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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

September 29th, 2016 was my last big chemo treatment… the kind that makes a person instantly old. After that came the “lesser” chemo every three weeks; surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and eleven lymph nodes; then thirty radiation treatments. All that was completed this past June followed up by hormone therapy. Hopefully those drugs will keep the devilish disease from returning.

Praise God I lived to tell about it! Now I have sense enough to really be thankful for things I missed while going through treatment; Simple things like sleep. I rest so well now that I’m back to snoring loud enough to rattle the windows. In fact, I’m so loud that I may be responsible for the zombie movement since I surely wake the dead.

I’m thankful for food that I used to love but couldn’t stand the taste of while taking chemo. Things like coffee, chocolate and fried chicken that David makes in his mom’s old electric frying pan. Oh how wonderful. He skins it then soaks it in milk, rolls it in flour and the crust is to die for! I even love the wonderful aroma of it cooking. Last year I would hurl at the thought. David literally lost twenty pounds while I was sick because he tried not to eat in front of me. Well, that and a boatload of worry when I prayed stupid stuff like, “Lord Jesus! Just take me home!”

Bless his heart.

I’m thankful for friends and family. Though I loved these folks before, something about a friend stopping by with a new nightgown she happened upon at Marshall’s’; brown sugar bagels from Panera’s; a new hat and a funny story… it felt a lot like love. One day I found a bright red picnic basket outside the door filled with lotion, lip balm, a funny coffee mug, garden clogs and flip flops. Just thinking about being strong enough to walk outside and have a picnic or work in the yard felt a lot like hope.

I’m thankful most of all for so many prayers and messages telling me often that folks were praying for me. In a time when I couldn’t process the words of Scripture, though I knew they were true, others lifted me up. A pastor friend stopped by and I told him of my struggles. Having been with many folks going through chemo he related that one of them said his brain was so foggy that reading the Bible was like reading a can of soup. It meant nothing. The pastor’s kind words helped me past the guilt I was experiencing to an understanding that God had not left my side. It felt a lot like faith.

I’m thankful for David. I knew to be thankful before I got cancer. But something about having a husband who cleans up behind a grown woman who is too sick to make it to the bathroom in time really shows what a man is made of. Again, bless his sweet heart. His kind example of faith, hope and love felt a lot like grace.

And lest I spiritualize things too much, I have to admit that I’m thankful for hair. Apparently God looked down at the curly bob I’ve worn since the eighties and said, “Enough of that girl! You need a new doo!” He grew it back, curled it not quite as tight and even gave me a few sprigs to pull toward my ample forehead. I imagine He smiled at His work and said, “Not bad for an old chick.” I know it’s vain, but I can’t even tell you how happy I am to finally have hair. It feels a lot like joy.

I have to say, I think I owe my life to you. Remember the story in the Bible of the men who carried their friend on a cot to Jesus? The place was so crowded they lifted him onto the roof. I reckon they had a pulley system of some sort. They removed the roof tiles and let him down right in front of Jesus. Luke 5:20 says that Jesus healed the man and forgave his sins when he saw the faith of his friends.

When I was so weak I had to be carried, you my friends lifted me up to the Lord in prayer. You faithfully asked Him to heal me. Praise God He did! It feels like faith, hope, love and grace rolled into a great big bundle of joy!

Yes! I’m so thankful!

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A New Season

Don’t you love the turning of one season to another? Currently our fridge holds watermelon on one shelf and carrot muffins with cream cheese icing on the other. Okay… so I ate the last muffin yesterday but you get the point. While I enjoyed it with a steaming mug of coffee, David ate the juicy remains of the last watermelon of the summer.

He’s dressed in shorts and a t-shirt while I’m wrapped in a soft throw looking out the window at golden leaves. One by one they carpet our yard and seem glad for the cooler weather.

So am I.

We haven’t seen our hummingbirds for a couple weeks so David washed the feeder and put it away. Apparently those little guys have gone wherever it is they go in anticipation of colder days ahead.

Personally we’re going through a new season too. Back in the spring of our lives we were busy birthing babies and enjoying all things small. Our house was small, our budget was small, our kids were small. But our dreams were big. Expectations for the future included large: a larger house with plenty of room for grandchildren and extended family; a large budget for big vacations and bigger gifts. As we anticipated our future together we expected our needs to be little and our life to be big.

As we entered the summer of our marriage, the house got big and the family got bigger. Oh how we loved it. So much activity and laughter! Our babies brought their babies and renewed our joy with each visit.

Now suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of autumn. Our house is small again since it’s just the two of us. When the family piles in we stack them up like loaf bread and love every minute. However, when they leave we collapse in our respective recliners and praise God. Our strength is completely spent. As my friend Ann says, “Tail lights are a beautiful thing.”

We never saw it coming.

Unlike the hummingbirds, I think I always expected it to be summer; to be strong and full of life.  Now suddenly here it is fall and my hip hurts. I can get down on the floor to build castles, but I’m never sure what it might take to get me back up. Though my husband is a burly man he struggles with kidney stones. He has always been the strong one. Now he finds it hard to do ordinary tasks lest he activate an attack. I hate to admit it, but we might be closer to winter than fall.

At times I feel we’re on a sled going down an icy hill so fast that we must hold on for dear life lest we take a tumble and break a hip. What used to be adventurous now feels kinda scary.

When did this happen?

For breakfast we poured our Aldi-O’s, split a banana, and thanked God. As we enter this next season at least there are still two in our little house. When I sneeze I still hear someone say “Bless you!” And if I dare to build a castle on the floor with the grandkids, there is somebody near to help me up.

Perhaps I should celebrate this new season. Too bad I ate the last muffin. So here’s to all my aging friends. I toast you with half a banana lifted high in hopes that you will take joy in the small things: like golden leaves floating gracefully to earth; companionship; lifelong friends; and hummingbirds which will return again next year.

And may your coming season be filled with more thankfulness than fear.

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Summer’s Over

For us it was officially the last day of summer. David’s job allows him to have the month of July off and of course the time had flown. Our insurance dictated that his blood work be done precisely on Monday, July 31, 2017. His appetite dictated the appointment take place as soon as the office opened so he could rush home and eat; and more importantly have his coffee. All went well and the day was shaping up nicely. I too had a doctor’s appointment to schedule the removal of my port: that surgically implanted device where I received chemo over the last year. Some people leave it in in case the cancer returns. Instead, I wanted it out. To me it’s like telling cancer, “Uh no. You may not have access to my space anymore.”

We sat at the table eating a leisurely breakfast when David casually asked if I was looking at the Cheerwine clock. Yep. Sure enough I was gauging the amount of time I had left to get ready by a clock that is approximately thirteen minutes slow. Who would keep a clock like that? I jumped up, threw on my go to the doctor clothes, penciled in some eyebrows, gathered my calendar, Kindle, and medications. Down the interstate we flew from Salisbury to Concord without a hitch. After waiting forty-five minutes for a three minute consultation, I wondered why we had hurried like bats out of… the basement.

BUT!

It seems the surgeon had a cancellation and therefore could do my out-patient surgery on Wednesday, only two days hence. Jackpot! We even splurged on apple fritters at the new doughnut shop, then swung by the produce corner for three bales of pine needles. Oh what a happy day!

All the joyful activities of the morning had worn me out, so I settled into the couch with a warm fritter and a hot cup of Earl Grey. David had his book and all was right with the world until the phone rang. It seemed that if I were to have surgery on Wednesday, I must have an EKG prior. She offered, “Can you come now? We don’t close til six-thirty.” I glanced at the clock, added thirteen minutes and decided we could do it.

4:47 pm

Again I jumped into my go to the doctor clothes and out the door we flew. Suddenly the interstate came to a standstill. We had already passed the point of no return… that place where there are no exits until one reaches the magical ramp called Lane Street. As far as we could see, no one was moving. At least with all the construction there were barriers on each side so that no one could go zipping down the shoulders past everyone else as if they were more important. Not that that sort of behavior makes me think murderous thoughts in my otherwise pure heart.

We sat there so long that daddies began taking their children out of their vehicles and stepping over silver guardrails into the woods for potty breaks. I gazed across the scrub brush and undergrowth calculating the height verses width plus the viewing angles of nearby truckers. The sixteen ounces of hot tea consumed earlier reminded me that desperate times call for desperate measures. Just as I was about to hop a guard rail the ocean of traffic opened before us like the Red Sea. We were actually moving. I checked the time.

6:07pm

Quickly we made our way to a place we’d never been. David pulled up to a door. I ran inside trying not to think of my bladder. A kind lady directed me to another building with the hope that we might still make it. I checked the clock in the truck.

6:27pm

Again David pulled right up to the door. I lept from the truck and bolted inside. Down the hall I ran like a… gazelle.

The lab door was locked.

BUT!

I spotted a restroom. From the depths of my soul I prayed.

Dear Jesus if You love me at all, please don’t let it be locked.

The door swung wide and I relieved myself of all my… fears. A quick hand wash and a deep sigh later I stepped into the hall where David stood wondering.

“Closed?” he asked.

“Yep,” I sighed. “But the bathroom was open!”

He looked at me as if impressed with my weird happiness. Apparently he had no idea of the struggle inside my… soul. Hand in hand we walked back through the empty parking lot to the truck.

“Let’s go to Cracker Barrel,” he suggested. “I have a gift card.”

7:27pm

“How was your food?” the cashier asked with a smile. David quietly related to her that it was pretty bad, and that his lovely wife had actually sent hers back and requested something else which turned out to be worse.

“Would you like to speak to a manager?” She tried to be helpful.

David shook his head. “No thanks. I think I just want to be done with the day.”

We scooted up I-85 without a hitch.  The sun slipped down making the sky golden as we pulled in the drive. Like kids who spot those dreaded back to school sales we realized.

Summer is over.

But life has just begun in the Clark house.

I’m cancer free!

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Carry Me

I’m so proud. I have a bang. And three eyelashes. It’s been a year, two weeks and one day since my very kind friend Jennifer came over and cut my hair down to the fuzzy nubs. She is a professional and has done this many times for others going through chemo. But for me it was a first. She brought all her gear to my tiny bathroom, pulled up a chair for me and set about her work. I dared not look in the mirror. I was just thankful she offered to come by the house instead of having me meet her in the salon. When she finished, I turned to look and immediately burst into tears. She held me and let me cry while I tried to make jokes. I tend to handle hard things with humor. It didn’t work this time. She wasn’t buying the comments about my high forehead reaching all the way to the back of my neck. Instead she took the other seat in the room and told a story of her past. It was heart wrenching and very personal. I don’t know what prompted her to share something so private at that particular time. But I’m glad she did.

It wasn’t like, “Oh honey, you think that’s bad. You haven’t been through anything yet!” It was just a gentle recounting of something very hard that somehow she made it through. Then quietly she took my hand and said, “You have God in your life and you’re strong. You will make it too.”

She hugged me again then left. I checked another mirror and cried some more. I seriously doubted her words and really didn’t care whether I lived or not… except for my beloved David.

Day after miserable day I could barely lift my bald head. If it wasn’t for hurrying to the bathroom to empty the few contents of my stomach, I wouldn’t have moved at all.

But here I am, one year, two weeks and one day later, with a bang and three eyelashes. With an eyebrow pencil I draw in what’s lacking on my face. If only it came with an eraser for those dark circles. But like Popeye the Sailorman, “I ams what I ams.”

Besides, Jennifer was right! I DID make it! I even find myself smiling and trying to do normal things again; like work in the yard.  In my head I am strong and have big ideas of where to move my Lenten roses. I want to divide my beautiful blue hosta and split the chartreuse ones so I can share. The holly bushes are devouring the front of the house and my heart shaped garden around my bottle tree is being attacked by wire grass.

But for today I must let it go. I will rejoice in how far I’ve come. Food tastes really good again and sleep comes each night without a fight. Hot flashes are less and I no longer feel like I may burst into flames from the inside out. Occasionally I have a case of internal combustion but so far it hasn’t scorched my bang nor my three eyelashes. In fact I fully expect to wake one day with three bangs and seven eyelashes and maybe even bushy brows. But for now I will remind myself that when I was weak, the Lord was strong. Like a little kid I reached up toward my Daddy and said “Carry me.”

And He did.

PS:

Just as I finished writing this, I got a call. The growth the CT scan revealed on my liver is benign. No sign of cancer. I’m bawling like a baby and thanking God again for His tender mercy. Next thing you know I’ll have bangs… plural!

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Faith of a Regular Joe

I had a CT scan this week. It is the last of the tests to see if my cancer has been defeated. It’s been a long hard year and a real struggle. But today is also the last opportunity I have to praise God before knowing the results of the scan. You see, I’m still having unexplained pain in my lower back. It’s different from the usual everyday stuff. And as you know my beloved mom-in-law had breast cancer too and seemed to be improving. Then suddenly her back began to hurt. Sadly the cancer had moved there with a vengeance, eventually taking her life. So I can’t help but wonder.

However, today is the day I can praise the Lord and trust Him ahead of time, no matter what the test reveals. It’s not that I am sure He has taken the cancer away. Many good people with much more faith than I, have died of the nasty stuff; like my sweet mom-in-law. Instead, my faith rests in the goodness of God. He alone is wise and holy and knows the best path for me. So today I will praise Him.

During the past year some of my best encouragement has come from the Psalms. The folks who wrote those words were just regular Joes like me with all kinds of problems. When I saw these words, I wondered if the writer had been watching the last year of my life.

Psalm 107:18-21 says, “They couldn’t stand the thought of food, and they were knocking on death’s door. ‘LORD, help! They cried in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death. Let them praise the LORD for His great love and for the wonderful things He has done for them!”

Author Philip Yancey says, “Confidence in what the Lord will do springs from the knowledge of what He has done.” When I recall the goodness of God in my past, His lovingkindness, and His many answers to prayer, it fills me with confidence that no matter what the future holds, I can trust Him.

Though my body is weak, my faith is small and my brain is tired, my heart can’t help but praise Him. For His unfailing love is higher than the heavens! His faithfulness reaches to the clouds! [from Ps. 108:4]

 

Lest you misunderstand, let me tell you what you already know. I am no saint. However, this is not my first rodeo.

Obviously.

But this one thing I’ve learned.

The Lord can be trusted.

“‘LORD help!’ they cried in their trouble and He saved them from their distress.

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.

What a blessing was that stillness as He brought them safely into harbor!” –Psalm 107:28-30

When I look at my trial as an opportunity to trust Him, it feels like victory rather than defeat. And like the regular Joe begging Jesus for help I pray,

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” –Mark 9:24

Beloved reader, may the storm you are navigating today be calmed to a whisper and the waves be stilled. And may the stillness in your soul be a blessing worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

PS:

Special thanks to my daddy Seabert Pittman who took the beautiful pictures used in my story. He has an appreciation for every sunset and sunrise God gives, and also an eye for contrasting darkness with light… just like the Lord. As our Father says, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” –Psalm 30:5

Also, I got a call from my oncologist before I put this story out. The CT scan revealed a cyst on my liver but she does not believe it is cancer. I will have an MRI on July 14th. So again we wait, and walk by faith.

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Pansies in the Dark

From March 2012:

My mom-in-law Nina gave us a little scare last week. She’s 86 and one of the sharpest funniest people I know. Her heart got out of rhythm and she had to go to the hospital. I told her she had been eating too many Javi’s Duros De Harina [chili and lime seasoned wheat chips]. She loves those things and stocked up when she found them on sale for a dollar a bag. No wonder her heart was doing the cha-cha!

Her nurse’s name was on the white board. What a beautiful young lady with a Jamaican accent, and she was very sweet to Nina. As she left the room, we asked Nina how to say her name. She said “It’s Hawa, as in Hawa ya?” Leave it to Nina to entertain us while she’s sick. Thankfully her hospital stay was short.

Lately she has also developed a painful knee. It sometimes gives out and causes her to lose balance. So she keeps her cane handy. I walked over to see her and she asked me to look for it. “I know I haven’t been outside today, so it’s got to be here somewhere!” She had hobbled all over the house looking.

After checking in all the obvious spots, then under furniture, and the places we’ve found it hanging before [on the back of chairs, kitchen cabinet handles, bathroom towel racks, etc.] I finally gave up.

The next day, her daughters came over to clean house for her since she’s still not feeling well, and they are giving Amanda a baby shower. Jo called. “You’ll never guess where we found mama’s cane. Gail found it in the refrigerator.”

Bless her heart. Nina had been cleaning out her fridge and had hung it there while she worked. Then it just blended in with the metal racks.

I love this woman.

As bad as she feels, she is determined to host the shower. In her thinking that includes waaayyy more than one might think. She’ll make about 50 tiny bows to pin on guests for a game. She will wrap small gifts for prizes and a blue hydrangea must be purchased for the guest of honor. Doilies will line the plates. Flower pots need to be painted. Blue sheets must be ironed so white lace can cover them and the tables. She is also hoping her blue and purple irises open in time for the guests to enjoy them. What a production.

David couldn’t get her on the phone the other night so he decided to walk over to check on her. There she was outside planting pansies in the dark.

I can’t imagine life without her.pansies

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My mother-in-law has the best humor. She is also very determined. Once she gets an idea in her head there is no talking her out of it. She lives across the street from us and last month she had gravel, or “crush ’n run,” delivered to her driveway. It’s something she’s done for fifty plus years. The truck comes, dumps a big ol’ pile of rock and she is as happy as if she has good sense.

We knew this had become a current priority because she had mentioned it to us several times. “Get ready! Gravel is coming!” she would say.  For my husband, [her son] that was like saying, “Just so you know, the gates of hell are about to open.” Her idea of a good day is hauling gravel by the wheel barrow load to its designated spot after shoveling it into her wheel barrow. But before the gravel comes, it is important to dig out under the carport so ground level is not too high. Then you have to wet everything down real good so it packs tight. It’s a very important process.

After mentioning her plan several times, and how important is was to get some crush ‘n run, because she had not had any delivered in about thirteen years, her son said, “So mama, how are you going to get the gravel spread?” She replied with a head wag, “I will spread it myself!” Son says, “Mama, the last time you did this you were young, like still in your seventies. Can we figure out a different way to do this? I’m not as young as you are.” For he knew he would not be sitting across the street watching his eighty five year old mom haul gravel.

Finally, after numerous conversations like this, she mentioned to one of her daughters her plan.  Her firstborn replied, “If I hear tell of you shoveling gravel, I will make a speed bump out of you.” This is her calm daughter. Usually we depend on the younger daughter to take care of such issues. But this time offspring number one made her opinion clear in no uncertain terms.

When mom-in-law called to tell me to watch her driveway for speed bumps, I told her to make sure to lay down parallel to the drive instead of crosswise; and if she didn’t mind, to position herself in the middle of the drive so she wouldn’t create too much trouble for us to get in and out.

Not to be outdone by all the instructions from well-meaning children, she asked before she was made into a speed bump, if she could at least roll up and down the drive. That way, she reasoned, the gravel would be packed down so tight it would resemble concrete.

I love her humor. I love how sharp she is. I love how everyone has her best interest at heart and how we all instruct her, even though she really does know everything. Seriously. She has been through so much life, that there isn’t much she does not know. Oh to be that sharp and fun at eighty-five!

I heard the beep, beep, beep, as a gravel truck backed into her drive. It deposited two huge piles of the coveted crush ‘n run. Shortly after, a grandson with a blade pulled up and leveled the drive. Mom had previously, probably under cloak of night, dug out under the carport to the desired depth.  A hard rain began to fall as the grandson finished spreading the crush ‘n run. The driveway is leveled and packed. Later mom waters the gravel under the carport to her heart’s content. No mothers or offspring were harmed in this production. All is well in her corner of the world. Now if we can just figure out how to keep her out of the creek.  Because you know, that when the rocks get moved around, water gets still and mosquitoes breed, and… the saga continues…

output

The Firstborn, Jo, Nina, and the Middle Child, Gail

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