Monday, January 25, 2010

Crying moms

We are strange creatures, we moms. Initial momhood is approached with the greatest care. Then we cry.

All the latest and greatest paraphernalia is gathered. Closets are crammed with more outfits than a child could possibly wear fearing dislocated arms and legs from the constant redressing of the babe. A "paci" that falls on the floor is boiled until the rubber melts into a disgusting blob. We watch them slumber. We cry.

Every label is studied to make sure optimal nutrition is achieved and visits to the pediatrician planned out in orchestrated organizational brilliance. And then they go to school. We cry some more.

Spelling lists. Projects. Cupcakes at two o'clock in the morning for the next day's party. Playground bumps and bruises. Hurt feelings. He said, she said. Clandestine notes written in algebra. The repercussion of said note being found by the teacher. Soccer practice. Late games. Uniforms to clean and desperate searches for the one shoe that always goes AWOL. Ring and spring dances. Cotillion elegance and limousines. Senior thesis projects and final exams. Then it's over. Or is it? Sniff. Sniff.

Hardly. Sometimes it seems like just the beginning. Moms laugh. Moms cry. Moms cry a lot. Even when they were little, my boys knew when I was working up to it on family movie night. "You're nose is twitching. Betcha gonna cry!" But we don't just cry when we are sad. We cry when we are happy--or when we have nothing better to do. Can be confusing. Can't really explain it.

I'm not the only one. I called a student's mom the other day. "You have a wonderful daughter. She is a delight and is doing so well," I explained. Today I got an email from the girl.

She said, ". . .My mom told me you called her and that made me feel happy to have a teacher I have never met, but takes the time to call :) Thanks, and you made her cry, but don't feel bad because she cries at a lot of things. . ."

Now I laugh. I laugh because us moms are so predictably unpredictable. So many emotions and so few ways to express our deepest fears and greatest joys. So, we cry. Don't argue. Just go with it and pass the tissues.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


A senior woman walked into the locker room at the YMCA. She was petite, about five-foot two. Her thin arms and legs suggested a previously trim and youthful figure despite a little belly bulge. Her short gray hair was a no-nonsense cut; a wash and go style. Though she did not shuffle, her gait was slow and methodical. Madeline, as I choose to call her, entered as I stood drying my hair.

Madeline was not the only senior in the locker room this morning. A water exercise class is offered, appealing to these older woman in their one-piece bathing suits and rubberized bathing caps. Most come wearing their suits underneath their clothes, making changing an easy task. Such was the case with Madeline. But as the other ladies vacated the locker room for the soothing waters, Madeline remained. When I first noticed her, she was standing beside me and gazing into the mirror. She had taken off her blouse, suit beneath, but had yet to remove her pants, shoes and socks. I heard her speak and turned to answer. But she was not addressing me. She spoke softly to the image in front of her. She seemed perplexed, worried even, and soon turned and approached the lockers. She spoke again to someone I could not see, this time timidly stepping around the corner. Then she was back in front of the mirror having another conversation with her own reflection.

My mild amusement turned to sadness when I realized that she was disoriented and confused. By now, she carried with her her bag and winter coat. Dazed, she seemed ready to cry. I approached. "May I help you?" Still confused, I led her to locker #97. "How about we put your things in here? I'll be happy to help you get undressed and out to the pool." She seemed relieved. But as I looked into her eyes I glimpsed her melancholy. Our gazes locked and Madeline's wiry arms embraced me for a moment and held on tight.

"Thank you. Oh, thank you." She spoke hesitantly, as if wanting to recall just the right words. With that, she paddled down the hallway and joined the others in the pool.

On my way out, I expressed my concern for Madeline to the desk clerk. "Yes, she is in the early stages of Alzheimers. Her husband brings her." Satisfied that he would be told of her confusion (and that her clothes were in locker #97), I left. But she did not leave me. Madeline has been on my mind all day. I hope she makes it safely home.

Now I think of my mother-in-law. She just stopped breathing. Then she was gone. No fanfare. No choir’s anthem. No sobbing and wailing. No visible opening of Heaven’s gates. Sometime in the moments when her husband left her side to relax in the tub, she quietly slipped away from human life and into eternal life.

It was not unexpected that we received the call a year and a half ago from Gary’s father. Her mind and body, overtaken by Alzheimer’s disease, refused to eat and drink for two weeks. In a near coma, she wasted away until her heart refused to pump and her lungs could not draw another breath. When we arrived at Dad’s home, we listened to the story of Mom’s last moments before plunging into cleaning the house, anticipating visiting friends and relatives. Several friends came bearing lunch and dinner, a welcome break from our task. The last to arrive were gentlemen from Dad’s Sunday School class, one of whom had been widowed six months prior. As we stood in a circle of prayer before they left, Jim prayed, “Thank you, Father, that Pat made it safely home.”

Safely home, I mused. I felt my eyes blur with tears.

As a mother, I can relate to that concept. I lay in bed waiting for my sons to arrive home. When the door opens and they return my greeting, I relax. They are safely home. So many things could have happened on their travels. And yet, God was gracious to grant them traveling mercy despite the potential hazards.

God never promised a way home devoid of difficulty. Clearly, Mom’s path was long and arduous. She never would have picked this path for herself; a slow and ugly loss of memory and function. But again, God’s numbering of her days led her—and us to this point.

God’s way is perfect and beyond understanding. I trust that Madeline will be comforted in her journey and arrive safely home.

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (II Timothy 4:18)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bon voyage

It has taken me a week to pack. With a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean on the docket, even Seth is impressed that we, "the most boring people in the world," would actually go do something cool. I laid out all my outfits and thoughtfully placed the appropriate necklaces and earrings on top of each outfit. When satisfied, each of the jewelry selections got tucked away in a zippered baggie and labeled with a Sharpie.  "Purple dress," "Wide teal pants," and so forth. I was quite proud of my progress.

The next step was to make selections for my beloved as well. Gary never relishes packing. Besides, I needed to make sure his black jacket and pants made it on board. No eating in the back room for us! However, my biggest challenge was to figure out how to get it all packed in just two carry-ons. I'm so cheap--no, frugal--that I hate paying the airline checked bag fee. So, I had to muster up all my deep-dwelling organizational talents. I had to prioritize. Only the most necessary stuff could make this trip. No excess. No fluff.

Well, I did it!  After much thought, struggle, and using Space Bags to vacuum pack our clothes, our luggage stands at the ready. I'm not really sure how I will repack at week's end without the aid of a vacuum cleaner to suck the living daylights from those bags but I'll tackle that challenge later.

Then I got to thinking. . .and yes, that can be a dangerous thing! What if I was as calculating in my approach to living? Would I be able to discern between necessary and unnecessary? Could I unclutter my thoughts and see truth? Wouldn't a simple life lived in focused attention be a wonderful thing?

I plan on spending a week on a large boat sailing across an even larger ocean with very small, well-packed suitcases. I hope the world will slow down. I trust the winds will carry away my worries, the salty air cleanse my mind. I will run and jump and climb. I will swim and I will sun. I will read and think and contemplate. And when I return, I pray that I can live a streamlined life not weighed down by extraneous "stuff."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's not all bad to be a snail

"With perseverance, the snail reached the ark."Charles Spurgeon

It was in my Mother's living room when we gathered together for an after-Christmas gift exchange. Long gone were the days of hastily unwrapped toys and coloring books from Grandma. Rather, each was handed an envelope and a small package. In the envelope was a check; a welcome gift for the four college-aged, cash-poor kids. The other was a small gift book entitled "Life's Little Book of Wisdom for Students." The book just cried out for its pages to be fanned and interesting quotes voiced aloud. One after another, the kids played the role of wise sage. Many profundities rolled off their lips but one stopped us dead in our tracks. "With perseverance, the snail reached the ark." It took just a moment of silence before we understood the depth of meaning. We rolled in laughter imagining the sight of the tiny mollusk inching ever forward. Unfortunately, that crazy phrase has also been rolling in my mind ever since.

If I was a snail in Noah's time, I think--assuming snails think--that I would have been been pretty discouraged with the task assigned to me. "You want me to walk where?!? Do you understand that it takes 56,874 of my steps to make up one of Mr. Elephant's? I can't possibly make the trek. I shall surely be swept away with the first ten rain drops. Woe is me. Woe is me. I shall never see that big 'ol boat."

Ever feel like that? I have. And if you say "no," I bet you're fibbing. For me, a variety of circumstances brings on the feeling; the prospect of parenting a newborn for a couple of decades, a long, horrible climb at mile seventy-eight of a hundred mile race, too much work and too little time, or a challenge requiring unfamiliar skills. And when the pressures really pile on, sometimes just getting to the next sunrise threatens to undo.

Maybe Noah's snail was related to the ant that moved that rubber tree plant. Why? Because he had high hopes and piles of perseverance.

Hope. We all use this word in many different ways. Often, we may as well equate its meaning to wishful thinking. It’s like jumping out a perfectly good airplane hoping that we will frolic on the fluffy clouds on the way down. Somehow, I don’t think that will happen. Or, little children are good ones for hoping that Santa will bring them a special present. Fat chance that a chubby guy from the North Pole will actually make a visit bearing gifts, getting his wide girth down a skinny chimney.

Hope can, however, represent something far greater than frivolous musing. Hope is what happens when faith is well placed. Let’s say I go to the airport to board a plane for California. I have faith that the airplane will meet all the requirements of physics to take off and become airborne. Thus, I can have hope of arriving at my destination because the thing in which I have placed my faith is reliable.

In a spiritual sense, our hope of eternal life is born out of saving faith. Our hope for a mature Christian walk is because we have faith that “my grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We have hope of running and not tiring, walking and not fainting (Isaiah 40:31) because we have faith that Christ strengthens us to do all things (Philippians 4:8).

When faith is well-placed, hope becomes a reality. It is not something to be wished for; it is something to anticipate. So hope and persevere like the snail. You will find your ark.

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. (Psalm 71:14)

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...