Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas

Here in Indiana, we've had our first bite of winter. I missed a big storm last weekend when I was in Raleigh. The piles of that storm are still along the roadways but as I drove up to Winona Lake, those snow mounds emitted vapor and fog, given the highway an eerie vibe. Friday and Saturday met us with a constant, chilly rain and this morning, the streets are coated with ice.

Ah winter. We Midwesterners keep up the mantra: we like the snow, we like the snow, we like.....

I used to wonder why the old folks all congregate in the warmer climes. Now, it's "Ah ha!"

And that's where I'm headed. Mom and I will celebrate Christmas 2013 together. I've heard that other family members will venture into the mix.

Then, next Saturday, oh my! I'll grab some grandboys' hands and skip aboard the Disney Fantasy for a week even farther south. What a couple o' weeks!

For the most part, I can step back from the craziness and rush rush rush of this season. I know that many friends get juiced when all the parties and presents and fa la la swirl around them but that's never been me...or us. And I really didn't let anything or anybody bully me into any other way.

Our family traditions included gathering in the living room, Christmas morning. I brought in the platter of fresh yeast cinnamon rolls and an egg casserole.  Mike read from the Christmas story in Luke 2. We had a big big Bible that was reserved just for that reading. When he finished, it was on to the stockings.

Both kids had stockings that were created by Gramma Hayes. They were huge. and THIS mom was not one to stuff them with expensive items. My kids usually found note books and pens, new toothbrushes, some stickers and Pez containers....nothing too much. However, one tradition that I began when each was 3....there was always a wrapped box of Thank You notes in the stockings. We had an understanding: we did not leave the tree room until the notes were written.

I had a plan to teach them to write notes. It worked with one of two adult children. 50%. I'll take it.

Then, the serious tearing began. We opened one gift at a time and the others would look on with feigned interest, eyeing the next goody. Mike's major contribution was to gather up the wrapping paper and stuff it in a trash bag as we went along. Whew. Notes written and then the kids retreated to their bedrooms for serious sorting and play.

We never did the big meal. Some Christmas days, we stayed in our jammies all day. I vaguely remember a Battleship marathon that reached into the evening. And sometimes...many times...yes...Mike would return to the office. Sadly, Christmas Day is a big problem for some people and if a client needed Mike's help, even on Christmas, he was available.

Did we feel neglected? Placed second? Deserted?  No no and no. This was our husband's/father's profession. His clients knew that they could count on Mike when they needed him. That was one of the qualities I loved about my husband.

So, as I move into a very different Christmas season, how goes it? It goes great. The holiday often brings memories to the forefront. My memories are the good ones.

With few distractions or obligations, I find myself marveling again at the story of the baby, his young mother, the manger, the star, the path of Jesus' life that led to the cross and our salvation.

My prayer for you, so many of whom have prayed for us and continue to pray for me, is that you will find the wonder in this season. The God of the Universe became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to die for our sins. He rose and conquered death. We can cling to the hope of heaven.

I know that my dear Mike is walking with his Savior. He is healed and whole. Praise to God.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


 I'm sure Mike told everybody, EVERYBODY, that I am an independent lady. Depending on the day, he might have said, "headstrong," "bull headed," "stubborn," or some version of that.

Hmm. Maybe. I know that we each operated in our separate universes....his was law and mine was school...where we made decisions without the other's input.

However, in 39 years of marriage, we melded our values into what was uniquely ours.

Last week, I made a choice that was different from what Mike and Lynne Bolinger would have done. I leased an automobile.

We never leased cars during our marriage. We saved up and purchased cars. It was never easy but early on, with my $50 1961 rag top Volkswagen, I owned that green machine as soon as I drove it away. In our state, where insurance and plates are based on the car, it was cheap to drive and that was in 1973-4 when gasoline prices soared for the first time in my life.

Mike brought a 1970 VW to the marriage which functioned as our only car until we were done with graduate school.

While saving up for a car, Mike would read a lot about cars, shop for cars, take me to car shows to sit in cars. We were a pretty good team:  Mike knew about engines, wheels, maintenance costs and mileage. I evaluated the comfort. I would sit in the driver's seat and adjust it for me. Next, I would sit in the front passenger seat. Then, I would check out the back seat...this was in the family make sure I could get in and could ride with my knees free from the seat in front of me.

What we NEVER did was lease. Frankly, I didn't have much to do with that decision as long as my personal wheels got me to and fro. Mike would preach it, though....."A lease is the most expensive way to drive a car..."

Quite a while ago, he and I decided it was time to replace my Orange Caliber. Unfortunately, this was before I ended up sinking $$$ at 60,000 miles. (who calls this 'nickles and dimes?') The hub decided to teach me how to buy a car. We started with a newspaper ad..."This is what the sticker is." "This is what the cost to the dealer is."  "This is what he should make on the sale."

We roll-played my purchasing a car. I was prepped to walk in, offer something ridiculously low and let the salesman offer the sticker price. Then, we were to play back-and-forth, bringing the price closer to the middle. This kind of bargaining comes naturally for defense attorneys but not for English teachers. Plus, my limited experience is that, no matter how far we've come, baby, car salesmen see a chump when a woman comes in alone.

In fact, at least once, Mike had me go into a dealer and get 'his best deal.' Then, the hub's plan was to go back and get the 'real deal.' And the difference was startling.

I have no idea if those salesmen played him, also. But he would leave thinking he'd gotten a deal so he'd be happy with his purchase. All good.

I dreaded the time when I would have to buy a car. And the time was coming. What threw me for a loop: 3 of my advisers, independently of each other, suggested I think about leasing. "We don't lease," I'm sure I said.

It's not that I'm not OK with the fact that I am no longer 'we.' It's just an idea we had never considered. But then I did.

After meeting with 3 different dealerships, I spent a month thinking, reading, praying, and planning. The time came. I chose the dealer, made an appointment, and walked in, armed with information.

By the time we concluded, I was signing up for a lease. For a really cool car. Really.

So, the natural question from friends:  so are you excited?

And the honest answer was, "Not yet." It took about a week to wrap my mind around the fact that I had made a big decision and it was 180 degrees from what Mike and Lynne Bolinger would have made. This is a My-New-Life first.

The world has continued to spin and I'm tooling around, happy, in my car.

So, left to my own self, this is what I got.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Not so Ho Ho Ho?

I am a morning person, one of those wide-awake, cheery souls who greets the day, often before the sun comes up. As a teacher, it served me to rise at 4:30 to have 2 ½ hours to wake up and get organized before school.

 My experience indicates that few 17-year-olds are morning people. When I would greet my students at 7:20, I was smiling but I consciously tramped down the cheery demeanor. It’s hard to take sunny before your eyes adjust to the day. 

So here I am, moving into this holiday season and my heart is overflowing with joy. It’s a gift God has afforded me at a time when, according to Google, I should be depressed and teary. It was at this time, last year, that Mike could no longer disguise that cancer had come to call with pain and weakness and, at long last, a trail to the end. He is at peace and whole now, and God has gifted me with peace and happiness. 

When people ask me how I’m doing, depending on who asks, I tell them I’m just a little joy bell. It’s a great way to celebrate the birth of our Lord. However, we all know that for some people, the holidays are especially difficult. Bright lights, music, and parties all announce that we are to be HAPPY. Happy happy happy. And for some people, who are sad, lonely, depressed, or facing difficulties, the festivity of each street corner makes their mood even worse. Confront by a joy bell, they might want to smack it away.
It seems to me that we’ve ramped up the season from pre-Thanksgiving through New Years Day with unreasonable expectations of what these days should be and must be. Then, collectively, many of us try to live up to this, fall short, and then wonder what’s wrong with us. 

Thanksgiving, which now starts before Halloween, is ‘supposed’ to mean a big family meal where the throng sits around a loaded table, laughing and loving each other and, of course, there's the food. But let’s face it, sometimes you get to spend significant time with some relative that you don’t care for. (note to my relatives: NOT I) Then there’s the overeating and the belly aches and the oh-no-look-at-the-bathroom-scale next day.

On to the Christmas season, which includes public fights over Nativity Scenes and Christmas music; we get pressured into parties and gift giving, spending more money than we should; behind every door is more and more sugar; we gain MORE weight; and, here in the Midwest, it’s the weather:  cold, gray, colder, grayer…and maybe a little snow.

Now, for those unburdened with trouble, it’s all ok. In my case, God keeps showing me how blessed I am. There’s beauty all around us. And, for the Christian, we can meditate on how our God became flesh and dwelt among us. He was born, He died, He rose, He saves. Glory to God on the Highest. Lyrics of memorized Christmas carols strum the strings of my heart.

Way back in June, I gave audience to what I would do during the upcoming holidays…you know, the ‘first ones’ without my dear husband. Although Mike and I weren’t all that sentimental…we never made it to midnight on New Year’s Eve…I did wonder what this season would be for me. As it turns out, wasted energy. At my house, all is calm and all is bright.

However, when I considered that I might find the holidays difficult, I had hatched a plan, a pretty good plan, in case I found myself in a funk. It’s good advice for anybody when he finds himself feeling low.

Sometimes, we really do need a pity party; we deserve a pity party and should have one. I would suggest, though, that while it’s OK, one can go ahead, feel sorry for whatever warrants it but set a timer. Or an alarm clock. 30 minutes or 30 hours is a good time frame. When the time is up, you should go and wash your face with cold water, dry off and get busy.

I had planned to go to our local Rescue Mission and dish up dinner for those who are alone during the holidays. Or visit someone in an assisted living center. Or be open to other ideas. The best way to shake the gloomies is to help someone who has it worse than you. And, I believe we can ALWAYS find someone who has it worse than you and I do.

So, that’s my suggestion for anyone who is blue during the holidays. You’ll do something good for someone else. Ring a bell. Wrap a present. Smile more than you don’t. You’ll see your problems in a clearer light. And before you know it, we’ll be in January when the tinsel and colored lights disappear.

Friday, December 6, 2013

So, how long does it take?

Perhaps hard to believe: it's been almost 7 months.

Life goes on for everybody.

I noted the 6 month mark by removing my wedding ring and engagement ring. There's no real time line for this and it felt right. Also, I had tried it earlier but because of salt intake, I couldn't get it off. At that time, I hoped I could retrieve it without that cutting-off tool. I did.

Now, safely tucked in a place I will not forget (WILL NOT....WILL NOT), I will decide what to do with it. No rush there.

So, I look at my left ring finger: first, there's quite the indentation, plus some tan lines. I expected that. However, there's also a strange ring of skin, softer, less weathered where my ring used to be.

To Google: suggestions are to exfoliate, moisturize, exfoliate again, and on and on, to restore the skin. Also, I asked around the hair salon. Several women showed me fingers where rings used to lay. 2 months, 6 months, 3 years.....the skin is still unmarked. So, I guess I'll live with this and that's a good thing.

Also, I got a call from the cemetery: they needed me to sign off on Mike's marker. The time line on a burial spot goes like this, at least in Indiana. We buried my husband's shell. He lies head to foot with his dad, as was his wish.

Someone dug a hole and then filled it up. The next day (yes, I checked), a mound of dirt covered the spot and funeral flowers in pots decorated the perimeter. A week later, the pots were dumped upside down on the mound. A few weeks beyond, the pots were gone, leaving a brown, muddy patch. And, it was still the same on September, when Zach and I chose the marker. I inquired. As it was summer and a dry summer, grass would not grow. OK. I guess they know their stuff.

When I got ready for my November road trip, I checked again. Now, grass marks the spot, almost as if nothing lies under it. Now, we have the marker ordered...slightly odd to see my name...and it will probably be spring before the work is finished.

While on my latest adventure, I got to share a meal with an old friend who happens to be a pastor. He approached this question slowly:  So, is the grief, is your pain, getting less?

I mean, it's been 6 long does it take? (Not his question)

I'll tell you. I took Ivy around the block the other day, retracing our common route. We stopped in the pocket park and sat on the same bench that Mike and I sat on so many times, discussing life, our life, and other things. Ivy and I then took the long walk around the neighborhood. Mike and I took the long walk until last spring. Then, it was time for the short walk and the many rests.

Wistful sadness. And this is only one of our places. There are so many others, now connected with wonderful memories.

I don't believe that ever stops.

But, as we approach the Christmas holidays, I must say that my heart is so full of joy, for my current life, for my married life, for the many blessings all around me. God continues to open my eyes to His care.


Oh come! Let us adore Him
Oh come! Let us adore Him
Oh come! Let us adore Him

Christ the Lord.