“Full of Feelings” Month: Mother’s Day

Well, it’s probably no surprise that there would be a lot of “feelings” floating around on Mother’s Day, another one of those days of expectations that are hard to realize. Harder even than birthdays, in my opinion. This year I didn’t even wait till the weekend to get emotionally riled up, so yeah, I’ve cried pretty much all day, mostly inside my head, but outwardly as well.

Earlier in the week I met several young mothers and got reminded of how exhausting and plain old “hard” it is to have young ones. Add in various degrees of dysfunction and things become heartbreaking, overwhelming, difficult to share with others who could possibly help. I also feel bad for family and friends who don’t have the children they want and generally feel left out of motherhood in one way or another. I accept these stories, and kind of embrace them because the women telling them feel like my people. They are my people. I pray for them and wait for the healing I know God wants to give.

And then there is the husband (mine). He has not been feeling as perky as before and is definitely not moving around well. He needs a lot of help from me to do basic activities of daily living – ADLs. When we have visitors as we do this Mother’s Day weekend, I become aware of the things that are hard for me to enjoy because I am coupled with him. It’s vastly different from being a nurse and having to help elderly patients. I had no trouble with that. The husband, who looks SO OLD, is my contemporary, my covenant partner. His life is largely my life for the foreseeable future. It is not a happy picture when I look at it from that angle.

And always on Mother’s Day, I miss my own kids. We can’t help that we live so far apart and can’t be together. Most days we manage not to think about that at all, but on Mother’s Day it’s a 24 hour reminder that people are missing from my life. This is also the first Mother’s Day that my sister-in-law is missing from our family. She died last August and there was an act of closure today, as we buried her ashes in a small memorial garden overlooking the pond behind the barn. That was a hard one, not because we have no hope, but because we believe in grieving well.

But, emotional exercise includes happiness and gratitude as well as sadness. How wonderful it is that I don’t have to miss having my own mother with me! I had time to talk with her and share all these feelings, knowing that she cares. I had phone calls and texts from my girls. And I had three of my brothers and a niece and nephew here as well to share the weekend and be family to me.

I am thinking deeply about all these events, all these people and trying (imperfectly) to lay the care on God, like he said I could. He wants me to know, to care, and to love – but then to hand it over and let him do any heavy lifting.

I have a regular job cleaning my brother’s business place on the weekends. I didn’t really want to do it today because … those expectations again. But as I emptied garbage and straightened things up, I got in the rhythm of work and started to forget sadness. Seriously, if you ever want to change the way you’re feeling, go find a mess and clean it up, focus on getting rid of some dirt, make a difference. What a gift work can be. God meant it that way and I am thankful for work, even on Mother’s Day. Or perhaps, especially on Mother’s Day.

A special rest spot on the hiking trail – my three brothers and my niece. What are they looking at?
They are looking out over the beautiful Namekagon River valley, one of the National Wild and Scenic River areas.

Hope for Things Thought Dead

What is the story here? I can see it plainly, but I never know how plain it is to others – we are all products of our past thoughts and experiences and it can make such a difference in our outlooks.

Last fall I put these amaryllis bulbs in the garage for their winter dormancy period. Their long leaves flopped over, turned yellow and dried up. They got no water, very little light, and no attention. One of them started pushing up a new leaf during the winter but there was no chance of it surviving and I worried about the untimely appearance. They were all dead looking, didn’t seem very stable or rooted in their pots, and were soft like they might be rotting. Nothing hopeful about them.

And then they came to life, like so many things do in the spring. Tips of the new leaves were barely visible in the dead layers of brown wrappings. I didn’t know if the early started would start again a second time, but it did. It was much later than the others and seems a bit tattered but it’s alive.

For me, it’s all about the hope that is built into creation that dead things come to life. It’s one of those plainly seen reminders of the intentions of our Creator. Seeing how life is embedded into the DNA of plants and trees and animals of all kinds, I can’t imagine that it isn’t also built into us. I do believe there is a creator God and that he’s telling me on a regular yearly schedule, that he is all about restoring, making new, and starting over, no matter how unlikely it might look to me. I love the sound of that and the spirit behind it.

Funny thing, once I started believing that God was sending me personal messages through things I could see and touch, things he created for my environment, he became real and personal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. Science is a process by which we study our world. But science is not a creator. Science is still looking for a creator.

I’m enjoying this season. I’m watching for green grass to come up through the dead, matted fields. I’m watching for the geese to come to the marsh to make nests. I’m looking at the lilac twigs to see how far along the buds are. I’m watching the sunrise shift rapidly from south to north on the horizon. There is nothing dead that doesn’t have some hope attached to it and it all feels very personal, now that I’ve decided it is.

February Goodness: More Snow

February had this one last day to show up with something good and it decided that snow would be its choice. I walked over to Mom’s to say good morning and the walkways were bare and dry. I came home an hour later wading through several inches of very loosely packed, huge snowflakes. It was clear that shoveling and plowing would have to take place again. February is known for being indecisive about its weather.

There are many features in this field, none of which can be seen. White, white, white.

It was worse by the time we traveled to the church. The highways weren’t completely plowed. The confusing thing about new snow is the way it seems to erase important things like where the roads and ditches are. Everything is just white and more white and even the air is full of flying white. The husband’s remark, “maybe we should have stayed home today?”

But I was kind of glad that I would have at least another day of skiing, possibly a whole week. We ended up with about 8 inches which was just enough to fill in all the ski trails I had made the last time I went out. It was a different kind of snow too – so very wet that I could not get the skis to slide at all. The walk was much like traveling in very large snowshoes. I only went for a mile but the scenery was amazing and the experience of being out while the snow was coming down was worth it.

My feet are kind of like snowshoes, right?

I knew this month would most likely be a difficult month, unless I purposely looked for the goodness of God in it. Winter seems too long in February, especially a pandemic winter. A good friend’s death seemed imminent and, indeed, has come to pass. I seem stuck in some patterns I want to move out of. There are things I want to do that seem out of reach. February is a month of waiting for change. I know that if I wait long enough, change is certain, and for that I am glad. Change is part of God’s goodness.

March 1st, tomorrow, in the year 2021 has never happened before. It is brand new, like our snow today. There are good changes to plan for, dream about, pray about, and bring about. Looking forward to it, just sayin’…

February Goodness: Blessings

I am learning to recognize blessings, not actually counting them, like the old song describes, but realizing that all the small surprises in my day are really blessings. That was the common denominator of all the good things on this Wednesday in the first week of February.

A stunning sunrise that kept evolving so fast that I ran outside in the freezing temps at least three times to capture its stages. The brightest spot is no longer hidden behind a building like it has been for several months. The sun is moving! (I know, not really…)

Our family pod of five, gathered together to have a meal. And our extended family and friends on ZOOM who took the time to throw a virtual birthday party for our Ryan, my youngest daughter’s fiancée.

The catalog promising that spring is coming eventually for us, and even now for some happy gardeners. I have already planned, and ordered but that doesn’t keep me from reading it all again. Gardens are such hopeful things!

I’m especially grateful for these blessings on a day that also holds much tension. A dear friend battling cancer went into the hospital on an emergency basis. Blessing and trial, side by side, else how would we know that by contrast they sweeten each other. We are praying for this situation and appreciate all who join us in hoping for more time with our friend.

Good Things in February: Kindness

An interesting thing at the end of this first day of February – a relief, and a miracle of sorts.

The husband has a condition, Lewy Body Dementia, which wreaks havoc with his autonomic nervous system, among other things. This is the system that controls blood pressure, and it shows up as giving him unstable pressures from time to time. He has been on medication, but even that is trial and error in keeping him stable. So we check it fairly often.

This morning I found his medication from the night before. He had missed taking it with his other pills and it was still in the container. Sure enough, his pressure was on the high side, so he took a diuretic in addition to his morning medication. Late this afternoon I asked him to check his pressure again and he got this:

A scary blood pressure reading, 197/116, yikes!

For those who might not have had to know anything about blood pressure, the top number is the pressure in the system when the strongest part of the heart, the ventricle, is squeezing. The bottom number is supposed to be the pressure when the heart is “resting” in between beats. The top number is ideally below 120 and the bottom number should be less than 80. The husband’s reading of 197/116 – not so good. I blinked a bit, held my breath and tried to get my plan in mind in case he stroked out. He’s had this happen before, but knowing that it changes quickly, I’m not one to speed him to the ER.

We prayed. I told God we would check Dennis’s pressure again in a few minutes and asked him to please let us know whether to stay home or get help. I gave him another diuretic, hoping it wouldn’t keep him up all night going to the bathroom.

About 15 minutes later, after we had finished eating dinner, his pressure was 128/84. His medications had not had time to work yet so we either had faulty equipment or a miraculous change. The equipment checked out okay. I have no trouble believing that I was spared spending an evening in the hospital, even spared the decision of whether or not to go. That’s really the hardest part of my caretaking role, deciding if it’s time.

There were other good things in this day, but this was probably the most dramatic. I’m happy to share it because it wouldn’t be right not to give God thanks for doing me a favor. And I would encourage anyone – don’t be afraid to ask him for things like this because he really is kind. Just sayin’…

Back to watching his phone. Not a worrier, that one.

Survival Kit

Today, as I was looking through items from the friend’s house, I came across some small bags. They were labeled “Survival Kit”. A small brochure inside gave crucial survival information, tips, advice, and a list of what should go in the kit. I found it very interesting .

Is there room for some hay in there?

It was obvious that it was written back a while. This, for instance, among “items that might also prove useful” – quarters for emergency phone calls. Right. I wonder if recent generations would be able even to guess at how one might make a phone call with a quarter.

But most of the ideas were amazingly still good ones. I think that’s because survival is questionable only in a true crisis when the things we normally depend upon just aren’t there. The brochure called out several situations we might label as being critical, but followed up with this comforting advice:

“And remember, you can live through almost anything. Most survival is simply an inconvenience. Unfortunately, it is usually the individual who turns the survival situation into a life or death circumstance.” How true. How important it is to think clearly, avoid mistakes, and not panic, to conserve energy and resources for when they are most needed.

Then I had to laugh (and marvel) at the wise inclusion of this general rule of survival. It is probably the most universal and still practiced action, even by those who haven’t prepared for it. Here it is…

“Regardless of personal belief, most people confronted with survival have found great strength in asking for God’s help.”

Imagine that. What a timely reminder.

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.

Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.

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’…