Unconditional Love in the Storms

A couple weeks ago, Gary and I returned home from church and sat down to eat lunch.  We knew there might be some storms that day, but the view outside our kitchen window was of a somewhat cloudy sky with more sun than clouds.  Soon, though, we heard rumbles and noticed the wind picking up in intensity.  As we sat there, we literally watched a storm forming to our west.  The clouds darkened and built in volume, and the thunder increased along with the lightning.  It was fascinating and awesome to see the changes happen so quickly.  The power was unstoppable.  Soon there was some rain and then hail that pelted our roof and yard.  The storm didn’t last long, but the effects were felt all day as the temperatures decreased by over 40 degrees in a very short time. 
 

The whole process seemed so sudden to us, but the ingredients for this stormy day had been building up in the atmosphere for much longer than what we saw on the ground.  The storm formed quickly because the necessary storm components were there all along…….far away out west of us, and far up in the sky above us.  We bore the brunt of the strong winds, the vivid lightning, the loud thunder, and the driving rain and hail.  The actual storm didn’t last long but the coldness lingered all that day and into the next.

 
How we handled the storm and the ensuing hours afterwards made a huge difference in our peace and comfort.  I ran around closing windows while Gary took care of some matters outside.  Later, as the cold set in, we changed clothes and dressed warmly.  Aaron and I put on jackets that evening when I drove him to Sonic for a burger.  Simple matters, yes, but necessary for us during that change.

I’m pondering all this as I’ve had a morning with Aaron.  Those of you who know us through this blog, or through family and friendship, know what I mean by that statement.  Aaron was fine earlier today, but when it was time to go to Paradigm he reacted heatedly with anger and words.  He pounded on a door once, but nothing major, as I talked to him softly and tried to steer him through his anger.  I let him decide what he would do today…….stay home or go to Paradigm.  He knew that staying home had its own consequences, though I didn’t mention them.  He also knew that going to his group had consequences for him as well.  He would have to get out and be around people on a bad day; have to obey rules; have to get away from his computer and maybe go somewhere that doesn’t thrill him.

He eventually chose to go to Paradigm, but he was very much on the edge of a full melt-down.  God gave me grace, seriously, to remain calm and soft with Aaron.  It wasn’t easy.  His words were not nice.  They weren’t aimed at me personally, but they were not good words.  He was coming along as we drove to Quik-Trip and listened to some of his favorite music.  I knew that his ride would be late since we had cancelled earlier, and then changed our minds, so as I pulled into the parking lot I asked him if he wanted a sausage biscuit.  He was surprised at that offer……taken off guard with kindness when he knew that he had every right to expect punishment.  We left the store a few minutes later with his treasured sausage biscuit AND some Skittles.  And a softening Aaron.

As we waited for his ride and listened to more music, I saw that Aaron was having trouble with an itch on his back.  I had him lean forward and I scratched his back.  Then I tickled his back, which he dearly loves, and he calmed noticeably.  He talked and smiled.

“It’s just that I didn’t want to go to Paradigm today,” he said.  I assured him that I knew that as I smiled, and he just relaxed under my hand on his back.  Soon his ride came and he willingly got in their van with his kind staff.  Just a few minutes ago, Barb sent me this picture of Aaron on her couch at Paradigm.  He’s happy with his food and he’s happy with those there that care for him, and hopefully he will have a good day after all.
 

The storm blew in so quickly this morning.  I literally watched it form in Aaron’s room when I told him it was time to get off his computer.  I know that the storm ingredients were building in his mind for some time, unseen by me but there nonetheless.  I bore the brunt of the storm as I heard Aaron’s words and tensed as he hit the door. 

But how I reacted………how I handled this storm……….made a huge difference in our peace and comfort.  I do not say this to my own credit.  It is seriously the hand of God’s grace reaching down and calming me in the midst of confusion and anger.  I knew what would happen if I yelled at Aaron or if I gave him impossible ultimatums at that point.  It was best to help him work through this process while gently pointing out the repercussions of his decisions. 

And one more thing.  It was a time for me to practice unconditional love for my sometimes impossible son.  Unconditional……..meaning ‘not limited.’  Oh, how hard that love sometimes is!  All of us as parents can attest to this truth.  My love for Aaron is not limited to his good days……..when he makes me laugh and he obeys willingly and is polite and doesn’t even whack me on the back…..much.

Nope.  This unconditional love is for the stormy times like I faced today.  It’s a love that sees Aaron for who he is at these volatile times, and it’s a love that bundles up in the cold that sometimes follows these storms.  It’s a love that gives him a good old “A#1 back scratching,” as my dear dad called them.  I may have felt like giving his back a resounding slap, but the back scratch and the back tickle worked much better……..because it showed love and warmth to my frustrated boy.

I was at an event recently where I saw the long-term effects of a love that has been conditional.  A love based on limits and on who I am, and what I have or have not done.   This sort of limited love produces coldness and pain, not warmth and healing.  It gives no room for forgiveness and growth.  No hope of reconciliation.  How utterly sad………how wasted and unnecessary. 

I don’t want that to be true of me in my relationships with anyone, and definitely not with my children.  All of us parents know a thing or two about unlimited love………..loving our children through the good and the bad……..the pride and the disappointments. 

And those of us with special needs children, especially special needs that cause behavior issues, can attest to how difficult unconditional love can be.  Yet how rewarding to see the results of this love and to know that in the long run, we will reap more through love than through anger and harshness.  Sometimes we need to enforce discipline, but always with love and with forgiveness in store. 

When I fail at this, which I have done more times than I can count, I have the love of my Heavenly Father.  His love is always, always unconditional toward me……….and I’m so very glad that it is, because I blow it so often.   It’s through Him that I have learned what true, unlimited love is.  And through Him alone that I can practice this love…….most of the time………with Aaron.

I hope that the storm is totally gone when Aaron comes home.  I hope the temperatures are warm and the mood is bright.  But if not……

I’ll get out the back scratcher and grab Aaron’s floor pillow and get to work on his back.  No hugs for Aaron but a good back tickle should work.   

And I’ll tell him that I love him, though he rarely says those words back to me. 

Unconditionally.

We’ll Remember For You, Mom

On March 20, 1949, there was a wedding in the little mountain coal town of Welch, West Virginia.  Rachel Elizabeth Hollandsworth married James Willis King.  They had said they would marry sometime in the spring, but why wait?  The first day of spring suited them just fine.  Everyone knew them as Jack and Beth.  I know them as Mom and Dad.  This March 20th would have been their 65th wedding anniversary.

 
I’ve written about their life before.  So much can be said about this wonderful pair, but I know that I do not need to repeat what has already been said and written.  God blessed Mom and Dad with five children, of which I am number four.  Mary Beth, John, Jan, and Kathryn round out the quintet.  We grew up in Princeton, West Virginia, where Dad worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and Mom worked to direct the school lunch programs in thirteen counties. 
 

We were a close family, with Mom and Dad being very involved in our lives despite their busy work schedules.  The most important heritage that was given to us was spiritual.  Mom and Dad came to know the Lord after they were married, Dad first and then Mom some time later.  They both made sure that we were faithful to attend church all during our years of growing up, and also made sure that we each were developing our own intimate walk with the Lord. 

I remember so many great times in that house on North Third Street.  So much laughter, good food, games, friendships, and fellowship with not only each other but with others……..friends, college students, missionaries, preachers, extended family.  As the years went on, there were hard times, too.  We were not immune from the trials that everyone faces.  There were tears and stressful situations and heartache…….but we always had each other, and we always had the Lord that Mom and Dad had taught us to lean on over the years.

 
Each of us kids married and left home.  Mom and Dad eventually retired within months of each other.  Instead of going their own ways, they became closer than ever.  They never tired of each other’s presence.  Rarely would one make even a quick trip to the grocery store without the other one going along.  They held hands and kissed often, and just shared all that life had for them……together, totally.  This included Dad’s lung cancer and then four years later his liver cancer, and finally his death in December of 2008.  Mom never left his side……never wavered in her care for him…….and neither of them ever faltered in their love for the Lord and for each other. 

 
Mom now lives in a beautiful assisted living facility where she is well cared for.  Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, take excellent care of her as well.  No amount of love and care, however, can take away from her the insidious effects of Alzheimer’s.  Mom is basically happy, yes, and mostly healthy.  But the mother that we have known all of our lives is gone now.  Forever gone. 

It’s really stunning to see and to hear the depth of her forgetfulness.  I called her the other day and as she answered the phone, I said, “Hi, Mom!  This is Patty.”

“Who is this?” she replied.  I told her again who I was, and she asked, “And WHO is this?”  She had no idea that Patty is her daughter, even after I told her.  She has no memory of her children, except for seeming to still know Jan.  She is surprised every Sunday that the man preaching in the pulpit is her son.  And when told that she has five children and then is given their names, she says, “I had all those children?”  Bob wrote all of our names on a picture of us, but Mom has no emotion or connection when she looks at it.  She doesn’t recognize anyone in the picture, including herself.

 
Of everything and everyone that she has forgotten, the most amazing and the saddest one that she has forgotten is Dad.  At first Jan and John weren’t sure that she had lost her memory of him, but she has shown over and over that she really doesn’t remember him.  She shows no recognition of his pictures.  When she passes the cemetery where he is buried, she only talks about her parents buried there…………not Dad. 

But one day when she was shown Dad’s picture and reminded of who he was, her voice softened and she said, “Jack.  He was such a special man.”  Her doctor at a recent visit was asking her questions.  How many children do you have?  Mom didn’t know.  Do you remember any of their names?  No, she did not.  Then she was asked to give her husband’s name, and she paused before saying, “John?”

The doctor said, “No.  Jack.”  And suddenly, at the mention of his name, Jan said that Mom’s chin began to quiver.  It didn’t last long, but there was an unmistakable connection there……maybe a memory?  Deep inside, maybe she does slightly remember the wonderful man that was her husband for 59 years. 

 
But it’s OK, Mom.  We’ll remember for you now.  We’ll remember all the years…..all the love…..all the treasures of the life that you and Dad built together.  We’ll remember your devotion to each other……..your laughter and silliness and fun………your faithfulness and your routines and your enthusiasm for life.  And what a life it was!  We have no reason to be unhappy about that at all.  We’ll remember the jokes and the family stories and the music…..oh, the music!  Especially “Oh It Rained, Rained, Rained,” which we are all sure that we will get to sing in heaven. 
 
As long as God allows, we will remember what you have forgotten.  And we will honor you and Dad for being the most wonderful parents, and the most loving husband and wife, that we have ever known.  You won’t realize that it’s your anniversary on this March 20th, but we will know.  You won’t even remember Jack……Dad……but we will remember for you. 

We will remember, and we will be thankful for this most precious gift……this gift of memories…….this gift of you and Dad.

Happy Anniversary, Mom.  You are loved.  We remember.

Smooth…..It…..Over

I’m sitting at our neighbor’s house, surrounded by the unfamiliar noises of a house that I do not know.  Around me are many treasures that have been accumulated in the sixty-eight years of marriage that this couple have known.  These items mean nothing to me beyond the fact that some are beautiful, some are unique, and some are mysterious.  But each one is very important to Don and Nora, just as Don and Nora are of supreme importance to each other. 

Don is 87 years old.  He and Nora have been extremely close for all their marriage, I would dare say.  They are never apart, and if you saw them in the aisle of our nearby grocery store they would more than likely be holding hands at some point.  Nora speaks loudly so that Don, who has refused to get hearing aids, can hear her. 
 
Don and Nora

Don has weakened considerably over the past two months.  He was finally hospitalized last week, and to everyone’s great shock he was diagnosed with cancer of the lung, liver, and colon.  He came home this week, on Monday night.  Home to die, as he and Nora wished, instead of remaining in a hospital.  How very sad.

Nora could only bring Don home if she had a plan of care in place.  We, and the neighbors on the other side, said that we would do what we could to help.  There have been a series of events over the past few days and nights.  Don has gotten out of bed during the nights and we have gone over to get him back in bed, and to calm Nora.  She continues to insist that she can handle all of this and she refuses to hire an aid, or to put Don on the Hospice floor of the hospital.  We shake our heads, but we do understand her desires and we sympathize with her pain.  Hospice is also being wonderful, but for all of us there is only so much that Nora will allow us to do.

The second night that Don was home was particularly hard.  Gary and I went over to help, as did the other neighbor.   Nora was at a breaking point.  At times that are this stressful, it’s easy for tempers to flare.  Nerves are raw, and the body and spirit are depleted.  I gently attempted to direct Nora’s thinking toward getting some needed assistance.  She snapped.  She did not want to hear anything that even remotely suggested taking Don out of the home, or hinted at her not being able to care for him – on her own.  The situation was tense, and hurtful.  We stayed until we were able to do what we could, and we left hearing the slamming of the door……….an evidence of the slamming door of Nora’s heart.  It was the sound of her deep grief and her strong spirit.

We walked back home under the beautiful moon and stars, Gary and I.  The air and the snow were cold, just as I felt my heart was becoming.  Anger and hurt will do that to a person, no matter the circumstances.  Gary was so kind, both to Nora and to me.  At Nora’s house he gently touched my back in order to remind me to be quiet.  He ministered to Nora and to Don that night, but to me as well.  He brought my focus back to the point of understanding our position in all of this, and of trying to honor Nora’s wishes, no matter how unreasonable they may seem to us.    

There was someone else who reached into my angry heart that night as well.  My dad.  I was with my parents during the month before my dad died.  I saw the love they had for each other, much like Don and Nora.  I saw the fear and the grief and the decisions that were all a part of this process of death.  And I saw some tense moments between my parents that arise out of the exhaustion and pain of such a looming loss.  There weren’t many of those times and they weren’t extreme, but they did occur.

Mom and Dad
After one such time, I helped get Dad on the couch from his wheelchair.  He and I sat there for a minute, just the two of us.  I put my head on his shoulder as he sat there with his head bowed down from weakness.  We held hands and I spoke words of comfort to him, or at least I hoped they were.  And I told him that I was sorry that sometimes things were stressful. 

My dad slowly lifted his tired head, and he slowly turned to look at me with those wise, kind eyes.  Then he smiled……..his very familiar and very sweet smile.  And he said, ever so softly and slowly, “Smooth…..it…..over.”

His wisdom, in those three little words, was profound.  I have been reminded of that wisdom many times since my dad went on to heaven.  I am so thankful for that moment with him and for the deep lesson I learned once again from my dad, even as he was nearing death.  Those words came to me as Gary and I walked home in the cold snow, still stinging from other words that were not so kind. 

Smooth….it….over.  Be the one to make things right.  Be the one to show kindness.  Be the one to reach beyond harsh words and simply smooth it over.  Is it easy to do?  No.  Is it right to do?  Yes! 

The next day, when Nora called me for help, my attitude was changed.  I had peace and I had empathy for this faithful woman who so loves her dying husband.  Nora hugged me and as I later left her at the end of the day, she said three words as well.  “I love you,” she said as she hugged me close.  And I was able to freely hug her in return and tell her I loved her as well. 

There is freedom in forgiveness.  There is escape from bitterness when I heed the words of my sweet and wise dad.  Smooth….it….over.

Thanks, Dad.  I miss you but I’m still listening to you.
My sweet Dad