This blog post has been a long time in coming. It was months ago when the lilacs were in bloom that it began to bud in my heart. I don’t own a lilac bush. Someday when I own a home it’s on my list. I grew up in a home where there were 2 lilac bushes. I remember cutting some early in the morning, wrapping the stems in wet paper towels and bring bunches to my elementary school teachers. As a side note I can’t imagine I thought this up on my own and believe I must have been copying one of my fellow schoolmates.
What happens though when you’re an adult, don’t own a lilac tree and love fresh cut lilacs in your home? What happens when your dear neighbor in her 90’s who lives in her own lilac-less apartment loves lilacs as well? It’s clear you must find and acquire enough to spread the aroma through not one but two apartments. So each spring I set out to my usual locations to see if the lilacs are plentiful. There is a spot where I need to walk ½ a mile down a path and bend the upper branches down to retrieve the lilacs reaching for the sun. A town park down the road has planted a few bushes in the last few years. I assist the town in pruning. A few miles away there is a home with at least 50 feet worth of lilac bushes planted like a fence between their yard and the sidewalk. I believe the sidewalk is public property and therefore so are the lilacs. A new location was found this year on what I thought was a state park, since that time I’m still debating if it is private property. I feel a little strange about the next location, a cemetery. But I go and prune a bit there as well. Each time, especially at the cemetery, I step back to see if I have taken too much and each time there seems to be plenty and the bunches in my hand don’t make a difference to the bush but only to me. At the cemetery I wonder who loved lilacs so much to have a bush planted for them.
I talked with my dear neighbor Gini about the lilacs once. I admitted to her that it took me some scouting and possibly even some stealing. She didn’t want me to steal but the joy she received from the lilacs was worth it. It makes me wonder why anyone would plant flowers and not want to share them. This year I only had to steal lilacs for one. I thought of Gini the entire time. Though I have always wanted a lilac bush mine will be planted in her honor.
The work week came to a close and the to-do list for work and home over the weekend was long. Some was checked off but new items have appeared on the list. It is hard to take time to write and reflect on this stage in my life when I feel there is so much to do.
Downstairs is my dear neighbor who my mind wanders to continually. My focus is to help her finish well. She is receiving support from Hospice of the North Shore. The support and care is wonderful but when she is home the most they come is an hour a day. As I think of her it is clear that our friendship and the proximity of our apartments are not by accident.
Being single, and without kids at this time in my life, is not what I imagined, expected or planned. I don’t always handle this stage in my life with as much grace as I would like. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the work that God had in mind for me. Yet over and over again I think of the coming weeks and there is no other place I would rather be. If I was married I would not be living here (a hope for someday). If I had adopted (a hope to do someday) I would not living here. If I had foster kids (again a hope) I would not be living here. If I had bought a house again of course I would not be living here. Would I be friends with my dear neighbor? Yes I expect I would be in some way. However if many of my dreams, goals, and expectations for my life had been realized at this time I would not have the depth of friendship with my neighbor, nor the proximity. So my journey has taken a twist I never imagined and I would not have written the story another way. One of my closest friends time here is coming to an end.
I went downstairs last night and Gini was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart would essentially be her contemporary. Though some years it seems to run continually on TV she had never watched the movie in its entirety. This weekend she watched it and it made me ponder what would the world be like without her. Who has she touched and how? How has she touched me? Gini’s depth of care and willingness to have hard conversations is amazing. Many times heartfelt words have been shared verbally and in notes. I wouldn’t be the same nor would many of the women she has taught for decades in Bible Classes nor would the students she walked alongside of in the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. There would have been much less music in this world without Gini.
Don’t miss the story of It’s a Wonderful Life for yourself and for those you love this Advent season.
Back in April of 2011 I blogged about Writing Gini The post was a way to keep myself accountable about something I didn’t want to regret not following through with. Gini Andrews, my mentor and friend, is now 95 years old and 11 months. She has been a dear friend for 13 years and has played an integral part of my faith journey. Her life here on earth has been winding down with the support of a group of friends, friendship which is measured in decades rather than years. I am humbled that in a small way I am part of this group that is part of loving her into eternity. I have been thinking of this a lot for the past months. How do I express to her how much she means to me? How for my own process, journey, and eventual healing do I feel I have no regrets and enough been said? Though both of us have been generous with words I chose to write a letter. Yet for many months I didn’t feel the pressure of it. She seemed relatively healthy and I only wrote a bit. However in August there was a diagnosis of cancer and decision for hospice rather than treatment. The pressure moved to writing the letter and my desire to get it “perfect.” How I hate the part of my personality that puts pressure on myself to both overachieve and do things “perfectly.” So I worked on the letter in fits and starts. It was exhausting to write and to edit. Writing each section brought tears as did each edit. Yet finally I finished and it found its way downstairs and into her hands this week.
Having completed writing a letter of gratitude and thanks I leave you with some suggestions when writing and sending an important letter, especially for those leaning toward Type A.
- It really is the thought that counts. As long as it is readable the receiver is not going to look at it with an editor’s eye. I have comma issues and Gini is a writer. Get over your grammar issues, finish and send it.
- Allow yourself to use the process to work through your own feelings. Allow tears to flow thinking about saying goodbye whether goodbye is in months or years. Allow tears to flow about expressing things that someday you will not be able to. Assume you will not be able to easily identify all the emotions the process stirs up.
- Express what you have learned from that person. We all want to know how our lives impact others and wonder if/how we will be missed.
- Most relationships include humor and if you are able include this aspect of your relationship.
- Consistent with your own beliefs, share your own source of peace, or if you share similar beliefs/faith this could be the most central source of comfort and strength you share with the person.
- Get it done, put it on your list, and prioritize it with enough time to allow the emotional process of it.
Hospice is an agency that excels in helping individuals and their loved ones make end of life decisions with dignity and grace. Hospice of the North Shore
I’m a bit Type A, I admit it openly. I desire to be creative however any artwork I attempt to create seems more like geometric figures and tends toward symmetry. In my world this does not equate to anything artistic. However I should note my mother likes geometric shapes and symmetry but she makes it work for her as she uses color and creates artistic quilts. However back to the typical life I lead which includes minimal output of artistic work. However this past week, with a Groupon in hand, I dabbled in producing some artwork.
My friend Tracy and I signed up for a one night class at The Paint Bar. It’s a class in which all the materials are provided and everyone paints the same picture, guided by an enthusiastic instructor. The instructor teased us “Type A’s” and perfectionists in the room. She asked us to take a deep breath and set that part of our personality aside for the night. So I did, mostly. We were guided through the colors and brushes to use and the general area to make each stroke. Our masterpiece would be named “Funky Boston Skyline.” The Prudential was placed, the John Hancock Tower, the weather tower, the Citgo sign, brownstone houses, trees, and of course the Charles River.
As I looked around the room everyone’s painting was similar yet we all created our own personal masterpieces. Tracy and I could not stop smiling. We actually had in our hands, by the end of this short class, pieces of art that we couldn’t just hang up but were excited to hang up. We left looking forward to another artistic adventure at this place. Taking an art class was on my 40 for 40 list. The goal was to dabble with my artistic and creative abilities. Now I look at my new art on the wall at work and smile when it is noticed and then glow when they learn I painted it. I don’t share that I painted it only because I’m a bit proud of my accomplishment (though I am) but I want everyone to try. I want other people to feel that they also can be artists with some guidance. I don’t want anyone to miss out on some artistic dabbling’s, even type A’s.
carin: noun \’kern\ a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark
Labor Day weekend with two friends I hiked Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Due to the extreme flooding and washed out roads from Hurricane Irene we chose a less travelled trail up the mountain. For most of the hike it was only us on the trail. Mt. Washington is 6,288 feet and boasts of being “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” Though we planned to summit the mountain, it is rare to have a view from the top and the day was without exception as the summit was covered in clouds. This meant we hiked literally in a cloud much of the time on the way up.
We hiked from cairn to cairn. The cairns both assured us that we were on the trail but also where our next few steps should be headed. Most often we could not see more than one cairn ahead. The clouds were too heavy and though we desired at times to see more of the trail it was impossible. What a strong image we most often experience our relationship with God. There is challenge and trust with each step. God does not show us more of our journey than we both need or can handle. There were times that if we were able to see the mountain in front of us we would have been discouraging and even overwhelming. Our goal however was to make it to the cairn in site and nearly miraculously as we approached the next cairn would appear from the clouds. It happened over and over again without fail. Occasionally there would be a moment of anxiety when we didn’t see the next cairn but if I couldn’t find it a friend would and we would continue the journey.
The hike for me was part of my 40 for 40 experience this year. I don’t want to miss that God continues to give me spiritual cairns to guide me. Though I have been discouraged on my journey at times He continues to be faithful to always provide a cairn to aim for. What cairn has God provided for you to journey toward?
Life is most often at a full force pace. Some days my eyes are more open to the interactions and observations that make me smile and I pause to try and soak it in. Here are a few moments that made me wonder, ponder, and smile over the past few weeks.
Yarmulkes: I was driving to an appointment and initially confused about what I was seeing. I was following a car for a number of miles and the sunlight was shining into the car illuminating the guy’s head. He was wearing a yarmulke – but not just any yarmulke. It had an image of Bert (as in from Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street). It matched his vibrant tie-dye shirt and he was singing with the windows down. I didn’t know this was a trend and it made me smile.
Tibetan Monks: On a Women’s World Cup semi-final day I met up with a friend for lunch. We were going to a sports bar which is next to the China Buffet. If you didn’t know the Tibetan Monks North of Boston are patrons of the China Buffet on Route 1. It made me wonder if the China Buffet was rated a few more stars than I originally thought. Maybe the Tibetan Monks are excellent food critics. I smiled and thought, where do they keep their wallets?
Evan and Seth: My college roommate Kasi, her husband Thor and 2 boys, Seth and Evan drove across country from Colorado. I made the 70 mile drive (to their 2700 miles) to meet them and visit Plimoth Plantation. Evan made a character of me on the game he was playing on his Nintendo DS. Upon asking me what weapon I wanted to use I responded “a sword.” The boys asked me why I picked a sword and I informed them I own a sword. Seth, age 7, informed us later that I’m the “coolest one” because I own a sword. Oh if it was so simple as owning a sword to be cool and loved by a boy. I love those kids. They make me smile.
I don’t always take a moment to pause to smile at simple statements or humorous thoughts but I desire to try and pause more often. Thanks for indulging me. What do you need to stop and pause for so you won’t miss it?
Gini, my 95 year old neighbor, mentor and friend, never learned to ride a bike. There was an attempt in 4th grade in Florida and a run into a planter. Bumps but no serious injuries she tells me. Time passed without learning to ride a bike and she’s opting not to learn now. I affirm this decision, despite my love for trying new activities and embracing new adventures. She laughed thinking about it, stating when she does learn to ride a bike it will be a golden bike, “on the other side.”
Yes… more talk of heaven tonight. What will be there? Mountains, oceans, animals, skiing, sky diving, music of all genres, kayaking, and biking? I love thinking about heaven as it can sometimes make decisions about what to choose easier. As I think about what “I don’t want to miss” there is also an eternal perspective to consider. Though I don’t want to miss out on an adventure there is a limited about of time in each day, week, month and year. I want to hike the next mountain, try a sport, and read another great book yet I also want to have the meaningful conversation, rebuild a destroyed home, and take time to be still.
My perspective on the “other side” of eternity is that everything good that we love here on this earth will be there. I also believe there will be more than we can imagine. When I wish I could spend weeks exploring New Zealand (my latest desire), spend time learning to hang glide (despite my fears), or somehow read my stack of unending books I try to remember what timeframe I’m working in. I believe on this side of eternity and also the other side there will continue to be unending lands to explore, new adventures to have and always more to learn. When I think of trying to fit it all in I realize I don’t need to and believe on the “other side” of eternity the adventure will be even better. The bike Gini may learn to ride could be a beautiful lightweight gold in a perfect design for her. It could be that no training wheels are needed as Jesus teaches her, or Queen Esther, or maybe Peter. Also God’s timing is mysterious, perfect and incomprehensible. It could be… possibly… that the bike riding lesson fits in eternity so that I am part of it and can cheer Gini on as she aces her lesson on her Golden Bike. We could mountain bike together or road bike if she prefers. The idea of eternity is beautifully overwhelming.
I don’t want to miss that I don’t need to fit all the adventures in on this side, rather the conversations and actions not to be missed out on can be weighed in regard to their eternal significance.
What can’t be done “one the other side”? Is that what we should be focusing on?
The first don’t miss list …. Some I’ve done and others are “in process”
1. Go to the Boston Marathon – at least once in your life time…. cheer well… clap, yell out names, and smile. Miles 15+ are my favorite… and the end crowded and crazy but tremendous. On the way to the marathon look down at your odometer… 26.2 miles is a long way.
2. Go to a Red Sox vs. Yankees Game… in Boston, in New York…. just go!
3. Hike a Fourtneer in Colorado…. word of advice start early and remember above the treeline there are no trees to hide behind if you are too well hydrated.
4. Travel with high school students… because they are amazing
5. Seek out great mentors.
6. Be a mentor
7. Read more
8. Learn a new sport – a team, lessons, etc.
9. Shut the TV off
10. Watch a Royal Wedding or two