Next stage of life…

It looks like we’re beginning the next stage of life’s journey with my mother.

She has been failing mentally for a while but still able to live somewhat independently in her assisted living unit. However, this week she has developed pneumonia and ended up in the hospital–and her mental acuity has failed significantly.

If (when) she leaves the hospital, she will not be returning to her unit but–after rehab–will be going into some area of the nursing home portion of where she lives. It is not safe for her to return to the unit she has lived in for the last couple of years–safe mentally or physically.

So…a new stage begins.

When we visit with her, she might begin the conversation sounding lucid, but then we can quickly veer off into a reality that bears no resemblance to where we were in the conversation–or to anything we know. Her short-term memory has been failing for a while–but now her long-term memory is significantly failing and/or getting thoroughly scrambled…or making new ones based on something she might see on TV or a snippet of a conversation she’s heard from someone else.

She still has the art of saying “the right thing” in order to deflect questions she doesn’t know how to answer or has forgotten the answer to. But when we push back, problems often become clearer…as in not being sure just how many children she has (3 of us) or what our names are.

This change is something we have seen coming…but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. She spent so many years as a woman who took significant responsibility for our family as my father traveled a lot…who could write well (although she didn’t always think so)…who enjoyed life…who was more gifted than she thought she was–and now, to see the shell of that woman…to see her blank eyes when she looks at me and isn’t sure who I am…it’s difficult.

But it is part of life.

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At All Costs?

Have we made winning our god? Is winning so important that we will do anything to succeed?

In many ways it seems like it…and that is a tragedy in so many ways.

Whatever happened to the thrill of the competition? to an athlete doing their best, using their natural skills?

Yes, the current Lance Armstrong debacle has precipitated these thoughts, but he is not the only one who has made what I would consider extremely poor choices. One has to only look at the recent sportswriters’ votes for baseball’s Hall of Fame to realize that there are individuals in other sports who have done everything they could to come out as winners.

Maybe in the short term…but not in the long term.

I remember being thrilled to watch Armstrong cycle…when he won his multiple yellow jerseys…when he came back from his bout with cancer to show that nothing could keep him down…

I thought he was one of what seemed to be becoming somewhat of a rarity–a superstar role model who was taking a strong stance against performance-improving drugs and proving that it was possible to win based on good old-fashioned training and innate skills.

Now…

Now I see him as a tragedy. But not just him alone.

We all bear some responsibility. We have elevated winners to such high pedestals that we make it almost impossible for them to have bad days. We’ve put winning at all costs ahead of wise stewardship of our bodies. We’ve said that it’s not so important how you win as it is that you win.

That has to change.

I am fully in support of acknowledging and honoring (clean) winners in athletics and other activities. I also understand that in some situations there can only be one individual who comes out on top.

But I think that there is also significant value in understanding–and practicing–the African concept of ubuntu. Archbishop Tutu defined it this way:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

We are interconnected–and that can be in ways that support and build up…or that tear us down and make us wonder about and suspect each other.

Which way will we choose to live…at all costs?

Can’t Have It Both Ways

As I write this, I don’t know what recommendations Vice President Biden will be making to President Obama about how to deal with our gun/violence crisis. But I’ve been interested in a few comments I’ve heard…and it’s gotten me to thinking.

I know there are many factors that cause someone to decide (rationally or not!) to collect an arsenal of weapons and ammunition in order to kill people. Sometimes mental illness is a definite factor–and we have not done an effective job of (1) learning the signs of significant mental illness, (2) making treatment available for those who need it, and (3) making any kind of treatment available without stigma attached. That’s not my question today.

At the same time, we seem to have a culture of violence in many ways. When I look at many of the popular movies, video games, and TV shows, violence is rampant. Granted, some portray only the amount of violence necessary to show a historical context…some (including a couple I enjoy watching) show a violent scene to set a context but then focus on solving the crime. But there is still a lot of violence in many areas of our society.

So…I read these comments in my newspaper this morning:

  • In recent days, only FX President John Landgraf said he was in favor of further study about any correlation between entertainment and real violence.
  • “I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not sure you can make the leap (that) a show about serial killers has caused the sort of problems with violence in our country,” said Robert Greenblatt, who put “Dexter” on the air when he ran Showtime and is now overseeing development of a series on the notorious creep Hannibal Lecter for NBC.

And my question is this: If we’re not impacted in some way by what we watch, then why is advertising so important for TV shows (including product placement in movies)?

Either what we watch does have an impact on us, or it doesn’t. If it does, then we need to have a serious discussion on what we are making available to our children. (Yes, I know that parents have a significant responsibility in determining what their children watch, but I’m also aware that unless we lock our children away, we can’t completely control what they see or what they hear others talking about.) If it doesn’t, then why do we spend so much time worrying about advertising?

We can’t have it both ways.

Thank God for nurses

As I’ve said before, my mother lives in a nursing home. She is in a semi-independent section, where she has a small apartment with a sink and small refrigerator so that she can prepare her own snacks if she wants, but the meals are provided. It’s a section where there is nursing help, but it is not a nursing floor. We have taken the option of having the nurses give her the medications she needs when she needs them, since she is not able to keep straight what she needs to take when.

It’s been a good move. Many of her friends have been there, and we have been able to relax, knowing that someone is available to help when she needs it (and she did, when she broke her hip).

The longer she is there–and the more we interact with the staff–the happier I am to say “Thank God for nurses!”

The ones on her floor really care for their patients–and they are not just seen as patients. They are also friends…at least, as much as is possible in this kind of a caregiving situation.

They do everything they can to keep them independent, because they know that when they have to move, it’s the beginning of the end.

They are patient–oh, are they patient! As I struggle at times with my own patience (or lack thereof) with my mother–knowing that the constant questioning and lack of memory is nothing she can help–I am thankful for those marvelous nurses who have the ability to respond to each repeated question as though it’s being asked for the first time.

Even more, this week, I have been grateful for their checking up on Mom and making sure that she gets something to eat. She’s taken another spell of not going down to meals–partially because she hasn’t felt well, partially because she has lost a sense of time, and partially because her body doesn’t seem to be sending her hunger signals that she recognizes. And the staff has made sure that a meal has been sent up for her–even though she often doesn’t eat much of it.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll have her…but I do know that the staff has made it possible for her to remain as independent as possible for significantly longer than I thought might happen.

And so…thank God for those men and women who have the patience and the desire to bring ministry to those at the far end of life.

Thank God for nurses!

“This year…”

As we start this new year, I am–to some extent–reminded of a Jewish tradition…that at the end of each Passover, this phrase of longing is said: “Next year in Jerusalem…”

Each new year for the last several years, I have found myself at least internally saying, “This year in my faith home…” and yet I still find myself waiting.

Far too often I hear friends…brothers and sisters in my faith tradition…good people in other traditions…say something like this: “Of course I love you…” or “Yes, I want you to be part of my faith tradition…” or “You have a wonderful ministry to offer…”. Yet there is always something left hanging–a large “but” that usually goes something like “…but you need to change in some way”–and far too often, the change that is required is one that requires an individual to negate part of themselves.

No, I am not a member of the LGBT community–but I am happily married to a wonderful bisexual man who struggled for years, holding that secret even from me, believing that if he shared who he really was, he would not be accepted.

I have a homosexual brother who struggled for years with that secret, trying desperately to change in order to be who he thought he needed to be in order to be accepted…and who finally could no longer live that way. He is now happily married to a wonderful husband.

“The Bible says…” What does it really say?

Yes, there’s a whole section of laws that at one time were required to be followed in order to be a member in good standing. But most of them are not considered applicable today–only a few that are used to require individuals to negate who they find themselves loving. Many of us like a good BLT sandwich…or play football…or wear clothing made of mixed fibers…or like shellfish. Doing that doesn’t put us on the outside. But woe to us if we fall in love with someone of the same sex! All of that is part of the same section of laws–why pick and choose?

Yes, there’s a lot in the Bible dealing with sex in one form or another, but it is based on an understanding of human sexuality that is so different from what we now understand! Our understanding has even changed within the last 200 years, much less the last 2000.

I hear so many references to “Biblical marriage”–but which type of marriage is being referred to? There are at least eight different types of “Biblical marriage”:

biblical-marriage

For many of us who say we are Christians, what did Christ say about issues of sexuality? Not much! If loving someone of the same sex was so wrong, why didn’t he say anything about it? He certainly wasn’t shy about speaking about other issues he felt strongly about.

And so I return to my hope for this year…will this be the year that each of us will be willing to focus on our own relationship with God? to listen to each other? to learn from each other? to say to each other, “Of course you are welcome! Of course you have ministry to offer! Of course I love you!”…and let that be the complete sentence?

I hope so.

For the Last Time…

When I return to work on January 2, 2013, I will be doing many things for the last time.

I spent much of my life as a stay-at-home mother and unpaid assistant to my teacher/principal husband. But since 1999–when my husband retired(!)–I have been working at my denominational headquarters. It has not always been easy. There have been times when reorganizations made it very difficult and–sometimes–made me wonder if I was even in the right place.

But there have been many good times as well. I have made many, many new friends. I have been privileged to do some traveling–mostly in the United States, but still to some places I had not been in a very long time. I have been challenged (and yes, pushed sometimes) to learn new technologies, and this has allowed me to do things I could not have imagined ten years ago. I have had opportunities to play a couple of magnificent organs on a regular basis. I have had opportunity to go back to school to study theology. There are undoubtedly more positive things that I will think about as time goes on.

As in all of life, however, there comes a time for another change…and 2013 brings one for me. I face mandatory retirement–and will have to retire by the end of 2013. When I first became aware of that, I’ll admit I kind of freaked out. That had not been in my plans! The more I have thought about it, though, the more excited I become about other new possibilities. I’ve fulfilled some dreams…but there are others that have been put aside for various reasons through the years. So now…maybe the chance to fulfill them?

will miss the various challenges and responsibilities I have had. I don’t know how (or even if) my position will be replaced–but I know that this next year I will be creating a notebook full of all the things I do so that if/when someone steps in to fill my shoes, they will at least have some ideas of how to start. I’m not going to create the notebook with the expectation that my current job responsibilities will be covered in exactly the same way I do them–but there are so many things that I do that I want to make sure that someone has an idea both of what I do and how those responsibilities need to be filled (or reassigned…or whatever…).

I will also miss the friends and comradeship. There are some individuals I will be continuing to remember in thoughts and prayers because of our close connections–and my concerns about them perhaps having to take on additional responsibilities when they are already swamped.

But I confess…the closer I come to retirement, the more exciting it becomes. And so…as I go back to work, I will look at the things that I am doing for the last time as the blessings they have been…but I will also look forward to another exciting future.

New Start

It’s almost time for a new start. A clean year lies before us–filled with all kinds of new possibilities.

It will be up to each of us to decide how we are going to fill each day–and whether in 365 days we will look back with joy or regret…or a mixture of both (which is actually far more likely).

My dad had a poem he often used in his sermons. There are several versions of it around, but his went something like this:

You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that you do and the words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true.
Say, what is the gospel according to you?

So…as we start 2013, what is the gospel that you will be sharing? There’s another thought that comes from the Franciscans…it’s sometimes attributed to St. Francis, but while it catches up his philosophy, he apparently never said it in this particular form. But it’s very similar to what my dad used to share: “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”

I want 2013 to be a year in which people come to recognize the Gospel–the Good News–by the life that I live. I’ll use words if necessary, but hopefully they won’t be needed.

Will you join me?