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Monday, March 5, 2018

Legacy of the Stool

When we moved to Colorado, 7 ½ years ago, it enabled my Dad to come visit from Kansas and spend time with us, especially over holidays.  He was 86 at the time and already unable to negotiate stairs. We set him up on the main floor of our home with a hide-a-bed couch and his own bathroom nearby.  We bought an adjustable stool for the shower, the kind you get at a medical supply store.  It allowed him, and us, to care for him better when he stayed more than a weekend.  His trips grew less frequent with time, as his desire to travel faded.
 We made trips to Kansas more often so we could see him.  He loved seeing us, especially if he didn’t have to travel to do so.  I probably enjoyed most seeing him interact with Emma, our daughter, his granddaughter. Every trip was a reminder of how blessed we were that Dad lived long enough to watch Emma grow into such a beautiful, loving, funny young lady.  We were doubly blessed that Emma got to know Grandpa Jack and his love and unique sense of humor. It was indeed a bonus that he got to meet our foster sons, Branden and Henry.  Branden, not quite a year old, sat contentedly on Dad’s lap the first time they met.  There were a few more visits over the next several months.  Branden was growing more and more independent as Dad grew more and more dependent.  Four days after one such visit, the phone call came that Dad was gone.  We returned to Kansas right away to celebrate Dad’s life and say our earthly goodbyes.
          The white stool, however, remains in the main floor bathroom, no longer needed in the shower, but put to good use just the same.  Two months after Dad’s death, Branden’s adoption was finalized.  So thankful that Dad and Branden got to know each other a bit and we have photos of them together.  Branden has repurposed the stool as his own.  It allows him to wash his hands at the bathroom sink without any help. A simple, white, plastic stool has become a touchpoint for a grandson to his grandfather, as the grandson continues his journey to manhood, totally unaware of the legacy it symbolizes, at least for now.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Loving Memory of Debbie Wright (January 16,1959-March 3, 2015)

Here is what I shared at Debbie's memorial service on 3/28/15 at Salinas Valley Community Church.

I almost can't remember a time that Debbie wasn't my friend. We met in December 1989 when the Army assigned me to Fort Ord. We were in the same home group from our church, Emmanuel Fellowship. If you are in the military very long, you move a lot. And you learn as you move that people in your life handle the moving, and the goodbyes that come with it, very differently. Some people always keep you at arm's length, preferring not to get close so it won't be hard to say goodbye when you leave. Some people let you in for a while and then begin slowly pulling away the closer it gets to your departure. Some let you in and then let go of you gradually after you have left. And there are those precious few who let you in and never let go - they remain lifelong friends. Debbie is one of those precious few. She held me in her heart through numerous moves and life changes.  Every time we talked or saw each other, we just seemed to pick up where we left off.

 In the first few months we were friends, Debbie was a job coach for developmentally delayed adults. I am convinced her sense of humor saw her through some tough work days. Ever the storyteller, Debbie would often have us rolling with laughter as she recounted a days' adventures and misadventures. I remember one particular story about a landscaping crew that got carried away with a lawnmower, maybe too close to a flower bed or something like that. The specifics seem a bit hazy now, but I will always remember Debbie's characteristic and humorous take on it: "Things grow back". That became our standard response to everything from yard work gone amok to a bad haircut.

 The last two years I was stationed at Fort Ord, Debbie and I shared a townhouse in Marina. It was a wonderful time filled with lots of laughter and great memories. It was not unusual for me to find Debbie caring for and grooming my cocker spaniel, Radar. She would bathe him and then blow dry his hair and he loved it. I think he would have stayed with Debbie rather than move with me if he had been given a choice. Debbie's unique sense of humor made everything better. We had an extremely sensitive smoke alarm in the kitchen. She was the one who found a sign for our kitchen that said "Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off". It was true more times than I care to admit.

 Debbie was always good about clarifying things. Rather helping me clarify things, and be more precise in my communication, as well as keeping me accountable. I would usually call her to let her know I was on my way home at the end of the work day. The jobs I held at Fort Ord were fairly demanding, which also made my schedule somewhat unpredictable. I remember one evening, probably in the first two weeks we were roommates, I called to tell her I would be home soon. Before I could hang up, Debbie said, "Wait. When you say soon, does that mean like five minutes or maybe an hour"? Whether it was something as simple as when I would actually be home for dinner or more important things like the condition of my heart or my relationship with the Lord, Debbie was the faithful friend who personified the "iron sharpens iron" friend in the Bible. I can't begin to measure the profound and lasting influence she was on me.

From my view, Debbie was one of those people who was always growing and exploring life, content in many ways, but never complacent. I was so proud of her when she decided to go back to school and become a teacher. She inspired me to go back to school, as well, and complete a counseling degree. I have no doubt she was an awesome teacher because Debbie always fully invested herself in every undertaking. If it was worth doing, it was worth doing well.

 Debbie and I both deeply desired to be mothers. Many years after I moved away from California and was stationed in Oklahoma, I completed the training and certification process to adopt. I was in the process of adopting Lacey, in Spring of 2002. Debbie was the one person who sent me a Mother's Day card that year. And although that adoption fell through, as well as another a year later, Debbie and I had countless conversations about our motherhood hopes and dreams.

I was so pleased when Debbie and Haley found each other. They blessed me deeply when they made the trip to Colorado for my wedding ten years ago. It was wonderful to meet Haley and see Debbie being a Mom. Debbie and I had countless more conversations about the realities of motherhood as we walked that path over the last few years. In fact, our last phone conversation was while I shopped in Target with my 6 year old daughter, Emma, for one of her friend's birthdays. Emma knew I probably was not going to buy her anything, but she still felt the need to point out everything she liked for herself as we cruised the aisles. When this happens, a fifteen minute trip easily turns into an hour long excursion. As usual, Debbie rolled with the conversation, and we laughed about why anyone would take one child shopping, let alone more, if they didn't have to do it.

 The last time I saw Debbie was last June. My family and I traveled to California to see family and to spend some time with Debbie. My husband, John, hadn't seen Debbie since our wedding and Emma had never met her. It was important to me that they both know Debbie better and for themselves, rather than just through me. We had a wonderful visit with time to talk as well as see some sights. Debbie was filling out paperwork for a dermatology visit while we were here. She came to a question "What is your general state of health?". She kind of chuckled and said, "What should I say, "I am in great health except for metatastic colon cancer?" Debbie was never one to shy away from tough conversations. We talked about her bucket list and numerous things related to the cancer and the outlook and her concerns. Debbie summarized it by saying, "I don't see it as dying with cancer, but rather living with cancer". John and Emma got to know and love Debbie for themselves. I couldn't ask for more from our trip. She made such an impression on Emma, that when I called to say goodbye to Debbie, in the hospital and already in a coma, Emma insisted on saying goodbye as well as telling Debbie that she loved her.

Most, if not all, of us knew, barring a miracle, that this day, today, this gathering, was coming. We are fortunate that we had warning, that we had some time, that we could say the things we wanted to say and do the things we wanted to do. But this day still came too fast, too soon - much sooner than I was ready for. I still can't imagine life in a world without Debbie. I keep halfway expecting her to walk in and ask what is going on and join in.

But Debbie's hope is our hope - life everlasting in the presence of God. We will see each other again. I may not be able to tell Debbie exactly when I will be "home" and I think Debbie will understand my lack of precision in this case, but I know that day will come for me at exactly the right time, in God's timing, just like it did for Debbie. What a reunion and celebration it will be!

Debbie is already enjoying the reward of a life well lived. She has left an amazing legacy of loved ones and friends. Just look around you. Her laugh, her love, her life, will live on in each of us and others whose lives we touch. "She fought the good fight, she finished her race, and she kept the faith." May we always remember her as we strive to do the same.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Learning to Breathe Again

My precious daughter, Emma, my only child, started kindergarten a few days ago. The school we have chosen for her is about 25 minutes away, when traffic cooperates. She attended Preschool at the same school the past year and a half, but for the most part I drove everyday she had school and then kept myself busy for the three hours she was in school. We were fortunate to connect with another family, living less than a half mile from us, who make the same drive. We began driving together about once a week last year, in anticipation of truly carpooling this year.

 After driving/riding together the first few days of school, carpooling for real began this week. The first day I didn't drive, I felt a little lost. I definitely missed my daughter, but I am so sure she is in good hands, both on the drive and with her teacher, and I know this is the very best for her. I am never without a "to do" list and used the time productively, but I had this unexpected feeling of breathing deeply and freely for maybe the first time since my daughter's birth. It sounds crazy, but it is the best description I can come up with. I worked at tasks at my own pace, with a focus I just don't usually have when my daughter is nearby. It seems like, most of the time, when we are together, at least half my brain is processing where she is, what she is doing, what she might need and working at not feeling guilty because I am doing something other than giving her my full time and attention.

This was so different than that. It felt odd and wonderful at the same time. It reenergized me and replenished me in ways I had not expected. I was so excited and ready to see Emma when she got home. I had more time and the desire to focus solely on her for a while. I feel like I was able to be more fully present, not just with Emma, but in a variety of situations I encountered over the next couple of days. I wish I had learned to breathe again - more deeply, more fully - before now, but for whatever reasons, I did not, at least not with this level of awareness. Now that I have experienced it, I look forward to it. I am determined to revel in it and use these times to become a better mom, wife, sister, friend and person. Really breathing again, ahh.... Who knows what this season may bring. Whatever it is, I feel like I will embrace it and have the energy and the stamina to embrace it with abandon. Oh oxygen, how I have missed you.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Five Minute Friday - Azimuth Check

Lost - That is how I have been feeling lately - adrift, directionless, getting through the days, one by one, but lacking intentionality.  My years in the military provide me a wealth of experiences and resources to draw from - an in this case I knew what I needed as an azimuth check.

When finding your way on land with a compass and map, you determine your route with two factors, direction, and distance.  The direction is expressed in degrees, which you then convert to an azimuth on your compass. So for example you may determine you need to go 500 meters at an azimuth of 240 degrees. You then pick some key feature or landmark on that azimuth and set out, keeping track of your distance by counting your steps and applying what you know your step measures.

If you try to go the entire 500 meters, without verifying your location along the way, you are likely to miss your goal.  So you do an azimuth check, or checks, along the way, to ensure you reach your desired location.  One degree wrong at 10 meters makes little difference.  But one degree wrong over 500 meters and you end up in the wrong place.

So it is with my life.  Every so often I need to do an azimuth check to make sure I am still on course  for the life I believe God has called me. In my recent azimuth check, I realized one of the things I have not been doing, that I feel is central to the life God has for me, is writing.  So here I am again, after way too long, sharing my thoughts through the written word.  It is baby step, but at least I am on the correct azimuth.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Racquetball and Motherhood

Racquetball and Motherhood - they seem at first to be an unlikely pairing.  However, there are many more parallels than I would like to admit.  I usually play racquetball twice a week with a group of men, all of whom are better players than me.  I feel out of my league motherhood wise at least twice a week, if not more often.  Most days, I play racquetball hard, give it my all, and still lose.  Every once in a while, I win, usually in doubles, every now and then in cutthroat (3 players) and very seldom in singles.  When it comes to mother hood, every once in a while. I feel like I have a great mommy day, where I gave it my all, my emotions didn't rule me and I was successful in handling Emma's unexpected behavior.  I win more often in parenting doubles as well.  John brings the balance and sense of perspective that  I often lack.  Three player parenting is where we have the most success - remembering to include God in the everydayness of our lives - the mundane and the miraculous.

Every once in a while, on a really bad racquetball day, where nothing goes right, it brings me face to face with my very worst self.  My inner voice tells me to quit, I am stupid (among other things), and I am wasting everyone's time by playing.  I plunge into a downward emotional spiral that easily bleeds over into other areas of my life.  I recognize that voice, but can't always silence it.  I am certain it stems from building my self esteem at an early age from performance, both athletically and academically.  On my worst mommy days, that inner voice would have me believe I am failing miserably, that Emma deserves so much more than I have to offer and so does John, for that matter.

I could walk away from racquetball and at least avoid the confrontations with my very worst self, but it wouldn't really solve anything, just remove the outward circumstance that reveals a soul still so in need of changing, maturing and growing in my dependence on the Lord.  Walking away from motherhood isn't an option.  Even on my worst days I take great comfort  in knowing God knew these days were coming and He still chose me to be Emma's mommy - me - flawed, broken, incomplete, imperfect me. And I do trust Him, even when I don't trust me.

Better days always come, both in racquetball and mothering, when my perspective is right and I am able to enjoy the journey and not worry about keeping score.  I realize anew my identity is Christ, not my performance, whether it be racquetball or motherhood, or a number of other things that I somehow try to use to measure my worth.  I have worth, eternal worth, for one reason alone: because God loves me.  That's it - He loves me.  I can't add to it or take away from it - just learn to accept it and revel in it.  He loves me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Grandad's Lap

another poem from years gone by that touches on the substance of part of our discussion in Weds night Bible Study.

Grandad’s Lap

one of the best memories
that i hold
is as a three year old
climbing up on Grandad’s lap
while he sat in the rocking chair

he’d wrap me up
in my favorite beach towel –
the pink one with the seahorses on it –
and we’d rock

i don’t remember
whether we talked or not -
it really isn’t important

what i do remember
is the security and love
and well being with the world
i felt
as i sat there
with my Grandad
and we rocked

even now
it’s that picture in my mind
sustaining me
as i bring my hurts
as well as my joys
to You
and climb up on Your lap
and from that perspective
learn what real security
and love are

© 1978 kathy jo schramm