How to live like you’re dying

Dear Daughter,

This past weekend, one of my co-workers passed away from complications following surgery. Just a few weeks ago, she was walking around like normal, not aware that her days were coming to an end. And now she’s gone.

Similarly, a long-time family friend recently was told she has an aggressive form of cancer in her liver and has only four to six months to live.

The stories of these two women have been a bit of a wake-up call for me. A reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Everyone imagines they’ll die when they’re old and feeble, and somehow that makes death less scary. But sometimes the Lord takes us earlier. Sometimes He takes us suddenly. We have to be prepared for either possibility.

The thought of death is frightening. Overwhelming. It can make us go into denial or live in a perpetual state of fear. But it’s important to think about death in a healthy way. There are two things we can learn from death:

Life means more. Sometimes life is fun, flashy and fulfilling. Most of the time, however, it’s boring, slow and unsatisfactory. But imagine you knew you were going to die soon. Suddenly, everything would seem much more significant. Even a trip to the grocery store would have greater purpose and meaning. When we take our life for granted, when we feel like we’ll live forever, we’re more inclined to complain, procrastinate, hold grudges… But if we were to treat every day as if it’s our last, all of the things we complain about would seem so silly. We don’t have time to get hung up on every petty little detail. We need to focus on what’s good and beautiful and meaningful. We need to find the good and beautiful and meaningful in even the smallest of tasks and in even the most difficult people.

People mean more. While it’s challenging to think about our own death, it’s far more difficult to imagine the death of a loved one. As your mother, I sometimes think about the bad things that could potentially happen to you and it drives me to a state of panic. I can come to terms with my own death. I can’t bear to even think about yours. But the people we love WILL die one day. Hopefully not for a long, long time, but it could possibly be today. Knowing this makes our loved ones that much more precious. Yes, people are complicated. And sometimes annoying. But they are put into our lives for a reason and must be treated as such. When you’re fighting with a friend or family member, think about how you would feel if suddenly they weren’t here anymore. Your attitude will shift, I’m sure.

Death seems like a negative thing, but really it’s a positive. If it makes you hug your loved ones a little tighter, treat them a little more kindly, it’s a good thing. If it makes you savor even the most menial task, if it makes you appreciate even the rainiest of days, it’s a good thing.

Death is good because it reminds us that life is good.

Love,
Mom

Why parenting is awful but incredible

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. One of my favorite holidays! It’s nice that there’s a whole day dedicated to the most important job in the world.

A friend of mine, who is in a long-term relationship but not yet married, has said recently that she doesn’t know if she could be a mom. She hears the stories of kids throwing temper tantrums, pooping or peeing in places they shouldn’t be, monopolizing their parents’ time—and their sleep!—and she thinks, “I don’t want that!” Based on that information alone, I don’t blame her.

So much of parenting is unglamorous, sure. But it’s what’s on the other side that makes it worthwhile. In the movie The Back-up Plan, a man describes parenting like this:

Comical, yes, but the most accurate summation of parenting I’ve heard. I don’t want you to worry about the “awful” moments. Because the incredible moments somehow make those disappear.

I love being your mother because I love seeing your smile of delight when you learn something new. I love when you curl up next to me on the couch. I love hearing your belly laugh. I love the silly pranks you pull, and the thoughtful gestures you do that take my breath away. I love seeing your talents develop. I love watching you grow into a beautiful young woman…

I could go on and on.

I’m so proud that you’re my daughter, Daughter. Thanks for making me a mom.

Love,
Mom

Why you shouldn’t hate on marriage

Dear Daughter,

We live in an anti-marriage culture. Often, marriage is jokingly referred to as slavery or prison. Some people truly believe it is akin to being locked up, kept from true freedom. Divorces are more common than anniversaries. And everywhere on TV, we see story lines of extramarital affairs, fighting, separation. It’s rare, in fact, to see a happily married couple on TV or in the movies.

I’m not sure how it got this way. I don’t think it’s always been like this but who knows. Some say that people have always been unhappy in their marriages, but until recent decades it wasn’t socially acceptable to get divorced, so they just “suffered” through marriage till they died. How depressing.

I know I’ve only been married for a little over a year now, so I guess I’m still a naive newlywed. But I refuse to fall into this way of thinking… that marriage is miserable, unnatural, a metaphor for bondage. I believe that God created marriage to be a blessing. I, for one, love coming home to my best friend every day. I love having a companion to hang out with all the time. I love that I can make decisions with someone rather than having to decide everything for myself.

Is marriage easy? No, not at all. But I think the challenge of it is what makes it even more special. Kind of like parenting. Nothing about parenting is simple, yet you go through the tough times, figure things out, and then cherish the good times even more. The same can be said for marriage.

I feel it’s premature to give you marriage advice, since I’m so new to it myself, and since you have a long way to go before you’ll need it! But I do encourage you now to avoid falling into the culture’s way of thinking about marriage. In fact, not only should you avoid it but you should defy it. I hope you’ll get angry like I do whenever someone “jokes” about how awful their wife is, or when you hear about yet another celebrity divorce. I hope your generation can turn around the stigma that marriage is bound for failure. Instead of focusing on the negatives of marriage, focus on the many positives, and shout those positives from the rooftops.

Strong marriages equals strong families equals less hatred, violence, crime and greed. Be the generation that understands that equation, strives to make it a reality, and therefore changes the sad state of this world.

Love,
Mom

Knowing when to care about what other people think

Dear Daughter,

One of the biggest struggles you’ll deal with in life, that you’re already dealing with, is choosing whether or not to care about what other people think of you.

On the one hand, you want to get feedback or constructive criticism from others because it makes you better, but on the other hand, dwelling on other people’s opinions of you can a) cause great anxiety, and b) make you start living for others instead of for yourself. So deciphering when it’s healthy to care and when it’s not is one of humanity’s greatest juggling acts.

I have a long history of worrying too much about how people perceive me, particularly in my teen and college years. If I found out that a person made fun of me for something, I’d stay awake for hours at night thinking about it. I’d spend an exorbitant amount of time anticipating how others would feel about my clothing, my actions or my decisions, and would often change what I originally set out to do because of their predicted reactions. I’d be afraid (and still am) to stand up for myself because I don’t want the other person to think I’m mean.

So, it’s safe to say I’m not qualified to give you advice on this subject. Except that, as I grow older, it gets a little easier. I’m learning that life is like a blink of the eye, and I simply don’t have time to worry about what others think. I need to invest my time into my family, my relationship with God, my work and my passions. That leaves little time for anything else.

But when is it okay to care about what others think? Because you do want to care a little bit. To do otherwise would make you a rude, selfish person. You want to have courtesy for others, particularly when you’re driving 45 mph in the left lane of the interstate and there’s a whole line of people behind you who have somewhere to be, dang it. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) Sometimes you really do have to put your own needs aside for the sake of others.

As for when people criticize you, ask yourself the following questions: Is this person a loved one who knows me well? Do they know the whole story behind why I did what I did? Is he or she a generally negative person? Will this criticism make me better or is it just a little setback that has no real impact on the big picture of my life?

By asking these questions, you will determine whether or not the feedback is worth listening to. If you decide it is, then take the core lesson from it, throw out the rest, and move on with your life. If it’s not worth listening to, then don’t. Throw it away in the little trash receptacle in your brain. (There is one, you know. I imagine it has a foot pedal to open it so you don’t have to touch the filthy thing.) This is easier said than done, but once you remove that toxin from your life, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you forget about it, and you’ll have thicker skin for the next time around.

There is so much more I could say about this subject, so I suppose there will be more letters to come. In the meantime, I encourage you to be your own person who is courteous of others but who also stands up for herself when necessary, who will take the good out of constructive criticism and will extricate the bad, never to be seen again.

Love,
Mom

Relying on others vs. yourself

Dear Daughter,

Last night, on the very funny show Modern Family, the father Phil decides that he wants to walk on a tightrope. So he gets all of the equipment and places the tightrope only a foot or so off the ground at first, just so he can get the hang of it before making it higher. He struggles, however; he falls off the tightrope every time and eventually decides to give up. But then his son, who’s probably about 10 years old, says something very wise:

“Maybe you keep falling because part of you knows you can fall. Maybe if the wire was much, much higher, you wouldn’t fall.”

I’ve found that this philosophy applies to a lot of areas in life. Sometimes, when you know that someone is there to catch you, you’re more likely to fall.

For example (a very practical one), when I was out of college and just learning how to cook (things other than Ramen noodles and mac ‘n cheese), there was a huge difference in how I acted in the kitchen when by myself as opposed to when I was with my mom. When Mom was with me, I questioned every move I made. I would ask her if I’d measured the ingredients correctly, or if I’d stirred for long enough or if the chicken was cooked enough. But when cooking by myself, I didn’t have anyone else to rely on to answer those questions for me. I had to figure it out for myself, and doing so helped me become a better, more independent cook. You’d think I would have learned more from Mom’s expertise (and don’t get me wrong, I did learn a LOT from her), but it was stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing my own trials and errors that had the greatest impact on my ability.

There are countless other ways in which this concept applies. If you’re grieving something and you know someone is there to listen to every tearful woe, you might grieve a little longer than you would otherwise. Drug or alcohol addicts who have loved ones that keep taking them back in when they mess up are more likely to keep messing up, because they know they won’t really lose anything either way.

There’s a fine line between having support and knowing when to do things on your own. You don’t want to abandon the people who are there to help you, but there comes a time when you do need to step out and experience life on your own, or else you’ll never grow. It can be painful and scary, and you might even fail, but the lessons you learn from doing so will make you far better, without a doubt.

After listening to his son’s wise words, Phil hangs the tightrope seven feet off the ground. And sure enough, he makes it all the way across. He knew that this time around, the consequences of falling were far greater, so he tried harder, focused more intently on doing it the right way, and therefore found success.

We all need to rely on other people to help us get through life. But every once in a while, you need to place the tightrope a little higher and trust in your own ability.

Love,
Mom

What a servant’s heart looks like

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday I wrote about the five love languages. I indirectly shared that my love language is Words of Affirmation (so keep those compliments comin’!). It didn’t take me long to figure out what your language is: Acts of Service. How do I know? This is how:

One Saturday morning, I came downstairs to see this beautiful table prepared for me. You had made breakfast and wanted to present it in a way that was special. When you saw how delighted it made me, you beamed with pride. It made you so happy to know that your hard work and creativity were being appreciated.

This is just one of the many examples of your servant’s heart. There have been several occasions when you’ve prepared food for us. (A chef in the making, perhaps?) One night I was feeling exhausted and you knew that, so you insisted that I stay on the couch while you made dinner, cleaned up after dinner and got yourself ready for bed without my prompting. You regularly help clean the house, and you’re more than willing to do what it takes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Also, lately you’ve been helping some of the teachers after school, which was your idea. You have a carefully thought-out plan of which teachers you’re going to help and on which days. And you’re only eight.

Daughter, for the past few months I’ve been writing you these letters in order to teach you things, but in this case, you’re the one who is teaching me. When I think of my own love language, what first comes to mind is how I want to receive love. When I think of yours, the obvious answer lies in how you give love. You show your love in such tangible ways and yet don’t seem to expect anything in return. Helping others simply for the sake of helping them truly is pleasing to you. This is such a gift, my dear.

Thank you for giving of yourself, time and time again, and joyfully. Thank you for teaching me what real service looks like. Thank you for making me proud of you.

And thanks for breakfast.

Love,
Mom

What to do if you’re not funny

Dear Daughter,

Oftentimes I wonder whether or not you’ve inherited the gene to be funny. I think you’re pretty hilarious myself, but every parent thinks every slightly funny thing their kid says is pure comedic genius, so I’m the first to admit my biased opinion might not be valid. And in a way, all kids really are funny, probably because they have no filter and can say whatever comes to their mind without fear of reproach. Sometimes I’m jealous of children for that fact alone.

But I wonder if you’ll grow up to be funny. Because I’ve learned that when it comes to making people laugh, you’ve either got it or you don’t. And I don’t.

Not that I’m totally comedically worthless but compared to others, humor just doesn’t come very easily to me. I grew up in a family full of funny people. I spent most of my childhood laughing at my dad’s, brother’s and sister’s jokes. In fact, the only time they thought I was funny was when I laughed! I guess when I laugh really hard it sounds like a car revving its engine?

(Random side note: laugh is one of those words that becomes strange the more that you look at it. Like it should really be pronounced law, or should be spelled laff.)

I’ve always kind of resented that I wasn’t born with the gift to make people laff (never mind, I like laugh better), but after awhile I learned to embrace it. Because if you think about it, I play a more important role: if I didn’t laugh at people’s jokes, then they wouldn’t be considered funny. Every funny person needs someone to think they’re funny; otherwise they’re not funny. You following me? It’s a two-way street. So we non-funny people hold a lot of power. And that’s why I’ve always had friends. Funny people love to surround themselves with friends who will validate their humor.

Whether or not you’re going to fall in the funny or not-funny camp, I encourage you to always have a good sense of humor. Such a skill is not inherited but is a choice. It means not taking it so seriously when someone teases you for something silly. It means teasing yourself right along with them. (Self-deprecation goes a long way.) It means finding humor in the simplest of things—doing so makes life more fun. I’m sure there’s a study somewhere that says people with a good sense of humor live longer than those who don’t. Because laughter truly is the best medicine. So be sure to get a dose of it every day.

Love,
Mom

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