Friday, May 21, 2010

Hey Uncle Jim, Save a Place For Me

A couple of hours after posting that last post, my mom called and told me Uncle Jim had passed away that night.

He had a very pleasant last day and was able to say goodbye to almost all his family on the phone or in person. He died surrounded by family. That evening, my cousin posted the following on his CaringBridge journal:

Our Papaw has left this world for a better place. He died surrounded by his family and friends. We thank you for your love and support of our Dad/Papaw. We know that he is going to walk the streets of gold and hang out with Mindy and Jesus. (Mindy was his special dog that loved him as much as we did. ) Thank you Jesus for letting us have such a great Papaw. We love you! [signed the family] CANCER SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am encouraged today hearing the plans of all the extended family to get there to love on each other. I think Jim will be happy we will all finally be in one spot together. It's been a long time coming.

All the emails, Facebook posts, texts and phone calls have been so wonderful. My family is very lucky to be covered in so much prayer and love from strangers all over the world.

Easter 2010: My Uncle Jim & Aunt Lucy (center) surrounded by their 4 kids and their families:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy. I kind of get that statement right now. I've known how to correctly use it and in the right context. But I feel it. My heart feels soggy and heavy and rather listless.

Our extended family is - I guess - on vigil now. One of the favorite uncles suffered a life threatening intestinal blockage recently. It was touch and go but he's a tough nut and he fought his way through it. Once past the crisis, I'm sure I wasn't the only one that thought, "He's a tough one - of course he came through it!" Even a few days later when the diagnosis of cancer came, I'm pretty sure most of us thought, ok, he will have a rough battle but he'll come through. Even as the battle became a worse struggle, many of us just knew he'd persevere.

We are all preparing for the most likely outcome. None of us are ruling out a last minute miracle from God. Although, I will confess that I am having trouble praying in faith for that miracle. My fearless confident type of prayer starts to wane as reality takes us closer to what I don't want. I'm human. So sue me.

I have fitful sleep. I wake often and all I can do is pray when I do. It feels so...not enough-ish. I often start wondering how my aunt and cousins are all handling this. It's one of those many times in life I want to DO something. Something tangible, physical, real - to help. I know prayer is much more powerful that we know. But being a physical being, I want to move my limbs and affect some kind of relief for my hurting loved ones. Gah.

So there's that.

On a more peripheral front, Andrew, a pastor from my former Boston church, died early this morning. He was young, with a strong young wife and two beautiful little children. He and his wife are both pastors at my former church. His wife was the kind of children's ministry leader that knew the names of every mom that dropped her kids off. And this was a big church. I was always astounded when Val would greet me by name after I had only been going there for a few months.

I kept in the loop through two church friends, L & J, who were close friends with them but lived down here. Again, because of his youth and his faith, I just KNEW the cancer wouldn't take him. But the reports grew more and more discouraging. And the inevitable news came today as I worked.

Again, all I can do is pray for his family and loved ones.

Lastly, I called a long-time Boston friend of mine to sing a wacky happy birthday to her. Fortunately, she picked up and I didn't have to be a total spaz into her voice mail. We had a long wonderful talk. During our talk, she told me she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer two weeks ago. She's a nurse, so I take heart when she said, "If you're gonna get cancer, this is the kind you want to get." Duly noted. If they ask me, I will request thyroid cancer. She is young. That counts in her favor. She had just put a bid on a house the day before her diagnosis came in. When she tearfully asked her doctor what she should do about the house bid, he said, "Buy your house!"

I don't pretend to know why God allows good people to die and bad people to prosper. I fight off the stupid thoughts like, did I just not have enough FAITH when I prayed??? As if I have anything to do with God working his miracles. At the ripe old age of 44 and a half, I can finally say I have read the WHOLE bible. And since it's fresh in my mind, there is a part of me that has a bigger picture. I get that we cannot see God's plan. We can't see his all-encompassing view. These long waits on Earth to join our loved ones that have already passed are blips in his timing. I also know that not every illness is a judgment. Death is not to be feared. But the human me that IS trapped in a physical body, that DOES have to live in time, that misses people - that me has trouble with these events.

But I won't stop praying. And it doesn't derail my faith. I don't doubt God. As I told him the other night, I just wish he'd let me in on it. He will. Someday he'll tell us all how it was and we'll all be like, "OOOOOOOoooooh. So THAT'S how it was!!!"

One thing that really made me smile today was this thought: Today? Andrew got to meet Jesus face to face. Face to FACE, man. Now THAT is something to celebrate.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Mothers' Day is Comin'

Have you ever looked up how many times orphans and widows are mentioned in the bible? There are easily 25 references of the two together. We are told to care for them. Protect them from people who would take advantage. God makes promises to both, together and separately. The measure of someone following God is often taken by whether they are caring for orphans and widows.

I think in today's world, this would translate to making sure we are caring for and protecting those that can't do it for themselves.

So in the context of Mothers' Day, I've been thinking of all the single moms out there. You want to do something truly meaningful on Mothers' Day? Find a single mom and do something for her. Take the judgment out of the whole equation. Or is that only my issue? Don't worry about how she became single. Just look at where she is and what she needs NOW. That's always how God deals with us, right?

Find a mom:
  • Find a widow. At a funeral in 2001, a widow touched my arm and told me, "Make sure you stay in touch with [the new widow]. The widow is always forgotten." It's a sad truth as often wives have made their community through their husband's work or life. And I know I've been guilty of not contacting someone after a spouse's death as I was uncomfortable with knowing how long to give them to be alone, etc. Even if you feel weird because you haven't called in a while, reach out now. Just do it. Make the connection.
  • Find a divorcee. This is true for every kind of single mom. But since my divorce, I don't have that guy to spoil me on Mothers' Day. I don't have anyone to send me flowers, take me to dinner, dote on me, make me feel special. My kids do cute things - helped by my mom. But every woman wants to feel valued. Since my divorce, Mothers' Day, my birthday, and all holidays are a bit . . . lacking. I'm ok with it. But I tell you, special efforts are especially appreciated.
  • Find someone who is temporarily alone. Especially those moms who have husbands deployed elsewhere. Or if her husband travels all the time. I tell you, when you are doing it all by yourself but you know you have a partner elsewhere, that is an emotional rough spot. There are so many things pulling at you - worry, resentment, guilt. My friends in this boat have it rougher than someone who's been doing the single mom thing for a full 3 years. You know what I mean?
  • Find someone who is being pulled away from their home. Do you know a mom who is deployed elsewhere? Send her an email offering to do something nice for her family on Mothers' Day. Work with her family to send her something. Offer your computer so she can do a video chat with her family. Do you know a mom who is nursing an ailing family member? Now THERE is someone that is overwhelmed. Try juggling a family and hospital time (or home care, possibly).
  • Find a new mom. Many new moms have their act together. I wasn't one of them. Back in 2000, after Pokemon Boy's birth, a basket of muffins that I would have rolled my eyes at a year earlier became our breakfast for a week. Someone dropping off Chinese takeout one night lifted our spirits. She dropped it off and left. No pressure for us to entertain.
Here are some thoughts:

Give the mom a certificate good for an evening or afternoon out. You'll watch her kids on a Saturday afternoon or a weeknight. She can sit at home and watch a movie. She can go out with friends. She can just have alone time. I have to tell you, when my mom does this for me, that is often when I run those errands that I know would drive my kids nutty. Without kids, I can get about 8 errands run where they'd only tolerate two.

Invite the mom and her family over for dinner with your family. It's often so hard for a single mom to find social time and also quality family time. Single working moms have so little time. Any "down" time gets filled with chores and errands. Family time is often that little time in the car while running errands. If you invite the whole family over, you're giving her a break on dinner prep, social adult time and possibly social time with and for her kids, too. Lots of birds with one stone, you know?

Are you handy, crafty, cleany, cooky? Offer help with something she might not be able to handle alone. Ever tried to purge the garage with little kids wanting your time? That spring cleaning doesn't usually happen for single moms with little ones. Maybe I'm alone in this but I find it easier to clean someone else's house than my own. Helping someone get out from underneath that overwhelming task of [fill in task here] might be just what she needs.

When our music director was recovering from brain surgery a few years back, his wife and mother of two wee ones was constantly by his side. So a bunch of us women at church rotated to go over and clean her house. I tell you, it was a really cool way to help. It is one of the ministries I've done that has stuck in my head - more than quite a few others that I've been involved with.

Offer to watch the kids so she can go get a hair cut. Do you know I went more than a year without a hair cut because I just couldn't find the time without kids? And I have help from family and friends. But when you constantly ask the same person to watch your kids, you feel guilty doing it too often. Getting an offer like this would be awesome. Of if you're really set up in life, offer to watch her kids and give her a certificate to a spa that will do her hair and some other spa offering she might like!

Are you a married couple? Ask your hubby to watch the kids while you take the mom out for a girl's night. Sometimes, my neighbor's hubby watches the kids while she and I sit around talking, having a glass of wine. We don't even go anywhere.

While I obviously have a heart for the single mom, ideas like this are great for any mom. Many of my married friends are just as harried as I am. It can be hard to work out breaks for both parents when they're both feeling totally overwhelmed. Juggling your marriage, your job and your kids is a LOT. I tell you, I only have to juggle my job and kids. I am not tied up tip toe-ing around anyone else's issues.

Time is the most precious gift we can give someone. It's the gift more churches wish their members would donate. They crave it more than cash tithes. How many times do we as individuals utter the words, "There's not enough HOURS in the day!"? I'm constantly saying how I wish I could clone myself. Offering your time is way more special than a gift certificate.

Most moms I know would give their eye teeth for some extra hours in the week or some alone time. Not that we don't love our kids. But having alone time is something I never really appreciated until I had kids. Just a few hours in a chunk where you can do whatever you want. Go to a movie. Go clothes shopping where I can actually TRY THINGS ON. Just walk through Target without someone going, "Can we GO yet?!" Drive around. Sit in the back yard reading in the sun.

And I can basically repost this for Fathers' Day next month. I could write a whole blog on how single dads are in an even rougher boat than single moms. In SOME ways. Don't throw anything at me yet. Being thrown into single parenthood usually happens along with some devastating life bomb. Being thrown there without that natural nurturing mother gene is even harder. Just sayin'.

So this Mothers' Day, if you're in a good spot in life where you can give to someone, give some time to an overwhelmed mom. Figure out what she could really use, ASK her what she could really use. Or offer something you know she'd never ask for herself.