You Were Gone Too Soon

Today is Mother’s Day.
I remember how you used to wear a red rose
every year on Mother’s Day to indicate
that your mom was still living …
then a white rose after she died at age 96.
We had rose bushes out in our side yard,
on a little bank next to my aunt Reb’s garage,
so it wasn’t much trouble to find a red rose.
After Mamaw died in 1983, I don’t remember
whether the white rose you wore came from our yard
or if Daddy bought you a corsage at the grocery store.
I was in my 20s, in my early married years, living in Nashville,
generally oblivious of what went on in my parents’ lives.

I would have paid more attention
if I had known you wouldn’t be with us for many more years.
In the summer of 1984, you kept a persistent low-grade fever
and things generally weren’t well with you.
Daddy would tell me over the phone what was going on,
and I felt helpless to respond.
Oh Mom, I wish I’d been a little more in tune
and had encouraged Daddy more to relentlessly explore
what was going on with you.
We didn’t have the Internet then to look up symptoms
and fret over all the awful things that might be wrong with us.
Maybe it was just as well.

In 1985 you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease …
and you began your slow decline into tremors, forgetfulness, dementia,
all part of the cruel progress of your disease.
Too bad Michael J. Fox hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s;
when celebrities get ill, people seem to suddenly take notice
and often donate money to foundations that fund research.
Too bad they didn’t have the medical advances, research, and surgeries
that are available today.

I remember our last visit with you before Daniel was born.
It was Christmas 1986.
I cried and cried when John and I left Kingsport that year,
knowing somehow that I had to enter
this journey of motherhood largely on my own,
without your guidance, reassurance, advice, and cheering me on.

When Daniel was born, I wanted you, Mom.
You weren’t able to leave familiar surroundings by that point.
I got the postpartum “blues” in a bad way.
I cried and cried, overwhelmed by the thought
that I was responsible for this sweet, dependent baby …
and I had no idea how to be a mom.
I didn’t know then that one doesn’t suddenly learn how to mother.
It happens gradually, with experience and the support of friends and family, and often through trial and error.

I called my Aunt Reb from the hospital.
My obstetrician, a wise man, could tell I was
in bad shape emotionally, and, kindly, he approved
a longer hospital stay for me. (Those were the days when
insurance didn’t kick you out the door the day after your
baby was born.)
I begged Reb to come to Nashville and help out.
I knew that John would help,
but I needed a mother figure.
John’s mom was 80 years old. I felt close to her, but not enough
to depend on her for the emotional support I so badly needed.

Reb came to Nashville a couple of days
after we brought Daniel home.
Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul drove her to our house,
and Aunt Myrt helped with Daniel’s first bath.
I was scared to death that I would drop Daniel and injure him for life!

Reb stayed for a week, and gradually my frayed nerves
began to heal, and my hormones calmed down.
When Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul left with her a week later,
I watched out the window, holding Daniel, as their car rolled
down the street.
“It’s just you and me, baby,” I whispered to him. I may have
shed another few tears, but I figured I would be all right.
I was never alone — I had John and friends at church and work
and my mother-in-law to help encourage me
and teach me how to be a mom.

By the time Julie arrived, 3 years and 8 months later,
I felt much different about this experience called motherhood.
I welcomed Julie joyfully,
barely taking time to recover from her birth.
When she was 4 days old, my dad and I took Daniel to the park,
leaving Julie behind in her daddy’s care.
There was no time to stop and think
about all the changes in our lives.
And it was okay.
With a few years of experience under my belt,
I was comfortable with the thought of
being a mom,
no longer overwhelmed.

Mom, you held Julie for the first and last time
when she was 6 weeks old.
By then you could no longer talk much,
but you took pleasure in holding your granddaughter.
I captured the moment with our camera.

And when Julie was only 6 months old (and Daniel was 4),
you left this world.
I cried once again, the first of many times,
for I knew my children wouldn’t remember you
except vicariously through the stories I told them about you.

So it is in life:
we experience love and loss,
joy and sadness,
and somehow we manage to get through
with the help of faith, family, and friends.

I was fortunate to have you as my
mother and mentor
for 32 1/2 years.
You remain in my memories.
I will never forget you and your
positive, kind, funny, hardworking, dedicated, faithful example.

You live on, Mom, inside me
and in the lives of your grandchildren
through the many lessons you taught me.
I am grateful.

Though you were gone too soon,
You made a difference in our lives.

I might have worn a red rose a few times
while you were living (mostly during my childhood and adolescence).
Today I will wear a white rose to honor you
in my imagination.
We don’t have any rosebushes,
and I forgot the rose tradition when I went to the grocery store yesterday.

Yet, I will remember
and I will see your smile,
hear your voice,
and I will always love you
with all my heart.

Posted in Gratitude, Grief, Joy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pausing for Gratitude

This morning I awoke with a heart full of gratitude. My life isn’t perfect, but as we say in my native East Tennessee, it’s “purt near” (pretty close to) that. Allow me to explain.

First, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to go on a trip to Spain for two weeks this March, something we’d been saving for for over 2 years. Our daughter has been there since September 2013, assisting teachers at an elementary school. She graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, in May 2013 with a Spanish major, a concentration in voice (in between a minor and a major; she had to give a junior and senior voice recital), and experience in theater. With all of her college activities and our financial status at the time, we were unable to work it out for her to do a study-abroad program. The one she selected was $12,000 for a semester (and that didn’t include tuition at Millsaps). We simply could not swing that financially. I told her at the time that though she was disappointed, I bet we could find a way for her to go abroad after graduation. She did a lot of investigation and discovered that for a fraction of the cost (around $2,500) she could go to Spain for an entire year with the same program that would have cost $12,000 for a semester.

Our plan was to go visit her the first year she was in Madrid. But in November 2013 my 90-year-old dad (almost 91) was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We wound up moving him from Canton, NC to our home so he could be with us while undergoing treatment. He responded well to oral and IV chemo and lived with us for 13 months. When he went to the doctor in November 2014, his white blood cell count was in the normal range and the doctor used the word “remission” to describe his condition. He was scheduled for another infusion in January. Meanwhile, my husband (John) had been pushing me to find assisted living for my dad. Daddy had taken a couple of spills at our house…not serious falls that resulted in broken bones, but enough to alarm us a bit.

Ironically, we began our search for assisted living at the busiest time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Daddy had been on a waiting list for a place in Canton, NC since November 2013 (he and I had visited a few places around Halloween and he decided that he liked one of them, so he paid a deposit to be placed on the waiting list). He got two calls from the admissions director while he was in Nashville, one in November, I believe, and another in March. At that time he was not strong enough (nor had he undergone enough treatment) to make the move, so he had to decline.

In early December 2014 John and I had narrowed down our choices to three assisted living facilities in Nashville. I visited one near our church the day of our Feast of Lights (our church’s big Advent concert) dress rehearsal and went home to tell Daddy about it. He was not impressed when I told him it was a high-rise, even though it was located near my work and church and he would have had a great view of downtown Nashville.

In the meantime, John visited an assisted living center a couple of miles from our house and was impressed with it. I went one day after work to check it out, and I too was impressed. We found out a guy who had gone to our previous church was a resident of this senior living community, and he seemed pretty happy with it. I called his daughter to see how her experience of dealing with the assisted living had been, and she told me she was happy with the way they had cared for her dad. We made arrangements for John to take my dad there for lunch one weekday and let him see the senior living community.

The same day John and my dad visited this assisted living near our home, I opened my gmail and discovered and e-mail from the admissions director of the assisted living facility in Canton where my dad had originally wanted to live. I couldn’t help but think the timing was more than just coincidence. When I told my dad later that day (after inquiring about how his visit went to the assisted living near our house and receiving a halfhearted reply that it was “nice”) about the e-mail, his eyes lit up. We talked some more and decided that we would move him back to North Carolina (though I had reservations about being 5 hours away from him).

On December 26 John and I left to take Daddy back to Canton. We spent the weekend at the house where he and his wife (who’s 96 and in a nursing home) had lived since their marriage in 1994. We went to Daddy’s church, First Baptist of Canton, on Sunday. Then on Monday the 29th we moved him to his new home.

So we got back to our life in Nashville and resumed our 3rd interval of the empty nest. We have had only short times of “empty nest” since our younger child went to college in 2009 and our son graduated from college the same year. The first period was from August to December of that year; then Daniel graduated and moved back home for two years. After he moved out in January 2013 into an apartment of his own (YAY! got that young adult launched!), John and I enjoyed a few months of empty nest until Julie’s graduation from college in May. She stayed in Jackson a couple of weeks after graduation so she could participate in her church’s musical production of some big work that I have since forgotten (maybe Mendelssohn’s Elijah?). Anyway, this little chick boomeranged back to our home in late May, and she lived with us until she departed for Spain in September.

All along I’ve had big plans…to turn Julie’s room into a guest room, to invite people to come visit (we’ve never had a spare bedroom because John’s office is in Daniel’s old bedroom), to redecorate our living room, to remodel our kitchen…well, actually, I just wanted new flooring in our kitchen, but that project has grown to a remodel thanks to John’s imagination.

But those plans have had to go by the wayside, because it seems that some surprise always intrudes. In this case it was my dad’s illness. So the next interval of empty nest lasted from mid-September until the end of November, when my dad moved here and took up residence in Julie’s bedroom.

Things got interesting last September when Julie came home for a 3-week visit. We prepared her for the fact that she would not have her own bedroom. We created a makeshift bedroom in our dining room, and she dealt with that quite well. It was good for her to get to spend time with her “Pepaw” (as she & Daniel call their granddad), and her 3-week visit was just long enough.

After my dad moved back to North Carolina, I noticed that over the next few weeks I started to feel more energetic. Now this is something I really appreciate, because I have two autoimmune disorders (I am the queen of weird diseases). For about the previous year and a half, maybe longer, I had been feeling exhausted and just barely getting by thanks to naps and walking and doing yoga.

Gradually I began to sense my spirits lifting. I started walking with a new spring in my step. I spent more time looking up and out at the beauty around me. It occurred to me that a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This does not mean that everything is perfect in regard to my dad’s health or my own. But for now things are good. Daddy is 92, and I realize he probably won’t be around much longer. While we were in Spain, he had a “spell” when his legs just gave out (collapsed), and the assisted living place called me to report that he had fallen in the bathroom. Turns out he fell twice more that day. My stepsister also called the next day or so to apprise me of the situation. I worried about Daddy, I prayed for him, and I decided there wasn’t a whole lot I could do from Spain besides pray. He improved this time. He has been doing physical therapy, and he is now able to walk again. My stepsister has taken him to a new oncologist, and they are watching him (without treating him with chemo) for now. Our oncologist in Nashville (actually the nurse practitioner, who has been marvelous about supporting us over the past 16 months) said that surveillance is not a bad practice for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

I feel like I have a new lease on life right now. I am grateful to have the energy to clean house. Never thought I would appreciate that! And while John and I were in Spain, I had the energy to walk and walk…at least two days I clocked over 11,000 steps on my pedometer. I returned home to spring in Nashville, indeed a glorious sight, with redbuds, daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods in bloom. I hear birds singing outside our window, and our cat welcomed us home with extra affection. Our son, Daniel, took great care of Lily the cat (I call her Lily Bo Peep because she has a little sheep toy that she just loves) while we were gone. He is now off on an adventure of his own, a road trip to Washington, DC and Philadelphia.

I believe it’s a good practice to pause every now and then (actually, this should be a FREQUENT practice…because it does one’s heart good) to say thank you to God for this marvelous, challenging, wondrous life. Thank you, Lord. My heart is full of love and gratitude for you, especially in the wake of Easter.

Praise be to God for the glorious gifts with which he blesses us each day!

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Two Storms That Shook My Faith

This morning as I was reading Openings: A Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock, I decided to follow the suggestion “write about some storm you have experienced.” It could be an actual storm or an inner storm that shook my faith, a time of doubt or despair, a time I needed the power and strength of God. Here’s what I wrote:

O God, probably the biggest storm that shook my faith
was when my mom became ill with Parkinson’s disease and developed dementia (among other unpleasant symptoms)
My dad was her caregiver,
and I lived 300 miles away.
I felt so guilty not being there,
yet how could I be in two places at once?

At the beginning of the storm, it was 1986 when my mom was diagnosed. I was 26 years old.
Then as the storm raged and she grew worse, I was 27 and pregnant with my first child.
Our son, Daniel, was born, and John and I faithfully traveled to Kingsport
every six weeks or so to see my parents,
who could not travel by that time due to my mom’s condition.
Those years are a blur in my memory.

Another storm occurred when I was 30:
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder,
though at the time I was told it was liver disease.
Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of my own mortality.
I was so afraid. John was afraid.
Our pastor came to see me at the hospital
and told me that this was one of the speed bumps on the road of life.
Somehow that remark calmed me and gave me a little perspective.
John and I desperately wanted another child,
and we asked the doctor about my life expectancy
and the advisability of having more children.
After all, I wanted to be around to help raise them.
My doctor consulted with experts in my disease (primary biliary cirrhosis)
and was told this condition usually occurs in middle-aged to older women.
Still, the experts thought that I would have a normal life span
and so we could proceed with our plans to have another child.
In 1990, when Daniel was 3 years, 8 months, our daughter,
Julie, was born. What a blessing! What a bundle of joy! How tired Mom was,
but oh, so joyful.

Back to storm #1. In 1991, Daniel was 4 and Julie was 6 months old.
I received a phone call on February 10 from my dad,
informing me that my mom had just died.
We had been expecting this news for a couple of months,
as my mother was hospitalized since December
and had spiked many high fevers,
and I had said good-bye to her when we left Kingsport after Christmas.
I knew. I knew I would never see my mother again this side
of heaven. It was hard. Oh, so hard.
She could barely speak (and then only incoherent thoughts),
but we held hands and I told her I loved her
and I knew that we would be together again someday with Jesus.

God, I was so afraid. Yet you were there with me then, Lord.
You kindly listened to all my frustrated ramblings, anxious thoughts,
depressed feelings,
And you were there when the worst thing imaginable for me finally happened:
my mother died.

Those days after her death were a blur: so many decisions to be made.
I remember my cousin Sue’s kindness:
She washed a couple of blouses and hung up two suits on the door
of my mother’s closet,
narrowing the choices for me as I decided what my mom — my cheerleader and encourager and beginning-to-be best friend —
would be buried in.

I recall shopping for caskets in the big, hidden room at the funeral home —
it struck me as a strange and ludicrous task —
and I was trying to be mindful of my dad’s budget (not knowing exactly what it was)
and the expectations of my family.
I finally selected a silvery rose-colored casket with roses sculpted on the corner.
My mom loved flowers, and I figured those would please her.

I remember the flood of people who came to the funeral home visitation
and the minister who said, “It was God’s will,” meaning that my mom’s time had come.
Something inside me raged, “No! It was NOT God’s will.” I wanted to shout at him, “No! It was not God’s will that my mother,
a kind, dedicated, loving, Christian woman
should be struck down in what was supposed to be the chapter of life where she slowed down a bit, relaxed, and enjoyed traveling with my dad — something my parents had always planned to do during retirement
but never had a chance, thanks to that old Parkinson’s disease.
My mom was supposed to enjoy her grandchildren
and be there to guide me as I learned how to be a mother myself.
No, it was not God’s will that she have this awful disease
that robbed her mind as it ravaged her body, making it rigid and trembling
and causing her face to freeze in an expressionless stare.”

God, somehow I knew, I knew
that you wanted the best for my mom,
my dad, my family,
and me.
And so with your help I got through those painful days.
You sent friends just when I needed them
and just in the way I needed them to minister to me.
One work friend called on the day of Mommy’s funeral
Just to check in and offer support and listen to me
and remind me that I had people in Nashville who loved me
and would be ready to receive me with love and wrap their arms around
me when we returned home.

The flowers we got at the funeral home comforted me,
reminding me of how much my mother loved flowers
and visible tokens of how much she and my dad and I were loved.
In my opinion, it’s not a waste to send flowers to a family (even if they specify “in lieu of flowers,” which we did in the obituary).
You need a few cheerful, bright, hopeful things
to focus on amid the shadows, gloom, and darkness of sorrow and grief.

My college friends who came to the visitation —
oh, how sweet were their faces
and how welcome among the many faces I didn’t know,
all the distant cousins my dad kept introducing me to
who came out of the hollows and, seemingly, the woodwork.

Yes, you were there, dear Lord and sweet brother, Jesus,
You held my hand and had my back.
You listened to me cry and fumble for words when there were no words.
Thank you, Lord, thank you.
And you are still with me to this day.

All my heart can say is,”I love you, Lord
and I lift my voice to worship you,
O my soul, rejoice…”

Dear God, loving Lord, and comforting Holy Spirit,
thank you for seeing me through those dark days
and for your promise that you will never leave me alone.
My heart and soul are blessed.

Blessed be the name of the Lord,
in whom I hope and trust.

Posted in Depression, Faith, Grief, Hope | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Too Much Work Before My 2nd Cup of Coffee

Oh Lord, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I had good intentions of making banana bread from scratch. How long has it been since I made something from scratch? Evidently a pretty long time, since I could not find baking powder, baking soda, or salt in my kitchen cabinet. Curses!

I vaguely remember that John and I cleaned out said kitchen cabinet a couple of months ago, and I looked at the expiration date on the baking powder, and it was something like 2006. So we tossed it, as we did a few other items in the baking cabinet. John wanted to give my nut chopper (a glass jar with a screw-on plastic lid and pumper thingy attached to an evil metal blade), and I adamantly said no! I get much satisfaction from using that chopper, especially on days when I am mad or stressed out. (Surprised I haven’t used it lately!) I then placed the chopper in another cabinet, the one that we have to get down on all fours to retrieve items from the shelves. And promptly forgot about it.

Meanwhile, I went downstairs to our laundry room/pantry to get some applesauce (we use the kind in plastic cups at my insistence because I have bought too many jars that have grown penicillin in the fridge) to use in place of vegetable oil. And I got distracted for a moment because the load of laundry I had put in the washer was ready to be transferred to the dryer.

As I transferred the laundry to the dryer, I decided I’d better check the drying instructions on a couple of items, one of them a fuschia polka-dotted vest I ordered from Lands’ End in January when I was feeling a little hipsterish. I read on the tag: “Dry on low heat with clean tennis balls.” WHAT? Who keeps clean tennis balls around just to use for drying something in the dryer? I skipped that little instruction and decided to hang up the vest.

Then I started another load of laundry and almost forgot what I had come to the laundry room/pantry for in the first place. Blessedly, I remembered the applesauce before trekking back upstairs and starting where I left off in gathering items to make banana bread.

Next I tried to find the banana bread recipe in my huge plastic box of recipes that I have collected since moving to Nashville in 1980, probably about 70% of which I have never tried. But at least I’m organized enough to have most of the recipes on index cards (unlike my mother, who jotted down recipes on the backs of envelopes) and organized behind labeled tabs. Though that doesn’t make them very easy to find a certain recipe, as I vary about where I will file something. Hmmm, is artichoke dip a veggie or an appetizer? A veggie, in my opinion. :D Does zucchini bread qualify as a cake, cookies, or pie? Too many choices. But I digress (of course).

Now to find the nut chopper. I search through the spice cabinet, where I used to keep the chopper. I look through the cabinet where our baking dishes and mixing bowls are stored. In desperation I rummage through the pots and pans and miscellaneous lids so painstakingly stored on the vertical plastic-coated rack that John installed out of frustration from trying to find the right lids in the drawers of our buffet. (I hate that rack. I try to put lids in it the proper way but usually wind up throwing a few on top of the others because I’m tired.) No luck finding the nut chopper.

Not thinking very charitable thoughts about John on this day of hearts and flowers and mushy-mush, I text him (he’s in Orlando where he has been attending a swimming pool seminar…yeah, there’s a lot of work and chemistry involved in pool maintenance) and say, “Where did you put the nut chopper?” Surprisingly, he texts back right away and says, “It’s in the cabinet beside the dishwasher, but I didn’t put it there.” Oh yeah! And I was thinking some bad words in my mind about my no-good, organizing, ready-to-toss-out-my-favorite-stress-relief kitchen item husband…oops. My fault. Mea culpa!

And the next thing that happened was a little outside excursion to my next-door neighbor’s house to see if I could borrow some baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I went with measuring cup, cookbook (yes, that’s where the banana bread recipe was, not in my neat little plastic file box), and measuring spoons in hand to make it easy for them. I rang the doorbell (it was 8:45 a.m. by this time, and I’d been up since 7:00), but no one came to the door. Rang it again and heard the dog bark. No answer. I vaguely remember seeing one car gone as I walked across their driveway, so I decided that my neighbors Sue and Bruce must be gone and their 30ish daughter must be sleeping in. (She stays at their house when they’re out of town.) So across the street I tromped.

Knocked on those neighbors’ door, knowing they were probably awake because they have young children. No answer. Knocked again, then the dog barked. Soon a 7-year-old little girl looked out the front window as if wondering who the heck was knocking on the door. She relayed the message to her mom (probably said, “Hey, it’s that crazy lady from across the street!”), who soon opened the door. There we were, both of us disheveled (I in my fleece robe and barely combed hair, she in her flannel jammies and thermal top and hair twisted hastily in a bun). I said, “Do you have any baking soda, baking powder, and salt that I could borrow?” She invited me in while she went to get the ingredients from her kitchen. Warned me that I’d better turn around because her husband was in the shower and might come out naked (so I quickly turned my back toward the hall and stood gazing at the construction paper hearts hanging from strings taped to their kitchen ceiling). I explained, “It’s been a while since I made anything from scratch, and we just happened to be out of these ingredients.” She laughed and told me to come by anytime I needed to borrow stuff, that she did plenty of baking. I felt momentary jealousy, as she’s a stay-at-home mom and her two little girls are precious and I always fantasized about staying at home when my kids were young and baking things from scratch.

Back I went to the house, dug out my seldom-used hand mixer and actually found the beaters in another drawer, and satisfyingly mixed the batter for the banana bread (after microwaving some hardened brown sugar). Tossed in some craisins and chopped walnuts with my finally found nut chopper, and just for good measure threw in a little cinnamon.

I put the banana bread in the oven and wearily poured my second cup of coffee for the morning. Momentarily considered skipping it and going straight to the wine that I left on the kitchen counter last night, but it’s a little early in the day to be drinking. Besides, I have a lot of work to do before my valentine comes home tonight at 5:00 p.m. I may have to take a nap before then to rest up from my Holly Homemaker escapades.


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If I Could Have a Redo

If I could have a redo on parenting my children (yeah, we all want one…the tricky thing is that each child comes wired differently, and what you learn from parenting one child doesn’t necessarily work with the next child), here’s what I’d do:

1. Listen more. I so wish I had taken my son’s complaints about school bullies more seriously. I was thinking back to how we dealt with bullies in my day…you just hit them, or you figured out some way to disempower them. I remember a boy looking up my dress when I was in 2nd grade. I slapped the batter out of him! Fortunately, my teacher took time to ask for my side of the story when the boy ran to her crying. I told her what happened, and she looked at the boy and said, “You deserved that!”

Our sweet, sensitive, strong-willed, challenging son was tormented by bullies in elementary school. He wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue himself. I got calls from school about his acting up on field trips…spitting on people, for instance. He bit one child at our church when he was old enough to know better. I reacted to these situations mostly out of embarrassment rather than thinking about what I could do to seize the moment for a teaching opportunity

2. I would slow myself down and try not to react physically. I remember the time one of our children smart-mouthed me, and I watched in fascination and horror as my hand reached out of its own volition and slapped that little sucker across the face. I think it had some shock value, and I rarely heard such smart-aleckness again.

3. I still would practice corporal punishment, though it didn’t work well with our son. I know, it seems contradictory to hit a child when you’re trying to teach them nonviolent responses. But sometimes kids just need to know their limits. Time-out is too gentle a punishment sometimes. So is taking away privileges. With Daniel, taking away privileges just infuriated him further. When you have nothing more to lose, what do you do then? You rage! He knew exactly how to push all my buttons, and I responded (reacted) accordingly.

4. I would say “You are precious to me. You are precious to God. You are so loved! I love you” so many more times than I did when Daniel and Julie were growing up. I tried to convey those messages to them, but I’m sure that my impatience and fatigue often spoke much louder than my words.

5. I would cuddle with my kids more. In retrospect, I guess we did spend a lot of time cuddling, mostly while we were reading books together and often on Saturday mornings, when we let the kids crawl in bed with us for a while.

6. I‘d insist on cooking more with the children and not worry so much about the messes they made. One of my very favorite memories of Julie was when she had a preschool friend spend the night and we made brownies together. I stripped them down to their underwear, and they stirred the batter (of course, licking samples along the way). They had more brownie batter on their faces than got in the pan, I think…and I had to take pictures. So much fun!

7. I would be even more insistent that my children clean up their rooms. I tried to show them how to organize…but alas, that only lasted for a short while. I remember spending a whole day organizing Daniel’s room and labeling shelves when he was in 5th grade and at school. I thought my organizational system made a lot of sense: “a place for everything and everything in its place.” I called his room the hellhole, because that’s exactly how it felt when I entered it. He constantly left clothes on the floor, and you had to tromp through all sorts of stuff when you went into his room. I decided that I would just be the monster who stomped on everything. Sometimes we resorted to throwing his clothes out in the yard. That still didn’t make much of an impression on him.

8. I would probably not do day-to-day things that differently because I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time. If I could go back in time, I would read more books about ADEQUATE parenting, books that inflicted less guilt on me as a working mom (every mom is a working mom, but I bore the burden of working at a Christian institution that DARED to send the message that its female employees who were moms should be at home with their kids. What kind of bullshit was that? I was very angry that they had the gall to preach their little sermons when a large part of the workforce was working moms. How did they know each mother’s situation? How could they prescribe one-size-fits-all (and it’d better be men as the spiritual heads of their home as well as the providers for their family) for every family?

We working moms (outside the home) had it tough enough…every mom’s worst enemy is guilt…without our employer constantly sending the message that we weren’t good enough parents because we worked outside the home. Boy, do I wish I had had the courage to walk out of chapel more often when I heard the B.S. begin. I probably would have been fired, but at least I would have had my dignity.

9. I would have shown John more respect. Often I argued with him in front of the children. He was such a good daddy and was involved in raising our children, taking them to the doctor, taking care of them when they were sick…just as much as I did. His family background and approach to child-rearing was different from mine. Different, not better or worse. We had to learn to work together, and I am fortunate to say that we did manage to get through our kids’ teen and young adult rebellions and stay intact.

10. I would have emphasized brains less and inner beauty more. Smart is great, but smart ass is ugly. Sometimes I’m afraid that John and I modeled the smart assness more than we did the intelligence. And we prized intelligence over, say, just being a well-balanced person and loving the people around us. I think over time we have come to see the value of all sorts of people, and perhaps our kids have gotten an inkling of that as well.

11. I would still send my children to public schools. We were fortunate to have good public schools, though we had to provide transportation from middle school through high school every single day… I am so glad Daniel and Julie attended public high school where they encountered all kinds of people, not just kids like themselves.

12. I would spend more time doing service projects with my children. I managed to do more of that with Julie, serving at a soup kitchen and doing other community service through Girl Scouts. Somewhere along the line I lost Daniel to that, but he got to do some community service in high school that I think made a lasting impression on him. He has a heart for homeless people and would give his last penny to someone in need.

Well, enough of my “lofty” thoughts for today. I am privileged to be the mother of two fine young adults and the wife of one patient husband. I am blessed.

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Honoring the Holy Spaces Among Us

I have just come away from a 4-day writing retreat called “Wild With Words.” It was an inspiring, at times frightening, introspective, rollicking, revealing, holy time for me.

There were 12 of us in the room most of the time. At one point I counted 14. We came from all walks of life –a young mother of a nine-year-old and a nineteen-month-old; a director of church music; several female clergypersons; a corrections officer at a women’s prison; a woman whose husband recently suffered a stroke; a businesswoman seeking direction for the next chapter of her life; a retired engineer; a former executive at a Methodist agency who transplanted herself from New York to Nashville; a retired teacher; a 40ish man who confided he’d gained a lot from attending a Twelve-Steps program; and me, a wannabe writer who lets her editor hat take over too often.

What a week. Our able, sensitive leader (Martha Brunell) was full of ideas for writing prompts, clever ways of getting us to think about all sorts of subjects (mostly it was the luck of the draw from cards, slips of paper, sticky-note hearts,  Snapple caps), and encouragement for us to follow wherever our pens took us and to write in this safe space. The cardinal rule was that we would honor each person’s voice and refrain from analyzing or critiquing each other’s work. I have participated in a similar workshop led by my friend Amy Lyles Wilson, whose motto is that it is the sharing of our stories that saves us. Indeed.

I’ve got to tell you that I think this week may have saved my life and rejuvenated me for the writing I do every day in my marketing job. It was also quite therapeutic, as I ventured into some memories and confronted sometimes painful territory that I didn’t realize I was carrying around with me.

In the midst of it all was the holy spaces I felt touching each other. We came out of our solitude and shared parts of who we really are. The result was a sense of community among us, and I’m excited that the workshop/retreat participants who live in Nashville are planning to continue our journey of discovery together. Who knows what adventures that may bring!

I am grateful for some time away from my daily routine, for my employer allowing me this much-needed space, for my supportive spouse who didn’t complain about spending time alone at breakfast and dinner and who welcomed me with open arms when I came dragging home, exhausted, around 8:30-9:00 p.m. Now if I can just get rid of this damned insomnia…but meanwhile I’m surrendering to it and using it as an opportunity to get my thoughts on paper.

I wish for all of you times to get away from the daily grind, whether it is at a retreat or just a walk in nature. We all need time and space to recalibrate ourselves, get in touch with what really matters to us, and live our lives from that holy space. Oh, and along the way, we just might encounter other kindred spirits who are also trying to figure out their purpose in this journey called life.

In closing, I share one of my favorite quotes from Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 
 Rumi, Essential Rumi

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A Return to the 1960s

I’ve been mulling around what it would be like to return to the 1960s, though it was a tumultuous time in U.S. history. Being a child of the 1970s, here are  some things I remember from the late 1960s. I don’t think I want to go back there, because it was a confusing time in which to grow up.

1. Flower power. I remember having a clipboard in 7th grade that I plastered with neon orange and pink flowers, and I drew peace symbols everywhere. I loved that clipboard and carried it with me everywhere. The idea of “flower children,” with simple values of peace, love, and rock-n-roll appealed to me. I didn’t really know about the Summer of Love or the sexual revolution, nor did I care about that as a young adolescent. It just seemed to me that the song “Are You Going to San Francisco?” was a great anthem exemplifying the flower children. “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” … “peace and love, brotherhood” — those sounded like wonderful ideas to me at the time.

2. Antidisestablishmentarianism. Wow, what a big word. I remember my parents discussing how young people were out of control in their rebellion against The Establishment (their motto: Never trust anyone over 30). Something inside me resonated with this restlessness against the powers that be, though I never would have had the courage to stand up to my parents and basically tell them that their middle-class values were sending them straight to hell. (Now, looking back as a parent myself, I know why as a young adolescent I was attracted to this idea. It wasn’t too much fun being on the flip side of adolescent rebellion.)

3. The Jesus movement. Again, as an onlooker observing this movement from afar, I thought it was a “groovy” thing. People returned to the way things were done in the early church, even going so far as to live on communes (yes, they copied the hippies) and sharing their possessions. A new spirit of excitement about Jesus and an emphasis on Jesus’ humanity appealed to me as a young adolescent. Suddenly it was cool to like Jesus and to try to be like him. And as we all know, when you’re an adolescent, everything is about fitting in with your peers. That the Jesus movement would lead to the “one way” mentality in many Christians didn’t strike me at the time. I saw Jesus as my friend and as an example to follow. I still do, though I would like to think I’ve matured in my faith, and I am more impressed with Jesus the Teacher and Jesus the Son of God, but mainly how Jesus treated others.

4. The sexual revolution. I remember hearing a lot of arguments about the Pill and how it led to a promiscuous culture. Nowadays I look back on people like Gloria Steinem and other feminists and admire them for the courage they had to take a stand, even if some of what they stood for was not ideas I particularly agree with. I do think it should be up to women to be responsible for their own bodies, and I dislike the government trying to interfere and dictate what they do with their bodies. If someone chooses to have sex, they should be able to have access to protection against the consequences of sex (pregnancy, STDs, etc.). It’s nobody’s damn business what a woman does with her body. I myself chose to practice abstinence, but again, it’s nobody’s business to try to dictate the very personal area of sexuality. I am uncomfortable when anyone tries to push sexuality into the open. I don’t care what other people do in bed, just so they’re not in my face with it.

5. The erosion of trust in political figures. This didn’t appeal to me, but it was a fact of American culture during the ’60s. I remember Richard Nixon standing in front of TV cameras, waving his hands in a victory sign and declaring, “I am not a crook!” as his jowls shook and his body language conveyed the exact opposite. I also got sick to death of hearing about Watergate, and it was disillusioning to realize that the party in power would break into the opposite political party’s headquarters just to win an election.

6. Long-haired, unkempt young people. I remember guys growing their hair long (and I adore the song that talks about someone going for a job interview with his hair in a hat, and after he gets the job, he takes his hat off and says, “Imagine that!”) and what a controversy that aroused in their parents. I have evolved in my thinking about men with long hair. I remember a beautiful young man who lived on our street in the 1980s and how pretty his hair was. I was envious of his lustrous, curly locks… and now I don’t give a second thought to guys with long hair. That’s their business. Tattoos don’t bother me; neither do nose, ear, chin, lip, and eyebrow piercings. I do have a little problem with people who put plugs in their tongues and their ear lobes, mainly because the former makes them talk funny, and the latter — well, let’s just say there will be a lot of old people running around with extremely long ear lobes someday. But it’s a form of self-expression, and who am I to judge them? I’ve found that when I take time to talk to people who are decked out like this, for the most part they’ve been very nice and polite to me.

I still don’t think this world is going to hell in a handbasket. Youth culture is always going to go against the culture of older generations. In time, it seems, everything becomes balanced (or at least maybe we adjust to the ideas that people are different from us and it’s okay). Then we’re on to the next trend.

My concern about this generation is its rebellion toward “organized religion” and its culture of atheism. I suspect that much of it is a reaction to disappointing encounters with judgmental Christians who preach a gospel of fear (you’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways) rather than love.

These are my rambling thoughts at 5:30-6:20 a.m. Disclaimer: I’ve had only one cup of coffee. You may not agree with anything I’ve said. That’s okay. I’m open to talking about any ideas with you. Perhaps if we can learn to listen to each other respectfully, we can have some interesting dialogue.

[Perhaps you wonder why I chose a photo of a whale to go with this post. I don’t know. I have a limited number of images in my media library, and sometimes I just like this image of the whale submerging.]

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