Saturday, May 30, 2015

Naked in the Street

I was a basket case.  I knew I was, my kids knew I was, my family knew I was and the care givers knew I was.  I wasn’t going nuts; I was there, at the station, ringing the bell that says, “I’m NUTS”.

In June of 2006 I was walking a fine line between being a care giver and needing a care giver, or at least someone to keep me from running down the street naked with a blood pressure cuff. 

Those were the days of multiple illnesses, multiple hospitalizations and me learning how to live our new life.  I was obsessed with Marty and how she was feeling and if she was sick and if she was about to die, it never left my brain.  I would constantly take Marty’s blood pressure to see how low it was and then take mine to see how high it was.  Like I said, I was nuts.

I personally did nothing for it to get better except learn how to do my new job better.  Mostly it got better because Marty got better and we found some first class caregivers, you know the ones, the ones that kept me from running down the street naked with the blood pressure cuff.  I didn’t do that because I was afraid it would scare them off and freak out my neighbors.

Regaining some sanity didn’t happen overnight, there was never a road to Damascus kind of epiphany, it was more like a Darwinian evolution, it happened over a period of time and one day I saw myself in the mirror and I didn’t look quiet as crazy, I didn’t have the look of someone who would freak out the neighbors prancing naked in the street.

I learned to roll a little bit more with the punches, I learned to quit planning Marty’s funeral at every cough, I learned to trust our care givers and our doctors and mostly, Marty got better because she got stronger and we got better at providing quality care.  I keep saying that because it was the silver bullet, the number of infections was drastically reduced.  

All of this leads me to state unequivocally that we adapt, we learn, we change, we grow, we evolve.  I was not built for what I do today; Marty never ever had the potential of being a good patient.  

I do what I do, provide care for my bride, really well; it’s not something that was ever part of my native skill set.  I learned. Marty was head strong, always knew a better way and was a non-compliant rule-breaking patient; she was, in short, a patient that could try patience.  She is not that person today, she is accepting of her new normal, she is agreeable and likes a routine, she learned, she adapted.

Trust me on this; if I can make this kind of change, if Marty can make this kind of change, you can make this kind of change too.  You simply have to put your head down and take a step, the next step.  That’s exactly what I did several years ago instead of running down Sandalwood Drive naked.  I accepted, I adapted, I kept my clothes on, most of the time.

Let’s face it, people live longer, overcome more trauma, more life altering illness and spend more time recovering at home.  You will, if you are lucky, get to help care for someone at home or in the hospital or in a facility.  You will adapt, you will learn, you will figure it out and move forward and take care of that love one.  You will do it because that’s what we do for those we love.
When we left St. Catherine’s care facility nine years ago I was a basket case and worried about how I would learn to do what needed to be done.  I obsessed about taking care of Marty and told myself continuously I could not do it.  When one of the physical therapists was showing me how to move Marty to help bathe her I told her my secret, “I don’t know how to do this.”  She looked at me and said, “You will figure it out.”

She was right, it wasn’t easy, it still isn’t, I still, every now and then get the urge to abandon all decorum, drop my trousers and run screaming down the street.  And then I see myself in the mirror and realize I am well past the age when that made any good sense at all.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Our Church

My church, our church, has been and still is a touch stone for Marty and me.  It has been an integral part of our life for a long time and my hope is that it will always be a sanctuary for us.

It is a an ever present part of my memory, seeing my daughter sing, seeing my son lead, seeing them both preach Senior sermons, teaching Sunday School, watching Marty sing, sitting behind the youth of church and occasionally shushing their whispers.  Our church, in spite of our, let’s call it spotty attendance of late, is foundational for Marty and for me.

I remember sitting in church one Sunday, as low in spirit as I could have been, I was sitting beside Marty; the night before we had talked about not being married anymore.  Sitting in that church that day, my head, my heart  was in turmoil, sitting with Marty on my right and my children in front of me with the night before still churning my gut I thought, I can’t ever be with anyone but this woman to my right.  

Being in that church that day helped save our marriage.  Months later Marty and I stood at the front of our church with Jimmie and repeated vows of love and re-commitment, in our church.

Years later I sat by Marty in that church on a rainy Christmas day.  I sat as our pastor leaned down and wrapped his arms around Marty.  I listened and was moved as they took turns delivering the charge to the small gathering, repeating the words, “have faith, hold on to what is good”, one after the other.  I saw the smile of our God that day, smiling as the strong encircled the weak that day, in that church.

This church, the people in this church, this enclave in the city of Waco has been there for us during our best times and has been a shelter and a buttress against ill winds for us in our worst times.  I worry for my church.

You see, we are Presbyterians and there has been upheaval in our denomination over the last several years, in particular regarding sexual orientation.  We are a connectional church and all of us belong to the Presbyterian Church of the USA.  We are governed by a Book of Order developed and changed by our General Assembly, a bi-annual meeting where delegates from all across the United States meet to recommend what belongs and what doesn’t belong in our Book of Order and our Book of Confessions.

In June of 2014 the GA voted to revise the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages where allowed by law.  It has roiled our church and many congregations have voted to leave our denomination.  It hurts to see, it hurts to watch, it feels like once again there are people saying to others, within my own denomination, you are no longer Christian enough for us.

I worry that this controversy, this almost secular battle of liberal versus conservative thought will visit my church.  I worry that there will be people in my own church that will be so hurt, so angry over some of these decisions they will want to leave or worse they will want my church to divorce my denomination, they will want to take my church away.

I understand their concern; I understand the strong feelings that are involved. I don’t understand the need to separate, the need to look another in the eye and say I can no longer worship with you because I don’t agree with you.  We worshiped together yesterday, we disagreed yesterday, why can’t we worship together tomorrow even though we disagree over some issues?

Years ago Marty and I sat in our church and contemplated moving away from each other.  We had significant disagreements, we were at logger heads, we were, at times, emotionally hurting each other.  That Sunday at that church we decided we must work through our pain and hurt and disagreements and stand strong for each other.  That’s what we did.

I know that some in our church feel the same way I did that day in our church, not sure if love and faith can bridge the gap in our relationship.  I recognize the very real concerns many have about some changes in our denomination.  Those concerns are based in real faith, so are mine.

 When those Commissioners at General Assembly met and voted on the issues hurting your heart I believe they were doing what they felt God led them to do.  When those votes were taken it was not a matter of doing the will of the people but seeking discernment to do the will of God.

I accept that there are those who can’t accept, I can’t accept that leaving is the answer, I can’t accept that we must divorce.  If you believe, then fight, then work, then change minds, change hearts, make a difference in a way that says I won’t give up but I too will seek God’s direction and I will make right what I see as wrong.  

My sanctuary, more than any other place I have ever been, has always been a place where differences in race, circumstances and politics did not matter.  My sanctuary has always been a place of refuge, a place that has fit me and my family as a soft glove, a place that is tender, accepting and inclusive. 
Don’t take that away, Marty and I are blessed to have this church and all of the people that are a part of it.  Stay and disagree with me, we can do that and still sing together.

Saturday, May 9, 2015 Erin

For Mother's Day, for Marty, I asked our children, Matt and Erin, to write a piece for their Mom....they did and they make both of us proud.  Enjoy.

I am one of the fortunate ones.  I haven’t always felt that way, but today, I can honestly say ….I am blessed.  

Growing up my mom taught me many valuable things from classic “mom lessons” like wash your hands before dinner to more substantial things like how to make a killer guacamole and that a man never has the right to either define or demean you.  Some of the lessons were explicit like how to pick out the perfect avocado and some were implicit and learned simply by watching how she lived in the world.  Example: My mom never allowed a man to refer a female-peer as a girl….she is a woman.  Not a girl.

Other lessons: a deep love and appreciation for music, how to drive a stick shift, how to tell a dirty joke and how to pluck my eye brows.  She taught me about the importance of tolerance and respect for others ESPECIALLY if they are different from me because that means I probably don’t fully understand their truth.  She taught me about faith and how doubting is a necessary part of that journey.  She taught me how to make cheesecake and how small details remembered on someone’s birthday can make them feel abundantly special.

I plan on teaching my girls, Lily Jewell and Lucy Jean, all of these things, but the most important “thing” I learned from my mom is LOVE.  She taught me that I am loved and she taught me how to love.  

This is why feel blessed.  Not a single day has gone by in my whole entire life that I ever felt un-loved….maybe unlovable, as we all do from time to time, but I have always known in my soul that I am loved, fully and completely.  Actually, she used to tell me, “I love you…FIERCELY…” 
It was not until I had my own girls that I truly understood what that meant. 

This “fierce” love is like nothing I have ever felt.  I feel it in my gut.  It’s a warm burning sensation coupled with tightness in my chest that I now recognize as unmistakable love coming from my core and enveloping every emotional fiber of my soul.  It’s a protective, ends of the earth kind of feeling.  It’s an “I have your back, I see you, I know you, and you really matter” kind-of-love.   

I know how to feel and share this love because I was fortunate enough to receive it from my mom. My girls get to experience the security and safety one feels from being loved fully and fiercely because my mom loved me that way.

I will always miss certain pieces of my mom and it makes me sad that she doesn’t get to participate in the “grandmother” experience in the way that we both had planned in our heads when I was growing up.  I hate that she will never get to have my girls at her house for a week in the summer like we both imagined.  It makes me sad for her and for my girls that they will not get to know their Grandma like I thought they would.  I actually even hate that she doesn’t  get to silently but overtly judge some of my parenting choices as I quietly resent her for it (joking?!...maybe).  
But here’s the cool part, even if life isn’t working out in the exact way we had planned, I still know I am loved…fiercely, and my girls will too.  And then their kids will know too and so on and so on.  That is the powerful thing about love…especially fierce love.  It is unconditional and exponential.  It is courageous, healing, and important; so much so that maybe it is why we all exist.  

So I feel pretty blessed on this Mother’s Day.  I get the chance to share a pretty amazing and powerful gift with the world.  All because of what my mom taught and still teaches me today.  

So….Thanks mom….I love you …fiercely.

The Matt

For Mother's Day, for their mother, I have turned over my blog to our children, Matt and Erin.  We are more than a little proud of who they are and how they live.  This is what Matt has to say.

I think there’s a good chance that my folks would openly dispute this, but if I’m being totally honest; I think my mom is a little bit disappointed with me.

I don’t think she’s disappointed in me in the traditional, “my child knocked over a convenience store, took the money to Vegas, and ended up in the clink” sort of way, but I think there might be some lingering disappointment nonetheless, and at the root of it is an affliction that neither she, nor my father can ever really understand. 

You see, my name is Matt, and I am a textbook-case oldest child….a trait I share with no other member of my immediate childhood family.  Mom is the youngest, Dad is the middle, and Erin’s the baby.

Broadly speaking, we members of the church of the eldest are often comically conservative in the way we approach life.  Generally, we thrive on the approval of our elders, we show up on time, we keep our hair cut short, our shirts pressed neatly, and have well balanced, risk-averse 401Ks.  

All of this is fine and good, maybe even great to some extent -- there is profound peace and stability with this sort of approach to life, but there’s something missing –a spark of spontaneity, excitement, the thrill of a calculated risk executed to perfection.

Frankly, I’ve always thought that mom finds my occasional lack of this sort of spark to be most disappointing.

Even as a kid, I think mom was a little worried that I took myself, and life, a little too seriously.  I recall her basically daring me to get my ear pierced, knowing that I’d never do it, or chiding me to lighten up a little bit when she’d show up to a school function wearing her Bubba Teeth and Trucker Hat.

Deep down there’s just something about mom and me, despite all of the powerful similarities, that’s just fundamentally different, and she has always been a little worried that the difference would keep me from seeing a bit of the tapestry of life that was really special to her.  Even if I had “the big stuff” figured out – a stable career, a happy family, a well-balanced retirement plan – I’d run the risk of missing the point of all of it.

And I think, left to my own devices, she might be right to worry; I feel a very strong pull towards the peace and stability offered by a life of the mundane.  I’m a stability junkie and that’s part of my makeup, but I’m fortunate, I’ve got a whole choir of voices reminding me to lighten up a bit….and sometimes --- I even listen.

Many of those voices have been chronicled on this blog over the years.  My sister, my extended family, and most importantly my wife are all examples of people who seem to have found the right balance between stability and spontaneity, but the last couple of years have brought a new, squeaky, slightly lispy voice into that mix. 
Her name is Emma, she is my 3yr old daughter, and she has a trait that she shares with no one else in her immediate childhood family – I’m the oldest kid in my family, Sarah’s the oldest in hers, Noah is our oldest child, but Emma, she’s the youngest, and when you meet her, she’ll make sure you know that.

When Emma was a baby, and even into her toddler and now early childhood years, more than a few folks looked at her round little face, and blond curly hair and wondered aloud, “She doesn’t really look like either of you”, then they’d see a picture of my mom as a child, or even as an adult, and they’d see those blue eyes, the round face, and the easy smile, and they’d say --- “Oh…..THAT’S who she looks like…..”

Let me be the first to tell you, the resemblance is more than skin deep.
It’s the little things Emma does ---
the way she turns a phrase – particularly when she’s up to no good.
the way she looks at you when she thinks you’re full of it - Sarah calls it Emma’s “THE HELL YOU SAY??” face
the way she shows powerful love and concern for her family
the way that it’s clear that Emma’s quietly in charge of whoever and whatever is going on around her

These are ways I know that Emma is already, three years in, marching to the beat of her own drummer, singing her own songs, and confidant that she can make the world a little bit happier and brighter if she’s given some room to wiggle.  

When I look at my daughter, I see a little bit of me, a little bit of Sarah, and a LOT of my mom. 
I anticipate that her Marty-like spunk, attitude, and already sharpening wit and mouth will probably lead to some “challenging” parental moments.  We will deal with those as they come.

It is my prayer for our daughter that she hangs on to those sparks, that piece of my mother, and says “THE HELL YOU SAY?” to an often over-serious world and consumer culture.  I want her to always use her voice to occasionally remind us “firstborns” to loosen up a bit, take some risks, and live life. 

I think that’s something that mom would agree with wholeheartedly, and frankly, be pretty proud of.