Staying connected…..

My clothes dryer quit drying. Annoyance verging on catastrophe for this family that does laundry almost daily. So…my husband took it apart to fix it. He is blessed with many talents. Appliance repair is one. The initial diagnosis was failure of the heating element. This would have been relatively easy to fix. Except for the reality that the machine had to be completely dismembered to get to it!

He then began assessing various relays (whatever those are) and watching YouTube videos. At the end of the second day he was at a loss. Everything checked out fine. He began putting it back together. Easier to get rid of that way.

Brother-in-law was helping at this point. He noticed a little connector of some time and unplugged and reinserted it. The machine gave a promising beep. Reassembled. Working fine.

What a lesson! When my life is in disarray, I am at my wit’s end, things seem hopelessly out of sorts–maybe I just have a loose connection! The most important connection of all–to my God!

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…………If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:4,7-9

There’s a lesson in everything, isn’t there?

A Life Sentence……..

I’ve recently been involved in a lot of conversations about parenting and was captivated by the comment that it’s a “life sentence.” I can think of worse ones, but it does have its ups and downs. Whether one becomes a parent through giving birth or adoption, the duration of the relationship is, indeed, lifelong. When you then consider the hoped-for progression of grandchildren and, if you’re lucky, great-grandchildren, filling a parent’s life, the reality of the lifelong commitment becomes clear.

Nobody ever said parenting is easy. Somehow offspring have a way of surprising parents. At lease that’s been my experience. An unexpected tattoo. Moving out when least expected. Moving back in when least expected. Relationship choices. Education choices. Sadly, tragedies insert themselves into families–the crisis of illness and the grief of loss. Through it all, the heart remains steadfastly invested in the relationship of parenting.

I looked out today and saw the two-day-old calf with it’s mother. I failed to catch a picture of it nursing but just stood and watched for a minute as it situated itself between the two adults. How special it is when a young person has more than one older adult to follow! I know my children and grandchildren have been blessed by teachers and church family and adult mentors.

Then the mother cow turned to caress her baby with her tongue. A portrait of maternal instinct and love. I am blessed to have great-grandchildren now. Children are good, grandchildren are grand, and great-grandchildren are great. My heart swells with love for each generation. I’ve found the maternal instincts only grow stronger. Perhaps because of greater maturity. Perhaps because one recognizes that not everyone experiences the blessing of multigenerational families. Even now I recognize in my 92-year-old mother evidence of her daily desire to be assured that I am healthy and safe and happy.

I wandered closer, hoping to get a clearer shot with my phone. And she saw me. Mother cow saw me. A low moo warned me not to get too close as, head down, she had eyes only for me. She was warning me. I could relate. A child’s scraped knee, a teen’s broken heart, an adult child’s crisis–all cause parents to leap into action. Even now I am on guard, wanting to protect my family from possible hurts. I love the line from the TV show Blue Bloods — “family comes first.”

I’ve been far from a perfect parent or grandparent, but I long to draw this family closer every day. I pray that someday my family can say of me:

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31;28

(And not to leave you gentlemen out–his children arise and call him blessed; his wife also, and she praises him.)

May God bless your family through you!

 

 

 

Messes. . .

Have you ever really made a mess? Like the time I tried a new “short cut” Bundt cake recipe which sounded like the cake I had enjoyed the previous week. It bubbled over and out of my pan like an erupting volcano, and I ended up with a mountain of scorched batter in the bottom of the oven. Or like the way I can make a real “mess” out of trying to express my feelings to someone who really doesn’t want to understand (teenagers come to mind). I just dig the hole deeper and deeper and sometimes begin to doubt that even I understand what I am trying to say. Or like the way I can over-commit to various obligations and get overwhelmed by my list of to-do’s?

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Like this mess that our little miniature Schnauzer with exuberant energy and an insatiable appetite for paper made one morning when my husband “forgot” to kennel her. When my daughter returned to find this mess, the poor pup was exhausted and panting. It was as though, finally finding herself (once again) free to wreak havoc on all books and papers within her reach, she exhausted herself with her instinct to destroy. I say once again because there is a reason that we kennel her! (She was at the puppy beauty shop today. The groomer described her as “a little ornery.” He was right on.)

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After Cindy cleaned up the mess and assessed the destruction, Princess lay on her lap, belly up, a mass of fluffy black dog, completely trusting that nothing bad was going to happen to her. Pictures don’t do her justice. She turns into a black fuzzball whose features–floppy ears like silk and one opaque eye (blind at birth)–just blend together. But, she is at rest with no fear and no regret.

I wish my messes were so easy to overcome. Yes, the oven came clean. So what if I had to throw out the cake that wasn’t? I hope my family and friends forgive when I have failed to convey my thoughts and feelings in anything resembling articulate speech. And, although I may whine a bit and feel sorry for myself, I meet my commitments. I just wish I could relax like she does, trusting that no harm will come of my messes and that I will be accepted just as I am. I wish I didn’t ruminate over the misspoken words or the perceived hurt. I wish I didn’t regret mistakes so much. I wish that I weren’t such a perfectionist.

Anybody else belong to that club? “Perfectionists Anonymous”? There should be a support group. At least age offers some respite, as I find that the more years I get behind me the less I worry whether there is a little dust on the table. If only my expectations of myself were so easy to manage! Because there’s a little voice in my mind reminding me of the unfinished manuscript that keeps calling my name. The basket of clothes to iron won out today. That voice had been nagging longer and louder. So the ironing is done and I’ve opened myself up to you. And, that’s ok for today.

Perhpas Scarlet O’Hara was right. “After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Hoping your tomorrow is a good one and free of “messes”!

Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Daniel. . .

It seems an odd time to be so grieved about losing Daniel. I made the mistake of viewing an old YouTube video posted by Doug Holtz after Daniel’s death by suicide. I can’t find it on YouTube anymore but have saved it on my Facebook page. I was overwhelmed with a fresh sense of loss. Anyone who knew Daniel knows he could be charming, funny, yet subject to serious mood swings. I have seen both his loving side and his angry side. He was very intense, either way.

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This week has brought losing him so vividly back to me. Death by suicide has been in the national news with the deaths of two very-public figures. Both were said to have had “mental health issues” prior to their deaths. Suicidal ideation slips into the minds of those who struggle with depression with such subtlety that it makes me cringe. We think we are watching for “signs”, but often miss those very hints that speak to our loved one’s despair. A couple of thoughts:

  • If you are struggling with depression and find yourself dealing with thoughts of harming yourself, please let your friends, family, healthcare professional know. Daniel refused to seriously seek help for his issues. We were left helpless to be with him through that last day, helpless to save him from himself. The stigma associated with depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, even psychosis, must go away. Our daughter was saved through the intervention of a good friend, a family practice physician, and a gifted psychiatrist. If only Daniel had been open to acknowledging that he had a problem and seeking help. . .
  • If you have lost someone to suicide, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with others. Families need to acknowledge the circumstances of their loved one’s death openly. Friends need to listen without judgment or platitudes. Church family can be a great resource for comfort if, once again, judgment and platitudes are left out of the discussion. Support groups, where you are in the midst of other survivors of suicide, are a valuable resource in which you can openly share your grief, anger, confusion and healing in a confidential setting.

We lost our Daniel. Yet he left behind my beautiful and smart and insightful and loving daughter-in-law, who is now, and forever will be, a part of our family and “my” daughter. He left behind a beautiful, smart, loving, best-mother-in-the-world to his two grandchildren, one granddaughter he met, one grandson just born. What a loss to him, what a gift to us!

I struggle with the hurt. I want, more than anything, for his death to not be in vain. This family, I hope, will be an example of open discussion, a resource for others, and loving support for each other. I long for the day when suicide is no longer a leading cause of death.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-(TALK)8255.

For folks in my “neck of the woods”:

DR. ROBERT E. ELLIOTT FOUNDATION www. elliottfoundation.com with S.O.S. (Survivors of Suicide) support group meeting first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in Willow Room at South Campus Unity Health White County Medical Center located at 1200 South Main Street, Searcy, Arkansas.

 

Remembering. . .

How do you honor Memorial Day? It is, of course,  the day set aside to acknowledge those who lost their lives in the service of this country. I like to also give thanks for those who survived their encounter with war and all those who serve well and bravely now. They deserve our thoughts, prayers, and thanks.

I am a baby-boomer generation child. My father served on Guam in World War II. He lost his first wife and the growing up years of two sons as a result of his absence before the war ended. Later in life he was reunited with one son, and that was one of the great joys of his life. At least he lived a long and full life after his service.

My mother’s brother landed on Utah Beach at H-Hour, D-Day June 6, 1944. He served with the 70th Tank Battalion along with the 4th Infantry. He was wounded as they traveled across France and then into Belgium and Germany. His wound caused him to be separated from his unit, but as soon as he recovered enough, he found his way back to them. The war changed my uncle. He returned a drifter and became an alcoholic and ultimately died by suicide in 1976.

Now PTSD is well recognized. I wonder if a simple country boy like my uncle would be recognized and supported and treated. I hope so. He left behind small children, and his wife and daughters became no longer a part of our family when they returned to her parents for support.

The cardiology practice where I work has been blessed to care for several World War II, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam era veterans. I try to ask about their military service if it is mentioned, and I always thank them for their service.

I came across a young man’s project in the print shop I frequent a few months ago. I’m not sure if he was asked to write about a snowman or if he was to write in honor of veterans. Below are some excerpts: (His grandmother gave me permission to use.)

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The author obviously has a keen sense of the reality of freedom’s price and the heroes who preserve it for us in this uncertain world and has certainly set at the feet of veterans and listened carefully to their stories. His heart is sensitive to both the dangers and the merit of military service. My understanding is that this little graphic novel began as a school project and is now used as a fundraiser to support local veterans’ needs.  The author wanted to remind us to remember those who have gone before and to never forget the price they paid.

That’s what Memorial Day is for.

Who are the heroes in your family? Do you know their stories? Why not ask?

 

(I purchased The Snowman for $10 at Caroles’ Copy and Print in Searcy, AR, 109 North Spring Street, Searcy, AR 72143, phone 501-279-1117. All proceeds go to a local veterans’ support group.)

Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.