Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

Monday, April 15, 2019

She Left One Year Ago Today - I Still Miss Her

She was known as Grandma Gloria to the neighborhood children, as Mom to her own children, as Gloria to her friends, but I knew her as Aunt Gloria - a safe place, an adult I could count on. I remember her as kind and caring and her home as a welcoming, familiar place. Second in familiarity only to my own home and the homes of my siblings. As I pause on this day, the first anniversary of her passing, to remember her, many memories come to mind, many pictures of her stored in my mental scrapbook. A few stand out as representative of the woman I knew her to be.

One day when I was in Kindergarten, I got off the bus, as usual, but something not usual at all faced me. I couldn't find any of my family at home. Being the youngest of 6 children living on a dairy farm, our house was rarely empty, so it was a surprise to come home and find it so. The first person to come to mind, the first safe place to go besides my own home, was Aunt Gloria's. Her phone number and my own were only one digit different, so I memorized her number almost as soon as I knew my own. I used the green, rotary wall phone in our kitchen and called her. I explained my predicament and she told me to come right over. She would watch me from her kitchen window as I crossed the road and walked to her house, making sure I arrived safely. I did arrive safely and there I stayed until my parents came home.

She was also my Primary Class Sunday School teacher. I sat at the wooden table in a metal folding chair while she taught us stories from the Bible and lessons about God and life. She had a habit while she was teaching of twisting the pieces of her pen back and forth - tip out, tip in, tip out, tip in. With each turn you could hear a little click. This was part of Sunday School in her class. To this day, when I twist a pen open or closed, I think of her. Funny the little things that stick in our memories and bring a person back to us as clearly as if they are still right there with us in the room.

Often for school we had fundraisers that required us to go door to door selling one thing or another.  In middle school and high school, it was chocolate bars. I hated this ritual of going door to door selling things. Somehow to me it felt like begging and I hated the rejection of people saying, "No." But Aunt Gloria never said no to whatever I was forced to sell, she was always a sure sale and not only to me, but to other kids in the neighborhood. As a kid, I appreciated that sure sale, that generosity, that kindness that made doing something I hated a little less painful.

Another time as a young adult, I had two friends over for homemade pizza. We had the pizza assembled and ready to pop in the oven when we discovered that the element had gone bad and the oven that was supposed to have been preheating was stone cold. Once again I dialed that ever familiar number. Sure, we could use her oven. What temperature did we need to have it set at? Off we traipsed across the road, carrying our pizzas, across the lawn, up her front steps, through the living room, and into the kitchen to bake our lunch - catastrophe averted.

She was just that kind of person - warm, welcoming, generous, and hard-working. Although she had a house to run, food to preserve, lawn to mow, a farm to help her husband run, 5 children to raise, and church functions to attend, her home was clean and tidy any time I visited and despite her many activities she always had time for people.

A couple of months before she passed away, I went to her home to borrow some photos for my mother's memorial service. We had a lovely time reminiscing about the past, hearing stories of her earlier days. When it came time for me to leave, she told me to come again and not to wait so long next time. Sadly, I wouldn't have many more opportunities to visit her and the next time I came it was to help her daughter care for her as she faced her final days.

She was a lovely, gracious lady - a safe and welcoming place for many youngsters and friends alike.  She is loved and missed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Tribute to Cynthia Judkins

Cynthia, or Cindy as she was known to her family and friends, was born on November 1, 1946 in Binghamton, NY. She was the eldest of six children born to Arlyn and Dorothy Colwell. Her early years were spent helping on the family farm. She enjoyed cooking and took over meal planning and preparation for the family while in her teens. While in high school she achieved Wing Explorer in Pioneer Girl’s Clubs (the equivalent of an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts). She graduated from Windsor Central School and attended the Bible Institute of New England for two years. She then earned her RN at Robert Packer School of Nursing, graduating valedictorian of her class.

Following her graduation from nursing school, she married Lee Judkins and moved to Maine where he pastored and taught school. She held a few different positions as a nurse until she discovered her niche working in geriatrics. She often worked as a nursing supervisor and also enjoyed training nursing assistants. Cindy trained 17 classes of nursing assistants for certification and often told them that their work was acceptable only if it met her standard of being the care she would require for her mother.

While living in New England, married, and working as a nurse, Cindy also found time to serve in her church. She served faithfully alongside her pastor-husband entertaining in their home and serving in a variety of capacities in the church. In 1973 their son Jeffrey was born. The pride and joy of her life they enjoyed a close relationship until her death. 

In 1997 another important person entered Cindy’s life. Cheyenne Judkins was born and Cindy had a granddaughter. She enjoyed her granddaughter and took pleasure in taking her to see sights, scrapbooking, cooking, going to church, having sleepovers, and creating memories with her.  
In between working as a nurse, caring for her family, and serving the Lord, she also found time to travel. Cindy loved to plan and take trips across the country.  She visited many of the national parks and always had fun and interesting stories about the places she had visited. Even in recent years and in declining health she enjoyed a trip to Tennessee, another to Washington, and about a month ago an overnight trip to Niagara Falls. Cindy enjoyed these trips with Jeff and his wife Christa and was thankful that he found options to provide a way for her to enjoy the sights despite her waning strength and mobility.

Cindy was a creative woman who loved to decorate her home for each season and had a knack for making a house or apartment into a home. She enjoyed baking, scrapbooking, counted cross-stitch, crochet, knitting, and sewing.  Throughout her lifetime she used her creative skills to make many gifts for her loved ones.

For the last three years of her life, she returned to her hometown to care for her aging mother. In doing so, she kept a promise she had made to her parents long ago to care for them at home so that they would not have to go to a nursing home.  In conjunction with her siblings and assisted by home health aides, they kept this promise. 

For those who knew her and loved her, there is now an empty spot at the table, a hole in our days, yet she had come to want little more than to be with her Savior. Although her body had become weak and fragile, she stubbornly, independently, and with great strength lived honorably until the moment her heart stopped beating and her Heavenly Father answered her prayer to call her Home. The Apostle Paul tells us that we will receive a new, heavenly body. She can see and hear clearly now, the pain in her joints is gone, the mysterious illness that plagued her for months is healed and she is well and whole and delighted to be with her Savior and loved ones who went before her. We look forward to the day we will be reunited with her.

Verses that gave her strength in hard times were Psalm 121:1-2 KJV

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Tribute to Dorothy Colwell

Dorothy Colwell grew up during the Great Depression. She was born at home in the town of Windsor and lived with her parents, maternal grandmother, older brother and two sisters on the family farm. 

Dorothy remembered growing up without electricity or indoor plumbing, and her father cutting large slabs of ice from a nearby pond to keep their food cold year-round. She told stories of her grandmother churning butter, the matched pair of work horses her father used in the fields, of times when the men from the community gathered at their home to harvest the crops. Her parents were hospitable and often housed teachers from the one room school where her father was a trustee and where Dorothy attended school.

Dorothy began attending Windsor Central School when she entered 7th grade. She met fellow classmates Jessie Spafford and brothers Arlyn and Floyd Colwell who were to become life-long friends. She knew Arlyn was interested in her when he walked into their high school classroom and wiggled his eyebrows at her. Dorothy married Arlyn when she was 19 and he was 20.
Jessie, Floyd, Dorothy, Arlyn - Senior Trip in NYC

Dorothy and Arlyn started life together with few possessions and a home that was a “fixer upper” duplex they shared with Jessie and Floyd.  

In the years that followed, five children were born—four daughters and one son. Dorothy and Arlyn remodeled the house eventually making it a one family home on their farm. They endured their share of hardships—back surgeries for Arlyn, one of their barns burning to the ground, and their youngest daughter being hit by a car resulting in a broken hip and five weeks in the hospital. Through all these things their love for each other deepened and their strong faith in God sustained them.
Newly Remodeled Kitchen

Ten years after their youngest daughter was born another baby girl joined the family.  
Dorothy was a hard-working, loving wife and mother. As Alzheimer’s robbed her of her memory, she forgot Arlyn had passed away and often asked for him and looked for him, concerned for his welfare and longing to have him with her. She loved him until the day she died five days after their 72nd anniversary. For her, even death did not part them.

She gave birth to six children and loved each of them. She prayed for them individually daily. As they grew into adulthood she sought to find the balance between active, loving involvement in their lives and giving them the freedom to live their own lives and pursue their own dreams. Her greatest desire was that each of them and their descendants would know and love her Lord Jesus Christ.

Her children blessed her with 18 loved and enjoyed grandchildren. They were welcomed in her home and allowed to play freely. She read to them, did crafts with them, helped with their homework, went on excursions with them. Later she attended graduations, showers, weddings, and other happy events in their lives. Very little caused her eyes to sparkle more than having her grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit her.

Dorothy was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and spent much of her life involved in serving Him through the church. As a child and on into her 30s she attended West Colesville Baptist Church. She used her musical ability to sing solos and in duets or trios with her sisters and others. She led the teen girls Explorer Group in Pioneer Girls Club. Together with the girls in her group, she planned many activities and parties to help the girls earn their badges.

In the late 1960s, she and Arlyn along with several other couples from Windsor met together to form the Windsor Bible Baptist Church. They remained active members for more than 40 years until health issues forced them to pull back. Dorothy was active as a Sunday School teacher for young teen girls. She again used her vocal talent for singing special numbers. Several times she was responsible for signing people up to do special music.  Additionally, she directed several children’s programs, was active in Ladies’ Missionary Fellowship, served in Awana, and organized meals for families in need.

Dorothy was an exceptional homemaker. Although she was a meticulous housekeeper, a good cook, and industrious in gardening and preserving food, her shining gift was creating a home. Her home was a place where people felt welcomed and comfortable. When her children were young, her home was the neighborhood gathering place to swim, play ball, and hang out. She hosted the Colwell family reunion for many years. As her kids grew and grandchildren came along, she hosted family gatherings and her home continued to be open to youth and adults.

Creative and ingenious she liked to sew, crochet, decorate, paint, do plastic canvas, and other crafts. She and Arlyn often worked together on gifts for their children or grandchildren. Taking after her mother, Dorothy wrote a column for the Windsor Standard for several years and contributed a chapter to the book Historical Essays of Windsor.

Dorothy was a talented, gracious woman who touched many people. But to her children she was “Mom” the one who loved us and believed in us no matter what, our staunchest encourager, our best friend. We are thankful for her love, her example, and her belief in us. We rejoice she is in Heaven, while simultaneously grieving the hole her passing has left behind here.
One of her favorite verses was:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am they God:
I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee;
Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41:10 KJV

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

In My Heart
The other day as I was driving home from a shopping trip, some people from my past came to mind. I thought about the ways they had influenced me, ways they had blessed me. I thought about writing them a letter, and then I thought of the myriad of people who have blessed me over the years and the heart of this post was born.

Dear Friend,
I am so thankful to have had you in my life. Whether we keep in touch or have taken paths to different places, know that you are in my heart. You are in my heart because I love you and because at some point in time our lives were woven together. In the tapestry of my life, you are a thread that has added color, variety, interest and blessing. My life's story is different - better - because you were a part of my life. Thank you!

I think of you often. When I do, I smile and feel blessed. I love it when I see some interesting tidbit about your life on Facebook, something that makes you happy and fills your life with joy. I feel sad when I learn of hard things you are facing and I pray for you. My soul brightens when I hear your voice, see you in person, or find a message from you in my e-mail or on my phone.

Thank you dear friend, for loving me, for sharing life with me, for listening, for laughing, for playing and probably praying with me.

You may be a friend from school days, a family member, a colleague, a fellow church member, or a kindred spirit from some other place. However we met, whatever we have enjoyed or endured together, know that I am thankful for the time we've had together and count you as a precious blessing from God's hand in my life.

Blessings to you, dear friend!!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Forty Days of Forgiveness

Forty Days of Forgiveness

Several years ago after I had been through an experience that left me deeply wounded, changed, and angry. I wanted to be able to let go of my anger and be able to interact with the people who had hurt me in a healthy, loving way. I knew that I needed to forgive and to heal. I committed to spend 40 days working through the issues I was facing.
I picked out a special journal in which to record my journey toward healing and forgiveness and divided it into four sections.
Section one included pages to ponder four different subjects that would help me see life in a healthier way. “Dreams” came first. I had stopped dreaming and I needed to see that the future held hope and promise. “Thanksgiving” came second. Taking time each day to list one thing for which I was thankful, would turn my thoughts away from what I considered to be unfair and painful, and remind me of the blessings God had given me. Because my experience had left me raw and feeling defeated, “compliments or accomplishments” was my third subject. I wanted to keep a list of positive things people had said about me or things that I had done that I felt good about. Lastly, I included “confident because . . . “ and listed reasons I had to feel confident. Here I focused on what the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ.
Section two included pages for each person, including myself, whom I needed to forgive. Each day I wrote the date under each person’s name, the offense for which I wanted to forgive them followed by a positive quality. I allowed myself to forgive the same offense more than once, because often the same issue reappeared time and again. However, I would not use the same positive quality more than once. This stretched my thinking, and helped to remind me that despite how I felt, each person had positive qualities and had been made in the image of God.
Section three contained pages for each day of my 40 day journey. I wrote the day and the number of the day of my journey (ie. January 1, 2006 – Day 1) at the top of the page. I prayed about topics God had led me to at the beginning of my journey. I poured out my heart to God and worked through my issues.
            In the final section, I left space to record things I learned and experienced during my journey. I wrote brief summary statements so that I could remember those things I wanted to incorporate into my life.
            This 40 day journey through prayer and processing brought about deep healing as I forgave myself and others and began to see the bigger picture of what God had for me.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Rascals Together Again

Back of the Picture says "The Rascals" 
On October 31st, my father's last living sibling joined her brothers in heaven. I felt deeply saddened by her passing.

While she lived, I was pleased to know that I would see her at family events and looked forward to seeing her. I enjoyed catching up with her and I enjoyed the stories of her younger years that she would share. I found her presence comforting. She was the last who could share stories with us of her brothers and what it was like growing up. She had answers to questions we had not asked of our dad while he was still alive - often because we had not thought of them. It was a comfort to know that she was only a phone call or short drive away.

I remember her from my childhood as a strict but loving mother and a generous caregiver. She worked as a nurse in pediatrics for the majority of her adult life. On her weekends off, she came to my grandfather's house (kitty-corner to our home) to clean, cook and tend his garden for him. My grandmother died when I was only two, and, from the time of her passing until he died, my aunt came faithfully every other weekend to care for him.

I remember staying at her house to play with my cousins and going there for Christmas dinners. Forever in my mind it will be the little pink house, even though I believe they changed the color many years ago. I have happy memories of those times.

I remember that she had asthma and an allergy to cats that would quickly bring on an attack. I remember she had strong feelings about what was safe and unsafe for the children she saw come through her unit at the hospital.

I appreciated her, loved and admired her when I was a child, however, it was as an adult that I felt a much stronger connection to her. My parents lost their house to fire in 2009. They lost nearly everything they owned, including several heirlooms. She, in the tradition of her mother and herself, made a quilt for my parents. They put it on their bed and it was a beautiful daily reminder of her love and generosity to them.

My father passed in 2011. During his final illness my connection to her grew much stronger. She came to see my dad several times during those last two weeks - both at the hospital and at our home. She talked with him and made sure to tell him what was most important for her to say and for him to hear before he passed. She was kind and supportive to us, his grieving children. She gave me an example of how to say good-bye to a loved one.

At her funeral, I heard many stories of how she had touched many people in similar ways to those I had experienced. People told of her generosity, her giftedness in sewing and knitting things for others, her kindness and the cards or visits they had received from her. They spoke of her sense of humor, her strength of character, her love for God. Many people will miss her, I among them.

Yet, we grieve with hope. I know that she is together with the Lord she loved and also with her many family members who had gone before her. She is part of a grand reunion and waiting to celebrate with us when we join her there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Change is in the Air

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day here in our corner of the country. The sky was blue and the temperatures were moderate. After a hot, hot summer, the temps have finally started to come down giving us warm days and cool nights. The perfect sleeping weather! I love fall--the cooler temps, the changing leaves. It seems like the perfect time for new things to begin.

The last two months have flown by so quickly that I hardly realized it had been two whole months since I had written to you. "What have I been so busy with?" you ask. Well, I've been working, tending the garden, caring for my Mom, and (drum roll) working on my very first e-book as well as (another drum roll) finding a new day job.

Yes, I am writing my very first e-book. Back in high school I wrote a couple of romance novels. I never published them, nor even tried.. Since then I've written a variety of things, but never another book. Now, however, I decided to put my nose to the grindstone and write. I am writing a book intended for women who love Christ and want to keep their relationship with Him fresh and growing. It gives 70ish different ideas that can help you creatively grow closer to Christ. With so many ideas, I don't intend for anyone to read this and try everything in it. My hope is that you will read it and find a few ideas that you can try, that you find helpful, and that bring new energy, hope, and excitement to your walk with Christ.

This book that I am birthing, so to speak, does not yet have a name. If you would like to give me suggestions, I will certainly consider them and I'll set aside a
free book for the person who submits the winning title. 

And, yes, after nearly a year at the hospital, I have found a new job. My new job is much closer to my home and although I will be working more days, it is less hours per day, less travel time, better benefits, and at a school so it follows the school schedule. For a variety of reasons the job at the hospital turned out not to be a good fit. Since I know I fit well in the school environment previously, I am hoping that it will be true again.

Blessings to you all and I'll do my best to keep you up to date more often!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bits of Beauty and Blessing

For most of my life, my mom spent much of her day outside when the weather was nice. She tended the garden, mowed the lawn, pulled the weeds, planted flower beds, picked berries, and seemed to love being out of doors tending to little growing things. Of course to feed her love of green growing things all year around, our house was filled with beautiful plants too. Now, she is no longer able to tend to the lawns and garden or even the plants inside. Yet, she still loves their beauty.

As her mind becomes more confused, one of our challenges has been to find ways to connect with her, ways to engage her in the life around her. Many of the things that she used to enjoy and that filled her days she is no longer able to do. Her husband, many of her family members, and friends have gone before her leaving her lonely and sometimes sad.

In an effort to help her stay connected and engaged, we've created little bits of beauty - flowers, growing things, and doo-dads that she can see from her bedroom window or the chair where she often sits.

Next to her chair in the living room - a miniature rose bush and African Violets.
She enjoys looking out her bedroom window at a collection of whirling flowers, over-sized butterflies, and other garden decorations.

The view from her bedroom window.
In the evenings, I have been planting flowers around the house, watering them, and watering the garden. I often take her outside with me and that has become a time of sweet fellowship for us. I am blessed not only by her company, but by her enjoyment of the beauty of the flowers. One evening she was looking down the valley below our home and describing what she saw. It made me feel like I was seeing the beauty of our view from the perspective of someone seeing it for the first time and I saw it anew with fresh eyes too. 

Viewing newly planted flowers.
The last little haven of beauty and blessings is her porch complete with a handcrafted swing (made by my brother) and baskets and pots of flowers. One of my summer projects has been to spring clean the porch. I have taken Mom with me to sit and soak in the beauty of the flowers and scenery and to enjoy the fresh air. 

Hanging basket from my brother. 

Mini porch garden created by my sister. 

Each time Mom exclaims over the beauty of the blossoms or counts the spinning flowers or engages in what we are doing to care for our little growing things, I am blessed. I am blessed by her smile, by the joy in her voice, and to see a little bit of the woman I've always known shining through again.

What about you? Do you have bits of beauty around you that bless you and bring you joy? 
I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reconciling What Was with What We Wish Had Been

With the passing of Father's Day last Sunday, I was thinking about my dad. In so many ways he was a good father, but he was not perfect. And, in so many ways I was a good daughter, but I was not perfect either. Sometimes, I remember sweet times together: vacations, quiet times at home, exploring the back roads of America, working in his sawmill or up in the woods, or just the wonderful man that he was. Then at other times old scenes play through my mind, scenes of times I wish I could change.

When he was alive, there were times I had to reconcile what he had done with what I wish he had done, but nowadays, I think about things I said or did that I wish I could change. I remember times that I acted selfishly or said things in anger that I regret. I remember times I was impatient or inconsiderate and I feel sad and grieved.

I cannot go back and change these things. While I can learn from them, and seek to act differently in current relationships, I cannot change what was. In these times I remember an admonition given by a pastor friend to mourners at the funerals he performed. He would tell them that the person who had passed was now beyond all the regrets, failures, imperfections, and hurts of this life. I am comforted by that and have hope in the fact that now my dad can see perfectly and that he understands in a way he could not here on earth.

Still, I feel the grief and sadness of my failures. Then I hear the gentle whisper of God's Spirit to my heart,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins 
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)

Not everyone who reads these words will identify with what I am about to say, in fact, some may have had a very different experience, but I was blessed with a dad who was willing to forgive. I know that if he were here and if I were to go to him and apologize for these failures of mine, he would forgive me. He loved me and nothing I have done would keep him from loving or forgiving me. My challenge now is to live in the truth of his character and his forgiveness.

The same is true of God. He too will forgive me for my failures and when I live in the truth of His forgiveness, I find freedom.

The last person I must forgive is myself. Surely if God and my dad can forgive me, I too can forgive myself.

What Was.
Each of us have our own stories of what was. Some stories may be about our own failures and some stories may be about how the failures of others have impacted us. In either case we cannot change what was, yet what was may have left wounds that need healing, scars that are still raw and tender.

What We Wish Had Been.
Perhaps we wish that things in our past had been different, that our parents had been or acted differently, that our siblings had made different decisions, that we had made different decisions. Bitterness and grudges may hold us captive. Broken relationships may have resulted. Cycles of life that hold us in defeat may plague us. A blog post or a few verses will not heal these things for they are complicated and take time to heal. Still there is HOPE!!! Healing is possible.

Reconciliation . . . Forgiveness.
Healing begins with forgiveness - forgiving others and seeking and accepting forgiveness from others. A few years ago I wrote about forgiveness and reconciliation. If you'd like to look at those posts, click on these links: forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Forgiveness is critical to reconciliation and healing. Although the journey may be long, it is worthwhile and leads to freedom, hope, and abundant life.

Blessings as you seek to reconcile what was with what you wish had been.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How to Journal Your Way to Solutions

I love when life flows along smoothly and problems and difficulties fade away into the background. During those times, it's fun to sit back, relax and enjoy life. Unfortunately those times are rarely permanent and things come along that have to be fixed. The solution may be obvious - a spill that has to be cleaned up, a flat tire that has to be repaired, a diaper that needs to be changed. Some solutions are more complicated - an intermittently malfunctioning appliance, unexpected expenses without money in the budget to cover them, a strong-willed child getting into trouble. Then there are difficulties that are not only complicated, but finding a solution may feel overwhelming - caring for an aging parent, a family member facing a chronic or terminal illness, the loss of a job, a deeply damaged relationship, financial turmoil, a child whose poor choices have led them down a rocky path.

Simple solutions don't require a great deal of thinking, although implementing them may be frustrating and time-consuming, they are obvious. However, as the problems become more and more complicated and complex, finding solutions may require research, reflection, and experimentation. In "Finding Solutions" I discussed one methodical approach to finding a solution. Tonight, we'll think through how to use your journal to find solutions. 

Think Outside the Box. Use your journal to answer some reflective questions, ones that may help you to gain insight into solutions that may be in front of you or hidden in you that you have not yet recognized.

What is the outcome you desire? What does it take to get there? What steps can you take in the next week?

What does God say about the situation you're facing? (If you are not sure what God might have to say, you might use a concordance or a resource such as to look up a key word that will help you find specific verses related to your challenge.)

In a perfect world what would the solution be? Are there parts of that solution that could apply or help in an imperfect world?

Are there people or resources that could help you find a solution to this challenge? Who are they? How could you contact them? (If it is someone who is no longer with you, what do you think they might say to you if you could talk to them?)

Draw Conclusions. Take a few minutes to review your answers to the questions. Then answer these two questions:

  • What possible solutions have surfaced?
  • What can you do to pursue them?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Finding Solutions

In a recent blog post, I spoke about finding solutions instead of getting stuck in a negativity pit. Yet, finding solutions is not always easy. Difficulties and challenges can be complex and hard to unravel, making it tricky to find not only a solution, but one that works.

Over the course of the last few years as my Mom has battled Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) we have faced challenges and had to seek solutions. Doing so took perseverance and in some cases courage to step outside what was comfortable to find solutions that would work. (One little side note. Many things have come one step at a time, finding one solution for an issue at one point in the disease and then later repeating the process to find another for issues that developed further on.) Here are some of the things that helped us as a family to find solutions that worked.

Prayer. Several of my siblings and I made it a matter of diligent prayer. We talked with God about our situation, told Him our needs, and asked Him to come through with a solution. He has been faithful to bring solutions each time.

Gather Information. We gathered information from a variety of sources. We used the internet and Googled for suggestions. We contacted The Office for the Aging and then followed up with other agencies they recommended. We talked with people – friends, people with experience in the field, doctors, and counselors. Really, we talked with anyone who we thought might have insights that would help us. We also read articles and books. Through all this we sought God’s guidance from Scripture and godly men and women who could provide counsel.

Brainstorm. As a family we talked, looking at the current needs and issues and discussing possible solutions. As a teacher, I would tell my students to list all the solutions they could think of, even those that seemed impossible or impractical. Sometimes the ones that seem impossible are the ones that actually spark another idea that is not only possible, but a good solution. While in our situation it was largely a group activity, it is certainly something that can be done by one person on their own as well.

Evaluate. As we looked at our potential solutions, we also evaluated them to determine which ones were realistic. This helped us to weed out the ones that really weren’t workable and to find those that were. As we talked and evaluated sometimes a whole new solution arose that was better than the individual ones we had started with. Again, this does not require a group, only some time and thinking.  

Decide and Pursue. Lastly, once we had narrowed down the possible solutions to those that were realistic, we decided which ones to pursue first, often with some sense of priority. Then we set about to pursue the solution, doing what was needed to put it in place, tweaking as we went.

Sometimes our initial solution worked, sometimes, we had to look for others. A key factor through the whole process was prayer. Along with prayer was a willingness to pursue different solutions until we found the one that worked best.

This is one group of ideas, but there are other ways to find a solution.
What has helped you to find solutions to challenges you’ve faced?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Climbing Out of the Pit of Negative Thinking

Credit: Tuomas_Lehtinen

Do you ever struggle with negative thinking? I do. Less now than a few years ago, yet still it pops up its ugly head and I have to remind myself to think differently.

Some days the negative thinking begins with the simplest word, look, action, or thought. A word of criticism, an embarrassing mistake, or a perceived slight is enough to start the downward spiral of negative thinking. Then, what started as a small thing becomes a mountain of discouragement and self-condemnation.

For years this cycle of thinking plagued my life. When my thinking had spiraled out of control into a pit of negativity, my emotions and my ability to cope with life, to be productive were all impacted. While I still struggle with negative thinking at times, I would no longer describe it as plaguing my life. I’d like to share with you some truths and techniques that helped me to climb out of the pit of negative thinking and turn that energy into something more positive.

The Apostle Paul teaches that we can control our thoughts and bring them into submission (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I came to this realization, it was life changing and thought changing. I learned I had the ability to recognize and choose between negative or healthy thoughts. With the help of the Holy Spirit, God had given me the power to bring my thoughts to a place of obedience to Christ, aligning them with those things that Christ asks of me.

At first it was very difficult. I had developed the habit of letting my thoughts go wherever they wished with little deliberate guidance. Learning to recognize what was happening and to pull in the reins required discipline, persistence, but most of all the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ways to Move from Negative to Positive Thinking

Recognize and Redirect My Thinking.
The sooner that I could see the negative thoughts had started a downward spiral, the easier it was to stop it and redirect my thoughts in more positive and healthy directions. If I let the negative thinking go unattended, the resulting discouragement made it difficult to fight back, to get out of the pit by redirecting my thinking. 

I found a few techniques to be helpful in redirection.
  • Memorizing Scripture. I noticed that my negative thinking could be grouped into a few specific categories, things I struggled with over and over again. As I identified these categories, I also identified verses that counteracted these thoughts. I began to memorize just one or two of these verses for each group and when I began to spiral downward in that area, I began to use these verses to redirect my thinking.
  • Choose creativity. Negative thinking and the resulting emotions expended a great deal of energy. However, this energy was expended on self-defeating, draining emotions and thoughts, resulting in no valuable action. By refocusing my thoughts on something positive, productive, or creative, my energy was concentrated on projects and relationships in a way that led to valuable results. 
  • Seeking Solutions. So often my negative thinking merely resulted in a critical, complaining attitude. Rather than continuing to complain or feed the frustration, I began to think in terms of solutions. What could I do to change the situation? What could I do to change my response to it? What could I do to improve the thing that was troubling me? This shift in perspective brought not only a move toward greater positivity, but also brought a sense of empowerment and more frequently being part of the solution.
  • Lies v. Truth. Many times my negative thoughts were based in a lie - a conclusion I had jumped to, a word or action I had misinterpreted or exaggerated by my own imagination. I began to ask myself if what I was thinking was true or my own interpretation, conclusion, or imagination. I also began to ask myself if there was another perspective, another interpretation for what I had heard or experienced. Did my perspective need an adjustment? I began to seek truth and flee from lies and misinterpretations. 
  • Journaling. Journaling also played a significant role in changing my thinking. My journal was a place where I could process these negative thoughts without judgment, a place I could think on related verses, seek solutions, identify lies and truth, and think creatively. The act of writing the positive, healthy, creative thoughts helped to cement them in my heart and mind.
What about you? 
How have you overcome negative thinking?

Friday, May 6, 2016

When Mother's Day is Painful, Making Meaning

For the mother who has lost a child, the woman who has never had children (but wishes she had), for the child who has lost a mother, for the family who is slowly losing a mother to a debilitating chronic illness, for the mother estranged from her child, for the child estranged from his mother, Mother's Day can be painful. For many Mother's Day is a painful reminder of what has never been or of what has been lost.

Mother's Day is coming up this Sunday. For me this day has always been a joyful celebration of the woman who has had more influence and impact on my life than any other. As I watch my mother succumb to Alzheimer's Disease (AD), Mother's Day becomes bittersweet. A sweet opportunity to celebrate my love for her and her influence in my life, as well as bitter as we face the daily reality of her slow but continued decline. Additionally, this day, this year is the anniversary of the day my father stepped into heaven. Painful, yet not hopeless.

For many Mother's Day is a painful reminder of what has never been or of what has been lost. It becomes a day to get lost in work, to medicate the pain in one way or another, to ignore it, or to get through the day the best one can and breath a sigh of relief until it comes again next year. Is there a better way? Is there a way to make meaning out of the pain?

God gave us a great gift when He gave us the ability to choose how we would cope with the circumstances we face. Thankfully we can chose to take the pain we feel, even the overwhelming pain, and take steps to make meaning out of it. In the beginning when the pain is raw and fresh, the steps may be small and deeply personal. As the pain begins to recede and we begin to adjust to the loss, we may be able to do more and more to make meaning from our pain. 

Here are a few ideas to cope with a painful day in a positive way.
  • Write a letter. Write a letter to the mother or child that is gone, even to the child that you wish had been. Tell them what you're doing, your thoughts about them, what you wish they were here to enjoy. This letter can be kept in a special place for cherishing, attached to a balloon and sent away, or destroyed if it is deeply personal. 
  • Give to a motherless child. Look around for a child (young or old) who may be having a difficult time on this day. How can you encourage him or her? How can you ease their pain and make this day a positive memory for them?
  • Honor those who are childless with kindness and understanding. Childlessness whether through infertility, miscarriage, or singleness can be painful. Acknowledging the contribution these women make into the lives of others is a gift of hope and encouragement.
  • Take time to share memories of the lost mother or child. On this day we think of our mother who is gone or the child whose seat is now empty. They are in our thoughts, but sometimes they get caught there. It is good to not only think of them, but to talk of them, to share memories, to tell stories, to savor the person we still love and to introduce them to others. 
  • Give to a bereaved mother. Be sensitive to the woman who has lost her child(ren) either through death or estrangement. What act of kindness would comfort her on this day? What word of encouragement would refresh her heart and lift her mouth in a smile? 
I have suggested a mere handful of ideas. I'd love to hear your ideas.
What are other ways to make meaning when Mother's Day is painful?

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Journaling Increases My Hope

Grandpa and Grandma
When I was a young child, we visited my mother's parents regularly. One of the things I remember about my grandmother is that she wrote in her diary every day until a stroke took away that ability. Since her death in 1986, I have treasured a box of her diaries. Her love for keeping a diary, built in me a love for keeping my own. I asked for a diary of my own for Christmas when I was only 11 years old. I was impatient however, so my very first diary was made of scrap paper and yarn.
A few of Grandma's Diaries

Over the years keeping a diary (a daily accounting of my activities) has morphed into keeping a journal (a record of my thoughts, feelings, doubts, and growth). Journaling has often renewed my soul and given me hope.

Journaling gives me hope . . .

1. by reminding me what God has done in my life. When I look back through the pages of my journals, I am reminded of things God has taught me, ways He has shaped my life, people He has brought across my path. I am reminded of verses that have spoken to me and times I have experienced Him in powerful ways. These fill me with hope that the God who never changes will continue to do His work in my life.

2. when I see prayers answered. Many times when I have reread prayers I have written in my journal, I have been surprised (even though I suppose I shouldn't be) at the very specific ways that God has worked in my life, in the lives of others, and in situations around me. This instills in me a confidence that God will continue His work.

3. when I work through to solutions for challenges I am facing. As I pray and meditate on God's Word, as I pour out my heart through pen and paper thinking through a challenge, nearly always I am led to a solution, to a path through whatever the challenge is. Finding the path through gives me hope.

4. when I am reminded of special times and words of encouragement. On those days when I get down, the only one celebrating at my own pity party, reminders of better days, of words of encouragement bring refreshment to my weary soul. These memories and words of encouragement become like diving into cool, clear water on a hot, dry day.

5. by helping me re-member myself when things feel like they are falling apart. In the midst of hard times, in the midst of loss and chaos, I start to lose my sense of self, to feel like I am falling apart. Reviewing my journals reminds me of who I am, who God has been shaping me to be. I walk away from them with a sense of hope that He can keep me together and with a confidence in my true identity.

Do you journal? How has journaling benefited you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Church, Notes from Single Women (Part 2)

Please check out part 2 of Linda Stoll's series about how single women experience the church. This post shares the stories of 4 more single women. Check it out here: "Dear Church - Heartfelt Notes for 8 Single Women - Part 2"

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dear Church, Notes from Single Women

A few weeks ago my dear friend Linda asked me to comment on what I would like the church to know about singles and the church. My response, along with three other single women, is included on her blog in the post, "Dear Church - Heartfelt Notes from 8 Single Women." (Part one) Please check it out and also her calm, peace-filled, and friendly site.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Alzheimer's - There is Hope

Recently, after I wrote "Alzheimer's - Another Face of Grief" someone commented about the hopelessness of the situation. I was taken a bit off guard by the comment. Granted Alzheimer's Disease (AD) has no cure and while some treatments slow down the disease for awhile, there is as of yet no cure, no effective treatment. (I have heard that an ultrasound treatment is being tested in Australia that has had some success. Let's pray that it IS a successful treatment!)

Despite the reality that AD has no cure and my mom will continue to decline, I do not feel hopeless, I do not perceive the situation as hopeless. In fact, I have a great deal of hope, hope that is not based on this circumstance or on change. Where is this hope?

1. I have hope in the fact that one day my mom will have a new body and mind. After she breathes her last breath here on earth, her soul will be transported to Heaven. There she will be united with her Savior who she has loved and served throughout her life. She will be reunited with my dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others who have gone on before us. AND she will receive a new, perfect body. Gone will be all the aches and pains, the diseases that have ravaged her mind and body here on earth. She will be able to think sharply, see clearly, and move nimbly.

2. I have hope in the fact that God brings good out of all things that affect those who love Him. Sometimes we have to look closely for the good, careful to be aware and not dismiss it. Often, I think, the good is the transformation God brings about in us as we trust Him through the difficult times. Sometimes it is an action we are motivated to do because of where we have been. The good may look different in each situation, but it is the promise of a God who keeps His promises.

3. I have hope in the fact that God will give us strength and that He will provide. God promises His strength to us, and repeatedly He has given me strength when I have faced difficult times. In the last two years as Mom's decline has worsened, He has shown up over and over as Jehovah Jireh The God Who Will Provide. He has provided caregivers, finances, strength, and solutions over and over again.

We could become entangled in the hope that she will get better, but this is most likely a false hope that will disappoint and leave us empty. Paul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to the Romans, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5 NIV). My hope is borne not from the frailty of circumstances or the false hope of her disease getting better, but in the God who stands with us and provides for us in the midst of difficult seasons.

May you find hope in the midst of difficult circumstances you face. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Journaling for Stress Management

Stress is our reaction to our circumstances and to difficulties we face. Sometimes stress is good - we feel the pressure of a deadline and the exuberance of a task accomplished on time. Sometimes stress is overwhelming when we are trying to color with too many crayons at once. When stress is negative or overwhelming, how can we manage it in healthy ways?

Journaling is one effective practice to manage stress. Pick up a journal--one you have or if you're new to journaling pick up a plain notebook or a special journal at the store, whatever suits your style. Or turn on your computer or tablet. However, you want to record your thoughts, grab your favorite format and begin.

1. Write it out. Find a quiet spot to sit and just write. Write about what is happening, how you feel, the problems you face, the solutions you need but don't have. Write. Let the words flow from your heart and head out through your fingertips until peace begins to fill your heart.

2. Pray it through. Take your concerns to God. Tell Him all that you're facing and seek His direction, His solutions for your need. You may want to also combine this with reading the Bible. Pay careful attention to the connections between what you pray and what you read. When you see connections, jot them down in your journal. 

3. Surrender it. Concern by concern surrender them to God, expressing your trust in Him to take your burdens and to work them out for you. Peter wrote, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:8 NIV).  And He is able to give you strength when you feel depleted and able to give you solutions when it seems none are on the horizon.

Journaling Prompt: 
In a prayer in your journal fill in the blanks:
Dear Father, today my plate is full with _________________ and I feel _________________. I surrender _________________ to You. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

When the End is Near

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In two impersonal, sterile hospital rooms two separate families gather to keep vigil, to say good-bye.

Previously the doctors have had the hard conversations - the loved one is no longer responding to treatment and the prognosis is grim.

The patient and his or her family too have difficult decisions to make, hard conversations to hold. Words must make their way past a lump that forms in the throat, around sadness that breaks the heart, through tears that glisten in eyes and spill down cheeks, and finally formulate in a brain dazed by shock. These conversations require great courage.

The two families keeping vigil had these hard conversations. One family chose to deny the reality of their loved one's situation. The other family chose to let go. The patient chose to let go of this life and his family chose to let him go.

Letting go of this life and of a loved one is a heart-wrenching decision and it can also be an immense gift of love.

The family who denied reality and rejected the option of palliative care, of hospice care watched their mother, wife, and grandmother die painfully. Her death was a traumatic event both for her and for her family.

The family who chose to let go also chose hospice care. Hospice focuses on palliative care--keeping the person comfortable through the dying process. Hospice is not about heroic efforts to extend life, but about helping a person to die peacefully and helping a family to cope with the heart-rending loss of their loved one.

For many there comes a point when the doctors and other medical professionals have exhausted their options, when the treatments have failed. At this difficult moment in life, the choice becomes how to let go, how to face death. Hospice care, palliative care can help families make this difficult transition with support, care, and comfort.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Alzheimer's - Another Face of Grief

Grief wears many faces. The person standing in the unemployment line. A family that lost a home and pets in a fire. The mother who lost a child. The father who receives the news that his child has a serious birth defect. The woman who has to have her leg amputated. The husband who has to bury his bride. The young surgeon who receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The grandparents who know their granddaughter died at the hands of a drunk driver. The person who receives news of a life-changing chronic illness. The family who loses a beloved pet. Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is yet another face of grief.

AD takes away a loved one little by little. A once active, well-spoken woman who raised 6 children, ran a home, mentored young women, loved her husband, sewed clothes, sang at weddings begins to change. At 82 she watches the home she designed and her husband built for her burn to the ground. Her family notices that she is defensive, angry, having difficulty understanding some important factors of her husband's diabetes. Is it the beginning of Alzheimer's or the trauma of losing her home and having to start again in her early 80s? She and her husband move into their new home and she seems to become more like herself, yet there are still small changes.

Then her husband dies. After 65 years of marriage, a huge loss. A loss that would send anyone reeling. She adapts to living alone, but slowly changes become more apparent. She is unable to fill her own pill case, then she is unable to remember to take her pills. Her meals become more and more simple until she is having trouble even operating the microwave. She begins to have trouble remembering people. Eventually she is unsure of who people are and how they are related to her.

Slowly, over the months and years her family loses her, while she is still with them. Sometimes she remembers them and other times not. Her speech becomes garbled and communication becomes difficult as she struggles to find the words to express her thoughts. Social ques are missed and behaviors are often inappropriate.

Her body is still there, becoming more and more frail. She, a once vibrant, active, hard-working, talented woman becomes trapped inside a frail body and a confused mind. Still there are vestiges of the woman that once was - a clinging to her faith as she recites John 3:16 like she is holding fast to a lifesaver in a treacherous sea; her love for music as she plays the piano at 2 a.m. or watches Lawrence Welk over and over; her dislike of clutter and desire for order. Somewhere under the disease, inside the frail body, occasionally peeking out of the traitorous brain is the essence of the woman that once was.

Her family grieves. Lost is the opportunity to taste her cooking. Gone is the ability to carry on an adult conversation with her. Left behind are excursions to museums, parks, zoos, berry picking, gardening, and shopping. Recipes and memories that have not been written down may become extinct. Yet in the midst of all the losses, of what was that will never be again, there is an opportunity to keep recreating the relationship. Where we used to go shopping, now we watch episodes of Lawrence Welk. Where once we watched movies together, now we read children's books or look at photo albums. Our activities change, but while she remains there is the chance to love her, to minister to her, to enter into her world and connect however we can. There is the chance to hear her voice and to hear her play the piano, the opportunity to hug her gently, to comb her hair, to take her for a ride or to church. Every moment is filled both with grief and with the opportunity to seize every chance to cherish her presence while she is still here.