Link

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Here is a link to Margo’s service:  http://tinyurl.com/jl3g6yj

If you copy the link and paste it into your browser, it should work. I hope so! I don’t know why this link seems to open the service twice. Just “X” out of one.

Deep Sorrow

Harper Kids Sturgis

The tagline for my blog is Solid joys, deep sorrows, aggressive hope. I’m in a period of Deep Sorrow.

Here is a photo of my brothers and sisters taken circa 1959. I’m the youngest on the left. We are seven. Last week my sister Margo (middle girl) died at the age of 67 from respiratory failure related to pneumonia. It’s remarkable that she was just three years shy of threescore years and ten.

In 1979 she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor (a glioblastoma). After chemotherapy, radiation, and a surplus of surgeries, her tumor was encapsulated. But the “cure” brought a lifetime of disability. Her life was difficult but her signature response was “Blessed.” She enjoyed describing herself as not in her right mind.

This is the first of several blog posts introducing you, dear reader, with my dear sister and my forum for processing my grief. I’ll write about how we “sang her to heaven” and how we honored her life.

These are my [edited] reflections which I read at her service.

My Sister Margo

There were just enough years and sufficient siblings between Margo and me that we seldom quibbled and rarely quarreled.

After I left Lombard, she was the Great Communicator. A punster, she loved clever quips and sent me many, many funny cards. Like all of my siblings, she devoured books and music; she insisted I read My Name Is Asher Lev, Lord Peter Wimsey, and a boatload of Brock and Bodie Thoene books. Ten years ago, she and her husband John made a dream come true, by taking me to see the great cellist YoYo Ma at Ravinia.

Our friendship was sustained by annual visits. When finances and young children constrained my travel, she ventured out to Oregon. One October she joined our family’s hunting camp and kept the fire burning. As a nurse, she was fascinated with gutting, skinning, and hanging a deer, disappointed that our guys came up empty.

In 1994 she brought John to meet us. Soon there was a wedding. She was 45. In recent years, I came to Chicago. The sweetest moments we shared were our evening meals. We lingered long after the last bite was chewed and reviewed memories. In the dimming light, she relived school stories, recounted old friendships, told of her travels and took comfort in the simple benediction of remembering.

We played Scrabble. If you know Harpers, you know we compete. Year after year I could not beat Margo at Scrabble. I certainly tried. In 2014 I eked out a one-point win. Oh yeah! I crowed and danced, hands above my head. She leveled her gaze at me and smirked, “You are celebrating beating someone with only half a brain?”

Her life was beset with brokenness and besieged with pain, a continuous series of losses. She lost her balance, her manual dexterity, her ability to walk, travel by plane, hearing in one ear, and eventually clear speech. She steadfastly refused to complain; instead, she reckoned herself blessed.

Margo thrived on belonging. She relished belonging to the wild roundup called the Harpers. She valued belonging to the Lombard Gospel Chapel family. Back in the day, she belonged to her people at Bair Lake Bible Camp, Emmaus Bible School, Pacific Garden Mission, Sunshine Gospel Mission, Belmont Hospital, Rest Haven Homes.  She belonged to John; johnandmargo became one word.

Margo belonged to Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism begins: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. He was her rock, her fortress and her might.

Finally, Margo was beloved. The response to news of her passing is a witness. As a young girl she was warmed and nurtured by her mom. In Margo’s last years of life, Mom’s love — Mom’s praise — was a diamond she pulled out of her pocket and prized. “Mom used to say, ‘You are such a help to me,’” Margaret remembered.

Our brother John was a faithful friend and support, especially the last dozen years of her life. He brought meals, helped her exercise, encouraged and cheered. His love was an important aspect of her life.

When she had long adjusted to life as a single woman, God brought John Walker to Margo. He loved her; her delight in him knew no bounds. Joy and laughter took up residence in her life. Look at the photos! Their marriage was the gospel made plain. He cared about her as he cared for her. His sacrifices shouted “My life for yours.”

Margo’s disability went from challenging to difficult to arduous. John’s love was a counterpoint to her struggles. The more dependent Margo became on John, the more evident was his love. Few wives are acquainted with the depth of love that Margo knew. Indeed, she was ‘blessed.’

Margo loved Narnia; she adored Lucy. Margo’s journey on earth is done. She can say,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”

Our ‘Lucy’ — I think of her as Queen Margo the Valiant — has gone ‘further up and further in’. Her faith is sure, her hopes are fulfilled, her love remains.  Goodbye, Margo.

My Grief Will Not Stop the Green

DSC_9186Parting with a View

I don’t reproach the spring
for starting up again.
I can’t blame it
for doing what it must
year after year.

I know that my grief
will not stop the green.
The grass blade may bend
but only in the wind.

It doesn’t pain me to see
that clumps of alders above the water
have something to rustle with again.

I take note of the fact
that the shore of a certain lake
is still—as if you were living—
as lovely as before.

DSC_3750I don’t resent
the view for its vista
of a sun-dazzled bay.

I am even able to imagine
some non-us
sitting at this minute
on a fallen birch trunk.

I respect their right
to whisper, laugh,
and lapse into happy silence.

I can even allow
that they are bound by love
and that he holds her
with a living arm.

DSC_2792Something freshly birdish
starts rustling in the reeds.
I sincerely want them to hear it.

I don’t require changes from the surf,
now diligent, now sluggish,
obeying not me.

I expect nothing
from the depths near the woods,
first emerald, then sapphire, than black.

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There’s one thing I won’t agree to:
my own return.
The privilege of presence
I give it up.

I survived you by enough,
and only by enough,
to contemplate from afar.

— Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
from Poems New and Collected

Three dear friends of mine are approaching the one-year mark of grief,
the dreadful day they went from wife to widow in a moment.
They came immediately to mind as I pondered this poem.

Learning about Leptin

Take a toddler with a room stuffed with toys. She shows no interest in a toy until another toddler picks it up and plays with it. This is how I am with books. I didn’t get very far with Mastering Leptinwhen my friend gave it to me. I listed it on Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap. and the minute someone wanted it I had an overwhelming need to read it. I’m glad I did. The book has the feel of a self-published book—especially in layout and graphics—a hurdle to overcome when you care about such things.

Just what is leptin? First discovered in 1994,

Leptin is the hormone secreted by fat cells contained in white adipose tissue. It is the most significant hormone there is in understanding the function of the human body. p.4

Most overweight and fatigued people suffer from leptin resistance, a condition where the brain doesn’t receive the signal leptin sends to reduce the appetite. So this person feels hungry, particularly after dinner. Compulsive sweet cravings indicate leptin resistance.

DSC_2017Hormone management is complex because you can’t balance one in isolation from the others. With leptin resistance the brain can’t tell the pancreas to stop making insulin. Insulin stimulates leptin production. When a person is leptin resistant, he is probably insulin resistant and adrenaline resistant — when the fat cells can’t receive the signal to stimulate metabolism. Enter fatigue.

Expensive tests are not needed to prove there is a problem [of leptin resistance]. A person just has to look in the mirror and then take note of their level of energy. p.47

This book was never destined to be a best seller because there are no quick fixes, no pills that magically correct the metabolism. It comes back to those three ubiquitous words: diet and exercise.

Five Rules of Eating (The Leptin Diet)

1. Never eat after dinner.

2. Eat three meals a day.
3. Do not eat large meals.

4. Eat a high protein breakfast

5. Reduce the amount of carbohydrates.

Common sense, right? The most controversial is no snacking, making meals five to six hours apart. Richards maintains that frequent eating clogs the liver’s fuel system, that not eating between meals is good exercise for the liver. He likens frequent snacking to a repetitive strain injury to the pancreas.

Consistent exercise is the most important action I can take to correct leptin resistance.

Six Important Reasons to Exercise

1. Improve natural rhythm and pattern of fuel utilization.

2. Increase the parasympathetic tone of the nervous system.

3. Keep leptin food cravings and out-of-control behavior in check.

4. Enhance strength to stabilize leptin and insulin.

5. Improve muscle use of fatty acids so weight loss is easier.

6. Ensure adequate body heat, an important foundation for body rhythms and patterns.

Richards recommends a few supplements: Omega 3 oils, GLA, CLA, pantethine, and calcium. I’m not a big fan of supplements. I prefer to eat real food that contains what I need.

I plan to follow the five rules for at least six months and see what’s what. If you are interested in more information check out Wellness Resources.

Back Home Again

DSC_2117 October was a friendship-saturated month.

DSC_2151When I had an empty day in a city far from home, I contacted Faith,
an online friend. We picked up as if we had known
each other forever, drinking pots of tea and talking nonstop.

DSC_2213A week of solitude meant garden clean-up, reading, walking,
and a trip to the wildlife refuge to feast on the Harvest Moon.

DSC_2268My husband and I had a few days in the middle
where our schedules synced. The joy of reuniting, ah!

DSC_2281I met two year old Max and his mom on a flight to Minneapolis.
When he got antsy, I snapped a photo and let him see.
Take another, he urged. He drew in my journal with many colors;
years from now his drawing will remind me of our brief friendship.

DSC_2287A fire is a great conversation accessory. On my cousin’s
back deck we not only caught up on our 17 years apart,
but I—thanks to her transparency—got a tutorial
on life as a new widow.

DSC_2299We gloried in fall colors.

DSC_2347Our dads were brothers. We talked through our
family history, all those quirks we recognize.

DSC_2371And we laughed.

October 2014Then to Chicago for my annual visit.
I enjoy studying each my sister Dorothy’s dozen grandchildren:
their gifts, what motivates and aggravates them,
their unique personalities.

DSC_2525My sister Margaret soldiers through many infirmities.
Cancer and a stroke have attacked but can’t quench her spirit.
Through the pain I never hear her complain.

DSC_2625Several other friends blessed me with time and attention,
a precious gift. Our friendships span the years.
Stories jogged memories.

DSC_2423Tender mercies, all.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

mma1When I first read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, I chirped with evangelistic fervor about the series. But, a few disappointing books cooled that impulse to the point that I quit reading the last three books in this series.

A library hold came available so I read the books out of order. But the 14th book The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has rekindled my love for the traditionally built Mma Ramotswe and and her quirky assistant, Mma Makutsi. This book might appear to be about a newborn baby, but on every level it is about friendship, about rearranging a relationship that expands from business to personal. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi remind me of Marilla Cuthbert and Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables.

Any book by Alexander McCall Smith will have his trademark humor. There were three snort-and-holler moments in this book. I don’t want to give them away, but prepare yourself for horse laughs.

Only to the extent that they reveal human nature do I care about the solving of mysteries in this book. No. I read for the gentle wisdom, the poignant words of Mma Ramotswe. She thinks, she ponders, she reflects. Death, sunlight, music, change, marriage, the pace of life, beauty, differences between men and women. And she truly loves Botswana. It’s so refreshing.

I don’t like Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s two mechanic apprentices: Charlie and Fanwell. Their characters are a waste of print. But I was surprised at Charlie’s response to the baby. He admires it, he wants to hold it; his cooing amuses and puzzles the women.

I want to highlight two passages whose beauty astonished me. One is a foot washing scene. Mma Ramotswe visits Mma Makutsi at her new home (she married Phuti Radiphuti) after a heavy rain. Her car gets stuck; she exits the car barefoot and walks through the mud to the front door.

Sidenote: only once have I participated in a foot washing ceremony. It was at a church retreat. The women gathered in a room and each one washed the feet of the person next to them. I felt humble shyness, willing to wash someone else’s feet but reluctant to have a friend wash my feet. It was emotional. It was potent. It was unforgettable.

“Let me wash them, Mma,” she said. “You sit there, I’ll wash your feet for you.”
Mma Ramotswe felt the warm embrace of the water and the slippery caress of the soap. The intimacy of the situation impressed itself upon her; that an old friend—and that was how she looked at Mma Makutsi—should do this for you was strangely moving.

And this short note on reconciliation:

And with that, she felt that most exquisite, and regrettably rare, of pleasures—that of welcoming back one who has left your life. We cannot do that with late people, Mma Ramotswe thought, much as we would love to be able to do so, but we can do it with the living.

Five solid stars and kudos to Alexander McCall Smith.

Reminders of Mortality

DSC_8672One thing hymns do so well is remind us of our mortality. A lifetime of singing lyrics that regularly refer to death prepares us for that one moment from which we can’t escape.

Yesterday I knew that our friend Dean’s life was hanging in the balance. After a long bout with congestive heart failure, he had had a heart attack. His daughter wrote me that the next 24 hours would be vital. As I sung yesterday’s hymns my heart prayed for Dean and for his family.

And when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.  (from Amazing Grace)

Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die  (from There Is a Fountain)

Be near when I am dying,
O show my cross to me;
And for my succor flying,
Come, Lord, to set me free:
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move;
For he who dies believing
Dies safely, through thy love. (from O Sacred Head)

We arrived home late, after a long day unplugged from technology and plugged into friendships. I checked my messages to find out that Dean had died a few hours before.

Sitting on my desk is a sticky note reminding me to send a card. It says “Dean – Even down to old age.”  Today he is in glory — doesn’t need encouragement.

Even down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.
(from How Firm a Foundation)