It was four months ago today that my mom passed away.
It was an excruciating journey.
One you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Sometimes I can’t believe this is our story.
I am still numb.
I started counseling in the final year of her life, to process the grief and put a system in place to deal with the inevitable loss. I went to restorative yoga and took classes on breathing.
I gathered the tools to put in my toolbox. I suspect at some point the emotion will flow.
There were many good times. Up until the last month, there was always laughter. (Mostly from making fun of my Dad.) My mom had a wicked sense of humor passed on to both me and my son, and we used that tool effectively to lighten the darkness.
Speaking my mom’s language was a high priority. Managing anxiety. Building endurance. Seeking beauty.
“My mom has a poet’s heart,” I would tell every new caregiver who came to the house. “That must be honored.”
I found out after she had died that she had her own column in the college newspaper. I was not surprised she did, just surprised we didn’t know.
I am also not surprised that her words could have been written today–the timeless creature that she was.
I BEGGED her to write her memoirs and will never not be sorry that she never did.
HOW did MY MOM end her life unable to communicate?
I am grateful my faith is deep and I long ago learned to be okay in HIM, facing that which I cannot understand.
“I trust you to tell me,” my mom would say, “when it is over.”
I smile. Nod. Unflinchingly honest, I knew I would honor that request when denial and resources were both exhausted.
“I am so, so sorry, Mom,” I ache as we are talking about Hospice, “but I am out of ideas.”
Hospice was another road in the journey with unknown twists and turns, and none of us knew the distance from that beginning to the ultimate end. All we can ever do is our best, and we did our best trying to live while also dying.
We read to her a lot…me. Caregivers. Audiobooks.
Never as much as you would REALLY like–I share the same struggle with reading to my precious little peanut–but probably more than average.
As the days were coming to an obvious end, I ordered a book I remembered distinctly from my childhood, HAWK, I’M YOUR BROTHER.
I didn’t know it would be the last thing we ever shared…I honestly thought there was more time. The Hospice nurse guessed about a month–our crazy concoctions had fixed a few issues we were battling and there was no longer anything glaring at finality.
In the dynamics of my own marriage, my husband is usually gone for the hard things. Through no fault of his own, it’s just the way it has always gone and for that reason I believed my mom would pass away a few weeks later, while Carl was in California on business.
I was convinced of this, and comfortable with it.
So, when I sat down by her bedside that Saturday afternoon to read, I believed it was only another moment together in a lifetime of moments together.
The hawk is on his shoulder, ‘Fly now, bird. Go on.’ [The book reads.]
The hawk turns. He moves his wings…
Maybe he jumps a hundred times before he seems to catch the wind, before he lifts himself into that summer sky.
At last he soars. His wings shine in the sun and the way he flies is the way Rudy Soto always dreamed he’d fly…
The bird looks down and then he calls a long hawk cry and the sound floats on the wind…”
“I love you, Mom,” I say as I leave. “I know you know how much I love you.”
In hindsight I can see I was speaking her language–of freedom and soaring and permission to go–through a book uniquely part of our childhood.
I miss you, Mom. I don’t actually think you know how much I miss you.
You took her all the way to Dallas?” The Hospice nurse asked incredulously.
I could hear her eyes roll through the phone.
Today is my mom’s 82nd, and final, birthday.
What the judgy (but also incredibly efficient) Hospice nurse doesn’t realize is that I have had a lifetime of conversations, with my mother, about color and art and beauty.
Those are important things, my mom would say, that help to create a life.
And while my mom is clearly dying, she is also still living.
So we loaded up and went to VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE where we were surrounded by music, light, dimension, and history.
“Look at the wall, Jojo. It’s beautiful,” my son said.
My mom has an unmatched gift for covering walls with random artwork and making it look like they were created to go together. Spending her birthday celebrating art makes so much sense.
When my mom was (mis)diagnosed with ALS in 2017, she wasn’t sure she would make it to her next birthday. “This isn’t it, Jojo,” I told her. “I mean take the medicine, because I am not a doctor, but I am not convinced.”
We traveled tens of thousands of miles, she and I, chasing hope, and have spent ten times that amount trying to find not yet discovered answers.
My Dad funded a research study we knew wouldn’t be fast enough for us.
Brutal diseases beat even the most determined into submission, and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy has done that to us. “I am so, so sorry, Mom, but I am out of ideas,” I tell her. “You have people who love you here on earth, and people who love you in heaven. No matter what, you are loved.”
The book of Job tells us that our days are numbered by the Lord; With each day that passes, my mom’s number eeks closer.
So whether the Hospice nurse understands and approves or not, we will fill her days with beauty.
And the other thing that nurse does not know is this: I am my mother’s daughter. I will do what I damn well please.
I know it’s preposterous to say that I am stunned, but that’s exactly how I feel.
My brilliant, valiant, warrior of a mother went home to heaven on Sunday, September 12th.
I thought we had a few days more.
The resilience my mom has shown over the course of her life is remarkable. The resilience she showed facing death unparalleled.
“You have had such a great life,” I reminded her. “The day after your 40th-anniversary party you told me that if you died then, you had all you could have wanted. That was 17 years ago.
You have done well.”
She has kids who love her, grandkids who think she hung the moon, and great-grandkids that will hear all the stories.
I always say recovery is part of the fabric of my children’s lives because they each attended countless AA meetings with their Jojo. They met the people. They smelled the coffee and cigarettes. They listened to discussions of life, lived one day at a time.
She helped countless people learn a sober way to live.
My mom was an avid shopper. Under the Christmas tree always looked ridiculous once Jojo showed up with her presents.
She loved clothes and shoes.
She was remarkably healthy except for one terrible disease.
She tried nearly every crazy therapy I brought her way to fight a disease with no cure. Except the hyperbaric oxygen chamber–that was a “no”. She was claustrophobic.
She was a reader and a book buyer. There were thousands of books in her home. She was so smart.
She and my Dad traveled the world with retired judges. They traveled the country with their animals in a fifth wheel. They spent weeks in Hawaii in a time share.
She had a wonderful life.
She died peacefully in her sleep.
We made it through a patch several weeks ago when she was in pain and anxious. Once we got over the hump, we got back to all the crazy oils, and lotions, and crock pots full of warm washcloths and my mom died both comfortable and virtually medication-free.
We honored her decades-long journey of sobriety.
We surrounded her with caregivers who loved her.
Every night my son would help her over to see my Dad, and he would kiss her goodnight and tell her he loved her.
While I was in church yesterday, praying for my mom and listening to a sermon about heaven, my mom was getting ready to go…
The last words I said to her the day before were, “I’ll see you tomorrow Jojo. I love you. I know you know how much I love you.”
For whatever reason, we never really talked that much about my mom’s life as a child. There really is so much that we don’t know, but my Uncle David has been kind enough to help fill in the gaps.
Lora Jo Kuether was born on September 1, 1939, in Chillicothe, Ohio. This is one of the first things I did not know. The gentleman at the funeral home asked me, “Chillicothe. How do you spell that?”
“Ummm…I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
My mom always reminded us that September 1, 1939, was also the day that Hitler marched into Poland…so life for everyone on the planet was eventually impacted by the day my mom was born.
Her family then moved to Pelham, New York, where my mom grew up. She had one older sister and two younger brothers. They lived on a dead end street where they played ball into the night using manhole covers as first, second, and third base. Her Dad would holler, “Joey, Butch, Davy NOW!!” When it was time to go in.
When my mom was in junior high and high school she’d roll back the rugs in the living room and host sock hops. She was a cheerleader. She played on the LaCrosse team. She’d walk to church on Sundays with her mom—her Dad was already there because he was a Presbyterian Minister.
What I didn’t know until recently was that HIS dad was also a Presbyterian Minister…a respect worthy line of people who served the Lord.
When my mom was 12, her parents purchased a 21ish acre lot on Livingston Rd in Laconia, New Hampshire. It had a two room cabin, kerosine stove, and a well in the back. There was no running water. My Grandma Rithy named it “Hi Larkin”.
Her Dad bought a tent to put in the back where the kids slept on old army cots. Her brothers slept in the tent for much longer than my mom, who eventually joined her sister Annie and worked as a chamber maid at the Wicwas Lodge, where they got free room and board.
My grandparents made everyone work on that cottage to make it livable. They nailed floors and walls and dug a cesspool and well. That home stayed in the family until after my grandmother passed away and my parents bought it. And the grandkids would tell you the upstairs was not as livable as they professed, with the tilted walkway that you needed to traverse to get to the upstairs bedrooms.
In her final years, my grandmother was forbidden to go upstairs. Safety first.
After being tenderly and generously cared for by my uncle and aunt, my grandmother, too, peacefully passed away in that home, while my mom was on a plane to be by her side. Now she is by her side. I’m sure they are still talking and laughing together.
Hi Larkin burned down years later.
My mom went to Wilson College in Chambersberg, Pennsylvania, where she received her Liberal Arts degree.
After graduating from college she spent a year abroad in the Netherlands. When her parents and brother visited her there, her Dad bought a red Volkswagen that they drove around Europe in.
My mom named the car “Rubin” which meant RED in German.
She lived in the Netherlands with her best friend Kitty, who was originally from California, so when they finished their time abroad they moved to San Francisco, where my mom met my Dad—a law student at Cal State Berkeley.
They married in the spring of 1964, and soon moved to the Central Coast. My dad was first an attorney at Bill Wright’s law firm until he was appointed to the Judicial Court by then Governor, Ronald Reagan.
Meanwhile my parents were growing their family first with their son, Glenn, then daughter April, and third and final me. Three kids under the age of 5.
They were crazy.
Our childhood was full of books. Their home literally had thousands of books in it, and their decor was centered around custom made bookshelves. The Pokey Little Puppy; The Tawny Scrawny Lion; The Bad Children’s Book were all read time after time after time.
She was creative. She wrapped presents in the cartoon section of the newspaper tied up with string. We made God’s Eyes with sticks from the oak trees in the yard and colored yarn. We learned how to paper mache.
She loved laughter.
I remember Saturday mornings when we were supposed to be doing chores and my brother would be laying on the living room floor watching the THREE STOOGES. My mom would let him slide from working because she just loved to listen to the sound of his laughter. His laughing filled her with joy.
She was outspoken. When my sister, who was a gifted athlete, would make a great play in the field, my mom would holler from the stands, “NOW YOU GET DINNER.” I didn’t know that my mom’s love of watching my sister play sports was, in part, because she was a gifted athlete herself.
My athletic skills are more like my father’s.
She volunteered in the classroom and corrected the teacher’s grammar. “ALOT” is not one word, it’s two. “LETS” needs an apostrophe every time.
She was a stickler for proper English. While at the dinner table, if one of us kids asked her to “Please pass down the milk,” she’d put it on the floor.
There. It’s down. We were proud of ourselves for remembering the please.
When we were all teenagers, my mom went back to school and got her teaching credential and master’s degree in English.
She was so smart.
In 1983, after an intervention planned by my father, my mom went to a recovery program at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara to deal with her addiction to alcohol. There she learned the fundamental basics of living ONE DAY AT A TIME…she became an active member of the Alcoholics Anonymous community, known as AA.
My mom, however, really needed a group that was just called “A”. I mean, when the queen of oversharing joins an organization based on anonymity it is problematic.
All three of us kids have memories of saying, “Moooommmm, the person behind you in line at Cornet’s doesn’t care that you are a recovering alcoholic.”
She overshared all the time…I remember after one of my brother’s little league games, at Shakey’s pizza, my mom telling all the other parents exactly who my sister and I had crushes on.
I didn’t know then how much I would simply miss the sound of her voice, even if it was oversharing.
In 1991, my parents moved to Marin County where my father became the special master to the courts for Buck Charitable Trust. My mom plugged in to AA there, volunteered, and worked with the aging population highlighting available community resources.
Long after the desire to drink had stopped, she kept showing up to meetings. “Some one was here when I first came,” she’d say.
But my mom’s real zest for life sort of began with becoming a grandmother. “JOJO” was her name, and grandkids were her fame.
She once gave me a card that said, “Perfect love sometimes doesn’t start until the first grandchild.”
She took them all to AA meetings. She went to dance recitals and ball games and birthday parties. She showed them how to compost. She let them stay at her house when they needed to. She taught them how to make a hospital corner on a bed.
She bought a ridiculous number of Christmas presents.
She and my Dad moved back to the Central Coast.
They traveled in their 5th Wheel, so they could take their animals with them.
They traveled the world with retired judges going to Alaska, and Cuba, and Europe.
Then they’d come home and invite everyone over and bbq ribs and steaks and before every meal they would lift their glasses in gratitude, toasting the blessing of their lives.
Years later my mom would say that was an important ritual because she could feel things starting to go awry, and she wanted to live one day at a time, grateful.
She loved adventure. She asked my brother to take her for a ride on his Harley, and he happily obliged. She and my husband began a tradition where he would take her flying in his plane every year on her birthday.
After we moved to Texas, Carl took it upon himself, each year, to take her to her AA birthday meeting where she’d get her chip and he’d eat cake. Once she lost the ability to speak, Carl would share and tell the community all about her beautiful journey of sobriety.
In a gathering like this, where the statistics are clear that someone here is struggling with some kind of addiction, I know my mom would want you to know that 90 meetings in 90 days can change a life. She would tell you that you, too, can have a beautiful and vibrant and sober life.
She believed that to core of who she was.
She believed that you could trust the process.
That when things get chaotic you should get really still.
That you could take a trip not taking a trip.
That bad things that happen are just AFGO’s.
That the old timers had a lot to offer.
That whether the disease is addiction or Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, living one day at a time is the only rational solution.
But the blessing of recovery inevitably follows the burden of disease. Our own personal and family dysfunctions color the lenses through which we see the world.
One of the things I did not know untilI put together the slide show we are about to see was this: MY MOM WAS BEAUTIFUL.
I spent my entire life not seeing it. I knew she was smart and funny and loyal and fierce, but somehow I didn’t see this. I don’t know how I missed it.
My prayer is that we all leave today just a bit more in tune with the abundant beauty that surrounds us…able to see clearly, as I see in the slide show, that things we perhaps have looked past for a lifetime, are here and waiting to be enjoyed.
Okay, one of the times was a relaxation/stretchy/destress-y thing and not so much a strength building thing. It was my favorite of the four.
When it comes to actually doing yoga, I strongly resemble a walrus on a tread mill. It is just not pretty. Seriously, I cannot now, nor have I ever been able to touch my toes while my legs were straight. The only way I can put my palms on the ground is sitting on my rump.
Midway through every class I have absolutely no idea what in the love of all that is sane I am doing there.
Something is certain, however, and that is after 4 times at yoga I am not stronger. My clothes don’t fit better. I don’t love it.
CLEARLY it will take more than this to achieve my goals.
At the stretchy/relx-y yoga thing I loved, the instructor said the foundation of her life is her relationship with her Lord and Savior. HE spoke directly, through this perky teacher, to the nagging voice in my head whispering yoga and Christianity were not compatible.
I can assure you, as I am holding my aging body in Downward Dog AGAIN, I am praying to the Lord. When I am breathing at the beginning of class, I am praying for His will and strength to become.
I am overwhelmingly convinced that for my life to move forward I must become who HE wants me to become; and exercise is part of the discipline in doing that.
This morning the instructor mentioned over and over that yoga is a practice. I hate practice.
I love to do things that come naturally. I don’t want to have to work hard or get better. This is likely why I am middle aged, soft around the middle and less affluent than I wish I was.
Lying on the mat, my mother on one side and my daughter on the other, I must face that life is often delicate and sometimes broken. My mom (who has been losing her ability to speak clearly from a yet-to-be-diagnosed issue) and my daughter (who has not yet learned to over come her disability and still can’t speak) remind me time is fragile. So is hope.
I want 4 times to be enough with every fiber of my being. Enough to get my mom’s brain to start sending signals to the right side of her body; enough for my daughter to fully engage in the practice because an amazing speech therapist once said, “What you see in the body, you see in the mouth,” which means that becoming proficient at yoga poses may help her learn to talk; enough for me to be comfortable in my own body.
Although it may not be enough to arrive, today was a step forward. Forbidden from evaluating results for 6 weeks, I am focusing instead on breathing in His grace. I am practicing focus on Him. Breathing deeply I am praying silently, asking and listening, when conviction washes over.
Slowly the thoughts create an unmistakable picture in my mind, showing me a pattern desperate for change: Rather than asking God what His plans are for my life, I am coming to Him asking for blessings on my plans.
Sigh. Of course four times is not nearly enough. I have to keep coming back…to yoga, to prayers, to listening, to a place of repentance…and remind myself that God’s ways are better than mine.
Fatigued, full of family joy and a political hangover, I watched the WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR at Disney’s California Adventure the night after the election and the tears rolled down my cheeks.
I thought about people I adore who were genuinely grieving.
It seems they believe, somehow, that this election means their stories don’t matter. They do.
The same way my story still mattered two years ago when things (politically) impacted my family negatively.
Friends who see things differently than I do stopped liking pictures of my kids on Facebook months ago. I suspect I have been un-followed and un-friended numerous times. I have un-followed some myself.
The next day I sat in one of my favorite places in the world: THE ANIMATION STATION. In the Animation Station scenes from the stories that become Disney movies are played to the music that makes them classics, the songs and the scenes of triumph and struggle; of conflict and restoration.
While the familiar melodies in the background and the hypnotic moving pictures remind me of these stories of my children’s history on the huge screens, next to them come still shots in waves. Some images are directly from the movies themselves, other are drawings of ideas and future story lines.
Tucked away in the air conditioned room of imagination it hit me: The beginning of the story is ALWAYS sketchy. The colors and the shading have not been filled in yet.
The stories that have meaning always have conflict. Without it there is no change; no growth; no victory.
My victory will be different than yours. My peace may come a different route. But the beauty and wonder of STORY is still here. The grief; the joy; the connection and the distance between people will always weave their way through our days. BUT NO MATTER WHAT OUR STORY WAS ON TUESDAY NIGHT, this is just the beginning. We do not know the ending.
May we pray for kindness and grow our capacity to see facts clearly, to distinguish the difference between them and feelings, and to give people the benefit of the doubt and the space to be heard with kindness whenever God gives us the chance and wait hands wide open for what is to come as the story unfolds.
Since then we have thrown parties, gone to the Melodrama, had a few trips to the waterpark and dropped one kiddo off at history-loving camp. There have been some real highs.
There have also been a couple of low, low moments. Meltdowns of epic proportion have ruined large chunks of more than one day.
As much as I hate to admit it, the meltdowns were mostly me.
I really did not want to melt down today, so when my peanut was starting to be difficult, I took a deep breath and leaned in.
I am trying to do a series of speech videos with her–if not every day–regularly. She was CLEARLY not interested and started to misbehave. She had to sit on timeout, but rather than fighting it through and making the timeout the issue, once she pulled it together and came back to the table we restarted and actually got a lot done!
Then she wanted to watch TV. Now, I’ll be honest. I am actually not a mom who limits screen time with my kids. We are pretty busy as a family. My kids go to a Classical Education private school, which mean they read (or are read to) a lot. There are also sports we do, church and youth group every week, trips to the water park and playing in the pool.
We fill their lives with so much good stuff, I don’t feel the need to battle about TV. We also can only watch things on video or DVD, so there’s not a lot of worry about the influence of commercials or things I don’t approve of.
However, today I just didn’t really want her lounging on the couch and sinking in for a binge-fest. Nor did I want to create a commotion over it. So I tried a new approach.
Without saying a word, I got out her light box and began to set it up. I added a dish of ice, food coloring, salt, a spray bottle of water, and a squirt bottle of oil.
While I was working on that, she turned off the TV and found some “homework” to do on her own.
When I finished setting it up, I left it.
Again, I said nothing.
A few minutes later, she began exploring…
The squeezing and spraying strengthen her hands. The ice is refreshing, as it has been so hot the heat radiating from the blacktop burns my feet walking in flip flops. The salt adds texture. Food coloring is just always fun.
She kept herself happily busy while I got some ironing done.
Not everyone would want our life. I am certain we are not the envy of many.
But I wouldn’t trade it.
The years together have softened us. Our mid sections are reflections of our souls…a bit gentler to the touch.
The days of our lives in this particular season are indelibly marked by being a parent and having parents; therapies and home schooling of our kids, memory care units and bridge games with our parents define much of our priority list. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. Again I am linking up with the spectacular Kelly at Mrs. Disciple to chat about Father’s Day…
Thank you for living life knowing church wasn’t a question, but a fact. I can count on one hand the number of times in the last decade we have missed church for no reason. We may not do as many sappy, devotions around the table, missions trips as a family as I imagine perfect families do, but our life is anchored by faith. Our kids know it. They have spent their entire lives watching us live life with Jesus with imperfect consistency. No matter what they choose as adults, they know what is true for us because they have seen it.
Thank you for believing in stay home moms.We have made enormous financial sacrifices over the years and our non-existent savings account is meager, but life with a special needs child and teenager requires presence. You have given that to us. Your hard work and creativity have served us well. I am so grateful for the hours and hours of quiet and crazy time that have been invested in our kids.
Thank you for being a dreamer. I am so sorry I am not always a great sport about it, but watching our teenager develop a passion for becoming a pilot (like you)–seeing her confidence blossom as she gains this incredible skill–is a direct reflection of you tenaciously holding onto your dreams when the odds (and your wife’s patience) were stacked against you.
Thank you for being the example to your kids. You can fix anything. You can figure it all out. You create solutions from scratch when there are problems to be solved. I ached with pride when our son explained why he was taking a semester off of school to work construction. “I want to be like Dad,” he said. “I want to have rentals someday, and know I can fix anything that goes wrong.” Yep. That is just like your father.
Thank you for helping me keep things simple.I often say I married my boundaries. That is true. Without you, my life would be a chaotic jumble of exhaustion. I would not see the difference between problems I can and cannot fix; nor would I respect as deeply that people make their own choices. You helped me channel that side of me into a productive and thriving ministry. Without you, there would be no Brighten A Corner Ministry.
Don’t ever let the lists I make and plans I write out make you feel as though today isn’t a gift. It is. Our life is sticky and messy and complicated but we are owning this thing together, you and I. We fight less. We hold hands more. When the wheels come off the bus, as they inevitably will, we can get them back on faster…and doggone it if it doesn’t sometimes make things EVEN BETTER than they were before.
Do you know how lucky that makes us?
Yeah. I know. We don’t believe in luck. Even though I run a ministry and teach Bible Study, and you have gone to more Lutheran camps than you can count and make sure we never miss church, we have never become people for whom the word blessed rolls off our tongues. If we do, indeed, move to the south in a few years, that might need to change. But for now, I’ll just call us lucky.
All the happy sounds and dances I can muster are coming. Last year I finished strong. This year? Not so much. We are limping across the finish line, distracted and unclear about some *^%$&&** stuff.
Last week’s History Day for Ryan.
Last week’s History Day for Reagan
But I have mustered up enough clarity in a number of areas to write the Lee Family Summer 2016 Manifesto. Can you even imagine how EXCITED my hubby is about this? (Insert sarcasm font.) Six pages of how I want our life lived out is apparently far more inspirational and impressive to me than it is to him.
He’ll be happy with the results. I know it.
These are the things that are compelling me:
My middle daughter will be a junior next year. That means our days are NUMBERED with her. Rather than feeling like I am trying to squeeze every last drop of time and memories with her, I want to pour in.
As parents of teenagers, it is incumbent on us to help create the adults we want our kids to become.
I want to invest time and attention to help develop skills and maturity that will make life richer for her in the future.
As I prayed and thought and made lists, it occurred to me that working on life skills for her will help my youngest with special needs also learn life skills. And it will continue to carve away at the sin of laziness that can plague me. (Exhaustion and laziness can be difficult to differentiate sometimes…)
My youngest still has special needs. Did I think somewhere in my little brain that we would outgrow this someday?
I am convinced that much of life is wishful thinking.
I have tried and tried to assemble a team of people to help us help her. But I have failed at that.
So, I am back to the drawing board assessing and making lists and praying that God would transform my character to be that disciplined, scheduled, routined person who will find the way to do all the things I think about doing. Successfully. And make it enjoyable and magical.
While making money somehow.
Let me throw in getting in shape and losing weight while I am at it. Then I’ll REALLY have something to talk about.
My son is so far away.
I still hate that.
I miss him.
I want to be creative about ways to connect.
Our life has stress. And it always will. But that does NOT mean that we can’t eliminate or deal with some of the stress that we have. Purposely living my days the way I want them to feel will automatically reduce stress!
I will never have more time in my days. Twenty-four hours will always be my limit.
What I DO with those twenty four hours will make all the difference.
Keeping that in mind, these will be my mental markers for a successful summer:
The number of times my family sits down to a meal together. It won’t be all my cooking. We love the BBQ and plan on having our teenager make one family meal each week. In a perfect world, this will also be evaluated on how many different places we eat. Out by the pool? Let’s do that! On the front porch? I love it. Picnic at the park or beach? Absolutely. The manifesto gives gathering a prime position.
How much time is spent outside together. No vitamin D deficiencies allowed. After church on Sundays is a great time for us to make this happen. For a while we loaded up the bikes and took the trail to the beach where we would get lunch then head back. Carl and the girls on wheels and me on my two feet, we would trek the five miles. Exercise and sunshine and great for physical and family health, I want to make this a reality again this summer.
Consistent chores I encourage my kids to do well. This falls on me. Will I be calm, ordered, and happy as I teach us to organize and clean with excellence? The manifesto lines up specific times to be set aside to approach these skills as a family. Creating a home which is cleaner with less clutter is the BEST thing I can do for my hubby; and helping my kids be more respectful and responsible about living with other humans? That is a MUST.
The number of books read aloud. Audio books are fine. In fact, I am hoping to listen to some as a family while sitting around the table coloring. I am making progress with my precious little peanut’s fine motor skills and this would REALLY help. Also, more and more people are talking about the stress/anxiety reducing benefits of adult coloring which would be fabulous for my hubby AND my teen. We will start on audio with Les Miserables. That is my teen’s reading assignment for the summer, so we can support her by joining the conversation. While she is at camp, I will be reading Harry Potter and the Little House series to Ryan…along with the Illustrated Classics from Barnes & Nobles. They are my current obsession.
Cards and letters put in the mail. I want to encourage my kids to be letter writers. And thank you note senders. Me too. This will make all of our lives better and sow seeds of friendship and love.
There you have it. The five things that will anchor my summer. (5? Perfect. I will link up a bit late to the FANTASTIC Kelly at Mrs. Disciple.) There are goals and plans about Bible verse jars for the dinner table and prayers for a fresh fire on my Scripture study, each of which will be more likely if I make the manifesto a reality.
I am sitting at the kitchen table, dishes piled in the sink, remnants from last weekend’s birthday party strewn around my world. Over 1100 miles added to the odometer of my car since Monday, as my daughter and I literally drove up and down the state to spend time with gifted therapists.
And as the raindrops splash in their splendor on my driveway, my heart is full.
Full of gratitude. Full of hope. Like the drought parched creeks and reservoirs in my neighborhood, I am soaking in the rain of His provision.
The last several Easters have been seasons of struggle. Aging parents, Alzheimer’s, hospital stays and rehab facilities filled the late winter several years in a row. By the time Easter rolled around my little family was gasping for air.
We didn’t get much out of the Easter Season.
One of those years the kids’ school chose to have spring break NOT in line with the Easter. That turned out to be one of the stupidest things EVER. Let’s NOT do that again, OK?
I am so happy to again be linking up with the spectacularly amazing Kelly over at Mrs.Disciple. Today we are talking about Easter…and what a pleasure to do.
I told my hubby that we were really going to do Easter this year. Many things are in our favor…Grandpa went to be with Jesus, so there is an area of our world that is naturally simplified. We are kinda figuring things out…and these are FIVE THINGS we will lean into as the season rolls around.
1.) We will celebrate. Because we try to have our faith define our lives, I am super loose with bunnies and eggs. If it makes the season happier, more memorable, and impactful I say GO FOR IT.
Ryan’s birthday is actually mid-February, but another child in Primary (1/2 combo classes at her school) was having their party the weekend of her birthday, so that was out. I was gone the following weekend, so her party needed to be in March. As it turns out, Easter is also in March this year, so we decided to have an Easter themed party.
We do our parties family-style. We want you to bring siblings and join us for a meal.
“How many drops of food coloring can they add?” parents would ask.
The answer, of course, is, “As many as they’d like.” We chatted about remembering there were lots of kids who were coloring eggs, and limited resources to share. There can be such beauty in freedom.
That one egg was worth saying YES. Isn’t is spectacular?
The kids hunted for eggs in the rain.
And ate ham.
Jesus gathered and lived and loved and celebrated in the weeks leading to His crucifixion. So will we.
2.) We will continue to bring order to our home. The benefit of my creative calm is that kids can run around, make slime, use an excess of dye on their eggs and I enjoy it. The drawback is that my home can be a bit…disastrous.
I am a messy. I struggle and fight and progress but it is just. not. easy. Some of you have no clue what I am talking about because cleaning up is like breathing to you.
Bless you. If I fall off the face of the planet tomorrow, I hope that for my hubby’s next wife.
For now he is stuck happy to be with me, but he does like the house in order. Cleaning up, organizing, simplifying is ALWAYS something I can do to move my life in the right direction.
Before the day’s end the sink will be empty, the laundry will be washing, party supplies organized, and many things thrown away because it is such a small thing to do to make peace. And I will pray as I do it, asking the Lord to make HIMSELF known deeply to my family this season.
3.) We will live life in priority. Here’s my belief: Holidays are life intensified. If my life is out of whack going into a holiday season, the holiday season will be whacky.
Obviously parenting is an all-the-time gig, but this particular calendar is FULL of specific, purposeful investments in our kids. YAF Convention for our middle with a friend, therapies for our peanut, great conversations with our son who is too grown up and too far away.
I bought a new game I think our teen will love. I told my hubby he HAD to play with us. He seems willing…
4.) I will serve at church. If I were to be honest, (shocking, I know) part of our struggle for those few years was that we didn’t really care for our church’s Easter Service. It was big and outside and it drizzled, or was cold, or was hot and just… Aaaargh.
So we sometimes went to a church that was not ours for Easter, which was fine.
But I actually don’t want an Easter that is fine.
A year and a half ago, we moved churches so that our middle daughter could attend youth group with the same kids she went to school with. It was a fabulous decision for our family, and opens the door to a different Easter experience. This year, the church wants to go all out and create a wonderful, fun-filled, Gospel-centered service, and I signed up to help.
5.) I will fill my brain with the Easter story. Years ago I taught a Bible Study that looked at the Easter story through the eyes of the Gospel writers. I wanted to examine how their personalities may have shaped their perspectives.
Want medical details? Read the book of Luke.
Want names of the people involved? Read the book of John.
What did they all include? Which details were individual?
I want to go back and re-look at that. Honestly, the Bible Study class I led was one of my least successful ever, but I still think the idea is incredibly interesting…and my Bible digging in is in bit of a dry spell. (Do you have any idea HOW MANY women’s Bible Studies you can sit through without ever opening your Bible? The piercing scream you hear in the distance is me…)
The rain continues to pound on the kitchen skylight. The weeds that were once my beautiful lawn until the water ran out will be an inch taller next week, but I don’t care. The rain is water for the land, and the Easter season is water to my soul. I just need to drink it in.
Again, I say, that Kelly from Mrs. Disciple. She hosts a FRIDAY FIVE link up for blogging friends, and her encouragement just keeps us coming back. Her diligence is admired tremendously by this California girl. I wish we lived closer, so she and I could have coffee and chat about all things Bible and Family.
Today her topic is Five Boundaries…so here I go…
I am going to steal from Andy Stanley.
A little while back I facilitated a weekly Bible Study at church. We did one class I called Change Your Mind, Change Your Life. I encouraged the women to read Bob Goff’s book Love Does. (Anytime a woman would walk in shaking her head and laughing I would say, “Chapter 4?”) We also did three Andy Stanley DVD series, Your Move, Take Responsibility for Yourself; Because No One Else Will, and Guardrails.
In my mind, boundaries are the very farthest you can go, and stay safe. Guardrails are built THIS SIDE of the danger zone…guardrails leave room between where you hit them and where you would get really, really hurt.
I want GUARDRAILS in my life. I want to feel the tension and discomfort that comes from rubbing against the edges BEFORE I am in the disaster area.
Man oh man, it made perfect sense to me.
1.) Plan my calendar according to my priorities. I have read a bazillion books about this. I have listened to tapes watched seminars, and failed over and over again.
Then I gave birth to a child with Special Needs.
She can’t rush. If she needs medicine, I can’t forget or flash by because I am too busy. Her learning takes 10,000 more repeats that my other kids. If I want her to learn to write her name, I must help her write it thousands of times.
I’m not exaggerating.
The only way to allow her the room to do that is to radically prioritize time.
I am rubbing the guardrail on this now…but the guardrail is here.
2.) I do the Christian basics. I am the poster child for the hypocrite in church.
That’s just the truth.
I pour over the Bible, study with friends, serve in ministry projects, rarely ever miss church, but I have this string of relationships that have crumbled.
People often say, “Well, you know how SHE is…” and the others in the conversation know exactly what they are talking about.
This unfortunate reality of my life would send me off of the cliff except for one thing: MY GUARDRAIL.
Here’s the gig: Because I go to church, listen to Christian music and go to Bible Study, I believe God is working in me. I am not obligated to repeat the mistakes of my past, AND I am not obligated to conform my behavior to other people’s preferences.
Sometimes I offend people because of following Jesus. (I am not going to play that game, or watch that show…) That is a bummer, but it is easy. My guardrail means I have already made that decision.
Other times I flub up a thing so terribly that I can’t even seem to apologize right.
But God just keeps working in me; showing me this or that passage in the Bible, giving me this new Bible Study to learn a new way, showing me the character I lack in others who do it well.
3.) I evaluate the journey. After every Brighten A Corner project we evaluate thoroughly what happened. The good and the bad are all fair game.
The Leadership Team does not always agree on what is good and what is bad. Years and years of doing this has helped me be FAR LESS THIN SKINNED than I once was. At this point in my life I am much more interested in not repeating mistakes than I am looking good.
My hubby and I sit and write out the pros and cons of holidays, events, school things. We take a hard look and search for new ways for him to do things. (Still a little thin-skinned when I evaluate with my hubby…go figure.)
A ministry I am drawn to, Preemptive Love,puts out a FAILURE REPORT each year. Desiring complete transparency there is open conversation about what went wrong. Why? So you feel sorry for them? NO. Because facing and evaluating failures is one of the most effective tools for moving forward.
4.) I read a lot. Strange guardrail, I know. But a lifetime of learning is important to me.
Mostly I want it for my kids.
But that is unlikely if I don’t do it myself.
Recently I took every single book we owned off the shelves, and grouped them in categories. This is one table out of 5.
I gave away bags and bags of books, and grouped the rest of them together.
Classics here. Kids books there. John MacArthur on this shelf. (Yes, he got his own shelf…) Christian books together, success principle books gathered, novels all in one area. Let’s do this life well, and read…a lot.
5.) I laugh. I love to laugh. I laugh at myself. I laugh at funny people and funny things and funny memories.
My friends will tell you that I crack me up. Seriously, sometimes I can’t even control it.
I am so naughty.
Laughing is just a good idea. It is a wise way to get through life.
This past spring my dad had heart surgery. The first 24 hours after were awful. He was in agonizing pain, and an air bubble had gone into his brain so that he was considerably weaker on one side and could not really talk. (The bubble dissolved and all was well.)
But during those 24 hours, my mom and I found a way to laugh. We howled at private jokes. That laughter released chemicals in our bodies that helped us survive a very difficult time. I would make my mom guffaw with proof of my shady character and the claim that I am “going to hell for sure.”
Now…we know about being saved by grace and there was NOTHING real in it; but it was the perfect tool to lighten things for my mom. Laughter spared her from having to face hard things completely in the dark.
Because laughter is a guardrail, I give myself room not to be stodgy, when fresh air would help.
Guardrails make room for joy.
It is counterintuitive, because we buy the lie of freedom…that being able to do whatever we want whenever we want will make us happy.
But that is not true. And happiness is a pathetic substitution for joy. So I will keep my guardrails; and I will tend them so they remain effective. And I will be grateful for them.
2015 was not a bad year at all. I was stretched. I had adventures. I am closer to my kids and hubby at the end of it than I was at the beginning.
There were many moments of triumph and many moments of toil. But all in all, I chose to either enjoy or learn from them. Goodbye 2015, it was a pleasure.
And hello 2016, it is nice to meet you.
Again I am connecting with the spectacular Kelly over at Mrs. Disciple for her Friday 5 link up. (Kelly, and the gang of writers I met this summer at Jen Hatmaker’s home, have been a huge blessing to my little world in 2015. The For the Lovelaunch team experience, from beginning to now, has been an enormous gift.)
Five Goals for 2016
I am a huge proponent of acknowledging our priorities. I have said it before and I will say it again, we can only have one number one priority at any given time. It is because of that deeply held belief that I try to prioritize my goals, so they can build on one another…
#1.) Take Control of What My Family and I Eat.
In 2015 I put quite a bit of prayer focus on trying to get rid of my laziness. I asked dear friends to pray for me, that God would mold my character and make me more efficient. I have made much progress, but in 2016 I hope to address another area of struggle.
I am tired all the time.
In that spirit, I have new cookbooks with recipes sticky noted. I have my calendar marked out. This will be a new way of doing things, combining foods in different ways to maximize energy. (And hopefully lose a few pounds while I am at it.)
My hubby and I both feel a bit better with just some minor tweaks. Once I get everything together and plow full steam ahead I am very optimistic our energy levels will see new highs.
#2.) Address and Fix Ryan’s Sleeping Issues.
I was never a co-sleeping advocate. I believe babies in their own beds are a good thing…but then my one day old infant choked on her own mucous and turned blue. At that point we had never heard the term esophageal dysmotility, but suffice it to say she began sleeping right by my side.
For years every time we would talk about moving her to her own room she would get sick. Pneumonia. Epilepsy. Fever of 105.
We gave up, and she spent some or all of each night with us…pulling our hair, thwacking us with flailing arms, and hogging the bed. She would be quite satisfied with Mommy and a cot with one pillow to share.
It’s not very restful.
It needs to stop.
I have a plan in place, and I am hoping that the increased energy from eating well will help us endure the transition. Nearly 11 years of poor sleep has caused sincere fatigue, but I will actually miss her…
#3.) Getting More Organized So We Can Manage an Aggressive Homeschool Agenda
There is no way to fully communicate how organization impacts homeschooling the girls. (Actually, just Ryan. Reagan is completely in charge her home days.) It energizes it, and makes everything feel doable.
We have really high hopes this season. A huge emphasis will be placed on large motor skills, which we will use to help achieve goal #2. Continuing in gymnastics and much time in the pool will be staples. (I plan on making sure she is very, very tired.)
It is working. She can now play with the Wii…an amazing combination of motor planning skills that show tremendous progress.
It is a huge hope to increase the reading we do with her. Audio books will be a component, but I am hoping to help her fall in love with books to a greater level. My older two kids were both avid readers…So much praying and planning will go into this. If we achieve success in goals 1 & 2, they will have an enormously positive impact on goal #3.
#4.) This Year’s Prayers for My Kids
After much prayer and contemplation, I have come to the conclusion that my prayer/encouragement focus for each of my kids is the same this year. I want all three of them to grow in being grateful, responsible and helpful.
So much of our lives is built around our faith. We only listen to Christian music. We go to church and youth group every week. We pray at every meal. I run a ministry. Bible Study is a large part of life. Both of our older kids attended Christian school for several years.
My heart for my kids’ faith is constant, and not a part of seasonal goals.
Although my middle is thriving academically and diligent about church, my husband and I are having regular conversations about the gaps that need filling before she launches off to college. These gaps, as it turns out, will also benefit our grown son who is just starting college on the GI Bill, and our peanut.
#5.) Honoring The Sabbath
Each of the previous 4 goals are actually part of sabbath success. Honoring the sabbath is not about forcing the family to take the day off, it is about being a good enough steward that I believe 6 days is enough, and the 7th day will add His beauty in a new and fresh way.
Last year we spent many Sundays walking and biking after church. We’d have lunch by the beach, and head home. I hope to repeat that and take it to the next level. Healthy premade dinners, family games and reading by the fire would round it out beautifully.
Of course there are other things rumbling around…ministry ideas and writing goals, but these five set the foundation for any other dreams I may have. They excite me about the coming days and make me happily say, “Hello, 2016. It’s nice to meet you.”