Saturday, July 21, 2018

August & I

The month of August has always been one of my favorite months.  Born and raised in Minnesota, the month of August usually comes in blazing hot and leaves exactly the same way it came.  Temperatures often reaching the triple digits even in times of evening slumber, the heat and humidity are often oppressive and unbearable.  I am thankful each and every day for refrigerators that have ice makers that provide copious amounts of ice on demand. And for air conditioning and ceiling fans in the living room and each bedroom. I am thankful for cool basements that provide an additional cold haven when needed. And I am unabashedly reliant on our small above ground pool that provides comfort and a much needed cool down each afternoon and again in the evening.

My mother Jo Ann, Jo for short, was born on the 4th of August in 1945. She loved the summer months even at a very young age.  I once saw a picture of her, no more than 3 or 4 and she was wearing her winter gear. From head to toe, she was completely covered so that I could only see her eyes and the bridge of her nose.  Her arms stuck awkwardly straight out in front of her. I believed if she wanted to move them, she probably would not be able to.  If I was able to see her entire face, even at the age of 3 or 4, she would have been gritting her teeth or grimacing.  She clearly wasn't enjoying a Minnesota winter.  The other pictures of her are nothing short of amazing.  Frolicking in the yard with her brother and sister. Walking down St. Paul city streets with her mother and sister, all three dressed in matching summer sun dresses.  Gloved hands holding each other, a pleasant and content look across each face.

My mother was 30 when I was born.  Being that she was a little older and already had my sister 19 months prior, she was ready for a summer of fun when I was born. I too should have been born in August. But June must have appealed to me a bit more.  I came bursting into this world 6 weeks early. Not quite yet ready to live out of my mother's womb, it took me another 10 days before I was able to head home. My mom quickly became acclimated to being a mother of two and decided to take full advantage of the rest of the summer.  She set the small plastic kid pool up in the front yard, placed a lawn chair next to it so she could hold me and soak her feet in the cool water. My sister Angela enjoyed swimming all afternoon as we slumbered in the heat of the afternoon sun.

My mother was one of those women that was always meant to be a mom.  Kind and caring, a natural care giver and so very encouraging.  My sister and I were soon very aware of just how special our mom really was.  Women sought out mom for advice and direction.  When trials overwhelmed neighbors, they could often be found in my mother's loving arms being hugged and prayed for.  When children were abandoned by careless parents, my mother cared for them as if they were her own.  When the Pastor at church needed assistance, he would always put my mom in charge knowing that everything was then placed in her very capable hands.  When Angie and I entered Elementary School, she was always active. Helping teachers, coordinating fund raisers, and assisting anywhere she could.  She helped with band and choir and the dance and theater programs that my sister and I were involved in.  She always made the best banana bread and would wrap it in a brown bag and plastic wrap and deliver it with a card and a prayer to any new mom, anyone recovering from surgery or illness or to anyone who needed to know that they were loved, treasured and important. My mom was an amazing example of how to serve and love others well.

When we were still quite young,  August was the month we would travel up north, usually to escape the heat, even for a few days, but mostly for mom and to celebrate her special day.  My dad did very good job of showing my mom how thankful he was for her by celebrating her special birthday in August.  A cabin on the north shore for a long weekend. A rented time share at Breezy Point in the woods.  Wherever we went, my mother seemed to always create fun.  Collecting rocks by the river or finding drift wood by the side of Lake Superior. Laughing until she cried at the noise of the squirrels in between the walls of the cabin we were staying in. Making new friends every place she went. And often these new friends were friends for a lifetime.

Angela and I missed our mom's birthday one August when we were sent to Lake Beauty Bible Camp for the week.  We were so excited about our time away at camp but soon realized we would be gone on August 4th.  My mom continually assured us it would be fine and that we could all celebrate when we returned.  And that we did. While at camp, the craft director helped Angela and I create gifts to bring home to our mom.  I am sure it involved something like painted macaroni and yarn, but it was a gift made with love nonetheless. My mother oohed and aahed when we gave her the gifts we worked on at camp. "This is fantastic! What great gifts. Thank you! I love my girls so much!"

As adults, Angela and I continued to make a big to do about out mom's birthday. Lunches and dinners out. Late night movies at home. Walks at the park reserve. Swimming and dinner at the casino.  All things she loved. And we participated in all of these things to honor her special day. To celebrate her life as a mother and grandmother.  To show her she was loved.

My mom passed away about 5 1/2 years ago.  A rare form of liver cancer took her life and the young age of 67.  She had so much life left in her and so many things that she wanted to do and accomplish.  But do know what she did accomplish?  She loved her two daughters and 4 grandchildren.  She taught her daughters about how to love others and how to serve others never expecting anything in return.  She spent long hours with each of her grandchildren.  Holding them, rocking them, reading to them, playing with them. She cheered for each accomplishment and encouraged after each failure.  She lived each day to the fullest and never regretted anything.  She loved others like her life depended on it.

Now, 5 1/2 years later, I find August approaching quickly.  August 4th is a day that I will always pause and honor my mom.  I will always remember her, share her life and the stories I remember with my children and anyone that will listen. August is now the month that I will continue to celebrate my mom's life. I will make banana bread. I will send cards of encouragement. I will hug others and never be the first to let go.  I will share books and movies that I love with others who I think will enjoy them too. I might even cut coupons out of the Sunday paper and save them in a envelope for other people to use.  I will stop at every child's lemonade and cookie stand, buy more than I need and encourage them to keep up the hard work.  I will pull my kids close and remind them how much grandma loved them.  August.  I will always love the month of August.

Friday, July 20, 2018

More Than Anything-Josh's 19 Week Update

A brief update about Josh.  Josh has been struggling with an extreme equilibrium imbalance for 19 weeks. Unable to drive a car, unable to work, Josh spends his days working on Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy. He moves from couch to dining room chair to floor to bed and back again. He rests when he needs to and tries to keep his brain engaged by putting a few Legos together when he can.  In the past two weeks, Josh has lost a crown and had to sit through having it cemented back in. It was quite challenging for him but he did it.  Then the following weekend, he developed even more pressure in his head and was diagnosed with a sinus infection, put on heavy duty antibiotics and is struggling with the harshness on his stomach.  He also sat through challenging renal scans to check his kidney blood flow.  This was very hard and uncomfortable as he had to hold his breath and doing so makes him feel as if he is going to pass out.

Yesterday and today he spent the mornings at the U of M meeting with specialists for testing additional Vestibular and Neurological functions.  These tests were endless, horribly uncomfortable with noise, sound and motion and made Josh feel terrible.  Josh received some very unexpected and difficult news today.  After completing two days of extensive testing, it has been discovered that Josh has extensive Vestibular Weakness and Impairment on both sides. We originally were told only one. There is no known cause at this time. It could have been present all along on the left side and Josh may not have been completely aware of it because he has always been deaf in that ear. His body has always compensated for that hearing loss. When Vestibular Neuritis settled in the right side, it threw his entire Vestibular system off track. There is additional Vestibular Therapy that Josh can do and will do, but there is no guarantee that Josh will ever get back to where he once was.  (From what we understand, if only one Vestibular Nerve was damaged or impaired he would have better chances of recuperating. Because the impairment is bilateral and his condition continues to deteriorate, recovery is even more challenging.

Next Tuesday, Josh will undergo additional Audiological Testing at the U of M and then see the Neurologist who is the best of best. She will review all original and additional findings, discuss options, methods of possible treatments and help us get a better idea of what life looks like for Josh going forward. The goal is to get him to the point where he can eventually drive a car and possibly return to work. But the immediate goal is to find him some relief from the constant dizziness, the overwhelming reaction he has to light and sound, and to get the anxiety under control. (92% of VN patients struggle with extreme anxiety due to not being able to function at even the basic of levels on a daily basis.)

Thank you to each of you that have continued uplifting Josh and our family in your prayers. Thank you for the help that has been helping around the house and in the yard. Thank you for toting my daughter around town and for enabling me to take a step away once in awhile. Thank you to those who have helped drive Josh to and from appointments so that I can take care of the kids and get kids to and from school.  Thank you for meals and thank you for praying with us. Thank you for helping us as we know we have asked for a lot.  These days are long and difficult and we feel loved by the community that continues to encourage us and serve us. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


I have written about authors and poets that I love and really enjoy reading their work. Not only do I feel that I learn something when I read, I often feel that a great piece or a great story changes me. Usually for the better. Often moves me to tears, sometimes with sadness, but usually they are tears of joy.

I read a couple books a few weeks back, that wrecked me.  Made me cry. Couldn't move on.  Hurt my heart.  It took me a few days to pick myself up and take the first step forward.  My bleeding heart left me crying one day as I exited a grocery store.  I even gulped for breath one afternoon sitting on the deck trying to catch up on emails.  Well written books aren't just interesting, they capture you, mind and soul. They make you feel more than you often wish to feel.  They make you reminisce about days gone by. They make you want to make changes when it comes to how you approach the life that is yet to come.  But most of all, they affect you so deeply, that sometimes picking up a new book isn't possible for a spell.

The phrase, I melt in front of you was impressed on my mind after reading another book by Rudy Francisco.  I melt.  Melt. To make or become more tender or loving. Soften. Disarm. Touch. Affect. Move.   This word applies to so many situations in life.  The sound of a song that brings back memories.  The questions of an innocent child.  Love declared when it isn't expected.  Seeing God's perfect creation anew each morning.  The understanding of something that has been prayed about is now happening or changing. I melt much more often than I care to admit. But melt, I do.

One of my earliest memories as a child was when I was 3 or 4. We had a beautiful large dog named Joey.  My dad loved this dog.  Joey was adventurous and loved that he was given free roam as we lived in the country in Forest Lake, MN. He was a big dog, but so very gentle with my sister and I.  In the country, we often struggled with invasions of raccoons investigating our garbage cans,  deer eating everything in our garden, and hungry fox and coyotes roaming in search of their next meal. I remember when the howling from the coyotes would be so loud and surrounding us even during daylight hours. Those were the days that our parents would pull my sister Angie and I indoors or keep us close if we were out in the yard. Joey met up with a pack of coyotes, probably believing they were his friends as they looked so much like him.  They were not his friends.  They tore our amazing dog apart.  My dad went searching for him that evening when he didn't come when he was called.  My dad found Joey in the woods directly behind out house, cowering under a fallen tree. He calmed him and carried him back home and directly into the back of his work truck.  Dad hollered for my mom to quickly bring him an old blanket so that he could bring Joey to the vet.  My father barely spoke a word.

I sister and I cried and worried about our sweet Joey. Covered in blood with so many open wounds, we prayed that the vet would be able to help him.  My mom felt horrible.  We waited. And waited. Our dad returned late that evening after my mom had tried so many times to put us to bed.  The next morning when I woke, I raced to find my dad.  My mom said he was in the basement with Joey. Joey. He was alive. I reached for the door handle and and my mom quickly grabbed my arm. She told Angie and I that we couldn't go downstairs. That Joey was very sick, and might not make it.  She said our dad was going to try to save him by keeping him medicated and continuing to clean his now stitched together wounds.  The vet stitched him together. My child mind wasn't able to understand that stitches alone wouldn't fix Joey.

The next week was heartbreaking.  We were allowed once to go down and see and Joey with both our mom and dad by our side.  We were told that Joey wasn't going to be okay and that we should go downstairs and love on Joey a bit.  We did as we were told.  He looked so sad laying there on the makeshift bed my dad had made for him on the cement floor of our basement. My dad had torn sheets and blankets up to make bandages to tie around his torso and around his mangled paws. The smell was horrible as infection had set in, but I wasn't about the mention it to my mom or dad. My dad was kneeling down next to Joey, and turned and looked at my mom. My dad had tears in eyes.  "Joey, you are good dog. We love you. I am sorry, I couldn't protect you from the coyotes.  You have been the best dog ever. Thank you for being my friend and for being the dog I always wanted."  Tears freely ran down his cheeks.  My dad swiped them away, and Angie and continued to cry and hold Joey's one paw.

Those difficult days are not only one of the first clear memories that I have, but that morning was definitively the first time I melted. As I saw my dad cry, as he told our beloved dog how much we loved him and as he thanked our dog for his companionship.  My love for my family grew. I knew then at there, even at the tender age of 3 or 4, that this was important. That this dog made a difference to our family. That memories of this amazing furry friend would never be forgotten.

When I was around 9, I remember our neighbors fighting. Not just fighting, they were screaming at each other.  My mom said that sometimes men and women fight, that they just feel things deeply and that sometimes their voices get really loud.  I commented that our neighbors voices must be the loudest of them all.  My sister and I liked to check out their pigeon coops and occasionally pet their dog. We were both playing in the yard and my sister had commented that she hadn't seen the neighbor lady in awhile.  I also realized that I hadn't either.  I saw Doug a few minutes later exit his back door and head to the pigeon coops to feed them dinner.  I hollered a greeting of hello to him. He waived, his expression blank, and silently enter the coop.  Angie and I followed, not really picking up on the fact that maybe he didn't want to talk that evening.

Angie and I knocked on the coop door as we had been taught how to do, (never to enter if pigeons were loose or able to fly out the open door) and Doug told us we could then enter.  A casual exchange of pleasantries followed and then silence.  Angie and I didn't have anything else to say and neither did Doug.  After an uncomfortable amount of time passed, Doug raised his head from where he was refilling feed, "You guys, um,  I need to tell you something.  My wife left the other day.  She won't be coming back.  I guess you should tell your mom and dad too."  I didn't know how to respond.  I think my sister muttered an "I'm sorry".  Doug turned away from us. "I will miss her. I will miss her a lot."

Even being so young, I understood that in my heart he really did mean it.  They may have fought constantly, but Doug would miss his wife.  I realized he was sad about her absence. Before that, I had only ever seen death separate a couple. I had never witnessed the choice to leave a relationship.  My heart melted right there and then right inside the door of the pigeon coop.  Husbands and wives didn't always stay together.  Sometimes they chose to leave. Sometimes they needed to leave.  Angie and I returned home to share the news that we didn't quite even understand ourselves.  I told my mom Doug looked sad and maybe she should make him some banana bread and bring it over to him.  She smiled at me, pushed my hair behind my ears and said she would do just that.

My heart continues to melt more than I wish it would.  When loved ones hurt deeply, when sickness invades a body, when relationships fail, when my heart wants what I can not have have, when joy and sorrow abound. But what a joy it is to feel and experience each new situation. Tears are nothing new and nothing to fear.  Heartache is inevitable. Suffering hits hard and often.  But to feel deeply, ah.  To make or become more tender or loving. To soften. To be disarmed. To touch and be touched. To affect. To be moved. Yes.  This is the perfect definition of what I know I will continue to experience.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Every Day

Every Day. I mean it. Every day.  I try to find fun or make fun every single day.  Sometimes fun finds me. Sometimes I have to go in search of it. But fun will be had if I have any say in the matter.

This summer has been a rocky road for our family.  My husband Josh, has been unwell for 16 weeks and isn't able to work, drive a car or participate in almost any activities. Noise and light bother him greatly, so he needs to stay in the quiet setting of our home as much as possible. We pray each day that he will have an easier day than the last, but that usually doesn't happen. The kids miss their dad as much as he misses participating in activities with them.

Mornings like today, we walked the Boardwalk at Fireman's Park in Chaska. We love this walkway.  The fish, the geese, the turtles sunning themselves on the logs. We love it. The breeze was beautiful and made the straight on hot sun bearable. We then headed to Shakopee to hit a garage sale or two and then we found the garage sale festival on a large church lawn.  It was fantastic.  We found a bunch of items we actually needed and then a bunch of fun things for the kids and for our home.  I may have only spent about 10 or so dollars but found some fantastic things I can check off my list, and the kids enjoyed the dogs and babies and searching for a few treasures.

And, just like every Saturday morning, we then headed to the Chaska library.  The library often feels like our second home. Lily is working diligently on her summer curriculum which includes completing one book report a week and handing it into the library as she participates in the summer reading program. She loves looking for new books and discovering what is new each week at the library. She visits with the librarians and settles down in the far back recesses to start a new adventure in one of the new books she selected.  Zach loves watching videos he knows and loves in foreign languages on youtube.  He sorts through all the dvd's in search of three of his favorites, and they stay close at hand and keep him company during his computer discovery time.  He then will walk back to the front and sift through the stacks of Spanish Language children's books hoping to find a new treasure such as Dora or something to do with Holiday's or Changing Season's.

No matter what my kids choose to do at the library, they always leave saying they had fun.  They always leave agreeing, that a good morning was had by all.  I am not creating fun for my kids. I am providing the opportunity for fun to be discovered. The tools are there, the fun is the available for the taking.

Later today, we will swim, and lay on the deck. We will watch cute dogs on the walking paths and wait for the flutter of hummingbird wings to grace us with their presence. The kids will retreat to color and play Legos and discover lost treasures in their rooms while we wait for the afternoon sun to calm down just a bit. We will reconvene for dinner and decide when to leave for a nice brisk stroll through the neighborhood. When my kids rest their weary heads and settle in with a few good books, we will talk about the fun that we had. We will talk about where we went and what we saw. We will talk about the fun that can be found in each new day.

I have never been one to plan grand adventures for my kids nor have I felt the need to constantly entertain them or keep them busy. My goal is to give them the tools and then help to foster their imagination. I want to help them find fun, and joy and happiness in the simple, in the mundane.  I want them to end each day believing it was a day well lived. I want them to end each day excited about the possibilities of what a new day has to offer.

When I was a child, we didn't have much. We had food on our table, clothes to wear and a bed to sleep in. We had family that we loved. And to us, that was enough. That was plenty.  We felt rich because we didn't know any different.  We thought that how we lived was how all kids lived. Playing outside, riding bikes, adventures in open fields and in the dark woods.  It never dawned on me to ask my parents to take me anywhere unless we wanted to swim. And then of course my mom always said yes as she enjoyed swimming as much as we did.  Simple days were spent together, outdoors and enjoying all of God's creation.

I want my kids to admire the shape and color of leaves. I want them to go in search of pine cones and discarded nuts and polished beautiful rocks. I want to see my daughter tuck in her dolls for a long nap under the large shade tree in our front yard and use it as an excuse to slumber in hot afternoon sun.  I want to see my son bellow at the birds and declare his love for every dog that passes our house or that walks past us while we are on a walk. I want my kids to identify what they like to do, what they believe is fun and what brings them joy daily. And then I want them to do that. To go there. To experience it often. And always want more.  To declare each new day as an adventure to be had.  Not to waste a moment.

Today, our fun was had by noon. How exciting we have the rest of the day to create more.

Friday, July 6, 2018

What I See While We Wait- Josh's 16 Week Update

I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms. Sometimes they are full, mostly very empty. The very empty ones provide time for me to read, respond to emails and text messages and rest. Josh has been struggling for 16 weeks. I wish that I could report to you that he is feeling better. He is not. He still is unable to work or drive and spends most days moving from the couch to the dining room for VRT exercises then back to bed to settle his weary head.  

This week we went to the doctor 3 times. Mostly for labs, ultrasounds and scans, and then today to see a kidney specialist.  Last week, a very thorough doctor discovered an additional medical problem.  High liver and kidney enzymes and wanted to make sure that nothing in addition to VN was plaguing Josh.  His liver seems to be functioning well now, but his kidney's are still on fritz. The kidney doctor believes that this will resolve itself over time, yet one additional scan has been ordered for the 17th, when they will look at blood flow to and from the kidney's. He wonders if possibly only one kidney is functioning at this time.  The scan from the other day revealed only an old injury to his spleen that is completely healed and has calcified, so it doesn't reveal any new information. 

His next three appointments are scheduled at the U of M for the 19th and 20th (additional testing) and then with the head of neurology on the 24th.  Thank you for your continued prayers and support. For helping us fix things in and around our home. For feeding us and for entertaining our children. As soon as we have any additional information about Josh's condition, I will be sure to share it. 

Today I watched a lovely little girl who just turned one play in the clinic lobby with her dad. Her name was Valerie.  She smiled at me and waved as they walked by. I told her that her flower sundress was beautiful and that she is such a good little girl at the doctors office.  She took out her nuk and blew me kiss. Made my day. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes because of sweet Valerie.

I never find myself bored in the waiting rooms.  The book I was reading today talked about listening to words people use and really focusing on what they actually mean.  Spoken word is different than the written word, but one can evaluate both.   I heard a noise above me and my eyes darted up.  The ceiling at 212 Medical Center is a sight to behold.  Odd ball lighting, lots of speakers and sprinklers, and the occasional recessed light that all appear to be placed without rhyme or reason.  But in the chaos, there is beauty to be found there. Maybe it is just geometric nonsense.

But in the shadows is where I found comfort today. A beautiful morning in Carver County, we were able to enjoy the breeze and the sunshine and the temperature is just right at 82 degrees. I sat and waited for Josh as additional appointments and tests were scheduled.  I hummed a few bars of Great is They Faithfulness.  Morning by Morning New Mercies I See. All I have needed, your hand has provided. Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord onto Thee.

God has watched over us, protected us, guided us and continues to lead us during this trial. This is temporary. Only the Lord is Eternal. Knowing this brings comfort and peace. When the days are long and seem to just be the same day in and day out, the Lord has been there the entire time.  Never leaving us. Never forsaking us.  And that is why I will continue to sing.

Psalm 63:7
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Stay In Your Lane

"Stay in your lane."  My friend said to me looking me straight in the eye. "Just stay in your lane."  I felt like I had been kicked in the chest. Those sounded like fighting words. What had I said that offended her so much?

We were all talking and sharing personal stories about our children,  their behavior and school experiences.  Having a 15 year old special needs son and an 11 year old neuro-typical daughter presents a unique situation.  I am able to view issues from multiple views and understand that no two children or scenarios are the same.  What works for one child or one family may be an absolute disaster for another child or family.  What proves to be difficult or near impossible for one child may be the answer to many sleepless nights and unanswered prayers for another child.

Knowing this to be true, I often will contribute short stories about the difference with special needs parenting or how it is important to figure out the root cause behind behavior before panicking about what the parents think is happening. 

"When you volunteer information about your Zach, no one can really understand or see themselves in your shoes. So maybe you should just stick to stories about Lily."

Tears poked at the corners of my eyes. What?  Did my "friend" just tell me that I needed to only talk about my daughter and not about my son because he has special needs? My tongue is sharp, and often needs to be tamed. I am fully aware that it needs taming, and sometimes on a daily basis.  I can be defensive, argumentative and often times a bit sarcastic when left to my devices. I feel the need to justify, explain, over explain and persuade as I make my opinion and voice be heard. I am emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve. When I feel under attack, especially when it involves my children, my claws come out quickly. Or I cry. Usually, I just cry and excuse myself.

I wiped a stray tear. Took a deep breath and exhaled. " The reason I share stories about Zach is often times because many parents are in panic mode and can't handle what they experiencing with their teenagers. I am not going to remain silent in conversation just because I am not experiencing what other parents are going through with their kids.  When I share stories about Zach, it is often from a different perspective, often slightly humorous and a bit of fresh air.  He is a funny kid and his approach to life can be so freeing when compared to the self imposed stress filled lives that many teens live.  I am not trying to say that I am a better parent, I am not trying to one up you, or distract from the matter at hand. I am trying to be apart of the conversation. Apparently I failed."

The last part came with much more gusto and sarcasm than intended. I quickly removed myself from the group and continued to another conversation. My eyes were probably glossed over and I don't remember a word that was said. All I knew is my feelings were hurt. Deeply hurt.  Why was someone I called a friend so vicious and cutting over my sweet Zach?   Driving home, I cried a little, got angry and then prayed that I would be able to just let this whole situation go. When I was finished praying, I started thinking about the why? Why did it seem like I was under attack?  This friend seemed to always love Zach, was it the story I relayed, or was something else happening here?  It was how I was sharing my stories.  I start many things by saying, What worked for us with Zach is... and then continue sharing what worked. I usually don't start the conversation explaining the 132 times we as parents had failed.  All of that failure is what led us to the success we now see.  The way I was telling stories about Zach made it sound like, I , me, Kelli J Gavin, the hot mess of mom that most know me to be, actually had it all together and that somehow I knew the answer to all of the important questions.  This couldn't be farther from the truth. My confidence and ability to tell stories was leading others to think that I thought I was the best dang mom in the world. A mom who had my act together and had perfect kids.  For the Love of All Things Holy. It is the exact opposite.  Come spend a single day in my home. I will show you what is true.

Someone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Someone is bound to be snippy.  Someone breaks my favorite coffee mug. Someone won't turn off the news when are told to 4 times.  Someone is whining that there isn't anything to do. That same someone is complaining about how much of their summer curriculum they have left to do.  Someone figured out where the graham crackers are and ate all but the crumbs which were intended for a bed time snack.  Someone needs to change her shirt because the smoothie she packed for lunch at work spilled all over her when she was pouring it into the tumbler. (That was me. That was totally me.)  Someone ate all of the other persons favorite breakfast cereal. Someone discovered that same someone consumed all of the orange juice.  This and more happens by 8 am. And that is considered a good day. 

After my heart heals a bit more, I will change how I share stories about my kids.  I will first establish common ground. I will comment, I am sorry that this is happening, I know how frustrating that can be.  And then if I feel the other person is receptive, I will share the struggle, what I learned from wading through those deep waters and then what the outcome was, positive or negative.  I also have come to realization that it is totally okay to just listen. To sit back and listen and absorb what someone has to say without offering a comparable story in return. Because let's face it. I have a lot of stories to tell, and most have heard them all already.

Yes, it is going to take me awhile to make the changes that need to be made when it comes to sharing family stories.  But knowing that I struggle when it comes to listening, I think I will benefit from doing this.  I often retain only partial important information shared with me from other people, probably because I am in constant prep mode. Preparing for what I will say next. I need to be silent. Silent more often than not.  Listening, digesting other peoples stories and enabling others to be heard.  Because way down deep, that is probably what we all want.  To be heard. 

In my lane is where I will be in case you need me.

Saturday, June 30, 2018


My first job out of college was as a banker at a local financial institution. I loved the work, the clients and found that problem solving came easily when it involved tricky financial situations. In 1997, I switched positions to another bank and moved from new accounts and investments to new accounts and loans.  I enjoyed the change of pace and the learning curve. Instead of people bringing money to me, they were asking me for money to purchase a vehicle, consolidate debt, purchase a new home or improve the one they already had.  I found that underwriting and risk assessment were far more interesting to me than long term and short term investment goals and wealth accumulation.  I took personal satisfaction in seeing someone establish credit, rectify a financial mistake or even purchase their first vehicle more than just watching people grow their already hefty investment portfolios.

Many times, I would have young adults request a loan to purchase their first car or truck. Sometimes it was a small loan just to get a vehicle to take them from to and from work. Other times it was a loan of 20k for a new to them vehicle. Some new clients wanted to establish credit and requested a simple, low limit credit card.  Underwriting loans involves evaluating and reviewing established credit and payment history, verifying income and ability to make payments and hopefully establishing a financial relationship that will be mutually beneficial.  I didn't want to only grant a loan. I wanted to help with deposit accounts, credit cards, future purchases and request referrals from family, friends and coworkers.  I wanted the client/customer to remember me as the first person that they called when they had a question. I wanted to build a level of trust so that they knew that I was there for them when they needed advice and financial assistance.

Many young adults are not able to qualify for loans on their own because of the lack of credit history and time on the job, the risk of a loan defaulting was too high. I turned down just as many loans as the ones that I approved. Often, if I felt that the young adult showed promise, could repay it on their own and showed good faith, I would request that they would ask a parent, relative or adult in good financial standing to cosign the loan for them. This means of course, that if the young adult couldn't or didn't repay the loan, that the cosigner would make good on the loan and repay it per the original agreement.  If the young adult and cosigner didn't make the payments and stay in contact with me, I then had the right to repossess the vehicle (voluntary or involuntary), sell it and recoup as much money as possible to pay off the loan.  I didn't like this part of financial lending, but learned a lot about being a woman of my word and letting my yes's be yes and no's be no.

By the time I was 25, I had written over $5 million in loans and felt that I had a fantastic referral client base. Between walk ins and established referral networks with clients, realtors, and mortgage brokers, I didn't have to hustle anymore.  I was able to work my book of business, request new business from current clients and assist those that were referred to me.

One afternoon right after I had returned from lunch, Elaine, the receptionist, (also my husband's great aunt) rang me to let me know there was young man in the lobby filling out a car loan application and that he might be in need of a new checking account. I gave him a few minutes to work on the application and went to greet him. Maybe 19, 20 at most, this young man towered over me. Tall and thin, he stood to greet me and extended his hand. Grinning ear to ear, he introduced himself and told me his parents told him to come and see me.  He indeed needed to purchase a new vehicle and he needed to start a checking account and wanted to deposit his first five paychecks.  I shook his hand, and that is when the smell hit me.  My nose threatened to actually fall off my face. His clothing was dirty and looked like it hadn't been washed in weeks. The smell of his unshowered body made me feel light headed.  I tried to recover as quickly as possible and released his hand just as fast as I had taken it.

I escorted him back to my office.  I usually shut the door when assisting with new loan clients, but worried that the smell might increase behind the closed door. I found myself turning my head often as I typed his info in my computer. Sniffing my shoulder, hoping to fill my nostrils with the scent of my perfume long enough to turn my head back to him and ask another question. I was short and too the point trying to figure out his needs and assist him but also trying to get him out of my office as soon as possible.  I didn't get it. Yes, he had come to see me on his lunch hour, but was all this filth and stench from just that one morning at work as a car mechanic?  Or had he truly not showered, not washed his hands or clothes in a week, maybe a month?  I tried. I tried so hard to be civil, but my facial expressions I am sure betrayed me.  While continuing to conduct business, I found my mind wondering.  This is a bad day for him. Surely, this good looking young man didn't live his life this way.  He couldn't function and have relationships and smell and look this way. I opened a new checking account, deposited his paychecks, started a savings account for him and quickly did a preliminary underwrite of his loan application.  I told him things looked good with his job and income, but that he would need to have a parent or other adult cosign for him.  He said that wasn't a problem at all.  Thanked me for my help, asked a few more questions and then he left. I refrained from shaking his hand again.

I stood there feeling like my nose had been assaulted.  I needed to wash my hands.  I threw away the pen he used. I knew I was going to have to wash my desk and quite possibly do something about the lingering smell in the chair. How was I going to fumigate my entire office?! I quickly went to restroom and scrubbed my hands and arms.  I don't often feel gross after touching people but this time I did.  I stood there looking in the mirror and felt bad.  I had made so many judgements in my mind about this young man.  I was convinced this was a fluke. He had a tough morning, no time to shower and car mechanics really did get that dirty. The next time I saw him, he wouldn't present this way. It wasn't possible. I returned to my office to find Elaine asking what she could do to help to eliminate the smell. She gathered two amazing candles and promptly placed them on my credenza and lit them.  She went and borrowed air spray from the teller line. (stinky drive up deposit tubes sometimes needed help)  My coworker Ryan then presented a new chair to me from an unused office and removed the offending piece of furniture.  He said he would put in a special request for the chair to be cleaned.  Ryan found cleanser and rags in the janitors closet and helped me clean everything up in my office.  He even washed down the clipboard from the loan application before returning it to Elaine at the reception desk.

Two days later, I received a phone call from the young man and he said that his dad would be coming in with him later that day to complete his portion of the cosigned loan application.  Once again, believing that the other day was a fluke, I thought great. He is following through with the application and his dad has agreed to help.  I scheduled them for 4 pm that afternoon. When they arrived through the side door of the bank by the receptionist desk, I saw the same dirty shirt, the same holey filthy jeans and the smell started wafting into my office. He and his dad appeared to be arguing.  The dad's face seem to be all contorted and he seemed to be yelling at his son under his breath.  I stood and walked out from behind my desk as they approached, and heard the dad say, "You could have least taken a shower or changed your clothes!"  I smiled and stepped closer.

"Excuse my son. He needs to go and wash his hands." The son was mortified.  I told him it was down stairs and to his left. I ushered the dad into my office and had him take a seat. "I am sorry. My son is a mess. He smells, he never takes a shower and my wife and I are at wits end.  We are constantly trying to get him to take more pride in his appearance and he thinks we are just meddling in his life and trying to control him! He doesn't think that what we have to say is helpful.  I don't know what to do!" The poor dad actually looked like he was going to cry.  I then understood. This now grown child really didn't see anything wrong with his appearance. He always presented like this.  I tired to calm the father as much as possible.  I asked about friends or a girlfriend, and he said his son didn't have any. That he worked and had one friend who wasn't a good influence.  And that the boys just went out and drove trucks, went hunting, and fishing and that their son just used his daily hobbies and his job as a mechanic to always avoid any attempt at personal hygiene.

At the wise old age of 25, I had already found that I had a way with words. I found that sometimes all it took was a suggestion from an adult who was not a parent of a child, even a grown child would modify their behavior.  I decided to make it my mission to teach my client what was acceptable.  Without sharing any of this with his dad, I had made up my mind that I was going to be the person who would help their son make a change. 

I completed the loan application with his dad, underwrote his portion and was able to quickly state that we could absolutely write this loan based on the father as cosigner. Both father and son smiled ear to ear.  I gathered the additional necessary information and we scheduled an appointment for 4pm the following Monday.  Addressing my client, "This will be your first car loan.  Now that you have a very good full time job, you are earning a decent paycheck, you have a checking account and savings account, you are accomplishing a lot of things many young people want to.  Along with all of these things, an effort in how you present yourself needs to be made.  When you have a meeting at your bank, or when you purchase your car, it is very important that you take pride in your appearance.  Clean clothing, a shower, combing your hair. I love how hard you work as a mechanic. When you look good, you often feel good. And when you feel good about yourself, you often accomplish more.  What is something that you would like to accomplish? "  Silence. My client looked uncomfortable with the conversation as he rubbed his hands together over his jeans as if the filth and stench would disappear if he rubbed hard enough. "I want to be a shift lead. I want to be able to deal with customers at the garage and coordinate repairs. I want the guys I work with to report to me. " I smiled. Now that was a goal.

We continued to talk about goals and that hard work and
perseverance pays off.  He seemed encouraged as you could see the wheels turning in his head and planning what he could do at work to make this goal a reality.   We finished up our business, I thanked them both and said I would see them the following Monday.  My client left my office first and his dad turned back to me and took my hand again, "Thank you for what you said. Thank you."

The following Monday, I seemed to be stuck on phone call after phone call. Mortgage companies, insurance offices, other local banks, scheduling loan closings for later in the week, ordering title work and clarifying flood certification requests. My processor brought the loan closing file and prepared docs to me and slid them across my desk only about 15 minutes before my clients were set to arrive. I quickly reviewed them, placed all the flag stickers where signatures and initials were required and put the file back together while finishing my last call.

I saw my client enter the side door of bank before he saw me.  He looked different. Even from across the lobby.  He was wearing a reasonably clean white tee shirt and cleanish jeans.  And he had showered. For real. A legitimate shower had taken place since I last saw him. I quickly rose and made a bee line for him.  As I approached, I saw his hands. They were not just clean, they looked like another mans hands.  I smiled and took his hand. "You look wonderful!  Come on in!"  He couldn't stop smiling. He had heard what I said, wasn't hurt by it, and applied what he could over the past few days.  "I know I could have dressed up for today, but that isn't something I would normally do. I did do my laundry.  I had a lot of loads to do.  They are clean. my jeans look a lot better and I even pulled out one of my newer tee shirts. I think I have just lived like this for so long, I didn't know that it might bother other people than just my parents. I always thought my dad was just a jerk and liked to tell me what to do.  I talked to him and he said that you wouldn't have taken the time to talk me about all that if you didn't care.  He said I have to make an effort. Every day.  I am gonna try."

I complimented him and complimented him again.  His smile seemed to grow bigger if that was even possible.  I asked when his father was joining us just as I saw him enter the bank out of the corner of my eye.  I waved to his dad and he quickly covered the space of the lobby with his long strides.  He stopped dead in his tracks in the doorway of my office.  As if he couldn't believe his eyes, "Who is this attractive boy I see before me? " They both laughed.  "Oh my son, you look so good. And smell so good.  You clean up good!"  My client stood and embraced his father. He hugged his father. From the look on both men's faces, this hug was long past due. 

The loan closing was smooth and went quickly and I handed both men copies of the closing documents and passed an envelope containing the check for the vehicle purchase across my desk. "Congratulations. You are the owner of new vehicle.  Take this to the dealer this evening, they know you are coming, they have all of your purchase documents ready for you and all of the bank information on file that is needed for the title and insurance."

"Kelli, thank you.  Thanks for helping me get this loan and for taking the time to explain everything to me. Thanks for talking to me about how I looked. Just thank you."  My heart melted a bit right there and then. I helped him not just buy a car. I helped him gain confidence so that he could make an effort at the goals he had placed before himself.

This past May, I saw my client in at the Chaska Library.  I wasn't sure if he would remember me, so I didn't go out of my way to go to him and greet him. But then I didn't have to.  He approached me with that ear to ear smile I remembered so fondly over the years.  "Is your name Kelli?  Did you used to work at the bank in Chanhassen?"  I confirmed I was Kelli and greeted him warmly with a hand shake.  He was an adult. The adult I knew he would become.  Still tall and thin, nice clean clothing, great haircut, and cleanish hands.

"I wanted to thank you. I don't know if you remember, but I was struggling when we met at the bank all those years ago.  I was just diagnosed with depression, and I didn't care about much. I just worked and hung out with my friend.  I looked horrible and smelled horrible.  When you were so nice to me and suggested that I take a shower, wash my clothes and make an effort at cleaning up, it meant something to me.  I was lonely, I wanted more friends and I wanted to meet special someone.  I didn't think much of myself, but started to gain self esteem when I started showering and washing and changing my clothing.  My parents loved it of course, so did my boss. I started volunteering for extra shifts and going the extra mile at work.  Maybe 6 months after you did my truck loan, I got that promotion that I told you wanted.  I loved it. You were right.  Perseverance. I met a woman I fell in love with and we have been married for 15 years and have 4 kids.  She knows I still am a outdoors man at heart, but she loves me anyway.  I just wanted to say thanks for being kind. I remember you always wore suits and looked nice.  But you always shook my hand. That meant something to me and still does. I now own my own small garage and have 5 employees. I still love the work.  Thanks for showing me that goals matter. You were a good influence on me."

I was in awe. It was as if he had a practiced speech and was waiting to deliver this thank you to me for the past 20+ years. I hugged him. Right there and then in the Chaska Library.  I don't remember what I said to affirm him. But I made sure he knew how proud I was of him.  Of setting a goal, of taking steps to meet that goal, of accomplishing the goal.  I was proud of who he had become. A man that is hard worker, who loves his wife and children and remembers that we all need a helpful hand from time to time. His helpful hand came from a 25 year old female banker who just wanted him to smell better. I also found myself thrilled that my gentle critique was heard and not received as hurtful.

I love interactions like this one.  Years later, conversations that were meant to happen. Finding out about someones life and family. About who they love, and sometimes about what they have lost.  These human connections, these touch points, affirm, encourage and inspire.  I, too, have had a conversation with someone years after the original encounter. I thanked them for speaking truth to me right when I needed to hear it.  For knowing that I just needed to be loved on and treasured, even for a moment.  I thanked them for being genuine and kind, open to all things awkward and for a life giving conversation.  Little did they know, that my impressions of the interaction meant so much to me.  The other kind soul, worried and analyzed what they had said to me, concerned that what was conveyed wouldn't be received with the love it was intended. It wasn't only received with love, it was treasured.

August & I

The month of August has always been one of my favorite months.  Born and raised in Minnesota, the month of August usually comes in blazing h...