Dear Parkinson’s. Dear Mom.

Dear Parkinson’s

 

You will not have my mom.

You may take her outer strength,

but her inner strength blooms on.

You may take her voice,

but her love is loud and strong.

 

You may change her movement,

stiffer, and sometimes slow.

Fatigue may settle in,

and changes surely show,

but her spirit still shines large

and her beauty only grows.

 

You may be the reason

that she stops to take a rest,

but you can’t keep her heart from

pouring out kindness.

Our hero and our warrior

forever more, never less.

 

She’s mightier than you

in soul, and guts, and heart,

a solid pillar of peace,

you cannot pull apart.

No disease can steal the grace

that she perfectly imparts.

 

No amount of symptoms

could change her legacy.

No illness diminishes that

she’s all I want to be.

No consequence of aging can shrink

my mom, my hope, my peace.


Mom, you recently asked a dear friend about your value and belonging now that you have Parkinson’s. You wondered about your purpose as you struggle with no longer being able to serve others in the ways you always have. I am here to tell you on behalf of everyone that has ever known you, that your value and belonging have never been defined by what you could do for others. Your value and belonging have ALWAYS been defined by who you are and whose you are.

You are the most Godly, loving, kind, generous of spirit, selfless, peace-giving, and gracious person I’ve ever known. Parkinson’s will NEVER take away all the lovely and life-giving qualities that make you who you are!

What you’ve always given and continue to pour into your family is an everlasting love…a grace that surpasses a lifetime…an agape love that has wrapped itself around each of us for eternity…a kindness that is warm and unconditional…an endless lesson of how to care for others with compassion and servanthood.

My hope has always been and will always be that I could grow each day to be more like you. This prayer doesn’t change as you struggle with the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s can’t steal your value…nothing can! Mom, your value isn’t in how much you can do…how many hours you can help…how many “yes’s” you can say…how many brownies you can bake (although those are amazing!). Your value has and always will be the beautiful fruit of the spirit that you display every day of your life. Your value has and always will be the heart and spirit that God created in order for you to love others in ways they’ve never been loved. Your value has and always will be from a Father who loves you as mightily now as he did the day you were born.

You must know, and more importantly, believe that your family values you as much today, in this moment, as we did when you fixed breakfast every morning, sang us to sleep every night, attended every choir concert and ball game, took us school shopping, and helped raise our children. It has never been what you do for us…it has always been about how you love us. The love that pours from your soul has not changed with Parkinson’s, and no disease could ever steal our love from you. You belong. You are valued.

There truly are not words to describe how proud I am to call you mom. Jesus is Love and so are you! The love you share shines bright into the hearts of those who know you and that light is passed from person to person eventually touching people you’ve never met. The light you have imparted in other’s lives will never extinguish, nor will the legacy of your life.


My Mom

 

Love pours from her so fiercely

as she wraps you in her peace.

Her arms are warm and steady,

kindness plays across her face.

 

She holds you up in prayer,

puts you first, because that’s love.

Serves hope with steady wisdom,

points our eyes to Him above.

 

An image of perfect grace.

A heart that wants to serve.

She gives with all she has,

wanting nothing in return.

 

She’s strong and full of beauty.

Wise and believes the best.

She quickly finds your worth.

Chooses service over rest.

 

Forgiveness given freely,

no judgment does she bring.

She looks to help others heal,

chasing out shame’s sting.

 

She’s mighty and she’s humble,

powerful and kind,

She’s everything I hope to be

I’m so blessed that she is mine.

 

My perfectly made, lovely, beautiful mom.                                                                                           

                                                                        

 

 

 

Fostering Refugees – The Stigma that Scared Me

A few months ago, at the height of reports showing kids being separated from their parents at the border, Pete and I came across an opportunity that immediately felt like a calling. We were encouraged to apply for a license that would allow us to foster these children until they are reunited with their parents or sponsor family, and we both were immediately on board. Since we submitted our application we have completed 15 hours of in-person training, approximately 22 hours of on-line Foster Parent College training, and amounts of paperwork that exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Last night we finished laying our hearts and our home on the line for a 4-hour foster home inspection and family interview.

Things that went well:

  1. We’re now one step closer to offering a temporary home to the kids separated from their parents at the border. My heart is singing!
  2. Our house is cleaner, safer, and more organized than it has ever been before. Good luck opening any of our cabinets ever again. If you need surgery, we have a platinum 250 person first aid kit that will SAVE YOUR LIFE! If you’re on fire, head on over and we’ll extinguish it immediately!
  3. Pete and I feel closer as a couple after exploring our past, present, and future, our strengths and weakness, and our hopes and dreams for 4 hours with a complete stranger.

Things that could’ve gone better:

  1. We could’ve done without the live scorpion on Isaac’s bedroom curtain during the SAFETY inspection!
  2. Could’ve done without our Jack Russell fishing through the case workers purse to eat her hair clip.
  3. When I answered that we had no weapons, Isaac could’ve forgotten (just like I had) that I have a Samurai sword from a leadership conference many years ago. #compassionatesamurai
  4. Isaac and Sonoma could NOT have played their new giggle-inducing game, which consists of them repeating the words, “you’re a bad mommy, you’re a bad daddy.” #kidsarehilarious
  5. Isaac could’ve avoided using EVERY innocent toy as a weapon of some sorts. The Minnie Mouse blow dryer turned full pistol last night!

We know we’re on the right path and answering a calling as none of this feels burdensome. We are thrilled for the next step and to minister love to these kids at a time of such trauma and fear and loss. #allgodschildren

Last night was also the first time we made our decision public by posting on social media. Until last night the only people we had shared with were immediate family and those we asked to be our references.

Since my post last night I have had quite a few people reach out wondering when we made this decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I hadn’t made our decision public until now.

The first reason I haven’t been openly sharing this decision is because I didn’t want it to look like or feel like we were seeking accolades. I knew a lot of our friends would be excited for us and I didn’t want our decision to move forward, when the movement got tough, to be influenced by the desire to please others or make others proud. I truly felt like this was a calling from the beginning and I didn’t want to be motivated or feel pressured by external sources.

Secondly, and sadly, I have been tentative to share our decision because of the negative reactions I feared we would receive from some. Due to the polarized climate we currently live in I was worried that our commitment to foster kids that have been separated from their parents at the border would require us to defend ourselves. I have heard so much hateful rhetoric throughout the year that paints immigrants as nonhuman and undeserving of love and kindness, compassion and grace. I could barely stomach the idea that our decision may be received with this level of vitriol…or any level of disappointment whatsoever. I was preparing myself for conversations with people I love and care about that would strip away my respect for them. I was arming up for debates on what “kind” of child “deserves” help. I was expecting heartbreaking backlash from at least a few people in our lives and I was afraid of how our relationships would weather the storm. But, the truth is…once an issue is made personal, hearts often soften. Once there’s a face we can touch, and a hand we can hold, putting a voice to a highly debated and sensitive issue, the dynamics begin to shift. Civility is often restored when the matter in question lands in our own backyard.

We have received an outpouring of love and support since my post last night and although it appears that some are more excited about our decision than others, there hasn’t been any nastiness or uncomfortable pushback. I must admit that I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt and for that I’m sorry. I hope our decision will help bring a name and a face to the debate around the border. I hope our decision will humanize this issue versus politicize it. I hope our decision will remind us and others of the inherent value of all people regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, race, color, religion, etc. I hope and pray our decision will be heart changing and maybe even life saving for all of us who are a part of this process.

A Daughter’s Response to an Ageless Father

My dad wrote the authentic and vulnerable poem below about his experience with aging and his hope in the Lord. I’m thankful that he gave me permission to share his poem on my blog. I’ve added a poem I wrote to him in response that he hasn’t yet seen. Dad, your influence reaches far and wide and my love for you is boundless. Thank you for allowing me to share your words with others…thank you for your courage in being open about how it feels to grow older. I learn so  much from you and mom every day!

Shrinking Man

Possibilities and dreams
the world was full of them it seemed.
Now my options fading fast,
life much smaller than my past,
Shrinking man.

Lovely wife and precious kids
Love my God for all he did,
Still feel his love as time flies past
But it remains a fact, alas
Shrinking man.

Influence fades as we get old,
Once sought for wisdom, now just told,
Powerlessness seems to creep in slow,
A mocking sense it brings of woe,
Shrinking man.

So on HIM I fix my gaze,
As my person fades away,
A day will come when I shall die,
And then I’ll see the reason why,
The process isn’t bad you see,
It’s just the path to victory.
With joy I’ll rest in His embrace,
Forever I’ll behold His face
Thanking Him eternally
That I will no longer be,
Shrinking man.

– Ron Little (my dad)


Larger Than Life – A Legacy of Love

My dad, my rock, my shield, my strength
grows bigger in my eyes, not weak
His heart expands, his wisdom grows
to soak it in, I draw close

In his eyes and in his deeds
God’s growing love is what I see
Each day, each year that passes by
his courage builds before my eyes

He shares his doubts, his fears, his pain
with an open heart he faces change
a vulnerable glimpse he offers us
a friend, a father, a man I trust

I’ve watched my dad grow in the Lord
evolve and change moving forward
a human life with sin and grace
reminding me I have a place

So, to my dad I want to say
as your “person fades away”
who you are to me remains
the many who taught me how to pray
A day will come when you will die
and I’ll always know the reason why
you loved the Lord with so much might
encouraged me to keep my sight
on the One of love and light
You will never be small to me
You will only be more free

– your daughter

Grief Keeps Giving. Grace Keeps Saving.

Burt, it’s April and I miss you.

I love celebrating your life but I hate that I have to.

It’s hard to describe the shadows that creep in late at night, while I lay awake unguarded. The harrowing memories that plague my tired mind. It starts before I even consciously realize that we’ve slipped into April. It’s as if everything shifts. The air is thicker, the mood cloudier, the dreams lonelier, the heart heavier, the words insufficient. Like clockwork the grief creeps forward, relentlessly gaining intensity with each passing second. It’s difficult to explain the trembling in my voice that appears this time of year. I may have told a thousand stories that included your name, but in April I can’t even silently think of you without tears welling up in my worn out eyes. It’s as if the valiant effort my mind put forth all year to shrink that permanent hole in my life was all in vain…completely upended as the hole burrows deeper and wider overnight. I am flooded with the realness, the pain, the emptiness that comes with no longer having you here. It’s as if I’m flung back to that day 5 years ago and I have suddenly forgotten how to cope…forgotten the miles I’ve traveled in healing…forgotten how to live with the sorrow that visits always uninvited.

There are no words to adequately describe the aching I feel in my spirit to see you again…hear your laugh, hug your neck, listen to your stories, tell you mine, introduce you to your darling niece and nephews. There’s no stopping the flow of tears as I imagine how much you would love these precious little ones that have been born since you departed, and how much they would love you back. Just last night I read The Book With No Pictures to Isaac, the nephew you kissed on the knee as you passed in the stars. I couldn’t help but imagine the hilarious voices you would’ve invented while reading this book and how much he would’ve relished in your time together. I try to do it justice, to make you proud, to give Isaac a glimpse of the joy and silliness you brought into our lives. I give it my all even while fighting back the quiver in my voice.

I love that your legacy lives on in your family and friends, but I hate that you left a legacy so soon.

Your birthday is in April.

The last time I saw your smiling face and heard your voice was in April, on Easter Sunday, when we announced that I was pregnant.The last letter you wrote me arrived in April. It was red ink, with capital letters, in your beautiful architectural hand writing, clearly expressing your excitement that your baby sister was going to be a mom. You passionately described the unconditional love that comes with parenthood. This letter…the last letter you wrote to me still explodes with adoration for your beautiful girls.

Then there is May.

You left us in May. The last text message you sent the family was on May 11th, the same day you died. While we were celebrating dad’s 70th birthday, you were being greeted by Jesus. The call I will never forget came the morning of May 12th. It was Mother’s Day…it was a day of mere survival because the unthinkable had happened…you had not survived. We delivered your eulogy on the 21st day of May.

I hate these anniversaries.

Every year, for 2 months I feel myself receding into the shadows where words are meager and bitterness clings to the tip of my tongue. I’m tempted to numb the vivid memories of this trauma with hollow distractions and senseless behaviors. For 2 months a year I spend sleepless nights soaking my pillow with tears of regret, anxiety, anger, fear, heartbreak. For 2 months a year I can no longer fight off the visuals of your death, your viewing, your casket being lowered into the ground, your daughters faces as I drove them to the cemetery. For 2 months a year I’m reminded of the agony I felt completing menial daily tasks after you passed. I’m reminded of the first time I showered after your death and how I despised myself for any sense of relief I felt as the warm water poured over me. I couldn’t shake the guilt that came with knowing that you lost your life in a bitter cold river and now I was allowing this same hijacker of life…this water…rain over me as a source of comfort, washing away my tears. For 2 months a year I think back to that time I couldn’t bare to use punctuation because it felt too final. As if the energy it took to end a sentence was more than I could muster. For 2 months a year the dam breaks wide open and I can’t fight back the sobs or run from the gripping sadness.

Then, the strangest and most unexpected gift is given. Somewhere in the middle of those 2 months I find solace because you ALWAYS show up. You show up in a dream that someone shares with me. You show up in a Bob Marley song that’s playing in a random boutique I step foot in for the first time. You show up in a memory I had forgotten about. You show up in a picture I’ve never seen. You show up in a story I’ve never heard. You show up in a beautiful building that I instantly imagine you creating. You show up in a whisper reminding me that I must not take a moment for granted. I feel you standing beside me. You dare me to self-reflect on my attitude, my complaints, my propensity to take the blessings around me for granted. I picture your smiling face and imagine all I would give to prevent you from taking that hike by yourself…I imagine how many more breaths you could’ve had…should’ve had…and I’m convinced once again that I must use my time and the gift of life wisely and in honor of you. You show up during those 2 months to confirm once again that God’s grace is sufficient for me and His power is made perfect in my weakness.

It is during these wearisome months that it becomes crystal clear how God uses each heart wrenching moment to remind me of the preciousness of life. Every year, by His grace, I experience supernatural strength and peace to push through the months of tears and the nights laying awake thinking of you and what I would sacrifice to have you with us again. He comforts me in my most vulnerable time of need and assures me that one day we will meet again and it will be a reunion more beautiful than I could ever imagine. He joins me in my grief and assures me that my grief is not without hope. This year He gave me a song on Easter Sunday and it consumed my soul as I sang from the depths of my mourning heart, “death where is your sting?!” As I sang, with my arms reached high I imagined you with open arms ready to embrace me when it’s my time to journey home. He draws me into Him and I feel close to you again.

Burt, it’s April and I feel you near.

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Burton James Little

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Pete 5:10

 

“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

A Letter to Mormons

Dear Mormon Neighbors,

Having lived in Gilbert for most of my life, we have been visited by many young, passionate, Mormon missionaries throughout the years. Recently they have been offering their help with anything we may need assistance with. These exchanges always include the typical pleasantries where I thank them for their generous offer, and add that, “no, we don’t need help with anything at this time.” After their last visit however, as the young men pedaled away, I realized that I do have a request. A request that has been bubbling beneath the surface, unspoken for quite some time now. A desire that began formulating in my grade school years and has been refined since having children of my own. The next time a Mormon missionary asks if there’s anything they can do for me, I’m going to humbly and vulnerably reply as follows:

  • Please teach your children to be inclusive of my non-mormon children and please guide them to carry that inclusion past grade school, into middle school, and throughout high school.
  • Please encourage your children to sit with mine in the lunchroom.
  • Please permit your kids to invite my kids to their slumber parties, birthday parties, and weekend get togethers even AFTER my child has made it clear that he or she is not interested in attending fireside, seminary, or church with your family.
  • Please allow your teen to go with mine to school dances, athletic events, and group dinners trusting that just like you, my husband and I have done the best we know how to raise a teenager who knows right from wrong.
  • Please welcome my children into your homes and permit your children to visit ours.
  • Please ask your kids to consider how isolating it must be on “Seminary (extra credit) Days” for those kids who do NOT come to school dressed for church.
  • Please reflect on the fact that adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours comparing themselves to their peers, so when they recognize that it would never be “acceptable” to date your son or daughter or be your son or daughter’s best friend, it is, at best, damaging to their delicate self-esteem.
  • Please call to mind your younger years when your primary objective was to be loved and accepted for who you were without having to pretend you were someone else.
  • Please understand that my families faith also emphasizes the importance of loving others, giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have wronged us and seeking forgiveness when we wrong others, doing what is right and turning from evil, seeking a relationship with God, spending time in prayer, and living a life inspired by Jesus.
  • Please support your children in having open, vulnerable, honest, transparent, loving, kind, accepting conversations with my children about what they believe and why. In fact, while our kids are having that “grown-up” conversation, I also hope to enter into this depth of sharing with you…the Mormon parent.
  • Please know that I hold your child in the same regard as any other child who shares my family’s faith or who prescribes to no religion at all. Your child is special, and beautiful, and worthy of my love and caring regardless of doctrine or theology.
  • Please believe that I see our differences as an opportunity for us to grow together in loving-acceptance. God did not call us to “tolerate” our neighbors. He called us to Love. I love and welcome you, your family, and your faith because we are all children of God made in His image. Your faith is a sizable component of who you are, and you are God’s creation with gifts and beauty and a soul that has the ability to positively transform my life with each encounter.

As these hopes for my children spill out, I realize that these are the same yearnings I had when I was too young to express them and they remain yearnings for me now. I would like to know my Mormon neighbors. I would like for us to share our celebrations and mourn our losses together. I would like to enter into deep relationships with you that allow us to celebrate our differences and lift each other up versus silently judging one another from across the street or the backyard fence. I would like us to hug and share dinners, and text jokes, and go to movies, and have pool parties, and discuss politics, and cry and laugh, and live life together. These desires have never been expressed because I never felt important enough to express them, but now that I have children there is nothing more vital than ensuring they have a deep sense of belonging to this village we chose to raise them in.

For decades now I have felt an invisible yet palpable partition between my family and our mormon neighbors…a silent criterion that has said, “we can’t be that close…we can’t walk this life together too often, we can’t be intimate friends unless we share the same faith.” I want to tear down this barricade and abolish this silent destroyer of fellowship. I fear we are forfeiting valuable friendships and life-changing communion with one another as we allow religion to segregate our lives.

We are not that different. Our children are not that different. We are all living in a beautiful yet broken world doing the best we can with what we have. With inclusion and acceptance we can lighten each other’s burdens and love each other through the brokenness. We are all damaged humans, so let’s be damaged together. As our fractured pieces are assembled together, we will transform into a magnificent and vast tapestry of vibrant hues and unity…we can weave our hearts into a community of “us”…dynamic threads of surviving souls stretching out to reach each other, love each other, understand each other….staying true to ourselves while supporting one another. Loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Sincerely,

Renee’ (your hopeful neighbor)

P.S. I am not proposing that Mormons are the only religious group that could receive a request comparable to this one, or that this applies to every Mormon. I’m also not assuming that I wouldn’t, myself, benefit from reading the same words and applying them to my life with regards to another group or an “other,” an “outsider.” I believe every religion and every denomination could benefit from being more inclusive, but I write this letter in relation to my own experiences and memories and the concerns I have for my children. My Jewish/Agnostic husband could write an identical letter, based on his history, and just change the greeting to Dear Christians or Dear Italian Catholics. We can all admit that it feels good to belong to a group, but too often it’s at the expense of living a life void of those who are different from us, and I believe this is a tragedy. It is exhausting to correctly locate and consistently remain in the good graces of the right “club” these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, state, coast, country, profession, and the list of ways we etch the invisible line goes on and on. I find that when I try too hard to belong to a particular group I lose sight of God’s vision for my life, which starts with loving “others” the way He loves me. We are created for community, and I believe our lives will always be richer if we truly follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that God will give us the courage to knock down walls, the strength to build bridges, and the grace to love with out qualifiers. I pray that my children will grow up loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Constellation Baby

To my dear son Isaac Burton,

You met him once in the vastness of heaven and space. His arms reaching for you, no longer stiff, no longer cold. The cosmos faded as he watched you draw near. His eyes smiled, no longer grey, no longer lifeless.

He waited for you in the stars and held you close as you journeyed through the constellations.

He whispered his love for you and kissed you gently before you entered the life from which he had just departed. He shared his ocean blue eyes and startling smile with you – those eyes and that smile that he inconceivably left by the Ty River. You touched his soul, swallowed his essence, embraced his light, and then you EXPLODED into our world.

You met our grief with healing and beauty and powerful, overwhelming life. Your first breath was a cooling and beautiful fog over our scalding trauma – a cleansing of our hearts that had festered with loss and bled with each shattering tear. Your ocean blue eyes opened and we saw him gazing back, searing hope into our souls, connecting life and loss in a circle of complete unity. Both of you permanently branded into our lives forever. Your smile illuminated the room as if he were there, holding us together in his starlight. Your vivacious cry was his voice assuring us that we can hurt and still heal. We can shudder with grief and still laugh. We can die and still live in the hearts of those who loved us and those we meet in heaven’s stars.

In Loving Memory of my brother, Burton James