Wednesday, April 16, 2014

THE HARVEST

We walked into the large auditorium on campus. It was filling quickly. We found a seat and waited for the president to begin speaking to the "freshman parents." My emotions were like frayed nerves. I was trying intently to hold it all in until we said goodbye and left.

It was August 21 of 2010. I was one week out from hearing the words "stage 4 cancer." And I was dropping my only child off at college, facing an empty nest, an empty future, and death.

As the president started to say, "You will all be back in 4 years to see these young people walk across this stage...." it was almost more than I could take. I wanted to stand up and make a scene. I wanted to shout out, "NO, I WILL NOT see my son graduate. My ashes will be long spread over the earth in 4 years. STOP TELLING ME I WILL BE HERE."

Pain, the likes of which I had never endured, was seeping into every pore of my body. If you had asked me at that moment, I would have told you that this was more pain than my heart could bear. It was fathoms deep. 

But there were no words to speak the unspeakable that day. They were swallowed in a fake smile and non-threatening conversation. I could not fall apart in front of my child as he is about to begin this exciting new chapter of his life.

The orientation was over, and the three of us walked to the car where we hugged and kissed one last time, the Lord gracious enough to allow only the amount of tears to flow that every other mom and dad were shedding by their respective cars that day.

We turned the car west and started home. The agony inside of me poured forth like flowing lava. I believed I had just left my son at college, never to see the young man he would become as he learned and matured and discovered and mastered and triumphed. I would miss it all. My husband would get to witness it all, and I would not. I would never see the harvest of so many seeds that were to be sown by new friends, new experiences, amazing professors, nurturing and challenging mentors. 

That day, that blazing hot, humid August afternoon was a low to which I had never sunk in my life. It was a cross I believed I could never bear.

Torment was my oxygen for the next days as this reality sunk in, as more tests confirmed the unthinkable for my life. My only cogent thought: THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING.

But then.

Unknown to all but God, the cross was to be laid down. My death sentence seemed to be pardoned month after month as my "death date" came and went. Weeks became months and months became years. I still had cancer, but I was alive.

My God swathed me in resurrection grace.

I drove to that same campus in May of 2011 to bring my son home. And I took him the next August and got him the next May. And the next August. And this past August. And I hauled plastic bins up 4 flights of stairs on a 105-degree-heat-index day, with a smile on my face.  

Because I am alive.

I am still alive. Me. Sinner. The most undeserving of people.

My soul cried out and God took that unbearable cross and laid it on the ground.

And in 23 days, we will drive to that campus and find seats in that same auditorium, and watch this wonderful young man walk across the stage to get his diploma. And I already know that the tears I held in 4 years ago will flow. Because this was the gift I could not imagine ever getting. It was beyond all thought at one time. And it is now a reality. I get to witness this four-year harvest.

Only because I worship and serve and love a great and gracious Savior. Giver of all gifts. Who sometimes makes a bridge for his children over oceans of pain and takes their hand as they step onto land again. 

Great glory be to the One who held my pain, and then redeemed it.






Tuesday, April 8, 2014

SERIOUSLY? HE IS DONE?

There are a handful of moments in one's life when there is a poignant intersection of great pride, relief, bittersweet sadness, and great excitement. When I received this package in the mail, I held one of those moments in my hands.





Sunday, March 23, 2014

SPRING BREAK 2014, LIDO KEY

Despite coughing up blood for 2 days and coming down with a bad cold and cough just a week prior to spring break, the Lord brought me through and I was able to head to Florida with my family last week. Three of Sam's buddies from college came with us, and we had a great time. These photos are really just for my parents as nobody else is very interested in anyone else's vacation pics (it's like someone watching endless baby videos of another's baby....). So, Mom and Dad, here is a peek at our week.




The guys were in the pool a couple times each day.


The pool was wonderfully warm all week!


Sam and Brandon on the shuffleboard court

Me playing shuffleboard with Lee, Sam E, Brandon and Sam V, my 4 sons for the week!! You were right, Sam! You were squinting alot!!

Sam and Lee

Sam and Richie playing tennis

Ask me how much food 4 young men can consume in one meal! These were only the first plates. It was a smorgasboard!!

Sam and me, Lido Beach

Richie and me

Sam V, Sam E, Lee and Brandon

Lee found a hibiscus on the ground

Spring break 2014

Had a great week!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A LIFE CUT SHORT

The husband of a dear friend of mine has just died. My soul is aching with hers.

It is my wont to be able to extract at least a few fitting words to say on almost any occasion, but in this, I have fallen far far short. I cannot find my voice. I search for words of some import that could stem the bleeding of her heart. There are none.

I would like to be able to say to her, "I understand how you feel, Peg."

But I do not have a clue. While she is reaching out in the night across her bed searching in her sleep for the warmth that was Dwight for 33 years, I still can talk to, love, and touch my husband. 

No, I do not have a clue. 

Yes, I have known grief. But I have not known hers.

I would like to be able to tell her that over time, the fog will lessen, the vice grip on her emotions will loose, and she will once again notice the stars.

But, really, how am I to know any of this is true?

And even if I did, those sentiments right now would ring as hollow as a penny dropped in an empty barrel.

I have never visited the city of widowhood. 

I have read about this city. Others have told me about their moving there, and how their lives have been since the move. I have even taught "Widowhood" in my Gerontology classes for 30 years, passing onto others the lay of the land.

But it is all second hand. Academic.

I have not had to live there. 

It is where my sweet friend Peg lives now. 

As she gets her bearings, I feel I have little to offer her. She knows she has my love and my prayers, but I can't even hug her....she lives across the country from me.

The grand irony is that while I feel hopelessly inadequate, she really is doing all the giving. Because after one 45-minute phone call with Peg, I already am hugging my husband a little bit tighter, sitting a little closer to him on the loveseat..... achingly aware that we only have today with each other. We are not promised tomorrow.

I thank you, Peg. Your strength and courage inspire me. Your faith reinforces mine. I love you so much.

What I know for sure about you is that you will finish well the journey that you and D started together. 

That, I know.







Friday, February 28, 2014

CANCER AND ME

A friend of mine referred to me last week as a cancer survivor. She meant it in the most positive of ways, but the term niggled at me for several days.

I don't think of myself as a survivor. 


I still take chemotherapy twice a day. Every day. I bear the cross of multiple side effects, one of which has changed my life quite dramatically. That doesn't feel like survivorship to me. 


I think of survivors as FREE of all of that. Remission. Total healing. Done with it.


If I am not a survivor, what am I? What IS my relationship to cancer? 


It is not a love relationship, a respect relationship or a casual relationship. From my psychology classes back in the day, I can tell you that cancer is not an experimental, transitional or scripted relationship in my life. I am not even sure if I can consider it a hate relationship, as I would be living in gut-roiling anxiety every hour of every day. Certainly I vigorously dislike that I am a cancer patient. But hate is a toxic emotion. I don't live like that.


I don't even think the WORD cancer is easy to define for myself. The word itself I suppose is a foe because in one sense the great enemy of this world, the devil, is the author of cancer. Jesus made it quite clear in John 10:10 that anything which kills, steals and destroys is of satan (you might have guessed by now that I never capitalize his name). 

Generally, you fight a foe. But that requires daily "battle."

I am not in battle with cancer. And I can't stand the new cliche' that everyone "battles" cancer. Every obituary and newspaper story about death from cancer or having cancer has to include the line that the person BATTLED it. As if people who die from heart disease or Parkinson's or stroke have not fought their disease. It is so hopelessly overused. OK. But, as usual, I digress.

So, no, I don't define it as a foe. 

The word cancer lies like a sticky odious substance on the floor of my mind. It is at once still foreign to my sensibilites and strangely familiar as if the fabric of the word drapes my very essence. On the cusp of my awareness at all times, I have a hard time forgetting I have it. I do not read anything about that word or go to any events where that word is spoken.

So in the end, I am really not sure about the relationship I have with this disease. I suppose it is an unwelcome seat-mate that has been placed beside me on the airplane of life. It shares my small space, but it makes me annoyed. It has BO and bad breath and talks way too much. I can't shut it off. I want to change seats.

I am not in battle.
I am not a survivor.
I am not a victim.
I am not a hater.

I simply walk each day with this unwelcome companion. Just like my short left leg, my myopic eyes and my bad back, it is something I am living with.

For the moment.

For as much as I can wax on about this repugnant and unwelcome fact of my life, I can say that my faith is every bit as powerful in assurance that God will redeem what satan is trying to destroy in my body. I hang on His promises for healing. I look around the plane for an empty seat that will one day be mine alone. In first class.




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I haven't been blogging. I miss it! Lots of travel the past two weeks. A trip to northwest North Dakota to see Dick's mom and a trip to Fargo with Sam to see my parents.

Sam with his Nanny and Poppy Ed

Eating lunch with my sister-in-law Margie and Mom and Dad

Dick and his mom Mabel

I enjoyed the road trip with Sam. We talked about life and future job goals and faith and sports and everything in between. It was a treat to have 9 hours alone with him (well, not exactly that.....like every sleep-deprived college kid, he napped a little both ways!). He was also a calm driver during a ground blizzard leaving North Dakota. I really appreciated that.

I have a couple blogs rumbling in my head this week. Must get them down in print.....

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BLESSED DIVIDEND

As I drove home from Fargo last Thursday after spending 4 days with my parents, I had lots of time to think. And I decided that life is really all about investment.

Mom and Dad were married in 1949 and Mike was born 9 months later (yes, he was a wedding night baby). Over the next 7 years, Chris and I came along. 



Mom and Dad were not hands-off parents. They were heavily invested in our lives. They gave us roots and wings; taught us integrity and honesty and a strong work ethic. They guided our decisions until we could make good ones on our own. They helped when we needed more hands to do the job, but had tough love when they knew we could do something ourselves. They loved us deeply and not for one moment of one day did we doubt that love or their commitment to giving us solid lives. Without even knowing what to call it back then, their investment in us gave us a soft place to fall.

When the 3 of us started having kids of our own, we started investing in them. We did the same things. Taught, helped, gave advice, molded, nurtured, cheered on, listened, prayed for, loved and encouraged. Sacrificed some retirement money for help with college tuitions. Passed on accumulated wisdom whether our kids wanted it or not. Collectively I figure the three of us have had about 175 years of investing in our seven children.....and counting....

And now, the torch has been passed. As advancing age has crept up on Mom and Dad, the three of us have turned our investment to them. At ages 89 and 93, time has begun rusting their well-oiled lives. Everything is a bit harder. Every task is a bit more difficult. Every outing takes extra time. As my niece Betsy wrote me, "Their lives now are patchwork quilts of body parts that work and don't work." 

You look at your aging parents and you are struck by the reality that there is no way you can ever give back to them even a fraction of what they have given you. The circle of life is not equitable. Parents give all. Adult children can only give back a fragment. It is all we can give, but we do with all that is within us.

We give them a ride to some appointment, and think about the days of them hauling us all over creation multiple times each day. We cook them a meal, and remember that Mom was tethered to a kitchen, making amazing meals every single day for decades. We help them with some financial issues and are taken back to the days when Dad sat each of us down and taught us about checkbooks and savings and budgets, and then for years afterward, reminded us how to be frugal.

As I assist my mother in getting her compression socks off her legs, I wish for the days when she made all of my clothes, coats included. I long for her to have the legs that were on-the-go all the time until about 5 years ago. As Dad struggles with his eyes and his beloved pastime of reading, I am transported back to the days when he read books to us, then bought books for us, then recommended books for us to buy!! And I am ever grateful that he instilled the love of reading in us.

And now, we try to give back but a portion.....

We are offering what we can. Encouragement, chores, advice, visits, errands. (I also have an amazing sister-in-law who lives in Fargo who is johnny-on-the-spot with so much love and care.) Anything that helps the wheels stay oiled. 

We do not parent our parents. I have told my Gerontology students for years, no matter how far the car travels, the rear wheels never catch up to the front wheels. They are still our parents and we respect their decisions about their lives. We are aides. We are conduits. We are oilers only.

We help with love (and humor). Because that is what families who love each other do. Because the 5 of us have always "been there" for each other. Because they raised us to be compassionate. Because they deserve nothing less from us. Because they invested so much of their lives in us.

And what is the return on this mid-life investment?

Our dividend is knowing that Mom and Dad know that for this season in their lives, we are here to be their soft place to fall.