heard

May 14, 2020

9CFDD24B-0EEB-4E23-A7D2-5BAA6CAEB71AThis morning my 93-year-old grandma got to sing happy birthday through her computer screen, to my 6-year-old nephews. They showed off their handsome faces, dressed to the nines in their button-down shirts and bowties. She smiled and waved and “wowed” their antics. From across the ocean, now face to face. Technology is amazing.
This afternoon my grandmother’s brother-in-law died. It was a peaceful passing, and I am grateful for the daughter who cared for him in the home for those final days.
I want to say that all is well. My husband and I have all we need in our home; and we have work and homestead routines to occupy us. There is much that is right.
And yet.
All is not right. I want my grandmother to be with her sister right now. When my grandfather died, I watched them comfort each other. At one point in the family funeral gatherings, I saw them together on the master bed, arms draped over each other, able to sleep peacefully in the quiet company unique to sisters. GramBea’s world had fallen apart but, for a little while at least, all was well . . .
I wish we could have spoken in person to relay the news of this passing. But we could not.
I want to be able to hold GramBea’s hand right now. But I cannot.
I can handle that.
At the moment, however, I am battling the frustration of knowing that the sisters cannot be together. I have no answers for this madness of a world we live in right now. I do the best I can to keep informed and up-to-date; yet at times it seems as if the more I learn the more ignorant I feel, overwhelmed by the rate at which things are changing and by the swirl of new, and often conflicting, information.
In my little sphere of life, though, I know one thing right here, right now: things are not as they should be.
Would that I could wave my magic wand, bringing the two sisters together for solace in the grief.
This afternoon I see a missed call when I come in from milking the goat. I call her back immediately, worrying . . .
She sounds ok. We talk about the birthday party this morning. She says she is ok. We chat a few moments longer and the conversation lulls. “I love you,” she says. “GramBea . . .” I pause. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been good at verbalizing emotions regardless—especially not with family. What comes out of my mouth is cringe-worthy at best. Something along the lines of, “You’re in my heart.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, never mind why I say it.
But she hears me.

face to face

May 10, 2020

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Today I got to see my GramBea. They “opened” the facility enough to allow us to wave through the glass from the entryway. For the first time in months I saw her face; but ironically, I’m not seeing her, the past few months have given us a sweeter time of connecting than we had before. Something about being limited to daily phone conversations has opened a portal I couldn’t have imagined, considering how infamously horrid both of us are at telephone chats …or so I thought. But a gift of this strangeness of time we live in is the discovery of ways we can surprise each other, and ourselves, with realizations of ways we can adapt, with resilience, to change. And to uncertainty. So today I am grateful for this waving through the window, and chance to deliver a mason jar of wild roses; grateful for the tears prompted by a sighting …”through a glass dimly.” But thank heavens this is not it. Thank heavens that “then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

bread

May 8, 2020

IMG_1019Today my professor asked this question:

It is the last day of your first semester, please describe how you are feeling at this moment in time.

Today my response was this:

At this moment in time I am feeling . . . all the things.
I feel afraid—fear over the state of the world’s health, physical and emotional.
I fear that this reaction we are having to the real danger of COVID-19 is going to create a devastation far greater than the illness itself. We have become a world of people drawn into themselves, living in an unreal reality of isolation. I fear that the mental toll that this is taking will have terrible ramifications when we try to re-enter society without distance.
I fear for all who have lost their jobs and who are left with no way to provide for their families—and who risk losing more than mere income as a result.
I fear for all who have lost, and will lose, loved ones to the disease—and who will lost the ability to properly grieve the loss due to distancing restrictions.
I fear the helplessness that I feel, and that we all will be feeling or quite some time, as we navigate the muddy waters of a future no one can properly prepare for, with such great unknowns and so little control.
I have no idea what to do.
So I pour flour and yeast and salt into a bowl. I add water, and I knead the dough. I take comfort in the act of feeding my little household . . . and I am grateful for our daily bread.

shattered

May 5, 2020

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Mornings are hard. And one thing I’ve noticed lately is that the longer quarantine lasts (and the more same-ness each day brings) the harder it is for me to find motivation. A part of that is my personality, mind you, in that I tend to start each day with a level of nervousness that gradually subsides as I work through the business of the day and get closer to the sweet spot that evening is. I know this isn’t a completely healthy way to live, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit it but, well, there it is.
Since I’m in disclosure mode at the moment, I will also say that this morning’s darkness of the mind was particularly harsh.
I wanted to be lazy about milking and give up before milking her out (I resisted this temptation thanks to the greater pull of the desire to have fresh milk as long as possible).
I didn’t feel like running. In fact, my body felt like a dead weight. But I knew how much brighter my mindset is after having done it. So I did. And I will admit to praying a possibly-childish prayer that God would make it a good run. I wanted the endorphins. I craved them—and I’m still nursing a daily grudge-against-the-universe about not being able to swim (my true exercise-love).
I most definitely did not want to tackle the day’s schoolwork! Keyboarding practice … grrrr. Semester exams . . . yikes!
So it was that the day began.
But a few hours into the morning I checked my email. There in my inbox was not one. Not two. But three emails from a person who brings the sort of joy I cannot begin to describe. When I think about this friend, my heart swells and a smile begins, regardless of my emotional state at the time. She is my hero. Truly. A woman who has devoted her life to sharing beauty (she is an art teacher) with children who live in a land where daily survival is a real question. And she is the friend who taught me the sort of devotion that I wish I could claim even a remote ability to demonstrate. The day that I flew away from her village, she wept. I had never, ever, seen someone cry at the prospect of my not being with them, and it floored me. I was flummoxed by conflicting emotions battling within—flattered and awed, but also shamed by my inability to feel anything similar. Jilly taught me what love looks like.
Back to those emails: one was a long and meaty update on her life, in its lovely simplicity—snippets of interactions with those around her, tales of her in the garden, and descriptions of new pets in her life. The second email was a series of photos illustrating that loveliness. And the third—the best of the bunch—was a recording of her voice, singing a song she had written.
This inbox gift could not have come at a better time. It was like the rainbow Peter and I saw this past week: a stunning display of beauty that, though it may last only a few moments, shatters the soul as it points us towards the infinite, and ultimate, beauty that we were created to be a part of, and that we are destined to become. Life is hard. But, every once in a while, we get to step out of the drudgery and into the light.

For many years now, I have reposted what I wrote about the anniversary of my father’s death, back in 1988. So it seems fitting today, on the 1st anniversary of my “Dad 2″‘s death, to repost this . . .
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“Home”
Grief has no sense of decorum. So it did not occur to me to question my actions when I interrupted the chaplain, with his head bowed and hands folded, to place myself in front of my grandfather’s face. As he tugged on the tubes, wildly waving his hands, and craning his neck up while his head turned side to side, I planted my face in front of his. “Hi PaCharley,” I said. Over. And over. I saw his clear blue eyes. I saw him. He saw me.
After weeks of stoic, walls-up, business-mode, yesterday my dam broke. Intending to call my husband, and update him on the coming family meeting at the hospital, instead I lost it. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’m so sorry . . .” It was an involuntary, illogical (so I thought) reaction, but I lost all control.

Had our year gone as planned, we would not be here now. We would be in the flurries of school life, finishing out the year in Ghana. Only after arriving would we find out the family business that would occupy us so completely, for so many weeks, that would pass in a rapid blur.

Truthfully, over the past couple of months, I have questioned what I’m doing here at all. With nothing tangible to account for our days, they have, at times, felt wasted. And the “work” we’ve been doing has left me painfully aware of my shortcomings. I have been impatient with errand-running and hospital visits, and bad-attitudey about the changed grandfather he seemed to be. The man who never met a soul he didn’t like would now complain about doctors and nurses. The man who was always in a good mood spoke constantly of how bad he felt, and how much the tubes, the pricks, and the medicines were bugging him. He fought back, trying to coax forbidden foods and drinks from unsuspecting visitors. And I watched, stunned at the changes in this man I’d loved all my life. Mind you, he still had good moments and “normal” days as well, but the negative moments were so shocking to my perfect image of him that they overshadowed the good. I wondered why he couldn’t let people do what they needed to do to care for him, and I even resented the trouble caused for those closest to him.
But yesterday I realized how wrong my perception had been. When I saw him—and when he saw me—all I could think was I get it. I see. I see.
I see a man who has lived 92 beautiful and full years. A man who has given himself, without reservation, to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. A man who has worked hard, running his own business and rising up from the depression era. A man who fought well, who “won,” as his great grandson aptly noted, as a good, good soldier. A man who “fought the good fight, [who] finished the race . . .” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8, NIV)
And now, for the past few months, he has been unable to care for others, wholly dependent on the help of those of us who had always before come to him for that same help. He never wanted anyone to trouble themselves over him. He never wanted to be a burden, on anyone. And when the time came for his independence to be gone, he fought back.
One week ago, on his 70th anniversary, he told my grandmother that he intended to be home in a week. He told her this as if he was going to get back to independent living in the house he had loved for 50 years. But when my sister relayed this to me over the phone last night we knew what had happened. PaCharley was true to his word. PaCharley found his way home.

mercy

April 13, 2020

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“Shelter-in-place. For a long, long time…”
“Emergency alert-Warning! Take shelter-NOW!”
So it was that, in the middle of the night, Peter and I hunkered down on our kitchen floor (the closest thing our small home offered to an “inside” room).
It was terrifying. And today I find my body still tended from the fear of the pending tornado. I feared for our home, and for our animals. I feared for the homestead that we have poured ourselves into for the past few years, and that now, more than ever, we find to be our lifeline.
Today we are grateful for our safety, and for that of our families. And we grieve for the loss upon loss that so many around us are suffering.
Lord, how long?…Have mercy on us, your weary children … Come quickly to our rescue. I want to trust. I want to wait patiently. “Lord, help my unbelief…”
But for now, in this moment, I will pick a rose from our yard and we will take comfort together in this gift of a home.

real

April 3, 2020

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Today I was asked to “Describe your idea of a perfect day.”
Well, on my ideal day . . .
I wake to the smell of coffee percolating (not just any coffee, mind you, but freshly ground beans we ordered from my friend’s small coffee business. The smell brings me back to when we got to enjoy it regularly, while working with them in Ghana; and it confirms my opinion that coffee makes the world go round).
I lay in bed a bit, listening to my alarm go off, and waiting for my husband to come “remind” me that it is time to get up and milk the goat. I weigh the benefits of the 2 options before me: laze in my warm bed or rise to milk, after which comes the reward of coffee. Today, thanks to the promise of sunshine, option #2 wins out. These days, weather has taken on a monumental importance, for with nowhere but home or outdoors to go, the removal of outside activities is no small matter.
But I digress. Back to the day.
We milk the goat. Re decides to poop while I am milking her. I milk more quickly, turning my face away from the odiferous pile. I debate whether or not she still deserves her kiss, and decide that yes, she still gave us our daily milk; so I will still kiss our goats. The knowledge that they only kiss me in order to receive the graham cracker I dangle in front of them does not diminish my childlike amusement at the routine.
After we finish, I pack up, kiss Peter goodbye, and head to Chattanooga to access internet for the day of school. It promises to be a full day of work; I don’t mind, though. Without other activities I used to enjoy fitting in, I find it a bit soothing to have enough work in each day to put a damper on the grief.
I check off one small item on my to-do list. I see the sun shining brighter and the air getting warmer. I should get something else done first but . . .
I go for a run instead. For, as I mentioned, weather has been amped up in significance!
Running is hard. I wish I were swimming instead. I lament the lack of my old form of exercise. And then I remind myself that I have the privilege of having an alternate form at all; running will have to do. I also try to pep talk myself with the hope that perhaps, eventually, it will not be quite so hard.
I finish my run and get back to work. I check my email. I call my husband. “I have something to tell you. Are you ready?” I tell him the good news. We share the happy moment. “I love you,” I say. “See you later.” I actually get back to work. And I finish early enough to get home for milking session round 2.
“Wait a sec,” you interrupt, “that wasn’t the question!”
“Oh?,” I say, in feigned innocence. “Was it not? In fact, I think it was . . .”
You see, I cannot help but think that this is, in fact, my “ideal” day, whether or not it fits a stereotypically “ideal” definition. I have all I need, you see. And if I thought I should wait until something more—something better—arrived to make my day more complete, I suspect that I would discover that my idea of “better” wasn’t so great after all.
So yes, this is my real day. And it is ideal.
*photo of sidewalk message found while out runn

carrots

March 27, 2020

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There have been some definite perks to this beyond-unanticipated transition from classroom to online schooling. The flexibility for twice-daily goat milking sessions, for one. And the chance to cook for, and dine with, my husband on a daily basis again.
That said, the work has to be done. The usual amount of daily work, plus the added amount we currently have, in order to make up for the week of “spring break” while the online transition was being figured out on an administrative level.
So how do I keep motivated to barrel through full days in front of a computer and a stack of textbooks when some significant, and emotionally powerful, “carrots” have been stripped from the list of things that used to keep me motivated on a daily basis (read: “a place to swim”!)?
Well—find new carrots, right?
What keeps coming to mind is a train of people held close to my heart, if I cannot hold them “close” to my person these days: those who are on the font lines right now . . . the healthcare workers risking their own health, both physically and emotionally, as they war against the raging virus wreaking havoc on our entire globe. “Courage, dear heart” I know I blogged about this C.S. Lewis quote recently, but I cannot help but repeat it now, on behalf of those I love who are doing what others of us can only think of/pray for from a safe 6 feet distance away ;-) And, I cannot help but add my own self-centered prayer that maybe, just maybe (sooner than later?), I’ll get to join in on the fight.

soup

March 21, 2020

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“How did you spend your Spring Break?” The simple, standard sort of question this year gives me a sobering pause. At the moment I am brutally aware of my narrow band of comfort, in which I am usually quite adept at positioning myself squarely inside of. I never have enough time to get all the items on my checklist accomplished, so find each day filled to the gills. And yet now, when life has become an enforced “Lent” from the sorts of things I generally do, I find the extra time to be decidedly less than desirable. The hour in which I would usually be swimming is one of the hardest ones. And this, I realize, is a shameful thing to admit when the world is full of such loss right now … for me to be saddened by my craving for a lap in the pool is self-centered, I know. But there it is.
What I’ve taken to doing, to try to ease this angst, is to waken each day with a question: an openness to discover what that particular day’s “one thing” will be. In other words, I wait to see what particular event or discovery will create a sense of accomplishment for that day that I may not have noticed had I been going about routines as usual.
Yesterday that one thing was goat food; I’d begun to fear that, with all the closures, I’d be out of luck in getting the usual supply for our beer-grain-loving kids. But I was unexpectedly successful yesterday, thanks to a heavy dose of luck (combined, admittedly, with a little bit of bold persistence).
Today the one thing turned out to be one of my new normals-the daily chat with GramBea. While we talked today, it occurred to me that something about the inability to visit combined with our similar feelings about this whole situation has brought a sweetness to our conversations-an ability to just be on the phone with each other, even if neither of us has anything worth saying (those who know either GramBea or me, regarding phone call habits, might realize the groundbreaking nature of this observation 😉).
Oh, and tomato soup. I guess I got a double dose for my one thing today. Just because it sounded good to me, I made up a chunky tomato soup recipe for us that, dare I say, is currently filling our home with a rather mouthwatering aroma.
Soup. Simply soup. So be it.

bloom

March 19, 2020

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Coming in from milking the goat this afternoon I sighed, and warned Peter that I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired for cooking. Along with all other routines being taken away, my habitual kitchen habits feel lackluster. “Don’t be surprised,” I added, if we sit down at the dinner table to a bowl of popcorn (I have, after all, mastered the art of “perfect popcorn,” as a few of my friends can attest to). Peter shrugged at the idea, saying that it would make sense to him … don’t people generally eat popcorn when watching a drama unfold?
It took me a moment to figure out what he meant, since we have neither TV nor internet at home. But as soon as I got it, I gasped. “That’s exactly what this is: we are all unwitting cast members in a global performance of the most riveting-and most horrific-suspense one could imagine!”
Blurting out these words felt like a relief somehow-a slight release of the internal pressure. I still hate it. But defining the feeling for at least our little household is a bit of a balm …for today.
I guess the best we can do is try to make something good out of this one day, with this single day’s information and subsequent decisions. We might not be making the best possible calls; yet hopefully tomorrow we’ll be strong enough to do it again, with whatever new information we can, and whatever little bit of new wisdom we’ve gained, trusting that it’s good enough simply because it’s the best we can do.
And we just might discover that, in the midst of it all, we are coming home to discover newly-bloomed tulips…