Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"I Love You Too"

I have been sitting in front of my computer for over five hours now, trying to decide what to write. There is a lump in my throat and there are tears welling up in the corners of my eyes as I reflect back on my visit to Pennsylvania four weeks ago. I went back with my parents to see my two grandmothers and my aunt and uncle and some cousins. I was looking forward to the trip and thoroughly enjoyed playing games and spending time with everyone.

But there were some difficult moments too. A year ago it became necessary to place my grandma in a care facility. She has advanced Alzheimer's as well as a number of physical health issues that made it unsafe for her to remain at home with my aunt and her family. It was a difficult decision for everyone, but grandma's condition was really declining rapidly. I had not seen my grandma since       
July 4, 2014. When I last saw her, she was able to go to a picnic with us in her wheelchair, and sit and visit with me. She did not remember what we were talking about, but she was able to participate in the conversation and laugh and smile. Grandma has changed so much.

The first time I went to see her she was lying in her bed on her back, sound asleep. When I had come around the corner and first laid eyes on her, I stopped suddenly, as the sight of her frail body took my breath away. Her mouth had fallen open and her eyes were fluttering behind her paper thin eyelids. She was breathing deeply and evenly. Her skin was cool and clammy to the touch. I took the back of my hand and gently brushed a wisp of snow white hair away from her brow and bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead. I'm not even sure if she knew I was there.

I went back to see her the next afternoon, as they called from the care facility and said that she was awake and up in her chair. When we got there, we found her up in her recliner, leaning over to the right, and yelling. I pulled up a chair in  front of her and said hello. The only response that I got from my grandma was yelling "Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh". I tried asking if she was hurting. I tried propping a pillow behind her back. I tried rubbing her arm. My cousin tried singing to her. It was just tearing me apart. Finally, it was time for us to leave. I got up from my chair and went over and knelt in  front of grandma and took her hands in mine one last time and said to her "It's Kristen. I came from Indiana to see you. I love you very much!" And in a quiet voice, my grandma said "I love you too."  Maybe there was a brief connection there with her, maybe not. Whether she remembers it or not is not what matters. I remember it, and I remember her. And that's why I was there, hard as it was for me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I am A Okay!

This past weekend, I had the privilege to be present at the wedding of my brother Jason to his partner Calvin. It was a beautiful ceremony and I was touched by the love these two men have for each other. I was inspired by their ability to be true to themselves and to each other, without apologies and without shame. They both have an amazing group of friends who were there to support them and celebrate in their happiness.

After the reception, on the way home, my sister and my mom said that I would be next to find someone to share my life with. Several times, I said that I was not interested. I am truly okay being single. It seemed like that was hard for them to understand. Back in 1996 I came out to my family as a lesbian. On the rare occasion that I have found myself attracted to someone, it was always a woman. So I believed that that was who I was. However, over the years, my understanding of myself has deepened and I have come to accept that my truth is that I am asexual. I mentioned that to a therapist about 8 years ago only to be told that there was no such thing. So, I doubted myself and questioned myself about whether I really knew anything about who I was as a person and where I would fit in, needlessly, for several years. Asexuality is misunderstood by many but it is a sexual orientation just as much as anything else that falls along the spectrum of human sexuality. I am not a deviant. I am not lacking. I am not less than. I am not afraid of sex. I am simply not interested. And that is okay.

I have decided to be open about my sexuality so that others may know that they are not alone. I do not k now very many people who identify as asexual, which at times has left me feeling very alone. But, no more. I am no longer going to deny who I am out of the fear of being misunderstood, out of the fear of being judged. I have always admired my brother for being able to be himself and I am choosing now to follow his example and to stand in my own truth. My life is rich and full and I enjoy my own company. I have a lot of friends who share in my life and whom I love dearly. I do not have to be partnered up to feel fulfilled. I am single and I live with my two kitties and I am A okay just the way I am!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Sweetest Sound

If you were to ask my father, he would readily admit that he cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Throughout his career as a United Methodist minister, he would cut the mic when it was time to sing the hymns. But that never stopped him from singing. Because he was always up in front of the sanctuary, I never really got to hear the sound of his voice. I only knew the sound of my daddy singing "Happy Birthday" to me, or making up some silly lullaby or song when we were traveling from Indiana to Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents when I was growing up. And, well, that sound was, how can I put this, unusual! His rhymes didn't always rhyme and his words were usually made up as he went along, but he always seemed to be able to make me smile.

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing beside my father in church and I could hear him singing the words to "Amazing Grace" and I was moved to tears. My dad did not have an angelic voice. He did not sing in key. It was pitchy and off rhythm. But it was perhaps the sweetest sound that I have ever heard. I heard a faith that is unwavering. I heard acceptance and surrender. I heard hope. I heard love. I could not have loved my father any more than I did at that very moment. I only wish that I had had the courage to tell him so.

I have been truly blessed to have a father who is loving, compassionate, understanding, accepting, and forgiving. I have been through some pretty significant struggles over the past 25 years and never have I felt alone or abandoned by my father. He has given when he may not have felt like he had much to give without hesitation. And he has never stopped believing in me. I could not have asked for a better man to call my dad!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Breakfast With My Grandma

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled back to Seneca, Pennsylvania with my parents to visit family. After a harrowing drive in the snow "over the river and through the woods", we arrived on Tuesday evening to my aunt's house where my aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother live. By Thanksgiving morning, there was 34 inches of snow nestled there in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains.

On Wednesday, I offered to sit and have breakfast with my grandma while my aunt went upstairs to get ready for the day. You see, grandma has Alzheimer's. My job was to make sure that she finished her breakfast and took her pills. As we sat there looking out at the snow, my grandma would drift off and say "I'm so lost". I would gently remind her that she was home and suggested that maybe she felt a little lost since she had just recently spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. She would nod and say that maybe I was right and then once again, she'd say "I'm so lost".

I kept prodding her to finish her Raisin Bran so that she could take her pills. We sat at the table together, looking out the bay window in the kitchen at the beautiful snow outside. She asked me when I had arrived and what day it was, and I told her that it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I told her that I had come with my parents from Indiana to visit and spend the holiday with her. We repeated that conversation about a dozen times over a ten minute period. Occasionally grandma would remark that her memory was not as good as it used to be. And then she said it. She reached out and put her hand on mine and said "Sometimes I just close my eyes and say 'Bring Audine back'". I placed my right hand on top of hers and felt tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I turned toward the window and thought "Me too." In that moment, I realized that my grandma has some awareness, albeit limited, that she is not the same as she used to be. Her memory continues to slip away. Grandma may feel lost. But people do not consist of memory alone. She cannot follow directions very well anymore. She cannot sit and play cards with us, as she always loved to do. But she is still my grandma. Her smile still warms my heart. Her hugs still embrace me with love. She still remembers my name. She could still recognize the beauty of a doe emerging from the woods, looking for a bite to eat on a cold, wintry morning. I can't "bring Audine back". But I can meet her where she is with open arms and loving acceptance, and help to keep her memory alive with her help, hand in hand.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

At a Loss for Words

This past week has been very difficult for my family. My sister-in-law's mother died unexpectedly on July 1, after just being diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks ago. I found myself at a loss for words to convey how I was feeling when I heard the news. Almost immediately, I began to worry that I would say the "wrong" thing, that I would not be able to express myself in a way that would show compassion in the midst of  my sister-in-law's loss. I knew that I could not imagine what she was going through. I am blessed to have both of my parents healthy and still living.

I have always been better able to deal with facts than with feelings. I'd much rather stick to intellectual  knowledge, logic, proof, anything concrete that I can touch, see and hear. I am much more equipped to deal with physical pain rather than emotional pain. That viewpoint was at times helpful when I was still working in the health care field, but I have since learned that that viewpoint does not serve me well when it comes to my day to day interactions with others.

Now, I can see that my ability to identify my feelings, and to allow myself to experience my emotions without trying to run away from them, has changed. I am learning to sit within the silence and stillness, in God's presence, even if it feels uncomfortable. After the family viewing time passed, I went out into the lobby of the funeral home and watched people as they came in to pay their respects. I was still trying to figure out what I should say to "make it all better" because that is what I tend to want to do. I wanted to fix something that cannot be fixed and I felt helpless as I sat with my two nephews, ages 5 and 7,  trying my best to answer their questions in a way they might be able to understand. It broke me heart to see them crying, knowing that they will not have Grammy here to laugh and play with them anymore. As the visitation period was ending and I took my seat in the funeral parlor for the service, I was still racking my brain for what to say. I sat there, listening and praying for God's guidance and about halfway through the service it came to me. In my mind, I could hear my good friends gently reminding me to "keep it simple" and "put it in God's hands". The service came to a close and as I went up to the casket one last time to pay my final respects, I looked over at my sister-in-law, my brother and my two nephews, I wrapped my arms around them and simply said "I love you". I don't believe that any big, fancy words could have expressed my emotions or the compassion that I felt for them any better than uttering those three simple words, words which came from my heart rather than from my mind. If I continue to seek out God's guidance in whatever I am facing, I will not find myself at a loss for words.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God is ready to listen. Am I?

I met with a friend the other day for a cup of coffee and some conversation and an interesting topic came up. We were wondering why we seem to wait until we are in great pain before seeking out God's guidance in life circumstances rather than turning to God before we reach the breaking point. I know that I've thought about that before. I have even made "pledges" with God that I will do better, be more faithful and trusting, and spend more time listening for His guidance rather than telling Him what I think I need or want to be done in a particular circumstance. I have discovered that my ways never seem to work. And yet I keep practicing the same old behavior, expecting different results each and every time I turn to God. Knowing that in my head did not lead me to understanding that in my heart, even though on those rare occasions in which I did turn to God first, I got some peace of mind that allowed me to deal with my life circumstances.

It has only been within the last six months or so that I have made some changes in the way I put my faith into practice. I have developed the habit of spending some time alone with God in prayer and meditation in the morning before I leave for the day. I share with God whatever is on my mind. I ask for Him to guide my thoughts and actions throughout the day and to show me how to be compassionate and helpful to others. And then I do something that is not usually in my general nature - I take time to listen for God's voice. I slow down my mind and open my heart and simply sit in God's presence. I have discovered that when I make the time to do this, my days are happier. I enjoy being in the company of others. My problems do not weigh me down and render me immobile or leave me paralyzed by fear. I see and take advantage of opportunities to help others. I feel a sense of contentment and peace within myself. I take better care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. It makes me a better person. At the end of the day I take the time to thank God for the gift of another day and for all of the blessings in my life. I keep a handwritten gratitude journal to record the many things that bring me a sense of joy because I find that having tangible evidence in front of me allows me to look back and see all that I have been given, and it reminds me that life is indeed good, even on those days where I can hardly think of a single thing to write down.

Do I do this perfectly? Do I do this every single day? No, I don't. There are mornings where I oversleep and have to go running out the door for an appointment. There are days where I am sick and barely have the energy to get up and go to the bathroom. There are days where I am simply being stubborn and do not take the time to be with God. There are days that I am angry or sad or afraid that God will see something in me that I do not want Him to see. That being said, I have found that with just a little bit of effort on my part, I can and do have time for God, and each time I sit down in quiet prayer and meditation, I feel a sense of  inner strength that allows me to continue to learn and grow in faith. For me, it is a matter of priority - spending 15 minutes of quiet time or laying in bed for an extra 15 minutes? I think I'll stick with what helps me along my spiritual path rather than skipping out on God and waiting until my pain is so great that I am grasping at straws and looking for anything and everything to bring me some sort of immediate relief, regardless if that is helpful or harmful to me. I believe that God is there to help me in my times of need. I also believe that He wants to share in my times of joy. He is always there to listen. Am I willing to let Him?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrating Christmas

It seems like as I've grown older, the time to start celebrating Christmas has come earlier each year. Santa Claus arrived at our local mall on November 10 so I guess it must be time to start celebrating Christmas, yes? The past couple of days have gifted us with milder weather and temperatures in the low 60s. As I drive across town from my parent's house to my apartment, I have noticed that many people have their Christmas decorations out already. The lights, the wreaths, inflatable Santas and reindeer and snowmen, penguins wearing colorful hats and scarves, and an occasional manger scene adorn the front yards of many homes. Perhaps people were taking advantage of the warmer weather to get their decorations out. It makes sense. It's pretty hard to drive a plastic candy cane into the ground after it has frozen without using a sledgehammer and then you risk shattering the candy cane!

But it's only November 12! As Halloween was preparing to end, the Christmas stock was being rolled out onto the shelves at the stores. Even the Thanksgiving decorations are already on clearance sale! The commercials for the chocolate diamond jewelry from Jared's and the newest Lexus models are on, showing us the "perfect" gifts to give to the ones we love. I hate those ads because I allow them to make me feel inferior for not having the money to buy a new Lexus for my father (even if he doesn't want one). I'm much more comfortable with the Old Navy ads for $5.00 sweaters.  I find that for myself, all of this "preseason commercial push" seems to distract me from what I believe is the true meaning of Christmas, a product  of my lifelong faith, the birth of Christ. The more I allow myself to get swept up in the ribbons and bows, bright lights and sparkles, the greater the chance that I will miss the the meaning of the manger celebrated with the dim glow of a candle being raised above my head during the final verse of Silent Night in church on Christmas Eve.

Now don't get me wrong. I like to give and receive gifts at Christmas. Even though I am 42 years old, I am still the first one to the tree on Christmas morning. (In fact, last year I drove over to my parent's house before the sunrise, let myself in through the garage using my assigned security code, and sat in a chair, next to the tree, for 2 hours waiting for someone else to get up. You should have seen the surprised look on my father's face when he came out of his bedroom to find me already in his house, ready to open presents!)  But in the midst of all of that excitement and celebration, laughter and fun, I will pause to give thanks to God for the greatest gift of all. And however you celebrate and recognize the holiday, I wish you joy and peace and love.