The things we carry with us…

Over the last three weeks I have had at least five discussions with friends who are watching family members slip into that strange world of here and not here. They are watching their loved ones begin to forget. They are watching the agitation and the fear that begins to settle in as this person realizes they are losing their identity. Their memories. Their story. And finally their ability to communicate.

 

I have been jotting notes on this blog for over eight years now. I began it as a place to think aloud a bit about our journey with my mom’s Dementia. We were well into that journey even eight years ago. Now, as Mom is farther and farther from her ability to communicate, there is not much to update. Things do not change as much day to day anymore.

 

I began this blog partly because of a quotation from Frederick Buechner that kept nagging at me:

 

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”

 

We need to share our stories. We need these touch points with one another, to know that we are not alone and to glean wisdom from those who are a little farther down the track than us. We need to hear that God has been present in others’ stories; it encourages us to watch for Him in our own.

 

I’ve encouraged those I know who are in the midst of this now to be patient. To remember that they do not have to use logic, and they do not have to win arguments. And we do have to repeat the answer a hundred times some days. My brothers and my Dad would be better at writing the advice. They have cared for Mom diligently, daily, these last years.

 

I am 1200 miles away, and as life has become busier here my travels home have become fewer. There is an acute awareness, however, of this missing element of my life. This void. There is a silliness to asking how Mom is when I call…she is the same as she was yesterday. As she was last month. As she was last year. But I still want to know. I still ask.

 

There were times when she changed weekly. There were times when she would call, and she would know who I was. She knew things were slipping, and there was fear in her voice, but she knew me. I found an old answering machine today, and knew that I had at least one recording of Mom still there. Her voice brought back so many memories…and that deep desire to have one more conversation.

 

 

So to those who are just starting out on this journey…it is a long one, so take a deep breath and give yourself some space. Recognize that there are so many going through the same journey.

 

Your loved one just might be mean in this season. They might lash out. They might be aggressive. Not always. But my guess is that there is a season in this where they know what is happening, and yet they don’t know where they are any more. Where there is a sense that things are familiar, but they can’t figure it out. And that has to be terrifying. So give them grace. But also have wisdom.

 

Now Mom doesn’t communicate. She doesn’t form sentences or ask questions. Sometimes she rambles a bit and you can tell there is something she is trying to say.

 

She still smiles though. And her eyes still twinkle.

 

So now, for me, 1200 miles away and keenly aware of the conversations I wish I could have with her, I have taken to something specific to keep her memory close.

 

I don’t leave the house without wearing something of hers.  (And I also can never take a normal “selfie” because I feel ridiculous…but wanted to show the necklace!)

 

 

I’m reading from her childhood Bible some. And I drink from a coffee cup that came from her.

 

Necklaces, flannel shirts, coffee cups…they remind me of this strong woman I carry with me. I carry her wisdom and her wit (although hers was quicker than mine). I carry her love of books and pens. I carry her laughter.

My daughter carries her name.

 

Buechner:

If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.

 

Keep telling yourself the stories your loved ones can’t tell anymore. Write them down. Remember. Stretch that memory, and find something that helps you hold that person close…even if they are 1200 miles away.  Stretch your own memory and think about your own story. Write it down.

 

If you live miles from home, keep asking how they are. Even if it doesn’t change.

 

Keep remembering.

Do Not Fear….Sing.

Years ago I was fearless.

I remember walking up to people on Central Avenue in Albuquerque and asking them if they knew Jesus.

I think I met an angel one night, but that is a story for conversation over a cup of coffee.

I had a deep joy, a delight in life, and a passion to tell people about Jesus. I had friends who were the same, and we would drink coffee from late night into morning hours at the Frontier restaurant. And Frontier rolls, we would eat lots of them. And tell people about Jesus.

After college I went and spent a little time in a commune in Chicago: Jesus People, USA. I walked streets that were far different than any I had seen, and I learned some wisdom from these folks who had been doing this a long time. I worked in their shelter, and lived in their building and felt lonely and at home at the same time.

But I did not feel afraid.

I returned to Albuquerque, then on to Nashville a couple years later. In Nashville I found a group who ministered in the inner city, and I remember outreaches that made me feel like I did when I witnessed on the streets of Albuquerque.

Then I went to Hungary and Amsterdam and I saw Jesus work on the streets of those towns. I street preached in Amsterdam, not just witnessing…I had a microphone and everything, with a group from YWAM. I also worked in the coffee shop, with the outreach to the homeless. We sang, kinda badly, and walked the streets of Amsterdam and told people about Jesus.

Amsterdam was one of the first places I felt a physical presence of evil…I felt it like a wall. I’ve seen what I can only describe as a demon before, but that was in Nashville and Santa Barbara. Another cup of coffee conversation there. This was different. We came to the walking streets, to the square, to tell people about Jesus, and as we came around a corner there was a cold and a heaviness that hit all of us. There was spiritual battle here, and it was real.

But I was not afraid.

Then I returned to Nashville and outreaches and meeting a man who I knew would be my husband. And I flew home to Albuquerque for a visit. I had coffee with a friend from radio and we talked until the coffee shop closed. Knob Hill, still off that Central Avenue.

We walked out to our cars, with a space between us. A car swept in between us and evil emerged. I remember one of the men looking me in the eye. Holding my gaze for a fraction of a second, and then turning and going to my friend’s car.

I thought he had made it into his car as I had. I pulled out quickly and looked back. Five of them? Swarming around his car? I called the police and drove quickly around the block to return to him…and in those seconds they scarred him. He was a bit tougher than they expected, though. And as I pulled around I found him in his car and the swarm gone. In seconds.

And as I pulled around and found him there, with blood on his face….I was afraid.

It changed everything.

I was afraid of the shadows. Afraid of those who held my gaze longer than a fraction of a second.

It eased in time, but a seed was planted, and now there is a fear I have to counter.

Today I fly to Montreal with the middle boy. The one of adventures to China. He talked us into a quick trip for him to see a favorite French singing artist perform. And I am along for the ride.

And he knows no fear. He wanted to come alone at first. 16. Alone to a foreign (even if it is Canada) city.

He knows no fear.

Even though he broke his bones in China. He knows no fear.

And that is something to delight in, and something to hold dear. Because, it will not last.

Is that harsh?

There will be the moment when evil swarms out and shows its face, and fear will appear. Courage, hopefully, will appear in the same moment.

My trips are tainted now, just a bit. I can feel that fear sneak in in the most unusual places…gripping fear that I have forgotten something, or that there is something I am not equipped to encounter. Fear that steals the joy of a trip. Just for a moment, but it is there.

Our pastor tells us often, because we need to hear it, that the two most repeated commands in the Bible are “Fear Not” and “Sing.

A pastor from many years ago, when some of us in college were confused and experiencing spiritual challenges, gave us similar advice: “worship”

Take your eyes off the evil, take your eyes off yourself and remember who God is.

He is the God who breaks the rules. He entered our world in a completely unexpected and unconventional way. He surprised us…and He has come into our world filled with fear and uncertainty and told us to Fear Not.

And to Sing.

So, this Advent….are you fearful? Have you had that moment that changed things, that exposed evil to you and surprised you? Do you have that awareness of your insufficiency, even in small things (like remember airline tickets…), that fear that can creep in and make you suddenly feel like a small child ill prepared to face this world of evil?

Fear Not.

For lo…unto you this day,in Bethlehem town is born.

A Savior.

Sing. Do battle with that fear, and with the evil that would nag you and distract you…do battle with your song. These Christmas carols we sing, the Christmas carols we hear all around us…they are the words of warfare. Listen to them.

Advent is waiting in the dark and knowing that someone is coming to change everything.

Once we have experienced a deep, shattering fear, like I did that day behind a coffee shop with a friend, I think we are never quite the same. Fear, and evil, are real and are not to be forgotten. But, equally, we know that there is a God who is stronger, and who came. So we wait in these Advent days, and we are aware of our need. And on Christmas Day we should be singing with deep joy and gratitude that our fear will not last.

Sing today. Something…and do it with gusto and with faith.

I’m going to follow my boy around and see the delight and joy he has, that has not yet been tempered with fear. I’m going to remember what it felt like to street preach, to street witness and to no no fear. And I’m going to sing (maybe in my head on the streets so I don’t embarrass him), and I will not fear.

How about you/

Impossible God

The coffee shop is full of chatty people this morning. There is a rather loud din all around me; I was lucky to find a seat! I am ridiculously thankful for my time here on Mondays and Fridays. The shop is aptly named “The Good Cup”. The coffee is good, but the blessing of goodness extends to the friendliness of the patrons and the lack of a need for hipness. I feel at ease and not old, and well, all the things I mentioned the other day.

I am continuing my reading of Madeleine L’Engle.

I was surprised, and yet not completely, by how many friends related to my last post. This feeling of being behind, this feeling of being a bit overwhelmed, and just weighed down with life and all it entails.

Today, reading L’Engle, something has broken a bit for me. This is my Advent reading. It is not the assigned reading by my app on my phone, it is not in place with what we are studying at Church. This does not fall in line with the devotional I have at home that I love but haven’t looked at this season.

I’m reading L’Engle and a bit of Malcom Guite for my Advent reading…and it is working.

Because she is an old friend – I have been reading her for 25 years, and she still speaks to me and enlivens my imagination as she did the first time I picked up one of her books. Now, because the stories she tells and the wisdom she gives is familiar, the enlivening is matched with a familiarity. There is something grand about that joining.

The story is old and amazing, and yet comforting and familiar.

That means, sometimes I can scan the pages because I already know what is coming, and miss something. Or….and this is a big OR…I can soak in the words more deeply because they do not surprise me, but the inform and confirm truths to which I already cling. Her words reaffirm my reality. And it is an amazing reality.

A baby born in a manger changes the world, changes reality, changes everything.

So Sunday morning, or this afternoon, or a 100 times between now and December 25th, when you are reminded of Jesus’ birth…don’t just scan and skip along. Wait. Hear. Really let it affirm to you the reality of a Creator stepping in to His Creation to change everything.

Listen…

“But we rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every venture the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable. But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.”

I told you she was good.

Embrace the Impossible!!! In our weariness, in our burdens, in our to-do lists and overwhelming schedules…embrace the Impossible.

Is it any wonder that Christmas music is so grand?! What a story, friends, what a truth. God has broken in to our reality and set us free. And has done so in such an unpredictable, impossible way.

I am listening to this album while reading and writing this morning, and it makes my heart swell. The songs make my mind work more quickly and my blood pump.

THIS IS ADVENT.

Find yours. What is it that draws you in? What is it that reminds you of the impossible grandness of this familiar story? What is it that makes your blood pump and joy radiate within you?

It is not too late. We still have time, those of us who cannot find our Advent calendars and our elves. There is still time. Today. Find something that draws your attention to the babe in a manger…find something that stirs you. And wait on it. Dwell there for a few minutes. Don’t just scan the moment…don’t just move along.

Listen…

“This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild,

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.”

Let’s embrace a bit of the impossible and irrational, and let’s let our kids see us be swept up in the reality. Let’s draw them in, not to the sparkle of Santa (he’s ok), but to the impossibility of a God in a manger chasing us and changing everything.

Again, L’Engle:

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking

Without a thought

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling.

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder.

But now is the hour

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

Yes. She’s good.

Now…go find what is going to make this Advent your Advent. And inspire someone around you…draw them in to your joy.

Advent? Really? I’m stopping.

There was a time I marked Advent daily with poems and reflections here on the blog.

There was a time I read poems and reflections daily about Advent. I prayed daily welcoming the coming of the Christ. I had the Advent calendar ready, and even the Elves to dance around the house and entertain.

This has not been that year.

I honestly have no idea where the Elves are. Maybe they will surprise us all and appear on their own. Maybe they can bring the Advent calendar with them, that would be nice.

This year has been one of getting through the day and thinking next week will be better. It has not been a year of depression, but it has been a year of frustration with my mind and my body. Hormones, age, headaches and lack of sleep have all conspired to wipe away enthusiasm and motivation and delight. Not completely…but they sure have made a good go of it.

Life is still grand. And I have still laughed. A lot. And my family has brought much delight. So, this is not a statement of great woe…but it is an acknowledgment that today is the 6th of December and I find myself completely unprepared for Advent.

How about you?

Some of my friends have all their gifts already wrapped and ready to go. Some have had their homes decorated for a couple weeks and the cookies all made and ready to give to others. Some have already planned their Christmas dinners. They are awesome, and it is a delight to see their joy in doing these things. They have read the liturgy for welcoming Christmas, and Christmas trees (go see this book if you are not sure what that is). That is awesome.

Other friends, though, are dealing with heavy things that have distracted from the delight of orchestrating elves and planning dinners. They may not even decorate at all, in fact. They feel the ache of need for a savior and for the light to come…they feel the darkness now a bit more than the delight of hope. And that is awesome in a different way…it is awesome in its heaviness, and I pray that it is awesome in bringing them closer to the presence of Jesus in a completely new way.

Other friends, and myself included, are just getting by. We are not completely overwhelmed, and we are not quite to the delighting stage either. We are looking at the requirements of the day and feeling a bit daunted. We are praying for our children and feeling the burden of raising them in a very dark world…hoping that they will be Image Bearers who bring hope and delight. And we are aware that we are being watched by those children, and we hope we can live up to the responsibility.

We are getting through the day and thinking next week will be better. But next week will be pretty much like this week, and in three weeks Christmas will be over and we will wonder what happened. And it is more difficult to find this awesome. We feel more just muddled and distracted. How do we find awe in that situation?

Are you in that camp?

I think I realized how to find the awe.

I decided to just stop today. To turn to an old friend for inspiration and to engage. To not look at the rest of the responsibilities for today, or even for next week, but just to stop and soak this moment in a bit.

I realized that today I needed to have grace for myself. Grace for the fact that it was a miserable night of sleep, and I am nearing a birthday which makes me feel the reality of hair loss and weight gain and slowing down…and how I want to change all of that. Grace that today, in this moment, I don’t have to focus on that.

Today I can pull out a well-worn book and be inspired again.

Madeleine L’Engle. The Irrational Season.

To the rescue.

I am re-centered. I am listening. I’m even delighting a bit.

Here…it’s my life rope for you today. Take a moment and read and just soak it in. And know that there are a whole bunch of us in all kinds of levels of engagement who relate. We know the frustration and the delight together of being moms in this season. We know the weight of trying to do it right, and feeling like we are missing Jesus in the rush and bluster.

L’Engle:

Let us view with joy and mirth

All the clocks upon the earth

Holding time with busy rocking

Ticking booming clanging clocking

Anxiously unraveling

Time’s traveling

Through the stars and winds and tides.

Who can tell where time abides?

 

Foolish clocks, all time was broken

When that first great Word was spoken.

Cease we now this silly fleeing

From earth’s time, for time’s a being

And adoring

Bows before him

Who upon the throne is seated.

Time, defeated, wins, is greeted.

 

Clocks know not time’s loving wonder

Day above as night swings under,

Turning always to the son,

Time’s begun, is done, does run

Singing warning

Of the morning

Time, mass, space, a mystery

Of eternal trinity.

 

Time needs make no poor apology

For bursting forth from man’s chronology

Laughs in glee as human hours

Dance before the heavenly powers.

Time’s undone

Because the Son

Swiftly calls the coming light

That will end the far-spent night.

 

 

 

Advent.

Waiting for the end. The eschaton.

The night is far spent.

 

 

 

I wrote this on the fly today, sitting in my favorite coffee shop, under the wire of time to go pick up the youngest. I did not check my grammar. I did not edit. I just stopped and realized that writing is something that brings me joy…and that today my brain is working with more diligence and effectiveness. Maybe tomorrow I will stop again and reflect more on Advent. Maybe I won’t worry too much about the laundry and the to-do’s and I will ask the Savior we celebrate to help me know how to celebrate in a way that brings hope and life and testimony.

 

Maybe tomorrow I will realize how loose time really is; I will have a looser hold on the ticking of the clock. It seems like that ticking is a constant reminder of things that need to be done. Instead, focusing on Eternity in this season. Finding a way to settle in to the rhythm and chronology of Advent time…that waiting and patience and anticipation. Even if the Elves stay hidden and we don’t open any Advent calendar boxes.

 

We’ll find the way to celebrate that is true to this year…and there is grace for it not looking like any other years.

 

How about you?