Sunday, September 21, 2014

the horror of the empty spaces (#osl)

You ever have one of those times when a theme keeps coming up in your life, and you realize that there must be something significant there for you to learn? I have had that recently, around the subject of empty space. It first came to my attention in a book I have been reading called "Turn My Mourning Into Dancing" by Henri Nouwen. He mentioned it oh so briefly, in this way:
"Recently I spent some time walking in New York City. I realized how most places are filled up with other things. So much is crowded into that place! We seem to have a fear of empty spaces. The philosopher Spinoza called this a horror vacui. We want to fill up what is empty."
This was one of those sit up and notice moments for me. I had never actually realized it before, but this is me! When I'm driving, I have to eliminate the space between me and the car in front of me (I stay at a safe distance for sure, just no extra space), and if the car in front of me does not share my compulsion I will feel frustrated until I can pass them and set things in order once again.  If I am given an empty space, I will want to fill it with purpose, if not with things. Spacious foyers make me really uncomfortable on a visceral level. Why waste all that space on an entry way? What else might one do there? Living room/family room arrangements can also send my mind spinning.

Same with sensory and intellectual space. I kept mine filled all the time. My own mother kept the television on all the time, and I naturally did the same thing when I grew up. I may not be watching it, but the noise and the picture in the background were comforting. I'm a bit of a news junkie, and I could watch 24-hours news for, well, 24 hours a day. Yes, I even kept the TV on while I was sleeping. When I was away from home, I filled the intellectual space by listening to audiobooks. Occasionally I'd listen to music, but for the most part it was audiobooks, and not having one for my commute time would make me panic! Standing in line somewhere, I'd listen to the audiobook AND check my phone for email and facebook updates.

This comment by Nouwen struck me so hard that I knew it was some kind of a wake up call, and I started scaling back a little bit. I could easily see that filling up spaces in my physical environment had made me life less comfortable. It was less easy to see in my mental and spiritual environment, but I knew it was there nevertheless. The first thing I did was I stopped turning on the television first thing in the morning. Now I get up an hour early in the morning in order to spend that time in Bible study, mind you, but I was turning on the news while I was doing that, and of course there was a bit of a distraction. I also actually started driving to work without an audiobook. I have a pretty lengthy commute, generally 45 minutes to an hour, usually in heavy traffic. I started putting on some worship music during my drive, and spending the time in prayer. I even occasionally left the music off and drove in silence, just me and God.

Last week, however, I began a discipleship program at my church. I didn't really know anything about it until the first meeting. Discipleship, of course, comes from the same root as discipline, and the program is based around a number of disciplines. There is Bible study, journaling, prayer, involvement in ministry, all wonderful and expected things. But there was one I wasn't -- limiting media to two hours a week. Okay, I am a little iffy on the definition of media, and secular media in particular. I got a dispensation for blogging, but honestly most of my blogging is not secular. I still check into facebook a few times a day. I don't spend hours on it like I sometimes used to, but in this day and age, if something happens people don't run to the phone and call everybody. They post it on Facebook. In the last week I have had two of my friends lose family members, one a father, one a daughter. Several others have asked for prayer for people they know who have lost loved ones, and one whose beloved and young dog suddenly went blind and became unable to walk. It's become like a prayer list for me, interspersed with the uplifting and the cute photos of friends' babies and children, memes and stories. Facebook can become a time waster, for sure! I probably would have finished several books by now if I hadn't been able to click over from Word to Facebook whenever I was feeling stressed! So it needs to be kept in its place, and yes, I am doing that.

However, I have not had my television set turned on for four days now.

The first day of this discipleship program I had a really surprising negative reaction. I had looked forward to this, and I wanted to do it, but on that first day I was plagued with exhaustion, depression, and doubt. I came home that evening, and I turned on my TV and checked my DVR. And I watched the most recent episode of "The Dome." I did not watch "Sons of Anarchy," though. And after the show was over, I did turn the TV off, but I'd just had to get out of my head for awhile.

The second day was easier, and each passing day has gotten better and better, and I haven't turned the TV on. I haven't had the depression to escape, but there has been some emptiness. Most of the time, there isn't anybody else around here to talk to except for my dogs. There are a lot of people who live in this house, but they are all adults and have busy lives and usually are not around. So I'd finish washing the dishes in the evening and ... well, then what? Sit on the couch and stare into space? I am tired in the evenings, and usually I would turn on the television AND play candy crush to wind down at the end of the day. So no TV, and no candy crush. Because I am tired, it's not a time I would ordinarily choose for reading, but I have done that. I have done extra Bible studies. Still kind of filling the time, but I am still learning what to do with these empty spaces. Change doesn't happen overnight.

I am still even trying to understand the empty spaces, and the fearfulness they hold. Nouwen says, "Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that leads us to a place we might not want to go. I might not want to hear what God has to say." Is this it? It is absolutely true that in my life God has said things I don't want to hear, through the events in my life. Having lost my daughter, I learned and grew and changed and became someone I would not have been otherwise. There are ways in which I can serve God and serve others that I wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't lost my child. I know we are refined through suffering. It has been a theme in my life, and has become a theme in my Bible studies lately, and as soon as I get a firmer grasp on this I will write about it, but I confess that for many years I was just plain terrified of all that was outside my control. Because of that, I tried as hard as I could to control as much as I could. I was very, very, very careful with my prayers. I could not just open myself up to God. I had to try to control him as well, in order to make certain that I wasn't hurt again, that nobody I loved was hurt again.

It was a long time coming, but I did finally manage to release everything to God's will. It isn't that I have no more fear. It is just that I have learned that being afraid doesn't prevent what we fear. In fact, it more often brings our fears upon us. If you refuse to love because you are afraid of being hurt when you lose the one you love, you have lost them already. It was a struggle, but I did finally reach the point of believing that somehow, even when I can't see it, define it, type it up in neat sentences, all things work together for good. I do believe in God's love. I do believe in his higher purpose, and I want to serve his higher purpose more than I want to keep myself safe. Well, I think so anyway, although yes, there is a bit of a tug in just writing those words, acknowledging to the world what I have previously only committed to before God.

I don't know what lies in these silent, empty spaces to come. If I find out, I will let you know. In the meantime, I will try to let them be what they are meant to be, a time when I can hear from God.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Missing my mother....

I saw a post on Facebook this morning that really touched me. It reads:
At an airport I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her plane's departure and standing near the door, she said to her daughter, "I love you, I wish you enough." She said, "Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom." 
They kissed good-bye and she left.
She walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but she welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?" "
Yes, I have," I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Mom had done for me.Recognizing that her days were limited, I took the time to tell her face to face how much she meant to me.
So I knew what this woman was experiencing."Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?" I asked.
"I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, her next trip back will be for my funeral, " she said.
"When you were saying good-bye I heard you say, 'I wish you enough.' May I ask what that means?" She began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone."
She paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, she smiled even more. "When we said 'I wish you enough,' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them," she continued and then turning toward me she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory.
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Good-bye.."
My mother and me.
Of course, this made me think of my mother, and made me wonder whether I had told her all the things I should have told her, and also made me realize that there just never are enough words to convey those things. They can come only through actions, and even then there are never enough of those. Once it is all over, we can see that the lace of our lives is full of holes we should have woven together better. Never, ever, does there really seem to be "enough."

I remembered my mother's last birthday. I got her two birthday cards. You know sometimes you cannot find a good card anywhere, but that year I found two that each expressed my sentiments perfectly, so I got them both. My mother cried as she read them. Part of it was I'm sure just that the sentiments were so pertinent to our relationship that they touched her deeply. I don't remember all of what they said, but I know there was a reference to leaving the light on for a child who has not come home yet, and I remember I wrote that my mother had done even more than that. She had always waited up for me, had never once gone to bed and gone to sleep while I was still out and expected home.  We didn't have cell phones, texts, or a Find Your Friends app, and she could not sleep if she didn't know that I was safe.

I wondered also if it was because she knew that this was her last birthday, that she would be leaving me soon. I know she worried about this a lot, about leaving me alone. She had even tried to set me up with surrogate mothers, although I flat out rejected that idea. I honestly had an inkling, as I purchased those two cards, that I had to get them both now because there wouldn't be another chance. But it was something we could not acknowledge. Less than a week after that birthday, we moved my mother into a new home. She'd been unhappy in the independent living place she was in. She'd been given a hard time by the other occupants when she had used her electric wheelchair to get to the dining room. It was an entirely too independent and judgmental bunch. She was not able to live with us because of the stairs to get in and out of the house, and because she really didn't want to. So we found her a little apartment which was right next to my youngest daughter's school. I thought it would be really good for both of them for her to go to her Nana's after school and hang out. But within three days of moving in, she was in the hospital, and within three days of that she had died.

It was not unexpected. She had emphysema and it had been growing worse. I'd taken her to a checkup not too long before with her pulmonary specialist, though, and he'd said basically, "Okay, that's fine. Make an appointment to come back in six months." When I ran into him in the hospital he said that he had known she wouldn't make that next appointment. So why didn't he tell me, if not her? I'd gently inquired previously about how long he thought she'd have, because if I'd known the time was so short I'd have taken a leave of absence from work to spend that time caring for her, instead of just a couple of evenings and weekends during the week. After she'd been admitted that final time, THEN he offered to authorize a family leave for me. It was way too late for that, but he still just didn't seem able to tell the truth.

But neither could we. My mother had proven sturdier than we'd imagined she could be. A year earlier we had really thought we were going to lose her when she fell and punctured a lung, a devastating injury to someone with advanced emphysema. But she pulled through that. On the day that she died, my husband came and sat with me for awhile in her hospital room, and he said, "You just wait. In a week you will be taking your mom out to lunch on Sundays again." And even though her primary care physician had pretty much told me that this was it, I half believed that myself. More to the point, my mother had now acknowledged that it was the end. Do we know when we are dying, I wonder? I'd asked her, that first day, "Are you going to pull through this and get better?" and she'd said, "Yes. Yes, I am." Did she not know? Was she denying? Or was she trying to spare my feelings? Because all in all, denying the fact that she was dying up until the moment she stopped breathing robbed me of the chance to really say goodbye.

I mean, I did in a way. On that last day I held her hand and told her that I didn't want her to suffer anymore, than she could leave if she was ready, that she didn't need to worry about me because I would always have her with me in my heart. And she did, within minutes. I went and sat down in my chair and a few minutes later I noticed that something had changed. It was quiet. My mother had stopped breathing.

Forgive me, because I know I've told this story before in various places, but it just keeps coming up again. It's one of those life changing moments that keeps coming back, that keeps whispering to you, that perhaps there are things you haven't learned yet from it. One thing is that people need to be able to say goodbye. If we know, it is better to acknowledge it and be able to say goodbye, than to live with a lingering denial that ends the chance.

So many regrets, for so many things left unsaid or undone in our lives together. Don't waste moments, because one day you will long to have them back.

I do have to add a God story here, though, just solely for the purpose of irritating my youngest daughter.  :) <3  One year before my mother died, as I mentioned, she had an accident. She fell in her living room, tripped over the oxygen tubes, fracturing a rib and puncturing a lung. There were some other odd things going on with her at the time as well, a kind of a mini-psychosis that apparently was due to an imbalance of minerals. At the time this happened, I was at the end of a long fall from faith. Yes, I've had a couple but this had been the longest, lasting from a year after Michaela was kidnapped to 2003. My mother's condition was the one thing that had driven me to pray, and when I prayed I had no doubts about to whom I was speaking. I told God that I realized we hadn't talked for a long time, but asked him to please hear me, and please heal my mother. I didn't promise that I'd return and follow him if he did, but I did say that if he was willing to listen to me then I'd be willing to listen to him if there was anything he wanted to tell me.

Well, he did heal my mother. And although I went on to forget about my prayer, he didn't, and he took me up on that offer to let him talk to me. It was gentle, quiet, but relentless, and finally I gave in and gave my life back to him. It was a beautiful, fruitful period, and best of all, in that last year of my mother's life I was able to share the Lord with her as I'd never been able to before. She actually died exactly one year to the day from the date of that accident. Not a coincidence, I don't believe. I believe it was God's way of confirming that the extra time I'd had with my mother had been a gift from him, a gift of exactly one year.

It will be my mother's birthday in a couple of weeks, on September 27th. She would have been 87 years old. October 10th will be the tenth anniversary of her death. I miss her deeply, but she is in my heart always, and I know I will see her again.

Don't waste moments with those you love. Go, right now, give someone a kiss, give them a hug, tell the how much you love them and how much they mean to you. Don't waste any precious moments in anger or frustration. Live your life in love. Make sure it's "enough."