Sunday, November 18, 2012

Love That Never Fails

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of this year which  is now drawing to an end.  Thank you for every dark road I've travelled, for every bump in the road,  for every tear I've shed and every sorrow I've faced.  Thank you for each struggle, each disappointment and each trial along the way.  Thank you for the betrayal I endured, the friendship that was tainted and the courage to forgive.  Thank you for every opportunity to reach out, to press in and to connect with someone who needed a connection.  Thank you for giving me a heart for those on the fringes and for letting me experience what it is to be an outcast myself.  Thank you for letting me be unjustly accused and for allowing me to endure and forgive.    Thank you that you never give up on me and that you are teaching me to never give up on others, because-you love them as you love me. Thank you for the strength to reach out despite being shut out and to trust you for every outcome.   Every heartbreak has been an opportunity and I am thankful for each one, though I would not have chosen any of them. I may fall and I may fail, but your love never will. I am grateful.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


The writer has been largely silent. Paralyzed, and unseen. Uncharacteristically in the shadows. 

From the outside in, all seems "normal.' I get up, drink coffee and make smoothies most mornings.  I go to work and I come home. I open mail and I make dinner.  The husband and I eat together and talk about the day. I water my garden and I do my shopping.  I've mostly returned to my routines, such as they were before.  Life appears largely uninterrupted.

But, as we know, appearances can be deceiving.  Yes, despite the smooth, glassy surface, there is a persistent current, deep, alarming and invisible,  kind of tugging at my feet.  Throughout  my day, it tries to pulls me down and I fight to stay afloat. Silently, surreptitiously it grabs at me,  threatening to suck me under. When I least expect it, the dreaded sense of  danger and momentary  panic surfaces. I quickly push it under, but it lurks nearby, never far from my mind. 

I drive home from work and as I transition from one freeway to another, I am  reminded, this is where I would command my phone to "call Mom".  It was this stretch of my trip home after a day's work,  where I would call her to check in and see what her day had held.  The calls are over. 

In the formerly simple act  of opening of mail lurks the threat of the unknown.  This, too, can pull me under, as much of it is hers.  "A third party" (who? how?) has advised us of the death of...". Six weeks later, the occasional card from a loving friend arrives, sending condolences and some with sweet remembrances.  A call from my Aunt Marguerite, marking the four year anniversary of my Dad's death. A  handwritten note from my Aunt Wilma, reminiscing about days gone by and her love and appreciation of my parents and now me. Sweet, precious expressions of love. But the piles of paperwork, legal issues to be attended to, decisions to be made and an estate to be distributed all weigh me down like a smothering blanket in the desert. Moments of sheer panic well up in my chest. 

As I write, tears roll down my face.  Daily they hover in my eyes, ready to roll, but mostly contained. 

There is sorrow and there is also joy.  The kindness of friends and loved ones have been an enormous comfort and encouragement. A church who has prayed for and with us...the generosity and the remembrances and the memories, they are all priceless jewels in my heart. Simple kindnesses are now the fuel that remind me that there is hope and there is good and there is still much life to be lived. Grief is a road that allows no shortcuts.  I have no doubt that I will travel it for awhile and that the traveling of it will make the roads beyond that much sweeter.  

Loss is a precious reminder to treasure what remains. And, there is much that remains. I am grateful. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grief Exposed

"What is central to your life is peripheral to others." Author and radio personality Dennis Prager said it at a lecture the husband and I attended earlier this year. I jotted it down in a little journal I carry in my purse, thinking it was true and that I would want to remember it down the road.
Down the road I am. Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, just South of Pier Avenue to be specific, and it hits me like a ton of steel: the world is carrying on, completely unaware that a huge part of me has disintegrated into thin air. There is a hole in me you could drive a hummer through, yet no one around me notices. The oxymoronic invisible hole that is me, or more accurately, what used to be me. This event, through which everything else is now filtered, is unknown to the masses I rub elbows with as I move through the days and nights since that day.
Mother's Day. Ironic, yes? Just hours after her four children gathered around her hospital bed, the one who carried me in her body, gave me life, pushed me into the world and gave me my beginnings, left this world. She, who had been with me from the very beginning, an anchor of sorts, gracefully slipped from this life to the next.
We met with a kind doctor. A man with warm eyes and a caring heart. He told us what we long suspected but hadn't spoken; that her body was telling us what she wanted and that it was time to think about what her wishes were. We decided it was time, to let go. After more than two weeks of ventilators, dialysis machines and round the clock 24 hour one on one nursing care, it was time. She was tired. The evidence was clear. There was no going back to the life she had once had.
We returned to her room. Tubes were disconnected. Machines shut down. Medications stopped. The room that had relentlessly hummed with beeps and gurgles and flashing numbers grew mournfully silent. A curtain was drawn. We removed our gowns and masks. We touched her skin to skin...massaged her feet and arms and hands with warm lotion. We played her favorite songs and we prayed. We bid her farewell and urged her to her to look for Poppa. We knew he'd be waiting for her. For Jesus, who saved her. For her own dear Mother and sisters and brothers and friends who had gone ahead of her.
She slipped away quickly, painlessly and gently. We said our good byes. And there was peace, trusting that the satisfaction she always yearned for and never quite found on this planet was finally hers. That was over a month ago. And, I am still paralyzed.
I did not expect this depth of sorrow. I really thought there would be a greater sense of serenity, more relief that her battle was over. I did not expect to feel so adrift-the proverbial ship without an anchor. Whatever her issues, she grounded me in a way no one else ever could. She was ever present in my life. My only remaining parent, and now she is gone. There is an enormous void I was not prepared for.
This is going to be a long journey and I've only just begun.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sabbath Rest

Rest. It is not only a blessing but a commandment--probably one of the most overlooked one in our culture. While the average Joe wouldn't dream of murder, condone adultery or consider a life of thievery, we easily overlook the command to "remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy".

In our busy world of 24/7 operations at work and at home, it is easy to lose track of the need (and the command) for rest. The church I attend offers services on Friday nights, Saturday nights and twice Sunday mornings, to accomodate our crazy schedules, making it virtually impossible to use the excuse, " I can't get to church." So, we get to church, but, do we rest--and what does it look like to "keep it holy"?
To be holy is to be set apart. To keep the sabbath holy is to have a time that is set apart from the daily hubub that is our lives. A time to sit back, rest from our labor, reflect on our lives and make sure we are enjoying the fruit of our labor as well as keeping our priorities intact. I struggle with the concept as I believe many of us do. But I am struck again with the thought that it's not just a good idea, it's one of the 10 commandments. God thought it important enough to include it in his top 10 things he considered not negotiable. This is not David Letterman, but, God. Perhaps we need to take this rest thing a little more seriously? Did I mention that God, Himself, rested on the seventh day? Who am I to think it's not necessary for me?
I don't know how to make this happen. I don't know that it has to be Sunday. I don't know that it needs to be the "letter of the law" or if it can be the "spirit of the law" to be right. I don't know how to get from overbooked to a life at rest. I don't think there are six simple rules to get there, but, I do think I need to get there. If I can't start with an entire day, I can surely start with an hour.
Maybe in that hour, I can determine how to stretch an hour into a morning, or an afternoon. Perhaps then, I will see more clearly the benefit and the blessing and can figure out how to make it work for an entire day. I don't know. I just know that it's a command, and I need to start somewhere. So here I am at the starting line, waiting for the gun to signal the race has begun. It's not the first time I've been here, but, you have to start to finish the race. So, I am ready to begin again to grasp the importance of this Sabbath rest deal.
Beginning again, and grateful for the grace that allows fresh starts.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Girl

It was the spring of 1979 and I was on board Amtrak’s train, The Capital Limited, en route from Washington, DC to Chicago. I had just endured a long week of training at the Xerox Training Center, in Leesburg, Virginia. It had been a challenging week with new co-workers from all over the country. We’d worked long hours and I was pretty overwhelmed with all the new knowledge I’d taken in, but excited to be on my way home to begin my new job as an Amtrak Sales Representative.

My co-worker and I had boarded the overnight train to Chicago, where we’d change trains to the Southwest Limited, continuing on to Los Angeles the next day. We’d been on the train a few hours and decided to meet in the dining room for dinner. The diner was full, so we were standing in a hallway, waiting for a table to open up, when the aroma of food cooking invaded my senses and an overwhelming wave of nausea engulfed me.

I made an immediate u-turn and bolted back to the sleeper car and my Roomette, as they were called in those days. I flung open the door, opened the toilet and immediately vomited into a stainless steel receptacle.

I knew, in that instant , that I was pregnant. I who hadn’t thrown up in over a decade, knew with certainty that this was not some 24 hour bug. I returned to the dining room with this amazing piece of knowledge in my head, ate a light dinner and returned to my room where I pulled down my bed and settled in for a night of dreams of the life to come.

We arrived in Chicago the next day and with a layover ahead, I headed to the Sears Tower, where I found a book store and purchased a book of names, which provided hours of reading between Chicago and Los Angeles. My mind was spinning in a million directions. I was excited. I was surprised. I was nervous. I anticipated telling Mike he was going to be a Daddy. There were no cell phones, and no way to share this life changing information with anyone that mattered. So, as Mary did, I treasured it in my heart, contemplating the knowledge that I was going to be a mother. Bliss.

My whole life, to that point, I dreamed of and planned on becoming a mother, ideally to five little ones. It was not negotiable. It was who I was. When I married a man who had two half-grown children, I thought for a while that they would fill that place in my heart. But the moment I knew that I had a baby growing in me, it was as if my most fervent dream had finally come true. I was going to have a baby to love and care for. My own. Flesh of my flesh.

That was a long time ago. And, 32 years ago, today, after nine months of relentless nausea, vomiting and anticipation, I gave birth to a 9 lb. 2 ½ oz. baby girl. My girl. Amanda Ann. She, with her transluscent skin and reddish hair, round face and rolls of flesh--could she be mine? I expected a sickly little thing, the result of my incessant throwing up. But, this was a specimen of health, a beautiful, “fluffy” baby girl, sucking her thumb contentedly in the delivery room.

The first night at home, her Dad was down with the flu. My mom had offered to come over to help, but, I declined, feeling confident that I could handle it. By 9 that evening I was on the phone in tears, unable to comfort her or stop her crying. My mom, the original baby whisperer, came to the rescue and helped us through that first night.

Within a week, our girl was sleeping through the night. But, that first week, I remember getting up alone in the wee hours one night, holding her in my arms. I was in our kitchen, leaning against the back door and holding her in my arms, overwhelmed with emotion and in awe of the love I felt for this little one who had done absolutely nothing to earn it. I realized in that moment what “Mother Love” was. And, in that moment, I also realized how much my own mother loved me.

Fast forward 32 years. Today, Amanda Ann Mandish is Amanda Ann Green, wife to Daniel, Mother to Ruby and a daughter loved beyond description. To say those 32 years flew by isn’t too far off base. To say that every year has been a blessing is dead on.

She has grown into a woman of excellence- a Proverbs 31 woman, in progress. She is a young woman who loves Jesus and works to serve Him in her daily life. She is a wife who honors her husband- he who knows she can be trusted and supports his dreams and plans for their family. She has a heart full of compassion and opens her hand to those in need…a friend who is concerned and also propelled to action. She is a loving and firm mother to the most beautiful child I know. She works hard and has created a beautiful home for her family. She exercises hospitality and looks for ways to stretch her resources. She is even learning to cook! She exudes a beauty that comes from not just a lovely appearance but an attitude that smiles at the future and works through the challenges of life.

She has been a blessing so great. As a young girl, I hoped to have five children, but, Amanda is my only child. I have often kiddingly remarked that, “when the first one is perfect, you can stop.” Reality is, that although I would have welcomed the blessing of more children, it just didn’t work out that way. Even so, there are no regrets. My girl--she erased all the possible regrets. I could not have asked for a better daughter, a sweeter spirit, a kinder, more loving girl to call my one and only.

Today she is my daughter and my friend. She is beautiful, inside and out. Today I celebrate her existence. Her kindness. Her generosity. Her heart. This grateful heart is full to the brim when I view you and the woman you have become. There are not enough words to express how blessed I am to be your mom. Happy Birthday to My Girl. I could not love you more.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. “ Proverbs 31:30

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Surely, Shirley

Gratitude. It's flowing through me.

A part of my work day includes responding to folks who have inquired about the senior community I work in. Yesterday I was blessed to call a lovely woman named Shirley. Shirley, it turns out, is 61, and after a series of bad breaks, bad decisions and general bad luck, her home is in foreclosure. She and her daughter and two grandchildren, are now facing being uprooted to parts unknown. Her only income is Social Security. There is no house to sell, no pension to collect and no white knight heading in her direction. Even son, Shirley is not bemoaning her fate.

She is contemplating separation from her loved ones if they can't find an affordable place they all can fit into. In the first few seconds of our conversation, it became clear that she is not financially qualified to afford living in our community. So, I am adding to her list of unworkable options. Poor Shirley, right?

Wrong. Shirley lives in hope.

"Poor Shirley" wasted no time in lifting my spirits. She acknowledged that things look grim...admitted that she'd made some bad decisions in the past and that things hadn't turned out the way she'd hoped. But, she spoke with great conviction and a smile in her voice when she said, " I'm losing a home, but there is another home." She went on to tell me she knew it was going to be okay-that even if the Lord would allow this loss in her life, she was confident that He was going to carry them through it. He hope was not in a house or other earthly possessions, but, in God who promised to carry her through to her heavenly home. She went on to say that even if they were to lose everything she knew God was going to use the losses as stepping stones to get her to what He had next for her.

Surely, Shirley is walking the walk of faith. Not the talk, but the real deal. In the midst of potentially losing all her earthly possessions, she stands firm in the confidence that He will neither leave or forsake her. She believes firmly in the promise of Romans 8:28, that He will work it out for her benefit in the end.

I don't know exactly what the future holds for Shirley and her family. But, I do know that when we come before our Father in gratitude, not bemoaning our losses but looking expectantly to Him for what He will do, we can wait in expectation, knowing it will be good. When I hung up the phone, I was humbled, knowing I don't always live that way, nor do I reflect it nearly as clearly as Shirley did, in a simple phone conversation with a complete stranger.

Shirley lifted my spirit and also reduced me to tears. When I consider my petty grievances; at work, at home, in my community-- they are so small. And bemoaning them makes me small. I have a home. I have a family. I have a Savior. And yet, sometimes I live as if I am a pauper, never taking hold of the great riches I have in Him and His promises.

Surely, Shirley gets it. There is another home. The rest is gravy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

I am nearing 58. No spring chicken, I acknowledge.  Just today, my granddaughter Ruby, age 3, told her Daddy to be careful around me while he played on her  Scooter, because,  "Ommie is old".  Oh. My. Gravy. Yes, I am getting older, even if I don't consider myself to be officially old quite yet. 

So, the point is, I've been around awhile.  Long enough to know better, as the saying goes.  Question is, why do I still  go into tailspins over change and disruptions in life?  When is that wisdom thing going to finally kick in?

Late last year, rumors were swirling around that more changes were coming to my workplace. My full-time associate would be reduced to a schedule of three days a week.  My work load was bound to increase and I was already working excessive hours. Changes were being made in the way I'd be doing my job.  I was not happy and I made it known to anyone who would listen.  I threw a bit of a hissy fit, truth be known.

Anger turned to frustration and  then, frustration to acceptance.  I didn't like it, but I saw the changes were inevitable. I focused on how to make the best of it.  I helped find additional hours elsewhere for my co-worker. I made a decision to  resign from a mentoring position which had taken time away from my primary work responsibilities while not compensating me anything additional.  I vowed to work fewer hours and to trust God for the outcome.  I was determined to find some balance in my life, despite the changes at work.

Thirty days into the changes that had me in a tailspin. a  funny thing has happened. The entire month of January I have worked under 45 hours per week. That is a major big deal for this woman. I have been able to get to church on time every Friday night.  I've met my husband for dinner on a whim, more than once,  instead of begging off because I'm "too busy."  I've learned to be more efficient and more productive working on my own.  But most of all, I've been reminded, that the Lord is faithful. 

In retrospect, I see that all the changes I went into a tizzy over, were intended for my good. Mind you, I am well aquainted with Romans 8:28 which says, in a nut shell, that all things work together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purposes.  I have counted that verse among my favorites for, let's see-- decades?  How is it that someone who claims to love Him, to be called for His purposes and to believe He has my good in mind, can so easily lose sight of that and temporarily lose my oh so fragile mind when someone rocks my boat a little?

Oh me, of little faith. I am here to confess, it was indeed, "Much Ado About Nothing".  He knew exactly what He was doing. He used my employer, and my circumstances, my bad attitude and my weariness to get me exactly where he wanted me. He knew what it would take to get me out of what had become a comfort zone and into the zone He wanted me in. He knew. He always does.

Once I got over my little fit, I stepped back, adjusted my perspective  and walked forward in faith. I see now, that all the changes I whined about were intended for my best. I am now working less, working smarter and trusting Him for the results instead of my own extra efforts.  He has proven faithful and is blessing the work of my hands. I see now that it was false pride that caused me to put in too many hours and to think  that I  had to do things or they wouldn't be done right.  In my mind, I was doing something noble and praise worthy. I now see how wrong and misguided I was.

 It's not about me, how good I am or how hard I work.  It's certainly not about how many hours I put in.  I still work diligently and I give 100%, but I work less, because I finally get that  He has other things for me to do at home and at church and in my community.  Finally, I'm paying attention.  Finally,  I acknowledge that my successes are not about me and my talent or ability. It's all about Him and what He chooses to do in me and through me. My job is to be faithful.  The results are in His hands.  I'm counting on it.

More of Jesus. Less of Me.  Yes.


Monday, January 2, 2012

More or Less

More rest, less working late
More ministry, less wasted time

More time with husband, less time alone
More order, less chaos
More salad, less meat
More encouragement, less criticism
More assuming the best, less expecting the worst
More giving, less spending
More reading, less facebook
More handwritten notes, less email
More talking, less bickering
More leisure, less rushing
More saying no, less feeling overwhelmed
More moving, less sitting
More laughter, less irritation
More patience, less frustration
More trust, less doubt
More faith, less confusion
More moments, less days lost
More walks, less working lunches
More fruits, less sugar
More awareness, less auto-pilot
More contentment, less envy

More humility, less pride

More forgiveness, less holding onto hurts

More love, less indifference

More kindness, less hurtfulness

More joy, less sorrow

More health, less sickness

More gratitude, less heartache.

More sleep, less weariness

More peace, less anger.

More Jesus, less me.


2011 In the Rear View Mirror

The New Year arrived quietly in our home. We celebrated by picking up take-out at Pei Wei and then driving through Sleepy Hollow with our 3 year old granddaughter, Ruby, on-board. We wanted to enjoy one last look at the truly amazing display of this winter wonderland of Christmas lights. Enroute home, we made a stop at McDonalds for ice cream cones and still got home in time to read Madeline, not once, but, twice before bedtime prayers and sleep for Ruby before 9. We were all sleeping soundly long before the midnight hour struck, with no ill effects the next morning. Yes, we are growing older, and, I must say, it feels fine.
Between Ruby falling asleep and succumbing myself, I pulled out a binder filled with our family Christmas letters, going back two decades, and I methodically read through them all. Mike's dear Uncle Gene, aka, Brother John, wisely suggested to me years ago that I keep them all so that they would become a recorded history of our family life we could look back on and enjoy. He was so right.

What fun it was to relive the milestones, the births, the weddings, the growth of our kids, the vacations and the time spent with those we love...the transitions from job to job, the projects we've taken on and the fruit of that labor realized.

What I didn't expect, but, saw clearly, was a pattern that troubled me. Year after year, I shared how busy I was, how many hours I was putting in and how I wanted to cut back. What troubled me was that while my employer has changed and my job titles have changed and my responsibilities have changed, I still am working more and harder than I say I want to.

I'm not a brain surgeon, but, it doesn't take one to figure out the common denominator here is me. I guess I come by my work ethic honestly. My father was the most hardworking man I've ever known. He worked night and day to provide for us and rarely took a day off. Clearly, more than a little of that rubbed off on me--perhaps to a fault.

Over the last couple of months I've been reading One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, as well as a lot of other posts with a common theme, that of simplifying life and living intentionally. I want to sign on. I need to sign on. That said, I don't just want to say it, yet again. This year, I want to do something significant so that as I write my 2012 year end letter, I can truthfully and thankfully attest to meaningful changes that have improved our quality of life.

I know this means more than noting a list of resolutions in my journal. I realize this must be a process and that I have to be accountable. My prayer is that the Lord will help me to slow down, to work less and to live more wisely, using my time at work, at home and at leisure to honor Him and those He has entrusted me to live and walk with. My intent is to seriously back off in the areas where I've taken on responsibilities that aren't truly mine- to allow others to do their jobs, and to focus on my own. I will still do my job to the best of my ability and to trust Him for the outcomes vs believing no one can do it as well as I can. I am seeing this for what it was-false pride. It's not pretty.

So, it begins. Travel with me and call me to task. If you hear me say "I'm too busy", feel free to remind me who manages my schedule. And, if I say "no" to something you've asked of me, please know it didn't come easily. I may have to say "no" to some good things in order to say yes to what's most important.

What does this mean in a practical sense? It means I will be working closer to 40 hours a week than I have in years. It means I will honor my personal commitments, dinner with my husband, classes at the gym and getting to church on time Friday nights. It means that I will say "No" to some good things in order to say yes to the good things that He has called me to. In essence, I will be endeavoring to do what I have been telling others to do for years. This is me, hearing me, and hearing Him.

He's been whispering this to me for so long. He never shouts. And I'm finally quieting down enough to listen. It's going to be an adjustment. But, it's going to be right. I'm listening.