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Mom and Forgiveness

I’ve been trying to write this post about my mom for weeks. I’ve started and stopped several times. I was asking myself why this post is so important and why I’m struggling so with it? I want to tell Mom’s story and maybe I don’t think I can do her justice. Mom was an inspiration in many ways but I think right now, I’m seeing her willingness to forgive a terrible wrong as one of my greatest inspirations.

My mom had a great and an awful childhood. Yet, raising us, we weren’t aware of how she suffered as a child. She didn’t let her childhood affect us.

Mom and her brother Joe

Mom was born in 1934 to an unwed mother. In 1934, there was great shame in having a baby outside of marriage, shame that the mother and child both carried. Grandma didn’t have a one-night stand. She cared for the man who fathered my mom. He cared for her and would have married her. But their parents wouldn’t allow the marriage because of religious differences. Mom’s biological dad left the area, never married and never had any other children.

Mom was born in a home for unwed mothers in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Her biological dad paid their expenses. Mom and Grandma lived with Grandma’s sister until she began having children of her own and then they moved back in with Grandma’s parents.

Even though Grandma’s parents didn’t support a marriage, they did support this tiny family and they loved their granddaughter. They too paid the price of shame though. Mom told my sister that when she was small, she was made to hide behind the dresses of her grandma or aunts when visitors showed up so the visitors didn’t see the little girl without a dad. In time, it didn’t matter to Mom’s grandparents at all. These were just the times that my mom was born into.

My grandma and stepgrandpa on the left, Mom’s grandparents in the center and my mom on the far right on my grandparents wedding day.

Grandma married my step-grandfather when my mom was about four years old. Obviously, he knew he was getting a stepdaughter when he married her mom but from his behavior, she must have been a constant reminder to a proud man that someone had been before him with Grandma.

My grandma and my mom were beat because Mom was not his even though he wasn’t part of Grandma’s life when Mom was conceived.  Grandpa said terrible things to and about Grandma, things no husband should say about his wife. He even said those things to his grandchildren about their grandma. When I was an adult and visiting Grandma who was sick in bed, he told me she was used goods when he got her. I told him he was pretty lucky to get her.

Mom in grade school

Because Mom was so young when they married, she thought he was her biological dad until she was preparing for her First Communion in early elementary school. When she had to take her birth certificate to school, the nun looked at it and told this young girl that the last name she had been using wasn’t her name and that her dad wasn’t her dad.

Maybe Grandma suspected this would happen and was somewhat prepared to address this with my mom when she got home but it still had to be a bad day for Grandma. And then as a young child, imagine Mom trying to grasp that the man she thought was her dad but wasn’t, was the dad of her sisters and brother, setting her apart in some way.

Maybe it would have been okay if her stepdad didn’t beat her; or didn’t beat her mom because she existed. The abuse was so bad that after one incident where she watched her mom being beaten because of her existence, Mom wept and told Grandma she should have left her at an orphanage because her life would have been better without her. What kind of scars would this leave on a young girl? I can only imagine because Mom didn’t talk much about it to us. Most of what I know, I know because I asked the questions and she was gracious enough to answer them.

Mom saw pain but she also had such good in her life. In Psalm 31, which King David wrote while running from his enemies, David wrote in verses 7 and 8 that he would rejoice in the Lord’s love because He saw David’s affliction and put him in a safe and spacious place. The Lord saw Mom’s affliction and put her in a safe and very spacious place every summer; her grandparents farm.

Mom wrote the following about the farm:

“My second home was my Grandma and Grandpa Spaeth’s farm.  This home was the most important part of my childhood. In this home, there was love, excitement and so many things to do. I was treated very special by my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Maybe being the oldest (grandchild) and staying there the first four years of my life had something to do with this special feeling.” (Her nickname was Toots.)

Mom was sent there every summer by her mom to keep her safe. And it was there that Mom blossomed from a scared little girl to a normal child living in safety and security. Mom’s youngest aunt and uncles were in elementary school when she was born and they were more her playmates than older relatives throughout her childhood. Her uncle Charlie and she were just six years apart and he became her best friend and confidant. They rode horses together, did chores together, even went to dances together.

Mom wrote about taking either the train or the bus to Edson every summer. She would often walk the two and a half miles from there to the farm carrying her suitcase and she didn’t mind that walk at all because she was so excited to be with her grandparents, aunt and uncles and all the animals. She loved horses and she often got to ride the work horses. She enjoyed the farm because there was always something to do, always little animals being born, chores to take care of, and loved ones to joke and play with. As my daughter calls our small farm for one of her daughters, it was her “sweet place.” This place was both safe and it was acres and acres of spaciousness.

When Mom was in her 80’s and afflicted with Alzheimer’s, when she could no longer remember raising us six kids, or even marrying my dad, she always remembered her grandparents and the days on that farm. She asked over and over where her grandparents were because she wanted to see them so much. More than anything, to me, this tells of the loving impact they had on my mom’s heart.

Mom’s life was different from her half-siblings because she wasn’t Grandpa’s. One example was when they spent Christmas with his parents. Mom was the only one who didn’t receive a present, ever. She was only four years old the first time she went, just a young girl.  I will never understand hurting a child on purpose by excluding them year after year. For Mom, that just became her normal and she stopped being hurt by it. But the first and only time that Dad went to Christmas there with Mom and their first baby, my brother Jimmy, and Jimmy didn’t get a gift, when Mom explained why, they never went again. Dad was not one to pretend that was Okay.

Mom was so aware of her illegitimacy that on my parents first date, Dad told me she said to him, “I have something to tell you and you probably won’t want to date me again once you know, but I am illegitimate.” My dad, her hero, responded, “So what. It doesn’t matter to me.” Mom’s disclosure to Dad carries so much pain, it breaks my heart. She believed she was less than, that no one would see her worth beyond her label. And that that label would destroy her relationships and hope for the future.

However, she learned that her label didn’t matter to Dad because he saw her as a beautiful young woman worth getting to know. A year or so later, he saw her as his wife and then as the mother of his children and as the love of his life for 66 years.

I think three of the six of us were born when this picture was taken

Grandpa could never talk about Mom in a bad way after my dad entered the picture so we didn’t grow up hearing him be mean to our Mom but we did hear him being mean to Grandma. I didn’t know he wasn’t my biological grandfather until I was 22 years old. Grandpa and Grandma were celebrating their anniversary with a party at their home. It was their 40th wedding anniversary. My mom was 44. Mom felt she had to explain why she was 44 and they had only been married 40 years. I remember her expression so well as she said she needed to tell me something. She looked so uncomfortable; like what she had to tell me was dreadful.

When she explained that Grandpa wasn’t my biological grandpa, the only thought I had was relief. I had watched this man be mean to my grandma, I had pulled away from him time and time again as he tried to touch me in places he shouldn’t have. To learn he wasn’t really my grandpa, somehow, it gave me permission to feel the anger I had repressed my entire life towards him.

In truth, I loved and hated Grandpa, he was the only grandpa I ever knew. He loved music and was fun to watch playing his accordion, fiddle, and harmonica. He was very talented. There were many good things about him. He wasn’t always angry. He could be great fun. He loved all of us kids. He loved Mom. When he was somewhere in his sixties, he suffered a massive stroke and after that, he was in many ways more the grandpa I wanted, much gentler, he stopped beating grandma but he still said and did things he shouldn’t have.

This is such a blurred picture but it does show that Grandpa loved Grandma and she loved him as well.

When Grandma died, Mom took care of Grandpa quite a bit. She had a bed for him at her house. She ran him to appointments, she had him over to meals and he spent Christmas Day with us. He could be cranky but she just ignored the crankiness and helped him in whatever way he needed help.

At this point, I was still angry with him and couldn’t understand why Mom, who had suffered so much at his hands, could be so giving to him. He didn’t deserve her help. She of all the kids, shouldn’t be the one taking care of him. That’s what I thought anyway.

When he died, I watched my mom at his funeral, standing at the casket weeping. I watched her turn to my dad and weep on his chest as he held her. My mom seldom cried. To see her break down like this brought on my own tears, not so much for Grandpa, but for her.

I asked her some time later why she cried so hard. She said because she loved her dad. He was the only dad she ever knew and she loved him. I asked her how she could love him after all he did to her and Grandma. She said she had forgiven him a long time ago. That forgiveness opened her heart to see his needs and help him with joy and peace.

It took me decades to forgive Grandpa. It took me longer than it did my mom and she was the one who was hurt by him. Mom was kind to Grandpa’s parents. She was kind to everyone she met. I suspect that the abuse my mom suffered prepared her heart to love others, gave her empathy for the hurting she maybe wouldn’t have had otherwise. Growing up, our home was a safe place for many of the cousins and even aunts to come in times of turmoil. Mom treated my cousins like she treated us. Loved them, cared for them, made sure they had what they needed, whatever she could do to help them feel loved, she gladly did. Just like her grandparents did for her. She made a safe place because she experienced a safe place in a very difficult time of her life. She opened her doors as her grandparents had opened theirs.

The Lord knew what Mom would need and he provided it. A safe place where she could flourish and become the person who would marry a man who never stopped loving her, birth six children who adore her, and help sisters-in-law who loved and needed her, and provide a haven for nieces and nephews; perhaps none of which she could have done without the love she was given and the forgiveness she gave to her stepdad.

I don’t want it to sound like she had no good memories of being raised with her sisters and brother. She loved them so much. She loved her mom and stepdad. She was close to all of them. She treasured her time with them and she mourned their loss when they were gone. She always thought her sister was her mom’s favorite child but I think Mom was. Going through what they did together, I just believe there was a very special bond between Mom and Grandma, a bond now joined together again as they celebrate life together in Heaven with their Lord and Savior who they both loved so much.

Mom was a wonderful mom to us kids. I can wish she hadn’t been so hurt as a child but I’m thankful that hurt made her who she was because she was pretty amazing. She was everything a child could ask for even when she was 86 years old and had Alzheimers. She was and is an inspiration. She may have been hurt as a child, both by the stigma of her birth and the abuse she experienced, but she rose above it to live a life well lived and well loved.

My mom’s biological dad. He died long before she found out where he went. She did eventually meet her aunt and uncle and a cousin though and learned a lot about her dad.
Mom at her biological dad’s grave
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Grief and Covid

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Grief and Covid

I have not lost anyone I know to Covid. Yet. I am so thankful for that fact. But I have lost several people I love during this period of lockdown and right before.

My dad died in December, my last uncle three weeks later, my ex-mother-in-law not long after and my mom in June. Lockdown came in March, right in the middle of these losses.

I was still reeling from the loss of my dad when Covid hit. Dealing with grief is hard enough in normal times. Lockdown curtails many of the activities a person needs to survive the loss of someone they love.

Before my dad’s death, I could count on both hands and still have fingers left the number of times I cried as an adult. I’m just not a crier. I hold it in instead. Since my dad’s death and then my mom’s, I have cried more times than in my entire life, I’m sure. When my grief is heaviest, that’s when I need to be around people who love me.

Covid limits this healing step for me.

My siblings and I spent five plus days with each of our parents as they were dying. We spent five days holding each other up, sharing laughter and tears. They get my grief and I get theirs. I need them. They need me. We text and email almost daily. We share our grief that way. It’s not the same, though, as holding each other close, as sharing memories and pain in person.

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Covid limits this healing step for me.

I garner strength from the Lord several times a day to cope with my grief. I picture myself right in his lap, holding on tight, crying on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around me in perfect love. And that keeps me going. Sometimes, though, when I am heavy into my grief, I want to feel physical arms around me. Or I want to talk to a physical person who can live into my losses.

Covid limits this healing step for me.

It’s important to continue to live life after the loss of someone we love. We already lost the time and activities with the person we loved and lost. During Covid, we mourn their loss plus we mourn the daily losses of a limited life. Both are hard on their own. Together, sometimes life feels insurmountable, grief overwhelming.

I’m working on living my life while grieving. I’m working on finding activities that are safe to do right now. So far, most of what I have found are solitary undertakings like my art and writing. They help but I’m still alone in them. I need contact with people. I need to not feel so lost. I have a wonderful husband but he’s busy with his jobs. He enjoys being alone. I am an introvert as well but I still need people.

Covid has brought on a disease of aloneness as each of us attempt to hide from this virus and attempt to protect those we care about from it as best as we can. People contact has to be at an all time low. I’ve never minded shopping. Now I dread it. Because of the risk. But more because of the aloneness. I feel like we walk around behind our masks, avoiding people like they have leprosy and if we look them in the eyes, or get too close, we will catch this disease as well. At least that’s how I feel when people don’t look at me, don’t come near me, and don’t smile at me.

(I couldn’t find a picture of anyone smiling behind their mask so had to take one of myself.)

We go about our business and don’t talk to each other. The smiles, few and far between, are found in the eyes above the masks, hiding the beauty of the face behind the mask.

For someone already feeling alone in their grief, this new mask culture, this new avoidance culture only deepens that aloneness.

I don’t write this so people feel sorry for me. I’m sharing honest feelings because I want to remind myself and others that there are real hurting people out there who need us, even more so in Covid days.

Taking five minutes to send a card doesn’t cost much but can mean the difference between a good and bad day to a lonely person. Taking twenty minutes to call and ask how they are doing, that is priceless. “Seeing” people when you go out, smiling behind the mask, looking into the eyes of the person you are meeting, nodding your head, tells them they are seen and matter.

It is in our connectedness that we will find healing from the broken connection of death. We just have to be more intentional about finding ways to connect with the hurting people around us in these Covid days, both the people who have suffered losses and those who can offer comfort.

Who do you know that is hurting right now? What can you do today to help them feel a connection to someone who cares? Be the connection they need. It will help them and it will bless you.

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Bad Times, Good Memories

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Have you ever had really hard times and when you look back at those times, you can find either good or funny memories?

When I was a single mom, in college full-time, with no money, I had an old beater green car. It was really high mileage, full of rust but still dependable for the most part. When my son was two years old, he washed that car. He had seen me do it not long before. Except when I did it, I had the windows shut! He didn’t.

Where was I you might ask while my two-year-old is washing the car? I don’t remember, maybe getting clothes off the line, putting them on the line, cutting grass, making a meal, hard to say. But certainly, I was busier than I should have been that as a two-year-old, he could wash the car all by himself.

Well, that poor car was wet! The carpet in the back, even though I dried it out as much as I could, got so stinky I had to pull it out. And behold! The floorboards had rusted clear through. There were holes about 6 inches in circumference on both sides. Now what? No money. Live with it.

I used to joke that we had the Flintstone car. We could put our feet down on the ground and make it run. Not really, of course but the humor helped me cope with a junker car that wasn’t really safe for my kids to ride in. I worried about something coming up off the road and hitting one of the kids. They didn’t. Instead, they threw peanuts out those holes as I drove. I didn’t know that until later but they thought those holes were great. They literally watched the road pass at their feet.

One day we went to leave for school and daycare but were delayed several minutes by the little chipmunk that had taken residence in the back window of the car sometime during the night. Funniest Home Video’s, they should have been there as we screamed and danced around while we tried to get that little furry thing to leave.

At the time I worried about how I would be able to keep that old car running long enough to finish college and get a job. I got so I hated that car because every breakdown was financial quicksand for us. Yet, now we all look back at that car with fond memories and chuckles.

I know a vehicle is not the most serious problem to have in our world. Back then, living in poverty, trying to improve our lives, that car was our connection to both family and education. It was critical to us.

This past year my siblings and I lost both of our parents, 6 months and 1 week apart. This year has been one of the hardest ever for me, I’m guessing my siblings would say the same. In the midst of such hard times, we have built some great memories as well.

Singing Amazing Grace to my mom in the hospital, seeing tears come from the eyes of the woman I loved most in the world, that’s a memory I will treasure forever that came out of hard times. Spending five days straight with my siblings and dying parent each time, those are wonderful memories of adult children coming together with one purpose, to walk with our parents on their journey home.

The laughter, the tears, all shared with the deepest love imaginable. When I feel alone in my grief, I picture all the hugs we gave each other as we spent those last days with first Dad and then Mom. Then I remember that I’m not alone.

Hard times so often give us the best memories. If you are in the midst of a hard time, whether it’s something straightforward like a vehicle that won’t run, or tragic like the death of a loved one, look for those moments that will be your best memories. They are likely there for you as they were for us.

Those moments are the ones that make the hard times survivable while in them. And they warm your heart years later. Search them out. Hold them close. I believe with all of my heart that God always brings good out of the bad. And I believe those special moments are some of the best good.

What are your best memories that came out of hard times? Remember them and enjoy them. Take them out periodically and let them heal your heart. Thank you Lord for bringing good even in the bad.

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Holy Strength

baby sitting on man s shoulder
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I have written before about my terrible fear of losing my parents to death. It started with an innocent remark by my mom that she would not be alive for the next centennial celebration in my home town. Then it grew when a classmate’s parents were killed in a car accident and the entire school had to attend the funeral without their own parents to help them process the deaths and give comfort.  As I looked at those two coffins as a grade schooler, sitting with other grade schoolers, terror was born that I would lose my parents. For most of my life, my desire was to die before my parents so that I didn’t have to live in a world without them.

After many years of counseling as an older adult, that fear was no longer terror but was still there.  Three months ago, my dad took his last breath here on earth and his first breath in heaven.  For years, we watched his health deteriorate due to his cancer and the many chemo treatments. We watched him over the six years of cancer go from an 80 year old man who regularly walked five or more miles a day to a man who could barely walk from his car to his apartment, using a walker. And at times, even needed to be pushed in a wheelchair.

For the last years, we watched him visibly weaken with every treatment he had.  He was determined to stay and take care of our mom who had Alzheimer’s. Each Christmas for years we were sure it would be his last but he fought and to our joy, made it yet again. But last Fall, my sister and I were talking about how weak he had gotten. She felt he wouldn’t make it to Thanksgiving, I felt he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. We were both pretty close. He died on December 9, 2019.

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(Me holding my dad’s hand during his last stay in the hospital.)

He spent eight days in the hospital with pneumonia. I stayed with our mom. My sister stayed with Dad. After pretty much curing him of the pneumonia he went in with, the doctors determined he was dying. We were not surprised and yet we were. He had fought so hard that we weren’t expecting him to go so fast.

We made arrangements for him to be brought back to their apartment to live out the few days remaining. He never spoke again. For five days, from Thursday to Monday, we sat with him, we tried to meet all his needs, and we took care of Mom. I had gone home on Wednesday evening and come back Friday morning. As I was walking down the hallway to their apartment, I was thinking to myself that I just could not walk in that apartment. To see my dad dying, I couldn’t do it. But I was praying too and the Lord said He was with me and I would be all right. And as I walked in, there were some favorite cousins who gave comfort. God provides.

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(Picture of a picture, sorry. And it’s old, but this is a great family to be part of. I am the fuzzy haired one below Dad.)

Over those days, we siblings had times of laughter, times of tears, times of peace and times of fear. We shared them as a family. There were always arms to hold the crying and shared laughter in the recounting of stories from our childhood. Numerous cousins came to say goodbye to Dad and we enjoyed their visits.

I knew the end was near that last day. But none of that old terror came back. Instead, there was a peace that truly passed understanding as stated in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. There was sadness for sure, but not the panic that I wouldn’t survive his loss as I had lived with most of my life. My heart and mind were secure in Jesus.

From the day I went to help, I prayed every day, “Lord, be beside me and give me your strength for whatever is coming.” “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”, from Philippians 4:13 was often on my mind.  Like Paul who penned these words while in prison, a man who had been imprisoned several times,  beaten, and whipped and yet found a way to be content no matter what his circumstances,  so had I. The same power that gave Paul peace, gave me peace. The same power that gave Paul strength gave me strength.

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(So many talked about how great my dad’s smile was.)

When Dad took his last breath, I cried and I cried hard. But I didn’t fall apart. There was no terror, no question of surviving his death.  Because I was being held by heavenly arms and human arms. My siblings and I shared some of the best moments of our life in that apartment taking care of our parents, walking with Dad on his last journey on earth. We have always been close, but after those days, I think we would all say we are closer than ever.

I did things in those days I never thought I would have the strength to do. In fact, one stands out more than any other. Hours before my dad died, I had told my sister that I couldn’t be in the room when they wheeled his body out. I just felt it would be too painful and final to watch him being removed. Dad died about 9:00 p.m. Hospice and the mortician came around 10:00 p.m. Most of the family had left while Dad’s body lay in the apartment.

I felt I had to stay. Something inside just told me not to leave yet. Just my older brother and I were there at the end. He and I waited in the hallway while they prepared his body. When they wheeled his wrapped body out, the Hospice nurse took the front and the mortician the back of the stretcher. My brother and I each walked alongside the stretcher, one on each side. I felt like we were his honor guard. The two oldest children walking their dad out for the last time. It was a privilege. The last thing we could do for Dad.

My brother and I stood together as they placed his body in the van. I squeezed Dad’s toes for the last time and said goodbye. We watched as his body was loaded into the van, my brother’s arm around me as I cried and his head leaning on top of my head. We watched together as the van drove off until we couldn’t see it anymore.

Not only had I been there when they removed Dad’s body, I escorted it out. There is no way I could have done that in my own power. I did it in His! And it became a treasured memory of my dad and my brother both.

I miss my dad every day. I don’t cry every day. There are days when it’s easier and then when suddenly I am full of grief. But I’m OK. John 10:10b has a verse that I love and am holding onto right now, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  My dad is gone but I still have life, something that for decades I didn’t believe I would have following the death of a parent. Not only do I have life, but that life is pretty darn good.

I know there are worse things than losing your dad. I can’t imagine losing my husband. Or being given just a short time to live. I don’t know what you are facing, but I do know you aren’t facing it alone. I don’t know how much strength you have on your own, but I know how much you have when you walk with Jesus, more than you will ever need. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, will you please consider getting to know Him? Start with a simple prayer asking Him to show you who He is. Then let Him lead you to a place of peace and strength, of love and joy.

He says in Jeremiah 31.3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” and in Hebrews 13:5b, “Never will I leave you nor forsake you.” I felt His love and presence throughout one of the hardest events I have ever experienced. Because of that, I survived and will no doubt thrive.

Added Later:

Six months and one week after we stood at Dad’s side as he took his last breath, we stood at my mom’s side as she took her last breath. Six months and one week later, my brother, sister-in-law and I walked our mom out of the hotel room we had spent her last five plus days in and to the mortuary vehicle that would take her away for the last time. We thought Dad’s death was hard. Mom’s was so much harder. In many ways because of Dad’s death. There were so many similarities that, for me, I felt like I was experiencing Dad’s death all over again. The trauma of those days came roaring back.

As soon as the ambulance drove up with Mom, I was sobbing. For a little over five days, we kids walked the path of dying with her. Giving her medications to relax her and calm her pain. Turning her over to avoid more pain. Holding her, loving her, kissing her, all while watching her body slowly die. This time more of her care was on our shoulders since because of Covid, we couldn’t get all the help we had when Dad was dying. This time we made the decisions on medication, we gave the medication, we determined when to turn her and we cared for her as best as we could, all the time wondering if we were doing it right. She couldn’t communicate with us. We couldn’t ask her if she was in pain.

It was the longest five plus days I have ever spent. I struggled afterwards with guilt, could we, should we have done more, given her more narcotics, was she in pain? Question after question. Did we fail her, did I fail her in some way? Finally, I sat in prayer, asking the Lord and His words came to me, “She passed in just the way I planned for her to pass. It’s Okay, let it go.” And again, that peace came.

We had the strength to do what we had to do. We had the siblings again, to hold and to share laughter and tears with. The Lord provided and He took a suffering woman home, He blessed her with eternity. And He blessed us with a wonderful mom and the knowledge she was with Dad and neither was suffering anymore. No more cancer, no more Alzheimers. What more could we ask for? Just strength to go on and He is giving that as well.

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Savor the Sweet

four macaroons
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Recently I spent a week with my parents. As I’ve written before, my mom has Alzheimer’s and my dad has terminal cancer. Spending time with them is sad as I watch them suffer and decline, knowing all I can do is love them but can’t make them better.

For over a week prior to leaving, I had an irregular heartbeat. That heartbeat comes from extreme stress or emotions. I was so reluctant to face the emotions once again that it caused enough adrenaline to spike that heartbeat again.

My dad’s cancer has returned for the seventh time. He has had 60 doses of chemo, a new procedure with radiation, and was heading back to the hospital for a more radical chemotherapy. He is 85 years old, as is my mom. I admire my dad’s will to live and fight this cancer that should have ended his life years ago. He fights to stay for my mom who desperately depends on him now that her world has changed so much with her Alzheimer’s.

I learned something very precious during this week with my parents that helped me calm down enough for my irregular heartbeat to stabilize. I learned to SAVOR THE SWEET.

While my dad was in the hospital, I stayed with Mom and slept with her. She gets anxious at night and sometimes wanders because of it. We knew someone would need to be with her constantly. The first night, I didn’t sleep much worrying that I would miss her getting up and leaving their apartment to find my dad. The second night, neither of us slept much. Mom was worried about dad. I was worried about Mom.

During that long night though, my first “savor the sweet” moments happened. My mom reached over and covered me up during the night. Awwww. Mom is still taking care of me. Later, she put her arm around me. I know she needed comfort and was blessed that she felt I could give her the comfort she needed. Earlier she had woken up very agitated and shaking as she sometimes does. I was able to hold her hand in both of mine and speak love to her and calm her down. I laid in bed savoring those sweet moments.

I took Mom to see Dad at the hospital. When we got there, he was reclining in his chair next to his bed and a couch. There was no room to push Mom’s wheelchair up to him. Mom insisted she had to be right beside him. So she stood up on her shaky legs, walked over cords while we helped her, and gave Dad a kiss. Sweet moment. When my dad walked into the apartment a few days later, after leaving the hospital, the first thing he did on his weak and shaky legs was to walk over and kiss my mom.

Mom had worried that she wouldn’t be able to take care of Dad when he got home. I reassured her she didn’t have to take care of him, that we would. She asked what she had to do. I replied, just encourage and love him because he won’t be feeling good.

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The day after he got home, Dad was sitting in a chair at the table with his back to my Mom. Mom reached up and started stroking his back. Just stroking and stroking. I have never seen her do that before. So sweet. Then my dad looked over his shoulder and said, “Hi Sweetheart.” Wow, savoring for sure.

I had worried that I wouldn’t know what to do if Mom had one of her hallucinations. And she had a couple of episodes while I was helping her. I went along with them as best I could, keeping her safe. She will often make comments that are so off the wall, we shake our heads because we don’t know where they are coming from. One of her many symptoms. Sometimes, though those comments are hilarious because they are so unexpected.

She made a comment like that the night my dad came home when my sister asked if she was glad she would be able to sleep with Dad again. My sister laughed so hard at her response that her face turned red and she had tears. I laughed watching her. Then Mom said something else that had us laughing. As we laughed, Mom turned to me and winked. I’m sure my eyes got really wide. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her do that either. I was so surprised though because that wink told me she had known what she was going to say would make my sister laugh. And my sister, who carries the heaviest burden in their care, needed that laugh. What a sweet moment.

I had to take my dad to get blood tests twice while I was there. That was time where it was just him and I. We had some sweet talks on those drives.

Overall, a week I dreaded was a week I was blessed to have. Laughter, affection, support, love, camaraderie, and sweetness were all there overshadowing the pain of watching my dad go through yet another chemo treatment, this one the worst by far.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

I learned this past week how important it is in the hard times to look for the sweet and just savor it, hold it close, think about it, let it give joy. My parents are in the process of dying from terrible diseases. That’s hard. Those sweet moments make it bearable. Bringing out the memories of those sweet moments, that’s going to give us strength and I think some courage to continue this journey with them. Those savored sweet moments will be the joy we bring out to feel again when the sorrow feels overwhelming. The key will be look for them now, savor them now, so we can bring them out later.

What are you going through? Hard times? Challenging times? What are the sweet moments you can savor? Life can feel so overwhelming at times and have such heaviness that it feels impossible to rise above it. If we look hard enough, I believe there will always be sweet moments to savor given to us by a great God who loves us enough to give us hope in the seemingly hopeless times. Savor the sounds of a baby’s laughter, the sight of deer in the field, a beautiful sunset, the green of the summer leaves, love of a family, the smile on the face of your loved one. There is always something sweet to savor. Keep your eyes and heart open and savor the sweet.

 

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Families

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Can you imagine growing up with over 50 first cousins? Just on your dad’s side? (I had about 13 more on my mom’s side.) I love being part of a large family. My dad had twelve sisters, one died before I was born, and one moved across the country but otherwise, they all lived nearby. (In the picture above, my dad is the little boy in the very front leaning over to get something. These are my grandparents and their children, spouses and grandchildren at the time. One aunt has not yet been born.) When I was 11 years old, my dad bought the family home where he had grown up. Years prior, he had made an apartment of the upstairs for my grandma (my grandpa had already passed away). For about 10 years or so, Grandma continued to live in the upstairs apartment while we lived downstairs.

Almost every weekend, at least one of the daughters would bring their family to visit Grandma. And their kids would come down to visit us and the ones around our age would play with us most of the afternoon. The cousins who were older than us were our guides to how young adults lived, through their many stories we raptly listened to. For me, as a young girl, they were who I wanted to be when I was grown up. They had exciting marriages, beautiful babies, happy lives. My memory today has a constant stream of family at our house growing up.

We had our share of dysfunction. Alcoholism. Abuse. Divorce. Arguments. But we were family and in our house, nothing was more important. When I think of the time we spent with cousins and aunts and uncles, it feels like a lifesize warm blanket surrounding me. I had many good friends among my cousins and I loved every single one of them but even better, I liked them all. We even had what we called kissin’ cousins. Those really cute boys we girls would have wanted to date if they weren’t our cousins. I remember chasing one around the yard trying to get that kiss when I was really young. Then I got the bad news that you couldn’t date or marry a cousin. Sad, sad day for me because Danny was so cute.

Today, all those aunts and uncles are gone. Only my mom and dad remain. And we have lost several of those many cousins. Even though we are getting older and most of us are now senior citizens or nearing that age, when we get together, we are still those cousins who played together as children. Like good friends who rarely see each other but can talk for hours when they do, we cousins never have to renew our friendships or get to know each other again. We are just family all the time.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins are my genetic family, one bonded with memories and love. But I have a second family. That would be my husband, children and grandchildren. I love bringing all the kids and their 12 kids together so the cousins can play and form bonds. I know, compared to the number I grew up with, 12 isn’t very many but bring them all together in our little house, and it’s a lot. And so much fun. As my siblings and I were life for my dad and mom, these kids and grandkids are life for me and my husband.

These are the families I get to treasure here on earth. But there is a third family that I get to treasure for eternity; the family of God. The Bible says over and over that those who are followers of Jesus Christ are brothers (and sisters). When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are adopted into the family of God, joint heirs with Jesus, worshiping the same Father. 1 John 3:1 says, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Titus 3:7 teaches that by being justified by His grace we become heirs with the hope of eternal life.

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song called Family of God. The Chorus is one I love.

I’m so glad I’m a part 

Of the family of God-

I’ve been washed in the fountain,

Cleansed by His blood!

Joint heirs with Jesus

As we travel this sod,

For I’m part of the family,

The family of God.

I have families bound by genetics and love. This family is bound by Love alone. The love given to us by the Triune God and the love we give back. Then the love we give each other.

When my husband and I are traveling or camping, we will attend church wherever we are. We have attended church in a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a Pentecostal church in the State of Washington, in a Lutheran church in Mesa, Arizona, in a renovated small restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota, in campgrounds sitting on logs, at a children’s camp near our home, Free Churches in Washburn and Wausau, Wisconsin and other places.

There is a oneness of spirit that joins strangers into family; visitors into brothers and sisters. I don’t know if I have ever walked into a church as an adult where I felt alone. My spirit feels the presence of the same Father, same Savior no matter what church I have attended. That makes everyone else there family. Some treat me like a long-lost sister. Others just give a warm smile and go on their way. During praise and worship, I love to just stand in silence a moment and reflect that one day we will all be singing in the presence of God in His heaven. I listen to the voices that surround me and think of all those voices surrounding me in heaven. I think about the brothers and sisters I won’t meet until heaven who will come from all times and places. From Iran, Ethiopia, Australia, every place on earth will be represented in heaven.

I picture myself hugging those members of my genetic family I will get to spend eternity with and having the same joy I will have hugging a brother or sister who lived in 200 AD. My aunts and cousins genetically came from my grandparents and down. This heavenly family will come from Jesus Christ, from the Father, from the Holy Spirit.

Like my family, there is dysfunction in the family of God here on earth. We are broken vessels who need mending and so we go to the ONE who can best mend us. It was the brokenness of my divorce that brought this broken vessel to her knees before the God who would save her. It wasn’t until I was broken that I knew I needed a Savior.

But like members of all families, this family of God is not perfect here on earth. We make mistakes. We are hypocrites at times. We get ourselves lost. God didn’t promise perfection here. He promises grace. He promises everlasting love. I think that grace and love is what makes strangers feel like brothers and sisters.

God placed me in a large family when I was born. He gave me a taste of the family of God’s vastness. He gave me a taste of the love found in this family. He prepared my life and heart to be part of His forever family. He showed me how to be comfortable within family, all my families. Someday, only one family will remain and I hope it is filled with all the members from my other families. What a joy that day will be.

How about you? What’s your family like? Are you part of God’s forever family? If not, would you like to be? Leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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Long Term Love

 

What does a long-term relationship with the risen Lord look like? I can’t tell you what yours looks like, but I can explain mine and maybe get you thinking about yours.

I remember so clearly the day I asked Jesus Christ to be Lord of my life. I was 5 months into a painful separation from my first husband, trying to figure out a life for myself and three small children. I didn’t have a job. I had no money. I was living on state money. I had been rejected. My life wasn’t supposed to be like that. Never. I was never going to get divorced. I was never going to live on welfare. All those “nevers” that I lived and breathed every day.

Despair. Depression. They were constant companions. Until I met Jesus one day in the office of a pastor I didn’t know. Then I experienced a high like I had never known from a love I didn’t know could ever exist for me. For someone suffering from depression, that high was almost incomprehensible. I would compare it to the high I felt when my second husband, my best friend, asked me to marry him. And the joy of those first months of marriage until life happens.

As in a marriage, the extreme joy you feel at the beginning settles down as you experience life together. As Jesus and I walked through some tough years together, our relationship grew and shrunk at times and at other times, felt like it didn’t even exist anymore. Then we would reconnect on a deeper level. A love beyond description where I knew I was held tightly in His mighty arms. That love was always there, but sometimes I lived away from it. I chose distractions. I chose to give in to my worries instead of giving up to His rest. Continue reading “Long Term Love”

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Receiving Joy

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Without the help of many, as a single mom, our Christmases would have been bare. When I was in college, we often ran almost completely out of food. I was Old Mother Hubbard with the bare cupboards more times than I want to remember. There were times we ate saltine crackers, peanut butter and raisins for meals because they were literally the only items in the cupboard.

You can imagine the challenge of this type of lifestyle when Christmas came around each year. My parents always made Christmas very special even though we grew up poor. They scrimped and saved all year to give us the very gifts we desired. I certainly wanted to do the same for my children but just couldn’t do it. My daughter asked for a Cabbage Patch doll for years and I couldn’t get her one. It broke my heart the year I had to give her a cheap imitation instead. I made her all kinds of doll clothes out of scraps to make up for it. (My parents eventually gave her a real Cabbage Patch doll.)

Because we were so poor while I was in school full-time, we were on the lists of local organizations that helped at Christmas. One year we were given an entire meal, including turkey, potatoes and all the trimmings. My kids were nearly jumping up and down as we went through that box.  It’s very telling of the circumstances we lived in that they were excited to get a box of food!

Every year I was in school, we received gifts from different organizations. They would be nearly the only gifts under the old fake tree we had. My kids didn’t care where the gifts came from, they were thrilled to get them. I remember the red and white sweater my daughter received and wore until she wore holes into it. She loved that sweater and would not have had it if not for the generosity of the giver.

We had very few decorations for our tree and a local organization called P.E.O. learned of this and their members gathered brand new ornaments for our tree. We had so much fun putting those ornaments out. We still have some of them decades later. (The year before we were given all these ornaments, we decided to really dress up our tree and make all the decorations out of construction paper. We had paper chains, stars, and ornaments. And we loved our tree. I’m not sure if the kids would agree but that tree remains my favorite ever because we did it as a family and had so much fun together.)

Every year as I buy gifts for my family, I remember these sparse times and the many people who helped to make our Christmases less sparse. I’m thankful for those willing to sacrifice to give blessings to those otherwise doing without. I need to do a better job of paying it forward for sure. I have several times over the years but certainly could do more.

Are there organizations you can support so they can make a poor family’s Christmas better this year? Do you know a poor family you could personally help? From someone who has been on the receiving end and the giving end, I can tell you that both receive joy. Merry Christmas to you all! May you “receive much joy” this Christmas season.

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Cars, Challenges, Provision

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God provides. I see that now. I have to tell you about two of my cars to give you an example of how.

When I was in college as a single mom, I drove an old Chevy Malibu. Ran great. However, rusty doesn’t begin to describe that old car. In fact, when my son was almost three, after seeing me do it a few days prior, he decided to wash the car without my knowledge. If you have ever been around a three-year-old, you know how fast they can act when out of your sight for a minute.

When he washed the car, the windows were all down. I had to take up all the carpet that was drenched and eventually stunk. We sat on towels for days. I discovered something pretty amazing, as far as my kids were concerned, when I ripped out that carpet. The floorboards were rusted completely through in the back seat. Holes about six inches in diameter were in both sides of the floor.

The kids loved it. They could watch the road fly by on our trips to Grandpa and Grandma’s. They could throw things out the floor as we drove along. I didn’t know that they were doing that right away but they thought it was fun until they got caught. The highlight was the time we went out to leave for school and there was a chipmunk in the car. Yup, climbed in through one of those holes. We had a heck of a time getting it back out. It was sure funny. We called that car our Flintstone car.

But sadly, that old green car met its end in an accident early in my last year of college. No one was hurt but you can imagine; a single mom with no money, no collision insurance because the car was so old it had no value, and hit by a car with an owner who blew through a stop sign, had no insurance and no money. Not a good day!

Enter the worst car buying decision of my life. I took my younger brother with me to help me choose a new used car. I chose a car lot that sold the type of car I could afford, cheap, really cheap.

I had $1,000 to spend from my student loan for that semester. It was my last semester before my student teaching. I would have to drive about 50 miles each way to the school I had been assigned to for student teaching. I needed a dependable car. My kids would be in daycare early and late and I had no family in that town to pick them up if my car broke down.

So, enter the Chevy Citation. It was the right size for me and my three kids. It looked good, no rust. It was the right price. Just $,1000. That salesman seemed to know exactly what I needed. One problem, it was a standard transmission (stick shift) and I didn’t know how to drive one. I knew I was smart enough to figure it out though. My brother could do the test drive.

The car was covered with ice and snow in the lot. Windows were scraped off enough to be legal and we drove away. Not bad. Drives OK. Went back to the dealer and bought the car and my brother drove it away. Then gave me a few driving lessons. And off I went back to my home. I can’t remember if it was a 4 speed or 5 speed but you get the picture.

Well, within a week I knew I had been taken. Here’s what I learned about that car. It had a crack the entire length of the front windshield. Ice had covered it up. It had no parking brakes, pretty important with a standard transmission. It had no catalytic converter, had in fact been bypassed by the prior owner. And two weeks later it had no second gear. The first three things were safety issues and the dealer had to fix them. The transmission though, that was my problem. Now, I don’t know that God chose that exact car with all those problems. I do know He used that car with all its problems to teach me some valuable lessons.

Learning to drive a stick shift is a challenge, learning to drive a stick shift with no second gear, well, I can’t think of any word bigger than challenge but it was bigger for sure.

I learned how to speed shift. I didn’t know I could be so cool! I didn’t know that was cool. I learned that if you took too long to get it into gear at a stop sign, you could get hit by the person behind you who thought you were long gone, twice! I learned it was really hard to speed shift from a dead stop on a hill. I learned you could roll all the way down that hill before you got it in the next gear. I also learned that the driver of the car behind you will be glad to back down the hill as well.

I learned to never drive on busy streets, to go around them instead. I learned to avoid towns with hills. Oh, the adventures of that car.

I had that car towed to the shop more times than I think I have in all the years and cars since. I don’t remember how I paid for it all but somehow I did. Probably more of my student loan went into the car.

I had some laughs with that car and I had frustrations for sure. One memory stands out though. I had to have the car towed to the shop yet again. My kids were in school and I was supposed to be but the car wouldn’t start again. I sat at the mechanic’s while they worked on my car. I watched the receptionist leave the building, walk to her car, get in and drive away. And I cried. As the tears streamed down my face, I remember thinking, “She has no idea how lucky she is to have a car she can just get in and know it will start for her. She just takes it for granted.” At that time, I doubted I would ever be as lucky as she was. I had been months without a dependable car at this point.

I drove that car for about two years. Finished school, moved to where I still live today, started a new job, and as soon as I could replaced it. But in those two years, I had learned to drive that car up steep hills without backing down them and I could drive on busy streets too. I gained confidence in my ability to drive a stick shift. I survived all those times of having to have it towed. My kids and I were never in danger because it wouldn’t start, although I remember standing in the grocery store in below zero temps waiting for the tow truck. I learned I was tougher than I thought and I had a determination that amazes me today.

For my kids and me, those two cars bring back funny memories. Looking back at all the trouble I had with that Citation, all the tears, frustration, embarrassment and anger at the dealer who sold me that piece of junk, and the naïve fool I was to buy it, God still provided. He still made sure I had the transportation I needed to finish my degree, to move and to get a new job. He provided the funds I needed to keep it drivable.

I drove to my student teaching school every day in a crappy little car with no second gear. I drove it 100 miles to a new home. I drove it to and from work. Because that was God’s plan for me at that time. I didn’t see His provision and certainly didn’t rest in it. Looking back, I see how He did take care of us. If only I had seen it then. Instead of crying, maybe I would have just quietly sat at the mechanic’s doing homework, knowing the Lord had me covered. How much peace I could have had! With that peace probably would have come more laughter instead of tears.

Being able to see His provision back then helps me look for and see His provision today. He has a plan for each of us and within our plans, He always provides exactly what we need. We can rest in that. I can laugh knowing my junk car experience is a bump in the road, not the end of the road. Those bumps teach us to depend on God and trust that He cares enough to take care of us. I can look back and chuckle and say I hope to never again own a standard transmission vehicle and I can say it with a twinkle in my eyes and a smile. And I can know that if I ever have to drive one again, I CAN do it. God took a junk car experience and turned it into a learning and leaning opportunity with some humor added in.

So, what’s your junk car experience and how can you see God acting through and in it? Praise the Lord that He does.