Category Archives: Healthy Relationships

Loss

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This December, I have been juggling two emotions: one of happy expectation for Christmas and the new year, of celebrations with friends and family, of worshiping the newborn King in word and deed, and in beginnings, and hope for hard and rewarding work in the coming seasons.

The other emotion is grief and the process of handling memories. My mother passed away on Thanksgiving, just a few weeks away from her ninety-fourth birthday

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Jun 21, 1947. My mom and dad, flanked by Jay and Frances Reed, mom’s parents.

 

It is a bitter-sweet process. Just last week I stood at my mother’s open casket and grieved over words left unsaid. I grieved over the relationship we should have had. But I thank the Lord that I was able to say many times this year, “I love you, Mother.”

And I was able to place my hand on hers and whisper, though my sobs, “I forgive you.”

 

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My mother was an irregular person: musically gifted, filled with passion, ambitious for her children, but lacking a filter on her mouth or the ability to empathize. Her words could be a balm at surprising times. But all too often, her words cut and bludgeoned.

In the last few years, the Lord helped me to see my mother as a hurting soul and to view her with His eyes of compassion.

She wanted the best for us, but she didn’t know how to nurture us with gentleness and affirmation.

She did excel in a couple of things: She read to us each day and stressed the importance of using the English language well.

She taught us piano and made sure our practice was perfect. I am eternally grateful that she was an exacting taskmaster, because I have grown into a good pianist, which gave me a marketable skill as a music teacher.

She accompanied me on the piano when I sang all over the San Francisco bay area. I couldn’t have had a more dedicated and musical accompanist than Mother.

Her sensitive and artistic soul influenced us to see beauty in music, in art, in nature, in the human form, in architecture and literature.

Joanne Nicolaisen, my mother. By the grace of God, I am what I am partly because of her. Thank you, Mother, for the good memories. I miss your piano playing. I miss your passion. I miss you terribly.

 

 

A Single Thread

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There’s a wonderful song from the Disney movie, The Prince of Egypt that goes:

“A single thread in a tapestry though its colors brightly shine, can never see its purpose in the pattern of the grand design.”

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I’ve typed out the text to that entire song and pinned it onto my bulletin board in my office. I often refer back to the words, “a single thread,” because it reminds me that there is a much larger work going on in the world that transcends the tracks of my little footprints.

But …

the little part that I  decorate in this tapestry is woven by a Designer who has a purpose.

I am just one person who happens to volunteer each Friday at Whatcom County Pregnancy Clinic. I have no idea whose life I will touch each day as I walk through those doors at nine AM for my four-hour shift. In fact, most of the time it’s the other volunteers and staff and clients who touch me. Their stories  inspire me to keep praying for this wonderful organization, and to keep me coming back week to week.

Recently I met a lovely lady who’d been assigned to me for an Earn While You Learn twelve-week series of meetings. I’ll call her Lora, but that’s not her real name. Lora made it clear in our first meeting that she had no interest in God or any spiritual aspect of the sessions, just wanted to learn all she could about healthy pregnancy, delivery, and how to raise and nurture a young child.

It became clear to me as we talked that Lora was highly intelligent and diligent. She always did her homework assignments and when we watched videos, she was quick to apply the  information presented to her own life and marriage. We did much more that simply watch videos and fill out worksheets. We talked, and discussed, asked and answered questions, and shared information about our past experiences, our educational background, and life goals.

As the weeks flew by, Lora and I began to strongly connect, and we reached a level of trust where I was able to tell her, “I’m praying for you and your baby,” and she said she appreciated it.

One morning, out of the blue, Lora asked, “Are you a volunteer?” Which surprised me because I was pretty sure I’d told her in the first meeting that client/mentors are mainly volunteers. I told her yes.

Lora shook her head in wonder. “You mean you aren’t paid to do this?”

“Nope,”  I answered. “I just love people and want them to have the best start they can when their babies arrive.”

“That’s amazing, ’cause this is a lot of work for you.”

“It’s work, but you make it fun work.”

“And all the baby clothes and diapers and the other stuff in the baby store, who provides them?”

“They’re all donations.”

Lora is a hard-working, independent sort of gal. The kind who made her way through life by dint of a strong will and a good brain. Maybe it seemed strange to her that so many people would give of their time or their resources just so a stranger—not family, not friends, nor associates— could benefit.

I could see the wheels turning. I sure would have loved to see if Lora’s mind concluded that the love for God can indeed translate into a love for people.

On Lora’s twelfth week, we exchanged business cards, exchanged gifts, and gave each other a heart-felt hug.

I haven’t heard from Lora in the last few weeks, but I pray for her still. In some small way that I can’t see, the “grand design” was for me to meet Lora, connect with her, and show her how much I care for her.

Who knows, maybe my “single thread in a tapestry,” will be woven with other ‘threads’ in Lora’s life, leading her to seek out more people who are God-lovers and people-lovers.

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It’s All Connected

A few months ago I put out a call on social media for anyone interested in reading my newest release, Haven’s Hope. One of those who responded was a lovely gal named Katie. Katie wrote a review for my book and posted it on Amazon. Thank you, Katie.

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Then Katie asked if I happened to know any people who had gone on short term missions or any missionaries who had ever hosted short-term missionaries. She wants to write a book on the subject. It could be any missionary, going anywhere in the world. I said I thought I could do some asking and perhaps gather some names and email addresses.

 

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So, a couple of weeks went by during which I contacted some folks at my church who were able to supply me with email addresses I could give to Katie.

I sent them along, and she thanked me.

Yesterday, Katie sent me a very nice thank you note, letting me know that my one email address plus two additional names netted even more interviews than she’d hope for. Katie posted on Facebook some of her interview with the missionary whose address I had supplied, which then came to the attention of an editor of ChristianWritingToday.com. He was willing to give her photos for her book, and tell her about his thirty plus years as a photographer and journalist for short-term missions. And as a bonus, since he’s also a writer, he wants to stay in touch with Katie.

Maybe they’ll one day collaborate on another project.

It always amazes me how all of our lives connect and touch each other in ways only the Master weaver knows. Like like a single dip of an oar in the sea, you never know where your words or actions will ripple.

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Love Needs Memories

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Quinn’s grandpa, my loving husband, Bruce

 

My grandfather was an enterprising, intelligent, successful, and moral man. But Alzheimer’s disease stole all of that when he was only in his mid-sixties.

Once, he took his grandchildren down to the San Francisco financial district and gave us lessons about business and banks (all age appropriate) and people, and manners, and proper deportment. He took us on trips to the ocean, even though he was allergic to the sun, to the zoo, and Golden Gate park, and rowed us on Stowe Lake, and treated us to tea and cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden.

 

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Oh how I loved Granddaddy. He also played duets on the piano with my uncle Harold and sang funny songs from another era. He was a good provider, president of his import/export company, a loving husband, and a good gardener.

But Alzheimer’s gradually robbed him of an articulate tongue, of recent memories, and how to do simple things.

I remember visiting my grandparents when I was about fourteen. One night, my grandmother had put Granddaddy in the other bedroom in a twin bed. He was too restless to sleep in the same bed with Grandmommy. I was sleeping in the other twin bed. Granddaddy kept waking up yelling, “Help, help!”

i got up and tried to soothe him. “What wrong, Granddaddy?” He looked scared, and my grandfather had never been scared of anything.

He finally came to full consciousness and said, “It’s nothing. Don’t listen to me. Go back to sleep.”

Eventually my grandmother had to put him in a nursing home. We went to visit him but he didn’t remember us. Didn’t remember that he ever loved us or that he had done so many grandfatherly things with us. All of that was gone.

The last time I visited him, he was very close to death, was in a hospital, and didn’t have a mind. His emaciated body and sunken eyes shocked me. I think he only weighed about 80 pounds. My granddaddy had once been a robust 170 pounds on an average five foot nine frame.

Mercifully, pneumonia took him. I had just turned sixteen. My aunt June, the wonderful singer, tearfully sang for his funeral.

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A recent memory of a drive with my honey on the Cascade Loop and Diablo Lake

I thought, how terrible to lose your memories. When that happens, you don’t remember that you loved someone, and you don’t know that that woman or man standing over your bed loves you.

Being loved and loving others is the most important thing in the world. But if you don’t have any memories of that person or all that you’ve meant to each other, then you don’t love.

Nearly fifty years later, I’m thinking about my love for Jesus. How grateful I am to have memories of all that He’s done for me, His lovingkindness, faithfulness, His provision, His protection. If I lost those memories of all the times He’s revealed Himself to me, would I still love Him?

Psalm 103 says:

“Let all that I am praise the Lord;

may I never forget the good things He does for me.

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.

He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

He fills my life with good things;

my youth is renewed like the eagles.

 

How grateful I am that I can still remember all these things. I’ve learned not to take memory for granted because I’ve seen how quickly it can be stolen by disease. Yet even though we forget, God will never forget us, or that we are held in His mighty hand. What a comfort!

 

The Problem With Happiness

It’s a funny thing about amusement parks. They should be just about the happiest places on earth.

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But, as anyone who’s ever gone to Disneyland or Disney World, or Great Adventure, or LegoLand, or any other amusement park, there are gallons of tears shed by little tykes at these places.

Why?

I think it has to do with expectations.

Never mind that just being able to get through the entrance gates is a gift: a huge sacrifice for most middle-income parents or grandparents or from whomever is paying the entrance fee. (We shelled out 500 dollars the other day for Bruce and I, our daughter, and our two granddaughters. Not including parking fees and food and souvenirs.)

But kids don’t consider that kind of thing. They’re looking forward to rides and rides and rides, and snacks, and prizes and souvenirs and toys, and on and on.

So  the child enters through those noisy, crowded gates, heart aflutter, stomach buzzing, feet twitching to get to the first ride, any ride, jes-gimme-a-ride ride.

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The line is long for that first ride. It’s not the best ride, but at least it’s the nearest one to the entrance gate. All the other parents are thinking the same thing. So we inch along, slower than the proverbial snail.

At last the moment comes. We crawl into the kid-sized seats and pull the lap bar down firm against our middle-aged paunches.

The ride lasts about ten seconds. I see the look of surprised disappointment on my granddaughter’s face. That’s it? That’s what we waited half an hour for. One loop around, one scream, one dip, and we’re done?

Next, we head for the merry-go-round. That line is pretty long, too. I don’t go on this ride because I want to grab a few photos of the kids as they round the bend. The photos don’t come out too well, but at least the kids enjoyed the three go arounds.

Now they’re asking for a snack, so we head on over to the Asian food. We pay way too much, and the kids hardly touch their food. This is where I hear a kid whining about not being able to ride the roller coaster. A younger child is wailing because he didn’t get whatever. I didn’t want to eavesdrop.

We wait in the long line—there’s always a line— at the rest room. As we exit, I hear two other young kids crying.

My granddaughter is nervous about our next ride. It looks scary. I tell her “no worries ’cause we’re all strapped in and it doesn’t even go that high.”

The line for that ride wasn’t too awfully long maybe because one had to be at least three feet tall to ride. And we didn’t even have to go all the way to the top if we didn’t want to because we are the ones controlling the rope attached to the gears. Why didn’t we go higher up? my granddaughter asks afterward. Because you kept telling me to stop pulling us higher. You don’t like heights. But, after not getting killed on this particular ride, she’s a bit disappointed we didn’t risk going all the way to the top.

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I saw one dad try to get into a particular ride with a way-too-small child. After waiting for half an hour, he got turned away. But I didn’t feel too sorry for him. There was this bar at the entrance that said your child had to be at least this tall, but he must have thought the rule didn’t apply for him and for his child.

The weather is warm and this seems to make kids tired and cranky.

The smaller kids who still need to be wheeled around in strollers are complaining about being strapped into a hot seat. About ninety percent of them—the ones who aren’t asleep—are screaming for freedom.

The mothers have that harassed look you see when they’re about ten seconds away from going postal. They’re annoyed with the dads who aren’t helping with the screamer, even though the dads are carrying the camera, the diaper bag, with one kid on their shoulders and one in tow. (Is everybody happy?)

 

The ride workers have their instruction voices down cold. They’ve said their lines at least 16 billion times this season. They have smile lines etched into their faces like marionettes. I find myself simultaneously laughing and smarting at the thought of their daily grind. They remind me of the elves in Santa’s line in the movies, The Christmas Story.

What a happy place!

Mostly, Bruce and I enjoyed our seven hours of wait-lines and short rides and hot sun and cranky kids. Actually, our grandkids did amazingly well, considering the crowds and lines and exorbitant prices in the stores. I didn’t hear complaints. And I’m pleased with them. I hope they mature to the point that they don’t take the gift of attending an expensive amusement park for granted. I hope they got home and remembered to thank Mom and Dad for giving them such a great vacation instead of simply assuming it’s their due.

I thought a lot about this during those seven hours. How visiting an amusement park illustrates our human condition. We want to be happy, and happy all the time. We have expectations of pleasing ourselves 100 percent of the time. We forget about all the good things we’re getting or have gotten because of that one thing we didn’t get.

Why do we do that? I do that, and I hate than about myself. Each day I need to remind myself that life is not an amusement park. It may have amusement park moments, but these moments are only a part of our individual time-lines.

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I think the happy experience of the amusement park is happiest for those whose daily lives teach them that the expectation of constant happiness is simply not realistic, or even healthy. That this particular happy moment is a gift from God, a joyful handing over to His child a slice in time as a delectable and rare treat to be savored. And then, pleasing God by turning around and saying, “Wow, thanks, Lord. That was fun.”