Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Time to Catch Up
Dear Readers,
Hi there! Well, it's been five months today since I last posted and many things have changed. In the coming weeks, I'll reflect on the deeper meaning of some of those changes, but tonight I'll catch you up on the big stuff.

Over the last several years as a family we've watched my mother's confusion grow and her ability to live on her own and care for herself diminish. Gradually, step by step, we've put measures into place to ensure her safety and well-being. Last year it became apparent that something more was needed. My sister, her primary caregiver, was burning out. I was traveling regularly to relieve her and to care for my mom and I was getting burned out. Something had to change if we were to sustain her well-being as well as our own.

After a great deal of prayer (my own as well as from family and friends), I accepted a new job which would allow me to move in with my mom and become one of three primary caregivers. I started my new position on October 5th and moved my belongings into my mom's house on October 10th. From the time I accepted the position in mid September until a couple of weeks ago when the holiday season came to a close, I felt as if I was living in a rapidly spinning whirlwind trying to make it from one day to the next. Now, four months into this life-turned-upside-down mode, I am beginning to establish new rhythms from day to day and week to week.

I have missed you, my readers. I have thought of you and longed for space to write again. As we forge ahead into 2016, I look forward to exploring some of the great themes of life: change, endings, grief, identity, ministry, pursuing dreams, and grace.

Looking forward to walking through this year with you. May you have a blessed and healthy 2016!!!