one day at a time

calendar file000786402730I am scheduling my calendar from now until Christmas. Lots of routine, plus two special family get-together events, which are a big deal because we all live spread out across the country. Getting us all to the same place requires a bit of advance planning… and a more-than-a-bit of money.

I am also working on my final project to complete my MA. The last hurrah to a three-year long endeavor. There are assignment deadlines. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is still a long tunnel.

Work is ever-present, but less settled right now. Since my team focuses on serving others around the world, it is hard to commit very far ahead, and crisis like Ebola, ISIS, and international conflicts change the best of intentions.

On top of these things, my mom has decided to end her chemo treatments and begin hospice care. She is very tired and fragile, but is still mobile and mentally sharp. No one knows how much time she will have.

I have to live one day at a time.

I am keenly aware that I have to hold all the plans I make with a loosely open hand. There is no certainty that they will occur. No guarantees. Because of my mom’s condition, at any moment this Fall could easily take on a very different personality.

The truth is every day is the same – I don’t control them and they could be very different in an instant.

Only my level of awareness has changed. And my attitude.

I am more grateful for what I do receive each day – a long phone call with one of my children, fun times with friends, a walk or bike ride with my husband, a deep conversation with my mom.

I worry less on the front end, and I am more at peace with those plans that don’t turn out. I can often reschedule, plan something else, or just enjoy some time to rest rather than keep up the pace I thought I wanted.

I actually plan better and more. Because of my recognition that each day is a gift, I want to fill them well. I crave valuable experiences, efforts, communication, and relationships.

I don’t want to waste a single moment.

I am learning to more quickly let go of the anger and forgive the offense. I am trying to take the initiative to clarify misunderstandings and express appreciation and love. I want to listen well to others and encourage and empower. I am attempting to criticize less and give more generously of myself.

Isn’t it ironic that the awareness of death gives greater meaning to life? 

How are you living each day?

redemption and transformation

photo (1)The other day, my daughter gave me a priceless gift.

It is a calendar made from her incredibly amazing photographs. (You can see her gorgeous work in film at http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/) The fine-art printed cards are clipped to a handcrafted wood board redeemed from deadfall beetle-destroyed pine trees¹. The unusual blue color is evidence of the damage done by the insects, but death has been transformed into a work of art – a powerful redemption.

I received the gift while we were helping our daughter and her husband move in to their new home in Tennessee. They are in an old (1920’s), quaint, character-filled home, and we worked long hard hours painting, remodeling, and furnishing to make it “theirs”. In a few days, it had undergone a loving transformation.

The redeemed gift and transformed home give me special hope during hard days.

This past week, a teammate died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a very ill wife and three children. He had been providing special care for his wife; now she will have to do many things he did for her… while missing him terribly. When something painful like this happens, I long for an answer to the incomprehensible question, “why?”, and I wait trusting for the certain redemption and transformation that will come with time.

…because redemption and transformation will come.

I have seen it so many times. Where there is faith, good and grace are found even in tragedy. Kindness and generosity and peace and strength come from the most unexpected people and places.

Hope returns while grieving hearts find comfort in the promised heavenly home and aching arms wait for eternal reunions.

Easter is also a season of redemption and transformation. I am grateful today for a faith that sustains and for a promise of eternal life… and for a special gift that reminds me of the power of redemption and the hope of transformation.

When have you seen redemption or transformation in your life? What gives you hope?

________

¹ The great company that makes the wood boards is Artifact Uprising. Check out their site!

emotional roller coaster

roller coaster
I have always loved roller coasters – the bigger and the scarier the better! I love the sense of risk and adventure and speed… all while feeling safe and secure by the buckles or bars that hold me safely inside the car. I enjoy the views and sites from above the highest peaks… and I never mind the flying-stomach sensation as the car dives down to the lowest levels or squeals around the curves. Wind in my hair, screams in my throat, hands lifted high… I intentionally look for that kind of fun at the amusement parks.

…but I do not want that same experience when I get back home.

Somehow when life’s happenings have the same character of risk and speed and change, it does not feel like fun anymore.

The last few days have felt like an emotional roller coaster to me. I have been on the high peaks of new friends, stimulating and encouraging work, and progress towards settling in a new home. Within hours, I have also traveled to the low valleys of family struggling with death-at-the-door illness, fear and exhaustion, carrying the guilt that I can not do more, and grieving the loss of my once-vibrant father who now hardly recognizes my voice when I call.

These ups and downs also affect my stomach, but now it is groaning and aching rather than flying, and I do mind it, and I wish it would go away.

I spoke at a retreat this weekend about how much we need to invite others into our life adventures and look for something to appreciate even in the hard times. The heart attitude and the help of others make a big difference for me when my life is twisting and spinning in all directions on short notice. I feel more secure on the wild journey when my faith holds me tightly and my friends sit in the car beside me.

I recognize that the peaks and valleys will be part of my experience until the ride ends. Sometimes I will slowly chug along on a mellow straight path, but adrenalin-pumping crazy tracks are often just ahead. I am learning that if I consider life’s challenges as an adventure, as an inevitable opportunity to grow and trust, and if I do not attempt the ride alone, it is not as scary for me. It is even fun at times.

Do you like roller coasters? How do you ride the emotional roller coasters of life?

how do you want to be remembered?

Bob Morgan memorialHow do I want to be remembered when I die? Not something I think about very often… or want to.

However, attending a memorial service this past weekend caused me to think about things that I am often too busy to consider.

My father-in-law died a few weeks ago (about one year after his beloved wife, Nancy) and we gathered for a very special time with family and friends to share stories, hugs, tears, and time together. Meals, music, and memories filled the days. We remembered Bob as family, friend, coach, and faithful husband.

Bob’s life did not begin easily. His father deserted the family when Bob was young, and Bob ran the streets unsupervised with his “river rats” pals. There are plenty of stories about their escapades and mischief… and probably some that still remain untold! Bob
credited the Marines and basketball for turning his life around, teaching him the discipline, values, and commitments that characterized his later life.

At Bob’s memorial, we looked at picture boards and video presentations and listened to some of his favorite songs and people share about his life. Over 80+ years, Bob left a lasting legacy.

PERSONALLY – Bob invested his life with passion into those things he loved and enjoyed. Bob served bravely and proudly in the Marines. After his tour of duty, Bob dedicated his life to his love of basketball. He played in college, and then coached for many years, winning the 1971 Wisconsin State Championship for high school boys’ basketball… and many years later, he came out of retirement to coach a win-less, small-town, girls’ team to their only winning season. Bob loved the “lake”: fishing, pontoon rides, and the spectacular seasonal views from his front porch. He also loved all kinds of music and enthusiastically sang and played with family and friends through the years. He was famous for his Louis Armstrong karaoke version of “What a Wonderful World”, and we sang it at his service.

What are you passionate about?
Are you investing your time, abilities, 
energy and resources there?

RELATIONSHIPS – Even without early strong role models, Bob left a legacy of strong family bonds and loyalty. Bob adored his wife Nancy; it was obvious to all who knew them. His family laughed together, cried together, disagreed, and forgave each other… always staying close and enjoying time together. Bob also developed long-term friends from all walks of life. He was friendly and witty, and had a special place in his heart for the underdog. The Morgan campfire always warmly welcomed family and loved-like-family friends.

How are your relationships? Are they committed, loving, loyal, deep?

FINANCIALLY – Bob was a high school teacher and coach… not highly paid professions. Yet, Bob and Nancy were excellent stewards of their resources. In life, they were thoughtful gift-givers and traveled frequently to visit family. They opened their home and hearts to many, some for short visits, others for long-term care. They wintered in South Padre, TX for many years, enjoying warm weather and dear friends. When they died, they left an inheritance to their children. They were generous in life and in death.

Are you a good steward of what you have earned/received?
Are you generous to others?

FAITH – Bob and Nancy both demonstrated a personal faith and encouraged it in others. They faithfully attended church through the years, although the particular denomination was not important. Personally, I am grateful for how they encouraged our missionary family and prayed for us, even when they knew that our faith choices meant our family would never live near to them. Both Bob and Nancy understood God’s gift of
forgiveness and were at peace when they died.

Where are you on your faith journey?
Would you be at peace with God if 
you were to die today?

Bob and Nancy have helped me reflect on my own “wonderful world” and the legacy I want to leave behind… How about you? How do you want to be remembered?

learning from losing

braceletCancer is a nasty enemy.

It does not discriminate and will attack all types of people.

Too many times the disease wins the battle.

My mom has terminal cancer. I wear this bracelet each day to remind me to pray for her.

I accompanied my mom to her chemo appointment the other day. Since I live in a different state, this is the first time I had the opportunity to meet her doctor and keep her company during her treatment. My sisters have been with my mom many times for these infusions; I am very grateful to them. I counted it a privilege to help this time.

The process went like this…

  • Arrive early to modern, sterile building. Check in at desk #1. Sit and wait.
  • Pay at desk #2. Sit and wait. Make small talk.
  • Chat a bit with kind, gentle, careful technicians and aides. Answer questions. Fill out paperwork. Check wristband.
  • Take elevator upstairs. Check in at desk #3. Answer questions. Fill out paperwork. Check wristband. it’s busy. Many bald, turbaned, walker-or-cane-assisted people come and go. Sit and wait. Mom called in to prepare lab work.
  • Take elevator down one floor. Sit and wait. Get mom water and coffee.
  • Move to examination room. Sit and wait.
  • Short check up with doctor. He speaks fast with a difficult-to-understand accent and medical vocabulary, but also communicates warmth and care. He has no easy answers for leg pain and weakness but he encourages goals, bucket-list dreams, and light exercise.
  • Visit desk #4 to schedule next chemo appointment and full-torso scan to check chemo effectiveness.
  • Take elevator back up. Sit and wait, as lab results are checked and drugs mixed.
  • Move to infusion chair. Answer questions for young nurse. Check wristband with drug bags. Connect port to tubing.
  • Anti-nausea med – 10 minutes. Rinse. First drug – 15 minutes. Rinse. Second drug – 1 1/2 hours.
  • Share pictures on my iPad. Visit with nearby fellow patient(s). Chat about life, grandkids, weather, wigs, cancer support group. Talk about life and death. Eat lunch. Share about feelings, fears, lifestyle changes.
  • Nurse disconnects tubes and connects pump for next two days.
  • Take elevator down. Exit hospital, grateful for another day and time together.

A seven hour process all in all, repeated every two weeks, until the drugs are no longer effective against the cancer or the side effects are too difficult for my mom. This treatment will not cure the cancer. It is terminal. I am losing my mom.

As I sort through the emotions, I learn to look for each small gift… Mom has faith and peace. She still has her hair and walks on her own, albeit slowly. She has good days when she can go out with friends. Mom receives great care from her family and the medical staff. She is loved.

Disease changes life and sometimes ends it, but disease doesn’t define life. There is more.

Have you or someone you loved fought a life-threatening disease? What have you learned from the experience?