Sunday, February 02, 2020

Gratitude and Grieving....

                                          Death ends a life...
                      not a relationship.
                              -Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie

As I sit at my computer this morning, a cup of coffee in hand after taking Daisy for a walk, I feel such a mix of sadness and gratitude.
Both Daisy and I are grieving because on Friday, January 24th at 7:20 pm, my beloved Bert went home to God.

Tears stream down my face as I write these words since the grief and loss is incomprehensible. After being in Bert's life for more than 37 years and married to him this April 7th for 36 years, I can't
imagine my life without him here. Even though I knew this was 
coming, we both did, the hole that is left is about the size of the Grand Canyon.

During the last few months, Bert was clear about how he wanted things to go. He wanted, instead of a memorial service, to have a "life celebration party" that he was a part of. After reading the book Tuesdays with Morrie, and seeing the movie starring Jack Lemon, Bert was struck by Morrie' decision to have a "living funeral." Morrie wanted to kiss and hold his loved ones and friends and hear the kind things they had to say about him. A proper "goodbye" if you will.

Bert loved that idea so on September 14th, two days after his birthday, we gathered with food, flowers and balloons to celebrate the love of my life. We shared old stories, our Pastor was there and talked about the HUGE gift Bert was to everyone he met, and how he had done pro-bono marriage counseling for 2/3rds of our congregation. Pastor talked about Bert being an usher, in the choir,
and giving of himself constantly to others. Sister Elisha sang Bert's favorite gospel song "You're All I Need." Bert was surrounded by family and friends and I knew God was smiling. What a good, unselfish and faithful servant Bert was.

Bert also wanted to be at home when he died, no more hospitals, and no hospital bed. He wanted to be surrounded by people who loved him. On January 24th he was at home, surrounded by family
who has been keeping watch over him the three previous days.

My dearly beloved wanted me by his side when he went home to God. I was exhausted Friday late afternoon so I went to take a nap
next to Bert and Daisy our special pooch came with me. I had my arms around Bert and my head next to his as I fell asleep. Several hours later, Daisy woke me up frantically, I turned to Bert and told him how much I loved him and held him as he took his last two breaths and went home to God.

This past week has been a blur as I try to come to grips with a monumental change, a change that rocks every part of my life.
Yesterday morning I went and got the box of the love letters Bert had sent me when we were dating. Just reading them reminded me
of how deep and wide and full Bert's love for me was. He was the love of my life, my soul mate and my very best friend.

I am holding on to God and my family as the reality sets in. I am comforted in knowing that God has got Bert, whole and healed, and that my beloved is no longer hurting and in pain. I am also comforted because I know God loves me and is holding me up.

I will miss him forever.
God Bless!
Love, Linda

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Word of the Year for 2020- GRATITUDE

         "In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power
        to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has
        the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has
        the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can
        help us cope with hard times."
                                            -Robert Emmons

I love the start of a New Year! I love that it's full of new possibilities. While I no longer make a long list of New Year's
resolutions that I may forget and discard when I get busy, I do wholeheartedly believe in self reflection. I do believe in working on being the best me I can be and that self reflection can help me get there.

So instead of making New Year's resolutions, in 2014 I started the practice of having a WORD for the year. That word would help guide me in the directions I wanted to go and the personal and professional growth I wanted to make.

My word in 2014 was wholehearted- I wanted to live my life by pouring my whole heart into everything I did. No half baked efforts or promises, I wanted to be all-in!

In 2015 my word was renew and I wanted God to renew a right spirit in me. I wanted to look for the good in others.

In 2016 my word was light. Just as for me, Jesus is the light of the world, light to me replaces the darkness in any situation. I wanted to focus on bringing positive light to everything I did.

In 2017 my word was hope. Hope is the expectation of positive things to come. I focused on knowing, with God's grace, that any situation can be turned around and bring hope.

In 2018 my word was serenity. No matter what the situation looked like from the outside, I wanted, with prayer, to feel calm and peaceful knowing that even in great loss, all shall be well.

In 2019 my word was transition. With easy and hard changes my focus was to be like a butterfly learning to fly. Things can transition into something even better as I look hard to see the blessings in the change.

As 2020 approached I contemplated what my word for the year might be. After all, this was not just a New Year but a new decade. I didn't have to think long and hard because I've learned that whatever word God has in store for me, that word will find me.

And it did.

I was standing in the hall at SCC where I teach and a former student rushed up to me. She had been in my Conflict Management class last year and anguished over her verbally aggressive conflict management style. She knew it was destroying her relationship with her boyfriend. As we stood in the hall, she described all she had learned in class, how she had applied it to her life and heart, and that everything had changed because of what she learned. With tears streaming she showed me her engagement ring and we hugged right there. 

She said she was so grateful that I had believed she had the potential to turn her life around. She knew if she changed her attitude and looked for gratitude that even in the toughest times all would be okay. She said I probably heard "thanks" all the time, but she wanted me to know she was so thankful I had been her teacher. And then she left promising to see me soon.

As I stood there tears started to stream down my face.  I was so overwhelmed that she took the time to say thank you.
My heart has been hurting so much lately with Bert's illness and this student's gratitude and thank you washed over me like a healing balm.

At that moment I knew my word for 2020 would be gratitude

I can either focus on what is hard, or I can focus on so many things that give me joy.

I can focus on feeling so scared that Bert is so ill, or I can
focus on the laughter of my darling grandkids.

I can focus on a loss or I can choose to look back at more than 35 years of pure joy and love.

I can focus on how hard this is or practice being present in the moment and see the white sparking snow outside.

I can focus on how alone I feel or remember that God is with me, and with Bert, in every moment we have left together.

Often people assume gratitude is merely ignoring any difficulties they are facing and only focusing on the positive. However, for me, practicing gratitude gives me the
ability to accept whatever my current challenges are while
still finding joy throughout the struggle.

So today as I sit by the fire typing this journal entry, I am so grateful to God for His love and blessings. I am so grateful for the wonderful and caring people He has brought into my life
And as 2020 evolves, I am trusting in Him each step of the way. With His grace and His love, I'll be grateful for it all!

God bless!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Living with Resolve...

             Sometimes the way to move forward is actually to throw an
         anchor. To profoundly commit. To steady yourself in a
         drifting world and say, 
                 "This is who I am. This is how it will be."
         Maybe the journey is to find resolve- and discover
         something beautiful in the process.

Until this morning I didn't know who Dennis Fullman was
and I had no idea that reading his words would change my life
or result in his blog post. You may not have heard of Dennis either.
If you saw his picture, you might notice that his well worn face has a smile that touches deep in your heart.

When I read his story and saw a picture of Dennis I said aloud,
"That's someone I want to know."

Before saying more about Dennis, it makes sense to share a bit of the backstory of our lives...Bert's and mine. The words don't come easily, but the tears do. This morning as the snow gently blankets the trees and the fireplace spreads a steady warmth over our home, it's as good a time as any to talk about Bert and talk about Dennis.

The first words Dennis wrote took my breath away...
" When things get back to normal" is something we never say anymore. I have terminal cancer, so nothing is normal. No day or year, because it's all pretty tumultuous with the medical ups and downs. But the truth is , I think we've found something better than "normal" days. My wife, Lilly, calls it tunnel vision- "the good kind." Because we are choosing to be intentional and live with resolve every single day. We've chosen not to look too far ahead
and not to get stuck in sorrow. We stay focused on the present day.
We steady ourselves committed to each other, living this life
as well as we can, resolved in our desire to finish well, no matter
how many days I have left on the earth."
                                                            Dennis Fullman (1952-2019)  

"Resolved in our desire to finish well" keeps echoing through
my mind and heart. Not his desire to finish well, not her desire to finish well.  But our desire to finish well. 

I said out loud..."That's it! That's what we are doing too, Bert and I. We are living with resolve, committed to each other, and we are resolved to live this part of life as well as we can...resolved in our desire to finish well.

It's not easy to talk about death and dying. It makes people uncomfortable. When someone we love is ever so slowly but surely heading to the finish line of their life, we don't know what to say
or do. Should we cheer them on? Should we say everything that is in our hearts? Should we move toward them instead of slowly inching away because of our own fears and discomforts?

What I know for sure is that after 35 plus years of being married to my beloved Bert that I love him now more than ever. I don't know
how many days, weeks or months he has left, but my deepest heart of hearts knows he could be gone tomorrow. Yet there is a peacefulness and resolve in Bert that I have seen every day since I met him.

The nurses who are helping to care for Bert constantly tell me how wonderful he is, how giving and open his heart is, and how he talks to them about how much he loves me. On their last visit to our home I said aloud, "I should probably get things in order" meaning things that will happen after Bert dies. Erin looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I would do that sooner rather than later."
Then, without skipping a beat, we went on to talk about the
kind of man Bert is and that how he is dying with grace and love and dignity and humor is a mirror of how he has been living all of these years.  

Bert loves and trusts God completely. He lives the words, 
"Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters,
Put your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea..."

Almost every day Bert tells me that he couldn't love me more.
I tell him that if his soul goes home to God first, when it's my time to go, my soul will find his soul. If I go first, his soul will find my soul when he goes home to God. And if we go home to God at the same time, our souls will hold hands as we make that last journey."

We are living with resolve in our desire to live well and finish well, no matter how many days Bert has left on this earth. 

And we are so grateful to God for holding us in this last part of the journey. 

God Bless!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Life Lessons From Ava....

          Don't Stop Because You Are Tired...
                     Stop Because You Did 
                    What You Set Out to Do! 
                                                                                            -Message on a Mom's t-shirt at the swim meet

I was so excited when I got the text message from my oldest daughter, Jessi, telling me the dates for my grandkid's swim meets. Truth be told, nothing thrills me more than screaming and yelling my head off in celebration for whatever my precious grandkids love doing. 

Emma and Owen love swimming and put their heart and soul into it.

Saturday afternoon I sat and yelled for Emma. She cuts through the water like a knife and makes backstrokes and butterflies and free styles look easy and effortless. Her passion for life comes through in how she does most everything in her life. 

I love that at one swim meet she grinned at me and said, "Nana, I could hear you yelling for me at the bottom of the pool!" 

Mission accomplished! 

You see for Bert and for me, aka Nana and Boppa, it isn't about where you place that matters. What matters is that you are doing something you love and you pour your whole heart into it.

Sunday morning I trekked out again to the Whitworth pool to see Owen swim. Owen, known as O by all of us who love him, is such a unique soul. I absolutely love the dragon drawing he did for me. I love seeing him swim and yell his heart out for his buddies, Aiden and Liam. They may be little, but they are powerful. They cheer each other on as if there is no tomorrow. They don't hold back their love and enthusiasm, nor do they look around slightly embarrassed because they are making a scene. 

Seahawks fans have screaming and yelling down to a fine science. Owen and his best friends give them a run for their money in the  "I AM ROOTING for YOU!" department.

And then there was Ava. 
Lord have mercy!

This little sweetie was just six years old, as big as a minute,
and it was her very first swim meet.

The pool dwarfed her as she stood in awe looking at the other swimmers, looking at the giant pool, and then glancing at her parents who were waving and praying for her not to drown.
As her Mama said, "Please God don't have her go to the bottom and I'll need to jump in and rescue her."

The tiny swimmers, some seasoned by being in a number of meets, took off for the half way mark, their arms and hands cutting through the water. There was a whole pack of them
racing for the half way point.

And then there was Ava. 

Way behind, each stroke seeming to take all her energy. 

Dear sweet baby Jesus, I thought we were all going to sweat bullets with her every arm movement and leg kick.

As she swam, you could see her glance over to the stands. Her eyes weren't on the pool as much as they were on her Mama and Daddy and her cheering section.

The other swimmers had eased back to the finish line and Ava had just barely reached the half way point.

They all stood frozen, watching her, mesmerized by her guts and determination.

What I loved most was seeing her, at the half way point, cling to the edge of the pool with one hand, and send a big huge wave and grin to the stands with her other teeny, tiny hand.

She wasn't self conscious because she was way, way last...
she was conscious that a whole room of people, young and old, believed in her and knew she could do what she had set out to do.

With tears streaming down my face as I looked at her tiny swim suit and cap, she started to swim for the finish.

All the other swimmers had made their mark long ago, but no one really cared.

The star of the show was Ava. 

Her determination and "I can do hard things" attitude had the whole swim center on their feet, screaming her name and clapping until their hands were raw.

I can't even recall this moment without crying again myself.

I will never, ever forget it.

Her parents were on their feet,  gesturing to the end of the pool, waving their arms and screaming her name.

When she made it to the end of the race, the grin on her face said it all...

      I knew I could do it because you believed in me.

In that moment, I felt like I finally understood, at the very deepest level,  what we can accomplish when someone believes in us and cheers us on from the sidelines.

I also realized that many children growing up don't have a cheering section, people who yell their name and clap their hands in glee, no matter what they are doing. Big or small.

I cried because Ava was so blessed to have a family who believed in her and I cried for all the children who don't have that same cheering section.

I'll never, ever forget the look on Ava's face as she pulled herself out of the pool and turned to face her cheering section.

She came in dead last. Last by a mile. The race had been over
some time ago. 

But no one cared where she came in. 

She was exhausted  but didn't let that stop her. She personified the quote on the Mom's t-shirt I had seen earlier...

Don't stop because you're tired.
Stop because you did what you set out to do.

And the crowd that had cheered her on? The folks of all ages that had called out her name? Our faces were all aglow.
High fives were being passed around between complete strangers. We had all seen such courage in motion in a tiny six year old girl with a huge heart. 

She knew she was loved. She knew her family believed in her.
And she knew she could accomplish anything!

Thanks for the life-lesson Ava!

God Bless!
Love, Linda

Monday, September 02, 2019

Not Giving Up...

                         "So we are not giving up! How could we!
                  Even though on the outside it often looks
                  like things are falling apart on us, on the
                  inside, where God is making new life, not
                  a day goes by without His unfolding grace."
                                                  2 Corinthians 4:16

I could barely hear her voice over the phone, yet I recognized the whisper. The moment she said my name, the tears started to flow.
My dear, dear friend Eileen Thompson, my daughter Jessi's mother-in-law, has ALS and little-by-little it has robbed her of walking, using her arms or hands and now it is taking her voice and ability to breathe on her own. 

Yet her whisper was so full of life, so full of gratitude that my heart almost burst with love for her.

"They are even more beautiful than the last ones you sent," she said, referring to the flower arrangements I have been sending her about every three weeks. "And the card just made me so happy. I love you, you know." 

I managed to whisper, "I love you too, dear friend."

I asked how she was today and the answer is always so amazing that I am left speechless when I hear it.

"I am so blessed," she whispered with certainty. "I have so much to be grateful for."

Now understand, if you will, that Bert and I have had a wonderful yet tough summer with his health issues.  Yet I'm not sure that honestly even once, when I have been asked how I was, that I remembered to say that I am blessed.

I managed to ask, "And why are you blessed today, Eileen?" 
I ask that question every time we go through this conversation.

She paused and said quietly, "God loves me. I have a purpose in life and I am not giving up."

My dear friend, once again, rendered me speechless. "Are you still there?" she asked and through tears I told her I was. "You know, " she went on, "My job is to pray for everyone all day long. I'm really very busy.  I pray for you and Bert every single night."

And I knew she did.

After the conversation, I thought long and hard about gratitude, feeling blessed and not giving up. You see I live with my beloved Bert who, like Eileen, doesn't give up either. And like Eileen, his gratitude for even the smallest things fills a room with joy.

How blessed I am to be reminded of God's love.
How blessed I am to have a friend like Eileen, who trusts God       with all her heart and lives her purpose every day.
How blessed I am to have spent the last 35 years married to my beloved Bert. 

Every day with him is a miracle!

Yes, like Paul said in Corinthians...

On the outside it may look like things are falling apart on us, but on the inside God is at work
sharing His unfolding grace!

What a great reminder. 
How are you Linda? 
I am blessed and I will not give up!

Sending loves, hugs and prayers your way!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Hint of Autumn...

                           "Autumn shows us how
                   to let things go."

Last night I was sitting out on the old swing in our back yard, bundled up in the quilt that resides there, with Daisy our sweet doggy snuggled down in the fabric with me. It was twilight, still a bit warm, and I could feel a peace start to encompass my spirit. I said out loud... 
                     "Thy will, not my will, Lord."
Daisy startled a bit, hearing a real human voice, and looked at me with those inquiring eyes as if to say, "Can't we stay here and swing back and forth just a bit longer?" I replied with tears starting to stream down my face, "Ok girl, just a bit longer."

I surveyed the garden, still rich with plants flowering, yet the edges of weariness starting to creep up their stems.

This garden and this swing and this precious puppy dog have been my haven this summer, my safe place to go. Tears here have a place that don't invite hard questions or wonderings that I simply don't have answers to.

What I know for sure is that while I have the questions, God has the answers. He is here in this garden, this safe place that I can let down the care-taking and just take a deep breath.

Then, while holding Daisy close and stroking her fur in a rhythmic motion she always loves, I happen to look over to one
of my favorite trees in our back yard and an "Oh, no" escaped my lips.

When I looked closely, even in this dusking twilight, I could see it there, the tiny stripes of red and yellow on the once green leaves.

I knew, so I said it out loud, "Ah, there's that hint of autumn."

I also knew I wasn't ready to let go...

Not ready to let go of summer, not ready to let go of more relaxed family time, and most of all... not ready to let go of my
beloved Bert.

Just that thought moved me to tears and soon Daisy was licking the tears on my face and snuggling in close. 

Mostly she does that with Bert these days as she knows something is very wrong and he is very ill.  She snuggles in close to him, puts her chin on his hand or leg, and comforts him any way she can.

Now, she has started to do that same ritual to me. She knows that my heart is breaking and that letting go of Bert, when it's his time to go home to God, will be the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Bert loves autumn. It's his favorite season with all its colors and he has a birthday coming up on September 12th. We are so grateful for every day Bert is here. We are so grateful for all the blessings God has bestowed on us. One of the blessings is that we have a host of dear folks praying for us. My dear friend Jackie has been on her knees praying for Bert and praying for me.  I am so, so grateful for every prayer and for every day I have with Bert. 

There's a little bit of summer time left and the full glow of wondrous autumn is still on the horizon. But it will come. It is right around the corner.

Just as the leaves are transitioning, so is my beloved.

For every time there is a season and what we know for sure is that God is good all the time! He is here with us and will not forsake us. He will carry us in every season.

"They will, not my will, Lord!"

God bless!
Love, Linda

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Put your hand in the hand...

                         "Put your hand in the hand of the Man 
                        who stilled the waters,
                 Put your hand in the hand of the Man
                         who calmed the sea."

This morning, when I clicked on a post by Bonnie Gray, my heart almost stopped. I read her first sentence and the tears started to flow. It said what I haven't been able to say out loud....

                    Sometimes you run out of words.

Most folks could not imagine that sentence could apply to me.
*After all, I am a heavy extrovert.
*After all, I am a teacher who teaches communication classes.
*After all, I love verbal exchanges that are real and authentic.

                      Run out of words, you might be thinking. 
                                          Not Linda?

Yet every time I have tried to turn to this blog and put down what I have been feeling and experiencing, I have felt so overwhelmed that I just couldn't do it. After all, it would make it all seem very real if I found the words to tell the whole story, or even a small part of it.

I've asked God, time and time again, for the words to put down, hoping if I did I might find some peace in the process.

Yet what has come up, during this very painful time. is a simple verse from the Bible that used to make me smile...

                  "Be still and know that I am God!"

This time I actually listened. I have worked on being still and sitting and praying, constantly turning my overwhelm over to Him.
His shoulders are strong, and I have put my hand in His hand. 
Just as He promised, He has carried me.

The gist of what is going on, as simply put as I can make it is this...
                 The loss of dear ones, ones so close to my heart, 
                                   has broken my heart.

While it may sound over-dramatic to some...the truth is that my heart feels broken. In the midst of many good things and blessings,
in the midst of great joys and gratitude, the loss of dear ones has me flabbergasted, almost speechless.

When Vicky Westra died and went home to God last October 13th,
I knew that her death was on the horizon. While I didn't know exactly when she would be gone from earth, she knew and I knew
it would be soon. We called each other "soul sisters," Vicky and I. 

We were so real with each other and did so with a sense of comfort and safety. During the last weeks of her life we texted back and forth every day. I was a sort of a "surrogate Mom" for her, she used to say.

When I saw Rick's post In God's Hands...I knew she was gone.
Yet I had no idea, absolutely no idea how big the hole would be with her absence. Like many others, I miss her every day.

At night when I'm out on the swing in our back yard, and the tears start to flow about Vicky, I practice putting my hand in the hand of Jesus...knowing He understands great loss.

Then, Ann Price, my dear friend and neighbor was diagnosed, out of the blue, with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Her memorial service was this last Saturday.

Joe Feryn, a dear friend of my daughters and in his 40s, passed away from leukemia, and his service is next Saturday. 

Our dear neighbor, Julia, who is 12 is fighting a wilm's tumor and isn't expected to live a long life.

My dear friend Eileen Thompson has ALS and is in assisted living with her husband Rog Sr.

Jackie, my forever friend, found out that her dear Daddy has leukemia.

Sharon's precious Scoutie has cancer.

The list goes on and on....

With each loss, and trying to support those who are left behind,
I have had some very tough conversations with God. I know that He does not give people cancer, or other illnesses, yet I am so sad and mad to lose these wonderful, wonderful folks. Everyone who knew them and loved them is grieving.

And on my own home front, my beloved Bert has been very ill and
has nursing care coming to our home. I know God holds my beloved in the palm of His hand....

            Yes, sometimes you just run out of words.

What I know for sure is that God didn't promise me that I wouldn't lose loved ones. Yet what He did promise me is that He would be
with me in the hard losses. He will never leave me or forsake me.
He knows that my heart is broken and He gently holds my broken heart in the palm of His almighty hand. He understands loss. When I put my hand in His, I have a sense in the midst of the hurt, that...

              "All is matter what, all is well."

He also reminds me to be grateful that these wonderful people have been in my life. What a blessing it is, and has been, to share my life with them. I loved them with my whole heart, just like they loved me that way too.

So, for today, I am focusing on gratitude. I am grateful that God led me to Bonnnie's post. Her sentence "sometimes you run out of words" was truly a gift from God. It helped to dislodge my overwhelm. It helped me to remember that God is with me in every loss, and I can put my hand in His hand and all is well!

And for that blessing... I am so, so grateful!

Sending you loves, hugs and prayers!
God Bless!
Love, Linda


Gratitude and Grieving....

                                          Death ends a life...                       not a relationship.                                -...