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Grandma and I back when that outfit was cool!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In keeping with what this holiday embodies for me, the story I wrote after my grandma’s funeral is posted below. Thinking about losing her encourages me to embrace an attitude of thankfulness. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I don’t know how long I’ll have the ones I love. With that perspective, being a blessing and appreciating blessings, becomes more and more important–especially the older I get. Instead of thinking of what or whom I’m grateful for just on Thanksgiving day, I’d like today to be the beginning of naming 365 blessings in my life–one for every day of the year. I will list them all on a page in my blog. Join me in the journey and list your own as well! An attitude of gratitude does amazing things for a dull and dreary life. How much time do I spend wishing and praying for things when I already have more than enough? I’m going to try and refocus all that negative into positive and follow Psalm 69:29-31. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” If you see me dancing around my kitchen to praise music, just look the other way!

Day One: I am thankful for the grandma I still have left!

Grandma Marge and Grandpa Don (miss you Grandpa)

Grieving Grandma

For Grandma Rothgery

Baby blue—an odd color for a casket.

Yet there it sat, next to a mound of fresh dirt, waiting to be lowered into the ground. Constructed of thin wood, the casket was clearly bottom of the line, but there wasn’t much money to put toward the burial. Grandpa needed taking care of. Bills needed to be paid.

Good thing Grandma was on the inside of the casket—otherwise she’d have heart palpitations over her final resting place. I could almost see her beside me searching frantically in the bottom of her purse for a Nitroglycerin.

The graveside service was over—the cemetery empty of the living. Except for me. Everyone else had hustled away, whispering in reverent tones, bundled against the frosty air. Six inches of snow covered the ground. Typical for November in Wisconsin. Wind whipped through the trees, pushing snow into odd-shaped piles of white fluff up against the tombstones. Shivers trailed down my spine and I pulled my collar high. The soft fur on my hood brushed against my face, warming it temporarily.

Twelve carnations in various colors lay on top of the blue casket—one for each member of the family. A son, a daughter, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. My aunt’s way of saying goodbye. Ironic because grandma hated flowers.

Between the coffin and the carnations, two Nitroglycerines were in order. The only thing we did get right was our clothes. Grandma asked us to celebrate her life with bright colors—no black allowed.

I slid my gloved hand across the wood and frowned. We should’ve tried harder to go more traditional—trade up to a conservative brown or black at least. Appearances had mattered to Grandma.

“I miss you.” I laid my check on the cold, coarse casket. “I’m wearing a lavender suit. With matching earrings. And pantyhose.” I glanced at my feet with a grimace. “Okay, so on the way from the church, I traded the heels for boots.” I pulled my hood back as if she could see me. “But I curled my hair with hot rollers.”

I wanted her to say, “I’m sorry for dying and leaving you here.”

But she didn’t.

Her face, the way it had looked the last time I’d seen it—gaunt and strained, flashed through my mind. Watching her die—keeping vigil over each labored breath as her body wasted away and shut down organ by organ—had been the hardest thing. Ever.

I leaned over the casket to rest my icy cheek on top of my hand and let go of all I’d been holding inside. Tears ran down my face, over the glove, and onto the casket.

I cried because no one else but Grandma had ever understood that sometimes I just needed a hug. I cried because no one would make me pistachio salad, without the nuts, and peanut butter balls with them. I cried because Grandma’s pantry would no longer be stocked with Cookie Crisp, powdered sugar donuts, and tomato soup.

“Who’s going to send me cards? And go to lunch on Tuesdays?” For a moment, I was back in her bedroom, stretched out next to her on the tiny twin bed, reading The National Enquirer and watching One Life to Live in closed caption.

Tears froze under my eyes as a gust of wind whipped across my face. “Who’ll notice my haircut? Who’s going to care that I’m still me? Not just Pat’s wife or Kyle and Alek’s mom?”

A half smile pushed through my tears and my eyes opened. “Who’s going to iron Pat’s work pants? They’ll be all wrinkly now.”

The tips of my fingers grew numb, my gloves more stylish than functional. “Remember when you sent those Christmas cookies to my dorm and my roommates ate them and you mailed another batch express mail?”

I moved my toes against my soggy socks—the snow was melting through the faux leather of my boots. I stood there anyway. I couldn’t leave her here. Alone. In the cold.

“I never thanked you for paying for drama lessons that summer when Mom said no.” I rearranged a few of the carnations, separating the colors and forming them into a circle spanning the width of the casket. “Sorry about the flowers.”

I flexed my stiff fingers and rubbed my hands together. It didn’t help.

“Last night I told Julie I was your favorite grandchild. She said, ‘I was Grandma’s favorite, but she asked me not to tell you.’ I laughed so hard I slid off the bed. You told me the same thing and made me promise not to tell. The funny thing is we both believed you.”

The feeling in my toes completely disappeared. I couldn’t stand out here much longer. I’d freeze—or lose an appendage. I wiped my face on the inside of my collar and blew out a long breath. “No one will ever love me like you did.”

My eyes ached, swollen from too many tears, and stung from the cold wind. “I miss you so much already.”

I pushed against the casket. My legs were stiff from squatting so long. Just then, the sun peeked through the clouds and the wind took a momentary hiatus.

“Wait for me—we’ll eat beef stroganoff and strawberry shortcake when I get there.”

The sun warmed my face, drying the tears and soothing the icy burn. I skimmed my hand across the small blue box one last time, arranged the flowers again, until they were just right, and whispered with a sigh, “Good-bye. I love you.”

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Why does God teach me the most valuable lessons at the center of my rawest moments? Whether I’m humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed or aching—those are the times He reveals the deepest truths.

For the fourth year in a row, I attended the annual North Texas Christian Writer’s conference held in mid-September. As usual, the workshops offered impressive teachers and valuable information, but what I took away from the weekend had nothing to do with writing tips. God had a bigger revelation for me—that words, often spoken without thought, can construct and create or damage and destroy.

I wish I could tell you I gleaned this pearl of wisdom from dancing out of the conference on a high. However, God rarely teaches me during a happy moment—maybe because I don’t always listen when I’m confident, secure, and delighted with myself.

Instead, He used a disappointing critique with one of the faculty to illustrate how flippant words do more harm than no words at all. Despite how desperate I am to hit the “rewind” button on the little breakdown I had Saturday morning at the conference—a meltdown large enough to prompt a dash out to my car where I could hide until my mascara stopped running down my face—God moved my heart in a major way. Using humility. I hate that word, almost as much as I hate the word patience. I try not to ask Him for either of those lessons. But He always knows what I need.

Being an artist, any kind of artist, makes for an emotional rollercoaster ride. What we write and paint illustrates the essence of who we are, and when other people don’t love our art, it feels as though they don’t love us.

I’m pretty certain I’m not alone on this rollercoaster. We all hold something close to our heart—our job, hobby, skill, talent, our children, marriage, or friendships. I know that as a mom who strives to build my kids’ character nothing pops my balloon faster than a well-placed dart targeted toward my deficiencies as a parent.

Yes, I want to stretch and grow as a person and a writer. In order to do that, my heart must be teachable. Yet, no matter how willing I am to learn, I still ache when someone criticizes my work or dismisses my effort—constructively or otherwise.

Hard work and perseverance will move me toward my goals. Poorly placed criticism can still be useful. There’s always a small truth that I can take away, but I work so much better with encouragement. None of us was made to walk alone. I Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (NIV). We need each other. Having someone push you up the mountain, in the midst of crippling criticism or personal crisis, makes the difference between falling down and re-energizing for the climb.

I choose to take what I learned at the bottom of the rollercoaster and use it as momentum to scale the rise and take another ride. And when I get to the top? I will remember that meltdown in the parking lot and remind myself that anyone can criticize, but it takes a special person to encourage, and that’s the person I want to be.

I challenge you to carefully consider the words of your mouth. Be an encourager, not a destroyer. Open your mouth and spread the love!

Link to this article in Crosswalk: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/the-power-of-the-tongue.html

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Through the tiny glass oval, I watched ant-size cars enlarge as my plane descended into Milwaukee. My morning coffee puddled in my stomach. Shoulders tight, I pulled my purse from under the seat and waited to deplane.

I questioned my decision to fly to Wisconsin to drive my mom to our family reunion in Ohio. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go—but locking two polar opposites in a Toyota Corolla for a day couldn’t end well. Could Laissez-faire Lori and Calendar Kay make it a day, let alone ten, without killing each other?

My mom picked me up and we switched seats. As we entered the ramp for 90/94, my phone rang.

She reached for it. “Talking and driving kills people.”

Miles later, she glanced at the speedometer. “Are you going eighty-five?”

I peeked at the gauge and lifted my foot. “No, I’m only going seventy-six.”

Halfway to Indiana, a theater sign jutted from the road. I changed lanes. “Want to take a break and see a movie?”

She frowned. “That’s not on our schedule.”

With a sigh, I shot past the exit. “How about a spontaneous latte?”

“Great.” She smiled. “I’ll buy.”

By the time we pulled into the motel parking lot to pick up the room key, my neck ached.

A stack of stained mattresses sat piled next to our room. I grimaced, having already paid online at a site where the hotel remains a mystery until you enter your credit card. Hoping the inside proved better than the outside, we swiped the key and went in.

I yanked off the blue floral comforters. My mom rested on the edge of her bed and held up the corner of the blanket.

Think camel hair. With burn holes.

She chuckled. “Did I tell you the news story about the bed bugs?”

I ripped off my blanket and scoured the white sheet for movement. “Can you see them?”

“Of course not. Otherwise people wouldn’t sleep on them.”

While I continued my sheet inspection, she went to the sink to wash her face. The faucet handle fell off.

I dialed the front desk. A monotone voice informed me we could switch rooms to one double bed or stay here with a broken sink. I thanked her for being so helpful and hung up.

I groaned. “What else is wrong with this room?”

Turned out a lot. The TV outlet protruded from a duct-taped hole in the wall. The towel rack had ripped out of the shower. And the corners of the bathroom floor contained various unknown debris. Each time we found a new disaster, my mom laughed louder.

I stared at the carpet with a frown, pulled on socks and sent my friend Tracy pictures of our motel debacle. She texted me back this song.

My faucet broke and my towel bars missin’
The A/C’s on and the grates are hissin’
Lord, bring me back to Texas!

My mom grabbed the coffee pot off the counter. “I’m making some decaf. Want some?”

“There’s no water.”

“Sure there is.”

Watching her make coffee using faucet water from the tub sent me over the edge and I giggled so hard I fell off the bed. “I’m so not drinking that.”

As laughter escalated to tears rolling down our faces, the tension and stress of the day disappeared. This Broken Inn bonded us, tempered our differences, and pasted a memory into the scrapbook of our lives.

Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine. “He will fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy” (NIV Job 8:21).

Link to this article in the Christian Pulse

http://www.thechristianpulse.com/2011/08/19/broken-inn/

 

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