Belated

Belated. Those who know me best know that I am, and have been, belated with many things in my life.

The short list:

Remembering to send birthday gifts on time.

Getting dinner on the table.

Filling the gas tank.

Recognizing my purpose in life…(still puzzling that one out).

There are so many other events and circumstances, big and small, that I have been late for. Each time, I learn that some things do indeed let others down. This leaves me feeling guilty, and challenges me to try harder to be punctual.  There are some things, though, which have come to me belatedly and have been worth the wait. One of my best belated outcomes has been meeting my husband…another is my sweet friendship that has blossomed with my mother.

My mom is one of those gifts in my life that I don’t want to take for granted. Especially because she has been experiencing chronic pain since October when, honestly, we nearly lost her. Today, eight months later, I can still recall the medical team rushing her out of the ER in order to perform a procedure necessary to ultimately save her life.

Sitting alone in the darkness of the hospital room that had been hers, the missing bed leaving a gaping stretch of littered linoleum across from me, I was left to wait. Quietly, I curled my forty-year-old legs into the hard chair like a child, and hung down my head to finally cry. After more than forty-eight hours of being her advocate, along with my step-dad, I had forced myself to stay strong. It was exhausting, but necessary. I was thankful for this moment of solitude, this opportunity to feel.

A pair of well-made shoes appeared in my view like a shy, gentle fawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if my silent crocodile tears splashed a few times on top of them before I raised my head to look into kind eyes. It was one of the doctors who had been looking after my mom while she was there. In his eyes, I spotted the clash of his own uncertainty and hope mirroring mine as he valiantly tried to reassure me.

“Don’t cry. She’s going to be okay.”

And she was. But not without dealing with a long recovery, and still experiencing pain ever since.

When I think of my history with my mom, it wasn’t all rainbows and daffodils. Like many mothers and daughters, we had arguments when I was younger that would shake the shingles of the roof. Disagreements which left us giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Words that wounded and would be imprinted on our hearts for years. Our relationship was not always easy, and I’m sure I was not an easy child to deal with. I could be stubborn. Entitled. Moody. Like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, my sense of injustice ran high…sometimes unreasonably so. I really didn’t know what the future held for us.

It wouldn’t be until I became a teacher and saw the realities of parenthood all around me that I would understand what I had taken for granted all of my youth. I finally began to understand how much stress she must have endured being a single mother for so long, raising a child while at the same time earning a college degree (and a Masters), and then later working full-time. It took so much tenacity and hard work to accomplish that. She has the heart of a warrior, the most generous soul, and a gentle spirit I am now coming to know more and more as I call her not only “mom”, but also “friend”.

As a social worker, she has dedicated her life to serving those in need and providing them with resources. I am proud of her for helping children find adoptive families and placing them in their new homes. I am in awe that she directed the setting up a shelter for women who suffer from domestic violence. I am touched by the involvement she had in coordinating the reuse of old wedding gowns and having them turned into tiny burial gowns for infants who pass away while in the hospital. I am thankful for her foresight in arranging for my grandfather’s hand print to be put on pillows for the members of our family to have to remember him by. She demonstrates the kind of selflessness that I aspire to have someday, too.

These days, my my mornings are made complete with her daily funny meme or motivational text…an occasional weekend FaceTime, or monthly halfway-between-our-respective-towns lunch meetups. Even though she is going through pain of her own, she’ll text me encouragement when I need it…like a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed and she reminded me to “count backwards from 3” and then turn my negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Or last week when I was feeling super tired and having trouble pushing through the morning, and she urged me to “Decide you’re going to have a terrific Tuesday.”

Then there was the time I shared with her my current favorite blog, Adventures of Toby, where Toby’s new sidekick is a blind dog named Amos. She perused it for a bit, and then optimistically texted back, “How sad [for Amos], but he doesn’t let anything keep him down!” I think I must have inherited my perseverance from my mother.

Not everyone has a friendship with their mom. Maybe for some, their memories are what they hold on to now. For others, perhaps they were mistreated or are estranged. Life is not easy. We all have our rough patches. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who knew you from before you were here. God is our first and ultimate parent. In Psalm 139:13, David reminds us of the Lord’s hand in our life’s first whisper of existence when he says, “For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And so, even though Mother’s Day has come and gone for the year, and even though we had a nice lunch on that holiday and were able to be together, I honor my mom here. Better belated than never. Image result for heart clip art

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Unique Friends

I’ve known silence. Maybe not as oppressively as some. It can be a soothing, needed balm to the soul. It can also be the destination of lonely. Being my mother’s only child, I grew up in a quiet house. I was reading before I ever remember learning how to read. And in my books, I found gateways to worlds I could visit, introducing me to life beyond the walls that knew me. When I wasn’t escaping into fiction, I stared dreamily up at the ceiling as I discovered the power of music. Books and music—lenders of comfort…a comforting joy. My first friends.

I’ve had a few amiable pets throughout my lifetime, but about a dozen years ago, I met the best dog friend ever. A round bellied chocolate lab puppy named Amber, she pranced around the grass in a backyard filled with her already adopted brothers and sisters. She sported a white ring around her tail, which we think may have been the reason why she hadn’t been picked yet. It was down to two, and even though the other puppy left had a perfectly good tail, we chose Amber because she ran straight to Mike when he called for her from across the green, silky autumn grass. Silly people…they missed out on the greatest dog in all the world.

As soon as we brought her home, she dominated her new backyard. Only about twelve inches tall back then, she was, and she made it clear to every bird and squirrel in her dominion that she ruled the roost. “Don’t mess with Amber”, said her little proud stance guarding her backyard world, “and don’t mess with my mom and dad.” That would be us.

She was our little girl…this bouncy, seriously hyper little ball of brown fur. She failed puppy school, she ate a hole in the carpet, and socks cried in fear of her presence knowing they would disappear from the world if she crossed paths with them. We spoiled her. Not a single night did she sleep outdoors. Even when Mike had to stay in the hospital overnight and I stayed with him, the kind neighbors next door took our girl over to their house to sleep inside. She was older by then, taller and full grown…but every bit still the best dog ever.

She was entirely sweet, though, and only gruff when protective. Amber won the medal in our hearts for “Best Companion”. On hard days, she was there to lick the tears which would drip onto my shins as I sat in momentary defeat. When I got ready in the mornings, she was there to supervise my makeup routine, tail whacking rhythmically against the linoleum floor in contented approval. When we went to sleep at night, it was hard not to notice she was there…stubbornly digging in for snuggles on the bed and then trotting off about a half hour later to the couch where she would settle for the night.

Sometimes, I can still hear her nails click clacking on the hard floors. I imagine she’ll slowly meander and stretch her way up to the dishwasher to “help” put the dishes in as always. When the doorbell rings, once in awhile I forgetfully pause and wait for her curious bark.

Oh…my girl.

The day we came home without her was unbearable. Healthy until just a few weeks before she went to heaven, her loss was a shock. Our hearts ripped out of our chests, our shoulders shook with grief. We had known all along we loved her, doted on her, and relied on her for laughs. We had never taken her for granted, knowing the unreasonably short lifespan of dogs. She was family;  she meant the world to us—but we didn’t know just how much until she was gone.

If I were given the option to never know her if it meant we would never experience the pain of losing her, I wouldn’t trade a single day of having her in my life. I can truly say with all my heart that I can relate to Tennyson’s line ” ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Because of Papa, because of Dad, because of others I have loved…and, yes, because of Amber.

The loss of her friendship was rough. I wasn’t prepared for the thick silence that came with her absence. It was the kind of silence that squeezed my throat and beckoned tears which held my breath captive. The kind of deafening void that compounded the reality of knowing she was really not going to be sitting on the doormat outside the back door waiting patiently to be let in.  The silence that sharply teases with phantom musical shakes of the collared dog tags lost to heaven.

I felt abandoned once again, forsaken. Lost. A dog, yes. But one of my best friends. She filled my afternoons with joy, and was the best secret keeper I had. Funny how we can find such sincere companionship in four-legged creatures. Hard to explain, yet so easy to accept. I had to accept and relearn the silence.

But with her loss, I regained something amazing. I realized that I’d nearly forgotten about the One who was still there with me all along.

One afternoon in late March of this year, eight months after Amber passed away, I’d flung myself onto my bed in overwhelm. My temples pounded a heavy drumbeat while warring against processing a heap of new knowledge that my crowded brain had no room for. I had decisions to make, and uncertainty to conquer. I was mostly happy, yet in that moment I felt exhausted and confused. In need of cheer. In the past, Amber would have sensed my discontent and would’ve burrowed in for a comforting cuddle, or nosed her ball at me to distract me with a game of fetch.

So on that day, without her, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. My Christian textbook answer was prayer. “Time to pray!”, my memory called out to me faintly. I wore the label of knowing Jesus, but when was the last time I really sought Him in prayer for my own tender heart? It had been awhile. I prayed for others, but when was the last time I spent quiet moments sharing with God about my needs? My slowly hardened heart had been filled with assumptions that He didn’t need to hear all about me, when in reality He longs to spend time with us. However, instead of praying, I still just sat idle and contemplated how to overcome this emotional avalanche. On my own. In need of a friend. I was geographically far away from my friends at home, and…

I didn’t have my BFF anymore. Amber.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I searched my mind for a solution. The silence would always be there, loved ones, beloved pets…they would inevitably come and go. Amber had served us well as a happy, loving pet. But I wanted to retain the joy that she brought to us. I needed to have something, Someone to hold onto that would never die. My memory tickled my brain again…“The first, the last…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13)….and then the words became stronger from the inside, from the deep cellars of my ears, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  I have believed in Jesus for thirty years, but it had been a long time since I remembered what a friend we have in Him (John 15:15). I remembered that day.

After a long breath, laying there with the words of the familiar bible verses floating around in my mind, clarity unfolded in my heart—a butterfly emerging slowly from its cocoon. A thought had fluttered into my mind—one I knew I could hold onto forever–and I sighed with adoration at the beauty of it. The comfort in it. The silence can be lovely, and not unsettling because we are never truly alone. As dear as they are, friends come and go…but ultimately there is one friend who outshines them all.

And if the love and joy we have from our wonderful friends in our presence and in our memories can feel so good, isn’t the love and joy we can receive from our God and Creator a million times more? Smiling, soul-relieved, I pulled out my hot pink leather journal from the bedside table…the one that boldly says “Amazing things can happen” across the front…and I wrote down six little words which I knew wouldn’t be denied:

“Jesus, will you be my BFF?” 

And then I prayed. I knew Amber would joyfully approve with a great big “Woof!”.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Comforted

In the middle of a hectic, stressful morning that had barely begun, I dropped my Bible and my grandpa’s bookmark fluttered to the ground face up with his name boldly printed across the front. I hadn’t seen it in awhile…it’s like he was there to say once again “Hang in there, kid”…and just like that, everything was alright.

Twelve years ago, he passed away suddenly. It was just ten days before my wedding. We were so close. Memories upon memories. He taught me so much. He would read three major newspapers each morning before going off to work.  When I was really young and learning all the words in the world, he would pass each section of the newspaper to me and tell me to circle all the words I didn’t know. Next I was to look them all up in the dictionary. I delighted in that task. He did so much for me, he made so many things possible.

Most of all, he taught me how to be tolerant, compassionate, and kind. To tolerate noisy people and mean customers and broken-down cars. Taking it one step further, he made me realize that noisy people and mean customers and broken-down cars all have a story that some choose to tell loudly and some choose to grumpily not tell. And not only should I give them grace and be understanding, but that I should extend a hand or a smile to show them kindness even if they didn’t show it to me or give it back in turn. Also, that I may be the one who will need to be given grace when I am grumpy, too.

It took me a long time to be able to say his name or talk about him without crying. He was well loved. I am thankful that he believed in Jesus, that we had a relationship with Christ in common. He had a lot of hardships, but he was never without a smile or a funny voice for us grandkids. I got to spend my youth with him and most of my 20s. But nobody told me how cool my 30’s (and now my 40’s) were going to be. I would’ve liked to share those with him, too.

For now, I look forward to someday reuniting with him and all the others I have loved with all my heart. Family members and friends gone so soon. I am thankful for the comfort of God’s love. That he numbs our pain when we first lose someone, and then we intensely feel the loss that ebbs and flows for awhile…and then finally that point we reach when we can smile when we talk about them and chuckle when their bookmarks fall out of our bibles on a hairy day…when our heart glows with warm memories and we know that all is well.

Thank you, Lord, for my Papa.

“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.'”

– Matthew 5:4

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin