Day 15: Dear Serena

*Thanks to my friend Samantha Hogan for sharing her letter to her sister, Serena, on Day 15 of the Dear Gratitude project. Her letter reminds me to share my gratitude with the people I love TODAY.*

To my sister Serena:

Sam Hogan familyI know I should have written you this letter long before you went to be with Jesus, but sometimes, a person doesn’t realize how thankful they are until it is too late to say so.  So, today, I am writing this letter to tell you all of the things I should have told you before now.

First of all, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.  We definitely had our ups and downs in our relationship, but you taught me so much as my older sister.  Growing up, I can remember you doing some of my chores because I just wouldn’t do them.  You’d swear to me that you were going to tell mom on me when she got home, but I’m pretty sure you never did.  I specifically remember sitting down in the hallway one time and refusing to empty the bathroom trash.  You told me you’d had it and were telling on me, all the while, emptying the trash that I was in charge of doing.  Never once did I get into trouble for that.  Thank you, for saving my rear.

So many basketball games I had to cheer at from fifth grade to senior year.  You weren’t always at mom and dads, but when you were, and it was ‘french braid’ day on the squad, you never complained to get up at 6:30 in the morning to braid my hair.  I wonder now how I’d have ever gotten my hair done had you not been there. I’m sure I’d have gotten a demerit for sure!  You even tried to teach me to do it myself.  To this day, I still practice some, but can’t quite get it.  Thank you for being patient enough to try and teach me.

On my wedding day, you were there. Sitting quietly and out of the way.  I remember you were so excited to get to be there, and offered so many times to help.  Thank you for showing up for me. I know I didn’t say it that day. I have a picture of us from that day that I will forever cherish.

Sam HOgan Christmas 2011Thank you for all the Christmas presents you worked feverishly to find for me. To make sure that even if it wasn’t much, it was just the perfect thing for us.  I see now just how much love and heart went into the things you did for me.  And I am so thankful for them.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you for the dozens of telephone calls you would make to me on my birthdays.  So many times I would pick up the phone, thank you for the birthday wishes, and so many times I would ignore the calls, because I’d just talked to you an hour before.  Oh I wish I could ‘ignore’ your calls now on my birthdays! But, time passes and God had other plans for you.

So, on this day, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all those times you covered for me, for all the times you helped me out, for loving me when I probably didn’t deserve it, and for being my sister.  You truly made my world a better place to live in.

I love you,

Samantha

We plan. God laughs.

pauseOur plans for the entire weekend fell apart.

A workshop I planned on hosting had to be rescheduled due to dangerous weather conditions. I felt so disappointed. I’d been looking forward to the chance to see old friends and benefit from the shared experience, strength, and hope during the workshop. I was elated that my new friends would have the chance to meet my old friends, too. But since safety was prioritized over excitement (wisely so), we cancelled the night before. At the last minute, I found myself frantically calling people who were planning to attend, letting them know about the cancellation and that the workshop would be rescheduled. In the hubbub of cancelling plans, I forgot to cancel our restaurant reservation and later apologized profusely to the woman who called to be sure they had the right date on their calendar.

The next day, we had plans to attend my sister’s 30th birthday celebration. I made some fabulous hummus and planned on picking up some veggies to go along with it. I picked out a yellow sundress for my baby to wear and my new shirt and khaki pants for myself. I even ensured I’d have plenty of time to bathe and genuinely fix my hair–and that’s rare these days, folks.

But Sunday morning, my niece fell victim to a stomach virus, and vomit was the cancellation culprit. My little sister changed her plans and went on a mini road trip instead. I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to celebrate her birthday with her and sad that I wouldn’t get to spend time with the rest of my family, either, especially on such a beautiful day.

My mentor reminded me over the course of the weekend that, “We plan. God laughs.”

This might be the theme of my life.

I am anal to the nth degree when it comes to planning. I do not like last-minute changes. I certainly do not like guests showing up unannounced. I want to know the date, time, and menu for holiday gatherings at least one month in advance, and preferably two. When I managed the career services department at my alma mater, I created a year-long to-do list, month by month, and my former administrative assistant still uses it to this day to keep herself and others on task and working ahead to avoid scrambling and last-minute chaos.

God knows all of this about me. And He certainly is amused by my inability to give in, flex my schedule, and let go of my plans. I believe this is why He has repeatedly put me in situations that require flexibility, adaptability, and total lack of control. I have made progress. But I’m still a planner by nature.

This weekend, I learned that there are always gifts to be discovered when plans go awry.

Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend

Our daughter napping during the rain this weekend

As my husband, daughter, and I waited for any stragglers who might show up at the cancelled workshop, I brewed a pot of coffee and enjoyed a doughnut we picked up on our way. A friend showed up to post a cancellation notice on the door, handmade by his daughter (and totally adorable). Two of his beautiful and rambunctious daughters accompanied him, and they had the chance to meet our baby and hold her and squish her cheeks for a while. As I nursed my baby in the next room, I heard through the old, thin walls my husband chatting with my friend, discussing landscaping and offering help to one another. The heavy downpour sounded light, steady, and calming to me as I sat right next to a large window, watching the rain cascade onto the shrubs, sipping a hot cup of coffee as my daughter nursed her way to sleep.

Sunday, after the birthday party was cancelled, I found myself with an entire day that required no plans, no schedule, and no need to wear real clothes. So I stayed in my comfy pajamas, wrote my teaching philosophy in preparation for a job interview, and took a much-needed nap that afternoon while my daughter did the same.

Sunset on the porch with my baby

Sunset on the porch with my baby

As I watched the sunset with her on our rickety old porch later that evening, I thanked God for the changes in our plans. I had needed time to breathe, time to write, and time to rest. I just didn’t know it because I hadn’t stopped moving long enough to admit to myself how totally exhausted I felt.

I plan. And sometimes God laughs.

This weekend, I think He just shook His head, orchestrated changes, and smiled as He watched me savor my coffee, gaze at my sleeping baby, cover myself with three blankets at three o’clock in the afternoon, and admire the damp, green life light up in our yard as the sun melted over it.

 

 

Happy early birthday, Margaret!

*Special thanks to my beloved former professor and friend, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, for writing today’s post in honor of her Margaret.*

16 October 2012

Dear Bethany,

Eighteen years ago I was where you are now – expecting a baby girl.  My daughter, Margaret, was due on Halloween, but she arrived a couple of weeks early.  Though I’d practically worn out my copy of WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING, I had no guidebook for my daughter’s first year, let alone her first eighteen.

On the day of Margaret’s birth, I got my first inkling that I might not need a guidebook at all, much less have time to read one!  Margaret was the only baby born in the hospital on that day, and I think the nurses were eager to rock her because every few minutes they would come to my room and ask me if I wanted them to take her to the nursery.

“Just a little while longer,” I said each time they came to the door.

That night I sang my new baby girl every song I knew.  I had no idea what to do with a newborn, but singing seemed right for Margaret and me at that moment. Over the past eighteen years, I’ve had lots of moments when I wasn’t sure what I should do.  In time, I’ve learned to take my cues from the person who knows her needs best – Margaret.

Dr. Murphy and Margaret

People gave me lots of advice on how to raise my daughter, and I suspect you will be given a lot of advice as well.  Some of it will be worth listening to, and some of it will be worthless.  The only advice I’ll give to you is this – when it comes to your daughter, you’ll know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  From the moment that precious girl is placed in your arms, you’ll know what to do.   After all, you’ll be holding the author of the only guidebook on raising your daughter that you’ll ever really need.

With gratitude and best wishes always,

Dr. M.

P.S. Margaret loves music and has become an accomplished singer.  I should have known!

Cool Hand Liz

*Today’s blog is written by my friend, former professor, and talented author, Dr. Teresa Murphy, for her sister Liz. Happy birthday, Liz!*

Today is my sister’s birthday.  I won’t say how old Liz is, but she’s two years older than I am.  Consequently, just about the time I was making my debut, Liz was hitting the terrible twos.  Luckily for our parents, Liz was an unflappable and take-charge kind of girl.  Though I’m sure she initially regarded me with a healthy measure of contempt, she quickly realized that I was someone she could (ahem) mold.  Liz’s careful attention to my character manifested itself in all manner of situations, and I think it’s safe to say had it not been for Liz I would not be the person I am today.  In fact, I might not have survived childhood at all!

One of Liz’s greatest accomplishments was helping me become more patient.  An early lesson in patience occurred when Liz was five and I was three.  Liz was a fearless kid, and she’d been a tree climber pretty much her whole life.  I was a nervous Nellie and preferred to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.  When Liz decided it was time for me to branch out, she chose a very tall tree in our backyard.  Reluctantly, I agreed that it might be time for me to brave up a bit and at least try to climb that tree.  Liz was lithe and lean.  I was more Winnie-the-Pooh shaped, and it took a lot of coaxing and tugging to get my tubby little cubby body into the upper branches of the tree.

When we finally got to a branch we could sit on, Liz proudly exclaimed, “Look how high up we are!”

I was not aware that I had acrophobia until I looked down and indeed saw how high up we were.  It didn’t take long for my nervous Nellie nature to kick in, and I started to cry.

Always the optimist, Liz went to work immediately trying to convince me that I could climb back down. “Just grab the tree branch and turn around.  Then put your foot on the lower branch.”

“I caaaaaan’t!” I wailed.  “I’m stuck!”

Initially, Liz was calm. “Sure you can.  Just try.”

Eventually, she realized I was not going to budge and went inside to fetch my grandmother.  It wasn’t long before my grandmother came bustling out of our house, taking up where Liz left off and trying hard to convince me that she’d be there to catch me if I slipped – which she was sure I wouldn’t –  but just in case.  Unfortunately, my grandmother was around five feet tall, and there was about a three-foot gap between her outstretched arms and me. That was way more space than I could imagine navigating.

After spending some time pleading with me to come down, my grandmother finally realized I wasn’t going to and said, “Hon, you’ll just have to wait until your dad gets home.”

I assured her I could wait.  My dad was much taller than my grandmother, and he got me down when he got home from work.  Liz, I believe, received a talking-to about how things might seem like a good idea at the time, but often require further thought.

In addition to patience, I learned other lessons from Liz.  When she noticed that I was singing a bit too enthusiastically at church, she leaned toward me and whispered, “Don’t open your mouth so wide when you sing!”  Back then, I was insulted.  I now realize she was merely trying to save me from the humiliation of looking like a big-mouthed Muppet.  Without Liz’s constant admonition, “Don’t be so stupid,” I’m pretty sure I would never have made it out of elementary school.

There were other times that had Liz not been nearby, I quite likely would have perished.  One such incident took place a year or so after the tree-climbing debacle.  Liz and I were playing our game of crawling through our dad’s spacious Ford sedan.  We found it great fun to hoist ourselves up to the open window on the passenger’s side, scramble into the car, crawl across the front seat, and finally vault out the driver’s side window.  This was during those loosey-goosey days of car-making when seat belts and airbags were considered superfluous, and gears could be shifted quite easily even though the engine was turned off.  As I was scrambling across the front seat, I managed to kick the gear shift into reverse, sending the car rolling down our steep driveway.  Luckily, cool hand Liz was close on my heels and put the gear shift back in park.  Once I started breathing again, we resumed our game.

So, here’s to big sisters everywhere who have taught their little sisters so much and have occasionally saved their hides.  I’m certainly grateful to mine.  After all, Liz could have easily jumped out of the car as it lurched toward the busy street in front of our house leaving her scared stiff sister hurtling down the hill alone.  Instead, she stood by me.   For this and a million other reasons, I’d like to wish Liz a very happy birthday and many happy returns!

 

*To check out more by author Dr. Teresa Murphy, check  out her website.*