Thoughts I Didn’t Plan on Thinking

Today we are in my brother’s truck having a rare family road trip. It’s a change for me not to be driving. It leaves me free to look out the window at the gray, somewhat foggy fall day. The leaves are turning but the colors are muted and dull. There is still a lot of green out there so maybe we’ll have a better autumn brilliance in a few more days.

We are going to Eau Claire, a small city two hours away, to visit Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic. An ophthalmologist/plastic surgeon has been working on Mom’s right eyelid after removing a small basal cell carcinoma. This is our fourth visit due to complications of the surgery and repair. Mom has been struggling with ointments, painful eyes, poor vision and a sense of being really tired of this whole process. We don’t know what to anticipate today.

We have so many medical options for anything that goes wrong with our bodies these days. And things do go wrong sooner or later – that is a given. There are many decisions to be made because of this, some we make for ourselves and some others make for us. Swirling all around these calls for decision are issues like the value of life, quality of life, the comparison of one life over another, our views of death and suffering and medical accountability. It’s deep water and not fun to navigate.

This week I was sitting in my husband’s hospital room as he slept. In the common room where I could see and hear them, a family was sitting with their youngish looking son who had obviously been in an accident of some kind resulting in brain trauma. Like my husband, he was there for intense rehab and he was showing good improvement. I had a moment of guilt as I compared him to my elderly husband, with numerous comorbidities, struggling to show progress at all who was taking up a valuable bed in the facility. I felt sorry for the doctor who had to decide to move my husband out to a nursing home for rehab, and I understood what she had to consider. Because we’re having trouble finding another suitable place, he is still here at Miller Dwan in that bed.

My husband spends time thinking about what purpose God could have for him that he was allowed to survive this stroke. He is so tired, and to look at him on some days, you might think he was half dead already. I think he looks half dead, which makes me get busy waking him up, shaving the stubble, sitting him up and telling him to open his eyes before the next therapist arrives. I want him to look valuable, hopeful, worthy of the time and effort they are putting into his rehabilitation. He has indicated he wants that and I am his advocate. It’s a job.

I’ve asked him to think about what he would want if he were to have another stroke. Would he want to go through again what he’s experienced the last two months? He said he hadn’t thought about it. How can that be? He has so much time to think. So many things happen to us because we can’t imagine what we might have to decide, but now he knows and doesn’t have to imagine.

Last week there was an article in the local paper by Garrison Kieller of Prairie Home Companion fame. He also had recently been hospitalized and had experienced many feelings my husband recognized, a lot of mention of bodily functions. He had a good laugh when I read the article to him. Helplessness and dependency is not just happening to Dennis Dietz. And at some point, it could easily happen to any one of us.

I’m thinking about my future, although I know there’s no getting “control” over this realm. It seems to help me to do mental role playing around the possibilities, that way I’m not completely surprised by some of what actually happens. My choices play into my future so I try to make good ones (most of the time) but my best choice has been in believing that God is in control, and that he doesn’t plan on wasting any of my experiences. I can accept that hardship is part of life, and that circumstances can be beyond awful at times. Endurance is needed but there is help along the way in many forms. My belief is that the outcome is good, and it is sure. Just sayin’…

Apology to My Friend

So, Jesus, I know an apology is not the same as a gift, but it’s a start. I really have a hard time thinking of what to give someone who has pretty much everything, including my heart. It’s because I love you so much that I feel the need to apologize. You see, the other night when someone on the stage opened the mike to anyone who had something to say about you, about what you had done in their life, suddenly I couldn’t think of what to say.

I’m hardly ever at a loss for words, but it caught me off guard. As the seconds ticked off in a very awkward, silent way I got really stressed. It was looking like you hadn’t been doing anything, which is so not true. A person finally credited you with a healing, and another with your saving acts on the behalf of persecuted Christians but somehow that paralyzed me even further. What could I possibly mention to match that kind of dramatic “bigness”?

It’s true that there isn’t a great deal of drama in my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s because you’re protecting me. You are keeping your promises to me, especially that one about not giving me more than I can handle. But thank you that you also give me just enough adventure and excitement to make me feel alive and blessed. You know I need that! Thank you for knowing me so well.

This week has given me a lot of time to think about all the things you do for me, with me, and to me that are common but so significant. You don’t do them just on rare occasions but dozens of times every day. They are the “small” things that should not be discounted or despised. They are the bulk of your work in my life. I get so used to you being there, on the job for me, that I forget how to talk about it.

You haven’t seen fit to take away all my problems, but you’ve given me a view of them that cuts them down to size. Honestly, how can I even get upset about pandemics, politics, personalities, or ANYTHING when I know you are in charge? I don’t. Thank you for handling all those things so I can rest and be content. I know you’ve got me.

Next time I will be ready. It’s like the equivalent of an “elevator speech” isn’t it? I will be ready to say the important things about you, to give testimony like a good witness of your kindness, your love, your generosity, your great skill, your saving power, your graciousness in accepting apologies (like this one). Thank you so much. I love you.

Does My Heart Have Ears?

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I’m coming.” Psalm 27:8

I’m thinking about that question, “does my heart have ears?” I think it does.

I was walking one evening this week, feeling thankful for a chance to get out where it was quiet, feeling the rhythmic, somewhat stumbling way my feet were hitting the uneven ground, feeling like the open sky was listening. I was thinking (because it’s too hard not to think) about all the decisions of the day, all the possible responses to upcoming events, and processing, processing.

I felt like I heard in my spirit the suggestion that I talk about all those things – like, just speak them out. So I did that, and as I got into it more, it didn’t feel terribly weird. It felt like I was being listened to. It was easy to credit God with that – it had sounded like his voice, and no one else was around.

February Goodness: Good Words

I love it when someone speaks influential words that apply to my life.

I believe that learning, growing, and being curious makes me a happier person. Sometimes I can commence down a better path all by myself, but most often I am inspired or encouraged by someone else’s good words. I have good words written on note cards, in my journal, on sticky notes here and there, magnetized on my refrigerator, and on note apps on my phone. In fact, they are stashed in so many different places that I have trouble finding any certain one when I want it. My favorite books are highlighted so I can easily find those places where words changed something for me.

When I was younger, encountering good words was easy. I had parents and teachers who felt responsible for telling me all kinds of things. Now that I’m older I have to search for that kind of input. It’s actually work to keep growing. I’m trying to do it on purpose.

A favorite thing, and I don’t do it often enough, is to ask someone who knows me fairly well to think for a minute and then tell me something they think I need to hear. I pick kind people, like Mom, who have earned my respect. But I am willing to hear correction as well as anything else they might have to say. Although it might feel selfish to ask someone to think about me and give feedback, I think that is a distorted feeling. I think it’s healthy to want to know what other people see. It adds balance to my life and keeps me away from unhealthy extremes.

Thank you Emily for some good words today.

Today I listened to a podcast that had a good word for me. I am a writer of sorts and have been a member of a professional writing group for several years. I have writing projects that I want to complete and I thought I was taking them seriously. I am working on them whenever I get time. And then, prompted by words from the podcast teacher, I took a look at my calendar and did not see writing anywhere on my schedule. I had to admit that it did not appear to be a very serious task. I now have a chance to do something better.

Okay, it’s on the calendar now. (I know it doesn’t look like I do much, but that’s because I’m retired and don’t write things down until after I do them.)

And of course, there’s nothing like a pandemic and year long isolation to make good words precious to me. I hear all the time that people are lonely, wondering whether they have value to anyone, feeling a bit hopeless, depressed… and I begin to feel some of that myself. I am grateful for words that came along one evening this week, from the video series “The Chosen”, Season 1, Episode 1 (such a good, thought provoking series!). The words are “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.’ ” From Isaiah 43:1 Those words are for all people and they make me feel known, valued and not afraid. Good words.

What good words have come across your radar lately? Please share.

Not Wasting Time

Time is a very strange commodity. I always think about this with birthdays and anniversaries, and of course with the turning of the year. When time is gone, it’s really gone and we have no control over its passing. It’s so impersonal. Yet we do have control over what we do with the present moment.

I was thinking about that over the last weekend when my brother posted a writing to all of us siblings. It was about not postponing the things we want to do thinking we will always have time to do them later. Being in your 50’s, 60’s, and yes (gulp) 70’s, we should begin realizing that there’s not a lot of “later” left.

I was especially considering that when I went outside on Friday, New Year’s Day, to take a walk in the snow. It was a perfect snow day. There were a couple of snowmobiles being noisy out in the wetlands. Seeing them zip around made me remember the days when I used to ski, and how much easier that was than plodding around in my boots. I wanted to ski again but wondered whether it was a bit too risky. If I fell and broke something it would really impact others in my life. Recent experience had made that pretty clear.

My skis, my boot, my thumb.

Talking it over with God, in my mind, drew my attention to fear and how it could keep joy away. I’m not sure it was all God’s doing, but I found myself bravely walking into New Moon Ski Shop. It conveniently adjoins our wetland property. More surprisingly I found myself walking out with skis, boots and poles. Three days of skiing have not only been very fun, but I also have not fallen even once. There are no hills to speak of, and the poles are there for balance. It is great exercise and will make my long winter much more bearable. I am so glad I did not leave this for a “later” time that probably wouldn’t have come.

Time is a construct that God understands much better than I do. I believe he wants me to respect and value the time he’s giving me, and he’s not against creative enjoyment of it. I’m so grateful for that. I love the line from the life story of Eric Liddell “I believe God made me for a purpose but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” I’m not a world class skier, but I know what it is like to feel God’s pleasure when I’m out on my skis, in his world, being grateful. It is anything but wasted time.

I see beautiful things everywhere.

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.