being American

There must be 65 ways to thank your mother...

Today is my mom’s 65th birthday. And because I am too old to make a picture for the fridge, and too far away to take her to lunch, I thought I would write her a blog post. At first I thought I could make a list of 65 things I’ve learned from her over the years. And while I am sure there are 65 things, I quickly decided that might go on a bit much… so instead, I am going to just focus on the big things.

My mom taught me that everyone is welcome at the party. My entire childhood was a lesson in radical inclusiveness. And I don’t mean in the sense of race or gender or orientation, although certainly no one would have ever been excluded for those reasons. But it was more than that. It was more specific. Being welcoming isn’t an academic exercise in tolerance. It isn’t supporting the right causes. It is accepting people for who they are and letting them in no matter what. I wrote a blog post in 2017 about our complicated family tree and how in our family, every ex was always welcome. You can read that here.

But beyond just stepfamilies, the lesson my mom modeled was that even after someone made a mistake, even after they might have given you a reason to give up on them, all they had to do was show back up and knock on the door, and it would be opened. My extended family are made up of people. And like all people, they are not perfect. Some struggled with addiction. Some made really poor life choices. And my mom supported them when and how she could and welcomed them back to the potluck when they were ready. Every time. She took in other people’s children and gave them homes when they needed it. She let a family member on parole be released into her care. She gave him a home and a second chance.

My mom taught me that however you are able, you serve. You answer the call. Growing up my mom was assistant troop leader for Girl Scouts, she was a Youth Group Leader, she chaperoned school trips, she volunteered at every opportunity to help our school, and I don’t think there is an event that has taken place at Eastview United Methodist Church in the past 35 years that my mom hasn’t played some part in. And you might think from this description that she was a stay-at-home mom. She wasn’t. She worked full time as a secretary as long as I can remember. And her health was not always the greatest. She was hospitalized many times for chronic asthma and other issues. But I can honestly say I don’t remember a day ever where tiredness, pain or poor health stopped her from volunteering when asked. She never made excuses for why she couldn’t do something. Even when there were good excuses to be made.

We didn’t have a lot of extra money growing up, so my mom gave of what she had- her time and energy. And because she served, we showed up. My sister and I had every opportunity that money could never buy. Through my mom’s service, she gave us community. For which I am forever grateful. You can read more about that community in a post I wrote in 2014 about Whitehall, Ohio here.

I am proud of the wider community I grew up in and thankful for the way my mom modeled how you do family. But in addition to helping our community and family, my mom has great friends. And her friends were there for me countless times growing up. I remember vividly one day when I was in university and having some personal trouble. Funnily enough, I don’t remember what the trouble was. But I remember being at work at the Great American Cookie Company and feeling sorry for myself. And I remember trying to conjure up God’s love that I had been taught about for solace. I remember thinking how if God was always with me, how come I couldn’t feel him inside me. Why did I feel so alone? And then people from my mom’s church, my mom’s friends, started reaching out with offers to help. And that was in the days before the internet, so reaching out took some effort. And I remember in that moment understanding a core truth- that was where God was. I felt God’s love envelop me through the friends and community my mom built for us. And I know to this day, if I called on my mom’s friends, they would help me. My mom loves them. They love us. That is where God lives- in the love.

In personality and temperament, I am more like my Dad. And unlike me who goes on and on about what I believe and think to my children, my mom never really discussed her beliefs with us. But after thinking about this today, I now realize something I’ve never acknowledged to myself before. Through all my travels, despite all my questioning and searching, all the philosophies I’ve read, religious teachings I’ve examined, and soul searching I’ve done, at the end of the day, my core belief, who I am as a person comes from what my mom has always modeled for me. The purpose of life is to grow community, to serve and to love. Thank you mom. Happy Birthday.

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In Memory of Libby Lucas (1934-2018)

I wrote this piece to be read at my grandmother's funeral today in Ohio. These are my specific memories of a very special person, but I hope maybe something in it will speak to you too, whoever your grandparents are or were... 

Whether through nature or nurture, so much of who I am came from my Grandma Libby. I am so sorry to not be present for her today in body. I hope you all know I am present in spirit. And I want to thank all of you who took care of Grandma these last years of her life. Thank you for being there for her. You are all loved and appreciated. 

My recollections of Grandma Libby- 

When I was around 20 I got my hair cut really short. My grandma Libby told me, “that is the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen, and if anyone tells you different, they are lying to make you feel better.” I’m smiling even as I type this remembering that day. And so many others where my grandmother would just bluntly tell things as she saw them. There was little pretense. Just a genuine, honest assessment. My grandmother lived and spoke her truth. Always. To everyone. 

So to honor her, I would like to share some truths about her. She was a different kind of Grandmother from the tv grandma. She didn’t bake, or even cook. She never made dresses or even sewed on buttons. But she was the very best kind of grandmother- she was the kind of Grandmother who showed up. She was always present in our lives. At every important event, at every celebration, at every concert and sports game. And on lots of days in between. She took us on trips and played games with us. We knew we mattered to her. We knew she would do anything for us. Even tell us the truth about unflattering hair cuts when no one else would. 

Grandma liked bingo and slot machines and Bob Evans. And she never carried a purse. Just walked around with what she needed in her pockets. Which wasn’t very much. Again, there was little pretense or pomp. She just got on with things. And while she didn’t need a lot of stuff, she loved gathering experiences. Going places, seeing things. And really enjoying them. When we would travel through the mountains, she would pull over at every lookout point to see the view. No matter how close together they were or how many others we had stopped at. Sometimes this was frustrating. As teenagers, we just wanted to get on with the trip. But Grandma taught us that stopping to look at the view was the trip. Life is not a destination… 

Grandma would also embarrass us sometimes with her propensity for talking to everyone. I mean everyone. I don’t think I ever saw her walk past someone and not speak to them. And I don’t think I ever had a meal with her in a restaurant where she did not give an honest assessment of the food or the service. If you asked my grandma her opinion, you would get it. And sometimes even if you didn’t ask! Nothing about Grandma was fake.

She did not sit on the sidelines of life. She participated fully. She volunteered with the Union. She took care of her neighbors. She spent time on the things she thought mattered. And she lived her truth. Even when it was difficult. And she loved us. And she loved my mom and my stepfather. Even though Grandma Libby was my dad’s mom. I was so young when my parents divorced that I have no real memories of them together, but I have tons and tons of memories of my mom and Grandma Libby together- I will be forever grateful for the relationship my paternal grandmother had with my mom. Their relationship helped define family for me. Which is so much bigger than blood. 

Grandma Libby was honest and blunt, but always kind and open. She made people feel comfortable and welcome at the party. She simply walked around with what she needed in her pockets, gathering experiences, looking at the view and talking to everyone. She didn’t pretend to be anything other than what she was and she didn’t hide what she thought. And I want to be just like her when I grow up. 

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