Sylvia Ann Turns Seventy

Today is my mother’s 70th birthday and although I could think of a few things she’d like more, I’m hoping the gift of words will be enough for now. Her favorite gift will come in a week’s time when our whole family – all 20+ of us – will gather in my sister’s backyard for dinner and drinks and dancing. Cutting a rug with her grandbabies, sons, daughters and in-laws is her idea of heaven!

A few months back, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in front of family and friends with a big celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, my siblings and I, along with our spouses, each shared a few words about what their marriage has taught us.

How had we grown and benefitted from their love and commitment to each other and to our family?

As you can imagine, we talked about love, loyalty, commitment, hard work, inclusion and integrity. You don’t make it fifty years without knowing a thing or two about those qualities. It was hard for me to decide what to speak on, because I wanted to talk about ALL THE THINGS. (No surprise there, I’m sure.)  But what I landed on was faith, and that brief reflection is probably one of my mom’s favorite things I have ever written. So, in honor of the woman who raised me, I’m sharing it here today with all of you.

If you ask my mom, her family is the best thing she’s ever done, and if you ask any of us, we’d probably agree. Our mom taught us that Love was never just a feeling. You had to live it out too through service, loyalty, and sacrifice. She embodies the art of “showing up,” sticking to your guns, speaking the truth (as you see it), and then releasing the outcome, because she loves you so damn much. My mom lives by the motto that with God, and with her, you get “forever tries.”

Happy birthday, Mama!

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Sylvia’s Squad on June 10. 2017. She’s the short one in the middle, between my dad and me. 

50th Anniversary Speech

I had a whole other speech planned for today that I was really excited about, but I had a light bulb moment this past week. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before, but sometimes a thing is so obvious, you can’t even see it. It is the ground you walk on and the air you breathe. It’s synonymous with your very existence. Your life simply wouldn’t be your life without it.

And as the eight of us were preparing for today and staking out our topics so we wouldn’t repeat each other, we forgot this one, which for me, is the foundation of everything else they gave us and that is their FAITH. Not so much their faith in each other, but their FAITH in God, their faith in something larger than themselves, their faith in the power of Love.

Of course, my parents’ Catholicism is important to them and as their children, being Catholic gave shape to our entire lives – what we did, and how we learned, who we hung out with and eventually, who we became. In turn, it has shaped the way each of us has raised our own children. But what I so appreciate about my parents’ faith was that it didn’t stop at the church door. Catholicism was the home in which my parents worshipped, but it wasn’t the only place God was found.

My parents’ faith was never just about how you spent your Sundays. It was never just about your outside behavior, saying the right prayers or doing, (or not doing) the perfect thing. Our faith informed our lives – day in and day out – in how we spent our time, the books we read, the music we listened to and the talks we had.

But most importantly, their faith in God animated how we treated each other.  They insisted on respect, on forgiveness and reconciliation, and on time spent together. My parents’ faith did not allow anyone to be dismissed, or ridiculed, or accepted with anything less than unconditional love. No matter how mad we got at each other, or at our parents, no matter how badly we, or they, messed up, no one got to walk away feeling unloved or unwanted.

I just want to close by saying that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the story of my family’s life. We have all taken turns being “prodigal” – in big and small ways– wasteful and ungrateful for the gifts we’ve been given in each other and in our lives, but each of us has also heard God whisper in our ear that it was time to go home, God reminding us of the wealth of Love that was still ours, waiting for us. And when we finally turned around to face the hard consequences of our actions, we have always seen, not just our parents running towards us with their arms outstretched, but an army of Love Warriors – our sisters and brothers, in-laws and children – coming to bring us home – to family, to faith, and sometimes even to ourselves.

I look at my parents’ faith and the culture that faith created and I know what heaven looks like. It looks like this; it looks like all of you sitting before me. It looks like a communion of saints, through the forgiveness of sins and a faith in resurrection – not just as a one-time deal – but rather as a daily practice of starting over again with Faith, Hope and Love. So thank you for being a part of this heaven tonight. Thank you for helping them create fifty years of heaven for all of us.

Cheers!

 

The “Days for Grieving” aren’t over, especially here in California. Forest fires rage. Lives, land, homes, businesses, pets and precious things have been lost and more are threatened. It feels surreal to find my heart swell with love and gratitude in the midst of the mess and pain of this world. But that’s the gift a mother offers us, isn’t it? For at least a little while, in the shelter of her arms, or in the space of her memory, you can breathe a little easier and believe that everything’s going to be okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Best is Yet to Be

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Last week, I wrapped up my 45th circle around the sun and embarked on a new year. Thanks for the well wishes and love! I spent the day, the entire week actually, mostly in silence and stillness, at La Casa de Maria, my favorite retreat center in Santa Barbara, CA.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we spend a week there each year at Family Retreat.

In solitude, the familiar grounds were unfamiliar territory. At first, it felt like a haunted house of love. Each corner I turned, I half-expected to see a pack of children running by, or hear the peals of their laughter or find myself wrapped in a knee-high bear hug. Instead, there was just me, nodding politely to one stranger after another. Eventually the nods gave way to new friendships, quiet, engaging conversations and I remembered that Love can look like that too. La Casa was still my home, just an empty nest, much like the one I’m preparing for here in San Diego.

When I got back this week, I returned to my daily routines, including my favorite class at the gym, taught by a former college football player from Alabama. He too was celebrating his (33rd) birthday this week, so while we were warming up, he asked the question: What was the best year of your life? People rattled off “the college years,” “twenty-one,” and “before I turned 30,” but as one of the senior members of the class, he looked at me and said, Well?

The one ahead, I answered.

I don’t know how to answer that question any other way.  While it may not be empirically true, it has to be true on some level. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we believe our “best years” are behind us, what is there to strive for? I can’t spend my life looking backwards, thinking, “Remember the good old days? The ones where I was more beautiful, successful and fit?  Had more fun, more freedom, more sleep, and more sex?”

Yeah, I remember those days, but I don’t know if they were my best ones, because I’m only halfway through the ones I hope to live. So as long as I’m growing old, I’m going to keep trying to grow up. The best might still be ahead of me if I keep becoming more of whom I’m meant to be and more of what the Universe needs. I truly believe those two things are one and the same and that the process can happen every day – even at the gym.

One of our rotations on the turf that day was a minute on the speed rope. In my group of (mostly) younger women, they dropped the rope in frustration. It kept getting hung up on the artificial grass and ruining their pace. More than anything, they wanted to keep their heart rate up, and burn more calories. I wanted that too, but at 46, what I want even more is to learn a new skill, and to not let myself quit when something is pissing me off and making me feel incompetent. Truly, our best years are behind us if that’s our go-to strategy. When our coach noticed my persistence, he came over and said with a smile, “You know Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney said, ‘You’ve got to believe that the rest of your life is gonna be the best of your life!’” Hodge may be a baby, but he’s an old soul, (or at least he knows how to talk like one.)

I do have bigger goals for my 46th year than mastering the speed rope, but I don’t know what they are yet.  It took me until I was forty to learn that naming artificially-constructed goals – things the world would see as markers of success – doesn’t work for me. Instead, I’ve learned to trust that the next “right thing” will arise from the fabric of my life. It will show up as a challenge, a failure, or a heartbreak and my goal will be to see it as an opportunity and rise up to meet it.

If the past is anything to judge by, it will probably require a lot of Love, which means a lot of everything: courage, vulnerability, commitment, patience, wisdom, empathy, humility and joy.

If my birthday gifts are any indication of what I’m going to face in this year, it’s going to be a doozy.  Let me just say, “Thanks for the reminder (in advance).”

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the quote from Robert Browning that I opened with, but few remember all the advice he offered:

“Grow old along with me!

 The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

who saith, ‘A whole I planned,

youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

 

 

According to the poet, the Universe has use for the whole enchilada, not just the first half, so keep on cooking friends and I’ll do the same.