Passing the Baton

I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly time passes. Mike and I, and many of you reading this, are in a significant transitional time, a “passing of the baton” if you will. We lost Mike’s stepdad last fall and my dad is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s , so we’ve been trying to make sense of their circumstances, seeing them struggle with these chronic health issues and with no longer being able to do the things they once did.

Being human hurts. Life is constantly changing, throwing new challenges and obstacles our way, and just when we feel like we’re in control and have a solid stance, the rug is pulled out from under us. I look at people who are in their 80’s that 25 years ago seemed invincible to me and completely in charge of their surroundings, now struggling with simple daily tasks they once did mindlessly. Some let go and transition easier than others. It kind of makes me think of the 1600 meter relay in the Olympics. Well trained runners know their individual stretch is done and are looking for their team member with outstretched arm, ready to make a smooth pass without losing momentum. Imagine if a runner is oblivious that his path is ending and clutches the baton tighter as he runs past his successor, making his teammate run after him to try and grab the baton without losing too much time or spending too much energy in transition. We all tend to do this in life…we work so hard to become independent and make our own way. Once we achieve it, we enjoy our new definition of who we are…in control, self sufficient, successful, productive. Unfortunately, a new transition is always around the bend and we must not lose sight of who we are…separate from what we do.

Our parents’ generation has definitely struggled with this. They didn’t have the self help books we have today and back in the 1960’s and 70’s, counseling was strictly for mental patients. Many in their age group struggle with letting go of the power they yielded in their 40’s and 50’s, and try to continue on as if nothing’s changed including themselves. This makes our generation’s job much harder because we don’t want to pry anything out of our elders hands out of great love and respect for them, but we feel such a strong pull to help and to move into our new roles of authority. What’s odd is I can clearly see how short this time will be for us, and if we’re so lucky to live long enough, in just another decade or so our sons will most likely be taking more active roles in our daily lives. It makes me want to plan ahead, both financially and materially. I think I finally understand why people sell their large family homes and “downsize.” These are important decisions that I want to make for ourselves before we become so attached and entrenched in our ways that it feels like cutting off an arm or leg to make such dramatic changes. As Deepak Chopra wisely said, “Holding on to anything is like holding on to your breath. You will suffocate. The only way to get anything in the physical universe is by letting go of it. Let go & it will be yours forever.” Sounds very much like, ““Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
‭‭John‬ ‭12:25

Again, life is difficult…it is full of change, both expected and unexpected, and what really defines us is not what happens to us but how we handle it, and how willing we are to adapt and embrace our new set of challenges and circumstances. At least we can be assured we all go through these same significant shifts in our lives…we are not alone in our experiences…we have each other.

Mountains and Waterfalls

Dad always loved imagining new ways to express his creative nature. As shared in the post titled My Hero, he loved islands so he made one in the creek behind the house. He also adored mountains, so he decided to build one out of giant rocks and cement in our back yard.  Germany and Switzerland were dad’s favorite places on earth.  In the early 60’s he had been drafted and stationed in Oberammergau, Germany for two years.  My brother, Scott, was born in Munich during that time.  Whenever dad got an imaginative spark in his brain, the gleam in eyes and excitement in his voice was definitely infectious, especially for us kids. “I’m going to build a huge mountain like the Alps in Switzerland with a beautiful sparkling whirlpool at the bottom where you kids can swim and play!” We were filled with anticipation, for about an hour. Seeing dad sweat buckets as he made a big mound of dirt, rocks, and rough cement got boring pretty quick. The mountain ended up being a fun play area for years to come and dad eventually built a tree house above it.  However, when he finished with the “whirlpool” (rough cement forming a small oval hole at the base of the mountain) he filled it from the hose with freezing cold water and told Scott and I to get in and enjoy! I remember feeling bad that I didn’t think it was cool so I faked being happy for his sake. The next day and every day after, it was filled with bugs, leaves and dirt, quickly becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos and a cesspool home for snakes. Ahhh Switzerland! NOT!

Many of dad’s creative ideas worked. He built a rock waterfall in our swimming pool and must’ve done some research because it actually worked! We enjoyed putting our heads under the waterfall for many years, and after he filled in the pool to make his “rock garden” he kept the waterfall in its original place. The featured image above is me at about 3 years old in 1971 sitting on the waterfall. (Yes, you’re correct if you’re wondering if the rock garden was filled with statues of gnomes and baby animals, and stone benches.)

Mrs. Loomis

The anticipation of the first day of school lurks in every kid’s brain all summer long. I remember in late July of 1975, my mom took me up to Goddard Elementary (now called Oak Street) to see who my teacher for 2nd grade would be. I wanted anyone but the teacher everyone warned me about the year before…Mrs. Loomis. She had a bing cherry bouffant hairdo, rhinestone cat eye glasses, and fingernails painted different colors. Everyone said she was a witch! Please oh please…give me any teacher besides her!

When we walked up to the school doors to look at the class lists, there was my name, under Mrs. Loomis’s class. “Augh!!! I got looney Loomis!” I exclaimed in my head. The fear and trepidation of what may lie ahead was too much to bear. I must add that up to this point, I was a total, timid wallflower. I desperately wanted to please everyone and was deathly afraid of disappointing anyone, so I learned to mentally and emotionally tiptoe and tap dance.

That first day of second grade, I shyly entered the room with my mother and found my seat. I think she left pretty quickly, because the next thing I remember is Mrs. Loomis animatedly saying, “Hello my dear little detectives! You are not just second graders, you are MY detectives, ready to search high and low for answers in this mystery of a world! I need you to keep your eyes open, to discover the world around you! ” She then opened a satchel she’d been carrying and handed out magnifying glasses to each one of us. I knew at that moment, I would follow this lady to the ends of the earth! She got me!!! I had NEVER felt so excited and important as that first day of second grade.

Christmas time was approaching and our class was to perform Here Comes Santa Claus at the 1975 Christmas concert. Mrs. Loomis asked me, ME, to direct the class. She said, “Kim, you’re a leader! You have a gift of music AND leading, and you must direct the class!” I was scared, but I trusted her judgement. She was absolutely magical. How could she be wrong? I did a great job directing our second graders, and obviously, Mrs. Loomis’s encouragement influenced my life choices years after that day.

Mrs. Loomis ended up being THE. MOST. AMAZING. TEACHER. I ever had. When I was in high school, I received the privilege of writing a recommendation letter when she was awarded a golden apple by the state of Kansas. After graduation, I occasionally saw her through the years, and often reminded her of how she changed my life. In 2015, I attended her funeral and was able to share how she impacted my self esteem which in turn, influenced my career decisions.

I am a K-5 Music teacher today, because an eccentric genius of a second grade teacher with bing cherry hair and rhinestone glasses took the time and effort to see beyond my fears. Thank you Mrs. Loomis, and thank you teachers of all grades and subjects for choosing to teach our kids over all other professions. You are making an impact that can’t be measured. Don’t ever forget it!

Afraid of the…Truth

Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.”
‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:18‬ ‭

We all are a blending of good and bad choices, traits, intentions, habits, reactions, yet our nature is to hide the bad, the wrong, the ugly. We parade the good because it makes us feel better about ourselves of course, but it creates a false image that takes more and more energy to keep intact.  So many of us waste so much time and energy trying to keep our masks on when we need to take them off and accept our real selves underneath.

If I make a negative but true statement about myself or my loved ones it does not negate the positive. I’ve been around many people who immediately become uncomfortable when I mention something I don’t do well. Almost always they say, “Oh no that’s not true, you’re great at such and such…” when we both know it’s a bold faced lie. I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m not good at some things, in fact, I’m even TERRIBLE at certain things. So many of us avoid facing our weaknesses and failures and in turn we totally allow them to control us. I have found in my own life when I deny the uglier parts of me, I begin to spend more energy on that denial. It actually takes more effort to lie to myself and continue to hold the closet door shut on the many skeletons I’ve tried to hide. Those dry bones pile up with the years spent trying to deny them, and the lids and doors on the boxes and closets we keep them in begin to pop open.  They must be acknowledged, examined, and pulled out into the light of truth.

What we need to begin to understand is truth strengthens us…though it is hard to face. When we avoid facing truth, it becomes our deepest fear. It seems like a hungry lion tracking our every move. The irony is that we spend years running, hiding, not realizing if we would just take the time and be bold enough to face it, examine it, and learn from it, it is merely a kitten with a big scary-looking shadow.

What fear, what truth have you been avoiding? Turn around and stand your ground. You’re stronger and braver than you think. Jesus often talked in parables and had multifaceted meanings in His words. In John 8:32 he said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Close to Perfect

Most of our trips with dad had a manic, crazy element to them. However, both trips to Alberta, Canada, the first in ’99 and the second in 2003, were close to perfect.

Both times, we flew through Denver to Calgary and rented cars, driving to gorgeous, surreal Lake Louise. In ’99, we stayed several nights at the Fairmont Chateau, and somehow happened to be eating breakfast at the perfect time with a picturesque, full view of the lake when the ice covering it dropped with a loud reverberating bang, revealing the intense turquoise water for the first time of the year. Apparently this happens every June and we were lucky enough to witness it! It was truly a memorable, once in a lifetime event.

We took the 2 1/2 mile hike up to the tea room above Lake Louise and had yummy soups and breads before descending the mountain. As we traveled the beautiful path, 7 year old Dillon said, “This is the best day of my life!” That same trip was when we visited Moraine Lake and Keenan who was 5 at the time decided to go on a hike by himself (see post Wise Old Hunter). He managed to terrify all of us for 10 minutes, when he came sauntering back from a trail claiming he wasn’t lost and he always knew right where he was. Keenan and Papa Jon celebrated their 5th and 63rd birthdays together at the Chateau (This was also the vacation when the hike featured in the G’day Mate post occurred).

In 2003, our youngest son, Tristan, was 2 1/2 and joined us at all of the same incredible sites. He fell while we were touring the historic Banff hotel, wailing like he’d broken his arm so Papa Jon sat down on the floor with him to make it all better. We also went horseback riding in Glacier National Park which was another experience of a lifetime. On both trips, the wildlife we encountered was fascinating. We saw moose, both black and grizzly bears, elk, and chipmunks were everywhere!

In 2003 on the flight back to Denver, I sat with Tristan while Mike and the rest of the family sat about ten rows ahead of us. Tristan was worn out from the trip and pretty much screamed and threw a fit the entire 2 hours. Yes, I apologize, we were that family. The stewardess kept telling me he needed to be belted in and I assured her I understood but was having trouble forcing his rigid body into the seat. Mike and the rest of the family pretended they didn’t know us and kept turning around saying, “Ma’am can you please quiet your child?” In true comedic fashion, Tristan fell asleep, knees on the floor, head in the seat, just as we landed!

The Canada family trips were probably the most seamless ones we ever took…no real mayhem! I’d have to say they were as close to perfect as is possible.

Out of Control

Trusting God is difficult. His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts, His understanding is much bigger than mine. I struggle with trusting God because I want Him to do my bidding and yet I know that’s unreasonable.

Trusting OTHERS to God is almost impossible! I repeatedly find I am spending most of my time worrying about other people and wishing I could control their choices and actions. As a parent, I often feel like Marlin, Nemo’s dad in Finding Nemo.

Marlin:
I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory:
Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Marlin:
What?
Dory:
Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

As an adult, I know I have learned more truth from my mistakes and from painful experiences than from the good times, but as a parent, I want to protect my kids from pain and their own poor choices, which also unfortunately keeps them from growing and learning. Therefore, I must guide them as best as I can and entrust them to God. This is also true with other people I love who seem to be hellbent on making their own lives hell. My judgement and chastisement doesn’t do anything but chase them away from me. No one wants to be berated and lectured, INCLUDING ME!

Now, why do I tend to focus so much on trying to control others? Maybe it’s because I’m avoiding my own mess inside my heart and soul.  It’s so easy to point out the splinters in someone else’s eye instead of taking care of the plank in mine.

Let’s make a pact as fellow controlaholics. Next time either one of us starts worrying about someone else’s behavior let’s stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, “What part of my own life is out of control and how can I begin to fix it?”

One of the first lessons in therapy is memorizing the Serenity Prayer which is the featured image of this post. We then must identify the things we can change…ourselves and our present choices, and the things we cannot change…others and our past. I have to daily remind myself of these truths. I can only control my own actions and reactions, my own thoughts and choices. What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours. We must own our own baggage, nothing more nothing less. I have found that my baggage is considerably lighter when I unload the extra junk I tried to clean up for others around me, and I finally have the time and energy to unpack my own load and discard what no longer benefits me.

My Hero

My dad loved designing things. He was creative and loved using his imagination as an investor, teacher, landscaper, and even as an architect. He not only designed both lake houses, but also our family home that we moved into in 1969 when I was 18 months old. It’s a beautiful open floor plan with a dual-sided fireplace between the living and family rooms and a large kitchen connected to both. The house is on a 3/4 acre lot backing up to the Calfskin Creek. My dad had dirt brought in and created a small island in that creek. He built a bridge connecting it to the backyard and planted grass and bushes on the island. Unfortunately, the creek often swelled and flooded with heavy rains.

I remember several significant floods through the 20 years I lived there. The first happened when I was about 2 1/2 years old. For some reason, my dad let me go out to the bridge with him to assess the flood waters. The current was swift, but I was only concerned with how high I could swing my legs out over the edge of the bridge as I held onto the railing. I slipped and plunged into the churning water. As my dad told it, he immediately jumped in after me, clothes, shoes, wallet, and all. He literally had one shot at finding me in the murky darkness but he guessed right and grabbed me, pulling me up to the surface. I used to tell my friends I remembered seeing snake holes and fishes when I was down there, but my older brother, Scott, called my bluff. “There’s no way! You liar! That water is way too muddy to see anything.” The one memory I do have of that day is crying while my mom scrubbed me clean in the bathtub. I felt so ashamed that I’d made daddy get his wallet and shoes all wet, but my mom kept saying it was ok and they were so thankful I was alive!

Daddy told that story over and over through the years, and retold it to my own children, always adding, “You know boys, you wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t saved your mom from drowning! I’m a hero!”

Dad no longer remembers saving me and can’t tell the story himself, so I thought I’d better share it. He’s still my hero.

Clean Slate

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this Emerson quote! My cousin Kat shared it with me during our Nashville trip. What wisdom is contained in each phrase!

We all have had those days filled with blunders…our own mistakes, and absurdities…the sheer craziness of the day. Sometimes it’s so difficult to let go of things because of embarrassment and the desire to blame others. We play out scenarios in our minds over and over again, almost willing them to end differently than reality, but it’s wasted energy! We must accept that some things really are out of our control and put our minds to rest. Tomorrow will begin as a clean slate, and so should our hearts and minds.

Of Summer and Autumn-Sadness and Joy

And just like that, July is almost spent and the gateway month is approaching. August is the gateway to the vibrant oranges, rusts, burgundies, and golds, crisp winds bringing the promise of pumpkins, marshmallow roasts, and falling leaves of Autumn! I stepped outside on the porch of our beloved lake house and the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from yesterday morning with a cool gentle breeze that feels like it’s saying, “I told you I’d be back! This is your postcard reminder that I’m on my way and we’ll be frolicking together again!”

School begins in two weeks, and we all will fall back into our familiar routine of meetings, classes, and teaching. Oh how I love seasons! This summer has been a rich one filled with self revelations and honest reflection. Blogging through my seasonal depression has been a powerful tool helping me face it head on and assuring me that I will prevail as I have every other year. I’ve had wonderful trips with people I adore, and now I feel refreshed and excited to start my favorite season of all! While summer is probably my most troubled season, I love it partly because it deepens my appreciation for Autumn. As seasons are connected, so is sadness connected to joy. Without my season of depression, I might take the Autumn joy for granted, and I’m sure I wouldn’t feel it as deeply. Happiness is lighthearted and mindless, but joy has a depth that reaches down into previous times of grief and adds immeasurable gratitude to the moment. That’s why we cry when joy takes us over…joy understands pain, happiness has never experienced it. I embrace Kahlil Gibran’s description of their intertwining below:

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Reflections

Every year in July, we take a Herrington/Noller family trip to the Beaver Lake House. We started these vacations right about the time our extended family trips to Branson stopped due to my father in law’s decline in health. Happy memories with cousins, aunts and uncles playing hilarious games like Spoons, Nerts, Quelf, Furt, the Game of Things, Dirty Minds, and Buzzword, heartfelt talks on the back porch, fun boat rides with packed lunches and drinks, lazily floating on rafts in the lake, and lots of laughter. Not the fluttery kind that barely makes it past your lips but the deep belly laughter that threatens your lungs and brings up the thought “I can’t breathe!” Everything experienced here on these family lake trips is deeper and richer. I guess when 14 people are crammed in a 3 bedroom house for a week, you get to know each other pretty well.

We’ve been hoping for years my mother in law would be able to join us one of these trips, and she finally made it this time! All of our usual pastimes have been that much richer and more meaningful with her in our midst. We must never take for granted that which is important to us, for from experience, we understand life is always changing. I guess that’s why traditions and annual trips mean so much. It’s a way to keep those we love etched more deeply into our hearts and minds, as time is always moving and has a way of fogging the brain, clouding up memories that haven’t been properly dusted off and regularly visited.

I can’t always recall which memory belongs to what Beaver Lake trip, but the repetition of experience has made these family vacations as important, reliable, anticipated, and every bit as beautiful as the rising and setting sun’s reflection on the lake.