Two Storms That Shook My Faith

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.

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. 😀 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.


If I Could Have a Redo

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.