Reflections On a Family Renuion

It seems like I've been off the planet for a while, but I really just went to Denver. I had spotty Internet service in the mountains, so I felt somewhat disconnected. After the initial withdrawal symptoms, it was nice. I played corn hole and watched no television. I hung some clothes on the line and, I felt like Laura Ingalls' neighbor. Half pint and I would have been friends.

I was attending a family reunion that included lots of twists and turns and some unexpected blessings. Over the course of my trip, I had eight plane flights with nary a delay, nor unpleasant seat companions. How often does that happen?

Once the relatives arrived from California and Florida and the Midwest, we had great food, lots of laughs and a few tears as we remembered the death of a loved one eight months ago. I saw cousins I don't see very often. We all decided we're turning into our parents, in appearance and ailments.

Our reunion was hosted by a relative by marriage who had not met any of the regular attendees. She opened her home and refrigerator to strangers, and by the time we all left, she was their favorite person in the room. Only God can open hearts in such a way. We are a blessed family.

As we overate and shared memories, it struck me that people become intimate by sharing their struggles. We can bond over joyous occasions, but true intimacy (into-me-see) comes from sharing a disappointment, a loss, a heartache. Because that's when we realize we are not alone. Every heart has been broken by one thing or another. No one escapes this life unscathed.

No matter what facades we erect, we all have fleshy, vulnerable hearts that long for security and affirmation and peace. It's how we're wired. When people gather in groups, there can be much superficial chit-chat, so I appreciate when people are genuine and open to connecting with another human soul. We had a lot of that at the reunion, aging cousins who shared our worries over declining parents and our hopes for grown kids still finding their way.

Colorado is a long way from Florida - a day's travel and enough of a time difference to mess with my sleep cycle for a few days. But at the Kemp reunions, it seems like we all live just down the street from one another.

Here's a picture from forty years ago...and one we recreated last week with the same cousins. 

Cool, huh?

This group is from my mom's side of the family - my mom who no longer attends the reunions because she's 95 and travel is not an option for her anymore. We called her and passed the phone around, so she could talk with everyone, although she doesn't catch much over the phone. When my mom and her two remaining siblings are gone, this group of cousins will become the elderly group in the family. We still feel like the kids, so this is weird to think about.

I don't know where the time went. But, it sure went fast.


The Book Has Arrived

Look what arrived at the Ballpark this week! It's Christmas in July!

An e-book I've been working on for four years was completed this weekend. It's now available here: THE 12 DAYS.

I had a crash course on e-publishing this past week, and by the grace of God and unending support from our technology wiz daughter, the story I've been encouraged to share for a long time now has a venue. For someone who still has trouble working her cell phone, this is a colossal feat. Thank you, thank you to all who heard me talk about this endeavor for years.

A bit about this baby: Over twenty years ago, our family was anonymously given 12 days of surprises over the holiday season. The daily gifts were small, but precious. The following year, we gave the 12 Days project to someone else. We have been doing this every year since.

The book explains how the project is executed and offers over 100 gift ideas (homemade, baked and purchased), based on the lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song. It also shares how receiving this gift so long ago changed my heart about holiday giving.

If you are tired of and frazzled by the holiday chaos that accompanies Christmas (I was) and are looking for a way to create a different atmosphere in your home during the month of December, this book is for you. If you want to teach your children in a very hands-on way that Christmas is about giving, not consuming, this book is for you. If you want a fun, sneaky, holiday adventure, this book is for you. If you want to learn how to make Octopus bread, this book is for you.

Thanks to everyone who visits the Ballpark now and again. You are the peeps I most want to share this with.


Life at Both Ends

My 94-year old Mom has been in the hospital for nine days.

A few states away, there is a new baby in the family, just two days old.

Both are wrapped in cozy blankets, both are fragile and needy and vulnerable.

Both are loved so much.

Opposite ends of the spectrum, these two lives. One is surrounded by joy and tears. The other is accompanied by frequent sadness and tears. Both tug on the heart and draw us closer to God, who authors all life.

Mom will be 95 in just a few days, and in a month, her latest great grandson will be visiting. I pray we can get a photo of these two together, but today Mom talked of being so tired and getting a feeling that her life is winding down, so we will see what God has planned.

When I look at Mom, I see a long, full life.   When I gaze on this sweet new grand nephew of ours, I see a long, full life. Mom has many memories; our grand nephew has none. I cannot visualize our grand nephew at 95.  Only God knows what his journey will be. 

Life is short and long at the same time. When I'm sitting with Mom, who is often confused these days, the hours are long because there is a relenting grief that this may be the last day I see her.  When my brother holds his new grandson, I'm sure he's aware that this little boy will grow up as fast as his own sons did. Time seems to be measured by the heart - what we are celebrating, and what is painful. 

Life is amazing and scary and surprising at both ends.  It has value at both ends.  And every day in between. 



Today is our firstborn's birthday.  

Every new baby ignites in his parents an enormous passion, and a fierce sense of protection and provision.  It just wells up, usually accompanied by tears. 

The first time that happens, however....your defenses are stripped away, your heart is laid bare, and you realize, maybe for the first time, what unconditional love is.

You realize how vulnerable you now are.  You have just created something you will protect more than yourself.

In the summer of '77, we became parents for the first time.  Our tiny, flesh-of-our-flesh, often smelly newborn was completely ours to snuggle and nurture and feed and clean and teach and love.    

It was overwhelming and frightening and wonderful.

We realized early on, however, that we were completely inadequate parents.  We didn't actually know anything.

We worried that we'd drop this precious bundle, or not hear him if he was suffocating against the mattress.

We worried that, as a toddler, he'd run into the street, or trip over a brick and knock his new teeth out, or find a dead worm and eat it.

The worries only got bigger: the copious germs at school, predators offering our innocent boy a candy bar, crummy friends who would lure him into stupid behavior, and, worst of all...GIRLS.

Despite the worries, our firstborn could not have been more adored.  As the first grandchild on my side of the family, we were "over the moon" with this youngster.

He was born one year after my twenty-three year old brother unexpectedly passed away.  This fresh, new life was a soothing balm to my grieving parents. 

Our firstborn was a smart, serious child who loved Legos, transformers, and McGyver.  (To this day, we all believe duct tape and a pocket knife should fix anything.)

When the soccer coach broke our son's seven-year old tibia with a powerful, but misplaced kick, I tearfully learned that I could not protect my boy from the world.  This is a heart-wrenching moment for a mom.  

That same year, this son won the Fire Prevention Week art contest for the second grade.  I had tears in my eyes again.  This tough little guy who weathered a clunky leg cast and crutches for six weeks was artistic and creative, and pretty nonchalant about it too.   He's still not one to blow his own horn.

But, his mom will.  Here's the second grade winner... 

...and some of his later work, a portrait of all the grandchildren with G.G., their great-grandmother.

Don't miss the tiniest little sprout on G.G's lap.   This picture is so precious, my heart aches. 

As the oldest child, our son was a good little helper, a job most firstborns tire of over time.  God bless 'em.  The burden of being first. 

He once referred to himself as the "experimental child," which is, unfortunately, true.   The first offspring has to weather the learning curve of Mom and Dad.   I can only pray that our insane love for this child counter-balanced our inexperience. 

Our son became self-reliant early on, and moved to Arizona with only what he could fit in his pick-up.  He has an adventurous spirit that enables him to follow his heart.  Once on his own, he never asked us for anything.

He's a whip-smart pharmacy technician, a talented musician, and an avid baseball fan.  He also does a very good Jim Carrey impersonation. 

He's still creative.  A few years ago, he proposed to his girlfriend on opening day at Fenway Park.  Then, he designed their wedding invitation, incorporating a baseball theme. 

I believe any children will have reddish hair. 

Today, we thank God for our firstborn.  The child that made us a family.

Happy, blessed birthday, beloved son.

All our love...

Mom and Dad


8 Rules for a Lifetime Marriage

Looks who's been married 65 years today.

The ex-clown is there in the middle, their third offspring.  Mom looks a little haggard, but I guess you're entitled when you're just weeks away from turning 95.

These two continue to amaze me. Dad fights chronic UTIs (he's just completed treatment for his 4th infection this year) and Mom moves slower than molasses, but they are hardy stock from Indiana, and they have more energy than me these days.

People ask them all the time, how do you stay married for 65 years? Here is some of their wisdom:

Mom: You just do it. You might argue now and then, but you work it out.

Dad: Just listen to your wife. They need to talk a lot.

Mom: Try to make healthy food.  That helps you out later in life.

Dad: Get away from each other once in a while. Everybody needs a break. 

Mom: We pray every night that we'll be able to handle what happens tomorrow.

Dad: Pray together.

Mom: You have to forgive.

Dad: Let her do what makes her happy.

Mom: Let him do what makes him happy.

Dad: Marry the right girl.

There ya' go. Feel free to print that out and hang it on your 'fridge.  These would be good wedding vows, don't you think? To "cherish and honor" is fine, but how does that translate into action?

Like this: "I promise to listen to you, let you do what makes you happy, make good food for you, pray with you, forgive you, and get away from you once in a while."

When we're all young and dewy-eyed, we don't know marriage requires so much, like listening, forgiving, spinach salads, and asking God for guidance.  Hollywood portrays it as roses and romance, or something to avoid. We don't get an accurate picture of long-term commitment from the entertainment world, so it's refreshing to see the real deal when we come across it.

My folks are part of the The Greatest Generation, and I think part of what makes this age group great is that they take seriously their commitments. Their word is gold. That kind of honor brings stability and security to a family, a village, a nation.

It's the best gift my parents gave me.