Ten Ways to Love — A Repost

February 27, 2015 | My Jottings

I published this post years ago, but I thought I would share it again. Looking through the lens of a widow changes everything, of course, and reading back through these words makes them all the more poignant and profound to me. (I included the kind comments you all left when this was first posted…)

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Here are ten ways to love:

1.   Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18)

2.   Speak without accusing. (James 1:19)

3.   Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26)

4.   Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9)

5.   Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1)

6.   Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15)

7.   Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 4:15)

8.   Trust without wavering. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

9.   Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13)

10. Promise without forgetting. (Proverbs 13:12)   IMG_1344

Now that I’m a middle-aged woman I can look back on the early years of our marriage and recall so many ways in which I failed to love. And not just in marriage, but in friendship and family too.

I wasn’t terribly bad at #3, #6 and #10. But at times I have been a dismal failure at #1, #4, #5 and #7.

I’m blessed to have many young women in my life — my own daughters and also dear friends through Community Bible Study or church. If there’s one thing I wish I could pass on to younger women (and to young men as well) and have it stick, it’s that in a FLASH the end of your life will be upon you. It may not seem like time is flying now, but you’ve just got to take my word for it, it is.

My deepest regrets have come from my failure to love. How grateful I am that I’m still here and each day’s sunrise brings new opportunities for me to show how much I love my family and friends.

If we don’t love, we will have much sorrow. It’s as simple as that.

Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is loving the people who are really difficult to love, especially those who have mistreated us. I find it helps to remember that I have been one of those difficult people to love, probably more times in my life than I’m even aware. Yet God put gracious, loving people in my life who loved me anyway.

My husband Michael knows these ten ways to love. He may not be able to name them, and probably isn’t mindful of how beautifully he lives them out, but he’s the first person I thought of when I read the list above.

On Sunday Michael and I went to church and then picked up lunch on the way home. In the early afternoon we decided to take a nap, and as we laid together we talked of things on our hearts, and prayed for the people we love.

As I snuggled my head close to Michael’s neck I told him quietly, “I am so happy about you.” He blinked, smiled and said, “Really? Me?”  And I nodded my yes.

Then his smile disappeared and he sort of whispered, “I’m not much use to you anymore.” I knew what he was referring to — his Parkinson’s disease, and all the ways it has been “the gift that keeps on taking.”

So I quietly said to Michael as we laid there, “Are you kidding me? You have given me your whole life. You have worked hard for our family, going out into the below zero temperatures to install new siding on houses and to build new buildings. You never complained, not one time. You have been an always-present daddy to our wonderful daughters. You have loved me when I wasn’t that lovable. You have been faithful to me, never touching another. You have Q-tipped my face and rubbed my feet for hours, and still scratch the ridges in my ankles after I take my SmartWool socks off. You have prayed with me when I couldn’t pray by myself. You believed God was at work when I couldn’t see it. You have kept me warm at night for 30 years. You have apologized when it was called for. You have been one of the quickest forgivers I’ve ever known. You have always joined hands with me when it was time to give. You have been a very strong man, because it has taken someone very strong to be husband to a wife like me. You never spoke of leaving. You make me feel loved every single day. You still remember to hug and kiss me every day. You make me laugh. You make me realize that I am one of the few women in the world who has been blessed with a truly good man.”

A few seconds passed after all this, and Michael pulled me close and said, “Thank you.”

And in my heart I looked up and said to my heavenly Father, “No, thank You.”

Sharon’s Eulogy

February 24, 2015 | My Jottings

Our daughter Sharon was one of the people, along with our son-in-law Jeremy, who gave Michael’s eulogy at his funeral on February 13th. I asked if I could share her words on the blog, and she graciously agreed. This is a rough draft that doesn’t have everything she said, but you will get the gist of it, and understand why she had us all laughing and crying. It was perfect.

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10538627_690116977746361_4069783594119036587_nI’m Sharon McMahon. When I was four, my mom Julie married Michael, so that makes me my mom’s oldest and Michael’s middle daughter out of five.

It took me about a week after they married to start calling him Dad, and I’ve never stopped.

I think I am the child who challenged my dad the most. I was one of those kids with a smart aleck comeback for everything, and that could be frustrating to deal with. My dad could say, “Sharon, give the dogs some food,” and I might reply, “Dad, dogs are a relatively recently domesticated species accustomed to hunting in packs and eating large meals only occasionally. So they don’t need me to feed them every morning, because their metabolism only requires that they eat weekly.”

But we’re really all here for a different reason. We’re here because all of you having a burning question you are hoping to get clarity on. You all got up this morning, put on your pants one leg at a time, peered at yourself in the bathroom mirror, and asked yourself, “Am I Michael Balmer?”

So I’ve devised a short test to help you determine the answer.

If you’ve ever emerged from your bedroom in the morning wearing your Jesus T-shirt and your underwear to mix a concoction of powdered wheat grass, vitamin supplements, and Ruby Red Grapefruit juice while singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the top of your lungs, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you did that every morning for 30 years, you have an even better chance of being Michael Balmer.

If you’ve ever woken up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning and thought to yourself, “I’m just going to rip a hole in that wall over there, and then I’m going to hang up this chirping bird clock that will keep you awake 24/7 with eagle screeching, and then I’m going to go to a garage sale and buy a snare drum,” you might be Michael Balmer.

If you’ve ever realized the night before a fishing opener that you don’t have any earthworms for bait, and you don’t want to pay $3 a dozen for worms at Chesney’s when you know darn good and well there are millions of them living in the yard, so you sprayed down your lawn with water an hour before sunset to entice worms to come to the surface, and you send your ten year old daughter out after dark with a flashlight to attempt to catch and imprison them in a Styrofoam container you keep in the refrigerator, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you sang on the worship team on this very stage for years, and you were so enthusiastic during the singing that George in the sound booth had to slowly turn your microphone to the off position so you didn’t damage the speakers, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you’ve been married for more than 30 years and you still lean over to your adult daughter to say, “Your mom? She looks GOOOOD,” or, “Your mom? She looks hot. Spicy hot.” you might be Michael Balmer.

If you’ve ever sat on a couch next to your best friend with a blanket over your head while your wives prepared a song and dance routine complete with karaoke backing tracks and handpainted walleye costumes, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you’ve ever had your life miraculously and inexplicably spared in Vietnam over and over again so you could return home and fulfill God’s plan for your life, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you’ve ever lost both of your parents to the reckless actions of another driver and found yourself face to face with him two weeks later saying, “I forgive you and God loves you,” and you meant it, you might be Michael Balmer.

If you saw the light in other people and acted as if that was the only thing you saw about them, you might be Michael Balmer.

I’ll be honest and say I’m 0/10, and am definitely not Michael Balmer.

Eulogies usually talk about all of the things someone taught you, and my dad did teach me a thing or two: work hard and don’t complain about it. Think positively. A joyful heart is the best medicine. Take pleasure in simple things. Forgive people when they least deserve it.

But I don’t really want to talk about all the lessons I learned from my dad.

I want to talk for a moment not just about my father’s life, but also his death.

My dad had a massive stroke that decimated half of his brain, rendering him unresponsive for three days. The doctors all said this kind of stroke is not painful, and he seemed quite comfortable despite his condition.

It wasn’t his first stroke. And it was complicated by ten years of Parkinson’s disease that was caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

On the evening of the third day, some old friends came by to pray for him and to read him Scripture. Chuck said, “I’m going to read some scripture for you, Michael. I want to read you Psalm 91.”

And he began:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

He got about that far into the chapter, and the tiny hospital room full of people watched as my dad began to cry. Not just a few tears leaking out of the sides of his eyes, but what many people would consider a full on ugly cry, face contorted, sobbing.

Except to us, it was beautiful. We knew he could hear us, he understood us, that the essence of who he was was not contained in the left hemisphere of his brain.

For a little more than 24 hours, my dad was able to communicate with his tears, his grunts, his smiles, and his eyes.  He smiled at the sound of my mom’s voice and at one of my jokes. He cried when he heard the names of friends and relatives. He cried when someone said, “Michael, look at how much your family loves you!”

We knew this 24 hours was temporary, and a gift.

He slipped into being unresponsive again, and we decided to honor his wishes and keep him comfortable, but not take heroic measures to save his life. We brought him home.

Our weekend at home with him was one we will never forget. It’s safe to say that none of us have ever been so present in our lives as we were then. We spent it talking to him, singing to him, rubbing him with essential oils, sharing our favorite memories of him, crying, laughing, never leaving his side.

His last day was filled with 10,000 I love you’s. With five daughters caressing his face whispering, “Daddy.” With the snuggles of grandchildren. With the prayers of friends. With my mom holding his hand, saying, “Michael, You’re going to meet Jesus soon. We’re here with you. We’re waiting with you, Michael.”

There was not one thing left unsaid.

My dad stopped breathing, and a moment later, exhaled one last time, as though his spirit left his body. In the dark, I saw my mom look up and wave to her love, now free of the heavy, broken down body that housed his soul for 65 years.

But it’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.

The author C.S. Lewis wrote this in his book The Last Battle: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

It’s not the closing of the book. It’s the turning of the page.  It’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.

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Beauty is Healing

February 23, 2015 | My Jottings

Hello friends. I am working up to sharing more in depth about my beloved husband Michael’s recent move to Heaven. There are so many things swirling slowly around in my memory and I want to get them all down in black and white before they begin to fade, God forbid. It’s a comforting thought, to know he didn’t stop living, he just stopped living here.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this little video with you. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re in for a treat. I don’t know about you, but I have known for a long time that God’s beauty is very healing. I think it’s why even people who don’t believe in God will instinctively travel all over the globe to place themselves in front of a majestic mountain range, or a zoo full of amazing creatures, or a turquoise, transparent sea. Because our bodies and spirits respond to and feel the healing power God has put in nature. I am not talking about any New Age ideas….just that there’s probably a lot God has done that we’re not privvy to yet, and His beautiful creation does something to us. I’m sure others can articulate it better than I, but I feel touched, moved, shifted, when I behold His glory in His creation.

Seeing this tiny hummingbird sleeping peacefully and actually snoring did something to me today. It made me praise God and cry in gratitude that He allows me to see such beauty. I feel almost undone sometimes when I see things like this, in the best possible way.

Do you think God might watch over you at night as you snore, and delight in you, His creation, as we delight in this tiny hummingbird?

I think He might….

Our Tribute

February 15, 2015 | My Jottings

IMG_0053Friday was my husband Michael’s funeral. I don’t know how I’m going to write about everything yet, so for now I will share the tribute our daughter Sharon compiled for her dad.

This wonderful slideshow was played at the funeral, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church. I’ve watched this over and over, and it makes me weep and smile and remember and pray and laugh out loud and praise the Lord each time.

I will never get over the gift of having a husband like Michael. To have had his love makes me feel like the most blessed of women.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it all the way to the end, and let me know what you think. It’s an absolute treasure to me. (Thank you, dear Sharon…xoxoxox)

Please be sure to turn your speakers up, and click here to watch.

God bless and keep you all,

The Best Man

February 9, 2015 | My Jottings

My beloved husband of 33 1/2 years, Dennis Michael Balmer, died at home this morning at 3:07.

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I will share more when I’m able, about the very best man I know. I thank you with all my heart for your prayers for our family.

Five Odd Things

January 31, 2015 | My Jottings

Good Saturday morning to you all! Well, unless you’re not in the States. It could be late in the day where some of you are. Maybe I should rephrase my greeting and say Good Saturday morning to you some!

I read a fun blog post the other day about ten odd things that people might not have known about that blogger. I thought I would try the same except I’ll only bore you with five.

Here are five (sort of) odd things about me:

1.  I have long had an aversion to clowns. It’s not a true phobia because I don’t run screaming from them when I see them (not that I see that many clowns hanging around my neck of the woods), but I think they are truly creepy and not fun or jovial at all.

2.  I have always liked to go fast. All the wheel-based things I’ve ridden in my life — my skateboard when I was eight, my bicycles, my Vespa motor scooter when I was a young teen, my Opel station wagon which was my first car — I’ve loved the thrill of speeding in them. I love roller coasters and super-high water slides, and know I would love sky diving if I could be certain of a good outcome. I don’t necessarily go fast anymore. I’m a cautious driver who mostly stays under the speed limit now that I’m older. But even at my age (57), no one would have to talk me into going on some ride that goes upside down, all around, and 80 miles per hour. I’d be ready in a minute.

3.  I have learned to like a lot of foods since I moved to Minnesota in 1981. I was a picky, non-adventurous eater as a child, and still in my early twenties had not ever tasted broccoli, asparagus, beans, fried eggs, raw tomatoes, cucumbers, mayonnaise, or raw onions. I began to see how limiting and foolish this was, so I started making myself eat all kinds of things I’d always thought were “icky.” I developed a taste for all of the above and more, but there are three things I’ve never been able to like, even though I’ve tried many times. So all that to say, I hate tuna, beets and lentils. I have eaten them when I’ve been served these things at peoples’ homes, but I’ve had to silently pray that I could get them down without bad things happening.

4.  I am not fond of the months January and July. I know that sounds ungrateful, since life happens during those months and that is a gift from God. But I experience a sort of visceral wince when I think about those months and I breathe a sigh of relief on the last days of those months. Like today! Yay! No more January this year! (And no trauma has occurred in those months to make me feel this way. I have loved ones born in both of these months so this has redeemed them for me….I think my odd feelings are more weather related than anything. Simply put: January is waaaayyyy too cold, and July is waaaayyy too hot.)

5.   I am a meaning addict. I have this built-in tendency to believe that everything means something, that even the most insignificant things can point to something bigger or other. I look at trees and see them pointing upward, picture their roots going ever deeper for water and nourishment, and of course I see the ways of God in all of that. I read about the precise placement of the two hydrogen atoms on one oxygen atom that forms a water molecule, and how if the hydrogens didn’t bond at the exact angle they do, nothing as we know it would even be. And I think, what does that mean? Apart from the obvious, what does that mean? Thursday night at my monthly SAGs meeting with my friends Pat, Gail and Lorna, a very brief mention of the McCaughey septuplets came up when we were talking about babies. We spent maybe ten seconds on the McCaughey septuplets. The next morning I was reading the news online, and a link about the McCaughey septuplets popped up. Some people call this synchronicity, and it happens to me all the time. But I want to know….what does this mean?

Hello? Are you still with me?   10417447_826164694074116_3915982279316567321_n

I will be meeting my dear friend Su for a cup of tea this morning at The Snooty Fox. We have made a new verb together from the title of this little establishment. Snooty is of course known as an adjective, a descriptive word telling us about the fox. But Su and I now say that we are going to snoot. Do you snoot? I am going to begin snooting today, and will snoot with all my might.

And now I ask you, what does that mean?

It’s time to smile.

January 22, 2015 | My Jottings

Take a few minutes today to check out these three links below. They will make you smile!

smiling

Walrus.

Walter.

Norman.

Wednesday’s Word-Edition 118

January 21, 2015 | My Jottings

index“It is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

~~C. S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy

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Chalkboard Wall Update

January 19, 2015 | My Jottings

I’ve been adding words to our dining room chalkboard wall these past couple of weeks, attributes of God to remind me daily of what my heavenly Father is like. As I’ve said before, I preach to myself on this wall. I might be preparing lunches behind the kitchen counter and I’ll glance across the dining room and see that “God is the lifter of my head” or that “God is near,” and I love pondering what that means for me at that very moment. Sometimes this wall inspires praise and prayer.

Thanks to those of you who shared ideas — you might see some of what you suggested here.

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And there’s space on the edge for more:

DSCN1096

Today I am so thankful that our God is mighty and gentle.

I’ll keep adding words to this wall throughout the year, hopefully, until the whole wall is full. And then I might just keep them there for a good long time.

I pray you have a blessed week, dear friends and family!

Apathy, Atrophy, Aridity and Agorophobia

January 16, 2015 | My Jottings

This is the A-team I’m doing battle with these days. The Alliterative Quartet of Woe, to state things a bit melodramatically.

The first word, apathy, I have been sensing because my desire to pray seems pretty anemic. (Ah. Another A-word. Perhaps I’m up against a Quintet of Woe.) I have found myself wondering silently, do my prayers really make any difference at all? Because I’m so tired and I miss Michael so desperately, and I’m praying every single day but all around me it seems like people are losing ground and what do my prayers accomplish anyway? (I do know that prayer is communion with God, that it’s learning to align yourself with His will and ways, that it’s learning to listen, and isn’t always about answers to a prayer list.) The Bible says the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man/woman availeth much, so that leads me to conclude that my prayers are not fervent enough, I’m not righteous, and that something is missing. Is this a dark night of the soul like so many believers experience, or am I just not trying hard enough?

So I asked God to show me if prayerfully reading my Bible every morning (I’m still going through the Bible chronologically this year and just finished the book of Job — WHOA), if praying and asking Him to give me bread from that day’s passage and then writing down what comes to mind, hoping to make what I’ve gleaned the focus of the coming day, if kneeling in prayer (gingerly, on my Smith and Nephew ceramic knee that doesn’t love kneeling) is making a difference, in any way. Within days I had two dramatic answers; experiences and confirmations which were so unexpected and personal I wept with joy. candleinthewindThank you Jesus. I will keep praying. Thank you Lord. Oh, how good you are….I kept breathing these words in and out, in and out, grateful that He is so kind and patient with me. I will keep showing up, in my old woman/hermit sort of way, and I trust that the flame will grow brighter someday. At least there’s still a flame, flickery as it is.

The second word of woe, atrophy, I sort of don’t want to talk about, even though it affects every step I take every single day. My right knee replacement was a resounding success in resolving the horrible, grinding, burning pain (and the growing deformity) I was experiencing with each step. But it has resulted in such weakness in my right quadriceps muscle that I can’t rise out of a chair or climb a step without holding on to something. This is the stuff an eighty year old woman is made of. Consequently, the compensating I’ve done for my right knee has now resulted in some pretty cranky left hip pain, which I’ve read is common after knee replacement surgery. The answer to muscle atrophy is usually strengthening exercise. And this is why I don’t want to talk about this. Because the hamster’s wheel of my life is: I need to exercise but am tired and busy, so I don’t exercise, then I get more tired, ad infinitum. But I have to do something soon.

The third woe on my A-list is aridity, and this refers to my eyes, which I wrote about a couple of blog posts ago. I was diagnosed with Meibomian Gland Disease and am doing a regimen not for the faint of heart. I take some giant flax seed oil and fish oil pills (for Omega 3) each morning and at night before I go to bed. I now use sterile eye drops in these tiny daily vials instead of the kind in squeezable bottles with irritating preservatives in them. (Who knew?) I have to treat my lids and lashes each night before I go to bed by scrubbing them with these little wipes that feel like they’re soaked in Essence of Jalapeño, and let that dry before I open my eyes again. A few times during the night I wake from the aridity of my eyes and grope for the tiny vial of sterile drops so I can get relief. Then in the morning I have to take a sanitized wash cloth and wet it with the hottest water I can stand to clean the accumulated gunk and delightful little collarettes off my lashes, and massage the Meibomian glands under my lower lashes, in hopes they will start functioning as they should. Then I have to treat my lashes and lids with a different wipe (these don’t burn) before I begin my day. photoNeedless to say, my eyelids are feeling just a little bit desert-like, even if I use a moisturizer. Here’s how things are looking after a morning treatment now, but I’m hoping that things don’t look like this person’s eyes before my sixtieth birthday, what with all the scrubbing and hot water and treated wipes I’m beating them up with. But that would be vain to even think about that, so I guess I’ll spend my thoughts more productively.

Which brings us logically to the fourth A-word — agoraphobia. Since my soul and my knees and my eyes seem to be ailing a bit, I kind of don’t want to go anywhere. Now, I do go places, all the time. I spend the day with Michael two times a week, I grocery shop, I attend grandchildren’s functions, take our fosters out for fun outings, take them to their medical appointments, and I do have lunch with a friend now and then. I enjoy all these things. But I’m becoming more reclusive in my mind, and breathe a sigh of relief when I walk in the door of my peaceful home after being away for even the shortest errand. I don’t really have a fear of wide open places like a true agoraphobic, but I think I could easily move away to a tiny little stone cottage in the most remote part of the Highlands of Scotland, and be utterly content. Except there are a few complications with that scenario — I have a husband who still needs me and who I’m bereft without, and I have a job I enjoy.

For those of you who’ve read this far and are ready to be done with my Alliterative Quartet of Woe, here are a few unrelated tidbits I’ll leave you with.

If you have trouble falling asleep at night, you might want to look at this. I heard it’s all over Facebook too, but I wouldn’t know. I could not believe for one second that it would be possible to fall asleep in less than a minute by doing a simple breathing exercise, but thought I would try it. It’s called the 4-7-8 method and I googled it also, to find a video of someone demonstrating it. The counting is a bit quicker than one might think, so if you are interested, just find a youtube video of a Dr. Weil demonstrating the 4-7-8 method. The first night I tried it, I don’t remember getting past six breaths. Six breaths and I was asleep! The second night I tried it, it took longer, but I fell asleep before I got to twelve breaths. Can you even imagine? Let me know if you try it and whether or not it works for you.

Also, we had delicious Creamy Chicken Curry for dinner the night before last, served over basmati rice and accompanied by homemade Naan bread. Prepared by yours truly? Nein. My dear friend Carey came over to my house and cooked for us, and I can’t tell you how guilty and delighted I felt simultaneously. While Carey cheerfully cooked and chopped, I sat nearby in the dining room and got a TON of paperwork done, while we listened to this audiobook, which is a phenomenal book every human should read. Or listen to, if you like audiobooks.

Lastly, I’m taking our fosters out for dinner and a movie tonight, something they always love. I hope Paddington Bear doesn’t put me to sleep faster than the 4-7-8 method.

And tomorrow? I will be driving north to spend the day with the light of my life….

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