Connect Guest Post: Dan Seifert

In real life, not all stories have happy endings. Some stories just end, and the best we can do is find peace. I’m glad my friend Dan has found some answers and some peace in this story’s ending.

This year, I saw my deceased grandmother for the first time. No, she wasn’t a ghost, but seeing her picture was such an emotional moment that for the first time in my life I thought, “I have to sit down.” Let me explain.

My mother was adopted, and while that was never the most important fact about her, it certainly influenced the way she moved through the world; it had implications for my sister and me as well. We moved houses more often than necessary, and I believe that mom was seeking a sense of connectedness and home that she did not have because of the uncertainty about her birth parents.

I blamed the mystery bio parents, “Grandpa and Grandma X,” for things I didn’t like about myself, especially my unfortunate hairline. I would often get teary-eyed when I heard emotional stories about adopted children blissfully reuniting with their birth parents, and I would imagine what that would be like for my mom. (Spoiler: that isn’t how this story ends).

The woman I called Nana was a nurse at the Philadelphia hospital where my mother was born. A private adoption was arranged because Nana and her husband could not have children. Nana didn’t give my mom much information about her bio mom, and what she did share was not pleasant. My mom did not want to hurt Nana’s feelings, so she waited until Nana died to begin the search process. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009 before finding the answers she sought.

[Mom, six months before she died]

I have seen the folder of information she collected during her search, which covered almost 12 years, and the picture it paints is heartbreaking. The State of Pennsylvania maintained sealed adoption records and, even as a woman in her 60s, my mother could not get access to the information on her original birth certificate. Mom wrote several letters to the courts; asked my uncle who worked for the State Police to help; and even hired a private investigator. That investigator found a name, Katherine Marnell (hang on to that bit of information), with a birth date that seemed to correspond with the information from Nana, and my mom focused her attention on trying to locate that person, to no avail.

That is where things stood at the time of my mom’s death, and that is where they likely would have remained. Except things started changing about a year ago. My wife and I had our DNA evaluated by Ancestry.com. Then my wife found an online group of people who had been adopted in Pennsylvania, and we learned that the State was going to open its adoption records starting in 2018. As a surviving child, I was able to apply for a copy of my mom’s original birth certificate.

When the birth certificate arrived, it listed my grandmother’s birth name as Kathryn Marnell and the grandfather as John Lowe. Ancestry listed a Kathryn Marnell, AKA Catherine Marinelli, who had someone in their tree with a genetic link to me. And, just like that, in our minds, the mystery was solved. My wife and I waited to see if they would contact us, because they could see the genetic link, too, and must have been surprised by the story. Eventually, my wife got a phone number and called the woman I now know as Aunt Lucille, who lives in New Jersey and is married to a man who is my mother’s half-brother.

If this were a movie, this story would lead to a tearful reunion with lots of conversation and questions flowing back and forth. But this is real life, and the fact is that neither of the men who are my half-uncles seem to care that much about the fact of my mom’s existence. Their mother, whose nickname was Kit, was a reserved person who didn’t like to talk about her past. She moved away from home and changed her name as soon as she could. She got pregnant out of wedlock, then gave the baby up for adoption when the man who was going to marry her (not the baby’s father), decided he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. Then, that man went away to World War II and came back broken. The man she eventually married seems to have been a good guy, and they had two sons together.

Aunt Lucille did send some pictures, however, which leads me back to where I started. This is my grandmother:

The similarity to my mother is uncanny. And, even if the story doesn’t include a beautiful reunion, this picture proves that the mystery is solved. The answer my mom sought for so long is in front of me, and that has brought a certain amount of peace.

Strangely, I am not all that interested in tracking down John Lowe, although since there was a court proceeding in which he denied patrimony, my wife believes we can get his information. It is enough for me to know that this woman, who is part of my life story, found some measure of contentment and joy in her life after placing my mother for adoption. Whether her surviving family ever feels the need to make a stronger connection with us or not, we are at least aware of each other.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.

Mom-ories

Facebook keeps tossing up pictures from when Q14 was little and, now that he’s in high school, they prompt all the Big Feels. I can’t even imagine what a mess I’ll be three years from now when he’s a high school senior – sheesh!

Last Monday was a no-school day. In our family, no-school days have always meant parents take a no-work day and we enjoy a family field trip. Facebook sent me a reminder from six years ago in one of our favorite places on the planet:

Which recalled for me that we did the same thing last year on this fall no-school day.

But not this year. This year both the college and high school kids had too much homework to do. Despite the three-day weekend, they couldn’t get all the work done, and it didn’t seem to me because they’d whittled away the time frivolously.

Even Guy had stuff to do that couldn’t wait another day. So I spent the day doing my hardest, best work to not throw a mom-sized pity party. I read my Bible and wrote in my gratitude journal. I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen counters because both needed doing. I made a big batch of Cookie & Kate’s The Very Best Granola–whole almonds and pepitas, a dash of sesame seeds and unsweetened coconut tossed in as the granola cooled–to munch for breakfast and snacks throughout the week. I made our favorite bean dip for dinner, then took myself to yoga.

The kids went to the store and bought pico de gallo, chips, and guacamole, and after a post-yoga shower, we all met in the kitchen to toss together a huge taco salad. Then they insisted on watching a movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2, the words to which one kid knows by heart), which we didn’t all see to the end since people were tired and Tuesday (this week’s version of Monday) was coming up hard.

I missed our family field trip, a day filled with memory-making in a beautiful NorCal location. But that evening, cozy on the couch with my favorite people, I realized we’d still accomplished my goal. We had shared time together and made a new and different memory. It might not have been as adventurous as I’d like, but it was sweet. I’ll take it!

Holiday Sales

Today is Memorial Day, set aside for the good citizens of the United States of America to remember those who have died while protecting and serving our country. Our remembrance might also extend to anyone who has served in the Armed Forces and, even further, to those who have gone on before us.

Like most holidays, retailers have made it a shopping holiday. All weekend my inbox has overflowed with emails promising huge holiday price reductions.

Mostly, I hit “delete, delete, delete…” I click on a few, just in case this or that company from which I actually shop has a deal on something I regularly purchase. So far, that’s meant one online purchase. To how many deleted emails?

Last week on holiday in Puerto Vallarta celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we got sucked into the worst holiday sales pitch: the time share.

I’ve sat through a few time share pitches and, while I hate the hard sell, the experience came and went with little to-do. This one, though, made an impression I’m still pondering.

First, let’s be clear: we didn’t buy. We’re in no position to drop a chunk of change on a vacation property, especially with two kids facing down college. Family is our priority. You could say family benefits from awesome resort vacations (they did say that), but our family priorities look a little different.

We got snagged in the airport. A guy directed us to a counter to arrange hotel transportation. This, friends, was something of a ruse: we did get hotel transportation after we agreed to the time share presentation the next morning. We also got transportation to and from the resort (subject of the sales pitch), and (super expensive and amazingly cool) excursion tickets including drinks, sunset boat cruise, Cirque de Soleil show, delicious buffet dinner which we ate on a beach while being serenaded, and an entertaining lip synch ‘concert’ on the return boat ride. The perks outweighed the pain.

Still…

As the cab driver entered the gated resort property—and drove and drove through lush foliage that precluded our ability to see anything but road and plants—I was reminded of Jurassic Park. Had we been kidnapped, or otherwise lured into something that looked incredible but posed danger?

One smiling face after another directed us to Jeff, our guide, who took us to a pool-side breakfast. A young, good-looking American straight out of military service, he’d been on the job only three weeks. He’d travelled to Puerto Vallarta on a whim and found a job because he’d fallen in love with Mexico. He showed us around the resort—more accurately seven resorts which will be nine plus a Disney-style theme-park—including several ‘model’ rooms/suites at various price points.

The promised “breakfast plus an hour” stretched over four hours. Jeff gave an extended sales pitch. His boss presented us with four or five offers. Two other guys followed up: “The sales pitch is over. But have you looked at these numbers…?” By the end, it almost seemed if we could put down a credit card for a reasonable charge today, the resort would pay for itself within a few years. Math must work differently in Mexico.

Of course it would be lovely to vacation in PV every year, by ourselves or with the kids. But our vacations are so low-key. We don’t typically fly. We camp, or borrow a vacation house, or VRBO. We cook for ourselves. We get out into the wilderness and out with the locals. Those who stay at this place would never leave. It’s pristine. It has its own grocery store, nineteen pools, and obviously beach access. It also has the corner on excursions, which means that even if you get out, you’d do so with people working for or staying at the resort.

Toward the end, I gently challenged Jeff. The guy who admitted he lives with locals and speaks only Spanish after work, the guy newly committed to living an authentic Mexican lifestyle. I asked how he justified selling such an inauthentic version of Mexico to people who might never interact with Mexico because of their experience at this resort. He wouldn’t go there with me.

We don’t live in a perfect world. On-site, this resort employs 7,000 people. How many more off-site, at the airport or as excursion operators? And what about all the others, the landscapers, builders, taxi drivers, who benefit from increased tourism? All good.

Except it’s a manufactured experience. They literally took one landscape and created a new ecosystem. The resort may be in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it’s Mexican.

I’m not one to judge, not at all. For those who have money and leisure to travel, this is a gorgeous option. And obviously the resort has created countless jobs benefitting the economy and the families of Puerto Vallarta. The parent company has done good, but I still wonder: at what cost?

Say the Words

Twice this week I’ve found myself in conversation with people who have recently and unexpectedly lost a parent, a woman whose father died and a man whose mother died, both from a stroke.

Last night as I listened to my friend describe the events surrounding his mother’s last days, he said, “Tell the people you love that you love them, over and over, as often as you can. I’d do anything for her to have regained consciousness one more time so that I could tell her again that I love her…”

This morning I awoke from vivid dreams with an uncomfortable heaviness in my chest. I realized my dad had come to me, wearing a nice coat that must have been his Pan American Airlines uniform. As hale and hearty as he had been when I was a child, he greeted me with a big bear hug. I turned to see Q13, looking exactly as he does today except that he was dressed up, too, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. I introduced my son to his grandfather. They embraced, and I woke up.

It didn’t take more than a moment to address the ruminations of my unconscious brain.

This weekend we will celebrate Q13’s fourteenth birthday. Also, the thirteenth anniversary of my dad’s passing on the morning of my son’s first birthday. It’s a weird day, always.

Thankfully, we had time to say the words. In fact, while I have regularly been a gushing fountain of emotion, Dad got better at expressing his love as he recognized the end of his life drawing near. Still, what I wouldn’t do to say it again, and to hear again that he loved me. What I wouldn’t do to watch my son enjoy his own relationship with the grandpa he didn’t have time to know.

Say the words, people. We don’t know how many breaths have been allotted to any of us. Use all the breath you have to share love.

Hush.

It’s been a quiet week. While C19 has been away at college, Guy has been leading a house-building trip in Mexico for 250 high school students and adults, and Q13 has been travelling England and France, I have been at home, working and walking dogs.

I don’t mind. I had been looking forward to this week of quiet with an almost physical longing. I planned to deep dive in quiet, to enter into projects I never seem to get to or, if I do, have more than 20 minutes to devote at a time.

Not long ago, I reread that passage from Luke 1 where the angel strikes Zechariah mute because of his disbelief that he and Elizabeth would finally have the baby for which they’d longed for too many years. I can’t imagine being physically unable to speak for nine months. I’ve had the occasional bout of laryngitis for a few days, but even then I managed to whisper or squeak my point across.

Still, this week wasn’t as quiet as I’d anticipated. Twice a day (until the weather turned) I took the dogs to the park where I chatted with church acquaintances and park ‘regulars,’ most of whom I know by “Robin’s dad” or “Maya’s mom,” the names of their dogs carrying different weight than their own in this setting. I met friends at a movie, a comedy show, and a concert, an unusual amount of activity for this homebody. I talked on the phone with my mom and my mother-in-law. I ran a few errands.

I took the quiet to a different level by not trying to fill it with noise. I watched only the TV shows I’d decided to watch in advance (Jesus Christ Superstar and the last several episodes of This is Us, both excellent). I left the car stereo off. It was a discipline, for sure, but I resisted the urge. Somehow, it felt important.

As always, my To Do list was overly ambitious and I cannot cross off everything. But I got some things done and, most importantly, moved forward a project that required from me a stringent focus.

In the quiet, I noticed a few things:

The words I shared with others felt to me differently significant, breaking silence like breaking bread.

I like the hubbub of family life and neighborhood. Some quiet is good, and balance is necessary.

I am grateful for nurtured relationships with friends, neighbor friends and park friends and friends with whom to share different types of events.

This experience of quiet will help me appreciate the gift of spoken word, of shared daily life, of relationships. What a gift!

More!

I am my mother’s daughter. In some ways, I look like her. In so many others, I think like her or act like her. Even some of the ways I am not like her have been influenced by my relationship with her. I learned from her to share her vision for what is good and meaningful and worthy in life.

Recently, I introduced Q13 to a friend. As we stood side-by-side, she remarked, “Oh, I see the resemblance…”

His response didn’t miss a beat: “Yah, but she’s not a natural blonde!” (I am so!)

He may look like me, but his quick and quirky sense of humor is all his own.

Still, he is my child and bears more than physical characteristics from our relationship: our homebody-contentment, our appreciation for good music, our joy in helping others. Just as my relationship with my mom molded my life, my relationship with my son shapes who he is and how he lives.

I am also God’s child, and I sure hope there are some solid family resemblances: I hope I love big like He does, serve like He does, create like He does, share joy like He does.

This week I saw a video that resonates deep in my being. You can’t help but laugh at the sweetness! Dad and baby are both clearly into not just the beatboxing but also each other. Each time Dad stops Baby asks for “More!” More beatboxing, sure, and more togetherness, more fun and laughter, more joy and love.

This video makes me wonder: Do I enjoy my relationship with my Daddy God? Do I take time to notice–and revel in–the fun and wonder and laughter and love He wants to share with me? To exclaim, “More! More!”?

Walk in Love
Week 6: Children of God
1 John 2:28-3:10

Connect
In what ways do you resemble your parents?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:28-3:10.
What response should God’s children have when Jesus returns (v28)?
Why does “the world” not recognize God’s children (3:1)?
Why did Jesus “appear” (vv5, 8)? What does that mean for His children?
How does John contrast those who sin with those who do right (vv4-10)?
Does John mean that God’s children cannot/will not ever sin again? Explain.

Live
What have you done this week to “continue in Him”?
How do you feel when you think of Jesus’ return, and why?
What does being God’s child mean to you? How is that title evidence of God’s love?How do you resemble your Father God? How would you like to grow in resemblance?
Do you think others recognize you as a child of God? How so?
How can being God’s child motivate you to right living?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your lives and keep you from sin.

Thankful Thursday – Gentleness

I slapped off my alarm Monday morning, the one I set so I could have coffee before yoga. Eh, maybe the later class.

I missed the later class. Eh, I’ll go to the gym.

I had no energy for the gym. Not even for a run around the neighborhood.

So I used the dog as an excuse and took her for a slow and ambling walk around the block.

Thoughts spinning in no discernible direction, I felt crazy. One week, exactly one week, and I will not have time to slap off the alarm. I’ll hop out of bed, wake the kids, take a quick shower, and rush everyone out the door into a fully loaded out-of-state-college-bound car.

Walking helped. Just some gentle movement and I felt my mind and body reconnecting in synch. As if body and mind had had an argument, followed by a long wrestling match, and an eventual compromising decision—without bothering to tell me—that this week I need to go slow, to be gentle with myself.

This week, I’m rejecting all the shoulds. I’m eating healthy when it also sounds good, and what sounds good even if it’s not the healthiest choice. I’m sleeping when I want to sleep, reading what entertains, saying no as necessary.

I’d like to be more productive than I have been, but bare minimum feels like what I’m capable of for now. I’m sure I have more and other things to do; I can’t for my life think what they are. [I’ve been waking regularly from stress dreams: former employers have left me binders of task lists that I should have memorized (but don’t), scattered over a large and crowded room. I have to find and integrate the lists in some comprehensible form to know how to proceed…]

I turn on the computer and get lost down the social media rabbit holes because I can’t recall why I turned on the computer. Maybe habit. Or that most of my work lives on my computer. Either way.

Teen seems to have settled into acceptance that he is leaving, and soon. He is slowly finishing up his details, slow being better than the complete denial he devoted himself to so far this summer. Mainly, he’s spending every minute with friends. That’s good, too.

Tween must be growing for the number of hours he spends in bed. I could wake him, but considering next week we will drive states away to drop off his brother and return the night before he starts school, why? He should rest, and when he wakes, he should play—the point of summer when you’re thirteen years old.

A college professor once told me that her creative husband could only tackle one creative activity at a time. When he wrote or edited, he couldn’t paint. When he painted, he traded dabbling in words for dabbling in color. His creativity faucet could only handle one temperature at a time. His total being became engaged in one form of creation.

And I think that’s the key: this week is a creative transition in our lives. Teen is on to a new and exciting phase of life. We are so over-the-top excited for him. But it means a transition for all of us. We are recreating the reality of our family: who we are together and separately.

I need to stop fighting, trying to force myself to do something else, and instead gently go with the flow of this new creation. Like transition in childbirth: for now, it is all about this baby…

The rest—productivity in working and writing, yoga, healthy eating, the (for me) ever-illusive organized home, all the things—will be waiting on the other side.

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