Grace


She stood at the foot of the cross, a few steps back, this mother, Mary, watching, observing the pain her son endured, her heart breaking in agony as he carried the pain of sin’s curse that consumed her son’s body, until the final moment when He, and all humanity, were set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her Son was in the presence of His father in heaven, in glory.

She stood before her daughters casket, this mother, Martha, who had for the past few months observed the pain her daughter endured, her heart breaking in agony as she observed the pain of cancer’s curse, a glioblastoma, deteriorate and consume her daughter’s body, the body she had lovingly cared and tended to for months alongside her daughter’s husband, until the final moment when she was set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her daughter Cathy was in the presence of her father in heaven, in glory.

And as the hundreds in the crowd that had gathered for her memorial sang this song, Martha lifted her hands in worship, to the One who gave her daughter life and took it back to Himself.

Take courage, my heart

Stay steadfast, my soul

He’s in the waiting, He’s in the waiting

Hold on to your hope

Let your triumph unfold

He’s never failing, He’s never failing


Eyes closed, this mother knew with all her broken heart, her Savior we remember on this Good Friday, was waiting for her daughter in heaven.

Eyes closed in worship, this mother gave her daughter to the Lord.

Eyes closed in worship, she knew her daughter’s triumph over death belonged to the Lord

Can we do that on this Good Friday, give back to Him the pain we endure these moments on earth?

Can we see the glory he is rendering beneath the heartache?

Can we believe the curse of pain and and the most heartbreaking sorrow is broken beneath the cross?

Can we lift our hands to him, a gesture of release, of letting go? In return, grace replaces sorrow, grace replaces grief, grace allows the most wretched pain to bring us even closer to Him….


Open hands, open heart

Broken and shattered

Refilled by joy

And the witness of His glory.
All because 

Of the power of the cross.


In memory of Cathryn Elizabeth Bryant, who went home to the Lord on April 5, 2017, and in honor of the generations of women who surround her, her mother, Martha, her daughters Kristen and Michelle, and her granddaughter-in -waiting, Aubrey.


Song Lyrics, “Take Courage” by Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor, CCLI#7074837

Message in the Sky


I rise above on metal wings.

Rise above this broken earth
Fractured and shattered. 
The craft moves upward

Away from anger, pain and protest 

Grief, and forgetting, my mother’s disease.
Pulled into the greys of heaven

clouds and mist and vapor.
Behind it trails the dawn

The beginning of a new day

The gradual warming of earth’s tent

From greys to pinks to orange.
We soar along horizon’s line

Away from dawn, westward

from here the daunting now appears 

Insignificant, small.

        

Land recedes, gives way to gulf waters

The blue of waters reflect the blue of skies above

A layer of mist hovering between 
Above the blue

As if a heavenly artist took one stroke

One brush of his hand 

A message

half a heart

In vapor, in white on a blue canvas sea.


What message does this half a heart bear?

Unfinished?

Incomplete?

Or is the remnant of a broken heart? Half empty from grief and pain and sorrow?
The half heart remains floating above the gulf waters.  A message in the sky.

The remaining journey attempts to answer that question.

Half hearted?

Or broken hearted?

He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God.  Issac Newton


On this journey across the country I see the remnants, the attempts for us to be like God, constructing our own universe, power, the windmills the towns laid out in perfect grids, the farmland, from the sky, perfect circles. The network of connection of roads and highways sometimes singular across a vast nothing, sometimes a puzzle of roadways. All connectors. All looking for connection. The towers reaching to the sky to send signals. The skyscrapers stair stepping upward.  


Beyond the cities and towns, a single peak, snow capped, tapping heaven, then sloping down into a valley that breaks out into a river, then a canyon, then a desert. This vastness that is this land. The land our forefathers traversed at first by foot or horseback centuries ago. The land our forefathers traversed in search of a new life and new horizon. This country of promise.

My father came to this country, decades ago, standing on the deck of a freighter. He earned his entrance into America fighting on foreign soil, a soldier in the Philippine Scouts during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March. He survived the Korean War.
As he approached the port of entry spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge, he spoke to his young daughter, my sister, of the promise of this land, of the promise of America. “We will have a good life here in America,” he said to her as they crossed underneath the great orange arches.
My plane lands a few hours south of where my father first entered this country, Monterey Bay, where a Filipino taxi driver takes me to my hotel. He is from the same area in the Philippines as my father. He speaks his language. He has been in this country 17 years. He speaks proudly of his daughter, who is going to college. He has my father’s dream, that his children get a degree. He has my father’s name. Jessie.
I see my father’s face in the ones of those who work here at the hotel. My father, who was a laborer after his 24 years of service as a sergeant in the US Army. My father who could could only dream of staying at a seaside resort. My father who labored so his children could dream.
Over the waters the next morning, perhaps one hundred miles south of the port my father first entered this country over sixty years ago a rainbow reaches from end to end. Not just one, but two. A double rainbow over the grey blue pacific waters.

Promise. The rainbow.
These days it can mean so many things

But originally the bow

Was set in the clouds as a promise

That God would never flood the earth again

Despite our turning away.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come.  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Genesis 9:13 

A sign of promise.
A sign of hope.

My father crossed the sea to enter this land just miles from the span of this rainbow.  He came here to hope.  He came here to fulfill promise.
My promise now to him is to care for his widow

The woman he brought here years ago torn from her homeland and mother and family

To start a new life in the land of promise.

I will care for her

And the memories she can no longer recall

Of a life, a home, a car, a family started here in this country.
I will care for my father’s grandchildren
The ones who now live the life he only dreamed of

Who carry degrees from universities and live in cities and towers from coast to coast.

Who  pursue education and the hope of helping others in a world that greatly needs help.

And as my mother fades she too will join him.

And they will live in the legacy of their children and grandchildren

Who live out the promise they began 

Perhaps broken

But not half hearted.

.

Measured by the moon.

The moon hangs like an orb, suspended in the sky. Weightless. Floating. Full.

As if it does not carry the weight of measuring time and days as it brightens the dark sky on its descent into a new day.

This day it drops into is my birthday. Another measure of time, in years. A span of 365 risings and falling of the moon, marking 56 times today.

But the one who gave birth to me that day 56 years ago does not remember.

For her time is still, only measured in present. No before or after moments. Only now.

At times it is a gift, this only present moments. There is no sorrow about the past. No worries about the future. Alzheimer’s has taken away time consciousness. Perhaps it is not thievery. Perhaps it is freedom.

Time is suspended as I sit beside her bedside now, stroking the soft, thin folds of her hand in mine. I move for her this hand and arm, the one she cannot move, rendered still from a stroke months ago. She moves the other gracefully to the beat of an old Filipino song, O Ilaw:

Oh light, in the dark night

You’re like a star in the sky

Oh light in the quiet night 

Your picture, dear, makes one hurt. 


O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim

Wag is mo’y bitiun sa langit.

O, tanglaw, sa gabing tahimik

Larawan mo, Neneng,  nagbigay pasakit.
I read the translation to this song we have listened repeatedly over the past months.  Today it strikes me how true these words are.  How is hurts to see her bedridden, to see her bones so frail, her arm still, her head and neck so weak.  But her smile and the light behind her pale eyes still shine so brightly, the way they always have.

Those eyes close now, yet her hand continues to move to the beat of the music

Her voice is barely a whisper as her mouth forms the words.

Only months ago we would sing this together aloud as I took her for a walk outside, to take her out to feel the sun on her skin and see the flowers she loves bloom.  Those days now are few as her lack of mobility makes it difficult to put her in the wheelchair.

She no longer marks the days. Yesterday I told her, “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
She raised  her eyebrows with a familiar smile.
“Oh it is? I did not remember,” she says. “What month is it?”
“January,” I tell her.
“January,” she repeats.

“Do you know the day?” I ask.
She shakes her head no
“My birthday is January 13,” I tell her.
“Oh,” she mouths quietly, then whispers, “What do you want for your birthday?”
“A new dress,” I tell her.
She smiles. “Ok.You get one.”
“Ok, I do you want to go shopping with me?” We used to spend hours shopping together.
She shakes her head no.
She whispers again, “What do you want?”
I think of the time we spent only months ago, when I could push her outside and we could sing her favorite song together,

I tell her, “I want you to sing, sing really loud mommy, so I can hear you.”

Together we sing in Tagalog words that have become familiar these past months, translated:

Awake and arise from slumber, from your sleep so deep. Open your window and look out to me, so that you may understand my true lament

I read the translation to this song, this day before my birthday. This day I have scheduled hospice to come to do an evaluation of mom’s condition. Her strength has declined markedly since her stroke last August. My lament over her condition has rendered me sleepless and worried.

This day before I start a new year, I need to know. I need someone to help me measure the amount of my mom’s decline, need to know where she was at in her stages of Alzheimer’s. And the hospice coordinator comes to the door shortly after we finish our song.

“Hello,” she greets my mother, “How are you. Who are you? Can you tell me your name?”

“Bing,” she answers with a smile.

“I want to know if she has a awareness of who she is,” the coordinator had told me earlier in a brief interview.
“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Does she have a sense of who she is,” she answered. “Can she answer the question, ‘Who are you?'”
On this  birthday of mine I ask myself, Do I have a sense of who I am? Can I answer this question: “Who are you?”

In the past years it has been entangled between caregiver and mother.And lately I have fallen exhausted into both. But that is not the woman my mother raised me to be.

She would want me to answer that question, as she still can: “Who are you”

Me separate from my mother, from my children

Me the one who is shaped by caring for others but not defined by it

Me, searching for to be fully the one I was created to be

The day my mother brought me into this world 56 years ago
If the measure of our days here on earth is to have a sense of self, let me be the one my mother led by example for me to be.

Loving others, caring for their needs, listening, laughing alongside.

As she has for years

And has she does now

In each moment

Suspended still in the air

Like the moon, full.

Going Home

 

 

 

The sun climbs over my roof this morning, and under it my children are home.
Even the cat had been waiting expectantly for their return.

image

Home, a place to let down your guard, a place of rest, much needed after a season of change.

Just the other day my youngest, a freshman in college, called.

“Hi sweetie,” I answer, “how are you?”

It is the 14th week of her freshman year. She has been away from home for over three months now.

“Hi.” She has that voice, the one that I have, the one where everything is ok but it is not.

“I’ve been trying to call you.”

“I’m sorry sweetie, we’ve been out.”

We’d been away on an empty nest retreat to Pebble Beach for her dad to play in a golf tournament. His life’s work, golf. And I am grateful his life’s work brings us to this place of crashing waters that shift to cerulean to grey with the winds and the sun. He can play the game he loves and I can walk these shores I love where the rocks jut out of the seas and the sandpipers nip at the shores and dogs run unabashedly into the surf in complete freedom.

image

For the first time in months I felt that same freedom as I walk and reflect on the things I love and the ones I love and the salt air fills my lungs and the skies shift from grey to lavender to orange early in the morning and the surf sounds calls me to walk and think and pray along its edges during this season of shift and change of all things familiar.

image

This was a gift of a week alone, in this new season of being alone.
A gift of a week before the kids come home.
A gift to reflect and pause and be thankful.

Lauren whispers into the phone,

“I just want to be home.”

“Only two more days,” I tell her.

“I just want to be home now,” she tells me.

Her voice breaks. I ask her to face time so I can see her face to face. She says no mom I don’t want you to see my face right now.

And I hear the sobs in her voice.

I want to fix it. What do you want I ask.
I want you to pick me up and take me to dinner with you and dad.
All of me wants to find a flight right now that will take me to where she is thousands of miles away to pick her up for dinner.

She’s alone tonight. All her friends are gone, a lot of them home already.

My little girl just wants to go home.

Depending on whose voice, that statement means different things at different times.

It used to frustrate me at times when my mom, in her Alzheimer’s state of mind, used to say, “I want to go home.” She had a place under our very roof, and I used to wonder “what else can we do for her?” until my caregiving counselor explained to me that when she asks to go home, she is looking for her place of safety and refuge.

Later she used to say, I want to go home, and playing along with her, I would ask, where is home?

She would smile, and point her finger up to heaven.

Yesterday during our visit at the place that is now her home, we sang songs from the sound of music, her favorite. We both laughed out loud when we sang together “so long, farewell” and in her raspy voice, weakened by a recent stroke, she sang out “Goodbye, Goodbye!” so loud it startled even herself!

 

 

When I kissed her on the forehead to say good bye, she asked me, “Where are you going? Where is your home? I don’t remember.”

Tomorrow I will try to find a good place for her to sit at home comfortably at the table in her wheelchair.

Tomorrow we will gather all together.  At home.

imageAround extended tables will be our children and our friends who have gathered around the Thanksgiving table with us over the past 20+ years, friends who at that time were far away from home and were making a new one.

And for the first time my son will gather around the table with his new wife and her parents, as the circle extends out concentrically of starting a home.

 

Managing Storage…coping with Life’s system overload

IMG_1374

It was ignored for a very long time. Months, maybe a year. The little white icon that pops up on the IPad screen: Your storage is full. Manage in Settings. Like many other things in life, I kept ignoring it, thinking it would go away or I would deal with it later.

Then came the day when I tried to open up a new page to write a new document, and ARGHHHHH! It would not open. Worse yet, I could not retrieve any of the older documents I had written. All those words, all those pages! Panic set in. I knew they were in the cloud somewhere, but I had no idea how to get them out of there. With none of my kids around to coach me through this (they would laugh at me anyway) I caved in to the only thing I could do. Call Apple Support.

The voice of a very nice young man got on the line. I prefaced the rest of the conversation with this statement: Explain everything to me as if you were talking to your mom.

I could picture the grin on his face as he chuckled. And step by step, he patiently coached me on how to manage my storage so I could have more room to update my settings so I could have room to load my previous documents and make room for more. After all my anxious questions, “Where is the ICloud? Where do these items go? What happens if I delete this?” he said to me, “You’re doing great! You got this!”

“Don’t worry, he told me, your items are still there and you will have access to them. You just have to manage where you place them. ”

Ha! I think to myself. That’s the story of my life.

From his desk at Apple Support he doesn’t see the piles of items in the spare room or the boxes in the garage or the bins of photos that need to be sorted in the upstairs closet. Managing items is an ongoing problem of mine, my nemesis for years. Those closest to me also try to coach me through longterm fault. For my birthday a few weeks ago my dear friend gave me the book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up after she saw me browsing through it in the bookstore. One of the statements author Marie Kondo makes is this: To truly cherish the things that are important to you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

IMG_2069

This is true for my IPad. To make room for more I must take time to delete some of the photos that are taking 8.2 GB on my 12GB device.

This is true for my closet. To be able to neatly put away the piles of laundry on the living room couch I must discard some of those tops stuffed in my drawers I haven’t worn for years.

This is true for those long term anxieties that have been stuffed down in my soul. Worries about when am I ever going to get this stuff in my house organized. Worries about my grown children’s future. Fears and apprehension about their goals, and mine, being achieved. Fears and anxieties over personal traits I need to work on.

All this stuff drains energy from me. Wastes too much space in my mind and in my day. Keeps me from being who I fully want to be.

IMG_2067

Last night the signal that blares to me that I must learn to manage my own personal settings is mirrored in front of me.

Mirrored in my own daughter.

In the angst of anticipating the 6pm announcement of a college acceptance, a myriad of emotions and tears come spilling out of unseen places…..will or will she not get in, my classes are too hard, I can’t study for all these AP classes, I keep trying and trying and I can’t get where I want to be….

IMG_2068

My heart breaks that my daughter is caught in this swirl of expectations and achievement and information overload. I had no clue how much tension she was storing underneath the surface until she broke. Her system was full. She had reached maximum capacity.

I had not noticed the signals that she was on overload.  That she was feeling so much pressure to keep up schoolwork and grades. And so quietly, calmly, even though my heart was breaking, I did what Apple Support did for me that morning: coach my sweet daughter to look through her days and examine what we could delete from her busy life.

What was necessary and what was extra.

What was too much.

What to do if she was feeling anxious and fearful.

Most of all, what she needed to focus on to keep space free in her mind to relax and breathe.

“Mom,” my daughter told me later, “when we were fixing our phones last week the tech told me that when a IPhone starts reaching its maximum capacity, it starts acting strange. Not functioning correctly. I guess that’s what was happening to me.”

iPhones and IPads come in different capacities:  12 GB, the 32GB and the 64GB. It has nothing to do with their efficiency, it’s merely how they are designed.

All are designed differently. Each has different gifts and capacities. And in this crazy world of achievement and information and overload that we all get into I need to observe the messages silently put out that the expectations can be too much. In my children’s world.  And in my own.

In those places where we gain more space by deleting the extra, we need to replace the busyness with places of rest. Places to shut down and restore. Places to recharge in quietness.

For the benefit of freeing up the clutter of our minds, our souls, our days is that we gain space.

And when we gain space, we are more available to receive what is around us.

IMG_0957

Love that is not Lost

There is a love that bears all things, the kind of love that looks you straight in the eye, into your soul, and sees everything….and still loves. The kind that allows you to be so transparent that nothing is hidden yet everything is loved. When we experience that kind of love our soul is blessed beyond all measure. The joy of holding that kind of love transcends any pain that may follow. For the greatest gift of this kind of love….from a mother, a spouse, a child, a friend, a dog….is knowing that just being in their presence is enough

I repost this blog today, Valentine’s Day, in honor of those whose love completely and unconditionally

 

Her eyes are glazed, yet a light in them still shines.

Her hearing is diminished, yet she still senses me.

She sits at my feet, as I rub her back between the shoulders.

She groans in acknowledgment, as if this happiness is too much to bear.

For a moment the panting stops.

A smile rests under her droopy eyes.

Her head turns, through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.
In days past, sixteen years of them, I would rush past her.

a quick pat on the head and I would be off

doing the things moms do, carpool, grocery shopping, logging miles on the minivan within my five mile radius

but when I returned she would be waiting

always with a wagging tail and a smile.

At times when things were not so rushed–

the groceries put away, the laundry folded–

I would put my tennis shoes on.

She would wag her, her eyes pleading expectantly.

“You wanna take a walk?” I would ask

and with that last word she would trot to the door.
We had our routine path, around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed.

  

When we turned back into the neighborhood her pace picked up a bit as she scampered up the driveway.

She knew she was home.

Years later, mom came to live with us. She was 83 years old. She partnered with us on these walks. Together the three of us would take that familiar path. Around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed. They were times to share tidbits of conversation or times of quiet reflection. Times of companionship.


When we turned back into the neighborhood, mom would exclaim every time, “Thank you, Lord, that we are home.”

Home.

A place of safety.

A place of familiarity

A place of refuge.
These walls of safety have kept out the elements. They have braved three hurricanes, a few tornado warnings, and multiple thunderstorms, even a lightning strike that hit the house and burned out our alarm system.

But these walls cannot shield us from the elements of aging, ones that grapple arthritic bones,

cataracts that dim the eyes, hearing loss that deafens a whisper

or amyloid plaques that tangle the brain.

These are elements that walls cannot keep out

so within these walls we must adapt and acclimate.

For many years I rushed in and out, hurrying on to the next thing.

Now

these elements bear down:

arthritis, aging, alzheimer’s,

causing me to slow.

Stop fighting

Stop rushing past.

Try to hold up.

Try to listen.

Try to see.

So we keep the routine.

Take the walks until the day the feet can only shuffle

Rub the back.

Hold the hand.

 

The smile still lingers, the one that rests under droopy eyes

and the sigh that says this happiness is too much to bear.

The head turns, the light in the eyes still shines

and through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.

A few months ago, the time came to put Cindy down. She was 16 years old. In her way, she let me know it was time.

She was lying down on a pink blanket.  I put my face next to hers.  She lifted her head slightly and looked straight into my eyes. With those eyes she said to me:

It’s OK. I love you. And I know that you love me and have loved me well. It’s OK to say good-bye. Let me go.

I love you.

 
 http://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/

standing the test of time

_MG_2931

It is a perfect autumn day. The late afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the southern plantation bathed in fall colors. A single giant oak stands as the altar for the young couple that will be joined in marriage on this day. The gathering of family and friends stand as the beautiful young bride crosses the field on the arm of her father towards the young man that will become her husband. The afternoon sunbeams reflect her smile as she approaches her groom beneath the towering oak that has stood the test of time.

IMG_2920

It is fitting that this couple should be joined together under this oak, for as the first Psalm promises, their promises to each other today are based on their own delight in each other and in the law of The Lord. And His blessing on this day permeates the entire ceremony and celebration that follows. For who cannot help but celebrate this love that exudes promise and hope, completeness and joy.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But His delight is the law of The Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3

MG_2943-0.JPG

My firstborn son stands at the altar beside the groom and his brothers. They have been best friends since they were two years old. And yes both young men have had life and limb shaken up at times in their 23 years of life together. They have buried awkward moments, and now branch out to begin careers that travel in different directions. But their steadfastness of friendship and faith stand as firm as the oak they stand under as this young man makes the biggest commitment of his life.

IMG_2914

Earlier that morning my son jokes about hitting his first home run off the groom on the pitcher’s mound in Little League. Now he laughs at how the nervous young groom paces back and forth, taking deep breaths moments before the ceremony. Later my son turns to me with a smile, saying he has never seen his friend so happy.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

These shared moments of laughter and commitment branch out into this gathering of friends surrounding this family. For during the time that these two young men built a friendship over legos and big wheels so did their mothers forge a lasting friendship over playdates and Happy Meals. The circle of families that bond on this first of many upcoming wedding days span 23 years of friendship, compile 135 years of marriage, and fifteen children.  We have stood shoulder to shoulder in the delivery room of our babies and at the gravesite of our loved ones.  We have clapped at preschool programs and applauded college acceptance letters.  We have consulted about high school dating and about the best ways to care for aging parents. We have cheered at little league games and dance recitals. We have logged late nights of tragedies and tears and episodes of Downton Abbey. We have brought each other casseroles and chocolate at just the right time. We have studied God’s Word together.

IMG_2947

My prayer for this young couple is that they too will have friendships that stand firm in times of fruitfulness and abundance and as well of times of withering and loss when all we want to do is shrivel up and shrink away.

In coming years I hope in times of celebration our kids will continue to shout out and jump together for joy as they have on the dance floor this evening. When times are darker and colder than this freezing southern night I hope they warm and comfort each other with words of encouragement.

At the end of the celebration the young couple run into the darkness under an arch of sparklers. Friends and brothers hoop and holler out as they venture into their new life together as man and wife. As they huddle together on this night of promise may this group of lifelong companions be the next generation of light and love in a world that yearns for more….

Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving message into the night……
Philippians 2:16, the Message

 

IMG_0465