For months now people have been asking me, “How is James handling the divorce?” And I would respond, “I think he’s doing really great, but I’m not sure if I would even know.” Well… this morning, I know. James had a total and complete melt do
wn going into school. Which means I had a total and complete melt down going into school
My heart broke for him. And me. And I did the only thing that I knew would help, (besides the obvious of eating a dozen of donuts) I reached out to a friend. And they texted me this,
I have tried my best to explain the new condo and the new schedule and the new bedroom. I have tried to make sure that all his Elmo’s were nearby and that his iPad was always fully charged. But the bottom line is my friends words are correct… change is hard, for everybody.
I know that he will adjust in time. And he will get used to all the new things. And so will I. But today is one of those icky days. Where you just wish things weren’t as they are. You just wish you were in your old bed, your old house, surrounded by the familiar. When you are drawn out of your comfort zone, God and the universe are asking you to trust and believe like you never have before.
This week I got to speak for Regions Bank and their United Way Kick-off Drive. I got to share my story of survival. I met other people who are dealing with some really tough stuff. And each time I talk about the journey, I am reminded that is in fact… a journey.
I found this quote by Mary Tyler Moore.
Pain nourishes your courage. I love that thought. I love the thought that what I am feeling right now is actually nourishing me in a strange way.
My prayer today for myself and for James and for you (if you find yourself in the midst of change), is that with every ache we remember that we really are getting stronger.
Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, I stood in the driveway, surrounded by boxes and memories and covered in dirt and fear, when two women approached me. They were both smiling, as if they were long lost friends. But I couldn’t place them. For a moment I thought maybe they had seen all the stuff in the yard and thought it was a garage sale. And then the girl with the strawberry blonde hair said, “Are you Lynn Rink?” “Yes”, I said, confused. (Slightly worried that I was being served some kind of legal papers!) Then she said,
She handed me an envelope stuffed and over flowing with cash. Twenty’s and ten’s and singles. I was so confused. I tried to speak, but before I could, the woman with the dark hair hugged me and said, “Have an awesome blessed day.” I burst into tears and they both turned and walked away. I stood there shaking and crying. “Wait, what just happened,” I said out loud. And just like that, they were gone. Inside the envelope was hundreds of dollars and a beautiful necklace of the tree of life.
This random act of kindness was something I have never personally experienced before. Or I should say, before this life transition. I wish I could tell you all the many stories and details of God’s truly tangible love being displayed to me by others during this time, but many have asked to remain anonymous. But when I needed exactly $500, someone who didn’t know that specific need wrote me a check for that exact amount. When I wasn’t sure how I was going to get groceries, a gift card appeared in my mailbox. Over and over and time and time again, people have shown up to carry boxes, or take me to lunch, or answer the phone when I needed to cry. I have truly never felt so held and supported. I have tried to stay present through all of this and to stay grateful. But because I am a flawed human, somehow it’s easy to miss God in them. To call them coincidence or whatever. So the gift from 12 Ordinary Woman for me was God screaming loudly,
When I had a moment, I researched them on the web. And here’s what it said….
It all started with a group of women from Franklin, Tennessee in April of 2009…It was our heart’s desire to give the gift of HOPE to other women. Now 12 Ordinary Women has grown in to so much more than we could have ever imagined, groups have formed all over the country helping other women and giving the gift of HOPE. There are now men who come together to help other men, they call themselves 12 Average Joes. Families are coming together to teach their children the gift of generosity, they call themselves 12 Ordinary Families.
Who would have known that 12 ordinary women of different ages, education, and experiences could come together once a month to quietly make a difference in another woman’s life and end up starting a revolution of generosity and hope. Our hope is that others across the country will continue to catch the vision for starting their own groups and begin the process of helping others, quietly and anonymously.
I LOVE everything about this, and as I continue to put together The James Rink Foundation, I have been even more inspired to help people in such an awesome way as this organization has chosen.
As I sit and write this morning, in the red chair, surrounded by boxes that need unpacked, with aching muscles, a splinter the size of a toothpick lodged in my finger and the sound of Elmo blaring from James’ IPad, I am somehow at peace. Because I know that I AM is with me. But this is not about being uber spiritual, (believe me, you should have heard the thoughts in my head yesterday and the words that came out of my mouth)
To the woman who filled the envelope, who maybe gave their last twenty dollars, please know that my heart is full of thanks and gratitude for you. You were the voice of God that I needed to hear.
Today, I will start unpacking… box by box… because that’s the only way to keep moving. Just like staying sober, or not acting codependent, or not eating sugar – sometimes it’s one hour, or one day, or one box at a time, and we continue to heal and move towards the goal. (Looking at the big picture of what needs to be done is so daunting that all I want to do is go to Krispie Kreme) but instead I will start with just one box…
AND THEN maybe head to Krispie Kreme.
From the backstage door I could hear the screams and feel the energy. It was Saturday night and at least two thousand people filled the Biergarten at the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest in Oregon, ready to dance and drink and celebrate. And for me, it turned out to be more than just another gig… it was a homecoming of the heart.
In the mid 2000’s, for four years in a row, I was the headlining act for the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest. Myself, along with my band The Boxhounds, rocked the stage by playing everything from traditional polkas to cover tunes done as polkas and of course the expected chicken dance. But in 2008, for reasons that I did not understand, I was not asked back. It made no sense to me at the time and I was hurt and angry and confused. But that’s how it goes sometimes.
At that time in my career, my son James was just two-years-old. He was born with Down syndrome and later diagnosed with autism, and the new life I found myself in shook me to my core. I had an extremely difficult time coming to grips with his disability. Depression moved in and for years I felt as if this black cloud of darkness engulfed me. That made it almost impossible for me to entertain at the level and standard that I and others expected. It got harder and harder to be on stage. Especially when I would see someone on the dance floor with a disability. The only way I could get through was just to ignore them. I know. That sentence was hard to write. But it is true.
I am not proud of that – but my fear was running the show. I was shallow and self-absorbed and living in darkness. But the writer Barbara Taylor Brown says, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” And so it was for me, that from that darkness, a whole new life was birthed.
Not getting called back to play Mt. Angel made deciding to get off the road a tiny bit easier. And once I did, I had the time to put my energy where it needed to be.
I felt like I was being pulled and pushed and molded, but years later I knew that in many ways I was better. Not perfect, but better.
So when I got the call this year asking me if I would return to Mt. Angel I was both excited and nervous. I feared so many things; could I find a band that would measure up to how I sounded the last time I performed? Would the eight years of wrinkles make me feel and look old? Could my body even handle so much playing? (And let’s not even talk about the ten pounds!) But I said yes to the call, even with so many questions, because I knew that I wanted to be back. I needed to be back.
And so after eight long years away, I was back. And as I walked onto the stage Saturday night with a brand new band, and as we hit the first note of “Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box”, I was overcome with gratitude. There are moments as an artist that the stars align; the audience is engaged, the band is in sync, and I wore the right shoes. I thought, “I don’t’ think it can get any better than this moment right now!”
But then… I saw her. Megan. An adorable red-head thirteen-year-old girl in the middle of the dance floor, who had Down syndrome. She was dressed in a German dirndl, singing at the top of her lungs to our music. But this time – this time – I didn’t look away. Instead, I couldn’t help but watch her, pulled in by her smile. By the end of the first song, I found myself holding back huge tears…of joy. I wanted to yell out to her, “Dance Megan, dance! Make a scene! Show the world who you are and why you are here!” I watched her do the best version of the chicken dance I had ever seen and finally, I just couldn’t help myself, I grabbed the microphone and to that crowd of two-thousand people I said, “Hey Y’all, I know we are all here to drink and party, but I just got to take a minute and say hello and thank this beautiful girl on the dance floor. You see, I have a little boy at home who also has Down syndrome and they are the most precious people on this planet! Megan – thank you for reminding us all what life is all about!” The audience let out a huge cheer and she waved like she was just named homecoming queen.
Thank you Megan for reminding me that I made it out of the darkness. To the board of the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest, thank you for NOT hiring me years ago and thank you for bring me back. To the guys that worked their asses off to learn my songs and entertain along side of me; Jason Nix, Duran Crone and Drew Lambert – you are more important and appreciated that you will ever know. To Jim Hoke, who owns the Mt. Angel Sausage Company – your constant belief in m helped bring me back!
Sometimes, God and the universe and the day surprise us. We don’t get what we dreaded or worried about. The check doesn’t bounce, the stain comes out of your favorite shirt, the rain holds off just long enough, or your special needs child does something so off the charts you can’t help but know that God said hi.
New video blog on painting my new place. Sadly, James went from bad to better to worse. If you listen closely at the end, you can hear him crying in the background. So I spent the day holding him while Mike painted. Stay tuned for the end result! Xo
My sister Karie and I went to my brother’s home the other night to start cleaning out his things. I have dreaded this night in some ways, but in other ways I was so excited to be amongst his belongings. I was hoping and praying for a huge spiritual moment, one where I could feel his presence. I longed for a holy experience and one that would flood me with emotion. But that is not what happened.
My brother has been single since his wife died when they were just twenty-eight years old. He’s also been sick for a long time. So housekeeping was not high on his list of important things to do. And that’s okay.
As Karie and I sifted through papers and pill bottles and more pill bottles, with every shelf we cleared or box we opened, the dust just covered us. Before I knew it, there was dust in my nose, on my clothes and in my hair. We opened the window hoping the fresh air might help. It didn’t. We continued and I longed to find the hidden “gem”. You know, something wonderful like an old love letter or piece of art that he had been working on.
What we did find was normal stuff. File folders full of doctor’s bills and reports and cigar boxes that held rubber bands, tooth picks and hearing aid batteries. And on his wall there were several photos of my son James, next to a poster of his favorite band Little Feet and my nieces wedding invitation. On his shelf sat several Alcoholic Anonymous books. Pages falling out and lines highlighted. His bible. I picked up one, wiped off more dust, and held it close.
I sneezed and coughed to the point of gagging. I went onto the porch for some fresh air. I sat in a chair I had bought Lud just a few weeks before he died. And I remember him in that chair – in pain – and I got grateful again for the simple truth that he is no longer suffering. Both physically from his illness and mentally from his illness.
I couldn’t wait to get home to shower, to wash off all that dust. But for some reason, I didn’t. I let it sit on my skin and it covered me like a old worn-in blanket. It was only then that I realized that I did in fact find the gem. The holy experience. And it doesn’t always smell or feel like you think it should.
As I sit with my brother in hospice this week, I have done a lot of reflecting. There’s plenty of time to think while he sleeps and it gets harder and harder for him to breath. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m not naturally a caregiver. Actually, I suck at it. Us “self-absored artist types like it better when people rally around US and take care of us. But life and death has pulled me out of my comfort zone. It has summoned me to just show up. But I feel like a fish out of water, gasping for my next breath and wondering what to do. God gave me just enough strength to get in my car and drive here.
As Lud slept, I picked up a wash cloth. I let the hot water run over my hands and prayed. And I somehow I wiped my brothers face. I gently moved the cloth over his eye lips, helping to clean out the yellow-ish gunk that had gathered there. And all I kept thinking was, “God, I hope that someone shows up when this is me and helps me see.” (And that someone would please be sure to pluck my chin hairs!) And before I knew it, I had given him a really awkward, really have-assed sponge bath. I’m not sure you could even count it as a sponge bath. And then, I took the lotion that was on his hospital tray, and rubbed his dry spotted pealing arms and then his fluid-filled feet. I have never touched my brother like this before. Never. Hell, I’ve hardly hugged him hello or goodbye most of my life.
Holy. Sacred. Before I was finished, the tears that streamed out of my eyes were like I was being bathed in God’s love.
My brother Lud is sixteen years older than me. By the time I really remember him, he was a successful drummer in Cleveland, playing every club in town, six nights a week. He was an introvert and quiet. But he gained the nickname “Pops” because the young kids looked up to him. He was solid as a rock I’m told. “The best blues drummer inCleveland,” is what a visiting past band member told me yesterday.
Lots of other people have showed up this week. They too got out of their comfort zones and came to be present. They got the band back together. Members from the bands “Life” and “Street Life” and “What U Need” all came. And they told stories of past gigs. The one about the guy in the club who… and the time when Lud took th
at… and there was laughter in the room. So much wonderful laughter!
My favorite writer, Anne Lamott, calls is “carbonated holiness” and she is right!
When everyone left, and my brother was back in bed, propped up on pillows to help ease the pain of his bed sores, I asked him if he was scared. “Not really,” he mumbled. “Okay, maybe a little.” I heard all the past “Pentecostal, charismatic” voices in my head nagging me saying, “You better LEAD him to Christ or he’s not going to go to heaven.” And then the Catholic childhood voices chimed in with, “you should get a priest in here to give him communion and his Last Rights or he’s going to spend a lot of time in purgatory.” And then… I stopping listening to all of them. I quietly prayed about what to do and listened to my gut, in which I heard God say, “Just listen to your brother.” “Lud, are you afraid to die?” I asked. “Maybe a little” he said. “Lud, do you know you’re going to a better place when you leave this earth?” “Yes, I do.” And those three words..were enough. It was real. Honest. He didn’t have to say a correct sentence, or swallow a piece of bread. His own words, delivered on shallow breath with scared childlike faith, were enough.
I cut my toenails today. I know, why in the world would anyone write a blog about cutting their toenails?
And sometimes doing the small thing gives you enough strength to keep moving and maybe even do a bigger thing, like shower. And there’s something about taking care of your feet, you know, the base, that can be empowering too. I also cut James’ toenails, which because of his Down syndrome and Autism, is like riding a bull for waaaaay longer than 8 seconds. The good news is that I burned 542 calories in ten minutes.
I HAD to cut my toenails because I have a busy week and people might see them. Tomorrow I get to share James’ story at a conference in Nashville for the TN Department of Mental Health. I can’t wait! On Wednesday I will have a computed tomography angiogram (CTA) scan of my brain. Yeah, they’re gonna shoot a bunch of dye and radiation into my arm and arteries to take a look at my aneurism, or… as I have come to loving refer to it as the #$%@ing aneurism. And there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on as Jim and I continue to negotiate taking care of James as single people, which just totally sucks.
But through it all, I do recognize that my current problems are so small compared to what is going on the world; the homeless person on the corner who is hungry and sad, or my television friends who lost a colleague this week, or the country music star who just this morning lost a son in a tragic boating accident. Not to mention the loss in Dallas. That’s grief. That’s big horrible ugly grief.
In the midst of all of this, my heart is also heavy because I’m losing a sibling. My oldest brother Lud is battling liver cancer, and the cancer is winning. (I’ve talked a lot in this blog about my brother Lenny who just had brain surgery. I’m happy to report that he is doing great and back to work this week!) But my oldest brother Lud is coming to the end of his life. His body is dying in front of my eyes. His arms are bruised. His legs are skinny and brittle. (Thankfully, my sister Karie cut his toenails…that would’ve have been too big of a stretch for me right now!) But yesterday I mustered up all the strength I could to stay present, which is hard for me to do in the midst of my own fear and I sat on his bed with him. I held his hand, as his sweet dog Stamper laid by his side, and
This morning this all seemed like a bit much and the pain made me want to eat anything resembling sugar, cry continuously and wonder where God is in all of it? But a friend sent me a text checking in on me and he told me to read Isaiah 41:10; “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Or… in my warped interpretation, “Lynn, relax. I’ve got this. I’m not going anywhere. Lean on me and I will make you strong. I’m in charge. Do your toenails.”
P.s. This photo is totally James… eating Yogurt, which is all over his face, watching his iPad, and no way in hell gonna smile for the camera!
I was supposed to be in Bermuda today. Thirty years ago, on our honeymoon in Bermuda, we met a couple at dinner one night who was celebrating their 30th Wedding Anniversary. I remember thinking how great it would be if Jim and I were able to spend our 30th Wedding anniversary their as well. I carried that tiny thought with me for thirty years. But today, I’m not in Bermuda.
If you’ve heard me share my story about James, then you’ve heard me I say, “I could kick and scream and stay angry over something little like having a broken dryer or having a child with Down syndrome. Either way, without acceptance you stay stuck.” And so today I’m reminded that the same principle applies to divorce and brain aneurysms. Kick, scream, be angry – or get grateful and keep moving. My choice. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it this way,
Yesterday, the neurosurgeon confirmed that the aneurysm is in the very center lower part of my brain. They will do a CTA Scan on July 13th with dye to get a better look and decide what to do to resolve it. I still feel an enormous amount of peace. And receiving all your messages and texts and phones calls have really helped! (Big hugs and thanks to you my FB family, because of you I’m down to one nap a day and I actually showered yesterday!) Even so, I have reminded God that I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near as strong as She thinks I might be and to kindly reconsider sending any future curve balls my way. Then She laughed and gently implied that it’s Her plan not mine and it’s best if I just… let it rain. Walk it in. Jump in the puddles. Taste the raindrops on my tongue.
Yesterday my dear friend gave me an entire box of home-made toffee, otherwise known as crack. I ate half. I think today I will eat the other half, at the pool, watching James swim. Not Bermuda, but yet so beautiful.