Artie and Tommy are Together Again

Writing my book, Always Look for the Magic, started out as an exercise to keep memories alive, to keep those stories that my dad told from disappearing. It turned out to be much more than that for me as I wrote and edited. It became a connection with my parents and their families before me. Especially Tommy (my Uncle Tom).

Uncle Tom passed into Heaven last month. My dad, Arthur, the big brother, has been there since last October. It is a comfort to know they are together again.

I grew up in Maryland and lived close to tons of relatives on both sides of the family. My parents grew up across the street from each other, so everyone knew everyone else. When I was six, we moved from the Baltimore area an hour away to near Andrews Air Force Base where my dad worked. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point, Uncle Tom, Aunt Audrey, and their three kids moved our way. We saw them a lot.

I know that as a kid I didn’t appreciate what was being built by those times together. It may have looked like eating dinner, playing badminton in the backyard, an epic game of Monopoly, or listening to the more musically inclined jamming in the basement; but it was family building blocks. Blocks of time that knitted us together.

Now we are all over the country. My three siblings and I and those three cousins all live in different states. Different regions, too. We don’t see each other often – in some cases it’s been over a decade.

Arthur and Tom, 1930

My cousin, Mark, and I have kept in contact more due to the fact that we both had our dads living with us and both had the privilege of being with them during those last days and weeks. We understood each other. It was comforting.

How does it work when you haven’t lived near each other in over forty years, that you can talk like best of friends? It works really well. For us, it’s aided by the fact that our dads both were Christians and we are, too. But I also know that somewhere deep in the foundations that were built when we were young, there was always a bridge to family. It’s like a draw bridge that you can lower and reach out to each other across the miles whenever you need to make the connections. It’s amazing.

I had a texting conversation with my cousins that lasted nearly two hours. We sent each other pictures and reconnected where necessary. We joked around and made fun of each other. I laughed and I cried. What a gift!

As a tribute to my Uncle Tom, I want you to know that he was a truly wonderful uncle. When Bob and I moved my parents into our house last September, he was on the phone to me with unsolicited (but good) counsel. “Bonnie, it’s not easy living with old people,” he told me.

I’m not sure if that was a quote that he picked up from my cousin when they moved under the same roof or if down in his basement he kept an even older person than his 88-year-old self, but I appreciated his call.

“Remember,” he warned, “it’s your house. You don’t need to change everything for them.”

Hum, I wondered, what had it been like for my poor cousin and uncle during their transition? I’ll be sure to never ask!

“Also, my brother can be difficult,” he added.

Can’t we all!

After my dad died, Uncle Tom called my mom about three times a week to check on her. They had been like best friends/siblings growing up together. They shared their love for the Baltimore Orioles and music and, of course, my dad.

As my father’s hearing reached the point that made telephone calls difficult, Uncle Tom and Mom did most of the communicating, especially during baseball season. Uncle Tom would call and complain about the Orioles or they’d relive the highlights of a victory.

Two of my own sons are Oriole fans like their grandmother and uncle. Eleven years ago, our son Jesse was growing concerned that his grandmother had not been to Camden Yards since its opening in 1992, so we made it happen.

Of course, we took Uncle Tom with us to the ballgame. This was the first up-close-and-personal experience that Jesse had with his great-uncle. It was love at first sight as Uncle Tom let Miguel Tejada have it for messing up at shortstop – standing up and booing him and telling anyone who would listen that the Orioles should get rid of him (in so many words). Since my dad was more of a fan-by-marriage, Jesse had never experienced a rabid Oriole fan of the male persuasion. It made his day.

What a fond memory that is for me – four generations at the iconic ballpark bonding over the Baltimore Orioles.

More important than his love for the Orioles, he was a prayer warrior and vocal about his walk with Jesus. I liked the way he referred to my dad as his big brother. I also can’t forget hearing him call his two sons “the beauties.” He was always part of my life whether near or far. I will miss him.

Where Did My Funny Go?

“I lost a little of my funny over the past year, but that’s okay.” This is a quote from someone very dear to me. I can also relate to it as I’ve had the very same experience. Life is not all roses and cat videos. It’s not all amazing trips and book releases. In between all of those things is the hard stuff. Suffering. Death. Unemployment. Injustice. Frogs that jump and make you scream. (I had to lighten things up a little!)

If you happen to write a humor blog like I do, that can add to the challenge. What do I do when the lighter side of things is hidden behind dark clouds? When I just want to go to bed and sleep until the funny comes back? When I’m tempted to retreat?

One thing I’ve learned. I’m not alone. There are always people who can relate and understand. There are always those who can’t yet.

So today I thought I’d remind you to be on the lookout for opportunities to look up. Personally I know where my help comes from. I know where the light comes from – or I should say I know who the light is. My help comes from The Lord. I hope you’ll see him as your help, too.

I have experienced something that I want to share with you. It’s joy. Joy through tears. Joy through sorrow. Joy when I don’t know where I’m going but I know who is guiding me. Over the past month as I’ve taken some walks with Jesus (literal walks), I’ve found my smile in the most unusual times. I’ve always had laughter come easily, but sometimes, along with my funny, I’ve found my smiles have faded. But I have experienced joy welling up in the form of smiles when I’m all alone. When I think of someone I love. When I witness life in front of my eyes. When I am grateful. That’s amazing to me.

So if you are finding your funny a little elusive, don’t give up. Look up. I hope you have a joyous day.

I always get a kick out of this picture. Even monkeys need to keep hydrated.

First Father’s Day

After someone important to you dies, you go through a series of firsts. Firsts that they were always a part of. Firsts that leave a little hole in the day. I know that this is completely normal.

In my case, because my dad died at 94 after suffering with limitations that strived to define him, which he fought bravely to conquer mentally if not physically, it has been easier than I thought that it would be to go through this series of firsts.

Father’s Day was a BIG first that I wondered about, but I made it through. And it wasn’t too hard. Watching someone age and get ready for Heaven changed my perspective on my dad’s death. Truthfully, the dad that I knew the last few years was a representation of the dad who I had for most of his life. The thought of Dad in Heaven is a happy place in my heart. No limitations! Yes!

Dad retire at 50 years old, so he spent almost as much time on this side of retirement as the other side. Bob, my husband, has never worked close to home. His commute has varied from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So, when the plumbing was gushing up through the toilet or a tire had flattened, I’d call Dad. (These things happened more often while Bob was at work. I think that’s part of the mechanical-things-fear-Bob deal.)

That is the Dad that makes me smile. I hold both versions in my mind, but one has a bigger place in my heart. One has the bigger file of memories.

As I type this today, I’m smack in the middle of the second BIG first that I have wondered about. Today is the 70th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I wondered how Mom would get through that. How would I get through watching Mom? The floodgate of memories was sure to break.

But you know what? Those memories washing over you can be pretty refreshing and special. That’s what I’m experiencing today (and she is, too), and since you’ve been so kind to listen to me in the past, I thought you should know. There are more BIG firsts down the road, but why borrow trouble? God really does supply the grace needed for all of life’s moments – big and small. Some will be harder than others. That’s okay.

I do miss my dad. He’s come up a few times in my blog, and my book ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC, is based on his life. He got to read it before he lost his eyesight, before the final edit. I’m thankful, even though I know he struggled with the fact that I fictionalized his life. I guess that would be weird for anybody, but he was proud of me and happy to have stories of his life preserved. That, too, makes me happy. In a lot of ways, you never stop being your dad’s little girl.

Here are a couple of pictures I’d like to share with you. Hope you enjoy them.

Dad the magician, the early years

Dad always liked animals, but he was happy to have this friendly guy out of their Florida lake.

Dad with my first son, Jesse. He loved his grandkids.

Today I’m Sharing a Loss with You

My dad, Arthur Manning

It has been two jam-packed months since I’ve posted a blog, and that hardly seems possible to me. As I told you way back then, Bob and I moved my parents in with us on September 8. And then we had Hurricane Irma blow through. Both of these events generated a lot of work, but we were happy and relieved to have Mom and Dad with us.

We were all making the adjustment just fine, and Mom and Dad were feeling settled, when on October 2 my dad began to decline. Just the week before, Dad, who was 94, told me he was glad they were with us. That was a big deal, because moving wasn’t his idea. But it clearly was God’s timing and his amazing grace and mercy for them to be in our home.

On Thursday, October 19, Dad breathed his last and was ushered into the presence of God – the God he loved and gave his life to over forty years ago. I am confident of where Dad is now, and I am grateful that he has a new body. His old one was clearly worn out. Dad was very hard of hearing and had gone completely blind over a year ago. The last weeks of his life he could no longer walk or even stand. The VITAS Hospice group were our constant companions, and we are forever grateful for their support.

In many ways, I can’t believe he is gone. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he would call out, “Hey, Bon-bon,” when I entered their house. It’s a weird time. I miss him.

Things are calmer now. Family has gone home. The meals, which our dear friends brought to us, have stopped coming. We are finding our footing in the midst of grief. There is a peace that passes understanding that flows through my soul as I slow the pace of my life down and walk through this with my mom, but it is not easy to slow that pace. My natural inclination is to get things done so that they are done and I don’t have to give mental space to the many details. Frankly, that doesn’t always work!

I have to remind myself that “normal” is a fluid concept. I have a new normal that is in the developmental stages. I am not particularly fond of transitions. Change is hard and can be stressful, but it is within those transitions that I am reminded of how much I need Jesus. I have to lean not on my own understanding and wait on God.

Dad had a practice of asking everyone who entered their home if they knew Jesus as their personal savior. I did not know of anyone who was bolder. My dad was not a big man, but he filled a room. He had a big personality. He loved to tell stories and he loved to entertain. He was an accomplished magician and brought joy to a lot of people through his illusions. That man could control a deck of cards.

Knowing that my dad is in Heaven with no more limitations makes me happy. Watching my mom lean into God encourages me. Experiencing grace for things that I never thought I could remotely do, builds my faith.

I guess there really isn’t a lighter side to this post. I just wanted you to know what’s been going on and why I’ve taken some time off. I’m back now and expectant that once again, God will show me the lighter side of things and I will share them with you. Thanks for reading.

Nobody Likes You Irma (Part 2 of 2)

Irma was an unwelcome guest, but there was no stopping her from blowing through. I thought I would share what it was like for me and my family as she came knocking on our door. Looking back, we got off easy compared to a lot of folks, but my story is the only one I can tell. I tell it mixed with prayers for those who have truly suffered through this storm and the many other “natural disasters” that are going on in the world today.

By 11:00 Sunday morning we were hunkered, which is a word we used liberally during the entire ordeal.

Hurricane Warning

By 2:20 PM our phones were going off like crazy with alerts. Watches turned to warnings. (Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for the storm. Warnings come when the storm or flood is imminent.)

The first rain bands arrived before 3 PM.

The wind significantly picked up by 7 PM. By 8:30, those winds became downright scary as they gusted over and around our house.

By 10 PM the rain was coming down in torrents. We experienced minor flooding over our front sidewalk. And the eye of the storm was hours away. FYI, we did not board up our house.

Our front sidewalk in the light of day. It took 3 days to dry out.

We decided to go to bed and get some rest. The worst was supposed to come around 2 AM. My parents seemed to go right to sleep on the other side of the house. Bob and I lay in our bed listening to the weird noises that the wind was making. I thought our roof was going to come off. I told Bob that I couldn’t sleep with all that noise. He said that he could.

And he did! I went to the center of the house and tried to rest in a recliner, but by then it was raining even harder and I could hear the dripping in the chimney while the weird noises continued. The wind whipped through our screened pool enclosure making eerie howling sounds. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember being legitimately scared. So, I ate some chocolate chip cookies.

The entire household was sleeping through this (minus me, of course). That amazed me, but I was thankful somebody was getting some rest! It was now clear that the storm was going to go right over Orlando. With the wind picking up even more, a little before 2 AM, I prepared the hall with cushions and chairs for my parents. Our phones, computers and car keys were placed in Ziploc bags. I was ready to take the hunkering to a new level.

I was awake and praying or chatting with other hunkerers on Facebook through most of the night – manning the conn from our recliner in the center of the house while eating the occasional chocolate chip cookie or three. I’d peek outside toward the east and look at the weird lightning and watch the trees bend in the glow of it. The water in the pool, though Bob had drained several inches from it twice, was over the edge. Irma was loud and violent, and the rest of my family slept through it.

With everything in place, I returned to my recliner. I must have dozed off, because I woke up around 6 AM and realized that it was over, and we still had electricity.

We live in the back of our neighborhood, which has 450 homes in it. A tributary of the Little Wekiva River flows through the center. Typically, it is a creek of about 8 feet width. Monday morning it was a raging little river.

The front of our neighborhood looked like a war zone of fallen trees and debris. They were without power. Our end of the neighborhood never lost it. But there were a lot of downed trees and fences and a new lake in our neighbor’s backyard. A wonderful neighbor had a front-end loader and went up and down every street clearing a path. Everyone was outside working and checking on each other.

Our next-door neighbor’s backyard

Bob looking at all the debris – our neighbor’s newly formed backyard lake in the background

Our damage was so minimal it doesn’t even count. I told my mother that we had an extra blessing from God because they moved in with us.

Bob and I put on our sneakers and leather gloves and got to work. Trees are no respecters of property lines. We have the neighborhood border wall behind our house. There is a vacant, treed lot behind us, so we got lots of debris from that. When I set foot in the yard, I was surprised to be up to my ankles in water. But there was no damage and nobody was hurt. We were amazed and grateful to God for that.

One of our sons and family showed up in the early afternoon. They were safe but without power. By nightfall, theirs was restored. Our other son and his wife were not so lucky. Theirs was out for nine days.

My parents’ home sustained no damage, but that area was without electricity for five days. It may be September, but it’s still close to 90 degrees every day down here.

 

     There are piles of debris along the roads that are taller than I am. And there is a subtle, funky smell in the air that is like a mixture of old diaper and chicken farm. Thankfully, the garbage truck removed the regular garbage today, so that may improve. Mass spraying has begun to combat mosquitoes. The sound of frogs in the morning is deafening as they take up residence in the newly formed ponds. We are keeping our eyes open for snakes. Alligators have been reported in some yards and pools. Flood waters are cresting along the St. Johns River. There are still some who have no power and others who can no longer stay in their homes. But we give thanks for being on the other side of this. It has been a blessing watching neighbor helping neighbor and churches joining together to serve. A lot of the differences that tend to divide us have taken their proper place, and we see each other simply as people going through something together.

I thought about being afraid in the middle of that night. I thought about how rare that is for me, and I was thankful. Now I think about people living in fear of storms real and imagined and how that affects their lives, and I pray that they will call out to God because He is there.

 

Nobody Likes You Irma!

Looking for the lighter side of Irma is similar to what it was like trying to find bottled water before she hit. Seemingly impossible. Water was the hot commodity – you had to search and search for it. For those who came up empty, all that had to be done was look down at the spigot in their very own kitchen and turn on the tap. Finding the good in a situation is like that – it’s often right under our nose.

My husband and I were prepared, as I felt prompted (no doubt by God) to make my preparations for a hurricane over a week before we knew she was coming for sure. Her fast development from a depression to a Cat 3 storm in less than 24 hours was impressive. Water, peanut butter, protein bars, apples, canned goods, and emergency M&Ms and Oreos (for keeping spirits up) were secured well in advance. Gallon Ziploc bags filled with frozen water from my tap and Tupperware containers with frozen blocks of ice were at the ready.

I am forever grateful to God for that, because by the end Labor Day weekend we needed to make our most important hurricane preparation – getting my parents out of their manufactured housing, about 30 minutes away from us.

That Monday night Bob and I visited them and basically told them that ready or not, they needed to come by the end of the week. Permanently. We had been trying to convince them to move in with us for months. Well, it took a hurricane. I had joked/not joked with them that if we had to evacuate them, we weren’t taking them back. Now they are residing here with us. I am so relieved.

My parents have been married for 69 years. They are mentally sharp. Mom has been taking care of my Dad for quite some time. He lost the remainder of his vision about 18 months ago. He is 94. Mom continues to be his caregiver, but now we walk alongside her. Mom and I laugh at the same kind of things. I think I got my sense of humor from her side of the family. It brings me great joy and peace to have them with us.

For me, having them here has lightened my emotional load. So, thanks be to God, who used a terrible hurricane like Irma to make this happen.

Bob’s birthday was September 10. I was determined to have some kind of celebration before the September 9, Irma-is-coming-to-town curfew was enforced. (Everyone to get from streets!) I thought it wasn’t quite enough that, not only was he getting a hurricane for his birthday and his in-laws, too. We had to have a party.

We gathered on Saturday for lunch and cake. Interestingly, I forgot to get candles for the cake even though I had plenty of flashlights and lanterns. Oh well! Our local kids and grandkids came over and we had our little party. Then everyone left to batten down the hatches in their own homes.

Saturday brought an uptake in winds, but it was the quintessential calm before the storm. The sounds of plywood being nailed over windows and lawnmowers making a final pass to shorten the grass were everywhere. People were filling their garages with all outdoor paraphernalia in order to eliminate flying debris. Neighbors were checking in with each other. Swimming pool water levels were being lowered.

Throwing furniture into the pool keeps it from blowing around. Our chairs seemed to want to exit up the stairs though.

Hurricane Irma was larger than the state of Florida – that included the area from the Panhandle all the way down the Key West. We watched her wobble along. Would she visit Orlando or Tampa? We prayed she would not go into the Gulf and hit Texas. It took her forever to make “the turn.” But when she did, it became clear that Central Florida was in for it. We had done all we could to be ready. Now it was time to wait.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what it was like to go through the storm. I said it was time to wait, didn’t I?

The Lighter Side of this Presidential Election

It’s challenging to find a lighter side to this presidential election. It has brought out the dark side in many Americans, but like Luke Skywalker, I think there is still good in us. So, even though this might be a very short post, I am committed to finding ten things that will fit into this category, so here goes.

  1. We live in a country where we can participate in the election process.
  2. There is less sign pollution. It seems people are hesitant to advertise their candidate preference because of the volatility of this election.
  3. I am reaffirming the fact that my trust is in God and not man.
  4. The debate about the bathrooms at Target has disappeared.
  5. I am spending less time on social media because I have fewer people to follow on Face Book. I am totally nonpartisan about this. If your posts become disrespectful and mean, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, consider yourself blocked. We can resume our friendship in the more civilized time of mid-November when all of this is behind us.
  6. My polling place is in a beautiful restaurant surrounded by lovely gardens. It is no longer open to the public, but I get to go there to vote.
  7. I’m trying to better understand people with different opinions than mine, while realizing that I likely will never completely understand someone else’s point of view.
  8. Late night television has never had more craziness to work with from both sides of the aisle, which helps us to laugh at all of the candidates and turn the tension down a notch.
  9. It’s almost over for four more years, though this election has been underway for about a year and a half, so I guess I’ll have to factor that in.
  10. Finally, Thanksgiving is 16 days after the election. No matter the outcome, we have much to be thankful for.

Now allow me to put on my mom hat and say, “Do your research. Pray, think, and go out there and vote. Talk nicely to each other. No hitting. Don’t make me pull this blog over.”

Always Check Out the Gushing Sound

Every morning around 10 o’clock our pool pump automatically turns on. It’s part of the magic of modern life. I can set my dishwasher to turn on four hours later. I can set the dryer for “wrinkle control” to aid me in my goal of never ironing my clothes again. I can set my coffeepot to turn on in the morning. And, if I could only figure out the timed bake on my oven, I suppose I could set dinner to start cooking while I’m out. Of course, that would require preparation of dinner early in the day, and we all know that ain’t happening.

These are things that I take for granted and barely notice until something goes wrong. For instance, maybe I set the “wash later” control but failed to push the start button on the dishwasher, which equals stinky dishes. Maybe I set the coffee pot to come on in the morning, but fail to put coffee grounds in the basket, and I wake up to a nice pot of hot water. No big deal. I’ll get to it in a minute.

But when I heard a gushing sound from the backyard it didn’t take long to realize that something had gone wrong. That something was the pool pump working against us and turning the pool into a wading pool because the pool pump lid popped off. Meanwhile the back corner of the pool cage behind the house was beginning to rival Wet and Wild.

I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t notice this until it had been going on for about 30 minutes, because I was asleep. Yes, I was asleep at ten in the morning. I was taking an early afternoon nap. You see, my husband and I have had two of our grandchildren on our own this week. That means that I’m getting up almost two hours early, waking sleeping children, helping them get dressed, and driving them to school. And that means that by 10:00, I’m ready for a nap.

So, when I rose from my nap, pulled the curtains back and looked out in the backyard, I was surprised to see that the water level of the pool was markedly lower than it was yesterday. I didn’t remember Bob (my husband) taking the level down after our recent rains, but I figured he must have done that. Then I opened the door and heard Old Faithful erupting all over the side of the house and yard. I was kicking my shoes off, wiping the sleep out of my eyes, and trying to find the facetime icon on my phone all at once. That’s a lot for somebody who just woke up from a morning afternoon nap.

Thankfully, Bob was available and I showed him the gusher. He calmly told me to turn the pump off. I love simple solutions. Later I wondered how long it would have taken me to think of that. After all, it took me a full minute to find the facetime icon on my phone. That’s just another example of how we need each other (or really how I need him).

I was also reminded of being thankful. Originally I was planning to be gone all morning, but yesterday as I was making my list of things to do today, I felt like God told me to stay home and work on my blog. That may sound weirdly mystical, but it’s simply part of trying to be sensitive to the fact that God really does have a plan for my daily life, and he impresses me to do (or not to do) things from time to time. Before I took my nap, I wondered what I’d be writing about. Well, as Paul Harvey always said, now you know the rest of the story.

 

The first step barely has water on it

Contrasts

Photo Credit: Mindi Osbourne

Last night we attended a Matt Redman and Christy Nockels concert, which was really a big worship session.  It is a privilege to freely worship in this country, and it warmed my heart to devote an evening to worshiping God.  It was like a feast for my hungry soul.

This morning I was still basking in the experience of the night before.  Then I turned on the news.  In Charleston, South Carolina, another group of Christians who were freely worshiping the same God at the same time had their lives end.  It breaks my heart for them and their families and their community.  One thing that I am aware of today as I pray for those affected is this.  We all need Jesus.  Every day.  Every moment.  Those families know that more than ever.  We will be talking about this for some time.  Let’s be praying as well.  Pray for these precious people to be comforted as they walk through this very dark valley.

The Sistine Chapel (Europe Part 2)

During our last trip to Rome the Sistine Chapel was closed for the day – that was quite the disappointment.  But, since I had thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain on that visit I knew I would return.  This time I was not disappointed. Michelangelo’s magnificent ceiling was more beautiful than I had imagined.  But it was his The Last Judgment painting that got to me.  As you walk into the Chapel, you pass under The Last Judgment.  The symbolism was striking.  I entered into the chapel under judgment.  I walked out in freedom because of what Christ did for me.  He took my penalty.  The One who was sinless has cloaked me in his righteousness.  Such a picture!

Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the Sistine Chapel.  The tour guides take you to the museum gardens near the chapel and explain what you will see.  There are panels with pictures of all of the art work displayed for their tutorial.  This is a picture of The Last Judgment from one of those panels.

Of course it does not do the original work justice, but in case you have not seen it before, I wanted to show you.  Especially vivid is the bottom right corner where those who were not covered by the blood of Jesus entered eternal damnation.  Of interest, the man depicted prominently is said to have criticized Michelangelo’s work.  I guess that is one way to be immortalized in art.

The other work that affects me so much that I find it difficult to stop looking at it is La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Michelangelo was 23 when he was commissioned to do this work.

 Our guide told us that it is said that Michelangelo worked alone.  Other artists had students who often worked on projects with them, but Michelangelo did these two works of art alone.  My take on what she said is that his genius did not lend itself to working and playing well with others.  That made me think of how God has gifted people so individually for the work that he has for them.  Perhaps If Michelangelo was more of a teacher or less of a perfectionist he would not have created these masters.  I am not an art scholar by any means, but that was food for thought for me.