My mother still knows the meaning of the words she hears. This is true even in the mid to late stage 5 of her Alzheimer’s journey. Thus, on a certain Sunday morning, she was gripped by the words she heard. A song she had never listened to prior to this particular morning.
Here is a very short entry from my journal I’d like to share with you.
The culture in the West has messed with some beautiful words: extraordinary, spectacular, miracles, awesome. This list could go on. Some think we should stop using these words. Apparently they are so overused that they are no longer useful. For example, we shouldn’t use the word spectacular unless we can describe the elements that make it so. We shouldn’t say something is “awesome” and stop. We should go on and describe the actual qualities that makes it so awesome.
Part of me disagrees with this all this. It appears far too cynical for my “joyful bent.” And yet, I do love words. And words convey meaning. And if we throw words around, we can lose so much.
Faithful is another one of those words. “God is so faithful.” I hear this A LOT. Or anger about the lack thereof. “Where is God when you need him? I’m losing my home due to years of unemployment!”
Faithful, faithfully. These words are drowning in a puddle of overuse.
You see signs of God not abandoning the world in Jean Vanier’s L’Arche movement.
You see signs of God not abandoning the world in the catholic worker.
You see signs of God not abandoning the world in Martin Luther King.
You see signs of God not abandoning the world in the everyday work of Christians which are not in any way calling attention to themselves, in the family who cares for the child who will never be a success…in the people who think they have all the time in the world to teach children who have trouble learning how to read.
Our world is filled with God’s presence through people who do the small things, the neighborly things that help us discover what God’s peace looks like.
Excerpt from video: What is a “Christian?” Stanley Hauerwas reluctantly defines Christianity and talks about the signs of a baptized life and identity. – TheWorkOfThePeople.Com
There is a lot we can learn about mentoring from observing the dormant wood on a clematis vine. Mentors grow weary. Yes, I am afraid it is true. So do teachers, pastors, CEOs and parents. There are days when we all find ourselves on the verge of losing heart. Coming alongside the people God gives is a call to be a servant. And last time I heard, being a servant is hard work. That is why I am drawn to my backyard garden. It is there I often discover rich metaphors that help me better navigate the call to love and serve others so that they and I might become more fully human.*
One of my clematis vines grows a community of beautiful purple flowers in June. The vine itself is over six years old. At the end of each season many gardeners cut their clematis vine to the ground, which for some varieties is a mistake. It took many years of my studying this particular vine to know about its way. For the first two years I cut it to the ground at the end of each summer. For certain, new shoots would emerge from the soil the following spring, but the growth was not cumulative nor was it prolific.
This is me and that vine after I learned to NOT cut it to the ground. This was in 2007, the year my sister died from cancer/suicide. This plant reminded me that I can still hope in the midst of grief and death.
Yet, this particular clematis is of a variety that requires that the gardener allow the vine to go dormant and the old wood to cling to the fence over the winter months. Come spring, when the weather warms, new growth will emerge from the dormant wood of last year’s vine. Through trial and error, I learned that my vine preferred to be left intact; desired that its old wood be understood and experienced for its life. So I stopped cutting it back. I allowed the vine to be as it wanted over the winter months. And in the spring it brought forth branches and blooms in ways I would have never imagined.
My most treasured verse in scripture comes from the book of
We all have days when life is hard. These can be normal ordinary days when we have simply too much or too many: too much laundry, too many children vomiting, too many emails to return. I might have too much weight to lose or too many friends to please. It can get more serious than this when I have too much grief to bear to or too many lonely nights to face. But in all cases big and small, too much is just…well…it’s just too much! And too many is the same — too many.
On this Alzheimer’s journey, I have my days where it all feels too much, when life is hard. Lately I’ve noticed Mom is wearing the same clothes every day, rarely changing them unless she is prompted. Showers on her own initiative are fewer and farther between. And just a few weeks past, for the first time EVER, she forgot my name. Her forgetting only lasted about five minutes. But it was the longest five minutes of this journey thus far. I hate this so much. The ambiguous grief feels too much.
Is there something that feels too much for you? I think we need to give ourselves permission and admit that life can sometimes just really be hard!
Stop and notice I am not saying BUT. I am saying AND.
And, according to my mother, when something is hard I don’t always have to “take it like that.” In other words, sometimes I make it harder than it needs to be at the moment. In the following conversation, my mother taught me that it is sometimes VERY APPROPRIATE to not take life so hard when life is hard. She didn’t know it at the time and neither did I, but in this dialogue, she tells me how to live well during these days/years of Alzheimer’s. Read this endearing post written by my mother over a year ago, transcribed by me.
We often fail to realize that the ordinary can be extraordinary. This is one reason why hope can wane during times of trying to make ends meet, when we are putting one foot in front of the other, doing our day-in and day-out tasks. Read the quote in the image below and ponder it for a minute. Read it 2-3 times and soak it in. Then read on.
You are busy so I’ll keep this post short.
Ordinary Can Be Extraordinary
I have loved
This quote makes me laugh. And it is so true for me and for many gardeners I know. In fact, for most people who have something they do with their hands (woodworking, cooking, knitting, building an engine) they are happier. And happy is NOT bad. If we do something in the pursuit of happiness as an end in itself, we may end up disappointed. But to do something so that we do it well and so that others are served, then happiness happens! So does joy.
Yes, this quote rings true for me. Gardening has helped me find joy (an attitude) and happiness (a state of being) in the midst of tough times. Thanks be to God. What is one thing you can take up doing — something that requires the use of your hands? Do it. Take it up. It will bless others. THAT brings joy. And your spirit will be lifted.
It is mid September here in Colorado. We had some really cold weather last week, so cold I had to cover up my garden goodies two nights in a row. But this week it has been in the low 80’s and I am finding a few gems out in my backyard garden.
Late summer is a time for that. I may think my pole beans are done, but I find a few more on the vine. And then I peek close to the ground and see a few last cucumbers. That one more ripe tomato makes me scream with delight. Am I being melodramatic? Yes, I am and I don’t care. A garden is worthy of drama.
If you are a gardener,
Healing in the garden. In the last 11 years, I have navigated at least 11 hardships (some I would call tragedies). Each time I have gone to my backyard garden and put my hands in the soil. I have been made better there. Thanks be to God this is true. And, I think the hard clay soil is different as well. Thanks be to God this is true.
This is a picture of my Rose of Sharon bush. It blooms in August. I love things that bloom in August, don’t you?
I adore this quote. Adore it. Why? It tells me that I’m allowed to participate in the creation of things. Even if all I do is put a seed in the ground and step back to watch it grow. I get to clap for two reasons. (1) God is creative and benevolent and fun and whimsical and….. (2) And I participate with him in all this. He invites me in. So clap away in your gardens my dear friends. You garden (or whatever you do) WITH God. You change diapers WITH God. You create a new Excel spreadship WITH God. You clean out the garage WITH God. You teach WITH God. It’s a WITH God life. God celebrates you as you celebrate Him. Clap away because it is a shared moment of delight WITH God.