Showing Up… for 43 years

Forty-three years ago today, I put on the dress my mother made and went to church.

I hoped you would be there.

Well, actually, I knew you would be… it was just a matter of when.  Because of, you know… that little time management thingy you’ve got going on 🙂

But you were not only there… you were the first one.  Before the doors of the church were even unlocked.

We started our life on time – at the perfect time – for us.

And I know you’ll find this hard to believe because of, you know… that little worry-wart thingy I’ve got going on… but I’ve always known you’d be there… known I could count on you.

I knew it for sure that day I sat on a suit case, holding our son tight, in freezing Tok, watching you fix our broken truck with makeshift tools and makeshift parts.  It was cold and scary and our faith in mankind was badly bruised, but you pressed on…

Then we pressed on.

In all these years we haven’t done very much “on time” or in the “prescribed manner”.

We’ve lived each other’s worst… and each other’s best.

You’ve risked criticism to pursue a dream or two, a crazy idea or two…

… and my goodness, don’t we know how folks like to criticize.

But you didn’t care back then.  And you don’t care now… what others think.

I like that kind of brave.

Because fear of man gets you nowhere fast.

And because in the end, the only things that matter are the promises we made that very first day… to God… to each other… to the family we would have.

When tomorrow rolls around…

…I’ll show up if you will.

Love’s new definition

Andrew and Daniel of “olden days”

The other team had color-coordinated everything… and classy coolers full of ridiculously healthy snacks.

Our team at least had matching red jerseys (kind of), juice boxes and homemade cookies… plus a lot of spunk.

The other team had cute, little girl cheerleaders.

Our team had two scrappy boys who decided to cheer-lead for their brother.

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I love that my sons stick up for each other.  They’d never be mushy and say “I love you”… although I know they do.

On the flip side they are each others most harsh critic.  Yet I know they’d go to hell and back for one another.

Two of them did, actually.  Into the heart of war-torn Iraq.  They went for each other. For the brothers they served with. For us back home.  They were touched by the faces of nameless children caught in hellish violence.  They came home better, stronger men.

They didn’t physically find each other on that side of the world, but they found each other on this side… safe and sound and whole… just the way that makes a mama’s heart happy and ends the story well.

Last weekend I was in California helping my folks with legal decisions and money decisions and “where will I live” decisions.  It was hard stuff for them to talk about.  Hard to make big changes to lives already well lived, long lived.  But it was easy for me to be there.  It was a privilege to be there.  And it was all tied up in a big bow of love… feelings and all.

And then I travel back to this one I provide care for… this one I feel so estranged from… where there is no “feeling”.  And it makes me crazy there isn’t.  Isn’t there supposed to be, regardless of past hurts?  Just a little flicker of something?  Am I cold-hearted, uncaring?

I recently read a quote posted on Facebook, of all places, by author Ann Voskamp.  She said – Love isn’t a feeling but a tying.  The practical translation of “I Love You” is “I am tied to You” – no matter what breaks loose.

I like that.  It’s helping me come to terms with this one I can’t find the love feeling for.

Because we are absolutely tied in many ways, like it or not.  And I am committed to a set of responsibilities, like it or not.  And perhaps, the act of doing something she can no longer do for herself really is a way of loving… regardless if there’s a feeling attached.

My husband thinks I think too much.  He might be right.  But maybe I’m on to something.

So from now on…

Love = I am tied to you = I will honor the commitments those ties created = Love

That might be goofy, but I’m rolling with it……

Me and Mom and Osmosis

When I read Gone With the Wind, I totally pictured my mom as one of those gorgeous, genteel, southern belles… skilled in every social grace.

Once the kids in my class asked me if she was an actress because she wore sunglasses to a parent-teacher conference… and in today’s parlance, she looked smokin’.

Mom being a little hammy

She greeted me after school as though I’d returned from a long journey and had exciting adventures to tell… could it be that is how she taught me to be a storyteller, while not being one herself?

The house always smelled like a basket of clean laundry just brought inside from hanging on the line… and my boys know how much I love doing laundry…for real, truly.

Mom could make anything, anywhere look beautiful at anytime… with the possible exception of me.

Because it turned out that I am almost her complete opposite.

Quiet and slightly suspicious, I checked people out before I jumped in.

She laughed and insisted “it will all work out eventually”… I worried everything to death.

I didn’t care about “girl stuff” – – I liked to ride my bike, dig in the dirt, build forts and play “army” with the boys.  And lucky me, I got to be a mom to several… boys, that is.

Mom sent me to school with curled hair and pretty handmade dresses.  I returned each afternoon with ripped out hems, crooked pigtails and skinned knees.

complete with ripped out hem…

She was excited for school clothes shopping expeditions.  My version – just slap any old thing on me and call it good.

She loved to plan parties.  I hid in the bathroom when the entire church youth group showed up for my 16th birthday.

She taught me stuff, but I don’t know how.  She never said, “come here right now and learn to cook, change a diaper, paint a wall, sew a skirt, iron a shirt”.  I guess it was osmosis, because I seemed to know, when I needed to know it.  Very weird…

Me and Mom and Osmosis at work

I wanted to be like her… but wanted to be like me at the same time.  And she always encouraged that… to be me all the time.

I broke her heart once… (well, probably more than once)

…when I told her I was moving to Alaska, and taking her first-born grandson with me.

She adapted… and conquered fears… and stepped into planes… and visited a land far away from her comfort zone to make new memories.

At Chugach State Park, Alaska…. a long, long time ago

“Mom! It still smells like Grandma’s here!” the boys would say, weeks after her visit ended.  And we would find squares of tissue sprayed with perfume, tucked behind pillows and under cushions and we all loved that.

She never made me feel “less than” because of our differences.  She seemed to enjoy it.  Maybe she held the same wonder and curiosity about me that I had for her.

When I sit down with a cup of coffee, she’s still the one I’d like to share conversation with… I still want to know what she thinks and how she feels and does she think I’m on the right track.

Even now, having reached Grandma status myself, I share the tough place life has brought me to and she answers… with prayer, encouragement, smiles and God’s word.

She is a gift.

Linking with Ann for the 1000 Moms Project…

1000 Moms Project

On Dental Care, Sweat Rags and Leaving a Legacy

I’ve been thinking a lot on the legacy I will leave behind.  Not sure why this has captured my thought process so much lately.  Of course, living with an aged person… and on the fast track to becoming one myself, I guess it’s kind of “normal”.

I mean, what will my kids and grandkids remember most about me?  Will they laugh at the fond memories?  Cry because they miss me?  Will they cuddle up in the quilts I imagine I might make for them someday, cradling one of my beloved books?  Do they even care about quilts?  Or books?

Or…. will they breathe a sigh of relief and say “man, that was one crazy old gal”?  Will they find something embarrassing stashed in a dresser drawer?  Or written in a journal?  Will they put a sticker over my face in the family photos?  I don’t know.

However, I am thinking it would be good to review my journals.

Recently, while on my quest to sort boxes of stuff and part with stuff so my life is no longer ruled by stuff, I found this….

….our old family toothbrush holder.  All our names in that ongoing circle.  My mom made it for me.

Back in the day I did a lot of ordering about and commanding of the brushing of teeth…

“brush those teeth and get to bed!! – – don’t you dare leave this house without brushing your teeth!! – – get out of bed and get those teeth brushed!! – – I can’t afford dental bills!”

And oddly, I didn’t really give a rip about our ceramic tooth-brush holder back then.  So why am I all misty eyed over it now?

Then there were the driving lessons with teenage sons.

I was not good at that.  It made me nervous.  Always prepared however, I kept paper towels in the car.  Then when my hands got clammy and started to sweat profusely I could dry them off.  Besides, there are myriad uses for paper towels when you tote a car load of boys around.

Sons referred to the paper towels as my “sweat rags”.

Every time we headed out, I would grab my handful of towels, try desperately to stifle the sighs and groans… all the while stomping on the imaginary brake all parents wish they had on the passenger side of the car.

It wasn’t very pretty.

One weekend David and I were visiting his grandparents.  It was a two-hour drive in a rural area and a great chance for him to practice.  But about five minutes into the drive home he just pulled the car over, turned off the ignition and handed me the key.  His stealy-eyed glare said more than words ever could.

I always felt bad about that.

David went on to become an excellent driver and a leader of men in war.  So I feel a tad silly looking back on all the stressing over teeth-brushing and car-driving.  He does have a beautiful smile though.

I don’t want my sons remembering all that goofy stuff… at least not in a “she was a pain in the neck” way.  So I’ve got to come up with better things.

It’s a forgone conclusion my legacy will have nothing to do with monetary value.  Hope they won’t mind

And I’m not sure I will ever finish all the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 done quilts and knitted afghans I’ve started.

This month I had a goal to add another 10,000 words to the story of us.  I won’t make that goal, but I did complete a very detailed blueprint of what this story will look like.  And I feel good about that.

It turns out that knowing where you’re headed is quite helpful in the writing process.

So for now, that’s my plan.  Just keep writing the story of us.  There are still things I need to tell them – – better things that just to brush their teeth.  I like to think of them reading and laughing and maybe even shedding a tear or two over things they couldn’t possibly have known back then.

I’d like to be the passer on of the flame… of family knowledge and love.

And I’m keeping that toothbrush holder.  Vase for small flowers?  Pencil holder for my desk?  A place to stash my “fat-free” red vines?  Yes.  I like that.

The Mystery of Raising Children

How did this little boy…

… become this hard-working man

… and this daddy of three?

Photo courtesy of Courtney

At birth I held each son and wondered…

….. what will you look like?

….. what kind of man will you be?

….. what will you do in this world?

And I just trusted God.

Four brothers = lots of trusting.

Valdez, Alaska

I didn’t care what they did for a living… just that they loved it and did it well.

I didn’t care about the hair styles, the music of the day or who “started it first”… I simply cared, that at the end of the day, they would love each other and God.

And today… a milestone birthday for this youngest son of mine… I can’t think about any of them without the words – honor, integrity, love – floating to the surface.

And it’s all the more a mystery because I know the mistakes I made.

I mean, how could I do so many things so wrong and they still turn out so right?

God… the only one who could orchestrate this mystery miracle so perfectly.

Sharing Love Honestly

The last few days have been a little prickly.

While I care for another’s mom…

…my own was 600 miles and a snowy mountain range away in a hospital bed.

And Dad… well, he just doesn’t do so well without Mom these days.  He called each evening sounding lost.  My sister found him one night eating a donut and a yogurt for dinner.  (and since they don’t do the computer-blog reading thing, I won’t tell Mom if you won’t!)

The last few days were a lesson in patience and trust.  My daughterly desire to race over the mountain, give hugs, tidy the house and bake a few casseroles had to be set aside.  I knew Mom and Dad were in good hands.  They are in family hands, friend hands, church family hands, and most importantly… God’s hands.

I have to be honest though… I wondered a couple of times if I would see Mom again on this earth.  And I thought about things people say, like – “if I’d known I’d never see them again I would have said ________ (fill in the blank)”.

My Mom?  I can’t think of a thing that hasn’t been said.  Love is shared (easily).  Hard things have been spoken (not easily).  I believe it’s that honest, hard sharing that cleared the way for the good and loving.

For the past 36 years I have lived several hundred to several thousand miles away.  And yet, there is no distance between us.

Six months ago we sat on her sofa, a 60-something and an 80-something… laughing, crying, sharing our hearts.  We sat together in church singing praise to God.  We sat at her perfectly color-coordinated, properly set table for dinner with Dad – her husband of almost 66 years now.  And I am amazed.  And blessed.

Hundreds of miles away, the thought of her encourages me to do what I need to do… to say what I need to say.

Fortunately, Mom is out of the hospital and home.  I think there will be no more donut dinners for Dad.

I’ll be travelling there in the not too distant future.  Afterall, there are still stores to be shopped in, yummy desserts to be eaten (maybe fresh fruit would be better) and late-night gab fests to be had.

I’m so thankful for Mom’s legacy of love and honesty… if I only pass on a portion of it I’ll be doing great.

The best kind of meal….

Our old house languishes two hours north of us… the rooms almost empty, the workshop a mess… waiting for coats of paint and new floors and its new occupants to enter in.

So Doug and I trek there and begin our weekly list of chores.

Then a son and daughter-in-law arrive, then two more, then three more.  And hours later the house is emptier, the truck fuller, the workshop… well, that’s another story.

We head out with tired muscles and hungry stomachs.

And we sit around the biggest table they have available – – six grown-ups and three small ones.

And we eat burgers and fries, and talk all over each other, and laugh, and kiddos are content.

“that’s my favorite thing”, Doug says as we drive home,  “impromptu, enjoying a meal, everyone relaxed – Christmas dinner is nice, but I like this best”.

And I think about that all the night and all the next day.

I think about the big holiday meals, the birthday parties, the years of dinner around our table.  Dinner at the table was non-negotiable, even for teenage boys.  And I’m glad for that.  It was the simple meal times where the real was shared… dreams and plans, jokes and laughter… and even the occasional heated debate.

So, I agree with Doug.  In fact, it was the best meal I’d had in days… high fat and calorie content not withstanding.  It fed the body AND the soul.

And if that wasn’t enough, Little Girl finally has enough hair for her first barrett.

Does it get any better than that?

Do They Know… I pray?

This morning Andrew left for three weeks of advanced military training.  He’s only flying to the middle of America.  It’s not like he’s flying into the middle of war, but still… I pray and watch the clock and hope I might get a text that all is well… eventually.  I wonder if he feels those prayers?

When David’s boots touched ground in Afghanistan for the first time, when Daniel married his high school sweetheart and set out across country in a driving blizzard, when Ian boarded a plane for Ecuador during political upheaval to work in the jungle… did they know I was praying, watching the clock and hoping to hear… eventually?

Do they know my calendar is filled with their comings and goings and birth dates?  That my notepad has times and dates and names of people and places scattered among my doodles?  Wether it’s a trip halfway round the world or across town, they are always milling about in my head and heart.  Always.

The prayers of moms for their little ones don’t end just because they grow up.  In fact they get bigger, more complex, more consistent as daughters-in-law, grandchildren, careers, promotions and hurtful losses enter in.

I’ve always felt my mother’s prayers.

When the boys were small and we lived 3000 miles from family and times were hard, I felt my mother’s hand one day.  We had been waiting for a check.  The cupboards and fridge looked mighty empty.  I didn’t want to be a pest, but I finally picked up the phone to ask if there was a problem.  They were all apology.  It had “slipped thru the cracks”.  They would try to get it out that day, but they were short-staffed.

So I hung up the phone and flopped on my bed.  I swung my arm up to put under my head, but instead my hand flopped down on my forehead.  As goofy as this might sound, it was my mother’s hand… cool, comforting and soft.  I smelled her perfume.  I heard her voice, “it’s ok honey… just pray”.

I did.

Just awhile ago, as I was typing this post the text arrived.  He’s away.  Good son.

All Grown Up Now

I called a son on his birthday a few days ago… nothing too unusual about that.

He: Hey, Mom…what’s happening?

Me: Just calling to say Happy Birthday.

He: Thanks, Mom.

This is the son who always had the happy, smiley face, the where’s-the-party personality, the Super Man key chain (and driving record) that survived his teen and military years.

It’s the rest of the birthday call that I’ve been thinking on:

Me: So what are you doing?

He: Oh, just got home from work…long day.

Me: Well, so are you having a great birthday dinner?

He: Oh (laugh) I just grabbed a burrito.

Me: Oh?  So, are you going to do something fun with anyone???

He: Well, you know, Mom, I have to get up early for work tomorrow…you know.

Yes, I know.

And I know how easy it is for the everydayness and responsibility to take over… and steal our dreams… and cause us to forget that great idea that just might change the world, or at least ourselves… and tells us to stuff away that quirky part of our personality when in reality it is the genius part of our personality.

I know these things.

There’s no question though – I’m glad this son, and his brothers, have grown into honorable, dependable men.

And I’m glad the birthday boy thought it wise to celebrate quietly at home on a work night… with a burrito….

But I haven’t seen his Super Man key chain in a long time.  It was replaced by something more “grown up”.

I think he needs a new one… as a reminder.

Epiphany…. I almost missed it

It takes me awhile to process things.  I “mull”, I debate inwardly over and over again, which is why I am just now coming to terms with January 1st.

January 1st was our family Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years all rolled into one.  A lot of expectation for one little day.

It was the day we had most of our kids and most of our grandkids gathered round.

I LOVED IT….

and I didn’t….

…..because we also shared that day with dementia…. the one who says inappropriate things and does inappropriate things.  And I spent time looking after her when I would rather have held a grandchild or enjoyed a grown-up conversation with a grown-up son…. one I barely got to visit with.

…and then I forgot to take pictures of everyone at the table…..and I missed seeing some of the gifts opened…..and I’ve not one single picture of Robert.

January 2nd I sat at the empty table… except for the crumbs …and the cute little snow babies.  They glow when you turn them on.

I turned them on.

And I whined at God.  I know I asked for more direction and purpose in my life, but is this really it?  Did the unpleasant thing that happened yesterday really have to happen on my one and only day with family?

January 3rd I had other things to focus on…. husband’s post-op appointment, the long drive, stopping in at his office, then home.  HOME.  Is that what this is?  I still grit my teeth when I pull in the driveway.

January 4th the fog I’ve been living in began to lift a little.  Good thing – my teeth can’t take any more “gritting”.

January 5th was quiet.  No verbal arrows launched at me that day.  Almost all signs of Christmas packed away.

On January 6th, it might have been coincidence, but I don’t think so.  I read Ann’s blog which spoke of epiphany, the day the Christian calendar reflects on the Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem, to kneel in the muck of a barn… to worship Christ.

Epiphany – –  “manifestation of God“.

I can’t imagine giving birth in a barn… the mess, the smells.  Yet that’s where Christ chose to enter our imperfect human world.  He met us in the lowly, the humble, the messy.

And he meets me in that same manner everyday… when I pay attention.

Now, I’m still “mulling” on all this.  There are things that frustrate and I don’t understand, but I know will work out.  I just don’t know how.  And I guess, I really don’t need to.

I just need to meet Him… and trust.  And I think I’ll ditch the “mulling” and the “gritting” – they’re not helping.

January 6th I also read Draw Near by Kathleen Dillard.  She writes in Day 6 – Giving Him your all

For the kingdom of this world is filled with many things that leave a muddy smear; and when you let your mind dwell on these things, a heaviness and dullness creeps in like a sudden fog.  And this is why I have told you, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things’.  Scripture reference Philippians 4:7-8

And I do have an abundance of excellent things to think on……..