Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Friend's New Book

Hi Everyone,

My good friend, Jodi Thomas, has a new book coming out this week, Texas Rain. She is a New York Times best seller and this book is the first in her Whispering Mountain Series. I've heard her talk about this series while it was still a daydream in her imagination. I can hardly wait to read it.

Go to your local bookstore and check it out. If it isn't there yet, just ask them when it will be in.

Remember: Texas Rain by Jodi Thomas.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Gift of Being

I’m the queen of multitasking. Long before that term became popular, I’d honed the skill to a science. After all, one doesn’t choose to be a stay-at-home mom of five children and survive unless she learns to do many things at once. However, after years of multitasking, an undesirable trait formed in me—the habit of non-presence.

For instance, when my children were young I planned the evening’s meal and made a mental grocery list while playing with them. My kids would ask me something and I wouldn't hear them. I was off in la la land. They learned that by calling me by my first name I would snap out of it and answer them. Sad.

When my husband told me about his day, I looked him in the eye and feigned interest while planning my “to do” list for the next day. My husband is a scientist, meaning, he is incredibly intelligent and works with intelligent people. In my years as his wife, I’ve learned the art of nodding at the right times without really understanding what was said. Unfortunately, I could also do that with him and my friends—nodding at the right time without really hearing what is being said, as my mind wandered to deadlines and appointments.

Non-presence is frustrating. I’m a writer. So, I felt guilty while cleaning the house because I needed to be writing. But, while writing I felt guilty because I needed to be weeding the garden. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t somewhere else doing something else.

All of that changed when one phone call put me on the path back to the present. The call came late evening in November, 2002.

“Hello?”

“You don’t know me, but I’m your Uncle’s pastor. I’m sorry to tell you this, but he’s very ill. He may not even live through the night. Is there any way you come to Seattle? As soon as possible?”

“I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my uncle when I walked into his hospital room. A mere shadow of the man I knew lay in a hospital bed, his frail body crisscrossed with wires and tubes. He held up his hand.

“Hi Honey,” he said barely above a whisper.

I held his hand close to me. He told me his diagnosis was terminal and he was at peace. After a while it became obvious he couldn’t live alone. As far as he was concerned, I was the only family he had left.

For a week I tried to muster the courage and suggest he leave his home, the church where he was an elder, the town where his beloved wife, Bernice, lay buried, and move across the country to live with us. However one evening our discussion lent itself for me to broach the subject.

“Uncle James, what do you think about moving in with us?”

He contemplated my suggestion, finally saying, “Yes, Honey, I think I’d better.”

Back in Arkansas, I turned our office into a bedroom and helped him settle in. I made it my goal to treat him as a king for the last few months of his life. With the best intentions, I barraged him with questions like: are you hungry? Thirsty? Bored? Cold? Hot? Do you want to go somewhere? Watch television? What channel? Do you need anything? Want anything? He patiently answered, with his cute, little crooked smile.

For the most part, he spent his days on the couch watching golf, fishing, and boxing programs—things that bored me to tears—while I zipped by him while cleaning, cooking, or leaving to run errands. I only slowed down long enough to ask if he needed anything.
One Sunday afternoon, however, for no particular reason, I plopped on the chair next to him while he watched the Buick Invitational.

“My pastime used to be golf,” he said. The corner of his mouth turned up and his blue eyes held a mischievous look. “But throwing those irons in the pond got expensive so I took up fishing.”

I laughed, delighted to discover this humorous side of my uncle.

“Watch Tiger,” he said. “If he makes this shot, he’ll win a million dollars.” Tiger sunk it. “Way to go, son.” He looked at me. “Got time to watch another with me?”

“Sure.” My mental time clock started ticking. But soon I forgot it as my uncle filled me in on the players’ lives, golfing rules and interesting tidbits like how the grass follows the sun, sometimes causing the ball to miss the cup by a millimeter. One player’s ball rolled toward the cup then went to a right angle.
“Hit a beetle in the grass,” he said. I’d never thought of that happening. We chatted for a couple of hours, but it only seemed like minutes. Then Uncle James reached for his walker and pulled himself up.

“You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve needed to go to the bathroom for quite some time, but didn’t want go because I knew you’d leave and I’ve so enjoyed your company. But I can’t wait any longer.”

He shuffled down the hall. But his statement held me by the throat, bewildered by what he had said. It was also a revelation—my doing for him wasn’t as important as my being there with him. Not just my presence, but with my mind as well—all of me.

From that moment on, I began practicing “being.” One evening while watching an old war movie I gave him a bowl of his favorite ice cream, Bordeaux Chocolate Cherry. He took it and casually remarked,

“I was a gunner for the Air corps in World War II.”

I had no idea! It dawned on me that I didn’t really know anything about him except that he and my father were brothers. He was also the only link I had to my father who died when I was twelve. This man was a part of my heritage, and soon, he would be gone. The grave would make all he knew a secret. There wasn’t any time to lose in our relationship.

“What’s a gunner?”

He stared off, as if mentally returning to Wurzburg, Germany. “We flew a Douglas A26 attack bomber. She had three fifty-caliber machine guns and a 25 mm cannon.”
My interest grew. “Being” was getting easier.

“I remember one time after landing from a mission. I got out and inspected the fuselage for bullet holes. One in particular got my attention. It went in one side and out the other.” He held his thumb and forefinger slightly apart. “It was half an inch from where I sat. It’s a good thing I got religion before I went to Germany.” He winked and ate a spoonful of ice cream.
He told more war stories and about his years working for Boeing, in particular about a special order jet for a king in the Middle-East. I learned about his childhood, my great-grandparents and, most special of all, about my dad, who long ago faded in my memory. I loved “being” with my uncle.

All too soon, the cancer began its claim. One Tuesday night he called to me and once again held up his hand. I came to his side and held it.

“I feel that tonight is the night, Honey.”
A thousand words jammed my mind, all of which cried, No, It’s too soon, I want more time with you. But all I could say was, “I’m here.”
And I was. All of me.

Fifty-five days after moving in with us, he peacefully left this world and went home to the Lord and to his wife, Bernice.

After his funeral many came to me and said what a gift I was to him. I thanked them, but I knew who truly benefited from his time in our home—me. I’d changed. When my husband spoke, I listened. When my grandson wanted to dig in the dirt, I dug. While having coffee with my friend, I heard every word and never felt the tyranny of the things that needed to be done.
Sometimes when I pass the couch where my uncle spent so much time, I sit down and recall our times together. My life is a more pleasant journey.

He truly gave the greater gift.

This holiday season, remember, the best gift you give to others is the "gift of being."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Seeing the Elephant

Eureka!
That was the siren's call luring men and women to the California gold fields from the years 1848-1853. However, the most common phrase spoken was either, “Have you saw the elephant?” (sic) or “I have seen the elephant.”

The elephant was symbolic of the high cost of their endeavor in selling everything they had for the funds to make the trip and also of leaving their families. It represented every thing that could go wrong like horrible weather, broken wagons, Indian raids, small children wandering off never to be found again, sickness, starvation, and death. But even with the high cost and everything that could go wrong, the result was still considered the most amazing experience of a lifetime.

So, if the elephant represents the high cost of an endeavor, and the innumerable possibilities of what could go wrong, but still is an adventure without equal, then EVERY PARENT has seen the elephant!

Sometimes that darned animal tromps all over the room when I go to bed. It sits on my chest in the early dawn and makes it hard to breathe.

Ever been there?

The other morning, before sunrise, I woke up with a problem on my mind that concerned one of my children. Realizing how useless it was to try to sleep, I went outside to pray. On my front porch I stared into the darkness.

Funny how loud problems can scream at you from all directions in inky blackness. There isn’t a place to focus. But then on the horizon I saw a golden razor edge split the earth from the sky. I made that my focal point as gold and pink pushed the darkness away. The cacophony of worry gave way to the song of birds. I watched as the sun rose and burned away what was left of the night. With the dawn came clarity to my problems and my hope renewed. With God nothing is impossible.

Psalm 112:4 says, “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man (and woman)” That light can be hope, and it can also be revelation. But it only comes when our focus is on God – not the elephant.

Parenting is costly, and many things can and do go wrong. But it is also an amazing experience.

We will see the elephant, but remember, our focus must always be on God.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Bit of a Miracle

On June 2, 2006, I watched my fourth child vow to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful for as long as he lives. William, my baby, married Kristin Krug.

As my big, strapping boy held the hands of his beautiful bride, I began to cry. Not just mother of the groom tears, but a tsunami. One would have thought I was unhappy about this union. Oh, quite the opposite. You see, he almost didn’t live to see this day.

We humans are funny creatures. Most of the time we are fighting life. Resisting the twists and turns we encounter on the road. There are times that we are literally fighting for life. And, on occasion, we allow ourselves to flow with life.

I like those times.

While raising five children, my husband, Neal, and I often found ourselves fighting life. Pressures at work, difficult relationships, money problems, made even a small thing like William’s honkin’ size 13 shoes lying in the middle of the living room floor an issue, especially when I tripped over them at night. But, on Christmas Day 1997 all of that changed. That day cleared away all the distorted views of life. That day we quit fighting life because we were fighting for William’s life.

The week before Christmas he came home from school with a headache. The doctor said he had a sinus infection. Each day he felt worse. After a second visit to the doctor he was diagnosed with the flu and was given more medicine.

He just got worse. Shortly after waking on Christmas morning he had a grand mal seizure and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors at the emergency room saw something on his brain and recommended that he be immediately flown to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. There he was diagnosed as having a subdural empyema—an infection that had developed between his brain and the layers of tissue covering it, caused by his sinus infection.

Dr. Charles Teo advised us of the procedure he wanted to do which involved removing part of William’s scull and essentially “washing” his brain. He warned us that our son had about a 50/50 chance of survival. After signing papers we went to our son and ran along side the gurney as far as we could until he disappeared behind the large double doors leading to the surgery.

It’s funny how our life view changed in less than twenty-four hours. I would have given all I had to have the living room filled with William’s shoes as long as he lived to fill them.

Friends and family joined us in the waiting room. We prayed together, cried, and prayed some more. The surgery was supposed to take four hours. But in two hours the doctors called for us. Our hearts beat wildly. Did that mean William had died?

Dr. Teo found us and said the surgery went well. I finally breathed. But not for long. He told we were not off the "tenter-hooks" yet and for us not to get our hopes up because William could still suffer a stroke and the infection could reoccur anytime. If that happened, we would go through the whole procedure again, increasing the chance of a stroke. He told us that William was in recovery but would be in a coma for several days and most likely be in intensive care for as long as six weeks.

When William came out of recovery, to our amazement, he was awake. The nurse saw our surprise and said he was conscious before going into recovery. I put my hand on his cheek and he turned to me and asked for orange juice.

The wonders didn’t stop there. He was in Intensive Care less than twenty-four hours and in ten days we took him home.

Dr. Teo pronounced him as a “bit of a miracle.”

That was ten years ago. Today he is healthy, happy, and still messy. And I don’t mind a bit. But, I’m sure that Kristin has something to say about that. Even so, when I mentioned that he was my baby boy, she corrected me by saying, "He's my boy now."

And that’s the way it should be. The whole "leave and cleave" thing.

I can’t begin to express my joy and gratitude for God’s mercy on our family.

Congratulations William and Kristin. You both are a blessing to us. I love you. Mom

Friday, May 05, 2006

It's All Right

A lot has happened since I last wrote. Rob and Bea lost their baby just a couple of weeks after I wrote about true love. We all felt the blow of disappointment and loss. We asked ourselves, why do these things happen?

I don't know.

What I do know is that baby had a purpose and it was accomplished in just 9 weeks of gestation.

Life throws a lot of curves at us. Some are a nuisance and some are devestating. What do we do with these life interruptions? Some of us "faith it out" and refuse to acknowledge the problem or admit we hurt. To ask God "why?" may seem disrespectful. Like we don't trust him. But is it wrong to ask why? I don't think so.

Let's look at the Shunammite woman in II Kings 4:8. She added a room to her house for the prophet Elisha to stay in while he was in town. He appreciated it so much that he told her she would have a son.

Well, in those days, that was the number one priority for a woman, to give her husband sons. But she was childless and her husband was old. So instead of rejoicing she rebuked Elisha by essentially saying, "Don't raise my hopes." But a year later she had a son.

The child grew and one day while with his father in the fields he complained of a head ache. The father sent him to his mother and the boy died in his mother's arms.

Think about that for a minute. The pain of that experience is incomprehensible to me.

She took her son and laid him on the prophet's bed and called to her husband to send a servant and a donkey because she was going to see the prophet. He asked why? Her response is one of faith. She said:

It's all right. She told Elisha's servant the same thing and Elisha the same thing. But, as soon as she slid off the donkey, she fell to the ground and violently grabbed Elisha's feet sobbing and asking, "Why?"

Did she lose her faith? No. But she had lost a child. And that pain had to be recognized. She was human, a mother, and she cried. She had questions.

Elisha went with her to the house and prayed over her son twice. The boy came to life and was restored to her. In the end it was just as she said, "Everything is all right. However, even if the child had gone on to heaven, like our little baby, we can have peace in knowing he or she is safe with our loving Heavenly Father and Heaven grows sweeter for us because we know that he or she is waiting there for us.

Now I have good news. Rob and Bea are expecting again. This baby is due the first of December. They have seen and heard our new baby's heartbeat and the doctor says it is strong and healthy.

When the Shunammite woman received her son back, she fell at Elisha's feet again, bowing, and giving thanks.

We are at our Heavenly Father's feet, thankful for our new baby.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

True Love

In late September or early October my son, Rob, and his wife, Bea, will enter a dimension of love that is the closest manifestation of God's love that a human can have for another human--they are expecting their first child.

Many kinds of love ebb and flow in our lives, but when a child comes it is amazing. It's like there's not enough room in our bodies to contain the love we have for that infant. We begin to understand God's agapao love-His unconditional love.

Unlike the other loves we've experienced that depended appearance, behavior, attitudes, and desires, this love requires nothing. It is pure, bottomless, and passionate. Inside the most phlegmatic, passive, person is a Kodiak Grizzly Bear with fangs and claws that rises on its hind legs when someone hurts his or her child.

Think about it. When a baby is born it looks like a little old man. The first thing it does is cry. A baby nurses and then spits all over you, poops in a diaper that leaks on you, keeps you up all night, and sleeps all day while you try to get through your day in a sleep deprived fog. A newborn is noisy, demanding, messy, and to anyone other that its parents, not much to look at.

But still, we love our baby so much it hurts. We would give our life for our child. Why? Because that baby is ours. But we are imperfect.

God loves us even though we may not be much to look at, when we are noisy, demanding, and messy. Why? Because we are His. Jesus did die for us and it truly hurt. He made us perfect.

However, not only do we enter a new dimension of love when a child enters our lives, we also discover a new threshold of pain. My children are grown, but I will always and forever be a parent. What touches them touches me. What hurts them hurts me. Even when they are not aware of the danger of their choices, I am excruciatingly aware. As the psalmist writes, there are times when tears are my food.

The phone call that informs that a child has been in an accident, or the one that a child has been caught with drugs. The parent - teacher meeting informing that a child is failing. Having a doctor say that a child has a 50/50 chance for survival, or no chance at all. A child that goes missing or runs away. Hearing the words, "I hate you," from a child that you've given up your interests and time in preference to that child's needs and wants. Watching a child reject all your values. These are the things that make our souls bleed.

Can anything good come from this pain? Yes. The pain of loving pushes us into the revelation of God's power. Why did I write, pushes? Because most of us will not enter this revelation any other way. There are too many distractions in life. And it is too easy to counterfeit God's power by emotions. Raw pain causes us to fall on our faces humbly and honestly.

God loves our children more than we do. That is hard to wrap our minds around, because we love them so much. He wants what we want for our children - His best.

True love is unconditional, painful, and requires faith. I wouldn't have it any other way.