Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I've moved...

Hey, Friends,
      Are you looking for me and LuLu? Well, I'm here to remind you that we've moved. You can find us at: www.debcleveland.org, my new website. Come on over, we'd love to see you again...


Thursday, September 24, 2015

God among the trees...


After my husband died, I wrote down everything I felt, with the occasional input from my pink bike, LuLu. Pedaling alone through the countryside helped prep my heart and soul for the lessons they each needed to learn. For one year and six months I put it all out there—every ugly word, every sorrowful moan, every fear, every brief glimmer of hope, every faith struggle, and every poke I received from God. I shared it all. Then one day, I simply ran out of words.

When Gary first died, I did my best to open myself up to you, to myself, and to God. I feared that if I didn’t I would shut down completely. I was afraid that if I didn’t keep forcing myself to process, to feel, and to share the journey, the journey would be lost on me. I lived in fear I would miss the point and purpose of what was happening to me and I would go through all of this horribleness for naught.  So, I captured as much of the sorrow, pain, fear, loss, sadness, and mourning as I could. I let you peek in at my faith journey on the good days and the bad. I believed then and I still believe that those emotions and the expressing of them saved me; Owning them, examining them and giving myself permission to feel them, as ugly, difficult, and heart-wrenching as they were, absolutely saved me. And, I hope they were somehow beneficial to you as well.

But, these last six months of silence have also been a lifesaver. I’ve come to realize that the heart is more than a pump. It is the Yoda of the soul. It carries its own wisdom, has its own timetable, and has a direct connection to our Master Designer. Eventually the broken heart, if given its reign, takes us to a place words cannot go. Silence has its own lessons to teach. So, I stopped writing and decided it was time to be still. I allowed silence to surround me and coax me into a place where I could utter, groan, and express myself without the chatter, all within its protection.

Some things cannot be shared, ever. Yet, the experience of them is vital to the healing. Only God and I know what has happened to me in these last six months. Only we know what I felt, what I learned, and what I gleaned from the groaning. Only God and I know what conversations needed to be had, and they were for our ears only. I had no more hurtful layers to peel. All pretence was gone and all false bravado exposed. I was alone in the garden naked, as God walked among the trees.

Am I done? Is it over? Can I tear off my shroud and my widow’s clothes? Is it time to dance again? My heart isn’t saying. It seems content to just let me be. For now, that is enough.

A note from Deb:

The LuLu Chronicles has a new home! From now on, you will find us on my new webpage at: www.debcleveland.org. The webpage gives a sneak-peak of my latest manuscript, free sample chapters from my first two books, thoughts on the writing life, and of course, LuLu. Please join me there. I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


LuLu, my pink bike
I’m back in the saddle again, LuLu’s saddle that is. It’s been a while; a long winter, a long period of mourning and a long, long, period of simply not being motivated. I’m trying to find my way, find a path that works for me, and figure out what all belongs in this new life I’m forced to create. Well, LuLu, my pink bike, is one of those things that belong. She was a gift from my late husband, a birthday present. When I’m peddling down the road, I’m happy. She’s good for me physically and emotionally. And, while riding this pink bike I find I am more receptive to new thought, clearer thinking, and possibilities, lots of possibilities. Like the other morning it dawned on me that if I wanted to, I could move to Ireland; Or, that I actually now have the time to read War and Peace. I don’t want to, but I could. It’s a possibility.
The trouble and blessing of trying to build a new life after the loss of someone you love, is deciding stuff. The what now questions are endless. Fortunately, I do not have to decide anything before its time, but eventually, I must.
LuLu reminded me that I am now in Act Three of my adult life’s journey. Act One was the college years, the inaugural plunge into adulthood. Big questions, Big answers, life changing consequences. It’s an extremely important Act, but it’s relatively short.
Act Two was the married, raising family years. My Act Two lasted forty-two years. Three kids, nine grandchildren, several careers, and one husband later the run comes to a close. Of course, the kids and grandkids are sliding into Act Three quite comfortably, but the days of partnership, shared vision and two-by-two are over. My anchor has been pulled and the drift has begun.
Act Three is now. I’m surrounded by people who love me, yet I am alone. And for a gal who went from her childhood home, to a dorm full of girls, and then directly to a marriage and then children, aloneness is a whole other animal. I have never eaten alone, gone to the movies alone, or traveled alone, until now. In the past, my choices formed who I was. I’m sure they still will, but they are not as clearly presented as they were in Act Two. Today’s possibilities are foreign to me when I walk them alone; they are something I read in a book, or admired in others, or scare the hound out of me if I think about them for too long.
Act Three. Oh, boy. Just thinking about it the other day on LuLu made me peddle faster. LuLu must have thought a bee stung me. However, in her pink bike way, she eventually made me slow it down, catch my breath, and allow the present to rule over the future, or the past. She spoke in her own way and said, “Peddle steady, keep your eyes on the road, and you need more padding in your shorts.” I translated that as—take it slow, don’t look back, and be prepared.
Act Three is full of possibilities, scary, exciting, breath-taking, terror-filled possibilities.  The choices are all mine. Ireland or Madison, WI? Tolstoy or Harper Lee? Make lampshades or write a book? Find a job or NOT! Pink bike or . . .
“God, I don’t want to be here. I do not want to be anywhere. I don’t want to do this. It is such a battle to keep my eyes forward. I’m disappointed You didn’t give me what I wanted. Still, I find myself constantly looking to You for direction, affirmation, and for healing. You are not Santa Claus. You are Father, THE Father, the one who knows best. The one who loves me beyond measure. I know this. I trust this. Yet, I am afraid to be so alone with myself. Show me how. Please, show me how.” Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“Watch Atticus!”



Meet Atticus Cleveland, the Houdini of Labradoodles. Atticus lives with me on a lovely three- acre plot with a pond and about a hundred trees. A dog’s dream, right? But where is this canine’s Promise Land? It’s the next field over smeared in fertilizer. He has bitten through rope, leash and steel cables to get to this smelly field of liquid cow dung. Rolling on his back and burying his head into the mushy goo is what he lives for. It’s an obsession, a calling.
Last summer my son installed an invisible fence around most of the acreage. I wanted my brilliant hound to be able to run free without fear of being run over by the mailman or getting lost in a hostile world. I love him this much. How does he repay me? He figured out how to rub up against the garage, a tree stump or anything else handy to unlatch his collar, his jail keeper. The collar carries the transmitter that beeps wildly if he gets too close to the perimeter of the fence. If he ignores the beeps, there is a price to pay. However, I’ve lost count how many times now I’ve had to walk around these three acres to find that stupid collar. The dog is nothing if not persistent. He is relentless when it comes to his passion. There is no ditch deep enough or voltage high enough to keep him from the call of rich, smelly earth.
I envy him.
I encounter roadblocks to my dreams and quit. Not Atticus. I get disheartened when things don’t go my way and feel defeated. Not Atticus. I want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers up and moan when someone or something puts the skids under my plans, But not Atticus. He sees the roadblock and figures out how to circumvent it. He feels the backward tug of limitations and chews his way through them. You put him in a box and he’ll kick the sides out.
My life is extremely difficult right now. Nobody would want to walk in my shoes. I couldn’t trade lives with anyone, even if I paid them. People feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for me. My life is full of limits, boundaries and obstacles. A collar is around my neck and threatens to knock the curl right out of my tail if I get too close to freedom. I yelp for help and all it gets me is a tighter collar.
What to do? “Watch  Atticus,” a quiet inner voice prods. I look for him. He’s not in the yard. I spy the collar lying on the ground by the evergreens, blinking at me, mocking me. I call for my dog, clap my hands, as is our way, and he finally comes running, ears flapping, paws caked in what I desperately hope is just mud and he leaps onto the deck and sits at my feet. He smells like rich, gooey, fertilized God-given earth. This boy knows how it’s done.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

thank you...



Dear Ones,
 I just want to take some time to thank you, my readers and friends, for sticking with me. I know the things I’ve been writing about for the past year or so aren’t ‘feel good’ pieces. They are raw, uncensored, and about as truthful as I can stand to be. I am a woman trying not only to survive the loss of her husband of forty-two years, but also a woman who is determined to give this tremendous loss, its due. It means something. It’s a land full of discovery, a place where pain cleanses and welds the heart and makes it stronger, better, more prepared to continue on. So, thank you for listening, responding with kind words, and for your prayers. I have treasured and cherished you more than you know.
Unfortunately, I find this foreign country expanding with surprising twists and valleys. Today, I fed my dad two of his meals. As he sat up in his bed, holding my hand, I guess I could have been anybody. But it is my hope that he knew it was I, his daughter. Alzheimer’s is a horribly cruel disease and as my dad slowly fades from us I am once again experiencing this End of Life stuff. I am painfully aware that it is not done with me yet. So, I figure I still must have lots to learn about love, forgiveness, tenderness, sacrifice, and sorrow and probably a whole slew of other life lessons that the holy ground of the deathbed has to teach.
End of Life stuff. Wow! Who knew how excruciatingly rich and holy loss could be? I certainly didn’t. I wish it on no one, yet never have I felt as ‘chosen’ or ‘favored’ as I have in this last year. It is not anything someone looks forward to or envies another who experiences it. However, those of us who have lost loved ones or who are in the process of losing someone they love, a brotherhood and sisterhood forms. The secret handshake is revealed. A nod or look communicates to another volumes that one who hasn’t lost doesn’t quite get. A ‘knowing’ happens and this knowing brings you within an angel’s breath of God himself.
Of course, that’s not a given. If you don’t believe in God, or know God, or trust God, or like God, or respect God, of course loss will be a totally different experience for you. I know nothing about that. Sorry, I can’t help you.
I choose God. I choose Him not out of weakness or fear or desperation. I choose Him out of awe. He is the only explanation that makes sense while still being a mystery. The soft wisps of a newborn’s head. The heart that does not become bitter. The sight of a lion in the wild. The migration of a bird. The sun. The moon. The stars. The crippled hands that still reach out. A broken heart that heals. The last breath. God comes so close at times you can almost smell Him.
I think I smelled Him this afternoon in my dad’s room. I have so much to learn about being a Created Being and what I am suppose to do with that. Loss is just one teacher. There are others. And, we all sit at their feet eventually. It’s the way of God.
So, thank you for allowing me to ramble and stumble upon what I need to do, say, and be, to survive and hopefully, thrive in the years to come. You have been the soft grass under my feet and the shade tree over my head. Thank you.
~ deb

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I’m still in the winter season of Memphis. Tonight, the world stopped spinning around here because an inch of snow fell to the ground. Schools are all closed tomorrow, churches all cancelled their mid-week services, and all the white bread is gone off the grocery shelves. I’m sure if you threw in mama, a pick-up truck and a cheating heart, someone in these southern parts could write a country song about this.
I can make fun because I was born and raised in the south. These are my people. No matter that I’ve lived the last thirty-nine years in Wisconsin. I only have to pass the Mason/Dixon line and my twang comes back all on its own. But since I’m sporting Wisconsin plates I do have to drive extra careful cuz if someone’s going to be stopped it’s going to be the ‘Yankee’. 
I’m here in Memphis to see family and to take care of my parents. Dad’s in the nursing home with end-stage Alzheimer’s and Mom has recently had a stroke. She’s okay for now, feisty, argumentative, and still telling me to get my hair out of my eyes. I’m glad I’m here. I was needed and I came running. That’s what daughters do... if they know what’s good for them.
The winter season, that just about sums up my life right now. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or complaining. It’s just the truth. The sun has a hard time shining around me. I’m hurting still. My footsteps are unsure and hesitant. My anchor threatens to shift. And, I can’t get my bones warm.
The good news is that in my entire life, whether I was living in the south or the north, spring has never failed to follow winter. Never! I’m counting on it how. I’m staking my heart on it. The sun will come out. My bones will thaw. My path will be illuminated. My steps will once again be sure. And my anchor will hold.
Are you having a hard time believing there’s good coming while the snow still swirls overhead? In the north we have what we call Thundersnow, a very rare occurrence that usually takes place only in late winter. It’s a perfect winter storm consisting of snow, thunder, and lightning. It’s scary. The boom, the crack of lightning and fat, icy flakes converge and try to convince you that your world is coming to an end. But it isn’t. In its own quirky way, a Thundersnow is spring’s calling card. It’s a reminder that beauty and promise are up ahead.
God is so creative don’t you think? Nobody but He could give us such a show and tell and such a steadfast promise.

“When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.”     ~ Proverbs 10:25

Monday, February 16, 2015

". . . where I've been . . ."

I’m visiting my family in Memphis and this morning I woke to sleet, a tiny bit of snow, and icy roads, windshields and tree branches that looked like popsicles. I left Wisconsin for this? However, I have heard that at one point last night the North Country recorded a -30 wind chill.  Makes Memphis seem quite balmy in comparison.
I’ve come south to help take care of my parents. Dad is in the nursing home and Mom was admitted to the hospital on Sunday. For 87-year-olds, they’ve been pretty healthy until recently, strong, and spry with a little kick in their steps. Unfortunately, the hounds of aging catch up with all of us eventually. My brother and I are trying to honor our parents with care and patience. As for me, I feel I’m useless at times. While it has been sixteen month since I lost my husband to cancer, I fear grieving has taken its toll. I find it hard to ‘muster’. I tire quickly and my coping skills are spotty at best. I think I’m doing all right then Boom! Something happens and I’m back at Day One trying to navigate the turbulent emotions of loss. This time the trigger was being in a hospital room again. The last three years of my husband’s life hospital stays were a huge part of the landscape. One whiff of that sanitized air and the post-traumatic stress kicked in big time.
Benjamin Scott Allen who lost his wife and two sons to HIV says in his book, Out of the Ashes- Healing in the AfterLoss, “No matter how far I go I still had to live with where I’ve been.” As the loss scabs over and I think I’ve beaten it or at least moved far enough along to not feel so raw and edgy, the truth is I carry it with me always. The loss is now a part of my fabric. The stress of watching my husband die for three years could not be more conspicuous than if I had grown an extra limb over those three years. It takes very little to send me back there—a smell, a breeze, the feel of certain fabrics.
With that said, I do believe I’m better. I have made strides. I am healing. I’m still learning what my new normal should look like. I’m more willing to admit my limits. I’m learning how to live alone and not be held captive by loneliness. It’s hard to separate the two but I must. Living alone won’t kill me, but loneliness can.
So here I am. Freezing in the South. Keeping the roads hot from nursing home to hospital and back again, and trying to be useful, supportive and as good of a daughter as my own loss will allow. If I am to be honest, there are times when I lay my head down at night and I wonder where God is in all of this. What does God want me to see, hear, and do? I ask, but the insulation in the room seems to soak up my words.
I haven’t turned the corner yet. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t.  But, I will get there. I’m further than I once was. A tiny light has sparked within. On cold nights, I can feel the promise of its warmth. Maybe that’s what mercy feels like?
Wishing you extra blankets and another log on the fire.