Tuesday, May 29, 2012


When I acquired a father last Christmas, I didn't realize I would also get a step-mother.  How strange!  

My father is dying.  He was supposed to go to a bowling tournament halfway across the country this May, but now I hear he can hardly breathe and has difficulty even getting out of bed.  It's been a fast decline.  He needs a heart valve replacement, a serious surgery, and supposedly only two hospitals on the West Coast do this particular procedure that he needs.  He lives four and a half hours away from the closet one.  I can't imagine he can even make the trip.

My husband's relationship with his mother has always been volatile. She is not a kind person and yet Fred continually honors her by reaching out to her. On Tuesday last week I was thinking about this and my former decision to write my father off for his lack of response to every attempt I've made to reach him.  I asked myself if he died, would I have regrets that I never called?  No, I don't think so.  I did my part.  So why was I so troubled this day thinking about him?  I prayed about it, thought about calling, got up the courage to do it, lost the courage, and went about my day.

I was cleaning up the school room and under a pile of books I found a pink envelope with a Nevada phone number.  At some point I had looked up the number and scribbled it down.  There it was staring me in the face. Why I happened to find it now, I didn't know.  I will call, I decided.

After the girls finished school and the afternoon was quiet I called the home of my father for the first time in my life, my father lost to me for over fifty years.  His wife--my step-mother--answered on the first ring.  She is a quirky woman!  It was as if we had just talked the day before.  I said who I was and she immediately launched into a big update on my father's health.  It seemed she expected me to call and check on him.  She is quite the talker and I didn't need to worry about what I would say.  I realized why I felt the urgency to call.  She needed a listening ear.  I put aside any agenda I might have had to gain information and focused on assuring her that we cared for the two of them going through the challenge of their lives.  I just listened.  She would switch from stories of the past to her fears about their future.  The surgery is very serious and my father is in his eighties.  But he will die without it.  I did not ask to talk to my father. I enjoyed my step-mother, and in the end she said she was so glad I called.  She says she feels she knows me, which is very funny because I said absolutely nothing about myself or my family.  I just listened, and that is what she needed that day.  

*****I wrote this post up to this point last week.  Today, May 28th, I write this:  I came home on Saturday afternoon and checked my caller ID.  I had a call from Nevada.  That gave me a start, but I thought surely my step-mother would not be calling me. We had just "met"!  I could not find my pink envelope to match up the scribbled number to see if it was her.  And a generic voice answered when the number was called back.  I did not leave a message.  A little while later my son called to tell me that my step-mother was trying to reach me.  I then knew why, and my son confirmed it.  My father had died.  He died the very next day after I made my first call to him.   He died in the same hospital where I was born.

On Sunday, before I had the chance to call her, my step-mother called me again.  She said she wanted to be the first one to tell me.  She told me the details of what happened and also her anxiety of what life will hold for her now, losing her husband of 40 years.  She is not just an illusion anymore, but a real person.  And from her stories, my father became real too.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

River Walk

We were invited to walk the river trail with my son Jon and his family on a glorious spring day.  The girls and I suffer from nature deficit disorder and as I watched my granddaughter Lana running through the woods, I notice that she is quite comfortable here.  Her parents take her outdoors for hikes several times a week.  We need more of this!

The river ran fast and brown from the storm the night before.  Jon takes the kids a little too close to the water for my comfort.  And what about snakes and poison ivy? (Or maybe the bogeyman is lurking behind the trees?)  I realize I am too fearful and that is a result from not letting the kids be kids.  I didn't used to be like this.  My boys were free to roam and explore when they were little.  I hold on too tightly now.  So as we walk, I slowly relax and just enjoy the beauty of this day.  

The girls had given me a butterfly bush for Mother's Day.  As they were choosing it, Fred said they needed to get a dwarf variety so we could plant it in a flower bed.  This day of our river walk, Jon and Chrissy give me a huge butterfly bush!  I think they can grow up to ten feet high. But Fred doesn't complain and plants it right in the middle of the yard, not as part of the shrubbery framing the house, but boldly in front of it.  It is a joyous reminder of a new season and the hope of visits from butterflies and hummingbirds throughout the summer.  I see it and think of grace, love, and forgiveness.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celebrating Family

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted...a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance..."  (Ecclesiastes 3)

Mother's Day weekend was a time of laughing and dancing, a time to celebrate family.  Somehow, when I have been suffering the most grief about the past and my little boys, they shower me with grace.  Each of them, in his own unique way, has blessed me this past week.  My little girls hop into my room Sunday morning bearing gifts. The cold and rain is over, our school work almost done, and it's time to rejoice.

The weekend begins with my granddaughter Laci's 4th birthday party.  My son Nick is a great father and he planned the ultimate party for his little daughter.  She loves bunnies, so the top bunny of all hopped out of the woods--the Easter bunny!  Laci was delighted.  We laughed every time we looked at him.

It's sunny and breezy on Mother's Day, the perfect backdrop for all our plans.  Our yard surprises us with brilliant bursts of color here and there, each flower blooming at its appointed time.  My iris make me happy.  I heard they are also called flags.  What a great word.  I see them waving, heralding a new season.  The rich earth of our vegetable garden is warm and crumbly as we set out baby plants green and sturdy.  Fred takes us to Rita's for a special gift of gelatis and we burn our backsides on the sun-baked bench outside.  I cut rhubarb and rosemary for Marissa to take home and we enjoy the deck for the first time this year in the wooden Adirondack chairs my dear husband made. Damien and his wife engage us in deep conversation as the day fades into twilight.  I don't want to ever forget this weekend.  It was one of the best.  Weeping and mourning will one day come, but not now.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Burning Bush

"My harp has been out of tune, and I had no heart to write. Perhaps you are ready to infer, by my sitting down to write at last, that my harp is now well tuned, and I have something extraordinary to offer: beware of thinking so, lest you should be sadly disappointed"  (John Newton, former slave-trade ship captain who became a pastor and hymn writer)

The day-to-day stuff has been getting me down.  Liana's illness took a lot out of me, and for some reason my boys have been on my mind a lot.  They are all doing well.  But it's the past that haunts me, the complexity of relating to my adult children and how all that came before interferes.  Daughters-in-law are complicated.  I don't know how to do this.  My little girls have always been my comfort, my way to fix the wrong by trying to be a good mother to them.  I guess I thought I'd redeem myself that way.  Now they are getting older and they will soon be part of the group of "adult children.".  Will I lose them too?  I can't bear it.

We have a fiery shrub along our driveway.  It's really not pink but a blazing red right now, our burning bush.  I need a burning bush moment, when God will show up and give me some direction.  

"Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, and he led his flock to the west side of the mountain...and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, 'I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.' When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses!'  And he said, 'Here I am.'"  (Exodus 3)

Moses is minding his own business, going about his work, and the bush gets his attention.  "I will turn aside," he says.  He will stop what he's doing and go and check it out.  Then it says WHEN God saw he had turned aside to look, he spoke to him.  When do I ever turn aside to hear what God has to say?

The girls and I recently saw Amazing Grace, a movie about William Wilberforce and his battle to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.  John Newton, author of the hymn "Amazing Grace", was another interesting character in the film.  He says, "Sometimes God speaks to us through a storm (or burning bush?) and sometimes in a gentle rain...drip, drip, drip."  Maybe I've been seeking a big revelation when I should be listening for God in the ordinary day-to-day moments. (Quote is from the movie.  I don't know if Newton really said that.  But the quote in the beginning of this post is Newton's actual words.)

Newton (in the movie) also said he lived every day with 20,000 ghosts, the faces of the slaves who traveled on his ships.  He had a hard time forgiving himself, but says,"I am a great sinner; Christ is a great Savior."  I know how he feels.

My little girls gather long-stemmed buttercups from our yard and present them to me.  My son Damien calls me on Sunday just to say thank you for doing mom stuff when he was little.  I feel so unworthy of it all.  Amazing grace.

When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses hid his face.  He said he wasn't up for the task.  God responded, "But I will be with you."