One Last Walk

2012-11-03_11-24-14_235On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Larry, Ace, and I went for a thirty minute walk in the woods near our home. Ace was so happy as he trotted along. He’d fall behind as he stopped every thirty seconds to smell every rock and blade of grass and then hurry to catch up. We all loved our time together.

Five days later, Ace was lucky to walk to the end of the road. Ten days later, he was gone. A tumor the size of a golf ball had taken up residence in my dog’s liver. Hemangiosarcoma was the vet’s opinion. They couldn’t be sure without a biopsy, but that would involve digging into Ace’s thirteen-and-a-half-year-old body. We chose to believe her expert opinion and put him on comfort care.

Still, he wasn’t supposed to go that fast. She gave us six months tops, but cautioned us, it could be any time. We hoped “any time” would be six months. Ten days from the diagnosis, he developed pancreatitis, and at three-thirty on a dark, cold, and drizzly morning, we drove him to the emergency vet (thank goodness there is one), where we released him into his next life. If you would’ve told me ten days prior, on that lovely Sunday afternoon, that I would be holding my dog’s head in my lap in the middle of the night while an unfamiliar vet eased him out of the world, I would’ve scoffed.

It was our last walk in the woods, and we didn’t even know it.

Our last walks come in many different varieties, and they can sneak up on us. Baby’s last tooth. One minute, the wee one is crying because their teeth are poking through tender gums. Turn around and before you know it, you’re explaining the tooth fairy. There are other last walks. There’s the last day of school. Last child out of the house. Last day with your high school best friend. Last walk in the woods.
I can’t tell if I would’ve preferred to know that Sunday afternoon was our last walk in the woods. I just don’t know. But here’s the thing. We never really know when it’s going to be our last walk in the woods. So, the trick is to try to enjoy every walk in the woods—even the muddy, cold, wet, long walks—or maybe especially the muddy, cold, wet, long walks, because it just might be your last, or your friend’s last, or your dog’s last.

I love those last few precious moments with Ace. I loved them the minute they were happening. I cherish their memory now. Because one of the most profound lessons Ace offered me was the reality that whether I’m slogging through mud, sitting in autumn leaves, or strolling through dappled sunshine, living in that moment is the best walk of all.


In My Little Town (Roseburg, Oregon)


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Just outside Roseburg, Oregon, August, 2015

Just outside Roseburg, Oregon, August, 2015

I was in my childhood home of Roseburg, Oregon this last June. I sat by my mother’s bedside while she lay dying. During one of her last conscious moments, I took her hand and smiled into her eyes as I told her how grateful I am to her and my father for raising me in Roseburg. I told her of my love for this beautiful place. How, even though I’m over fifty, I am still connected to its hills and rivers, the trees and the meadows. I know the roads as well as I know the veins in my own hands.

On that June day, I reminisced with my mother over how whenever I called, she would give me a detailed account of the weather of that particular day. She always ended every report with the same phrase. It’s beautiful here.”She smiled up at me then, and for one breath my mom became clear and cognizant. “I’m glad we raised you here, too, honey, and I’m glad you love it. It’s so beautiful.” I cried in that moment as I expressed my love for my childhood home and then told my mother I loved her. She said she loved me too, before she fell back asleep. It was our last real conversation as she began to slip away.

As I sat holding her hand, my heart swelled with love for my blessed childhood, and the community that helped make that happen. And even though I was losing her, I still was blessed with a sense of place that came directly from where I grew up and the people who make Roseburg my home, even in the midst of personal and now community loss.

As the day after the horrible massacre at UCC has plodded on, I’ve seen pictures of carnage and destruction, but I’ve seen more pictures of the candle light vigil and law enforcement officers doing good things. My Facebook feed shows one particular hero who took five bullets so that others wouldn’t have to take any, and health care workers who patched up the living while at the same time mourning the loss of those they couldn’t save.

I’ve been planning to go home within the next few months. Both of my parents are buried there, and since my mother passed away, I feel an even greater connection to Roseburg, although I don’t know why, exactly. But I look forward to heading home—to the place I love above all other places. I will hike its hills, and feel that same sense of awe, as I always do, at the beauty that spreads before me within the valleys of the Umpqua. And I will hear my mother’s voice telling me of the weather and the beauty of that given day.

Some might think it odd that during my last conversation with my mom, we would choose to talk about where I was raised. But for those of us who grew up in this little sliver of paradise, it’s not odd at all. It’s not just a conversation about a place or the weather or the pretty hills. It’s a conversation about home. And as I watch the community I love grapple with the devastating tragedy of October 1st, I see an even more profound beauty in the people who are a part of that lovely corner of the world, and there’s no other place I’d rather call home. Because my mother was right, it truly is beautiful.


An Unexpected Journey


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airline-ticket-9363554Since my mother passed away, I haven’t really felt much like myself. When I discussed this with my therapist, she stated it’s not unusual for a child who has lost her mother to feel that loss in her identity. It makes sense. The woman who has been with me since my conception is no longer here. And she was always here. When our relationship was going through a rough patch, my mom was here. If our relationship was in a good space, my mom was here. Through the good and the difficult, she was always here, helping me create that frequency hum that is unique between a mother and a daughter. Now, it’s as if I’m sending my message on our specific channel only to have it boomerang back to me, unanswered.

It doesn’t leave me dysfunctional. I managed to finish two major school assignments with flying colors and apply to a couple of MSW (Masters in Social Work) programs. I’m looking after two homes. I make dinner, go grocery shopping, and do the laundry. The usual chores. But with the loss of identity has come a loss of my faith in myself. In some ways, that makes it hard to function in the usual way on a soul level.

There’s not a lot of drama around this; just a quiet realization that when my identity packed its bags, the faith I have always had in myself hitched a ride. If I were to be completely honest, I’d have to say, this process started before my mother passed away. Her death just made it impossible for me to ignore it any longer.

You’d think after all I’ve accomplished in the last little while, especially graduating from college, my faith in myself would be at an all-time high. But what I’m beginning to understand is that faith in oneself has nothing to do with accomplishments, other people, or outside accolades.

I’m also learning that losing faith in oneself is not synonymous with losing faith in God. In fact, as I’ve come across this loss of faith in self, what I’m beginning to discover is a deeper sense of faith in God. I believe this can only lead me to greater spiritual growth.

Dr. Martin Israel states, “The theme of spiritual growth is one of withdrawal [from the surface of this world] followed by return.”

I recognize this pattern. When I have suffered great loss, I withdrew only to return, changed in ways I felt deepened my understanding of myself and others. This pattern is a big part of my personal spiritual growth. I also appreciated Dr. Israel’s quote because someone else understood my desire to pull back and leave the “surface of the world” for a while now that my mom has passed away.

Not all of me is in agreement with this desire. There’s the little piece of me I call the sergeant-major fighting for a different approach and telling me to slap a smile on my face and get out there! I need to quit being so silly and such a wimp. After all, there is so much to DO! But I’ve given myself permission to tell my sergeant-major it’s time to surrender to my present, and maybe even some past grief, along with the need to just BE. (Even as I write this, the sergeant-major is screaming in my ear.)

I’m not sure what any of this means, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. After all, it’s these journeys to places beyond the “surface of this world” that can offer the greatest growth. Besides, since my identity and faith-in-self have packed my bags, I guess my seat is already reserved.

With that said, I won’t be publishing on “Waters of Peace” for a while. I think I’ll continue to write—journal entries, mostly. I suspect I’ll be back to blogging, some day but in the meantime, we’ll just see what happens.

Thank you—for your continued reading and support of every endeavor I undertake.


“This Frail Existence”


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single white roseI’ve been blessed to sit with each parent while they were preparing to leave this earth. As hard as these experiences are, I consider them sacred. For both, my mom and my dad, death came naturally, but that doesn’t begin to explain the great labor involved. Those of us who chose to be with my mother during those final days chose to make this a sacred labor of love, and a labor of love is always more about birth than death.

I know most of the story of my own birth. I was two weeks early. My mom popped a couple of Ex-Lax pills, a popular laxative at the time, and the next thing she knew, she was in labor and on her way to the hospital.

My mother never went into great detail about the labor surrounding my birth (for which I am eternally grateful), but I know it was a normal labor, which means it took several hours and was painfully difficult. I was leaving one existence to join another.

Dying is that same process. In the labor of dying, we are leaving this existence to join another. For my mother that labor was difficult and painful. But she had been through labor before—her own labor, when she was born into this world, and then again, through the conscious decision and act to bring her children into the world. All labors of love.

My mom has told me that after I was born and when she and my dad brought me home, they both experienced a joy beyond measure that was pre-empted by their unconditional love. The difficulty of her labor and the anxiety of my father meant nothing at all. I was home, and that’s all that mattered. I’m grateful for this little piece of knowledge I know around my own birth.

Now, I also know part of the story of my mother’s birth as she went through the labor of dying. I know my mom’s life partner, my sister, and myself, along with mom’s friends who came to visit made this experience about unconditional love as we ushered her into her new existence, an existence that is much less frail then the one she was leaving. And through our expression of love, and the unconditional love that was there to greet her, I hope and I believe the pain of her new birth was swallowed up in a joy beyond measure. She is home, reunited with her own parents. And in the end of this “frail existence,” that’s all that matters.
Quote: “This Frail Existence” Snow, E. R., & McGranahan, J. (Composers). Hymn: O My Father.


Corrective Shoes


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pigeon toed shoesWhen I was around five-years-old and my sister was three, our pediatrician told my mother there was something wrong with mine and my sister’s feet. Whatever the malady was, it required special corrective shoes.

I don’t know why this is, but if something is corrective, it’s never attractive. These shoes were no exception. They were clunky and only came in two color choices: white and black or white and brown. They screamed their purpose. My sister and I hated them.

Buying shoes became a traumatic and sad affair for the both of us at our tender ages. We’d pass all the cute little Mary Jane’s to sit and be measured by the shoe salesman (remember when?) who would then bring out a box of brown and white and black and white shoes. My sister and I would cry. My mother would put her arm around us both and try to be encouraging by telling us it was only for a little while. But children don’t understand “little while.” All they know is right now, and in that moment, I had to force my feet into ugly shoes that hurt.

The good news was, the neighborhood kids were kind about our ugly corrections and no one made fun of my sister or I as we wore our shoes. Everyone just ignored them. I’m sure this was much to the relief of my five-year-old little self.

Many years later, when I was a young adult, my mother mentioned those shoes. She apologized for forcing my sister and I into wearing them. She went so far as to entertain the idea that there probably wasn’t anything wrong with our feet and it was possible the shoes were completely unnecessary. I replied by telling her it was easy to think there hadn’t been any need for correction now that our feet were perfect.

I didn’t want her to worry about the decision she made all those years ago. Either way, my mom was doing the best she knew to do with the tools she had at the time. She had a doctor who told her our feet needed correcting, and she had the shoes that could make the necessary correction.

Not much has changed. As an adult, I still find myself needing corrective gear of some sort. It’s still unattractive, and it still hurts. But these corrections are of the heart and soul, and they aren’t as easily seen as the shoes of my youth. Yet they still determine how I walk the path before me. And just like when I was a kid, I may not understand the need for the correction, but I appreciate when others make the effort to encourage me or graciously let it go.

These lessons may start when we’re small, but they continue as we move into adulthood. With the recent passing of my mother, I have come to mine these story gems for what they can offer me now. So, I hope we each can we take a lesson from my mom and the neighborhood kids with whom I hung around when I was five and cut each other a little kindness when our paths come together. Instead of pointing out our neighbor’s corrective shoes, we can put our arms around each other and encourage one another to keep walking, even when the correction hurts. And let’s remember, that no matter who it is, whether spouse, sibling, adult child, or friend, we don’t really know the corrections the Lord would make in their lives, because when He talks to us about weaknesses, He’ll be talking to us about ours, not someone else’s.

It’s not our place to determine what someone else needs to correct or what shoes they need to wear to fix whatever we may see as a fault. Besides, whatever corrections we’d have someone else make wouldn’t fit anyway. In all those young years my sister and I wore corrective shoes, we could never exchange them. Her shoes were molded to her specific needs as were mine.

Our only job is to make sure our own pair of corrective shoes is in working order and pointing in the right direction. That’s enough to keep us busy for the rest of our journey.
(KJV Matthew 7: 3-5)


Quiet Sacrifices


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My mom in 2009.

My mom in 2009.

When I was nine-years-old, I had a bike accident that landed me in the ER. Nothing was broken—well, I take that back. My front teeth were broken. Yes, I planted my face right on to a newly graveled and tarred country road. I’m lucky I didn’t break my neck.

My parents rushed me to the hospital where the doctor began the pain-staking task of pulling out bits of road debris and my teeth from my mouth before sewing up my bottom lip. My mother stood beside me, holding my hand. Whenever the fear would creep into my eyes, she would squeeze my fingers and say, “Look at me. Look at me.” And I would calm. She would talk to me about my bravery as I laid perfectly still and wide awake.

She would do this for as long as she was able. Then, I’d watch out of the corner of my eye as she would go to the sink and throw up. After rinsing out her mouth, she would return to hold my hand.

As an adult, I can only imagine how hard it must’ve been for my mom to see her daughter bloodied and torn. And then to watch as doctors began what would be the long task of piecing me back together. But she stood there, by my ER bedside while that work took place.

What becomes even more significant is after I was discharged from the hospital, my mother also sat by my bed in my bedroom all that night. There weren’t any doctors or nurses to see her vigil as she carefully watched my fitful sleep. I would wake and find her sitting still and awake in the darkened room, and I would become calm. She was offering one of many quiet sacrifices a mother selflessly gives when watching over a wounded child.

Healing any wound hurts, but healing in the night can be the most painful. This wound was no exception. It hurt. And to this day, my heart fills with gratitude every time I remember this experience and my mom’s quiet vigil during that night. I’m grateful for her realization that no child should have to heal alone.

Now, forty-three years later, I was the one keeping the vigil at night over my mother as she lay dying. There was no fanfare around this act. Just a daughter sitting quietly by her mother’s bedside. On the rare occasion when my mother would wake, I would rise to smile into her eyes and remind her that I loved her. One last quiet sacrifice to honor the many offerings she made so willingly on my behalf. Because dying can sometimes be hard, and I didn’t want her to do it alone.

Quiet Decisions


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mom's handsAmid the humming and buzzing of the skilled nursing facility where my mother lay ill, I sat with one of the most important quiet decisions I will ever have to make. I held my mother’s life at the end of a pen. On the form I needed to sign, I could require my mother to receive what’s known as a “full code” where all life-saving measures are employed to keep her alive, or I could ask for a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). The DNR would allow for comfort measures as she passed away naturally.

If you ask Larry, he’ll tell you this is a typical situation. He sees it all the time as an ICU pharmacist. If you ask me, I would tell you that no child should be put in the position of making the decision where the life of their parent hangs in the balance.

In the middle of this quiet crisis, I had three things on my side. I had talked to my sister and my mom’s life partner, and we were in agreement, which is more important than I can express. The other things I had going for me was that I know my mom, and I know my faith. Every decision I made was first placed before God. These realities made it possible for me to grasp the meaning of what stood before me and choose what was best–but far from easy.

Each us has to face all kinds of quiet decisions. How well we know ourselves, our God, and each other are the things that can help us through those crucial and often devastating moments.

In the end, I signed the DNR.

After I signed the form, I wept. I cried over what I had just done. I cried because I knew the hard labor of dying would come next. I cried over the losses my mom and I had already sustained and the losses that were yet to come. Then, I made one more quiet decision. I dried my eyes, went back into her room and held her hand.


A Morning Thunderstorm: A Tribute


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My parents around 1982. Thanks to my sister, who provided this photo. She's the keeper of photos in our family.

My parents around 1982. Thanks to my sister, who provided this photo. She’s the keeper of photos in our family.

I remember as a small child, under the age of six, my mother sitting with my sister and I in our Las Vegas bedroom through a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm. Whenever these storms would roll through, she would wake us to watch. During one particular storm, a bolt of lightning struck one of the big shade trees in the backyard, splitting it. This tree was right outside our bedroom window and went down with a loud crack. Like all small children, I looked to my mother. I can still see and hear her response. “Wow! That was incredible!” She exclaimed. No trace of fear.

When I was older, we talked about those storms. She told me that she woke me and my sister to watch because she knew at some point, we would wake on our own, and she didn’t want us to be afraid. She wanted to pre-empt our fear and replace it with wonder.

On the morning my mother passed away, I left the facility where she spent the last few days of her life and drove to her home after saying my final goodbye. It was around 4:15a.m. She had left her mortal experience and was now beyond my reach. The early dawn was just beginning to touch the sky in the east. But to the southwest a thunderstorm brewed. In a flash of lightning, the memories of those Las Vegas storms pressed themselves into my mind, and I remembered turning to my mother in the moment that tree was split and seeing her reaction of awe and wonder without any fear.

As I drove away from my final earthly memory of her, I watched the storm unfold and was overcome by that same sense of wonder; the wonder that was instilled in me by my mother. And as I continued to drive to meet that morning’s fury of nature and the darkening sky of the loss of my mother, I heard these words, “Don’t be afraid.”

lightning bolt


A Lost Nest


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Lost nestA couple of weeks ago, I walked out of my front door to see a fallen robin’s nest lying upside down in my driveway. With some dread and trepidation, I turned over the nest to find two broken eggs; their blue shells a stark contrast to the small mess that spilled against the hard concrete. My heart contracted. A family had come undone either by a deliberate act or a careless one.

I debated about what to do with the remnants of this home. It would not go on to fill the measure of its creation. That much was clear. I thought about bringing it in the house so it could be displayed. After all, it was lovely. In the end, I decided to keep it outside and with reverence, I moved the nest to the base of the tree. As I picked it up, I could feel the fragility of it. In spite of its sturdy look, it was nothing more than bark, twigs, and grass all held together by strings and plugs of moss. Like all homes created with the best of what we have, it was a work of art.

The other day, I glanced out my kitchen window that looks onto the base of the tree where the nest is resting. I watched as a pair of juncos moved around the nest and began plucking out pieces of grass. They were searching for just the right size and shape. When several pieces fit the specific need, the little birds gathered them up, and flew to their own nest. From the ruins of another, these sweet little birds began the work of fulfilling the measure of their own fragile creation.

There are those who would say juncos are lesser birds than robins, and that whatever they could build would not match the splendor of the original plan or circumstances. Juncos are tiny, plainer, and their song isn’t as vibrant. Compared to the robins, they’re nest will be smaller and probably even more fragile. But they are still birds, and their babies aren’t any less precious.

We can pick up certain parts of our shattered experiences, and we can piece them together to create something good. It may not look like the creation we had planned and the loss of that beauty needs to be mourned. But when we’re ready, we can sift through the remnants and build another nest. It may be smaller and even more fragile, but whatever comes out of the ruins, even if it is very different than the original, is just as precious as what previously existed.

When we pair ourselves with our Savior, our nest will serve the purpose of its creation, no matter how small or ruined. The experiences born from this new nest will be just as meaningful as the nest that was lost. There is no lesser or greater in the eyes of God. There is only the nest we have.


What Do You Drive?


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my carMy commute to school is riddled with red lights and cross streets, and there are days when I have to make a decision at these intersections. Am I going to go to school or make a turn off the plotted course? On bright sunny days, Mt. Rainier sometimes beckons me, and I’ve wanted to make a turn, toss the text books and notes out the window and head for the hills. Instead, I stay the course, show up for class, and do the work.

That choice is about to pay off. In June, I will graduate with faculty honors from the University of Washington, Tacoma with a Bachelor’s in Social Work (BASW) at the sweet age of fifty-two.

This isn’t the end of the journey. My road goes on toward a Master’s, but this light has remained red for now. I applied to two programs and neither one accepted me. So, instead of going straight through this next intersection, I have to take an unexpected turn. I’m patiently waiting at this red light with my blinker on.

Life is full of these green and red lights, yellow lights of caution, unexpected turns and sometimes unsure destinations or uncertain routes. Twenty-five years ago, if someone would’ve told me my life story, I would’ve laughed. I was on the Marriage Expressway and Motherhood was the next exit. I didn’t think I needed an education then, as nice as an education would be, and I certainly wouldn’t be driving down that road in my fifties! Twenty-five years ago, when I pictured my life in my fifties, I saw myself on Bliss Road with a grandbaby or two. Peaceful Retirement would be on the horizon. There were lots of exits off that road, including Church Mission Circle.

But one unexpected bend led to another, and throughout the years, I found myself on Childless Trail, which is long and winding. Then, Larry and I took a sharp turn on Health Scare Hill Road before getting lost on Financial Mistake Boulevard. Now, we’re about as far as we can get from Peaceful Retirement Drive. Instead, we’re at the corner of Education and I Think I Have A Plan.

I may not have had a lot of choices around the roads I’ve driven or the terrain. But I do get to choose my attitude, which is the car I drive. How I get around is up to me, and I’ve discovered I like my SUV. It’s sturdy and steady. It can fit all kinds of passengers comfortably, and it can handle the terrain when the road gets rough.

The vehicle makes all the difference in this journey. That doesn’t mean it’s always in good shape. It can get really dirty after a particularly difficult stretch and sometimes the car breaks down. I get cranky, irritated and irritable. Sometimes I have a pity party because I feel picked on. But then, I fix that flat and keep going.

Some of us are blessed in that our lives have unfolded in every expected way. At the age we’re at, we’re on the road for which we’ve planned. For the rest of us, our choices may not be about the road we’re on, but about the vehicle we’re in. So, what do you drive?