Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I Wanna Be Like the Birds

I didn't post last week because we were stranded in a little town  in South Carolina. Our diesel truck had to have surgery at the 'Ford' hospital. Since we live in our fifth wheel RV that means our home was stranded too. Unable to limp to a campground we spent several days in a dingy motel where we could walk to a restaurant.

Harvey the RV towed by The Green Beast

With both of our boys in heaven, life's trials sometimes weigh heavier than usual. To make matters worse our patio furniture that we had in the truck bed came loose and smashed our rear window. Did I mention that the forecast was for rain?

As I walked our dog, Marley, along the dreary access road by the interstate the constant hum of traffic reminded me how stuck I feel sometimes. Everyone else was going somewhere. Meanwhile my grief had grabbed onto me and made me feel trapped.

Then I heard the birds. They twittered joyfully away in a fume-stunted tree along the highway. Content in their little pocket paradise, they chirped as merrily as any bird residing in the finest garden. "I wanna be like the birds." I sighed wistfully.

Psalm 104:12: "Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches."

I want to be at peace in my tree of life as chaos whizzes by. I want to rest on my branch tweeting on my computer, knowing my purpose, protected from the ugliness around me. However, in a fallen world that isn't always possible.

Psalm 55:6 "I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest."
But I also want someone to hear my song and be comforted. I hope my blogs and tweets make a bit of music along the busy roadside. No matter difficult my life is right now I know that my Chris and Jarrod are in heaven waiting for me. That is my song!
When I want to stop worrying about the uncertainties of my life I can take a lesson from the birds.
Matthew 6:26 "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

Occasionally, God allows miracles. When our Chris was on his deathbed, my husband, Rob, asked Chris to put a feather under his pillow to let us know that he had arrived in heaven safely. Chris outdid himself by sending us a whole pile of feathers! It was as if a flock of joyful birds had soared over us to remind us that God had heard our request. (To read the story click here: http://www.maribethditmars.com/books)

Psalm 91:4 "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

As Marley and I walked back to my motel room a small feather swirled in the wind in front of my face. I watched it dance lightly back and forth on the breeze, almost as if it were trying to encircle me. I picked it up and brought it back with me to remind myself that I can't see the wind, but I know it's there. God is like that. We can't see him, but we can hear him when the birds sing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Letters to Your Loved Ones: Memorial Journaling

We knew he was dying. Our fourteen year old son would never see fifteen. We didn't know how much time we had left with him, but we knew it was precious. And we wanted to capture as much of it as we possibly could. So we passed around a journal and invited everyone who knew Chris to write. Some wrote to Chris; some wrote about him.

Those memories from others are a priceless gift. They opened a window that we would not have been able to peek through without help.

At first some folks hesitated; they thought that they had to write something profound or eloquent, but the opposite was true. I cherish the uncomplicated comments. One of my favorite entries was from a school cafeteria worker.

"...All of a sudden this very cute and sweet freckle faced second grade boy came skipping out of the room and handed me a little chocolate heart and said, "Happy Valentine' s Day, Mrs. Hubbard!"

It was so simple, so every-day, so Chris.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Some writers captured Chris's antics:

"...You would hide under the computer stand unbeknownst to me...I'd walk all the way back upstairs to (look in) Mrs. Bowan's room...I'd go back and forth. Finally I'd hear a giggle..."

"...I also remember one day when Chris called me as I walked by his room and  he acted like he had vomit on his table. I ran to get towels and he started to laugh as he showed me the fake vomit he had ...He got me good!"

Those entries allowed us to become the proverbial 'fly on the wall'.

Do you know someone who is dying or recently passed? Please consider the gift of journaling. If you are not up to it, get someone else to do it. Lots of your friends and family may be asking, "Is there anything I can do?" Tell them to go to Walmart, buy a journal, and pass it around.

"Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

The front page should contain the directions instructing the writers to jot down a favorite memory, and it should include contact information for the person in charge. Each person should be given a deadline when it is to be returned to the contact person. For folks who prefer email or messaging those can be printed and pasted into the book. This is effective for loved ones who live far away. The journal can be decorative or simple. It's what 's inside that is important. A copybook is better than a spiral as the pages do not tear easily, and the pages should be large enough to accommodate cursive as well as printed material

Organize the book sharing for maximum convenience. Since our Chris was a cancer patient and had spent years building relationships with the medical staff at the children' hospital and the volunteers at The Ronald McDonald House, we started there. We set a time frame and let everyone know that the journal was being circulated. After that, I took the journal to his school and had all of the staff and teachers write.

If your family member is young allow classmates to share. If your loved one is older and enjoyed a career, colleagues at their place of employment can pen some gems that offer treasured insights. Did your loved one belong to a church, professional or volunteer organization, or a military unit? Offer those connections an opportunity to write.

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

Be patient. Some people may decline. Try not to take it personally. Encourage folks to write from the heart and not to worry about spelling and grammar. It may take several weeks or even months for your journal to make the rounds. It's worth the wait!

We had family write in the journal last, but the order is entirely up to you. I did it for practical reasons, because, without Chris, we no longer had much, if any, interaction with the other institutions. I wanted to catch them when their memories were fresh.

Nowadays with so much social media and video recording a simple journal may seem outdated, but I couldn't disagree more. For one thing, it is sometimes difficult for the bereaved to watch videos. And many such recordings aren't very candid. The subject is often performing for the benefit of the camera.

In my opinion, the written word is so much more intimate. Each journal entry tells a special story from that person's unique perspective. We can glimpse the life of our loved one as others saw him. The writings also highlight how our dear ones touched those lives, many times in ways we never would have known!

"...Being his schoolteacher and homebound teacher in fifth grade were special experiences I will cherish always. My time with Chris was a blessing to me...He was the first student to utilize my pig mailbox by sending me a note...whenever he came to visit he always left me a note...he helped me teach two entire homeroom classes about courage and compassion..."

Those journal entries remind me that my son's life mattered, and that he was here for a reason. They remind me of my blessings. I can't promise that journaling will do the same for you, but I'd be very surprised if it didn't.

Perhaps your beloved subject is very elderly and has no contemporaries to share thoughts. Loving memories from younger generations can be recorded. If possible, find someone to interview them about their life and record it in the journal.

One final reason to collect stories is to benefit those who can't read them yet. What a wonderful family legacy to leave for children and grandchildren!

This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.

Recently, we lost our second son, Jarrod. Unlike Chris, who knew his time on earth was limited, Jarrod's loss was sudden. There was no time to prepare, no time to reflect beforehand. I will be collecting memories nonetheless.  Many will be printed e-mails that I will lovingly glue into a very special journal of love.

Our Jarrod

Whether your loss is imminent, sudden, or has come after a long illness, a memorial journal is a priceless treasure, and it will also give others the opportunity to participate in the healing process.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Say What You Mean

"Oh just go in the water," I had said to my 3 year old son when he announced, "I have to pee." I had just trekked across a half a mile of deep sand, towing 2 small children, a cooler, chairs, assorted toys, towels, and sunscreen. With no spouse on hand, and the nearest restroom nowhere in sight, I was instructing my toddler to take the easy, albeit somewhat gross, way out.

Chris took me at my word and pranced up to the water's edge. Without actually entering the water he proceeded to tinkle. "That's not what I meant!" I exclaimed, horrified, as his little yellow sprinkle arched into the air. To make matters worse he began rotating his trunk right to left like a lawn sprinkler. Good-natured beach walkers giggled and gave him a very wide berth. When they glanced in my direction I commented, "Little boy does your mom know you're doing that?"

I still smile at that memory from many years ago. What I meant to say was, "Just walk into the water up to your waist and go while no one is looking." This was definitely not the most sanitary or environmentally responsible parental instruction I had ever given, not to mention that when my awful advice was placed on public display, I was ready to disown my own kid! But, I was busted because I really didn't say what I meant.

How many times do we really say what we mean?

"Let's get together." "I'll call." "I'll get back to you." We have all uttered these words and not followed  through.

We've all been on the other end of it too. Usually, it hurts. When my Chris was diagnosed with cancer I learned very quickly who actually meant what they said. The friends who really called are the ones I cherish.

When my other son, Jarrod, was killed suddenly in an accident the whole town showed up for his funeral. There I heard lots of promises to get together. I had just retired from a long-term job. These were people that I had interacted with on a daily basis for years. Only one person from that workplace has called since the funeral to see how I am doing. When promises are made to grieving folks it is essential that they be authentic. Most of us who are grieving don't have the mental energy to chase you down. We count on you to follow through.

Deuteronomy 23:23: " You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth."

Or have we told people what we thought they wanted to hear, when we really had no intention of delivering? "Sure, as soon as I get a chance." "All right, put it on my desk, and I'll see what I can do." Many of us, including myself, have been guilty of people pleasing. But when we do this too often, people stop trusting us.

Because of my son's diagnosis I became involved in cancer fundraising. This led me to ask others for financial donations. The people pleasers uttered empty promises and never delivered. One friend kept assuring me that her husband's company would sponsor our event when she hadn't even checked with the administration. After calling her four or five times, she finally told me that they could not contribute. Her empty promise stood by like a disowned kid. I had more respect for the folks who told me up front that they weren't in a position to help.

James 5:12: "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation."

We all know what happens when we say "no" to our children at first, then give in. They learn very quickly that we don't really mean it. They become manipulative. The same holds true for our adult relationships. If  anyone has ever taken advantage of you repeatedly, they most likely did it with your permission. As a wise person once said, "No is a complete sentence."

Most importantly, when we say "Yes!" we must be prepared to deliver. Perhaps you know someone right now who is waiting for your "yes" to happen. The promised coffee or lunch awaits. A simple phone call is a wonderful gift. A shout out on social media doesn't count!

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. If you can cook, babysit, mow a lawn, run an errand, make a donation, run a 5k, or just sit and hold someone's hand this is the time to say what you mean and mean what you say! Otherwise, you're just peeing in the water.