All my days are in Your hands
August 28, 2014 | My Jottings
My dear friend Sue asked me recently what I do to pass the time in the car on my hour-long drives to be with Michael. I pray and I take in the beautiful scenery of the north shore of Lake Superior, but I don’t pray the whole time. I’ve always listened to music in the car since I was a little girl, and that’s mostly what I do the three days a week I make the trip. When I think about it, that’s a minimum of six hours a week for an opportunity to fill my mind with things that will possibly make a lasting difference in my life, or not.
There are times when I’ve forgotten to bring a different CD along and I’ll listen to satellite radio. I still sing along to “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR, “Moon River” by Andy Williams, and “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison, but those songs just throw me back on memory’s lane and feel a bit like eating a rice cake.
Then there are times when I bring a CD or two from home, and as I listen to the whole album on the drive north, one or two songs will begin to stand out as what I desperately need to be feeding my soul these days. Then I listen to that one song, or two songs, over and over again for sometimes days at a time. I can’t explain what it feels like; it’s as if my languishing, ailing spirit gets a drink of fresh and pure, healing water, and sits up and throws off its bed clothes and begins to pour the whole bucketful down its throat.
This is the song that’s refreshing and strengthening me of late. It’s by Irishman Robin Mark, whose music I’ve long loved. It’s on his CD entitled “Robin Mark-Ultimate Collection,” and you can listen to it below. I’ve also included the lyrics.
Holy Is Our God — words and music by Robin Mark
Lift up His name
Within the sanctuary
Lift up His name
Among the people who are gathered here to sing His praise
Who are gathered here to sing His praise
Holy is our God
Holy is Your name
Mighty are Your works and deeds and
Wondrous are Your ways
All that You have made
Shall return and give You glory Lord
The earth the sky the sea and all within them
This universe beyond the sight of mortal men
All subject to His reign
All creation subject to His reign
The great I AM no end and no beginning
You were and are and evermore You shall be
All my days are in Your hands
All my days are in Your hands
Two phrases especially keep calling out to me as I drive north and listen: All creation subject to His reign, and All my days are in Your hands.
It’s profound to me how all of creation is subject to God’s reign. I see the towering pines in the Superior National Forest pointing to the sky, the white capping waves of massive Lake Superior coming only so far on the shore, the blinding rays of the sun coming up without fail as I drive along its shore, and every one of them are subject to God’s reign. They do what the King of the Universe says. Every part of creation, in its own way, points to its Maker and gives Him glory — makes Him look powerful and beautiful and detailed and awesome and trustworthy, because He is.
He gives me free will. He has set up His world so that His most precious creations (you and me and every other person) can choose to love and represent Him as they go about their days, or choose not to. I can point to my Maker and make Him look powerful and beautiful and detailed and awesome and trustworthy by the way I love and obey Him, or I can do my own raggedy thing and not make Him known at all. As I listen to this song repeatedly each week, I cry out to God and ask Him to help me love Him with my whole heart, obey Him and bring Him glory like the rest of His creation does. I truly need His help in this.
And then when I sing along with Robin Mark “all my days are in Your hands!” I remind myself of what this means for Michael and me. I so want to comfort Michael with the fact that he and I are both in our Father’s capable, loving hands, and we can trust Him even though this season in our lives feels lonely and dark. Michael’s mental capacities are dimming, but his spirit is not. The outward is fading away, as an old oak sheds its leaves and ceases to flourish, but the inner man, the spirit of my husband, is that same bright flame that has been there since he gave his life to Jesus when he was thirty years old. I know that somewhere deep inside, his spirit responds readily to God. I see evidence of that when we’re together and I can’t begin to say how priceless it is to me.
Friends, thank you for stopping by today. I’m grateful for those of you who comment and speak of your prayers for us.
May God bless you and yours, and may He help us all to love Him more with each passing day,
“So we do not lose heart…”
August 25, 2014 | My Jottings
Michael has been in the veterans home for fifty-three days now and I’m wondering when and if this is ever going to feel less heartwrenching. I realize that this is not all about me, and that he is the one who has had to make the bigger adjustment and be away from his home, and he probably feels more pain and grief than I do. But there are days when I feel utterly bereft. Just typing that last sentence has brought tears.
I’m very grateful for things that distract me from focusing constantly on us being apart. On Saturday I hosted a baby shower for our daughter Carolyn and about twenty-six people attended. I worked on things slowly and over the course of three days — I premade as much of the food as possible, cleaned the house a bit, washed rugs, set up chairs, and on the day of the shower I actually made my bed and put all its decorative pillows in their places (which almost requires a detailed schematic).
Doing the shower was a blessing. So many beautiful women attended; friends of Carolyn’s, friends of mine, all gathering together in such generosity to help her prepare for this new little girl we’re so excited to meet in October. Two of the recipes I liked the most are from Shauna Niequist’s book called Bread and Wine, which I highly recommend. Her bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and pecans were sublime. I also made her watermelon and feta salad. I marinated chunks of watermelon in fresh-squeezed lime juice for a few hours, and made a vinaigrette with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper, and tossed it all together with arugula, crumbled feta, chopped mint, red onion and lime zest. It was so unique and delicious!
And Carolyn and Jeremy’s baby will be the most adorably dressed little girl east of the Rockies, I predict.
I was bone tired when I went to bed the night of the shower, and left some of the bigger dishes like the punch bowl and serving platters unwashed until last night. I laid my head on my pillow and thought of Michael, how much he would have ooohed and aaahed over the good food, how he would have been one of the few men to enjoy seeing all the baby finery, and how much I miss him. All. The. Time. Is this our life, Lord? Is this how things are going to go? I find myself asking senseless questions like this, still in what feels like a stunned state of limbo. But this is not limbo. It is life. And we have got to learn to live it in the peace and grace promised to those who trust the Lord.
But then I ask myself, is this really trusting the Lord? And as ridiculous as this answer sounds, it’s honest: I’m not sure yet.
I met a wonderful woman of God named Nancy whose husband spent three years in this same veterans home, and he finally died there this year, from Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia. Nancy radiates God’s joy and peace, and she speaks to me of how she believes this place was a gift from the Lord to both Marshal and to her. She was so blessed that the Lord wanted her to have a life too, as she puts it, and that He provided this fantastic facility where the men are honored and served so respectfully. She drove up twice a week for years to spend time with her husband, and when he finally didn’t know her anymore she made the hour long drive only once a week. She said it was hard, but that she was so grateful God provided this placement so she could sleep at night, not completely wear herself out trying to care for a husband with overwhelming physical and mental needs, spend time with her grandchildren, go to a concert once in a while, and so on. She told me that they do so much more for the men at this veterans home than she could have ever done for her husband.
When Nancy shared this so lovingly and graciously with me, it made perfect sense and I felt in awe at God’s goodness to her and Marshal. I am in the same situation. Yet I struggle to see it the same way she does. Nancy calls to check on me and I sometimes sob when we talk — she understands. She gently tries to get me to see how necessary this is and what a lavish provision it is. And with my head I do see it that way. My heart is still aching, though. Maybe my heart is blind.
Nancy sends me notes in the mail filled with wisdom and scripture. I read them again and again and try to soak in what it is she feels the Lord laid on her heart. I pray that peace and assurance about all of this eventually comes, especially for Michael.
Yesterday morning I drove north to spend the day with Michael and I took along a couple of treats from the baby shower. He and I made our usual rounds, going to sit in front of the aviary to marvel at the birds who sing and trill so confidently. We wheeled outside to sit in the gazebo, and he agreed with me that one of the most lovely, soothing things ever is the sound of a soft wind blowing through a thousand birch trees. We went back inside and I helped him eat his delicious lunch, a very Michael meal consisting of a hearty, boneless pork chop, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh mixed vegetables, a buttered whole wheat roll, and some soft-serve ice cream with chocolate syrup drizzled over it. Then he and I scrunched together in his twin bed and napped for a while, or at least he did. I took him to the Physical Therapy gym where he did twenty minutes on the recumbent bike. At 3:00 he and I went to the Sunday chapel service in The Great Room; we sang several old hymns and listened to a man from the local Vineyard congregation share.
I always get ready to return home around 4:00 p.m. I hate having to tell Michael because he seems surprised and crestfallen each time. He asked me yesterday when I could move in to the veterans home with him, and seemed a bit taken aback when I told him we still had a house and Foster residents I needed to care for, and that I couldn’t move in right away. 🙁 Before I leave I help him get out of his wheelchair and into a recliner, which sometimes takes two people so an aide will assist us, cover him with a quilt, reassure him that I’ll return to him soon, and then I get very close and whisper the most fervent prayers to the Lord in his ear.
Michael closes his eyes with me and I thank the Lord that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39), and ask for His help so that we don’t lose heart, and to keep our hearts and minds set on Him even though our bodies are wasting away, remembering that we’re being renewed inwardly (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), and then I thank God over and over for such a husband as Michael, and ask Him to send ministering angels to help him, send the Holy Spirit to comfort Him, and to bless Him with joy and the peace that passes all understanding. Even though it’s almost impossible to understand Michael’s speech anymore, I can hear his quiet yes, Lord and his amens as I pray.
And then I kiss and hug him goodbye, walk through the locked doors of his residence, down the halls of this veterans home, through the impressive front room with the fireplace and the giant moose head hanging over the mantel, out into the parking lot, and to our car.
Before I fasten my seatbelt and start the engine, I reach for a Kleenex.
Falling from the sky
August 21, 2014 | My Jottings
Our youngest daughter Sara takes after her dad in many ways. She has a little bit (well, actually maybe a large chunk) of the impulsive adventure seeker in her, as he always has, and recently she checked something off of her bucket list by jumping out of a plane from 10,000 feet in the air. That’s almost two miles up.
Sara has a friend who works for a local skydiving company, and she called her up recently and said, “We’re going up this evening, want to come along?” So Sara gave me a long hug, told me she loved me, and dashed off to go up in a small plane and tandem jump. The only way you can skydive on your own is to take many hours of training. However, you can tandem jump with about an hour of training (yikes, don’t get me started), and she was paired with a young man who had done this many times.
Here are some photos from Sara’s first time falling from the sky. Yes, that would be the plane they were in.
I think this photo means she was liking it so far:
This shot shows the St. Louis River below them:
And this picture caused me to ponder, If her young skin looked like this, I wonder what mine would look like if I decided to jump?
In this photo below the parachute had opened and Sara said they floated down slower than she expected:
How about you? Have you ever gone skydiving? Would you? Why or why not?
For hurting hearts
August 20, 2014 | My Jottings
“But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life? Is that good news, bad news, or both?
The good news is that if you don’t seal up your heart with caulking compound, and instead stay permeable, people stay alive inside you, and maybe outside you, too, forever.
This is also the bad news, not because your heart will continue to hurt forever, but because grief is so frowned upon, so hard for even intimate bystanders to witness, that you will think you must be crazy for not getting over it. You think it’s best to keep this a secret, even if it cuts you off from certain aspects of life, like, say, the truth of your heart, and all that is real.
The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will ever get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to.
Pretending that things are nicely boxed up and put away robs us of great riches.”
~~Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair.
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I found wisdom and comfort in this excerpt today.
The Road Unwanted
August 16, 2014 | My Jottings
I keep wondering how I’m going to write about this, and I still don’t know. I’m not certain how to put in black and white what seems like the most life-altering thing that I’ve ever experienced, apart from my decision to ask Jesus to take over my life when I was a little girl…except that event opened up my world and put a compass in my hand, and this event feels like it has nearly ended my world and set me adrift in a deep, dark, and uncharted ocean. It seems like there are no words in the English language that I can access in my numb mind to share the depth of sorrow and lostness I sometimes feel now that Michael is no longer in our home. Six weeks ago, after months of considering, praying, agonizing, researching, seeking counsel, second-guessing myself, and weeping, I drove Michael to a small state veterans home one hour north of us, and admitted him there. These very words I just typed stab my heart with a pain that has made me feel like life is over for the both of us, except for the part where I put one foot in front of the other and function like a person not quite fully alive.
The place Michael lives now is one of the most highly regarded care facilities in our area. It is not like a regular nursing home and the pictures we might have in our minds of those. Unbidden and unrelated, many people over the past few months mentioned to me this particular facility up the shore of Lake Superior in glowing terms. Wives of husbands who live there, social workers who drive up to attend their cases there, a local surgeon who has patients there, and even an actual resident himself, all spoke reassuring and recommending words they had no idea were directing me north as I neared the frayed end of my abilities to care for my beloved husband at home.
Parkinson’s Disease coupled with advancing Lewy Body Dementia has whittled cruelly and relentlessly away at Michael’s handsome, strong, capable body for over a decade. In these past few months he’s had days when he couldn’t walk. His visual/spatial perception is grossly impaired. His speech is at times almost unintelligible. And sometimes simple words spoken to him don’t seem to get through.
Mornings are usually his best time. He can walk with a tiny bit of assistance and a gait belt, has a stronger voice then, and flashes of his wonderful personality are evident; I cling to those times. As the day wears on, everything fades. His walking, his voice, and his personality all shut down, and he becomes so very dependent and so terribly vulnerable that to speak of it seems almost too flippant. But it’s not. It’s precious and sacred to me, so I want to speak of it. I just don’t really know how, even with my efforts here. Michael’s life is condensing right before my very eyes, and the beautiful essence of that reduction is priceless to me.
The nursing staff at this small facility are truly loving, competent, patient and respectful. Most of the people I’ve met have worked there for between twelve and twenty-two years. Many of them shook Michael’s hand on the day he moved in, saying things like, “It will be an honor to care for you, sir. I thank you for your service to our country.” On the third day when I spoke to Michael on the phone and asked him how he was being treated he said, “They treat us like kings.” They take the men fishing, they help them garden, they have weekly outings to local restaurants, they have many thoughtfully planned activities, and their dignity is guarded and prized. There are two resident dogs there, one of whom has taken a liking to Michael, and he to her. Her name is Bella. There are also two resident cats, and over a dozen colorful songbirds that flit about in a large aviary in the sunroom, where Michael and I love to sit quietly and hold hands. There are two worship services a week on Tuesdays and Sundays, and Michael always looks forward to attending.
Of course no place is perfect. A couple of the residents in the mild memory care unit he’s in are much more ill than he is, and the noises they make and the behavior of one person is a little troubling to me, even though it happens infrequently. I realize they can’t help themselves, but it’s hard to accept that where he is now isn’t exactly like the quiet and soothing environment of our home.
I drive up to see Michael on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and spend the whole day with him. I am an adult foster care provider to two sweet women who have lived with us for many years, and after I prepare their breakfasts and see them off to their respective jobs in the mornings, I put our Schnauzers Edith and Millie in their kennels and head north. On the days I don’t drive up, I do all the things anyone else would do — I tend to the paperwork, errands and appointments involved in my job, make sure meals, laundry, and housecleaning get done, take my Fosters out to dinner and the movies, and I try to rest now and then.
Lewy Body Dementia is marked by extreme fluctuations in cognition (Michael can be pretty fine for a few hours, then not at all fine and almost semi-conscious within minutes), detailed and often frightening hallucinations, delusions, REM sleep disturbances, and loss of autonomic functions. The hallucinations and delusions Michael has are the hardest thing for him to deal with, and they are heartbreaking for me. I don’t know what to do when he’s in the throes of an episode and he’s agitated, and what he sees is as real to him as reality is to you and me. I pray for him, comfort him, sometimes read scripture to him, try to distract him, and many times I turn my head and try not to let him see that I’m sobbing.
My sister-in-law has tried to help me understand that the care Michael is getting is better care than I was able to give him at home. I had come to the end of every reserve I had, but even knowing that, each morning I still wonder if I can stand having him gone for another day. My sister-in-law asked me how many people care for Michael in one day at this small veterans home. I started counting as I answered her: a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, and an aide (minimum) for each eight hour shift (that’s nine people to begin with), a cook, a physical therapist (they work with Michael every single day), an activities director, a housekeeper, a laundry worker and a chaplain. Then there is his social worker, his site physician, and the many people who volunteer and help make all the daily activities possible. Thinking about all of this very specialized care helps for about an hour. Then I walk through our home where he lives no longer, and I cry and pray and wonder how I could possibly work things out to bring him home.
I will be honest. As much as I know how blessed we are in so many ways, at times this has felt like hell to me.
Here’s how our Schnauzer Millie feels about Michael being gone:
That’s his pillow she’s sleeping on. The dogs feel their Daddy’s absence deeply.
And here’s my beloved husband of thirty-three years, the former mighty Marine, whose service to our country brought on the Agent Orange-induced affliction that has poisoned his body and put us on the road unwanted.
Aside from spending as much time as possible with Michael, I call him at least twice a day. He can’t speak on the phone easily, but he can listen. Last night when I called, I asked him if he wanted me to read the Bible to him and he answered yes. I slowly read a few verses to him. I ended with part of the 42nd Psalm, and when I read this verse aloud, Michael whispered fervently, “That’s a good one!”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42:11 (ESV)
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I will share more another time. I thank you all so much for praying for us….