Friday, September 25, 2009

That House

My house is that house on my block. You know the one…the house that meticulous gardeners drive past shaking their heads in disdain; the one that just might be abandoned, but you’re not sure; the one with the trees (that started out as mere weeds) growing through the deck slats—and flourishing, I might add! Oh, the lawn gets mowed now and then, but the weeds have grown taller than…well, taller than me; and hearty sapplings fill our gutters like flowers in a window box. One day a well-meaning representative of a lawn care company stopped by to try to sell his services to us. “I can treat your lawn and get rid of all the crabgrass, goosegrass, quackgrass, dandelions, mushrooms, nimblewill, foxtails, and all broadleaf weeds for you.” My husband and I stared at him for a silent moment, and then I expressed what we were both thinking: “But then we’d have no lawn!”

It’s not that we don’t care. We’d love to have a picture-perfect yard. Paul enjoys yard work. (Me? Not so much.) We just never seem to get to it, and physical challenges have made it more of a daunting task.

More than that, though, it’s an issue of priorities. We both work—Paul full-time and me part-time. Before I get home from work, I stop at the fitness center to work out—believe me, I wouldn’t do that if it weren’t necessary! By the time I get home, shower, make and eat dinner, and clean up, there just isn’t much energy left. But I dig way down deep and pull some out. I have praise and worship team practice on Monday evening, lead a small group at my house on Tuesday evening, enjoy an evening with my husband on Wednesday, go to church (and play percussion in said praise and worship team) on Thursday evening, and inevitably have something going on Friday evenings. “But what about the weekends?” you ask? Well, on Saturday there is our bi-weekly church leaders’ meeting, my monthly writers’ group meeting, and the men’s group my husband leads at a local cancer resource center…and then grocery shopping. On Sunday we attend church, attend monthly elder’s meetings, and may spend time with church family or extended family.

You may be thinking, There’s your problem, you’re too busy! You need to give something up! Well, it’s not like these are trivial things we do. Our children are equally busy with classes and homework, jobs, church, and extracurricular activities that help to develop them into well-rounded people. I suppose we could hire someone else to care for the lawn, but we’d rather have the money to pay the mortgage and eat, thank you very much.

So now you may be thinking, Then you just don’t care. And you know what? In a way you’re right. I do wish our yard looked more like the one two houses down from us where we see that young couple outside pulling weeds in the summer and raking leaves in the fall, but I don’t care enough to bump the other priorities in my life. What I’m busy with, I want to be busy with. I choose to be about my Father’s business, lawn be damned!

Do you wonder if I’m simply justifying irresponsibility? I’ve considered that, and the other day that accusing little voice in my mind said, What about the Proverbs 31 woman? I bet she’d have a nice lawn! (That Proverbs 31 woman can be such a pain sometimes!) So I went to Proverbs 31 and read it, and you know what? It says nothing about the exterior of her home. It talks about nurturing and valuing and esteeming her husband and children. It talks about wisdom and character and perseverance. It talks about fostering health—her own and her family’s. It talks about hard work, production, and shrewd business dealings. I have lots of shortcomings to work on; but a yard dominated by weeds does not mean I eat the bread of idleness nor shirk my responsibilities as a wife, mother, and woman of God. I’d rather have my husband think of me as a godly wife who faces life’s challenges with patience and grace than a meticulous groundskeeper. And I’d rather have my children remember me as a mom who was always there for them with sound wisdom than as a mom with a green thumb. And I’d rather put my hand to the plow in the kingdom of God than in my yard!

So as you drive past my house, peer past the jungle foliage and know that you’re seeing a home with a family that loves deeply and makes conscious choices about how we spend our time. Our house may not be beautiful on the outside; we just prefer to invest our time internally and eternally.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I did something this week that I haven’t done in 17 years: I sent my dad a Father’s Day card. No, I'm not a neglectful nor a forgetful daughter. And yes, I love my dad with all my heart. I have honored my father on the third Sunday of June every year, and every other day of the year for that matter. I just haven't sent cards.

My father died on August 3, 1992.

Charles John Ververs was the quintessential family man. He modeled a healthy marriage to his three daughters, and we noticed. Every evening when he came home from work and walked in the back door, the first thing he did after taking off his coat was walk to my mother, and hold her in a long, warm embrace. My sisters and I learned to not interrupt this sacred moment. Sometimes they hugged in silence; sometimes they exchanged whispers. But we knew that was “Momm and Dadd Time,” (that’s how we spell them in our family—something special and unique) and it was not to be disturbed.

And, oh how he loved his daughters. We were five years apart in age, and each of us had our own unique interests and drew something from our father’s personality. Judy, the firstborn, shared his love of ballroom dancing, big band music, and post-World War II movies that are now considered “classic.” Dadd was light on his feet and knew the romance of the dance floor, and I can still see him dancing with Judy at her wedding. Beverly, the “middle child,” shared the fun, mischievous side of Dadd as well as his ability to stand firm on issues he felt passionate about. I’m sure that sometimes when Dadd was reprimanding Beverly for some stunt she pulled, he was secretly fighting a proud grin!

And I—I was the third of the three daughters, and here’s my theory: Dadd had so much he wanted to share with a son that when the third daughter came, he could no longer contain it. So he poured it into me (while never forgeting I was, in fact, a girl). I got three major loves from my Dadd—humor, percussion (he himself was a fine swing-era drummer), and baseball.

I treasure every second Dadd and I spent watching the New York Mets. We saw them through the dismal basement years, to the Miracle of ’69, to the Buckner Blunder of ’86. He taught me the nuances of the game—the appreciation for the ballet-like grace of a well-turned double play, the sweetness of a perfectly-placed sacrifice bunt, and the festive feel of a successful hit-and-run. He showed me how to field a grounder and position myself to capture a fly ball in my glove, and how choking up on the bat gives you more control in your swing.

Dadd sobbed like a baby when he gave me away at my wedding. I love that man.

I have a photo of my paternal grandfather, my dad, me, and my then 8-month-old son, Michael—four generations—from Christmas of 1990. But Dadd never met my daughter, Valerie. He died three weeks after she was born.

Every year as Father’s Day approaches and I shop for a card for my husband, I instinctively turn to the “For Father” section, and then I remember, Dadd’s not here. But this year, my mom suggested to the three daughters that, if we wanted, it might be cool to send him a card to her address. And I did. It felt good.

Happy Father’s Day, Dadd.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ya Gotta Smile!

Today I found myself smiling as I drove south on Wiesbrook Road on my way to work. Several times a week when I make this drive I see a stunning red cardinal fly across the road at about the same spot every time--just north of Atten Park. I don't know if it's always the same cardinal, but it makes me smile every time.

It got me thinking today how many little serendipities in life always make me smile when I experience them. So on this beautiful spring day, I offer you Kate's Official List of Smile Inducers. You may want to add your own!

Cars driving by with a dog's head poking out one of the open windows. Once I even saw a huge dog sitting in a car with its head popping through the open sun roof! Now that's livin'!

Young dads walking with their toddlers--especially if they are holding hands!

Any music with really awesome percussion!

Driving on Schaffner Road in the summer--the trees make me feel like I'm engulfed in a green tunnel.

Driving on Schaffner Road in the fall, when those same trees are are stunning shades of gold, brown, red, and yellow.

Na-na-na-na-na-na! The nasty-sounding guitar chords that start the song "Bad to the Bone," by George Thorogood.

Anytime I walk through the door and my 60-lb., yellow, badly-in-need-of-grooming labradoodle--Bonnie--bounds toward me to greet me.

My husband's laugh.

Flashes of distant lightning and rumbles of far-off thunder.

Swirling autumn leaves.

The first few measures of the ultimate party song--"Love Shack," by the B52s.

Walking up the ramp into the interior of any professional baseball park, seeing the emerald green of the playing field unfold before me, and getting swept up in the excitement of the crowd.

The first night the Christmas tree is up and decorated each year.

The smell of birthday cake candles right after they are blown out.

Any time I see my daughter dance. Never stop dancing somehow, Honey!

When Bonnie wants something (usually to go outside and...well, you know), she whines in a way that almost sounds like human speech. Cracks me up!

Taking a nap on a warm, sunny summer Sunday afternoon with the bedroom window open and the distinctive sound of a pulsating sprinkler outside.

My son loves to have his shaved head rubbed. So he sits next to me, takes my hand, places it on his head, and begins to move his head around to give me the hint!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh, Sweet Mysteries of Life

There are some things I just don’t want to know.

I like surprises and a little mystery in life. Inevitably, around the end of November each year, people start giving me hints about birthday and Christmas gifts. “Got your birthday gift today…it’s something you’d never expect!” Don’t tell me! Don’t hint about its size, shape, color, or the feeling I’ll get when I open it! Don’t even tell me I’ll "absolutely love it." First of all, I hope you wouldn’t get me a gift I’d absolutely hate! But such comments only get my thoughts going…Did I mention something in particular I wanted? Did his tone of voice imply it is an object or an event? What did that raised eyebrow mean? When the gift is revealed, the experience of surprise is so diminished for me even if I’ve only considered for a second that it might be the thing it turns out to be. Don’t even tell me you got me a gift! I don’t want to know until I know! And then I really want to know!

There are people who like to know how things work. They are the ones who took a toaster apart at the age of five to see why bread goes in cold and white and comes out warm and brown. My husband is one of those people, and I love that about him. But it’s not a trait I have—nor do I want it. For me, ignorance is sometimes bliss, sometimes wonder, sometimes goose bumps, sometimes tears welling up in my eyes…and I don’t want it explained. I just want to enjoy it.

It stormed in Wheaton yesterday. You could sense it coming by the look of the sky, the ominous air pressure, the damp smell of the wind…and the green. Have you ever noticed that right before and after a storm the trees and grass look vibrantly green? Green is my favorite color, so I really love when this happens. It’s like that moment when Dorothy steps from the black-and-white tornado-wrecked house into Technicolor Oz. It’s electric, making the little hairs on my arms stand up. It makes me feel exalted and humbled at the same time. It actually gives me a deep sense of joy.

I mentioned this to someone once. Big mistake. “Well, you know there’s a reason for that…” I wanted to put my hands over my ears and yell “La-la-la-la!” so I couldn’t hear the scientific explanation, but I didn’t want to appear rude in the face of his obvious desire to be helpful and informative. So I forced myself to only look like I was listening…something about ionized particles…blah, blah, blah. I narrowly escaped the mystery being blown forever.

Before I leave this realm, I want to see the Northern Lights. Please do not send me a blog comment or an email explaining why these scarves of color and light silently and gently roll over the sky. I don’t want to know. Let me just enjoy it!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going Rustic

I want to go there—to that cozy log cabin in the Terry Redlin painting above. It looks welcoming and warm. It looks quiet and peaceful. And it looks rustic.

I like rustic. Well, okay, I like the appearance of rustic. I want to live in that log cabin…but it has to have good insulation for the winter, air conditioning for the summer, indoor plumbing, and cable TV. I long to sip coffee on the porch swing in the morning as the birds sing their version of “Morning Has Broken,” and then I want to connect to the internet and check up on my Facebook friends. Yes, I love rustic!

Some of my favorite vacations have been in the woods of Door County, WI—waking up in the morning and seeing deer grazing at the edge of a field; watching hawks circling for five…ten minutes without ever flapping their wings; listening to the trees creaking in the wind. But I also remember moving my laptop all over one of our rented cabins to try to pick up the wireless connection the brochure promised and getting frustrated when I couldn’t get a cell phone signal! And there’s nothing like making a roaring fire in the fireplace, wrapping up in a comforter and watching one of my favorite DVDs.

Why do I long for the simple while finding it nearly impossible to let go of the technological? What does rustic do for me? Does it give me the illusion that I’m really not addicted to modern conveniences, when I obviously am? And is that so bad?

I have no answers; I’m just wondering. Now that I think of it, I did make it one week without cell phone or internet connection while on vacation with my family. But I did have my computer and TV and a car and a hair dryer…

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Finding Redemption in Strange Places

We in Chicagoland had a bit of a disappointment this week. After weeks of watching both thermometers and daffodils gradually rise, we found ourselves staring in disbelief at a blizzard-like snowfall on Sunday night. This winter started early in these parts, so this little surprise from nature was like a sneering “It ain’t over yet!” to us. A cruel trick, for sure.

After observing the thick, blowing snow in the lights of the church parking lot adjacent to our yard, I plodded into the living room and flopped down in the recliner. How discouraging, I thought. The week before Easter is not supposed to be like this! This is not Easter weather! How long have I lived in Chicago?

The next morning I was back to the all-too-familiar routine of pulling boots on, brushing snow off my car, scraping windows and side-view mirrors, and cranking the heat of the windshield defroster. Winter was still here in April, and it was Monday. What a depressing combination! I drove my usual route to work with my elbow perched against the car window and my fist propping up my dreary head.

Driving south on County Farm Road, I approached the light at Roosevelt Road as it turned red. For those of you non-locals, it’s a T-intersection, and when you are stopped at the light you are facing the woods of one of the many forest preserves in the area. I suddenly felt like I was in another dimension. Because of the wind direction during Sunday night’s storm, the north side of each tree (the side facing me) was painted white with snow. The sides and back of each trunk were bare. Somehow this emphasized the sense of depth, and it appeared that the woods were a three-dimensional scene in the midst of a two-dimensional world. It was stunning. The depressing snow created a beautiful effect that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Redemption. How appropriate for Easter! I thought.

By the time I drove home from work yesterday afternoon, almost all the snow was melted. This morning as I stopped at that same intersection I was sorry the snow was gone from the trees and they again looked stark, brown, and flat as they awaited the no-turning-back arrival of spring. But the sun was shining! Redemption again!

Happy celebration of redemption! Happy Easter, all!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Watching My But

Ever think about the difference between “and” and “but”?

I am training myself to become acutely aware of how and when I use those two words, because I find it can reveal what I really believe about a situation.

Consider this…the word “and” carries no judgment. It simply means in addition. When it joins two clauses, it makes no statement about one or the other. It simply states fact. Yesterday I ate vegetables, and I also ate a cheeseburger. There are no opinions, judgments, or values in that statement—just an account of the facts.

BUT, the word “but” changes the meaning and intent of the statement. Yesterday I ate vegetables, but I also ate a cheeseburger. “But” implies contradiction, exception, opposition. Now you are implying that although you ate healthy food, you may have negated it by eating that cheeseburger. See the difference?

So why is that important? “And” and “but” reveal what’s really going on in our thought or belief system. It’s subtle. I’d rather say, I believe God is faithful, and I don’t know how I’m going to pay this bill, than I believe God is faithful, but I don’t know I’m going to pay this bill. The former sounds odd to us, but it’s merely a statement of fact. I believe God, AND I need to pay a bill. The second statement, however, is really saying, I don’t really, fully believe God.

I’m learning to watch my “buts”. Can I replace it with an “and”? Or perhaps turn it around? I don’t know how I am going to pay this bill, but I believe God is faithful.

What are your “ands” and “buts” exposing? The Israelite spies came back to Moses with this report after exploring the Promised Land: “It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and the fruit is juicy and luscious; but (not and) there are giants in the land” (paraphrase). And therein was their defeat.