surprise endings

For many years in late summer I have enjoyed a week in the cool, forested North Carolina mountains in the heart of the Blue Ridge. It’s kind of a reset. On the surface my life appears stress-free… I am retired, my son is grown and living a happy, successful life on his own. But stuff does happen. Things build up. So these precious few days alone in the cooler air seem to clear my head and I get maybe not a do-over but a restart.

This is usually in prelude to a visit with my family at a beach south of where I live. We’ve been meeting there for the past ten years, for a week at a little inn where the same families come back each year. For better or worse it is our “family vacation” and I always look forward to it.

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Until Lily.

Two weeks ago today we were outside for the last perimeter check before bed. The people on the other side of the fence behind my house have a super-aggressive dog that loudly charges the privacy fence between us. Rescue dog Lulu, all 20-pounds of terrier responds in kind. Rescue dog Lily, somewhat protective of her little sister wandered over to be sure aggressive neighbor dog failed at her efforts.

Then Lily quickly walked back by me and sat down. Hard. I looked over at her. “Lily?”

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She turned to me. “Can you come over here?” I asked. She rose, painfully and with a pronounced limp came over to me.

No. But yes. The other acl is now torn.

So no plans. Cancelled the little mountain cabin the end of this month (I’d planned to bring Lily and Lulu this year). The only pet sitter I trust Lily with declined staying with her, understandably concerned about the intensive care Lily will require after her surgery.

I have not yet told my family I won’t be joining them though I have cancelled my reservation at the inn.  There is a reason for everything.

I reflected on life, years ago in my chaotic vortex, newly divorced, sudden responsibilities of single parenthood, jobs, schools for my son, sitters, car maintenance, the whole aspect of LIFE that happens for everyone but I had never had it all. And I believed that. I believed it was all on me.

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Bit by bit, mistake by mistake I gradually learned I could depend on God. No matter what it was… a new clutch for my car, an unexpected medical bill, leak in the ceiling. No, God did not come here to fix these things Himself. But He gave me peace. He strengthened me when I wanted to run away. He helped me persevere, gave light and calm in the storms.

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And I remembered my feeble prayers! Sometimes just a faint, “Help, please!” And He did. He heard me. He strengthened me. Every time. For any reason, crisis or not. He truly never left me. He keeps His promises, even when we forget, ignore, disbelieve or panic. He doesn’t give up on us.

My prayers in those times weren’t great. Sometimes I don’t think even I believed them. But He did. Because what or how or why I prayed them was not the point. His faithfulness is all that matters.

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So Lily and I will get through this. And about the time she is finished with her physical therapy and beginning to be strong the weather will have cooled enough for her to enjoy her walkies again.

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time and tide

I can’t remember who decided to make Mom breakfast in bed but my brother and I would wake early on Mother’s Day morning to prepare a breakfast surprise. Sundays were good days because our parents either attended or hosted a party Saturday (and Friday) nights. So nobody but us ever woke early.

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These breakfasts were generally not messy! No attempts at pancakes a la eggshells, or half-cooked scrambled eggs. Neither of us ever even thought of trying something that involved dangerous appliances like stoves or blenders. No, our breakfast for Mom consisted of carrot strips, burned toast dripping with butter. I don’t even think we tried to make coffee. Back then Mom ground coffee beans every morning. But juice and probably milk or at least water, which sloshed over the tray and the plate making her toast a sodden mess. She always gave us a big bright smile and oohed gratefully.

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And we were so proud of ourselves!

My mother had served her country. She graduated Smith College 1943 and enlisted in the Navy. Her father had served in WW I, Army, in France. Her uncle was Navy, serving again in WW II. Mom was responsible for a psychiatric ward in San Diego. She loved what she did. She was deeply patriotic. She never spoke of her time in service.

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My mother was one of the strongest people I have ever known. She survived my childhood, the loss of a child, life with my difficult Father, and cancer. She kept busy. In addition to raising my surviving brother and me, she volunteered in Junior League building a Nature Museum at a popular park, complete with planetarium, was member of a DAR chapter, even participated in a sit-in with other moms when the local government planned to take part of our elementary school playground away for a nearby college parking lot.

Having worked in advertising where she met my dad she was fashionable and confident. I was shy, and shunned fads and fashion.

She lived for golf, and though she was in a garden club she killed any plant she touched. She was in a book club, and second only to golf was her love for bridge. Something she once told me I wasn’t smart enough to learn. But she was so smart, and very funny, and she had many friends who were so dear to her.

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She and I were close in a love-hate kind of way. I argued about everything. She called me a maverick. I had trust issues. Nobody’s perfect (least of all me), but Mom had one failing  my brother and I still disagree over. There were many nights when Dad was not home (he commuted weekly to New York), where I would help Mom to bed, and lock the house. From the age of about 6. My brother and I called it her mood, but she drank. I once told my father who I suppose confronted Mom, who likely denied it, or maybe he didn’t and just assumed I was being the height of disrespectful. Whatever, I got a spanking I will never forget.

So I never said another word.

And I wish I could forget.

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When Dad’s company finally moved us up north and we spent actual evenings home at the dinner table together everything changed. No more ‘moods’. We all became closer. Well, inasmuch as any dysfunctional family can. We did try to find a church but it was a ‘high’ church and swung incense so we didn’t go back. To any church.

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I don’t remember when I decided that she never liked me much. After my divorce she could not understand why I grieved. She and my father had disliked my ex-husband and could not understand that my sadness was not so much for not being married to him as the death of my marriage which I had wanted so badly to work. The distance became greater when she told me my struggles as a single mom were no different than her raising my brother and me when Dad commuted.

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I guess the real sadness was I never tried to talk with her about any of this. She has been gone for 30 years and, with all the tides that have ebbed and flowed and all the time that’s passed, I still miss her.

Or maybe I miss the relationship I always believed we had because I wished so hard for it. So this is a facet of my brokenness. A critical aspect of who I am, but it stems from who my mother never was. And I do try to focus on the happy memories but they are few.

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Kind of like these two boats rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I watched coming down the river this week. Mom and I were never quite together on things.

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But I suppose we can find grace in the chinks of light that shine through our brokenness. These flowers greeted me early this morning. They are from my sweet son. He lives several states away. He’s grown now, successful in his work and friendships. I am so proud of him. There are many regrets though that I have from when he was growing up. I had to work so hard to pay bills and buy food. He doesn’t remember it like that, mercifully. He doesn’t remember my frustration, or what I always thought he lacked.

Grace. What we receive and do not deserve. And mercy. What we deserve but do not receive.

God is so good.

To any Moms who may be reading this,  Happy Mother’s Day.

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indecision

One of those days.

I thought I’d sneak away for a while, just me and run a few errands. Dogs have radar for this. So no matter how nonchalant or casual I was about it I couldn’t get past the hallway to the garage door. Somebody’s nose would appear as if to say, “you’re not leaving without us, are you?”

It’s getting to where it will be too warm for Lily and Lulu to go for rides with me. We will be having our morning walkies before the sun rises and after it sets. So no errands.

Today has been the same. Rain squall, then almost sun, then grey. All day it’s been trying to decide whether to just all-out rain or not.

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Since the beginning of the Lenten season from Ash Wednesday I turned off the television. At first maybe about a week I have withdrawals. Strange how I can get so used to the noise and nonsense coming out of a large piece of electronics. Then I settle in to the silence. I hear birds more, breezes, crickets even now that it’s warmer. I hear neighbors laughing and talking.

I hear life.

Funny how insulated I can be inside a house with artificial noise. Without it time goes more slowly, things become deliberate. My head is clearer.

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Well, comparatively so. I read more books. I made some wind chimes out of those really large sea urchin spines.

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I made a bracelet with shells I have been finding on the beach in the shape of a heart. I discovered these are the “insole” part of a seashell called a lady’s slipper, but when the outer part breaks away it leaves this piece

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so I thought they’d look pretty in a bracelet. I don’t wear jewelry. At all, ever. So if I make these I’ll have to give them away or something. And I have thousands of these shell pieces since I have collected them for years and they are everywhere here where I live, though I have never seen them on any other beach.

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But somehow the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday has me in its grip. I can’t help but wonder how those disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt. Here was the One they knew was Messiah. And He had died. They watched it. Well, John and some of the women. How dark, frightening that must have been. Jesus tried to tell them He would rise and live but I don’t think I would have understood what He was saying either, even if I’d been a witness to His raising Lazarus.

I know how this story ends. With joy! Victory! Life and hope. Newness.

But Saturday. Somehow it helps me to have this day, dark as it must have been because I know what happens.

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nourishment

Before rescue-mix husky Lily’s surgery 3 weeks ago she relished her food. No sooner had I put her bowl down for her than she had vacuumed up every morsel. Even during the 2 weeks before her surgery after the injury. She ate everything.

She has always been all about food.

So part of the reason she tore her acl was her weight. This is my fault and I need to correct it. After all it’s not as if she can get her treats out of the cupboard. So I have been trying to be careful.

But her regular food? Completely turns her nose up at it. After her surgery the vet changed her food which might be part of the problem. She’s never been picky though, so I had no concerns when they sent me home with an enormous 30-pound bag of kibble that this would be a problem.

Most days though, later in the day she will go to her bowl and quietly eat her food. So maybe she just wants me to think she doesn’t like the change.

When I was little every Sunday after church my grandparents who moved from New York to be nearby would join my family for Sunday dinner. These were my mom’s parents (I never met my father’s, they were in Colorado, a long way from North Carolina), and I adored them.

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I was a picky eater. After everyone had finished, even dessert there I’d sit, my plate with remnant peas or whatever it was I did not care for staring back at me and as everyone else left the table I was told I had to sit until I finished my plate. My grandfather always sat with me.

He would not berate me, maybe offered a word or two of encouragement, but the important thing, for me, was he thought enough of me to not want me to be ashamed. Or alone.

This is something I think many of us do not understand. We have our comfy homes, our lovely friends and we do not see the ones who are alone. In our comfort we simply don’t see them.

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Nourishment comes to us in so many ways. Our physical food, the joy of a familiar voice, the wag of a dog’s tail, a favorite symphony, an unexpected note in the mail, a good book, a phone call from someone checking in, the family member who remembered something and wanted us to remember, too.

There is a hunger though, deep in each of us that no one else and nothing else can fill but God. His love that has known us since before we were born. He is with us every moment. In our fast-paced lives we may try to fill this empty need with many things… human attention, any number of substances that are bad for us or, at least, in excess are not good. All of which are fleeting, inconsistent at best and capricious at worst.

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So we move forward, day by day. We make our plans, work at our jobs, all the while knowing ultimately it is not we who are in control.

I know this for certain when I put Lily’s food in her bowl.

holiday

The etymology of this word has it derived from holy days. But we call many days holidays, and ironically have made this word the politically correct word for many religious days– Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Passover, to name a few.

But isn’t the whole point of being politically correct turning everything to cardboard? Not even vanilla ice cream, just flavorless, meaningless days. So we don’t offend anyone, right?

Well, maybe, but no.

A smile can be holy. Anything that moves the heart is holy. So visiting family and friends for a (secular) celebration like Thanksgiving is for me most holy. A reunion, a communion, reconnecting on so many levels. Opportunities to laugh, express concern, to share thoughts, hearts, gifts, walks, the same space.

IMG_0742.JPG  I visited my brother this year for Thanksgiving. He honors me, though he does not maybe know it, when he asks me to accompany him to his office while he works and I read a book. Occasionally he or I share a thought or observation but the space is sacred somehow. And he and his family and I shared dinner together, and his daughter is learning to drive and she wanted me to accompany them on a drive (not harrowing!). And my sister-in-law had car trouble and allowed me to accompany her to the car shop which allowed the two of us a rare few minutes to share a sacred space and time.

I guess I am older enough and have lost enough to realize how sacred our human connections are. The accepting, sharing, forgiving, laughing, understanding, opportunities to grow more dimensions. Funny how for so long people can be so taken for granted until you listen below the surface of what you hear, and see through the lining to the heart.

IMG_0745.JPGSomehow, even if the connections don’t bond strongly there is a cord that holds everything together and more opportunities come around again.

Every encounter is a grand opportunity to give cheer, hope, encouragement. To appreciate someone for something they may not realize others do see.

Hope. It does spring eternal.

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“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest. The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home, rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”   ICorinthians 13:4-13 NIV

too strong to cry

For years after my husband and I divorced I did not cry. I might say could not but since I cry easily these days I would guess I could have but for whatever reason just didn’t.

I did not cry for my failed marriage. I did not cry for our son who would be shuttled between two states and so many dynamics of family. I did not cry for abysmal relationship mistakes made years after. I did not cry when my taskmaster Father for whom I worked in business blamed me for any and everything that went wrong, personnel, technical, anything. I now realize as a business owner he wanted me to understand what it meant to take responsibility but I was in overload in that department already.

I did cry when my mother died, 7 years after my divorce. The floodgates opened. She and I had drifted apart because I had too many tightropes to walk and could not relate to anyone. But when she died I snapped back to reality. Six years after she died my little dog of almost 16, with an enlarged heart, enlarged liver, degenerative disc disease and latent seizures had to be put to sleep.

I cried harder for my little Piper than for my mom.

As my son grew and life came back into focus my perspective became more balanced. I suppose sometimes you have to go off the deep end to see what’s right more clearly.

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At first I moved very slowly because life was newer, fresher but not strange. Having come to the end of myself I handed me off to God. I knew at once how badly I needed Him, how much I depended on Him. For breath, for wisdom, guidance, peace, grace, comfort, understanding, forgiveness, life.

And though I was still somewhat confused that purpose and vocation could be but were not necessarily one and the same thing that, too became clearer. First I was a child of God. Next a mother. Then a provider, sister, daughter, friend. And nothing is compartmentalized but can interchange.

Life, I learned, is rather fluid.

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Sometimes we find a niche and alight for however long.

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Other times, we fly.

I write this post after my son called to tell me he is in Tennessee with his father. His step-mother, a woman whom I have never got to know (why would I have) is not expected to live through today. They said that though on Thursday when she was admitted to hospital for sudden pain that has turned out to be a super-resistant infection.  And she is still here.

So I told my son I will pray for her, this woman, a virtual stranger but she is important to my son.

So she is important.

And I will pray.

And I cried. For a woman I do not know.

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“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”   –Psalm 23:4

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”    —Psalm 91:11