Putting Away Christmas

I had planned to keep my Christmas stuff up well into January because it just felt like this year needed a little extra sparkle for just a bit longer. I’m not a perfectionistic white-glove housekeeper (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do like a certain level of tidyness and order. Before I knew it, the niggling longing for order won out and those green and red plastic tubs were making their annual trek back up from the basement storage area so I could begin putting back all those pretty Christmas-y decorations.

Each ornament goes back in its original box, or gets wrapped in newsprint or tissue and placed in a protective box or tin. As I carefully stacked those boxes filled with fragile baubles into one of the three larger bins, there was a sense that I was, in a small way, packing up and setting aside some memories that would be unwrapped and remembered once again in the hope of next Christmas.

“Putting away Christmas” is theologically impossible. Christ’s advent, God’s gift to the world, cannot be wrapped up in tissue paper and set aside the day after Christmas. Emmanuel, God With Us, cannot be stuck in a box to be forgotten about until unwrapped again next year. When I “put away Christmas,” it is our somewhat clouded by glitz and glitter attempt to remember his advent each year that we are really putting away.

As I filled the third bin with my tissue-wrapped baubles, I noticed the corner of an envelope hiding in the bottom of the bin. It was tucked under a box of lights I haven’t used in years. I pulled it out and discovered a gift I hadn’t opened this year. It was a letter addressed to me in my mom’s familiar cursive script.

Years ago, Mom had taken the time to write out the words to the poem “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’ve read it many times before — maybe you have read it too. I know that a few of you, my friends and loved ones, experienced the fresh sting of grief in your heart because a loved one was missing at your celebration this Christmas, so I will include an image of the poem here for you.

It says “Author Unknown” but I think most sources now attribute the authorship to Wanda Bencke, whose daughter died just after Christmas in 1997.

The postmark on the envelope was clearly stamped 10 DEC 2009, so it was fitting that when mom copied the poem’s title, she neatly crossed out the word “First” and wrote above it, “Second.”

Mom’s little personal post-script penned beneath the poem sheds light upon the reason why.

Last Christmas, I kept running the last line through my head but could not remember the rest of this old poem. This year in Reminisce Magazine it was printed in their December-January 2010 issue.

Love, Mom

I just love this little find, yet another of God’s little grace gifts in my life. You see, she sent it on my dad’s second Christmas in heaven, and here I was re-reading it 12 Christmases later, just after she celebrated her first Christmas in heaven.

An ornament commemorating my momma’s last Christmas on this side of Heaven

Grace Awakened Eyes

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Counting our common everyday gifts – our grace gifts from God – is the challenge I have accepted as a discipline of the heart. My current Bible study is encouraging me to take notice of God’s grace in the minutae of life and giving thanks.

Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.

It’s probably the last day in 2020 where the sun will feel so very warm and the air so beautifully crisp. Today was a good day to take a walk in “my park” just down the street. Today I step off of the paved path and take the lesser traveled pathways worn in the tall grasses in little patches of the park.

Today I take notice of the small things. The glimmer of sunshine low in the sky, streaming through the trees, forming halos around what remains of summer’s flowery offerings.

Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

I thank God for the sun. It’s there every single day, even when I don’t see it, reminding me that God’s grace surrounds us, intricately involved in our ordinary days – even on the darkest and most difficult of days.

My wandering feet cross the expanse of grass still green which not so very long ago hosted soccer games, picnics, and kites. A distant patch of color lures me to explore the paths that other feet have created. Such beauty. I thank God for placing me in a community that has such a wonderful place for families to play and explore. Even now, in the midst of the sickness that stubbornly refuses to loose its grip on humanity, people enjoy its respite and calm.

A colony of milkweed punctuates the wind-flattened grasses. I step into their abode to explore the spent pods which have long since burst open to release next year’s seeds. The fruit pods are dry now, grayed like me with age, yet the outer capsule still bears a design and texture placed there by the Creator. I marvel at the intricacy and find joy of heart when I find one lonely pod still not quite open. The cottony fluff feels like silk to my touch.

I thank God for this herbaceous perennial that beckons the Monarch butterfly to lay her tiny eggs in the shelter of its ovate leaves. One tiny egg for each plant, if she can, so as to make sure the babies she may never see will have food enough to grow, yet not destroy the hospitable host. [Read more about milkweed here.]

I spy Queen Anne’s Lace framed by amber colored grasses tipped in burnt orange and a band of blue sky. She sways tall in the breeze over the meadow grasses, her skirt drawn up and around her as though bracing for winter’s nip. As my aging eyes seek to see more, her Designer’s sage attention to detail reveals a gentle beauty, even though stripped of her ornate white petaled robe.

Somehow, this stately queen of the meadow makes me think of my mother’s gentle beauty. Many have remarked that there was something about her skin that was so lovely and fair – even in her 80’s. But what made her truly beautiful was the beauty of Christ in her. No beauty serum could impart more radiance than my momma’s beautiful reflection of Christ as she imitated Him in life’s ups and downs. Alzheimer’s could not steal that beauty.

I stand in the meadow and thank God for reminding me that this beauty can be mine too. Her faithful example still lingers, pointing the way. Momma’s life still touches mine, even in her absence. Today, I thank God for taking my beautiful momma home so gently. Though she went through many difficult days with Alzheimer’s, years actually, I thank God that now she knows fully they were truly light momentary afflictions when compared with the glory of her heavenly home for which she longed.

Tomorrow the snow will begin to fall and soon it will hurt just a little to take in that first breath of air when we walk outside. Yet, even in that, there will be countless reasons to thank God, be reminded of His grace, and experience true joy in the bounty of His grace upon grace.

Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.

Change is in the Air

 

God used last year’s hospitalization to help me see Mom needed to live with us.

Just over one year ago I wrote, “Honoring Your Parents: Nursing Home or Your Home?” (I invite you to read it here.) In that piece I endeavored to describe the process which had guided my decision-making related to caring for my mother as she slipped further and further into the horrible world of memory loss. Countless decisions have been made since moving my mother from Milwaukee to our home in Fitchburg. Each decision to be made along the way was generally preceded by some sort of adversity which required a change. We prayed about each change, each process, and each decision. Our faithful God always answered, shedding light on each uncertain step.

Change is in the air once again.

Mom’s advancing Alzheimer’s and a few recent difficulties have made it abundantly clear that we need to prepare for what the next level in mom’s care might be. There have been many “nudges” toward planning for the possibility of mom’s future care taking place outside of our home setting. But three things in particular:

  • A gentle nudge in the form of a well-timed question from Diane, mom’s palliative care nurse practitioner. “So, have you considered what the next step in your mom’s care might look like?” We had a good chat about that, and she gave me several helpful suggestions.
  • My hubby’s trip to India. I had to ask myself what I would do if something happened to him and he could no longer help me. Even though my family and friends rallied to help me out during his trip, it became very clear that caring for mom on my own would be at too great a risk to my own health and welfare.
  • My own frailty. I took a fall down a short flight of stairs in my own home. Aside from a scrape to my leg, a few sore muscles and toes, the greatest injury I sustained was to my own pride. The fall served as a wake-up call causing me to consider how Wayne would care for mom if something happened to me.

In the past year, I’ve looked at the websites of many assisted living places, have talked with a few representatives on the phone, traded emails with yet a few more, and even toured three that I liked and thought might be able to at least provide some respite care. In each case, I could not imagine my mother living there. After my little chat with Diane, I looked into a newer one she suggested and rated very highly.  BeeHive is a 16-unit specialized memory care facility designed to look and feel very home-like. It is ideally located in Oregon just a few miles down the road from us, and about a mile from the nursing home where my brother resides.

Wayne and I scheduled a visit in early September before his trip to India. I was favorably impressed as I watched staff interact with residents. Compassion and respect were palpably present. We met Gina and Andy, two of the owners, and felt their pride of ownership and desire to serve their residents.

Standing on the sidelines, I watched one sweet lady receiving a hand massage. As the aide gently applied lotion and stroked her delicate hands, she looked into this resident’s eyes and spoke with her like she was a familiar friend. I knew in my heart this was the right place. A puzzle was in the works at a nearby table and I could hear one resident talking to another in friendly banter. Yes, I could definitely picture my dear Momma sitting at one of the tables, working on a puzzle and telling (or re-telling) one of her many tales.

After some discussion and prayer, we decided we would put down a deposit to reserve a place for mom. She is currently number four on their wait list. While it is still my heart’s desire to keep my mom at home with me until God calls her to her heavenly Home, I have great peace knowing I have another level of care reserved for her. My greatest comfort comes in knowing the One who is guarding our steps as He walks before us paving the way for whatever our future holds.

I know in my heart that my dear mother would skip along to heaven tonight if she could. Nearly every day she tells me so. Momma’s greatest comfort comes in knowing that Jesus promised He has a placed reserved for her in heaven.

Hearing the Voice

Facebook Journal Entry – October 13, 2015

About 30 seconds after wheeling her cart into her local Pick n’ Save grocery store, Momma abruptly stopped in front of the produce section and informed me she needed to take her hearing aids out. The clatter of carts, the din of voices, and incessant cash register beeping were just too much. She pulled each device out and carefully placed them in a little pouch we keep in her purse. With a look of great satisfaction on her face, she smiled broadly, and said, “Ahhhh! Peace and quiet.”
But, Momma’s quiet world isn’t always quiet. Occasionally, she’ll be sitting in her favorite chair and then suddenly wave her hand in agitation, as if shooing someone away. “Oh, be quiet! Go away!” she’ll scold. I’ll ask Momma who she is talking to and she’ll reply, “Don’t you hear him? He keeps singing that same song over and over and over again!” When I ask her to describe what she is hearing, she tells me it is a man’s voice and he’s singing opera. I hear nothing of the sort. But, Momma hears “him” quite often throughout the day.
I know a little bit about hearing repetitive sounds. I have tinnitus, a condition which causes both of my ears to ring with each beat of my heart. Every day – every night – ALL the time. Sadly, there is no cure. During the day, the noises of life all but drown it out. In the still of the night, only sleep helps me escape the constant noise. I shudder to think of having to listen to a man singing opera all of the time. Even if I happened to enjoy opera, that would be much harder to deal with than the phone that no one answers that I hear in my own head.
It is difficult seeing my sweet mom struggling with so many things in life. Mom has osteoarthritis – her knees and hands hurt a lot. Walking is becoming more and more of a struggle. Her short term memory loss becomes more pronounced each week – that in itself is heart breaking. Even with the aid of hearing aids, mom’s deafness is becoming more profound.
It’s the memory loss that seems to bother mom the most. Just today we were looking for her checkbook (again), a frequent activity. Those who experience short-term memory loss often have an associated paranoia. They think “somebody” else is moving their stuff…or, worse yet, stealing their stuff. So, they keep moving their stuff in an effort to hide it from the unscrupulous “somebody.” In reality, they’re hiding the items from themselves; sometimes very successfully.
Today I walked in on one of Momma’s searches for her missing checkbook. She was kneeling in front of the couch, lifting the little skirt surrounding the couch and peering underneath. The checkbook wasn’t there…but she found the cookies she hid weeks ago. Wincing in pain, Momma willed her arthritic knees to crawl closer to the sofa so she could use it to assist her in returning to a standing position. In excruciating pain and with tears rolling down her cheeks, I heard Momma say under her breath as she straightened her knees, “Jesus, please take me home soon.”
Though it made me cry inside, I found myself praying in my spirit along with her, “Lord Jesus, hear Momma’s prayer.”
Someday, perhaps very soon, Momma will hear the Voice of her Savior telling her, “It’s time to come home, Charlotte. I’ve been waiting and have a place ready for you.”
Soon, Momma, soon.

IMG_2568
My parents

Update: Momma has reluctantly graduated to a walker and doesn’t carry a checkbook or wear hearing aids anymore, but she still hears voices. Dad has been in his heavenly home since May of 2008 but she sometimes “hears” him speak to her. She has a picture on her dresser of the two of them and occasionally asks me if I see his lips moving too. I even heard her scold him once and tell him to be quiet. The opera singer has apparently followed her to Fitchburg, much to her disapproval. And Momma still longs to hear the voice of her Savior and take up her new body and her citizenship in heaven any day now.  

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
~ Philippians 3:20 (NIV)