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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addictions, decluttering, diet, healing, hope, inertia, letting go, living and growing, mourning, moving on, new life, peace, perspective, struggles, Uncategorized, will power

De-cluttering – Letting Go of the Inertia

Why does inertia have so much influence over our lives?   What is it that can make us want to do something for a long, long time and yet we just don’t?   I blame inertia but I can’t seem to put my finger on what causes the inertia.   Sometimes it’s as simple as a bad night’s sleep.   The next day is spent just trying to stay awake.   But other times, when lack of sleep isn’t to blame, why don’t I do the things I say and think that I want to do?

Some of the things are simple….pick up that piece of trash on the floor….umm, no, thanks…I will instead choose to walk by it 5, 10 or perhaps 25 times before I finally decide to take the half of second it needs for me to deal with it.  But as soon as I take care of it, I feel better.  Funny that such a simple thing can bring relief yet I don’t choose to simply pick it up, the first time I see it.  What gives??

Then there’s the bigger things….projects, jobs, dreams….I get where some of that inertia comes from.   These things require time and effort.   They may require skills I don’t yet have, connections with people I don’t yet know.   Maybe I don’t want to start one more thing that I might not finish.   Maybe I’m afraid I’ll fail.  Maybe deep down I don’t really want to do it or maybe I think it’s not worthy of my time.

I’m trying to de-clutter my life these days.   Honestly, I started the process 16 years ago but with five small kids at the time, my attention was often diverted elsewhere.   And as kids grow, de-cluttering means getting rid of the past.   That’s hard.  For a long time I found it impossible to let stuff go.

So over the last year I started looking at de-cluttering in a different way.   It wasn’t just about getting rid of stuff….although I have doggedly been doing that.  I started in January with de-cluttering addictions.   First to sugar, and most recently caffeine.   Controlling the will and ultimately changing what the will wants is a long slow process.  It takes a lifetime.  But I’ve learned it is possible.

Then I challenged my lifelong distaste (bordering on hatred actually) of exercise.  I started exercising most days, last summer.   But then the cool weather kicked in and I quit making the effort.   I started again this past summer and learned the difference between doing something because you should and doing something because you want to.   The longer I did it the more benefit I started to see and slowly, very slowly, I began to want to do it because it makes me feel better.

With each victory over my old stubborn will of downright refusal, I felt lighter….slightly less cluttered.   But inertia is still the enemy.   It whispers how busy i am – there can’t be time to exercise….how deprived I am…so many foods you can’t eat!   It tells me other things matter more.  Some days I listen to those whispers.   Most days now, I listen a lot less.

All this makes me wonder….has inertia ever been a problem for you?   Do certain circumstances provoke it in you?   How do you move beyond it?  I’d love to know.

 

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childhood, comfort, death, dying, healing, home, hope, living and growing, moving on, peace, school, Uncategorized

Stepping Back to Move Forward

About a year ago, I received an invite to an Elementary school class reunion.  Seems harmless enough, right?   But for me it churned up a whole host of feelings I had thought I had buried.   Here was my problem.   I had HATED elementary school.   With the exception of Kindergarten and 6th grade, the years in between had felt like hell to me.   I had very few positive memories related to school and none of the good memories included my classmates.  Saying no to that invite would be easy.

But it nagged at me.   The fact that the emotions from 40 years ago were as strong as ever was a shock and a disappointment.   I thought I had moved on.   Middle school was ok and high school was excellent.   Since then, I had created a very happy life with many good friends, a great marriage and wonderful children.   How could something that was long over, still matter so much?

Elementary school didn’t start off horribly.   Kindergarten was a blast.   First grade was ok.  But a series of events happened in the summer after first grade that set in motion, changes I couldn’t control as a seven year old.

In the summer before 2nd grade my paternal grandparents both died.   Within 8 weeks of each other.   This had a devastating effect on me.   At the age when most kids are grappling with death and what it means, I was given a double whammy.   I became convinced that both my parents were also going to die.   For some reason, I firmly believed that I was the only one who could stop them from dying.   I believed a monster would come to the house and that if I wasn’t home, the monster would take my parents.     I couldn’t convey any of these fears to the adults in my life.   I could only take action.   Often I would start to walk to school and then run back home in a panic.   The crossing guard would come to my house and march me back onto the path towards school.   I became more resistant.   Soon, my mother had to walk me to school.   I had been walking myself since I was 5 years old so this was quite a set back – for her and for me.   And with my peers, it was the beginning of social suicide.

Eventually it got to the point where my mother had to not only walk me to school but stay in the class with me.   If she tried to leave, I would start to sob and cling to her.   Eventually the 2nd grade teacher took a stand and told my mother that she must leave and that she would take care of things.   Her sternness worked.   I gave in and stayed and my mother left.   But those bouts of crying in front of my classmates had done permanent damage.  I was labeled a cry baby.   I was ostracized and the regular brunt of jokes and teasing – for the next five years.  Not by everyone.  A few were kind.   Many were neutral – in that they didn’t participate in the teasing but they didn’t speak up either.   I don’t blame them.  Social hierarchy is a formidable thing to overcome when you are young.

In third grade, one popular girl who was still playing with me, told me something devastating.   One day she just said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be seen playing with you anymore.”   Wow.   Sadly, even as a child, I understood.  I was seen as the weak link.   A handful of loud, but popular kids had made it clear, it was not cool to be my friend.   The elementary school years became a lonely, unhappy time.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I was able to express to my mother, why I hadn’t wanted to go to school in 2nd grade.   By then, I was in a much bigger school, with a wide variety of kids and the opportunity to be fully myself.   I was no longer lonely, no longer a cry baby and I certainly didn’t need or want the friendships that I was so desperate for in elementary school.  Life moved on and I was grateful for it doing so.

And then that reunion invite appeared.

And although I initially denied what I must do, eventually I knew I needed to go.   I needed to forgive them.   To release both myself and them from our old roles.   It was a dual invite.   The past was inviting me to remember and God was inviting me to walk back into those memories with Him at my side.  He knew the hurt I had carried, even if I denied it.  He knew that for me to move forward in this area, that I would need to step back.  God reminded me that if I had changed, that it was very likely, that they had too.   I knew if I had met any of them, today -without knowing them from the past, that I would probably like them.   And they would probably like me.

I did go.   Granted I needed a glass of wine, as soon as I stepped in the door, to help me not appear as tense as I felt.   It was awkward.   I knew I could ask my husband to go with me.   That he would bridge things for me and make me feel stronger.   But I went alone.   Because I needed to put my past to rest.   The much older me had the strength and the words the seven year old me didn’t have.

Here it is almost a year later.   And as I now have some of these early classmates as friends on Facebook, I am reminded.   They too, aren’t who they were when they were little.   I wish my elementary school experience had been different.   But I am no longer angry or hurt about it.   It taught me that it is very important to be able to express yourself.   I have learned that the underdog needs a friend.    And I acknowledge that many of us are unkind to others at some point in our lives.   Perhaps the greatest lesson learned is that building yourself up, at someone else’s expense comes at a great cost to both parties.

And now, I want to be connected to them.   We are the same age and of the same time period.   We remember things that others haven’t experienced.   This matters.  I’m actually looking forward to the next reunion; to discovering more of who these people from my past have grown into.   The next reunion won’t have the same cloud over it for me, I now welcome the chance  to step back and move forward.  🙂

 

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comfort, death, dying, eternal life, families, home, hope, living and growing, military, mourning, moving on, music, peace

Major Tom

Shortly before my dad died, a song came on the radio.    I hadn’t heard it in many years.  It immediately struck me that this song would become connected to my fathers death.

https://youtu.be/VNYFsOAmuFc  Major Tom – Coming Home by Peter Schilling.

Having served in the Air Force, my father retired from the military as a Major.  Even 40+ years after his retirement he was still introducing himself as Major Tom.    I remember his pleasure when this song came out in 1983.

Several days passed after my hearing it on the radio.   My siblings and I had started sleeping over my parents house in anticipation of my father dying.   We did not want to leave him and my mother to walk through that valley alone.

Four, three, two, one – Earth below us
Drifting, falling – Floating weightless
Calling, calling home……..

The night before my dad died, my brother and I were sleeping over my parent’s house.   I had woken up around 3pm to see if my father needed his meds.   He was alive but quiet, I decided to leave him alone.   I went back to sleep.   Shortly after 5 am, I was startled awake.  A sense of urgency caused me to jump up and rush into the room where my father was.   I slipped beside his bed and listened.   My brother had been in a recliner beside my dads bed.   He rested his hand on my fathers chest and we both looked for signs of life.    We quietly called his name.    For the first time in our lives, there was no response.

Back at ground control -There is a problem
“Go to rockets full” – Not responding
“Hello, Major Tom – Are you receiving?
Turn the thrusters on – We’re standing by”
There’s no reply……..

My brother assumed the awful role of going to tell my mother.   While he was waking and then telling her, I had a chance to one last time tell my father thank you.   To tell him, he had been a good dad.   I told him I loved him and I was going to miss him.   As my mother entered the room, I left to call my other brothers and sister.   And so began the truly, most exhausting day of my life.

Earth below us – Drifting, falling
Floating weightless – Coming home….

By mid afternoon, I arrived home.   The mortician had come and taken my dads body, calls had been made, events set in motion.    The trip to the florist has been forever stamped in my mind.   As my sister and I sat there trying to pick out flowers that would somehow express the magnitude of our love for this man, I was overwhelmed with exhaustion.   Every movement and thought was an exercise of sheer will power.  My physical body and my emotions were tapped of all strength.  When I finally arrived home I laid down on my bed, too tired to even cry.

As I laid there, I sent a friend a text telling her what had happened.   Her texted response, “Oh, Beth, I’m so sorry!” was spoken into my heart as if she had said it out loud to me. The sincerity of those words had an effect on me that I still can not describe.   My broken heart responded with a relieving flood of tears.

Desperate for something to soothe the pain, the song I had heard a few days before came to mind.  I found it on youtube and within minutes was listening, and sobbing and unknowingly starting down the path to healing.

The words continued to comfort me in the days and weeks following my fathers death.   My father was like that astronaut in the song, heading into the unknown.   My Dad understood that dying would be his last mission.  He knew that he was heading into uncharted territory.   A countdown had begun.   We all knew it as we gathered around him in his last days of life.   In his last week of life, He repeatedly asked about my mother, did we know where the paperwork was?    We reminded him, he had done a good job, that he had made sure her needs would be met.   And we were here.   We would take over.   He could rest.

Far beneath the ship – The world is mourning

They don’t realize – He’s alive
No one understands – But Major Tom sees

“Now the light commands – This is my home – I’m coming home”

These lines in particular give me peace.   He is no longer here because he’s gone home.   My mind wants to war with that idea.   We are his home, it cries!   But that is not the truth.   We were part of a place he called home for 88 years but his true home, where he will spend eternity, is not here.    And I am reminded that he is very much alive.   His soul, the truest part of him, has not died.   He has gone ahead.   Not with a goodbye.   For those of us who believe, his death comes with a simple thought – ‘I’ll see you later….at home.’

 

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Uncategorized

Dad and Me

I had a revelation of sorts last week.

It happened while I was driving in my car. My brother made some cd’s right after my dad died. A collection of songs that my dad loved and ones that reminded us of him. Over a year later I’m still listening to them. But then I also have other songs I listen to. Songs that reflect my processing of his aging, dying and death.

So, there I was driving, my music was playing and I was thinking of my dad and I realized something had shifted in my thinking.

Before he died, I worried about how I would survive without him.

After he died, I discovered survival is not only possible, it’s the only viable option.

But I missed him. The loss of his physical presence was overwhelming. Some days it would be crushing and on other days it was and is, merely a dull ache.

Until last week. When I realized that through his death, I gained something I didn’t anticipate. When he was alive he was often on my mind. His influence was steady in my life. But there were moments, and stretches of time where I went about my life not thinking, consciously, too much about him.

Until he died.

As I passed the one year mark, I realized he is with me now in a way he wasn’t when he was alive. I feel him with me. Not in some sort of ghostly way. But somehow I feel like he has become a part of me, a part of my skin and my bones, my heart and my mind.

And I realize, that’s a gain.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’d take him back, in his old physical form in a flash. Without hesitation, I’d give up this new feeling for a more tangible one I can wrap my arms around.

But that’s not an option. The realization of what I’ve gained, despite the loss, is a gift. It’s one I think I don’t fully appreciate yet because it’s new. I was use to my old relationship with my dad. It was comfortable and safe and known.

This new relationship is more really, a relationship with myself. All that he has instilled in me, now seeks to be given life. He is not here to protect me, to save the day, to provide for me. I must do it without him. But he didn’t leave me empty handed. He left both my hands and my heart full.

I feel compelled to act where he once would have. I am still completely me, but now, I am also more.
And since the only choice I have in this matter, is how I respond to this gift, I choose to embrace it.

Even if the return of the embrace is only felt in my heart.

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