The Beginnings of Every Ordinary Day

“Holy cow!” my father said. “You must have gotten up early!”

I had just told him that I had already driven to the airport and back to pick up my husband from a business trip.

“No earlier than usual,” I told my father.

“What time do you get up?” he asked.

“5 o’clock,” I answered.

I didn’t tell him that he also gets up most mornings right around 5. I hear him on the monitor I have in my room because I worry about him falling or needing assistance.

He needs more and more assistance. The other day he called to me, “Sally? Sally?” with the door cracked open. When I checked on him, he was half-dressed and couldn’t think what to do next. But that was at 9 AM, around his usual time for getting dressed.

At 5 AM, on most days, I hear him get up to use the bathroom, but he goes back to bed. I get up, too, and go downstairs to make coffee.

The next 2 – 3 hours are blissfully mine.

Tuga and coffee in the pre-dawn

I read. My pile of books changes with the seasons.  Right now, I’m reading a Lenten devotional from She Reads Truth,

(rabbits not included)

The New Christian Year, daily readings following a liturgical calendar, compiled by Charles Williams, (my friend, Africa, who is learning to rebind books would be appalled at the white adhesive tape I used when it started falling apart on me),

Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (a pensée a day keeps the mind at play, I tell myself),

my Bible (5 Psalms and the chapter of Isaiah I’m memorizing),

and my prayer book. (Usually I have Lancelot Andrewes help me out here, but I’m giving him a break for Lent.)

I pray. The list grows longer and longer of the people I pray for by name. It’s rare when I cross someone off, but Antonin Scalia came off when he died, and Richard Hanna, my congressman, came off when he left office. Those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? I chose one name off that list, and until I see her name in a follow-up story — and I frequently check — I’ll continue to pray for her and her family. Friends and family stay on my list forever. If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that your name is there.

I moodle. Brenda Ueland defines moodling as aimless dawdling. I find it essential for my mental health.

Something about letting thoughts swirl and settle sets everything right.

Lancelot Andrewes has a prayer that one commentator deemed incomplete, but I find it the perfect way to end my beginning every day.

In every imagination of my heart
In the words of my mouth
In the works of my hands
In the ways of my feet

I give it all over to Christ and ask His blessing on those things — my imaginations, my words, my works, my ways — and then head into another ordinary day.

Caregiver’s Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot do,

I can’t “fix” my loved one.

I can’t make him think more clearly.

I can’t make him understand.

I can’t go back in time, and mustn’t languish over how or what he was, because he is who he is now and that’s where we are.

Courage to do the things I can,

I can handle business affairs — writing checks, paying bills, scheduling appointments.

I can do laundry.

I can prepare meals and serve snacks.

I can answer the phone.

I can chauffeur.

I can explain things over and over and over and over, and set my exasperation aside.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I lay in bed at night, let me not angst over the battle, but, in the weariness of a hard-fought day, take my rest knowing that I did the best I could.

Few will see or know what I do.

My own loved one will never fully grasp the sacrifice that I, and my husband, and my children, are all making on his behalf.

But it is right and good.

And You know, o Lord.

Let that be enough.


Adapted from The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Immersed

…The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice….

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

1 Corinthians 15:54 (ESV)


When I read the Daily Prompt: Immerse, Pascal’s words and the scripture from She Reads Truth’s Lenten devotional were fresh in my mind.

I could picture my tiny finite being totally lost in the Infinite God.

Swallowed up.

Immersed like my swimmer in a great ocean of Love.

What Will You Bleed?

The patterns for our personalities are set early on.

My friend, Susan, used to talk about someone she knew who, in the delirium of a high fever, mumbled out Bible verse after Bible verse. When she had been poked, she bled the Bible.

“I want to be the kind of person who does that,” Susan said to me thirty-some years ago.

Years later, when Susan was poked, she bled praise. She suffered a stroke in her 40s and I have never heard her utter a bitter word about it. After seeing Susan last June, I asked another friend, Jennifer Trafton Peterson, to make this custom artwork for her. The words are ones I have heard Susan say many times.

The other day I was wearing a new-to-me shirt and my father noticed.

“That’s a nice shirt,” he said.

“I got it at the thrift store,” I told him.

He grinned, fist-bumped the air, and said, “Hurrah!”

My father has always liked a bargain. It’s the Scotsman in him, I think. My mother had to live with it and work against it.

She was also very frugal, but, at the same time, she wished she could do some of the things that the other doctors’ wives got to do. After he retired, he yielded to her and they went on a trip to Hawaii.

It was life-changing. He still talks about it.

“I’m so glad that I listened to Mom and we made that trip to Hawaii,” he often says.

“Everyone should go to Hawaii. When are you going?” he asks me, when he’s thinking about that trip.

But my father bleeds frugality. As dementia takes hold little by little, I see a deeper austerity emerging. He sometimes wears corduroy pants that are nearly threadbare. “There’s still some wear in these,” he says when I suggest he change.

“How much is that going to cost?” he asks, when I suggest a necessary home repair or appliance replacement, in a can-we-possibly-do-without-that sort of way.

The pattern, I think, was set early on.

My sister’s mother-in-law was a fairly passive woman. In her elderly dementia, she became more and more withdrawn into a unresisting submissiveness. When she was poked, that was what she bled — utter compliance.

My mother — I had to think about her for a while to come up with what she bled — I think she bled marmalade, both sweet and sour, involving food, and serving others. She wanted to help, but she got frustrated with the muddle in her mind.

And I can’t help thinking, What are the patterns being laid in my life? When I am poked, what will I bleed?

Discomfort

While still in my pajamas yesterday morning, I carried the laundry downstairs, holding Tuga in my hand.  His rigid little ears poked into my fingers and palm. I tried to shift him to a better spot but it was impossible to carry the basket and the bunny without a little discomfort.

“Could you just not?” I asked him, but he didn’t answer.

The lesson was easy to see. Sorrow is uncomfortable.

In today’s society, we are fairly averse to discomfort. We desire to be always at ease.

Have a headache? Take some ibuprofen.

Are you cold? Grab a blanket or a sweater, or turn up the heat.

Too hot? That’s why God invented A/C.

Plastic rabbit ears poking your hand? Put the silly thing down. It’s a dumb exercise anyway.

C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, said,

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terribly saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God in an interruption.

Tuga is an interruption. He interrupts my day to remind me that there are people in pain all around me, if I would only open my eyes to them. Maybe this discomfort of my own will remind me.

I set Tuga on top of the dryer while I threw the clothes in the washer. An hour later I remembered him. See how I am?img_1312

Tuga is a mindfulness prop.

I know people who carry special coins in their pocket and I’ve given my own children fidget-toys to carry, but Tuga isn’t just for fiddling with when I’m bored. He’s there to remind me of the sorrow in this world, the sorrow people carry unseen in their hearts, the sorrow I carry in my own heart.

I’d say he’s doing a good job.

Lessons from Tuga

“I suppose I should take a picture of you,” I said to Tuga, pulling him out of my pocket yesterday while I walked around town.

He said nothing, which felt almost like a dare. I dare you to take pictures of a plastic rabbit. Won’t you look foolish!

Ah, but I knew better. I was on the last leg of my walk, going down the path. Nobody walks on the path, especially after it rains because of the mud and it had just rained. I doubted anyone would see me photographing my plastic bunny.

I set him in a dry patch of grass.
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He laid his ears back and didn’t look happy.

Oh, wait, his ears are always back.

He’s not supposed to be happy.

“Tuga,” I said, “you’re supposed to teach me something this Lent.”

I was hoping for a little more cooperation.

“How about you look out at the river?” I said, moving him a little and stepping back. I was thinking of the scene from Watershed Down where the rabbits must escape across the river.

But the blue sky with its big puffy clouds reflected so beautifully in the water that I took another step back to include it. Tuga, my little sorrowing bunny, all but got lost in the shot.

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It struck me — isn’t that the way it is with sorrow? In the bigness and busy-ness of life, the sorrowing one can get lost.

I picked him up and tucked him in pocket, knowing I would have to ponder that a little more.

When I reached the stone bridge, I set Tuga on a parapet.img_1301

He looked rather lost in there, too. So small.

That’s when I saw the man on the stone bridge talking on his cell phone. We briefly made eye contact before I grabbed Tuga and stuffed him in my pocket again, hurrying on down the path.

Once again, I was struck by the picture of sorrow. How often do sorrowing people stuff their emotions away because they’re embarrassed or self-conscious?

If nothing else, Tuga is teaching me an awareness for the sorrowful. In my own busyness, I may pass them by, or, in their self-consciousness, they may hide their feelings.

Lord, make me more aware!