A Fill Up

 

img_1273After seeing something like this several years ago (and thinking each January 1st that I’d do it but not following through… thoughts and ideas seem to stay in my head a long, looong, painfully long time before there’s any actual action), it’s finally in our house.

The idea is to paint a pretty jar, bottle, or catch-all, write down special memories that happen throughout the year, then read them New Year’s Eve.  Many of us reflect on struggles we’ve had during the current year as we welcome in the new one, and I thought this will be another way to honor the good. There’s always so much good… a great conversation with a friend reminding us we are loved, a car ride with a son who makes us laugh so hard our sides ache… and I don’t want to forget those moments.

So the first day of 2019, I sat at the table with a little clay pot, armed with ambition and positive thoughts, surrounded by paint bottles and brushes, then remembered I am NOT an artist! Not even a little bit. I spent the next few days brushing on uneven coats of paint, letting them dry, discovering they were indeed not dry as I left many thumbprints thinking “Lemme just check and see if it’s dry…nope, not yet,” and making plenty of goofs with paint dripping where it wasn’t supposed to go.

Realizing that it would be July before the paint job would be ‘perfect’ and that would be just another way to justify in-action, I decided the little pot was finished and on came the over-thinking phase. What should you call it? Why do you have to call it anything? But if you do call it something, come up with a good name. Merry Memories? Beauty Bucket? Cheery Chamber?

Finally I decided on Happy Pot- one because it made me smile, and two, because the name was safe since my son is no longer school-aged. I can only imagine being called in for a teacher’s conference if we’d started the ‘happy pot’ years ago:”We have some concerns. Austin says ‘Every time we come home from doing something fun, Mom goes straight to her happy pot. She loves her happy pot!'”

The Little Things- A Brother’s Love

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“Mom, what if my brother doesn’t know how much I love him?”

After I came home from work last night, my son was uncharacteristically quiet for a long time until he somberly posed that question. “I think he knows, honey…tell me what’s going on.”

A little backstory here: After we divorced, Austin’s dad had another son; he and Nathan are five years apart. The family has had unimaginable losses over the past several years, losing both of Austin’s uncles on his dad’s side a few years ago and then his grandfather last month. Nathan leaves for boot-camp tomorrow and Austin is scared of losing him too.

“We all three went bowling today, and when Dad and I were in the car, he started talking about his brothers.” His voice began to falter. “I’ve told Nathan I love him but what if he doesn’t know? I’ve been a shitty brother.” The tears were welling up so he couldn’t say any more… but he still needed to talk, even if talking meant just hearing another’s voice.

“I’ll bet Nathan would have a different take on that.” I got a shrug. “You drove in the middle of the night to go pick him up when PawPaw was dying so he could say goodbye.” A slight nod. “And you helped him through it after… You’ve told me over and over again how much fun you guys have smack-talking and kidding around. And picking on your Dad!”

A real chuckle here… “Yeah, we do. He is pretty easy to pick on!”

“You show Nathan you love him by having fun together and letting him know you like being around him. And you’re smart to tell him you love him.” It was my turn to have a breaking voice. “Remember when Uncle Hank – (my brother) –  was so sick a few years ago? We didn’t know if he’d make it and I kept thinking about all the times I could have said ‘I love you’ but didn’t. When I finally got the chance to say it again, I told him I loved him and guess what? He already knew.”

There have been many times in my life I’ve been so weighted down with regrets that I couldn’t move forward. Two years and twelve days ago in my sister’s backyard, Hank said the following words to me and they changed my life: “Learn from them and move on. You’ve already lived the story. Stop opening the book and re-reading it.” I was able to share them with Austin last night.

This morning, Austin said “I called Nathan last night. We had the best talk ever!”

Thank God for brothers.

 

We get by with a little help from our friends…

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One of my favorite scenes from The Full Monty is where Gaz and Dave find themselves stuck in the middle of a canal. They see a man approaching, walking his dog, and it may be an opportunity to get help. This is how the conversation goes:

Man: “All right?”

Gaz: “Aye. Not s’bad.”

Dave (after the man has walked by): “Not s’bad? Not s’bad?! That’s not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?”

Why is it so hard to ask for help? We often seek to be the helpers but don’t want to be the receivers. Maybe it’s pride, vanity, stubbornness… in my own case, it’s definitely all three along with my ego and not wanting to be a disappointment- it’s stupid, really.

My son and I moved into our neighborhood almost 15 years ago; our neighbors, Wendy and Mike, were among the first to welcome us. Through many joyous celebrations and some tragedies, the most heart-breaking being the loss of their daughter to cancer, they and their son Jeff have become family to us… a very real family. We know each other well (the good and the faults), speak the truth when needed with unconditional love and without fear of losing friendship, and always have each others’ backs.

A few months ago, I had roof damage. Making the decision to not make a decision (one of my worst faults) and thinking I would eventually make the right decision, I’d ignored the problem and it had become more extensive. My deductible is high and I was scared of the cost.

Jeff came over one morning and this was our conversation:

Him: “I saw your roof.”

Me: “Yeah. It’s not so bad.” (Channeling my inner ‘Gaz’)

Him: “It is bad. Don’t be stubborn. Do you need some help?”

Me: (screaming in my head ‘NOOOOOOO!’): “Yes.”

Jeff took the tape measure he’d brought over out of his pocket and we went outside to survey the damage. He made a list of what was needed, did a rough calculation of supply costs, asked me if I could afford it, and then we were off to the hardware store. On the way, I told him, “I’m glad you came over when you did. I was thinking about arson.” He replied, “No one in our family has gone to prison yet, and we’re not letting you be the first.”

Over the next several days, we worked to replace rotten wood and repair the structural damage so the roof didn’t leak any more. Actually I’m using the word “we” too liberally… Jeff and Mike repaired the damage. I handed them tools, held stuff, and gave them water.

It wasn’t long before the next difficult but inevitable conversation took place; I needed a new roof. Jeff broke the news, patiently explaining that if I delayed I could have a few good months before there was further damage but that it might get worse instead. He hugged me through all the very dramatic whining and tears that he’d known were coming, and when I finally said “Let’s do it,” told me he’d already contacted five different contractors for estimates and the first was on his way.

I have a new roof, the bank account has made a recovery, and I’m so grateful for my neighbors.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” My prayer for Jeff, the friend who has become my little brother, is that very soon he knows his worth and sees himself through the eyes of all of us who love him. That will  be a glorious day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bedside Table and Rollercoaster Rides

Being a witness to true, pure, selfless, and unconditional love is so powerful that it can transform the soul and change a heart forever; I was blessed to have seen that kind of love a few days ago with one of my patients and her husband. God must have known my heart needed to be filled as He showed me the special bond between a brother and his little sister just the very next day.

Jo is a woman in her 60’s who has been a patient on our unit off and on for the past few months. She has a big heart, a dry sense of humor, and is well-loved by her husband, Robert, and their three adult children. Her liver is failing fast as she waits for a transplant and none of us know how much time she has left. Whatever her course may be, Robert will be right there by her side.

When I first entered Jo’s room that early morning just as the sun was beginning to make its appearance above the dark blue clouds, she was sleeping and Robert was sitting in a chair beside her bed. He was fighting tears as shared with me how scared he was because she’d become so sick very quickly. His voice cracked when he said, “Just a few months ago, she could do everything for herself. She was normal. And now…it’s just…I’m afraid of losing her.” I longed for the right words to say, something comforting…anything really… but sometimes there are no words and none came at that moment. All I could do was nod as we shared the silence that followed.

After I’d seen my other patients, I went back into Jo’s room. Robert had lifted her from the bed to the chair, and I found them sitting across from each other sharing breakfast on the battered hospital bedside table. Our tables are used for many things- a place to set medicine cups, water pitchers, procedure trays. This was the first time I’d seen one used for a breakfast date with a couple who’d been married 40 years and it was such a beautiful sight! A true gentleman, Robert made sure his bride was seated so she could look out the big window and have the best view. He told Jo, “I wish I had some flowers so you’d have something pretty to look at,” to which she replied, “I like looking at you.”

Jo left later that day to have a diagnostic test performed, and Robert finally laid down on the couch to rest. When she returned and I heard him snoring, I tried to be quiet as we moved her from the stretcher to the bed, knowing how tired he must be. As soon as he heard his wife’s sweet voice, though, he immediately awoke and jumped up to help. I wanted so badly to tell him, “It’s okay, we’ve got her,” but then remembered the words of a coworker far wiser than me caring for another patient near the end of life who said, “I used to think I knew what was best for patients and their families. I had good intentions but I was wrong. It’s not for us to decide what’s most important to them; it’s up to us just to honor whatever that is.” It was a gift that day to hear their lively banter during Jo’s good moments and see the gentleness between them during her bad ones- the kind of love that develops from spending a lifetime together.

Will is a 20 year old young man who received a liver transplant after having developed an autoimmune disorder. He and his parents were so sweet and engaging; I loved getting to know them all. Will had become really ill right after he started college and had spent the past year living back at home. He has an older sister and brother who were able to take turns being with him at his sickest when his parents had to work. He also has a little sister. Because their home is out of state, his siblings had not yet been able to see him since his surgery but were making the trip the following weekend.

When the doctors made their rounds, Will’s mom asked them all the “important” questions- about medicines, follow-up appointments, wound care, etc., then said, “ I just have one more question. I promised his 14 year old sister I’d ask this. Will he be able to ride roller coasters again?” I’ve never seen the surgeon smile wider than he did just then! He was grinning when he said,” Yes. Not right now! But please tell her ‘yes.’ In a few months, he can definitely ride roller coasters again.’ We loved hearing that a little sister’s top concern was that her brother could do fun things again… with her.

Will was discharged later that day. I waited with him while his parents left to load the car and he told me how excited he was to see the rest of his family. He said, “I really love all of my siblings. My little sister and I are especially close and I can’t wait to see her!”

I have a shameful secret, one that’s very hard to admit. For much of my life when I saw two people in love, I was happy for them, but there was always the whiny and very selfish thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I have that kind of love?” There are a myriad of reasons. I’ve made poor choices and have lost myself before in relationships. I’m not social. I like people pretty well but am so much better with dogs. I’m stubborn. Fortunately I have a few good friends who know me well and love me anyway. They keep me grounded, ask the hard questions, and yell at me if I isolate too much. I may never have the kind of love that Jo and Robert share, and that’s ok. I’m grateful to God that they have it and all the selfish thoughts are gone for good.

Recently while my brother and I were talking about our father, he brought up some thoughts about my previous relationships with men. He’s always conscious about being tactful (his sister should try to be more like him in that way) and he was afraid of being hurtful but sometimes when you see someone you love making bad decisions for a long enough period of time, the words you’ve held back just come tumbling out. I’m so glad he did. It was a relief for both of us and has brought us even closer together.

I have two brothers. Though we didn’t grow up together, we entered each others’ lives when we were supposed to and with Divine timing. They show their love in so many of the wonderful ways that brothers do- through their words, actions, and the examples they set- and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them in my life. In addition, they have both gone above and beyond in unique ways: one has promised to intervene if I become completely crazy (it’s a slippery slope) and the other has promised to pluck unwanted facial hair if I’m ever in a coma! Both vows are of high value and equal importance.

To the Little Girl with the Curly Hair-for Jennifer

Sometimes just hearing the voice of someone we love who loves us back can take away all our sadness and bring us “home” even if we’re miles away. That is what talking with my cousin Jennifer did for me a few days ago, and I’m forever grateful to her.

Growing up, I was blessed to have many cousins on my father’s side of the family. We came together for a few days every Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ farm- usually during the summers too- and those are some of the happiest memories I have. There were rides on the tractor, horse rides with uncles, and countless hours spent playing hide and seek in the big green barn.

Though I have younger cousins, and she and I are separated in age by less than a decade, Jennifer was the one I always thought of as my “little” cousin. Maybe it was because she was big enough to do some of the things that the ones my age could do, or maybe it was just because I liked having her around… she was my little cousin whom I loved and wanted so much to protect. And still do.

When my dad died, my sister Jordana was only a teenager, too young to lose a father. Jennifer and her sister Anne cared for my sister as if she were theirs. I remember they enveloped her, one on each side, whispering quietly to her as she cried and comforting her in a way that I couldn’t. It was a few years later that sweet, vibrant, funny, loving and loveable Joseph died. They were way too young to lose a brother.

Jennifer carries a Light within her that shines brightly, serving as a beacon for our family; during the times I’ve felt the most alone, she is the one I’ve sought. She loves others with her whole being, selflessly and sincerely, and with compassion and understanding. She comforts others when they have sorrow, and genuinely shares their joy when they are happy. She ends every conversation with “Love you,” and she means it.

When she was a very little girl, she had an incredible sweetness and purity about her. I always thought time would take that from her- I was wrong. If anything, those traits have grown stronger. I remember years ago when her family came into town (I think for a wedding); she ran into my aunt’s home, a tiny girl with curls bouncing, and into everyone’s arms one by one to give great big hugs. My cousin John and I adored her.

Jen, my sweet little cousin…how did it happen that you became my rock, my protector? I am so thankful to you for being in my life. Love you.

The Reason-for Austin

For the past 18 years, my son has found a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every Christmas morning. I don’t think I ever told him why…until now.

As it does for many of us, decorating the Christmas tree and looking at all the ornaments collected through the years brings forth so much nostalgia; there are my favorite handmade ones from my son Austin, old ones from my grade school classmates, ones Austin and I bought on vacations we took together (Mom and I started that tradition many years ago when we’d go on trips), some from my childhood, and many given as gifts by cherished family. There’s one from the wife of a patient who died –she gave it to me as thanks for caring for her husband- and another from the first new nurse I mentored. One of the ornaments I treasure is a hand-blown glass angel from Copenhagen. Mom took me there when I was a teenager and we bought matching angels. Some years later, when I moved out on my own, my mother packed up all the ornaments she’d collected for me through the years so that I could have them for my own tree. Despite her careful and gentle packaging, I somehow managed to break off the tip of one wing. For years, I’d position her on the tree so that no one could see the flaw. As I got older, that changed. The beautiful angel now takes her place front and center on the tree and is a reminder that sometimes we are stronger because our wings are a little broken.

But back to the point- I’m always painfully slow getting to one… thinking about Christmas brought me back to the one when Austin had just turned four. We went to the mall to have his picture taken with Santa. It seemed as if we were in line forever, his warm little hand in mine, and I wondered if he’d be ok sitting on Santa’s knee by himself-historically, that had not been the case! He did it, photos were successfully snapped, and he ran back to me afterwards with a big proud grin.

As he gave me a huge hug, I asked him what he told Santa he wanted for Christmas. He said in the earnest way only small children do, “A hot wheels car, a blue cereal bowl…and earrings for you, Mommy.” The look of pure joy on his face when there were earrings for his Mom Christmas morning was unforgettable. The blue cereal bowl, too cracked by now for use, is carefully tucked away, there has been a Hot Wheels car in his stocking every year since, and he still has the same unselfish spirit he had when he was a young boy.broken-wings

The Eyes Have It-for Hank

Yesterday was my brother Hank’s birthday; driving to his home and looking forward to the celebration, I thought of some of the many things I love, admire, and respect about him…his love for his family, his integrity, his talent for great story-telling, his strong work ethic, his protectiveness (sometimes having to go so far as to privately tell us hard truths we don’t want to hear to protect us from ourselves- that takes a lot of courage). I want to be a better person because of him.

If someone were to ask me what my one very favorite thing is about Hank though, I’d have to say that it’s his eye rolls, and as his wife Claudia says, the degrees of those eye rolls!

The first is the story-telling eye roll. We love how it adds emphasis to an already funny tale! The second is the’ I’m-mildly-exasperated’ eye roll done with great exaggeration; the more irritated he is, the more pronounced it becomes. The third is the least common and rarely seen. It’s the ‘that’s-without-a-doubt-the-most-ridiculous-thing-I’ve-ever-heard’ eye roll and it’s to be taken seriously.

Hank is a kind man with a gentle spirit who has been married for years to the love of his life; they have two wonderful children. He grew up with three sisters and inherited another when his dad married my mom. He is quite patient with us all and we know he loves us. That being said, I think there’s not a one among us who hasn’t been the cause of an eye roll from time to time.

I love all the types of eye rolling, and this is why: his stories are so animated and his facial expressions make me laugh that much harder. The exasperated eye roll makes me turn my head away to smile (don’t tell him, but it’s really funny!) I always have to bite my lip hard to keep from giggling. The serious eye roll is the one I appreciate the most. As someone who tends to make things bigger and more dramatic in my mind than they really are, having a brother who loves me enough to let me know when I’m off track is just what I need most- I hope he knows that and keeps those eye rolls coming!

Gratitude

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When I finished paying bills today, I cried. Undoubtedly, this was not the first time in history paying bills has made someone cry, but these were different tears. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Years ago when my son was little, his father and I separated then divorced. Expenses that I had not incurred became ones that were my responsibility; I was fearful of not being able to provide for my son and too prideful and ashamed to tell anyone of my struggles. At the same time, though, I was so grateful holding that sweet baby in my arms, knowing how blessed I was to have that special love!

At first, things were a juggling act…making partial payments to utility companies, paying with one card to make a payment on another… all things many of us have faced at times. Gradually things became better, and I remember clearly the day I’d paid ALL the bills and saw I still had money in my account. It was five dollars, and I was so excited! That was THE day I knew we would be okay. Five dollars between paychecks became a little more every time, and about a year later, I bought a blue portable stereo/cassette player from K-mart. It was the first non-essential purchase I’d made in a long time, and I felt really guilty until I saw how much my toddler loved “dancing” to the music and hearing me sing to him… that was back when he enjoyed my singing, and those days were short-lived! Understandably. I really can’t sing… or rather shouldn’t

Though I’ll never be rich in the material sense and there probably will be times again that may not be easy, today my son and I have everything we need, I was able to pay bills and have a little money left over, I have a job I like, a car to drive, and a house to live in. Most importantly, I have a few close friends, family I love who love me back, and great coworkers- riches I certainly don’t deserve but do appreciate. I thank God for that every day.

The Point

(There really is one; I’m just always painfully slow getting to it whether the communication is written or verbal. My friends, family, and boss can attest to that. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very patient people!)

For those who are struggling, and there are so many, please hang in there and persevere. We develop our strengths the most when we are at our weakest; tough times really don’t last forever.

For My Son

What I want you to know:

There are times I am disappointed for you yet I am never disappointed in you. I am so thankful that God chose me to be the vessel through which you came to be here; He is the One Who made you and He loved and knew you long before I did. You are a precious gift.

Even as I am happy being with you, it is not your responsibility to ensure my happiness. We choose to be happy or unhappy and any poor choices I have made are my own, not yours.

You inspire me. I am braver when I am with you. I see your love, your sincerity, your ability to make others smile, and I want to be more like you. I have never wanted for you to be like me; God made you who you are, and He knew what He was doing.

I want you to know, really know, that you are loved. You are loved not just by me, but by those who want to be a part of your life and to have you in theirs. My prayer is that you see yourself through God’s eyes- when that happens, you will have immeasurable joy and peace.

My wishes for you:

To love and be loved back.

To find your path doing what makes you happy. Please don’t waste your time with a job that you hate as a means to an end so that ‘one day’ you can be happy. ‘One day’ may never come and I don’t want you to ever look back with regret. It’s the little moments in life that bring smiles and they are easier to recognize when we do what we enjoy.

For you to laugh and to laugh often. Your laughter is a blessing to you and to those around you.

That you may know your worth, share the gifts God has given you, and see how much He loves you.

My Sister’s Mother- for Miss Jody

Thirty five years ago, my mother accepted the marriage proposal made by my step-dad; it was her best decision of my life. At the time our families merged, I was 13 and my step-father’s four children were all young adults starting to carve their own paths. I’ve never asked any of them how they felt when their dad remarried; if there was pain over the breakup of their own parents’ marriage, and it’s certain there was, they were too gracious to show it. When I think of the many lives they have impacted- lives brought forth, lives nurtured, lives saved- I become overwhelmed, but those are stories for other days. This one is about their Mom.

I wish I remembered where we were the first time I met Miss Jody- it must have been someone’s birthday, or a holiday… what I do remember most is the way I felt before and after. I wonder what she’s like. It’s going to be weird meeting her. What if I don’t like her? And the last question, which was the only prophetic one- What if I do?

She hugged me when we met and got me past my shyness by asking about school… and horses; like a lot of young teen-aged girls, my passion then was horses. Over the past almost twenty years, I’ve watched this beautiful lady do the same thing with my own son at family gatherings.

Riding home in the back of my parents’ car that night, there were more thoughts that couldn’t be said out loud. She’s really nice. Did it feel strange to her being around my mother? I like her. Am I disloyal to Mom because I like her?

Everyone who knows Miss Jody can attest to her sweet, kind spirit. She didn’t have to accept me. She didn’t have to accept my son. She’s done way more than that… she has loved us, truly loved us- openly, genuinely, completely, and unconditionally. I always look forward to seeing her.

At my sister’s birthday lunch this past Sunday, I got a few minutes alone with her mother. As we talked, I couldn’t help blurting out, “Miss Jody, is it ok that I think of you as my step-mom?” The thought had been in my mind for several days and just had to come out- I struggle constantly between being awkwardly quiet at times and a blurter at others. “Oh, darlin’, of course! Of course it is!” was her sweet reply. She hugged me and told me she loved me as she pushed away strands of hair that had fallen into my eyes with her gentle fingers. I love it and it makes me smile when she does things like that- it’s her nurturing way. I love you too, Miss Jody.