Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Rick

2010 was a hard year for Rick. In the first third of the year, the unfortunate combination of working for a company that sold a very expensive product that might soon be made obsolete by the likes of Netflix and Comcast On-Demand and the poor economy created a perfect storm that ended in Rick losing his job. As we moved through the rest of the year, Hannah graduated from high school and got ready to embark on the next chapter of her life, Rick and his sister spent lots of time on the phone dealing with the realities of having elderly parents, and Rick started a new business venture with a colleague. All-in-all, a stressful year.

But in the midst of this, Rick took the time to tap into his creative side. He started a drawing, using the colored pencils that we had stashed around – Crayola and Rose Art pencils, mostly – none of those fancy high-end “Art” pencils. I think it started as a therapeutic endeavor. And it served its purpose. It ended up as a donation to the silent auction at church, benefitting the outreach efforts, and bringing in, I believe, the most money of any other item in the auction. Each year, everyone waits to see what Rick will create and donate. And this year, he really outdid himself. The photo below gives you an idea of how fabulous this piece is, but really doesn't do it justice. You'll have to visit the Maloney's to see the real one.

As I was considering what to write for his birthday blog, I thought of those things that I appreciate in Rick. I decided to do a “Top 5 Things I Like About Rick” list. I encourage those of you who know and love Rick to comment and let him know what you like best.

1. He’s a great father. No one loves their children more than Rick loves Hannah and Sara. He’s always been an involved. When moms of other babies my kids ages complained about their husbands not getting up with the kids, or not changing diapers, I couldn’t chime in because Rick always did those things. And I appreciated it. And it sealed a relationship with the girls that has remained close and loving ever since. They’re lucky to have him.

2. He’s a great cook. Really. Any of you who have had the opportunity to taste his cooking will agree. If you haven’t, I highly suggest that you try to weasel an invitation.

3. He’s an artist. As evidenced by the picture above, Rick has a creative streak a mile wide. I wish he had the time to indulge in this more. He builds furniture, he’s done stained glass, he takes great photographs. If you can weasel an invitation to dinner, I’ll show you all the pieces we have around the house.

4. He’s a musician. He plays the guitar and mandolin – and even when he’s noodling around, he plays well. That was one of the first things that attracted me to him, actually. I grew up in a family where, if you’re just sitting around, you’ve got a guitar or some other instrument in your lap and you’re noodling. He fit right in. After I’ve showed you the artwork, I’ll have him and Sara play you a duet.

5. He’s a really hard worker. This new business thing has great potential. After the music, you can have him tell you all about it. You’ll see how excited he is about it. And he’s been working his butt off – knowing that the monetary rewards are down the road a ways. Many, if not most of us would have given up and found something less personally rewarding that pays now. But Rick and his business partner have vision. And a great business model. And a work ethic that is hard to find these days.

So, it’s been a hard year, but Rick’s made the best of it, the best way he could. And I’m proud of him for not getting so frustrated that he gave up. And next year is going to be much better - I'm sure of it. Happy birthday, Rick. The girls and I love you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

She's Her Mother's Daughter

When I get the urge to clean, admittedly not as often as I should, I am usually completely focused on the task and won’t stop until it is completely done. When I was in college, this urge would typically happen later in the evening. My senior year, I’d call my friend Michael and he’d come over and sit in the middle of my bed and keep me company until the wee hours of the night. When I was finished, the room would be spotless. Really.

Last night, starting at around 11:00, Sara got the cleaning bug. Her room had hit critical mass, and once she started cleaning, I’m not sure a nuclear attack would have stopped her. Understanding the compulsion to get it finished, I didn’t suggest that she go to bed and pick it back up in the morning. I didn’t suggest that she try to be a little bit quieter. I knew that it was now or never. Sometime around 3:00 am, she was done (except for the vacuuming, which would not have been a good middle-of-the-night activity in a house with others trying to sleep).

For better or for worse, Sara is MY daughter. But I think she’ll be better than I ever was or will be. I took violin for eight years when I was a kid. I was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Sara has been taking for 5 years now, and she will be better than I ever hoped to be. I’ll admit that she progressed more quickly when she started because I worked with her so it was like she had two teachers. She’s got an amazing ear, and genuinely loves playing, and if she decides to continue forever, she’ll be able to do whatever she wants with the music.

After I stopped playing violin, I started singing. Well, I think I actually started singing before I could talk, but I started taking voice lessons when I was fourteen. Sara started singing before she could talk too. And while she hasn’t taken voice lessons yet, I expect that’ll be on the schedule in the next year or so. I love hearing her sing. She has such a sweet voice and a dramatic flair that allows her to make every song her own – I know she’ll be better than I ever was.
On the “poor thing” side, she got a knack for disorganization from me. And a tendency towards procrastination. She was a head-banging temper tantrum queen when she was a toddler – another trait from me. But she’s always been the sweetest, most loving child anyone could ever meet. I don’t know where that came from, but what the heck? I’ll take credit for that too!

She’s one of the funniest people I know – a trait that certainly came from Rick’s side of the family, with a nod towards the politically incorrect tendencies of the Daves and Latane sides of my blood. And the beauty – well both of my children were lucky enough to get the best of both sides rather than the worst!

I can’t wait to see where she goes with all of this. I’m astounded and delighted every day watching her grow into the amazing woman she’ll be. And I’m so proud of her and needless to say, I love her with every fiber of my being.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The 2nd Sunday in Advent

In 2002, I embarked on a 4-year journey called EFM (Education for Ministry). This course was developed by the Episcopal Semenary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is designed to help lay people explore their own call to lay ministry in their own worlds.

Each year, during the last class before Christmas, we had a priest do a service for us, and each year, one of the students was tasked with the homily for that service. In 2003, I was the happy recipient of that honor. Copied below is the homily I gave.


Christmas is my favorite season. I love decorating the house, although I haven’t gotten it all done yet this year. I have a collection of those little Christmas houses that we put out every year – one year the village was invaded by toy soldiers that I gave Rick for Christmas as a joke – last year the people were knocked over by our cat, but every year we put it together again, and every year it looks beautiful.

I also love giving gifts to people. I love picking out just the right thing, and seeing joy on people’s faces if I actually got it right. But I’m not as good at receiving gifts – even the smallest extravagance that is aimed at me makes me feel uncomfortable –and a little undeserving. I’m trying very hard to teach my children to be gracious and thankful when they get gifts – even if those gifts aren’t exactly what they expected or wanted.

But as we all know, Christmas is more than decorations and gifts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “miracle of Christmas”, and what it is exactly. Most people believe that the miracle is in the baby Jesus. But that is only part of the story for me.

Looking at the two Gospels that have the story of Jesus’ conception and birth, I am struck especially by the stories of Mary and Joseph – two young people caught in a potentially stressful and difficult situation.

Joseph had a lot to lose – especially in those days where wives were possessions and expected to obey and honor their husbands. When he found out Mary was pregnant, Matthew tells us that Joseph had it in his mind to divorce Mary quietly, without public disgrace (he must have been a pretty nice guy to not want to embarrass her publicly) – but once the Angel came to him and told him what was to happen, he simply accepted and did what the Lord commanded him to do.

The situation for Mary was even more difficult. Mary was a young teenager when she was betrothed to Joseph – probably not too much older than my daughter Sara, actually. Now, I know lots of teenagers, and if the angel were to come down today to any of them and tell them that they were going to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of the Messiah, I’m sure he’d hear plenty of arguments and words of disbelief. “No way!” they’d say – “I won’t fit into my new jeans if I’m pregnant, and besides, I have to try out for cheerleading in the spring. My reputation will be ruined!” Mary, on the other hand, only asked “how will this be?” In spite of the potential for losing her fiancĂ©e, and the very real possibility of public disgrace for being pregnant out of wedlock, Mary only asked “how will this be?” She didn’t say “No way – I’m not risking my future happiness and reputation on something like this!” She didn’t complain and try to bargain with the angel. She only said “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary recognized this challenge as the most wonderful of gifts, and accepts it gracefully and gratefully. In the Magnificat, she says “my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” She rejoices! The miracle of Christmas, to me, is these two young people’s ability to simply say “yes” to God.

How many times a day are we faced with moral decisions, some more difficult than others? Should I give the homeless man on the street a couple of dollars? Should I stop on the highway to help someone who has broken down, even if I’m a little late? Should I discipline my child, even if their grounding will be harder for me than for them because I’ll have to put up with their grousing for a week?

How many times a day do we feel a little tug from God to make changes in our lives – sometimes big changes, but sometimes just small ones? And how many times do we either ignore that tug, or say – “I know I need to do that, but it’ll be too hard today – maybe tomorrow – maybe next week – maybe that’ll be one of my New Year’s Resolutions.”

Mary and Joseph were humans just like us – and being human had the God-given benefit of free will. They could have said – “No way” or “Maybe next year” or even “Why me?” But they didn’t. God asked a huge sacrifice from each of them, and they both simply said “yes” because they knew that they were getting the greatest gift of all.

Sometimes it’s hard to see things as gifts, especially if we’re hurting or disappointed. Oftentimes it’s hard for me to believe that I deserve the bounteous gifts that God gives me every day and I’m sure others often feel the same way. I pray that we all are given the wisdom to gracefully accept the things in our lives as the gifts they are. My other prayer for myself and for all of us this Christmastime is to try to say “yes” to that little voice in our heads that is telling us the right thing to do – that is telling us what God would have us do. Even if it’s difficult.

And in the meantime, I hope we all take the time this Christmas to enjoy our families and friends, and to give thanks for the great gifts we have received this year. And to look forward to a year where we can simply say “yes” more frequently.