Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking back

It's the eve of the eve of the new year, and I've been lacing up my tennies to race into 2011.  I can hardly wait to put this poor old year to bed for the last time.  The other day in an attempt to write a Christmas letter, I made a list of all we've dealt with in the last year.  Then I asked E to write the letter.  Her quirky humor and succinct style will fit much better than my 'tell the whole story and try to make sense of it all' manner.

However, I thought it might be entertaining to resurrect things I've posted over the last year, beginning a year ago today:

Dec. 30, 2009
The eagles have landed.  The elder eagles, complete white pure white on the top of their heads, also known as Grampie and Thyrza.  All the preparations of the last month have come to fruition in this move from 3-4 hours away on the Olympic Penninsula to just 8 or so minutes across town.  They are, I hope (it's almost midnight) sleeping deeply in a guest suite at the Retirement Complex where they will make their new home.

 Beve and I drove to two hours down the freeway this afternoon to pick-up our weary Bug (SK) from her flight from London.  She'd slept about half-an-hour on the flight over the pole, yet still managed to regale us with story after story as we turned our car back up I-5.  When she'd asked Beve before she left what she could bring him from England, he told her, "An English accent."  And sure enough, our little Thespian made us laugh hysterically as she mimicked Liz, their day-trip tour guide.  Unfortunately, there's no way to translate that to the page, so you'll just have to take my word for how good her accent is (and how funny that Liz is!), but if you have a chance, ask SK!

My sisters--They know me, I know them, we are different, we are the same.  Here's a moment that speaks volumes (at least to me).  RE and I, who traveled together, were just about to board our much delayed plane, when the Dump and her younger son walked past, just getting to the airport for their later flight south.  We called to them, so they came over for another round of hugs before we separated again.  As we walked off, Dump yelled, "See you in June" (when RE's middle daughter gets married).  Without thinking, I hollered back, "Unless Mom dies first."  "Yeah," she said. "If only."  Then we turned and walked our separate directions.  As I sat in my seat, I thought of how we all got it--what I was saying, what the Dump answered.  Why it wasn't mean, or rude or anything else. We live inside our lives together.  We know.  We know in ways that only siblings can know, more than spouses, more than offspring, there are somethings only siblings get.  And somethings, only sisters.  And I'm glad I have mine.   No matter what, I'm glad I have mine.

All of these African trips--no, these African mission trips--have kept that continent continually before me recently.  Well, in the last few years, really.  But this week, as we look forward to this holiest of weeks, it humbles me to think of this gospel work continually going on across the world.  And it strikes me that rather than raise our palm branches and march around a church sanctuary saying, "Hosanna! Holy is He who comes in the name of the Lord," maybe we should metaphorically march around the globe, saying the same thing.  Hosanna to those who do the fistula surgeries on poor African women. And hosanna to their families who count it a privilege to work in the heat of Africa instead of sitting by a luxury pool for their spring break.

At a table today at one of our favorite restaurants, with boats rocking on their lines in the marina outside the windows, the islands dark and tempting across the bay, and gulls soaring, we talked with our friends about the events of the last weeks, the last few days.  We spoke of ministries--those that have been successful, those that seem to have sputtered  in the water just out the window.  We wondered what the heck we're doing with our lives, and if we have a chance of figuring it out on our own.  We wondered if we'd gotten it all wrong all those years ago when we thought we'd heard Him call our Name.  There have been some nay-sayers.  Some out-and-out "you're dead in the water." And even worse, "We won't help you get going again." Yep, we spoke of those times.  Times when hope left us.  Times when we thought we were alone.  Gulls flew beyond the windows.  Boats sailed.  We drank another glass or two of water.  Talked a little more.  Maybe cried some.
But suddenly--or maybe it's only that our attention suddenly focused!--something changed between us.  The air, maybe. someone else had joined us at that table. Yes, SomeOne else.  And the air changed too.  The air of our words, our attitudes, our focus.  The hope that had seemed dead between us burst forth like sun coming out from behind the clouds out the window.  Like a stone had been rolled away from a tomb.

I thought that would be the hardest thing I'd ever live through as a parent.  And, in a way, it was.  I've known many others whose sojourns in Children's Hospitals didn't end with a healthy baby, but an empty nursery.  I cannot imagine what that feels like.  I cannot imagine how a person survives the loss of one's child.  No matter how young that child is.  Or how old.  Sometimes when I think about the human body, and all the parts and intricate systems, all the bells and whistles we were created with, I'm surprised that more doesn't go wrong more often.  I mean, most of the time, babies are born healthy.  Most of the time, things work the way they should.  We grow up and live lives that have meaning.  More times than not.  And when I think about the complexity of mind, body, spirit that God gave us, I'm in awe.  It points to God Himself, even when we don't recognize Him.  I mean, no computer can match us who were made in His Image.  Yes, awe is the only proper response.

How many of us are there out there who are in this position of caring for their parents as they fail? Or their spouse's parents?  Or their spouse's parent's spouse?  Raise your hand if you're one of them. Or maybe bend your knees.  We entered this season knowing it would be hard, but not knowing how hard it would be.  And I suppose that's how it always is.  After all, what difficult thing would we ever attempt if we knew ahead of time what it would ask of us?

But the thing I keep hearing is something my friend, Sam's grandmother, told her daughter, that first desolate morning when it was so hard to be a mommy without a daughter: "You're my Sam."  My friend, definitely grieving the loss of her granddaughter, was also praising God that miraculously her daughter had been spared.  "You're my Sam."  'There's purpose in your life, sweetie.  God still intends something important for you.  He spared you.  And I love you every bit as much as you love Sam.'

Grampie looked over at me eating my sandwich from Subway (a veggie delite), and said, "Carolyn, thank you for marrying Steve.  Steve, thank you for marrying Carolyn."
Just that.  He thanked us for marrying each other.  Thanked me for becoming part of their family.  Imagine this in context of the man he used to be, a man who never did more than sign his name on cards or say, "You're great," to people he really admired.  No, my father-in-law wasn't one to wear his heart on his sleeve.  He was the epitome of the strong, silent type when it came to emotions.  But increasingly, as the filters have dropped with age and dementia, he's said what he feels, told it like he sees it.

It was a long day in a small room in a nursing home. Just like they were long days in the hospital when it was Glo lying in the bed, or Beve's mom. Or Dad.  Yes, I've sat in such rooms before.  And other than the day before Dad died, I haven't had the advantage, the gift, of final thoughts from the dying.  Nor will I--we--this time.  But we have two things.  We have each other: my siblings, some of our kids, and spouses.  We have our family, near and far to walk through these last days with us.  And, more importantly, we--the collective we that is the family she and the dad who waits in heaven for her--are in these last days with her.  We are simply in them with her.  Being with her.
So today, if she could count, here's the total:  WE'RE ALL HERE!  All five of her living children, all their spouses, all ten of her grandchildren, all their spouses.  Both her living sister-in-laws, and her one living brother-in-law.  Her important niece and family.  It's a grand total.  One she'd be flabbergasted by, and, hopefully, awed by.  I hope she'd know--I hope somehow she DOES know.  We're here because we love her. And that's the final count.  Amen.
  But what I rejoice in as I write this is that the next time I see my mother, she will be complete.  Not merely back to the full-voiced, clear-minded woman she was at the height of her brain-power on earth, but to the person God always intended her to be before the human frailties, the insecurities, fears and worries overwhelmed her essential made-in-the-image-of-God self.  I wonder who she'll be.  I wonder what a wonderful world she's discovering this day in paradise with God, her parents, my dad and the host.

Had a typical afternoon, and by typical I mean I took Grampie (and Thyrza) to the doctor.  It was in this office a few months ago, that in helping Grampie fill out paper work, I came across a section about 'sexual function.'  'Maybe you want to read this part yourself,' I told Grampie.  He shoved the paper back at me.
"No, read it to me."  So in a whisper, I asked, "Have you ever had erectile disfunction?"
"What?  You're whispering."  He said.
"Erectile Disfunction." I said.  The room stilled, I'm sure it did. 
Grampie looked at me.  "I'm 86 years old," he finally said.  "And my bride is 91."  Then he shook his hand.
"Enough said," I answered.  Really, enough said.

And this is an association that rose up to choke me this afternoon when, just 45 minutes after I'd settled J on the couch after his day-surgery to excise a cyst, he said, "I'm bleeding through my shorts."  I helped him into the bathroom and when he dropped those shorts, the blood flowed down his leg and onto the floor into a puddle.  Twenty minutes and a couple of pints later (or so it seemed), we were at the hospital, where he was opened up again, re-'packed', and now is spending the night.  It wasn't until we were told he was spending the night that I finally relaxed.  During his routine cyst removal, somehow an artery at the deepest point, was nicked, and no amount of pressure could stop the blood from flowing.

 Another day, another trip to the hospital.  Beve took J in to meet the doctor and get his bloody bandage changed.  I've become so inured of this stuff now I just sent them on their way with barely a momentary twinge of concern.  One can only handle so much, you know?  Besides, tomorrow I have to take Thyrza in for vein surgery.  I am not making this up.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure what time this surgery is.  When she told me about it, I wrote it on my calendar as 9:30, but yesterday she said it was 11.  Today she checked and said she had it written down various places as 9, 10 and 11:15.  So I'm pretty much on standby all morning.  Meanwhile, E will take J to the doctor for his daily dressing change, I'll talk Thyrza back to the vein clinic Tuesday, Jonathan to the orthopedist for his shoulder Wednesday morning and Grampie to the eye doctor that afternoon, and...well, there's no doctor on the calendar for Thursday but the week's barely begun.

I think there are a whole lot of Abrahamic moments in our lives.  We like to think that God doesn't test us, but here's this story to prove otherwise.  The reasons for His tests are not for His benefit, not simply because He can, or because He likes to jerk us around, but because something is lacking, or something is too important, or something is out of wack in our lives. And I think it's a cop-out to read this story and assume He'll always provide a ram in the thicket.  Yes, in one sense, this story is about the ultimate Lamb who takes the place of the Son.  Of course it is.  And we do well to remember Christ's substitution.

 And there you have it...a glimpse back through the year.  Without touching on everything, or even every important thing.  It is, after all, only a glimpse.  Tomorrow, even tomorrow, is for looking ahead.  With tennies tied and ready to race into whatever God has for 2011, thankful to finally, fully put this sad, sorry year behind me, once and for all.

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