“Life is fragile…”

Life is fragile

Each and every opportunity we are given to embrace life at its fullest is a blessing. And life is so fleeting. I’ve quoted my former pastor many times on my posts and he used to say, “You are never guaranteed your next breath.” It is so very true. Each breath is a gift from God. Each and every one. So what are we doing with those precious breaths we have been given today?

I live near a military base. I actually really like it. I love watching the huge jets fly over the house. Even the Huey helicopters can make the walls rattle and dishes fall over. But we all jokingly say, “It’s the sound of freedom.” This week (and last week) they are playing war. The large booms have our cat scurrying for cover. Our walls rattle, the dishes shake in the cupboards, and pictures bang on the walls. We are near the artillery range and also near where the huge rounds land. At night, if you get the right angle, you can see the tracers. But it’s loud and it’s 24/7. I jumped out of my skin about 12:30 am, and laughed, saying, “Ahhh…that was freedom booming” and promptly went back to sleep. But during the day, since they are so random, I am on edge. It makes it hard for me to focus on getting done what I need to accomplish. I am a SAHM, but I also homeschool my son, maintain this blog (among other writing projects) and I am taking an online business-building course. The snow today is muffling the booming a little and my oldest dog is over on the couch snoring, so it’s not too bad. And I had to type because things are, as usual, weighing on my heart.

Life is precious and precocious, and full of amazing turns, twists, and alternatives. We shared the joy of a grandson’s birthday yesterday, celebrating his life, all four years so far. And coincidentally, there was a horrible accident on our only highway (yes, this is pretty rural) where an 18-month old was ejected from the car in the carseat, because another vehicle hit them head on with such force, the side of the car was ripped off. Our whole community was praying for the families involved (the 18-month old is okay as of this morning; just some broken bones – a miracle, really). Several pregnancies were announced, as well as some deaths. The ambiguous nature of life really hit me yesterday.

Seat at your table

There have been several people in my life who have sapped me of energy. They are energy-suckers who seem to create a sort of “Pig Pen” of chaos around them. (I am referring to that character in Peanuts, who has a cloud around him all the time). They also seem to bring with them a cloud of drama. Honestly, as I get older, I am less and less likely to want to deal with drama. Life has its own ups and downs, without adding to it. Some people love to gab about everything, and everything is dramatic. I don’t need more of it as I get older, I need less of it.

Friend.FB

I had someone ask me why I had “de-friended” them on Facebook. It was not meant as a slur or a slight. I tried to explain that social media is a construct; it is not reality. Just because someone “friends” you does not mean they are your friend. “I am not sure that word means what you think it means,” to quote from the Princess Bride movie. So many people derive their sense of worth by how many friends they have on Facebook, what sort of purse they carry, type of car they drive, how big their diamond rings are, what the logo on their jeans are…and they assume all those selfies posted online are a reflection of real life. Ha! I sit at my table, watching my son do school, as I type away. I am no way posting a selfie right now! It is snowing outside. I have on a nightgown, bathrobe, big socks, slippers, and my hair is pulled up into “I don’t know what” hairdo (basically a “get it off my face and out of my sight hairdo”). You think I want anyone to see that? It is my reality, but not what I share with the greater world. Most of what is on social media is what people wish for themselves; what they wish their lives were like. Some friends and I sat at a restaurant in California a few years ago, people watching. We were wondering how many who drove by in Cadillac Escalades and BMW’s were living debt-free? How many had tons of cash in the bank? Which ones were living paycheck to paycheck? But that’s not the image they were presenting. They were projecting what they needed to be, in order to feel accepted. Facebook is so much like that. There is far too much drama associated with friends you make there. To me, de-friending or unfollowing someone is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and for them.

Calvin and Hobbes. Friend

I value life and I try – more and more – to surround my life in prayer. To buffer myself, my family, and my friends with prayer. Adding someone to my prayer list is investing in that relationship. It is enlisting God to assist me in my concerns for that person. Of course, God already knows and has probably been waiting for my heart to soften for this person for years, but still, I love knowing God and I are tackling someone together, for their blessing. True friends are so precious. One of the gifts of my life is that I have a couple of people I KNOW, without a doubt, are my friend. I could call them and no matter the cost or inconvenience, if I needed them, they would hop on a plane and come to my side (or drive across town). That is so very rare in this self-oriented culture of ours. We need to nurture those relationships and we need to seek God’s blessings for our friends. We need to cocoon ourselves in God’s centering love and focus on that. And I do not think that everyone needs to be at my table. A table only seats a few people. We can think of the Last Supper as a great example. Christ invited only the 12 to sit with Him. We know through Apocryphal writings that there were family members there. There were women cooking and serving. There were children running around. But at the table were just the 12 – only those Christ invited to sit with Him.  For me, there are lots of people in my life. I have groups and subgroups of friends I have made from here and there (school friends, college friends, work friends, church friends, neighbors, etc – and even Facebook friends). The total of my Facebook friends number over 300. Would I want all of them seated at my table? Of course not. There are degrees of separation and there is practicality. There are also affairs of the heart. Most of the women I count as friend, truly friend, have shared emotional journeys with me. We have married, birthed, and buried together. I have a friend who showed up when my grandma, who lived with us, died. She was not asked to come; neither was her husband. But they came and held my hand and put an arm around me as the mortuary came and took grandma away. They stood with me as witness, as friend, as ally when my grandma passed from this life to the next. That is a friend. She and her husband will always have a seat at my table. They are also people I know who would rush to my side, regardless of my geography, should I ever need them. I am blessed. But when I compare them with some of the people called friends on social media? No; there is no comparison.

Realones

Life is becoming more and more precious. As we age, we start getting a solid look at the end zone; the final door; the end of this life. And those we have around us, those we choose to walk this path with, become more and more special. I will continue to unfriend on social media. I will slowly pull away from those platforms entirely. Because as we get closer and realize our days are numbered and there are far fewer of them left, we become aware of the priceless role a true friend plays in our lives. We become aware of the transient nature of life and how it can be taken in a moment. Through my faith in God and His infinite love for me and for others, I know that I will reunite with loved ones and share in that glory for eternity. Right now, my goal is to make life as precious and celebrated as possible, for all those who are in my life and those I may touch. My life is open to making new friends. I enjoy meeting new people. But I have also come to see that I am a better person because of the people I surround myself with. I am better because they are in my life. They are a part of my life. They are also not all on social media platforms, and you know what? It’s fine with me. The less I can be present out there, the more I can be present to those sitting next to me, at my table.

Phones to conversate

Today, as I take that next breath, I promise to be true to my commitments to my family and friends. I vow to always view the next person I meet as a potential friend. I vow to place relationship and substance with friends above pretense and convenience. I also know that God and I will continue to hold in prayer those who need it. I will try to be the kind of friend that people need me to be. I love this life and feel blessed in those who have managed to find a place at my table. And there is always room for more. But I also will not feel guilty when I need to “unfriend” someone and move forward. God is watching; I am praying, and I am breathing still.

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“From an infant into an adult…”

PreciousJewelsLast night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward.  For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies.  (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home.  She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs.  I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class.  While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters.  The babies each weighed a pound.  He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls.  She completely fit in the palm of his hand.  I cried.  I cried for the miracle of that photo.  When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived.  Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.

When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves.  That process was interesting!  Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet!  We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face.  That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old.  The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet.  It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do.  They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.

Hand on baby's backMy friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle.  I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep.  I have lost babies that size.  I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy.  When he smiled, my heart just melted.  Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me.  What a miracle of life, and modern medicine.  And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size.  My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God.  How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny?  He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother.  He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.

Baby holding fingerEach of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are.  But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me.  Each day is a miracle because we woke up.  Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years.  Those things that I was, I will never be again.  And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath.  I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die:  Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/).  The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?

Miracle baby toesLast night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done.  I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know.  Learning should never stop.  I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me.  I am content.  And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people.  It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me.  The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement.  The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us.  Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life.  The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross.  We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.

Elder Paisios.2Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe.  We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care.  But most of us just sort of fade.  And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart.  I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.

Infant BaptismThrough the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us.  He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable.  This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.

Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday.  Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies.  God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all.  Blessed Lent.

St.Barsanuphius