tidings of comfort

When I think of God, I think of Love.

When I think of Love, I think of Comfort.

And when I think of Comfort, I think of the holidays.

In the past year, we’ve lost both our pets. Our Christmas tree sits undisturbed in the corner of our living room, the sun through the windows its only companion. We don’t come home and play the game we so loved to be annoyed by: six ornaments rolling around on the ground, one broken, moving them further and further up the tree in some Jenga strategy to protect them from wagging hazards and pawing attacks.

Comfort.

Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. My Dad loved Christmas music. He would sing along to it, or whistle along to it, from the deepest places of joy in his heart. To this day, I can’t hear “Silent Night” or “Jingle Bell Rock” without hearing his voice from some secret distance.

Comfort.

Two years later, my Mom joined my Dad. I miss her Christmasness. Peanut butter balls, fudge, all on a plate saran-wrapped, sitting cold on the porch. The buffets of food and a family packed around a festive tablecloth in an ivy-wallpapered kitchen. Mom, sitting near a frosty window cracked open so her cigarette smoke could escape.

Comfort.

And still we celebrate. There is joy in the holiday season. We are surrounded by those who love us and those whom we love. We live lives dripping with reasons to be grateful.

But there is also a sadness. An indescribable and inexplicable and inapproachable loneliness wraps around our heart like a scarf against the cold. A narrative of Christmas pasts of bonding and fighting reflects back at us from the twinkling lights. A deep ache to pick up the phone and hear that voice, that laugh, just once more burns as a candle on the windowsill. A longing for all the lost Christmases that will never be had drops in the belly, heavy like too many cookies.

Grief multiplies like frost on a window, intricate and beautiful and shattering lines of connection that disappear with the touch of a warm finger on lifeless glass.

Comfort.

I write this for me.

But, I write this for you, too: Jennifer and Jenny and Jen. Pam and Jo Ann. Mark and Regina. Cheryl. Erica. Fernanda. Heather. Doyle and Laina. Kathryn. Brandon. Dad and Mom. Juli. Jan. My family. Mel. Chris. Cara. Hilary. Melissa. Those of you not named, but nonetheless with me in sorrow during this season.

We stand together in the snow, icicles of crystal tears, and we hold each other up. Like wreaths, we circle in love and welcome those weights that break us and make us. We look for the light in the Bethlehems of each others’ hearts. We huddle together around the fire of comfort.

Comfort. For you. For me.


 

 

 

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the ghost of grief past

I am haunted by grief. Like a ghost that fades in and out of the bedroom corner, sometimes it is silent, hovering beneath the floorboards; but sometimes it is devastatingly near, ice freezing through my veins.

Recently…I shiver.

Last year, I watched my cat die a long, slow death. His silky steel grey fur turned bristlecone; his oversized athletic body turned gristly; his ferocious appetite for salmon turned into aching refusal to eat; his impeccable potty and self-grooming habits turned sloppy spills all over the house. The cat who walked around the block with us could no longer hop up on our bed. He wandered the house, unsure of where he was, crying in confusion. Life oozed out of him, leaving a trail of tears.

Six years ago, I watched my Dad die a long, slow death. His consistent commitment to a healthy breakfast of Total cereal faded into choking on undigested food; his appetite for walks in the neighborhood faded to police rides back to a home he could no longer remember; his strong able body faded into a bony skeleton; his obsessive daily grooming with an electric razor faded into a unoccupied man playing with his feces. The man who drove my teenage self all over creation could no longer remember my name. He wandered the house, unsure of where he was, looking and laughing at a stranger’s reflection in the mirror. Life oozed out of him, leaving a trail of fears.

I am haunted by the molasses pace of death, its grief sticky and icky.

This year, I watched my dog disappear in the blink of an eye. Just the weekend before, we were camping and hiking and playing in alpine lakes with his girlfriend. He was strong. Full of life. Then, sickness. Then, death. My house is empty.

Three years ago, I watched my Mom disappear in the blink of an eye. Just the weekend before, we were laughing and buffeting and playing the slots with the family. She was strong. Full of life. Then, sickness. Then, death. My heart is empty.

I am haunted by the wind-sucking swiftness of death, its grief whiplash and heartcrash.

I am haunted.1690184_10152245507652813_202266945_n

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here’s to the dog

Here’s to the dog who transformed from a scared, skinny, reserved mess into a brave, athletic, playful son. When we first met you at the pound, we took you into the yard to see how you’d interact with us. As Dad threw a ball, rather than fetching, you cowered, trying desperately to disappear into yourself.  Our hearts broke at the invisible story that brought you to such a sad place. For years, we didn’t think you had a voice at all. Maybe your box had been removed? Dad would give me such shit for trying to teach you to speak. But you learned, didn’t you. You found your voice and the courage to use it to protect us, to laugh with us, to tell us you were there, to tell us you were hungry. Our hearts applauded your self-discovery. We knew you came into your own when we’d let you loose on at the local park, and you would run like a freak. Unabashed. Insanely. Comically. Gleefully. Our hearts celebrated at the freedom you finally felt in love.

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Here’s to the dog who transformed us into ninjas in the morning. As our bodies eased out of deep slumber, we’d stealthily adjust in the bed so as not to awaken your bladder. Our even worst was when our bladders were awake. We’d lie there in pain, just so we didn’t give you the false impression that our day was, indeed, actually starting. Or sometimes, you went into the ninja business with one of us. So as not to awaken the other parent, one of us would coax you out of the bedroom as sneakingly as possible. But alas, your hummingbird tail always drummed the bed, the walls, the door, our souls: the imperfect perfect alarm clock.

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Here’s to the dog who was my dancing companion. You know as well I do, Momma don’t clean without some good music. And so there I’d be in the living room, blasting Rihanna or Britney Spears or Juanes, and well of course my feet and hips would catch on. And so would yours. You’d look at me from your bed, then your tail would mark time, then you’d raise to your feet and bow your chest to the ground, then you’d come to me, then I’d pat my chest, and what do you know, I’m in my living room dancing with a four-legged companion, upright on your hind quarters, paws on my shoulders, mouth panting in rhythmed ecstasy.

1930457_33430112812_8591_n 1919160_192461262812_7397308_n 38418_439971082812_4160013_n 73041_492507727812_2398029_n 73694_492508172812_1248683_n 261853_10150308992172813_6826574_n 425146_10150641017682813_1306980350_n 1044143_10151737797722813_1331969970_nHere’s to the dog who never met a rock you didn’t conquer. No matter what trail, what state, what adventure, the nearest rock would eventually become your throne as you explored it and scratchily fell off it and climbed atop again and eventually planted your paws like Armstrong on the moon, standing tall and regal, tail in the wind like a flag’s declaration, surveying the conquest.

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Here’s to the dog who was just the goofiest kid who just wanted desperately to be liked by his peers. You hated water until you saw one of the cool kids running around in it. You didn’t understand fetch until you saw another dog doing it, then you tried out for the team but didn’t make the cut. Oh, you’ll eat a treat because that dog ate a treat. You loved to stick your nose in anything, even when you found it being exploded back into your face by a sneeze. You playfully wrestled with the ground. You looked like you were seizing when you tried to roll over on command.

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Here’s to the dog who was loved by all those we loved. You were the calm dog everyone felt comfortable being around. You protected the Doyle girls like they were your own. Your were gentle with my aging parents. You let puppies have their space (we’ll pretend this was your honor, instead of the fact that you were petrified by them). You cradled yourself into our families and into our friendships. You were our son, and everybody knew it. And they loved you.

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Here’s to the dog who loved his brother beautifully. You’d fight, and then you’d paw and makeup. You’d share your toys and your treats and your bed. You kept on eye on him when he walked around the block with us. You were compassionate and kind to him as he aged, and then as he died, and then, you stood steady for us our in grief.

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Here’s to the dog who was your Dad’s favorite. When you’d piss me off, he’d defend you. When I didn’t want to get fur bombed, he’d gather you between his legs and pet you. When I looked and looked and looked, he’d go right for that perfect spot around your ears that made you smile like a druggie. You were his dog, and he was your idol.

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Here’s to the dog who was the soul mate for our lifestyle. When we ran, you ran. When we hiked, you hiked. When we camped, you camped. When we melded into the TV, you slept in your bed. When we took road trips, you curled up in the back seat. When we took naps, you snored. When we lounged outside, you curled up in the grass. When we ate, you waited at our feet. When adventure called, you sat politely while we put on your collar. When home beckoned, you greeted us at the door with that one of a kind hip wiggle of yours.

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Here’s to the dog who made our life complete. Here’s to the dog whom we miss with all of the broken pieces of our heart. May you run, smile, rest, and wag in peace.

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happy birthday Mom

Today my Mom would have been 76.

She lived a big life.

She drove a semi across state lines with no training, all for a bushel of nuts.

She beat the sun up most days of her life.

She drank her coffee with so much cream and sugar, it looked more like the remnant of a painter’s cup of cleaning water.

She spent every Sunday morning doing all of our laundry.

She gambled. First with pennies and quarters. But then as her bravery grew, so did the deposited coin. But always, always, she kept within her allotted budget.

She went after a man with a hammer because he threatened her. Once. Only once.

She ensured our van was packed with family and coolers of snacks to venture throughout the country. She might have forgotten her son-in-law at a gas station in Kentucky.  Maybe.

She was obsessed with chewing ice–the right kind of ice–and Lipton powdered ice tea.

She was a master at fixing vacuums.

She ate pounds of crabs legs, slathered in butter and “mmmmmms.”

She hated flowers. A fact she hid from my Dad for a while.

She overcame her fear of flying, visiting us in Colorado at least yearly.

She hunted for pennies in the parking lot as a child to buy food.

She laughed so hard she had to raise up her glasses and pat her eyes with tissues.

She taught me to speak up for what’s right.

She explored caves below the ground and fourteeners in the sky.

She loved to sit in the backyard under the warm Midwestern sun, with her sleeves rolled up to her shoulders. She never wore sunblock or sunglasses.

She loved Pacman and Bejeweled Blitz.

She refused to swim because her brother nearly drowned her as a kid.

She made the best homemade grape juice.

She watched my Dad die two deaths: the loss of his memory of a life spent with her, then finally the loss of a heartbeat.

She bought us groceries, as grown children, when we needed it. Or when we didn’t.

She played entire golf courses with a nine iron.

She loaded her ham with syrupy peaches at Golden Corral.

She escaped from charging bulls over West Virginia fences just. in. the. nick. of. time.

She made the world’s best peanut butter balls. And she wasn’t afraid to talk dirty about them.

She sewed the curtains in our kitchen.

She gave me my love of horses. When visiting West Virginia, she would race the neighbor’s horse down the street, all the while her Mom yelled two syllables from the porch in warning and fear: “Mi-ke!”

She was given the name Aletha, but known by Molly or Mike or Mom or MaMa.

She loved Dave as her own.

She collected bells, postcards and cookbooks from the 18th century. Or at least that’s what they looked like.

She turned her basement into an art studio.

She walked miles to school, barefoot, whilst cougars hovered in the trees looking. All the while her pet pig followed her, the same pet pig that soon became bacon for her family. She couldn’t eat it.

She rapped in our swing on our back porch.

She lived. A big life.

Happy birthday Mom.

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eroding into beauty

With the death of my Mom, my anxiety found new life. Like any parasite from a host, it crept into my veins and fed off my sanity, growing in strength while I grew in weakness.

Memories from this time flash all too slowly, too stubbornly, before my eyes. I remember the endless car ride back to her hospital in Chicago, racing against the clock of her pulse. Trapped in the suffocating space of my own mobile powerlessness, I physically felt death in my own body: heart racing, shortness of breath, uncontrollable fits of weeping, tremors that rocked my very foundation. I remember my terrorized eyes, next to my Mom’s closed eyes, near my sister’s side, looking up at my Mom’s kind doctor, asking for drugs to calm me down; anxiety now made me her only living patient in that room. I remember the feel of the bed that night, of the fuzzy blankets that to this day envelope me in the presence of my Mom, and the numb release those drugs brought me for a few hours of sleep…of denial. I remember months later, talking about these moments of anxiety along with the endless trail of ugly ducklings that ensue, my therapist’s words:

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

His question was designed to assuage the irrational fears that ate away at my sanity: I have cancer. I am riddled with tumors. I’m having a stroke. I have an aneurysm. I am dying.

I thought about the power of erosion as I lingered on the edge of the vast and majestic and overwhelming and wondrous and complex and gorgeous Grand Canyon. Layers of ocher shade into ebonies blur into grays cut against the hazy blue dome above. Horizontal lines on some ridges play tic tac toe with vertical striations on other towers. Ivory artery paths cut across plateaus and dip diagonally down canyon sides. And then the origin of this glory, the Colorado River: a mud-green snake, wide as a football field and a mile beneath, slithered in and out of sight, arching its back in white caps and bending around all red-rock obstacles.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

I cannot see this glory were there not the horror. I cannot be this wonder were there not the eroding.

Millions of years, billions of raindrop-tears rolling down the sides of the River’s face. Tons of rocks, sons and daughters of crumbling grief racing into the Abyss. Echoes of raging winds, let-gos and let-downs dancing into Destruction. Gravity carving without levity, cravings eroding into the Center.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

My Mom’s hands were like the Grand Canyon. Speckled russet from the sun. Gorged from the work ethic of West Virginia hills. Gnarled from the pain of so many Midwestern storms. Weathered from the weight of so many unmet norms. Twisted on themselves from the giver’s turning. Rooted in so many defeats and repeats and remembers and benders and whatevers and winners. One gold band, a circled audience, standing witness.

I miss those hands.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

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her death. her life.

Two years ago today, my Mom died. One week prior, I received a call from my sister saying she was taking her to the hospital for flu-like symptoms. In the ensuing avalanche of diagnoses that tumbled over our hearts, my Mom was swept away within 7 days. Less than 168 hours.

My Mom died as she lived. Fierce. Brave. Strong. With gumption and energy and wit and gusto and dignity and humor and sharpness. Though it absolutely devastated me and my family, my Mom died with so much life…and for that I am grateful. Nobody had to take her in. Nobody had to worry about her. Nobody had to make plans for her. Nobody had to watch as she diminished into nothing. She died as she lived: independently and vigorously. This, ultimately, is what she wanted.

Here are some pictures showing my Mom’s…life-ness:

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She would kill me for posting this. But that smile…

Along with these pictures, I found this, written by my Mom between 1992-1993.

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Lots and lots of misses. That is now the burden I must carry.

Lots and lots of life. That is now the glory I must reflect.

the space of hospitality

***This post is part of the June synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about hospitality.***

When I think of hospitality, I think of my mother-in-law: or Mom as I call her and know her. Upon arriving to her house, it is clear she has taken the time to lovingly designate space for us to be, comfortably and naturally. Furniture is moved so that our bed is accessible. Sheets and pillows are purchased and placed so that our skin is greeted warmly. Cups and beverages, with the appropriate spoon, are laid out on the counter so that our morning is seamless. Natural soaps and toothbrushes are set out on the bathroom sink so that our grooming routines are not disrupted by forgetfulness. But these, though important, are the mere physical arrangements of her hospitality; invisible yet more powerful are the heart arrangement of hospitality. Entering her home is like entering a sanctuary, where a space has been prepared for us from the inside out.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Tammy. I remember when my Mom died, sitting in my sister’s backyard draped with trees, finding the time and creating the space to finally call her and grieve in her metaphorical arms. So much of that conversation, between my open mouth sobs and broken heartbeat explosions and implosions, was silence. Beautiful, sacred, anointed, compassionate silence. And in Tammy’s silence on the other end there was so much missing: quaint solutions, awkward utterances, quick fixes, flimsy promises, weak answers, insecure accusations–all the things that so often are projected onto those grieving by those who are clueless and uncomfortable with their own powerlessness over a friend’s sadness. In the space of her silence was hospitality, a heart arrangement of care for the other despite impotence for change.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Libbi. Walking into her classroom is like walking into a church. Student work and statements line the walls. The soft murmur of a tea kettle always whispers a welcome. Sunshine pours in from the windows, and outward from her her. The space is calm, inviting peace and pause in a frantic day. In the air hangs fresh memories of learning students, conferencing moments, counseling words, and inspiring messages. Her care for the students is beyond a lesson plan; her care is a heart arrangement for their every need: anointing a space for mind, body, heart, soul.

When I think of hospitality, I think of yoga. Entering a studio that is lit from above and within, practicing next to a community of people who are mindful of their breath, swaying to soft music, bending differently under the confident adjustment of the teacher, swelling from the joy of my body’s able movement, the release of Savasana: all of these blessings arise because someone takes the time to create a space for yogis to unite inhales and exhales. It begins with a physical arrangement of postures and cues, but it is the heart arrangement of the teacher that sanctifies a sacred space.

When I think of hospitality, I think of the times Dave and I practice Sabbath. With no phones, no tv, no computers, and no external distractions, it is just the two of us, sharing a space together of play, of laughter, of light…of love. When I talk to him, I know he is there, fully present with me. When I listen to him, I know I am there, fully present with him. And in that sacred space born of our heart arrangement, God is present as well.

Ultimately–sadly–hospitality is a dying art in our culture because our space is cluttered–daily, perpetually, annoyingly, overwhelmingly cluttered. It does not matter if cookies are baking in the oven and sweetening the air if the hostess is scrambling around the kitchen distracted. It does not matter if a room is clean and prepared if the host is self-consumed with his own problems. It does not matter if guests are welcomed into a home if all the children are attached to their video games. It does not matter if two people set apart time to hang out if they are both buried in their phones.

Hospitality is not about the minutia, but about mindfulness.

Hospitality is not about the home, but about the arrangement of the heart.

Hospitality is not about the serving, but about anointing the space.

Hospitality is not about being a Martha, but about being a Mary.

Hospitality is an age-old blessing ceremony: weaving hidden anointing-oil-threads of love and light through every interaction, connection, place, and space.

Here are other voices on hospitality:

A Sacred Rebel – Hospitality

Carol Kuniholme – Violent Unwelcome. Holy Embrace.

Glen Hager – Aunt Berthie

Leah Sophia – welcoming one another

Mary – The Space of Hospitality

Jeremy Myers – Why I Let a “Murderer” Live in My House

Loveday Anyim – Is Christian Hospitality a Dead Way of Life?

Tony Ijeh – Is Hospitality Still a Vital Part of Christianity Today?

Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – Have we replaced Hospitality with Hostility?

Liz Dyer – Prayer For The Week – Let us be God’s hospitality in the world

K.W. Leslie – Christian Hospitality

death of the mind

Today would have been my Dad’s 79th birthday, but Alzheimer’s took him away from us four years ago. To expose the devastating thievery of the disease, I wrote this paper while getting my Master’s in 2008.


Allow me to pose a heart breaking question: what would it be like to die before one actually dies?  I speak of a death of the mind, a death of the soul, a death of the personality.  It does not matter that the heart still beats, the lungs still draw breath, the arteries and capillaries still circulate life blood.  A person dies before they die, because what matters most is stolen, lost forever to a vicious villain called Alzheimer’s.  Such a disease is monstrous, not just for the victim, but for those surrounding him or her.  What’s even more terrifying than the monstrosity of the disease is the rampant occurrence.  According to research done by the Alzheimer’s Association (2007), 1 in 8 seniors over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s.  The same research indicates that currently every 72 seconds, a senior is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, though by mid-century, that rate will raise to every 33 seconds.  Clearly with such likelihood that the author, or the reader, or at least someone they know will develop the disease, it is crucial to experience it first hand.  I did just that with John David.

John is a 75 year old Alzheimer’s patient.  He has been diagnosed with the disease since 2001, though his symptoms started to show several years before that.  He has deteriorated quickly within the last couple years.  He barely remembers his children’s names; when he does he confuses them with each other.  His strongest memories are those from early in his life: his grandmother who took care of him, his time in the army serving in Germany, the early years of his marriage.  He has an obsession with playing with his feces, cannot sleep through the night without soiling his bed, and has lost any sense of table manners.  He in essence is a big child…though I’m sad to say with less dignity.  Why is it when children are ignorant and make mistakes, society coddles them?  But when it is a senior, whom nature is reverting back to a child, who makes innocent mistakes, society is frustrated or embarrassed by them?  This was one of the most devastating lessons learned during my experience with respite…how heartless our society is towards those older than us.

Aletha is the devoted wife of John David.  They have shared over 40 years of marriage together, years filled with laughter and sorrow, joy and pain.  Sad to say, it is mostly sorrow and pain now.  Aletha is John’s caretaker, along with her eldest daughter Nova who lives at home.  Together, they make his meals and ensure he doesn’t choke while eating, take him for walks or drives, open his door when it’s nap time and lock it when it’s over, and mourn.  They mourn for the husband lost, the father misplaced.

Their life has been degraded to an oxymoronic form of baby sitting, “senior sitting.”  They receive no payment, no thank you’s, for both those only spring forth from people who know what they are getting, and John does not have the mental capacity to know such things any longer.  Gone are the dreams Aletha had to travel the States with her husband, tucked in a RV.  Now, questions form the landscape of Aletha and Nova’s lives.  Incessant questions annoyingly repeated over and over from John: “When can I lay down?  Why aren’t you at work?  Will you unlock my door?  Where’s Boomer?” Their days and nights are haunted by a lingering question: “When we will need to put him in a home?”

For 5 or so hours, I relieve them.  I decide to take John David to the movies, so they can go and drown out the white noise of their living hell with the ca-chings of the casino.  There, they do not have to worry about his meals, his naps, his slipping out and getting lost on a random bus to which the police officer berates them for “letting him out.”  (Perhaps what’s worst than not giving a senior the dignity of a child is giving them the status of a dog.)  There they can lose themselves and their worries in the loud monotony of pulling down the slot machine lever, the slow habitual spinning of 7’s and cherries and stars.

I arrive to find John in the bathroom with the door slightly ajar.  I know it is him in there, because I hear this chortling giggle and wiggle of a belly.  When asked about it, Aletha tells me he always laughs at himself in the mirror and slaps his belly.  Perhaps he is so surprised at who is looking back at him in the reflection.  “Surely that is not me,” he must be thinking, startled by the old man with rotted teeth, disheveled hair, and a hairy gut.  What must it be like, to look in the mirror, only to have it invaded by a madman stranger?

After much coercion out of the bathroom, out of the house, and into the van, we are on our way to the movies.  We decide to see a family friendly movie, the safest bet I figure for a man turned child.  Amazingly, the one thing he does remember and worries about is the cost of the movie.  I cannot even imagine one day going to the movies for a quarter, and the next finding it to cost ten dollars…which is how he must have perceived it.   John has lost all sense of social skills, and as we sit in the quiet movie theater, he frequently asks me questions during the movie that I know those in the back row can lucidly hear.  I am embarrassed.  Even more, I am embarrassed at my embarrassment.

After the movie, as we’re walking back to the van, I ask John what he thought of the movie.  A foggy haze passes over his eye, and he mumbles some “it was…”.  It does not matter what adjective he fills in that sentence with, I know he doesn’t even remember what he has spent the last few hours doing.  Wow, this calls for some ice cream, and so to Oberweiss we head.  There he gets a Chocolate Malt, which I’m sure is a priceless commodity: a comforting memory of the times he lives in inside his head.  While enjoying our ice cream and the dripping mess it is making down his shirt, we play Checkers.  We attempt to, as he does not remember how.  We pretend to play Checkers, which is fine by me.  I’m good at pretending.  The best part of the whole trip was in the car, when John, unprompted begins to hum at first—and then sing—to the Christmas music playing on the radio.  I turn it up, we both sing, and it is a moment to savor.

Though this was only one moment of respite for Aletha and Nova, and John as well, it is a small part of the life I share with John David.  You see, he is my dad.  I am one of those children he barely remembers.  On good days, he remembers me as the Mary from high school, and he asks “Boy, you’ve put on some weight, haven’t you?”  On the bad days, he stares blankly at me.  Since my family lives far away, every time I go home I provide respite.  My mom and sister can get away to the casino.  My dad can laugh at my silly jokes, even if he doesn’t get them.  In my presence, all of them can escape from the undeniable pain of being the one who is taken care of, and the ones who must do the care taking.  This is one story of one of the many diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds.  What will the stories be like when the number increases to every 33 seconds?  And who will provide respite then?

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the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

present. thankful.

bc90113e29ef351de769933bf5fbbb79Early in the lonely darkness, I wake this morning with a heavy heart; how can the absence of Something, Someone weigh so much? As in yoga, I will not fight this pain’s strain; I will lean into it. I will stay present in the sorrow, to the grief. And even in this, I will give thanks. Yes because it’s a holiday, but also because it’s a holy way.

  1. Though I don’t understand it fully nor embrace it completely, grace is more powerful than condemnation, compassion truer than judgment. The Divine, at the deepest core and at the wildest edges, is Love. For this, I thank God.
  2.  I live in a cozy house in the mountains, on a wildlife corridor–a glory this suburban flat-lander only imagined in daydreams. This house, once another’s outdated debt, has been made our beautiful home by my husband’s raw talent. For this, I thank God.
  3. I live and laugh with my best friend, a man of generosity, grace, strength, humility, adventure, athleticism, authenticity, wildness, industrialism, honor, spirituality, intelligence…love. For this, I thank God.
  4. I had a special relationship with my Dad. From playgrounds to cardinals to Frank Sinatra and Yanni to walks to movies, our spirits were woven together. Yesterday in the car, just like him, I whistled along and sang off-tune to a Christmas song. In his absence, he was with me in that car, in that moment. For this, I thank God.
  5. I had a special connection with my Mom. Our stories were written from the same words. When those stories are told now, in her absence, it is not only me–it is my husband. As we threw out bacon grease this week, we looked at each other knowingly, remembering and resurrecting Mom’s conniption fit at such a waste. His relationship with my Mom was a rare and precious gift, now a majestic river bird hovering above and between our love. For this, I thank God.
  6. Though my parents are gone, the utterance of “Mom” and “Dad” still floats up from my heart to glide across my lips. Dave’s parents hold a special place in my life–far greater than the empty label of in-laws. For this, I thank God.
  7. I go to work every day alongside people who fight for social justice. I teach students who teach me. I gift the power of words through stories that matter. My job is a ministry of empowerment for which I am equipped. For this, I thank God.
  8. My sister gets me. We are cut from the same cloth. Reunited by grief, our friendship’s foundation has solidified. For this, I thank God.
  9. I have friends of the soul variety. Tammy, who has been beside me and inside my spirit since I was 14. Laina, who when I am with, listening to her stories, makes me feel like I’m with my Mom. Libbi, who gifts me with the call to presence. These are but one small glint of a massive web of glittering connections spun around me. For this, I thank God.
  10. My body is strong and capable. My legs can take me to the hidden heights of the Rocky Mountains; my spine can bend and bow into peaceful poses of meditation; my lungs can fuel me through 13.1 miserably momentous miles. For this, I thank God.

Like beads on a Mala, I count my blessings. There are far more than this list; there are far more than I recognize with my eyes or name with my voice. For this, for the unseen and the unnamed, I thank God.

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