Friday, December 26, 2014

A Tribute to My Mom

A few years ago I wrote a tribute to my Dad for his 70th birthday. I’m not sure what it meant it to him, but for me it was cathartic and eye-opening and a chance to express my gratitude.

Today my mom turns 70. Though I am thankful for this opportunity again, I wish I could find a way to stop time. We only see each other on occasion now… my parents, my siblings and all the people I love. Moons travel through their phases, seasons come and go and in the midst of these, we move through our lives like we always will be here. Days like today, remind me that we won’t.
I've already given my Mom a gift this birthday. But, I've never really told her about the gifts she has given me:

Dear Mom,

When I was young, you taught me how to speak and write clearly. I remember sitting at the kitchen table for hours perfecting my penmanship and vocabulary. I resented those hours when I was young, but as I grew older I began to understand what you had done for me. Because of you, I’ve learned to be thoughtful about what I say and how I say it. Because you taught me the power of communication, I have made many friends and a generous living.

I will always remember the night you tried to sew a pair of black pants. I was 8 or 9 and I can still feel your frustration as you tried to work our old sewing machine. No matter what you did, nothing turned out right. Wanting to comfort you, I ran to my room and wrote a poem. I can’t remember it all… but it went something like this…

…Mom put her pants in that machine
And then the thread got caught
She tried to pull the thread all out
But now it’s in a knot!
I ran to get the basket,
She sewed her pants by hand.
And you know?
Without that old machine, Mom’s new black pants look grand!!

It’s been almost 40 years since I wrote those words. I’ve not seen them in about as long. But, I remember them because of the joy you expressed when I handed you my poem. Instantly, your frustration turned to amusement as you praised me for my creativity. Because of you, I love to write. Because of you, I’ve tried my hand at poetry and songwriting, short stories and this blog. And, because of you, writing brings me some of my greatest comfort and joy.

Some of the funniest memories I have are the stories you told when I was little; You and Grandma laughing during the prayer. You drinking Grandpas dentures. You and Maxilyn and cattails in the car. These stories not only brought me great delight as a child, they taught me two of the best things I have ever learned.

1)    It’s OK to laugh.

2)    It’s even better to laugh at yourself!

From you, I gained a joyous perspective on the world. You reinforced this when we were children by honoring our wit. You were always quick to chuckle at a clever point of view and unlike Grandpa Miller, you never sent us away from the dinner table for laughing uncontrollably, though there were times you probably should have. My favorite times were the ones when you and then dad joined in. Because of you, I laugh easily and smile often. This is one of the greatest blessings in my life.

Because of you I’m not afraid to take a stand or speak my mind. I remember you telling me when I was a child. “You can be a sheep or you can be a leader!” Whenever I find myself agreeing to things I don’t believe in, those words waft through my mind like a warm breeze. They give me courage to challenge the status quo. Because of you I have enjoyed leadership positions throughout my life. These opportunities have taught me the skills of compassion, empathy, encouragement and good judgment.

Because of you, I am courageous. I’m not afraid to do hard things or leap into the unknown. Though it did not come naturally to me, you taught me to trust my instincts and to believe in my abilities. You pushed me to try new things. You challenged me to put myself into situations where I could lose and then you showed me how to win. Today, I am independent, self-reliant and confident because of you. You gave me the gift of trusting myself.
Because of you, I love music. My memories of yard work and chores and road trips all include singing. Sometimes we did it in beautiful harmony and sometimes at the top of our lungs. No matter what, you were always part of the group; leading us through the melodies of our lives. My own children have accused me of raising them inside of a musical. What they may not know, is they are part of the second act in a musical started by you.

Because of you, I know that food is one of the love languages. And, you speak it fluently! You have always filled our lives with delicious homemade food. Though my waistline does not always appreciate your culinary talents, my heart has always known that they are expressions of love. Today when I feel stressed, or unable to express my feelings I find myself in the kitchen. I'm not there to eat but to cook. Before long, I'm immersed in the bliss of "serving" my family and friends the same delicious food you used to serve our family.

Of course, its not always been easy. Even now, we don’t always see life the same way. When I was a young woman, I wanted to nothing more than to separate myself from you. In some ways, you were the only person I wanted to love me and yet you were also the one I wanted to leave. Like a bird in the nest, I resented all the ways you kept me captive and the ways you finally made me fly. It took years to reconcile those feelings.
But, though these experiences I’ve learned my most important lessons:

I’ve learned perspective is just one person’s point of view. 

I’ve learned there is just as much responsibility in receiving love, as there is in giving it.
I’ve learned what we want to do and what we are able to do, are often two different things.
I’ve learned we are never too old to stop growing, or start rethinking, or start doing.

I’ve learned to look for the silver lining and reinforce the good in all things.
I’ve learned to be forgiving.

I’ve learned to be forgiven.
I’ve learned that you can never underestimate the power of someone who believes in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself.
Through your example,
I’ve learned to be a better daughter,
a better wife, 
a better mother,
a better friend.

Mom, I admire you. I admire your love of family. I love the grandmother you have become! Thank you for prodding us to find time for each other. Thank you for fostering relationships with cousins, traditions that we can't wait to keep and heartfelt memories that will stand the test of time.
I admire your zeal for life, your long lasting friendships, and your many, many accomplishments. I only hope that someday my children will see in me the same strengths, the same love and the same example I see in you. I love you. I’m proud to be your daughter. And, most of all, I thank you for guiding me towards this beautiful and amazing life.


Happy 70th Birthday!
Your Daughter,

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Is America Proud of Me?

If you want to know if someone will stay at a company and be a high-value contributor, you only need look at a few indicators. First, are they connected? Have they developed personal friendships and is there a feeling of trust for the leaders? Second, do they feel productive? Can they tell you exactly how their contribution matters to successful results? Finally have they tapped into some passion around what they do? Does the work make them happy and proud?

As we edge up to the 4th of July, these questions make me think. The same things I need as an employee can also be applied to the way I feel as a citizen in my country. Though, I am not likely to go looking for another place to plant my flag…I’m not so sure I am always satisfied. I often find myself asking, “Am I really proud of America?

Why? Truth be told, I don’t feel connected. Most of the time, I don’t trust my leaders. My voice is easily lost in a tumultuous sea of politics and partisanship and though I have deep family ties and friendships, I find that we don’t often talk about our country. We don’t talk about what we can do to make it better. We don’t speak of the reasons we love it. If any conversation is broached, it quickly boils into "what I believe" versus what "you believe." Why this or that President is to blame or that group of people. Next is evitable, “Who did you vote for?” a passive, aggressive way to say “So, the blame is really on you.” Never mind that the person casting stones, may not have voted at all.

As you can imagine, these conversations never result in a positive outcome. Thus, talk of politics and in turn, talk of America has been deemed “off limits” in my tightest circles. Without this chance at soulful exploration, I am left to wonder. Does my citizenship even matter?

Tomorrow is the 4th of July and as I think about this land that I love, I find myself yearning to be more connected, more passionate, more of a contributor. No, I still don’t want to talk about politics. I don’t need more evidence of how we disagree. I DO want more conversation about what makes us great. I want to find a universal cause to fight for, a United bond that inspires action and ultimately results in allegiance to our country and each other.

As I remember the passion of men and women who stood up and fell down for the dream of freedom, I can’t help but wonder. What would they think of the battles we are fighting now? I have a feeling they might tell us to spend less time arguing about what our freedom can get us and more time realizing and acting like, we are a nation that is free.

Freedom is not a permit to do whatever I want at any expense. My freedom does not trump yours. It does not make me right and you wrong. I love these words by Harry Emerson Fosdick:

He is a poor patriot whose patriotism does not enable him to understand how all men everywhere feel about their altars and their hearthstones, their flag and their fatherland.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is a privilege earned on the backs of great men who had a vision. These men believed that a people who were not constrained could create the greatest country on earth.

This 4th of July, I’m asking myself, “How will I be more connected? How will I contribute? How will I show my passion for my flag and fatherland?

Fighting for our freedom or the freedom of others is not all that is required of us now. Preservation of freedom is an important obligation and I am forever grateful for the men and women who fight and even die to keep me free. However, it is not enough to admire or even appreciate someone else’s sacrifice. We must be willing to contribute our own.

War and courage manifest themselves in many forms. I believe that more Americans (me and you) need to rise to the vision of our Founding Fathers; not with political agendas. But, with pride for who we are and what we stand for. More of us need to stop complaining or even worse, stop being complacent. We need to stand and be counted, in courageous deeds and thoughtful voice.

We are America.

The dream that came to reality so many years ago was not for a piece of land with a new name. The dream was for a people. It was for us. This dream rose from the humble belief that liberty and freedom would not make us uncivilized. Instead, it would make us remarkable.

Abraham Lincoln once said,

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.

So, tonight as I watch our star spangled banner dancing in the wind, I am inspired to turn the tables. Is America proud of me?

Happy 4th of July!