Monday, April 27, 2009

More Nouwen Wisdom

Today's words from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey do a great job of summarizing what writing does for me. I have been amazed at the outpouring of support and love from my most recent post here, as well as another soul-baring post on Facebook. What a wonderful community you all are for me and for my family! I am still under a deadline crunch for a few things, but once I have met my responsibilities on that front, life promises to slow down a bit for us, just in time for summer. We have 19 school days left--hooray!

Writing to Save the Day

Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.

Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be "redeemed" by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.

I continue to be amazed at how pertinent so many of these are to where I am in my own life these days. Blessings & peace to each one of you.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Moment of Truth

In dire need of some quality family time, the five of us watched Marley & Me last night. In this cute Jennifer Aniston / Owen Wilson movie, the adorable puppy who seems to eat everything in his sight enters their life post-marriage / pre-kids. This cutest terror you will ever see is with them through thick and thin of becoming a family, and the movie is simple and heartwarming. While I don't want to spoil the end for you, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the average dog lives, oh, ten to fifteen years, and the average family lives forever. At one point during the movie's end, in my rough effort to lighten things up a bit, I whispered into our darkened den lit only by the glow of our big-ass (sorry if that offends you...) TV, "Raise your hand if you are NOT crying." No hands went up.

For me, it was like opening the floodgates. I cried tears like I've not cried in years. It didn't take too long for me to realize that the tears moved beyond those sweet tears elicited by Hollywood to real gut-wrenching, life-induced tears after about the first two minutes. I tried to hold them back because I just did not want to deal with them, but I couldn't. So out they came, and with them, a flood of realization.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I know a big whine-fest is forthcoming. It will make me sound spoiled beyond belief to any of you who think I have a "perfect life." Even now as I sit it with it all bubbling up in my heart, eking ever-closer to my head where my feelings will be put into words and make their way out through my fingers and onto this screen, I am telling myself that I am crazy for even considering putting this out there in internet-land. But it's 4:30 in the morning, and God speaks to me most clearly at this time, and she (the God who speaks to me this early in the morning is most-decidedly the female nature of God) has made it quite clear that this is what I am to do, and quite frankly, I am too worn out to argue. I'd lose anyway.

It has just been one of those weekends where I just feel like my life is full of things that are just getting too big, too difficult, too hard. And those few things that I really do enjoy doing are made harder than they used to be because those yucky things take so much of my time. I enjoy caring for my family, including my parents, but that's harder than I want it to be because of soccer practice, writing assignments, and college-student angst. I enjoy spending time with my husband, but that is nigh-unto impossible lately because of the crazy schedules we keep, the pressing need/s of so many folks around us, and our mutual inability to tell the world to stop so that we can enjoy a few moments of time together without interruption. I enjoy hosting friends for dinner, but that was harder than I wanted it to be this weekend because of soccer games, my inability to express to the aforementioned husband what I am feeling or what I need, and his, more often than not, total oblivion to either anyway. I enjoy the 11:00 worship service on Sundays, but that has long been impossible for me these days given congregational politics, dreadfully slow hymns from the Dark Ages, and a resentment because all too often, the hard work that Joel is doing and the sacrifices we, as a family, are making result in misunderstanding and even abuse by a small handful of mean, angry, bitter folk. The things that really make me happy, that I really want to do, the things that I really NEED to do are complicated by things around me that are less fulfilling, less enjoyable, and yet seem to loom larger.

I have got to figure out how to re-focus, how to re-frame life so that the things I enjoy move to the foreground, and the things that make them harder than they need to be move to the background. I fear, however, that I am so mired in that I can't make or find my way out.

My friend Whitney blogs about her own "glimpses of grace." She pulls this from one of my favorite Frederick Buechner quotes: "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

I'm listening, Freddie. I'm listening, God. Speak to me words of life. Speak to me words of grace. Because I'm kinda needing a big dose of both...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gum and stuff

So apparently, the sweetener used in the Trident / Orbit / Dentyne sugar free gums is not really good for you. Not only can it cause gas and bloating, but it has also been linked to stomach cancer. Well, in rats, anyway. But it's mainly the gas / bloating thing that has Mom chewing good old-fashioned sugary gum. Wrigley's Doublemint and / or Spearmint. I add this only as a correction to the last post where I suggested possible things she might appreciate from those of you who want to do something for her.

We still seem to be on a steeper incline than we were the first two months after Mom's diagnosis, but we are doing well, all things considered. We met with the Hospice doctor for the first time this week, and that went really well. Dr. Britton is her name, and she was very helpful. She has convinced Mom to give a meds a try for pain, and she reported to me today that she thought it was helping. She is also committed to getting Mom to sleep better at night, and is working on how best to address that with meds too. All in all, it's my opinion that she is getting the best care we could possibly hope for, and that is wonderful.

I have been carefully finding one-on-one time with the boys to make sure that each of them knows the gravity of Mom's illness. With all three, I have generally begun the conversation something like this: "You know Attee probably won't be with us much longer." Both Daniel & Adam nodded stoicly in response, and we continued to talk about the importance of spending as much good time with her as we could.

Yesterday on the way home from Target, I had the conversation with Michael. He simply nodded, grim-faced, and said, "I know. Please don't remind me of that again." So I told him I wouldn't, and we went on to another topic.

If only I could put it out of my own mind that easily.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Seeds She Has Planted

My friend Bethany's Facebook status this morning read: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

I've thought a good bit lately about death and fruit-bearing. It is, after all, Easter weekend, and like any "good" pastor-type person, I've been pondering Jesus' path to the cross this week. My friends on Facebook have posted sermons, meditations, frustrations, exhaustions about their Holy Week trials as first-time or solo or harried pastors. (I was reminded earlier in the week why we (the boys & I) have opted to leave town for the past three years during Holy Week. Between the Masters and the Easter preparation, there's been high excitement / stress in our house this week.) The frenetic energy is all over the place. So even though I'm not in parish ministry, I am quite aware of the weight that pastors and their staff feel this week.

Continuing with the theme of life coming from death, my students and I watched a Nooma video on Tuesday night entitled "Tomato." It was about dying to our old self so that we live a life in Christ, and further echoed the passage from John 12:24 above about how in order to have life, death much come. Kind of like the whole Lion King / Circle of Life thing...but I digress.

In the midst of my thinking about the death of Christ so many years ago, and the beautiful lives and promises of life which have sprung from that, I cannot help but think about my mom--about the seeds that she has planted throughout her lifetime, and the beauty those seeds have shown forth these past two months. We have been overwhelmed. The cards continue to pour in, her email inbox is perpetually delivering new messages from far and near (from the east coast to the west coast, and from as far away as Australia), and they get at least one "real," face-to-face visit each day. I have always known that my mom had a special gift for reaching out to people, for showing forth true hospitality, and for loving and welcoming people of all backgrounds and stripes. But knowing that and seeing its fruits are two different thing.

It's as if over the past eighty years she has been carefully preparing one of those instant-garden rolls, adding seeds that she has collected over time to create a beautiful panoply of color for some future date, and now life has necessitated that it is time to lay it down. The beauty, the vibrance, the variety, the sheer magnificence of the life that has sprung forth from those seeds that our sweet Mama has tended all these years is absolutely breathtaking.

But Attee's gardening days are over.

This realization is hard for her, and hard for us as well. But because of the hand life has dealt her here at 80 years of age, her hosting, her hospitality, her ability to tend is ending. She is no longer able to be the energetic, life-giving hostess that she once was. We realize that those of you that come to visit to not come to be hosted, but to thank her for the many years of hospitality, of love, of welcome that she has shown you at some point in your life. And we are grateful for that. But at the same time, those who care for her now feel very protective of her. We see the toll those visits take on her, and we worry about her. We worry when a day with no one "on the books" turns into a day where three or four different people just 'drop in' for a few minutes. We worry when a "quick visit" turns into an hour-long stay. And while we are acutely aware that people want to savor every minute of Alice they can get, we are also acutely aware that Alice has a very hard time with the visits. She wants to be "up" for them, she wants to see those of you that come by, but each visit takes a toll on her. And in true Alice fashion, it is a toll that she does not allow anyone to see. But as her caregivers, we can see what it does to her, and so we struggle to find a balance. We want to balance the hospitality and welcome that she has always shown to everyone who walked through the doors of 1409 Edgewood, who now walks through the doors of 2871 Delcourt. But we know, too, that she needs her downtime, and we want to be sure that she gets the rest & quiet that she needs as well.

So...for those of you that are reading this, here is what we ask. Continue to visit, please! But if at all possible, plan your visit in the morning between 9:00 and noon, or in the late afternoon between 4:00 and 6:00. This gives her a large window during which she can rest and just "be," without having to feel like she needs to entertain or host. (We know that those who visit don't expect to be hosted or entertained, but we simply cannot get the urge for her to do that out of her blood!) And if possible, call a day or two in advance to let them know when you'd like to come. Want to bring something for her? She still loves the flowers that she gets. And Dentyne Ice in the blue / peppermint pack and caffeine-free Cokes (not diet, but caffeine free) are the two things that she requests most from those who are her "grocery fairies." Easy to prepar meals are great for Dad to have, but Mom has very little appetite, and prefers bland food over rich and / or spicy foods.

It's been two months since her initial diagnosis. In February & March, I felts as if we were coasting on a rode with only a shallow incline...downhill, yes, but we were traveling very slowly. We had more good days than bad, almost at a 5 to 1 ratio. Now, almost overnight, it seems that we are having more bad days than good, and I realize that the road we are on is getting steeper, and the car's speed is increasing. It's scary, but we have our seatbelts on (our faith) and we have our friends around us (each of you), so we will be okay. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

We have "family in town" this weekend. Calli, Kimble, & Clare are here from Montgomery, Ned drove up from Auburn, and Sarah Alice is here on spring break from her studies in Cairo, Egypt. We will enjoy Easter worship tomorrow at Rehoboth, then have a big spread for dinner at Chez Tolbert here on Delcourt. It promises to be a great day to celebrate life!

My prayer for you this weekend is that each of you will celebrate this LIFE in some way--whether you celebrate the new life that we are promised in Christ, or the new life that is springing forth all around us on the heels of that cleansing rain we got last night--celebrate LIFE, and be at peace. :-)