Thursday, January 31, 2013

My New Best Friend - Who Lives in Heaven

If you really want to get into some one's head and heart just look at their "stuff".
That is what I always do when I go to yard sales.  What kind of a person owned this book, dress, or video?  Would I like them?  Would we be friends?
Well, Saturday I "met" at an estate sale a lady that would be my new best friend -- if she hadn't died a year ago.
May I introduce you?
She liked sending her mail in pretty colored envelopes.  No blah white ones for her!
She enjoyed fresh flowers and actually bought the vase (that tempted me for years) that creates a perfect bouquet.
She enjoyed throwing tea parties just like I do and probably even wore her

Hats while pouring.
She loved to adorn her home with lovely hand made projects like.........
This hand stitched tablecloth
But the object 'de arte that completely won my heart was her "Diamond" pin that says;
I hope she is looking down from heaven and smiling because we found each other and I will carry on her joyful traditions.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Final Exams

A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine was going through an especially painful time.  "I'm too old for this" she stated.
I told her that I believe the Christian life is like a school education.  The tests get harder as you are promoted through the decades of your walk with the Lord.
As knowledge and remembrances of God's faithfulness increase so does the responsibility to exercise those 'faith muscles'.
This article by one of my kindred spirits reminded me of this truth.
Jesus promised rewards (can you imagine how great His prizes must be?!)
Revelation 22:12
12 Patience, I am coming soon; and with me comes the award I make, repaying each man according to the life he has lived.

Written by Amy Grant, this story first appeared in the February 2013 issue of Guideposts magazine. 
My dad loved to sing and loved any meal that brought our family together. He loved boats and the beach and being outdoors. He loved God, and his prayers were filled with gratitude.
He taught me how to spell my name in Morse code, to play pool and ping-pong, to bait a fish hook, but the important things he taught me were by his example. He was compassionate, caring and respectful. I never heard him say a negative word about another person. What a lesson that was.
Dad is 81 now. His once-brilliant mind has been ravaged by dementia. He doesn't know my name. He rarely says two sentences in a row that make any sense.
And yet, without words he is still teaching me one of the most important lessons of all: how to trust God in the smallest moments, how to see that God is still present and working through all of us, even now, even on those days when I don't understand a thing my father is saying except the word "beautiful."
Dad was a respected radiation oncologist. He trained and taught at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, and has spent most of his life in Nashville practicing at Vanderbilt, Nashville Memorial and St. Thomas hospitals.
His main work was at Park View/Centennial, which opened the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center, named for one of his patients.
When I first started my singing career, people recognized my name because of his accomplishments.
They would come up to me and say, "Your father is such a wonderful doctor. He treated my mother a couple of years ago and it made such a difference. He has a wonderful bedside manner. It gave us so much confidence and hope. We'll never forget him."
Today he doesn't remember what happened an hour ago, let alone five minutes ago. He'll launch into a nonsensical conversation with disjointed phrases and I'll hold his hand, listening. He had a beautiful voice -- still has -- but he's lost all the words to the hymns he taught me, the ones we sang together.
Sometimes I'll sing one to him and he'll pick up the tune, but if I stop, he's lost again, as if the notes just fall off the page.
"Why?" I've asked time and again, along with my three sisters. Why did this happen to this vibrant, intelligent, faith-filled man? Why did something like this happen to our mother too? There was no history of dementia in our family. Our grandparents didn't suffer from it. We had no road map.
Mom and Dad were both in their 70s when the first telltale signs appeared -- a little forgetfulness, a little repetition. But wasn't that normal with age? I forget things all the time. It can be a nagging fear if you don't wrestle it to the ground.
With Dad the confusion grew worse, then the erosion of cognition. I was visiting my parents late one evening on a break during a concert tour. My mom was wrapped up in a robe, a blanket around her feet. There was sweetness in our time together.
I stood up. "Mom, I've got to go and get on the bus. They're waiting for me."
"Are you going somewhere?" she asked.
"Yes, I have a concert in Detroit tomorrow night. A reunion tour with my old friend Michael W. Smith." "Oh, you sing?" she said with a curious smile. "What kind of songs?" I swallowed the lump in my throat, overcome by the memories of all the songs I had played just for her.
"Would you sing something for me now?" she asked wistfully.
I started in on "Revive Us Again," one of her favorite hymns. Halfway through I stopped, asking if she remembered it.
"No," she said, "but I love it. Keep going." I did until it was time to get on the bus. "Can I go on the bus with you? Can I come too?" she asked.
"Not this time, Mom, but I'll be back." I kissed her good-bye and held it together until she was out of my sight.
Mom had a type of dementia known as Louie Body, which involved confusion and altered realities. The good news was that it was not a constant condition, which allowed us to connect with her on good days.
But Dad's dementia became completely debilitating. His vocabulary disappeared. Even familiar objects he couldn't name -- a telephone, a seat belt, a fork.
My sisters, Kathy, Mimi, Carol, and I have become a team, meeting with doctors and hiring caregivers (thank you, Dad, for all of your careful financial planning). Communication has been vital. My advice to every family going through this is to talk honestly with each other.
The first elephant in the room was quietly retiring my dad's medical license and then not letting him drive. My sister Mimi and her husband, Jerry, moved in with Mom and Dad for a year, but they both work full-time so we still needed caregivers. We also had to explain things to Dad.
The time came when we knew it was in our parents' best interest for them to sign papers giving us power of attorney and control of their affairs. On a day when they were having lunch with Walt, their trusted minister, my sisters and I joined them at the end of the meal with the necessary papers.
My father turned to Walt. "Is this the right thing?" he asked, holding the pen. My mother, sitting beside him with her papers asked, "Am I doing the right thing?"
Walt's got a voice so comforting it's like thick caramel. "Can you see this loving family around you?" he said. "Can you see how they care? You poured love and respect into your daughters for a moment like this. You can trust them."
This reversal of roles -- caring for the ones who had been so capable -- is not easy. We would adjust to one change, one new wrinkle in this long downward slide, and then there'd be something new, one more loss of function, and we'd regroup.
All my life I've asked God to lead me to where he needed me. Again and again he's answered that prayer. But this time there were no easy answers.
One night I opened up to a trusted friend, telling her of my frustrations, my confusion, my guilt, my sense of loss, my anger. She listened patiently, offering suggestions, lessons she had learned in the process of losing her own parents.
"Amy, this is going to be the greatest walk of faith you've ever had. You can't see the whole picture now, but each day you're going to have to trust God more than you ever have before.
"Day by day you will find the inspiration you need and you'll see how God is present in each moment. Give yourself the freedom to laugh and cry."
And then came the words that changed everything: "I know this is hard, but this will be the last great lesson you'll learn from your parents."
Mom's health was clearly fading. Out of the blue came the idea to bring her to our house to live with us. Mom moved into my daughter Millie's room for the last three weeks of her life.
I don't think we locked our front door that whole time. People kept coming and going, nurses, hospice workers, my sisters, their husbands, the grandchildren, friends. Anytime day or night, we could go sit with her, sing songs to her, hold her hand.
A few days before she died, another inspiration hit me. We should have a girls' night in, I thought. Now. I called my sisters and said, "Come over tonight. Bring 20 phrases with you, things that will trigger a memory. Don't write down the whole story. The phrase should be enough to remind you of it."
Even though I'm the youngest, I can be bossy!
For three and half hours we sat around Mom's bed and told stories. She never opened her eyes, but her breathing slowed as if she was hearing every word.
"Mom, this is how we remember you," we said. "This is how you showed us your love. These are the stories we tell each other and we'll tell the grandkids and great-grandkids. This was the difference you made in our life." Kathy, Mimi, Carol and I had that precious time with Mom and with each other.
The next morning when the hospice nurse stopped by to check on Mom, she said, "Your mom is in transition." In less than 24 hours she was gone.
Recently I found an old video I had taken of Mom and Dad. I asked my mother three things she loved about Dad. She said, "His smile, his laugh, his voice."
When I asked my dad what three things he loved about Mom, he broke down and said, "I never want to live one day without her." It's been 18 months since Mom passed away.
These days my father lives in a one-bedroom apartment with round-the-clock care. It's working and we're very grateful to the people who are helping us, but I have to remind myself, it's only for now. Each day brings new challenges, each day is different.
Not long ago I took Dad for a walk on the farm. We've got an old log cabin in the back and I took him inside, made a fire and we sat there like two kids on a campout.
"Beautiful," he said, one of his few words these days, at least one of the few I can understand. I guess if you are going to hang on to a short list of words, beautiful is a good one.
When we were through, we went outside, stood there, arm in arm, totally present, letting a warm late winter sun bathe us. "Beautiful," my father said. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"That Will Make A Woman Out Of You"

My grandmother was a 6'2" no nonsense woman from Appalachia.  She had three children by the time she was 16 and went on to have seven.
Her life's perspective was a product of hard times and deep faith.
My mother tells of a time when after she had suffered a loss, she went to her mother in law, my grandmother, and asked how could she bear it?
In a tender  --  not condescending tone my grandmother told her; "That will make a woman out of you."
Mother found comfort in that.  She felt a camaraderie with all women from Eve to Mary up to herself who have endured and pondered life's hardships under the protection of a loving and grace filled God.
There is a verse in Proverbs 31 that describes one byproduct of living by God's grace in this often random and sometimes cruel world .  The Living Bible states it this way:
"She laughs at the days to come."
I have come to see that sometimes the most radical and freeing thing to do in the face of fear and disappointment is to mark your territory with laughter.
My mother at a girlfriend party.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Come to Me All Who Are Cynical, Irreverent and Silly

They call it a "Bookazine" so they can charge $10.99 for it but for all of the excellent bathroom reading it provides I'd call it "Priceless" after my American Express card goes through.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Special Ocassions

If asked on the spur of the moment, I would actually know; Who is the President, What country am I in and What year it is.  So to my way of thinking -- it's a good day.  Maybe even a special day because who knows what looms in the future for my brain cells?
To this end I've decided it's TIME.
Time to use the good stuff.

When I was growing up and we had company my mother would starch and iron the pillow slips her mother had stitched.
I would look at those slips and imagine the sweet dreams our guests would have while resting on those cool crisp pillows.
Years later as I was packing up mother's home I brought these back with me for my special occasions and I've used them with pride.
Today I'm shipping them back to mom for her to rest her lovely head on in her assisted living apartment.
It won't be an easy sell to the woman who washes and reuses aluminum foil.  She'll protest they are too nice to use for every day.  But I will insist that every day she is still in my life is a special day for me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

I'm a Little Bit Country -- I'm a little Bit OCD

Let's all sing along................."It's the (second) most wonderful time of the year." That's right  -- the season to dismantle the Christmas beautification project.
Glad to see it come -- glad to see it go.
But what really makes my heart go flutter, flutter is the deep cleaning that ensues.
The sight of PJ standing on the dining room table flinging pine branch sprays out of the chandelier and into the air is our version of "let the fur fly."
Armed with the Roomba, rubber gloves, enough Mrs. Meyers products to make Target stock soar and the ever so handy Q-tips for the teeny tiny places where the sun really don't shine -- I'm in my glory.
God must have known that once a year we would need to pull everything apart and wipe out possible plague causing crud -- So He gave us Christmas.
I'm merry and the house now is bright!
PS PJ is rolling his eyes and groaning.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Papa Joe's Bucket List

My husband hence forth referred to as PJ has not had a huge list of "Before I die...........(s)" but I've  discovered I made one secretly held dream come true.
He's married to a calendar girl!  That's right Mrs. December is ME.
A group of girlfriends  have put together a calander each year with varied themes.
This year they decided on a 12 days of Christmas theme and came up one friend short. 
When they asked me to be "Mrs. December - 12 Drummers Drumming" I said sure if I can keep on my clothes.  Since we're all about the same age, they replied in chorus -- Please do!
So here I am......
Gotta go catch the phone.  "Hugh is that you?"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Note This

Sometimes the rewards of being thoughtful are their own reward but often in this too busy to be bothered world a note of "thanks" can pay off.
Case in point:
After we left our hotel in Dublin I sent an E-mail to the manager of the Croke Park Hotel and noted his excellent staff.  "They greeted our travel weary souls as if we were long lost relatives in spite of our disheveled minds and appearances."
Lo and behold when we returned 10 days later for our last night in Ireland we were given fancy suites and keys to the executive lounge.
Years ago my mother gave me this piece of advise -- When someone brings you a meal, as soon as you finish it call them right away and tell them how good it was while the taste of that kindness is still on your mind.   Someone spent a hunk of their day preparing a gift -- acknowledge it.  A note can follow the next day.
A box of chocolates for the manager at our hotel in NYC in December helped us get a room upgrade.  A glowing review on Tripadvisor resulted in a personal E-mail thanking us and requesting that we let them know in advance when we return again.
Each day when I'm in a hotel I leave a note for the maid that says; "May God bless you today" along with  $5.00.  Want to help the working poor?  No one cleans hotel rooms for the job satisfaction.  And may I mention the abundance miniature of fancy spa products I have from those dear folks? 
My handwriting is shaky and hard to read but no one seems to care when I'm scrawling out heartfelt "Thanks".