Friday, October 27, 2017

Eulogizing a Life Well Lived

It takes a funeral to get an endless supply of family pictures.

Sweet Great Uncle Bud

Caleb plopped into my car after a full day at school.  He immediately flipped on his phone and fiddled with the screen.

"How was the funeral?" he asked in a polite, distracted manner without looking up from his device (he wasn't able to attend due to a full load of Friday tests).

"It was great," I gushed.

My response caught his attention.  It was like the record skipped.  He lifted his eyes off his phone and eyed me with suspicion.

"Isn't that an oxymoron,?" he questioned.  "A funeral cannot be great." 

But it can.  It did.  It was.

My Great Uncle Bud passed away on Sunday.  He reached the tender age of 98 in impeccable health and with complete clarity of mind.   He lived independently, even driving up until the end.  His demeanor never changed; he was lovable, kind, and faith-filled up until he took his last breath.

Eulogizing Uncle Bud was easy.  He lived a life fit to be eulogized well.  The words that were spoken about this joy-filled, small town man were abundantly glowing.  He faithfully worked for Diamond Chain for 43 years.  He loved and outlived two wives.  He served our country in World War II while stationed in the Pacific.  He served neighbors, family, community, and church members with complete abandon.  

Near the end of the service, an elderly man walked up to the microphone.  He apologized for his raspy, well-used voice and joked about God limiting his words. But his scratchy delivery didn't silence the story he wanted to tell.

Once upon a time, he was Bud's neighbor.  He spoke about Bud wandering into his yard and inviting him to church.  But this man was too busy, or wanted to be too busy, to go to church.  He told Bud that he had yard work, mowing, and every other chore under the sun that prohibited him from walking through the sanctuary door.  Bud responded to the list of excuses, "Well, when you're not busy."

This man eventually caved to Bud's repeated invitations and accompanied him to a Billy Graham crusade.  At that crusade, this man accepted Jesus.

That story enough brought chills to my spine.

But there was more.

The man plugged into Bible studies and church programs, all with the encouragement and support of my Great Uncle Bud.  As the man grew in his faith, Bud suggested he should be a pastor.

And he did.

This man they call pastor didn't leave a dry eye in the house.

I could have sat in that stained-glass church and listened to these stories forever.  But within minutes of the pastor's last word, we were following a line of cars to the cemetery.  A group of family members and close friends huddled under a green tent, trying desperately to get shelter from the pounding rain and chilly wind gusts.

Around the casket stood two men in uniform.  They held an American flag and paid their respects to Bud.  Outside the tent,  a brigade of World War II veterans formed a line between the grave stones.  At the appropriate time, the senior veterans fired a 21-gun salute (which was equal part touching and concerning with many of the aging service members displaying shaky grips and wobbly gaits).

After the graveside goodbye, the family filed back into the country church that Bud called home for almost a century.  An army of church ladies had whipped up the best in funeral dishes and made a spread that screamed Hoosier hospitality.  We feasted on whipped mashed potatoes, cheesy potato casserole, cooked green beans, slices of ham, warm yeast rolls, and pecan pies (among others).

Sisters, brothers, cousins, parents, friends all found places around tables covered in plastic wrap. The conversation was warm and the laughter was hearty.  Bud would have been so pleased to survey the scene, I imagine.  But I'm guessing he is just fine where he is right now.  I bet the first words he heard as he entered the gates of heaven were "Well done good and faithful servant."

Well done Great Uncle Bud.

You will be missed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

To Grandma's House on Fall Break

 This is Chris's parents' happy place: on a boat in Lake Norman, North Carolina.  Life doesn't get any sweeter.

 Chris's Dad's baby (although a temperamental baby sometimes).  He earned a second place in the people's choice awards at a Lake Norman car show.

A side benefit of visiting Chris's parents in North Carolina is that I get to see friend (and new Charlotte resident) Emily.  (Ignore the fact that my hair looks like a bird nest in this photo.)

We thought it was a miniature tennis court.  We learned, instead, that it's actually a pickle ball court.  The boys were smitten and spent hours playing their newfound sport.

Never too early to introduce the boys to college campuses.  Grandma, the recruiter, showed us around the Wake Forest campus.

Moments of cuddling with Grandma.

If I had to pick a favorite school holiday, I just might select fall break.  It always sneaks up on us, wedged between summer vacation and the start of the holiday season.  I love the endless possibilities of how to use that time off school: pumpkin patches, corn mazes, halloween festivities, and more.  And if you use the time to travel, you are almost guaranteed to secure better deals and fewer crowds than spring break.

This fall break, we divided our time between home and the grandparents' house in North Carolina.  The weekends we spent at home being productive.  With our move still fresh, pictures are still resting on the floor waiting to be nailed to the wall.  Our garage is/was stuffed with items that needed to be sifted through.  We were forced to make tough decisions, like did we really need the warming dishes and crystal clocks we received as wedding gifts?  (The ones who spent the last 16 years sitting in boxes collecting dust.)

On Sunday, we packed up the minivan and headed to North Carolina.  To make the nine-hour excursion much more pleasant, we packed an assortment of DVD movies and a large stash of snacks.  For the first hour, we insisted that the boys just read.  When the first hour was finished (believe me, they knew the time down to the minute), they begged to turn on their first movie.  

The boys searched frantically, but the remote control for the DVD player was missing (Chris letter fessed up to leaving it at home).  I know traveling without a DVD player is a first world problem, but that didn't make it any less traumatic for all those in the car at that moment.  There were tears (from me), but after an eternity of fiddling with buttons and googling instructions, we figured out how to operate the machine via our phone (thank you technology!). 

Eight hours later, we arrived in North Carolina.  Grandma and Grandpa swooped us up and escorted us inside their duplex home in a 55 and older community.  Their space is perfect for them with the added bonus of a neighborhood club house outfitted with a pool table, swimming pool, and pickle ball court.  While I know those amenities are designed for the senior residents, grandchildren are the secondary beneficiaries of all the fun.

For the next three days, the boys fluttered between their grandparents' place and the club house.  Cooper created a competitive pickle ball tournament that proved to be lots of fun for the family (minus his few moments where he channeled his inner John McEnroe).  While we fumbled with our strokes at the pool table, even our sloppy play kept the boys busy. 

We ventured out of their community too.  One day Grandma took us to a reptile rescue which received 4 stars rating on TripAdvisor.  (Takeaway: be wary of TripAdvisor).  The reptile rescue was nestled in a strip mall, right next to the Dollar Tree.  When we walked through the doors, we were instantly greeted with a strong aroma.  I could best describe it as the whiff of animal droppings and decay.  I glanced at the floor near my feet.  There was a sticky sheet of paper in which an array of insects had become stuck.  This, I suppose, was our welcoming mat of sorts (or a warning sign).

I'd like to say things got better.  But for me (a non-reptile lover), they did not.  Hundreds of reptiles paced or slid behind closed glass with owners who seemed, let's say, not entirely professional.  Our eight year old tour guide, made me predict the likelihood of an AWOL snake.  It took my mother-in-law about three minutes to make her exit.  I didn't want her to be alone in the car (wink-wink), so I followed her out the door.  Two boys quickly joined us.

If you wonder who gives the reptile rescue such glowing reviews, it would be my other two sons.  The reptile lovers in the bunch were enthralled.  The puff adders, reticulated pythons, and timber rattlesnakes made them giddy.  If it had not been for our prodding, I imagine they would have gladly spent the afternoon gazing at glass cases.

While the reptile rescue may not have been a hit for us all, other activities left everyone happy.  One afternoon, Grandpa piled us all in his boat and gave us an aquatic tour of Lake Norman.  The sun was bright, the waves were smooth, and the scenery was spectacular.

Another evening, Grandpa took us to a car show in which his vintage car was competing.  The boys shuffled through rows and rows of vintage cars with impressive motors and shiny exteriors.  It was like an older boys' version of Matchbox cars, and the boys were in heaven.

When Thursday hit, we loaded up the car and headed back to Indiana.  Grandma gave the boys Halloween treats and deep hugs.  We made promises to visit again soon.  With a mixture of sadness and joy, we turned the car north for home.  We gazed back in the review mirror and felt waves of emotions.  Leaving is hard, but happy memories filled the car.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim to Rim

Chris spent months training for the Grand Canyon and dropped 30 lbs.

Fresh off the plane in Phoenix.  First stop, pancakes at Matt's Big Breakfast.

Still giddy and unaware of the challenges ahead!

 On our second day in Arizona, we all competed in a trail 10K.  This was my first race hoodie.

These guys rocked the hoodie!

I'm still battling my hamstring injury.  And so the girls walked the 10k.  The boys ran the entire distance.

Jim claimed a 3rd place award, and Chris ran an awesome race!

After the race in Flagstaff, we headed over the Grand Canyon to prepare for our adventures!

On Sunday morning, our alarm buzzed at 3:30 a.m.  This was my hiking wear to start the day.

 For the next 14 hours, we traveled from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim.

We took a rest day on Monday and relaxed on the north rim.

On Tuesday, we made the 14 hour hike back to the south rim.

My friend Claudia is one who holds many bucket lists.  She has almost completed her quest to run a half marathon or marathon in all 50 states.  Along with the races, she has other things she hopes to accomplish in this lifetime.  One is hiking rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon.

About a year ago, she asked us to join her on the trip. Young (sort of) and naive, we agreed to accompany her on this adventure.  I ran marathons, I thought.  A little hiking across the Grand Canyon will seem like a walk in the park, I imagined.  Would I even break a sweat, I wondered without a hint of humbleness.

In my cloudy thinking, I forgot about a couple of things:

1) The Grand Canyon is not flat.

2)  Hiking across the Grand Canyon takes time....a lot of it.

3)  Hikers in the Grand Canyon must carry a backpack roughly the same weight as a small child.

4)  Temperatures in some parts of the Grand Canyon rival the surface of the sun.

These things I would learn as I embarked upon our journey.

A few weeks ago, we landed in Phoenix.  A short car ride later, we arrived in Flagstaff.  For the first day, we toured around Flagstaff, eating, shopping, and having a grand old time.

Then the mood of the trip changed.

On our second night in Arizona, we traveled to the Grand Canyon and lodged in one of their hotels.  We ate our last meal (of sorts) and gleefully discussed the adventure that awaited us the next day: traveling from the south rim to the north rim in the span of a day.

Sunday morning, our alarm buzzed at 3:30 a.m.  We jolted out of bed, threw on layers of clothing and pulled on our backpacks.  By 4:30 a.m., we arrived at the Bright Angel trail head.

We walked in the dark for the first 90 minutes.  Headlamps illuminated our path, and we hugged the wall to avoid a dangerous misstep.  While we couldn't see the canyon, the stars were particularly bright and unobstructed.  Constellations were visible.  The moon made a path in the sky.

Around 6 a.m., the sun peeked over the canyon.  We witnessed the most spectacular display of sunset.  The sun's rays danced across the canyon.  It was like veil was lifted and the staring act was suddenly on stage.  We were in awe.

A few hours into the hike, we arrived at the Colorado River.  I imagined the Colorado River to be a clear, rushing presence in the bottom of the canyon.  Instead, the Colorado River was a murky, brown (almost dingy) looking body of water.  Despite its lackluster appearance, it symbolized to us that we had reached the bottom.  We had tackled a quarter of our journey and ventured into territory that was both foreign and spectacular to all of us.

The Phantom Ranch sits just about a mile off the Colorado River.  It is an oasis to hikers.  In the middle of lots of nothing, it houses a canteen complete with beverages and an array of food options.  We sat in the air-conditioned building and marveled at how exactly our cold Lipton Ice Teas arrived at the bottom of the canyon.

Thirty minutes later, we were back on our feet.  We had now arrived in what is known as the "box."  The box is the flat, bottom part of the canyon that seems to go on forever and traps heat.  Our hike started with temperatures in the 40s.  In the box, we faced 90 degree temperatures with full sun.

While the scenery was breathtaking, the conditions became brutal.  When we started our hike, our conversations were bubbly and giddy.  Now, our group grew quiet.  Mentally, I was focusing on reaching each camp ground along the way and celebrating the arrival of each milestone.

By 2:30 p.m., we started our incline.  Thank you Grand Canyon for starting us out slow.  For the next few miles, the terrain was rolling.  Then, just as our energy was waning, the Grand Canyon got real.  I would describe it as being on a step stair master for hours (in the heat).  The Colorado River sits at 2,400 ft. elevation.  The North Rim scales to 8,200 ft. elevation.  You do the math!

By 4:30 p.m., several members of our group were spent.  We had to rally and regain strength and momentum to hit the top.  The last two hours were a test to the power of the human spirit and the camaraderie of friends.

At 6:30 p.m, when the sun was about to dip below the canyon walls, we arrived at the north rim (25 miles later).  The feeling was euphoric.  We made it.  We preserved beyond what we could imagine.  But the celebration was tempered with the thought we had to do it again.

Monday, we relaxed on the north rim.  The north rim is the shyer of the two sides.  It is pure and unblemished, largely shielded from the masses of tourist.  We spent our hours lounging in the Grand Canyon lodge.  We snagged a leather sofa that had the best views of the canyon and literally didn't move for hours.  Other lodge guests would make conversation from time to time.  We met a lovely woman from Australia who has visited every square inch of America.  

Another gentleman in a wheelchair made pleasant conversation with our group.  After listening to our adventures, he voiced his desire to join in our hiking, but noted his physical limitations.

This conversation stuck with me when we embarked on our hike back to the south rim the next day.

While so many things about this hike were challenging, it was equal part amazing.  And I couldn't help be grateful that we were able to have this experience.

A park ranger said only 5% of park visitors walk into the Grand Canyon (and only 1% hikes more than 1 1/2 miles).  

We gazed at things within the canyon that few have witnessed.  Waterfalls trickle through rocky crevices.  A trail named Devil's Corkscrew winds around the cliffs and offers the most spectacular feast for the eye.  The Colorado River (while brown) is majestic and commanding.

We instantly felt a camaraderie with the other hikers we encountered along the way.  When we passed fellow hikers, we exchanged hometowns and stories. We were well past pleasantries, and more like like-minded good friends embarking on the same journey.

The best part of the adventures was that it was accomplished with my husband and good friends.  Doing rim to rim to rim is not a solitary achievement, but a communal feat that brought our group a deeper sense of friendship and a greater sense of delight.  

Would I recommend hiking rim to rim to rim?  Yes, but know the wonderful experience and views can only be experienced with a dose of perseverance and pain (which is always true for the best things in life).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Move Completed: Welcome Home

I just dusted off my keyboard and sat down to blog....finally.  To say life's been busy would be an understatement.  We've gone through a major life change (a move) while still managing regular life responsibilities (laundry still needs to be done and dishes still need to be washed) and special life moments (fall parades, a vacation, and such).

One of the special life moments was chaperoning Collin's field trip to the zoo.  As one with older kids, I know how fleeting the time is to attend a field trip.  

Special moments, always, when I have alone time with a son.

This cat must have been terrified.  Cooper loved on him (hard).

Another special moment was the annual Fall Festival Parade.

It was even more terrific to watch Caleb march along the parade route with the Marching Eagles.

I may be a tad biased, but I really think he's the most handsome trumpet player that band has ever seen!

Then there was the family photo session.

Getting four boys to wear church clothes (on a non-church day) AND smile is no easy feat.

Wish we had six sets of eyes open, but I love that I am sitting amid this handsome crew.

Memaw and Papa with their grandkids.

Birthday celebrations are always special.  Anytime with my running friends makes me smile.  Loved celebrating Kara's birthday.

Soccer games, football games, and other activities filled in the other (many) hours.

But this was our most momentous moment.  The house that we called home for 12 years sold to a new family.

And this became our new address.

I was working on dinner in my new kitchen.  While I was peeling potatoes and slicing carrots, a fly (hopefully just one) kept circling. No amount of swatting or movement seemed to discourage this pesky fellow.  He wanted to be my apprentice, and he made his eagerness to be involved in the process known.

This fly made me laugh.

You see, another fly (I don't think it was the same one) kept me company in my old house.  He also liked to swirl around my kitchen and made me curse his very being.  The moments when he became especially troublesome, I would think about how our new house would not have this fly.  I couldn't wait to move from our old house and rid ourselves of my fly nemesis.

You see, moving houses didn't solve my fly problem.

In the week since we've been into our new house, I've realized changing mailing addresses doesn't rid a home of problems that may have plagued a family in a prior location.

A towel rack still seems like a superfluous item.  (Why place a wet towel on a rack when a perfectly nice floor will do!)

Computer games will always seem more interesting than just about anything else (books can't compete!).

Bickering still happens.

Dirty dishes still land in the sink when the dishwasher is 2 inches away.

So one may question why we would go through the expense and hassle of a move when everything seemingly stays the same.

Because while many things have stayed the same, other things have changed.

We now live on 2 acres of property.  Trees line our driveway (a driveway in which we can break a sweat walking to the mailbox).  A makeshift fire pit is nestled in the backyard with an unobstructed view of farm fields.  The boys can play football, baseball, tag without running into one single neighbor's property.

A few days ago, Cooper and a friend were wandering around the yard.  In between a few pine trees, they discovered a patch of Earth hidden behind branches and away from the watchful gaze of parents and brothers.  They immediately claimed it as their fort and made elaborate plans for the happenings within that space.

As I watched them gleefully run around the grass while hatching their adventures, I knew exactly why we moved to this new home.

Let the adventures begin.