Sunday, April 28, 2013

Two Italian Sisters and One Italian Son Equals FUN!

I've been pouring through pictures on my computer for the past few weeks, and for some reason the album "Lucca Restaurant" just popped out at me today and I've looked at the pictures in this album probably a hundred times.  Go figure!  Maybe I'm hungry for some authentic Italian food.  Maybe I'm ready for another Pittsburgh adventure.  Maybe I was in the mood for recalling some of my most fond memories.  Or maybe it's because I was thinking about family, kids, and all of the life changes that have taken place over the past two years.   

Let's just say I'm so glad for pictures!  They really do make imprints on the heart and mind.  I forgot how excited my sister Ruthie and I were to get all primped up to go to Lucca's Restaurant in the Burgh!  WOW!  That was a fun night!!! 

Our last name is "Lucca", and we had some crazy notion that we were going to meet up with relatives of ours from Italy! We had talked about visiting this restaurant for two years, until finally Chris said,
"Okay, ladies.  Put on your Sunday best.  I'm taking you out for a night on the town!"

Let's just say that Aunt Ruthie was a bit excited to be sitting in "Lucca's Restaurant" with the special words from Chris, "Order whatever you want.  This is your night!  Pretend you're in Italy.  The treat is on me!"  (This is only one of many of Aunt Ruthie's famous "kisses" that Chris got that evening.  Poor guy!  (Italian women tend to get quite emotional and they are not afraid to express their emotions in public!)

This happened to be a five course meal, and along with each course came another bottle of wine.  I'm laughing as I'm recalling how this all played out........Chris ended up calling a friend to drive us around for several hours following the meal.  We might be crazy, but we're not stupid!!!!

This night was so special for a thousand different reasons.  For Pete's sake -- this was "LUCCA" Restaurant!  Our name.  A bit of our history.  A bit of nostalgia.  A bit of pride.  A bit of everything Italian you could think of was part of this magical night!  And, we are sisters who are about as polar opposite as you can get, but for this night -- by golly we were on the same page.  We were enjoying every minute of being at Lucca's together.  Thank you, Chris for making it all happen because heaven knows the two of us would never have maneuvered our way around the streets of Pittsburgh on our own! 

The meal was a smashing hit.  The food was off-the-charts delicious.  We drove the waiter to the point of him needing to take a "break from our table."  Actually, he said he got hit with a terrible headache and had to go rest.  (Aunt Ruthie thought he was cute and plastered some of her famous kisses on him, too!) 

And, we ran up to the poster of "Lucca, Italy" time and time again to pose for pictures, each time with a different story about how we'd one day go to Italy to track down our relatives.  We laughed.  We laughed some more.  And, we daydreamed.  And, the break from real life was wonderful!  Gosh, it's good to just get away from the everyday routine of work, work, and more work and do some super big fantasizing about life!!!

I've often wondered if Chris had any fun at all that night.  He was in a lovely restaurant with his old mom and his crazy aunt.  He took a night out of his hectic life to spend with two sisters who did nothing but yak, yak, yak the entire time.  He heard stories that he's already heard at least fifty times before.  He put out a huge hunk of change on that meal.  And, he had the honors of being lavished in "Aunt Ruthie's kisses" for about three solid hours!  (Chris deserves a gold medal, doesn't he?) 

Following the super high of the  Lucca's Restaurant escapade, we took in the sights and sounds of Pittsburgh!  All I can say is, "Oh, what a night!"  B E A U T I F U L!!!

What a drop-dead gorgeous city all lit up in the evening!  Every time I look at this picture, it takes my breath away!  The bridges, the tall buildings, the high hills illuminated and glowing from every direction.  I'll say it again, "Oh, what a night!"

Chris calls himself a Dimwit , but I think he has it all wrong.  He's a LUCCA!  And, he's one heck of a special Italian son!  Thank you, Chris, for the memories!!!!  Aunt Ruthie and I still talk about this night and we probably always will.  We'll still be talking about this night when each of us are sitting in the nursing home saying, "Do you remember the night we spent at Lucca's with Chris?"

A lesson to all kids:  Parents grow older and when they do, there's one thing they crave more than any "thing" in the entire world.  That thing is called "spending time with you."  If you're hard up for an idea for Mother's Day or a birthday or any day......just give your parent some of your time!  There is no greater gift than giving of yourself!!! 

From the mouth of an an Italian mama, "Grazie, Christopher!  You are the furthest thing from a Dimwit I've ever known!"

PS  I did get to go to Italy with Chris, and it was the "adventure" of a lifetime!  Let's just say I've never been the same since!  I guarantee that it truly was seeing Italy from a totally different perspective than in the tour books! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thank You, Deb, for Remembering My Anniversary!

Today's post will probably be a bit strange for some, but I'm going to write it anyway.  I couldn't sleep last night -- had fitful hours of weird dreams, and finally decided, "You know what?  I'm just going to get it off my chest!"   

If you know me even remotely, you know that I'm no longer married, and I'm sure a lot of people have been wondering, "How is she doing?  What must it be like to have been married for almost forty years, and suddenly find yourself living alone?  What does it feel like to find out that you never really knew the man you married?  What's it like to have shared the majority of your years on this earth with a man who concealed his heart from you?"  *note:  This is not a pity party, nor is it a bashing party.  This is me telling you what it's like to find out after almost forty years that you never, ever knew the man you married.  And, I'm telling you my story on the day that would have been my 43rd wedding anniversary. 

Back to the story.......

On April 18, 1970 on a chilly spring afternoon in Villanova, Pennsylvania a gathering of family and friends came to surround me and and the young man I was marrying with love and support and to witness our vows of love and total devotion to each other.  We had an outdoor wedding, and I must say the weather was touch-and-go right up until the final moment of setting up the chairs outdoors.  There had been a terrible thunder, lightening and pelting rain storm the evening before (an omen, maybe?) and we didn't know if an outdoor wedding would be possible until the skies parted early on that Saturday morning. 
As it turned out, there were a few rain puddles, but the sky was crystal clear, the forsythia and daffodils were in bloom, so the outdoor wedding went on as planned! 

I'm not posting any photos of the actual wedding itself.  The photos have faded, and in all truthfulness, I haven't opened the wedding album in several years now. I have no desire to ever look at those pictures again.  At least, that's how I feel at this moment in time.

What happened?  Two young Christians, met at a Christian college, fell in love, went through a year-long engagement, got married, settled down in a lovely country setting, became a model minister's family, had eleven beautiful children, and then slowly (at first) the foundation began crumbling until the climactic moment when the world came crashing down!  

Plain and simple, there was very little verbal communication in this marriage.  I think it's safe to say that if compacted into time, I cried literal years due to that one thing.  There was little to no talking within the marriage.  By nature, I'm a talker.  He was not.  

Ladies and gentlemen, here's a lesson learned.  You will never change a person!  I repeat.  You will never change a person!  I was naive enough to believe that after we got married, he would talk more.  Instead, he become more and more quiet, more private, and excluded me from major areas of his life.  ALERT!  This was a big ALERT, but I didn't pay attention. 

You can learn to live with a non-talker, especially when eleven kids fill your home with noise, chatter, and laughter!  Okay, with six boys and five girls there were some times of drama, crying, fighting, screaming, and all of the crazy, nutty stuff that comes along with having kids one right after the other!  So, the "ALERT" of non-communication was brushed aside temporarily until the kids began leaving the nest. 

And, before we knew it, there were only two daughters left living at home, and many grandchildren being born.  I was beginning to feel a bit strange --eerily strange.  I felt like I was living with someone I didn't know as the years with the eleven kids at home were winding down. 

But, it's easy to figure out that I love babies -- always have and always will.  They are life's greatest treasures -- the most magnificent of miracles, and I was blessed not once, but eleven wonderful times over!  And, now the next generation was beginning to arrive and my heart soared once again!  Now the grandkids filled those empty places in my heart and that was good........... 

Except -- there was still no communication with the man I loved.  He was more private, more withdrawn, and more secretive with "me" than when we first got married, although he was a gracious, much-loved and respected community member and the most active minister,  volunteer, counselor, and confidante you'd ever find.  ALERT!  Take care of your wife first!  Everyone else comes second.  Wife is next in line after God.  Always!

Let's just say around year thirty-six, my heart became empty.  Devoid.  No more love left.  My heart had been bleeding -- hurting -- for so many years that it finally caught up and my heart was bleeding just like the bleeding hearts you see in this picture.  My heart bled, and bled, and bled until there was no more love left for this man I had married almost forty years before.  And, so we parted.  ALERT!  Neglect is a sure sign that something is wrong!  I repeat.  NEGLECT is a sure sign something is very, very wrong!

The sad part of this very true story is that not long after we parted our ways, he was arrested and convicted of being a practicing pedophile since the age of fourteen.  Yes, that is correct.  All through our married lives, he was molesting children -- little girls were his preference.  I tremble.  I shake.  I vomit.  I shudder.  I cry.  I go numb.  There's only so much thinking I can do about this.  The man I loved.  The man I trusted.  The man I looked to for godly instruction.  The man who fathered all of my children.  The man who I wanted to make happy all the days of my life was a practicing pedophile and that is why he was so secretive and quiet and unable to communicate with me.  The man I married now sits in prison serving thirty years of incarceration which I think is a fair exchange for the lifetime of hell his actions created for the countless innocent children who were harmed by this one man.  

How does that make me feel?  Initially like dirt for not seeing what was going on.  Initially broken.  Initially angry beyond words.  Hateful towards him at times.  Weak.  Alone.  Afraid.  And, hurting beyond hell for my family!  What did they do to deserve any of this??????? 

Today, April 18, 2013 is my wedding anniversary and I am celebrating alone.  I will drink a glass of wine.  I will eat a thick, juicy steak.  I will linger over another glass of wine.  And, I will NOT cry.  I will not allow this man to have power over me any more.  I will not feel sorry for myself ever again.  I will not say, "This is terrible and I did not deserve this."  Life is unfair to most people, and truthfully this part of my life has been terribly unfair, but it will not ruin me!  I will not allow this to define me. I am bigger and stronger than this! 

My message to every person who has been trampled on, deceived, and had your heart stomped on is this:

Take some time to grieve.  Feel the hurt.  Let it go deep.  Allow it to cut and bleed (and believe me, it will)!  But, after the shock of it all and after the pain of the initial blunt force to the heart begins to stop hurting so bad you want to die, walk away for a while and take stock of your life. 

Pull the blanket of hell back and uncover the blessings of heaven that are still there!  In my case, my God, oh my God, how I thank Him for all that has been given to me!  God, how I love my children!  God, how I love the grandchildren you have given to me.  God, how I thank you for allowing me to live this long and have good health.  God, how much I thank you for food, clothing, transportation, and a home.  Oh, my home!  God, how much I thank you for allowing me to wake up to birds singing and to be surrounded by so much nature and beauty.

Do I hate being alone at this stage in my life?  At first, I did.  But, you know what?  I'm beginning to blossom in ways I never thought possible.  I feel more sure of myself than ever before.  I laugh more than I have in a long, long time.  My heart is beginning to feel alive again.  Heck, those aren't bad things -- those things are great things!  And, I've found that I'm never really alone.  Every day, there is someone who is placed in my life that blesses me in some wonderful, caring, giving way!

My special thanks today to my friend Deb, who married the man she loved with all of her heart on April 17, 1970, just one day before my wedding.  We were friends before we got married, and we remain friends to this day.  Deb, my special friend, sent me the sweetest message ever yesterday letting me know that even though she was happily celebrating her 43rd wedding anniversary, there was a sadness knowing I was not celebrating mine.

Deb, I am celebrating!  I really, really am.  And, tonight when I lay my head on my pillow, I will thank God for the wonderful blessing of a 43-year-long friendship!

Yes, indeed, April 18, 2013 is a beautiful day!  God bless all those whose hearts have been broken with the fortitude and resolve to go on!  Even with the pain, it's still a mighty fine life! 

Trust me in this -- you WILL survive!  And, you WILL blossom again.  And, you ARE a thousand times stronger than you ever imagined!!!  Don't ever allow anyone to define who YOU are!  You are magnificently made and you can survive anything!

Let's celebrate life together!!! 


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life Lessons: What I Learned While in Haiti!

They say "experience" is the best teacher, and that statement held true to the cause while on the mission trip with "Team Blanc" in Haiti just a couple of weeks ago.  Sure, I could read about these things in a book, but to actually see, touch, feel, and live among the people in Haiti and get to experience these life lessons -- WOW!!!  Thanks for allowing me share a few of these simple truths -- my "life lessons" -- with you!

Life lesson 1:  You don't need a clothes dryer to dry clothes.  The sun does a wonderful job, and it even gives you "sun bleached, fresh smelling clothes"!  Note to self: Quit the griping and complaining when the dryer doesn't work for a day.  God gave us the sun and it works way better than a clothes dryer! Besides that, the sun never breaks down.

Life lesson 2:  Beauty can be found everywhere -- even among the most difficult times of poverty, depression, sickness, or anguish.  God has not forgotten us and gives us beauty to enjoy at all times.  We simply have to look around us.  Note to self:  Stop thinking God has forgotten me.  He hasn't!  All I have to do is look outside to view His glorious creation and be reminded that if He cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, He tenderly cares for me, too!

Life lesson 3:  Fancy cookware and a top-notch state-of-the-art kitchens are not requirements for preparing delicious, nutritious food.  Cooking over an open fire in a big iron kettle will get the job done marvelously! (I wish you could have seen how this pasta was cooked!  It was amazing!!!   Note to self:  Stop feeling sorry for yourself that your kitchen and cooking utensils are old.  Instead, use what you have and be thankful!!!

Life lesson 4:  Kids will be kids under any circumstances.  They know how to enjoy the simple things in life. (This little boy sliding down the railing at Tabitha's orphanage reminded me of my kids sliding down the banister at home hundreds of times squealing with laughter as they had "races.")  Note to self:  Kids don't need hundred dollar toys and a room called a "play room" to make them happy.  They just need an opportunity to be a kid!  Every child is born with a super creative mind!  A little bit of encouragement to use their minds goes a long way!

Life lesson 5:  Not all kids own a $200 pair of hiking boots, but they still manage to climb mountains and enjoy God's beautiful creation.  Note to self:  Quit stalling when it comes to getting outside and enjoying nature!  Tennis shoes or flip flops from Walmart will take me where I need to go in order to exercise and take in the beauty of nature that surrounds me each day.  I don't need to wait until I save up for that expensive pair of walking shoes!  Feet work just fine!

Life lesson 6:  Fancy conference rooms, a PhD in Psychology, and the most current forms of advanced technology are not needed for heart-to-heart conversations about life, faith and God.  A simple sit-down in nature with a friend and time spent in prayer and God's word are calming to the soul.  Note to self:  Focus on reading more of the Bible, spending time with Christian friends, and spending quiet time in nature because these are the things that will give me life-sustaining nourishment right at the moment when I need it!

Life lesson 7:  There are flowers that are survivors and can thrive, bloom, and give beauty under any condition because God made them that way.  Note to self:  Stop thinking that circumstances have to be better in order for my life to be filled with joy.  Remember that I can bloom and thrive anywhere and at any time because God made me that way!

Life lesson 8:  Laughter is a universal language and can be understood and appreciated by everyone! (This lady lives in one of the aziles we visited, and she was overcome with joy as she enjoyed the food, the sanitation pack and the hugs that we gave her! I don't think I've ever seen a bigger smile!)   Note to self:  Laugh more!  Smile more!  Relax more! There are tremendous blessings of joy given to us in each and every day -- no matter what our circumstances.  Remember to share a smile with someone every day!

Life lesson 9:  No matter what your financial situation in life you can keep yourself neat, clean, and find a way to share something with others.  (This man is part of Tabitha's orphanage and used a machete to cut and prepare coconuts for us, the visitors.  Look how neatly he's dressed!  He sure puts many of us to shame!)  Note to self:  Take care of what you have, and stop wishing for more.  Always, always find something to share with others!!!  And, share with a joyful, giving heart!  "A cup of cold water given in His name to the least of these will not be forgotten." Matt. 10:42

Life lesson 10:  This is one beautiful world in which we live!!  This beauty was made for us to enjoy, to take care of, and to be used as a blessing!  (This was a daily scene in Haiti, and one that gave great peace and a sense of belonging to God.)  Note to self:  Never, ever become too busy to enjoy the gifts found in nature.  God created this world for us to enjoy, and when walking among nature we can really connect with God through our meditation and prayer. 

I could go on and on with the life lessons learned while in Haiti.  I took well over a thousand photos and there is a lesson and story to go with each one!  (Don't worry!  I'm only sharing ten for now -- not a thousand!) 

One of the most important life lessons of all I learned was this:  You don't have to travel to a foreign land to learn life lessons or to enjoy close communion with God and others.  We have opportunities for this right where we are every single day of our lives.  That being said, sometimes people need reminders and encouragement and they need our help in pointing out the beauty in the not-so-beautiful parts of life.  And, that's why seven very ordinary people prayed so fervently to make this mission trip possible -- to be messengers of hope to those who sometimes feel forgotten and lost in a world of poverty and darkness. 

Let's be a light that shines for others! And, quit worrying if you're a bright light!  Any light is a bright light to the one living in darkness!  When we share God's love, we've shared the most meaningful light of all --  an eternal light of hope! 

Love to all,