Thursday, February 27, 2014

Glancing back...

The soul inside me is constantly aware, whether I would like to be or not, of her, of the story we lived out in real life.  The battle.  The up and down movement of energy and hope and faith and fear.  It all melded together and became distorted after she died, and now I live it out in vivid memories left imprinted in my mind forever.

Some memories are unpleasant, but they connect me nonetheless to her soul, her life here.  And I am thankful for every memory I have of her whether good or bad.

Two years ago today we learned my mother had a massive brain tumor.  It was an awful day.  I have no other word in my humble vocabulary to describe it other than awful.  I remember my brother's voice on the other end of the line.  I remember hitting my knees when I hung up the phone, hitting my knees and pressing my forehead to the carpet below me in complete despair.  Complete despair.

There are few times in life that one feels that sort of pain.  Only the deepest love can produce an equal amount of pain.  I had experienced the shocking news of a diagnosis, of the ups and downs of my mother's cancer treatment, but nothing had prepared me for that very moment, the one in which I thought we were losing her, that this was that moment I had been afraid of all this time.

I look back on the weeks that followed the discovery of the brain tumor and her surgery.  The roller coaster we rode in the three weeks that followed that tumor diagnosis were heart wrenching, exhausting, unforgettable.  And two years out from the experience, I see things a little more clearly.  I see little moments in which God was preparing me for the last week of mother's life.  I see tiny specks of beautiful.  I see love unlike I've ever experienced before.

And so, I am reminded, that no matter what battle we find ourselves in the middle of presently, there are tiny specks of beautiful.  Tiny, tiny, indeed, but there.  It may takes years to notice them.  Perhaps when flipping through the memories in our minds we notice little details we had missed before, and we see the beautiful then, and only then, once we have been removed from the pain of the moment.  And we begin to view things from the place of the little flecks of love and hope we had to wait for.

For we know that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord.

We know that, but when we are asked to live it, to accept it...  it's hard.  That's not an incredibly poetic statement, it's hard, but it happens to be true.  Life is hard and full of hardships, both big and small.  But we can rest in the knowledge that if we have faith in the unseen, all these things begin to form the lovely picture of our life.  Even the ugly things have their purpose.  My mother's brain tumor and surgery prepared me to take care of her in her final days of life.  It conditioned me to the things I would need to do in caring for her physically, conditioned my heart to rely on God for strength, conditioned my brain to focus on what was important in the present moment and not think too far ahead.

We know.  We are certain.  That every little thing will work together.  And it will be hard, at times unpleasant and ugly.  But when we glance over our shoulder at the past, we will find it glittered with the little bits of lovely He brilliantly intertwined.  And we will turn our heads forward and carry on.

It hurts and feels so wonderful at the same time, carrying on.  And today, I glance back two years ago when life looked so different from my today.  And I believe that things will continue to fit together brilliantly if I can only keep my eyes on Him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Squeaky doors and other broken things...

I opened the squeaky door and trailed in behind David, pulling it closed behind me.  And I wondered, as I have every single time I have stepped into this orthodontist office, why they don't have the door fixed so that it doesn't squeak and would actually close on its own as it should.  David clicked his name into the computer, and we sat down on the leather sofa against the wall waiting for him to be called back.  The braces were coming off today.

He went back, and I knew I had a while to wait.  They said it would take about an hour to remove the braces and fit the retainer, so I pulled my phone out and began to piddle around.  And her voice carried across the room even though she was trying to be quiet.  She was on her phone, and her intensity permeated the atmosphere of the room.  Though I couldn't make out most of what she was saying, I could catch a phrase here or there.

No... it's my fault.
I can't make you happy.
I've tried and tried.
It's my fault.
I accept you as you are.
I just can't please you.

I tried to be inconspicuous about my attempts to eaves drop.  It was heartbreaking but fascinating, the same way I feel if I pass a wreck on the interstate or see the brightly painted lines showing where one has been.  I feel the need to know more though it's none of my business at all.

The only other person in the waiting room was a young boy, maybe my son's age or a year younger.  He had lovely blonde hair that looked kissed by the sun at the tail end of this brutal winter.  He will be a looker one day.  His narrow nose and high cheek bones along with the blonde hair will turn heads.  He sat alone in a dark brown leather chair with a sketch book in his hand.  If he had a pencil, it must have been in his pocket, because I never saw it.  The woman and boy didn't look like they belonged together in the way most moms and sons do.  She had hair as dark as the deep brown leather furniture, and his was the beachy blonde, and they looked completely unfamiliar to one another.  And so I studied them both trying to piece the scene together.

The woman's conversation continued, and I felt increasingly uncomfortable.  Why did she continue to argue over the phone?  Was it not something that could wait until a private conversation could be had?  But then I noticed her wiping tears from her eyes behind the long dark hair she was trying to use as a curtain.  And I realized that she was so broken, hurting, hopeless that she didn't even realize there was anyone else in the room.

She finally got up, walked outside the squeaky door, and I saw her face through the window.  Tired.  Weeping.  The boy never looked up or moved.  Others came in and checked into the little computer, little sets of braces going in and out to be tweeked and tightened.  I fixed myself a cup of complimentary coffee and sat back down.

The woman came back in, done with her conversation and pulled together.  She checked the screen of her phone and then pulled out her laptop and began working away at something.  One of the ladies from the back came and got her to come talk to the orthodontist about her son that was still in the chair. The woman finally addressed the blonde boy asking him to watch her stuff, so that confirmed to me that they were indeed together.  He sat down in her seat and waited until she walked back, and then he pulled up the top of the computer to see what she was typing.  He put it back down and just looked around the room never making eye contact with anyone or uttering a word.

Have you ever empathetically hurt for someone you don't even know?  I did in that moment, for the woman, for the boy, for the man at the other end of the phone call, for the family falling apart.  I have no idea what the details to their situation are and never will, but they are painful.

I can't make you happy.
I just can't please you.

Her words echo in my mind still this morning.  I have been that broken before.  Maybe our situation was not the same, the details different, but the brokenness the very same.

I'm not good enough.
I can't do anything right.

And when you begin to say them long enough, out loud or inside, you begin to believe them as utter truth.  And once the lies become truth to you, the hope seems so far away that it's untouchable.  And when hope is that far away, you can sit in a room of people and activity and never realize you're not alone.

I thought about trying to pray with her, but the opportunity just didn't present itself, and the overall situation just didn't feel right.  So I decided to pray for this woman and the blonde boy and anyone else effected by this situation.  And I can't get her off my mind, the look in her eyes and on her face.

Broken.  There are so many of us broken, each in varying degrees.  Some have superglued and patched things up and try their best to hold it all together in shape.  Some have just let it go and lie in a pile of rubble.  Some are in between those states, missing a piece here or there.  Truth is, if we are living in a sinful world, we are broken.

And, most times, all one broken spirit can do for another is pray.  And, thankfully, He intercedes for us and interprets our meager attempts at pleading for another spirit into beautiful petitions.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for.  But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will.    {Romans 8:26-27}

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The angry part...

These moments come over me, completely unexpected and uninvited.  An anger rushes over me followed by a wash of sadness, and then the tears flow.

It can be anything, any big or small situation that I would have talked over with my mom.  It didn't matter whether she had advice to lend or words of wisdom.  Her listening and her reassurance always made everything seem better.  Even though the situation at hand hadn't changed one bit, just talking to her about made it feel more in focus, conquerable, smaller.

I miss that.

I'm angry that I don't have that anymore.

My person is gone.  There's not a person out there that fills this spot for me.  And I doubt there ever will be again.

And that's what brings the sadness.  The grief wells up again like it comes from some eternal spring, and I find myself wanting to scream, to throw something against a wall and watch it break into a million pieces, to hit the floor and sob, to do all these things at the same time.

Instead, I find a quiet corner.  I cry a little.  I blow my nose and return to my daily functions hoping no one will see that I've been crying.

Is this a normal way of dealing with loss?  I don't know.  It's the pattern I am in, though.  Whether or not it's healthy or normal or right, I certainly don't know.  But it's what I do to get through these little inner temper tantrums of grief.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

And the snow came down...

This winter has perhaps been the coldest, most brutal I have ever experienced here in the south.  I have worn gloves more times in the past two months than I have in the past five years.  I have discovered the value of the heated steering wheel feature in my car.  Even the wild life in my yard realizes the depths of our cold... I watched a squirrel remove the cotton stuffing from a chair cushion on my back deck, filling his cheeks with it, and scurrying off to pad his nest.

And so, last week, when the forecast called for bitter cold and a stretch of a few days without peaking above freezing, I think we all collectively rolled our eyes and sighed heavily.  We southerners are not made for this sort of thing.  And to add insult to injury, the forecast called for snow in the southernmost regions of our state with a mere dusting here.  

"Good," I thought as I watched the weather man show off his fancy computer generated model of accumulation predictions.  "They can have the snow.  I don't want any of it."

While regions south of here cancelled school, we woke up and went about our normal routines on Tuesday morning with the weather man reiterating his forecast of a light dusting of snow with little to no accumulation.  Around 9:30 that morning, I sat writing out a shopping list for an afternoon Publix trip, and I noticed the little flakes beginning to fall.  Within thirty minutes, I stood at the window with my head cocked to the side wondering if my eyes were deceiving me.  Not only was our dusting accumulating, it was accumulating on the streets and concrete.  

The school put out the call by 10:15 for early dismissal at noon, a time they quickly bumped up to 11:30 as we all watched, puzzled, the snow sticking to everything it touched and the number of flakes falling multiplying exponentially.  

Our region was perplexed, completely caught off guard, and unprepared for what would become an infamous winter storm.  

Bus routes were cancelled leaving thousands of children at school waiting on someone to pick them up.  The busy downtown area and surrounding outskirts of Birmingham were a gridlock as thousands of people tried to get home.  News anchors were perplexed, and lots of them were a part of the madness on the streets, broadcasting live from their positions all over town.  People took to Facebook for all kinds of reasons, some trying to find rides for their loved ones trapped by the snow and ice, some complaining and blaming and dissatisfied with the state of unpreparedness.  Our local meteorologists were slightly embarrassed.  

But in the midst of the literal paralysis of our region, there is much to learn.  

We, collectively as entitled Americans, have gotten used to fancy weather models and computer generated forecasts.  We have apps on our phones that can give us predictions of what our day will look like down to the very hour.  We can view radar in the click of a link.  And we feel that the weather gods, if I may be so bold as to name them that, those who study and analyze and report data and information to us and receive a paycheck for those duties... that said weather gods feed us the right forecast every time.  And when things don't go as we've been told they will, someone is to blame.

Now, I'm not a big political person, but I love what our governor said about the event of Tuesday, January 28th.  He reminded us that "only God knew what would happen" that day.  How simplistically refreshing.  And that is precisely what I hope many will learn from the string of events of the unexpected snow day in Alabama.

I remember a time when I accepted science as fact.  In school, I memorized laws and rules and equations, and I accepted them as truth.  But what those textbook definitions and explanations don't factor in is reality, the unexpected, unanticipated.  When I listened to a weather man on a local station here explain that it has never snowed in our region with this low of a temperature, I thought to myself, "Fascinating."  All the conditions have to properly align for it to snow in Alabama, and they weren't lined up in the way that science says is necessary to produce snow, and so we were caught off guard.  Because in science, some things don't follow the expected course.  Not everything in nature follows the rules all the time.  

I think back to a phone call during my mother's battle with cancer, a time in which I learned painfully that science is not exact.  My mother's cancer had spread to her liver despite the fact that she was on a non-chemo medication to basically starve out her disease.  I remember being angry... angry at the doctor because how could he have not anticipated this, and angry at the medicine that was supposed to work with data and research and trials backing up its efficiency.  Someone was to blame, and they should pay, because now that the cancer was in her liver, she was terminal.  And it had to be someone's fault, someone's mistake, something that we could have and should have controlled.

I had a lot to learn.  I listened as my father told me that, for some reason, my mother's cancer didn't react to the treatment in the way that the majority of patients reacted.  She was in that minority of unpredictability.  Her cancer did not respond in the same pattern as the majority of other patients with the very same type of cancer as hers.  And the doctors didn't know why.  

Oh.  I didn't realize that was an option with all the millions of dollars poured over research and computers and modern technology.  I just didn't take into account that there would still be the huge surprising unknowns, and that the unknown would be affecting my life in such a real way.  Like my mom's cancer and ultimately the loss of her life.

Like that snow storm.  The continuous sheet of unexpected ice over every paved surface.  The families separated, parents sleeping in churches and grocery stores and kids sleeping on the floor of their school library.  Waking up on Wednesday morning and looking over the contents of the pantry and fridge and getting creative because you won't be making it to the store.  Schools being closed for three days.  Everything was completely thrown off by the unexpected.  And there was nothing anyone could do about it.  You could either accept it or complain about it.  

Here's the thing about when good people, people with character and belief in something bigger than themselves, are met with the unexpected.  They do what they need to do without any thought.  They are of service to the people in need around them.  They take care of the necessary and don't waste time on the things they can't change.  They look around and say, "What can we do to make this better?" 

I saw that in my mother when she got the news that her cancer had spread.  I remember her voice on the other end of the line, "This is not good news, but I don't want you to worry about me.  I'm going to be okay."  Because, truth is, someone without faith would say she's not okay, she died.  But she knew that no matter what came her way, God would equip her with what she needed to make it through it.  And He did.  He did that for us all.  I look back and think of days and experiences and I know in my heart it was Him who carried me through it... I would never have been able to make it through so many of those painful experiences without His presence.  

And that's just it.  A life of faith in God is not perfect.  It is still a victim of the unexpected storms that life throws our way.  But,if in the midst of any situation of life we can stop and say, "I'm going to be okay.  Because of God's strength and mercy, I will be okay," I think we've begun to comprehend what living this life is all about.  And I say begun to comprehend because I don't think we can ever fully arrive at a complete understanding of life until our life has ended.  So much simply doesn't make sense here on earth.  And that's okay, too.  I don't have to get it all to know that I will be okay.

I'm a living breathing testimony to the fact that His peace is not only available to the perfect, shiny, church-going Christians that seem to have all the answers and appear to be more worthy.  It's available to anyone who wants to believe and embrace it.  It's a choice, one you have to make every single day.  Some days, I choose wisely to believe that He can give me whatever I need to make it through the trials of my day.  Other days, the not so valiant ones, I choose to try to tackle things myself by planning and controlling and worrying.  It's no surprise which days turn out the best for this imperfect and undeserving soul.

Choose to have faith in Him that He will carry you through whether it be a snowstorm, cancer, divorce, financial stress, disappointment, whatever the problem may be.  He is big enough.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Nine years old...

Madalyn,

You turned nine yesterday.  Nine years old.

Seems like yesterday I held up in the tiny examining room crying my eyes out after my doctor told me you weren't ready to be induced yet.  It was just a day or so until your due date, and I was so ready to not be pregnant anymore.  And when he left me in the room to get dressed and leave and go back home, still pregnant and no induction date on the books, I wept like crazy, this ugly kind of cry.  And I had to get myself together so no one in the office would know I had been so upset.

Seems like yesterday but such a world away at the same time.  Things were so different then.

And you were born.  On a frigid day at Brookwood hospital.  It was raining outside.  I had laid in that hospital bed all day watching, of all things, the Food Network despite the fact that I couldn't have any real food.  Sometime around 5:00 or so, you entered the world all perfect and crying and pink.  We were all smitten with you from the very start.

I was so young, insecure, still so uncertain of what I was doing.  And I was so scared of having a girl.  And there you were, bright eyed and beautiful.  And somehow I knew it would all be okay.  And I hoped I wouldn't mess you up too much.

At the time, I had no idea that I would be raising you without my own mother by my side, helping me, giving me advice, encouraging me along the way.  But here we are with that reality.  I know that she is still with us, especially when you talk about her at the most random times.  I hope that one day you will realize how hard she fought to stick around for her grandkids so that you would all remember her.  I hope that one day you will look back, hear her story, and realize her strength and grace.  I hope that you will be more like her than me, because she was so much better a person than I have ever dreamed of being.

Some think you look a lot like me.  And I guess you do.  Only prettier than I could ever be.  And sassier and more sure of yourself.  And I hope you stay that way.  Don't ever doubt who you are.  Ever.  Don't ever believe someone if they tell you that you aren't good enough or smart enough or enough of anything.  Because, believe me when I say that someone, someday, will try to convince you that you are not enough.  But don't you dare believe a word of it.  You are greater than anything in my mind.  And in the Lord's eyes.  You are amazing, and anyone who doesn't believe that is not worthy of your time.

Remember your roots.  Strong but quiet women who loved from the depths of their soul.  There's nothing quiet about you now, my dear, but I have no doubt that you will learn the benefits of gentleness one day.  You will learn the value of picking your battles and using words sparingly without ever having to bow down to a necessary fight.  Beyond all this, remember you are loved by those on earth and in heaven.  I believe that our loved ones in heaven are able to intercede for us, and that gives you a special advantage as you have two amazing angels watching over you from above.

Oh, my sweet daughter, this world you live in is crazy and confusing.  I fret about you, think about your future, wonder if I am getting this parenting thing even half way right.  And in the quiet moments of life, you remind me that things are okay.  In the way that you do something so simply thoughtful or say that you love me when I least expect it.  You are such a handful and a mess at times, but you are a lovely little person.  And I hope that we will be thick as thieves one day, that you will see me as a woman who so desperately loves you and wants the very best for you.  I hope that we will be as close as I was with my mama, that I can be your soft place to fall, your calming force.

I love you more than I ever dreamed possible to love another living thing...

Love,
Your Crazy Mama