Five-Minute Friday {grateful}

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker again and the host of bloggers who join her each Friday for the word prompt she provides and the word: GO

My mind jumped to a hundred different directions when I saw the word prompt: grateful. Really? My life is grateful. It is full and it is more and it is beyond expectations and when I practice that gratefulness, when I claim it and profess it, I am overwhelmed and know that I am loved by a God who is love.

Truth is, there’s something I’m not grateful for. This time of year it stares me square in the face as I scan the card aisle at the store. Another year buying a card for a mama who doesn’t know me or her other children. A card I will sign, “from your daughter” holding on to some hope those words will mean something.



Scan 11


I’ve read Ann Voskamp and practiced writing my gifts, those little things I take for granted that are true gifts like the palm trees swaying outside my window just now and the shade of blue on the cup I’m sipping my chai tea and the machine I’m tapping these words on. I have much, am grateful for much but I haven’t found grateful in dementia.

Mother’s Day phone calls use to be hearing mama’s smile in her voice, and the weariness from working with Postal Carriers food drive that is always Mother’s Day weekend. She found her joy in service, it was her joy and witness. I don’t remember the last time I spoke to mama on Mother’s Day but our last calls found her fumbling for words and abruptly ending the conversations with “thanks for calling”. No, I’m not grateful for the sneak attack that has robbed our family of a mother and grandmother. I’m not grateful for dementia.


But I am grateful for the before. The before years that were filled with conversations that held stories and laughter. Hour long monthly calls that kept this mama and daughter separated by a few thousand miles connected. That time is cherished more now in a bittersweet kind of way but make no mistake, I am grateful for that. For her love of art and people and God. More than anything her love of God that was evidenced in her service to others has marked not only my life but countless others.

I am grateful for mama. I am grateful for the grace God gives that somehow gets us through this time. The time I cannot thank him for. Not yet, maybe ever. For the good care she receives, for those who care for her, for a sister who is amazing and carries this heavy load with grace and love, for the legacy mama has given, the life of witness she has lived, for these I am grateful. These are lasting. These are true. These cannot be taken by disease. God’s grace covers it all.



Remembering for Her

b-day card for mom

It’s her birthday. Today. August 28. Mama is 75. The last time I was with her on her birthday when we told her she was 72 her eyes got big and she made the sound of “really? that old?” I wonder how old she thinks she is? In her case, it’s definitely true she’s only as old, or young, as she feels.

Mama, me and Lisa in 2009

Mama, me and Lisa in 2009

My sister is having a card party for her. My sister is brave. It has been hardest on her. At 40, Lisa has endured too much. Living so far apart, if one good thing has come from mama’s dementia it’s a growing closeness between us. Me, 16 years older with a granddaughter two years younger than Lisa’s youngest child. We’re one of those families.

The last birthday I spent with her I had her gift in a pretty gift bag and a card tucked inside. It sat on the table in front of her as though it were invisible. Mama has always liked colorful things and it surprised me to see her take no special notice of this. Instead, I had to put it in her hands and take the nightgown out of the gift bag. I had to open it up and show her what it was, waiting expectantly for some kind of reply. I finally said, “it’s for you”. “For me? ohhhh”, she said.

looking at old photo's

looking at old photo’s


She may have never worn it. Lisa suggested getting that because she needed another gown and socks. Mama always, ALWAYS wears socks. But we’d find her sleeping on top of the bed linens fully dressed in the clothes from the day before. She’d get up and put another shirt on over the one she was already wearing. Lisa would have to tell her to shower and it was too much.

Life has been better for mama where she lives now. I know, Joan, the administrator makes sure all the residents have happy birthdays. It’s her calling in life to help others and her helping our mama helps all of us.

The birthday card I bought wasn’t the prettiest or funniest but it had printed on the inside, “from your daughter”. That’s why I bought it, signed my name right underneath it.

Lisa asked people to tuck and old photo in with their card. Mama likes to sit with her picture box and thumb through the old photo’s she has. Funny to me as she doesn’t seem to know who the people are. That’s what we did on one of my last visits there. I put pictures on the table in front of her asking who the people were. I’d prompt a name and she’d say “Yeees.” Then we’d go over it again as though this was her first time seeing the photographs. After a few times she was quicker with her response when I’d prompt a name. A picture of her husband who’d died a few years before came up and she pointed and said “I think he was with us.” “Yes, mama, he was.”

Then a picture of my daddy, the man she married at 16 and had two children with but that had been another life. I pointed and asked who but no response. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know me in baby pictures and referred to my brother as that boy. But it’s her birthday and we celebrate.

We celebrate who she’s been, the heart of who she’ll always be and the faith that somehow is keeping her aware of the God she has always served. We celebrate what we can and that is plenty. Yes, we would have wanted more, but how much more aware we are of what we’ve had.


If it’s her party, why am I crying?

The notification stares at me as though the letters are glowing bold. They are burning through my heart and I have given way to guilt.

“Mom is turning 75 years old…..let’s shower her with cards”

It doesn’t matter I didn’t realize this was her 75th. (I always have to do the math to figure out how old she is.) Or that by the time my sister posted this on Facebook a plane ticket would have been very costly or that these trips are typically planned months in advance. (I have to prepare for this in so many ways).

None of that matters as I sit here, the day before, with the reality of it hitting me hard and knowing her firstborn will not be there. It doesn’t matter mama doesn’t know me anymore. I know her. I know she is the woman I have admired most and can never give what she has given to serve others.

It’s not practical for me to go. The several hundred dollars a plane ticket would cost to stand in front of her with other family and friends and wish her a happy birthday. And then what?

Today, practical doesn’t matter. Today I feel like I’m letting her down, letting myself down. Denying myself of the pleasure of standing in her presence, whether she knows me or not. A few more moments with her when she can still laugh and nod her head when the scripture is read to her. Another chance to finger through photographs of the faces no longer known and see if I can prompt that one moment in time with her.

And then there’s the wondering what the family out there will think. They are gracious, they always have been. They are the practical sort too. I didn’t get this way on my own!

There is no answer for a heart feeling broken or a daughter feeling she is letting down her mama. Or maybe herself. Henry will put his arm around me and let me cry into his heart. He will remind me of love, of his and mama’s and, somehow, he’ll say something to soothe this bare heart.

He said, “you’re a good daughter.” How does he know the perfect things to say.

It has been a tough day. This day before her birthday. On the day friends and family, now strangers to mama, will gather to celebrate her day. They’ll share some cake and maybe sing to her. Someone will take pictures and I’ll see them on Facebook and I’ll be thinking about her, about them, from 3000 miles away.

I will be grateful for a sister so brave to have this party for mom. I will be thankful for those who’ve sent cards and covered our family in prayer.

I will be thankful for a life lived in faith, of not knowing and still believing. Believing it’s okay to be here, in my corner of the country. Here thanking God for His unfailing love.


She speaks of heaven

We are in that generation. The in between one. In between watching our parents health decline and our grandchild grow.

It’s only our mothers now. Mine in the world of dementia and his mom strong of mind but weak of body. He is the only child who doesn’t live in her town and she calls him every week. Every week since her husband, his father, went on to heaven she calls her firstborn son.

I live with this man. I know how little he likes to be on the phone yet weekly they find words to say. I asked him a couple of months ago what she talks about. Her world is smaller now. She has an independent apartment in an assisted living community. She attends church with the extended family there and talks of her busy schedule walking her Dachshund, visiting with the residents around the lunch table and attending the bible study group. He told me she talks about heaven a lot more.

Pneumonia put her in the hospital a couple of weeks ago and the little strength she had before is gone. She’s in the rehab wing of a nursing home hoping to get stronger, to lift herself out of the wheelchair she’s had to rely on. The osteoporosis has taken its toll and at 85 her body is tired. Yes, heaven is in her heart and on her tongue.

“In Christ, you’re a native of heaven right now. You aren’t a citizen of here trying to work into heaven. You’re a citizen of heaven trying to work through here.” Voskamp

Yes, this woman I’ve always known as strong, filled up with faith and always about God’s business knows her home and longs for it. She is ready to be done with this human shell and be clothed in such light none of us can rightly know. The faith she has always shown now brighter, bolder, stronger.

The son of hers I married listens to his mother talk of the home she yearns for and they talk together of the promise held and his faith as strong as hers. There is no trace of sorrow in his voice and I have to ask but I already know. He is her son after all. He knows one day heaven will be his home too and he is merely trying to work through here ’til that time comes. How can he be sad for his mother who will be free from pain and restored to strength?

Her only granddaughter and great-granddaughter

Her only granddaughter and great-granddaughter (2011)

“When heaven is really your motherland, then prayer is really your mother tongue, and you can’t help but yearn to speak in the language of your Father now.” Voskamp

Yes, they speak of heaven and in my quiet prayers I speak of it too.


When the time comes

My sister had her big birthday last weekend. She threw herself a 40th birthday party and asked her guests to gift her with donations to Race for Life. Over 70 people came to her party. We have a big family out there and I’ll guess half (maybe more) were relatives.

Then she emailed me about planning moms funeral.

Mama is still here. She’s not sick or showing any signs she won’t be with us much longer. Her dementia advances, tiny steps at a time it seems. Lisa and I both pray God will spare her from what we fear could come. That stage when all is ravaged. So we plan.


It’s the right thing to do. Do it now when it’s less emotional and neither of us want to admit it can possibly be more emotional. Mom has long paid for her plot and we know that much.

Several years ago when my brother and I were out there for the funeral of her husband he tried asking mama what songs she might want sung at her service and what scripture she liked. She was having none of that talk. Not then and not since.

It’s a huge burden for one just turning 40, for one who suddenly lost her father before she was 35 and now bravely emailing me about our mom’s funeral. When it comes. When it’s time.

“Do you think Paul would or could do it? I’m definitely not having a viewing or open casket. I know she would want it in the church.”

And so back and forth we went for a day or so, little snippets because more would just be too much, too hard. I would answer her note surprisingly composed and then turn to brush away the tears I couldn’t contain.



Not Paul, I said, but Henry. He can do this for us. He loves her and she was crazy about him. Even now we talk in past tense because mama has been gone a few years now. Her mind slipped into a place we’ve not been able to find. I read the suggestions for family with an Alzheimer’s parent. Ask them about their siblings and where they work and find out what time their mind is living in. It sounded so promising and I knew I’d learn so much more about mama’s life but she fooled me. When I asked her if she had kids, she said, “Well yes”. How many? “Too many to count” was her answer. Three has never been too many for mama to count and she talked about living in Florida where she has never lived. She loved to visit us here and it was as if she thought we were sisters and lived in Florida. Her confusion became my confusion and it was hard to go on. That was over two years ago. Now, she can’t manage that.


So we plan a little. The day comes for us all and we assume that day will come for her before us. God has that answer as He does to all things. Some answers he shares with us and others, I know I couldn’t handle so He spares us.

It’s gotten a bit easier the past few years. The acceptance has come and I thought the grief had all washed over me but it will come again. I will grieve for losing even her body. Her earthly vessel she served God with so diligently. I will grieve that part though maybe a little less. Again, God knows. Acceptance of His knowledge, His will, mostly importantly, His grace.


The posture of motherhood

When I rummage through our photo bins the least photographed is mom. Always. Any mom. She was at the stove, doing laundry, visiting a nursing home, cleaning up our mess and generally staying out of the spotlight.

She is bent over tucking a child in at night or stooped to kiss a forehead.

She is up early to have a few moments of quiet before the house comes alive.

She is standing up teaching Sunday School class.

with a special guest at a church event

with a special guest at a church event

mama (middle) and her sister come for my wedding

mama (middle) and her sister come for my wedding


In the kitchen at my brothers wedding.

In the kitchen at my brothers wedding.

She is driving. Lots and lots of driving. Piano lessons, volleyball games, soccer practice, track meets and field trips. Then she gets back in the car to shop for groceries, school uniforms and doctor visits.

She is bent over her bible, praying, studying.

She is speaking out, an advocate for her children, her family, her God.

At some point you realize the one posture you’ve never seen from your mom is laying down. Ever. This dawns on me only now as I think about my mother. Surely there was time and I simply don’t recall. I have an image of her being wheeled out of the hospital with my baby brother. The only time I recall seeing her not doing something in her own power.

Mama encouraging another with her touch

Mama encouraging another with her touch




At 74 mama’s posture is slowed. She walks most often with a cane. She sits more. Sits in her small efficiency-type room in an assisted living facility. She sits in the common area and watches, smiles. She sits in the dining area laughing and more smiling. She has Alzheimer’s and the word salad that comes with that making it near impossible for her to verbally express her thoughts so another can understand. But she listens. And what could be a better posture than one of listening? She listens to the hymns and scripture and nods her head in assent. This is her posture of worship.

Family says I’m like mama and I am. Not enough in many ways I think. I closely followed her posture of motherhood when the kids were kids even now with them grown I follow her posture of support and encourager.

This posture of worship? I need to work on that.

The best Mother’s Day

Remember asking your mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day and she might answer something like, “Just for you to be home” or some other answer that we ignored or didn’t believe. It sounded trite or a pat “Mom-answer”.

I’ve had many men lament to me about not being able to get their mom what they’d like for Mother’s Day. I have given them the standard “Mom-answer” because we mom’s know, it’s TRUE. A mother wants nothing more than for her child to grow up to be a responsible, caring person who works an honest job. We may add to that as life goes on. A good spouse, children, a heart for God and others……We just want the best for our children and that is present enough. Right?

I assure the men this is true and whether they believe me or not I know there will be mom’s thankful, blessed and happy this year because their sons are clean and sober. Here are a couple who don’t mind me sharing with you:

Jeff M posted this on our ARC Facebook Group:

“For the third Mother’s Day,(consecutively), my living mother will receive a sober son to spend the day with! Thank you ARC for the opportunity to walk with Jesus, sober, today! I may not have a good job, but I am in college. I don’t have much money, but I do have the ‘ Gospel’ to give. Jesus always provides a way out of the ‘bondage’ of addiction. For me, it was the day I walked into the ‘bubble’ and the chains of my sins and addictions were broken!”

He had been living under a bridge. Now he brings AA meetings into our Center and shared his story one month on Awards Night.



Last week Carson, seen above, participated in the Iron Man 73.1 in Utah. He’s been training for this for months. It would start with a mile run in 62* water, then a 58 (I may be off by a couple of miles) mile bike ride finishing with a 13 miles run. It’s the hardest triathlon but he finished!

He’s worked for us over a year and took his week of vacation. His mom and dad flew out to support him and this is the sign he gave his mom to hold at the finish line.

To see lives renewed and restored is nothing short of seeing miracles played out in front of us. God is redeeming. He is reuniting families. He is providing grace and strength. One. Day. At. A. Time.

In the ARC one calls out: God is good

And you reply: All the time.


Mother’s Day without Hallmark

We were taking our 2:00 p.m. mile walk, just the two of us this time. She’s the inspiration behind this walk and the encourager that gets me from behind my desk and out the door. In a few weeks the humidity will be thick but she’ll be ready for the walk anyway.

Since we didn’t have company on this walk She talked more openly about some struggles with those she counsels. Family history follows us all and I told her since being in this work, in the Adult Rehabilitation Center ministry, I’ve found planning a Sunday service on Mother’s Day to be the most challenging.

As a child I remember the prizes that were awarded to the mom with the most children present or the oldest mother in church (that was when age was an honor) or the mother who came the farthest distance. Adults were presented with carnations; white if their mother was deceased and red if still living. Mothers were celebrated and everyone smiled because we all had June Cleaver or Mrs. Cunningham as a mom.





But that’s not true. It wasn’t true then but we were better at pretending. Gather a room full of 100 men living in a Salvation Army program and I don’t want to guess the percentage of men who aren’t celebrating their mom.

Some were introduced to their addiction from being taken into crack houses by their mom. Some abused, physically or emotionally, perhaps sexually but so very hard to tell another.

Others had good mom’s who didn’t live to see their sons break the chains of addiction. They carry deep sorrow.

It has been a tough day for me the past years as mama slips further into dementia/Alzheimer’s. The phone calls have long ended and the distance between us more than miles.

Our walk kept a brisk pace and I realized I wore the wrong shoes and may have slowed Her down a bit. My walking companion reminded me her mother was a good person but not a good mother. BUT, “I have others. They have others. You can be that for them.”

Henry and I had talked about the same issue earlier in the week and how he would present this in his sermon. How to strike that balance for those with loving mothers and those without. Mary, mother of Jesus, has been revered. Motherhood considered sacred and the oft used passage from Proverbs 31 about the ideal wife/mother just won’t work in our setting.

I remember a passage where Jesus’ asks “who is my mother?” I find the reference in Matthew, Mark and Luke. He’s speaking to a crowd when the disciples tell him his mother and brother need to ask him something. It seems an odd verse or two to drop in the middle of stories of more importance but here it is. Jesus is working, teaching, when he’s told your mom needs to talk to you. His answer is surprising to me as he says “who is my mother and who are my brothers?” (Matt. 12) “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”(Luke 8)  Then He goes back to his business.

That’s it. Interruption over and it would seemed he just brushed off his mom. That thought is a distraction to the real issue of those who don’t know their mom, didn’t know a loving mom. Jesus said “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3) Our family. A complete family of God. Not born through biology but of the Spirit.

Celebrating Mother’s Day without the Hallmark card but with the words of Jesus reminding us again of His provision. He will give us a new family, His family.


Teach your children well


You don’t think of giving your children gifts as they’re growing up. Not gifts beyond the physical kind wrapped in colorful paper with streamers and bows. I wasn’t thinking of the lasting gifts to give. Maybe somewhere in my heart it was there but never to the front of mind where it became intentional. My expectations were to teach by example as my parents had done. The good and bad were taught that way. It was my children who helped me more clearly define the examples that needed to be silenced.

Junior High (church event pictures)

Daddy and daughter 2001

Our bedrock foundation was a spiritual one, set by examples of service, love, church involvement. These came without a thought and our children never put up a fuss over this lifestyle.

How thankful, no, grateFUL, I am for a daughter who was gentle of spirit and from an early age sensitive to God’s spirit. Never the “boy-crazy” one pushing to be older than her years. (Thank you, Father, for that gift.) Even today at 33 I think she could wear a little more color on her eyes and tint on her lips. Though her natural beauty will always be her best friend. The beauty of self-acceptance and a woman created from God’s on breath.

Being a woman didn’t come easy in my family. I was never allowed to wear a 2-piece bathing suit and that didn’t do much for my physical self-esteem except to confuse me. I learned about make up and hair and all the things emerging young women are drawn to from 17 Magazine. I wasn’t told not to, but mama never so much as used mascara. Never an earring on her or nail polish except clear. Thankfully, she didn’t push those on me but she had no tools to share. Daddy, on the other hand, was just scared. Scared of his little girl, only girl, who wasn’t looking so much like a girl as a young lady. If only I’d known he was afraid. If only I could have understood.

So as our daughter approached this threshold of life we went gently. She saw me apply the make-up to look “natural” and to approach fashion with a dose of modesty. Thankfully, again, she followed this example. It was what made her beauty shine. A daddy who was never afraid of his little girl becoming a young woman. A daddy who didn’t show fear but faith. This made our girl bloom into a healthy woman. This father-daughter duo that still softens my heart.

the girls, 3 generations

Facing fears, working through them, that’s an ongoing process for me. But I’m learning and God is always teaching. Through our children, grandchild, childhood memories, friends, His ways are endless as long as my way is His way.


When emotions collide


Still waking up from a restless night I grabbed my iPad to check messages.  Last night my sister had emailed me about mama and her standing up in the dining room at her residence and loudly “praised God.” The director had called Lisa to tell her. Not a problem, Joan sees things through a God-filter. I thank God for her and her heart and compassion. It’s not like mama. Not her way. Loud? Yes, when she needs to get the attention of loud children or when she’s laughing but praising? No, mama was quiet in church. A nod of her head or soft “yes” to affirm another’s words. This was mama’s peace. How she got away from a hectic life and worshiped her Savior.

my favorite picture of her taken 2 years ago

the 3 of us with mama three years ago

Lisa’s email got me wistful, missing mama, the mama I know and even the one she’s becoming. I was struck hard with the loss of her yesterday as I was learning some new art techniques. She was my first encourager and we always shared a love for the handmade. She has lined the walls with things I’ve made for her over the years. Now, none to share this with. Yes, friends but not the same.

I went to sleep with that on my mind and awoke to see my son’s updated Facebook status. This boy rarely is on Facebook. It was only at my urging he even has Facebook. His status said: “I asked….she said yes.” Sweet words coming from his heart I know is full of anticipation.

The son and now, fiancé, dressed for the Kentucky Derby

Then another message from my sister. This one harder to take. Mom has been hallucinating. A part of the Alzheimer’s dementia, it seems. Lisa hadn’t mentioned it before hoping herself it was random. But after seeing mama offer a cookie to an empty chair and ask Lisa why she didn’t talk to a girl who wasn’t there she couldn’t deny it any longer. And then she was told mom tried to offer a stuffed heart to her reflection in the mirror. And my happiness for our son is overshadowed with this loss. For so long I was sad for mama but realize she is not aware of these changes. She was at first, but I don’t think so now. So the sadness is for me, for us. I’ve not told our brother yet. He’ll find a way to laugh at the silliness of talking to empty chairs. I just can’t do it today. Not today.

My prayers went dark as I ask God not to spare her. Please don’t allow her to become completely engulfed by this merciless disease. The other prayer said as quickly, give me grace. This grace I so often talk about and see in the face of others, give it to me for mama. If this is grace, right now it feels like a breaking heart.

I don’t know other words to plead and I do plead for this. Emotions of joy and sorrow tumbled together and I pray the result is grace.