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, families, Love, mothers

Mom

I don’t know how to talk about her.   I never have.   My love for her grows up from such a deep place within me that words have always seemed elusive.  Few others matter as much as her.  Still, the words to describe how I feel about her, seem to slip away before I can pin them down.   Perhaps others might feel this as well?  There’s just something about mothers that make them so significant that they evade definition by the sheer magnitude of their importance.

I used to write about my Dad all the time.  Especially when he was alive.  Birthdays, Father’s Day and any other holiday that might require a gift of words.    It was easy to gift him this.  I could write pages about him.   The words flowed easily and often.   He was larger than life.   And he loved the words.  Loved to hear how he was seen.  How he was loved.

My mother asked me once, why I didn’t often write things about her?   She misunderstood it, I think, to mean that she meant less.   But the opposite was true.   She meant so much more, that my heart wouldn’t allow me the words to describe it.   She isn’t larger than life, she is life.

But she’s turning 86 this week.  And I know I can’t avoid it forever.   I don’t want the first words I write about her to be a eulogy.   I want her to KNOW.   So here is what feels like a feeble attempt at describing what she means to me.

I think, perhaps I can explain some of it through who I have become by being loved by her.  If you are my husband, or child and you are sick.   I am there for you.   I will climb mountains, sacrifice both my own health and my sleep, pray deeply and spare no expense…to do all within my power to restore you to health.  I will not think twice about this.   I consider it my greatest honor and my duty to be able to love you.  For when you are hurt I am hurt.   This I learned watching my mother.

Thinking back to the times when I was sick during my childhood, I can still hear my father in the middle of the night, waking up my mother….”Beverly, she’s calling you….”   I never called for him.   Always her.   She knew how to soothe.  How to comfort.   Her hands were always cool and refreshing to a fevered brow.   It seemed she could make me better just by willing it to be so.

When I grew and left home, it took me years of dealing with late night illnesses, before I stopped longing for her presence when I was sick.  It was one of the hardest things to give up when I moved away.

And my mother KNOWS things.   She always has.   Still to this day even.   “Are you alright?” she’ll ask.   I have revealed nothing, yet she knows.   I love that.   It’s an instinct she has.   Cultivated over years of having to read between the lines with her children.  And no matter her age, this instinct is as sharp as ever.

My mother is a part of everything I have become.   When I am like my dad, I am noticed.  But when I am like my mother, I am loved.  People just love her.   She’s the person you bump into in the grocery store and end up telling your life story to.   You don’t know why you did it, she didn’t ask, but something about her openness compels you.  She is a safe place to reveal yourself.   This is part of what always made her a great secret keeper!   I could tell her anything.

The funny thing about my mother is that she doesn’t even grasp how much she is loved.  She struggles with feelings of unworthiness.  Her life long focus has always been so much on others that her world is off kilter when the emphasis is on her. She often thinks people are catering to her out of the goodness of their hearts.   When the truth is they are responding to her in love and with love – a love that is just for her.

I can’t change this about her, but I have tried.  I’ve tried to impress upon her the significance she plays in her children’s lives…but she can’t hold on to it.  She struggles to understand her own great worthiness. Recently she said to me, “Won’t you be so glad when I’m gone?   You’ll have some free time!”   These words hurt, but she doesn’t mean them to.   She hates to impose.  Hates to take.   And she so values me and my time that taking up some of it feels like a tremendous burden to her.

Will I be happier when she’s gone?  Not a chance.   There is not one moment of time that I have spent with her that I would exchange for something else.   And I know, no matter how many more moments I have, there will never be enough time with her.   I will always want more.

I grew up being told by her (repeatedly!!), “You should never hate anyone.”   I was the dramatic child who hated everyone and everything when frustrated.   Her words drove me crazy.   Didn’t she understand, some things deserved to be hated?  But I regularly hear her saying that in my head these days and the older, less drama driven version of myself, recognizes the beauty in what she tried to impress upon me.   She was right.  Little did I know, she was shaping how I see others.

But she has also shaped how I see myself.  I showed her something I wrote the other day.  She read it, smiled and responded with , “You are really something!!”  And when she says it, I believe it.  I feel like something.   Who else on this planet thinks of me and thinks, “She is really something!!” in the way my mother does?  All blinders to my faults, seeing only the good…..when she says it, you know it’s only a part of who you are but she sees the best part.   And it makes you want to be even better.

My mother has always been a kind, gentle soul.  A fierce protector of those she loves.  There have been moments though, where she has had to rise to tough challenges.   Like the time when I was hit by a car at 16.   My leg was shattered.  One bone in a million little pieces and the other coming right out of my leg.   My foot torn up so much that the bones could be seen.  My mother entered the emergency room and the doctor put her to work.  I don’t know where the rest of the staff were that day, but while I lie awake on a table, the doctor and my mother proceed to clean my leg.  It was a slow, painstaking process.   I know I was in agonizing pain but I don’t remember the pain.  What I remember from that moment was my mother.  She was a rock!  She assisted the surgeon, did everything he asked and did it well.  How on earth, did she do it?  I still don’t know.   But the image of the strength she portrayed that day has stayed with me ever since.

Yes, she’s a kind, gentle soul who did whatever she needed to do for those she loved.  I’ve been the beneficiary of that love and devotion my entire life.  So when I’m spending time with her, I’m not thinking about where I might rather be or what else I could be doing.  Instead, I’m thinking….I love this woman.   Every moment with her is a gift.  And it’s a gift I can never get enough of

Happy Birthday Mom.  I love you.

 

 

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Love, marriage

Milestones

This week my husband and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I’m proud of this milestone we’ve hit. And I’m grateful that we not only made it to 30 years but that we made it here strong. Intact. Together. Truly happy, together.

Marriage can be hard. Insanely so sometimes. But it’s also the most satisfying thing on the planet when you get it right. And miraculously, overall, we have gotten it right. Which is amazing when you consider we were kids when we met. I was 16 and Scott was 17. A high school junior and senior. One date, led to us going out. And breaking up. And going out. We went out for 3 years and and that was followed by a sometimes rocky, 3 year engagement.

We were strangers when we started dating. And in some ways, we remained strangers for quite some time. Preconceived ideas about how relationships work and who the person is that you are dating can get in the way of truly knowing each other. We started out as opposites and we still have some basic characteristics that are very different from each other. But over the years we have learned to appreciate and value those differences. And in many ways, after 30 years, we have become alike.

Scott discovered Jesus 31 years ago. A year later I joined him on that journey. And for me, it was my marriage that made me open my heart to Christ. I watched Scott pursue this new way of life…I saw him embarking on a journey without me. And I determined I would go too, so we could stay on the same path. Eventually my faith became my own. Real and powerful. But it was my devotion to my marriage that made me take the first step.

Scott and I, always seem to chose the hard thing. We haven’t done it on purpose but its one of the ways that we are alike. We had responsibility even before we had kids, being the house parents to 9 adults with intellectual disabilities for 3 years. Then we bought a house and invited family to stay with us….got a dog, and before we knew it, had kids. Before our first child was 3 months old we were doing foster care for hard to place teens. We decided we wanted me to stay home with the kids- which meant we were broke for years! We took in more family. We took in friends. We had more kids…..and more kids. People routinely told us they ‘didn’t know how we did it” or the less tactful ones told us we were crazy. I guess we were, but we had each other so crazy felt pretty good. Then we decided to homeschool, The craziness continued.

But we made it through it all, pretty happy and content. And I think there are some secrets to our success. One secret is laughter…we crack each other up. We are not afraid to look silly or be silly and this has saved us unnecessary heartache. Heartache is self inflicted when you take yourself too seriously.

We also have always made it a point to do kind things for each other. We go out of our way to try and make each other’s lives more comfortable. We don’t keep score, we just do for each other because the other person is our favorite person on the planet and we want them to feel that. And during those times when we don’t ‘like’ each other very much…we still do it. Because kindness has a way of changing both the giver and the receiver’s hearts.

We have learned to keep our negative thoughts about each other between ourselves. Ok, Scott was always good at this. I was not. But he taught me how my complaining about him to others was hurtful and I listened. It doesn’t mean we don’t tell each other how we feel….we do. But we stop there.

And communication….we make talking – a priority. It hasn’t always been easy. Life is insistent and annoying and constantly wars for our attention. But we fight for time together to connect and share.

We have also learned together, the power of physical touch….even when you want to be mad. Even when you are mad or the other is mad at you. We’ve learned we need to not let walls be built and touch is the perfect way to stop them from growing.

We’ve learned patience. We’ve learned to let each other keep growing, We’ve learned to actually encourage each other to grow.

We’ve learned that neither of us can be everything for the other person. Sometimes it comes close, but most of the time, we need other people in our lives too. Friends, family. Making time for them is important to us. It’s not always easy to juggle this though. 30 years into our marriage and we still long for and need time together to stay balanced and healthy. With many things on our plates – sometimes, something has to give. We try not to let it be our relationship that has to sacrifice. But sometimes, times with friends is exactly what we need.

We’ve learned to forgive each other for not being perfect. For not meeting some unrealistic ideal. And we’ve discovered the importance of forgiving when disappointed. Little disappointments can add up and cause great division, if couples aren’t careful. It has happened to us. But we’ve been fortunate. Over time we saw what was happening and made a choice to forgive. Forgiveness doesnt come easily. Often it has to be fought for. But the battle isnt against our spouse. The true battle is against ourselves and the desire to hold a grudge.

I know I am blessed. People tell me how lucky I am. To still be ‘in’ love, 30 years later. And I am. I look forward to seeing him every day…..when I wake up, when he comes home from work and the moments in between. We haven’t done this marriage thing perfectly. We’ve had our ups and downs, just like most couples have. But we started this journey, determined. Determined to make it together.

I still see my husband as the most interesting person I have ever met. I see his flaws, we know each other’s flaws better than anyone else does. But I have discovered that I love him best when I allow him to be imperfect.

Our shared faith gets big credit in our story. We started our journey without it. And although we knew we wanted to be together, before sharing a faith, our relationship was rocky. So much depended on our abilities to sustain a good attitude and the right thinking. After we came to faith we discovered we now had a foundation to build on. Faith gave us a reason, so much bigger than ourselves and our fickle humanness, to work at loving each other well.

Hey, we still can annoy each other. We can still drive each other crazy and need space from each other. But even those thoughts are more balanced now. It’s ok and actually good to have a little space now and then. It is not a poor reflection on us that we need it. But our willingness to make time for ourselves is a reflection on our greater understanding of the things that ultimately make us stronger.

We realize that many people never get to experience what we have enjoyed. We see the last 30 years as a gift. The good and the bad. The happy times and the struggles. Our lives are so intertwined we can’t imagine them separate. We’ve built something of great value.

We have seen friends struggle in their marriages and we have seen marriages end. We can understand the struggle – it hasn’t been all sunshine and happiness for us. We’ve had regrets. We’ve felt sorrow for some of the choices we’ve made over the years. When our regrets loom large, we remind each other of our successes. We determine together if there are things we can do differently, moving forward, and we strive to encourage each other towards effective change. And we pray….individually and together, remembering that it is our faith that keeps us strong.

As this week leads up to my wedding anniversary on March 6th, I’ll continue reflecting on this 30 year milestone. Our story has been full of great love. And the hard parts have been softened and made bearable by that love. Two imperfect people, choosing to walk together on a journey. Choosing each other. Choosing love.

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