Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

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

arztsamui on

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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

New Beginnings: #3 Are You Wearing Your Oxygen Mask?

Awhile back I saw a couple of clips of flight attendants who delivered the airplane safety instructions like stand up comediennes. Unfortunately, I've never had the privilege of flying with one of them. I've only been treated to the traditional safety film and accompanying flight attendant demo. Can you keep a secret? I thought they were a little boring and even useless. I mean, if your plane is hurtling toward the earth from 25,000 feet how much difference are any of these safety features really going to make?

Then one day I had a bit of an attitude adjustment. Still no comedian flight attendant, but I was traveling with a six year old family friend. Although her father was also traveling with the group, I knew he was a bit like the absent-minded professor and so I was prepared to give her a little extra attention. 
TCJ2020 at

As her little six year old self sat next to me on the plane and the safety film began, I paid careful attention. They asked who should get the oxygen mask first you or a child with you. Heroically, I replied firmly in my head, "the little girl!" Then they proceeded to show me why that was the absolute wrong answer. And it made sense, not only on the plane, but in life.

If I tried to put on the child's mask first, and encountered trouble, I would soon run out of oxygen, become unconscious, and be unable to help her. If I put on my own mask first, I would have a fresh supply of air that would allow me to remain conscious and clear thinking, able to help her overcome any challenges we might encounter putting on her mask. 

This is also true in day to day life. When we become busy, stressed, overwhelmed, our energy can be rapidly depleted leaving us without the resources to cope with life's difficulties and to love well those around us. Self-care is an important aspect of good health -- emotional, physical, and spiritual health. In times of high stress, times of change, or times of additional responsibility, adequate self-care can become more difficult.

Identify What You Need
We all need adequate sleep, healthy food, plenty of water, and exercise for physical self-care. Those are critical parts of caring for ourselves, and often the first to be sacrificed. Yet, we are more than physical beings and caring for ourselves emotionally and spiritually is also important.

What refills your emotional tank? What allows you to de-stress and regain the ability to meet high emotional demands with emotional fortitude? For me, as an introvert, time alone, time to think, time to process what is happening all refill my emotional tank. Time alone carefully balanced with time with good friends and loved ones keeps my emotional tank at optimum levels. What refreshes you? What fills you with positive emotional energy?

What about spiritually? For me, journaling, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship help me to maintain spiritual well being. What renews your spirit and your connection with God?

Make Space in Your Life for Self-Care
1. Identify what you need.

2. Brainstorm ways that you can incorporate those things that refresh you into your schedule.

3. Take steps, even small ones, to begin to create spaces and times that minister to your body, soul, and heart.

4. Put on your oxygen mask so that you have the strength to do all God has called you to do.

What have you done to make self-care a part of your life?
What is the hardest part of finding time to care for yourself?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

New Beginnings: #2 When Everything Seems Upside Down

When Everything Seems Upside Down

New Beginnings bring lots of changes. Positive. Exciting. Good. Yet, even the best of changes require us to adapt and navigate.

During that same time of crisis that I mentioned in "Who Are You?", I realized that feeling my life had turned upside down was more than just a feeling, it was reality. Nearly everything about my life had changed - job, schedule, meals, living arrangement, pet, dress code, sleep. My world had turned upside down. 

Still, I had chosen this path to be able to care for my Mom. I was convinced that this was God's leading and a gift I wanted to give to my Mom in this winter season of her life. So, how would I cope with all these changes? How would I navigate this uncharted territory?

Stand on Your Head

The first cross-stitch project I completed says, "When Everything Seems Upside Down, Stand on Your Head." Sometimes everything does seem upside down. How would I stand on my head?  

1. Trust God and His Purposes. God is always at work, even when I don't see it, even when I don't feel it. He is at work to draw us into relationship with Himself and to mold us to be like Christ. When I stand on my head, I want a firm foundation underneath me. God and His purposes are a trustworthy foundation.

2. Accept. Although I had underestimated the impact the changes would have, I needed to accept the reality of my new situation. Only by accepting the reality of what is could I begin to find real solutions to cope. I needed to put my head down on the floor and prepare to lift my feet toward the ceiling, trusting that I could see things correctly again, that I could navigate this uncharted course. 

3. Re-create. So what that everything was different? That's just an opportunity to be creative, to find new ways to do the things that were important. Example: Being involved in a community of believers was important to me, but attending church on Sunday mornings was a BIG challenge. With a little research and a little understanding of what would best meet that need, I found a Sunday School class that would fit into my new schedule and allow me to be involved in a community of spiritual sisters. 

4. Establish New Rhythms. In my old life, I had a quiet time each morning and set aside time to unwind daily and time to step back and rest deeply on the weekends. That rhythm was displaced in my new life. Yet, those rhythms were important to my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I am still experimenting with new ways to incorporate these essential rhythms into my new life. Thankfully, it's looking like Wednesday will be my new day of rest and I'm finding a new space and time for my daily quiet time. What rhythms do you find worth keeping? How do you re-establish them?

These are just a few ways to cope when life seems upside down. 
What suggestions would you offer to anyone navigating many changes at once?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

News of Beginnings and Endings

At one end of the 3rd floor is maternity; at the other end is the hospice unit. Between them a short hallway, the dash between birth and death. Life.

The maternity unit is most often filled with wonderful news, with hope, with the anticipation of a life to be lived, of dreams to be developed, of potential to be realized. 

The hospice floor is a place of endings, of letting go, of saying goodbye, of memories of a life lived, of sad news. 

Between them is life, where dreams are realized or lost, where love is found and lost and found again, where families are built, where memories are made. 

I read a book recently about a man who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his late thirties, a brilliant surgeon with a bright future. As he adjusted to his diagnosis, to chemo, to the loss of dreams, to the loss of the life he and his wife had planned, his oncologist challenged him to determine what he valued and to expend his energy, the energy and time he had remaining on what he valued.

If I was given the news I had 10 years or 5 years or 3 years or 6 months or 3 months to live, where would I want to expend my energy and time? What would I want to do? Who would I want to be with? What legacy would I want to leave behind? 

The man in the book chose to finish his residency, create a daughter with his wife, write the book I read, and love his family and friends. The journey for each of us will be different. Identifying what we value, where we want to spend our remaining energy and time is a deeply personal process. 

I haven't received news about how much longer I have to live, still I want to live a life of meaning, of focus, of value. I want to leave a legacy that matters. Pondering these questions, determining values, is an important part of the journey to leaving a legacy that matters. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Beginnings: #1 Who Are You?

New Beginnings . . . those words speak of hope, life, starting over, second chances, something new and exciting on the horizon. Energizing. Hope-giving. Anticipation.

I expected the Necessary Endings of leaving a life I'd spent 18 years building and maintaining to be difficult, but I had great expectations for the New Beginnings. I knew that even New Beginnings come with challenges, but the anticipation of new opportunities was also energizing. My previous experiences with New Beginnings had left me with the expectation that the challenges were outweighed by the benefits.

Imagine my surprise, when about a month after my move, I reached a crisis point. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and my dreams and expectations seemed far from being realized . . . E.V.E.R. being realized. However the biggest impact and surprise was that I felt like somewhere, along with the things I couldn't find amidst the waiting-to-be-unpacked boxes, my identity had been lost in the move. Dear friends helped me see that it hadn't been lost, just misplaced for a time.

For 18 years I had been Dar - ministry leader, teacher, administrative assistant, journaler, and coach/counselor. Now I was Darlene, disconnected from church and ministry due to my new job, care-giving responsibilities, and schedule. I had become a Unit Secretary learning to function in a field where often even the words sounded like a foreign language. And, I had no time to journal, no space to find solitude or silence. So many of the things that made up who I am had been replaced by something foreign to who I am.

Thankfully, dear friends reminded me of who I am and helped me to begin to think about how to make sure my identity didn't get stuffed in a box to be unpacked later or donated to charity.

New Beginnings ARE a time of hope, anticipation, second changes, yet even the very best of new beginnings contain profound challenges and inherently involve change. Change impacts our identity. So how do we retain our identity in the midst of change, especially profound change? What do you do when you feel like you're losing yourself in the midst of a new season of life?

1. Remember and re-member. In the midst of unpacking, of adjusting to the new job, of meeting new people, of adjusting to a new spouse or baby, of starting a new ministry take time to remember who you are. Take time to remember your strengths, the contributions you have made in the past, the things that define you. Then take time to re-member yourself, to put yourself back together. Change pulls at us from different directions, making us feel like we're a rag doll caught between children in a tug of war. We're close to losing vital parts. When we remember who we are and then put ourselves back together we're rescued from the tug of war and able to retain our wholeness.

2. Maintain Connections. Maybe you've been blessed to have family that is part of your New Beginning, family who can help remind you of who you are. Yet, New Beginnings create stress for the whole family, so take time to stay connected as a family. Maybe you've left behind dear friends who helped you stay the course in the past. Keep in touch with them. Accept their reminders about the best that's in you or about what God has been doing in your life. Let them help you remember the best of who you are.

3. What Defines You? What are those things that if you don't do them or don't have them you're not yourself? What are those things that others would say, "As long as I've known you, you've _______"?For me, reflective silence, solitude, journaling, and ministry have defined me since I was a teen. Without them I don't feel like myself or feel able to cope well. With help from a listening friend, I was able to recognize the importance of prioritizing these things in my new situation. It may take creativity, cooperation from others in your life, and determination, but maintaining your identity is critical to your new beginnings. You are the only you the world has and if we lose you, we lose an important voice.

What have New Beginnings been like for you?
Did you ever feel like you were losing yourself? How did you cope? 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Courageous Heart

Evgeni Dinev @
 Have you ever felt like you were standing at the edge of a cliff, ready to take the plunge over the edge into the unknown? I have. It was a hot summer day and I had been standing in line for what seemed like forever. There was a line of people in front of me and more behind me. I was with a couple of my friends and we talked and laughed as we waited and moved forward, slowly foot by foot, climbing upward. Despite the conversation and laughter I was nervous. At the end of the climb, I would take a plunge that I had never taken before and I could feel the butterflies swarming around in my stomach. Finally, we reached the top and it was my turn. I sat down on the little rubber mat they gave me and pushed off laying down as I had been instructed. I shot forward and plummeted toward the earth as I followed the path of the twisting, turning tube, pushed onward by the flow of water and gravity. At times I was frightened that I would flip over and get a nose full of water, at other times the rush of excitement was amazing. At last I landed in the pool of water below. I had finished my first water slide adventure. I had stepped into the unknown and although it was 
scary it was also worth it.

          I think Joshua felt like he was standing on the edge of a precipice when we meet him in Joshua 1. Moses, his friend, his mentor, his boss, had just died and God asked him to take over leading the people of Israel. He’d been with Moses for 40 years. He’d seen the miracles God has performed through Moses. He’d been up on the mountain with Moses.  He’d been Moses’ aide and he’d seen so much, but now it’s his turn. Now the responsibility to lead this people, this nation of over a million, into battle, into the land God has promised them is his. 
          What was he thinking as he faced a future without his mentor Moses? What was he thinking as he faced leading a group of people who had been less than cooperative and obedient? What was he thinking and feeling as he stood facing his step forward into the unknown? Someday we will be able to ask him those questions, but for now we can only speculate. For now, we can only imagine what he was thinking and feeling based on what we think and how we feel when we are faced with stepping out into the unknown.
          Joshua didn’t know what the future looked like. He knew where God was taking them, but he didn’t know just what the process for getting there would look like. Often we don’t either. God gives us a burden, a vision for a work He wants to accomplish through us, but He doesn’t give us all the details. 
          As we stand at this place waiting to step off into the unknown, we often experience fear, nervousness, doubt, and discouragement. God gave Joshua the prescription to counteract those feelings. God said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified: do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).
          Be strong . . . not do strong or do strong things or act strong, but . . . BE strong. BE courageous. God doesn’t give us a list of dos and don’ts here, rather He tells us what to be, and what not to be. “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, . . .” Then He tells us why we can be these things, “. . . for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Oswald Chambers wrote, “We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.” 
          It is God who gives us the grace and the strength and the courage to step off into the unknown or to face the unknown when it is thrust upon us. We can be strong and be courageous when we are certain of God, when we are dwelling in Him, remaining in Him. 
          Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived a few hundred years ago, made it his mission in life to practice the presence of God. (There’s a book about him called Practicing the Presence of God if you want to know more.) He chose to spend every day as if God were walking through it with him, to focus his thoughts on God all day long, to pray continually.  By practicing God’s presence he made his dwelling place in God.
          “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:1-2). We are not strong and courageous because we never face difficulty (we wouldn’t need to be strong or courageous then), but we can be strong and courageous IN difficulty because of our God who never leaves us or forsakes us.
          May you find strength and courage in the great I AM because He is strong and courageous.  May you be able to face each circumstance with strength and courage because I AM will never leave you or forsake you.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

What's Simmering on the Back Burner?

Hi There! Thanks for stopping by. I've been working on a series about New Beginnings, but it's not quite ready to publish yet. In the meantime, I wanted to pop in and keep you in the loop about what's happening here at Emerging Butterflies.

If you've been following along, you're aware that I moved a few months ago and that adjusting to all the changes has been a challenge. One of the things I was working toward before the move was starting a new blog. That is currently still on the back burner. For now, however, I'll be here at Emerging Butterflies for awhile. When the time comes to move, I'll be sure to keep you up to date and to make the transition as seamless as I can.

You may have noticed that I recently made some style changes to Emerging Butterflies. One of them was to change the tag line: "Building a Life of Meaning; Leaving a Legacy of Love." This tag line encapsulates my desire for this blog and for the new one. I hope that you'll stop by often to see what we're talking about here.

Soon, I hope to have a brainstorming session to plan what I'll write about this year. I would love your help. "How can I help?" you ask. Well, one huge thing you could do is to tell me what you'd like to hear about and talk about here. What is one question you would like to have answered when you stop by? What is a conversation you'd like to be part of?

See you soon!!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

8 Lessons from Necessary Endings
On October 10, 2015 I pulled out of the parking lot of the apartment that had been my home for 18 years. The moving truck had left, my friends had pulled away, and tears threatened to run down my cheeks. It was the culmination of several necessary endings: a job, relationships, a connection to a specific place of worship, a home, and ministries. We all face endings in the course of our lives, some that we choose, some that we don't. How do we face those endings in a productive way?

Leave well. If you are the one leaving, do your best to leave well, to leave in such a way that people will be glad when you return.

Speak words of affirmation and appreciation to those you are leaving behind. Although relationships may not be ending, when we leave it changes the relationship. We no longer see each other as frequently or in the same settings. Speaking words of affirmation and appreciation let the other person know what the relationship has meant to us, the contribution they have made in our lives. This is part of leaving well.

Train a successor. If you are leaving a job, a ministry, or a role in the community, do your best to train someone to replace you. When you leave, it will leave a hole and the sooner a replacement is found, the sooner someone can be taught the ropes, the easier the transition will be.

Leave behind systems for success. When I began teaching, one of my colleagues challenged me to think ahead as if I would teach for many years and to establish systems that would make each successive year flow more easily. This advice caused me to establish systems not only in my teaching, but in other areas of my life. Established systems can help your successor to transition until they are able to make the job their own.

Accept help. Necessary Endings and New Beginnings, no matter how positive they are, are stressful. Accept help from others when they offer it. Without those who helped me pack, move, clean, and adjust, the path between the necessary endings and the new beginnings would have overwhelmed me.

Be present where you are while you are there. Leaving, moving, saying good-byes can be emotionally draining and the temptation is to disengage emotionally and mentally before you are gone physically. Part of leaving well is to be there until you are gone - to be a friend, to be a colleague, to be an employee as long as you are there.

Grieve the loss. Allow yourself time and space to grieve for what you have lost. Good or bad, what has ended has had an impact on your life, possibly for many years. Be gracious with yourself and create space for yourself to feel the pain, to weep, and to process the loss.

Let go when you are gone. After the ending takes place, after you have grieved, let go, move on, embrace the new beginnings. Make room in your life for new relationships, new jobs, new ministries, new ways of doing things.

What lessons have you learned when you faced an ending - chosen or unexpected?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Gift of Presence

In 2007 I was going through a difficult transition, my life was changing and I decided that it might be time to get a pet. I had wanted one for some time, but my busy life wasn't conducive to having one. However, my schedule was slowing and I saw an opportunity to bring a pet into my life. After much debate whether bring a dog or cat into my home, I realized that a cat would fit my lifestyle much better. I prayed and asked God to bring along the right kitty for me. In just a short time, one of the girls in our youth group showed up one night and said that after youth group her mom was bring a new litter of kittens for us to meet. That night I met a teeny-tiny black and white kitten named Adirondack. I held him on my chest and he just snuggled in and slept easily over my heart. I fell in love. A few weeks later he came home with me.

Adirondack seemed like a big name for a tiny little guy and I wanted his name to be significant to the time of life I was in. I searched and searched and then finally find the perfect name. Dakota means "friend" and it has proved to be an apt name. He has been an excellent little friend.

On September 5, 2015 about 5:35 a.m. my sweet little Dakota passed away. It happened far too quickly in my opinion. I received a diagnosis of diabetes for him earlier that week, although the vet noted a possible problem with the liver as well. We decided to treat the diabetes and see if that was the primary issue. On Wednesday night I brought home his diabetic food and he dug right in and was acting quite normal. When I came home from work Thursday night, he had taken an unexpected turn for the worse. I was concerned and spent much of the night with him. When I arrived at the vet on Friday morning for a diabetic tutorial, the vet shared my deep concern. After a discussion of options, and many tears, I brought my little buddy home with IV liquids and pain meds. Over the next 19 hours I cared for him tenderly and was able to say good-bye.

Later I was talking with one of my sisters and she commented that I probably confided in Dakota a lot. I replied that I really hadn't. Although I talked to him constantly, my conversation with him was focused on him. As I tried to explain to my sister, I realized that the greatest gift Dakota gave me was presence.

When Dakota entered my life, I had lived completely alone for 10 years. After he came to live with me, I wasn't alone any more. When I came home, he often met me at the door. He entertained me with his antics - he had a big, quirky personality combined with intellect - and became the source of many a story. And he taught me that while I expected him to obey, I also needed to respect his likes and dislikes and take them into consideration. I learned to read his body language.

Over time we developed habits that created a connection and a pattern to our lives. Part of our morning routine was him jumping up on the bathroom sink for a drink. I'd turn on the water he'd take a drink and then jump down. I'd turn off the water and he'd come right back so I'd turn the water back on. After doing this two or three times. I warn him that "Mama's not playing this game anymore" and he'd take a long drink.

When I brought him home the first time, I was determined that I wouldn't kiss him and that he would not sleep in my bed. That first night I put him in a basket next to my bed and even though he was only about 4 or 5 inches long, he had sharp little claws and promptly climbed my dust ruffle and comforter so that he could cuddle with  me. I picked him up and put him back in the basket. He'd cry and then up the side of the bed he'd come. After doing this over and over again until 2 or 3 in the morning, I gave in and we both had a good night's sleep. Until Wednesday or Thursday morning of week he died, I regularly woke up to him on the foot of my bed. And as you can guess, I had come to kiss him regularly.

My last words before I left for work each morning were, "Bye, bye, my boy. Mama loves you. Be a good boy. No shenanigans today!" When I came home at night, often he'd meet me at the door and if he didn't I'd find him and we'd have a cuddle. He would follow me and want to be in the room I was in, sometimes close by, other times just watching me, seeing what I was up to. Of course he slept for hours every day, but even in his sleep he seemed to always know exactly where I was.

He was present with me. He was present when I found out my parent's house had burned down. He was present when my Dad passed away. He was present when I lost some of my dearest friends and my church exploded. He was present when I was working, when I was sick, when I was sleeping, when I was relaxing, when I was sad, when I was happy. The one time he wasn't present was when I got angry and he became my gauge. If my voice took on even the slightest sign of anger he'd run and I knew I needed to calm down.

Cat and Mouse (on top of the shower rod)
Petting him was calming. Hearing him purr was music to my ears. He was present with me. He was a sweet companion in times of loneliness. He was my travel companion back and forth to my parent's home on hundreds of trips. He was my playmate in the little games we played. He was comic relief that made me laugh over and over again. He was my protector from mice, spiders, and bugs. He was the writer of my Christmas letters. He was the subject of anecdotes. He was a source of connection with other cat lovers. He was a continual source of love. Above all he was present and he was one half of an irreplaceable relationship.

In time I hope to have a new kitty friend and I hope to have an amazing relationship with that little furry friend, however my relationship with Dakota cannot be duplicated because he was a living creature with his very own personality. He gave me many gifts, that collectively can be called the gift of presence.