Mostly Good

Life is unpredictable and hard. My mother likes to remind us that “God never promised us a rose garden”. She is right. She is so wise and I admire her so very much. I truly believe that it is her example that has made me into the person I am today. Her strength and resolve to remain faithful, dedicated, and determined through some pretty tough times, keeps me grounded and gives me hope.

My parents lived through the depression. Although Dad’s story is much more challenging than Mom’s, both have a cominatility of resilience. Dad shares of my grandmother dumpster diving for food thrown out by grocery stores. Grammy would peel the rot off the outside and feed the inside to the family. They also ate a whole lot of potatoes- so much so, that to this day, Dad could care less if he ever ate them. Mom’s father owned a small country store and so they would get to eat outdated food. She shares that they were one of the lucky ones, because they would get to eat meat. She also shares of standing in line for a cup of sugar and birthday cakes that lacked it.

Dad lost a brother. The story of Curtis is a sad one. At a young age, Curtis took a fall off a horse, which resulted in cancer. It took a huge toll on the family and to this day, Dad talks about the loss with sadness. He was a sweet boy who loved the Lord with all his heart, and his siblings adored him. Mom lost her home. When the ’47 fires ripped through the state, Mom tells of the story of how they had to decide what to keep, the lumber mill or the house and small store. They chose the mill, because that was what generated most of their income. It was so traumatic, that my grandmother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Dad endured terrible headaches and verbal abuse. Mom lost her dear father while in college. Dad lost 2 sisters, one to cancer and the other, to a horrific farming accident. Mom lost 2 sisters, one to brain cancer, and the other to Lewy Body Dementia.

Life is hard. Divorce, financial hardship, death and illness take a toll on the family and has a trickle down effect on the rest of the family. My parents will never be the same because of what they have endured. But for me, it gives me hope, and strength, because their stories help me to build mine. Their wisdom, strength, endurance, and character help me to straighten my back and give guidance to my sweet babies.

I remember when I was preparing to give birth to my first child, my mother told me that it would be hard, that they call it LABOR for a reason, but to remember that many women had gone before me and lived through it. I thought about that while enduring the pains of childbirth and it gave me courage and power.

I’d like to think that my strength and determination comes from my folks- especially Mom. I have watched her cry into the dishwater, watching each tear splash. I’ve watched her square her jaw and bite her tongue when she could have, and had every right to, speak up. I’ve also watched her stand up straight and tall, quoting my grandmother after the loss of my grandfather, “I’ve got — more years to live and I’m going to live them.”

Life is tough and I’m so glad that I have this powerful example to draw from. My mother is a worker and a fighter and everything I want to emulate. She has deep faith and loves the Lord with everything she has. She has often said with sadness that she doesn’t feel that she has a gift or a mission field. But I’m here to say that she does. This woman, the one who allowed horses to walk through the house, goats to snuggle and watch TV with us, nursed sick calves by the woodstove, patted family pets until their final breath, has got one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. Wise, compassionate, kind, and devoted, I could not have asked for a better mother.

As a child, I remember my mother rubbing my sore legs, waking from nightmares in her arms, encouraging me through difficult classes, and listening to me practice the same song over and over again as I prepared for music camp tryouts. My mom has been my cheerleader and my confidant, and the one I can always count on for good sound advice. I have been so blessed.

So when life gets hard. I square up my Hughey jaw, push back my shoulders, pull up my boot straps, and put my chin up. I crack open my roadmap and lean into my sweet Savior.

So, on this 9th year Anniversary of one of the most difficult days in our marriage journey, I’d like to say that I’m “mostly good” and putting one foot in front of the other, just like those who went before me. I had good examples from which I get my strength.

#20 Take Two

This was written in 2014 after meeting with a support group that specialized in Early Onset Dementia.

In 2014, my favorite man was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, most likely caused by too many blows to the head. He is accident prone. If he can run into it, fall off of it, or trip over it, he will.

Just prior to February Vacation, the kids took a trip to Pennsylvania to visit family. This meant that on Thursday, he was alone. Generally this is fine. However, on this particular day, my favorite man decided that it would be a wonderful surprise to work on the downstairs space and surprise the kids when they returned.

That evening he said to me, “Do I have a bruise right there?” My response was that I did not see a bruise, just a small scratch. I asked him what happened. He said he didn’t know. The next day I was home by noon. Again he asked, “Do I have a bruise right there? It sure does feel it.” At this point, he had a good sized bruise. I asked him what happened. He said he didn’t remember, but that he thought he fell.

Day 3: “Wow, this really hurts.” This time the bruise had doubled- going from his hip to to just above his knee. Looking him over, he had a few spots on his back that were sore. I asked again, “What happened?” He still didn’t know. He thought maybe he fell, wasn’t sure where, but he felt like he might have had his arms full.

Meet Dementia. He’s a jerk.

On Monday of Vacation Week, the kids brought him home a small dog: 3.4 pounds of mostly ears and a huge heart. When my favorite man was first diagnosed with dementia, it was recommended that he get a dog as a companion. We tried unsuccessfully with an 3-year old Alpha Rhodesian Ridgeback who was much more dog than we could handle. She was more like a lion. So, we are trying again. Bayta is 50% Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier and Fox Terrier mix. She is 13 weeks old and has won our hearts. So, we are happy to say that we have given #20 on our original “to-do” list another chance.

#20 is a adjustment. It’s added more stimulation to his life. His sweet redhead is a bit jealous of his time with the dog. The energy in the house when all are together is much more difficult to navigate. Everyone wants time with Bayta, and he’s become a bit possessive. He’s like this with any change, but it’s trickier when it involves children and grandchildren. So, it’s been a challenging week. We’ve been navigating potty training, schedules, feelings, and this new living breathing bundle of sweet energy.

He’s changed. I hope he resets. I pray that he returns to baseline. He’s been a storm cloud all week. Although with crossed arms and talking through his teeth, he says he’s fine and that he’s happy. He doesn’t LOOK happy. He doesn’t SOUND happy. When he’s like this, it’s so hard not to take it personally and second guess every single thing we do and say.

He didn’t remember yesterday. He doesn’t remember a friend’s picture on Facebook that he has known his ENTIRE life. He doesn’t feel well. (He never feels well.) And I have to remind myself that it is March. He hates March. He has always hated March. He’s been cooped up as long as he can stand it. It isn’t safe to be walking around outside, clearly- since he fell. It’s cold and the weather stinks. He’s always grumpy in March. It just doesn’t make it any easier to know that.

I miss him.

Thank goodness, mostly, he’s good. But when he’s not, it’s hard. It is my sincere prayer that #20 will pull him out of his funk, that things will reset as they always do, and that March will move fast. I remind myself that he has beat the odds and that I have so much to be grateful for, and that warm weather and sunshine has always traditionally brought him back to being his playful self. This is what I pray for.

Meet Bayta. Isn’t she adorable?

Take 1 deep breath and then another…

The holidays bring out both the best and the worst in people, just like weddings and funerals. Throw dementia into the mix and you have a crapshoot.

“Are you mad at me?”

“No.”

“Have I done something to upset you?”

“No.”

“Are you scared? Tired? Hungry? Overwhelmed?”

“No, No, No, and No.”

“Okay, but your body looks unhappy. Do you want to stay home?”

“No.”

He shivers, shakes, stims, stares, and bolts up over the stairs or into the bedroom. So then I guess that he needs quiet, and maybe something to eat. I have no idea.

I cry and he stares at me. He has no idea what to do, so he yells at me to stop. I know in my head that it is the disease. We’ve asked a lot of him, but it doesn’t help my heart.

I put pictures up of the family and I’m told that he looks good. He does. He looks like nothing is broken. He rises to the occasion when we go into public and is wiped by the time we get home. He lays down for a nap and we pray that he will feel better when he wakes. Sometimes he does. Sometimes he just becomes more tired.

We listen to audio books. He likes that. We can listen together and not talk. We watch crime shows together. Same.

The best times of his days are first thing in the morning. We do our separate devotions together on the two ends of the couch. I ask him what he’s learning. He can’t tell me, but he knows that he liked what he read. I tell him about mine. He offers his two cents. He is full of wisdom.

He keeps his mind busy with games on his phone. He can tune people out and concentrate on filling tubes with colors or making words. He rarely reads. He can’t retain the text. However, he still follows a storyline with audiobooks and movies, partially because we can pause it and talk about what is confusing and we are listening together.

He loves music. He especially enjoys the music from the 80’s and 90’s and loves foot stomping worship songs. It is gratifying to see him raise his hands during worship time at church. It is his favorite part of the service.

He still remembers many people. However, he may not recognize them. It sounds like this is a misprint. It is not. We will drive past houses and he will talk about the people that live there, memories from growing up, and stories that bring him joy. However, if he sees those same people in public, even with prompting from me, he has no idea who they are.

He remembers us, but calls us by the wrong names sometimes. However, he knows that we are his people and that we love him. This also means that when he is overstimulated and confused, we are the ones that he is short with. We are safe.

When he is sad, confused, frustrated, angry, and hurt, he comes across as angry and yells. He can’t delineate between emotions. That being said, his kids, grandkids, and I make him the happiest. He’d move heaven and earth for us. His biggest joy is when he repairs or builds something for us. He recently replaced flooring downstairs, took out 2 sliding glass doors and replaced them with windows, created 2 closets form the overhang in the lofts, made a box with our grandson, cupboard doors for the kitchen, and refinished an old child’s desk for me. It blows my mind that there are days he can’t find the right words to complete a sentence, yet he can create a masterpiece in the shop.

We were told that he wouldn’t be here with us at this stage, but he walks, talks, reads, putters, does most of the house chores, and remains very independent. At present, he is putting together a 300 piece puzzle in the loft. It looks like will make our 35th wedding anniversary in May. That is a miracle.

I asked and continue to ask God for more time with good health and mental clarity, and He has been faithful to grant me the desire of my heart. If it means that we have to endure tricky behavior, it is so much better than the alternative.

So as we end this year of 2021, may I focus on what we have and not dwell on the tough stuff. He’s still here and for that I am so very grateful even though dementia is still a jerk.

A WONDERFUL PROMISE

The God Who Sees, by Nicole C. Mullen

Zechariah 2:5
For I,’ says the LORD, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’”

So that she needs no other wall to secure her, the power of God encompassing her about as the mountains did Jerusalem, ( Psalms 125:2 ) and he being as a wall of fire to terrify and destroy her enemies; for our God is a consuming fire, ( Hebrews 12:29 )
.

Today, I’d like to share some of the valley’s that I have endured. Most importantly, I’d like to share how I clawed my way through them. Not by my own accord, but by the grace and strength of God. My purpose is to inform, to educate, and to encourage you by sharing how I felt the Lord’s guidance along the way, and strategies I used to endure the valleys. It is my hope that my story encourages you today.

I accepted the Lord when I was 7 at DVBS in North Yarmouth. The little old lady who prayed with me 2 years in a row, patiently explained to me that once was indeed enough! In the 7th grade I was baptized by Pastor Ducharme and Dave McKeen and with the Constables at their camp. I attended Camp Fair Haven for 5 years and enjoyed being part of the Youth Group and Sunday School with the McKeen boys growing up. My first memory of KRBC was when a long line of cars came down our driveway to surprise our family with a housewarming. What a warm and wonderful welcome. We have called KRBC our home church since I was 11 years old.

As a child, I remember several occasions that I rededicated my life to the Lord as I got to know Him and learned about His promises. I feel strongly that this continued commitment to following Him made what would have been traumatic experiences bearable.

Rusty and I began dating when we were just 16. We were introduced by his aunt and uncle, who worked for my family on our dairy farm. We continued to stay together through college and his time in the Navy. We have been together for almost 40 years. We have 3 children, 2 in-laws, and 4 grandchildren.

The first year was rough. Thankfully, we had parents who offered us a place to live, helped with groceries, and trained us to access yard sales, plant gardens, raise our own meat, and manage our meager finances. For that, I will be forever grateful. We lived simply and it was very challenging. I remember going through McDonalds sharing 6 McNuggets for a meal. Our couch was picked  up on the side of the road and had no cushions, and our coffee table was a wooden telephone cable spool. Our TV was about 13″ and black and white.

I taught for two and a half years before we took a shot at farming. I loved working side by side with Rusty, but it was a terrible time to start a new business. In the summer of 1992, Rusty ran over some electrical wire that CMP had left in the grass. When he hit it with the push mower, the wire zipped into his leg and wrapped around his tibia and fibula. While hospitalized, we found out we were pregnant with our youngest. We were uninsured. That, coupled with the high price of grain and the low price in milk, forced us to sell the cows. I returned to teaching and Rusty sold tractor parts and milked cows on the side. It was a very humbling time in our lives.

In 1998, Rusty rededicated his life to the Lord, was baptized, and we joined the church with my parents. We became very involved with AWANA, teaching Sunday School, and Youth Group. We also volunteered at Camp Fair Haven and the Adopt-A-Cabin program. This was a mountaintop experience for us. However, at one point, we actually became so active, that we had to rethink how much we were spending in ministry vs how much quality time our children were getting. During a family meeting, we realized that we needed to pull back and reevaluate.

Our first real health challenge was when Matthew was 10. He was diagnosed with multiple osteochondroma (bone tumors in his arm and throughout his body). We were sent to Mass General to see specialists and he was operated on twice. Both
times we felt the hand of God so strongly, that we could not dispute His heavenly intervention. This was the first time that we encountered angels, and you cannot tell us otherwise. People we had never met, gave us directions to places that we had not revealed. They sat with us on the bus, gave us directions, and met us in the hospital. They passed us in the hall while we waited in line for coffee and joined us in the elevator. It was comforting and we thanked God continuously for sending them to be with us.

Raising teens was particularly difficult. It was an “all hands on deck” time where adults had to work very closely with one another. I think it’s safe to say that not one of us would relive that time period if given the chance! Looking back, the Lord was preparing us for what was to come. I will also say that we remained faithful and close to the Lord during these times. At one point, we anointed the doors and windows of our home, praying for evil spirits to leave. We burned everything that was affiliated with the Masons, and worked really hard to create a spiritual safe place of refuge for us all. It was a very challenging time in our lives and Rusty and I had to be like a stone wall, united and strong. There were times that I would wake suddenly from a deep sleep and feel strongly that I needed to pray. I’d hit my knees on the side of my bed. I wouldn’t even know why, but I worked very hard to be obedient and listen closely to God’s direction.

In 2002, Rusty was working at Chase Toys and was able to arrange for several 4-wheelers to be transported to Camp Fair Haven for a Men’s Retreat. While warming up for the morning ride, he rolled down what we later learned was called “Suicide Hill”. He hit a rock, which threw him off balance, rolling the 4-wheeler 3 times, hanging on for 2 of the 3 rotations. When I was called, I was told that they weren’t sure he was going to make it. He was in the Trauma Unit for 2 weeks, before coming home in a wheelchair. While in the hospital, Rusty’s mother was dying of cancer one floor below us. Nurses would wheel him to his mother’s bedside with medication. Two weeks after being discharged, his mother passed away. It was our 15th Anniversary.

This was beginning of Rusty’s spiral. Losing his mother took the life out of him, and to be honest, taking depression medication saved our marriage. It was tricky trying to find just the right one and just the right dose. I can remember saying to the kids. “Hang on, tomorrow will be a little higher dose. He’ll soon be on full strength.”

We never really knew just how much Rusty’s mother did for his father, until we lost her. Cliff was unable to read or write, and had never been responsible for house duties and finances. It definitely added extra strain to an already fragile situation. The good news is that he did accept the Lord, and was baptized with our 3 children.

8 years after the death of his mother, we lost Rusty’s father to cancer- just before we moved from “the ridge” to “the mountain. He never saw our home on the mountain. But Rusty likes to say that his parents have a much better view from their vantage point!

Just prior to the move, in 2009, we started to notice a behavior change with Rusty. In my own private space, with the house full, I watched my husband begin to unravel. He was lonely and desperate to be liked by other men. His behavior change was so different, that at one point, I took him to the doctors and said, “This is not the man I married. Fix him.” They started to tweak his
depression meds again and forced him to go to counseling (which he hated- and by the way, made him worse).

He started showing signs of memory issues. I talked him through being lost on the way home, not knowing where he was. He would miss meetings he was supposed to be at, and go to appointments he never made. It was hard to parcel out what in the world was going on. I couldn’t trust him, and had to respond to him like the mother of a rebellious teenager and I hated that. He was my partner, not my child.

I prayed a lot. A lot. A real lot. The answer I got was: “love him through it.” It was hard and embarrassing. I wanted to protect his integrity, his reputation, and his character, but also to hold him accountable. I was determined to love him extra because he didn’t love himself. He was broken and he knew it.

We met with the pastor at the time, and he listened as we shared, but he lacked the training to offer much support. My husband stepped down from teaching Sunday School and withdrew from the sacred sanctuary he once found support from, leaving the High School Sunday School teenagers that he adored. He no longer felt respected and his absence was met with silence, week after
week.

Things seemed to quiet down for a bit, and then after a visit to Maine, Tabitha had a third miscarriage. This time, the baby was a little over 20 weeks. Matthew called and said that they needed me, so I flew to Washington. I was there for the birth, lay a blessing on our grandson James, and to support the kids. Throughout the experience, I called home to Rusty and Mom and they encouraged me to be brave and strong. Thankfully, I went to WA “prayed up”, faithful to the Lord and to His teaching. I was armed and ready. I
truly believe that it made a really sad situation more bearable.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, in April of 2013, my favorite man was fired from the company he had worked at for 17 years. He was devastated. Honestly, he had no idea why, until a private investigator came to the house. It was then, that we learned that he had made a mistake on an insurance claim. The private investigator said that it was obvious that it was an error
that he would never benefit from, but his employer fell silent- even with letters from the doctor after his later diagnosis and we heard very little from coworkers and his beloved customers.

We had purchased the house in November and we were down to half salary in April. He did not qualify for unemployment because he had been fired. We hired a lawyer and he faced his employer in front of a judge to contest the decision. We lost. We appealed and lost again. He was beat down and defeated.

My favorite man was unemployed for 7 months, getting a job at a similar company and losing his job once again in April of 2014. It was almost exactly a year after losing the previous position. This company was much kinder, telling him, “I think something is not right with your memory.” His boss cried and said that he prayed he was wrong. Rusty was aware that he was making mistakes, forgetful, and tired, but just didn’t understand why. His employer understood because he was experiencing the same thing with his own wife.

This began a series of blood tests, cognitive exams, brain scans, and many specialists and we were told that he had Frontotemporal Dementia. We had no clue what that meant. However, Rusty was so relieved to find that his mistakes had not been his fault. I was sent to a support group meeting, specializing in early onset dementia in South Portland. At that point, I was given a list of 25 things that needed to be done ASAP. This included “getting our affairs in order” with a total of 4 different lawyers on half salary: one to fight for unemployment, one to fight for disability, one to take his name off our assets, and one to create a Will and a Trust. We were told at that time that he was terminal and the diagnosis carried an average of 5-8 years to live. They felt that the dementia was most likely caused by having had 4 significant head traumas.

Now we were really in the valley. We have never been so broke. We slogged through the valley for 2 1/2 years. It was lonely, and it was horrible. Every month we lacked paying our bills by $1600 and we lived on peanut butter sandwiches. We didn’t even qualify for government help or the food pantry. We relied on and benefited from the good will of others and my mother. Twice, the church took up a  collection, we received random, and often anonymous gift cards and money, and sometimes people left food in boxes on our front steps. Two years in a row, we received holiday dinners that the church and the school put together. In private, we cried. I remember one time we had invited the family to the house and I prayed so hard that my mom wouldn’t open the cupboard, because I would have been so embarrassed for her to see that there was nothing inside. I remember people saying that they had food to spare in their pantries and we hoped that they’d share, but they never did. I remember praying for peanut butter. God promises that He will provide for all our needs, and we often saw relief at the last moment. However, there were times that we were forced to suffer through it. I remember being asked to provide snacks for a function, and volunteering for soda, because I could get 3 liters with the change in the car. We really had nothing to share.

We applied for SSDI. We were denied. We appealed. We were denied again. This was a particularly low time for me. I remember feeling like I couldn’t see, hear, or feel God. I reached for him, but I couldn’t find him. I reached for him anyway. I was obedient. I just kept doing what I was supposed to do, convinced that I needed to move forward in faith. I dutifully did my morning devotions, listened to worship music and lessons online. Mom has always said that if I concentrate on doing what’s right, then I don’t have to worry about doing something wrong, so I just kept doing what I knew to be right.

The day that we had to go before the judge for SSDI, the lawyer called to tell us that the state was shut down because of a snow storm. We held hands and cried out to God. 20 minutes later, the lawyer called to say that the judge reviewed our files and we would finally receive Social Security Disability Insurance retroactive to when we first filed. We burst into tears and praised God! With that money, we paid the lawyer, debt we had accrued, and bought our headstone that sits across from the church. Surprisingly, what we lacked each month was exactly what we were allotted each month. God is so good.

Things started to look up and we enjoyed our respite. My favorite man settled into his “forced retirement” and stayed home. He concentrated on staying healthy and working the property that God had provided us- our miracle. God knew in 2010 that Rusty was going to need all the projects he could think of and presented him with a gift- a gift we vowed never to take for granted. He also knew that he needed to heal after being in an abusive work environment. God truly attends to the details.

If Rusty didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. While working part time for the farm and weeding around the bunker silo, he scooted his bottom across rebar that broke off inside his butt cheek. Two surgeries later, he now
has a good-sized scar on his left buttock. A big shout out to Linda Gillette who helped me to change bandages. I am no nurse!

In 2018 Rusty had a stroke at the church. He has always had a complicated medical history, but at that time, he was battling uncontrolled high blood pressure. We were working closely with the doctors, but we could not seem to get it under control. Thankfully he received medical care quickly. He never lost his speech, but he did lose the ability to use his right arm and right leg. It took him 10 months to get out of the wheelchair and 5 years to get out of the AFO brace. To this day he still cannot bend his right ankle on his own. With the loss of his peripheral vision and his right side, he could no longer drive. It was an answer to prayer that he didn’t have to turn in his license, but very hard for Rusty. He lost his independence. (Another valley which he still fights with today.) But through all the chaos, we felt comfort. God had placed all the right people in all the right places, getting him help in just the right amount of time.

We prayed for someone to help to care for Rusty, so that I could work and not worry. God answered our prayer. Cailea and her family moved into the house, and she returned to school. She took online classes and graduated with her Associates Degree in Mental Health, with a focus on Dementia. The hope is that this will allow Rusty to stay home with us until the Lord calls him home.

During the personal challenges, I’ve been challenged by my own spiritual battles. At one point, I considered a career change. I prayed for God’s clear direction to me and those in my close circle, and He made it abundantly clear that He wanted me to tough it out. It was a very challenging time for me and at one point, I had to see the doctor because I honestly thought I was headed for a breakdown. Thankfully, I felt God’s presence through it all and things improved- in large part because I determined in my heart to pray for those who hurt me and display forgiveness in my actions. 

Throughout the past 11 years, I have often felt very alone. I have been isolated, unable to share for fear that I would bring dishonor to my family. I silently wished that people would come along side of us, calling when they realized that we were absent for weeks on end. I missed people. I missed feeling like I mattered, and I felt like a failure. People were polite, but I was never felt included- even when I tried to start my own bible study one summer. A couple people joined, but in the end, it was just Mom and I. The blessing was having bible time with Mom, but I had really hoped that others might join us.

I’m not going to lie, sometimes my response to stress has been less than flattering and not productive. I’ve been known to hide in the closet and cry, do a little yelling out back or in the car, and crying in the shower is the best because people can’t tell that you’ve lost your mind in the warm water.

I had to learn to find my own joy. Every summer I always make a plan to get healthy mind, spirit, and body. Elizabeth suggested writing a blog, so I did. It has been good for me. When my mind is scattered and I am feeling overwhelmed, it helps me to organize my thoughts and process so that I can take next steps. Two years ago, I made a couple rings from books that I read that included quotes and verses. I put verses up throughout the house. I added trinkets to my jewelry box that I used to armor myself. Sometimes I’d even leave them in my pocket as a reminder throughout the day. I played worship music real loud, listened to Christian podcasts, took ocean visits, lit candles, and ate boatloads of ice cream. I do daily devotions at least 5 days/week, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. There are times that I fast and pray through my meals. Sometimes the Lord wakes me from a deep sleep before my alarm and will not leave me alone until I get up. That’s when I know He has something important to tell me. I wonder how many opportunities I missed have when I ignored Him.

Every year, I think about the major lessons that I have learned. The biggest lesson that I had to learn was to be content to be myself and not rely on other people to lift me up. I had to find my courage. This meant that I had to walk away from some relationships that weren’t good for me. I had to pull in and tighten my circle with quality like-minded friendships, and had to be content when there was nobody around but God and I. I had to learn to say “no thank you”, and get my power back. God and I did it together. I also learned that if the people don’t come to me, I needed to go to the people. When I go to church and hang back to visit after the service, or join the fellowship meals, it fills my bucket.

As a result of what I have been through, I have been determined to be the keeper of the gift cards. I give them out to people that I notice are in need, when I am able. I try to leave anonymous cards and gifts, especially to those at work. I love to send care packages to cheer people up and let them know that they are thought of. I don’t want them to feel alone or insignificant. I want them to know that they matter and it means even more when they have no idea where it came from. Proverbs 15:23 says “I find joy in encouraging others and giving positive praise.” That’s my goal- to encourage others.

Your story might not be like mine. Perhaps you’ve never been through hardship, and for that, I say, “Good for you.” However, you need to brace yourself, because it’s coming. A wise woman once told me, “I don’t know what you are going through, but I’ve experienced great pain and loss and I know what that feels like.” The best advice I can give is to come along side of one another and just listen. If someone is not ready to talk, just sit beside her. Just give her a hug. True empathy is to join a friend in the hole.
Bring coffee and chocolate!

More than anything, I want you to know that there is hope. There is joy amidst the chaos of life. The dementia diagnosis and stroke drove my husband home and away from a toxic work environment that was slowly killing him. As a result, he’s never been so attentive and we have never been closer. COVID and the pandemic was a dementia patient’s dream with parking lot church, remote
church, and social distancing church. He is now able to rejoin our church family and worship with those that love him. He especially loves the worship songs! We still enjoy the property and our beautiful home and by God’s grace, he’s protected the artistic part of Rusty’s brain and allowed him to make renovations to the house so that I will be comfortable once he is no longer able to care for me. According to doctor’s, he should no longer be able to walk, talk, read, write, follow directions or a storyline and he has continued to do just that. The time on the mountain has given us valuable time to heal and to enjoy one another once again. If God doesn’t provide us one more precious moment, I will be forever grateful. I’m so very thankful for God providing our healing mountain. He’s been so good to us.

One of my favorite promises is Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” I love God with all my heart and I know that I am called according to his purpose. I purpose in my heart to be the best wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, employee, and human that I can be, praying daily that I
represent God in all that I do and say. I thank God for the work the Holy Spirit does in me and I trust that no matter what, God will be by my side.

What does the future hold? God blessed us in 2010, making it clear that He was the God of the mountain. We promised never to take one single bit of God’s gift for granted and we have not. I don’t know how long he will allow us to enjoy the mountain, but this I know: He will continue to make our way clear. When it is time to make a change, we have no doubt that He will make it obvious. In the meantime, we are determined not worry, enjoying each and every blessed moment that God provides us. If He doesn’t provide us with anything more, He has blessed us more than we deserve- especially through the challenges.

As with Jerusalem, the Lord continues to be a wall of fire all around us, and He is the glory in the midst.

Routines Rule

In early June, our youngest flew to Arkansas to help drive home our middle child with her cat. She was gone for a week, and we helped with babysitting. The moving company that was hired turned out to be a scam, and last minute, a new plan had to be put in place. Thankfully, friends of hers offered to drive a 15′ U-Haul across country and our daughter’s things were able to be stored at the U-Haul facility until the new apartment was vacated.

As a family, we rallied together to meet her friends and empty her things into a storage unit. Then school let out for our grandson and I, and the girls descended on the house on the same day. Our quiet, predictable house got filled up very quickly. We went from a house of 3 during the daytime, to 7. Two weeks later, the family traveled 2 hours south to empty the storage unit and to help our daughter get settled. 

What a relief it was when our independent daughter, was able to settle in with her things and her cat and we were able to (sort of) fall into a summertime routine. I think we can all agree that it is a challenging place to be in the best of circumstances. Now imagine being in year 8 of a Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) diagnosis.

Although he loves having his family nearby, my husband has missed his routines and his quiet space. Considering all of the mini panics of moving, the girls on the road, babysitting, a couple quick trips south, and a home invasion, he’s done pretty well. Thankfully, the girls and I understand what each other needs, and we keep a pretty close eye on him. Naturally, he does his best when days are quiet and predictable and the first 4 weeks of summer vacation have been anything but. We are getting there though.

I continue to be amazed at what my husband is able to do in year 8 of his diagnosis. At this stage, he shouldn’t be able to read, write, follow a storyline on TV, use the phone, and comprehend challenging directions on a YouTube video, let alone build things. But he can, and is currently making me two closets in the loft. It blows my mind.

Do I notice subtle changes? Absolutely.

  1. Sleep continues to be an issue. Either he sleeps a whole lot, or barely sleeps at all. Naps are key to the success of the day. He can go without one, but is wiped out for days. He loves to travel, or “go for a drive”, and this often means he misses his rest time. We expect to have 2-4 days of “off behavior” as a result, but he considers it worth it at the time.
  2. He is getting up earlier than ever. “When the sun is awake, I’m awake.” This means that bedtime is often before 8:00. Early mornings used to be my time before school, now it’s his time. He almost acts disappointed when I get up before he’s had ample alone time.
  3. Since COVID, my man has become much more faithful with his studies in the bible. He often has many online studies going on at a time. Some days he can tell me all about them. Other days, he can’t remember what he just read, but he knows that he liked it.
  4. He loves music. Worship music on YouTube has become a favorite. He particularly enjoys Nicole Mullen and The Tenors who sing “Angels Calling”, a favorite of his. He also enjoys hours of listening to Josh Groban and The Bee Gees. Strangely, he has been enjoying opera and soft ballads in foreign languages.
  5. It’s hard to get him to attend any gatherings that may require him to talk to people that he doesn’t remember. However, he’ll gladly go to the coast or walk through Home Depot. There, he doesn’t have to recall names or process information about people’s lives. Holiday’s at the family farm have even become too much and we lived there for nearly 25 years. Too many bodies and too many conversations at once are impossible to navigate, so we tend to gather in small groups and have a “quick exit plan” in place.
  6. He can rise to the occasion and fake it. If he runs into someone he thinks he knows or he is pretty sure he should know, we give him time. His brain may reroute and can come up with memories. If not, he begins to stutter.  The best advice to others is to assume that he doesn’t remember them and be thrilled if he does.
  7. Doctor’s visits are horrendous. It’s discouraging, because I want his doctors to see his best. Instead, they see him rock, stutter, stare, and stumble… It breaks my heart. As a result, I don’t take him anywhere near a doctor’s office or hospital unless absolutely necessary.
  8. When stressed, he reminds me of someone with autism. He rocks, rubs his hand up and down the back part of my arm until I am sure that he’s going to rub off all the hair. He stutters and stares. It’s heartbreaking for the observer, but soothing to him.
  9. He is still high functioning. He can shop online. So, he has his own low limit credit card that he maxes out monthly. This is for clothes, fish equipment, tools… It’s HIS card and I ask few questions.
  10. He plays online games like Words With Friends and Solitaire. Sometimes he forgets how to play for a period of time, but it comes back. Like most things, if we wait it out, he will return to baseline. He does this intentionally, to keep his mind sharp. He also loves puzzles as long as they aren’t more than 300 pieces.
  11. He knows he has dementia, and is proud that he is beating the odds so far. He also knows that things can change very quickly, and not to waste time. There have been times that he has forgotten about his diagnosis, but he has been aware and quite verbal about it for a good period of time. We don’t put anything off and we don’t schedule anything too far out. If we do make plans, they are “ish plans” that may or may not happen last minute.
  12. His body and mind are tired. He uses a CPAP machine every night and that helps. But he spends every day in chronic pain and is perpetually tired. He says that he feels old and looks forward to when the Lord calls him home. He says he isn’t afraid, and wants to pass doing something he loves, like working in the garden.
  13. He can be hard to “read”. Sometimes he has no expression and I worry that he is upset with me or that I have said something to upset him. Expressionless, he tells me that he is happy. That is a hard change. He does that fairly often.
  14. He is often doing things that he loves. He works in the garden, mows the lawn, and runs power tools. The key is that we encourage him to stop when he starts to make mistakes. Surprisingly, he can often self regulate and recognize on his own when it is time to pause.
  15. He still loves to cook and grill. Sometimes he leaves the stove on, but we watch him carefully.
  16. He misses driving, but doesn’t want to drive.
  17. He misses people, although people stress him out.
  18. He loves church and because we see the people weekly, he remembers common members most of the time. He calls the pastor and his wife “Pastor and Mrs. Pastor,” which always makes me smile. He also watches for my mother and worries when she is late. He particularly loves it when our youngest and her family join us, holding our youngest grandchild’s hand through the worship time- his favorite part of the service.
  19. He talks about many people, but when he sees them, he doesn’t recognize them. Thankfully, he still recognizes the kids and I most of the time, although he sometimes calls us by the wrong names. For that matter, he calls lots of things by the wrong names, but we can usually figure out what he talking about without drawing attention to it.
  20. He doesn’t always understand the safety measures that we put in place for him. One of those is our youngest daughter and her family who live with us. This allows me to work and not worry. She recently received an Associates Degree in Mental Health, with a focus on dementia. Now that our other daughter has moved closer to home, she will be able to help as well. This is a huge comfort to me, especially as he continues to progress. 

I don’t know why my favorite man is doing as well as he is, but I have a pretty good idea. The gift of quality time and clarity is a gift from God and we all know it. We also have wonderful friends and family who are understanding, sensitive, and kind. Anxiety drives him to quiet, predictable, routine based days. The girls and I are flexible and shift gears quickly because he can become so anxious that he needs to return home.

He loves to know that others are out there who care and would love a card, an email, a text, or pop in for a visit. He does fine with small groups. Chances are that I’d have to introduce you. If he doesn’t remember and should, he may. If not, chances are good that if he liked you before, he still will. If he can’t handle it, he will retreat to the bedroom, the lawn, or his garage, but you can visit with me. Come on over!

 

Choose LIGHT over darkness

We are quickly coming up to the anniversary of the world shutting down from Covid-19. Being a teacher, I normally use my prior year’s lesson plans and notes to create plans for the current year. It seems weird that I am almost out of lessons and will need to revert back to the prior year. I, like everyone else on the planet, had hoped and prayed that by now, we would be free of this and that things would be back to “normal”. Sadly, it is not.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am hypersensitive and I get my feelings hurt really easily. I run from conflict at all costs and if forced into a debate, will concede, because I can’t stand the idea that anyone might be upset with me. I can’t even watch the news when opposing viewpoints are being discussed. It makes my stomach hurt and gives me anxiety. I tense up when people raise their voices. It makes me want to retreat and hide. I know that people write on social media to “scroll on by”, but my personality doesn’t allow that, since I feel that I have to read everything that comes across my newsfeed. As a result, I’ve had to put restrictions on myself with how much time I invest on various media platforms.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t watch much of the news any more. I just can’t. A friend suggested the Victory Channel on YouTube, that I have enjoyed more than anything. So, when I need an update, I go there. It is faith based reporting and easier on my nerves. I also listen to podcasts from Focus on the Family, Turning Point, Dr. Dobson’s Family Talk, Joyce Meyer, Family Matters, and Max Lucado rather than the radio.

Without becoming political in my post, I will just say that November-January 20th has been very disappointing. Our flag on the mountain flies at half staff and we are faithfully on our knees, seeking guidance from our Maker each day. We are grieving for our country. Ultimately, we know that God is in control and we know that He is at work, which is what we lay our confidence in. None can dispute that our country is a hot mess and it is very scary.

As a child my mother used to use word pictures to teach us lessons. When one of us was grumpy, it spread through the house and soon we were all walking around like little storm clouds. She would use the following analogy: “The farmer is having a bad day, so he yells at his wife, the wife takes it out on the child, the child kicks the dog, the dog barks at the cat, the cat chases the rat, and so on…” It seems to me that one way we can stop the HATE, is to stop spreading it like a bad day on a busy farm.

I’ve been doing a bible study since October called: How Can I Love Those Prickly People, by Juanita Purcell. I thought that I would be learning how to work with challenging people. Surprisingly, it’s about how I need to behave. It’s about how I need to conduct myself. Last week, I was reminded that even small white lies, not intended for destruction, can be harmful. This week, I am learning that I need to have a servant’s heart and make other people a priority.

All through the bible, God used evil people to teach Christians important lessons. It is my opinion that God is allowing the corrupt and the evil to overwhelm our world in order to bring people to their knees. Believers need to rally together in order to shine a bright light on this dark world. We have an obligation to stand up for God. Today, more than ever. We need to live honestly, make others a priority, lifting them up, encouraging them, and showing them the light through what we say and what we do. There have been enough storm clouds.

United, we can be a light in a dark world. I choose light, how about you?

Then and Now

If I knew then what I know now, I would tell myself that the next 10 years would contain the best kind of healing, the most wonderful blessings, answers to prayer, and true JOY amidst loss, disappointment and significant challenges.

In late November of 2010, we moved from the family farm to the mountain. It was a difficult time in our lives and we were looking for a fresh start. We didn’t know it at the time, but my favorite man had been exhibiting signs of Early Onset Dementia for more than a year.

It was challenging to diagnose at first. In 2002, Rusty rolled his 4-wheeler at a Men’s Retreat and ended up in the Trauma Ward for two weeks. He shattered his ankle, broke his collarbone, broke a few ribs, and came home in a wheelchair. Later, he would roll his pickup, fall head-first off a ladder while home alone, and slip and fall against a snow plow blade. Thus, the dementia was most likely caused by too many blows to the head.

It was only natural that doctors would first treat depression. In addition to the 4-wheeler accident, my husband’s mother was hospitalized, passing away with oral cancer on our anniversary at age 59. This was particularly hard on the immediate family. Just one month before we purchased our property, my favorite man lost his father to lung cancer. It was a pretty stressful 6 months with lots of trips to the hospital. So in 2009, our family was not surprised when doctors diagnosed a classic mid-life crisis, which I referred to as a “mid-life temper tantrum”. It would be 5 years before we received the official diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia.

In April of 2013 my favorite man was crushed when he lost his job of 17 years as a result of an error in paperwork for a customer’s insurance claim. After losing his second job in April of 2014, we actively pursued what was going on. By July, we had the diagnosis and two and a half years later, Social Security Disability agreed to an onset date of April 2013.

Specialists gave my favorite guy 6-8 years to live from the time of onset. In fact, at one point they reduced it to 5 years because he was progressing so quickly. Our minds reeled. We researched, prepared, probed, tested, visiting numerous doctors and specialists. Then we mourned, planned for the worst and braced ourselves with every observable change. We cried and prayed…a lot.

When my husband had a stroke in 2016 as a result of uncontrolled blood pressure, we braced ourselves for the worst, but over time he once again recovered after 10 months of intensive therapy and being wheelchair bound again.

Why do I relive this today?

It’s simple. How can I adequately celebrate where we are today, if I don’t revisit the past. I want to acknowledge where we’ve been, so that I can celebrate where we are now, because I am beyond grateful for where we are today.

Today, we can’t explain it, but my husband is doing amazing! In fact, we often forget that he even has the dreaded diagnosis and that is why I share the pictures. I do it to give encouragement to those who have loved ones who may have a similar diagnosis. Look what he has done! It’s amazing what a few boards, windows, paint, and a whole lot of elbow grease has done for our little piece of heaven on the mountain.

Sometimes he forgets names, gets anxious in crowds, rocks, stutters, and stares, and then he goes to the garage and he builds. Sometimes he uses the wrong words. The other day he asked me to hand him his “rooster”- his leather jacket. Today he closed the curtains instead of closing the window so that the generator wouldn’t wake my daughter while she slept. He no longer likes the car wash. He says that he “likes the car washed, but not the car wash”. He has always enjoyed the car wash- squealing with the kids as if on an amusement park ride.

Best of all, he enjoys his redheaded bestie who lives 13 steps down the stairs, the fish in the fishtank (that he bought for himself for my birthday last year), Pepsi, coffee, trips to Home Depot, and returning to church. He loved ZOOM church, parking lot church, and is now enjoying social distancing church. It is a dementia patient’s dream come true. The best part is that he has reunited with friends at church, is attending a small bible study, and is inviting friends to visit two by two. Surprisingly, this year he took it upon himself to send Christmas cards to many of his church buddies with a personal message in each one. (Exceeding expectations of specialists- he shouldn’t be reading, writing, or talking at this stage.)

Honestly, I’ve never loved my husband more than I do today. As a result of his forced retirement, he has become a doting husband. His life’s purpose is to make our home a comfortable place that is easy to manage, so that when the time comes, I will be alright. He does what he does for the kids and I, and I know that.

So, if I knew back in 2009, what I know now, I would tell myself that life would only get sweeter, that my husband would become much more attentive and loving, and that he would leave a legacy for his family so that when the time comes that the Lord calls him home, we would have so much surrounding us to remind us of his love and devotion to us. I would tell myself to celebrate each day and not to ask questions- just keep thanking God for answered prayer and for meeting our every need. I would remind myself to thank God daily for the precious gift of TIME.

May 2021 be a continued time of sweet fellowship and may I continue to remind myself daily that God works all things for the good to those who love Him, and we do. Very much.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and our 55th birthdays, my cup runneth over. May you be encouraged on this Christmas Eve Eve of 2020. Sometimes when life looks bleak, there are blessings right around the corner. Just stay the course, take a deep breath, and keep your eyes focused upward.

Dearest Russell,

I dreamed that you died last night. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to school just like I always do. I carried on as if it were a regular day, because I didn’t know what else to do. Once at school, it dawned on me that I needed to contact people and make plans to put you to rest. I thought I should tell someone at school, and once I said it out loud, I cried and cried. I felt as if the life had been sucked out of me. Then I felt guilty. How could I simply carry on, after losing my soul mate? That’s how I awoke. 

I don’t know why I had such an unsettling dream after having such a wonderful day with you yesterday. We enjoyed 12 hours of a local vacation at one of the state’s most beautiful areas. Perhaps I felt guilty that we had such a good day, because you were so clear. Nobody who came in contact with you would have ever guessed that you are nearing the 8th anniversary of your dementia diagnosis.

Today we were reminded to not get distracted by the mess going on all around us. We were challenged to be purposeful about how to live and to react and to remember that God has got this. Is that what I was doing in my subconscious? Did I take my eyes off my Maker, and allow the devil to make me afraid?

We talked on our drive today about Peter taking his eyes of off Jesus, while walking on water. As a result, he began to sink. I don’t want to do that. I want to keep my eyes fixated on Him, loving our Creator with all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul.

I’ve never been alone in my whole life. If someone were to ask my what my greatest fear is, I would say, “being alone”. I went from growing up on a busy dairy farm, to a college dorm, to living with 5 roommates, to getting married, child-rearing, and teaching full time. Why is my greatest fear haunting me while I rest?

I was blessed with sitting with a wise friend for lunch. As I shared a portion of my dream, I was reminded that JOY is a choice. As I listened to the message I was encouraged to LOVE with everything I’ve got. As I took you to your favorite store this afternoon, you encouraged me to seek counsel from LIKE-MINDED people, and during my devotions, I was reminded that WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING was more valuable than silver and gold.

Tears flow a little more frequently these days. I’m not sure why. I try very hard to concentrate on the here and now, and not give way to the devil with fears of my future. I have been so blessed with all you have done to our home to make it comfortable and easy to manage when the time comes that I am alone.

I take the time to use my senses: to smell you, listen to you as you breath when I tiptoe out of the bedroom, to see your smile, and to appreciate the meals that you have prepared when I get home from work. I don’t want to forget one single thing, so I try very hard to live in the moment. I don’t want a single regret in the end.

Things that used to drive me crazy- I don’t give much thought to any more. Yes, I noticed that you bleached yet another towel, I washed another pocketful of screws, and I saw that you created another junk drawer while I wasn’t looking. I also peeked at the pictures of you scaling the walls to swat flies, and then to wash the windows covered with bug splat.

I sucked wind last weekend when you didn’t recognize me when we awoke, but God blessed us once again, when you recovered and called me by name. I was also shaken up last Sunday when you couldn’t recall the day as we shut out the light. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you have dementia and are declining, because you are so active, are still creating and projecting, and you are so fluent with discussing current events.

I want you to know sweetheart, that when you forget who your Maker is, we will remind you. We will continue to play Christian music, share familiar bible stories, invite like-minded friends to join us, choosing JOY and LOVE. May you continue raising your hands in worship, and exhibiting your sincere faith to all who watch you from near and far.

I want you to know that I love you so much, and that although our marriage hit turbulence on several occasions, I have never regretted loving you through it. When God calls you home, I will be okay. It will be merely a “See you later” and not a “Goodbye”, and that will bring us comfort. I will cling to the Lord, our children, family, and friends and I promise you that my love won’t grow cold.

I will love you into eternity.

Love, Cind

2020 Blessings

It seems like 2 years has passed since we were sent home to quarantine. For all of the challenges that we’ve had to endure, we’ve had double the blessings at the Higgins Crib.

The number one blessing includes EXTENDED TIME. Mid April marked the 7th “Dementiaversary” for my favorite man. On average, people diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia live for 6-8 years after symptoms begin. He is currently at 7 yrs 3 mo and going strong. Extended time has been given to my husband and our family as he continues to be high functioning a majority of the time. He continues to read, write, play Words With Friends on his phone, follow a storyline, pontificate about politics and world events, and perform household duties including significant home improvement projects. We continue to be amazed at what he is able to do.

The number two blessing also includes TIME. I have been home with my favorite man since March 16th. Working from home, I have been able to provide remediation for our grandson in order to get him on grade level, while performing classroom obligations from the kitchen table. My deepest desire has always been to stay home with my husband, but I love to teach. COVID-19 and the quarantine gave our family a wonderful gift, the best of both worlds for 12 weeks, and for that, I am so grateful.

Since summer vacation, I have been able to help with home projects- our love language. There is little else that we enjoy as much as working side by side. it’s amazing what a slap of paint and a little elbow grease has done to our homestead.

These are photos from just before we moved to the mountain and the end of November of 2010, just after we moved in:

This is where we are so far in 2020:

I thank God for my husband’s health and drive to beautify our home. His goal is that our home will be easier to take care of, warmer and more energy efficient. I know that this is his gift to me, making the house much easier to manage.

The miracle is that although my favorite man regresses in social environments, when agitated, sore, or tired, he can still do the things he loves. Today he painted the trim on the scary north side of the house. I could feel the scaffolding shaking as he shivered overhead, but he finished what he started, despite feeling under the weather. Overcoming and pushing through his fear took a whole lot out of him, yet he continued. At noontime he was rocking and staring. A half hour later, he was 3 stories high on the scaffolding painting trim.

We’ve had blessings galore, including no disruption in finances, special one on one time with live-in family, working one-on-one with our grandson to catch him up and to prepare him for grade 5. Once the quarantine was relaxed, we enjoyed an 8 week visit from our daughter and 10 days with her friends from Arkansas.

116255172_897532574071194_2724625044807865478_nOn July 3rd, our furnace was condemned. God once again protected our family from carbon monoxide poisoning, explosion, and fire. Thankfully, we have had access to a portable shower while we wait for a replacement furnace and the weather has not been too crazy. This was another beautiful blessing for our family.

Quarantining for someone diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia is a dream come true. Online church services,  worship from the church parking lot, and social distancing in the sanctuary have allowed my husband to attend church for the first time in 3 years. The best part is that he has been able to see friends from a distance, that he hasn’t had contact with in a very long time.

Home Depot and ocean walks continue to be our favorite times away, including a stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee, and an ice cream cone on a warm day. It’s amazing how such simplicity can bring such joy. I am enjoying this time, avoiding negativity and uncertainty. Instead, focusing each and every day on what the Lord has provided for me and for my family. I don’t know what the school year will look like, or what the future will hold, but what I do know is that I will cherish each day and continue to notice the blessings. One day at a time.

 

 

 

 

The Ties That Bind

I was recently asked in one of my devotionals, to write a list of the people in my life who  are my closest friends. Outside of my family, I was encouraged to acknowledge the people in my life, with whom I can count on. I was then encouraged to reflect on their characters. It didn’t take long to realize that the most influential people in my life have one thing in common: God.

95896116_883583788713908_4852034144953171968_nIn my younger years, I had friends that I enjoyed from Youth Group. I had one in particular named Martha, who I went to camp with each summer. We would run through the corn fields behind her home, crawling on hands and knees, following paths and eating raw cow corn until we were sick. I remember one Sunday when we tried to share a camp song in front of the congregation. We were so nervous that we couldn’t stop laughing. I loved spending time with my free-spirited, life-loving, friend who enjoyed the outdoors and God as much as I. To this day, we keep watch over each other via social media.

95821222_703206753785953_5931605622553313280_nIn High School, my best friend was a rebel named Laura. I loved her and she loved me. We were complete and total opposites but we complemented each other perfectly. Until my JR year in High School, I didn’t really have a best friend. I had a lot of friends that I enjoyed- some more than others, but Laura and I were inseparable. I was her yin to her yang and vise versa. She was brilliant, catching on to new concepts with such great speed, that I was in awe. She was a talented artist, who captured life in a way that I never thought about. A free spirit, natural athlete, and hilariously funny, she complimented my weaknesses. She was a believer. As a child, she attended the Catholic church. I loved how she would quiz me about my faith. It made me a stronger believer because I needed to search the Word in order to answer her challenging questions. The only real difference between us, was that she was an extreme extrovert and LOVED any opportunity to gather. I did not. Sometimes her extroverted self would get into trouble, so I took to inviting her to my house on nights that I knew there was a party. She would almost always choose an overnight, in order to milk cows and feed the animals with me. She loved it. Her parents were goat farmers and she thoroughly enjoyed farm work. Sadly, a few years ago, Laura was killed in a car accident on Route 1, and in a blink, she was gone. I pray that she is in heaven enjoying the greatest party ever, drawing, playing soccer, and making everyone laugh.

My parents have always said, “find a friend who is like you or who you most want to be like”. They also reminded me often that just a handful of genuine friends were much better that a whole bunch of acquaintances. So that’s what I looked for as I entered college.

In August of 1984, I walked tentatively into the Lord Hall parking lot with my flute under my armpit, for marching band sign-ups. My mother was with me. Little did I know that the first person that I met would be my future roommate, not for freshman year, but my sophomore year. She said, “It says here that you play the trombone.” I responded with, “Not very well.” Long story short, Mom drove an hour south to fetch my trombone.

I loved college. It was stressful and challenging. Education is not easy for me. I have always had to work really hard to get good grades. However, I have a really strong work ethic, that carried me through. Growing up on a dairy farm trained me well for the rigor of academia.

My social circle in college became the “bandies” who watched over one another like siblings. They were silly and sincere, making me feel talented, even if I wasn’t. I played the trombone (with lots of help) in the marching band during the Fall semester, and then played the flute during the Spring, until my schedule wouldn’t allow it. I joined the Honorary Band Sorority (TBS) in 1985 and our pledge leader was the same young lady who convinced my mother to go home for the trombone in the Fall. Carol didn’t know it then, but I was watching her. “You need to find a friend who is like you or who you would like to be like,” rolled around in my brain. At the end of my freshman year of college, I asked Carol if she wanted to be roomates for the following year, and she agreed.

In the fall of 1985, Carol and I moved into Ballentine Hall, an all girls dorm, across from Jenny and Cyndy. When an opportunity arose early on, to get a local apartment together, we snatched it. So off we went to 13 Fellows Place, located within walking distance of the University. While at Ballentine, we were also introduced to a bright eyed spunky gal from the county named Lynn. I remember saying, “if an opportunity arises and we can take on another roommate, we should ask Lynn”. So when Cyndy moved out the following year, Lynn took her place.

When summer arrived, Joann came to us, needing a place to stay for a summer course. We had gone home for the summer break, so we sublet our apartment to her. The problem was that we absolutely loved her, and encouraged her to stay on for the school year. Our two-bedroom apartment was very full… of love, excitement, talent, encouragement, and genuine kindness. All 5 of of these women were and still are people that I admire. What do they have in common? Faith. I have praying friends who pray for me, encourage me, and help me to be the best version of myself. To this day, I could call any of the 5 of them and they would move heaven and earth to help in any way they could. I have no doubt about that.

As an adult, my friendship group (outside of my family) continues to be fairly small. I have lots of friends at church, at school, and within the community, but I’m talking about raw intimate friendships where you can empty your pockets, put it all on the table, and feel safe & comforted. You can cry, yell, not be judged, and receive good Godly advice.

One, is a teaching partner of 13 years. 45770683_10216228761505773_5992801974444097536_nTo this day, I can’t really talk about how much she is missed. We complemented each other, and I enjoyed every precious minute of working with her. Teaming with Nancy continues to be the highlight of my teaching career.

 

 

God brought Jodi and I together about 22 years ago. Although I cannot dance, my daughters can, and their teacher and I became very close as a result of hours and hours, which led to years and years of time together at the studio and competition trips. I’m so glad that the dance connection, created a lifelong friendship. She allows me to reach out to her during desperate hours of confusion, frustration, and fear. She’s often what I need, even when I don’t have a clue what to ask for.

57079821_10217385059332496_2801563594737582080_nI also have a long-time friend who checks on my family and I nearly every day. Alton lives in Tennessee, but he used to work as a custodian at our school about 20 years ago. He moved to a warmer area, but continues to make our family a priority. When he comes to Maine to see family, he brings cleaning supplies, clothes from southern thrift stores for the kiddos, and a hot cup of coffee for all of us. I’m not sure who looks forward to his visits more: Rusty or I.

I thank God for my many friendships, most especially those that make me a better me. Some friends drift in and out for a season. Others remain. Today I thank God for those that I can call out to in a moments notice, and I know they will move heaven and earth to support me in my time of need. 78850471_10220407380324307_2637549561186353152_oThank you Gail, for your quiet devotion to uplifting me when I am drooping. We walk a similar path, and your passion to encourage me while remaining faithful to God is paramount to my survival.

To the others that lift me up in so many ways, I have say thank you. I just want you to know that no matter where you are in my circle, I am so grateful for your contribution. You are most definitely part of the ties that bind and you do not go unnoticed. You make me a better human, and for that, I am so thankful.

So today, on what seems like the 976th day of quarantine, wherever you are in my circle, I want you to know that you are loved and appreciated more than you will ever know. Thank you for being a friend.