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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Recharging Our Batteries

Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Paul:  

The glory of God is a human being fully alive! — St. Irenaeus

Dear Friends,

snow covered pathAs I write this letter, I’m looking out the window at the snow drifting down and glancing at the outdoor thermometer which tells me we’re a long way from getting up to zero.  I wonder about my car battery, which has shown unsettling signs of not taking a charge when the weather turns frigid.  Will my battery fail just when I need it the most? What can I do to keep it charged?

My mind turns back to a talk I have often given at pre-marriage meetings about the Four Batteries.   With my retirement coming up this year, I often think about strategies for keeping them strong and fully charged.

1.  My mountain bike accident last August has been a powerful reminder of how quickly the physical battery can be discharged and how long the recharge can take.  Five months later my energy is only beginning to return, and I’m happy to welcome it back.  All of us are in pretty good contact with how our physical battery is doing.  We know when we’re in pain, when we’re exhausted or hungry, and we know when we’re feeling full of energy and delight.  Now that I have completed my course of physical therapy, I’ve decided to get a personal trainer to help me develop my depleted strength.

2. The meter on our emotional battery is harder to read.  We often aren’t entirely sure just what our emotional state is or what to do about it.  That’s why we need to attend to our emotional state, discern what re-charges us and commit to a strategy which will keep our emotional battery maximally charged.  I’m committing to cross-country skiing every possible day and to praying every possible instant. Both recharge my emotions and help me better face the emotional challenges every day brings.

3.  Our intellectual battery can go deader than a car battery without our knowing it.  I’m afraid the “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” slogan applies to many people who have stopped thinking, questioning and learning.  (Don’t go to a doctor who has that poster on the wall.)  Remember the dental association’s slogan “Ignore your teeth, and they will go away”?  Ignore your intellectual life, and your brain will go to sleep.  I’m committed to reading new books, having vigorous discussions with friends about things that matter and learning more about God.  Commitment to being a Christian means a commitment to life-long learning about our faith.

4.  It is particularly hard to get a good read on the charge of our spiritual battery.  We can easily lose our connection with God and with the beauty of his amazing creation.  Our vision can tunnel, and our hope can freeze up.  St. Irenaeus, the great second-century theologian, could express the essence of Christianity with this pithy adage: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” To be spiritually charged up is to have a powerful personal connection with God, to be kindled by the beauty of the world, to be powerfully engaged in Christian community, to be focused on being part of God’s great work in the world and to be consumed by love.  I know that two projects I’m involved in give powerful boosts to my spiritual battery – the Radio Furaha project in Iringa and the “Bread Rising: Working Together to End Hunger by 2030 Campaign.”

Sea Lion--Clarita--Dreamstime Stock PhotosWe are all different, but we all have physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual batteries that need regular re-charging.  May God grant us insight, discernment, determination and faith as we seek to give glory to God by being fully alive.

Pastor Paul

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.