Author Archives: Julie

Flowers and Food

Can you stop by on your way home from Bridgewater? I have something for you. If I don’t answer the door just come around back and find me.

The text went something like that.

I wanted to say no. No, I actually can’t.

It’s the truth.

That is where I was. Where I am right now. Angry at the world. At everything. Still having to function while anticipating grief. And just angry.

My mom is very sick. She is dying. I was not even aware of this on July 26, just two months ago. Now I don’t know if I will get two more months with her.

My rational side got the better of me, because this friend’s house was literally on the way home. Also, I know myself well enough to call my own bluff. Also, she loves me. She is so kind. I needed to receive the invitation of care.

So I stopped on the way home and found her in the extensive backyard flowerbed. She is the kind of gardener who can make an everyday bouquet from twenty varieties of things she has growing, naming each one.

She was still cutting and arranging as I wandered out back and then followed her into the house for the adding of water to the jar and sending of me on my way.

I am bringing you dinner next week. Is Wednesday or Thursday better?

Thursday was a no-brainer, since my husband was leaving for his annual guys’ weekend that day.

Thursday. Thank you.

We chatted briefly in the kitchen, a safe distance from each other, before I left to pick up a child from a friend’s house, in same the neighborhood, on the way home.

Tears filled my eyes.

I don’t know what I need on a good day, and lately the days are not so good. When the text came with several menu choices, I knew instantly the one. She agreed it was one of her best.

She cut me flowers and brought me food.

And that is what I needed.

And I am so grateful.

Thank you, AM, and all of you who have known just what I needed and left in on the porch or dropped it in the mail or sent it by text. You are the hands and feet of real Jesus and love. Thank you for your care during this unbearable hard.

Waning

Look at the moon!

Husband beckons me to look out the car window on our late-night drive home from a weekend wedding. I scroll my phone looking for music to play, or maybe escape, and glance skyward.

Is that really the moon?

An orange orb dances behind a mountain ridge, peeking out occasionally. I catch a glimpse before it disappears again. I have been known to mistake a Burger King sign for this wonder of nature and am unsure whether to get excited about the glow.

Then it appears in full glory. Hanging from the sky as if about to be dropped to earth, larger than life, Mars twinkling by its side, the deep-orange, waning gibbous moon.

waning: the act of decreasing gradually in size, strength, power, etc. . .

I oohhhhh and ahhhhh appropriately, for I love the moon in whatever phase it shows up, but this one is stunning. It is comforting and kind and sad. That seems to be the way I hold life these days, comfort and kindness in the sadness.

Date saved since January, this eagerly anticipated wedding comes with unlikely surprises. We witness outdoors with masks and eat charcuterie from individual plastic cups and drink lemonade as we wait for dinner. It feels a lifetime ago that I sat poolside drinking a margarita on a work trip with my husband that same month.

Steve and I sit around a table with the Big Boss (not to be confused with the immediate boss whose wedding it was) and co-workers and their wives. We talk and wait for our table to be called. I do well managing the small talk.

Until I don’t.

I lose my steady, and my brain goes offline just long enough to float away.

What?

It is Steve’s Big Boss who looks at me quizzically.

Shoot. I just did the thing I don’t mean to do but sometimes happens. My kids say What? Why are you looking at me like that? or Mom, you’re dissociating. depending on who notices when this happens at home.

It’s my How can I be here doing this when my mom is home dying and family is in town visitng? face, and it has just come out at the wrong time, and I panic and have to be real.

I’m sorry.

I explain, and everyone is gracious and kind, and I am just sad. How can I rejoice and grieve simultaneously? This is my lesson in this season. The both, and.

Usually I keep the right feeling in the right place, but tonight sadness dumps out and lands in the middle of joy and the eyes that bear witness to the beginning of new life together hold me as ! grieve the end of another.

And the moon shines down on us all.

Waning.

Preamble to a Grief

It’s Friday morning. I set a 20 minute timer to write here, just for myself, to share with those who care to read. By the time you see this it will be afternoon. Or days, weeks, months later.

I feel a need to preamble, which I do now. This is important, because it lays ground rules and understanding and expectation, so I do not have to keep clarifying or explaining myself in the future.

Often when working with a client I will say, Let’s just write up (or simply name and pretend to write) the preamble of all of the good things and all the ways you are thankful and all the ways your parents loved you and all of the ways God is good (if they are a person of faith), etc….Now let’s talk about how there are still hard things and there is grief and your parents were human and we don’t always understand God and you were still harmed.

That helps us to jump right in with the basic assumptions that we don’t have to rehash every time something new surfaces.

I do that here with my current situation.

I am grateful. My parents loved me. Real Jesus is present. For reasons I can’t understand, I still have faith.

AND

I am grieving. My parents failed me. False Jesus was presented as judging me.

AND

I am seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living even as death lurks in the shadows. Redemption is near, close, beautiful. The hope of glory makes this present suffering bearable.

It is from this place that I write and remember and process.

I have deep support in the form of loving siblings, extended family, and friends.

We have laid such a deep foundation of healing work together, that in the midst of the ache and the grief we also find laughter and hope. Even in dying there is deep life.

I know it sounds strange, but it’s true.

As I write and share my experience here on the blog, it is from a place of deep grief and heartache, yet not from despair.

Infrastructure has been built and put into place over this past decade of my life specifically to carry me through this season. It is both brutal and beautiful to behold.

To understand more, I invite you to read this post that I wrote two summers ago for Red Tent Living.

This is the preamble for what is to come, however it looks. You don’t have to agree with or understand me. You don’t have to believe the same way I do to listen, lean in, and learn from my story.

I do ask for kindness.

Always kindness.

To my story and to yours.

Costco Run Grief

My Costco membership renews the same day I feel a burst of grief while shopping there. September 1. Yesterday. A deduction is listed in the banking app on my phone. Renewal fee. Has one year passed already?

It’s a quick run in with my husband for a bottle of wine and some beer.

Date night provisions.

I don’t grab a cart, because we are there for two things, and if I grab a cart I will fill it with extras. This is why we stopped our membership for a season. (You can read about that here, if you’re curious.)

It’s fun to look around, though, so my love and I take our time meandering through the aisles, dreaming of home improvements or new dishes or furniture. We finally arrive in the back of the store and part ways to make our separate choices.

I feel it rise in my chest. Grief in the form of a squeezing tightness. My eyes fill with tears that spill down my cheeks, and I know this is the feeling of loss. Unexpected loss. Another thing in a list of many.

Costco Run Grief

How many Costco runs have Mom and I done together?

How many times has she called me, the local daughter, to say, Let’s pretend I am visiting you from out of town, and I’ll take you shopping at Costco. I always get things for your siblings when I visit them. I want to take you on a Costco run. Get whatever you want. It’s on me.

How many breakfasts or coffees at Cinnamon Bear next door did we share before making a morning or early afternoon shopping trip?

How many times during that season of the cancelled membership, because money was tight (and even a “good deal” is not a deal if you can’t afford it), did she ask for a list of things she could pick up. She always added a few extras. Just because.

How many times?

How many times did we have the conversation that it was not expected for her to purchase my items but it was always appreciated when she did, and sometimes she let me write a check without protest because we learned to communicate about things like that?

When was our last trip to Costco together?

I don’t remember.

She was gone for the month of June, and life was still normal then, and summer vacation happened for me in July when she returned. We each did our own summer-during-a- pandemic-still things, knowing that there was always tomorrow or next time, until there wasn’t.

I took my son on a Costco run the day before he left for a trip out west. It was mid-August, and he needed some food and things, and that’s what moms do.

They take their kids shopping and make sure they are fed.

I remember thinking, This is one of my mom’s legacies. I am now shopping with my kid at Costco, and of course, I will buy him all of the things.

The following morning that son sat out on a back patio and had coffee with his grandma, and she went inside and cooked him eggs and bacon, and they shared one of the best times I have had with Grandma, Mom, before saying goodbye as he headed for his next adventure.

How many tears?

Tears fall freely as I try to finish this post. What am I even trying to say?

Costco Run Grief is real. It’s a vary real reminder that nothing is as it should be anymore and that nothing is guaranteed ~ not even the next shopping trip with my mother.

Instead my sister and I go to Food Lion today and try to make choices that will comfort and be palatable for her. We laugh at what’s not really funny and bristle at who said or did what, and at the end of the day collapse into the writing of words which is where the raw and the real is exposed.

And there is grief.

Mom’s Fall Planter

I decide to welcome fall early this year. It’s still August when I commit.

I know that’s not the official start, but something about knowing, really knowing, that you have months, not years, left with someone, makes every moment count.

We know that, right? That all of the moments count? Turn towards those you love while you can. It’s a great theory, but the practice of it, in blog-friendly language, is oh my.

Really tough.

Because life. And death. And all of that in-between. And not all of us get to know ahead of time.

And what are months, anyway? Twelve of them make up a year. That leads to twenty-four, which is two years, and so on. Not without hope, and yet, there is also reality.

So last Friday, as Mom and Dad visited the oncologist, my sister and I ran afternoon errands together. Something about a perceived sense of normalcy and control made this an adventure filled with hilarity and comic relief.

We are good at comic relief. Also irreverent hilarity.

After all of the musts, I chose a want and decided to get fall plants for mom’s outdoor planter.

Each Mother’s Day I plant one of the large planters in front of my parents’ house for Mom, and on Father’s Day I plant the other for Dad. This year was different on Mother’s Day, due, in part to the pandemic and its limitations.

Instead of selecting individual plants, I chose a hanging basket from the local food coop, planning to empty it into the planter, ready made style. When Mom saw what I was doing, she preferred to keep it as a hanging basket, so up on the porch it went.

Her planter remained sparsely populated with perennial growth from previous years, a rosemary bush, lambs ears, purple salvia, and a lone geranium, added by me to fill an obvious gap. These continued growing all summer but never fully got it together.

I tried looking back in my phone to see if I had a picture of that planter, and just the act of scrolling backwards to May brought a heaviness to my chest and tears to my eyes. We can’t go back to before.

I decided to seize my (and mom’s) favorite season and plant for fall to welcome her home from her long day of medical appointments.

And that’s what I did.

Happy Fall, Y’all! Let’s make this one count!

One Month Ago

One month ago I celebrated a child turning 14. As twisty rainbow candles were blown out on the ice cream cake made by a sister, a text came from my mom.

The doctor just called with the scan results. Can you come over? It’s not good.

One month ago.

Abnormal scan. Sisters gathered from across the country. Family visiting. 51st anniversary celebration. Unsuccessful first biopsy. Covid test. Sisters and parents quarantined together. Scheduled trip to KY leaving sisters behind. Successful biopsy and nerve block. Likely diagnosis. Cell biopsy. Official diagnosis. Watching and waiting.

One month ago.

Compulsive Google searches. Bracing. Glancing. Poring. How much more time? What’s next? Maybe a miracle!

The past month has been surreal, but what does that even mean in 2020? To me it means the worst nightmare on top of all the others ~ the news not expected. My mom has cancer. Pancreatic. Metastatic. Please do not send me miracle cures, reasons for why she is sick, or other advice unless we are solid. If you aren’t sure what that means, just don’t.

Three of my grandparents still live, two of them together independently. My mom made the drive to visit her parents back in June and stayed for a month supporting and caring for them. She saw all of her siblings. They took a picture. All of them. Together.

They didn’t know that time was her gift to them. We didn’t know by summer’s end she would be the one with a hard diagnosis.

Christy Bauman, author of Theology of the Womb, writes that when death comes out of order, it’s traumatic. This is trauma that I feel in my chest. Trauma of likely dis-ordered death. And yet still, there is life. We live each day in gratitude.

I had no imagination for mom not being with me well into her 90’s like both of her parents have been with her, yet, reality says it’s not likely.

One month ago my life changed in a way I never anticipated or expected.

Everything Changed.

One month ago.

Sharon’s Tortellini Salad

It’s a hot July weekend, and things are slow here at the house. My husband and son woke early yesterday and drove in opposite directions on the interstate, each with his own getaway plan. I’m without a vehicle, which is fine. My feet can take me where I need to go, and if something comes up, I can call in reinforcements and borrow a car.

I made tortellini salad this morning, just because I can. There’s no special occasion, holiday, or gathering. It’s the perfect time to make tortellini salad, because I made it for me! (But, of course, I plan to share.)

Posting a picture of the finished product on social media drew engagement and a request for the recipe. After conferring with my sister and receiving her blessing to share it, I returned to the personal blog with inspiration.

Below is the official recipe. Look it over, and then we will talk below.

I view this recipe, and many others, as a suggestion. Often I modify and adapt, which I did today. The recipe above is what is handwritten by my sister, Sharon, on a piece of paper and encased in a page protector in my well-loved recipe binder.

Here’s what I really did.

I followed the dressing mixture exactly. That is a non-negotiable.

I omitted the artichokes and added black olives. (I didn’t have artichokes and usually add black olives anyway for color even when I DO have artichokes.)

I used no nuts or sunflower seeds, again, simply because I didn’t have any. Each adds a different flavor/texture when used, but they aren’t necessary.

I used frozen tortellini that came in a big bag from Costco (now that I have a membership again). Each bag holds enough for 3 or 4 recipe’s-worth. I have also doubled the recipe for large gatherings.

I think any pasta would probably work with this, but tortellini is my top choice (with apologies to the child who was traumatized by tortellini and the ones who suffered secondary trauma as a result).

Thank for your enthusiastic support and for asking me to share! I hope you enjoy.

Listening

I arrive at the blog the day after my 49th birthday with a desire to break silence and write something here.

Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. Proverbs 1:32b, NLT

I feel this today. The cost of complacency. My battle against it as an Enneagram 9 is thick. Lately I have been warring inside to show up in the spaces. Any of them. Every time I do show up anywhere, it is work.

The words in my head are fast and furious. Ushering them through the keys to the page is the battle. I lean in and stand firm at the desk in my tiny home office. Eyeing the clock in the bottom corner of the screen, I invite the words to line up.

Each wants to be first. To say its piece. To jump out before being judged and sent to the end of the line. Time is running short. I have only minutes before the next thing. It’s tempting to pivot away to something else.

It is no secret that our country is in a state of collective trauma and chaos. From COVID-19 and the pandemic to the most recently publicized unjust killings and police brutality against the African-American community, this is a persistent state of unrest.

Cry out for insight and ask for understanding. Proverbs 2:3, NLT

This is where I have been. Crying out and asking. Listening.

Therefore they must eat the bitter fruit of their own way, choking on their own schemes. Proverbs 1:31, NLT

I am examining the bitter fruit in my own life. Ways that I have chosen comfort over truth. Safety over honesty. Blindness over sight.

And what do I do with the bitterness? The feeling of choking? How do I try to escape it by justifying instead of naming honestly? How do I rush to feel better at the cost of ignoring the plight of another?

I can still breathe.

I have more questions than answers. Where do I turn outside of myself? Who do I listen to and heed?

I am listening to my brothers and sisters of color. To faithful leaders who are doing the work of teaching and leaning in to reconciliation. I do not have answers which is why I am quiet.

I am listening.

Learn all you can

From those who are wiser

Practice doing what is right, just, and fair.

Fearing the Lord

While listening to counsel

From genuine heart~friends

Will help you grow wise. 

~thoughts on Proverbs 1~

YOU are Essential

Where are the blankets to put over the plants?

The text from my husband comes as I am out on a necessary errand. I respond in usual generalities, grateful for his awareness of impending cold temperatures, care of our plants, and willingness to search for the blankets.

Spring brings beautiful sunny days and unexpected chills.

This spring has brought even more unexpected beauty (time to notice the brilliant blooms) and chill (facing COVID-19) as we continue to navigate, slow down, and step into new rhythms and routines. My planner tells me we are in week 5 of sheltering in place, but within that time there have been so many changes.

I have only recently begun to settle in.

Settling in looks like consistently working from the home office, going into the studio on Saturdays. It is the kids getting used to the white noise machine running outside the home office door and knowing I am on a call and not to interrupt. It is interruptions at all other times.

It is fielding questions and needs from each child at home and then when I think I have heard from everyone and can hunker down to work, responding to, Dewey is out of the gate! by flying down the steps and out the side door, because someone has left the yard gate open and Dewey is happily scampering out of bounds freely.

It’s flexibility amidst uncertainty and continuing to do the next thing before me while not knowing when this will end and things will change and how they will look when all is said and done.

How are YOU doing?

Last night I watched a webinar on Compassion Fatigue put on by my sister, Sharon Hicks, MA, LPC, of Kintsukuroi Counseling. The act of creating space to tend to my own heart in the midst of this season brought on copious tears. As I made time to slow down and have someone help me hold space without having to solve or fix anything, I was able to name personal grief and losses.

It felt kind to sit in a space of self-care.

What does this season look like for you? Where do you feel the chill of spring’s freeze and need a blanket brought to cover your tender new growth? How are you caring for yourself during this time? How are you caring for others? Where do you need support?

Don’t walk alone. Don’t hold all of the things for everyone else. Take time for yourself, as well. . . to tend, to think, to create, to breathe.

It is essential.

YOU are essential!

Standing

It’s Good Friday, and I stand at the new desktop in my home office, which brings me eye-level with the hole in the wall, because, yes, there is a hole in the wall of this tiny room full of stories, and I think.

As I think, no words come, and I am flooded with words.

What to write about? What to say?

My work buddy is silent behind me in his cage. I have things to say about him, but I cannot say them today.

The smell of late breakfast wafts up from downstairs. That, too, is something, just not words for now.

Time ticks by, and coffee grows cold, and the feeling inside rises.

You have to do this! It’s been too long since you’ve written something! You are avoiding so hard!

And I stand.

And my fingers move over the keys.

And my mind wrangles words and themes.

Because there are things to say about this year’s mama duck that feel important.

And there are things about the new neighborhood ducks that continue to show up in unexpected places but can’t be pinned down to a single location that are curious.

And it’s Good Friday for goodness sake which holds its own story.

And it has been four weeks since the kids were out of school for an unplanned teacher work day and then didn’t go back.

At the beginning I had lofty ideas about consistent blogging like my friend, Lora, is doing so beautifully over at Storied Living. That lasted four days, or at least four posts. Check out Lora’s blog. It is so beautiful.

I thought I would grow more knowledgeable and skillful in creating useful content like my sister, Sharon, of Kintsukuroi Counseling. I have taken tiny steps but nothing big enough to blog. But go check out her content, because it is so useful.

Small, steady steps has to be enough.

Because as I watch snowflakes blow past me outside and realize the baby plants need to be covered, and I hear the dog bark furiously, indicating there is someone at the door, and lunch time draws closer, I realize that this is the new normal of my work-at-home day.

I am still trying to figure it out. It is taking shape, but there is still that hole, like the one in the wall in front of me, that sucks time and energy with the energy it takes to simply exist and be present.

That has to be enough for today.

Now what can I find to cover that hole and how is it already mid-afternoon?