The Day I Wore Red

Losing my mom has been hard. Very hard. Seems like every day I think of dozens of cute stories to tell her or questions to ask. I long to see that little smirk, or even have her raise that eyebrow of discipline at me. My memories of her are deep and rich, so losing her is just stinking tough. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, the “normal” of my life completely changing, and somehow making it through all the Firsts without her. In some ways I am just now beginning to truly process it all.

Last spring, when Mom had a bad fall, we knew that things were getting serious with her physical condition. I remarked nervously to a friend that when Mother’s Day came, I might not have one. Little did I know how true that would prove to be. As the date grew closer last year, I thought perhaps I might squeeze in just one more; but that did not happen.

Mother’s Day has always been special in my family. As my brother, sister and I got married and began our own families, the two days every year that we set aside – set in stone – to assemble as an extended family were Mother’s Day and Christmas Eve. Sometimes due to work schedules we had to celebrate Mother’s Day on a different date, but celebrate we did. I have many happy memories, and some goofy photo ops, from those occasions.

Then, with very little warning, everything changed.

Several days after the fall, my daughter and I were spending the afternoon at the hospital. I was feeding my mom lemon pudding. Those huge green, earnest eyes were gazing up at me. Even as her body declined so quickly, my mother’s eyes remained as beautiful as ever: The first eyes I saw when I drew my first breath. Eyes that could discipline me from across a crowded room without a single word. Eyes laughing at my horribly not-funny jokes. Eyes where I’ve seen joy and pain and anger and pride over my smallest accomplishment. Eyes closed as she taught me to pray, framed in the face of the woman who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I lost it.

Chelsey had to finish feeding her the pudding while I tried to collect myself.

That night as I said goodbye, we clasped hands, not willing to let go just yet. She reached her tiny, frail hand up, brushed away my hair and wiped a tear from my cheek. Then she said, “I hope you know how deeply I love you.” And those beautiful green eyes smiled into mine.

The reality hit me hard that day. There was no telling what the future would hold. Hopefully there would be many other moments of laughter and tears, but even then, I recognized this was precious moment I would carry with me for always.

 
In the following days, my siblings and I juggled our full-time jobs, hour-long drives to the hospital, and discussions of hospice and nursing homes, doing the best we could to provide quality care for the woman who had cared so well for us. Then, equally without warning, an ordinary Friday at work suddenly turned into one of the toughest days of my life. My precious little mama, who had been fighting off cancer for three years, took a sudden turn for the worse. I spent a long day with her, thankful for every breath, praying that there would be another.

Cancer is a merciless thing. It doesn’t care about your family pedigree. It doesn’t care about how intelligent you are, what a gifted artist or doctor or chef you might be. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Cancer strikes where it will. Some kinds are more aggressive than others. Knowing that she had breast cancer and that it had metastasized into her brain – and how very ghastly that particular type can be – I began praying for two things: 1. For God’s perfect timing, and 2. That God would be gracious and take her Home before it became extremely painful for her. I just wanted her to have a peaceful ending.

And I do believe God answered both prayers. My precious Mama passed away at 3:00 AM Saturday morning, quietly in her sleep. I knew what was coming. I thought I was ready. I was not. Not even close. We all shed buckets of tears, knowing that she awoke in the arms of her beloved Savior, but brokenhearted at the thought of life without her. Then we dried our eyes, and began focusing on the happy event of this day – my niece Emily’s wedding. Here is where I believe the perfect timing comes into play. My family was able to channel our emotions into this beautiful occasion. We didn’t have to second-guess ourselves: Do I go to the hospital, or do I go to the wedding? That was no longer an issue. So we celebrated at one of the most picture-perfect, and fun, weddings I can ever recall. It was so therapeutic that in the middle of our grief, there was such an expression of love and joy.

Then, came Sunday. Mother’s Day. I won’t lie; it was hard, so very hard. Facebook was filled with pictures of people with their mothers. I tried to stay away from that. It was just too raw. I didn’t so much feel jealous of those people, but the ache in my heart was fresh and deep. What I did do, that day and this one, was remember. So many happy, angry, laughing, problem-solving, creative, hard, wonderful moments spent with this amazing woman. I was the first person to hear her heartbeat from the inside. I was the first person she taught to ride a bike and use a spoon. I was the first set of ears to hear her stories, to have her stroke my hair as she sang and prayed over me. I curled up with her on Sunday afternoons and took naps in her big fluffy bed. I learned about Jesus from her lips and from her life. In all of this, I have been remarkably blessed.

The picture included with this post shows two women, connected by a series of events, large and small, that together add up to a lifetime. On the left, in pink, is my Mama. This was taken at my wedding. Moments before, she had sent her first baby girl off to begin a life of her own. The second picture, on the right, is me. This one was taken on the day of My Mama’s funeral. Perhaps red may seem rather unconventional for such a solemn occasion, but I wanted to honor this sweet and sassy woman by wearing her favorite color. In a way, on this day I was the one sending her off to a new life. The cancer is gone. My Mama is whole and perfect, and as a lifelong lover of Christ, her joy is now complete.

If you look very closely at my life, you will see Florence’s fingerprints all over it, both her strengths and her weakness, and even that little smirk. I feel so fortunate to be her daughter. She invested 50 years into teaching me, shaping me, loving me. Her work here was done. My job now is simple – to continue the legacy of faith and family, and to somehow, someway, one year, one breath at a time, to learn how to live without her.

I love you, my Mama.

I close this post with what my daughter wrote on the day of my mother’s funeral. How fortunate am I to be a conduit between these two incredible women.

 
Today will be tough. You taught me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Today I will be sad and shed some tears. You showed me that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” (Psalm 34:18)
Today we will celebrate your life. You without a doubt showed me that “His love gives life.” (John 10:10-11)
Today is not goodbye, it’s see you later, my beautiful Grandma!
“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.” (Proverbs 31:25)

Chugging Along

It’s been just over a week since I made my bold declaration to quit moping around and start taking steps toward better health. This update is two-fold: to hold myself accountable; and to encourage others who may be struggling to make positive progress in some area of their lives, whatever it might be.

So far I’ve gone running three times in the past week. There would have been a fourth, but an impending thunderstorm interrupted that idea. In the end, it was a thunder sprinkle, but I am not so keen on the threat of a lightning strike. My eating habits were improved – not perfect, but considerably better than before. The clean- to processed- food ratio inverted itself, and there were fresh, crunchy vegetables at almost every meal. To further add to the encouragement of these small improvements, I’m down a pound or two from this same time last week. That’s not exactly monumental, but still a nice place to start.

As far as the actual running goes, I still have quite a bit of room for improvement. My legs know what to do, but my lungs haven’t completely gotten with the program yet. As I have been shuffling along and trying not to literally gasp for air (I sometimes giggle about what other runners on the trail must think I sound like!), slowly, oh so slowly, I am noticing improvements. Serious runners keep track of their split times, which means how long each individual mile takes over the course of a longer run. While I am still too embarrassed to state outright what my splits have been this week, I will say that today’s outing was 20 seconds per mile faster than the one a week ago. Afterwards, I felt sufficiently tired, but not inches from death. So, there’s that.

As I was wrapping up my last mile today, however, the best thing happened. OK, maybe not as great as being given a private resort/writing sanctuary on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean…but it has definitely been the best part of this new health improvement journey. I noticed that I was THINKING like a RUNNER! Let that sink in for a second. I noticed I had a stride and not a shuffle. My arms were straight and pumping in rhythm with my foot-falls. My mind was calculating what to put in my run bag so I would be ready at a moment’s notice to come running next week. AND I was already mentally planning the next run: what day it could happen, skills to focus on, challenging myself to beat today’s time. Today I wasn’t thinking like a formerly fluffy, formerly thin, getting fluffy again girl just trying to counter the effects of too many Cheetos. I re-found that little something-something that used to drive me on, to set goals and annihilate them. I am a runner. I am a RUNNER! It’s still a tiny spark, but it’s there. Every good decision now is simply more fuel for the fire.

A Tale of Two Tables

Friday was hard for me. Actually, it all began much earlier than that. I have been away from home for almost a month now. The homesick that had been nipping at my heels for weeks finally caught up. A friend in Israel I had been so looking forward to connecting with was unable to meet with me. It was the first time in 27 years I missed my daughter’s birthday. It was a trifecta of circumstances, the perfect storm for a pity party. Thursday night I cried myself to sleep, silent sobs of deep despair.

This trip has been so good, yet nothing – absolutely NOTHING – has gone as expected. I have seen some absolutely amazing places and God has opened my eyes to things in Scripture that I never noticed before. Yet the things I most wanted to happen, the conversations and stories I most wanted to hear, didn’t. I began to question why I was even here. What was the purpose? I only know that God said, “GO!” The how and why of what He will do with these experiences remains to be seen. In all fairness, I did pray for God to wreck my plans with His. On the one hand, it is exciting that He most certainly has, but perhaps I will be a little more selective with my choice of verbs the next time I pray something that bold. 😛

Friday morning as my friend and I joined our hosts at the breakfast table, I was a basket case. At first I tried to hide my feelings, but I simply could not stop crying. Five good minutes would pass then the tears would start up. Again. The three people sharing this incredibly awkward meal did all they could to point me in a positive direction. They acknowledged my sadness but did not allow me to wallow. Sometimes the best thing to do is just keep moving. We went to Nazareth Village that day. The more the day progressed, the more my focus shifted. I learned so much in this humble place, and my emotional energy was transferred from myself to the wonder of all that Christ has done. Seeing this site, perhaps more than any other during this trip, made me hungry to revisit Scripture now that I have walked where they took place: the vineyard, the olive press, among the almond blossoms, the grazing sheep, the flowers of the field, the dust of the paths. What an honor that is!

Friday evening, just after sundown, we sat again at that very same kitchen table. What a stark contrast this meal was from the one mere hours before. I celebrated my first Israeli Shabbat. Our hosts invited us to join them and a couple friends for this weekly feast. We lit the candles and sang songs of praise and worship. We spoke traditional prayers and blessings over each other. We toasted the fruit of the vine. We ate challah and roasted chicken and apple pie. It was a time to reflect on the goodness of God, to be still, to rest in His Presence.

My bent heart is mending. Although the book I envisioned writing simply is not going to happen right now, I choose to trust. I believe there are still stories for me to tell. I have mourned the perceived loss of a dream, but in my quiet times, God has been taking me beyond that kind of thinking. In some crazy way this time in Israel feels more like an introduction than a conclusion.

Galilee Birds

I’ve been thinking today about birds. Birds and rocks. We’ll get around to that subject later. I’m staying in this apartment for the next week or so and the balcony faces the Sea of Galilee. With the exception of a couple apartment buildings, it’s a pretty wide open vista. Ravines in the mountains of the Jordan Valley just across the lake are clearly visible, as are clusters of homes along those mountains. This may a real stretch here, but I have all ideas that people live in those houses, people who are, at their core, not all that different from you and me.

At any given time, no matter where you might look, there are birds. Birds, birds, and more birds. Sea gulls flocking around tour boats, black birds flying in a straight line, one orange-faced Syrian woodpecker who seemed rather distraught. Birds eating and flying and resting on the water, or on top of a boat, or on top of any structure that their feet find to light upon. Pigeons of every imaginable size and color variation. Tiny, iridescent Palestinian sunbirds. Sparrows and ravens and cranes. Everywhere. Always on the move.

Luke 12:22-25 (NIV) says, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Jesus reminds us that His Father, who provides for the tiniest…or even most annoying…birds will provide for us as well. We don’t have to fight and demand our rights. We don’t have to “better ourselves” at the expense of someone else. We need not worry. Yet we do. All the time.

Somewhere near the Jericho area, we passed through a military checkpoint. I had to show my passport. The guard asked our driver a few questions in Hebrew. I sat there wide-eyed as the officer slowly went through my passport, one page at a time. I feared she would quiz me on where I’d been and where I was going. Even though I’m just a tourist, seeing the sights and stimulating the Israeli economy, it’s hard to be completely relaxed when facing someone toting a machine gun. There is a great deal of tension in this area. There has been for thousands of years. Security is not a thing anyone can become totally lax about. I understood the reasons for her inspection of my documents, but it still made my internal butterflies start doing a few acrobatics.

But today, I considered the birds. They recognize no such borders. They are unencumbered by political boundaries or affiliations. Syrian fish taste just as good to them as those from Israel, or USA, or China. What do birds care who is in the White House, or the Bedouin settlement, or the apartment in Tiberius? They have fish to eat, naps to take, nests to build, babies to raise. They come and go as they please, doing what they need to do and not bothering themselves that a flock of geese has moved into the neighborhood. There’s food enough for everyone if everyone takes only what they need. Seasons pass; storms come and they go. Political borders and environments change, and the birds adapt without a lot of fanfare. The birds keep being birds. It’s what they do.

I wonder what lessons we might learn from them.