Traditional Traditions

It was December once again… that month of solid and old traditions. It was December once again… time for laughing and friends and family… dark nights and Christmas lights. These once-again’s come again and again, just like the calendar shows. You would think it would be simpler knowing that it will come again… for some reason it is not. That crazy time that school starts and summer ends the whirlwind starts… that prep for hard mixed in with many awesome moments. We get an amazing and light 5k… then Halloween which reminds me of the lacking little lady and the 1/3 less work I get in making costumes. Then BAM, Amelia’s birthday festivities… Thanksgiving and BOOM December comes back again.

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Every year is so different yet none have fixed the one before it. I see those who have been through these big stressful life messes and they have come to a ‘normal’. I am not there yet, no ‘normal’ has been reached. December is work trying to find time to do our traditions and celebrate right next to the missing of my lovely from all of those parts. Divorce adds a lot of grieving to do in this as well. Finding the best ways to honor our pasts without bringing the heavy into it all. For some together is good, for us separate is much better and less confusing for my girls and I. We get creative here though… we have kind of maneuvered our traditions to fit into our smaller family. Getting our tree istraditions8 still a highlight, but I was worried about how to get it home… so we pushed it in the car and listened to Lucy ask how long ‘til she could wash the sticky sap off her hands. It is a delicate balance of tuning her out with Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer and listening to her complaining. I am sure in these moments the normal pops out… the mom who needs a bit of quiet as she tries to get the saw safely back to the workers, the Meme who is hungry and needs some sugar before she busts out the crazy lady inside… and then the Lucy who insistently complains about something we can’t change while I am doing the VERY IMPORTANT JOB of driving. It’s pretty darn normal, minus Madeline sitting in her seat being the peacekeeper, telling me to calm down and do my job- Meme to eat her damn granola bar and finding Lucy a napkin with hand sanitizer. That would be her role, always the peacekeeper and the calm (with some normal tantrums). In December though we get our tree and I stuff it in the car, in true Erin delicate form, drive down the hill to pay, grab lunch at some cool weird place in the middle of nowhere and come home to find the tree stand and cut the tree shorter (I even use a ruler, which is very exact for me). This starts our December… just in time for my Annual Ornament Exchange.

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So… who needs cookies when you can force your friends to make like 15 homemade ornaments and make food for a night at your house? I know, I know… I must be lucky or just bossy. One of my favorite nights of the whole of December, even when it is hard. It is the most intimate night… it has been a celebration- last year it was 2 nights before I signed my separation agreement and became more free… so I bought the house a round of champagne to celebrate. Other exchanges have had moments to be surrounded and vulnerable- to break and be lifted back up. We talk about A LOT of things… one room might be talking recipes, one room might have a crier and the other might be talking about very personal fun adventures. It is a night that exemplifies what I love about people, that they are good, kind and loving. I also love gathering a bunch of people and giving them a safe place to share and be naked… to be loved anyway- the best way. It is a room full of woman who love me for me, all of me. They love me anyway, loud and crazy Erin who dances on outdoor kitchens… they love sad Erin who sits in the corner or plays with the babies when she is overwhelmed. They love me when I am unscheduled and a hot mess… all of me. It is the most wonderful feeling to know you are loved this way. I love them just the same… always and anyway.

December is usually a time for me, with Maddie’s Mark to work REALLY hard too. We set up and connect families to companies and kind people to take care of Christmas gifts and things. It seems like many kiddos need ‘best day ever’s ‘ this time of year as well, so I work my tail feathers off and love the elves that help with the workload. Christmas carol singing nights, limo rides in the park, decorating for the season… all need a bit of me and my girls. We give that bit in the beginning of the month and save the end for us… for our nights of rewatching Elf and Christmas Vacation. We usually see the Nutcracker, but this year I splurged and we saw Matilda (which rocked and made me smile big). We get fancy and go to the YMCA party and we do our own things. This year we did Sunday dinner with my friend and her girls, we found people when we needed them and we made it to December 26th.

One of my favorite, but hardest moments in December, is decorating the tree.tradtions9 Beyond the fun of trying to keep the lights neat and spaced with the help of a 6 year old that can do it better… along comes the ornaments. Did I tell you I love ornaments? Cookies are ok, but ornaments are a keepsake. Our tree is a giant story… a pile of stories from our adventures throughout. It carries past traditions and future hopes, stories from 6 years of exchanges. It carries the handprints of my daughter who is never here for another print. Homemade ornaments from Preschool parties and playdates are placed along the bottom. Our tree is topped with an angel Amelia chose for Madeline. We sit on the floor and open the tub of ornaments and read the tops. When I was growing up we looked through and loved all the little ornaments, the Baby Jesus from my Church School class, the stuffed and knitted mice from my parents and the ceramic Santa and Mrs. Claus. We would touch them and squish them. I grew and still loved those. I married Matthew and his family bought Hallmark ornaments for them as they grew. I thought that would be a great tradition for my girls. Matthew and I used to go together and pick the ornaments until it became just me. After a couple years I realized it would be a great way to document and remember what the girls were like through their years. We would pick an ornament for their year… I would write a note in the top for them. These notes are a favorite bit for my girls and I to read, from Amelia’s love of Tinkerbell (3 years in a row of ornaments) and Lucy’s broken Curious George… to Madeline and her first movie seeing The Princess and the Frog. So… once the tree is basically ready (lights, ribbon and pearls) we pull the tote out and go through those special stories. I hurt that day… but the girls had so much energy… it was a rough one to stay okay through. This year Madeline’s gift was just that, an angel ornament… just as it always will be. One gift next to so many…

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Spending Christmas with Madeline is so different now… it is involves meeting with her friends and singing carols and laughing. Christmas with Madeline is donuts and hot cocoa with our favorites, then sending balloons up to heaven for her to know how loved she is. traditions6This year was only slightly different, lacking a tree… because I was too caught up in feelings and hurting and messy and busy. It was perfect though. God even popped the sun out and gave us all a rainbow to enjoy… some even got a double rainbow for their special lovely. It was as perfect as it could be… minus Madeline. Imagine if she were here for Christmas, she would love me even if I didn’t buy her gifts. I know that is part of the gift, she knows I love her… always and anyway. She loves me just the same. Madeline receives gifts all.the.time… on others memory of her, in honor of her and with her… she is so loved. I am so grateful, yet miss her to the moon and back one hundred thousand times… then under the earth through China, back around the world and up the Pluto, around Saturn… and back. She is my forever missed… forever loved. In some ways… there is a gift that she can never drive me bananas like the rest of the world… she is forever an elegant and lovely piece of me.

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The traditions through this time help us move and hurt my heart. Wrapping gifts and talking about Jesus’s Birthday are hard… sometimes I feel like He already got his gift from me. That He has my Madeline… and I forget to really talk about the fact that Jesus gifts us his Birthday presents. This year was like that… it was a bit of an empty holiday. It reminded me that He needs us and wants to connect to us SOOOOO MUCH. He has Madeline all safe and warm and built perfectly… but He wants us to think about Him more. I complained that my lack of holiday spirit was the lack of snow, but I think it was the lack of fully thinking and reflecting on Him. I know I will miss Madeline forever, but sometimes the heavy was so much heavier… I think I should have asked for an extra arm or two. This season is about Him, whatever belief you believe this time of year reflects on the Big Guy whatever you call Him. I missed Him this season, but will be still and talk to Him more… I need Him. I don’t even mean church, He is where we are… talk to Him, love Him and embrace Him. Remind me when I have forgotten… I will be glad, I promise.

The songs and traditions and light of this season are some of my favorite memories. I love the way we light up our homes when the world is dark, when winter and short days are upon us. It is symbolic of the way we should live… being the light in someone’s dark, seeing light in our dark and loving the lights that are sent when it is dark…

Christmas is always amazing… I guess sometimes amazing is laced with hard and hurt. Today I felt sick and missing… I felt the sad of missing Madeline. I felt sad she isn’t coming to the zoo tomorrow to NYC on an adventure. I felt a little pissed that we only opened gifts for 40 minutes… one more and it would have taken longer. I felt hurt that my days and my girl’s holidays are quiet and different than mine… then I remember that this is what it is. We are made for this, God made us for this exact journey. He made my girls for the holidays we all make and the traditions of us… for in all of this we are us, you are you and we all exactly who and what we are supposed to be… it is already written.

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Holiday Mixture

Sitting here reflecting on another one of those very messy mixture holidays, the ones that remind us to love life when its light and fun and to feel it when it is not. In the mixture is happy then sad, then missing then full… a bit of tears and a pile of laughs. There are thoughts about what I am not getting to see and hear and do with 3 crazy ladies growing. There are memories of holidays spent in our old normal… dinner with my whole family, Christmas Eve nights spent travelling from Nana’s to Matthew’s family. Singing silly songs and seeing his aunts and uncles… hearing old stories about a person that I don’t know anymore. There are happy memories of hearing the girls come to wake me up, trying not to peek like I told them. Remembering sitting around my parents living room with my dad being Santa and distributing gifts, looking at the same present to Aunt Jane from Molly over and over (In his defense it is hard to read Molly’s writing)… knowing that each of the grandkids were hoping for no clothes (except Amelia…). Christmas was so different then. I love those memories and feelings they bring forward for me. After there is always sad thinking about what is missing- a 9 ½ year old mature girl that does not kiss One Direction postcards or talk about boys. Sitting here thinking about all that is different and all that is good now, right here in this Christmas. I thought I could never feel good, or ok… feel content in this spot of Madeline not being here to open and laugh and be excited… I thought Christmas would always feel weird and quiet in this divorced life that we have now. It isn’t though… it is pretty full and positive. I am pretty content with a quiet Christmas Eve day, a visit to a friends for an open house and Mass or church somewhere… then my parents come and the house will be loud and loud… and my girls will come home. They will do their fun morning and enjoy the day with my parents and I and any friends looking for a place to hang and eat. I think I bought most of the food I needed, if not I have tons of pickles and we can go all relish tray crazy.

I sit and reflect on many this season… I have an amazing and light friend I met this year and she got married to her soulmate. After her first marriage and 3 beautiful daughters she is happy and light and loved… and she is celebrating this Christmas as her first married and content. I love this. I am thinking of a really amazing friend, that just so happened to be my boss back when I had a job, she lost her mom this week. Her mom was such a kind and content woman, she made some strong and independent girls, the kind I hope to build. I think of Marla and Meredith and I know this Christmas is going to be one they just function through, and maybe next year too. I know they will put that smile on when they can and take pictures of their kiddos and function through. I hurt for them. I think of my sister’s high school friend whose children’s father decided to leave this world this week… I think of all they will go through and how much that must hurt. I think of her and I know she will do her best to function and take care of her lovelies, as we all do. In a week when we celebrate Jesus and life, death is a hard add on. I hurt for those handed that huge heavy load to carry right now… so pray they keep hope and keep chuggin’ there is life and living and contentment coming. It is so hard to feel that it can be better, but it will be. I hurt for them, and I think of them. I think of the parents who are celebrating this holiday with their new babies and their toddlers who are just starting to experience and feel the joy and light in this season and I remember… I remember what that felt like. It was magic, a gift to carry forever. I think of them and I am happy for them. What a mix this season and all of life is… a delicate mix of hot messes and amazing moments, crazy adventures and heavy baggage.

I want us all to see this, in our lives we will be each of these mixes… we will have joyful Christmas’s and days of grieving and loss… we will have happy dinners and broken days of mac and cheese. Life is a mixture of all of these. My hope is that we all enjoy the amazing when it is happening, right at that moment. Amazing is a gift, be there and be present… don’t look forward or behind. In the hard moments and days of no joy only function (or not functioning) pinch a little bit of hope between your fingers, hold it tight and keep chuggin’. Do what you need to do, don’t feel like you have to explain (the good people get it, the annoying ones expect a lot)… hold that tiny pinch of hope and ride on… someday it doesn’t suck the same. Someday that pinch is a little bit like a snowball, then you don’t need to think about hope and energy because it will be a little more normal and a little more content. I know that this very spot that I am in right now looks much different, albeit much better than I could have imagined for this very moment in time.

Music always connects to me, it is like a story when you hear the words. Sometimes that song and story touches your heart and soul at a moment. The past few years this song really connected to my heart… I wished I could skate away from this day and the hard stuff in them. I wished I could skate away from all the pain and missing… this year I don’t feel that connection to this song, maybe I have graduated from skating away. I think it is a product of changes in me, building my girls and know Madeline is right here…

“It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cuttin’ down trees… they’re puttin’ up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. I wish I had a river so long I would teach my feet to fly… I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

 

Community is Sacred and Safe.

Lately I am in a funk. That holiday funk that kind of clouds the awesome. I know it is part of all of this, this lacking joy. I am trying to embrace it, though lots of people would love to fix it. It really is part of this… to feel out the sad and hard. I feel like not doing that work is not acknowledging her missing from these moments. She is missing. Madeline should be slightly awkward, but catching up to her body parts. She should be BEGGING me for a phone. I bet she would be helping her Elizabeth with her chickens and loving up on her cows. She would be starting her sassy independence, the start of tweenhood. She would start talking about boys in a way that they weren’t teammates and friends. She would start having really bold ideas and opinions as to what her time should look like. She would be pissed that I refuse to get her a phone, let alone an IPhone 6… she would hate that I still pinched her butt cheeks and nibbled her cheeks before a playdate. She would hate that I would cringe and complain every time she asked to step in Justice (seriously people that place is like sparkle puke and clothes that melt in my dryer)… I am sure she would tell me by now that I was a terrible and rotten, no good mom and I was not one ounce of cool… and we would be starting the part that girls tell their moms “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS LIKE?!?!?!” (and she may be right because I wore Tweety tee’s and married my second ever kiss and am still a little naive).

She is missing. Madeline is gone. I miss not having a 9 ½ year old… she could have at least prepped me for Amelia and her differences… she kisses One Direction pictures. We sit around our tree and watch movies, I try to stay awake. I try to love it all and be there… but sometimes it freaking hurts. There is no filling her spot, some parts of this are just bringing the empty along. I watch Hallmark movies and I think of our story and I cry. I cry when people’s lives in movies work and when they don’t. I think of those kids that we all gather around and sing to, that we gift early Christmas seasons to… that we all support and I cry. If you know me then you know cryin’ Erin is not common. I don’t know why, behind my eyes and in my heart and brain there are cries, I just think they don’t come out like everyone else’s. I have a tendency to gain energy and positive from people and environments around me, so I can refocus my sad and feel it differently. I think weekends like this are a product of not always letting it out when I am in that moment. It was a heavy weekend.

In these weekends and days I tend to try to pull from what I know. Books, traditions and busy… the things I know will get my girls and I through. Lately I have been reading a great book For the Love Fighting for Grace (Jen Hatmaker). This is one of those honest and bold books that you read a chapter or two and then reflect. I read and reread. I feel connected to her and like she gets it all. She writes real and true and honest. Her faith is exactly how I feel and know God, she reminds me that He loves me always and anyway.

Soo… in this amazing book with so much knowledge and funny there is a whole chapter about the thing that I think is most important. It is the reason I am ok, mostly. This important thing is the thing that saved our family when Madeline was sick and passed. It is the huge cornerstone that God put right in the hard stuff to keep us grounded. It is where I go and what I do when I don’t know what to do- It is community. It sound so freakin’ grown up and professional. It isn’t. It is the meals that save us. It is the time with friends that cleanses our brain and heart. Community is the safe and surrounded we feel when were in a space with builders. It is what God made to build us and love Him. Community is the gift He sent to save us in those moments when nothing felt good, normal, ok, comfortable or safe.

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In the book I am reading she talks about the altar and community, ‘front porch church’… it is true. My closest moments to God are not in church, most of the time. They are in these moments of surrounded and safe and sharing, these community church moments- when we look at our homes as sacred and full of God. This weekend these moments of community, of squishing people around my almost broken table (I NEED a new dining room table) to literally break bread (it was focaccia and shaped funny I didn’t know how to cut it)… to laugh and share and feel together. I love cooking for people, it is the best way to join people together, with food. I love working on a meal and then talking around the table forever after, it makes the dishes so worth it. I needed that this weekend. My favorite running partner was coming for dinner, so invited a friend whose kids were with their dad, then my friend Rick came… all ended up free at 5:30. It was perfect and meant to be. I roasted a buncha’ roots and bought rotisserie chickens, BAM some salad and lucy’s corn choice and dinner was done (and focaccia bread to break). We all gathered and ate and laughed and told stories and asked advice. I needed that bit of community. I felt lonely and separate. I felt the missing and lacking, the difference. I miss having that normal family (though I like not dealing with a lot of it), I wish I have family closer to squish around my broken table. I miss that. I grew up seeing my family stop in for coffee or lunch all day at my Grandma’s. She welcomed all, I wish sometimes I had more to welcome. I am thankful for the bit of community He sent my way last night. I miss cooking big dinners and having people over. Community is a food for the soul, a gift in the hard… a lightener of the heavy. I need to resort to community more for my builder…

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I want to share the quote from the book. If you need a book get this one, if you need a gift it is rockin’ good… it is up there on some list and I love it. Read this passage, it is important. I am grateful for these words on this paper… for this reminder and bit of clarity about what community does in this world.

So check out this book, make this Christmas season matter and when you are feeling lonely look to your community, make some food and enjoy some friendship. When you are feeling blah, buy someone else a coffee or some Christmas gifts. For me, I will lean toward what I know… and when I am down I will seek my light and support… I am up I will gift that to others.

Mixes of Living and Dying…

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Right now, at this very moment, a mother is seeing her baby who passed away on the 7th, people are showing up for his calling hours. She will most likely stand and be strong, but is most definitely running on shock and some weird reserve of living when you don’t want to. I am sure she put work into her hair or put make up on, it would have felt weird, almost not real. She will go home tonight and maybe sleep maybe not. She will sit numbly in a world that should not work anymore. The world should have stopped working on December 7th, how the hell did it not stop? All of these feelings and nonfeelings will circle around her brain. She will be fine and then break… every step that her family takes without her little man she will see it and hurt. Sometimes the hurt will be enough to feel like 1000’s of pounds… sometimes it will feel like a 20 pound weight that is stapled to her shoulder. There will be days that you don’t feel much sadness those days I would feel guilt for the moments of normal… then that afternoon the bus would come with no kindergartener for me… and I would sit in the chair and the 1000 pound weight would sit right on top of me. I learned then to get life done and take care of business when that weight was light. She is starting much of this right now… as I type. She is standing in a room full of people who loved her son and functioning, just for right now.

Today I walked that fine line between death and living… that line that I cross often. In the six hours that my girls are at school- I worked then went to a funeral home to get fingerprints in clay to have a sterling necklace made for a little boy’s mom and family- then I was back at school for Christmas Store. I had the opportunity to see a beautiful angel and get prints of his fingers and feet so his mama can have a tangible keepsake for the days when they want to feel something he touched, or know what his foot was shaped like.

I started thinking, about how I feel mixing into the living and death. I thought about how this little man’s mama and dad and sister were hurting. I thought about the journey they have coming, the words and experiences that will hurt. I was driving home with Lucy thinking about how the world just keeps going with or without. It took so long for my brain to really comprehend that the world spins on. Logical Erin brain knew it was not reality that it just stopped, I was not the first person to lose a child, sooo many before have as well. It just hurt to see people converse and children grow and happy people celebrating graduations, weddings and things. The hurt is less now, or maybe just different. The pain scale has changed, things that were 10’s are closer to 4’s now. Either I am more tolerant or it truly doesn’t hurt the same, I don’t know.

Wandering around on this line today was hard and easy… I worked the morning with lots of my little friends who need an extra person to hang with them for the day. I ran to a funeral home right after, driving and warming and rolling the clay I needed to use for prints. I rang the bell, walked in and was greeted by a really kind woman. She brought me to the little angel and I just looked. I have never seen such a small casket, he looked so calm and peaceful. I got a few of his fingers and one of his foot, so his mama will have a physical mark of him when she misses him. I made sure the prints were good and said goodbye to the Funeral Director and headed back to Lucy’s school. Back to chaos… my brain put up a little barrier to help me get through the afternoon. It was only after we drove home that I really thought about it. I thought about that little angel and his mom. I thought about what she was doing right at that very moment, I wished I could help her. I texted her that I had gotten her lovely’s prints and that he was a beautiful boy.

Life is strange sometimes. Life is full and then empty, fixed and then broken, happy and then sad… it is all of those things and like 100 more mixes. It is a thin walk on a line between dying and really living. Tonight while we were driving to Matilda at Proctors (early gift from me for girls) the girls got talking about manure. They told me that if they get manure on them they could die. I told them we use manure for many things, one of the best ways is in our soil, as fertilizer. Manure might have some bad bacteria in it, but it has a lot of good nutrients too. They told me we know that mom, but we were told that if we ate any we would get sick and die. I told them that it is on lots of things, veggies and clothes (if you work with it) and we clean it off the best we can, but honestly we eat some and most always we are fine. I used to pick carrots straight out of my Uncle’s garden and eat them, I am still here. I told them, as I always do, everything has risk and cost. I could have choked on the carrot… or gotten some bad bacteria from manure… we can do our best to prevent but we can’t LIVE (really live) worrying about manure, choking, car accidents, sink holes, tornadoes, flood or ice storms (ps I was made for these I will outlive all the skinny people). We have to choose to LIVE, like really live. Anyway, that was a long one about that life and dying in our car.

Life is terminal, where the rollercoaster stops we don’t know. We, well in my car at least, will continue to walk this line into and out of death, through and around life… knowing the feelings of a mom when her lovely just left, knowing the heavy that this death brings to our lives and laps… also knowing the joy in living and spinning right along with the world. As the world keeps going, eventually we join back in. I want to tell that mama she will join the world again- the world that is  always spinning never stopping. It sure is different than the blissfulness of ignorance, before Madeline was gone, but it is a step into making it through all of this. I want to tell her I will remember her lovely and bring him along.

Serve one another…

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

Service. In our world service can present itself in many ways… always coming back to doing something for others. Serving them some part of you- faith, grief, support, community, military… all service for others. Service can look like a lot of things- big and small, seemingly mundane, highly recognizable and sometimes super private and meaningful- all important. Every bit of doing something for someone else is special, it may not feel like it or look like it; it is important for that person, in that moment, filling that need.

Lately I have talking and shared a lot about service. I also feel like I have seen my thoughts and knowledge come back full circle. I see the way God uses others helping us to learn how we can help others, how those that helped us so much before may need us now. It is a crazy and connected circle, one that some would chalk up to happenstance and chance. I am here to tell you, from my little soapbox, that there is no such thing. In the days after losing Madeline people carried our broken souls. They filled every need that was not a hug from my lovely Madeline. They cleaned, cooked and honored Madeline. In the weeks after some helped us improve our home, others did a crazy yard redo. I would throw a text to meet with kids somewhere and BAM a bunch of kids and adults would appear and help me keep my girls even and balanced and busy. They worked at fundraisers and helped us with huge expenses. All of that service was noted in my brain, for how could I ever thank those amazing and generous actions.

The fundraisers the collections brought in so much, after it all it was too much. We wondered and prayed to understand what to do with this money. We knew that it was to be the start of something to honor Madeline, to bring her with us. In the beginning we just kind of followed this feeling to create a Foundation, not knowing what this niche of service would be. Friends helped, working tirelessly to create Maddie’s Elephants to help fund this Foundation and to share Madeline in a unique and tangible stuffed elephant. The hours of service and work and thought from all of those back then is still carried in my brain and heart.

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Maddie’s Mark has taught me so much about service and all the different ways that it fits into life- even crazy life. I feel like this Foundation truly does what others did for Madeline and our family. Those yard makeovers are a gift just like others did for us. When we are gifted a bedroom or a nursery to change and personalize it is like when we gave Madeline her own room. The parties and trips are just like the amazing gifts others granted us. I feel that Madeline has her hand in so much of this, so many of the connection. These opportunities and Best Day Ever’s have opened up ways to give others opportunities to serve families in need. Things that some think are ‘little deals’ are in fact BIG deals. Having a warm meal when I forgot that I needed to feed my other two girls hours after the bus didn’t drop Madeline off, was a HUGE BLESSING. In that moment it filled a need that was big and worrisome for my family. Coming home to an extreme home makeover bathroom and yard edition was amazing. These kind and generous gifts reminded us that we are remembered, that Madeline was remembered and that although they could not fix the problem they had something to offer us.

Service is offering that. It can look many different ways, for a landscaper maybe you use your tools and equipment to fix or build a playground… use your skill not just a donation of money. A tired at home mom who takes time to cook a meal or drop coffee off to a friend is a BIG deal. Sometimes service might look a little like being polite, holding the door for a disabled person- a tiny moment of service to fulfill a moment of someone else’s need. When I speak to groups about service I reinforce the importance of using your gifts for others. God gifted you those skills or tools, use them for you and your life but also those tools and skills should be shared. If you are a rockin’ good photographer use your camera to help a family in need document. There are so many areas that need your skill, did you know that? I am pretty much internet and web… stupid (for lack of a better word) and people like me could always use those techy ones who love to make websites and fix computer problems (like how to get my printer online…). Recently, I was speaking at to Confirmation students at church and mentioned my terrible secretarial skills. I was joking, but after an angel approached and has since helped me type up stories and do work that I can’t find time to do. I know she is humble about this service, but this helps me to provide more organized Best Day Ever’s and to share better with donors. Her service, to me in my moment of need, is BIG.

You know what else is cool about service? It always circles around. It impresses me every.single.time, though it does not surprise me. No one has a problem believing that Karma comes up out of thin air and kicks people in the behinds that were not good and kind for some moment in their life (not really how it works but…). How can we not believe that service comes full circle. One of the founder’s of Maddie’s Elephants, one of those amazing ladies that worked her tail off to serve Madeline, our family and a future foundation recently called me. Her next door neighbor and great friend’s daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia. This little one needed support, as did her mama. She wondered if I could help her with words, strategy and proper supporting. She thought maybe some Christmas decorating would bring some cheer. We met up and shopped out Target, Home Depot and Hobby Lobby. I got to hang with her littles, Isa was born when Madeline was very young. It was fun and exhausting (littles are hard to shop with, I forgot). We shopped and planned, I told her to pick and go a little crazy. Maddie’s Mark can’t do super little and not personal, it is a rule (in my book). She was so excited to get to it, she took over all the decorating. I was grateful that she didn’t need hands for install, she was grateful that we could help her create this. She kept thanking me… I kept thinking ‘My dear this is the circle’. I honestly felt grateful that we could do this, mostly her, as a gift from her and her friend’s close friends… grateful that Maddie’s Mark could take part in this service. I kept going back to the beginning, when Heather helped with an integral part of what Maddie’s Mark was built on… and how this circle brought her to be that person for Miss Emma. It was a clear reminder that He has this big plan, that we are to do what we are pulled to do, to use our time and energy and skills for life and service.

 

All in a Weeks Work…

Have you ever looked back at a few days and wondered how the heck all of those things lined up and worked? Today was the day to look back, last week I was stressed and praying I didn’t mix up events and dates and times. Alas, I made it to today and I believe everything went pretty much as planned. Now it is Monday, time to sort this week…

Last week we did three Best Day Evers… yes you totally read that right- three. I can also add that the previous week many volunteers with the help of some local companies served A LOT of Thanksgiving dinners to families stuck in the hospital on Thanksgiving. It has been so busy over here in my fancy Best Day Ever planning office (so what if it is just my couch and a pillow). It often times blows my mind that many amazing and kind donors trust us and encourage us to keep doing this job and filling this niche. In a way it solidifies what I know, that Maddie brought us to the niche and purpose that we needed to fill for her legacy. She left big jobs… but somehow they always come together and are just right.

I spent a day shopping with a friend for her little neighbor who was recently diagnosed with Luekemia. My friend thought she could really use her house all lit up and a night at the lights in the park (that part is next week). So we shopped and planned, then she got the workers and set it up. My job was quite easy for that day… and I love when people get to do this for others and share Madeline in the process. I spent the rest of the week trying to keep the other two organized and prepped and well thought out, for any who know me you know that is a challenge.

Saturday’s Best Day Ever was a special night for Faith. Faith wanted a night out with her friends in a limo and trip through our Lights in the Park. She wanted a Japanese Steakhouse and lots of fun with friends. So simple… but I seriously don’t think simple works for SUPER ULTRA SPECIAL NIGHTS. I prefer details, complicated and stuff that requite permits and praying it works. There was this overlap in times, you see, and we wanted them to do something really cool between pick up and dinner… so with a little help from Facebook and friends we got some caroling organized and a few (maybe like 200) people joined us to sing to and celebrate Faith. It was lovely and perfect (minus my Stevie Nicks voice and slow conducting hands). Faith loved it and you could see it… she had a Best Day Ever, as only our special friends can.

Sunday was Miss Eva’s Best Day Ever at The Villa Tuscan in Rotterdam. It was chock full of details that this little 8 year old fighter and her family would love. Eva loves Mario… but I thought ‘what if we could make Eva a Mario Brothers character?’ I did what I often do when I have an idea, I voice text a wacky confusing message with the idea- thankfully Greg got it. My friend Greg is an amazing artist, he can not only entertain kids with exceptional animal drawings, load Facebook with the coolest ever lunch box notes- he can take a crazy Erin thought and make it real. I am thankful for that, more than he can know. He drew up an awesome Eva character and we used it for the décor and had magnets made and signs. So, the big idea came for that personalized image… and I thought how can I get these printed fast? So I called up our guy in Albany and he and his JCB herd printed it all and made many magnets for favors. It was so kind… made my heart smile. So with those details- we get to the rest. My super stylish friend, Jolene, helped me with details and favor bags. She and her mom helped us secure the restaurant and help. It was awesome… I missed the actual party, but had an amazing volunteer decorate and finish. Eva had a Best Day Ever and I think her family did too…

That is what a full week and weekend look like right? Only somehow there is more to squish in there. Last week I had the privilege of talking to and helping the Guilderland girls Basketball team (really tall 6th graders) shop for families. Two of our families were picked up by this amazing and kind donor, who lets the girls shop and he pays. It was amazing and a clear reminder of the good and the positive. I also found out that I needed to deliver those gifts to those families now… ahhh!!!! Did I mention that my Jeep is a storage unit and delivery truck and I had to find a way to get a Power Wheels to a family for a Christmas surprise. Sometimes it really impresses me how things just work out… needless to say all families gifts that my girls and I were responsible have been delivered for Santa’s elves to prep and wrap… job done- BAM.

orn exchange

As these preparations were being made I was also prepping for my 6th Annual Ornament Exchange and my favorite 50 year old’s Surprise Birthday Party. I swear if I don’t pick up another cake or eat another dip until this weekend I will be good (a week without dip or treats is necessary right now). These parties both were exactly as they should be, full and positive and warm. I love when things just fall into place… like it’s part of some big plan or something…

laurel 50

The end of Sunday brought my girls back home and a surprise dinner visit with my Aunts Bridget and Patty. I had another excuse not to cook and to order out some awesome Mexican food. We caught up and they got to see Meme perform and hear stories from the girls. It was nice. Then Sunday ended pretty freakin’ normal- with me completely asleep on the couch wasting my best sleep sitting up. I thought I could make it through a Christmas movie, but my tired brain and heart and mind had a different plan. So… Monday morning I woke all ‘did that all really come together and I didn’t mess up a date or mix up a child?’ and it did. The pretty amazing thing is that it all did… which to me tells me one of two things- I am an amazing and organized event planner OR Someone had a hand in all the details. He wanted to make sure those gifts got to the right kids and the lights lit up just right and that there was an opera singer to take on O’ Holy Night (that one is rough…) and that Eva would have just a treatable ear infection and got to LOVE her special day. Some might think it is all me, some thank me for being strong and brave to organize… they cannot believe how these things come together… like they are little miracles… I totally agree. I regularly wonder, well I know, why these nights and days and work all comes together- He helps and Madeline guides.

 

Fab 50.

So today, 50 years ago, the world met Laurel. Was the world ready? I do not know… but she was here to make a difference and leave her mark- a bright mark. She is going to kill me for writing about this… for some part of her thinks 50 is old and not all sharable. Thankfully, I know I can handle some yells from her… and the best part is she gets over it and loves me and life anyway.

This day 50 years ago might have been like any other, a child born to people thinking she would be like all the others. They might not have understood her mission and purpose in this life, but we all do. Laurel has a life story like no other. It is full and layered… it is chock full of transitions, challenges, blessings, broken, lessons and rebuilding. She has carried amazing people and stories through it all. I love hearing her tell them, even the hard ones. Her stories, even the hard ones, are not full of hate and mad and heavy… but of a strong person who has kept chugging and moving and living. She was made for big things… really big and bright things.

Laurel is made different. She is made to change and build and love bigger and more than most. Her energy is powerful and she gifts it to those who need it. She is fierce and honest, bold and genuine. You do not ask her life questions if you don’t want honest answers… she will tell you if you are wrong. She was chosen to be a mom to some pretty awesome boys… one of which happens to be a real angel with Madeline. I am grateful to them for connecting us…

Through it all she shares and listens and encourages and loves so many. I tell her she is the ‘Keeper of the Broken Souls’ and honestly she is this because she has lived such a colorful and bold life. 50 years isn’t old, it is enough to build experience to not care what others think of you, to love yourself and your lovelies anyway… to build strong and confident friends… to share your lessons and blessings. I see 50 as pretty awesome- I think to be fun and happy and independent and take risks when you are 50 is not always the normal- so when it is it should be celebrated bigger. Age is a gift…

So… I want to go to bed in a bit knowing that I will get in trouble tomorrow (it is late and Laurel probably won’t see this until the am)… but I want to celebrate her 50. I want her to love all those 50 years even the crappy ones… they were a gift that she unwrapped later and helped others with. I want her to wake up at 50 and 1 day and smyle and see her impact and her circle of love and family. I am sure it looks different than anyone could have imagined 50 years ago… but different is good.

Laurel 50 looks great on you. Your spirit and soul and smyle and energy… all look better and feel better at 50 than they ever could have at 23 or 35… I am thankful for God making you on this day 50 years ago, exactly where and when and who you were supposed to be.

Happy Birthday Lady