Yesterday and Today

You’d think I’d know by now, know that there’s little you can really plan. Oh, you can make plans but life doesn’t always listen or the hotel says, no, we don’t have a reservation for you. So you ask if they have a room and she says yes and while you’re hurriedly changing clothes to get to the gathering at the funeral home she calls and tells you you’re actually booked at another hotel. Plans.

No one plans to bury their child, no matter how old that child is. You don’t plan to be calling in family and friends or to be flying across the country to her and then flying to a cancer hospital in another state only to take her home one last time. There is no preparation for this but it happens and someone has to lead. For awhile it was the cancer leading, dictating their travel their schedules, their lives. Cancer lead the way into uncharted territory, into the shadow of the valley of death but when it seemed like death had won, their spirit took the lead. For her, for their daughter who named her interior design business Immortal Peace. Their peace, shaky as it was, lead them through this shadow of death.

Takin' it to the streets

Takin’ it to the streets

the Last Adam (it was the 80's)

the Last Adam (it was the 80’s)

Front Line house

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I remember their arrival to lead our church in 1981. She refers to it as their “Camelot”. It was the perfect fit of young couples waiting for someone to take the lead, someone we could not only follow but learn to lead with them. So they did. And we did. They dreamed big dreams and infused some of the old traditions with new life. They had a vision for ministry and brought us into it wherever we fit.

We were going into jails to visit and sharing the Good News on the streets to prostitutes. We were standing at the Greyhound Bus Station with our horns in full uniform, inhaling all that exhaust and exhaling a message of hope. Few people were ever there but we were.

We had a band before everyone had a band and they were good and they shared Good News. We started a newsletter called The Front Line and shared stories of redemption and grace.

We had cookouts in our backyards and she drove to our house to plant a sign in our front yard announcing to the neighborhood I was turning 30. We shared life together then and today they lead and we shared the way.

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wildflower seeds

 

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memorial service

 

family & guests table

 

Team Crabson

They were in the funeral home with their two other children, a small gathering of family and friends mingling about. We hugged and she teared up and I teared up and we decided we’d cry together when we needed to. I stood next to her as others came in to offer words of sympathy. I saw her attention immediately turn to the older women on walkers. Women from the small church they attend. In their retirement years they choose to serve and it was evident as she welcomes them. “She never goes out” she says to me before she leans down to share a hug. These women come first because the least are first in God’s kingdom and she’s sharing that kingdom even in her grief.

We’ve been given assignments for the service. This one is leading the service, another leading two songs, he’s reading selected verses and I’m reading Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer, “in a modern version so their ears will hear it fresh”, he directs. We all will share our memories and connections to their family. Follow the leader.

“Well team”, he says, “you did it.” We are sitting at tables in the small fellowship room of this tiny church. It’s as if we’re in the church where we first met, with him leading as we eagerly follow.

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You follow people who bring you into their vision, their dream. You follow people who have a plan, who can give direction. You follow someone who is following the One. It’s hard to explain but when you’re in their presence you know because the spirit of grace, mercy, love, peace, kindness, goodness, and all those things you want in your life, all of those they share as they lead. Yesterday and today.

Linking up with SheLoves Magazine on their monthly topic: lead.

Five-Minute Friday {ready}

The early morning sun was illuminating the side of the house. I could just see a wedge from my vantage point with more being revealed as I walked from across the street. I saw a bit of water behind the house and thought what a view they must have: the water with first light coming above.

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Another death. A woman diagnosed 7 months ago. A woman we knew as a teenager with her wild hair framing her sweet smile, her frame slender like her dad’s, her laugh gracious like her moms. Their middle child, baby girl, gone from this earth. They weren’t ready for this. No one is.

These days we count more funerals than weddings and more deaths than births. The view is through the mist of grief, the view of mourning and sorrow. Even in our faith, a faith that believes in eternity and a life far better for those who believe, we grieve. For our loss. The absence of the hair swirling around her face, absence of her laugh that sang her part. They are missing a piece of their heart and even the promise of eternal life where sickness and pain is no more, even with that we hurt and weep and our hearts break because we are broken people and will be until we see eternity. Even while we celebrate a life lived with promise and hope and beauty, even still we grieve.
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The houses have little more than 8 feet between. My view was limited but I kept my head turned trying for that glimpse of what they must see the full view. Through a sliver I saw what the houses hid: a parking lot for the apartments with cars crowded together and just to the left, the golden ball of sun.

Not a full view. Not a pretty view. Not in totality. Only in part. Only if your focus is the sun. Only if you can train your mind to block out the distractions below.

We choose our view. To see our life distracted by the view of loss and mourning. It is a view I have chosen for a moment in time. But it is only a partial view. Temporary. For “weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” 1 Corinthians 13:12 the Message

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of Friday-loving, word-loving bloggers to just write.

Throwback Thursday {birthdays}

She was the middle child of 11: 6 boys, 5 girls. Born to a poor family in a Oklahoma town so small she often told others she was from another small town. She told few stories about those times. Just that her mama always cooked enough to feed others and a woman they called Aunt John who helped with the kids.

She married at 16. I expect she was swept off her feet by a charming flirt, handsome in his Salvation Army uniform, himself just 20 and fresh out of seminary.

She’s turning 76 today but in her mind she is ageless. The cards she’ll get mean nothing to her but we’ll send them because she means something to us.

JuanitaJimBillPauline1942

Juanita Jim Bill Pauline (mama) 1942

Mama's high school photo

Mama’s high school photo

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DEBBY MC-009

I suspect mama and daddy celebrated their birthdays when we were growing up though I never remember one. Not for them. She saw to it that my brother and I had birthday parties. My 13th was at the skating rink.

By my 14th they were divorced but she saw to it I had a party.

my 10th birthday

my 10th birthday

my little brother's 3rd

my little brother’s 3rd

I’m surprised I even knew my parents birthday with their celebrations being absent. Maybe that’s how it was for their generation and how I carried it on in our home, mostly. The kids got the parties.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

A rare visit over mama's birthday in 1976

A rare visit over mama’s birthday in 1976

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Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

I was with mama on her birthday a few years ago. I think it was her 72nd. The dementia was apparent. We had pretty gift bags with colorful tissue. The bags were set in front of her but nothing. I picked one up and handed it to her and she held it and looked at me with a cocked head as if to say, what do you want me to do?

“It’s for you mama.” A smile.

I opened the bag, reached in and took out the nightgown to show her. Another smile, a curious one. She had no idea what was going on. That this was for her. This day was about her.

It’s worse now and I haven’t been out there in 2 years. Lisa sends pictures. They had a big celebration last year on her 75th. She liked the grandkids visit and smiled at the cake and colors not knowing they came to celebrate her.

This year, she’s sleeping a lot more. Content but tired and it’s okay because we’ll always celebrate mama. Celebrate her life, her faith, her example.

We’ll celebrate when we volunteer or listen to a stranger.

She’ll be celebrated when we drop our change in the red kettle at Christmas or when we send thank-you cards and remember our manners.

We celebrate her everyday because she lives in how we laugh loud and love quiet. She lives in our service, our worship, in our differences and our coming together.

Dementia may steal memories but it doesn’t have to steal our joy or the legacy she leaves.

Happy birthday, mama. Thank you for always pointing to the One greater than you because He is the One whose grace allows us to rejoice in the midst of your loss. He is our Hallelujah song.

Surrounded

It’s a celebration. Ten years of marriage. Our son-in-law has it planned, directions and instructions provided. This is what he does. The family planner of excursions, holidays, hikes and road trips. All designed to build those moments into family life that can be lost to the everyday business of life.

throwing petals

Heather Tim

cake topper

I do again

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We celebrate with them as they renew their vows in a small ceremony on a croquet lawn of an Inn in Highlands, NC. Their six-year old daughter is excited to wear her dress with a bit of sparkle as she will be their flower girl. Our son, 34, told his niece he was the ring bearer.

It will be small, just the immediate family and I’m beside myself with this loving display that was absent from my parents. Lost and found at the same time.

This week could be called sensory overload for me and I know it’s my whole being on high alert for all that’s going on around us.

We are surrounded by work (perceived expectations) and family (self-expectations). Surrounded by happy celebrations of love, new life in Christ and renewed commitments.

with camera

lake house

birdhouse on the lake

Mamas hands black and white

Surrounded by news of cancer in a young father, the third in our extended community this year. The third person in their 30’s and 40’s faced with a “Stage 4” diagnosis. From a back ache, a feeling of unrelenting exhaustion, a pain that wasn’t going away; from those everyday malady’s of life they’ve received what sounds like a life sentence.

 

Surrounded with thoughts of a mother’s continuing decline in Alzheimer’s and a granddaughter entering first grade.

In all of the dire prognosis we look for hope. As people of faith we must proclaim the “better life” that is ahead. We must because we believe it and because we need to tell this to ourselves in those moments of utter grief.

Ron was speaking on Psalm 137, a joy-less Psalm; a couple of verses a prayer to God to destroy others. These are words of despair and grief. He talked about going to a “Celebration of Life” service because the living feel so much better calling it that than “funeral”. Like I feel better being called MayMay than Granny. We do that today. We don’t like the word, the phrase, we change it to what makes us feel happier, younger, better. The facts don’t change: someone died, I’m old enough to be a grandparent.

In Ron’s message, he gave us permission to mourn. Something we seem to want to avoid. As if mourning is empty faith. Than somehow showing our sorrow at our earthly loss isn’t trusting in God.

I don’t like showing those emotions in public, or at all. I don’t want you to see my ugly, crying face, the one that looks weak and needy and sad and lonely. I don’t want you to hear the squeaky voice that trembles with words that are incoherent. But I need to mourn as much as I need the happier celebrations. The ones that speak of abiding love and a little girl holding flowers for her mama.

There’s an old song titled “Ache beautiful” and I realize there is beauty to be found in sorrow, in grief. It is in the midst of this loss where I feel the tender touch of Jesus most. When I am ready to accept his loving care, when I’m ready to admit my need.
We are surrounded by life. The richness of loving and knowing and losing, all making our faith deeper and more complete. All making our life beautiful.

Linking up with SheLoves Magazine on their monthly topic: beautiful.

I bought this apple {for mama}

I bought a green apple dish. I’m not fond of green, nor do I collect apples but mama did. Mostly red ones. So I bought it. Because of her, no other reason. I bought it for a mama who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure of the difference or if it matters.

green apple dish 2

Updates from my sister take us further into this dark place and I can only imagine how much darker it is for mama. Though now, with her memory so gone, maybe things are brighter for her. She isn’t struggling as much to remember what she once knew she’d forgotten. Life is easier for her in that way. I want to believe that.

She has fallen three times in less than two weeks with no particular reason as to why. It meant a trip for blood work and there the struggle became most difficult for my sister. Mama doesn’t remember how to get in and out of a car and screamed when the blood was drawn. I’ll spare you some of the other events of what was once a simple trip. It was less than three years ago when I took her for medical tests and my biggest concern was her getting away from me when my back was turned answering questions.

The latest news of her losing weight signals the disease entering another stage, one taking her further away from this life. Mama struggled with her weight most of her adult years. But this isn’t good news. Not now.

I think of the family we’ve lost in the past six years. Both of Henry’s parents, my uncle who was such a part of our lives, all of them in better shape than mama. Their bodies gave out and hers, well, it’s hard to understand. In fact, I don’t understand it. Not at all.

green apple dish

I bought this apple. This green that looked much darker than I remembered it looking on the website. This dish that seems to be a bit awkward amongst the pottery pieces on my shelf. A new piece that has nothing to do with the collection of apples she had in her house. Yet, I look at it and think of her. Another thing I don’t understand.

Paul of the bible writes of some kind of handicap or disability or limitation. Something that caused him aggravation at the least. Enough that he asked God to take this away. Three times Paul begged God would take this away. Three times God said no. Bigger than God’s “No” is his grace.

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”2 Corinthian 12:7, the Message

Grace is only given when we need it. I believe it often looks like tears or smiles. It can be hidden in the faded photos crammed into boxes. This grace that is enough. For me.

 

 

For a friend

We have never met but her pain has touched my heart.

She reached out to me in an email, “can you help me tell my story? Maybe in that blog thing like you did for Laura? It just hurts so much.”

around the lake  flowers

I think of the pain of losing a spouse and I can’t touch it. I’ve had loss but not that. Not the one who fills the space next to you each night. The one you reach out to find warmth but find emptiness and the emptiness inside is bigger than place he filled in bed.

It is her pain and it is crushing. A life too young, taken too quick. It was just some back pain, probably a pulled muscle. The diagnosis: stage 4 cancer. A year later his place next to her in their bed is empty.

around the lake

around the lake  on Lake Junaluska

There are no words to offer that can fill that hole or soothe that soul. We know time is the healer but we don’t know how we’ll get through the time.

Three months he’s gone. Before, family came from out-of-state to be close, be together and it held her pieces from scattering in the winds. Now they are gone, back to their lives and it’s a cold urn she clings to in the night when she needs to feel something that is him.

I don’t know this broken woman. I think Glennon’s word ‘brutiful’ fits here: a broken and brutal beauty. That is what this aching woman is. She is screaming inside and wants to scream out loud: IT HURTS SO BAD. I HURT SO BAD.

around the lake  around the lake

We hear your hear, dear one. We hear your soul cries and we hold your words dear and tender. We don’t need to know you face to face to know your anger and pain. Your grief is real and crushing. You are caught in the rip current of grief and the only way to escape a rip current is to swim with it. If you try to swim to the shore, against the current, it will pull you down. Swim with it my friend. Relax your body so the water can carry you. Know the water is the love of Jesus not abandoning you but allowing you to float to safety. He is carrying you through the rolling tide.

Written with permission and input from Melissa Hale. Please pray for this dear sister as she continues finding God’s grace and peace in her storm of loss. 

He was a drunkard. He was my friend.

We were living in Memphis when mama came to visit.  She’d left a busy summer schedule to come for our daughters wedding. My sister was keeping her up on things at home but one phone call left mama suddenly quiet and dabbing at her eyes. I paused, waiting for her explanation when she said, “Burt* died. He was a drunkard. He was my friend.”

Ten years later and the news is shared via Facebook. On our group page for our Adult Rehabilitation Center, a place for graduates and residents to be encouraged and share successes, a graduate posted, “S died over the weekend of organ failure.”

And mama’s words came flooding back to me as I thought of this man, a drunkard, my friend.

HOPE CHANGE logo

Our days are often lived on the edge of sobriety and relapse. An employee calls out sick with “the flu” and the rumors of suspected relapse echo in our minds. Another no-call, no-show and we hesitate saying the words we are thinking: relapse. Someone is late from an appointment and we say, ‘I hope every thing is alright’, meaning we hope he didn’t run in to an old friend at Central Bus Terminal.

Night Log sheets are placed in my box everyday and I scan the lines to see if anyone didn’t return, or worse, was asked to leave, most often for failing the breathalyzer or drug test.

Sobriety isn’t just one day at a time for the person in recovery but it’s one day at a time for us: their employer, their pastor, their co-workers, their friends. There was a time I thought 3 years clean was a magic number but quickly learned it was only a number. Not magical at all. Addiction knows no number it can’t conquer.

Relapse is heartbreaking. Death is a mixture of painfully sad and relief their struggle is over. At least our struggle is over. The selfish side of not wondering where they are, of wondering if they’re alive or dead or in jail. (And we’d all choose jail over most options of relapse.)

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Drunkard is a word from mama’s generation. It’s more polite than the name drunk as in, “he’s a drunk”. That’s harsh, cruel, true.

No matter the label or the name he was my friend. Our friend, a valued employee, a good-natured person suffering with chronic pain and finding his relief in the drink that was one too many but never enough. It breaks my heart. Every time.

He knows he was loved, by his sister, his daughter, his friends. He knows he was loved by God. He believed in the amazing grace that saves a wretch like me. I hope he accepted that grace. I hope that is the grace that holds him now.