It’s Raining…Fish?! (And other “life is sideways” tales)

 

Last week, I can honestly say I’m not really sure why I was so incredibly busy…too busy to write, apparently. Looking back at my calendar, I had a date with my hubby (who was blissfully home most of the week), a doctor’s appointment, and…? Nothing else there. But life was apparently too much to take time to write. Sorry.

Sunday was a rainy day. Off and on showers most of the day, a rather unusual and comfortable August high in the upper 80s, and then some really impressive thunderstorms at night. I discovered that our sweet young aussiesoodle doesn’t mind storms, but incessant thunder and eye piercing lightning through every window for over 30 minutes is way more than she can handle. She put herself to bed an hour early in order to try and hide from the chaos of the skies.

Monday we awoke to fresh, clean air, free of dust or ragweed and a light, sunny breeze. Our morning walk was a pleasure. Until we discovered the fish. Yes, you heard me—fish. On the sidewalk. Two of them. One appeared to be a small bluegill, about four or five inches long. The other wasn’t much more than an inch, fatter than most minnows I’ve seen, but not as long as many.

These two fishy specimen were laying on the sidewalk as we walked along our neighborhood route. Our city neighborhood. Not the walk on the other side of our major city street that takes us to the park…and the river. No. The lined with houses and apartments, there’s no water near here, sidewalk. The one that runs next to a parking lot which runs alongside the road. Hardly any grass, much less water, sidewalk. Two fish. Side by side. About five feet apart, lying in dampness left by the rain. Seriously?! Since when does it rain fish?

This anomaly got me thinking about life. About how sideways life can get sometimes. How sideways my own life has been these past months. How I’m trying desperately to find balance in a sideways world, and most days it can’t be found. At least not easily. It’s like trying to find fish on a sidewalk. Well, maybe not that easy after all.

In the middle of all this fish fun, my sons and I began to notice that our sweet, young, not quite five month old puppy is showing obvious signs of becoming very interested in the opposite sex. Wait. What?! She won’t turn FIVE months until tomorrow, and absolutely EVERYONE has assured me she won’t reach “maturity” before she’s six months, at the very earliest!!! Surely we must be reading her signals incorrectly?

After a trip to the vet yesterday, I discovered my farm upbringing has served me well—I do in fact know the early signs of a dog coming in heat. So our sweet little sweetheart (who, by the way, is currently not so overly sweet due to raging hormones) will be having surgery next week. One month before originally scheduled.

And this weekend, my youngest son heads to Indianapolis to start his life as an adult.

The constant craziness of life in the real world. It never ends. Living life sideways. I can’t seem to find a level path anywhere these days. Life continues to throw me curve balls, like fish on the sidewalk. Everything seems to be just a little off balance.

I know that for my own inner well-being, silence, solitude, and stillness are key. I also know that in the fast-paced world we live in, these things don’t come easily. And in some seasons of life they aren’t found at all. I remember the early days of parenting, when our home was filled with the laughter and screams of small boys. Those needed moments of stillness and silence were indeed rare—and greatly treasured. I look back on those days with much fondness, but know in my heart that I’m thankful we are now in a new season of parenting.

But the worries and cares of this new home, as well as the added joyful burden of an extremely energetic—and currently emotionally volatile—young pup are reminding me of those sideways days of young motherhood. I find my energy, my emotional stability, my inner peace, all but extinct. Little things make me snap. There is little silence, much less stillness, to be found. And little time to close my mind and contemplate the Creator who made me and loves me enough to die for me.

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Isaiah 12:2 NIV

These words speak volumes to my weary soul. “Be still…” The means by which I have always found Him. Even when I don’t realize I’m seeking Him. If I can find stillness, He meets me in my need. My cup of peace is once again filled.

While the boys were small, I had to learn to snatch brief moments of stillness in order to maintain any inner—or outer—peace. I wasn’t always (hardly ever) good at it. I tend to be a nurturer by nature, and everyone else’s needs are seen as far more important than my need for quietude.

As my boys grew, and I found myself with longer stretches of stillness, I learned to soak in His serenity. Today I once again find myself in a season where I must learn to snatch and jealously protect the brief moments of hushful calm; and I’m once again learning that I don’t think of myself and my own needs enough.

As I looked down at those oddly placed fish, I felt their angst—much more than they did, as they were already long dead. I understood what it meant to be a fish out of water. When I don’t fill my cup by spending time with my Savior, I find myself gasping for breath, breathing foreign particles of stress instead of the life-giving, life-sustaining peace He brings.

The beauty of this moment as I sit writing is that the sweet young, ever wakeful, ever in motion pup was sitting quietly chewing her bully stick as I began. The silence of the normally noisy street outside, the quiet droning of the robotic vacuum inside, and my seeming inactivity has lulled the beautiful beast to sleep. The first real rest she’s had in days. My friends, we all need a little stillness and silence in our chaotic lives. May you, too, find yours.

 

 

Where Has the Year Gone?

One year ago this week, my home for sixteen years was wrapped up, boxed, bagged, and loaded into a moving van to head half way across the country—back to my childhood home of Texas. It was to be our homecoming. Our empty nest years to enjoy each other in a fun and vibrant city setting—a big change for this country girl married to the traveling boy with Kentucky farm roots. A change we were more than ready to explore.

This move has been the move that keeps on giving…and giving…and giving…until it hurts. Until it hurts beyond all proportions of what should have been the actual stress involved in this kind of move. The pain it has caused has been interminable. The stress of continual workers in and out of a house that should have been finished months ago continues ad nauseam.

The move that should have been a welcoming embrace to everything new and exciting has become a nightmare into the reality that is home building in today’s world of dwindling craftsmen. I could take this written thought in many different directions: the dying art of skilled tradesmen; the ineptitude and apathy of the average worker today; the callousness of corporations unable and/or unwilling to adequately meet the needs of the customer; a housing industry that has lost sight of the basic goal of building solid homes for the homebuyer; the high cost of not doing your work right the first time (or three) you attempt it.

While these are all very worthy topics of conversation—topics which really should be discussed at length, if we ever want to get a sense of “pride in workmanship and a job well done” back in our world today—but these are not the topics I wish to address today.

This is my one-year anniversary to my move “back home,” and the name of my blog, as well as my nom de plume for these past nine years, has been GlimpseJoy; so I am not going down the very slippery, slimy, depressing slope those topics could—and will—take me down.

After one entire year of living within the deepest darkest realms of this nightmare existence, I would like to step just outside and examine it from a slightly different angle. The angle through which I normally assessed my world, prior to this deep invasion of the soul. Trying to glimpse the joy in the midst of this chaos we call life. And this has been a quite chaotic year, to say the least, so glimpses might be all there are to be found. Maybe.

This move has drained me of much of my ability to express myself in the written word so there have been no blog posts about it. Thus my silence during the year was supposed to see renewed activity on this site. However, Brad and i both have shared a few of the shenanigans on Facebook, and if you have not followed along there, I will try to concisely list the facts of these past twelve months, before moving on to the purpose of this meandering of thoughts. I warn you, this is a story difficult to condense—please bear with my lengthiness. It is an entire year, after all.

First, envision three cars loaded with suitcases and belongings heading across the country in convoy—me alone with an extremely distressed cat, then each of our youngest two sons following closely behind. Happily contemplating a short ten days in a hotel before moving into our brand new home. A phone call mid-trip (literally mid-trip in mid-Mississippi) with the builder apologetically announcing that the home won’t be ready in ten days—more like 2-3 weeks…they say. It seemed the stair treads were not ordered in the proper time to install, but all else is on schedule…they say. The dozen or more delays prior to this point left us somewhat skeptical of the veracity of their timeline.

Skepticism was good. Upon arrival we discovered the house was missing way more than the stair treads. Very little had been accomplished in the month since we had last visited. There was at least six weeks of work left to be done before the home would be able to pass any inspections of occupancy. They agreed to pay to store our furniture for a month and find us a furnished apartment so we weren’t crammed into a hotel for the entire month. Well golly, wasn’t that nice of them?!

The apartment they picked was shady, to say the least. A rapid rundown of our days  apartment included a water heater fire—with all our belongings forever smelling of acrid electrical smoke; my car being broken into and Joshua’s car being stolen, inside a gated parking lot.

Back to the house. The first three weeks we were in Texas NO work was done on our house. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. On the house that only needed stair treads but actually needing flooring, and tiles, and cabinets, and landscaping—way more than stair treads—absolutely no work was even started during the first three weeks after we arrived in mid-July. Infuriating is a word you could use to describe it, but it falls way short of the mark.

It soon became abundantly clear we were not going to close at the beginning of August, their new promised date. Whenever we confronted the builders on this reality they continued to assure us it would definitely close the first week of August. Until one day about three days before their August 8 date, when I firmly (and emotionally) confronted them and told them I knew this was not happening and all I wanted was their honesty—for once. They finally capitulated and said it would be more like the end of August. August 28, to be precise. The reality that they actually had a date for the closing led us to understand they had known this all along but were unwilling to admit it to us. Why? Who knows. Apparently, Lying About Everything 101 is taught to all home building employees before they learn anything else. Even before learning how to actually build a house—if they ever learn that remains to be seen.

At our final walk-through the day of the actual closing—the Monday after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the state—it was clear the home was still not ready (no surprise as we had been walking through on a daily basis since our arrival in mid-July) and many things still needed to be finished or repaired, but at this point we were kind of between a rock and a hard spot.

So we agreed to close with the contingency that they would continue to work on our house after we moved in to make it right. This work has continued to this very day, one year after our move from Georgia, as we await the tile installers to come and repair the tile in the entryway, as well as re-grout the guest bathrooms—again.

This past year has been filled with appointments, arguments, and days of workers in and out all day, as well as a five week period where they packed up our belongings and moved us out completely in order to rip out all the flooring, half of the walls in the second floor, a leak in the master bedroom ceiling, and replace an improperly installed support beam—as well as a plethora of smaller items to numerous to even remember, much less list. However, the five weeks were apparently not long enough and while we are now back in the house and trying to once again settle in, we continue to have almost daily visits of workers of one sort and another. Not to mention the fact that their movers scratched, dented, and battered much of our brand new furnishings.

In a nutshell, that seemingly exhausting list is really a mere sampling of what we’ve endured in these past twelve months. Needless to say, exhaustion is the best word to express most of what we’ve been feeling along the way. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.

But this really isn’t what I wanted to focus on today. Today I wanted to look back at the mess that has been this past year and try to salvation something from the wreckage of all these “wasted” months. Today I am choosing to glimpse those moments of joy that popped up along the way…and amazingly enough they really were there if we chose to tiptoe tall and pull our head far enough above the chaos and look out over the edges of insanity that surrounded our immediate day to day.

Joy. What joy, you ask?

For one, the endless wide open skies I get to see each and every day. I grew up with these miles and miles of blue as my constant companion, and while I loved the hills and trees of the north Georgia mountain region, my heart sings to be once again surrounded by a daily diet of never ending skies. Even the stormy skies and winter laden grey skies hold endless fascination for me. No trees block my view here. My bedroom window faces the eastern sky and through my solar blinds I am greeted by the Texas sunrise most every morning.

Also, this country girl LOVES living in the hustle and bustle of the city. And while San Antonio isn’t the largest metropolis around, it’s plenty big enough for me—with the ability to walk to the park, the zoo, the botanical gardens, a few shops and restaurants, the riverwalk, the museum, the jazz club, and still feel as if I’m off in a quiet suburb when I’m at home. Downtown, with all it’s crazy tourist chaos and the heart of the riverwalk is just a couple miles away, the airport is a ten minute drive from our door, and most other areas of the city are within a twenty minute drive in all directions.

The joy of being back in my home state is a constant reminder of why we’ve suffered this craziness in the first place. I can honestly say I truly loved the almost six years we were in New Jersey. And our sixteen years in Georgia left us with beautiful memories and amazing friends. But after 21 years away, both of us knew it was time to return and make Texas our home again. It just felt right. Despite all the turmoil, tension, and turbulence we still know this move was the right thing for us. It’s just time to be home.

There is always joy in friendship and we have had this in abundance during these past months. Our little “subdivision” is twenty-two houses strong, and quite frankly, they are all really nice people. We look forward to having more time to get to know them all better. We have taken a special liking to a couple of families who moved in around the same time as us and had similar, although not as extensive, issues. We have had several dinners, outings, and many chance meetings to commiserate, complain, compare, and even chuckle over our myriad problems. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each other and our new community together. 

There are also friends from our past that we are slowly getting reacquainted with, and a few new friends, too. Overall, people have brought much joy to us in this crazy year. People have also been what has brought so much of the anguish and sorrow of these past months, it’s true; but for each person who has reminded me just how apathetic and selfish humans can be, there has always been multiple people to remind me of the loving goodness that fills them, as well. 

God has been beside us each and every step—even when it’s so dark that it’s hard to realize. This year hasn’t been easy. I haven’t made a very pretty picture of “faith in the midst of…” on any given day during this ordeal. I can honestly say that, for whatever reason, this season has been even more difficult—in its own way— to walk through than the cancer that started my blog nine years ago. But even on my worst days (and there were 365 of those), I do know He has covered us in His love and walked with us through the darkest days. And He will walk with us all the way to the end of this season and into the next—which we pray will be a little (or alot) less chaotic; but even if it isn’t I know He will guide us if we just remember lean on Him.

We also have the added joys of two darling animals to share our days. Alfred has been my constant friend throughout his six years of life, and this past year we have become comrades in arms against the continual onslaught of workers. Now we have been joined by our little Schatzi, an Aussiedoodle puppy we insanely adopted a month ago, while moving back into the house. (Who even contemplates that kind of absurdity?) But in midst of the distraction of housebreaking and puppy antics, she has brought her own brand of comfort to us all. She is a bundle of boundless energy and sweet-tempered love, overwhelming all of us with both from sunrise til sunset.

Finally, and not least of all, there’s the daily joys of continued life and health (definitely tempered by long-term stress, but still healthy enough) to be thankful for each day. There’s a roof over our heads—even though at times we’ve wondered if it would cave in on us if we walked too hard across the room; there’s food on the table; and family. Every breath we get to breathe is a joy to hold dear, and some days we even remember to be grateful for that blessing.

This little post has taken most of the week to get written, and now I must sign off as I am once again supervising the tile guys who have come to fix the tiles they messed up Wednesday while fixing the tiles. I truly can’t make this stuff up.

And the beat goes on!

Home…Is Where the Heart Is

Home. A thought that’s been heavy on my heart and constantly on my mind of late.

This is my first holiday season, my first Christmas, without either of my parents, and I have been feeling the loss of home. But what exactly is that?

The dictionary actually has eleven different definitions for the word “home,” but the one that most closely applies to what I’ve been feeling is: any place of residence or refuge. A home is a place of security, safety. A place where we feel free to just be. A place of comfort in times of illness or tribulation, a place to find refuge from the storms of life.

Our first homes are the homes of our parents, whether biological or adopted. No matter if our first home was happy or turbulent, stable or dysfunctional, our first feelings for the need for refuge began here.

If there was any goodness at all in the parents you were raised by, there is some small feeling of security and peace associated with the home of your childhood. My parents were far from perfect, but most of the mistakes they made were because of the love they felt for us and their own family of origin.

Which leads me back to my feelings this Christmas season. I am missing my father, my mother, my home. My refuge from the storms of life. But the loss of my parents—the loss of home—IS the storm of my life this season. So where do I run?

As I stepped out of the car this morning after driving my youngest to school, the sun was peaking its timid head through a blanket of clouds—the first peak all week. Instead of rushing inside (after closing the garage door) to begin my hectic pre-Christmas day, I chose instead to leave the door open and step back outside in the cool morning air and lift my fact to the bashful rays of light breaking through the bare trees. And as I looked up, I saw them.

homeFive or six simple clumps of leaves and debris nestled snug in the branches of the tallest trees. Squirrel nests. Bird nests. Home to the woodland creatures. In my own backyard, these tiny creatures of God have chosen to make their home, to seek their refuge from the storms of life—and poor little things have been barraged by storms this week filled with rain and wind.

The vision of these tiny, fragile little homes reminded me of what I have been missing most this year—but they also reminded me of the One who seeks to be the real refuge for my heart, my forever Home.

My parents, for all their mistakes and misguided dysfunction, tried to provide my brother and I with a home filled with love and safety and freedom to grow—just as my husband and I have tried to provide for our four sons, in our own inept way. But the real source of refuge, the true source of security and love, is not found in a building of brick and mortar, or even in the love—however imperfect—of a loving family. The real source of Home is our Heavenly Father, filling our hearts and minds with His perfect peace—the only real safety in this world.

Storms will forever bombard our lives, both real and figurative ones. Only God’s peace filling our hearts will give us the strength to withstand the onslaught. As I have had to struggle this year with the reality of grieving for the loss of my mother, the loss of my childhood home, I have felt His presence quietly waiting in the wings for me to turn around and run into His home, His arms, His love, yet never quite understood what it was He was truly offering.

Grief must be felt, must be dealt with, must be lived through; God’s presence does not remove the reality of harsh storms in this life. But I can hold fast to the truth that He will always be there, He will not die or leave me alone in a turbulent world, He will not leave me as an orphan to find my own refuge—because He is my refuge. He is my Home.

May we all find the true source of Home this Christmas Season. The Father that will be there, no matter what. The Son that chose to humble himself—first by being born in a weak, human baby’s body, then by pouring out His blood, His life, to give us our own forever home.The Holy Spirit that is waiting to fill your heart with His love and peace this holiday season!

The Balancing Act: A Mixed Bag of Emotions

Sunset on TexasThe year of 2013 is almost half over…wow, how did that happen? It seems like only yesterday I was snuggled up in my Christmas hibernation thinking about the coming year…and now that year is six months gone.

For the new year, I chose one word to focus on, to become closer to God through this one word and all of its concepts. My one word was balance. And I have to say, this year has definitely been a balancing act like no other.

Mom and MeMy mother’s long battle with cancer came to a climax and then abruptly ended, leaving me in a sea of confusion, loss and grief. But in the midst of this loss, I realized that all the things that have gone before are truly and forever gone–both the good things and the bad. Every life, however perfect, has shadows of grief and pain mixed with the good. My childhood was no different. In having now lost both my parents, I am no longer bound to these shadows. The slate has been wiped clean. All that remains is love…and the bittersweet taste of grief.

Graduation 2013My third son walked the stage and received his high school diploma, capping off a thirteen-year trek through public school academia, beginning another eight-year trek through the mazes of college and, hopefully, med school. The simple act of him crossing that stage filled my heart with pride, hope–and sadness. Knowing that three of my four sons have crossed that threshold of life into adulthood, filled my heart with longing for the simpler days of their early childhood.

The Gang's All HereI have never been one of those moms who regrets the fact that my kids are growing up. I have strived to thoroughly embrace and enjoy each and every stage of their lives. And to be honest, while I thoroughly loved them as tiny infants, the toddler and early school years drove me bonkers, and I was thrilled to have them move into the high school years. I had a much easier time once we were able to calmly carry on rational conversations without the hyperactivity of normal, healthy boyhood. But for some reason, watching the next-to-last son cross the hurdle of graduation filled me with a longing to go back to those “simpler” days.

A Proud MamaMaybe it was his graduation coming so closely on the heels of my mother’s death. Maybe I was just realizing that I am getting old. Whatever it was, it left me with an intense desire to “do it all over again” that I haven’t felt before.

This is where the balancing act comes in. How do you balance the pain of loss with the joy of futures to come? How do you choose between two emotions that are very real, very valid, and very intense?

The funeralThere are days when I feel truly bereft, lost in a sea of sadness far beyond anything I’ve ever felt. I remember that I can no longer pick up the phone and share my daily events with my mother and I feel empty and alone. Other days, I think of my son’s future years in college–and beyond–and my heart soars with delight for all my children’s dreams. Looking forward to what they will become–as well as the ability to spend some quality time with the hubby–fills me with intense joy.

I am in a season of intense emotional confusion…and I guess that is where I am supposed to be right now. During the middle years of life–when kids are growing and leaving the nest, when parents are aging and passing on to their eternal rest–emotional confusion is to be expected.

New River Gorge BridgeEach day is a bit of a roller coaster ride of emotions and I’m never quite certain which side will win out. Most days I am thoroughly exhausted from wading through the mixed emotions and thoughts in my head. Then I remember…this, after all, is what life is: a mixed bag of thoughts and dreams and emotions and memories and people, good and bad, important and inconsequential. It is the sad that makes the happy…happy. It is the grief that makes the relationship more meaningful. It is the heartache that makes the love more real. Without the contrast of dark and light, bright and shadow, there is no painting worth viewing. Without the contrast of sadness and pain mixed with the joys and laughter, there is no life. Without the balance of the highs and the lows of life, everything is simply bland, mundane, boring.

I recently read a book about the Buddhist technique of mindfulness–a state of active, open attention on the present–which is used in meditation to deal with grief and painful memories. The Buddhists believe that you shouldn’t “run away from” your painful past or grief, but that you should face it, accept it for what it is, embrace it and then move on.

Looking BackI’m not a Buddhist and have very little understanding of most of their practices, but I have to say that this is a very healthy way to approach life. Trying to run away from the pains of this world, gets us nowhere, except into more pain. We must accept the reality of the ever-changing world we live in and realize that much of what happens in this life is out of our hands. When we allow ourselves the “luxury” of grieving, when we allow ourselves to feel the pain and sorrows that we are dealt, we can better embrace the joys that get tossed into the mix of life along the way.

As a Christian, I have a Heavenly Father who longs for me to hand these burdens over to Him. He doesn’t tell me not to feel them, He doesn’t tell me to pretend they don’t exist. He simply wants to bear the weight of the suffering for me. I believe the mindfulness approach is a way to do just that. Once you have faced the emotions, you can hand them over more easily and let them go. If you try to run away from them without understanding what you are feeling or why you are feeling it, you have no ability to “hand them over” to anyone. They will continue to plague your thoughts until you accept that they are a very real part of life on this earth.

Looking ForwardHalf way through this year of 2013, I am still trying to come to terms with what it means, for me, to live a balanced life. But I do believe that the roller coaster ride I have been on these past several months has not been in vain. I believe that all the experiences of life will help me on my journey to find balance in a crazy world. As long as I lean on the Creator of the world, I will find rest in the midst of the storm…I will find balance. It just might not look exactly like what I thought it would!

“Give in to God, come to terms with Him and everything will turn out just fine. Let Him tell you what to do: take His words to heart. Come back to God Almighty and He’ll rebuild your life. Clean house of everything evil. Relax your grip on your money and abandon your gold-plated luxury. God Almighty will be your treasure, more wealth than you can imagine.” – Job 22:21-25 (MSG)

Saying Goodbye…

grammy at little big hornMy mother passed from this earth quietly on the morning of March 30. She left us (snuck away, she did) as we all headed to the kitchen for a quick cup of coffee (it had been a long night of bedside vigils and driving across country for all of us, and looked as if the vigils would continue throughout the day…coffee was much needed, we thought). She took one last, quiet breath as my youngest son (who doesn’t drink coffee) passed through the hallway near her bedroom door. By the time we entered, she was gone. A long life filled with memories had ended, and a journey to eternity had begun.

At her memorial, I was “in charge” of delivering the eulogy. Not an easy task at any time, but speaking has never come easy for me and speaking about the best and longest friendship of my life wasn’t making my phobia any easier to handle. So I did what comes naturally…I wrote it all down–and then I simply read it out loud. Not exactly the best delivery ever, but it was audible and mostly comprehensible.

Today I share my words with you; primarily because I don’t want to lose them…or maybe because I am simply not quite ready to lose her. I know that she is “still in my heart” that I “still have my memories” and her love “will always be with me,” but it isn’t quite the same thing, you know? So, bear with me, and understand that I am merely sharing a lifetime of memories with a mom…my mom…my best friend and fiercest enemy…my loudest cheerleader and strongest critic. I love you, Mom…I will miss our multi-hour long chats!

Norma%20(2)aWhen I think of Mom, a million little memories flood my mind, making it difficult to choose just one. She wasn’t a great world leader or a famous movie star or even a human rights activist–she was simply a mom. But the word MOM conveys a whole world of meaning for me: a word meaning love and life and compassion and faith…filled with little memories of a life lived long and full. It’s the little things that make up a lifetime.

It’s the little things we remember. It’s often the little things that make a profound impact on others, those lingering memories that change history. Today, as I try to tell you who my mom was, those little snippets of memory flood my mind, so I will try to share a few of those memories with you now.

grm018aLike the time she helped me make a sock doll–while she was trying to have a conversation with a neighbor–just because I had found a pattern in the encyclopedia and couldn’t wait until the neighbor left.

Or the time she took all the pillows from the living room and built a pillow tent on the sofa so that I could hide from the thunder that scared me.

grm009aOr the times we travelled on long trips–any trip with dad was a long trip–and she would sit in the front seat with a bible picture book and read the stories from the bible to us. Those were my favorite moments in a car ride.

Or the three years we spent “not speaking” because she had made me mad–teenagers can be so emotional!

Or all the band concerts she gladly suffered through in order to support me in my desire to be the world’s greatest flute player!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr the times when she sat in church, eyes closed and smile on her face, listening to me sing “Build My Mansion,”–during my “I want to be a famous singer” stage–and how she’d tell me, even just a few weeks ago, it was her favorite hymn.

Or all the clothes she lovingly sewed for me, that I often shunned because no one else was wearing handmade clothes–snotty brat that I was.

Or the time she had her stroke and she had to call everybody herself–she wouldn’t let me because she said they wouldn’t believe a teenager–and she sounded like a drunk person on the phone, and I was torn between fear for what was happening to her and humiliation that the school would think she was drunk. Again, snotty brat!

Or all the lunches we shared at Chick-fil-A while she was working at the mall and I was a college student.

grm005aOr the time my first son was being born and she wouldn’t go into the delivery room (she didn’t want to get in the way), but kept peeping through the little window to make sure we were alright, and she saw her grandson enter this world and thought it was the most incredible thing ever–and then she, a woman who had six kids of her own, wouldn’t hold him because he was so small she was afraid she’d break him!

Or the time she sat in our backyard swinging my third newborn son while she sang him lullabies.

Or all the times I saw her standing outside, waterhose in hand, floppy straw hat on her head, spraying her precious plants with lifegiving water. Sometimes I wished I were a flower so that I could have the kind of attention she gave to them. Plants really were a therapy and a special little gift from God to her and she thoroughly enjoyed the time she spent gardening.

Or the times she dressed up like a witch to greet the neighbor kids on Halloween.

DSCN4191aAll those tiny little moments of a lifetime, like the sands of time in an hourglass. And all those tiny little moments of my mom’s life were all about love. She wasn’t perfect, she had flaws like everyone does. Like all of us, she was a complex mixture of good and bad, high and low, dark and light, worry and faith, fear and happiness.

But one thing I alway knew about my mom–at least I knew it when I became old enough to understand what love really is–was that she loved…she loved her family, she loved her kids, she loved her friends, she loved her gardens. And love was what she shared. Even when she fussed and fumed and worried and grumbled, it was because she loved and wanted the people she loved to be the best they could be. It hurt her when they weren’t. But it didn’t stop her from loving.

My mom has left me a million memories and I wish that I could share them all with you, but more than that I wish that you could share all of your memories of her with me. She left a little bit of herself in each of us and my prayer is that as you leave today, you take all those memories–the good and the not so good–and remember they are the memories that make up a very long and wonderful life…the life of my mom, Norma Nichols. Treasure them, hold them close, and love them as she loved all of you.

Ventana de Cielo

When we first moved to the North Georgia foothills, I was so in love with the beautiful scenery and our cozy home, that I gave our home a nickname: Ventana de Cielo–window of heaven. I felt as if we were living on the very edge of heaven and, if we chose to open our eyes wide enough, we could glimpse inside and see God’s joy for us. Then time and real life took over.

You ever have one of those days (weeks, months, years…lifetime?) when it seems like you just can’t catch a break? When the entire universe seems to be spinning steadily out of control around you, and you can’t quite hold on? Nothing major, mind you, just little things, constantly going wrong, sending your otherwise normal, mundane day into a nosedive of minor crises. That’s been September for me.

Can’t quite put my finger on any one thing that has sent me over the edge, I’m just living the day-to-day–most of which has been really quite terrific; or at least pretty much normal, average stuff–but there’s also the rapid-fire succession of mini-crisis after mini-crisis that simply wears away at my energy, time…and joy. Just when I think I’ve managed to rise above the last round of punches and have planted my feet firmly on level ground, I endure another series of slaps in the face, and find myself lifting my busted chin off the ground and peering over the dusty horizon to see what’s gonna get me next. It’s the same stuff that three years ago, while suffering through the agonizing fatigue and debilitating pain of chemotherapy, I prayed to have the energy just to do. Now that very same day-to-day stuff has drained me of the energy to enjoy life.

catching heaven in the rearview

This week has been a constant barrage of minor incidents setting in motion more minor incidents, and driving me slowly and steadily to my knees. This morning was the straw that broke this camel’s back. As I finished my not-so-routine morning of driving kids to school, dropping of forgotten book bags (with half-finished assignments inside), and wiping up spilled coffee, I realized it was time. Time for me to sit back, take a deep breath, say a little prayer for forgiveness and mercy…and have a really good cry. Yes, I know, we’ve all been told a million times by dozens of people that tears don’t solve anything. Don’t you believe them! There are moments in life when you know that life is just going to continue in the same pattern of upward and downward spirals, little crises, too little fun, little bumps and bruises, little nagging episodes draining the pleasures from your daily life without any real reprieve in sight. You can’t “fix” it, you can’t change it, you can’t make it better…it just is what it is. It’s the dirt and grime of everyday life. I’ve also heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and if this is true, then maybe tears are the way to clean a soul gone dingy.

In the giant scheme of things, I have a pretty good handle on life. The occasional bad day or minor crisis–and even the most of the major bumps in the road–really don’t get me too far down. The goods and the bads come together to make an incredibly colorful display of joy, when we choose to step back and really look. God plays a huge role in my life and my joy truly does come from Him; and even in the midst of desert trials, I can feel His calming presence and His love surrounding me and holding me strong. But there are days–when the constant bombardment of little things far outweigh the good–and the only thing that truly eases the pressures of life is to wash the soul clean. Why is it that washing your eyes with hot, salty tears seems to cleanse the soul of its bumps and bruises?

It seems that when I actually allow myself the “luxury” of opening my aching heart and pouring out the little agonies I’m feeling–letting the tears fall unchecked–this is when I am open enough to truly receive God’s loving reassurance. As the tears fall, it’s as if He puts His arms around me and holds me–like a parent comforting a sad and tired child–letting my tears and pains and fears and struggles run down my face and out of my heart…and out of my life. As the tears dry and my emotions are finally spent, I feel peace once again enter my soul. My heart feels clean, and I feel more ready to face the onslaught of life in all its brilliant explosion of highs and lows.

No, crying doesn’t change the life I’m living. Crying doesn’t make the child remember his book bag (or his assignments), doesn’t keep accidents from happening, doesn’t help you remember that list of to-do’s you left on the kitchen counter, doesn’t remove those angry words you shouldn’t have said, doesn’t remind you to pay that bill or run that errand. Yet, every once in a while, tears help to clear away the dust and grime of a not-so-perfect life in a not-so-perfect world. Washing the heart clean, cleansing the windows of the soul, so that you can once again glimpse God’s joy through your own ventana de cielo.

Tribute to a Real Lady…and A Reminder to Always Make Time

It seems that I am meant to spend my time writing this week. An article for my blog, an article for the cancer foundation newsletter, an essay for a contest, and another one for submission to a magazine…and now, I am writing to share my memories of one of the few real ladies that I have met, my husband’s Aunt Thelma.

Last night, I was awakened by one of those dreadful phone calls that no one ever wants to receive. You see, we found out that Thelma had stage IV lung cancer only a month or so ago. And found out just this weekend that she had been in the hospital for most of that week, and was not doing very well at all. Then the phone rang at 10:30pm…NO ONE calls my house after 9pm, because EVERYONE knows that I will be in bed. It’s just the way it is. So when the phone rings at 10:30, you know it can’t be good news.

Ever since we received the first call to tell us she had cancer, we’ve been trying to figure out when to go up and see her. But you know how it is, life seems to get in the way of the things you want and know you need to do, and then somehow time gets away from you and weeks have gone by before you even realize it. And then…there is no more time. You’ve missed your chance. The opportunity to spend time with someone you care deeply for has passed you by, and you’ll never have that chance again.

Thelma married Jim, Brad’s mom’s only sibling. Thelma was also his mom, Lois’ best friend, even before either of them were married. Lois died almost 19 years ago to kidney cancer; and she and I were really only getting to know each other when she died. I felt like I had lost the chance to have a beautiful friendship, and Thelma helped to ease that emptiness by sharing her memories of the Lois she knew and loved. Thelma stepped up and shared her stories of a much younger Lois, a Lois that I never knew, that her son never knew. She filled in the gaps for me, helping me to more fully appreciate and love the mother-in-law that I would never have. But she also filled the void left behind Lois’ death by sharing a grandmother’s love with my young children when they most needed a grandmother’s love.

We never spent a lot of time with Thelma and Jim. But when we did, we were welcomed like honored guests. Each time we visited, my sons were treasured and petted, allowed to explore to their hearts’ content, and treated like little princes. They always loved to visit Uncle Jimbuck and Aunt Themma (little boys do have difficulty with L’s, you know!) And each time we visited, I felt almost as if I once again had a mother-in-law. Yes, that truly is a blessing, when the mother-in-law is as loving and ladylike as Thelma.

I know that Thelma is at peace, no longer in pain and no longer suffering. She is with her Father in Heaven, and as my sister-in-law said this morning, I am sure that Lois was first in line to greet her. But she will be sorely missed here on earth by many. And I will always wish that I had made the effort to see her, to visit with her, to bask in her graceful presence…just once more.

My prayer for you tonight is that you learn from my mistake and always remember to take the time, make the time, to spend the time with those you love…even those who are far away. Each moment will be a treasure of great price in years to come, and worth the sacrifices you make now in order to gain them.

August 2000 — One of the rare times we took a photo with two of our favorite folks