Grocery Shopping

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Every husband and wife has their differences – some big and some small.  One of the differences my husband and I have is in regard to grocery shopping – he loves to wander the aisles of grocery stores and I abhor every aspect of this mundane task.  Matter of fact, he will find any excuse to go to the grocery store, while I will find any excuse to avoid that dreaded trip!  This difference works out well for us.  Our usual routine is that I make the minutely detailed grocery list so he knows EXACTLY what to put into his cart.  I may hate grocery shopping, but I am quite particular about which groceries we have in the house.  For instance, the creamer for my coffee needs to be SUGAR-FREE, not the original nor the fat-free.  My husband and I have avoided many an argument due to his ability to text me a picture of any potential purchase in order to ensure its appropriateness before he places it in his cart.

This week our grocery shopping routine was thrown out of whack.  He couldn’t make it to the grocery store on his weekday off, which meant our cupboards and refrigerator were nearly bare. Try as I might to find an excuse to NOT go grocery shopping, I just couldn’t.  I had no important appointments, no coffee with friends planned, no walking buddy waiting for me, no email awaiting my attention…it was a quite unusual Saturday with nothing on the calendar.  Plus, my teenage son was applying severe pressure upon me to go to the store due to the fact that there was no milk in the fridge to support his two-gallon-a-week-milk-guzzling habit.

Begrudgingly, I drove to our neighborhood grocery store.  I made sure to set myself up for success.  With the menu planned for the week, I had my detailed list in hand.  Wandering needlessly down the aisles with products I did not need would not be marring my shopping experience today!  At 7:30 am sharp, I entered the nearly empty grocery store.  Early morning shopping allowed me to avoid the masses of crazed weekend shoppers, as well as those dangerous child drivers in the car-shaped grocery carts!  I happily took note of the recently polished tile floors and beautifully arranged produce that no shopper’s hand had yet to muddle.  My mood was positively cheery as I progressed through the store, placed items in my cart and joyfully checked them off my lengthy list.

With every item crossed off and my cart overflowing, I headed to the check out line.  The time was now 8:35 am – still too early for the majority of normal folks to be shopping – so there was a checker just waiting to greet me with a wide, welcoming smile.  I slipped my credit card into the machine and made small talk with the kindly checker as she began to work her way through the mountain of carefully selected groceries in my cart.

Activity at the adjacent check stand caught my attention.  An elderly man was pushing his overflowing grocery cart up to the register.  However, unlike my cart, his cart was not filled with neatly packaged groceries.  It was filled with several dirty, black trash bags bulging with every possession he owned.  In his dirt-encrusted hands he held what he was purchasing at the grocery store this morning – a small container of milk, a single apple and a can of Chef Boyardee raviolis.  I couldn’t help but compare his simple grocery purchases to my extravagant purchases: I had two gallons of milk, six overly- priced Honey Crisp apples, a family-sized package of fresh, refrigerated raviolis, as well as at least fifty other grocery items intended to last my family for the week.  Right next to me this man was purchasing three inexpensive items which would no doubt be his main meal for the day.

I told my friendly cashier that I would be right back, and I slipped into the adjacent check stand in front of the bedraggled homeless man.  I handed the cashier a $20 bill and quietly explained that the bill was to cover the man’s groceries and to please give any change to him.

Then, I returned to my check stand where the payment machine had begun its annoying beeping reminding me that my multitude of groceries had been paid for and it was time to remove my card from the machine.  Humbly, I removed my card and placed it in my wallet.  I declined the help offered by the bagger to take my huge pile of purchased groceries out to my car for me.  I pushed the groceries to my car, unloaded them and returned the empty cart to the front of the store.  There tucked under the eaves of the store, protected from the bone-chilling winter wind, sat the man eating the ravioli from the can with his fingers.  He smiled at me, as he lifted two tomato-sauce covered fingers in gratitude.  I smiled and waved back.  Then, I drove my groceries home where I ridiculously struggled with how to fit everything I had purchased into our oversized refrigerator and multi-shelved pantry.

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Finding Love in the Midst of Christmas

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Before Thanksgiving this year, I made a major announcement to my family.  They are quite used to my announcements so they all gathered obediently in the family room with a minimum of eye-rolling.  I told them I would not be decorating our house for Christmas this year. I abhor the commercialism of the holiday and the outrageous expectation that I must create a Hallmark holiday for my family. I was boycotting the lights, the fake greenery, the wooden Santa figurines and the fancy set of Christmas dishes I bought for a great price on eBay last year.  Well, living with me day in and day out for years, my family knew better than to argue with me when I was speaking from atop one of my many soapboxes.  Finally, in the midst of the silence that followed my proclamation, the kids asked only, “Can we still put out our stockings and the Christmas bears that Grandma gave us?”

My teenagers’ request stopped me in the midst of my anti-Christmas rampage. Their simple plea that we bring their stockings and their white Christmas bears out of the rafters of our garage penetrated deeply into my heart.  We lost my mom to cancer two years ago which makes these gifts from her even more precious. These were the two priceless Christmas items made for each of my children by their grandma who adored them. The impossibly tiny cross-stitch designs that decorate each of our stockings were created by her every time a new child was born.  Each child’s personalized Christmas bear was the very first Christmas present that newest member of our family received.  My oldest son is now twenty-eight.  For twenty-eight years, their stockings and their bears have symbolized the love that Christmas truly represents.  A pure love demonstrated by thoughtfulness, self-sacrifice and personalized care.

Yes, the cherished bears and stockings are now in their rightful places for the Christmas season.  Matter of fact, the entire house is now decorated for Christmas. Did I give in to the commercialism of Christmas?  I think not.

Each year at Christmas time, it is a personal goal of mine to focus on love. Loving is a lofty goal during what has become a very hectic and stress-filled holiday season. Yet, love is what Jesus came to model and to teach us all about.  Not a commercialized love that is expressed through maxing out credit cards so required gifts can be purchased.  Jesus’ love is an unconditional love for every person – even the most despised and seemingly unlovable people.  This Christmas season, a hero of mine, Father Gregory Boyle,  just published his second book, Barking to the Choir. This book is a sequel to his first book, Tattoos on the Heart.  Some would describe Father Greg’s books as stories about his thirty years of work with gangs in inner city Los Angeles.  I describe them as Father Greg’s humble, personal testimony of how to love and the transformational power of that pure love.  He puts into written words exactly how I want to love.

Father Greg’s books are the perfect representations of Christmas.  Like my family’s Christmas bears and stockings, Father Greg’s life reminds me to love personally and unconditionally.  I have to read his books slowly, pausing to let his words sink into my heart and transform me.  I find myself frequently reaching for a highlighter to mark up my books in an attempt to never forget the power of pure love his words express.

Father Greg writes in Barking to the Choir, “There are no monsters, villains, or bad guys.  There are only folks who carry unspeakable pain. There are among us the profoundly traumatized who deal in the currency of damage.  And there are those who are mentally ill, whose sickness chases them every day.  But there are no bad guys.  Jesus seems to suggest that there are no exceptions to this.  Yet, it’s hard for us to believe him.”

This Christmas, I will cherish the pure love symbolized by the décor in my home. I will also strive to fully know and display God’s unconditional love for all His people.  As Father Greg writes, “No one escapes the notice of God.  So we try to find the joy there is in God’s finding us.  God intends our happiness.  We pull up our antennae to its furthest peak and place ourselves on the lookout for glimpses of joy at its most unleashed.  The path is cleared and God’s own tenderness is locating us.”

I have my antennae up above the commercialism of Christmas. I am reveling in the glimpses of joy I notice daily – a kindergartener skipping through the hallways of my school, the exuberant tail wagging my dog greets me with every time I walk though the door, a Snap Chat I receive from my grown children who no longer live near me, the cup of coffee my husband brings to my bedside every morning, stopping my car in the middle of the street to greet my lovely neighbor…and, yes, the immense joy that fills my heart when I gaze upon this captured memory of my precious mother surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandson each holding their cherished Christmas bears.

 

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A Love So Strong

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“We will only LOOK at the dogs.  We will NOT bring a dog home.  You will not BEG me to adopt any dog.  Understood?”

This was the mantra often repeated to my animal-loving daughter.  Whenever she spied an adoption fair, she begged me to interrupt my errand-filled day so she could “just look” at the dogs.  I usually acquiesced because she really did just look. She never verbally begged me to bring a precious pup home, although the look in her eyes gave the term “puppy dog eyes” new meaning.

Little did I know that one day, it would be ME who would be begging to bring home one of those adoption fair doggies.

One crisp fall day in November of 2012, we stopped at a large outdoor adoption fair.  As my daughter whispered sweet words to the caged animals and poked her fingers between the wire of the kennels to touch the dogs inside, I strolled through the rows of crated animals.  Although their plight tugged at my heart strings, I knew how much time and energy it took to be a responsible pet owner.  Focusing on these rational thoughts had always prevented me from bringing a dog home.

Until I met Aspen.

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A trembling bundle of reddish fur sat huddled in the corner of the wire kennel.  However, as I walked by, the furry bundle stood up, walked to the front, and gazed at me.  When I looked in those big brown eyes, I was overcome by the spiritual connection between us.  “I will only LOOK at the dogs.  I will NOT bring a dog home.” I repeated to myself as I forced my eyes away from this sweet creature.  As I moved onward through the kennels, the dog went back to the isolated corner of the cage.  Despite my best efforts to avoid this dog, I found myself walking by this kennel again.  Would the dog rise to greet me again?  Sure enough, as I approached, she moved to the front and gazed at me.  Once again, I felt an undeniable connection.  I couldn’t help myself.  I bent down and whispered sweet words to her and poked my fingers between the wires of her kennel so I could feel her soft fur.  An adoption fair volunteer witnessed this scene and said, “Ma’am, you and that dog got something special.  You should take her for a walk.”  He handed me a rope leash and attached the dog to the other end.  She promptly sat at my feet and looked to me for direction.  I began walking and she walked right next to me, gazing up at me frequently as if to say, “What could be more perfect than this?”

We rescued Aspen from her wire crate that crisp fall day five years ago.  Aspen was nine years old.  Her advanced age had prevented many other people from rescuing her.  However, we knew she was meant to be ours.  She loved us fiercely for five beautiful years.

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My precious pup remained spiritually and physically attached to me for every day of those five years.  No matter where I was, Aspen was never far from me.  No matter what room I was in, she was there. When I was working in my office, she laid under my desk, curled around my feet.  As I showered, she laid upon the bathmat outside the shower door. At night, she slept on her dog bed placed right next to my bed.  I talked to her as if she were a human because I knew without a doubt that she understood every word I said.  She licked away my tears when I was sad, and she danced with me to celebrate joy.

As she grew older, we gave her medicines and massages to ease the arthritis overtaking her joints and bones.  She developed a severe limp and her back legs no longer had much strength. Now, rather than eagerly following me up and down the stairs, she waited at the top for me to eventually come back up.  Her eyes communicated to me that as much as she wanted to be by my side, her failing body made it impossible.  Dread filled my heart as I began to realize that Aspen’s time with me may be coming to an end.

I Googled “How do you know when to put a dog down?” and sobbed to my vet about how I was supposed to know “when it was time.”  While my research was helpful, it also devastated me because it was obvious that Aspen was suffering. Her days and nights had become torturous for her.  I loved her so much that I had to put aside my own desires to keep her with me forever.

We euthanized Aspen four days ago. Our vet put us in a special room for the procedure. Nothing cold or clinical was in the room – it was comforting and cozy with a couch for our human family members and a fleece covered dog bed for Aspen.  We were left alone to say our goodbyes to Aspen.  My husband and two teens sat on the couch, while I sat on the floor with Aspen, cradling her head in my lap, whispering tender words to her and massaging her aching body.  We cried openly and sobbed loudly. Aspen was so concerned about each of us, that she forced herself to rise from the dog bed and in her typical selfless fashion, she limped to each of her beloved family members to say goodbye before she collapsed again on the dog bed, placing her head in my lap.

After a simple injection, Aspen was gone.

It is a visceral feeling, this grief.  My stomach is constantly in knots, a dull ache has overtaken my head, and it takes supreme effort for me to move sluggishly through my days.  I force a smile when happiness is far from what I actually feel.

My sweet and precious, Aspen.  The lessons you taught me about loyalty, dedication, and unconditional love made me a better human being. You may no longer be here physically with me, but our love remains so strong.  I still feel your warm and furry body wrapped around my feet and your scratchy tongue wiping away my tears of grief. We were meant to be together and together we will be – forever.

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A Mother’s Persistence

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Mothers’ Day causes me to reflect on this risky venture we call “motherhood”.  There are thousands of Hallmark cards, and more recently, Facebook and Instagram posts, which describe mothers as loving, kind, compassionate, giving, self-sacrificing, role models, best friends, caring…and the list goes on and on.  However, never once have I seen a mother described as persistent.

Today I wore my “Nevertheless, She Persisted” t-shirt in honor of the trait I think describes the very best of mothers.  No, Elizabeth Warren really has nothing to do with my Mothers’ Day reflection.  (Although I did Google her to see if she was a mother, and, indeed she is the mother of two children – and she was also a Special Education teacher which in my mind elevates her to an even higher status!  But, I digress…)  Persistence means never giving up – even when all the odds seemed stacked against you.  Now this is what it means to be a mother!

 

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This is me being a mom – no makeup, no fancy hair, rounder than I’d like to be, tired from a day of mothering.  Nevertheless, I persist in my motherhood adventure.

 

I think of the many women who walk this motherhood journey with me.  Not one of them would claim that their motherhood experience has turned out exactly how they had planned it.  These amazing mothers have jumped hurdles so high they bloodied their knees on the crossbar, tripped over the fallen hurdle, fell to the ground, scraped their knees, yet persisted in the race with blood dripping over the massive bruises on their shins.  They won’t ever reach a finish line…because once you become a mother, you are never finished.  You are a mother forever.

Nancy is one such mother.  Her son, Adam, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old.  Adam is now a freshman in high school and still non-verbal.  Nancy has jumped many hurdles as she has been a mommy to Adam who loved to wander.  One time Nancy was shopping in a store and she lost Adam.  She had stopped to look more closely at an item for literally less than a minute, but when she turned around Adam was gone.  She began her search in all the aisles of the store Adam loved – the toys, the books, the video games, but her son was nowhere to be found.  She contacted the store manager who had all his employees help Nancy search for Adam.  It quickly became obvious that Adam was not in the store.  The police were called and Nancy frantically called her husband to tell him Adam was missing.  Nancy searched for Adam in the neighborhood surrounding the store.  Still, her son could not be found.  Nancy wanted to crumple to the ground and sob tears of loss, tears of guilt for not keeping a better eye on Adam, tears of fear that the unspeakable may have happened…but she did not.  Nancy persisted.  When her cell phone rang and her husband reported that he had found Adam, then Nancy’s tears flowed.  Adam had crossed a major intersection and was found two miles from the store.  He was walking to his favorite place – Dunkin’ Donuts.

Lisa is another persistent mother.  Lisa had three beautiful children  – two girls and one boy.  She loved being a mother and chose to stay at home to raise her children.  One day, Lisa was fixing lunch for her small children when her husband came home from work.  She was surprised to see him home for lunch.  When she asked him why he was home from work early, he looked at her quizzically and told her he was not early.  It was 5:30 pm, his usual arrival time.  Lisa took a look at the clock.  Then she looked at her watch.  Then she looked at the digital clock on her microwave.  She panicked.  She told her husband that she could not tell what time it was.  Although she was looking at the clocks her brain could not register the time.  Lisa made an appointment with her doctor the very next day.  She explained her confusion with the clocks, as well as the fact that she had been having more headaches and some vision issues.  Her doctor sarcastically said, “What? Do you think you have a brain tumor?”  After the headaches intensified and the confusions continued, a specialist confirmed that Lisa did indeed have a brain tumor of the worst kind – glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).  Lisa had less than a year to live.  That year was filled with radiation treatments, chemotherapy and numerous doctor visits.  Lisa’s vision declined and she could no longer drive – but even worse she could no longer see the lovely faces of her children.  However, Lisa persisted.  She made healthy meals, she used a cane so she could go on walks with her children, and they read stories to her as she fell asleep for her daily naps.  She wrote letters for each child to cherish when she could no longer be with them in person.  Lisa did not fear death for herself, she feared how her death would affect her children.

Then, there is the persistence of Amy.  Unlike my friends, Nancy and Lisa, Amy’s motherhood adventure is not dramatic.  Matter of fact, it is quite boring.  It consists of two uneventful pregnancies which produced two healthy children.  Amy works as a teacher, and she is outstanding at her job.  She has been named Teacher of the Year twice in her career.  Her husband works as an attorney in a small law firm.  Financially, they have enough money to live in a nice home in the best school district in the city.  Their kids play on soccer teams with other neighborhood kids.  The parents cheer from the sidelines and rotate who brings the orange slices for half time.  Amy’s motherhood journey is a common story.  However, that does not mean it is easy.  Amy struggles with her weight.  Two pregnancies have destroyed the youthful body she once knew.  The stress of working with kids all day in her classroom carries over to home where she finds herself snapping at her children and her husband.  Juggling a career and motherhood exhausts her.  When her daughter wrote about her mom for a school assignment, her daughter wrote that her mom’s favorite thing to do was to sleep.  Her son hates going to bed at night and will only fall asleep if Amy is laying next to him.  Although her husband is a wonderful father, her son insists that his mommy put him to bed.  Most nights Amy wakes up after midnight, drooling on her son’s Star Wars pillowcase.  She tries to sneak quietly from the room, but somehow he senses her departure and sleepily demands that she return.  In the morning, her daughter refuses to wear the new socks Amy just bought her claiming that she can feel the seam at the toes and it bothers her.  Since Amy has an early morning staff meeting at school, she yells at her daughter to change her socks, put on her shoes and get in the car!  Her daughter cries all the way to school because Amy has hurt her feelings.  Amy guiltily apologizes for yelling at her daughter. As they get out of the mini-van, her son informs her that she needs to sign his field trip permission slip and include a payment of $3.00 which is due today. She has no cash and she does not have her checkbook with her.  Tears of frustration well in her eyes and it is only 7:30 am.  Yet, Amy persists.  She borrows the $3.00 from another teacher who is also a working mommy.  She spends her lunch time Googling “sensory disorders” so she can figure out why her daughter is so sensitive to how things feel on her skin and “sleeping disorders” so she can find out how to help her son sleep by himself.  After a long day of meeting the needs of her students, Amy and her children drive home.  Amy is grateful that her husband has burgers on grill for dinner.  He pours her a glass of wine and tells her to relax while he fixes dinner.  After dinner, they play Chutes and Ladders as a family, and then it is bedtime.  Amy is just dozing off with her head on her own pillow, when her son cries out, “Mommy, I’m scared!”  She stumbles down the familiar hallway to his bedroom, climbs into bed next to him, hugs him close, calms his fears and falls asleep with Darth Vader cradling her head.

Every mother has multiple stories about the hurdles she has had to jump in her motherhood journey.  Every mother has scars – and wounds that have yet to scab over and leave scars.  Yet, very few mothers ever quit – the vast majority persist to be the very best mothers they can be.

My Favorite Holiday

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I struggle with holidays.  I dread the large gatherings of family and friends for whom I am to be the perfect hostess – a spotlessly clean house tastefully decorated with holiday appropriate knick knacks, a beautifully presented delicious meal beginning hours before with fancy appetizers and ending hours later with a sumptuous dessert served with a selection of gourmet coffees.   All this I am expected to pull off seamlessly with an attitude of graciousness and a smile on my face.  No matter how hard I try, something always goes wrong…and usually it’s my attitude.

Today, however, is my favorite holiday!  Today our country honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I love this holiday – no decorations, no traditional foods to be cooked, no parties to plan, shop for, and execute seamlessly.  Even more importantly, on this day I am allowed to be me.  I am allowed to shed tears of sadness over the state of our nation which still cannot demonstrate the love and respect all people deserve.  I am allowed to spout my anger over the unfair and unjust treatment so many people in this nation must tolerate.  Dr. King felt all these emotions and expressed them so articulately.  I am thankful that he opened the door for me to do so, as well.

Dr. King was also a man of action.  His words were not empty.  This is where his power lay – not only in his ability to deliver words that would change our world – but in the fact that he risked his life to put his words into action.  Over the years, I have honored Dr. King’s legacy by keeping his dream alive in my elementary classrooms.  I have taught thousands of children about not only who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, but also the ideals he stood for.  We have role played the awful way prejudice makes a person feel, we have written about our own dreams for this world, we have created wreaths with our individual hand prints made from the actual color of our skins, we have watched outstanding videos and read compelling books about Dr. King and his legacy.  I have cried in front of my students as I read them books such as “Sister Anne’s Hands” and we listened together to the entirety of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”speech.  Most importantly, over my thirty-five year career of being a teacher, I have honored Dr. King’s legacy by treating every single one of my students with respect and dignity.

After Barack Obama’s election in November of 2008, he declared Martin Luther King Day, January 19, 2009, to be a National Day of Service.  What a wonderful way to celebrate my favorite holiday!  A dear friend of mine who feels just as deeply as I do, joined me in organizing the Rockrimmon Community Service Group.  We spent that first National Day of Service in awe as over a hundred community members met us on that cold January morning at our local Starbucks. While they sipped donated coffee, we handed out gloves and trash bags before we all traipsed over to a neighborhood culvert that was completely covered in trash.  Our volunteers picked up over one hundred huge bags of litter, including several pieces of large furniture someone had thrown into the culvert. Newspaper reporters were on hand to capture and report about our large group of volunteers of all ages and ethnicities honoring  Dr. King’s legacy by serving their community together.  Our Rockrimmon Community Service Group went on serving our community and honoring Dr. King for years through numerous service projects including blood drives, volunteering at assisted living centers and supporting hospitalized children.

Now this way of celebrating a holiday is much more my style – and not just on the official holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – but every single day!

 

Remaining Silent is No Longer an Option

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Yep.  This is the back of my car.

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Yep.  After being silent about politics on social media for nearly a year, I am writing and publishing this post. Remaining silent is no longer an option for me because as Plato said, “Silence gives consent.”

Nope.  I do not support Donald Trump and his appointed cabinet.

Nope.  I will not stop advocating for love, justice and equality for all.

Nope.  I will not attend a church that excludes any person for any reason.

Yep.  I will love Jesus and will continue to follow what Jesus calls His greatest commandment “Love one another.” I will continue to live my life by His words in Matthew 25 which clearly defines how His followers should live: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Yep.  I will be a voice for truth, love and justice in my own home, as well as in my local and global communities.

Yep.  If you have read this post and would like to meet with me to respectfully talk about Christianity and/or politics, I would welcome that opportunity.

 

The Family Super Bowl Party Fiasco

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superbowl 50Although we live in Broncos Country, home of the Super Bowl 50 Champions, we were not invited to a Super Bowl Party – nope, not a one.  Now, I am not a bit surprised or disappointed about this circumstance.  After all, a couple years ago, on this very blog, I wrote quite a scathing post denouncing professional football, thereby forever excluding me from the quite popular club of American Football Fans.  If you are at all interested in the downside of American football, you can find that post here

Despite all the reasons I dislike football, there are many more reasons why I love my husband – and he loves football.  He doesn’t watch much football anymore because he works on Sundays (the BIG televised football day) and he must get up early for work on Tuesdays and Fridays (the days after the BIG televised football nights).  I suppose another reason he doesn’t watch football at home could possibly (alright, MOST LIKELY) have to do with the fact that I can’t seem to keep my criticism of the game from flowing while he is trying to enjoy hard hitting, bone breaking, concussion causing tackles taking place in front of rabid fans who chose to pay exorbitant prices for merchandise and tickets that could easily have supported numerous underfunded causes like education or cancer research.  Oops…there I go again.

Any way, because I love my husband, I planned a little Super Bowl party here for our family of four.  After all, love is all about making sacrifices for your loved one and I really thought I could pull this off.  For two weeks, living here in Colorado Springs just on the outskirts of Denver, the capital of Broncos Country, I have been surrounded by a sea of orange and blue clad fans boasting non-stop about their beloved Broncos.  I will admit it…I felt a bit left out and figured that for one day – Super Bowl Sunday – I could jump on the bandwagon and enjoy a game of football.  After all, watching the game would provide an opportunity for me cuddle with my man on the couch for a good three to four hours.

I joined the throngs of Super Bowl party preparers clogging the grocery store check outs, as I shopped for appetizers to serve for our Super Bowl Party.  My children questioned me, “Why are we buying all this junk food?”  I replied that we were having a Family Super Bowl Party.  Incredulously they asked, “WE are?? Do we have to watch the game?”  I replied, “If you want any of these snacks, then yes, you must watch the game.  Daddy loves football and we love Daddy, so we are going to have a Super Bowl Party today.”  Well, being 12 and 15 years old, junk food was the ultimate bribe. A half hour before kick off they were in their respective viewing places in front of the television and within arms reach of the goodies.

I texted my dear hubby while he was at work to let him know we were having a Family Super Bowl Party.  Incredulously he asked, “WE are??” I texted him pictures of the snacks I had lovingly prepared as proof that, indeed, I was a loving wife who would support his love of football – at least for one day.  Or so I thought.

My Super Bowl Party Plans began to unravel before the game even truly began.  As the pre-game tribute to former Super Bowl MVPs took place, I blurted out the first thought that came to my head, “Those poor men…most of them can hardly walk any more!  Look what a life of football has done to them!”  My husband shifted uncomfortably in our cuddly position and I quickly apologized for my anti-football outburst.  “Promise…I will not make derogatory comments any more.”  He looked at me doubtfully.  My children smirked.  They knew better.

I was doing quite well for most of the first quarter.  Although I noticed the scantily clad cheerleaders who serve no purpose other than to show women as sex objects cheering on their men, I made no verbal comment.  I served up the onion dip and Ruffles and guacamole and taquitos that were to be our sustenance for the first half.  I had more appetizers ready to go in the kitchen that would be served during the second half.   I even had sparkling cider for the kids!  This girl knows how to throw a party – even a Super Bowl Party!

Then…some blue and orange clad player with Talib on the back of his jersey attempted to rip the head off of another player.  The player’s mask that was supposed to protect his face, became a weapon in Talib’s hands as he grabbed it and tried to twist and mangle that poor man’s head right off his shoulders!  “What the HELL?!  That Talib guy is an A**HOLE!!”  I shouted.  My children stopped stuffing their faces long enough to look at me in utter shock, onion dip and guacamole dripping from their lips respectfully.  My husband calmly stated, “Yeah, that wasn’t cool.”  I couldn’t help myself…I went off on a tirade about how watching this so-called “game” of football was barbaric.  I compared it to watching gladiators kill one another in ancient Rome, bullfighters stabbing bulls in front of thousands of blood-thirsty fans.  I questioned our human psyche – why do we love violence so much that we are willing to pay to watch it?  There was more, but I’m sure you get the idea.  My husband shifted uncomfortably in our cuddly position.  My children smirked.  They knew I couldn’t pull off a Super Bowl Party.

Now the demise of our Family Super Bowl Party really wasn’t all my fault.  The final blow to our party happened just minutes before half time.  My daughter’s voice sounded the warning, “Mom, I’m not feeling very good.”  My mommy instincts told me that something was definitely amiss.  I leaped up from my cuddly position with my hubby and followed the sound of my daughter’s voice which led me to the bathroom just in time to watch her cover the floor with vomit as she threw up onion dip and Ruffles with guacamole and rolled tacos, all floating in a sea of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider.  “I ate too much junk food and my stomach is exploding,” she stated sadly.

Now most football-loving husbands would leave the vomit covered floor and the vomit covered child for his football-hating wife to clean up.  Not my wonderful hubby.  He joined us in the bathroom and began scooping up vomit with the extra paper plates from our Family Super Bowl Party.  He gagged as he scooped regurgitated guacamole over and over again.  I began to clean up our daughter.  My son surveyed the scene and assumed that the party was over, so he turned off the TV.  “Don’t turn off the game!” my husband ordered.  My son dutifully turned the game back on and escaped to his room.  I took our vomit covered daughter upstairs to take a shower.  My husband continued to scoop up vomit, then cleaned the entire bathroom with ammonia…without missing a minute of the Super Bowl.

Despite my best intentions, I obviously failed at hosting a Super Bowl party. However, I have many, many wonderful friends who love football and throw great Super Bowl parties.  I saw all your posts on FaceBook of fancy football shaped cookies being eaten by crowds of people wearing Broncos apparel.  I am begging you, next year will you please invite my football-loving hubby to your Super Bowl party?  I promise I will keep my critiques and my junk food intolerant daughter at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering Beauty in the Sacred Journey

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Two and a half years ago, my mom was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer that had metastasized throughout her body. We began our cancer battle as frightened and despairing warriors who were determined to beat death away from Mom’s body.  We equipped ourselves with vast quantities of knowledge, cutting edge cancer treatment plans, an awesome team of medical personnel, and we fought for Mom’s life.  Infusion after infusion, horrible side effect after horrible side effect, CT scan after CT scan, blood draw after blood draw, doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit, pharmacy pick up after pharmacy pick up – we were tireless, we were optimistic, we laughed in cancer’s face and were determined that victory would be ours.

Now I sit by mother’s bedside as she is actively dying, a term meaning that the process of her body shutting down has begun.  We have a hospice team who helps us help her die well.  Her goal for dying is to be peaceful and comfortable here in our home.  Her goal is brought about by giving her a dose of morphine that we squeeze into the mucous of her mouth every hour round the clock.  Plus, every four hours we squeeze another cocktail of drugs into her mouth mucous to alleviate anxiety and distress.  My husband and I have been helping Mom achieve the last goal of her life for over thirty-six hours now.

I am treasuring each moment of Mom’s passing on.  It is indeed a privilege to be her companion on this sacred journey toward death.  As with any unchartered journey, there are unexpected images that take my breath away due to their magnificence.

  • My faithful husband who grinds the pills into a liquidy paste, then injects them every hour into Mom’s mouth.  Before he gives her the medicines, he gently rubs her forehead and whispers, “Mom, here’s another dose of medicine.”  Then, she briefly opens her eyes and he smiles at her while he slowly injects the medicine.  Their beautiful relationship is captured in this intimate moment.

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  • My tender twelve-year-old daughter, rubbing essential oils onto her grandmother’s feet to help alleviate her anxiety and help her relax.  Before she begins, she whispers, “I love you, Grandma. I know you like to smell good so I am going to rub your feet with sweet smelling oils that I know will help you feel better.”
  • My compassionate fifteen-year-old son sitting by Grandma’s bedside holding her hand gently within his own.  His sweet words to her expressing his gratitude and love for all that she has been to him.  His free hand reaching for tissue after tissue to wipe away the fast-falling tears from his face.

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  • My mother’s devoted white kitty, Angel, stretching her own body like a shroud over my mother’s failing body.  There is no doubt that Angel knows Mom needs the comfort only her warm, fluffy presence can provide.

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  • The bedside table that is covered with the pharmaceuticals that bring Mom the miraculous relief from the pain and anxiety that would otherwise wrack her mind and body, preventing her from passing away in the manner she wishes. The wonderful effects of  medicines, mouth swabs, lotions and oils makes them truly items of beauty in this context.

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  • The foil wrapped Broccoli Chicken Casserole my neighbor surreptitiously left on my kitchen counter.  The delicious casserole was discovered as I was wondering what we could possibly eat for dinner that would not take precious time and energy away from being at my mom’s bedside.  A 13×9 pan labeled with “Bake at 350 for 20 minutes” is more lovely than any artwork hanging in a gallery.

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  • The numbers 6333400 are beautiful – not because of their mathematical significance, but because when I put those numbers into my phone in that particular order, I am immediately in contact with a hospice nurse who can answer any questions we have, send out help and supplies when needed. and calm my fears regarding my inadequacies as a caregiver.

Although we have begun, our sacred journey is still a mystery.  How long will this journey be – hours, days, weeks?  What other obstacles will we need to overcome as we help Mom reach her goal of peace and comfort?  I definitely do not have the answers to these questions right now.  However, this I do know – as Mom lays in peace and comfort, cancer has not beat us.  She is dying on her own terms, not cancer’s.  And, despite its best efforts, cancer cannot take away my choice to revel in the many more magnificent images that are waiting to be discovered along this sacred journey.

There’s a Monster Living in My Basement

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Wild Things

There are not many creatures that evoke more fear than a monster.  Those horrific creatures who are the stars of night terrors and horror movies.  Monsters can take on all shapes and sizes: the huge black and white Godzillas of old movie fame who destroy entire towns with a single step, the elusive Big Foot lurking in the shadows of overgrown forests, the bizarre aliens on huge movie screens that grotesquely emerge from the bellies of unsuspecting normal folks.  One of the most popular children’s books of all time, Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, features monsters of all shapes and sizes who “roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth and roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws” until little Max finally yells out, “STOP!”

I have tried yelling, “STOP!” at the monster in my basement.  I have shouted obscenities at it and demanded that it leave immediately.  I have sought out experts to help me get rid of the monster.  Those experts have shined their technologically advanced lights into all the dark places the monster is lurking.  We have been able to capture multiple photographs of the monster and the damage it is leaving upon everything it touches. The monster-killing experts have even attacked the monster, wounding it and slowing it down.  However, this monster refuses to die.

It takes all my courage to walk down the steps into my basement.  Before I begin the journey down into the monster’s domain, I turn on the brightest lights possible to drive the darkness away as I descend one haltingly slow step at a time.  I find myself breathing more deeply, tension building throughout every muscle of my body as I prepare to encounter the monster.  If I could, I would never walk down those basement steps again.  But I must.

“The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.” (Psalm 27:1)  I repeat this verse over and over as I attempt to arm myself for the daily battle I fight against the monster in my basement.

Finally, I step firmly into the monster’s domain.  The plush carpet beneath my feet and the beautiful decorations adorning the walls provide a devious camouflage for the vile beast that I know is lurking right around the corner.  When I turn that corner, I will come face to face with the monster I have been battling now for over two years.  I know I will not leave the monster’s lair unscathed – every time I face it, the monster attempts to destroy me. It takes all my prowess as a mighty warrior to continue to conquer the awful beast.

“Good morning, Mom!”  I cheerfully call out as I turn that corner into her lovely basement living area.  “Good morning,” she calls out in reply.  Just from those two words, “Good morning,” I can discern how much power the monster will have over her on any given day. A strong voice, full of confidence and courage, means the monster has not yet raised its despicable head.  A weak voice, shaking with fear and pain, means my battle with the monster on that day will be a strenuous one that I may not win.

There she sits with a blanket over her and a heating pad under her aching back. Her body is wasting away as the monster named Cancer attempts to destroy her.  She doesn’t have much energy left for battling any more.  She looks to me, hoping and trusting in my abilities to fight the monster for her.  I push aside my own insecurities, overwhelming grief, and petrifying fears as I sit down beside her, the brightest smile I can muster plastered upon my face.

“What can I get you for breakfast today, Mom?” I ask, as another exhausting day of battling the monster in my basement begins.

My Motherhood Journey

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My four children in the winter of 2005: Kimberly age 13, Greg age 16, Connor age 5, Sheridan age 2

Every journey is directed by road signs.  Signs that encourage you by posting how many more miles you need to travel, warn you about dangers you may encounter up ahead, and signs that inform you about where you are in this world.  No account of my journeying through motherhood would be complete without the direction I have received from my loving and trustworthy Heavenly Father. You will find His words to me sprinkled in amongst this retelling of my Motherhood Journey.

I was married when I was 20 years old.  My husband was in a six year doctoral program so we waited seven years to have our first born son. The pregnancy was a breeze. I craved salmon which, thankfully, was easily located in our Portland, Oregon hometown. The labor was long and arduous.  Our pastor came in to the labor room and prayed for a safe delivery.

Psalm 34:4   I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Fifteen minutes later, Gregory David was born.  He was healthy and strong.  I, on the other hand, struggled with the physical aftereffects of a long, difficult labor.  Mentally, postpartum depression blackened any maternal joy I should have been feeling.  This motherhood gig was nothing at all like the way I’d seen motherhood portrayed in our society.  Any sweet, cozy moments were marred by fever from my mastitis and pain from the tearing of the tissues in my birth canal.  For months after becoming a mother, I was sick, sore, and absolutely convinced that I was not motherhood material.

Psalm 34:18   The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

After several therapy sessions, a prescription for anti-depressants, rounds of antibiotics and months of sitz baths, my mind and body gradually healed. I was finally able to love and adore my precious baby boy.

Somehow, although how will always remain a mystery to me, I began to desire another baby.  I conceived right away.  However, eight weeks after that positive pregnancy test, I buckled over in pain and was rushed to the emergency room.  Tests revealed that I was suffering from an ectopic pregnancy where the embryo had not implanted into my uterus, but was growing in one of my fallopian tubes.  Surgeons were quickly called in to remove the baby before that fallopian tube burst.  A burst fallopian tube could cause my death.  Within a half hour of arriving at the emergency room as a pregnant woman, my baby was removed surgically and I was left empty.  I have a scar on my abdomen that to this day serves as a reminder of that sweet baby lost.

Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

The surgeons who repaired my fallopian tube did a miraculous job and I conceived again just three months later.  Due to my past ectopic pregnancy, doctors performed an ultrasound immediately to ascertain where the embryo was implanted.  I searched the ultrasound technician’s face for some clue as to what she was seeing as she moved the wand across my scarred belly.  When her eyes lit up and a smile took over her normally stoic face, tears of joy began to stream down my face.  She turned the screen so that I could see my baby girl’s heart beating strong and steady, exactly where it should be.

1 Chronicles 16:34  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

Eight months into my pregnancy, my husband announced to me that he had fallen in love with another woman.  He no longer wanted to be married to me and would be moving out of our home into an apartment of his own.  He told me this while we were dining out at a Mexican restaurant where the tables were packed in so tightly that my bulging belly rubbed against the table top.  My response was visceral.  I pushed away from the table and stumbled into the women’s restroom.  I pushed open the door to an empty stall and began vomiting.  The chips and salsa I’d devoured came up as tears of devastation flowed down.  Other concerned women hovered over me.  I told them I was fine.  I walked to the table, grabbed my purse and walked out to the car by myself.

Psalm 62:7  I rely on God who is my deliverance and my glory; he is my strong rock, and my refuge is in God.

A month later, beautiful Kimberly Paige was born.  I worried horribly about her future.  How could I, as a single parent,  give her all that she needed?  As she nursed, I gazed down at her perfection and felt her tiny little fingers grab hold of my index finger.  “No worries, precious girl,” I whispered.  “I will always be here for you.”

Isaiah 41:10  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

The divorce proceedings were horrible.  I had a three year old and a newborn.  I would sit in my attorney’s office nursing my baby girl while my toddler played with Legos on the floor. My compassionate and knowledgeable attorney drafted a settlement that would protect me and my children.  After a year of legal wrangling, I was awarded full custody of my children and enough spousal and child support to sustain my family on my own.  I was told that I had “won”, but all I felt was loss.  The loss of the dreams I had for my future and the future of my children.

Matthew 19:26  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

I lived for seven years as a single parent throwing every bit of my time, energy and resources into my two greatest blessings: Greg and Kimberly.  I returned to my hometown of San Diego where my parents helped me care for my kids.  My mom came over every morning to take them to school since I had to leave earlier in the morning for my job as a teacher.  I spent my days caring for other people’s children and was ridden with guilt when my own loved ones were the last to be picked up from their daycare after a mandatory staff meeting at school had gone on way too long.  I was exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated nearly all the time.  I was thankful for a family and friends who tangibly loved me and my children by cleaning my house, babysitting, and preparing meals.  As the years passed, I became content with my life and embraced single parenting.  I spoke to other single parents at conferences and used my circumstances to become an encouragement to many, many other single mothers.

Isaiah 61:3  To all who mourn, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.

When Greg was 10 and Kimberly was 7, we were blessed by an amazing man with a huge capacity to love not only me, but my two children, as well.  Tony and I were married in a private, simple ceremony.  When I was asked, “Do you take this man to be your lawfully married husband?”  It was little Kimmy who quickly answered, “I do.” We all laughed aloud and realized that Tony was, indeed, marrying me and my children.

A year after our marriage, we welcomed baby Connor John into our family.  He was a roly poly bundle of pure joy.  When we brought him home from the hospital, Tony and I laid him on our giant king-sized bed and just gazed at him adoringly. Greg and Kimmy loved their new roles as the big brother and sister. Joy filled our tiny house in San Diego.

Isaiah 51:11  Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

All was so wonderful with our family, that we decided to add one more baby.  I became pregnant right away at age 41.  My age made me a high-risk pregnancy which enhanced my fears that something would be wrong with this baby.  As per high-risk pregnancy procedures, I had an amniocentesis to check on the welfare of the baby.  The phone call with the results came early one evening during dinner.  I answered the phone and mouthed to my family that it was the nurse with the amnio results.  She told me the results and I sank to the floor with tears streaming down my face.  My family crowded around me, fearing the worst.  They didn’t know then, that I had sunk to the floor with relief and the tears were tears of joy.  The amniocentesis revealed that I was carrying a perfectly healthy baby girl!

Sheridan Anne was born surrounded by her big brother and sister.  Greg was 14 and Kimmy was 11 – old enough to be in the delivery room for her birth.  They were honored with cutting her umbilical cord and were the first ones to hold their baby sister.  When we brought her home, Connor instantly covered her with kisses. Sheridan completed our family.

Psalm 34:8  Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

That little baby girl turns 12 years old in just a few weeks and will have completed her first year of middle school. Connor just celebrated his 15th birthday and is finishing his freshman year of high school. Kimmy will be 23 this summer and has just completed her first year of graduate school.  Greg will be 26 next week.  He is now a daddy himself, and my heart is filled with pride as I watch him love his own son.

My four children each hold a special place in my heart.  Each one has taught me that I am capable of loving more deeply than I ever thought possible. They are each God’s unique creations traveling in their own unique ways along this journey called life.

Psalm 139:14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

I am grateful for the honor of sharing their journeys with them as their mother – forever.

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Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.