Ashes and Dust

It’s hard to imagine someone’s life reduced to a box the size of a loaf of bread.

Mom made her wishes known–she wanted to be cremated. It’s what she’d chosen to do with Dad, and it made more sense to her than buying a plot.

This isn’t an argument I will pursue. Some believe a casket and burial are the only way to go. Others tout cremation as what must happen because we’re running out of space to put folks who are no longer living.

My thinking is once dead, the person is gone. These bodies weren’t made to last forever.

Mom’s remains were delivered to my sister’s home. Packaged in plastic and secured in a cherry wood container, it came with her name in several places on the container.

They had guaranteed us it was Mom.

Not that I was concerned. Mom is no longer with us. Physical death is something that will happen to all of us, and her body gave out after a long run. God informs us that we began as dust and to dust we’ll return.

What was hard was to imagine all that Mom was contained in that small wooden box.

We’re all bigger than a bread box.

Mom was a character. Her personality was often larger than life, reflected by that line that Patrick Swayze says at the end of “Dirty Dancing“: “No one puts Baby in the corner.”

Mom was a force to be reckoned with. Never a wallflower, never one to hold back her opinions, she was outspoken at a time when women weren’t often given the floor. She made herself and her ideas known. She was fearless, choosing not to back down from challenges.

Mom and I often knocked heads; our relationship often felt uncomfortable. The older I’ve gotten, though, the more I’ve realized it has more to do with me being like her.

Not anything I’d have admitted when I was younger.

What she left me was a legacy of courage and possibility. A sense of adventure and fun.

And here I thought we just didn’t get along.

As people it’s easy to be confined and defined by what we’ve done wrong. By our mistakes. It was, too often, easy for me to dismiss Mom as not really caring about the person I was. Because I wasn’t the person I thought she wanted me to be.

I believe she saw herself in me. Some of it was good; some not so good.

We’ve all got potential to be more than the limits our minds and fears give us. If we give ourselves the freedom to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God who made us intentionally in love, we have His power to pursue dreams greater than our perceived limitations.

Mom learned that. She grew in appreciation of the person God had made her to be.

I’ve often hesitated to try things for fear I’d look foolish or fail. True character and success aren’t a lack of failure; it’s how we proceed forward after we pick ourselves up.

Nobody wants to be put in a corner.

 

 

 

Where’s The Love?

photo by Jesse Goll on unsplash

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

Who knew?

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with other things: Mom’s passing, the birth of a couple of grandsons, life that doesn’t slow down at my request. Legitimate reasons.

I’ve never, to my knowledge, forgotten a holiday.

Granted this isn’t one of my favorites. It’s not as unlikeable as Halloween, but it’s right up there. When my girls were younger, the years they didn’t have boyfriends made the holiday unbearable. No one to send them a carnation at school. No expectations of romantic dinners or other memorable dates.

Just a day that emphasized how they didn’t have someone special.

When we were younger, classroom lists went home from school to make sure everyone in class got a valentine from every other person in class. We’d buy those boxes of mass-produced cards and carefully fill them out to give the classmates. Gayle and I always had to send the same cards. If she wanted Disney princess Valentine cards, I’d want Marvel Comic cards–and we’d end up with the same generic cards filled with flowers.

Nobody was ever left out. Everyone got a card.

Feeling left out on Valentine’s Day is an internalized statement that there’s something unlovable about me.

When I began dating the man I’d eventually marry, he generously gave me flowers. Especially on Valentine’s Day.

I felt incredibly special.

My friends on my dorm floor would look longingly at these flowers. Some had boyfriends. Not many got flowers. My excitement was dulled by what my friends didn’t experience.

I felt their sadness at not being loved well.

The older I’ve gotten, the less I enjoy Valentine’s Day. Not because of its commercialism or its unrealistic focus on romantic love. It’s more that it’s a poke that there are many who don’t feel loved.

Needing to be known and loved are significant issues we all deal with. The truth is we can’t be genuinely loved unless we’re authentically known.

I enjoy the idea of romantic love. My favorite movies are romantic comedies. Where boy meets girl, they overcome ridiculous odds–which may be each other–to fall passionately in love by the end of the movie. Blissful happiness. It’s what makes romance so appealing.

Real love is work. It’s not basing my relationships on feelings but on the choice to put someone else’s needs before mine. To consider someone else’s desires as more important than my own. Not demanding my way but caring more for what the other person wants.

It’s why the most powerful love story of all time is Jesus dying for us on the cross. He did the work of sacrificing His best out of love for us. Doing the work we couldn’t do for ourselves.

He didn’t have to do that. He took our mess upon His shoulders so we could be redeemed. Our messy brokenness covered by His perfect goodness.

That’s love. Selfless. Unconditional. Not a love I can ever lose once I have it.

I’m not complaining about Valentine’s Day. As a holiday with a positive focus.

After all, all we need is love.

photo by Jamie Street on unsplash

 

 

 

I’m Gonna Wash That Pain Right Out Of My Heart

It’s been a heck of a couple of weeks.

We’ve been gone a lot, for a variety of reasons. Things around the house didn’t get done. Cleaning–that tawdry-toilet syndrome that comes from neglected focus; refrigerator surprise–the green things that were never meant to be green; trash–the stuff that didn’t get taken to the curb that now has scented the garage in an unsavory way.

Our car was looking like we’d gone mudding in it.

No time to wash it ourselves, and frankly no desire to do so, we chose to take it to the carwash. John’s invested in a monthly deal so we can keep our car in better shape than our last one had been.

The carwash experience was enlightening. We’d had gross things on the car, and as the multi-colored soap and funky strips of whatever material bathed and wiped the surface, what the car was supposed to look like was revealed.

It was quick. What would have taken me at least an hour to do was accomplished in under five minutes. Including the wait.

We went in one side dirty and messy. We came out the other side shiny and clean.

I wish my life could look like that.

I’ve lived in–and have raised my kids–in a culture of instant gratification. Where you don’t have to wait for anything for long. Amazon has redefined shopping. Social media has reconstructed connections with people. Snail mail and delivery in six to eight weeks are things of the past. And if something isn’t available immediately, I’ll opt for something else.

Waiting and working through stuff isn’t fun.

Dealing with the loss of my mom is something I’d like to do quickly. I want to do it well, but I don’t want to have to dwell on the pain. One and done.

Grief doesn’t ever work that way.

Loss isn’t something you plan for. Death becomes an uninvited guest for all of us. For some, it’s timely. For others, it’s intrusive.

When Mom died, I had many thoughts about how her life and death affected me. I’d be laughing one minute about some unplanned stunt she’d pulled–like an impromptu trip to the Milwaukee Zoo which ended in a four-hour bottleneck of traffic just to return home–to crying about the loss of her never seeing her great grandsons.

Grief hurts. It’s a reminder that I have no control over this life. That my days are numbered–just like everyone else’s.  Death is as much about life as is birth.

There’s a beauty in living in the present with no regrets. Taking time to talk to those I care for. Making time to be present with those who matter to me. Not putting things ahead of people. Allowing time for grief.

Jesus made us to live together. Relationship came first. Stuff and clutter came as a result of our disobedience. We’re intended to value each other because He values us.

Mom’s loss isn’t something that will fade quickly. Learning to embrace loss is as important as learning to value each day.

I can’t wash that hurt out of my heart.

I don’t really want to. It helps me recognize what really matters.

 

The Verse Is Done But The Song’s Just Begun

 

I thought she’d live for weeks more. She’d rallied in the end, unexpectedly, but so like Mom.

Adelaide B. Golden passed from this life into the presence of the Lord on Tuesday afternoon, February 6.

Those who knew her called her Skip.

My twin sister had been there earlier in the day. Mom didn’t look as well as she’d looked just days before. Her frailty in the end was nothing like I remember of Mom. As I’ve talked to my sisters and brother, that’s one of the things we’ll remember about Mom–she never quit. Her methods weren’t always gracious, but she did what she felt she had to, with energy and passion.

Mom’s passing has been a process that’s given me time to consider what life will be with her no longer here to talk to or visit. Her life has put fingerprints all over mine, from the way I deal with people now as an adult to what I value in others. She’s impacted me with the things she’s done and not done, with how she expected life to look.

Mostly I’m remembering how well she loved my Dad.

Sixteen years ago on February 12, he went home to be with Jesus. He’d had a series of strokes that had diminished the man that he was for several years. He couldn’t speak in the end, but every time he’d look at Mom, his face would light up. His eyes grew bright.

Some of my fondest memories are of the two of them dancing. In each other’s arms, they became a single entity, gliding and grinning, moving with the music. They were magic–before “Dancing With The Stars” was even a glimmer in the eyes of producers.

Mom was a woman before her time. Her strength came from not wanting to be limited to the ’50’s picture of housewives and mothers. She was no domestic goddess, but she ran a tight ship and expected us to do our chores without complaint. She set the bar high as far as achievement. Without words spoken, we knew we were expected to give our best, no matter what it was we were involved with. She could be a tough task master.

Mom never settled for mediocre.

Mom went back to work when we were in high school, selling everything from fabric to luggage for an outfit called Marshall Field and Company out of Chicago. She was ridiculously good at it. Dad regretted never getting her into real estate. With a grin, he’d say, “She’d have made a killing.”

When Dad died, she lost a little of her sparkle. The last week of her life she’d carry on conversations with him–she saw him standing at the end of her bed. What Janet, my little sister, had done earlier in the week, Gayle did with her last moments with Mom.

She gave her permission to leave.

Hours later, Jesus took her home.

I have complete confidence in that.

I’ve cried and laughed over memories of Mom. I’m still in shock but grateful Mom and I ended well.

I’ve got a picture in my mind of her dancing with Dad.

And Jesus is there, clapping in time to the music.

 

 

 

Tension And Conflict Are Real Doogie Downers

The halftime show at Super Bowl LII

I was supposed to be in Chicago.

Mom was going downhill quickly. We’d been told she could pass any day. I thought I’d be proactive and go to help my two sisters with end-of-life preparations. The two of them have carried the burden of Mom’s care for the past several years.

Then I get a call from my sister. Seeing her number had my mind going to an inevitable end.

Mom was improving. 

Though she’d not taken in anything for at least eight days, the nurses had gotten her to eat again, and she was more relaxed than she’d been. I was encouraged to wait to come up.

So I went with John to the Super Bowl.

We’d been invited as guests months ago. Arrangements had already been made. My heart was in Chicago. The game didn’t mean much to me. I felt conflicted about going. Guilty for having fun. Fearful I wasn’t being a good daughter, that I wasn’t doing enough. I was becoming a Debbie Downer.

I wasn’t in a party mood. And there’s no bigger party than the Super Bowl.

Getting the chance to go became an unexpected blessing.

Our organization puts on a sanctioned breakfast at the Super Bowl where the Athletes In Action Bart Starr Award  was presented. Voted on by peers, it’s given to the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership on the field and off.

Benjamin Watson of the Baltimore Ravens won the award. An articulate man who has made a lifestyle out of helping others whose hope and potential have been minimized, he uses his platform as an NFL player to meet needs of many who have no hope.

He didn’t hesitate to share that it was his relationship with Jesus Christ that has motivated him to care for others, no matter what the cost. He wants to leave a legacy of hope and possibility for those whose lives he’s touched.

He reminded the audience that we can choose the attitude of our lives. Maybe not the trajectory, but how we live in the moment. How we can use what we’ve been given with grace and gratitude.

I’d been forgettimg to be grateful.

The Super Bowl was a victory for the underdog. When the Philadelphia Eagles won, commentators said the camaraderie and discipline of the players, the community they had developed, were decisions made by those involved that pushed them to a victory over the Patriots.

Choices are made by the substance of our character. Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and Coach Doug Pederson and their faith in Jesus brought this group of men together as a unit who overcame odds. They developed closeness, trust and dealing with conflict and tension well. A legacy they can build on.

I can’t ride on anyone’s coattails or blame anyone for my choices. I need to own what I choose to do. The good and the bad.

Life will always be filled with good and bad. Hard choices and no brainers. I choose how I’ll deal with them. Jesus gives me a clarity to choose well.

That’s the best win for this underdog.