Friday, September 30, 2016

Gratitude and gifts

Once the aspens start to turn their magnificent yellow and my new planner arrives in the mail, I can't help but look ahead to the holidays. It's a little, or actually a lot, different now that we don't live by a lot of our family, but there is still so much to look forward to. We figure out if we'll have a smaller Thanksgiving at our house and invite people from the community or if we'll go to my mom and stepdad's house. We decide which 5k fun run our family will do on Thanksgiving morn and divvy up who is in charge of making what for the always decadent feast.

Then we figure out what cookies we'll make for Christmas and which church service we'll attend and what kind of soup we'll have for our special crockpot dinner on Christmas Eve and decide how much we can spend on people and what we want to get them. We make our wish lists to give to others, too. That's where things get dicey.

My fourth child turned 3 this summer. We had a grand time playing at a park with some family and friends. They asked what he wanted for his birthday and I couldn't really think of anything. Nothing. I mean, sure he'd love another hot wheels car, but after about 3 days it would go into the overflowing bin of hot wheels cars that we already have and he wouldn't even know the difference. Yes, he'd think a bright t-shirt was cool, but he has plenty of clothes already. Jim and I struggled to come up with ideas.

Now Christmas is around the corner and the question looms again. I'm in a major purge of toys mood in our house. Bags and bags of clothes and toys are being tossed out or donated. We've already decided that we're not getting our kids gifts in the traditional sense. They won't have anything under the tree from us. We are taking a road trip to California later this year and that is our gift to our family. They know about the trip and know that is their gift. I just can't buy another toy for the sake of buying another toy so the kids have something to unwrap. I think that might make me sound like a Grinch, but I really don't feel like a grinch. I have a heart of gratitude and love for the generosity of those around me, but I am also acutely aware of the excess in my life. And I really don't like it.

Am I alone in thinking that we buy stuff just because the calendar says it's gift giving time and we think we should, disregarding the fact that we don't actually need anything? What if this year was different? My kids' hands-down favorite gift from their very generous grandparents was a monthly sleepover. Once per month, one kid gets to spend the night and have some serious quality time with his or her grandparents. Every now and again, all three or four go on the same night. Talk about making memories. Other ideas I love are museum or zoo memberships or tickets to a movie or play. These things don't overwhelm our homes with more stuff, but they definitely flood our hearts with new memories made with people we love.

How do you handle gift giving and receiving? Will you do it differently this year? Do you have other "outside the box" (see what I did there?!) gift ideas to share?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Jacob's Hope

Tonight I told my kids about Jacob Wetterling. I am organizing a little Colorado version of the Running HOME for Jacob 5k. My kids will attend and help prepare for it, so it was time.

I told them about the kind of kid he was. I shared a much sanitized version of his kidnapping and death. I stressed the insanely amazing ways his family and friends are fighting to keep Jacob's Hope alive in this world. We listened to the song "Listen" by Rod Grammar and "Jacob's Hope" by Douglas Wood. I was transported back to vigils and Hands across America and tears. My toddler sat in my lap and wiped the tears from my cheeks as we talked about the deep hurts of the world and the always redeeming hope and love. My 12-year-old recognized that he's the same age I was when Jacob was kidnapped and horrendously killed.

I sat and talked with my kids around the kitchen table as we ate fresh corn on the cob, "those sandwiches," veggies and hummus. I thought of all that has been denied to Jacob these nearly 27 years. I thought of the woman who never got to be his first love and the kids he never got to tuck in at night. I thought of the graduation his parents didn't get to celebrate and the slamming doors of teenagerhood that they would have given anything to experience.

I know life isn't fair. We all know life isn't fair. But there are some reminders of that cruel truth that knock the wind right out of my sails and I wonder how I can ever re-right the boat. The details of Jacob's death are too much. Every time I think of Jacob asking to go home, saying he was cold, asking what he did wrong, I am again blindsided by the fact that a human being could hear a small, tender, shaking voice ask those simple, innocent questions, and not feel a tiny crack in his hard armor to let just enough light in to let Jacob go. That he could hear Jacob's family and friends beg for answers and ignore their cries all of these years. It is beyond my sickest imaginings.

I want to shut down. I want to hide and cry and ignore the universe. But, once again, I have to answer the question of how one could possibly survive this pain with this answer: With faith, courage, hope, and a vision of a better, safer world for our kids. When those four things feel as impossible as they do right now, when the world feels so deeply dark and depraved, we need them all the more. I have to look to Jacob's family and friends and the strength they have shown. I have to call on my faith in God, who promises that we are never alone. Not Jacob or his family or you or me. I have to pray that Jacob felt that on October 22, 1989.

Many sports teams in Minnesota, from youth on up to professional teams, are honoring Jacob by wearing patches with #11 on their jerseys. Jacob's family loves the idea and came up with this list of 11 traits we can all commit to living.
  1. Be fair
  2. Be kind
  3. Be understanding
  4. Be honest
  5. Be thankful
  6. Be a good sport
  7. Be a good friend
  8. Be joyful
  9. Be generous
  10. Be gentle with others
  11. Be positive
I'll ask you again to join in being Jacob's Hope. It's easy today, when Jacob's name is all over the news and the hurt is fresh and all-encompassing. Let's keep it up next week and next month and next year, when our horror isn't so fresh and the news cycle has moved on about 592 times, but Jacob's family is still aching and raw. Commit to something today and write it down. Send a donation to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Teach Sunday School. Help feed hungry kids. Foster an at-risk child. Do something. Write it down, type it into your phone, set a timer, and make it happen. Be Jacob's Hope in your corner of the world and pray it ripples far and wide and reaches someone who needs your voice or your money or your caring.

Let our lights be brighter. Let us be Jacob's Hope together. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's all I can think to do

I'm not going to utter his name because his name doesn't deserve another thought. I'm going to talk about Jacob Wetterling and his family. I'm from central Minnesota. I am a year older than Jacob. My friends were his friends. My brother graduated from the same high school with his younger brother. We've hoped and prayed along with Jacob's determined, courageous, and incredible family. For 27 years we have hoped and prayed that Jacob was out there somewhere and that he would be brought home. This weekend those hopes and prayers were crushed. On Tuesday the details of the abduction, molestation, and murder were made known. I have thought of all of the adjectives I can and none of them come close to the disgust I feel.

I have a 12-year-old boy. How does one recover from this heartbreak, this sock in the gut, never breathe the same again, horrendous, incalculable pain? How does one go on?

I'm not going to utter his name. I'm going to talk about Jacob's mom, Patty Wetterling. While living a nightmare most of us cannot even bear to imagine, she fought hate and all the worst case scenarios that had to run through her mind on a daily, hourly, by the minute basis, She lobbied for change, created a foundation, ran for government office, and fought. She fought back against all of the pain and horror she was living and her weapons were, and remain, love and hope.

I have a 12-year-old boy. How does one recover from this? The pain that I assume must always be there, simmering beneath the surface sometimes, overflowing in weeping and horror at other times.

In Patty's case, she publicly worked for a better world for all children. Maybe that's all we can do. We can aspire to be a Patty Wetterling in a world too often marred by unfathomable murder, abuse, and pain. We can find our passions and use them to help people so that maybe, just maybe, we can help one person overcome hurt or offer another picture of life's possibilities to someone walking down the wrong path. It's all I can think to do.
quote from Jacob's mom after the discovery of Jacob's remains

I have a 12 year old. How does one survive this pain? With faith, courage, hope, and a vision of a better, safer world for our kids. When those four things feel as impossible as they do right now, when the world feels so deeply dark and depraved, we need them all the more.

I won't utter his name. I have thrown all of the swear words at him that I can think of. I have cried until I thought I was done and then cried some more. I know I will continue to cry, but, more importantly, I will channel this brokenness to be Jacob's Hope for my kids and your kids and your nieces and nephews and neighbors and students. I will hug tighter and love bigger and advocate harder. It's all I can think to do.

Join me, won't you? Be Jacob's Hope.