Meet My Friend, Laughter

Laughter and I are best friends. Of course, I share her liberally with my other best friends. We recently took her with us on a road trip. The seven of us squeezed into a mini van and took off on an adventure. Our first stop was The Crazy Lady antique store, of course it was. Laughter insisted on coming into the overly-crowded converted house and almost caused a calamity, as she bent us over or threw our heads back. She can be trouble sometimes.

We continued on our trip with Laughter leading the way. She was loud all day long. Every now and then, she brought tears to our eyes. Even when we were completely worn out, laughter just wouldn’t stop. As we said our goodbyes, Laughter quieted down but never stopped completely. In fact, she kept me awake longer than I expected as we reminisced about our day together.

Laughter has always lived with me. She was close to my boys growing up. Even if she hadn’t been around all day, she showed up at meal time. Perhaps her favorite activity was our family vacations. It was hard to get Laughter to go to bed, and she often woke us up in the wee hours of the night. Even as I told the boys to go to sleep, I would hear Laughter quietly egging them on. Yes, she can be a troublemaker, but I just can’t stay mad at her.

Now Laughter has been introduced to my grandchildren. I love the smiles she puts on their faces. And I love when she joins in my conversations with these precious little ones. My best efforts to keep Laughter quiet when the parents of my grandchildren are not amused by their antics is almost impossible. She just bubbles up and can’t always be controlled. Sometimes I have to take her out of the room so the parents can make their point without her interrupting them.

Laughter was introduced to me by my mom. The three of us spent long hours together. Even during trials. The day after I had been in a car accident, which was also the day before my wedding, I was having trouble moving. I couldn’t bend, so I laid down on the floor to get my shoes out from under the bed. But then I couldn’t get up. I called for my mom to help me. But she and Laughter just joined me on the floor, none of us able to get up until Laughter finally settled down.

Recently, I found out that Laughter was a good friend of my birth mother as well. Not only did they spend a lot of time together, she shared Laughter with her family, too. What’s really strange is my friend, Laughter, sounds exactly the same as her friend, Laughter. Life is funny, which is why Laughter is such a good friend to have along for the ride.

Perhaps the best thing about Laughter is she introduced me to her friend, Joy. Joy hangs around long after Laughter is gone. She’s there no matter what, even when Laughter fails to show up. Joy is a true friend I can count on in any circumstance. But even she is more fun when Laughter joins us. I’m so thankful God has brought both of them into my life!

“For you, O Lord, have made me glad by what you have done, I will sing for joy at the works of your hands.” (Psalm 92:4 NASB)

Another Thanksgiving Week That Changed My Life

Thanksgiving week changed the course of my life twice. The first time, I was four months old. November 25, 1964, the day before Thanksgiving, I was adopted. Leaving Williamsport that day, I became a member of a new family in Lansdale, one that had a mom, dad, big sister, and Chihuahua. The next day was my first Thanksgiving dinner, where I was passed around among my new family members. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I do remember later Thanksgiving dinners with my extended family. They were always happy and loud, and I’m sure that first one was no exception.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving week, 1981. The night before Thanksgiving, November 25, 1981, Doug and I had a DTR conversation (Determine The Relationship). That night we came to the conclusion we wanted to begin a new relationship. Our friendship had grown into more, and it was time to make it official. Our first date was two days later, November 27, 1981. It was a good decision. We are still dating.

Then this Thanksgiving came along. When the month started, it seemed like it would be just like any other November leading up to the raucous family dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I was hosting this year, so there was turkey to order, plans to make, menus to prepare, and silver to polish. Lots to do, so I nearly forgot that I had sent away for my original birth certificate. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania offered adoptees their original birth certificates for a fee of $20. So, I filled out the application and sent the check to the state in June. When I balanced the checkbook last month, that check still hadn’t been cashed. I noted it so my checkbook would balance (I still do that) and promptly forgot about it.

Sorting through the mail on November 13, I saw something official-looking from the state. That’s when I remembered the birth certificate. I just stared at it for a few seconds, telling myself not to be disappointed if it didn’t have my birth parents names on it–there was every chance it didn’t. I opened the envelope and unfolded the single piece of paper. My eyes read my birth name, which I already knew, and then fell to my mother’s name. It was there. No father’s name, but for the first time in 53 years, I knew my birth mother’s name. I grabbed my phone to call my cousin, who was the one working on my family tree. She was at least as excited as I was. But the question remained, would it lead anywhere?

A week went by with Thanksgiving closing in and no news from my cousin. I was so busy, I put the birth certificate out of my mind. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I picked up the turkey, got my hair cut, ran around doing last minute errands, and got a call from my cousin. She had news and would stop by later in the day.

She sat at my dining room table with papers and pictures. There were names and faces–faces that looked like mine. She found my birth family. Not only had she found them, but she had spoken to one of them. That one wanted to talk to me. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe this was happening.

The next day, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call. It was surreal. I was speaking to someone who was there when I was born. The day after Thanksgiving, another call from another family member. How could this be happening? I haven’t stopped smiling since, but I have stopped sleeping, with so many thoughts and questions and plans swirling around in my head. I am thoroughly enjoying the twist this year’s Thanksgiving week has brought into my life.

I have always believed that God put me in the family he designed me to be in, even though my younger years were not all puppies and smiles. It was all part of his plan, as was bringing Doug into my life. And now he’s brought along people I wondered about but never thought I would know, and I am so thankful for all he has done and eager to see what else is in store for me.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NASB)

(Disclaimer: some of you know my birth name. Please do not refer to it if you comment on this blog post. Most of my birth family does not know about me, which is why I didn’t use any names or my relationship to them in my story. I want to respect their privacy–y’all know I am an acquired taste, give them time to get used to me. Thanks!)

Thankful? Let Me Think About It

The last year and a half has been a difficult time. Our family walked through the end stages of Parkinson’s Disease and cancer and experienced great loss. So, when I thought about writing about the things I am thankful for, my initial reaction was not a good one. “There wasn’t much good happening in the last year.” Besides the loss of my in-laws, I went through the worst physical pain of my life, and I am no stranger to pain. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there didn’t have to be good things happening to be thankful.

I remembered four generations of our family gathered around my mother-in-law, singing hymns as she was ushered into glory. My son led us in prayer as we thanked God for the life we shared with this precious woman. Over the next few days, we shared stories, laughter, and memories as we planned her funeral. Though a sad time, it was a blessed time. I was thankful for all that we shared together.

Although we all suspected my father-in-law’s rapid weight loss was an indicator of a serious health issue, we set our suspicions aside during mom’s decline. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the phone call from his doctor just three months later. “The tests confirm your father has lung cancer.” A few more tests, and the news only got worse. “The cancer has metastasized to his liver and is in his bones.”

“Which bones?”

“All of them. With chemo, he may live up to a year, but the chemo will be difficult and will make him very sick. You need to consider his quality of life.”

“And without chemo?”

“Maybe six months. But right now he’s not feeling sick and has no pain. Consider his quality of life.”

I was not becoming a fan of the term “quality of life.” I didn’t like choosing between quality and quantity. It changed my life. I left my job, a career I loved. We moved to a new home that could accommodate a first-floor bedroom and living space for Dad.

As I reflected on that time, I remembered how having Dad living with us changed our lives for the better. Our lives slowed down, which was a welcome change. We didn’t have plans every night. We stayed at home together, watching the Cubs get into the World Series, listening to stories of his youth, seeing him light up when our granddaughter visited, and even talking about what heaven will be like. Each day was a gift for which I am very thankful.

Even the pain I have endured has its up side. Last Thanksgiving, I asked Doug, “Can pain kill you?” I was sure that was the direction we were heading. I didn’t see how my body could possibly survive any more pain. But just as I hit my lowest point, I crossed paths with someone who offered suggestions that proved to help. I am so thankful that God put that person in the right place at the right time.

While my condition is considered extremely rare (fluoroquinolone toxicity), I have discovered it is actually pretty common. But it is ignored or misdiagnosed by doctors. I have been able to help several people just in my circle of friends with the advice I received. For that, I am thankful. Without having gone through it, I never would have known how to help others.

Finally, all the time spent recovering, not working, and not caretaking, as been spent writing. My book is currently with an editor, and I look forward to having it published in the new year. I am praying that others will be helped and blessed by my story. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)

So, yeah, the past year (maybe two) haven’t been the best circumstances, but God has been faithful and gracious to me. Because of the love and grace he has lavished on me, I can approach Thanksgiving week with a truly thankful heart.

20 Years of Puppy Love

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This week, as Seeing Eye puppy #22 tripped me on the stairs, twice, I thought, “You will not make a good guide dog.” That thought was quickly followed by, “I should be a better puppy raiser by now.” That’s when I realized we just passed our 20-year anniversary of raising Seeing Eye puppies!

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When we started, I never thought we would still be doing it 20 years later. It was just something fun for the boys, to teach them character. Then it turned into a 16-year career, another surprise. We started when our youngest son was 3 years old. He just received his first Seeing Eye puppy as a married man, exactly 20 years after our first puppy arrived.

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There are a lot of lessons to be learned when raising puppies over and over again. Here are few:

Puppies chew things you don’t think they would.

Children give things to puppies to chew you don’t think they would.

Puppy breath smells like coffee to me. Maybe that’s why I don’t like coffee.

What goes in must come out.

Puppies can turn big, burly men to mush.

Puppies will love you unconditionally. They never hold a grudge. They are always happy to see you.

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We are currently raising #22 and also have #16 who is a retired guide. He worked in NYC. Shortly into their partnership, his blind master called The Seeing Eye asking for help because #16 didn’t seem to know where their home was located. He would walk down their street of row homes and consistently arrive at the wrong house. They sent an instructor out to observe. What he saw was a dog with a sense of humor. The instructor explained to the dog’s master that he knew exactly which house was his. As they got closer, he would start to wag his tail and get excited before walking her up to the wrong front door. She would figure out it wasn’t her house, and scold him. His tail wagged even more, he would turn her around and bounce down the walk and right to her door. He was doing it on purpose to get a laugh. That’s who he was, the class clown. We seem to specialize in class clowns, which has made this endeavor tons of fun.

I could go on and on, but why bother when I have all these cute pictures. Thank you, Seeing Eye, for allowing us to be a part of your wonderful puppy program and share in your mission.

“The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.” Proverbs 20:12

 

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You Got Your Wish–Christians Are Dead

A few weeks ago, my Facebook newsfeed had some disturbing stories and comments scattered through it. The primary target was Steve Scalise, the Republican senator who was shot several months ago. He had recovered from his serious injuries and returned to work. The problem was he accepted an invitation to speak at a gathering sponsored by a Christian organization. Makes sense, the senator claims to be a Christian and fights for Christian values.

Clearly, there are people who will disagree with his political positions. But what I was seeing made my heart grow faint. Friends of mine, not just Facebook friends that I have no other relationship with, but actual friends of mine, were wishing Senator Scalise had died in the shooting. Because he opposes gay marriage, one of my gay friends wrote, “He (Scalise) is despicable and was not worth saving. She (gay police officer) should have let him die.” Another comment on the same post said, “I wish Scalise and all Christians would be shot and none survive.”

Another post lumped Christians in with white supremacists and insisted they “spew hate.” In my 50 years of church attendance and associations with para-church organizations, I must know thousands of Christians. I can’t think of one who hates anyone, and I’ve never heard one spew hate at someone else and certainly not wish someone dead. I know there are some knuckleheads who claim to be Christians who might do that, but none of the Christians I personally know would do that. I wanted to ask these friends to think of the Christians in their lives. Do they really know Christians who hate people? Do they really want those Christians dead? If they do, then that would include me.

Around the same time the posts occurred, our neighborhood was inundated with hate mail. It was personalized by what the sender had observed at each house–Proud American (flag on porch), Cat Woman (sign with a cat in front yard), Penn State Fan, etc., not things you would know from looking at Google maps. Someone walked around our neighborhood to create personal hate mail. The notes had drawings depicting hate of Jews and Muslims. This expression of hate hit a little too close to home. Fortunately, our neighborhood banded together and committed to watch out for each other and do all we can to build strong relationships within our community.

But, really, the hate mail didn’t bother me as much as the Facebook posts. The mail came from a white supremacist group in NY. The Facebook posts came from just regular, ordinary people–people I know. My biggest fear is that ordinary people don’t value life anymore. Authorities can’t find a reason for the Las Vegas shooting. He simply didn’t care about the lives of other people. These same ordinary people condemn those who disagree with them, and in doing so, spew the very hate speech they rail against. They cry out for tolerance and diversity but only if those diverse people have a different skin color. If their political views are any different, or their religious views are in opposition to their lifestyle, then they are haters and should be dead. Where’s the tolerance and diversity?

I had thought about writing this post a few weeks ago, when we first received the hate mail but changed my mind. But yesterday a shooter killed at least 26 people at a little Baptist Church in a little town in Texas. There you go, you got your wish. I opened Facebook and looked for the outrage over this shooting. It had been full of outrage at the Las Vegas shooting and the Pulse night club shooting. But my newsfeed is eerily silent. I had to wonder, are they happy about this? Christians are dead. Children are dead. Innocent people gathered for worship are dead. Do they care?

Yes, there will be calls for more gun control laws. But where is the outrage that 26 people, ages 5-72 were murdered in their church? Where are the well wishes for the families affected? There are none. None. Then I wondered, what if it had been my little church in my little town? What if it was my family, including my Pastor son and his children? Would these “friends” grieve? Would they come to my funeral and maybe shed a tear? Would they say we deserved to die because of our political views? Would they offer our family words of sympathy? I wonder.

I attended a funeral last week of a dear lady. She was a gentle soul with a contagious smile, full of joy and always looking for the next adventure. People spoke of her investment in her community, volunteering and leading numerous organizations. She was instrumental in rescuing a Cambodian family in the 1970’s from Pol Pot’s genocide. The church purchased a home for them and helped them find jobs and adjust to their new life. They came to our town and our church, and they came to her funeral. She was a positive influence on countless people. This is a person my “friends” would want dead. Do they understand who they wish dead?

Do they realize Christians are just ordinary people, too? They are teachers, nurses, letter carriers, UPS drivers, reporters, athletes, mechanics, Little League coaches–just ordinary people we all interact with everyday. The difference is Christians are called to love others, regardless of how they are treated by them. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:43,44,46)

The church in America has not experienced persecution as it has in other parts of the world. But it is coming. The good news is that when the church is persecuted, it grows and strengthens. The really good news is the Gospel of Christ, that he gave his life while we were his enemies to give us peace with God and eternal life. Do Christians wish their enemies were dead? No, on the contrary, we wish they would find life and peace. If my death would cause that to happen, so be it. But while I am still here, I will continue to follow Christ’s example and love those who hate me and pray for those who persecute me.

Mom-mom, That’s Me!

I’ve been called a lot of things in my life:  Little Sister, Cici, cousin, Aunt, Mrs. Radcliff, Mom, Sisterchick, M’am, and some things that I won’t print. But my favorite title, hand’s down, is Mom-mom. When I hear that from one of my little cherubs, my heart melts, especially when it’s accompanied by a hug and “I love you.”

I have spent the last two weeks in California, meeting our newest grandchild and celebrating her sister’s second birthday. The two-year-old usually adds an additional “mom” to my title, making me Mom-mom-mom. But sometimes, she just shortens it to “MA!” That’s usually when she wants me to play. Playing with grandchildren is what Mom-moms do best. Playing and baking, which can be considered playing, depending on how messy it gets.

No one told me that grandparenting is way better than parenting. It’s basically parenting without the stress. Grandparents can swoop in, play, laugh, give them candy, read some books, and wave goodbye, blowing kisses as we drive off. We can do that because our time with the grandkids is just that–time with the grandkids. We don’t have to figure out work, laundry, dishes, dusting, library story time, and getting the child to eat their veggies. We’ve been there, but now we’re in a new season.

This is an awesome season of life. I highly recommend it. If you’re headed toward Grandparent Season, don’t worry about it. Embrace it. Grandparenting is the best thing ever. I think that’s why people don’t tell you–they don’t want you to know that they are having the time of their lives. I mean, grandparents are old and frail, right? Wrong. Grandchildren do wear us out sometimes, but it’s a good kind of worn out, like the feeling of finishing my first 5K, exhausted but thrilled and looking forward to the next one.

“To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) It would be great if we could relax and enjoy every season of life. But most seasons don’t give us the chance. By the time we realize how great that season was, it’s over. So, I am enjoying every minute, every trip to the park, every pony ride, every chance to jump waves and build sand castles, every walk collecting treasures, every Dr. Suess book on my shelf, and even every chorus of “Let It Go” with these precious little ones. Like the Autumn leaves, this season will fade all too quickly, so I will thank God every day that I get to be Mom-mom.

 

Desperately Dumpster Diving

This is the first in a series of blog posts called “What Not To Do On A Youth Weekend.” With 35 years of youth ministry under my belt, I’ve learned a lot and have lots of stories. Some I can’t share, but others, I can, so I will, because we all need a laugh now and then.

It was a perfect weekend for a trip to the Delaware shore with a couple dozen of our favorite teenagers. The weather was perfect and the kids had a great time together. Now it was time to pack up. Just one more trip to the beach. They piled into the mini-bus and two vans with towels on their shoulders and smiles on their faces. Co-leader, Terri, and I stayed behind to clean up.

We cleaned the house, gathered up lost items, and packed the car. At the time, I drove an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, the biggest station wagon on the market. It could hold a bunch of kids and their belongings, but it was a foot too long to fit into the automatic car wash. We loaded whatever was left behind and, finally, two big black trash bags of garbage were squished into the way back.

Before meeting the gang at the beach, we had to drop off the trash at the transfer station. We pulled down the long lane and up to three dumpsters, each one with a number on the side. We asked a fellow dumpee if it mattered which dumpster we used. His response was, “Which one did the girl at the booth tell you to use?” I said, “Oh, there was someone in that booth I whizzed past?” I turned around to find booth-girl annoyingly pointing to dumpster #1. Oops.

I opened the tailgate, grabbed a bag of trash, and heaved it into dumpster #1. Terri grabbed another black trash bag and added it to the designated dumpster. We headed back the car, and she pulled out another black trash bag. I said, “What’s that?”

“Trash”

“But there were only two bags of trash.”

Sniff. “This is definitely trash.”

“Then what did we throw away?”

Terri started walking back to the dumpster to retrieve whatever it was we had thrown in. Just then, booth-girl hit the trash compactor button. My heart sank at the sound of the compactor motor, followed by the crunching of the dumpster’s contents. Terri stopped in her tracks, turned toward the booth, then back toward the dumpster. Booth, dumpster, booth, dumpster. She was swiveling back and forth but going nowhere. I spun toward booth-girl, waving my arms and pleading with her to stop the compactor.

The compactor sounds stopped. Booth-girl bewilderedly exited her booth and asked, “What’s the problem?” I responded, “We threw something in the dumpster that isn’t trash.” Looking past me, she said, “What is she doing?” I turned to see Terri climbing up the side of the dumpster. Uh-oh. Booth-girl and I ran to the dumpster just as Terri hoisted herself over the edge. Booth-girl yelled, “You don’t want to do that!” “I have to!” came the asthma-choked response.

Terri started sorting through the trash, checking each large black bag. Nothing. Finally, she reached the compactor area. Ripping open the bag wedged into the machine, she pulled out clothing that we knew belonged to one of our fellow leaders. Oh, no. Bracing her foot on the compactor, she pulled with all her might, and the compactor released its grip on a sleeping bag. Though she pulled and wriggled, the pillow was too far in to come free. Booth-girl and I begged her to give up. We reasoned that we had saved everything but the pillow. We could buy him a new one. It shouldn’t take this much convincing to get someone out of a dumpster.

Accepting that it was a loss and realizing just how disgusting the smell was all around her, Terri scrambled out of the dumpster. “Do you have somewhere I could clean up?”

“No.”

“Seriously?”

“I have some cleaner in the booth.”

“Alright, that’ll have to do.” We followed her to her booth and used some all-purpose cleaner and paper towels, doing the best we could. At least it would kill any germs. We thanked booth-girl and turned to leave. To our surprise, we were greeted by a long line of cars waiting to exit. We looked at them curiously and asked the man in the first car, “Can we help you?” He said, “We were just wondering what you ladies are doing?” I wanted to say that we were training for the Olympic dumpster diving team, but instead, I just responded, “We’re from out of state.” And we nonchalantly walked back to our car.

Happy we could provide entertainment for the locals and smelling like a combo of rotten apples and lemon-scented ammonia, we laughed ourselves silly down the lane and to the beach.

Lesson learned: Do not pack your things in trash bags and take a good look at who you are leaving in charge. Oh, and do not ever laugh hysterically when telling the story to the person who lost their favorite pillow. Not ever.