Friday, March 30, 2012

the hits just keep on comin'

I just love birthdays (in case it wasn't completely and entirely apparent based on how many of my posts are devoted to birthday tributes or celebrations). I love the fact that there is a dedicated day every year to properly recognize the value and meaning a person's birth into this world has had on their friends and family - how their life is a gift and how the uniqueness of them has made the surrounding lives richer and fuller.

I also LOVE planning birthday parties and making birthday cakes. It is one of the greatest joys in my life. My affinity for these activities probably dates back to my childhood years as my dear mama bear always did a real bang-up job in making sure our birthdays were special and complete with all the hoopla necessary to make one feel loved and properly celebrated. To this day, she still busts out my "welcome home" sign that was made for the day they brought me home from the hospital as a wee infant. I cannot believe she has saved it all these years...I digress...

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I helped my dear friend Crystal celebrate the completion of 29 years in her life. This was such an honor as it marks around the 20th year I have participated in her birthday festivities - tis a rare blessing to have such a loyal friend for so many years and I am truly grateful.

Sap aside, we had a little shindig for the birthday girl at Meagan and Bryan's humble abode. It has seen quite a few parties in its day, but it's still going strong. There were snacks galore, a bevvy of wine and of course, birthday cake made by yours truly. (If you must know, it was a traditional yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling and vanilla buttercream frosting.)

The night was particularly special as Brooke and Freeland were in town and able to join us. The four amigos were back together, so of course, we had to replicate our famous piggyback tower.

Moving right along, before the grandiose surprise birthday bash for the pops, we had a little family celebration that was practically perfect in every way. We kicked off the night with a little takeout and some oldies tunes.

Apres dinner, we presented him with our super-special gifts: dates with his daughters. Michelle will be taking him to a Rangers game and I will be treating him to a steak dinner at The Old Warsaw. The restaurant is of particular importance as he took the whole family there in a limo when I was around 11 or 12. It will forever be such a fond memory and I look forward to our time together.

After he was gifted, it was time for my mom's infamous chocolate on chocolate cake. This thing is beyond rich: devil's food cake filled with chocolate chips and iced with a thick chocolate fudge buttercream icing. Suffice it to say, Haylee and Mere had no trouble finishing every last crumb of the sugary concoction.

The night ended with an all-out marathon dance session to the Beatles greatest hits. We twisted and shouted until we could twist no more. It was such a joyful time and it really was a beautifully simple birthday celebration. Our time was rich with the love and presence of Christ. It is in Him we will be united forever beyonds our years in this life and that is by far the greatest gift.

Monday, March 19, 2012

oh happy (birth)day.

WHAT a whirlwind. That is the best way to sum up the events of this past weekend. As I mentioned on my previous blog post, March 14th marked a very important day in history as 60 years ago, my dear old dad was born Charles Michael Lawrence on that very day. I indicated a big birthday post was forthcoming and now I can officially reveal that over the past couple of months, I (with the gracious assistance of my wonderful "seester" and mama bear) had been feverishly planning a SURPRISE 60th birthday bash to properly celebrate such a momentous milestone in my dad's life.

Caution: prepare yourself for a super long post and tons of pics.

I'm not certain when the original idea entered my head, but I can tell you that I scoped out the location roughly 5 months ago when my favorite pizza place, Cavallis, expanded their dining room.

(As an aside, I feel it most necessary to give credit where credit is due. My dear fousin, Elisa, was a loyal customer at the original Cavalli location in Irving when she went to school in those parts. She has since introduced me to the amazingness that is their Napeletona pizza and I have required it in a weekly basis ever since. Huge shoutout to her and if you haven't had the pleasure of dining on a pizza pie from Cavallis, do yourself a favor and get there as fast as you can. And to that, I will add a preemptive "you're welcome.")

Anyway, when they expanded their dining room last year, I took a quick look and immediately asked the hostess if the room could be rented out. Upon confirmation that parties could, in fact, be hosted in the private dining room, I immediately began dreaming and scheming of throwing my dad a birthday party when the big day rolled around.

In terms of why I decided it needed to be a surprise party, I couldn't give you a solid answer. I mean, of course, surprises are SO much fun and they help you avoid the obligatory insistence from the birthday boy/girl that we "needn't make too big of a deal and a party isn't necessary." BUT, apart from that, they add an element of anxiety that can take an exhaustive toll, I tell ya. We all had to play super sleuth, do email hacking, come up with countless lies AND I consistently had to hold in my excitement...all the while, feeling terrible that he thought we weren't doing anything out of the ordinary to make his 60th birthday special. It was rough, but in the end, SO worth it.

Leading up to the party, I met with Paolo (Cavalli himself) to select a menu for the event and discuss all of the details. I must say, even though it was a lot of work and effort, we had the best time creating the menu, designing the cake, thinking of other ideas for the party, coming up with decoration ideas, creating a playlist,etc. Here is the party invitation:

It's Charlie's 60th birthday and here's the deal
We're throwing a SURPRISE party, so please don't squeal.

We're putting up streamers and stringing some lights
Get ready because we'll be partying all night.

A great evening is planned
You're invited, too.
Just keep it a secret
'Cause Charlie doesn't have a clue!

We'll have pizza and toast to a life that's so dear.
So come raise a glass, share a laugh and perhaps shed a tear.

So if you can make it,
here's a word to the wise:
make sure you arrive @ 6
'cuz it's a surprise!

Come celebrate at
Charlie's 60th Surprise Birthday Party
Sunday, March 18th
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Cavalli Pizzeria Napoletana

On the big day, Michelle and I arrived early to decorate and set up the room. We kept it pretty simple red/silver/black color theme with framed pics, yearbooks, balloons and a few decorative banners - would have loved to do all the amazing ideas I saw on blogs and Pinterest, but at the end of the day, we just had to pick a couple and be content. The one idea I got from Pinterest that we did execute was a poster of pics, glued in the shape of a 6-0. We ended up choosing a black board and having all the attendees sign it as a keepsake for my dad. As for the cake, well, if there was one phrase to sum it up, it would be "lost in translation." Suffice it to say, the design was not at all what I intended (nor the subpar cursive writing), but the picture of my dad looked great and we got it for a, it turned out to be "surpringly upbeat" (name that movie). Of course, no party would be complete without favors, so I made some chocolate fudge cookies and assembled them in red treat bags to keep in line with the colors.

Everyone arrived in plenty 'o time and we had a good 15-20 minutes to spare before the guest of honor arrived. (Naturally, the man who is usually 5 minutes early was at least 5 minutes late to his party, but that's beside the point.)

When he did finally arrive, he was totally speechless. In all honesty, I don't know what I was expecting, but his reaction was not nearly as expressive as I imagined it would be. He more or less looked totally blank and then, I thought he was going to cry...actually, I think he might have. In all the days leading up, I thought that he might be catching on, but even if he did, I was confident he didn't have a clue as to the guest list - that was the clencher. I was able to get his family there, including his uncle who happens to be his late father's identical twin brother. It was a total shock and I was overwhelmed that the Lord orchestrated it perfectly so that they were able to join the celebration. This first picture right below is of the two of them, but alas, my great Uncle Jack is covered...

Once he got over the initial shock, he immediately transitioned into rare form (well, not really rare for him), receiving various requests (mostly from his siblings) for specific performances and gladly obliging. (Of course, I recorded these all on my phone and when I uploaded the videos, they are all sideways...ahhhhhh.) In between all of the entertainment, we did partake in a wonderful feast of calamari, meatballs, salad and four kinds of pizza (margherita, arugula & prosciutto, the dallas and pesto chicken). I also specially requested a signature pizza for my dad which included every kind of meat PLUS peppers, onions, mushrooms and jalapenos...I called it the "Charlie special."

Even though it was his birthday, I think my dad offered up more toasts than the collective crowd; however, there was a time for others to speak and I thought it would be the opportune time to present my dad with the gift I had been working on since the beginning of February.

(Again, I wouldn't feel right if I didn't make it clear that this idea was not originally mine. Brooke did something similar for Freeland's birthday and I loved the idea so much, I knew I wanted to do it for my dad.)

Basically, I asked friends and family members to write a note to my dad and I included all of the letters in a photo book that I made in honor of his 60 years on this earth. (Sidenote #52 - total providence that the book even made it to the party as due to shipping issues, it shouldn't have been received until today or tomorrow. But God smiled upon me and I almost cried when the postal delivery truck stopped in front of our house on Saturday and out jumped the mailman carrying my bright yellow box.) I don't have any pics other than the one below, but there were some really beautiful sentiments expressed my friends and family members. A huge thank you to all of them as their contributions are what made it such a treasure. (For those who are interested, I included a portion of the notes at the end of the post.)

After Michelle and I blubbered through our sap-filled toasts, we kept the merriment going and cut into what turned out to be a pretty tasty cake. Despite the fact that the design wasn't exactly in line with my vision, per se, it still received rave reviews and after sampling it myself, I was quite pleased. (Funny story: Michelle specially purchased sparkler candles for the cake and we were just one smoke fume away from setting off the fire alarms and having a real party. I thought they were going to kick us out at that point...or at least give us the stink eye.)

The party kept rolling along even beyond the cake. There was mingling, tom foolery, endless photo opps and so much love. My dad insisted on taking pictures with every guest in attendence, but Nick took most of them with his camera (that doesn't have a piece missing like mine) so here is just a sample of what I am certain is probably 300-400 pics.

Even though the restaurant was cleaning up and closing for the night, there were several party animals that just couldn't get enough. We took the after-party outside and captured a few last Kodak moments before calling it a night.

It was so apparent that Love Himself was present throughout the entire evening and that we were all united under that one Love. It was such a beautiful night for my family...full of joy that could only come from Christ and I am so very grateful we were able to share the night together. I feel so blessed to have been able to organize the night and to have had the help of my dear sister and mama. It will forever be such a wonderful memory and one I will always reflect upon with such happiness.

Excerpts from the book (they were so beautiful that I wanted to remember them forever, so this is more for myself...feel free to bypass):

"finally... where does one begin to talk about the person you have shared your life with for 40 years... my fondest memories...
*when you starting coming to the prayer meeting that I was going to back in 1972... I still remember walking in that prayer meeting and seeing you sitting there...I was overwhelmed with joy, because when I saw him there, I knew soon he would invite Christ into his life! We had such fun as a young couple watching the Lord move in unbelievable ways, not only in our lives, but in the lives of so many people we grew to know and love. and it was only a matter of time, that you were asked to lead the worship - and you loved doing it and God used you for many years in music ministry - and I loved watching you....
*when we got married, and you sang the song you wrote for me when I turned 19 years old - we had such a wonderful wedding and so much fun dancing and singing at the reception...."
Julie (Mom)

"...What does a daughter say to her beloved dad that would make him realize everything he is to her and the profound impact he has had on her life. I wish the words were flowing with an eloquent ease, but I think for once in my life, words seem too trivial, too incomplete, too paltry to accurately convey what my heart feels.
From very early on, my heart had you pegged as my hero. As apparent as it is that you were intrinsically designed to have little girls (vs. dirty, messy, loud, up-to-no-good boys), I know I was intrinsically designed to have a nurturing father who loved spending time with his girls, playing alongside them in a very childlike manner and didn't try to make them the "boys he never had." Throughout my life, that is what you have been...and so very much more. You were so unlike the other dads. Who else would run himself ragged playing rousing games of "tickle monster" all hours of the night? Who else would do the "ministry of the walk" in the grocery store, right there in front of God and everyone? Who else would not only allow, but be the orchestrator of, crazy-themed answering machine greetings that ranged from high-brow British, to "sloppin' the hogs" Southern? (I am laughing even as I write this.) Who else would beg me to come drive the cart for him on the golf course or find ways to coerce me into running errands with him, play a round of banangrams or watch a musical performance on TV that he just has to share with someone else? I will always remember the "special-ness" of Saturdays growing up and how they always held with them the promise of a special breakfast. Sure, sometimes it was just a trip down the cereal aisle in search of the most sugary, destined to rot your teeth concoction, but there were many other culinary delights to be had, whether it was your homemade doughnuts, silver-dollar pancakes or powdered sugar french toast --Saturday was guaranteed to be a treat!
You were constantly engaging me, made every effort to be intentional and always expressed a great desire to spend quality time with me, throughout every stage of my life...I have tears in my eyes as I reflect on such sweet love, but also for all the times I've brushed you off, deflected the chance to have a conversation with you or failed to show you my love in return. The Bible calls us to love in both word and deed and I think I place too much emphasis in hoping that my words accurately portray my love for you, as your daughter. Forgive me for failing to show you what your life and love has meant to me and how I would never want any other dad in the world.
Your gifts of music, of laughter, of conversation, of being present -- they are so beautiful. I was mulling over what to say to you the past several weeks and as I began to read each note written by your friends and family, I was overwhelmed with a consistent theme that was interwoven into every submission: your faith in Christ and the profound impact it has made on the lives of those around you. How can any man be a failure or question his success or worth who has made such an impact on even one individual, much less 15...I am eternally blessed to have a father who was and is so devoted to a Heavenly Father.
There are so many things I wish for you, but I think it can be summed up in the words of Jesus in John 10:10 - He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And so I pray this simple prayer for you: I pray that every day you would wake up with the knowledge of Christ's infinite love for you and that it would make every single moment one of abundant grace, beautiful because it is all a gift from God and peaceful because He has gone before you and He will never leave you or forsake you - nothing can separate us from His love, neither heights, nor depths, nor things present, nor things yet to come...Happy, Happy 60th Birthday, Daddy!"

"...when I look back to my childhood, I think about all the fun we had together. You were such a fun daddy - always playing with us and making us laugh. Most importantly, you gave Rachel and me your time and attention. I know a lot of kids don't get that from their fathers, so I feel extremely blessed that you were so involved in our lives. I remember: our awesome bedtime ritual - the song you sang that ended with us being thrown in the bed; riding down the hallway on your back as some sort of animal or creature; trips to the donut shop in Casa View; playing HORSE with our fabulous basketball goal in the backyard; going to the park to watch you hit golf balls and sending Rachel and I off to collect said golf balls; driving us to school and singing the Armor of God; the infamous "Tickle Monster"; all of your amazing stories from "The Little Tookle" to "The Disobedient Girl"; you singing and playing guitar and me performing along side of you - these are just a few of the wonderful memories I have of you as a little girl. Fast forward to my wedding day: I will never forget you walking me down the aisle and then dancing together afterwards - such special moments that I will cherish always. And it has been such a joy to watch you with Haylee and Meredith - it takes me back. They sure do love their Paw-Paw, but no surprise there! I can't express to you how much I appreciate your willingness to come over and watch the little muskrats whenever I call on you...growing up, you were always so protective over me - it drove me absolutely crazy when I was younger, but I now appreciate it greatly and am so thankful that you cared so much. You have stood by my side when I needed you the most and constantly speak truth and wisdom into my life...I am eternally grateful for being raised up by a godly father who showered me with love. You are a wonderful man who exudes honesty and integrity in all that you do. I am extremely proud to be your daughter, and I will forever be a "Daddy's girl"... May the Lord infuse you with overwhelming peace and joy that only He can provide, and bless your days in unimaginable ways..." (Michelle)

"I have known Charlie since 5th grade. He is probably my oldest friend. Man is he old! We were in class together with Mr. O'Reilly in 7th grade (the worst teacher we have ever had), and Mr. Hons in 8th (maybe the best teacher we ever had). We played football and baseball together for the St. Pius Tigers, and were in the same Boy Scout troup 746. I have of picture of him hanging on the edge of a cliff during one of our camp outs. Truth is, his feet were standing on a ledge. He wasn't in any danger. He just made it look that way. This may have been the beginning of his acting career..." (Jimmy Lautenslager, friend)

"I remember:
-how excited Jack & Gwen's kids would get when it was announced that we would be getting together with Bob & Mazie's kids
-that it did not matter if we were going to Casa Linda or you were coming to Irving, the arrival time was at least an hour later than the ETA
-that there were no good-byes that took less than 30 minutes and no fewer than a dozen lead changes in the 'gotcha-last' competitions
-observing when you were eight or nine years old that you were possibly the best athlete of all of us and being smart enough not to try to get you on my team with the last pick just because you were the youngest
-watching in amazement as you hurdled a chain-link fence when I thought I had run you down and made the mistake of giving you an adrenaline boost by yelling 'I've got you now'
-laughing hysterically with everyone when you were attacked by the rebellious - and clearly murderous - hand
-being very impressed with your singing ability and wondering why Jack's kids didn't get any of that talent.
Returning to the present, I want to tell you:
-how much I have always enjoyed your company
-how proud I am to be your cousin."
(Jaen Lawrence, cousin)

"...I was just commenting to Ann yesterday, how one of the great blessings of growing 'older' is the increasing list of reflections on the amazing things God has done over the course of our lives -- in us, and more often in spite of us. And, how that enriches the increasing depths of our prayer lives, and our communion with, and knowledge of our Father. To the extent He can be known, He is merciful and gracious to allow us into that knowledge, and it's a knowledge that increases as we increase in years.
Buddy, as I look over that list of His amazing works in my near 60 years, you occupy many of the top slots. Of course, your life is a huge testimony to His redemptive work, and reflecting on your history and our history together, causes me to worship Him. But, probably most dear to me is the way His unique unconditional love has been shown to me through you. That you've loved me in spite of myself. The love you and the Jule have shown Ann and I through the years, blesses us so to this day, though most our days are spent separated by so many thousands of miles. I'm sure I have no one in my life who's not my own flesh and blood, or married to me, who loves me as unconditionally as you do."
(Robert, friend)

"...The other thing I will always remember is your gift for praising the Lord though music. A family gathering was not complete unless you brought out your guitar and helped us lift our voices to the Beloved Lord. I perhaps did not appreciate this as much as a child, but as I have gotten older and seen that this doesn't happen in every family, and that it is a beautiful blessing that adds so much joy to homes when it does, I have retrospectively appreciated it and am thankful to the Lord, and you, for that gift. I will never forget being with you and Rachie only a few days before Jesus called Mimi Home. I will never forget those moments that seemed outside of time, they were so filled with the Spirit. I will never forget how you sang "On Eagle's Wings" for Mimi. And the other songs you knew her to love. I will never forget how beautifully you sang the Ave Maria at Mimi's bedside, and only a little while later, at her funeral Mass. I am so grateful that you were there, Uncle Charlie, and led us in worship of our Creator and Savior. Thank you so much for being a willing instrument of God's love in those precious and beautiful moments.
Thank you for the countless times you have welcomed me into your home, played games with us, shared your latest wine or beer or both, with me. Thank you for being a part of my growing up, thank you for marrying Aunt Julie and for sharing the gift of your beautiful children with us. Thank you for sharing the gifts God has given you with our family. I thank God for the gift of your existence, and that He made you my uncle. I pray that you will continue to become the man and the saint that He created you to be. Remember always that Jesus saw you from eternity and Loved you so much that He left Heaven for you. He left Heaven so that He could have you with Him there for always..."
(Elisa, niece)