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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.

The Bully in Me

tangled mess

My heart is a tangled mess of old and new emotions today. Because of something that happened forty or so years ago.

It’s easy to write about when I was a good person, and although it’s not easy to write about my hurts, it’s easier than this. So much easier. Although it’s never far away, this memory came back to me loud and clear on a recent walk around Silver Lake.

When I was a child, there were times when I was seriously naughty, strong-willed, and stubborn. I could talk back, tell a lie, or stomp my foot – fast! As a pre-schooler, if I had a choice between doing something that would lead to a spanking, I often chose the spanking.

Have you ever wished you could erase a moment in your life away? And out of the heart you hurt? I do.

Her name was Diane. She was always the underdog. The bullied one. I remember standing in the gym or on the playground beside her at team picking time. She and I were never the team captains, but she was the next to the last picked for the teams because at least she could hit small white balls and run. I couldn’t so she was chosen before me. It was the only time she wasn’t last. Part of me hated that for her. Sometimes I’d hide and cry for her – it got that nasty.

Through the years, I tried, but I wasn’t always kind to her either. I went to her house a few times to play Barbies, and a few times, we met at the park to swing, but it didn’t go well because she was so terribly angry and carrying a burden of pain I couldn’t imagine or understand. In those times of trying, she did the only thing she knew to do – she gave me what she got. Her mom would gently send me home in tears for both of us.

I don’t remember all the details of the day, but a single icy moment stands out crystal clear. Somehow several of us girls from school were playing in the park on a wintery Saturday afternoon. Even Diane. She and I had enjoyed an especially fun time together.  Then, it happened. Without warning one of the girls challenged us all to make ice-balls and throw them at Diane. At the same time. Someone handed me one, and I figured since I was a terrible thrower, I’d miss her by a mile and could be done. On the count of three, four things happened. Diane and I looked into each other’s eyes, that the hard-packed ball of ice left my mittened hand, and it hit her hard in the eye, and we both burst into tears.

In shame and sorrow, I ran home as fast as I could. I stumbled in the back door, a mess of slush, snot, and jumbled words. As quick as I could, I told on myself. I couldn’t bear the guilt alone. Mom cleaned me up and took me to Diane’s house to apologize. We walked there in silence, but she held my hand. Her mom answered, but Diane wouldn’t come anywhere near me. Who could blame her? Not me. So I said I was sorry to her mom – I said it loud because I knew the girl hiding behind the door could hear me. And I needed her to hear me. I needed all of heaven and earth to hear me.

Even after apologizing the burden of my action, was heavy in my heart.

Monday, the other girls, met me outside the school building. Word was already out that my mom knew,  and they told me if I told on them, I’d get a lot worse than Diane had and that they’d hate me forever.

She came into our classroom a little bit late with a banged up eye, scrapes on both cheeks, and other bruises on her face. I put my head down on my desk. That swollen black, purple, green, yellow eye was from me.

The principal called me to his office, and when I got there, my mom and her mom were also there. Although the cruel incident had happened after school hours and off the school property, it was still sort of a school issue.

When the principal asked me what had happened, I told him I’d thrown the ice ball that injured Diane’s eye. When he asked me who else was there, I was silent. He asked again and again. Finally, I looked into his eyes and told him I wasn’t going to tell him who else was there. I admitted again that it was my fault she had a black eye and that I’d hurt her, and I was very sorry, but I wouldn’t tattle, and I couldn’t be sorry for what someone else had done to her. He wanted more from me, but my mom and hers agreed with me.

Diane and I didn’t see a lot of each other after that although we went to the same middle school (junior high back in the day). I never forgot what I’d done, but even after I came to Jesus, and told almost everyone I knew about my salvation, there was one person I didn’t tell. Diane. She still lived a few blocks away. I thought about taking that walk and convinced myself that someday I would. But I didn’t. I told myself I had all the time in the world.

Life got busy with church, family, work, friends, and a boy named Jon DeKok. In the quiet moments of life, I still thought about her, and wished that I’d been braver and kinder that day and every day she’d suffered. I confessed those sins to Jesus, and I prayed for her, but stayed off her front steps.

That boy asked me to marry him, and I said yes. On the way to Lake City to celebrate with his parents, we saw a car in a ditch completely engulfed in flames. Firefighters and the ambulance crew stood around helpless to help whoever was in that car. It was a gruesome scene. I didn’t know it that night, but it was Diane.

Suddenly, there was no more time. It was too late to walk to her house. Too late to try to be friends again. Worst of all, it was too late to tell her about Jesus.

I saw her mom a few years after her death and apologized again for everything. She offered me grace and  told me I’d been one of the nicest people in Diane’s life. That still makes my heart ache to this day. Because I know, I could have been nicer. I could have been her real friend. I could have said I was sorry to her face again. I could have told her about Jesus.

I will always regret that moment in the park and all the moments I could have had and didn’t. Because they might have mattered. Because Jesus loved her and I never told her. Because I let time slip away until there wasn’t anymore.

When that ice ball left my hand, I didn’t feel a surge of power, or excitement, or pleasure. Instead, I instantly knew how cruel my decision was, and I felt ugly and evil. I didn’t think she was stupid the way the kids who bullied me did, but I knew I’d just done one of the dumbest, meanest things of my life.

Instead of saying no, the scaredy-cat bully in me threw an ice-ball at her. Because I thought I couldn’t hit anything even if I tired, for some reason that day I couldn’t miss her.

I’m forgiven by God, and her mom, but still, I wish…you know? Somethings just can’t be undone. Or unremembered. Or unregretted.

Until Next Time,
Joy

I Quit

wound too tight

Over the past few months, I’ve struggled against a deep fatigue. I’m told it’s a combination of the diabetes, one of my meds, stress, and too many years of not taking care of me. I was urged to get off the current life path I was on for a better one. Someone mentioned I was “wound too tight.”

I tried to ignore the taking care of me part. For some reason, it felt selfish. Self-centered. Wrong. Honestly – couldn’t taking my meds, eating mostly right, and walking when I had time be enough? Nope.

A medical professional told me I had to take the stress thing seriously, but even more, the self-care. That my sugar numbers were too high and too low because I wasn’t listening. I needed to cut some things out of my schedule, rest more, and then I’d feel better. And walking two blocks wouldn’t send me straight to bed exhausted and in pain.

I doubted. And silently sarcastic, while I nodded as if in agreement, I said to myself, “Yeah, right. What things can I cut? Ha!”

The fatigue deepened, and I did an inventory of my life. I would not give up helping my dad take care of my mom. That meant other things had to go. Like my clients.

I prayed. I cried. I grieved. And I decided. Honesty and self-care would come first. Otherwise I wouldn’t just burn-out, I’d burn up. So, I quit my social media business. And I shared my circumstances with some friends.  Neither were easy for me, but both were essential.

The result in just a couple of days has been amazing. Yesterday I walked farther on our land than I have ever walked in the seven years we’ve lived there. Walked. Without the John Deere Gator. Just me and my Vibrams.

Me & My Vibrams

This morning, I woke up from a very good sleep. Early. So, I went to a place I used to enjoy as a kid: Silver Lake in Rochester, MN.

Where I used to ride my bike, swing, and feed the giant Canada geese stale bread, old popcorn, or corn.

lakewalk1
Where at 7AM, the water is still and the city is wide awake. 

lakepics2.jpgWhere later in the day families will  picnic, and children will play.

geese1.jpgWhere the giant Canada geese don’t mind if you come close and where some even nap on the path. Because they can. Where I walked around them, and the one never even opened his lid-covered eyes.

lakewalk13Where a bridge like the one where Jon kissed me one starry night stands. (It’s in the same place, but was replaced.) Where I smiled. Because it was a very nice kiss.

lakepic3.jpgWhere feathers adorn the grass, dew drops splash on the leaf below, and flowers blossom.

Where other walkers and some runners smiled and wished me a good morning, and I wished them the same. And we meant it. Where two older-than-me ladies walked with dignity, purpose, and at a speed I hope to attain one day soon. Where dogs I don’t know wagged at me.

lakebenches.jpgWhere benches that honor those gone too soon beckoned me to reflect and ponder and remember. So, I did.

And where I walked farther still!

Because those wiser than myself were right. Where with each step, I accepted the truth that self-care and selfishness are two vastly different things.

Until Next Time,
Joy

What’s In Your Wagon?

Joy Wagon

On this hot July day my handsome, young, and hard working Daddy was trying to get me to smile. And he was hauling me around in my favorite toy – my wagon. My beautiful and pregnant-with-my-brother Mama wanted me to smile at her, but the sun was too bright, and I was too grumpy. Our faithful dog, Cindy, watched patiently. Mama had bought me a new dress with matching anklets, new sandals, and had curled my hair. I was eighteen (or so)  months old.

I loved Mama and Daddy, but my answer was no.

On another day, a few years later, I hauled my wagon up a hill in our neighborhood. That box on four wheels with a handle went lots of places with me and took me lots of imaginary places. With a small pillow at one end, I could curl up and read. Under a blanket covered branch, it was a vital part of my fort; the place I could be anyone I wanted to be. Or I could color and dream and tell my dolls my secrets, and be. I was five.

Grandpa - Jon - Joy

 (Mama took this picture that summer. I’ve always loved big bags and adored my grandfather and still think I have the cutest brother ever.)

But that day was different.

The big kids in the neighborhood either shunned or bullied me. I had my hair pulled, received shoulder shoves, was called names, and had my dresses pulled up on a regular basis. I tried very hard to keep my fears to myself. I was the big sister – I needed to be brave. It was better if they were mean to me than to my brother. Besides, I was scared to death what they’d do to me if I stood up to them, or worse – if I told on them.

That day, they called me to the top of the hill. I should have known, but they sounded so nice – like they wanted to be my friends. They didn’t.

Instead, they talked me into getting into my wagon, whose wheels were now slightly loose and rattled, and riding it down the hill. By myself. It seemed like an easy request although it wasn’t until I was sitting on my knees in my Hiawatha that I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. When they gave it a group shove, it was too late. Even the rattle of the wheels on the rough blacktop (it was a much different texture in the early sixties) didn’t block out their taunts. Their favorite was “Stupid!” It felt like a swear word slipping off their tongues and into my frightened and breaking heart. Another I heard was, “Ugly!” The laughter that followed my downhill plunge was cruel and loud.

I sailed through three sometimes busy intersections with no way to stop. My wagon’s only brakes were my feet, and somehow I knew that using them would cause me to flip and get badly hurt. So, I hung onto the handle with both hands and rode to where the road inclined slightly which was at the end of our driveway. Shaking inside and out, I walked my wagon into our yard – it had never been so empty or so heavy. Invisible to the human eye, I hauled shame, embarrassment, and sadness instead of the innocence I’d started out the day with. I parked it, and sat on the swing for awhile to catch my breath. My knees ached from new scuff marks caused by the bumps in the road, and some small bits of dirt that were now ground into them. Mama wouldn’t notice that so much – I was always skinning my knees. That meant I wouldn’t have to tell her about them. And I didn’t. Until I had to. Even then, I was in my thirties before I told anyone about the wagon ride.

For years, the burden I hauled around in the wagon of my heart was terribly heavy. I was stupid and ugly and unacceptable.

They thought I was helpless. But I wasn’t. And they were about to learn a lesson of their own. Sometimes a little girl has to tell. It’s the only way to be safe. I didn’t plan it that way, but it happened.

My daddy was home from work between jobs (he worked two so Mama could stay home)and was watching me walk home from the where the bus dropped us off. Behind me, one of the boys held the back of my skirt high above my head and said terrible, nasty, dirty things to me. He didn’t see the strong man waiting for me. Nor did they see the woman by his side. I didn’t see them either because I kept my eyes focused on the ground in front of me as I walked in shame.

That boy was about to pay a very high price for his cruel act.

Daddy asked me a few important questions and then walked me over to that boy’s house. He lived in a central location, and most of the neighborhood kids were out there playing. A few parents were as well. Grown-ups who had witnessed his unkind deeds and those of their own children as well. They believed I had to fight my own battles.

They were wrong. Sometimes a little girl needs adults to do what is right.

That day, I stood in front of all of them and that boy’s dad with my hand in my daddy’s and told him what his son had done. He already knew because he often sat on his front steps and watched, but in the face of my father, he was forced to act. And he did. He beat his son publically with such violence; he screamed out in pain, and I cried.

As we walked home, tears stung my now chapped cheeks, but I held my head up. And I noticed the way Daddy looked the neighbors, both kids and adults, straight in the eyes. He knew they knew, and they knew he knew.

Instead of giving up on their nasty acts, they continued to taunt me at the bus stop in the mornings. I was usually the first one there, and they’d push me to the back – every day. They knew my dad was working then, but they’d underestimated my mama. I saw her coming, but they didn’t and by the time one of the noticed her, it was too late. She lined them up and gave them “what for!” She’d take a step in their direction and they’d back up. When she got them up against the side of a house, she continued to let them know that picking on her daughter was unacceptable and would not be in their best interest. Then she came to me, put me at the head of the line and lined them up behind me. (She later became the favorite room mother in my classrooms and president of the PTA one year. They always knew she was around.)

After that, the bullying stopped. Not because they were suddenly my friends because they weren’t. But not one of them wanted to face my defenders. A sense of power surged into my heart. I wasn’t alone. I had my parents. Word got out at school it was best to leave me alone. It’s funny, but that’s when I started to make friends although I was careful around certain kids. Kids who given the chance would do the same thing again. Kids who were mean to other kids. Kids I know now were probably hurt badly and were passing on what they knew.

Sadly, even with the love and support of my faithful defenders, it took me years to empty their words from my heart. Because I believed them over the other words I heard. Because I gave them authority that didn’t belong to them. Those kids don’t know it, but their words held me captive for a very long time.

It took the gentle and constant love of Jesus for me to let those words go. He used Matthew 11:28-30 to reach that secret place where the burden that wore me out resided.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (NLT)

Sitting at the top of that hill today, in my car, in the shade of a tree old enough to have been a silent witness to my wagon ride, I heard their gleeful laughter and their voices echoing in my heart. Stupid and ugly ricocheted around the healed place, and I felt the sting, and the familiar burden as the words tried to shove their way back into their old position. But today, they could only bounce around because my heart is no longer their home. I glanced in the rear-view mirror as I drove down the hill, and thanked God for taking the loneliness, degradation, and sorrow from my wagon.

John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

Driving away fifty years later, I smiled. I am truly free, and most of the time I live like it. Jesus and I are working on the times when I don’t. Over and over I am experiencing His gentle heart and His rest.

So now is the time to ask…what’s in your wagon?

Until Next Time,

Joy

Demented {A Mama & Me Post}

DSC06276

Demented. A word I never thought I’d use and an illness I never thought we’d face. Writing this post has been difficult – I haven’t hit the “publish” button yet and already I’m nervous in my stomach. Not the kind where I think I’m doing the wrong thing. . .the kind of nervous where I know I’m doing the right thing, but it’s also a very scary thing. Walking through dementia is like being in a blurry place with only a little window into what’s going on. It also means saying what was once considered inappropriate, unacceptable, or worse. Most of the time, it’s not that way anymore. But writing right can cause a soul to quiver. 

There came a time in my grandma Joy’s life when she could no longer take care of my grandpa. She chose a nursing home a few blocks from their apartment because she didn’t drive. After she finished teaching her piano students each day, she’d walk to visit and help care for her husband. While there, she also visited and prayed with the other residents. She knew every name, many of the needs, and had held most of their hands.

One day when we were visiting Grandpa, I stepped into the hallway while they did something for him, and got the surprise of my young life. The tiny lady I knew only as Sadie came running down the hall, her long white hair no longer in its usual bun, naked, giggling like a two-year old, with two nurses, one of them carrying a blanket, in hot pursuit.

One of Grandma’s hands covered my eyes while the other gently, but firmly, cupped my mouth. (I was known for saying whatever was on my mind.) Her warm breath pushed hushed words into my ear, “She’s demented.”

I shivered. That sounded shameful bad. I remember wondering, what had Sadie done to be demented?  Not content to just think it, on the way back to Grandma’s apartment, I asked. “Shush, Child. We don’t talk about that.”

Yep – no doubt about it – demented was one of those things. The list included, but was not limited to, unwed mothers, divorcees (They pronounced it de-vor-say, and I’m not sure why, but divorced women were worse than divorced men – they just were back then), communists, being the town drunk, and shacking-up (the term in those days for living together) – all of the things grown-ups whispered about in that certain tone of voice. Shameful things, but demented sounded worse because it had the edge of madness to it – anything with the mind not working right did. Mental illness or cognitive challenges were not terms I heard used. It was implied that people with dementia were unacceptable and belonged far away from the rest of us.

What I did hear were harsh words often spoken in what sounded like disgust. Fear wrapped up in shame sounds like that sometimes.

I could only hope I’d never do what Sadie did so I ended up demented.

About two years ago, Mom called me. She was terribly upset because of what was happening to her brain. “Honey, we have to talk about this,” she almost begged. Then she whispered, “Am I demented?”

What’s a daughter to say? I went the medical route. “Mom, your doctor says you have vascular dementia from your big and little strokes.”

“So I am demented,” she said.

I decided to switch gears and dive right in. “What does that word mean to you, Mama?”

She cried and described the terror in her thoughts. She whispered those old terms. And she cried. She ended with, “Joy, I’m losing my mind.”

“Mama, you are losing your memory.” I admitted hoping my own tears weren’t clear over the phone.

“That makes me so sad,” she said. Before I could even take a breath she added, “I want to remember you and Dad and Jon and the kids forever. What will you do when I forget you? When I’m completely demented?”

There it was. Mama’s heart shining through bright and clear: to her, this was as much us as it was about her. Our coming loss trumped her fear.

We have lived through moments when she doesn’t remember who I am, but she knows she knows me. There have been rare times when I am a complete stranger to her, although when I “introduce myself” to her, she compensates for the glitch and I let her.

Those are bad days for me – much worse than I thought they’d be because no one can prepare you. You have to get there to know.

Some days she’s childlike in her faith and her love – she holds her love out to God and me with her heart wide open. Other times she’s naughty and thinks she is absolutely hilarious. And sometimes, she is. Others she’s a mix of sadness and anger.

Once, she was a little ticked off with me and said, “You’re the demented one!” She saw the sting of her words in my eyes and apologized. I quickly forgave her, but there it was – the nagging fear in my soul unleashed.

What if someday I’m like Sadie and now Mama? My brain broken and my memory fading. This fear haunts my heart when I give it space. Most of the time I don’t, but still.

Thankfully, the word is no longer shrouded in shame for me – it’s just plain terrifying. For Mama. For me. For everyone. In place of the disgust is compassion. . .because like cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes, and the other diseases we fear. . .dementia doesn’t discriminate between good and bad people. Like the others, it’s an equal opportunity illness.

I will always love the woman in the chair across the room with all my heart – the way she was and the way she is. She’s still my mama; a woman with a soul, a heart full of love, and a life full of stories that matter to those of us who love her. She is ours and we are hers. Even now. Especially now.

Carey Mulligan said it beautifully. . .

Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they’re all individuals and they’re all unique. And they just need to be interacted with on a human level.

And then there’s Sadie. It was a surprise seeing an old lady with no clothes on, but more than that I remember her hair flowing free as she ran, her giggle, her dancing eyes, and her innocence. She was two years old again and running down the hall in that way toddlers do – except that she was a woman locked in an old body and ruled by a fading mind.

Remembering her today I did the same thing I did underneath my grandma’s cupped hand. I smiled. Because being demented is hard and loving someone with it hurts. . .but if you look at the person with your heart wide open, there are beautiful moments. Like when Mama wakes up from a nap and says, “There you are!” Her childlike delight at discovering me there refreshes and sustains me.

Until Next Time,

Joy

Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they’re all individuals and they’re all unique. And they just need to be interacted with on a human level. ~ Carey Mulligan

Bless Me! {a raccoon story}

It’s taken me a year to share this with you. I tend to act fast instead of hesitating so why the time lapse?

It’s complicated.

I woke up one morning, full of a wrecking ball-kind of sadness. Worn and weak – feeling alone and maybe even ignored by God, I stood in our living room and said to Him, “I need a blessing today – a one of a kind blessing so I know You hear me.”

Some will call this a crisis of faith. Others the start of a spectacular pity party. What do I call it? Me being me with God.

I wiped the tears off my face, poured another cup of coffee, and made a decision. “God, I’m going to be watching for that blessing. Just so You know.”

Then, I did all things a normal day at home involves. Laundry. Wiped the kitchen counters. Took the dogs for a gator ride. Wrote. Ate lunch. Drank more coffee. In the afternoon, standing in our living room, I asked Him again. Same prayer. Same need. Same woman – believing, but needing help in her unbelief. (The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 NLT)

A second after I’d told Him again, I looked out the window, and there they were.

I grabbed my camera and hurried outside because I needed to capture my personal answer.

In the yard, five baby raccoons wrestled and chased. Several years ago, He’d sent us five newborn raccoons as an answer to our niece Amanda’s prayer. We rescued, raised, and released them. A year ago, He sent me five babies. This was SO personal.

Here They Come

But He wasn’t done.

As I drew near, they didn’t run. Instead, they ran toward me and climbed an apple tree, slowly as if they wanted to get a better look at me.

UpTheyGo.jpg

I talked to God for awhile – quietly. The ring-tailed little ones listened. I “talked” to them, making the sounds a mama raccoon would make to her babies. They knew I wasn’t her, but they were soon “talking” back to me in churrs and even a couple of purrs. After a short conversation, they held came down.

OnTheGround.jpg

Except for this one. When I stepped closer to him; he let me get this picture, and his purring increased in volume. Then he joined his siblings on the ground. I expected the wild ones to take off, but instead, they hung out with me for awhile.

Last One Down

They played with my shoes, stood up on their back legs and checked out my jeans, scampered back and forth wrestling with each other, and then one of them heard something – a call from their mama perhaps.

Four of them started to leave. . .

Before Goodbye

. . .but this one lingered just a moment longer before following the others.

A Slow Goodby

I stayed in that sacred place awhile longer thanking God for His tender answer. I sang a hymn. It was church for one. God had heard. This prayer and all other pleadings of my heart.

So why did I hesitate to tell share this tender testimony with you? Because You might be in a bad place where prayers aren’t getting answered, and you wonder if He even hears you. And you might have asked for a blessing and it hasn’t come yet.

Why am I sharing it today? Because you might be in a bad place where your prayers aren’t getting answered, and you wonder if He even hears you. And you might have asked for a blessing and it hasn’t come yet.

Why do I believe He sent baby raccoons? Well, I’d been missing the ones we’d loved, raised, and released. For the year we cared for them, every morning they’d climbed my legs to hug me and wrapped me in their wild scent and insisted on giving me kisses. Yes, it’s true – I get homesick for them. I hadn’t told anyone. Not even God. But the One who knows my heart knew. And as they left I knew.

raccoonkisses

Today, I’d love miraculous answers to the prayers I’ve been praying for years – for my mama and Grace and my sister-in-law Lisa. I don’t know if He’s saying wait or no. Why do I continue to pray? Because He’s God, and if He wills it, He can heal them. (Mark 1:40) And although He doesn’t bless me on demand – that day – he heard my prayer and answered in a way that I’d know for sure it was Him.

And because this is part of my faith testimony: God hears.

Praise the Lord! For he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:6-7 (NLT)

Is there a time in your life God has answered you tenderly and personally?

Until Next Time,

Joy