Mercy Christmas

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December is here in all of its twinkling, sparkling, glittering glory.

And while everyone seems to be hustling, bustling, hurrying and scurrying, I want to wish you a silent night or two… moments of stillness, grace and peace. And tidings of comfort too if your heart’s been bruised… or broken.

I still require an extra helping of comfort myself… because someone I dearly loved died at Christmastime, and I’m not sure my heart has fully recovered. In a post last Christmas, I shared the very last Christmas letter this woman ever wrote. And I remembered her, wistfully:

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’d like to tell you about this remarkable woman. She had rare grace, a quiet strength, a strong faith, and a mischievous grin that she’d flash every so often, just to keep everyone guessing. We were so different, she and I. She was quieter, gentler, more thoughtful. But she was also tons of fun. She loved parties and plays and road trips and dancing. In a ballroom… or all through the house. She favored folk singers like James Taylor, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, and quirky cocktails like a Pink Squirrel or a Harvey Wallbanger. Here’s the deal though – and she would tell you this herself, emphatically: she wasn’t perfect. She had issues. Insecurity issues. Daddy issues. Irritability issues (which she referred to as “hormonal fluctuations”). I’m beginning to understand what she meant by that.

The thing I liked best about her was how relational she was: she was an includer, an encourager, a helper, a pray-er, and she had good shoulders. I know this because I cried on them often. Every one of this woman’s friends later told me that she was their go-to girl. Because she made everyone feel like they were her best friend.

Including me.

Today marks 21 years since I said goodbye to my sweet momma. She got sick on a Sunday morning and died two days later. I remember draping myself across her feet in the ICU, pleading with God. And begging her too: Don’t go. Don’t leave me.

The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.

(And sometimes it hurts like hell.)

My momma went on ahead to heaven. Good for her… but… I was undone. Distraught. Completely crushed. I had no earthly idea how I was going to keep breathing… let alone “do Christmas.” Or life, for that matter.

I’m not gonna lie. Some days it was a sapping/sobbing/isolating/devastating struggle. I felt like I had a new label: bereft. I would see young women in the mall, shopping with their mommas and their babies. And it warmed my heart. And then broke it into a thousand pieces.

My mother-in-law did what she could. She and my father-in-law would take the boys so Steve and I could go to dinner or a movie. She’d make us meals now and then. They hosted one of the boys’ birthday parties for us. (Pretty sure my mother-in-law bought out every Thomas the Tank Engine item in the party goods section at Target for that kiddie soiree.)

She tried valiantly, and in hindsight, I realize I probably didn’t give her enough credit. But the truth was what it was… and is what it is. She wasn’t my mom.

I didn’t want Linda… I wanted Louise.

Linda was high-strung and finicky (which is a nice way of saying she could be quite a pain in the derriere.) She was an artist and fashion designer prior to becoming a wife, mother, homemaker and hostess, which meant that every detail of every party or presentation had to be perfect. The clothing label, the dinner menu, the wrapping paper, the fabrics, the flowers, the flatware. Appearances mattered. A lot. A lot a lot.

And while I like a clean house, a good pedicure and strong support (from my mattress and my undergarments), I guess I felt like I couldn’t cut it. My parenting skills, my denominational preference, and my athletic abilities were sorely lacking, it seemed. (I was a lousy tennis player and a hazard on the golf course. Which meant I was really only good for lunch at the club.) Most of the time, my mother-in-law let her actions (and non-verbal cues) communicate that message. But sometimes she came right out and said it.

Like the time she took me and my firstborn son (who was 3 at the time) shopping at a “finer” department store. Zack made a beeline for the stuffed animals and plush toys in the children’s section, and of course, he threw a fit – right there in front of the retail associate and all the other shoppers – when I told him to put the overpriced banana-toting monkey back on the shelf. When his protests reached an 8.2 magnitude on the tantrum scale, I decided it would be best (so as not to trigger migraines or a security escort) to just buy the orangutan and go home for a nap. Both of us.

My mother-in-law disagreed. She decided it was the perfect time to teach me a lengthy lesson about parental discipline and delayed gratification. Also in front of the retail associate and all the other shoppers. It was a group lesson, if you will. This from the woman who seemed to have indulged her sons’ every whim while they were growing up and was currently spoiling her dog like Leona Helmsley. (Google her. You’ll get the idea.)

In addition to being somewhat authoritative, Mom was maddeningly late for everything. If the celebration started at 7, she’d sweep into the room around 8:45 and command everyone’s attention from the moment she arrived until everyone else left. She was even late to her own parties. (Not even kidding.) Dad would play greeter and host until my mother-in-law emerged from the master suite sporting her Chanel lipstick, her signature bob, a killer dress and a dazzling smile. She was so pretty. Dad would swoon, and everyone would air-kiss and pretend perfect.

Three years after my mom passed away, Steve’s dad died from leukemia. The one who had seemingly held us all together (and held Mom in check, to no small degree) was gone now, too.

Initially, my mother-in-law chose to stay in the home they had shared, but within a couple years her physician had diagnosed her with early onset dementia (in hindsight, likely Alzheimer’s), and we knew she wouldn’t be able to live alone much longer.

One night during dinner, we started discussing the fact that Mom would need to move. Soon. There had been some troubling indications that she was no longer safe alone, and her doctor had recently told her she shouldn’t be driving. We agreed that the new assisted-living facility opening in a nearby community would be an excellent choice. She’d have a newly-built two-bedroom suite, and the ascetics would most definitely appeal to her. The only problem was that the suite wouldn’t be ready for nearly six weeks. We talked about the possibility of hiring home caregivers to bridge the gap. But Steve felt strongly that mom should come and stay with us until her new place was ready.

Excuse me?!

It was one thing when Mom herself had informed me (five years prior) that she was handing off the baton to me, and now I’d be hosting the entire extended family at Christmas each year: “You’re 30 now, so I think it’s time you start hosting the holidays.” I didn’t want the baton. I wanted to throw it to the ground and stomp on it. But I didn’t. Instead I took a couple cooking lessons. And got a membership to Sam’s Club.

But this was entirely different.

I would have to live with her. 24/7. For a month. Possibly two. (Lord, have mercy.)

My head started to spin.

I glared at my dear husband. Who was just trying to do right by his momma… and our brother and sister-in-law – whose youngest son was in the NICU.  (Clearly, I was the only logical candidate for designated driver, laundress, cook and caregiver.)

My mother-in-law stayed with us for 40 days. It felt like 400. And just before we tore each other’s hair out, her suite at the Timbers of Shorewood was ready. Hallelujah.

Little did I know that her brief stay was only the beginning of a terribly lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. And for those of you who’ve witnessed the effects of this ravaging disease, you know that it didn’t only assail her. We were all caught in the firestorm.

From start to finish, Mom’s illness afflicted her for nearly 15 years.

I wish I could tell you that I was a devoted daughter-in-law and attentive caretaker during those years. But I wasn’t. I treated Mom’s illness – correction –  I treated Mom… like a burden. One that I bore bitterly.

Yes, I took her to her doctor’s appointments and the market. I invited her to all our family gatherings and picked up her prescriptions and dry cleaning. I chauffeured her to department store after department store (fashion remained a high priority until her cognitive function had diminished to the point where she didn’t know what a zipper was). I even – begrudgingly – returned every single fall fashion item she had selected because the cut of the garment didn’t suit her or the dye lot was inconsistent or the nap of the fabric didn’t please or natural light brought out the yellow undertones which were terribly unflattering. I ran around “doing the right thing” for my mother-in-law… with the wrong perspective and a lousy attitude. I was not kind, nor tenderhearted. Ebenezer Scrooge was more gracious than me.

I bemoaned the fact that I was solely responsible for Mom’s needs and requests (reasonable or not), and under the guise of “keeping her in the loop” I notified my sister-in-law of every appointment, errand and inconvenience I endured. I also took every opportunity to grouse to my husband and kids about their mother/grandmother.

So becoming, I know.

The fact is… I had become completely bitter. And no matter how beautiful you are, bitter is ugly. It is its own progressive disease. And at some point I realized, if I didn’t treat it, I would succumb to it.

Around that time, two things happened. First, my pastor preached a sermon about forgiveness. He talked about the fact that every relationship requires it. Ours to God. Ours to our children. To our partners. To our parents. And our friends. At some point, we all falter and fail each other. And it goes both ways. (Well, except with God. All the faltering and failing happens on my side… All the fault in that relationship lands squarely on me.) My pastor talked about that fact that regardless of how horrific the offense against us, no matter how deep the hurt and heartache, we have to find our way to forgiveness. Or bitterness will consume us from the inside out. To illustrate his point, he said, “Choosing not to forgive someone is like drinking cyanide and waiting for the other person to die.”

His message hit me full-force… like a sucker-punch to the gut. I was the one drinking the poisonous, proverbial Kool-Aid.

Not only was I bitter toward my mother-in-law, I was stoking a simmering anger toward Steve. In my mind, he had conspired against me to forcibly shackle me into Alzheimer’s patient-support services. And I was indignant.

The second thing that happened then was that my mother-in-law started quietly saying the same thing to me every time I came to see her:

“Thank you for taking care of me.”

This fierce, finicky, feisty woman was becoming softer, sweeter, more sincere. And it unnerved me. How could I continue to carry my grievances against someone who was so genuinely grateful?

I wish I could tell you that I surrendered my resentment right then and there. But I didn’t. Which is funny, because in hindsight, I can see that I was a lot more like her than I would have ever cared to admit.

Stubborn. Strong-willed. Slow to relent… or repent.

After several years in the assisted-living residence, it came time to move Mom again. This time to a memory care center with skilled nursing support. She no longer needed me to “care” for her personal needs, which was a great relief. Instead, I came to keep her company once or twice a week. Often enough to keep myself from feeling guilty… and anyone else from thinking me neglectful.

If the weather was nice, we’d sit outside in the courtyard and watch the birds build nests and the fountain grasses sway in the breeze. Most of the time we’d just sit there quietly, keeping company with one another. If it was warm and sunny or cool and breezy, I’d make remarks about the weather. But no matter what the temperature or cloud cover, Mom would tell me it was a beautiful day. And then she’d tell me again. And again. And once more for good measure.

During wintertime, I’d join her for a sing-along or a bead-stringing session in the gathering room. Sometimes we’d sit in front of the television and watch a video of a blazing fire crackling in its virtual fireplace. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist at this point, so I became fairly good at monologues. I’d tell her stories about her grandkids or share memories from years past – some sentimental, some silly. She laughed easily, though I wasn’t always sure she understood why she was laughing. But somehow she seemed to know when she was supposed to. And that made me smile.

By now, Mom had forgotten our names, her whereabouts, and any concept of time or season. She roamed the halls late at night, wore three layers of clothing in July, and seemed surprised when we told her she had been married to a wonderful man named Bob who absolutely adored her.

She had lost all manner of social graces and basic skills. The woman who had possessed such poise and impeccable manners would now reach her hand into a bowl of chocolate pudding and lap it up from her fingers.

You’d think I would have become more tenderhearted by now. Instead, I was just desperately trying to keep her from soiling my spiritwear before I headed to one of my boys’ ball games. I endured my obligatory visits with her… and I hurried back to my car and my comfort zone, as quickly as seemed acceptable to any of the staff who might be keeping tabs. For all intents and purposes, I was simply keeping up appearances. Because apparently, appearances mattered a lot to me. A lot a lot. (Hmm…)

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad and lead me along” your path.

Slowly but surely, as Mom’s illness progressed and our relationship changed, I opened my heart to God’s searching and knowing and testing. In those minutes of quiet and stillness, those hours of bird-watching and sitting fireside together, Mom and I kept company. And God was with us. We grew closer, and I grew kinder, gentler, a little wiser.

My eyes were opened to things I’d never really considered before: my mother-in-law’s traumatic childhood, her haunting flashbacks and debilitating fears, the heartbreaking loss of an infant son, and her family’s long history of mental illness. I began to feel something I hadn’t felt for her before.

Compassion.

I was stricken with it. I say stricken because it stung a little when I realized I had never shown her any.

I started thinking about my own propensity to hurt others. Often unintentionally, but sometimes, premeditated… and targeted… hitting below the belt or aiming for vital organs. A biting comment, a purposeful slight, a nasty tone, a bold-faced lie. Some juicy gossip or not-so-good old-fashioned back-stabbing. The more I peeled back the layers of my own “pretending perfect” the more cold and calculating I saw. The more controlling and manipulative.

Unbecoming, indeed.

I took a long, hard look at my ugly.

And I discovered something life-changing in that soul-searching… I realized that when I’m guilty, I want a pardon. Not even a slap on the wrist, I want boundless forgiveness. Mercy! But when somebody wrongs me, I want justice to its fullest extent. Book ’em Dano!  Make ’em pay. (What a double standard.)

Mom gave me that. The ability to see my own hypocrisy. It doesn’t sound like it, but it really was an incredible blessing. It gave me something I’d been lacking.

Perspective.

So I pondered and prayed. Alone and also sometimes with Mom. Though she couldn’t remember her own name, she would squeeze my hand and softly say “amen” at the end of our prayers together. And I found myself fighting back tender tears.

Not gonna lie, I still hurried out to my car (and doused my hands in sanitizer) after my visits, but the bitterness was beginning to lift. And my burden was getting lighter. I was finding my way to mercy… and grace… and peace.

Heavenly peace.

Christmas is about gifts. Not the presents under the tree. The real gifts. The lasting ones. The ones we truly cherish. Togetherness, tenderness, laughter, love.

In those years that Mom lingered, her body very much alive but her mind and memory fading away, Mom helped me unwrap another gift. An extraordinary one. The gift of forgiveness.

There’s a song by Don Henley called “The Heart of the Matter,” and it goes like this:

“I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about forgiveness.”

Forgiveness.

Whether from God or someone else, I’m always glad to receive it. When someone graciously forgives me, I’m always a little stunned… and incredibly grateful.

And forgiveness is a gift I can offer too. I can give it freely – and here’s the amazing thing – it need not be preceded by an apology. (With some people, I’ve learned, I’ll never get one anyway.)

But the really extraordinary thing God and my mother-in-law taught me about forgiveness is this:

It’s a gift I give myself.

When I forgive, I push away the toxic cocktail of bitterness. And I receive the sweetwater of mercy. I drink it in. And splash it all around.

More forgiveness and mercy, more kindness and goodness, more perspective and patience and peace.

My mother-in-law passed away three and a half years ago… and oh, how I wish I had readily offered those gifts to her earlier and more generously/joyfully/lovingly. Before she died, though, I had begun to face my pride and my judgment of her. I had begun to let go of things I had held against her for so long.

At her funeral, my son Mitchell gave the eulogy. Through tears, he concluded his remembrance with this:

“I hold my grandmother in highest esteem… because she and my grandfather raised the two finest men I know, my dad and my uncle.”

His words struck a chord in my heart. Mitch was right.

Her shortcomings and struggles aside, Mom had raised the very best man I know. And that alone ought to merit a mountain of mercy.

We sang “Amazing Grace” at the graveside service and bid Mom farewell. But I know that because of the mercy of Christ, she’s still very much alive. Healthy and whole.

I imagine that she and my father-in-law had an exceedingly joyful reunion in heaven. And that perhaps she and my mom get glimpses of their sweet, silly, lively and lovely grandchildren now and then. And that maybe – just maybe – our Father God has communicated to her my heart’s cry this Christmas:

Mom, I’m sorry. For my stubborn pride. For being quick to judge and long to hold a grudge. I’m sorry my bitterness kept us from having the close, comforting relationship we both really needed. Thanks for sticking around long enough for me to learn the lessons of forgiveness. Took me awhile, I know, but I think I’m finally starting to get it. I love you, Mom. And I’ll see you again one day. Merry Christmas.

And merry Christmas to all of you, too. May the gifts we give this holiday season be drenched in love and mercy.

And may God bless us, every one.

~ Wendy

 

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Lifeline

Somebody somewhere needs to read this. Because the darkness is slowly suffocating her. Because his hope is bleeding out. Because she can’t find her way back to herself. Because he can only see one way out.

Lethal impulses keep bubbling to the surface. Thoughts turn traitor. Death beckons.

It promises relief… release… rest.

Death is a liar.

There’s no darkness that can’t be extinguished. No demon that cannot be exorcised. No trap inescapable. No sin unforgivable.

That’s the Truth.

Hope is just a breath away.

A call. A text. A prayer. A promise.

Last week, two high-profile Americans succumbed to suicide. And we’re stunned afresh that these brilliant, accomplished, vibrant individuals could have suffered from what turned out to be terminal anguish. As if wild success and debilitating illness (of any type) are mutually exclusive.

The undeniable crux of the matter is this:

We were made for relationship. We are meant to be connected. Yet so often when we need people the most, we retreat. We choose solitary confinement over commiseration. Isolation over consolation. Because we believe our burdens must be borne alone.

In this age of constant connectivity, we are becoming increasingly and excruciatingly lonely. Oh, the irony.

But… and this is where it gets tricky… it’s not the sufferer who ought to be charged with the duty of “reaching out.” We don’t ask people recovering from open heart surgery to jump out of the hospital bed and throw on some street clothes and meet a friend for coffee, conversation, comfort. The friend just shows up. Because friends do that.

They’re there for each other.

On good days and bad days. Cold/cloudy/sunny/snowy days. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Holidays and ordinary ones. Pre-race… and post-op… and after-party cleanup.

Those of us who aren’t fighting for our lives – we’re the ones who need to text/call/email/stop by.  The onus is just that: on us.

Life-and-death battles rage behind soundproof, windowless walls. And somehow, sometimes, our friends’ firestorms go undetected. We can’t see their pain. We don’t hear the sound of relentless/mounting/deadly despair. And even if we could, most of us don’t have the antidote. But here’s what I’m told:

Togetherness can be a lifesaver.

Check in.

Show up.

Be near.

Care.

That’s what love does. It dispels darkness. It points to the Light.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)

Whatever the pressure or pain, trauma or terror, Jesus promises relief… release… rest.

Restoration.

He’s the answer. He’s the antidote. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

And He’s near.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near.” (Acts 17:24-27, The Message)

Even when no one else is… God’s there for you. The Life-Guard is always on duty. He’s just a whisper away.  And oh, how He loves you.

I pray you’ll hold onto hope… and He’ll hold onto you… for safekeeping.

Please, please stay.

Wendy

P.S. There’s a lovely little children’s book by Nancy Tillman titled You’re Here for a Reason. It closes like this: “A piece of the world that is precious and dear would surely be missing if you weren’t here. If not for your smile and your laugh and your heart, this place we call home would be minus a part. Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two! I just can’t imagine a world without you.”

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

 

 

Stricken

My dear reader,

I don’t know that I can craft a single coherent sentence right now. And really, what is there to say? Sometimes – truly – there are no words.

Only anguish…

Tears…

Wordless prayers.

Here we are, gutted and grief-stricken yet again. Horrific images from Parkland engulf our screens and assault our senses. They shock and shatter us afresh.

Bloodied bodies and torn hearts.

When will it end?

God only knows.

I hear the calls for stricter gun laws and the cries for crisis management task forces and the pleas for proper diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. (And I echo all of those appeals. Please, somebody, do something to stop this madness.)

But deep down I fear it’s going to get worse.

No amount of medication, education, or legislation is going to bring an end to this heinous violence. Even our brightest, bravest and best cannot restrain this kind of evil. The bloodthirsty will remain so. Because they believe it’s their only chance at ____________ (fill in the blank: retaliation, notoriety, vengeance, or sadly, simply… significance).

Maybe he (the accused) suffered a psychotic break after the deaths of both his parents. Or maybe he was bullied. Or traumatized beyond what anyone could bear. Maybe he suffers from delusions or hallucinations. Maybe he was duped into thinking that radicalization would be his redemption. Or maybe his demons overtook him. (Perhaps all of the above.)

I cannot venture to guess how – in just 19 years – this young man grew to be a real-life monster. To plot… and execute. To wreak hell on earth.

It’s a mystery. A million-piece puzzle. A wide-awake nightmare.

Last night, as I listened to high schoolers describe the carnage to various newspeople, I was doubly shocked. The descriptions and images of the bloody massacre were disturbing, to say the least. Especially the streaming videos and Snapchat stories shared in real time during the shooting. Apparently, social media is now the vehicle for sharing selfies… and savagery. (Violence goes viral. And I fear copycats will follow.) But the relative detachment with which some students relayed those horrifying events was almost as unsettling as the graphic images of the crime scene itself.

I’m guessing adolescent psychologists would interpret the students’ matter-of-fact accounts as evidence that they were in a state of shock and hadn’t yet processed what took place in their school just hours before. But I wonder. Have we revisited this terrible place (the aftermath of yet another deadly attack) so many times, that we are becoming collectively desensitized? Do school shootings punctuate our modern history as routinely as hurricanes and wildfires? Is the compulsion to kill becoming as potent as the lure of heroin and hardcore pornography? Countless, chilling questions.

I don’t have any answers. (I’m not even smart enough to identify the full scope of the problem.)

But here’s what I see:

In this world of constant connectivity, people are shockingly and desperately lonely. They may have 1473 followers on Instagram, but they feel utterly alone.

We’ve become a nation of increasingly isolated (and as a result, agitated, anxious, depressed) individuals. One by one, we’re deserting each other. And solitary is no way to live.

All alone can turn… tragic.

We were made to relate, collaborate, comfort, and console each other. We’re meant for camarederie, cooperation, compassion, community.

What we all really want… is to matter. We want our lives to mean something. So we spend them searching for significance.

But the thing is, we already have it.

It’s innate.

Because we were created in the very image of God.

We reflect Trinity: Mind, Body, Spirit.

But without Him, we have no hope of being healthy and whole… physically, mentally, or spiritually.

None.

You don’t have to believe me. But please don’t blame God for our manmade atrocities.

God is infinitely strong, but He’s not a dictator. He doesn’t force His will on us. Instead He lavishly bestows on us freedom, independence and the privilege of personal choice. We get to choose what, where, when, why, and how we do what we do.

And we’ve been up to (little or) no good, since the very beginning.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6, The Message)

It’s not just the murderers and the monsters that break God’s heart. We all do.

And He loves us still.

…Here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIRV)

The only innocent man who ever lived took the death sentence for the rest of us. Because that’s what love does.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NLT)

Jesus loves us. Oh how He loves us.

Every single one of us. From north to south and east to west. From Columbine to Newtown. Orlando to Vegas. San Bernardino to Blacksburg to Parkland. The victims, their families, the first responders and reporters.

And yes… the shooter too.

I’ve read the end of the Book. And from what I can tell, things are gonna get a whole lot worse from here. But the Good News is just that. Good.

For those who trust in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, heaven’s ahead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there was no sea anymore. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It was prepared like a bride dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.”

The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:1-5, NCV)

Some days, I just want to be done. Done with all the hurt and heartache and pain and suffering. Done with my own fear and failings. Done with the hardness of life. And the sting of death.

On those days – today – all I can do is just… cling.

Cling to heaven and hope.

And the One who promises both to those who believe.

Wendy

P.S. In the aftermath of this tragedy, let’s resist the urge to rant or politicize. Be silent. Seek God. Pray. Pull together. Give blood. Donate to the Red Cross. Thank our first responders. And hug our kids… tight.

 

 

 

 

Eclipsed

My dear reader,

Here we are, January twentysomething, and I just want to know one thing…

Can we fast-forward?

Right through this insufferable/interminable/abominable time of year when winter is no longer a wonderland, and the snow has been downgraded from dazzling to dingy. When Merry and Bright have skipped town… and Dreary and Dull have quite presumptuously taken their place. They’ve put down stakes in this frozen tundra, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

The next few months mark a mostly-miserable season I’ve previously dubbed “the greys and the grind.” And every year, it seems to stick around longer than ever. Rude.

Can we just spring ahead? (Pretty please?)

I’m convinced winter was created simply to remind us how good we have it the rest of the year. It’s a seasonal gut-check, intended to test our mettle, try our resilience and gauge our susceptibility to flu/frostbite/hypothermia/pneumonia.

It’s cold and grey and deathly and dark. Which sounds eerily like hell to me. (Except for the frigid temps. But the Cubs did win the World Series season before last… so perhaps the place froze over after all.)

Baby, it’s c-c-c-cold outside. Biting. Bitter. Brrrrr. The high temperatures have fluctuated between too-damp-cold and nasty-low. And the wind chills are worse. Who needs Botox injections when you can just walk outside and freeze your own face?

Adding insult to injury, winter is also relentlessly grey… like Eeyore. (And equally gloomy and glum.) Pretty tough to be energized and motivated, chipper and cheery, bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, full of fun-fun-fun when the sky itself looks downcast.

That’s the thing about winter. It feels terminal. The leaves are gone. The grass is dead. Every blooming thing has drooped, dropped or dried up. How are we supposed to survive-and-thrive day after day, week after week, when there’s so few signs of life?

Death stares us back in the face nearly everywhere we look.

And winter is just so… dark. The days are dreary and depressing. Nights achingly long and shrouded in thick black. The kind that hangs heavy and low. Slithering in and wrapping itself around us like a boa constrictor. Not long and we find ourselves struggling to move. Or breathe.

We struggle and whimper… and pray the darkness doesn’t swallow us whole.

And (eventually, always) God answers.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:79)

That’s the thing about darkness. It threatens, and it lies.

But it doesn’t last forever.

And much to my surprise, I’ve learned that darkness isn’t devoid of its own dividends. Whispers of comfort from the Father’s heart. Tokens of His affection. Gentle graces just when hope seems to be bleeding out. Heretofore unnoticed beauty (things I can only see when I take my eyes off the shiny things). Simple and sacred gifts I might have missed if the world was all sunshine and daisies and cashmere and truffles every day. It’s in the dark that I notice the real treasures, strewn about like stars in the blackest sky.

And eventually… always… the morning light from heaven breaks through.

So I count winter’s blessings. Especially the ones scattered under the dark cover of night. And I count the days ’til spring. (55 to be exact.)

Thankfully, we’ve got a handful of diversions between now and March 20th. Let’s save the dates… and savor them, shall we? Let’s mine the gems and relish the joys and celebrate the heck out of anything – and everything – silly or sweet, gracious or good.

The Grammys (1.28) and National Blueberry Pancake Day fall on the same day this year. (So Miley, Bruno, Kendrick and Kesha have every excuse to do some serious carbo-loading prior to their performances. We should join them, no?) Since these two spectacular events also coincide with my Dad’s birthday, naturally we sent him some noise-canceling ear plugs and an IHOP gift card to celebrate. (Enjoy the sweet sound of silence and a tall stack of birthday ‘cakes, Daddy-O! Extra syrup!)

Groundhog Day (2.2) Dear God, please don’t part the heavens or shine on that rodent in Punxsutawney. Amen.

Super Bowl Sunday (2.4) Commercial wars and a Justin Timberlake concert. Oh, and a fair chance of football. Or unfair. (Depending on the officiating.)

National Pizza Day (2.9) Chicago-style… of course.

Fat Tuesday (2.13) For those of you gearing up to start Whole 30, this month is probably not ideal. Pancakes, pizza, and Paczkis. #triplethreat

Valentine’s Day (2.14) Which is also Ash Wednesday. (So if you’re planning to give up chocolate, for Lent… Godspeed.)

Dr. Seuss Day (3.2) “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

The Oscars (3.4) Tinseltown’s biggest night. Where film, fashion, politics and plastic surgery collide. It’s a hot mess. (And that’s just the red carpet.)

National Day to Unplug (3.9) Just. do. it.

Daylight Savings (Spring Ahead) Day (3.11) Cue the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Pi Day (3.14. Duh.) Mathematicians and pie lovers, rejoice!

St. Patrick’s Day (3.17) Shamrocks and shenanigans ’til the wee hours. Easy does it, lads.

The Vernal Equinox (3.20) (< Sounds like an unpleasant dental procedure, doesn’t it? But thankfully, no Novocaine or dental drill bits required.) At long last… spring!

In addition to all the celebration-worthy events listed above, we’re in for a special treat next week. It’s literally a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. In fact, it is a blue moon. An especially rare one at that. The heavens are rolling out a lunar trifecta on January 31st: a Super Moon (basically an extra bright, full moon closeup), Blue Moon (the second full moon in a month) and Blood Moon (a total lunar eclipse) all spinning into one celestial extravaganza. Sounds like a heck of a sky show to me. And it’s been a long time coming. Believe it or not, the last Blue Blood Moon occurred in 1866. And since my great-great grandparents didn’t follow NASA on Twitter, I’m guessing they slept right through it.

One week from today, astronomical history is going to be made, people! And possibly gastronomical history too if you’re planning to consume the aforementioned pancakes, pizzas, Paczkis, and pies. (Zantac, anyone?)

The Super Blue Blood Moon will pass through the earth’s shadow (most visible around 5 am PST in North America) and that shadow will effectively extinguish the sun’s reflection on the moon’s surface, creating a lunar blackout. My West Coast friends will get the best view of this star-spangled spectacle, but even those on the East Coast should get a peek (around 6:45 am EST).

I suggest you set your alarm and put together a little lunar eclipse playlist. Mine will include Moondance (Van Morrison), Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra), Bad Moon Rising (Credence Clearwater Revival), Dancing in the Moonlight (King Harvest), Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger), That’s Amore (Dean Martin), Moon Shadow (Cat Stevens), and Full Moon (Off Broadway). That last one brings back a flood of high school memories for me… bad boys and mean girls and mathletes. Oh my! (And a little whiff of the PE locker room too. Eww.)

Janis Joplin, REM, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Beethoven, Fleetwood Mac, Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead, The Doors, Neil Young, Duran Duran, Louis Armstrong, Chopin, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ella Fitzgerald, Rachmaninoff, The Rolling Stones, Prince, and Marvin Gaye have all been moonstruck as well, so there’s something for nearly every musical taste. You’ve got seven days to compile your playlist and grab your binoculars.

Eyes to the skies… Enjoy the show!

Wendy

P.S. Winter, spring, summer or fall, I pray your hope is never eclipsed.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rescue Like Me

My dear reader,

One year ago, my daughter’s long-held wish came true.

For nearly half her life, Chloe had been begging, pleading, and praying for a dog. Her pleas were passionate. And persistent.

And she just… kept… pressing.

Over time, I began to crack. Usually I’m the tough nut. But when it comes to living, breathing, warm-blooded creatures (both great and small), I’m a marshmallow. A sweet, gooey, mushy mess. All day long. And twice on Sunday, thanks to Jesus. (And Pastor Curt.)

Steve, however, was adamant. No dog. Our first dog, Roxy, was neurotic, epileptic, an incessant barker, beggar, and licker. Steve has not yet fully recovered.

In the sixth grade, Chloe wrote a four-page persuasive essay detailing all the emotional, physical, and mental health benefits of pet ownership including (but not limited to):

  • Companionship
  • Physical activity
  • Sense of security
  • Social-emotional development
  • Therapeutic support
  • Stress relief
  • Longevity

With a flourish, she presented her paper (grading rubric attached) to her dad. Her well-researched, compelling essay had earned an A+ (and heartfelt sympathy) from Mrs. Dalton.

But Steve was unmoved.

Despite this apparent setback, Chloe was undeterred. She penned a long letter to her dad and me informing us that depriving a young person of a pet is practically child abuse. (She may or may not have forwarded a copy of the letter to DCFS.)

Steve – still – did not budge.

I, on the other hand, had warmed to the idea. Not only that, but I’d been frequenting Petfinder.com searching adorable (housebroken) dogs. And sweet-faced (vaccinated) puppies. Preferably small/medium-sized. And non-shedding. Within 50 miles.

To cover my tail/trail, I cleared my browsing history daily… and didn’t breathe a word to my kid. Or my man.

As time went on, Chloe adapted her tactics. In addition to impassioned written pleas and strategically-placed paperbacks (Shiloh, Sounder, My Dog Skip… you get the idea), Chloe continued her ongoing verbal appeal. She entreated her dad early and often. And then one day, she gave Steve her very best pitch:

Dogs are excellent mood boosters. And crumb cleaner-uppers. And stranger-danger detectors.

The girl had a point.

I became her ally in the Canine-for-Chloe Campaign. And I pulled out all the stops:

I slyly reminded her of the therapy dogs that visited when she was hospitalized with double pneumonia one Christmas. Those daily doggie snuggles from a little Lhasa Apso named Halle Berry and Charlie, a lovable Labradoodle, were the highlight of her stay in the PICU. Well, that and our New Year’s Eve party in her room, which featured a screening of “Cars 2” and a coloring contest. And cupcakes. Just a little sugar buzz to accompany the IV drip.

(My highlight was her discharge.)

During that terrifying, death-defying week, I witnessed again the astonishing restorative properties of two simple things:

Prayer.

And puppy love.

Chloe fell hard for those animal therapist/canine convalescent caregiver/furry friends. And as a result, the pursuit of her own true (tail-wagging) love became her singular focus and fixation. She became obsessed with all things pooch-related.

You might say she was like a dog with a bone.

(Sorry. That was uncalled for. Bad metaphor. Just… no.)

She hounded us incessantly.

(Oops. I did it again. Apologies to you and Britney Spears.)

It wasn’t long before my Petfinder search filters yielded a nearly perfect match.  Eight- to ten-week-old puppies, medium-size, non-shedding, currently being fostered by Tails of Hope Rescue. Chloe locked eyes with a brown-eyed boy named Simba (one of 9 puppies in the “Lion King litter.” Obvs.) It was love at first sight.

Even Steve – the last and lone holdout – couldn’t resist. How could he?  Look at this face.

IMG_4107

And next thing we knew, we were driving to Cincinnati (119 miles, but who’s counting?) for a puppy meet-and-greet. Less than three hours later, we had officially adopted our lab/terrier/beagle/who knows what else (read: mix/mutt/mongrel) puppy, purchased $327 worth of pet supplies, and decided that his rescue-given name (which we had originally planned to change to Dash) fit him perfectly.

In less than 180 minutes, little Simba had already become our prince.

Puppies have a way of doing that, I guess. And our boy was no exception. He wiggled and wagged his way into our hearts… and before he finished his first bag of grain-free, protein-plus puppy chow, we were completely smitten. His unconditional love, endless affection, and unwavering devotion made the bad days bearable and the good days even better. And his protective instincts and sensitivity made us feel safer and more at ease. It didn’t matter that he doubled his “estimated” full-grown size. And shed like crazy. (What can I say? Love is blind. And covered in dog hair.)

Not long after we adopted Simba, I started noticing the bumper stickers of fellow doggie devotees:

Wag more. Bark less.

You had me at WOOF.

My dog is smarter than your honor student.

The more people I meet, the more I like my dog. 

It was ME. I let the dogs out.

(My personal favorite.)

Then one day, I saw a cute paw-print bumper sticker that read:

Who rescued who?

Grammatical error notwithstanding, it made me smile. Because it was true.

We had rescued Simba from a wire crate where he had no freedom and a precarious future. We “sprung” him from a steel trap… and spared him a (likely) lethal injection. But within a few short weeks, our sweet, playful pup had all but returned the favor. Simba rescued us from all kinds of things (sadness, stress, strain and duress). In all kinds of ways. (Fetch, sit, snuggle, lick… wag, wag, wag.)

Why? Who knows. Maybe it’s just animal instinct. Or maybe it’s bone-a-fide 😉 gratitude. Or perhaps, a little of both.

Who hasn’t been captivated by a gripping account of a daring search-and-rescue? True stories of gutsy rescuers and grateful survivors glue us to our screens and give us hope. They make our hearts pound and our spirits soar.

And they make us realize… that we all need to be rescued somehow.

From danger or sickness or strife or fear. From loneliness, uneasiness, or emptiness. From adversity.  And sometimes… from others.

Or ourselves.

It wasn’t until we adopted our puppy that I realized the glaring truth about my own life.

I’m a rescue too.

Once upon a time, I was beholden, bound, doomed. And in dire need of a Rescuer.

So I greet you with the great words: grace and peace! We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we’re in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God’s plan is that we all experience that rescue. Glory to God forever! Oh, yes! (Galatians 1:4, The Message)

Oh, yes… indeed. I am more grateful than ever to the One who rescued me.

And overjoyed that my girl finally got her wish.

Grace and peace and puppy love,

Wendy

P.S. I don’t know if all dogs go to heaven. But I sure hope ours does. (Yours too.)