God, Life Talk

Two Years

October 24. It’s been two years. Will I keep sharing this tribute every year on my blog on this date?

Honestly, I have no idea. But right now, this year, it is on my heart to do so.

And so I will.

She went out accompanied by a blaze of northern lights, some of the most brilliant seen around here in ages. Heaven welcoming a gallant soul home with fanfare.

Even after her breathing had slowed drastically, her heart remained strong until the end. We always knew her heart was bigger and stronger than most.

Her humor was one of the last things to go when the Alzheimer’s took over. Even when she was in the nursing home and couldn’t even recognize Grandpa, she would try to tease the nurses and aids. They all loved her.

They were married for sixty years. Two days before she finally died, I sat and watched him hold her hand as he told us the only reason he underwent chemo and fought so hard for life through the blood clots last year was so that he could take care of her, make sure her ending was peaceful and dignified, so that he could take care of her to the end. None of his kids could speak at that point, so I managed to choke out that he had done a wonderful job of it. They were an example to us all.

Of eight kids, six managed to make it home to say goodbye, only the one in Australia and the one in Arizona not able to get back. Fully half of the grandkids were able to come. No one fought, no one argued, no one tried to make things difficult for anyone else. Everyone acted as selflessly as human beings can act. Another testimony to the love and respect everyone had for her.

The hospital nurses teared up when their weekend shift ended, knowing they wouldn’t see her again alive.

There was as much laughter as tears around her bedside, as stories were shared and memories were dredged up and old jokes revived. Her fifteen-year-old grandson played his guitar, everyone sang, and her last days were filled with the music and laughter she loved so well.

She has been gone for a long time. Twelve years ago was when she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at that point too far advanced to do anything but watch and pray as it slowly disintegrated the woman we all knew. The pneumonia that took her tonight was a release from that living death (twelve years is phenomenally long for Alzheimer’s sufferers – most don’t live more than five years), and our tears were as much joy for her as sorrow.

She is whole again now. She is free. She is rejoicing and laughing with her Lord.

It hurts, still, but this is a clean hurt, one that will heal. The pain of the Alzheimer’s never went away; it would lie dormant for a time, but it was always there lurking in the background. This – already there is a peace growing from the sorrow.

We will miss her. We have missed her for years. But her legacy – the love, the laughter, the strength and faith and joy – she passed that on, not only to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but to all who knew her. I am proud to call myself her granddaughter, and you can be sure my girls will grow up knowing about what an amazing woman their great-grandmother was.

Rest in Peace? Maybe. Personally, I suspect she is singing and dancing right now.

And laughing.

I am at peace today. That “clean hurt” I spoke of then, that I knew would heal? It’s healed. I miss her, yes. But I don’t flinch every time somebody mentions the word “grandma” anymore.

The sun is shining through the leaves this morning, scattering bits of gold and red across my window. I woke up early enough to get some writing in first thing this morning. Last night I finished Joy’s birthday skirt, and will start on the matching top today.

It’s a good day. It really is.

God, Life Talk, stories

You Matter

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. TWLOHA is doing a campaign this year titled “You Cannot Be Replaced.”

I’m not a big fan of open messages in general. Especially ones that are meant to be encouraging. Because most often, they end up depressing me MORE, and making me feel even more faceless and anonymous.

“Hey you,” on Twitter, @ nobody. “Yes, you. You are loved.”

Really? How do you know? You don’t even know who I am! If you really wanted to make me feel loved, take the time to find out my name and what I’m struggling with.

OK, yes. I have issues.

But I love this campaign. Because every single person, whether you or I or anyone else knows them or not, is unique and CANNOT BE REPLACED. This message? This one does give me hope, even if it is anonymous.

I believe in a Creator who purposely and carefully forms each and every human being on this earth. He knows every one of us by name. He has a story for each of us. He cares for each one of us. He DIED for each one of us. Not a faceless mass of humanity, but each individual person, those long dead and those not yet born included. He loves us.

He loves you.

He loves me.

And that makes each one of us precious and irreplaceable.

I know this, but I don’t believe it every day. I struggle a lot, actually, with feeling secondary, merely good for filling others’ needs, and could easily be replaced by a robot, because me as Louise, my individual personality and character and self-ness, doesn’t matter.

But that’s a lie.

God delights in me as a person.

And no matter what else, even if you strip everything else I do and am away, I have value because of that. Because he made me and he loves me. Because of him, I can stand tall and value myself.

I cannot be replaced.

And neither can you.

None of us can be.

We all matter.

goals, God, Life Talk, philosophy

Moving Back to Move Forward

This weekend, we made a flying trip back to PA, where we lived for the first four years of our marriage. When we left, there were two weeks between finding out we had to leave, and pulling away from the house with our moving truck. It’s been almost five years, and we’d never made it back for any kind of closure. With Carl starting grad school this fall, and another huge move coming up in a month (EEK!), now seemed like a good time to finally go back, see our friends there again, show Joy the house where we lived when she was a baby, revisit some old haunts.

And go grocery shopping at Wegmans. Because we have MISSED it.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital.
Bringing Joy home from the hospital almost six years ago.

It was so, so good.

We had dinner Friday evening with some of our dearest friends. It was sheer chaos in parts, with ten kids running around and six adults trying desperately to cram five years of conversation into a few hours, but it was so good. It felt like we’d never left.

Friends and soul-sisters
Friends and soul-sisters

Saturday was a more leisurely lunch with more friends, these with two daughters close in age to our own girls. The four of them played so nicely together all afternoon, and Joy cried when we left – she felt like she’d finally found the Betsy to her Tacy, and then had to leave after just a few hours. We told her we would start praying, and KEEP praying, that God would send her a best friend at Gordon-Conwell, now that she has a taste of what it’s like.

Then we went back to where we used to live. NOTHING has changed. I don’t think anybody’s even painted their house a different color or bought a new vehicle. It was so weird, like stepping into a time warp. Milkshake (Carl and me) and chocolate milk (the girls) at the dairy bar down the street (and wasn’t THAT place dangerous to have within walking distance when I was in my third trimester during one of the hottest summers EVER), and then on to the cemetery where all the locals go to walk. It’s the closest thing to a neighborhood park around.

Joy, six months
Joy, six months

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken
Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

And THEN we did our grocery shopping. Then came home. Then crashed the next day (literally, for me – we got out our bikes on Sunday and mine decided it had had enough of my stumbling attempts to master it, and showed me who was boss. Hint: it wasn’t me).

The entire trip felt both like closure of the past AND reopening of old friendships. We were able to lay to rest some of the miseries that had chased us from PA, remember the good parts of living there, and reaffirm the friendships we made while there.

I also was able to remember that old tombstones are one of my best sources for finding awesome character names, and that ancient cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful, other-worldly places to stroll.

Despite our exhaustion, we came home energized, ready to tackle packing up this house, thankful for all God has done in our lives, and in my case, ready to dive back into writing now that I’ve gotten some more real-life filling.

How was your weekend?

"Rest in peace" feels a bit more tangible, here.
“Rest in peace” feels a bit more tangible, here.

children, God, Life Talk

Grace

From this …

Meeting Grace
Meeting Grace

Sweet baby
Sweet baby

Sister kisses
Sister kisses

She smiled early, and hasn't stopped since
She smiled early, and hasn’t stopped since

… to this, in four short years

"best birthday present EVER" she said about her bike
“best birthday present EVER” she said about her bike

Hey kid, who told you you could grow up?
Hey kid, who told you you could grow up?

cookies and a fancy dress for Oma's graduation
cookies and a fancy dress for Oma’s graduation

Ready for adventure
Ready for adventure

Happy 4th birthday, darling Grace. You have brought so much sunshine and joy to our lives. You are full of drama, compassion, mischief, love, and delight, and you are way too smart for comfort.

You aren’t even close to being a baby anymore, but you’ll always be my baby, my sweet, lovable, darling Gracie. I’m so thankful God put you in our lives!

God, heroes, Life Talk

Boston

I am thinking, along with much of the rest of the world, about Boston tonight.

We still don’t know many details of what’s happened. I can’t bring myself to look at photos (not only because of the stark horror of them, but because the thought of someone deliberately choosing to take a picture of people suffering and in pain rather than helping those people fills me with rage – and yes, I understand that for some people it is their job, but it still enrages me, reasonably or not) or watch any video.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law ran the Boston Marathon, with my sister there to cheer him on. I keep thinking about them, about all the what-might-have-beens. She’s expecting their first child now. I just … the possibilities shake me to my core, and the fact that the “might-have-beens” for my family are realities for others has brought me to tears more than once this afternoon.

For several years, my dad and I volunteered at the Ironman in Lake Placid. I loved being stationed on the runners’ path best of all, for the energy and joy and determination. We would come away completely drenched in Gatorade (you try handing out drinks to runners without getting soaked in the process), exhausted, with lungs hoarse from screaming encouragement to them, and so, so filled with satisfaction and delight.

This … this hits me close to the heart.

Earlier today, before I found out about Boston, I finally finished a “hero adventure dress” for my five-year-old, her reward for diligently practicing walking with straight feet until it became natural (her pigeon-toed stance was becoming a serious problem – she couldn’t walk without tripping). She put it on, and her silver sparkly shoes and said “Where’s my sword? I’m ready to go fight the monsters, and be a hero!”

I went to share that tidbit on Twitter … and promptly saw the news about Boston.

I went back and read my reaction post to Newton later this afternoon: Light and Love. It helped, to remind myself of my mantra, my firm belief that only by being light can we conquer the darkness in this world. That is my “sword.” That is how I fight the monsters.

Out of the ashes of this tragedy, I am already seeing evidence of others practicing this. Acts of kindness, of courage, of faithfulness, of hope. Of love. Petty differences swept aside, suddenly we are all humans together.

My heart aches tonight. But I will hold to my faith, and I will be a light, and I will practice love, and above all, I will pray for healing and mercy and justice.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

This is the only way we can stop the encroaching dark.

Books, characters, favorites, God, heroines

My Name, My Friend … Emily

Here’s a tidbit about me many of you might not know – my first name is Emily.

I quite like my first name. I disliked it for a time when I was young, when it seemed like every second person I met was named Emily and I desperately wanted to be unique – but I like it well enough now. I don’t use it, of course. I mean, many of the members of my family still call me Emily (except my grandfather – when I was twelve years old and starting asking to be called Louise, he promptly switched and has only ever called me Louise or Emmy Lou (old family pet name which nobody outside said family is allowed to use, so nobody get any cute ideas) since), and I have some stubborn friends who still can’t make the switch, but I only ever refer to myself as Louise.

And it’s not because I don’t like the name Emily, but because I am a Louise. I can’t even think of myself as Emily – and the fact that my name never really sat quite comfortable on my shoulders, while Louise was just right was the main reason why I switched as an almost-teenager, not just because I was a snob who wanted a name that wasn’t shared with dozens of other girls.

(The other reason was to honor my great-grandmother, who was Pauline Louise, and who was one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know.)

But (and now I’m finally getting to the main point of this post), I still like the name Emily. It’s not as common now as it was when I was young. It’s old-fashioned but not completely dated. It’s sweet and yet still simple and strong. It goes well with most middle names and last names. Even when it was popular it was never trendy. And, most importantly, it’s the name of one of my favorite book characters of all time.

No, not Emily Starr. Not Emma Woodhouse. Not even Emily Pollifax.

 

 

It’s none other than Emily Webster, star of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Emily of Deep Valley.

Unlike Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, alongside whom I grew up, reading about their escapades usually around the same time I was their age for each book (nice planning there, Mom), I didn’t meet Emily until I was an adult. A very young, very lonely newlywed, as a matter of fact, living in a strange city in a strange state, knowing nobody there outside my husband (who was working long hours and only wanted to crash at home when he was done), not working myself at the time, without a car, feeling very adrift as I was away from my family for the first time in my life (the one danger in going to a local university, I suppose).

There was a bookstore within walking distance of my apartment, however. True, I had to clamber through a hole in a fence, pick my way down a steep hill, sprint across a restaurant’s parking lot, cross a very busy road, and then dart through another parking lot to get there, but I could do it.

And it was there, one day as I had fled from the incessant noise of the neighbor below us, that I met Emily. If I did not believe in God, I would call it a fluke. Why would a large, mainstream bookstore that barely carried any of the Betsy-Tacy books have this, the least well-known out of all Lovelace’s books? Since I do believe in God, I prefer to think of it as him sending me just what I needed at just the right time.

I sat down in an armchair right there in the store and starting reading it. After a couple of chapters, I felt my throat close up. Rather than burst into tears in public, I got up, paid for the book, made my perilous way back to my apartment, curled up in bed, and kept reading.

And for a few hours, the noise from the downstairs neighbor that filled the entire block of apartments ceased to bother me. My loneliness went away for a time, for I had found a new friend.

Emily, you see, found herself all alone at the start of the book. All her friends went off to college, and while she desperately wanted to go as well, she couldn’t leave her elderly grandfather, who had raised her and who didn’t understand the concept of higher education for women. Despite her best efforts, depression settles in.

But she doesn’t let it stay! Inspired by Shakespeare to “muster her wits,” Emily sets out to live a full, worthwhile life no matter where she is. She lets go of her nostalgic longing for the life she had in high school (the chapter where she changes hairstyles is sheer genius) and looks for ways to learn and grow and help others right where she is. Before long, her life is so full and rich that she’s almost forgotten her longings for college!

There’s romance in the book as well, but even that is shown as part of Emily’s self-growth. It’s never the main focus.

It’s no coincidence that after meeting Emily, I started a blog of my own, and tentatively joined the fanfiction community, starting to find a circle of friends online that are still with me today. She gave me the courage to push through the terrible ennui that threatened me in those early years and find ways to fill my life with purpose and joy. She helped me behave like an adult even when I felt like a little kid at the first church we attended and wanted to hide from all the perfectly-polished other young married women there, all of whom seemed so much more sophisticated and comfortable in their own skin than I was. She helped me understand that it doesn’t matter so much where you are as who you are, and that using your wits is something that will never go out of style.

So yes, Emily became and is still one of my dearest friends. And even though I don’t think of us as having the same name exactly, is it any wonder the name Emily holds such a special place in my heart?

God, Life Talk

Moving Forward

Listening to Neverwhere on BBC Radio 4. Tying a quilt. Taking quick breaks for Twitter and blog posts. Writing a drabble for a Prydain challenge on ff.net.

That’s my Sunday night. How’s yours?

This past week was a rough one. Lot of emotions stirred up by events happening in the world. You know how that goes? Most of the time, you’re aware of tragedies and injustices, and you feel sorrow, but it doesn’t affect you that much – it can’t, because you still have to live and work and love, and if you collapse under every weight, you simply can’t function. But then … then some days, it just all piles up, and suddenly it’s too much, and you just have to stop and weep for a little while, before you can pick yourself up and keep fighting the good fight.

This past week was a “stop and weep” week for me. But now I’m back on my feet, back to being able to enjoy simple pleasures, to delight in my family and the gifts God has given me, back to moving forward and shining light in a darkened world.

(And yes, I am aware that something as dark as Neverwhere is an odd listening choice when one is cheering up, but oh my, it is fascinating. The brilliance alone makes it a worthwhile listen.)

In happier news, I have been doing better at sticking with a schedule and getting things accomplished this past week! Slow and steady does it, not freaking out if I slip off schedule, and not caring if it’s more boring to follow a schedule than to go about life at my own whimsy.

Also, I made a raspberry cheesecake. YUM.

So, here’s to a better week this week than last. Here’s to carrying the light through the darkness no matter what.