What I Think About Today

There’s so many good posts out there today. There’s a lot of meaningful writing, hilarious videos, and there’s even some movies out there about Mother’s Day. But I want you to know what I think about on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it will resonate with others of you moms out there who loved your mom but she’s gone. And you can’t rest in her soft hug today. Or smell her. Or be annoyed by her. Or get advice from her. Or get her to hem your pants by asking really nicely. Not anymore.

Truth be told, I don’t love this holiday. But it is holy. Flowers, cheesy songs at church, and well meant greetings just remind me that my mom’s gone.

And yet, here’s these four daughters wanting me to feel special. They know I’m sad today and I love them more because of it. I know some look at people like me and just wonder what I am thinking on this day.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

About her.

Her hair. Her smell. Her hugs.

Her voice. Her hands. Her legacy.

Her quirks and annoying habits. The way she said my name. Nobody says it like that.

Fighting with her moments of hate and moments of love.

Laughing with her. Feeling the weight in her face when I held my first baby.

Watching her live and watching her die…

About each of the days I became a mother. How magical and painful those days were…each of those births created a new me….

About the baby I lost…

Being real with each of the girls….

What they need from me, each uniquely.

What they don’t need from me…

How they have helped me mother….

How we change each other…and the gift that is for me.

Also what they have forced me to face…in letting go of myself and keeping it all the same.

And as I watch their hands grow….

Hug them…

Smell them….

Laugh with them…

We live.

Advertisements

She would…

 

She would have been proud of us…for growth, change, accomplishments, pain…while she also worried if we were okay.

She would smile big at that new driver’s license, Anna.

Her chin would raise in support for that first golf tournament, Maile.

Her blue eyes would sparkle at how tall you are, Lydia,and she would comment on how straight your teeth are.

Her thin hand would run over your shiny, blonde hair, Claire as she pulled you into her soft hug showing her love for you the youngest.

She would widen her eyes and open her pretty mouth in wonder at how all four of you race in on your horses and ride hard to win. 

She would be glad I’m not as thin as I used to be while she clucked her tongue at the training for the marathon….shaking her head…”too much.”

Her other thin hand would rest on your shoulder Matt and rest there in the joy and the pain of the switch in sails.

She would delight in all the new great-grands born lately.

She would laugh hard at the silly family pictures we take.

She would look around at her large family and sign happily, proudly…and hope all in one breath that we are all really okay.

The Story of Place Part 2

 

The chapel was small, and there were some people in the middle aisle. We sat on the right with only two people in front of us. Sitting there quietly, I watched every person curiously. One man came was friendly and came to shake our hands, and then the service began. The pastor was an African-American woman, and she led everything. There was one pianist.

The pastor read the obituary, and then she invited friends and family to give testimony of Karen’s life. A friend went up first. She was open, smiling, sincere, and she knew a lot about this place. She met Karen through AA. They had just started volunteering at the Salvation Army together. She was sad for Karen to say goodbye. But Karen knew Jesus, her friend said, she knew Jesus, and she is with Jesus now. She smiled and returned to her seat.

The man that had greeted us went up next. He had known Karen through AA also for a long time. He said she was his friend. He said he loved her. And he said she was so frustrating at times. He knew her too well and he could always tell when she was using again. He said it was hard to be with her sometimes. He said, “But she was clean and sober the last three years. She was clean and sober when she died and that was a victory. And she loved God…like a child. And she was with God now; and her struggle is over. ” He sighed in relief and sat down.

I felt heavy. Most of the places Karen had been were places I had never been to until now. Hard places of addiction, places of sorrow, places of depression, poverty, and illness. What a gift she gave me to not be in those places with her.

A cousin went up to talk about Karen. She was trying her hardest to be positive. The strengths she found to speak of came with details behind them of how much Karen must have hurt her family…the family she came from. They all looked nice enough. It was all weighted. Every word.

My head spun around my whole life to try to see hers. She was my flesh. She is gone. I had already said goodbye to my adopted mother with the sorrow and pain of a child and I miss her so very dearly every day even now. But, now. I was saying goodbye to the one who bore me into this place.

My heart was heavy, but there on that pew, nothing was hanging out there for me anymore. I felt myself open-wide. Open. I knew it all. I knew she was too young to have me. I knew there was something broken in her life. I knew the rest of her adulthood was filled with addiction and pain with some points of light. I knew she was probably using when she was writing me letters. I knew she had somehow made peace, made friends, and made this place her church. I knew that her story and my story and our places were coming full circle in this moment to find redemption in the bigger story of God in us.

After the last prayer, the man who spoke of Karen in the service came straight to me. He knew me.  He held my hand and said, “I know it must have been a very hard decision to come here, but I’m so glad you are here today in this place.” I smiled and squeezed his hand. “Me, too.”  I was welcomed into the reception warmly. I spent the next hour meeting people who knew about me and those who didn’t. All of them were delighted to talk with me, curious, kind. It was like a big exhale for all of us. As my dad and I stood in front of my car to say goodbye, we just looked thoughtfully at each other, satisfied. “I’m so glad you came with me,” I said.

“Thank you for letting me be part of this with you,” he said, emotional. I couldn’t say much more. I needed him that day. I needed him that day in 1975 also. Thanks, Dad.

This story is one I have never told. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t ready until now…until this place. I tell it to you now to remind you of all of the stories, all of the places that have never been told. I tell it to you now to remind you of all the stories, of all the places you have never been yet. I tell it to you now to remind you of our place in God’s story of redemption…..messy, circling, love, openness and sacrifice.

And so we find that God uses place to open us wide. Or we must open to the place we are in or the place God is sending us….for

St. John of Chrysostom said “It is not enough to leave Egypt. One must also enter the Promised Land.”

I’m not in the place you are in. God is. That’s what I do know. Being open to seeing value in the place you are in suddenly opens up places within you that you knew nothing about!

You might have seen hints…you might have smelled them or glimpsed them through some crack. You were searching for this place all along, praying, writing, grasping. You lit some candles. You’ve been on your knees and nothing happened. But then it did perhaps in a place you would have never imagined. Opportunity knocks right here. Light comes in, into all these places within you that you never knew and then you knew. After all, perspective is about the lighting, right?

Your places are there for the seeking. You might be surprised where you find brokenness, redemption, true love, and sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. There might be some fear, maybe the whole thing is closed up by fear. Be afraid and remember that perfect love drives out fear. You’ll be okay. Perfect love is the place, the whole story. So, crack it open, that place you’re in.

Eph. 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

For this place’s sake, don’t miss it.

My Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road, though we may know nothing about it. Therefore we will trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face my perils alone.

—Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Slowing Down the Day

Do you ever hear your breath? In and out? Softly? Labored? Quiet. You have to slow down the day to hear it. I remember listening to my babies breathe as they slept in my arms. It slows down the day. I almost blogged the other day on how I should be blogging. I’ve had some things to say to you, but there hasn’t been time. Today, though. I slowed down. It’s a day of remembrance, see. And on those days, you must slow down. Three years ago this morning, my mother left us. She went to the safest place as brave as anyone, and now she is dancing around laughing with Jesus. I dreamed of her once a year or so ago doing this dancing. I think I wrote about it. Oh, here it is:

I saw her last night. She was with You. There was a meadow or a field or something. It was a green place…full of life.

She had on her boots. The ones she gave Maile. She was wearing her cowgirl outfit. You know the one she sewed herself with the material that she put on layaway at Leonard’s Department Store in Fort Worth? Yes, that’s the one.

You were sitting in a random chair at the top of the hill. She was dancing. She was so young. I just stood there and watched her beauty shine. I never saw her like this. She always looked like my mom. It was how I saw her.

She was skipping.

You were smiling at her. And then You smiled at me. Then she saw me.

I waved. Her smile brightened and she laughed. She laughed that loud, cackle laugh that I heard even in her hospice room. It was a lovely sound.

The trees swayed. She twirled around in her freedom. You were constant joy… just there.

I came closer and knelt. I put my head in Your lap. Your hand covered my head. Her hand pressed my shoulder. I heard her voice.

And I woke.

Thank you, Jesus…for this dream.

Anyways, she was lovely and she always was. I miss her. I always will. So, I slowed down. We didn’t do anything fancy. There are tickets everywhere for our school Fall Festival, and after church we all just sat and counted and sat and bagged tickets. Oh, and we watch half of the first season of Survivor. The girls had never seen that show. It was fun and slow and we ate popcorn. And we sang together in church loudly. And my heart squeezed in my tight chest while a daughter on each side of me played with my hands, my ring, my veins just as I would do with her. Her veiny hands were so cool to me and I held them in church and I moved her veins around and marveled at my thick child skin. Her hands were pretty and small and dainty. And I remember with a deep breath in holding her hand up to my cheek after she had passed and remarking, “She’s still so very warm.” to my siblings. My sister grabbed the other hand and nodded. My brother winced a little ready, kinda, to move forward, sort of. And then they came and took her body away, and we watched. And then we hugged each other wearily and left to go home. It was a slow day, a loud day, and I could hear my breathing.

And I remember her hand on my chest as a child having an asthma attack. Warm, comfort, light. Checking to make sure. Willing my breathing easier. And when any of us couldn’t sleep, she would gently play with our ears and it would work, oh wow, we would sleep. Her hands cooked begrudgingly with duty and sewed delightfully with grace.

And here these girls are, holding my hands, and playing with my veins, and I’m still here and breathing. My breath exhales in gratitude for the slow day, and maybe I’m not dancing, but I’m smiling. And I’m remembering. And I’m still loving. Thanks be to God.

She Knew

Mom and me in hospice

She knew me. I didn’t think she did sometimes. We were pretty different from each other in personality and in most ways. But I couldn’t fool her. When I became a young adult, I remember judging her some. You know that moment when you finally see your mother as a real person, you see her mistakes even if you don’t know much about them, and you try to make sense of this person who sees you from the back of her head but isn’t perfect but loves you still. You cluck your tongue a bit, but it’s not really fair. She knew I would be different. She never expected me to live my life like her. She knew when I was wrong or messing up or whatever. She didn’t always tell me, but I know that she just knew. But she still loved me. Even those last few weeks, I pushed her to take a walk outside. I have always wanted her to take more risks. She couldn’t go far, but I remember her words clearly. We sat under the gazebo outside her hospice room. I kind of wished we smoked in that moment. It seemed like a good moment to have a cigarette; but, we didn’t.  She was so very tired, but still she looked at me in the eyes and blessed me. “You are a beautiful person, Katie. You just need to remember who you are. And you’ll be okay.” That was it. I asked her if she was afraid. She said, “No. Not at all.” No hesitation. Being the good social worker I am, I explained to her that it was okay to be a little afraid and fear is normal and all that. She said, “I am not afraid.” I was. She was brave. I felt small, but I knew she couldn’t take care of me. She looked at me later, and I saw that she knew that she didn’t know everything about me either. She didn’t ask. Like a true woman, she knew that she would never know everything. But, she knew.

The other day, I was cleaning up my phone. I found a text stream with her at the very bottom. There were so many texts from her that were her checking on me, encouraging me, wanting the details. There was one text where I told her I loved her. She said “I loved you first!!”

Today is her birthday. I would have called her this morning to sing to her. She would have laughed and thanked me. She would have told me all her plans for the day. She would have been excited about who was taking her out to eat. She would have asked when I am coming to see her. She would have asked about the girls. She would have checked to make sure I wasn’t doing too much. She would have wanted a present from me, but she wouldn’t say that. But I didn’t. Instead I just felt the loss of her. This evening I talked to my sister. We were brave. We even laughed together. Later we were sad. It’s easy to feel lost without your mother. She is the one person who knew, and loved and was there.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

A Birthday Candle

078

I lit a candle on my birthday. I met my oldest girl at this old fort and mission in Goliad, Texas where her 7th grade was having a Texas History field trip. The Presidio La Bahia is a very interesting place to visit especially on a sunny April day. After we sat in the chapel and listened to the history of the Presidio and the story of the Goliad Massacre, we were free to move about and tour around. I moved into the enclave on the side of the chapel as everyone left the chapel. I stared at the candles. A basin of holy water was to my right. Before I could think or pray or feel anything, I felt myself turn around. My hands grabbed the matches, and I struck the match and watched the candle come to life.

I felt a little sheepish. Mom…I lit it for her. It was my birthday, but I lit it for her.

For all those 37 birthdays she sang to me in the morning.

For all those birthdays she tried to make me feel special.

For all those parties she threw me. There weren’t many. There were six of us, so we could only have a “friend party” every six years. This staggered it out for my parents. Brilliant, don’t you think? So, I had a slumber party on my sixth, my twelfth, and a big party on my 18th. The rest of the birthdays we just had our family which was quite a party in itself.

I watched the flame flicker. I had less than a minute of reflection with that candle. Then I was overtaken with a need to find my daughter. I found her on the fort grounds. She was having fun. I had her climb into a gun holder place in the wall, and that was fun. She climbed a tree and got in trouble with the tour staff. I climbed the fort wall, but no one caught me.

image

image
We went over to the Goliad Mission, had lunch and then toured that place too. I lit another candle in the mission chapel. My friend Ann did too. There was a sign on the matches that there is high humidity and if they wouldn’t light to ask a staff member. This sounded like a challenge. I sure do like a challenge. It took us a few tries, but we got the job done. I liked lighting the candles together. It felt right. Like you are supposed to do church together and prayer too sometimes.

My mind wandered through my life, my mom’s life, her death and more.

It’s good to wander and flicker and see.

I recommend it.

Hard Thanksgiving Part 1

I spent the night with Mom in the hospice facility, and I knew that no matter what, I needed to go home the next day. This was my third time to be there in the last two weeks. I needed to hug my children and my husband. I needed to be home for just a little while. That morning, Mom was tired when she woke up. She was still thinking of me first, and I went to get her coffee. She fell asleep holding the cup three times. About 10am, I was telling her goodbye and hugging her, and she said, “Well, if I don’t see you again, I’ll see you in heaven. Oh, but first, I need to go to the bathroom! Haha!” My sisters and I laughed and choked a little. “Okay, well, I’ll help you.” “Hey, at least you won’t have to pull my pants down for me anymore!” she was still laughing. “Yes, Mom I appreciate that. But, it’s really okay. I’m sure you had your fair share of pulling my pants down when I was a baby.” “Yes, I did,” she said her tired eyes sparkling. I was too weary to cry when I left.

The five hour drive home brought some tears, a hurting chest, and a numb feeling. I rolled into town in time to pick up the girls from school. We were all happy to see each other. We had a nice family night at home, and I was glad to even get some laundry done. It was so normal. That night, I heard from my sister that Mom was declining rapidly. I wondered if I had made the right decision. I called her in the morning, and she was so sleepy. My sister-in-law Terri was with her, and she said she could talk a little bit. Mom asked me how the girls were and if everything was okay. I told her everyone was fine, and that we were praying for her. I told her I was praying for her. She said she was in pain. I told her, “God is still present with you even in the pain.” She fell asleep. I said, “Okay, Mom, I’ll let you rest. I love you.” She said, “It’s a journey, isn’t it?” “Yes, yes it is. Love you!” I said goodbye, but she was already asleep again.

Later that afternoon, I was in the grocery store and I heard from my sister that Mom wasn’t really waking up much anymore. That evening, Mom aspirated on some medicine and wasn’t conscious after that. I decided that night that I needed to be with her again, so I began the five hour drive at about 10pm. As I drove through the night, all I could think of was the journey comment. I felt the intense love of all of my family closing in on it all. At about 2am, as I drove on a two-lane short-cut, a train came across the road so I was forced to stop. Here I found myself…in the dark, in the night, stuck by a train with a car slowly pulling up behind me. I actually thought, Huh, this has the makings of a scary movie. I yelled loudly in my empty van to the dark night, “If anyone is coming to get me, then come on! My mom is dying, and I’m doing the best I can! And I don’t have time for this!” No one came. The train moved on. So did I.

I arrived in the  hospice building, and my steps quickened. I was shaking a little from the caffeine intake. I noticed the name next door had changed. I swung open the door to her room to find all my brothers and sisters and their spouses sprawled all over the room. Some were half-asleep, but most just smiled and exclaimed relief that I had made it and I was alive.

Then I turned to Mom. She looked different, and her breathing sounded very labored. “Katie’s here, Mom!” my sister exclaimed. I saw her eyebrows move, and I sat on the bed with her. I grabbed both of those veiny hands that I loved so well, and I said, “Hi Mom! I made the drive again!” I was shaking now. “It’s okay to let go Mom! I’m so glad you are my Mom. I’m so grateful God chose you to be my Mama. I love you so much. You can let go, now. You are safe with God. You always wanted to be safe. You are so safe now in the arms of God.” She squeezed my hands, and her eyelids fluttered. “She heard me,” I said satisfied. I sat a little longer until my oldest brother gently led me to a fold-out chair. I was worn out. I lay down gladly, but I kept listening to her breathing until I dozed off.