Unspoken-ness On Death and Dying, On Life and Living

Noun: A series of thoughts or words that are never spoken out loud, yet have meaning and purpose and value.

Unspoken-ness. It is a condition I have pondered for many months now. Maybe longer. Sometimes unspoken words hurt too much to say out loud. There’s an underlying fear that if I speak them, they become real and sometimes reality is too much to bear.

Other times unspoken words are hidden with the intent of protecting the listener. Sometimes they are memories, glimpses of a time past.

Unspoken-ness is a practice. It is polished and effortless because it has been with me for so long. I wonder about these words and thoughts and ponderings even before I understand them. I work through them over time, realigning the content with the reality—fact checking my heart with my head.

We simply hold these words for whatever reason, yet they never really pass away. They stay with us. They speak even if unspoken. They have meaning without definition. They plant seeds without harvest.

Yard Rules

Diagnosis Dementia ~ Prognosis Hope

This too shall pass…

…like in about 12 seconds.

Today was a Monday.  On a normal Monday, if there really is such a “normalcy” to any of my days anymore, I would use my morning to return emails, answer texts, and complete any leftover paperwork for my clients from the previous week.  Easy enough.  The afternoon would be spent on the phone, setting appointments, following up with clients, team members, and doing various other work-related tasks.

Today wasn’t one of those Mondays.  I am 3 weeks behind on my own laundry.  To survive the laundry drought, I threw some of my underwear in with a load of my husband’s farm clothes on Friday.  That bought me time…but today was critical.  I have a tall hamper, but the dirty clothes were piled about 3 feet higher than the top of the hamper!  Fortunately, my hamper sits in a corner so the overflow leans against three walls while it waits.  I had no choice but to get my entire wardrobe washed, dried, folded, and re-put-away where it goes before the weeks kicks off Tuesday morning.

Granted, I should be able to do laundry while multi-tasking at my desk and between phone calls.  Add to that daunting list:  Mow the lawn.  Rain is coming.  The forecast calls for rain Tuesday – Sunday.

Thank God I don’t have the 2 acres I left behind when my husband and I lived in our own home!  Mom’s yard is much smaller.  The kicker is that Mom’s yard comes with a whole new set of expectations.  In the two-acre yard all I needed was time and a good pair of ear plugs.  In Mom’s yard, things “precede” mowing.  Things like, cleaning up after the dogs (I figure rain is coming!  Won’t that clean up after the dogs?)  Sticks need picked up and placed in yard waste containers. (I drive a 42” ZTR mower.  The owner’s manual clearly states: “…the blades can handle small sticks, bark, and twigs…”.  I trust the owner’s manual).  It used to take me 2 and a half hours to mow 2 full acres of long grass.  In town at Mom’s house I should be able to knock the top off the grass (honestly, we just mowed it last Friday!!!) in about 45 minutes. 

Plenty of time left to finish laundry, go to the store, let my brother’s dog out and still fix supper before I need to make the rest of my evening phone calls for work.

The morning went well.  I worked in my bedroom.  Limited space, but no interruptions!  The afternoon was off to a good start.  Laundry was going.  I was making great progress on the phones and the computer.  By about 3:30 I was ready to jump on the mower and check that big item off my list before the rain starts tomorrow.

My mistake was sitting down on a kitchen chair to change into my mowing shoes.  The innocent question from mom,  “Are you going outside?”

My mindless answer, “I thought I’d jump on the mower.”

An alarming reply, “Did we pick up the sticks?”

Trying to avoid the delay in my day, “Of course we did, Mom.  We picked them up Friday before we mowed then.  Three days ago.”  (She has Dementia for Pete’s sake! Will she remember if we actually picked them up or not?)

It was too late.  Mom was already putting her coat on.  “I’ll need to pick up after the dogs before you mow out back.”

I tied my left shoe thinking, no problem, I’ll start out front.

Now you have to get a visual on this yard.  We live in town – which poses a whole other set of rules about curb mowing.  If you mow along the curb, the grass must be blown back onto the yard, NOT into the street!  If there is accidently a blade or two of grass in the street after mowing, Mom is out there with her broom sweeping it up and adding it to the yard waste!  The back yard is actually the “side” of the house.  That part is partially surrounded by a chain link fence for the dogs.  The best way to start the mowing process is to “open the yard up”—you know, mow around the whole outside edges so you can easily spin the ZTR mower around at the end of each pass.

In preparation, I walked to the side yard and opened the gate so I could easily drive into the fenced in area when I got around to it.  Mom was right on my heels.  No sooner had I opened it, Mom was closing it.

“The dogs will get out.”

“But Mom, the dogs won’t be out while I am mowing.”

“Are you going to mow out here first?”

I’m thinking, it all depends on where you decide to pick up sticks first, Mom!

I answer honestly. “I can mow on either side first, it won’t matter.”

“Then why do you need the gate open now?”

“I don’t really need it open, I was just getting ready.”

“Then we don’t need it open yet.”  Mom closed the gate.

I stopped and attempted to move the downspouts out of the mower’s way on the other side of the house.  I didn’t realize they have rules too.  These rules say there’s a screw fastening them to the down spout!  Who knew?  Mom gave me a lesson on those as I tried not to faint because the birds were darting back and forth between the nearby fir trees.  (To this day I am not a fan of feathers, birds, or anything that flies – especially if they are close in proximity to my personal space!)

Finally!  I made it to the mower, inserted my whimpy ear plugs (haven’t found my good ones yet since our move), and off I went.  I opened up the whole yard and only got a few loose blades of grass in the street!  Not bad.  I was making good progress.  I decided to do the parking first, so all the lines went the same way.  (That’s a whole other set of rules for another day!) 

I finished on one side of the driveway and started down the west side only to realize the nice neighbor lady was out digging around the light pole at the corner of our yards.  I figured she was preparing for flowers or something and didn’t want to get her in harm’s way of my mower.  I mowed the rest of the parking, then went back thinking the lady would be gone.  Nope.  She was still digging away. I circled back and mowed the whole other side of the house.  Yep.  She was still there.  Digging and digging, pulling grass, working away.

Holy moly.  I’m trying to be polite.  I’m trying to follow the rules.  I’m attempting to be mindful of my time because my list is still really long for this Monday.

I turned off the blades, opened the gate to the fenced in area (again) and opened up that part of the yard.  Lo and behold, as I’m coming up to the front corner where the lady is working away, I look closer and realize, that’s NOT the neighbor lady!  That’s my mom!  Sitting on the curb.  Digging away at…I have no idea what!  She’s just digging right where I need to mow!!!


I started mowing back and forth in the big area, but out of the corner of my eye I see Mom and she’s watching me very closely.  Pretty soon she’s leaning over the fence.  As I passed by, she motioned me over.

“Did you mow the front yard going east and west?”

I’m thinking, I went all four directions when I outlined it and opened it up!  I didn’t answer.

“I think you mowed going north and south out front but back here you’re going east and west.”

My reply, “No one can even see both yards at the same time anyway.  Besides this one is behind a chain linked fence!”

No guilt implied but, my dear mother says, “I prefer my yard to all be mowed in the same direction. Everyone else in the neighborhood does it that way and I am not going to be the only yard out of order!”

I switched directions and mowed over the already mowed part to make the appearance of it all going the same way, even though you cannot see both yard simultaneously unless you are hovering in drone right above our house!!!

Mom went back to digging.  All I had left to mow was that little section where the light pole is, right where Mom is working.  She hufted herself up off the ground, hung her cane on a tree limb, and began picking up sticks and twigs, all small enough for my fancy ZTR blades to handle without problem.  I waited.  She picked up baby sized sticks, medium sticks, and a few stray acorns.  When Mom shuffled across the yard to the waste containers, I took advantage and mowed a section, being sure to go north and south.  Had I not had to go all one direction I’d have had it all done before she got back.

An hour and a half later I parked the mower in the garage.  Now I am behind!  I have laundry to switch. My nephew isn’t feeling well and he could use a little Aunt Judy loving.  I still have a grocery store run before dinner, and a dog to let out across town.  Oh yes.  And a cane to retrieve because Mom has long forgotten that she hung her cane on the tree near the light pole where she was digging.

Time passes.  I manage to get everything accomplished, for the most part.  I’m on the last load of wash, I’m waiting on my farm hand hubby to show his face so I can throw the brats on the grill. All seems in order and mostly calm.  Mom ate leftovers early because she wants her food to settle before bedtime.  No worries.  That works for me.

The grill is on, the groceries are put away, the table is set, Mom has finished her meal, and my hubby walks in from his last task of the day.  Perfect!  I fly into action to complete a sit-down meal for the two of us.

And suddenly there is a rush of urgent activity.  Mom is putting on her coat.  She’s in a total panic.  Holy moly!

“Yard waste day pick up is tomorrow!” Mom announces with urgency.

I processed out loud, “I thought trash day was Friday.”

“This is yard waste day!”

Really?  Will this be every Tuesday forever?  Is this something I need to know?

“We have to get the yard picked up!  They come get all the yard waste in the morning, first thing!”

I have a starving husband, a hot meal, and to honest, I’m ready to sit down for awhile too.  I tried to be logical. “You just cleaned up the yard this afternoon.  Just go put out the yard waste containers that are ready.  We can start on a new one tomorrow for next week.”

“I didn’t pick up after the dogs today,” Mom noted.

I’ve already mowed over the dog piles in the back yard.  “Rain is coming.  That will take care of the dogs!”

Mom’s not buying it.  “Rain is coming? Tomorrow? I have to get out there and get the rest of the yard picked up!”  She waited, but no one volunteered to go out and help.  With a heavy sigh, Mom headed out to accomplish her yard waste goal.

Time passed.  The dogs came in and went out a few times.  We ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and finished the 6th load of wash.  Time still passed.  Mom slammed a garage door a couple times going in and out.  The last time I checked, she was combing the yard wearing her head lamp (I will never forgive my Aunt Nancy for giving Mom a head lamp!).  Mom is going back and forth across the fenced in area.  East to west, by the way.  She’s going against my mowing stripes! 

Back and forth she goes, peering into the beam of light on her head searching for remnants of dog poo to add to the yard waste containers in preparation for pick up in the morning.

This too shall pass…

…wishfully in about twelve seconds!

 “Father God, at the end of this day I thank you that my mom has a strong sense for a job well done.  I am grateful for down time and hot meals.  I am not looking forward to more rain, dear Father, but I am thankful I don’t have to mow again until it stops raining!  I would pray for patience, but I know better!  So instead I will pray for presence of mind, for magical moments, for laughter, for tidbits of deep joy.”

Chasing Sunsets

Household Faith

Its summertime and we are desperate for rain in central Iowa.  Our fields are dry, are yards already burned up, and our roads are dusty.  Yet each new day arrives like the day before.  The sun rises in the east (a phenomenon I rarely witness due to my night owl tendencies) then it sets in the west.

The danger is not so much in the dry conditions, but more so in the temptation to give in to mediocrity and status quo during these summer days.  All winter we count down until spring breaks forth.  Then we long for summer freedom only to waste the days away with the day in day out routine of work schedules, household responsibilities, and whatever else tricks us into believing we’re being productive.

Mid-May I began searching for “more”.  I wasn’t exactly bored or missing anything in my life, but I did feel like I’d settled into a routine.  And it wasn’t a bad routine either.  Yet something longed deep inside to know more, believe more, experience life more!  So, I changed up my daily prayers to include an invitation for God to surprise me…every single day.  I gave God permission to open my eyes and open my heart to see, hear, and experience beyond the status quo–beyond the surface of mundane-ness.

And off I went into a new day.  I started reading a new series of book designed to improve self-discipline, something I feel like I lack in many areas of my life.  The author has an on-going series on various life topics for developing self-discipline in exercise, in entrepreneurism, in weight loss, etc, etc.  I chose four “topics” and downloaded them onto my Kindle for easy access whether I was driving (in audio format) or sitting still.

Filled with a sense of new energy I dove into the one I thought would benefit me the quickest.  Self-Discipline for the Entrepreneur.  Perfect!  Each chapter ends with 3-5 action items to put into practice.  Chapter one was easy.  I flew through it.  And I remember doing the action items.  I just can’t recall what they were at this moment in time.

Then came chapter two.  It talked about interior stress points that distract and prevent us from being productive and focused.  The author’s instruction encouraged me to write down any internal stressers that threw me off course over a two-day time period.  The assignment was to be aware of things or people that caused me to respond with a high level or stress or unidentified frustration, then journal the item.  I thought that would be super easy because I believed ALL of my stressers were EXTERIOR–caused by outside forces and other people.

Surprise!  First thing the next morning,  I totally freaked out over my hair!  Seriously. 7:00 a.m. and my hair was already reacting to the high humidity.  Granted, our air conditioner was out of commission that day (and had been for 6 full weeks by that time), but still!  A flat iron couldn’t do a thing to control the mop of hair on my head.

I wrote that down in my stresser-journal.

Then my day went along pretty well.  Nothing else triggered uncontrollable stress as long as I didn’t look in the mirror.  Until bedtime.  I had my Kindle in hand.  Supper dishes were done.  Laundry was done.  Nothing pressing was on my agenda.  I had time to actually read!  (Oh, come to think of it, that was one of the chapter one action items – learning to unwind at night!)  I was excited to sink into a chair with my reading.

But there wasn’t a chair made for me!  Sounds crazy, right?  But my hubby had claimed the family room with the 72″ flat screen tv where my favorite chair is.  I had no desire to listen to old Western movies in the background of my reading.  My mom had claimed the main floor where my favorite sofa resides.  She was happily watching her little tv while she sorted and resorted magazines, newspapers and the like.

I retreated to my bedroom and climbed up on the bed.  We haven’t exactly set up our room like we’d like even though we’ve lived with mom now for 9 months.  Everything has a step by step system in order complete the bedroom to make it ours.  Like first we have to paint, then we install the closet doors, then we get a headboard for the bed…things like that.  Well, we haven’t painted yet so everything else hinges on simply “starting”!  Sitting on the bed is uncomfortable after just a few minutes.  I had no desire to hang out up there with my Kindle, wishing for lumbar support while I tried to read chapter three!

I was stressing out!  There was nowhere to sit and read at 9 p.m. in this entire house!  I found myself almost angry because I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to call my own.

Then it hit me!  Oh!  This is part of my assignment for the day.  This in an internal stresser! I wrote it down.

The beginning and end of my day contained my most stressful issues!  What a surprise!  I had no idea!  The biggest surprise was that both issues were fixable!  I had total control over both of them if I chose to engage in a solution.

The next morning, I called for a hair appointment and “fixed” the hair stress.  The next evening, I rearranged my bedroom and drug my great-grandma’s rocker up next to the reading light in my bedroom.  Hair and a chair.  It’s all I needed.  I’d mastered the assignment.  And consequently, I must have mastered the entire series on self-discipline because I have yet finish the rest of the first book, let alone the others I downloaded!

But that whole experience brought me to a couple of important conclusions.  If I could solve the biggest stress points of my day with my hair and a chair, surely there were more simple solutions to change up my daily routines!

I began to look for “more” everyday.

Twice now I have been totally awe-stuck by the summer sunsets in the western skies.  A blazing red ball hanging low on the horizon has captured me to the point I had to pull off the highway so I could fully experience the ever-changing color palette as the sky ebbed and flowed in and out of deep purples, pinks, reds, and oranges.  How many sunsets have I missed driving home because I was lost in a thought or totally focused on the pavement passing under my vehicle at 75 miles per hour?

I spent yesterday painting old wire lawn chairs.  I rescued them from a garage sale years ago and the first time I painted them my daughter helped.  We chose bright colors and painted them into cheery patio pieces.  But the paint was worn again, and the colors had faded.  We’re building a new deck for my mom and I wanted the chairs to be a bright spot when the project is finished.  So, I spent yesterday painting them a bright, sunshiney yellow!  (I also painted my feet–I think my daughter’s feet were red from our last chair painting effort!)

The days are getting shorter already.  Dusk is coming around 8:50 now instead of 9:15ish or after.  But I finished painting with plenty of time to drive out to my brother’s farm to “snack” our horses.  Beauty and Shadow like a little extra attention in the evenings and crisp carrots and apples seem to perk them up at the end of the day.  I grabbed a bag of carrots, loaded Crickett, our Lewellyn Setter, into the car and took off for the farm.

Beauty and Shadow did a little happy dance in their stall when I pulled in.  Crickett ran her little heart out sniffing out rabbits, and cows, and whatever other critters might have passed by during the day.  The horses snacked away.  We had a good “visit” but the sun was starting to drop.  I called Crickett back to the truck to head home.

But at the end of the lane where I’m supposed to turn east to go home, I was captured once again by the sky.  I turned west instead and followed the road to a spot where I could see the entire expanse of the horizon.  Jet trails formed a perfect cross against the ever-changing colors of the sunset.  Hues faded in and out of each other freely.  I took a few photos.  But instead of heading back toward home, I found myself compelled to follow the sky.

I drove to the top of a hill where the corn blocked the view, yet the reflection of the sun as it paused a moment on the horizon, painted an absolutely stunning canvas in the eastern sky.  I could see the sky behind me in my rearview mirror and stopped alongside of the road to take in the wonder of it all.

Then I drove on.  I recognized some of the farmsteads from my childhood.  It’s possible some of the original owners still live in some.  But more likely the places are inhabited by new owners by now.  A mile further west.  A mile south.  Then west again.  All the while watching the sky.  I crossed the pavement onto another dusty gravel road.

Meadowlarks sprinted back and forth along the dusty road.  A little red fox poked her head out of a ditch to watch us pass.  Cows looked up from their grazing to observe us as we slowly drove on.  Butterflies zigged and zagged among the ditch flowers.  I waited, thinking the sky would eventually darken, but light lingered, urging us on.

Eventually I reached an unfamiliar spot deep into the rolling hills of Madison County.  I had no idea where I was, but the view was breathtaking.  The cows were grazing in a pasture overlooking a massive farm pond.  The air was perfectly still.  I stopped the car and got out for another photo.  Through the lens of the camera I couldn’t tell exactly where the sky was.  When I looked over the camera, I realized the pond was reflecting the exact image of the mystical sunset.

Surprise again.  I had two sunsets in the same night.


There are no words to describe the absolute beauty of the moment.  Life was alive all around me.  Colors without names painted the landscape and skyscape in a giant, unmeasurable canvas.  No directions.  No agenda.  No worries.  No concerns.  Just beauty opening up before me like a gift.  I stayed in the moment until the sky was dark.  Only one flicker of light remained on the pond as I drove away.

Next surprise.  No cell service.  So, no GPS to get me home!

But it didn’t matter.  If I’d traveled mostly west and a little south to get there, then surely mostly east and a little north would lead me home.  Or at least back to familiar territory!

Self-discipline?  Not at all.

Yet I returned by my chair next to the reading light in my bedroom and pondered that scene over and over.  I pressed it into my memory–willing it to stay and not fade like the old paint on the lawn chairs.

If I were a painter, I could show you the image with a brush and some paint because the image is crystal clear in my mind.  But all I have to offer is the depth of the moment.  I could have left the horses and turned east like I did every night.  But this time I turned west.

One change in my regular routine led me to a life-changing moment in time.

There is more.

The summer is winding down.  The new deck will be finished, and the updated lawn chairs will surely be a bright spot to enjoy.  The horses will still enjoy apples and carrots at dusk, and Crickett will continue to sniff out the farm yard.

Yet there is more.

Take a different route.  Read a new book.  Repurpose an old piece of furniture.  Find yourself a chair to call your own.  Whatever feeds your soul.

Then give God permission to “surprise” you.

Summer 2017

Conversations Change

Household Faith

A short 8 weeks ago the church was filled with children’s laughter amidst the adult conversation.  Thanksgiving was right around the corner and spirits were high.  Families were getting ready to feast and convene with one another.  There were two days off work plus a weekend to look forward to.  I gave thanks.

The second week of December I tracked conversations I overheard in passing or was involved with in one way or another.  Some words were full of bitterness and disappointment.  Others were full of gossip.  Some words showed weariness. Others were hopeful, looking forward to having family home for the holidays.  I experienced joyful talks. I also experienced words as sharp as swords—short and brief, but damaging just the same.  I prayed for awareness of my own words.

I stopped in the grocery store aisle last week to visit with a Grandma, a friend of mine.  We hadn’t visited for a long time, so it was good to catch up.  Her words told of her concerns for her grandson who had just enlisted in the armed forces.  She was proud of him.  But her words also showed signs of worry and concern.  I prayed for his safety and for God to speak Peace to him and the family.

Two nights ago, we found ourselves in the 3rd level balcony of a massive arena.  The rodeo was about to start.  The mood was celebratory!  People were escaping from the work-a-day life with family entertainment.  The music was loud.  The conversations around me were playful. There were happy faces.  I gave thanks for a Friday night out with my hubby.

Yesterday I finished Saturday morning training, upbeat and excited for the afternoon appointments.  I took time to encourage some newer folks and greeted some of the students in for class.  The music was fun, and the mood was light.  The sun was even trying to shine in through the windows.  I hadn’t taken time to pray since the meeting had ended.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Eight weeks ago, at church, while the children were playing, and the adults were talking, one family was still reeling, trying to wrap their minds around the words they’d received from their doctor: “…here is the name of an oncologist.  You will need to call to make an appointment…”

For this family, the conversations changed.

The Grandma whose grandson joined the armed forces to serve our country?  Her words today were meek.  The grandson’s unit had been deployed to Afghanistan.  There had been very little contact with him in the weeks and months since he left.  He sacrificed his own time, putting his very life on the line, missing holidays and family events, in order to serve others, half a world away among unfamiliar land and unfamliar peoples.

For this family, the conversations changed.

Sitting in the 3rd level balcony of the arena, the bulls were winning.  The cowboys on the bareback and saddle broncs had experienced some success.  But the bulls were not as giving.  Not one cowboy had lasted the full 8 seconds yet.

The announcer introduced the rider, the cowboy gave the nod, and the gate swung open.  As the young cowboy lost his grip, he hit the ground dangerously close to the bucking bull.  Seconds passed but the cowboy didn’t move.  The medics were called.  The bull was roped by the pick-up riders at the other end of the ring.  The defibrillator was hurried to the side of the young rider, who was still not moving.

The arena came to an eerie quiet as the medics worked on the rider.  Many heads in the crowd were bowed.  Others had their eyes glued to the cowboy.  Even the announcer went silent.  An usher arrived at the end of our row and motioned for a young dad and his children to follow.  He asked, “…how far to get down there”.  She said, “It’s a jaunt but we’ll get you there.” They left their coats and their hats and mittens, the dad carried the youngest and the two little boys followed along closely.  I assumed family of the fallen rider.

The young, athletic cowboy was carried out of the rodeo ring on a stretcher, but alert enough to give the now applauding crowd a thumb up.

But for this family, conversations changed.

Yesterday morning immediately after the training, I received a text from our daughter in Hawaii.  It was brief.  It said, “Pray now!  This is not a drill.  We’ve been told there is an inbound missile aimed at us.  I have to take cover in the bathroom!”

For our family, the conversations changed.

Hours later, I glanced back at the initial response I sent back to my daughter who was alone in her apartment taking cover for what was believed to be a very real inbound missile attack.  My initial text said, “Oh dear…” I spoke “Oh Dear God” out loud, but I didn’t type it all out! What I didn’t say was, “I love you!”   Is there ever a time when those words are inappropriate!  I mean, really!  Our daughter lives 20 minutes from impact if North Korea sends a missile towards Hawaii (God forbid)!  Are there any other words to be spoken than “I love you!”?

So many words come out of our mouths every single day.  But how many of those words impact the life of another in a positive, life-giving kind of way—on purpose?!  I am very, very fortunate to be in a job where the work I do is dependent upon words of encouragement.  And yet I must remind myself to take those words home with me sometimes!  How quickly we diminish the value of the spoken word into mundane exchanges—some more positive than others.

The words we say, the conversations we exchange with others is so routine, so much a part of our daily busyness.  I think back through so many conversations with a lot of words that really said nothing at all.  I’ve pondered lately how often we really stop to think about our words—about how our words alone can lift a spirit, give encouragement, share compassion, express our feelings.  Even so, on the flip side, our words can so easily crush spirits, hurt feelings, discourage, and draw a line of division between peoples.

I have the usual first of the year resolutions of things I want to accomplish, things I want to change about myself and my surroundings in the new year.  But one thing I added to my list this year is giving myself permission to be present in the moments – to better listen to others—to weigh my words in such a way they cast light as opposed to casting shadows.  Our words are important.  Words are powerful.  How we use them and what we imply with them has the potential to be life-changing.

I am drawn to the scriptures, from first chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was God, and the WORD was with God…”

May our words reflect The WORD, in Truth and in Love.  Keeping in mind, that sometimes, the best word is The WORD, offered in silent solidarity of the moment—an unspoken word that says more than words could ever express.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Empty Nest

Household Faith

For those who know me at all, there is a very well-known fact that permeates my existence.  I am not very fond of birds.

Ok.  Understatement.  I am terrified of birds that are within close proximity of me.  Or ones that surprise me by flying out of a bush at me.  Or that look at me funny.  Any bird that does not announce itself in advance causes me great stress.

Once, when I was in 6th grade, my uncle stepped inside my Grandma’s kitchen to show off his pheasant.  Mind you, I was sitting on the sofa at the far west end of the old farmhouse.  My uncle was in the kitchen, at the far EAST end of the house.  There were two rooms between us.  But when he dropped the wing tips to show the side of those pheasant wings, I was OUT!  I mean OUT!  The next thing I remember (to this day) is waking up to my Grandpa gently patting my cheeks!  My whole family was peering down over me waiting for me to recover from fainting!

And if I were to be completely transparent, the bird doesn’t even have to be “whole” or alive to be terrifying.  A dead bird in the street causes as much anxiety as a single feather (especially BIG feathers).  My little brother used to be able to lock me in or out of my bedroom when we were kids simply by lining the threshold of my doorway with pheasant feathers.  I would hide in (or totally avoid) my bedroom door until someone, usually my mom, would remove the feathers so I could enter without hyperventilating.

On another occasion, in the 4th grade, all of my grandparents were gathered around our kitchen table in the mobile home to celebrate my brother’s birthday.  It was a little tight, but we were all seated around the table.  I was sitting between my grandmothers.  I will never forget!  Mom always let us choose our favorite meal for our birthdays.  Then she would go to town, making the best birthday dinner possible.  My brother had chosen fried chicken!  His favorite!

Chickens are my absolute WORST nightmare. 

The story goes like this: At around 18 months of age, my grandma took me to the hen house to gather eggs.  She was carrying me when she approached the door and her other hand was full of egg baskets, so she wasn’t able to knock before she entered.  Who knew hens needed to be notified BEFORE someone entered their chamber?  Grandma set me down on the floor of the hen house.  I let out a blood-curling cry about that same time and scared the old hens out of their ever-loving, pea-brained minds.  In the midst of the chaos, the hens knocked me over and flapped all over my toddler sized body!  Grandma had to call my mom and hour later to come get me because I was still unconsolable!

Even telling this story gives me goosebumps, so it obviously impacted my formative years in a massive way!

Back to the fried chicken dinner for my brother’s birthday.  I can eat fried chicken.  Not my favorite, but I can do it.  I just have to talk myself into it.  On this day, my grandma, the one who raised chickens and eggs, didn’t ask me which piece I wanted, she simply put a wing on my plate.  I avoided it for the longest time.  I remember everyone was talking and laughing around the table while I was contemplating my fate with the chicken wing.

Finally, I mustered up enough courage to attempt eating it.  As I began to pull the wing apart, my imagination took over and that wing came to life right in my hands.  I flung the chicken wing up into the air and almost knocked my chair over when I ejected from it to flee the chicken in my imagination!

My Quaker grandma grabbed a hold of me and pulled me in close.  “Good heavens, child!” she said as she hugged me to the safety of her side.  My chicken-raising Methodist grandma reached behind her on the floor, picked up the chicken wing and put it back on my plate!  Then she pulled it apart and took a bite saying, “See? There’s nothing wrong with this!”

As an adult, I have worked very hard to NOT allow my phobia of feathered creatures affect the way my children respond to birds.  I have learned to tuck my fears way back into the archives of memory in order to not faint if a bird surprised or got too close to me.  Mind you, I have never tried to overcome my fear, because that brings a whole other set of fears to the forefront!  But suppressing the phobia has been advantageous over the years.   And I do believe my children have a healthy relationship and understanding of all things feathered, which I count a huge victory to my parenting efforts.

But then yesterday, while driving my husband’s car out to the farm to check on the horses, I had a flashback experience.  A few days ago, Craig was so proud to have discovered a nice big feather of some sort while working on my brother’s farm.  It might be from a hawk, or a vulture (really? He could get excited about that??) Or from another very good-sized bird.  He showed me the feather with great satisfaction, then tucked it into the sun visor of the truck.

I happened to be headed to the farm last night at dusk.  The sun was low in the sky. I was watching the road extra careful to avoid the deer who often graze in the ditch near the farm.  Without thinking I reached up and flipped the sun visor down.  Out of nowhere this HUGE, unidentified feather swooped down and landed between my chest and the steering wheel!

My heart began to pulsate fast and my throat instantly swelled up so I couldn’t breathe.  My initial instinct was to eject!  But I had to keep driving. I don’t think I screamed, but I am not 100% sure about that!

Then logic began to take hold…it’s only a feather.  It’s not attached to the bird.  Heck, we don’t even know what bird dropped it!  My breathing slowed even though my heart continued to pound in my chest.  Somehow, I managed to stay on the road while I flicked that stupid feather over my shoulder somewhere into the back seat. (Which reminds me I need to remember it’s in the back seat so it doesn’t sneak up on me again in the next day or so)!

Which is why I was taken by my sudden obsession over a family of Robins.

Early in May a pair of Robins built a nest on the downspout support of Mom’s garage.  It took them exactly one afternoon to completely resurrect this perfectly formed nest.  I watched them from my perch on the backyard swing. Back and forth from the yard to the nest site, carefully placing each twig, string, and treasure in place.  They were tireless, relentless even.  Here they would come.  Then off they would go.  One after another, until the job was completed.

Then the rains came.  Almost two weeks of rain and wind, cold, and mist.  I’d check on the robins who were hunkered down in their home-made nest.  It became apparent they were taking turns sitting on eggs.  Craig climbed up high enough one day to report there were three little blue robin eggs in the nest.

I watched expectantly.  Morning and evening I would check.  Mom kept an eye out during the daytime.  And then one day the Robins were both gone.  No one was visible in the nest-home.  And as I watched, one came back carrying something in their beak!  Sure enough, the eggs had hatched.  A new Robin family was taking up residence right there on our drain spout.

The rains let up finally and the parent Robins once again worked without stopping to keep the babies fed and protected.  When I mowed the yard under the downspout, the mama stayed on the nest, completely sheltering her young ones from the noise and danger.  I thought how brave she was to stay put with that loud machine rumbling right under her house.  She didn’t flinch.  And surprisingly, neither did I.

Another week passed. Mom and I could see the little babies sticking their necks way up any time the bushes rustled, in anticipation of one of the adults bringing back a snack!  When mama or daddy Robin did come back, they always had a bite of something for the babies.  They never returned to the nest empty-beaked!  Not once did the babies go disappointed.

There was a great purpose in the flight of the parent Robins.  Out to the yard they would go.  They’d hop around in the grass for a bit, listen, hop some more, then all of a sudden they’d pluck something out of the grass and return directly to the nest.  Within moments they were back at it.  While one was hunting, the other was feeding.  They were never too far away.  From sun up til sun down they repeated their efforts.  I would have been exhausted, but the Robin couple didn’t seem to mind.  They stayed attentive to their calling, purposefully and determined day in and day out.

Then one day one of the baby birds got brave enough to spread its wings.  That was a little nerve-wracking for this bird fearing woman!  But I watched (a little further away than my earlier observation points).    It would spread those wings out then march around, almost tipping its siblings out of the nest on several occasions.

Imagine how surprised I was to find myself seriously concerned that someone might actually fall out!  Who would help it?  How would it learn to fly from the ground if it even survived the fall?  My husband assured me birds had been learning to fly and leave the nest without my concern since the beginning of time!  But I was still scared for the safety of the newly hatched, feathered creatures of God’s design.  The world is such a dangerous place!  There are predators, and  cars, and all kinds of ways for birds to meet their Maker!  Nothing is guaranteed in the world outside of the nest!

A day passed before I could get back to check on the flock.  Sure enough.  One of the babies was gone!  There were two left and Mama and Daddy Robin were still feeding them when I got home late one evening.

Another day passed.  I missed the flying lessons.  But on day three, the nest was empty.

No one was home.

The babies had flown away.

No one returned to the nest that night.

No one.

Mom and Dad Robin no longer had need for the nest.

How does that work?

A month has passed now.

The nest is still empty.  Still attached to the downspout.  Unattended.

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.  Maybe after we’ve raised our children and prepared them for the world “out there”, after we’ve nurtured, instructed, fed them, disciplined them, loved them, coached them…maybe after all that, the lesson is not so much that we helped them fly away.   Maybe the message is for those of us still attached to the original nest.

Up until this point I thought we raised them up to send them off so they could return to us.  But maybe, I’m thinking of this all wrong.  Maybe the point is, we are to go to them! Maybe the Empty Nest is the symbol of safety and consistency, and persistence.  And just maybe that Empty Nest gives us permission to move on with our own goals and dreams!  Maybe that Empty Nest reminds us that the hard work of raising up the young ones is time well-spent.  But maybe the time comes when our “calling” takes us in a new direction.

I’ve taken some criticism over the years for pursuing my own dreams and goals.  But maybe that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do!  There was a time when all of my purpose, all of my energy, all of my everything went into that nest.  But now the nest is empty, so maybe it’s okay to leave that nest to build something new.

The Empty Nest sitting there on that downspout reminds me of so much.  Of family.  Of joy.  Of the kids when they were babies.  Of how quickly they grow up and spread their wings. Of love. Of how important it is they build their own nests.  Of laughter.  Of how strong the nest at home remains after they depart.  Of the importance of visiting their nests!  Of the critical element of faith in the upbringing…faith enough to fly!  Faith enough to return to the nest if need be.  And faith enough to build their own nests when the time comes.

The birds still sing in the mornings.  They still visit Mom’s bird feeders all day long.  My favorite bird songs are their nighttime songs.  The night time songs are more soothing.  They sing with a different tone at dusk than they do at daybreak.  These feathered creations of God’s design surround us whether we’re aware of their presence or not.  They go about their business all day long, then do it again, day after day after day, fulfilling their calling.  And somehow I am comforted by that.

Even so, I still must talk myself into entering the barn alone at dusk to fetch the oats and brushes for the horses.  The Barn Swallows are deep into evening routine by that time, swooping low to duck into the barn doors at a very high, very dangerous rate of speed (if you ask me!).  I could move the oats closer to the door so I don’t have to actually walk INSIDE to reach them, thus avoiding the dangerous diving birds!  However, there is a wildness in God’s mercy, and on occasion I choose to test myself.  See how far into the barn I get before feeling faint!

Having survived the BIG feather in sun visor last night, I walked in boldly into the barn, daring the Barn Swallows to come at me.  I survived.  In fact, I happy danced a little, proud of my minor accomplishment!

I suppose the Empty Nest might even be a sign of Hope.  There is so much yet to come.  The Empty Nest is but one chapter.

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