Monday, February 17, 2014

Nanny and Olivia--Love Does


I will never forget that Sunday morning. Ever.
Never will I forget.
The text came early that morning as I was getting ready for church. In the middle of straightening my hair my phone dingled indicating I received a text. I opened it. Read it and reread it.  
The text was from Olivia. Requesting something of me—her mother.
I took a deep breath. Mostly as a prayer. Mostly as a fortification.
For the past several months Olivia filled her days caring for Nanny—
Nanny, actually Nancy Louder, was the grandmother of one of our dearest friends and our minister, Dave Scalf. We called her Nanny, and I’m not sure we ever asked for permission to call her Nanny; the name just came naturally.
Hospice informed Dave and Amy Nanny was moving into her last hours. Grieving they began the round-the-clock vigil. They asked Olivia to sit with Nanny during church; she asked me to come and sit with her during this time. That’s when I took the deep breaths.
Abby went with me.
I could tell you all about Nanny. I could tell you she was a strong-willed, feisty and a sharp-tongued woman. I could tell you she had a twinkle in her eye and witty comment on her lips. I could tell you that she wanted to know what was going on, wanted to know the ins and outs and the comings and goings. (Some would say she was nosy). I could tell you she had a soft spot for Dave and an even softer one for her great grandchildren. She did.
I drove to the house. I tapped on the front door. We let ourselves in and tiptoed down the stairs.
I walked down into the hush of Nanny’s basement. I heard Nanny’s labored breathing before I even turned the corner. And I prayed. Just breaths.
The breath prayers fortified me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been prepared.
Nanny lay tucked in a hospital bed. Blankets layered. The TV rolled and voices were an undercurrent hum. Lights were low, windows shaded to keep the light from glaring on Nanny’s face.
I couldn’t really see Nanny at first. Olivia stood by her bedside with her back to us—her dark hair brushing her shoulders and her sweater hanging softly down her back. I could see the blue glove on her hand. And the edge of her boots brushing her calf. She turned to us.
And her face.
Her sweet and beautiful face tore a hole right through the fabric of my heart. This mother’s heart broke to see the quiet sorrow in Olivia’s face. Can pain be beautiful? Can it shadow the eyes and line the face and create beauty instead of ugliness?
Yes.
Yes, it can.
I saw it that day. Saw what the pain of compassion can do. Saw what the power of empathy can do. Saw what love does.
That brief moment I saw God’s face in Olivia’s.
The face Jesus must have worn when he reached out and touched the leper, when he turned and raised the widow of Nain’s son, when he chased the demons away and when he held Martha’s hand at Lazarus’ tomb.
In that brief moment I saw Olivia’s face transfigured.
She turned away from me back to Nanny.
I stood then transfixed by Nanny’s sweet face slack in a sleep I had never known. Her once stout and strong body was brittle and bony. Her flesh now almost gone, consumed by years of living. Worn away by time and love and pain and sorrow and joy.
And I watched my daughter, this Olivia of mine, minister in a way I have never seen anyone minister.
She swabbed Nanny’s mouth with water using a blue sponge sucker. I kept thinking and wondering how the sponge could be soft enough for the thin skin of Nanny’s lips and mouth? But Olivia’s touch was light and gentle washing away the residue of hard breaths and thick saliva too hard to swallow. Over and over she did this gesture. She would toss one sponge sucker only to get another.
Olivia moved through these motions like a shadow, so very careful to not disturb Nanny. Every movement was slow and efficient—choreographed. Timed. Rhythmic. Graceful.
She lifted Nanny’s body, turning and situating. Olivia lifted feet and slid on fuzzy socks, sliding them over ninety-six years of callouses and heels that were hard and crusty. But she held those feet easy, cupped them in the young skin of her own hands and Abby asked her why the socks?
Olivia explained, “Because Nanny’s feet get cold, and she doesn’t like for them to be cold. And I don’t like that her heels are getting bruised from all the rubbing against the bed and the pillows.”  
The tears puddled in my eyes. I knew they were going to spill over and run down on my face. I didn’t think I could stop them. But I did because I so wanted to see what God was doing in this place.
Olivia finished with her morning routine with Nanny. Then she took the blankets off one by one and refolded them and laid them over Nanny. One after another. I started to ask why so many blankets, but I knew the answer. Then Olivia rearranged the blankets on the rail of the hospital bed put there for extra padding for Nanny. She cleaned up all the papers and towels and clothes.
Then she sat down with us.
We watched YouTube videos of crazy comedians and laughed. We talked and teased each other.
I kept thinking Nanny was going to snap at us and tell us we were disturbing her sleep, but she didn’t. And I kept looking over at her, watching the rise and fall of her chest. Listening to the air move in and out of her lungs. And I prayed. Prayed for Nanny. Prayed for Dave and Amy. Prayed for the six children who lived in this house with Nanny.
I kept thinking about Dave, the shepherd, teaching about Jesus a few miles away. Teaching about what Love Does. Knowing that he could be there because Olivia was here doing what love does.
I’m sure Nanny taught many people to do many things in her lifetime. I’m sure she scolded and realigned and corrected. I’m sure she was an example of living through hard things with dignity and independence.
But perhaps, the greatest teaching moment of Nanny’s long life came at the very end—when she couldn’t talk, and couldn’t instruct and couldn’t do for herself.
That Sunday morning I watched the dance of a lifetime. Two unlikely people paired together. One young. One old. One strong. One weak. One robust. One frail. One beginning. One ending.
Nanny and Olivia
 
Nanny and Olivia showed me the raw and gritty reality of love does.
I looked at the clock and knew it was time for me to go. I had been reluctant to come, but now I was far more reluctant to go.
I stood and walked over to Nanny’s bed. And in that moment I wanted to be like Olivia. I wanted to emulate the compassion she offered. I took Nanny’s hand. It was warm. I wrapped her fingers in mine; I held them.
Then I prayed. Out loud. Hoping she could hear. Hoping somehow she knew how God was using her to teach me. I didn’t want to let go of her hand. I didn’t want to walk away.
Olivia hugged me and whispered, “Thanks, Mama.”
Thanks, Mama?
Her gratefulness tore another little place in my heart.
I should have thanked Nanny and her.
And I do.
And I thank God.

In memory of Nancy Louder--Nanny. Love you.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Peculiar Situations—Bras, Horses and Cats


The continuing story…

Seven years ago God used a ridiculously peculiar situation to change me.  
During that summer my daughters and I went to visit my dad. He raises and rides horses like they were part of his DNA. We enjoyed riding around the path of the farm—endless circles because our equestrian skills were not stellar. (The girls can ride—I think they were holding back for me.) After a few circuitous routes we came back to the barn. I decided I didn’t want to ride anymore, so I decided to turn my horse over to someone else. While my cousin held the reins of the horse I attempted to dismount.  I use the word attempt purposely because when I threw my leg over the horse I leaned too far onto the saddle horn.
This would have been fine except once again a said undergarment’s underwire got caught around the saddle horn. As I descended, the undergarment remained with the saddle. And everyone in my vicinity caught a glimpse of me no one should ever see in the light of day. For a brief moment (which seemed to go on forever) I hung suspended—draped over the horse’s side—trying to decide what to do.  Mortified I tried to untangle and unhook myself. No one else knew what to do either. So, they left me to my own devices. One of my daughters turned so that she hid most of me from view. I managed to get loose and dropped to the ground. Quickly I shuffled and wiggled to try and salvage the situation. Blood moved hot up my neck and into my face.  I thought I would cry right there; but, my daughters were watching me.
I turned and walked the long trek to the house.
It took a long time to repair the damage—to my undergarment and to me. Safety pins were involved and some serious self-talk and prayer.
During that one hundred foot walk to the house and the time cloistered in the bathroom God did a miracle. Seriously. I knew I had two choices: this embarrassing incident could ruin my day and I could remain in the house hiding for the rest of the time far away from anyone who was privy to the whole scene (which was too many to count) or I could laugh and just take it in stride. I could laugh and admit that I was nothing more than a forty-something year old woman who just had a really embarrassing, but quite funny, accident. I stood there in that bathroom and turned around and looked in the mirror.
There were no tell-tale signs of my debacle: my face no longer beamed fiery red, my skin cooled to the touch again, my mascara remained where it belonged and said undergarment was back in place and fully functional. No lasting damage.  I looked at that woman in the mirror and grinned. Straightened my shoulders. Turned around. Took a deep breath. Went back outside.
My daughters never did say, but I always wondered if they considered me crazy or wanted to cheer for me when I appeared back in the crowded barn lot.   
God enabled me to release so many things that day. He used an incredibly embarrassing situation to free me—from the unhealthy desire to appear dignified, from the fear of being far too exposed and from the fear of being rejected because of that exposure. God used this peculiar situation to liberate me from the fetters and confines of my own social construct. To free me from allowing embarrassment to rob me of the confidence God had been building in me for quite a while.
I went back outside.
Some of the guests laughed, but this time I laughed with them.
Recently I landed in another peculiar situation. I am a magnet, a true north, for these fiascos. This one involved texting and prayer. Occasionally when I am driving I decide I need to pray for someone. I pull out my phone and dictate to Google Speak. It then translates my words into a text. This was a brilliant discovery for me. I can’t text nearly as fast as I can talk (I can’t hardly do anything as fast as I talk). Well, Google Speak has a very difficult time translating my voice and my words. There have been many stories of the autocorrect feature of texting causing some very questionable texts. My Google Speak and I have not been immune to this malady.
I prayed for a precious friend the other day. She is navigating some really rough waters right now and she was on my mind. I prayed for her using Google Speak and then hit send. Later, we were talking and she said she really got a laugh while reading my last prayer. This caused some internal concern and worry. Certainly I had not intentionally been funny. She told me to reread it.
When I did I thought I would simply cover my face, crawl in the deepest hole I could find and not emerge until everyone had forgotten me. I asked God to give something to this friend, but Google Speak’s translation caused my heart rate to soar. The wording in the prayer text said (and yes, I quote), Please give her herpes. HERPES.
I thought I would just die of the heat of embarrassment. She assured me she understood it was autocorrect and it had caused her to laugh out loud. Did I learn my lesson? No. I sent a Google Speak message to my husband during church letting him know where I was. I explained I would be there at this place waiting for the Scalfs. When my husband read the text it said, waiting for the cats. I am not overly fond of cats, so I think at first he was quite confused. Then he realized what I actually said. He laughed. Of course he did.
Finally, I laughed. Really laughed. And the embarrassment slid off my back like water off an otter (I am very tired of the cliché: water off a duck’s back.)
I think God was laughing too.  

Dictionary.com defines embarrass[ed] as: to cause confusion and shame to; make uncomfortably self-conscious.
 
I decided to share these peculiar situations because they are now funny. Humorous. Somewhat absurd. But at the time they were anything but. At the time they were painfully uncomfortable.
There are a few other peculiar situations in my life that would make these seem quite tame. And at the time I wondered if I should share any of them. Did they have any intrinsic value other than they were stories that given time and distance were just a little funny? Is that the limit of their value or purpose?
These situations were fairly benign, not one of them left any permanent damage or scars, but the ones left untold did.
In each situation I fought and struggled with the embarrassment of being duped, of being exposed, of appearing less than dignified and of making mistakes. Every situation made me feel self-conscious. I felt inadequate. Sometimes I felt just plain stupid. Often times even shamed. All of these contributed to my weak self-esteem and lack of personal respect.
In the garden Adam and Eve battled much of the same. While they were hiding during the cool of the day they understood that they had been duped. They realized they were now exposed, and they pinned together fig leaves to cover their exposure. Adam and Eve felt far more than mere embarrassment; they experienced shame.
But God.
But God came into the garden and covered their shame.
And God came into my garden and covered my shame.
Over and over and over.
My peculiar situations are not over. I am quite sure I will land in another one sooner rather than later. The question is not if, but when. Perhaps even today.
And every time it happens I have a choice.
It is my choice how I handle these peculiar situations.
I choose whether to laugh or to hide.
If I hide I rob myself of the comfort and provision of the Father. If I hide I must construct my own coverings. If I hide I must find a way to absorb the shame and embarrassment.
If I laugh I reveal my hiding place. If I laugh I can come to the Father and say look at what I have done again. If I laugh I release the bottled up fear of exposure and the weight of shame. To Him.
Today, please don’t hide. Regardless of what your peculiar situation is or might be please do not hide.
The momentary anguish of being exposed and embarrassed before God will be swallowed up in his grace and goodness. The uncomfortable self-consciousness will be dissipated in the wake of his loving-kindness. The dread and weight of shame will be dissolved through the extension and power of his forgiveness.
Choose today to laugh. To reveal your hiding place.
Take it from me—it is far, far better to laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Peculiar Situations--Boyfriends and Bras


(This is a two-part series. Tomorrow’s is titled Bras, Horses and Cats. Please bear with me. God is teaching me and sometimes it takes some time and effort to connect the dots.)
Peculiar situations seem to be a penchant of mine. Perhaps, the Lord is just trying to teach me to laugh at myself, to not take myself so seriously or just to keep life in perspective. I’m not completely sure of his lessons or his methodology. Not because I don’t trust him; I’m just not sure I trust myself to respond appropriately. I tend to lean toward making a fool of myself—of course that would imply I am not a fool in the first place.
My youngest daughter coined a phrase for me. We were riding in the car listening to the Disney Pandora station. Both of us were loudly singing every song we knew and even some we didn’t. She commented that it was a very peculiar situation for a mom to be in a car with her eighteen year old daughter engaged in this activity. (I think my husband thought so too.)
And then I realized something. For thirty-some years God has been using peculiar situations to teach me. I am a slow learner.
I accounted for one of these:  my car trunk debacle during the past Christmas season—that was just one peculiar situation in a long line of many.
I’ll share a few others in a two part series.
I have not used names in order to protect the innocent. (I'm chuckling right now.)
 
When I was fourteen and in the eighth grade I was going steady with a really cool guy—he was ever so handsome (he had a full beard as a freshman in high school). I never could quite understand how I managed to be dating him. Certainly the adjective cool could not have been applied to me, but somehow we were an item. It was just too good to be true.
It was too good to be true.
A couple of months into our relationship I heard an undercurrent buzz: he was cheating on me with one of the color guard girls. I was just a lowly clarinet player, nothing nearly as glamorous as the color guard.
Now, with thirty-some years of experience behind me I think everyone wanted me to hear the rumors. Are you kidding? HE probably wanted me to hear the rumors. The rumors alluded to the location and time of my boyfriend and this girl’s clandestine meeting place. Somehow I drummed up enough courage to go see for myself. Sure enough. There they were—locked in a very intimate embrace (holding hands and leaning into one another). Others saw me coming and alerted them, but it was apparent they were prepared for my appearance. Many students watched me walk into this awkward situation. Some snickered and pointed. Some averted their eyes. Some walked away. Needless to say, that cool boyfriend and I broke up that day. Brokenhearted and embarrassed I realized I had not only been dumped, but duped. I’m not sure which I disliked more.

Fast forward several years. I’m married now and in labor (prime place to be in a peculiar situation) with my first child. I engaged in quite an adamant argument with ALL the medical staff who were assisting this birth about the removal of a particular undergarment I wore. I informed them I was not removing it. They informed me I had to comply. The situation escalated. Finally, I looked at the head nurse and informed her that if something dire went wrong (she told me of all possible scenarios) that she had my permission to cut the garment right off of me and throw it in the trash. I most surely could replace it if need be.
Pitocin-induced labor is NOT a time to argue with a laboring mother. They shook their heads. Threw up their hands. And they complied. I came out of that delivery room with said undergarment intact. Surely there were other things I should have been concerned with. Certainly there were things far more pressing happening in that given moment, but I didn’t want to deal with embarrassment on top of all the other indignities. I know. I know there will be other mothers who will read this and think I was crazy and not agree. This, they say, was the last thing on their mind or not on their mind at all. But it was mine. Being exposed embarrassed me. Being in an awkward situation and exposed was very hard to deal with and this was my way of controlling it as best as I could.
 
To be continued...