Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sheer Mercy and Grace

God is sheer mercy and grace;
not easily angered, he's rich in love.
He doesn't endlessly nag and scold,
nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve,
nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

As high as heaven is over the earth,
so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
God feels for those who fear him.

He knows us inside and out,
keeps in mind that we're made of mud.
Men and women don't live very long;
like wildflowers they spring up and blossom,
But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly,
leaving nothing to show they were here.

God's love, though, is ever and always,
eternally present to all who fear him,
Making everything right for them and their children
as they follow his Covenant ways
and remember to do whatever he said.

Psalm 103:8-18, The Message

The bad news is we are still floundering. Nothing has improved with Mom's condition or our circumstances; in fact, some new twists have been added, reminding me to never ever say, "What else could go wrong?"

The good news is we have life preservers: Mercy and Grace. If you go to church and/or love Jesus or know someone who does, you have probably heard these words before. Mercy and Grace. We bandy the words about a lot, but what do they mean really? I can give you definitions.
Mercy=Not getting the bad stuff I've earned.
Grace=Getting good stuff I haven't earned.
But what are they really? What do Mercy and Grace look like? I can show you. I see them every day.

When my kids come home from church and I snarl and snap enough to make them afraid to answer a simple question, and then minutes later my son comes into the kitchen and says, "What can I do to help you?"
That's Mercy and Grace.

When my daughter is in a rush to get somewhere and needs to eat before she goes because it is not safe for her to eat anywhere else, and the burgers won't cook, won't cook, won't cook, until I realize I've set the 16-inch cast iron skillet on the smallest burner, and she just laughs in a nice way and says gently, "Oh my gosh, Mom!"
That's Mercy and Grace.

When my oldest, whose longtime motto reads, "I'm the boss and you're not," and whose recent favorite saying is, "I'm an adult; I do what I want," offers her free time to run errands for me, totes her siblings around, and includes them in her life.
That's Mercy and Grace.

When my youngest helps without being asked, helps when asked, shares books with me, shares tears with me.
That's Mercy and Grace.

When we have our first family dinner in who knows how long, and we spend it grousing at each other, and then we can laugh about it later and my husband texts to say, "Sorry for being so grumpy."
That's Mercy and Grace.

When my sister Ruth breaks her ankle, needing surgery and incapacitated for her upcoming respite turn, and my sister in law quickly makes plans to return today, fitting in a week here before she tends to other people in other places.
That's Mercy and Grace.

So, as my good friend and I decided, we are floundering but not sunk. We are borne up by Mercy and Grace, all around us, every day.
Thank God!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pep Talk

Just ordered this:

Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.

I'm thinking top of the bathroom mirror. Daily pep talk.

Thanks to my dear friend MVM for drawing the Mr. Magorium quote to my attention. It's just what I needed.


Dave said to me last night, "You should blog." And I replied, "I'm too muddled to blog!" But in the firm belief that my husband knows me well and has good ideas, and that writing helps to clarify thinking, here goes.

We are floundering. Almost all of us.

Mom is increasingly nauseous, critical, stubborn, and spacey.

I am snappish, short, and really I just want to go read a book on a beach somewhere, when what I actually need to do is buck up and unpack all these boxes. As a compromise, I'm eating everything in sight.

Dave is under the weather and needs to finish up his doctoral reading and papers before next Sunday when he goes to California for his last on site two week session. Stress, anyone?

Karis just returned from Disney with her nanny family.
Meg is on her third week of a minimester of sophomore level BritLit.
Nate is surly.
Ev is weepy.

With our church, we are grieving the loss of a lovely lady in her 60s who passed away this past week after a two year struggle with a brain tumor, leaving a husband, two daughters, and four young grandchildren.

Cancer is evil and death sucks. There's my clear thinking.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back on Duty

My dear sil Cathy flew back to Kansas City yesterday. She tended to Mom so graciously, and managed to help me quite a bit too. Thank you, Cathy! While she was here, I worked on clearing and cleaning the lake house, drove kids around, voted, had breakfast with a friend, attended a work meeting and an end-of-year celebration, and went to church.

Now I'm back on duty. Mom is notably tired. She still eats a big breakfast, but then feels nauseous and only eats dribs and drabs throughout the day. Ex.: 1/4 cup of stir fried veggies for dinner last night after eating nothing since lunch. The Big Evil is bigger than I've ever seen. It has to be terribly uncomfortable, but Mom doesn't complain. She is still using a bedpan to pee and is very happy about it, but only pees while sleeping. This seems to interrupt her sleep, and I no longer feel comfortable going for a walk or showering while she's asleep in case she rings for her bedpan.

My sister Ruth is on the schedule to come the first full week of June, and Gayle is tentative about coming the end of June. I keep thinking, "Surely this won't go on that long," but I've been thinking that thought for about a year now. No way to call it, so we'll just keep going day to day. Good thing God's mercies are new every morning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


This move is hard. It surprised me.

I don't know why it surprised me, because of course it is hard. My mom is dying; we are leaving the home where our children grew up over the past almost 12 years; we are saying good-bye to good neighbors; we are moving to a smaller house with a much smaller kitchen and no lake down the street. Maybe it surprised me because mentally I had it all worked out, why this was beneficial. It puts my mom's mind at ease about her beloved house; we are in a more central location; downsizing is good; economical boon.

I know all this is true. I guess my heart hasn't caught up to my brain just yet, which makes my heart a little sore. I'm sure it will get better. Of course when we moved from our last house 12 years ago, the house we brought our babies home to, I lay on the empty floor and cried, so maybe it will get worse before it gets better.

Hard to say.

ETA: I may have turned a corner with the move and mourning our old house. How? The oddest thing. God reminded me of struggles we have had during our time in that house. Some we walked through together, some were veiled in secrecy, some I didn't even know about until they were over, and some I could barely keep my own head above water so everyone had to fend for themselves. Yes, the lake house is full of memories, but not all happy ones. A fresh start sounds good.
Let's do it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Patriot

Guess what my mom did today, right after polishing off her breakfast?

She voted. My 91-year-old, terminally ill mother pulled out her mail-in ballot, carefully marked her choices, then asked me to put it out for the mailman.

So, do any of us have an excuse for not voting? Mmmm, no.

Stuff My Friend Says

"However you feel today is okay.
Whatever you feel is okay.
There is not a right way to do all this.
Others' expectations are usually off, because they cannot live in your shoes or fully get it.
Thank God He can, and does, always, and He loves us so."

Actually, this is something God whispered in my friend's ear as she pondered her first Mother's Day without her mother, her first Mother's Day as an orphan. She wrote it in her journal. And she texted it to me.

Comfort, from God's lips to my friend's ear to my phone screen to this blog. He moves in mysterious ways, right?

Continuing Education

‎"Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor." --James 3:17-18 ,The Message

A dear friend of mine posted these verses on facebook this week. The truth of these Words sticks with me, needles me, won't leave me alone. It's like a pop quiz from God.

Is my life characterized by getting along with others?

Am I gentle and reasonable?

Overflowing with mercy and blessings?

Do I do the hard work of getting along?

Do I treat others with dignity and honor?

And I'd like to answer that it depends on the day, but God cleverly removed that loophole when He said, "not hot one day and cold the next."

Then I'd like to say it depends on whom we are speaking of, but God specified, "not two-faced."

Gah. It's like He knows me!

So I guess my honest answer has to be no, not always, but I'm working on it. I truly do desire for my life to be characterized by what is important to God. I love how realistic He is. He just comes right out and says, "do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor."

Ouch, yes. It is hard work.

I would love it if this record of the end of my parents' lives could be full of warm, fuzzy moments and smooth sailing to the other side. Wouldn't it be inspiring to read about our great relationship and unconditional love? Well, the truth is we are still doing the hard work. Sometimes I think it has just really begun in earnest.

My mom is a stereotypical "beaver" personality. She has always been extremely task-oriented, a doer extraordinaire. She does not like to talk. Being around people wears her out. As Nurse Christy observes, "I have never seen a person who wants to be alone as much as your mom." I think she would have been happy in some sort of isolated monastery, cloistered with her baking and books and nature.

Instead, God gave her five children, a permanent community where the hard work of getting along never ends. Mom was pondering an ongoing family crisis the other day and commented to me, "You know, it's all about relationship!" I asked her to expound and she said, "Like when you say something that ruffles my feathers and I say something that ruffles your feathers. It's all about relationship!" I couldn't agree more.

One of the things I really admire about Mom is her desire to continue learning and growing and changing. I hope that when I am in the twilight of my life, I am still embracing the relationships around me and moving towards people. It does not come naturally, especially for Mom, which makes me admire her all the more.

Do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. It is a worthy goal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Perspective is Everything

I remember Christmas Day 1995. Karis was two years old. Meg was seven months old. Dave's sister had invited all the family to her house in the hill country for Christmas. Sounds fun, right? So early Christmas morning, we piled into our Suburban along with Dave's mom and dad plus two more extended family members, and headed out for the three hour drive. We arrived safely and enjoyed the day with Dave's siblings and spouses, parents, nephew and nieces. I have pictures of us playing outside with the littlies. It was nice. Then it was time to head home. All I remember from the ride home is that Meg would scream anytime she heard my voice. She didn't want to nurse, she didn't want to be held, nothing helped. Words like inconsolable and wretched come to mind. (Now that we know about her celiac, I bet I know what was wrong. Will the mommy guilt ever end?) And just as I was thinking to myself through gritted teeth, "This is TERRIBLE. What a STUPID idea. We are NEVER doing this again," Dave said aloud, "This was fun! We should do this every year!"

Different perspective.

Last night, Mom didn't call for me to change her at all. When I checked on her around 10:00pm, I found her changing herself. I asked why she hadn't called me, since she knew I would still be up. She said she was practicing. This morning when I took Mom her coffee, I found she had changed herself twice more in the night. She, her gown, and her bed were soaked with urine and smeared with waste. I was thinking, "Poor Mom! This is terrible. Self-changing is not working out. She will not want to do this again." After I cleaned her up, changed her gown, and stripped her bed, Mom said brightly, "I'm getting pretty good at this!"

Different perspective.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mama Bear on Mother's Day


Mom: Gwen, what does your family have planned for Mother's Day?

Gwen: Uh, I don't know.

Mom: What are they planning for the Sunday meal?

Gwen: Uh, I don't know.

Mom: Are they cooking something good?

Gwen: Uh, maybe.

Enter Karis.

Grandma: Karis, what are you cooking up for Mother's Day?

Karis: I dunno. [Much more astute than I.] What would you like?

Grandma: Pizza.

Karis: Grandma would like pizza for lunch tomorrow.

Gwen: Okay, we have gluten free crust mix. I can make some.

Mom/Grandma: I like Papa John's.

Gwen: But Meg can't eat that.

I don't know how many times we have had this conversation. Meg has big, bad, go-to-the-hospital-if-you-mess-up celiac disease. Not a whim, not a food choice, an incurable disease. She is very diligent and uncomplaining about taking her own food everywhere she goes. I would really like it if she did not have to be in that position in her own home. So when Mom asks what would be a good night to order pizza, I always suggest we pick a night when Meg will not be home. Yes, there are gluten free pizzas available frozen in our local grocery. No, they do not compare to Papa John's The Works! And there is just something mean about eating something delectable in front of someone who can't have it. But Mama wants pizza from Papa John's for Mother's Day, and so it will be.

After Mom's nap this morning, I asked if she would like a snack. She replied, "No, but I'm wondering what treat your family will prepare for Mother's Day." Oh. Oh dear. I reminded her that we were having pizza. She was surprised. I reminded her that she had requested pizza. She denied. I told her Karis was taking Meg to the grocery to get a gf pizza, then stopping by Papa John's to pick up our order.

Mom: So Meg will have something she can eat.

Gwen: Yes. It will look pretty sad next to our pizza, but she will have one.

Mom: I can't get too worked up over Meg's food.

Gwen: No, I don't expect you to.

Mom: She eats such good food. But she hasn't been making her avocado dip. [Mom loves Meg's homemade guaco.]

Gwen: No, we haven't been able to find good avocados.

Mom: [dismissively] Anyway, she eats so well, it almost makes a body wish they had the same thing wrong with them. I just don't feel for her at all.

Enter Mama Bear.

I really tried to temper my response by remembering I was dealing with a frail old woman. But even frail old women can respond with compassion to the frailty of another. My mom has always been a cold fish, but for her to disregard the lifelong struggle of one of my babies so flippantly just flew all over me. I reminded Mom that Meg has a disease that prevents her from ingesting another speck of wheat, barley or rye for the rest of her life. I agreed that Meg is very disciplined and creative in coming up with healthy, appealing foods to eat. And I emphasized that the fact that Meg is strong and uncomplaining does not mean she does not deserve compassion!

I didn't holler. I didn't stomp out. I wasn't rough. I continued to care for Mom as I spoke. I was firm. I limited my words to Meg's condition and our response. I just could not let it pass. Argh. This is hard.

To Pee or Not to Pee

Mom has been without a catheter since Monday. It is such a relief to her to be rid of that nasty old bag, not to mention experiencing pain-free, er "sting-"free, voiding. All systems seem to be working properly. The only hitch we've had so far is that Mom only seems to pee when she is lying down. Seriously. Never a wet diaper when sitting up, even if she is up for 4 hours at a stretch and drinking coffee and cranberry juice. Without fail, always a wet diaper after a nap, usually awakened by the urge to pee. This is fine of course, except it does mean regular overnight diaper changes, every 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Mom hates ringing for me in the night, and I'm not so fond of the broken sleep pattern myself. She keeps coming up with schemes to solve this problem. First, she wanted a bedside toilet. Then she thought a bedpan might do the trick. Last night, she said she would put some pull-up-type diapers under her pillow. I giggled and asked why she would want them under her pillow. Mom replied, "Well, so I can change myself in the night." Ohhhkay.

Last night, Mom needed changing at 9:00, 11:00, and 12:30. I geared up for a night of little sleep. Imagine my surprise when the next thing I heard was my alarm at 7:00. Mom appeared to be still sleeping, but with her gown pulled up to her waist, which was odd. I started coffee, then heard the bell. I went in, thinking I would find a soaked Mama and a soaked bed. Instead, I found two wet, discarded diapers and Mom wearing a wet third. She had indeed managed to change herself in the night! That woman! Never have I met a more determined, self-willed, independent person. She is truly amazing.

Mom said, "That's your Mother's Day gift." And a very surprising and nice one it is.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to the toughest, hardest-working Mom ever!

This is Mom in front of the restaurant she ran one summer before she married Dad.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stuff a Third Grader Says

While my sister Gayle was here, I got to spend some time with one of my favorite third graders. He is not related to me, but we have been friends since he was in kindergarten. I care about him. He cares about me. So when I saw him last week, I showed him a picture of my mom in her hammock chair. We visited for a bit about life in third grade and life in general, then he asked:

FTG (Favorite Third Grader): Can your mom go places?

Ms. Gwen: Well, she *could* go places, but it makes her tired out just to move from her bed to her wheelchair. We could roll her wheelchair out to the car and she could get in the car, but then she would be all tired out. So she just stays home.

FTG: [thinking] So, do *you* go places?

Ms. Gwen: No, I mostly stay home with my mom.

We chatted about how it's not super fun, but that is my job right now. It's what families do; we take care of each other. Then he said,

FTG: [disgustedly] I don't know who created cancer in the first place.

Oh my. How do such big thoughts get into a third grade brain?

So I shared with my friend my thoughts about how cancer is Satan up to his favorite trick of taking something God has designed for good, and twisting it into something bad and hurtful. Normal cell division gone completely wrong, bringing destruction and death instead of its intended purpose of creation and life.

And then we talked about other things, which is one of the nice things about having a third grader for a friend. He offers me empathy, understanding, and insight in my sorrow, but he doesn't linger in the valley of the shadow for long. My friend has dragons to slay, victories to achieve, books to read, sunshine to enjoy, places to go, people to see. He knows the score, and is still eager to play.

It's a gift. He's a gift. And I am thankful.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stuff Jesus Says

A sweet high school girl in the youth group reminded me of this today.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Mtt. 11:28-30, NIV

Rest for my soul. Sounds nice.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me.
Get away with me and you'll recover your life.
I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me
and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Mtt. 11:28-30, MSG

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
Learn to live freely and lightly.


What's New

My sister Gayle came; she saw; she conquered. Thank you, sister, for coming. I know it is not easy.

It was nice to have a week to gather the bits and pieces of my mind. I worked with students when they were available amidst the end-of-the-year craziness. We celebrated Meg's birthday with a wonderful day at the beach. Dave and I met with the realtor at the lake house. A couple of Nate's football buddies came over to the lake house and hauled furniture to the curb for us in advance of the neighborhood garage sale. We all attended Ev's sports banquet. Nate and I stopped by Goodwill and found a wool suit, dress shirt, two ties, and dress shoes, all for $52. Dave and I had a date night. I visited with friends at the Wednesday night dinner. I went to church with my family.

Dave took Gayle to the airport Tuesday morning. Nurse Christy came for an uneventful visit. Cassandra came and while helping Mom into the shower, noticed a pocket of swelling in Mom's thigh. On closer inspection, she had pockets of edema all down through her calf. The doctor said this means Mom's lymph system is shutting down. It is not the type of edema that can be treated. When I called Christy to tell her about the clumps of swelling, I also told her that Mom's catheter was still leaking into her diaper and it was still "stinging." The doctor recommended removing the catheter, with the thinking that Mom's muscle tone would be so low that she would not retain urine this time around. So far it is working well. We have constant diaper changing anyway, so wet diapers are not a problem. And no more "stinging" for Mom is a big plus. She has been sleeping a lot since Tuesday, and I wonder if the catheter pain had been keeping her up.

In my spare time this week, I am trying to reorganize here and make room for, well, everything. Realtor Herman said we need to get everything out of the lake house and spiffy the place up. We are hoping to list at the end of this month. My sister-in-law Cathy is coming next week to tend to Mom, so my plan is to make spaces this week, then move things next week. And hopefully have time left over for spiffying.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


"I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way,
who can't see where they're going.
I'll be a personal guide to them,
directing them through unknown country.
I'll be right there to show them what roads to take,
make sure they don't fall into the ditch.
These are the things I'll be doing for them—
sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute."
Isaiah 42:16, The Message

And that's what God is doing for me. I'm counting on it.