Reflections of an Old Person

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I am unfortunate enough to live in a place that was built in the 1980’s and has had little to no renovations done to it. For me, that means one entire wall of the dining room is mirrored. It also means the doors of the very wide closet in the master bedroom are also mirrored. Of course there are obligatory mirrors in all three bathrooms; the master bathroom has two. Needless to say, it seems there is nowhere in our home that I can escape reality. Reality hits twice as hard, though, in the summer. It’s so easy–and wonderful–to hide the weight gained from medications and illness underneath big, cozy sweatshirts. Sometimes, I forget just how much weight I’ve gained, as well as how old I now look. Sometimes my mind still feels like I am in my twenties. My body is quick to remind me, though, that I definitely am much older than that.

As we were driving home one morning this past week, we passed a plethora of young people on the trail that runs by our home. Some were on bicycles. Others were running, either alone or with a partner. Some of the partners were of the four legged species. If I allowed myself to go in an unintended direction with this post, I would now transition into how much I hate myself as I watch young women, clad in short shorts and a sports bra, turn the heads of every male driver passing them.

But that is not the direction I am intending right now.

Instead, my thoughts this morning are about how difficult it sometimes is to accept reality–the reality of the fact that I am old. Mirrors don’t lie. The gray hair and sagging skin and the wrinkles remind me every day that I am not the young person my mind sometimes think I am. It is this “oldness” that I find myself often dwelling as of late.

As I pass by people outside, the ones that catch my eye are those with children. Some of these are babies in strollers while others are preschoolers on little bikes. I often wonder about these young families. Do they do family activities regularly? What kind of home do they live in? What does the father do for a living? What does mom do? As I ponder those types of questions, I recall the years that our kids were little. If you know me, or if you’ve read much of what I have written, you know that I was a young bride and a young mom–at least by today’s standards. Our fourth child was born when our oldest was five years old. My husband worked hard so I could stay home, something I always dreamed of doing.  It wasn’t always easy; in fact, sometimes it was downright miserable. Looking back, though, I wouldn’t have changed that decision. There are, though, many other things I would love to go back and change. Of course, I would have to know what I know now in order to really make effective changes, and everyone knows that just cannot happen. The saying “Hindsight is twenty-twenty” haunts me as I think about the mom I was in those busy, stressful years. The poor decisions I made, the outright mistakes, the loss of patience, the quickness to scold, the hesitation to be a parent because I so wanted my kids to like me…all these and more swirl through every part of my brain much more often than I want to grant them access. Why is it that at night, my mind recalls all the ways I messed up as a mom? As I remember specific cases, I wonder do my kids remember them too? Did I not do a good enough job “Instructing them in the way they should go” as the Bible says? I want so badly to sit down with all of my now adult kids and tell them how to avoid all the mistakes I made as a marriage partner and a mom.

I don’t think they’d listen, though, no more than I would have if my mom sat me down and told me exactly how to avoid the mistakes I felt she made with me. I’m beginning to believe that mistakes are a very personal thing. I can’t steer my kids in a direction that I am 99% sure is the right one when I see them on a different course. They, like me, need to make their own mistakes. They need to learn from them. And, most sadly for me, they will need to look back when they reach the old age that I am and regret that they didn’t seek and heed the wisdom that comes from a parent who has been there, done that. I know because most of the time, I shrugged off advice given to me by my dad. He is now gone from this earth. I cannot pick up the phone and call him to beg for his wisdom in a situation. Oh, how I wish I could. How I wish I had listened to my mom and dad in those early years of parenting. They had already walked that path. They even had experience navigating the muddy waters of being a parent to adult kids. That, especially, makes me long to sit and talk with my dad once again.

I know I was far from the perfect parent. Right now, I feel like I was far from even a good parent. Perhaps I fall somewhere between the two–an adequate parent. I didn’t always do the best I could. I was selfish more than I should have been. I was angry more than I should have been. I was plagued with depression most of their childhoods. I didn’t respect my husband, their dad, like I should have. I didn’t seek wise counsel on how to deal with a special needs child or a difficult child or a colicky child or a gifted child. One thing I did, though, was always love them, perhaps to a fault.

Recently I was suffering greatly from a heartache over a situation. As I stood in the receiving area of work, I fought back tears as I shared just a little of what was hurting me. I said that I was growing quite weary of being hurt. My manager said to me, “You get hurt because you love. There are parents out there who do not–they don’t care what happens once their children become adults.” I knew she was right, but I can’t turn off the caring switch. I can’t turn off the overly-sensitive-so-seeing-a-dead-animal-in-the-street-makes-me-cry switch. To do so, I would have to harden my heart to everything around me, and as much as never being hurt again sounds like an ideal way to live, I don’t think it is how I am wired. That means I will continue to reflect on years past and feel like a failure. It means I will continue to hurt as a wife and as a mom. I tell myself that, thankfully, my life is more than half over, that someday all the hurt will stop. And on that day, God will wipe away every tear.

That is sometimes the only hope I have to cling to.

Posted in Change, Children, death, depression, empty nest, faith, famiy, love, marriage, Parenting | Leave a comment

Just a Mom

A little over 27 years ago, I gave birth to a 7lb. 10oz. baby boy. I was a young bride and a young new mommy. My husband and I loved that little boy so much. Over the course of the next five years, that little boy would welcome (kind of) 3 siblings into his life and would watch with confusion as his mommy and daddy mourned the loss of one that went straight to heaven. While I worked on and off through their growing up years, the majority of the time, with much sacrifice, I was just a mom.

Our little family, though not little by today’s standards, would face some very tough times. The little firstborn boy would be diagnosed with a speech disorder that necessitated putting him on a bus to attend a language development program 20 miles away. He was two. Back then, speech therapists and doctors were not as familiar with autism as they are today. It took 12 years to get a diagnosis as to why our beloved little boy struggled in so many areas. Meeting his needs was not always an easy task. His younger siblings often had to do something or didn’t get to do something because it would just not work with a child who has autism. One event that families look forward to doing together is attending fireworks. It only took one time doing that for us to realize that our son could just not tolerate the loud noise of fireworks. Vacuum cleaners and the Midway at the state fair brought the same reaction…his hands would fly up to his ears with hope that he could stifle the noise that actually physically hurt him.

So far, you may think this post is about my now grown son. It isn’t, but I will say one more thing about him. He has grown into a wonderful young man who is learning to find his way in a world that is loud and scary. I’m not sure he thinks that of the world, but this mom sure does. What this post is actually about is my reflections on being a stay at home mom for many years.

My husband worked, and still does, in corporate America. His job involved commuting to a downtown city, travel, and long hours, and days, away from home. I vividly recall one project he was assigned in a different state. That project was ten weeks. He would drive home and arrive late on Friday and leave either Sunday night or Monday morning. Our kids were in the busy elementary/middle school age at that time. I remember getting to about four o’clock and wondering how I would ever make it to their bedtime. I was homeschooling them too during this time. Let’s just say Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon were my best friends. Yes, I still feel guilty for the amount of screen time I allowed. Because my husband worked in a professional setting, he was obligated to attend company events. Some of these events weren’t too bad, especially the family ones. I remember a family picnic that was catered by an amazing BBQ company. There was also one at the city’s minor league baseball game, and one at Valleyfair, our area’s big amusement park. Not all of these obligatory events were fun, though. The hardest ones for me were the Christmas parties at the home of some wealthy colleague of his. This stay at home mom lived in jeans and Nikes. These get togethers weren’t exactly the kind that I could wear my normal clothes. I hate dressing up, but did so because my husband felt I should go. Dressing up, though, wasn’t the hardest part of these. By far, the hardest part for me was when someone, usually someone’s wife, would ask me what I did. I would sheepishly reply with, “I homeschool our kids,” or “I don’t work outside the home.”

I was just a mom.

Looking back, I wish I had said those words more proudly. Being “just a mom” is nothing to be ashamed of. I poured everything I had into the four kids that God blessed us with. Yes, there was sacrifice. We didn’t get vacations. I wish we could have done that for them. I didn’t even have a decent vehicle most of those years. I remember one time when my husband was out of town, the purple minivan I drove was parked in the driveway. It needed brakes so badly that, before my husband left for his trip, he asked me to please not drive it. Since he had rented a car to drive back to his clients, his little Kia was there. It was a tight squeeze getting 4 kids in it, but we did so. I dropped one off for something at the high school and the other 3 went with me to a 4H meeting. I left them there to go back to the high school to get our daughter. She finally came out. I turned the key only to have nothing happen. Nothing. Not even a “I might be able to start” turning over of the engine. I ended up calling a neighbor to come get us and driving the van with no brakes to get the other kids.

Our family never got to Disneyworld. We didn’t go to Florida or California to see the ocean. Being “just a mom” cost us financially. BUT, I have so many memories with our kids. Since I homeschooled, I was with them 24/7. We did lots of nature walks, science museum visits, and zoo field trips. We even went to a cave and mined for rocks. I look back at the pictures I took of those times and I see smiling kids.

Maybe being just a mom was a good thing after all. I got a front row seat to the best years of their childhood. It meant sacrifice of not only money but also time. I sometimes grumbled about it then…okay, I often grumbled about it then. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade those days with my kids for all the money in the world. IN fact, I wish I could go back and do it all again.

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Posted in Children, empty nest, famiy, Parenting | 3 Comments

The Verdict

I actually had another post dancing around in my brain, but after yesterday, I decided to put that post on the back burner. Instead, I am going to write about something that happened yesterday that really took me by surprise.

I live in Minnesota. Although I wasn’t born here, it has been my home almost as long as the previous state I resided in. For my kids, it has pretty much been the only home they have known. On July 6, 2016, a local police officer shot and killed a man in the passenger seat of the car the officer had just pulled over. The police officer, I believe, was of Hispanic race. The man he shot was an African American. The day before this incident, a police officer in Baton Rouge was murdered by a civilian. It was another shooting in what seemed was a vendetta against policemen. If you live in Minnesota, and read or listen to any form of news, you most certainly know the controversy surrounding the death of Philando Castile in St. Anthony that day. Philando’s fiancee and her little girl were in the car when the shooting took place. In fact, she used her cell phone to video the aftermath of the shooting. Citizens saw that video broadcasted on television news networks–not just local news either. This shooting made CNN news highlights that day.

Philando had no history of a violent past. He had been pulled over multiple times(over 50 times) by police officers for traffic or vehicle offenses. He was employed by the St. Paul school district. He worked in a school with 500 children, and, according to his mom, knew all of the children by name. Reports by both the police officer AND Philando’s fiancee say that Philando had a gun with him when he was stopped. That gun was legally owned by Philando Castile. Hennepin County records showed a current, legal, permit to carry permit issued to him. According to Mr. Castile’s fiancee, he informed the officer that he had his gun with him. The officer, upon hearing those words, instructed Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel where he could see them. Now, I’ve only been stopped by the police once–and I was 7 months pregnant. I had no firearm at the time, so the police asked me to do what I have seen hundreds of policemen on television do. The officer asked for my license and registration. I imagine, though, if I had told the police officer that I was carrying a gun, he wouldn’t let me go digging through my purse to find my license. The officer involved in the shooting maintains that he asked Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel and keep them there. Instead, according to the officer, Philando Castile reached into his pocket to retrieve his license. The officer, saying he saw the handle of the gun, shot Mr. Castile through the open car window. Castile’s fiancee’s account of the incident differs from that of the officer’s. She reported that Philando Castile was asked by the officer to present his ID, and Philando was simply trying to comply with the officer’s request. Hence why he was reaching in his pocket.

Now, this is where it gets kind of muddy.

Philando Castile’s fiancee grabs her cell phone and begins to video what ultimately will be the last few minutes of Philando Castile’s life. As in all officer involved shootings, an investigation revealed that the officer fired multiple times at Philando. After further investigation, the district attorney charged the police officer in November with second degree manslaughter, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. The trial for the police officer began about a month ago. Both sides presented final arguments this past weekend and the case was handed over to the jurors for a final verdict. I, along with probably most of the people in Minnesota was certain that the officer would be found guilty.

Shockingly, yesterday when the verdict came down, that was not the case. The officer was acquitted on all three charges filed against him.

According to the jury panel, for days the panel was stuck with 10 votes to acquit and 2 votes to convict. Eventually, the 2 dissenting jurors changed their mind to make a unanimous decision to acquit the officer.

I’m glad I was not part of that jury. One juror was interviewed. He said it was a very difficult decision to make. He also said that those in the courtroom, the jury included, saw evidence that was not released to the public. He also reported that the jury asked for the copy of the laws regarding second degree manslaughter. They picked apart that law–trying to translate it from legal speak into simpler language every juror could understand. He also said that the jury, being comprised of ten white people and two black people, was not racially divided. In other words, the 2 dissenting jurors were NOT both of the black jurors. He also noted that while the public may be screaming “Unfair”, they did not see the evidence that the jury saw, nor do they have a copy of the law from which to make their judgement.

My husband, who has a permit to carry so is not one of those people who think guns are the problem, and I have talked about this case. An argument can be made for the officer in that, having a fraction of a second to make a decision, and knowing that Castile had a gun, did what he did out of preservation for his own life. It seemed that it was open season on policemen, and the officer was acting in self defense as well as acting to protect those who may have been innocent bystanders. Also, if the officer did in fact instruct Mr. Castile to put his hands on the wheel, but instead moved his hands toward himself, the officer, believing he was going to be fired on, did the the right thing. Not following instructions, in this case, cost Mr. Castile his life. I am fully behind police officers. They put their lives on the line every single time they put on that uniform. Sometimes one is not given time to think before acting. In this case, if the officer did in fact see the gun, he had every right to shoot Mr. Castile. BUT, the investigation showed the officer had fired seven shots into the car. Seven. That’s a lot of shooting for someone who probably could have been stopped had he planned to shoot the officer. In addition, there was a four year old little girl in the back seat of that car. To fire seven shots into a car through an open window seems to be a reactionary response that was unwarranted. Of course, the public only knows what has been reported by others. None of us were in that car. None of us heard the dialogue exchange. Yes, Mr. Castile’s fiance was there and heard the exchange, but I highly doubt she could be impartial in her report.

Like I said, I am glad I was not sitting on that jury. While I can’t say how I would vote, I can say that this decision will most likely only cause the racial divide in our country to get worse. It also will only fuel more hatred by many toward police officers. I don’t think this is a problem that can be fixed with speeches and protests and the like. I believe it is a problem that only God can fix, for it is only God who can change a person’s heart. God created all men equal. It doesn’t matter our race or gender or financial status or anything else that separates us. This world is not an easy place to live. There is going to be death, injustice, pain, tears, poverty, illness, etc. as long as we are on this earth. I, for one, am pretty tired of all of the above. I can’t wait for the day that heaven becomes my home. I cannot even imagine a life of no tears or pain or loneliness, but when I try to imagine it, that only makes me long more for my eternal home.

 

 

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On Motherhood

Being a mom isn’t like anything I thought it would be. When, as a young girl, I dreamed of motherhood, I pictured a smiling mommy, tirelessly playing with her children, reading to them, teaching them, patiently answering their questions, and watching them fall asleep with angelic halos above their heads. Once the little darlings were asleep, I would sit with my husband on the couch, perhaps watching the television, or maybe talking together about our future.

Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Oh, there were times I played with my kids, but there were also many times I was just too tired to do so, causing me to send them away to play by themselves or watch a video. There were times I read to them. In fact, some books I read so often, I knew them by heart. There were times my poor little boy couldn’t find Hand Hand Fingers Thumb because mommy, entirely sick of those rhymes of Dr. Seuss, hid the book in the chair cushions, forcing my son to choose another book. There were times I taught them. In fact, I went one step farther and homeschooled them. I wish I could say I was a good homeschooling mom, but the truth is there were many days I just couldn’t find the energy to spend the day trying for the fiftieth time to help them understand how to solve a math word problem. As for those angelic halos–there were times they fell asleep and I would look at them and think they were the most perfect children on earth. Those times were not the norm. Most of the time I would put them to bed, wanting nothing more than to go climb into my own bed and collapse from exhaustion. I knew that most likely they were reading with a flashlight way past the time they should have been asleep. And I didn’t really care. I was too tired to argue with them about how early they had to get up the next morning. And while my husband and I often watched television after the kids were in bed, we didn’t sit on the couch together romantically like I had seen in movies. He sat in his chair, and I sat in mine. He was exhausted from his workday, and even though I was sure he didn’t understand it, I was exhausted from mine.

One other aspect of motherhood that I could not understand or anticipate was the gentle shift of its effects in my heart and everyday life. I used to dream of the day when all had grown into adulthood, moved out on their own, successful in the career they chose. I assumed once that happened, my mothering days would be over.

Yeah. That didn’t happen either.

One thing I could not prepare for was how the days sped up as each day passed. I remember when I was a child, how long the week before Christmas seemed. The days seemed to drag on forever! Once I reached adulthood, the days seemed to pick up speed. That speed increased ever more once I became a mom. Endless days of diapers, spit up, sleepless nights, and long, fussy days with a baby turned into endless days of chasing toddlers, picking up Cheerios, putting away toys for the hundredth time, and trying to reason with a two year old to eat the somewhat healthy food on the tray of the high chair. Those days turned into long days of getting kids up and out of bed, fed, dressed, with lunches and backpacks in hand out the door to school. Once gone, if I wasn’t working a job outside of the home, I faced mountains of laundry, some in hampers, but most scattered on bedroom floors. I faced bathrooms that needed to be cleaned, rugs that needed to be vacuumed, dishes that needed to be washed, floors that needed to be mopped, groceries that needed to be bought and put away, and I can’t forget the chore that most moms struggle with on a daily basis: what the heck am I going to serve for dinner tonight that someone won’t complain about. Those days turned into long nights, waiting for the newly licensed teenager to come home from a late night gathering at a friend’s house. That teen didn’t care that there was snow on the roads and the house he was going to was on an ice covered dirt road. There were late nights of worry when thirty minutes past curfew arrived and no teen was home, and no phone call had come asking for yet another curfew extension. Mothering was physically exhausting for all those years, and yet, I woke up one morning and it was the day of my baby’s high school graduation party. How did all those years pass so quickly? Where was the little boy who wanted to climb up on mommy’s lap to listen to a story? Where was the little girl who wanted mommy to sit on the floor so she could brush her hair and put makeup on her? I felt like I blinked and the years were gone.

I have now traded the physical exhaustion of motherhood for the emotional exhaustion. This was also something that blindsided me. I was not prepared for the change that would take place once my babies were all grown up on my nest was empty. Now, I have the time and peace to get the sleep I missed out on for many years. I have time to sit and relax, read a book or work on my newest Charles Wysocki puzzles. But the years spent mothering four children play like a never ending movie in my head. Sometimes I lie in my bed at night, tears threatening to force their way out of my eyes, and remember all the ways I screwed up as a mom. There are too many to list. They haunt me as demons that dance inside my head. I could not be prepared for the emotional toll having adult children would take on my heart. It used to be mom that they would come and talk to when they had a problem or needed advice. Now, that is seldom the case. In fact, much of the time, they don’t want me involved n their problems at all. Perhaps that is how God intended it, for I am no longer able to solve their problems. My babies are now adults, and adults have adult problems, much bigger than a problem of yesteryear such as forgetting their instrument on a day they had band. Still, it is hard. I cried many tears when my kids were little. When their heart was broken because they didn’t make the team they wanted or someone called them a bad name on the playground, my heart was broken as well. The truth, though, is I cry just as many, if not more, tears now that my kids are adults and have their own lives. It’s a different relationship, one that I am still trying to figure out how to navigate.

I can’t say that I always did my best. If I were to be honest, there were many times I selfishly redirected them (remember the whole hiding the book in the chair cushion thing?) so that I could do what I wanted to do, and even though sometimes what I wanted to do was really what I needed to do, I handled much of it all wrong. Too often I reacted in anger or impatience instead of staying calm and being the adult they needed at the moment.

In spite of the incredible failure I feel as a mom, I hope my kids know that I love them. I always have, and I always will.

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This Meaningless Life

Four days ago a knife was held in the hands of a man I really do not know. I was not aware of when he made the first cut. I was off in the place one goes when in a deep sleep caused by a quick push of a needle syringe into an IV line that had been placed in my hand. I was assured by the nurse who placed the IV line that this man was very good at what he does…that I was in good hands. That man purposely cut a hole on the inside of my cheek, working around a breathing tube that ensured my lungs kept working, removed what could be a cancerous tumor, and then used thick white thread to sew the hole closed. Five hours later, I was home, resting in my own bed, high doses of pain medication keeping what would surely be intense, throbbing pain at bay.

 

I have had much time to think the last few days. After surgery this past Wednesday, I thought I’d be in a much better place by now than I am. Not much I can do about it. Wounds take time to heal, and no matter what I do, the process can’t really be rushed. The results of the “excisional biopsy” (the official medical term of what was done) should be known this coming week. As I’ve thought about what this doctor might say, I’ve also thought about how little control I have over the whole situation. Control is such an illusion. My life is pretty boring for the most part. There isn’t really anything that stands out about my day to day activities. Like most everyone else, I make plans from day to day. On days off, I plan what chores I might have the energy to get done at home. My evenings usually hold some type of cooking show to fill the hours before heading off the bed so I can wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Sometimes I wonder what the point of it all is.

Something I often think of is the second verse of the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV) Solomon wrote this. King Solomon who had been given everything a man could possibly want in life. His conclusion at the end of his life? It is all meaningless.

I am feeling that way right now. I have watched as dreams I carried for so long got shattered before my eyes. I remember the day a county sheriff came to our home. We knew it was coming, yet the foreclosure notice he held in his hand did more than break my heart; it shattered the dream I had of owning a home. It eliminated the possibility of ever having a hobby farm with a loft in a barn where I could sit and read, hearing only the sounds of the country around me. I remember the day our last all-grown-up-child moved out. Suddenly, a five bedroom rented house that was once filled with voices and Guitar Hero, was eerily quiet. The snoring of the dog and the television show being watched by my husband was all there was to break the noise. The downstairs refrigerator, once filled with Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper sat empty save for an extra gallon or two of milk. I remember the day my beautiful grandson was placed in his car seat, heading for a new life in North Dakota. As my daughter and son-in-law drove away, my heart shattered into so many pieces. All the love I poured into him, all the time spent with him, all the dreams I had for our future time together fell to pieces off the blue Avenger driving farther and farther away from me.

This week, I will walk into a doctor’s office–an office I’ve been in several times over the past 3 months. In his hand, the doctor will carry a folder that holds the results of this very painful surgery he performed. What will be my response if God calls me to walk down a road I didn’t plan nor ask for? I hate the phrase “God is good”. I’ve heard it said often when an accident turns out to not be as bad as it could have been or a parent is relieved to hear positive words from a specialist testing their child. But what about when the news is bad? What if the accident claims the life of someone you love? What if the doctor looks at you with sad eyes and tells you the test results show cancer? Is God still good? Yes, He is. I know that and I believe that. But, will I be able to live that? Will my kids be able to live that if they are told their mom has cancer? Today, there are tears constantly begging to be released. I am feeling very much that life is, as King Solomon wrote so many years ago, meaningless. I assume this feeling will pass, even if the news is not what we hope to hear. Like all the other times my heart has been broken, I will somehow learn to live with a new normal. I may not like the normal that forces its way into my path no more than I like the normal of not having my grandson living close by anymore, but regardless of whether I like it or not, I will have to get used to it. It is, after all, the way life seems to go. We just get used to one thing, and it is taken away.

King Solomon concluded his book exactly how he started it: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 NIV) He did add one more thing, though:

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV)

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Summertime Blues

When our kids were little, we often used to go to a local buffet for dinner. I had four very picky eaters. Cooking at home usually meant two or three different meals. At times I felt like a short order cook. One child didn’t like red meat very much because it was hard to chew. A couple of them wouldn’t eat red sauce on pasta but would eat alfredo sauce. My husband didn’t like the only red sauce the kids would eat, so he would need something thicker. A simple meal of pasta used almost every sauce pan in my kitchen. At a buffet, though, someone else prepared a variety of foods from which to choose. The buffet always had chicken of some sort. That was one thing all the kids would eat. One could have the mashed potatoes and gravy she loved so much while the others could get french fries. Hubby could fill his plate with several kinds of meat that actually had flavor–something I couldn’t do because if meat had any type of seasoning or rub on it at home the kids would not touch it. Even dessert was easy at the buffet. One wouldn’t eat anything chocolate while another hated anything vanilla. Much of that pickiness has carried into their adulthoods. In hindsight, I realize that I did not do them any favors by catering to their pickiness. It denied them the chance to experience foods they assumed they wouldn’t like.

Hindsight. How easy it is to make better decisions when looking back at things.

The last month or so has found me in the hindsight mode quite often. I think part of that is just from getting older and realizing that life is, in all probability, more than half over for me. I also think part of that comes from the fact that I could be facing another serious medical diagnosis. One recurring theme of my hindsight is how often I have let others’ opinions of me shape how I think about myself. This is a way of thinking that is so easy to fall into, and if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on our lives. Often, the voices I hear contradict each other. One voice will insist that happiness can only be achieved by behaving/achieving/completing x, y, or z. Another voice will contradict the first. My most recent struggle in this arena has definitely been voices that tell me how I should feel about myself. Let me explain.

Having a chronic illness requires being on various medications. If you have ever watched those advertisements on television for various drugs, you know the side effects that can come with prescription medications. The announcer, after applauding the wonderful bonuses one will experience from said drug, moves into a faster, lower tone of voice rattling off of all the problems that same drug could cause. These problems range from simple things like headaches to very serious effects–“even death” usually ends the lengthy list. Personally, the side effects from my cocktail of medications range from minorly annoying to negatively life changing. One of the latter, unfortunately, has been unwanted weight gain. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that society screams that being overweight makes one less attractive, possibly even less worthy of love, than those who are not overweight. I think this applies even more to women than it does to men (although men are not immune from this idea by any means). Television commercials for Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, and other weight loss programs show pictures of clients who once were very overweight holding up a large pair of pants they assumedly once wore and then dropping those to show a new and improved body–slimmer, toner, fitter. While I know the truth behind these companies–that being it works as long as you keep paying for the goods and service, and on the same token, will stop working once you stop paying for the goods and service–it is still heartbreaking for me to look at those new, slimmer bodies and hate myself even more. Maybe you have experienced the following scenario: You decide to start ________________ (insert the name of any weight loss product or company here). You also add exercise to your life because the paperwork says that the program should be combined with exercise. After a few weeks, people start acknowledging that you look different. “Wow! You look great! Have you lost weight?” or “You look amazing! What are you doing to lose weight?” Has anyone EVER said to you, “Wow! You look great after putting on 25 pounds! How did you do it?” It sounds absurd because we know no one would ever compliment someone for being overweight.

What is the point of all this?

One year ago, I ran a 5K. It was the first 5K I had ever done, and I ran it with a friend who runs regularly. While I know she could have easily smoked me in time, she ran with me, encouraging me. I finished with a time that I was very happy with. People commented on how much better I looked, on how thin I was, etc. Fast forward one year. One very difficult and trying year. Worsening symptoms necessitated the addition of another medication, without which I would struggle to walk or use my hands. The most difficult side effects of that medication turned out to be fatigue and weight gain. Every morning I open the orange prescription bottle, shake out two tiny, round, white pills, and down them with a glass of water, knowing that they will continue to undo all the hard work I did last year to get ready to run a 5K. Every morning I choose between being overweight and extremely fatigued but in bearable pain or being slim and still fatigued but in unbearable pain. It is, quite honestly, a lose-lose situation for me. I’ve heard people refer to those who are overweight as lazy, gluttonous, and/or not self disciplined. While I’m sure there are many to whom those adjectives apply, I have become much more sensitive to the fact that sometimes it really is out of one’s control.

Still, society probably isn’t going to change the emphasis it places on being skinny. In fact, summer only intensifies that as it becomes acceptable for some reason to dress in clothes that barely cover. I’m sure over the next few weeks, my self hatred will intensify as I try to find a balance between being as pain free as possible all while trying to get back to where I was weight-wise.

Winter can come back anytime now.

Posted in Change, Culture, MS, peace | Leave a comment

Thirsty

Image result for diet cokeThis morning I sat at our dining room table enjoying a time of quietness that is so rare lately in my mornings. I am usually busy completing morning tasks before heading out the door for work. This morning I didn’t have to go to work. As I sat by myself, letting my mind wander, my eyes settled on the basket that I keep a few books in so they are an easy reach should I desire to sit at the table and color or read or write. Sitting inside the basket was my Bible that I use for personal reading. This is not the Bible I take with me when I go to church; this is a Bible that I’ve had for many years. I thought about the days I enjoyed opening the pages of that Bible, reading and taking it all in. I felt so close to God in those moments.

That was not the case this morning. In fact, as I reflected on the last several months, I felt very far from God. Actually, I felt God was very far from me.  I don’t think those statements say the same thing.

I opened my Bible to my favorite book–Psalms. Specifically, this morning it was Psalm 63. The little subtitle told me that this Psalm was written while David was in the desert of Judah. I didn’t take the time to research why he was there, but I assumed he was fleeing from someone who wanted him dead. He is most likely alone. He is also most likely without basic essentials–possibly items such as water and shade. David opens this Psalm of prayer to God, though, with words that do not ask for any material item for himself. He actually doesn’t ask God for anything. Instead, he tells God how he loves God and how much he needs God. He uses the word thirst to describe how he longs for God. It is a viable thought that David was indeed physically thirsty. He was in a desert after all. But, he doesn’t ask God for water. He asks God for God. David wanted God to fill him spiritually; he placed his spiritual desire for communion with God over his physical desire for water.

Reading this Psalm caused me to reflect on what I thirst for. The thirsts I have determine how I act. If I am physically thirsty, I reach for a cold Diet Coke. Sometimes my thirst is not for something palpable.  I often thirst for purpose–what difference do I make in anyone’s life? More often than not I am lonely, which makes me thirst for companionship. I also thirst for healing. Some days I wake up but wish I hadn’t. The thorn of depression is beyond oppressive. The uncertainty of a chronic illness along with potential serious diagnoses makes me long for God to intervene. So far He hasn’t. I often thirst for wisdom to know how to navigate the stormy waters of life. Courage is another thirst that begs to be quenched in me–courage to step out of my comfort zone in varying areas. I also often thirst for acceptance. I am an outside-of-the-box kind of person. Most people don’t understand the way I think which causes them to view me as just strange. They go on their merry way with others like them. I recently started reading a book titled Different: The story of an Outside-of-the-Box kid and the Mom who Loved Him. I see myself all over the pages of this book. (This most likely is a contributing factor in the above mentioned loneliness) I also thirst for spiritual direction. The Israelites could follow God confidently because God was in a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. I often wish God would do that for me. Instead I struggle to know how to “follow” a God I am unable to see.

I could list other thirsts, but most likely my point is made. I have looked to many different places to quench these thirsts. I have looked to people to ease the pain of loneliness and acceptance. When people let me down, I turned to alcohol to ease the pain. That let me down as well. Intellectually I know that only God can quench these thirsts, but experientially I have no idea how that actually happens. I do know it can because I have seen it so often in others around me and, on few occasions, in my own life. This morning, for some reason, the road is just a bit rockier than it has been. There is much weighing on my mind. The same held true last night as I tossed and turned, trying in some strange way, to maybe toss the nagging thoughts away so sleep could settle in. It didn’t. Sleep came in short spurts throughout the long, dark night. This morning, sunshine is beaming through windows of the sliding glass door–windows that beg to be cleaned. The new green leaves on the trees are moving in the cool breeze, causing shadows to dance across the room. The shadows are dancing across my heart today as well. The 11 x 14 photo of my beautiful grandson smiles at me as I sit here typing. Oh, how I miss him. How I would love to hold him, smell his hair, hear his giggle, see him dance to a Silly Song with Larry. These things are not possible, though. Instead, I blow a kiss to him and hope the breezes carry it to him 600 miles away. The loneliness is greater today for some reason. The feeling of being unloved and unloveable are as well. They are, I know, just feelings, but they are very real and painful nonetheless.

Posted in Community, depression, faith, Grandson, loneliness, MS, trust | Leave a comment

(Un)Celebration

Image result for popping balloon

This morning, after a night where sleep was interrupted by potentially serious pain, I was awakened earlier than I wanted to be by a text message. Any parent, whether your kids are teens and still live at home or they are grown adults living their own lives, knows that feeling of dread when the phone rings or the text message notification sounds at an hour you know for sure none of said kids should be contacting you. I groggily reached for my phone and attempted to focus eyes that, in the early morning hours, struggle to work together. It took several seconds and enlarging the phone font to see the message was not from any of my kids–thankfully. Fighting the desire to go back to sleep (thus messing up my entire sleep cycle for the week) I laid in bed and let my mind wander. It didn’t take long for it to rest in that place of thought that has been foremost on my mind lately, and, in resting there, I began to have this little party–a minor meltdown of self pity.

This is a big year for me. Two major milestones will be met when my birthday and wedding anniversary arrive. As I let my mind wander aimlessly on these events, I thought back to my childhood. Like many kids, I had plans for what my adult life would hold. I wanted to get married and be a mom. I envisioned myself as a wonderful mom who would always be the fun one. I planned fun vacations in my head for my future family. My kids would see all the things I didn’t get to see–Disney World, the ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the Montana Sky, Yellowstone, the Statue of Liberty, Hawaii…the list could go on. I planned for the weddings of my future kids. They would all get married and have children of their own–then I would be the fun grandma, doing all sorts of fun things with her many grandchildren. I wanted to be a young grandma so I would have the energy to do so many fun things with them. I would teach them to bake chocolate chip cookies and brownies and cakes. I would read them stories and take them on outdoor adventures–even take them to the ocean where we could build castles in the sand and play in the waves and collect shells. My husband and I would take trips to all sorts of places in this country. We would have money to explore the United States once our kids were grown.

As I thought about all the exciting things I had planned for my future self, I could feel the pity party arising in my current self. I wasn’t the mom who took her kids on fun vacations to the ocean and Disney. Two of them saw the Rocky Mountains, but that was only because of a marching band trip to Colorado during high school. Three of them did see the Statue of Liberty and other fun things in New York City, but that was due to a band/choir trip to New York. I still haven’t seen the famous Statue. My pity party reminded me that, while I did get to become a grandma at a decently young age, it’s not turning out the way I had planned so many years ago. I don’t live close enough to my grandson to pick him up and bring him to grammy’s to bake cookies. I assumed all our kids would get married and have kids–that their lives would mirror my own. That didn’t happen. I’m not sure why I thought it would–naivety perhaps. My husband and I don’t get to travel much. I did finally get to Disney–a year or so ago. My kids still have not been there.

As I thought about the upcoming “big” days for me, I felt even sadder. What fun thing do I get to do for my big birthday milestone next week?

Work. I “get” to work. Not only do I have to work, I have to close that night. I don’t think I’ve worked a Friday night since I started this job last fall. Oh, and this job? This was not in my plans that I crafted so carefully as a child. I didn’t think I’d be working retail at this stage of my life. Don’t misunderstand–I like my job. I really do. But I am not a fan of working nights. I seldom have to, but as my luck would have it, that’s what I get to do on my birthday. No special birthday dinner, no cake from the store that I love so much, no celebration for a big year…(not that I would probably have that anyway since my list of friends could fill one of those tiny post it notes)

Looking down the road a few months to our big anniversary only brought more sadness. As a young newlywed, the thought that many years down the road wouldn’t be anything but prosperous bliss never crossed my mind. What fun excursion would we take to mark such a milestone? A cruise maybe. Or a trip to Hawaii for relaxation and fun? I don’t know for sure what that day will bring, but I do know it won’t be bringing anything like the above mentioned trips.

What I never planned on, and I would safely say no one ever does, were health issues. I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with a chronic illness that would drain me of energy and physical abilities. I didn’t expect clinical depression to be a part of my life for years and years. I didn’t expect to be told I could potentially have a problem with my heart. I didn’t expect to be dealing with a lump that could potentially be cancer. I didn’t expect my husband to be hospitalized twice for heart issues. And I never could have known how much all these things, among others, would drain us of finances. Yes, we’ve come a long way since saying “I do” all those years ago. Still, where we are is not where I had envisioned we’d be.

And that made tears flow once again this morning.

As I sit here typing this, I realize that I do have much to be thankful for, so please don’t send me e-mails and messages scolding me for my pity party this morning. Working in a Christian book store, I hear stories from many people about problems they or someone they love have. I am thankful for the fact that my husband and I are still together to celebrate this big year. That almost wasn’t the case. I am thankful for my kids and their spouses and love them all more than words can say. I am thankful for my beautiful grandson even though I don’t get to see him now as often as I would like. I am thankful for my job even though there are days I have to put on a fake smile and blink the tears away. I know all this and more and am thankful that God loves me even when I am not loveable or love Him in return. Still, some days I just can’t escape the pity party that seeks me out and reminds me of all I didn’t and probably won’t get to do in my lifetime.

I know that in reality, these days are just another day on the calendar. If I didn’t write about them here, most people would never even know that I had hoped these days would be more than that. No one would know why I am sad next week. No one would know how badly I wanted needed a vacation this year–a vacation I am not going to get as medical bills pile up and will continue to do so. That’s okay. I write about them to help myself remember that things could be worse.

Still, there will be sadness and tears as these special days arrive and depart with not a hint of celebration.

Posted in Children, death, depression, empty nest, famiy, Grandma, Grandson, loneliness, marriage, MS, Parenting | Leave a comment

Sheep in the Desert

Image result for sheep grazing

This morning my mind is mulling over two things.

Sheep and deserts.

A little while ago, on the recommendation of a coworker, I bought the devotional book Earth Psalms by Francine Rivers. Yes, the same Francine Rivers who has written many Christian fiction books. My coworker, who has a masters degree in Biology, said she loved the book not only for its written content but also for the beautiful pictures of nature included within its pages. After reading the first couple pages, I have to say I concur with her opinion of the book. It is perfect for an early morning time spent thinking about God, and the pictures really are beautiful. I also love the random facts the author sometimes includes about something she had written. These little tidbits always point back to a Creator God who made nature magnificently beautiful and intricately complicated in order to show mankind His hand.

Enough for the sales pitch for the book…

This morning the devotional was about sheep. I’m sure most church going folk have heard, more than once, the comparison of humans to sheep. I won’t belabor that part of the writing. What caught my attention most was the fact that sheep need a flock and a human to guard that flock . A sheep left alone will almost surely die, for it will succumb to fear and be an easy lunch for predators. The author’s point, of course, was that Christians need a flock and a shepherd as well. If a Christian sets out on his or her own, leaving behind the other Christians they used to gather with as well as leaving behind the shepherd who is supposed to care for them, that Christian is an easy target for Satan. In fact, according to my reading this morning, Satan waits for churches to split and/or for Christians to leave their church and decide to do life alone. He knows that it will only be a matter of time then that the Christian, with no encouragement from others, will stop reading the Bible and praying. Sheep are by nature wanderers. Since Jesus Himself compares us to sheep, wandering is a characteristic of not only sheep but also of Christ followers.

The other thing my mind has been pondering a lot as of late is the concept of a desert. The two were not connected in my devotional reading this morning, but they are very much connected in my life right now.

If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the Israelites had to wander forty years in the desert before finally reaching the promised land, part of what is now Israel on a map. The wandering came because of disobedience on the part of the Israelites. In fact, an entire generation was not allowed to enter the promised land–they were made to wander until all of that generation has died. Deserts are not a fun place. How many families sit down to plan a family vacation and say, with enthusiasm, “We should vacation in the desert this year! All that hot sand and no water or anything to do! We could just wander around aimlessly for our vacation week, boiling in the hot sun, and burning our feet in the sand!”

Yeah. I don’t think anyone thinks of the desert as a top vacation spot.

How are these two things related?

Looking back at my journal this morning, I read an entry from a year ago. It was pretty clear that I was entering a desert at that time. As the days, weeks, and months passed, my desert wanderings made me grow weary. I couldn’t find a way out of the desert. I was a sheep, alone in a very dangerous place. The “flock” I had once thought I belonged to gradually begin to disappear..most of them forgot I even existed. I certainly don’t blame them. Who wants to follow a sheep into a hot, miserable desert? The more I wandered, the more weary and lost I became. I would see what I thought was an exit–a spring of water that would allow me to recover my lost strength and find my way out of the desert. But, just like in Hollywood movies, the water was a mirage. That would only send me further into the darkness and barrenness of my desert. I was lost and quickly dying in the misery of my desert wandering.

I’d love to end this with a victorious account of how I was rescued from the desert–how I was joyfully reunited with the flock I had wandered from. But I cannot end this that way. I am still in the desert. And although I have found my way back to the flock, I am still not sure I am welcomed back. It is kind of like when I take our diabetic cat to the vet for a blood sugar check. Our other cat has grown up with the diabetic cat; they are friends. Yet, when I bring him home, he has the smell of the vet’s office on him. This causes his sister to hiss at him if he tries to go near her. Even though just a few hours prior they were playing together, once he is “taken” from that scenario, it is hard for him to be welcomed back by her. Eventually, though, the hissing stops and they act like nothing ever happened. Maybe that will be my experience should I ever find my way out of the desert that has imprisoned me for so long. A note about this paragraph: not all the sheep abandoned me to die in the desert. A very small number walked into that desert with me. The last year has shown who my true friends really are. A couple of them are not even part of my “flock”, yet they were not afraid of the darkness that enveloped me. They resisted my pushing them away in order to stay by my side during these tough times.

I don’t know if sheep think like humans do. I doubt they have that reasoning ability. For me, it is hard to feel wanted or loved in the flock I am part of. Maybe sheep don’t care if they feel wanted or loved. Maybe they just care about being part of a guarded flock so they are safe to graze endlessly. Humans, though, need to feel loved, wanted, and even needed. A year ago I felt all those things, but the length of time wandering in this miserable desert and the fact that the flock around me doesn’t need me in the roles I once played, leaves me feeling vulnerable to the predator who wants to see my demise. Thankfully, I have wandered enough to know that there is a great Shepherd who, despite my resistance and bad decisions, loves me regardless. My desert wandering isn’t over yet. I wonder if it ever will be on this earth. There are potentially serious issues I may face in the next few weeks. I am  scared. Sheep get scared too. When that happens, they bleat to alert the shepherd that something is wrong. Countless times I have cried out to the Great Shepherd. I feel like He has abandoned me. It is often difficult to remember what is true as opposed to going by how I feel.

I feel alone. I feel unloved and unloveable. I feel scared of what I may face in the coming weeks…BUT, I am trying hard, with the help of a select few other sheep, to keep my eye on the Shepherd. He loves His sheep, even when they wander away.

Posted in CHURCH, Community, depression, faith, loneliness, trust | Leave a comment

Forward Motion

With the exception of a few years after I got married, for as long as I can remember, Saturday night was always the night before church. As a kid, I remember hating Saturday nights for they meant that the next day would be filled with activities I didn’t really want to be a part of. Sunday mornings in our home meant early wake up times to go to church. To make matters worse, our church had a Sunday evening service. Sunday evening found me back at the same church, singing hymns and enduring what seemed like a long, boring sermon. By the time my mom finished yakking with every other church lady, it was often 9:00 PM before we would arrive home.

Suffice it to say that I hated Sundays. I was forced to go to a place where I didn’t feel loved nor did I feel accepted. Those feelings were reinforced as I entered the teen years. Youth group was an excruciating experience where everyone else had friends they chatted with while I sat alone at a table wishing I was anywhere but in that room.

For the last ten months or so, every Saturday night brought a certain level of angst. It was about that time, as most regular readers of this blog know, I found myself being swept away into the raging, dark, waters of depression. As I received rebuke from many about the darkness of my Facebook posts, I retreated more and more into a protective isolation. Hence was ushered in the aforementioned angst of Saturday nights. Nearly every Saturday night during this time, my husband would ask me the same question: “Are we going to church tomorrow?”. The first month or so was a battle. There was a time in the last few years that I treasured Sunday mornings at our church. I felt like I had finally found a place that I could be loved and accepted. Like everything else in its wake, though, depression chipped away at that sense of belonging. Instead of believing I was loved, depression told me that I was not welcome there. Depression told me that I had no place in a church where joy was the norm. If there is one thing you must know and understand about depression, it is this–depression may lie, but it does so craftily. I believed–and still do–the lies depression fed me in those lonely, dark, long hours spent alone. Each week that passed it became easier and easier to tell my husband no to his question about church. I was certain that no one missed me anyway. Oh, I knew there were a few who at least noticed I wasn’t there. In the midst of some hurtful Facebook messages, I did receive a couple encouraging ones. Two that quickly come to mind are one from our worship pastor and one from the keyboard player. Still, the longer I stayed away the more convinced I became that I was one of those people who would never fit into church.

Then I got a job at a Christian bookstore. Over the course of the last three months, I have found my coworkers to be like family. On more than one occasion as I stood at the table back in the receiving dock, opening boxes and ticketing merchandise including study Bibles and Christian living books, I thought about the lack of God in my life. Many days I left work with the conclusion that I needed God in my life. But still, when Saturday night would roll around, and that dreaded question was posed to me once again, fear of rejection kept me from saying anything other than a quick no to church. I was certain that if I walked through the doors of church, most would wonder why I would think I was welcomed there after months of shutting people out. It bothered me enough that, on a couple Sundays, my husband and I did make the drive to church but purposely arrived late. We would walk up the stairs, quietly go in the back door, and sit as close to the back as we could. Then, when the worship team would come down to lead the congregation in the last song, we would leave the same way we had come in. I figured by doing that, I was protecting my heart from further assault. This past week, I felt God was telling me to just swallow my pride and face my fear of rejection–I knew God wanted me to go to church not because I might be accepted there, but rather because it was a step of obedience to Him.

I will admit that I was not thrilled about this idea. I felt lousy this morning. I could have come up with a plethora of excuses as to why I just couldn’t do what I felt God wanted me to do. It was a battle of intense fear and emotion. To walk through the doors of church was a terrifying prospect; to walk through the doors while everyone was standing in the foyer chatting with friends was beyond terrifying. But that is what I did.

I wish I could say I left there feeling like I was proven wrong–that I left feeling like I was loved and welcomed. I can’t say that, though. It was exactly as I thought it would be. Of course no one said I wasn’t welcomed or that I wasn’t loved. Maybe no one even thought that. And while feelings are just feelings, I have learned they are real and need to be acknowledged. Still, there is a part of me that knows that God won a victory over Satan this morning. Maybe this is a first step forward that will lead to more.

Time will tell.

Posted in CHURCH, depression, Facebook, fear, loneliness | Leave a comment