Family, Hope, Uncategorized

My Grandpa

I never met my dad’s father. He died the year before I was born. I have seen pictures of him with all his children and my grandma, with just my grandma, with my dad and my older brother, and alone as a young person. In all the pictures of him, I don’t recall seeing any joy. In fact, in some, there seems to be a deep sadness in his eyes.

I wish so much that I had had an opportunity to meet him. I wish I had grown up loving him like I did my other grandparents. Cousins who are older than I am may have had experiences with Grandpa that would result in a completely different story than mine. I can only write about what I know and feel.

My grandpa suffered great sorrow in his life. I was not the first generation in our family to go through the pain of divorce. His divorce was very hard on him and his family from what I’ve been told. But I wonder if harder still was what we learned after my Grandma died and we found a letter he wrote to her.

My grandpa was married three times. His first wife died in childbirth when he was only 18 years old. She delivered a son before she died, a son he didn’t know how to raise alone. Back then, somewhere around 1900, he made the hard decision to leave his son with his wife’s family in South Dakota and he returned to Wisconsin. He never saw his son again. I’m thinking there are many in my family who don’t know about this wife or son because it wasn’t talked about.

He married again and had four daughters and lost an infant son. He and his second wife eventually divorced with him retaining custody of his daughters. Years later he married my grandma who was fifteen years younger than he was. They had eight daughters and five sons. Three sons died in infancy. The fourth, Jerry, died when he was six years old. My dad was the only son from both marriages to survive to adulthood. Oddly enough, only males died. All female babies survived.

I didn’t know about Grandpa’s first wife until after my grandma died. Grandma had lived in an apartment in our house and when we cleaned it out, we found a letter that Grandpa had written to her when she and Jerry were staying in the hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, where Jerry died. The letter was found probably 45 years or more after it was written.

What I knew of Grandpa to that point was what my dad had shared through the years. Dad was special to his dad, being the only surviving son he knew. Grandpa called him his little prince and Dad sat next to him at meals. Grandpa was a tough man. He worked as a carpenter both in Wisconsin and in South Dakota. He also traveled the country buying fur. Dad’s large family grew up poor.

I’ve been told that Grandpa had a temper and sometimes it got out of control. He also sometimes drank more than he should have. My Grandma’s mom told my Dad that Grandpa was a hard worker and a good provider. Opinions vary within my relation on his strengths and weaknesses. What I’ve written so far is the extent of what I remember knowing about Grandpa until the letter was found.

I only read the letter once and I have no idea where it is today or if it even still exists. But I can clearly remember the pain in the words on that piece of paper. Grandma had taken Jerry to the hospital on Madison, hours away from family to be treated for an incurable brain tumor. (From a picture I have seen of Jerry, he was a beautiful towheaded little boy.)

In the tearstained letter Grandpa wrote to Grandma, Grandpa poured out his grief at losing yet another son. The torment of his guilt that Jerry was dying and it was his fault was in every word. He confessed that if he hadn’t deserted his first son, God wouldn’t be punishing him by taking the rest of his sons. What a burden to carry! He was only a child himself when his first son was born. What did he know? So sad.

He could have gone back and found him later, but I suspect he was too ravaged with guilt to do so. Instead it ate at him. And each son he lost was further ravaging of his aching heart. No wonder he turned to alcohol to numb the pain sometimes. No wonder his pain came out in anger sometimes. I’m not excusing his behavior at all but a burden of guilt like he carried can cause things to happen that shouldn’t.

I grew up wishing I had known Grandpa. There was always someone missing in my life as a child. I loved my other grandparents and I wanted to love him as well. It’s hard to love a face in a picture when that’s all you have. When I read that letter, love was born for the grandpa I met through his words. I hurt for his hurt. I cried reading the letter of the man who fathered my father.

I wish I could tell him that God didn’t take his boys. God wasn’t punishing him. Life happens. We make mistakes. There are consequences to our behavior and choices, but God would not punish anyone in such a devastating way. I wish Grandpa had known the God I know; my God is merciful and extends grace to anyone who confesses their sins, comforts anyone who lays down their pain to Him.

Romans 8:1 tells us there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That means we stand guiltless once we accept Christ as our Savior, no matter what we have done in our past. We don’t need to carry that burden of guilt because He has removed it. We can let it go. How I wish Grandpa had known that. Maybe sometime between writing that letter and his death twenty some years later, Grandpa learned about the grace of our loving God. I sure hope so. I hope he had a time of peace on earth and eternity in heaven.

Thinking about Grandpa carrying that guilt for so long; well, that’s a lesson to me, to let go of guilt I have carried for years for different mistakes I have made in my life. Those mistakes, sins, were covered by Jesus on the cross. That’s all I need to know. If you are still carrying guilt for something you have done in the past that you have asked forgiveness for, please let it go. Don’t let it steal your joy.

Grandpa, I didn’t get to tell you in life that I loved you so I’m telling you now. I love you.

Hope, Uncategorized

The Pantry

pantry 2

This past week I’ve been working on cleaning and organizing my pantry.  My pantry isn’t a cupboard in my kitchen, it’s a little room attached to it, about 5′ x 8′ or so. My husband has been getting very frustrated with all the junk crammed in it, stuff falling off the shelves every time he reaches for something in it. And I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed it.

There are no doors in my pantry. Just curtains to hide the packed and messy shelves. My pantry is a direct reflection of my life. Lots of junk hiding behind flimsy curtains, falling out all over. The pantry contains small appliances, bakeware I never use, but might someday, and lots of food. Most of the food is food I will never eat but have bought because of the latest health craze that I plan to get on but never do, like dried seaweed that is a “power food”. I detest fish. Why would I actually eat something that smells and tastes like fish? So, it sits on the shelf, adding clutter.

Symptoms. My pantry is a symptom of my bigger problems. Trying to find an easy solution to bad health. More, more, more, needing more to fill that hole in me. Messy and chaotic, the state of my anxious mind.

So, I spent a week cleaning, throwing, washing, sorting, and contemplating my life. When I got done with my work, I had an amazingly clean, well organized pantry with products I will actually use and enjoy. Most of the weird health kick products are gone because, quite honestly, most were expired anyway. Our chickens ate some strange food this past week.

I put what I kept in labeled glass canning jars so I can see what is there and use it. I removed bakeware I won’t use as well as some small appliances. I moved what I need from the high top shelf to the lower shelves to be more accessible. I moved appliances I use but not all the time off the counter to give myself work room. And I permanently removed the curtains.

Open shelves. Open life. Organized shelves. Well, somewhat organized life. We can’t have everything. Chaos turned into peace is how I feel when I enter my pantry now. It’s a good start. Stillness. Simplify. My surroundings as well as my life. I’ve always known chaos. Most of it my own fault. Now to concentrate instead on simplicity and stillness because they calm my racing heart and change my focus to what is important, my faith, family and writing, instead of all that is cramming up my life.

While cleaning, I lived my favorite verse, Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth, Psalm 46:10. Being still is what I was while cleaning. Just being still, not in body, but in mind. No worries. No wants. Just being still with the Lord who loves me. Praising Him and thanking Him for all He has blessed me with and blessed our world with. That’s where my peace comes from. That’s what stills my anxious heart. And He is what fills that hole in me.

Who knew cleaning out a pantry could have such a profound effect on an anxious heart?

 

Uncategorized

Warrior Queen

Warrior: an experienced fighter, engages in warfare, shows great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.

Queen: Of a particular activity, it means she is very good at it, preeminent.

I saw the following on facebook, not sure where, or who posted it so I can’t give credit to anyone, but I loved this quote:

The devil whispered in my ear, “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.” Today I whispered in the devil’s ear, “I am a child of God, a woman of faith, a warrior of Christ. I AM THE STORM.”

This quote speaks to me, it reminds me that in Christ, I am a warrior. I don’t have to be afraid of any storms. I can engage in warfare with the devil because Christ lives in me. My family is in a storm right now. But we are warriors. We fight fiercely with vigor and courage. We are NOT giving up.

We all fight so many battles in our daily life. We fight battles with our health, our relationships, our finances, and our emotional and spiritual lives. Giving in to worry is easy to do. I know because I do it all the time. Look at a battle and say, “Oh no, not again. I am powerless to fight another battle. I am worn out.” That is my temptation, give in and go under because, face it, life is hard.

We get sick. We are rejected, abused, betrayed, overworked and underappreciated. The list of bad things that can happen is about as long as there are people.

When we are given the worst diagnosis, we fight our battle in our body and in our mind. Our physical strength is sapped by our disease. Our mind is overwhelmed with fear and sorrow. That is exactly when we want to put on our spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:13-18:

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

pexels-photo-226746.jpegBelt of Truth: God’s truth. The truth found in the Word of God, the Bible. The truth, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you are a child of God. You get your identity from Him. As a daughter of the King, satan cannot defeat you if you live in the truth of who you are and who God is. Lysa Terkeurst said the following: “God is good, God is good to me, God is good at being God.” That is our truth.

Breastplate of Righteousness: Right living, being grown into Christ-likeness.

Shoes of the gospel of peace: The good news of Christ’s gospel. Be ready to share it and stand firm in it.

Shield of Faith: Your shield protects you from the arrows of lies being shot at you from the devil. Your faith in the one true God, your belief that He loves you, all protect you. With faith, the lies fizzle out.

Helmet of Salvation: We have to put on our helmet of salvation. Knowing we belong to the Lord, knowing we have Him inside us, knowing he will never leave us, that is where we will get our strength from. Knowing we are His protects our thoughts from the lies. The helmet of salvation guards our minds.

Sword of the Spirit: the Bible is our offensive weapon. With the Word of God, we defeat satan and his lies. Satan cannot stay where the Word of God is being spoken. Evil cannot stay where GOOD abounds. Shout Scripture as your battle cry. Pray verses over your fear and pain. Pray in the Spirit, because He prays in ways we can’t even imagine. Romans 8:26 says: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

little-girls-walking-summer-outdoors-pretty.jpgMy sister and I have given each other nicknames. She is the Warrior Queen and I am the Warrior Sister. My sister has fought so many battles with her health that she is really good at fighting. She exhibits a WARRIOR attitude even when not feeling good. She stays positive and she puts on her armor and fights. I fight my battles in my mind. PTSD, depression, anxiety, they are my enemies. I stand in my armor, with my God, fighting those battles.

Put on your armor and fight your battle. Be a warrior. Fight with vigor, strength, and courage because you don’t fight alone. The Triune God: Father God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all fight with you and for you. Have faith knowing your truth is that no matter how your battle turns out, you will be with Jesus, either here on this earth or in heaven. Either way, as Paul said, you win. Fight your battle knowing that Jesus won the war. You are His prize and He covets you. Fight, Warrior Queen.

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Seeing and Ripples

Do you ever despair at the events in the world we live in? Do you wonder where kindness and love have gone? I don’t watch the nightly news anymore. The negativity and hopelessness portrayed daily just increases my anxiety and depression.

But in the last few weeks, I have had my eyes opened to what I can do to better the world I am a part of. I can’t make the entire world better. But I can help improve the world I touch.

Improvement comes by seeing people again. We rush in our busy lives past hurting people desperate for someone to see them, to notice their pain, to acknowledge their existence. We might say a quick prayer as we rush by, and that’s good, but we keep going and move on to the next busy thing on our list.

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Recently, I had a conversation with my sister who is gifted at seeing people. She was in the hospital after a tremendously difficult and painful surgery, barely able to walk due to weakness and pain. I asked her how the staff was treating her. She responded in her fragile voice that she felt bad for the nurses. The hospital was short staffed, and they were having to work double shifts. She could see their frustration and exhaustion on their faces and in their voices. While they helped her, she was trying to bring some joy to their lives by how she treated them. She was kind, made jokes so they could at least smile, and thanked them for their help. And she did it consistently for her week’s stay.

I am sure she left that hospital ward with nurses appreciating her as a patient and a person. She brought some sunshine into a hurting place.

I used to be like my sister. I used to see people and go out of my way to help them have a better day in some way. Life got in the way, as it does when we get too busy and too stressed, when we don’t intentionally take the time to see. I rush from place to place. It’s not that I live in my own world all the time. I help family. I help friends. I help at church. But in my busyness, and in my stress, I don’t see the pain in people’s faces anymore. I’m so focused on my next thing and on my own pain and stress that I’m missing life around me.

I read recently in a book about seeing people. And shortly after that, I listened to my sister talk about the nurses. I started taking stock of how I had seen people in the past. I used to send cards almost weekly to different people who were hurting in some way. I used to take a meal to someone who needed one. I used to call and encourage people who needed encouragement.

Seeing people helped me and it helped them. Somewhere along the way, I lost that seeing and the acting out of the seeing.

I can’t solve everyone’s problems. I probably can’t solve anyone’s problem, really. I can’t take away a friend’s cancer. I can’t bring back a lost loved one. I can’t make a hurting child’s world perfect. I can’t undo a car accident or the injuries that came from it. I can’t undo a school shooting.

I can do something for each of these though. I can reach out. I can listen. I can hear and see their pain. I can acknowledge that life isn’t good for them right now. I can let them know they don’t have to go through this trial alone. It might be a simple card from a stranger. Or a phone call to a friend. Or a financial gift to help with a burial. Even a simple smile, eye contact, and “thank you” can go a long way toward improving someone’s day.  I can offer hope in a hurting world. I can offer a bit of myself by seeing pain in someone else’s eyes and choosing to offer comfort instead of ignoring it.

That is how we can all improve the part of the world that we touch. We can show our love to the hurting and to the unseen in the city we live in. Face it, every single one of us has pain we are living with. Every single one of us could use hope. The cashier at Wal-Mart, the person next to you on the bus, the student who sits by you in class, we all can touch someone in our world for good.

Look around. Can you see at least one person who is not smiling, who has lost hope, who is obviously hurting, and can you brighten their day today? And can you see someone tomorrow and brighten their day? Be a ray of sunshine in a very dark world. Be the good. It will help you and it will help them and it will help your part of the world. Ripples in the tide start with one rock. Be the rock. Throw yourself into life by seeing people if you are not already doing so. I am going to.

Family

Sandwiched

Mom and Dad

Sandwich Generation.

What is the sandwich generation? I have heard it explained like this: someone helping both their parents and their children/grandchildren. I am in the sandwich generation. On Monday and Tuesday mornings this week, I helped care for my twin infant grandsons and their three-year old sister. Wednesday evening, I took care of another granddaughter and made sure her siblings got to church. I worked my job. Then on Saturday, I headed two hours away to spend five days helping my parents who are 84 and 83 years old.

On the one hand, deep joy taking care of babies and toddlers in their new life phase. On the other hand, deep sadness going with my parents to the funeral home and Elder Law attorney to help plan their funerals and find ways to protect enough assets that both aren’t stripped of all assets they will need for miscellaneous things like hearing aids and dentures by a system set in place to help care for them should they need it.

I am so thankful I could spend those days helping my parents figure out some things for their future care. But it came with an emotional price tag. Watching my dad’s lower lip quiver in the discussion with the attorney, watching my mom try to decide whether to be cremated or buried, so painful for me. I haven’t slept well in days thinking over all we discussed and all these two people had to say and decisions they have to make.

To hear my mom say she wants to die in her home when we know that if my dad goes first, she is not safe alone in her home, breaks my heart. To know my dad wants to die in the home he was raised in but is willing to leave it so Mom is better able to move about, again, heart breaking. Knowing they can’t afford to hire full time care long-term in the future and we all have jobs we need right now so can’t give the care they need. So hard. My dad worked two to three jobs at a time much of the time I was growing up and until his retirement. Life sucks up that saved money so fast even when you are careful as he is.

At the funeral home, I looked at these two people I love so much, and I remembered them as young people having children, raising us all, and now looking at the end of their lives. How does that happen? One minute, you are raising children, the next, you are looking death in the face as a senior citizen while your senior citizen children are trying to help you navigate a painful path with as much dignity as possible.

My parents have done so well in their senior years. They don’t complain. They don’t moan about their lost youth. They live the life they have in the moment. They give us joy, we give them joy.

I think about my own life. Our children are raised. We have 12 grandchildren. Someday, not that far down the road, we are going to have to downsize, sell our home where every access point has stairs and not all doorways will allow a walker through comfortably, and move to a more accessible apartment. Helping my parents, I am learning about decisions I can make now that will make our lives somewhat easier then. I asked my mom what she would have done differently at my age to help her at her age. She said she would have moved more. She meant taken more walks, making sure her body was strong, that kind of thing. She struggles to walk at all now. I can see her point. I am exercising more, heeding her advice. My daughter has asked me several times if I am writing all this stuff down. I need to do that so I remember there is a reason for each change; making lives easier being number one.

In the meantime, I will enjoy those babies and grandchildren. I will help our children where I can. And I will help my parents where I can. I will take each day I have with all of them as the gift it is, treasuring the moments we have together, whether joyful or painful. I will plan for the future but live in the present. I will give love to the fullest degree I can. That’s all I can do. It will be enough. And someday, when I enter the presence of my Savior, I will embrace Him and family who arrived before me. Life will have been worth it, all of it.

Uncategorized

Christmas Letter

No, not another Christmas letter! Really, it’s OK. I don’t really have anything to brag about from the last year. Nothing I did that was extraordinary anyway. Thinking about writing a Christmas letter got me thinking though about what I would feel was important enough to put in one.

Since this past year has been a slump year for me, all my thoughts at first were slumpy ones. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, a dry faith, poor health, poorer eating, and other things I’d rather not tell the world.

What can I tell you that won’t put you in a slump too? Slumps don’t last forever. And even in the midst of slumps, there are some really funny moments. The coins come to mind right away.  I had emptied all of my coin jars into an ice cream pail, filling it up. It was super heavy so my husband was going to take it to the car for me so I could deposit it in the bank. He’s very helpful that way. He picked up the pail, I heard him start down the stairs and then heard coin hit the floor. My first thought was that he fell down the stairs.

He didn’t. That flimsy handle he was carrying the pail with, that pretty much everyone would know couldn’t handle the weight of all those coins, broke and the pail fell. And the lid popped off. We had coin everywhere. As I hurried to the top of the stairs, I thought to grab my camera. But standing at the top, looking down at my husband kneeling at the bottom of the stairs with coin surrounding him, all I could do was laugh. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get a picture of my little boy husband holding up the pail showing me that not every single coin fell out, “Look Hon, half the coins are still in the bucket.” “Yes, dear, they are” as tears poured down my cheeks. You can imagine trying to take a picture when your whole body is shaking with laughter. Those pictures were so blurred you couldn’t make out anything except the shine of coins in the light.

What a great 2017 memory.

Or the time I was cleaning the freezer and found a dead June bug loose in it. My little boy husband collects bugs in the summer time and freezes them for winter to feed his salamander “Cuddles” who was named by our grandson. I have never seen a cuddly salamander and I have no idea how Ben came up with the name but that’s what the little lizardy thing is called.

Anyway, I had to have a reminder talk with my husband. He was supposed to make sure that bugs didn’t get loose in the freezer after the grasshopper invasion. They were supposed to be in a container which was then put in a sealed ziplock bag so they had no chance of escaping.

That rule came about a few years ago. I had opened the freezer to get something out only to find dead grasshoppers all over the freezer causing me to have to clean out the entire freezer. How, you may ask, did grasshoppers get all over my freezer? Good question. Little boy husband filled up a frosting container with live grasshoppers, threw it in the freezer, closed the lid and walked away. Apparently when he closed the freezer lid, it popped the top off the frosting container and those little munchers were loose all over, looking for a way out.

Poor things. Imagine their shock. They were swiped from their tasty dinner in our cornfield, smushed into a little frosting container, thrown, then think they have freedom only to freeze their tiny tushes. People, I tried to revive them but apparently my pail didn’t work well for a cryonics chamber. Not a single one came back to life after being frozen alive.

That’s how that rule, bugs inside container, inside the sealed ziplock, came about. When I confronted my little boy husband about not obeying the rule, he argued that the June bug must have flown into the freezer when the lid was open. For sure!

Another funny 2017 memory.

At our family reunion in September, the organizer family had a fishing contest. You had to cast and get your bobber into a pail or something like that. Well, I have been fishing in my lifetime. I have even caught a few fish. I even, while closing my eyes, hooked a worm or two for my kids when they were little so they could fish. Granted, I don’t like fish, I don’t even like the way fish look, I think they are some of the ugliest creatures God put on this earth for us. But I was up for a casting contest at the family reunion because there were no worms or fish.

The fishing pole I got had a weird kind of fishing line winder thing though. I had never used one like that. Every time I tried to cast my bobber, the line just came out after my cast was over. I would have this big cast, the bobber would be at the end of my pole yet, I would lower my pole, and the string would unwind all over the place. I was pretty puzzled on what I was doing wrong. A kind person gave me a different fishing pole, thinking that might help. Meanwhile, it took him about an hour to fix my first pole. Sorry, Jerry!

That second pole had the fishing line winder thing that I had used before. Only it had been a really long time since I had fished. I had all kinds of people telling me how to cast that bobber. Really, it didn’t matter at all that there was no hook on the line. Because the line never went farther than a foot or so off the end of my pole. No matter how many times I was told what to do, or how many people were laughing at me, that line just stuck like glue to the turny thing. Of course, the more I cast, and the more that bobber didn’t go, the more I laughed, to the point of tears. I turned around at one point to see what was happening behind me and there was a whole line of people wiping tears from their eyes. Must have had too much sun in their eyes!

Great 2017 memory.

Finally to my point, in the midst of great struggles, or small struggles, take out those funny memories and play with them again. They will help you endure the slumps until the sun comes out again. And it will come out again!

 

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Why Was I Still Here?

Three times I nearly died from the same birth defect, once as an infant and twice as an adult. I had to wonder why I was still here when not everyone gets that second or third chance like I did. I’m no one special. Just an average person. But maybe I was an average person with a part in a plan that had yet to be carried out.

As a newborn, I was hospitalized several times because I couldn’t keep any type of sustenance down. I became very thin and my parents feared for my life. My mom nursed me, I threw it up, they tried formula, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and more but I threw it all up. Then one day, I didn’t throw it up. Whatever had caused the problem seemed to have resolved itself.

However, when I was about 30 years old, I began to have problems again. This time mostly with my breathing. In testing, the doctors found the birth defect that was causing my current problems and had caused the problems when I was an infant. The main artery to my right arm was supposed to branch off the aorta on the right side and go down. Mine branched off the left side of my aorta, wrapped my wind pipe and esophagus and then went down the right side.  My esophagus bent at about a 45-degree angle from the artery instead of being straight. That bend is what caused the problem as an infant. Food didn’t get past that bend and came back up. Somehow, it corrected enough for food to get past on its own.

When the defect was discovered, the specialist told me that if I did not have it corrected, it would eventually destroy my esophagus since food tended to rest at that angle. I was a single mom in college at that time. The surgery was a dangerous one. Dangerous enough I had to talk to my ex-husband about raising the children if I didn’t survive it.

Surgery consisted of opening me up from about six inches into my right front around my side and up my back about half way in a hook shape, removing a rib, stopping my heart and putting it on a bypass machine, cutting the artery on the left side, closing my aorta there, unwrapping the artery from the esophagus and wind pipe, then reattaching it to the right side of the aorta with a graft, a five-hour surgery.

I survived the defect as an infant. Would I survive the surgery to correct it as an adult? Continue reading “Why Was I Still Here?”