Be Blessed in what I Do

My dad likes to be called Daddy, even though he’s 79 and I’m almost 58. It’s a little thing, but it makes him happy, so I do it.

Calling him Daddy instead of Dad not only makes him happy, it helps me. It helps me remember the man I admired and who was my hero for so many years.

The one who worked two or three jobs, but was always at home to go to a Father-Daughter Dinner, a ceremony where I got a Girl Scout badge, a promotion, or a graduation.

The one who made sure I understood and could be successful working out algebra problems without once getting irritated or frustrated.

The one who took us on Sunday afternoon drives and made an interesting field trip of seeing the California aqueduct and why it was important or taught me what a box canyon was while we drove around in one.

The one who rode his bike with us to Lanark Park on the Fourth of July to let us swim all afternoon and then spread a blanket on the grass so we could watch the fireworks. And then stopped at Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cone–a rare treat.

The one who took us to the circus and Knott’s Berry Farm every summer when he worked as a playground supervisor. Then, while all the other kids went off to have fun, my brother and I hung out with my dad.

The one who sat with me when President Kennedy was shot and explained every historical detail of his funeral.

The one who taught swimming and junior life-saving to my entire Girl Scout troop one summer.

The one who taught me how to roll up my sleeping bag and make sure it was aired-out before the next camping trip.

The one who took me to UCLA football and basketball games from the time I was eleven and then made sure I knew what to do to get into the school he helped me love.

The one took me to the Billy Graham crusade in the Los Angeles Coliseum and let me go down and sit on the scratchy green blanket with a lady so I could ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. And who sat with me and taught me John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer, the Protestant Lord’s Prayer since my mom and I attended a Methodist church. He was Catholic.

I need to remember that Daddy, especially when I’m with him, because as he got older and more successful, becoming a principal and teaching night school so he didn’t have to work so many jobs anymore, he was harder to please, more critical, more demanding, rude, and demeaning.

As I got older, I learned never disagree or challenge anything he said. He could ruin a family dinner or holiday with a nasty comment or unreasonable expectations.

Instead of enjoying time with him, I dreaded it.

But now he needs me.

Three years ago, he suffered from the effects of a blood thinner. A heart attack finally forced him to go to the hospital and then to a convalescent home for rehab. I think he aged ten years in those sixteen days. He used to be independent and constantly busy, but now he does nothing for hours at a time. He can’t remember how to do things that once kept him busy and interested.

Because my mom is out of town for a few days, I went to see him yesterday instead of Sunday, which was Father’s Day. And I never know if he’s going to be my hero or cantankerous. Too often, I go in already on edge and defensive.

Not at all what I wanted to do yesterday.

Several years ago, my pastor gave a sermon about dealing with difficult people. He recommendedgiving them the spiritual gift they needed. So instead of just going to see Daddy, I prayed before I left. Not that Daddy would be pleasant, but that I would be patient, kind, gentle. To put Daddy first.

We had a lovely day. He spent time telling me about growing up in Watervliet, New York. Stories I’ve heard over and over. But I was inspired. I got out my iPad and looked up Watervliet. We took a virtual tour, at first with streets. Then I showed him the satellite image. Amazingly, he could find the house where he lived growing up, the church he attended and where he went to school, where the ice cream parlor was, and even his grandmother’s house. While he found places, he told old stories I knew, but new ones as well. Just like when I was growing up, he taught me things too, on that virtual tour: about Uncle Sam and where the name comes from since Uncle Sam originated near his home town and Shakers.

He loved it. I loved it.

Even though I know God’s way is best, I still struggle to live like I am in His Kingdom NOW. My time with Daddy yesterday was the reality of living His Word:

James 1:22-25
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

I was blessed. With another good memory of my dad. With a wonderful day. With love.

New Normal

I have a wound. It’s deep. It scabbed over, but the scab keeps getting torn off, and it bleeds. Sometimes it just seeps a little around the edges. Then it scabs over again. It never heals completely.

Every time I think it’s getting better, something rips off the scab. I cry out in pain.

But since I’ve had the wound for a long time, people don’t want to see it anymore. They don’t want to hear my pain. They want to forget about it.

They want me to forget too. Or at least not mention it. I definitely should never show any sign that it still hurts. I am supposed to act as though there is no wound. They don’t even want to see the band-aid I keep on it.

What I should do is cover it with something pretty so no one sees I have this ugly part of me that doesn’t heal.

They call it move on.

Get over it.

Go with the “new normal.”

There is no such thing as new normal. It’s a fallacy.

There is just keep on going when nothing will ever be normal again.

And I try. To look normal. And act normal.

Those closest to me are aware of the reality that my wound is still open and raw. They try to keep the scab dressed and covered. They buffer me with words and their own gentle touch.

But some days, some circumstances, pull the scab all the way off and the only thing left to do is cry.

I have learned to cry when those who expect me to “be normal” aren’t there. I even applaud my little successes of keeping the bandage on tightly enough that nothing of my pain seeps through the bandage, let alone the pretty covering.

I say with Job, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21).

I know God understands. His Son died. For me. And for you. He doesn’t mind my tears, my pain, my grief. He is here with me. He comforts me when the wound seeps slowly and when the scab is torn of and I must stand as though all is well.

“He will heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.” (Psalm 147: 3)Psalm 147: 3

In His time, in His way.

And He doesn’t expect me to be “normal.” Just faithful, trusting, and obedient. To Him. No one else.

He is the beauty I cover my wound with. He is the soothing balm that takes away the ugliness. So even on days when the wound is ugly, gaping, and raw, I pray He is what I let people see.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Yesterday, coming out of Trader Joe’s, my attention was drawn to the sound of birds chirping loudly and persistently. My eyes scanned the area to see what the ruckus was about, and I was greeted with an amazing sight: Three sparrows stood in a cluster, their wings straight at their sides, the end feathers fluttering like fingers. They were clearly distressed. I wasn’t sure why they were in such an unusual spot—there is a constant flow of people going in and out of the store and an endless banging of carts as people take them in and out of the queue.

I watched, expecting them to take off, but instead was delightfully surprised when a slightly larger bird swooped down in front of the agitated trio. Immediately the three birds opened their beaks wide and each received a tidbit from Mama. Then she flew off to find more. The babies went back to their frantic “I want my dinner” call.

Sure enough, within a minute, Mama returned with another tidbit.

I reached for my camera, but just then three kids, tired of being stuck in the store with their own mom, were freed to run outside. They ran immediately to the rail, laughing and talking, and started climbing.

The birds disappeared under the carts. Mama returned again, and just like any good Mama, she ducked under the carts to keep giving to her babies.

I moved to a different spot, hoping they would reemerge, but a huge bus of people began unloading and streaming into the store.

I stood quietly for another minute or two. I could still hear the birds, but I knew I wouldn’t see them again. It was amazing I had seen them at all.

It was a gift to add to my 1000 unending gifts.

And it was a reminder: God really does care for the sparrows (Luke 12:5). He cares even more about me (Luke 12 6-7). He will provide food, protection, and care even in the most difficult places.

When my life is full of noise, chaos, confusion, I can trust God will be there. If I pay attention, I can hear His voice and receive all He has for me. Why? For the very simple reason, He loves me. Just like that mama bird took care of her babies, God takes care of me.

What do I do?  Be like those baby birds. Keep my attention focused on my provider. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” (Matthew 6: 33-34).

God will do the rest.

Never Say Never

“I’ll never . . .”

. . . be like my him or her.

. . . let my kids . .

. . . do that.

“I’ll never” is easy to say, but hard to live.

At least for me.

My husband and I were never going to let our daughters live with us after they were adults. I think we said that from the time they were infants. “They can live under a bridge, but we’re never going to let our kids live with us after they’re eighteen unless they’re in school or pay rent.”

Neither of our girls finished college. They barely started. That alone shocked and upset us. For a long time their choices seemed to work a lot better than I ever thought possible.

Kimberly, our oldest daughter, married a man I adore. After seven years of battling severe, rare effects from her juvenile (type one) diabetes and two miscarriages, she had a beautiful daughter of her own. She was a faithful servant of Christ. Until she had an affair and walked away from everything. At first, she even left Robyn, but after a short time, she managed to meet Sean’s realistic expectations and they shared custody.Kimberly and Robyn 8-09

It didn’t take long for her to realize her boyfriend wasn’t as great in reality as he was on My Space and in sneaky get-togethers.

When she left her boyfriend, we couldn’t let her live under a bridge. Not with our two year old granddaughter. Despite our “we’ll never,” we let her move into our home.

It was horrible.

Kim broke every guideline we set up. My husband and I fought about what to do many times. We fought with Kim. We begged and pleaded and made contracts.

And finally, we asked her to leave. I cried for days.

“Never again,” we said.

Two years later, our daughter, Erin, left her husband because she had no choice. She had no job, no money, no skills. We cleaned out my husband’s office and put bunk beds in there for our two grandchildren: Zachary was eight and Katie was six. They brought their dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Jazz who loved to bark and run away. We already had two dogs of our own.

It was made worse when two weeks after Erin moved home, Kimberly passed away. One of the things Erin looked forward to was being closer to her best friend and sister. She lost her confidante. When we drove her crazy, she had no one to talk to.

None of us grieved the same way. All of us were tired, stressed, and depressed.

Erin was much more considerate than her sister, but there was still constant noise, chaos, and responsibility Van and I didn’t want or need. There was irritation and frustration for all of us.

We struggled through. Erin, Zach, and Katie lived with us for two years.DSCI0518

Having my adult daughters live with me was one of the hardest things I ever did.

It was also one of God’s greatest gifts. I have a relationship with my grandchildren I never would have had if they hadn’t lived with me. They brought laughter and joy during a time of extreme grief.

Having Kim here during the time she turned away from God allowed me to keep sharing His willingness to forgive. Even though she no longer lived in our home, I was with her when she rededicated her life to Christ. I learned a lot about giving the unconditional love God gives me.

I also had the chance to spend time with Erin. I admire her strength, her courage, her willingness to sacrifice for her kids. She taught me to keep moving, to change my focus from what I lost to what I had.

I’ll never regret the times I opened my heart instead of sticking to my plan of ” I’ll never let my adult children live with me.”

I pray I’ll never forget the lessons God had for me: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9).

I have a harvest of precious memories, good relationships, and the certainty of God’s faithfulness.

I’ll never lose that.

Unplanned Course

Planner. Over-achiever. Type A. Organized. Efficient. Perfectionist.

Those words defined me. I used them. Others used them to describe me.

I was comfortable with those descriptors. I knew who I was and where I was going. I liked being that person. Even when things didn’t go according to my plan, I could adjust and keep going. No matter what happened, I was the person I was comfortable being. And while I certainly always knew I was far from perfect, it was something I strove to be.

Not anymore. Part of me is gone, lost, and I think it’s gone forever.

I landed in uncharted water. I don’t know where I am, where I’m going, or how to get there. Instead of organized and efficient, I’m lost and confused.

Most of my life is the same: I’m still married to my wonderful husband of thirty-six years; I have the same job teaching seventh grade English and History; I live in the same house; I have a family that loves me.

But for the last seven years, I have been hit with one stressful, life-changing experience after another. Events and circumstances I never thought could or would happen to me, did happen. I didn’t plan any of them. I wasn’t ready for any of them. I didn’t want any of them.

For the first three and a half years, small parts of my life changed. All were surprising and unwanted, but I managed to keep going, determined God would “make all things work together for good” (Romans 8: 28) because I loved HIm. I prayed; I cried; I clung to His promise; I waited.

Then one event changed everything completely and forever: My oldest daughter, Kimberly, passed away at thirty-two.

Without warning, I plunged into unknown water and my course was uncharted.

New words described me. Disorganized. Inefficient. Messy.

I was unable to plan ahead or move forward. I learned this was part of grieving.

I didn’t expect it to last so long. Especially since I rejoice that Kimberly is in heaven with our Savior, whole in body, spirit, and soul.

Even though there were people everywhere–my husband, my younger daughter, and two of my grandchildren–lived in the same house as me, I felt alone. There were friends who showed they cared. I went to work every day where I was surrounded by seventh graders, everything seemed different. Like I was living underwater and couldn’t quite get to the surface.

For a while, I stopped doing things I had done my entire life: going to church regularly, attending my small group, reading my Bible. I didn’t stop praying or believing in God and His goodness. I didn’t question why or how could this happen.

More changes kept coming. Confusing, unwanted changes that kept me feeling lost.

I  didn’t have a clue of how to proceed. I saw myself as a boat, drifting in the middle of an unending ocean, no sign of land or markers anywhere. “Everything is changing, and I don’t know what to do or how to live this new life!” I cried out.

God answered with His Word, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). He whispered, “I will never change. There is nothing else to worry about because I am always the same. You only need Me.”

That awareness, something I said I knew, changed my view. I still was in a boat on uncharted, open sea, but I’m not alone in the boat. I’m not drifting aimlessly. Through everything, God is always the same. All the time, in every circumstance, in my joy, sorrow, confusion. He is with me in the boat, out on the open sea.

He has me there for a reason. He is changing me. I am learning how to keep going even when I don’t have a plan, when all I see is open ocean, when I feel alone, when I don’t know where I’m going.

God knows exactly where I am. He has a plan, even when I don’t know what it is or understand it. Or like it. And HIs plan IS for good.

I’m not alone. Not ever. No matter what it feels like. God is there.

His boat.

HIs sea.

HIs plan.

His love.

His grace.

With me and for me.

All the time.

Wherever I am.