Monday, January 21, 2019

Connie is a Hugger

There is a very kind cashier at the Dollar Store in Richfield.  She is so welcoming and always asks if I found everything I was looking for.  I joke with her that I was never really looking for all the crap I am buying, but...we snicker longer than necessary.  She says she struggles the same way at Target.  It is like we are sisters or something. Oh the struggle is real.

Last Tuesday afternoon,  there was quite the line, and I was in a hurry. Usually I am not.  She hollers over to me, "Kelli! Come on down! I am ready for you!" She knows my name.  I mean, I know her as Connie, but I didn't think she would ever remember my name.  She waits on so many customers each day.  After one of our first meetings when I was sure to go to her lane,  I introduced myself and saw her name on her name tag and told her it was nice to meet her and I enjoyed talking to her.

I noticed her hands were very rough and one knuckle was bleeding. I told her on her break to go and buy one of Dove extra moisturizing lotions and that her hands would feel so much better. She told me the gluten free protein bars that were new at the end of her register were very good. But that I should buy the carrot and black bean not the carrot and corn bar.  She was right. It was really good.

Connie asked what the rest of my day looked liked today as she was ringing up my items.  I told her I was done with work, heading to the grocery store and heading home. I was planning on cooking a ham and making a salad and then bringing my son to youth group.  She laughed and told me I was ambitious. I realized too that I wasn't going to accomplish everything that I wanted to.  I asked Connie the same.  She paused for a minute and said that when she was done with work, she would stop at her mom's apartment, make her some food and do some light housekeeping before going home to her family.  Connie told me that she is her mother's primary care giver.  And her mom really isn't able to take to care of herself anymore.  She stops in every morning to get her up and moving and fed, showered and changed and then she makes sure she is comfortably seated in her lounger with at least three books, her water bottle, snacks, a phone and the remote.  She said she always puts a plate in fridge for her mom so she has a nice easy meal to eat in her absence.

When Connie explained what her days look like, she didn't once complain. She wasn't telling me so that I would give her accolades or feel bad for her situation. She was sharing with me all about her daily life, because it is her current reality. She felt comfortable enough to reveal herself.  I asked if her mother was ill. She said her mom had a few ailments, but that she had never been the same since her dad died.  She said the last two years had been really hard on her mom and she felt she had witnessed her mother age a lifetime right before her eyes.  Once vibrant and always ready for an adventure, now needed help bathing and and putting her socks on. She then told me her mom is only 60.

I was taken aback. The lines thinned out behind me and no one else was waiting to check out as they had all gone to other check out lanes. Connie and I then spoke about the physical and mental affects of sudden onset grief.  She said she feels like she has earned a college degree in care giving and felt like it wasn't a degree she ever wanted.  I was silent for a bit when Connie told me this.  What a revelation.  Knowledge and experience not wanted. A degree not sought after.

I shared with Connie, that my mom had passed away almost 6 years ago and lived in an assisted living facility as her physical needs were too great.  That she passed away within 2 1/2 months of being diagnosed with a stage four rare liver cancer. I told her that I hadn't been her caregiver. But I did learn a few important lessons.  I learned to ask questions and ask even more questions. I learned to get second opinions and google and get feedback from friends and family. But most importantly, I learned to listen to my mom.  About what she was thinking and feeling. About her dreams and desires and also about her fears. I learned to listen to what she wanted and didn't want when her time came.  I also learned that promising my mom that I would honor her wishes brought her peace and comfort. These lessons were learned at a very challenging time. But these were lessons that I needed to learn. And it was my mother who was the best teacher.

Connie and I both teared up a bit.  She handed me my receipts and my three small bags.  I thanked her for sharing with me.  "Connie.  I see you.  Know this time spent loving and serving your mom is time well spent.  It is hard and challenging and sometimes so exhausting. But this is also time you will never regret."  She smiled walked around from her register and hugged me.  I let her be the one to let go first.

I love interactions like this.  The meeting of two hearts who have something in common.  And that hug.  I might need to go back for another one next very soon.  :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Grace, Understanding and Kindness

I had a challenging experience this morning at church. This is the second Sunday in the new large auditorium. The size enables the entire church body to worship together during one service at 9:30 a.m. We sit usually in the same location and let Zach pick wherever he is most comfortable. It changes from church to church or at different activities but it is usually middle, main floor, near the back. He likes to sit in the second chair, I am always on his right and Josh is always on his left.

The service started and about five minutes in, a couple in their fifties came and sat in front of us. I didn't recognize them, hadn't seen them before, but that is nothing new as it is only the second week of combining both services. The topic today was on Biblical Sexuality. We are working our way through a great study called Messy. Because, let's just face it, we all are messy. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. Zach loves Pastor Troy Dobbs. He loves his slight Southern accent, his hand gestures and his intonation. He loves his word choices and sometimes when he is funny. Zach normally doesn't like it when people laugh. Especially if it is loud and often. He struggles with what he views as the intensity of emotion. So, Zach will often let out an awkward laugh to match that of those around him, even if he doesn't understand what everyone is talking about. Today was a tough one. There was laughter, uncomfortable laughter, and Zach kept latching on to the harsh consonant of the S in the word Sex. He repeated the word over and over. I reminded him he needed to be quiet and not to talk during the service multiple times. If Zach is agitated, (laughter) his need for conversation and reassurance is frequent. I finally got him settled and into a groove, and then sermon notes started. Zach loves to complete his sermon notes. He struggles to do it in the time when all the words are still on the screen. So I often end up signing the letters to him so he can complete his notes. Today, he struggled to focus on my hands signing so I had to sign directly into his hand to keep his attention and enable him to complete his notes.

I saw the woman in front of me taking notes the entire time. She then bumped her husband and pushed her notebook closer to him so that he could read what she had written. Her beautiful script where she had been taking copious notes had turned into an angry, large, block print. The first sentence began to describe the boy sitting behind them who was "extremely distracting." I gulped, and leaned closer to read the rest. She went on to write, "HE SHOULDN'T BE IN CHURCH IF HE IS GOING TO BE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE. REMIND ME TO NEVER SIT BY THEM AGAIN!"

My mom heart broke a bit. He shouldn't be in church? Wait, she wanted a reminder not to sit by my amazing son ever again? I started to fume and caught myself. -Hold every thought captive.- I did what every mom of a special needs kid would do. I let it hurt for only a minute and then I moved on. I did spend a minute preparing a response just in case she addressed me after the service. But I knew she wouldn't. And she did not. However, when she stood and turned to exit, I made sure I greeted her with a warm smile.

What would I have said if she complained or did verbally confront me? First, I would never apologize, but would say something like this:

Hi. My name is Kelli. This is my son Zach. He is almost 16 and has Autism. We are so happy how engaged Zach remains in the Sunday morning service. Many kids and teens often check out. Zach enjoys completing his sermon notes, but needs a little extra help. At times, some of his behaviors can be a bit distracting. We are fully aware of that. Zach wasn't able to enter a sanctuary for a worship service until he was 10 years old. We are so blessed to now be able to worship together as a family on Sunday mornings. It was pleasure meeting you.

No ill will. No snarkiness. No apology. I am not ashamed of Zach or the amazing young man he has become. He is loud and loving and caring and funny and silly and engaged in a Sunday morning worship service. Those are things I can't apologize for. But I can educate. I can explain. I can let people know that there are special needs present. I can let people know that there is genuine joy in my son's physical presence during a worship service, because 6 short years ago, that wouldn't have even occurred. I can also enable her to understand that I quite possibly had seen what she had written, and given her an explanation when one isn't ever really needed.

What happened to grace and understanding? What happened to kindness? I know that sometimes people don't possess grace and understanding or kindness. And they never will. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't extend it to others. I feel that we are called to extend these things to others even when we know it will never be offered to us in return. And even though it was particularly challenging today, I had to make the choice to do just that.

Zach will continue being loud. He will continue needing lots of hand holds, tight embraces, boisterous signing into his hand and assurance that he is okay even in the presence of people laughing and babies crying. But he will also continue giving his people the best Sunday morning hugs and high fives they have ever received. He will make sure that the little kids he adores get plenty of hand shakes and knuckles and compliments on their new clothing and shoes. Zach will make babies feel like they are the highlight of his day. He will love his church body they way they love him. Accepting Zach for who he is and all that it entails. And Zach will be eternally grateful. So will his parents.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Last Picture I Will Take

The Last Picture I Will Take
By: Kelli J Gavin

I stand here looking out over the blinding white snow, the white clouds, the white peaks.  Some say it is beautiful.  I think the stark landscape and the silence is deafening.  

I never wanted to be a landscape photographer. I had lofty dreams of becoming a criminal prosecution lawyer.  I lasted two years into college and realized I couldn't do it.  Too much paper work, not enough court room exposure. Not what I thought it would be. Who am I kidding?  I was horrible at it.  I hated the work, I hated being told what to do and that I was always doing it wrong.  I was told I had an attitude problem and that I would never amount to anything.  I no longer desired to be a criminal prosecution lawyer, but I never really told anyone what happened.  I never admitted to a personal failure.  I told my family and close friends that it wasn't what I thought it would be and it didn't work out.  A few skeptical eyes lingered on me for longer than necessary.  Everyone kept telling me that I would figure it out.  That I would find something to do with my life. 

If I was honest with myself, I didn't really want to do anything else.  I didn't possess talent of any kind.  I didn't want to work when I really reflect back on that time.  I enjoyed taking pictures, but only as a hobby.  One of my pictures caught the eye of an author friend of mine who asked for permission to use it on the cover of her book. I said yes of course, for a small fee and for a photo credit on the inside book jacket cover. Apparently, my friend is an amazing author. Her book sold over 500,000 copies in the first 3 months.  I said yes that she could use the picture because it was an easy $500.  The offers came rolling in. Some for portraits, some for landscapes. I guess I had a bit of talent.  I loved lighting, natural sunlight and discovered the natural beauty that is all around us.  The commission contracts were fantastic and I was able to quit my part time job within the first three months. 

A wilderness and adventure magazine contacted me after they saw my pictures of Central Park. I enjoyed taking pictures of nature in settings you wouldn't suspect.  The film turned out great.  It appeared as if I was deep in the forest, when I was dealing with angry joggers and bikers who were competing for space at my heals on the walkway. I signed a two year contract with the magazine.  Not only did it enable me to travel and to research and request some of my own destinations, everything was paid for.  I traveled about three weeks out of every month.  And occasionally came home so that my friends knew that I was still in the land of the living. 

I have now been taking pictures for 12 years and turn down additional business daily.  I am 34 years old, have more money than I will ever need and have traveled the entire globe.  I am lonely, wish for someone to keep me company and have always wanted children.  How did a job that most dream of turn into a distraction from real life? Apparently, women don't enjoy dating men who travel constantly.  I dated casually each time I head home to New York,  but my lack of communication while traveling, never encouraged women to stay around for very long.  I find myself contemplating what bachelorhood for life would look like.  It doesn't look very exhilarating to me. It looks like more lonely nights and an eternal empty bed. 

This is my last assignment.  Quite possibly the last picture I will take. I am not filled with regret or even any emotion over this fact.  I was never meant to be a photographer in first place.  You do what brings you a little happiness and hopefully make some money along the way.  So long white snow. So long white clouds. Goodbye silence.  New York is calling my name. Home is calling to me.  The desire for a life well lived is shouting at me now.  

Monday, December 24, 2018

Finding Christ in Christmas

So much sadness seems to be evident around Christmas time.  The recent loss of a loved one.  The memory of a loved one enjoying Christmas.  Family and treasured friends separated by time and space. Relationships that are no longer are fostered. Marriages that have fallen apart. Children that are grown and forget to call home once in awhile.  Grown children who have walked away and have never turned back.  So much heart hurt.  And Christmas seems to make it hurt even more.

Personally, our Christmas is full of family, but a bit on the quiet side.  Christmas Eve celebrated with my husband's family and Christmas Day with my family. We are very fortunate that most of our family all lives in the Twin Cities local area.  We are able to enjoy a Christmas meal with each other, catch up with loved ones and indulge in treats aplenty. We will celebrate as a family of 4 on Christmas morning and open stockings and a few presents.

I find myself missing my mom so very much. She passed away almost 6 years ago at the very young age of 67.  I miss her love of Christmas. Her ability glorify the Lord in all she said and did.  I miss her love of making banana bread and Christmas chocolates. I miss her love of reading Christmas books to my kids.  I miss her hugs and hand holds. I miss her words of encouragement, and her ability to know when to be quiet and just listen.  I miss that this was her favorite time of year and she always took the time to tell everyone she met why it was so amazing.

A baby was born in Bethlehem.  A baby that grew to be a King.  A King that died on the Cross for our sins.  A man that rose again and promises to return.  The Glory of Christmas is found in the birth of one small baby.  Christmas isn't about presents and Santa. It isn't about perfect wrapping and Christmas cards and letters. And it surely isn't about anything material.  But it is about celebrating the birth of the most amazing baby.  The King of Glory.  The King of Kings.  Our Savior and King.

My mom taught me this. My mom taught everyone who would listen this very important lesson.  Christmas begins and ends with Christ. When my focus is on Christ, my heart hurts a little less.  Enjoy your family and your friends. Always treasure these times together as they are so precious and few. I will continue to share stories of my mom with kids and family. I will share about the horrible Christmas meal she made one year that left us all in fits of laughing tears. Or the time she hid our presents so well, she forgot where she put them. However, what I will share most is her love of the Savior, The King of Glory. Because Christ is always the only important focus of this holiday we celebrate. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Unsolicited Feedback

I wrote a poem this month using Jay Long's December writing prompts.  It is simply entitled Red. All through high school and college I wore bright red lipstick.  From the moment I left my home until the moment I returned, a fresh layer of red adorned my lips. When Jay's writing prompt came along, how could I not write about my favorite color lip tint?

I wrote the poem and then submitted it to a couple places. It was accepted right away. I then had something happen that normally does not.  I received unsolicited feedback from an editor and a fellow writer.  It wasn't aware that it was an open forum and I never asked for any feedback, so I found it peculiar. 

Without sharing the poem as it hasn't been published yet, I thought I would share the feedback.

Bit of a punch (or pucker) line at the end, I'd say. That aside, I think you could go somewhere with this. I'd try writing it in a serious vein, without the repetition of "lips so red."

What? Go somewhere? What I wrote was a completed poem. And serious vein?  The humor was intended!  And don't repeat the catch line, lips so red? Am I crazy, I thought that was it the best part of the poem? This is from an editor who I believe has some affiliation with the site looking for writers and pieces to publish. To be honest, I haven't a clue who he is and have never heard of him before.

Then today, I received an email that said the following from a writer I have never spoken to and haven't read anything she has written.

Yes, the repetition screams for this to be a lyric more than a poem, in this case.
But, there is something here, the anticipation, the almost but not quite sustained feeling.

I was so confused.  The editor who accepted it for print said the following:  Loved the catch phrase- Lips so red.  This is a perfect short piece that tells a complete story.  Love the humorous last line.

(Keep in mind, I am fully aware that nothing either the editor nor the fellow writer said was necessarily wrong or even offensive.  The fact is, it was unsolicited and almost the complete opposite of what the publishing editor told me.) 

So what have I learned with this oddball occurrence? 

As a writer, there will always be unsolicited feedback.  Some, outstanding and absolutely useful.  Most, should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Everyone has an opinion.  And that is what it is. Their opinion. It doesn't make it true or right. It is just what one person believes. 

What one person loves, another person hates.  And that is okay.  Not everyone is going to like everything that I write. 

Know my audience. Not everything I write will be everyone's cup of tea.  Some things, possibly such as this poem, shouldn't be made available on open forums until published. 

I don't have to make any changes whatsoever, especially when what I have written is personal and means something to me.  I wrote this memory poem about my husband. And he wouldn't change a thing. 

When the harsh yet totally constructive criticism comes my way, I need to put on my tough outer skin and take it. I need to hear it, digest it, and apply it.  And hopefully when it is really great criticism, it will change the way I approach the writing process going forward. 

The most important lesson I have learned is this:  I need to investigate submissions more thoroughly.  Submissions should just go to an editor and not be made available to a whole darn lot of people with a whole darn lot of time on their hands. I am speaking of the people that are independently wealthy, or comfortably unemployed living in mom's basement who have a decent WiFi connection and feel that their input is needed to make the world function as a whole. That their input is what will change the world.  Because the truth is, there are trolls everywhere. Under every news post in the comments, under every article posted online. Someone with an opinion who loves to be a naysayer will always post something to the contrary. There will always be someone who has majored in Drama Creation and has nothing better to do than continually check back in the comments section and make sure that the pot has been completely stirred. 

Whew.  That was a lot to get out of my system.  Remember, real life doesn't work like this.  If someone wears an outfit that we don't like, most decent human beings don't say a word. We bite our tongue and carry on with the day. Because, brace yourself, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of life. One bad outfit, who cares. If you are truly friends with someone, you will still love them the next day and a poor outfit choice will be a distant memory. 

Also, most adults at this point in life have developed an ability to maintain an inner dialogue that no one else is aware of.  You observe something, you think something, you don't say a word. And you don't go back to add your two cents for the next three days so that everyone within ear shot is fully aware of what you "think and feel". 

With all of this being said, I now know I will never submit to that editor again as it seems everyone and their cousin Billy would have access to my submissions. Maybe I have yet to develop that tough skin I mentioned. But then, if I am a little bit more selective, continuing to wear my heart my sleeve might be the perfect placement for me.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Finished With Work for 2018!

I finished my last decorating job of the Christmas season today.  It was three straight hours of a mad dash from one room to another trying to accomplish everything as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  The client wasn't home, so I turned up the A Star Is Born soundtrack on my phone and decorated that house until every last bit of it was finished.

My client is de-cluttering this year and is working at boxing up donations.  Last week, we worked side by side, and she was able to create a large donation box of Christmas decorations.  She was overwhelmed, so I told to her just stand on the opposite side of the table. I would unwrap everything and hand her each piece, and she would decide to keep or donate the item. It worked very well, and she was pleased with our progress. 

Decorating happened quite late for this client this year. Normally, I have everything pulled down from her attic right as December 1st rolls around.  This year she and I were focused on so many other projects we never got to it. I got her Christmas lights out in front of her house just last week. 

Because I worked alone today, I enjoyed the space that I had and the fact that I could spread out, make a mess and manage my own time so that everything was cleaned up by noon when I needed to leave. She told me she would be home by 11:30 a.m., and I always anticipate her return when I am decorating. I love the look of relief and happiness on her face when she returns and her home completely decorated for Christmas. 

I stayed right until noon and then raced about 6 blocks away to her friends house as I told her I could only help her until 1 p.m. So much to do today, I had to make sure I kept an eye on the clock. No less than 10 minutes after I arrived at my second client's home, her home phone rang. It was the first client requesting a moment to speak to me.  She oohed and aahed about how beautiful her home was and how happy she was to come home and have it all done.  She was so very pleased and now felt that she was ready for Christmas.

She went on to explain that she loved the placement of the angels and the decor which I carefully placed on the book shelves in the corner.  And the fact that I dusted the huge picture window sill in case she was ready to put up any pieces of her Christmas village.  She said it was like I was in her head and knew what she was thinking. She has a large village and had mentioned she would probably also like to get rid of few pieces of it, so I didn't put it up, but left that one last project for her to address.  I have worked for her for approx 13+ years, so I absolutely know what she likes and doesn't like when it comes to decorating her home for Christmas.

She then went on to tell me about her joy at seeing the Nativity on her beautiful desk in front room of her house. Gorgeous. Probably my favorite piece of hers.  She said the fact that it was so simply placed, without any additional embellishments was exactly what she wanted. She went on to explain that when she first saw it she paused and tears pricked the corners of her eyes.  She had been running and racing and not savoring this Christmas season.  Remembering the birth of Savior was the only thing that mattered, and the first sight of of her treasured Nativity enabled her to refocus and set herself back on the right course this Christmas.

I now will not go back to work until after the New Year.  I still have a lot to do for Christmas, but mostly wrapping presents and cleaning my home to host for Christmas Day.  But I will pause myself tonight and study my Nativity on my mantle above the fireplace in the Great Room.  I am eternally thankful for the birth of baby who grew up to be a man, who died for our sins and and will return again.  Because that is only thing I wish to celebrate this Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Painting of Margaret

Every other Wednesday, I work with Miss Margaret from 12 to 3 p.m.. She is a lovely woman of 86 years.  I have worked with her for many years and I enjoy her company.  Of Norwegian descent, she is a woman of few words.  She doesn't like long conversations, makes fun of me when I use words such as wonderful, fabulous and perfect, and doesn't enjoy long goodbyes.  She makes me laugh each and every time we are together. 

On precious occasions, Margaret will share with me stories of her childhood, her teen years and stories from as recent as 40 years ago. She is a walking, talking history lesson. All of her stories have a purpose.  She speaks of World War II, small town life, individuals who didn't come home from the war, relationships with her parents and siblings, She talks about The Korean War, Vietnam and even of the Gulf War. She loves America, the Military and those that have given up their life to serve and defend our country. 

Many years ago, I was pulling out Christmas Decorations from Margaret's attic. She asked if I could put them in the spare bedroom. Before that day, I never had had a reason to go into that bedroom before.  I walked in and struggled to turn on the ceiling light. A huge close to 100 year old gorgeous dresser slightly blocked the switch. I finally pushed the button and the light came on.  The room was small, contained a sewing table, a hide-a-bed couch and two dressers. There was also a book shelf and an empty folding table ready to hold the Christmas decorations.  I turned around to head back to the boxes of ornaments and stopped when I saw a painting on the wall.  

Clearly it was a picture of a young and beautiful Margaret. I paused and studied the beautiful portrait.  When Margaret rounded the corner into the back hall, she saw me standing there looking at the piece hanging on the wall.  "From an admirer.  I should have pursued him more."  That was all she said.  

Now, I know not to press Margaret. I know to only ask questions when she is isn't busy or working on something.  I smiled at her and carried on with our work.  I later asked her a few more questions.  No new information was volunteered.  

I have occasionally and casually commented on the painting over the years.  This past Wednesday, it was time. I wanted to know the whole story.  She volunteered more than ever before. She loved him, yet didn't think it would ever work. He didn't love Jesus the way she did.  She didn't see a future with him.  So it fizzled.  What a beautiful painting came out of a relationship that was never meant to be. 

Margaret never married and didn't have any children. She enjoys the company of her great nieces and nephews. Her days are filled with many friends, bible studies, special events such as the Opera and Minnesota Orchestra and group outings. She participates in many activities.  I have always admired how very active she is.  

"Kelli, no one I know will want this painting of me when I pass away.  Maybe I should give it to you. You sure talk about it enough."  I laughed so hard at her attempt at humor.  She smirked and giggled a bit too.  So all those attempts over the years to gather more information were thwarted.  Private treasured memories that Margaret holds dear.  And those memories will always reside with Margaret. 

She has shared with me so many great stories of the beautiful pieces she owns and who owned them before her. Some were gifts, some passed down.  But I think this beautiful painting of a young Margaret is probably also her favorite possession. 

Connie is a Hugger

There is a very kind cashier at the Dollar Store in Richfield.  She is so welcoming and always asks if I found everything I was looking for....