The Deathbed

You know those conversations with people who for some reason or another, a sentence sticks in your head….for a very long time? I was once telling an acquaintance, Jim, about my desire to watch a birth. The miracle of the space changing from one second to the next held me in awe. In one moment there are two people breathing in a room and in the next there are three. It would be a gift for me to be present in this miracle without being the one in all of the pain. He paused for just a second and said, “Yes, I agree. It’s also a miracle to be there when someone is dying. And in that instance, it’s a gift for the other person instead.”

Urgh. That was tough to hear. Three grandparents dying in a 15 month span when I was a teenager did a number on me. Death, despite my belief in Heaven, became fear number one for me for a long time. So while, I totally appreciated what he said, I questioned how long it would be before I could even have the mental ability give a gift of that nature.

I did not have to wait long to find out. Last year I was called to come say goodbye to the grandmother that I did not grow up with, but who I had shared time, birthdays, and holidays with for the last 17 years. That is the same amount of years I had spent with the grandparents of my childhood….ironic, isn’t it? When I arrived at her tiny apartment, everyone scattered about picking up other family members and getting prepared for a possible night long bedside vigil. For an hour or so my brother and I talked to her about her favorite things and I read to her from her bible. As my step-mom Johanna, and Uncle Jack gathered back around her bed to check in, she moaned aloud. Johanna gave her a dropper of medicine and wiped her head with a cool cloth. She settled and became quiet. I suddenly felt a wave of an indescribable feeling come over me. Cold and nauseous feeling, I excused myself to the restroom. When I returned, we realized that Grandmother had slipped away. I was amazed that my body and subconsciousness knew the happenings in room before my mind did. In one moment, there were five breathing and then there were four.

In Broken Open, Lesser writes that like being a midwife, being with those dying is a gift. “Each time I have witnessed a death, I have been enriched beyond measure – deepened in my capacity to confront my own death and inspired to live with more immediacy and passion.” I understand this now. Although I have not spoken much about this experience since last April but it did indeed profoundly change me. Jim was right in that not being alone when passing is a gift of love to the person dying. I hope she felt the comfort and love. It’s a gift that we all pray to have when the time comes. But it also was a gift to me. A fear faced, a relationship consolidated and a wake up reminder that our time is limited. And, so the journey for me began, so to speak. Thank you, dear Juanita, for your hand in my awakening. I hope the gardens are lush and peaceful where your soul rests today.

“We do not know where death awaits us:
so let us wait for it everywhere.
To practice death is to practice freedom.
A man who has learned how to die
has unlearned how to be a slave.
-Michel De Montaigne

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The Art of Letting Go

I have reached the section of Elizabeth Lesser’s book about death, so hang in with me because there is much to write about. I agree that the great human fear is death. Sometimes more than a physical death, many of us fear the daily deaths…the change that inevitably comes with being human.

Lesser writes about the miracle of birth being a death-like process of exchanging old with new. When she was a practicing midwife, she taught that the trick to a successful natural delivery is for the woman to love and respect her uterus. When the uterus contracts, it stretches the cervix from the size of a fist to the size of a small ball in the matter of hours. When this pain occurs, it’s natural to instinctively fight the process, thus slowing down the labor. This reminded me of the story of my first child’s birth.

When MJ was born, I was jarred awake at 6am, three weeks before my due date, with some uneven contractions. One would be small and the next would take my breath away. We made our way to the hospital to check things out and the staff said to go home. Barely 3 centimeters, I had a long way to go until 10 centimeters (aka push time). I could not leave. I would not leave. I felt like I was dying….isn’t a hospital where one goes in this situation? They must have felt pity because they decided to begrudgingly admit me and gave me something to relax. They told me to rest, sent hubby to get some lunch and left me alone in a room to get comfortable with the pain and fear. Then, a miracle happened. I….LET….GO. My body shook in these mysterious uncontrollable waves. Instinctively, I allowed the groans that bubbled up from my chest to audibly move in time with my body. Gone was the sharp pain of before. It was replaced with the most strange, primal pushing feeling I had ever experienced. To everyone’s amazement as they gathered back from lunch, I was ready to push for real. By 1:19pm, I left my old world behind. The new world, the one that added mother to my identity, had been born. My baby girl and I now die together through each new phase in our lives, leaving the old behind and reaching for the new. When she learns how to drive a car or moves away to college, I will certainly be reminded of those moments when I relaxed and let go enough for her to move on to her next journey. Could someone remind me, please?

Was I purposely holding on that day? No. However, that flinch against the pain of change is very real in the human make up. I am a visualizer, so since learning that lesson those many years ago, I have a ritual when I face a big change or something scary. I will close my eyes and envision being out on the bow of a boat. The sun is shining, I am smiling, I lift my arms (Titanic style) as the wind hits my face and God’s spirit flows around me…..and I let go. I release (if only for a moment) the fear of change and embrace the next step. There is an art to it, and although I am not well versed in this art, it has become my life challenge to learn. I will learn.

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I was not given a sister as a sibling in this life, yet I have still been blessed with many of them.  Once upon a time as a child, for whatever reason, I did not trust my fellow female species. Some of my sisters broke down that barrier for me.  Others told me the truth whatever the circumstance.  Some allowed me a filter so wide that I wonder if there was anything I could say aloud that would turn them away from me.  Others made everyday life enjoyable and interesting. Some of them have literally wiped my tears. One begged to deliver my baby. One delivered her baby on my birthday. All of them have shown me love and devotion that I cannot express with words, nor that I will ever forget.

So, this is dedicated to my sisters, old and new:  Alyssa, Christy, Claire, Colleen, Courtney, Dana, Denise, Jama, Jennifer, Lauren, Mindy, Nicole, Pati, Patty, Rachel, Samara, Sheri, Stephanie, Susanne, and Trisha. You all have been my most favorite surprise so far on this life journey.   So, from my favorite musical, musical show and song…a gift to my favorites…..I love you, may there be never be a question in that…..ever. Because, I am changed for good.

For Good

I’m limited:
Just look at me – I’m limited
And just look at you –
You can do all I couldn’t do, Glinda
So now it’s up to you
For both of us
Now it’s up to you:
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you:
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend:
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you:
Because I knew you:
I have been changed for good
And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done you blame me for
But then, I guess we know
There’s blame to share
And none of it seems to matter anymore
Like a comet pulled Like a ship blown
From orbit as it Off it’s mooring
Passes a sun, like By a wind off the
A stream that meets Sea, like a seed
A boulder, half-way Dropped by a
Through the wood Bird in the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better?
And because I knew you:
Because I knew you:
Because I knew you:
I have been changed for good.
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Grace – Cont.

I was 17 years old and I had blown it…..big time. Desperate to be “free” from parental rule and sew some wild oats, I had finally been caught…on my third attempt….staying out all night joyriding with my girlfriends. To say my mother was livid is an understatement, and rightfully so. As a mother myself now, I shudder to think about the amount of long-lasting trouble that could have befallen us.

Alone in my dark bedroom after hours of interrogation to uncover the truth, my eyes were swollen from crying and my spirit ached with guilt and worthlessness. What an idiot decision I had made. How stupid could I be? How do I escape this feeling, this place, this life? As I plotted my escape plan, my stepdad knocked on my door. He didn’t turn on a light or make a big fuss as he sat down on the edge of my bed. In a quiet gentle voice he told me that while he was disappointed in my behavior, he wanted to make sure before “one of my worst days” was over that I knew that I was loved… matter what. Nothing could change that, ever.

I think I sat in silence. I may have mumbled a, “Thanks.” The lump of guilt sat in my throat because I had disappointed the one that I always wanted to make proud. I don’t know if he realizes though, that moment has always meant the world to me. He had always been someone ready to admit his mistakes. “I’m sorry,” were never words he choked on. Now I could also point to an example of when he had done nothing wrong but still wanted to make sure the offender felt love and grace. I fell asleep lighter, knowing that tomorrow would work itself out. Indeed, it is the small moments that make the lasting memories in relationships and sometimes, the grace makes all the difference.

I hope you know your lessons still sit with me, Daddy. I love you and Happy Fathers Day!

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Passage of Time

Photo By Trisha Madrid Photography

Are we really ever ready for the Phoenix process when it comes to our children?  We say the words to each other almost daily, “wow, I can’t believe how quickly they have grown…my, look how big you are getting……they grow up so fast…..just yesterday they were babies.”  MJ will start middle school in the fall, and I have been reminded the past few days about the passage of time and how the Phoenix process allows us to surrender the old and make peace with the new.

This weekend I took MJ and a couple of pals to the mall, and while I genuinely enjoyed watching them giggle and act silly, I observed for the first time, the scowls and careful watch of the store attendees.  Huffy at first, I thought, “wait, you don’t know them.”  But haven’t I also dismissed teenagers as trouble in the mall before?  Ouch.  I looked at this group differently, only because I LOVE them.   So, a teachable moment….we discussed shoplifting and the perception of good behavior over slushies and pretzels and I was left wondering… I ready for this?

Next I took her to an introductory meeting of the middle & high school church service that meets on Sunday nights, sans parents.  Memories rushed back from the days of attending church with friends as tweens and teenagers….and I thought about how difficult it is to let go.  Once upon a time, every single decision regarding the children rested on hubby and my shoulders, supported with great advice from family and friends.  And just as we give up some control  as they walk into those school doors for the first time, we must recommit to the process….at a deeper level…..when they go on to the next stage.  Again and again until, there is no more control, just love.  Is it any wonder that many of us recognize the control/love as the real deal and fight against the final result.  Why? Fear.  Did we do it right, did we do enough, can they make the right choice every time?  The answer will NEVER be yes, and that is scary.  Surrender is the answer once again.  Gratitude and surrender…always the answer….but so difficult in learning.

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Ode To Oprah

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Oprah Winfrey

I know, I know.  The larger than life figure starts getting hated because there is a bit of obnoxiousness to being larger than life.  But considering I started watching Oprah as a middle school student, I must pay homage to some of the life lessons I have picked up along the way.  Twenty-five years of inviting someone to share a part of my day, I must admit, I have learned a lot.  So, drum roll please……my Favorite Things from watching Oprah:

Books – I don’t know if I would have read some of my favorite books of all time if it were not for the book club revolution from our friend Oprah.  East of Eden tops my list of favorites, but I could go on and on about the nuggets she passed my way….. She’s Come Undone, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, This Much I know is True, The Road…..the revival of the book club was truly a gift.

Good Advice – After watching shows about life lessons of others, I learned some important information.  These tidbits of wisdom seem so obvious now… but it really was eye-opening conversations when we first learned of these sad tales.  Other people’s stories became my lesson book….. putting a face to stories of human tragedy,  fulfills the reason these people went on the show to begin with, to bring purpose to their pain.  Examples include:

  • Never leave your child in the car alone, even for a second.  
  • God forbid if you ever get attacked, never let someone take you to a second location. 
  • We must be aware of the multitude of child abusers in this world.  Vigilance is mandatory with our children’s computer time and the people we allow into our lives.  

Live Your Best Life – Oprah connected with me that while TV is a fun medium, it can also be used to share deep stories and great life lessons.   Some thoughts I keep from the show include:

  • We all have a calling…..and the faster we figure it out and live it out, the more meaningful our lives can become.
  • It is important to understand the power of now and to be present.   Mindfulness of gratitude will bring you even more to be grateful for.
  • Connecting with God can still be discussed in the middle of the day on network TV and as something that is good.
  • Need is great all over the world and we can be creative and loving in the ways we give back.
  • Your childhood is going to find its way into your adult relationships….better to mend your childhood and move on rather than see it repeated over and over.
  • Live within your means and be smart with your money, but surround yourself with things you find beautiful.   Your home is your sanctuary and it should rise up to meet you.
  • For goodness sake, no matter how much you love someone and how big a star you are, you should never go jump up and down on a couch and act like a crazy loon.

Forgiveness – There are many teachers that have spoken forgiveness to me, but one of my lessons of forgiveness came from watching an Oprah episode.  It was 1993, and I was watching a girl and her father reunite. He was asking forgiveness for not being present in her life, and she was bitter and hard-hearted toward him.  I found myself rooting for the father and telling the girl to move toward a fresh start.  It was a mirror to my own life.  I saw myself, estranged from my father with chip on my shoulder, with many hard years ahead if I did not make amends.  So, a decision was made then to explore a relationship and to hopefully create healing.  Years later, I know that taking those steps of forgiveness and mending that relationship has made me a more complete and secure person.  Right time… right place… right message… with a very good outcome.

I appreciate Oprah’s example of listening to one’s calling and living it out.  When done authentically, it makes a difference in others lives.   So, while I’m sad it’s over, I am thankful for the abundance of good stuff that I grabbed along the way.  Farewell, Oprah, thanks for the memories but more importantly, thanks for the growth.

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Family Ties

The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.”
– Mother Teresa

Occasionally in the last few weeks I have been transported back into my childhood, vividly experiencing the sights, smells and feelings of what seems like another life ago.  Family is complicated.  Mine is intertwined and layered, and so honestly, I have the not so wonderful ability to build some neat little walls around the “big family”  while placing my focus squarely on the family that lives under my roof.  Alas, as my Phoenix process continues, the tap, tap, tap of the hammer tears at these boundaries, and I am reminded that the love that I am trying to more clearly show to those around me, could also be extended to those that are also dear to me but may not be aware.

I met my step-brother when I was eight and he was thirteen.  Accustomed to having my own show until that time, I was unclear if I appreciated the intrusion.  He started visiting regularly, lived with us for a year or so and during that time, life was a mix of torture and bliss.  While I finally had someone to ride bikes with and talk to, unfortunately, his favorite pastime was to scare me.  Whether driving all crazy with me on the back of his motorcycle or torturing me with my weakness of scary movies, his eyes would literally twinkle when he would come up with some devious plan like convincing me to ride bikes through the woods and then start whispering the Friday the 13th spooky chant.  He would do stupid stuff like blow fire out of his mouth like his favorite band KISS, and I just as stupid, would watch him and almost get my hair burned—more than once– in the process.   When I think back about it, the best part about that time with him was that he would not let me take myself so seriously.  While completely horrified, I found myself laughing a lot.  He was….a brother.

Eventually, he grew up, married a wonderful woman, became a youth pastor, had three fantastic kids and centers his world around showing the love of Christ with his big heart and funny sayings.  I moved away and we lost touch,  It has been years since I have seen him.   This last week he had a brain hemorrhage and as he slowly recovers, our relationship has been on my mind.  When I read on Facebook my niece’s comments about how she was feeling scared and alone as her father lie in a hospital bed, I felt ashamed.  Where did the time go and where was the effort to maintain these relationships?   Distance with relationships is not unusual, I recognize that.  In our transient world, real effort needs to be made to carve out time to the ones outside of our local “community.”   There seems to be so little extra hours in the day to connect with old friends, distant family, or even the world in need.  How do we commit ourselves to do our part?  Are we willing to let the family reunions subside; willing to sacrifice the vacation to Yellowstone for the vacation to anywhere USA for a family visit?   I do not come with answers today….just the question that I’m left with after learning about this life threatening situation via social media……am I happy about where ALL of my relationships stand?  Are you?

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A Miracle

I was given a life lesson as a gift on Mother’s Day.  It was a glimpse….a reminder, that the heart has the capacity to be crushed with devastating news, yet can still rest in hope, while encouraging others to do the same.   As our church pastor (who is in his early 40’s)  shared his health prognosis, the obvious and immediate reaction was to be disheartened.  Logically, we know that bad things happen to good people….but surely this could not be happening to this man, this family.  As he talked and cried about telling his children this heartbreaking news, my heart clinched.  These are the type of fears that cross all boundaries in humans.

I thought back to a couple of years ago when this same pastor preached about bucket lists.  He spoke about the big dreams we have in life and how his own mother left his family when he was a child to pursue Hollywood aspirations.  When discussing his own dream bucket, he convincingly revealed, that he was living his dream.  He was leading this church in the west valley of Phoenix, he married his beautiful wife, and together they were raising their 4 young children with Christ in the center of all they do.  Hands raised, with a big smile on his face, he said he desired only to lead an imperfect church, filled with imperfect people to reach out and show the world the perfect solution to its hurts.   So, for a long moment there, I wept.  I weep still today for all reasons that are selfishly human in keeping everything just the same, especially when they seem to be working for good.

Yet, here are some random highlights of what Pastor Greg said after revealing his health condition:

“I need healing and I am asking for it.  If God says no, till my last breath,  I will honor him.  God’s glory will be shown in my story.  I don’t fear death in any way because I know the promise he’s given me, and I trust him.  Twenty years ago when I accepted Christ, I made Philippians 1:20-21 my life verse, and it reads,  For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past.  And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.   I am the most blessed man on the planet, but the greatest  promise I have isn’t how long I live, but the miracle of salvation that I have already been given.   I need a miracle, but I’m not alone in that.”

Wow.  And so, we–the emotionally spent congregation–leave the service, encouraged and hopeful because it is true, we all need healing of some kind.   Who among us doesn’t need a miracle in some part of our life?   Faith is believing that healing still happens in very small and very large ways.  Eventually the answer to physical healing will be no because we all will die.  However, yet again, I am reminded that perhaps it is the process that we go through in difficult times….when we are in need of healing….that God wants us to practice so we can grab on to him.  It is the prayer and surrender.  It is encouragement, kindness and love to each other.  It is the reexamination, building and forgiveness in relationships.  It is affirming what you believe to be true and responding with urgency and purpose.  It is fervently asking for a miracle and awaiting an answer.  And asking again and again until the answer is clear.

Asking for a miracle today….for Pastor Greg….and for us all.

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If I had a dollar for every time my mother told me “just wait until you have a child and you will understand,” I would be rich.  I try to refrain from saying those words to my children because I know they won’t get it, but if I had a dollar for every time those words ran through my head, and sometimes out of my mouth, I’d be…..let’s just say I believe these words to be true.

I have learned many things about being a mother, but I have also learned more about how I look at my own mother.  Being a mother is a bag of cliché terms…difficult, rewarding, the hardest job on the planet, etc.  What I see is that moms all have different strengths as people, and yet we are asked to raise these little humans the same.  Then, as a society we write books, get on web forums, huddle at parks and debate who is doing this work the best.   And at the end of the day after all of the work is done, your opinion of how you did and your child’s opinion, may differ.   Mother’s Day is wonderful in that your kids take a minute to throw you some extra gratitude, but the additional gift of becoming a mom is reflecting about your own mother differently now that your paths have merged into common highways.

Here are some things I now know about myself and about my mother……

  • I know now that she is stronger than I ever gave her credit for….quiet does not equate to weakness.
  • I know that consistency and follow through are harder to accomplish than she made it look.
  • I know that as mean as a mother may seem, discipline is an act of love.
  • I know what icy, gripping fear feels like when you worry about your children.  I know that releasing that fear to a power greater than yourself is the most important step you can make for the protection of your own sanity.
  • I know that the dreams I have for my children are limitless, but what I hope for the most is the appreciation for the simple things….and that somehow I helped in small everyday ways to ensure that they understand what these things are.  I suspect my mother felt the same way.
  • I know that there are no words that can describe the love I have for my children, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that I cannot live for them or through them…so I have to spread that love around and find balance.
  • I know that they will suck all of my energy dry, as much now as they did as babies, if I let them….I must not let them.

I know I get accused of swimming in the deep side of the pool, but I can’t help that my vision of life includes the sweetness of the everyday and the big picture of our relationships.  I savor the struggle that we all go through, knowing that the lessons that we learn is the fruit that we pass on.  This is the concept that sums up motherhood to me.  Who we are, in part, is a gift from love and sacrifice of parents….and so then we pass it on to our children (cue Elton John music for Circle of Life, please) hoping that we all just get it right.  Tis a beautiful thing.  Happy Mother’s Day weekend to my beautiful mother, stepmother, mother-in-law and sisters in motherhood, as well….to a job well done!

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The concept of control is not my friend.  In fact, we have been at odds for a while now.  In my 20’s we had a huge battle when the anxiety that flowed through my being bubbled over into my everyday existence.  Married and happy, I feared not being able to control the bad things that were surely to come my way, because “why would I deserve this happy story?”

After battling back from that phase, the wave of motherhood pushed me under again in my 30’s.  Here are these precious little beings that my husband and I are responsible for, and I can’t control if they break an arm, have a disorder or even decide when they stop pooping their pants.  When it comes to my children, I now try hard to keep the mantra in my head, “they are here to pass through you, they are not yours to possess.”  Sometimes, it works.  We still have the teenage years to go though, so that mantra may need to be permanently written on my hand for recollection.

Today, I am continually reminded that the only things we have control over is our action, reaction, and our words.  Seem like a lot?  Ask those affected by disasters, disease, and random acts of violence and the answer will be no.  Giving up control is allowing yourself to recognize that the world is not fair, that bad things happen to good people.  As the world seems to be getting more chaotic, prayer is not only a conversation that I need, it is sometimes an hourly deference to a power greater than myself, which is required to quiet the fear and anger that control brings into my life.  In those first few moments of surrender, there is peace.  Control is a persistent foe, however.  It can rage back within hours or even minutes.  It is indeed my life battle and therefore, my life lesson.

What is yours?

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