Sometimes, I am still surprised. I know that people say that the world is cruel place, that we have to be careful, that we should not go off trusting people willy-nilly. And so sometimes, I am surprised to find that much of this distrust is unnecessary and much of it is false.
Noah started high school this year and made the soccer team as well. Our days and nights are full and carefully planned. There are games and practices and activities and things that draw his attention and ours. And while all of this is shiny and new, the lives of our other three children are brimming over with things that are new to them. One is learning to read on a brand new level. Another is finding the balance needed when homework increases and friends abound. Another is juggling middle school demands with academic expectations and all of it is important to them... and to us.
As we planned for fall, it became evident that we could not be at everything for everyone. A tricky thing for us since we have tried, thus far, to be present at those things our kids take on. So, we jumped into a car-pool and Noah found himself driving to and from games with 4 of his buddies and one of their folks. In this group, we take our turn. Now, truth be told, I was thrilled that we could find a group that was willing to share this load with us. The decision, at the outset, was practical and good. So, imagine my surprise when it became far more than that.
Imagine my surprise when a mom comments on my son's character in a way that brings grateful tears to my momma-eyes. Imagine my surprise when it is my day to drive carpool and another mom offers to take my little ones so they do not have to spend so much time in the van. Imagine my surprise when being present at a game will keep me from picking up another child from school and yet another mom steps up and offers her home for him to hang out in until one of us can pick him up. Imagine...
The list can go on and on and I find myself humbled and grateful to be so regularly surprised.
Sometimes, I think we allow ourselves to feel all alone in the world. Sometimes, we lock our doors and peer out the windows assuming that what is found on the other side is dark and scary and bad. We assume that those who draw close are planning to take from us in some way and we allow this fear to push us away from reaching out. And maybe, we have been hurt. Maybe, you have found that there are those who do not seek to help, who do not speak words of encouragement, who are hard or selfish or mean...
But, here is what I am learning this year... I am learning that what I expect has a lot to do with what I see. And I am learning that there are good people around me who help because they choose to help. And I am learning that being near them makes me expect more from myself... makes me want to offer more to others... makes me navel-gaze a little less and look around to see what I can offer to those who are sitting beside me. Because the truth is, there is a lot of good out there... but we have a part to play as well.
Last week, I found myself across the table from a dear, old friend. She listened as I told about my work as a speaker and a writer. After a few minutes, she leaned back and said, "I can totally see you doing this. You have always been able to talk to a crowd and communicate well." She went on to reflect on things she has seen in me over many years of friendship. Her kind words washed over me and, all over again, I was lost in the wonder of kindness. I was reminded how it matters what we do. I was reminded that it matters what we say. And I was reminded, deeply, that the work we do as mommas can leave us hungry for such affirmation.
So today, let's look around a bit. Let's look at those around us in a brand new way and let God nudge us in the way we should go. Let's be open to lending a hand, offering a compliment, and being a wave of needed grace in the life of someone nearby. Because the world is what we make of it... and finding a way to connect to others and allow them to do the same makes it an awfully sweet place to be. We have the chance, today, to be the hands and voice of God to the people He dearly loves.
It's strange to me to think that those who have taught me these lessons just might read this blog. I think they will wonder why their kindness strikes me... it seems to be so much a part of how they are wired. So, if that is you, just know this... Kindness matters and for all your gentle words and times of conversation, for all your offers of help and time spent driving, for all you are teaching me and for all you offer my boy, thank you. Thank you. It is in the ordinary living of life in community that I am reminded of the richness of grace.
:::Each year, I post our experiences from September 11. This is the day, as I remember it, ten years ago:::
Noah was four. Benjamin was almost three. I had MOMs Group that morning and was trying desperately to get ready for the opening meeting of our season. The boys were watching Blue's Clues and I was trying to run a brush through my tangled tresses while answering the phone ringing with requests from freshman college students for keys and ideas and notes about classes. We were living at Trinity Christian College then, our family of four, as residence directors of South Hall.
I was later than I should have been and needed to get to church. I almost didn't answer the phone but thinking better of ignoring a call, I grabbed it and ran to the back to find shoes for my day. It was Mark.
"Is the TV on?" he asked.
"The boys are watching Blue's Clues..."
He said, "Nadia, we have been attacked. You have to turn on the news. Something bad is happening."
I don't remember hanging up but I remember turning the channel and looking at my boys... those little blond heads... those bright, wide eyes. I saw it then. So did they. The look on Diane Sawyer's face. The tone of Peter Jennings voice. The buildings. The airplanes. We stood still, the three of us and I suddenly thought that I needed to protect my boys.
I took them by the hands and led them to their toys. I turned off the sound on the TV and read through the captions instead. I tried to process it all, tried to think, tried to figure out what you do when this happens. I had no idea.
Working on a college campus is a complicated thing. I had a responsibility that morning to my babies playing with blocks and to the 250 freshmen students who lived in my building. We did not have cable and they were in class. Somehow they would have to be told what had happened to their country and without knowing exactly what to say, I typed a sign that we would hang in the building to help them to know that something had changed... that something had happened... that what we thought we were, where we thought we lived, how safe we felt had all become something incredibly different. I did not save that document on my computer. I wish I would have. I know that I typed something about a terrorist attack in New York. I know that I tried to be calm and clear and follow Peter Jennings lead of giving only the information we actually knew. It suddenly felt like we knew nothing at all.
After posting the signs on every door in South Hall, I left quickly for church and the MOMs Group I helped to run. It was our opening morning. The boys were uncharacteristically quiet on the drive and I put the radio on only in the front of our truck. As I drove, a building fell. On the radio, they announced that several other airplanes were still "missing" and that they had no idea what to expect. I called Mark from the truck. He works downtown Chicago in a building that is part of our skyline.
"Come home." I said.
He told me that he was not sure he would be allowed to leave and I pleaded with him explaining that he really might not be safe. He talked about job security. He could not see the TV. He had NO idea what it looked like. The video was very motivating.
"If they fire you for leaving on a day like today, so be it. COME HOME."
He agreed and made plans to leave the city.
By the time I got to MOMs Group, the second building had fallen. Into church came moms, at least three with multiples, juggling their children and questioning the day. We had quads, triplets and twins in the nursery, tired mommas drinking coffee and a ministry to run.
Auto-pilot. Two and a half hours of auto-pilot. Welcome. Pray. Wonder. Chat. Wonder. Worry. Chat. Pray.
My cell phone rang as the moms were leaving. Mark was out of the city. We live 30 minutes from downtown and the commute had taken him nearly three hours. By the time he had gotten to the train to come home there were thousands of people downtown, crammed underground, fleeing Chicago in hopes of getting safely home to their families. He said it was scary seeing so many people in one place... knowing we could be attacked and thinking how they sat, waiting for trains, like sitting ducks.
We met at a restaurant and I don't know if I have ever been so happy to see him. Our city was never hit... but thinking that it might be was overwhelming to me. I could not begin to imagine the loss and heartbreak New York was experiencing... they were people just like me... but I had my husband home. I had him in front of me having a burger and thinking through this experience in discussion and exchanged glances and deep silences filled with words we would never be able to say.
By the time I got back to campus, the students were absorbing the news and were overflowing with questions and worries and feelings none of us knew how to process. The other residence directors and I met together quickly while Mark kept the boys away from any media sources. We had to do something but what do you do? No RD training that we had ever gotten had prepared us for helping the students to understand a terrorist attack on our country. We thought through the possible needs and planned to offer a live feed of the president's address that evening available in the college chapel. We called therapists, pastors and history professors to be on hand that night to meet the students where they were.
After the president spoke, we let the students ask questions and I remember trying to answer them... knowing almost nothing myself. Everything about that day was outside my comfort zone. After the gathering, Mark and I sat in our South Hall apartment while students met with someone who could help them more than we could. Some were in prayer groups. Some were with therapists. Some were with pastors. Some were pondering the historical pieces with professors who could shed light on what this all might mean. I sat stunned. Then, there was a student at the door... she was weeping. She came in.
I knew this young woman well and loved her positive outlook and example to students. It was so early in the year that there were more students we DID NOT know than those we did. But this one, I knew. She rushed into my apartment and sat on the couch. She cried and we waited for feelings to flow to thoughts to flow to words. I cried too.
"I don't know what's wrong with me... " she began, "but I just keep thinking about how sad I am for THEM... for the terrorists who were SO LOST that they would participate in such total evil."
We talked for a while about how she felt bad about feeling bad for them... about how her friends did not understand... about how there is no way to know how we will feel about something like this because we never saw it coming and have no way yet to process it at all.
We cried and prayed and then, with fewer tears, she left the calm of our apartment for the chaos of the residence hall. Mark and I talked about how hard it was for them... for the students who had just graduated from high school, just left for college, just been handed their world, only to find it laying in pieces at their flip-flopped feet.
Over time, the words ran out. The campus quieted. Around midnight, we closed our apartment door. And that was it... the end of the day.
For weeks after that day, I begged Mark to stay home again. I did not know how I would ever trust him to be safe in the city again. If they got New York, they could get Chicago, too. For months I could not go to the city I love so well.... and when I did, I got teary just thinking about the what ifs...
Most people have memories of that time in their lives. We have something more concrete. Because Mark shot video of all campus happenings throughout each school year, we have video taken on campus on September 10. That night we had run a program for roommates to get to know on another better. "Something to Chew On" was a laugh-out-loud list of questions intended to spark conversation between women who were just getting to know each other as friends. The students had come in pajamas and giggled like school girls and eaten cookies with hot chocolate just 12 hours before the whole world changed. It is strange to watch it now... knowing what the morning would bring, knowing what would follow on Mark's videotape next. A presidential address. Prayer groups. Professors discussing. Students embracing. September 11, 2001 in the lower right corner of the shot.
It has been ten years. My boys, now 14 and almost 13 still remember that morning. They called it "the day the airplanes knocked over the buildings" for years, though they now know what it all really was. Our lives are different than they were then and I cannot claim they are not. For months following September 11 people said that if we changed anything about our day to day lives, the terrorists won. Such a strange request... to NOT change after having been through such a significant experience. I am changed. Maybe this is their victory but maybe, just maybe, it is mine.
Since September 11:
-I never take my skyline for granted. I love my city deeper and better than ever before and pray for those who lost loved ones in New York every time I drive into Chicago. I am raising my kids to know that we are exceedingly blessed to live where we live and love the city we call home.
-I value my family in a way I never knew to value them before. Finding out that the world can change first thing in the morning on a clear September day gave me perspective that makes me hug them tighter and hold them longer than I might have otherwise done.
-I understand bravery and sacrifice in a way that I never did before. How does a fire fighter rush into a building that will surely fall? How do you help when you know it may cost you everything? Sacrifice no longer means writing a check to help feed the hungry. It means giving it all. Offering it all. And I still stand AMAZED at those who did just that on the morning of 9/11.
-I know now that I cannot shelter my kids in the way I may have thought necessary before. Instead, I have to teach them... to see, to think, to feel, to learn and to build bridges... and yes, to be careful. Sheltering is nice but preparing is essential. I am careful in how this happens but I am also careful to be sure that it does.
Since September 11, truth be told, I am sometimes fearful, sometimes worried, sometimes unsure about what is happening in this world. But, hope is built as I see life go forward, as I watch my children grow up, as I enjoy a clear day in Chicago. We, as a country, were not destroyed. We did not become something dark and sad and broken. We, as a country, as a family, moved on to what was new for us. A new way to live and to love and to trust and to grow. There is hope in that. Can you see it, too?
Ten years have gone by. It is hard to believe. The names are being read. The president is speaking. We all promise to remember and in doing so, honor the lives of those who were lost on that dark day. And as I sit here now, the faces of so many beloved students flash through my mind... those who walked with us as we found a path we never knew we would need... All of us, the students, MOMs Group, my two blond babies now grown taller, we all are connected in a way that is deeper and more profound than we otherwise would have felt. I am grateful for that because in my confusion and sadness and loss and anger, I did not walk alone. We did not walk alone. God granted us community. He spoke in human voices. He reached out through hands that were cloaked in flesh and blood. Through friends and family and acquaintances and community, God granted comfort to us in our grief. No, we were not then and are not now alone. And in that small but powerful way, the victory, the blessing, is ours.
I am not sure how it happened but somewhere along the way, I realized that beginning a new school year causes me to look at my children in a way that trumps other touchstones, including their birthdays. To launch from the lazy, hazy days of summer into a brand new grade, causes this momma to stand still a moment and watch. And truth be told, that watching often happens from behind unfallen tears. Beautiful days of bittersweet, it seems...
Yes, we are back to school. Summer has officially closed and lunchboxes are packed and new schedules litter my dining room table. My four babies are off to brand new worlds and brand new teachers and almost overnight, they each are growing up.
Elizabeth began second grade and while we know the teacher well (all the boys had her as too), it will be a different walk for our sweet girl. She will learn to love reading in that room and will make new friends and all of it makes me realize how big she has become. Our baby girl is learning to do so many new things.
Josiah started third grade and this year always holds a weight for me. It is a year of transition, a year of development and I know that the sweet, snuggly boy who has been right by my side for his whole life is beginning a new journey of independence. So much happens in this year... the last year of the younger grades... And to make the transition even more powerful, the first day of school was also Josiah's 9th birthday. I still have him and miss him nonetheless.
Benjamin began 7th grade and his first year of middle school without Noah nearby. This holds blessings for him but is a strange thought, too. He will play soccer without Noah, run cross-country without Noah, start track, try out for the play and do so many things that they did side by side last year. His (and our) feelings are mixed. It is is nice to have your own space but it sure was amazing to see them doing so many amazing things together.
And then... perhaps the biggest transition of all... Noah started his freshman year. I am quite sure that no birthday he has ever celebrated has grown him so quickly as walking through the high school doors. He is playing soccer for his school and taking amazing classes and all of it makes me smile and swell with pride. He talks with us about history and college and teammates and friends and lessons and... well... my first born baby is really, really growing up.
Now the house has fallen quiet and the dog and I wait for the end of each day when they all come home and we collapse together at the dinner table to share our stories and experiences and questions together. And much like you, I find my quiet is haunted with happy memories of summer and childhood and sprinklers and stories that make me smile with a lump in my throat. Because all that they are and were swirls here in the silence... all that I know of my four sweet kids is real and present and treasured today. And as the new school year begins, we will find ourselves discovering new things and my babies will keep growing and I will keep wondering where all the time has gone.
Maybe that is a little bitter-sweet. But my eyes are on the latter...