"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

The Shes In Me

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Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home.  Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water?  Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party?  What about identity theft scams?  Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products?  I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.

I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all.  But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom.  Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life.  By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life.  The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.

I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill.  There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps.  (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.)  If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others.  I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway.  Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”.  But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me.  Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.

Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too.  When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget.  I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush.  And I had the cavities to show it, too.  I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush.  She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her.   I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.

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Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways.  People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it.  Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others.  Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.

Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too.  Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them.   As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching.  Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.

When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”.  In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer.  I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way.  The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation.  I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.

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I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today.  To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else.  And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well.  Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.

It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life.  She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon.  I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has.  Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out.  But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…

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Tweaked Traditions

 

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A meal out with my grandparents.  We were at Howard Johnson’s or Sambo’s (I think Howard Johnson’s bought out the Sambo’s chain at some point, but the decor was the same for a while).  We used to go to those two places a lot.  When you would clean your plate,  you would reveal a little picture on the plate, because at that time I needed that kind of incentive to eat everything.  

My family has had certain routines and traditions that go as far back as I can remember, many that began well before I was born and continued long after I became an adult out on my own.  One was my mom getting her hair done every Saturday at the hairdresser (washed, put in rollers and heatset under the dryer for 45 minutes), followed by lunch out with my dad.  As a kid, I was surprised when I learned that other moms actually only went to the salon to get a haircut once in a while and did their own hair every day.  I’d seen my grandma get her hair done this way (pinning it up with little clips and tissues and not sleeping with a pillow during the week to keep it nice) and so I assumed that’s how grown-up ladies managed their hair.  I was greatly relieved to find out as I grew older that the practice was a little old-fashioned and unusual, and I didn’t have to keep up that tradition.  I don’t think I could sit still 45 minutes under a dryer every week, and I know I couldn’t give up my pillow so my hair would look pretty.

Still, there have been other little routines that I grew up with that I cherish, and as an adult, even miss from when I was a kid. Sunday morning was spent going to church, a practice normally preceded by my brother and I trying to find ways to dawdle long enough to be too late for service so we could get out of going.  But after church, well, that was another story.  The reward for going to church was getting to go out to lunch, which was certainly a treat.  We were allowed to drink soda and could order what we wanted to eat, as long as it wasn’t too expensive.

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Often, my grandparents would go out to lunch with us.  I can tell this is a post-church picture, because my dad is wearing a suit…a leisure suit, but a suit nonetheless.  Gotta love those.

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As I became an adult with my own family, we continued this habit of lunch out after church, oftentimes eating with Dad and Mom.  It was a time to connect with them, catch up on what was going on with everyone, and just be a family.  As it always does, over time this became less and less frequent as life got busier with kids’ activities and commitments.  After we started attending a different church, and my aging parents didn’t get out to church as often, those Sunday afternoons with my parents became a thing of the past.

It was such a gradual thing I think I hardly noticed until I realized the little family tradition had ended.  That season of life, for all of us, and a humble routine that I took for granted, had come to a close.

A few days before Halloween last year, my mom suffered another round of strokes that left her very weak and unable to swallow.  She stayed in the hospital until the beginning of December, when they discharged her into a skilled nursing center.  I felt very comfortable with the place we picked for Mom, as my daughter, Erin, and I have volunteered for the last few years helping with our church’s service held there once a month.  It was always clean, the staff friendly and caring towards the residents, and not too far from our house.  But, still, it was placing her in the care of strangers, away from the familiarity of home, family and her beloved dog.

The first few weeks at the nursing home were a new experience for all of us, having never navigated that particular system before.  Admitted under her health insurance plan, she was given daily physical and speech therapy (that worked on her swallowing ability) for about three weeks.  Unfortunately, the health insurance company decided that there was unlikely to be any more progress to be had, and said she was ready to go home, even though her sole nutrition was through a feeding tube, she was unable to dress herself, walk or get out of bed unassisted (thus, use the restroom by herself without major help).  My father’s health is less than ideal—he has mobility issues and cannot get around by himself, either, so sending her home was not an option for us.  We made the decision to keep her there at the home, as a resident versus in a rehabilitation setting.  Anyone who has ever had a loved one in a nursing home understands the range of emotions it brings to the family, as well as the patient.  No matter how much I realized that the level of care needed for Mom was beyond my family’s and my abilities, it felt like we had given up on her.

As she continued to improve slowly, and was able to sit up for longer periods of time, we started bringing her down to the church service held in the main dining room on Sunday mornings.  The first time we took her was the morning of Christmas Eve.  Snow was falling like a scene straight from a movie, and as I listened to the message and watched the snowflakes fall gracefully through the large front windows of the facility, I took in the sight of all the residents in their wheelchairs.  Some were listening intently, others sleeping; my mom was sitting with my husband, Darrell, hunched over a songbook. I quietly sucked in my breath, and realized it was the first time that holiday season that it actually felt like Christmas.  It wasn’t the Christmases of my childhood, and my dad wasn’t there with us, but it felt like it would all be okay.  I felt peace.

Since then, we’ve started to take her to the service every Sunday that we can.  When I visit her during the week, she continues to tell me how much she got out of the service from the previous Sunday.  She’s been getting to know the people that help with the service, as well as the other residents.  She’s known around the facility as the Dog Lady.  I bought her a stuffed dog that looks like her dog at home, and even though she knows it’s not real, it keeps her company.  She says it makes her think of me, and she brings it with her wherever she goes.  During the week, several visitors bring their dogs with them, and they all know to take their canines to go visit Mom.  She will shower them with all the love and praises a little doggy could hope for.

More recently, my dad has been joining us on Sunday mornings.  He loves that we sing the old hymns he enjoys so much and he gets to take communion.  Dad and Mom hold hands during church, and share the songbook together.  There are times I see the two of them like that and my eyes fill with tears I can’t hide.  It is so precious to see a love that has endured.  I will put my arm around my mom and squeeze her thin, bony shoulder during the verses in the songs where I know where she gets emotional.  In that moment, we are a family.

Mom has been slowly weaned from the feeding tube, and we now have lunch in the dining room of the nursing home after church.  Darrell makes a point of going out to get us something from a local restaurant that we will all enjoy and brings it back for us to share a meal together.  Last week we had a video call with our son, Tyler, who is away at college, so he can say hello to his Grandpa and Grandma.  We laugh and catch up on all the things going on and just enjoy being together.

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After the church service before lunch.  Interesting to see we’re back to brightly-colored chairs and carpet.  All things old really are new again, I guess.

I wish I could tell you that we turned a corner and since we re-vitalized this family tradition all is happy and well, but of course, that isn’t true.  The reality of navigating the health issues of the elderly has many twists and concerns, and there are still good days and bad days.  These Sunday mornings often serve as a reminder of where all of us are in this journey of life.  Yet, somehow this comforting routine of church and lunch connects us in a way that no other gathering of our family does.  The familiarity of this simple custom, even under different circumstances with limitations, brings us immeasurable joy.

Some traditions go by the way of hair rollers and overly-long hair-drying sessions.  That’s not such a bad thing!  And sometimes a tradition just needs a tweak to make an old thing new all over again.  A family tradition that focuses on the family part, not all the details of the where and when, or practiced merely for the sake of tradition, is the one that will be remembered, cherished, and celebrated.  Even in the most unexpected places.

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The meals are simple, the ambiance is a little different, but the company can’t be beat.

In the Belly of the Whale (or Big Fish-depending on how literal you are)

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When 2016 was just around the corner, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. Not resolutions really, more like goals.  Like every year in recent years, I wanted to bring in more organization to our home and purge clutter, be healthier and train for another half marathon.  Oh yeah, and get a solid direction for this little blog.

Over a quarter of the way through the year, I’ve been organizing my office, training for the GO! Half Marathon, which I ran this past Sunday with my daughter, Erin, and trying to make healthier choices for meals (well, sorta).  What I’ve been avoiding like the plague is the direction of my blog.  You may have noticed this little hiatus as I noodled for a bit what it was I was going for in my posts.

Who was I writing for? How much family/personal info is too much? How often should I post? What’s my goal in this? Do I really have the talent/energy to actually work on it?

If you’ve ever blogged, I’m sure you can relate.  When I’ve read articles and books on blogging (probably my first mistake), generally they are geared towards people who want to earn money from a blog or have some area of expertise they’d like to share. Not really my audience.

I started looking at what type of person would be interested in my blog—this goofy, Midwest Mom’s take on people and events in my life—and got stuck.  And then self-doubt crept in.  As the weeks passed and I did nothing with the blog, I told myself I was only trying to gain perspective on where to go next, and these things take time. I continued reading other blogs that I feel are similar to mine and tried to define what it was about those posts that I enjoyed so much.  Like a flowery romance novel with unrequited longing that I devour, it’s the relatable -people thing that pulls me in.  I love reading other people’s life experiences and thinking, “Hey, that’s me!” Or “That was a brave thought to put out there.” Funny, because if you read about why I started my blog it’s one of my main points.

Still, I felt I needed to be more purposeful about what I was blogging about.  I posted nothing—I wrote them, but I never put them, or myself, out there.  I trashed them and I couldn’t finish them.  The Lighthearted Dragonfly seemed like a pointless, silly endeavor.

Shelving something that was at one time something that brought me tremendous joy and fueling of hope wasn’t easy.  I prayed about it, asked God what it was He wanted me to do. It went a little like this:

“Inspire others,” He whispered.  “In doing so, even if you don’t mention my name directly, you will glorify me.”

“I’m not good at that,” I told Him.  “People will think I’m pious and stereotype me as a squeaky clean Christian.”

At this point I picture God just shaking his head.  “So what?”

“Well, I won’t get followers and I won’t get to write posts about hilarious and dirty misunderstood lyrics.”  (I think God would roll his eyes here, because He knows how I much I love to laugh over mistaken lyrics.)

“Uh huh.”  I thought about it some more and why it would never work.  I hid away from the computer, and writing in general.  I applied for full time positions where I work part time now and didn’t get any offers.  I busied myself with marathon binging on “Criminal Minds” and ghost/paranormal shows.  I played lots of games on my phone during the time I used to work on the blog.  The couch became my ship sailing away from the very thing I felt I was led to do.

And despite the fact I thought I was getting away without doing the blog or any writing, I got a touch depressed.  It wasn’t a real fish belly I was in, but it was similar.  It was a prison of unproductive, wasted time, feeling purposeless and just standing by waiting for life to roll on by.  When someone would ask me about my blog, or writing in general, I felt embarrassed for having failed at it.  I would see pictures of dragonflies in odd places.  And this verse came up in my life, all over the place, again and again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I started thinking about Jonah (ironically, that story came up a few times, too.)  In no uncertain terms God had told him exactly what He wanted him to do.  If you remember the story, Jonah didn’t really feel up to the task, and tried to get away on a boat to hide from God.  It took ending up in the belly of a whale to get him to wake up and follow directions.  Was that what I was doing? Running from God’s plan for me?  I didn’t want to end up that way!

I started writing posts, again only half finishing them and never posting them, but with the idea that I needed to do this.  I’m not saying I’m in the same league as Jonah by any stretch, but in the smaller manuscript, God’s Plan for Amy—you may have heard of it—I think there may be a chapter about a little dragonfly blog.

So I’m getting off the couch and back up on that horse (yes, I really do like clichés in my imagery!)  I won’t pretend to know the big picture, but I hope that you will follow me and check out the blog now and then.  If you were a follower before, thank you for your patience; I’m still here!

I couldn’t end this post without giving a shout out to some of my fellow bloggers that have inspired me to do this thing again.   Almost all of them I’ve never met, I’ve just read their blogs and enjoy what they have to say.  A big thank you to them for showing me that writing about things you love—from life from the perspective of a young person finding her way, wonderful stories of families and genealogy, to the single dad going to seminary after serving as a Captain in the Air Force sharing his opinions and struggles.  Each one of them have made me want to continue doing something that can, at times, seem like a fruitless pursuit.  Please keep on writing!

Bloomin’ Flower           Moore Genealogy

The Baby Perks               Tali Norfalli

Captain’s Log               Rookie Notes

StoryShucker

(You may need to hold the CTRL key to get the links to open!)

Happy Veteran’s Day

 

I started to write a post for Veteran’s Day, but in truth, the world would not have been blessed by any additional sentimental mushy stuff from me. No, sometimes the best things to say are the simplest:

 Thank you to all who have served. You are a blessing to me (and all Americans).

 

Enjoy a day in your honor!

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