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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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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The Paper Chain

He made a long paper chain for me to count off the days. Chemo had worn us both down to the very last nerve of our already fragile psyches. Since my cancer treatments started in May and would continue until the end of September, it had been a very long hard summer. But suddenly we had something to look forward to. A friend graciously offered her house at the beach for us to get away for a week-end and leave the Big C behind. If I could just get past that last chemo and take a few weeks to build up my strength, then we could get a glimpse of the ocean. And everyone knows that saltwater is good for what ails you.

Day after day I tore one ring off the paper chain and prayed for better days. We scheduled our trip for the last week-end in October and hoped for decent weather and better strength. Finally the time came and the last of the paper chain was torn away. The forecast was beautiful. Food was planned and packed since I have a hard time eating. We tried to think through everything we’d need for our little trip as I was still so weak.

We arrived at the house on Friday afternoon. The place was gorgeous and overlooked a marshy creek bed with lots of wildlife. We unpacked and took the golf cart toward the beach. The access where we parked was rather steep and involved a lot of steps. Resting often I was glad to spot a bench at the end of the long walk. There before me opened up the view of the ocean. Waves lapped gently on the shore and the water shimmered in the sunlight. After a short rest we took our chairs down onto the beach. But out of nowhere we were swarmed with biting flies. Have you ever been a part of such a lovely experience? It was not pretty. Though we had some serious repellent, probably harmful enough to kill us, it did not deter the flies. They seemed to lap it up like grandma’s Sunday gravy.  Suddenly I had sympathy for the Egyptians back in Moses’ day. We could not stay. Those nasty creatures followed us all the way back to the golf cart and didn’t leave until David picked up some serious speed.

Saturday a new day dawned and we wondered whether to try again. But I was so sick and needed to maintain a close proximity to a toilet. Sorry delicate readers– just keeping it real. David brought Cream of Wheat to the little patio table on the deck facing the marsh. We prayed for a good day and wisdom to know what to do. The sun was warm for October 29th so we lingered and watched the giant cranes and herons as they watched the tide come in with their breakfast.

Then we spotted him: a huge old buck wandered from a cluster of trees and just stood there for our viewing pleasure. One by one other deer joined him, some even splashing in the water that rose to where they were. We sat in the perfect place just far enough away that they didn’t notice us but we could enjoy their movements in the rising tide. It’s a picture I’ll never forget.

Sunday morning came and we decided to give the ocean another try. Again we armed ourselves with repellent and sunscreen and mounted the golf cart. This time we drove a little farther and found an access which was constructed more like a ramp instead of a stairway. Gradually it wound through the wooded area then offered benches overlooking the ocean. Sparkling water spread before us along with fishermen and families enjoying the sunshine and surf. Though I was too weak to walk in the soft sand, the bench worked just fine. We sat there soaking in the beauty of it all for what seemed like hours. It definitely cured what ailed me.beach

Sometimes it feels as if a trial will last forever, much like this story of our lovely week-end. Like biting flies, pain and despair quickly gobble up what little bit of strength we have.  I’m so glad we hung on and tried again to find that happy place. The next time I feel like giving up I plan to pull up those scenes I promised never to forget.

The majestic old buck with head raised sniffing the wind; the graceful doe frolicking at the water’s edge; the beautiful ocean pounding the beach then pulling away for another time; all just because the Lord made such a wonderful world. No, cancer is not so wonderful. But because of it my eyes are opened like never before. I never knew such joy could be gained by being still and watching the world. And never before has anyone made me a paper chain, counting down the days til we could simply be together.

 

 

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Not Real Brave

About a month ago I announced to the world that I have breast cancer. Just like that I put the news out there before God and everybody. I get accused often of being a ‘private person’ which is kind of hilarious considering the stuff I share with complete strangers. However the accusation of being private is fitting. I really hate having people all up in my business. David and I tend to keep to ourselves and just play the cards we’re dealt. Our way of coping is less about sharing and more about making light of things in order to deflect the attention. But lately it seems that he and I both have been impressed that the Lord would rather we allow others into this place we lovingly call Clarkville.

Our family creed has always been the same as the state motto for North Carolina. “To be rather than to seem.” Well… that and “If a little cheese is good, a lot of cheese is better.” Sometimes I wonder if our family mantra is more akin to Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong.”

Poor Murphy. We feel your pain. Though we truly want to honor the Lord our lives are not always real pretty. I hope you are surrounded with as many good people as we are. For it seems the Lord does not expect us to bear our burdens alone. We’re learning that it’s important to allow people in. It’s not up to us to manage our image or to come off looking like we have it all together. Lord knows we need help.

But how do you say that and not come across like a whiny butt? Or needy? Or even ungodly? Aren’t we trusting God to get us through this? Do we not have the precious truth of Scripture emblazoned upon our very souls?

David said something very valuable to me one day. I love him even more for it. He said that Christian women have it hard. Because we know the Lord, it’s almost as if we’re expected to lose our hair and Flopsy and Mopsy and still go hopping down the bunny trail as if we can happily do all things through Christ Who strengthens us.

Those were not his exact words. My version is a very loose paraphrase. The man has loved me for forty some years and would never say Flopsy or Mopsy. But you get the point.

Sometimes it seems that if we call ourselves Christians it’s supposed to be okay to lose our hair then go out in public feeling hideous.

I’ve got news for you.

It’s not.

It hurts like Gehenna and I’m not good with it at all. I’m sad and crying like a fool even as I type the words. Apparently I am not real brave.

But you know what?

I’m pretty sure God knew that about me already. Step by step, day by day He’s turning my weakness into strength. This morning He took my hand and led me to a crazy verse about Moses of all people. It says that he “Kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the One who is invisible.” –Heb.11:27

Isn’t that odd? God commended Moses because he continued to put one foot in front of the other by trusting the God he could not see. What a picture of faith.

By His grace I will do the same.

At some point I’m going to have to leave the house without hair. It’s one thing to shave your head and look like Kelly Pickler. It’s a whole nother crapstorm to be sick as a dog and sixty-stinkin’-one with your head in a ball cap.

No, I didn’t find a wig. All the ones I tried on made me feel like a Muppet. That was a different cry-fest. So while I still have eyelashes and eyebrows I took the first selfie of my life so I could change my profile picture.

So here I am, in front of God and everybody trying to “be rather than to seem.” The smile is fake but it’s all I’ve got. And right on cue sweet David brought me homemade cheese grits to settle my tummy.

Because if a little cheese is good…

You know the rest.photo cap

PS:

Special thanks to my beautiful friend Jennifer Naves who made a house call when my hair began falling out. With the skill of a gentle surgeon she cut away the curls and exposed the fact that life is still a wonderful joy to be held tightly.

Sweet Jennifer, you make me want to be brave. Much love from Clarkville!

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The Best!

I saw the quote somewhere, maybe in the back of a magazine. It was under a picture of an older couple walking down a sandy shore. It said, “Hold my hand, grow old with me. The best is yet to be.”

Or something similar. My memory cannot be trusted.

I love the saying, but I love the truth of it even more. My sweetheart has held my hand since we first met as juniors in high school. We were certain that the best was yet to be.

And it was.

Together we brought three funky chicks into the world. Each one is quite unique and opposite of the other. Yet each has a part of our personalities.

They crack me up. Their humor is much like their dad’s: subtle, dry, off-kilter, with notes of sarcasm and mischief… kind of like a fine wine. However, it is always tempered with kindness. The balance is delicate.

Through forty-two years our home has never lacked laughter. I was reminded by a dear friend that it is indeed the best medicine.

Praise God.

Hopefully it works even better than chemo.

Did I tell you that I have cancer?

Yep. Just diagnosed.

That got my attention too.

It seems there’s breast cancer with a little side of suspicious lymph node activity.

The laughter at our house came to a screeching halt. It was replaced by something akin to gut wrenching fear. Information overload drop kicked us into the reality of upcoming decisions which seem almost trivial in the midst of The Big C.

Shall I try to find a wig that looks like my hair? Or sport a bald head that may or may not be lumpy? So far I haven’t been able to find a wig even similar to my lovely mane.

Imagine that.

It seems no one wants curly hair that used to be red.

David says it’s the opposite. Everyone wants to have hair like me so all the wigs that look like mine have been snatched up.

And just like that the humor returns… with gentle notes of kindness.

He takes my hand and leads me to yet another appointment. I have no idea where we are because I am so directionally challenged. Across the parking lot he guides me like a little child into the unknown. I comment on the pretty fountain as it splashes water around the happy flowers planted there. He smiles and hurries me inside to meet another kind technician. She explains yet another procedure. I try to make a joke when someone says “Have a nice day!”

“It’s been a great day! Well… except for the possibility of killing off Flopsy and Mopsy. But other than that it’s been awesome.”

He shakes his head and laughs. Again he takes my hand and leads me back through the maze of cars to an unfamiliar place. That’s our truck so apparently I have been there before. Yep the truck is definitely ours because it has all the stickers of places we’ve been.

He opens my door and I can’t help but notice.

There’s room for more stickers on the back. Apparently we still have places to go. Maybe the best IS yet to be.

Gown in the front, gown in the back, paper pants and MRI loveliness because apparently one gown couldn't quite cover it.

Gown in the front, gown in the back, paper pants and MRI loveliness because apparently one gown couldn’t quite cover it.

Or maybe… the BEST is just having someone to hold my hand and laugh when I laugh…

And cry when I cry.

And love me so much that it matters not if I have hair.

Happy Anniversary beloved David!

Thank you for holding my hand through thick and thin, sickness and health, riches and… no wait: through everything EXCEPT for the riches. Apparently there was a strike at the dock when our ship came in. So instead let’s go get another biopsy plus a port for the chemo and determine to live as long as God sees fit!

Hold my hand. Grow old with me my love. The best really is yet to be!

I’m certain of it!

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Beautiful Joes

What could he do? It came down to a couple different options. He could break their engagement and tell everybody she’d been unfaithful. Or he could handle things quietly in order to protect her. Being a nice guy he chose option ‘B.’ He would cancel the wedding plans and somehow move on without her.

Suddenly an option was presented to him that he’d never considered.

He could marry her and raise the baby as his own. It would include taking a hit to his reputation and trusting a woman with a very questionable story but…

Matthew 1:19 tells us that Joseph was a good man. Even a good man would struggle with option ‘C.’

Isn’t it remarkable that the King of the universe chose to come to earth as a man so that God’s beautiful plan to buy us back to Himself could be realized? To me it’s interesting that He started and ended with a couple of regular Joes.

The first was just a hardworking, tax paying guy looking forward to having sons of his own and building the family carpenter business. He found himself being the adopted dad of a little boy Who would be revealed as the Son of God. But Joseph willingly gave up reputation and whatever it took to protect this child. When it meant believing a far-fetched story about his fiancée, he was willing. When it meant taking off to a foreign country with his brand new family in tow, he was God’s man.

Good, faithful, hard-working, steady Joe; not much by social standards, but chosen by God.

Fast forward to the end of Jesus’ life.

Another Joe steps up. This time it’s a rich man with great social status. But he refused to accept the verdict of his fellow religious leaders who had wrongly convicted Jesus. With wisdom he stepped out from the Jewish high counsel and made a decision. He would personally take the body of Christ and bury it in his own tomb… the one he just paid good money to have carved out for himself. This rich man with great social standing did not ask servants to do the difficult task. He made his request to Pilate, then took the body of Jesus and carefully wrapped it in fine linen, placing it in his own tomb. What courage! He could’ve lost everything by associating himself with Jesus.

Instead, he is forever chronicled in Scripture as Joseph from Arimathea, a good and righteous man.

Two Joes: One poor, without clout; the other rich, with high social standing. Each faithful, steady and strong in character, just doing life as the Lord guided.

In my life, the people who have influenced and encouraged me most have not been dynamic, flashy, or extremely talented. They have been beautiful though, because faithfulness is a beautiful thing.

Don’t you love how God uses us regular Joes for His most important tasks?

PS: You can read more about Joseph the step-dad in Luke 2:1-24 & Matthew 1:18-2:23; and Joseph of Arimathea in Luke 23:50-56 & Matthew 27:57-61.

Sometimes Beautiful Joes are named Dennis, David, Randy and Tom

Sometimes Beautiful Joes are named Dennis, David, Randy and Tom

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It was the first day of Spring. We had just received the terrible cancer diagnosis for my beloved mom-in-law Nina. The first surgeon she visited spoke words we were not prepared to hear. “I can’t do surgery because if I were to take all of the cancer out I would not even be able to close you back up.”

I began gathering photos of Nina in preparation for… I cannot even speak the word.

Anyone who knows her also knows that she hates having her picture taken. Therefore the task would not be easy. Oh we had plenty of pictures, but nearly all of them have her wagging a finger in the direction of the photographer with a death threat hanging in mid-air. This woman is not to be trifled with. I joked with her one happy day that if she didn’t stop putting the stink-eye on those trying to capture her pretty image we’d have to resort to using all those ugly photos at her memorial. That would teach her!

Beautiful silver hair frames her lovely face. Her skin is smooth and nearly wrinkle-free. She and her son joke that all the butter they consume keeps the wrinkles pushed out from the inside. She was able to attend the graduation of her granddaughter Desani where someone snapped a gorgeous picture of the two of them. She showed it to me and said, “When I die just Photoshop my head onto all those other bad pictures.” Note to self: Never try to teach Nina a lesson.Nina & Desi

For those of us who live in Salisbury, Dr. Black is a household name. He and Nina go way back. He’s treated many members of her family for cancer starting with her husband. Even now while Dr. Black is in the midst of trying to retire he’s committed to treating Nina’s sister until the end. The only criticism I’ve ever heard her speak of him is that she cannot understand why he doesn’t wear socks. Something about his naked ankles has always been a little disconcerting to her. Nina has baked him and his staff many a pan of brownies. She was saddened to hear of Dr. Black’s retirement, but took right up with his associate Dr. Brinkley. Perhaps the fact that he wears socks gives him cred. She loved him immediately because he joked with her and understood her sense of humor. The three of them have a running disagreement on whether brownies should contain nuts or not. Dr. Black poked his head into her exam room one day and said, “Don’t you let him talk you out of putting nuts in the brownies!”

What will Salisbury do without Dr. Black?

What will we do without our beloved Nina? My heart grieves at the thought.

Last Spring I wrote a story called Daffodils of Hope which ended with a request that you pray for her. Here’s the rest of the story. Dr. Brinkley immediately started breast cancer treatment which has shrunk the tumors so much that everyone is amazed. Nina has had no terrible side effects, has not had to endure chemo or radiation. We had no idea such a hormone therapy existed. At this point it’s looking like she may not even require surgery. God willing, Nina will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday on Christmas day.

Never once did Dr. Brinkley treat her as though she were too old to hope. With each visit he listened intently as she and her children asked questions and relayed symptoms. In fact he listened so well that at times there was actual silence in the room as he processed our concerns. How rare is that? If you know the Clark clan you’ll certainly appreciate that abnormality.

Thank you doctors Black and Brinkley for treating her and many others so well. Thank you to all who prayed for our beloved Nina.

And thank You Lord that I won’t have to be learning how to use Photoshop anytime soon.

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A roach scurried out from under the microwave. Yes a roach. How many years has it been since I’ve even seen one of these detestable creatures? Between shrieks I grabbed the nearest weapon. He waited, taunting me with his beady eyes and twitchy antennae. Back under the microwave he slipped just ahead of the flip flop. With no time to extract the microwave from its tight fitting home, visions of a roach mutiny filled my head. I might have had a mental breakdown at that point but again, there was just no time.

“Grammy come get on the boat! We don’t want to leave you! GRAMMY GRAMMMY GRAMMMMY! The boat is leaving! The boat is LEAVING!”

“Honey I can’t play boat on the bed now. We need to eat and get ready to go. C’mon, hurry hurry.”

Plunking the two toddlers into their chairs as they looked curiously at their Grammy was not to be done quickly. Questions about the shrieks came tumbling from sweet Marie who wondered what should be feared and if her attractive young grandmother was even grown up enough to be in charge. Jesse being the strong silent type peered at me with sky blue eyes of wonder as I shoved cereal bowls toward them and spoke in words he knew not.

“Woof it down kids, woof it! No time to dilly dally.”

“Pray?”

“Oh yeah. Go for it.”

Marie being the spiritual one of the bunch flew into blessing everyone she knew and thanking God for all things that may or may not happen while they stayed with their grandparents. She reviewed the fact that Mommy and Pop were flying on a big plane higher than the sky across the water to work with Mario the missionary. Jesse got bored with all the details and peeked to see if the cereal was worth all the fuss. A few Aldi O’s during the prayer surely wouldn’t hurt as his sister seemed to be taking her sweet time invoking the Almighty.

A loud triumphant “AMEN!” signaled the end of the blessing. “Spoon?” asked sweetie Marie. Tossing utensils in their direction I too shoved a spoon into the Pumpkin Seed Flax Granola which promised health and yumminess. As soon as the spoon hit my tongue I knew something was amiss. Apparently yesterday’s peanut butter was on the back side of the spoon even though it had been through the pot scrubber cycle in the dishwasher.

“Yuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkk!!!” and other exclamations of displeasure rolled off my milky peanut butter tongue.

“We not say yukky at table!” reminded sweetie Marie. “Pop say we no say yuk at Mommy food. Not nice.”

“Poopoo. Poopoo! POOOPOOOO!!!” exclaimed my strong silent one. Apparently the urgency of the situation was more important than breakfast conversation etiquette.

“Hurry Jesse hurry! Good job going poopoo potty. Hang on! Poppy’s getting out! Hurry hurry hurry!”

“Go away Grammy.”

“Okay. Call me when you’re done.”

Back at the table wielding a clean spoon, one bite of healthful yumminess and a sip of lukewarm coffee later I was summoned from yon potty.”

“Gammmmmmmy… I fwoooooo!” Holy cow little man! That is some giant poopoo in the tiny potty. I guess there IS something grosser than roaches and yesterday’s peanut butter. Wait wait wait. Let me clean you up before you go back to breakfast. Wash hands baby. Soap soap soap!

Okay kiddos. Get a move on! Let’s wear your pretty clothes we picked out last night. No Jesse not that shirt. You slept in that one. Here’s the one you liked last night. No honey please don’t cry. Your Superman shirt has milk on the front. Please Jesse please… okay. No problem. Superman will be dry before we get there. It’s okay. Yes. Mommy will be home soon.

Marie please be still while I put your pretty tutu on. How do these shoes fasten? Do they still fit? No honey your Superman shirt doesn’t match this tutu. Let’s dress up pretty okay? Please?

Okay. Superman will be fine. Do you know where it is? No Jesse don’t tear all the clothes out of the suitcase honey. Stop jumping on the bed. You might fall. We’ll find it. Maybe it’s on the dryer… Nope. Marie honey I don’t know where it is. Will you please wear this pretty outfit? Please don’t make your pouty lip. Thank you sweetie, that’s a good girl. Yes Mommy will be home soon. You and Jesse go play with Poppy while I get ready.

Poppy helping

Poppy helping

Three minutes later I emerged from the bathroom looking lovely in yesterday’s clothes. I tried to remember the last time I had showered and washed my hair.  When I sat down I realized my pants were unzipped. “Thank You Lord for that timely revelation.” An unusually loud thwack signaled my phone had fallen out of my pocket. Several cracks spread across the face of our other grandson who serves as my screen saver. I looked at sweet Able who is three and thought of how much I miss him since his parents had the audacity to move to Texas. My heart smiled at the thought of our teen granddaughters in Illinois as I knew they were making their own breakfast and dressing themselves. Three daughters spread across the globe, all with children getting ready for church this morning gave me joy as we wrangled our two little passengers into car seats.

The sweet happy chaos of raising children is so rewarding and actually quite… easy.

Easy like Sunday morning.

Fun after church

Fun after church

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