As the rice and spicy green sauce rocketed through my nostrils, and I gagged-wheezed red-faced and humiliated, I imagined your thought bubble: “This is the man God selected for me?” It brought back memories of me bumping my head and collapsing unconscious into the mini-van, you in the driver’s seat thinking I was dead. Or that time when I slipped and fell on the front porch in front of the kids (making them cry). Each time brings about the imagined thought bubbles: “This is the man I love?” “This is my husband?” And amazingly, each time the answer somehow is always the same:
How lucky am I to have you as my wife; to have you loving me now for 20 years? Inconceivably blessed is perhaps a better description than luck. And as we celebrate those 20 years together I have the privilege of calling myself your husband, and I can thank you for your love, support and unwavering patience with the tall bald man who has plenty of problems. Beyond the head-bumping, nostril-spraying, falling down antics, you also put up with the snoring, whining, controlling nature, and every-day craziness that accompanies my presence. Yes, you got the fully-loaded, deluxe model when you picked me out of the crowd.
Thankfully for me you ignored the recall notice, tore up the warranty, shredded your receipt and did not trade me in for an upgraded version.
You have been loving me – warts and all – for such a long time, and I know that I take it for granted sometimes. But please know that even as we walk through trials mixed with the daily mundane I am always looking at you. Yes, I’m watching you, and I’m forever in awe of your grace, patience and absolute beauty. You are more beautiful today than the day we first met, and when you add to your amazing physical appearance the wonderful work that God has done in your heart, well let’s just say that it is safe to tell the world that I am the luckiest guy around. Why should a lug like me have such an amazing woman like you? Like I said previously – I’m amazingly blessed to have you.
Speaking of blessings, one of the pure joys of my life is watching our kids grow up, and raising them with you is something that I cherish. And while the time seems to be flying by – I mean, how is it possible that high school begins next year? – each and every moment that we spend together loving, guiding and parenting Emily and Trevor (even the exasperating times) is simply awesome. And believe me when I say that everything good, sweet, wholesome and brilliant from these kids is because of the amazing Mom that you are for them. I treasure those moments when Trevor reads to you at night, and each time you go for a walk with Emily or have some serious girl talk behind closed doors it reminds me that God selected you to be their Mommy, and they love you so very much.
So, on this day that we celebrate our wedding anniversary, I just want you to know that I love you with all my heart, and I promise that I have a lot more clumsiness to share with you for many years to come. I can pretty much predict that by the time you have read this I’ve likely banged my head on a low doorway and spilled some coffee.
Thank you for loving and supporting me for who I am and for being passionate about the things that fire me up (or at least doing a good job of acting like you are interested). Thank you for loving the kids and being their Mommy. And thank you most of all for loving and trusting God with your life, and being an excellent representation of what it means to be His hands and feet.
There I was, in that interesting moment when the doctor was about to tell us the sex of our first child. Deep in the dark recesses of my mind, that place full of bad memories of being abused and mocked as a young and awkward boy, I knew one thing and one thing only: I wanted this baby to be a girl.
Hit the fast-forward button by some twelve years and yeah, I have that baby girl, but because time flies, she’s no longer a baby. She’s a teenager.
It’s not so much about a crush or even the fact that my daughter Emily is infatuated with an eighth grade boy, or even the soul-smashing reality that apparently this eighth grade boy is also head-over-heels for her. I mean, who wouldn’t be? She’s beautiful, smart and funny, so it’s a no-brainer that boys were going to come-a-callin’ eventually. It doesn’t mean that I have to be happy about it, I mean, am I selfish for wishing that the only man she would ever love would be me? Not possible. But again, crushes are gonna happen, and while we are prohibiting the ridiculous notion of “dating” at this early age, it is the means by which our young daughter went around some fairly easy-to-follow rules and boundaries that has us disappointed and quite a bit sad today.
It’s all about the lying.
The easy thing to do here is to throw up our arms in surrender, say, “Oh, all kids lie. Heck, I lied all the time!” And we certainly could do that and all of us would be fine, right? I’m not so sure. So much of the struggles that we are experiencing with Emily currently are centered around the fact that we are not allowing her to have a phone, or are we allowing her to have a Facebook account. Oh, and did I mention that there is no Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter in her universe at this current date and time? Yes, you read that correctly. We are bucking the trend of allowing children to have unfettered access to the wild west that is social media. And oh by the way, she can’t text or call any of her friends, because as I mentioned we are not allowing her to have a phone just yet.
She’s simply not mature enough for a phone, and I am not ready to unleash the bondage and sickness of our social media society on her just yet.
Here’s a little story about that.
Emily has her own YouTube channel. All her videos are harmless and completely innocent and they are all private. But there was a day when we forgot to upload one particular video as private, and for about 48 hours it floated around out there, visible to anyone. Upon discovering this problem, I changed the setting and quickly stumbled upon a half-dozen comments that had been left behind. Four of those were completely innocuous, but two of them were ultimately taken down and reported to Google because of the obscene and despicable language directed at my daughter.
So yes, I am a little paranoid about Emily’s exposure to this sort of stuff. My rationale: What exactly is the hurry? The counter argument: You are sheltering her. She has to grow up eventually!
So Emily has lied to us about a lot of things recently, and most of them are the result of her desperate need to be like the rest of her friends and classmates who can call and text from their phones, and view every single funny, and often times inappropriate photo or video that has been posted on the aforementioned social media sites. She has accessed forbidden websites and then attempted to cover her tracks and made calls from Sam’s phone to boy-crush after telling us that she needed to call a friend about a homework assignment.
Those are just the most recent ones that have happened in the last few weeks, and while they may seem very tame to most readers and perhaps hardly seem worthy of punishment, please know that we are bringing the consequences and this time they are very serious. You see, the pattern that is developing now is not an uncommon one for a teenager who is desperate to test boundaries and see how much she can get away with, and we are at a critical juncture in raising her correctly.
It is all about her character.
The window is closing. Emily will be twelve in a month, which is mere inches away from sixteen and then before you know it she is eighteen and our influence will be but a whisper in her college-bound ears. We don’t have a lot of time left to teach and model right from wrong to her, and while punishments and withholding social media rights may seem cruel and unusual in this time of Donald Trump and reality television, we are absolutely doing right by our daughter. We live in a society that rejects goodness, virtue and Jesus Christ, but in our house we embrace righteousness and take the call to be holy quite seriously.
You ever see “Over The Hedge?” Good movie and you should check it out sometime. A main character is a turtle named Verne who is a born leader, but quite conservative and quite cautious in how he proceeds, to the point that his tail actually tingles when he senses that something – a plan, action or idea – is wrong or dangerous. I’ve brought up Verne quite a bit to Emily lately, reminding her that the tingling in Verne’s tail is precisely like the discernment we have from God’s Holy Spirit, who guides us into truth and provides us with the supernatural ability to be holy even when the world is compelling us to do otherwise.
So if my parenting style is a little slow and methodical you can attribute it to Verne.
All kidding aside, we are seriously preaching that character counts in our family, and with that in mind, lying cannot be tolerated, and repeated lying and deceit will result in serious consequences, many of which Emily is now dealing with.
Yesterday was an awful day. It had been an extremely long week of work (one of those where I awoke on Thursday convinced that it was Friday, thus making it that much longer), and faced with a busy Friday night and weekend full of activities, I checked in with Samantha on the way home to see how things were going. Not only was she very sick, Sam had the unpleasant duty to inform me of our daughter’s latest deception and knowing that serious consequences needed to commence immediately, it was my task to drive to Sky Zone, where Emily was enjoying some quality time with her church discipleship group, and take her home. It was an odd and surreal feeling to be one of those families, you know, where the Dad suddenly shows up and drags the wayward kid away from the fun and games, and yeah, that’s pretty much how it went. Banished to the backseat of my car, Emily made several appeals, arguments and justifications for her actions. I listened to each and every one of them – none plausible, yet impressively delivered by my daughter – and then refuted each of them, point-by-point, never raising my voice, yet my blood was boiling.
This was a pivotal moment in our relationship: I could officially check-out from this point forward and hope for the best, or I could strap-in and truly do the parenting I never wanted to do (or felt equipped for). My heart was breaking and aching as I listed the privileges that we were removing from her day-to-day life between now and the end of the school year.
It was all so harsh and oh so painful, but it was all so absolutely necessary.
I arose this morning after a fitful night of sleep. I dreamt of such horrible things that I almost wish that I’d just stayed awake all night watching Fuller House. Yep, it was that bad of a night. Still, I sipped my coffee this morning and played Battleship with Trevor (I won the game and made him cry, which is a story for another day), and greeted my beautiful daughter with a hug. It took me back to that moment at the doctor’s office all those years ago when I silently prayed that we would be told that we were having a girl. Sure, there were all those selfish reasons that were rooted in fear, but God’s answer to all of my prayers – no matter what my motivation – was my smart, beautiful, talented and funny Emily.
She will always be my little Sweet Pea, who sometimes requires extra patience (clothes on the floor, forgot to flush the toilet), a little added guidance (those shorts are too short, and please wash off that makeup) and today, some consequences.
And she gets it.
Emily sees the value in the quality of her character, the reliability of her word and now reestablishing our trust in her. She understands that we are called to be holy and even at this young and impressionable age, Emily is going about the task of working out her salvation with fear and trembling. It is oftentimes difficult to watch and many times more difficult to parent, but in the end I trust in God that it will all be worth it. She is a great kid and I am absolutely positive that her future is bright.
I love you Emily.
The current, frantic pace of my family’s life leaves precious little time to consider, let alone plan for the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions will happen , and of course with fixed dates on the calendar it’s not like we are skipping anything this year.
Yet it almost seems like we should.
This week was an extreme example of what our lives have been like for about the last 400 or so days.
On Monday at school, Emily found herself chasing down a wayward ball during P.E. She turned awkwardly and then twisted her ankle. It hurt, but not enough to stop her from playing, but when the same action repeated itself moments later, there she was, down on the ground and in pain. A lengthy trip to urgent care for x-rays and examination later, there she was with a soft splint and crutches and a stupefying diagnosis of a broken ankle.
We made the most of it, as we spent Monday evening watching videos of people climbing and descending stairs on crutches to make sure that Emily knew how to handle herself.
On Wednesday, Trevor accepted the dare of some little classmates to run as fast as he could – with his eyes shut. Undaunted, and being the Fulton that he is, Trevor accepted, and running as fast as he could into the darkness, he slammed face-first into a pole and went down like a sack of potatoes with a cartoonish bump on his forehead quickly making an appearance. Back to urgent care went Samantha for the second time in 48 hours. This time I was able to join them, and wouldn’t you know it that the very same doctor who treated Emily on Monday – and the same doctor who treated me for a spider bite a year ago – was the guy who examined Trevor. “You guys are having a heckuva week,” he said. Truer words have never been spoken. Thankfully there was no permanent damage to our daredevil son, but we were on head-jury-protocol for the evening, waking him up every few hours to make sure things were (mostly) normal.
Thursday was a return trip to the land of medicine, as Emily was to see the orthopedic surgeon to determine the extent of her injury and to make sure that there was no risk to the growth plate in her leg. Thankfully everything looked good, although the fracture was still evident, but there was no harm to the growth plate and we got to say goodbye to the crutches and splint and hello to the Velcro-ladened walking boot for a few weeks. Happy as a clam, Emily headed off to school and immediately back to watch her classmates at P.E., where she innocently stuck her hand out to stop a bounding ball and of course promptly sprained the ring finger of her left hand.
Super heavy sigh.
Two trips to urgent care during the week for Samantha ultimately took its toll on her by Friday night, as a nasty cold, complete with chills and an achy back slammed her just in time for the weekend.
You just have to laugh at all of this happening in a single week, and I’m not playing the victim card here, but this is kind of how our “new lives” have been for a while. Our new lives essentially commencing with my leaving a job I’d held for 17 years in search of a new one, while Sam was busy tackling the role of working mom, diving head-first into the Admissions and Marketing Director position at the kids’ school.
Life is certainly dramatically different today than it was two years ago. We’ve made some bad decisions along with some really good choices along the way, and when I look back on it all I’m really quite stunned at how much has changed.
I stood in the shower this morning thinking it over. I had been presented with choices to make that would impact our financial future, not to mention the niceties that come with 17 years at a job, but I had been praying for a way out for so long that it hardly made sense to stay. Yet as the warm water washed over me this morning I shook a bit at the fact that I took a $50,000 a year pay cut and forfeited many perks and two weeks of vacation. That hurts a bit.
Nah. It hurts a lot.
But again, money and perks can only mask misery for so long, and I had been miserable at the big toy company for much of my final five years there. As I concluded my shower and toweled-off, I felt a little ashamed of myself for even experiencing a sliver of regret. And moments later when I emerged dressed and refreshed, I heard Samantha sneeze, saw Emily stagger by with the walking boot and snuck a peek at Trevor’s forehead bruise and could only smile and be overwhelmed by the feeling that any man in my position could feel in that moment.
Sure, we are still learning to adjust to a life where we make significantly less money and vacations are out of the question for a while, but being a family means more than my former fat paycheck and extravagant benefits. I’m now blessed with mornings with my family to go along with evenings of togetherness like never before. Samantha has a dream job that not only suits her desire to work in ministry, but she also gets to do marketing and promotions, all the while sitting in an office that is literally 25 yards from the kids’ classrooms. And because misery on the job is a thing of the past, I’m actually walking through the door each night giving my family the best of me rather than the hollow shell of a man that was driving home from the toy company every night.
So you know what? I’ll take less money and vacation time, and I’ll take the broken ankle and the super-nasty head cold every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Heck, I’ll close my eyes and run headlong into a pole if it means that I get to spend more quality time with my family. Because through the trials and tribulations of this year and last, and even the final five trying years at the big toy company, I learned something.
I learned to be content.
Like Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13, I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
There is no willpower. There is no inner strength. There is no self-reliance. No, my source of strength and contentment comes from above. God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It takes time to stumble upon this reality as a believer, even when the words have been there for me to read for a good long time. For the longest time they were just words, but very recently, as prayers have been answered after our struggles culminated in cries of anguish to the Lord, the words became reality. And with reality came reflection instead of regret, and when regret crept in I was reminded that God loves me and has a plan for my life that continues to unfold on a daily basis. And with that love comes blessing and contentment, and I realize that makes no sense to the world when you consider $50,000, broken ankles, busted heads and sickness.
But that’s okay.
I stand before you now proclaiming that God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good!
I hope that you are blessed by reading this and that if you are a professing Christian that may feel stalled or in the midst of personal crisis you find hope and a reminder to cling to the one true God. And if you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at this moment but know me personally, and you know of my past, my failures and struggles, then you will be encouraged by the transformation and you will start investigating who God is and what He has planned for your life. Trust me, it’s worth investigating.
Thank you for your readership.
Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ex-as-per-ate: To irritate intensely; infuriate.
Lately, I’m very guilty of disobeying this Godly charge to all fathers. No excuses, no rationale and certainly nothing good can come of a household where continual exasperation of your children is taking place, and unfortunately I need to confess to this and repent.
It is not easy being a dad, especially if you are selfish like me. I want things the way I want them – usually neat, tidy and quiet – and having children puts you at odds with the very things that filled the void that existed before kids came around. The other challenge is finding some good and healthy balance between letting the kids be who they are while gently guiding and correcting them when they do things wrong. My problem is that between being worn down by life and oftentimes decidedly dejected by hours spent in a place that absolutely hates the Light, I will walk into our happy home, all abuzz with activity and excitement, and I am simply not prepared to handle things gently or objectively.
But again, no excuses.
Balance. I have to find it. There is comfort in God’s holy Word, which reminds me in Romans 8 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, so I am free of the bondage that had previously defined me. There is so much freedom in that line of scripture, yet I often find myself wound so tightly that I am no picnic in the park for anyone to be around, especially family, with whom I hold back nothing, warts and all. And it is in those moments, when I’m demanding clean rooms, pens and papers put away, lecturing, pontificating as though being right is to be confused with righteous, that I become a burden to my family instead of its spiritual head. And then things quickly unravel.
I tend to let my circumstances dictate the type of husband and father that I am, and we all know how that goes. Circumstances are merely opportunities to be refined and rely on God more, yet when circumstances turn into feelings and then feelings into reality, well, you just become the nightmare of a person that forgets about being a new creation in Christ, that the old is gone and the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet in these awful moments, when I am more dictator than dad, more loathsome than loving, I have unfortunately rendered myself as good as dead to the people around me who need me the most.
The good news is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – God’s Holy Spirit – is alive and living in me, giving me life (Romans 8:11), and compelling me to rise above the self-imposed pit of despair and to stop dragging my family into it.
God revealed to me very recently that the “Sunday Blues” that I have been experiencing for the last year really had very little to do with the fears and apprehensions of working a new job, along with the doubts and difficulties of facing another troubling Monday. What He showed to me was that I have been wandering aimlessly through our weekends together as a family, being wound so tight and with unrealistic expectations of my children that I hardly enjoyed our time. Oh sure, we definitely had great moments of love and laughter, but with an almost cruel precision I would inject demands of clean rooms, toys put away and deliver lectures on the virtues of neatness and order, as if I were an authority on the subject or something. This would happen multiple times between Friday when I returned from work and Sunday night before going to bed. Then, I’d hit the ground running on Monday and be overcome and overwhelmed by massive pangs of guilt and regret for having put my family though such an ordeal. This is a very recent revelation to me, and God in His grace and mercy brought it to my attention, allowing me the opportunity to be further refined and transformed.
I am forever grateful.
Because this happened so very recently I have yet to perfectly alter my approach to the weekends, but I can assure you dear reader, that I am much more mindful of my tone, intent and responsibilities as a father these days. My words are much more encouraging and I’m finding myself truly treasuring my time with family rather than harshly dictating chores and homework assignments. Sure, rooms need to be cleaned up, toys picked up and put away, reading, homework and other responsibilities tended to, but as I noted, there has to be more balance in my approach with the kids. No more fire-breathing commands and harsh stares. No more regretful Mondays.
My blood pressure may actually be at a healthier level as a result.
But more importantly, Emily and Trevor know that I love them. I know that they knew this even through the harshness, but now it is so much less dictatorial and way more fatherly.
They are grateful that they have their earthly daddy to love on them. And they most certainly have our Father in Heaven to thank for his transformation.
In 1926, a horse named “Bubbling Over” won the Kentucky Derby. That was also the year that the National Broadcasting Company – NBC – was formed. The Montreal Maroons defeated the Victoria Cougars to win hockey’s Stanley Cup championship in 1926. Calvin Coolidge was our President in 1926, and our nation’s unemployment rate was 1.8%.
The cost of a stamp was two cents in 1926.
Most importantly to our family, on Sunday, July 4, 1926, Carmen Rose Lucero was born. In an interesting twist, 23 years later on the 4th of July 1949, Carmen Lucero celebrated our nation’s independence and her own birthday by marrying the love of her life, Fred Arellano and she became Carmen Arellano. The couple was blessed with two children; Fred Allen and Karen, and Carmen still lives in the quaint North Torrance cottage where the family celebrated holidays, ate meals and processed homework all those years when Freddy and Karen were growing up.
It is the same home where nine great-grandchildren now frolic and run around and playfully refer to Great Grammy Carmen as “GC,” the simple designation that I began calling Carmen so many years ago.
Today we have the privilege of celebrating GC’s 89th birthday with her, and while her life will be celebrated with her own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I selfishly want her all to myself to simply tell her happy birthday, I love you, and thank you for saving a marriage before it even happened.
There’s a funny story about Carmen that many in the family know about. It occurred when I called the home phone of the old house in Corona that Fred, Sara, Samantha, Nathan and Matthew lived in for many years. It was so hot there. It was like a home built on the sun. Any way, Sam was out there on this particular day and I was calling for her to check on something when Grammy Carmen, who also happened to be visiting the sun that day, answered the phone. Seizing the opportunity to have a little fun, I said that was the Orkin Man and inquired about the existence of rats in the Arellano House on the Sun. Poor GC. Poor trusting, sweet Grammy Carmen talked with me as the Orkin Man for a good 5 minutes that day, insisting that the rats were gone, killed, deader than the grass in the backyard. But I pressed, asking her to open cabinets, closets and ultimately the refrigerator. I told her that rats were like crafty little people who could hide most anywhere and to keep looking. GC obliged the Fake Orkin Man, opening doors and taking a look, and then to her credit she started getting feisty with me when I asked her crawl under the bed to inspect for tiny rats that love to set up shop in such places.
“There are no rats here sir,” GC shouted into the phone, “And I am going to hang-up now, thank you.”
It was the “thank you” in that exchange that always gets me. Polite to the end. I dialed the number again and confessed to the prank call and me and GC both had a good laugh.
Grammy Carmen is tiny, perhaps five-foot even, so it is a struggle for her to hug me, Mr. Six-Foot-Seven, but I’ve happily collected hundreds, perhaps thousands of pain-in-her-neck hugs over the years from GC, and they are hugs of love, admiration and thankfulness.
In the months leading up to my marriage to Samantha in 1997 we were struggling with a lot of things.
There was the seemingly dramatic loss of independence as our money and debts were about to be combined, and of course our families were about to merge, which is both a tremendous blessing and at times a heavy burden. Life was a little difficult as we approached a day that we were both looking forward to. It is hard to explain, but Sam and I probably argued more in the months leading up to our wedding day than we have in 17 years of marriage. On one particular difficult day, Sam was out with friends and I was at GC’s pacing the floor waiting for her return. GC fed me cookies and just kept talking about how wonderful and nice I was and how much she was looking forward to me joining the family. I politely nodded, chomped a few cookies and stared at the clock, wondering suspiciously of Sam’s whereabouts. When she finally pulled into the driveway I leapt out of my chair, but not in a “Sweet Heart, I’m so happy that you are home!” kind of way. No, it was ugly, accusatory and downright awful. We screamed at each other for a little bit, said a few things we’d both regret, and I stormed out vowing that it was over.
It was a pivotal time in our relationship. Our wedding day was only months away and it seemed at this moment like it wasn’t meant to be.
GC has slowed down a bit over the years as we all have. Knee and back pain have exacted their cruelty lately, but she continues to smile and hug. But on this particular evening Grammy Carmen was pretty spry. She came out the front door and caught me on the way to my car. I tried to shake her loose and tell her to forget it, but she grabbed my hand and locked her eyes on mine saying, “Don, this is too important. You and Samantha love each other. You have to work it out.”
You have to work it out.
Not sure what it was about that statement that did it, but it convinced me, mostly because GC was absolutely right. This was a woman who had a successful 45+ year marriage that worked in spite of arguments and slammed doors because when all was said and done she and her beloved Fred had always worked it out.
GC never let go of my hand that day as she walked me back in the house and I sheepishly apologized to Sam for my paranoia, and with Grammy Carmen silently observing with a smile on her face and forever with a platter of cookies, we honestly worked it out that day.
I was watching our kids Emily (11) and Trevor (5) play in GC’s backyard a few weeks ago. They sang and danced, ran and jumped and essentially performed for all of us. Grammy Carmen sat there watching, smiling and clapping at her great grandkids’ antics. I sat there thinking about the night that GC saved a marriage. Nah, she saved a life that night. Probably multiple lives.
Trevor and Emily do not exist without GC grabbing my hand that night.
So thank you Grammy Carmen.
Thank you for your life, love and dedication to family. Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary to you today. We celebrate your life today and I speak for everyone who knows you when I say that we all love you so very much!
Like so many, I too suffer from a case of the blues each year at this time, and while I’m keenly aware of the fact that Christmastime is a joyous occasion to commemorate the birth of my Lord and Savior, I’m also very much sensitive to those who aren’t around to celebrate, in particular Mom and Dad.
My Mom has now been gone for nearly eight years, so that wound is understandably still fairly fresh, and while my Dad has been gone for almost 35 years, the sting is still a bitter one during the holidays no matter how much time has passed.
For those who cruise through the holidays without feeling the sort of emptiness and sorrow that accompanies the loss of the a loved one I can only tell you that it feels like a misty haze of sadness that creeps up on you from out of nowhere. You can be in the middle of a raucous celebration with family and friends when a bittersweet memory will suddenly hit and it just leaves you wanting to go back in time for one more conversation, one more hug, or just one more memory.
But therein lies the problem: When someone leaves us we have a bagful of precious memories but there isn’t any more adding to the bag, and while those memories get sweeter over time, it’s still difficult for the heart and mind to reconcile the fact that they aren’t coming back and they aren’t celebrating Christmas with us again this year.
I treasure the thought that my Mom got experience the little time that she had as a Grandmother and it certainly helps that Emily actually remembers who “Grandma D” was, even though she was so very young when Mom passed away. It crushes me that my Mom never met Trevor. My Dad on the other hand not only never met his grandchildren, he wasn’t around for any of my graduations (junior high, high school or college), never saw me play ice hockey or come home with a girlfriend and of course never met Samantha. So when the flurry of sad memories and realizations flood over me during the holidays it is especially difficult to adequately explain to anyone why I have that faraway look in my eyes or why a particular song makes me cry…
Thankfully there are the sweet and lasting memories that have me cherishing the time I had with my parents.
I think of a rainy Christmas Eve when I peeked out my bedroom window and could see that my Mom was wrapping gifts in the garage, the glow of the garage light sneaking though a crack in the door and blowing her cover. I can see my Dad’s perfect “Santa Script” written in red crayon on the tags that were hanging on our presents in the morning. I recall the magical glow of our family’s Christmas tree in the wee hours of Christmas morning, as the lights were purposely left on all night. I remember many a Christmas Eve spent at my grandparent’s home as we sang Carols, ate wonderful food and opened gifts with aunts, uncles and cousins we may only see once a year.
I can hear the laughter of both Mom and Dad that came from the joy of a surveying each Christmas morning as their children ripped and shredded wrapping paper and squealed with delight as wishes came true…
I really miss them a lot this time of year and I’m sure there are many of you out there who can relate.
Treasured memories for certain, but there is an unmistakable pain that comes with these memories, and an unquenchable desire for them to be with us on Christmas morning.
A man attends his usual Sunday morning church service and worships the Lord. Immediately following the conclusion of the service he walks with friends to the reception hall, and upon walking through the doors he gets the surprise of a lifetime…
Same man, a little later in the day is attending a concert where his son is performing. He is enjoying the music when out of the blue the music stops, a speech is delivered and this man is once again shocked by what happens next…
I’ve written previously about the man who is the subject of the above. His name is Lloyd Chambers and I penned this post nearly four years ago: https://tinyurl.com/Grandpa-Lloyd
I reread that post a few minutes ago, and with the exception of maybe cleaning up the grammar and diction a bit, I really wouldn’t change a thing.
They say that in this life we get out of it what we put into it, and I believe that Lloyd is the living embodiment of that statement. I can’t think of a time when LC wasn’t smiling, wasn’t encouraging another soul, wasn’t heaping praise upon another or wasn’t the walking and breathing definition of brotherly love. The fact that he is walking out the golden years of his life loving the Lord just as he loves others makes me so thankful that God created Lloyd Chambers, whose eternity with his Heavenly Father is just as assured as the smile on LC’s face when he walked into that reception hall and received his surprise birthday celebration, and the beaming grin that he wore when his son’s band led the crowd in a joyful singing of happy birthday to his Dad.
We love Lloyd Chambers not just because of his generosity – which is legendary in our family – but truly it is because of his warmth and smile and laugh. We love him because he is genuine and because he genuinely cares about each and every one of us. His very presence makes the load a little lighter, and when he isn’t feeling well we all hurt with him.
Years ago when my Mom passed away I was saddened not only because I wouldn’t see her when I wanted to or speak with her during a lunch break, but also in the knowing that Lloyd simply wouldn’t be in our lives quite as much. It was inevitable. We really hoped to see him more, but traveling is no longer easy on LC and unfortunately the summer slipped by without us making the road trip out to see him. The distance is painful, but the phone calls, while a little too infrequent for my liking, are forever warm and loving. Always full of his laughter and genuine interest in our lives, our phone chats with LC are always lively and encouraging and today’s was no different.
He excitedly told us about his two surprises and I could feel the joy that he was feeling as his enthusiasm was easy to detect on the other end of the call.
This post is short and sweet, but I wanted to take a moment to wish a very Happy Birthday to one of my all-time favorite people, Lloyd Chambers. He is a man who I love and respect and miss tremendously. I’m thankful that he is only a simple phone call away, and hopefully some day soon, we can catch a quick flight or make that long road trip so that me, Sam, Emily and Trevor can deliver the hugs we so desperately want to give our Grandpa Lloyd.
If you get out of this life what you put into it then Lloyd Chambers should always get the sweet loving surprises that he received today, for he is a sweetly surprising gentleman that we care for dearly. We love you LC!
The summer began with Trevor sporting floatie arms and is coming to its conclusion with him happily swimming without aid.
It seems amazing to me that what appears impossible becomes inexplicably possible and merely requires that we as parents have just a little faith, a lot of hope and a simple willingness to allow our kids to be…..kids.
I look back on those two clueless people who were tasked with bringing home baby girl Emily ten years ago and I see a recipe for disaster, and we still sometimes see remnants of that frightened cluelessness even today.
We didn’t know what we were doing, and because of that we did what so many first-time parents do: We panicked. Now truth be told, baby Emily really was a handful, but the way we went about hovering over her and ultimately just turning over household control to her every baby whim was just a product of our simply not being able to subscribe to the previously mentioned combination of faith, hope and willingness to leave her be.
Now that doesn’t mean that we have an impossible child in Emily today, but we have really had to work with her over the years to establish ground rules while fostering a sense of freedom in her to discover and enjoy life. And now the fruits of our labor along with her participation has resulted in a truly beautiful little girl who is smart, talented, funny, and loves to sing.
I am so thankful that we didn’t just abandon ship when things got really difficult with our daughter, and trust me when I tell you that the temptation was there to just let her wander and flail her way through life because as a parent, the stress of raising children while navigating through life’s other challenges is trying, oftentimes exasperating, and can make you an emotional wreck.
It is not easy (and those who make it appear easy don’t necessarily have dream children as much as they have mastered the art of extreme patience), but much joy is derived from walking through hopelessness and completing a few laps that are fully joyful. Emily is now an amazingly talented 5th grader who loves to read and write, is an accomplished speller, and digs math, science, social studies and Jesus Christ.
It is nice to see that our apparent cluelessness did not result in our daughter being hopelessly lost in life or worse: Completely given-up on, as that would have been a travesty and provided some faulty validation that Samantha and I were horrible parents, which was a feeling we had at many times during those early, difficult years.
I thank God for Emily and consider it a privilege to be her Daddy. I love living life with her and seeing her enjoying life. Just the other night she came to the conclusion of a book she was reading, “Everything on a Waffle,” and the happy ending of the story had her literally running around the house squealing with delight! What a joy.
Trevor is the classic Number 2 child.
You know how it usually goes: Clueless parents hover about Number 1 child, panicking with every climb up playground equipment and freaking out with every scrape or cut and end up so completely worked-over by the experience that they (by default) provide all the necessary space and air to Number 2 child so that he can develop more normally. And without the maniac parents watching and trying to control Trevor’s every move, he is just a lot of fun to see grow up.
Now this freedom-filled parenting has resulted in some scary moments, such as Trevor leaping from the top of said playground equipment and chucking rocks whenever the opportunity presents itself, but for the most part my son has received the faith, hope and space needed to simply be a little boy who loves life.
He also has the added benefit of having a big sister around to love on him while making him just a little bit crazy with her need to tweak him.
Emily just had me and Sam while Trevor has the three of us, and there was a time when he referred to his big sister as “Little Mama,” which of course was so very cute. The two of them play together nicely, but also antagonize each other quite a bit, which is absolutely maddening at all the wrong times (typically at bedtime). But more times than not we observe them building Legos together, reading together and being silly.
Such a cool concept and when you see it flawlessly executed you can’t help but feel happy, proud and part of something truly magical.
It has been a cool summer watching Trevor morph from reliance on flotation aids to a kickboard, and then ultimately into swim lessons that had him dog paddling and now actually swimming. I was so very proud of him this morning as he used “big arms” and “kickers” to propel his way across the pool during his lessons.
It really is a wonderful experience, this parenting gig.
I’ve witnessed Emily climbing to the top of a giant tree and also been treated to her singing solo in front of big audiences at the school’s talent show. I’ve watched Trevor bravely enter the surf, get pounded by a wave and emerge unscathed and laughing. I’ve watched them both master Minecraft on our phones, and while we’re not completely wild about the game’s ability to suck the life out of them, it is sort of neat to see what they’ve both been able to accomplish through some keystrokes and a lot of imagination.
It is going to be so cool to see what they do next – in life, not Minecraft.
These are our children and we are so wonderfully blessed by them and honored to be their parents.
It is an amazing journey that is still ongoing and one that only requires us to have a little faith, a lot of hope and a simple willingness to allow Emily and Trevor to be….kids.
After a good long while, you know, standing there in the card aisle looking at all of the same tired and stale sympathy cards, it becomes obvious that there really is no perfect card to express condolences. But what quickly became apparent to me is not really the fact that the cards are all well-intended yet shallow, but that it is practically impossible to express heartfelt sympathy when you yourself are right there grieving alongside those who are feeling the loss the most.
My friend Mike lost his dad last night. Cindy lost a dad. Karen lost her husband. Spencer and Alison a father-in-law. Shane, Riley, Ryan and Kayla a grandpa.
We all lost a friend, mentor and father figure.
So how does one fight back the tears of agony and grief long enough to select the card that brings about comfort in a time of loss?
It doesn’t seem possible.
Jim Kasterko possessed quite possibly the gentlest manner of any man that I have ever met. He had a great sense of humor and a smile that could melt even the iciest of hearts.
And he was warm, loving and supportive to a lost kid many years ago at a time when I needed it the most.
I was just a kid when I lost my dad. Dropped by a massive heart attack, my dad passed away when I was just this awkward, skinny, zit-faced teenager, and while I was always welcomed in the Kasterko home, I found the place to be a light and airy refuge from our house of confusion, chaos and sadness following the passing of my dad. And Jim provided a caring hand of guidance and support during a time when I desperately needed a strong male adult in my life. His quiet and sympathetic manner made me feel safe and secure in the months that followed dad’s death, and I have Jim to thank for reminding me that great fathers not only love and care for their own, but by extension of the friendships of their children provide that very same care, comfort and love to many.
And in my case I really needed it.
There was one particular moment when I was over at the Kasterko house and I was in a daze. It had been a few months since dad’s passing and I seem to recall me and Mike looking at baseball cards and eating potato chips. Jim was working on a project in the backyard (and truth be told, I seriously cannot recall a time when I was at the house when Jim wasn’t tinkering with something, be it backyard, living room or landscaping!), and he must have picked up on the fact that I was suffering. He invited me and Mike into the backyard to watch him as he measured and planned the scope of the project that he was hatching, and before too long he had us both interested in the project and laughing at a few of his corny jokes. It was a desperately needed distraction and I believe it was completely intentional.
And that was just one example where he rescued me in a time of need, as there were countless school projects, and multiple opportunities for him to encourage me at sporting events, and just so many times when he helped me in moments that certainly required a dad’s touch. Jim and Karen opened their home to a lost and hurting boy and I am forever indebted to them for providing much-needed safety and stability.
I was made to feel a part of their extended family, and today I am grieving with them
But there simply isn’t a greeting card category called “Sympathy for Extended Family,” so I suppose that this will have to do.
Karen, Mike, Cindy, Alison, Spencer, Shane, Riley, Ryan and Kayla – My deepest, heartfelt sympathy on the loss of Jim. Husband, Dad, Father-in-Law, Grandfather.
Please know that I am hurting with you today, as are countless other family members, and by extension of your friendship, care and support, friends – extended family – who love you and will miss Jim’s warmth, smile and presence in their lives.
Thank you for sharing him with us. He is already greatly missed.