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Holding me up

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A couple weeks ago, I ran across this tidbit in the Old Testament.  (Exodus 17:9-13)

Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
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I have been surprised this year how much I have gotten out of the Old Testament.  Jesus and the New Testament offer grace, redemption, and love, but we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I love how the Old Testament leads up to the New–how God chooses unlikely characters and works their will and choices together into a tapestry of eventual redemption and hope.

Even though I’m on my third time through the Bible, I’m surprised that I didn’t remember the passage above.  I remembered that Moses did some awesome stuff with his staff, but the idea that Joshua could only win the battle when Moses’ hands were up?!  That’s odd!  It’s worth a little contemplation.

Can you imagine how Moses felt when he realized that the outcome of the battle he was watching depended on the position of his spectator arms?  Can you imagine this scenario with yourself and your favorite boxer or sports team?  How would you do?

God was asking something impossible of Moses’ humanity.  Moses could not do it by himself.  In previous vignettes, we see God’s power flow directly through the staff, but this time God sends power through others.  God sends  power through friends.

Isn’t it wonderful not to have to go through this life alone?  God is with us.  Sometimes when I can’t feel God enough, God sends his strength and hope through the ones who walk beside me.  I feel them lift my arms up when I can’t do it myself.  I hear their words when I am filled with doubt.  Later, I see the hands of God holding them so they can hold me.  I am so thankful for the people who hold my arms up, and I look forward to the opportunity to return God’s favor.

Nanny Wins a Rainy Day

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Today it is raining sideways north of Atlanta.

There is a little golf tournament in Birthtown that doubled up Sunday play so that the champion would be chosen in time.

The weather pros have been talking about this storm for a couple of days, so last night I planned to do a little “skip day” for church.  Until…..

Until Hubs asked, “What would Nanny do?”

Convicted.

I delivered Nanny’s eulogy a little over a month ago.  I told an anecdote about Nanny never allowing weather (good or bad) keep my brother and I (and previously my Mom and Uncle) from church.  She would say, “The devil tries to tempt us into staying home, but we won’t let him win!”  

I’m not into “devil” theology, but we all know evil exists everywhere.  I also know that I miss my Nanny very very very much.  I couldn’t let the “devil” win today–especially after the beauty of Hubs remembering a line in my eulogy and calling me out so definitively.

After driving in pouring rain and trudging through what Pa would call a gully-washer, I arrived in the sanctuary for some of the most moving words I have ever heard.  Don’t we all wonder why bad things happen to good people?  If God is good, why is X, Y, Z in the world?

I am so grateful.  I know Nanny meant for me to hear these words, and I would not have heard them on my own volition.  I bet you will feel her smiling on you from heaven if you take twenty minutes and listen too.  You don’t have to believe everything to believe something.  Humor us (Nanny and I) and play it in the background while you do laundry, cook, or complete some other chore–and “don’t let the devil win.”

http://northpoint.org/messages/bystander/coexistence/

 

Lent-deption

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So, I have basically been a Lent action dropout.  I have gone MIA, and I have not kept up the 40 day challenge end of the deal.  Was it really a deal?  It was more of a drawing near to God for God’s whisper, guidance–a drawing near to God to express my gratitude and spend more time with God.

When Nanny died, my writing went off the rails, and Lenten blogs became a eulogy and a perfectly crafted obituary.  On top of that, my scripture reading after tucking little one into bed slipped away, and I’m adrift again.  I’m asking for God’s guidance and wanting to do God’s will, but I am not going to God’s feet to hear it.  My One Year Bible will end in June or July when it was supposed to end in April.  You finish when you finish–do you not?  (I still believe God is lining up amazing “God wink” coincidences for the home stretch for this, my third read of the Bible.)

One thing I am thankful for is the kid’s Bible devotion I requested for Little One for Christmas.  She is so insistent on reading it, that, if all else fails, I’m at least getting a kids’ devotion.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I may be eating like someone stuck in a Seven Eleven, but at least I am taking this here multivitamin!  Ha ha.

I’ve been shocked how revisiting things meant for children can be gloriously profound.  The kids’ devotions have been–along with my ongoing re-exploration and contemplation of the “time quintet” by Madeline L’Engle.  The beauty of my God is that my God reaches out to me in simple words aimed at children.  It reminds me that God’s will, grace, love, and story of redemption are painfully simple.  That’s exactly it–painfully simple.  So simple it’s hard.  So simple it’s confusing.  It doesn’t have to be.  Jesus said “let the children come to me.”  Aren’t we all children in God’s eyes anyway?  Eternally children, doing what kids do?  Experimenting, learning, NOT LISTENING, frustrating our parents?  Whoops!  I digress.

I caught myself listening to a talk at church a few weeks ago in which the pastor talked about how we make demands of God instead of doing what God had planned/intended of us–which is to God’s glory, and our personal benefit.  It reminded me so much of one of my parenting phrases.  When my daughter gets an attitude that lacks respect, I ask her, “Is that a question or a demand?”  I will instruct her to conduct herself like a Jeopardy contestant and put her answer in the form of a question. If I’ve truly surrendered my will to God, shouldn’t I do the same?  Shouldn’t I be asking rather than telling?  Touche.

Let me drive because I know what’s best for you, okay???  (Says me to my daughter–says God to me!)  You should have seen my child’s face when I told her that the Pastor told the grown ups to use questions rather than demands.  She LIT all the way UP.

So, I didn’t achieve 40 days of blogging, but God used my insistent strong-willed daughter to plug me in to her kiddie devotions even when I lacked enough self-control to go to God’s feet and entreat my source.  I am back, I want to do better, and Thank God that we are invited back to start over without counting it against us.  Thank God the Shepherd didn’t scold the sheep that got lost, he welcomed it back and threw a celebration.

 

God Wink

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I’ve been reading my One Year Bible since April 24, 2019.  I don’t know why I started it that day, but I felt called to do so.  My One Year Bible has an Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, and Proverb reading for each day.  Since I began in the second quarter of the year, my reading started in the prophets and ended in Revelation.  I didn’t keep up well around Christmas and Anniversary/New Year season, so now I am over a month behind reading Genesis/Matthew through the prophets.

I experienced a “God wink” when my reading of the description of the cherubim Proginoskes in A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle lined up exactly with my daily reading of Ezekiel’s description of an angel.  The reading was November 4, but I’m pretty sure I was a couple days behind when I read Ezekiel and L’Engle on the same day.

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Ezekiel 10:9 
I looked, and each of the four cherubim had a wheel beside him, and the wheels sparkled like beryl. 10 All four wheels looked alike and were made the same; each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it. 11 The cherubim could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved. They went straight in the direction they faced, never turning aside. 12 Both the cherubim and the wheels were covered with eyes. The cherubim had eyes all over their bodies, including their hands, their backs, and their wings. 13 I heard someone refer to the wheels as “the whirling wheels.” 14 Each of the four cherubim had four faces: the first was the face of an ox, the second was a human face, the third was the face of a lion, and the fourth was the face of an eagle.

 

It was awesome.  I am God’s child.  He knows what gets me really excited and creatively energized.  What a wonderful love note from God that day.

I am finding the more I look for “God winks,” the more I find them.  The more present I am in the moment, the more I feel God’s presence.  I look forward to more providential lining up of God’s word and its application to my life.

 

 

 

 

Not going according to plan…

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life plan

Things are not going according to the plan.

If I had a phrase that would sum up the last couple/few days–and even years–of my life, it would be this.  I was supposed to spend the day today packing up baby gear to give away, consign, donate.  I was supposed to be gathering up this gear that was intended for the second child I’d planned, but did not manifest.  Did that happen?  No.  Stomach bug gave its (I hope) last stand.  I thought Daughter had turned a corner after Sunday, but Monday night a series of surprise, boomerang, dead-body-pop-back-up-at-the-end-of-the- horror-movie puke sessions showed up hourly between 11 pm and 2 am.  At least my five year old was able to aim the last two and flush them away.  There was no bedding left to change.  Anyway, enough puke talk.  I did not sort and give away Mount Babymore.

So, I was all geared up to deal with my baby gear.  I let about 30% of it go to Cousin L, who was at Nanny’s funeral.  It felt surprisingly good.  Honestly, the thought of the colossal pile of baby gear being gone felt freeing.  It would no longer have mental taunting power over me.  It wouldn’t remind me about how things didn’t work in so many ways.

A few weeks ago, I attended a church service intended to speak to the congregation about allowing God into your finances.  While I read it that way, more loudly my heart responded to the question, “If you are going to turn your life over to God, you need to turn over your possessions too.”  All I could imagine was this mountain of baby gear that I couldn’t trust God to deliver on.  I couldn’t trust Him to give me a second baby, and I couldn’t trust Him to give me peace without a second baby.  So I held onto my stuff.  It sat there with no one getting the benefit.  It was hoarded.  It was five talents buried.

As I was processing the nudge to put the baby gear back into circulation, I mused that I had bought everything in green so a second baby of a different sex could get double play out of everything.  A precious mentor reminded me how well off I really am and how great I am at finding deals.  Whereas it may feel that this chapter is closing, you never know, God may just want you to buy pink OR blue later.  The Bible is filled with geriatric and problem pregnancies.  Those babies went on to lead very significant lives.  (Who is to say that the Daughter I already have is that significant person, whose birth was a miracle, unrecognized at the time?)

I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know I am unclenching my grip on these particular possessions.  I am trusting God with the story.

Now, I even get to trust God with the fact that he didn’t want me doing the sorting today.  Okay, okay, God.  I am here.  Send me.

 

plans

Blessed Chunks

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We decided ahead of time to spend Friday night in my hometown and return to Atlanta late Saturday night after Nanny’s funeral.  My husband wanted to be back home in our bed that night and have the next day to decompress.

My eulogy went very well.  I had a funny part that I chose to sing which made me more nervous than usual, but it went well enough that one of my distant (old man) cousins asked me to sing it again before we left.  The eulogy had a nice balance of funny, informative, and sentimental.

After the graveside service, changing clothes, and eating the obligatory post funeral southern meal with the family, it was time to go.  I wondered if my mom would feel more comfort if I stayed and helped her put everything away, if I was there in the quiet the next day–but I was wasting my time pondering a “what if” that was no longer an option.

An hour and a half after putting my daughter to bed–and moments after falling into my own bed–I heard a thud followed by tears in her room.  I rushed in only to find she’d thrown up everywhere.  It was an “exorcist” scene where the child is screaming, everything is covered in puke, and I don’t know what to do first.

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After cleaning the carpet, stripping the bed, changing sheets, bathing child, and settling back into bed almost two hours later, I found the blessing.  Thank GOD we went back home and my grieving mother didn’t have to deal with the horror while in such a delicate state.  (My daughter’s sleeps next to my mother’s room at her house, and I’m down two floors in the basement.)

While I haven’t blogged in almost six years, my life took an interesting path toward twelve step recovery in the last three.   I would have focused on the puke four years ago, but I am so grateful that today I can only see the blessing.  I had felt a twinge of guilt about leaving hometown “early,” but the events after getting home underscored that I had ultimately ended up in the right place.

Much easier to handle puke in a familiar environment…where you can find your hazmat gloves, heavy duty upholstery spray, and carpet scrubber.

smilelaugh

 

Transfiguration

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My Aunt mentioned a phenomenon where once someone dies, the bad memories melt away and you are left with only the good, inspiring, and uplifting memories.

I absolutely love this idea.  It reminds me of childbirth.  It was the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt, and people told me that the memory of the pain would become fuzzy in the glow of the new life that had sprung from it.  It is like that with Nanny.  Now that she is in God’s glory, many of my distressing moments with her have melted away.  She was often in utter confusion and worry, but I know that this wasn’t the true Nanny.  This was the Nanny of dementia, of lost boundaries, of worry and preoccupation.  The sum of the not-so-great things in her life had left its scar on her.  But that mark was erased when Nanny  was made complete in the presence of her shepherd.  She had become everything her creator had intended, and we are able to remember the good, the strong, the glimpses of her living completely in God’s will.

Isn’t a beautiful thought that one day those that saw the worst of us will mostly remember the best?

 

 

Procession

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Funeral-procession

Whenever I return to my hometown, I’m reminded of things that are more prevalent in small towns that are not done anymore in greater Atlanta or its suburbs.  As we celebrate the life of my grandmother, I revisit the tradition of the funeral procession.

Growing up, someone’s importance or impact was judged by the length of their funeral procession.  I always hoped I would have a really long one.  In Atlanta, processions just aren’t the norm–nor are they safe.  I know that it is expected for slain police officers,  politicians, or celebrities to have significant processions (wherever they take place, no matter how big the city).  In small towns like my hometown, everyone gets a funeral procession between the church/funeral home and the cemetery.

The first time I vividly remember being part of a funeral procession was surrounding the death of my paternal grandfather when I was almost sixteen.  Several people pulled over, and I remember one person in particular stood with his hat off, placed over his heart, in honor and contemplation of someone he did not even know.  Wow.  Today, people pulled over and watched our long line of cars proceed slower than the usual flow of traffic.

When you are part of a procession, the funeral home personnel tell you to turn on your blinking caution lights.  It’s as if to say “Caution.  Death coming through.”   I’ve been on the other side of many a procession.  It has been very good for me to take a minute and realize that life is fleeting, make it count, be thankful for what AND WHO you have.  Waiting for a funeral procession has been a different kind of interruption for me.  Instead of being annoyed, I think to myself, “I wonder who they lost.  I wonder how they died.  I wonder how they lived.  I wonder how the living will adjust to the new normal.”

The procession is one area where the small town wins.  It whispers, “Slow down and appreciate.”   I revisit my losses and memories, but I also tap into gratitude for all relationships I take for granted–even the monotonous.  There is beauty in the everyday when tomorrow will never be the same.

 

 

Backspace, Backdate, and Underestimating Time

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I’m the queen of going back and writing a blog for the two days I didn’t write.

I committed to do this, I knew I was in the middle of frenetic funeral business, and I knew I would have to be out of town.  How did I talk myself into thinking I would actually have time for personal contemplation, copy editing,  and wit in the middle of a visit to hometown with all the family-of-origin fun and funeral pomp that goes with it?  Probably the same way I estimate time for getting ready in the morning.  No matter what time I wake up, I will inevitably end up rushing to the first appointment of my day.

I’ve never been good at estimating time.  I was born with a ridiculous level of optimism.  I can cut everything to the skin of my teeth because all will go as expected.  Has real life reinforced this idea?  Abso-lutely-NOT!

If I go by what always happens, I would leave myself an extra hour between major dayparts, and I would write a few blogs ahead of time instead of colossally wasting time on social media.  Is it optimism or denial?  This question could extrapolate rather beautifully across all aspects of my life.  Hmmmmmmm.  Maybe there’s another topic to put in the can to write about later!  Ba ha ha ha ha.

 

Optimal Grief for an Optimal Death

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“Your grandmother died an optimal death.  She was sleeping.  No gasp, no struggle.  She was 92.  She lived a long life.  She had been in a lot of pain and confusion, and now she is not.  It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Someone very close to me uttered the above words.  While they are true, and death was a respite in so many ways for my grandmother, it doesn’t make it any easier to lose her.  In my life, contemplating the idea of something has always been more of a challenge than the actual thing.  The symbolism has been more intimidating than the experience.  Concepts and feelings behind big words such as love, marriage, and motherhood freak me out more than the actual experiences.  Death.  Nanny is dead.  She is not coming back.

My source of the wonderful memories of my childhood is now on the other side.  Nanny was the last of that generation to go.  Now that she is gone, my Pa is really REALLY gone.  I’m re-feeling the grief of losing him even though it’s been eighteen years.  I also feel the grief of losing my childhood: that place where nostalgia meets longing that makes your chest hurt.

Now my parents are at the top of the family seniority food chain.  They are supposed to be the wise old giving owls.  I am concerned as I watched my mother lose herself in mental gymnastics worrying and fretting about Nanny constantly, using Nanny’s existence as an excuse not to go anywhere, do almost anything.  Will my mother join life again now?  Will she find a hobby, passion, or her grandchildren?  Will she just find another thing that ties her to being miserable, unable, incapable?

Nanny made worrying a sport, and my mother has been on that train.  I would be taking on an unhealthy family legacy to do more than pray for my mother.  I’d be using worry as a love language, when I don’t believe that it is.  Worrying actually shows lack of love and care for myself.  I’ve heard it said that worry is like a rocking chair, it is something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  It doesn’t help the person you are worried about, and it is a waste of time that can make the worrier physically and mentally ill.  So–I am noting it here and hopefully not picking up that rubik’s cube as much as I might have been inclined in the past.  In reality, I will probably realize that I’ve picked up the cube and promptly put it back down.

So, when all of these thoughts come at me–along with the pressures of an impending move, career change, and countless other details–I need to deal with my grief.  Since my loved one quipped about how optimal Nanny’s death was, I decided to fantasize about what it is I actually need.

When I was in college, I went to a formal dance with a friend, and my sorority sister went with one of my date’s fraternity brothers.  Said gal pal would frequently have too much to drink and get weepy.  At this particular formal, I returned from the bathroom to find my friend on my date’s lap while he patted her on the back and gently cooed, “Just let it alllllll out.”  I hadn’t thought of that scene in twenty years, but today, it seems like perfection.

In real life, I don’t get to bawl like I want to.  My spouse doesn’t get it, it was an “optimal death.”  I have to ask for a hug most days.  My daughter is only 5, and this is her first brush with death.  I could cry into a pillow, I could cry into the air as I pray, but I really really really just want to cry into the presence of another person.

Remember the scene in “Goodwill Hunting” when Robin Williams repeats “It’s not your fault” until Matt Damon’s character lets it loose.  (I’ll wait while you youtube it….)

That’s what I want, except Santa Claus seems like a jolly old elf that would let you do that kind of thing.  I would get to cry the ugliest cry ever cried into his shoulder while he patted my back, and that storybook voice would say, “She’s gone.  Things are different.  Things are frustrating and sad.  We don’t know what is next.  Just let it alllllllll out.”

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