Honoring in spite of Alzheimer’s

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photo 6It’s been nearly a year since my father-in-law abruptly left.

He did not die but disease and deception pulled him away.

Poof, he was gone.

No goodbye, no thank you, no I love you.

Ouch.

The wounds are healing. We have moved forward. We welcomed a Brazilian exchange student into our home for the school year. We now have a delightful dog. Two of our olive shoots proposed. The Hubs will enjoy a new knee in less than a month! We know how to keep things lively!

2014-05-23 17.01.07But as our ministry-minded middle announced his plans to marry, I envisioned the rehearsal dinner. I considered the food, the venue, flowers, decorations, it is one of my favorite things to do. Yet my spirit was unsettled about one major issue. How do we reconcile the fact that Aaron will probably never hear from his grandpa again? Although I will never understand the circumstances surrounding his strange departure or the vast amounts of pain this created, the Lord is sovereign. That’s the only part that gives me peace.

I do know that my FIL loved Aaron. He cared deeply about his grandkids, he was understandably proud of the men and women they had become.

2014-05-23 16.51.03That is why I included pictures of my husband’s parents’ wedding in the decorations. Unless you have been in a similar situation, you may not appreciate the significance. I also had a photo of my parent’s wedding even though my mom has remarried and my dad’s been gone for over 25 years. But positioning that little framed picture of my in-law’s on the table was like moving a boulder. I didn’t want to cause my husband any more anguish. In addition to not having my FIL with us, our Soldier would be missing the festivities due to his deployment to Qatar. The Hubs was ok with seeing the photo again, bless his incredible heart.

2014-05-23 16.55.26The placement of that wedding picture announced that the poison cocktail of Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and deception would NEVER erase the good memories we cling to each day.

Joy and celebration conquered sadness and grief. We chose to honor and cherish.

On the other side of this life because of our faith in Jesus, we will see him again.

 

 

 

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Warmth – Brazilian style

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photo 5Temperatures plummet all around the country but we experienced a heat wave of sorts. A Brazilian blast of kindness warmed our family these past few weeks as we enjoyed spending time with Chico’s parents. I have loved ones in Qatar, Chicago, El Salvador and Brazil – we’re all over the map!

Since last May, the Lord opened the door for new people to enter our home. Most who entered as friends left as members of our family. Some through actual marriage proposals (Lu and Kelsie) but others through spending extended time in our home – they became W-H’s, an extension of our olive shoot branch.

And it’s interesting, the timing of it all. Disease and deception ushered a person out of our lives. Without a proper goodbye, a thank you, a warm embrace, nothing, nada, zilch, poof, he was gone. I don’t recommend it. So while recovering from the pangs of loss, these people have been a healing balm to our family. We haven’t forgotten this person but we have moved on in order to survive. He hasn’t been replaced but God has opened new chambers of our hearts. I know many people who have experienced a loss can empathize.

On Sunday, we said our goodbyes to Francisco and Leyla. We enjoyed going to church together and I was deeply touched to sit by Chico’s mom and to hear her singing the refrain “Hallelujah” in one of the songs. Tears streamed from both of our eyes as the music played. It’s safe to say that a year ago none of us had any notion how close we would feel to one another. I didn’t really personally know any Brazilian people until September. Now it’s like our family has grown exponentially just by adding one charming borrowed Brazilian olive shoot into our home.

After church, we went to a restaurant. As the meal was ending, Chico’s dad went out to his car to get something. When he returned, he approached the Hubs holding something small in his fingers. He then gently took the corner of the Hub’s jacket and carefully attached a small gold item to the collar. With a few emotional words in Portuguese, he embraced and kissed my husband and that’s when we saw this.

photo 4In some way, it re- minded me of when Nate was pinned as an officer at West Point. Our dear friend Colonel Eric Kail com missioned Nate. We will never forget that moment or that man.

It also reminded me of the kindred moment when Nate was tabbed by his brothers after completing Ranger School those memories flooded back to me.

I’m not sure Francisco understood the significance of his gesture but based on the tears that flowed afterward, perhaps we all did. Francisco’s gift to my husband was an acknowledgement of trust and connection. That pin proudly sits next to the Army pin on my husband’s coat. The cold weather allows him opportunity to display some of our dearest and deepest connections.2013-07-12 12.17.27

The  feeling of being deemed worthy and proven can warm a heart and that little pin of our two flags was a profound symbol between 2013-07-12 11.19.16men. When people enter our lives, they leave an impression. In this case, it was an enduring and deep connection neither family could have expected.

My family phoenix

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34I am proud of us.

This five-piece puzzle that we have called ourselves has shown strength and faith in the face of great sadness and loss. Last year, my father-in-law was a significant member of our family, this year, that all changed.

But instead of falling apart, our family persevered. We nearly curled inward, it would have been understandable. But we all have done the opposite. We chose hope. Not always, not perfectly. Yet we risked rejection and kept our hearts open. I am proud of us.

UnknownAs a junior in college, I attended l’universite de Caen in Normandy, France. Founded in 1432, the university was destroyed in 1944. Most of the town was also decimated, in fact, the home where I lived still had bullet holes in the stone wall from a fire fight during the Invasion.

At the entrance to the school, a sculpture entitled “The Phoenix” welcomed all. Many days I strolled past this statue but never really appreciated its beauty or significance until now.

For some reason I remember that monument and connect it my present day life.35

The morning before Thanksgiving, my family gathered together. An impromptu gluten-free brunch of pupusas (a popular Salvadoran dish) and pão de queijo (a delicious Brazilian cheese bread) filled the kitchen with warmth and flavor.

Around the table, I saw people I never expected to be here. One person, in fact, I didn’t even know existed until about three months ago.

There sat~

– A handsome borrowed Brazilian son

– A Salvadorena future daughter-in-love

– A gluten-free future daughter-in-love

photo 4And beside them, all holding hands sat

a Soldier preparing to be deployed a few days later

– a ministry-minded middle and

– an orange hair, freckle face olive shoot.

We bowed our heads to pray and I tried not to cry. Happy tears filled my eyes.

How did I get so blessed?

Look at this food!

Behold these people!

I scarcely could take it in as the Hubs led us in prayer. The Lord gives and He takes away. There weren’t five of us. There now were EIGHT.

In a way, that breakfast was a symbol of our phoenix, our human sculpture of grace and resilience.

Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, deception and greed have not defeated us. What Satan intended for evil, the Lord has used for good. Though we do not forget and still grieve, our family has created new connections and love.

Across the miles, continents and cultures, hearts still remain strong.

When you’re a military family, Veterans’ Day takes on a whole different meaning

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2013-07-12 11.21.47Soon

very soon

my West Point grad, my Army Ranger, my handsome, beloved son will go to a faraway place

Not for vacation

Or to get married – though this will happen soon enough

But somewhere distant that brings a sense of fear over me if I’m having one of those days.

And so this whole Veterans’ Day thing is much more meaningful to me than it was, let’s say ten years ago.

(She types embarrassingly).

Last Friday, my orange hair, freckle face olive shoot sang in the school choir for a local Veterans’ Day celebration.

2013-11-08 18.18.25That in and of itself, is notable since Ike will not be dropping a CD anytime soon though he jokes that he is the songbird of his gen- eration. Hearing him sing, “God Bless America” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (my personal favorite) caused me to grab the bag of tissues I brought expressly for that purpose.

My tears were mixed though because this year, another veteran in the family was missing. My father-in-law. For reasons we will probably never understand this side of heaven, he has been taken from us. Not by death but by a person. Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia contributed to the cause but the cruelty of it all is too painful to even share.

Grey-haired military people filled the community center. These folks still beam with pride when their song is played. It was not a time of  preference over which branch served – Army, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, even Navy (inside Army joke), were honored equally. There was solidarity and appreciation. I was among the ranks of those who love the “Armed Forces Salute” although apparently many of Ike’s classmates noted that I spazzed out during the Army song. I tried to be as discreet as possible! I couldn’t help it!

Two proud chunksters

Two proud chunksters

But little did I know, I wasn’t the only one who got choked up during the per- formance.

A certain someone whose name I can’t mention also had to push back the tears. It’s hard to sing and cry. Thinking about his brother, re- membering his grandpa, watching the 93-year-old man sputtering out Taps on his trumpet maybe for the last time, it got to a certain little stoic olive shoot. For the record, he DID NOT cry, he just wanted to for a brief, oh so brief moment!

As an American, I find myself proud of how we honor our veterans. In Brazil, for example, they do not have such a holiday. They have Children’s Day, Dentist Day and Teacher Day but no Veterans’ Day. To serve in the military is a rarity and something not especially appreciated according to my reliable source, my borrowed Brazilian olive shoot. They are proud of their country but those in the armed forces do not receive any special recognition for their service. I thought all countries had their own Veterans’ Day.

Today I remember those in my family who are in the military, past and present. I remember our honored friend, Colonel Eric Kail who was my son’s mentor whether he knew it or not. We love and miss him. Thank you all, bless you all. Happy Veterans’ Day.

Here is Ike and others in the choir singing “God bless America.” It is the land that I love.

Praying for your enemies

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photo 7Prompted by the pastor’s sermon, we left church on Sunday morning and I told my family that I wanted to do something with the message.

Although most of you don’t know my family, maybe you can imagine how your family would typically react to such an announcement. Would your family all just have a beautiful Kumbaya moment in the middle of the church parking lot? I didn’t think so but hey, it would be nice, huh? I did not observe such an inspirational reaction from my crew. 

So what did I say? I said that by dinnertime, I wanted us to share at least two things that God was asking us to do.

The response I got in return was less than overwhelming. The Hubs was the only one who seemed moderately interested in giving an answer anytime in the near future. Twenty-six years of marriage, he is finally catching on! 😉

As we sat around the dinner table that evening, tension filled the room. “Maybe Mom will just forget about the thing she asked us to do,” I believe would be a correct interpretation of the mood and for a second, I really did question going there with such a tepid crowd.

But I felt a nudge in my heart. After an initial burst of irritation on their part, what ensued was the coolest conversation this mom, the Hubs, an orange hair, freckle face olive shoot and a Brazilian exchange student could possibly have on a chilly autumn night in November. Clearly, the Lord was calling each of them to do something very specific and personal. My soul responded with a flutter listening to these men ranging from 16 to 51 give sincere answers.

So maybe I’m a glutton for punishment because last night, I decided to press the question again. Asking two hungry, tired, homework-laden teenagers anything other than “Can you pass me the salt?” is dangerous, borderline stupid. Pushing them to offer deep spiritual insight into their lives immediately after finishing a hard practice for Varsity basketball is not for the fainthearted so be forewarned.

But that’s what I did. I’m a Ranger Mom, after all. I have an inner strength.

It’s a good thing I was sitting down because the answers last night stirred me like a savory spaghetti sauce. My Brazilian OS shared things that made us all think we really needed to pray for these things which weighed heavy on his heart. I could empathize in many ways which is funny considering there are many (obvious) differences between us.

And I was equally blessed hearing about the courageous thing the Hubs had done with a friend. He is risking decades of a friendship to speak truth into a man’s life. May this man have the ears to listen and the humility to change!

photo 6But what caused my mouth to fall agape was Ike’s response.

His shoulders hunched over and Ike shook his head like he had been fighting something.

Then he told us what God had told him to do.

It agonized him to even share it, so difficult was the task.

During school that day, the teacher asked the students to think and pray for someone who didn’t know the Lord. This is permissible in a private Christian school and it was in no way an awkward thing though you might disagree. They did not do this out loud and it made sense for the content the teacher was covering.

And the individual the Lord gave Ike to pray for was not a safe or popular name. Ike finished his grilled cheese sandwich and spoke the name. While in class, my youngest OS shared that he wrestled with the Lord because his flesh didn’t want to do it.

You see, the person God told him is a person who has caused our family great harm and pain. When Isaac told me his name, I closed my eyes in disbelief because I am not as honorable a person as my son.

Just between us, I have prayed for this person but mostly just for vengeance and judgement. Trust me, I have good reason to want these things though I do hold out a sliver of hope every now and then.

But my son was obedient. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, my youngest OS, came to Jesus asking for this person’s salvation. Ike said that it was the only thing that could possibly change the horrible circumstances we are experiencing.

The equally fascinating thing is that I have been keeping up with a prayer journal. Yesterday, with absolutely NO foreknowledge of what Ike was doing at school, I also prayed for those people in my family who do not know Jesus as Lord. Several names came to mind but this person didn’t entered my thoughts.

So tonight I’m still floored – at the family I have been given, the God we serve, the way He speaks into hearts in undeniable ways.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? May the Lord give you insight and great purpose! May He surprise you with strength and compassion wherever you are! Take a look again at this amazing quote from A.W. Pink, isn’t it thought-provoking!

Aaron is ENGAGED!!!

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photoThe time to drop your iPhone into the toilet isn’t hours before your middle olive shoot proposes.

Yes, you have read that sentence correctly.

My iPhone took a swim in the toilet on Saturday morning…

And my sweet boy Aaron is now engaged.

As of today,

I have an iPhone that needs repair – waa

BUT much more importantly

In the span of just SIX weeks

I have gained not ONE but TWO future daughters-in-love.

I have been the mother of three awesome olive shoots for many years

And a Brazilian exchange student for about two months

Truly the Lord has taken our family on a fascinating and creative journey. Love and loss, Alzheimer’s and abandonment, family and friendships, oh my goodness. Central America, South America, Chicago, South Carolina, our hearts have been all over the map. We have had a jam-packed season of suffering and joy, our spirits are dizzy and blessed. I scarce can take it in but I’ll try.

Here’s how the proposal unfolded.

After spending the day together in Chicago strolling the Lincoln Square area, Aaron took Kelsie to PF Changs for dinner.

Then they went for a stroll to the Trump Tower. The night was starlit, a slight chill in the air.

Aaron reminded Kels that this was the place where he had asked for their first kiss and professed his love for her.

And then Aaron, all fancy wearing a tie and looking oh so handsome,

My cherished bairn, he took Kelsie’s hand and got on one knee.

With all the confidence and happiness he has probably ever felt, with a host of truly thousands of prayers spoken over this boy throughout his lifetime just in anticipation of this one moment, my treasured Aaron reached into his pocket. Presenting his beloved her great aunt’s wedding ring, a family heirloom, he inquired,

“Kelsie, will you marry me?”photo 4

With nary a moment of hesitation, this dear young woman answered, “YES!!!”

It was a surreal moment for the both of them.

Apparently so surreal that my ministry-minded olive shoot carefully placed the ring on the WRONG HAND! Oops!

But don’t you just love it when things don’t go perfectly?

That’s how life happens, it’s not flawless. I want my children to live real lives and be authentic people. Those little blips and bloopers are what make memories stick. Kind of like what happened when Nate proposed to Lu. Click here for that story. The Hubs and I have so many moments about our own engagement, I’ll save those for another day. I pray that my children accumulate many stories throughout their lifetimes.

photo 5So yes, my phone fell into the toilet yesterday.

It was an unused toilet, for the record and I wasn’t on the phone when it happened. It just fell out of my back pocket. I promise!

But I am thankful nonetheless.

God has answered my prayers. He has been good. So many nights, so many dinner table conversations and prayers about the women my boys would someday marry. And now two of them know who she is.

Nate and Lu –

Aaron and Kelsie –

praise Jesus for my two future daughters-in-law love.

Five minute Friday – Grace

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photoSometimes the person I have the most trouble giving grace to is…

Me.

Prone to want things to be fixed and perfect, I fall short constantly. I disappoint me.

On Tuesday, I made a homemade, from-scratch chocolate cake.

And I was given an opportunity to offer grace to a person who needed it.

The cake was for my youngest olive shoot’s 17th birthday.

The Hubs is out of town and I felt a lot of pressure (from me) to make the day special.

It would be the first birthday when Ike wouldn’t be hearing from his grandpa.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s along with a deceiving brother-in-law have robbed my son of this simple pleasure.

So imagine my disappointment when I opened the oven door and saw a disaster of a dessert!

If Ike were to look at this cake and consider it a representation of my love for him, he might want to find a new mom.

I was tempted to throw the cake in the trash and start again.

And this is when the spirit of grace fell upon my kitchen.

Instead of making Ike a birthday cake, how about a birthday torte?

This might not seem like a big deal to most people but I had to push aside my expectations of myself and of the day.

I had to not worry about what the guys on his basketball team might say to their mothers about the chocolate disaster with 17 candles.photo

As you might suspect, a starving group of boys don’t worry too much about the presentation. They ate the catered sandwiches with appreciation. And when it came time to laud my orange hair, freckle-face olive shoot a happy birthday, we presented it on the hallway of the high school on the floor.

5minutefridayAnd guess what? It was all wonderful. My boy was blessed,

God’s favor, His grace.

When do you need to extend grace to yourself? I’d love to hear!

Today’s post was inspired by 5 minute Friday! I enjoy getting a word surprise each week and writing with wild abandon for a little snippet of time. Check out other entries here!