Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Losing someone piece by piece

I'm losing my dad. The timing is unclear, but the end is not. I'm losing him. First he lost his all-knowing status, when I was a kid and saw him trust this short, old, cigar-smoking guy who called himself "Little Irish". I could tell the guy was a weasel the moment I saw him, and assumed Dad would send him away, but he didn't. It puzzled me that he couldn't read the guy right off. I was 12.

But that was a loss of an ideal, opening the way to begin seeing Dad as an individual--a person, not just my dad.

Several years ago I lost even more, as he went virtually overnight from a strong, active guy climbing mountains with 100 pounds on his back, hauling rock, building fences, skiing in the Alps, to a guy who couldn't climb to the top of his own backyard without stopping, as sarcoidosis grabbed him. Then he lost his sight at intermittent and inconvenient times. Flying back from the Alps he suddenly went blind in O'Hare International Airport while needing to get from one terminal/concourse to the other.

While he has regained his vision, his strength, his breathing, his vitality has never returned. I lost the strong guy who could move mountains (or at least cross them). I lost the hero.
Since then, we've lost him a little bit here, a little bit there, as each health complication says that time is marching on toward a place I do not want to go--a world without Dad.

He has fought diabetes for 48 years, and sarcoidosis for probably the last 10 years, and he is losing the fight. The body seems to have lost the ability to assist him in the fight. Blood sugar drops rapidly and so low that he can be near death with no warning. Hypoglycemic episodes seem to have done some brain damage, and now he is confused by things he would never have been confused by before. So I have lost the abiity to count on his sharp mind.

He has developed congestive heart failure, swelling around his heart making it more difficult to manage each day. He is in pain and discomfort most of the time. I don't want to lose him, but I don't want to keep him, either.

So what do I pray for? I find myself praying for his end to come swiftly, and then immediately take it back, as if my prayers would cause God to take him before his time. I am horrified at the thought that I could want him gone, when that is not at all what I want. I want him not to suffer. I want to know the outcome. I want to know things I cannot know, to prepare for things I cannot prepare for. It's as if I want to hurry along the process, to get it over with and somehow to skip the process of loss.

What I cannot bear, but have no choice but to, is the dragging out of grief. I have always loved the anticipation more than the event, never wanting to know the surprise ahead of time. I was never the kid who sneaked a peek at Christmas or birthday presents. I never wanted to spoil the surprise. But now, the anticipation is awful. Horrid. I want to rip off the bandaid all at once, yet I don't want to do this at all.

Is there a numbing agent that will permit me to continue and never feel this? Ah, but that would take away all the other things. No joy in the bird song in the morning. No peaceful wonder at the daily changing face of Pikes Peak. No curiosity. No happiness. No pleasure. Would I trade all the good things to avoid the bad? No.

I want to keep my father, but at what cost? He would bear all the cost.

I'm so glad that I can't determine the times. What a horror that would be.

Lessons From The Mall

Friday, March 31, 2006
My brother just said something to me today about how when we become Christians it doesn't mean that we instantly lose the problems we had. For instance, a person with a seratonin deficiency causing depression, is not suddenly going to have sufficient seratonin to keep the emotions in check. A person who was deeply wounded as a child will not forget those wounds.
We are still the people that we were, just forgiven, renewed, given strength and hope. Those are great things, but there is a part of me that longs to be other than I am.

A recent article about a local realtor who was top in the field used these words to describe her: "She worked 100 hours a week for 38 years." I instantly felt like a slug. Due to some physical limitations and due to my own personality--my own personal speed, if you will--I will never do 100 hours a week. It will not happen. But even though I wish I had that kind of stamina and drive, it is not me. I can't imagine raising my kids and working 100 hours a week.

I'm glad there are people out there like that. They get a lot accomplished and they win a lot of awards. I wonder, though, if they have time to listen to a friend who is going through a hard time as she vents. I wonder if they have time to serve at their church. I wonder if they take a moment to listen to the bird song in the morning, or to watch an ant struggle to carry a load across a sidewalk. Do they sit and listen to a concerto? Are they at their kids band concerts, science fairs, whatever? Can they take an afternoon to run a forgotten pair of boots to their son attending college 1 1/2 hours away?

I wonder. And as I wonder, I remember that I was created uniquely. I was formed with the ability to rest, to spend time with people, to take pleasure and joy in the simplest things. I am able to take great pleasure watching people. I will rearrange my afternoon to run to help my sister or my nephew if I can. I like to have time to think, to dream, to plan, to read, to write, to sing, to be.

I love what I do, and I truly believe that I can be a great success at it being who I am. But my definition of success is not being one of the top 100 agents in the country. My definition of success is helping a family get into their dream home and smoothing the way for them. It is helping a new investor find their first property and helping them on their way to financial freedom. It is helping a seller to sell the house that is a noose around their necks financially speaking. It is doing things with excellence and knowledge and attention to detail. It is helping people reach their goals.

There is a lesson in nature that applies here. I often work a shift at one of the mall marketing centers here Colorado Springs. We have three mall centers. One of them is right outside a pet store with windows full of puppies. I've never seen a puppy I didn't like. They are white, black, brown, tan, spotted, silky-haired, curly-haired, long-haired, short-haired, lively, quiet, small breeds, large breeds, yappy, energetic, calm, playful and shy. I love all of them. We don't expect dogs to all be alike, nor do we expect a giraffe to have the characteristics of a cheetah. The differences don't make them bad--they just make it all the more interesting and fun.

We're like that. We're tall, short, fat, skinny, long-haired, short-haired, curly-haired, straight-haired, energetic, calm, funny, serious, etc., etc. There are as many descriptions as there are people. It is what we DO that should define us. Are we kind? Thoughtful? Good? Noble? Courageous? Self-Sacrificing? Honest? Trustworthy? Those are the qualities to which we should aspire. As I used to tell my kids, I'd sooner you were kind than smart, because kind is a choice and smart is a gift which you've done nothing to deserve.

New Year's Musings - Jan 1, 2006

The clock has ticked a new year into place, and as is so often the case, this is a time in which I evaluate myself and my life.

The past year has been an eventful one. We opened Integrity Fire Protection Systems and Steve has done a remarkable job with the company. I was happy to quit my job at the end of July to come and help him in the business. This meant that Steve could go from working 18 hours a day to 12 or 13.

This year saw Alex graduate high school and head off to college, Kristen move to Phoenix and Craig deployed to Iraq. So Steve and I have had to get used to an empty nest.

This year also saw me start leading a ladies Bible study at church, go to the leadership conference and retreat, attend the women's retreat as part of the "Chick Band" and act as part of the worship team on occasion. In my spare time I volunteered as an EICS evaluator for the Better Business Bureau. The time commitment was extensive, so I will need to decide if it is something I want to put a lot of time in this coming year. I'm inclined to say no.

I continued to meet weekly with my dear friend Judy Luff for a study and just to learn from her. She has been so wonderful to me. I'm really grateful to have been able to do this.

It has been an good year, but stressful. Through it all, the Lord has been faithful, always providing for our needs, and sometimes our wants as well.

I am really blessed to have three great kids. I'm so proud of them. My main desire for their future is that they grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That they would know him and make Him first in their lives is my heart's desire and my prayer.

My goals for the future include joining a fitness club with my friend Paula, so that I can get in the excersize recommended by my doctor, that I would be more disciplined about bed time, so that I can get up early enough to accomplish things during the day. Another goal is to study the Word more and more, to know the heart of my Heavenly Father and to know how to live. I want to grow more in listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to say "yes" right away even when he asks me to do something the sounds foolish. I want to be his hands, his feet and his voice. I long to be a better person the older I get--more like Christ with each passing day and less like me!

I am really excited about the opportunity this coming year to work with my friend Kelly in Real Estate. I am signing on with McGinnis GMAC Real Estate and am eager to get to work, helping people find or sell not just a house, but a home. This will take a lot of time, as I still need to help Steve run the business. I am really happy to be working from home, but Real Estate will allow me to get out among people more, something I need to do if I'm not going to become really strange. I have been wanting to do real estate for years, and now it seems like the timing is right. Pray that I will do well and be disciplined about this, as we will be working as a team, and I truly want the best for Kelly (and for me).

Once again, I find myself with a winter voice problem, though I have just about concluded that the cause is different this year. A recent course of antibiotics did a number on my stomache, and I believe that the acid backup has done some damage to my vocal chords. Whether this can be reversed, I don't know. I plan to see my doctor during January for a licensed medical opinion. I would be so sad if I couldn't sing anymore. I don't know what I would do!

I am excited about all the friends and family I have been able to see this year, either by travelling to them or being blessed by them coming through Colorado Springs. We were able to see our friends the Sipes three times this year. (Steve was only able to come twice.) I was thrilled to see my friend Sarah, my friend Jana, my parents and my Aunt Barb and Uncle Rich, along with my cousins, their spouses and all their kids. I missed seeing William though. Bummer. Uncle Andy and Aunt Jeanette dropped by with one of their grandsons while we were visiting Barb and Rich. It was great to see them.

This coming year we plan to go to my brother's for a Carlson family reunion. I hope everyone can come. It has been a very long time since our clan was together.

I am hoping to travel abroad somewhere for our twenty-fifth anniversary this year. I forget, isn't 25th a stamp in your passport? ;-) I would love to go back to Italy, but we have always wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand too. Ah well, I would be thrilled to go just about anywhere.

You are welcome to come for a visit anytime. If you're in town give me about 10 minutes to shove any mess in the nearest closet and drop on by! I'm always happy to see people, and will be glad to put on the tea kettle or coffee pot. We may even get the flooring in the living room this year! Drop on by and see the latest paint colors, browse through my library, collect some dog hair on your pants and have a visit. I'm looking forward to it!

Blessings to you throughout 2006!

Friendship With God

Just a quick note. I am not always able to keep up with my friends and relatives as much as I would like. But I do want to tell you all that God is good. A relatively new friend, in what I thought was blossoming into a very precious friendship recently called me with the following words: Don't call me. Don't stop in. You're not the kind of person I want as a friend. Dial tone.

I think she could have done less damage with a club to my gut. Every neurotic thought I had ever had about not being good enough seemed to be echoed in her words. You aren't good enough for me.But as I thought about it and went to the Lord with my agony, he reminded me that he too hears that all the time. He hears it from the lost, and he even hears it from those that are his at times.

Sometimes Christians will read something in the Word that they just don't like, or something goes on in their life that they don't want and refuse to see as coming from the hand of a loving God and so they throw up their hands and say "no more". Maybe it's the result of unrepentant sin that they slowly turn away and harden their hearts, but they will say the same thing. Don't talk to me. I don't want to hear it. You aren't my idea of who God should be. I don't want you for a friend.Wow.

But you know what else he brought to mind? John 15:15, where it says that Jesus says that he calls us friends. What need do I have to tear myself up because this woman thinks I am unworthy? Jesus himself has said that he wants to be my friend. Job lamented for the days when God's friendship blessed his house. (Job 29:4) He actually talked about God's intimate friendship. That is hard to misconstrue. I have a God who wants to be my friend.

As for worth. In real estate, do you know what determines worth? Only one thing. What someone is willing to pay for it. A listing price is my best guess, based on what people have paid for similar properties, for what someone will pay for a piece of real estate. There is no objective standard that predicts with certainty the value. But do you know what determines my worth? That God was willing to give up his only son. That Jesus was willing to give up his own life, and suffer greatly for me. The ultimate price shows my value before the Lord.

Should it matter that a "friend" does not find me worthy? My God finds me of great value and worthy of friendship.

Don't Give Rides To Strangers

Old booze and cigarettes were his cologne
I could smell him from twenty feet away
His voice was loud and slurred
His feet they stumbled as he came
To ask me for a ride.

His stench made it hard for me to breathe
But I heard the voice of Jesus in my head
Saying Give him a ride, him and his girl
But I said, Lord

I don't give rides to strangers
Don't you know it's not safe.
But he said it again and though I argued with him
he just repeated Give him a ride

Three times Jesus asked me before I said yes
And they climbed into the back seat of my car
When the cussing grew too much
And I asked them to stop in the
Name of the Lord he cried.

He cried.
And he leaned in the window when I stopped to let them out
And he said "pray for me"
He said "pray for me"

All I saw was a drunken foolish stranger
But Jesus saw a man he died to save
And as I drove away I had to stop and pray
And give thanks. I gave thanks.
For letting me be part of that man's life
And showing me His heart for this one
That I would dismiss so easily.

I have often wondered if I'll meet him again
Some day on the other side.
Will I find him in heaven?
Will my prayers have played a part?
Will I be blessed again just because I gave him a ride?

I think of him often, this stranger.
And I pray for him each and every time.
I ask God to draw him, to reveal his love and bless him with good and precious things.

Based on actual events.

Half a Bag of Grapefruit

The heat from the car heater was almost oppressive, but it was too cold to turn it off. The only two working controls were blazing and off, so I chose to leave it on with one window cracked about an inch. The streets were covered in snow as I drove home from the store in the dark. With sometimes as little as $40.00 a week to feed my husband, my younger brother and sister, my daughter, and me, with another child due within weeks, shopping was a real exercise in menu planning and bargain hunting.

"Bring half of that bag of grapefruit to Leslie." The voice wasn't audible, but it might as well have been. That would be nuts, Lord. Who would want grapefruit? Is that really you? I wasn't sure if I was just having a crazy idea of my own.

"Bring Leslie the grapefruit." I can just imagine the expression on her face when I drop by this late and leave her grapefruit of all things. Are you sure? I hated looking foolish, and this sure seemed like a screwy thing to do. "Bring Leslie the grapefruit." Okay, so I knew it was the Lord, but this was still a screwy thing to do.

Really, Lord? Grapefruit? But I'd had the request three times so, feeling foolish, I made a slight detour to my childbirth instructor's house. I emptied half the grapefruit into a spare grocery bag and headed for the door before I could change my mind. There was a light on inside, but no one answered my knock, so I left the grapefruit in front of the side door.

Okay Lord. If you really wanted me to do this, let her know they're there. Still, I felt like I could have imagined the whole thing and had just done something very strange. After all, I only bought the grapefruit because they were on a really good sale and because I figured I should eat them, though I didn't like them very well.

By the time I navigated the roads home I had forgotten all about them.

Tuesday night the next week, I showed up at my childbirth class. When we took a break midway through the class mingled in the kitchen for snacks. "How are things going?" I asked Leslie. Leslie was in the midst of a traumatic time with her ex-husband and the woman he had left her for.

"This week I was sitting at my desk, praying and just crying to the Lord about how awful everything is and how I wanted to give up. Jim had bailed on another visit with the girls and they were so devastated I just felt like I couldn't go on."

"As I was crying, I thought I heard a sound in the driveway, so I went to check. There, in the snow was a bag of grapefruit. I just stood there crying. No one but the Lord knows how much I love grapefruit. It was like the Lord reached down and said, 'Do you see how much I love you?'"

I felt as though all the air had been sucked from my lungs. I almost got dizzy as I realized what the Lord had done through those silly grapefruit. I had nearly not done what God had asked because it seemed so silly, and I was afraid of being embarrassed. I had argued with the Lord about what he wanted me to do, and he was trying to send a love message to Leslie and he used ME. Insignificant, poor as a church mouse me.

It's a humbling thing to realize that I heard the voice of God. It's a shame I wasn't ready to obey immediately. Why would I argue with God? And why is it that I wasn't sure it was God's voice? Maybe because I don't listen often enough. Oh Lord, let me be ready to do whatever silly-sounding thing you ask me to do, and make me ready to hear and recognize your voice. I am willing to be an instrument of your hands. Send me.

Based on actual events. Names have been changed.

Speak To Me

A friend recently suggested that I begin posting the items I usually send to my friend list by email, so I will make the attempt to pull out some of the past stuff and post it here as I have time.

Speak To Me
He spent my whole life list'ning to my voice
When have I stopped to listen to his?
In the noise of my own voice saying what I want, how I feel
His gentle words can scarcely be heard

Speak to me now, LordI'm listening
Trying to quiet my thoughts to hear yours
But Fear is saying that you want to ask me
For things I will not want to give.

You spent my whole life hearing my struggle
Did I break your heart when I said I'm afraid?
I cannot do this thing you are asking, without you,
So help me now Lord to simply give in.

Speak to me now, LordI'm listening
Quiet my heart to listen to yours
Help me to trust in your tender compassion
To give up my trash for the treasures of you

Speak to me now, LordI'm listening.

Crabapples, near death experience and blessings

Friday, March 17, 2006
It's another lovely day in Colorado. The birds have been fluttering around the crabapple tree my husband wants to cut down, but I won't let him. Soon it will be covered with sweet-smelling white flowers, followed by lovely green leaves and later by red crabapples the size of walnuts. They make the most wonderful jellies and butters.
My dad nearly died yesterday. Not for the first time diabetes took a swipe at him, but didn't take him out. One of these days it will. There. I've said it. And yet, I still steel myself against the truth of those words. I can't bear the thought, but I hate to know that he is suffering.
I have watched as he has lost so much of what he loved in life. He was the guy who backpacked over mountains with 150 pounds on his back. Most packers like to ensure that their packs are as light as possible, but my dad would carry a full axe when most would carry a hatchet, a cast iron griddle, where most carry aluminum mess kits, and real eggs when others carried powdered. We ate well in the woods.
Dad has never been content with good enough. His fences would survive any winds less than hurricane speed and even then, I'm not so sure they wouldn't be standing when nothing else would be. I once joked that he should use telephone poles for the fence posts but was threatened by the family never to mention that in his hearing. He would have done it.
He wanted the basement bathroom to be bright. When he was done painting it, I swear it was so bright it nearly glowed in the dark. The yellow was almost too bright to look at. Where he ever found that shade...
I rarely cried until I turned 40. At least not in public. I hate crying in public and I've never understood how emotional some women can be. My parents moved away several years ago. All my kids have grown and left home. My best friend moved away, and I realized that it was time to leave the church I grew up in. The convergence of these events seems to have unblocked my tear ducts. I rarely get through a church service, a sappy show, an emotional commercial, whatever without some water works. I hate it. But there you have it. The funny thing is that I'm not unhappy. Sometimes it seems that I cry for beauty, for joy, at blessings, at pleasure.
I choose not to be unhappy. I chose to be happy. I chose to take pleasure in the wonders that surround me day by day and to look at each thing in my life as a blessing.
I am blessed by the beauty in the world. I am blessed by the goodness of my friends. I am blessed that my children are becoming great people. I am blessed to have dogs who follow me everywhere. My entourage, I like to call them. I am blessed that with each thing that happens, bad or good, God reveals himself to me more and more.
I am blessed that in spite of my physical limitations, I am able to touch people, to help people, to bless people. I am blessed.
My friend Sarah ends her cards and letters and visits with the following phrase: Blessings on your head.
I say the same to you: Blessings on your head. I pray that you will have all the good and wonderful things I want for myself. I pray you will have peace with God. I pray that you will know Him. I pray that you will have health, good friends, enough money to provide for your needs, and enough blessings to make you grateful throughout the day.
I pray that you will know the hand of a loving God.
Blessings on your head.