Category Archives: Gratefulness

Peaks and Valleys…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings; nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn…”  ~John Muir~

Ahhh…the mountains.  As many times as my sis and I have hiked various pathways throughout the majesty of various mountain ranges, our most recent and brief trip into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park strongly illustrated Mr. Muir’s point.  Inclining to the top of Clingman’s Dome was my first solid hike since my heart episode in March.  The altitude and the steep climb were a test of my slow but steady determination to move forward in my journey.  While Pop happily sat below with his coffee, snacks, and people-watching in the early morning mist, we trudged straight up to the view.  Although covered mostly in clouds and smoky mist (as expected in the GSMNP), this was the start to a glorious day and what a way to begin!

There were other paths we explored along our meandering drive throughout the Park.  We took roads less traveled (momma would have loved it); stopped along any place catching our eye, and gleefully explored.  One particular surprise was a glorious chapel in the middle of a secluded section of dense trees; we literally stumbled upon it.  Going inside, I captured a view through the original glass window.  Wilderness through a window…WOW!  If you’ve been in the mountains long enough, you’ve likely experienced the same overwhelming moment while looking out upon nature, smiling, at peace; sublime in the stillness of the soul.  Nothing more is needed.

As the seasons begin to shift and 2019 descends into various holidays and celebrations, may we all take precious moments to simply savor the lessons of mountain peaks and valleys:  expand horizons, reach new heights, keep a sense of wonder, inspire, cherish, and seek the beauty in this journey called life… because it’s true, the best view always comes after a challenging climb.

 

Flying high…

It’s no secret my dad loves flying.  He was a pilot of his own plane for many years, flying various locations to work sites on business or on adventures with family and friends.  He also proudly served in the Texas Civil Air Patrol, piloting multiple search-and-rescue missions through the years before turning in his wings (and boasts even today he can still fit into his required uniform).

Not long after his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he asked me one evening to take him once again to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, specifically the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, a companion facility to the original museum on the National Mall.  These days, what daddy wants (when he remembers), daddy gets, so we headed north to visit and stay with family outside the beltway, spending an entire day at the museum.  While you were not with us to experience this day through his eyes firsthand, some others unexpectedly were…and what a treasured flying-high memory for all.

These two ginormous hangars at the Udvar-Hazy are filled to capacity with thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, Discovery (I know you’re impressed; I was paying attention, huh?!).  As we entered through security, Pop insisted on navigating the museum chronologically so he could share his knowledge and insight as an aviation history lesson; he was the teacher and I was his sole pupil…for about 5 minutes.

You see, as we stood in front of a Wright Brothers glider and Pop waxed eloquently on the profound contributions this team made in 1903 and beyond, I noticed a mom and her four children scooching closer to listen and absorb.  This little group continued to follow his path along all the early flight experiments and exhibits while dad talked about “how failure forces us revisit, reflect, and improve on our hunches.” 

As we entered the age of WWI and WWII (and picked up dad with a group of five elementary-age girls), the aircraft were divided among the various service organizations, their important missions, and successes.  We stopped at length in front of the Enola Gay, when the world entered into the atomic age in August of 1945.  This B-29 Superfortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from the island of Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, thus forever changing the course of world history.  POP KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS PLANE and he left no detail to chance!  You see, dad grew up across the street from the sister of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets (later Brigadier General), the pilot of this infamous mission.  Pop spent many childhood hours visiting, questioning, and listening to Tibbets’ stories, later talking with him at airshows around the country…but back to the museum.  It was about this time I noticed an even larger group gathered around us…a museum docent with a senior citizen group of six and then nine middle-school-age guys.  Dad continued sharing vast knowledge, answering questions presented to him on aviation, and talking like the flying expert he is.  About four hours later, Pop stopped, looked at me, and asked if we could sit down for a snack.  The docent gave him a museum hat and said, “you’re hired.”  The mom, dad, and children cheered in thanks.  The middle school guys each shook his hand and thanked him personally with one commenting, “you’re the BEST part of this trip today, and by the way, you look great to obviously be 90-something!” (Pop’s not even 80 yet 🙂 )

After so much complex medical news, decisions, changes, and more in recent weeks, this day was balm for both our souls, a truly JOYfilled experience where daddy’s older more powerful memories allowed him to share his wealth of expertise with others.  The pictures portray his passion and purpose along with his will to positively carry on in spite of deepening memory loss.

Pop miraculously understands how little things in life are to be celebrated, and for just a few hours on this random day, he bravely once again stood out among the stars.  As daddy himself often says, “eras have a way of ending all over the place.” Here’s hoping we find more ways to continue sparking his powerful memories and take what we’re given with grace and dignity “as off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun…”     

 

Coloring hope in purple…

The doctor’s words resonated flat within the sparse conference room once they were spoken aloud:  “The results confirm ALZHEIMER’S.”  Pop was silent, holding my hand, staring off outside the window, and processing all we were rapidly being told.  “Probably stage 4, moving into stage 5 and definitely beyond moderate at this point.”  Alzheimer’s, this dreaded, debilitating disease we previously experienced, daily lived, and unfortunately understood too well with momma.  While not shocking in light of everything we’ve experienced these past 18 months, the immediate sting of this label is potent.

As we exited outside from this meeting, the color purple vibrantly surfaced in various ways–a poster of information, a sign of instructions, blossoming violets and phlox growing in the landscaped beds along the medical building.  A regal jewel-toned color, purple often signifies enlightenment, transformation, royalty, power, creativity, wisdom, dignity, devotion, grandeur, pride, mystery, and independence.  Purple is considered a rare occurrence in nature, symbolizing delicate, precious, and often sacred meanings (much like dad’s remaining memories and brain function).  Herbalists and horticulturalists believe lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers along with plum, thistle, pomegranate, eggplant, and grapes increase imagination, calm confrontation, and re-energize the learning of new things.  How ironic is it the color purple also has come to symbolize hope and awareness for one of the longest family goodbyes in modern medical history?

Today, however, as Pop and I walked around the medical facility path from another appointment, these plastic beauties caught us off guard with their collective colors, fluttering leaves, and powerful messages written on petals gently swirling in the pre-rain breeze.  We stopped in awe to read the names, sentiments, and messages of hope, silently wondering where and how hope will emerge in the stark reality of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thankfully, even in our darkest moments, someone gratefully steps in to turn on the lights for us; today, ironically, it was daddy himself.  He announced in that particular moment he wanted to plant a purple garden.  So, yes, we’re planting a purple garden together in the next week…a place where nature, our existing imagination, and precious memories can grow even as they dim inside dad’s mind.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in growing something purple and knowing our time is limited, so we need not waste it.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in taking life day-by-day and being grateful for the little things, like a purple garden in our yard.  Somehow, daddy finds hope in talking, reflecting, sharing, and laughing as daily priorities.  And somehow, daddy finds hope in profoundly reminding me, “A secret in life is letting every situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.  Take what you’re handed with grace and dignity and move on; let’s just make the best of this thing.” Consider it done, daddy…and here’s to coloring our hope in a glorious garden of purple.

Crossing Wires

While I’ve been accused of “crossing wires” many times, my heart literally challenged this concept for multiple hours over the past weekend.  Gratefully, this story has a positive outlook…

I’ve lived with atrial fibrillation most of my life, experiencing occasional flutters or skips at times including a stronger episode following the birth of our first child.  Each time, my heart naturally converted itself back into natural rhythm in a relatively short amount of time.  Not so, this time; it presented as a full-scale, ambulance-riding, cardiac-concierge event.  This was an excellent example in thankfully knowing my body really well and paying attention to its specific warning signs in order to seek medical assistance in a timely manner.

In spite of the trauma, the silver lining (after a full cardiac workup) is the professional affirmation my heart is a “strong, much-younger-than-my-age, remarkably boring muscle,” performing well in form, shape, size, and functionality.  My new cardiologist reports my issue “is strictly electrical, because your mechanics are impeccable.” He did note, however, “a slightly larger halo-effect surrounding your heart, but it’s simply due to the fact you were a long-time educator.”  🙂   Oh yes…I adore this man.

A-Fib is not to be taken lightly because it’s a leading cause of strokes. Losing the beloved Luke Perry to a stroke on the very day I’m laying on a cardiac table receiving a transesophageal echocardiogram and cardioversion is absolutely not lost on me. Eating less, moving more, listening, and paying attention to my miraculously aging body are lifelong goals–getting old and staying healthy continue to be a full-time job!  And ladies, as natural nurturers, we must help each other find more ways to graciously attend and give back to ourselves in the midst of giving to everyone else around us!

Longfellow observed, “the heart, like the mind, has a memory; in it are the most precious keepsakes.” Here’s hoping your heart (and mine) find natural ways to maintain the keepsake of the steady rhythm it knows so well.  Just know I’m walking in rhythm with you, my friends…

Grace-filled living…

It’s cold and our frayed quilts and blankets are working overtime around here.  Knowing I needed to mend and wash the favorite one in dad’s favorite chair, he insisted I provide another one in its place (and I did).  The one I gave him started an unusual conversation about family quilts.  In the midst of his story, he profoundly commented, “just like the changing of these quilts comes the transitions in our lives, many with uncertainty; others with excitement and, your favorite word, Bethy, ‘JOY.’ ”  

Yes; my mouth fell open.

Combining a multi-generational family into one home during this season of our lives obviously doesn’t come with an instructional manual…at least one I can understand.  Home is still where our stories begin and continue, and with that being said, we’re a little over a full year into tenderly stitching dad and Princess Sassypants (Poppy) into our home.  While nothing is perfect (remember, I despise that word), through grace, we thankfully haven’t lost our sense of humor yet.  Laughter, teasing, and smiles are some of the greatest tension relievers on the tough days.  My mom often noted how “the shortest distance between two people is always laughter.”  Daddy subscribes to the philosophy of “a good time to laugh is when you can.”  Even with his growing health concerns and loss of memory, he is remarkably full of life, laughter, and lots of stories.  He is the proverbial rose-colored glasses guy because he whole-heartily believes there is always, always, always something to be grateful for each day.  He chooses to walk to the sunshine in order to leave the shadows behind him.

On the really long, tough days when none of us have much strength left to deal, we work to gently remind one another to reach a little deeper into our personal well of grace where more resources pour out to move us forward.  And then there’s the tiny spark in daddy’s eye before he gracefully reminds me how “flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

His brain is astounding…one minute not remembering how to tie his shoelaces, and the next minute, spouting pearls of wisdom rendering me speechless.

You‘re right daddy; families are like our old quilts…carefully crafted and pieced together in colorful memories bound tightly in love.  Although they tend to unravel at times, each can be stitched back together with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots and lots of grace.

If you’re on a similar journey, just know I have thread, scraps, and sewing needles…along with kindness, understanding, patience, love, and lots of grace to share, my friends…

A date that continues to live in infamy…

At 6:00 am on December 7, 1941, the cook aboard the USS West Virginia, Third Class Messman Doris (Dorie) Miller, was making his rounds collecting laundry. When the general alarm sounded, he ran to his station only to find it decimated by a torpedo, so he ran up on deck. It was there his physical strength and character served him well as he hustled and carried other sailors to safety. Seeing the continuing attack, he stepped into the harness of a 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun and fired rounds for 15 minutes until the weapon ran out of ammunition. He was subsequently awarded The Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the honor in our nation’s history.

His story is still famous in the small Texas town where his sister-in-law, LaRue Miller, a well loved retired educator still lives. Many currently in the community had Mrs. Miller as their 4th grade teacher; they know this story by heart. My mom taught with her for many years, and I had the distinct honor of opening and serving as the first principal of the building and learning community bearing her name, LaRue Miller Elementary School. Mrs. Miller, and her famous brother-in-law, both remain “rock stars” on her campus even today.

After a week filled in loving tribute to a heroic American President, let us also be mindful, grateful, and thankful on this day of remembrance for the men and women like Dorie Miller, who selflessly served our beloved country in extreme measures.  Like President Bush, Mr. Miller was a critical part of the Greatest Generation.  Mr. Miller exemplified the true measure of character during the attack on Pearl Harbor; he faithfully reacted in earnest and resiliency when uncertainty and definite destruction rained chaos that Sunday morning.  Sadly, almost two years later, he was killed in action, making the ultimate sacrifice while defending the country he loved and served.

So this begs a different kind of question during this advent of hope, peace, JOY, and love:

How will you choose to keep strong in your own faith as we work to create better tomorrows for all humankind,  both here and everywhere? 

Thank you, Dorie Miller, for doing your part on a day that lives in infamy; thank you, Mrs. LaRue Miller, for continuing to share this important story throughout your life’s work.  Let us all keep the message of the season in the forefront of our daily work and lives as we move into the new year.  And as always, be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!

I’m so grateful we had this time together…

One of my all-time favorite performers is the iconic legend, Carol Burnett.  My family would gather around our one TV every Saturday evening to marvel, laugh, cry, and share in the extraordinary work of a talented band of players creating the weekly comedy hour of The Carol Burnett Show.  She always did a thoughtful gesture at the end of each show in tribute to her beloved grandmother while she sang the closing song each week.  In several interviews, she remarked it was her unwritten, non-verbal way of sending love and a huge THANK YOU note each week to the one who never gave up on her.

I remember my Granny B sharing how the power of the written word, especially one penned in hand from the heart, is simply sublime…so in the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratefulness, please allow me a brief poetic license to bestow the important benefits of these two simple words:  Thank You.

A Thank You has the power to transform our health, happiness, performance, personal excellence, and ultimate success.  Researchers note how grateful people are happier and more likely to maintain strong friendships.  An attitude of gratitude in shown to improve the heart’s rhythmic functioning, which helps us to reduce stress, think more clearly under pressure, and heal faster physically.  My own cardiologist tells me it is actually physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time!  When you are grateful you flood your body and brain with positive reactions (and those important endorphins) to uplift and energize rather than drain you.

Gratefulness is like a muscle in the body though—the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  In the spirit of our 40 Days of Gratefulness, here are 3 suggestions I practice daily to strengthen gratefulness beyond Thanksgiving:

  1. Keep a Gratefulness Journal:  Take a walk/talk/squawk opportunity to write down, say out loud, pray, meditate, and more exactly what you are grateful for that day; it’s a mindset for choosing to focus on gratefulness in a purposeful way.
  2. Take a Gratefulness Tour:  Write and send a letter or card each week expressing your gratitude to others in your life – or – visit them to share your gratefulness in person.
  3. Purposefully say “Thank You” to someone every single day: When we take time to sincerely and authentically express our appreciation to someone, we definitely help ourselves in the process.

While these work well for me, do what works best for you!  So on Day #40:  What one thing will you commit to do in developing your own personal plan to daily gratefulness?

THANK YOU for walking this gratefulness journey with me these past 40 days.  THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts verbally and in writing, reflecting with me and each other, while finding ways in the midst of deepest sorrow and profound JOY to simply be grateful together!

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving gratefully filled with enough fellowship, food, fun, thanks, and giving beside those you hold dear.  Let’s find ways to continue encouraging and uplifting each other while keeping the importance of daily gratitude, gratefulness and grace alive and well each day…especially throughout the coming year, my friends! 🙂