Forty-three years ago my mom’s first husband died.  They were in college and had only been married six months.  He was away on work, his Ford Falcon was hit head-on by a grain truck, and that was the beginning of the worst for my mother.  Depression, anxiety, searing loss.

Fifty-four years ago my mom came down with Rheumatic Fever and spent her sixth-grade year in bed.  Eating in bed, reading in bed, watching tv for a treat.  Oral Roberts promised healing if she’d touch the screen.  So she did.  With disappointment.  My grandpa gave her a blank book to fill, and thus begun her writing life.

Thirty-nine years ago my mother birthed her first child. She was a hippie.  Ecstatic with joy.  She welcomed me with absolute and forever love.  It was the beginning of the best for my mother.  Pink, healthy babies.  A husband she loved.  The wonder years of having children.

Forty-two-and-a-half years ago my mom met my dad.  He had long hair and short shorts, muscles and a car with a hole in the floor.  She wasn’t so sure.  And then she was.  They married the last day of finals.  She wore a yellow dress and white daisies in her hair.  They lived in a farmhouse in the country with their dogs, Sammy and Nicholas.

Thirteen years ago my mom was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and spent the next five years on a futon.  There was pain and medicine and sleep.  Many nights in the ER.  She tried to be a mom, but mostly just existed.  She hated those years.  They lasted a lifetime.

Ten years ago my mother flew to Los Angeles to meet her first grandchild.  He was cute and cuddly and perfectly perfect.  A whole new round of life beginning, for him and for her.  There were more grandchildren to come, now six in all.  Girls and boys, all of them part of her.  And all of them in love with their Nana.


Life is long and short, depending on the day, depending on the circumstances.  Full of terrible and wonderful.  Years of both, tears for all sorts of reasons.  In honor of my mom’s 65th birthday I send this into the world.  To say that I know her story, at least in part.  That I’ve heard and listened and taken it in.  It informs my life, helps me navigate, teaches me lessons of how to be.  It is my heritage, good and bad.  Today I celebrate the good.

These are snapshots of her life.  A quick flip through a photo album.  A big, fat one filled with the people she has loved, the mistakes she has made, the forgiveness she’s received, the good she has done, the beauty she has witnessed and created, the joy and the pain she has known.  With many more pages to fill.  It’s titled Claudia Jean (Helm) Hooge, and I’m glad to have had a few photos in it myself.

My Something

In reaction to the sad news littering the paper every day (yes, I still get the paper), I’m tempted to personally adopt the isolationist policies America held during the 20s and 30s sometimes.  Put my fingers in my ears and “la la la” against the injustices occurring all over the Middle East, Africa, even my own nation.  It’s an attractive option in my selfish, self-preservation moments.  But then I remember that I care.  I should care.  As a human, a woman, a mother, a daughter.  It should matter to me if women and children are sex-trafficked.  Or if an entire group of people are massacred because of their religious views, or if someone is assumed guilty because of his skin color and shot on site.  That’s the “righteous anger” Jesus talked about.  The question is, what do I do about it?  Beyond having opinions, and even expressing them.  Beyond being outraged while eating popcorn and watching a movie.

I’ve lived on both ends of the hopeless spectrum – deciding there’s nothing I can do so why worry, to deciding there’s nothing I can do and feeling distraught.  But neither, by definition, does any good.  I’ve also tried to make a difference, but in such small ways it has seemed pointless.  Giving money toward a good cause, teaching my kids that hating differences in others is not only mean but illogical, even marching in a parade.  But my money is a drop in the bucket of need, my kids are only three people in the world and don’t even have kindness-to-siblings down, and I don’t know if the parade changed anyone’s mind.  My efforts seem so tiny against the sheer volume of ick happening in the world.  It can be overwhelming.

But it comes down to this: my efforts are something.  And that’s all I can do.  It’s not a novel idea, but worth repeating (to myself daily): if everyone did nothing it would all be worse.  My something, plus another person’s something, plus another’s equals change sometimes.

I’ve been reading Love Does by Bob Goff, and it has inspired me to think much bigger than I typically do in my attempts to love the world, with actions rather than thoughts alone.  Bob (he’d definitely want me to call him Bob) has his finger on the pulse of the joy to be found in loving the world well.  With whimsy, open hands, and full engagement.  Strategic actions that cause change, even if in the life of just one person.  His accounts in the book cover acts of kindness and sweet mischief toward a single high-schooler, an elderly woman, a young man in love, his own kids, and hundreds of orphaned and wrongly-accused children in Uganda.  He demonstrates how the same outlook on the world’s ills – focusing on the actions we can take, with hope – can effect both meager and huge transformation, each important.  Our actions matter.  Let me be clear – his main message is not to change the world.  It’s that love is an action.  A verb.  And I’ve decided to apply that to my worry over the problems I hear on NPR each morning.  Love doesn’t take the isolationist approach that I’m tempted to adopt.  It moves.  Looks for opportunities and joyfully pounces.

As I’m finding is true with most things, my responsibility in regards to the world’s problems is not that complicated.  I see a need, I do something.  Even if it’s small.  I can’t give money to everything, I can’t make dinner for every person who just had a baby, I can’t fly to India with Bob and extract trafficked children from their overlords.  But I can do a little.  And I can do it with whimsy, with strategy, and with open hands.  I can continue to teach my kids compassion and patience and respect.  And pray that it sticks.  This way of thinking about doing love gets me excited.  My something is something.  And I can live with that.