Category Archives: grandchildren
One of my favorite stories is about psychologists doing a study of pessimists and optimists. They put a young pessimist in a room with every imaginable toy. At first he happily tried out each toy, but soon he sat down crying. When they asked him, didn’t he like the toys, he sniffled “Yes.” But when asked why he was crying, he said, “They are very nice, but I know they will break. Toys usually do. I don’t want to enjoy them and then lose them.”
In the meantime the young optimist was in a room with just horse manure. To their surprise he was happily digging through the pile of manure. When asked why he was so happy, he answered enthusiastically, “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I started 2017 with Lumbar Fusion Surgery followed by months of physical therapy, but still ending up in pain when bending and getting in and out of bed. All the bottom cabinets in our apartment are now pretty much unreachable for me. Since I’m short, the upper cabinets have always been out of reach, but now anything unbreakable is accessible with my new reacher. Though I’ve gotten fairly good at tilting things out with the reacher and catching them with my left hand, sometimes I start a chain reaction and all sorts of containers rain down on my head, the counter and the floor. As long as none break open, I just laugh and start over. However, the grits opening mid-air, provoked a different reaction. I’ll just leave it at that.
Shortly after surgery I awoke in the night unable to move my arms. I panicked thinking my arms were paralyzed, until I realized that the Velcro on my wrist braces for my carpal tunnel problem had locked onto the Velcro on my back brace. For a few minutes I thought I was going to have to wake Julian to help me, but I finally managed to get free. I think I did wake him with my laughter. Major blessings in the first several weeks of limited mobility and pain were Julian’s and all our family’s support and help and friends also brightening those days with tasty gifts of food. I felt very loved. And gained five pounds.
Some good news in April was that our Pulmonologist announced that my husband Julian’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had not progressed. But then, he informed us that the scans had shown a tumor in his right lung. The biopsy showed cancer cells, so surgery was scheduled. It was a very scary time. Thankfully, it only took minimally invasive surgery to get all the cancer. So far, in each three month checkup, he is still cancer free. Another blessing in this was his surgeon, who is one of the most intelligent, funny, honest, humble, caring people we have ever met. I told her once that we admired her greatly, particularly because she didn’t think she was God. She laughed and said that she had figured that out pretty early in her life.
However, at the age of eighty-one Julian was now terribly frustrated by how slow his recovery was. Just fourteen years ago he had bounced back pretty quickly from heart surgery. And just as he was finally getting back to work on several architectural jobs, his heart went out of rhythm. So, back to the hospital we went for a Cardiac Ablation. Unfortunately, though the ablation seemed successful, for unknown reasons he began to hemorrhage profusely. The two nurses with him began to take emergency measures to staunch the bleeding, but he was losing consciousness. So, while one lowered the head of the bed to get oxygen to his brain, the other nurse (a tall good looking blonde named Amy) climbed up on the bed to be able to put enough pressure on the incision in his groin to stop the bleeding until the emergency equipment got there. About that time Julian regained consciousness and asked in surprise, “Amy, are you getting in bed with me?” (Hope springs eternal…)
The pressure equipment slowed the bleeding, but a vascular surgeon was called in to do exploratory surgery to see if an artery had been perforated. None could be found even with extensive exploration. So, though the original ablation incision was small, the exploratory one was quite long. Julian now continued to bleed from both surgical sites in the groin area, with the bleeding only very slowly becoming less profuse. A one day stay in the hospital turned into eleven days and he was still leaking fluid with some blood from both sites when they sent us home. I, an eighty year old klutz, who had just had two cataract surgeries in the ten days before this, and had numb fingers and no grip because of carpal tunnel syndrome, would now be bandaging and cutting off bandages on the two adjoining surgical sites about three times a day. Purely through the grace of God, I managed not to do him any further damage and after about another ten days the two sites no longer needed bandages. Julian never admitted to trepidation, but his sigh of relief was quite audible when we finally got to stop playing doctor.
This was now late October. Once again age took its toll and recovery was even slower. Julian lost all appetite, began sleeping excessively, and being untypically sad and even somewhat surly. So, the doctor gave him “cheer up” meds. Lo and behold, he became amazingly energetic, funny and now smiling with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. We were both delighted. (I considered asking for a prescription for myself.) Unfortunately, he then didn’t shut his eyes for five days and five nights, so the doctor had to switch the meds. With physical therapy he slowly regained some strength once more and began to work again on his much overdue architecture projects.
Suddenly, his legs and feet began to swell and turn bright red. The diagnosis was cellulitis, so now he was again on antibiotics, steroids and having to try to work on his computer with his feet propped up above his heart. I took a photo of this rather hazardous acrobatic endeavor, but wasn’t quite mean enough to post it on face book or my blog. Well….not yet.
The next day he had a meeting to attend on one of his projects. By now, he couldn’t even get his well worn moccasin house shoes on, so I drove him to Walmart to buy some larger backless black house shoes. Since it was raining, he wore socks with plastic grocery bags over them. He put the new shoes on at the checkout counter, but since one foot was swollen less than the other, to keep that shoe on when he walked, he had to sort of shuffle his way out to the car. Well, at least they matched the color of his suit.
Then just as he was beginning to get back to a somewhat diminished “normal,” he developed a horrendous cough and began to have to fight to breathe. We feared the fibrosis had flared up, but it appeared to be an inflammation, possibly because of drastic weather changes and a cold. Back on steroids and antibiotics again. Exhausted by fighting to breathe, he ended up bedridden for several weeks and once more with swollen feet. An unexpected blessing was a recently bought new sofa that was perfect for sleeping with elevated feet on wedges our Steve ordered. He slept there day and night with the remote to control the TV and a view of a flock of cardinals that hang out at the birdfeeders outside the French doors.
Slowly he began once more getting some strength back. But, suddenly while working quietly in his office in our apartment, he was almost paralyzed by extreme pain in his chest that radiated up into his jaw. I got him to the hospital in four minutes. It would have taken the ambulance that long to get to us. Eventually, as they were running tests, the pain subsided and the tests looked okay, but they kept him over night for an echo cardiogram. While waiting for a room, we did our usual survival by humor routine and one of the nurses asked, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We just laughed and said, “We’ve had so many medical emergencies in the last couple of years, we’ve decided that humor is the best survival medicine.”
His heart didn’t show any damage, so he got to go home the next day, but barely in time to change clothes to attend the Developmental Services Banquet. This is our community organization for those with mental handicaps. Julian designed several of their group homes and was a very active member on their board for seven years. For about twenty years he also gave them the monthly stipend he got for being on the City Zoning Appeals Board. Last year we were invited, but he ended up in the hospital so we didn’t make it. This year they gave me a heads up that he was supposed to be given the award he’d missed last year. I think we got there two minutes before it started. So in his suit and tie, wearing his very dilapidated, but fortuitously stretched from wear, moccasin house shoes, he received an award and a lot of affirmation. Many of the award winners were clients with disabilities who work as helpers in the group homes. I was touched by the wholehearted applause and cheering of the other clients. The award presentations were interspersed with Christmas music like, O Holy Night, and the elderly client sitting behind me knew the words to all of them perfectly, but not the tunes. But the sheer joy in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I realized that this too was an answer to my Advent Prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I think Jesus is more visible in the handicapped than in the rest of us.
Our primary care doctor now scheduled Julian for an endoscopy to check for other possible causes for the pain that took us to the ER.
Meanwhile, our son Steve came from Atlanta to spend the weekend creating a wonderland with our collection of Dickens Village buildings, people in many different vignettes, animals, and trees and landmarks of London.
Julian directed this from the couch and it ended up with five levels of hills and valleys with bridges over chasms, a cave, and even a crime scene complete with crime scene tape that our son Tommy made and sneaked into the village a couple of years ago! Well after all, they had a lot of crime in Dickens day too. All the houses, churches, pubs and businesses have lights inside and the sheets of cotton snow cover the few empty patches outside. I think some zoning issues entered into the city planning also.
It really is both beautiful and interesting. And since it has grown to cover the whole end of the living room and now even continues around one corner, there’s no room inside for a Christmas tree. But outside one of the French doors, we have a small lighted one that looms large over the village. If you have to be sick, this is a lot better view than in the hospital. (Well, other than Amy the blonde nurse anyway.)
The next weekend our son Tommy and delightful Whitney with the awesomely beautiful voice brought our four granddaughters and they helped decorate the rest of the house. Then it was fun watching our talented artist granddaughters draw and getting to enjoy Whitney singing with Tommy accompanying her on the guitar. Another truly lovely Christmas experience.
Finally, Julian got to have his endoscopy which showed a pill had become lodged in his esophagus and caused an ulcer. A biopsy done to check for infection was negative. But now the challenge was to avoid the many delicious foods that irritate an ulcer.
A week before Christmas, nineteen of our family arrived for our annual Christmas gathering in a cabin at near-by Montgomery Bell State Park. Our grown children and grandchildren did most of the preparations and helped us organize and pack up our now downsized contributions. The cabin with its large stone fireplace and its wooded setting on a lake is a perfect place for a holiday gathering. The first day, Julian mostly rested, wrapped warmly in a comfortable recliner with everyone taking turns spending time with him and getting him things.
By the second day he felt well enough to be beaten at poker by both the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! It was a very happy day with even our grandson who teaches in Bolivia making it back in time. And we got to face-time our son Michael and his spouse Patrick in Cambodia, where they teach at an orphanage for children born HIV positive. I love that I have lived long enough to experience talking with and seeing our loved ones all the way across the world. In spite of all our challenges, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration.
Christmas week, Julian’s blood pressure started vacillating wildly and he began to have severe chest pain from the ulcer in spite of taking nineteen different medicines each day! Unfortunately, all our doctors were out for a week of Christmas vacation. Adding to his misery, one of his new medicines made Julian very dizzy. He was walking to the bedroom and started to fall as he was almost to the king size bed. I was behind him and began to try to help him get to the bed. He started shouting, “Where’s the bed? Where’s the bed?” Because a week before he had had a sudden drastic loss of hearing, I thought he’d now gone blind! I managed to get him safely onto the bed and asked him if he could see it now and he snapped back, “Of course!” When I asked him why he couldn’t see it a moment before, he replied, “Because I had my eyes closed.” I had a sudden strong desire to strangle him, but fortunately my hands aren’t strong enough.
Now the sparkling lights of the village and the twinkling little tree outside and the bright red cardinals flaming around the feeders were still cheerfully visible over the rather large air purifier, the humidifier, and the walker. They could even be seen between the CPAP and Blood Pressure machine and various breathing aids on the rolling cart that we pulled next to the couch with its pyramid of wedges for elevating feet above the heart. The Christmas angels and burgundy candles around the tray with Julian’s nineteen medicines looked festive on the dining room table. I tried to convince Julian that a wreath of holly would keep his head warmer and add to the Christmassy atmosphere, but he wasn’t in the mood. I was tempted to dig out the left over “happy” pills and slip just a half of one in his milk, but it being the Holy Days, for once I resisted evil.
Julian now needed to not lie flat because of the ulcer and he still needed to keep his feet above the level of his heart. I suggested getting a hammock since our middles are our heaviest body area, both head and feet would then be high. But it’s already getting difficult to walk around the apartment, so Julian solved the problem by varying which end he raises with the wedges over the day and night. The other challenge is a diet healthy for his heart, esophagus, and feet. Low salt, low fat, low fiber, no spices, no tomato products, no dairy for two hours before and after a pill he takes twice a day, no caffeine, carbonation, citrus or anything acidic or alcoholic. And the steroids are making his sugar count so high that the frequent tears in his very thin skin won’t heal. So, low sugar also. I spent about three hours grocery shopping during the busiest shopping season of the year reading the contents of everything. But it’s a saving grace to have our son Chris living nearby and willing to come stay while I have to be gone. He and Julian share many interests and it seems to not only be a bright spot in those days for Julian, but to be bringing them much closer to one another. And the many kindnesses of our family and friends have touched Julian’s heart, helping him see how loved he is.
Our newest great-grandson, Raphael, who had a difficult birth on November 15th, didn’t breathe until they resuscitated him. He stayed in the hospital for ten days on a ventilator and needing medicines for seizures. But the neurologist said he could not believe the second brain scans taken at five days old were of the same child as the ones they took the first day. The neurologist actually called it a miracle. Raphael is a beautiful baby and now at two months has a marvelous wide smile. Though we may not know the extent of possible damage for some time, he has many many people praying for him even on the other side of the world. And he is already tenderly loved by all of us. They live in North Carolina, but we get to see photos and videos of him almost daily on face book. And they drove from North Carolina to Tennessee just for four days so his grands and great- grands could get to meet him. So, as 2018 began, I got to hold him and kiss his tiny feet and see him smile and hear his laughter. What a wonderful beginning for a new year.
A beneficial side effect for me of helping Julian through all this has been my regaining stamina and managing a lot of physical activity with very little pain. And in spite of relieving some of the stress by standing at the kitchen counter in the middle of the night eating half a peach pie and another time six jelly doughnuts mysteriously disappearing in two days, I haven’t gained weight.
When someone is in pain, whether physical or emotional, they are focused on the pain, and the small things that keep relationships pleasant are no longer a priority. Through most of our marriage, I have been high maintenance and Julian has been very low maintenance. There have been rough moments for both of us in adjusting to such an extreme change in that now. He doesn’t like to need help and I have always wanted a lot of it. He’s never been comfortable expressing unpleasant feelings. And I don’t really know how to help him, because I worked hard over the years to learn how to deal with my emotions without garbage dumping them on him. So, in spite of being married over half a century, we are still awkward in areas of our relationship. Sometimes, I feel like at eighty years of age, I’m still an amateur person.
Humor has been our glue and in many ways it is still our saving grace. But in this stage of our life, the challenge is to learn how to love across our differences in ways that help us relate heart to heart.
Last week, the doctor explained that a lot of the ongoing illnesses are side effects of some of the medicines that so far are keeping him able to breathe. So Julian is beginning to deal with the reality that his life is not going to get better. In fact, it will be a constant challenge to keep it from getting worse.
It’s a scary and sad time for both of us. Sometimes when he is sleeping, I feel like my heart is breaking and when I let myself cry, I’m afraid I will never be able to stop. Our family and our friends at church have been incredibly loving and supportive. And I find grace by reliving joyful memories of our fifty-nine years together. Julian suddenly lost a lot more of his hearing around Christmas. His expensive hearing aids made his ears itch so he never wore them. But now communication is much more difficult. A friend with similar problems has found something that has helped him and he is bringing it for Julian to try, so I am hopeful that soon we will be able to enjoy reliving those memories together.
Eileen and Julian in the South West of France 2015
One of the blessings of old age is a treasury of wonderful memories.
A warped sense of humor is also a great help.
I spent the morning remembering the excitement of our many past Christmases with five children, then even more grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This Christmas morning Julian, trying to recover some strength after a debilitating week, was still asleep at 11:30 AM, so I went on line and saw photos of our son Tommy’s four daughters sitting around still half asleep, so looking less than thrilled, while Tommy worked hard to make a happy Christmas for them. He even thought to call and get them to chorus, “Merry Christmas” to me.
Life changes big time doesn’t it?
Then after Julian woke up and I fixed brunch, I began to try to be thankful. I found more things than I could write.
Our Tommy has matured into a loving person and wonderful father even for sleepy teen-aged daughters.
Julian’s blood pressure isn’t scary high today.
His breathing is much better than two days ago.
His cancer has not returned. His pulmonary fibrosis hasn’t progressed in the last six months.
Obviously at least some of his 19 medicines, that are sitting next to the Christmas decorations on the dinner table, are working.
I have a lot more stamina and energy than I’ve had in a long long time.
The couch we bought last year turned out to be good for sleeping with the wedges that keep Julian’s swollen feet elevated.
I can see the cheerful lights of our charming Dickens Village, which our son Steve constructed under the direction of his architect father, displayed now on five levels across the far end of the living room. They are still pretty through the crowded mix of humidifier and air purifier, across the rolling tray table with CPAP machine and blood pressure machine, past the stacked wedge leg supports on the couch, and even over the chair with pillows I piled against the wedges to keep him from pushing them off in his sleep 🙂
I got to have a rare visit with Carmen, our dearly loved first grandchild, last week.
Our newborn great-grandson, Raphael, who had a scary difficult time at birth, is flourishing.
There is a beautiful cardinal at the feeder on the porch.
Our son Chris is bringing a delicious dinner that our daughter-in-law Molly fixed to us tonight.
Julian felt well enough on last week’s family Christmas Weekend to play card games with the grands and great-grands.
Our daughter Julie and all our family and in-laws did everything, so we could have our family Christmas gathering again this year. They came from Memphis and Atlanta and Nashville, and one grandchild, Jordan, made it in on Saturday night from Bolivia. And we got to face time our sons in Cambodia.
Our children and in-laws, grands and great-grands are simply awesome.
Thanks be for all our family and for our many blessings.
Things change, but we keep on learning how to love. And that really is the point of Christmas.
I so hope everyone’s Holy Days bring the blessing of God’s love to them.
For me Christmas is humanity’s birthday celebration. So, I am always ready for the Christmas season.
It’s a wonderful time of year. I’d like at least a six month holy day season and actually wouldn’t complain if it was all year long.
I love the frosty air outside here in Tennessee because it makes the warmth inside feel so comforting and the hot Chocolate so delicious. But when visiting my brother in Texas around Christmas, we all might be wearing shorts outside, but the air conditioning is turned on enough to light a fire in the fireplace.
My spirits lift with all the music whether it’s Rudolf or O Holy Night. Children’s laughter and excitement are contagious for me.
And all the colorful decorations bring special beauty everywhere. I like seeing different Christmas sweaters and get a chuckle at people wearing Santa hats. I even enjoy a lot of the cheerful advertisements. The beauty in nature, in people, and even in things people make gives me great pleasure. I don’t need to own them to enjoy their beauty.
I love beautiful Christmas cards with scenes of birds in snowy woods, funny Christmas cards with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or even Maxine, and of course, the tender ones about the love of God coming among us.
I can imagine the savory smells in anticipation of turkey and dressing and pies. And look forward to being amazed at the unusual creativity of our grandchildren making Christmas cookies. Well, why not have Christmas alligators and dinosaurs?
And I absolutely delight in our family laughing together and remembering funny things like a grandson’s expression when opening a box of rocks from me. 🙂 (He was supposed to open the paints first. )
I even love our annual messy marshmallow fight!
And I refuse to give up my satisfaction from sending elaborate meal planning emails to all the family, even knowing it’s an exercise in futility!
I enjoy lunch with my LOL (Little Old Lady) groups where we bring presents for children who may not have many and share our own hand painted Christmas cards and lovingly made pot holders with each other.
I love decorating, particularly watching my architect husband doing elaborate city planning of our ever growing Dicken’s Christmas village. The moment when we first turn on its lights at night is always magical. I still laugh at the tiny crime scene tape around a stout male figure lying down and a British Bobbie standing over him. (Our youngest son created that one year when no one was looking!)
I stop each day to step outside to check for snow flakes. And even smile at the fake snow in store windows and Christmas scenes, because it reminds me of the night I walked alone in thick new snow in our field on a hilltop. The silence was so profound, it created a feeling of total isolation and the night so clear that the stars blanketed the skyscape. At first I felt small and lost in the face of so much grandeur and such infinite space. Then once again, I experienced that sense of complete oneness with everything. And being even a tiny part of all of that made time seem liquid enough that death would be simply melting into eternity’s flow.
I revel also in the small kindnesses and good wishes from strangers. Sometimes, it’s experiencing a moment of kinship that’s real and meaningful.
I look forward to grandchildren’s Christmas concerts and pageants. And chuckle when I watch Sunday school enactments of Jesus’ birth, remembering the one my first child was in, where one of the shepherds kept hooking Joseph around the neck until a hand came out from behind the curtain and pulled him out of sight. 🙂
I treasure my special Christmas coffee cup that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season” because each morning when I have my first cup of coffee, it reminds me to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then come the joy of times when I recognize small and large blessings and the peace of the moments of sensing His gentle loving presence.
Recognizing and embracing the visible Love of God for all His Creation, including each of us in our imperfect unfinished humanity, is what makes Christmas also our Birthday Season. So, I wish you all a very Happy Birthday also in your Holy Days. May the Love of God erase our fears and free us to love one another.
My husband, Julian, our five children and spouses, eight of our nine grandchildren and three great-grand children gave me a marvelous birthday weekend. They rented a large suite at the beautiful Montgomery Bell State Park near us and decorated it with a New Orleans and Mardi Gras Theme complete with Dixie Land Music, Mardi Gras Masks, beads, balloons, flowers, and all kinds of tinsel spirals and confetti. There was an awesome feast of New Orleans foods. I was born in New Orleans, baptized in the St. Louis Cathedral and lived in the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square in the French quarter. We moved when I was six,and I have lived since 1961 in Tennessee, but somehow New Orleans and the French Quarter are still my hearts home. My grown children also put some poster size and other smaller collages of pictures of me from the various stages of my life all over the walls along with signs and pictures of New Orleans. I thought that was cool, until they started snapping photos of eighty year old me next to twenty and thirty year old me. No fair!
I’m not very good at posting photos. I couldn’t get them to stay in a reasonable line. They started stringing out.
Here I’m a Senior in High School in Houston
Since our society seems to have rejected rules of behavior, I’d like to pass on some guidelines:
1. If you don’t want the one or ones you love doing it, DON”T DO IT! 2. If you don’t want your grandparents knowing about it, DON’T DO IT! 3. If you don’t want your present or future children knowing about it, DON’T DO IT! 4. If you don’t want it on the front page of the local paper, DON”T DO IT!
5. If everyone doing this will make the world a worse place for your children and grandchildren, DON’T DO IT!
6. If you don’t want to spend your nights in old age overwhelmed with regret about it, DON’T DO IT!
7. If you don’t want others doing it to you or those you love, DON’T DO IT!
Let me put this another way:
A. What so ever you do now, will come back to bite you on your ass! B. What may be great fun after drinking four beers or smoking pot will make you feel like the fool you were – sooner than you think. C. The world has become very very tiny. What so ever you do in secret will eventually become public knowledge. D. Even senility will not protect you from the embarrassment and regret of flash backs in old age. E. God forgives us, but he doesn’t take away all the natural consequences of bad choices. F. The people who love you may want to forgive and forget, but may not succeed in time for it to matter.
I am almost eighty. While these things may not be self-evident, I KNOW them to be true.
My letter to Senator Alexander and his reply. What do you hear?
Dear Senator Alexander,
Tennessee’s exemplary Medicaid-funded Employment and Community First Choices program is enabling high school graduates with autism to work, pay taxes and contribute to the economy. Because Tennessee cared about individuals with disabilities, many are now living productive and active lives in our communities.
But, per capita caps, block grant funding, and Medicaid cuts, will seriously curtail this model program aimed at helping people help themselves instead of just being in custodial care.
Please find a way to keep helping the least of our citizens fulfill their potential and lead productive lives.
Eileen Norman (Grandmother of a 19 year old graduate with autism.)
Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018.
Fiscal responsibility is about setting priorities and keeping spending in check while supporting and maintaining our country’s economic competitiveness and national security.
The president has suggested a budget, but, under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee my priorities are national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks.
We will not balance the budget by cutting discretionary spending, which is only 31 percent of spending and is already under control because of earlier budget acts. Runaway entitlement spending – more than 60 percent of spending – is the real cause of the $20 trillion federal debt. With Medicaid reforms in the health care bill, Congress is taking an important step in addressing entitlement spending. If we don’t make tough decisions now, we’ll have let America slip from the hands of the ‘greatest generation’ to the ‘debt-paying generation’ with nothing to show for it but the bill.
I’m glad you took the time to let me know where you stand. I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as budget and spending proposals are debated in Washington and in Tennessee.
Medicaid entitlement of the handicapped? Entitled handicapped? A new concept for me!
The gift of learning to love unconditionally.
The gift of realizing that life is about becoming the person we alone were created to be.
The gift of learning to want all others to succeed in their own journey.
The gift of sheer joy over small, but difficult accomplishments.
The gift of living in the present.
The gift of freedom from image and others’ opinions.
The gift of your best self being called forth.
The gift of patience.
The gift of tenderness toward all who are vulnerable.
The gift of humane values.
The gift of courage.
The gift of seeing beauty in those different from yourself.
Anyone who has not been blessed with the opportunity to love a handicapped person, needs to attend a Special Olympics to experience these gifts.
The moment of pure grace for me was when one of the children fell down in his race and the other runners all turned back to help him up. And every child was thrilled with finishing the race no matter in what order they came to the finish line. Each parent cheered equally hard for every child in the race, not just for their own.
The greatest blessing is realizing that life is not about winning, but about loving.
. Christians are in a challenging, but potentially grace filled time, no matter how we voted. Let’s look at Jesus , so that we, like the apostles, can respond as whole heartedly to his call to let go of everything and “Come, follow me.” Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry in the Region of Galilee, a crossroads area which Isaiah called the Region of the Nations and Matthew called the region of the Gentiles. In spite of this mixed culture where he grew up, Jesus was a cradle, synagogue going Jew. He totally believed his call was only to God’s chosen, the Jews, whose leadership had become more legalistic and proud, than loving. Yet, from almost the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus heals not only people of foreign religions, but the hated Roman oppressors. Why? It seems to have been just because he is kind. 1st question: ARE WE JESUS KIND? the kind that includes having mercy on those different from us in religion, race, or even, God forbid, politics? Eventually, Jesus, with tears of heartbreak and perhaps feelings of failure, realizes that his own people, the chosen, can not open their hearts and minds to a Messiah whose salvation was not about earthly power, because they do not believe in life after death. 2nd question: DO WE BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER DEATH? Enough to respond differently to suffering than those that don’t? Any time a group of us older gals have been swapping horror stories about knees, hips, eyes, ears and bladders gone bad, someone always says, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.” REALLY? It better not be. I’ve put all my chips on Jesus! 3rd question: WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF US? Micah tells us “to do JUSTICE, to love MERCY, and to walk HUMBLY with your God. JUSTICE, MERCY, HUMILITY… that’s not an easy or common combination. Some of us are stronger on fighting for justice for any group of the powerless, while others of us are merciful one on one to everyone. Often we have trouble relating, because we all lack the third requirement, humility. Humility comes from picking up our own personal cross. That is the cross where we die to our self-righteousness: I am right or I am kind/ our false sense of superiority: I am smarter than those I disagree with or I am kinder than those I disagree with/and our delusion of infallibility: what I believe is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But these mind sets are what turn believing we are the people of God into the blinding sin of pride. The power of our cross is that it frees us from these blind spots of pride so we can become peacemakers. 4th question: SO, HOW CAN WE DO ALL THAT THE LORD REQUIRES OF US? How can we sacrifice ourselves fighting for justice for the poor or the persecuted without leaving a trail of wounded people we consider obtuse in our wake? Or How can we be kind and open to others, when we are being ridiculed? First, We all admit that we cannot do it on our own. Let yourself feel the frustration of that. We Americans are “just do it” people. But to become peacemakers, we need grace. And grace comes from walking hand in hand with God humbly accepting our dependence. Do you remember walking holding your parent’s hand when you were tiny, of holding your own young child or grandchild’s hand, of walking hand in hand with your boy or girl friend? Do you remember the sheer sweetness of that, the comfort, the safety, the bond, the closeness you felt, and how you could hear them when they leaned over to whisper, “I love you.” That is what it’s like to become close enough to God to have that same safety from losing our way by walking hand in hand. To walk closely to God takes using every means that will help us live in awareness of God’s loving presence, so we can hear God’s voice over our own.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.
We tried, but we couldn’t do it. The first holiday with their parents divorced was not going to be wonderfully happy for four young granddaughters, no matter what their grandparents tried to do. And Uncle Steve, our family’s designated-cheerer-upper, spent five hours in the Atlanta airport on stand-by trying to join us in Nashville. He gave up about one in the afternoon.
The day did have both fun and kind moments. A fun one happened while Julian and Tommy and the two younger girls were taking the boat tour around the main floor of the incredible Opryland Hotel. The two teens and I were waiting near the stream. While I was looking around at the extravaganza of Christmas decorations, I noticed a middle-aged looking man about to come down some steep steps across from us on the other side of the stream. He stopped at the top and looked around. No one was on the steps or nearby and I don’t think he saw us. So suddenly, he just sat on the middle banister and happily slid all the way down. Hadley and I spontaneously applauded, but he had hurried off. I’m thankful for that magical moment.
All four girls and Tommy had their picture taken with Santa. Hadley told Santa all she wanted for Christmas was a job. Bella said that she told Santa she wanted a particular game, but didn’t tell him it cost $75. While the girls were picking out a photo, Santa came all the way over to where I was sitting in a wheelchair to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas. I’m thankful for that sweet kindness.
The boaters, old and young, enjoyed the guide’s mix of funny and interesting information and the variety of sights on the boat ride. Bella spotted a pretend alligator in a nook. But by then, they all were hungry. The eating places in the Hotel are pretty expensive and crowded, so the girls used Google to find a Waffle House just across the road. I attempted a veto, but got over ruled. I am not a healthy eater and I love butter, but Waffle House must just pour extra grease over everything right before they serve it. Nobody ate much of their food. But seventeen year old Sophie and twelve year old Emma both had stomach aches, so Tommy took them home. Tommy is an amazing father in his balance of caring, discipline, and having fun with the girls. But I think it was stomach aches from sadness, more than Waffle House food, that sent them home.
Julian and I took nineteen year old Hadley and eight year old Bella back to Opryland. In an inside playground area, Bella rode a train around and around and around in a seriously boring circle, but she got to enthusiastically ring a bell very loudly all the way around the six loops, so she was happy. (The woman running the train, not so much.) We re-named her Bella, Bella, Bell Banger.
We then shopped in a Christmas Crafts and Gifts room. Bella tried on some fun jewelry and liked several bracelets that were just a little too big. I told her she had a twelve dollar budget, but she decided to wait until she had gone all around the rest of the Bazaar to decide. Which is to me an amazing choice of delayed gratification for an eight year old. She said finally that all she wanted was a dollar rock candy lollypop. Hadley didn’t see anything she wanted either. They are both surprisingly careful shoppers. Of course, I spent some money on small, but irresistible, handmade Christmas decorations for two homebound friends. They now mysteriously seem to have found their perfect place in our apartment.
About three o’clock Bella got tired and weepy, so we started back to where we had come in. I began pushing her on the walker I had been using now instead of a wheelchair. Before we got all the way back, my hip and knee began to hurt, so I ousted Bella and Julian took over pushing me along the pebbled concrete walk.
Unfortunately, we hit an unseen bump and the walker and I went over backwards. I did a two point landing, head first, then on my right hip. My head hitting the concrete made a horrible noise. Julian bent over reaching down to me and I thought he was going to try to pick me up and it scared me into screaming “No!” at him.. Poor baby, he was actually just trying to comfort me. People started gathering and the ones who had been close by were telling them what an awful sound my head had made when it hit the concrete. I was in serious pain, very dizzy, and nauseated. I didn’t think I could sit up without falling over. Luckily, a kind male nurse came to our rescue, checking the bruise and bump on the back of my head, asking me my name and other questions to see if I had a serious head injury. When I started to raise my head, he stopped me until we were sure my neck didn’t hurt. Finally, we all agreed for him, his friend, and Julian to lift me to my feet. The nurse apologized and promised he wasn’t trying to grope me, as he struggled to get a firm grip on me. I wanted to assure him that at my age groping wasn’t much of a hazard, but I needed to focus on getting my legs under me. Once on my feet, I was shaky, but able to stand. As Julian helped me make it slowly to the door, I realized that my glasses were missing, but Hadley had already retrieved them from where they had flown off. She is wonderful in an emergency. She went ahead of us opening doors. And while Julian went to get the car, she put her arm around me to keep me steady and then she helped get the walker into the car. Bella was upset for me, so I assured her I was going to be okay and I was just grateful that she hadn’t still been riding on the walker. Once we got into the car, I sat on one of the two ice packs I had brought in my small drink carrier and held the other to the bump on my head. Those ice packs were wonderful serendipities. I took two Tylenol and prayed all the way home for an exhausted and shaken Julian driving in surprisingly heavy traffic. By the time we got home, he was sorer than I was from so much walking and trying to pull me and the walker back up when we were going over. Between Tylenol and ice packs, I never really hurt unbearably and the sizeable bump on my head went down quickly. Next time, I’ll stick with the wheel chair instead of switching to my walker. It’s safer and I receive a lot of kindness, even from Santa, when I’m in it.
I am Thankful for the happy moments today. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful that Bella wasn’t the one hurt. I am thankful that I don’t seem to have any permanent or serious damage, because I hit the hardest part of me, the back of my head, and the most padded part, my backside. Since I have put on weight this year and most of it settled on my backside, I think I was spared a broken hip or damage to the already herniated disc and bone spur in my lower back. Amazing how many unlikely saving graces there are in the hard and scary times.
Day after the Lallapalooza, I am Thankful for: Julian was fully recovered by morning. He slept eleven hours and got up early to clear the living room for setting up the village. Our son Chris came and helped him all day.
I was able to sleep in spite of my bruises. I managed to get the turkey breast and gravy cooked and I had the vegetables already fixed.
I made absolutely no ‘to do’ lists.
I happily started playing Christmas music. I got to enjoy photos on face book of the girls decorating their dad’s apartment for Christmas. My head and backside and bad knee are only slightly sore.
Nausea has been my only strong after effect from my head bashing.
That the nausea helped me stick to my diet all day. It seems to be letting up. I should be able to lead worship service Sunday, even nauseated. Though that conjures up some scary mental pictures, if I don’t eat, all should be well.. And thanks be, no one sits in the front rows anyway. 🙂