Keeping The Flame

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I once won an award for volunteer work I did to help organize the annual pancake breakfast fundraiser put on my by ex-husband’s fire department.  It’s called the Keeper of the Flame Award, and it’s the civilian equivalent of the department’s Distinguished Service Award.

It’s a tiny wooden plaque with a lot of chips and scratches from being stored in my desk drawer for far too many years before I managed to get it up on the wall. It’s not that I was ashamed of it or trying to hide it; I’m just not very organized about things like hanging plaques and pictures. To be perfectly honest, I’m not very organized about anything at all.

And that is why I am so proud of this particular award.

I have zero organizational skills. I am not a good planner. I’d like to blame it on ADHD or whatever, but the fact is that I am not good at planning events because I am a disorganized mess and a terrible leader. It just took a while for me to admit it to myself.

I have great ideas.  I just suck at following through on them.

During the years that my ex-husband was an officer with the local fire department, I constantly fought for control among the other spouses. That sounds crazy, but there is a definite hierarchy among firefighters’ wives in a small town; since the officers who outranked the Big Guy were divorced, that made me sort of the highest-ranking spouse and therefore in charge of planning all department family events. At least, it did in my own eyes. The other wives didn’t really see it that way.

The year I won the award, I made a complete ass of myself. The Big Guy and I both behaved like a couple of control freaks about the pancake breakfast fundraiser. We called in his family and our close friends to help, and I was relentless about hounding local businesses to donate supplies, and we did everything we could to effectively close out all other members of the department when it came to the planning and execution of the event. We made our own team because I guess I thought we needed to prove some kind of point.

I didn’t do it for the right reasons. Oh, sure, I wanted to raise money for Great Lakes Burn Camp, which is still one of my favorite charities.  But I wanted people to be impressed by all of my hard work. I wanted a bit of recognition. I wanted that Keeper of the Flame Award, by golly, and I wanted to sing and dance the night I got that sucker.

The Big Guy got the Distinguished Service Award that same year, but not for his work with the pancake breakfast.  He got it because he was one hell of a firefighter who went beyond what was expected of him the night a fellow firefighter’s house burned to the ground. My guy basically worked two trucks that night, quietly rushing around behind-the-scenes and keeping everything going. He didn’t “pack up” or do anything that drew attention to himself; he just did what was necessary because he is the ultimate team player, not because he wanted recognition or kudos for his hard work.

I didn’t deserve my award, but I’m proud of it anyway because it helped me understand that I sometimes need to step back and let someone else be in charge. I need to accept the fact that I am not a good leader or planner, and that the best place for me in some cases is behind-the-scenes. I function better as support rather than administration.

When this town pulls together to plan a fundraiser or some other campaign, the planning is better left to those who are actually good at it. Somebody’s got to bring cookies and coffee to the planners; somebody’s got to sweep the floor afterward. Somebody’s got to be willing to shut up and leave the recognition and praise and Keeper of the Flame Awards to those who know how to be in charge.

So when my town rallied around my friend Sarah this week, I shut up and started cooking. You see, almost every time there is a fundraiser or special event in this town, Sarah is involved. Whether rallying the neighbors to bring food to my family after my accident, planning a blood drive to honor her late father, or putting together a spaghetti dinner to raise money for the family of a local boy with cancer, Sarah is a master of seamlessly orchestrating events to help others. She doesn’t do it because she needs a spotlight; she does it because she’s a good person who just happens to be really good at that sort of thing.

Last Saturday night, Sarah’s little red car was hit by a police officer speeding to assist another officer. She spent days in ICU and very nearly lost her youngest son, who is finally awake and snapchatting friends from his bed in ICU but who also has a hell of a long road ahead of him. He had to be airlifted to the hospital from the accident scene and then spent several days in a medically-induced coma, and Sarah’s little family will never be the same after everything they’ve been through this past week.

She needs a car. She needs money for the hospital bills and for all of the time lost from work. It’s time for the girl who always gives to be on the receiving end for a while.

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One of my co-workers stepped up and put together a fundraiser dinner four days after the accident, and the response was astonishing.  The local pageant organizer stepped up to arrange a bake sale at the event, hosted by our local beauty queens; a preschool teacher set up the silent auction that took place during the dinner.  I stressed and worried about ways I could help, wondering what great plans I could come up with that could equal the efforts of these women.

Then I looked at my Keeper of the Flame Award, and I stopped worrying about myself. I made food for the event and I used my Facebook page to spread the word. And now I’m using my blog to call attention to my friend and her need for help.  That’s what I can do, and I do much better than I could have done any of the planning and hard work that it took to put all of it together.

So this post is for all of the planners out there, all of the leaders, all of the Keepers of the Flame who know how to step up and take charge. It’s for Christy, Ronda, Katie, Jessica, Sarah and all the people like them. But it’s also for the people like me, who struggle to know when to step back and let others do what they’re good at.

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This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “I once won an award for . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Allie from The Latchkey Mom, and Allison from Godanskermom. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

A Family Matter

It’s easy to be selfish. I’ve been so overwhelmed lately by all of the things going on in my life that I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything or anyone but myself.  Going back to work, trying to finish His Heart Aflame, planning for my upcoming book signing at Octoberfest. I’ve been scrambling to pay bills with money I haven’t earned yet, stressing about my books, my job, my bills, my kids.

Me, me, me. It’s all about me.

Until this morning, when my daughter said, “Nick’s been in a car accident, Mom.”

Let me backtrack. “Nick” is not one of my kids.  Not one of my nephews or cousins or any kind of a blood relation.  He’s one of my daughter’s friends, the son of one of my friends.  A good kid, but not one of mine.

Still, the world stopped for a moment. Just until she read a little farther down the Facebook post and found out that he’s going to be okay.  Shaken up, a bit bruised and royally pissed off about getting some points on his license, but okay.

I don’t like this part of parenting. I’m a worrier; yes, I am that mom.  I’m the mom who always expects the worst when it comes to my kids’ safety.  I am both fiercely overprotective and ridiculously pessimistic.  I am constantly afraid of all of the horrible things that could happen to my babies.  If I had it my way, they would never learn to drive or leave the house unescorted.   I wish I could wrap all three in big safety bubbles and watch them every second of every minute of every day, just to keep them safe.

I go overboard with the worrying about my own kids, but I am not supposed to worry about other people’s kids like this. They aren’t mine.  It’s not my place.

But this is a small town. Most of these kids have known each other since preschool or at least early elementary.  Some have known each other since birth.  They don’t all like each other; there are definite cliques in our tiny school, just as there are in larger schools.

But these guys know each other, and we parents know them.  We watch out for each other, either to protect or to keep track of the gossip about whose kid did what.  Our kids compete to see who will get the best grades, who will be the best football player, who will be Valedictorian.  And the parents?  We compare notes and we brag about our kids, and I think we’ve all had our moments of feeling a bit smug when one of ours came out on top.

But when one of our kids is hurt, we aren’t just a small town. We are more than a community.  We are a family.

When one of our kids is hurt, we don’t care who got better grades or who made into the Homecoming Court. It doesn’t matter if someone’s parent offended someone else’s parent, or even if our kids were fighting with each other.

All that matters is, Is he going to be okay?

As our kids get older and gain more freedom from us, they face more dangers and we face more fears. Most of them are driving now, which means we have so much more to worry about.  One boy broke his neck in an accident on icy roads last winter; another broke a femur in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in May, and now Nick rolled his Dad’s truck trying to avoid a Sandhill Crane in the middle of the road.

When one of our kids is hurt, I don’t just think, wow, that could have been mine.  I think, I remember when he went to Little League All-Stars with my son.    I think, I remember when he used to call my daughter ten times a day and then hang up in a panic when a grown-up answered the phone.  I think, Hey, I promised my kid I’d invite that boy over for dinner someday.

I think, No, we can’t lose these kids. The world needs them.  God, please keep protecting them!

And then life goes on. We put on a little more make-up to cover the new worry lines, and we joke about our kids giving us more gray hairs, and we go back to work.  Back to parenting, back to worrying, back to praying that God will keep them safe one more time through one more close call.

And we hug them a little tighter, hold them a little closer, try so hard not to let them go.

Even when they aren’t our own.