living and growing, remembering

24

If you could go back to one 24 hour period in time, when would you choose and why would you choose it?

I woke up one morning thinking about this.

The first thing that came to mind was people that I’ve lost. If I could choose just one day to go back to, would I use the 24 hours to be with them?

Both of my parents are gone. Of course I would jump at the chance to be able to sit with either of my parents, even if just for a few minutes. Just being with them would cause my heart to swell.

I imagine just wanting to express to them how much I love them. Perhaps there was something I had wished I had expressed to them while they were alive? If there was, I would share that with them. But when I think about doing that, I imagine the conversation, and I know that any thoughts I shared now, thoughts that may have remained unspoken while they were alive – would be met now with a smile from them, and that they would respond by saying, “I know”. I firmly believe that they are both in heaven, and in that place, they have full knowledge of my heart for them. So although my heart misses them, I realized that a chance to have a 24 hour ‘birds eye view’ of our relationship, and a chance to remember it more vividly is not what I long for most.

So which 24 hours would I choose and who would it be with?

The thought I kept coming back to was time with my kids and my husband. Without any doubt, I would go back to a day when they were all very young and I would choose a day where we were all together.

Within the span of eight years, I had five children and two miscarriages. In those eight years I spent more time pregnant than not. If I think of it in months, I was pregnant 50 out of 96 months! Those first years were wonderful but they were also exhausting! I don’t remember as much from those days as clearly and deeply as I wish I could.

So I would like to go back to that season and pick just a normal average day. I would like to see that day through the eyes of present-day me.

Everyone tells young parents to ‘enjoy this time… it goes by so quick’! But when you are severely sleep deprived, survival is really the name of the game. You absolutely enjoy the moments and are filled with wonder and awe and appreciation for your beautiful children but you are doing it at a deficit more often than not.

So I would love to go back and just revel in them. To revel in us. I think I would enjoy them in a new way – even the squabbles. I would love to see my younger self and my husband’s younger self interacting with them. I have a feeling I would be surprised by what I saw.

As I was imagining going back in time though, a funny thing happened. I realized that I don’t actually need to. Even though I can’t remember those days in the detail that I wish I could. Even though sleep deprivation, pregnancy, raising babies, toddlers and kids, all took a toll on my memory, I discovered I did remember what mattered. I discovered that I am able to clearly and deeply see that those days were good because they were filled with love. And love is the most important part of ‘us’. It’s the part that I will never forget.

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clarity and direction, Discovery, enlightenment, living and growing

Saying Yes to Me

It’s finally sinking in. When we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else. I use to think it was possible to say yes to everything. But the everything I was saying yes to, didn’t include myself.

For some, putting others first becomes so important that they lose sight of what they themselves need. This has certainly been true for me.

I use to think that by putting others first and saying no to my own needs I was living some kind of higher calling.

There are times when we do need to put others first. But when we do it so frequently that we start to lose sight of our own needs….that’s a problem.

What happens when the only person we say no to is ourselves?

I love to help. It gives me great satisfaction and makes my life feel meaningful. And helping others is good. It’s what we all should do.

I am a caregiver. It’s every inch of who I am. When I don’t have someone that needs care, I find myself seeking out ways to help others.

Here’s the thing though. Need is everywhere. It is easy to be distracted by the immense needs around us. But what about the needs within us? Even those who love to help sometimes need to help themselves.

Turning that helping hand inwards can seem foreign, self centered even. But just because something doesn’t feel familiar, doesn’t mean it’s not right. Healthy habits seem to be much harder to learn than unhealthy ones! Listening to ourselves and responding to what we need is not only healthy, it’s essential.

Sometimes we have to say yes to ourselves. I’m finally seeing that checking in with myself, seeing what I need and then helping myself to get those needs met – is something I must do.

I’ll never stop saying yes to helping others. But seeing my own needs as valuable and worthy…. that’s a step in the right direction. A step towards a healthier more balanced life, a more balanced me. It’s going to take practice though. All healthy habits do.

So these days, I’m practicing saying yes to me.

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grandparenting, living and growing, Love, new life, perspective

Mine Not Mine

It had been 23 years.

23 years since I last held a baby that was only hours old. People don’t seem to often talk about what it’s like…the moment you become a grandparent. When people hear you are going to become a grandparent, they smile a soft sort of smile and tell you, “there’s nothing like it!”.

But nobody mentioned how I might feel when I first held him in my arms. I found it to be surreal. Wonderful…and very confusing. This baby was not mine, but also somehow a part of me. As I held him, I looked over at my daughter lying in the hospital bed and my son-in-law standing beside her and I knew this baby was theirs. But the last time I had held a baby that had just been born, it was my own. Five times I held my own newborn babies and now fast forward 23 years and I was holding this little person. And he was both my own and not my own.

Holding him ignited something inside of me. Something I hadn’t felt since my last child was born. A fierce mother bear feeling bursting with a love so strong that it made me want to protect him. But he wasn’t mine to protect. Not in that mother bear sort of way at least. I was going to need to learn a new way to love and protect. A softer way. A grandmotherly way.

For the first couple of months every time I held him, I would remind myself he wasn’t mine. In case this sounds crazy, let me clarify. I knew he wasn’t mine. I did not long for him to be mine. But having raised five kids, I was familiar with one role. The role of mother. I was proficient at mothering. Mothering was a role I had lots of practice in and when that little baby was in my arms, the instinct was to mother him.

But he was mine, not mine.

He had a mom and a dad, both of whom were doing a great job. So what was my job?

I had heard of some of the grandmother job requirements….at least the stereotypes. Look matronly, wear an apron, bake cookies. Be soft, safe and comforting. Grey hair up in a bun on the top of my head. The list goes on. But much of that list was more a caricature of a grandparent than the real thing.

I had also heard things grandparents said about grandparenting. Things like: ‘It’s a second chance!’ ‘It’s like parenting but without the same stress and you get to send them home at the end of a visit!’ ‘You get to spoil them!’ And although I liked some of those ideas, they still didn’t really help me figure out what my role was supposed to be. Each time I held him, I reflected on my new title of grandmother and the role that came with it.

I would think things like: I am a grandmother to a grandson. Hmmm. Boys can be a handful. What do boys need? I had a great example with my own mom. My oldest son could be a handful when he was young. His antics would get his grandfather and uncles annoyed. But often as we were leaving their house, my mother would stop him at the front door, take his face in her hands, say his name and then tell him, “You’re a good boy!” She wasn’t negating all the annoying things he had done. She was reminding him that she saw the goodness in him too. She knew he was much more than the sum of his annoying antics. And she reminded him of what she saw in him every chance she got. That’s the kind of grandmother I want to be. I want to be there to remind him of his value. Even in those times both when he devalues himself and when the world sends him messages that could try to rob him of his value.

He’s nearly 7 months old now. I no longer struggle with my role. I’ve come to appreciate the mine, not mine status. There is a truth to it. He is mine, in that he is my grandson. He is both an extension of my husband and myself and someone new created by my daughter and her husband; he is theirs. These connections give me my status. He and I are connected, forever grandmother and grandson.

When I spend time with him I am filled with awe and wonder. It’s the same awe and wonder I felt with my own children. But I am no longer striving to raise a family. I’m able to enjoy him without the pressure of the daily responsibilities for him. It doesn’t mean I don’t worry for him. I know the world my own kids had to navigate as they grew. He will face those things as well. I hope I am able to be around for a long time, making sure that he knows he’s a good boy. As his grandmother, I see it already and I will never let him forget.

So I’m writing my own Grandmother job description. A description that includes seeing him through eyes of awe and wonder. Appreciating him and showing and telling him that his grandmother loves him. And maybe someday, the requirements might include baking cookies and my hair turning gray. But for now I’ll be content with being amazed by each new thing he does. To be a soft, safe place might just be the greatest gift I could give my grandson and any future grandchildren that come along.

The distinction of him being mine and not mine may continue to surface from time to time. But I am settling in quite happily to my new role. And like seasoned grandparents had promised, there is indeed, nothing like it!

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living and growing

2023 Awaits!

I still feel that flicker of hope when the ball drops. There is an excitement that comes with being a part of something bigger than yourself. 10..9..8..7..6..5…and suddenly the slate has been wiped clean and a fresh start awaits!

My problem is that the excitement only lasts for seconds before I’m thinking – ‘you can’t trust a new year. It isn’t like it used to be. The first 2 1/2 months of 2020 seemed hopeful and then BAM! Covid.’

2021 promised things would be better but the threat still loomed. Throw in losing 4 people I was very close to and two others I cared about…that year was rough!

2022 comes along and I found myself thinking, ‘Its got to get better, right?‘ But along came the grief that busyness had kept at bay in 2021. It demanded to be dealt with. Add in a diagnosis that, although not fatal, was life changing and 2022 became exhausting.

There were some bright spots along the way. Like when a little boy was born and with his birth I was given a new title….Grandmother. A whole new world of love opened up. Alright 2022, you weren’t all bad.

But what about 2023? I don’t trust new years anymore. I know too much. So how could I fall asleep as 2023 began and be at peace? I found I couldn’t. So I opened up my bible app. A friend had invited me to join her in a ‘read the bible in a year’ plan. The new year was less than an hour old and already I was seeking solace.

And there, almost right away, I found the word that shifted my perspective. A word that took the emphasis off of hope and put my attitude squarely in my lap. A word that allowed me to choose how I would view this new year. The author wrote about how each day, each week and each year is an opportunity for a new or fresh start. The word, opportunity, struck me as a beautiful sunrise strikes the mind and soul, helping to bring color, light and clarity into dismal thinking.

Opportunity doesn’t imply any promises. It doesn’t rely on something turning out well and it doesn’t negate the bad. But it offers possibilities. Ready and present to be believed and acted on, in any situation. Observing a beautiful sunrise doesn’t guarantee a wonderful day, but it allows for the possibility that seeing that sunrise will change your perspective of the day.

The countdown continued 4..3..2..1..Happy New Year! Covid, still ever present, rang in 2023 with us as my son had just tested positive. Yet, even that is an opportunity. A chance to greet this illness with calmness while being grateful for boosters and tests and the knowledge that 3 years brings.

As this new year unfolds, it will have its own share of ups and downs. But I’ll be looking forward to the opportunities that 2023 holds. Opportunities to try new things, to take risks and to see things from a different perspective. Holding onto the word opportunity will help me to keep an open heart and mind to the possibilities this new year holds.

So here’s to 2023 – the year of opportunities!

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appreciation, change, clarity and direction, grieving, healing, hope, living and growing, perspective, spiritual growth, struggles

2020 Hindsight

This past year caused a fundamental shift inside of me. A blanket of heaviness came to rest upon me and I could not get out from under it. Good things happened but I could only acknowledge them on a surface level.

For much of my adult life, I’ve been a hopeful person. So hopeful sometimes that I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna. When I became a Christian, that hopeful, optimistic view fused with my faith. It became a gift from God. But somehow, over this past year, that hopefulness, the optimistic person in me who thinks it will all turn out ok in the end, left. I didn’t lose my faith. I could acknowledge that God was still in control and that he wanted only good for me. But the spark that drove my faith could not be accessed.

The pandemic and all the things it changed, all the things that had to be given up and the rules that were imposed, I accepted. Some of them broke my heart, but I accepted them. I knew logically, that good things were also happening. That life, even during a pandemic, even with restrictions, could not be contained. That both good and bad things would continue to happen. But when I would try to acknowledge the good, it was truncated, always seen and felt under that blanket of heaviness.

Even on New Year’s Eve, when those on Facebook were posting their hopes that 2021 would be better, I could not join them in that hope. Of course, I did want it to be better but the heaviness inside of me was in charge. There was no room for hope to work it’s magic. It didn’t dare.

I went to bed expecting to sleep through the change of the New Year. Something I would have never done in the past. Yet I couldn’t sleep. I watched the ball drop, while on my phone, in bed. And after it dropped, I cried. It was an odd kind of crying, almost without tears. The thought that there were no tears left, did not escape my thinking. My heart ached from a loss I couldn’t verbalize.

The harsh realist in me has been telling me all along that I have no right to be sad. No one I loved has died from the virus. Yes we’ve had to cancel things and yes we’ve been separated from loved ones, and yes life as we know it has drastically changed, but it’s all for the greater good.

In hindsight, it was really a critic, posing as a realist, that fed the heaviness. The enemy coming in with just enough truth to make me feel compelled to buy it. And the heaviness settled in on top of me and I could not get out from under it.

Of course, the critic was not alone. He had help. Fear, anxiety and the threat of greater loss….the threat of this 2020 life being the new normal, ripped me apart and put me back together again in a way that left me unable to recognize myself.

Over the last few weeks in December, I had reached a breaking point. I was so weary of this new person I had become. I was so tired of trying to be the old me while this blanket weighed on me. My prayer life, like everything else in this year, had been affected. Over the past few weeks, my prayers, when I could get them out were simple prayers, of “help me, Lord.”

This morning, January 2, 2021, I woke up and thought I would pray before I got out of bed. That is not unusual for me but the prayers that came out of my mouth were. “Thank you, Lord! Thank you for the million ways you love me! Thank you for the thousands of opportunities you give me to love you back!”

That prayer just filled my head. I wasn’t thanking the Lord as I had been – out of the knowledge that he deserved it. This was spontaneous as if it came from somewhere else. And there was a song to it, a lightness, that I have not felt since before the pandemic began.

And I began to wonder, had my hope been restored? And the funny thing is, even asking myself that question confirmed for me that it had. I know we are not out of the woods yet. But I am hopeful that I can now live better in the midst of this.

Hope is a powerful agent against fear and anxiety and loss, both real and imagined. Hope gives me words. It gives me vision that allows me to see beyond the darkness.

I’m not so hopeful that I think everything will be unicorns and rainbows from now on. But I am seeing and feeling things differently~ the weight of that heavy blanket is not noticeable. Perhaps it’s still there and will rear it’s ugly head again. I have no doubt it will try. But suddenly I can see the good that’s happened in the past year and enjoy it. I can honestly appreciate it without the heaviness sucking the life out of it.

My heart welcomes back hope and plans to do all it can to not only help it grow back to what it was, but to help it grow stronger, deeper and more resilient than it was before.

They say hindsight is 2020. I’m grateful that hope has come in and let me look back at the year through a lens that sees both the good and bad for what they truly were.

Hope and I will be going into 2021 together. 2020 took it away but 2021 restored it. A Happy New Year, indeed.

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appreciation, change, childhood, clarity and direction, comfort, death, Discovery, dying, families, grieving, home, letting go, living and growing, perspective

Today was a hard day…

Together, my sister and I have been regularly going through and cleaning out, my parent’s house and it’s 62 years of belongings. Doing it together has been a huge blessing. Together we have shared memories, laughed at long forgotten stories and helped each other to let go.

But today was a hard day. The letting go of furniture, glassware and other objects has been a bit easier than I anticipated. But the paper….the piles and piles of papers…that is where my heart has faltered.

Both of my parents kept scads of paper memories. And I can’t let them go without looking at each one. Twice. (I’m not kidding.) The process is grueling and painstaking. Each time I see their handwriting, I am reconnected to them. Each accolade they’ve received makes me proud of them. It hurts to let it go. I don’t want to forget and I fear that without the paper reminders it will all slip away.

Of course, I know this is not entirely true. I know I don’t need to remember every detail. But I want to. I want to wrap my arms around it all, assimilate it into my heart and mind and never let it go.

But I do let it go. At least most of it. However, I have found that letting go of something physically, does not mean you are released from it. At least not right away.

My mother has made it easier. She has entrusted her home and all of her belongings to my sister and I. She has told us to do what we want with it. Most of it no longer holds her heart. I’m grateful for the release she has gifted us with. Grateful that she knows our hearts will honor hers.

But it’s my Dad’s stuff that had me struggling today. He did not release me as my mother has. And knowing how important his papers were to him, makes them take on importance to me. Perhaps he didn’t even remember he still had some of them. Perhaps he never expected me to struggle over it like I do. No doubt, if he had thought of it before he died, he would have cleaned the whole place out himself. Yet he did not, so I must find a way to release myself.

Figuring out what matters, what must be saved, even if only for my heart’s sake, is a challenging task. Caring for my parents has been a privilege I have always welcomed, even in it’s most challenging moments. But caring for them has always included THEM. But without them in it, their home that was once alive and full of love, is slowly becoming an empty shell. A museum of memories. I’m learning that memories, even warm and happy ones, can be crippling. It feels strange to long for what was, while simultaneously discarding what is left of it.

Today was a hard day. But not a terrible one. The tears that welled up, helped to clear my vision. I am reminded that loving hard means letting go will also be hard. It’s the cost of loving. My Dad doesn’t care about the stuff he left behind. And I need very little of that stuff to remember him.

Today was a hard day. But it ends with me finding the release I was seeking. And that, makes a hard day, worthwhile.

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change, childhood, comfort, death, Discovery, dying, enlightenment, families, grieving, healing, home, letting go, living and growing, mourning, moving on, new life, struggles

“And even in our sleep….”

Have you ever noticed that when things happen in life…graduations, births, deaths, moving….they never seem to happen one at a time? That’s been true for me, at least.  Big life events are crowded into a small time period, often with more than one big thing happening at once.

Processing gets lost in these times. That’s where sleep comes in – assuming you can sleep. Our dreams take over when our waking days fail us. At night, when all is quiet, our thoughts are exposed while dreaming.

And so it has been for me.

I heard a quote recently, that was new to me. It spoke to this experience of pain exposing itself while we sleep.

The poet Aeschylus said, “And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

And so this season has been just that. Awake, I function.  I laugh.  I enjoy.  I work. In sleep though, that which can no longer be ignored, demands it’s own time.

In sleep, I weep.

The last three months have been so full.  My youngest daughter graduated college. I moved my mother into an assisted living and along with that I have begun the process of dealing with my childhood home. The reality of my mom being gone from my life, some day soon, rests on the horizon. One of my daughter’s will be getting married in less than a year. She will move out and begin a new life. There is plenty to keep me busy.

Looking ahead, In the fall I will begin to work three days a week. I have done two days for the last two years but three feels like a big increase. I will still be caring for my mom…still working….still planning a wedding…still running a household…still being a wife, mom, friend…you get the idea.

But honestly, during the day, I tell myself everyone has to do this kind of stuff, everyone has these experiences….it’s just life. Deal with it. And I do.

But my dreams speak to feelings too deep to express in the light of day. Sadness, weariness, and fear. And loss. Both real and imagined.

Last night’s dream found me in my parent’s house. Lately this is the new backdrop for all my dreams. Realtors were emptying out the house. I had spent two weeks right outside the house, with my mother. I did not want to go inside. But finally I did and I saw that it was almost done. Furniture was being moved out, everything was sold. And I laid down on a grassy area (yes, inside the house!) and sobbed. Curled up into myself, I couldn’t stop sobbing. Realtors tried to talk to me. They offered me already sold pieces of furniture to try and get me to stop crying. I looked at the items but I recognized none of it. I tried to find my childhood bedroom but the entire house was foreign to me. And this made me weep more. Finally, I decided I must stop crying. I stood up, wiped my eyes and left.

Last week’s dream was the same. In their house again but it was Christmas Eve. But not like I remembered Christmas Eve’s to be….this one was complicated, uncomfortable and again, involved crying.

And so it goes.

I know many go through losing parents and perhaps even childhood homes. I know they survive it. But still my heart worries….

I will learn from it. I will get through it and I’m counting on that grace from God that the poet mentioned. And I know that when my mom does die, that my waking world and my sleeping world will merge. The pain will no longer be contained within dreams.

But for now, I’m grateful for the sleeping world as it does its work at opening my heart to the wisdom and grace that change and loss produce. Even in our sleep.

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appreciation, change, clarity and direction, comfort, death, dying, enlightenment, eternal life, families, honesty, hope, letting go, living and growing, Love, mourning, new life, peace, perspective, spiritual growth, struggles

Living in the Valley

I moved to the valley, eleven years ago when my father first got sick.  Six years ago, he died.  I thought at some point after his death I would move out of the valley.  Instead, my mother, after years of caring for my Dad, got sick and my life in the valley continued.

You probably know this valley.  It’s the same one mentioned in Psalm 23….”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  Yeah, that valley.

I chose to move here years before I understood where I was moving to.  Back when I was young and had no idea of what it would cost me. I knew I wanted to stay in the same city as my parents.  My plan always was to care for them, when the time came.

The funny thing about moving to the valley is that you don’t necessarily realize you’ve moved until you’ve lived there for a while.  The move is both gradual and sudden.  Your loved one ages and you start to help in little ways.  A sudden illness or injury and you help out a bit as they recover.  What you don’t know at the time, is that sudden injury or illness is starting a chain of events that would have overwhelmed you had you ever realized your address had just changed and there was no moving back any time soon.

We all know what valleys look like.  They are low places, with shadows that hang over on all sides..  And these low places are filled with things most of us try to avoid.  Like fear and death. In the valley, fear takes on a life of it’s own…it has a form and a shape and it looks like death.  The threat of death, is always lurking in the shadows.  And then there’s the bone wearying tiredness and overwhelming and sometimes debilitating sense of loss, along with a need to always be on guard for the next problem.

In the valley you learn to fight.  Against ignorance…your own and others.  You fight against your nightmares, which threaten to become reality.  You fight to do what’s right. You fight against yourself when you want to quit and with others when they want you to quit.  The valley can be an exhausting place.

With all the lows of the valley, one might think it is a place to avoid.  Certainly anyone who chooses to live there can’t be right in the head!

But here’s the thing….there is beauty in the valley.  Beauty you can’t see anywhere else. There’s a beauty in the valley that transcends even what a mountain top view can offer. And the company in the valley is the reason for the view.  Psalm 23….The psalm that talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, also gives a promise.  And it’s the promise that provides the beauty.

“Yea,though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…..”.

Early on in the valley, I feared evil.  I was terrified by it.  Death was evil.  It was the enemy that you knew would win in the end, but that you would fight against with all your might.  The exhaustion that comes with fighting an enemy that is guaranteed to win is not only exhausting, it’s foolish.

I was controlled by my fears until I met Submission.   Submitting to the reality of our inability to control when someone dies moves you from a very dark valley, to a new valley where there is beauty and potential….right in front of you, that you are now freed up to see.  Submission is not giving up.  It’s not laying down the fight.  But it is recognizing what you can and can’t control.  Its choosing when and where to fight.  It allows you to see who the real enemy is.

Sometimes the enemy is ourselves…Fear is everywhere in the valley.   Left to our own devices, fear can overtake us.  But when I remember that the Psalm promises….”YOU are with me”...the fear is tamed and in the best moments, it is vanquished.

That YOU it mentions, is the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  I don’t just have a good friend or family member with me…..(though praise God when I do)……I have the God of the Universe with me!  He reminds me that even though I live in the valley, the valley isn’t all there is.  I’m choosing to live here for a time, so that the people I love don’t have to walk through this place alone.  Walking alongside someone who is in the valley, has eternal significance.

God knows how we look at death.  He knows how death and the fear of death motivates our choices.  He knows we need him beside us to walk though this valley.  When we freely and willingly go through the valley so someone else won’t be there alone, we are doing exactly what He has done for us.

And that is what love does.  It comes alongside.  It sits with us in the mess that the end of life can bring.  It is a place filled with loss and sadness.  They grieve and you grieve with them.  You grieve for the pain they feel.  For who they were and what has been lost. Their address has changed since coming to the valley and it makes them disoriented.  You remind them, no matter where they live, whether it’s in a place they’ve always known, or a dark valley or in heaven…they are loved.  You are the physical hands and feet of Jesus as they journey to what’s waiting for them, at the other side.  It’s an opportunity to bring light to the shadows and love to dark places.  And that love, makes it all worthwhile.

So these days, if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me in the valley.  I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying, but I won’t regret a moment spent here.  For although the walk is shadowed by death, the path is filled with life and love.

 

 

 

 

 

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appreciation, change, clarity and direction, Discovery, enlightenment, families, inertia, living and growing, perspective

How $25 Changed Me

It seemed so simple at first.  Give each of my (adult) kids and my husband and I, $25 at Christmas time.  $25 with a catch, that is.  We each had to spend it on someone else.  Someone who had a need.   We distributed the $25 on December 1st.  We had 25 days to find a worthy cause to give our money towards.   And we agreed that on Christmas day we would share with each other where we had given the money.

There were no rules, other than you had to see a need and give the $25 away.

Seemed simple enough.

But what I learned through this process was unexpected and transformative.

I thought I would have no trouble giving my $25 away.   I assumed that there is need all around me and that within the first week, the money would be gone.  Instead I discovered that I live a truly insulated life.  That someone with obvious need, is not constantly in front of me, just waiting to be handed money.   I live a comfortable life, surrounded by other people, who even when they struggle, do so, pretty comfortably.

The first couple of weeks went by and I was chill.  I was certain that some type of need would present itself to me.  So I waited.   But nothing appeared.  Sure there was the Salvation Army bell ringers…I ran into them every time I went to the grocery store.  But I already give to them.  I thought about dropping the $25 into the kettle and being done….it’s more than I usually give and I could be done!  But no, it seemed too easy.

By week three, I was really paying attention to the world around me.  I started to accept the idea that I would need to find a cause to donate to instead of a person to hand the money to.  An ad came on TV for the American Cancer Society.  I know too many who have lost the battle to cancer.   This could be a worthy recipient.  But online giving seemed too easy.  So I watched and waited.

During week 4, I saw a program on TV about Yemen.  The children.  The famine.  The heartbreak.  I did more research on Yemen and was reduced to tears.  This was worthy.  But $25 seemed so little.  Ineffective against all they face.  But here’s the irony.   Had I not committed that $25 to give away, I wouldn’t have given anything towards Yemen relief.  Not a penny.  In light of that, I recognized that $25 was pretty good.  It still took me till Christmas Eve day to make my decision.   Yemen would get the $25.

But getting to Yemen, if you will, was a challenging process.   This experience revealed to me how influenced I was by my early years of marriage.  With 5 kids and only my husband’s salary, we were broke.  When you are broke, giving money away isn’t an option.   When we gave, it was usually to a family member in greater need than ourselves.  We were, more often than not, the recipients of people’s generosity.  They saw our need and gave.  We were grateful.  And for that and other reasons, we gave back.  But with no money to give, we gave our time.  And a pattern emerged.   Giving my time became part of the fabric of who I was.  I was generous with my time and gave freely.  Sometimes I gave too much.  But I gave my time because it was what I could offer.

Fast forward 30 years and money isn’t so tight.  There is extra.  Or there could be.   But I still behave like there isn’t.   Extra money gets funneled towards nice things or helping my kids. Until that $25 showed up.   It opened my eyes to the fact that things have changed.   Just being able to hand 8 people $25 and say, “give it away’ is an indication that I am no longer broke.  So what to do with this new insight?

I recognized that giving to family isn’t bad, but perhaps I needed to expand my idea of family.   Those 2 year olds in Yemen, with arms and legs that were pencil thin….my tears were telling me, they are family too.  And I find myself heading into the new year with a broader perspective of need.  A deeper understanding that I could and should do more.  Not just with my time, but with my money too.

As my husband and I gathered with our kids and heard about how they spent their $25, I realized I wasn’t the only one who found the process difficult.  So with anything that is difficult, the only solution is to practice until it becomes easier.   We will be doing this again next year, though we decided Nov. 1st is a better date to start.

In only 25 days, that $25 gave me a fresh perspective.  And it enlarged my heart.  Now that’s time and money well spent!

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families, living and growing

Transforming Love

“It’s been a slow but steady change. Something that bordered on indifference had transformed into investment and caring. An awakening awareness. 6 years ago my Uncle Ed died. His death, which came a year after my Aunt Mary’s death, shattered my father. He was the oldest of 4 siblings. He had lost his youngest brother years ago. But it was the recent death of his brother and sister, that broke him. The man who had always played the role of the big brother had no siblings left to care for and protect. He struggled with the injustice of them going before him. The consummate big brother had lost his purpose.

My Uncle Ed and my Dad had for many years, lived within a 40 mile radius of each other. They got together often, talked on the phone regularly and were deeply invested in each other’s lives. Each had children of their own and tried to get these cousins together on a regular basis.

Some of my siblings developed, early on, deep and lasting relationships with these “Framingham Convery’s” as we called them. My relationship with them was different. There were six Framingham cousins in all. Three of them were quite a bit older than me, closer to my own siblings ages. But I had one cousin a year older than me, one a year younger and one two years younger. And for most of our childhood we had the type of relationship children have when they feel forced to play with one another. I liked them more than I disliked them and as we all got older we came to like each other even more and let our own insecurities go.

But the overall indifference I felt, remained. Until their father died. Having their dads brother as my dad, I knew what they had lost. I understood the impact. Both men were larger than life. Both left a huge vacuum that time and space could not fill. My dad died just over a year after his brother. And my understanding of exactly what their loss felt like, grew.

And as that understanding grew, my indifference began to be transformed into something new. The indifference had not been born out of dislike but rather stemmed from the busyness of life. For our entire lives, our fathers updated us all on each other’s lives. No real investment was necessary. I could listen as my father would recite to me all he had learned about each of my cousins from his latest phone call. I could smile or be sad for them, whichever was appropriate and then go on with my life.

Until there were no more updates to rely on. And these people, this small band of Convery Framingham’s began to grow in importance to me. Why? Because THEY KNEW. They understood the depth of my loss. We had a shared history that I could no longer allow to languish on the sidelines of indifference. Slowly and surely I began to care. Indifference gave way to curiosity. Not a gawking kind of curiosity but the kind that develops as one starts to see the value another holds.

Each year since their dad died, my Framingham cousins have held a fund raiser around St Patrick’s day to raise money for a scholarship in my uncles name. And each year I have gone. Our dads both loved their Irish heritage and the day that allowed them to celebrate it. It’s a warm time and as the years go by, it feels less and less sad and more and more of a tribute to exactly what those two men would have wanted. The tribute goes well beyond the Irish celebrations because the real tribute is the growing relationships. It would have delighted both of them.

This year I noted a change when I went. I always enjoy it and have looked forward to it from its beginning. But this year, I felt something new. I felt at home. Completely relaxed. No pretense. No walls built up from years of indifference. I felt a deep abiding appreciation and a deepening curiosity. These people MATTER! I need to know more about them. I WANT to know about their lives. I feel that I have been given a gift……a gift stemming from the love two brothers had for each other. Finally I was open to it being passed down in a way that transformed my heart. My cousins have experienced this too…I can see it and feel it when I am with them.

I know my dad and my uncle are smiling down at us….glad we finally understand what they knew, all along. These growing relationships reconnect us with a part of ourselves that was lost when our dad’s left this earth. But connecting with each other isn’t just about holding onto to something we have all lost. Its bigger than that. This connecting transforms us. It takes us off the path of indifference and puts us on a path of deep, abiding love. That’s a transformation worth celebrating and a tribute to the special love that began long ago. A love that transforms.

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