Transitions

“Love is the real force motivating this next chapter of my journey, Bethy…” He spoke the words softly to me as he hugged me up before I left him in his new apartment alone for the first time. We were both being brave and stoic, yet our eyes were watering. We both understood how this next transition ensured his continued care, safety, and quality of life as he lives with Alzheimer’s. The transition is simple, just not easy.

Packing and stacking of belongings, arranging and organizing of spaces, laying out and labeling everything (thank you, H!) culminated in a smooth and successful move for Daddy into assisted living. Our coast-to-coast little family answered the call and gathered together for a few days to ensure all went well for everyone involved in this next transition. Pop relished in the attention, feeling the support, encouragement, and love in making this decision and then getting him settled properly, because, you know, we have requirements. 🙂

For the second time in my life, we travel this familiar path with a parent. Dad’s journey with this relentless disease is entirely different from mom’s journey. His progression and various turning points often pass quietly, yet we find ways to negotiate the transitions as they naturally occur. While we may have doubts at times, he literally continues to walk (with his cane) into the situation like it’s a sales meeting…and yes, he still works an entire room of strangers that way (just ask the men’s group leader). Another huge blessing is Daddy continues to maintain his amazing sense of humor, and this will carry him well in his new surrounding. He’s a natural talker and if he doesn’t know you or cannot remember your name, he just fakes it, says something funny, and invites your participation and input. His gift of gab and storytelling are present no matter the setting. In fact, I’ve been warned he’ll likely be the voted in as “mayor” before we know it. 🙂

Because we’ve been straight-forward and realistic about this overwhelming situation, it has helped all of us roll up our sleeves and get messy with the details when necessary. We’ve had the tough conversations about his finances, his health expectations, his final wishes, and more. He makes it clear what he expects. As he likes to say, “I haven’t forgotten; I just can’t remember…so when I forget, thank you for remembering for me.” We have his plan and will work his plan each step of the way, just as he clearly expects of us.

Alzheimer’s may be taking away the vibrancy of Daddy’s mind, but for now, we take it a step at a time with expert assistance as a new part of his team.  Make no mistake, his heart and soul continue to hold what his mind cannot. He reminds us in unique ways how some things in life cannot be fixed, but are shouldered with love, help, and strength of others. In his unique way he teaches us how to covet each day, each memory, each opportunity as he holds on, and in turn, lets go. It’s showing up and paying attention in the moment while not being wedded to the outcome.

Our home is quiet as I wander on his side of the house today. I am weary from the buried anxiety and stress of these last few years. I’m “feeling all the feels” as my daughter says. There is also profound relief from the controlling need to serve as “benevolent overlord major general” and daily cruise director. (I did this for 34 years before “retiring”). As I told a sweet friend yesterday, I am simply excited to just be my daddy’s daughter during this next chapter of his journey…and I venture to guess, he simply is too.

Like most of life, this transition is simple, just not easy. I lean into my faith, hope, and love. And just as daddy observed, love IS the most powerful force of motivation moving us onward during each transition of his journey…it really is simple, just not easy, my friends. May you be blessed and be a blessing to others.

Dogwood Trees

dogwood3As we walk the woods, the dogwood trees are emerging cautiously with their subtle blooms. I am reminded once again of the story my Granny B shared each spring, usually around Easter:

There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this.  In His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering, he said to it: “Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. It shall be slender and bent and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross…two long and two short petals. On the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember…”

This story had a huge impact on her throughout her lifetime as evidenced in her writings. The following poem, penned by her in 1934, was her version of the story:

In Jesus’ time a dogwood grew to a stately size and a lovely hue; 

Strong and firm its branches interwoven and for the cross of Christ, its timber was chosen. 

Seeing the distress at this use of wood, Jesus made His promise still holding good: 

“Never again shall the dogwood grow, so large enough to be used just so…

Slim and twisted it shall be, with blossoms like the cross for all to see;

As blood stains the petals marked in brown, and the blossom’s center with the thorny crown. 

All who see it will remember Me, crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree. 

Cherished and protected this tree shall be; a reminder to all of My agony.”

When Granny moved from her beloved Tennessee to Texas in 1955, she brought a clipping of a beautiful dogwood tree for replanting in her new yard as a powerful reminder each spring of the legend, and of His grace in our lives.  Happy Easter, friends…be blessed and be a blessing to others. 🙂

Dear Mrs. Cleary,

It goes without saying, but I will, how much your body of work affected my literary world and eventually my life’s work since that first day I picked up Henry Huggins to read with daddy. He took my sis and me to the public library one Saturday morning while momma was rehearsing a cantata and asked the librarian where he might find a quiet place to introduce us to his favorite childhood friend, Henry. She led our little trio to the treasured area where all of your books in print at that time (1968) were shelved and displayed in all their glory next to your picture. My eyes grew large looking at this collection of treasures. REAL “chapter” books (I was five, so this was BIG)! Daddy sat at the little table and read Chapter One softly to whet our appetite…this daddy of mine who traveled for a living but spent Saturdays with his two girls reading in a library and drawing a little crowd in the process. I was allowed to check out two books that morning, a first for me and my library card. Henry, Beezus, Ribsy, and Ramona became my new literary friends, taking me on adventures, talking like I did with my own friends, and so much more. Ralph S. Mouse from The Mouse and the Motorcycle helped me through my own illness a couple of years later, and instead of momma giving me medicine, I imagined Ralph delivering the pills on his motorcycle while I slept. Ramona The Pest (a minor character before then) finally stepped into the spotlight that year on her own as a curious, enthusiastic, disruptive and unruly heroine of children’s literature on level with Jo March, Harriet the Spy, and other untidy gals who balked at the status quo. I may…or may not…have received a consequence for squeezing and decorating my own bathroom sink with an entire new tube of toothpaste (all in the context of experimentation, mind you), but then my sister decided she would paint the walls with it. Oh the stories, the drama, and the fun of your true life-like children in real-world situations and play… You, and your books, were and will always remain a remarkable influence in my literary world…and we even made an “A” on a college research paper or two together.

In my classroom, your books were often read-aloud choices where we paused a few moments each day to gather as a group and simply enjoy the gift of storytelling. Your books allowed many of my students to experience more simple joys, pleasures, challenges, and triumphs of childhood, no matter the time or place. Most of the students I had the honor of teaching for several years came from backgrounds very different than the neighborhood children and stories you shared, yet they identified and relished in the real childhood elements of life. Your stories demonstrated hope while giving a voice to the hearts of my students. Your soft, genuine, and respectful way with language and childhood conversations, even on the toughest adult issues like money, divorce, and loss, presented an opportunity for us to talk about ways to grow into our greatness with respect, compassion, and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. You took the ordinary and added that little something “extra” for the ultimate experience or remarkable adventure. You challenged our critical thinking by showing us how problem solving (and I’m not talking calculus here) is really our life’s work. Most gratefully though, you helped me demonstrate to my learners how reading is pleasurable and “not just something that teachers make you do in school.”

I will miss your voice, your wisdom, and your words in the writing world. As Leigh Botts observes in Dear Mr. Henshaw,I feel sad and whole lot better at the same time…” knowing your library of characters, problems, solutions, conversations, and words of love and hope in 42 books with over 85 million copies printed in 29 languages leaves us a legacy of stories to savor for generations to come. As you yourself once observed: “I think children like to find themselves in my books because the emotions of children I write are universal.” Dearest Mrs. Cleary…yes, and thank you.

Dose of Hope

She spoke the required phrases, asked the critical questions, and verified the risks and consequences of what I was about to do.  She looked directly into the eyes of my masked face and smiled while clarifying one more time, “Are you ready to do this? It’s finally your turn now!” I’ve been through childbirth, surgeries, countless medical procedures, chemotherapy, and too many pokes and prods to count, but this was somehow different. This was working to save not only my life, but those around me. This was barely out of a research lab with rapid trial studies. This was being injected into my body with the intention of starting an immune response war. This was my first physical dose of hope.

An emotional release from the past year rippled through my entire body as she prepped my arm for the injection. I thought about my grandmother who lost her mom during the 1918 pandemic and carried a homemade cloth covering for her mouth and nose in her pocketbook until the day she died. I flashed-back to the time I lined up with my first grade class in the school gym for my first polio cube (something us “boomers” understand and never take for granted).  I remembered my friends and family infected and forever affected by the virus and the outcomes in this past year.  I pondered the vast interruptions of daily lives and how everything was stirred-up the world-over. I reflected on the millions of lives lost around the world to something few saw coming and the families still grieving. I considered my overwhelming gratitude for the remarkable amount of collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem solving in the past year being injected into my muscle, and the tears flowed in relief and hope. As my nurse attached the bandage, she wept with me.

This past year of pandemic mayhem with quarantine, anxiety, fear, sadness, loneliness, loss, and so much more, is about to turn a corner, at least for some. While this first shot will not cure everything, it gives a new dose of hope moving forward for my family. I realize how fortunate I am to receive it. I realize everyone cannot or may not choose to take a vaccine. All I control are my personal attitude and effort, and both were celebrating in silent tears of relief through a dose of hope.

Washington Irving said it like this: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…” 

May these unexpected tears of overwhelming relief from this first dose of hope power me onward. May the emotional release and the strength of this first dose begin shifting all the unfamiliar of this collective experience into a new familiar filled in love.  May we all find little ways to help one another move forward, assisting and sharing our burdens and blessings, as we begin to emerge and rebuild on the other side. And for today, may I breathe easier as I nurse this sore arm, be kind to my fighting body and exhausted mind, and thank the angels sent my way to see me through the pandemic wilderness. And may you find and thank your angels too; may you be blessed and be a blessing of love to others, my friends. 🙂

Little things in great Love…

Some days, my greatest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut; not gonna happen today.  Texas…my beloved home state, the place of my birth and raisin,’ where my family roots run deep and wide, and where a piece of my heart forever remains, is in need. Lives have been lost, properties destroyed, homes in every neighborhood in every town have been without basics for nearly a week.  Infrastructure has failed and repair timelines remain unknown.  Basic things like drinking water and warmth are scarce.  As my Grandpa might say about now:“Good gracious sakes’ alive…it’s the largest Texas blue-norther on a team of wild Mustangs chasing a herd of fence-busting Longhorns hell-bent for the open range I’ve ever seen.”     

Texans are hardy folks, y’all; bold, daring, and built sturdy and strong in body and spirit to endure. Their Texas-sized sense of purpose, passion, great pride, and resilience runs fathoms deep.  Whether you hail from the north, south, east, or west of the Great State of Texas, you are a Texan, first and foremost. Texans live tried-and-true by the state motto decreeing us “The Friendly State;” we never meet a stranger. Right now, most Texans are likely plum wore-out.

While the images on national news stories this past week show the profound devastation, loss, and despair, some are finally beginning to focus on those stories of altruistic deeds. Take the iconic Texan, Mattress Mack, opening his doors in Houston once again to anyone seeking shelter and some warmth. Convention centers, sanctuaries, school gyms, and stadiums are shifting from vaccine sites to shelters so Texans have safe, warm places to land.  Texans are driving taco and other food trucks on inches of ice to deliver hot meals and drinking water in communities.  Neighbors are looking after neighbors, checking on each other, huddling up together, and finding creative ways to survive this freakish crisis. The acts of love and kindness grow on and on, but they might need some help and may be too humble or proud to out-right ask for it.

What can we do to help?  In my faith and daily living, I’m called to serve…to do little things with great love. GIVE friends; just give. Give time, money, energy, resources. Give to a TX Mutual Aid fund of your choice working on the ground at this moment. Place local contact information on your social media feed with numbers for those seeking help. Reach out to friends and family in some way to check in and let them know you love them. It’s not much in light of so much disruption, suffering, despair, and more, but it’s something little given in great love. It’s not much when others are cold, exhausted, and hungry, but it’s a place to start. Goodness and grace, happiness and hope, comfort and compassion…these are the warm fuzzies of everyday life. Little things, yes, but given in great big Texas-sized love.

And to my many Texas friends and family members still enduring this storm and processing the task of recovery, please remember no matter what any of us face in life, we can and will endure because we are not alone. Spring and bluebonnets are coming. All y’all keep on your warmest boots and gear, get back on that wild Mustang, and ride like the wind knowing you are not alone!  Be blessed and continue being a blessing to others, y’all. 🙂

How’s the view?

I hung up the phone from a difficult conversation and wanted to scream some not-so-nice words. A text with a picture suddenly appeared. It was my sister on top of a mountain trail (“Look at this view!”); and in an instant, my attitude shifted.

It’s no secret I enjoy hiking, especially with my sister. We have racked up many miles through our years on foot with some stunning scenery, unique experiences, and funny stories along the way.

As little girls, we hiked with our dad in the summers while on family vacation at the same working ranch in the Rockies of Colorado.  Before each trail hike, we always looked up in awe of the daunting task ahead wondering if our momentum, lungs, and little chicken legs would get us to the top (and, let’s be honest, excited to see what snack daddy would have for us at the top too). Of course, when we reached the top, taking in the view, eating our snack, and basking in our accomplishment, our perspectives grew in greater confidence. Daddy innately understood why we needed to climb a mountain every now and then; it was his quiet way of teaching us about life’s challenges and hardships. When we climbed mountains, we faced hurdles, obstacles, and problems to solve while on the trail using our attitude, effort, and strength.  We experienced first-hand how these same personal super-powers on each mountain hike are ever-present within us as we overcome challenges in everyday life.

2021 so far, at least for me, feels like another ginormous mountain after the year formally known as 2020. The view, to this point in the year, is not so pleasant.  Please understand…I’m grateful to be safe, well (so far), and have the resources to be home to assist and care for my dad full-time while keeping our pod moving forward each day in hope. We keep a routine, wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance (even on walks and hikes), and find simple ways to be kind to our minds.  But after nearly twelve months of quarantine at the High-Risk VanAmVilla (where, like the Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”), this is beginning to wear-and-tear on all of us, y’all! But when we stop a moment, take a deep cleansing breath, and start again with baby steps, we realize we DO have the personal super-powers to keep on climbing.  After all, the mountain, no matter how big it is (and we sometimes swear it’s growing), is no match for our faith and desire to successfully climb it.  Attitude, effort, and personal strength are everything in life (and in climbing mountains). Mountains are meant to be climbed. Diseases are meant to cured (and I’m waiting patiently for my vaccine turn). Wounds are meant to be healed.  Problems are meant to solved.  All are critical learning experiences; some in sorrow and sadness and others in success and JOY. I have to think this pandemic mountain serves a higher purpose in making us stronger, wiser, resilient, grace-filled, and hopeful…physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we often can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we see and climb the mountains in our life. We can look at the mountains as being in the way or as THE WAY to personal growth and success (or as momma would sing to remind me to, “bloom and grow forever”). We always have a choice. We can stand at the bottom overwhelmed and initially defeated, or we can dig down deep in our resourceful well and find the very best way within ourselves to climb onward as we encourage one another. Here’s my hand reaching out to assist and here’s to each of us who are finding clever ways to fearlessly hike the mountains in our paths on this journey. Just know I’m singing and hiking beside you.  Continue to be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. 🙂

Reflection for the new year…

In a few hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for the new year.  WHEW; truly remarkable in light of our collective experiences during 2020.  There is little to say as we continue to synthesize it all while looking forward.  After all, the history of each of us has always been in our stories, and 2020 definitely gave us unique ways of crafting and sharing our stories.  Missing traditional celebrations or beautiful moments with family and friends, not being able to hug and comfort each other in person in times of grief or triumph…these created relentless emotions and something I trust none of us will take for granted ever again.  Personally, I’m a hugger and my inability to physically connect with others through a hug is devastating; ZOOM and FaceTime just don’t do it, y’all (and y’all better get ready for us huggers when it’s safe)!  As my momma would remind me, “no gift, especially a hug, is too small or simple to give or receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.”

The Scottish phrase “auld lang syne” literally means “old long since” or for “old time’s sake.”  After MUCH reflection during 2020, this new year in particular offers sacred opportunities to take the wisdom and experiences of this past year “for old time’s sake” forward as we build on its foundational lessons for a stronger future. The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of our experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.

So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2021 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, encourage one another, forgive with grace, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, share softer answers, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers through your mask with your shining eyes, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, help carry burdens, cherish inner dreams, learn a new skill, be bendable but not breakable, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore options, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward; and hope, my friends, constantly and gratefully prevails in all our daily humanness.

Challenging paths and trails often lead to the most beautiful of places, so may the new year bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love. And as always, may you be blessed and be a blessing, friends.  Happy New Year! 🙂

Solstice Blessing…

The longest night; the shortest day…Winter Solstice.

Yes; winter is coming.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we verbalized our collective concerns about caring 24/7 for an aging parent during a pandemic.  After we spoke, she sent an extraordinary poem reflective of the poignant connection between the darkness and the light.  Even as we live through the longest nights of the Winter Solstice ahead, may we trust the blessing of light will always be near us:

Blessing for the Longest Night (by Jan Richardson)

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

On the Winter Solstice tomorrow, December 21, 2020, as with so much this year, we have another “unprecedented opportunity” to see a rare celestial event observable anywhere on Earth where the skies are clear.  Jupiter and Saturn will align in a “great conjunction,” appearing to collide into one super-bright point of light, similar to the rare “Christmas Star.”  Take the opportunity early tomorrow evening to check the sky in the southwest from about sunset to an hour after in your area to be amazed. As always, may you be blessed by this light and be a blessing in return.  Wishing you hope, peace, JOY, and love, with clear skies and wide eyes too, my friends. 🙂

JOY

Fun fact:  Did you know the word JOY has the point value of 13 on the Scrabble board?

On this third Sunday in Advent, on the 13th day of a long month in what feels like the longest year ever so far, it is time to light the third candle of JOY.  Even in the depths of a hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the Angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…” Yet, JOY, in all its revelry and with its powerful message of hope, is in seemingly short supply these days.  How do we find and sow JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone through your mask, leaving a gift card in the mailbox for your postal worker, dropping a casserole on a neighbor’s doorstep, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Nothing extravagant; just sowing JOY to spark more JOY.

The message of Advent and Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, grief, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE, well LOVE ultimately wins.  Norman Vincent Peale issued this challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, help me here… How do we sow JOY in order to experience JOY?  How do we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of JOY every day?

A JOY shared is a JOY doubled.  Perhaps accepting JOY with thanks and giving helps us find ways to sow it deeper for others.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  After all, JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living, a small yet profound way to interact with others.  It doesn’t hurt either when it earns 13-points on the Scrabble board for the win. 🙂  Be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. #SpreadJOY

What sweeter music can we bring?

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out the musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on mom and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966 in the sanctuary at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.  I actually remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty along with her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…what I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around, think of a beloved carol, song, or hymn you absolutely must hear each year when the season rolls around.  What does this blessing of music mean and bring to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music restore hope, bring peace and comfort, heal, and shower JOY into your days during this season, my friends.  Be blessed and be a blessings to others…  🙂