Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorable Week

I have an email in my inbox thanking me for both having written a letter to the governor and for having signed a petition to "Save the Greater-Sage Grouse." Not kidding.

As admirable as such causes are, I have no recollection of doing those things.  Such are the risks of leaving email open in a one computer house of five other people who love to tap/beat on keys.

Though given the week I had, I would not be absolutely surprised if I had done these things and simply forgotten.  Stress can do that to a person, right?

What stresses... well, my grandfather, a WWII Navy sub vet, is not doing well and is currently refusing medical attention, preferring to "tough things out" at home. Finances have been... fun. Our 1997 car is finally dying, though I'm thankful the van holds up. And this post written by a college friend felt right on the mark in some areas of my life.  

Also we had to say goodbye to "Annie"!  It's an adjustment, going back to "normal" after so many weekends of "life on stage." I'm adjusting well, only have four auditions planned. :) Warbucks and Grace are gonna miss this Annie; Rhiannon is going to be trying out for the national "Annie" on tour... we wish her the best!

And yes, Dan's hair is growing back.  Thanks for asking. :D

Some good things have happened though.  We, tearlessly, replaced this beauty that's been with us for almost a decade, and has been baking cakes for longer than I've been alive, I fear:

My eldest showed me that hundreds of dollars and tens of hours driving to her music homeschool co-op was totally worth it.  She played violin. 

She rang hand-bells. She sang a solo. All in a black dress with heels, calm, cool, collected, and confident.  Can't help but be proud as a mom in such a moment. Proud of that and of the four year old who can now pump on the swing herself, no pushes necessary.  Bittersweet.  Oh, and this one "learned" to put on makeup while behind the couch with my purse. Scary. 

Other positives is that we've been putting the grill to work, seeing some friends, and overall enjoying the "weather nirvana of the northeast." Don't be too envious; we were seriously overdue for a break up here.

Hope we all have a better week, and a peaceful remembering day, particularly of those who served our country.  Thank you Grandpa.  

And thank you to all I've never met who fought for our freedoms.  We honor you.

Psalms 33:20-22
"Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you."

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Let it Go" and Desires of the Heart

You know those dreams where you go to the mall and realize you're wearing pj's?  Kinda like when you do a 2 AM rant and you wake up to find it on Patheos.  On the blog of one of my favorite writers, no less.  (blush)

Inspired by Simcha, plush animals, the urge to just laugh at the whole thing, and a rainy day... I felt the need to sing and act for you, putting my own interpretation on this "art":

Yes, that's a blue marker.  A "washable" one...

And then to get just slightly serious: why yes, this is all fuss about a drawing.  But it alarmed me personally because I was once "the girl with the smaller bear."

I was raised--with the best of intentions--to believe that sacrifice was good simply because it was hard.  I'll get into all that more later I'm sure, but generally I was taught that "God's will" was often discovered by seeking what was most difficult, something that would hurt to do but that "God would reward" me for.

This impression can send a person down a lot of wrong paths. Instead of listening to what God has put in one's heart to love--the interior inclinations He uses to direct us to His will--a person raised with, well, this drawing's "philosophy" does the exact opposite. "If I love x, it would be 'the better/holier/right thing' to give x up." One is definitely left with the overall impression that if something is difficult, it is "good/holy/meritorious"; if something's easy, welllll you're doing something wrong. And having grown through these notions... I don't think God intended us to quite have such perspectives.

Children need to be taught, first, that God loves them.  That tremendous truth alone takes a lifetime to learn.  Not only that: He wants us to be happy. Sometimes it is by trusting Him blindly and surrendering to a Divine Will we don't understand.  But more often than not, it's probably by loving Him from where we are and keeping the darn teddy bear He knows we love, because--after all--He created us.

And yes, from now on, I should totally--somehow--work a teddy bear into any theology I touch on. This is a must. You're welcome.

Give God Your Teddy Bear and Get a Bigger One!

I'm in an online group of Christian homeschoolers.  Their posts at times make me wonder if I, myself, can actually be Christian or homeschool... I mean, maybe one or the other, but surely, not both. 

About 50 of them "liked" the following picture:

This drawing (by an unknown source and author) was hailed in the comments as "an excellent visual for our kiddos," "Profound... says it all," "a vocation story in pictures" and as... well, she-who-will-remain-anonymous (because I'll assume she meant this really well) puts it best:
AWW!! Thank you for sharing this. I'm going to share it with my 5-year old. I don't think he needs any help in this department since he tells me that he loves Jesus more than he loves me (yes, my heart swells), but I want to keep reaffirming his beliefs. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
Yes, "reaffirming his beliefs" that... but wait. No. I will resist commenting on that comment for now, in hopes that God will take the sarcastic comments that I'd currently love to utter and--in return--inspire me with even snarkier things to say, later.

Oh dear, ahem, I-should-be-sorry-but-I'm-tired-and-annoyed: Anyway, when I first saw the pic, I actually thought someone was just making fun of us crazy Christians again. But then, I realized it was--likely--well-intended and promoted by a Christian. I also realized that my dismay was a minority position... not just from the 47 likes, but from the lack of an answer to my objection to this drawing (though it did get "liked" once, so it's me and that gal, yeah!) 

I thought it wisest to spell it out my concerns here on my own personal soap box / blog rather than start a firestorm with well-meaning enthusiasts of the dear Lord's desire for teddy bears:

1. The "Give to Get" implication.  Don't give something to God expecting something better back. He probably gave you what you love in the first place, and also, when we "give" we're not supposed to expect anything back, right?  (Luke 6:35)

So don't give to acquire, and please (please) don't teach your kids to give up what they love so God gives them something even better. Please.  Especially not your five-year-old son.  

Like... here's some five-year-old reasoning using the above illustration: "I will put 25 cents in the poor box, and God will give me $25 dollars back."

NOT that He won't, necessarily.  But it's really, really bad motivation for giving up your favorite stuffed animal. Or giving up anything you love, for that matter.

2. The Completely Hidden Bigger Bear

Yes, God does sometimes require us to give up things that we love. And let me be clear: if Jesus appears to me, gets down on one knee, and asks me for ANYTHING, I promise to give it to Him. 

But when God wants us to give up a job that we love, for instance, in order to be freed up for something more important like, say, having kids... well, first of all, He often does give us a glimpse of "the bigger teddy bear" to keep us motivated.  

Sometimes we give up good things for better things that we perceive God to be calling us to. Not that God hasn't ever asked people to give up good things "blind"... but I think a positive motivation is probably, most often, at least somewhat apparent.

3. "If it's hard, it's holy; if it's difficult, it's good; if it's painful, it's progress" etc etc

Oh, not necessarily.  And that notion is written all over this pic... giving up that teddy bear might be as extreme as God's testing of Abraham, at least to a little kid, c'mon now... Nuff said on that. 

4. "You should give up what you love."

Took me till adulthood to learn that God actually often guides us to His will using the desires of our heart (Psalm 20:4), not by teaching us to always "give up" what we love. 

There's another Psalm that speaks of this too: "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart's desires." Ps. 37:4 

5. "God wants us to give up what we love."

Similar to the above, but emphasis on what "God wants."  Guess what I think about WWJD when this girl said, "But I love it God"?  I think He'd grin and tell her to keep her tiny teddy (I mean really, "unknown artist." Really?!)

6. Using a tiny teddy bear instead of a knife. 

Or a rusty nail.  Or a lit match. This picture TOTALLY works if the child is holding something dangerous, bad, or otherwise unhealthy. Then, Jesus is being a good and loving Parent who knows best even if the child doesn't, not a creepy stranger asking for a kid's favorite toy...


7.  The presence of random blue paint splotches. Look:

What's up with that?  I asked all the 40-odd "likers" on the wall and no one explained it to me... sniff.  And who says "bigger is better"... I mean, we're talking about teddy bears here. I prefer Beanie Babies, myself...

Oh, and the complete lack of proper punctuation... I think I spy an incorrect use of ellipsis (_I_ should know, I do it all the time. Like here... and here...) And yeah, where's the, like, comma? Or a period.  

I'm going to bed... But in the meantime: Please, please don't use that picture to demonstrate to your children our relationship with God.  Instead, how about teaching about trusting God and His love for us with:

"What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, 
will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 
or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  
If you then . . . know how to give good gifts to your children, 
how much more will your heavenly Father?"
 Luke 11:10-12
(N.B. The ellipsis was used properly in the above quote. But no where else...)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

When the reverse proved unrealistic and somewhat undesirable, for various reasons

I've locked myself out on the porch this evening.  :D

It is an absolutely perfect time to be outside: the lowering sun glowing through the vines winding up the pillars, birds and lawn mowers competing to be heard, the smell of cookouts and lilacs in the air.  When the weather permits time outside, I love our little home across from the park, where all four of my girls gathered fistfuls of dandelions to wilt on my windowsills. I hope they never outgrow the belief that I--most particularly--"love" these weeds, if only because it keeps them from picking the neighbor's tulips and daffodils.

I determined to not have unrealistic expectations on this day, and this year, it worked for me. So when I was woken up too early in order to be given handmade bookmarks they couldn't wait one more second to bestow, when cards were thrust at me in the shower by grinning toddlers, when church involved a communion line fit over a misplaced barrette, when it was discovered that all the nutella for the crepes had been eaten via spoon, and when four-year-old tempers flared when, at first, they couldn't get into the tree by themselves, and again later, when they couldn't get down solo either,

Cecilia, in the extremely brief time between tree tantrums
when the cut-outs from handmade cards were left all over the table and floor, and when we somehow ended up at Aldi to buy liverwurst... I've been fine.  I've been happy, grateful, kept my focus, and was generally non-PMSy about the whole thing. As you mom's know, it's not always easy to see the blessings through the mess.  But the moments when we can... those are beautiful.

And.... no word of a lie... my preschooler just came outside to see me in her birthday suit with a happy sigh, commenting, "Mom, it's just you and me, on Mother's Day," shortly followed by her little sister exactly as pictured above other than that she has since accessorized with an opened, industrial-sized bag of chips. Can't make this stuff up....  Think "Mom" might just be needed about now...

In brief, I'm hoping that all of you with mother's hearts out there had a similar experience of feeling the blessings of today; would love to know what your experiences were if you care to share here.  :)  Love, peace, and joy to you all.

(Love this image!) "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you ..."  Isaiah 66:13
Linked to This, That, and the Other Thing

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lessons at a Death Bed

She had been widowed in her 30's.  Raised four boys on her own.  Scrubbed floors for decades to support them. Read herself into an education she wasn't allowed as a child, being a girl and all.  Read until her sight failed her in her 60's; after that, she'd crank her hearing aids to listen to books on cassette. Photos from a lifetime of birthdays and babies hung above her bed. 

Bottom right: Nana in the middle of her 4 sons; above that, her and her husband and oldest child
And yeah, I'm up there in a high chair, stirring cookies with a wooden spoon :)
Over the years, somehow, she had put enough dimes, nickels, and dollars aside to fully pay for a funeral she thought she'd need a whole lot sooner than she did.  

But at 98, with a broken hip, a sudden onset of dementia, and a body that was finally failing, she'd finally find a use for those 1980 savings bonds.  

Nana knew she was going.  And she handled it with the simple grace she'd shown in the face of any adversity.  

"You're going to God, Ma," her son choked.  "You'll be on your way soon." 

She had squeezed his hand. "I'm so tired. I'm ready. It's okay." She gave him a shaky kiss on the cheek. "I love you.  Tell everyone I love them."  

As her mind started slipping, she wandered into her past. Gleefully, she told one of her favorite stories: she reminded her baby boy of how he'd been caught speeding when he'd first gotten his license.  

"Do you remember, Bill?" 

"Yes Ma.  I sure do."  

She chuckled. "The judge told you, 'You listen to your mother or you'll hear from me!' And you listened from then on." Her eyes twinkled a little.  But then she settled back into her pillow with a vague look.

It was her last story.  We sang some old songs with her, including "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." She actually sang with us for the final few words.  Her last song.

"Terminal agitation."  I hadn't known what that was before, but I do now.  And Nana... man, she was a fighter.  While her mind had acquiesced to the fact that it was "her time," her body and spirit were used to fighting through every adversity.  I admired and pitied her, stroking her hand as the morphine for her hip pain started to take effect.  I jumped when she'd suddenly lunge from a lying to a full sitting position. Over and over again.

"Something's wrong. Oh, there's something wrong." Wincing, twisting, and moaning, she slipped in and out of lucidity, uncertain what was going on.  "Where am I? What day is it?  Oh. Help me." 

It was heartbreaking.

We'd settle her down back into the pillow.  We'd tell her the time, the date, who was there, where people were, and encouraged her to relax.  

"We'll take care of you, Nana.  You're all right, you're all right," I'd soothe.

It felt funny, saying that.

Finally, she settled somewhat. A sense of determination was about her. "Water," she'd say calmly and firmly. "Water." I'd shakily hold the styrofoam cup with the bendy straw to her lips. She'd drink a little and cough a lot; her brain was forgetting how to swallow.  I'd put down the cup and stroke her hand.  A minute later... "Water." I fumbled for the cup, and she fumbled for the straw, again.  And again. "Water."

Her last comprehensible word, repeated and responded to, over and over, till the sleeping came.

My kids came to say goodbye.  I waited till she was settled more, then had them quietly slip in to give her a kiss on the forehead.  The preschoolers came in next.  My four year old solemnly waved at the food of the bed. Leaving, she loudly declared, "I'll miss her a little bit." Classic Ce.

We chuckled.  But when it was my toddler's turn, Nana was agitated again.  

Darn it.

I paused for a moment, then went with my gut.  Since Fliss seemed calm, I walked swiftly up to Nana, put my daughter's small hand in her gnarled one, and announced, "Nana, the baby's here." 

Nana actually stopped moaning. She actually opened her eyes.  Leaning forward, she pressed her forehead to Fliss's forehead, which was their special way of greeting each other. 

And there it was.  Nana's last smile. 

"So, it could be any time.  Well--to be precise--it could be seven minutes, or it could be seven days.  I'd advise you all taking shifts through the night; don't all be here all at once, you'll burn out."

Hospice left us with that advise. Four adult brothers who had gathered from as far as Nebraska and as near as down the street stood somberly around the bed, looking at their intermittently breathing, unconscious mom: a powerhouse of stubborn will and determined energy suddenly stilling. And none of them could stay to watch the inevitable happen, gradually or suddenly, however God had ordained this passing.  And none of us knew when that would be.  

That's how my sister, my cousin, and myself ended up spending three nights with Grandma/Nana.  Three nights the still trouble my dreams, because it's so sad to see someone you love leaving so definitely.  But also, these were three nights of lessons that I'll truly treasure forever.  

1.  As I learned awhile ago now, you don't have to be physically present with someone in order to feel their love.  In a special way as she was leaving this world, and particularly since she's left it, I've felt a connection with my grandmother like never before.  Now it's no longer about whether or not I have time or a possible cold that would prevent me from getting to the nursing home. In a heartbeat, I can be "with" her in spirit, in memory, and in love.

2.  Being beside a deathbed made me see in a renewed way what honesty is. There is no pretense when death is approaching. People cry and laugh openly, together and without a sense of shame for doing so.  The important things are spoken, sung, and prayed.  You find yourself doing all the things you wish you had done before, and the ones, looking back, that you're glad you'd done.

Suddenly, it was perfectly normal for me to address a sleeping woman with the following: "Hey Nana ,I'm gonna remind you about a story about the time I kicked you when I was three--sorry about that, by the way--followed by a rosary, and then remember those lemon drops you used to give us?  We don't actually like them, but we love you... and you know, I think I'm gonna like them, now.  And here, I'll sing Amazing Grace. Two or three times. Yes, there are that many verses.  And then I'm gonna swab your mouth with ice water and eat about a pound of chocolate... man, I wish I could split this with you.  I wish I remembered if you liked milk or dark best.  Hey, does anyone remember which Nana liked best? Huh. Hope someone asked her. I'd want to know that, about her..." 

3. Fear is definitely a part of the experience, though it wasn't the overriding emotion.  In the quiet hours of the night, very drowsy and drained by emotion, my tired brain would wonder if Nana "being comfortable" simply meant "too doped up by meds to tell us otherwise."  

I prayed this wasn't so. I prayed the noises she made weren't all moans, or more requests for the water she could no longer swallow.  I hoped she was talking to the angels already. I prayed the nurses were right about not giving her an IV (which they swore would just worsen her condition), and right about giving her oxygen, which they insisted would simply make her more at ease.  It was alarming when her breathing suddenly changed, or when her feet twitched. I hoped she was okay.  I knew she both wasn't and was. I knew she would be okay, ultimately. But it was hard not knowing when. I hoped. I prayed.

4.  Death is conflict.  The body fighting to stay, the spirit fighting to go. Seemed kinda like coaching a woman in labor sometimes, urging the one in darkness to find the light. 

My sweet cousin Deb, a 50 year old mom of 7, tried her best. When Nana started to gasp, we'd all lean forward, stroking her hands, murmuring encouragement and comfort. "Go Grandma. You've done your work. Fly to the Lord." Deb urged. "Take Grandpa's hand, he's waiting for you; Freddy's waited for you for 66 years, that's a long time apart..."  

A couple more gasps followed. Then Deb was suddenly saying sternly, "Breathe, Grandma! Breathe!"  

It's hard to know what to do.  Every other time in life, we want the person to "just breathe."  But now...

Please go.  Please stay.

5.  There is room for humor and joy, even around death.  Comic relief is kinda necessary for humans... you can't maintain the weight of sheer sorrow for hours on end.  At least, not at the deathbed of someone who's lived almost a century.  Sad she was leaving of course, but so, so happy for her; she had outlived most of her family and friends, and a glorious reunion was at hand. And the Beatific Vision wouldn't be bad either. 

So there were tears of hilarity too. Nana, my sis, my cousin, and I: we were a bunch of gals having a slumber party, in some ways, something the nursing home and Nana's stern practicality would never have allowed at any other time. At one point, there was a fashion show with a pair of brown plaid pj's.  

We argued that, hereafter, we would be "The Sisterhood of the Traveling PJ's," and would be sure to mail the lovely things to Nebraska so Deb could have her turn with them. Maybe you'd have to be there but oh... I think Nana was enjoying it, thoroughly. She was always a prankster and a witty practical joker herself.  Which might have been why... she wasn't going anywhere. So we drank strong coffee, and accepted the staff's offer of danishes. And waited. 

And this will be my sister's expression, again, if she finds out I've used these photos. 
6.  Hospice told us that the dying--despite being asleep--can definitely hear us. And that they, in some ways, choose when and how to go.  I'd always been told that pets--cats in particular--choose where to die, and whether or not to die alone (seems cats usually like the privacy.) So when Nana had hung on for three days of sleepovers with us, we figured we were all much too entertaining to possibly leave behind, and maybe her body and spirit just needed some quiet and privacy to slip away.  

We left her that night.  I still couldn't sleep.  I'd toss and turn, reaching for my cell phone to check to see if I had missed "the call."  I wondered if this greatly independent spirit did want to do this all on her own. 

She apparently didn't.  She was waiting for us in the morning, still sleeping.

7.  I wasn't there when Nana died. After three nights of very little sleep, my own body wasn't happy with me.  

But I was torn, not being there. Just after midnight on May Day--the same day Nana had run around the Maypole as a young girl back in the 20's-- I was still dressed, keys on the table beside me.  I was surfing Facebook for the first time in many days, checking in often with my sister and cousin who were keeping watch, asking whether anything had "changed," whether or not I should come.  I was told "things are pretty much the same.  Have progressed slightly, but hey, we've said that every day..."

I had just signed out of Facebook at 12:45, resigned to start another uneasy sleep, when the home phone rang. 

"I think... I think she's gone Katie," my sister sniffled. "We were just telling the nurse that, by now, everyone who could come to see her had come.  And we just looked over, and she had slipped away.  I think she was waiting to hear that, Katie, making sure she'd given everyone a chance to say goodbye."

I grabbed my keys and flew out the door. Driving to the nursing home, I was smiling and singing hymns through tears. "You did it Nana.  You made it; you're with Grandpa now..." I tuned into an AM channel and heard a song I'd never heard before, on the radio or otherwise; a folksy song from an actual Bible verse: "Arise, my love, and come away..." 

It was a verse I'd look for, but wouldn't find, when picking out the readings for her funeral from the section "Funeral Mass in the Easter Season." But it didn't matter, because it was the verse that the priest who said the Mass, the dear "Fr. Roger" that she had befriended and kept house for for 20 years, somehow chose to close his homily. 

A robin was singing as I parked the car and booked it down the sidewalk to the nursing home. I was practically skipping.  Apple trees lined the pavement, covered with bridal-white flowers that shone in the streetlights. Round white pedals glistened on the wet pavement. I pulled a low hanging branch and watched the tiny circles dance downward as I jogged along, pausing long enough to pick some tiny blossoms for Nana. It had started to lightly sprinkle, and the rain was cold.  But I was positively buoyant.

"Mary I'm here!" I texted my sis, and waited in the cold for her to open the door. A big hug.

"She made it Mary!" I exclaimed.

"I know.  But... hey, don't be quite so happy.  It's sad.  She's so still, now."

I got quieter.  The elevator took us to the third floor.  I walked into 303.  

Mickey, her roommate, was mercifully asleep.  "My Vera will be okay, yes my fluffies," she'd kept saying. (Everyone's name was "Fluffy" to Mickey, except Vera.)  "My Vera needs to sleep, but in a couple of days, she'll be so well I'll have to peel her off the ceiling."  

Well... sorta true.  

Nana was indeed still.  The oxygen pump was silent.  The nurses had laid her flat on her back, her arms flat by her sides.  Her eyes were closed, her mouth was open. She was silent.  Her skin was relaxed and as young looking as ever, an odd testament to a lifetime's use of Dial soap and water. There was a fiercely raw beauty about her.

I kissed her warm forehead and rested the flowers on her blanket.

"You did it, Nana," I whispered. "You made it Home."

I decided that I'd wait till my uncles and dad arrived to say goodbye; she'd have wanted me to give them hugs for her. So what if it was one in the morning? I am like her; I'm tough, I'd survive. Taking off my jacket, I pulled up the old folding chair. I slipped my chilly hands into hers, and quietly sang: "I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now... I see."

And for the last time, Nana warmed my hands with her own. 

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.  
See, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 
Flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come..." 
Song of Solomon 2:10-12