Posted in life lessons

The To Do List

I have a To Do List on my kitchen island. It’s not a grocery list. It’s not a list of errands or chores. It’s a list of names of really good friends who have left messages or texted or emailed in the last few days asking the same question: “How are you? How is it going?”

I don’t know how to answer their question in a text and I don’t have the emotional energy to return the calls. So every day the list grows.

I am discovering that this hospital-discharge recovery phase of Jasmine’s leukaemia treatment has new difficulties, challenges and surprises. Not the least of which is mental and emotional fatigue that manifests in: tears over “nothing”; manic activity; guilt about Everything (especially The List); panicky fear that comes out of “nowhere”; wanting to isolate myself; and, of course, insomnia.

And that’s just ME! A grandparent. Christine and Jasmine have all that and more.

Even though we are “happy” to be home, there is a deep sadness that lurks just below the surface. This doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for the prayers, miracles (no fifth round), gifts, love, fellowship, kindness, lavish generosity of friends and strangers, and So Much More! We are overwhelmed with gratitude! We’ve been supported beyond our wildest expectations. We will never be able to pay it back (or forward) enough to show how much we appreciate it.

But ironically, our heavy-heartedness in light of such an outpouring of love and support simply adds to the burden of guilt we feel for having emotions that are anything but positive, euphoric, and grateful!

Our sadness does not come from Jasmine’s physical recovery. Every day she grows stronger and is able to do a little more. This morning I resisted the urge to film her as she demonstrated the line dance she learned in school three years ago. Her movements were slower and a bit stiff but she had the grin and the uplifted chin bang on!

For Jasmine, the physical toll has been severe. Her little body is ravaged: bruised, scabbed, scarred, denuded, emaciated. The damage to internal organs can’t be seen by the naked eye but various tests have alerted us to that reality. In addition, the emotional/ psychological toll, invisible and immeasurable, will take years to rebuild and will change her forever.

Of course, that’s not all bad. Some of those changes will equip her for greater maturity, empathy, tolerance, perseverance, endurance, compassion, spiritual depth and more.

But her new normal means she has a one in four chance of AML coming back. There is a greater likelihood of getting other cancers. Sunlight is no longer benign and she will have to protect her skin from exposure. She will need echocardiograms annually for life because of the potential heart damage from treatment.

But we’re home now! We dreamed of, prayed for, and anticipated with joy our final discharge day! It came and went and we were too tired, in every way, to celebrate.

We feel internal pressure to return to the old normal which  included family meals, jobs, friends, church, fitness, gardening, camping…. But we know that our new normal means we first need to take time for rest, counselling, fresh air, good food, spiritual renewal, recreation, massage, light exercise, visits with friends, and no big changes or new challenges for a season.

So for those I love on The List and for anyone else who has been following Jasmine’s AML journey: How am I and how are we doing?  Happy to be home. Saddened by suffering. Battle scarred but still standing. Aware that the recovery will take time. SO SO grateful to God and to our family, church, community, schools, coworkers, friends, employers, pray-ers, and supporters. We would not have chosen to travel this road alone and because of you, we didn’t have to.

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

It’s the Little Things

my new look

In my LBL (life before leukaemia) I made my bed every day. I know that doesn’t qualify me for sainthood or even the Good Housekeeping Seal of Excellence but it always helped me start my day regardless of whether I slept well or poorly. It drew a definitive line between Day and Night. Work and Rest.

Another aspect of my LBL was “Tuesday with the Littles.” Every Tuesday, My smallest granddaughters, aged two and five, would arrive at 11 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. We started with homemade quesadillas and juice and then met some friends at a playground. We would come home for another Grammy-approved snack of cookies or ice cream and hot chocolate with at least two marshmallows. The day would end with a 30-minute romp in the outdoor hot tub. I sent them home with a Fruit-to-GO (only given when jacket was zipped and feet in boots!) and collapsed, hoping the supper fairy would soon arrive (a.k.a. Gerry) and save the day.

We managed to squeeze in one Tuesday after Jasmine’s leukaemia diagnosis and the first thing the little girls noticed was my unmade bed. So they made it. Because they knew it was important to Grammy. I am tearing up as I type this.

It’s the little things.

Helping people through crisis and loss is always hard because we never know what to do, what to say, whether to call or leave them undisturbed. Most people are at a loss for how to respond to a friend who is dealing with tragic circumstances.

What I know from being on both ends (helper and helpless) is that it’s the little things. It’s the thousand tiny kindnesses spread out over time that bring comfort, encouragement, and a smile (through tears).

  • Barb’s gourmet garlicky chicken soup delivered to my door when a wicked head cold separated me from hospitalized Jasmine for almost three weeks.
  • Denise and/or Audrey, my neighbourhood snow angels, shovelling my driveway and sidewalk.
  • Shannon bringing over a cheery yellow flowering plant and staying for tea.
  • Judy and Sue meeting me for supper at my fav Thai restaurant and picking up the bill.
  • Lorraine taking me to her natural habitat (the mall) and laughing with me as we tried on hats.
  • Two tiny girls tugging and pulling and climbing to make a king-sized bed fit for a queen.

The little things become big things in crisis.

Thank you to all of you — there are so many kind acts, words, gifts, prayers not mentioned here — who are holding us up during this leukaemia battle. Jasmine, her parents, her brother and the rest of our family are grateful beyond expressing.

Follow Jasmine’s Journey or join Jasmine’s Army on Facebook for updates.

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Caring for Aging Parents; a chance to give back

My 11-year-old grandson and I were watching a “magic” trick in a shop for magicians in Calgary last month when my cell rang. It was Gerry calling from the other side of the country. He was in the airport headed home but was quite emotional.

“It’s mom,” he said. “She’s in the hospital. Again. She’s not doing well.”

We decided to leave early the next morning to make the seven-hour drive to Saskatoon to visit Gerry’s 91-year-old recently widowed mom and to meet with his four brothers to discuss her care.

Now, a month later, grandmama is much improved and working hard at adjusting to a new assisted living home. We spent Mother’s Day weekend there and were so impressed with her strength of will and mental clarity in spite of physical fragility due to age and the emotional challenges of dealing with the loss of independence.

So many people my age are caring for their aging parents including my friend Kathy Howard. Today is the launch day for her newest book30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents

Struggling to navigate the parent/child role reversal? Kathy Howard’s new book, 30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents, explores God’s Word to find hope and encouragement for the wide range of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual challenges the adult child caregiver may experience. Each of the 30 devotions – which can also serve as a guide for a daily quiet time – includes a Scripture passage, a real-life illustration, biblical commentary/application, and questions for reflection.

 

From Kathy…What Do We Do Now?

My parents needed help long before I realized it. Their need snuck up on me. Since they had always been so independent, strong, and capable, it took a while for my perception of them to catch up with reality.

Then I felt as if I was already behind. That I had to run to catch up. I missed that initial step, the first small decision of many decisions to come. I fell into the deep end. When I came up for air my first thought was “what do we do now?!” You may have that same feeling – overwhelmed with decisions for someone who used to have all the answers.

As we care for our aging parents, we face a constant barrage of decisions, some small and some huge. My friend Karen and her siblings are just beginning the caregiving journey with their parents. Karen’s mom and dad live in a large, multi-level house on more than an acre of land. The family worries about their physical ability to care for the property as well as their safety carrying out the required tasks. In recent months, Karen’s dad has fallen more than once.

Their first big decision looms – when and how should the children talk to the parents about moving somewhere safer and more manageable? Karen isn’t sure how to proceed, but she is sure about where to find the answer. “I pray for God’s wisdom to know when the time will be right to talk to them about a move. God knows when that should be.”

Wouldn’t it be great if our aging parents came with an instruction manual? But, no guidebook exists to tell us “when this happens, then you do this…” The only practical training most of us receive may be on the job, but we do have access to a vast storehouse of divine wisdom.

By definition, wisdom is the ability to choose and act rightly in specific situations. God wants to guide us along a wise path. He desires for us to do the right thing, to make good decisions for ourselves and our parents. Therefore, He does not hide His wisdom from us, but gives generously to all who asks (James 1:5).

The search for true wisdom is really a search for its Source, God Himself (Proverbs 2:6). Let us begin there. In God’s presence, in His revealed Word. The Bible provides the framework of discernment we need for all life’s situations. There we find principles for godly living, guidelines for relationships, and insight that shapes our attitudes and behavior.

Through the guidance of His Spirit and godly counsel of fellow believers, God will use what we have diligently treasured in our hearts and minds to walk us through specific circumstances. As we follow God’s direction we will begin to experience the cumulative effect of godly wisdom. Yesterday’s wise decisions set us on a good path, guarding our course for today’s wise choices. The exercise of godly wisdom today will keep us on God’s good path paving the way into a wise tomorrow.

The Bible describes the discovery of wisdom as a treasure hunt (Proverbs 2:4). Wisdom comes to light as we diligently seek it in God’s Word and in His presence. Let us look for wisdom like silver; search for it like precious treasure. Let us call out to the Author of wisdom and ask Him to grant what He longs to give.

Personal Reflection:

Do you pray and read God’s Word with determined anticipation of receiving His wisdom and guidance? What are some ways you can purposefully hunt for God’s wisdom?

 Kathy Howard calls herself a “confused southerner.” Raised in Louisiana, she moved with her engineer husband around the U.S. and Canada. She says “pop” instead of “Coke” and “you guys” as often as “y’all.” But she’s still a southern girl at heart! Kathy encourages women to live an unshakeable faith by standing firm on our rock-solid God no matter life’s circumstances. Kathy, the author of eight books, including the new daily devotional “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents,” has a Master’s in Christian Education. She is passionate about Bible study and discipleship and loves sharing at women’s events and retreats. Kathy is also a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Hello Mornings, Arise Daily, and more. Kathy and her “mostly retired” husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, four grandsons, and three dogs – one of them on purpose. She provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy also connects with women at Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Embracing Your Thorn

I have a thorn in my flesh. Literally. A few months ago I stabbed myself in the left hand. It was not a cry for help. It was an accident.

I was trying to cut through some heavy strapping with a pair of sharp fabric scissors. The scissors slipped and I drove the tip into the meaty section between my left thumb and forefinger.

I removed the blade and saw a hole about the diameter of the blunt end of a chopstick. Blood poured out and I deduced I might need medical help.

Two hours and three stitches later, I was back in business, probably playing with matches.

About two weeks later I was quite annoyed that the stitches were still there and the flesh around them was tender and inflamed. I showed my daughter, the nurse.

“Why haven’t you had them removed?” Good question!

“I thought they would melt or dissolve or something.”

Back to the doc. Stitches removed. I thought.

Now, months later I am dealing with the constant annoyance of what feels like a thorn in the old wound site. I suspect there is a tiny piece of stitching wire embedded there. It sends a little stab of pain whenever I grip or grab something with my left hand.

I find myself picking at, scraping and worrying the surface of that buried thorn to no avail. It’s as firmly there as ever. I need professional help to have it extricated.

Segue to my pastor’s sermon last Sunday…still with me? He talked about the passage where Paul writes to the church in Corinth and says: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My pastor a.k.a. Gerry (my husband) was talking about the value of being weak. Yup, value. He said that most people regard weakness as a negative. As something to eradicate, to improve, to overcome. In God’s economy, maybe not?

Gerry also noted how surprising it was that even though Paul “pleaded” with God to remove his thorn, God said no. Paul was surely one of God’s favourite guys since he did so much to take the good news around the world but yet God refused to remove Paul’s thorn. Kinda strange?

So Gerry asked us to consider why. Why did God tell Paul, and the rest of us, that instead of removing our thorns (weaknesses), we must rely on His grace and His power? Then Gerry asked a question I had never before thought of.

He didn’t ask if we had a thorn, because he knows we all do…have weaknesses, that is. My biggie is crippling fear. It has shaped my life. It was the catalyst for my decade in spiritual dryness. What’s yours? Here are a few more of mine to get you thinking: Critical spirit? Vanity? Pride? Self-righteousness? Judgment? Competitiveness? Narcicism? Introversion?

He didn’t ask if we had asked God to remove our thorn because he knows we’ve all done that countless times. “God, give me courage!” was almost my mantra!

He didn’t even ask if we had accepted our thorn because he knows some of us have and some of us are constantly picking at it without much success.

He asked, “Have you embraced your thorn?”

“What? Embrace my…fear? I hate my fear! It limits me, humiliates me, locks me up, makes me a quitter, causes panic and anxiety.” I wrestled with Gerry’s question.

“Have you ever considered that the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb created you with a thorn, a weakness, on purpose? Is it possible that He gave you that weakness so that you would need Him, you would come to Him, you would rely on Him? How else do you make sense of Paul’s words: For when I am weak, then I am strong.?

I had never considered that. So how do I embrace my thorn?

This post is part of that process; once I press publish I will have done an important first step — admit it: tell others, quit trying to hide it, fake it, pretend it isn’t there while picking away at it in secret.

Next time I am afraid I will (try to) accept my fear (embrace my thorn) and immediately call out to God for grace and power: “I’m scared to death but what would You have me do/say/be in this moment?”

Then, I will (try to) act in courage, a God-given courage that I do not possess on my own, and trust Him for the outcome. I call that following God one yes at a time.

Come to think of it, I may just leave that stitch in my hand. How about you? Are you embracing your thorn or still picking at it? Scroll down to join the conversation with your comment.

Posted in life lessons

Warren’s Wisdom

Warren doesn’t send Christmas cards. But he calls everyone who sends him one. After missing three of his calls, I called him back last night. Within minutes I had grabbed my shopping list pencil and I was scribbling (not doodling) on the narrow pad on my kitchen island.

Warren is 20 years older than me and I get the senior’s discount…get my drift? I started taking notes when he said “You have to cultivate a positive attitude.” This was after he’d said that since his wife died, with no one to bounce ideas off, there was a tendency to become negative.

“So what do you do to stay positive?” I asked, pencil poised. I’ve known Warren for 40+ years and I knew he would have specifics. I first met Warren and his wife Irene the year I taught school in their little prairie town. I was lonely and missing the guy in the photo, who lived elsewhere and wasn’t my husband yet. They welcomed me into their heart and home and even after I moved away, the friendship continued.

I wrote (1) beside the next thing he said: “I try to appreciate even the simple nice things throughout my day.”

“Like?”

“Like the pleasant person who handled my groceries and spoke to me, or the stranger who smiled at me as I passed them on the street,” he offered. “Basically, any interaction that’s nice is positive.”

“What else?”

(2) “I try to bless the lives of others…99 percent of the time they will bless you back!” He laughed, “I know that sounds self-serving but that’s not why I do it. If I compliment a friend on the nice color she’s wearing, her smile back at me is a positive. Simple things like that.”

(3) “It’s important to have something to contribute,” Warren continued without prompting. He told me how he tries to have a positive input in peoples’ lives, especially those that can’t pay him back. “These things can be done anonymously or in the background since you’re not doing it for thanks or recognition.”

Then he told me that he reads his wife’s journal entry for that calendar date every day as part of his morning devotional. Irene kept a journal for the 50 years they were married and he has enjoyed walking down memory lane with her since she’s been gone. However, it does bring up some regrets…”I could have been better husband…a better father….”

“I don’t think Irene wanted you to be anything other than what you were,” I offered, remembering how she adored him openly.

“Yes,” he replied, “I keep one special Valentine’s Card she gave me where she wrote how very much she loved and appreciated me. I read that quite often.”

(4) “Staying positive also means you have to deal with your regrets!” Warren said, still unaware I had jotted a #4 and was scrawling on my grocery list pad. “I have talked to my kids about it and they have reassured me that neither of us was perfect!” We both laughed. “You have to live in the present moment, not the past,” he said.

(5) “I think its important to have a community of carers around you,” Warren added. He mentioned that his neighbours watch out for him. If his window blinds stay closed he gets a call to see if he’s okay.

(6) “You realize at this age, that life could end any day!” Warren said with another laugh. “So you’re grateful for every new day.”

I was no longer prompting him, just note taking as he mused.

(7) “You have to do something every day. In the summer I play sports six days a week…volleyball, pickle ball, tennis, slo pitch…I’m in the best shape of my life!”

(8) “Oh yeah,” Warren added with a chuckle, “I try to avoid the grumpy old men.” He explained after I asked that he doesn’t like to spend much time with negative complainers other than to try to brighten their day with a kind word or deed.

(9) “And I don’t have a cell phone,” Warren declared. After further talking I discovered that his main reason was because he did not want or need a connection with a world full of bad news. “In some cases, ignorance is bliss,” he said, “as long as I have my ball glove or racquet, I’m okay!”

(10) After telling me about his plan to go through a lifetime of photos and albums and reduce it to one album for each of his children, he said ” Having projects is probably good for the mind and the body. It keeps you thinking and moving.”

(11) “I appreciate the negatives as much or more than the positives.” This jolted me and I had to ask why. “Because you learn more about yourself and you grow as a person through hard times and suffering. They make a greater impact on me spiritually and mentally.”

(12) He was quick to add, “But I don’t think about the negatives before going to bed!” This needed no explaining. If you want a good night’s sleep it helps to be at peace in your mind.

(13) The last thing Warren said gave me hope. As a relatively young senior I have sometimes wondered if I’m done, washed up, out of sync, unneeded…. But to hear a man in his 80’s roundly declare “There are still things to learn at this stage of life! And you will keep on learning until the end of your life…if you want to learn.”

Thanks Warren.