A 2020 Celebration

I’ll bet with all the memes and jokes about 2020, you are surprised that I’ve found something worth celebrating this year. But I have! I’ve actually found many things worthy of celebrating and writing about.

Today I had a great report from a cancer screening test and I couldn’t wait to celebrate by taking a long, long walk. It felt so good to swing my arms and stride along. I had not been aware of being anxious, but apparently I was. The relief made me feel lighter than air. I had asked for my health to be protected, knowing that is not always how things work. Good health is not the ultimate sign of God’s approval, and he even works his purpose through the death of his most loved persons. I guess when you have the intelligence to create life, to restore and make anything brand new, and when you plan to eventually resurrect all who’ve died anyway, you think a bit differently about death in general. Nevertheless, I admit that I struggle to keep God’s perspective in mind at times. And I particularly don’t like cancer.

For me, there is no better way to celebrate than to move, to see, to experience the natural world. I could give you the short story – it was a beautiful day and I saw a deer and two snakes. Or I could show you with my pictures, which I love to do. August is the last month of summer. Everything here in the north is maturing and getting ready to die or go dormant in a very few weeks. The colors are different, the grasses and flowers are going to seed. You can feel the progression of life cycles that are expertly designed to show us things about God, if we will look, and think about what we see.

The irresistible trail (a miracle, not a single mosquito or deer fly did I swat.).
Hospital trail, Beaver Pond Loop, where rest stops are furnished with urinal and chamber pot, naturally.
Beaver Pond, with beaver lodge in the distance.
There is a snake in here, but you have to look really closely. I nearly stepped on it before it crawled off the path. Adrenalin moment.

If you put away thoughts of COVID19, politics, natural disasters, and riots, I’ll bet you can find something to celebrate in 2020 too. I’d love to hear about it.

Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

What She Saw

“What is that?” She said it several times, as we tried to tell her it was the ceiling fan that she was looking at.

She had been at home for two days since being admitted into hospice care, and really hadn’t said anything coherent for longer than that. The pain in her head had been overwhelming and made it hard to talk. Even thinking seemed to hurt her. But now her eyes were wide open and she was looking up from her bed and asking what she was seeing. And clearly it wasn’t the ceiling fan.

“Wow, oh wow!” Over and over, with awe and surprise she said it in a way that made us wish she would say more. “Oh, my gosh!” This she said not with fear or dread but with an expression that she would have used for an unbelievable sunset or some other one-of-a-kind experience.

It had been excruciating watching her, such a beautiful, generous, loving person, go through the agony of cancer treatment. Even worse, when the treatment stopped working and the pain increased, along with uncontrollable and incapacitating symptoms, we wondered how God would explain why it was happening this way. All along, we kind of knew God wouldn’t explain but would just say that he knew and he was there. It was hard, mostly because we always think we can understand. We’re reasonable people.

At last she had seen something and it occurred to me that she was now much closer to understanding than any of the rest of us. She was seeing something that took away fear, and seemed to give her peace. Maybe what she saw made all the pain make sense, or at least made it worth going through. She seemed thankful, and at rest.

And now, I’m very curious. And I’m thankful and more convinced than ever that God will prove himself good.

Things I Love About God

I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, but since I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately, now is a good time. We are having hard happenings in our family. Cancer has struck again and the loss hurts. But our faith is meant for times like this and we don’t grieve like those who have no hope.

Things I Love About God

1. He makes his own decisions, is not anyone’s puppet or genie.

2. Ultimately, no one spoils his plan. No one.

3. He is pure genius in so many ways – his creation of time, for instance.

4. He is love, and made me capable of loving.

5. He made me with emotions. I can know pleasure, joy and also loneliness, depression and need.

6. He gives me hope that he can fill every need I’m capable of feeling.

7. Restoring is his passion.

8. He lets us have surprises.

9. He is mysterious and has secrets.

10. He makes me think, unless I am too tired and then he just loves me.

Family on Mother’s Day

We don’t all fit on one screen, and my family will know this isn’t our Mother’s Day screenshot, but it’s us the time before.

This has been such a strange day, happy in many ways, but with a pervasive sadness that feels almost like a home that I keep coming back to. In a way, I value the sadness too because it’s a precious emotion, indicating depth of feeling. I pretty much only get sad about things I really care about, and mostly those things are relationships.

We got word that my Aunt Irene (but we always said “Auntie Irene”) died today. She was 94. It was exactly two years ago on Mother’s Day that her husband, Uncle Bob, died and I think she has been trying to join him ever since. She was the last of my father’s siblings. One more generation of that family is now gone. They were all interesting, loved, important people to their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. At times I was very close to Auntie Irene and I wish now I had been more attentive to her in these last couple of years. Some things about being 94 are probably okay, but when you consider how many of your friends aren’t around any more at that age, it has to be lonely. I am sad thinking about the loneliness of old age.

One of my nieces who has miscarried and lost her unborn children was gifted, anonymously, a beautiful Mother’s Day orchid with a note attached. It reminded me of several women I know who grieve on this holiday. It reminded me that I used to feel that way, and I want to hug them and cry too. These things would not hurt if we did not love. But loving is worth hurting.

Lastly, nothing speaks depth of family relationship like a reunion, so we all braved technology and Zoomed together this afternoon. (Well, almost all of us – it’s bittersweet when some of our special adoptees can’t get on the internet highway and join us.) It’s always a wonder to me, to see the faces appear on my screen, one after another – the family matron (my mom), the elders (my generation), the next tier down (all the cousins), and the littlest kiddos who have no idea what they are part of. North to south, east to west, we are all over the country but together on the screen because something tells us it’s important. Our stories are not all perfectly happy, but we are together, trying to build depth into our relationships. I look at them all and want to tell them “Please, don’t ever let loneliness have the last word. You have a family. You belong and are loved.” But I might not have actually said that. I should have.

So I hope that this day so closely connected to family relationships was a good day for you. I hope you know that whether you are a single, or a couple, or a whole tribe, you are capable of family relationship because you were made to need something of what that offers. A good Creator would not have created us with desires that couldn’t be fulfilled. It wouldn’t make sense. Have hope and love those around you with all your strength. Make family a reality.

2020 Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday…

And I decided to count and name my blessings throughout the day.

1. I woke up. The chance to celebrate one more time.

2. I woke up on land my grandfather used to own, still in the family, in a free land.

3. 12 people actually read yesterday’s blog post.

4. I had hair to comb.

5. I got to go over and have coffee with my mom.

6. My youngest brother came over to sit with us and tell me happy birthday.

7. Mom added a 1927 cookbook to my antique collection.

8. Pancakes and Nutella for breakfast.

9. A day with no rain in the forecast!

10. Singing birds everywhere outside – red winged blackbird trills,my favorite birthday song.

11. Online greetings that make me tear up.

12. No headache today.

13. Already have supper figured out and ready to cook.

14. A long birthday walk on Hospital Trail North, all 10,000 steps in the great outdoors

15. A surprise stare down with a beautiful wild deer in the forest (which I took as a birthday present since it doesn’t happen very often)

16. More birthday blessings from people online, more happiness reviewing those memories

17. A “hope” rock from my sister-in-law

18. The special dinner – I didn’t burn anything!

19. Birthday dessert from my mom.

20. Alexa played music I liked all evening – another rare occurrence.

21. FaceTime talks, texts, and calls from family during the day. They all helped me to feel valued and to process the fact of aging, and live with the fear of it.

22. The mantra “We understand fear is normal, but courage gets the final say.” from “The Next Right Thing” by Emily Freeman

End of March

March is nearly over. I’m giving myself grace when it comes to doing all the things that could be called productive. It’s a little hard to concentrate so I go walking instead, alone most of the time. Even in this very unusual time, life goes on, and so, unfortunately, does death. In two separate instances, people I’ve known well enough to grieve over, have died. Neither had anything to do with corona virus, but were unexpected and shocking. These strange weeks/months will stand out in my memory for a long time.

My refuge is to walk in the woods and be reminded of how beautiful and special this world is and how it was designed to be a place where people could thrive. I see God’s intricate design everywhere – in the way the snow melts, the way some plants stay green and alive under the snow, the way the birds find their way back to their birthplace, the way everything responds to the sun in some way. God’s outdoor magic is medicine for my soul.

It looked like bubbles from the bath tub blown all over the meadow.
Ice hazards in some spots, but bare ground in others.
When the snow is gone, so is the path. The pink ribbons suggest the way, when you can find them.
Wintergreen, some with berries, alive and well.
Hepatica (mayflower) always first because of this head start.
Lakeview Loop, aptly named
I want to give this landmark tree a name but can’t quite decide.

P.S. The seeds went in today. I hope I haven’t done it too early. I couldn’t wait.

Proceed!

Lately, I’ve found it challenging to proceed with normal life when so many NOT NORMAL circumstances are developing around me. How about you? I didn’t really think that I was very busy with outside events and gatherings but it seems I have a lot more quiet time at home now. Part of me welcomes that, and then there’s the other part that seems to waste that time wandering about looking for something “important” to do. It’s like the path ahead has suddenly gotten blocked by obstacles, kind of like this foot bridge that I came across yesterday.

And it’s right in the middle…

I often head to the woods when I’m frustrated and need a new and bigger perspective. There’s a foot trail there that gets some snowshoe traffic in winter but is primarily a spring/summer/fall path. Yesterday it presented a pretty good metaphor for life in this singular time of worldwide concern over COVID 19. There were places in the trail that were soft with mud, other places where the hard packed snow made it slippery and impossible to climb the grade. One time when I stepped out onto an innocent looking flat area, the ice got me and I fell. I was thankful I had my hiking pole along (and that no one was watching me trying to get up…).

In spite of all that, the bigger perspective was there and I found it. The forest is getting ready for spring. The streams have lost their cover of ice and the sound of moving water is everywhere. The snow is wet and waterlogged where the sun shines and cold, hard and dead where it’s in the shade. It’s days are numbered and short. The cold air from the ground, like from a freezer door left open, is no match for the sun’s warmth on these longer days. The beautiful contrast could be seen everywhere I looked. I am so thankful for seasons, and promised change.

Esther’s idea.

I found these little notes, written back in April 2016, with goals/aspirations for the future. Some had been accomplished, some not so much. They were kind of like a message from God (and my former self) affirming that progress had been made, but there were still worthy things to put my hand to, and what better time than now? I spent a couple happy hours going back to a long overdue project.

I’m not worried. God is providing a path through this. I’m proceeding.

Would you give me a comment telling how “social distancing” has given you a new routine at home or a new focus in your life?

Follow the path.

Not Done Yet

It snowed again this morning. I am not sitting in the chair in the picture, but I am in one close by with the same view. Winter knows its days are numbered, but March gives it one more month to exhaust itself. I am SO ready for the next season. It is now very important to keep going on and not lose heart.

I’ve gotten that message in so many ways – not that it’s a new thought that I must persevere. Every inspiring story ever told has the theme of “hang in there”. It’s probably because we humans are always finding ourselves in the “go numb and give up” state of mind over some circumstance in our lives.

I was all set to go visit my daughter, the one who is planning a wedding. We were getting ready for some good mother/daughter stuff, a bright spot to take up the last days of winter. And then along came COVID-19 and all the warnings for people over 60 and the immunosuppressed. That pretty much describes all the people that I come in contact with on a daily basis, myself included. Add to that, the fact that my daughter lives two crowded airports and 6 hours in a plane from me, in a city where the majority of U.S. deaths have occurred. Yep, Seattle. So, I’m not going there now. Thank you to all who helped me make the decision. (It was sensible, but hard anyway.) I’m not giving up on a chance to do this trip in the future – that’s where the perseverance comes in.

I also thought about the merits of continuance, keeping pace, and not giving up on a recent walk with my brother. Winter walking through the woods is a bit of an art. The path is very hard and slippery in places and very uneven, which makes me tend to look down and watch my footing (while running into branches at eye level…). I’m always conscious of the biting, cold air I’m breathing in, even while I’m sweating under layers of winter clothing. It’s a strange mixture of exhilarating and exhausting. But I can see my brother’s feet ahead of mine and I know if we keep putting one foot ahead of the other, we will finish the 3 mile loop.

Right, left, right, left, slip, scramble, hop to get in step again, KEEP GOING

Persevere, my friends. Rest and recoup, if necessary, but keep going. Whatever your “winter” is, DON’T GIVE UP.

This encouraging smile was in the snow along the trail. I added the hair.

Choosing Hope

January 26, 2019

Writing is difficult these days. Our family is going through cancer trauma and much of what I need to tell is too personal. Other things I might write about seem so trivial in comparison. That doesn’t leave much left.

It is easy to keep busy because we are forming a team, coming together to share necessary tasks and watch out for each other emotionally as well as physically. Only one of us has the serious physical suffering, but we all feel the shock as we try to help. Everyone worries about how everyone else is coping. Tears come easily and often. We cling to anything that reminds us of normal and we are often grateful for mundane tasks that occupy our minds and bodies.

We do have faith in our God who has said that it’s times like this that he carries us through. We are waiting to see how that looks. Now we are finding out what it means to have it be “well with our souls” while bad things are happening. Some days our “souls” are not doing so well and we realize that this work is not just physical, not just emotional, but very much spiritual.

Realizing that we live in a world that has gotten ruined in many different ways, we have done what we can to think about and prepare for the worst case scenario. As I went through my own worst case imaginings (which I am always doing – seems to be a habit) I found it kind of liberating to have faced the most feared things. It seemed to free up the energy and motivation to fight back.

When something comes upon me suddenly, unexpectedly, I spend more time with my fear than I do with my hope. There are those two different views to any perceived threat and I do have a choice about how much time to give to each of them. With God’s help, I’m choosing hope.

With God there is no rule about how these things must go. There is the possibility of surprise and blessing to come where I least expect it. God can take care of us in the darkest of places. Isn’t that what I’ve said – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me”? Now I get to mean it for myself, and for someone else.

Another biblical phrase is “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I’m glad our family gets to go through a trial. None of us are glad for this. It was not a chosen path, but since we are on it, much better that we accept the offer of Jesus, our creator and greatest healer, to go with us. How could we not? Once again, just sayin’…