Monday, July 17, 2017

Best Memory




When the priest asked what my best memory of my mother was recently at the blessing service for her at the funeral home, it  didn't take me long to recall one for it was recent.

What does one say to a lifetime of love and memories? How can a person choose their absolute best moment or moments with a beloved parent that they are saying goodbye to?

Like snippets of a movie, years worth of laughter, tears, joy and fears played before me. I remembered Mom standing by during my surgery for scoliosis as a teen, even though she'd been a nervous type but she remained steadfast and my rock of strength.

When divorce reared its ugly head in my early twenties, my mother was there to rescue me. When fat, ugly tears fell from my eyes and the lies kept surfacing that I wasn't good enough for him and never would be, Mom helped me feel worthy again.

Moments of giggling together like school girls, though she was my parent, surfaced and drew me in once again and I warmed from the glow. Times of celebration and holidays, the birth of my son, her first grandchild. So many wonderful memories.

But when asked the question by the priest, I almost immediately responded: "Being caregiver for my mother with her journey of dementia." Father Carr almost fell from his chair. "Really?" he asked.

Why are those the dearest memories my brother and I hold now? The answer is simple. We got to experience unconditional love given back to a woman who had once loved us the same way. This woman had given her all many times for us.

 When a parent has Alzheimer's or dementia -related issues, it is never easy. You wonder if you are the one losing your mind at first. For the questions begin--oh so many questions. Things are forgotten, appointments are missed, and everything seems upside down.

Then the anger sets in. And for all of us, it is a time of great guilt. When you find yourself snapping at your elderly parent and watch the hurt in their eyes, the words practically hanging in the air, you wish you could pull them back, place them into a locked box never to surface again. But they do. Just when you feel strong, confident and a little cocky, a challenge arises and you fail. You ask forgiveness and you fail again. The maddening cycle--the new normal. Why oh why couldn't they have kept their wits about them to the end?

But then you see them in the most innocent of ways: thinning hair, gummy, lost-tooth smiles. Skin stretched too tightly over prominent bones. You hear whispered words and the innocence of a child, and you realize in their mind, that is where they are. You see fears of showering, falling, even eating foods they once loved. It's all this and more, and you fall deeply in love with your aging parent more than you ever did before. They rely on you, they trust you, and you begin to know that you will never betray that trust.

You also see wise, knowing eyes and the laugh- lined wrinkles around them from years of laughter. You hold onto a hand that worked hard at putting food on the table. You lay your head against their frail chest and listen to the beating of their good heart--wondering just how long it will continue. . .

You look at them and see inner beauty shining. No longer a body with a soul, they are now becoming a soul with a body. True loveliness as God intended, no longer superficiality.

There are treats they love, brought to them and watching their eyes light up. Sometimes there are favorite places to drive to. There are songs to be shared--ones they once sang to you as a lullaby. It's all this and so much more. Mostly it's totally giving of yourself. Giving selflessly and totally, turning your emotions and your loved one totally over to God. Knowing He adores them and you, and that we are the apple of His eye. He has all of our best interest at the center of His heart. Even if He chooses to take them home, how can we question that glorious time?

Yes, this time can be our best moments, our best memories. With God it is truly possible. Forgiveness, mercy, grace. . . all ours for the taking.




Friday, July 7, 2017

Another Place




I received a phone call this morning. Your mother is being sent to the emergency room. She's throwing up blood, and it doesn't look good.

With legs that felt like iron weights, and hands that shook so bad, I had to hold them against myself, I walked into the emergency room not knowing what to expect. There I heard words from the doctor that didn't come completely as a shock. We recommend hospice care for your mother. She's so frail now, and perhaps it would be best for her just to be kept comfortable.

Every child of an aging parent asks themselves if they are doing the right thing. Are our decisions what our parents would want? Some of us are fortunate that our families have spoke freely about such things. Therefore when the time comes, we know immediately what must be done.

Others of us have spoken in deeper terms though. We've had the distinct honor to talk of things on a more spiritual level. We know that our loved ones are believers and even look forward to their next journey.

There is so much more than our eyes can see. So much more than we hear or feel. I am learning this now as my mom slips farther from us into sickness and Alzheimer's. It's not always about "crazy talk." I recently read a book that showed me that end of life and hospice produces some of the most beautiful messages from our suffering loved ones. It mentioned that we should pay close attention to what is being said as they transition from this world to the next.

When my father was in the hospital last year, there were several odd things we heard from him. And now I'm noticing that very thing with my mother. She's been talking more to someone that my brother and I don't see. Though I strain to hear her words, it's in a whisper quiet voice that perhaps I'm not meant to hear. She reached up once as if grasping someone by the hand. She has petted animals that aren't there. Today she said she saw a Bible, but when we pressed a little to see if someone was holding or reading it, she said no.

When my husband's uncle was in hospice care at his nursing home a few years ago, I remembered something powerful about that. The chaplain that was there at his side, said the most beautiful thing. He mentioned that Hubert was between this world and the next. Upon hearing that, the room almost seemed to change for me. I felt a Holy Presence surrounding us, and it was as if Jim's uncle was becoming more spirit than flesh at that time.

Also at my father's bedside on his last day, and I haven't told many people this, I sensed the presence of four strong angels surrounding him. One was at the head of the bed, one at the foot, and one on either side. There were a few of our dear friends and family members with us, but I distinctly saw with my heart and soul that Dad was surrounded by holy warriors ready to bring him home.

I don't speak about my belief freely. But during a time such as this in my family's life, more than ever, I feel the need to share things that I feel God has shown us and hoping it may also comfort anyone else who is going through this.

My mother is becoming that lovely spirit now. And I know where she is going, for she visited there once before. She'd felt a love like no other during a cardiac arrest in her earlier years. A love that surrounded her and permeated her very being. She often said she did not fear death after that.

Though my heart is heavy, and it's almost like deja vu from last summer, I feel how I did with my father--ready to let go, to picture Mom free from her suffering; dancing with Dad, feeling God's warmth and love, and reuniting with so many loved ones who have been gone for such a long time. For my mom lost so many people in her life, and I know they are there, ready and waiting with opened arms to greet her.

God, help us to see with the eyes of faith, not our limited vision. Help us to know just how wide and deep Your love really is. Help us to be able to let go and give all to You. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

As The First Year Approaches





Wow, where has one year gone? For it was this very time last year that began defining what was going to happen very shortly. Who knew when Dad asked me for suspenders because his belt felt too tight and was hurting his stomach that he really had a gall bladder issue? An issue that would ultimately take him from us.

Dad was never one to complain. When asked how he was feeling, he always responded with that wonderful trademark smile, "Fine!" But last July seemed a little different. Dad was slower, crankier, complaining about things. Not the usual sweet, simple man he'd always been.Yes, he still placed Mom's needs first, and never let on how he must have been feeling. But my brother and I suspected something--and Dad, being the rock he'd always been, wouldn't say much about himself.

Last July something wonderful happened also. I had been praying for my parents for a very long time. You see, they'd never been wealthy; never crawled from under small mountains of debt. I asked the Lord if my father could see a great blessing before he died. Would God please show my Dad a miracle? And I'd heard a still, small voice somewhere inside telling me that a great blessing was coming--something that would bring my father great joy.

With anticipation, I dreamed that it would be a large windfall of money. Perhaps one of those silly scratch-off lottery tickets would be the "big one" for them finally. But no such thing happened. What did happen though was something that brought that awesome promise of joy to my dad. I'd contacted a great group of youth from Catholic Heartcamp and about eight wonderful kids and their mentor arrived in July and began to fix things on mom and dad's house that we hadn't been able to attend to. Little by little, windows were freshly painted, gangly bushes were cut, repairs were made and a whole new shower wall was installed. Dad kept remarking on their progress, thrilled with all that took place. I could see a happiness in him--a glow. Things he couldn't do any longer got done. He could take pride in his little old home once again.

Yet I still wondered, still questioned God. Is this it Lord? I thought you promised that Dad would see your glory in a major way.

We cannot question God's gifts, His goodness, mercy and blessings. He chooses what He will. It is not for me to decide that the promise I was given in my heart did not come to pass. On the contrary, our Father may not answer us in the way we'd expected, but we gain so much more by His lessons. Who was I to question the method, the outcome? Dad, in his simple way was delighted.One million dollars couldn't have made him happier.

I will never forget that group of young people and how my father couldn't stop talking about them.

It is almost one year since my father entered the hospital, never to return home. I feel that pit in my stomach once again--the familiar feeling from last year because anniversaries do that to us. They bring the thoughts, feelings and emotions back in a major way. I knew that "firsts" this year would be rough. First Thanksgiving without Dad, first Christmas, etc. But this first year anniversary as it approaches hurts my heart once again. Tears threaten, and there's a lump in my throat that I try hard to choke back.

I miss you so much Dad. I want to make you proud. I'm trying to take care of Mom best I can. Forgive me for anything I may have done that you wouldn't have approved of. Pray for me, Dad. I love you....

Kar


Friday, June 9, 2017

A Blossoming Friendship





When I opened my side door yesterday morning, the vibrant red cardinal flew to my porch railing. It's as if, on cue, his excellent bird hearing knows precisely what this sound means. Crumbs of bread, succulent seeds are soon to be on their way for he and his little friends. He paused, looking at me in that way that birds do, with head tilted to the side. In close range, I had time to take in the stunning black mask on his face and the tufts of red feathers which poked from his tiny head. Those dark eyes, so filled with intelligence. In the voice usually reserved for my darling cats or very small children, I began speaking to him telling him what a pretty bird he was and how happy I am that he greets me each morning. I talked and talked, making clucking sounds or tsking noises, anything to hold his interest so that we could communicate he and I in any way possible.

My cats took this as a sign that I was calling to them when they heard my loving sounds, and proceeded to investigate why their mother was speaking in that special way to another.

The cardinal flew to another part of the porch, this time lighting on one of the chairs. I still spoke, and he listened, all the while the little head tilted as if trying to discern what I said. He flew up from the chair, actually hovering in the air for a moment or two, bright wings flapping as if dancing for me. To the top of my grill, then onto the wicker porch swing, Mr. bird paused, never leaving, appearing to take in the language as foreign to him as his chirping is to me.

Next, he landed on my car, and I reveled in the special moments meant only for me, not worrying that I didn't have camera or phone to record this special time, but recording it to the memory of my heart.

For I believe we have a blossoming friendship, the cardinal and I. It's been at least a year that he and the missus have lived in our backyard pine. Never straying very far, he knows my movements, when my car returns from a work day, and he is there to greet and to sing, giving me gifts that only he can.

Nature has always been such a big part of my family. My mother grew close to a female raccoon to the point she was able to hand feed her. When the raccoon had babies, she brought them to my mom as if waiting for approval, and teaching them that this human was kind; this human will not hurt you.

My parents enjoyed watching the birds around their home, and eventually hanging a hummingbird feeder for the last several years. As Dad would sit on the porch, those little darlings would hover near to his face, investigating him before whisking away in that speedy fashion they have of flying to seek more nectar.

I walked outside yesterday, and grabbed the bag of seeds to fill the bird feeder. The cardinal flew to the lowest branches of a nearby tree, waiting patiently. Though I filled my hand with seeds and called to him, inviting him to a more intimate feeding, he would not come; would not breach the gap between human and animal.

Perhaps someday, I thought. For there is a friendship growing between the two of us. A precious trust that reminds me of our Heavenly Father. God invites me to those more intimate times. Will I dare to give up control, trusting Him for friendship, for more beauty than I ever dreamed possible?

May we all appreciate nature and every good gift that comes from above.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

It's Never Too Late





Mom was never the warm and fuzzy type. Not a hugger or a kisser, but my brother and I knew we were loved and adored growing up. She showed her care in so many other ways; with the baked goods and food she prepared every single day. With a listening ear for our school bully infractions, or the betrayal of our one true love. Advice given, words of wisdom, character building ones. A tender heart toward nature and toward others. No prejudice was allowed--Mom truly cared for all of mankind. This is who I am honored to call my mother.

Yesterday the tables were turned in a very dramatic way for me. Though her once beautiful mind has been faltering for some time with dementia, and my brother and I have been caregivers through it all, I had to step up to the plate of comfort in a major way.

The nursing home had called me about two weeks ago. They mentioned placing Mom on an anti-depressant. Said she had bouts of crying and depression. Hmmm, this was not something our family had seen recently. On the contrary, we noticed her talking more and laughing more when we are there as the strokes she had have begun to heal a little.

Cute little remarks, old inside jokes and our favorite of all, the movie lines we know and love so well are all things that continue to make Mom smile. We'd do anything for that smile. And yet yesterday while visiting her in the early morning, I saw my mother break down uncontrollably for several minutes and my heart broke.

As the nurse was bathing and dressing her in bed, Mom appeared to have had enough. I think her arthritis was hurting as it always does in the early morning when rising. I think she realizes she is limited, so limited in her adult briefs and inability to dress alone or stand alone. I can't imagine what goes through her mind in times like these, but she started to sob, deep heart-wrenching cries, and I did something uncharacteristic, I hugged her around the shoulders and stroked her back gently, reciting words of love and of comfort. The nurse she had isn't the most patient, but she stood back and let me do what only a family member could. Mom cried and I soothed. I held onto her and kissed the top of her head tenderly. And then I was able to do what all of us in the dementia/Alzheimer's community know best. I was able to re-direct her by talking about a pretty bracelet she was wearing. Like a small child, her tears slowed to sniffles. She saw the bracelet and answered my questions about who gave it to her. I sat back content that a crisis had been averted, and thanked God for giving me the tenderness needed in that moment even though I had never done this before with her.

I know we all come from different types of families. There are some of us who grew up with adoring parents who snuggled with them, gave tons of kisses and showed affection. There were others who grew up with harsh words, barked orders, and slaps instead of hugs. There are some who don't even know their parents and would have given everything for even one word from them or about them. I consider myself blessed that even though affection wasn't a big part of my years, I got so much more.

Pull yourself out of your comfort zone and love a little. Even those of us who have been hurt in our upbringing. Forgive, and let go. See our precious elderly for who they are now. People just like us with human failings, with imperfections and good and bad inside. Perhaps their own childhood was hideous and they didn't know any better. Look at them in a new light. Be the light of Christ in their world. Give that hug, say those words. Never let it be too late.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

No Matter the Size





Been doing a lot of soul searching recently. When you lose a parent, and are faced with the loss of the other, life flashes before your eyes and your own health begins to matter in a way it never did before.

When we are young, we think we have forever. We do foolish things, drive way too fast, eat stuff that is really bad for us: greasy fast foods, and play Russian Roulette with the choices we make. But now, as sixty looms before me in a few years, and watching the severe health issues both parents have had to suffer, I have started to think of becoming healthier.

I hate the four letter word diet. It's an evil, awful disgusting word. It conjures up thoughts of carrot and celery sticks. It brings to mind denying the pleasures of chocolate, especially Blizzards with pieces of Butterfinger and Reese Cups. But what if we were to become healthier right where we are. No diet drinks, no joining a gym (because goodness knows, there is certainly no time for that!). If we could do the best WE could do without trying to be someone else.

I observe people around me. I see some who are content with the size they are, even if they are several or many pounds overweight. I also see those who "work out" and eat said carrot sticks and celery pieces and I've compared myself to both of these body types.

It hit me the other day. I am NOT any of those people. I am me. I weigh more than I ever have. I eat for comfort, and sometimes in secret so nobody sees the candy bars I began buying on a daily basis. If I heard more bad news about Mom's health, a quick trip to the store for some chocolate comfort would ensue. But what if I ate what God intended? What if I took the time while grocery shopping to make better choices and pick things that I do like and incorporate them into my daily eating?

About seven days ago, I wrote in my prayer journal. I wrote a prayer to the Lord that He would help me to become healthier. That I could not do this without Him. I'm too weak. I need His guidance. Then when hubby and I went to the store, I carefully purchased Honey Crisp apples, snow peas, cantaloupe and watermelon. I made a plan that ALL of my meals would be cut down in size, and I would eat to glorify God and enjoy the gifts He's given me. My chewing would be slow and deliberate. The colorful array of the new fruits and vegetables actually began to look appealing. And here, seven days later, I have found that I absolutely love the taste. I do need a slight touch of light Ranch dressing on the side, but it's a small dip instead of a huge dunk into the bowl now. My portion sizes on the plate are much smaller, but I eat slowly and enjoy every bite.

Then I asked myself: what can I do for exercise? Instead of making excuses for what I cannot do, I began to do what I can. Whether that means walking in place for about ten minutes in the morning and at night while watching t.v., or taking a small walk outdoors, it's better than sitting and eating chips and dip, (yes, I confess!) to my favorite shows.

This morning, and I praise God, I am down three pounds. Not an easy feat for a foodie, and someone with a slow metabolism. For as we age, and hormones change, it is not easy to drop weight like we used to. No, I'm not dieting. And I do have much farther to go. But this healthy new style has given me hope. It's God-given goals, not my own. It's the knowledge that we CAN do all things through Him! I cannot do anything apart from my Heavenly Father. When He blesses our desires, there is no stopping us.

So, I am not looking to be a stick-thin figure. I'm not judging anyone who can't lose even one pound, for I know only too well what food addiction is like. But for this moment in my life, I need to be a better, more healthy me. I want to be here for whatever is in our path with my mother's failing health. I want to be strong, motivated and clear. I give glory to God for help on this new journey!

P.S. I will treat myself to a Blizzard in the near future. But it will be something to look forward to only every so often instead of the comfort that only the Lord can truly give me.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Moving On






Do you know what I'm really missing most about my father right now? It's our inside jokes and all the sayings we had. It's the make believe language he made up, and the nonsense phrases he always said. It's the lines from comforting, favorite movies watched over and over. It's seeing him conduct an unseen orchestra as his beloved waltz or classical thunder music played. It's picking pine cones from under trees on walks together. It's that sweet smile, soft voice, always happy man that put everyone else before him. It's the slow, steady walk through his front and back yard admiring flowers he planted and cutting lilac and pussy willow branches. It's all these things and so much more.

Do you know what I'm missing about my mother? A listening ear, advice given better than any therapist. Laughter and silliness, secrets shared. And once again, movies, movies, movies. The comforting ones that meant something to me and her. In later years, the stories we heard over and over as dementia began robbing her of recent memories,yet playing old time ones again and again. I miss them now yet I know them all and I know them well. And I, too, will be able to tell them long after she is gone.

Soon, my brother and I will be faced with one of the hardest tasks of our lives. We will have to sift through years and years of the life of our parents. With Mom now in a care facility, the precious home we all shared together will be broken apart and items distributed to those who may want them: wooden crafts our father made; airplanes, boats and houses. Well-worn recipe cards with the smattering of batter splashed upon them, from some of Mom's best loved favorites.

I'll walk through the rooms which meant so much to me. The living room where I envision the countless Christmases. Huge, fat trees decorated with fragile, precious ornaments from when our parents first married. Mountains of presents so carefully chosen for each of us. A favorite chair, an old, worn couch. Then into the small dining room where a table filled with baked Italian goodies and laden with other fine delicacies sits empty now.

The heart of our little ranch home--the kitchen always feels the warmest. For out of this room came a fresh home cooked meal each and every night. Out of this room came gooey pecan loaves, tasty pineapple upside down cakes and homemade pizza that would put one of the best restaurant pizzerias to shame. The table where we all sat, and the conversation and laughter that echoes in the stillness now.

I walk down the hallway toward our bedrooms and see the one converted into Dad's little craft room. The walls are adorned with thousand piece puzzles so carefully glued together as artwork. Tins of small bric-a-brac and tiny pieces of wood just waiting for the crafter's hands to pick up once again.

There are albums filled with the pictures of our lives. There are cards and letters so well-preserved in drawers and it feels as if Mom saved all of them throughout the years. How can one weed through so much and not feel emotional? For I know my heart will be breaking even as I begin the task at hand.

This house, this home saved our lives. For it wasn't where I grew up. We moved there when I was eleven. It was after the roughest time that my parents had gone through. Dad had made the decision to leave the only place we'd ever known, realizing it was best for us to make a change and start fresh.

I can still see the first time my parents showed the new house to me. It sat in a quiet, wooded neighborhood, not the cement jungle I'd grown up in. There was a large back yard and another smaller one. There was a finished basement, screened back porch. There was a sense of belonging of "coming home" so to speak. Yes, this is where our little family belonged. And it would be in this house that my brother was born fourteen years after me. Our miracle.

It won't be easy to toss things away. For you see, there's still a package of cookies, the last ones Dad bought for himself sitting on a shelf like an item from a shrine. There's notes written to Mom reminding her to take her pills and how to work the television remote.

I know I need to cancel our cable, internet and phone. Yet I hang on as long as I can, for once the phone is disconnected, the number that had been ours--mine since childhood will be forever gone. It may sound crazy, but these are the thoughts that plague me. I know God will grant my brother and I the strength we need when it is time. For there is nothing that will take away what is in our hearts. Nothing will take away the parts of Mom and Dad that live inside both of us. We are products of them both. And that is something that will never be lost.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rainbows Will Return






Where to begin? A year ago, six months or perhaps only three weeks ago. This has been a life-changing, earth shattering time for our family. It was about this time last year that I noticed my father acting differently. Usually cheerful, our rock and our strength, Dad began to complain more than ever about how he was feeling, how difficult it was with Mom's worsening dementia, every bill he got in the mail, etc. Dad always had such joy talking with me about Spring and flowers and seed planting and birds. Simple morning conversations that I could live on for the rest of the day. That ended around this time in 2016. Little did we know we would lose Dad later that summer. That he was winding down, and the time had come for his well-deserved rest with Jesus.

Now our little family is going through this with Mom. Words cannot describe the feeling in my chest--of my heart splintering into tiny fragments, each one burnished with a memory good and bad alike. Only three short weeks ago we were able to take her out to eat, go for drives to her favorite stone bridge and listen to the creek. Three short weeks ago we saw a high school play and Mom sang along to the Disney tunes she knew and loved so well.

Yesterday we moved our mother into a care facility. I saw a woman before me that I barely recognized, completely devoid of emotion. Gone is the laugh that was so cute. Gone now are the stories told over and over, stories we all knew better than her, but listened patiently as they were told once more.

Her eyes hold a tiny spark of light when she sees either me, my brother or son. But I'd give anything to rejuvenate life back to her; of memories that would fill her with emotions once again.

She was wheeled into her new room and as she looked around at perhaps a few familiar items, my brother handed Mom a beautiful dolly he got her a few Christmases ago. One story our mother always told us was about a doll she received one year from a family friend. She would describe the beloved doll in great detail, and my brother tried to replicate one by searching many sites and finding one that Mom claimed looked exactly like the one she'd had.

Mom sat in her wheelchair stroking her dolly, covering her with the blanket that lay around her own shoulders. My eyes filled with tears and it was difficult to remain stoic. I stayed with her until much later in the day, watching old movies, trying to get her to eat in the dining room with new friends, seeing if talking about cooking and baking would bring her around just a little.

I left last night with the feeling of a tight band around the upper part of my stomach. The band of fear and uncertainty, for it was with me last August when my father was in the hospital. It is a hated companion this familiar tight knot of tension and worry.

I cannot find my laughter right now. I am not enjoying much. My work days are filled with stress and I don't like who I've become. I snap in anger over situations that I used to handle a little better. I'm not reading for pleasure, doing much writing, except these cathartic blogs. Most of my thoughts are of Mom and wondering how her day is going when we cannot be there with her every minute.

I've read about others who have gone through this before me. I see their smiling faces, their grandkids or trips they've gone on. I see that life does return and there will be rainbows and sunshine again. This is a season in my family's journey. The tale of two parents both so very loved and a life so very missed. My brother and I will hold on to what we have of our mother until her own story ends. And then we will make new memories and remember with fondness the old ones so lovingly tucked away in our hearts.




Friday, March 24, 2017

Keep Your Eyes on Him







Several years ago I read a book by a then unknown author. It was called "The Shack," and it had a feel to it as if I was not only reading a great story, but learning a lesson in the process. The story stayed with me as all good tales do, and I would think of it on many occasions through the years.

Nothing prepared me for the reaction I would have to the movie, however. Seeing such a heartfelt, deep story playing out before me on a huge screen would leave me with many, many emotions. I felt anger and horror along with the main character and what he was going through, yet there were many moments of  humor  and delight. I believe that I learned more about God's love than I ever thought possible while watching it. Deep thoughts and questions began to form. I knew I wanted to share this movie with loved ones who may not understand the nature of God, and I prayed for the right timing.

One of the biggest things I realized is, we all have our own "shack." As the author, Wm. Paul Young pointed out on a television special, there are deep places of hurt within all of us, our own shack, so to speak. A place where unspeakable issues may exist. Perhaps trauma from childhood, rejection, an unfair situation that occurred in our lives. Loss of loved ones too early, physical problems or situations that feel unbearable as we are going through them.

Some of the shacks in my own life were built by me; there were times I went my own way and made the stupidest mistakes, yet other shacks were thrown at me with their splintered wood and rusty nails.

We can think of one instant or several in our lives where we cried out to God for His help and mercy. We had never felt so alone or abandoned, thinking He was nowhere to be found. It was in these darkest nights of the soul that I learned more than ever to keep my eyes focused on Him.

There's a scene in the movie where Mack, the main character is on a boat. Clouds gather, the water turns murky, and the boat begins to fill with water. It was the PERFECT metaphor for what it's like to be overcome by trauma. I loved it when Jesus said, "It's not real! Look at ME, look at me, keep your eyes on ME!" It was then that the storm and the flood waters began to calm. If only we could remember to keep our eyes on Jesus in times of trouble.

Recently I felt overwhelmed by fear and I pictured laying my head against Jesus and holding His hand. I cried out for Him to give me the courage to go through the situation. Peace settled on me almost immediately, and I found the strength to go on.

In the movie, Jesus is an ordinary, likeable guy. Mack feels the closest with Him because He is human. We put Him in a "holy box" sometimes, thinking He is too far above us because He is perfect, good, righteous and holy. We forget that He came as a man for US. We are His delight. It blows my mind, but also humbles me. He calls us friend. 

What is your shack? What do you hide in the secret recesses of your heart? Do you think it's unforgivable?  Are you so ashamed of something you've done, secrets you keep, or hurts that were done to you? Let them go. Free yourself of the bondage. Forgive the person who hurt you, maybe not to their face, but in a letter you may never send. Write, write, write. It's very cathartic. Keep a journal and pray about the things you write.

There was pain in my childhood of times when I wasn't sure my mother would be restored to our family after the stigma of mental illness. There were moments of bullying so bad in middle school that I would cry every day, and retain some of the hurt for many years. There was the betrayal of a husband in my early twenties, a man that I thought the sun rose and set on, and the feeling of unworthiness attached to the fact that he chose another over me. There was a dark time in my son's teenage years that I felt my heart was breaking. 

Keep Your Eyes on Me. Jesus says.

Well if my eyes are on you, Lord, then they aren't on my problems any longer. If my eyes are on you, then I'm not seeing the past and the breaking of my heart. I'm able to let go, forgive those who hurt me and hurt my loved ones. Forgive myself for bad choices and mistakes. 

What about death? Can we keep our eyes on Jesus then? For we've all lost someone we love. There's another scene in the movie "The Shack" that fills my heart with such happiness, I feel like I could burst. I want to sing and clap my hands. I want to cry beautiful tears of joy. Mack is permitted to see his daughter Missy playing with other children in Heaven. Missy knows her father is there watching, and walks over near him and with the most incredibly joyous glee, she shows her happiness, her contentment, and her love. Her father sees her as she is, not who she was, and his own heart is filled with hope. It is then that he realizes he was not at fault for her death, and that perfect love does indeed, cast out fear.

My mother had a near death experience in the early nineteen seventies. She had a cardiac arrest and felt herself being pulled into an unexpressable love. She could barely describe the feeling of warmth, all-encompassing love as if she was the only person who mattered. When she returned, she told us that she wasn't afraid to die. I think that scene in the movie with Missy conveys that feeling of absolute joy--a joy that nothing can ever take away. Think about it. If our departed loved ones feel that rapturous joy, if their eyes are fixed on Jesus, then even death does not triumph. 

I hope if you have the chance, you will see this life-changing movie. Is it one hundred percent gospel, well, is anything except the Bible? Take from it what the author intended. A story of healing and forgiveness; a story of God's perfect love. I happen to think you, too, will come away changed and with a new sense of wonder, awe, and your eyes on the One who matters.








Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Very Good Bad Day







I'd been planning this little excursion for weeks. One of Mom's favorite Disney cartoons had been "Beauty and the Beast." She watched it over and over with her grandson, my Matt, when he was very little, and then with me just as many times. I knew she would enjoy the local play.

Sunday arrived, and with her dementia, Mom kept asking, "Now what is going on today?" I'd explain that me and Matt were taking her to a high school production of one of her favorite movies. She seemed okay. Okay, that was, until we got her out. She complained about the weather; it was way too cold. The wind was blowing, and she had to walk pretty far to get inside the school and into the auditorium. What if she had to go to the bathroom? The list went on and on. I had a really bad moment where I lashed out and said, "Fine, if you're going to be like this, let's just turn around and go home." I meant it. All my planning for a perfect day, shot down with her negativity. I couldn't remember her Alzheimer's in that moment. All I could think about was me.

When the lights finally dimmed, Mom innocently asked, "Is this "Cats?" It was a question she would repeat at least twenty-five times or more. For some reason the musical "Cats" was stuck in her head. Then when the cast broke into a song she knew from "Beauty and the Beast" Mom would sing along, out loud mind you, and she appeared as if she was enjoying herself immensely. Then all over again, she'd say, "I want to see "Cats." My stress level was through the roof. I thought about getting up and leaving with her, but something said: stay until the end. This is a day for everyone to enjoy. Don't worry if she's embarrassing you. Don't think about the people around us who were hearing her say things out loud every so often. And not that I don't care for the feelings of others, but there have been many times in my life when I've sat near special needs children or adults. Yes, I'd always been understanding of what was going on with them.

When the play was over, Mom sat crying with the story she'd loved so much. The Beast is dying, and Belle's love saves him. It was a tale she'd told me as a little girl many times. And it was in this moment, that the little girl began to emerge in my mother. As we walked out of the auditorium, we spotted many of the characters from the play talking with friends and family. The lovely Belle posed for pictures with little girls who seemed enamored of their favorite character. Mom shyly asked, "Can I have a picture with Belle?" My heart cracked into two right at that moment. That little girl again, showing up through the wrinkled skin, thinning hair, and wheeled walker. "Of course," I said, and we snapped away at a few poses. In them, I can see Mom almost puzzling out why she was standing next to this lovely princess. In her mind, she may have been eight or nine again, believing in magic, beauty and love. Who was I to take that from her?

I think back on that day right now, and feel a pang of guilt at my impatience at Mom. Yet I also glow when I see how much she enjoyed herself.

The next morning, my mom woke up and on her way to the bathroom, she fell and hasn't been the same since. After a short hospital stay, she is now in a rehab facility. She can only speak in soft, garbled phrases. They aren't sure yet if she's had a stroke, or what might have brought this on. More childlike than ever, she is smiling and sleeping a lot. She talks in hushed whispered tones and can't answer most questions posed to her. I watched her during one of her moments of slumber and noticed she was talking to herself a little. I wonder if she's chatting with my father, her own Prince Charming who passed on before her. I wonder if he's there even now near her, whispering the words of love he's always said to her. I see her smile in her sleep and can only imagine.