Sunday, November 1, 2009

Extra Ordinary Endings

Happy All Saints Day! If any of my 'regular readers' still check back from time to time, I just wanted to say I am alive and back and thanks for still checking in! I have been away from my blog for a long time for the many things of life and death and change and growth that sewn together comprise our human experience. I will attempt to tell some of the stories of my absence in this and future blog posts. The following post I originally wrote for Mom's Caring Bridge Journal on Saturday, March 28th, 2009, the day before she died. This fall whenever I see apples, I am remembering Mom and hope that you will too.

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the Lord!
– Psalm 27:14

But those who wait on the Lord
Will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.
- Isaiah 40:31

Keeping vigil is an almost lost art that has thankfully been seeing resurgence in recent years. I wish I had a personal guide though, but I do not. The best I have found is Megory Anderson, but she is in California and not Auburndale, Florida. Plus I don't really know her personally other than having been to one of her workshops and reading her books. We accept childbirth classes, midwives and doulas, and Lamaze breathing techniques and exercises as a common practices. Lots of resources are dedicated to birthing rooms, alternative birthing methods and teaching about preparing for a new life entering this world. We don't do as well with teaching people how to help someone enter into a new life in the next world though. We call it death and focus on the endings, not the beginnings. Popular literature and films when they do address it often make it seems scary and dark. We don't like to face it because to face it we have to admit our own mortality. It is often more comfortable to take part in the funeral than the actual dying process. At funerals there are set customs, traditions, expectations, "rulebooks" by which to go. We know the drill there. Perhaps we would do better if we really embraced this time not as a death and an ending but as a time of helping to give birth to a new life. Who doesn't rejoice when a new baby is born, right?

As a society our culture is not one that likes to wait. Generally speaking Americans hate standing in lines, we hate getting stuck in traffic and we absolutely can't stand to be put on hold when we make a call. Waiting causes us stress and anxiety…we are not comfortable with the process. We want instant tax refunds…We teach our children it's better to get the "Fast Pass" at amusement parks…We like quick, convenience foods...We couldn't even think of having a dial-up internet connection any longer. Some people have even gone so far to schedule their children's births with labor inducements and C-sections just so they don't have to wait and are not inconvenienced by the act of surprise. Fortunately (aside from suicide or physician assisted suicide) we cannot schedule death.

Mom though has never been one to mind waiting and taking the extra time to do things right. She is one of the most patient people I know. She knows that good things come to those who wait. She savors and enjoys the processes almost as much as the end results and sometimes I think even a little more. For her there has always been great joy in the doing. Growing up "convenience food" was a dirty word in our house. She made dinner from scratch almost every night and for the several years we were all at home that meant dinner for eight. She baked her own bread, she grew her own vegetables, she sewed clothes for her kids (and Halloween costumes). When she still lived in Buffalo (before the age of homeowner's associations' rules) having a clothes line was one of her prized possessions so that she could hang her clothes out to dry in the fresh air whenever the weather permitted even though she had a perfectly good electric dryer in basement. She's had a dishwasher since 1985, but it has hardly ever gotten used as she would prefer to wash them by hand, even after a big dinner party. At restaurants Mom will always ask if the mashed potatoes are instant or real…if someone didn't take the time to peel and cook real potatoes and actually "mash" them, she's not interested in eating them. For as long as I can remember we always went to the country to pick every kind of fruit and vegetable in season that was available at "You-Pick" farms so Mom could bring home large quantities to can them or freeze them herself and have enough to last all year.

At Cleveland Hill Lutheran Church in Cheektowaga, NY where we were members for many years, Mom was active on the Family Life Committee which among many other wonderful things hosted a large Strawberry Social for the church and the community every year in June. She always persuaded the women of the committee to go and pick all of the strawberries themselves, rather than just buying them already picked. It was a time of fellowship, friendship and memory building…joy in the process! The rest of the committee always tried to persuade Mom to let them make drop biscuits from Bisquick each year for the shortcake, but Mom saw value in the "real thing", the slower process…so each year she volunteered herself to make all of the biscuits from scratch by hand, rolled out and cut.

Whenever she was able, she preferred to travel by car as opposed to flying anywhere because for her there was always joy in the journey, taking in the scenery. For many, many years she drove all over the country by herself or later with a couple of grandchildren in tow to visit family and friends. When she wasn't in the mood for a sit down "Cracker Barrel" type of meal while she was traveling, instead of visiting fast food restaurants, Mom would always have a cooler and a little portable grill that she travelled with and would stop at a rest area and make her own meals. One fall on a trip back to Florida from Buffalo after she had been visiting family and friends and picking bushels of apples that she could take home for making pies and eating and of course making homemade applesauce to can, she got stuck in a gridlock on the interstate. Because of a huge accident, traffic went nowhere for hours. Most of us would have been beside ourselves, but it didn't faze her one bit. Whenever one of us would comment about nothing ever bothering her, her favorite reply was "Only dogs get mad." Anyway, it was beautiful fall day and she was going to enjoy it. Mom, in typical, quintessential Leoma style, got out of her van to get to the bags of WNY McIntosh and Cortland apples (her favorite varieties) that she had in the back and walked up and down the rows of cars passing out apples and making friends. She has always had the gift of friendship and even complete strangers have felt a camaraderie with her and usually felt comfortable enough to share their whole life story with her when they met.

Being a child of the Great Depression, Mom was also hip well before her time and had "gone green" many, many years before being environmentally conscious was popular. For at least my entire life Mom has been an avid recycler and conservationist. One time in the 1970's she even got a spot on the local TV news for her recycling efforts. If it could be reduced, reused and recycled, Mom found a way to do it. She even washed and reused "disposable" plastic plates, cups and utensils from parties that were designed to make clean-up a breeze. "Waste not, want not" could have been her motto. If you ask any of my siblings about some of their favorite meals from growing up they will surely include some of her leftover creations like something we have come to affectionately call "Stupid Meat Pie." We learned to turn off lights and appliances, conserve water and so much more. Mom, until the neuropathy or numbness in her fingers (a side effect from the treatments) made it difficult, even darned her socks if they got a hole. Today Mom continues in her conservationist spirit and is making the most of every breath, getting as much use out of it as she possibly can. Her periods of apnea (even when she is awake) are now lasting sometime a full minute or longer, but her heart keeps ticking and she is conserving her energy for when she needs it most.

To know our Mom is also to know that at the heart of who she is as a person is one of her greatest spiritual gifts, that of hospitality. At her home, her work, her church or wherever Mom goes nothing makes her happier than making those around her feel welcomed and valued, usually that in some way also involves food. Hospitality is her forte and she has used every resource God has given her to share that gift with others. She has always been the coffee hour queen for her churches both in Buffalo as a member of the Family Life Committee and more recently at Abiding Savior in Winter Haven, often times as the one woman show. Where others see work, she finds pleasure. She also loved to have people over to her house for dinner, as many as would fit around her tables and sometimes more. She made birthday cakes or other favorite treats for everyone she worked with when their special day arrived and sometimes, "Just because." She truly cared about the people who came into her life. To this end, the other one of the Hospice Aides (CNAs) shared this with me: she was caring for Mom and was having a particularly bad day and started to cry because she didn't think Mom was really aware or communicative anymore, but then Mom said, "Why are you crying? Don't be sad."

Also in using her gift of hospitality, Mom loved any occasion for a party, reunion or get-together. She had so much fun planning a surprise 25th wedding anniversary party for my brother Don and his wife Robin several years ago. Holidays were also a great time of feasting at Mom's house. My husband still reminisces about the first Thanksgiving he spent with the "Knitt Clan", there were eight or ten different pies (all homemade) and a buffet line to rival any -- Coming from a small family with a mom who didn't like to cook, he had never seen anything like it before. One can only dream and imagine what the future holds for Mom if this life has offered her only a "foretaste of the feast to come."

The doctor and nurses say there is really no reason medically at this point why Mom should still be with us. Sometime on Wednesday she started to decline dramatically. She has not even had water for a few days now, but she remains with us content, pain free and at peace just to be sharing in the moments of the days. Her vital signs are so low that her temperature and blood pressure will no longer register on the equipment they use to check it. She has stopped initiating communication with us but on rare occasion now she may still surprise us with a very simple reply. Mostly though when we are able to "converse" it is through body language, facial expressions, the blink of an eye, the slight movement of her lips or hand. Occasionally she will still have the reflex to kiss back when we kiss her. Usually it is just us talking to her and her listening, telling her things about the day, sharing memories, affirming the love we and all of you have for her, but I know she still hears. This IS God's time and Mom's time, we are on their schedule now and the doctor and nurses reassure us that each person's journey is unique.

Since yesterday afternoon, I have had the awesome privilege and responsibility of being the sole person keeping vigil with Mom until my brother, Doug, returns sometime later with his wife, Ann. We have listened to soft music and hymns, prayed together, read scripture and "talked." Even though I work in the hospice field teaching others about the dying process and grieving, about how we as a community can carry each other at our times of greatest need, meeting the needs of other families going through this same journey by providing them with compassionate volunteers to share the experience, at times I feel hopelessly inadequate. Keeping vigil, especially with one's mother, is a whole different ballgame. I question… Am I talking to her too much? Am I not talking to her enough? Have I shared all of the memories that I need to share? Am I forgetting something important? What if I spend too long getting something to eat or resting? Should I be doing something different to make it a more spiritual experience? Thankfully people who love us both help me to quiet the questions and just "be." It is too late to ask any more "important" questions that only she knows the answer to…hopefully I have all the answers I will need to know stored away somewhere and in the future recall them when necessary.

Although at first glance she seems to be mostly in a vegetative state, a closer look reveals that she is not. She is thinking -- her eyebrows sometimes go up and down in expression. There is a brightness to her eyes when she is looking at things and perhaps people that we cannot see. She attempts to mouth words at times…Wednesday through the late afternoon and night, she spoke at intervals, but not to us. At one point completely unprovoked she clearly said, "I miss you, Mom" and raised up her arm and made the "Come here" motion. It sent a shiver down my spine. Because often times the waiting is uncomfortable, the natural instinct is to try to help "troubleshoot" the "problem" so that the waiting can be over more quickly… maybe she is waiting for us to give her 'permission' …maybe she is waiting for reassurance that everything is going to be okay - we have done these things and continue to do them. Maybe she is waiting to talk to or see someone one last time…maybe she is waiting for the right person to come for her? These questions could be endless, but I am finding comfort in the thought that maybe she is just enjoying the process and the journey, taking the time to take in all of the scenery along the way and doing it "right" as she has always done, making the most of her resources and allowing them time in heaven to prepare the greatest feast and party she has ever known. I'm sure she won't be late!

When I am talking to groups about the hospice experience I share that although it is true as they say in educational circles that it "takes a village to raise a child," I believe it is also true that it takes a "village" to help an individual and their loved ones through a terminal illness. Thank you for being a part of our village!

I hope while you wait with us, you find a way to share your own special "apples" with those with whom you come in contact!

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night',
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.

Psalm 139:1 - 16

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Extra Ordinary Trust

You know that if you get in the water and have nothing to hold on to,
but try to behave as you would on dry land,
you will drown.
But if, on the other hand,
you trust yourself to the water and let go,
you will float.
And this is exactly the situation of faith.
- Alan W. Watts

I love to swim and consider myself to be a pretty good swimmer in pools. In fact when I was younger I would go swimming at every opportunity and loved spending hours upon hours in the pool until my finger tips would get all shrivelled. During the summers of my childhood I remember riding my bike several miles each morning to the local pool to swim until my heart was content and in my early teens I was even a competitive synchronized swimmer for a short time. Sometimes when I am alone or mostly alone in a pool, I love to just lie on my back and float on the top of the water. It is so relaxing and peaceful. However, I live near the Atlantic Ocean and although I love to walk on the beach and appreciate its massiveness and beauty and welcome any chance to go out on it in a boat, I rarely ever actually go swimming in it because it makes me uncomfortable to be out there in this massive body of water which has so many variables that I cannot control - the waves, the current, holes or drop offs in the ocean floor, fish, sharks, jellyfish, seaweed, pollution, broken pieces of whatever on the bottom, etc. -- not to mention the fact that I am legally blind without my glasses, so that adds to my feelings of unease in this uncontrolled environment.

You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair. - Ancient Chinese Proverb
For the past few months, I have been living this paradox. I was happily sailing upon the ocean of my life in my nicely accommodative vessel when it capsized and forced me to find a way to survive swimming in the middle of the ocean. The ocean is dark and deep. It is not a nice, clean and pretty pool. I cannot see my legs and feet dangling beneath me. I fear the waves overtaking me, fighting against the current, the sharks, in essence all of the unknowns that make me feel helpless in controlling my own destiny and each time the seaweed gets tangled on my legs it really freaks me out until I once again remember it is only seaweed and cannot harm me. At first I began to flail my arms and legs in desperation but there was no shoreline in sight, no edge of the pool to grab onto. I could swim, but to where?? I would tire quickly treading water and surely be overcome. I have had no choice but to learn to trust the water, let go of any illusions of control and simply float. I hope that the Coast Guard comes along soon to make a heroic rescue, but in the meantime I have finally remembered my survival skills.

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. - Brian Tracy

I have been without words or even time for words for most of the past eight weeks. The "big picture" has finally been revealed (for those of you who have been wondering about the follow-up news to my last post) and it's not exactly pretty at first glance. I would have to equate it with more of a Jackson Pollock, abstract expressionist, type of piece. If you are used to your art being more realistic or even impressionistic, your first view of Pollock's work may leave you shaking your head in disbelief at what seems to be simply scribbles and spatters of paint without a real purpose or even a cohesive subject that abandons the traditional ideas of composition. However, if one really, truly spends time with it, just allowing one's self to be immersed in the painting, I believe there are things to appreciate and learn from what is before you.When the medical specialists had decided they were finally finished with all of their poking, prodding and probing and the whole battery of diagnostics, we braced ourselves for "the reveal." Unlike a Ty Pennington Extreme Makeover: Home Edition reveal, we knew this would not be something to which we would be really looking forward, but nonetheless could not keep at bay any longer. The ultimate diagnosis for my mom is stage IV uterine cancer that had spread to her cervix, vagina, abdominal lymph nodes and lungs. I was there when the doctor, in his best doctor voice, said some very grave words:

Leoma, I am going to be completely honest with you. The chances of curing your cancer are at best 5%. Right now you will not survive a surgery to remove the cancer because it is too wide spread and you would have to be under the anesthesia too long and would lose too much blood. Radiation will not help you because radiation is a site specific treatment and while we are treating the cancer in one location, it will only spread more aggressively in the others. I am going to try a very strong chemotherapy, but there are no guarantees that it will work. Without treatment you have at best two months to live. With treatment, if it works, you could have nine months. . . to two, three, maybe, if you are lucky, even four years. But then again, I am not God, I am only a doctor. I am treating patients today who were supposed to die from their cancer twenty-five years ago. We will try the chemotherapy and see what happens. If it works and does not seriously decrease your quality of life with the side effects, we will try some more, but if it does not work, I will not put you through further treatments and then we will talk about palliative care.

So far, it is working.

I had spent the majority of the month of March in Florida caring for my mom. I initially went down from the 6th to the 11th and then I was to pass the torch on to one of my sisters, Patti, who was to take her turn from the 12th to the 26th and then my other sister, Kathy, and her oldest daughter, Lindsey, were to come for two weeks in April, and I was going to try to come back to fill the in the gap in between since I am the closest at just over 500 miles away and also have the most flexible work schedule. However, while my sister was there, just days after my return home from my first trip, Mom collapsed, became non-responsive, and was hospitalized. The doctors in the hospital told us that she may not survive, so on Sunday, March 16, we all gathered from near and far in the wee small hours of the morning to rally and support our Mom, thinking we would be saying our good-byes. It turned out that she was very low on all of her essential nutrients because up to this point she had been eating little or nothing for weeks and she had almost two quarts of fluid built up on her lungs that needed to be drained. Then both of my sisters and I and my one sister's oldest daughter stayed for the next 10 days or so to nurse her through that physically, spiritually and emotionally critical time as she began her chemotherapy. Kathy then got special permission through the family medical leave policy at her work to stay straight through the end of April so that the rest of us could feel more at ease returning to our own work and homes.

The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize we're not. - Brian Kessler

Working for a hospice and offering care and service to other families and teaching others to do likewise is a completely different ballgame than having a member (or two) of one's own family looking straight into the eyes of terminal illness. When I have been in Florida with my mom, I have felt guilty about what I wasn't doing at home, being with my husband and fulfilling the obligations of my work and vice versa -- when I have been at home and work tending to my obligations here, I have felt guilty about not spending time with my mom. The events of the past several months have been the greatest refresher course on "living in the moment." I want to be able to control all of the variables, but I know I cannot really control any of them. Nothing I do or don't do can change the course of the disease. There is a growing desire to make every moment meaningful, important, significant, worthy of creating lasting "Hallmark moment" type of memories. The reality is the days and conversations are filled with everyday, commonplace, mundane, unexceptional, ordinary things. I have often said in the past several months that if I knew that taking the job working with a hospice was really going to be training for my personal life, I am not so sure I would have signed on for the gig.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "Why did you doubt?"

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. - Matthew 14:25-32

Control is never achieved when sought after directly. It is the surprising outcome of letting go. - James Arthur Ray
I have been learning to swim in the ocean of a loved one's terminal illness, coming to terms with the sharks of tumors and losses sharing the same water and riding the waves of treatments and tests followed by more treatments and more tests. As I have learned to be comfortable just floating, amazing things have happened. I still cannot see the shore, but the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful from here. My mom is almost finished with the second three week cycle of chemotherapy, tomorrow we will learn if this too has done what the doctor had hoped that it would do as did the first. She has lost all of her hair, but the other side effects that she has experienced up to this point have been minimal and only mild to moderate in intensity. We hold our breath for the results of each report, but so far, things are going well. All of my remaining family or origin, my Mom and siblings, were together for Palm Sunday. . . had it not been for this ugly threat of death, when would we have all taken the time to gather again? I am building extraordinary trust that it will all turn out for good, regardless.
He who has faith has an inward reservoir of courage, hope, confidence, calmness and assuring trust that all will come out well, even though to the world it may appear to come out most badly. - Bertie Charles Forbes

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. - Psalm 20:6-7

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Extra Ordinary Hope

Hope is like a road in the country;
there was never a road,
but when many people walk on it,
the road comes into existence.
~Lin Yutang

In January, I got some extra ordinary news. It is ordinary news that thousands of people around the world get every day, but yet each time it is your turn, it is still ordinary news that changes your life. Having just finished reading Joan Didion's, "The Year of Magical Thinking," a memoir about the course of her life in the year following her husband's death, I have to borrow her words now . . .
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
[The ordinary instant.]
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.
These were the first words she wrote after her husband's death, a day or two after the fact. For a long time after that though, she wrote nothing else. In Joan's case she was referring to her husband, John Dunne, dying instantly of a massive heart attack as they sat down for dinner on December 30, 2003. In my case I am referring to "the phone call." Sometimes it is so easy to relate to the desire to engage in magical thinking.

The day before my thirty-sixth birthday, January 21st, I got "the call. " It became, however, simply the first call in a series of many. It was from my sister, Patti. It started out rather normal enough in a brief exchange of pleasantries to assess how one another were doing. She lives in Ohio, but we are fairly close and talk pretty regularly. There was something a little different in her voice this time though that I could not exactly put my finger on. Then, she saved me the detective work and got right to the point. "Mom is in the hospital," she said, "the emergency room."
Nobody likes to be the bringer of bad news - Sophocles
Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news. - Shakespeare
My mom has never been a patient in the hospital in all of her nearly seventy-eight years other than the few days following the birth of each of her six children. She rarely even goes to the doctor's office at all except for an annual check-up to renew the prescription for her blood pressure medication and she would not even be doing that had it not been for my sister's persistent prodding several years ago that it would be prudent to go in for a physical. She was especially happy when for a few years her doctor's office employed a nurse practitioner and she could get her prescription renewed then without actually having to see "the doctor"at all. Being a paragon of health has long been a source of pride for my mother. Throughout my lifetime she has joked, "Every time I went to see the doctor, I came home with a family is complete, so I don't need to go anymore." You see, in Mom's world there has been no affliction that could not be healed by an aspirin, Sayman Salve or some combination of the two, along with maybe a little chicken soup at times. Her favorite moniker to use when referring to herself is proclaiming, "I'm a 'Tough Old Bird,' " implying I guess that [from her perspective] people who get sick are somehow not as stalwart as herself. She has been for her family the model matriarch - always the caregiver, never the care recipient. We, her children and family, have, I think, bought into this on some level, taking for granted that she is always healthy, will always be our "Mom" and will always be there to support the rest of us in whatever capacity we need at the time. Although this type of thinking has served us well for so long, it perhaps has become our collective Achilles' heal.
A healthy body is a guest chamber for the soul
a sick body is a prison - Sir Francis Bacon
We, as a family, must now face the consequences of that pride. It turns out that Mom has been bleeding for sometime, months in fact, but she will not confess exactly how long. I can only imagine the thought processes of a "Tough Old Bird" who lives alone and whose self-image is so dependent on being that paragon of health and strength for everyone else: "This is. . .just a thing," she must have thought. "It will go away." "It can't be anything serious, not for me anyway." "I don't get sick, that happens to other people . . . this too shall pass." My mom, a child of the Great Depression beginning her adult life in the idealistic early 1950's, has been a woman of strong faith who simply accepts everything as it comes and does not [openly, anyway] question anything. Suffering in silence is somehow something to be admired in her world, character producing.
It's no use reminding yourself daily that you are mortal: it will be brought home to you soon enough. - Albert Camus
The evening of "the call" she had not been able to eat for several days prior and had been cramping a lot and lost a great deal of blood and was beginning to be very lightheaded, nauseous. She reached a point where fear of her own mortality was setting in for the first time in her life and now she was ready and willing to seek help but her doctor's office, the place she loved to avoid, had closed for the day.
A hospital is no place to be sick - Samuel Goldwyn
So, she found her self in an emergency room when she should have been in her doctor's office, months ago. Waiting through all the protocol of emergency rooms, waiting hours for her turn, the fear did not necessarily decrease. Although part of her, for sanity's sake, was still holding on to the credo, "Nothing is wrong with me," the other part, however, knew that not to be true. Being there, admitting to the problem, giving it attention somehow gave it life and made it real. The magical thinking in prior avoidance of dealing with the problem had kept it imaginary and aloof. The tests they did at the hospital that night revealed what the ER doctor thought to be endometrial cancer, but he would not provide her with a confirmation and had her promise to follow-up with a gynecologist as soon as an appointment could be obtained.
How much of human life is lost in waiting - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six weeks have passed since that night. There have been many doctor's appointments in the intervening time. First with the regular gynecologist who did some more basic tests and announced that he believed she did indeed have endometrial cancer and that a standard hysterectomy operation would be all she needed to remove the offending cells, leaving her afterwards, "as good as new." "However," he said, "I am not an oncologist. You will need to see the gynecologic oncologist before any course of action can be finalized." So off to the gynecologic oncologist she went, feeling rather confident with this new information that indeed her troubles would soon be over. We too, though a little sceptical from taking illnesses more seriously than Mom, felt a collective sigh of relief that such a simple solution would soon bring every thing back into the status quo.
Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting, that is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience. - Unknown
The gynecologic oncologist, however, is much more thorough and comprehensive in his assessments before randomly or prematurely deciding on a course of action that would be perhaps incomplete. Mom, the novice patient, has now been subjected to a whole battery of tests. She has seen not only the gynecologic oncologist, but also a radiologist and has endured needle biopsies, ultrasounds, PET scans, MRIs . . . the full monty of cancer diagnostics. Every time we think they have settled on a diagnosis and accompanying treatment plan a new test reveals even more telling information that seemingly results in yet another test. The standard hysterectomy surgery, it turns out, is too risky to attempt in her situation. It has spread beyond the uterus and there is also cancer present in the cervix. The lymph nodes in her abdomen are enlarged and she is having fluid build up in her lungs. We do not yet know the full extent of all of these tests and still must wait longer for the "big picture" to be revealed. So now we pray. We wonder. We contemplate. We hope.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for that he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. - Romans 8:24-25

We judge of man's wisdom by his hope. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have to keep reminding myself that "false hope" is a contradiction in terms. Unlike Mom, I question most everything. I have a somewhat scientific, mathematical and rational mind. I believe that knowledge is power and avidly research to gain that necessary, powerful knowledge in any given situation. Stages, Statistics, Prognoses - these can all be scary things. Together we face Mom's mortality as well as our own. Hope, though, is about belief and faith, intangible things that cannot be plotted on graphs and represented in charts. Hope comes when we don't have the promises of science to hold onto. "False hope" would seem to describe a situation in which the desired outcome is improbable and unlikely, but isn't all hope based on that belief that good will endure?
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. – George Iles
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. - Romans 5:1-5
I know that my mom will not live forever, but I am not ready for this to be the beginning of the end of our time together. So, I have hope that the self-proclaimed "Tough Old Bird" will live up to her name. She has been ageless to us all for so long. Mom and I have not always seen things eye to eye. Sometimes our words, thoughts, and actions have left us each dumbfounded and grappling to make sense of what we cannot understand about one another. In recent years though I think we have both come to a new level of respect, acceptance and even admiration for one another and the lives we have chosen to live. So much of who I am, my values, the things that I hold dear, my personality traits, are linked in some part to being my mother's daughter. There are even marked similarities of character that have simply chosen to manifest themselves in different ways in the forty-one and a half year generational gap that separates us. I dearly love my mom and she loves me. We both know that to be true. I have extra ordinary hope that I will have years yet to enjoy more quality time with my mom as in her heart and in our minds she is still young. I have so much remaining to learn.
Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man. ~Victor Hugo
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-- Romans 15:13

Friday, February 22, 2008

Extra Ordinary Memes

I had never considered the possibility of doing memes since I started this blog because
A. I have so few regular readers and
B. My most faithful readers (and those that I read most frequently) don't seem to do memes very often

I am not even sure the correct pronunciation for the word meme or it's origin...probably should take the time to look that up. Anyway, here I am finding myself tagged for two memes (how exciting) within two weeks and then taking two more weeks to respond to them. They are both about books though and I love to read, so I will play along. Here goes:

First, Care at Care's Online Book Club tagged me for this Travel Reading Meme (on January 29th) which she got from Lisa at Books on her Brain:
  1. What book are you reading right now? Do you like it?

  2. What was the last book you read on a plane?

  3. What was the last book you read on a roadtrip?

  4. What is the most unusual place you found yourself reading?

  5. What books would you take to keep you occupied on a 2 week vacation to the beach?

* * * * * * * * *

1. I am a strange cookie because I typically don't read one book at a time per se, I rotate between reading several books simultaneously until one gets to the point that it "wins" out over the others and I then decide to stick with just that one to the finish. Then I go back to the group and start all over again. Right now I am rotating between "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi, "loved walked in" by Marisa de los Santos, "Winning with People" by John C. Maxwell, and "Praying" by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, having just finished "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion which was also in the pack until a few days ago when I decided it had won my undivided reading attention. So far, I like them all. I haven't read any honest to goodness fiction in a long time and was hoping that "love walked in" would be more engaging than it is, but it is still a good story. Anything by John C. Maxwell is engaging but he writes in a style that lends itself to reading a chapter or two and then taking a break to digest it all. The whole praying thing I am struggling with right now for many reasons, more on that in another post, so it seems that "Reading Lolita in Tehran" will be the next to break away from the pack as I often find myself drawn towards memoirs and biographies.

2. I honestly cannot answer this question because it has been so long that I am not sure exactly when the last time I flew on a plane was or what I might have been reading at the time. It has been more than a decade for sure. I can tell you the last time I went on a long train trip -- to Chicago -- I was reading John Grisham's Skipping Christmas and Janette Oke: A Heart for the Prairie by Laurel Oke Logan and a third which I don't recall.

3. The last book I read on a road trip was this past November when we went to the NC mountains and then I was also reading "Praying" by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom. I got half way through it but with the whole job change and the holidays never quite got back to it so I set it down for a few months and now am picking it back up again.

4. I had to think long and hard about a good answer for this one, but I think I will have to say that the most unusual place I've ever found myself reading was on the marching band practice field when I was in high school. There was a fair amount of semi down time just holding your spot waiting for other sections to work on their moves (we had over 200 people in our band) so I would sometimes take the current paperback reading assignment for English class out with me and pull it out in between takes to catch up a bit.

5. Since I live at the beach (or ten minutes from it) this is a hard question because I don't really plan to vacation at a beach anytime soon. I like to walk on the beach and go take pictures there, but have never been one to sit and read at the beach. Current events though leave me looking at several trips to Florida in the near future to spend some time with my mom while she is getting treatments, so lots of potential reading time on the train and in waiting rooms...I'll have to find something good. Suggestions are always welcome.

* * * * * * * * *

The next meme I have been tagged for is from Dan Brennan at Faith Dance with the 1,2,3 Meme (on February 5th) that he got from Maria at Spiritual Birdwatching [BTW - Maria if you come to visit, I like your blog template ;o) hee hee]:

  • Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).

  • Open the book to page 123.

  • Find the fifth sentence.

  • Post the next three sentences.

  • Tag five people.

So let's see what we get. I have picked up "Praying" by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, since the page starts midway thorugh a sentence, I chose to start counting with the first five full sentences, now here are the next 1, 2, and 3 --

"The fact is that we will all pray more honestly and live more safely when we learn to regard checkup as a necessary spiritual discipline, and give it its proper place in our lives. So let us look at it now. God calls all his people to be holy, that is, consciously, conscientiously and continuously set apart to live in his company and his glory, with all that involves."

My sincerest apologies to Carrie and Dan for seemingly ignoring and neglecting your tags for so long, I value both of you as my blogging friends and hope you will return to read again. I hope to sift through the reason for my absence in my next post.

Now for the tagging part, hmmm, I'm not sure who (if anyone) I can entice to play along, but here are a few bloggers who I'd love to know more about what they are reading. If you choose to play along, you can pick either meme or both, you choose, but I am tagging:

It is better to play than do nothing. -- Confucius

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Extra Ordinary Life Lessons

You can eat an elephant.
Oh, yes you can it's true.
They may be huge but not to worry,
they aren't too big for you.

Just how can I eat such a thing
that's so immense in size?
Just look at it in pieces
and make them all bite size.

You see to look from head to tail
can be a daunting task.
Many would just give up now
and let the elephant pass.

Look at it as if you can
eat it piece by piece,
It may take you a while,
but your goal you will reach.

So, next time you have a task
that is difficult to do,
Remember, you can eat an elephant
so take a piece and chew!

I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent, reasonably educated, relatively successful and well-adjusted person, but there are some areas of my life that there just seems to be a disconnect for one reason or another. I can set goals and achieve them, brainstorm, plan out a method of attack and then follow it through to completion. However, there are parts of my life that just seem to elude the whole process. Well to be perfectly honest, not whole areas of my life, but seemingly just certain tasks or individual problems that seem to avoid the transfer. Part of this I think stems from the fact that I have a strong desire to do well anything that I devote my time and energies to, I want to "do it right" or not at all. I tend to exclude the phrase "good enough" from my personal vocabulary, believing that something is either good or it is not, "good enough" doesn't often come to life in my world.

Don't do things half-assed. If a thing is worth doing at all, it's worth doing as well as you can possibly do it. Pick out something you think is worthwhile and do it or work at it with passion. Do it with all your might. -- Hugh Young
While this may be a great philosophy and value to uphold, it is paradoxically and simultaneously both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. When I undertake a task, I will do it to what I believe to be the best of my ability. However, this way of approaching the world sometimes keeps me from doing things that I really should do and that truly need to be done --things that would benefit from any level of devotion, even if the best is not available. The alternative approach I like to call the "Slip, Slop, Slap" method and it is one of my biggest pet peeves to see people engaging in the "Slip, Slop, Slap" on projects that I believe are important. (Just as a side note here - this is not a Bop original, but simply a borrowed phrase to which I've given new meaning, I must give credit where credit is due though. It is originally the campaign slogan for the Australian health initiative to reduce the risk of malignant melanoma in it's citizens. I first heard it several years ago and adopted it to describe a "half-assed" approach to things, but in it's orignial context it stands as a reminder for - "SLIP on a t-shirt, SLOP on some sunscreen, and SLAP on a hat" when one goes outside or is at the beach, which is an iniative I do support as one of my sisters is miraculously a melanoma survivor.)

Our strength grows out of our weaknesses. --Ralph Waldo Emerson
At any rate, I am in the process of attempting to grow and become more conscious and aware of how the paradoxical nature of this blessing/curse, that seems to be hard-wired into me, affects my life and my actions and achievements in order to hopefully learn to lessen the negatives and augment the positives that come along with it. One strategy that I am finding helpful these days is that of breaking down a formidable task into smaller, more bite-sized pieces, like how one goes about eating the proverbial elephant. I like to fancy myself a "big picture" kind of person, but I have come to realize that certain situations call for me to simply look at each section or segment of the picture individually and in doing so the "big picture" will take care of itself. Sometimes I may think that I cannot bring a particular project to the level of completion that would bring me a sense of satifisfaction because of limitations in time, energy, money or other resources and therefore avoid tackling it at all. However, I am learning that I may be able to bring just a small portion of it close to my overall vision and that, at times is "enough" for the moment.
I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do. -- Helen Keller
All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
So it is with new acceptance and the embracing of a knowledge that perhaps I already knew in other areas of my life, that I celebrate this week the success of completing a home project and household task that has eluded me for so long. I am embarrased to confess to you exactly what it was, as it is such a seemingly simple chore for which most people (I think) eastablish a regular daily or weekly rituals and simply "just do it" as Nike says, often in popular "Slip, Slop, Slap" fashion, to be able to simply check the item off of their "To Do" list and move on with living. It takes me longer though to "do it right" and therefore I put it off until I have more time to complete the task in a manner I deem acceptable. Then with each avoidance it became a yet a bigger task that would take even more time to complete properly which in turn caused greater avoidance -- a negatively growing, self-feeding spiral.
One step at a time is all that's possible - even when those steps are taken on the run. -- Anne W. Schaef
There has been, for the last several month, a growing, nagging desire to finally "EAT this ELEPHANT" in my life. I reasoned, I am a fairly intelligent, reasonably educated, relatively successful and well-adjusted person in many areas of my life that this shouldn't be so hard. "It's not rocket science, it's a household chore," I prodded myself. When I set my mind to do something, I know that I can do it and do it well. It was just a matter of overcoming this disconnect in my thinking. As I allowed my consciousness to comtemplate the task and no longer avoid thinking about it, it became a challenge and I never turn down a challenge! So, I began small bite by ever seemingly small bite. The acomplishment of this task became a present and gift that I so wanted to be able give myself - first for Thanksgiving, then I thought it would be achieved by Christmas, . . .New Year's perhaps? Okay, I was making progress. Even if I still saw the whole elephant in my mind, when I forced myself to step back and really, truly look at him, there were significant portions of the elephant now missing-- his ears, his trunk, a couple of legs... "I can do this," I thought. Maybe for my birthday on the 22nd? Alas, life and work got in the way delaying progress each time I set an "end date." Then, I gave up setting an end date. Although my determination grew as I was getting a little tired of finding new, interesting, and tasteful ways to cook up the leftovers: elephant stew, elephant soup, Pink and White Elephant drinks, and even Tomato Basil Elephant Ears (now these were particualrly good though). I now had a desire to move onto other culinary tastes, focus on new goals and on Sunday, January 27th I finally used up the last of the elephant -- Success!!
The elevator to success is out of order. You'll have to use the stairs... one step at a time. -- Joe Girard
Note to concerned wildlife and endangered species activists:
No actual elephants were harmed in the learning of this life lesson.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Extra Ordinary Gifts

What we are is God's gift to us.
What we become is our gift to God.
- Eleanor Powell

In rereading my #17 of the "Thirty-six things about me as I turn thirty-six..." list in my previous post, I had to stop and think about all of the great variety of things that I wanted to be "when I grew up" and how none of things that I actually became were on the list. I am not sure what that says about me, but I have pondered it a good deal. I will say that for the period of time that they made the list, I was whole-heartedly sincere in each of their choosing. I envisioned myself getting the required education and training for each job and really visualized having success in each field. I even wrote a letter to Sea World once (I think this was at age 10 or 11) to ask what it would take to become a marine biologist and killer whale trainer. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I spent a month at a residential music camp in South Dakota and studied under one of the horn players from the Boston Pops. One time in high school we had Career Day and we got the opportunity to shadow professionals throughout their work day and ask them questions and get a first hand look into what their job was really like, there weren't any professional symphonies around so I went for my science love and shadowed a physical therapist. I entered college as a Biology major, a lead-in to several of the careers on my list and I still took horn lessons for credit. Somehow or other though, each thing on the list, upon further examination, became not quite something to which I felt I could dedicate my life.

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained. - Marie Curie

As I grew in years and learned more about myself, I learned that what I really wanted to do in life was to somehow "make a difference." I know, it sounds like such a trite cliché. I would almost be embarrassed to say it if it were not so naively true. All of the things that did make the list and many of those that I actually did (but that didn't make the list) were inspired by individuals who were at one time or another at least moderately influential in my own life and whom I perceived to be making a positive difference in the lives of others (blogging included). So many people go through life on autopilot, I wanted to help them see the possibilities of something more and experience it. I think a large part of this stems in some way from watching my father progress through his cancer and die at such a young age (you can read a little more of my insight into this in this previous post), the other part, however, I think is just something that is innately hardwired into me. As I have matured though, I have learned that there are infinitely many ways to "make a difference" and that this goal can be accomplished through an equally great variety of venues.

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. -- Marian Wright Edelman
This past fall while I was still working as "Membership Coordinator" at the church where I was employed, I was assigned to be part of a team that created a spiritual gifts exploration workshop. The text we chose was called Network. From a ministry oriented perspective its goal was "Getting the right people, in the right places, for the right reasons, at the right time." From a personal growth tool perspective its goal was to help individuals discover their God-given gifts which work together to form their own personal servant profile which is a combination of your passion (that indicates where you should serve), your spiritual gifts (that indicates what you should do) and your personal style (that indicates how you should serve). The problem with this program as it manifested itself in this particular location was that the message above the table was that there are inifintely many combinations of passions, gifts, and styles and all are equally valid and essential to function together to form the "Body of Christ," but the thinly veiled message was that some combinations were unacceptable. If you read my post on Extra Ordinary Community, you will understand this is one of the reasons why I chose to leave that position and ultimately that community. But the initial concept of such a program is one I truly supported and would recommend to anyone wishing to explore their own gifts.

We all have different gifts and different ways of saying to the world who we are. The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling they are worthwhile. - Fred Rogers
Through my own participation in the inaugural session of our "God's Gift's" workshop, I was able to not necessarily discover things about myself that I didn't already know, but rather get a sense of affirmation that my own talents and skills and passions were indeed legitimate and God given, not just something that I accidentally stumbled upon over the years. It gave me even more confidence to move on and away. In my personal quest to "make a difference," I have spent many years helping other people to follow their dreams and realize their own potential. I saw things and people and missions that I believed in for the greater good and I wanted to help to make them bigger and more grand than they would otherwise be. Because of this, in one sense, I thought I didn't really have any gifts of my own, just helping other people with their gifts, but then lo and behold I discovered that "Helps" or helping others is a spiritual gift in and of itself. Surprise, surprise..."Helps" turned out to be my number one spiritual gift!
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. - 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
I recently read John C. Maxwell's book, Talent is Never Enough: Discovering the Choices that Will Take You Beyond Your Talent. It is an amazing book that I highly recommend if you are interested in personal development, although I am a big fan of all of Maxwell's work, so my opinion may be biased. In the first chapter (p.17) he tells a story that really stuck with me and I want to relay it here. He says -

Executive coach Joel Garfinkle recounts a story by writer Mark Twain in which a man died and met Saint Peter at the pearly gates. Immediately realizing that Saint Peter was a wise and knowledgeable individual, the man inquired, "Saint Peter, I have been interested in military history for many years. Tell me who was the greatest general of all time?"

Saint Peter quickly responded, "Oh, that's a simple question. It's that man right over there."

You must be mistaken," responded the man, now very
perplexed. "I knew that man on earth and he was just a common laborer."

"That's right my friend," assured Saint Peter. "He would have been that greatest general of all time, if he had been a general."
Did it stop you in your tracks? It did me when I first read it. Perhaps that is because my interests have been so diverse over the years. When I was younger (in my twenties) I used to sometimes play the "What if..." Game: What if . . . I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing? What if . . . I was really meant to pursue one of those careers on the list? Horrible game - I don't recommend it to anyone, but I think it is par for the course of development in one's twenties. As I entered my thirties and became "more comfortable in my own skin" as they say, I became more confident in simply being who I was created to be. My other top gifts that weave together to form the persona of “Bop” were creative communication, administration, mercy, apostleship, encouragement and faith. I think sometimes the greatest challenge lies in being the best "Bop". . . "BRKM". . . "Barbara". . . simply the best version of me that God created and as far as I know, I'm the only one exactly like me. If I don't become the best version of me, the world may miss out on having what I have been given to offer.
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sometimes we see the gifts all nicely wrapped with pretty paper and fancy bows and we are afraid to open them. They look too good from the outside, we think. They couldn't possibly be for us, could they?? We are afraid to own the best versions of ourselves and open all of the gifts. The Creator has packed our figurative bags with all that we need to be successful, we just need to accept and open the gifts we have been given and then use them to the best of our abilities to make the world a better place because we were in it.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 4:10-11
Here's to your gifts and mine my friends! If you haven't already, start opening them today...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most.
We ask ourselves,
‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and famous?’
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And when we let our light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson, American author and lecturer

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Extra Ordinary Me!

A diplomat is a man who remembers a woman's birthday
but never remembers her age.- Robert Frost

Sir Francis Bacon (1561), Lord Byron (1788), Steve Perry (1949), Diane Lane (1965), and me (1972). Last year I got my first grey hair -- small tragedy I know, especially to those of you who have had them for some time (my husband included)-- but somehow I always thought they would hold off a little longer. Moms always blame getting grey hairs on their kids, I do not have that luxury. No time for a pity party though as they came without much fanfare or ado, just nonchalantly appearing one day. I am now officially closer to 40 than I am to 30 as I celebrate my 36th completed year! Although I think I can still buy myself some time in delaying the classification "middle-aged," I no longer qualify for my "early 30's" either.

This is the year I will have known my husband for an equal amount of time that I have lived without knowing him. I will also have lived half of my life now as a South Carolinian. I am not necessarily where I thought I would be in my life journey at this stage of the game, but overall I am satisfied with the choices I have made and believe that I am exactly where I need to be, learning, growing, and each day coming closer to my authentic self.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be. - Douglas Adams
At any rate, I see birthdays as a time of personal celebration and life reflection. I am very happy to have as many as I will be given, as it is much better than the alternative. I haven't posted in a while and at the rate I am going it will take me several years to get to my 100th post and the requisite "100 Things About Me". . . so for the curious or bored, I will leave you with this -

Thirty-six things about me as I turn thirty-six:
  1. I am the youngest of six children (three boys, three girls).

  2. The first five siblings in my family are each between 18 and 24 months apart, however I am 8 years and four months younger than my next closest sibling in age. The oldest turned 51 this past November.

  3. I have thirteen nieces and nephews ranging in age from 13 to 28, I am a godmother to four of them and I have two grandnieces!

  4. I was born and raised until just before high school in a suburb of Buffalo, NY called Cheektowaga, which is an Iroquois Indian word that means "Land of the Crabapple Tree."

  5. My Dad died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 48 and I was 6.

  6. Two of my siblings have had cancer – one with malignant melanoma and thyroid cancer and the other prostate cancer. One is now cancer free after several years of an arduous struggle and the other is currently in the midst of his difficult battle.

  7. I am mostly of Prussian ancestry. I think it’s a lot more fun than saying I’m just plain old German, but if I’m really in a playful mood and want to puzzle you, I’ll tell you at I’m least part Kashubian. Not up on your European history?? If you’re really interested, I’ll let you look it up.

  8. I am 5’4” tall with brown hair and brown eyes and I think my best physical features are my eyes and my smile.

  9. I have lived in three states: New York, Florida, and South Carolina and my travels outside of the U.S. only include Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas. My favorite method of travel is by train, as the journey is sometimes the best part of the trip!

  10. I feel equally at home and comfortable in a big city as I do in a small town or rural area, but I really don't like cookie cutter suburbs filled with subdivisions, strip malls, and all the same “big box” chains and restaurants. Ironically though, I have lived most of my life in such suburbs.

  11. The next big trip within the U.S. that my husband and I want to take is to see The Grand Canyon.

  12. I hope to someday have enough money and time to travel around the world – I was going to tell you my “Must See” places, but I can’t really think of a place that given the opportunity, I would say, “No I’m really not interested in going there.”

  13. For a short time in my early teens I was a competitive synchronized swimmer.

  14. In eighth grade I tried out for the boys soccer team (there wasn’t a girls team at my new school), made the first cut but then talked myself out of continuing with it. Needless to say, one of the movies I loved to watch when I was an early teen was "Quarterback Princess" with Helen Hunt...and this past summer I was one of the five people who went to see "Gracie" during it's short run in the theaters.

  15. My first car was a brand new blue Chevy Cavalier that I got when I was eighteen, kept for over ten years and logged over 300,000 miles on it with no major mechanical repairs. My dream car would have been a ’67 Mustang, but my Mom was doing the purchasing and she wanted something "more reliable”…guess it doesn’t get much more reliable than that.

  16. On the way home from college during my freshman year Christmas break I fell asleep at the wheel on top of a bridge and took out a big section of the concrete railing without falling off the bridge (It was less than ten miles from my home after driving more than 500 miles). The front driver’s side quadrant of the car was ruined, but I sustained no physical damage to my person.

  17. Things I wanted to be "when I grew up” at various stages of life that never materialized (in no particular order): a cancer researcher, a dentist, a marine biologist and killer whale trainer at Sea World, a professional horn player for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a physical or occupational therapist, a forest ranger, a farmer, an agricultural development researcher, librarian, a botanist, a biology teacher, an elementary school teacher, an entrepreneur, and a graphic designer.

  18. Once when we were first married in 1992, my husband and I did a week’s worth of grocery shopping with a roll of dimes, a roll of nickels, a box full of coupons, and the grocery store’s buy one, get one free sales flyer.

  19. When I was a child (maybe 7 or 8?) I was so moved by the stories of the people on the Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day weekend muscular dystrophy telethon that I went door to door on all the streets in my neighborhood to collect money for it and then had my Mom drive me down to the local TV station to turn it in. I did this for several years in a row, now as an adult I rarely even remember that it is on.

  20. When I was little I had an imaginary friend named “Match.” Go figure! Don’t ask, because I don’t know either …

  21. There were over 600 people in my high school graduating class in Florida, I went to school with everything from the very rich to the very poor…I decided I liked the very poor better. My classes were a veritable league of nations…I had acquaintances who were from Iran, India, Pakistan, and all sorts of interesting places…we didn’t think much about it at the time, but looking back with today’s current events it would have made for a much more interesting experience I’m sure. If I had stayed in my original school system in Cheektowaga, NY there would have been about 90 kids in my class, all white middle class, mostly Roman Catholic and Polish.

  22. I LOVE to ride my bicycle, it has been a life-long love, but other than my bright red tricycle that my parents purchased for me when I was three, any bicycle I had over the years was given to me used by someone else or the last one was purchased new by my husband’s parents as a gift, but I’ve never gotten to pick out my own bike!

  23. I am normally a pretty practical person, but when I decide to splurge on something for myself it will most likely be earrings, fancy stationary/cards, cool gourmet specialty foods, BOOKS, fun hats, and really nice drawing pencils and a sketch book.

  24. My favorite season of the year is autumn and on the first truly cool day after the heat of summer, I like to make pumpkin bread as a celebration.

  25. I don’t like people who are impatient with children, the elderly, and/or the disabled. We were all young once, if we are lucky we will get to old age, and disabled is a matter of perspective - we are all less able in our own ways.

  26. My favorite junk food is a chili cheese hot dog (I am a hot dog snob though, I only like the good ones) and I am a dark chocolate and cocoa connoisseur…is 88% cacao too much?

  27. My favorite thing to eat for breakfast is oatmeal with almonds and fruit.

  28. I am a “Luthcopalian” (a term coined by my dear friend for someone who was Lutheran but converted to Episcopalianism) Right now though I feel like a woman without a country, finding a place to fit in neither of those communities locally.

  29. I believe in the power of prayer and taking the time to connect with our creator.

  30. One of my favorite things to do is watch the moon rise over the ocean. One day I hope to be able to take a really good picture of it.

  31. One of my pet peeves is people who just kind of/sort of put their grocery shopping cart back in the general direction of the parking lot cart corral instead of just taking the extra couple of seconds to do it “right.” I have been known to take other people's stray carts to the corral on my way with mine and then organize them when I get there to take up the least amount of space possible and allow the most carts to fit. Crazy – I know! A little OCD, maybe?

  32. I buy organic whenever I can afford it and am a dedicated recycler.

  33. I love snow and icicles, especially appreciating the individual beauty of each flake.

  34. My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because it brings together family and friends without any hard and fast "rules" for celebration and it is not necessarily tied to religious observances or overly commercialized. It is simply about being thankful and showing gratitiude for the people and things that add meaning to you life and the blessings you have been given through them.

  35. I would describe myself as curious and adventurous, I love to learn new things and meet new people.

  36. I got the nickname Bop from one of my nieces when she was just learning to talk, my given name is Barbara, but my family typically calls me Barb or Barbie and when she tried to say “Aunt Barb” it came out “Aunt Bop” and it just stuck. I don’t know... I just liked it and it seemed to fit, so I kept it. That niece will turn 22 this year!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Extra Ordinary Gratitude

Be joyful always; pray continually;
give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:16 - 18

2007 has come to an end. If I were to think of one word to express or sum up the things I have experienced in the past twelve months it would, without a doubt, be dichotomy. So many things I saw or heard or encountered were seemingly contradictory. Had I been given the option back in December of 2006 to choose what my life would look like for the then upcoming year, I'm not so sure I would have chosen what I ended up living, but in retrospect I am indeed thankful for every moment of it. I have grown, I have changed, and I have learned something from all that I experienced. In conducting my mental review though, I cannot help but think of Charles Dickens' opening to Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I began this past year facing a series of chest x-rays and an MRI for a lump that developed and enlarged in around my collar bone and upper rib during 2006. I had put them off until after holidays, but January 3rd there was no more waiting. They were unable to find anything definitive and unless I wanted to engage in an exploratory surgery, watch and wait was my only option. I have a lot of cancer in my family, so it was a little disconcerting but I elected do the watch and wait nonetheless. Today I can still tell you exactly where it is, but it has shrunk a good deal and I am not conscious of it on a day-to-day basis as I have been in the past, so I guess for now it will remain just one of those mysterious things. I learned to have trust and faith that I would be led to make the best decisions at a time when there were no definitive answers, to accept that I would be protected and cared for by our Creator.

It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing. - Norman Cousins.

The wish for healing has ever been the half of health. - Hippolytus

The beginning of the year was also filled with the great excitement and anticipation of the beginning of a new job on permanent basis where I had worked temporarily in the fall of 2006. I originally thought it would be a destination where I would stay for a much longer period of time. However, I was soon to discover that what I envisioned my purpose there to be was going to be vastly different from what God envisioned that purpose for me to be. Where I saw a period, He only meant for there to be a comma. It was simply just one of the facets of the year-long graduate level fortitude course He enrolled me in, without my consent. In this job which lasted eleven of the past twelve months, I learned many lessons about friendship, Christ-like love (or the absence of it), communities, public personas vs. private lives and what happens when ordinary people experience extraordinary pain. In the end, what I first saw as a place of arrival, was simply to be a 'layover' in my journey to another place. Once I came to that acceptance, I could simply take it all in and store what I had learned for future use.

Then Job replied to the LORD : "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted..." - Job 42:2

In the middle of the year, I watched as my husband said goodbye to his career of fourteen years, and a passion we both had shared for many of them. It was a love of music and music education that had initially brought us together in the early stages of our relationship, but an environment that we had both outgrown. The situation presented it's own financial and emotional struggles. We learned what it means to have your identity so wrapped up in a career that somehow you lose a portion of yourself and what it means to redefine yourself in a way that is true to your inner most being. We learned what it takes to truly live a more financially balanced life and the differences between wants and needs and what we were willing to give up to meet our basic needs. For a while the prospect of giving up the expense of our house was a nearing reality, but ultimately that did not come to pass.

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship. - Louisa May Alcott

In the middle of August we found ourselves at a place in our fifteen year old married relationship (and seventeen years of being best friends) that we didn't know how to navigate on our own. It was not a place we ever thought that we would end up; there were no rule books or game plans ready to follow and we made some mistakes. We found who we like to call, "Our paid friend, George" and he gave us some maps and a compass to help us find our way out of the woods. We are still in the process of forging this new path out of the wilderness together that will be the foundation for the next season of our lives. We learned that relationships don't run on auto-pilot. We learned that if you lose sight of where you are going, you're going to get lost. We learned to see each other with new eyes and with a new appreciation for the people who we had emerged into while we were each busy in our own ways doing work to hopefully make the world a better place. We re-learned what we value in each other and that nothing is to be taken for granted, especially in relationships. We learned how to fall in love again. We learned to say, "Chow Funs!"

That's not why I'm saying Chow Funs. I'm saying Chow Funs because we're an us. There's a history here, and histories don't happen overnight. In Mesopotamia or Ancient Troy there are cities built on top of other cities, but I don't want another city, I like this city. I know what kind of mood you’re in when you wake up by which eyebrow is higher, and you know I'm a little quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly, that's a dance you perfect over time. And it's hard, it's much harder than I thought it would be, but there's more good than bad and you don't just give up! . . . And I'll try to relax, let's face it, anybody is going to have traits that get on your nerves, I mean, why shouldn't it be your annoying traits, and I know I'm no day at the beach, but I do have a good sense of direction so I can at least find the beach, which isn't a weakness of yours, it's a strength of mine. And God you're a good friend and good friends are hard to find. . . And ultimately, isn't that what it comes down too? What a person is made of? That girl in the pin helmet is still here 'bee boo bee boo' I didn't even know she existed until you and I'm afraid if you leave I may never see her again, even though I said at times you beat her out of me, isn't that the paradox? Haven't we hit the essential paradox? Give and take, push and pull, the yen the yang. The best of times, the worst of times! I think Dickens said it best, 'He could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean', but, that doesn't really apply here does it? What I'm trying to say is, I'm saying Chow Funs because, I love you!

- Katie Jordan (Michelle Pfeiffer), The Story of Us, 1999

We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly – Sam Keen

The end of October found us with a home equity loan to purchase two new vehicles, one brand new and one new to us, as well as a little extra to tide us over financially until I got my new job, career path and mission that began in December and my husband got a promotion to assistant manager (second in command) at his new career in retail sales.

The holidays which for us were once about creating memories for others with music making through parades and concerts and choir singing, became a season where my husband's work was directly involved in the crazy holiday shopping scene-- something we ourselves usually tried to avoid. Our schedules were different, the experience was different. We each had our own emotions and memories of Christmases past and hopes for Christmases of the future. Christmas of the present was simply about being joyful in the moment for the simple pleasures of life and the blessings we had received in the past year, even if they often came in disguise. We didn't put up any decorations or tree, but we shared our favorite traditional Christmas Eve dinner, drove around the neighborhood to admire everyone else's displays of lights and we worshiped and connected with our Creator and Savior, for the first time in a long time just as visitors of the congregation where we were not members and not directly as participants in the service among friends and acquaintances we had grown to know and love.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. -- Linus Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown
Christmas, 1965

It was a year of many blessings that arrived packaged as challenges. At first we were afraid to open them, but once we did we had the ability to grow and change and learn and love in a whole new way. We also were given the gift of strengthen relationships from acquaintances who became friends, some rather unexpectedly and new people who arrived in our life that we never knew existed in the beginning of last year - some of whom brought a whole set of blessings and gifts of their own with their arrival - some of them are here in the blog world! We are at a better place now than we were before the experiences of 2007 and we wouldn't have arrived here without them. For that I am extraordinarily grateful!

The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. - John Vance Cheney

As we each look ahead with hopes and dreams and goals for 2008, I leave these words and wishes for you, my friends in the blog world:

May God give you...
For every storm a rainbow,
for every tear a smile,
for every care a promise
and a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share,
for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer.
- Traditional Irish Blessing

Happy New Year!