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_nGood morning…I’m Sharon. 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….

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.


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.