family

After the Fire: A Family History

On December 16, 1956, an arsonist set fire to several churches in Trenton, New Jersey, including the 3rd oldest United Methodist Church in North America. When the pastor arrived at the church, he convinced fire fighters to allow him to enter the blazing building and retrieve documents and artifacts that dated back to the 1700’s. I cannot imagine the horror his 22 year-old son must have felt as he witnessed the collapse of the Sunday School building roof just near where his father had entered. The fire fighters who had entered the building with the pastor would protect him by pressing up against the wall as the roof came down mere feet from where they stood. They would escape unscathed, but would later re-enter, saving some of the treasured history that, in an age before the internet, were irreplaceable.

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A local sixteen year-old-girl would read the Times the next morning and clip the article from the paper. She knew no one involved, but was impressed by the heroic deeds of the pastor.

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It would be many years before that girl, my mom, would meet the pastor’s son who would later become my dad. (Dad was only 17 at the time of the fire; my uncle was the one on the scene that night.) Mom would tell us the story about her clipping out those articles not knowing that within a decade she would be married by that brave pastor to his son and in that very church.


Last week, a woman who had known and loved my grandparents, mailed me a variety of newspaper clippings and other papers. She had tracked me down using the Internet and my birth announcement from one of the church bulletins. I can’t even tell you how it felt to receive these things in the mail, to read the articles, and to hold these pieces of family history. I’d researched the fire online, but how different to hold the fragile, yellow paper in your hand. It’s like the different between swiping your finger across an e-book and curling up with a nice paper book on a Saturday morning. I was touched by the effort she went through to send these to our family.

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I must admit. I have numerous boxes stashed in different corners of my home filled with family history in the form of pictures, scrapbooks, old letters, and such. I repeated promise myself (and my husband) that one-day I will go through them all, digitalize them, and reduce all the clutter. Yet there are a few things that I know I won’t be able to part with. These will make the cut.

Are you holding on to bits of your family’s history? If you have something that has been passed on and doesn’t have much meaning to you, consider sending it on to someone who will treasure it. You just might fill them with a little extra joy.

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elder care, family

Super Sulky Super Bowl Party

Me in response to my siblings telling me what Mom wanted to eat for the Super Bowl: She will be getting a small hoagie, a small French bread pizza slice, some buffalo chicken bites, loaded potato skins, potato chips, chips and salsa, and Diet Dr. Pepper. I’m running a geriatric Super Bowl party not a restaurant. She doesn’t get to choose.


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I’m a red-blooded American. This means that even though I don’t actually care about football, I watch the Super Bowl. Most years I make some traditional Super Sunday foods, like wings and nachos, and then we watch it as a family. Once in a while we’d attend a party, but with neither my husband nor I liking loud parties, we typically turn down all invites. This year my husband decided he wanted to attend, and as much as I don’t like the crowds, I hate being left out more. I’d already committed to stay home with Mom so my husband RSVP’d for one less, and I sulked on the inside.

Mom had been home and bed bound for several weeks leading up to the big event. Mom, unlike me, was a football fan. To be more specific, Mom was an die hard Eagles fan. I tried to make the day special in part for her, but to be honest, I was thinking mostly of myself. I was suffering from a severe case of FOMO and a healthy bout of self-pity. So, I bought some appetizers (mozzarella sticks, loaded baked potato skins, pigs-in-a-blanket), hoagies, chips, and soda. I brought over my schoolwork and laptop and set myself up in Mom’s full size bed, situated adjacent to her hospital bed/football watching sation. I turned on the oven and started cooking some simple party fare.

Mom wasn’t hungry.

Fine, more for me.

As kick off approached, Mom turned on the game and that’s when it hit me. Mom doesn’t have a large flat screen TV. She has a miniscule screen. With the TV facing directly towards Mom, and from my angle and distance, I could barely read the score. With the lesson plans and grading I was doing, I couldn’t even follow the score. I began to cry silent tears. I was in full-blown pity party mode, complete with snacks. Snacks which I was eating alone because the only other person at my party “wasn’t hungry.” It wasn’t that I really wanted to be at a party, I just didn’t want my life to be put on hold to care for my mom. I didn’t want to be stuck changing diapers when I could be doing something else, anything else. I was selfish. I knew I was selfish. I was ashamed of my selfishness. And I can assure you, misery really does love company.

Mom and I chatted that night, and not everything was the tragedy I had played out in my head. Except for the buffalo chicken bites. They were more putrid than the diapers I was changing. (Pro tip: Spend the money to buy real wings from a real wings joint. If you can’t have a nice party, at least you can have well earned heartburn.) Surprisingly, Mom enjoyed the game. She didn’t know how much she was missing out on by not watching the game on a screen large enough to be able to read the numbers on the jerseys. She did express her disappointment that she wouldn’t live long enough to see her beloved Eagles win a Super Bowl even though she faithfully draped her t-shirt over her hospital-gowned chest every game that season. Like a good daughter, I assured her that even if she lived to be 100 she wasn’t going to get to see that, so she really wasn’t missing out on anything. I’m empathetic like that.

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Truth be told, I knew that day that she wasn’t going to see another Super Bowl regardless of who was in it, and that alone almost made me an Eagles fan just for her. When the Eagles finally did make an appearance at the big game only a few years later, I would wear my green and white and wipe the buffalo sauce off my face with Eagles napkins I inherited from Mom. I sure hope heaven has a massive flat screen, and Mom had her front row seats to that game.

Jay is “helping” the Eagles win in Mom style. Caleb told him to straight it out so they could read it better. LOL!
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Christian, marriage, ministry, women

He Sits at the City Gates

Her husband is known in the gates
Where he sits among the elders of the land.
(Proverbs 31:23)

It isn’t easy to be married to me. Let me give you an example of a recent conversation. (These interactions happen regularly in our home. This is just one area in which out views diverge.)

Me: You say you believe in a literal interpretation of “An elder must be the husband of one wife,” but you don’t. You believe an elder must be a man because of this verse, but you don’t believe the verse literally.
Jay: Yes I do.
Me: But you don’t think he needs to be married. You’d be okay with a single guy being an elder. If the pastor’s wife died, you won’t say he needed to step down because he didn’t have a wife.
Jay: Yes, because I don’t think that’s what that verse is saying. It’s saying that if the guy is married he can only be married to one woman.
Me: So, you’re okay with saying that the elder doesn’t need to be a husband nor does he need to have a wife, but you still claim to “literally” interpreting the verse to mean it must be a man because of the word husband even though that man doesn’t literally need to be a husband.
Jay: Yes.
Me: But you can’t possibly interpret it to mean that in a male dominated culture, where men were the vast majority of leaders and women were often uneducated, that the author was speaking to an all male audience, and not that he was specifically excluding women.

Jay: Correct.
(It was a lot longer than this abridged version. Obviously choosing the parts that make me look particularly witty and bright.)

Let me tell you why my husband sits at the city gates. That man needs a break. He has gone out to “sit with the elders of the land” just so he can hang with the guys. I suspect they have gone to the gates of the city so that they can be as far away from home without actually leaving the city. And because they are guys, they are probably out shooting each other with paintball guns, which I expect that they find less painful than listening to all the words that their wives and kids have. Maybe instead, they will go fishing and sit in utter silence. They’ll come back home ready for the chaos of kids, the endless chores, and the day in and day out grind of their jobs. They might have discussed theology or politics or what would be the best way to beat the land speed record without causing severe harm or death.

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The all male Elders Board and Board of Trustees at my church, along with the other male leaders of our congregation, are good men. They are doing hard things. While they are doing it with limited input from women based on their convictions, they are doing it with prayer, integrity, and pure intentions. Most of the men in the God fearing churches I know are living lives of servant leadership. And if they were to included some women in those decision making teams, I am sure they would still be “sitting at the city gates” trying to snag a few minutes of guy time. I not only can’t blame them for this, I fully support this. Guys need that time, and society doesn’t encourage it in the same way they encourage girls to build friendships. Too many men don’t have close male friends, and we are all the worse for it. When they come back from these times, whether they are weekend retreats or a weekly time of coffee and conversation, they are better equipped to navigate this crazy life. They are better leaders, teachers, husbands, fathers, workers, and better Christians.

So yes, I hope I am the kind of wife whose husband sits at the city gate.

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Side note: Yes, I know that the city gate was the place where business was transacted and the leaders sat. I understand the author wasn’t talking about guy’s poker night. I am somewhat twisting the line for sake of humor and to make my point. However, society has changed. The closest walled city I know of is Quebec City, and I don’t think Canadians are more spiritual as a result of this. The word of God transcends time, but I think its wise to look it scripture keeping this in mind.

And to the Godly wife whose husband isn’t sitting among the elders be it at the city gates or among the church leaders: it may be no reflection on you at all. You might sanctify your husband through your actions, but it’s neither your job, nor within your capabilities to make that happen. God’s got that.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian, gifts from God

Why Grace is Hard

Grace. It is a gift so spectacular that we sometimes cannot wrap our minds around its beauty. Grace comes to us just when we need it. It gives us strength when our strength is failing us. It carries us when we cannot take another step. Grace is life saving and life changing.

But grace is hard.

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I know it is a free gift, undeserved, and glorious, but at the same time grace is hard because it is given out only in the immediate moment of need and only to the one who needs it. Grace doesn’t show up in the worry before hand nor for bystander of the trial. Grace often comes in the most bitter of moments as a companion to the weak and a life vest for the weary. Grace forces us to live in the now, seeking the daily bread.

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John Mark McMillan said it best. “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.” At times I have yearned for grace as I bear witness to the heartache of others. Other times, I have sunk beneath the waves of my own struggles in an ocean of grace that has simply allowed me to bob to the surface for a much needed breath at the very last moment.

Grace is hard and seemingly late to the game, but it arrives every time just as He promised.

 

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Christian, ministry, women

Room at the Church Table (Part 2)

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

I find myself struggling with how the Christian church views the role of women in church governance. This is not a piece to argue for the inclusion of women in leadership positions within local churches, though I have definite opinions on this topic, but rather to look at the role women play within the local congregation that takes the complementarian view and how to better serve women within this context.

Complementarianism is belief that God created men and women different (though typically seen as equal) and prescribed different roles for them in life in general and in the family and church specifically. Examples of this are that husbands are the head of the household and wives the “helpmeet”. Churches with this perspective vary greatly in the execution of this belief with some churches not permitting women in any form of church leadership in any situation that includes men, from reading announcements from the pulpit or serving communion. Other churches allow women in all roles except as the pastor of the congregation. Most churches with this theological perspective fall somewhere in the middle.

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While I understand that stereotypes regarding what men and women are like can be grossly inaccurate, I’m going to, for the purpose of this piece, embrace some of the more common stereotypes. As a woman who has spent much of my adult life feeling inadequate because I didn’t fit the stereotype, there is a part of me that is pained by this, but also a part of me that understands that the stereotypes were formed in part because they do in fact reflect much of the general population of the church body. Even in my rebellion of these stereotypes, they reflect me in part as well.

In a typical congregation, you are more likely to fine women running the nursery and the Sunday School program for the younger grades. You are more likely to find men doing the more physical tasks of building repair, things that involve ladders and tools. If your church makes meals for new mothers, the ailing, or the homeless, those ministries are typically supported by women. If your church hosts a potluck, the men are more likely to set up and tear down the tables and chairs, and the women to cook and serve the food.

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Both men and women teach.  Even if not legislated by the church government, men are more likely to teach men and mixed audiences, and women are more likely to teach women and children.

If in fact, these differences are God created and ordained, then it makes sense that men and women would naturally fill different roles within the congregation. Let us assume that God has in fact ordained the prohibition of women from being pastors and elders. Then how does this impact women and the congregation as a whole?

  • When the elders meet to discuss finances, calendars, and building concerns, do they invite into their meetings the women who are running the Sunday School?
  • When a church member is struggling, is the hospitality ministry consulted on the best manner of meeting the practical needs of the this person/family?
  • When there is a conflict in the church that involves a woman, are female leaders consulted on the best way to address the conflict from a women’s point of view?
  • Do women’s voices lead worship for the female worshiper to follow?

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If women are really so different than men in the way we think and process information, if we are different in our nature and created to serve in different areas then men, then isn’t it important to at least include women at the table where decisions are being made? If men, who are very different in their nature and understanding, are left to make decisions the impact women, doesn’t it make sense to include women in the conversation?

If women don’t have a seat at the table where decisions are being discussed, they are not only not fully being represented, but they are not being ministered to in an effective manner.  Women aren’t being prayed over in person like their male counterparts nor are they able to offer their prayers in like manner. Women’s voices are vital to the health of the entire church community.

What if a football team only consulted offensive players and coaches in regards to practices, equipment, and plays, and never the defense or special teams? Why do we do just this in the church?

How can complementarian churches keep their convictions and still minister with and to women?

Make it a regular habit of include women in all church board meetings (elders, trustee, etc.), even if the men are the only ones who “vote” or need additional time alone. It’s not enough to go home and ask the opinions of their wives, or email some of the female leaders in the church for their input. There is a lot of wisdom found in the interaction of a group that cannot be replicated any other way. This is where the prayers of the faithful leaders are lifted up. This is where the congregation finds it’s direction, so why do churches intentionally handicap themselves by tying one of their hands behind their backs? The broader the perspectives and the more varied (age, race, gender, etc.) those seated at the table, the less likely you will be to fall into group speak or have blind spots within your ministry.

What if we simply invited women to the table? 

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Proverbs 31, women

Idleness or Idling?

She looks well to the ways of her household
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
(Proverbs 31:27)

When I think about being idle, I think about doing nothing. Sometimes that thought sounds downright glorious; I work a lot. My career as a teacher with additional after school responsibilities, along with running our household, added to my personal aspirations as a writer, I figure that I am working something like 14 hours a day. That gives me just enough time to sleep and spend a little meaningful time with my family over dinner. I mean, clearly I am not an idle person. I am always doing something. Of course, I do take some time to “relax” at the end of a hard day, because we all need rest, and I can’t imagine God would mind that.

I yearn to do nothing once in a while. I remember a male friend of mine explaining the “nothing box” as described by Mark Gungor in “Tale of Two Brains.” I was fascinated and extremely jealous. My brain is in constant working mode. I want to stop running through my to-do-lists in my mind and stop troubleshooting, lesson planning, and re-hashing everything. Honestly, a warning for women to not be idle seemed to me like it might be misplaced. The women I know are mostly like me, running like crazy and stretched too thin.

 

But what if we aren’t talking so much about idleness in the sense of doing nothing, and look at it more like idling, in the way that your car idles. The car engine is on, it’s using fuel, it’s humming along, but it’s not actually taking the car anywhere. It’s putting wear and tear on the car’s engine, but producing nothing of value. Sometimes, I think I’m eating the bread of idling. My engine is racing, but I’m not making any forward movement. I’m stressed, I’m busy, but I’m not accomplishing a whole lot.

Here are 5 things that I have found helpful for me when I find myself eating the bread of idling:

Turn To-do-lists into goals: Sure we have a ton of to-do-lists, whether on paper or in our heads, but do we have larger plans with steps to achieve them? Here is a goal: This summer I want to de-clutter the house. I am going to work every Tuesday mornings for 3 hours and work my way through the house starting in the sunroom that has become just a giant closet. I will end each cleaning session with a trip to Goodwill to make donations. Etc. (More detailed and the smaller the steps and having a definition of a completed task makes for a better goal.) Instead of goals, we just add “de-clutter the house” to the long list of things that looms over us. That long list with no action plan actually feels heavy. Carrying around that list makes us feel tired which makes us need more time to relax even though we haven’t actually done anything. Plan with specifics.

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Make a schedule: I’m not a Type A personality. I am disorganized and more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, so schedules are not something that I’m good at making or keeping. However, carving out time to work towards your goals really matters. Once I started setting aside a few hours on a Saturday morning dedicated to writing and promoting my writing career, shockingly, things started to move along. When I set aside specific times each day/week for Bible study or exercise, I am more likely to actually accomplish those things than when I just assume I will “get around to them.” As much as I love school breaks, I actually find that I am far more productive in achieving my non-teaching goals during the school year when I’m on a more structured schedule then when I am on break and technically have more time to achieve those goals. Being on a schedule, like being on a budget, is simply telling your time how it will be spent rather than letting your time tell you. Plan your life.

Take a Sabbath rest: A few year’s back, I made a decision to start taking a Sabbath rest each week. From the time I come home on Friday until church is over on Sunday, I try not to do any work. And by that, I mean paid employment tasks. Setting aside time to not work helped me to be more productive when I was working. In part, I found that without limitations on when I would work, I find myself working whenever I was thinking about work or whenever the email came to me which was all the time. I also found that if I worked on Saturdays I would still find more I could or “should” do on Sundays, but if I put it off until Sunday, I could still finish what was important.  In the same way, I made a choice to leave work at work most nights. Sure, there are nights you have to do work, but for the most part, if the work came home “just in case” there was time, I carried it back to work feeling guilty. Define your boundaries.

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Plan your free-time: This might sound ridiculous if you don’t have much free time, but it’s so easy for your free time to disappear without actually making your feel rested or relaxed. Let’s say you only have 30 minutes and you go on Facebook or Instagram or whatever’s your poison. You will skip around to what is important and get off. But if you go on without any limit, you might find yourself 3 hours later watching some video of a cat for the 4th time. You are wasting time, but not really relaxing. Had you read for 2.5 hours and then spent 30 minutes on FB, you’d probably felt so much more rested and maybe even a bit accomplished. If you enjoy taking walks or being crafty or whatever else, schedule time for those things and then let social media or Netflix fill in the remaining gaps, not the other way around. The same is true for longer periods of free-time such as vacations. If you plan the “fun” things you want to do, you will end vacations with memories, but if you wait until you feel like it to do something fun, you might find yourself heading back to work or school having zoned out on a computer for a week and time has simply passed you by. Plan your fun.

Know your self: I spend a lot of time on a computer for work and writing and I enjoy social media and movies for fun. I could spend an entire day in my chair on a computer without ever doing anything physical. I love movies, but I know my limitations with TV shows. Nothing robs my time more than a Netflix binge. I start off watching one episode of a TV series and then I tell myself I’ll just watch one episode every weekend, then it’s every evening, and then it’s, “Maybe I can just finish the season over the weekend.” The next thing you know I’ve spent 8 hours a day “catching up” on 6 years of a TV show I didn’t have enough interest in to watch when it was on the air. I know I get caught up in TV shows, so I try to really avoid them and stick to movies, which are over in an hour and a half. The same can be true for book series for me, but it’s not quite so bad. Be honest about what is a time suck rather than breathing life into you. Make time for what rejuvenates you and set limits on what is mindless and steals your time. When you finish 3 hours of hiking how does your soul feel compared to when you finish 3 hours of YouTube videos? What about 3 hours of knitting with friends verses 3 hours of Facebook? Chose wisely.

In this day and age, it’s so easy to get sucked into living life in idle mode. My goal is not to work harder, but more efficiently. Work hard; play hard; live life more fully.

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Adulting, elder care, family, Gangrene Gables, grief and loss

Harbinger of Doom

 

Me: I just spoke with the lung doctor – I have a prognosis.
Sharon: Guess we all will be chatting later today then?
Me: Want the blunt version or wait for me to call tonight
Sharon: I’m all for blunt.
Me: Eric?
Eric: Whichever is fine. My prognosis is 2-5 hours if she keeps this attitude.
Sharon: Lol
Me: 6 months – year
Eric: Wow. That changes things a bit.
Me: I cried. Now I feel better and feel like we need to make plans. The lung doctor will see her this week and give her a prognosis
Eric: Good that it’ll be coming from him.
Sharon: I agree. This changes everything.
Me: Alright I need to go back to class and be grown up

As a pastor, Mom helped walk quite a few people from this life into the next. She had been there when a mother told her young son that his father had died, she had helped people share with their loved ones that they didn’t have much time left on this side of eternity, and she had cared for countless families in their grief, and had always taken time with them so she could write a eulogy that was extremely personal. Some of those times were sweet and meaningful; occasionally they were not. Mom recounted a tale of a family watching Baywatch while their loved one was lying in the bed next to them in the last hours of life. We joking asked her, “Well what do you want us watching when we tell you that you’re dying.” Mom’s response was Young Frankenstein, her favorite movie. Don’t judge! Mom wasn’t always a pastor. From that day on, long before Mom even got sick, we would joke that we were going to regularly put Young Frankenstein on and then call mom into the room to tell her, “We need to talk.”

In addition to Power of Attorney for all underwear related things, I gained a new title, Harbinger of Doom. I had been the one tasked with the responsibility of gathering my siblings and heading home the night my Dad passed away, although at the time the call came all we knew was that Dad had been in an accident. I spent hours on the phone that Easter weekend calling straight through our phonebook trying to reach friends and family. I was the one that sat down just over a year ago and explained to Mom that while we didn’t have a prognosis for her illness, the more generic prognosis via the internet was 3-5 years with a range of less than a year to 13 years. I was the one that finally forced the doctor’s hand into giving us a prognosis for Mom, so I would be the one to tell Mom what he said.

I called the lung specialist while on lunch break, hoping to catch him. He returned my call after I had returned to class, but fortunately I was assisting another teacher at that moment and was able to step out and take the call. I stood there in the entrance to my school, between the two sets of doors where I would have privacy, cell signal, and protection from the elements. He explained that no one really knows when these things will happen and how quickly or slowly the disease will progress. I told him we weren’t going to hold him to it, but we didn’t know how to plan without some idea. I told him that Mom recalled the other specialist talking about her lungs being a miracle, and being convinced she had at least ten years. I said we needed to be thinking about nursing care, assisted living, etc. and two years or ten years made a big difference. That’s when he said, “Six months to a year.” I thanked him, went to the staff room and cried. Another teacher comforted me as I gave in to the grief that had been growing for over a year since the diagnosis came through. The people I work with have always been incredibly supportive. When I did return to class, the teacher who had been teaching my class at that time asked me if I was okay. All I could do was shake my head no. I sat down and sent him an email explaining. Before he even got the email he had offered to come back during his prep period in an hour and cover my class for me. I declined but with much gratitude. Teaching has always been a comfort to me. I can shut out most of the struggles of my outside life, and it offers me a respite from the trials.

Harbinger of Doom            That evening my siblings and I would gather at the rehab and give Mom the news. It would be hard. It felt a little like role reversal, telling your parent about their life and helping them to navigate this road. How many times had my parents nursed me to health, helped me walk through break ups, or advised me on the best paths to take for my future. Here we were returning that favor to Mom. We were gentle, but blunt. I delivered the basic news and offered to further explain what the doctor has said, which wasn’t much. Mom cried. We cried. We were sorry we hadn’t brought Young Frankenstein.

Eric: Barb, if you are coming tonight, we should meet in the lobby and all go in together, I think.
Me: Almost there
Eric: I am at the intersection outside of the center. I will be there in 30 seconds.
Me: Overachiever. Did you bring Young Frankenstein?
Eric: I forgot.

 

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