Ready to Go

Sitting on my brother and sister-in-law’s deck, looking at the moon, the heavens for one last morning before we depart for our adventure, I am filled with anticipation. I wonder what the heavens will show me in each state we visit. I am prepared to be amazed at God’s majesty. I need some majesty about now.

I haven’t been blind to the small wonders around me. Life with a 5 year old who shares my love of nature ensures I get hourly doses of God’s creations. “Gran, You are going to delight in this,” is a common phase to pull me from the dishes to see an interesting spider or a newly discovered flower. We take our nature seriously, we inspect our bugs, we hold them,  learn the names of all that we find. We don’t kill things. My Plum looks daily at the plants growing in our little kitchen garden, ones he put in as seeds and knows God really did the work. I see the small miracles everywhere, I still have the eyes of a child to remind me. Yet life as an adult means I have weights and worries that sometimes cloud those eyes. I need some majesty.

I am leaving in just a couple of hours on the back of my brother’s Harley for a two-week trip to Colorado. This leap of faith looks a bit more like chaps and a helmet, sitting for hours, trusting, so much trusting. While my body must stay put, my mind can wander, wonder, absorb. I have much time for thinking, a rarity. I need this time alone to hear my God whisper and roar and show me big stuff. The empty places, carved out with hurt and disappointment, simmering anger and tension, have been cleaned, cauterized, the bleeding has stopped. I am aching now for a new thing. To be filled again with wonder, to feel so close to God nothing can separate us. I need to get to the mountains, to see the stars and the heavens, giving all of me to the One who is waiting.

I know I can find Him here, I am beyond blessed to find Him here. He is present in friends who reach out, in food delivered, walks taken with Janet. I know I carry Him with me because He carries me. Still, this trip is about more than a crazy adventure at age 52. In the going, I am also leaving behind my Chef. This is his time alone, time to find and reflect, to shout out his agony when no one can hear. Time for him to search his soul, find himself amidst the rubble. He is strong but has forgotten that. He is a child of God but is unsure what that means for him. He is worthy but hasn’t absorbed that fully. I will be praying fervently that his time alone sheds light on God’s grace, brings him into a deeper closer relationship as well. He will be responsible for the 5 year old while I am gone. He will have the choice to seek God in the small miracles around Him and delight in those. Sometimes a spider is just a spider, we have a choice. He needs the eyes of a child to begin filling up with the small joys around him while I am ready for majesty.

Please pray for our safety but more importantly, pray that our hearts are open to what God brings to us during this adventure. Flowers or mountains, God will be seen if we choose to look. The road may get rough but surely the view is worth it.

Finding a New Way

One of the bridges that connect our two communities was deemed unsafe. I have traveled that bridge for over 30 years, crossing from our side of town to the bigger city section for real shopping, dining, employment and most importantly, usually to collect my Plum. Our side holds the university and ethnic dining, a true bedroom community, relying on the larger city for most of our needs.  Of course the university is one of the major employers in the area so just as many on the other side travel the bridges to come this way. Three bridges unite us, hold us without complaint, as we travel back and forth carrying groceries, families, pets to the vet. Until one was no longer safe.

Our state department of transportation took over the task of fixing this bridge. We learned it had already been fixed before but was sinking into the river, the supports weren’t holding. The bridge was closed, work began. Watching this effort from afar, the slow progress fascinating if not a bit unnerving. I remember stories of bridges that have collapsed, terrible events where lives were lost just in the traveling of a road always trusted. I had always counted on this bridge, the one they were dismantling. The one now left with pieces of concrete, no barriers.  Without thought I drove those I love most daily onto this span, trusting we would never fall, believing that someone who knows more than me would surely keep us safe. I am guessing the good people in Minneapolis believed the same until that horrible day in 2007 when 13 were killed, another 145 injured when their trust collapsed. Work began, our bridge was taken apart, piece by piece. Finally there was little left to do but explode what was left, completely destroy any remnants. We saw footage of this history-making event, I was sickened by the loss even as I knew it was necessary. Clouds of dust filled the air, particles of our past. Clearing out the old was complete, the true rebuilding could begin.

For months traffic has been a nightmare, groaning and anger fill conversations and letters to the editor. Appointments are missed, being late is almost expected. I wonder once the bridge is reopened, how long before it is taken for granted again. How short will our memories of this season of suffering, of inconvenience be? Have we stopped to pray for the men and women creating our new roadway, our new path? Our impatience to get where we want clouds our memories of all who have helped pave our way.

The thing about not using this bridge though is that I have discovered some new routes. I drive alternate roads, trickier less direct streets only to find areas of town I had forgotten existed or never seen. Beautiful neighborhoods, a donut shop, street art. I am seeing the other side of town, forced into a new perspective. Shaken out of my routine, exploring my city with fresh, attentive eyes.

We have had some bridges explode in our life these last couple of years. Bridges that we kept patching and adding supports but really were deemed unsafe. We cannot continue to travel over the same roads, ignoring the realities of addiction, of emotional abuse, of the conflict between faith and work.  We have grown weary with the blasting of our bridges. Even though we knew the dangers, these were our bridges, we kept taking the risks. Explode they have, though, dust clouds of our lives covering us, choking us, until it settles at our feet. Some days we sit in the ashes like Job, as Pastor Chris reminded us, other days I get out the hose and wash it all away. I am most impatient often for the rebuilding, I seek out alternative routes that lead me not to my expected destination but somewhere new. During our rebuilding we are blessed to be discovering some new routes, new communities of friends who are supporting us as surely as the trusses going up across the river. The phone calls, emails, texts build us up each day as we construct our new lives. We stop often and pray for those who are building these bridges for us, bridges that may lead us to different places, with new perspectives. Once a new donut shop is discovered, it really cannot be dismissed just because a faster route is completed, our deepened faith cannot be shrugged off once all the pieces are realigned. We are changed, we understand the risks, the dangers of relying on just one path. We recognize it is foolish to forget the bridge isn’t really what holds us up, ever.

One incredible blessing when we received our great shock two weeks ago (has it been three now?) has been the texts and phone calls from our son. This young man, filled with anger and alcohol, who left our home to establish his own, setting fire to all behind him. The thing about love between mothers and sons is, at least my Arrow and I, when life hits us hard, we come back together. He was horrified at the news, his indignation at the unjustness once again joined with ours rather than against us. Over these weeks he has reached out, shown concern, offered assistance. I volunteered his totes full of household goods, he accepted. We are constructing our bridge, maybe a suspension one, but we are both willing to cross it with hearts ready for gentle steps toward a new relationship. It will never be the old one, that is good. It wasn’t safe for any of us to travel.

I keep waiting for the same reaching out from my daughter, the silence all the more painful in this time of family crisis. I have extended every invitation I know to make that connection again, I can’t find a way to her. My impatience to reach her must sound to the heavens like all the commuters groans during rush hour, for all these months of reconstruction. I have been groaning for too long now. God is in charge of this bridge, like all of them. I am not meant to cross just yet, it is still unsafe.  I imagine He thinks much work remains on my side, even after the explosion. Surely the work on her side is great as well. In the meantime, I mourn the loss of that easy route but celebrate our discoveries.  We are blessed, we found a new donut shop, we have friends to help us cross the waters. We will travel safely, slowly, securely again one day. Today we have some rebuilding to do.

We Made Room For God

I hate clutter. I abhor piles of papers, countertops with anything more than the necessities. I get anxious when beds are unmade, when dishes sit too long in the sink. I control my world by keeping stuff where it goes. I can frequently be heard telling the family, “Trash goes in the trashcan.” I follow the rule of least times touching something, thus it is easier to put it away rather than create another pile. Some in this household may whisper that I can be a little hard to live with, like when I have thrown away wallets and plane tickets, picked up a glass someone was still drinking from. I get that I go overboard some days, days when my world is feeling unsettled and I need to be in charge. At one point when I was particularly stressed, all of my closets were cleaned and the attic held totes with a color coded system. While my inner demons battled, I maintained completed control over my territory.

My Chef has a different system. He drinks from a cup, sets it down, wanders away, the cup is lost to him for days. He is never really finished with the newspaper. Tools and gloves and buckets, parts of projects sit where they were last used, ready for the next time he gets a chance to begin again. It may be months, it may be never. He hasn’t seen the top of his dresser for 15 years. Clearly his system drives me insane.

Thus we began to clean the garage. The dumping ground of all the items that I don’t want in the house. The place where totes for kids go, kids who were moving out and needed dishes and silverware but then left without the positive transition, left without the totes. The garage holds all the items for Goodwill, bags of clothing and outgrown toys. Lamps that don’t work or no long fit the decor, chairs and bar stools that are broken or just ugly. Cords, so many cords, for electronics we surely no longer own. Planters, jugs of weed killer, gallons of paint all found their way onto the garage floor in the haphazard system that worked for no-one, the garage we all avoided except to open the door and add more discarded but not yet trash remnants of our lives. Until yesterday.

We faced the monster, we worked through our different systems. I determined everything was trash, my Chef found actual storage spots for the things he couldn’t part with. In the process though, we took a walk through our shared history. We found old pieces of tile from flooring makeovers, we found mugs from trips long ago. “Where was this door originally?” “Does Plum still fit into this chair?”  Old shirts commemorating high school sports and college associations reminded my Chef of better days. There were treasures to be found in that garage, we just had to dig deeply enough.

As the sun began to sink, our pile of trash grew, out trunks were full for the trip to Goodwill. Our garage was cleaner, organized, emptied of most of the unnecessary. My Chef  was tired, the good kind of tired that comes from work and tough decisions. With each item he placed in the trash bag, he let go of some weight. The burden of stuff, the yoke of clutter destroys his sense of control as well but the voices from childhood telling him to always keep the box, to save the papers get in the way. He is also used to having a staff clean up behind him, he is accustomed to being the leader, the boss, who directs others, not the guy who cleans up at the end.  It has been a really long time since he was that guy. Skills not used get rusty, like the broken hammer head we discovered in a puddle of water. Yesterday he got to be that guy, cleaning up his mess, getting honest about what to keep, what to discard. Maybe it wasn’t just about the garage. Throwing away pieces of the past is a leap of faith, making room for a tomorrow you can’t see yet. Empty boxes hold old promises, the stale air of what once was. Holding on so tightly to broken cords chains us to a place of fear, a state of worry. Letting go of all the stuff was letting God be in control, trusting God with our tomorrows. We made room, we cleaned up our mess, we got ready for our next phase.

We took our trip to Goodwill, came home and made a fire of the old doors and unneeded boxes. We drink wine and beer, celebrated our success and looked to the future. I expect an Olympic medal for our efforts, some sort of trophy or letter from the President.  Our garage can actually hold two cars. More importantly, my Chef is holding his head a little higher. A huge task completed, a job well done. When you have a broken heart, sometimes you just need a disastrous garage to help with the healing.  It was a good day.  If he starts to sink, no worries, I still have the attic. God surely wants some room there as well.

Break’s Over

We took a break from the news, from our reality and from talking about hurts yesterday.  My Chef sat in his chair, I laid on the couch for most of the day, rising only for trips to kitchen for food, the back yard to throw the ball a few times for a restless Lab who didn’t quite buy into our lounging day. I need those kinds of days more often in the heat, my neurological issues flare as the temperature rises. Usually I resist by finding chores that need my attention until I begin to drop things more, trip as my left foot drags and I am forced to slow down. I am not a slow down person. I find sitting for more than a few minutes to be a punishment. My Chef though found himself sucked into the chair, a habit from working hard and little time off, watching tv to be one of comfort. Except he has much time off now. The chair was too comfortable. We sat and laid all day. We escaped the world for the day and binged our way into the Bartlett administration, longing for leaders with vision, surrounded by advisors with integrity. We were immobilized while we stared at youthful passion in action. It didn’t inspire us to get going. We knew the world outside of our living room was too different from the one Josh and Toby and Sam were bringing about. We knew Bartlett wouldn’t be on any ballot we could cast. We hit “play next” and wished we were friends with Donna, we mourned the death of Mrs. Landingham again. We didn’t talk about President Bartlett’s MS. For one day we took a break.

We went to bed with unexpended energy, caught in the between worlds after the last glow of the tv fades. Frustration bubbled up at a wasted day, reality returned with force as two pups recognized the cooler night air to be play time. I am more used to those days, frustrating days of little accomplishment when my body calls a halt to activity. I accept more readily that I can stop one day, knowing the next will be better. My passion will match my ability, I will hit my chore list again. My Chef is not there right now, the chair is too comfortable, too inviting. He watches these actors and longs to be back in the game. He isn’t good at being still either. The never-ending work days portrayed by the staffers are his norms, the constant calls, checking emails, looking at numbers. Now he is stuck in the chair, watching others do it. I watch him grieve, turn back to the tv, hit next. We go to bed with nothing in our world resolved neatly in an episode. The good guy doesn’t win in our world, not yet.  Then I realize we are watching seasons. Not just a snippet, not just popping in to see a snapshot from each year of the Bartlett presidency. Seasons.

This is a season for us, for my Chef. We are in different seasons, he and I. I see the possibilities, I feel hope. He is caught in despair, each call from a regular guest resurrecting the loss of relationships, identity, purpose that he is trying to ignore.  This is a hard winter season for my Chef but I know a secret. He will get out of that chair, he will find new passion and purpose. He will get emails and look at numbers again, but with a choice this time. During this hard time, he gets to wrestle with God, he gets to shout out his anger, he gets to find himself and his faith at the very center of his soul. As firmly as we were planted in our respective seats yesterday, we are also planted in the heart of our Father. A Father who is pursuing my Chef tirelessly. Our lab will chase the ball in the extreme heat, tongue swollen, relentlessly.  He just keeps bringing it back, ready for another pitch. His focus and instinct on the task render him incapable of stopping until we hide the ball, all the balls and make him cool down inside. My God is chasing my Chef like that, only there is no way to make him stop. He wants my Chef to work for His kingdom, to rely on His arms and not those of a comfy chair. There is a beauty in the suffering, watching my husband grow into this. He will be chief of staff again one day, he will be Leo, in a different season. I know him, I know my God.

We took a break yesterday.  I didn’t push him out of the chair, I didn’t push me beyond the best for my condition. The sun rose though today, fulfilling the promise. Today I will put away the remotes and we will clean out the garage.  The West Wing will manage without us.

Hands

I wrote about my conflicted relationship with my mother after she suffered a stroke, her first one, not the big one. This morning Facebook showed me a picture of our hands and a link to that post. This is the original:

  • I have been openly mad at her since ’95.  I was probably always mad at her, always wanting more than she could give but that was the breaking point.  She chose reputation over responsibility, her name over honesty and lies over her love for me.  It took the death of my brother to open the doors again but I never let them go very wide.  Without trust, relationships are really just drive-bys.  So we circled around each other and tried to find a way in, a way back.  Then she started using pain meds like I eat M&M’s and once again it became clear she would never be the mother I wanted.  More backing away, more superficiality.  Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t talk to her and it wouldn’t bother me.  She stopped coming to family events, became a joke when it was time to send out invites.  We all learned not to count on her and we all pretended we didn’t care.
  • Two days ago my step father called to tell me in agonizing detail how he thought maybe she was sleeping longer than usual, how he later, yes, later went to check on her… detail after detail before he finally responded to my “Bob, is she alright?”   She wasn’t.  She isn’t.  Sixty years at 2 packs a day plus 10 years of pain meds that would make Intervention shocked led to an inability to breathe deeply enough to rid her body of the carbon dioxide.  She may as well be in the garage with my brother, whose death she has never recovered from.   We are left with the choice of treating her pain and thus killing her or clearing her lungs and leaving her in excruciating pain.  Add to the mix that she is so disoriented and confused that she by turns doesn’t recognize us or can’t bear for us to leave.  She has no idea where she is and often can’t string a sentence together.  Nine hours of “please help me, please, I am begging you, please someone help me, please Lisa won’t you help me” gave way to more pain meds and higher CO2 levels today.  I have about a 5 minute tolerance for the begging and pleading by a 75 year old woman.  Fortunately my brother and the hospital staff support this decision as well.
  • When the priest came in last night to administer last rites, I felt no spiritual connection, I felt no presence of the Holy Spirit.  I felt shocked that this man could so easily forgive her sins and send her on to Jesus when I still was holding on.  Holding on to all those times she let me down, hurt me, didn’t seem to care.  But a weird thing happened today:  all I could remember were the times we went shopping and laughed until we cried.  How I used to call her every day.  Every day.  For years.  How I learned to cook from her and used to call her and ask for Betty Crocker.  I started to remember how much I loved her at one time and I really wish I hadn’t remembered that.  Because now this really hurts.  Because I still do.

Facebook, using an impersonal algorithm that chooses important events in my life, decided I needed to remember. My first response outrage, tinted with the ugly colors of self-pity. I really need no help remembering loses. But my eyes kept going back to the picture, our hands united. I have a fascination with hands. I notice people’s hands like others notice eyes or clothes. Hands tell me how hard someone works, of course, with callouses, but other work doesn’t produce those. I look for scars, for how well the nails are maintained. That tells me how much self-care the person practices. I seek signs of anxiety around the nails, a bit of dirt or flour from time in the garden or kitchen. Any paint flecks? More still, I watch how each person uses their hands. Do they gently ruffle a child’s hair, any child that happens by? Do their hands stay in constant flight as they speak, creating words and song to animate the conversation? Is there a hand free ever to pat the back of a stranger, a friend as they meet? One free to wave? Are their arms always full, to create a protective barrier while doing good works? I have created my own hand evaluation measures. Probably quite flawed but it works for me.

Thus, I kept looking at my hands clasped with mom’s and saw more. Now with eyes grown accustomed to life without her, life lived with many more hurts and celebrations she has missed. I looked at her bruised hands, the nails she took such pride in, remembering every Sunday night she set up her station to remove the polish from that week, began filing and reapplying the color for the week ahead. I don’t know that my mother ever had her nails done professionally. I have never grown nails like her. I rarely polish my nails, she had an office job, I work in kitchens and play in mud. I also noticed the ring she was wearing, one always on her hand. It was one she had created from the stone from her wedding ring from my father, I believe. That ring now graces my hand, a daily reminder of where I came from,   a piece of my mom always with me. I’m not sure why I wanted that ring, the only thing besides her recipe books that I asked for. I haven’t dug too deeply into my motivation, I wear very little jewelry, I certainly don’t wear big diamonds. My nails don’t do justice to such a beautiful piece. It hasn’t left my hand though since the first time I put it on.

I carry my mother with me, our differences evident in our hands. Mine is tattooed now with a charm bracelet, each charm signifying a member of my family and one for my faith and friends. I know she would ache at our current hurts, she would delight in our grandson. I am grateful for my mother, the woman who gave me these hands. Hands to type, hands to ruffle my Plum’s hair. She gave me a chance to make the next generation better.  She set me free to become my own woman, away from old hurts. I pray I do her working hands justice. Her hands remind me she loved hard, she tried, she hurt much. She  is my mom, bruises and all.

Grandma’s Time Out

When my Plum gets mad at his best friends, the dogs who follow his every step, he strikes out.  They get under foot, they trip him, nibble at his toes or ears, most times he giggles. Sometimes though if they have interrupted his progress, halted his mission, his anger takes over and the fists come out. No matter how many times his little butt has landed in the chair for some quiet reflection, this behavior continues. If I am close by, I step in the middle and he begins laughing as he tries to charge the mutts and I block, a new game begun. His anger evaporates as quickly as it came, my sweet boy back. Try as I might though, I can’t seem to quell that urge of his to do damage in the moment. This peace loving hippie grandma battles with the influence of testosterone, video games, and exuberant pups. After the anger comes the reconciliation, the best part where he kisses his boys, apologizes, invites them to play. The dogs are oblivious to the whole affair, their rough play with each other eliciting more wounds than he could ever. They enjoy his cuddles and make up time, ready for the next round of romping. The lesson is important still, one day he will be big enough to hurt someone in his path, he could do real damage if he strikes out at one who has blocked his way.

We talk about accountability. We wonder if the dogs did it on purpose or was it an accident.  We question what his role in the bang up could have been.  Was he trying to rush past? Had he been playing rough and then changed his mind, how were they to know he was done? He works through his part, his choices for next time. There is always a next time with three rowdy boys. I pray the repetition will take, that my sweet boy will learn to control his impulses and grow in personal accountability.  He is only 5. We have time. But if I am to be fully honest, the last 24 hours have brought my own battle with anger and the yearning to strike out. I have never been one for violence, I experience anger as depression generally, turned inward for my own suffering. Yet discovering the source of betrayal for my Chef has incensed me.  A fire is burning, my fists are clenched. I am ready to punch.

Watching my Chef hurt, seeing the pain, brings out my protectiveness, that mothering need I have.  I always go for the underdog. I believe in justice, still, even after too many times of being treated unfairly. This situation is absolutely wrong, I want to fight back, an eye for an eye. Forward progress has halted. Or has it?  I can’t deny the beauty of friends calling, supporting, reminding him of his worth. He is finding out that he has value not because of what he gave but who he is. What a gift! He could have missed that, never known that. Dark times are ahead yet those are the exact ones that bring us to the light.  The hours he is spending with his Plum, the giggles, the play, these are presents. While we may have been robbed of much, what remains is joy, hope, real community, time for self-discovery.

I have to unclench my fists. I remind myself several times a day, sometimes putting my larger butt in the chair for quiet reflection, that I don’t need to teach everyone about accountability. I don’t need to fight battles that God will oversee. I could do some real damage, create pain that no amount of cuddles would ease. That is not me. Praise God that my better angels are shouting in my ears, reminding me of the glory raining down on us, the true path laid out before us. I am not looking back, at least for the next five minutes. The temptation rises but I am not 5 years old. I have already learned this lesson. I don’t need to protect my Chef. He isn’t the underdog. He is a child of God, one created with purpose.

Today I’ll don some tie-dye, sing Kumbaya, use my fire for s’mores. Today I will remember that anger can hurt when we lash out at others. Today is a fresh chance for me to remember the lessons I teach and praise God for his tireless pursuit of a grandma who sometimes forgets she isn’t in charge everyone.

Donuts and Grace

It all started when I cupped my hand around my Lego creation, denying my Plum access to the choice block he decided he needed. We had been building for at least 45 minutes, competing to see who could create the best flying machine.  Word to the wise, Plum always wins because he poaches the best pieces from his competitors.  As an only child he gets away with this most of the time, especially with his grandma.  Sometimes I push back a little, make him tackle me a bit.  The ensuing tickle fest is just part of the routine. This time though something was different.  When I didn’t let him have access to the wing piece or the special gem, maybe the little piece of dynamite, I really can’t remember, he curled up in a ball and told me he hated me.  Twice.  I’m sure this must have happened with my own two, but not the words I wanted to hear from my grandson. Not after a really hard week. Not before coffee.

I pulled back a bit, told him that is a really big word that we don’t use in our home, that it hurts people. “Fine, I’m sorry.” But he wasn’t, not yet.  I left him to grandpa, went to get some air, distance, and the healer of all things, donuts, at the store close by. I was gone only five minutes, maybe ten. When I returned, thoughts cleared and feelings in check, perspective in place, I found a crumpled little boy destroyed by the idea that he had hurt me. We talked about love instead of hate. We remembered that nothing he could ever do would stop my love, that my love goes with him everywhere. He knew that. We talked about anger, words coming out of our mouth that we don’t mean, our responsibility to fix it. We talked about forgiveness. We hugged much, he cried on my lap. He offered me all of his Lego pieces. We chose to eat donuts instead.

Later as we entered his room, he told me, “This is where I said it.” The scar, the memories were fresh for him. I told him I had already thrown it all away, I didn’t know what he was talking about. The relief on his face as he realized we could do this, I would do this for him,  was surely worth any pain I had felt initially. He decided to throw it away too.  Once later in the day the memories must have snuck up on him as he told me he was still throwing it away, didn’t even remember anymore. I told him I didn’t either.

What if we all gave each other such grace? What if there was so much love and trust, knowing anger was rooted in hunger, tiredness, fear, that we could see beyond hurtful words to the child within? What if we agreed to a fresh start and just ate donuts together? Forgiveness is like that, throwing away what has come before, choosing not to remember the pain, focusing on the joys. This is a tough political season, many angry words are hurled, hate is spewed like it is a patriotic duty. Divisions are created between groups deciding whose lives matter. Violence is erupting with ever frequency throughout the world, close to home. Somehow those messages seeped into the language of a sweet five year old whose empathic nature knows no limits. Maybe it is just age appropriate. Maybe it is just the ugliness of the world around.  But in this home, we will practice grace, one incident at a time. We will forgive and forget, we will hug and eat donuts and share Lego.  Maybe that is enough to change the world, one child at a time. I will start with my Plum, anew each day, and keep the donuts handy.