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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Reflections

My grandma, while she was in the midst of caring for my failing grandfather, would come home from the nursing home and sit in her rocking chair and reflect on the struggles of the day. And every time I called her, she would tell me stories of the trials and tribulations of getting old — and the pain of watching someone you love grow weaker every day.

Gramps was a farmer. He was one of those big, strong guys who worked hard at everything he did. He was also compassionate and giving beyond what was expected.

But after struggling with Parkinson’s for some time, Gramps started to fall. One day, he was standing at the top of the stairs and the next thing he knew, he was laying on the floor at the bottom of the steps. Grandma rushed down to help him. Gramps picked himself up off the floor and headed over to the furnace.Grandma asked what he was doing.

Gramps said, “As long as I’m down here, I might as well check the furnace filter.”

Grandma told this story — and several others — with a chuckle. And at the end of each story, she would say, “You just have to laugh — because there aren’t enough tears.”

It was a trying time and very difficult for all of us. But, mostly, for Grandma. But she was an emotional pillar, taking what came and determined to make the best of it.

I’m not an emotional person. I’m kind of like Grandma. I’m much more apt to find something to laugh about than I am to cry.

But today, I heard the song “Silent Night” for the first time this Christmas season.

And I cried a little bit.

Because I was reminded of all the Christmas Eve celebrations with Grandma and Gramps. Of the special Christmas Eve meal of Swedish meatballs and lutefisk. And, of course, the most wonderful treat of all, lefse. (I want to give a shout out to all my wonderful readers in Norway — my gramps was 100% Norwegian and proud!)

I was reminded of all the candlelight services on Christmas Eve. You know — the one where everybody gets a candle and they sing Silent Night by candlelight. I was reminded of the pastor’s warnings to not wear hair spray to church that night and instructions to always tip the unlit candle when passing the flame along to the next person.

I was reminded of the time when midway through “Silent Night,” the organ stopped working and the church just kept on singing. It was as if the congregation was saying, “Even when we have nothing to go on, we WILL continue to sing to our God.” Not long after, the church received a new organ — and a new pastor to go with it. The new pastor was great. The candlelight service that year was unforgettable. To illustrate his sermon, the pastor threw a ball of string into the congregation and said that whoever it landed closest to had to hold on to the string and throw the ball to someone else. I don’t remember exactly what he was illustrating, but I will never, ever forget that service! I think he was trying to illustrate that the love of God touches everybody at the same time, and the more we throw the ball (give of the love that we have received), the more entangled we become in Him. Because, yes, the congregation was tied in knots by the time the service was over.

Then I reflected on walking the three blocks from church on those silent, frosty nights. How safe it was! Sometimes I walked alone. A girl alone, enjoying the crisp winter air and the sound of snow crunching beneath my feet.

I reflected on the lunch Grandma always served the family after church, complete with homemade goodies, coffee, cider and my favorite — lime punch.

I was reminded of making the long trek to Grandma’s to bury my cousin just days before Christmas one year, and the grief and pain we all felt as we laid him to rest.

And, I reflected on the year that there was a huge blizzard that lasted several days, making it impossible for me to spend Christmas with my family. The blizzard forced me to spend the 4-day vacation I had arranged completely alone.

I thought on all these things and I cried.

I cried because it’s different now. My cousin is no longer with us. Gramps is having lutefisk with Jesus this year, and most recently, my aunt has also passed on. As with most places these days, the streets of that little town aren’t quite as safe as they once were. That unforgettable pastor is long gone. Church attendance has dwindled to just a handful.

But more than that, I cried out of gratitude for having such a wonderful family and so many sweet memories. Memories of church and family and yes, even dishes and cleaning and all sorts of chores that come along with a houseful of 20 hungry, happy people. Memories of celebration after celebration. Birthdays. Christmases. And yes, even memories of celebrating the lives of those I love so much.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Current Events

 

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Experts

Someone spent a lot of time today telling me how I should live my life.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten over caring what people think I should do.

I think it’s sad when people want to be an expert when it comes to everybody else’s lives.

Because when you spend all your time analyzing and problem solving and advising someone else (who doesn’t care about your opinion in the first place), you don’t have much time to spend getting your own crap in a pile, finding joy in life and just being.

My goal is to be an expert at being me and living my life.

If I can help someone or bring joy to someone else along the way, that’s great.

But I’m not going to waste my life trying to be an expert on stuff that I’ll never have the experience to fully understand.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Current Events

 

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A Cup of Christmas Tea

My church is having a Christmas Tea today.

My friend signed up to be a table hostess at this tea. She asked me to go, and I declined. I told her that I would need like 5 Xanax if I were to go. She said, “Really?” I said, “Well…. maybe I’d need 7. You do realize that’s like 14 doses right there, right?”

She got all of her table decorations and dishes ready to go several weeks ago, but she never heard anything about when she was supposed to go decorate her table — until last night at about 8 pm. She asked me to at least go with her to decorate her table.

I went, under protest.

I’m the kind of girl that you can ask to dig a hole to bury your pet hamster, Max. I even keep a shovel in my car. And, I wear boots every single day. So when poor Max died several days ago, my friend tried to dig a nice little hole with her hand trowel, all the while complaining about not having a real shovel.

I said, “I have a shovel in my car. Hang on.”

She unsuccessfully attempted to dig a hole with my shovel. I’m convinced that her attempt was unsuccessful simply because she was dressed inappropriately for the task. She was wearing dress pants. And pretty little flats. And a red wool coat.

After watching her pitiful attempts for a while, I said, “let me try.”

I took my denim-clad legs and my bebooted feet over and swiftly dug a nice little hole to bury poor Max in. And after his internment, I found a very nice gourd to use as a monument for Max’s grave.

That is the kind of girl I am.

I’m a get-er-done sorta girl.

So, when the friend in question asked me to help her decorate her table for the tea, I was like, “Um…. no?”

But I went. Because I am SUCH a good friend….

The tables that were already decorated were quite lovely. They all had something to set it apart. I especially liked the white and sparkly pink table. I also liked the brown one with glossy orange dishes. And the peacock themed one. And the cowboy themed one. And then there was the silver/lace/glass one which was absolutely gorgeous — but…. oh my goodness! It’s so pretty you almost don’t even want to touch it.

I liked the snowman themed tables a lot. They were pretty and festive — and touchable. And the centerpieces were small and simple enough that you could see the people across from you if you were to sit at those tables.

After checking out all the tables and making a pitiful attempt at decorating my friend’s snowman table, I took my denim-clad legs and bebooted feet and got myself out of there as fast as I could.

Because that’s way too much girly-girl for this girl.

As I was walking out the door, I reiterated to myself how glad I was that I’m not going to the tea.

I don’t look down on anybody who does. I’m glad there are people in the world who like those things. It’s just not… me. And that’s ok.

Somebody’s gotta dig the graves for the poor little hamsters of the world. It might as well be me.

And then I got to thinking about how completely…. not…. feminine I am. I don’t do makeup. I don’t do nails. I don’t do ornate decorating. I don’t even do my hair about 90% of the time.

And, if I had to sit in a room full of women and drink tea, I’d have to take 14 doses of Xanax. I like women — in moderation.

But, I sorta wish I could be a fly on the wall — because while I have no desire to participate in such a girlie event, I think it would be quite entertaining to watch. 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Current Events

 

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Exceptional Gratitude

I love talking to children.

The perspective of a child is fresh, innocent and completely out of the box.

And, at times, their view of the world is hilarious.

This evening, my favorite 3-year old noisily made her way up the stairs to my hallway.

I heard her coming, so I went to the door and waited for her to knock. When she knocked, I crouched down, flung the door open and hollered, “WHO’S THAT KNOCKING ON MY DOOR????”

The Munchkin dissolved into uproarious giggles.

As I made a pathetic attempt at cooking her some supper, I said to her, “Do you know what I am exceptionally grateful for?”

She ignored me.

Her mother said, “Since she’s not responding to your question, Mari, what are you exceptionally grateful for?”

I said, “Windows.”

No, I’m not talking the Microsoft operating system. That version of Windows baffles me.

The Munchkin’s Mom said, “Oh, I know — I can’t BELIEVE you lived in a place without windows….”

That’s right.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I had “come up in the world” when I moved to my upstairs apartment. The apartment I had before had one window in it — a tiny, dirty, cobwebby little thing that was actually underground. But, my apartment was also underground, so the window was actually above my head and it was enclosed in a little window well and thus, I never got any sunshine in my apartment. Not even a little bit.

Prior to that, I lived in an upstairs apartment that had 3 drafty windows that were nailed shut. One was in the bathroom, one over the kitchen sink and the other one at the head of my bed. And they all looked out on the side of a building. I might as well have not had any windows.

(On a side note- drafty windows that are nailed shut are the most pointless things I’ve ever dealt with. They don’t keep the cold out in the winter, but they keep the hot in in the summer and it’s absolutely miserable.)

Before living there, I lived in my friend’s basement — and the window situation was the exact same as it was in the basement of my current building. It was nice during storms (except for poor Java, the dog, who was terrified of storms and who always wanted to snuggle with me — I’m not THAT much of a dog lover!), but again, no sun light.

For over 4 years before that, I lived in the dorms in college. Each of the rooms I lived in had windows across one wall — but the wall was concrete and the windows were at about chin-height. I remember making an effort to look out those windows only once during my entire stay.

It was a cold, cold winter night and the last thing I remember was snuggling in under the quilt my grandma had made for me. I awoke at about 1:30 in the morning (I know — I was a completely lame college student), standing on my tip-toes next to the window, trying to peek through the slats of the venetian blinds.

And I thought to myself, “WHAT am I DOING?”

Of course, I swiftly got my half-frozen self back into bed and was asleep in seconds.

I lived in places with either no windows at all, windows that were completely unaccessible, or windows that had no view/were nailed shut/were drafty for a total of 10 years.

This all changed 5 months ago.

And I am exceptionally grateful.

During those 10 years without windows, I would take a wild guess as to what the weather conditions might be. (I had no TV, no radio reception, no internet and smartphones hadn’t been invented yet.) I asked my coworkers to call me if I was going to need extra time to dig the car out. I dressed in layers so I could shed a few if it got too warm, and I brought extra shoes and socks with me just in case there might be a flash flood. (One of the places I lived was literally 10 feet from a river that had been known to flood, covering the area for blocks around with a few inches to a foot or more of water. I didn’t know this until after I’d moved in.)

My current place has 5 wonderful windows.

One window looks out on a tree that’s planted precariously close to said window. Not much of a view there. Another window looks out on the gable roof of the building next door. You can also see the doorstep of one of the neighboring houses and watch the smoke roll lazily out of the chimney on a cold morning.

The other three windows look out on the side of the building next door. But, between my window and the brick wall next door, there is a large grassy area. You can see birds fluttering about in the spring and watch the newly fallen leaves float through the air in the fall.

And, on a crisp winter morning, you can look out and see the new-fallen snow. It’s a beautiful sight.

During the past 10 years, I’ve been able to see snow swirling in the air, but I haven’t been able to look out on a calm, peaceful morning and see a winter wonderland.

And so, I am exceptionally grateful for my 5 windows.

And, for my favorite Munchkin who didn’t care one iota that I was so grateful for my windows.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Current Events

 

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Changes

The summer after I turned 10, a lot of things changed.

My dad was informed that he would be laid off for a total of 5 months while the plant he worked at was being remodeled. (or something!!) Just a few days before my dad’s last day of work before the layoff, we got the call that my grandpa had passed away.

My grandpa had been a smoker, was on oxygen and had limited mobility. He always slept in a chair, and the night that he passed away, he had gotten up to use the bathroom and when he came back, he parked his wheel chair on his oxygen tube. My grandpa suffocated. (This is my understanding of the story — I may be wrong.)

Dad missed his last couple of days of work so we could go to the funeral.

Shortly after this, we began another year of home school. Dad entertained Timmy and listened to conservative talk radio (to this day, Rush Limbaugh makes me want to puke) while the rest of us did school work. My oldest brother got to dissect frogs and worms and fish that year in his science class, and the whole family got together to do what Timmy called “an esperience” (toddler slang for “experiment.”)

I have some great memories from this period of my life.

My dad has always been involved in the lives of people who experience disabilities. Every Tuesday, he would pick up a friend from church, Jerry, and take him grocery shopping and to do laundry. I remember one Tuesday, Dad came home with a few enormous Red Delicious apples. We had been eating beans and rice (or beets and potatoes) for a while, so we were overjoyed that we each got half of a crisp, sweet, delicious red apple for a snack the next day.

Thanksgiving came and went with little or no fanfare.

And then it was Christmas.

As Christmas cards began to arrive in our mail box, no doubt my parents were worrying about how they were going to keep the heat on, food on the table AND buy Christmas presents for us kids.

One day, a big, fat envelope arrived in our mail box. It was from someone I didn’t even know and who hadn’t been in contact with my family for years. Mom opened the envelope and pulled out a huge stack of hundred dollar bills and a letter that said that they had finished remodeling their house and had money left over and felt led to send the left overs to us. I don’t know if they knew what we were going through, but we were so very grateful.

We had food on our table every day, our house was warm, the lights were on, and we even got Christmas presents that year.

On Christmas Day, our neighbor came over with gifts and an enormous turkey. Grandma and Grandpa and several other family members sent gifts. Our little tree had stacks and stacks of presents under it. We opened gift after gift as the aroma of that turkey wafted through the house. After the gifts were opened, some of the boys and I donned 3 pairs of our new Christmas socks, our new Christmas sweaters and mittens, grabbed our ice skates and ran over to the little ice rink a couple of blocks away to play while we waited for the turkey to cook.

That afternoon and evening, we all sat together in our living room and listened to Dad read “Little Britches” and then I crawled under the blankets on the floor in my brothers’ room (we weren’t heating my room at that time) and thought about how sad it was that such a wonderful day was over. It was a day completely unlike what I considered an “ideal” Christmas — but in many ways, it was the best Christmas ever.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2012 in My Story

 

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Leaving Part 2

My mom was one of the people who was in charge of the home school group that we were part of. I don’t know if she had an official title, but she and a friend would get together and have planning sessions and make arrangements for meetings and field trips and things.

I don’t remember exactly when this happened, but one day, someone told us that two of the moms in the group had arranged a planning meeting and had invited everyone except my family, and they had completely taken over the group and come up with new rules, new officers and a new name for the group.

We continued to attend for a few months, but the atmosphere was tense. I have no idea what happened, but my impression was that we were invited to leave and not return.

There was one instance when the home school group invited some friends’ of my parents to come from out of town and speak at a meeting, and the people in charge asked my parents if the speaker could stay with us — and we were sure welcome to attend the meeting if we wanted to.

We went and listened to the emcee sing the praises of founding families such as mine and how the home school group and the home school movement wouldn’t be where it was without people like us.

And we were sitting there thinking, “Um…. if we are such wonderful people, why do we only get to attend when we’re ‘invited’? and why are we only invited when we can do something for them?”

My social network had been reduced to nothing outside of my parents and my brothers.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in My Story

 

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A New View

In the 10 years since I left my family I’ve often been confused about God, the Bible, spirituality, and everything that goes with it. It’s not that I didn’t want to believe. I did want to believe. The problem was that I couldn’t believe most of the things I’d been taught because I felt so violated by those beliefs. What kind of God tells someone to beat someone? That didn’t make sense to me.

Back then, my understanding of God was that He was sitting up there, waiting for me to do something that He could punish me for. He is righteous, holy and just, and He must deal with sin, unrighteousness and unholiness.

This picture is not untrue. It is merely unbalanced.

Because, in addition to God being righteous, holy and just, He is also loving, compassionate, gracious and merciful.

I remember being at Cru in college one day, and a group leader asked my group something about what the phrase “God is love” meant to us. A little light bulb turned on in my brain and I, going completely against my very quiet, very reserved personality, spoke up saying, “If God IS love, then if God were to stop loving anybody or anything for even a nanosecond, He would have to cease to exist.”

I don’t think anyone else had a clue what I was talking about, but that thought completely blew me away.

At that moment, my understanding of God switched from Him sitting up there, waving a big stick around, looking for someone to clobber. All of a sudden, the way I understood God allowed me to make mistakes and still approach Him without fear. God was suddenly compassionate. Full of grace. Merciful.

I love the following Psalm because it paints a picture of God as being a BIG, mighty God — where, when He does something, everybody notices — and yet, He is available to us, He is listening, and mostly, He is able and willing to rescue us. This is how He thinks toward us. This is how He responds to us. This is Who God is.

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple He heard my voice;
my cry came before Him, into His ears.

The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because He was angry.
Smoke rose from His nostrils;
consuming fire came from His mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under His feet.
He mounted the cherubim and flew;
He soared on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His covering, His canopy around Him–
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
Out of the brightness of His presence clouds advanced
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot His arrows and scattered the enemies,
great bolts of lightning and routed them.
The valleys of sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, oh Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
He rescued me because He delighted in me.

Psalm 18:6-19

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Current Events

 

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