I love the gardens the Lord grows—uncultivated fields containing a variety of wildflowers, grasses, and insects, not usually seen in everyday vegetable plots or flowerbeds. Years ago, when we lived on a farm in Northern Illinois, we had a big garden that was surrounded on two sides by alfalfa fields. Because of the close proximity, we ended up with a small strip on the north side that could best be described as “wild.” It was filled to overflowing with milkweed, red clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, sunflowers (from a previous sunflower house project), and Daisy Fleabane (a plant related to the Shasta Daisy with much smaller flowers).Wildflowers thrived in our garden, and the only cultivation needed was an occasional yanking—roots and all—of an invasive goldenrod that would have completely taken over if left to its own devices.
One fall, a single milkweed seed dispersed from a weather-beaten pod took hold in what was my husband’s strawberry bed. I have loved milkweed ever since I was a little girl, so I wasn’t about to evict a lone straggler. But three years later, that single plant gave birth to more than 60 offspring—all in very close quarters! It was an impressive habitat, and I was fascinated with the insect life that the milkweed supported.
One of the most interesting things I observed about milkweed is the way the large pink composite flowers bloom in succession rather than simultaneously. As the stalks grow taller, the composite flowers open— one after another— over a period of five weeks or so. This abundant food source not only offers nourishment for adult insects, but developing young as well.
I nicknamed my milkweed “The Prairie Lilac.” When friends approached our garden patch, they were surprised to smell a fragrance similar to that of lilacs. The scent is heavenly and it’s no surprise that it attracts a wide variety of insects. My husband commented that he never knew milkweed smelled so good. I believe that’s probably true for most people.
By mid-June ants could be seen trying to sip nectar from the tight-fisted blossoms before the florets even opened. Soon they were joined by bright red milkweed beetles searching for mates. Honey bees performed a tap dance of sorts, gingerly pulling their legs off the sticky flowers as they, too, drank deeply of the succulent nectar. We also saw milkweed bugs, yellow and black swallowtails, a Great Spangled Fritillary (butterfly), Hummingbird moths, earwigs (they love to sleep like crowded sardines in the folds of the leaves), ladybugs (the larvae and adults), yellow jackets, bumble bees, wasps, flies, and dragonflies.
Monarch butterflies flitted and floated among the broad green leaves of the tall milkweed stalks secretively laying their eggs. It never ceases to amaze me how the tri-colored caterpillars delight the child in all of us. Whenever we found them, we would place them in ball jars and feed them fresh milkweed leaves until they underwent the miraculous change—the anticipated moment when shimmering gold chrysalises waxed transparent, revealing the newly formed butterflies within. After their wings hardened, we released them on the summer breeze to soar high above our beloved milkweed patch—far beyond the border of our state—southward across unfamiliar territory over hundreds of miles of rough terrain to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Seeing them fly skyward caused me to contemplate the journey of life, and the beauty of a changed soul.
“For I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me..”~Galatians 2:20
Yes, metamorphosis is the symbol of the Christian life—a journey across uncharted territory, over miles of rough terrain, through life’s circumstances—the chrysalis of God’s transforming power. And just as milkweed flowers bloom in succession, so too our hearts are changed, not in an instant, but over time as we look to our Creator for our spiritual sustenance and the miracle of old things made new.
The sound of their voices. My four children. I will never tire of the endless crescendo of their voices.
I am blessed beyond measure. My cup overflows.
The comradery. The laughter. The sparring.
27, 22, 18, 14.
My tears flow for the joy of being their mother.
I am never happier then when we are all together. Doesn’t every mother feel that way?
But I cannot keep them here, forever.
A wedding in September. Newlyweds headed for Seattle. This may be the last Mother’s Day we all spend together for a while.
The Lord tells me live in the fullness of this day. Don’t miss the grace-filled moments of this day. Delight in the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind moments happening right now─today.
My mind turns quickly from the future back to the present!
I am ordered out of the kitchen. Breakfast won’t be served in bed I am told, but in the kitchen, instead, in a little while. We have to accommodate Grandpa, so everyone piling into the bedroom is NOT a good idea.
I retreat to my room and close the door, but all I hear are muffled voices.
I open the door so I can hear the banter.
“Are these cooked?” Claire says. “You ruined it now. You ruined it now!” she reiterates in a jesting voice. “Just put the lid on!”
I hear more ordering. “Go take a shower, now!” she says to Elizabeth.
I hear the water running. Suddenly, feet pound the hall.
“You literally have ten minutes!” Claire yells through the bathroom door to Elizabeth. “Ten minutes before breakfast is served!”
My hubby comes in the bedroom and stoops to give me kiss. “Happy Mother’s Day!” he says sweetly. And then he comments, “Too noisy!”
Ha! I laugh to myself. If he only knew what I was writing! He tries to close the door.
“Leave that open, please,” I say.
Eric yells in decibels intended for Grandpa’s hard of hearing ears alone, “If you eat fast (referring to his bran cereal), there’s good food coming – eggs, sausage, and crepes!
Muffled voices become a little more distinct. “I thought you were going to help!” Eric says to Claire. “If you want to help, do the dishes!”
Suddenly, Anna pipes up, “This is my plate. I’m sitting here.”
“I always sit there on holidays,” Claire says. More discussion ensues…
Then Claire announces, “Okay, Mom, you can come in now!”
I arrive on the scene wearing pearls and my mother’s huge silver earrings─ one of the few pieces of jewelry I have of hers. In honor of Grandma Reid and the day, I strike a pose. “Ta da!” I say.
I sit in my usual seat across from Grandpa and ask if he remembers Grandma’s earrings. He says, no.
During the meal the kids continue sparring, and in-between their teasing, I receive the blessings they have lavished on me─a lovely meal, heartfelt presents, and handmade cards graced with scriptures I need to hear.
And what do I hear? What is the theme of the day?
Love. Unconditional love.
I don’t deserve it. Despite all my failings, they love me. They are God’s grace in my life─His unconditional love poured over my soul.
And I love them right back, unconditionally.
I wish everything could stay the same, but do I really?
I embrace the changes that are to come and ask that the Lord use my children to glorify Himself.
I lift them up.
My grace-filled, live-in-the-day cup is full.
“We long for the companionship of God.
We long for the assurance that we are not taking the journey alone.
That He is walking with us and talking with us and He is intimately involved in our lives.”
~ Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul
The other morning when I went into Grandpa’s room to check on him, I noticed his flip calendar. It wasn’t normal how I saw it, though. His daily devotional calendar sits on a roll top desk in the corner of his room partially hidden behind the door, so it’s not a place I usually look when I enter the room.
The funny thing is, our pet dove was perched atop my head as he often does while I work around the house (I told you it was funny), so when I walked down the hall to Grandpa’s room, the bird went along for the ride.
As I was checking a sore on Grandpa’s toe, the dove flew off my head and around the room and then he landed on Grandpa’s daily devotional calendar. I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. But as I was leaving the room, I picked up the calendar with the bird still perched upon it, so I could carry him back to the kitchen. That’s when my eyes fell on this verse:
“And if thy brother be waxed poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt revive him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner shall he live with thee.” Leviticus 25:35~ASV
This verse of scripture immediately consoled my heart and through it the Lord touched me deeply right where I was, showing me that he knows the anguish of my heart. He knows how I carry the health and well-being of my father so close to my heart, it hurts.
Lately, it seems that we are dealing with an unending string of medical conditions, and the added insult of a nasty cold.
Something has changed.
In order for Grandpa to finish breakfast in a reasonable amount of time – one hour verses three – I now have to feed him his cereal and egg.
Add this to the long list of conditions we have had to deal with in the last three years:
impacted bowels (twice, right around Thanksgiving)
a persistent pressure ulcer
dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
a bacterial eye infections
Osteomyelitis (a possible bone infection of the toe)
the daily need to be reminded to drink
three different eye glass prescriptions
a hernia operation
elimination of Benzatropine (a Parkinson’s medicine that was causing morning dementia episodes)
an open sore on his leg
ears clogged with wax
a persistent rash (unknown cause)
Yes, this isn’t going to get any easier.
But now I am reminded, we don’t carry the burden alone. It is first and foremost the Lord’s.
I mean, what are the odds of a dove landing on a devotional calendar on just that particular verse of scripture?
It was then that the Lord spoke to my heart and said: You’re right where I have placed you, Jill, in the midst of one crazy medical condition after another. I am here with you, caring for your father. I am his Father. You are my daughter. I will care for him through you. Your life is not defined by caregiving, but defined by me the ultimate caregiver who lives in your heart.
The Lord lovingly showed me that He will continue to walk with us through every change that is to come.
I am once again humbled by His grace and mercy and His timing…
I needed a special touch just now and He knew it – a Window of the Soul.
It seems like every time we go out of our way to bless Grandpa with something really special, he acts up…
So, for the last two days (count them – two!) Grandpa has been giving Robert a real hard time about exercising (again)! So, my husband says, he has to exercise 7 days this week instead of 5 (if the punishment fits the crime, wear it). Robert’s trying to get it through Grandpa’s head that complaining is a waste of time. But I think it kind of backfired because it seems that Grandpa dug his wheel chair in even deeper!
The thing is, we just got Grandpa cable TV because he loves watching sports. So, true to form, while the technician was installing the box in his bedroom, Grandpa thought this would be a great time to complain about exercising because he had a captive audience.
So I wheeled Grandpa into the kitchen to get him out of the tech’s earshot and try and reason with him.
Do you see the word “fool” written on my forehead???
After going around in circles with Grandpa (because, I can never win these 360 degree arguments), I told him, “This is the deal, Grandpa, If you exercise without complaining, you can watch TV. If you complain, you don’t get to watch TV.”
“You just got it for that reason, didn’t you?” he said testily.
“Yeah, right, Grandpa,” I said. “I thought ahead of time, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll use cable TV for a reward or punishment system when you’re being real naughty!”
Okay, truthfully, I didn’t say that to him, I just thought it . . .
Well, we went around and around some more and then he says, “You’re the one who brought this up in the first place.”
“Oh, no, I didn’t.” I said (and I didn’t – I have witnesses). Nice try, Grandpa. He sure knows how to push my buttons, doesn’t he?
“But what about my mental health?” he wailed.”All you think about is my physical health.”
Your mental health will mean diddly if you can’t walk from lack of exercise, I thought to myself.
You know, sometimes it’s like I’m just dealing with a six year old.
As a friend told me today, it’s the gravitational pull of the moon on the elderly brain… I’m not sure what it is, but I know one thing, it’s just another day in the swank senior citizen country club with the deluxe home gym and cable TV!
Comments from Grandpa’s fan club:
Suddenly Grandpa yells from his room, “Jill, Bob, come here! It’s really important!”
“I don’t want to exercise tonight! Can I take the night off? I can’t write! I can’t think!”
“Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water,” Robert says (insert Jaws theme music here).
“No!” says Robert in his typical no-mincing words rhetoric (the art of discourse to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations).
Robert’s response is totally ignored by Grandpa.
Eric steps in to help because he’s getting ready for work in the washroom next to Grandpa’s room. He tries to sooth the savage beast and his fears before heading off to work.
“Don’t you think it’s kind of funny that you’re having this problem Grandpa when you are writing a new book about our struggles with the enemy?” he says.
Grandpa half listens, but he ain’t buying it.
Eric offers to pray with him.
Eric’s prayer falls on deaf ears.
After Eric leaves for work, Grandpa comes wheeling down the hall and plants himself firmly in the middle of the living room opposite my computer area and stares out the window.
He sits…and sits…and I try to ignore him as I work on designing a brochure for my friend Linda for her beauty salon.
I glance over my shoulder.
Out of the corner of my eye I see that Grandpa has turned around. I feel his beady little eyes staring me in the back.
I quickly turn around and ignore him… I ignore him some more… and some more.
What seems like and eternity passes and I begin to feel guilty.
Then the Lord says to me in a pretty loud voice, “That’s not compassion, Jill.”
Ugh! Ugh! Double ugh!!
I pray a quick prayer, “God give me the strength of Mother Theresa!” I don’t want to yell, I don’t want to react, I just want to handle this interruption with mercy and grace.
One daughter says, “Who’s Mother Theresa, some random nun?”
The other says matter-of-factly, “A gap in her education.”
I turn around and wheel my chair over to Grandpa. I listen as he expresses his fear of falling when he get’s off the exercise equipment. He’s usually pretty shaky, but Bob always holds onto him. He isn’t going anywhere with Bob there.
I try to comfort Grandpa and explain that he is really benefiting from his exercise. His legs are a lot stronger and he doesn’t huff or puff when he walks down the hallway. Still, I tell him, “Maybe you can take a break tonight, but you’ll have to exercise on Sunday to make up for it.”
“How many 92 year olds have to exercise?” he complains.
I hear Robert yell down the hallway, “Dead 92 year olds don’t have to exercise! By-the-way, he adds, he’s still exercising!”
Well, that’s the end of that. Grandpa and I are overruled by the head of the household.
I comfort him and say, “Grandpa, the benefit of exercise far outweighs the momentary discomfort.” Hey, isn’t that found on the Bible somewhere? I say to myself.
Yes, 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
Keep fighting the good fight, Grandpa. You won’t have to exercise in heaven. You can sit on a cloud and sip tea with Mother Theresa!
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