Dear Dad, …

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

(Psalm 73:26)

 

Dear Dad,

I don’t come here often. It is a pretty peaceful place; but, honestly, I don’t like it here. I don’t believe you are here. I don’t have to come here to visit you. I feel you all around me, all the time.  I know you are in heaven. Coming here makes me sad. Coming here brings back memories I tucked away and don’t want to revisit. I remember that frigid day in February, when I shivered next to that gaping hole in the earth that was as dark and empty as the one in my heart. As I sat there, still and quiet, my heart broken, my soul crushed; I wanted to yell and scream and make it all stop. I wanted to wake up.

But it was real, Dad. You were gone.

Continue reading “Dear Dad, …”

A Little Sunshine on a Rainy Day

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Looking out the window, I saw the trees darkened by the soaking rain.  The remnants of snow clung to the fallen leaves that collected on the ground over the long winter.  Not the view I typically enjoyed but I drank my morning tea and took it all in just the same. I noticed the birds searching for cover. The pop of color and the movement grabbed my attention. I saw flashes of blue and red, and even the robins’ amber bellies stuck out in contrast with the stark backdrop of leafless trees. A few evergreens stood majestically among the bare trunks, showing strength and promise; their clothed branches foretelling what was to come.

On a wooden stand in my morning room sat a yellow pitcher with white polka dots.  I found it for $3 at a local department store. The cheerful pitcher sat in the clearance section like a lone flower in the middle of a grassy field. It had an “AS IS” sticker so I examined it for scratches or chips, but it was perfect. Excited by my find, I brought it home and filled it with fresh flowers. That next day, it snowed; but that pitcher filled my home with a bit of sunshine; and on this rainy day, it was a welcome sight.

I curled up on the couch with my tea and a blanket and watched the rain and the birds for a while longer.  The phrase, “April Showers Bring May Flowers” came to mind. In Pennsylvania, spring was always slow to start; and this year, it was no different. A snowstorm hit just as spring finally arrived. Snow lingered on the ground and the rain was cold and biting. At first glance, no signs of spring were visible, but you could imagine the leaves growing inside the branches and the grass growing under the soggy, dead leaves. In all its glory, spring was coming … we just had to wait a little while longer.  

It was always at the end of a very long winter that we got restless and impatient.  We grew tired of the snow, the cold, the barren forest, and the cloudy days. We wanted leaves to cover the trees’ branches, the green grass to carpet the ground, the flowers to bloom in glorious color, and the sun to warm our faces.  We knew it was coming, but we grew tired of waiting.

When things weren’t going our way, we looked ahead to better days.  We used phrases like, “when I finish school’, “when I get my promotion”, “when the kids start kindergarten”, or “when I retire”.  We pushed off doing something scary… or that made us happy. We pushed off doing something risky… or fulfilling. We justified our inaction based on our circumstances ‘right now’. We allowed our mood to be determined by our circumstances ‘right now’. We surrendered that things were always going to be a certain way because that was how they were ‘right now’.

Imagine if the trees felt that way, if they gave up because all their leaves fell off in the fall and it was taking them too long to grow back? Imagine if the grass felt that way, if the grass decided not to grow again because the leaves and sticks piled on top of the ground made the grass unsure it could grow again? What if the flowers felt that way, if they refused to bloom because the ground was too hard and the warm weather took too long to arrive. Thankfully, the leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew to hold on and to wait a little while longer; because winter would one day be over.  

In its time, spring would arrive.

The leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew that while they endured the long winter and then waited for spring, they had work to do.  They didn’t complain and they didn’t give up. The leaves, the grass and the flowers weren’t visible yet but they were growing on the inside. The leaves formed inside those branches, the grass grew under the earth, and the flowers sprouted from their bulbs. They rested and grew and prepared for their springtime emergence. They worked hard and became stronger to survive the early spring frosts. They worked hard so the leaves and grass sprouted a brilliant green and the flowers bloomed in an earthly rainbow of colors. For without that careful preparation and internal work, they would not persist to enjoy the rebirth of spring.

We suffered through the long winters of life. We endured the floods of adversity, the droughts of understanding, and the storms of grief.  We sought shelter when the pain rained down upon us. We kept our heads down when the winds of despair left us battered and beaten. We searched for something to hold on to when the river of trouble overflowed its banks.

We prayed for the storm to pass.  We prayed for the sun to shine.

But sometimes, that didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped.

Sometimes, we endured suffering far longer than expected. Sometimes, we waited for relief that never came. Sometimes we absorbed yet another blow when we hadn’t yet recovered from the first one.

In desperation, we called out to God.

We asked for help. We questioned our circumstances.

In those times of suffering, God worked on us from the inside out.  Like the leaves growing inside the branches, He prepared us for the storms sure to find us.  Like the grass growing under the earth, He prepared us for the trampling sure to wound our hearts.  Like the flowers sprouting from their bulbs, He prepared us to endure the harsh conditions that sought to destroy our spirit.

In those times of suffering, God built our strength and fortified our endurance. In those times, God taught us patience and built upon our faith. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ prepared us for the future. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ allowed us to be a witness to others, an inspiration in times to come.  Like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared them to do exactly what they needed to do … grow.

And just like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared us to grow too, in different ways, but in the exact ways we needed.

I drank my last sip of tea and looked at the plaque hanging on the wall above that cheerful pitcher filled with flowers.

It was one of my favorite Bible verses.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.

For this is God’s Will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This verse is often a difficult one …

“Give thanks in all circumstances”  

It was hard to give thanks when we suffered, to give thanks during a difficult time. The leaves, the grass, and the flowers, after enduring a long, hard winter, taught us that those hard times were necessary to strengthen us, that our situation was preparation for our own springtime. If we remembered the leaves, grass, and flowers when our patience was thin and our relief was nowhere in sight, we could better understand that we should rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. For we should be thankful in times of sorrow, just as in times of happiness. 

Although I was not necessarily thankful that I had cancer, I was truly thankful for the lessons I learned through this journey. I was truly thankful for the love and support I was given from family and friends.  I was truly thankful for the grace God gave me throughout my medical treatment. I was truly grateful for the faith that strengthened me through my experience. I was truly grateful for the sharpening I received during my long, cold winters.

For if not for the winters of life, how could we truly appreciate the arrival of spring?

For When That Day Comes…

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NOTE:

This post is different.  Very different and very personal.  It is not one of my typical posts.  It is a poem. I haven’t written poetry in years, but I was inspired to do it. Although a somber subject, I believe it has a positive message. This message was put on my heart and as hard as it was to share something so personal, I felt called to do so.  As someone who has been forced to face my own mortality, I wanted to share some lessons I learned from my experience.  I learned to focus on what really matters … and I am learning to let go of what doesn’t.  Always a work in progress, but with God’s help, I am getting better at it.

I want to preface this post by saying that I am doing well.  For my family and friends, there is no reason to worry. My last scans were stable and my treatment is still working.  Still, knowing that I will not have as much time on this earth as I hoped; I often think about when that day comes.  It may be upsetting to some; but, honestly, looking into the future forces me to look at my present.

And that is where our focus should always be.

This is dedicated to all those who are suffering today, and to all those who are rallying around those who are suffering.  This is dedicated to those whose time is uncertain, and to those who are pleading for a little more time with their loved ones.  This is dedicated to those who have lost loved ones, who may not have had the chance to say goodbye, to apologize, or to make peace with their loss. May God’s love and peace surround you.

**********

Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s Will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thes 5:16-18)

 **********

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the days of my childhood,

Before this world set to tear me apart.

Let me remember the joy of those times,

The innocence, and a not-yet broken heart.

 

Let me remember the sun on my face,

Bare feet on the blades of grass.

How big and blue the sky was,

Oh, those days went by so fast.

 

Let me remember the summers of youth,

When my only charge was to play.

The woods, the pond, the corn fields, and creek,

What adventures awaited each day.

 

Sprawled out in the yard, looking up at the sky,

As the birds and bees took flight.

Days of sprinklers, and earthworms, and crab apple wars,

Fireflies and crickets filled the night.

 

A home full of love and laughter,

No softer place could I fall.

A childhood filled with wonder,

Loved by the greatest parents of all.

 

Lazy days on Grandma’s porch,

Sharing that old wooden swing.

Talking and laughing and passing the time,

Oh, what sweet memories bring.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the growing years,

Filled with fun and frolic and friends.

Wide-eyed and ready to take on the world,

With no thought how my story would end.

 

Diplomas and dances and a license to drive,

Spilling over with hopes and dreams.

Successes and failures and bumps in the road,

This world not always as it seemed.

 

Broken hearts and broken trust,

Losses and storms, how they came.

Picked up the pieces and still forged ahead,

Still, the heart never beat quite the same.

 

For when that day comes….

 

Let me remember that walk down the aisle,

On that warm September day.

When two hearts became just one,

And together we’d face come what may.

 

We worked in the city and played at the shore,

We built a house and made it a home.

We shared a life that most only dreamed,

But we ached for a child of our own.

 

We prayed and we waited and prayed some more,

In His time, those prayers were answered.

A girl then a boy within the calendar year.

Our hearts forever captured.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Let me remember the lullabies,

The crayons, the bubbles, the joy.

Chaos was constant, the house was a mess,

But what love brought this girl and this boy.

 

Living room forts and trips to the zoo,

Play dates and ball games and more.

Running on empty and meals on the go,

Our schedule could fit no more.

 

The children they grow up so very fast,

It all was a constant blur,

Closing my eyes, I can see it now,

In slow motion, those memories stir.

 

For when that day comes…

 

Careers and ambitions, the pursuit of more,

The workhorse was saddled and ready.

No rest for the weary, keep your eye on the prize,

And hold that bridle steady.

 

Then out of the blue, came a thundering blow,

Life as I knew it slipped from my hand.

But when the ground fell out from under me,

God’s strength taught me once again to stand.

 

God met me in my brokenness,

God worked upon my heart.

My suffering, His Master Plan,

And I was humbled to play my part.

 

For when the day comes…

 

Let me remember the simpler days,

The moments that seemed so ordinary.

The laughs over dinner, the fun times that we shared,

Now, such sweet memories we carry.

 

The days flew by quick and the years flew by quicker,

But snapshots still pressed into mind.

The birthdays and celebrations were special,

But those everyday moments, the best kind.

 

The pancake mornings and meals off the grill,

The homework and trips to the mall.

The chocolate chip cookies, the crumbs and the spills,

Oh, how I remember it all.

 

For when that day comes…

 

I won’t remember the long work days,

Or the difficult times I faced.

I won’t remember the falls and the failure,

For life was not meant to be a race.

 

I won’t remember the fights and squabbles,

The words said in anger and fear.

Only the love and the times that were shared,

With the ones I hold so dear.

 

I won’t remember that day in the office,

When the doctor told me the news.

I won’t remember the hours spent shackled,

Chained to a bag and a bunch of tubes.

 

I won’t remember material things,

Like houses and jewelry and cars,

No need for a suitcase, no need for a bag,

My home is ready and waiting in the stars.

 

I won’t remember the trouble life brought me,

The sadness and the despair.

I won’t remember the pain in your face,

For that is just too much to bear.

 

For when that day comes…

 

I won’t remember the breathless gasps, the pain-filled sighs,

or the slumber that went on for days.

I won’t remember the hushed voices, the weeping cries,

Or solemn faces seen through a haze.

 

I won’t remember the sleepless nights, the desperate pleas,

Or the sting of that terrible news.

I won’t remember any less-than-perfect days,

Of this life I was about to lose.

 

For when that day comes….

 

Let me remember the happy times,

The fellowship, the friendship, the love.

Let me remember the blessings given to me,

By my God, in Heaven above.

 

Let me remember a life well-lived,

As I take my final breath.

This will just be goodbye for now,

For new life comes in death.

 

I will close my eyes one last time on earth,

And in Heaven, they will reopen.

I will be free from pain and suffering,

No longer trapped in this body, broken.

 

Oh, when that day comes, will you promise me…

You won’t stay sad for long.

Miss me a little, remember me a lot,

But know I am where I belong.

**********

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me to that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 

(2 Timothy 4:7-8)

 

3 Months

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This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

(Psalm 118:24)

I just had my scans again.  I have them every 3 months.  Because my oncologist has to keep an eye on those cancer cells lying in wait to attack bone, lung, liver, or brain; I have regular scans to check for progression.  So, every 3 months, I prepare myself for a day in the hospital and a day or two of waiting for the results.  The scans aren’t so bad.  A little uncomfortable and capable of bringing back a lot of bad memories, but I get through those alright.  The waiting, though – that is the worst part.

You see, there is no middle ground.  A good scan means that my treatment is still working.  I can go on with my life as is; and although, I deal with the side effects of my treatment, I am pretty used to them by now.  A bad scan means that my treatment has failed. The cancer is growing and attacking a bone or organ. I will face more radiation or surgery, and I will have to start a new treatment, not knowing how bad the side effects will be, what my quality of life will be reduced to, and whether that treatment will even work. Life as I know it will be over, and the odds of living to see my children graduate high school and beyond will be even lower.

Most metastatic breast cancer  patients live about three years past diagnosis. I am going to hit that milestone in about six months.  Only 20% of patients live five years. I fully intend to be part of that 20% and prefer to live well beyond my sad prognosis; but, that is up to God, not me.  We know what to expect when we leave this earth; but God doesn’t tell us when that will happen, although, having a terminal illness seems to narrow that time frame down a bit.

One of the things that people tend to say to me (and many cancer patients) is, “Hey, we could all get hit by a bus tomorrow.” Ugh. Honestly, I hate when people say that and so does every other cancer patient.  It really isn’t the same thing.  Yes, it could happen; but the odds of you getting hit by a bus tomorrow are not quite the same as the odds of me succumbing to my disease in the next 6 months to 2 years.  The other thing people say is, “None of us know how much time we have.” That is also correct; however, it is easy to say that when you have never heard a doctor say you have a terminal disease or how long they expect you to live.  Knowing that information is a game changer, a life changer – and unless you are in that position, you really don’t understand.

You can sympathize, yes.

Understand, no.

And that’s okay. I wouldn’t wish that type of understanding on anyone.

The last couple days after my scan had been a time of prayer and reflection.  I am as positive and faithful a person as they come; but as a way of coping with this disease, I have to mentally prepare for every outcome.  I desperately want to hear my doctor say that my cancer is stable and there are no new lesions; but I need a game plan if the answer is not what I want.  My oncologist and I have this conversation before every scan – the what if’s, the what will be’s. If the cancer has grown, I may have radiation again or surgery, and I will start a new treatment plan with new side effects – and pray that it works. I will do whatever I need to do to prolong my life on this earth, still knowing that God will make that ultimate decision, but it is scary, not knowing what the future will bring.

Thankfully, after a pretty unsettling day and a half, my oncologist called and told me that my scans were ‘as good as it gets’, my cancer was stable, and I was exactly where he wanted me to be. The treatment plan was still working. Praise God!

A big exhale. A huge relief.

But now what?

I now had 3 months before my next scan to continue on, to live this life as I know it.  I had 3 months before I had to schedule, or even think about my next scan … when I would have to go through this all over again.  Knowing that my life could drastically change in as little as 3 short months – that injects a little urgency into my days.

Think about it, if you knew that in 3 months, you may be facing surgery that would keep you down for a period of time, or radiation that would burn your skin and make you feel sick and tired; that you may be starting a new treatment that made you want to sleep all day or vomit all day or hurt all day; that you might find out that the cancer had spread to so many places very quickly and there wasn’t anything more they can do…

I ask you…

How would you choose to spend your next 3 months?

I bet your outlook would be a little different.  I bet you would stop worrying about some of the things that keep you up at night. I bet you would stop putting in extra hours at work and start spending more time with the people you love. I bet you would take notice of things you overlooked before – like the sunset, the big puffy clouds in the brilliant blue sky, the first buds of spring and the first burst of color in the fall.  I bet you would spend less time doing the housework and more time playing with your kids. I bet you would spend less time in the evening on the couch watching television and more time on the side of the bed watching your children sleep.

I know what you would do, because that is what I do.

So many people are missing out on right now because they think about what will happen then – when they get that promotion, when they get that new house, when they can finally retire…

Life is what happens in the meantime. 

And so many people don’t get it.

Every day is a gift. Every day is a chance to take notice of God’s Creation.  Every day is an opportunity to love and to be loved.

I spend a lot of time praying and thinking and reflecting on things.  I spend a lot of time deciding what is worth my time and attention. I spend a lot of time focusing on what brings me joy.

And I have a lot of joy.

Even as I wade through the uncertainty of this disease, I find joy. I find joy with God. I find joy with my loved ones. I find joy in the quiet moments and in everyday things.

If you struggle to find joy in your life, your situation, you can make some changes. If that isn’t possible, find joy by passing it along to others. Send a plate of food to an elderly neighbor, or better yet, invite your neighbor over for dinner. Give a simple gift to someone going through a difficult time.  Call a friend that you haven’t talk to in a while.  Compliment  a stranger.  Say ‘hello’. Smile.

There are so many ways to spread joy in this world, and most of them don’t require much effort; but the joy you put out there will come back to you ten-fold.

I promise you that.

I have learned through this process to live life right now, to live the life in front of me instead of looking ahead. I mourn the things I might not live to see. I think about the anniversaries I may not celebrate with my husband, my children’s weddings I may not attend, the grandchildren I may not hold. All of those things make me sad, but I can’t dwell on what is yet to come. I can’t assume that I won’t be here to do all of those things, either. God is a wonderful God and despite what science and medicine say, He could allow me to enjoy all of those things and more. I will not know until the time comes but I refuse to let that take away from what I am here to enjoy … right now.

Often, my scans happen to be on a Thursday or Friday and I am left waiting the weekend to get the results. I have a choice. I can enjoy my weekend, every last drop of it; or, I can worry my weekend away. I can curl up on the couch and cry myself to sleep. When Monday comes, and I find out the results, I will look back on that weekend and think one of two things.  I will have wasted those days worrying for nothing because the scans were stable … or I will have wasted the last two days that I had to enjoy before that bad news came.

So, I won’t spend these 3 months worrying about my next scan. I won’t spend these 3 months worrying that it might be the last 3 months of a somewhat normal life.

I won’t spend these next 3 months crying.

I will spend these next 3 months living, the way God wants me to live. I will spend these next 3 months rejoicing in the day He has made, and not worrying about the days ahead.

It may sound crazy to some, but in a way, I am thankful for my situation.  Of course, I would love to wake up and find out that my diagnosis has gone away; but only if the lessons I have learned could remain.  It isn’t a good feeling to know that this cancer could take me away from this world much sooner than I expected, but knowing, really knowing, that my time is limited – it makes my faith stronger and makes me love harder. I wouldn’t be living my life, the way I am living it; if God hadn’t put this obstacle in my life. My eyes would not be this open and my life would not be as full.

I don’t like having cancer; but I am forever grateful that I know what I know now, that I know what I didn’t know back then.

When the time comes that I no longer have 3 months, 3 days, or even 3 minutes left on this earth, I won’t be someone who looks back with regret.  I won’t look back, knowing that I wasted time on things that didn’t matter. I will look back, knowing that I soaked up every bit of joy that God intended just for me.  I will look back, knowing that I spread joy to others whenever I could.  I will look back, knowing that I loved my family and friends so much while I was on this earth, that they will still be able to feel it even when I am gone.

God has blessed me with 3 more months.

I promise that I will make the most of these next 3 months.

How will you spend yours?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, for whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

My Bowl Runneth Over

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                               My father and his raspberry bushes.                                Donald E. Lilley (5/13/1950- 2/13/2004)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

My Dad planted red raspberry bushes in the back yard.  In the summertime, we got up early in the morning and rushed outside to beat the birds to the berries.  We picked the biggest, reddest berries from the bushes and filled a big bowl. Then, we sat on the front porch swing, and ate them as we talked about anything and everything.  Those were the days.

There was just something about that fresh summer air and those juicy berries! Raspberries reminded me of simpler days. They reminded me of that precious time I spent with my Dad.  Berry picking was something I looked forward to every summer.

Then my Dad passed away in February of 2004.

After that, I couldn’t eat raspberries anymore.

I left them for the birds that following summer. My Mom sold the house the following spring. When I passed by raspberries in the grocery store, I looked the other way. If I dared to stop, I saw the ridiculous price tag and used it as an excuse to pass on buying them.

It wasn’t the price tag, though. I just couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t eat those berries …. alone … without Dad. 

Although raspberries were one of my favorite things, I feared that tasting them would bring back memories and I would melt into a puddle of grief. It was hard enough living without him. I was afraid to do something that would make me miss him even more.

I didn’t eat raspberries for years. 

Then, one day,  I walked by the berry stand in the grocery store and the raspberries looked amazing!

Red and round and perfect.

I stood there for a moment, deciding what to do.

Should I buy them?  Was I ready? 

I picked up the plastic container and held them in my hand for a moment. Before I could think too much, I set them in my cart and walked away from the produce section.  As I shopped, I tried not to look at them. I even covered them with a loaf of bread. I considered putting them back and then decided I would buy them. I went back and forth but they were still in my cart when I got to the checkout. The cashier commented that the raspberries looked good.  I took that as a sign that I made the right decision.

I got home and put the other groceries away and set the raspberries aside.  I always ate them warmed by the morning sun so I set them in a sunny spot on the counter.

Then, I took them out of that plastic container, washed them, and put them in a bowl…

and left them there.

Later, I went back to the bowl of berries, took a deep breath, and put one in my mouth.

An explosion of flavor … just as I remembered.

Sweet, yet tart. 

Just like that moment.

I tasted the berries … and the memories … all rolled into one.

I closed my eyes and memories played in my mind like an old 8mm movie reel.

I imagined myself on that porch swing, in the sweet summertime.

I felt the swing moving beneath me, the warm breeze blowing across my face. 

I smelled the flowers in the hanging baskets. 

I saw my Dad’s smile.

I heard his voice,

I felt his love. 

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I ate that bowl of raspberries … the whole bowl.

Happy tears. Sad tears.

Longing tears. Peaceful tears.

It wasn’t just a bowl of berries. 

It was sweet release …

and it was tart acceptance. 

My Dad was gone from this earth. I missed him every single day.  Those berries that we loved were here for me to enjoy, to remember.  I couldn’t sit next to my Dad on the porch swing with a bowl of berries; but I could sit down to a bowl of berries and a lifetime of sweet memories of him.

 

After my father passed, I feared those berries would bring sadness;

but, that day, they brought me healing. 

It was human to protect our hearts by distancing ourselves from things, from places, from activities that were attached to memory and emotion.  It was human to avoid those things that caused a lump in our throats and tears to well up in our eyes. Sometimes we were aware it would happen and sometimes that reaction caught us off guard.  Sometimes those things that carried memories of lost loved ones were things that once brought us happiness and joy. When we experienced loss, we were forced to navigate a new world.  A world without a loved one, a world in which we faced a new situation, a new normal. We longed for the way things used to be but we sometimes compounded that loss by depriving ourselves of other things too.  Sometimes, we weren’t sure how to move on. Sometimes, we felt it was easier if we relinquished things that used to bring us joy because those things now brought us pain.

 

Maybe we didn’t think we deserved it?  Maybe we felt guilty when we felt happiness after a devastating loss?  Maybe we felt if we enjoyed life again, we were forgetting about the bad stuff that happened or that we were disrespecting the ones we lost?

But that wasn’t what my Dad would have wanted for me. 

That wasn’t what God wanted for me either. 

It wasn’t just about berries. 

It was everything. 

I used to write a lot. I wrote poems, I wrote short stories. I wrote essays and children’s books. I kept multiple journals. After my Dad died, I could no longer find the words.  I was overwhelmed with the grief of losing my father and I didn’t want to open those emotional floodgates for fear of drowning in them.  I used to read a lot too, but I didn’t make time for that either. My Dad used to read all the time. At the end, my Dad’s eyesight was so bad that he couldn’t read anymore. Maybe I felt guilty reading when it was something that was taken from him?  I’m not sure why I stopped reading for pleasure or writing for release. I dove into my work. I never took time off to rest. I accounted for every minute of every day.  I didn’t sit still. Maybe I made a point of ‘staying busy’ so I didn’t have to remember that my Dad was gone?

In time, I started opening my heart to some of those things I had been denying myself.

I bought a new book and started reading again…  

I opened a new notebook and started writing in my journal again…  

I bought some berries at the store and enjoyed them again… 

I found that I could escape my emotions through the stories in a book.

I found that I could release my emotions through my own words.

I found that those berries still tasted sweet. 

I found that I could find joy again.

It may sound crazy, but once I got sick, years after my Dad had passed; I felt even closer to him.  I remembered when he found out he had to start dialysis.  I remembered when he was removed from the transplant list and told to enjoy the time he had left.  I remembered the chronic pain he suffered.  I remembered when he had good days and bad days and when the bad days began to outnumber the good.  I remembered when he told me that he was ‘getting tired’ and knowing what that meant but not wanting to accept it.

Now, I could better empathize.  Now, I wasn’t trying to deny what my father was going through because I didn’t want to lose him.  Now, I was feeling similar emotions and fears.  Now, I understood how he felt and why he did some of the things he did.  I gained strength from those memories of the way Dad dealt with his declining health.

I couldn’t run from those memories.  I needed to learn from them.

I also remembered that once my Dad got sick and couldn’t work anymore, he spent his days doing things he wanted. He spent his days visiting friends and family.  He spent his days reading.  He spent his days gardening and canning and cooking meals.  He spent his days doing sweet things for my mother.  He spent his days helping other patients at the dialysis center.  He spent his days sitting on the porch and enjoying the sunshine.  I wanted to remember all those wonderful things about him because I drew strength from his example.

I remembered how my Dad managed his situation.  I applied it to my own.

My Dad suffered at the end of his life; but I felt that it was at the end of his life that he really started living. It was at the end of his life that he slowed down enough to enjoy it.  My Dad faced many challenges.  He was in pain but he didn’t complain.  He got bad news at the doctor and even amidst his devastation, he found the resolve to keep fighting.  He was too tired on some days to do much more than sleep the day away but on those days he felt good, he fit in all the joy he could.

He wasn’t a man who would want me to deprive myself of things I enjoyed. 

He was a man who would want me to eat a bowl of berries for him too. 

He was a man who would want me to read as many books as I could, just like he did.

He was a man who would encourage me to write whatever and whenever I wanted. 

He was a man who would want me to squeeze every drop out of every single day.  

So why did I deprive myself of those things for so long?

Grief was a process. There was no timer. There was no expiration date. 

 

 

I still missed my Dad every day.  I still thought of him when I ate raspberries, when I walked into a bookstore, when I saw those scratch-off tickets at the convenience store…

I thought of him all the time. 

But my stomach didn’t get tied up in knots when I saw raspberries anymore.  My breath wasn’t sucked out of my lungs when I heard a few bars of my Dad’s favorite hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”.

Those things that once brought instant tears to my eyes now brought a moment of quiet reflection and a smile to my heart.

I made a lot of detours through the produce section and I left a lot of empty notebooks and unopened books on my nightstand for a while.

It took a lot of tears and a lot of time.

But then one day, I put that plastic container in my shopping cart.

And I tasted the sweet memories I had been missing.

So, to all of you missing someone right now …

Allow yourself to grieve. 

Be patient with yourself.

Cry those tears and feel those emotions. 

But my wish for you is this:

May your bowl that is emptied by grief today,

be overflowing with memories tomorrow.  

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This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, Donald E. Lilley.  He was larger than life and losing him left a big hole in the hearts of our family; however, the way he lived and the way he loved continues to bring us comfort as we navigate this world without him.  Rest in peace, Dad.  We love you and we miss you.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Pushing, A Lot of Learning…

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I was on my way home when I saw it.  There, in the sky.  It was cloudy and overcast; but, just ahead, glorious rays of sunshine broke through the clouds, shining down on the earth. When I was a child, I was told those rays were windows from Heaven, places from where God and our lost loved ones watched over us.  Today, the clouds were thick and although they attempted to cover up the sun; the bright light cut through the clouds and cast down to the earth. 

The clouds couldn’t contain that glorious sun. 

It had been a pretty rough morning. I dropped my kids at school.  There were sniffles and sneezes, tears and anxiety.  One child was getting over a cold and the other was worried about the upcoming school day. It was an emotionally charged morning at our house; but we stumbled through it, and got out the door.  It was hard, sending my kids out into the world when neither of them wanted to go.  It was one of those mornings when as their Mom, I wanted to allow them to stay home and snuggle on the couch all day; however, as their loving Mother, I needed to push them a little bit.  The cold was near its end and the anxiety was unwarranted; but they had to figure that out on their own.  As much as I wanted to protect them; like a mother bird pushing her littles out of the nest, I bid them farewell and told them I loved them as they got out of the car and went to school.

It was hard. I felt guilty.  Would my son feel okay as the day progressed?  Would my daughter stop worrying long enough to enjoy her day?  Part of me wanted to go back and get them but I knew that wouldn’t have helped them.  My son was fine.  He had no fever and his cold was almost gone, just a lingering stuffy nose; but nothing he couldn’t work through.  He was starting a new quarter and he needed to be in school.  He also needed to learn that sometimes, you have to do things you don’t want to do, when you don’t feel like doing them. My daughter was going to be fine as well.  She was worried about a few activities going on at school that day.  She was nervous about doing something in front of her peers.  I felt bad for her.  I related to her feelings. Still, she had to learn that she was strong enough to get through it and that it wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought. She might even be proud of herself when it was over. The only way the two of them were going to learn those lessons was if they went out there and experienced it.  They would both come home tonight, lessons learned, and be stronger for it.  At least that was what I told myself as I choked back that Mom guilt.

It was hard to watch my children go through their struggles, even through the small ones.  As much as I wanted to jump in and fix it for them and to smooth out their paths; I had to allow them to experience it. They had to walk through it and be sharpened by it; for it was the only way they would learn the lesson buried within it.  Sometimes, my children were probably angry with me or felt like I abandoned them; but, really, I was doing what was best for them.  They just didn’t see it.  I never wished my kids any harm.  I didn’t want them to have difficulties.  But, these difficulties they faced paled in comparison to the difficulties they would face as they grew older.  If they couldn’t handle working through a cold or stepping out of their comfort zones now, they would have a much harder time later when they grew up and had to navigate the real world.

I thought about how my children must have questioned my actions this morning.

Isn’t this how we questioned God sometimes too?

We fell on hard times and wondered why?  We felt like God had forgotten about us, like God was being cruel; and we often got angry at Him too.  We didn’t want to “go to school on our sick days” or “step out of our comfort zones” either.  We wanted God to fix it for us or rescue us from it.  When Our Father ‘forced us to go to school’, we were miserable and fearful and angry.

We thought He didn’t care.

We thought He was punishing us.

We thought He couldn’t possibly love us.

When really, as we complained and cried and whined…

He, too, was making us “get out of the car and go to school”.

We had to walk that walk.  We had to push through the pain, the fear, the sadness,…whatever it was…because there was a lesson in it.  Through our suffering, we grew more confident, more adaptable, and more faithful.

We bent…but we never broke.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

God didn’t set us up to fail so that we would feel badly about ourselves.  Maybe He wanted us to push harder so we realized our potential. Maybe He wanted us to be humbled so that we wouldn’t become too prideful. Maybe He wanted us to succeed in something else and failing was the only way we would change course.

God didn’t set us up to suffer in vain.  Maybe He wanted us to learn perseverance.  Maybe He needed us to learn to rely on His strength and not our own.  Maybe He wanted us to learn compassion and empathy for others. Maybe our greatest blessings would come through our greatest sufferings.

God didn’t want us to fear.  Maybe He wanted us to learn to prepare.  Maybe He wanted us to think through decisions more carefully.  Maybe He wanted us to learn to put our trust in Him and not the world.  Maybe He wanted us to learn to take risks because a future risk would lead us to something wonderful later in life. 

God was good, all the time; even, when we didn’t see it. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I could have turned away from God.  I could have felt like God turned away from me. I could have felt like God was punishing me.  I could have curled up in a ball on the couch and wallowed in my own misery.  Instead, I clung to my faith.  I relied on God’s love and promises. I asked God to give me strength to fight this disease. Yes, I was terrified. I was scared of chemo.  I was scared of losing my hair. I was scared of surgery.  I was scared of radiation…but I knew I could get through it with His strength … I did, and I continued to do so.  I learned that God was so much more faithful than I realized. I learned that I am much stronger than I thought I was. I learned that I had more support from my loved ones than I could have imagined. I would have never known any of that had I not gone through it.  Cancer was evil and although I wished I never had to deal with it, I didn’t regret learning the lessons God taught me through this walk. Cancer didn’t define me, that’s for sure; but, having cancer had brought me even closer to God and cancer made me stronger and braver than I ever thought possible.  Having cancer was so very dark sometimes; but, God’s love has cut through that darkness and warmed my heart with those glorious rays I saw this morning.

My son couldn’t see past his runny nose.  He grabbed tissues and cough drops on his way out the door.  He imagined himself feeling yucky all day and grumbled about having to go to school.  He didn’t realize that once he got there and was able to focus on other things, he would feel better.  He would learn that he was more able than he thought and that he was capable of ‘toughing it out’. My daughter couldn’t see past the one event at school that day that had her so worried.  She didn’t realize that it was just a small part of her day and that it wasn’t quite the big deal she had built it up to be.  She would learn that those butterflies in her stomach would make her do better.  She would learn that her confidence would increase and that she would feel pride in her work when it was over.  She would learn that she was stronger than she thought and that she was capable of ‘fighting through her fears’.

But they wouldn’t have learned any of those things if they hadn’t experienced them.

They wouldn’t have learned any of those things if I had let them stay home.

As their Mom, I always had their best intentions at heart.

…even when they didn’t see it… 

and Our Father does too. 

Sometimes, God brought us things we didn’t want.  Sometimes, God asked of us things we didn’t like.  Some weren’t so bad and some were seemingly insurmountable.  In those times of pain and suffering, we needed to remember that none of our suffering was ever in vain.  God had a plan and although we may have suffered greatly in this world, it was all for good, in the end, according to His plan.  It didn’t mean He didn’t love us.  It didn’t mean He didn’t care.

He pushed us sometimes.

He forced us out of our comfort zones.

It wasn’t always easy.

Sometimes, it was near impossible.

But if you stopped complaining…

and you stopped worrying  …

just long enough to get out of the car and go to school…

God’s light would cut right through the darkest of your days …

and you just might learn something.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

 

 

Blood and Promises

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Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her! (Luke 1:45)

I pulled up to the curb in front of my daughter’s intermediate school.  I tried to line up her door so she didn’t have to walk through the plowed snow in her tennis shoes.  It was gym day.  I handed her the lunch she almost left behind.  I told her to have a good day and that I would see her after school. Then I told her I loved her. I wanted to hug her but I knew that wouldn’t go over so well, you know, right there in front of the school.  She grabbed her lunch, slipped out of the car, then uttered a quick “Love you” as she shut the door and walked away.  Gone.  I watched her from my rear view mirror as I left the drop off circle and drove away.   When I got to the stop sign, I stole a moment to watch the adult-sized version of that baby girl I brought home from the hospital 12 years ago disappear into the doorway.

Oh, my heart…there it went.

Into that school building… and away from me.

In that building, she was learning.  She brought home binders and folders and assignments.  I asked her about her homework every night.  She usually finished it at school.  When she had homework, I asked her if she needed help.  She rarely did. After dinner, she grabbed her backpack and she went to her room.  I remembered those days when I came home from a long day at work, dreading that time at the kitchen counter, working through common core math and making up silly sentences to make those practice spelling tests a little less boring. 

Now, I find myself wishing that she would need my help … with something … anything.

In that building, she was meeting new people.  She talked to friends whom I had never met.  She mentioned names from her classes and I didn’t have a face to go with them.  She asked to go to social events and to visit friends at their homes and became frustrated with me when I needed to speak to a parent before I gave permission.  I remembered those play dates and outings that used to include me.  I remembered those afternoons at the park that involved Moms socializing and children playing.  I remembered her asking to go to the pottery place or for ice cream — and she wanted to go with me. 

Now I had to wait for her to come home to tell me all about it … that is, if she felt like it.  Sometimes, my curiosity was considered invasive … or annoying.

In that building, she was dealing with stuff.  Lot of stuff.  Grown up stuff.  She knew things I didn’t know she knew.  She heard things I didn’t know she heard.  She experienced things I thought were years away….or maybe that was what I hoped.  She asked me questions about things like drugs, suicide, and self-harm.  She mentioned peers going through difficult times.  She witnessed things I never wanted her to see … at least, not yet.  I remembered those days when her questions were simple, like how to mix paint into the perfect shade of purple or why school buses were always yellow. 

Now, I often wasn’t sure how to answer her questions.

In that building, she was learning about the outside world. She was learning about current events, discussing topics that at one time were irrelevant to her, and she was learning what to do in an active shooter situation. Oh, my heart. I remembered when our television was constantly on Nick Jr., when we only watched the news after the kids went to bed.  

Now, she came home and talked about those same stories we used to keep from her.

In that building, she was on her own.  I couldn’t protect her. Disapproving looks, sideways glances, hurtful words and insults.  Navigating relationships with friends who didn’t have the same intentions or the same heart.  Spending time with people who may or may not be looking out for her best interests. Adjusting to teachers who had different teaching styles, different temperaments, and different depths of compassion.  Facing the pressures of growing up, the same ones we all faced; however, she lived in a world that forced her to grow up much faster than we did. I remembered when she lived in a bubble, totally protected inside these four walls or under the careful watch of Mommy and Daddy. 

Now, she walked through those doors, a soft target.

In that building, she was subjected to scrutiny, to criticism, and to comparison. Questioning herself, worrying about how she looked, what size she wore, how long her hair was, and in what activities she should participate, not always just because she enjoyed them.  I remembered the days when she wore whatever I put on her, let me fix her hair however I wanted, and was happy to do just about anything, as long as we were together.  I remembered the days that she didn’t care that her hair needed brushed, her t-shirt had a ketchup stain on it, or she had chocolate around her mouth.  I remembered when she would say what she wanted to say and do what she wanted to do without a care in the world. I remembered when she had that bold confidence and believed she could do and be anything.

Now, that same confidence was slowly being stripped away.

In that building …

and in this world. 

I thought about the way that things used to be.  She used to talk all the time.  She started talking when I started dinner, kept talking through dinner, and was still talking when I cleaned up after dinner.  She couldn’t wait to tell me everything.  She never wanted me to leave either, to go anywhere.  She always wanted to go with me.  Now, she would rather hang out in her room; she answers my questions with one word; and she has turned down invitations to go places with me, whether to run an errand or to go to the mall.  I had to drop her at the door, no hugs and kisses permitted, and I couldn’t dare say or do anything that might be considered embarrassing … which was just about everything. My sweet girl who had the best giggle ever, was often grumpy and short with me.  My energetic daughter who used to want to run around all day, would sleep until noon if I let her. My Mommy’s Girl who used to never let me out of her sight was more often than not, hibernating in her room.

My heart screamed to make time stop.

When I delivered my daughter, I had a long labor that ended with a C-section.  Behind that curtain, I never saw them cut the cord. I never felt that sadness that other women did after the birth, the sadness that came with no longer carrying her inside of me. That feeling never came over me and it never bothered me back then. In fact, I couldn’t wait for her to be born, to be on the outside. I couldn’t wait to hold her.

I couldn’t wait to watch her grow …

but then it happened.

Now, I can feel that invisible cord that holds us together … that cord that binds mother and daughter … I can feel that invisible cord fraying like a rope being pulled too tightly from both sides.

She keeps walking … I keep holding on.

Ripping.

She takes another step … and then another… and still, I hold on, even tighter.

I can feel my arms growing weak.

Tearing.

I can feel the skin on my palms break open, like the heart in my chest.

Still, I hold on…

Hands bleeding.

Just as my heart began to fill my throat and as the tears began to spill from my eyes; I reminded myself that this is how it was supposed to be.

This is what God asked of me as her mother.

God blessed me with my daughter; but not so she could stay with me forever.

God chose me to take care of her. God chose me to raise her.

God chose me to prepare her and then He will call on me to let her go.

But I don’t know if I can do it, Lord.

Give me the strength to let go.

I wondered if she would make the right decisions even when it wasn’t easy. I wondered if she would choose good friends and be that good friend to others.  I wondered if she would work hard for what she wanted but be okay if things didn’t work out the way she planned.  I wondered if she would choose a husband who would treat her like a princess; and whom she would treat as her prince. I wondered if she would do what made her happy, but not at the expense of others. I wondered if she would always look for joy, even if she had to find it along the path less traveled.

I worried about her.

I wanted to protect her.

I didn’t ever want to let her go.

I reminded myself that though she walked away from me more each day, pulling harder on that cord; I had to trust that she would take all the things that I had taught her here, in this home, with her wherever she goes.

In this home, she has learned that she is loved. 

In this home, she has learned that she is beautiful, inside and out. 

In this home, she has learned that she must treat others with kindness.

In this home, she has learned that her worth can be found in God. 

In this home, she has learned to help others, especially those less fortunate. 

In this home, she has learned that she has responsibilities to herself and to others. 

In this home, she has learned that she is always safe here. 

I reminded myself that it is only because we loved her and cared for her, that she feels comfortable enough to take these first steps out on her own.

I reminded myself about how proud I am of her.  Even with the mood swings, the questionable things that came out of her mouth, and the lack of interest in doing anything I asked of her; I was still so very proud of her and the person she was becoming.

I saw her notice the little things, even when she expected the big things.

I heard her praise God for her blessings, even when she forgot to tell me ‘thank you’.

I watched her empathize with others, even when she seemed so self-absorbed.

I watched her be a good friend to others, even when she was mean to her brother.

I saw her becoming more responsible, even when I had to tell her to make her bed.

I saw her becoming more independent, even when she expected me to wait on her.

I reminded myself that God had made promises to me… and He kept them. He helped me through all the ups and downs of my cancer diagnosis. He had been with me every step of the way.  Shouldn’t I have the same faith that He would make those same promises to her?  Shouldn’t I know with all my heart that He loves her too with that same awesome love that He felt for me and all His children?

She would have trouble in her life, just as we all did.  She would face obstacles she would be fear she wouldn’t overcome.  She would find herself unsure of who she was and what she was supposed to do….but she would be okay.

I walked through this cancer journey knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God was going to see me through it. I prayed and prayed for God to allow me the honor of finishing my job of raising my children.  So far, He had answered that prayer. God willing, He will continue to do so.

If I could believe so strongly that God would do that for me, how could I not believe that He wanted what was best for her too? 

How could I walk this path with blind faith — and then question the path my daughter would walk in her lifetime? 

How could I have witnessed all the small miracles and that have occurred over the past 2 years as I have responded to treatments better than expected, been spared the harshest of possible side effects my treatment usually brought with it, and as I have crushed devastating statistics for the success of my treatment and my less than fair prognosis … and still not trust that God was good all the time? 

How could I have misunderstood that as my daughter was growing away from me, she was growing into who God intended her to be?

Perhaps I held on so tightly to that invisible cord, with my bleeding palms and aching arms, because I feared for my future; but, had I forgotten that God asked me not to worry about tomorrow, but to focus on today? 

I felt my heart return to my chest, my grip loosen, and my soul release.

I didn’t know what the future held.  I didn’t know if I would have to leave my children behind on earth one day far sooner than expected.  I prayed that was not the case; however, I had to let that go, just like I had to let go of that invisible cord.

Thy Will be done.

I hoped that as my daughter tried out those wings of hers, she knew that I would always be the wind beneath them, whether I was here on this earth or not.  I hoped that my daughter knew that even as she steered off her familiar path, she could always look to God to help her find her way.

I couldn’t stop her from growing up, from growing away. I couldn’t keep her in my arms, at my side, or even in this house forever. Her world was getting bigger. Her eyes were opened. I couldn’t protect her from this world that wanted so desperately to change her innocent heart.  All I could do was trust that God would see to it that this world didn’t change her, but that she did her part to change the world.

And for that to happen, I needed to do my part too.

So through the snappy comebacks and the awkward silence…through the fights about her messy room and when she had to wear a coat…through the laughter and the tears…

All I had to do was be her Mom.

And that was something that I was more than happy to do.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord. And he worshiped the Lord there.

(1 Samuel 1:27-28)