Archive for April, 2009

The sudden loss of my young friend Rachel this past Saturday night (see my previous post) made me think about a sudden loss of my own.  Five years ago this same weekend, we arrived home from Sunday morning church to a phone message from my brother-in-law, saying there was a family emergency and we should call Michael’s brother.  The news we received when the call was returned changed our lives forever:  Michael’s mom had collapsed and died that morning in the folks’ bathroom.  That was all.  Just like that.  No warning. No illness.  (She was 86, so there are always cumulative life effects at that stage in one’s body, but, there was nothing chronic or immediate that had signaled this event.)  We had spent the weekend before that celebrating as a family.  It was Easter and my father-in -law’s 90th birthday–it had been a wonderful, sweet time together.

I have not experienced a great deal of loss in my almost-54 years, but I must say that those days were some of the darkest of my life to date.  In remembering, I  have pondered the reasons why sudden losses hurt so much:

1)  We always think we  have more time.  Most of don’t wake up every day thinking, “This could be my last day on earth” or “This could be my last day with _______ ” (fill in the names of the ones you love).  Maybe we should.  (A friend today told me how her thinking has been challenged by a book titled One Month to Live.  I’ve noticed on Facebook this week several friends sending simple love messages to their spouses–have they, too, been impacted by Rachel’s death in remembering that we have no guarantee of more time?  That one thing could give meaning to something that seems otherwise so senseless.)

2)  We haven’t had time to let go gradually.  When someone is leaving us through the changes of gradual aging or even through illness or disease, we only are asked to let go of bits at a time.  We have the chance to get used to “new normal” incrementally.  Sudden loss wrenches life from our midst and everything changes at once.  We are left in a state of disorientation, and time does not stand still to allow us to get our footing before taking another step.

3)  We are faced with our own immortality.  We are forced to think, “Next time it could be me or (another) one of mine,” and we mourn for our own projected losses.

These are hard things.  If they were not, we would not be human.

But here is a thought–maybe I will post more later on these, but if I don’t–well then, here is a thought:  Each of those reasons is like a dark room.  Yet, outside, the sun is shining.  How I move beyond and out of the dark room, ceasing to live there, will depend on whether I choose to–at some point, a point which may not be the same for me as it is for you–get up and lift the shade or open the door to let some of that light penetrate the place hemmed in by the pain of loss.  Different people have different means for letting in the light.  In my personal experience and observations, faith will eventually move me toward the window every time.

Yes, definitely more later…


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I just finished a post on acting on belief. Now the rubber meets the road.

A week ago yesterday, I read with joy that a friend, a young mom, and her husband had welcomed their third child, a little girl, into the world. I can remember watching with a smile and a warm heart the video that mom posted on Facebook about seven months ago. It showed her telling the older siblings about the little baby that God was going to send into their family. I know what a special time this has been for the family; I remember somebody once saying to me about this vibrant young woman, “All she ever wanted was to be a mommy.”

I got home tonight from an evening out and read an alarming prayer message in my email: that young mom had stopped breathing about an hour before and had been taken to the hospital. They were having trouble regulating her heart beat.

I am getting ready to go to bed. I check my email one last time, to see if there is any update on her condition. The new email begins, “It is with heavy hearts…” Just like that, I learn my young friend has died.

And I ask, “God, how could you do that?” This little baby has only seen the light of day outside the womb for eight days. Those dear little children are just beginning the journey through their lives. That husband and dad needs his helper, his partner. This family just lost an uncle less than a month ago; he died after being given the wrong dosage of medication.

If my questions of the moment loom large, I can only imagine those of my friend’s family. God, pour out your mysterious, unfathomable love in these moments for that husband, those precious little ones, the parents and brothers, and all who loved my friend. Where there can be no answers in the moment, put your love and your peace where there cannot, humanly speaking, be an ounce of it.

In the words of an Old Testament king who had nothing but what a God of grace might choose to do in his dire straits, I say, “We don’t know what to do; but our eyes are upon you.”

Lord, have mercy. Friends, pray.

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The first time I think I ever did anything that could be considered “activist”, in the commonly understood sense, was back in the 80’s.  When the opportunity presented itself, I joined with a group of up to maybe ten people who peacefully picketed the local abortion clinic one Saturday morning a month.  We carried signs with pro-life messages, occasionally carried on conversations with each other, silently prayed as we walked, and gratefully gave thumbs up or acknowledging waves to people who honked to affirm the message of life.  My husband and children usually spent that time at the public library, located kitty-corner from the abortion clinic.  (I wonder what their recollections of those Saturday mornings are.)

My friend Janice was the catalyst to my involvement as a political activist.  She urged me to “run” for a precinct committeeman position, and that was my initiation into the way grassroots politics work.  I have to admit that I’ve spent a freezing cold first Tuesday of November morning or two with my school-age children (civics education!), standing outside a polling place, telling voters that the candidate I supported would appreciate their vote when they pulled the lever/pushed the button. (Not legal to do that anymore–I hope it was then.)  I have made phone calls and knocked on doors in GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts.  Sometime my candidate won, sometimes he lost.

I got goosebumps and tears when I attended the huge support-the-troops Rally for America up at the Kruse Auction Park in Auburn, IN, several years ago when the Afghanistan/Iraq War on Terrorism was just heating up.  I don’t know that my school-age son recalls the event with great fondness, but it was the right place for our family to be on that day…

dscf01682That’s how it was today.  I attended the local “Tea Party” to add my sign and my voice to those of my fellow Americans who have had enough of what is currently trying to be passed off as “government” and who stand ready to act with courage and persistence to bring change that will preserve and advance liberty, not deconstruct and weaken it.  (There’s an album of images from the event on my Facebook page.)

I don’t list these things here to brag or boast.  But I was trying to analyze if they have a common thread.  I think they do.  It is…belief.  I believe life is sacred and that, from the moment of conception, that which it is politically correct to call a “fetus” is a living human being–a baby.  I believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people.  I believe the men and women who have volunteered to put their lives on the line to purchase and maintain my freedom should have the support and undying gratitude of all their fellow citizens and their government.I believe in the republican form of government that has been established in the Constitution of the United States of America and that it does not come without cost, without eternal vigilence and a focus on what is true and right.  So…I act.  I speak.  I affirm.  I persuade.

Question to myself:  Am I as ardent an activist for the Cause Which Matters Most?  I believe in God, and in His Son Jesus as the only Savior and Hope for sinful mankind.  I believe in grace offered to all who believe that Jesus died to take the punishment that all of us who are sinners–that’s everyone, Folks, if we take the Bible’s word on it–deserve, and that it can be mine if I accept it as a gift I can’t repay from a God whose love for me knows no bounds.  That is everyday belief for me.  So–what is my everyday activism that goes along with it?  I know this–a sign or a picket or a rally won’t cut it.  This belief is bound up in relationship with the Creator God of the universe and His Son, the Savior of the world.  So my activism must follow suit–it must be bound up in relationship with those with whom I interact, those to whom I speak, with words affirming and persuasive.

What does it look like to be an activist for that belief?

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“Look at my eyes.”  I’d be on my way to Alaska or Ireland (dream destinations requiring funding) if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that to a child or student of mine.  We ask for that focused attention when what we desire to communicate really matters.

While standing before the mirror with electric curling brush in hand this morning, trying to become presentable for the day, I mulled over the activities of yesterday.  Thursday was such a gorgeous spring day that Melanie, over for her usual Thursday morning with Gramma, and I went outdoors for awhile.  While we  sat on the front porch, having previously walked around the neighborhood a little bit, my neighbor Barbara  appeared outside her house across the street.  We exchanged a waved greeting, and I got Melanie to wave to her too.  Then we crossed the four lanes of Rudisill Boulevard to have a little spring visit with Barbara.  Thinking about that this morning, it hit me squarely in the forehead: not once during our five-minute neighbor chat yesterday did I ever truly make eye contact with her.  I had my sunglasses on, and I was holding Melanie.  Our conversation was about what was growing–the green, living things in front of my neighbor’s house and the little just-turned-1 1/2-year-old in my arms.  As we spoke of those things, it was to them my gaze traveled.  But, in the whole of our chat, I cannot recall once locking eyes with Barbara.  I regret it.  (How many times have I told my own kids it is only good manners to look at people when they’re speaking to you?)

Still working on the hair as I stood in front of my morning mirror, my mind immediately jumped to a contrasting situation from my late afternoon Wal-Mart stop yesterday.  The young guys (twenty-somethings?) in front of me were buying beer; the cashier appeared, by their treatment of her, to be invisible to them.  Although pleasant enough in manner, she was clearly not a woman that young adult males would have labeled physically attractive.  In fact, “attractive” was not the first word that would have come to my descriptive mind either.  But, we are not all born beauties, and how I am treated in the checkout line is far more important to me than the appearance of the cashier.  My turn came;  among my purchases were two cartons of fruit juice.  I noticed that the check-out lady double bagged those and, as I removed those items from the bag carousel to my cart, I thanked her for it.  She finished checking out and bagging my order, I paid, and was leaving with my usual, “Thanks–I appreciate it”, when, in that split second, something made me look her in the eye.  That split second eyelock, concurrent with my words of thanks, transformed her face by a resulting radiant smile.  I didn’t linger beyond the moment and, really, forgot all about the emotional transaction till I was dealing with my own face–and hair–in the mirror this morning.

Now I’m thinking about it.  We ask for focused attention when what we desire to communicate really matters.  But, how often do we offer it when what we desire to communicate–gratitude, empathy, passion, truth–really matters?

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The resident teenager says, “Mom, you take Facebook comments way too seriously.” Not exactly sure why he says that–I operate under the assumption that my Facebook friends (most are age peers) are not that much into sensationalism (with the possible exception of Andy :-)) and, thus, will state their activities and their hearts truthfully and in all sincerity.

I jotted this post title in the margin of my journal a couple of weeks ago. Not sure where it came from. But I know I was thinking about being real. I am happy that in recent days of following my Facebook friends in the brief insights given by their daily posts I’ve learned: a friend is engaged; one has given birth to a beautiful baby girl; one’s spouse is recovering well from surgery; some are happy about new job opportunities; a few are reacting and recommending actions in light of the current state of politics and the economy; many celebrated Easter with great joy and gratitude; some are paying their taxes today; and my daughter needs a babysitter (a need creatively described as an invitation to a play date with the Granddaughter).

In recent months, I have stood on the sidewalk of Facebook Street, earnestly praying in silence, watching friends tenderly, lovingly see a dear mother and grandmother through her final days on earth. I have listened along the way to the roller coaster emotions of friends who believe God has called them to a mission and who wonder about the roadblocks they face. I hear the hopes and fears expressed by soon-to-be-graduates and persistent job-seekers as they face the unknown NEXT.

Back in the days of hand-written letters that were delivered to mailboxes by mailmen (that was in the days before they were “letter carriers”), one would occasionally get a letter that required “reading between the lines”. The rare friend whose letters described “living”, not just “life”, still had times when the words written didn’t say it all. The in-tune heart was required to “read between the lines”–to see, to hear, to feel what wasn’t explicitly stated.

Today, we communicate our lives in one- or two-line statements–sometimes in even less as we IM or text. How are we meant to be taken by those who “listen”? Do we want our readers to take our statements at face(book) value? Do we long for someone to “read between the lines”? Are we transparent enough to weep on Facebook? (Is Facebook the place for it?…that’s another post, I think…)

…Just wondering…

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In my quest to become a freelance professional book indexer, I registered for my next indexing class yesterday. At the USDA Graduate School site where I needed to sign up, things had changed since the last class I took. In fact, there was one of those “pardon our dust” kinds of notices there as the site was in the process of implementing a new registration account system that will enable students to track their courses and course work in what apparently is hoped to be a one-stop-shop.

The process did not go well. I have gotten pretty good at using online websites for ordering things. Most of the sites I’ve worked with have had logical, straightforward procedures for placing the order, giving the credit card payment info, and confirming the order and shipping details. Not this one, not this time. After muddling through the unclear steps and still not being 100% certain I was registered for the class and would be receiving the materials anytime soon–all I knew was that they took my money and let me print a (sort-of) receipt–I was frustrated and disappointed. I had looked forward to signing up for this next class, in part because I am eager to get at it, and in part because the process had been so simple the last time around.

So, I did what any good online shopper would do–I registered a query and a complaint with customer support. Only, when I got to the part of my email that came after my factual explanation of what I’d encountered, the part where I would be inclined to let my emotions take over and to let someone “have it”, something was checked in my thinking and my spirit, and I slowed down and toned it down to courteous words and an empathetic tone. After all, the person on the receiving end of my email would likely not be the person who had decided to change the registration procedure that had complicated and frazzled my previous morning hour. The only thing that would be accomplished by a mean rant would be the spoiling of someone else’s morning and possibly leaving a bad impression of the faceless but named student who is me. I would have sent the kind of crabby note that is easily deleted–click.

God helped me be clear and firm, but gracious too….thankfully. For, at about 6:45PM yesterday, the phone rang. It was Lynn from the USDA Graduate School. She was calling with a personal reply/apology/confirmation of my registration/answer to my question about when the materials would ship. Her words that have stuck in my brain since then were “I thought your email deserved a personal phone call.” When I reiterated to her the thinking noted above that had held back my rant, she went on to say that she understood entirely my frustration–the system does have some bugs, she acknowledged– and that the person to whom she would be passing on my note–the person who could actually do something about the problem– would give it more weighted consideration because of the way it was worded.

Whew! Thank you, God, for that check in my spirit and for helping me do the right thing. It made me think about other times that the temptation has come to rip and shred people when things didn’t go right. The “doors” my high school friend Ginny’s mom used to caution us to walk our words through come to mind: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” ….just thinkin’. Thanks to Lynn for reminding me that words matter, even ones to unseen strangers…maybe especially one to unseen strangers.

Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

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It just dawned on me sometime in the last week–we are going through those teenager years again.  (For those who may not know our family so well, I say “again” because our older children are 25 and 23,  so we’ve already walked through their adolescent years.)  Granted, Zach turned 16 in February, so on the calendar he’s already been a teenager for three years.  But it has just been in recent months and weeks that some of the usual “biggies” of teenagerhood –driving, relationships, thinking about the future (i.e. college), etc.–have moved to the front burners.

Realizing we find ourselves at this stage of the journey once more, I can’t help but wonder what we’ve learned since the first time we took the trip.  I can sort out several ways that I’m hoping we’re wiser this time around:

  • I think we’re clearer on the “why’s”.  I heard myself saying last night something along these lines:  “When you’re deciding what’s right and wrong and how you will act and choose in a given situation, your chief considerations have got to be “What does God’s Word say about this?” and “How will my choice reflect on who God is?”  In the past, I hate to admit, we might have given more weight than we do now to choices based on how it reflects on the family or on the individual.  The example that the teenager had brought up (it was not the issue of the moment) was how people dress for church.  There are not any verses I know of that specifically tell me what to wear or not wear as I enter the sanctuary on a given Sunday morning in 2009.  Should my conclusion be that it doesn’t matter?  I don’t think so, even though we live in a culture that doesn’t think that much really matters as long as you feel good about what you’re doing.  There are commands that God gave worshippers of other times and places which I need to think about in terms of their broader applications for today.  The applications to my now are rooted in getting a grasp of who God is, what He is like.  Just as the teen who knows his parents well has a pretty good idea of what will fly or not in terms of choices and behavior, so as he gets to know his Heavenly Father will he be better and better able to discern what pleases Him and is in keeping with who He is and who He wants to be in that teen’s life.  That, ultimately, is way more important than what I think (hopefully there will be some matchup there) or how it reflects on our family (if it’s good enough for God, it should be good enough for us!).
  • Having said that, some things don’t matter.  The hardest part of parenting teens, for Michael and me, is the constant stream of requests from said teens  for permission to do this, do that, which means constant decision-making on our parts.  (Decision-making ranks right up there on our list of major stressors in life.  We are not naturally very decisive people–very odd, considering we are both first-borns.)   While we are very pleased that we have a  teen who respects the house rules and the makers of them enough that he willingly asks first, checks in, keeps us posted, etc., sometimes it would be nice not to have to sort out the reasons for a “yes” or a “no” in response to the “May I?”  Realizing that some things are really not a big issue lightens that load somewhat (that has to always be balanced with “choices have consequences”, of course, and the trick is to discern how significant the choice of the moment really is:  Will going to this movie instead of that one be a life-changer?  I am not big on recreational shooting, but will an evening of airsoft in the company of the guys in a physically safe environment warp my son for life?)  Learning to discern big from small, significant from insignificant is something that I think maybe we’ve gotten a little better at since round one of teenage parenting.
  • I hope we talk less but say more.  Not that we don’t spend time in conversation with Zach.  But I am hopeful that the words that come out of our mouths as parents are less fluff and more substance.  I do know that I am more inclined to be direct with the truth, rather than beating around the bush.  My goal is to be Biblical and to speak the truth in love in such a way that Zach will see it as a good thing, a loving boundary for his good.  (I know I have one former teen in our family circle who would have appreciated it if I’d arrived at this mode sooner!)
  • I believe we are more in tune to the specifics than to the generalities.  By that, I mean I think we’re more aware of the unique personality and maturity of this teen when any given situation comes up.  Not that we make the rules to fit the teen–there will always be some non-negotiables, rooted in moral truth.  But I find myself as a mom less and less inclined to say, “When Gabe and Ellen were teens…”  This is the deal:  That was then, this is now.  And they were not who Zach is.  Those are huge factors.  (I have a bit more understanding now of where my parents were when we older two kids used to accuse them of letting our younger siblings get away with murder when they were teens.)

The jury is still out on this one; there’s lots of road to cover.  We’ll travel it in the same way we traveled the first time we were here–by God’s grace.  But I’m hopeful that we are more savvy travelers for having been here once before.

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