Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday remix -convergence

That huge feeling of accomplishment 
a little boy gets when climbing a mountain 
while holding a plastic knife
Seems quite similar to that proud feeling
a man has when standing in his India Whites, 
a shiny gold ring on his finger
And the excitement of a tween as 
she's rockin' it in a midriff and white pants,
holding her portable camera at the petting zoo
Is quite similar to the feeling a woman gets
when speaking at a church in El Salvador, 
far away from family and friends
What a blessed wonder it is when God allows 
those people to be mother and son and 
share joy together.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Gift from a Gift - Ring Weekend

West Point is the place for Nate
Four years ago when my oldest OS decided on attending the United States Military Academy, I distinctly remember giving him a motherly nudge in the ribs. As I learned about the many attributes associated with this historic institution, I realized that quite possibly there might be something in it for me. What mom doesn't like to know that her hard work might be rewarded one day with something sparkly and shiny?

Nate and Grandma along about the time
that he lit some toilet paper on fire...
True, having Nathan as a son is a gift from God. Aside from the time when as a teenager he lit a piece of toilet paper on fire in our carpeted living room just to see how fast it would burn! (who does that???), Nate has been a delight to raise. And though, you'd think that would be enough for me, I admit, I'm a sucker for a pretty bauble. On Friday night, my OS delivered big time.

Nate's ring is fine but what's in it for me???
He had just received his beautiful sky blue topaz West Point ring and we were staying at a friend's house. Although I was unaware, the moment that I had hinted about four years ago had arrived. 

Nate was doing a load of laundry and I was downstairs in the basement with him. As my OS prepared to dump a bunch of stinky Soldier clothes into the washing machine, he pulled out a little black box.

My boy then said with a warm embrace and a satisfied grin, "Hey, Mom, this is for you. Thanks for your support. It has meant a lot to me."

I held the velvet box in my hand and pried it open. My gift from God was giving me a gift. And this is what I found. 
My beautiful pendant
A stunning West Point pendant made of yellow gold twinkled at me. A sense of wonder wafted over this mama's heart. Nate had remembered the nudge from long ago. He also remembered that I love the color purple because he chose a light amethyst stone for the center. As Nate placed the pendant around my neck, I knew that many other WP mothers had a similar moment and the same feelings. So much love, pride, gratitude, would it be possible to wear this pendant ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE? 
I can't lie, yeah I felt pretty special.
I do know one place where my pendant will be seen. This weekend as we travel to Chicago to celebrate my beloved Grandma's life, it will be draped around my neck for everyone to notice. All I need now is a pair of versatile gold hoop earrings, Hubs if you're reading this, our anniversary is coming up...hint, hint.

So tell me, do you have a special treasure from one of your children? If you're a WP parent, share about your "jewelry" experience. Let's remember together.

A West Point weekend - ring!

The journey wading through grief while learning to swim continues. In future posts, I'll document more about this but I have determined that swimming is an homage to my grandma. Not that she was a great swimmer, in fact, how crazy is this, I'm not even sure she swam though I do have pictures of her in the pool and in the ocean! Nonetheless, swimming has become an emblem, my emblem of moving forward despite the current of sadness which I now possess in my heart.   
West Point firsties during the Ring Ceremony
But over the weekend, I set despair aside and experienced the unmitigated joy and pride of being the mama of a West Point firstie. How sweet and kind of the Lord to perfectly situate a celebration in the midst of a loss. My oldest OS is now a firstie at West Point. In civilian terms, he is a "senior" in college. And when you are a firstie, the plebeian life is wayyyyy behind you. Sure, you have some very big decisions to make regarding your future but for a precious weekend in August, you leave those worries behind. It's all about one thing...getting your ring. Yeah, it's a pretty big deal. 
Moments away from getting their rings!

Lowly plebes refer to the ring as a mass of crass and brass and glass but for a firstie, it is an epic embellishment. Overlooking Trophy Point, the Hubs and I along with many equally exuberant parents, observed nearly a thousand firsties savor that moment. Once that ring is slipped over each firsties' finger, all the muck and ruck and toil and moil they have endured at West Point, kinda sorta melts away. At least that's what I noticed in my OS. 

My OS marching to the Ring Ceremony.
(That's not me in the yellow shirt.) ;)
With literally hundreds of stones to choose from, it wasn't easy picking the right one. Nate selected a striking sky blue topaz set in yellow gold. On one side of the ring are the words United States Military Academy and on the other is the class crest "For More Than Ourselves 2012." Knowing my OS as I do, I can't think of a more fitting motto. Two "diamonds" are set on either side and when coupled with the middle stone, a brilliant streak of blue catches the eye. 
Nate's mass of crass and brass and glass. 
As impressive as the outside, the engraving on the inside of Nate's ring was as significant. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" is the inscription he personally selected from Romans 8:31 in the Bible. I mean I really love that.
A mama, an oliveshoot, an impending storm 
and a gorgeous ring
This weekend our family will travel to Chicago for my grandma's memorial service. My oldest OS will be in attendance and that means so much to me.  Grandma loved all my OS and told everyone about Nate attending West Point. Years ago, while out for lunch, she even got the address of a cute waitress for Nate because she was so proud of him and hoped they would correspond. (Um, they didn't!) 

As an extended family, we will cry and laugh and profoundly feel the gaping loss together. We will eat pizza and Portillo's then make more memories in honor of her. And that gorgeous sky blue topaz ring will be on Nate's finger. Grandma would have had everyone gushing over this ring. She would have grinned from ear to ear as if she birthed him herself. 

Again, I sense the Lord's blessing because my grandma would have beamed with pride seeing my OS united celebrating her life. A mixture of sadness and pride fill my mama/grand-daughter's heart. Tomorrow I will share with you the reward I received for being a firstie mom...(hint, it's shiny...)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Doing hard things - good days and bad days

This was my Saturday post..since then I have made progress and didn't give up after all. I'm choosing to document not only my moments of success but also times of setback and discouragement. I'm posting it because some of you might understand my struggles...

Now back to Saturday afternoon...

I want to give up and throw in the towel. Swimming is just too hard. Nothing seems to work. It's too complicated, too many things to try and coordinate. I'm too old for this. I look stupid. When my arms are straight, they should be bent. When my legs are kicking, they should be pointed. People look so effortless in the water, strong, brave, athletic, they must be geniuses too. No one can convince me I have the same appearance, what is wrong with me?

This is where I am today. If you were looking for an encouraging word, this isn't the blog post for you. Sorry, just being honest. Even typing these words creates anxiety within me. 

What quandary pervades my spirit! Competing forces - grief and gratitude, fear and courage, defeat and perseverance inhabit me. 

Swimming and grieving :&
Grief - My grandma was so dear to me. Someone I loved deeply is no longer in my life and it's terribly painful without her. Mourning is tiring and I want to just crawl into a corner and cry. 

Gratitude - Yet I had a grandma for nearly 50 years, what right do I have to be sad? She brought immeasurable joy to me and lived 91 1/2 years! The Lord gave me a grandma for a longer time than most people. She led a storied life. Thank you Jesus for blessing me!

Fear - Moving forward without her is scary. And I'm finding that swimming is like grief. Is it ever going to feel natural being in the water? Living without my grandma?

This diving board is becoming my friend. 
Courage - Being a land tortoise is a thing of the past. This summer, the diving board and I have become friends, we're not besties but we enjoy each other most of the time. Like it or not, I'm doing at least two Hard Things simultaneously - swimming and grieving (News flash...on Monday, my orange hair, freckle face OS told me I had "guts!" That meant so much to me!)

Um, yeah, that looks natural...NOT!
Defeat - I have been googling YouTube videos about the breast stroke. Who came up with this swimming maneuver? The breast stroke is a constant source of conversation in my house, when do I glide, breathe, lift my head? OY! This afternoon I practiced my breast stroke techniques perpendicularly on a kitchen stool and on the large leg rest in our family room. Even at the farmer's market in the parking lot, I demonstrated a possible breast stroke move to the Hubs. None of it makes sense, am I on the brink of figuring it out or is this just another indication that I need to just count my losses and move on? 

Perseverance-  But I have made some progress with swimming. For the first time in my life, I went in a circle while swimming. Don't ask me how I did it. Most of you do this effortlessly but until Wednesday, all I could do was swim in a straight line. Frankly, I most often swim (accidentally) diagonally. 
I have walked by this lap pool for years.
I jumped in it for the first time. 
I also went into the lap pool at our gym for the very first time. I plunged (sort of) into the much colder water and swam (terribly) two laps. Nearly died, gulping water, had a very unattractive choking spell while flapping my arms and legs at the wrong times but by golly, I did it. The plan is for me to return to this lap pool and eventually to feel comfortable enough with going there by myself. In the meantime, my trusty Hubs is by my side. 

I'm encouraged knowing I'm not the only one Doing Hard Things and pushing through these struggles. Thanks y'all.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Doing hard things - mourning and living

Sitting by my grandma was always a cozy place
The rain that pounded on my window Saturday morning symbolized my heart. Something I have wanted to avoid and have long feared, had now come true. For the first time in my life, I awoke to being without my grandma. Tears have poured from my eyes for nearly a week and waking to this new reality was crushing.

Navigating through grief challenges us in the most basic of ways. What can we do to acknowledge our sadness but not paralyze daily living? How do we move forward in life while still honoring the memory of our loved one? Is it ok to still laugh and smile? 

So many of you can relate, I'm sure. Grief is complicated, isn't it? 

Those torrents of rain granted me permission to stay in the house and do nothing but cry. But when the sun burst forth in the early afternoon, I knew I had two things to do. One was to go shopping for a dress for Ring Weekend, a very special celebration at West Point we will soon enjoy with our oldest OS. (stay tuned!)

And the other was not an task-related errand but something equally important. I had to go back to the swimming pool.
It's hard to stay in the lane! 
My grandma was a fire-cracker, a whipper snapper, a kick in the pants kinda gal. She was a hard-headed, go-getter who didn't let things keep her down for very long and I always admired those qualities.

So in honor of my grandma and because I believe the Lord has given me this summer to conquer my fears, I swam four laps. They were crooked and awkward. They were not exactly consecutive laps either. I did my own special version of what I believe you people call "breast stroke" and "back stroke." During the back stroke, in the middle of the lap, I swam into the plastic lap divider rings. (I just realized I called them "lap" dividers not lane dividers, told you I was a swimming newbie!). Instead of just giving up, though, I found myself laughing, the Hubs nearby chuckled also. I'm exerting a tremendous amount of physical energy swimming because I don't have all the movements synchronized. I'm aware of how silly I look but that is no longer a big concern. Considering all the sadness in my heart, it was a triumphant moment.
Then the perfunctory ten jumps into the deep end followed. The Hubs sat contentedly on the lounging chair as I began the task. Things were going well but then suddenly, while underwater, fear gripped me. I panicked and I doubted that I had enough air to make it safely to the side. The Hubs was reading a book, he had no idea. It was only after I grabbed the side of the pool that I was able to get his attention. From the poolside, I mouthed, "Hon, I'm struggling. I'm scared. I can't do this. I'm done."

Left to my own defenses, overwhelming grief combined with lack of confidence, I was ready to go home. Hadn't I done enough, felt enough for one day? I didn't see myself as a failure, I just felt like a grand-daughter mourning and that is part of what I am right now.

But the Hubs spurred me on. He said, "I'll go in with you. Come on, let's get back in the water." With that, I returned to the water and not only did ten jumps into the deep end of the pool but I did an extra. The last one was for my grandma. I asked the Hubs to take a picture and yes, I'm crying while making a heart symbol. I will never forget you Grandma. Wherever I am, Grandma, I will carry you with me. 
I <3 my grandma
I have no idea how I'm going to press on without one of the most significant people in my life but what choice do I have? Therefore I have to hope. Not in myself but in the power of Christ in me. It's no accident that the Lord chose this summer to be a time of loss and gain. I know the Lord is changing me. 

I don't really like this part of the process, it hurts like crud but I hear the voice of my grandma saying, "That's great, Cin! I'm so proud of you!" she would giggle with delight. And I hear the voice of the Author of Life, my Sustainer, the Lifter of my head reminding me that "he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus."
Keep working on doing your own hard things. I am blessed by your prayers and comments.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wednesday remix - Grandma's touch

Ten years ago, I wrote this story about my grandma. When I began Wednesday remix, I planned on sharing this story, now seems like the perfect time to revisit this memory...

A common household appliance has found a place in my heart. Until recently, the simple iron was a symbol of a weekly chore. Now it is a treasured memory and with each lift of its handle I am reminded of one of my best friends....a woman I've known ever since I was born, my precious grandma who took care of me when I needed her.

Upon learning that I would have knee surgery, my grandma offered to come and stay with me. She intended to stay about a week but extended her visit when she learned the Hubs had to be out of town. Without hesitation, she cancelled her hair appointment, golf outings and water aerobics to courageously stay in a house with my three OS and me.

Each morning as I hobbled down the stairs, Grandma would arise early with me. "Those little feet running around wake me up," she would smile and say as she made her way to the kitchen. 

This rambunctious little girl
became my grandma
Whereas many grandmas enjoy cooking or knitting, Grandma's strength has always been ironing. Maybe growing up during the Depression had something to do with it. Grandma didn't wear fancy clothes and the little she had, needed to last for a long time. As a child, her dresses were bought at a store for 25 cents, discounted because the sun had faded the front. For decades, Grandma used to iron everything, underwear, towels, you name it. Nothing made it into a drawer until it had touched a hot iron.

Our family of five presented her with great opportunity to become reacquainted with that skill. Upon entering my bedroom, Grandma saw an enormous blob of dress shirts sprawled in a tangled mess. On the first day she arrived, within hours, they were all neatly ironed hanging in the closet.

The only thing that Grandma complained
about was her bad knee
With each new batch of laundry, Grandma diligently attacked the wrinkles. While I lay in bed with my leg elevated, steps away from me was Grandma. And there she would stand on her bad knee quietly and faithfully whittling down the crinkled clothes.

With the exception of Hubs' undies, Grandma would iron everything else and put it all into a perfectly pressed pile. 
"Don't iron my undies!"

For 11 days, Grandma helped me and we all looked like we had an entirely new wardrobe. She'd never admit it, but it's true, Grandma's touch had transformed us. With just some starch and water, the OS went to school and looked more handsome. For 11 days, the Hubs had variety in his fashions (HA!) as freshly ironed shirts arrived in his closet. 

During that time I even found myself feeling better because my clothes received her special treatment. When she returned home, the laundry mountain began growing. The clothes she had so neatly ironed quickly returned to their habitual, wrinkled ways.

Every now and then I'll discover an item she lovingly pressed for me. In the chaos of a drawer, I'll find it. My hands grip the item, I hold it close for a bittersweet moment and my grandma is right here with me again...

I stand at the ironing board. I don't want to re-adjust it to fit my height and I feel her presence, wishing she were here.

Grandmas are often there to iron out problems in our lives. The tiny folds of childhood and the wrinkles of teenage foolishness, grandmas know how to apply the right pressure and get results. With their wisdom and love, grandmas somehow manage to sort out the goodness within each of us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Doing hard things - laughing

Later tonight I will do my Wednesday remix. It's a story I wrote about my grandma ten years ago. I had already selected it as something I wanted to share not knowing all this was going to happen...

But since writing is cathartic for me and my heart is straining with pain, I wished to share a tiny bright spot this morning.

Today was the first day of school for two of my OS. Aaron begins his senior year, Ike entered ninth grade. The orange hair, freckle face OS was crestfallen last night as he was trying on some pants for his school uniform. "Do these pants look too big?" he inquired, already knowing the answer. 

Since we do not encourage lying, I had no choice but to be completely honest. "Yes," I erupted, then exhaled and released the giggle that had been developing from the moment he had slipped on the pants.

Starting your first day in high school as a freshman with big pants is hardly ideal so with the prospect that all the pants in his wardrobe were similarly sized, Ike went to bed grouchy and nervous.
As you can clearly see, Ike is not a chunky monkey. 
This morning, however, the Lord gave Ike (and me) an unexpected blessing. My youngest OS awakened me with good news. "I found a pair of slim pants!" he announced as he hugged me good morning. "I was afraid I was going to have to go to school looking like Chris Farley!" I breathed in the fresh dash of cologne around his neck. My mouth guards were still in place, my sleeping mask attractively matted to my forehead (lovely visual) but none of that prevented me from bursting into laughter! He was right, he did look like Chris Farley and if you know my orange hair, freckle face OS, that's quite a stretch considering he has 0% body fat.
He has right,
he did kind of look like Chris Farley
It felt so nice to laugh because I also know my day will contain sadness. In fact, I was still in bed when I began crying and that's how it's going to be for a while, I guess. Later today, my sister will place the phone up to my grandma's ear for me to speak to her. She is now in hospice. I do not expect to have a back and forth conversation with my beloved grandma and it's quite possibly the final time I will say something to her this side of heaven. 

The ancient truths found in the chapter three of the book of Ecclesiastes still possess wisdom. 
"For everything there is a season, 
and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die; 
a time to weep and a time to laugh; 
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak..." 
Aaron, my grandma and I at one of Isaac's basketball games.
It was like an NBA game for her!
As many of you know, grief is a gritty process. This morning, however; I praise the Lord for the moments where I can feel His presence breaking through my sorrow. Today my joy came from a child named Isaac whose name means laughter. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Doing hard things - out of love

This is for you, dear grandma
We like each other...a lot
After Friday's heartbreaking news, I've been afraid to return to the pool. Though I may look the same, my sentiments in almost every regard are altered. My grandma will not be getting better this side of heaven. I am not sure what to do. So I cry, I think about crying, I dry my face after crying and repeat. Feelings of overwhelming sorrow are mixed with tremendous gratefulness. My grandma has been in my life for nearly half a century, that is such a blessing. But gosh, I'm going to miss her. I will miss everything about her. Even the things that were less than perfect, she meant the world to me.
If only I could stay in that moment

My OS start school on Wednesday. Prior to the phone call about my grandma; days before, in fact, tears flowed thinking about them not being home. Now the impending loss of my grandmother looms near. I wanted to herald this summer as one of incredible memories. Difficulties pervade on where to put this latest news into my epic summer scenery.

Yet despite my heartache, the Hubs and I went to the pool. My spunky, kick-in-the-pants grandma would want this. 

So to honor her, I plunged into the water. As I came up for air, tears poured into my swim goggles which was a new experience...The salty pool water matched my salty tears. I had to empty the goggles out several times. The Hubs held me tight as I fell into his arms. I'm pretty sure I was the only person weeping in the water. 

As I see it, I have three options:
1. quit = give up (my grandma has always been a spitfire)
2. stagnate = no more progress (my grandma moved forward despite great losses)
3. keep at it = trust in the Lord (my grandma would be proud of me)

A force, greater than myself (which I know to be my Savior), allowed me to do another thing today. Previously, as my orange hair, freckle face OS informed me, I frolicked off the diving board. But with the Hubs' encouragement, I pushed myself off the surface and into the air with greater vigor. And I touched the bottom of the nine foot pool. That was also a first. And then, of course, I cried.
Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Keep doing your own Hard Things, dear friends, even when it hurts.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3