Archive for April, 2015

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. (Ernest Hemingway)

My husband and I are at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s. No one is behind us in line. The girl at the register asks us about our day and Jay tells her we are going to visit our granddaughter in the coronary care unit.

The girl at the checkout pauses, and then gets the attention of a fellow employee who gives us a bouquet of flowers for Ella. I doubt that our little one can have flowers in her room yet, but the gesture takes me by surprise. I hope that a few controlled tears represent sufficient gratitude. Kudos to Trader Joe’s for the personal touch.

Jay found a package of somewhat-natural sweets for Ella. We expect her to respond more to taste than sight at the moment, but her parents should appreciate the kindness of multicolored flowers. No kindness is wasted.

My son sent a picture of our girl with her big, bright eyes glowing. Her hands are tied down to various lines. Nevertheless, she opens her mouth for fruit. Ella is a survivor. We count on that.

When we arrive in her room Ella fights sleep. She doesn’t want to miss anything—except perhaps the next poke or prod. She is sans oxygen now, however. Her ventilator came out earlier. Her open heart surgery was 24-hours ago. She is progressing ahead of schedule.

I think about the start Ella had in life: born seven weeks early with a birth weight of three pounds three ounces, duodenal atresia, and an AV Canal heart defect. Yet the nurses fought about who would care for her each day.

She has grown to be an active, enthusiastic five-year-old girl.

As I watch her I worry that this time her spark will burn out. Then I realize I am looking at my fears, not hers. Ella uses her tripled chromosome as a lever for caring. She doesn’t allow ego to get in her way. She isn’t competing with anyone for first place—in anything.

Two days ago she wanted to push me on the swing at a local park. She insisted, and I let her do it.

“Want to go higher, Mawmaw?”


But I kept the toe of my shoe on the ground so that the swing didn’t come back to hit her. The surgeon needed to break through her chest—with skill—not through a clumsy accident. I knew what she would be facing. She didn’t. But somehow she intuited it was time to put on extra charm, keep the grandparents at ease. The trial hadn’t come; we had not arrived at the huge medical bridge that needed to be crossed. Yet.

The cut flowers won’t last. They never do. The store’s gesture remains as a ripple of kindness I need to pass along. The broken places in a person become opportunities—to remain severed or to become something new, something better.

Ella’s surgery was on Thursday. By Sunday she has left behind the ventilator, oxygen, and the lines that connect her to a bed. She stands. She will be running soon. Tylenol or ibuprofen controls her pain. I can’t imagine an adult bouncing back that quickly. Ella doesn’t know misery can be extended by choice.

She isn’t ready to push me on any swings yet. But I can’t imagine that it will take long.

Ella at Mt. Airy Park04242015_0000


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Change is the end result of all true learning. (Leo Buscaglia) 

I am in the locker room at the Y after a water aerobics class. I hear disconcerting voices around me. They seem loudtoo loud.

“You wouldn’t believe…” comes one voice. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” states another.

I sigh while the spinner absorbs chlorinated water from my swimsuit. Getting the machine started takes some muscle since I need to stand on tiptoe to press the top down, but once the whir begins the excess water disappears within seconds. I can surmise a situation in the same amount of time, with or without all the facts.

Was it really the worst thing that ever happened to you? Or is this statement meant to be exaggerated..? I’m glad my thoughts don’t appear out loud because I haven’t heard anything about this person’s story, not really. And it isn’t my business anyway.

One woman is talking to another as the two prepare for the next water class, a slower moving one. She complains too, or at least that is my first impression. She injured her back and I expect her to give all the details. She catches my eye.

“I did, too,” I say. “Spinal stenosis. Nothing serious. I have exercises that help. I’ll get through it.”

She gives me her name and I give her mine. But the surprise comes as I pick up my bag to leave and she walks toward the pool. “I’ll pray for you if you will pray for me.”

I can’t turn down that offer, so I ask her to add our Ella to her list.

“Wow!” she says. “That sure puts a perspective on things. Such a little girl having open heart surgery like that.” She takes my hand. I’ve never met this woman before and yet she treats me as if she has known me for years. I feel blessed. The pain in my back weakens, at least for a while.

The next time I return to the Y  my companion is present again.  We greet one another by name.

“I remembered to pray for your granddaughter,” she says.

I wince. I offered a ten-second prayer for her. But, I know I can and will do better. Then, as I reach into the locker I wince again, from a stretch that felt a little peculiar.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yes. Really. I am.”

“You have an incredible smile,” she tells me.

I thank her. She has given me another gift, one I hope to remember. Today I have an agenda, a to-do list that becomes easier as I think about other people’s needs, not only my own, and hum the song I wrote and recorded for my granddaughter when she had her first open-heart surgery. She was only a few months old and confined to a giraffe bed in a neonatal intensive care unit then. Her underdeveloped system needed all of its energy for survival. It could not handle extra sounds. I don’t have the facility to transfer the song to this website, but a click on Ella’s Song leads to an older page I no longer maintain.

Finding the good in life, sometimes hidden under a lot of misunderstanding, challenge, and plain old-fashioned self-imposed garbage remains one of my goals. Our little girl has come a long way. I hope to follow her spiritual lead even further as she grows into year six, a few months from now.

Peace upon all.

first impressions words to inspire the soul


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Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being. (Kevin Kruse)

 As I’m dusting the windowsill I see the note Kate wrote to Ella, probably several years ago. I saved it because it reflects who Kate is. Ordinarily I choose to publish only quotes and pictures that include correct spelling and grammar. However, there are times when perfection can ruin the beauty of the moment. The sincerity of my eldest granddaughter’s wish blasts out from her innocence. She wants the best for her young cousin. I can’t fault that.

However, no one experiences a perfect life. Our Ella probably understands that better than many people do. She approaches a quarantine time. Her open heart surgery has been postponed twice. Now, so that she can move forward, we must keep her away from crowds and lots of germs. Of course she has no fear of infection. Saturday she dropped a vending machine M&M on a restaurant floor and then picked up the candy and chomped on it. Fear of another sick day does not govern her life.

I would like to delete fear from my own life. I would also like to send a message like Kate’s to a few other folk I know, to wish safety, health, and simple joys.

There is a young woman at a place I visit frequently who has recently had a recurrence of cancer. She is frightened, as anyone would be. She says she does not expect to recover this time.

She shows me the site from her biopsy, just below her throat. We share a few tears. I hug her. This is all I have to give. She says six words that scream a lifetime of experience: “I have always been the oddball.”

We are standing in front of a public bathroom mirror. I want to turn her toward the glass and point out what I see—a beauty that isn’t superficial. Tenacity and willingness to serve don’t appear in a flat reflection. Yet, I can’t find an opening in her spirit to explain that different is not a synonym for inferior. She is devastated, too broken for words to seep in yet.

I recall how I was the taunted kid through twelve grades of school. And I never understood why, except for the innate inferiority theory. After all, my parents never told me that I had gifts of any value.

This young woman has struggled through developmental handicaps. She has gone through chemotherapy. She volunteers. Daily. With a smile. She is in too much pain to understand more than a hug. Moreover, my recent accomplishments can obscure the realities of the past. She doesn’t see a future. Now is not the time for me to talk, but to listen.

Then I see her again this morning. She wears a pink fighting-breast-cancer scarf. She readily accepts my embrace and tells me she is taking her driving test on Tuesday. I grin. She talks about her nervousness. I think about facing tons of steel on the road. I envision this young lady approaching a 32-wheeler on the expressway and crushing cancer in the passing lane.

Perhaps enough people have listened to this volunteer. Maybe she is beginning to see her own worth, prayer answered before it was barely begun…

May that power continue to grow.


Dear Ella



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This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down. (Ben Okri)

Scot wears a shirt that says: It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Perhaps that is because he doesn’t see the optimist’s glass as half-full; he sees it as close to overflowing. He doesn’t need a thrill ride at an amusement park. Trying on hats at Walmart can make his day.

When Scot was born fifty-one years ago, his tripled twenty-first chromosome dubbed him a mongoloid, an anomaly. Few people in those days saw beyond the almond-shaped eyes, small ears, and lowered muscle tone.

However, on February 4, 51 years ago the obstetrician told Scot’s dad that his newborn son had Down syndrome. He advised Dad not to tell Scot’s mother. The pediatrician would do it. His reason was not to protect Mom for just a little longer—it was to allow her to bond with Scot, to hold and to fall in love with him. Then when the pediatrician told her what to expect, he could also advise her to treat Scot as she would any other child. In this way his parents could face challenges, not impossible roadblocks.

Scot’s gift is hugging. He does not make judgments based on appearance. He chooses the person he will embrace next for his own reasons; he never explains why. Possibly that individual needs his positive energy—that over-sized woman at the mall whose eyes say life has dealt her more blows than she can handle, or the elderly man who hasn’t been touched in years.

This is Scot’s approach. He stands before someone, extends his arms and then watches for a response. If the person is responsive he offers his love, no strings attached. He has the kind of simplicity that is the essence of genuine love. Most people without the burden of an extra chromosome bear the weight of ego—viewing who-they-are as superior or inferior. Scot doesn’t get caught up in drama. He is who he is.

In fact, one of his favorite possessions is a stuffed toy rat. Somehow since Scot is someone who doesn’t judge, that doesn’t surprise me.

Many people may look at folk like Scot, or my Ella, and see the characteristics that suggest slower learning, perhaps a thickened tongue causing slowed speech. They turn away or make snide remarks. I’ve had people tell me they were sorry when I have told them my granddaughter had Down syndrome.

My response has been that I am not sorry at all. My Ella is only five-years-old and I can’t imagine life without her. Scot has been on this planet ten times longer. He has blessed people without knowing he is doing it, the purest form of giving. Is he perfect? Of course not. No one is.

But someday I hope to see the beauty in a rat, the homeliest person in the mall, and every gray ordinary day—just like Scot can. In the meantime, I will simply let as many people as possible know that Down syndrome does not mean down-anything-or-anyone. And when you see a man, woman, or child like Scot in the picture below, know that you are witnessing possibilities…


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It is a wonderful seasoning of all enjoyments to think of those we love. (Molière)

In my last blog, “Bye Bye, Old Stove; Hello Possibilities,” I took a picture of a turkey in the early stage of baking. Most of that turkey has been sliced and frozen; my husband and I don’t require Sumo-wrestler portions. However, that bird will probably be only a memory in a matter of hours. I expected four guests for dinner. That number has now increased to eight.

Jay has made a quick run to the grocery store for more fresh fruit and vegetables. We plan to feast and celebrate the beauty of family.

As Jay and I peel and slice potatoes into my largest pot I think about my guests and gather positive thoughts about each individual—what could also be considered prayer. This attitude helps because my stove may be new, but it has limited space, not enough burners for everything I want to prepare.

I actually pause and consider options when panic would be my usual response. (Ask Jay. He has seen me in full-blown impending-disaster mode. I believe in positive attitude, but need to work at it, just like everyone else does.) However, this appliance and I are getting to know one another as friends. Stove is young with modern possibilities. My experience is old and varied. I’ve made enough mistakes to know what doesn’t work. Together we should be able to work out the logistics with the help of the microwave and the warm setting on the oven.

Then chaos reigns when I try to maneuver pans, bowls, plates, and hot stuff into a dining area the size of the average department-store dressing room stall. Granddaughter Kate helps—in between reading pages of her current book and attending to cousin Ella, sister Rebe, and new friend Dakota.

“What more do you want me to do, Grandma?” she asks. “After all, you do so much for us.”

I savor this moment as I watch her decide what color plastic forks the younger kids would like. This time isn’t really about food anyway. Mashed potatoes and even homemade brownies are only part of this day. In the future will anyone remember the menu anyway? Probably not. I’m hoping they will recall the laughter and the fun.

And that gives me the energy to provide the setting, in my job as chief cook and Grandmother.

Kate tells me that almost-four-year-old Dakota said that he was going to drive a garbage truck when he grows up. But it will hold marshmallows. Dakota is a very neat child, so I suspect this will be a very clean disposal vehicle. Perhaps this young man will help to clean-up a very nasty world and fill it with softness. He just doesn’t know it yet. I can’t see inside anyone’s mind, but his smile shows high-beam possibilities.

After dinner my daughter-in-law Sarah clears the table and fits the leftovers into suitable containers. I watch her efficiency and think about her amazing ability with mechanical devices. She had my new Cuisinart assembled in seconds, and she showed me how to use it in terms I could understand. Given my lack of understanding, that is quite a feat. And she did it without making me appear amazingly inadequate. Anything that needs assembly has never been my forte.

This house is really too small to hold three children and seven adults. But WE did it. I’m tempted to relay all of my family’s virtues here. Now. But, an overview is sufficient. More becomes like a grocery list.

This moment is a gift…And I celebrate it.

doing the little things Words of Wisdom

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