Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Making It Through The Night: Day 8 of Lent

Today would have been my mom's 79th Birthday.  When she was diagnosed for the third time with breast cancer, she was 76, and asked her doctors if they could get her to her 80th Birthday.  She thought if she could live to be 80, she would have lived a full life.  She didn't make it.

She was doing well until April of last year.  She was still up and around, running errands, taking care of my dad in the aftermath of his accident, taking care of my gran, keeping her house clean, and calling me every morning, after she had called my sister, to make sure we had all "made it through the night".  That used to drive me crazy.  Why wouldn't we make it through the night?  It really irritated me, because I tend to assume things are fine until I know they aren't, mom would assume something bad had happened until she knew it didn't.  So every morning she called and asked, "So, everybody made it through the night?"  Yes, mom, we're all fine.

But then one morning, she didn't call.  I waited a couple of hours, and wondered why I hadn't heard from her.  I called her, and she answered, but her voice was very weak.  She was still in bed at 10:00am, which was unheard of.  Mom always got up at 6:00am, every day.  I drove to her house to see her, and she said she was fine, she just needed to rest.  She told me she had made it through the night, so she would be ok.

She never got up again.

In the aftermath of mom's passing, there was a very stressful period where my sister and I discovered mom had left a bit of a financial mess for my dad.  He was still recovering from his accident, and gran was having trouble accepting the death of her only child, seeing visions of mom in the kitchen and hearing her voice in the house.  I never had time to grieve, because I was so busy being angry at mom for leaving my sister and me this mess.  I had to take care of all dad and gran's needs, focus on their grieving, deal with hospice and social workers and the department on aging, while my sister took on the daunting task of making sense of dad's finances.  I had just started a new job, and for months I juggled work, home, kids, dad and gran, and was so busy, I just felt anger at my mom.

Time has passed.  Things have settled down.  I still help dad and gran out, but they have settled into a new routine too, without mom.  Dad has learned how to go to the grocery store, buy his own Lotto tickets, and fold a load of laundry.  Gran cooks for him.  Some of the anger is slipping away, and I am starting to forget the stuff my mom did that drove me crazy, and remember the stuff she did that made me laugh, or feel better, or take my stress away.

On Saturday, June 14th of last year, I worked until 10:00pm, then drove straight to my mom's house and spent the night on the living room floor, as I had every night for the last three weeks.  She was in a hospital bed that took up most of the space in their small living room, and I was wedged on the floor between the bed and the couch.  I frequently checked on her, though she was in a coma at this point, so there wasn't much to do except watch her breathe, lay my hand on her cheek, or brush her hair off her forehead.

She made it through the night, and took her last breath just after 6:00am on Sunday morning.

I never thought about it then, or in the months after, but today, the first time in my life that I didn't call her on February 25th to sing "Happy Birthday", I am thinking about the time I spent with her at the end.  I am so grateful that I was with her when she made it through her last night.

I am ready to give my anger away.  I am ready to give it to God, and let Him fill me with happy memories of tender moments.  My mom is gone, and I don't want to be mad at her anymore.  I just want to be grateful for what she gave, and think of her today with the fondest of memories of all the birthday parties she threw for us, with cake and presents and our favorite meal prepared by her.  I want to remember how she made each of us feel really special on our birthday, and I want her to know that she was special too.

Happy Birthday, mom.  Don't expect me to make your favorite dinner tonight, because we both know I can't cook.  But watch over me tonight, and our family, and help us make it through the night, ok?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Little Lies: Day 7 of Lent

I have given up control for Lent, and made a focused effort on accepting whatever happens in my day.  I have made this promise in the hope that I will grow stronger in my faith and learn to appreciate what's in front of me, instead of fighting against it.

If I were to say I am doing well in this endeavor, that would be a little lie.  I am doing ok.  I have had my moments in the past week where I still got frustrated when my day didn't go as planned.  More snow days with Bean at home, spending 7 hours taking my gran to the doctor, and ridiculous arctic temperatures have really interfered with my work.  I used these as excuses for not getting anything done, but I'm lying to myself.  I just didn't want to clean the house.

We all tell little lies.  We say we really don't mind those extra 10 lbs, they give us shape, right?  I tell my daughter no one will notice the angry, red pimple in the middle of her forehead, glaring at me like a third eye.  I tell my son I like his beard.  I tell my husband it's ok that he forgot to stop and buy a gallon of milk, even though I just called him 10 minutes ago to remind him.  It's not ok.

I tell people I'm fine, when I'm not.  I tell myself I'm fine, when I'm not.  Sometimes, we can talk ourselves out of a bad day by pretending we're fine, and that works.  Sometimes, we need to admit we are not fine, and we need help.

One of the things I am discovering by learning to accept things is that I've been kidding myself about being fine, and at the heart of this is the one thing I haven't been able to let go of.  I haven't stopped trying to control everything that happens in my life.  In trying to control things out of my control, I was left with only being able to control myself, and as usual, I took it too far by mistaking control for strength.  I told myself I was handling it, that I was strong.  I convinced myself that the last year was just part of life, it's over now, and I can move on.  All little lies.

The truth of it is, I need help.  Someone to really listen, but not say a lot of words that offer help from their point of view, not mine.  I need to take all my feelings and give them away, but who would want them?

Ironically, I was on the other side of this situation this week.  My daughter is going through an emotional crisis which I should have picked up on a long time ago, but was so wrapped up in my own emotional crisis, I didn't see what was happening to her.  When she called me on Sunday, distraught and inconsolable, my first inclination was to take control of the situation and fix it.  I was already composing texts to the people involved in my head, having imaginary phone conversations with them and solving the problem.  As I was busy in my head finding the answers, I realized my daughter was still talking, and I did something I've never been very good at;  I listened.  And then I gave it all to God.

Over the last few days, my girl has talked a lot.  She has cried, calmed herself down, then cried some more.  Bouncing back and forth from confusion to acceptance to confusion to uncertainty, she all the while kept asking "why?"  A funny thing happened though.  While listening to her, I heard her tell me what the real problem is, even though she couldn't hear it herself.  With a sinking feeling in my gut and heart, everything became clear and I realized I had really dropped the ball this last year.  I never saw what was happening to my own daughter when it should have been obvious.  Then again, she didn't see it either.

I let her keep talking, throwing in a few questions here and there, and we both knew the moment when insight finally came, and she knew exactly what the root of the problem is.  Now she understands herself, and knows where to go from here.  She has spent the last year telling herself little lies, saying she was fine, when she was not.  But the little lies piled one on top of the other, until the reality of her emotions got pushed so far inside that they ended up coming out in inappropriate ways.  With understanding comes healing, and she is on her way to healing and admitting she has not been fine, but she will be.

My girl is letting her faith guide her.  She is finally allowing herself to face her feelings, and she is giving them to God.  In acknowledging her feelings, and letting them go, she opens herself up for all the good things that can happen.  She went to a chapel to pray, and was given a sign.  Really, I mean it.  She walked in, and staring her straight in the face was a handwritten sign that someone had tacked to the doorway.  The words were so profoundly relevant to her situation, that she was immediately filled with peace and calm.

She has taught me a lesson.  Give all the little lies I tell myself to God.  Let Him sort it out.  At some point in each of our lives, we have a bad year (or years) and we are not fine and we can't handle it alone.  The good news is, we don't have to.  God listens, and gives us answers in ways we don't expect.  He is in control, not us.  I have some work to do, learning how to let go of my perceived control, but I am starting to open my eyes to the possibilities before me for letting God decide the course of my days, and giving Him all my little lies.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Rainbow at Seven Degrees: Day 2 of Lent

Today held no epiphany.  There wasn't an "aha" moment where suddenly everything made sense.  After pledging to give up control during Lent and accept whatever happens, today was just like most days; I was frustrated, angry, and even sad about having another day full of plans to get things done go down the toilet with 2 phone calls.  The first call was an automated message from Bean's school.  School has been cancelled due to the cold weather.  The second call was from my dad.  Gran's ears hurt.  Can you take her to the Walk-In Clinic.

I was very excited when I woke up this morning at 4:50am.  I had the entire day ahead of me to finally tackle my list.  Anticipating the school cancellation last night, I had allowed Bean to spend the night at a friend's, and I assumed she would hang out at her friend's house all day today.

So now you know my first two mistakes:  I planned to get things done, and I assumed I would be able to get things done.

After waiting a couple of hours for Bean and her friend to decide if they needed a ride to ice skating, I finally pulled the plug on that idea and left at noon to take Gran to the Walk-In Clinic.  She had pain in her ears and congestion.  Four hours later, I took Gran home, went to the pharmacy to drop off a prescription for her antibiotic, ran a few errands, and returned to the pharmacy an hour later to pick up Gran's prescription.  The pharmacy forgot to fill it.  I waited another half-hour, got the antibiotic, drove back to my dad's house where Gran lives with him, and took the medicine to her.  I then argued with my dad for a half hour while he insisted the antibiotic would do Gran no good and told me in no uncertain terms that I would take it back.

Seven hours after I left the house at noon, I came home, realizing that the better part of my day was a complete waste of time, because Gran refused to take the medicine.

Really, God?  Day 2 of Lent and this is what you throw at me?

I wish, more than anything, that right now I could share with you how I grew as a person today.  I wish I could tell you that I accepted the interruption to my productivity with grace, and believed I was needed for something more important.  I would love to say that it is rewarding to care for elderly relatives.  I'm not that strong.

However, when I finally made my way home at 7:00pm, as I was driving there suddenly appeared a rainbow in the sky, directly in front of me.  A sign from God?  Since it was 7ยบ F outside and the sky was crystal clear and the sun was almost gone, a rainbow was a rather unexpected sight, therefore I took it as a sign from God.

Unfortunately, I also decided there are two interpretations to this sign.  The first is God's way of telling me I'm doing good things, and there is a reward at the end, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  The second interpretation is the one I am more inclined to believe.  God is saying, the pot of gold is far from your reach, so deal with it.

Today was an opportunity for me to reflect, accept, and pray.  I failed.  Instead, I fought back tears of frustration all afternoon as I thought of the pile of things sitting at home that need to be done.  Taxes, FAFSA, on-line course at the University of Wisconsin, and my job all have distinct deadlines, which I fear I will not meet.  Tonight, my Bean is home, and since tomorrow is predicted to be colder than today, rest assured I will get a 6:00am automated phone call in the morning telling me school is cancelled.  But as my dear friend, Debbie, so eloquently said, it will be another opportunity to accept what comes.

Today, I failed.  But God loves us, even when we fail.  He loves me so much that tomorrow He will give me a gift, a snow day and the chance to do better when I once again realize my time is not my own to plan.  Tomorrow, I can try to grow in my faith, and let go of the control that I never really had.  Tomorrow, I will get another chance to do better.  Well played, God, well played.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Clinging to an Illusion: Day 1 of Lent

Lent.  How many of us grew up sacrificing candy, gum, gossip, pop, or swear words for 40 days each Spring?  How many of us knew why we were giving it up?  Because we were told to.

I have, over the years, given up things like chocolate, snacking between meals, cursing, my favorite pair of jeans, biting my nails, and that one ghastly Lent I gave up coffee.  That wasn't just a sacrifice for me, it was brutal for my family.  But at the end of each Lenten season, was I better off for having sacrificed?  Not really.  I think I have cheated myself of the real reward of Lent, because it's not just about what you give up; it's about allowing God to fill that space.

I gave much thought this year to my Lenten sacrifice.  My thoughts wandered to the times I feel closest to God, alone in the wilderness, under the shadow of a mountain or protected by the canopy of trees.  I see His hand in the rivers, I feel His power in the strength of Lake Superior.  The sun on my shoulders, the thunder in the skies, wind in my hair and the silent fall of snow all open my heart to God's voice.  I desperately sought a way to convince my husband that a 40 day camping trip alone in the wilderness would be my sacrifice, just like Jesus did in the desert, but I was shot down on a technicality when my husband pointed out that Jesus fasted for those 40 days too.

But it is in my love for nature that I found a way to sacrifice this Lenten season.  I asked myself why I find such peace in nature, and the answer is obvious.  My time spent wandering in the wilderness is my time.  I don't have to worry about schedules or deadlines or even need a clock.  In the wilderness, there is no laundry to do, no kids to keep happy, no forms to fill out or bills to pay.  But it's not a vacation, either.  I finally put my finger on what is missing when I am alone in nature.  Control.

When I spend time outdoors in God's creation, I have no control over the weather, time, the direction the river flows.  I can't control what people think of me or whether a snake (eek!) will cross my path.  Nature decides which way I go, what creatures I see, and when it's time to end my day.  Out there, I accept that I have no control, so I stop worrying about it.

It's harder at home, where all my responsibilities lie.  I spend an awful amount of time worrying about things I can't control, like taxes, school closings, illness, constraints on my time, schedules, college tuition, and toilets that only stay clean until someone comes home.  I am constantly checking the time, because my days are tightly scheduled (by me) to accomplish the most amount of work.  If something throws my schedule off, I get angry at things I can't control.  I rant and rave to my husband that my time is not my own, multiple things interfere with my plans and schedules.  I give up sometimes, then get mad at the things out of my control that made me give up.

So I spend a lot of time being angry and frustrated, and it's hard to open my heart to God when I am angry and frustrated.

This year, I am giving up control for Lent.  I will take whatever comes each day and accept it.  Instead of getting angry, I hope to find the strength to look for the positive in each situation.  I don't believe that every little thing that happens in a day is part of God's plan for me, but I do believe that if I accept every little thing that happens, I can learn how to be open to God's plan for me.

Anyone who knows me will understand that this is a huge step for me.  I am a control freak.  I thrive on structure and order, rules, schedules and no surprises.  When things are out of my control, I fight against them.  But during a time in my life when I'd really like to figure out my purpose, or God's plan for me, I have wondered if my attempt to keep such tight control over my time has kept me from seeing clearly the direction I should go.  Maybe I have missed a few open doors or new paths while I was so caught up in my frustration.

Control.  An illusion.  I have been clinging to an illusion.  This Lenten season, I choose to give up control and cling to God.  I will share my journey with you and maybe we can both grow together.

I would love to hear if you have given something up for Lent.  Please post in the comments.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shadow and Light: Patterns in Nature

I have long been fascinated with different patterns created by Mother Nature, sun, wind, water, and snow.  This post is a little different for me; no long story today!  Just a few images I have captured over the years - raw and unedited - of shadows and light.  Please enjoy them, and feel free to post any images you have of this theme in the comments section.

On a nice sunny day, a sudden storm front turned day into night. (Ludington State Park, MI)

Sunlight reflected on water (Clark Lake, MI)

Mud Wasp Nest.  Fifty Shades of Grey?

A foggy field in southern Michigan

September morn.

Some snow falls through the branches, some does not.

Polka dots!

Snow, with a few sparkles from the sun

Wind blown snow

More patterns made by the wind

Tree shadows, brought to you by the sun

The horizontal pattern made by the snow mimics the vertical pattern of the tree bark.