Walter

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When I make myself sit still long enough, I love to watch the wind in the tree tops.  It’s peaceful and calming.

There are people in life like that, like wind in tree tops.

Walter was one.

Thinking about him now, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know more facts of his life, like the year he was born, where he was born or where he went to school.  I learned a lot when I read his obituary.  The Walter I know best is the one who married my aunt, my mother’s younger sister.

He loved her.  He loved her son, Adam, as his own.  He held things together when her daughter died.

That’s what Walt did.  He held people and situations together with peace and calm.

When my boys spent summer days in California with their grandparents, I heard all about their visit with Uncle Walt, what he said, where they went and the airplane flights he took them on.  My youngest credits him with his career choice because “Uncle Walt said to pick what I absolutely love to do”.  So he absolutely did.

Walt was a successful business man who stayed out of the spotlight.  He was a doer and a giver who didn’t want the credit.  He was a follower of Christ who didn’t preach.  His every day life said it all.

He was gracious and loving to my parents and grandparents.  And over time I began to see him as more than just a nice man who married my aunt.  He was a good friend and a voice of wisdom.

He loved good books, good conversation, good coffee and wide open spaces.  He was pretty fond of trees, too.

He typically didn’t offer opinions, but was happy to oblige when asked.  I liked that.  Sometimes he said what you didn’t want to hear, but I mostly liked that too.  It was honest.

Years ago my parents decided it was time to downsize from a big house to a little bit smaller big house.  Mom found the perfect floor plan in the perfect location.  They had planned to pay cash but their house was stuck in escrow, and time was running out.  Walt didn’t want them  to worry and said he would buy it for them.  And they could pay him back later.

And that’s exactly what happened.

He bought them a house!  He did it as casually as you’d loan someone a jacket or buy them an ice cream cone.

Who does a thing like that?

Walter.

As the years rolled on, he was there to bury my grandparents.  And then he buried my aunt.

When it was time to make big changes for my parents, Walt agreed it was good to move them north with me.  He told me I was doing the right thing.  Those words relieved me.  Because sometimes doing the right thing looks like anything but.

After the move there was rarely a week that Walt didn’t call Mom or she him.

But he hadn’t been well.  Not for a long time.  He didn’t like to talk about it and preferred to enjoy the good moments, drink the good coffee and spend time with people he loved.   And so, one year ago, with that goal in mind he made his last driving trip north.

It took him two days to drive a distance that Doug or I drive in a few hours.  We had a great visit, Mom was thrilled and he ate fresh tomato sandwiches straight from Doug’s garden  When Walt was ready to leave, all he wanted us to do for him was look on our fancy phones and find him some Dutch Bros. coffee places along his route.  He left a happy man… with a list of freeway exit numbers in hand.

Two months ago, Mom called as normal and was surprised to hear he’d been in the hospital… that there was no more they could do… that he was in hospice care.

Doug and I went to see him one more time.

It was obvious he was in pain and didn’t want to talk about that.  But one of his first questions was to ask about Doug’s health, which is classic Walt.  And since Doug is equally committed to not talking about that either, the conversation moved on.  To things like…

… did we have our trust in order?  Because, you know, “it’s important for your family”.  And we talked a little bit about the knucklehead presidential election… and a lot about fresh tomato sandwiches.  We updated him on our kids.  He talked about Adam and how blessed he was to have him.

Next morning we arrived with Dutch Bros. and cinnamon rolls before leaving town.  Had one more hug goodbye, and hit the road.

It’s been one month today that Walter left us.  There was no fanfare at his leaving.  It’s been quiet and calm, kind of like wind in tree tops.  But I think that would be fine with Walt.  It suits his style.

In the book of Hebrews, Paul talks about the heroes of our faith, the forerunners, the trail blazers…  people like Abraham, Isaac, Moses and David… how they struggled on their journeys and are now witnesses to ours.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Walt didn’t carry extra weight of any kind… no stress, no bitterness, no worries, no anger.  He traveled light and loved well.  He did what he knew to do and let the rest go.

I like to think that as Walt made his run that last day, he could hear the excited voices encouraging, urging him forward.  And when he opened the front door of home, was greeted with cheers and hugs and high-fives from these happy faces, these who had blazed the trail before him.

And I don’t think he minded at all… a little bit of fanfare.

Well done, Walter.

And, thank you.

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the case for sensible shoes… and freedom

My mother is struggling to find comfortable shoes.  Therefore, I am struggling to help her find comfortable shoes.  Sore feet do not make for happy people.  And we need to find some happy around here!

She finds shoes in catalogs.  I order them online.  We go shopping once a week and come home with more.  Sometimes they get returned, but mostly not.

The other day she had me mail a package to my sister.  Then told me she sent the “cute, blue stretchy pair” to my niece.  It occurred to me this might be an inherited family trait.  My grandmother used to complain about her feet all the time.  She bought shoes all the time.  Offered them to me all the time.  Or… mailed them to me.

Quite a while ago Mom was fitted with sensible shoes.  They have special inserts to address her particular foot problems.

She does not wear them.

Except when she goes to the doctor.

Admittedly, they aren’t pretty.  But if they keep you walking, why wouldn’t you wear them?

So last week at her appointment the doctor asked me the questions…

Dr – “does she wear these other than when she comes to see me?” (sounds like he’s been this route before)

Me – “um, no”

D. – “does she scuff around the house in slippers with no support”

Me – “um, yes”

I felt like a horrible, rotten, betraying daughter.  And Mom was pretty crushed.  The doc made it clear there is no magic pill or potion for happy feet – – just good support.  Period.

And then Mom said it – “Well, I guess I’m just vain about my feet and shoes”.

Yes!  Yes!  Me too!

Except it’s not about my feet and shoes.  It’s all the rest of me.

This past year has been full of major events.  Among them, two son’s weddings and a formal military retirement.  Every event had its share of picture-taking.

I try to avoid being photographed.  This can be accomplished by being the photographer.  Short of that, I do my best to hang in the background or camouflage myself behind a shoulder.  Afterwards I spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing myself.

Why do I do that?  It’s no secret that I’m over weight.  No camouflage hides that.  And I’ve lived on this earth for 67 years.  No secret there either.

And before you know it, the special day is over.  There are pictures to prove it… I’m just not in many of them.

A few weeks ago some of the family dropped by.  We had dinner then sat around the table gabbing.  I love that.  My granddaughter was on my lap as my daughter-in-law snapped our picture.  She asked permission to put it on Facebook.

I surprised myself by agreeing.

Later, privately, I did my usual lament about an overdue trip to the hair salon, the make-up-less face, the double chin.  I loved having the picture, but hoped no one would scroll down my page and actually see it.

But really, how much longer will this granddaughter sit on my lap and wrap her arms around my neck?  Or her siblings?  Her cousins?  Not much longer.  I want pictures of that, not only in memory but to hold in my hand.

And do I really want to waste one more minute thinking about things I cannot change?  Or worse, fretting about something I can change but haven’t?  Nope.  I don’t.

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So the last few days Mom has been wearing her sensible shoes… mostly.  She’s trying a little harder to make the good choices for her health and accept what can’t be changed.

Me too.

And personally, I’ve always loved sensible shoes.  Maybe I get that from my other grandmother?

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loving grown-up sons

Awhile back I wrote of the ease and sweet memories of loving little sons.  Loving grown-up sons is more complicated.  Maybe not so much the loving as the letting go.

Their adult lives have been shaped by experiences I have not lived and do not understand.  They have wives and children, careers, friends and activities to fill their days.  I am only a small part of that.

As adults, they are well able to see me for who I am.  My vulnerabilities and imperfections are on full display.

But it wasn’t always that way.

When Daniel was in elementary school, he hopped onto a bicycle that was too big, drove into the middle of the street and smack into a car that had (fortunately) slowed down to make a right turn.

He was on his feet with a bloody arm, headed to the house before the driver realized what had happened.  I wrapped a clean bath towel around the wound because I didn’t want him to see it and be afraid.

I didn’t want to see it and be afraid.  But even at that, I could keep it together.  I could make the decision.  A trip to the ER, a few stitches and all was well in our world again.

I expected loving and caring for sons would cover uncharted territory as the years went by.  I just didn’t expect it to come in the form of war and bullets and 3 a.m. phone calls from strange-sounding places on the other side of the earth.

I didn’t expect it to come from jungles in Ecuador, or helicopter flights from Oregon to Alaska.  In winter.  That briefly lost power.  No, I didn’t like hearing that.

And I didn’t expect it one year ago on Labor Day, when I walked into the house, arms full of groceries to, “Courtney called, and Daniel… motorcycle down… hospital…call later”.

I didn’t expect to hear my son had been hauled out of a blackberry thicket by paramedics, broken and bleeding.

When I saw him the next day I realized there was no bath towel big enough to wrap around this wound.  Because it was his whole, alive self.  The most important word in that last sentence being – ALIVE.

So I sat next to him awhile as his sweet and capable wife managed and charted his pain meds.  I made a lame comment or two.  I patted his arm.

And I presented him with a bag of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies… which he could not eat because of the stitches in his mouth.  Talk about lame…

He asked me to pull the cover over his exposed ankle.  Maybe because he was trying to give his poor mother something to do.  Maybe because he wanted to cover the wound so I wouldn’t see it and be afraid.  Or maybe because his foot was cold.

Whatever the reason, it was the only thing I did that day that felt the tiniest bit helpful.

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Photo Collage by Courtney McGillivray

Happily he is mostly recovered.  It’s been slow and steady and painful. The need to get back on his feet and care for his family has pushed him forward.  And bonus, he can eat chocolate chip cookies again!

I’ve never been the hovering sort.  But still, this inward process of letting go and loving grown-up sons has been much like Daniel’s recovery.  Slow, steady and occasionally painful.

They don’t need me to be a giant Mom bandage of protection.  They never did..

I think they just need me to trust and relax and cheer them on.  To have the answer when they call for that recipe I used to make.  To gather us around the family table when time permits.

Since there’s no point hiding it, I will let them see the good, the bad, and the silly of me… and hope they will do the same.  Leaving that open space of vulnerability is, to me, the only way you can honestly love anybody anyway.

And I will continue to hand them over to God.  Every single day.  His love is bigger and stronger than mine.  And I will do this over and over and over again until the day I die.

Which I hope isn’t soon.

Because there are still beach trips that need to happen, trips to anywhere that need to happen, grandchild adventures, craft days with daughters-in-law and my photographs aren’t sorted.

And there’s still a zip-line in a forest calling my name.

 

 

making the climb, hanging on

With a baby there are sleepless nights, diapers to change and constant feedings.  The mess they make is contained to a relatively small space.

With a helpless, aging adult there are sleepless nights, diapers to change and the challenge to find ways to feed them adequately when they’ve forgotten how to use knife and fork.  And the messes, well, they can cover a mind-blowingly large space.

With a baby the work is hard and often isolating, especially for the stay at home parent. But babies are cute.  The internet is loaded with helpful, funny, encouraging “mommy blogs”. You know this won’t last forever and the expectation is baby will grow month by month, year by year into an independent adult.

With the helpless, aging adult there is continued decline.  Independence is gone.  They are not cute. The process is isolating for the one being cared for and the one doing the caring. Although you know this won’t last forever, you can’t help but wonder “how long”.  You feel like a jerk.

And I guarantee you, absolutely no one wants to read about it.

It’s not a pretty story.  And oddly enough, the people you think might care the most want to hear it the least.

A few days ago I accidentally washed a little frog off the side of a flower-pot.  Didn’t mean to do it, but with one misplaced splash of water, down he went.  It took him awhile but he made the climb with his sticky, little feet (or whatever you call them on a frog) and eventually got to the top.  I admired his “stick-to-it-ness”.  Get it? Stick? Sticky? Ok, well…

Anyway, some days can feel like the frog that got washed away.  It can take a while to get your bearings and find a new route to where you need to go.  Especially when it’s hard to ask for help… because you never know what to expect from that.

But on this day the phone rang.  And I didn’t answer it.  Because it was the lady from the state who has an outreach to family caregivers.  I didn’t answer.  Outreach to family caregivers.  What is wrong with me?

Because even I don’t want to read or hear or talk about it.  I’m just trying to hang on. Don’t confuse me with help.

I did call her back, however.  It’s the polite thing to do.

And she had just the right words.  Information I didn’t know I needed.  That came at the right time.

I’d hung on long enough to hear them.

My journal is filled with questions, as God helps me work through these years.  Sometimes the occasional answer is even written down.  Mostly I write in circles and lately it’s been frustrating.

But Jesus said he was leaving something behind…

I’m leaving you at peace. I’m giving you my own peace. I’m not giving it to you as the world gives. So don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid.  

John 14:27

His Very Own Peace.

And again I’m reminded to lose the worry for the answers and not be afraid.  Just take the free gift.  And probably the phone calls too.

I had another bit of encouragement this weekend.  I went to the Oregon State Fair for the first time in all the years I’ve lived here.  One building housed a group of Oregon Authors. Imagine, piles of books and authors… all in one place!

Honestly though, it was a rather lackluster looking group.  Except for one lady.  She was on her feet chatting with other fair goers.  Everyone else was quietly seated.  Most were hesitant to make eye contact.  No business cards.  But this lady, she had a table full of pretty, purple books, leaflets to hand out and directions to her Amazon page.

She was an energy magnet that pulled person after person to her table.

And she is 94 years old.

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She did caution me though, “don’t wait as long as I did to write your story, dear”.

“I have three more in me and time is running out!”

Thank you Ruby Williams Jones for,  The Heart of the Homestead.  Thank you for not giving up on your story.

 

And thank you, Jesus, for taking on the weight of those words that some don’t want to hear.  And loving us all anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

loving little sons

They slid quietly onto the benches looking much like we did when we first arrived.

Red-faced with sweat dampened hair, three teenage girls took an open bench for themselves. Mom and two small boys, maybe 5 and 8, took a seat behind them on a bench already occupied.  Somehow the three of them squished into a space that was meant for one adult.

Needing to find – 1) a place to sit and 2) some shade, Doug and I and our 13-year-old grandson found ourselves at the County Fair Fiddle Contest last week.  Since our grandson plays the violin (and also football – he would want you to know!) and loves fiddle music, we had planned to attend anyway.  We finally found the venue after an hour of wandering in the heat through 4-H exhibits, covered by the smell of greasy fair food.

But this one mom and her two little boys, they captivated me.

Her strong arms wrapped around their waists and their small, suntanned arms around her neck.  Toes tapped to the music.  There was whispering and giggling, but kept to a respectful volume.  Her smile was constant.  She let them take turns to alternately sit on her lap or hang off the side of the bench.  It looked like an uncomfortable arrangement to me, but didn’t seem to bother them.

Watching them, I missed my boys at that age.

And I kind of wanted to take their picture, but thought that might be a little creepy.

As it turns out I didn’t need an actual picture because the mental image of them stayed with me all week.  I was in a wistful frame of mind that day anyway, trying to cram a pile of memories into 2 days with a grandson who is growing up too fast for my taste.

I remembered an older woman who chastised me years ago for the level of attention and affection I showed my sons.  It would spoil them.  It didn’t seem appropriate in her mind.  In my mind I worried that I didn’t give them enough.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she meant well then.  Just as I give it to her now, and to myself that I did OK.

When it comes to little sons, I am convinced there is no such thing as too many hugs or too much cuddling on the sofa or too much lounging on the bed with story books.  Is there an age limit to sitting on laps, holding hands, giggling, and public displays of affection? Probably.  But that’s something we figure out as we go.

So last week at the fair, I enjoyed fiddle music and snow cones with my grandson.  And it was good.

Soon enough he will walk away to his own grown-up life like his father did.  And while I pray he has his share of good things, I know he will have his share of adversity and hard lessons.

We only have them with us for a short while.  I’d like to think the foundation of love, attention and shared experiences give them strength and confidence along the way.

And I’m thankful for “fiddle contest mom and sons”.

The sweetness of their connection helped me remember a thousand little images never captured on film, but captured instead on my heart.

 

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morning ritual

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the best way to start my day.

I’ve listened to podcasts and read some books.

I want to pray more effectively.  I want to add physical exercise to my morning.  And I need to get as much done as early as I can because my senior citizen status overtakes me every afternoon about 2 pm.

Fortunately, I love to learn.  And love to read.  I respect the lessons others have learned and that they take the time to share them with the rest of us.

Unfortunately, it’s also easy for me to believe that someone else ALWAYS does “it”, whatever my current “it” is, better than me.  My default is to believe I am doing it all wrong

So I’ve tried a couple new routines.  I’ve given them proper time and open mindedness.  And while there is worthwhile information to be had, I feel phony and fake in the doing.

I don’t get the right words said in the right order.

My body won’t exercise at 6 am.  It has made that very clear to me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that another person’s formula isn’t necessarily for me.

And that it is OK.

By nature, morning is my favorite time of day.  I love the peace.  I love to spend time with God.  And I love to start early.  Between 5 to 6 a.m.

The coffee pot goes on first thing.  That is the only consistent thing I do.

Then I read books and scripture.  I pray – sometimes out loud, sometimes silently, and sometimes in my journal.  If inspiration hits, I grab the computer and write.

Sometimes I put on a CD and iron.  Clothes.  Ironing clothes can be a spiritual practice… if you’re me.

Sometimes I throw a flannel shirt over my pajama clad self and go outside.  (benefit of living in the country)

I just breathe.  I walk.  I enjoy the flowers.  I take pictures.  I shoosh the deer away from the apple tree and she pays no attention.

I talk to God.

Sometimes I do all of the above.  Sometimes just a couple.  Sometimes the needs of another take priority.

I’ll never do them all at the same time, in the same way.  I’ll never say all the right words in the right order, but I don’t think that’s even a thing to worry about.  Seriously.

I’ll add new practices now and then.  I’ll forget to do something I’ve always done. (except for the coffee)

And I think that’s just fine.

God made me who I am… the need for orderliness, the hit and miss reality, but always the desire to know Him better.

As long as I start the day with Him, I figure we’re good.

narrow bands of time

Last weekend we made the familiar 10 hour drive south.  Since my husband and I wouldn’t see my uncle until the next day and there were no motel rooms available anyway, we drove the extra hour into San Francisco.

That choice gave us dinner at a favorite restaurant, and an unseasonably affordable, beautiful hotel room in Union Square.

From our 9th floor location, I couldn’t resist this shot of the narrow stairwell.

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I imagined all the feet that climbed here a century ago.

I felt the presence of my grandmother and even her mother.  Both would have recognized this very building in the city that was home to several generations of us.

I thought about the narrow band of time each of us is given to use on this earth.  Some squander their gift.  Some choose the safe, quiet and, I suspect, unfulfilled path.  Still others dare to risk – –  to deeply love, to make mistakes, to give extravagantly and to make their narrow band a better place.

My uncle is one of the latter.

I’ve thought about him all week, his grave medical prognosis and the impact his life has had.  He joined our family through marriage when I was grown with children of my own.  Yet his connection and influence feels more like a lifetime.

I’m thankful for his example.

I’m blessed to be part of his narrow band of time.

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