Monday, January 13, 2014

Beyond the Dark

It's interesting how one's outlook changes through the years. There was a time when I thought our family was perfectly "normal" - no divorce, addictions, mental issues, different sexual identities, illegal doings.... The few of these things that did exist were not in our immediate family and were never talked about.

Only on rare occasions did I overhear adults speaking in hushed tones about such things; therefore, I thought they were practically non-existent. Little did I know...

They say that ignorance is bliss, but is it really? Children look to the adults in their lives to show them how to deal with life and all that it throws at one. Not acknowledging nor talking about problems is really not dealing with them at all and is of no help to those around us who care.
For when it finally becomes your turn to deal with something "unthinkable" - and your turn will come, I assure you - you will probably have no idea how to do that. Of course no one deals perfectly with the bumps in life's road, but even admitting the hurt, frustrations, and feelings of loss and inadequacy is better than silence. We are all imperfect beings, and helping each other through the rough times is of immeasurable value.
I now know that our extended family is a mixed bag, made up of individuals who struggle with all kinds of issues. As a group, we have experienced estrangement, separation, divorce, addiction, depression, personality disorders, mental illness, homosexuality, dementia, prison time, joblessness and homelessness...  For we are, after all, a part of the human family. If you have not had to deal with any of these things, you are indeed fortunate. Going through, or helping someone else get through, rough times can either steel and embitter us OR make us more compassionate. The choice is ours.
In this season of darkness, many are hurting. Family, financial, physical and mental problems weigh even heavier on those afflicted amidst the bright lights, hustle, bustle and good cheer that others seem to enjoy. With today a blur and the future unimaginable, many see little hope, if any. Those of us who are able try to offer some measure of help with encouragement, shelter, food, employment, money, and gifts, but often the need runs deeper still. And so we simply BE THERE - in thought, prayer, service, and person. God fulfills His promises through us - lest we forget:

There is a light out there somewhere
far away, flickering on and off
in the distance.
Small and wavering,
seemingly unreachable,
it casts a small glow
into the darkness.
I have no idea how to reach it
nor even how to begin
to wander in its direction,
for my heart is numb
and my feet are leaden.
Often I cannot see it,
yet I know it is there.
Silent within the tumult,
it beckons me still,
for I feel its faint echo
somewhere deep within
longing for its warmth
and aching for its comfort,
yet lost and alone
Somehow it nourishes,
sustains me to a degree,
while taunting and urging
to face in its direction,
take that first small, faltering step
even as I teeter on the brink
of all that is feared and unknown.
All around is darkness -
cold, and comforting in its way.
But I am not a child of darkness;
I do not dwell here willingly.
Somehow I must pass through,
come out on the other side
into the warmth and light.
I cannot ask, but you must know -
Reach out and touch me,
though I am stiff and ice-cold.
We will hold hands and walk
through the misery together
toward that flickering light
that offers a ray of HOPE.
 There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.  
Proverbs 23:18
...we who have fled to take hold of the hope
offered to us
may be greatly encouraged.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul,
firm and secure.    
Hebrews 6:18-19

**I am trying a  larger print for this post. 
Please let me know if this makes any difference to your viewing.**

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Gifts of Here and Now

"I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day.  We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year.  As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year.  And thus I drift along into the holidays - let them overtake me unexpectedly - waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself:  "Why, this is Christmas Day!"  ~David Grayson
Well, not quite - although I do agree with the sentiment, it's obvious it was written by a man. Most of the women I know were busily working on Christmas activities for weeks. I've long felt that if it were not for women, holidays would not be nearly what they are - the positive and the negative side. That, I suppose, is a whole 'nother topic for some other time. But there is much to be said for taking Christmas a little at a time, especially when it comes to priceless gifts.
 After the dual dramas of dealing with the moves* of two elderly relatives, we treated ourselves to some early "Christmas gifts". In early October, we - with older sister in tow - made the three hour drive to visit our youngest niece and her dad. Having finally convinced him to make the move last spring, she was anxious for us all to re-connect as soon as possible. We definitely felt the same, as her dad is the husband of the beloved sister we lost two years ago at this time of year. He also suffers from Alzheimer's, so time is of the essence...
Love of and connection to family are strong forces in most people's lives, but I think take on deeper meaning as we age. As a child, I never thought about, nor could I have envisioned, living without either or my parents or my older sisters. Life simply progressed day by day and many of the thoughts and feelings I had concerned things that were somewhat trivial as I look back on them. They were important to me at the time, however, and I do not mean to infer that they were unimportant, for that is the way of youth. If I had needed to be concerned about my relationship with the rest of my immediate family, I might not have had the energy and drive to pursue the thoughts and actions I did in other areas of my young life.
As it was, I had a fairly carefree childhood and blissfully skipped from one year to the next. Perhaps I was overly naive, but I like to believe that the adults in my life gave me the security and confidence to move forward. I ache for those children who do not have that kind of stability in their lives.
My oldest sister went off to college the year I turned two and began teaching the year I entered first grade. She has always been independent, so moved forward in her career, attended graduate school, traveled widely for work and pleasure, and remained single. For most of her life she lived elsewhere in Montana, but always drove home to spend holidays with us. Because of our family-owned floral and greenhouse business, she spent many of those visits home working - either in the store or cooking/cleaning at the house. I never doubted that she would be there and greatly anticipated her visits and hearing stories of her latest travels and adventures. She was always my "Big Sister".
Our middle sister, who was only fifteen months younger than the oldest, also went off to college when I was four. She chose her own route, however, and married the love of her life in her senior year. Because he was in graduate school, they moved east immediately and she completed her schooling there. Never again did she live close, but they - eventually with three daughters in tow - made the long trek back to Montana almost every summer. Again, I never doubted that they would come and longingly looked forward to that one precious week when all the family could be together.
My oldest sister had introduced our other sister and her future husband in college, so she has known him longer than any of us. Even before he married our sister, he blended into our family easily. Raised on a small farm, he had humble beginnings, but chose a career in biochemistry; he eventually earned a PhD, did research, and became a university professor. I fell in love with him early in life, and always, ALWAYS enjoyed talking with him about science, outer space, and spooky "unknowns".  I never doubted that we would always have these wonderful conversations.
There is just so much we all take for granted. As little as two and a half years ago none of us foresaw where we would all be today - and maybe that's a good thing. Time and distance have made "in- person" visits difficult, but we have all worked at keeping in touch and that is what really matters.
As with we older ones, life circumstances have scattered our progeny across the country and muddied the waters of connectedness. I understand this. I also know that it takes time and effort to establish and maintain any connection. My sincere hope is that they will find the time and make the effort to do that, because there just is no connection on earth like family bonds.
And so we made that three hour trek for the specific purpose of maintaining those bonds and establishing new ones. For there are new generations and new relationships to become acquainted with. Our youngest niece and her significant other have also made the same drive to see us twice in the last month for the very same reason. They both have busy careers and active lives, so the decision to come, and the notification to us of same, were done with short notice. No matter - we've all learned to "go with the flow" and be as flexible as we can. Perhaps it takes losing someone or watching them slowly fade away for us to truly value those we have here and now. When it comes to those I cherish, I'll take what I can get whenever I can.
It's said that a road runs in both directions and that is certainly true. You see, a simple three hour drive for a weekend visit is not such a simple thing to me - it has great meaning and is one of the finest gifts I could ever receive.

"You have to be vulnerable

to have real intimacy with people.

It's a two-way street, you know?"
~ Michelle Pfeiffer

*For background on the "dual dramas" of the moves:
November Musing - Part 1
November Musing - Part 2


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Shine Your Light

Prom-ise noun: a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future.
At the beginning of each brand new year, many people traditionally seek to set a goal for the coming twelve months. They may easily discuss this plan with those they know or quietly keep it to themselves, but the idea is the same: to do or accomplish something that they deem important which they've not done before - or at least not succeeded at.
It's as if January first is an automatic re-set of time, a second chance to actually form a new habit and DO what they've said they'd do. It is making a promise to one's self, if you will. Most often, however, these promises fall by the wayside before ever being fully kept.
Re-solve verb: to make a definite and serious decision to do something.
But if we definitely know what the goal is and take it seriously, why do we so often fail? There probably are many reasons. Perhaps we aren't specific enough in our own minds about what it is we want to do. Losing ten or twenty pounds might be a worthy goal, but without a detailed plan as to exactly how we plan to do this the chance of success is practically nil.
Maybe we aren't as committed as we think we are. Resolving to set aside a certain amount of money in a savings account by a particular deadline is also laudable, but if we're easily swayed by that "must-have" item and think we'll save double next month, the plan is easily foiled. All our good intentions go swiftly down the drain and we're back to square one...
We've all heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't know about that, but I do know that intending and doing are two different things. If it were a matter of life or death to lose those ten to twenty pounds, we'd likely figure out how to do so. Assuming we had adequate means, saving that money would be a priority if it meant sending our kids on in school. It's all about whatever we decide to do - clearly defining that and taking it seriously. It's about gut-level determination. 
"Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin."
Mother Teresa
New Year's resolutions need not concern only ourselves and our personal desires. They can encompass any number of ideas and/or people. Within any given group, individuals can put their heads together and come up with agreed-upon goals well worth pursuing. Discussing and reaching consensus can be trying, but actually acting upon the task(s) is truly monumental.

I honestly believe that most of us can do whatever we set our minds on doing. If we look back on this past year, we can see that this is true. Over the course of a lifetime, each of us makes decisions - carefully calculated and well-considered or rapid-fire and instantaneous - that determine how we will act. As we move forward into 2014, perhaps we need a new vision - one that is clear and specific - as to how we will best live this life we've been given. No matter our age, as long as we are alive, there is meaningful work to do. We need not be concerned with how big the challenge, but only that we play a part - one small step at a time, one moment to the next, forward towards a goal. It's a brand new year and the clock is ticking... Let's get out there and DO IT!

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."       
Matthew 5:14-16