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.
.
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.

faces

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.

unveiled

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The sun was setting, and in the distance

a curtain of rain

veiled a rainbow.

A pocket of clouds lay just beyond.

A whisper of hope veiled in the clouds.

A promise that everything would be ok.

We had just come from a service where a husband and three kids the ages of my children had said goodbye to their mother.

Their mother, now with unveiled face, healed from her cancer and resting in the arms of Jesus.

Their mother, whose greatest wish conveyed throughout the service is that her children would remain steadfast in Him.

I walked along the shore with my only daughter only hours after that service, my reflections mirrored in this veil

these words from Corinthians coming to mind as I imagined what is must be like to say goodbye to my children

But we, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:13

My friend is healed, beholding the Glory of the Lord.

And those of us left here somehow, after a glimpse of His glory behind the veil are left to be transformed into the same image, from glory to glory….

In the Greek, glory, doxa, one definition translates to this:

splendor, brightness

  • of sun, moon and stars.
  • magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace
  • majesty…a thing belonging to God.

In the dusk of that evening,

I reflect that my friend belongs to God
I reflect on the dignity and grace of her last days

the sun reflects in the sky and the moon rises

and my daughter
reaches beneath the moon, reaches forward, reaches for new possibilities… hope

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I wonder why some of us are left behind, and some of us are taken
and see how there is too much transforming left to do
so I too
will reach beyond myself
reach forward, stretching to places uncomfortable and unknown

and someday, when all is unveiled
I will behold His glory
and understand

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old acquaintance

Should old acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne

Through this year’s holiday season of gathering, reflection, change, these words ring true to me much more than a passing chorus.

Bits and pieces of these past days…a house full of teenagers, college students, Christmas cookies being decorated…

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My grown kids returning home for the holidays, still looking for reindeer elf and candy and handwritten notes….and wanting all of us to open Christmas presents in onesies…..

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A holiday wedding, dear old friends giving away their firstborn daughter, the first baby born among our friends, radiant in her beautiful dress as my husband’s college roommate tearfully walked her down the aisle…

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Among all this, my mother,
89 years old
whom we remind, “It’s Christmas morning, Lola,” as my kids climb into bed with her in pajamas,
thinks the new year we are ringing in is 1990.

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Scotland.org states the words auld lang syne mean “long, long ago.” The chorus translates to:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

To live with someone with Alzheimer’s deepens the meaning of this New Year’s traditonal song, for each day lives out someone who has forgotten old acquaintances, faces, names, even the names and faces of the ones who care for her daily

and long, long ago is forgotten.

Yesterday mom asked me if her mom and dad were still around, as she was thinking of going home to the Philippines to take care of them. They have been gone for more than fifty years.

As the last refrains of auld lang syne fade out
and I reflect on the fireworks show bringing in the new year

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I will cherish even more the snapshots of this holiday season,

the not so perfectly decorated big fat Christmas tree crashing to the floor

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at the very moment a rat was trapped, the one chewing up the engine of my car

20140103-163147.jpg…….screams issuing everywhere …(the tree was eventually restraightened and rescued by  fishing line tied to the door)….

the dozens of homemade decorated Christmas cookies baked for hours and consumed in minutes.

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the silly games shared with old friends
the conversations shared with old friends,

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ones whose weddings we stood in
launched careers with,
birthed babies
raised preschoolers, then adolescents
and now watch these very children launch their own careers and share their father/daughter dance.

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What’s amazing is that even the kids seem to take in the significance of this……the old acquaintance part….the kids who rode around together in the neighborhood, played for hours in Disney costumes, filmed Star Wars spin off videos, shared picnics in the park…they too want to record the significance of changing moments…

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for as our families shift, grieving losses…

loss of childhood,  loss of control, loss of parents,  evolving parental roles…..and welcome new relationships, and new dynamics in relationships…

our hearts are made bigger as we broaden our family circles, as we hold hands and hug tighter through these seasons of change.

And yes tears are shed as we long for the old days
when our kids held our hands and snuggled
and we laughed and played together.

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Now our laughter is deeper and our tears source from a deeper well
and these friendships

deep, familiar, part of our core

remind me of one of my favorite verses:

for now we see in a glass dimly,
but then we shall see face to face....

I am grateful for these moments of friendship that are full on, face to face….
full of laughter and tears,
full of rejoicing, and loss,
friendships that have spanned over 25 years…

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though someday, these moments may be forgotten,
they will be forever cherished.

seconds measured

47.4 seconds.
That is my son’s best time in the 100 yard freestyle, the time he just swam at the 4A Florida State High School meet last Saturday.

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47.4 seconds.
a time when each breath was intentional
each stroke intentional
each kick intentional

The Warriors host two teams

47.4 seconds
not just halfway, but all out. Each stroke and breath all out, pushing to the limit, pushing past weariness and pain, driving body past barriers until he touched the wall to finish.

There was a flurry of movement all around as surrounding athletes pushed limits through resistance, water,  to record best times, driving at All- American speeds: 44 seconds, 45 seconds 46 seconds.

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Behind those seconds are hours and hours of work. Miles and miles of yardage logged to get the speed, endurance to be able to charge through those few seconds all out.

Hours put in early when the moon and stars still fill the sky.
Hours put in in pouring rain and cold temperatures.

Swimming ….a truly inspirational sport, one of true discipline
as the one standing on the blocks, poised to move forward, every muscle tensed, anticipating the start
is the only one who knows the preparation, the hours and yards and conditions endured to ready himself for that brief race.

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I have fought the good fight, I have stayed the course, I have finished the race….2 Timothy 4:7

It is the last push that determines the winner.
The last reach, the last stroke head down
lungs bursting
arms burning
legs burning
in the final reach for the wall.
The final time.

The glance at the clock that records time is only a measure of the discipline and perseverance endured to reach that mark of 47.4 seconds.

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In our own moments,  we endure those seconds of push in life where we are beyond ourselves
grinding through resistance, the churning waters that surround, laboring past the pain and weariness

that place beyond ourselves that is glorious and exhausting

that place where we can help another
or bring a smile to a face by a simple act of kindness
or see a terminal situation in a new light, though the situation has not changed

those are moments of glory.

Psalm 89:17 says, “For you are the glory of their strength.”

These are the moments,  lasting a bit longer or shorter than 47 seconds, that inspire us through the hard places,

These moments of inspiration push us to look beyond the pain to reach for something greater to better ourselves, or even greater, to better someone else.

There is great gain in launching into deep waters. In going beyond limits to do something impossible or unattainable. And whether or not that thing is attained or just beyond grasp there is victory in the trying, in the drive to get to wall to the place beyond your limit. To bring you beyond yourself into the unknown. To places beyond borders.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would find me

“Oceans” by Hillsong

We become tired and weary of the places we are called to go, determined by choice or by circumstance…to care for the widow, the orphan, to be the single mom, to juggle the finances, to walk with cancer.

We think we can’t propel past the pain and weariness to move forward, one motion at a time, one stroke at a time, one kick at a time.

Somewhere deep in our soul, we find the guts to move on.  Faith gives us the push to move forward.

Triumph comes not in the time or the medal or the accolade because most of the time there is none. Triumph comes in the strength attained that often times unknowingly inspires another to find the same.

The Warriors visit Boone HS

vulnerable

yesterday I watched those young actors on Glee act out and experience raw at the same time the grief of their friend, I think what is so moving about their pain, so touching about their vulnerability onscreen and in real life, that their gift of song that expresses their pain is so touching

pain and beauty side by side
seen in the most vulnerable moments

but on this side of the screen, we mask our hurt and pain, afraid to be exposed, to be vulnerable.

we do not hold the pain out in front of us, instead cover it up and move on
when we are dying inside

one of my favorite verses tells us

he gives us beauty for ashes
the oil of joy for mourning
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness

as I have cared for my mom over the past few years
I see the most painful moments, the ones that cut me most deeply,
are the ones where I am most vulnerable,
the ones that expose my emotions most raw
the ugly ones, the hurtful ones, the scared ones, the grieving ones

the following is one of those…….

……kathy, you who have been caring for your mom for 14 years, I give this to you…..to the others I met at the caregivers conference I give this to you….we may be exposed, raw, naked, but we are not alone….

lola

naked

naked
even the word is unsettling
naked i come from my mothers womb, naked i will depart

but now before me, is my mother
naked, helpless,
as i was when i came from her body

the hands and limbs that once bathed me, dressed me, held me
are now the ones that i must help bathe and dress

but its too hard to hold
this reversal is too painful
too vulnerable

to see her naked before me
too unsettling,

for now i am the one exposed

she is the one depending on me

when i was a little girl
i was completely attached to my mother

i always needed to know where she was
i needed to sense her presence
i cried if she did not come home
when she said she would be home

now her eyes scan the room for me,
watch my moves

she is the one to question,
“where are you going?”
she asks, “where am I?
is this my home?”
i tell her no, this is my home
she says,
“i want to go home.”

this helplessness, her utter dependence on me
physically and emotionally
leave me feeling helpless

because without my mother here,
who is there for me?

who is there to comfort me when i am down
or run to when i have exciting news
or sit with a cup of coffee to share my day

even grown daughters need their mothers

she is here

trapped in this jar of clay
with a fading mind
but still a treasured spirit

some days she cries and asks for her mother

she says she wants to go to her

i tell she’s not here anymore, she’s been gone a very long time
she looks at me with crestfallen face
trying to remember
then recollecting
“oh…”

she looks at me and tells me
“i’m ready to go.”
ready to go where mom?
“up there.”
she smiles and points to heaven

this treasured spirit
in a jar of clay
yearns for her heavenly home

her fragile mind has broken free
from the restrictions of this world

this world that knows time
hurts, anger, pain,
overcommitments, stress, sorrow
guilt

all have been shattered
by this disease called Alzheimer’s
a blessing in disguise

for we are called to live in the moment
to love in the moment
to enjoy only the thing set in front of us
to hold on to the smiles
to pray
to hold
to touch

sometimes the grief is too much to bear
so a hold and touch is too much to give

the nakedness is too much
the rawness is too much
from grieving the person
she once was

she once was
just like me
vibrant
full of laughter and life
the center of her family
caring for their needs
and keeping them together

who says she is not keeping us together now
in prayer

at night she says to me
“thank you for taking care of me.
may God bless you for all you do
i always pray for that.”

so i continue to care for her
this treasure in this jar of clay
and when this jar is finally broken
i will be able to pick up the shattered pieces
and hand them back to the Father she loves

the spirit that yearns for Him
will go home