Friday, March 29, 2013


     I have been blessed to have parents who love each other deeply. Theirs is a great love story of 63 years and counting. In many ways they are polar opposites. Mom is a social butterfly and loves people around. Dad, like me, would choose a sofa, solitude and a great book over a crowd any day. But their relationship, while it entails compromise, has always been one of tenderness, endurance, passion and playfulness. My friends used to giggle when we would come into the kitchen and catch Mom and Dad necking while she fixed dinner. 

     I marvel that every married couple in the world has choreographed their own love dance…each one with its own tempo, style and meaning. There must be as many kinds of love in the world as there are people. Every time a human being loves, it is absolutely unique. The love of man to mother, uncle to nephew, girl to great-aunt, great-grandparent to great-grandchild, friend to friend…the mathematical possibilities are vast.

     You would think that with the hundreds of different people I have loved and been loved by in my lifetime, I would start to understand the love that God has for me. I don't. I know the love for His children is so deep and so intense that it makes all these other love relationships seem bland, if not downright artificial. That our sovereign God loves me, Mary Hieb-Ekstrom, enough to put His son to death, a death that I deserved, so that my sin-stained hell-bound soul would be reconciled to the Almighty and I would live with Him for all eternity…

     …well, I can sort of imagine it would be like me having enough love for the pesky little ants crawling all over my driveway that I would allow Sam to be sacrificed so these ants could be brought into my home to live on pile carpeting for rest of their worthless lives. I DON’T THINK SO!!

     My husband loves me enough to take a bullet for me. I would take one for him. But I don't think that is unusual for any people who deeply love each other. Those knee-jerk heroics happen often. But Jesus did not just react to a random act of violence. He didn't just "take a bullet" for us. His Father PLANNED the entire thing. Jesus intentionally acquiesced to torture and crucifixion. He anticipated it. He knew exactly what He had to do and for whom He was doing it. 


     And you. 

     I was worth dying for. You were worth dying for. God thinks we were worth dying for. It takes my breath away.

     The Creator of the universe loved me enough to sacrifice His own son's life to pay the debt He never owed for my sin. I cannot even begin to comprehend that love. It is not in my intellectual realm to conceive of such a lavish love. I only know that I am incredibly humbled and thankful to be one of His unworthy recipients.

     On this Good Friday, I am grateful for the unconditional love of my husband and son, which is my daily oxygen. I am grateful I can still watch the time-tested love of my mom and dad, which strengthens me. And I am most abundantly grateful for that love which I will never understand. 

     The love that said, "Mary, you are Mine. I love you with an everlasting love. And you were worth dying for."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


As always, spring break came and went in a flash. We landed a great week at our little time-share in Sarasota. It could have been low '80's for our taste, but we were fine with low to mid- '70's and didn't have a day when we couldn't lay in the sun. Our spring break "traditions" tend to find us as soon as the plane lands. We just pick up where we left off the last time we were there. We watch NCAA games (this year, we were a week early, so we watched conference championships instead), play tennis and shuffleboard, swim, walk the beach, read books, and hot tub. We walk the boardwalk every morning. We play Hearts and Farkle. We drive up to St. Armand's Square at night, buy our ice cream cones, and walk past the wealthy people in the tony restaurants eat their $48 red snapper dinners under the umbrellas on the sidewalks. We go up to the game room and shoot pool. This year, we watched a family of dolphins put on a display close to shore. A whole week of no work, no deadlines, and no expectations. It always feels as if our bodies and souls need this break. Sam was especially needing this with a grueling semester.

Sam swimming in the gulf

The highlight of our trip was a day we will talk about for years to come. We heard about an "adventure course" (Sam and I think the sport should be called carabinering, but that is not a word) where you get yourself from treetop platform to treetop platform, 25-35 feet off the ground on things like wobbly planks, swinging ropes, nets, and zip-lines. We decided to try it. We were harnessed in with mountain climbing gear, complete with carabiners and zip-line pulleys to attach ourselves to the overhead cables. 

They trained us, then set us loose on 5 courses with increasing levels of difficulty. I hate heights, but surprisingly had no fear! It was exhilarating! We were tired after the first two courses (almost 2 hours of work), but started the third. I got 3/4 of the way done with the third course and had to quit. My muscles were trembling, but I was proud that I had taken my body to its absolute limit. The guys went on to complete the third course and were ready to call it a day as well.  Dick and Sam were pretty proud that I kept up! Dick thought I might back down after seeing the climb up to the very first platform! No doubt I was the oldest woman on the courses that day, and no doubt the only one with stage 4 lung cancer, but neither fact slowed this gal down!!

The most amazing thing about our outing was that God took away every bit of my knee and leg pain for the entire time. I mean, I have lived with knee pain now for 11 months, and it is 24/7. It is nothing short of miraculous. He gave me a window without pain to challenge myself and to feel triumphant about doing something I didn't think I could do! And just as amazing was that I, who get headaches from both sun and adrenalin, had NO headache after working that hard IN the sun for nearly 3 hours. It was a divine gift. God is good.

The guys were able to finish by going on a 650-ft zip line which I really wanted to do. I got up the first of three vertical platforms, but my muscles were already so spent, I did not have the strength needed to anchor my hands tightly on the cable handles. I knew I could not go three stories, so I came down, but I tried!!

Did we ache all over the next day? Oh........ Let's just say our abs were so sore that we could barely sit up in bed. Thighs and arms too. You use muscles you never knew you had (well, my anatomist husband knew, obviously, but you get the picture...)! 

As for making new beach-hued memories with my two favorite guys, color me lucky!

Monday, March 25, 2013


When I was up in Fargo last week helping my parents, I clipped my mom's toenails. She has a broken wrist, which, along with decreasing agility, renders her unable to reach her toes. We soaked the thickened nail beds in warm Palmolive water (those who remember manicurist Madge in the old Palmolive soap commercials, raise your hands) and I did the best I could. After I cut them, I rubbed lotion up and down her legs and into her feet.

When I went to bed that night, I thought about those feet of hers. Feet that have walked how many thousands of miles in 92 years? I can only imagine. Feet that held up her bulging belly when she carried babies in her womb three times. Feet that ran to the Red Owl, concerts, games, Girl Scouts, church meetings, AMA meetings, potlucks and dinner clubs. Feet that explored most countries in Europe.

My mom's feet have been splashed with paint, stain, ocean water, lake water, sweat, food, pine sap and lots of dirt. They have danced many a night away to "Mack the Knife." They are feet that have walked to and from the graves of her parents, 3 of her brothers, and dozens of close friends.

What if feet could speak? Think of the mysteries of life they have born witness to! Our lives have been lived out on heels, soles and toes. They do our bidding.

My mom's feet are more swollen now and need a little assist from a walker. But they are still warm with life and still hold up the body of this woman who has mothered me so lavishly. And to rub them with lotion was seemingly mundane, but in truth, it felt like something sacred.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


You would hope that a vitreous detachment, constant knee pain, dry mouth, and stage 4 lung cancer would be enough for one person to deal with.

Nope. I am also an addict. A bookaholic.

I have yet to locate a BA group in our area.

But here's the kicker. My love of book buying is limited to kids' books. I know, my child is 21 and no longer soaking in Franklin, Clifford and The Berenstain Bears. So why am I still buying kids' books?

I will digress. I am probably our library's biggest patron. The librarians know my 9-digit number by heart....never need to carry my card. Whatever book I want, they find it for me, in state or out of state. I read one or two books every week. I never consider purchasing books because once you read them, they collect dust. I have a bookshelf of my all-time favorites....books I own and reread, and I love having those around. But I just generally do not like "stuff" hanging around that I won't use again, so I am a devoted library-borrower.

But when it comes to kiddie books, I am a hopeless case. I think kids need to be read to as much as they need oxygen, sleep and food.                         

I remember being totally fascinated by this information before Sam was born: that exposure to words (both from verbal interaction with adults and being read to), clearly helps a child's brain build the neural connections and synapses that will enable the child to learn words. I learned that when you read to a child, the brain is stimulated, causing new synapses to grow and existing connections to get stronger.The studies I read on brain development in young children confirmed that being read to is a good predictor of better learning aptitude, better formation of critical language and enunciation skills, earlier grasping of abstract concepts, and greater memory retention and attention spans. 

I'm sure I learned all of that in freshman developmental psychology, but until you are ready to give birth to your first child, it doesn't have impact.

Sam's Pop-Pop (my dad) reading to our little book-lover

Well, I was not going to have our child go through life with fewer neural connections than his peers!!! And so, with the library in Duluth downtown and not very accessible, we bought books. And more books. And we read and we read and we read some more. We should have bought stock in Scholastic 21 years ago. Sam loved being read to and loved "reading" to himself. "Wead books, Mama" was daily music to my ears.

Those hours we spent in books every day were sacred, his sweet baby scent intoxicating as he snuggled tight against me rapt with every whimsical word. As he learned to talk, I would ask lots of questions and we would talk about the morals of the stories. I bought lots of books where the characters learned lessons in sharing, forgiveness, humility, integrity, and honesty. We could tell it was all sinking into his little self. His absorption well justified the book purchases, and I knew we were investing in his soul as well as his mind.

As long as he continued to love reading, I was committed to buying. (I figured new stories yielded new synapses and new character lessons!)

And somewhere along the line, I fell just as much in love with children's literature as Sam did. 

A couple weeks ago I was down in the storage room where there are 3 plastic bins and 2 boxes full of kiddie books. Out of curiosity, I counted them. Confession time: I have 274 kiddie books. This doesn't count all the books we got for him the years after kindergarten when he became his own reader. And I'm not sure I counted the ones in my dresser I haven't taken downstairs yet. 

Some of the latest in my collection

Most of our books are still like new.....for as much as we handled them, we were pretty gentle on them. And so again, with what I already have, what would possess me to continue buying kids' books?

1) Because I can. My generous teacher friend Amanda lets me order Scholastic books through her classroom. 

2) Because I love to give books as gifts to little ones. 

3) Because someday I may have a grandchild, and I would have the privilege of giving the gift of a huge library of books! I would always want my house to be a "book haven" for little ones, but Sam would get the lion's share and never need to spend a penny on books!

Sam so happy to get a new book!

Earlier this fall I had visions of sitting around the campfire at the lake, reading classics to these imaginary grandchildren when they would come to stay with us. So I bought 3 of the classics I did not have yet, but love: Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. I was tickled silly to tuck them into my collection. 

Some women can tell you all about designer brands of shoes and clothing. I can tell you about conversations between Wilbur, Templeton, and Charlotte A. Cavatica.

As addictions go, this one doesn't break the bank, destroy relationships with family, or produce shame and condemnation. And I've told myself that when I reach 325, I'm going to stop.

Yeah, I know, drug addicts say the same thing: I'm going to stop.

Well, if I do fall off the wagon, the worst that can really happen is that there will be a few more wonderful copies of The Cat in the Hat, Make Way for Ducklings, Brown Bear Brown Bear, and Blueberries for Sal floating around this world in some silky soft toddler hands, igniting neurons, kindling imaginations, and capturing dreams. 

And I could live with that fall.

My boy was so content to sit in his room and read....
Age 2

You may have tangible wealth untold 
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold 
Richer than I you can never be 
I had a mother who read to me
— Strickland Gillilan

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.
— Walt Disney

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I had two good appointments today. The gastroenterologist was awesome. I have the utmost respect for any physician who introduces himself with his first name. He was incredibly knowledgeable and encouraging and gave me a new "bowel management plan" or more aptly put, "poop protocol." It is easy, I have total control over tweaking it as I need to, and he just said he was sure we could have some victory over this chemo side effect. 

I told him that I really had already discovered a secret cure that I should share in a medical journal. We had four friends over for dinner last week and I made Mexican black bean & corn relish with lots of purple onions and cilantro, and Dick and I kept eating the remainder over a period of 3 days, and let me tell you, both of us were blown away by its laxative properties. I think the oncologists should share the recipe with all their constipated cancer patients!!! Dick thought it was a pain. I thought it was heavenly!!

My oncologist, who was very sympathetic over what I had endured for a month, was actually surprised that I would be willing to try the regular dosage of chemo again. He thought I might have just thrown in the towel. But I told him I am willing to give it another month with my new plan in place to avoid the deadly constipation, and we will go from there.

My hubbie took me to Taco Bell for dinner before we headed back home, and it was a good day all around.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013



Despite the constant knee pain and the blurry vision in my right eye, I am feeling better than I have in months. I am working out and no longer have the Milk of Magnesia Helpline on speed dial. I've gained back 4 of the 7 pounds I lost and feel great about that. I really like being on the half-dose of the chemo, but with the last PET results, I know my doc wants me to give the full dose another try. I see a gastroenterologist tomorrow. I will talk with my oncologist tomorrow after I see the GI and we will nail down the protocol to try next. Sam will be home soon for a leisurely spring break, and we are always excited when the family is back together. The 3 of us love spending time together.