Birthday Party!

Three is BIG (sort of)!

Today is THE DAY. It’s Birthday Party Day! Granddaughter Anna turned 3 on Thursday and this afternoon she’s having HER BIG PARTY. Three year-old birthday parties are big stuff – there’ll be cake and ice cream and ‘themed’ decorations. Anna’s cousins and friends will be there as well as Aunt’s and Uncles and Grandparents. And in the middle of it all there will be this tiny three year-old wielding her “Birthday Power”. It’s mystical! When it’s your birthday you reign supreme – at least when you’re three! I’m not sure that she understands that this party is all for her. On Thursday when I said to her, “Happy Birthday Anna”, her response was, “Happy Birthday Pawpaw!” But I have a feeling by the end of the day she’ll have it figured out. After heavy doses of sugar and lots of presents and having her picture taken a thousand times, she’ll be likely be ‘channeling’ Shirley Temple in “The Little Princess”. Entitled but benevolent ~ gifted yet gracious.

Oh Anna, how did you get to be a big girl so fast? It seems like just yesterday I was holding you for the first time in the hospital and now you’re three! But even though three is BIG; as you yourself explained it, “Pawpaw I’m still a little girl and sometimes little girls like to be carried and sometimes they like to walk.” So I’m going to ‘carry you’ as long as you’ll let me. In my heart you will always be that tiny baby girl in my arms (just like your Mommy is) and I will cherish that memory forever. So go ahead and get BIG and be everything that you are meant to be. I’ll be standing here on the side-lines watching and trying to capture each precious moment as it passes by. You’ll ALWAYS be my girl and I’ll always be your Pawpaw.

So LET’S GET THE PARTY STARTED! And if sometime during your BIG DAY you need to be ‘carried’, I’ll be waiting here with open arms.

Happy Birthday!

Love,
Pawpaw

‘Old’ Was Not One Of The Things I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up

Like looking into a mirror

How does the saying go? Something like: “the only certainty in life is death and taxes”. Now I would add “and getting old”.

But I don’t really think of myself as old – I’m middle-aged. Which means at 55 years-old I am in my middle years, right? Only if I live to be 110! So maybe it’s time to face my mortality; something us baby boomers seem to be in great denial about. Oh, we have our “bucket lists” and our life insurance policies but do we ever really think that someday we’re going to run out of time? I know I don’t. I keep planning my next vacation, my next adventure, my next birthday party, etc. I don’t have an end-game. Not only do I not think about my life ending – I really haven’t given much thought to getting old(er). Because old was not one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up!

This week Elizabeth Taylor died. At work a group of YOUNG PEOPLE were talking about it and I commented, “Do you suppose that Debbie Reynolds is dancing on her grave?”. There was complete silence. Finally one of them asked, “Who’s Debbie Reynolds?”. Not only did they not get my HILARIOUS reference to the tawdry break-up of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds by the man-stealing Liz Taylor in the 1950’s, they didn’t even know who Debbie was! Really? “Tammy”? “Singing in The Rain”? Anyone? When I mentioned Carrie Fisher and “Star Wars”, I got a few nods of recogition – apparently one these brats had parents that were “Star Wars” fans. At that moment I felt like I should be driving a Studebaker, wearing “trousers” and hanging out at the Barbershop.

So I guess I am beginning to face my own mortality; I just don’t like it. I realize that, I am in fact, getting older each day (and maybe becoming a bit obsolete). I watch my parents now dealing with ‘old people stuff’: illness and aches and pains and hearing loss. And I realize when I see Dad struggling sometimes to be steady on his feet that I’m only 29 years younger than him. Twenty-nine years ago Tyson was 3 and Bess was about to turn 2 and that seems like only yesterday. So tomorrow it will be me (if God allows) who is 84 years old and wobbly on my feet.

Today I have decided that even though I may not have wanted to be old when I grew up, I will try to embrace aging with dignity. I want to be around to see my grandkids as adults. I’ll gladly be the ‘old man’ dancing with my granddaughters at their weddings. I will someday help “pack-up” Noah off to college. And if God truly blesses me with a long life I will continue to share my HILARIOUS stories and my PROFOUND WISDOM with another generation of Wilhelm/Kleckners and they will show their appreciation with their kindness and patience for this old man.

Until then, I think I need to go hug my Dad.

Peace,
Denis

We Ran Away From Home And Joined The Circus

Nana and her circus “performers”

It’s fun to escape reality sometimes and the Circus seems to be the perfect place to “get away from it all” and be a kid again. After all nobody knows how to enjoy a fantasy like a child. And the Circus is one BIG FANTASY. Where else can you find grown ups that play with tigers and entire families that “fly through the air with the greatest of ease” and contortionists and monkeys in polka dot underwear and elephants that do tricks. What better place to find all those things than at the Circus – plus some “not too scary” clowns. The fact of the matter is, running away from home and joining the circus seems pretty attractive at times. I could so be the guy getting shot out of the cannon – most days I feel like that anyway!

So yesterday Deb and I “ran away” for a little while and took our granddaughters along for the ride. I have to admit that this ‘Circus thing’ was new to me. Or at least enjoying the Circus was new to me. Deb grew up going to the Circus each year with her grandparents and LOVED it. I went once as a kid with my Godmother and HATED it. Not sure why; maybe I was scared of something or maybe I was bored. Whatever the reason it left me with a negative impression of the Circus. Deb on the other hand had been waiting a long time for this day – “And if no one else wants to go, I don’t care!” “I’m taking the girls to the Circus!” (Imagine hands on her hips and maybe a little foot stomping).

So we went. And it was magical! Not the Circus actually but watching Charlise and Anna and Nana relishing every moment of every performance. And while watching them I was transported to another place and time and I could see little Debbie Dobbs clapping and waving at the Circus performers. And I knew that I had waited 50 years just to be in that moment. That moment when Nana was a little girl again and there were no wars to fight; no hunger; no disease; no injustice; no heartaches; no sadness – only smiles. The only tears were tears of joy. And I was blessed to be along on her journey.

Running away from home and joining the circus won’t make the problems of this world go away but they may help put it all into perspective. On one magical Saturday my girls and I took a ride to that fantasy land. And I came home refreshed and ready to take on another day as an adult. And now I firmly believe that all adults need a little ‘Easter Bunny’ or ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘Tooth Fairy’ once in a while; not to mention leprechauns, elves, magic potions and ‘cloaks of invisibility’.

Just imagine the fun that you will have…

Peace,
Denis

Homebody

I’ve always been confused by the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. I’m home after two weeks of traveling – first to Mexico City and then to Madrid and I’m very happy to experience ‘the familiar’. Don’t misunderstand me, I love to travel and even when things don’t go swimmingly (thanks JFK Air Traffic Controllers for the nearly two-hour delay after an already long day of traveling from Spain!) I still consider travel a bit of perk with my job. But more wonderful than experiencing new people and new places is the joy and comfort of coming home. Home is where my life is.

There’s something about this house that just embraces me when I’ve been gone for a while; it puts everything right. I know it’s not the house actually. It’s the home. It’s the love. It’s the family. It’s what helps define me.

I love coming home to Deb. I love catching up on everything that’s happened in my absence – hearing about the latest things that Anna has said and finding out what Noah’s now doing and what’s going on in Charlise’s ever-expanding world of ‘big girl’ school. I realize everything’s not in ‘freeze-frame’ while I’m gone but sometimes I wish it were. I’ll catch up on what’s going with our folks and hear about a friend’s visit and a family funeral that Deb attended in my absence. Life goes on…

My Office. My Home. My Place.

This morning I’m up early, because of jet-lag I suppose, and I’m wearing my ‘favorite shirt’ and I’m about to have some blessed ‘American Coffee’ (no cafe con leche, por favor) in my favorite coffee mug and allow the day to unfold in its normal ‘familiar’ way. And I will relish the experience.

At heart I’m just a Midwestern boy. I miss country music and black coffee and small town gossip. I want to travel to castles and palaces. I want to see ancient artifacts and historically significant places. But more than anything I just want to come home. I guess that makes me a homebody and that suits me just fine!

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.

Peace,
Denis

Unconditional Love

If you’ve ever wondered what unconditional love feels like just get yourself a grandchild or two. I speak from experience. I know that my wife loves me and I know that my kids love me, too. But my grandkids love me UNCONDITIONALLY. Let me explain. I’m their Pawpaw and that alone is all they need from me. I don’t feed or clothe them. I’m not responsible for their education or their upbringing. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to love them and be loved back – threefold!

And based on my grandkids, I’m pretty good at this grandparent thing. I just show up and little faces break into big smiles; giggles ensue; and happiness abounds. I know what you’re thinking, these kids are just loving and they love everyone but that’s not the way I see it.

Here are some examples:

Recently at church, six-year-old Charlise, held on to me for nearly the entire Mass. She acts at times like she’s too big to hold but that morning she needed to be held and squeezed my neck tight and when I picked her she whispered in my ear, “I love you, Pawpaw”. She then laid her head on my shoulder and it was bliss.

Two-year-old Anna told her mother a couple of weeks ago, “I love you Mommy; but usually I’m Pawpaw’s girl”. And of course she is. You can ask her! This week she asked Mommy if she could call Pawpaw to see how he’s doing in Spain? Did I mention that she’s two?

Noah doesn’t talk yet but when he smiles at me it lights up the room. And yes, he smiles a lot at other people too but it’s different with me – you’d have to be there.

I know that those of you who are grandparents have experienced this same unconditional love. I’m not unique or special (well maybe special) and all grandkids love their grandparents just because…

I think the way that grandchildren love their grandparents is how God loves each of us. God is not waiting for you to do something for Him. God is not expecting anything in return. Much like a grandchild that is thrilled to see you, God must be thrilled when we take time for Him, too. Of course God doesn’t need us, just like our grandkids, but being wanted is so much better because we aren’t really needed. If I died tonight I know that my grandkids would be raised and loved by their parents – they don’t require me. But how wonderful to be wanted; to be loved; just because…

What a lucky man I am to know God’s unconditional love through the example my grandchildren have given me. And for the record; Anna is Pawpaw’s girl and so is Charlise and Noah is my boy. Just like God’s love for me; my love for my grandchildren is limitless and eternal.

Peace,

Denis

My Lifetime Valentine

Everything that she is ~ is everything that I need

Once upon a time in a far away land a young boy met a young girl and they fell deeply and desperately in love. They were young and he was poor and uneducated and many people thought that they would be doomed to live a life of despair. But the boy hoped to one day be worthy of her love by becoming the man she ALWAYS believed he could be. Years went by and their love grew and they were blessed with three beautiful children and three even more beautiful grandchildren. The man is no longer a boy but his love for the girl has never diminished or wavered. He’s still not sure if he’s become the man of her dreams but she remains forever his Lifetime Valentine and their love has survived the years, the tears; the good times and the bad. The man still believes that God has made them for each other and he is thankful each day for her love and devotion.

And they continue to live happily ever after…

Teachers

On Tuesday evening during his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about school teachers. This is what he said: “Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.”

That got me thinking about teachers that I know and have known. It called to mind some of the great teachers that I had as well as the great teachers that my kids had, too. It also gave me a greater appreciation for friends that are teachers.
I think that as a nation we place a higher regard on the latest tech gadget or apparel or toy or sporting equipment that our children “need” rather than focusing on the quality or commitment of their teachers and schools. Simply looking at funding for education it paints a poor picture of our nation’s values. But great teachers just keep doing their jobs with little praise and often with inadequate compensation.

I believe that we dismiss the sacrifice that good teachers make for our children. Too often I have heard people say things like, “Teachers have it made, where else can you work nine months of the year and get paid for summers off?” Or there’s that old ‘chestnut’ – “those that can do; those that can’t teach”.  And yet we entrust teachers with our most cherished resource – our children. Our futures.

What’s my point?  I had great teachers that I know I never thanked. My kids had even better teachers than I did and I’m not sure we ever thanked them either.

So here goes:

  • Thanks Miss Boerding. You made me not miss my mom so much when I was a scared little 2nd grader.
  • Thanks Sister Fidesta.  You made Algebra and Geometry fun, even if the fun stuff had nothing to do with Algebra or Geometry. (Martaun and I still laugh about it!)
  • Thanks Sister Thecla. You made me love drafting, design, and graphic arts (and I built a career on it). Plus you were just one crazy lady!
  • Thanks Mr. Elmore. You taught Deb life lessons. We both loved you for it and we miss you.
  • Thanks Dean Crozier. You helped me realize that the world was much bigger than just Saint Charles, Missouri.

Thanks Cindy, Kathy, Peggy, Keith, Mary and all the other teachers that I know who are still committed to their students and their vocation. God bless you for the work that you do. You are nation builders – never forget that!

Peace,

Denis

Storm Warnings

One of my work associates wishes he was a Meteorologist. He loves to send out weather updates ~ today he issued a ‘Level Orange’ warning via e-mail because it might snow tomorrow or Thursday. His weather predictions are about as accurate as the professionals so I rarely take heed. When I travel (or plan to travel) he is the first to tell me about impending bad weather. I never ask him; he just feels compelled to tell me that I’ll probably be facing some travel challenges due to bad weather. To be fair he is sometimes right but it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to cancel my plans because it might rain/snow/storm. I just have to deal with it. I don’t see that I have a choice.

Life is like that. We sometimes get ‘storm warnings’. We’re told that bad things (weather and worse) are headed our way. We often dread the unknown. We’re told to beware of danger; of risk; of certain doom. We’re constantly being reminded to: be safe; buckle up; read the instructions; don’t leave home without it; take as directed; always use protection! These warnings are certainly well-intentioned but I believe that sometimes we need to ignore the warnings. Sometimes we need to just take a chance ~ I’m not advocating reckless behavior but sometimes we need to “stick our neck out”. Sometimes we owe it to ourselves to be a little silly; behave a little unpredictably.

I know people who have overcome incredible hardships and still celebrate life. I myself, start to question if “it’s worth it” after a bad case of the flu. I’m a wimp when it comes to pain and suffering. And I’m completely self-pitying when faced with failure or disappointment. I’m always amazed at folks who manage to deal with overwhelming challenges in their lives and maintain their spirit and sanity. These brave individuals have learned how to weather the storms of life. And they remain undaunted. They ignore the scary predictions. They just bundle-up and face the wind!

I suppose that sometimes we all need learn to laugh in the face of danger; to take a risk or two. So the next time rain is predicted; leave your umbrella at home. Just once, don’t worry about the calories. Stay up too late. Laugh out loud in a library (or a church!). Dance in the rain. Sing in public. And (at least for a while) forget about the ‘storm warnings’.

You know, we can’t really stop the storms of life. We can only change our hearts and minds. God will take of the rest.

Peace,

Denis

Follow That Star

 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.” Matthew 2:1-2

I love this gospel story of the Epiphany. I imagine the Magi (The Wise Men) following the star and journeying through vast deserts on camelback to a distant land in search of a newborn king. And discovering their hearts’ desire in the most unexpected of places.

It has occurred to me recently that my “understanding” of the Magi hasn’t really changed much since I was a child. I’ve always pictured them as mystical and exotic; richly robed kings or emirs driven by an ‘unearthly desire’ to find Jesus. Did they know he was born in poverty? Did they know that he would change the world? Why were they driven to find him? And upon finding him in such humble surroundings why did they prostrate themselves as if he were a king?  And why the gifts?  Why gold, frankincense, and myrrh?   

Legend and tradition tell us more:  The Three Kings (three gifts were presented but the Gospel never tells us the number of Magi) were named Caspar (or Gaspar), Melchior, and Balthasar. Early Christian art depicts the three men as coming from Europe, Asia, and Africa. And growing up my nativity set at home would show them likewise. Tradition also tells us the significance of the gifts – gold: a gift fit for a king; frankincense: which is burned during prayer; myrrh: which is a perfume most often associated with burial – a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death and suffering. Another tradition (brought to the U.S. by European immigrants) involves writing the initials of the three kings’ names above the main door of the home to confer blessings on the occupants for the New Year. For example, 20 + C + M + B + 11.

Okay so Debbie's a "Queen" and we're missing one of The Wise Guys, but you get the idea...

I still find some comfort in the imagined Wise Men of my childhood – these three; certain of their mission; moving toward the Star without question; and knowing when they found the Christ-child that He was THE ONE. 

But how do I relate to this ideal in my own life?  Where is my certainty? Where is my mission? Where is my star?

I think of how I sometimes miss the obvious – and maybe my star is burning brightly and I just can’t (or won’t) see it. Perhaps my mission is to continue to question; to journey; to “look to the east”.  Maybe I need to find my certainty in my own heart and soul.  God has truly blessed me – what wonder do I seek to be assured of His love? It’s likely (for me) that I need to look right here; right now.

There’s a message from the Magi for me today – they were immigrants. How do I accept strangers into my life; my home; my country?  Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. How do I treat those who are living in poverty; in despair? Maybe it’s time for me to prostrate myself before them. Isn’t that the message of Jesus? Isn’t that what the Magi were following?

This image of the Magi isn’t as “warm and fuzzy” as those cute little figures I remember under my tree as a kid. But perhaps my challenge is to follow a New Star. Now that’s a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ with some teeth – your prayers will help.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Attached is a link to “A Child of the Poor”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEkdr62eVMY&feature=related

Prayer (and other questionable activities)

If you’re like me (hopefully you’re not) then you probably wonder sometimes if prayer makes any difference. There are those days when I feel as though my prayers are just empty words (thoughts) and then there are those days when I can’t even get myself to pray – why bother? The problems of the world just seem too overwhelming and my simple requests for peace; for justice; for equality; seem silly and selfish. Who am I to think (believe?) that God has time to listen to me? And what about those days when I’m not sure God exists? That can’t help my cause(s) –  if I’ve just questioned God’s existence only to follow-up with “okay if you do exist; here’s my list of stuff that needs to be your number one priority”.  What’s a struggling believer to do? 

For me – it’s more prayer.  Because I don’t know what else to do. That’s not exactly inspiring is it? And that’s probably because so often I don’t feel particularly inspired. But I pray. And if God does exist then She must have incredible patience. Lately I like to think of God as Maya Angelou or Sister Fidesta (my high school math teacher) – tough but gentle women with hearts of gold. The kind of God that won’t be shocked by my actions (or inactions) and who will take the time to listen (really listen) before showing me the error of my ways.

As I get older I find that I do remember to thank God for all my blessings but still my prayer life seems to be dominated by petitions – “take care of my wife; my kids; grandkids; friends in needs; the sick; the suffering; the dying; etc”.  Then there are the (sort of) secondary prayers – “please help me with work; with our finances; with my diet and exercise”.  Finally, my prayers often fall into the truly mundane or incredibly ridiculous – “please let the Packers make it to the playoffs or please let my favorite pair of jeans be clean” – God must really love those!

But I believe that God has a sense of humor (which would explain why men have nipples).  And God likely laughs at some of my crazy ramblings but still knows my heart and gives me what I truly need.  So I keep praying (and questioning) and hoping that my prayers make a difference. Often I do find that my prayers are answered; just not the way I wanted them to be. God knows best. That’s sometimes a tough thing to remember. And I guess that’s something else to pray for – understanding.

My prayer today is that each of you have a wonderful new year and remember to thank God (or at least your lucky stars) for your blessings.

Peace,

Denis

This song speaks to me…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPNv5bv0t40