Double Rainbow

My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday.  When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges.  The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”

Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces.  As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger.  It was by Mantovani.  At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private.  I wish I would have kept it.  The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister.  Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors.  She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair.  She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.

The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance.  I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest.  The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.

At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her.  There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers.  I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.

Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family.  They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker.  My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face.  Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.

That evening a storm rolled in.  When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house.  Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike.  The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun.  The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.

The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.”  Well said son, I thought.  I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life.  You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life.  Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.

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Could Have Been Me

Today’s song of the day is Could Have Been Me by The Struts.  When I listened to the lyrics, I wanted to jump up and shout the lyrics along with the song.

Don’t wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you
I’ll live now cause the bad die last
Dodging bullets with your broken past
I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you now

Wrapped in your regret
What a waste of blood and sweat
Oh oh oh

I wanna taste love and pain
Wanna feel pride and shame
I don’t wanna take my time
Don’t wanna waste one line
I wanna live better days
Never look back and say
Could have been me
It could have been me
Yeah

Don’t wanna live as an unsung melody
I’d rather listen to the silence telling me
I can’t hear you, I won’t fear you
Don’t wanna wake up on Monday morning
The thought of work’s getting my skin crawling
I can’t fear you, I don’t hear you now

We all have songs that speak to our hearts.  This particular song has since the first time I heard it.  I think that three of the worst phrases along with “I can’t” are phrases that include the words coulda, woulda and shoulda.  I use these words far more than I ought to and I want to say them less.  If I live to be an old woman, I want to look back and know that I lived the best days I could in service and love.  I hope to be able to look back and know that I changed the world in some way, even by encouraging and uplifting others.

We all have a song in our hearts and many of us are afraid to live out the melodies that God places in us.  Fear can only keep us from living with purpose and without regret if we allow it to.  Our pasts cannot keep us from having an excellent finish.  When we refuse to allow fear and mistakes of our past to keep us from pursuing our dreams and showing up each and every day as our best selves, then we will not have to say “It could have been me.”

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Beautiful Hands

My grandmother of 92 years is in hospice care.  I drove over to see her last week and was taken aback by how frail she looked.  As I sat next to her and talked to her, I kept looking at her hands.  I thought of everything her hands accomplished during her life – raising three boys; taking care of a home; breeding and raising beagles; growing, picking, and canning massive amounts of vegetables every year; shooting and processing deer every year; raising and caring for rabbits; boarding dogs; creating art and building things; and living a full life.  Her hands became still on her blanket as she slept, and I watched her hands raising up and down to match her breathing as I thought of everything they accomplished during her life.

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Some of my fondest memories are being in grandma’s backyard or in her garden.

Grandma only said what needed to be said and she said it with truth and boldness.  I honestly cannot remember her ever making small talk.  The funniest thing I remember hearing her say to date was about a woman sitting in the waiting room with her as she waited for the eye doctor:  “She talked and talked for 30 minutes and didn’t say a thing.”  Grandma listened and I know this because she always had a remedy or an idea for just about anything.  When Dave had to go into the hospital for a stomach ulcer, her advice was to have him eat some lamb.  When I wrote to her about our finches and the eggs that were being laid, she gave me tips on caring for a female that was having a hard time passing the eggs.  I told grandma once how much I enjoyed hearing chickadees and she told me that she always knew when a deer was around because the chickadees would start chirping.  I am thankful for every moment I have had with her and I will always try to follow her example in many areas of my life.

Equally amazing is my sister and our good friend, both of whom are caring for my grandma.  The sacrifices they are making, the dedication, and the love they are pouring out for her truly humbles me beyond words.

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We are not here on this earth just to exist, waiting for Friday every week and dreading Mondays.  We are here to love, create, serve, worship, lift others up, and bless one another.  One of the greatest gifts God gives us is the opportunity to care for others – whether it is hands on caregiving, offering a smile to a stranger or encouragement to a co-worker, donating our time or resources to people in need or simply being who God created us to be with no fear holding us back – only holy boldness and beautiful hands.

Staying Healthy as a Caregiver

As parents, we all know the value of taking care of ourselves.  As a parent of a special needs child it is even more important.  The physical, emotional, and mental demands can easily cause burnout if we neglect ourselves.  I have learned a hard lesson with this over the last year.

For over 10 years, I was blessed with great health and strength as I cared for my two sons.  Due to the progression of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, their needs only increased over the years.  As their needs increased, my free time became more sparse so I had to make an effort to make the time count.  I tried getting out once a week to my favorite coffee shops or the bookstore to enjoy my favorite novel, going for walks on the River’s Edge Trail, or reading the Sunday paper with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  I learned to cherish the small things and I still do.

I was diagnosed with Cervical Dystonia two months ago and for the first time ever, I was unable to care for my son.  It was a very painful, humbling feeling and I am thankful my husband did most of his care.  I have learned a lot going through this experience.  I learned that it is far easier and not as expensive to prevent illness than to have to heal from it.  Dystonia is genetic and it is possible that I may not have been able to prevent it, but like many illnesses it can be overcome.  I wanted to share some simple, yet powerful steps we can take daily to stay healthy and have the energy to keep up with the sometimes overwhelming demands of caregiving.

For many years, I got up well before I needed to get the boys started for the day.  Before Christian passed away, it took 3 1/2 to 4 hours to get them ready for the day.  It was far easier to accomplish this on a daily basis when I knew that I at least did my personal care and took some time for myself already.  This time can be spent doing the things we enjoy such as sitting quietly with a cup of coffee, reading the paper, in prayer, listening to music, or exercising.  Every afternoon, I would lay the boys down for 30 minutes of rest time from their wheelchairs and take that time for a cup of tea and a good book.  If I had extra time before preparing dinner I would use that time to write a letter to a loved one, send a greeting card, practice playing the piano or sit outside in the sun and watch the birds.  It is amazing how energized I would feel after taking even 20 minutes to read a book I enjoy.

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This is the last photo taken of Christian and me together.

After losing Christian, I lost my way.  All of a sudden I had all of this time I never had before, and for a long time I felt guilty for trying to do something for myself.  I have since realized that it is an honor to Christian’s memory to pursue my dreams because he never gave up on his.  Christian read books up until the last 2 weeks of his life.  He tilted back in his wheelchair, turned his head sideways on his headrest, and read on his iPhone.  We all have gifts given to us from God and if we do not invest in them, we are throwing them away.  The world ends up not being as wonderful as it could be with our gifts.

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Christian won an award in high school for his excellent work overcoming his disability to create art.

Pursuing our dreams and goals also encourages our children to never give up despite their physical limitations and it also instills some normalcy into their daily lives.  We have more energy to enjoy life and we become strong inside so we can better face the uncertainty associated with complications from the diagnosis.

Please share some ideas you may have about taking care of yourself and enjoying life to the fullest as we care for our loved ones.

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Scars Strengthen Us

I read a story about four seeds in a book by Rev J. Martin called God’s Grace Is On The Way:  Let go, embrace love.  To sum it up, four seeds were taken up by the wind and dropped into a clearing in the jungle.  Their dream was to grow to be beautiful trees, towering over the jungle.  Three monkeys also lived in the clearing that liked to amuse themselves by throwing bananas at any plant that tried to grow.  This made it very difficult for the seeds to take root.  The seeds agreed that it would be better to wait for the group of monkeys to move on before they attempted to grow.

Weeks passed and one seed thought she should at least attempt it.  When she tried to grow, the monkeys pelted her with bananas.  She tried and tried, even after the other seeds asked her to stop trying.  She didn’t give up but kept trying harder and harder as the monkeys continued to attack the plant.

Then, one day, the monkeys hit her with bananas but none made her stoop over.  The little tree had taken so many blows that she was now full of hard knots and scars.  Her slim trunk had gotten thicker and more resistant and could now withstand the impact of a banana.  The monkeys were unable to uproot her.  She grew until she became the most majestic tree in the jungle.

When we are dealt a bad hand in life or end up facing all sorts of difficulties, it is easy to give up on our dreams and goals.  It could be bad news from the doctor, the loss of a loved one or financial difficulty that puts us in the middle of one of life’s storms.  The storms can be so bad that it is difficult to see the other side of the lake and we wonder how we will ever make it across to the other side.

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After recently being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue my dreams any longer.  I thought about the loss of my son, Christian, his brother, Andrew,  who continues to fight his muscular dystrophy and my husband who lives with a heart condition.  After being pelted with several bunches of bananas I set my dreams aside.

When we make it to the other side of life’s storms we become more resilient and strong.  God can use us in amazing ways when we let Him give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life gets hard.  We can then be an inspiration to others who are dealing with their own difficulties.

We are all given gifts from God to make the world a better place.  Some of us sing, play instruments, serve, sew, write or draw.  Some of us are given the gift of inspiration.  It is amazing what a kind word or a little encouragement can do for the spirit of another.  No matter what difficulties come our way, we must never give up on the gifts that God graces us with.  He knows how important our gifts are so He will give us the strength we need to make it through life’s storms.

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365 New Beginnings

As I look out the window at the last day of 2017, I am thankful for the beauty and perfection on display.  The snow is deep and smooth and it covers everything in a graceful blanket of white.  The sky is a soft blue with whispy clouds and the birds gently eat at the feeders.

Like many, I am ready to say goodbye to this year and hello to 2018.  I have never been one for resolutions or crash diets, but I do look forward to a new beginning.  I am ready to leave the difficulties of this year behind and carry with me the lessons learned and the things God has blessed me with into 2018.  God has blessed me with His strength and mercy every single morning that I opened my eyes.  His Word has given me guidance through difficulties and challenges and has given me comfort on my most painful days.  He has given me a loving, supportive husband and a wonderful son.  I was a bride’s maid in my niece’s wedding this past summer, and my husband and I were able to take a long overdue vacation to sunny California.  God has given me His comfort when I missed my son the most – if I would wake up dreaming that Christian is still with us or if I dreamt of losing him again.  I have learned the importance of balance and rest of the mind, body and soul and how loving ourselves is the foundation to everything in our lives.  By loving ourselves, we become more open to receiving the love of God.  God pours His love into our hearts until they overflow so we can in turn love others.

What are my intentions for the new year?

To love even more…

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To thank God for each new day and for the miracles He so graciously bestows upon us…

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To invest in the gifts God has given me so I can bless others with them…

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To serve others more…

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To do more to brighten another’s day, whether it’s a smile, holding open the door, letting a vehicle go ahead of me in traffic or sending a greeting card or letter…

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To keep my thoughts centered on the good things in life while letting go of the rest…

Each day is a new beginning, a chance to enjoy God’s mercy and love while experiencing His goodness which He promises us in His Word.  I wish all of you a peaceful, blessed 2018 and that all your hopes and dreams come to life while love flourishes in your hearts and daily lives.

 

 

A Year of Blessings

 

In the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am on gift number 548.  I started writing down God’s gifts last fall.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I haven’t reached 1000.  I admit that over the last year I have had a tendency to complain instead of offering praise to the Lord for His many gifts.

I did not fully understand the meaning of bittersweet until we lost our boy.  He suffered for the last year of his life and I felt relief (for him) mixed with profound heartache (for me) when he passed away.  Christian spent the last year of his life tilted back in his wheelchair to relieve his chronic pain.  He was able to read books on his iPhone because it was so lightweight and he played video games for limited amounts of time every day.  He lost the ability to play video games the night before he passed away.  He drove into the kitchen, held up his hands and said “Mom, my hands are not working.”  He didn’t want to be resuscitated or to live with a breathing tube and he hated hospitals.  Christian told me weeks before his passing that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed with his bird, Kiwi, in the room.

The pain we endured during the weeks and months that followed was unimaginable.  How was it possible that I experienced joy when I looked at the sky as it turned red and orange at sunset?  Why did everything look so much more beautiful after I lost my son?  It was like a layer was peeled away from my soul and everything that looked beautiful before now brought tears to my eyes.

Being thankful makes the pain more bearable – the pain of losing a loved one, of the violence in the world, the constant stream of negativity in the media – the pain of living in a broken world.  God gives us little presents each and every day and if we open our hearts and our eyes we will find them:  the chitter of a chickadee, the glint of sunlight on a soapy plate, steam rising from a hot cup of tea or an unexpected call from a loved one.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am making more of an effort to focus on blessings instead of burdens.  The Lord has given me strength to put one foot in front of the other on days when the loss feels fresh, He has blessed me with a loving husband and son, with an accessible home for Drew, a wonderful job, and a long awaited trip to California this past summer (thanks to my sister who came up from Wyoming to care for Drew).  God continues to bless us with His love, grace and healing.  He blesses me with the guidance and strength contained in His Word each and every morning.  As we thank the Lord for His goodness we become lights in a dark world and we give hope to those who are suffering.

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