Jumping on Facebook tonight caught me off guard. Why? I don’t know because I got what I asked for. Yesterday, a FB friend shared she was running a race for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in memory of her mom. Teresa offered to write names on her bib of anyone’s loved ones who had a brain aneurysm. I replied “Grandma Pape” in the comments, then moved on with life.
Tonight I opened FB, and there sits Teresa’s race bib with my request. A mix of stinging, healing tears welled in my eyes.
Grandma Pape was my confidant. She had moved to Holdrege, my hometown, during my critical tween and teen years. I spent many a nights talking about life in her basement as she decorated wedding cakes and made mints. When I moved to New York, she wrote me letters often.
I had just talked to her on the phone for Thanksgiving. Then I got the call that she had suffered a brain aneurysm right after the holiday. Luckily she lived through it, but it was not in a good place to operate. Where would she go? What would she do? I talked to my boss as I had planned to leave N.Y. in January, and they had not found a nanny replacement. I made a deal that if I could go home through Christmas and take care of my Grandma, I would come back for another six months and get them through the school year. My boss took the deal, as she had just shut the doors on her company and would have some down time.
The month of December (1990), I decorated Grandma’s house for Christmas. Cooked her meals of foods I learned about only in New York. We talked about her childhood as the sunset and the Christmas lights came on each night. We beat each other in Wheel of Fortune puzzles. Her fear of the aneurysm erupting hardly ever showed. The doctor had said something about not taking steps/stairs, so she seemed to have some trepidation when she came near her basement steps. Otherwise, we did a lot of ‘hanging out’, as my 19 year old self saw it. I had too little life experience to even begin to understand what Grandma was going through. I just know my strongest memory was going over to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas, Grandma’s last Christmas. I left for New York the next week after ringing in the New Year and taking down the Christmas tree.
It was a short time -days, maybe a week – before I got the call, my Grandma was in the hospital. She would be gone soon. I didn’t get to go home for her funeral. I knew this would be the choice when I chose to go home for the month to take care of her. It hurt all the same, it just hurt lonely. Today when Teresa posted her bib and I saw “Grandma Pape”, I didn’t feel alone anymore- the pain seemed shared, it seemed understood. Thank you for running Teresa! Here’s a shout out to your mom cheering you on from the streets of Heaven- you are not alone!
July 15, 2019, I left work after a great evening doing what I love…teaching. It was the county fair bb gun contest which I assumed would be just another night. Then, it happened, I was asked to be in charge of challenges. None of the kiddos had ever challenged their targets before nor their parents, so I taught! I taught how to score, add up scores, and look closely for the rounded edge of the hole to see if the bb broke the line, giving just one more point to the competitor. It was FUN! The last young man to look at his target wanted to challenge, and he won the challenge! He walked away with his shoulders held high. Another day well lived in my career where a young person learned methods, steps, and critical thinking. The 4-H leader that night stepped up to also celebrate the lowest score of the tournament. The young lady had shown the most improvement this year which no score could reflect. I gave thanks for leaders who ‘get it’, and I witnessed it on this special anniversary, the 20th anniversary of my career in Extension. I started my career in Extension on July 15, 1999 in Seward County. Later taking a position as an Educator, August 20, 2012.
I knew I wanted to celebrate through a blog post, but working every night I knew Wednesday, July 16, would be my only chance to reflect and write. Then I had some family commitments and delayed the celebratory blog. I almost gave up writing this, but then I meditated with a song this morning called “>“Wonder Woman” by MK Mueller . The song’s message reminded me to take a moment and do something that brings me joy…writing life’s stories, celebrating life’s blessings.
4-H is truly a team of people whom parents (and often grandparents) choose to have help raise their children. I feel so honored when a parent chooses me to be a part of that team, or entrust a volunteer recruited under my leadership/encouragement/training. When I left the field of ministry in a preschool and a high school program in 1999, I couldn’t imagine a job outside the church could be a ‘calling’. What I found out, is a calling isn’t just about a position, or the organization you call ‘work’. The calling is about being where I needed to be at any moment for others to live out a significant moment in their life. Many people may think this happens around county fair, but rarely for me.
Most of the thank you notes I keep are not general notes of thanks around a contest or event. The notes I keep are the parents who I sat with when they discovered their child was self-harming and reassured them that this too shall pass, and I’ll be there to mentor their child when this episode is over. The moment a young person is about to reach a goal to give a speech, and freeze, and I coached them through their paralysis to winning the contest. It is the father at a shooting sports training who comes up and shakes my hand and says, “you taught me to a better father, no one has ever taught me how to be with my kids”. I do love the moment at county fair when a young person discovers their exhibit (rocket, pie, woodbench) is selected for state fair, and they come find me to tell me. These are the moments of “calling”.
My job is to take research based information from the land-grant university and improve the lives of Nebraskans. The research is the tool we engage to improve the lives, however, I believe it is the relationships that changes lives. Many of us have tools to reach our goals but it is the cheerleaders who encourage us to keep on going, to not give up, those who tell us they believe in our potential that really give the extra boost to change life. Over the past 20 years, my cheerleader squad has been enormous those who have helped me grow and change. The bosses who challenged me; the trainers who took me through powerful programs like Character Counts! and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; the Jr. Leaders who told me I was making a difference; the colleagues who have stood by me through deaths, births, surgeries, birthdays, celebrations, college degrees, successes, and failures; the 4-H Council and Extension Board members who bought into the vision and worked as a team to carry it out; stakeholders who invested dollars and resources into the vision for our best Nebraska; and most of all, my family who chose to live the Extension-life with me.
Is Extension my calling? I have no idea. Has Extension provided opportunities for me to live out my calling? Absolutely. I guess as I write this, I realize I’m not defined by my job, I’m defined by my life’s mission which is to coach others to reach their potential, their goals, their dreams. This can take on the role of a young lady starting a business selling tractors or pillows, a writer working on their next novel, an archer who just wants an arrow on the target, a colleague who is working through a conflict, a young man who wants to start his own goat herd, a 4-H leader wanting to start a club, a future teacher to get their start by teaching a 4-H workshop, an organization president develop a speech about the future, co-teaching with an intern or new co-worker…..I get to be their cheerleader.
When I look back on 20 years, I can definitely define many times when I followed the Lord’s pen and helped write not only my story, but the story of the lives that have impacted my life, my career. So, thank you Lord, and thank you to all of you, that have been a part of these 20 years that have provided me and my family with a good life. I feel blessed to carry out my calling through my career.
Friday, I had been looking forward to today. I had a full day in the office all by myself. County Fair contests start on Sunday, and I had a laundry list of have-to’s and want-to’s get ready for my two county fairs. Now I can laugh, only 3 things got done on my list. I had some great visits from 4-H leaders, members, and volunteers. I felt honored to be a part of their plans and accomplishments, even if it meant tasks not getting crossed off my to-do list.
I also had the tough stuff today that comes before the county fair. People who missed deadlines, parents worried about their kids meeting qualifications to compete, and conflict that comes with any type of competition. As I worked through the tough stuff, I got a request from a colleague to share a Facebook video. With a scowl on my face, I got ready to scroll through FB posts and find the missing video. But what popped up stopped me in my tracks.
There was Brandon. My niece posted a picture of her brother who would have been 35 years old today. It is Brandon’s birthday, July 12. I had not written the date today, and spent way too many nights in meetings this week to think about the date. Today is July 12, the day Brandon came into the world, a date that forever changed my life. July 12 is the date I became an aunt. In Brandon’s short 20 years on this Earth before ‘going home’, he taught me so much. He taught me to love in a way I had never experienced love before. I remember babysitting him one day, he was taking a nap in my room. In my teenage brain, I wasn’t thinking and jumped on my bike to run to the store. About 2 blocks away, it occurred to me I had left Brandon at home napping. I felt like my bike was an airplane under me as I flew back to the house, and ran into the bedroom. There the precious baby was sleeping just as I had left him. That pit in my stomach that I had failed him, that fierce burning in my heart that I must always protect him, was a love seared on my heart from that day forward.
Brandon taught me many more lessons. He taught me to live a full day every day. To let people grow up and change, and not hold them to the person they were as a kid. To be present to show love. To give time. To hug like you mean it. To sing, really sing with your heart. To find fun in the mundane. To forgive and move on. Brandon was so amazing to Katie. He wrote her letters while serving in the Marine Corps stationed in the middle east. When he got home from Iraq, he made the 2 hour trip to the county fair and surprised her at her 4-H chicken show. That day was so special, and we didn’t even know we only had a short-time left with Brandon before a vehicle accident would take his earthly life.
So Today….there I was opening Facebook and greeted by Brandon’s amazing eyes. It put tears in my eyes before a smile on my face. That smile, that look, transported me from my earthly struggles. I was transported to a love I miss so much in my life. That moment put many things into perspective, and of all the struggles I faced today, how none of them mattered in the large scheme of life. It reminded me of how short this life truly is.
So Tonight …I walked outside to listen to the cicadas sing their summer ballads, lightning bugs perform their dance, and see the signs Brandon had sent. I assumed there would be a new rose blooming, and there it was. Only one rose on the little bush by the patio. You see, the day Brandon passed away, Scott woke me up to share the heart-wrenching news in the wee hours of the morning. After I gathered my wits, I walked out to the car to get my phone. As the sun dawned to bring us morning, a rose literally bloomed and opened in front of my eyes. I paused and acknowledged Brandon’s heavenly presence with me. In God’s promise and in Brandon’s love, I was sent a rose again tonight. I had seen the tight bud yesterday when I ate lunch on the patio. Tonight a single yellow rose bud greeted me as I stepped out on the patio to ‘live, laugh, love’ and reflect on life. To enjoy this very moment, it is the only moment we are promised.
And once again, I had a plan to author my own day, my own July 12, but HE reminded me that HE is truly the author no matter my to-do list. HE reminded me to look back at the lessons Brandon taught me, … to live, to laugh, to appreciate what I have, to stop and enjoy the roses! A Gift from Heaven.
I love having work that exhausts me. I love the moment my head hits the pillow after a day well lived, well worked, well played,…and I instantly fall asleep. That is this week every year. Teaching almost 250 kids over 2 days at Platte River State Park. It stretches my introvertedness. After these two days I’m just spent. This year, the 2nd day ended on Maundy Thursday, the day we honor Jesus’s Last Supper with his followers.
As I left the park that day, then ran errands in Lincoln, my mind was considering where I would worship on this special day. I wanted a place I could slip in the back of the church, get lost in the crowd, and disappear with only God & I knowing I was there. The drive west was therapeutic, and allowed me to close back my introverted shell, and I hoped to stay there for the rest of the evening.
I ended up in a church in Grand Island. I read about how these three Methodist churches take turns with Holy Week services, and knew I could get lost in the crowd as they wouldn’t know who was a member and who was not. As I walked up to the door, a man opened it for me, shook my hands and welcomed me in. I believe so often the most important people in the church are the greeter, and then the usher. If these two people serve their positions well in welcoming a person, the first impression will serve the church for a really long time in gaining new members and helping a person have the feeling of being a part of a church family (the other part is having clear signage, but that is for another day).
After I entered the church, there was a tattered cloth over the sanctuary door the greeter sent me to. At this moment, I was happy I had some offering in my purse, as it looked like they needed it. When I reached for the cloth, two hands on the opposite side pulled open the ‘cloth’. There were two ladies welcoming me in. I had to pause. There were not pews, there was not an altar, but a large room full of 12-16 tables with small groups of people at each one. There were ladies sitting at a ‘head table’ underneath the cross with cloth over their heads, and men sitting there with cloth over their shoulders. It was simplistically beautiful. Candles, bowls, the bread and wine, seashells, and palm leaves were on each table, not just the head table.
It hit me! I had just walked into the Last Supper. The tattered cloth was not the usual ‘door’ to worship, but was the door I would have walked through 2000 years ago to share in the Lord’s Supper. Things just got real, and usually I would have tried to tip-toe out of this situation that was going to require real participation. There was no back pew, there was no empty area to retreat too. There was just Sharon.
Sharon, oh that name that has held such a special meaning my whole life. Sharon is my aunt who I never met. She has jet black hair, and in all the pictures I’ve seen of her she was very angelic. Even the picture my Aunt Diane painted of Aunt Sharon in her high school cap and gown, had a halo affect around Aunt Sharon. My aunt passed away in a car wreck on May 13, 1964, just days before her high school graduation. The stories of how much she loved nature and being outdoors and exploring and being an aunt has always made me believe we would have been close souls. The only time I saw Aunt Sharon myself is when my grandpa, her father, had passed away. We were at the funeral home for the first viewing of Grandpa, and my sister and I walked up to the casket. Aunt Sharon’s iridescent soul was standing next to the casket draped in a bluish-greenish gown, with her black hair shining, like it was reflecting a special white sunlight. She was looking at my Grandpa’s face, admiring the weathered lines of this hard-working farmer, husband, father. She was just the presence I needed as I tried to make sense in my 11 year old brain how to handle the immense pain in my heart that felt like it would break my body apart. Her angelic look and actions were such a relief in my clumsiness in this new situation. Her soul ‘role modeled’ what came next for me,… how to view a body, how to just be present for my grandma, and how to find peace among the chaos in my heart.
Here I was again, in 2019, 37 years and one day later after burying my grandpa. Finding myself wanting to hide, wanting to be alone, wanting to hide among the chaos in my heart. I had blown off another season of Lent, of not reflecting, of not keeping my commitment to give something up for Lent, of not attending Wednesday night church since Ash Wednesday. Then there was Sharon. Not my Aunt Sharon this time, but a lady named Sharon. She was waving from the front of the church. Sharon was signaling to the usher to send me to HER table. Me, why me? Why does she want me? The usher told me to go to Sharon, as if I knew her as an old friend or family member, as if she had always been a part of my life and we were all family.
I carefully walked through the maze of people and tables, and chairs pulled out into the aisles as Sharon kept waving until I go to her in the front-center of the room. She was not giving up on me, By GOD, I was going to be with her on Maundy Thursday. Sharon explained that every table had a host, and she was our host for the night, as the 4 people across the rectangle table all introduced themselves.
Then it began, the Last Supper. Each character at the head table would walk out to the crowds in the room, and tell their story showing us what the item was they held and the significance to Jesus’ last meal. The first was Martha who had expensive perfume, and she explained how she washed His feet with her hair. At our table we followed up with the oily perfume in a sea shell sitting on the table. Sharon, took the perfume and made the sign of the cross on my forehead and reminded me I am a blessed Child of God. Amen, I replied. Then I returned the anointing, and we passed the seashell across the table to our fellow participants.
Next was when Jesus washed the feet of his disciple. In turn, we placed our hands in a bowl of water at the table, and Sharon wiped my hands. I assisted Sharon in her hand cleansing. The vulnerability was pulsing across the table as each person allowed their hands to another.
When it came to communion, the gold chalice held the wine, and a small loaf of bread was about to be broken. Sharon broke the bread, gave it to me saying ‘Christ’s body broken for you’. Now if you have ever been beside me when taking communion, it is hard for me. I feel devastated that this Man gave His life for me, and feel incredibly guilty and the tears and sniffles that follow are a mix of why would He love me so much to give his life and the gratitude that He did. So, Sharon handed me the bread, and I dipped it in the wine and consumed the blood and body of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. I returned the sacrament for Sharon before passing it across the table. Each time, I was the first one to receive these rituals since I was the only one on Sharon’s side of the table.
The character from the head table who spoke before communion was Judas. Unfortunately, this was the character I associated most with up to this point. I had ran into slow traffic on my way to GI, was sometimes in my mind and other times with my words, questioning why people were so slow and were impeding my way to church. My gas gauge had gotten low and was just adding to the stress I was allowing to build up in my body. And darn it, I was hungry because supper time had passed but I was too tired to eat before church, so now I was hAngry before I even entered the church. The church parking lot was full of soccer players, and I had to park a block away just adding to my anxiety of finding a church to get lost in. My heart had been closer to the heart of Judas’s judgmental heart, then Jesus’ forgiving heart.
Judas’ character was played by Sharon’s husband. Sharon reached for a Kleenex to wipe her tears as she watched her husband struggle in his heart to play this character who betrayed Jesus for money. I wanted to hug her, to comfort her, to ease her pain as she empathized with her husband’s struggle, just as I had witnessed my sister do for people in church, before she sends them into surgery, or in their suffering, and how there was a sense of peace to each person my sister literally touched. I resisted following my sister’s example in life, and kept my hands to myself.
Then, the tears were enough, Sharon had to remove her glasses to let the tears flow. My heart tugged again to sit in her sadness with her (a healing technique I had recently read about as we are challenged at work to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding in Nebraska). I did it, I reached over and placed my hand on Sharon’s back and sat in her sadness, and cried the tears of sadness with her. She leaned back, and told me about her husband’s worry that he would struggle to make it through his part. We all experienced Judas’ conflicted heart at this Last Supper.
As I finished providing Sharon with communion, I sat back, closed my eyes, and asked forgiveness for my judgmental Judas moments I had experienced way too often, and especially in the past two hours.
After intervals of Bible verses, hymns, character’s storytelling, prayers, and sharing the rituals, the last act was to take a thin candle, and light it from a candle up front. The large lit candles were in buckets of sand. We would light our candle and stick it in the sand, and remember to go forward with the light of Christ in our hearts. I did. As I walked back to my seat to grab my purse, Sharon embraced me. Not just a hug, but a true “I care about you embrace’. I think I may have just had a soul hug passed along through human arms.
Yes, I had said my prayer of grace that morning sitting on the porch of my cabin overlooking a lake before heading out to teach 125 students, and tackle my Thursday. And, I did end that prayer with “Please Author My Day Lord”,…..and He did!
Homesickness – caused by a lack of physical connection to the ones we love. For some, being homesick is to long for familiar surroundings, and then being surrounded by the ones who care about us. Being homesick is something I’ve experienced most of my life. There are three places in my world where I always felt connected growing up. One was my childhood home on Maberly Street in Holdrege, another was my Grandpa & Grandma’s farm near Orleans, and the other place was my Uncle Galen and Aunt Shirley’s house near Stamford. If I stayed the night anywhere else before marrying Scott, I was homesick at some point. I found ways to cope by sleeping a lot to pass the time until I could go home, or playing and holding with babies if they were around. Otherwise, I just flat out got sick, and often my parents would come to get me because the host observed I just didn’t feel well.
Shortly before my 19th birthday, I moved to New York to be a nanny. Even though millions of people lived within miles of me I felt alone, I felt homesick many times. My East Coast ‘family’ was wonderful to me including me in their Sunday morning baseball games in the Irvington Park, Saturday walks with our dog Winston, and visits with their friends from the city who came out to see how people in the suburbs lived. However, nothing, no experience, no person, could take the place of my family back in Nebraska who I longed for. This time, my parents could not be called to come bring me home for a familiar night in my bed, a taste of Grandma’s wedding cake scraps could not be sent for a familiar taste (she baked wedding cakes for a living), and no one could afford to jump on a plane to come see me for a familiar hug. On top of this, long-distance phone calls cost a fortune, internet was still a dream, and cell phones were just for the super rich. This time, I was on my own to figure out homesickness.
My East Coast Family had left for the weekend to their country home in Connecticut, and I was alone. All my nanny-friends had to work that Sunday, and I was literally alone in the castle (yes we lived in a castle that was being renovated into condos). As tears were welling up in my eyes and a knot in my stomach, an image came to me. The image was a little church on a corner across from the grocery store in the next town over, just down Broadway (yes Broadway Street runs out of New York City up into the suburbs following the Hudson River).
Fear filled my gut, but desperation fueled my actions. I got up, got ready, and went to the little church. When I walked in the door, you would have thought I was the lost little sister who had just been found. The greetings were immense, the hugs almost felt familiar, and the hymns and prayers were the same as my church back in Nebraska. It was just the little bit of familiarity I needed to untie the knot in my stomach and dry the tears out of my eyes.
Looking back that day brings me comfort to know when I face my fears, when I turn my day over to the real Author of my life, I will be taken care of. The next time I felt that deep pit of sadness in my stomach, I was going to be alone on a Friday night, and the youth group leader called me. A sponsor had to cancel out on a youth group lock-in, and they invited me to come be a sponsor all night. I said yes, and once again, God was reassuring me that He will come to me in many forms to face my fears, and to give me comfort when I yearn for home, for a connection to those I love.
Some days, some moments, doubt fills me. I think I’m on the path that God wants me on, then BOOM – life happens. Working on my entry for the Chipstarter 2.0 campaign this past week, trying to edit my children’s book series, and Scott being gone on his dream fishing trip to Canada, made for an interesting week of doubt. I was missing my life’s cheerleader – my husband- who always reminds me how worthy I am to pursue dreams. However, I can look back throughout this week and see where God placed hope in my path to overcome the doubt.
In the place of Scott’s never-ending encouragement, God gave me my daughter at our home this week. She kept telling me she was ready to shoot that video for the contest whenever I was. I wish I had the picture of her tonight as she held the camera and her hand-made teleprompter cheering me on to complete the video. (see my video entry at https://youtu.be/IgDYEtAsado)
I was determined I had to have a Husker shirt to wear in the video. I walked into Walmart, and there was a display of women’s shirts in produce area (who can explain that one?). That black shirt I’m wearing in the video, was laying, sprawled out on top of the display. Again, I see God was communicating ‘shirts are insignificant compared to your calling today, here is the shirt, now go work on the really important agenda I wrote for you today”.
To gather my thoughts, I need drive time. This week spending time with my hubby’s mom was important to me with our guys ‘gone fishin’. Each time I made the hour-long trip to the family farm, inspiration would come to me for the children’s books. I would sit down at the kitchen table when I arrived at the farm and complete another step.
The most powerful God-moment this week came with my deepest doubt. I could not sleep Saturday night. I would get out of bed each hour, complete another project, then try to sleep again, only to repeat the next hour. Bothering me was how unimportant my work was compared to all the videos I had watched on the Chipstarter website, especially the other children’s books authors asking for their dream to be fulfilled too. I just didn’t see my dream as developed as the other authors. I started questioning, ‘was I suppose to write in 1st person or have a narrator? Do I have the right number of pages in each book? Does the book series truly appeal to the age I want it to? Am I crazy insisting on hiring my own illustrator versus letting the publisher find the illustrator?’
Then at the 3 a.m. I-can’t-sleep-project, a blog came across social media… How to write a children’s book in 9 Easy Steps. It was as if she had been in my mind an hour earlier, and wrote a guide to me. O.K. God, I get it, I’ll keep writing, editing, and moving forward on “The Life Lessons of Jax”. However, I’m sure this is the wrong time, just too much going on, so definitely ditch the entry in the contest, right?.
Nope! God had another idea…and I get an alert on my phone ‘submit your dream’!
Suddenly, I ditched most of the write-ups for the contest questions, and the words,…the answers,… the typing…suddenly flowed along with an outline for the video entry. It is just amazing to me how HE throws out the doubt, and makes the path surface when it had seemed to have disappeared under the cloak of doubt.