Journeys of the Heart

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

SOMEDAY I'LL GET THAT HUG

All I wanted for Christmas was something that I knew I couldn't have. That doesn't stop me from wanting it anyway. 

I wish I could get a hug from my boys. If only they could step out of eternity for the briefest of moments and wrap their arms around me one more time.

When I meditate that is what I picture; that is what I feel—the strength of their young arms, the brush of Jarrod's curly hair, Chris whispering "Mommy Meatball" one last time.

I am grateful for Christmas with our daughter and grandkids. 

Skyla, Saradi, and me with our home-made gingerbread houses.



There is magic in young Skyla's eyes as she twirls her brand-new rainbow Barbie in the air.

But Bittersweet moments still rush into my head. I see young Chris beneath a long-ago tree with that same magic in his eyes as he opens his grandmom's gift, a giant box of matchbox cars.

Once, when Chris was lying in the hospital, his chemo pump growling beside him, I asked him to tell me one of his favorite memories.

The reply was not what I expected from a teenager. "Remember Mom, when I was in kindergarten we practiced my ABC's beneath the Christmas tree."



Now my older granddaughter, Saradi, is a teenager, and I am here for her in the present. Her love of bold colors and artsy patterns has skipped a generation. Her mom simply rolls her eyes as the two of us celebrate a pair of Bohemian patched pants.



Saradi and I can share Jarrod too. She was 10 when he died, and he was more like a brother than an uncle. Fishing trips and piggyback rides, I hope she never forgets.
Jarrod




 We can't help but mourn our other unborn grandchildren. Our boys would have been fabulous fathers. 

Our daughter, Erin, mourns her brother, her best friend, her unborn nieces and nephews.

If I let it Christmas can trigger paralyzing waves of PTSD. So my greatest present is to stay in the present. And to not forget the hope of glory.

Chris
Once, when Jarrod was about 11 we were talking about his brother, Chris, in heaven. "Yeah, I can't wait to go home too." Jarrod had said ironically, prophetically. He joined his brother at the age of 21.

I think of the little boy, Jesus. He knew he wasn't home either. He knew that he was born to die, to give us the true gift of Christmas. That's the magic in my longing eyes.

Jesus did Christmas in reverse. He started out with unimaginable piles of presents and left them all behind. 

He gave up perfection and traded it for pain and betrayal. He did it for 33 long years. 

He did that so I could get that hug someday.



Deuteronomy 33:27: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

Friday, November 23, 2018

3 WAYS TO HELP THE GRIEVING NAVIGATE THE HOLIDAYS

The holiday season is tricky at best for those who are grieving.



About ten minutes after Halloween the bombardment begins. Ads, music, lights, decorations, parties-they stab and poke at the hearts of those of us whose holidays will never be the same.

While we can't bring our loved one back there are specific things that we can do to help the grieving navigate the holidays.

#1 LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS

Do not make any demands on your grieving loved one. Family holiday traditions that once brought them comfort may be a source of pain right now. For several years after our Chris died, we went away at Christmas time. It was too painful to decorate the house and wake up on Christmas morning without him. Finally, we started decorating again with the help of our granddaughter and our other children.

Some people will gradually return to holiday activities, and some never will. Others will begin new traditions. You cannot impose any rules or timelines on them.

It's okay to let them know that you are thinking of them. Our first Christmas after our Jarrod went to be with the Lord his girlfriend brought over home-made cookies. We were able to enjoy them in the privacy of our home without having to dress up and show up somewhere with smiles plastered on our faces.

#2 GIVE GIFTS THAT HONOR THEIR MEMORIES

We have several Christmas ornaments given to us that contain photos of our children when they were small. These are precious to us now. They remind us of the gift of the years that we had together.

Our daughter Erin, and son, Chris, circa 1990


Our son, Chris, battled cancer for 4 years and we spent more than 200 nights at the Ronald McDonald House near the children's hospital where he was treated. After his passing thousands of dollars were donated in his name. It is edifying to know that other struggling families were blessed by Chris's memory.

Take the time to find out what charity or cause was closest to their heart and give accordingly. This is really a gift that you are giving to the survivors. You are helping them leave a legacy honoring their loved one.

#3 UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE LONELY

There is an intense loneliness that comes with grief. No one can fill the missing space held so uniquely by their loved one.

 Paradoxically, people who are lonely often isolate. We are avoiding having to deal with the world without our missing loved one. Don't take it personally if we aren't up for your invitation to get together. Don't take it personally if we don't call you back. However, we do appreciate your cards and messages.

The lens through which we view the world has been shattered. Until we assimilate a new one we may get stuck for a while. But even after we heal, we are still changed forever. Understand that we are in pain. And yes, even though we may act like we want to be left alone, we are still very lonely.

Unfortunately, this is a type of loneliness that can't be cured with social invitations. If your grieving friend wants to talk about the person they miss, please just listen. Talking about their loved one is the closest they are going to get to them for now. It reaffirms that they lived, they laughed, and they loved.



They may not be ready to talk, but when they are—be there. Allowing us to share memories is the greatest gift of all. You are helping us feel the presence of the one we long for.

Our son, Jarrod, shortly before he died in an accident

1 Corinthians 13:12 


For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.







Tuesday, October 30, 2018

CELEBRATING MY SISTER, MY BEST FRIEND

Let's face it there is no one like a sister. Same genes, same family history, same secrets, and the same-gender orientation when dealing with pesky brothers.


Me, standing, Maureen the youngest, in middle. Circa 1963



I am so grateful that you are my sister, Maureen, and that we grew up as allies and not enemies. Perhaps the five-year spread created enough age distance to eliminate competition. Or maybe the fact that one of our brothers teased you so much that I became your protector, determined to see you survive your elementary years.

Also working in our favor, was our mother's frequent brain-washing. "You'll always have each other."


Mom saying, "You'll always have each other."


And we did.

Being the older sister, I became the explainer of life. When our mom's description of the birds and bees(Bless her 1960's Catholic heart.) left you more confused than enlightened I happily filled in the missing details. After all, I had learned them myself while listening in on the collective wisdom of our brothers' friends.




We were Batman and Robin, dashing around the yard in our capes. We were secret sunbathers crawling out of our bedroom window onto the roof to lay out. We rode bikes, shot hoops, played dolls, and always thought the same things were funny.

"EEWW, I'd never swim in the kiddie pool at the swim club. All the babies pee in it. Yeah, they should just put in a flusher. Ha Ha Ha. That's a good one!"

"Remember when Heidi(our dog) pooped in the hall and you stepped in it barefoot? Ha Ha Ha. You hopped on one foot all the way down the hallway screaming EWW, EWW, EWW.!"

"Remember the night we climbed that big fence at the swim club and went skinny dipping. Then when we left we found out the gate was unlocked. Ha Ha Ha."

For many years we went skiing together and nicknamed ourselves "The Chapstick Sisters". We rode the chairlift and talked about everything. Husbands, kids, God, and cellulite.


Maureen and me. The Chapstick Sisters.


When we grew older, uncooperative ACL's wouldn't allow us to ski together anymore. But we have never stopped our semi-annual visits, even though we are separated by more than a thousand miles.

Along the way, you stopped being just my little sister and simply became my very best friend.

You were there for me during many long phone conversations when my precious little boy battled cancer. I was there for you when your precious little boy battled depression.

More adversity followed; too many stories to recount here. But each of them has served to strengthen our bond.

Now you are caring for our elderly mom. You bear most of the burden for her daily care. You juggle doctors, social workers, insurance, hospitalizations, and the emotional roller coaster of being a care-taker.

 You have put your life on hold, and I want you to know that you are appreciated.

I hope you realize that you are a hero

I can't be there as much as I would like to.

 But I will always be your best friend.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

THE IN-BETWEEN PLACE


Have you ever felt like you don't fit anywhere?




 I think most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Perhaps you identify with awkward middle school memories choosing a seat on the bus or the anxiety of finding a 'home' table in the high school cafeteria.

But it gets more complicated when we grow up. Especially when things change unexpectedly.


For many years my persona was wrapped around being a teacher and a mom. My children all attended the school where I taught, and I was part of a school family and a professional learning community.


For many years my husband was a successful businessman, and we enjoyed an upper-middle-class lifestyle with globe-trotting vacations and fancy parties. I congratulated myself for being a successful member of society, and I felt grateful to be among the lucky ones.





Over the years almost everything has changed. Our firstborn son died of cancer, our lucrative business perished in the great recession, and our second son died in an accident. Several other health and financial blows followed in quick succession.


I went from being able to critique ski resorts around the country to someone who puts groceries back, puts off dental work, and wonders how I am going to pay my hospital bills.


Now that most of the fancy props are gone, things that used to matter don't seem so important anymore.


 I am in an in-between place.


I am re-assessing my purpose in life, and I sincerely doubt that it is supposed to be to get all of the stuff back that I used to have.


I turn away more and more from what the world expects of me, and I turn my face towards God, asking Him what He wants from me.


Looking at the recent news is a reminder of the huge gaps in this world.


 Sunami and earthquake survivors in Indonesia walk among the rubble that used to be their homes, mourning their dead family members.





A businesswoman critiques which app delivers her food and make-up in a timely manner.


Homeless teens and young adults in our city hope to have a drop-in center soon.


Quarterback Jameis Winston will make $21 million in 2019.


This is not the world that I want to fit into.

But if I hadn't been humbled, I doubt that I would be looking so hard for God's will. Now I strive to be more like the apostle Paul.


Philippians 4:12 

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I was walking my dog yesterday, and I met a woman who also lost a child to cancer. We paused on the sidewalk while our dogs sniffed and we spoke about our children. We had just met, yet we were able to converse at an intimate level about heaven and eternity. 

We were standing in the gap between this world and the next, the in-between place.

I hugged a friend yesterday who had just celebrated one year of sobriety. 

We were standing in the gap between regret and hope, the in-between place.

The in-between place is where the buzz of the world subsides and the voice of God is heard. It's where we let go.

Philippians 4:13 

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength








Tuesday, September 18, 2018

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOUR CHILD GETS IN TROUBLE AT SCHOOL

I spent more than 30 years as a classroom teacher. I have also raised three children and helped to raise a grandchild. When it comes to misbehaving kids you could say that I've seen every trick in the book.





What most parents don't realize is that the kids know how to work the system better than we do!

I'm writing today to empower the guardians, parents, and grandparents of kids who struggle. There are definite steps that you can take to steer your child towards a better educational experience.

1. Make sure that you have all of the pertinent information.

This is especially key if your child has a disability or a medical diagnosis. The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that your child has the right to equal access to his or her education in the least restrictive environment. You have the right to check your child's file to see if he is being accommodated properly.

Does your child have an IEP(Individual Education Plan)? Is it being followed properly? For example, an ADHD child who has frequent breaks built into his plan is almost guaranteed to act out if this need is ignored.

Do not feel too intimidated to ask for this information to be carefully explained to you. That is what guidance counselors are for. Receiving a form to be signed isn't the same as having someone sit with you and answer your questions.

 Sometimes information may be presented to you in a conference room with 6 or 7 staff members looking at you. This can be very unnerving and it is not unreasonable to request a one on one with a teacher or faculty member that you feel comfortable with. If you are not comfortable with a teacher, you are within your rights to ask for a counselor or administrator to be present.



Is your child properly placed? I recently spent time in a middle school classroom where an extremely bright and fluent student was talking and ignoring the teacher. The teacher was painstakingly going over vocabulary that this child already knew. He was clearly bored, and I knew that I'd get a little stir-crazy myself under those circumstances.

Talk to your child about their schedule and their teachers. Are they getting in trouble in certain classes or in everything? Is there a bully, or a perceived enemy in the room?

2. Advocate as a Team Player

Teachers are teachers because they love kids, but they get tired and over-worked just like everyone else. They sometimes miss things or make mistakes. However, it is much more effective to work with them than to complain about them.

The greatest successes that I have had in turning around bad behavior were when the parents knew what was going on in my classroom and bought in. This involves work on your part, but isn't your child worth it? If the teacher has the child on a point system or behavior contract familiarize yourself with it. Talk about it at home. Set goals. Offer rewards.

If your child gets in trouble, and there is no class system, ask for one. The guidance counselor can provide models.

When a child knows that you and the teachers are working together as a team he is less likely to misbehave.

If you are uninvolved it's much easier for a child to play you and the teacher against each other. Trust me, even preschoolers know how to do this!

This brings me to my third, and most important point.

3. Make Time

If your child were sick, you would take a day off of work to take them to the doctor. So if their behavior is unhealthy, take a day off to observe the classroom. Let the teacher(s) know ahead of time and plan your strategy together.

Younger students will appreciate the attention, but older students, especially middle-schoolers, will be completely embarrassed. This can definitely work in your favor!



When your child gets in trouble it's tempting to just yell and send him to his room with no electronics, but that doesn't get to the root of the problem. Whatever communication system you have worked out with the teacher should be discussed daily with your child. 

Take this opportunity to praise the positive, and process the negative. Hold your child accountable, but do it with love. Expect progress, not perfection.

Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

From time to time, there may be teachers that you or your child clash with despite your best intentions. Of course, unprofessional behavior should always be reported, but sometimes it just boils down to a personality conflict. In cases like this, don't miss the opportunity to allow your child to experience a real-life lesson. Sooner or later he or she will encounter that difficult boss or co-worker.

Remember, a child is a precious gift that God lent to us for a short amount of time. Don't shortchange your time together. Take back your power as a parent.

Psalm 127:3 "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward."

Are you having issues with your child at school? I'd love to hear about it. Perhaps you have a success story. I'd love to hear that as well. Please comment below.



Friday, August 31, 2018

3 WAYS TO LET GO AND LET GOD

We were sweating and grunting, hauling out stacks of debris from my sister's garage: Moldy boxes of outdated books, floor mats from cars sold long ago, ancient toys from grown children, dusty binders stuffed with paper— a professional development agenda from 1993, coursework from 1981, and receipts from companies that no longer exist. To get to them we had to trip over piles of sports equipment that hadn't seen the light of day in years.




And it wasn't even her stuff. It belonged to her spouse, an aspiring hoarder. "I'm ready to kill him," she sighed, "He never throws anything away." Ah, it was the stuff divorces are made of.

  • The First Way to Let Go: Get rid of things that hold you hostage.

Let's face it, some things are sentimental, but if you find yourself with an unnatural attraction to objects that are 50% mold, there may be a problem. Or if you can't see the floor, and your philosophy is 'more is better' it could be an addictive personality kicking in.

It may be time to ask for help—preferably, from someone with zero emotional attachment to your stuff. That was my role for my sister. Funny, how easy it is to see other people's junk.

Sounds, a bit like sponsorship doesn't it? 

And when we were done, even Harry the Hoarder(name changed) admitted that he felt better.

I can't help but think of the parable of the rich man who wasn't willing to get rid of his stuff in order to follow Jesus.

  • The Second Way to Let Go: Accept circumstances as they are today.

This is harder than dumping physical items. When people tell me that everything happens for a reason I will admit that I sometimes have the urge to slap them. Perhaps the boss isn't getting nicer, the bills aren't going away, ungrateful kids suddenly didn't start sending flowers, and crazy Cousin Batty is still, well—batty. 

But a funny thing happens when acceptance kicks in. We stop fighting and we begin to see new possibilities. When I couldn't change my husband's depression I discovered new places to kayak. I went out on the water and prayed for him. He is slowly getting better and I have really nice biceps for a grandmother.

Me, kayaking the mangrove tunnels near my home in Sarasota, Florida.


When my daughter battled her addiction, we wound up raising a beautiful grandchild for 4 years. I had unlimited access to mentor her and shower her with love. I chose to focus on what I could control. 

Philippians 4:12-13
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Sometimes we don't see the value of difficult circumstances until years later. That unreasonable teacher that I had in second grade, the one who always put me in the corner without a chance to explain, made me a more empathetic teacher. She taught me that children deserve to have a voice.

She also taught me that it's not nice to dump someone's brand-new crayons into the yucky school box full of peeled, broken, and chewed up Crayola stumps.

  • The Third Way to Let Go: Relationships—Contribute, don't control.
You may have noticed that the points in this blog are presented in increasing levels of difficulty. If you were tempted to throw out your significant other along with the used sports equipment in the first paragraph you are not alone!

When a relationship becomes toxic we are the ones who must make a change. When I first became sober my husband wasn't. It became necessary for me to take time out from the relationship. At first, he expected everything to stay the same. It was the beginning of many cold showers for him.

Our Alanon friends have much to teach us about detaching with love and setting appropriate boundaries. The love part is the key. Otherwise, we feed our destructive emotions.

I had to get out of the way and let God deal with him. He became sober in his time, not mine.

The hardest relationships I've had to let go of are the ones I've lost through death, specifically my two sons who died at 14, and 21 respectively.

 The good news is that I can apply these principles to my grief. I can't control the fact that our boys are no longer with us, but I have trained myself to reflect on all of the exciting things we will be doing in eternity.

Most importantly, I share this faith with others. I try to contribute to their faith and hope.

Another way to look at it is letting go of people, places( physical, emotional, or spiritual) and things.

How about you? What are you struggling to let go of?



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TRUST YOUR MIRRORS: Reflections of God in Recovery


The rent-a-truck dude handed me the keys to a rather large truck, and my sister hopped in beside me.  I instinctively reached to adjust my rear-view mirror, and oops—there wasn't one. Moving vans don't have rear-view mirrors, because they would be totally useless anyway.




Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere. I know I have spent way too much time looking back on my life, beating myself up for things that are over and done with. Hmmm, maybe that's why they call them moving vans. You have to move forward.

We were moving furniture for our elderly mother, who is downsizing. Along with the truck I had three nephews with young backs. But I wasn't used to driving a truck with no rear-view mirror.

What the truck did have were really useful side-view mirrors. Each mirror has two images, one tracks more distant objects, and the other affords a closer view at a slightly different angle. The idea is to use both images to navigate safely.

But, when I had to glance behind me to change lanes, I wasn't looking directly at the traffic. I was only looking at a reflection of the traffic. I had to trust these mirrors.




God works a lot like that. We don't get to look directly at Him. We have to look for things that reflect His glory.

The Bible is His best reflection. The inspired words are a how-to manual on life. Everything from how to raise your kids, manage your money, and forgive others is covered. 

The problem is I want to stick my head out the window and see for myself. But if I do that I don't have my eyes on the road, and I might crash.


Jeremiah 17:7 


“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him."

The rooms of recovery are another great reflection of God's glory. When I'm feeling utterly devastated and alone, someone else magically expresses my deepest thoughts. Then, they get me to laugh at myself, as only someone in a similar situation can do. 




Bouncing ideas off of fellow believers is another way to have God's guidance reflect back to me. That is like glancing in the smaller mirror that reflects the tighter, more intimate angle.

This is especially true when I have to back up. My sister, Maureen, had to get out of the truck and signal to me so I didn't ram Mom's garage door. At times we all get to those places where we have to reverse directions. We need a friend or a Bible passage to get us outside of ourselves and provide a new perspective.

Then there are those people or unexpected events that cut us off. I was merging onto a highway and an impatient woman decided she just had to cut in front of me because she might have to reach the adjacent shopping center 5 seconds later than she had hoped. 




Since I literally had nowhere to go, those mirrors became my lifeline. The brakes and the horn were extremely useful as well.

We arrived safely at our destination. Prior to our trip, we had taken a searching and fearless inventory of Mom's furniture so we knew what we were keeping and what we were getting rid of. We had 12 stepped mom's house.

I wouldn't have gotten very far without my mirrors.

James 1: 23-24:  "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

How is God reflected in your mirrors? Comment below, and I will share them in a future blog. 

From the comments, I will randomly select one winner to receive a free copy of one of my books!