Back in December, my husband and I were in Pennsylvania for Christmas. It was such a luxury. We knew it would be the first and last time we celebrated Christmas in the home I grew up in. My family has been in Florida every December for the last 25 years. It was the first time we spent the month in Pennsylvania. There was sadness for bucking tradition, but there was also a lot of joy that came from it.
If we had gone to Florida, we wouldn’t have had those two weeks with Mimi, my grandmother. She would have stayed in PA and gone to other parties, seeing our other cousins and aunts and uncles. But because we stayed, she hung out with us.
Before that trip home, I saw something on Pinterest that I knew I wanted to have made. It was a cutting board with a handwritten recipe carved into the wood. I instantly thought of birthday gifts for my siblings (we are all born in June), along with Mimi’s filling recipe, which is our collective favorite food of all time. I mean: butter, bread, milk. Come oooonnnn. (If you’re not from PA, you call it stuffing or dressing. You’re wrong, but that’s what you call it.)
So while we were home over Christmas, I had her write her famous recipe on a card so I could eventually have them done. I had no plans for doing them immediately, I just knew I wanted to do it sometime in the next couple years.
But Mimi had a major stroke this spring. She was the healthiest 86-year-old anyone knew, and then all of a sudden, she wasn’t. It wrecked my family. It wrecked me.
I hated being so far away. I felt so helpless and so distant. It was easily the hardest two weeks of homesickness that I’ve had in Denver. So I became irrationally fixated on these stupid cutting boards. I started researching places to have them made. I found a guy here in Denver within a few minutes of searching, sent him a scan of the recipe, and made plans to buy cutting boards to drop off at his house. I felt good about where I left the project and I went home to see my family and help them move. It wasn’t until June that I finally brought them to him. And then at the end of our birthday month, Mimi had another stroke.
Again feeling helpless and distant, I scrambled to make last-minute plans to go home over the 4th of July. The morning I left, I got an email: the boards were done. I cried. In the midst of this really shitty thing that was happening to my family, it was impossible to ignore the small victories. Mimi’s stroke took her ability to speak and write, and I just so happened to have her write this recipe down the last day I saw her before her stroke. And then these boards, which I procrastinated on getting done, were finished hours before I hopped on a plane.
It was so simple. Just some tiny little pieces of wood. But it felt like a big spiritual moment, like God was saying to me, “Hey. I know this whole life thing is big and hard and you feel powerless. But I care about the things that might seem insignificant. I care about your small moments of joy that add up to big faith.”
My siblings all cried when I gave them their boards. I did, too. They didn’t fix everything, but they helped for a couple minutes. Mimi may not be able to speak and write, but she still has her adorable laugh and smile. I think it’s those things that are keeping everyone afloat. Her life has changed so drastically, and so has my mother’s and my aunt’s. I have seen them drop everything and serve their mother in the last four months. I have seen them battle themselves, making difficult decisions about her life when they didn’t want the power to do so.
And in watching this struggle and change, I’ve learned from them. I think I’ve fully understood that life is lived fullest in the difficult moments. We like to think that it happens in the happy ones, but it’s through pain and trial that we really discover what we are made of and through hardship that we grasp our humanity best.
This isn’t pessimism, it’s fact. Watching my family work through this is what teaches me the meaning of grace, the picture of unconditional love, an example of perseverance, and the value of flaws and forgiveness. This experience will change my mother for the rest of her life. It will show her the boundaries of her humanness, while freeing her to live in the gifts that God has given her. It will show her how much strength she has, and where the Lord picks up when she feels like it’s all gone.
So how can I look at my mother and my sweet, sweet Mimi and say that nothing good can come from this? I firmly believe that the things we experience, good and bad, shape more than just ourselves. It informs and inspires others to live as the best version of themselves and gives them permission to be human too.
And when the shitty things keep coming, I hope and pray I can look at my silly little cutting board that made me feel purposeful for a few days and remember to see the small moments of joy that are always there if you’re looking hard enough.