The photo above of my refrigerator was taken on February 12, 2006. My children were all born in the 1980s, so even in 2006 you can see that these pictures were a bit outdated. In fact, at the time, my kids were all out of high school. But a mother's heart can be slow to let go of the early years when her children hung close and she could open their minds and hearts to the world around them and still bask in their affection! Those years were good years for us. Life was simple. Tasks were clear. I thought I had it all figured out, and everything would be just fine if I did my part.
Somewhere along the way, our perspectives grew and our insights grew with them. Life seemed more complex and the answers not always so simple.
Now, I look back on these years and think, life is actually quite simple indeed. Love those you're given and never stop loving them. Everything else is gravy. Everything, everything is grace.
Perhaps I am a bit predisposed to admire the imperfect world and the beauty that I see therein. It seems it is everywhere around us. Perfection is elusive. Perfection is fleeting, But to those who wish to find it, beauty is right there in front of us.
A walk in the rain one early spring day. Seamus would need a raincoat this time because it was still pretty cold. The field grasses hadn't grown tall yet, as they would do when the summer months arrived. He could stand or sit far away from me and I could still see him plainly.
He and I wandered around. Down to see the horses. Down to the creek. Looking for signs of spring. He and I are spring lovers, not built for the cold weather months that linger for so long in the midwest. We need to smell the growing things and see the green come up magically from the ground after being buried for months under snow. We like to run in the fields and hear the wind rush past our ears.
Though the snow had passed for now, we were on a mission to find some early signs that things were going to start growing soon.
My dad bought me my first camera when I was in 3rd grade or so. He let me shoot pictures (B&W) and took the film in to be developed once per week for me. He seemed to notice the things I liked, and encouraged them (most of them...). He even seemed to share many of them. He passed on his Catholic faith, his love for dogs, nature and the out of doors. He pointed out things like constellations in the sky, and deer tracks in our yard. He taught us the importance of accepting responsibility and for making our own choices. He taught us to make the changes we wanted to see. He liked to know things, liked to know about the things in the natural world.
He's been gone since 1990, a long time, really. A daughter never outgrows her need for a father. Thanks, Dad.
(The above composite is generated by Flickr's Explore criteria. A mystery in itself. These pics of mine are, at the time of this writing, currently in Explore, which means they generated enough interest on their own merits or some strange fluke of the Explore "magic" to be deemed in the top 500 most interesting pics uploaded on the days that they were originally posted. If anyone cares.)
Being a mother has been full of wonderful surprises and so much growth. I've learned so much about so much. I have 3 terrific children, all very different, all very loved.
In the past six months, two of my three children have married. My oldest daughter, Ann, married in October 2008, and my youngest daughter, Beth, in April 2009. It's a momentous thing for them and for this mother, whose heart was full of emotion. I was honored that I was asked, along with their father, to make a toast, to share a bit about them. Here, then, are the toasts I made:
First, for my daughter, Ann, and her new husband:
So many of us have traveled a good distance to be here today. I know how much it means to Ann and Gabriel, and it means a lot to me that you are here. Thank you so much.
Ann was my first child, my first daughter. From the get go she was a very inquisitive child and into everything. And she was very creative. She looked at things as they were but saw other possibilities. She is an innovative thinker, who often simultaneously displays enormous independence and a childlike need for connection. I love her fiercely.
That said, Gabriel, I feel you should know that as a little girl, Ann liked to make murals with crayons, and drew on walls and doors a lot! But being creative, she was able to improvise when crayons weren’t available. She spent one short nap time coloring with her cherry flavored chapstick on her bedroom screens, and filled in all the outlet screws, and another naptime shampooing her baby brother’s head with Vaseline. You’ll want to keep a scrub brush handy, and, well, for the Vaseline, I’m not sure what advice to give you.
She can be disorganized at times, and extremely organized at others. Take a look around you to see how well she can organize an event! But in high school and college she was notorious for leaving the home to go somewhere only to return minutes later for something she forgot, which earned her my favorite nickname: “Ann-who-leaves-twice”.
When Ann first met Gabriel, she called me to tell me about this really great guy who was smart, and handsome and driven. Living so far away as she did in D.C., I didn’t have a chance to meet him as soon as I would have liked. I was, however, in the peculiar situation of being able to see him on a reality TV show, Rebel Billionaire. Not given to watching TV on that night, you can be certain that I missed no episodes, hoping to get some insight into this young man to whom my daughter had taken a fancy. So if the challenges of the TV show were as effortless for Gabriel as they appeared, he was also being evaluated by Ann’s family long distance-style, which could have been more formidable. (You may be interested to know that Gabriel is listed in Wikipedia for this distinction.) Gabriel seemed cool and calm and level headed, on the show, and it hardly did him justice. When he visited our family at Christmas 2006, he was warm and kind and bright. After that, I only cared that Ann truly loved him. And love him she does!
This toast is to Ann and Gabriel. May the vows you spoke today guide you in the future. May you have many years together and many children, and may you love them even half as much as I have loved mine. As I love you!
photo by Tamara Lackey
For my daughter, Beth, and her new husband:
We’re delighted to see so many here today to celebrate with Beth and Kevin. Clearly, they have a wonderful network of friends and family to support them as they begin their life as a married couple! Your presence here is not unimportant, for a network of friends and family is what we all need.
Beth and Kevin were initially friends at St. Thomas, where they were involved in some of the same ministries and worked side by side to encourage other college-aged adults to understand and grow in their Catholic faith. Their romance did not come until they had established a sound friendship. What a great formula for success!
There are some things Kevin should know about his new bride: Beth is my youngest daughter, and will always be my baby. But she was never a shrinking violet, never overshadowed by her older brother and sister. And that is saying a lot, because they are all outgoing, all active, all creative! But inside, she is a sensitive creature who may cry at sad movies, the bleat of a baby goat, and those little disappointments that we experience each day. She is to be handled with care.
Beth has God-given qualities that her father and I had nothing to do with. She was born strong-willed and secure in herself. She was born confident and brave and undaunted by adventure. She was born with an aptitude for science and math. And she was born with a tremendous wit. While we exposed her to our values, she adopted and made her faith her own. She has learned to be giving and kind and to put others before herself. These attributes guided her when she left for Turkey to do evangelism the summer before her senior year in college, and later to spend 9 months in Calcutta, India working with the Sisters of Charity, the order Mother Theresa founded, in an orphanage with needy children. Beth does not shrink from a challenge, and when she makes a decision, she is not easily dissuaded.
I knew early on she would be a handful. She was intent on keeping up with her older siblings and consequently learned to climb out of her crib when she had only just learned to stand. She walked when she was 10 months old. She read people well and would play tricks on us just to tease us. I still remember her standing at the top of the stairs when she could barely walk and she jumped up and down, looking at me to see my reaction. As a little girl, her confidence and bravery sometimes pushed her older siblings to meet their goals. She would have been the first to jump off the high dive, but her resolve was just enough to give the last bit of needed courage to her siblings to jump just before her! She was unafraid of almost anything. The three together made a great team. Ann would mastermind a plan, and knew how to use a phone. Greg was strong and ready for anything that sounded fun or required a masculine effort. But Beth was the one they would send downstairs to investigate a scary noise. They were the three Musketeers, into everything and making everything fun.
We spend a lot of time when they are young teaching our children everything from how to button a shirt, how to think for themselves, and how to treat others. And along the way they teach us over and over again about who we are and how we can be better individuals. I believe we are in this journey together, that these souls, who were entrusted to us, are also meant to lead us at times. There is no accident that I have been graced with the children I have. It is all part of His perfect plan.
As a mother, the most basic thing I want for my children is that they be happy. But the secret to happiness is knowing where to find it. It’s not in the things we acquire, or the accolades of others, although those are nice. It’s not in external appearances or in doing everything right, for we will certainly make many mistakes and fail often. We find happiness in our humble connections with others. Successful people know that happiness comes when we put others first.
We are here today to celebrate love. Kevin’s love for Beth, and Beth’s love for Kevin. Central to this, is the Father’s love for each of us. Our love is imperfect and the fact that we get it right sometimes is a miracle of a certain kind. But when we fail each other, and forgive each other, as husbands and wives must do daily, it illustrates how deeply we are loved. All by the grace of God, whether acknowledged or not.
We've heard a lot today about Polish traditions. We are Irish, and in honor of our ancestry, an Irish toast:
Please raise your glasses and your hearts: May you always have work for your hands to do. May your pockets hold always a coin or two. May the sun shine bright on your windowpane. May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain. May the hand of a friend always be near you. And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
This is an orchid I bought last year. It was beautiful then, but, afterwards went dormant. I tried to care for it during the winter, but have little experience with orchid care. I gave it a bit of water and a western facing window, but not much else. For months it looked like a pot of dirt with some paltry looking leaves.
I was so surprised early this spring when it began to send up a shoot of promise! Soon there were buds followed by beautiful white phalaenopsis blooms! Life sometimes goes dormant for us, too, but patience yields some surprises for those who maintain hope.
I'm a wife, a mother of grown children, and work full time as a nurse practitioner with cancer patients. My work is gratifying often, and difficult and sad sometimes, too.
I'm average and extraordinary, just as you are. I've experienced profound failures, significant disappointments, had a few successes, and been the recipient of a lot of mercy. I try to keep perspective on what's important in life, and not get too upset about the rest.
My Catholic faith is important to me, and while I'm no theologian, it's my intention that my faith inform my outlook and values, and inspire personal virtue. I love that God desires to reveal himself to us. I love the small hints, the little bread crumbs, the multiple clues, and the pieces of the puzzle that dot the created world and point to the hand of the Creator. I love that He uses beauty, art, science, all his creatures and the invisible realm of our heart and emotions to communicate His goodness to us. And I love that the fullness of his love can be seen in the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, which makes me free.