These Warm My Heart

February 24, 2017 | My Jottings

I have two or three “big” blog posts I’ve been working on for a while now, but every time I go back to them there’s so much to say I can’t seem to do it. The unfinished posts don’t have any bad news or for that matter, anything that’s mind-blowing, but they mean a lot to me. Maybe that’s why I’m having such a hard time getting the words out in black and white. They feel like such deep things.

Anyway, hopefully before Christmas I’ll get them done and then I’ll see what I always do, that the things that seem to loom huge in my mind always get that way because I’ve ignored or overthought them.

For today, I thought I’d share some photos of people and places that warm my heart.

The photo below is my youngest daughter Sara, who took a five week trip right after Christmas. She traipsed solo around France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Israel, and made me jealous the whole time. I dream of solo travel and have this big month-long trip to the U.K. all planned out in my mind, which I hope will be a reality before I’m too old. I so enjoyed all the photos Sara texted me almost every day, and this one was from a bicycle tour of Paris:

My oldest daughter Sharon joined Sara in early January for a week in Paris. They biked, ate, took the Seine River cruise at night, toured the Louvre, and sent pictures back of all the unique and delicious cafe meals they ate. Below, Sharon is standing in front of a hotel in Paris with her (almost) last name:

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (meaning northeastern Minnesota), my middle daughter had begun rehearsals for a play she was in at our local playhouse. I guess You Can’t Take It With You is an oldie but a goodie, first a play and then a movie in the late 1930s. I didn’t know the story but when I went to see the play last week I loved it. The play was so funny and quirky, and since Carolyn was one of the players who made the audience howl, I had to do the proud mom thing and tell the people around me (at intermission) that that young woman was my daughter. She played two characters, and below you can see her as The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina in the purple. You can click to enlarge photos if you like.

Imagine my awe and delight when I got this photo by text from Sara:

That is the real secret hiding place in the home of Corrie ten Boom in Haarlem, Holland. Sara took a train from Paris to Amsterdam and then to Haarlem, so she could tour the Ten Boom house museum.

This is Sara actually crawling out of the hiding place. What a chance of a lifetime! That’s another trip I’d love to take someday. After studying The Hiding Place this last summer with several friends, seeing this home where God’s love changed so many lives would be a dream come true.

This sweet and beautiful girl is Vivienne, my fifth-born grandchild. She is eleven, will be in middle school next year (sob!) and I want to stop the hands of time because I won’t be able to take it. Vivie loves science facts, and a few months ago when we were driving, she asked from the back seat, “Grandma, do you think that infinity has mass?”

I told her I had never considered whether or not infinity had mass, but my guess was no. Gah. Vivie is a gifted artist, a thinker extraordinaire, and loves and takes delight in her little sister Miriam and dogs Frances and Walter.

I have a special weekend planned for my two foster gals, so that’s all for now. I hope your weekend is a good one.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 134

February 22, 2017 | My Jottings

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on him who has all things safely in his hands.”

–Elisabeth Elliot

*         *         *         *         *

Support for the Sojourn

February 16, 2017 | My Jottings

Twenty minutes after nine. She makes sure the front door is locked, takes her black wool pea coat from the hook in the entry and puts it on, slips her feet into the black suede oxfords with a retro wing-tip design, drops her iPhone into the middle pocket of her sizeable Vera Bradley purse, and heads to the garage. She starts the Outback, pushes the Robin Mark CD into the player, and backs out of the garage and over the berm of snow at the end of her driveway, piled there by the snow plow last week. The streets are wet, not icy, which means it’s already in the mid-thirties. Unusual for February, and not a good sign for the planet they say on the news, but it makes her feel hopeful and glad. The worst of winter has passed. Even if March brings blizzard after swirling blizzard, piles of snow never seem as sinister as temperatures that plummet to twenty-seven below.

She drives the few miles to the hospital and sings with the Irishman,

“Lord Jesus may Your Spirit come
And make this a holy place
For we have longed to gaze
Upon the glory of Your face.
Then every selfish will exposed,
And every vain desire
Are humbled and then purified,
By Your holy, holy fire,”

and it makes her think for the billionth time about her Michael, now moved on to the place and the Person of whom she sings.

She turns into the parking ramp across the street from the hospital, reaches out of the car window to press the blue button and take the ticket that pokes out, then drives to level P3, where she parks in the “Compacts Only” area near the new elevators that will take her up to the skywalk. She steps out of the elevator and passes medical personnel in periwinkle blue scrubs, professionals in work dress who nod, and people walking through the enclosed and windowed sidewalk, three stories up. She looks down on the street below and wonders how many of those cars hold people with pounding hearts and red eyes, hoping today will bring better news of their loved ones in the huge brick building.

Two years ago she was one of those people, doing normal things like driving, parking, walking, breathing, praying, while watching her husband withdraw from this world, preparing to cross over to a timeless land she could not yet enter.

This is why she put on her pea coat and zippered black suede shoes and got in her Subaru to drive downtown, to be with a group of fellow grief-travelers twice a month, where nothing is expected and everything is understood.

She waits for the elevator and hits the button for the second floor, down one from the skywalk. The signs taped to the walls point to the carpeted room next to the chapel where between twelve and sixteen people gather, pouring coffee, hanging coats, giving hugs, settling down into upholstered chairs. A facilitator will begin the meeting, going over guidelines for newcomers (crying is fine, expected, and we will wait for you to get through it or you can pass, this is not a therapy group but a support group and we learn from each other, remember to share your name and the name of your spouse and how he/she died, if you have to leave early feel free to slip out quietly, the bathrooms are down the hall to the left) and at ten o’clock they begin.

She feels glad to see everyone there. Dignified N. with his hearing device that he places on the coffee table, D. with his shock of white hair and shy manner, V. with her knee brace and beautiful empathy, S. with his brotherly love and Christian faith that warms everyone. She sees J. who wears his grief and joy on his face and makes them all laugh and sob, Lovely B., who is furthest on the road they share, hopeful, serene and expectant now, R. who drives from almost-Canada to be there and can’t yet speak without the pain cutting his words short, B., kind and sweet, who made a quilt for V.’s grandbaby, and J., who has lost husband and father, and whose humility and quiet sharing reveal real depth. She sees L. in his chair, man of few words with feelings he either can’t or won’t bring to the surface, M., trying to navigate life with his daughters after the sudden death of his wife, and F. who also remembers the awfulness of Lewy Body Dementia. C. is there for the first time in a while, the oldest member of this senior group, and he deals with his sorrow by sitting with hospice patients who would otherwise die alone.

They know each others’ grief stories. Pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s, aneurysm and ALS. Death by car accident, by dementia, by stroke, by Agent Orange.

She hadn’t planned on attending any grief support groups, because she thought she had wonderful support already. Family and friends have been so good to her. But V., whose life mirrors her own in countless ways, encouraged her to come, and she has made it a priority for over a year now.

They listen. Pass Kleenex. Welcome the new, tentative folks who wander in with their fogs of sorrow. Heads nod in complete understanding when someone shares. Sometimes a smaller group of them go out for lunch or coffee after the meeting ends, and sentiments are expressed about having friends who truly understand the ways of grief and the scarcity of maps for this journey they were put upon, the emotional ditches they wander into, and how much the new normal hurts.

She eats the rest of her romaine and blue cheese salad while N. finishes his seafood chowder beside her. J. works on the sandwich he picked out thinking it was only a croissant, L. crosses his arms and rests them on the table after crumpling up his napkin, ready to bring some of those few words forward now that the group is smaller, perhaps safer. Across from her, B. is a good listener and offers cheerful encouragement. She’s thinking about selling her house and moving into an apartment. Shoveling snow when one is sixty-nine is getting old. S. says something about how they’re always going to be there for each other, how they’ll keep coming back to this grief group because there are no expectations here about how long they can sorrow, and how they understand each other so well because they’re on the same difficult road.

She wants to believe this is true, but something deep inside tells her it’s probably not. Already one of their group has met a widow at his church and fallen deeply in love. He stopped in at the meeting a few weeks ago, bringing a photo of the two of them smiling and glowing, cheeks pressed together, and wanted to say goodbye to the group he no longer needs.

She knows this will happen again with others, and she knows it will most likely be the men. She thinks that often men need to have someone in their lives to cook for them and take care of them, that perhaps they aren’t as comfortable with aloneness and silence as women are.

After a couple of hours, the lunch/grief group pushes their chairs away from the table and they all pull on their coats. Hugs are exchanged, hats are placed on bald heads, parting words are spoken about anticipating the next meeting in two weeks.

She walks to her car across the parking lot partially covered in melting snow, thankful for the rubber soles on her shoes. She drives the winding roads past the cathedral and looks at the gorgeous, expansive view of the Great Lake that never fails to uplift. The winter sun transforms the lake into an enormous blue field strewn with glittering gems. She lets her mind recall how it felt when her soon-to-be husband brought her here from sardine-packed Southern California almost thirty-six years ago.

She feels grateful for this group of sojourners she sees twice a month, and the comfort and fellowship they offer. She prays for some of them as she hangs up her coat, puts her shoes on the floor tray to catch the snow, revels in the little howls of greeting her dog gives, and opens the French doors overlooking the lake to let her out. She walks to the bird cage and greets Phoebe the parakeet with a ch-ch-ch sound that makes her hop from perch to perch.

She fills the tea-kettle and sets it to boil on the stove. She walks down the hall to the office and turns on the Mac to get some work done before it’s time to cook dinner. Pounded chicken breasts sauteed in butter and lemon, maybe. Asparagus. She wishes she had bought a baguette while she was still out.

Before she returns to the dining room to let her aging and scruffy Schnauzer back in, she checks the big calendar on her red and cream toile-wallpapered office wall, making sure the words “Grief Support Group” are written on the square for Wednesday, two weeks from this day.

730 Days

February 9, 2017 | My Jottings

Michael moved to heaven two years ago today. He packed lightly for the move, leaving all his clothes and toys and various belongings here on earth. He even left his body here.

His clothes have been given to family members, donated to others who needed them, and a few still hang in our closet. I don’t see a need to say goodbye to them yet. People ahead of me on this journey tell me I will know when it’s time to clear everything out, and that has been helpful. Today I still want his jeans and shirts hanging nearby.

His man toys were happily given to people who could use them. I gave his fishing boat to his best fishing buddy Steve West, who regularly catches walleyes from the sixteen-foot craft on Boulder Lake. I gave his Yamaha 4-wheeler to his brother-in-law Joe, who loves the snowplow attachment it has. I gave his snowmobile to his friend Jeff Schilling, who graciously stored it for us when it wasn’t in use. I gave his truck to a dear son-in-law who needed some four-wheel drive transportation in our snowy climate. And that son-in-law gave it to another dear son-in-law recently, who needs it for hauling. It seems so right that all these items which could have been sold, instead belong to people Michael loved.

I’m so thankful Michael doesn’t need his earthly body anymore. It was a pretty nice body, and as his wife, I should know. It was strong and muscled, hardworking and active, faithful and dependable. That body provided for our family, held me close, knelt beside me to pray, shoveled snow, held babies, and filled a space in our lives that seems so huge now. When you lose someone you love, you come to experience that their absence can feel like something actually present in itself. Michael’s absence fills our home and my heart.

I visit Michael’s grave regularly, and it brings me comfort, even joy, to picture his earthly body clothed in a suit, in that wooden casket below the grass. It doesn’t seem morbid to me at all, because this is the order of things. I suppose if I didn’t believe in Jesus and the resurrection He promises His followers, then the thought of Michael’s precious body in a box underground would be a terrible thing to ponder. But that body of his was like the outer coat of a seed. When a seed is planted in the earth, the seed coat breaks down and opens, and truly miraculous new life comes forth. I know this is what has happened with Michael’s body. Yes, it will break down over the decades, but it is no more useful to him now than the outer parts of a seed are to an oak or a maple tree. The Parkinson’s disease and the Lewy Body Dementia that caused his brain and muscles to malfunction are still in that grave. No illness or disease is allowed where Michael has gone.

“We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.”  –– 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, The Message

Even though I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that two years have passed, and I will never see Michael again on this earth, I do experience grief and good cheer simultaneously. I’m so thankful for the way the Lord has seen me through.

For those of you who haven’t seen these treasures, here are a couple of links:

Click here for our daughter Sharon’s unforgettable, hilarious, touching eulogy at Michael’s funeral.

Click here to see our daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy sing Psalm 84 so beautifully at Michael’s funeral.

Click here to see the marvelous slide show (with our three favorite songs) played at Michael’s funeral.

Yesterday at the senior grief support group I attend, a friend shared how she once read these words of condolence: “I’m sorry for your temporary separation.” I love that. What a perfect, hopeful thing to say to someone who’s grieving.

Today, as I recall how dark and life-changing and glorious and painful and wondrous February 9, 2015 was, I am missing my husband Michael. I miss him with hope and with cheer, mingled in with the loneliness and tears.

Thank you for stopping by, and may God give you His hope and good cheer today…