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.

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(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.

Managing Storage…coping with Life’s system overload

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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Keep Believing

I remember the point when I switched from hopeful to “that’s it.”

The clock was ticking away when my hometown Seattle Seahawks finally got a breakthrough touchdown after being scoreless the entire first half.  Hope would rise then fall with each possession, crushed after an interception with five minutes left.  When the clock hit 4:53 I remember my brain switching to “That’s it. It’s over. We won’t be going to the Super Bowl.” I succumbed to defeat. For weeks I had been hopeful. There was no way now they could break through with only minutes left. Our entire family slumped silently in their chairs, past the point of believing anymore. It was over.

And then it happened.

The impossible happened after 56 minutes of bad breaks and dropped balls and interceptions and failed passes. In less than four minutes, everything changed. Russell Wilson’s one-yard run into the end zone.  An onside kick recovery by Chris Matthews. Marshawn Lynch’s 24 yard ramble into the end zone.  Luke Wilson’s lunge for a 2 point conversion. The clock that earlier seemed to tick away the death of a championship took a pendulum swing.  A 16- point halftime deficit was now a 22-19 lead with less than a minute left. The Green Bay Packers 48 yard field goal sent them into overtime and our family and every other Seahawk fan into anticipatory mayhem.

In their first OT possession, my hometown favorite, Jermaine Kerse, caught the impossible 35 yard pass up the middle to win the game. I screamed. We all screamed. We jumped, we hugged, we high fived. My Floridian born son ran into the Utah snow to make victory snow angels.

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When it was over, Russell Wilson, who earlier had not been the quarterback he had been the past games leading to the NFC championship, was in tears in the immediate post game interview. Fox News analyst Erin Andrews asked him, “What are you thinking at this time?” His first response:

“God is so good, man, all the time, every time.”

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When we had all been on the edge of our seats, of our nerves, those last minutes, this leader never stopped believing.

His credits: teamwork, fight, patience and trust.

And we continue to revel in the highlights, to play them over and over in our minds, this crazy victory that lifts our spirits and encourages us to keep believing against all odds.

To trust in those around us, to build a team that will believe and support you and back you and play their part at the right time even when the situation looks impossible.

To keep our head on, to lean into it and push forward, like Marshawn Lynch, even when life bulldozes us and people pile on us and hang on us and make demands and we feel we can’t take another step.

To stay patient, even when we have dropped the ball many times in key situations, like my Lakes High School alma mater alum Jermaine Kearse, who after multiple missed opportunities caught the game winning pass in overtime.

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To see the emotion, the brokenness of these 250+ lb grown men after such a comeback victory was at once humbling and powerful, as well as the hurt and pain of the Packers, whose victory was within reach, the tension of victory and defeat a thin line drawn between them.

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After all of it, kneeling on the field with the team in prayer, the response of the quarterback who led them through a grueling mano a mano match those last minutes, Russell Wilson,

“God is good all the time…….he prepared us for this….

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In this season of resolutions and hope in a new year, it is timely to witness a victory like this.

One that keeps you on the edge when minutes are ticking away, when every moment counts. when every move and every play is crucial

and every effort, whether successful or not, is thrown out there.

When heart and soul is put on the line, knowing there will be victory and there will be loss

and fear will not hold you from the prospect of the latter.

For the fight is worth it all, to take hold of a moment that did not seem possible only seconds earlier

pushing through failed efforts, disappointment, pain, negative odds to be a part of something bigger than you ever dreamed.

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Photo credits: Seahawks.com, Daniel Mogg, Kiro-TV.com

mom’s gift

Rites of passage.  This weekend was full of them.

My third son off to his senior prom.

My baby, my daughter gets her driver’s license.

My second son skypes for a while to take a break from studying for finals at college.

And my oldest gives me this gift, a gift that makes every heartache, every tear, every sleepless night worth the cost of being a mom.

This gift, this video that records moments of motherhood, is meant to honor my mother, his grandmother.

But this gift honors every mom I know…every mom who wonders if her little acts of love are noticed.   They are.

Please enjoy this gift, moms, and remember every little act of love are treasures  not only to us, but to our children, even when they are grown.

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Things made new

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Days to celebrate life.

Life that gives hope and promise and new beginnings.

Life born out of pain and received in joy and love

Three birth days celebrated in past weeks– my daughter’s sixteenth, my joy, my heart,

born sixteen years ago out of intense labor pain

the same pain my mother bore for me.

My mother’s 90th birthday celebrated days later

and a few days after that,

the most joyous of days to celebrate new birth born out of pain… Easter.

On Easter morning we sing this song ,a song that embraces the beauty born out of pain:

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of us

-Beautiful Things by Gungor

Life

In its hard barren things that we come across

buried under daily happenings

grief, sorrow, isolation, loneliness,

somehow out of these broken things

in this dust a garden arises

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strength

hope

gratefulness

perspective

joy

Out of chaos life is being found in you….

After a week of creative chaos

celebratory chaos–

Two milestone birthdays and Easter–

all reasons to celebrate life…

life at the beach celebrating sixteen year old wonders… IMG_2595 life around balloons and birthday cake celebrating the wonder of turning 90… 20140425-165251.jpg life around the table celebrating the wonder of eternal life on resurrection Sunday

… the chain of worry, of planning, controlling, perfecting is broken by the cross on Easter.

The joy of life replaces darkness.

The light of love shatters all, breaks the hold that daily worries and fears have over me. photo (7) Symbols of new life were placed around the house–

flowers

balloons

bread broken on Holy Thursday

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a cross from Jerusalem

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When I share the broken bread with each of my children, I remember the broken places in my heart–

the places that watch my mom diminish from Alzheimer’s

the places of her failing life chipping away at mine

the places that slowly ebb away at my life that could render me drowning in sorrow

until I choose to remember that out of pain comes something new.

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all 20140425-172754.jpg Mom’s memories are becoming lost. At times she struggles to remember our names. She could not comprehend it was her birthday. She did not know she was 90. Yet the things that are lost are replaced with a joy in the moment. In beauty in each moment. In complete and wondrous joy in the bouquet of flowers I brought to her on her birthday. In the the joy of hearing the sentiments of loved ones I read to her from Facebook wishing her a happy birthday. In singing “Happy Birthday to Me” as she blew candles from a cake as her caregivers and family friends gathered around her.

Mom loves gardens. She loves flowers. In her brief walks around the neighborhood she loves to study the different flowers and comment how beautiful they are. Though much is lost, much is found in the beauty in each moment that she chooses to see. In the color of the flowers. In the sound of music played on piano keys. In the faces of her grandchildren. 20140428-105247.jpg And on Easter, when we sing this song of new life, of things being made new, made beautiful out of dust

its words are a balm to my parched soul, weary of this journey.

For all of us are being made new in these lessons of caregiving of walking daily with someone who lives only in the present and only sees the good, the beautiful in each moment.

Life in the middle–

now the mother of a sixteen year old daughter

and the daughter of a ninety year old mother

in the midst of adolescent giggles and ninety year old stubbornness

there is beauty and things are being made new.

Places we are marked are the places that allow us to touch others. Pain carves deep etchings into our soul places marked by loss, hurt, places we did not expect to be.

I did not expect this this place of mothering my mother at the same time mothering my daughter, this place where I savor the quiet moments of sharing secrets once shared with my own mother

secrets about love, about being loved, about being comfortable in your own skin about loving yourself fully so that you can love others fully

secrets my mother may have never communicated verbally but demonstrated daily.

Hope is springing up from this old ground…

You make me new, You are making me new

You make me new, You are making me new 20140425-165215.jpg I don’t comprehend all the things I am learning from this journey

Each day I am weary from the length and its constant presence. But along this old ground, this path I’ve trod for years

I look for places where hope springs up…

A sweet smile, a tender hug, a “thank you for taking care of me”…

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Essence

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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.

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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.
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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.

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the faces of caregiving

FACE:
 1face noun, often attributive \ˈfās\
 : the front part of the head that has the eyes, nose, and mouth on it
 : a facial expression
 : the way something appears when it is first seen or thought about

When it is dark, and early in the morning, first impressions may not always be accurate. That was true the morning I boarded a bus at 5 a.m. for a four-hour journey to Tallahassee, the state capitol, with 20 strangers, all caregivers like myself, to lobby for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative, a bill to assist full-time caregivers with respite care. Caregiving takes its toll, and as I glanced at each face boarding that early morning, I wondered what story brought each one on the bus that day.

As light broke that morning, so did conversation begin to break among strangers, and I began to speak with the woman behind me, Miss Margaret, a soft spoken woman with a warm smile. I asked her who she cared for, and she told me her husband, Mr. Willie. The lilt of her voice and demeanor reflected the love and loyalty she felt for Mr. Willie, but the tears forming after a few words revealed the weariness of her burden. After his stroke last summer she has been caring for him full time, as well as pastoring a church near Daytona Beach. His recovery from his stroke has been slow; often he is tired, and it is difficult for him to get around. Still he comes with her to the church. When he tires, he just lays down on the pew and takes a rest. The congregation understands; it’s just Mr Willie.

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Rest. Rest is something Miss Margaret herself needed. But sometimes it is too much of a burden to get that rest. To be able to go on this day trip, Miss Margaret had to make arrangements at a local respite care home, get Mr. Willie up at 3 am to bring him there for the day. She fretted about getting home late that night to pick up Mr. Willie then bring him home at midnight. I suggested to her to just let him sleep there for the evening so she could get a good night’s sleep. With her sweet smile she replied, no, I’ll worry to much that he will be restless. I’ll just bring him home.

Rest. A caregiver who provides 24/7 care for their loved one rarely gets rest. Without rest or respite from their loved one, more than half of caregivers will die before their loved one who has dementia dies. Many caregivers experience high levels of stress and negative effects on their health, employment, income, and financial security. Caregivers experience loneliness, isolation, and grief over extended periods of time.

Yet they carry on each day, many with a smile on their face that hides their pain.

Tony is one on the bus with a big smile on his face. His eyes even smile beneath his white brow and hair. I ask him, does your loved one have Alzheimer’s. With a big, crooked smile and a twinkle in his eye he answers with utmost sincerity: From the tip of the hairs on her head to the tips of her toes she had everything wrong with her. She suffered with diabetes, had breast cancer, had open heart surgery, and in the end suffered with dementia. Plainly, he says, she was dealt a bad card. As he looks me straight in the eye, with that same twinkling smile, he tells me he cared for her with his whole heart, and if he had to do it again, he would. They were married almost 50 years, and for 12 of them she was critically ill. Even though she passed, he has come to Tallahassee to advocate for funding for caregivers for the past four years.

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Miss Mae tells me with a small tear that her mother passed last November, yet she continues to care for her two aunts as she has for all three of them the past several years. She shares a photo of her mother on her phone. The warm smile on her mother’s face tells me she must have had a great laugh. Miss Mae smiles and tells me they miss her at the home, for she was the one who made everyone laugh. Miss Mae says that her mother had Alzheimer’s, but Alzheimer’s did not have her.

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This resolve of the mother permeates the life of the daughter.  This resolve permeates the lives of those who now care for the ones that once cared for them.

I had watched a smartly dressed woman wheel her grandmother to the bus. Hunched over from osteoporosis, the grandmother gingerly took each step up the bus as the young woman assisted. At lunch I sit next to them, and find out that the young woman, Sherri, has been caring for her 94-year-old grandmother for the past 10 years, after her grandmother helped Sherri care for her mother. Since she was 20, Sheri’s mother had suffered with MS, but it was colon cancer that took her life 10 years ago. Sherri was her mother’s miracle. Her memories of her mother include her fight and resolve against MS then cancer. Sherri reflects her mother’s passion as she now cares for her grandmother, even now, living with her two weeks after her honeymoon with “the one that got away”…the high school sweetheart she married 20 years later.

These are the faces of caregivers, the ones who care for those who loved them. The ones who take their loved ones into their homes. They are retired. They are working. They have new lives. They are selfless and giving. They are tired.

Their weariness does not prevent them from the four hour bus ride to Tallahassee or the six hour walk through various offices of the capitol to show their support for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative, ADI, a $4.2 million proposal by Florida Governor Rick Scott to assist caregivers in respite care. The proposal will help caregivers on a sliding scale with needed respite care so they continue their jobs or even have a break to complete necessary tasks while caring for their loved one.

Our band of 20, dressed in t-shirts that say “Who Cares?….We do!” have appointments scheduled to meet with legislators to ask for their support for this bill. As we move through different office and meet the legislators, we surprisingly find this truth: that many have their own brushes with Alzheimer’s in their own families, their own stories to tell.

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The face of Alzheimer’s is increasingly prevalent in this society, as the incidence of Alzheimer’s occurs in 5.3 million lives today. The need for support in its many facets: respite, counseling, funding, supplies, daycare……continues to grow. Behind these numbers are the faces of the ones who care, the ones who get lost behind the research and the funding and the cures opposed to the day to day living with this disease.

It is the faces that need to be remembered, as Representative Mark Pafford reminded us last fall at a Caregivers Forum.

“We as legislators lobby for these funds for respite care. But your presence here puts a face to the funds we lobby for. Your faces here make this real and personal.”

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The faces of caregivers. They are real. They are resolved. And they each tell a story that someday may be your own.