Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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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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A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City

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I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”

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The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.

 

This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.

 

6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

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Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.

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A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.

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Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.

  

On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”

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The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”

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“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

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The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.

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Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.

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Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

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The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.

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I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

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Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.

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Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.

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The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.

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As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

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Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

standing the test of time

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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Fresh Start

20140829-060651.jpgHis race has been called.
The swimmer approaches the blocks
Steps onto the platform, anticipating the start.
He is called to mark, fingers reach then curl around the edge of the platform
Get set….muscles fire, from toes to calves to hamstring, shoulders arms, anticipating, anticipating….

The buzzer sounds, simultaneously the machine that is the body springs forward, fingers, toes reaching reaching for aqua liquid
and once entering the channel propels forward, every muscle, ligament, tendon, breath pushing the skeleton toward the wall 50 meters ahead.

It is the start that initiates the motion.

Before this start, there is much anticipation.
There is much waiting…

in the tent, on the pool deck, waiting for the race to be called, for the heat to be called.
Before the waiting there is the warm up hours before the race.
Before the warm up there are the hours of practice
called when Morningstar still hovers
finishing as light breaks the sky
called again mid afternoon until dusk

and always repetitions
of stroke, of yards put in
building stamina and strength…

all of this
before the start.

My son’s last race was one month ago
one month before this fresh start.

and as I watched that last start,
forgetting to turn on the video camera,
waves of emotion overcome….
of sadness watching one last race
of pride for all he has accomplished in this sport
of all he has learned about discipline, perseverance, pushing self past limits to the end
to the last touch of the wall.

 

Now a fresh start
another highly anticipated moment.
This one preceded, with hours of preparation
not only with test scores and hours logged studying,
of honors and awards and diploma,
but also with the weeding out
the choosing, of what he will take and what he will leave behind.

The things left behind, the tokens, the trophies, the T-shirts that label his past years
litter the floor, the dresser in the now empty room.

and the things chosen to go with him
boxes, bags one by one filling the car–the books, the photos, the new college T-shirts
the new sheets and towels and containers and journals
that will now fill his college dorm

will drive away in the car with him and his dad
on the journey 1000 miles to Texas.

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I asked him to humor me one last time, during that last hour of anticipation
for although he had his things organized and ready to go for weeks
his dad did not.

So as dad scrambled around that last hour
he took a selfie with the dog, and scratched the cat behind the ears just how he likes it
and sat on the steps with me to browse through the album I made for graduation,
the one hastily thrown together to cover 18 years
from the first hospital photo to the senior portrait only taken months ago.

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There is a page with cowboy boots, hints of the land he will travel to now.
It was his Toy Story party when he was five.
I ask him, “Do you remember Toy Story 3, when you laughed at me bawling in my 3D glasses, crying, ‘Is this how it’s going to end!’ as Andy drives off to college!”

He nods and laughs along with me. I jump up, suddenly remembering something found the other day. I bring back to him two small plastic figurines, one of Woody, one of Buzz Light Year. As a joke I write Michael’s name on Woody’s boot. “Keep them in your car,” I kid, thinking they too will be left behind. I promised him last night I would let him go with not too many tears. I will let go. He is a grown man now.

He smiles and stuffs them in his bag.

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We stand for one last hug. “Be the agent for change,” I tell him. “Your gift is helping others. Be the one that changes things for the better.”

One more squeeze and we walk out the door.

And the highly anticipated moment for the past weeks, months, happens.

No call to the platform, no call to set, no buzzer.

He waves goodbye, climbs into the overstuffed Civic with his dad,
backs out the driveway that once launched scooters and rollerblades
and drives away.

 

 

 

 

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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

20140425-172656.jpg Birth days.

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

thorns

a cross from Jerusalem

a painting of an olive tree in Gethsemane 20140425-165314.jpg Do these symbols that take a place in my home take place in my heart?

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”…

and I am made new.   20140425-172634.jpg