Friday, June 12, 2015

Finding Joy & Love

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be made full.”
(John 15: 11)

The day turned out to be a cold one, but also beautiful!  I had decided I would leave the house early, and go visit my mom.  I was hoping it would be a good day for both of us.  But truthfully, I never know what kind of mood my mom will be in until I get there.

The past few weeks have been difficult for mom.  I had gotten a few phone calls from the nurses, telling me that mom had been acting out in anger.  She had been hitting the staff, and they were worried about her and the other patients.  So the doctor had been changing mom’s meds.  Each time her meds were changed, I would worry about the medicine’s effect on mom.  So as I drove north, I couldn’t help but be a little worried about how the visit was going to go.

“and that your joy may be made full.”

As I got off the elevator to mom’s floor, I could see her sitting in the rocking chair near the nurses’ station.  As I opened the door, I smiled and said “hi mom!”.  She looked up and a big smile crossed her face.  “Hi!” she said as I stood before her.  At that moment, I had a feeling that it might turn out to be a good day!  I asked mom to walk with me, and we headed down to the activities room.  When we got inside the room, Faith (the Activities Director) was just getting everyone ready for exercising.  Mom and I sat next to each other, and together we did our exercises.  I found myself laughing and smiling,  along with mom and Faith, as we lost count or mixed up our steps during the exercises.  It was just fun to be there!

When exercises were done, I helped Faith get the room set up for “Coffee time”.  Mom had noticed a big yellow duck in the corner of the room.  So I went over and brought it to her.  Mom fell in love with the duck!  It was one of the stuffed animals that were used for the patients who needed sensory stimulation, so I knew I would have to take it away from her.  I wondered how mom would react when I took it from her.  But other than looking sad, she let me take it over to the other patients.  I felt so bad about taking the duck away from her, so I rummaged around the room to find something else for mom to have.  As I did, I found a small duck that was tucked away in the corner.  It was one those battery operated Easter toys that could sing and dance.  This one’s batteries didn’t work (which I have to admit I was sort of glad about).  Mom absolutely loved it!  As I helped Faith get the coffee and hot chocolate for each person, I watched as mom showed everyone at her table the duck.  She was laughing and smiling, and had the others smiling as well.  “Look at mom”, I told Faith.  “That is what she was like, when she had parties!”  I told her.  “She loved to play games and just make everyone smile and laugh!” I said.  Faith looked over at mom, and then smiled at me.  “I would have loved to see your mom back then!” she said, “I have heard some great stories about her!”

As I headed home that day, Faith’s words came back to me.  “I would have loved to see your mom back then!”   As I drove, the memories seemed to float into my mind.  My mom, looking so beautiful, was standing in front of me . . . .

“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, 
that your joy may be made full.”
(John 16: 24)

She was standing in front of me, holding my birthday cake.  It had 6 candles on it, that were already lit.  She was smiling as she started singing “Happy Birthday” to me.  The rest of my family joined in, as my mom put the cake on the table in front of me.  My brothers and cousins were all standing close by, as I got ready to blow out the candles.  Everyone clapped, as my mom took the cake into the kitchen to cut it up so we all could eat it.  My grandparents and aunts were all sitting around the living room.  They were talking and laughing, as mom brought me the piece of cake I had asked for.  It was a corner piece, with the most frosting on it!  My brothers and cousins had all headed out to the kitchen to get some cake and ice cream.  As I sat there with my cake in front of me, I could hear my mom.  Her laughter was like music, and it made you smile.  I don’t remember much else about my birthday party, except for mom’s voice and her smile.  It was those memories I wanted to keep!  You see my mom could get very angry, very quickly!  And that was something I didn’t like to remember.  But the parties, well those were times that mom seemed to love!  And so it was also those times - that were happy memories . . .

There is an appointed time for everything.  
And there is a time for every event under heaven - 
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1)

Over the years, there were many parties.  There were birthdays, and New Year’s Eve Parties, even reunion celebrations, all were organized by my mom.  She loved the details of putting together those events.  It seemed to keep her happy - and busy!

As my brothers and I grew older, going to family parties were not our favorite things to do.  We had friends and plans that seemed much more important than being with family.  It made our mom very upset, and the crying and scenes she made - well -  it seemed to push us even more away.

A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together . . . 
(Ecclesiastes 3: 6b & 7a)

As we got married and started our own families, we made time to get together with my mom and dad.  There were still parties; but sometimes we just couldn’t all be there.  My mom still got upset, but we had learned how to avoid fighting with her.  It was still a struggle at times, but we all had our own growing families that kept us pretty busy.

Dad’s birthday seemed to be the one party that we all got together for.  Our aunts and cousins would also try to be there.  And for me, I really enjoyed those moments of visiting with my cousins.  We had grown up seeing each other so much!  But as we became moms and dads, we were pulled in different directions.  

A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together . . . 

It wasn’t until my dad was diagnosed with cancer for the 3rd time, and mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that we started doing more to help out my parents.  It was still hard to get us all together for parties, but we did go more often.

It was around this time that Ted and I started to take time to help my mom and dad with chores around the house, or just bringing a meal over.  For some reason, my mom would spend time talking to Ted, as I helped my dad set up programs on the computer, or helping with the finances.  Ted would be fixing a leak, or rebuilding the stairs - while mom sat watching and talking.  He heard so much about my mom’s family, and her brother who had passed away when he was very little.  Those were the moments that brought us closer together.  

I guess I felt that mom’s disease was taking away her ability to understand the important issues that faced them.  But during my dad’s 80th birthday party, my mom again started talking to Ted.  She told him she felt that this would be the last party.  As the two of them sat there, a touch of sadness lingered in the air.   It was a beautiful day, and many of my dad’s relatives and friends had filled the yard and house!  My dad was smiling and laughing as he opened presents and cut his cake.  My parents had 3 great grandbabies at the time, and they were there to help.  We got so many beautiful pictures that day!  And yet - my mom was right.  It was the very last big party they ever had . . .

And there is a time for every event under heaven - 
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1 & 4)

When I think about all the family parties, there is one that stands out in my memory.  It was one for my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary.  

My mom had been giving us all little hints to the fact that she hoped for a big party.  She had started saying little things to each of us, at least a year before the big day!  I have to admit, it kind of made me angry that she was pushing the way she was.  And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way!   But as the months went by, and the time was getting closer, I knew we needed to get past the angry feelings - and give my parents a nice party.  

Deciding to give a party, and knowing what to do - well those were two different things.  My two brothers and I got together to make plans.  We decided to contact my mom and dad’s church, asking if we could use one of their halls for the party.  Donna, my sister-in-law, thought that making a video from family pictures would be a really nice gift.  We all agreed, and so that became their job.  Each of us looked through our own pictures and picked out the ones we wanted to be used in the video.  It was so much fun going through the old pictures!

We had decided to use the small hall in the church, and so I volunteered to call the church and make the plans.  Ted and I had offered to make up a menu and cook for the party.  I also volunteered to contact someone to make a cake.  My brother Wayne and his wife were going to put together all the decorations for the party.  Everything seemed to be pulling together.  

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Somehow, the small party we started planning, grew bigger.  When Ted and I went to meet the woman from the church (I don’t remember her name), she told us that the bigger hall was available for the same day.  We went upstairs and looked at the hall and the kitchen that went with it, and decided it would be so much better for the party!  The kitchen was bigger, and Ted could do a lot more cooking right there, before the party.  We ordered table clothes, and decided to use the dishes they offered.  But the reason it seemed so right to me - was that it was the same room my mom and dad had used for the reception after their wedding!

As the party date drew closer, I found myself getting so nervous.  I had heard from quite a few of mom and dad’s relatives and friends, but I still wasn’t sure exactly how many people were coming to the party!  Ted had taken a week off so that we could cook some things ahead of time, and also to help me prepare for the big day.  Jenny’s husband had rented a sound system, and he had put together music that was from the year that my parents had gotten married.  Everyone was doing so much to help, and yet my head was spinning!

When the day finally came, the things I remember are not from the party itself; although the party was wonderful!  I remember making lasagna with my brother Robbie.  We were working together in the kitchen, and it just felt wonderful to have him there by my side.   We joked and laughed, and with Ted overseeing the cooking, it was so much fun!  I remember standing by the doorway, watching my mom and dad dancing to the music that Dan had brought.  My dad was using his walker, and slowly they danced around the room.  I remember looking at Mike sitting at the table with Emma and Abby, and thinking that this is my family.

And then there is the moment that I will never forget.  It was when the video was played for all of us to watch.  It started with pictures of my mom and dad when they were babies.   It showed them as teenagers, and then it showed them as they became husband and wife.  The music changed, as the years seemed to flow by.  My mom and dad were young parents of three little ones.  Soon, their children were growing up and getting married.  As they held their first grandchildren, I swallowed hard, trying to push the tears away.  My mom and dad’s lives played out on the screen.  They had watched their children - and grandchildren - grow up.  As the music grew softer, a picture of our families was shown on the screen.   And then the very last picture - my mom and dad sitting together holding hands.  When the video ended, tears were streaming down my face.  This was the family that helped to make me who I am . . .

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; 
Love does not brag and is not arrogant.  
(love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Love never fails; . . . 
(1 Corinthians 13: 4 & 5, 7 & 8)

That evening, none of us could know what the next 3 years would bring for my parents - and for all of us.  My dad’s cancer returned, and my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  There were struggles during that time, as well as precious moments.  My dad passed away in 2008, and the Alzheimer’s in mom had progressed quickly.  We could no longer keep her safe.  Mom needed to be placed in a nursing home.

  But in April 2005, my mom and dad had a big celebration!  Mom loved every moment of that party!  I have to admit, I was so glad that we gave them that party!  Not just for my mom and dad, but for my brothers and myself.  As I stood next to my brother and watched that video, I saw “us”!  I saw our lives and our memories unfold.  Were there troubled and difficult memories in our lives?  Of course!  But it was those wonderful memories - that brought us together.  It was those memories, that held the love in our lives . . . 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;
Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully - 
just as I also have been fully known.  
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
But the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13: 12 & 13)

Love - it is my hope that each and every one of you have memories filled with love!  We all have times of trouble and pain.  But it is those times filled with love, that help to bring us to wholeness and life!  It is in those times, that we also see the hand of God.

When you ask God to be a part of your life -  He will help you find the joy and love that is in your life.  He will show you the moments that made you - the amazing person you really are . . .

  But now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
But the greatest of these is love!

God bless you until we meet back here again!

In His Wonderful Love,

Debbie & Ted Ayers