Sunday, June 30, 2013

Little Moments of Joy (In the Midst of a Very Hard Time)

I want this blog to be a happy place. 

My focus is on family life, and that is beautiful and joyful.

However, in the midst of all this beauty and joy, I am losing my mom to dementia, and so I need to write about that, as well.  It's just this constant ache in my heart.

I've been kind of surprised and extremely grateful at how many people care about how my mom is doing.  I receive emails and phone calls and questions in passing from those who read this blog, and the first question they always ask is, "How is your mom?"

Sometimes I wonder if I should post less about her--because I don't want this blog to be a place where I sit down and cry into the keyboard.  But what I'm thinking is that because everyone is going through something hard and because I have absolute assurance that the Lord is with me through this process, if I can write about it in a way that reflects my hope, then maybe those who read this will feel greater hope in their lives, as well.

Anyway, those are my thoughts this morning. 

And the best way I can think to provide an update is to share what our day was like last Thursday.

My parents live by the beach, and now that it's summer, I take my children to the ocean before we go to visit my mom. 

Here they are by the pier . . . at the beach where I spent all my summers as a child.



Piling their boogie boards with all their gear and dragging them across the sand . . .


We arranged to meet my dad there for an hour or so before he headed up to the rehabilitation center to see my mom.  I love this man.


We all went swimming in the ocean (perfect temperature), and I got to boogie board alongside Alia, Grace, and Spencer.  Sometimes Grace or Alia would catch a wave at the exact same time as I did.  We would give each other high fives during the ride into the shore.  Spencer thought it would be fun if he rode on my back while I caught the waves, and we laughed at how slow and awkward we were.  There were several times I would catch a great wave and then look up at my dad on the shore.  He would smile and give me a "thumbs up"--so happy to see me and the kids having a great time at his favorite place.  It was sweet.

For awhile, Ethan wanted to rest on the sand and play Legos with me.  I got to be the police officer at the gate, and he was "the bad guy" trying to escape:


Then I took some photos of Alia, Grace, and Spencer enjoying the waves:


Spencer makes all of us smile:


On the way back to the car, Grace, Ethan, and Spencer wanted to get a gumball from this awesome machine they have on the corner.  At first I thought, "Oh, we're in a hurry.  We can get a gumball later."  But then I realized that 75 cents in gumballs would probably mean a lot to my children.  I was right.


This main street is one of those comforting places from my childhood.  My dad would always take us to get a little candy or an ice cream after the beach, and I always felt so special to him.


While my dad was visiting my mom at her rehabilitation center, I took my children back to my parents' house to get everyone showered.  Here is the brand new ramp my dad got installed:


I can't even tell you how relieved I was to see that.  We've been fighting with those stairs for years as we've tried to get my mom in and out of the house, and this is going to make things so much easier.

After everyone got cleaned up, we drove to my mom's new rehabilitation center.  It's in a safe, lovely neighborhood, and I was excited to see how nice it looked:


My dad was in the therapy room with my mom, who was mostly asleep while she tried to go through the exercises.


I hugged her and kissed her and said, "Hi Mom!  It's April!"


She didn't say very much, but when Alia was taking pictures, she opened her eyes for a second. I am so grateful we got this photo:


When my dad went home for his nap, the rest of us went out to the courtyard so my mom could rest awhile longer.  The children read books and listened to music, and I reclined in a chair and just held hands with Mom.  (Grace was practicing her photography. Thank you, Grace!)


I can't even explain how much it means to me to just be close to her.  I know she won't remember that we were there, and I know I don't do much for her while I'm visiting, but holding her hand is healing for me.

When she woke up, we went into the activity center, and Alia and Grace found a chess board.

Now you've got to understand that my mom was amazing at chess.  It was one of her passions.  Up until about a year ago, she taught weekly chess lessons to a 90+-year-old woman in her church congregation. 

We got the board set up, and since I never learned to play, I thought maybe my mom could teach me.  But she was quiet when I asked her to tell me the rules, so I read the instructions from the box.


After I learned the basic instructions, I made my first move and said, "Okay Mom!  Your turn."  She sat and stared at the board and then started joking, laughing, and talking about other things.  

Wanting to direct her attention back to the game, I helped her make her first move--and a couple of moves after that.

At one point, I said, "All right, Mom, you make a move yourself now."  So she picked up one of my pieces and "kinged" her bishop.


"Don't you think it looks pretty that way?" she smiled. 

I stopped for a moment to see if she was serious.  And she was.  She couldn't remember a thing about playing chess. 

That shouldn't have surprised me, but it broke my heart. And then the rest of our visit went steadily downhill. 

The nurses brought in her dinner tray, but she refused to eat it because she wanted to get in the car and drive us all home.  I sat with her for about an hour, trying to get her to eat a few bits of her rice, meat, green beans, and mandarin oranges.

"But I have to pick up my children!" she repeated over and over.

"What children, Mom? All your children are grown.  You're just fine.  You don't have anywhere to be.  We just need to help you get better so we can take you home."

"No, I must get in the car right now.  I need to get Page." she would insist.

"Mom, Page has four children now and lives in Utah."

We went back and forth like that, and then I asked, "Mom, do you know where you are?"

"Yes, of course I know where I am."

"Where are you?" (I asked as gently as I could.)

Then she paused for a moment, put her head in her hands, and started to cry.  "It's just so hard," she whispered.

Then for the next half hour or so, she was in a panic--so anxious to go home, so upset that we wouldn't let her, so confused about where she was or what she was doing or where she was supposed to sleep. 

Most of the staff had left for the night, and the nurse assigned to my mom was helping another patient.

"Just park her there in the hallway, and I'll get her to bed in a little bit," she told me.

My children were tired, we still had an hour drive home, and I couldn't stay there any longer, so I had to do as she said.  But even as I was leaving, I could hear my mom calling out to everyone who passed by her--begging them to help her out to her car so she could get home--home to her children who aren't even there.

I left sobbing, with Grace and Alia putting their arms around me and saying, "It's okay Mom.  Please don't cry." 

So I pulled myself together and then we stopped for ice cream and made our way home.

Sometimes I wonder if it's helpful for me to visit at all.  She doesn't remember seeing us, and she gets so agitated when we're with her--refusing to help her find her car because she doesn't remember where she parked.

It would be easier on so many levels if I stopped.

But then I think about how this time is binding my children to their grandmother.  I think about how I feel when I hug and kiss her and say, "It's okay Mom.  I'm right here.  We're going to get you home."

And I look at pictures like this one--taken during our "chess game":

 
and I think that maybe these little moments of joy--for us and for her--are worth it after all.  

The Lord is aware of our struggles.  He comforts us in time of need, and He provides experiences that help us to grow.  I'm clinging to Him right now, and I can honestly say that in the midst of the hard, hard moments, He has the power to make life sweet.  For me and for you.  I love and honor Him.

Gratefully yours,
April

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tender Mercies for Families

Back in April, when my mother was in a rehabilitation center recovering from her broken hip, I used to sit with her and talk about the day we would "put our toes in the water."

Her doctor had prescribed a heavy dosage of medication, so, at the time, she was mostly incoherent and could not carry on a basic conversation.  Occasionally her eyes would roll back in her head and her whole body would shake.

There were a few days when I wasn't sure she would ever come back to us, so I would sit and hold her hand and occasionally remind her of our plans by saying, "Mom, we're going to help you to get better, and then I am going to take you down to the bay right by your house, and we're going to put our toes in the water."

She would usually smile and whisper, "Oh, won't that be nice!"

Alia painted a watercolor to remind me of this dream:



Well, a week ago Thursday the weather was beautiful, and since my children were out of school, we had a full day to spend with my mom and dad. I got excited and thought, "Could this be the day?"

I called my dad on the phone and asked his feelings about my proposed field trip, and he felt confident that we could make it happen. 

When I arrived at my parents' house, my dad had my mom all dressed and ready to go.  We carefully guided Mom down the front steps and lowered her into her wheelchair. Then we walked two blocks to the bay and pulled her wheelchair across the sand.

See the tracks?


My children enjoyed an afternoon playing in the water . . .


My dad took a much-needed rest under our beach umbrella (see how cute he is?), and I sat with my mom, just a few feet from the shoreline:


It was beautiful and sacred to finally be in such a happy spot.  And the whole time I was there, I thought, "This is a tender mercy from the Lord."

Mom didn't have a lot to say that day, and she spent most of the afternoon feeling concerned about a class she thought she was supposed to teach that night.

My children had several spells of crankiness, and there were a dozen moments during the day that went terribly wrong. 

But for about 45 minutes, I got to sit on the beach and make a dream come true.

Here is a little video:

video


I knew it was a tender mercy during that moment, but I didn't realize how much of a tender mercy it was until just a few days ago.

My mom had another fall on Wednesday and re-broke the exact same hip. Now she is in a new rehabilitation center for the next few months. 

I have high hopes that we will be able to go to the bay again next summer, but when I think realistically about my mom's health situation, I realize that this may have been our last time.

However, when my heart starts to hurt for my mom, I think about this beautiful gift--this day we got to "put our toes in the water."

It was a tender mercy.

(Wasn't that so nice of the Lord to do that for us?)

So I'm sharing my story to remind each of us that the Lord cares about what happens in families. And He will provide tender mercies for you, as well.

I've noticed that tender mercies usually happen in the midst of challenging times.

They are often simple, and can easily go unnoticed.

But when we look for them, and thank Him for them, they bring a special kind of peace into our lives.

These pictures and these memories are holding me together right now.

I am worried about my mom, and I am not even close to being ready to say goodbye.

But even though I don't know the end the story, I do know that the Lord is watching out for us. For all of us.  And for that, I am very grateful.

Much love,
April













Thursday, June 13, 2013

What Scares Me

Do you mind if I share my heart for a few minutes?

I've been reading the book Start by Jon Acuff, and it has really gotten me thinking. 



(If you haven't yet read that book, I highly recommend it.  It's fun to read and offers great advice.  But if there's something that you know you're supposed to do that you've been putting off, I'm warning you that this book will most likely get you moving.)

Throughout the book, Jon challenges each of us to discover what our "awesome" is.  What is that thing you feel you are uniquely supposed to do--that brings you the most joy, that really matters, and that can help others?

Then, once we've discovered that "awesome," he encourages us to "punch fear in the face" and start doing it.

You really need to read the whole book because Jon is a master at understanding the psychology behind all this. And I've decided that my first step is to share what it is I feel I'm supposed to be doing and then acknowledge some of those fears that I need to overcome.

(Just writing this blog post scares me, but it's quiet in my house right now, and these thoughts simply need to come out.)

To start off, the thing that I have been totally putting off--that I know I'm supposed to do--is write my book about motherhood, based on my post Your Children Want YOU.

I basically have the whole thing outlined.  When I sit down to work on it, my heart starts beating fast, and I get this feeling that that is exactly where my voice needs to be.  I am highly passionate about that topic, I find joy in writing about it, and I think that book could be helpful to a lot of people.

But I never work on it.  Ever. 

I have a huge poster board hiding behind my bookshelf with dozens of Post-it note ideas all over it that I haven't looked at in months.  But until I read Jon's book, I wasn't really sure why I was putting it off.

And now I know.

Fear #1: If I publish this book, I will somehow be saying that motherhood isn't "enough" for me.

I know . . . just typing that out sounded absolutely ridiculous, but let me explain.  Writing a book by myself feels like a huge undertaking.  Power of Moms published a compilation of essays last October, and we have another compilation coming out in the spring, but those were joint projects that didn't feel scary.

Stepping out and writing this more personal book feels big, and even Jon Acuff himself, who spoke at a conference I attended, said, "Maybe if you're a mom with young children right now, that's enough."

In my heart, I answer, "YES! Motherhood is definitely enough!"  I've always known that, and I find the most joy in my life when I'm with my family, being the mom.  I'm totally fine with waiting until my children are grown to do all this writing, but then I keep getting this feeling that I'm not supposed to wait.  I'm supposed to do this now.

Fear #2: I have to be perfect.

There are a lot of amazing writers out there--especially in the "mom" space.  Sometimes when I look around at what everyone else is doing, I quietly shut my laptop and say to myself, "I don't even want to compete with that."  (Not that it's a competition, but you know what I mean.)

I was telling another blogger at a conference about Power of Moms, and then I mentioned that I have a personal blog at powerofafamily.blogspot.com.  She looked really surprised and said, "Blogspot?"   I'm sure she didn't mean it to come out unkindly, but all of a sudden, I felt entirely unsophisticated. 

This personal blog is where I figure things out.  It's my own little place, and I like it here.

But sometimes I feel like just deleting the whole thing or making it private or starting over somewhere else because I don't have it all "figured out."  (No professionally-designed header, no special links at the top, no consistency in when I post. . . . )  There's just so much going on in my life that running this blog as actively as we run Power of Moms would overwhelm me.

Fear #3: I'll start something that I won't be able to finish.

I am really good at doing what I say I'm going to do, so if I say I'll jump into this book project but then have to back off because my life gets too full, that devastates me.  Being a mother is incredibly demanding, and I can't put a book about motherhood ahead of my children.  It's easier just never to start, right?

Perhaps I'm simply getting ahead of myself.  It's summer break right now, and I am surrounded by excited, energetic children for most of every day.  This fall, my youngest starts first grade, and I'll have six hours of quiet, five days a week.  Maybe I need to give myself a break for the next few weeks and reassess later?

Fear #4: I'll have to "go bigger."

I really like my life right now.  I like not having pressure to be anywhere other than my home.  I like playing the piano and reading with my children.  I like taking care of my mom on Thursdays and working on the computer when it works with my schedule.

Your Children Want YOU was my post that went viral.  It received more than a million reads in two days. 

I feel like if I write a book based on that post, I need to really promote it, and re-do my blog, and make the book as popular as that post.  I feel like I'll need to send my children away from me so I can keep up with all the details that go into such a mammoth project.

But I have zero desire to do that.

I don't want to be an author who is also a mother.  I want to be a mother who writes sometimes.

So where is all this leading me?

Yesterday, after reading one of the last chapters of Start, this question came into my head:

Who are you writing for?

And then these answers came to mind:

(1) I'm writing for myself.  This process of pouring my heart onto a blog or into a book is therapeutic for me--especially as I'm losing my mom.  I need to write. 

(2) I'm writing for my daughters.

This thought struck me the most.  My girls will hopefully be entering this motherhood world in the next 10 to 20 years, and I want to capture motherhood for them.  I want to record this life and these thoughts while they're happening, so when they need strength and encouragement, it will be waiting for them. 

But what's interesting is that they're not waiting until they're moms.  They're reading now.  Grace and Alia are my two most loyal blog readers.  Alia receives my blog updates on her phone, and sometimes she'll come home at the end of the day and say, "I liked your post, Mom."

Then the girls and I will talk about motherhood and family life and God, and I feel a connection to them that is deep and beautiful.

(3) I'm writing for "that mom" who needs this.

What seems to make the most sense is for me to simply make this blog private and share it only with my immediate family and close friends.  Lots of people do that, and it would be a whole lot less scary for me.

But every once in awhile I get an email from someone who lives far away--who I never would have met in a million years had it not been for this blog--and she says something like, "Thank you for writing. Please don't stop.  It makes a difference for me."

Here are some final thoughts: 

I don't need to write for a million people.  I need to write for individuals.

I don't need to go "bigger."  I just need to write what feels right--when it works with my life.

I don't need to be perfect.  I need to be authentic.

That feels a much more doable.

My children are up now, so I will close.  Thanks for being with me as I try to figure all of this out.  I appreciate you.

Love,
April




Friday, June 7, 2013

How Our Children See Imperfections

Quiet time has been at a premium around here.  My children have been out of school for eight days now, and while we are having a wonderful time together--going on outings and moving forward on lots of projects--I simply don't have the energy or stillness of mind to sit down and think . . . and write. 

Does summertime ever feel that way to you?  Does life ever feel that way to you?

Eric and I are figuring out some ways I can consistently carve out time to breathe and focus, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a little lesson I learned.

This morning, Alia painted a lovely watercolor:


I looked at it for a long time and finally asked, "Is that our house?"

"Yes," she replied, in a why-do-you-even-need-to-ask tone of voice.

I looked at it some more.  "It's so pretty." I thought.  "And it looks so happy. And she didn't even highlight all the imperfections."

The tree on the left, for example, is huge right now.  It desperately needs to be trimmed, and the branches are taking over our whole front yard.  But she drew it the way it's going to look once we get around to trimming it.

The tree on the right doesn't have any leaves at all.  It died more than a year ago, and we're planning to take it out, but life has been so full of other things that it has had to wait.  Looking at that dead tree always bothers me, but Alia drew its wavy branches and said with a smile, "See? That's our crazy tree."

This painting doesn't show you the cobwebs above our door or the two random rosebushes that are growing out from under the lilies (because I forgot to take out the roots when we replaced them).  Alia didn't draw dirt or rust stains on the garage door or the weird patches of grass that never fill in quite right in the center of our lawn.

See those blue pots on the porch with purple flowers? In real life, those pots are empty. They've been empty for two years. I kept thinking I would plant something nice to replace our dead geraniums, but I never did. 

Alia didn't care.  She knows that flowers should be in those pots, but she also knows what intentions are in my heart.

Every single day, it amazes me how quickly I turn to dwelling on my imperfections.  Honestly, sometimes that's all I can see.  I know that's silly, and I'm learning to be more gentle with myself, but my physical capacity can't keep up with the desires of my heart, and that can feel incredibly frustrating. You understand, don't you?

But little by little, I think adults can learn to see imperfections the way children do.

I'm going to keep this painting, and I don't want to forget this lesson: Imperfections are normal.  They are temporary.  They don't define us.  They might temporarily mask the beauty we wish we could see, but the potential is still there.  It always has been.  Sometimes we just need someone else to show us what we can be.

Can you guess what we did tonight?  Stopped by the local garden center and picked out flowers for those blue pots. Grace chose red and white ones, and I can't wait to plant them tomorrow.

Our home isn't perfect, but it's our home.  Our family isn't perfect, but it's our family.  Sometimes we all just need that reminder.

Much love,
April
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