Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunshine


No one ever wants to hear the “C” word in the same sentence of someone they love or anyone else they know for that matter. You hear about cancer all the time especially through emails from people requesting prayer for a friend or family member or even themselves. The disease is a stealthy creeper which seemingly rears its disgusting head randomly and often. Only when it creeps into your family do all those heart-felt emails make sense. You wish you would have gone before the Lord on behalf of those people just one more time because now you finally understand. Now you know, their requests were a lifeline—a necessary and beautiful move towards hope.
This week marked my Mom’s sixth and final chemotherapy treatment. Because of all the interstate between us (916 miles to be exact), I didn’t get to experience hardly any of this seven month venture with her. However, from a distance, I got to hear about God causing others to take the journey with her. The most surprising people who “packed their bags” were a group of ladies my Mom doesn’t even know. Shortly after her diagnosis, she got a call one afternoon from a lady who belonged to a church out in the county. Mom knew of the church, but not the lady. The kind woman said she had heard about Mom’s situation and that her ladies’ prayer group at church had committed to pray AND fast for, get this, FORTY days on my Mom’s behalf. Even with her impeccable Southern manners, Mom could not find words with which to respond. When she called me later to tell me about it, she said, “What do you say to that? How do you thank someone for that? I wouldn’t know them if they walked into the [drug] store.” I didn’t have an answer either.

One Friday, several of her cousins drove from Atlanta to spend a few hours with her. Along with their cheery selves, they delivered a most precious gift- a quilt they had made with pictures of all of them together. It also had sewn in notes of encouragement, words of silliness and declarations of love for my Mom. It’s one of those things that automatically makes your throat feel tight and your eyes sting. Strong family ties in action will do it every time.

When Daddy couldn’t take her to the treatments, there were plenty of friends who made the hour trek with her and sometimes twice a week. I was only able to take her to one of her treatments which was on Christmas Eve. Fa la la la la. Can’t say I ever imagined that. The room where she was given the infamous yet crucial treatments wasn’t exactly what I had pictured. There were “comfortable” reclining chairs lined up in a long narrow room. It wasn’t my idea of cozy but the room was painted from floor to ceiling with empathy. Everyone was at various stages with different types of cancer dealing in their own personal way with the treatments and their situations. Smiles and that “knowing” look came from almost every face. Most patients had a friend or a family member to sit with them through the three hour ordeal. For those who didn’t…. surely there was a good reason. Some people talked, some slept, some read, some shivered under blankets and some just sat in silence. Some were showing off new haircuts, commenting on scarves, admiring new hats and a few could have cared less. However, they were all there for the same reason and with the same hope embedded deep within them. To get well.

Everyone at the clinic found out what I already knew. My Mom is just enjoyable to be around. They’ll miss her. I know. The first person I met that Christmas Eve morning was Nurse Kathy and she called her “Sunshine”. She told me Mom should be the poster girl for chemo. Mom made it through all six sessions without any nausea medication. No need to rewind. You read that correctly. But I knew “Sunshine” also came from her overall attitude and her warm smile which is almost as good as a hug. There have been no complaints, no pressure, no drama, no pity parties. Her example is worth emulating. She has made the seven months easy on all of us.

Anyway, I loved going with her. If I had to pick my favorite part, it would be when my Mom got a text from Daddy asking her if she was okay. Simple, I know, but it reminded me how important it is for my children to witness little gestures of love expressed between parents.

The trip ends good for us. My family has every reason under the sun to be thankful to the Lord for the ending of my Mom’s bout with cancer. He used so many to take such excellent care of her—even from the initial appointment that someone had encouraged her to make. By His grace, the creeper was caught in its earliest stages. Doctors were able to act fast and, now, her prognosis is excellent. Mysteriously, everyone’s story is different. From this side of everlasting, God’s ways cannot be explained and cannot be understood so I don’t even try. I spend more of my energy reminding myself it’s more about trusting in His sovereignty and believing in His goodness even though my Mom had a tussle with the dreaded “C” word. I just know that in my Mom’s case, all is well ONLY because that is, for now, His story for her.
"I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and it hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom." Blaise Pascal

Psalm 100:4-5
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

With or without cancer.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Simply Love


God, the Eternal God, is Love. Covet therefore that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand, that one coinage which will be current in the Universe when all other coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonoured. You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to Love.-Henry Drummond

I came upon this quote a while ago and remember being intrigued by it so I kept it- on a index card, of course. Valentines rolled around and there it was, like a billboard in my brain. As I feebly attempted to give myself “first to love”, I wound up watching it far more than I was able to give it. With the “Day of Love” approaching, I had ample opportunities to see the currency in different forms leaving me with an increased desire to “covet therefore that everlasting gift”.
All week, I received multiple sheets of paper from Brighton with hand drawn hearts that looked more like fat peanuts in their shells. With every piece, I got an “I love you, Mom. See the heart?”. Love was tickling my ear.
Wanting so badly to write on his little cards, Brighton asked each day if it was Valentines. Julia was equally as eager for Friday when we would have a party with all of our school friends. Out of love for their friends, they both worked long and hard at the kitchen table on their miniature cards and envelopes. The night before, each greeting was licked tight and ready to go for the big day. Love was in crooked letters and corny cards.
My idea of a fun Friday afternoon with friends was watching/hearing Jeff express love in the form of discipline to Brighton as he “showed out” for everyone at the party……….. a couple of times. Ha! This is by far the least enjoyable form of love to express, but necessary and fruit-bearing. Love was a spanking.
A day or so later I got a sweet message from a friend who had to witness the whole episode encouraging me that we had handled it well. Her phone call communicated love for our family. Love was affirming me.
On Valentine’s morning, Jeff was the first one up. With my head still on the pillow, he came in the bedroom and asked, “Where is the red food coloring? I want to make pink pancakes for the kids.” Love was out of its comfort zone.
He did it again when he cooked dinner for me and served it fireside in the back yard. Love was dancing on my taste buds.
When we arrived at home after the party, there were three familiar white boxes sitting on the bench by my front door. We all knew what they were. Pa Paw has cupcakes, heart shaped cookies, petit fours, and more cookies delivered every Valentines Day. “Universal coinage” was sent from Georgia via the Bluebonnet Bakery. Love was in the form of sugar.
Some new friends invited us to eat dinner with them and they wanted to hear our adoption stories. Well, I can hardly think of anything else I would rather talk about- the waiting, the process, the precious families, the goodness of God, the birth experiences, the babies in our arms. Love was experienced through memories.
“You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to Love.” This seems simple enough, but with my task driven personality, “simple” becomes intentional which at times can come across as rehearsed or forced, therefore “useless and unhonoured”. Expressing the “universal coinage” is sometimes the last thing on my mind. The majority of my day is given to housekeeping tasks, returning emails, and keeping children busy at half way constructive play. Are the demands of daylight all laced with love? Not quite. If the resurrection of the quote by Drummond wasn’t enough to taunt me, I read a story about a pastor’s battle with cancer in a book I finished last week. He continued to ask the Lord this question, “How do I live these days of low energy in which I am more aware of having to let go of things than doing them?” One day an answer came: “With love. With great love.”
He went on to say, “I began to practice the simple things with love. I loaded and unloaded the dishwasher with thoughts of love. It was very different from thoughts such as, “If I didn’t have to do the dishes, I could do more important things,” or, “It seems I am doing more than my share of this mundane stuff.” I practiced waiting in love while the computer started up instead of fidgeting and scolding the machine’s sloth. On days when I could drive, yellow lights at the intersections became reminders to brake, to stop and refocus my life in love, not accelerate and hurry…..”
How different my life and my family’s life would be if I gave myself “first to Love” and “practice[d] the simple things with love”? I don’t know about you, but the loftiest thought I have when unloading my dishwasher is, “Now I can empty the sink.” How can something so basic to my Christian faith elude me so often? What ARE the things I have given myself to that all but block the paths through which love can be expressed? I stopped math for 2 weeks in January to give Julia time to master her flash cards of math facts—to nail down the basics of math. Since then, her double digit addition has flowed from brain to paper instead of sputtering all the way down. Practicing the basics made her school time more enjoyable, more fruitful. Love. What could be more basic, more fruitful, not to mention, foundational to the Christian faith? What, besides love, could make my days more beautiful, more joyful? Honestly, there are some days I think it is a good cup of coffee……….with whipped cream. How pitiful is that? Oh, to love as Christ loves me. To fold clothes with thoughts of His Love for me and my family. To slice an apple thanking God for His Love shown to me by countless others. To serve a meal to my family of four with so much Love they think even the broccoli tastes good. To pick up shoes praising God for His expression of Love through the death of Jesus on the cross. Simple? I don’t know yet. Fruitful? Most definitely.
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born...." Luke 2:6 Love came in the form of man.
"Covet therefore that everlasting Gift."
“We love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Peace, Love and a Cup o' Joe

When you are 22, young and married, you think the day is forever away. Well, last week, “forever” came up with the sun and Jeff turned forty. And guess what? The sun went down just like it came up and another day was done. The earth didn't quake. He could still read his Bible without holding it at arm's length. His chest didn't fall to his waistline. His hair, well, it stayed the same. Forty is forty, however it didn't feel any different than say, 39. The only difference for me was it was a GREAT excuse to throw a party so the "twoscore" milestone didn’t pass without abundant anticipation, scads of silliness, tables of food and a house full of friends! Actually, we partied like it was 1969. Well, not EXACTLY, but kind of.
Here’s the invitation.
Isn’t he a cute one? All this lingo came from Top Ten hits of the monumental year of his birth in case you are wondering about the strange wording. So after getting over the anxiety about asking people to do something a little crazy, I just went with it. To keep some element of surprise, Jeff knew there would be a party (he made the guest list) but that was all he knew………..until about half an hour before when I had to get dressed in one of my Mom's dresses from 1969!
With gold glittered peace signs hung, sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival playing, and old pictures of Jeff splattered about the house, the first guests rang the doorbell and it took a double take to recognize them. I knew then it was going to be a lot of fun. Every time we opened the door, there was a new take on the infamous year of Woodstock standing there. We had cute housewives, flower children, rock stars, and full out hippies. Some lived out memories of college, Viet Nam and days of hair gone bad. Some of our most fashionable friends, looked right at home in their signature choice of clothes for the party. So here they are!


The one on the right won the "Jeff-ology" quiz though her victory didn't go uncontested. Since she saw my invisible white flag waving earlier in the day and kidnapped my kids, I didn't investigate the allegations. The one on the left would have won "best hair" had it been a category!
The votes were cast and he won the "I Can't Get Next to You" prize for best dressed! He told me I wouldn't recognize him in his groovy get-up and I didn't!
Because Jeff loves coffee, we had a barista making everyone's favorite coffee drink. It was a Jeff version of a Woodstock fix and he had three. However, that is NOT the barista, even though she remembers coffee orders well.
I actually let my kids spend the night with this pair the next night!! No wonder my kids are always wanting to go over there! (Thanks, you two! What a gift.)
A weekend with this foursome might have proved very interesting in 1969!
I want to say these girls, my friends, were worth their weight in gold, but since they are little wisps, it wouldn't be enough! They are the reason I was able to "go" to the party. (You two are amazing!!)

My favorite time of the night was when Jeff's friends prayed for him. Nathan, on the left, is our pastor from ACF and long time seminary friend and Sultan, the one on the right, is one of his staff members of Tarrant NET who is also a pastor and dear friend. I have to admit, it was hard to keep a straight face (if you peeked) seeing Pastor Cole praying so seriously with his "Hendrix head". One friend texted me the next day and said, "When I turn forty, I want two things: to take a trip and to have Sultan Cole pray for me!" Amen.



Thank you, sweet friends, for coming and showing up with your party clothes on! You made it more fun than I had imagined! Jeff never once had a "Suspicious Mind" and he felt a "Whole Lotta Love" from all of you. Your cards were the highlight of his weekend. I was thrilled to get to do this for Jeff. From the first idea to the last dish put away, it was fun, fun, fun.
Now for 50.............ouch.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fruit of the Room



Sometimes I hear it before my alarm goes off, sometimes after and no matter the season, it is always dark outside. The coffee maker grinds, rather loudly, the Columbian Supremo coffee beans in order to brew Jeff’s Costco coffee. If you don't know it is the coffee maker, your immediate reaction is to take cover. Most mornings, including Saturday and Sunday, Jeff is up and out of the bedroom before I am. After my exciting morning routine of washing my face, brushing my teeth and making the bed, I head out of our room for the next phase of the schedule always finding Jeff in the same place, doing the same thing-- sitting in his office, sipping coffee, reading his Bible or praying. Sounds “spiritual”, doesn’t it? Well…….it is, actually, and the kids and I have benefitted immensely. I, for some time now, have secretly called those benefits, “fruit of the room”.

Often, as I watch him live life in our home, I wonder, how does he stay on such an even keel? How can he always make such rational decisions? How does he not take the kid's behavior personally? How can his tone of voice always sound so............normal? How does he tolerate all my quirks? It's the Lord. It's all the time he sits with Him. So I started making notes in my head of how his time there affects me. I have found remembering inspires and "spurs" me on. He always has new things to share with me from his time in the Word or from the many books he reads. He is able to forgive me easily which he has to do often. He is confident in a decision once it is made because it came from a familiar Voice with equally familiar authority. He is able to encourage me and seem quite interested in my mundane “dailies” that fill the weeks. (The flesh can barely stand a second of that!) I think the hardest thing, for him and for me, is the times he has to point out unhealthy patterns in my thinking or behavior. Looking back, that may be the most valuable one of all. Because of the discernment the Lord gives him and his obedience to speak the truth in love, LAYERS upon layers have been rubbed from my mirror that’s sole purpose is for reflecting Christ. He is able to love me in spite of my self, in spite of my sinfulness, in spite of all my layers. Fruit of the room.
When it comes to parenting, there are times when I am dumbfounded by his “capacity”. He hardly ever gets frustrated with the kids, even when he has them all day. He makes great parenting decisions when I am drawing a big white blank about what to do. He is definitely the voice of reason, the one who is able to get to the bottom of why everyone is less than pleasant (cranky?), thus the one who helps bring peace to our emotional disarray. Last week when Jeff was at a overnight conference, the kids and I had a rough hour post- dinner/pre-bedtime and this is what my melodramatic girl said, “How much do you love Daddy, Momma?” “The whole world, of course.” (a phrase she began when she was 2) “I love Daddy the whole world too. I would turn the world upside down just to see Daddy right now.” I resisted rolling my eyes, but I knew why. He would have been the loving buffer we all needed. Fruit of the room.

Because it has made such an impact on my life, I do wonder how his time in that room has influenced and will influence Julia and Brighton. Since he is usually finished by the time they get up, they rarely see him in his office, but just this morning, I heard the small bare feet of Brighton on the stairs and then his early morning voice which always sounds two years younger, “Daddy, can I sit with you and you read the Bible to me?” He knew what his Daddy was doing. Sometimes on the weekends, Jeff awakens Julia early, makes some hot chocolate for her and reads the Bible to her-and now her to him. This started about two years ago and for Julia, it hardly gets any better. Almost a year ago, Brighton had his first early morning date with Jeff and because he is our early riser, he requests it quite often, like this morning. Did he just want out of his room? Maybe. Did he want hot chocolate? He didn’t ask for it. Whatever he was wanting, Jeff said “yes” and I believe seeds were given a good down pour. Fruit of the room.

So thanks, Jeff. You are doing it. You are leading us well and to our delight, loving us just as well. I thank God for all the wonderful things about being married to you, but this has to be the crowning piece. The fruit He brings is invaluable, impossible to express with words, still producing, not always tangible, beautiful, appreciated, abundant, though not measurable and only there because God, who you handed your heart over to some 30 years ago, chooses to bestow it as you spend time with Him.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. Psalm 78. Lord, let it be.
Happy Birthday, Jeff!
(Julia's above picture-- got a kick out of this one. I love that our ages were important this time-- although she missed mine by a year. (I didn't correct her.) She drew things we "loved to do" beside us. Jeff- football, me- pots and pans-?, Julia- a jumprope, and Brighton- a soccer ball.)