Welcome!

This is where I talk about the books I read and the books I write. It's also were I explore, record, and share the life that is my legacy.

Night Birds – Just Being Me

DeKok Pond

Jon and I bought our first house exactly one month before we were married. I moved in first so I could nest. I loved nesting!

Our little home was in Rochester, and that worked well for me. But Jon couldn’t get the country out of his system. Although we built another home in town, and moved in a year or so later, that was Jon building up equity and biding his time.

On weekends, we drove gravel roads looking at places for sale. It was fun, but it seemed like a faraway dream.

One day Jon said he wanted me to join him and a contractor to look at some lots. That sounded more serious, and a little scary. How would this city girl do in the country?

We met the guy, drove around the lots and stopped at the one the guy thought was the least attractive, except for the pond. We stood by the little body of water where cattails grew and the men talked about wells, septic tanks, and prices.

I focused on the sounds around me. It was like an evening choir! In my excitement I said to the men, “Listen to the night birds!”

DeKok Pond Cattails 2

In the pre-dusk I could see both of them clearly. Their eyebrows raised and although they both smiled, it was obvious they were holding back chuckles.

Not content with their response I said, “Really! Have you ever heard them sing so loud?” I was delighted, and suddenly in love with the idea of living in the country beside a pond where I could listen to these mysterious birds every night.

“What kind of birds are they?” I asked determined to know as much as I could about my surroundings.

The contractor looked at Jon (in that way that says, “This is all yours, man!”) who quietly said, “Honey, they are frogs, crickets, and toads.”

Hopeful the gray of the evening would cover my red cheeks, but not discouraged I said, “Wow! They don’t sound quite like this in town.”

I’d never been so close to them, and couldn’t get enough.

We didn’t buy that piece of land, and the first one we did buy didn’t have a pond, but even there, oh my how those country bugs and amphibians could sing!

After a few years, we moved back to town, thinking it was time, but it wasn’t. I liked our house, we had great neighbors, it was more convenient, but I was lonely for the solitude, and I was homesick for the wildlife choir. In our lovely neighborhood, their song was drowned out by cars and motorcycles – even at night.

Soon, it was me asking for drives on gravel roads in search of a country place. I’d fallen in love with space between homes, where one can pray or sing or cry or plan novels outside, out loud and not be heard.

One day after work, Jon mentioned he’d found some land for sale and asked if I’d like to see it. We drove up a gently curved driveway and parked. The house needed a lot of work, the only out-building was (and is) a worn-out dirt-floor shed with big holes where mice hid and feral cats hunted. Even in the slightly overwhelming structural needs, there was just something about this place that called to my heart. I asked Jon when we could see the inside of the house. He said he’d call a realtor soon. We decided to stay awhile longer in the quiet.

Then it happened.

They started to sing from somewhere deep in the woods. First it was just a few then the air seemed to explode with sound. Night birds! Lots of them. More than we’d ever heard before.

We smiled at each other in the now soft gray of the approaching evening as the sound swelled around us. It felt like a welcome home. We came back the next day and the one after that. Then, we came again with our realtor and our great-niece Grace. We walked among the apple trees and in the fields, and finally down the hill to the country choir loft.

We were hooked.

The pond that is more a bog is in a valley at the bottom of our woods (quite a ways from the house). During three seasons of days it’s where red-winged blackbirds build neighborhoods in the cattails, and raise their young, and where baby wood ducks follow their mother closely leaving paths in the soft green pond scum. And where dragonflies, bees, and butterflies dance, bumble, and flutter. And later, it’s where there crickets, toads, and frogs sing. In time, from across the way, the coyote, fox, and owl join in.

DeKok Pond Cattails

Some nights they’re so loud, we can’t hear each other talking and head back up the hill to listen from a distance. We open the windows and listen, at home in our hearts when the “night birds” sing.

Soon, before the snow flies, I’ll go to the pond and say a quiet seasonal good bye to this lovely place. It’s a tricky walk down there for me, and winter makes it more difficult. I’ll miss the lovely mess it is, and the songs of the creatures that call it home.

On the first day of March or April when the path is dry enough for a Gator ride down, I’ll go back. And again I’ll be delighted by the trills and croaks and bug sounds that announce the advent of warmer days, blossoms, and the rustle of old cattails and bullrushes.  I’ll shut the Gator off and remember the first time I heard the night birds. I’ll smile at the heavens, enjoy a peanut butter sandwich a hot cup of coffee, and be grateful for my front-row seat in this wild sanctuary of sorts. Because God created them and put them here. And when I’m there, it feels personal. As if He created them and put them there for me. And perhaps, He did.

DeKok Pond Bullrushes

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20 & 21 (NLT)

Until Next Time,

Joy

I Can & She Can’t {Mama & Me)

I Can & She Can't Fall 2014

Riding the gator, I stopped to look at fall whispering its way in over the almost-ready-to-harvest soybean field. And I remember what Mama can’t.

Last year was a grieving fall. The leaves changed, and so did we – Mama and me. We’d stopped denying the onslaught of the dementia months before, but it felt more real when our favorite time of the year arrived. She no longer enjoyed it the way she had. Fall was just another time to be.

So, I didn’t decorate our home the way I had in the past. Because we both thought of September through November as the best time of  year, we decorated as much (or more!) then we did at Christmas. Instead, I decided to leave my pretties in their boxes. It hurt too much not to share it with her. But grief is often a two-sided emotion; it also hurt not to celebrate the loveliness of the season. I hesitated until it was time to put out Christmas decorations, and went through the same ping-pong game with my heart. I stopped doing most of our  Mama & Me things.

I kept hearing a question in my heart that caused me to shudder: if I enjoy fall the way we used to, am I betraying her?

The obvious answer is, of course not, but sometimes the journey to cherishing the past and allowing joy in our present takes some time. And even though I knew it was okay, I let grief-driven fear, and lie-driven guilt stop me.

This year, in a determined desire to live free, I decorated for fall. I’m late – we used to start in August, but it happened a day or so ago. Although I’m using many of the same decorations, these days I prefer less. A little something over here and another over there are not only enough – they are exactly right. And every one of them has a memory attached – a moment we shared when Mama was fully herself.

As I putzed and decided where to put each pumpkin, acorn, candle, placemat, or dish, the tears flowed because I wish she could come over and celebrate fall with a piece of homemade whole wheat apple cake and coffee again, but she can’t, and while it’s all so important to me, it no longer matters to her.

acorn

fall dish

So, I pray and cry and thank God for the many years we reveled in the colors, arrangements, smells, and flavors of fall. For oodles of trips to Old America (an older version of Hobby Lobby), The Crafty Mouse, Michael’s, apple orchards, and lunch at our favorite Amish restaurant/bakery. Daddy drove on our apple day because baked chicken, mashed potatoes with real chicken gravy, green beans, and pie sitting in a wooden booth was the perfect date for three.

We grew gourds, little pumpkins, and Indian Corn for our tables and other nooks and crannies. I didn’t do that this year, but there are other ways to enjoy corn.

Corn Pitcher

As I write this, I’m with her. It’s a gray day, and she’s snoozing. She woke up briefly and asked me why I was smiling.  I said, “I’m remembering our good old days.” She said before nodding off again, “That’s nice.”

And it is nice. So very nice. Later today, I’ll go home and enjoy my fall feeling home for me and Jon and because it’s fun when the house smells like apple potpourri in one room and pumpkin spice in another. And I do love my funky metal pumpkins.

funky pumpkin

This part of our journey isn’t just about the pretties, it’s about honoring her legacy to me. She taught me to celebrate the times of my life with my heart wide open. Especially fall. So I will. Because it’s our season.

For every season

Sometimes when someone you love has dementia, you have to trust what you knew about them before to know what they’d want you to do now. And in the best days of our past, if Mama had known I was going to struggle with this, and she’d have said, “Don’t let this or anything else stop you from doing what you love!”

I want to tell her that her words are still guiding me, but today is a tired day, and I’ll let her rest. Instead, I’ll let go of the guilt, take a few deep prayer-filled breathes, and accept the stark and crushing truth that I can and she can’t and she never will again. And I’ll trust Him to help me because even in my determination, dementia hurts.

This year it’s a grateful, grieving fall. Maybe I’m getting better at it, but it’s more likely that God is infusing my heart with His merciful comfort. That’s what He does for grown women who sometimes feel like lost little girls because their hearts are breaking and full of joy at the same time. I still have Mama, and our memories and I’m grateful. Even in the moments when she looks at me as if I’m a stranger. Because I remember her and for now, that’s enough for Mama & Me.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  

2 Corinthians 1:3 (NLT)

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  

2 Corinthians 1:3 (NLT)

Weeds, Age, & Beauty {A Pondering Post}

I spend a lot of time in my wildflower garden and in the ditch where there are wildflowers others might call weeds. I’m not weeding or working the ground. I’m pondering. God’s creation. Jesus. The Spirit’s power. The Word of God. Love. Life. Fear. Beauty. Knowledge. Wisdom. Prayer. Dreams past and present. Sorrow. Happiness. And age.

The day before my tenth birthday, I cried. Because from that point on I would always have two numbers in my age. My mom held me, and my dad tried to cheer  me up by saying, “Unless someday you have three numbers in your age.” I cried harder, and Dad through his hands up in the air.

I liked my single digit years, and they’d gone so fast. That night I cried myself to sleep in the dark.

What I didn’t know is that I was a beautiful bud.

beautyintheditch

In my twenties, I worried myself sick. I believed I was not good enough and was absolutely not beautiful enough. So, I dieted until I got fat. (I’m NOT kidding!) If it was in style I did it to my hair, wore what others (who were not my husband) thought was appropriate and should have bought stock in Enjoli because if I was going to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let him for he was a man, I was going to need more than one spritz!

What I didn’t know was that I was a already radiant blossom.

1598993_10203993715469473_3994238004537438756_o

And suddenly, I was fifty and in a crisis because I’d failed far more than I’d succeeded, and I worried that life was winding down, and time was running out.

Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought. ~Emily Dickinson

In a few months, I’ll be fifty-seven, which my great-niece Grace tells me isn’t old. But my knees and spine are singing a much-different tune. (Plus, I’m older than all of her grandmas!) My skin is softer, and parts of me are headed in the wrong direction. And because I’m only 3 1/2 years away from sixty, I no longer worry that time is running out, I know it is. And the knowing is better than the worrying.

I’ve been doing an in-depth inventory of my life – my dreams, failures, successes, faith, and stuff. Big stuff. And I’m being brutally honest. Because  it’s time. Some days it feels like I’m peeling callouses  off of my heart. I’m admitting to my brokenness, that I’m worn out by lies I’ve allowed to be the truth, am bruised by the losses, and I’m strangely exhilarated by the possibilities God and I have ahead of us in the time that is the rest of my life.

There is more gray than gold in the hair on my head and what was gold is more of a tarnished color. For years, I threatened to dye it. Which leads to me to a story. One day I was walking at the Mall, and a young woman came up to me. She was full of tats, piercings, and her hair was jet-black and she wore the same color on her eyes, lips, and fingernails. The only color other than black in her clothes was a streak of blood-red here and there.

And you know what? She was beautiful. And she made a huge impact on my middle-aged life.

“Your hair is beautiful. How do you get it that color?”

Let me be completely honest with you – my hair is a painful part of my story. It is not only graying and thin –  it is gone in places. Yes, I have bald spots, and they are especially visible in the food courts lights and open-to-the-sky ceiling.

Astonished, I blushed (it could have been a  hot-flash, but let’s go with blushed), thanked her and said something like, “God gave it to me – all you have to do to have this color is get old like me.”

I know – classy right?

She looked closer and said, “It’s really beautiful. I wish you could see the way it shimmers all gold and silver in this light.”

Okay, so you might be thinking she was on something hallucinogenic because of her appearance (someone I told this story to actually said that!), but please put away any prejudice you might have. I looked into her eyes. She wasn’t high – she had a kind and beautiful heart.

She left before I could say another word and the noise around us filled in the space between us.

I pushed my bangs back and felt the front bald spot and thought to myself; she probably caught the glare from my scalp is all. But for some reason, my self-loathing couldn’t undo the good she’d done or steal the gift she’d given me.

Because in the just-past-blooming-phase of my life I didn’t know, I shimmered. And it wasn’t until recently I realized she was right – I do.  

10403018_10204139149705238_3146765981156047942_n

Not long ago, Conner (who is seven) and I were taking a Gator ride, and I stopped to look at a thistle blossom in the ditch. Because that’s what I do, and he’s used to it. When he saw a stand of worn out wild yellow goat’s beard releasing its seeds, he said, “That’s a mess!”

20140809_134210

He moved on to grasshopper watching, and I stood mesmerized by the glorious tangle in front of me, knowing God had something beautiful for me there. It reminded me of a bunch of great ideas or spiritual gifts or stories ready to take off.

It reminded me of me. And the coming years. And that I’m not done. Not even close.

Because, before the flower that is my life is spent, I have books to read, my faith to share, love to give, love to accept, coffee to drink, prayers to say, answers to receive, songs to sing, dances to dance, and so much more. I want to love God deeper, kiss Jon more, honor my parents, remember with  my family, laugh harder, cry easier, learn to speak Spanish, take better pictures, practice yoga, and walk many miles.

And I have stories to tell and books to write, poems to write and photographs to take. Lots of them.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.~Maya Angelou 

I used to think the best of times of our lives were in the bud and blossom stages of the season. I now know that the whole season of one’s life is beautiful and even in the middle of the shimmering glorious tangle, I am beautiful. My life is beautiful.

Someone once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I admit to my beauty and the beauty in my life, not because of how I look or who I am. But because of the One (Jesus) who beholds (sees, searches, and knows) my heart. And the more I believe in His love for me, and immerse myself in it, the more I believe I am beautiful. (It’s taken a lot of callus peeling to get to this point!)

And as long as God gives me breath, although there are days I am undone, I am not done. And although I’m stunned by the aging process, I’m not too old.

In the last days of her life, Jon’s mom lived in a nursing home. It was depressing for her and us. For a day or so she felt like giving up. But one day she made a decision: she wasn’t done living until God said, and she was going to spend the rest of her days living there for Him. She did everything they asked her to do to get well. The lady tried hard.

The day she passed from here to there, her doctor, nurses, PCAs, the workers in the kitchen, the activity director, and house cleaning staff wept with us. They whispered their good-byes, and I love yous through tears. They wished, like us that they could have more time with her. They cared for her almost emptied out body with incredible tenderness. They held us closely. And shared memories of her stories, jokes, acts of kindness, and of her deep and abiding faith. And as the last seeds of her glorious tangled mess left, I saw the ones she’d planted in our hearts and the hearts of others take root. She was only there a few months, but she was beautiful, radiant, and shimmering to the end as she did the work God gave her to do. And she spent every seed He gave her.

20140809_134233

Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God, and I put all my hope in Him. ~Michelangelo

The life of this beautiful wild goat’s beard (considered a weed by some) is almost past. It leaves behind a legacy far greater than the seed it came from as it releases its tiny offspring into the breeze to be carried away to other places to bud, blossom, shimmer, and share their full season of beauty where God plants them.

A weed is but an unloved flower. ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

You are beautiful, radiant, and shimmering too. Really. You are.

Until Next Time,

Joy

Someone once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I admit to my beauty and the beauty in my life, not because of how I look or who I am. But because of the One (Jesus) who beholds (sees, searches, and knows) my heart. And the more I believe in His love for me, and immerse myself in it, the more I believe I am beautiful.

The Boss of That {A Mama & Me Post}

thistleaaa

(Some times mornings with Mama are a combination of thorns and beauty.)

Mama was not happy with me this morning. Her fingernails needed clipping. We got all but three of them done, but today is not the day to finish the job.

What’s a daughter to do? Honor her. Today and every day.

When I was a child and memorized the 10 Commandments, I took the honor your father and your mother one very seriously. (Exodus 20:12) Perhaps it was taught with additional emphasis. It wasn’t until I was much older that I read the same advice in Ephesians 6: 1-3  and realized there was a promised attached to the commandment. I remember thinking, “That’s cool.”

And it is. Even today.

Sometimes dementia causes Mama to behave differently – like a child – a naughty child. She doesn’t just resist things that are good for her or important for her to do – she resists them. The first time this happened, I stepped back and looked into her eyes because we had ceased to be able to communicate verbally.  What I saw made me want to cry. Confusion, frustration, and fear were driving her to respond in anger.

I went into the other room and asked silently, “Lord, how do You want me to honor her on days like this? Getting after, correcting, or forcing her to do things against her will feels so wrong. Please – help me!”

After a few deep breaths and a sip of cold water, I poured two fresh cups of coffee and returned to her. She didn’t remember why she was angry with me, but she was still pretty ticked. Instead of pursuing that conversation, I said, “I love having coffee with you.”

“Well, I love having coffee with you too,” she said. Then she asked, “Am I still mad at you?”

I smiled and said, “Nope. We are over that.” And we were.

When she rested her head on my shoulder, the way I used to rest my head on hers, I begged God again – to help me respond in a respectful manner on our not so very good days.

Sitting in the quiet of the moment, my heart squeezed tightly in an overflowing of love for her. She lifted her head and asked, “Honey, what’s wrong?” Even in the haze of her disease – she sometimes knows.

“Mama, I love you so much.”

She smiled and said, “I know you do.”

Our coffee was cold, but we were good.

The temptation is to mother my mother, but that’s not my role in her life now any more than it was before dementia. I am her daughter and part-time caregiver. Nothing more and nothing less. As a child, she disciplined me because it was part of her job to help me become an adult. She did a great job – my maturity failures are my responsibility. But it is NOT my job to raise her; it’s my job to respect her. Always.

On my mornings with Mama I realize that most of the things I do with and for her are important, but they are not essential (Daddy takes care of those things). And she has so few choices left, that allowing her to say no and respecting that, is still honoring her.

So today I said, “Okay Mama, we’re done. I’m going to obey you.”

She gave me the look (you know the one I mean – all mother’s have one) and said, “You had better!”

I giggled and then she said, “But you always did.”

I laughed out loud. Because I was a naughty, strong-willed, stubborn child. But the thing is if that’s the way she wants to remember me, that’s cool. Way cool.

She laughed too and pushed her cup toward me saying, “I need a refill. I can’t stand cold coffee.”

When I set her cup in front of her, she was looking at her hands, and she said, “One of these days you’ll have to clip these nails.” Then she pointed to the three she hadn’t let me do. Then she put her hands under her armpits and added, “But not today.”

I agreed with her, “Okay, Mama. Not today. You get to be the boss of that.”

She un-hid her hands, reached for her cup, and said, “Thank you,” before taking a sip of her coffee.

I let that heart squeeze thing happen again, grateful for another opportunity to honor her. Because she is still the mama, and that makes her the boss of this and so much more.

Until Next Time,

Joy