How Is This My Life?

Yesterday, I said it again: This is not how I pictured my life.  It’s a phrase I have uttered far too many times over the past several years.

I’m not the type of girl that overly fantasized about how my life would look when I grew up.  I didn’t cut photos from magazines of my dream wedding. I didn’t see 2.5 children, one of them definitely a girl, living in a large house with a picket fence. I didn’t picture what my husband would look like or what career he would have or whether we would have a dog or a cat.

I had some assumptions. I assumed I would be married. Forever. I assumed I would have children, and yes, even assumed at least one would be a girl. I assumed I would have a short career and then transition to being a stay-at-home mom with a healthy volunteer resume to boot. I assumed I would be happy. My husband would be happy. My children would be happy. And all of us would be healthy.

In my mind’s eye, my life would look like this: my husband and I would drive together to our son’s soccer game. We’d cheer for our son together. We would take him and his three brothers out to eat after his game.Together. In one car. I’d ask my husband about his day and he would ask about mine. We would celebrate our son’s victory as he would tell us both – at the same time – about the kid who kept trash talking him on the field. We’d smile at one another and everyone would be content. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not a wild daydream. Families live like this everyday. Mine was supossed to.

Reality, however, does not mimic that picture. Last year, while sitting at my youngest son’s soccer game, my boyfriend and I took our seats on the far end of the bleachers. Soon, my ex-husband rolled up in his wheelchair and stopped next to us. A few minutes later, I heard a familiar voice and glanced back to see me ex-boyfriend sitting behind us. I laughed at it then, mainly out of awkward discomfort. I laugh at it now because it makes for a ridiculous story and I love ridiculous stories… even if I do sound a bit like a floozy.

I’ve written about this notion of life not turning out the way it was supposed to: https://lynnhouse.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/a-real-life-thanksgiving/ and I know I am not alone. So often I hear some variation of this phrase uttered from friends who are going through a divorce or the death of a loved one or some other traumatic incident. “How is this my life?” they ask.

This is exactly what I said to my friends yesterday as we sat by the pool catching up on each others’ lives. I told them about my son’s 20th birthday and how my ex-husband joined us for dinner. This is a rare event as he spends most days comletely bedridden from  a rapidly progressive stage of multiple sclerosis. As we sat at a local restaurant, it all seemed so normal as the banter from our boys bounced back and forth across the table. When our food arrived, things ceased normalcy. As he looked at his salmon and quinoa, my ex-husband asked one of the boys to feed him as he is incapable of moving his hands to his mouth. It seemed silly for my son to get up from across the table to feed him, so I offered to do it instead as I was seated next to him. Our four boys carried on eating and talking and laughing as I fed their father.

I told my friends that I can’t quite put words to the feelings I had around this situation. I don’t talk about the pain of our divorce much any more. Partly because it’s been eight years since he moved out, and partly because I don’t know how to share my truth about it without getting in to details that are not mine to share. Needless to say, divorce incites the kind of pain that causes your heart to PHYSICALLY HURT. The kind of pain that you hope no other loved one will ever have to experience because you don’t know how you possibly went through the deepest of pain without actually dying. But in some mysterious way, the pain ends up settling and you go about doing things  you never thought you would do. Like feeding your ex-hiusband his dinner at your son’s 20th birthday party. You do it not to be a martyr and for others to recognize what a big person you are. (The irony of sharing it here is not lost on me, but getting kudos is not my intention.) You do it because you find a way to love again. Despite all of the pain or anger or sadness, you love again because love is freedom and  the alternative is too dark a place to stay.

I wish I had a way to speed along the heartache for those of you who find yourselves asking how your life turned out this way. I know that the garment of grief is heavy; my hope is that you will not stay under its weight for long. I hope that ultimately you will understand that love provides the strength you need to shed the burden you carry. Real, honest love, that is. It cannot be manufactured. It cannot be hurried. But it can be cultivated. So when you fall into some weird scenario like feeding your ex-husband you can practice choosing love. You can do the thing you never thought you would do, the thing you never pictured when you assumed life would deal you a different hand. And in time, my friend, I think you will see that it is love that allows you to move through these questions and realize that althougth things look different, you are still okay.

 

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A Reluctant Look at Vulnerability

I didn’t want to like the book, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I’ve had my fill of self-help, personal transformation, and pop psychology books. As someone who yearns to understand the deeper meaning of my circumstances – and grow from them – I have devoured book after book on life’s complex issues.

I read books to make sense of my wavering depression. I read books to gain wisdom in mothering my four boys. I read books to grow deeper in my spiritual journey. When I found myself in need of recovery, I read books to guide me back to good health. When I entered the dark days of divorce, I read books to help heal my broken heart. When my dad’s doctor told him chemo was no longer working, I read books to comfort me in my grief.

So.Many.Books.

After a while, I needed a break from all of that self-discovery and personal renovation. I needed to live life without trying so damn hard. And so it was by happenstance that Glennon Doyle’s book, Love Warrior, moved its way to the top of my reading pile over Spring Break. I almost missed it in the small lending library next to my mom’s condo in Florida. I picked it up, looked at the cover, most likely rolled my eyes, and put it back. When nothing else looked appealing, I picked it up again and read the first couple of pages. ‘Wow! Glennon Doyle has lived my life,’ I thought, as I tucked the book under my arm and headed to the pool. And just like any old habit, once I gave into it I was off to the races.

I started Googling Glennon Doyle and following her on all the social media sites. I paid attention to the people she followed on Twitter and Instagram. It wasn’t long before I was following authors and speakers I had been avoiding for months, and even years, because I didn’t have the time or energy for their words to infiltrate my psyche.

Doyle may have made the first crack but it was Brené  Brown who really wormed her way in. I think it was a Saturday, maybe a Sunday, and I thought cleaning my room would be more enjoyable with a podcast. I pulled up my TED app and because Brown’s talk on vulnerability has about 50 quadtrillion hits or likes or listens or whatever, it was on the top of the heap. I pressed “play.”

I was sort of half listening until she started talking about the definition of courage: “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” And about vulnerability, “allowing ourselves to be truly seen” even when there are no guarantees of how we will be received. And because there are no guarantees, Brown explained, we numb vulnerability.

I stopped cleaning and sat on my bed, fully listening to the results of research she has conducted on shame and fear and disappointment, and how numbing these keeps us from connection and joy and gratitude.

I hadn’t exactly been numbing my vulnerability, but I had certainly squelched it. For months, I have been eager to write on this blog, for instance, but my own fear of being known and seen has kept me silent. I question whether I share too much. I fear that I’ll hurt others if I tell my truth. I worry that my unedited writing will be ridiculed and that I will never compare to “real” writers.

Brown helped me see that vulnerability is different than oversharing, and that it doesn’t matter if I compare to “real” writers. There are stories inside of me that rise up, stories that I want to share with my whole heart. Stories that may help others feel a little more connected and hopeful.

I would like to say I’ll start sharing these stories regularly on this blog, but the truth is, I  may not write on this blog again for months. And that’s okay. What matters more is that I show up completely in my conversations with my family, my boyfriend, my co-workers, or a complete strangers. I will choose vulnerability, rather than squelch it. The reason is found in the book that I really did not want to like:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

 

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Shackles Called Shame

Sometimes I wonder if shame is outside my back door doing pushups, ready to pounce when I open the door. Waiting to hold me down and shackle me as a prisoner who cannot move or even speak.

Of the negative emotions I have ever felt, shame is by far the most powerful. Yesterday my lack of timely communication caused a rift in one of my relationships. When I admitted how I had screwed up, I fell silent. I sat in discomfort from the reaction I received, which was merited.  I had disappointed and irritated someone who means the world to me and there was not much I could do to make it right. My modus operandi is to explain my behavior away, to detail my excuses, to make a joke – whatever it takes to lighten the grip of these shackles called shame.

No excuse felt worthy. No explanation or joke seemed fair. I had screwed up. As I drove in silence, my thoughts joined a fun, little game called, “How Much Does Lynn Suck?”

In this game, all of my character defects dance across the stage of my mind, accompanied by old tapes that shame keeps on her thumb drive when she decides to be especially injurious:

“You did it again… just like last month when you let So-And-So down.”

“This is why So-and-So didn’t love you.”

“So-and-so left because you couldn’t get your life together.”

“Why wouldn’t you take the time to consider how this was going to affect someone else?”

“You’re so … selfish

      ADD

           Thoughtless

                   Stupid

                            Hopeless”

“You’ll never change.”

As the day grew longer, I could feel myself start to fight against the shackles. I was rising up, ever so slowly. For one, these accusatory tapes that infiltrated my thoughts had to be silenced or I would be stuck for God-knows-how-long in self-loathing and pity.

I hate that I hurt/irritated/angered someone who means so much to me, and I apologized for my carelessness. Yet, if I was going to step out of this and have any chance at restoration in myself and in my relationship, I had to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself not only for messing up, but for letting fear rule me. John Milton once said, “Where shame is, there is also fear.” Ultimately, the old tapes that played in my mind were rooted in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being abandoned.

Years ago I read John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You. This quote stuck out to me back then and it resonates with me now,

“To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality.”

The reality in my life is that I am going to make mistakes and I am going to disappoint people I care about.  But you know what else is reality? That I am committed to living a life of honesty, love and (sometimes) discipline within that reality. The truth is, I love deeply, and when I give into fear,  I am cheating myself and others of that love. I stay me-focused instead of others-focused. I waste energy fighting for my image and warring against judgment. I wrestle with the uncomfortable feelings rather than sitting with them and accepting them for what they are.

I don’t want to waste that energy any longer. So in surrendering to reality tonight, I spent some time reading and thinking of things that filled my mind with:

Wholeness

Hope

Grace

Peace

Integrity

and most of all – Love – because love contains the key to loosen the shackles called shame.

 

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An Open Letter to Stizzle

Note:  Stizzle and Lizzle are the names my friend and I gave ourselves when someone accidentally mistook us for dancers he had seen somewhere. These are our make-believe stage names. (And no, we were never any kind of dancers. Watch me at a Zumba class and you’ll understand.)

Dear Stizzle,

Last night you told me you didn’t want to live anymore. You have said it before, but this time I could feel the sheer desperation seeping out of your every pore and it scared me. I could not bear the thought of losing you so I asked if you wanted to come spend the night and you answered yes, but  you didn’t think you could get here. So I got in the car and came to you. You sobbed in my arms as I entered your new home, and I held you like a child, your head buried in my shoulder and my arms wrapped tightly around your small, frail frame.

It was Christmas Eve. What happened? How did we get here? Shouldn’t it be one of the happiest times of the year? Shouldn’t we look like we did in those Christmas cards from years past  when we had our four respective children and our handsome husbands draped around us like a cashmere blanket all warm and secure?

Instead you sat on the steps and I plopped on the floor, too tired to find real furniture where normal people would sit. This is triage, I thought; this is where those of us who know suffering come to our broken friends to acknowledge the trauma and help them stay alive. That’s all I could do for you: sit, cry, listen, pray. I’ve been through severe emotional distress, Stiz – as you well know – and this is what broken, f****d up people do for each other. Even on Christmas Eve. Especially on Christmas Eve.

This is how we survive when our husbands have left and the kids are spending the holidays with him this year. This is how we get through the pain of friends who vanished without an explanation because our lives have become too messy for them to handle. This is what we do when our families live too far away or don’t realize the utter pain we live in, and leave us alone to stagger through our shame and grief.

We show up. Sometimes we try to make sense of our lives with words. Sometimes we simply sit with the silence. So that’s what we did.  And after a couple hours, I saw how your eyes grew heavy and I knew it would be safe to leave you as you fell sleep. So I stroked your head for a few minutes and let you snuggle into your bed.

And now, on Christmas Day, you have a few hours of precious time with your kids but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m convinced it probably never will. But I want to tell you something, Stiz. A miracle happened this morning as my boys gathered around the breakfast table.

For as long as I can remember, we have gone around the table on Christmas morning and gifted each person with words of appreciation and love. Each person has a turn “being it” as the rest of us share what we’ve seen in that person’s life that year. Mostly, with boys, it can be fairly surfacey. They say things like, “I like how you love soccer so much.” Or, “You’re really good with Legos.” But this year something magical happened.

Each of them dove deep into the well of appreciation for their brothers. They talked about each other’s loyalty to their friends, their determination in reaching their goals, and their dedication to each of their crafts as they called them, whether it’s soccer, photography, woodworking or cycling. They mentioned each other’s humility and selflessness. Their humor. Their kindness. Their integrity. One by one, they gave generously with words of pride and admiration for their brothers.

And when it came time for me to be in the “hot-seat”, do you know what they said, Stiz? They said they noticed my strength. My strength! When my boyfriend of five years and I broke up, I didn’t fall completely apart, they said,  although it certainly felt like it. In fact, I felt like I was going through a second divorce and that I was neglecting them when I couldn’t get out of bed or when I ordered carry-out for the third night in a row. But what they saw was that I rose one day – if only for a moment – to fix dinner or drive one to soccer or show up at a cycling race. They saw me caring for them in the midst of a messy house and puffy eyes. They saw that I didn’t hide from pain but that I chose to face it and ride the waves of grief.

One of them told me he has learned from me because I’ve talked openly about how I’ve been trying to fill my life with relationships instead of being okay with myself and that he can see that he does that, too. One mentioned that he appreciates the example I show him in how to love people, like the kids who come in my office at work, or like going to your house last night when you needed a friend. The balance of being a working mom, cooking dinner, talking about real life and cheering them on in their endeavors, despite my emotional pain, did not go unnoticed. Their observations blew me away and humbled me.

I’m confident this will be your narrative one day, too, within the scope of your unique family. When your kids are older, and the dust has settled, they will see how you have risen again in strength. How you have done the best you could do in the deep, deep pain you are living through. One day they will no longer be children, and they will start to see you through the eyes of an adult and truly appreciate that you love them more than they ever knew possible. It won’t happen quickly but I believe that one day, when you have ridden out this vast landscape of sorrow, your children will notice your strength and dignity.

There are more of us, Stiz. More women who live with the effects of trauma and loss and one day you too will sit with one of them on Christmas Eve, and you will be able to tell her that little by little, it does get better. As long as we start making healthy choices and allowing ourselves to feel the pain, it will get better.

While you are waiting for these future miracles, I’ll continue to sit in the mess with you as you and so many others have done with me, and together we will not just stay alive we will find a way to truly live and love again.

I love you!

Lizzle

 

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A Real Life Thanksgiving

I write this as I sit in my ex-husband’s apartment. I brought the boys over to spend some time with him before we head to my brother’s house for our Thanksgiving meal. I hear my four boys playing a game in his bedroom, where he spends the majority of his time these days, battling the debilitating monster called multiple sclerosis.

Yesterday, I sat in this same apartment to visit with his sister and her family who I hadn’t seen since shortly after our divorce. We sat in a circle chatting: my ex-husband, his girlfriend, her daughter, my boys, my ex-sister-in law, her husband, and their two young kids. As my friend Jenni said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

It’s not how life was supposed to turn out. His disease. Our divorce. Raising four boys in separate households. And now awkward visits with former family members I barely know anymore, while sitting next to my ex-husband’s girlfriend on the couch.

But this is real life. And the truth is while my heart breaks for my ex-husband’s hardships, it also overflows with thanksgiving. Today I can sit at his kitchen table knowing we want what is best for one another rather than harboring anger and bitterness over things in our past.  I am thankful for his girlfriend, who I have come to adore, as she helps him in any way she can despite her own heartache over his health. And I thank a gracious God that my boys know that both their dad and I love them deeply despite all of our shortcomings.

When we leave here we will go to my brother’s house for our first Thanksgiving without my dad. Last year at this time, he was able to make it to the table for a few minutes, but barely touched his food. He still had his sense of humor intact but his strength was depleted. We took photos as we knew it would be his last Thanksgiving with us on earth, images we cherish now.

Again, it feels like this is just not the way life was supposed to be. Logically, I know that no one escapes death or the grief that comes with saying goodbye to those we love. But that doesn’t change how I long to have my dad sit around the table again with us tonight. How I long to hear his jokes or his thoughts on the latest book he’s reading. How I long to smell his aftershave when I snuggle next to him on the couch after our meal.

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Last Thanksgiving: my boys and my dad

Yet, I am confident that being with my family will be filled with love, laughter and thankfulness. It’s what we do. We love one another, however imperfectly. We laugh at ourselves and one another (in love, of course). And we always find time to share in thankfulness. We may shed some tears when we consider one less chair at the table but we will offer up our memories and gratitude for having had such a loving, generous man in our lives.

Gratitude allows us to find joy even in the achiness of loss. At its core, my gratitude is rooted in a God who has loved me with a love that is beyond compare. A God who has shown he is trustworthy, and a God who has equipped me with a hope that refuses to leave me crushed, defeated or in despair.

I have no other way to explain how both sorrow and joy can exist together. Life is messy and complicated and painful. But when I trust in the only One who is faithful, when I thank him for  all he has done despite the way I thought life would be, when I acknowledge the mind-boggling gift of the Holy Spirit, I can do nothing BUT overflow with gratitude.

So for those of you who enter into Thanksgiving with a reality that is far from the picture you had imagined for your life, I offer a prayer for you today. It’s one I cling to as well:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

 

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Heartbreak America

Heartbreak. All over America, people are talking of their heartbreak. On this day after the election of Donald Trump as our next president, many people feel as if some sort of joke has gone terribly wrong. Every other social media post I read, there is disbelief, consternation and despair. Parents talk of their children crying upon waking to the news this morning. And even now, the evening after the election, protestors have taken to the streets.

We judge each other, don’t we? We feel so strongly about this that we have thrown knives, heck… sometimes even flaming swords. We wonder how on earth anyone we call friend could possibly vote one way or the other. It’s all just one big heartbreak. But Friends, the day after an election does not hold a corner on the market of heartbreak. Every day those around us are falling apart, trying to make sense of their lives, wondering what the future holds.

On a global level, bad news hits us every day. Our black neighbors are shot and killed during traffic stops. City policemen are gunned down in retaliation. Young women are raped and left for dead on college campuses. Children are sold by their own parents as sex slaves. Refugee women stand in line for hours to get food for their hungry babies. Humanitarian workers are beheaded while trying to serve those in need.

And in our own homes: Our brother gets colon cancer. Our friend’s teenage son dies in a car accident. An old high school friend loses his job while trying to put two daughters through college. Our sister-in-law enters hospice. Our son is lost in his latest high. Our daughter gets pregnant during her senior year. Our husband admits his affair.

It’s tragic. All of it. The global issues and the local, right-in-our-home issues. If you’ve ever lived through any of the above scenarios you are fully aware that life can be devastatingly heartbreaking. You feel as if the air has been sucked out of your lungs and you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to get out of bed again.

But I promise you, there is hope. How do I know this? Because I have tasted and seen it through this thing called love. One of my favorite lines of all time is from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

And it seems to me, at a time like this, we could all stand to see the face of God. I wonder what would happen if we could turn toward His face rather than toward fear and trepidation of what is to come.

When my dad was about to breathe his last breath, I sang worship songs to him because it was the only way I knew we could truly connect in that moment. I was obviously stuck here on earth while he already had one foot in heaven. So I sang this:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face.

And the things of earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Therein lies my hope now as well. To look full into His face. To allow the messy, ugly places of life to become dim so God’s glory, His beauty can bloom more fully.  It means that the troubles we face now, while very real, do not have to own me, control me or have me living in fear. Instead I need not look far for those who are living with heartbreak so I can offer love and care to them, whether it’s within their angst over this election or any other grievous event. There is where we all win.

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The Light of the Moon

Most of my weekends these days are spent driving to either a soccer venue or a cycling race, and sometimes both. This morning had us in the car by 6 a.m. heading to a cycling race in Ohio. Driving east, the sky began to lighten little by little. As the sky started turning shades of pink and purple, threaded with gold, I looked in my side mirror before switching lanes. There in the reflection of my mirror hung the largest full moon I’ve seen in some time.

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Actually, I had seen it last night. The big white ball suspended in the dark sky, but I was surprised to see it now – behind me – where the sky was trying to hold on to what was left of nighttime.

As I drove in silence while my son and his friends slept, I thought about the juxtaposition of the moon behind me and the sun in front of me. The years have brought darkness. Some of it was a direct result of my actions while other times I was a reluctant participant in the dark schemes beyond my control.

The loss of a friend. The end of my marriage. The death of my father. All of those circumstances hemmed me in with a darkness that, at times, felt unbearable and hopeless. Yet, in God’s grace and goodness, he always, ALWAYS illuminated the way. He didn’t always hang the brightest full moon. Sometimes it was barely a sliver. And some nights, the light was completely eclipsed. But faith and truth taught me to trust that the light, no matter how slight, was still there. Still behind whatever was veiling it at any given time. Furthermore, I learned to trust that the nighttime would not last forever. Dawn would always break with a magnificent feast of color and new hope spread out before me.

When we arrived in Ohio, I had some time between races to hike for an hour or so. This particular race took place in a beautiful state park with plenty of trails that traversed alongside the Little Miami River. With the sun now fully overhead, I started to thank God for the light he brought to me when all else seemed dark in my life. 

Friends, that light is you. You have held me when I felt unlovable. You have cried with me when my world fell apart. You have cooked me dinner. Cleaned my house. You have written me notes. Sent me books. Handed me kleenex. I am forever grateful that God uses relationships…  deep, loving, irreplaceable friendships to bring us into light.

As I walked and prayed, I praised God for being the Light of the World, and asked him…if he so desired… to help me be someone’s light, to use me as someone’s moon, whether crescent or full, so I can help bring truth and healing in an otherwise dark and lonesome sky. 

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He is not here

Part of me thought I would find him here. But he’s just as gone here in Florida as he is back in Indiana. Re-experiencing the loss feels as fresh here as it was two months ago when he took his last breath. I walk into his closet, at the Florida condo, and pick up his shirts, his shoes, his pajamas, his baseball hats. I hear him ask me which one I want to wear, as he knows I will come looking for a cap to hide my frizzy hair from this humidity.  I see him in my memory tossing each one at me… “Cape Cod? Copperleaf? Lexus?” He names them all according to their embroidered logos. I tease him that he shouldn’t throw them at me unless he wants to give me another scar on my lip like the one I have from the book he tossed at me when I was little. I choose Copperleaf as it reminds me of his love of golf – or at least the love of being with his friends, on the course, enjoying the warm Florida sun.

During my first bike ride around Bonita Bay, I let the tears burn my already sun-kissed face as I recall the image of us sitting in the oncologists’ exam room as we learned that the cancer had spread to his lungs and pelvic bones. He turned to my mom and with all the energy he could muster in his worn-out body, he lifted his head and said, “I guess we’re not going to Florida,” and then let his chin fall back to his chest. My heart shattered in that moment. He loved it here. He loved being with my mom and their friends and my family and my brothers and their families. He worked so hard to earn all of this and he shared it with us so unselfishly, so graciously.

He should be here, I thought, as I rode the trails he loved to ride with Lily, their fluffy, white Maltese in his basket. God had different plans, however, and I wonder how long it will be until I can fully accept that he is gone from this earth. Perhaps it’s a hard pill to swallow because he enjoyed this life so much. I could tell he didn’t want to go. Those last days of his life, he fought and fought to stay alive. He called out to God over and over until he finally slipped into a coma. When he finally took his last breath, it was so obvious he was gone. There was absolutely no life in this man who had been so full of it. (I can hear him now: “Yep, I was full of it, alright.”)

Yet he still lives on in the memories of our rich history and in the reminders that call him to mind. Yesterday, I saw him at the table full of men enjoying lunch and laughter at De Romo’s. I see his hands in my own as I hold the book he loaned me last year. I feel him hovering nearby as I sit on the bench at our mutually favorite writing spot, overlooking the Imperial River. I hear him asking us to get in the car so we’ll make it to church on time. I see him sitting on a lounge chair, watching my boys and their cousins throw the football on the beach. I see him lying on his stomach, next to Asher, as he looks under the leaking refrigerator trying to diagnose a problem. I see him lagging behind on his bike as he and the boys ride to The Ship Store, next to Backwater Jack’s, so he can buy them ice cream first thing in the morning – because that’s the type of grandpa he was.

He was a man who lived with passion and poured so much into our lives that it’s no wonder our hearts break a little more at every turn. At church this morning, I tried to imagine how Mary felt when she thought she had lost her Jesus. How upside down her life must have seemed. The shock she no doubt experienced as she stumbled through those first hours and days… until she encountered him again. Hope fulfilled in the living Christ.

I walk with faith, albeit sometimes small, that my dad – who was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ – is more alive than ever, that he will live  in Christ forever. In my sorrow, it is hard to grasp but due to the resurrected King, I believe he is okay, that he’s healthy and strong and filled with a complete joy like never before. Until we meet again, I will continue to recite the Serenity Prayer, and pay particular attention to the second verse which holds out the hope to which I cling… for my dad and for all of us:

God, grant me the serenity to

Accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His Will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Three of my four boys adding flowers to the Cross at church in honor of their grandpa.

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As he lay dying

It’s quiet here in my parent’s house. Too quiet. My dad is lying in his bed, struggling to find a comfortable position for his weak body that now holds tubes to drain his bladder and kidneys. My mom has gone to run errands, and we no longer want to leave him alone, in case he would try to get out of bed unassisted.

So much runs through my mind each day, as I’m sure is always the case when a loved one is close to death. Sometimes the memories flow chronologically. I recall the many times, as a child, I jumped into my dad’s arms when he came home from work. He would pick me up and toss me from side to side, until one day I was simply too big for him to lift. Other times the memories come randomly, like the other night when I was making dinner. As I shredded the beets for a salad, I remember how I only recently found out my dad hates beets.  Then I project ahead and wonder if I will always remember what his voice sounds like. How he smells. His facial expressions. His snoring that could wake up the entire household.

Through this entire journey, however, I feel so blessed.  It makes me wonder why anyone would choose euthanasia and miss out on the powerful, sweet memories we are creating even now. I walked into his room today and asked if he needed anything. “Yes, kiss my hand,” he said, as he raised his left hand toward me. “That’s easy,” I responded, as I held his hand to my lips and then rubbed his frigid fingers.

On Christmas Eve, when he was a bit stronger, I went into their bedroom to tell him we were leaving and that I loved him. “Pray for me,” he said, “I’m scared.” I crawled onto my parent’s bed and held his hand. We cried together and prayed together. I told him how we would be okay and how he would be with Jesus and one day we would join him there. I told him how I often imagined I was lying in the palm of Jesus’ hand when I was scared or sad. He told me that was a lovely imagine. He said I had been a wonderful daughter and I told him he’d been the best father. He told me to be there for my mom, and we talked about our backpacking trip and how special it was. Then he said, “I love you,” over and over, as he stroked the top of my head. I was both his baby and his caretaker.

I understand that it’s hard to see loved ones deteriorate. There was not an ounce of me that wanted to go to the hospital this week for what would obviously be my dad’s final appointment with his oncologist. I wanted to run through those hospital hallways, out the doors, and back to my car instead of facing the doctor as he said there’s nothing else they can do except try to keep him comfortable. 

I understand how hard it is to be present and face reality. Focusing at work is hard. Doing daily chores are hard. Being there for others is hard.

I understand that it may seem easier to skip straight to death and avoid all of this affliction and pain. But why? WHY would anyone give up the opportunity to walk into suffering with someone they love? Why lose the chance to see how God will meet you, provide for you and carry you? 

I’ve had many beautiful moments in my life. Many of those moments have been a result of the love and care and graciousness of my dad. While I wish he didn’t have to suffer, I would not trade a moment of these past few months, and days and soon only moments that I get to witness God’s transformation and change in this man so many have loved. Scripture says it best, in 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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Jolted Awake

Only 5 percent of me wants to drive my son to Lexington for a cyclocross race today. The other 95 percent wants to stay home to catch up on laundry and other household chores that need attention. The idea of driving six hours in one day seems like a waste of time. The 5 percent of me that wants to go knows that the one-on-one times with my children go by all too quickly, and I should take advantage of them.

When my second born jolts me awake at 6:45, as promised, I’m still dragging my feet, toying with excuses I can use to bow out of this trip. Reluctantly, I throw on a pair of jeans, brush my teeth, apply a layer of mascara and some deodorant, and scramble around looking for my flip flops. I reason that the t-shirt I wore to bed will suffice because that’s how I roll on days like these.

The sky is still dark. Who gets up this early on the weekend, I ask myself with a pouty face. As Eli settles into his seat to go back to sleep, I drive in silence. I pray. My mind wanders. I try to pray again. I ask God why he created me with ADD. My mind wanders some more.

Then I notice my surroundings. As a sleep-in kind of girl, I often miss the beauty of the dawn. But now I watch in awe as the sky turns all sorts of pinks and purples and the sun creates a golden rim around each cloud. The fog hugs the fields, shrouding the cattle and the crops in a thin milky layer of atmosphere. This is my prayer. No words, just praise and gratitude as I watch God unwrap this gift called morning.

I look over at my son who is now breathing deeply in his slumber. I wonder how often I’ve slept through the dawns of his life. Have I fully embraced the opportunities to see how God is unwrapping the gifts that are contained within him?

Sometimes. Other times I’m tired. Or selfish. Or busy with things that are far less important like laundry and household chores. And as I drive, I’m reminded that it goes so quickly.  Within a few miles, the fog has disappeared and the sky has settled into it’s regular light blue hue. Just like my boys’ childhood, it all moves along so quickly as they change into adolescents, young men and then full grown adults.

But today… today I have this incredible opportunity to watch as Eli puts his perseverance, his devotion and his entire strength to the test.IMG_0963

As he is called up to the start line, the sun full in the sky, I see the determination in his face. The whistle blows. Lap after lap he pushes and pushes. It’s hot, and he is drenched with sweat. He breathes hard as he lifts his bike over the obstacles on the course. He develops a blister on his hand from gripping his handlebars while riding the hills and dips, and as he navigates the hairpin turns with precision. And I don’t miss a moment.

I don’t miss it because my boy jolted me awake this morning. Then God reminded me to stay awake lest I miss the beauty of his creation, both in nature and human endeavor, as I watch my son Eli cross the finish line in a cyclocross race in Lexington. Where I want to be – all 100 percent of me.

Categories: A Day in the Life, Parenting Boys | Tags: | 6 Comments

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