The Hardest Part.

 

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I have my favorite seat, the one in the corner of the coffee shop where I can watch all the people and wonder about their stories. The seat where I can observe and listen and think; where I can watch and feel just enough removed and yet still part of the hum. I have my favorite cup of coffee, even topped with a little heart of froth. The music is even right this morning.

Everything is set up perfectly.

This doesn’t happen very often.

Everything is in place.

Everything except the words.

I have been grumpy the last few weeks. There has been a wall or something that I have not been able to break through; like a task that needed to be accomplished and I could not get to it and I knew until it was accomplished I was going to be agitated.

 

Have you felt that? Have you had that feeling of something undone, something needling you, something calling for your attention and not letting you go? Leaving you out of sorts as a result?

 

That has been the feeling of the last few weeks, and the result has been Steve and the boys pointing out that I have been, well, grumpy.

 

The task? Writing about Mom. Somehow bringing this life that brought my life context, a memory, for me. Maybe it is from a fear that my memory will eventually fail as hers has, and I want to set her story down for my children. I want them to know her. Maybe it is because she is right here with us still, and yet not with us, and there is so much I wish I could ask her. So many stories I wish I could ask her.

I want to find the words to begin to tell the story of my mother. I want to find the words to tell more than the story of loss of her memories. I want to find the words to tell more than the loss; I want to find the words to tell more than the present. Most of what I have written in the last five years has been about the decay of her mind. Most of what I have written has told of the failing of a mind, of the brokenness and the limitations.

I want to write more about the memories that I have of the power and the nimblness of a mind which was so quick and so full of wit, and yet when I begin I find the words faltering. I find them difficult. Becauase writing about the wit and the wisdom and the beauty is bittersweet as it highlights what could be right now. It is like a spotlight on the reality of today.
So, this is the start.

 

And there is a realization. Even if the task is not easy, even if the words are not flowing as quickly and as well as I would like…once the task is begun, the frustration and the grumpiness eases. The wall that has been blocking me comes down and that task that has been needling me and agitating is not there anymore, because it is at least begun.

 

The hardest part is starting.

 

That is not completely true, because in beginning I realized what was agitating me the most.

 

I don’t want to be writing about Mom.

 

What I really want is to be sitting and having coffee and talking with her.

 

I Resent that Spotlight!

The fish died.

Yep.  I pretty much have been side-tracked on a multitude of other necessities and I didn’t get around to cleaning out the fish tank. We were down to just two…we’ve lost a few lately…and one of them died. We were actually buying new filters while this little guy gave up.

Nate took it in stride; actually I think he expected it considering the fact the water was so murky lately we could barely find the two fish each night when all the boys went up to bed.

And what does this have to do with Advent?  Stay with me…

I realized something yesterday. Or maybe it is just that I allowed myself the freedom to admit something. There are times I resent my kids.

Yep, I just said that outloud.

When we start out our homeschool day and I am not prepared. I resent them…not hate them, not mad at them, not that want-them-to-go-away resentment…but I resent them because in that moment they are spotlighting my weakness and my inadequacies.

My reaction? Oh, highly spiritual. I usually bark at them and get irritable. Because, well, I hate having my weaknesses and inadequacies spotlighted.

Kids will do that, though. Just by being themselves they will make you aware of all the areas where you fall short. Suddenly you are completely vulnerable and insecure and they are wondering why you are over at the computer whimpering and tearing up while they are just goofing around.

The fact is, most days I am not prepared for the day. The lessons may be written down but there are other things that will throw me. Calls will come in that someone is sick, or a friend has made life-altering choices and suddenly all I want to do is pray. There are days the weight of the awareness of my mother’s intricate and powerful mind decaying away to dementia leaves me feeling without any enthusiasm to take on the homeschool endeavor. The laundry constantly interrupts us. Or the fish dies.

They are not earth-shattering events, but they pick at me and I find myself irritable and on edge because I just can’t seem to get ahead of it all.

Advent? Yes…I’m getting there.

A babe in a manger. Silent night. Little Drummer Boy.

These have all become so familiar to us we do not let them impact us when they should completely drop us to our knees. The spotlight is on.

400 years of silence the Jews had been waiting through. God had been awfully quiet. Had he forgotten all those promises? Had he not noticed that we just keep seeming to be inadequate in our attempts to fix things?

God had noticed. The long anticipation was over, Messiah was coming. But he came in the most extraordinary and unexpected way. God pulled the rug out and surprised everyone.

See…Advent should be about joy and about wonder. It should fill us with moments when we are stunned by the glory of the whole story. But there is more. It spotlights our inadequacy and our need. God had to come to redeem us…we simply could not do it ourselves. And he came in a way that completely took everyone by surprise, and left all the glory to God.

He walked in the room, crying like a baby.

Angels shouted. Stars led the way. Creation noticed.

And God entered creation with the baby-born wail…and I am sure hell shuddered at that infant’s wail.

We can resent God for showing that we are inadequate, as I sometimes resent my kids for spotlighting (without even knowing) where I fall short. We can shake our fist and be angry because He has called us sinners first. We can be mad that the mere fact that there is an Advent season or a Christmas celebration calls attention to the fact that there is a God who noticed we needed redemption.

Or, we can hear those songs and that simple story of the babe in the manger, of the silent night…and we can drop to our knees. We can allow ourself the freedom to admit we desperately need that redemption and we just can’t fix things on our own.

We have 20 more days. Be still with the story for a bit. Don’t rush it. Let the spotlight rest on your and don’t turn away…don’t resent the fact that your inadequacies are being noticed. Rejoice that our inadequacies and sin were noticed…and were overcome.

O come, O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven’s power
give me thy strength: it is the hour.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high;
like any babe at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
whose birth came hastily at night,
born in a stable, in blood and pain
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king–
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high:
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angels’ wings
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, Desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God’s Son, God’s Self, with us to dwell. -Madeleine L’Engle

And that….is privilege.

I have to confess that I grew up with a fair amount of privilege.

We had some pretty great toys as kids, and we grew up able to to hang out on this great space in Colorado in the summers especially…riding horses and motorcycles and exploring.

Most all of that was due to having a Dad and a grand father who were diligent in their work and who were wise and who blessed us. We didn’t always know how blessed we were, and we didn’t always appreciate it…and we didn’t always know the sacrifices that were made so we could enjoy these adventures and this life.

Now, when I’m a little older and hopefully a little wiser, and more importantly now that I am a parent as well, I am aware of how special my life has been. I am also aware of the privilege we are in the midst of now. This privilege is different, and yet it is also the fruit of my Dad’s diligence and his sacrifices.

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This is the privilege of watching my mother age in the care of those who love her, and I am aware that it is a privilege. There are so many who are simply not able to keep their loved ones at home because of the need for constant supervision…but we have been able to do so because my Dad has made that sacrifice and my brothers have as well, along with my nephews. These men take great care of this lady.

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That is pretty remarkable.  

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So on this trip I was able to chip in some of the time and watch Mom, to take my part in caring for her. To be part of the privilege of seeing her in the moments of confusion and know that even though that look of lostness comes over her…to know that she in a place filled with laughter and with children. A place filled with memories and filled with thought and care…a place which she designed to be welcoming and hospitable to those who would come. A place made to be home. Sometimes that makes things all the more difficult because if she was in her “right” mind she would be rejoicing in these moments and she would delight in this laughter and the place would be alive with her touches of hospitality. There are times the awareness of her dementia makes that sting…and it should. Brokenness hurts and reminds us that this is not as it should be.   Still…in this imperfection, she is in a place where she is known.

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She may not know it, but she is in a place which embraces her, and in the moments when she is silent and does not have words, or when she is flooded with words that simply repeat and express confusion…she is still surrounded by laughter and life.  She is not left on her own or isolated, and when she has those moments where she is alert…there are those there to laugh with her and embrace her.

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And that is privilege.

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And the richness of that privilege is not lost.

I spent much time this trip with just Maddie and Mom. It always amazes me how children just accept things and Maddie never was troubled that there was something amiss with Grandma. She would light up and embrace her, kiss her, or scold her…whatever the situation called for…with great enthusiasm. And she drew Mom out.

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That was privilege that could not happen in a “home”.

I think often of Madeleine L’Engle’s book, The Summer of The Great Grandmother where she talks of the last summer with her mother, and I think she would smile at our gatherings in Colorado. Our generations mix and aging happens in the midst of development.

The children learn that we are frail, and they learn that we have to not be afraid of that and sometimes life is hard…but it is a lot easier when we handle it as a family in the midst of a place filled with laughter and life and memories.

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And that is privilege. 

Touching like Jesus

We had a brief sunny day yesterday, however the clouds and rain and grey have greeted us again this morning. This has been a bit unusual for our area…more grey than we are used to, and people are feeling the impact. After living for 7 years up in Lynden, Washington and Vancouver, BC it feels comfortable to me. I even like the mornings like this..the quiet and the still. The sunshine makes me want to run out and start doing things; the rain and the overcast skies helps me be still and quiet for a bit.

This is my 100th post on this blog…which seems rather amazing. I’m thankful for a place to think out loud, and a place where I find that others are thinking or struggling or rejoicing with the same things.

We need that connection, and the world of the internet has opened up so many more resources for us to connect. I am amazed by how my kids already connect with people through games and other venues on the internet. Obviously there can be great pitfalls and dangers…but there can be such great moments when we find something that triggers a deeper thought or triggers a connection.

Still…there is a huge gap when we relate through the internet. When we place our significance in our associations made through quick comments. When we determine if we are funny enough or smart enough or thoughtful enough to warrant a ‘like’ or a ‘favorite’. I worry some about my kids and how they will navigate this new venue of peer pressure and standards. Will they think only in terms of fast and short encounters, or will they develop the ability to think well and to follow a discussion through logically and with tenderness and patience? Of course, my goal is to provide the foundation for that thinking. For that encounter.

I posted awhile back a few links to a discussion TED radio hour about the impact of the internet and computers on personal interactions. There were two that deeply grabbed my attention…one a woman who watched as her colleagues rejoiced as an elderly nursing home patient ‘connected’ with a robotic seal. They were thrilled that finally this woman had found something she could pour her heart out to about the loss of a child. The woman was suddenly aware of the impact as this group of people passed off their responsibility to connect with another human…to a robotic seal. And they thought through all the possibilities of passing this seal on to all those lonely people out there…with no awareness that those people longed for a human touch, not yet another way to be isolated.

The other speaker who demanded my attention was a doctor who spoke about the human touch. He spoke of all the wonderful advances that medicine had seen through computers and technoloty…qll testing and information that could now be gathered. And yet, he noted that the one thing that computers and technology will never be able to replicate or replace is human touch. Not only because the doctor is able to feel things intuitively through his touch, but because that human touch means so much to the patient.

Through the wonders of technology I was met with a short video this morning. Through Facebook a friend suggested I watch this video as we move through the experience of caring for my mother in her dementia.  I have seen first hand how she responds to the touch of my father…how when she is fearful at night she responds to her hand being held, to the touch of another. I have also seen the shells of people as they are in nursing homes who have been left in the corner and have no interaction. I am not placing blame…it is so difficult to see a loved one deteriorate…and yet, to be like the woman in this video. To be this compassionate and this patient…and this aware of the needs of those around us. Not just when they reach this point of utter isolation, but to be aware as we move through our day…to physically and spiritually touch the people around us in a way that brings healing and brings compassion.

To be Jesus to those around us. That sounds trite or cliche…but watch this video and I think you will agree with me that this is the heart of a savior who embraced us in our ugliness and our sin and our brokenness…who reached out and took on our humanity in order to touch us and awaken us to the knowledge that we are cared for and we are loved…and we matter and we are not alone. To be like this woman….would be to be much like Jesus, and that would be a very worthy goal: