Reflections on Two Lives

Twice today I received news of death.

The first was my uncle who passed away early this morning. I love this man. He was an amazing pianist who could improvise in a way I have long admired.

I remember on the rare occasions he came to town, if we were anywhere that had a piano he would sit at that piano and, without a single sheet of music since he couldn’t read music, play and play and play. No pauses, no changing of pieces, just from one musical idea to the next. He mostly played Boogie Woogie and the rhythms and melodies that man would play moved my soul to overwhelming cheer every time.

I looked up to him and as a budding musician I remember admiring his ability to get lost in his own music; to be so enthralled in what he was doing that it became his whole world for those moments he was at the piano.

During those times I heard him play, the music would eventually come to a somewhat abrupt end, silence would fill the room and he’d shut the piano. He’d get a look about him as if he was giving this musical world he had just created one last look. Then he’d stand up and walk away.

Not once did I ever see him sit down and play again when people asked him to keep going. When he was done, he was done.

As an adult I think I admired him even more. Not in the start struck way a child admires but in a respectful, understanding way. My uncle was by no means a perfect man and had many a trouble throughout his life, though I’m not sure what else you’d expect from someone who escaped out a window and ran away from home at the age of about three.

He spoke loudly, often rudely and knew just how to get people riled up. In fact, I was pretty terrified of him as a young child. But, he had an artist’s soul and I think he saw the beauty in things that others maybe passed by.  He saw potential in me and somehow was able to let me know that despite the fact we only saw each other or spoke every several years.

I think as he grew older his heart softened about things. The last time we talked he spoke of his admiration for me as a music teacher and it wasn’t until just now that I can see how things have come full circle between us.

The second time I received news of someone’s death today was of a dear friend of mine’s daughter who had died of cancer. She lived in another state than her mother and they were not on good terms and hadn’t been for a long time.

Horrible things happened to this daughter long ago and I know that her mother has been suffering for many years knowing what her daughter went through and not having her daughter in her life any more.

When I heard this second news I immediately thought of the coincidence that these two people had died on the same day. They lived in different states, lived very different lives and died from different causes. Yet, they were welcomed to their next home the same day.

I know that they are now both freed from the pain they suffered from in this life and have found happy reunions with those who have gone before them. I know my grandma, grandpa and uncle are, right now, laughing together.

Though these two souls are in the same situation now, I can’t help but reflect on how different the affects and situations are that they have left behind.

My uncle lived a long and good life. He has family that knew him and visited him and deeply cared for him. We can find peace and comfort in these things.

My friend’s daughter however, did not get to live a long life and, from what her mother has shared with me, it was a hard, rough life. Those close family bonds were missing and I can’t help but wonder if she felt alone. The grief that is left to this family seems a much more difficult one to bear.

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“That’s Awesome! LET IT GO.”

5,260,000. That’s approximately how many results come up when you google “Disneyland with young children.” Assuming only 1/1000 of those are legitimate, doable ideas that’s 5,260 more good ideas I have the option of putting in my brain. Ridiculous. 

While doing some trip research one night I got so distracted with sorting through posts and websites and articles about how to make your trip amazing, I completely forgot what it was I was originally looking for. This was not an uncommon occurrence. 

Sometimes it seems that I have access to so much information that I have no time or brain space for relevant knowledge. Relevant knowledge can, of course, differ from individual to individual so I’m not knocking the amount of accessible information but rather I’m concerned with my reaction to it. Let’s just say that Pinterest is often my worst enemy. 

I believe it’s important for people to improve themselves and their situation. As a mother of young children I think it’s extremely useful to have access to other mothers’ ideas and methods. It’s true that sometimes I just can’t figure out how I want my picture frames arranged on the wall and seeing examples on an interior design site actually does spark an idea. There are times when “10 tasty crock pot meals under 400 calories” actually come in handy. The problem comes when I take every suggestion to heart and decide that in order for my family/life/cat to be better, I MUST incorporate them. The bigger problem comes when I somehow delude myself into thinking that I can incorporate them into my life all at once. 

The world is over flowing with ideas about everything. Many of those ideas truly are awesome and worthy and good. For example, making sure all our snacks are homemade? Awesome! Writing in my journal every single night? Awesome! Three days of cardio a week and two of strength training? Awesome! Planning the Sunday School lessons I teach weeks in advance and making wonderful visuals? Awesome! Having a family cleaning time every day where we deep clean one part of the house together? Awesome! Having a vegetable dish and salad with dinner every night? Awesome! Taking daily nature walks with my kids? Awesome! Nearly constantly feeling stress, disappointment and failure because I haven’t accomplished everything I “should” have? NOT awesome. 

So, as I sat scrolling through endless pages of tips for going to Disneyland, I was hit by a bit of inspiration. So hard actually, that I’ve made it my motto for the past 4 months: “That’s awesome! Let it go.”

Are all of these ideas indeed awesome? Yes. Do I need them in my life now? No. Somehow, by acknowledging that many of the ideas I see and hear are good but then giving myself permission to let them pass by me without an obligation to remember them has brought me more peace on this subject than I’ve felt in a long while. To everything there is a season and I am learning that this is not the season of my life for so, so many things. 

There have been many times since I’ve adopted this new motto that I will read or hear a new idea and for a split second that familiar feeling of “I need to implement this” will start to spark. When I stop and say (usually out loud) “That’s awesome! Let it go,” it’s like my mind opens up and gets a big breath of fresh air. 

There is a scripture that reads, “And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” Amen to that. This world is full of good things but I don’t want to be so distracted with the good that I miss the better. 

Of Valkyries and Confidence

Valkyrie: in Norse mythology, one of a host of female figures who chooses who lives and who dies on the battlefield. The word translates into “chooser of the slain”.

When I first learned about Valkyries I was intrigued. What power and authority these mythical creatures must hold. It seemed appropriate that independence and great confidence be added to their character traits. And of course, all the cooler that they are female. That fact was probably what intrigued me the most. It’s not too often that a title like “chooser of the slain” is associated with females. For that matter it may not be often enough that words like power and authority are immediately tied to females.

Enter Valkyrie Initiative. A non profit organization dedicated to teaching women self defense. The other night, for our church’s women’s activity we were given part one of a two part course that Valkyrie Initiative offers.

It was very useful information, poignant and actually quite thought provoking.

One of the topics discussed was how a “bad guy” selects his or her target. Things like your awareness, apparent confidence level, type of dress and physical ability can play a part in determining if you are a worthy target for said bad guy.

When the presenter mentioned confidence I immediately thought of the mythical Valkyries, whom the organization is named for, and how they might deal with a panhandler turned violent or other attackers.

Somehow having this odd juxtaposition of a grandiose Norse female character with a modern day hoodlum made the feeling of womanly self confidence surge. I recalled the words “chooser of the slain” and then my mind translated the concept of “will I allow this soldier to live or die today” into a modern introspection of “will I allow my rights as a woman, as a human being to be violated without a fight or will I vehemently stand up for myself and my family?”

And then, my inner Valkyrie wannabe was crushed by fear; a fear stemming from the sudden realization that I had absolutely no idea what I would do if a panhandler got aggressive. No way to handle an attacker or sexual predator. I’ve been known to almost cry when I think someone *may* have *thought* something negative about me. If I actually came face to face with someone who was truly trying to inflict physical harm on me I had no idea how I would react. I was betting, though, that it was not going to be with Valkyrien confidence.

Thankfully, after the two hour course my mindset was changed a bit. I now did have some tools to handle these kinds of situations. I was taught strategies that can keep me from getting into these situations in many cases. By the end I was ready to sign up for part two of the course which addresses actual fighting techniques. It apparently also has people playing the role of the bad guy confronting you. The idea scares me, a lot actually. But, I’m hoping it will give me more confidence so I can, if necessary, be the chooser of my own fate and not a victim of fear.

If you’d like more info on the Valkyrie Initiative courses you can click here.

The Dropbox

The other night I learned about a new documentary called “The Dropbox”. It’s about a pastor in South Korea with a disabled son who spent 14 years in a hospital. Through this trial he developed great love for those with disabilities.
Sadly, in South Korea (and other places in the world) there is a growing problem with mothers abandoning their newborns in the streets for various reasons, one being if the child is disabled.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak saw this problem first hand and wanted to do something to help. He installed a “baby box” in the wall of his home to give mothers an alternative to leaving their babies in the streets. It has a door on both sides of the wall and inside are warmers and a blanket. When a baby is put in from the outside a bell rings on the inside and the pastor comes to take the baby out of the box. Most drop-offs are anonymous.
This man and his wife currently have nearly fifteen children in their home. It is an orphanage but the difference is that these kids have a mom and dad. He and his wife have adopted many of them and care for them as their own.
When watching just a snippet from the trailer my heart broke for these little abandoned babies, the mothers and the people who are trying to make a difference. I cried. A lot.
Later I told my husband about it and cried again, but we had a really good discussion about helping others and how we should find ways to serve that utilize the talents we have been given.
I have always had this fear in the back of my mind that I am supposed to someday serve in an extremely emotionally difficult place, like an orphanage in a third world country or helping kids who have been abused.
It terrified me because, when I hear of things like abuse, neglect, torture and hatred, I have such gut wrenching reactions. I feel physically sick to my stomach and have an urge to run away from whatever it is.
Thinking about this documentary has helped to ease both my fear and my reaction to such situations.
In fact, I want to see it.
Before, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the trailer. Now I have seen it and I want to see the film. Mainly because of this: when I saw a short clip of a little baby not much younger than my own trying his best to crawl but unable to lift his misshapen head off the floor my heart broke and I couldn’t think beyond that moment. Then I realized that little boy is older now, his life has gone on, he deals with it.
It calms my initial flight response when I see that there is more, that life goes beyond that crisis moment of being diagnosed, abused or abandoned. Yes, there is a severe aftermath, trials and effects from these horrendous events. But morning always comes. It may not be a morning free of pain and grief – at least not in this life – but things do go on. Solutions are sought. People cope. And as for those sweet little ones who do not survive the night, they truly wake to a glorious morning with an assured place with our Savior and Father in Heaven, never to be hurt again.

It is these thoughts, these realizations that help me not be so afraid to learn more about people in need… and to not be afraid to help when and where I can.

“The Dropbox” will be in select theaters March 3-5. Kindred Image is an organization started by the creators of the documentary in order to help Pastor Lee’s ministry and their website is a helpful place to learn more.

Because of Christ

Lately I have had a really hard time hearing or reading about tragedies in the world, especially those involving children. There are times when I have to force myself to think of something else because I become so emotionally overwhelmed when I think of the abuse, neglect, torture, murder and many other awful things that some children have to endure here on Earth.
I try to not read about those things anymore but there are stories and reports I’ve heard that stay with me and feel like they are physically tearing at my heart. How can people be so cruel, so violent, so evil? Especially to children?
The only comfort I find is to pray that God will send angels to be with those kids as they endure hell and that somehow the extra kisses and love I give to my babies will be felt by those who receive little or no love in their own lives.
I think of Christ and how He has felt every person’s pains. I know that He knows exactly how those poor children feel and in eternity, He can fix it all.
When I learned that there were reports coming in that one of the factions in the Syrian civil war was torturing children I crumpled inside. I wept and still do for how those children must feel. Alone, confused, in such pain and terrified. Outrage, despair and horror filled me.
Then I had a tender mercy from The Lord that helped me realize that Christ has also endured torture. He has a direct connection to those suffering children. He not only endured torture here on Earth but, through the Atonement, He has experienced every nuance of their sufferings in detail and on an individual level. He has created the possibility that no matter what they suffer here, they can have eternal, perfect peace and the smallest harm that was caused by their experiences here will be healed and taken away and never ever experienced again.

On an uplifting note, there is a beautiful video that depicts the scene from Luke 18:15-17 where Christ has the children come to Him. You can see it here.

Heartache and Joy

The other day I was in our pediatrician’s office for my son’s 5 year check up. After checking in, my son and my 2 year old daughter went to play with the magnet wall while my 6 month old daughter and I sat down in the waiting area. A man carrying a child came and sat across from me.

He was a very tall man who looked to be in his late 30’s and seemed to be in a happy mood. These were the first things I noticed. Shortly after that I noticed that the child he was carrying had short, beautiful curly hair and looked to be about 18 months. He held her close to him in an almost cradling position with her face close to his so it took me awhile to notice that the little girl was wearing an oxygen tube and what I had thought was the dad’s backpack was actually a small oxygen tank.

In addition to her beautiful hair this little one had stunning blue eyes. It was about this time that I also noticed there was a definite disability present. I couldn’t identify what it was but it was apparent. What I could clearly see was the love this father had for his child.

She held his attention as if she were the only thing in the room. He looked right into her face, held so close to his, and smiled and talked and playfully lifted her up and down. It was heart warming to see and I wanted to just sit and watch them but I was afraid he would think I was staring at his daughter because she was different.

My 2 year old came over and asked “what’s on that baby’s face?” Now it just so happened that I had recently read a blog post someone wrote about how she hopes that at times when her children ask these sorts of things that, if convenient, the parent of the child with the disability may be willing to share a little about the disability, thereby helping her own child to better understand and be more compassionate.

This thought came to my mind and I too hoped this loving father would explain a little bit about his sweet daughter. He said nothing though so I told my daughter that the tube was to help the baby breathe better.

By this time the mother had joined the man and the little girl and I felt a desire to connect with this little family and tell them how sweet the whole scene was. So, I asked if the baby was a girl (because at this point I was pretty sure but there was a possibility it could have been a boy) and fell back on complimenting looks and sincerely told them that she had beautiful eyes.

There was an odd dichotomy inside of me at that moment. I was truly touched and happy that this little girl, who will undoubtedly have unusual challenges in her life, had such loving parents. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to weep for her and her parents and the struggles they will face.

And then I learned something that actually did cause me to weep a little right there in the waiting room and a lot more later in the car. My son had joined us by now and he and my 2 year old were talking to my 6 month old about looking at the baby. Somehow age came up and I mentioned that I was pretty sure that baby is older than my 6 month old and I decided to ask just how old she was. Both parents answered together: “three”.

That precious little girl who I thought was maybe a year older than my 6 month old was actually a year older than my 2 year old.  It was clear that whatever this sweet girl had, extended far beyond needing oxygen. My heart broke.

I quickly, and somewhat mumbling, said something like “yep, she’s older.” But what I really wanted to do was reach out and ask what it is she has, how it affects her, is she doing alright. I felt I wanted to give her parents the chance to explain in a safe, loving situation where maybe, by telling me I could somehow spread the word, raise awareness and compassion for this little family.

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many blogs about mothers who have children with disabilities and are trying to fight against the common misunderstandings that exist about those disabilities and the people who have them. Maybe these two parents are tired of answering questions and explaining and hate being pitied.

I pray I didn’t look at them like I pitied them.

There I was with my three healthy children climbing and running and talking. Maybe those parents were thinking “my daughter will never do that”. Maybe after three years it’s not as hard for them as it was for me to think of their daughter’s future, but I’m willing to bet it is harder. Hard to know your child will be so different. Hard to want to protect her from a world that doesn’t understand. I did pity them.

Three?

As I watched I noticed she had a hard time keeping her head up, had a hard time controlling her eyes and mouth and I would guess that she was not able to really talk or walk.

On the way home I had a realization that instead of pitying this girl and her parents I should be rejoicing. She has, what I would guess, is a supportive, loving family who is taking extraordinary care of her. Something so many children in this world, disabled or not, don’t have. This little girl can and probably will have a happy life. I saw that in her father’s face. His complete acceptance of her. And when you have people in your life, especially parents, who love you unconditionally and accept you and any hardships that may come then a happy life is a definite possibility.

The Passage of Time

It was shocking to me when I realized it has been over a year since I have posted anything. I thought for sure it had only been a few months.
Ever since I was young I have been saddened by the passing of time. It wasn’t until my 21st birthday that I actually felt at peace with my age and didn’t wish I was a child again. Though, ironically, when I look back on my childhood I cannot recall an age at which I did not feel grown up.
I think I feel melancholy about the passing of time because I always feel as if I am not thoroughly enjoying the moment I am in and soon it will be gone forever. I feel this keenly now that I have three children and have experienced first hand how fast they grow and how those sweet baby moments quickly give way to the toddler years and then suddenly I have a kindergartener. It’s like I can remember the then of my babies being born and the now of where they are currently at, but what happened to everything in between? It pulls at my heart to think that when my kids are grown I’ll have the same experience but instead of 5 years that seem to have disappeared, it will be 20.
I feel that each day has experiences t
hat could be looked back at fondly. They don’t have to be huge to be special. It could be all three of my kids sitting around me contentedly. Or the refreshing breeze that blows across my face as I sit quietly on our front porch swing and enjoy dusk.
imageFlowers
I often find myself recognizing that I am having one of those experiences I should savor only to be interrupted by my own feelings of worry and anxiety that soon this moment will be over and I won’t remember it. Then I start to think of ways I could attempt to have a similar experience everyday, or how silly it was of me to leave my camera where I can’t grab it quick enough to capture whatever it is that’s happening this instant. This reminds me that I have not written in my journal in a long while which then leads me to feel guilty and disheartened because of all the moments like this I’ve had in the past and don’t remember.
Usually by the time I have gone through this thought cycle whatever the experience I started out as recognizing as special is now over and I’m left frustrated and nostalgic for a past that is causing me to miss my present.
The solution to this? I don’t know. I’ve heard advice ranging from document as much as possible with pictures and videos to just slow down, look your children in the eye and enjoy the moment. Easier said than done I say.
For now I try to get a journal entry in as often as I can, with pictures if possible and pray that I will be able to remember those special moments when the time is right.