Mom, Will You…

Lauren called late, 10:38, last Sunday night. She said, “Mom, will you come to Dallas?” I felt a tug in my heart. Something in her voice said, I need you, whether she said it or not.

“Of course, I’ll be there tomorrow,” I said. Lauren knew I had planned on making a trip sometime before the end of February. I just needed to wrap my brain around when. Just a month ago, I helped her load her Houston apartment into a U-Haul. She had lived fifteen minutes away. Now four hours. Part of my thirty-day purge required unloading some items from my house at Lauren’s new place. Still, when your child tells you you’re needed, you go. At least I do. If I’m able. And thank God I was. So I drove the road to Dallas beneath overcast gray skies.

Lauren is okay. New place. New job. Some of the same old stresses. How many times did I call my mother, especially in my twenties, with news of how the sky had fallen off my world? Sometimes a girl just needs her mom.

Together we hung a few things on the wall, some of my discards. “Anything you don’t want, we’ll give to Goodwill,” I said. Two small bags of things went back to my car. She let me rearrange some shelves and décor. We ate a few meals out, a few meals in, and each night we curled up on the couch and tried to make it to the end of a movie. We finally finished The Devil Wears Prada and concluded that no one needs to sell their soul for work or things.

And today I’m headed home. I don’t like the thought of leaving my baby girl alone. And so I leave her in God’s hands and trust. What else is a mama to do?

And for a quick post script, this week’s purge included 6 Christmas items, 13 decorative, 23 to Lauren, 5 more for dogs, 8 from one cabinet, and 31 from the garage straight to the trash. That’s 86 things no longer needed, used or loved, now gone from my house. AND, I’m 61 items ahead of schedule going into Week Three, which is awesome since I’ve been out of town. And at Lauren’s I helped her do the same 58 items out of her closet and dresser drawers. I had a trip planned to Goodwill anyway.

I Awoke to the Moon

The Waning Gibbous Phase

I awoke to the moon shining through the trees and studied it with delight in the cool Sunday morning breeze. I felt God with me. My mother and my dog Rain, too. No longer here. But vividly here. In my heart.

Great are the works of the Lord;
They are studied by all who delight in them.
Psalm 111:2

The Lord created the world. That thought alone boggles the mind. His works are great. I will study and delight in them.

This spring semester, I’m studying William Wordsworth’s epic poem, The Prelude. According to my syllabus, “it is often said that The Prelude represents the true beginning of modern literature.” Book One depicts the poet from his youth, studying and delighting in the works of the Lord. Wordsworth never directly credits God, but he contemplates nature—the time of year, the warmth of the day, the placement of the sun in the sky, the color of the clouds, the illumination of the ground, and the peace of his surroundings—in connection to his own place in the world.

‘Twas Autumn, and a calm and placid day,
With warmth as much as needed from a sun
Two hours declined towards the west, a day
With silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass,
And, in the sheltered grove where I was couched
A perfect stillness. On the ground I lay
Passing through many thoughts, yet mainly such
As to myself pertained…(74-81).

Wordsworth provides a basic lesson of gratitude in his appreciation of small pleasures, and in this case, the world’s beauty. God resides in His creation, and like Wordsworth, we can find God’s peace if only we stop long enough to see and breathe in His presence in the world. Through a meditative pause and an eye on divine creation, Wordsworth found inspiration, hope, and a soothing balance in his life, and so will we.

…Thus long I lay
Cheared by the genial pillow of the earth
Beneath my head, soothed by a sense of touch
From the warm ground, that balanced me…(87-90).
Taste and see that the Lord is good; 
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him…
Psalm 34:8

A Story from Mom

On the corner of the desk at my mom and dad’s house, a stack of addressed envelopes in my mother’s handwriting remained for years. Three, four, or more. The cards inside were written to her nieces and nephews. One was for my daughter Lauren. I always wondered why they were never mailed, but one cannot argue with Alzheimer’s. Upon my mother’s death, we opened one that was not addressed, and we found a story from my mom and a letter. I think she wants you to have it. I think it’s all to say that everything will be okay.

I want to tell you a story. This is a true story. It is about me. How my life was changed.

From Sharon Savage Petty

When I was a very little girl, before I went to school, our family went to a little white frame church. It was about a half a block east from our house. We walked to church every Sunday. I loved going to church. I loved Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I loved all the songs and the stories that I learned. I loved Jesus and knew that He loved me. When I was in grade school, the church had grown so much that they decided to build a bigger church. It was built about half a block west of our house and it was made of stone. We continued to walk to church every Sunday morning and Sunday evening and sometimes on Wednesday night. I remember one of my Sunday School teachers more than any other. Her name was Mrs. Ward. It was about that time that I began to listen to what the preacher said that we are all sinners and need a savior. He said that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. I knew at the young age of ten years old that I was a sinner and I wanted Jesus to be my Savior.

Our little Baptist Church asked people who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives to be Lord and Savior to come to the front as a witness of our commitment to follow him. I wanted to walk down the aisle to make that commitment, but I was a very shy little girl, and I couldn’t make myself go.

I believe it was the next Sunday. I will never forget what happened that day. I heard a small sound, and I looked across the church and saw one of the girls from my class at school. She was walking down the outside aisle. I thought, “If she can do it, I can too.” So I went down the aisle. I prayed to Jesus asking him to forgive my sins and be my Savior and Lord. It was a strong commitment to follow Jesus.

That afternoon, my Mother’s friend came over to visit. She said that she didn’t believe that I was saved, and she thought I went to the altar because my friend did. Her words put doubt in my mind, but I knew in my heart that Jesus was my Savior. That night when I went to bed, I prayed and prayed asking Jesus if I was really saved. I prayed for a very long time that night and, suddenly, I felt great peace come over me. I knew then for sure that I was saved. I got out of bed and went into the living room where my Mother was and told her that I really believed that I was saved. She said, “I believe that you are too.”

I truly know that Jesus has been with me since that day. He promised us that He would send His Holy Spirit to be our Counselor, Guide, and Teacher. He helped me understand the Bible. The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). I can’t say that I have had a perfect life, but I can say that I have had “A Wonderful Life”. My relationship with Jesus has grown through the years. I read my Bible and pray often. I am very thankful for the life I have had. I have been truly blessed. I hope that you will make a commitment to follow Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him too. I can truly recommend him.

Here Is Where We Meet

When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.

The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.

In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.

John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before. 

John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.

My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..

My Mama’s Voice

My Mama and Me
My first memories
include my Mama’s voice.
No matter where she is,
no matter where I am,
I hear her—
  
“There was a little girl,
who had a little curl, 
right in the middle 
of her forehead.”
       Mama points in thin air,
       draws a circle.
“And when she was good,
she was very, very good,”
      she emphasizes very,
     nods up and down,
“and when she was bad,”
      she exaggerates bad,
      lifts an eyebrow,
“she was horrid.”
     Mama shudders,
     shakes her head. 
It’s a gentle warning.
Her words still ring true.
  
At the end of each day,
Mama would always say,
“Goodnight, sleep tight.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
And if they do…”
      This is my cue.
     I say, “Take your shoe, 
     and rub their tummies
     black and blue.”
Mama says, “I love you.”
    And I say back, “I love you, too.”
It's our routine. 
  
In times of trouble, 
Mama stands on God’s word.
How many times did I hear
her say?
  
“And we know that all things
work together for good
to those who love the Lord
to those who are called
according to His purpose.”
     Mama would say it now 
     if she could.
And then—"I love you.”
   
But I hear her voice. 
     "I love you, too, Mama."
     No matter where you are.
    No matter where I am.
Mama had three children. Somehow she always made me feel I had her undivided attention. How adorable is she? Family vacation, July 1972, Hoover Dam.

A New Tradition

Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.

A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”

And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”

Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:

I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.

 She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that

Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.

And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.   

On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.

Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.

And I texted: Love that perspective.

And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.

And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

A Tree for Andres

Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.

This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.

Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.

About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.

And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.

And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.  

Hidden Valley Road

The Galvin family, Air Force photo, 1961.

My heart hurts. I just finished Hidden Valley Road. Then again, my adult son has paranoid schizophrenia. Our ten-year journey toward help has been rocky and torturous. My heart often hurts.  

Award winning journalist Robert Kolker combines an examination of twentieth century mental health treatment and the components of schizophrenia with the narrative of the Galvin family. Between 1945 and 1965, Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children, ten boys and two girls. By the mid-1970s, six of the brothers had developed schizophrenia.

The Galvin family became one of the first to contribute to the genetic studies of the National Institute of Mental Health, and for their donation to the body of research, I am grateful. I will continue to keep the remaining family in my thoughts. Part of my sadness lies in the continued wait for a scientific breakthrough.

If you have experience with mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road is a must read. If not and you are interested in knowing more, may you find compassion for those who suffer with severe mental illness and their families who are doing the best they can. There must be better help on the horizon.

Just Breathe

For those times when I have to remind myself to “Just Breathe,” I pull up this song from Pearl Jam’s ninth album. I’m not sure if it actually helps me breathe. In fact, it might just make me cry.

You might like the 2012 remake by Willie Nelson and his son Lukas.

But I’m loving this brand-new Miley Cyrus version. She’s set to release her seventh album on November 27, four days after her twenty-eighth birthday, and she is six months clean and sober. I’m finding her inspirational these days.

I would like to dedicate “Just Breathe” in loving memory of our Uncle Tony. December 24, 1950—October 9, 2020. We listened to some Pearl Jam together, and we had some really fun times. I think he might be listening right now.

“Yes, I understand that every life must end…Meet you on the other side.”

Allyson and the Ranch

 There is a little girl 
 named Allyson. 
 She lives on a ranch
 with endless skies,
 wide open spaces,
 and her big sister Olivia. 
 Together they explore
 all kinds of places
 with so many animals
 and things to do.
 
 
There are dogs that bark. 
And cows that moo. 
  Kittens to hold and catch mice 
  and horny toads, too. 
 Butterflies flutter, 
 turtles crawl, 
 and bees buzz. 
 Guineas squawk,
 chickens cluck,
 and turkeys gobble. 
  Of course, the horses say neigh. 
 Cottontail bunnies visit
 and then hop away. 
 Scissortail flycatchers and robins—
 what colorful eggs they lay! 
 On Allyson’s ranch, 
 it’s always a beautiful day!
   

And a BIG Happy Birthday to my most favorite four-year-old, my GREAT niece, Allyson Kate! She reminds me of the JOY to be found in small pleasures. The gorgeous photography featured is courtesy of Allyson’s Mom. Follow her Instagram @shesdoinok .