Friday, October 13, 2017

I’ve always adored my mom.  Adored everything about her. Her humor, her love, her affection, her wisdom, her faith, her eternal optimism and boundless gratitude.

She’s been completely homebound for at least the last three years. But there was never any mention of having cabin fever or bemoaning the fact she spent so much time alone. I can't conceive of her complaining about anything.  

I did talk to her everyday and saw her most days. If I called and she didn’t answer, it would take all of about 15 minutes before I’d start panicking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent Bob or Loretta rushing over to check on her, only to find out she’d just had to use the bathroom.

She knew every boring little detail of my life. I’d tell her where I was flying and she’d remember every leg of my trip. I remember calling her once and her answering, “You’re on that long sit in Salt Lake aren’t you? If I were you, I’d tell Delta those long sits are totally unacceptable.” 

“Yep, mom. I think that’s been passed along.” 

But oh, how thankful I am for the job I love (long sits and all), because it has allowed me and the kids so much time with my family… regardless of where they lived. 

The sad reality is some of my mom’s pain was my gain. A year or so after losing my dad, she came to live with me and got a job with United Airlines. She hated that job with a passion, but because she never complained about it, I never knew how much she hated it. And then 9/11 happened--and they let her go. When she came home, I said,  “I’m sorry, mom. That’s awful.”

“Are you kidding me?” she answered, “if I knew how, I would have been jumping up and clicking my heels together all the way to the car.” 

She moved back to Florida after losing that job. No doubt God’s hand was in it because Craig needed her. But when when God took Craig home in 2002, she came back to live with me again and Brett was born just four months later. 

Those first few months of Brett’s life were awful but she was right there beside me…helping care for him, encouraging me, and never losing her sense of humor. Looking back there was seemingly so little to laugh about, but because my mom found so much humor in things, we’ve always laughed a lot, regardless of our circumstances. 

She made her own fun. She always got a kick out of teasing the kids. After picking up Caitlin from school they’d stop by the house, because my germaphobic Caitlin wouldn’t suck her thumb until she’d washed her hands. 

There were some wretched muskrats in the swampy area behind our house. Caitlin left the door open while she dashed in to wash her hands and when she came out, my mom, sounding as horrified as she could, said, “Oh honey! You left the door open and a muskrat ran into the house.” Caitlin let out a blood curdling scream and my mom would laugh about it to this very day.  

She took on the job of driving Dane to school. Just like me, Dane isn't a morning person. Neither of us want to be talked to and we certainly don’t care to talk. Of course, knowing this made my mom talk to him incessantly. One morning she asked him what time school started. The clock in the car said 7:28. Dane answered 7:30. She stomped on the gas pedal, driving as fast as the car would go. When the clock flipped to 7:30, she let off the gas. “Shoot! You can’t say I didn’t try.”

Another time she was driving him she said, “I was thinking today we could shoot up to Michigan Ave, hop on 275 to M14, take M14 and then get off at Sheldon…what’d ya think?” Dane answered, “To go where?”

She lived in three of our houses. Always in the basement. Not a nice finished basement, mind you, but rather a dusty, spider filled, cement floored basement. My cousin Cass came to see us one day and when her little daughter Emma, who was only about four at the time, saw my mom’s bed downstairs she came up to me with her serious little face and asked, “Can’t Aunt Judy live in the nice part of the house?”

I answered that we tried to keep her down there as much as possible. (Okay, I might have gotten a little of my mom’s love for teasing).

I told Caitlin once I didn’t want to live without Gramma. She said it was one of the meanest things I’ve ever said. I tried to re-phrase it, “I’d prefer not to live on this earth without her. My hope is that Jesus will return and I won’t have to.”

How would I be able to bear not talking to her everyday, discussing every topic under the sun, laughing with her, getting her wise advice on everything?  How could I bear not having someone who loved me unconditionally and consistently reminded me that this life is but a blip and how we’d only know in Heaven how much GOOD Brett’s life is bringing to this earth? She focused on the things she had to be grateful for more than anyone I knew, and encouraged me to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times she’d say, “you sure don’t have to look very far to see someone who has it worse than you.”

Just the other day she was saying how many years she prayed she’d live long enough to see Caitlin married to a man who adored her.

“And God answered my prayer,” she said.

“And now you’ll live to see her first baby, your first great grandbaby.” I told her.

“I don’t think so, honey.”

I never wanted her to talk like that, never wanted to believe her life would end before Jesus returned.

I know God planned the perfect timing of my grandbaby’s arrival. When we celebrated his impending birth last weekend, Dawn Baker said a sweet prayer, quoting Psalm 139.

When I got home, I picked up my Bible and turned to the psalm, it’s easy to find because I have Brett’s ultrasound picture tucked within it’s pages. Next to “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” I wrote Brett's name. A few verses later are these words, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious are Your thoughts, O God! How vast the sum of them?” In the margin next to these verses, I’d written, “How often do I only yearn to hear Mom’s thoughts? Teach me God, how to hear Your thoughts.” 

I’ll never stop longing to hear her affirming and encouraging words, or being able to relate funny stories to her. She always got such a kick out of my stories. I know the void she left will never be filled.

One of my biggest fears was her dying alone. Not only did she not die alone, but both of my siblings were in town and we were ALL there with her. It was truly a miracle. We couldn’t hope for anything more than for her to go painlessly and peacefully into the arms of her Savior and be reunited with my dad, my brother, her sister and brother, her parents and many others. I will choose to focus on God’s mercy and grace in letting her leave us just the way she’d always prayed she would.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

When I turned 50 several years ago, my sister had her boys dutifully come to the phone and wish me a happy birthday. After my oldest nephew’s “Happy Birthday, Aunt Laurie,” there was a small silence. I think he felt compelled to add something more and finally surmised that my life was "probably more than half over." He obviously had a grasp on probabilities. It cracked me up. Bless his heart.

Today is my brother Craig's birthday. It’s hard to fathom he’s been gone more than fifteen years. Oh, how he is missed! Especially his humor and eternal optimism.

One of my sweetest memories is of us lying on a hillside, watching for Jesus. We were probably only about six and eight. We'd just watched a film at church about the Rapture. The movie scared the daylights out of most of us, worried sick our prayer of salvation might not have "taken" and we'd be left behind to experience horrors beyond description.

It certainly didn't scare Craig. He was thrilled to know Jesus was going to return ANY day, possibly that very day. He convinced me to go outside and watch for Him—maybe we could be the first ones to spot Him in the sky.

Craig never stopped longing for Christ's return. He lived his life knowing "that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us WITH we do not lose heart...though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen. For was is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:14-18)

 It IS a sobering reality that my life is "probably more than half over," but I don't lose heart, I know I will see Craig again, and I know our eternal glory will far surpass any of this world's heartache.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I had a trip last week I thought was going to be a complete bonanza. All we had to do was ferry an airplane (no passengers) from Detroit to Quebec City, pick up a group of people, fly them to Boston and then ferry the aircraft back to Detroit. Does it get any easier than that?

I packed lots of reading material and was prepared to enjoy my easy day. It was not enjoyable, at all.

Turns out a fancy-schmancy Spanish insurance company had chartered a couple of our 747's for their little jaunt from Quebec City to Boston and had specifically requested to have Spanish-speaking only flight attendants. Uh-oh. No hablo espanol. We did have four flight attendants who spoke Spanish, so it should still be okay. It's a 52 minute flight from Quebec City to Boston, for crying out loud. How hard could it be to pass out Pepsi's and snack boxes?

I vowed to be the happiest, most eager to please flight attendant they'd ever laid eyes on and it wouldn't matter a lick that I didn't speak Spanish. They were a happy bunch and the boarding seemed to be going seamlessly. I was working in the back, nodding and grinning and trying to be as helpful as possible.

All the announcements were being made in Spanish, so I had no idea a man in the upper deck had somehow managed to crack his head open and they had subsequently paged for a doctor.

A passenger came up to me and in halting English told me she was a doctor. I wasn't sure how to respond. Well...bully for you... so is my brother-in-law? I just nodded, trying to looked suitably impressed. She didn't appear to appreciate my response to her little bit of braggadocio and started pointing at the ceiling until I finally understood she was saying that "they" had paged for a doctor. They did??

I led her to one of the Spanish speaking flight attendants who told her they'd already gotten a doctor to bind up the wounds of the klutzy Spaniard upstairs.

Shortly after I got that cleared up some passengers came to me to help them find their seats. Surely, I could handle this one. I took their boarding passes and motioned for them to follow me. Their seats were in row 76. I led them back and back and back and... discovered the rows ended at 68. Hmmmm...this was a toughie. I motioned for them to take some empty seats until I could sort it out. They weren't understanding me, so again, I hailed one of the Spanish speaking flight attendants and after he explained the problem to them, they looked at me and laughed.

The flight attend added some comments of his own and they looked at me and laughed even more heartily. It was very unsettling. It's no fun standing there like a stooge being mocked at in another language. Hey! I wanted to say, don't you think I might be able to figure out what "muy estupido" means?

It was actually the very first time I'd ever been on a 747 so I had no idea that rows in the 70's were in the upper deck. What an idiotic way to do it...who had thought up such an illogical way of numbering the rows anyway? That was the one who was muy estupido...not me

I asked the spanish speaking flight attendant what they were finding so funny and he said they were a little incredulous that a flight attendant didn't know how many rows there were but, no problemo, he had cleverly turned it into a big joke. Har-dee-har-har. Oh, well. Live and learn. I guess I should be happy I gave those people such a big laugh--a little unexpected bonus thrown in for them, free of charge.

As I started making my way through the cabin and closing bins I noticed a girl crying in an exit row. The man next to her was unsuccessfully trying to soothe her. It was evolving into all out wailing but I didn't want to stare. Maybe a boyfriend had just broken up with her or something...they're a passionate people, right? I certainly didn't want to risk saying anything muy estupido again.

I continued closing bins and by the time I circled back there was major drama going on with the weeping girl at the exit row. When a flight attendant had attempted to brief her about her exit seating duties, he wisely determined the shrieking wasn't going to cut it for the "willing and able to assist in an emergency" response we require. We would have to move her to another seat.

The girl was incapable of moving, apparently she was having a full-blown panic attack. Yet another page for a doctor, oxygen bottles brought out, paper bags provided for breathing into---the whole nine yards. Nothing seemed to be working to calm her down.

One of her traveling companions commented that they go through this every leg. Every leg??? It seemed like they would have grown tired of these antics and sent her packing back to Spain a long time ago. They finally had to physically lift her out of her seat, one lifting her torso, the other her legs and tote her back to a row of empty seats. They laid her down, belted her in while one stroked her head and the other her feet until she finally calmed down. Phew!

Finally, we were able to take off. The service required passing out hot towels, snack boxes and a beverage. There were six of us serving close to 300 people in the back and the 52 minute flight only allowed us to serve about half the people before we had to quickly stow everything and prepare for landing. How embarrassing. The whole "easy" day was a fiasco from start to finish.

I was telling Caitlin about it and asked her if she'd brushed up on her Spanish during her stint at an orphanage in El Salvador. She said she had boned up on only two phrases: "sientate por favor!" (please sit down!) and "quieres pow pow?" (do you want a spanking?). Darn! I could have used those phrases! I could have told the passengers to please sit down and I could have asked that girl if she wanted a spanking. It would have been perfect. Oh well. Maybe next time---though I'm kind of hoping there won't be a next time.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I don't believe in chance encounters or coincidences. I can't tell you how often I've left for work feeling downtrodden, only to discover God arranged for me to fly with just the person I needed to get my focus off of myself and onto Him.

It’s been several years now and I can't even remember her name, just her story. 

She normally flies London trips (which explains why I've only seen her just the one time), but she needed extra time and had picked up an Orlando turn with me.

She told me about one of her recent trips. A woman and her daughter were returning home from London, just the two of them. Sometime during the flight the woman told a flight attendant she wasn't feeling well, maybe just indigestion? They offered up what they could to alleviate her discomfort, even offering to page for a doctor, but she didn't think it necessary and the crew didn't think much more about it.

The flight attendant said the woman and her daughter weren't even seated in her section but when she was walking through the cabin she felt prompted to ask the girl how her mother was doing. The girl said she thought she was feeling a bit better, but she'd been in the bathroom for quite a long time.

Horrifyingly enough, it was soon discovered she'd passed away. From that point on, this flight attendant never left the girl's side. When they arrived in Detroit she assured her she would stay with her, even ride in the ambulance with her to the hospital. 

When she was told she wouldn't be able to accompany her in the ambulance she remembered she'd inexplicably driven from Grand Rapids rather than flying into Detroit. Her rare decision to drive meant she had her car and could drive to the hospital! 

She was there in no time to take up her place again at the girl's side. She booked a hotel room for them and stayed there with her until her dad arrived from Wisconsin the following morning.

A week later she was back at the airport to fly the same London trip. She was feeling down, still affected from the trauma of her last trip. She was especially feeling melancholy about turning her phone off and being incommunicado for the next three days. Just as she grabbed her phone to power it off, it rang.

Surprisingly, it was her brother-in-law from California. He called to relay a story he'd just heard from one of his friends. Turns out his friend's best friend just lost his wife on one of our flights. When he finished giving her all the details (having no idea she was actually on the flight), he added, "And this is the great part...God put an angel on that flight to watch over his daughter...this 'angel' never left her side until her dad got there...isn't that a sweet story?"

Only an awesome, all powerful, loving God could arrange all those details! She couldn't explain why she'd made the rare, last minute decision to drive to the airport that day. Then, just when she was at her lowest point and seconds before she turned her phone off, her brother-in-law calls her out of the blue and tells her a story that lifted her up like nothing else could.

I know I've shared this before, but a missionary once defined "fellowship" as "making God larger together." How thankful I am for God's faithful provision of fellowship just when I need it most. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I have a ridiculous phobia about praying out loud. I even struggle to pray out loud with Bob, for goodness' sake. He always has to start us out. Bob can pray with anyone, anywhere. I’d love to feel that uninhibited.

Recently, he pulled into McDonald's behind an old battered car. As he watched the woman get out of her car, he jumped out and held the door for her. He said he felt prompted to pay for her breakfast, and stood behind her in line. 

When it was her turn to order she began, "I'll take ten egg, cheese, and ham biscuits, five breakfast burrito's..." 

Good grief! Maybe he’d imagined the prompting. No, he thought, regardless of the cost, his gut told him he was meant to pick up the tab, and he did.

The woman was so overwhelmed she started crying. Her mother was dying and a slew of family members had shown up for breakfast. They were down to their last twenty dollars. He couldn’t possibly know how much his generosity meant to her. 

Bob asked if she would mind if he prayed with her. Right there and then!!! In the midst of a throng of customers in line to order.

By the end of the prayer, Bob had tears in his eyes, too. They hugged goodbye and Bob drove to work filled with joy, so thankful he’d obeyed that still, small voice.

When he arrived at work, every employee’s card had been placed in a large bowl. They were going to pull out one card and give that person five hundred dollars. Whose card do you suppose they pulled out?

As Bob relayed the story to me, he wanted me to understand that the deepest joy came from the giving, the blessing of obedience. Winning the money was just icing on the cake.

Isn't that an awesome story? You rock, Babe. Happy Anniversary!

Friday, November 25, 2016

I remember thinking that having a child with severe disabilities would be one of the worst things that could ever happen to a person.

I remember sitting in the cry room at church watching a couple sitting back there with their grown son. He was very animated, loudly asking the same questions over and over. When the singing began he would leap up, joyously clapping and belting out any word he might recognize, usually just "Jesus."  I felt sick for them.

Today, when I sit back in that same cry room with Brett, I think what I wouldn't give to see that joy on Brett's face, to see him leaping up and loudly singing out Jesus' name.

Recently we had about a dozen special needs passengers on board. One fifty-ish man was particularly thrilled to be on an airplane. He excitedly grasped my hand and asked me how my day was going. Pre-Brett I would have been uncomfortable, not wanting him to touch me and doing my level best not to make eye contact. That day I was filled with genuine affection for him. His uninhibited joy and friendliness was contagious. I didn't even mind him asking me 20 times if we were almost to Detroit.

When one of the women asked me for a seat belt extension for her friend, she made it seem like a good thing. She was proud of her friend for managing to grow big enough to need an extension. Good job!

Having Brett has had the same effect on Bob. One day one of his customers mentioned his wife was waiting in the the car with their mentally impaired grown daughter. Bob encouraged him to bring them in. The daughter was non-verbal, just sitting there, letting out a few whoops now and then.

Bob said when he looked at her he was overwhelmed with love for her and impulsively told her parents he loved them. I cracked up when he told me the story. They sat in stunned silence...who expects their car salesman to tell them he loves them?

After they had signed all the paperwork and left, the man returned to the showroom, hugged Bob and told him he loved him, too.

I love that story. I love that through loving and caring for Brett, God changed us, our perspective and our hearts.

Today is Brett's 14th birthday, a day that normally brings me down. But today, for the first time, I can appreciate his birthday being smack dab in the middle of the season of Thanksgiving. After all, there's nothing quite as effective as gratitude for banishing the blues.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sometimes we have passengers who may need a little extra assistance, perhaps someone blind, deaf or elderly.

I was once asked to help a down syndrome adult to his seat. As it turned out he was plenty capable of finding his own seat. I think he fancied himself a dapper business man, traveling like any other business man. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, a polo dress shirt buttoned to the top, khaki's and penny loafers. He carried an old-fashioned, hard-sided briefcase just like one my dad used to have. After he proudly found his seat, he sat down and plopped his briefcase on his lap. He officially snapped it open to reveal one lone item: a Nintendo Game Boy.

I couldn't help but smile, and I couldn't help but wish my third child was Down Syndrome. My own beautiful little boy is blind, severely mentally and physically impaired, and will never walk or talk or respond to us in any way.  If God was going to give me a special needs child, why couldn't He have given me someone like this? Someone happy, enthusiastic and, most of all, responsive?

I've learned how debilitating it is to compare, knowing it usually leads to a loss of contentment. It takes my eyes off of all the things for which I am thankful, and an ungrateful heart is a joy killer.

Many people experience shattered dreams, but Brett isn't just a shattered dream. He is an integral part of a larger story. God used Brett's part in our story to strengthen our marriage and deepen our dependence on Him.

Pain is an inevitable part of life. Without pain how would we know joy? Even those who seem to have it all in this life, have a nagging feeling there is something more, because God set eternity in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) As Christians we know this world is not all there is, we know Jesus is preparing a place for us where there will be no more tears, sorrow or death.

But here on earth, stories are being played out and some roles are undeniably more difficult than others. There is no doubt in my mind Brett is perfectly fulfilling the exact role he was created for, not only in our story but in the stories of others as well.