Pursuing Happiness

This post is for my children – but you’re welcome to read it. This is a conversation I want to have with them as teenagers, but I am writing it down in case I get hit by a bus. ūüôā

A core component of our human existence is a desire for happiness and an ongoing search for meaning in this life. If you Google “the meaning of life” you’ll find all sorts of self-involved pithy quotes about gifts, dancing in the rain, self-actualization and personal discovery. You can find happiness (pleasure) in all these things¬†– and¬†probably some meaning, too. Most people live this way. It’s not a bad life.

nonsense

Throughout your life, you’ll see friends and family¬†pursuing happiness who never find it and inadvertently hurt a lot of people in the process. You’ll see¬†people you care about¬†make a royal mess of their lives. My hope is that it will never be you. My hope is that you’ll have early wisdom to see the true meaning in life – that it’s so much more than the pursuit of happiness, as much as we all love happiness!

Dr. Martha Stout, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, said something notable in talking about the intersection of religion and psychology and the failure of the late 20th century’s over-emphasis on self: “A psychologist would say that when we take some responsibility for the welfare of others, our actions feel natural (or “ego-synotic”) and our own life satisfaction is enhanced. The Bible says simply, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”¬†

A jillion years ago, I was a teenager in a Sunday School class reading the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That sentence irritated me. It didn’t make sense grammatically. I wondered if something had been lost in the translation from the original Greek into English – maybe an important word or two had been left out. The verse bugged me – for years. To live is Christ? And to die is gain? What??? Many years later,¬†I was all grown up and strolling past all the blue cubicles in the office at EDS when it suddenly struck me what this verse is saying.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh no.¬†My heart sank just a bit. It’s not about me. (What?!?) My life (My! Life!) is not about me. I am not here to pursue happiness. I am not here to dance in the rain or discover my true self or my gift or to create my own meaning. I am here – you are here – to live to the glory of God.

Full stop.

The good news? Happiness is a by-product. The other good news? There’s plenty of space for rain dancing and adventures and gift finding (and giving). There’s oodles of space for joy in every day life. But the meaning of each day is to live to the glory of God and that means loving others¬†as much as we¬†love ourselves. For some people, there will be grandiose gestures of using your medical degree to treat¬†people with Ebola¬†– or selling what you own to go care for orphans¬†halfway around the world.¬†

Most of us will simply be God’s hands and feet on the ground every day right where we are¬†– advocating for those who need our voices, giving to the poor, making casseroles for the sick and bereaved… I’m laughing about the casseroles, but you know what I mean. We’ll each do whatever we’re good-ish at doing to be a¬†light of His¬†love in the lives of people hurting right next to us.¬†That’s the meaning of life.

Kids, I hope you will be happy. Of course, I do! But I hope you’ll always be keenly aware of God’s love for us and His enormous blessings and let that guide the meaning in your life so that you can play a key role in bringing happiness (and peace and healing and all good things) to others.

I hope we can talk about this for many, many years to come!

Dog Day

According to Facebook, yesterday was apparently National Dog Day. (What on this earth?!?) Anyway, I thought I would share an update on Freddie. For the first several months after we adopted Freddie, I sincerely considered him to be my greatest parenting mistake – perhaps my greatest¬†LIFE mistake. He was positively exhausting to live with. I cannot overstate how miserable he made my life. He chewed up everything¬†– seriously hundreds of dollars of lost shoes and toys and throw pillows and dog beds¬†– plus, he jumped on everyone and ‘bit’ the children like they were his litter-mates and he peed everywhere. It was constant mayhem.

My neighbor Barbara would say, “Just love him,” and I would sigh.

 

Fast forward three and a half years:¬†Freddie still jumps on some people – mostly¬†the ones who pet him as they say sweetly, “No, Freddie. Don’t jump on me.” Love love love. Pet pet pet. It drives me crazy that he jumps on people, but my powers of dog-and-people training have been¬†insufficient to correct it. I now stick him in the office when the doorbell rings. As for the other stuff, he’s so good!!! He stopped biting and chewing on the kids like puppies and instead bites and chews on Claire who seems to love the game! He never, ever pees in the house. Mostly, he naps.

He is a good dog.

Love really does have a transformative power and sometimes (all the time) we all need that. I will never forget what Leah said when we first got him and I asked the children if they thought Freddie¬†would ever settle down and be a good pet:¬†“No, but I want to give him three more chances anyway.” I have seen that love and acceptance change people – and at least one dog.

Not long after we adopted Freddie, my neighbor Barbara got a little crazy puppy of her own who nearly drove her to the brink. He was so naughty!¬†When she called him, he would run the opposite direction and she’d have to chase him. It was hilarious! One day, she pulled up to my house and handed me the puppy.¬†“You can have him,” she said – and drove away. She was just kidding (SORT OF) and¬†I was laughing hysterically when she came back to get him. “Just love him!” I said. Her puppy turned out to be a great little dog. It’s like a magic!

When in doubt? Add more love.

I saw this throw pillow the other day and thought of my friend Molly. ūüėČ

Tiny Babies

This past Friday night, Bryan and I attended the Miracle Bash at Burritt on the Mountain¬†–¬†an annual dinner fundraiser for the Melissa George Foundation which raises support for our neonatal ICU together with Swim for Melissa.

We watched the sun set with views across all of Huntsville and we could even spot the Saturn V rocket at the US Space and Rocket Center. The view was staggering! And despite it being quite a hot-and-humid day, the wind blew in and the weather was so mild. A couple guys were playing super chill music, the hors deourves were awesome, and we enjoyed talking with a few friends¬†and¬†our pediatrician. The dinner on Friday night is always followed by a swim meet on Saturday that local kids participate in to raise money for the neonatal ICU at our children’s hospital. The children all know they are “helping the tiny babies”. It’s such a great way to get them thinking about helping others.

The silent auction items at the dinner were amazing! I bid on several things but didn’t win anything. I wanted the Peyton Manning jersey because he’s the best Saturday Night Live host of all time!!! I don’t recall ever seeing him play football, but I hear he’s pretty good. Ha! I added that for Bryan’s sake. He watches enough football for both of us. <wink>

I had to add this picture of Ann Catherine at a lemonade stand fundraiser last week. She and her little sister do all kinds of clever things to raise money for the Melissa George Foundation.

The Invincible Sharks

Our friend Melika was the chairperson for Swim for Melissa this year. Her twins, Aiden and Isaac, were born prematurely and benefited from the wonderful care of the NICU. Michael swam with their team for the second year in a row.

Michael finished 6 laps in the time allotted! I am signing him up for the swim team next summer!

Melissa’s Miracles

Here are¬†Leah and¬†Ann Catherine. The event is named in memory of AC’s¬†twin sister, Melissa. I cannot articulate how touching it is to me that AC’s parents could establish this foundation on the heels of losing one of their babies. In the nine years since they were born, The Melissa George Foundation has raised over $2 million for our NICU and has helped save countless lives. AC’s parents¬†are people of enormous faith and substance.

Leah is a much better swimmer than she gives herself credit for. There are sinkers and floaters and she is a natural floater but refuses to join the swim team! It kills me.

Andrew came along to cheer for Leah and Michael as they swam. Afterwards, the boys channeled their inner Hercule Poirot with a little face painting.

Leah and Michael raised $750!!! Thank you to our supporters:

  • Papa and Mama P
  • Paw-Paw and Nana
  • Cousins Mark and Merry
  • Uncle Hal and Aunt Glenna
  • Chuck and Tracey Cooper
  • Wendy and Frank Homer¬†

Soccer

And… Today was Michael’s first day of soccer! He surprised us with a late decision to postpone football and give soccer a try. (This was really a protest against my plans to sign him up for Upward flag football instead of the league that plays tackle!!)

Michael is on the same team as Charlie again! And he has the same two coaches as their tee-ball team!

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Gators and Pearls

I haven’t had time to blog because I have been so busy job hunting/networking. It’s a frustrating process. Anyway, this weekend we enjoyed a visit from Aunt Shelby and cousins Mark, Merry and Nathan on Saturday, then ran up to Tennessee for Friends Day at Papa and Mama P’s church on Sunday. It was good to squeeze in a quick visit with Aunt Kathryn and cousins Will and Olivia.¬†Mama P¬†has been battling breast cancer since last Fall and is undergoing chemo so we ran by the house after church to visit with her. It was great to see her¬†looking good and feeling perkier than she had been last week.

Dad (Paw-Paw) sent me a link to the most amazing news article about an Alabama woman who captured and killed a world record American Alligator. The pictures of the alligator are impressive but my favorite part of all is that the woman put on her pearl necklace for the picture! gator

I am not sure people outside the South pick up on the subtleties of our culture. They probably wouldn’t notice or understand¬†the fresh make-up¬†with a¬†clean t-shirt, jeans and a pearl necklace in this family photo with a gigantic dead¬†alligator. Looks like a good Christmas card photo to me!

Have a great week, friends!!!

 

This month in the yard: August

What a difference a month makes! As we were welcoming in July, our plants and trees looked so weary (and/or dead). Most of them are now thriving! (A couple trees still look dead, but the trunks and limbs are still pliable so I am hopeful they’ll bounce back in the Spring.) OK,¬†now to begin our tour…¬†First up, the new wreath I made this week and a view of the front flowerbeds.

The Lantana, Hostas and Crepe Myrtle are doing great! The Azaleas, Day Lillies and Asiatic Lillies aren’t blooming (much)¬†but they look healthy.

The Cana Lillies just keep growing! I am so happy with these!

The Monkey Grass sprouted these little purple flowers and I have decided that maybe I don’t hate Monkey Grass after all.

The Hosta Lillies under my Burning Bush are so beautiful this year! Oddly, they get some afternoon sun and don’t seem to mind it.

This is either a very healthy weed (probably) or the one sunflower to emerge from all the seeds I planted in this corner weeks and weeks ago (possibly).

The Confederate Jasmine is creeping along. If it can survive the winter, it should really fill out next Summer.

I’m racking my brain and can’t remember what these shrubs are called but they have silvery green leaves and grow like CRAZY. I have to trim them 3-4 times a year. The small one was cut down to the ground – nothing but a wooden nub – at Easter and it’s already back. They make a great screen but probably were a poor choice (by the builder) for screening¬†the AC because they can potentially block air flow. They require regular attention.

The new flowerbed is doing great. The Crepe Myrtle has been nothing but happy in its new home…

…and these have been the easiest and prettiest little flowers to grow! They’re annuals but they are thriving with zero attention. I don’t even have to dead-head them!

My new Maple is doing really well. (It’s twin across the driveway is dead as a door nail.) The big Birch tree in the background has looked distressed all summer. It’s continuing to drop¬†leaves as though it’s¬†mid-Fall.

The Redbud trees are all doing great.

My Hydrangeas still have not bloomed and they’re beginning to look droopy. I decided to water them and see what happens. I haven’t watered them at all in recent years – rain is usually enough. Who knows.

The Angel Trumpet plant will not grow. It’s twin finally died after dragging along for a couple months. My father-in-law gave these to me and his transplants have grown like crazy in Tennessee. Mysteries abound!

I am loving our side patio and having the playset in this part of the yard! I’ll love it all more when we add a door and pergola or porch! In the meantime, the lemongrass in this pot is growing reeeeally slowly. I need to put it in the ground.

This Maple tree got diseased and “died” several years ago. Before we could remove it, a windstorm knocked it down, leaving a little rotten stump full of bugs. That Spring (2012) it sprouted new growth. Last year, it grew like a little shrub – fluffy with green leaves. This year, it took off and is now just as tall as the other Maple trees we originally planted! But… the trunk grew back forked. And new growth swelled up around the old rotted area. So very strange!

My little Magnolia tree has bloomed all Summer! It’s so sweet! So little… so¬†slow growing…

These Lillies in the back yard are doing nothing.

Bryan’s Blueberry bushes are continuing to fill out and produced a few handfuls of berries. They’ll be pretty (red) this Fall.

The Lemongrass in this bed is growing like crazy! It’s supposed to ward off mosquitoes, so it’s conveniently located next to my new hammock!

The Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) and Blue Night Salvia are doing well.

The new hammock!!!

The new Dynamite Crepe Myrtle we planted earlier this summer is doing so well – and is mostly neglected! Maybe that’s the trick?

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

4th and 1st

The summer flew by – like BOOM – done. School arrived just as we were all beginning to long for the¬†routine. We spent the last days of summer running back and forth to both kids’ schools between interviewing, testing, orientation, supply shopping, meet-the-teacher, laptop¬†pick-up, etc.

Leah got the young, fun teacher for 4th grade. I was so so so so so impressed at the orientation. She is smart, energetic and incredibly creative. Leah is going to have a great year!!!

Leah got cold waiting for the bus yesterday morning! It was 59 degrees! In August!

Michael had one extra day of summer. His first day was today!

This is a re-enactment of actual events!

Leah knew Michael¬†was a little nervous about going to a new school. I was so happy¬†that she gave him a kiss on the forehead that I asked her to do it again so I could take a picture! (I know… how modern.) Mommy loved it both times!

Michael’s teacher¬†is very sweet and I was impressed with how calm the classroom was. That’s exactly what we wanted!

We brought¬†Michael’s buddy Holden home with us after school. I asked the boys how their first day went. Michael said, “It was pretty good, but I can’t say I love it.” Holden said, with some surprise and animation, “Well, Michael, nobody LOVES school.”

I think it’s going to be a great year.

Garage Makeover

A lot of people think I’m¬†organized, but the truth is a mixed bag of really organized and really not at all organized. My brother Steve noted that recently: the pantry is sorted and my closet is color-coded but the laundry room looks like a bomb went off. Organization feels like a lot of effort – but – gosh, I am so happy when it all comes together.¬†It’s hard for me to function when things are messy. Even in college, I could never study – I couldn’t even think – until the apartment was clean.

Anyway, the garage had become a truly frightening place where you’d imagine someone might catch typhoid or just go missing entirely. We had so many bicycles, scooters and half-completed craft project strewn about that Bryan had to navigate an obstacle course to get from his car into the house. He did not find this amusing. Picky picky.¬†Now, it¬†never got so bad that we had to park in the driveway, so technically it could have been worse.

I bought that bike rack on amazon.com for the re-organization project so we could stop piling bikes at the back door.

We had stuff just all over the place and quite a lot that needed to be thrown away or donated.

I know – yikes! We clean the garage¬†about once a year and it goes right back to this mess. This time, I hauled everything into the driveway and started over. I thought this project would take a few hours… try all day! About 4 hours in, Dad came by and was freaking out at the mess and work to be done. He called Steve and they helped me¬†until dark. (Yay!)

Dad’s managerial skills in action! Haha! Steve put a hook up high on the wall to hang our sleds.

Pinterest (sweet, beloved Pinterest) gave me this idea to create a designated “mud room” at the entry. So I decided to make it all purdy by spray painting the door. I usually spray paint outside which had given¬†me a false sense of security about the overspray. Do not spray paint in your garage! The cleanup was a mess… I bet you knew that without having to spray any paint, huh?

Thank goodness my brother keeps a can of Kilz in his Jeep at all times!!!! He did the touch-ups.

At this point, I really thought we would have to replace the door. The first coat was a disaster. Unfortunately, this is when Dad showed up. No wonder he was concerned! This looked like something you do to a tree fort, not a house!

After using up a can of bright orange paint as a base coat, I switched to the darker orange and it began to look a teeny bit better. But I was still nervous. I ended up needing 4 cans to evenly cover the door. This picture was taken during can #1.

Everything started coming together by late afternoon. I spray painted Leah’s old kitty cat hooks gold to make them “fancy”. Now the kids have a designated place for their helmets which were always getting lost.

As we put things back into the garage, I grouped it by type: paint with paint, tools with tools, etc.

After sweeping and clearing out the cobwebs, I put together new heavy duty shelves to replace the wonky metal ones Рand my parents gave me a little wood bookcase that was in my room in college.

Don’t get me wrong: we still have garage junk in the garage – stuff we use or plan to use – but it’s so much more tidy now!

I mounted a curtain rod to the wall with some hooks I found. We¬†can use carabiners to hang pool bags and sports gear. The bench stores all the hats and mittens for winter. The pets still have their bowls in plain sight so we remember to feed them!!! And… Bryan has plenty of wide open space to get in and out of his car! (Please ignore that everything needs¬†to be repainted. Not a priority!)

Ta da! This is my favorite part. My neighbor Kristina was throwing away this¬†rug from her back porch.¬†It’s perfect for our¬†“mud room” space – note the grimy little footprints we’ve added in less than a week!!! Better out there than inside!!!

The bench used to be inside, but I like it best out here beside the shoe basket. I found a whiteboard to [mostly] hide the electrical boxes and give us another place to capture notes, etc.

The door just makes me happy.

Guess what else? I completely organized and cleared out the play room, too! [GASP!!!!!]

School

Bryan started Leah’s college fund when she was still in the womb. He got online to check tuition to Duke University and then extrapolated the estimated cost 18 years out. I had to add that into this post so it’s clear I am not the only one around here who can be ambitious in planning for the future. Haha!

Suffice to say, our kids’ education is important to us. Plus, I’m always thinking 2 and 5 and 10 years out. I cannot help it. Nothing has driven me crazier in recent years than deciding where Leah (and eventually Michael) will go¬†to middle and high school. I have spent hours researching every public, magnet and private school in the metro area. I’ve compared the¬†AP and¬†foreign language offerings, extracurricular options, college matriculation rates and students’ average ACT scores. And guess what?

There are pros and cons to every option.

It’s maddening.

I want there to be one right answer. I’m great with ambiguity when it has nothing to do with my babies. I mean, in terms of prioritizing the big stuff, third in line behind God and Mama-and-Daddy’s love comes Education. Recently, I was lamenting to my friend Shannan and¬†she said, wisely, “You’re going to choose the best of several imperfect options.

Sigh.

That was a long build up to a change we’re making for Michael this year. We decided to send him to a private school with his best buddy, Charlie – and it’s not a school we really had on our radar. But having talked with administrators, teachers and parents of students, we¬†think it’s the right fit for right now. No official plans for middle or high school. (Gasp!) It’s very small – just 35 kids in the 1st grade – but the vibe is sweetness and the academics will keep Michael busy. We offered Leah the option of transferring with him, but she got “the fun, young teacher” for 4th grade at our public school – and more importantly, her sweet friend Ann Catherine is going to be in the same class!! Leah is far more concerned with her social life than academics. We have no idea where she gets that from! <wink>

Wish us luck!

In Michael’s interview and testing, he demonstrated how fast he can run on all fours, said he’s already an animal expert (when asked what he wants to be when he grows up) because he does research all the time, he’s just not yet working in a big building; and when asked about his understanding of Jesus, he said – in a palm to forehead parenting moment, “He was a very good person at the time,” so we are pleasantly surprised they’ve let him in! Haha! I figure he did better than the little boy who looked at the admissions director – who was wearing something Auburn – and said, “Auburn sucks!”