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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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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