Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Little Mum



(This post was originally a piece I wrote just for myself the week I went home to help my dad move my little mum into the Greenwood Center in May of 2004. Mom had been in declining health for several years as a result of dementia. She was a sweet little thing and a really good mom. She died one year ago today. Thank you for reading. I know it's a wee bit long. I wish I had more of the pictures scanned so I could include them.


I’ve heard it said that when a person is drowning, their entire life flashes before their eyes in a matter of seconds. I don’t think it takes drowning to do it. Sometimes, it just takes watching an 83 year-old woman to do it, too.

After days and days of rain, the sun now shines from behind white clouds in a blue sky. It is my mother’s second day in a nursing home just a mile or two down the road from her home. I watch her as she sleeps. She’s a tiny thing. She seems tinier still as she lies in this bed. She is not aware of her left hand as it finds its way to the usual comfortable spot on her cheek, her pinky finger seemingly separate from the others as it rests across her lips. It’s a position I’ve watched absently for many years, but have only come to realize is “Mom’s” in recent months. Each time I notice it now, I see photographs snap by in my mind as I picture her in this same position, only in my memory she is sitting in a rocker, not laying in a bed.


In my mental photo album, she sits in her rocker holding babies, rocking them to sleep to the familiar humming of a tune of which she’s never known the title. I’ve often contemplated ways to determine its origin, yet I hesitate, wondering if knowing will take away the sweet mystery of it. It’s a melody Mom has hummed while holding her babies, grandbabies, and my own two bundles. It’s the melody she used to soothe them all.


I turn a page of memories. There she is, learning to ride a bike for the first time. I’m about thirteen, my younger sister five or six. Mom must be 49 or 50. It’s my sister’s bike, a lavender one with one of those silly banana seats and elongated handlebars. Somehow, Mom doesn’t seem out of place with her gray hair rustling in the wind and her bony knees jutting as her muscles push hard against the pedals. We laugh. My sister claps in excitement. Mom did it! She really did it! We would experience this same excitement several years later when Mom finally got her driver’s license. “Grandma D” would be her choice of license plate until she felt like a marked woman by the local police department, more her imagination than anything else. That plate would later be changed to something non-descript, easing her mind a bit. My guess would be the Sanford PD still knew when she was on the road. Mom was never comfortable behind the wheel of a car. She drove only a few years, finally giving up after the side of her silver Buick Skylark showed the bump, bump, bump of intimate contact with a telephone pole after turning a corner on her way home from church.


I steal another glance at her sleeping form, my eyes resting on her once-silver hair, now much closer to white. I travel back to the day in 5th grade when Mom came to Notre Dame School to be a lunchtime monitor. Inside a brown paper bag was the lunch she brought me--a tuna sandwich, slightly warm, the lettuce a bit wilted. Had she brought a gourmet meal I could not have eaten, my stomach in knots wondering what my friends would say about this gray-haired lady, such silly imaginings of the paranoid running through my brain. “Is that your grandmother?” “Why is your mother so old?” “Why is her hair that color?” It is funny how the subject of such paranoia—my mother’s gray hair—would turn into such a source of pride. I wear my silver inheritance proudly, giving credit where credit is due—“I got it from my mom!” my mantra. I've loved my silver hair since the first strand visited when I was 18.


Quickly, pictures change to my wedding day. It’s a perfect Maine day in late August. Mom and I are in the basement of the church waiting for the moment we are to move upstairs to the sanctuary. She looks at me, studying my face for a long moment. “It’s not too late to change your mind, you know,” she says to me with all seriousness. I look back at her, realizing that she is speaking it to me, but wishing she’d known to say it to my sister, Suzanne, as well. I love her so much in this moment, knowing she is saying the same to me without so many words. “I’m okay, Mom,” I say as we climb the stairs to where my Dad is waiting. Mom links her arm in mine, Dad takes my hand and the three of us walk together down the aisle.


More quickly now, the pages turn. I remember…the day when I was ten and mom had a big feast for my brother’s friends. Candlelight, spaghetti, and laughter abounded. Mom hurries into the kitchen to find what she smells burning. A glance in the mirror above the sink proves it is her own hair, smoldering with the telltale sign of having bent just a little too closely to the candles on the dining room table. Another feast, Thanksgiving, I think, and I hear my brother Ernie yell once, twice, three times, “Would somebody pleeeezze pass the mashed potatoes?” only to find that this much beloved favorite somehow never made it to the stove top. A temporary pause of disbelief by those at the table is met by the laughing voice of my mother as she roars, “Oh! I forgot to cook them!”


The pictures running through my mind surprise me, that it is these memories which flash by in an instant. So many other memories I think might come instead: the tender moments spent encouraging an insecure teenager; the regard felt as she warmly opened her home to anyone brought there; the familiarity experienced within moments of walking through her doorway; the tears she shed over the unrealized slight of a child or the harsh word of a relative; the agony of watching her child close to death. Her voice comes to me. “Offer it up to God, Jan!” “Oh, it must be mental telepathy! I was just thinking of you!” “Has anyone seen my purse?” These thoughts also come, not in a flash, but in moments lost in thought traveling back over the years.


One more memory comes. It is a picture of my mom sitting on her bed, her Bible on her knees. I want to touch the picture with my finger for the image is so vivid. The Bible she holds is one of those massive Catholic Bibles frequently given as wedding presents in her day. It swallows up her lap. Her fingers slowly skim the page. She is seeking comfort. She is seeking peace, the agony she feels etched in the lines of her face. I know this intuitively as an eight year old. Little children have big ears. We know more than is realized.


The images and memories pause. I sit in the chair beside her bed, brought back by sounds in the hallway, the quiet hustle and bustle of caregivers going about their business. Once more, I look at her face, her eyes closed, sleep undisturbed. A nursing assistant stops in briefly to check on her. She leaves and once more I’m drawn into thought, but this time the memories come more slowly. My heart brims with love for this frail being lying in bed. I see that I am slowly losing her to this nasty disease called dementia. I’m sad, but oh, so grateful. She has been a good mom and such a faithful servant: to her family, to friends, to God. It is from her I received the foundation of a faith deeply rooted. It is from her I learned about God. It is from her I learned to lean on a power greater than myself. It is that gift from her that allows me to release her into the hands of Jesus. It is because of this that I can “offer her up to God”.

Love you, Mom.

Jan




Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside...


Woo-oo-whee, we're having a cold spell! I came home from work on Friday to find that we had no power. Jim had been sick in bed all day. He stayed in bed, fully clothed, under layers of blankets. I went to church to help deliver our annual Christmas Food Boxes to those in need. Came home praying for power. Um, no. At about 8:30 pm there was nothing to do but sleep. So I slept--on the couch, mind you, because me no want to catch whatever Jim had. Such a good and caring wifey, eh? I woke up at 2:30 am a bit nippy and supremely parched. No prob, I thought, I'll go make some tea. Um, no. No power, no water pump, no water. An ice storm had hit on Thursday and Friday and a layer of ice blanketed the trees, the rooftops, everything. Argh. No choice but to get dressed and go to the church to fetch a pail of water (only our strip of houses was without power at the time). Brrr, it was cold. Got to church, got the water, got online to check NIPSCO's schedule for restoration of power. Come to find out, we were just one of 58,000 homes without power and restoration time could not be determined. Hmm. Got home, put water on for tea and pan-toasted some bread for a little middle of the night snack of peanut butter toast. Gotta love a gas stove in times like these. Watched one hour of a movie on my laptop until the battery ran out. Back to sleep. Brief waking moment around 6 am to hear the sound of the furnace kicking on. I whispered, "Thank you, God. Thank you, NIPSCO," and rolled over to go back to sleep. Slept in 'til 9:00. It was nice.

Spent the day running errands, then headed to church for Worship Team practice. Had a solo---"Mary, Did You Know?" one of the annual must-sing requests. I was horribly scratchy at rehearsal. I'm always afraid I won't be able to get that one note. After many runs through the song, I almost had it. This always makes me incredibly crazy-nervous. By the grace of God, the actual rendition went off without a hitch. Halleluiah! It felt really good. To top it off, worship team member, Leigh, sang "Oh, Holy Night". She's awesome and singing backup to her on this song always fills me with incredible emotion. Powerful stuff.

Scooted home quickly to prepare for company. We were hosting the annual viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. What a blast. It was a bit snugly because we had to set up a mock living room in the basement (renovation woes). We ordered Mama Rina's pizza, which was scrumpdillyicious. We had brownies with ice cream and chocolate syrup for dessert as well as other Christmas snacks. As was expected, Jim would speak the lines along with the movie or give us warning of favorite quotes coming up. Come to think of it, Jim kinda reminds me of Cousin Eddie. Snort. :) Must be that black dickie under the white sweater. At least Jim promised Leigh that he wouldn't pause the movie and rewind to repeat his favorite scenes over and over. That's kind of my favorite part of watching the movie. Oh, well. Great fun was had by all and most were out the door by 10-ish. As soon as the movie ended, Todd rolled over in his cushy spot on the quilt-laden floor and fell asleep. Soundly. He woke up about 45 minutes later, quite dumbfounded. I just laughed. He got his shoes on and I sent him out the door with some leftover brownies and a few other goodies. (btw--if you click on the Todd link, you'll see pics from his rendition of Bill Nye the Science guy. It was part of the "roast" of Jim he created for the 10th anniversary of Horizon Ministries. It was all about the 10 top reasons for being pastor of Horizon).

I went to bed all warm and snugly. I made sure to set the alarm so I could wake up in time to bring Clella, our 81 y.o. adopted grandma, to the airport for a flight to spend time with her daughter in Maine. About 4 am, I awoke to vicious winds a-blowing outside and total darkness. Yup, power was out again. At six, I called Clella to say that I could not get out of the garage (manual mechanism would not work and could not get that puppy up). Called Amy, as she was the backup chauffeur. Guess what? Her power was out, too. On to Plan C---Todd didn't know he was Plan C until 6:15 am. Always a good sport and a Clella fan, he was good to go. Read about Plan C here.When they got to the airport, her flight out had been delayed and her connection in Detroit was canceled. After much juggling, the desk attendant got her re-routed through Charlotte, NC. Todd left her to await her flight. I called Clella's daughter, Patty, to tell her of the change in plans. More trouble. Maine was about to be hit with a predicted 2 feet of snow. We know that Clella would have ended up being stranded in Charlotte and that would not be good. So, I called Todd, told him to turn around and head back to the airport to pick the girl up. They stood in line a while, but finally got her ticket canceled and a full refund. Her original flight had been scheduled for Friday and that got postponed until today. She decided she's just gonna hang it up and hang with us for the holidays. We'll see. Patty really wants her mom home for Christmas.

This time, it wasn't just our strip of houses. The whole town of Bremen was without power. With the strong winds, our house just got colder and colder. We ended up at Steve and Amy's, where they had a toasty house because they were smart enough to have a generator. We had a grand day with a crowded house--Steve and Amy with their two dogs, Clella and Todd, Jim and I. Besides rescuing us from our house, Steve had gone on another rescue mission earlier in the morning to collect, Charlotte, another of our elderly women from church, as well as her two dogs, Molly and Ginger. I brought the fixings for taco soup and cheese biscuits. I also brought the leftover brownies and ice cream. I loved the adventure and the food was good, too!

The power went back on around 4 pm, but continued to flicker off and on for the next few hours until now. I'm sitting here, all toasty, the TV on in the background, internet working. I just pray we keep power for the night. That wind is fierce and there is a Winter Weather Advisory posted. Southern Michigan has a blizzard warning. I want to get our reno project under way a.s.a.p. Gotta get those gas fireplaces in soon. Gotta get ready for the next power outage. I want to host the next blackout party!

jdm

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finding Christmas


It's a hard year for finding the joy in Christmas. So much stress and strife everywhere that the joy is being pushed aside, covered up, diminished. Maybe we're just looking in the wrong places. Maybe our hearts are so heavy that hope is having difficulty floating to the top. Maybe we are letting too much distract us.

I've not one decoration out yet. Not one, not even our tree. How can we be so busy that we can't prepare for Christmas? Oh, I know it's not about decorations. It's about the heart.

I've been struggling lately. A combination of things have contributed to this and I find I've been so distracted by my wallowing that I've forgotten to look for Christmas. But I found it. I'm still finding it.

I found Christmas through Liz at Mabel's House as she wrote about a good friend who is dying. There is Christmas in the bond of their relationship and the hope that there is a rhyme and a reason in this circumstance, not yet understood.

I found Christmas in the face of a child. Just months old, his beautiful smile melts my heart. In his eyes, I spy the awesomeness of generations past, whose love through the ages make his life possible. I look into his eyes again and I see the hope of the future and it's good. It's all good. Not necessarily easy, but good nonetheless.

Christmas showed itself in the kindness of colleagues offered to me in a time of stress. A simple gesture offered, really, but huge in its message. I found comfort. I found Christmas.

Christmas was left on my desk this morning. I left for a meeting and upon my return, found a home-made French Silk pie and a heart-warming note. Just what was needed at the beginning of a day designed to be difficult. My stomach was in a knot, but my heart was warmed.

And there was Christmas again today as I helped lead a group of people through a difficult day of conflict resolution. It was agony to watch as individuals struggled to move outside their comfort zones, sometimes passively, sometimes aggressively. I believe there just may be claw marks under the table as some clung so tightly to held beliefs, trying so hard not to give, trying hard to be right despite facts to the contrary. It was painful to watch good people behave badly. I did not see total resolution, but I saw movement. I'll take movement. And I saw Christmas in the hearts of those with the most to lose, those who had good reason to withdraw, to self-protect, to lash back because they didn't. They took great risk, they took a chance, and they grew. What a gift to watch.

And in a room full of children with challenges, I saw Christmas. Their faces aglow as they nodded and clapped without a lick of rhythm as a young teacher shared and played his dulcimer. And, oh, there was Christmas in his face, filled with such tenderness, and in his demeanor, greatly patient, as he answered their questions---"no," he didn't know the theme to Six Flags amusement park, and "yes," they could touch the instrument, and "sorry," he will learn Rudolph for next year. And Christmas was there again in the face of a young girl, so thrilled to be invited to sing Jingle Bells with her teacher as they led her classmates through the song.

Christmas is coming and I'm preparing. I may not be preparing my house, but I'm preparing my heart. I am now seeking Christmas and I am finding it.

jdm
(thank you, Dave, for the prompt.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pandora's Box

I've mentioned before how much I love, love, love to blog-hop. I land on someone's blog (usually one about decorating or just randomness), then I look down their list of blogs which they visit, find a blog name that intrigues me for whatever reason, and with a click! I'm in someone else's world. How I love to visit. I learn about their families, their hopes, their heartbr(aches), their homes. I think I'm what would be called a lurker in most cases. I think that is a person who visits, but does not make their presence known with a comment or such. I think I'm a bit shy when it comes to comments (okay, for those who know me, stop laughing at the word "shy"). When I leave a comment, after all, they can link back to me, for Pete's sake. That means they can read my posts and the insecure little girl inside of me starts to freak and have performance anxiety. For crying out loud, I've only given my blog address to about six people and even though I love them dearly, it still freaks me out. Plus, I'm not really great about posting on a regular basis. Not sure what stops me on that one 'cause I have so many thoughts rattling around my brain at any given moment. Sheesh.

Anyway, that is not the reason for this post's title, although it seems very apropos for the above rambling. This post is just about another thank you I am extending to the blogosphere and, most specifically, to Meg at Whatever. As I hopped this morning, I read one of her posts about many miscellaneous thoughts. She had one sentence that especially caught my eye---
my new favorite pandora station is Adele. (just type in Adele...after you register)

fun music and mostly all clean.....groovin' while i am blogging or cooking.

What the heck is pandora, I wondered. So, again, I clicked. I'm so happy I could cry. It's a FREE music site where you can create your own "radio stations" that play music you like/choose. I never heard of this before, have you? My son has, so that probably means I'm just clueless. This is what you do: 1) register, 2) type in the name of an artist you like, 3) wait. Soon, Pandora will create a radio station of similar artists and music. You can keep or delete the selections she brings to you. The reason I'm so extra delighted today is that I have been lamenting the fact that I don't have enough wonderful Christmas music to play right now. I've been trying to add to my collection, but I'm cheap and the cd's I've purchased don't cut it. I plugged in the name Amy Grant and here I am sitting here right now listening to my heart's content. And better yet is the fact that it is snowing outside. Thank you, Meg. Thank you for your random thought.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seeing Ghosts in IHOP

Jim and I went looking at sinks for our reno project at Menard's, Home Depot and Lowe's this cold Sunday. Afterward, we made a quick stop at IHOP for a quick breakfast-lunch. We sat down, I looked across the aisle and my heart skipped a beat. There were ghosts sitting in the booth across from us. It was a hopeful split second before reality set in. Tears began to pour and refused to stop. The menu before me became a blur. With stolen glances, I looked at his shoes, shiny black. Her hair was white and neatly, yet naturally coiffed. She wasn't as tiny as my little mum nor he as tall as Dad. He wore a tie with his dress shirt and a gray tweed sport coat, so familiar. Her face sweetly composed as she tenderly helped him with his overcoat, adjusting the shoulder as he shrugged his shoulders into it. Their eyes met briefly before they turned to walk away.

It would have been Dad helping Mom into her coat. He was a gentleman. No matter if he attended a church service or not, Sundays were made for dressing up and he did. A sport coat, shirt and tie and dress pants were his uniform for the day. There was always a comment made when Dad would arrive on Sundays to visit Mom at the Greenwood Center, her "home" for the last few years of her life. "Mr. D! Why are you all dressed up?," the staff would ask. "It's Sunday," was always his reply. Mom was a tiny thing, barely five foot in her stocking feet. Dad stretched out at 6'4." Mutt and Jeff the two of them were, yet they could dance like Fred and Ginger. Oh, how we all loved to watch them dance.

I miss them.

jdm

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Fave's 11.7.08

Woo-hoo! Friday Fave's on, get this--Friday! So, call me simple. It's a simple pleasure and I relish it.

My favorite five things from this week:
1. Brianna. Brianna is a 7th grade student in my school and an absolute and unequivocal delight. With her mom's permission, I videotaped a question and answer session with her. Every November, the Guidance Department sponsors a month-long focus on diversity. This year, I chose the diversity focus to revolve around awareness and sensitivity to those with disabilities (and thank you, Five String Guitar for being the inspiration for the focus this year). Brianna shared her experiences resulting from being a student with Cerebral Palsy. She was VERY excited to share her story and has such a wonderfully warm attitude about it all. Not an ounce of self-pity existed. You know, it takes a lot of guts to expose yourself like that to your middle school peers. Lots of guts. (That's her walker to the right).
2. Total spastic, system-cleansing laughter. I've been at a conference in Indianapolis these last two days. Last night, my colleagues and I got lost on the way to finding a restaurant for dinner. After a serendipitous turn of events, we had crazy times finding a spot in the hotel parking lot. This resulted in uncontrollable laughter and tears that felt just so incredibly good. It was one of those moments when you just had to be there. To try to explain it all would make absolutely no sense to you. Just take my word for it and laugh with me.
3. A fabulous keynote presenter. Michele Borba gave a dynamic and inspiring presentation on the issue of bullying in schools. My mind was reeling with ideas for the coming year. Awesome.
4. Bamboo. After bringing home a gazillion samples from every hardwood flooring store in a 30-mile radius, Jim and I have finally settled on the wood for our hardwood floors. Good golly, I absolutely hate the decision-making that comes with a renovation project. Too many details to consider. I don't know how other people thrive doing it.
5. Warm fuzzy compliments. After reading the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I learned that my primary love language is Words of Affirmation. That means I need words of encouragement and affirmation to fill my "love tank" and keep me going. My husband once told me that I was a "low maintenance wife." It doesn't take much to keep me happy (okay, so that might be true most days). I don't need presents on my birthdays, Mothers' Day or on my anniversary (Don't get me wrong. I LOVE presents, I just don't need them to be happy). I don't want a lot of bling. I don't demand a lot of time and I give Jim a lot of needed time to himself (I just asked Jim and this is what he is telling me. No, I am not holding a weapon to his throat). Anyway, two nice things happened to me today. At the conference, I ran into one of my counselor intern students whom I taught a few years ago at Indiana University South Bend. In the course of our conversation, she told me that I was the best teacher she had in her Masters program. Love tank arrow bounced on "FULL." Boi-oi-oing! Then when I got home and checked my emails, I had several teachers who wrote to say how much they enjoyed the video of Brianna which was shared with students today. They also mentioned that wonderful discussion ensued with their classes. Empathy, compassion and understanding became evident in our students. Exactly what I prayed for. We aren't done yet and it's a continual process to encourage kids (and) adults to be sensitive and aware of the issues, but it is a start and I am thrilled.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Friday Fave's

In my blog-hopping craze last week, I came across one woman who always posts a Friday's Favorite Five. She lists five of her favorite things from the week. I liked that idea, so I'd like to try to duplicate it. I was going to start last week, but the days ran away with me and it was no longer Friday. Something about breaking the rules stopped me from doing it anyway. What a dork. And here it is Saturday morning of the second week and I still haven't done it. Gah! My excuse is that we had company arrive from Massachusetts last night and I was getting the house and beds ready. So, if I hold myself to posting this on Fridays, I may never get started. Silly girl, I can break my own rules, can't I?

So here goes, my Friday Fave's on a Saturday. And I'm even breaking another rule--- some of these things happened last week. HA! Living on the edge, aren't I? What a dork.

1) Spending two days visiting my boy, Dylan, in Indianapolis over my school's fall break. I enjoyed seeing his apartment for the first time and I got to meet his new pup, Swazey. Yes, I got a major crush on her. Wish I'd had my camera, but Jim had it with him in Arizona. Dylan took me to his Thursday night Bible Study with all his friends which always ends with everybody watching "The Office." We went to IUPUI to see what he had to do to re-enroll for the spring semester, did a little shopping and went out to eat at Piper's, the restaurant where he is wait staff on Friday nights. His girlfriend's parents own it. It is always a treat to hang with Dylan. He loves his mom and doesn't mind hanging out with her. What a good guy.
2) Ripping out the paneling around our fireplace and pulling out the carpet, padding, baseboards, and nailboards around the edges. This means our renovation project is really going to happen. Now, if I can just get up the courage to ask my friend, Fred, if he's willing to build the island cabinets for me. (I hope he says yes or I've got a little problema).
3) Jim getting home from Arizona. It was a long and lonely week without him. It was a longer and emotionally arduous week for him as he dealt with his mom's declining health and death.
4) Beautiful, gorgeous breath-taking sunsets and sunrises. I love the indigo-violet-blue-red-pink-orange-yellow that fills the skyline as the day turns to night and vice-versa.
5) Friends who visit from Massachusetts. A long time ago, Jim and I met Harriet and her then-husband, Arlen, when we lived in MA. Our kids were close in age and we all became fast friends. We spent much time together camping, eating, and visiting even after we had moved to Maine. When I had to make the weekly four-hour drive to MA while I finished my Masters degree, Harriet would take care of my children while I attended class and studied. I couldn't have completed my degree without their help and support. After our move to Indiana, we spoke maybe once a year, sometimes less. Fast forward fifteen years and I get a phone call early one August day. Their son, Christopher, will be attending the University of Notre Dame---do we live close by? Um, yeah, a 30-minute drive. And so through Christopher, we were able to reconnect. Harriet and Arlen are no longer married, but our home has become their Bed & Breakfast inn when they venture out on alternating weekends to attend the famous ND football extravaganzas. It has been wonderful to reconnect and rekindle our friendship. I love that we are able to repay their kindness so many years later. Christopher will graduate next spring, so our challenge will be to maintain the long-distance relationship. (That's Harriet and Christopher in the picture with a member of the ND Guard. The guard is not allowed to smile while suited up. Or else!).
6) I love fall. (and I broke another rule).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Life, Death, Babies and Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mother-in-law passed away today. Fortunately, Jim and his sister, Karen, were able to be with her in Arizona during this time. Jim flew out last Thursday and had been holding vigil since. Lots of life and death decisions to make and the weight of it all has been heavy. Second-guessing mingled with mourning. I recently found old notes from a leadership conference which dealt with making tough calls. My notes said that in making tough calls, one must understand your part and God's part. Yours is to make the tough call. God's is to deliver you. It also said to pray for discernment and courage. I reminded Jim of this last night. He held great courage as he struggled to discern the correct tough call. Jim has walked beside and supported others as they were in similar tough circumstances making tough calls. It is much more difficult when it is your own shoes in which you must walk. He's a good man. I am so grateful he was able to be with Barb during her final days. It would have been devastating to think that she would die alone.

As is common when someone dies or lays dying, I've been thinking back over the last twenty-eight years. I've been remembering the first time I met Barb and Ed. Jim and I flew from Bangor, Maine to Phoenix, Arizona. Two days later on Christmas morning, Jim proposed in front of them. We went to an Arizona Suns basketball game that night and I never watched the game. I couldn't take my eyes off my new ring and the way the lights made the diamond sparkle. We drove to the Grand Canyon. Barb and Ed were in the front seat, bickering the whole way while Jim and I just laughed. They reminded me of the characters Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn portrayed in the movie "On Golden Pond." I've always thought of Barb as that character Ethel Thayer. I still smile when I remember that trip. Barb was always pretty upfront about things (and sometimes I wished she wasn't). One morning, while we sat drinking coffee, Barb pulled out a box of old pictures. She said, "I thought you might like to see what Jim's first wife looked like." At first, I was taken off guard, but as she shared the pictures I gained an appreciation for what she was doing. She meant no harm, she just wanted me to know it was okay to ask questions. I was grateful she did that.

Being so far away, I can only pray and offer support. It is a helpless feeling to not be able to be there with Jim. He was such a rock for me while my dad was dying. I would want to offer the same. I struggled with what to do as I waited. I decided to hold babies. Our church has been blessed with two new babies in the last six weeks. Jailen, born three weeks early, is six weeks old. Baby Drew, Jailen's "best friend," is three weeks old. I visited Jailen this afternoon and just held him after learning of Barb's death. Tonight, I brought Drew and his daddy warm chocolate chip cookies. I got to hold Drew and gave him a bottle while his mommy was at class. What better way to honor a death than to welcome new life?

In the midst of sadness, Jim and I feel God's presence.

jdm

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For Dave, Janet and Dan

Crown Wretch. I've written about it before here.

For my readership of three, I ask you this: please pray for my blog-friend, Dave, and his family. He is recovering from a third cochlear transplant this week after waking up completely deaf a year ago. His wife woke up yesterday, struggling for breath due to complications from leukemia. It is a dark time for them. They are a source of inspiration for me with their spirit and determination. It is difficult for them right now to see the light and feel hope. Their 15 yr-old son, Dan, must contend with not one ill parent, but two.

Pray, also, please for Jim and his mom as they wait.

Isaiah 40:31 (King James Version)31But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

jdm

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gee, I must be an idiot

Okay, no comments from the peanut galleries out there.

I was half listening to various news channels this morning while blog-hopping (I think it's an addiction). What made me stop and take notice was a feature on Hollywood's support of Barack Obama. It appears that Hollywood is a huge supporter (I know, it's such a surprise) of Obama. Donations from Hollywood for Obama total 15 million. Hollywood support for McCain is about 1 mil. (For the record, I have yet to make up my mind for whom I will vote. I find good and bad in both candidates. I continue to research the candidates in order to be able to form a more valid opinion. I don't, as a rule, vote along party lines. I vote for the candidate that I believe is better able to lead this nation).

Now, I believe everyone has the right to their own opinion on the presidential race and it is fine by me that someone may choose differently than me. The thing I find utterly offensive is that Hollywood thinks I'm an idiot. Key players in H-town seem to think that I care what they think. They also act as if I will take their lead and vote for their candidate of choice. Tina Fay, SNL comedian, has been doing spot-on impersonations of Sarah Palin since she became the VP choice for John McCain. She recently said at an awards ceremony that she hopes to only "have" to play this woman until November 5. Well, okay, Tina. Then she went on to emphasize something about how good it will be for her if she doesn't have to play her after Nov. 5, implying that we should really care about her well being over this issue. Get over it, Tina. If you don't want to play her, don't. I really don't care. If you spend much time watching anything related to Hollywood, you will hear them tout their personal opinion on the candidates. Me thinks their egos are a tad bit too large. During the last presidential election, we were subjected to more of the same. Comedian, Jenean Garofolo, thought I would like to know her opinion on the candidates. She was very in-your-face about it. Now, I'm not interested in her opinion about toilet paper or bug spray or the weather, so why would I care who she thinks we should have voted for? Overblown sense of importance?

What I do care about is this: when you vote for a candidate, please, please, please base your vote on your own research. Please, please, please don't cast your vote based on who your favorite actor, neighbor, postal carrier, or film maker is voting for. If you do that, you give up your right to think on your own. Casting your vote is too important to give that power up to others.

In the last few weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election, my father (whom I loved dearly) sent a mass email out to all family members. He said, "I will take it as a personal affront if any member of my family votes for ..." Needless to say, thus began a barrage of irate responses from the masses. It got pretty ugly for a bit. Now, I rolled my eyes when I got Dad's email because my thought was that what he was hoping to do backfired. Rather than discouraging votes for a candidate, his words caused family members to dig in their heels. One family member (whom I also love dearly) sent out a mass email regarding a movie-of-the-day she had just seen the night before. It was Farhenheit 911, the Michael Moore horror flick about George Bush. This family member commented that after watching the movie there was no way she could ever vote for George Bush. I wrote her back and said so don't vote for George Bush, but please, please, please don't do it because of some movie you saw. Please, please vote for your candidate because you've done your own research and formed your own opinion. Please? Please.

These are exciting times. We have running in this election a black man for president and a woman for vice president. Whichever candidate wins will bring a historic moment to this nation. I kind of think we are a wee bit behind the times though. For most parts of the world, these precedents are old hat.

So, anyway, don't let Hollywood or anyone else form your opinion. Take the time to research, think, and evaluate. Then cast your vote. Please cast your vote.

jdm

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Doors, Rainbows and White Crosses

(The following is a copy of the initial report I am submitting to the Lilly Endowment as part of the requirement for receiving the grant. I don't think it is quite what they expect, but this is what I needed to write. It begins with the snapshot moment I have in my last post. Sorry, it's a long post.)

“A cool mist lightly caresses my face as we climb the slight incline of smooth red brick. Ten steps away, I spy another door. My steps hesitate as I approach, afraid to look, afraid not to. My eyes search hopefully from top to bottom, side to side, desperate in their quest for an answer. My heart grows heavier with each step past the door. I had so hoped that this would be the door. The weight in my heart grows heavier still as I blink back the tears. A stairway looms ahead, its mass of metal, bolts and taut wire pointing to a dead-end. .

My feet begin the slow pivot as I turn back. Something catches my eye, seeing, but not believing. My heart skips a beat then quickens, thump-thump-thump-thump in rapid succession. There is a slight shadow in the middle left panel of the door. My eyes zoom in on the shadow as I try to make sense of what they are seeing. A light touch of my hand pushes open the secret door-within-a-door. My heart is in my throat, a roadblock to the words I try to say. “Jim,” I whisper, “It’s the door.” Words deny me. Tears blur my vision and mingle with the cool mist on my cheeks.

In that moment, I lose myself and become a young soldier of so long ago, standing tall and brave and proud. The journey of four thousand miles and a year of planning bring me to this single moment. Raw emotions rise to the surface as the memory replays itself in my mind as a movie running in slow motion, frame by single frame.”

To the casual observer, this snapshot moment may not appear to have much significance. To me, however, it meant everything. It was the pinnacle moment of my entire proposal and ensuing trip. The hours that followed this moment also hold a special place in my heart. In those hours, I was able to walk the same path my father did, find that special door, drink “the best beer in the world” (according to my dad) and sleep where my father slept in the post-war summer of 1945. I was covered with a sea of emotion. Still, as I write this, the emotion sweeps over me again.

My husband and I arrived in Andechs, Germany on the fourth day of our trip. It had rained off and on during the afternoon. As we left our car in the parking lot at the base of the hill below the church, my stomach became a twist of knots. What if we came all this way to find that this was not the town and church we were searching for? What would I do? Fortunately, it was unnecessary to answer those questions for I found everything and more.

Once we found the door, we entered the Bräustüberl, or Beer Garden. Activity was high as people came in and out. Tables were filled with companions and travelers guarding steins filled with amber liquid. Pig knuckles, sauerkraut and gigantic pretzels engulfed the table tops. Jim and I each ordered a weissbier and a pretzel and found our way to a booth built for eight. I looked around at the people milling about. From everywhere rose the voices of German people speaking in their mother tongue. As I searched the crowd, I wondered aloud if any of them could be locals. We continued to peruse the crowd. Behind us in the next booth, was a crowd of older German men. “Jim, do you think they are from this town?” I asked. With a shrug of his shoulders and a “we have nothing to lose” attitude, he got up from the table. My heart filled with hope and hesitation as Jim approached the men with a photo in one hand and a German-English dictionary in the other. In halting German, which improved with each weissbier, Jim did his best to explain what we were looking for.

The photo he held in his hand was the only clue to where my father once slept. It was a photo of my father as a young soldier standing in front of a German gasthof (guest house). Only a portion of the building could be seen behind him and just a hint of its name could be read. What were the chances they would know it? What were the chances it still existed? Was it even in this town? Six old men crowded around the photo. Fingers pointing and excited voices rose above the din. Curious eyes from neighboring tables were upon all of us. One man, whose name we would learn is Hermann, did his best to explain. What we believed he was saying in rapid German was that he knew this gasthof. He would point to the picture and then point down the road. Soon, he waved us to follow him. As we walked down the hill toward the parking lot, we realized he was taking us to the gasthof. I so hoped he was taking us to the gasthof. Into our rental car we climbed, Jim and Hermann in the front seats with me sitting with anticipation in the back.

The drive was over almost as soon as it began. We pulled into a small parking lot across from a small grocery store and behind what I suspected was the place for which we searched. We entered a door in the back and walked through a small hallway. Doors led to unknown spaces on either side. Hermann pointed to one door and motioned for us to enter. We were greeted by a fair-haired man in his thirties. This man and his wife now owned the gasthof and the name had been changed from Gaststätte Zum Seefelder Hof to Gasthof Erlinger Hof. Hermann explained to the innkeeper why we were there. He showed him the picture of my father in front of the gasthof. The man looked at the picture then glanced about the room. He signaled us to wait and wove his way among the tables. He examined some pictures hanging on the wall in the
restaurant. He would look, give a slight shake of his head and move to another picture. At the third picture, he removed it from the wall and brought it to us. It was a picture of the gasthof taken in the same era as the one of my father. It was identical to the one of my dad, only the young soldier was missing from it. I just held that picture in my hand and cried. I cried even more and gave the innkeeper a hug. I think it was an awkward moment for him, but he was gracious.

After a few minutes, arrangements were made for us to spend the night at Gasthof Erlinger Hof. The innkeeper brought us back through the hallway where we first entered and through another door which led to a stairway. Once again in such a short span of time, I stood without breathing. The stairway my dad had described rose before me, strong and solid. “Dad,” I could barely breath, “I wish you were here.” Again, I wept. As we climbed the stairway, I pointed to a window in my father’s picture, indicating that this was the room he slept in (the window just above the front door). He pointed to the door leading to that room and indicated that that was now part of his family’s living space. Nevertheless, he let us go in. We stood looking out the window and I thought of my father. I tried to envision the world he witnessed when he stood in that very spot.

We were soon in our own room and I looked about. The room had been modernized and no trace of a bygone era could be found. It did not matter. As I stood in the room, I tried to absorb all that had transpired in such a short period of time. This had all been so easy. Within one hour of finding that door, I was standing in the very gasthof my father had been living in over sixty years before. The emotion was overwhelming. I had guarded my emotions as I planned this trip and as I began this journey. I knew the chances of locating the town, the church, the door were slim. To find the gasthof from an incomplete picture would be near impossible. Yet all this and more was found.

Writing this report has been incredibly difficult. With each word I type I relive those precious moments. The waves of emotion sweep over me again and again. Tears pour.

Fortunately, the very evening after I found the door, we located an internet café. We had but 30 minutes to closing, but the owner graciously gave us a bit of extra time. In a mad dash, I jotted down a quick email and sent it to my dad. My sister-in-law read it to him as he lay in bed. He was pleased and was able to laugh at a few of our antics and at a few stories I shared with him. I looked forward to talking with him about our adventures and to sharing the photographs we took. I wanted to see his face and to hear his laugh.

Four days after these few hours in Andechs, my father died. Jim and I were staying in Kuchls, Austria when I learned of his death. I believe it was the hand of God that brought us to such a beautiful place to hear heartbreaking news. We were there only by serendipitous events. We arrived in Kuchls in the late afternoon. After having settled into our room overlooking the Austrian Alps, we took a walk around a small lake on our way to dinner. A light rain had come and gone and the clouds were clearing. I stopped dead in my tracks. Over the Alps arched a beautiful rainbow. I looked at my watch --- 6:30 pm, Austrian time. I didn’t say a word to Jim, but I knew when I saw that rainbow that my father was dying. Though torn with sadness, I felt a great peace.

The next morning, I woke quite early. Jim was still asleep, so I lay there a bit. From our bed, I could look out the window and take in the beauty of those mountains rising above. My waking thoughts were of my dad. I knew what I would find when I opened my email later that morning. Again, a great peace blanketed me. I took my laptop and my camera out to the patio and thought and wrote and prayed. I was drawn again to the beauty of the mountains stretching before me. I sat in awe. After a time, my eyes were drawn to a small object reflecting the sun nearer the base of the mountain. A simple, white cross stood as a sentinel overlooking this little town. Tears flowed as my heart ached.

It feels as if I were an actor performing in an over-melodramatic motion picture. The Alps, the rainbow, the simple, white cross all symbolically crafted to tap within the viewer great emotion. But I wasn’t an actor. I was just a daughter who loves her father, a man mighty and brave with a keen sense of duty. All I wanted to do with this trip was to honor him. What I could not know was that this journey would result in my ability to grieve his death in such an enormously fulfilling way.

My gratitude to the Lilly Endowment cannot be expressed in words.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Jim," I whisper, "It's the door."

As part of the grant I wrote in order to go to Germany, I proposed writing a short story about my dad. That is a work in process. The end result is intended just for me, only to be shared with a few family members and friends. One way I'm "forcing" myself to work on it is to participate in some of the writing activities our 8th graders are learning about in their English classes. At present, they are learning to write snapshot moments. A snapshot moment is to be written in the first person, includes thoughts and emotions, uses sensory details and only meaningful dialogue and requires staying in the moment. So I wrote a snapshot entry about the moment I found the long sought-after door (see the grant proposal for more info). Today, I shared my written piece with two of the classes. Tomorrow, I'll share it with two more. I still can't read it without crying. It will always be a source of deep emotion for me. For what it's worth, here it is:

A cool mist lightly caresses my face as we climb the slight incline of smooth red brick. Ten steps away, I spy another door. My steps hesitate as I approach, afraid to look, afraid not to. My eyes search hopefully from top to bottom, side to side, desperate in their quest for an answer. My heart grows heavier with each step past the door. I had so hoped that this would be the door. The weight in my heart grows heavier still as I blink back the tears. A stairway looms ahead, it’s mass of metal, bolts and taut wire pointing to a dead-end. .

My feet begin the slow pivot as I turn back. Something catches my eye, seeing, but not believing. My heart skips a beat then quickens, thump-thump-thump-thump in rapid succession. There is a slight shadow in the middle left panel of the door. My eyes zoom in on the shadow as I try to make sense of what they are seeing. A light touch of my hand pushes open the secret door-within-a-door. My heart is in my throat, a roadblock to the words I try to say. “Jim,” I whisper, “It’s the door.” Words deny me. Tears blur my vision and mingle with the cool mist on my cheeks.

In that moment, I lose myself and become a young soldier of so long ago, standing tall and brave and proud. The journey of four thousand miles and a year of planning bring me to this single moment. Raw emotions rise to the surface as the memory replays itself in my mind as a movie running in slow motion, frame by single frame.




Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's A Wonderful, Wonderful Blogging World

You know, most days are pretty dry days for blogging and I'm just not sure what to write about. Plus, the busyness of life gets in the way of regular updates. This morning, I've been sitting here blog-hopping. This seems to be one of my favorite past times these days. I sit far too long hop- hop-hopping all over the place. However, today my post is about just how far-reaching this blogging world can be. I'm going to introduce you to just two blogging worlds. The first is Dave, the second is NieNie. I do not know either of them. I've just "met" them through other people's blogs. It just goes to show how small our world really is.

First, I'd like to tell you about Dave from Toronto, Canada. I found him through a comment he left on someone's blog. The comment made me curious enough to find out more of the story behind the comment. This eventually led me to his two blogs. The first blog he discontinued as a result of extreme disappointment in the human condition (brought about by his comment that I had found). The whole situation made me sad, so being the extrovert and people-person that I am, I emailed him some encouragement. He emailed me back. That's the extent of it. However, Dave's profile made me curious enough to follow up on him from time to time. You see, Dave woke up one day last year to find that he had become profoundly deaf as the result of a stroke and meningitis. His first blog is an interesting read of his journey into deafness as well as his wife's struggle with cancer. One, two, punch! Man, that family has been hit hard. Anyway, Dave was to have his second cochlear implant to help bring him back into the world of the hearing again. All has not gone well since the surgery in August. The wonderful thing about this blog is the number of people who keep leaving comments on his blog with words of encouragement during a long time of blog-silence. Some know him well, some not at all, like me.

Another example of love extended through blogging is NieNie. As I blog-hopped, I kept seeing this link about Nie Recovery. So, I checked it out. Stephanie Nielsen and her husband, Christian, were in a private airplane accident on August 16. The pilot died in the crash. Christian sustained burns on 30% of his body. Stephanie is burned over 80%. Can you imagine the pain? She has been blogging since 2005 and seems to have quite a following (there have been 65, 397 hits on her profile. Yikes!) The amazing thing has been the blog world's response to her accident. There are fundraisers going on all over the place. Bloggers are holding auctions with all proceeds going to their recovery. They have four small children who are being cared for by a sister in Provo, Utah. They were interviewed by Matt Lauer on Sept. 9. It just amazes me how frequently I find a link about them on random posts I find.

So, these are just two examples of how small the world can seem. It makes me happy to think that so many strangers can come together from so faraway, never ever meet, yet do awe-inspiring feats of great kindness for another unmet individual. It also makes me wonder---do we do this in our own backyards and neighborhoods? Or is it safer to love others from behind the door of the internet where we can control how much of ourselves we give away?

During a month long event sponsored by my guidance department, our theme was "Make your mark---give away your heart." It's a good theme to live by. Long distance or local, I love watching it happen.

jdm

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joy In My Arms




Where do you feel your joy?

Joy is my favorite word, not because it's such a pretty word, but because it is the representation of a beautiful experience. American Heritage Dictionary (via dictionary.com) defines it this way:

Joy:
1. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.
2. The expression or manifestation of such feeling.


It's not just a feeling of happiness, joy moves way beyond that. It's almost a visceral emotional experience. I find joy in the smallest snippets of my day. In my work with students, I find that many of them have never experienced the feeling of joy and have great difficulty identifying an emotion as such.

In the middle of July, I brought three dear friends to experience my home state of Maine. I love Maine. Although it has some not-so-pretty parts, most of Maine is breathtakingly beautiful. I was ecstatically happy to bring people I love to the state I love. They recognized and saw beauty even in the simplest of things. My heart danced with delight. All through the week, I would stretch my arms in the air and say, "I'm so happy." Eventually, that turned into, "I have joy in my arms!" They all laughed and said, "You have joy where? "In my arms! In my arms! I have joy in my arms!" And I did. From the shoulder to the elbow. Joy, joy, joy. In my arms. Joy in my arms.

Don't ask me why I had joy in my arms, I just did. I had it in the region of my heart, too, but I noticed a tingly, delightful feeling in my arms. I'm getting it right now as I think of it. My children bring me joy, my spousal unit brings me joy, a beautiful sunset brings me joy, seeing a flower I've planted bloom brings me joy. Little children who delight with abandon bring me joy. Not just happiness, but joy. Joy, joy, joy in my arms.

So, I ask again, where do you feel your joy? And what brings it to you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's not an 18 yr. commitment. It's forever.



The sound breaks through my dreams, but I can't quite place it. Then it hits me. My cellphone is ringing three rooms away. It's a little before 5 am and my heart beats fast as I race to answer it. It's my daughter. She's crying. "Mom, can you come to Mishawaka?" My stomach lurches. "What's wrong?" I ask, trying to remain calm. She starts to sob and a friend takes over the phone. I want to throw up. Her friend tells me that Jordan fell down a flight of stairs in the middle of the night. She was letting her friend's dogs back in the house and got twisted up. She has broken her wrist, will need stitches on her chin and may have a concussion. Fortunately, Jordan tells me, she still has all her teeth. I can't get into the car fast enough. I feel like my husband is moving in slow motion and I want to scream. He's not, but I've got to get to my girl. The emergency room is, thankfully, only 20 min away. We meet her friends in the emergency room. Jordan is behind a closed door and the doctor is setting her wrist. Finally, we can go in. She laughs when she sees us, then cries a wee bit. "I'm sorry, Mom." For what, silly? I'm just grateful it's not worse.

As we sit and wait for the doctors and nurses to do all they need to before she can go home, I'm drawn back to a similar moment 23 1/2 years ago. Jordan was ten months old at the time. I'm getting ready for work when the phone rings at 6:30 in the morning. It's my mom. A drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit my sister, Suzanne's, car. She was thrown from the car, landed on her head, and had sustained brain injury. It was not known if she would live or die. Dad was already on a plane from Portland, Maine to the hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida. For months, her fate was uncertain. Jim drives my mother and me down, Jordan in tow. Day after day, we make our trek to the hospital. For two weeks, I watched my mom becoming debilitated with worry and praying constantly. I watched as my father tended to Suzanne's care, dealing with doctors, shaming the priest who gave her up for dead and talked about organ donation, and speaking lovingly into her ear. "Come on, little girl, wake up," he'd say to her. She was thirty-six years old, but she was still his "little girl." I remember looking at my beautiful little girl as she crawled across the floor in her diaper and blue & white striped t-shirt and thinking, "This is not an 18 or 22 year commitment. This is forever, this thing called being a parent. It hit me like a ton of bricks for the very first time. For the next 23 1/2 years and until his death, my father tended to my sister's care, never wavering for an instant.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the uncommitted. It is the most wonderful, joy-filled, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, frustrating endeavor on the planet. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I hope and pray to God that I never receive another phone call in the night like this or, even worse, like my parents received.

My girl is sleeping. Vicodin has become her best friend. She will be healed by love, with a little help from modern medicine. I look at her, but I don't see the grown woman she has become. I see a ten month old girl in diapers and a blue & white striped tee. My heart is pinging.

jdm

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gosh, I love my job.

I'm a middle school counselor. I work with 11, 12, 13, 14 and sometimes 15 year olds. Let me tell you, you have got to love these beasts or you will go crazy. Middle school students are evidence that God has a warped sense of humor. They can be innocent and tumultuous all in the same moment. They can be scared to death, insecure, lacking in any kind of confidence and in the next moment, exhibit the most incredible act of courage (and NEVER even recognize it as such). They come in all shapes and sizes and maturity levels. The range of issues is vast---from tears over not being able to open their locker in time for the bell, to "please let me drop Band," to getting in a fight, to being shot and killed because he was in the opposing gang. My heart swells with joy one moment and breaks in the next.

We started back to school this week. It's been a crazy, hectic, "I-can't-catch-up-or-breathe" kind of week for me. But, I love it. I love seeing my kids return after summer break. I love seeing how they've grown or matured after just twelve weeks. I love to see the ones who have grown taller and have yet to grow into their bodies. I love the ones who have transformed from wallflowers into budding beauties. I love it when they get just as excited to see me as I am to see them. (Mind you, there are plenty who could care less that I've returned). I love the gang-banger who works VERY hard to be the toughest man on the planet look at me sideways with a sheepish grin because he knows I see him and he knows I'm glad about it. I love the ones who call me over to their table at lunch just because they need to know they are important enough to get the attention. I love the ones who have yet to say one word to me. I love the ones I have yet to truly know after three years because there are so many others who demand my time and I wonder how I can touch them.

I love the ones who work so hard to be perfect, do everything available, yet I want to ask, "When do you take time to be a child?" I love the ones who are in a hurry to grow up. Sometimes, I think I love many of them more than their parents do. That breaks my heart. I love the ones whose clothes come from the latest, most popular store and wouldn't be caught dead in anything from Walmart. I love the ones who can't afford to shop at Walmart. I love the ones who will fight at the drop of a hat and the ones who would never think to fight.

I love them all. I like them a heck of a lot, too.

jdm

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Operation Nice

I love blog-hopping. I'll start on one blog and connect to another blog from the first one, then connect to another from that one, and so forth. It's a blast. A plain and simple blast. An addictive blast at that. I've "met" some really amazing people just from reading their blog. Some seem to be kindred spirits. Others I visit just to see how they decorate their homes. Then there are others that I find by accident that make me want to take a shower. Mostly, though, I just discover really good, decent people. I love it when that happens. Case in point: A few days ago I discovered operationnice.com. I don't know who started it. Her name is Melissa and she lives on the east coast. She started the Operation Nice blog back in July, so it's just weeks old. She just posted a little video to announce the winner of a contest she held (no, sad to say, I did not win. Boo-hoo)). If you watch the video, you can gain a sense of how nice she is. To quote the blog,
"Operation NICE was initiated to remind you that a little NICE goes a long way."

See the first post here. I like it all. If I could figure out how to get the little Operation Nice icon on my blog, I would. Gotta work on those skills.

Anyway, on this blog you will find stories other people submit about how they experienced an act of "niceness." You'll also find weekly assignments (like "pay someone a compliment). The English teachers at my school would post the word "nice" on the dead-word wall because it is an overused word that students fall back on instead of expanding their vocabulary usage. I believe it might be an overused word for middle school students, but being nice to others is a concept that is underused. We need all the encouragement and reminders we can get.

So Yay! to Operation Nice and to the person who started it.

Nice on, folks! Nice on.!

jdm



Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my dad's 85th birthday. He died two months shy. It is an odd feeling to not be able to call him and wish him a happy birthday. I sang to him in my car anyway. After two months, I still have the urge to call him about this or that. The other day, I had a moment when I began to think about what to get him for Christmas and then I remembered--no gifts this year. Since Jim's dad died 15 years ago, it is the changing seasons that hit him with his loss the most. His dad would always call as the seasons changed to remind this young man of the tasks to accomplish around the house in order to be ready. Jim misses those phone calls. I miss my dad.

It was my goal to be busy today to keep my mind on other things. I went on a turtle hunt. Literally. I went on a turtle hunt with my little friend, Megan. I drove over to Bourbon early this morning. It wasn't early enough, apparently, because Megan was awake at 3 a.m. in anticipation of our adventure. When I pulled in the driveway, I couldn't even get out of the car before Megan was out the door, bucket in hand. In the car she hopped, strapped herself in and said, "Bye, Mom." And we were off. We drove to Syracuse Lake to meet our friend, Britt, and her 2 y.o. son, Miles. Britt gave a quick lesson on canoe behavior, got our paddles in the water, and we slowly and quietly made our way. We wove through the lily pads and the reeds trying to spy itty-bitty snouts poking out of the water between the leaves. We spotted many and almost caught one, but it fell out of our net. Megan was a bit nervous among the reeds, but she persevered. She collected bits and pieces of water lilies, weeds, and cattails to put in her bucket for any turtle we might find. Miles just took it all in, surprisingly. I thought for sure he'd fall overboard. Megan and Miles soaked it all up with wonder and awe. It made me happy just to share the adventure with them.


Happy Birthday, Dad.

jdm

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hair Balls and things that go uck! in the dark

You can thank me later for not including a picture with this post.

What's uckier than stepping on a cold hairball in the dark with bare feet?

jdm

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crown Wretch


See those pretty lavender pink flowers? They aren't really pretty lavender pink flowers. They are weeds. Pretty, extremely intrusive, weeds. A wolf in sheep's clothing to be exact. They are really called Crown Vetch, but if you are familiar with them, you can understand why I would call them Crown Wretch. They are insidious little things.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law, Sarah, and a friend saw these along the roadside growing wild. They thought they were the most beautiful things and could fill a large, empty section of garden easily and cheaply. So one evening, accompanied by friend and a favorite sister-in-law (me, of course!), Sarah set out to abscond with a few free clumps. Okay! So they filled the back of the SUV! As I said, they were growing wild along the side of the road, so I'm not quite sure why we got nervous and immediately struck innocent poses whenever a car chanced by, but we did. I think we felt like naughty little school girls getting caught in the act. Of what, I don't know. With the back of the vehicle loaded with these beauties, we headed for home. Sarah and friend set to work planting them in the empty spaces of their gardens.

Fast forward a year or two, maybe four or five. Sarah has had the garden weed exterminator to her house several times to rid her garden of this insidious beast. It has spread like crazy and threatens to overrun her garden. Still it thrives and weaves its little tentacles silently below the ground to rise up in unexpected and unwelcome places. It waves at us from beneath and around boulders. It pokes its nasty little head amongst the flowers. It wiggles its little fingers in the breeze, seemingly saying, "Hello! You can't stop me! Here I am! I'm ba-a-ack!"

So much of life is like this, isn't it? We pursue things of beauty or fun or temporary pleasure and somehow they come back to haunt us. We experience times of difficulty or tragedy and think it's over, it's ended, yet when we least expect it, it returns with a vengeance. We attempt to live our lives with integrity and kindness and love for others and we get used and abused in return. Crown wretch, crown wretch, crown wretch. I weed, I weed, I weed, yet the tentacles return.

My point is not to dwell on the weeds in our lives. It is not to lament ad nauseam. These things just make me wonder how people handle the Crown Wretch in their lives without a strong and abiding faith in God? It is the primary thing that gets me through. That and a little help from my friends and loved ones.

jdm

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Oh, To Have the Heart of a Child


This is my friend, Megan. This eight-year old makes me laugh out loud and warms my heart.

Her mom sent me this picture with her cell phone yesterday. Megan was sitting by the street in front of her house hoping to make money by playing her guitar. She didn't ask her mom for permission. Mom just happened to look out her window and saw her sitting there. Megan has a major crush on my 20-yr old son who plays guitar. Dylan even played his guitar on Broad Ripple in Indy last summer and made $75. I don't think Megan knew he did that.

When Megan was two, she ran away from her mom and into the bathroom. She pulled out a drawer in the cabinet so mom couldn't open the door. When she was three, she would stand on the coffee table and talk about God. When her mom asked her what she was doing, she said she was "being Pastor Jim." When she was four, she would wake her mother in the middle of the night and ask her mother if it was Sunday. If mom said yes, she would say, "Then I will see Dylan?" However, whenever Dylan would try to talk with her at church, she would run away and hide. Her face still gets red and she gets flustered if he gives her attention.

One day, Megan was with her mom when they stopped by the house. Megan was sitting in the driver's seat talking to Jim while he hit a few golf balls into the cornfield across the road. Jim said, "Hey, Megan. Look at that deer near the trees." Immediately, Megan responded with, "Pastor Jim! Go get a gun and shoot it so we can have it for dinner!" Well, it actually sounded like this---"Pawstoor Jim, git and dinnoor." This is the same kid who called her grandpa one day because she felt like eating squirrel and she wanted to know if he still had some in his freezer. What a hillbilly.

Megan's dad is a county deputy sheriff. He drove by last night while we were watching the fireworks in my front yard and stopped to check on us. He was frustrated by rude people and was venting a bit. I didn't realize that Megan was paying attention until she said, "You just be the nice person, Dad. Just be happy and be nice so they can learn the way to be. Just be nice, Dad." How in the world did she get so smart? Her mom isn't that nice. :) LOL.

Scripture says (Matt 18:3-4)
...unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven...
The footnotes of the Life Application Study Bible explain it this way:
Jesus used a child to help his self-centered disciples get the point. We are not to be childish (like the disciples arguing over petty issues), but rather childlike, with humble and sincere hearts.


I think I need to be more like Megan, with a sincere and innocent heart. We probably all should be. I love you, Megan.

jdm