Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grandpa Ivan.

There's a unique feeling you get when you hear someone has died. For me, it feels like my insides have been flushed. My heart goes to my stomach, and starts searching for a way to get back.

It's an entirely different feeling to be told someone has died, then that they haven't... then that they did. A true roller coaster of emotions.

That's where I spent Monday night, with the news of my grandpas passing. My grandpa had been battling bladder cancer for years, and when he noticed a new pain in his hip last week, my dad took him to the hospital to get it checked out. Come to find out, his hip hurt because there was a fracture. There was a fracture because cancer had spread, and made his hip weak. The doctors were optimistic, and they started treatment. The plan was to stay 14 days at a step down facility while he had chemo, then go home. He was used to this routine, as it was the norm, but this time he didn't make it. But go figure that man didn't go down without a fight. My dad found him dead, then paramedics got a pulse, and for 45 minutes we felt relief. Relief because for a brief time we weren't sure if "grandpa died" actually meant he was dead. We didn't know if our grieving was premature. Because that man had always been a tough Ruski, and to be honest, my family couldn't be too surprised if he opted to fight death with a resurrection. And I found myself thinking, "that man would try to come back from the dead".

But ultimately, his time was up.
His heart couldn't do it anymore.
His fight was over.

I didn't have a "crawl up on my lap" or "sneak you some candy" grandpa. I had a grandpa who lived in the ghetto, let me and my sisters ride in the back of his van with no seat belts (let alone seats), and encouraged me to shoot guns. He started off rough around the edges, but was softened by sugar and spice, and everything else 3 granddaughters bring into a mans life.

My grandpa was always a fighter. Born in communist Russia in 1920, he grew up in an era I'm thankful is history. He fled Russia after refusing to serve in Stalin's army, changed his birthday by 4 years, and successfully covered the tracks that could have led to his instant execution. Upon leaving his homeland, he found refuge, and a wife in Belgium. Within a few years, and 2 small boys later, my Grandpa became hell-bent on getting to Hollywood, CA. It was a land of palm trees, sunshine, and streets paved in gold (so he heard). He wanted a part of it. And when the US wouldn't let Europeans in, they went to Canada first, and entered the states from the North. And they made it. They had the dream, the family, the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief convertible, and an address right off of Sunset Strip. But it seems like my grandpa never had to wait long before it was time to fight again. Times got hard, and when word got out of jobs available for auto mechanics in Detroit, they sold the car (in 1 day), and headed East.

Detroit had a lot of ups and downs. It was a long move, but there was work. It was the place where my grandparents ultimately divorced, but also the place where my dad was given the opportunity to meet his high school sweetheart. my mom. The furthest I've ever moved from home is 60 miles. and it was for the most part, painless, convenient, and low stress. My grandpa had to fight with every one of his. From moving across the world, to being set on staying put in Detroit while the neighborhood around him lost families and gained drug dealers and neglect.

My grandpa wasn't always a good Father or Grandpa or Father-in-Law. There was reason he was called "Ivan the terrible" at times. There was a time I walked away from him in a courtroom in Detroit, when I thought that I would literally never speak to, listen to, or see him again. I had decided that I would remember my childhood memories of stomping grapes in his backyard, ice fishing, playing with the litters of Lab puppies that came around every few years, and package that up as who my Grandpa Ivan was.

A few years later my Dad showed by example (the way only the best dads do) what forgiveness and redemption in action looks like. Day by day he and my grandpa repaired, and rebuilt. And out of that came a new relationship I thought would never exist. When my dad lost his job in March of '09, a new one came up right away. But the new job didn't pay a dime, and yet he didn't turn it down. The job was tending to his ailing Father. And almost every day for the past two years, my dad made the trip from Farmington Hills to Detroit to spend time and care for his dad. Or "Pops", as he called him.

Thanks to Gods gracious intervention, Audry and I went to see our Grandpa the day before he died. He was sleeping when we got there, but popped up with a smile on his face when he saw it was us. In the midst of conversation, he shared with us about how our dad saved his life. And as much as in a lot of ways I knew that was true, I also knew that he wasn't just talking about the days added to his life, but the life added to his years as well.

Life can be a mess. In a lot of ways, it feels that way today. But I'm always thankful for seasons. I'm thankful for joy and for sadness, and for the peace I have knowing that God always knows what He's doing in timing.

An old roommate from college emailed me tonight and said that maybe the whole job loss thing with my dad was what needed to happen in order for the two of them to really be able to spend significant time together. And as hard as the last few years have been financially for my parents, I know that when my dad came home Monday night with tears falling down his face, it was because he lost the man he had grown to know and care for in the last two years.

So tonight, I sign off in peace. The last conversation I had with my grandpa was a deal for me to bring him some bright orange mums, and a friendly argument of who loved who more. I still plan to buy him the mums, but I've found it hard to put into words in this post about the freedom in forgiveness and choosing love. I've found myself taking a lot of deep breaths the last few days. Deep breaths that are filled with realizing I'm not sure what step to take next, but exhaled knowing that I got the chance to close this chapter in a way that was done right. With love.

With the heart of a thankful granddaughter,

Friday, October 22, 2010


There were 7 of you in 1 house?

I think that's the question we get asked most often. Usually followed by a pause... a pause of people waiting to hear about the time so n' so stole the others boyfriend, when what's her name said she hated someone, or when everyone didn't talk for weeks because there is NO way that so many woman could live together under one roof, and not leave hating each other.

But that was never 240.

I was excited for this week because it meant that almost all of us (6/7) would be together again on behalf of our most recent 240 bride, Lindsay. She flew up to Michigan for a mere 36 hours to find a wedding dress, and invited the 240 entourage along. And everyone managed to make that Tuesday afternoon work. Even upon leaving the bridal salon, the manager complimented our group. Admitting he cringed a bit when he saw all these woman walk in for 1 bride, seeing as usually it turns out to be an opinionated mess. But we were an exception.

An exception because there's a reason why we call it 240love.

Because we weren't just your run-of-the-mill college roommates. We had our moments of not seeing eye to eye, but even those times were seasoned with love. We were unique because even though we were all figuring it out, the tie that bound us was being rooted in Christ. We grew from that, together. And when it came time to move out of our great little house with mushrooms by the toilet in the bathroom and cracks on the ceiling, we cried. I never remember feeling as low as I did the days after graduation, when 1 by 1, 6 of my closest friends moved out, and wouldn't be returning the following Sunday night as I was used to.

These days, I feel blessed to be able to look back on those years together with fondness, and full of nostalgia. I had a unique college experience, and woven intricately into the fabric of it, were the women of 240. We laughed together, cooked together, rode to class together, danced together, and even raised a puppy together. There's a reason we'll always love hearing about "science projects", and always have a soft heart for the maintenance man that called Dasha, "hotshot".

Those memories from college keep getting further away, but we just value them more and more. And when we have to plan months in advance for reunions these days, it's an automatic priority. When we thought about the location of the 240, 2010 reunion last month, Cincinnati made sense. It's just about halfway between Detroit and Nashville (our two furthest points). And it wasn't until we were back home that Sunday that it was brought to my attention how good we have it. We went to pick up Walter from one of Kristen's friends homes, and when we were telling her husband about the trip, he said, "so 5 of you drove all the way to Cincinnati because 1 person is in Nashville?.... you're good friends". And I thought to myself, we literally never gave a second thought to where we would meet because the important part was to have everyone together. and when you have great friends, it's easy to be a good friend.

So that weekend, every member of 240 found ourselves in Cincinnati late Friday night, and with cupcakes and wine in hand, enjoyed being in our PJ's, under one roof again. Krista tapped into her hospitality roots, and scored us an awesome suite, so we could literally spend every minute of the weekend in each others company. Saturday found us walking in a park, going to the Cincinnati Art Museum, and wine tasting. When that walk we started got too hot to continue, we found retreat in the AC of the art museum. And when we realized that we were not great at appreciating fine art, the culinary type was right up our alley, and we dined in the museums courtyard. Wine tasting turned out to be the dark horse of the trip. Our little known thing, that emerged to prominence. We walked into Cincinnati's, "Wine Merchant", and walked out about an hour later having had some great wine and even better laughs. Our return to the hotel met us with a serious case of the giggles, and when we got around to finally toning it down a bit, engaged in conversation with depth, thanks to Kelsey's good game planning. We made it downtown for a late dinner at Cincinnati's "Nada" restaurant, and when we were told of a long wait, we simply enjoyed margarita's outside and the warm air of an Indian Summer. Since one of the ties that binds us all together is our love for {the only colors} green and white, it wasn't too shocking that when mocked by wolverines at the restaurant, our natural defense was to bust out our fight song. voice volume, high. obviously. and we laughed. Because as inappropriate as it was, at the same time, it seemed very appropriate. We finished the night at a bar called, "Cattle Ranch". It was just as fun, and random as I thought it would be. The 7 of us played the nonexistent bachelorette party card, and got in free. And without consuming one ounce of alcohol there, managed to dance it up, crack up, and get thrown off a bull.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again. I love us. I love how we got dealt the best cabbies in the city, I love the mix of conversations, and I love how we've got a past, and security in the future.

I'm thankful to have friends that ask how my family is doing, who let me know how they miss sharing shoes with me, and who constantly show me how to be generous, by the way they live.

And when we parted ways on Sunday, after eating ice cream instead of lunch, we all looked spent. But those faces told a story of what we packed into one weekend. A weekend of great new memories, lots of laughing, and both good and tough love alike. These women gave structure to the roots I have today, and I love my/our story because of it.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

on your mark, get set, go.

I've never enjoyed running. But I really like the idea of it. I think it's because it's simple in theory. You don't necessarily need a gym or weights, and it's really good for you. When I was in middle school, I ran track. But even that was because I wanted to do the high jump. But in order to do that, you had to run at least one event. I was always in the second heat, and only did a relay. I wasn't good.

As much as I wasn't made for the sport of running, I love watching a good race. For the last 3 years, I've made it down to the Detroit Free Press Marathon, and I love it. This year, I didn't personally know anyone running in it, but a friend did, and I jumped on the opportunity to go watch. There were 19,749 people there who ran the race, and represented 49 states!

First off, I'm amazed that people can run 13.1 miles at a time, let alone 26.2! It's mind blowing for me to think about running for 5 hours straight. But standing on the sidelines as a cheerleader has always been a place I've felt comfortable. I saw shoeless runners, and some in costume. I saw old men and women, and very young children. I saw a dad get re-energized at the site of his 5 year old son on the sidelines. I watched him take a brief break to kiss his entire family, before taking off with more pep in his step, somewhere around the 12 mile mark (I'm guessing). His son looked on with his big blue eyes opened wide, and a huge grin on his face. His dad was a part of something big. His dad was running a marathon. There were funny shirts, costumes, and shirts that marked tribute to those that had their lives stolen from Cancer, MS, and other selfish diseases.

I had too many favorite parts to list them all. But I loved the 3 people running the race holding hands, the group of women dressed up as the Wonder Women that they are, the mother/son team, and the sign one spectator made that said, "I knew you could do it". Because where we were standing at the half marathon/marathon split, I'm sure all 19,000+ found that reminder helpful.

Each runner is given the option to have their name listed above their race number. Whoever first thought of that idea is genius. As a spectator, I felt valued as I yelled, "you're doing it, Anna" or "Keep up that pace, Dan". People I didn't even know, that I was given the opportunity to personally encourage. It's nothing short of awesome. Especially when you get eye contact, a tired smile, and a "thank you". I think I love it so much because both sides, the runner and the cheerleaders echo Biblical truth.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off anything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Heb 12:1

It's not uncommon to find sports as a symbolism in describing the faith of life. Especially with running. There's a start, a finish, rules, obstacles, drop outs, and victory celebrations! In both situations, the great cloud of witnesses reminds us that the race in winnable! That many have already won, and there are many more victories to come! I love the visual. The work, the effort, the cheers! It's inspiring and encouraging, and invigorating all at the same time! Most of the runners don't stop. They may change pace, but few don't finish, and none change directions. So on days when I'm feeling negligent on faith, and downright lazy, I think back on these races. It may not be easy, or enjoyable, but it's always rewarding to cross the finish.