to move her to another seat.

The girl was incapable of moving, apparently she was having a full-blown panic attack. Yet another page for a doctor, oxygen bottles brought out, paper bags provided for breathing into---the whole nine yards. Nothing seemed to be working to calm her down.

One of her traveling companions commented that they go through this every leg. Every leg??? It seemed like they would have grown tired of these antics and sent her packing back to Spain a long time ago. They finally had to physically lift her out of her seat, one lifting her torso, the other her legs and tote her back to a row of empty seats. They laid her down, belted her in while one stroked her head and the other her feet until she finally calmed down. Phew!

Finally, we were able to take off. The service required passing out hot towels, snack boxes and a beverage. There were six of us serving close to 300 people in the back and the 52 minute flight only allowed us to serve about half the people before we had to quickly stow everything and prepare for landing. How embarrassing. The whole "easy" day was a fiasco from start to finish.

I was telling Caitlin about it and asked her if she'd brushed up on her Spanish during her stint at an orphanage in El Salvador. She said she had boned up on only two phrases: "sientate por favor!" (please sit down!) and "quieres pow pow?" (do you want a spanking?). Darn! I could have used those phrases! I could have told the passengers to please sit down and I could have asked that girl if she wanted a spanking. It would have been perfect. Oh well. Maybe next time---though I'm kind of hoping there won't be a next time.