Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Gift Of Years

At the end of my last post, I told you we were taking four lovely, dressed up young ladies to this salt marsh.


And I wasn’t even kidding.

We really did take them to a salt marsh but it was actually a salt marsh with a restaurant set in its midst. How fun is that?


This is the view from the restaurant’s back deck. (It’s a bit blurry because my lens fogged up from the humidity.)


I especially loved the restaurant’s hardwoods and arches. And just in case you’re wondering, it looks a bit empty because it’s off the beaten tourist path and it also recently changed owners.


Steve being the only man—or, as he said, the thorn among the roses—took his job very seriously of getting all the ladies seated.


The lovely woman sitting beside Steve is Crystal, Victoria’s mom and my good friend. She and Victoria (and Victoria’s little brother, Isaac) drove 700 miles round trip in order to be at this party. They came in Tuesday and had to leave Wednesday morning so it was a long trip and a short stay. But it meant the world to Sarah to have her childhood buddy there for her celebration and we are so very grateful to (a very busy) Crystal for making it happen.


After dinner, I forced the poor girls to pose for yet more pictures. They were very good sports.

Well, maybe they were too good of sports.


You’ll be happy to know that the room that they were carrying on in was empty and that no restaurant patrons were annoyed in the taking of this photo. (It's hard to believe that Sarah's three friends had just met each other a couple hours earlier--they look like they've been friends for years.)


We went from the restaurant to downtown Manteo so that we could walk on the boardwalk beside the bay.


More goofiness commenced.


And then it was back home to wait on the Resident Cook to get the birthday pie ready for consumption.


And for those who so observantly mentioned in the comments area that the Famous Birthday Hat was absent, we are saving that for her actual, real, and genuine birthday on August 23rd.

sarah birthday 21

When the last crumbs had been eaten and the last plate put away, the four girls and Steve and I sat around the table talking and laughing for almost another two hours. (Crystal wasn’t feeling well and went back to her hotel room a little early.)

Our family tradition is to have everyone at a birthday gathering say what they appreciate and like about the birthday person; each of the girls was so dear in what they said about Sarah, the recurring theme being her sweet, affirming, encouraging attitude that she always displays.

When that was over, Sarah added another layer to the tradition when she said, “Now, I’d like to say what I like and appreciate about each of my friends.”

Steve and I sat back in awe as we watched her take the floor with great aplomb. Gone was the somewhat hesitant and unsure presentations of speeches past; Sarah had truly come into her own and her words to her friends were well thought out, funny, affirming, and well spoken. I looked at each of the girls’ faces in turn and saw how deeply her words affected them; in fact, one of her friends even wrote down what Sarah said to her.

I felt tears come to my eyes as we all sat together in that late hour, full of good food, sweet laughter, shared experiences, and new memories. The miracle child glowing beside me should never have made it to that moment, should never have had the privilege of celebrating a Sweet Sixteenth birthday; in fact, her doctors didn’t even think she would live to be ten.

Steve and I caught each others’ eye several times throughout the evening, sharing gratitude for the privilege we had been given to be able to gather with our daughter and her friends and to celebrate—with the greatest joy—the gift of years.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gifts and Salt Marshes: Birthday Recap Part 1

Before I get started on today’s Party Post, let me introduce you to the girls who celebrated Sarah’s Sweet Sixteenth birthday with her.

final collage

Victoria met Sarah in Mooresville, NC when both girls were about four years old; she was a most faithful friend to Sarah during her years of cancer treatment.  Victoria is home schooled and is involved in drama and music activities through her very active home school group in Charlotte.  She  plays piano, is an equestrian, and runs a roving video camera on the tech crew at her church.  Victoria wants to go to college and then become a missionary to Israel.

Hope and Sarah met in Smithfield, NC (our last pastorate), when they both attended the church’s Christian Academy.  Like Victoria, Hope is also home schooled and in the next couple of years, wants to intern at International House of Prayer.  She is a deep thinker, has a great imagination, enjoys books of all kinds, writes poetry, loves the artist, Owl City, and wants to be a missionary/dietician in a Latin American country. 

Taylor met Sarah in their Computer Tech class when they were in 8th grade.  Her interests include biochemical weapons, engineering, and language; her options include taking those interests to a Federal Agency, the military, or (as a civilian) becoming an interpreter at the United Nations.  (Note:  Taylor’s mom teaches French and Spanish at the High School that both girls attend so Taylor comes by her love of language naturally.)

And the fourth girl in the picture?  Well, I think you may already know her.

And now that the introductions are over, lets get started . . .

As the girls arrived and the gathering started getting into full swing, Snowy kept running around saying, “Hey! Four teenage girls in this house?  Did anyone think to ask MY permission before allowing such an estrogen-based gathering to take place in my own personal abode?”

However, despite his initial masculine reservations, he did end up playing an important role in the following party incident.

The four girls had headed up to Sarah’s room and plopped on the floor where they started talking and getting acquainted.  (None of Sarah’s friends had met each other before this party.)  When I went up a few minutes later with my camera and doggie in tow, I started laughing because it looked exactly like the girls were seated around a campfire.   When I told them that, they started laughing too and immediately started to pretend like they were roasting marshmallows. (I may have even heard a verse of Kumbaya in there somewhere.)

Snowy immediately ran over to do a full and thorough investigation.


After pondering the proceedings momentarily, he made an unusually fizzling fast deduction in his usually unfizzling brain and decided that, alas!  The campfire was missing!  The girls were roasting marshmallows over a non existent campfire.   Alas!  Again!

He quickly made his pronouncement,  “Wait one moment, ladies.  You have been woefully deceived.  You seem to think that there is a campfire in your midst when there is not.  However, I am willing to lend a little assistance here, in the interest of providing good public relations for the Smith Household.”

He then made his way to the center of the circle and threw himself unselfishly and wholeheartedly into the creation the girls’ own personal campfire. (Or maybe he was just there to sniff the marshmallows—we may never know.)


After the marshmallow-ing and kumbaya-ing was finished, it was time for the serious business of getting ready. Taylor was the hair and make up artist for the evening and did a wonderful job.


She did a fish tail braid on Sarah which looked especially elegant.  And may I just add that at this point in her life, Sarah has come to the sad little conclusion that her mom is not the one to turn to for hairstyles (braids, updos and the like) or fancy make up advice.  Since those are not areas where I have great, shareable skills, I’m glad she has beauty-savvy friends to instruct her in the way in which she should go.


Not only is Taylor a good makeup and hair gal, she is also gifted in the tallness area.  In this picture, she put on her heels and Sarah didn’t, just as a fun way to emphasize the difference between them.


Victoria is wearing flats in this picture but she is about as tall as Taylor. I think it’s funny that my diminutive daughter has chosen such statuesque friends.  (Hope is somewhere in between the three.)


After the campfiring, make-upping, dress-upping and prerequisite posing . . .


  . . . the girls went downstairs for the gift exchange.

Now I realize that at most birthday parties, the guest of honor is supposed to get the gifts.  (And Sarah did receive some lovely things.)  However, about a week before everyone was to arrive, she told me that she wanted to go out and buy things for her friends. With her collected allowances, she went shopping and carefully selected a couple things for each girl.   It was a joyful gift giving extravaganza at its finest.  Victoria got a necklace (you can see Sarah presenting it in the picture), Hope got a bracelet, and Taylor got a ring. Plus, Sarah got each girl a fancy piece of chocolate in the shape of a flip flop.  (We ARE at the beach, after all.)


From Taylor, Sarah got a gorgeous, glass inkwell pen with accompanying ink and a pen rest. How is that for a perfect and unique writer’s gift?


One of Sarah’s favorite artists is Reliant K and she had asked for a certain one of their CD’s.  Well,  Hope bought her that CD, plus two more, all in a set.  Sarah was thrilled.


And the girls were thrilled with her being thrilled.


Victoria gave a gift that represented a lot of time and love—a scrapbook of pictures and descriptions going back over their twelve years of their friendship.  It was a sweet and meaningful gift.



After the gifts were exchanged, it was time to leave the house for the great beyond.


“The great beyond what?" you may ask.

Well, would you believe that Steve and I were actually crazy enough on a blisteringly hot, humid, Southern day to take four beautifully dressed girls to the salt marshes of Roanoke Island?

Yup. We sure did.


To be continued. . .

(Also, in the next post, answers to the questions/comments that have been left.)



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sweet Sixteen. Celebrated A Bit Early.

Sarah’s 16th birthday is not till August 23 but this week was the best time to get her friends together.

I’m about to leave for a road trip in order to get one of Sarah’s birthday guests home but I’ll post a few pictures before I leave. There will be many stories and pictures to follow.

Here are the girls in their Before Permutation.


And after.

Are they lovely, or what? (Sarah was happy to have found her dress at a thrift store for $6.99. Hooray!)



The Women of Wisdom. . .


And silliness. . .


And beauty. . .




So so blessed to have this precious gal in my life.


Happy 16th!



More to come . . .

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Few Preliminary Scenes from The Big Event!






More pictures and lots of stories to follow.

(And Pam D, you guessed correctly in the comments area.  This does have something to do with a Certain Someone turning a Certain Sweet Sixteen!)

A Big Event

As this day progresses, people will be en route from three separate North Carolina locations for a Smith Family Big Event. We are very excited!

Details (and pictures!) to come.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Mastectomy, Menopause, And A Mullet (Alternate Title: A Hair Crisis Story)

Before I tell you my Official Hair Crisis Story, let me share a bit of background first.

Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve found myself facing a number of crucial life changes. As many of you know, in early 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through a bilateral mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction. That whole experience whipped up on my feminine self image just a tad and reminded me that I am not as young, hale or hearty as I once was. It didn’t help matters any that after going through the three surgeries last summer, my limited lung capacity (I have COPD) took yet another dip and has never recovered. As you can probably imagine, I ended that whole summer feeling just a wee bit worn around the edges.

Then a few months ago, I went in for my annual physical and was told that I have developed arthritis in my right hand; my little finger is crooked and I have fairly frequent discomfort and swelling in that hand. (Which for a computer gal and piano player is not a great thing.) I was also told that I am officially in menopause which seems to have happened to me a little earlier than normal (Oh, lucky me.) I was surprised at the feelings of grief I had at hearing that news; my years of bearing and rearing children were the happiest of my life and to know that that sweet season had unequivocally passed was sad for me.

Then, as you know, Nathan graduated from college earlier this year and got married two weeks ago. And still to come, over the course of the next six moths, Steve and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary and I will turn fifty years old.

Now don’t get me wrong. Beautiful weddings, big anniversaries and landmark birthdays are wonderful and meaningful occasions but here’s the thing: they only happen to women who are of a certain age. And they’re happening to me.

Bottom line? I’m in the midst of a span of time when I see my youth becoming an ever tinier speck in the rearview mirror, even while the specter of middle age looms ever larger before me.

And you’re doubtless wondering: this ties into a hair crisis, how?

Well, here’s the thing. A few months ago, as I pondered all the changes that had come into my life as well as the changes that were yet to be, I decided to take a few steps that might help me feel more positive about myself as the inexorable aging process stalked me. The first thing I decided to do was to lose twenty-five pounds and I am happy to report that I have already managed to lose fifteen. That accomplishment has made me feel so much better--both health-wise and appearance-wise.

I also decided to make some small changes in my clothing and jewelry choices—not getting wildly radical but just challenging myself to maintain a contemporary, fresh look.

And lastly I decided that I wanted to grow my hair out because I’d been wearing it fairly short for a few years and I thought it would be fun to have a little change of pace. I figured my locks would be nicely grown to their longer length by my 50th birthday, which seemed like good timing for a quasi youthful reformation.

And then it was sort of an added bonus when Nathan and Meagan decided to get married in July because I realized that even by that point, my hair would be getting close to my new desired length and I was excited that an updated hairdo might help me feel lovely and youthful at their wedding—mastectomy and menopause notwithstanding.

Since I have spent most of my adult life fighting with my hair (which has a definite mind of my own), I was starting to get really excited when the whole growing out process started paying off; I was loving the longer look, I found it easy to style and I got a lot of nice compliments on it.

So hurray for all that.

long hair


However, unbeknownst to me, a Hair Crisis was looming.

Two weeks before Nathan and Meagan’s wedding, I got my hair trimmed by a capable hair stylist in a nearby town; although she always gives me a great cut, this time she cut my bangs a little differently than I was used to and I wanted to get just one small section of them trimmed a little to transform them back into “my” style. Since her salon is thirty minutes away, I figured I would just make an appointment at a place closer by that had been recommended by someone I know.

I went into this salon and very clearly told the stylist two things. I said, “I am getting near the end of a very long process of growing out my hair and also, my son is getting married in two weeks.” (I didn’t have to add that mothers of grooms--and brides--love to look their best on that big day. We women get that.)

I then I told her what I was needing—just a teensy little snip on the side of my bangs that wasn’t lining up properly with the other side. I was very impressed as she did the fix because she was careful and methodical, asking me as she went along, “Is that what you’re talking about? Is that you want me to do?”

When she was finished, my bangs had plenty of texture and were nice and even and I breathed a big ol' sigh of relief knowing that I could check hair appointments off my Pre-Wedding To Do list.

I thanked her for doing such a good job and was about to get up from the chair when she said, “I just wanted to mention that there is a piece of hair on your left side that seems a little bit clumpy compared to the hair around it. Would you like me to texturize it just a little so that it blends better?”

Actually, I had also noticed that particular issue and although it wasn’t a huge deal, I figured I’d have her straighten it out, since she had done a good job on my bangs.

So I said, “Sure, go ahead!”

Those were words I would regret.

My first indication that something was amiss came when the fixing of that one little strand took a very long time. My second indication came when she turned my chair away from the mirror. And my third indication came when she said, “Um. Now I’ll just even up the other side.”

Hello? Excuse me? The other side? Why does anything need to be evened up? There was never anything wrong with the other side.

I felt a chaotic churning in my stomach as the long minutes passed. And then—finally--the moment came when she turned the chair back around to the mirror and I saw a most terrible sight. I saw that my carefully grown out sides had been cut all the way near the tops of my ears. Over two inches of hair was inexorably missing.

I am not even kidding.

Now. I am firstly a Christian and secondly a pastor’s wife and neither of those identities do much to encourage the throwing of fits, the flailing of arms or the yelling of bad words. And of course I did none of that. I just sat quietly in the chair and said to myself, “What’s done is done and done things can’t be undone.” (Someone write that down.)

I then took a deep breath, calmly paid the stylist and trudged out to the car thinking, “Surely this can’t be as bad as I think it is--not two weeks before Nathan’s wedding. Maybe I just imagined the fact that my sides have disappeared from my person altogether and everything will be okay.”

I drove home and very slowly walked up the stairs to my bathroom mirror. I scrunched my eyes closed thinking, “Maybe if I don’t look at it, there won’t be a problem.”

But there was. A. Problem. The problem was that I no longer had hair in the place where I should have had hair. Long lovely hair. All gone. And not only had the sides been cut super short, they weren’t the same length and they weren’t cut in the same style; one side was sort of blunt cut and the other was more feathered.

Yes, I cried. I cried on and off for the next three hours. I slept fitfully that night wondering if the style was redeemable or if my hairstyle at the wedding was going to resemble a not-so-magnificent mullet. I figured if that was the case, at least it would fit right in with all the other identifying “m’s” of my life: mastectomy, menopause, and mullet!

Long story short, I knew that there was no way (barring a miracle of the Multiplication of the Hair) that my style was going to recover before the wedding and so I sternly told myself to repeat over and over that sanity-conserving phrase, “Oh, well.” Which is basically translated to mean, “What’s done is done. Get over it.” And so I dried my eyes, took some deep breaths, and just “oh well-ed” myself through the next two weeks. (I also made an emergency run to a stylist friend who did what she could do even things up a tad so that the mullet look wasn’t quite as mullet-y.)

When the long awaited wedding week finally arrived, the three of us betook ourselves to Florida and spent a happy few days in preparation for the big day. On the morning of the wedding, Sarah and I were due to leave the hotel at 7:30 am to get to the Primping, Prettifying, and Changing room reserved at the church for the bride and her cohorts. I got up plenty early so that I would have plenty of time to try to talk my hair into behaving itself in a seemly manner on this most important of days.

After quite a while of wrestling various strands to the mat I finally whipped my traumatized tresses into a tolerable array. I wasn’t thrilled with the overall look by any means (all I could picture was the loveliness that used to be my hair) but at least the effect wasn’t completely awful.

Just as Sarah and I were about to leave the room, I grabbed a can in order to spray everything down and keep it all from moving for the next fourteen hours. However, in my hurry, I accidentally grabbed the wrong can and instead of hairspray, spritzed my just-labored-over hairdo with a layer of mousse.

Yes. Mousse. The stuff that is designed to be put on wet hair before styling.

All the spots where the mousse landed collapsed into a wet and goopy mess as I stared at myself in a dither of disbelief. Two weeks before the wedding, my hairstyle is botched? Two minutes before leaving for the church, I attack my mulleted hairdo with a shocking shellacking of mousse?


Well, I got so discombobulated over that whole crisis--in addition to the hectic gathering of my hair supplies so that I could work on my hair disaster some more at church--that I walked right out of the hotel room without my Nikon. Yes, folks. I, Rebecca Campbell Smith, went to my son’s wedding without my Serious Camera.

Once I realized my oversight I said (through slightly gritted teeth), “Oh well.”

And then I grabbed my trusty purse camera and started shooting some pre-ceremony pictures; however, twenty minutes before the wedding was to start, the batteries died. I always carry extra batteries with me and I grabbed them and stuck them in the camera. A few minutes later, they died, too.

Of course, at this point, Steve and I were also dealing with the whole “shoes falling off” dilemma, so between that and my crazy hair and my non working camera, I was just a wee bit stressed. Thankfully, Meagan’s brother-in-law was able to procure batteries for me at the very last moment and the camera crisis was averted.

Although the hair crisis lives on. A little.

Thankfully though, since it’s been about a month now since The Cut, the worst of the awfulness has receded and the hair is growing out enough so that when I brush the sides back, it looks more like a “real” style, rather than a desperate attempt to modify a mullet. (This picture was take at home two days ago—since I didn’t get a good picture at the wedding, I wanted to have a picture of the whole ensemble before giving the jewelry back to the owner.)


In closing . . .

As I’ve written the Hair Crisis Story and spent some time reliving the past chapter of my life, I have found myself viewing my challenges from a different perspective. I have come to realize that I am not just a crisis facer, I am a thankful and grateful crisis survivor.

I am a survivor of big things like breast cancer and COPD and a mastectomy. I am a survivor of medium things like arthritis and quasi-depressing menopause. And I am a survivor of small things, like hair trauma and failing camera batteries.

I have been reminded through writing this that life throws so much stuff at all of us—big, medium, small stuff; good, bad, and ugly stuff—and that on any given day, each of us faces all sorts of multi-sized challenges. Some of the challenges are huge and heartbreaking; some of the challenges are tough at the time but quickly forgotten. And other challenges (like using mousse instead of hairspray) are so frustratingly crazy that you just have to laugh at them because sometimes laughter is the only sane solution.

As I’ve looked back on this past season of life, I’ve also taken a second look at the woman in the picture above. I’ve noticed laugh lines, wrinkles, and a less than perfect body. But I’ve also noticed something that is quite beautiful, and that is that the woman in the picture is entering this new season of life at peace with herself.

Sure I’ve had to deal with a few things recently that aren’t so fun—mastectomy, menopause, and a mullet, anyone?—but that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s not just the happy times of life that shape us and make us, it’s the tough times, too. In fact, I truly believe that the tough times have done more to shape my life than the best pair of Spanx out there.

And while I haven’t always been glad for those tough times, I’ve been thankful for them. I am who I am because of them.

And me and my mullet? We’re good with that.