Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Wonderful World of Post-It Notes

 I have always been an organized list maker. (Last year when school began, my gift to the teachers on my team were  personalized notebooks to take, you know: notes  during faculty meetings. Bet those were a big hit. I'm sure they are all stuffed full of notes and new copies are necessary this fall. Or not.)

Anyhoo. As I press onward through the fog that surrounds my mind these days (yes, I am from Austin, Texas where the town's unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird", and no the fog reference is not drug but grief related), I find more and more and more the need to Write Things Down if I have any hope of remembering them or following through on them. 

Luckily, D (a man who was more organized then I am) left an enormous supply of yellow Post-It notes in his office.  I am tearing through them quickly.  Please send reinforcements! 

I use them to remind myself of the small things ("Get coffee filters and creamer"), the medium things ("Have I checked the phone messages this week?") and the really important things ("One check left in checkbook: ORDER MORE NOW"). There are random notes scattered around the house: "See if B wants D's books on CAD", "Find out if J wants the books on cancer diet", and "Cancel Netflix and Yardman". (Reminds me of an action flick). My particular favorite note met me at the coffee pot the other morning, left out the night before so I would not forget: "Find the Post-It note with the To Do List on it."  This is getting increasingly pitiful.

D used his Post-It notes for encouragement and inspiration, as evidenced by these notes left hanging on his mirror: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.  Harry Truman" and "Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that He will". There were favorite verses posted in his workshop: "God's grace is enough for me; for God's strength and power are made perfect and show themselves most effective in my weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities , that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9" and "...whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  Mark 11:24".

My favorite Post-it contained a self-written confession on his bedside table that he read each morning when he got up: "Father, I thank you that this is going to be a great day. I think you that I have discipline, self-control; that I make good decisions. I may not have done what I could have yesterday, but that day is gone. I'm going to get up and do better today. "  This from a man who fought cancer's effects for 7 years. We should all adopt that Post-it philosophy.

And the last Post-it I found had fluttered to the floor on his side of the bed. It read simply, "God please heal me." I think God must have seen that one and in His mercy and grace allowed it to be so. Because I know that D is in a place where there are no more tears, no more pain, and he is again whole and walking on two legs.

And that belief is enough to make me want to have a better day. And I don't have to write myself a note to remember to do that today.

 Baby steps. Baby steps.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

I have decided that if I wrote a post on this blog every hour, each one of them would be totally different in emotional temperature. And, comparing one to another, you would all fear for my mental well-being.

The first post could be about the lack of order in my home. I have found, after 25 years of instructing my children to PICK UP, that suddenly I just drop things where ever they fall. That great force coined "gravity" just leaves the debris laying on the floor. In big piles. That make the house look like someone one brick short of a load has inhabited this house. Where are all these piles coming from? I've decided that in a way, I must be looking for D. Since finding the note he left me to discover about a trip to Italy (in yesterday's post), I find myself tearing through drawers and cabinets looking for his trail. What was he doing and thinking?  On some level I think I believe that I can connect the dots to what just happened by sifting through his left-behind stuff. Which is also a two-edged sword because D was a very private person and even opening his drawers made me feel a little guilty at first. 

The next post would be happy memories that are able to fight their way through the fog surrounding my brain. Remembering our first dates, for example. D asked me where I'd like to go one night. In my former marriage I was married to a minister who was opposed to dancing, but had no problem with unfaithfulness. (Cattiness is also surfacing in my thought life.)  So, my first request to D? Let's go dancing! We found this little country western place that was this side of a honky-tonk, tucked away in a mostly deserted shopping center that sold RVs in the parking lot. (Could I make this stuff up? Welcome to Texas.) Somehow, they were able to attract Big Named country stars at the time. We danced to Tracey Lawrence's "I See it Now" and Tracy Byrd's "Keeper of the Stars" as the real artists performed. (And did not go straight to hell for dancing as was the belief of minister mentioned above.)

Another hour may bring the story of my lawn. May it rest in peace. I have decided that trying to keep the grass green in 105 degree central Texas heat has become a survival sport that I am no longer willing to participate in. My neighbors will forgive me because they know what I'm going through, and will probably bring by another spiral sliced ham to cheer me up. 

Still another hour would find me cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. I told my daughter  that I spilled popcorn on the kitchen floor Saturday and it was still there. On Monday. She said not to worry, that critters would just carry it off and eat it if I left it long enough. So I found myself yesterday cleaning like  the house was the inside of my heart. Time to get rid of flowers that have long been dead, and the left over clutter of Hospice in our home.

One more hour pits my strategy of "staying quiet to hear God and my thoughts" against the strategy of "keeping busy and blocking out thoughts." It is a never ending scramble as I sometimes find myself eating, watching tv, reading a magazine and writing thank you notes for Memorial donations. All at once. (If your thank you note has some ketchup on it, now you know the rest of the story.) 

So. This hour by hour thing seems to be working for me. Some hours are just better then others. But all hours are necessary for this journey.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

I have been watching my counter and realize I'm getting about 100 visits a day on this post. I try to imagine why anyone would find the most recent posts worth pursuing. I had a friend tell me she read this blog because it was like taking a look "behind the veil" into how someone faces everyone's worst fear, but survives, and (hopefully) continues to thrive. I appreciated her encouragement. 

I went to church this morning thinking of her words. Married Daughter has kidded me that I will  be sitting much closer to the front in early service now. (D loved the back row.) As I walked in, a precious couple invited me to sit with them, and I followed them to the third row from the front. I guess I am capable of change!

I kept looking around during the service and thinking, "How do people make it without God?" If I did not have Him as my anchor for hope, healing and  promise of heaven, I do not know how I would make it through this time.

I continue to have sweet people ask how I am doing. 

Well, I'm fine when I wake up. I've made it a habit for the past 14 years, when I suddenly became a single mom living at the Children's Home, to have my first thought be "This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and I will be glad in it." 

I'm fine when I go to sleep: I always fall asleep quickly and sleep hard.

It's just that pesky time in between waking and falling asleep that gives me the problems.

Today, I just decided to "go for it" after church and spend a day out on my own. To my delight, I can be good company to myself. I revisited the restaurant D and I always went to for Sunday brunch. The hostess tried to sit me in the "usual" booth, and when I told her why I'd rather have the single table by the window she teared up and returned with the manager, a dear friend. She and our usual waiter were so sweet that I think I can do lunch there often. (The extra scones were also appreciated.) I went to my favorite antique store and found a child-sized  chair that matches a Stickley chair we already own for just $20. Score! I went to Walmart to take advantage of the huge sale they are having on school supplies because I always buy extra for students who won't have them. The couple behind me asked if I was a teacher buying supplies for my room with my own money. When I replied yes, they handed me $10 to help out students they will never know. How sweet is that? On a total whim I decided to go to the Palace theater for the matinee performance of the musical "Big River" and I got the last ticket in the house. It was a little long for me at this point, but I'm proud of myself for going for it.

So, today was a better day. Jury is still out on tomorrow. But I have to share the most precious thing yet.

I finally decided to go through one of D's drawers in our room. It was filled with the cards I have given him over the years. I sat on the bed with the entire drawer and pulled them out one by one and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. I'm glad that  memories make me happy and not sad. When I'd pulled out the last card, I saw a leather folder that looked like  a checkbook holder. Inside it was a note that said, " For D and R's Trip to Italy" and underneath it there was a heart with DO + RO drawn inside. There was a catalog of Italy tours, a DVD of the tours, and enough money to make the trip. Left for me by D. And found on the day when I really needed it the most.

This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice, rejoice, rejoice and be glad, glad, glad in it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nameless Post

Today, the last of the family went home. I've been surrounded since July 9th by different combinations of guests, but today? It's Home Alone for the first time.  The house is a mess, and I don't care. I'm not hungry, so it looks like bagged organic popcorn is the meal of choice. There is a Gilmore Girls marathon on TV that is keeping my mind blank. I don't know how to use all the buttons on the remote, set the a/c or check the phone messages because those were never my job. D's best buddy was diagnosed with bladder cancer yesterday and that stinks.

Thinking I'm entering the anger stage of grief,  because I'm certainly not in denial of what has happened. Hoping tomorrow will be a better day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good Grief

Today I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Big Mama (a fellow Texan), and she wrote about things she had learned since her graduation from high school 20 years ago here.

(20 years ago! I should have a PhD in life experience according to my high school graduation year!)

I started thinking about what I know for sure in this journey called life, especially with the fresh and unexpected turn in my road recently. Every time my pastor has prayed for me lately, he has prayed that I would have "good grief", and that thought intrigues me. It helps me remember that in a heart that continues to be throbbing with pain, there must be some positive things being germinated, taking root, or being planted. (Can you tell I just spent time watering my garden?)

So, here are some of the observations that are able to seep through the fog that lives around my brain these days:

  • Time is a great healer. (It just takes too long.)
  • "I didn't cause it, I can't fix it, but I can cope" were wise words spoken to me years ago that still help me through tough situations.
  • H.A.L.T. : Don't make any decisions while you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
  • Be nice to everyone you meet because you are going to run into them again. I promise.
  • Give grace as generously as you can, because you are certainly going to need grace often.
  • Family and friends are the most precious possession you will ever have: tend to them often.
  • When you graduate from college, you need to be able to call yourself something. (Not: "I majored in sociology" but "I am a teacher" or "a nurse" or "a journalist".)
  • Someone who was famous for wearing one rhinestoned glove should not still be the lead news item almost a month after his death. (Stop the insanity!)
  • Chew with your mouth closed. 
  • Say your prayers.
  • Take the side of the teacher in front of your children. (Disagree with the teacher in side discussions that children can't hear.)
  • Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all things will be added after that. (Not original to  me.)
So. Do you have any wisdom that this life has taught you? I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Moving on up

When my grandfather passed away 25 years ago, I remember my grandmother telling me, "This happens to people all the time. I am not the first one to lose a husband. I just decided that I was not going to sit around and be sad, and I was going to keep moving forward." This from the woman whose cure to any illness was, "Just stir around a little bit and you'll be fine." 

So, I'm stirring around a little bit. Yesterday, the kids and my sister accompanied me to my first grade classroom. In 5 hours as a team, we were able to do what would have taken me a week: totally set up my classroom except for the picky little details. Huge relief. The custodians sought me out and had sweet hugs and sweet words for me. To quote Ed, "We have come to extend our condolences." Listen, those three custodians already do so much for me on a daily basis during the school year. I am blessed that they consider me a friend after some of the messes my six year old students create! (And things that made me smile while unpacking: lots of coloring on the underside of the tables that I was not aware of, and fingerprints all over the inside of the air fresheners in the classroom restroom...those little guys are always up to something.) I think the return to the classroom in August will be good for me in many ways: the life of six year olds and the schedule of school should keep me moving forward.

Last night Young Son made us a delicious meal and we sat and watched six back-to-back episodes of "Tori and Dean". Who knew there was such mindless entertainment on TV? Planning tonight to watch a show called "Toddlers with Tiaras" because the commercial was like a trainwreck we couldn't take our eyes off of. I'm not sure if these activities would have qualified for my grandmother's definition of "stirring around". Her mindless activities of choice included "The Lawrence Welk Show", "The Donnie and Marie Show", and every Billy Graham crusade ever broadcast. (And Oral Roberts' healing services until he said God would call him home if he didn't raise the money for the medical center. Their relationship parted ways there.)

And can we talk about Facebook for a second? My daughter signed me up and requested friends for me a few days ago. To keep me busy, I think. I have 143 friends and counting. (Where do these people come from and how come I as not aware of this secret underground?) I have heard from precious high school and college friends that I had not talked to in years. LuAnn, so glad to catch up with you! Sarah, so glad to hear the chemo is working well for you! Elizabeth, laughing so hard at your posts about parents on Facebook. (And Young Son added me as a friend. The Mommy-cam is rolling and in bidness, as Fiddy would say.)

So, new areas of life will continue to unfold. A small part of my heart has pangs when I consider starting something new without D. It seems a little unloyal to move on without him in any area. But I'm taking my grandmother's advice to heart. I need to keep "stirring around" and believing for continued healing and the path to a new future and hope. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Checking off the list

A day of running errands I'd rather not be running.
Returning rented hospital equipment, items borrowed for the Memorial service and empty pans that formerly held food for the family.
Attending the district's health insurance fair to cancel D's policy. Hearing my reason for cancellation, the kind employee only had me sign my name, write down my social security number and promised to fill out the other 1,000 questions for me on the form. (Hey district lady: I appreciate it more than you can know!)
Picking up paperwork that makes this journey Real and now Official with the State of Texas.
It wasn't all bad.
I got to have lunch at Whole Foods. I picked up a few things for my classroom, which Young Son, Married Daughter and Loyal Sister are going to help me set up tomorrow. I have 123 friends on Facebook after my daughter apparently asked everyone in the Northern Hemisphere to add me as a friend. 
The plan right now is to spend as much time as possible with son and daughter before they go back to their Real Lives at the end of the week. Next week I'm going to try to see some friends around town. And then I'll view  the Atlantic from a beach in Maine. I get peaceful just thinking about that.
The hardest thing right now? Getting used to no boundaries. It doesn't matter how long I take at the store or when I get home. I don't have to plan meals or shuttle to doctor's visits. Maybe, much later, those things will become the easiest. Maybe all this freedom will feel good. For now? The world seems  a little bit too big.
Trusting God for the Plan B.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

...but Sunday's coming...

I have not been to church in about a month. D could no longer attend, and I found myself running into people who would cry when they saw me. I also found myself comforting them and say, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry" over and over. I think I was apologizing for making them sad with my presence and the reality of our situation. It just became easier not to go.

Today, Young Son, Married Daughter and Loyal Sister accompanied me into the sanctuary. I've found it hard to be in crowds lately, so I was thankful for the moral support.  Our pastor is a wonderful speaker, but all I really remember are lots of hugs and sweet words from the people around us. In my mind, we ripped the bandaid off, got back on the horse, opened for business or (choose your own tired cliche). I think it will be much easier to start back again next Sunday.

For lunch the above crew also accompanied me to the restaurant D and I always went to for Sunday brunch. He was very much a creature of habit and loved some of his routines. This place literally saved a booth for him each Sunday so he would not have to travel too far with his walker. The next thing we did after lunch was tour Georgetown to check on the progress of some homes he had helped design.  We took that same tour today. To my enormous relief, it was a very sweet brunch and drive. If my family thinks I am losing it with my required rituals, they are not saying anything. They just happily accompany me on my rounds and hand over the tissues as needed.

Last night Married Daughter and I tried a movie. Not so much of a success. I can't seem to concentrate that long, and apparently there is a reason some movies are quickly kicked over to the Dollar Theater. 

When we got home, Married Daughter set up a Facebook account for me. I've raged against that machine for a long time, but figure I'm going to be embracing much change for a while, so why not? How sad is this: She started signing me up for friends. I figure no one is going to say "no" to me at this point, so she predicted I'd have 300 by this morning. Not a bad estimate, actually.

So, baby steps and baby hurdles jumped. Back in church. Back to places I used to go with D. And a move toward something new in the world of Facebook. 

And big steps: a friend is letting me have her home in Maine for a week. I will attempt to get my classroom set up this week with the help of my loyal crew and finish off some of this endless paperwork. Then I will take off for Maine where the high is 69 degrees most days, and the quiet will cover me and hopefully minister peace to me.

Pressing on.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Abundant Life

I came across a newer copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" today and I was surprised by the book's "blurb" across the cover. I'm sure when Harper Lee wrote the book in 1960 she did not intend for it to be "The timeless classic of growing up and the human dignity that unites us all." That label came as the story endured and generations read it, reflected upon it and passed it on. A lot of life's lessons are learned in the rear view mirror.

I am obviously all about looking back these days and trying to make some sense of our past.  At D's Memorial Service our pastor noted that D and I had been married for 12 years and that 7 of those years had been spent fighting the cancer. I had not really thought of that: we were so busy trying to make the best out of the lives we were given that it never seemed that the "cancer" years were longer than the "healthy" years. 

D and I were very different in some ways: I love having people around and have many friendships that are over 35 years long. Being around people absolutely fills me up. D was more private and was not a fan of crowds. Being around people took a lot of energy out of him. My family laughed after the Memorial Service because, while we knew that D would have loved those hours spent with family and friends in song, words, prayer and fellowship, he would have been equally as ready to go home afterwords and escape the crowd!

Today most of the kids will be going back home: E and M to Washington State University and H to TCU in Fort Worth. She is in a chaplaincy graduate program and was doing an internship at a children's hospital in Dallas when she was called to come here for her dad. She's decided to not return to the stress of working with sick and terminally ill children for now, but to just take the rest of the summer off to refresh and renew before fall classes begin again. I think that is wise.

K is still here helping me with some of the day to day chores that must be finished; her husband has returned to Missouri.  C and J came back from Costa Rica a month early and are having to make some adjustments for their next month before returning to Texas State University in the fall.

I love having them all here, but I will also love the absolute quiet of being alone when everyone is gone. I may get to take a trip to Maine in the next few weeks (driving north and out of this heat: just what I was looking for!) before I go back to the Land of First Grade. I am looking forward to the "life" of being around children. I've taught throughout D's illness, and the best distraction for me was always going to school, shutting the door to my room and enjoying the hustle and bustle of a classroom full of students. 

So, back to that "blurb" idea.  Here is the view of D's life in the rear view mirror from his Memorial:

"D passed away after a valiant seven year battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his loving family at Christopher House in Austin.

D  was born in Binghamton, New York and raised in Hanover, Pennsylvania. He served our country in the Navy for four years during the Vietnam War, and then graduated from UNCC with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was a master woodcraftsman. D loved his God, his family, his friends and his church."

My encouragement to you today? John 10:10 says that "He has come to give us life and give it to us abundantly." That is for now, not for "some day" when everyone is well, all the ducks are in a row, or (fill in your own blank). 

Because looking back? I don't think we missed one blessing that was meant for us. That is a great "blurb" to place across this life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Morning After

Yesterday was D's Memorial Service.
And the sun came up today.
I went to the gym, watered the grass, did some laundry.
And then I sat down and thought, "Now what?"
I've decided this grieving process must be a lot like labor:
You can't control it. It comes in waves. It comes at unexpected and inconvenient times.
You swing from the blessing of life to wanting to grab someone by the neck because of the pain.
I am surrounded by people (all the kids are here), yet I feel lonely.
I am asked questions, but I can't process the information enough to come up with answers.
I am really hoping to go away to someplace cooler and just be alone for a while.

I will end this blog by saying that the Memorial Service yesterday was an incredible and uplifting time. There is something to be said for longtime friends and family. You can give them the barest hint of what you want, and they bring it to fruition in a manner that simply takes your break away with its excellence and glory. Friends from high school, college and every era of our lives were there. Those friends that know your back story. They truly do know the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you've forgotten the words. (Credit Hallmark for that one.) So. Thank you to an army of friends and family who made the day a celebration of D's life. We were all so very blessed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I guess a few of you are checking this blog to see how I am doing after the loss of D. My best description would be peaceful, but kind of numb. Probably running on adrenaline. Holding on until the service tomorrow. (If you are local, it is at 10 am on Thursday at the Texas Baptist Children's Home chapel in Round Rock --take 79 off of 35--, and instead of flowers D wanted donations made to the TBCH Family Cottage Program which helps out local families in distress.)

(Here is an interesting blessing: I just went to put up a link for the Family Cottage Program, and I see a picture of myself on the website here.  My children and I lived there for a year and a half, described in this blog I wrote recently. The picture was taken at a reunion about 12 years ago--hence the really stylin' dress I'm wearing at far right.)

When Young Son and his girl friend fly in from Costa Rica today, the entire family will be here. We are all going to a local Mexican food restaurant tonight, because what says comfort like lots of chips and salsa?

One of the many things I am grateful about in this journey is that all preparations had already been made. We  were able to make peacefully put everything together before, so that now in the after the few preparations left were relatively stress free.

I have no idea where the journey of life goes from here. I have no idea how to heal except to ride it out as it comes in waves and little jolts: waking up thinking I need to do something for D or tell him something...but of course I won't be doing that anymore. My pastor asked me yesterday what I would miss the most. (What a kind and compassionate question. Much better then the dreaded, "How are you doing really?") I will  miss the companionship. We've spent weeks in our Archie and Edith chairs just sitting together, most of the time in companionable silence because of D's illness and medications. But I could always look over and know he was there. That will take some getting used to.

And what now? I have a desire to get into my car and just drive north. To just be quiet and hopefully end up somewhere much cooler where I'll be alone with my thoughts and prayers. Maybe I'll blog from Canada in a few days. (Ha!) One of the things I am most thankful for is that I'll have about a month to rest, and hopefully rejuvinate,  until I have to open up my first grade classroom for the business of the 2009-2010 school year.

I wish that I had the Secrets of the Universe to share with you. I think a lot of the Natalie Grant song, "Held":

This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was when everything fell
We'd be held.

And He is holding us. And we are so very grateful. Thank you for all your love and support. What would we do without friends?

Monday, July 13, 2009

My precious husband, D, went to heaven at 2 p.m. today.

Pain endures through the night, but a shout of joy comes with the morning

As you can see from the blog below this one, it was kind of a long night in the Hospice Hospital. D is restless and things are beginning their final changes. I think for long periods and try to make sense of all this. And just when the night seemed the longest and the darkest, an encouragement arrived with the dawn in the form of an email from a dear, lifelong friend. She wrote the email to D and asked me to read it to him. I believe that he heard me as I read her precious words:


Dear D,

I am writing you a thank you note because I want to say thank you for being the husband that my dear friend deserves.  In the past fourteen years, you have shown her that you love her and appreciate all her talents and giftings.  You valued her and showed her that she had great worth; I have seen her confidence be rebuilt and grow throughout her marriage to you.  Because of you, she got to experience being in love and being loved!    I remember R telling me after returning from your honeymoon that just holding hands with you was wonderful and that “fireworks still happen”J 

 You provided her children with the model of a father and husband that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.   They saw a man who was dependable and true to his word.  They saw a father who loves their mother, holds them to a standard and receives them as his own. 

 You provided R with a house that you made so beautiful with your woodworking skills and other building talents.  Just as important, you valued her input as you shared this common interest in the house remodeling and the Mission style furniture; I know that she sees your love for her with every replaced baseboard, cabinet and door frame.  

I am so thankful that God put you in R’s life and she has shared these past 14 years with you.  I know she has been amazingly strong throughout your illness, and I truly believe that strength is based on the fact that she knew you loved her and she could let herself love you in return.  I admire you both so much – you are both a testament to the faithfulness of God despite difficulties in this life.  Knowing that He is enough for you both helps me to know that He will always be enough for me.

Thank you for being the man you are.  My friend R will be blessed all her days by your life.  I hope my life will make an impact on those around me like yours has.  Thank you.

Ministry of Music

It's kind of a long night in the Hospice Hospital. D needed a peace that "surpassed understanding": a peace that only God could bring him in the middle of a long night. I finally grabbed my laptop and began playing Chris Tomlin's "I Will Rise" on YouTube into our darkened room. Peace immediately followed. I am so very grateful for the ministry of music and words of truth.

Here is the link.

Here are the words:

There's a peace I've come to know 
Though my heart and flesh may fail 
There's an anchor for my soul 
I can say "It is well" 

Jesus has overcome 
And the grave is overwhelmed 
The victory is won 
He is risen from the dead 

And I will rise when He calls my name 
No more sorrow, no more pain 
I will rise on eagles' wings 
Before my God fall on my knees 
And rise 
I will rise 

There's a day that's drawing near 
When this darkness breaks to light 
And the shadows disappear 
And my faith shall be my eyes 

Jesus has overcome 
And the grave is overwhelmed 
The victory is won 
He is risen from the dead 

And I will rise when He calls my name 
No more sorrow, no more pain 
I will rise on eagles' wings 
Before my God fall on my knees 
And rise 
I will rise 

And I hear the voice of many angels sing, 
"Worthy is the Lamb" 
And I hear the cry of every longing heart, 
"Worthy is the Lamb" 

And I will rise when He calls my name 
No more sorrow, no more pain 
I will rise on eagles' wings 
Before my God fall on my knees 
And rise 
I will rise

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In the quiet place, He is there

How grateful to God we are for the way He orchestrates our lives. 

D's brother and sister were flying in from Pennsylvania to see him. Their flight was booked weeks ago, but none of us expected their visit to take place at the Hospice Hospital. D had been in a deep sleep for about 8 hours when they finally arrived after midnight last night. He did not wake or respond, but they were both hopeful that they would get to visit with him today. 

The nurse had told us earlier that D would probably not be waking again, but I know that God is in the business of giving us the desires of our hearts and D's siblings were so wanting to talk with him. He did wake up for small stretches this morning and they were able to talk to him and show him pictures. It was a great visit compared to what they were expecting.

D's daughter's visits were also booked weeks ago for  this weekend. Who could have planned this but God? Perfect timing. Before we left for the Hospice Hospital yesterday he gave them some special gifts he had bought earlier for them. One gift was an engraved bracelet (thank you, James Avery staff for the rush job); another was a copy of a book he used to read to his girls when they were little. He wrote an inscription in the book that he hoped they would read the book to his (future) grandchildren. Such precious gifts.

My loyal sister and brother-in-law are here as well. When my Married Daughter and her husband arrive in the next few hours, the gang will all be here--except Young Son who is still in Costa Rica. We've all decided it is best he stays and finishes his class.

Still praying that all that needs to be said and done are said and done. And it seems that God is in the business of answering that prayer even as I type this.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

All the truth you'll ever need to know...

I know that some of my friends are watching this blog to see how we are doing. I had to take D to Christopher House this morning (part of our Hospice.) We'd appreciate the prayers. I am tired, but at peace. Make that very tired, but at very much peace.

On the way here, as I drove like a madwoman down I-35, I sang the song that has possibly the most powerful theological truth known to man:

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

We are at peace.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Daily Bread/Daily Abundance

Many, many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, my first husband simply walked away from our home. I found myself with two small children in a situation that would soon leave me homeless and in need of  food. I reminded my kids of the faithfulness of God, and was later told about a food pantry at the Texas Baptist Children's Home Family Cottage Ministry. (We would eventually end up living for a year and a half at that wonderful place while God mapped out the Plan B of our lives.) I first visited their food pantry expecting boxes of macaroni and cheese and canned tuna, and I would have been extremely grateful for them. What I walked away with were many bags full of unexpected blessings. As God would have it, there was a freak hard freeze in our areas of Texas that February, and the local candy store could not deliver its Valentine goodies. The TBCH food pantry was the recipient of  dozens of specialty chocolate covered strawberries. When I went home, I spread the food out on the counter to show my children the abundance and lavish love of God. "God is to us a God of deliverance," I remember saying to them. "And He is a God of chocolate covered strawberries!" piped up Young Son who was a tiny tot at that time. What a perfect example of the love of God, and the care He would have for us in the days ahead.

I was reminded of this story yesterday when a flash mob of friends showed up at my home  bearing food gifts of such abundance for our visiting family that we were momentarily speechless. I think if we are not able to finish all this food, we'll be able to invite a small third world country over to gorge on the leftovers.  Food of such abundance delivered with such love. My husband, D, has not been eating much lately, but he couldn't resist the lure of all these goodies. As I filled his plate he told me to not be so "stingy" with the servings, and then asked for seconds.  He was a happy, and full, man last night: full of good food and the love and care of good friends.

We are expecting many family members to come home in the next several days to have a good, maybe last, visit with D. One thing that we have learned on this journey with cancer is that the abundant life that God promises us is not for "some day when...", it is for now, regardless of the circumstances. Thank you, friends, for being what our pastor calls "Jesus with skin". You've blessed our home with untold riches both practical and eternal.

God is to us a God of deliverance. And this time around? He is also a God of Hershey's with Almonds.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Traveler Chris

Today, Young Son turns 22 in Costa Rica during his Study Abroad trip. He's finishing up that pesky foreign language requirement that will allow him to graduate from college into the Real World as a writer and a teacher. Two interests that are very dear to my heart as well! Fruit not falling far from the tree and all.

Birthday always launch me on a journey of "I remember":
  • You were always such a happy baby; kind of a one-boy Welcome Wagon. You always had a smile, a wave or a hug for anyone who passed. One of the sweet things we've always said to each other is, "You are a wonderful companion on this road of life."
  • You have always been a master of details. When you were about to turn three, you wanted an "army party" and a cake that said, "Happy Birthday, G.I. Chris." At four, you wanted a "golf party" and a cake that said, "Happy Birthday, Golfer Chris." Sensing a trend there.
  • You loved a good challenge. I don't know what possessed you to want to "dig a hole big enough to put your bike into" in our backyard when you were 8, but by golly you accomplished it in the Texas bedrock.
  • You didn't sleep through the night until you were three. There was too much going on that you thought you might miss, apparently! Through our many late night rocking chair visits we've created a special bond that lasts until this day. You were utterly delightful... even at 3 a.m. Back in the day when I could stay awake until 3 a.m.
Of course I could list my memories forever. What I'd rather focus on is the right now: I am so very proud of the way you have handled the struggles we have faced as a family. I've always known that I could count on you for support of any kind.

I'm in awe of your ability to fearlessly head toward adventure and navigate it so well. Summer at Bonaroo? No problem. Monkeys in the rainforest? Piece of cake. Working your way through college? Consider it done.

So, Young Son, I wish you the happiest of Birthdays far from home. God has a BIG future and a BIG hope for you, and I cannot wait to see where He will place you on this road of life.

Love, YBM

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Renewing of the Mind

I think the hardest thing about getting used to Hospice is that you have to change a lifetime of thinking habits. We've all become so used to running to the doctor over every little thing. The usual course is for the doctor to order a multitude of tests for anything that seems remotely suspicious. But suddenly, that all comes to a screeching halt. Even as we have visible tumors that grow before our eyes on a daily basis, all that will be done is an increase of pain meds if it is warranted. 

There is even a name for this type of practice: palliative care. This means reducing the pain of the symptoms but not halting the progression of the disease. The first grade teacher in me sees the word "palliative"  and remembers a passage in a Beezus and Ramona book by Beverly Cleary: Beezus reminds her younger sister, Ramona, that we spell "principal" with a "pal" because the school principal is our pal. Ramona is not buying this man being her pal. I'm with Ramona about the word palliative care. It's definitely not my pal in many ways.

Health issues during this time with Hospice resemble stacked dominoes, ready to tumble off of each other at a moment's notice. Yes, we know the foot is extremely swollen, but a diuretic would lower the already too-low blood pressure and could case falls. Yes, we know that the morphine slows the breathing in a lung that is already under-serving the body with oxygen, but it provides painfree breathing. Yes, we know the meds cause the system to back up and result in occasional confusion. The meds may relieve the pain, but in many other ways they are not our pal. 

It is a continual balancing act to remain optimistic knowing there will be no healing on this side of Heaven. And so we are learning to think in new ways in that area, too. The main thing is appreciating the blessing of thankfulness. We are thankful that we will have family from all over the country coming in over the next week. We are thankful for friends who stay one step away in the shadows, but are always ready to jump in and help us with the smallest thing at a moment's notice. We are thankful for the creativity within the body of Christ as each individual comes up with yet another way to lift our spirits and bless us.

One example I'd like to share is our friend J. He took hundreds of pictures of our family and made a DVD of them set to the music of Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dieing" and Nicole Nordeman's "I Want to Leave a Legacy". I would ask D if he wanted to watch it, but each day he was too tired and would say, "Tomorrow". Yesterday, we did watch it together. I kept watching his face to see what he thought. Just the words of those songs can get to you. Dave smiled and laughed the entire way through as image after image of our family flashed across the screen. When it was over, he turned to me and said with a huge grin, "We have had such a happy life."

Yes, we have. This life? It has been our pal.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Long and Winding Road

I am trying not to hover over D during this illness. If he thinks there is something he wants to eat or do, then by golly,  I will move heaven and earth to be sure he gets to eat or do it. Today was his bi-monthly appointment to the endocrinologist for a shot. (Have I mentioned that in the midst of this journey with cancer that his pituitary stopped functioning? Have I also mentioned that I think he is the bravest man on earth for the way he just keeps moving forward through six and a half years of procedures that are not for the faint of heart?)

 I had hoped that our Hospice nurse could administer the shot in the comfort of our home.  Through a red tape story that would raise my blood pressure to repeat, home shots will not be happening. D wanted to go to the doctor's office, so by golly, we went to the doctor's office. It took over two hours for him to get ready and in the car. The office is about a two minute ride from our house. Thankfully, we had an overcast morning that probably shaved 20 degrees off the normal 105 degree heat and blazing sun. The distance from the van to the front door of the office should have been about 25 feet. Except for the landscaping genius who decided to make a curving path around a fountain and some rosemary bushes. That little journey with D's walker seemed like a marathon. Or at least a 5K. The shot? Took about 5 seconds. 

(An aside here, because I'm all about asides these days, and if you're reading blogs you probably have the time: I don't go in for the shots. I don't do needles if I can help it. Many years ago when Young Son was about 11, he had to begin taking daily injections. The nurse was going to teach him how to give himself a shot. I lurked in the corner and studied the ceiling, avoiding eye contact with the needle. "The way we show you how easy and painless these shots are, " the nurse began,"is we let YOUR MOTHER GIVE HERSELF A SHOT to prove it." Perhaps she did not shout these words as my memory recorded them,  but I know the immediate lightheadedness I experienced was very real. And then Young Son turned to me with a huge smile and said something along the lines of "WOW. MOM!" My plot to have the nurse's medical credentials stripped from her forever was temporarily aborted while I pasted a big ol' smile on my face. I faced the radiating pride my son was fairly oozing in my direction and injected myself. I immediately realized a few things: I was glad that I knew the shot my son would be taking daily for the next six years would not be painful for him. I still did not like needles. This nurse would not be getting a Christmas card from our address.)

So, D's shot was taken. The nurse has told us that I can give the shot to Dave at home if Hospice cannot. (See story in above paragraph for my official statement on injections.) Dave is ready to go home. All energy is gone for the day.

We get him home and into the Archie chair and begin making plans for lunch. I think I am in in total denial that we need food in this house. I've become like this Hunter/Gatherer who picks up a little here and a little there only as we need it. I think I want to leave the options open in case there is some food that D really wants to eat.  And today he did: he wanted to eat a "fasphjzxtmd". Or at least that is how it sounded to me. 

We are dealing with a little confusion around here some days. In fact, no two days are alike concerning alertness, sleep, confusion and clarity. Each day is its own soup mix. But "fashjzxtmd"? That took a little deciphering. The winner is: fajitas. Chicken fajitas. Or, as they say in Vegas, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner." Not that I've ever been to Vegas or anything. Even though Barry Manilow is there. So I hit the drive through at the local Taco Cabana and carried home the prize dinner. And he ate it and he loved it. Score.

This is not always the case. Last Friday evening I was telling him I'd get him anything that sounded good. "Orange Chicken at Panda Express" was his quick and easy to understand reply. That would not have made my Top 100 List, but I ventured out into five o'clock traffic and the reoccurring  Texas heat, and found myself in car #5 in the drive-through on the sunny side of the building.  I  carried the Orange Chicken home to a sleeping husband who did not awaken until the next day. Made me think of that story in the Old Testament when King David was in hiding and his mighty men brought him a drink from a special place as a special treat. He poured it on the ground in front of them. I just put the Orange Chicken in the refrigerator, where it reached its expiration date today. May it rest in peace.

Looking for a theme in the eighth paragraph in this post...OK: we'll go with food. Two daughters and a boyfriend are coming home to see Dave this week.  I put out an email to local friends for HELP with food. These are the kinds of friends you can say, "I just need trays of stuff we can pull in and out of the refrigerator that does not have to be heated up. It does not have to be healthy or organic for the kids," and they immediately have the situation under control. My email inbox lit up, and the food  is on the way. Thank you precious friends, because I know you will do a better job of the weekend's food needs then I can. (And if there is a Hershey's with almonds hidden among the trays, it will not go to waste.)

And on to bed to sleep and see what adventures await us tomorrow. We are at peace.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A View From the Front Porch...Of Cracker Barrel

I met my co-mother-in-law for breakfast at Cracker Barrel yesterday morning. She is one of my dearest friends from high school and OUR KIDS MARRIED EACH OTHER. I still cannot even think that without seeing capital letters.

A was in town for a wedding reception and we decided for an early morning breakfast run. My friends are so good to put up with my early morning tendencies. We decided on a 7 a.m. rendezvous, by which time I'd had my coffee, paper, quiet time, watered the plants and arrived with enough time to buy my sister a gift from the general store at the Barrel (Renee: you may or may not be getting Peanut Brittle in your birthday bag.)

I found that grandchildren accompanying their grandparents to breakfast on this holiday Saturday are not very chipper at such an early hour. I also discovered something very disturbing: some of the clothes they were offering in the gift store are starting to look good to me. And I do not drive an RV or any form of John Deere. 

A arrived just in time to make me stop considering the little yellow ensemble with matching jacket, and we headed to our table. I usually pick Cracker Barrel because it is the only place that I order pork products since we don't eat them at home. (Cholesterol, not religious issues.) But, this day, we were good and had oatmeal. And might have shared one piece of sausage. And drank copious amounts of tea. And talked and laughed and cried and planned some fun for the future. (And talked about our KIDS THAT MARRIED EACH OTHER.)

Two hours later, our four-starred server had removed our plates and cut us off from tea refills. We know when it is time to go. (Though we have been known to relocate to another restaurant for lunch and more talking.)

I paused on the front porch and remembered for a moment. The first time I went out with my now-husband was for lunch after church at Cracker Barrel. We had to wait in the rocking chairs on the porch for about an hour. (Because, HELLO, it was Sunday after church.) And he talked and talked. And we went inside and ordered that chicken they only serve on Sundays after church. (But no pork products.)  And he talked and talked. All these years later I realize how unusual that was for him. D can be very quiet and very private. But that day? He was an open book. I realize he was trying to seal the deal with me. And he did: I was smitten. And we were married about a year later.

I am thankful that the memories that keep running through my head are happy memories. And my hope is that they will stay forever in my heart.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Living Large on the Fourth

As I've mentioned before, we are Very Careful Eaters in my house. I would love to take credit for this, but it is my husband who has patiently led the way toward real food in our refrigerator and not processed foods with endless shelf lives and ingredients we cannot pronounce.

When my Married Daughter was home recently, she gave me a hard time about a half brick of imitation Velveeta in my refrigerator. "What is THIS doing here?" she asked. Oh, that. Well, we decided to eat "junk" during the Super Bowl. In February. That was what was left from our queso. I'd love to say I thoroughly enjoyed that little rare "treat", but all I could think about was Young Son telling me that Velveeta was one amino acid away from being a plastic. Kind of takes the fun away.

Moving along, D and I decided for July 4th we would have our once-every-six-months "junk" fix, and we decided on (wait for it) hot dogs. You know: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. (Unless you are under 30 and have no idea what I'm rattling on about.)

We made grand plans for those hot dogs. There is a Chicago hot dog place near here that makes the Real Deal. I headed off in the 101 degree heat for our Independence Celebration Meal. Living Large. To find the store closed for the Holiday. Drat.

Quick call home: D says how about salads from Chipotle? It is now 105 degrees and my shoe's soles are adhering to the parking lot asphalt. It will have to be the default meal. Except I arrive there to discover: the store closed for the Holiday. Drat. Drat.

Decide to take matters into my own hands in the seeming 110 degree heat at high noon: surely the local wing place has hot dogs. Don't big men like to eat hot dogs and wings? Apparently not: the menu only shows wings, wings, wings and wings. Drat. Drat.  And Drat.

Quick call home: Fuddruckers? Do you think they are open? D says to just give it a try and get something because it is almost one o'clock.  I think my tires are about to become melted into the parking lot if I don't get moving soon.

I pull up, get out, walk in dogs on the children's menu. They will HAVE to do. 

Do you know the definition of "serendipity"? It is "making unexpected and fortunate discoveries in the heat". (I added the last three words. Sorry, Mr. Webster.) The food came out and for $3.50 each we got a huge hot dog on a homemade bun, an order of seasoned fries, a root beer, a homemade cookie and a bowl of hot dog fixings to go. God Bless America!  

We happily ate every bite and fell into a carb induced nap where we may or may not have been drooling from the sides of our mouths.

Next junk food chapter? See you at the Super Bowl halftime in February when we use the other half of that brick of Velveeta. The expiration date says we have plenty of time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Following Aslan

Until I began teaching my too young first graders, I read the book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis to my classes every year. The children were absolutely spellbound by the story. (One year, I "looped" with a class from third to fourth grade and we read the entire Chronicles of Narnia during those two wonderful years.)

Over the years, I developed a very special unit of study on this book and actually moved a small, antique wardrobe into my classroom. I cannot tell you how many times I would catch a student feeling the back of the cabinet to see if Narnia just might be back there.

If you are familiar with the story, you know that much of it is allegorical, and even the youngest students can pick out the symbolism. One of my favorite lessons was when the four  Penvensie children were told to stay out of the way when tours were being led through the Professor's house. One day, they heard a tour coming through the winding halls. It seemed every direction the children turned headed them the wrong way. Finally in desperation, they ducked into an empty room to get away from the approaching group of tourists. The room contained the wardrobe. The wardrobe contained Narnia. Let the magic begin.

I think about that in my own life so often. Times when I turn here and there, and have no idea which way to go with a decision...and find I have somehow ended up exactly where I should be. We try to plan our own ways, but so often God has a different direction in mind for us. A better direction if we will just let ourselves see His footprints on the path before us.

I close with two verses I'm meditating on today:

"Rejoice, for the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God." 
"He leads us in the paths of righteous for His name's sake."

I'm believing that every step on this rocky path is leading us exactly where we need to go.