A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angel in Amsterdam

Last week I traveled 4000 to meet my daughter, Megan, in Amsterdam who was there on a business trip.  Within the span of 2 weeks, I book my flight, secured a hotel and scoured tour guides for sightseeing ideas.  I do not usually travel alone so I was quite nervous the day of my departure.  With my passport, a couple hundred euros and 2 credit cards secure in my hidden wallet, I clasped my travel bags in my fists, threw my shoulders back, breathed deeply and prayed for a safe trip as I hurried to check-in at the Minneapolis/ St Paul International Airport.

Landing at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol after an 8-hour flight and feeling the effects of a seven hour time change, I began to understand the reality of my situation.  My body thought the time was midnight and was ready to end the day but the sun was just rising over Amsterdam. As I took my first step off the plane and into The Netherlands, bright lights, IMG_0045incomprehensible signs and blinking monitors assaulted my senses. Blood raced to my head and my feet walked without direction. I felt as if I landed on another planet.

Trains, buses and trams stopped outside doors, at the end of ramps and hallways.  I asked a tall blonde woman perched at the “informatiebalie” where I might purchase a train ticket – a “chipkaart”.  With a great sigh she winged her arm behind her to the right.  “Dat vay.” I saw nothing discernible in the sea of signs.  I asked again, “Where?” With another sigh and a head shake for emphasis, she threw her arm back just as she did before.

Almost an hour later and with a train ticket in hand, I sat to catch my breath, calm my heart and decide which of the many gates might lead to the train I needed.  I prayed again.  “Oh dear God, help me to think straight, to find my way and and be safe.”  Then with all the courage I could muster, I picked a gate, watched how others accessed the entrance with their “chipkaart” and followed them inside.

I don’t even remember how I finally found my train, but I did.  Nervous and tired I leapt from the ramp onto the train then dragged my suitcases up 5 metal steps to the seating area.  Overwhelmed, I wondered why on earth they have steps on commuter trains?  That thought gave rise to another fear.  Was I on the wrong train – perhaps headed out of town or even across the border?!  My eyes blinked nervously at the screen announcing the upcoming train stops.  “Station Bijilmer ArenA” appeared.  I almost cried with relief.

With the train still moving, passengers bound down the isle anticipating the next stop.  Startled into nervousness again I wondered how much time I had to exit before the train closed its doors and pulled away.  Following the lead of the other passengers, I stood holding one bag in each of my hands and noticing how weak I felt in the knees. The train chugged and tossed the crowd of passengers.  As my right foot touched the third step down, the train lurched, my foot caught and my entire body flung forward.  With a bag in each hand, I watched the metal grated floor speed toward me helpless to stop myself or brace for impact.

While falling, as if in slow motion, my eyes locked with those of a young man in a puffy black coat and wisps of brown hair peaking from a hat pulled low over his ears.  His arms reached up precisely catching both my shoulders in mid-fall. Then in one smooth motion he pushed me back to a stand on the stairs.  With a gasp of gratitude and disbelief of what just happened I blurted, “Oh my God Thank you!”  He nodded his head, whispered something in Dutch and stepped off the train.

Solidly and safely standing on the tiled floor of the train station I pulled my bags to a bench to gather my wits. My body trembled as the reality of how close I came to landing face first on the metal grated floor of a train in a foreign land sunk into my bones.  My mind raced.  How did that man catch me so perfectly? Why was he standing with his back to the train’s door facing in my direction instead in the direction he was headed?  Why did my body stay rigid enough to be pushed up like way?  I could not come up with a logical explanation.

Seconds later gratefulness washed over me.  I was safe, saved from unknown disaster and injury.  My faith told me the man on the train, whether he knew it or not, was meant to save me from harm.  God uses all of us to accomplish his work in different ways. Why not in this way? I felt amazed, encouraged and humbled at the thought of being worthy of this kind of loving attention.  I cannot be sure if that young man on the train was an angel or someone divinely placed in a position to catch me that morning.  Some people would call it luck or coincidence.  As for me I will forever believe – I was saved by an angel in Amsterdam.IMG_0175

Dear God,  Thank you for keeping me safe in Amsterdam  Your ways are mysterious and miraculous.  I am so grateful to know you care for me and send me help in unexpected ways when I need it most.  Amsterdam was a blast.  Spending time with Megan a splendid gift. Thank you so much!  Love, Jean

Psalm 91:11-12  For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

 

 

California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

Frozen Heroes

Frozen Heroes

A man with a clipboard, a company sponsored shirt and an infectious smile stood in my doorway. “Your home may have damage from the recent storm. With your permission I will conduct an inspection and report my findings.”  After a quick circle around our house he determined our windows were in fact hail damaged.

Suspicious of random contractors coming to my door, I contacted a construction company who worked on our house years ago to verify the findings. The company I contacted offered to both replace our windows and process our insurance claim as they had done previously. We were planning to replace the windows anyway. The insurance money would help get the job done. I signed the contract.

From that moment forward nothing went quite right. Overwhelmed with pressure to compete for repair contracts with the numerous construction companies canvasing the area, exhausted workers littered my life with their frustration, anger and negativity. Several sales representatives assigned to our project abandon their position leaving confused replacement workers in their wake to pick up the pieces. An inspector assigned by our insurance company crawled up his ladder a couple times then, rebuking two independent company findings, flatly denied seeing any damage to our windows so our claim was rejected. I began to question the honesty of all involved.

A lawyer was retained and a lawsuit filed. My heart grew heavier by the day. I lost trust in everyone. During another appointment, a screaming match erupted in my front yard between the newly assigned inspector and a representative from the law office. The sun shined brightly that day but it felt like dark clouds hung heavily over my house. I wanted to run, to disassociate but felt chained to a stake in the ground by a signed legal contract. The ugliness around me seeped into other areas of my life. I questioned everyone’s motives and braced myself for confrontation even when it was not there. My interaction with these profit mongers made me feel like I was one of them, attached painfully to their corruption like thistles wound in my hair.

Yet another inspector confirmed there was indeed damage but the amount insurance would cover was significantly less than first thought. Everything quieted. Many months passed without action, calls were not returned and no progress made toward resolution. Workers passed on our project for those with bigger profits. The lack of activity was, oddly, a relief. A mind clearing appeared in the absence of these people. The recognition that contracts can and sometimes should be broken and new windows could be purchased from somewhere else had space to take hold. It took a long time for me to be emotionally strong enough to construct a new plan and begin again, but by late fall a new contract was signed and the project date scheduled.

Fear and distrust continued to haunt me as the work began on a cold, blustery February morning. A crew of four men arrived to begin the process of replacing twenty-two windows, nearly every window in the house. I was quiet, introverted and prayerful as IMG_0824they set up. The potential damage these men could do to the structural integrity of my home sent shock waves through my nervous system. They explained their plan step by step, answered questions and knowing how nervous I was, reassured me, promised me, they would do their best work.

As they removed and reframed windows each day that week I gained strength and calm. These men worked through record cold temperatures, smiling, encouraging each other and never once complaining. “It is cold, but nothing we can’t handle. Don’tIMG_0817 worry about us.” Music and playful voices blew through the house warming the below zero winds. Instead of raging against the difficult dangerous project they were challenged to complete, they welcomed the opportunity to work and to preform exceptionally.

Their attention to detail, team spirit and positive attitudes through incredibly difficult circumstances changed me, healed me and raised me up again. These young men did so much more than install new windows; they restored my faith in humanity, helped me see the good in people again. When I look back on this project I remember their smiling faces, respectfulness, playfulness and pride instead of all the previous ugliness. For my time spent with these ordinary, exceptional men – the light in my darkness, my frozen heroes – I am truly grateful.

Frozen Heroes

Dear God,  Thank you for these skillful men and their good hearts. Thank you for the light I saw in their eyes, their hearts and their work. Thank you for renewing my faith in humanity by showing me the good in everyday people.  Please help me to be a positive force, a healing light to everyone I meet.  Love, Jean

Philippians 2:14-15  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,

Note: This crew of men work for HHC Additions. They are trained and subcontracted by Renewal by Anderson to install windows. I have their permission to share their photos and the story of our time together.

Jake Stole My Blanket

Almost a year ago I joined a small women-only gym in Rosemount. After a long bout of illness I wanted to see what my body could achieve again. Inactivity over time made me feel like the filling in a Twinkie; soft and mushy, trapped in a spongy shell unable to move freely. Dizziness and joint pain caused me to distrust both my physical and mental body. What was once taken for granted now challenged me.

Three times a week, I committed to a weight training and cardio regiment. Jake, my personal trainer, pushed my physical limits more each day causing me weeks of muscle soreness and fatigue. Had I not prepaid for the 6-week boot camp style class, I would have have quit. Jake’s stories and lessons, jokes and dancing kept me distracted as I worked out. Friendships were formed with other women; each with their own comeback story.   As the 6th week approached, my sense of accomplishment was palpable. My new workout buddies and I agreed. There was no way we could leave this place, each other, or Jake.

As the months passed I gained strength. I quietly worked, sweated and listened to stories shared. One morning as I struggled IMG_0751with  bicep pulls, Jake stood to my right. He pointed to a small bulge in my wrist. “Look how strong you are Jean.” Unsure how to respond, I said nothing but found great satisfaction in watching that tiny band in my wrist pulse and twist as I worked.

The only one in my group working out one a snowy winter morning, Jake handed me a medicine ball and a mat. “Do a plank balancing on this ball with your hands.” The circuit that morning was 90 seconds. I held on. My body trembled then shook. I wanted to stay up, to hold straight in my plank. “Breath Jean!” I gasped, blew out of pursed lips and closed my eyes. “Yes! Go someplace else! You can do this!” Kneeling next to my mat Jake cheered me on slamming his fist on the floor counting down the time left. A recorded woman’s voice announced the end. Rolling off the ball I collapsed on my belly, red-faced and shaking. “I did it Jake.” He nodded as if he knew I would all along. Leaving that morning, we fist bumped our good-bye. “You believed in me more than I believed in myself. Thanks Jake.”

More weeks passed. While pulling down enough weight to lift me off my seat, Jake whispered firmly, privately in my ear, “You are not sick anymore, Jean. You are strong and well! But you are never going to be able to move forward unless you can see that for yourself.” My silent eyes locked on his. His words pierced a target in the center of my forehead penetrating my brain. It felt like he ripped a warm, protective blanket off of me on a frozen winter morning. I suddenly saw the person I used to be did not exist any longer. The wellness I worked so hard to achieve had arrived. Chilled to the bone, seeing myself in a new light, I could not speak. Somehow, Jake had whispered directly into my soul.

People speak of experiencing God in a prayer, a song, a child’s first cry, a loved one’s last breathe, wind rustling leaves or the call of dove. I now listen for God’s guidance in less likely places; in the tired eyes of a grocery store clerk, in the frustration of rush hour traffic, in the pain of a headache, the scrape of my shovel on a snow covered driveway, the bulging of a growing muscle in my arm and the encouraging words of my personal trainer.IMG_0746 What can I learn from this person, this experience that can guide me on my current path or to a brand new one? What might God be trying to teach me?

I believe I received an amazing message in that otherwise ordinary moment. I could no longer hide behind the blanket of illness, weakness or pain. It was time to stand up, step out into the world again. I was given another chance to be well and participate fully in this beautiful world. It was time to acknowledge and embrace this God given gift with the gratitude and enthusiasm it deserve. I woke up in that moment suddenly knowing my work is not finished yet. God, it seems, has something more planned for me!

1 Samuel 3:10 NLT

And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Dear God,

I am humbled in the knowledge that you care about me enough to reach out, to guide and teach in such personal ways. As I continue to listen, learn and grow in faith, help me to recognize your voice in both the usual and unexpected places. Speak to me God! I am listening! Love, Jean

Jake Del Pino II is the Head Trainer at Get In Shape for Women in Rosemount, MN, Co-owner of Snap Fitness in Red Wing, MN, and Founder/Owner of Lamb II Lion Fitness – Faith based fitness for churches and corporations in the South Metro.

Did I Tell You How Three Idiots Kept Me From Missing My Flight?

My husband and I were happy it was finally time to leave on our trip to Santa Fe. We hurried to the airport early one recent Wednesday morning. As we made our way down Lexington Avenue, not one – not Two – but THREE cars turned in front of us into the EZ Air Park lot. Our tempers flared as we spit barbs and insults about these idiot drivers’ low IQ’s and murderous intentions. Then as we pulled safely through the intersection turning left onto Hwy 55, a reflective quietness blossomed in our car. “What if the parking lot at the airport is full? Is that why all those people are hurrying to the EZ Air Park lot?’

A quick visit to the MSP Airport parking site confirmed our suspicion. “Those idiots are trying to catch a flight just like us!” A well timed U-turn allowed us to join the ranks of our now peers attempting to turn into the EZ Air Park lot against an onslaught of oncoming traffic. This twist in identity, this sudden flip in consciousness changed me. Suddenly my world was redefined. Drivers all around me were no longer idiots but fellow travelers with a common destination.

never-criticize-a-man

Why are we so quick to judge, categorize, minimize, dehumanize those we do not know? Why is everyone driving slower than us an idiot and those driving faster maniacs? Why am I a daughter, a mother, a wife, a neighbor, a friend as I drive down 494 but everyone else is just traffic? If we could slow our reactions long enough to see the driver next to us as a human soul experiencing anxiety, grief, joy, worry, pain and fatigue, how would that change us? How might that change how we interact with each other, experience the world and the people in it?

Do you remember when it was common practice to raise a hand in gratitude when a car allowed us to merge or change into a lane in front of them? I started practicing that again – waving to those stopping for me, allowing me into a lane, waiting for me to pull away. Some don’t seem to recognize my gesture of gratitude. That is okay. I know my intention and that changes everything. It is a small change but I believe it is making a difference.images

My patience was tested on another early morning recently. I waited behind a woman in a large white pick-up truck blocking the right turn lane I needed. After several attempts to get her attention, she noticed me behind her then inched over just enough to let me pass. Instead of giving her a nasty look or simply turning my back to her, I smiled and eagerly waved my arm in a show of greeting and gratitude. As I stopped along side her to check for oncoming traffic, she rolled down her window, leaned down to meet my eyes, grinned and wildly waved back to me. Instead of getting angry we acknowledged each other as human beings; messy, imperfect people allowed to make mistakes and still be loved. My entire day was lifted by our exchange. I am hoping hers was too.

Dear Lord, Help me to demonstrate the love, acceptance and forgiveness I have experienced through Christ to others in both large and small ways. Help my actions, my hand waves of gratitude, to spark a renewal in the spirit of others; a hopefulness that allows them to pass kindness and acceptance on to even more people. Shine a holy light on our journey God. Deliver us safely and lovingly to our destinations. (Wave!)  Love, Jean

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”   -Ephesians 4:31-32