Daffodils and Uncle David

Daffodils always remind me of Uncle David.  Easter always reminds me of daffodils.  When I was about 4 or 5, Uncle David gave me a beautiful book of poetry (it had daffodils on the front and lots of pictures of beautiful flowers).  I was trying to learn to read at that point, sitting on the couch, when I asked my Mom, “What is d-o-g spelled backwards?”  She told me that was God.  I knew this was significant. 

It’s even more significant that Uncle David is thus directly tied in my little kid brain to finding out about God.  Uncle David was not on everyone’s A list.  He was, in the terms of the day, “slow” or “different” (not dumb, just not quite functioning at the mental complexity his particular decade and community preferred.  He had gotten in some pretty awful spots when someone misunderstood his assessment of different situations (think “padded room”).  Uncle David spent a good part of his later life shuttled off to a halfway house on Capital Hill in Seattle.  Some of the relatives breathed a sigh of relief, and except for coming to the island to pick blackberries and thimbleberries and huckleberries once a year so I could make him a pie, we didn’t see much of him for quite a while.

Uncle David died quietly at home.  A funeral was planned for our little community, with some folks figuring immediate family would be the only ones who showed up.  Boy, were we surprised!  From David’s delightfully diverse community, carloads of people came to our small town and filled the funeral home.  After the formal part of the service was over, someone from the back spoke up and said, “We would like to say something…..”  The minister let her come to the microphone.  One by one, a parade of people came forward to speak about how David’s simple ability to love and encourage those around him, to do practical things, to serve, to help in any way he could had blessed their lives over and over again.  We sat their dumbfounded, humbled and incredibly grateful for the profound lesson unfolding in front of us. God, in typical fashion, chose the humble of the world to teach us that his ways aren’t our ways.  That we had missed the point entirely by talking more than we listened.  That there had been much to learn from a humble man with no guile who sought to love his community.  I am grateful each Easter, especially, as I think of the lessons Uncle David gave me on living in the grace of God.

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The Many Voices and Choices of Christmas

Christmas brings up a lot of stuff for me this year.  We have three wonderful adult children, a brand new healthy grandson, and some Buddhist friends (a dad and two young daughters) who will be spending their first Christmas here in America.  What should I be trying to communicate to each of them as someone who loves them? How do I explain to our Buddhist friends that the American Christmas craziness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the baby in the manger, but that the baby and the manger are really really important?

 Memories of Christmas past play in my head….my brother and I under a Christmas tree gleefully getting a bunch of stuff we may or may not need/want or use but that Mom was really excited about.  Christmas shopping leading to outbreaks of violence, name calling, threats and adult temper tantrums, robbing some of the joy from the gifts we received which seemed so grudgingly given. 

As a little kid, one of the best parts was always the Christmas program at our church.  Little old ladies dressing up us kids in weird nativity costumes to stand around a little manger and sing and recite poems about the little baby Jesus….That was always good.  The truth that Jesus came to a poor, seemingly unimportant family (not just important people), in a country where life was hard and that God was there even in less than ideal circumstances.  God noticed the oppression of His people and sent a deliverer ‘cause life was meant to be different and peace on earth was part of the plan, even if it wasn’t yet a daily reality in the lives of His people.

As a grownup and a mother, Christmas didn’t become magic to me until the year my husband’s mother passed on some of her Christmas ornaments to us.  I had no idea what the treasured strings of gold beads, some red velvet bows, and some ornaments that (part of a family’s rich history) could do to bring such joy to a little (really little) wood-warmed cabin in the woods and to three little kids watching the “twinkles”  in their daddy’s eyes when he looked at the tree and told stories.  He told us about his Christmases as a boy at his aunt’s huge house playing with her five sons and all the other extended family; about putting olives on all his fingers and making the grownups laugh.  It was like life on a different planet.  The “twinkles” in his eyes helped the magic spread to my hearts too. 

My friend, Mac, taught me years ago that one way to redeem (buy back)the memories of the holiday season was to do something nice for someone else that you WANTED to do things for–not just the ones you HAD TO do for.  That trick has always helped.  This year it meant giving a gift to Heal Africa and One 4 One  (folks that hang out with their non-housed friends in Nickelsville). 

The cute little grandson and his parents are going to Montana to totally surprise the other grandma and grandpa.  It should be pretty awesome.  I get to rejoice in how blessed I am that they live within a one hour drive from us, and in how excited his Grandma Norma is going to be!  I’ll miss them, but thinking of the joy they are spreading there makes me very happy too.

For our Buddhist friends, I’m letting those who have a better grip on Christmas cheer (and a more positive attitude) do most of the explaining and just taking them a couple of small gifts.  Open to conversation, but not sure how to proceed…. What I most hope to communicate is how thankful I am for the gift of their friendship, while each day I pray that the amazing love of God revealed in Jesus will become part of their life.  That they will come to know, as I have, that life is not a random accident, but that He has a plan for each of us.  May His kingdom come and His will be done.  Peace on earth.

A tribute to my Mom (poem)

You taught me the power of words-
You made me a poet.
You taught me compassion-
To see and to love those who are in pain.
You taught me to value diversity-
Helped me understand how it felt to be different.
You taught me the value of community-
Helped me learn to notice the lonely and left out.
You taught me to love mercy-
To treat people how I wanted to be treated.
You taught me to love my children-
To value who God made them as individuals.
You taught me to listen with my heart-
To hear the wounds of others that were hard to express.
You taught me that you don’t always
Get to choose how the lessons come
But to keep my heart open to God
And try not to miss them.
You taught me to value humility-
And to seek to do justice.
You helped me learn to look for the “jewels in the ashes”
and light in the darkest of places.

Today, I am grateful you’re still with us.
Out of CCU, still on the journey.
I love you, Mom.

Struggling towards the light (poem)

You never learned how to swim
But in my dream, I see you trying hard
Fighting your way towards the light.
Swimming for all you’re worth
Trying to get back to the surface
Of this somewhat murky pond.

Never realized how hard it was-
What effort it took to focus on the task
To collect the necessary resources
To be present for just a moment….

You’d be there for a while
But like a timer going off,
You’d be gone again
Decorating beautiful fantasy dwellings
(Which, sadly, only you could see and appreciate).
I’m sorry i was impatient.
I didn’t understand.

If you make it back to the surface,
I’ll try harder. Be more patient.
Visit more often,
I love you.
Be at peace.

It’s Not Your Fault….

When kids are little, and all hell breaks loose, it’s developmentally normal to think whatever just happened is their fault.  There’s all kinds of twists that journey can take….”Daddy wouldn’t xxxx if you weren’t a bad girl”….”Mommy wouldn’t xxx if you did/didn’t xxxxx“…  A powerful burden some kids carry in silence, trying to keep things together so the world doesn’t fall apart.  Sometimes acting out, other times acting like angels….

I was 30 years old when I heard the speaker say: “It wasn’t your fault-and, you didn’t deserve it.”  They spoke  to the kids/adults who kept asking themselves why; what they could have done different; what they did to deserve “it”.   I never realized before how I’d stuffed/packaged it, but I guess I always figured if I  tried harder, worked smarter, believed better, didn’t need anything , wasn’t a bother….it would have been different.  My logical/rational/non-emotion admitting side, resonated with it.  But  the hidden, reserved, removed, guarded part of me, fell on my face before God and tearfully said “Thank you.”  The questions remained as to why some things in life had been the way they were, but I could start letting go of thinking it was because I was defective or insufficient or had failed to measure up to the task.  

Today, in the CCU, an angel in a nurse’s uniform gave me an explanation I didn’t think I would ever receive in this lifetime.  She explained about the “elephant  in our living room,” that had lived there undiagnosed and nameless for so long.   It’s an illness- a biological/physiological malfunction.  There is no medication or treatment that would have controlled it for long.  The changing cycles were too rapid.  It wasn’t our fault, but it wasn’t hers either.  It’s just the way it was.  Nothing has changed, but everything is different, understanding that she really couldn’t help it.

Today, I give thanks, and explain to my kids how grateful I am they have learned to live with grace and tolerance and love a somewhat challenging person who has loved them the best she could.

When it’s all been said and done….

At the end of your life, what’s gonna matter?  I had quite a few hours to think about that one yesterday as I sat by my Mom’s bedside and held her hand, tried to keep her calm, and listened to her talk.  Her monologue made more sense than usual-was less combative and demanding, occasionally, even kind.  My sister-in-law commented on the different than usual theme in Mom’s monologue: yesterday, Mom seemed to value her family.  It’s not always like that, so for us, it was a gift.    She was able to admit wanting to die, and being scared.   Up close and personal real emotions, not the things she would normally have expressed.  She was grateful for a hand to hold, and to not be alone.

Today, she’s still hanging in there. Doctors say it could get better slowly or worse quickly.  So for today, I’ll be grateful for being present for that one day when it seemed she was present too, being able to be there for her.

The end of her days….?

I’m not sure what people are supposed to feel at this point….when the hospital calls and says “Your mother is going downhill fast, and may end up on a respirator tomorrow”…when they want you to fax the paperwork that tells them what her wishes are for how things go from here…when you look at the mixed blessing that her life has been at times….and you question if you have done enough to be a bearer of light to someone who at times seemed like darkness…and you pray for grace to be graceful under pressure and to let her know in whatever way she can receive it, that you know it was her illness, not her intention, when she was difficult, unreasonable or impossible…and you pray again for grace to be light and to help family members as they struggle with the enigma that is her life…..if this is the end of her days, I pray she finds peace, and that as a child in His arms, she is at rest, undamaged, at last….