Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!


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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.




(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.


“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

A Hallelujah Chorus


The conductor stately walks down the corridor towards us. 

The tails of his tuxedo are perfectly pressed, the pleats of his starched white shirt under the lapels perfectly parallel, and his endless toothy smile reaches from cheek to cheek when he sees me and my mama.  Once he was the kind of unruly boy my mom used to teach.  Now he has harnessed his boundless energy into bringing out the power of music into young people.

He bends over to kiss mom on the head. “Hello, Mama,” he says as she looks up to him from her wheelchair.  A smile of recognition lights up her face even though it has been eight years since she has last seen him, when he was her conductor in a Christmas choir.

“Hello,” she smiles endlessly back, squeezing his hand.

“I am so glad to see you, I was meant to see you today,” he said as he pats her shoulder.

After a hug he turns and marches toward the stage entrance.

I have watched my friend Dr. Jeffery Redding conduct award winning high school choirs beneath the lights of Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, in the ancient colosseum of Verona, in the courtyard of San Marco Plaza in Venice, but tonight I watch his elegant tails march toward the stage of the American Gardens Theatre at EPCOT in Disney World to lead the time honored tradition of the Candlelight Processional, a Christmas Tradition that Walt Disney himself began at Disneyland more than 50 years ago.

Tonight my friend takes the honored position behind the podium to conduct the 50 piece orchestra and 300 voices of the Disney Voices of Liberty, Cast Member Choir, and auditioned high school choirs. Though I have watched him conduct many times, there was something special about this assembly of voices from all walks, all age groups, all levels on this stage to share a Christmas message.


The tradition of story and song together this holiday season seems to bring comfort and joy to a world full of randomness. Guests have lined up for hours waiting outside the theatre to enter, and when capacity was reached, watched from the courtyard across the stage. Many are drawn to the comfort of this familiar message, this familiar music, these familiar words we have heard over and over in our heads for years.

These words spoken and sung tonight bring tears to my eyes as I watch my 91-year-old mama, sitting next to me in her wheelchair, her Alzheimer’s riddled mind brought clear this night through the power of music, song and story. I see her face radiate with joy. I watch her hands moving gracefully to the music, mimicking the elegant movements of Jeff’s on stage. She turns to me and smiles.


“He is such a good conductor,” she states. This mama of mine, who one month ago was in ICU, suffered a mild stroke and infection and rounds of tests and antibiotics, is now a completely different person next to me, her whole body swaying and clapping and singing to the familiar songs of Joy to the World, Silent Night, and her favorite:

“Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices.

Oh night Divine, Oh night, when Christ was born.

Oh night, O Holy Night,

Oh night Divine.”

And tonight is a divine night, as I see my mama transform through the power of music, transform as she watches my friend bring to life and draw out from these voices and these instruments the power and glory of the words and the notes so often heard but not truly experienced.

I am one of the first to stand as I hear the strings start up the familiar introduction to Handel’s Messiah.

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”


Mama also tries to stand, but her legs are so weak. I grab her hand and together we wave our clasped fingers to the powerful chorus and the strings and brass and percussion of the orchestra.

Mama’s words are very few lately.  But these words tonight are crisp and clear and proclaimed with all her heart.

“King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he shall reign forever and ever. Forever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Words crisp and clear and brief.

Words that need no explanation.

Words that are made more powerful in the repetition that accompanies Alzheimer’s are glorious tonight.

Timeless words and timeless melody that my mama revels in, heart and soul.

In this present moment, when all for her is crystallized in time, in place, in right now, this beauty is all that matters.

I may not have many moments with her like this.  But this one Hallelujah Chorus will be eternal in my heart.

Even the guest narrator, Emmy award winning Joe Morton, acknowledges the power of song this night.  He says, “Tonight, even for one night, this tradition, no matter what you believe, reminds us that Love wins out, that Love is the reality in this magical place, to bring Peace and Unity in this world.”


The performance is over. I don’t want this time to end, but I turn up the walkway to push Mama’s wheelchair up the aisle.

I hear his familiar voice near the stage bellow out…..”Don’t leave!”

Mama and I wheel back towards the stage. In the midst of all those around him, clamoring for his attention, Jeff hustles over for a quick moment.

“You were my inspiration tonight,” he leans over and whispers to Mama. “I was nervous when I first saw your earlier, but seeing you reminded me why I do this, to touch lives and inspire others. Thank you for reminding me.”


Her eyes twinkle, her smile stretches across her entire face as he turns under the lights and walks away, grasping hands, touching lives, touching others, even after the baton is laid down.




I took a Chinese painting class last week, a completely new learning experience. Everything about it was new, the types of paints, the brushes, how you hold the brush, the type of paper, how you load the brush with paint. A new way to paint. A new way to look at things.

Many times the teacher said, “In Chinese painting, don’t worry about detail. You want to capture the essence. If you make mistake, let it happen. See where it goes. Don’t try to fix it.”

His Chinese paintings were so beautiful and simple. I asked him to paint a peony for me. In a few brushstrokes, he captured the essence of this flower I love so much. So beautiful, so simple. In such few strokes, such few colors, he created something that moved me to tears.

Why did something so simple move me to tears? With a few strokes of a brush, this artist connected to my soul. He laughed at my tears, saying, “You make more tears, I make more beautiful flower.”

So here it is, a peony by artist Lian Quan Zhen.


Simple strokes, use of pure colors, light touch. Suggestion. Not all details.

Mixed in with painting lessons, life lessons.

Don’t force things. Let them be as they are.

Many things in your life you don’t understand. You do it first, then you understand.

Sometimes you give up things to get things.

After years of raising four children, my mind is not wired to think this way. There are many years of attempted control and order to reverse. Yet in this changing season of letting go, relinquishing control, I see the beauty of giving up things to get things. The peace of not forcing things and letting them happen. The joy of letting my grown children be as they are and blossom in their gifts.

The gift of living with someone with Alzheimer’s also teaches, for she sees things in the present, life in the small things. Through her I learn to see beauty in the shell, in the external that capsules what is hidden inside.

To see the essence, the purity of heart and soul now masked my amalagous plaques tangling the brain rendering captive the expression, the language, the emotions that once captured and endeared this person to the hearts of many.

The essence. Look at the essence.

The true beauty of this being.
Through my art I hope to see clearly the things I love. The flowers familiar, landscapes and seascapes that heal my soul. Look deeply into them unmasked.

And in turn trust that the things I see are true.

Then, lightly, I will touch the paper with brush and ink, not force what I see, not try to control it.

Instead let it happen,

And capture only essence.



Out of a mess forms something beautiful.

A blank canvas, paint smudged on its surface

crumpled with cellophane, left to dry.

Layered over this mess, more paint applied in the shadows, the smudges, the splotches of dried paint.


Look for the forms, the shapes in the mess instructs my teacher.

So I study, I gaze into the shapes

and begin to see them…

the forms, traces on the canvas.


I add color, more shape, more layer upon layer

a creation begins to unfold

as I see patterns, unexpected, on the surface

enhanced by color, light and shadow.


It is the shadow that brings out the beauty in the whole


So as I close in on a year
and reflect on the beginnings of a new year

a blank canvas before me

I pray I will let events shape me,

and try not to control them


let them happen as they are
let them happen randomly….
the places of shadow and sorrow, the places of light and color
the places unexpected
the places smudged or rough or worn
the places exposed.




And at the end of a year, when I look back on the whole picture
stepping away to view from a distance
I will see how each place, each stroke, each color, each shadow had a part
in creating something new.











Recently my family was enjoying the beach on an overcast day. In the distance we could see a storm drifting in. As the storm approached the wind began swirling. The dark clouds became darker, moving towards the light horizon until you could see the merger point, where the black clouds touched the calm skies. The contrast was clear. Its energy filled the air, moving all around us. We were compelled to stay and witness this merging conflict. Its electricity sparked the kids, as they ran and laughed and did cartwheels on the beach as the storm moved closer. The calm converging the darkness moved us all. We drank it in until the ensuing lighting and pelting rain forced us from the beach.

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That moment of collision, where the calm meets the storm, so striking, so powerful, altering our world, is terrifying and thrilling at the same time.   Stark is the point where calm and conflict  meet..

These moments of collision happen too often in those of us who care for someone with Alzheimer’s. We have calm in our day, in our normal routine that is the stability of someone in this condition. Then something moves in to upset the routine….this week for my mom, a UTI, something minor, that presents itself in weakness and fogged memory. Yet the conflict that arises in me as I change my routine, take her to the doctor, get her medicine, take her for her follow up, answer her questions, worry about her weakness, imagine it may be something bigger…all these things swirling around in my head drain me and scare me at the same time.

I try to do something with all this stuff inside, so I paint. I paint the storm. At first, I lay out the storm with smooth brushstrokes and defined lines, but it does not truly depict the image. Instead, I hold the brush at the end and move in large strokes across the canvas. My peers in the art room look over my shoulder. I like the energy, they say. I can feel it. So I continue in this mode, in large, jagged movements over the canvas. At one point I begin to doubt, and start stroking, blending in the colors, with softer strokes, smoothing in the foreground. What happened, says my teacher. You’ve lost the movement. Don’t work it so much she says.

Again, art reflects the conflict inside me. The times I see a situation brewing and try to manipulate it, smooth it over, instead of letting it be. I try to control it, or minimize it, or worse yet, let it torment me inside while externally I smooth it over, hiding the conflict of emotions inside. The conflict of worry, of guilt of being angry, of weariness of this situation, of wanting to be free of all this. So I continue to work on this painting, and myself. I’ve changed the composition a bit, but I have not changed the storm clouds. My teacher says her eye is drawn to the midpoint of the painting, where the white clouds meet dark clouds. She thinks that to be the strongest part of the painting.

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Last week I spoke at a caregivers conference, reading one of the poems I had written about caring for my mom. At different times during the conference, three women approached me, telling me they felt the same feelings I am feeling, feelings of conflict, feelings of despair. I held their hands, gave them a hug.  I know there are many of us caught in this storm of caregiving, of conflicting feelings of sorrow, anger, guilt, weariness as we continue to care for our loved ones day by day by day by day.

Storms move in and out of our lives. But in the moment before, and then right after, there is stillness. A moment of peace. In that moment of stillness, even as a storm approaches, we as caregivers must take rest. A breath. A prayer. An exhale. That is where we find the strength to weather what is ahead.