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.

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

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.