Archive | January 2017

Stealing my grandmother

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An Alaska cruise with Mamaw in 2009. She got up early during our vacation, saying she’d need more time to get ready in case her hair “doesn’t lay right” in the morning.

I’ve been in clean-out mode the past few weeks, rummaging through my closet, emptying out drawers and putting my life’s possessions in piles as I declutter. There’s the throwaway pile, the giveaway pile and the keep pile, and since I haven’t been feeling very sentimental lately, the last pile keeps getting smaller.

Part of my minimization efforts include tackling four shoeboxes full of cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, thank you cards and so on. I’m a words person and love reading what people have written to me, but after years and years of collecting cards, I decided it’s time to pare it down, keeping only the really special ones.

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“I’m ready!” Headed to D.C. in 2011.

That’s how I came across a couple of letters from my grandmother, dating several years back.

As I read the first letter, I was caught off guard. I started crying just a few sentences in, and within a couple of minutes could hardly catch my breath, like someone punched me in the gut. It reminded me of what used to be and what never will be again.

I’m fortunate that both my grandparents on my mom’s side are still around and that I’ve always been close to them. But in the past several years, my grandmother’s mental health has declined.

At times I get angry—at this aging process, at the fact that she doesn’t try harder to take care of herself. Other times I’m amused—at her no-filter comments, at her quips about getting older. And sometimes I’m disheartened. It won’t get better. It won’t get easier. And it scares the bejesus out of me that I might find myself in the same boat someday.

Mamaw was valedictorian in high school. She was a math whiz and kept the books for my grandfather’s business for over 30 years. She taught Sunday school for what seems like forever and loved to write just like I do. She was a fantastic cook. I remember waking up to the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

Now I have to mentally prepare for our conversations. During one of our recent ones, she told me it was raining four times during our 30-minute chat. She’ll talk about all the things she has to do even though she doesn’t. Or the contest she’s about to win although we all know it’s a scam.

She doesn’t cook anymore or teach Sunday school. I can’t remember the last time she wrote me a note.

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A safety run pre-departure on our cruise ship to Alaska.

I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents and still do. I want to sit in their living room with no particular topic of conversation as the grandfather clock ticks in the background.

But it’s hard.

Reading her letters brought back memories of the Alaska cruise we took in 2009—just the two of us. She called it “the trip of a lifetime.” She wrote about the Sunday school lesson she had to prepare and the beans Papaw brought in from the garden that she needed to cook.

In a letter she sent while I was studying in Australia in 2007, she shared how happy she was that I was traveling but asked me not to make a habit of skydiving. She told me about her new Kodak camera and how she was learning to zoom. “I’m still trying to learn all the ins and outs and what all the different buttons are for,” she wrote. She told me about the creative writing class she was taking, too: “I’ve been working on my first short story. … If I have to shorten it much more it will lose some of the interesting parts and I don’t want it to be dull.”

She wrote about things that I’m thankful for, but that I’m sad are in the past. Dementia is stealing my grandmother away from me.

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Taking a ferry in Charleston, S.C., in 2012.

Next week I’ll celebrate my birthday, which I’ve always loved. I know some people get depressed when they’re a year older, but so far, I’ve enjoyed it. What I don’t like about aging is that certain memories get farther and farther away.

Mamaw still knows who I am and is still happy when I call or visit. We carry on conversation and laugh. Over Thanksgiving, I showed her pictures from my trip to Ireland as she commented on how beautiful it was. She always wanted to travel more (Papaw is a homebody), so I’m beyond grateful for our trip to Alaska, as well as subsequent trips to D.C. and Charleston.

But it’s different.

And as much as I like to change things up, there are some things I wish could stay the same.

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“Sometimes yet, I am still awed at how everything just fell in place.”
—A Dec. 16, 2009, letter from Mamaw about our Alaska cruise.

The Gratitude Jar

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In my last post, I talked about my one-word focus for the year: balance. One way I hope to achieve that balance is by staying focused on what’s most important in life. And one way to do that is to acknowledge all the little pluses that come along.

And so we have The Gratitude Jar.

Sometimes I can get so caught up in what isn’t going right that I completely overlook all the good things. Then I start complaining, which takes too much energy and sucks the life right out of me.

This year, I decided to make something tangible to encourage me to think about the positives in life—an actual place to put the things I’m grateful for. I knew I wanted to call it The Gratitude Jar, but browsed the internet for ideas of what it should look like. I came across this thankful jar tutorial, then copied the basic idea on my own.

First I got out an old (applesauce?) jar because it was the largest one I had on hand. I wrapped it with some leftover green and white polka dot material that I used to cover the gray panels of my cube at work, then dug out an old black ribbon to tape around it. I could’ve used glue or Mod Podge, but this way I can change it more easily if I want to.

Next I used Canva (I have a free account) to create a simple graphic that I printed out and taped on the front. I wish I had used card stock the first time around, but I might take some I have at home and print it out again so the pointy edges are more sturdy.

I was going to cut a slit in the jar lid, but it’s a little difficult since it’s metal, so for now, I’m leaving it as is. I didn’t want to leave it open, but that would be an option.

Originally, I was making the jar to leave at home, but ended up taking it to work so others could add things to it if they want to. I put it on the table behind my desk (sort of a community space), then put strips of construction paper in an old iPhone box with a pen. I put it out last week and already have a handful of papers in there—some from me, some from others.

I don’t know what others have written, but one thing I added was that I’m grateful for the man in Food Lion who let me go ahead of him when I only had two items. 🙂 This was a few days ago when everyone was calling for snow and people freaked out, buying up the whole store.

Anyway, the plan is to empty the jar and read all the entries at the end of the year!

New year, new word

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For the past three years, I’ve picked a one-word focus for the 12 months ahead of me, and at the end of that time, I evaluate how it went.

I started off with the word “humility” in 2014, followed by “simplify” in 2015 and “calm” in 2016.

Throughout 2016 (it’s weird to talk about it in past tense already), I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job of sticking to my word. I would forget about it many days, despite it being taped next to my bathroom mirror, and there were many times I didn’t feel very calm, either on the inside or outside.

But today as I thought more about it, I decided there have been some changes.

  • There were several times I wanted to get upset about something but remembered my resolve to stay calm and let the upsetting thing pass.
  • I altered my work schedule a bit so I don’t get so crazy in traffic, which has helped me stay calmer on my commute.
  • When a couple of unexpected things came up last year, I tried not to freak out about them (in either a bad or good way), but slowed myself down to process it all and give a more level-headed response.
  • When people annoyed me, I made a more conscious effort to be patient and not get snippy.

I don’t know if I’d call 2016 a success as far as my word goes since I think I could’ve done much better, but at least I saw a little improvement, which is better than nothing.

By early fall, though, I’d already started thinking about my next word and was pretty positive what it should be. I actually thought about using the word last year, but I think 2017 will be a good time for it.

My new word is “balance.”

There are too many days that I feel like my free time just slips by. Too many times I feel like my priorities are out of whack or like I’m barely keeping afloat with all of life’s commitments. I did tackle a bit of this when I focused on simplifying a couple years ago, but now I need to round it out.

I again taped my word next to my mirror, and this time wrote out, in order, what my priorities should be to find that balance: God first, followed by marriage, then family and friends, then work and everything else.

Even though I work for a ministry that starts each day with devotions and prayer, it’s no substitute for my personal time with God—something I’ve gone back and forth with this past year. I’ll get into a routine of reading my Bible every day or praying regularly, then it tapers off, then I do it again, then it tapers off. There’s a huge difference between putting Him first in my life and not, so this year, I’m going to try my best to do it consistently.

Here’s an excerpt from a devotion I read just before Christmas:

The world has become too much a part of us, and we are afflicted with the idea that we are not accomplishing anything unless we are always busily running back and forth. … We believe in having “all our irons in the fire” and that all the time we spend away from the anvil or fire is wasted time. Yet our time is never more profitably spent than when we set aside time for quiet meditation, talking with God, and looking up to heaven. We can never have too many of these open spaces in life—hours set aside when our soul is completely open and accessible to any heavenly thought or influence that God may be pleased to send our way.

Someone once said, “Meditation is the Sunday of the mind.” In these hectic days, we should often give our mind a “Sunday,” a time in which it will do no work but instead will simply be still. …

Time spent in this way is not lost time. A fisherman does not say he is losing time when he is mending his nets, nor does a gardener feel he has wasted his time by taking a few minutes to sharpen the blades on his mower. …

—from Streams in the Desert

After God comes my marriage. I do devote a considerable amount of time to friends and work and other things here and there, but I need to be sure marriage comes before all that. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not, so again, I’m going for consistency here.

Here’s my game plan for achieving balance this year:

  • img_6679Pete and I are going to start reading YouVersion’s Verse of the Day as our devotional time together. We weren’t crazy about the devotional book we went through last year, and the verse will be good because we can access it on our phones no matter where we are.
  • I’m going to go through A Passion for Purpose, which gives you a one-page devotional each day. I started it once and really liked it, but never finished.
  • I want to create a Gratitude Jar. More on this later, but my hope is that it’ll keep me focused on all of life’s little blessings and remember what’s important.
  • I’d also like to finish reading Margin. Mom and Dad got me this book maybe two Christmases ago, and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t finished it. I think I have 4 unfinished books at the moment, but this one is all about balance and I’ve already underlined lots of stuff in the parts I’ve read.
  • img_6676I want to be more diligent about praying for my friends and family. I just got a new planner that came with a small dry erase board where you can write down your prayer focus for each day of the week. I already wrote down friends’ names in each space for the first week of January.
  • And finally, to build on my goal of simplifying from 2015, I want to give more thought to things I say yes to. I can’t do it all, and I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I do nothing well.

Although I think all of these are good goals, I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a couple of days of devotional reading or forget to pray for so-and-so on Tuesday. I don’t want to be so lax that I’m not working toward balance, but I also know I’ll need grace now and then.

Let’s see how it goes!