Just Write: I Never Stop Being a Mama

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It’s the strongest, loudest piece of me, this mama thing. I was surprised by motherhood when it suddenly showed up. There we were, thousands of miles away from home, totally green about all but the basics of married life. 

And then she was born, and the entire world shifted on its axis. And then her sister and then her brother, and then, oh my! three littles in less than four years. And tired? Unbelievably so.

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But here they were and there I was, a mom. Not a particularly great mom, truth be told. Impatient, overbearing, insecure, torn by wondering if I should be doing something ‘more’ with my life than wiping bottoms and breaking up bickering.

But I chose to be there, at home, doing exactly that. And I have never regretted it, not even when my eldest questioned that choice when she was about twelve, wondering why I didn’t have a real job like all her friends’ moms.

The most wondrous thing is this: that as they began to grow up, they each showed signs of independence and quick intelligence and wonderful humor and insight. And I became their student, in so many rich and wonderful ways.

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My children have taught me so much. About humility, first and foremost. About laughter and anger, about love and disdain, about temperament and truth. Each one of them, wildly different from one another, beginning with that first flutter-in-the-womb. And yet so closely woven together. So close.

Yes, indeed, they were mean to one another, on occasion. I’ve learned more about their childhood meannesses since they’ve grown up! But underneath all of that there has always been a fierce loyalty and love, a deep desire for the best in one another, a willingness to come alongside in the tough times and to joyfully celebrate the great times.

I now have a grandson the same age I was when my first child was born: 23. LORD, have mercy! How is this possible? I truly don’t know how time can sprint by in a blink. I can call up elementary school orchestra concerts (on, my ears!), youth group scavenger hunts, early dating experiences, and long courtships for each of them.

And then suddenly — here we are! Three thriving families, eight grandchildren, every one making real contributions to their community, their church, their friends. 

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So I am still learning from them. Every day. And I am still mama at heart, at base, at center. One of them is facing into back surgery; a little grandgirl has a chronic disease; one has been widowed and remarried; two grandkids are searching for ultimate answers, the prayers of us all undergirding their journey. 

No matter what else I have done or will do, no matter how many people I interact with, love, preach to, partner with or direct — these ones, these children, children-in-love/law, grandchildren, along with my husband — these are the community of first commitment and most essential ministry. 

How did I get so lucky?

I haven’t done this in ages, but I so love it when I do. Joining with Heather at EO for her Just Write this week. JUST WRITE whatever comes, then join the community and see where everyone else landed. It’s fun, I promise.

Missing Them

Whenever I can, I like to join in Heather King’s “Just Write” meme. Today was a day with a layer of sadness pushing its way up to the light, needing to be looked at and prayed through. Here is what comes when I ‘just write’ it out:

I sat on our swing today, for the first time in a few weeks.
It’s a favorite spot for being still, centering, reflecting.

Today, as I put my feet up on the bench and swayed beneath the old oak,
I held before the Lord the names of all my friends who are struggling,

and of all the dear ones closest to me, my children and my grandchildren.
The older two of our eight are wrestling their way to adulthood,
asking good, hard questions.
The youngest is living with chronic illness at the tender age of three.
And my friends are struggling with physical illness, with sick kids,

with broken marriages, and dying dreams.
It felt good to simply say their names,
to remember who they are,
to take their struggles into the presence 
of the God who loves us all,
and whose ways are mysterious, indeed.

And then I thought of them.
Our two mothers,
valiant, beautiful women, both of them,
women who poured themselves into faith and family

all their lives, their long lives.

Fiercely intelligent, strong, funny, tender, loving,
each of these women had a profound influence on who I am,
on who my husband is, on who my children are.

And I wept for them, and for us, and for all the unknowns
of where we are right now.
I admitted that I don’t understand why they suffer like this,
why their lives of faithfulness are ending in
confusion, anxiety, insensibility.

And I realized that I am missing them.
They’re here with us, we see them twice a week,
I talk with my mom on the phone in between those times.
They’re here.

But they’re not here,
not all of who they are. So I allowed myself to miss the
pieces that have floated away, the mothers I once knew so well.

Their long lingering is, of course, teaching me things.
Important things, necessary things.
Most especially, I am looking at my assumptions about
what it means to be a human person,
created in the image of God.
I am learning to release the idea that Descartes made so
‘popular’ generations ago: “I think; therefore, I am.”

I have bought into this mythology at a very deep level;
I have believed that intelligence is the single most important indicator
of the imago dei. I have dreadfully limited my understanding of
who we are as children of God, children who are loved
whether or not we can think coherently.
Whether or not we can remember,

whether or not we can communicate verbally,
whether or not we can command our minds to do what we tell them to do. 

And I am learning to let go, a little more each day,
and to value them, not only for who they have been in the past,
but for who they are now.
For these bodies that bore us are still lovely,
even as they gradually fade away.
There are whispers and echoes of stories we share,
there are wisps of songs that rise to the surface,
there are traces of who they are in a glance, a smile, a single word.

And there is love.

Always, there is love. 

My mother-in-law on her 97th birthday, January of this year.

My mom on her 92nd birthday, around the same family room table,
in the same memory loss unit, celebrating her 92nd birthday in July.

iPhone Journaling: Just Write

 

For years I kept prayer journals, the only kind of journaling I’ve ever really done. I have never enjoyed handwriting, and now increasing joint pain makes it difficult. All the writing how-to books say you have to write longhand to get to the heart of things, however. Clearly, that is not working for me. So, I’ve adapted to technology just a little bit and have occasionally used the microphone system on my iPhone to get my musings written down. This is the most recent of those musings. Joining this with Heather’s JustWrite linky for the first time in months.

I watch them, has they wield their strollers past my car. Young, strong, beautiful. One stroller with two babes inside, maybe nine months separating them in age. Another with a single ten-month old.

They’re smiling at each other, laughing as they push their beautiful burdens up the hill. It’s funny how I don’t remember laughing very much as a mother to very young children. I’m sure I did. My children were delightful, smart, and funny. And much of that time in my life was, indeed, joyful.

But mostly what I remember now is the fatigue. And the doubt.  And all the questions about whether or not I was enough. I don’t remember having very many friends who had babes in strollers at the same time I did. I remember feeling alone, very alone.

We’d been gone for two years, So most of our college friends had moved on, going in other directions. I had one neighbor with young children, but she worked. I remember joining the food co-op, getting a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables. And out of that group, a babysitting co-op grew, and there I did connect with others who were at the same stage of life.

Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relating to so many of the young moms who write in the blog-o-sphere, those who connect at a heart level with other mothers of children the same ages as their own. That kind of connection was very difficult for me to find, and if found, for a long list of reasons, very hard for me to continue.

What is it about me that resists friendship.? I have a lot of “friends” but how many know my heart? Thankfully, there are some. And at this juncture in my life story, I am finding it easier to connect via the internet than in real life. Why is that?

I’m sitting at the ocean, trying to sort through the mass of mixed feelings going on inside me right now. I carry my mom around with me most of the time. I carry my children, and my grandchildren. I’m looking at some fairly minimal, but still invasive health issues, and I always find that wearying and worrying. I need a Spiritual Director, and I’ve been looking for over a year. Pursued several different avenues, none of which have worked out thus far. Lord, whom shall I see? Who would you have me work with?

Today as I stare at the sea, this is what I see:

The ocean is relentless. It keeps coming. The waves roll, whether small or large, but they roll. The surface today is relatively calm, and the kelp beds are not moving much. Very few waterfowl today, either. I keep looking for pelicans, so far I see none.

I wonder if the dolphins will peek through the water with the tips of their fins; they always bring a sense of hope and a spirit of playfulness to my day. I think I could use a good dose of both right now.

Another day, another doctor’s visit. This one for my mother, she has a nasty bruise on her lower right calf and now, a low-grade fever. So we’ll go back to the doctor – we were just there five days ago, And two days before that. And in between her medical visits, I have my own. It’s funny how these medical events seem to come in seasons.

Make that ‘funny peculiar,’ not ‘funny ha-ha.’ There’s not a lot of ha-ha-ing going on just now. All of it together creates a sort of low-level sense of anxiety, sometimes for days in a row, and I always find that wearing.

I’m grateful for this parking space, and the sound of the waves. Now I see three pelicans, the holy trio winging their way further out to sea. No dolphins yet, but I remain hopeful.

The undulating water somehow centers my spirit, and calms my heart. I can feel my breathing slow down, and my muscles relax. This morning, everything is thick with fog, something I usually dislike intensely. But today, it suits my mood.

There’s something womblike about it, soothing, calming, Like a balm to my wounded self. Henri Nouwen talks a lot about wounded healers, and I believe him. I just don’t much enjoy the wounding part. I wait, with some sense of restlessness, for the emerging part of this process.

To emerge from the woundedness is a good and important thing. On the other side of this season of sadness, I look forward to offering words of hope and healing to others who find themselves where I am now. In the meantime, I will continue to drive down our hill, turn my car around in the middle-of-the-road, and park on the edge of the bluffs. I will roll my window down, push my seat back, and stare out at the sea.

And I will wait. I will wait for the movement of the Spirit, I will wait for the stirrings of hope. I will wait for what comes next.

 

 

Signs of Spring — A Photo Essay

A winter heat wave gave way this weekend to the beginnings of a spring storm.
Somehow, this change in the sky, in the texture of the air around me,
matched a move in  my spirit.
We are midway through Lent, winding our way through the wilderness,
heading now for the Promised Land.
And the edge of it is in sight.
Can you see it, just there?
There is an undercurrent of hope amidst the sober reflectiveness of this season,
there is a sense of movement, forward movement, Spirit movement.

Ten minutes at my beachside office before church on Sunday,
about 50 deep breaths of tangy sea air.
Then onto worship, first-Sunday-of-the-month worship,
which means communion with the community.
The table was inviting, with four stations for intinction,
with its tearing of the bread, its dipping in the cup.
Myriad candles were lit, the worship team took their place,
two high school students adding keyboard and violin skills to this Sunday’s mix.
A strong, good sermon on a tough passage,
a passage that ended with the parable of the fig tree.
I like that fig tree, because I so often feel unfruitful.
I find it heartening to think that God is the gracious and patient gardener,
willing to cultivate and fertilize the reluctant tree,
hoping for fruit in the year ahead.

I wonder what that cultivation and fertilization looks like in  my life just now. . .

 Communion was  a bit chaotic, and I liked it that way.
It reminded me of meals shared in our home when our kids were growing up:
everybody wants to join in,
but no one is exactly certain where to go or what to do.
The spirit is lively, open, a little uncertain,
and that seems a good thing to me.
Eventually, a rhythm is found, everyone relaxes into this different way
of sharing the bread and cup.
Personal words are offered to those who partake,
the elements are both taken and received,
and sometimes that needs to happen –
we need to tear off a chunk AND we need to have someone else hold it for us.

 An afternoon walk around our yard served to underscore this new reality,
the truth that the season is shifting.

Later on, we enjoyed our monthly Taizé service in the early evening,
a quiet, candlelit time with lovely prayer songs, softly sung.

Somehow, these Sunday things – morning communion, afternoon walk,
evening music by candlelight —
they all felt like harbingers of hope,
reminders that fallow times yield rich harvests,
that Lent takes us to Easter Sunday.

We’re not there yet – there is walking still to do,
there is more sober reflection to come.
There is Holy Week before there is Resurrection Day.

But the blossoms are out! The light is cracking through, the colors begin to unfurl.


Summer plums, rich and dripping with deep,
dark goodness are now bright white flowers,
spreading their way along old limbs, reaching toward the sun.
The remnants of last fall’s apples make rich fertilizer for next summer’s crop.

And shrubs of unknown name, planted by a long ago landscape architect,
are flush with brilliance this year.
Deep magenta spikes, covering different areas of the yard.

The late afternoon sun catches just a glimpse of their glory, bouncing here, there, everywhere.

This has been a hard winter in some ways.
My mom’s move, illness and surgery for other close relatives,
more writing deadlines than I’m used to,
a return to work for a few months.
For all these reasons and more,
I’m glad to see signs of change,
to observe promises of the future.
In the middle of Lent, I appreciate reminders that this journey
has a magnificent end point,
and it is  coming soon!

I’ll have my monthly post at A Deeper Family this week and I’m trying to write three other deadline essays (welcomed by friends at other sites – my thanks to each and all!) in order to dig into my first sermon in over two years, to be preached on the 17th of this month. So I will not be writing much in this space for a while. I’ll put a link up on Thursday to ADF and I’ll join this one with some of my friends around the blogosphere tonight.
I am hoping that more frequent posting will come again soon!

Timing Is Everything — Just Write

 

That’s what they say, right? “Timing is everything.”

Well, if that’s true, I’m feeling about everything’d out just now.

For two years, I’ve been working on this writing thing, posting several times a week, writing comments all over the place, finding a lovely community of friends and comrades on the way. I often wondered why. And then, I remembered . . . God asked me to do it.

Sounds weird, right? Well, it is a little. He asked this about seven years ago. And it took me five to believe it — and then, of course, retirement happened, which actually opened up exactly the kind of time and interior space that I needed to do the work.

So, I’ve been writing. And reading lots and lots of other people’s writing, too. Spending inordinate amounts of time doing all of that, actually, but learning a whole heckuva lot in the process. Like so many out here in cyberland, I struggled with the reality that not many people would ever read what I write, with the increasing pressure from all sides to be about things like ‘platform,’ and ‘SEO,’ and tweeting and creating an author page at Facebook. I worked through those peripheral issues (and for me, they are truly peripheral at this point) and gradually came to peace with writing when I could, saying what seemed good to say, and being grateful for whomever would care to stop by and leave a kind word or ask a question.

Then I got invited to write at another online spot — a magazine I loved. Wow! Cool! And then, I was asked to write for another one that I loved. Amazing! What a surprise! And then there was the Bible study series at another site and then a call for an essay at the place I long dreamed of writing. What? How did this happen? I have no clue.

And during all of this writing time, there has been our poignant and painful journey with my mom, the loss of cognition, the increasing confusion, the slow fading. Then it seemed right to us all that she should move closer to family. So we packed her up, we gathered the family love-team, and we moved her nearby. A lovely gift and a difficult reality, all at the same time.

Spiritual direction fits into this line-up, too. I stepped into training as my pastoral role was winding down, wondering if anyone would ever want to come and sit with a 68-year-old novice at this ministry. And just today, I added number seven to the list. Seven souls to meet with once a month, to listen to their lives, to listen to the Holy Spirit together, to discern where God is moving and prodding and transforming.

And then, of course, there was the completely surprising invitation to step back into work-mode again, doing worship-planning and leading, being an up-front presence for three months, after 2 years away. Also a gift. Also a puzzle to me.

Because ALL OF IT is happening Right.This.Minute.

Excuse me, Lord? Really??

Somehow, I think God is smiling smugly right about now. (Can God be smug?) “See, woman! This is what I made you to do — all of this. And if you open yourself to my grace and power in a new way, you might be surprised at how it all stitches itself together in lovely ways.”

So, I’m prayerfully (and tiredly) looking for the embroidery God is doing in the midst of what sometimes feels like the ragged hem of a garment I cannot quite see, trying to trust that the work being done in me and through me will come together. I’m looking for the silvery sheen of that thread from moment to moment some days, trusting that maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch a glimpse of what the Stitcher is up to.

Quietly joining this with Heather, Laura and Jennifer tonight. . .

Just Write — How Have I Missed This??

I’m not sure how I’ve missed this the last couple of years, but my writing companion from A Deeper Family, Heather King, has a lovely meme each Tuesday called “Just Write.” We are invited to sit and write out whatever is happening, whatever rises to the top. So, here’s what rose tonight:

It’s a gray day here, and a blue night. The fire is crackling in the corner — a gift of love from my husband every winter’s night.

And I am feeling the ache, the physical weariness of lifting, toting, sorting, sifting. And the emotional ache, too.

The frightened look on mom’s face when I got there on Friday morning. Confusion reigns in Mom’s world during times of stress. My brother noted that she was much like my dad was eleven years ago, when we moved them to that retirement community, the one we were moving her away from on Saturday. The one dad never wanted to go to, the one we hoped would bring my mom some respite from the never-ending care he needed back then.

But that rest never came. She did it all, finally hiring a strange little man to stay with dad for two hours once a week so she could grocery shop. And breathe.

She never really recovered from all of that. The exhaustion, the grief, the missing him.

And then, she began to lose her sight. And then my youngest brother died.

Now, I can see in her face, hear in her words, intuit from her body language — now she is the lost one, the one sunk beneath anxiety with a capital “A,” the one who can’t remember what you told her two minutes ago, the one who wants so badly to do it right, to understand, to ‘get it’ . . . but she cannot.

So tonight, I am in recuperation mode, remembering her silence on the long ride up here, hearing still the strangled question: “Have we been this way before?”

Yes, Mom. We’ve been this way many times. Many. But this may well be the last time, sweetheart.

Yes, it may well be.

 

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