Category Archives: Relationship

Grief is Real but Memories Are Too

Sometimes time crawls. I am frozen.

The empty space is just a matter of fact. Everything else goes on. The landscape changes. Her house, my house, which I see out my front window, becomes less recognizable by the day. I can never go back in.

Distracting images float into my thoughts regardless of what I am doing or thinking. The last time I saw her, realizing just how very much I will miss her crooked fingers.

How can someone with such a huge presence be gone?

In my mind, I often find myself in that room where we found her nearly every day. We are watching M*A*S*H or looking vainly for a good movie. I am watering her plants and my husband is shooing away one of the wandering residents. Or we are wheeling her out of the dayroom to the gazebo, an escape she loved for as long as possible, to watch the sky over the trees past the other resident buildings.

Or she is still at home. We are sitting with our feet up on either end of her couch recliner, watching episode after episode of Law and Order, or old movies on TCM. Later I’m in her kitchen baking this week’s cookies.

Or I am sitting by her bed on that long Friday. On Saturday my siblings are arriving gradually, one by one, faces distorted briefly as they come in. I’m staring at the picture over her bed in which she stands between my two brothers looking fully twenty years younger than she was.

Mostly I find myself just hovering there in the room with the afternoon light slanting in then dimming toward evening. My husband and I are just with her.

How can such a huge presence be gone?

Here is a conversation from one of those afternoons under the gazebo. My mother, with dementia but articulate as could be, had been indulging in a confrontation with some of the staff. Now, calm:

Mom: What are those buildings? It looks like a school.

My husband: No, it’s just some of the other buildings here.

Mom: …Maybe they’re teaching manners to the elderly.

My husband: They assume they already have them.

Mom: … …Obviously we don’t.

She never lost her true self. I have stories.

Now, no matter what happens, or what I do, I just cannot feel right. I imagined that grief was a little ball of black twine inside of me. I’m getting along OK, I don’t feel any way in particular, I’m just getting through each day. I will feel normal in awhile. Just wait.  I am frozen.

Then it occurred to me that my image was wrong. The ball of grief is not a little thing inside me. I am in it. My world is inside of grief.

I can only wait until it wants to go. The grieving person does not control the grief process. No matter how prepared you were for your loss, grief takes its own course. You are at its mercy.

It’s helpful for others to know this. Rather than trying (however sympathetically) to tell someone how to get through (or get over) their grief, we should walk with them through it. No matter how long it takes, or how unexpected the path. Just be kind and present. There’s really nothing else you can do. Or maybe the best thing you can do is to leave them alone with it and let them work through it.

I wish I had written down more of her memories. Let me tell you a little about my mom from my memory.

She was creative. Before she became too impaired to sew anymore, she had been sewing for about seventy five years. She could make almost anything. She never followed a pattern without creating her own alterations. My friend and I were looking at tote bags today at Hallmark and I remembered the huge, wildly printed, sometimes waterproof-lined totes my mom made. With handles that would never fall off. She loved color and loud prints. She was always stylish in her one of a kind handmade dresses. She made her hats, she made our Easter dresses and spring coats every year, she made my sister’s formal prom dresses (several), she made the wedding dresses for all three of us Mercer girls. She loved to make my children clothes: flannel lined denim baggy jeans with huge pockets and elastic waists, delightfully patterned little girl dresses, baby clothes, doll clothes, roomy fleece sweaters with reindeer and snowflakes.

How many of her carefully sewn gifts do I still have? Not that many. How did I let them go? This feels like infinite regret now.

She also loved cooking and was creative there too. There was a health-conscious era where all baked goods had what we called bark and gravel. There was always cake and the smell of cinnamon buns or cookies in the oven signaled the holidays. I have carried on her baking traditions, so at least that isn’t lost.

At the center of my mother’s personality was a diamond hard gem called Self-Determination. Maybe it was really called Opposition or You Can’t Make Me. She died with advanced dementia but that nucleus at the center of her being was untouched.

To the end she knew two things. She knew her children and their children, and she knew nobody was ever going to make her do anything she didn’t want to.

She gave up going to bed when her dementia was advancing. No amount of persuasion would  get her out of the recliner and into bed. So there she sat 24/7, dozing sometimes, awake sometimes, regardless of night or day. I once marched over to her house at 2am to convince her to get into bed. By 3:30 I retreated home, angry, exasperated and unsuccessful. The more I persuaded, no matter how I persuaded, the more her heels dug deeper.

She never gave up the idea of going home once she was in the nursing facility. This got her kicked out of the first place because she, with her wheelchair and strength of a kitten, was actively trying to escape. The second place had the locked-down unit where they’re supposed to be prepared for wanderers and escapists. They had to invent new safeguards and change procedures after she arrived. She pulled the fire alarms. They had to hide the elevator button.  She was going to bed when she wanted.

In her last conversation, aware that she had had a stroke, confined to bed, she was still asking if I thought she’d be going home soon. She. Was going. Home.

This is one of my favorite Mom stories from my childhood. She would not mind my telling it. My mother was well educated, articulate and intelligent. But few things in the neighborhood made my mom madder than people letting their dogs “go” on our property. If she caught some dog walker allowing their dog to do its business in our yard, or even our sidewalk, they would get an earful.  One day she saw a neighbor lady from around the corner doing this and my mom had had it. When the lady tried to justify herself my mother asked her: “How would you like it if I sent my kids over to go in your yard?”

Neighbor lady went off shocked. Little did the woman know that my brother loved this and would have been glad to do it.

I could fill a book with things to tell you about my Mom and maybe someday I will. She deserves it.

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A Few More Words About Relationship

Thinking about your relationships eventually leads to thinking about the relationships you have which are not so good. If you are a conscientious believer in Jesus Christ,  you must be honest and circumspect with yourself about whether you have behaved rightly in those less than ideal relationships. Jesus put an extraordinarily high bar on our relationships.

I was thinking about a person, let’s say X, who I find difficult, who I don’t really trust. Walking away from the relationship is not an option. I must get along and I certainly would never want to be openly unpleasant to X if only for the sake of peace. But my approach has been to be emotionally distant and to give X no further opportunity to injure or make use of me. Sounds like a good strategy, huh?

Then I did something dangerous. I thought about Jesus. Did my part of this relationship meet with his approval? Did I reach his bar for relationship maintenance? And the clear answer was: absolutely not.

The imperative of relationship, Jesus’ imperative, is that we have total integrity in our relationships with other human beings. We are not here to make things easy or comfortable for ourselves; we are here to be holy and righteous. Our imperative, our command, is to persevere through relationships and make them loving to the extent that it depends on us. And what Jesus means by loving is this:

This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

We are here to become holy. We are here to demonstrate by our every moment what the True God is like. And He loves perfectly. He invented love. He is love.

Yes, especially those relationships we could do without. That in law, that sibling, that old friend. The one who actually has done you dirty.

Rather than distance yourself, literally or emotionally, be ready to be real in that relationship and to engage with that person. Recognize that it will be challenging to stay in and stay righteous. It will probably be impossible. But you have access to a supernatural and inexhaustible supply from outside your own resources.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time to walk away from a relationship which is actually harmful or dangerous. There are people we must leave behind and not see again. And a break up is a break up— that’s a relationship that is over.

Most of our relationships, however, are not so. We should not be so quick to discard other people because our relationships with them are uncomfortable or challenging. It could be you are meant to face that challenge and learn from it. It could be you would be a better friend, or sister, or spouse because you learned how to navigate in that relationship and succeeded in making it a healthy one.

We don’t get a pass on leaving a relationship emotionally because it is a difficult one. We have a responsibility to make that relationship loving if we answer to the God who is love.

 

P. S. Can we do away with the terms boyfriend and girlfriend when the people being described are no longer boys and girls?  Relationship statuses which were meant to be left behind in teenagerhood because people were supposed to move on to more mature and permanent statuses (significant other) haven’t proved sustainable. But please, a 70-year-old does not have a girlfriend.

 

 

10 Ways Large Families Save the (Earth) World

1. I just finished wiping the icing off the bottoms of a bunch of birthday candles. I’m going to need those again in ten days, and again less than a month later. Why would I buy new ones when these still have a good inch and a half? Crumbs of old homemade icing never hurt anyone yet. I bet moms of two kids buy a new set of candles every birthday and throw them away.

Also, homemade-from-scratch cake costs about 1/20th of a bakery cake and tastes 20x better. Hydrogenated shortening kills; real butter doesn’t.

2. My son needed to do zero adjusting when he went to college and shared a room with two other guys. He shared a room with two guys at home too. Maybe my boys were unusual, but they never fought over territory. So at college my son was perfectly content with his bed and his desk; he let the other guys vie for lebensraum.

3. It is essential to learn patience when eight people share one bathroom. It is equally essential to learn sympathy and consideration for others (‘ bladders).

4. Bags and bags of clothing used to show up on our porch. We had never asked for hand-me-downs; people just assumed we could use them. They were right and we were thankful. It would have been difficult indeed to buy new clothes every season for every child. Most of the clothing we received was in like-new condition, and a lot of the items had price-tags.

Perhaps the most valuable component of these acts of generosity was that my kids learned that a second-hand item in good condition does not differ one iota from a brand-new one. There is shame neither in sharing nor receiving, and there is nothing which so inspires giving than receiving.

5. My kids are now adults who don’t expect the world to hand them all the amenities– partly because we didn’t teach them to expect gifts except on Christmas and their birthdays. They didn’t expect candy except on Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.

My oldest daughter was honestly judgmental about her friends expecting big gifts for Easter and lesser holidays. My kids know how to delay gratification, and although they do not always practice it, they know how to be frugal.

6. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It was our lifestyle before the motto was coined. I was raised by children of the Depression and learned to make my spending count. When I was growing up, we didn’t spend money on non-essentials but we had all we needed. We weren’t used to vacations and we were usually the last of our friends to get the latest tech like color TV.

We raised our kids with the same mindset: one not deprivation but careful frugality. Spend when you need to without regret, but save whenever you can for future needs. We didn’t spend much on vacations. We drove our cars until they were junk. Eating out or ordering in was a rare special occasion.

7. Contrary to popular assumption, big families have small footprints. We eight use approximately the same resources that the four of you, or the two of you, do.

At the same time they condemn parents of several kids for selfish and wasteful American materialism, my childfree acquaintances espouse the superior lifestyle of spontaneously flying the globe, to stay at the priciest family-free resorts, indulging themselves in only the finest and most select perks that the self-absorbed can devise. Driving further to shop for only the trendiest fair trade items.

I’ll compare my eight-person staycation expenses to your two-person dream trip any day you like. Guess who comes out using up more of earth’s precious resources? Virtue-signaling and Childfree -signaling don’t mix.

8. Happy families. Positive family experiences. Fostering a concept of unconditional belonging. We believe that being plunked in the middle of a bunch of other difficult human beings is actually according to a wise plan; we are each more or less compelled to learn how to live in peace with these other people, which teaches us valuable lessons about how to get along in a world full of other people.

9. Raising people who want to have children and build families, and who see the importance and enduring value of pouring their lives into others and investing themselves in creating a unique family culture which will continue to influence after they are gone.

In other words, small footprints may lead to small footprints.

10. Today, a large family orientation usually develops within a faith orientation. Our society has moved toward smaller families with the advent of birth control and the cult of personal fulfillment. I might also say with the de-emphasis of faith culture and the growth of materialist culture. It is counter cultural to have large families and, counterintuitively, large families very often happen due to deliberate choice. That choice usually derives from faith in the intrinsic value of each person, given by a gracious God.

Because of this faith orientation, the lessons of other-centeredness, the value of family, the hope of enduring heritage, good stewardship of material wealth, sustainability, recycling and reusing–all part of a whole.

Bonus reason: I love my big family.

 

 

 

 

 

Hero Fathers

I attended my aunt’s funeral recently. She was the last of her generation in my mother’s or my father’s family.

Two of her children and one grandchild eulogized her and spoke of her affection and her infectious love of fun. It was acknowledged that she had had an unusually tragic childhood.

My uncle, her husband, passed away about fifteen years ago. Only honor was spoken for both parents. Yet I know there was such turmoil in that home. How does it all add up?

An extremely conflicted marriage which bore legendary stories produced five upstanding, moral, faithful, loving people. And each one produced functional homes and happy families of their own. Such is not always the case.

Somehow a couple who clashed tragically, worked together. They persevered to guide five children to responsible adulthood. The kids had two models who together covered most of the bases and who somehow taught them well to discard the bad examples and to emulate the good.

He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad.

My cousin had this to say of her Dad. She borrowed it from her brother who wrote it for his eulogy.

It was certainly true for them and their siblings. I knew that he stood in the way between his kids and a lot of negative outcomes. The fact that all five turned out well is the proof of his success.

I knew him as a guy who had a way with stories, who loved to visit his elderly mother (my grandmother, who lived with us) on Wednesday nights for a glass of wine and a lot of laughs. According to his kids he was also a rock-solid course-corrector. In the face of nonsense, he was no nonsense. He poured out his whole life, all of his energy and time, for his family and for his kids.

And here is the thing that I think makes him truly remarkable: he stuck with a marriage that most today would have abandoned. This marriage was not one in which he found comfort, peace, or support. Clearly there was nothing in it for him for many years.

He stayed with his children.

Would anyone say this about him:

He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad

if he had not chosen to stay and face the conflict every day, and owned the responsibility to keep his family on a straight course?

Today we are encouraged to live our own lives, to pursue our own particular brand of happiness, and to let go of what–and who–makes our lives anything but happy. Just walk away if you perceive another person as “toxic.” In other words we are encouraged to jettison difficulties, and to exclude what–and who–does not serve us.

How will we ever know what kind of people we are? If my uncle had not lived in the crucible, would he have known the steadfastness of which he was capable? Would his children know he was a hero?

It was a different time. He lived by an old code. Men were men. He stood up and did his duty. You can say all these trite things.

But it seems to me old codes and doing one’s duty, being a man and living according to a different time…knowing how men are expected to behave and committing to being a man…are all things that work. Thank God there are people who fulfill their promises, no matter how much it takes from them, who commit without turning back, who endure no matter what comes.

Fathers can be heroes, and my uncle was one.

 

 

Social Media Reveals

When you can’t say hello to your high school friend after a couple decades without a disclaimer: “Even though we would not agree on politics or religion, I have decided to acknowledge your greeting”–you reveal a lot.

Word of advice, when you can’t even say hi to an old friend without establishing your tribal identity, you have joined a cult. You’ve given yourself over, body and soul, to a controlling party.

You’ve bought into identity politics and applied it to yourself. Peer acceptance is essential, and the virtue signal to the self is as necessary as air. In every social interaction, your identity must be validated.

I’ve been lectured to by a close relative, who actually knows me apart from any cultural caricature, who applied abusive accusations based on a cultural caricature which she supposed fit me. I wasn’t even the offender in this situation but I was close at hand.

I’ve been unfriended, post-hidden, and even once blocked (I was relieved about that one; the blocker was actually getting scary). All of this long after I announced that I would no longer make political comments. I no longer do; I decided that social media is for socializing with new and old friends. Sharing news and pleasantries, songs we like, amusing anecdotes from our lives, and re-connecting with long-lost friends.

But re-connecting can be deflating at times. Warm and funny friends in high school reveal themselves to be cold and distant. Greetings after 30 years need disclaimers. It’s not enough to be politics-free. I am not sufficiently deferential to the essential political consensus. I’m not in the tribe, and so social interaction will be impossible.

All this is very sad. We’ve turned over social reality to social media virtual-reality, and we mistake the one for the other.

 

 

 

 

Return to Respect for the Marriage Bed

I am appalled when I hear of a young married man and woman being asked to spend nights apart because of ministry duties.

God created human society. At humanity’s core is the intimate relationship between man and wife.  It is the nucleus of the relationship between man and woman; it is the Big Bang which creates the family; it is the center of all human relationship. Church, village, nation, world–all human society springs concentrically from the source of this physical/spiritual union between man and wife.

God designed the marriage relationship as a human mirror of His most intimate, unconditional and expressive love. His love for His Bride.

The marriage bed is respected and set apart — or made sacred — by God the Creator. Have we bought into the world’s evaluation of married sexual relationships? The newly married couple–wink wink–now can have some legal fun. No big deal if they have to put other priorities before this bit of self-indulgence.

No, no, no. This is what God has to say in His Word about married sex:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13:4

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Proverbs 5:15

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. Malachi 2:15

God designed the first years of marriage as a special time when a couple nurtures and builds their love. He knows that physical expression binds the two together in a connection so close that we can hardly comprehend. It is a mystical union meant to reflect the faith, constancy and intense affection that He has for us. It is how we seal the ownership of one another, heart, body and soul. It is a time to develop a new wordless language unique to each relationship. It takes time, intentional effort, and self-sacrifice.

But I’m in a struggling ministry and I’m needed, you say. If you are married, you will never have another ministry which supersedes your marriage. It is your Number One Ministry Priority. The cultivation of your marriage as an expression of God’s gift, and its maintenance as a representative of God’s unbounded love, far surpasses any other ministry goals over time.

We are here to represent God to a world which needs Him. We are here to love God through loving (verb) His other human creations. How better to do that than to live out a marriage as He designed, since your marriage is an example of how God loves each of us?

The marriage bed is not to de slighted. It is the far more important than the world knows. Let’s be the ones who respect the marriage bed. The freedom of the married man and woman, particularly the newly married couple, to cultivate this most vital foundation—unhurried, unhampered, undistracted—should not be infringed by anyone. No one should tempt a newly married man or woman away from the marriage bed, from the right to spend private time together overnight in their own home. The marriage bed takes precedence over other relationships. The marriage bed comes far before any other ministry responsibilities.

And no man, and no woman, having recently married, should submit to a request to spend an overnight apart from his or her spouse. To do so is to slight the other, and the marriage, and the Lord who sealed your union.

How do I know? This is what God has to say on the subject of young marriage:

“When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5

God is not winking and nudging at honeymoons. He does not think the man and wife self-indulgent who enjoy their new intimacy. Even our Creator respects the marriage bed and tells us that it is of first priority over virtually all others.

Who Will Stand?

We are lost in an unfamiliar town. We are–all–looking for familiar reference points. But in our search for home, we are only getting more lost.

The world where we grew up is long gone. The world we felt we had mastered as adults is past. The world we recognized as changing quickly–but still secure–is quickly vanishing. The world you depended on just last year, obliterated by a furious need for quixotic social micromanagement, gone.

The culture of the left is imploding. Hollywood, no longer content with lecturing the Man and its audience, has turned its newfound strident sanctimony inward and is cannibalizing itself.

And the sanctimony will not be satisfied until every molecule of what we called culture–sports, entertainment, social media–is policed, weighed, and certainly found wanting. According to whose scale no one really knows.

Many commenters left and right have observed that progressive culture is eating itself as well. Upholding unexamined faith in a hundred contradictory premises is exhausting. The political left is splitting into increasingly smaller and increasingly self-important factions. Substitute tribes for families, congregations, and communities–and you get war.

Washington culture is sick and highly contagious. The political right is ineffectual because it is complicit.

Some on the right may cheer the downfall of the culture of the left. But let’s think about this for just a minute. What will replace it?

If it is true that our progressive elites are going down, if we are about to enter a new paradigm…what will that be? If it is true that the chickens have come home to roost, that the world that the change agents worked for is unsustainable, that the practically-atheist context is about to collapse under its own weight of illogic and to vanish in its thin moral vapor…

Are we who watched and shook our heads and abstained, we who prayed and criticized from the margins, we who talked good games about the world we would prefer…are we prepared to come into the vacuum and be what we were meant to be?

We gratefully accepted those margins because that little space gave us cover. It’s much easier to feel righteous when you can shake your heads at the unrighteous from the CCM-approved safe space.

Are we, the faithful, ready to take dominion over the earth, not in any political or socially-engineered sense, but as living representatives of the Creator? The people whom He has redeemed and called His own, the people who are called by His name, the people who He has commanded to represent who He is to an uncomprehending world—we have a calling. And it may be that, instead of hiding our lights under bushels in our contemporary Christian ghetto, we will soon have an opportunity to refresh the culture with His presence.

Are we ready?