sticky connections

July 27, 2019

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We are currently in the throes—about halfway through—the long and somewhat tedious process involved in becoming certified as Foster Parents. It is with a significant amount of fear and trembling that we do this; we question ourselves in our ability and/or readiness, and we also question whether or not we will actually be considered qualified (i.e. our present “income” and housing). But what we ended up with, after some emotional conversations about this process, is that, questions still hanging, we’re not ready to close the door on this. It’s not yet a green light; but it’s also not red. And until we get a clear “Stop!” we will keep moving forward. The past few months have had us all over the map, so far as future prospects go, and I think that is ok—not just ok: at this pivotal point in our mid-lives, it feels necessary to test out all our ideas and thoughts, no matter how random, different, or surprising (to ourselves and others) they may be.
It occurred to me today that, even if we do not end up having foster children placed with us, the process itself is good for us. Doing this training together is prompting good, and necessary discussions. Every once in a while, we also get breaks from the legal and logistic talk, and get to do activities like the one that this prompted me to call out (obnoxiously!) to the instructor, “That was fabulous!” [To my credit, she did ask what we thought of it :-)]
So this activity involved a series of sticky notes. We were asked to write down, one word per note, the 6 things that came to mind as our most important life “connections.” We then took our notes with us and walked in a circle while the instructor called out from the center. The idea was that we were traveling, but bus, no less, to Hawaii. But along the way, a series of travel complications required us to give up, one at a time, our connections. At the end, we were left with a single item left. With Peter and I walking together in this circle, some amusing interactions occurred over the course of the activity (i.e. “Watch it honey—you’re on a sticky note right now . . .).
The photo is of my 6 words. Your task, reader, if you choose to accept it, is to guess what order I gave them up in. I’m also curious what other people would choose as your 6 connections, and in what order you might give them up? Comments welcome!

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business

July 7, 2019

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It’s not hard because you’re failing. It’s hard because it’s hard.*

When I heard this quote today, I almost cried; it struck me as highly applicable to this season in my family’s life. We may not have young children, but we do have “kids.” I may not be a “stay-at-home mom.” But my daily “work” these days does, more often than not, consist of the sorts of jobs that have no resolution. No solution. The business of life, and of aging, is so very much harder than any official employment I have ever had. Activities such as shuffling children into a real bomb shelter is a [real] part of my [real] past. But somehow, these days, it feels like a distant, “was that really my life?” dream. These days consist of such business as coordinating schedules and planning meals, feeding goats and robbing chickens, calling doctors and dispensing medications, repeating conversations and relaying messages, fumbling for the “right” way of saying things and stumbling over words said—and mis-said— . . . the business of family.
And I cannot help but suspect that this business is just as real as the “real world.” Real-er, perhaps.
More often than not, these days I feel like I am failing. The words that come out of my mouth come out wrong. I find myself nitpicking when, moments before, I wanted to express the depth of my gratitude. I waste time instead of using it productively (and then I resent requests for that time I just wasted!). I feel aimless in the search for a job, and embarrassed by how hard it is to imagine making the time for one! And I wonder why I’m weary when nothing seems to have come from the day; it just felt inexplicably exhausting.
During this afternoon’s milking, I relayed the quote to my husband. I wanted to tell him that he was doing so well. That I’m so very proud of him. That I trust, and admire, him with all my heart. But when it came down to it, all I did was briefly explain how applicable to us I thought the words were. He held Lady’s legs firm for me while I squeezed out our daily milk. He nodded his agreement. Then I fed her a treat, and I kissed my goat. Peter fetched their “salad,” and took them for a walk. I kissed him goodbye and came to make dinner for my grandma. I overcooked the fish and I undercooked the okra. I am failing.
But she let it go. I washed her hair, and kissed her cheek. And we sat for a bit in front of the TV together.
This is hard. And it is good.

*I wish I knew who to properly attribute this quote to. It was not referenced on the podcast I was listening to at the time. But searching for it led me to this blog, so I hope this is the original author :-)

good enough

June 26, 2019

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Scrabble did the trick. It was just a game. We weren’t doing anything of consequence. We didn’t even finish the game, for that matter. Before too long, she started getting droopy. Knowing it was past our usual 9:00 hour of turning-into-pumpkins, I knew it was time to suggest that we didn’t finish the game. “Oh, you don’t mind?” she asked. “Not at all . . .” I picked up the board and, as she poured tiles into the bag, I heard one drop onto the floor. Crawling under her feet to pick it up, I heard her quietly berate herself. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I lifted my head back up, smiling while I tossed the tile in with the others. Before I could tell her it didn’t matter, another one slid to the ground. I could tell she was embarrassed—the lifetime of constant motion gave her a well-deserved nickname of “Busy Bea” (which, in fact, is also her online Scrabble handle). But now, slippery fingers replace rapid motion. I tried to make it as small a matter as possible by waving off her apologies. But it’s hard to tell, these days, what really gets to her and what is easily forgotten. Judging from how quickly her breathing slowed and snoring began, I think this annoyance at her slippery fingers was a small one. I hope so.
Though she slept soundly that night, and I eventually slept well on my improvised bed (a small stack of folded hospital blankets that [almost] worked as a cushion), it took me a while to wind down. I tried to read but was distracted by my own train of thoughts. I looked at the peaceful expression on her face, and I wished that such peace was there during daytime hours. Moments occur, but they are rare.
That game of Scrabble was one of those rare moments. She forgot the worries about bills, long-term care, and meals. She forgot her new normal of without-him. She forgot her aches and pains and pills. And, blessedly for me, she forgot that a moment ago she’d been looking at me as she would any acquaintance who couldn’t make sure the sandwich arrived on time and was to her liking. Everything is either a disappointment or a frustration to her these days . . . even those of us closest to her.
Just moments before that game, a well-intentioned nurse had poked her head in the door while passing. “Good evening, Ms. Bea!” she said, “You enjoying your sandwich?” Her question was so normal and her demeanor so casual that it caught both of us off guard to hear the abrupt, “No!” that my grandmother shot back. “It was not good at all,” she continued. Clearly flustered, the young nurse tried to apologize, though it was evident that she had no reason to do so. In that instant, I was embarrassed. My Southern upbringing came back to me full-force, and I wished my grandmother had her old sensibilities again. Thinking through this reaction, I wished I was more comfortable with honesty. Why shouldn’t we all feel free to speak our minds like this? But I suppose the other part of me is simply weary of the constant string of “not good enoughs” that the world has become.
For all that is not good enough, however . . .for all that is not right, there has to be something that is good enough, that is right. And in this hospital room, on this night, that good and right was a game of Scrabble. For that brief period of time, we were transported back to our old selves. She was just my word-pro GramBea. And I was her eldest, do-gooder grandchild. We focused on our tiles, agonized over our moves, and then, as she does, she let me win.

on the [back]lines

June 16, 2019

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This is the weekend of Peter’s annual IT conference. In the past we have always traveled together; but this year, the realities of setting up our homestead meant he needed to travel solo …and, consequently, I am needing to “farm” solo. It’s easy for me to say that I understand that farm life is a challenge. It’s another thing to live it!
The garden is easy enough, in one way (i.e. my black thumb will likely not give itself away until after the master gardener’s return 😉).
The animals are another story. Each milking session since he left has been increasingly difficult, and I cannot help but suspect that goats are more like children than most other animals: one aspect of this being behavior when daddy is away. By yesterday evening Lady was kicking so much that I lost a portion of the milk and had to give up before milking her out. This morning I dreaded an expected repeat and, as I was looking for the hobble (a strip of Velcro that can be used to help prevent kicking), my neighbor happened to come over for a visit. When I apologized for having to cut short the conversation, gesturing to my goat and explaining that she was expecting her food, I mentioned my issue with the kicking. Virginia offered to help: “Why don’t I hold her legs for you?,” she suggested. This being exactly what Peter does when the kicking begins, I instantly accepted. “Oh, would you?!?” So between the two of us, I managed to get most of the milk successfully in my jar. Should I admit to you that Virginia is well into her 80’s? I guess I just did 😉 But before you think less of me, I should also add that she lives on her own (with children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren coming by from time to time), she keeps up her own garden, mows her own lawn … and grew up milking her own cow. Virginia is probably more capable of handling Lady than I am! After we finished she patted Lady and, as lady nosed in on her, said, “do I smell good? Probably do, to you: it’s past time for my shower!” I smiled, thanked her for being my “milking angel,” and waved back at her.
This evening the dreaded hour returned again, as it does. This time I decided to try the hobble. The last time we experimented with it, Peter thought it was secure, but she managed to wiggle out of it. In my attempt to not repeat the error, I overcompensated and discovered, in the middle of milking, that she could hop around but not keep herself stable. She hopped herself sideways, careened over my head, and ended up pinning me to the stanchion while she flailed in the air. It was, frankly, a bit terrifying; I didn’t know if I was strong enough to lift her back up. Once I managed to do so, and got the hobble off her legs, I hugged her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Lady,” I repeated, trying to catch my breath. I feared I had just scarred her for life, and begged her to forgive me. Her response was to nose around in the bin for remnants of food, and sniff my hands for more. She was, in short, remarkably un-phased.
That said, I am not looking forward to the next day (one more solo day for me), and I still worry about after effects. I also worry that the peaceful, easy milking days are a thing of the past. But of course it does no good to worry about what has not yet come.
For now, all is well. All in a day’s homesteading?

Naming & Serenading

May 24, 2019

F13FFB14-3680-46BB-9E5A-09FF7CE6C6F0Yesterday I named our goats. The inspiration came from the memory of one song that always seemed to effectively soothe colicky infants when I was nannying. It was just one of an embarrassingly many number of film songs that I can, and do, launch into (without appropriate embarrassment) and sing, all the way through, word for word, with no concern over the attention (um, irritation?) of any within earshot.
So this morning I began to sing this song and then smiled at the realization of the apt title: “The lonely goatherd.” Our goats are now named Lady and Yodel. If you sing carefully through the song you may be able to figure out the exact reason for these two names 😉
Oh, and yes, I did try out the soothing nature of it while milking. Lady did not seem impressed. And I have to admit that the act of milking had a very poor effect on the audio quality of my serenade.

sitting bear

May 4, 2019

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Sitting shiva. During a text correspondence this morning, my aunt and I agreed that this is the what the current season is for our family. In a very real and tangible way, in that we are sitting with my grandmother during her season of immediate grief over my grandfather’s death. But there is another level to this “sitting” that makes it feel somehow even more unfair (dare I use such a boldly self-centered declaration, considering that death is quite possibly the most universal of sufferings?). In this situation, my grandmother has come down with a miserable cough that has stolen her usual “busy Bea” tendency, confining her much of the day to a living room chair. It feels harsh, and wrong, for her to have both lost her partner of 70 years and to be feeling so miserable she complains frequently that she just doesn’t feel like living. There. I said it. Harsh. Wrong.
Father, forgive me.
This morning a situation occurred that made me feel as if someone was trying to take advantage of my hurting grandmother. I was alone at the time—the designated “shiva-sitter” for several days now—and so I called my husband to relay the events to him. My emotional response was to feel like a bit of an ass: at times I’m no good at being a good Southerner; and when it comes to putting on a smiling face of hospitality, I simply have no poker face. If I’m hurt, my face blanches visibly. If I’m angry, I glare. If I’m excited, my smile gets bigger than my face (at least that’s what my father-in-law has said, ever since we first “met” over Skype). And if, as happens today, I don’t trust someone, I show it. My mother bear came out in full force as I verbally rushed in to, as best I could in an immediate, reactive manner, protect my “cub,” in this scenario.
Sometimes I have an unhealthy response to trauma that basically entails shoving it deep within me and silently brooding. Of course, humanity being frail as it is, this leads to a very bad bubbling, troubling inner self. So today I was grateful for the impulse to call my calming Rock of a husband. Not only did he ease my anxiety by his virtual presence; he also affirmed my reaction to the situation, added his own take, and led me to realize that I was not overreacting; I had, in fact, “done well.”
Father, help us.
Let us survive this season, as a family that works together. The work is currently a great and overwhelming mountain of logistics and labor. And we are weary. But I believe that the same God who designed family as the greatest of human goods is with us here, and now, on the path winding upward to the peak. We will get there.
Ann Lamott writes that there are three essential human prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow.
Father, wow us.

half-mast

April 29, 2019

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Today the American flag flew half-mast, proclaiming to all in our city that a great man is gone. When we arrived at the national cemetery, Peter noticed the flag and asked if he had missed some recent tragedy in the news. I told him I didn’t think so … “it’s for PaCharley,” I added. Turns out, it was.
Three volleys of 7 rounds were fired before the graveside service, and empty rounds presented to my grandmother, along with the flag.
Last night my uncle was contacted about expected numbers at the church for the funeral. He was asked to give an estimate, so a few of us began to brainstorm. We listed the expected family members and then moved on to others. Someone suggested that attendance may be light, considering workday hours on a weekday. “I don’t know,” I said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the city cancelled work for the afternoon, so that people could attend the funeral.” After all, as I know I’ve written oftentimes before, PaCharley never met a soul he didn’t like. A soul.
Sure enough, the sanctuary was filled to over flowing. Though I didn’t actually know how full it was until after the service. We filed in as a family, to fill all the front pews, and it did not occur to me to look behind us. Only as the service was ending did I think to wonder how many were there; so I kind of snuck back in, doubling back around after the family procession. I walked up the stairs to stand in the choir loft and peek at the crowd that was there. A crowd of souls who loved my PaCharley.
*Funny thing—the first time I wrote that sentence, I wrote “souls loved by my PaC.” Same difference, I suppose. Loved. Loved by.
GramBea selected the hymns we sang and, on impulse, I left my seat to go stand beside her and hold her hand. I suspect I learned how to sing from her, as I’ve always automatically found an alto harmony. From the other side of her, my uncle joined the trio, with a strong tenor.
Before I married, I was accustomed to visits to the U.S., during which I would stay with my grandparents. We would often sing the doxology as a blessing, in a three-part harmony.
Today we sang that three part harmony once again. Hands held tightly, voices strong; so far as I could tell—or cared, for that matter—we were alone in a packed sanctuary. Alone except for PaC, who I know for sure was singing right alongside us from his new, eternal home.

Like a river, glorious
Is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious
In its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth
Fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth
Deeper all the way.

Stayed upon Christ Jesus,
Hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest.

home

April 23, 2019

IMG_0230Grief 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.

holy saturday

April 21, 2019

IMG_0218Holy Saturday. Sitting in discomfort. I’ve been mulling over that idea today, in what has turned out to be a needed respite from scheduled business. It has been a Godsend: a gift of silence, in a sense. Today we—those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, recognize the solemn occasion of the day in which the earth was darkened by death. Last night, in our Good Friday service, we each hammered a nail to the cross, and then took communion. We recognized the part we each playing in nailing the Saviour of the world to a tree. We. Each. Me. I nailed my Lord to the tree.
A part of me rushes to clarify, right now. “Oh, but of course, His grace covers us . . . we are redeemed . . .” Yes. But I’m afraid I know, far too well, the depravity of my own soul. Yesterday, in particular, I was feeling the weight of my failings. It was a day of failure. A day I would like to deny. Like Peter’s denial of his association with Christ, I wish I could deny my association with my own dark soul. Instead I held the hammer in hand and I nailed my Lord to the cross . . . and then I knelt beside my husband. We ate the bread, and drank the wine, and sang of the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. Rolling as a mighty ocean. In its fullness over me.

Today we wait.
We wait for rain to stop, and the sun to shine. We wait for Easter Sunday.
And, in this family, we wait for a death thats imminence cannot be denied. My grandpa—my “Dad 2”—was taken, by ambulance, back to the hospital today. This time it was a move from the nursing home, not from the house. And with the way things have been deteriorating, I am afraid.
Could I be wrong? Certainly. Could he live to be 100? Certainly.
But the weight of my soul, on this Holy Saturday, bears a gravity of suspicion that this is it.
Leading onward, leading homeward. To your glorious rest above . . . And it lifts me up to glory. For it lifts me up to Thee.

Presumably

April 13, 2019

863D5863-DA26-4260-824B-79407B32E358I am spending this weekend in close (i.e. bunk beds in dorm rooms) fellowship with hundreds of women. Glorious companionship and estrogen overload…? Pardon the sarcasm: kinda couldn’t resist that after the image I described. In all seriousness, though, I have been needy for friendship. I had a revelation the other day that I blurted out when it popped into my head. “I have no friends!” And I made this particularly endearing comment in conversation with an acquaintance I was actually hoping would become a friend. Gee-now that’s going to make someone decide to jump up to the lonely plate, right? But what I realized, less dramatically, is that I have grown spoiled by a life of hardship. Yes, I meant to say that. Living as foreigners in somewhat remote areas of the world, I have spend years taking on all-consuming sorts of work while surrounded by other foreigners doing the same thing. In that setting, what happens is that you make fast, and strong, bonds with those in your community, not “wasting” time on any preliminary small talk that may be commonplace in more relaxed settings or situations. In short, I have had community that I have not had to work to achieve. So much so that my default life pattern has been to try to run away from social situations, needing more solitude than my life was allowing.
Things have changed.
I used to walk from home to work each day, and bike 5 minutes to shop, swim, and visit others. We now live in a house that sits on 2 acres, in a rural setting that requires long commutes to get anywhere.
My close friends used to live on the other side of our living room wall. I could literally raise my voice and be heard by someone who knew me—or, at least, who knew my role, my habits, and my daily needs. My only regular friends now are members of my own family. In one sense, this is a very good thing; I needed to learn how to be a grownup with my family. I also needed to learn how to be a friend to my husband (as opposed to my default “doing” of daily life, in which I take his presence for granted).
But back to the present: this morning I was too late for breakfast to sit next to the one I’d decided would be my friend here, from our first conversation Thursday night. Yes, “decided” (presumptuous, perhaps?). So I grabbed a seat at another table and found myself seated next to a bright-eyed, eager-for-smalltalk sort of Southern lady. You know the type …right? She asked me a series of stereotypical questions about how I liked living in the US again, and if I was ready to be settled. I started to revert to my annoyed clamming-up reaction, that my sociable husband often rescues me from. Then I caught myself doing it, and decided to instead try to be conversationally creative. I asked her a few questions about her own life and, well, I guess the tables were turned on me. Over the next half hour, I found myself amazed at the stories that this Canadian (yep) educator-turned-retreat-founder had to share. We had numerous “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…” moments (reference credit to C.S. Lewis). And I left that table inspired to seek out a few dreams I’d been trying to shove down as impractical or frivolous. Rejoined by my “chosen” friend 😉, I was able to go into the next morning session with an infinitely better attitude. Because when it comes down to it, aren’t we all making assumptions about those who surround us? And, conversely, aren’t others making similar assumptions about us?
I cannot afford to rest on my laurels and assume that friendship will find me. What was that about kindergarten learning? Shouldn’t I have learned this lesson when I was five years old? Slow learner, I suppose … or perhaps, more likely, just ridiculously hard-headed. You gotta be a friend if you want to have friends. Presumably…

*during today’s afternoon free time, I was intent on experiencing all the activities available, with my thoughts being that, as much as I am truly a lover of home and routine, I have to do the different and hard things in order to be truly grateful for the “boring” stuff that I actually thrive on. So I hiked to the top of the mountain. And I climbed to the top of a telephone pole, with the sole purpose of jumping off once I got to the top. Well, I was actually supposed to use the baton in my hand to ring a bell suspended in front of me-my supreme athletic coordination notwithstanding, I did not ring the bell. The best thing I did this afternoon, however, was climbing into a large, bubble-butted harness, pull my shoulder straps so that I was hunched into a position reminiscent of an oversized baby in a full-body diaper, and then pull a lever that would hurl us down for one exhilarating giant swing ride. I started out standing in line as a “single” participant, but two other women summoned me over to join them. The three of us held hands, falling together, screaming together, swinging together … laughing together. I stood in that line out of a somewhat mopey desire to distract myself from what I really wanted to do (jump in the lake, which was not yet allowed this season). But I left that line grinning widely, and knowing that today was good. Perfect? No. But good.