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Friday, July 2, 2010

18 years

I hated him, except for when I loved him. We fought like cats and dogs. I was fire, and he was ice. I have often heard that hate and love are two sides of the same coin. I would have to agree. My brother, Jon, and I completely defined sibling rivalry as small children.

As time passed, I became less annoying and the relationship transformed into an incredible friendship. Most people search a lifetime for the friendship and the unconditional love and acceptance that I had for 17 years of my life. Today marks the 18th anniversary of the worst day of my life. July 2, 1992. My brother, my best friend, drowned off the coast of Venezuela. I have blogged this horrible, tragic story in the past if you are curious about the details and want to search the archives.

Today, the pain has been raw and riding just below the surface. It's a funny thing about old grief. Sometimes you forget it, and sometimes it just reaches up and slams right into you. Many years the anniversary passes with just a twinge of pain, but this year it's been tough. I guess I'm at a season in life where time is passing quickly, and I deeply miss my brother. I regret that he is not available to answer the phone when I need advice with my teenage kids, or to sit in the other end of my boat on fishing trips to keep me company or to encourage me to reach for the stars.

Tonight, rather than wallow in grief, I want to turn the tide. I want to celebrate an amazing man. A man that completely changed my life. A man that gave me the courage to become the woman that I am. Tonight I want to relive the good times. This may get long. Please don't feel obligated to read the entire piece. This is for my healing. For my pain.

One of my favorite games when we were little was a cheap way to entertain a lot of rambunctious kids. We would all line up on opposite sides of the basement with a stack of paper wads created from old newspapers and magazines. We chunked the paper wads at each other, scrambling to the middle to grab another stack. The winner was the first team to collect all the paper wads. I don't remember exactly how this was a competitive game. I just remember laughing and giggling and running and laughing some more. Tackling my brothers, and running for my life.

As a teen, Jon enjoyed playing ping pong. My oldest brother, Jeff, was already away at college, leaving Jon without a playing partner. He must have been desperate. I was too little to reach around, up, and over the table. He sat up a chair at the end of the table, had me hold my paddle real still, and then he tried to bounce the ball off my paddle. Gradually it progressed to me gently hitting the ball back, and eventually I grew enough to reach around the table and play him hard. Those late nights of sweaty ping pong, running into the table, laughing and yelling....those were great nights. I lost more often than I won, but the times that I won, I celebrated big! The same story exists around chess. Lacking a partner, he taught his 8 year old sister to play - and win.

As a preteen, I struggled. All preteen girls go through a period of awkwardness, but mine was worse than usual. I still don't know exactly why, but during this rough time in my adolescence, when I doubted my value to my very core, Jon made an extra effort to include me in stuff with his friends. What group of teen boys wants a little sister tagging along, right? But the boys were great sports - whether he dragged me along on a bowling trip, hunting expedition, or fishing trip.

Fishing was one of the best things we all did. Jon, sometimes a friend or two, dad, and me - Jeff too when he was home from school. It ranged from fishing in our small boat in nearby lakes and ponds to the best - creek fishing. I loved those days - waking up by 4:00 so that we could drive up into the hills to find the best water. We would walk upstream, fishing as we went, then at midday, go back down the stream. The guys were hardcore fishermen, but I meandered along through the cool water, looking at the world around me, learning to appreciate the beauty of leaves falling, the intricacies of spider webs, and the amazing blue sky reflecting in the water. I fished enough that I was a part of the adventure, but not so much that I had to haul a lot of fish on my belt.

Jon was a physicist. That sure came in handy for me doing science fair projects. Some years I never even understood exactly what we were building, but it was fun. One year, I recreated an old liquid battery used in the early telegraph days. That year I spent lots of nights in "the dungeon", Jon's lab he used in the physics department at the college he was attending. As I was running the tests on the experiment, there were hours of lag time waiting on the results. We sat for many nights that year, cross legged on the lab table, discussing all the great quandaries of life - like his theories on global warming, the girl he was falling in love with, problems with his friends, our parents' disintegrating marriage, my boyfriend issues, and where we wanted to go in life.

Memories are flooding back tonight...him calling up just to see if I wanted to ride with him to Wal-mart, renting a movie and hanging out on the couch, calling to check to make sure I had a ride to piano or painting lessons, or the two of us sitting on the piano bench, just to sing together. After his marriage, he included me in family dinners, let me babysit their beautiful baby girl, and made me feel that his family was my family. The last time I saw him was at an early fourth of July celebration right before he left for Venezuela. I told him about the new guy I was dating, and set up a date for the two of them to meet when he got back into town. But unfortunately, Shawn never met my brother.

There are way too many amazing moments to exhaustively cover them here, tonight. Bottom line: I loved being wanted and included. I will miss him until the end of time, but I am grateful beyond measure that God allowed me to have such an incredible and amazing relationship. A fabulous best friend, even if it was only for 17 years of my life. Those 17 years had a large part in creating the woman that I've become.

R.I.P. Jon

Thanks for everything.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Cussing Class

Years ago, the first time I heard a student use a cuss word, I immediately freaked out and sent him to the principal. Now I rarely even flinch. Unfortunately with the uncensored viewing habits of small children, many of my first graders can, and do, use very inappropriate language at times. I was thinking about a couple of recent instances that I thought I might share, and then share a lesson behind them.

This past spring, during the moment of silence, a little boy would not stop talking. It was annoying his neighbor, who leaned in to whisper to him to be quiet. I appreciated the intervention, as I was tied up with another student in mid crisis. I could not hear the exact words that were used, but assumed they were well meant. In an instant, the talkative little boy's hand shot into the air. I said, "Yes, sir?" He said, "Mrs. Kemp, he just said 'shut up mother f***er.'" To which I replied, "Get in the hall, right now." As I was dealing with the incident, the talkative little boy said, "Mrs. Kemp, I knew you'd want to know right away because shut up is a REALLY bad word."

I had to not laugh until both boys were back in the classroom, and I had closed the door to be alone in the hall.

A very similar instance occurred yesterday. One of my ESL little girls was sitting at the reading table with several other students. She is struggling with English, so I had a hard time getting the whole story. Apparently some guy came to visit their house and was quite rude. She said, "Mrs. Kemp, my mom say I ask you bout mean boy. He point this finger at mom (middle one) and say 'stupid f***ing bitch'" My mom not know what that is and say ask you, but I tell her not nice, stupid very bad word."

These are just a couple of many, many times I have heard children concerned about words like "stupid, shut up, fart, butt, and crap" more than genuinely horrible cuss words. I was thinking about this today and saw a lesson there for me. I often get caught up in trying to fix small, inconsequential things (like shut up and stupid), when there are really big things in my life that need to be changed.

We often emphasize our small flaws so that attention isn't drawn to the real stuff that we need to deal with. We point the finger at other people's small annoying behaviors, when huge darkness is in our own heart. I hope the next time I try to point out somebody else's sin, or even sugar coat my own sin, that God reminds that it's like I'm freaking out about saying "shut up" when the big bad stuff is in my heart.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Beginnings

Today dawned like most. I hit snooze a couple of times before dragging my butt out of bed. 4:15 is just way too early for me! I decided to skip P90X in favor of a good, long run. I sprinted out the door in my white t-shirt and gray shorts. I made great time for the first half mile. The rain fell gently at first, then turned into a downpour. I was glad it was dark so that my now drenched white t-shirt did not draw attention from passing motorists on their way to work.

As my run progressed into the second mile, my pace slowed against my will. I tried to speed up. Then my feet were walking. No matter what I tried, I could not make them run. By the time I could get home, I was stumbling. I was confused by the weakness in my legs, but dismissed it to working out too hard.

I made it to the shower, having to pause from dizziness. Shaking with chills, I wobbled into the shower. As the hot spray rolled over my chilled body, I opened my eyes, only to discover a large hairy spider by my feet. There's just something about being naked in a confined space with a big spider! I went all ninja on it with my super sized shampoo bottle. Creeped out, I hurried through my shower and headed back to my room to get ready.

That's when it hit. I made it to my bathroom before the nausea overtook my body. Then it all made sense to me why the run was so tough. My body was sick, I just didn't know it yet.

This is a long explanation of why I was laying flat on my back today with nothing to do but think. As I moved from couch to big chair and back today, feeling atrocious, I had the opportunity to take a really good look at my house. On the market less than a week, we came closer to terms with a buyer today. They have not decided for sure yet, but it made the sale of our home much more of a reality to me.

Living here now for over four years, this house holds a lot of incredible memories. Since our marriage, Shawn and I have moved often as we upgraded from apartments to a trailer, to a duplex, to our own home. In 17 years of marriage, this is the longest we have lived in one house.

As I looked around me, the kitchen table caught my eye. Memory after memory of amazing dinners came flooding back. We have laughed with the kids, we have played silly games, planned important events for The Crossroads, we have eaten gourmet romantic dinners, and entertained countless friends around my table in that kitchen. We have squished more people into that kitchen around the table than fire codes would allow, I'm sure!

Our kitchen has been a magic place. I often sit on a stool at the counter chatting with my husband, my best friend, while he cooks. We frequently laugh as I attempt to chop veggies for his latest creations. We taught our children to cook in this kitchen. We have danced many a night to some Norah and Buble while we cook dinner together. I have yelled, cried, laughed and danced with my children in that kitchen as well.

There are memories in every room in this house. Abby learning to crawl and then taking her first toddling steps, late nights of Shawn and I sipping coffee on the couch and dreaming big dreams of trying to reach a new community, and long hours at the piano talking and listening to God. In this home I discovered new passions and found my soul that was lost for a very, very long time. I rediscovered my love for writing, then branched out into a new hobby - running. In both of these hobbies, I reconnected with God and discovered rain for my soul after a long stay in the desert.

As selling became more of a reality today, I realized that I am yet again moving out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. I am excited about a new beginning in a new place. I hope that we are blessed with many years in our next home as well. I can't wait to be living with my tribe - our people in Anna. I know God has great and beautiful things in store. Today I used the time on my back to reflect, and I was extremely thankful for how God has blessed our family in the last four years. However, I am looking forward to a new beginning.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Monday Morning Update 6.28.10

Saturday night we kicked off our outdoor summer movie nights with "Star Wars" on the big screen in the Oak Hollow neighborhood. this was the first neighborhood that we went to back in our pre-launch days. It was great to be back. We enjoyed hanging out with The Crossroads family and meeting several new families from the neighborhood who joined us for a great family night.

I was utterly exhausted from a long day of cleaning and working on the house. I made it through setting up the movie screen before I crashed in my lawn chair. I didn't even budge to go get free chocolate. That's exhausted right there!

As I was sitting, desperately trying to stay awake, I looked around and realized that the teens at the movie night had congregated in my space. It feels weird to be old enough to be the mom of two middle school kids, but at the same time I enjoy visiting with the big kids. It is a new journey, but I am looking forward to the next few years.

Today at The Crossroads, we were definitely feeling the summer slump. Lots of families were out on vacation, but we also had several new families drop in to worship with us. I love seeing new faces continuing to check out The Crossroads.

Worship went well. I felt a little unsure during practice this morning since we did not get to run through the songs earlier in the week, but it all came together in the end. I've been singing Third Day's, "Your Love Oh Lord..." all week - so it was cool that it was in the set.

I was in children's again this week. We were finishing up the Boys vs. Girls series, talking about what makes girls special. I took the opportunity in my 2nd and 3rd grade small group to read, "You Are Special" by Max Lucado. It was a perfect tie-in to the big group study, and I loved getting to share one of my favorite reads with the kids.

Next week our children's coordinator will be out of town. She asked me to fill in for her. I said, "sure." (I really don't mind at all.) Then I realized that I will also be doing the singing (in the microphone) part of the worship time. I haven't sang into a microphone in over 18 years. Next I realized that all the vocalists from the praise team will be staffing small group time. Now I'm a little nervous. Why couldn't the tone deaf people be staffing children's ministry this week? But it's not about me, now is it? The kids will love me - off key or not. I'm glad that our children's coordinator will have the opportunity to go out of town with her family and have a week off.

I hope that Shawn did a good job with his sermon in the family series. I think I have missed all but one of these. I hope they are making a difference with our people in the way they relate to each other and the way they parent their children. I hope that our people are encouraged that God does not require perfection in parenting and that we all mess up and just keep on trying.

This is my last week of teaching summer school. I have enjoyed my students much more than I ever anticipated. However, I am looking forward to having a break before the fall session begins.

Other exciting news - we have an offer on our house, it was crazy low, but we countered. We will see how this all plays out. I can't wait to get moved to Anna! It will make the school year with football and volleyball practices much easier to manage.