Lessons from Nana…Have the conversation

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 188

I was looking forward all week to seeing Nana. When she saw me, she burst into tears, happy tears. She hugged me tight and would not let go. We stood in the middle of a busy dining room full of residents and staff, and Nana gripped me as though she hadn’t seen me in a long time. She didn’t remember it had only been four days.

I led her to a quiet table in the corner. As we sat, her cold, fragile hand held mine. It was just the two of us and my heart was so happy.

It’s been a struggle to keep her caloric intake up, and it was clear the more I distracted her with conversation the more she ate. So I kept talking and she kept eating. She spoke a few times about the pain from her cancer. Then she followed up with, “But it’s okay, I’m a tough old broad.”

Gulping down my awkwardness I asked, “What helps you stay a tough old broad, even under these circumstances? I really want to know.”

She smiled, got a little teary, and replied as she squeezed my hand, “Family and God. After all, he’s in charge.”

The sun slowly set over her shoulder. Every now and then my gaze wandered from her to the fiery colors of fuchsia and orange bursting from behind the clouds, fading to hues of purples and blues, eventually extinguishing to black.

One-by-one, residents finished their meals and left the dining room. The staff cleaned up around us but allowed us to linger.

Searching for a lighthearted topic, I asked her if she’s still enjoying her favorite television shows. “No. I don’t watch TV,” Nana scoffed. “Nothing matters anymore,” she continued. “Family matters. God matters. But nothing else.” She stared off into the distance, and continued, “It’s like I don’t care about anything anymore. But I don’t mean that to sound bad. It’s just what used to be important isn’t anymore. What I used to spend my time and energy on, it all really doesn’t matter.”

I quietly sat at the table and drank in her facial and body expressions, trying to sear them into memory for the day our conversations end. Nana was allowing me priceless insight into the perspective of someone with an aging body and ailing mind. I applaud her honest candor.

Listening with full attention, I saw a woman who is letting go.

Finding words for her sentences is like searching for seashells on a shore cluttered with incomprehension and nonsensical thoughts. Yet, with enough time and patience, her feelings, thoughts and opinions eventually reveal themselves through the sands of confusion.

These days, the TV sits silent in her apartment. Mail is tucked away. Her phone stays unplugged and she often doesn’t know where it is or even that she has one. The daily word searches delivered by the staff that she has so enjoyed over the past year lie untouched. Even ordering food from the daily menu is a struggle as a task that she couldn’t care about in the least.

There is a stark correlation to her recent decline. Rewind to last September. As best we could, we delivered the news to Nana that doctors gave her about six months to live. That is a post for another day. Her response to the news was, “I want to live as normal as possible for as long as possible.” This meant no more treatment of any kind. We respect her decision and asked, “So how do you want to spend your time? What is on your bucket list? Whatever we can give you, we want to. Want to go to the beach again? Go to New York one more time? You name it and we’ll try our best to make it happen.”

She sat with a quizzical stare. Between Alzheimer’s, angiosarcoma and aging, her mind is losing its footing. I, on the other hand, had fabulous aspirations of us going on amazing adventures. I could already see the selfies snapping in my mind’s eye. I saw us stepping barefoot into the coastal tide with water and sand tickling our toes. I envisioned a trip to the mountains where we open the sunroof and let the wind toss our hair as we spend the afternoon at apple orchards, which reminds her so much of home, and picking apples at the local fruit stands. I fancied the ideas of expensive restaurants, pondered playing with puppies in animal shelters, and even going to Disney World if that would delight her heart. Yet, the profound simplicity of her answer surprised me.

“I just want to see my kids one more time.”

Nana is a mother of four grown children with their own families; only one family lives locally. Her family is spread across three states from Texas to New York and over the following months they came to see her. Everyone tried to make it as fun as possible despite the bittersweet taste of the trips’ purpose – to say goodbye to Nana.

How does one say goodbye? Are there truly enough words that justify putting a period at the end of a relationship separated by death?

For my husband, her son, he wrestles with this every time he sees her. “It’s so hard knowing that every time I’m with her, I leave knowing it could be the last time.”

Saying goodbye over and over and over wears on a soul. Our rides home together are often spent with reflective contemplation inwardly while processing together outwardly.

And for our family out of town, they came with the somber realization that they were going to have one last hug, one last kiss, one last eye-to-eye, “I love you.” The finality of a final goodbye is unbearable.

But enter our tough old broad. Nana knows where she is going and she knows who is waiting for her. She’s told us for years that as much as she loves her kids and grandkids, she’s got a lot more people waiting for her in heaven than she does on earth. It’s a little twingey to hear, but I understand her point.

When her youngest son drove her home one last time on his trip to say goodbye last month, Nana looked at him and said, “So I guess the next I see you will be in heaven.” “Yes, I guess it will, Mom.”

I have not stopped thinking about their conversation. How raw. How real. How rare.

Most people cannot even talk about death, much less the direct impact it has on loved ones even while the person is still living. Yet here are mother and son, openly talking about this last face-to-face time they’ll see each other on this celestial orb of water and clay. What a gift of closure for them both. It was a lifetime of relationshipping wrapped up in two sentences and a mutual I love you. How remarkable!

Nana is certainly a tough old broad. She’s sat through endless doctors’ appointments talking about surgeries, recoveries, physical therapy, home therapy, and even hospice. Now she is speaking about the last chapter of her life and the only things that remain important – God and family.

Her daughter and grandson came to say goodbye. Again, how can a lifetime together be summed up in one word, seven letters – goodbye. But this is a blessing that many don’t get to experience. Those who lose loved ones quickly or unexpectedly would give anything in the world to have one last conversation; one more “I love you;” an “I’m sorry;” an “I forgive you.”

My mom died I when was 16 years old. My family, out of love for me, wanted to protect me from the pain of her dying. However, by not including me in conversations about Mom’s grim prognosis, they weren’t protecting me, rather they were preventing me from grieving her illness and death.

If I had known that doctors had not given her hope of surviving her last night, I never ever would have gone out with friends that night. I wouldn’t have had a friend spend the night for goodness sakes! I never ever would have left her side. But I didn’t know, and the guilt of leaving her in her last hours is something that a 16 year old then, a 49 year old now, has carried ever since.

To have had that night to apologize for my hormonal, bratty teenage years and the aloof dissing as an insecure middle-schooler would’ve been a blessing beyond measure for us both. To reminisce about the good and let go of the bad would have brought immeasurable healing and peace. Just to be with her in her last hours…after all, she once told me in the throws of brutal chemo and radiation, “I’m only going through all of this for you girls. <my sister and me> Ya’ll are the reason I’m living.” My place was by her bedside that last night. I owed her that much, but I didn’t know.

On the contrary, I sat with my biological father as he laid dying in the hospital. I first met him when I was 12 years old. We didn’t reconcile until I was 33 year old. We were given eight great years until he died of cancer. Our relationship was unique and unlikely, but with God as our witness we gave our relationship to him and he blessed it. When I got the call to come to Atlanta to say goodbye, my husband and I were in the middle of a home remodel. I tossed the keys to the contractor and our family of five piled into the minivan and we hit the road. I wasn’t going to miss (again) my last chance to say goodbye to my only living parent.

Sitting at his bedside, I asked if everyone clustered in the crowded, tiny hospital room wouldn’t mind leaving. My husband, children and my dad’s wife left the room and it was just my dad and me. Lung cancer held his words and breath hostage. I had never seen him weak and watching him lie there with oxygen tubes and IVs was overwhelming. I knew I had one chance to say it. Three words I could never bring myself to say in our eight short years, nor in my entire life. I knew I needed to say them as much as he needed to hear them.

I needed to say them in hopes to overwrite one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever said to another human being. Years before, he stood in my home (to which he traveled hours to see my family and me) and I said to him straight to his face, “You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.” A hurt little girl deep inside still longed to feel like a daughter. I had been in counseling off and on for years, but still had so much unresolved anger, hurt and resentment which is too complicated to pen here. The thing is, I meant those words at the time– but I didn’t mean to say them to him.

Fast-forward several years, more counseling, and much heart change, maturity and personal growth later, I was a different person. I desperately wanted to take those words back knowing how much they hurt him. I did my best to show it to him that I didn’t mean those words anymore and that I did want him in my life, not just in my children’s lives. We made great memories together until cancer came calling. The photo album would have a hard stop in its timeline. But I wondered if I said three words, that they would perhaps elude time and distance, sickness and health. So much had not been said in our lifetime, could three words possibly bear the weight of it all? Could three words erase the negative and amplify the positive conversations and shared moments between us for three decades? Are three words that powerful?

Kicking aside the scattered stones of pride and human emotion that were leftover from a very thick and high wall that guarded my heart, I left myself wide open and vulnerable in a moment in an Atlanta hospital room. My palms were soaked with sweat, the back of my neck stung with prickly anxious heat, and my pounding heart welled up in my throat. Taking a deep breath, and deciding not to overthink it any longer, I gently took his hand, looked him in the eye and softly said, “I’m sorry I can’t fix this. I’m sorry I can’t make you better.” He looked at me, unable to move, but I felt the hug of his heart.

Then I said in one breath, and without blinking, “I love you.”

A wave of relief and freedom washed over me. It was my first, and last, I love you, to my dad. He died not 24 hours later.

Some may find my openness and lack of filter about such personal and painful topics audacious, off-putting, uncomfortable, and even offensive. I totally get it and don’t blame them at all. But I’ve lived both scenarios – saying goodbye and not saying goodbye. Not saying goodbye is far harder to live with than momentarily swallowing pride, overcoming awkwardness, leaning into the opportunity, and saying what needs to be said.

Likewise, Nana and I have had lots of positive conversations about dying over these last months. Having Christ as Savior changes the entire perspective on living and dying. We talk about the certainty of Jesus’ promise in John 14:2-3, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” There is so much for Christians to look forward to!

Christina Rossetti wrote the poem, “Let Me Go,” with its words, “…For this is a journey we all must take, and each must go alone. It’s all part of the master plan, a step on the road to home…” Although its words are comforting, they are conventional.

Nana and I are going about her journey in an unconventional way. And in many ways, I feel like we’ve grown closer in the past year than in the 33 years we’ve known each other; largely due to our continuing conversations.

I want to walk Nana as close to heaven as I can get to minimize her aloneness in the journey as the poem wrote. My hope is to hand her to heaven when the Lord calls her home so there is not one moment spent unaccompanied between her last breath on earth and her first glimpse of eternity.

So we’ve escorted the elephants out of the room and talk about “it.” It being whatever the day brings – an emotion, a decision, a thought, a memory. She knows she can tell me anything. She also knows this is the time to say it.

This is Nana’s epilogue. Her moment to reflect and respond to the 80 years she has lived. When I think of all she has seen, lived through and overcome I’m amazed at her perseverance, strength and how she has kept her sense of humor through it all.

From stuffing newspapers in her shoes as a child to replace insoles long worn out; how as a 12-year-old girl home alone, she bravely brandished a shotgun to scare off two drunk men who came looking for trouble; she walked the college stage to receive her degree very married and very pregnant, even holding up the ceremonial line for her extra restroom trip (oh the joys of pregnancy!); she marveled at snowfalls as high as their roof; she enjoyed summer camping on Maine beaches and ice fishing on the lake; she hosted countless birthday parties and lived through too many world wars; from spirited poker nights to scary bomb shelters; dogs running amuck all over the house; a house always needing repairs; all-you-can-eat Friday fish fries at the local HoJo and 4th of July fireworks at Lake George; Martha’s ice cream and Dirty John’s hot dogs; Studebakers and station wagons; dancing into the night and nights spent sitting up with sick babies; giving up smoking and giving her life to Christ; cooking with Julia Child’s and crying with Billy Graham on tv; raising four active children and sending them off into the world as adults; all of her countless prayers and answers to prayers; owning her own store and working as an elementary school teacher, Nana never sat down unless it was to knit or read an Agatha Christie mystery. She walked her husband home to heaven and spent years serving the church, and now the church is serving her through its widow ministry, and it is our family’s turn to walk her to heaven. As Nana rounds the corner of life, in her home stretch she reflects on the big, releases the small, and reminiscences about the millions of life’s moments and lessons in the middle.

These stories deserve to be told and retold. So we spark her memory with a story-starter and then sit back and let her talk. This is her epilogue, worthy of hearing, recording, remembering.

I know she is letting go because she tells me even without admitting it. Because with every conversation, she talks to me regarding “us” in past tense. “I’m so glad I got the chance to love you like a daughter.” “I’m so glad God brought you into our family.” “I’m so glad I got to know you.”

I swallow hard but freeze my smile, so she won’t notice. In some ways it feels like I’m talking to a ghost. In other ways it feels like I’m talking to someone who has never been so alive as a lifetime lived on this earth, bound by time and space, waits patiently to escape this world and enter eternity. Where in heaven, the stories of old once again are retold, this time with all the actors alive, well and immortal. A gathering of life and love that will never end.

We, the family who will be left behind for now, will gather her stories and hold them close to our hearts. We will retell them to our children and grandchildren in countless conversations so they know their roots; an intangible legacy of life and love binding us together now and in the eternal.

None of this is possible without one thing – a conversation. Have the conversation. Say what needs to be said, in love. Bring peace where possible. Embrace closure. Give grace to all…including yourself. Escort the elephants out. Invite the Holy Spirit in. Laugh together. Cry together. Hold hands. Hug. Reminisce. Dream. Talk about life goals and final wishes. Sit in silence, but be together. Bless and pray for each other. Mend wounds. Heal hurts. Share joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments. Admit wrongdoings. Say I’m sorry and accept apologies. Agree to disagree when needed. Celebrate successes. Focus on what we have in common. Love one another. Savor the moments we have together now as tomorrow is not promised for any of us.

It all starts with a conversation.

Lessons from Nana…Accept help

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Thanksgiving 2019

Why women believe we must bear the weight of the world on our shoulders I’ll never understand; and I’m guilty as charged. We carry the world’s burdens in our hearts, careful not to drop a single one, feeling immensely responsible for their outcome whether we truly are or not.

There’s a visual image seared into my mind that haunts and follows me when I am alone. I’m walking on a road, swimming in the ocean, or climbing a mountain and I have the person or problem literally strapped to my back. The more people and problems, the more piled on and on and on until I’m falling on bloody knees, drowning under the waves, or hanging on the side of the cliff with nails dug deep into the dirt wall that presses against my sweaty face.

Even still, I won’t stop. I just keep going…and going…and going reluctant to ask for help. I smile anyway. “I’m fine,” anyway. “It’s all good,” anyway. It’s not good and I’m not fine. So I retreat, slipping into the shadows of life to avoid the fronting, fake smiles I wear like a pro. I go deep into my hiding place until I’ve slept, regained train of thought, cried, journaled, or whatever it takes to breathe again. Only then I step back into the daylight, return texts, messages, phone calls and resume whatever normal looks like…until the people and problems heap on my back again and I break under the pressure, again.

Not so with Nana. She has always been very vocal about her needs. There’s no ambiguity of where she’s at in life and her outspokenness is kind of a family joke (in an endearing way).

However, stating a need and asking for help are two different things.

Nana is one of the most strong and strong-willed women I know. For 32 years I’ve called her MacGyver and watched her sew torn luggage with dental floss in the middle of the airport; foster over 60 dogs with her husband; and throw together a dinner for twenty in less time than it takes most of us to drive to the grocery store.

When she moved to our city, I committed to helping her move in, get settled, and do life with her. We found great deals for nesting her apartment at consignment stores – her happy place other than garage sales. Two weeks in, she fell. For these past two years it has literally been one health crisis after the next starting with this fall and maybe a month thrown in here or there to come up for air.

I know it’s been hard on her. Relocating to a new city, joining a new church, leaving old friends while remaining open to making new ones, learning new roads, finding new stores, it’s a lot for anyone at any age, and she was 79 at the time. She met the challenge with a strong spirit and determination to conquer the city. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Needless to say, her health issues have been a total surprise; with each one more serious than the last. This isn’t the retirement she had planned; certainly not a terminal diagnosis within six months of moving here.

I call her my Naomi and I’m her Ruth. I told her we’d get through all of this. ER trips, surgical boots, physical therapy, fourteen doctors with just as many medications, surgery upon surgery, MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, pre-op, post-op, a broken ankle, a fractured vertebra, sinus infections, cancer, a mastectomy, bridge work, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more doctor appointments than I can count just to name a few.

She’s been such a trooper with each episode. Whether it was days when she was up and ready to go, or days I arrived and she had forgotten and was still in her jammies, she rose to the occasion and simply trusted me to care for her. If I filled a new prescription, she took it. If I gave her the walker, she used it. We waded waters of medical decisions, dental decisions, orthopedic decisions, neurology decisions, split decisions, decisions made with family; so many decisions I can’t recount them all. I sat with her through every single doctor’s appointment for two years. She recovered from both surgeries in our home.

I’ve watched her defer to us for help of all kinds. Her “tough ‘ol broad” self-proclamation became softer as her mind became fuzzier, and she began to lean on us more for direction and decisions. Treating her no different than I would have treated my own mother if she was still alive, and how my sister and I cared for my grandmother, I’ve helped Nana as if we were bound by blood, not marriage.

Perhaps I got a little too close. Her life and mine became so intertwined I’m not sure where she stopped and I started. My family saw this. They encouraged me to have boundaries and take time for self-care.

But there’s this advocate in me that won’t be quiet. I’m a fierce fighter who will stand in front of whatever moving train is threatening someone in my care. The voiceless, the helpless, the vulnerable – we are called to help them and I take it to heart. And when those are family, we are called to help them all the more. And as for widows, God specifically mentions our duty to care for them several times throughout the Bible. Another box checked on the life list for my Naomi.

An attitude of, “I’ll fix this. I’ll handle this. I’ll take care of this. I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you. You’re safe with me,” is the advocate in me that won’t stop or rest or back down for those who need it. Not ever.

I’ve watched Nana have to accept more help the more serious her physical and neurological needs progressed. The worst was having to take her car away after she put herself in a dangerous position and didn’t realize it. She was mad at me, and the family, for four months. I’m not sure she ever fully forgave us. But with every other decision, she’s been amazingly compliant because she has always known we are working in her very best interest. The way we’d want to be treated. They way her husband, my favorite father-in-law, would’ve treated her if he were still alive. The way I will stand before God one day and be held accountable for caring for his daughter, a widow, elderly, lacking memory to advocate for herself, and lacking physical health to provide for herself.

I’ve taken this task extremely seriously which is perhaps why I often cry all the way home on the long drives during every season and in every kind of weather until near hyperventilation.

As she has let me help more as her needs grow, I watch her fight herself for freedom. Two moves: the first one was to relocate down here and gain independence, and the second one to forfeit that new independence exactly a year later to an assisted living facility, with no other option for her safety. She has desperately wanted to stay independent in her desire to make one more meal for herself; pay her own bills and balance her own checkbook; power-walking up and down the halls of her apartment just to prove she still could; moving very heavy furniture by herself to demonstrate her strength (which led to the fractured vertebrae); working crossword puzzles and word searches to stay mentally sharp; answering the neurologist’s memory questions honestly, as I turned my face away to avoid her seeing me weep at the six answers she got wrong compared to the one answer she got right.

We locked arms and boldly marched on with every appointment. Most times she didn’t know which doctor we were seeing or why, but I had her back. I peeked over her shoulder as she stepped on the scale so I could monitor her weight. I held candid discussions with the doctors and her when she didn’t want to admit she had lost more physical or mental ground. Sometimes I felt like a tattletale, but as her advocate doctors needed honesty to treat her properly.

She fights to hard to stay independent, yet she has a keen sense of knowing when to accept help when she needs it. I look back on the past two years, which feel like a lot more in some ways with all the physical and mental battles she’s fought and me at her side fighting for her, and it’s sobering to see where we are now.

I’ve had her strapped on my back for two years without ceasing. Without ceasing. It has been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also some of the most rewarding.

So on December 18th, exactly a week before Christmas, I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot barely able to breathe. Choking back tears, I walked in, not knowing what the person looked like whom I was meeting.

Not one, but two women greeted me; both with the same first name. They were with Hospice. This meeting about killed me. It was supposed to last about an hour. We were there 2.5 hours with my never-ending questions. They were incredibly patient, kind, and gentle. They assured me the decision was totally up to the family and that they were there to answer questions and help if we so chose.

Our family knew this meeting was happening and I had their blessing. Still, signing the paperwork as her HCPOA, the weight of responsibility nearly broke my heart in two. Despite the emotional fit I was having on the inside, I hid it pretty well on the outside…until…

They explained that Hospice would now be her PCP, oncologist, etc. I know their help is a good and necessary thing, but a wave of grief overtook me in one tsunami tidal crash I didn’t expect and couldn’t control. The women saw my countenance drop and asked if I was okay. I replied, “I need a second,” and looked away. Turning back toward them, with tears welling up, I asked, “So the last time we went to the oncologist was the last time we would see him?” Short answer, “Yes.”

Grief grabbed me and choked the lump in my throat. “It’s just that, well, he was the best doctor we’ve ever had, and I didn’t get to tell him. We didn’t get to say goodbye.” There was a chasm in my heart, a gaping hole void of closure between me and this decision to sign on Hospice.

Suddenly, the past two years flashed before me like a movie reel in fast-forward. Memories we made together came flooding to mind such as the many trips to various doctors and surgeons; trips through the drive-thru after a hard appointment, as my grandmother did for me when I was a child to make things better; our hundreds of car conversations; wringing my nervous hands in elevators; endless waiting in waiting rooms; dashing to fetch the car for her in pelting rain; heating the car for her in the dismal, frigid winter; finding every handicap parking space at nearly every medical facility in our city; wearing face masks and gloves in the ER; falling asleep sitting straight up in stiff, hard doctor office chairs in the middle of the night; watching other patients wait with us who were just as sick as Nana was, or sicker, as they moaned and groaned and threw up and passed out all around us in the hospital; checking voicemails and texts in the bathroom so she wouldn’t feel overlooked; half-reading half-interesting, outdated magazine articles in doctors’ offices; meeting up with the sweet driver at her assisted living facility when she could help drive her to appointments – we must’ve rendezvoused in every parking lot in a twenty-mile radius in our city; more of her favorite hamburgers and milkshakes; more waiting at the pharmacies; watching her struggle to find one of the five lipsticks in her purse she swore was not in there; assuring her that she looked pretty as her appearance has always been important to her; triaging her symptoms-of-the-day to discern whether or not it required a call to the doctor; sitting with endless doctors and making endless decisions with her and for her…it was all over. In one conversation and a few signatures, it was all over.

I suddenly wanted so badly to drive her to one more appointment, shoot the breeze in one more waiting room, fix her a cup of complimentary coffee, listen to her muse about the world around us, shake hands with one more doctor, and check one more doctor’s visit off the list.

What felt so dreadfully hard on some days, I silently begged to have back now sitting with Hospice and realizing this lap of her race is over. I didn’t know what to do with this new reality. The adrenaline that fuels the advocate in me was still pumping in my veins to do, to act, to help Nana. I wasn’t ready to hand this baton to anyone else and trust them to run on her behalf.

I understand Nana is no less Nana in Hospice’s care. She is no less our responsibility as family. Hospice is help. They are the very best at what they do and surely, they answer a calling 99% of the population could not handle for one minute. I am convinced there is a special place in heaven for Hospice staff. Their crowns will shine like the sun. But the protector in me struggles to let go.

I looked at the two ladies eye-to-eye and said without blinking, “Please don’t be offended, but it’s hard for me to entrust her to you. I’ve done my Hospice homework, but don’t truly know you. We’ve just met, and although so far so good, I’ve had some other medical companies ditch us and neglect her care. I’m worried.”

They sat with me for 2.5 hours until I was satisfied this was the best thing for Nana even though I knew in my heart and head it was time. Nana’s physical needs outgrew what I could provide. No number of doctor appointments could keep pace with the progression of Angiosarcoma and Alzheimer’s.

I often woke up in paralyzing fear in the middle of the night worried about her. If I wasn’t with her, I worried whether or not she was okay. Did she not answer the phone because she forgot she had a phone, accidentally turned the sound off, forgot to recharge it, forgot how to use it, lost it (which all of the aforementioned have happened), or was she lying on the floor unconscious from another fall? Rational and irrational thoughts warred in, and wore on, my mind and soul.

Hospice has been the very best thing for Nana. Her needs are tended to every single day in the comfort of her own space. They are a godsend and I couldn’t be more grateful for their help. It gives us enormous peace of mind and comfort as they happily accommodate my request for daily updates on who was there, what they did, and how she is doing. And in their words just today, “She’s doing as well as can be expected as the cancer grows.”

I’m so appreciative for their updates, but still I am not okay. The fighter in me feels like a failure. The advocate sits in awkward silence. The warrior stands weaponless on the battlefield. The protector feels the powerless weight of empty arms that are used to holding Nana, figuratively and literally.

I’m trying to follow Nana’s example of accepting help. I’m thankful, I really am. But in one morning meeting the dynamics of “us” completely changed forever, and that is something I wasn’t emotionally prepared for, even though it’s a good thing.

After hours of conversation and signing the paperwork, one of the ladies had to leave for another meeting as the other one sat across from me with tears in her eyes. She told me her story of going through a similar situation in her own family and that she understood my feelings.

I looked at her, and with a shaky voice muttered, “For the past two years I’ve been 90% caregiver and 10% daughter-in-law. Who am I now? What is my role…now?”

She tenderly answered with a quivering chin and merciful smile, “Now you’re 90% daughter-in-law.” We both sat in silence as she gave me time to process.

I broke the long silence between us with an, “Okay,” said under my breath, slowly nodding my head in peaceful acceptance, trying to hold it together in a bustling Starbucks full of young moms busy with their babies, business men in expensive suits with important places to be, and hipster millennials with earbuds in and eyes fixed on their laptops. “Okay,” I said again agreeably.

In that moment I understood a little of what Nana felt when she conceded to help with big steps like allowing the family to help with her finances, handing me her keys to the car she loved, and once again packing up her apartment and the independent life she loved after only a year.

Knowing decisions are right, and are even for the best, doesn’t make them any less difficult to live out.

Fast forward one month later. I’m huddled in my heavy robe scrolling texts and toggling between Hospice nurses and family. I texted the Hospice chaplain to see if she could visit Nana again as her health declines and the calendar continues to turn. To my surprise, the chaplain responded by calling me back. I didn’t want to talk and would’ve rather had a one-dimensional conversation through text as I struggle to find my way out of my emotional hiding place from all of this.

She said, “I can be at her place in 20 minutes.” “Whoa,” I thought to myself. I was shocked she could get there so quickly! Borrowing some of Nana’s willingness to accept help, I sheepishly asked, “I don’t want to burden you, but, um, how often do you think you could visit her? The doctors have given her a couple of months at best, and I think the more visits from friendly faces the better, but I don’t want to take too much of your time.”

The chaplain replied, “I can come as often as you’d like.” “Oh wow. Um, would once a week work for you?” I asked. She replied, “Baby, listen to me…” Her comforting words and soothing, motherly tone made me feel emotionally safe in our conversation. “Kristi, Baby, listen to me. I am here for Miss Salli. But I’m also here for your family. And I’m here…for you, too.”

Bundled up in my robe, hiding from life, tears streamed down my face I sat speechless. She touched a soft spot in my soul. It’s like she knew it was difficult for me to ask for help without me admitting it. The confidence with which she spoke allowed me to let down my guard and accept her support because she can be someone to Nana that I cannot be; just like the nurses; just like so many people who have joined us on our journey these past two years. Her words and voice convinced me she really meant it. She really wants to be there for Nana. My heart quietly raised its white flag of surrender, yielding to the truth that there is safety in numbers. Not even my husband and I together can do this. Nor can rest of the family spread out across three states. This is bigger than all of us.

“Are you still there, Kristi?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m here,” I spoke in a faint whisper.

“Okay, then I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she assured me.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I pleaded.

“It’s what I do and I’m happy to do it. And if I can make a difference in Miss Salli’s life, and help your family at the same time, then my life won’t be in vain,” she said.

How does one respond to such authentic compassion and genuine empathy?

We hung up and I laid the phone in my lap. Staring into the dark, for the first time in a long time I felt the strength of a helping hand pulling me out of the pit.

So many wonderful people have been available to Nana 24/7 and it has been a blessing beyond measure. She’s accepted their help with graciousness and gratitude.

For me, on the other hand, I’ve still wanted to be a part of things. Not controlling or in the way, but I deeply care how she is doing on the days I am not able to see her. In part, because I love her and my heart aches knowing she’s fighting the battle for her life. Also, in part, is the humbleness of admitting that everyone needs help, including me.

Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – has taught me one of the greatest lessons she could teach: Accept help. Know when we need it. Know when to ask for it. Be willing to accept it. And say thank you, which she has said no less than a million times.

Truly, her wisdom regarding when to fight and when to relinquish is something that will be part of her greatest legacy to me. Man, she knows how to fight for what she wants! Her persistence on lesser matters has caused me much anxiety. But she also knows when to say enough, end the arm wrestle, and trust someone else with the decision.

She’s spending a lot more time in bed these days. The cancer pain has been a challenge to keep under control. She is accepting everyone’s help: the nurses in their daily visits; the chaplain who prays and sings hymns with her (or to her depending on the day); the med techs who are amazingly awesome and shower Nana with love and care; and all of the folks, medical or not, who have walked a mile or more with Nana, sojourning on the road leading her to heaven.

It has been, and will continue to be, a privilege to serve her in this way as caregiver these past two years in the good times and in the hard. As much as she has allowed my help, and as I’ve watched her let others in and trust them with her care, I believe the best way for me to pay tribute to her legacy in this is to learn to do the same in my life…another passing of the baton, if you will.

In her example, I lay down my pride and stubbornness, my clinging to in the name of love and worry, and my heart will smile and accept help in honor of Nana – the fearless, strong-willed warrior – who taught me we don’t have to fight our battles alone.

The blessing of waiting

Bruce fire

This moment caught my eye today. It represents eight months of waiting.

Bruce’s layoff was part of a company downsizing in May. Since then, he’s been working so hard building NEED POINT, Inc. while looking for work. He’s also been resting.

Resting.

After 34 years of working tirelessly. Working three jobs as a teenager. Joining the Air Force at 18 so he could pay for his college education while serving his country. Working day shift, mid-shift and night shift until he couldn’t see straight.

For 25 years he’s never taken his role as leader and husband carelessly. It’s always been his first priority.

We’ve seen companies come and go. We’ve experienced promotions, layoffs and a relocation.

He’s traveled to work by car, bike, plane, bus, carpool, trolley, taxi and on foot. He’s gone to work healthy and sick. He’s worked when there were celebrations and when there was sadness.

He received calls when I went into labor and when his dad passed away while he was at work.

He’s always put family first, which meant passing up promotions, travel opportunities and jobs themselves if it would be a determent to our family.

He is brilliantly genius. The best in his field. Technology courses his veins and there is no one better.

So these eight months have been a blessing and a burden. He has felt discouraged, down-trodden and depressed. A man of his talent and energy, and humility, can start believing the lies about who he is after this long.

Recently, when we turned the page of a new year, I had a moment. It was a gut-wrenching moment of realizing we were dragging the dreaded unemployment into a new year. The weight was crushing.

But then, something happened. God flipped a switch in my heart. I watched Bruce as he slept and prayed, “Lord, if you are not going to change his circumstance, change his perspective on it. Change my perspective on it.”

From that day forward, everything changed. We have found peace in the waiting. We know that God is working around the clock to bring everything together in His way, His time, for His glory.

We know for certain there is purpose in the waiting.

As my husband hammers out countless resumes, holds numerous phone and video interviews, and reaches out to every contact we know – all while still working on our non-profit – there is a new perspective which gives us the strength, peace and joy to meet each day while we wait.

We are living Isaiah 40:28-31 –
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

So when I saw Bruce resting on the couch as our city is shut down with winter weather, I smiled as I looked at living, breathing Scripture. God is giving him a much needed, long overdue, season of rest both as a respite from decades without a break and to rejuvenate him for the days to come.

I thank God for this gift, as the hope for our future blooms a new bud in my heart. It is well with my soul. ❤

 

 

 

One decision that changed me as a wife

When I said I do to my husband at the ripe age of 19, I was insecure of myself as an emerging woman and distrusting of men.

Never thinking I was pretty enough, smart enough, funny enough or simply – enough – I used to watch my husband when he didn’t think I was looking when other pretty women were around. Whether passing a Victoria’s Secret store in the mall, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store or stopping at a red light, I was always on high alert, not because of him…because of me.

In my heart, I was constantly testing him. I didn’t say a word, but I was always looking and waiting for my fears to be confirmed.

Twenty-five years later, I did something that surprised me.

We were in a large bookstore, waiting on our teenagers to finish browsing. My man and I meandered to the magazines. I was interested in cooking, travel, etc. He was interested in cars.

What comes with cars? Women. Women scant-fully dressed, selling sex as much as selling cars.

Over the years, this is when my palms started sweating. This is when I watched him out of the corner of my eye, waiting for my fears to be confirmed.

Oh but this day was different. I casually walked ahead of him, beating him to the magazine racks. Quickly scanning the selection, the car magazines with provocative women were there just I as I suspected.

I quietly walked over to them and turned them over.

Then I proceeded to the cooking and travel magazines as if nothing happened.

What was different this time? Was I being proactive in fear that he may catch a glance and lose all interest in me? Was I being paranoid that this would be the day he would look for visual pleasure elsewhere? Would this be the day all of my twenty-five plus years of insecurity, inferiority, and self-deprecating secret thoughts would be proven right publicly?

Why did I do this without a second thought?

For one, my husband has never done anything that would make me fear all of the worst. He won’t even watch a bra commercial. Trust me, I know. I’ve watched him countless times–because I was watching, testing. He fast-forwards romantic scenes in PG-13 movies. He has literally told me that he will spend his entire life proving to me that he is faithful to me.

But you know what? There is another reason. One that is even bigger than his noble character.

I’ve changed as a wife.

Wives are helpmates, and I realized after all these years I wasn’t helping him navigate the minefield of everything sexual this broken world offers. Instead, I’ve been testing him out of paralyzing, unsubstantiated fear.

How doubly difficult for him it must have been all these years to not only have an insecure wife, but a wife who won’t trust him, not because of who he is, but because of who she believes she is.

He’s been fighting this battle alone. Where was his helpmate? Retreating in the shadows, biting her nails, watching and waiting for him to fail, simply because that is the reputation of other men.

I’ve decided to help him and stop testing him. I’ve grown up enough to understand the God-given teamwork of marriage and to get over my own insecurities.

It’s amazing how many other ways this this has changed me as a wife. I am now intentionally looking for ways to share more of the load mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, etc. in areas of our marriage whereas before I was content letting him carry his load while I carried mine.

I surprised myself at the ease and confidence in which I turned over those magazines. A fighter raised up in me that said, You’re not doing this to my man, with strength I didn’t know I had.

Since that day, I continue to change. I am growing stronger as a woman as I understand who I am in Christ, who I am to my husband and who I am in my own skin.

Although my man has never given me one reason to worry, a sense of protection has raised up in me. Not a territorial, jealous woman. Rather, a woman who believes in fighting for who she loves.

I am protective for him, not of him.

He is a grown man and I am a grown woman. We will make our own decisions about our respective lives. But together, we are a force to be reckoned with as I have finally opened my eyes to see that instead of watching over his shoulder at his every move, I am standing with him, back-to-back, watching over him. There is a difference.

It is no coincidence that both the website Ashley Madison and the movie War Room are making headlines at the same time. There is a battle for every soul, marriage, family, church, community, city, and state in this country.

One of my favorite Scriptures is the account of Nehemiah spear-heading the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. Read it, slowly, in the context of fighting for rebuilding and strengthening marriages (from chapter 4)…

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”

11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”

12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”

21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.” 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.

The battle is raging for our marriages and families. Turning over those magazines was a huge push-back against the enemy because I finally realized that my husband and I are on the same team, and have been all along. I was just too insecure to see it.

Fight for your marriage with faith, love and absolute resolve. Being on God’s team, we’re not in this alone. He goes before, and fights for, His children.

Ephesians 6:10-18 – The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Photo credit here

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

In the past week, I’ve had two friends lose their fathers and one friend lose her mother. I’ve congratulated a dear friend on his engagement and received news of a friend’s health concerns. I’ve sent our oldest child to college, and feel like I’ve sent a dozen more young friends off to begin their freshmen years. Our other two teens prepare to change schools while my husband and I seek new employment options. So much change! Thought I’d repost this as an encouragement to all who are going through change… ~ Kristi

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Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

bird nest 2014 with eggs-001What could be better than two eggs? Five eggs!

birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re going to carry it…

 

Kristi Buttles Photography 7-15-2015 2-39-055

At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry. ~ Numbers 4:49

Six weeks before leaving for Guyana, I reached into a closet and upon standing up my disc between the 4th and 5th vertebrae herniated and ruptured in an instant.

I have never felt that kind of painful sensation, nor ever been that scared of a physical issue. I was completely immobilized, frozen in debilitating pain.

Every breath. Every twitch. Every movement of my body shot agonizing pain through my lower back.

My very first thought…Oh no! Guyana!!!

My daughter and I had literally just returned from getting her four wisdom teeth extracted and she was on the couch unconscious and nonsensical. I could not pick up her pain meds at the pharmacy, change her gauze or even walk over to her.

It was one of the most helpless moments of my life.

Bounce around between a couple of urgent care visits and doctors and fast forward to the epidural spinal injection. That was new. Not a fan of the procedure, but it was well worth it.

All the while, time is counting down to our departure for Guyana. The plane ride, handling luggage, the long boat ride each way to the prison, countless hours squeezed into a van with over a dozen people, and stairs at the hotel all made me concerned I wouldn’t be able to physically handle this mission.

Each doctor gave me different pain meds, muscle relaxers and oral steroids. I was left with a bag full of prescriptions that I didn’t know what to do with, so I made a phone call.

Between the myriad of pills and reservations about physical limitations, I wanted to talk face-to-face with a spine doctor. I wanted his full attention.

I met with the doctor who gave me the spinal injection, carrying my bag full of prescriptions in tow. We went through each one and talked about plans A, B and C for using them in Guyana should the need arise.

We discussed physical scenarios and how to handle them. Then he said something that seared itself onto my heart. He was talking about my back, but as he was speaking, the Lord used those same words to talk to my heart.

Two voices were speaking to me at the same time, and as laser-focused as the steroid was injected into the tiny cavity around my disc, so God’s voice flooded my heart.

God had my full attention.

The doctor said, “If you’re going to carry something heavy, don’t hold it away from you like this. (He extended his arms straight out in front of him.) Carry it close to your heart, like this. (He brought his arms to his chest, hands pressing into his scrubs.)

I understood what the doctor was saying about the proper way to carry something heavy, like lifting with our legs and not our back. But, God used his words to teach me how to correctly carry the weight He has called me to carry- His burden for this world.

This was a much needed lesson.

I am a very guarded person – and not proud of it. What I’ve thought of as coping skills all these years is really a defense mechanism. The secret? Make the wall around my heart strong enough to withstand anything. Anything.

There is a cost to building this wall, I keep people at arm’s length. If I don’t let them get too close they can’t hurt me.

I’m all smiles on the outside, but inside I’ve got wall after wall locked down.

Don’t let anyone get close enough to hurt you, is what I’ve told myself for decades. It is a real struggle even with family and friends. When someone gets hurt enough as a child by caregivers and family they are supposed to be able to trust, it changes them. We don’t want it to, but it does.

However, God has given me His heart for missions. He took a broken, fearful, distrusting soul and poured His unconditional, insatiable love for all colors and creeds into this ol’ heart that I had lost hope would ever be whole.

Who knew that the glue God would use to put the pieces of this Humpty Dumpty back together would be His faithful, tender, merciful love.

His love for this world has become my love for it.

His passion to reach the unlovely, unwanted, and opposing has become my passion to share with them the Christ who came for all.

His energy and enthusiasm is the strength I rely on to complete the task.

His mercy makes me blind to baggage and regrets of those I serve.

Still, I wrestle with how close to let people in. My heart and soul are like a labyrinth that changes unpredictably depending on how emotionally safe I feel with someone.

But this time. Oh, but this time. God called me out when He called me to serve in Guyana. He exposed this raw nerve in my heart and called me to take a chance – not on those I would serve – but on Him.

Just let go. Open your hands. Open your heart. After all, you’re giving My love through you. It is I who has taken on the risk of being hurt and rejected. Not you, God seemed to say.

For the first time, His thought process made sense to me. It’s like I’ve known it in my head, but my heart couldn’t separate people’s rejection of God with their rejection of me.

My Father called me to obey and hold the burden of missions right up against my heart, not at arms length like I’ve always done.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2

The result? I am a puddle. I melted in a way I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable with others before. It may not have always shown on the outside as we moved through our tasks of serving, but inside a new work was rapidly multiplying in my heart. I will never serve the same old way again. I am changed.

And as for family and friends, well, if we love others the way Christ loves the church, then it’s the same principle. If we are accepted, it is Christ in us that is accepted. If we are rejected, it is Christ in us who is rejected. I get it now.

Head knowledge only goes so far. God had to saturate my heart with His love for others to make me see what living in community really means. What giving of ourselves really looks like. What the cost of following Christ really feels like.

I am so grateful for a back injury that led to heart healing. For the rest of my life, I will never forget this lesson every time I carry something physically heavy, the right way.

Is His call to missions worth the risk? Absolutely. Is it overwhelmingly heavy? Absolutely.

I can’t get the faces of those sweet children, tired moms, skeptical teens and hungry prisoners out of my mind. I see them constantly. I can’t stop feeling the burden of their needs and the needs of the other countries we served.

Yes, the burden for missions is extremely heavy. But, when we carry it the proper way the load is lighter. When we pull the people’s needs close to our chest, we feel God’s heartbeat pulsing as His love sustains us in the task. It is the right, good way. It protects us and gives God the glory.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:29-30

My husband and I have surrendered to the call of missions, whatever that looks like, for the rest of our lives. It is a choice we’ve made to answer His call, pick up the heavy load and let it become part of our weight. Then again, what other choice is there really but to share Christ with others who are starving to death for Him standing right in front of us?

I am thankful God saw that I needed to learn how to carry the weight like David prayed in Psalm 86:11, Teach me your way, Lordthat I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 

Amen.

Father’s Day Hangover

Sunday was Father’s Day. A thousand times I thought of writing this post, then stopped.

Just let the day pass quietly, I thought to myself. You’re not unlike millions of others who don’t like this day. Just get it over with and move on already.

Then it dawned on me that it is because so many of us share the same feelings about Father’s Day that I decided to post.

Fast-forwarding through the dramatic story of an unstable, fear-filled, anxiety-ridden childhood, here I sit as a wife of twenty-five years and mom to three teenagers. I glance back at my life and think about how some dreams became reality just like I had hoped – and others haven’t.

The father thing being a big one.

My stepfather walked out of our house and out of my life when I was twelve. It was the first time I felt safe in my own home.

My biological father and mother divorced when I was a baby. I met him when I was twelve, spent two weeks with him and his family when I was thirteen, then proceeded to have years of anger, bitterness and all things negative toward him long after I buried my mom when I was sixteen.

As a grown adult I told him, You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.

In my world, I had no use for a father. None. Fathers were unreliable.

Unloving.

Selfish.

Unkind.

Scary.

Hurtful.

Monsters.

Mean.

Promise-breakers.

Unpredictable.

Unsafe.

Over-powering.

Aloof.

Unstable.

Untrustworthy.

Liars.

Fronters.

Self-serving.

Forgetful.

Stingy.

Inconsiderate.

They were the bad guy.

I know what it’s like to live with the enemy while wishing for a hero to rescue me.

I also know what it’s like when that hero doesn’t come.

Yeah, my whole life I’ve had no use for fathers.

To give credit where it is due, God performed a miracle between my biological father and me. There was an unspoken truce between us, but no healing. That’s when I told him about not being a father to me. After all, I was far too old to be his little girl. That window closed a long time ago.

However, on one particular visit to our home, my father, his wife and I talked deep into the night. We agreed on one thing – we can’t do this relationship on our own. We’re too emotional. Too human. We kept getting in the way of ourselves.

So we prayed together and gave whatever relationship we had to God and asked him to be the foundation of something new between us.

Like a master surgeon, God healed our hearts. We had eight great years together before my dad died from cancer.

I often think to myself, If I had to choose between eight great years, or a lifetime of surface-level mediocrity, I’m thankful I got eight great years. Many people never get that with their fathers.

The day before he died, I sat at his bedside in the hospital and got to tell him that I loved him. Not everyone gets that opportunity. I am grateful.

But here’s the thing, Father’s Day never gets easier. More than a day on a calendar and endless greeting cards about tools and grilling and ties, this father thing is really hard with God.

This past Sunday, while responding to a text message I typed God, but my phone auto-corrected it to dad. That has never happened before, and I thought it was very ironic it happened on Father’s Day. My heart skipped a nervous beat.

My mom once gave my grandfather a plaque that read, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.” Que sweaty palms over Siri’s mistake.

The Bible tells us over and over that God is our Good Father, Heavenly Father, Abba Father.

That’s like telling me, Sure, the last time you touched fire it was hot and burned you, but this fire is different, it won’t burn you. 

Seriously?

Fire is fire, right?

Fathers are fathers, right?

What’s more frustrating is that I totally know better. I have been walking with God since I was fourteen and have loved him since I was a little girl.

I should get it by now.

Hence, the feelings of self-imposed guilt drive a wedge deeper between God and me.

I am so sorry for the times I have said, in not so many words, the same thing to God that I did to my biological father, You can be a Father to my children, but not to me.

You can be Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Potter, Friend, Provider, Redeemer, Rock, Refuge, and my God. But Father? Here comes the list I named above of just some of my opinions about fathers.

I desperately don’t want to lump God into any of that because I know it’s not true. But my heart stings, even all these years later, over the topic of fathers and to avoid insulting God I exclude him from it.

Then Father’s Day comes around again and here comes the plethora of Facebook posts. Ug.

It seems everyone else has the best father in the world!

I tried. I really tried to be happy for them. I “liked” throwback photos of daddies and children (now my grown friends) doing all kinds of fun things together.

I “liked” heartfelt, borderline poetic, sentiments from my friends to their dads.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t look at one more smiley photo of warm embraces or read one more post about all of the unconditional love and support their fathers gave them.

My toes inched dangerously close to a line I try not to cross – the why me line.

I really try to live my life thankful for each day and for all of the blessings I have been given. But, never having a healthy father-child relationship messes children up.

Contrary to what this broken society wants people to believe, there are lifelong repercussions for children whose fathers walked away from their families or never showed up in the first place.

I’m not talking about illness and death and things out of people’s control. Rather fathers who choose to not engage in their children’s lives, even if they share the same home address.

Silence is deafening. Absence is suffocating. A lack of effort on a father’s part is like a sucker-punch to a child’s gut – to matter their age. Rejection from a father, spoken or not, intentional or the result of a lack of words or action, is indescribable.

We were created for family. It’s how God designed this world to keep spinning. And fathers have a unique role that fills a unique place in a child’s heart.

When that hole doesn’t get filled, children look for other things to fill it.

It must be filled.

For me, after realizing nothing tangible in this world can fill it, I looked to God. But again, that’s where I start blurring the line and transpose everything I feel about human fathers onto God and the next thing I know I’m running from him, too.

I read blogs that have happy endings, or at least an end with some amount of closure.

This one is open-ended. It seems a bit depressing because we’re used to life’s biggest problems being solved in a thirty-minute sitcom.

But life is more than splices of thirty minutes and there certainly isn’t a laugh track to fill in the awkward pauses.

I’m just saying that Father’s Day is hard. Seeing God as my Good Father is hard. I don’t have this figured out yet and feel I’m not alone in the journey.

The days since Sunday seem to pass in slow motion. I’m hard on myself for not having this all figured out after so long. I’m jealous of those who have had great relationships with their fathers. It leaves a gnawing in my heart and a pit in my stomach that is only relieved by the thought that it’s over for another year and the hope that by next year I’ll be different, changed, healed.

I resist the pessimist in me which reminds me that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, I intentionally stay open to the truth that God is my Good Father. I choose to not have a hard heart toward him. I continue to learn about him and his character.

Mostly, I daily rely on his mercy and grace and understanding as I wander through this desert.

Deep down, past the walls and barriers and fortresses I have locked my heart behind, I know God is the opposite from the list above. But believing it and living it out are two different things.

With everything God is to me, and knowing he is who he is despite what I may feel, a flicker of hope remains in my heart that one day I will fully accept him as my Good Father.

Through it all, I am forever grateful he unconditionally accepts me as his child.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. ~ Psalm 68:5

 

Photo source here