On starting over … at 60!

Last summer was probably THE best summer ever. It started with Ryan and Starr’s wedding week with my entire family at an Airbnb for a long weekend and such a great celebration. It ended with one of my sisters and I spending a weekend in Seattle and then a Cruise to Alaska, then a weekend in Santa Fe with my best friend and my other sister, with great food, delightful ‘desserts’ and the Santa Fe Opera. And while on that road trip, with my best friend, I discovered a song that felt like my life anthem. It would also be my last summer off.

But then I came home and got COVID, not a bad case but I missed the first week of school – not a good start to the school year,. Then in September a sweet friend who struggled with depression committed suicide, such a devastating blow. Then I went to my first ballet with my dear old lady friends and that very night our dear friend Pat Harris died. Pat’s death was great news for her, she was ready to go, she sat on a park bench with her dog on a beautiful fall evening and just died, but a devastating blow to me. I hadn’t known Pat all that long. I met her in my GriefShare class when her husband died in 2018, but she completely rocked my world. She was fierce and strong, opinionated and confident and pushed me to be a better person, oh how she pushed me! I fell in love with that old lady and she deeply impacted me. I tear up even now writing these words! She spoke the truth, loved the Lord, got so excited about every little thing, I think she enjoyed the kids wedding more than even me and she left a giant hole in my life. Then in November a sweet co-worker lost her husband to Lewy Body Dementia. Then on Christmas Day we lost a another co-worker after a long battle with cancer. And work was hard, I wasn’t building the rapport with my young students like I had in the past, I had more kids failing classes then I ever had before and felt like I spent most of my day doing crowd control. So many of my work friends were struggling with school as well. It was a h-a-r-d year, such a hard year I almost forgot that it followed the best summer ever. It was a very dark time right on the heels of the best of times. This wasn’t the only hard school year I’ve had. In 2008 my dad died on August 26th and we missed the first of school. In 2016 my husband was hospitalized and died September 9, on the day were to be introduced as Senior Parents at the Homecoming Football game. We’ve had rough starts, really rough starts, but his year, it just kept coming!

Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. This is what determines the quality of the life we’ve lived-not whether we’ve been rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or suffering. What determines our quality of life is how we relate to these realities, what kind of meaning we give them, what kind of attitude we cling to about them, what state of mind we allow them to trigger.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I drove by this garage door on my way to pick up Maggie one morning – no it’s not my actual garage-but I couldn’t help but think I’ve felt like this garage door for some time. My life too felt completely off track and worse yet, I kept pushing that darn button just knowing I could get it to work one more time!

So after 19 years of feeling complacent with being where I believed God had placed me I found myself, miserable, feeling like a failure, feeling completely out of place. I believed I had two choices – retire or start over. I know so many people who have a hard time finding a job, I felt it utterly arrogant to just quit mine, so I sat down with the boys and talked about where I found myself. We decided to pray about it and see what my options were. So for the first time in 25 years, I wrote a resume, it had been so long I didn’t even have one to dust off and started looking to see what my options were. I applied for two jobs, interviewed for both, was offered one and decided it must be time to move. In the span of about a month, I hatched the idea, and gave my two weeks notice and started a new job on May 1st.

I haven’t had a real job in 23 years. Twenty-three years ago my husband and I came to the conclusion that what our family needed was a wife and mother – and I got that job, even though I surely was not the best candid for the position. I wasn’t all together thrilled with the prospect because I had whole heartedly bought the lie from the pit of hell that women can have it all, career, family and everyone lived happily ever after. Then we had Paxton who couldn’t stay well, whose Pediatrician threatened to drop him as a patient if I didn’t get him out of day care and we lived 16 hours from family and both had very demanding jobs. Then Russell meets a guy on the phone who mentions he lives in Austin, loves to ski, just got divorced, hates Texas and would give anything to live in Utah. Russell says, “Really, I’d love to move to Texas!” and they propose a job swap to their boss, who goes for it with one caveat – he wants us in Temple not Austin. So I quit a great job moved 20 hours away and became a wife and mom. It wasn’t an easy transition but once I realized that all three boys, really all four of us thrived with us having a wife and mother, I adjusted to a much slower pace.

I realize now 23 years later, I never got a job that I was really any good at. I probably should have been fired from all of them, especially the wife and mother one, but I was raised to have a ‘suck up and deal with it’ attitude and every time I’ve faced a difficult challenge, I just put my head down and worked through it. I always thought that that need to just plow through and make it work was something I would outgrow, I’d somehow reach a point where life got easier – I guess I’m still not there yet!

…and then Paxton was about to start Kindergarten and I began to think about going back to work, but instead went to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and while introducing myself to a friend of friend, my friend yells across Chuck E. Cheese – “You would work? I have a grant in my classroom for someone to work with a couple of students and I think you’d be great.” It was perfect, I worked while the kids were in school, I was off while they were off and I earned enough to pay their private school tuition. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing but I grew along with the kids and the job grew and kids grew and life changed and I was still there working with kids 19 years later. But, I reached a point where I wasn’t meeting the kids needs. For the first time I was working with kids that were failing classes, I was no longer filling a gap, I was drowning with them.

Actual photo of me at my new job!!

So I dug deep into my background and went back to finance. I have not had a real job 23 years! I’ve learned so many new things I never dreamt I was capable of. My new co-workers have been so patient and kind to this new old lady! And I’m learning and growing at a point where I was afraid it was too late. I was tempted to be complacent and coast to the finish line, very tempted, but I chose instead to step out in faith. I chose to believe that even at 60 years of age, I still have something to offer to the world. I’m not sure my new co-workers have the same confidence, but I am learning new things and hopefully contributing! It hasn’t necessarily been pretty but I also haven’t crashed the system either! So far all my mistakes have been fixable, I’m even starting to catch some of my own mistakes!

I know a lot of people aren’t Jane Fonda fans, but I loved this Ted Talk she did about aging. She says that on average we are living 34 years longer than our grandparents which amounts to a whole other life, how do we face it? She refers to this as our third act and a time when we “finish up finishing ourselves”

My third act began with a shocking tragedy, the loss of my spouse. At 54 I was hurled into a whole new world, but while it looks nothing like I envisioned, it’s not awful, it’s not even totally ugly. But six years in I’m still feeling my way through. I still lack a clear vision of the future. I still can easily be overwhelmed by fear. But as Ben Rector wrote, I’m alive, and baby I’m thriving and I AM living my best life! My grandmother lived to be 102, my mother turns 90 this year, I really could have 34 years left or 34 minutes, the women in my finally seem to live forever, but what ever the time left, I’m not resting on my laurels. I’m not settling for less. I’m sucking it up and making the best of it!

A toast to Ryan and Starr

I am both so privildged and overwhelmed to be the only parent here tonight. I can’t let this opportunity pass without acknowledging that this moment would not be possible, Ryan, without your dad who would have loved ever moment of this whole entire year. It is because of his deep love, devotion, hard work and constant provision for us that any of this is even possible.

Ryan, your dad would have been so giddy happy today that I’m not sure any of us could have stood it! I want you remember one of the many times you and I butted heads and dad said something to you like , “But that’s the love of my life you’re talking about.” I hope that you are beginning to understand that comment and will, like the example your dad sat, always treat Starr like the love of your life.

Starr, I didn’t get to meet your grandparents that raised you, but I don’t have to know them to know how very happy they are for you today. We don’t get to pick the family we’re born into and you may not have had a fairy tale beginning, but we waited a very long time for you, we’ve prayed for you for many, many years, so long that when Ryan was little it creeped him out when I prayed for his wife. but I always knew you were out there!

I pray your life verse will be 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” And trust me – there will be lots of sins that need to be covered. As an old woman I can tell you that the beginning of your love story was beautiful and the end will be tragic and terrible because all stories do end. But what really matters is what you do with what’s in between, the life you build together and the impact that you have on those around you. It’s up to you to make the world a better place by creating a beautiful family whether that’s a family of 2 or 20 your family is foundational to society and such a joy to get to be a part of.

I Love you both more than words could ever explain.

Dear August, I’m not a fan

My car has a feature where you can change the rearview mirror from an actual mirror to a camera view from the rear of the vehicle. When I first used it, it gave me a headache. It was as if my brain knew I should have been seeing a reflection and this was just not right. I’ve adapted and really love how great the view is behind the car, but I never see myself in the rearview mirror, a fact that I like, I don’t really want to look at me anyway, but others might not appreciate as I have no idea how bad my hair may look or if there is a piece of spinach in my teeth. I also can’t see passengers or cargo in the back of my vehicle which is beneficial to paying attention to the road, but adds to my oblivity.

This time of year is hard for me. August 2008 my dad, who was undergoing chemotherapy for Lymphoma, basically got sick with a cold that spiraled out of control killing him on August 26th. Strangely I had a very intuitive 13 year old that announced on the 25th we needed to go be with him. He died a few hours after we arrived. August 26th has always been this strange day that lingered between my mother’s birthday on the 25th and mine the 27th, it was just a day between two celebrations, now its a sad anniversary of a tragic event in our lives. I don’t know when I began to dislike my birthday. I remember a picture from 13th birthday in a cute pinafore dress my mother made, holding a store bought cake (store bought was a huge deal in my childhood, my mom could make EVERYTHING!) with a tiny plastic record player. I remember being excited to turn 30, because I was so excited to be a real adult, no longer looked at as, “oh she’s just a twenty-something.” I remembered that everyone said turning 50 was such a hard thing, so the boys and I spent the 50 days before my 50th birthday doing 50 random acts of kindness, it was so much fun!

But at some point I’ve grown to loathe being the center of attention. August 27, 2008 towers in my memory of what a horrible day to celebrate a birthday, there was in fact no celebration whatsoever that year, not really an acknowledgment of it all. We were all with mom at Great Wolf Lodge when dad was home sick and mom left early because she knew if he didn’t got to church it was serious. By my birthday later that month we would spend the day making funeral arrangements and writing dad’s obituary. The memory of writing dad’s obituary on my birthday has rather drowned out any good memory I have of actually having a “happy” birthday.

I left Odessa after dad’s funeral, and never really wanted to go back. I wanted to walk away from it all and I pretty much did. I had a busy life with a 7th grader and 4th grader and a traveling husband. If I’m honest with myself, my husband became everything my dad had been to me and more. I was married to my best friend, you hear that all the time and it seems clichĂ© but he really was. He was smart, creative and a great dad to our kids. I easily focused on the now. Fast forward to 2016. I’m working two jobs focused on paying for college and private school while still saving for retirement and then Russell drives home on July 27th sick. I would discover later that his fever was so bad he had the heat on in his van, in Texas, in July! He took my car to the dealership because of some problem I can’t even remember now, went to the doctor and never really got out of bed again. September 9th he was dead, his body ravaged with infection that would eventually cause his heart to fail. I arrived in the hospital in the wee hours of the morning to find paramedics had taken over CPR on a clearly dead Russell. Suddenly the loss of dad eight years earlier was compounded by the loss of the person who completely filled that void in my life.

It’s not that I have no experience with death, or loss. My grandfather died in 1981, his dad in 1983, my dad in 2008, my grandmother in 2009,my brother-in-law in 2010, his mother in 2012. It’s not that any of those losses were insignificant. It’s just that each of them I faced with him, I got through them with him, I leaned on him. Then he’s gone and I feel I have no person left in which to lean on now. Now I am the one on whom others lean, and I feel very, very, weak and inadequate.

It’s now approaching five years since Russell died. Looking back is still painful and raw. I find myself dreading the end of summer because of the memories that haunt me so. I find my self tender, sensitive and easily emotional. It still doesn’t feel real. I’ve found myself thinking was it really September 9th? Do I have the date right? All a vain attempt of my mind to still not believe that it is real, that this is my story.

The thing about it is … my life is good, because God is good. He’s written a story that has taken turns I never wanted but also traveled roads I never would have had the courage to choose myself. Five years later, I’m growing older, my life is full and wonderful in so many ways, yet, I still desperately want to share my life, not with just someone, with THE one I pledged to love until death do us part. Yet I’m not dead. And that is not an accident. I am discovering day by day something God has in store for me. I’ve learned that while that relationship was vital, it is/was not essential. What is essential is that I have faith to face another day, no matter what that brings. God has numbered my days and each one counts, whether I want it to or not. Because HE lives, truly I can face tomorrow. I wish I didn’t know that he’s been gone 1,825 days. I wish he could meet our new daughter, I wish he could walk her down the isle to marry our son, because she doesn’t have a dad anymore either. I wish he could see how hard Paxton is working to get the education he needs to be successful and what a wonderful man he has become. I wish I could tell him about how hard and wonderful the last year has been for Ryan and how after some really, really dark days, he is coming into his own. I wish I could type theses words without crying. I know wrapped up in all this is that I have both had and lost the best thing that ever happened to me because the God who sustains me orchestrated the plan and gives me the strength to carry on, joy to drown out the sorrow, health and provision to continue to serve him and the will to continue to not only put one foot in front of another but joyfully serve Him everyday, especially when it’s hard. I am able to look at the big picture and say, “I am grateful.”

Happy New Year!!

Today I start my first Pfysical New Year. I had the revelation back in April and in case you wondered, these things I write really come from my heart and impact my life! I haven’t forgotten about the new word I made up nor the intentions behind.

I spent the first part of June just trying to recover from the pandemic, the school year, the trials of the last year, in a cocoon of sort, it was much needed respite. Then I emerged determined to be a new creation rather than the tired old slug that drug herself into that cocoon. Determined that even in this late season of my life – I can still fly. We actually make the decision to fly or die everyday, somedays the choice is more clear than others.

Reflecting on Half A of 2021: Even though this was Half A of the year, I would certainly not rate it an A. We faced some terrible, awful, horrible, bad things, like continuation of cancellations, quarantines and restrictions from stinking COVID, five days below zero with no electricity, no heat, no school, the abrupt tragic end to Ryan’s career dreams, the passing of what should have been our 35th Wedding Anniversary (which is still way more BITTER than sweet) and certainly last but not least Grandma Nina fell and broke her hip in June. BUT Paxton graduated with his Cyber Security degree in April, we got to finish out the school year, in-person, Ryan got engaged in May (then actually married on June 1st at the courthouse, but they are still planning a wedding for next year!), I got to witness their first vows, I got to go with my new daughter to select a wedding dress. I’m so grateful for these crazy kids in my life that took over the month of June with love and new and madness when I would have wanted to just focus on what was lost! I restarted in-person GriefShare and have the sweetest group of people in my summer class, I’ve returned to in-person church with my dear old lady friends (ironically it’s the oldest of our group is the only one who doesn’t embrace our “old lady” moniker, one even likes to refer to us as hell’s grannies, but how do we have hell’s grannie’s Bible study?!?!) and have had lots of lunch dates with sweet friends since schools been out.

Reflecting on June 2021: My scripture theme for June was Friendship. It’s funny how you’d think by the time you’ve been on the planet almost 59 years you’d surely know all there is to know about friendship. I struggle with social media. We have a strong love/hate relationship. I guess it comes from my own struggle to put myself out there so I am therefore uncomfortable with others putting themselves out there. I struggle with this “friending” concept. How do you decide to “friend” someone or “unfriend” accept a “friend request” or ignore it? Am I defined by how many friends I have? Just because our paths crossed briefly should we forever voyeuristically “follow” each other?

I learned from scripture writing that it is a misconception that we get to choose our friends. Scripture tells me that I am to love others, sacrificially even, not just those that are easy to love, that love me back, or I feel deserve love. My take-aways were: we need each other, we need to let things go, we need to build each other up, we need to pray for each other, we need to be kind to others, we don’t need words, we shouldn’t take our friends for granted, we are called to love, Love, LOve, LOVe, LOVE, everything we do for others is for His glory, really everyone should be treated as my friend and who I choose to walk with really matters! I became aware that I have a very selfish view of friendship. I thought I get to pick my friends and it’s okay if that group is really small. But I need to develop a broader since of friendship that is much more like kinship which is a sharing of characteristics or origins. I need to be more friendly, I need to be more open to the friendship of others, I need to quit over thinking motives and motivations and just love and accept others. I need to just focus on all the times I commanded to love others and let the rest of it go. Not be a door mat, which I won’t be because I’m loving others for the glory of God not selfish gain.

Looking forward to Half B of 2021: My pfysical resolution is to focus more on the SWEET than the bitter. I know life will be bittersweet, but I get to choose what I focus on. I can let the bitter make the sweet so much more enjoyable and by focusing on loving others and building others up, I’m choosing to spend more time in the sweet! I want to walk more steps, say yes to more opportunities and overall just focus outward more! I get to witness the relationship of my son and daughter-in-law (that is still so weird to say!) grow. I get to see them both launch new careers, a new life and see them dream big and love large. I’ll, hopefully, get to see another son take off in the world and do great things. I get to plan a wedding! I get to be mother of the bride AND the groom because they have no other. I’ve got a front row seat to a wonderful show!

The thing about it is … I know that my hang ups are my sinful nature. I know that I’m not taking my sinful nature to heaven. If all God saw was our sinful nature, none of us would get in, because none of us are worthy. So why do I let my sinful nature rule me now. I am called to love period. I’ve been ruled too long by my sinful nature, I’ve lived my life to this point too small. I know that much of that is because living large opens me up to pain and heartache, but I’m learning that the pain and heartache are wholly unavoidable so I now want to experience my pain and heartache knowing that I’ve loved others, without defining a relationship, to the best of my ability.

It’s a girl…

Not an actual baby girl but this weekend my oldest son proposed to his girlfriend! As a mom of boys, adding a girl is a big deal for us and we couldn’t be more thrilled. These crazy kids got engaged on Sunday. He had all these big plans for the perfect proposal but plan A got rained out, then plan B got rained out, so he ended up proposing in my kitchen. She said she’d have said yes if he had proposed in front of a dumpster! She asked me to go dress shopping with her and bought a wedding dress on Monday! I guess when you know, you know. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get to help pick out a wedding dress. Now all they need is a date and place – the mad search begins!

Yippee, yippie, hip, hip, hooray
You get to plan a wedding day.
A daughter you'll get,
A best friend I bet.
What a fun way to end May!
  (Poem sent to me by Amy Beck)

It’s interesting to me that the question I am asked more than any other about my son having a girlfriend (now fiancĂ©!) is, “Do you like her”? Not a criticism toward anyone who asked the question, I’ve said the same thing myself and it is a reflection on our culture. It’s not unlike when you have a death of someone close to you, you don’t realize the crazy things we say, until you’re there.

“Do you like her?”, is an interesting question. Would we ask do you like your own child? Do we get a choice? No one ever says, “How many kids do you have? Oh nice, do you like them?” My dad always gently reminded us every time we complained about our husbands, “You picked him!” and there are times in every relationship that we may not have been thrilled with that choice. But our ability to love has to outweigh the idea of liking someone. Jami Amerine frequently closes her blog: “He loves us and He likes us… and He delights in His creations.” So why don’t we delight in His creation?

My son loves this girl, of all the girls in the world he chose her, how can I not love that! She was not raised in a bubble, she’s travelled the world and of all the boys in the world, she picked him – and us to be her family.

The thing about it is … I choose to love this addition to our family just like the two that were born into it. I didn’t get to pick my kids out of a catalogue. Me and that boy I loved dreamt of having a family and these boys were the fulfillment of that dream. There have been times the dream was a little nightmarish, but we had each other. This bald headed boy has dreamed about marrying a girl someday, we’ve prayed for her for many, many years. and this is who he’s chosen. He’s not perfect, she’s not perfect and news flash – neither am I! So we continue being imperfect people trying to reflect the love we know because we first were loved, while we were yet sinners, even. Relationships are hard, marriage is not easy but counting on love, joy, heartache, hardship, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control love abounds! Welcome to our circus Starr!

I’m so grateful this Starr landed in our lives and I’m thrilled they want to share that life with this creepy old lady!