Last week was a week rich in friendship. Frankly, I’m still in awe.
First, I visited Don and his daughter Dawn. We had breakfast together, then went to Jan’s former studio for more sorting and donating. It was a productive day and at the end, Don gave me one of Jan’s journals/sketchbooks. It was one that documented some of our painting trips together. Waterfall hunting in the UP and Drummond Island. I was deeply touched and enjoyed reading her notes. Then I pulled out my own journals from those trips and had a quiet evening reminiscing our friendship.
The following day was a gathering of my martial arts family to celebrate our teacher and to break bread together. We put on a mean potluck, I must say, but I had to leave early because I was meeting a friend I hadn’t seen since college. We had reconnected through Facebook – sometimes a very handy tool.
She and I met at our former campus and then spent the rest of the afternoon catching up and strolling through Frederick Meijer Gardens. It was a day of great joy and I was wistful as she got into her car to start the four hour drive back to her home.
After a weekend like that, it couldn’t get much better, could it? It did.
Monday, I had plans with another friend to take her to a coworker’s hosta garden. This garden is amazing and is on bus stops for garden tours. Gayle wanted to see it, so I made arrangements for our visit. I drove to her house because we had planned to have breakfast together first. She said we’d be eating outside, so she led the way. My first thought was that she must had had a small group over the night before and wanted to reuse the table setting. It was beautiful and there was room for 10 people.
Then, I saw a group of women hiding around the corner. Still, I was confused. These were women from different areas of my life who didn’t know one another. How were they all there at the same time and for what? By now you, dear reader, know that it was a surprise party. I, however, am not the brightest bulb in the pack. I was trying to reconcile everything that was happening, while they were all laughing at me. Truly, it was successful in the surprise department. Especially, since it wasn’t my birthday, yet.
Nicholas Sparks said, that love, in a nutshell was about giving not receiving. But if you don’t receive love that is given, you rob yourself and you rob the others who are giving it. Because of my background, I often struggle to believe I am cared for. By friends, by family, or by God… it is just hard for me to receive and believe love. That false belief was seriously challenged after a week like this and I am seriously glad.
Poor little mama. She could never catch a break. She was the surprise baby that supplanted the youngest brother and he never forgave her for that. She grew up in an angry household. She escaped to work in a factory in Detroit only to meet a very handsome man, elope and have a brief, but disappointing marriage.
Motherhood didn’t work out for her, either. It just wasn’t her thing and one of the wisest things she ever did was give me to my grandparents to raise. By the time I came around, things had mellowed out a bit so it wasn’t quite as hard as she’d had it.
One thing she did do very, very well. She was a hard worker. She worked for a major retailer, slowly climbing up the ranks in the bookkeeping department. Women didn’t hold managerial positions in her time, but she did make it up to office supervisor. She gave everything she had to that company, and yet when things got tight in the economy, they showed her the door via early retirement. The one thing she loved and was loyal to, didn’t love her back.
She thought I’d be her entertainment during retirement, but she just couldn’t be in relationship with me. When I drew the line and spelled out my boundaries, she chose to disconnect. For a decade. Actually, a bit more than a decade.
Still, when she was in need, I did step back in. I took care of her the last seven years of her life. It was rough on both of us, but she suffered the most. And then, she died. We buried her in the autumn in the same cemetery as her parents and grandmother. She was laid to rest in a new section of the cemetery – far away from her family. The sexton told us we couldn’t lay a headstone until the following year.
Because of other emergencies that life brought to us, I couldn’t get the headstone until this spring. I chose a small, pretty design. Nothing flashy, but it was the same color as her parents’ and I thought she’d like it. There was a family reunion in the area last weekend, so I went to visit.
Two hours, two phone calls (to Mike to call the sexton for me), and copious bug bites later, I finally found her headstone. It was wedged in between two other large family stones and looks like someone took a shoe horn to fit it in. You can see in the close-up photo that the stone on the right is an inch away. The stone on the left is the same. Nowhere else in the cemetery are the grave markers jammed together like that group. I was deeply saddened.
My poor little mama.
It’s been ten years ago today that we moved my mother from her house in the Detroit metro area to Grand Rapids. It was an event that radically changed both our lives. While she knew her memory was failing and that she needed help, she also realized she was losing her home, her friends and everything familiar to her, and she was grieving that.
I knew I was putting my entire life aside to help the woman who gave me birth, but didn't raise me. And though I had already stepped into her life after not hearing from her in over a decade and done the hard work of forgiveness, now started the day to day grind of walking it out.
Throughout that journey, my life kept shrinking. I quit painting, I quit volunteering, and I quit working…bit by bit I had to let things go until all I did was look after my mother, who was increasingly resentful of me. Frankly, I was resentful of her as well.
We all long to have a destiny. I think that’s why Rick Warren’s book Purpose Filled Life was such a big seller. People long to have a deeper purpose than just getting up every day and going through the motions of living. As my life shrank more and more and I became invisible to everyone around me, I grieved that I no longer had a future. I had no idea how long this season would last, but I knew the world wasn't waiting for me when it was over. Life was moving steadily on, friends and acquaintances were moving ahead in their careers and lives while I shepherded mom through the last years of her life.
A rather startling experience occurred a couple years into caregiving. I was at a conference when a young woman I’d never met came up to me and said that God had revealed to her that I was an artist of some kind and that God wanted me to pick it up again and use it for Him. It took my breath away, and gave me great hope. But back at home, the day to day grind would continue and a couple years later I’d wondered if I’d missed the boat. God sent another stranger to say the same thing.
It’s exciting to have a destiny, and to have had the supernatural experience of people coming up out of the blue to confirm it. But I think we may forget that a purposeful life is filled with insignificant things. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, computer crashes, power outages, paying bills and other nagging, boring details make up our lives leading up to other times of great satisfaction. The graduation of a child, becoming teacher of the year, publishing a book, giving a presentation, receiving a contract for a gallery show, or any number of wonderful things are made up of really insignificant times. Changing diapers, making lesson plans, writing and re-writing, practicing in front of a mirror, working on fundamental skills over and over. All this and more takes place before the big things come to pass.
As a result, our thoughts can wander into dark places. “I’m a failure. This is useless. I have nothing to contribute.” These thoughts are poisonous. It is good to remember when Jesus was baptized and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, in Whom I am well pleased,” that Jesus hadn't done one miracle, hadn't called one disciple, but had just put in His time growing up, learning a trade and developing a relationship with His Father. Could it be that the insignificant things that feel like wasted time actually matter to God?
It is good to ponder on this as I’m transitioning back into art and writing. I’m back to working on fundamental skills. Every day is a reminder on how far behind the curve I am.
I’m right on track.
Note: The observation about Jesus' life comes from a CD series by Francis Frangipane called Holiness, Truth and the Presence of God. Here is a link to purchase that set. It also comes as an MP3 format. Used by permission.
Whine and Books
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.