Sunday, September 7, 2014


"Hi.  What is your name?" I said.

That question was greeted with mistrust.  But 10 minutes later, I learned the name Doris.  Doris has Alzheimer's, a disease which can change a person's personality while at the same time, the person's memory fades, and family and friends learn to live "in the moment," capturing glimpses of the person we know and quite possibly have known for our entire lives.

Today a group from our church spent time with a group of people who are living with Alzheimer's.  For me, it was a tough day, because although we caught glimpses of people and their lives, I knew they were glimpses, glimpses which become less frequent as time passes; glimpses I saw in someone I knew since birth, someone who was there when Lori was born; and someone whom I noticed, earlier than other non-family, that something was wrong.

Doris, at first untrusting, grew to trust me.  She reminded me of the special person I knew.  As Doris' sentences began but then trailed off, as she struggled to find the words.  In those moments, I found myself again nodding as if I knew what she was saying or where she was going with her words. 

She stood.  She didn't want to sit.  People would offer her a seat, but what I had first noticed about one of the most important people in my life, when things just didn't seem quite right, was that my offers for her to sit in my car were not really noticed.  Eventually she sat.  Eventually Doris sat.  And neither person seemed to be cognizant that they were being offered a seat.  That is, years ago, how I knew something was wrong with a person who cared for me more than anyone except my parents.

Lori also came to the center where people with Alzheimer's live.  Lori volunteered for every potential role she could have, volunteering to sing, to lead, to introduce.  She was herself, which was great to see, and she found moments with the residents in between times when she led us all through the visit.

And so tonight I found myself sitting on our deck, which is where I often find myself pondering things.  I cried at the unfairness of Alzheimer's - how we see the personality of those we love change; how we see memory fade right before our eyes; how we search for moments that bring the person we know back to us, and how those memories fade with time.

And then there were other tears on the deck.  They were in a sense tears of joy mixed with sadness.  The joy was found in seeing Lori be herself; seeing Lori really step up, volunteer for everything, be in the middle of everything; seeing Lori absolutely love that role.

The tears came because it's been a tough summer for Lori, and in turn, for me.  In so many places she has been told she is talented, to please come back because she is naturally gifted.  In the midst of this summer of success she was told if she did x, then she would get y.  She did x.  She did not get y.  And as a mother, I can't change promises from other people that are not true.  All I can do is feel like someone continues to jab me with a knife, knowing that honesty is so important to me, and knowing I passed this importance to Lori.

Where do we go from here?  I honestly don't know.  For all the times this summer when Lori has been told she is talented at everything, to keep doing everything, it has all been overshadowed.  To see her confidence today made me want to believe she will get over the difficult summer.  And yet, it is not that easy.  She and I both struggle, and while we want to keep going despite what has happened, it is very difficult.

As I sat on the deck, I wondered where God is in the midst of all of this.  We watch and lose our loved ones to things like Alzheimer's; we find joy in success; and we find mystery and hardship in life when it takes unexpected, negative turns.  People with Alzheimer's do not get better.  We live in the moment with them.  Ideally, we taken those moments and bring them to other areas of our lives where perhaps we are struggling.  Then sometimes it can be very difficult to find moments of happiness amidst the chaos.  We continue to ask God to help as we struggle through various parts of our lives.  We continue to ask God to pull us through the difficult parts, where we feel we are being stabbed, and there seems to be no way out.  God?


Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to live life through soccer

My daughter just started middle school.  She is a great kid, but like most kids who are 11, she wants to be an adult, demands independence, and is at the same time still a little girl.  She's much different than I was in middle school - very outgoing, an extrovert, and extremely creative.  Even as she is an extrovert, I see her wanting her own "alone" time as she navigates through life - time for her own thoughts.

Tonight she had her weekly soccer practice.  She plays on a rec team and is an excellent player - I can say this because I'm her biased mom, but also because I was a good soccer player and can see how much better she is than I was.

What struck me in watching her practice was her coach - I never realized how good he is.  Throughout the practice I observed why he is so good. 

Just as my daughter is in middle school, the other girls are also in fifth or sixth grade.  The fifth graders are usually wearing pink and attempt to hang on the coach a bit.  The sixth graders can be a bit more focused (although girls in both grades still do cartwheels and handstands when bored at practice).  The coach has all different types of players on the team - from talented, good, learning, shy, not aggressive, etc.

What sets this coach aside from other coaches, teachers, instructors, etc. is his unique approach.  Sure, others are similar.  But he's a difficult act to follow.

He takes each kid where they are, makes them each feel important, gives each of them the same amount of feedback, and continues this throughout practice.  He uniquely works with the "clingy" players by ignoring the "clinging" and instead focusing on their playing.  He has no surprises for anyone - at each game, each player knows where they will play, each player knows they are respected for the gifts they bring to the game, and when players come to the sideline, he continues to teach, and in turn, the kids continue to learn.

I know today was a hard day for my daughter and that she has been sick for over a week, so I was unsure how she would do at practice.  Surely she wouldn't give it 100 percent.  And this is what is unique.  She came to practice, and by his teaching, she gave 100 percent.

Sometimes I think we, as adults, expect kids to decide when they will "show up" to play, when they will show confidence and not hold back, when they will reach their potential.  And then by who shows up at 100 percent, that will determine who is "better."

But from him, I learned we can't expect kids to do this alone.  Each kid deserves to be valued.  In some way, if a kid isn't giving 100 percent, if a kid is holding back, or if a kid isn't showing the confidence we think they should have, we shouldn't wait for it all to happen on its own.  We need to be so engaged that we, as adults, can bring out the 100 percent; that we, as adults, can get kids not to hold back; that we, as adults, can bring out the confidence in kids that we know they must have. 

We certainly can't expect every 11 year kid on a soccer team, going through so many life changes,  to show up 100 percent ready to go on their own, and assume some kids are more interested than others.  We can't expect that those who are hanging back are simply not ready.  And we, as adults, must engage kids enough to give the kids as much confidence as we can give them.  We can't expect that confidence will just, poof!, show up with time.  And yet, so often, we do expect 100 percent, we assume kids are not ready (for fill in the blank), we assume kids just lack confidence...  just because.  We have to engage each and every kid, where they are, and bring them as far as possible.

And what my daughter's soccer coach does is just that.  He thinks he gets good teams by luck.  And he may to a certain degree.  But his unique talent is to take every kid, where they are, find a way for them to leave the rest of their life off the field, find opportunities for them to play 100 percent, find ways to get kids ready to be the best part of the team that they can be, and find ways for each kid to develop as much confidence as possible.  That's a gift.

And while this coach has that gift, he gives adults valuable lessons to learn. We should find ways for every kid to show their 100 percent.  We should find ways to get each kid ready for whatever is next for them.  And we should find ways for every single kid to develop the confidence that they all deserve to have.

Are we doing that?  Often I think not.

But when we take responsibility for each kid, we can watch them all succeed in life, as God smiles.