Tuesday, February 25, 2014

spread it around.

Taken from Humans of New York: 

"When he was dying, I said: 'Moe, how am I going to live without you?' He answered: 'Take the love you have for me, and spread it around." - HONY

What beautiful and encouraging advice. It is rare to find words to uplift a grieving spirit. But this sure did it for me. My friend, Petra shared it with me and I am so grateful. I return to it often because I feel like that is exactly something Dad would have said.

So, here we go....in one week I'll be sharing the love and I hope you plan to too! Just a little extra kindness can go a long long way, I promise. When I started thinking of this idea, I thought that thinking of 64 nice things would be easy to come up with. Then I stalled out at 30! But after much research  pinterest-ing, prayer, and observing the community around me I have finally come up with 64 things to do. I'm excited and want to share my plans so that you could get some ideas since you'll be joining me in this endeavor....right? right!

Here's a list of what I plan to do (in no particular order):

1. Leave some cookies and a thank you note for the trash collector
2. Leave some extra buddy bucks taped to the machine at HEB for kids to find
3. Put a gift card in Dad's favorite book at the bookstore so someone else can purchase and read it
4. Leave quarters in toy machines at HEB for kids to find
5. Pay for the starbucks order behind me in the drive through
6. Leave an encouraging note on the scale at the gym
7. Bring cookies and a thank you note to Harper's child care workers at the gym
8. Go to the hospital & drop off flowers at the nurses station to give to someone without any visitors
9. Handout a bag of treats to someone asking for food on the street
10. Leave cold water for runners along the trail
11. Take cookies to Grief Share at CBC (this is a wonderful support and discussion group for people who are experiencing grief in their lives....I would highly recommend it & it's offered through most large churches www.griefshare.org)
12. Leave some extra diapers/wipes on a changing table at Target
13. Leave coupons next to their products at HEB
14. Donate clothing
15. Leave a gift card in a bible at the bookstore for someone to enjoy (& hopefully buy that bible!)
16. Leave an encouraging note on a dressing room mirror
17. Bury toys in the sand pit at the park for kids to discover
18-20. Leave a lottery ticket taped to the gas pump x 3
21. Leave some candy & popcorn next to a Redbox
22. Take doughnuts to the firestation
23. Take doughnuts to the police station
24. Surprise one of my clients with a free yoga session
25. Leave sidewalk chalk at the park
26-30. Leave candy and an encouraging note on 5 cars in the hospital parking lot
31. Leave basket of toys at the oil change place
32. Leave some treats at the bus stop
33-35. Leave baskets with crayons and coloring books in the hospital waiting room x 3 
36. Take food to the food bank
37. Leave a gift card taped to a John Denver CD (one of Dad's Favorites)
38. Leave notes on the sidewalk in a neighborhood for kids to see on their walk home from school
39. Tape extra tickets and coins to Chuck E Cheese games
40. Leave a thank you note and cookies for mailman
41-45. Leave notes and a treat in neighbor's mailboxes x 5
46. Send a Birthday card to Colin (click HERE for info)
47. Donate to Project Linus (http://www.projectlinus.org/)
48. Give cookies and a card to Harper's teachers at school
49. Take cookies & treats to the Humane Society
50. Take a starbucks gift card to my hairstylist who is so super sweet, talented and works a LOT
51-55. Send cards to terminally ill children x 5 (www.hugsandhope.org)
56. Leave some extra quarters and toys at a laudrymat
57-60. Take flowers to a nursing home and ask to give to someone who rarely has visitors x 4
61. Write a thank you note to someone who has been instrumental to my healing this year without even knowing it :) 
62. Write a thank you note to a friend who has been extremely supportive this past year
63. Donate to Annie (a beautiful little girl who is a friend of a friend and who's family is going through something NO family should ever experience)
64. Leave some extra loose change at a Coinstar machine

So that's it! Any other ideas? Let me know what you plan to do and how it goes next week! THANK YOU so much for joining in this little project. It means so much to me!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Dad was able to make this world a better place simply by living authentically, with love and a deep God-given wisdom in his heart. The best way I know how to share him with you is to share the eulogy my sister wrote for his funeral. These words are full of his spirit and they capture his personality and heart so perfectly. I could not describe and honor him anywhere near as accurately or as beautifully as Sara did in these words. If you knew my Dad and did not hear his eulogy, I hope you will remember him fondly as you read...If you did not know my Dad, I hope this gives you a glimpse into the wonderful man that he was:

My name is Sara, and I am Manuel Vara's younger daughter; as he liked to say "his diminutive one." 

It's strange to think that my dad has been around for my entire life, but I've only been around for a third of his. And even the third that I knew was already so full, so rich, I can't even imagine what it would be like to live that three times over! So, in giving a eulogy for him I don't know if I'm quite up to the task. I definitely can't tell you his whole life story. I can't even paint you a full picture of the third I've been around for! 
To try to do justice for a man like my dad in just a few precious minutes Is a crazy idea. And, I know that every person in this room today would give a fortune to spend those few minutes talking with HIM again, instead of listening to some cliff notes about his recent endeavors.

So...let me try to bring you a little bit of the man that I knew and loved, instead. And a little bit of what I think he would say to us if HE was the one up here instead of me...

First, he would give us all that pinched, sliiightly condescending, half-teasing smile that makes his mustache poke out funny. He would tell us that we're being silly feeling sad today, and He would start making his point by asking a simple but deep question : "Why do you think that my passing away is a sad thing?" And of course, we all know where he's going with this: as he so often did, he is going to give us a better way to think of things. 

Buying into it, and trusting him to guide the conversation, we answer him
"I'm sad for you. I wish you could live longer and enjoy more life. Fish more, hold your grandkids, blare Neil Diamond, run, hike, camp..."

Again with the mustache smile.

He would dismiss you, like he would any time you worried about him; he didn't like to waste time on himself, he would rather spend it on others. But he’s right, he’s already lived quite a full life, I mean really LIVED, and lived loud. He sang loud, laughed loud, cheered loud, sneezed loud.... My sister was on the swim team as a kid, and she said she could always hear him cheering for her over the rest of the crowd- yes even from under the water.

He was still young, but he was the definition of well-seasoned. Have no doubt, he had his fill of good times. I can't tell you how often I've heard Dad tell the story about how he and his good friend Tom Curlin would take nothing but cheese and wine on a boat and fish in silence for days, and have the time of their lives doing it. 

Or that time when he was bike riding with the Durkin twins, and he shouted “Duck!” because there was a tree branch overhead, and Ryan popped up and said “Where?!” just in time to get smacked in the face. I can still hear Dad laughing so hard over that one that he’d get himself coughing and tearing up.

He and my mom backpacked at Big Bend. He did Indian Princess camping with us girls. He ran faithfully, and shared many a run with my sister Kerith. He cherished his peek-a-boo time with Harper, and had even started teaching Aiden how to fish. 

He loved many little things in life: His “Large Hot One” from cafe calypso, his well-worn bible, his big blue college ring, the History channel. He looooved his Christmas carols, his oldies music, and the bedtime songs that are now a staple of both grandkids’ evenings. He was born to be a grandpa - he always loved babies, & they loved him. 

"Okay, " he would say, "so if it's not for me, then why are you sad today?"

“Well, think of all the people you’ve touched and cared for. I’m sad for the people who won’t ever get to be cared for by you.”

See, my dad had a talent for finding anyone who felt insignificant for any reason in every situation, big or small, and making them feel like a king.

Well, about this time, I imagine, he would hunker down for a long conversation by inviting you to join him outside while he did some “inhalation therapy.” He would find something to prop one foot up on, and he would look far off at something we can’t see. 

What I would give to know what was going on in his head at these times.

My dad and I used to play this game we called "Wonders." It started out with easy questions when I was young and got harder as I got older. 
"I wonder... what you did today at school, my girl" 
"I wonder... who invented chess"
"I wonder... how God imagined the entire universe in only seven days"
“I wonder... If we love Jesus so much, why do we eat Him at Communion?”

I remember one particularly life-changing round, in my teens that started out "I wonder why we bother with relationships when they always end in hurt"

His answer has shaped my life since, and is so telling of who he was.

“Relationships,” he said, “are not about how we feel. They’re about getting to know God. We are made in God’s image, so that by getting to know each other, we are getting to know Him. So in every relationship, you should try to give others the best impression of God possible - always be as patient, kind, loving, forgiving, and selfless as you want them to know that God is. When we fail, and it hurts, that’s just a reminder that we are only “Christ-like,” not God Himself.

Yes, the people he’s impacted. Now I see why he did it. 

And with that in mind, I know what he would say. “My girl, I try to help other people so that I can bring them to God. Now I get to work even closer with God than ever - It’s about time I got a promotion!”

“Okay,” he says, “now we’re getting somewhere. If there’s no reason to be sad for me, and no reason to be sad for others, then what’s the real issue here?”

And we will get down to the honesty of it, as we always do with my dad. We will have to say: "I love you so much; I rely on you; I’m going to miss you. How will I make it without you?"

And in his, deep, comforting voice, "Do you really think that I would leave you alone?"

And we know, in our hearts, that no, he wouldn't. That he won't. 

This is the man who ran into burning buildings to save complete strangers; the man who hunkered down and stayed through hurricanes so that he could be in place to be a first-responder after the storm; the man who could turn any cup of coffee into a counseling session that would change your life; the man who spent his Sundays bringing communion to people’s homes when they couldn’t make it to Mass; this is the man who gave my cat CPR so that i didn't have to suffer the loss of a pet. This is not a man who will ever leave us alone. 

We may need to get used to talking with him and seeing him differently, but he is undoubtedly still here with us, and still helping us.

Even in his passing away, he left us a message of comfort: You see, my dad passed away in his white robes while he was serving at Saturday evening Mass. He had a heart attack at the foot of the altar in the presence of his Savior. The Lord came and found my dad serving faithfully at the foot of the altar, so he gathered him up and brought him to the Kingdom where he can serve much closer and more joyfully at the throne of his master. He left his body, with the congregation offering him up in prayer and the priest blessing him in the middle of this most sacred worship service, with his wife at his side.

He passed away still wearing his white robes, on the day that the second reading had just told us that the men in white robes are the ones that had succeeded and would serve Christ day and night in a place where they will no longer hunger or thirst, or feel heat. And where The Lord Himself can lead them to springs of living water and will wipe away every tear from their faces. 

I envy those who get to see his face right now: as he learns the answer to every wonder; understands all the nesses of life; hugs his mom and dad; falls down at the very throne of his Lord; and sees the beauty of the plans laid out for all our lives.

I can only imagine how beautiful his face must look right now, full of that kind of joy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

the birthday project.

How do you explain someone like Dad? He was complex and certainly not perfect - but if you were lucky enough to know him, you know that he lived life differently. He didn't care to impress people. He just cared FOR people. Here on earth, he saw things through a different lens - I believe through a more authentic and Christ-like lens than most of us could ever dream. Dad found ways to reach out to those in need on a daily basis. I could recount a hundred memories of delayed road trips because we were pulled over helping a car on the side of the road and extended outings because he ran into someone at the coffee shop who just needed a patient ear...His was a beautiful life and I can only pray that I inherit even just a tiny bit of his unselfish and transformative love.

A few years ago, I read about THE BIRTHDAY PROJECT & I was so impressed by the idea of celebrating your birthday by giving back to others instead of making the day all about you. So, as Dad's birthday approaches, I can't think of a more appropriate way to celebrate his 64th birthday than by completing 64 random acts of kindness. What an honor to spend his day spreading around some of selfless love that made his life so rich. I've recruited my Mom and Sister to do this as well & I can just imagine Dad's big ol' mustache smile as he watches "his girls" honor him in this way.

And here's where YOU come in. I don't want the kindness to stop with just the 3 of us. This little project is about making the world a better place because I know that is what would make Dad the happiest. Won't you help me? On March 5th, in honor of my Dad, could you take just a moment at home, at work, at school...to do something intentionally kind for another person? It could be something so simple - pay for the order behind you in the drive through, write a quick note thanking a co-worker, make your kids' favorite breakfast and tell them you love them...there are so many little ways to spread kindness. I can't tell you how much it would mean to us if there was even just the smallest positive impact made on this very important day.

Please join us and contribute in whatever way you feel comfortable. By sharing your heart, you can help us heal ours...and hopefully some broken hearts in the communities we live in. I would LOVE to hear from you if you would like to share a memory of Dad's kindness. I would love to hear how you plan to spread some kindness on March 5th. I would love for you to share this idea with your family, friends and co-workers. Let's see how big of an impact little acts of kindness can really have.

With love and gratitude,