Planning for Later

Every now and then, I want to point to the increasing need for people I love to have hard conversations about life, about living, and about dying. As an educator and pastor and father and relative, this video touches upon some critical issues worth talking about.

I don’t agree with literal exactness that we can or should choose the way we die, but I do agree with the intentionality behind living well, planning for later, and communicating with loved ones over these matters. I do believe in exercising as much right as we have. And we have the right to communicate our wishes around intensive medical treatment, aggressive and life-sustaining measures, and so forth.

This video feels close, real to me. Even though that rapid response team is small by the comparisons at NMH. I’ve seen 15-20 people in a room and crowding a hall easily, cracking ribs, pumping and sticking, and pounding and trying. And then a nurse, timing the scenario, calling for another person to step up and take over. I’ve seen that for 30-45 minutes.

Beyond that, listen to the story of the video and talk to people about an advance directive for healthcare. And if you can, let that be a part of other important conversations.

And that’s not including talking about money and life insurance and diet and family history. There are many conversations to have. But this one is important.

It’s not morbid. It’s responsible. It’s not short-sighted. It’s visionary and realistic. It’s helpful for you to think through things about your care. It’s relieving for those you love.

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Gratitude

You don’t have an income or a bedroom that belongs to you.  You don’t have clothes that haven’t been given to you.  So, beautiful son of ours, remember to be thankful because your entire life is still so early and so young that it’s all a gift.

Walking into your room, which I still say is my home office, you are surrounded by gifts, things given, including the words painted on your walls which were done by Auntie Sheila and Uncle Alan.  When you’re able to read those words, they too will remind you that you come from some where, that your life was given to you and given to us.

Everything around you, unearned by you and really unearned by us, is a bold or implicit sign to be grateful.

Places to Find Strength

To add more of an answer to your question, when you take off your red and blue power rings, you’ll still be strong.  Your strength doesn’t come from plastic pieces melded together in unseen factories.  Your strength has traveled a much longer distance to reach you.

Your strength comes from more people than you’ll meet because you were loved before you were conceived, loved by church people of all colors, loved by relatives around the world, loved by people who passed into eternity before they talked to you, loved by gift-givers who we thanked but whose generosity has rolled into the long sustained gift that is your life.

Your strength comes from your aunts and uncles who will give and have given their energies for you and for your cousins and who have been good parents, even to you, and who have been counselors and aides and supports and anchors for you already.  Use up the time they spend with you and relish their spoiling, open, broad care.

Your strength comes from your mother who has thrived and triumphed through and after hardships, injustice, great and difficult choices to become the splendid champion she is.  Ask her about them and close your lips to listen.

Your strength comes from your grandparents; one you don’t remember, except through our pictures and our stories; one you bring up from time to time, when you ask about sickness and death and heaven; and two you know and love and hug and see.  All of them have more to teach you than you can learn.  Find every way to be their student.

Your strength comes from great-grandparents who made music, who produced crops, who wandered over more acres than you’ll ever count, who gave hard, who had many children and watched them live and bear their own children and, some of them, die.  They wanted a beautiful future for you even though they couldn’t touch you and every act of submission and toil and business and production had seeds of grace for you in it.

Your strength comes from great-great-grandparents who sang spirituals in fields they didn’t own and worked day-long lives that collected into decades of labor that bore no capital or income or appreciation because their world was decorated in corruption of the deepest kind.  But there was so much more to them than their taken wages and taken days.  They, too, saw far into the dark ahead of their futures and they saw you and they worked and suffered and enjoyed and ate and slept and tried so that you would have all those abilities within you too.

 

Continuities

Are You Waiting for the OneChristian marriage is meant to be a place in which love can flourish without fear.  It is intended to create families into which children can be welcomed, to provide a secure and life-giving context for sexual relationship, and to set in place a nurturing and supportive relationship between husband and wife.  It is meant to be a setting in which human beings grow together into a love that is shaped by God’s own love for his people.

But we live in a fallen world, and this does not happen automatically.  The best of marriages are marked by shortcomings and imperfections.  And when marriages go bad, they can go very bad indeed.  The children of such marriages tend to be very deeply marked by the sorrow and suffering they have endured.  They want so desperately to do better themselves and are often deeply skeptical as to whether better things are really possible.

In circumstances like these, how can we find the courage to love?  One way to begin might be to remember the continuities between marriage and Christian life in general.  Sometimes, what a marriage or any relationship needs is not an injection of big doses of excitement or inspiration.  What it needs is more of the basic things that form the substance of the Christian life…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.

Dancing with Death

When I started blogging, my friend David told me to blog about the things that I think about, the things that matter to me.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the decline of my father’s health.  That’s why I’m posting this on both blogs.  I’ve not had much free mental space over the last few months because my dad has been there taking it up with a thousand questions of varying sizes and shapes.

My dad is demented, meaning, he has dementia.  What is the appropriate form for that sentence?  Is my father demented?  It feels like a misuse of language to have to write that way: my father has dementia.  It’s one word or two too long.  Plus, it isn’t true.  Particularly since it feels most days like dementia has my father, like the synapses in his brain are freezing over or cracking or deteriorating or doing anything but firing in the way all my college classes suggested synapses do.  I paid a lot of attention to those classes at U of I.  I got mostly good grades, though I hated statistics and could have done better in Don Dulany’s course, especially if I hadn’t been devoting all that time talking to schizophrenics at strange hours through the night.  But these days I’m thinking that I could have paid more attention.

Anyway, my father’s dementia and the accompanying decline in his condition is essentially unsettling.  My experience of him and his health feels like all the sturdy things in my history with him are getting up, spinning around, and landing in a different place from before.  It feels like every conversation with him, each road trip to Little Rock, leaves me tired from the passing lane and sweating after a long dance with this disease.

And I’m not the one doing the real dancing.  I catch myself to say this.  Over the last six months, since we found out about the strokes and since we’ve started to confuse (i.e., not be able to tell) the stroke’s grip for the dementia’s, I’ve remembered consciously that it’s my father who is suffering.  And that’s the worse part.  Not our collective suffering as we watch or join in as a family responding to our loss and grief.  His suffering is the basic problem here.  I can recover.  Can he?

And I wonder to myself if there is a little grace in my dad not knowing how much he’s suffering.  And I check myself again at the hint of such arrogance.  Can my father, complex man that he is, be written off by my saying, “Well, he doesn’t realize what’s happening to him?”  How can I trust that?  How can I take comfort in the corrosive way the disease is handling him so that his head is all messed up, his memories following?  How can I be encouraged that his brain, eating or sucking or dropping away all the memories which make him him, is so distorting his reality that he is in some way spared?

I ask these questions because I want to be spared.  My father isn’t spared.  We aren’t either.  And these instances of death, these suspensions of time, when I’m not sure if my dad is “there” or “somewhere else,” are not healing.  They are small deaths, and they are upsetting, unsettling, and disturbing.  He is as pained as anyone in this.  He didn’t wish for this end.  And he can’t find the ways to express that any more.  Not on most days.  He’s the one really dancing.

Even though his feet are inching into a straddle some days and stepping normally on other days, it is my dad’s feet that I’m watching.  It is his pair of legs that my eyes fell to the other day as he walked to me on the arm of that nurse.  I had been buzzed into the acute care facility in Searcy, the place where they specialize in treating elderly men and women with psychiatric problems stemming from the disease I keep thinking looks like Skeletor.

He was shuffling slowly, arm wrapped in a sturdy nurse who introduced himself as Billy.  Daddy recognized me and that recognition was a gift even if I was struck by my dad’s gait.  It was an interior compromise, thankful for the recognition and willingness to overlook the pulchritude.

I could overlook that daddy looked bad, really bad.  Bad the way he was when he had the stroke in July.  Bad like when I first saw him in July, my brother Mark at my side, I was wondering where my father’s weight went.  Bad like I saw him for the first time as a truly different figure, no longer the man with muscles and a bench press in his basement with weights I’d never be able to lift.

My father’s arm was attached to his nurse, straddling, dancing, and I met him the rest of the way, took the other arm, and listened to the music of his experience and started dancing with him.  We walked slowly, really slowly.  And instead of going to the designated room, we sat in the closest chairs.  I suggested them because the distance to the room was too far for daddy after the stint from his room and too far for me after driving those eleven hours.

10 Reasons Why This Picture Pleases Me

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Me & Bryce After Taize

Jon Roy commented on my wall that I must have been pleased by this picture.  I replied that he—a soon to be dad—would soon know the pleasures of which he speaks.  Then I figured it worthy of further reflection.  So here are ten reasons why this photo pleases me.

  1. The person taking the picture was Bryce’s pastor.  David had taken Bryce and Eliot up to the altar when we arrived, oriented them to the grand space, pointed out things, said things I couldn’t hear.  It was splendid to watch him being a father and pastor in that moment.
  2. Bryce got to sing.  It was melodious even if his voice was creating a song different from the one on the page.  He’s not reading music yet, but he’s definitely making his own.
  3. Bryce sat and played and sang and worshiped with his friend and cousin.  When we met for arepas that evening, before worship, the boys sang gleefully (or yelled), their characteristic greeting.  They’re friendship was on display and they got to participate in Taize together.
  4. We worshiped as a family.  For different reasons, I work in a different congregation than the one my family worships in.  It’s always always always a blessing to sit next to Dawn and Bryce, with all that it brings, and respond to God.
  5. Being there was an education.  We had seen one of my greatest teachers, Dr. Scottie May, who taught me the rudiments of what it means to form children faithfully.  Seeing her, and introducing her to my son for the first time, was a gift on many levels.
  6. We were with friends.  To speak of the Swansons as friends is a poor statement because it hardly reflects the deep reality of who they are.  We are relatives in the best sense; we’ve chosen to steadily cultivate an extended family with those good people for more than a dozen years.  I cannot say that about most people in my life.
  7. We had done something twelve times.  Maggie suggested last December that we attend to our joint relationship by getting together at least monthly, eating, talking, and playing, and the habit stuck.  We celebrated last night, against our nutty schedules, and decided that what we had done, in our homes and in other places was worth attempting again.
  8. No one was burned.  We lit candles together, us and our children, along with hundreds of others, and no one was hurt.  We lifted them together, singing about Christ the Light of the World.  Then we went in straight lines to dig our candles in pots of sand around a cross and icons of Jesus.  We almost set a woman’s butt on fire as we walked to the altar, but we made it without incident.
  9. Bryce—and Eliot—had spent 10 minutes in silence during Taize.  This is not something two and a half year olds and three and half year olds do as a matter of habit.  It was an accomplishment in itself.  But it also felt very much like the point of it all; there are reasons to close up, sit on a cold marble floor, and say nothing.  
  10. Walking Bryce to the altar was metaphorical.  The image and gesture of taking him, with our candles, and kneeling before the altar was memorable.  It was one of the moments where, upon reflection, I felt like I had done my duty as his father: ushering him to an ineffable something and letting him respond with awe and blazing eyes.

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize

3 Ways to Stay Engaged

I saw this here and wanted it on my blog.  What would you add to Maria Lloyd’s list?

Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to work a full-time job and raise a family- especially as a single parent. Thanks to technology, we’re plugged into work even when we’re at home. It’s imperative to balance your life in a way that is rewarding for you and your children. Spending quality time with your children is imperative for your role as a parent and also for their growth as a child. Although I do not have children of my own, I am someone’s child, so I can relate to the need for attention from parents. Below are 3 ways you, a working single parent, can stay engaged in your child’s life:

1. Eat with them.

You have to eat. Instead of eating breakfast before your child wakes up or putting your child to bed and having dinner alone, eat with them. Children have a wealth of information to share with you about their day. Listen to them very closely. There may be some negative, external influences that you may need to remove them from.Time allotted: 30-45 minutes

2. Read with them.

Share your favorite bedtime story with your child. It is a memory that you and him/her can cherish together for the rest of your lives. It can also become a tradition in your family, so that when your child has his/her own children, they will read the same story and share the same appreciate for it with their own family. Time allotted: 20-30 minutes

3. Give them “homework” in your absence

I strongly encourage you to consider another career if spending face-to-face time with your child is impossible; however, if you’re temporarily unable to spend face-to-face time with your children due to a short-term assignment at work, give them “homework” in your absence. It can be as simple as having them journal their day or as complex as writing a book report. Whichever assignment you give them, make sure you actively check it and leave them feedback on their work. This “homework” helps them to remember that although you’re not physically in their presence, you’re still actively involved in their life. Time allotted: 10-20 minutes (checking the assignment and providing feedback)