Coming Undone

“Honey, what do you think I should do?”  The beautiful blue eyes that I had looked to thousands of times for support were now turned to me.  She was asking me to answer the impossible and I felt like I was failing her.  I sat quietly for a moment, my insides shivering as if I were outside in the chill of that November Monday morning just outside the hospital doors.  I was so weary.  Cancer.  Cancer, Cancer, Cancer!  A merciless and cruel killer it is.  Already pushed to a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, I could not imagine why anyone would voluntarily draw out this torture?  Watching her die so painfully, it seemed senseless to want to prolong the inevitable, and yet that was exactly what she was proposing.

Earlier that morning her doctor came to her room with a new plan.  Chemotherapy turned out to be an absolute catastrophe, resulting in the complete shut down of my mom’s colon.  This meant that everything that made it past her lips and into her stomach now had nowhere to go.  Because of this massive shut down, she was unable to eat or drink anything.   A tube attached to a pump had been fed up her nose and then down to her stomach in an attempt to keep her gut vacuumed out.   Maintaining pain was a nearly futile effort even though narcotic pain patches covered her back like a quilt.  Her body was failing quickly and prior to this meeting with her doctor we had been prepared by other hospital staff that we would be taking her home to die.  Hospice had been contacted, and it was evident that they did not expect her to live beyond the week.

I had arrived to the hospital that morning with my ‘game-face’ on and was ready.  Well, as ready as one can be…  Hearing the doctor propose a new course of action was completely unexpected.  The suggestion was for my mom to undergo a surgical procedure called a Jejunostomy.   Please pardon my very inadequate description, but essentially a Jejunostomy is when an opening is made and a bag is surgically placed at the place at the end of the stomach and before the colon so that when food or drink enters the body, it can only go as far as the stomach before it exits into the bag.  The function of food would now mostly be for pleasure since it would not enter the colon anymore and not be delivering any significant nutrition.  To solve the problem of not receiving enough nutrition, my mom would be administered a 12 hour round of TPN once every 24 hours.  TPN, which stands for Total Parenteral Nutrition, is basically a specialized liquid concoction of everything a person needs nutritionally that can be ‘fed’ to that person intravenously.   The TPN I.V. bag is inserted into a dispensing machine that is small enough to fit into a backpack.  Cancer is a little bit like that game on the midway at the fair called “Wack-A-Mole.”   As soon as you hit one of the moles, another pesky mole is popping up across the field!

This proposal fanned a flicker of hope in my mom that had been all but extinguished over the previous weekend.  She really hated that she was dying during the holidays and longed to be able to spend one last Christmas with her family.  While the doctor laid out the plan, which included the prospect of living for “many months” with the treatment that was no more inconvenient than “carrying a small backpack with you 12 hours on and 12 hours off” the room fell silent.  I could see there were visions dancing in my mom’s head and the cynic in me wasn’t buying it.  Not even for a minute.  I could feel the shaking inside me intensify as this doctor continued to pitch her proposal.  I looked to my dad and could see that he was buying the hope this doctor was selling.  As I looked around the room at the faces of her loved ones, I felt alone in my pessimism.

I felt guilty for not buying in to this doctor’s latest plan, and I tried to avoid looking at my mother’s hopeful face.  To my relief, she turned to my dad, “Sweetheart, what do you think?” she asked quietly.  My dad nodded his head with a supportive, “Yes.”

That is when her gaze came to rest upon me. “Honey, what do you think I should do?”

To say I cracked is an understatement.  I completely came undone! Weeks of raw emotion were so close to the surface my own breath was all that was covering them. Out of the pain of watching the vicious beast ravage her body, out of the turmoil of knowing she was leaving, out of the pure agony of it being powerless to stop it, I spoke.

“Why?”  I said in a not so subtle tone and immediately stared at the floor.   My heart felt as hard as the tile floor.  “Why do you want to prolong this?”  My breaking voice was nearing a hiss.  It was difficult to contain the pain and anger shuddering through me.  Would she understand I was saying this out of love for her?  Her merciless suffering!  As much as I tried, I could not soften my voice as I spoke.  I continued to shudder and felt my adrenaline pulsing through me.  I could not look up for fear that in the moment that I looked at her, watching her live would be worse than watching her die.  I knew my reaction was a brutal blow.  Desperately trying to escape the pain, I ran from her hospital room.

How could I?  What kind of worthless daughter was I?  How could I say that to my dying mother?  I could hardly stand to be in my own skin!  My mental state was deteriorating quickly.  I was on the verge of a total breakdown.  In my emotionally impaired state I could only think of one thing that would repair it.   As I climbed into the driver’s seat of my minivan, I knew I had to escape.  With an irrational plan to walk up to the ticket counter at the nearest airport, credit card in hand, to buy a ticket to get me as far away from ‘real’ life as possible, I started the engine of the car.  If she was going to prolong the agony I wasn’t going to stick around to watch.  Turning to look for traffic behind me as I prepared to back out of my parking space, I saw the little navy blue base to my infant son’s car seat, and knew I needed help.

For a split second the chaos inside me relented.  Somewhere deep inside me I knew.  It was what that little navy blue car seat base was telling me.  I could no sooner leave my little newborn son or my two daughters behind and run from the pain of grief than my mom could leave me behind and run from the pain of cancer.  That was why she was willing to prolong the agony!  That was why when given the opportunity to live for even a few more weeks she was willing to do it.  She would do it for me, for her child and for the others she so intensely loved.  I pulled back into the parking space and turned the engine off.  My shaking hand searched the inside of my purse for the cell phone that was the lifeline to my husband.

I wish I could say that with that revelation I jumped out of the car and ran back to her room and buried my sorry face in her lap.  I guess I am a lot harder headed than that.  It took me a while to really be able to articulate that moment in the car and in the meantime I continued to act out in my anguish.  By the days end, it was my patient and loving husband who put it to me this way, “Honey, one of us needs an antidepressant.  So, if you aren’t going to take one, I am.”

The next day I went to her, to my momma, who had always loved me no matter what.  I did bury my head in her lap.  She stroked my hair with the same hand that had comforted, guided, disciplined, and loved me for my whole life.  In that most intimate unspoken language between a mother and her child I told her how I loved her and begged her forgiveness through my tears, and she forgave me and said, “I love you, too.”

My mom with me, her first born.

The Rain Came Down…

Have you ever been angry with God?  I’m talking about that really gritty, dirty, I am so pissed off at you and the only thing that is going to make me feel better is to chew you up and spit you out kind of angry!?  Have you ever been cognizant of that kind of anger toward God?  I have.

I was mad like that on a Sunday morning in November of 2004.  The numbness following my mom’s Cancer diagnosis was rapidly wearing off.   I was drowning in the wound it left in its wake.  More than once that week I found myself literally shaking my fist at God.  The rain was coming down.

Why her?  Why her when there was so much to live for?  Why her when she was so good?  She and my dad were on the verge of celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.  My dad was just over a year from retirement.  My mom, who never knew her own grandparents and *could*not*wait* to become a grandparent herself so that she could experience that kind relationship, now had 9 grandkids.  The cruel irony was that the oldest was only 9 and the rest ranged from age 3 months to 7 years.  Most of them would never remember her.   My sister was not married and had never had any children.  The list was long, there was just so much that she would miss!

Oh, I was angry! My straight-laced, “I don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with boys that do,” church going, God following mother was dying, painfully, of Cancer?  In the 1960s when many of her peers were listening to Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors while becoming full- fledged hippies, she was asking the neighbor lady for rides to church.  Wasn’t this the same gal whose sister teased her by calling her the ‘polyester sister’?  She didn’t even own a pair of blue jeans until she met my dad in 1979.  She was that straight-laced!

On top of all of this I was really struggling to find a church that felt like “home” for me.  I had grown up in church and had attended the same church for most of my childhood, but no longer felt it was the right fit for me.  Feeling comfortable in a new denomination was challenging.  My husband and my children were feeling at home in our new church but I was at odds with the main thing that made this new home feel different:  The Liturgy.

Growing up in a church that was much less formal, this “Liturgy” thing sometimes seemed stiff and insincere.   Why did they have a pre-planned calendar, why didn’t the pastor just preach on what he felt God inspired to preach about?  While sermons at the church I grew up in were prepared in advance, prayers were freer flowing in nature.  Every moment of the service wasn’t preplanned. The idea that the service could go ‘where the spirit led’ was not out of the ordinary.  Even though it didn’t often happen, if a pastor felt the direction of the service needed to change that could easily happen.   It was orderly, but not overly so, but to call it simple would not be accurate.   There was no elaborate scripting, or what our new church called “Liturgy”.   The spoken words were characteristically extemporaneous.  In my mind the hurdle was Extemporaneous = sincere and somehow more inspired by God = Good, and Liturgical = insincere, stale, uninspired and untimely = Bad.

Entering this church on this particular day I’d had it and my anger was flaring to new heights.  Not only was God not fair, God was insincere.  What sort of “prepackaged” BS did this “Loving Father” have for me today?  I was thankful for the lectionary script.  It made it easier to fake it.  I could participate without feeling and the barricade around my brokenness could remain intact.  I took comfort and a certain amount of pleasure in knowing that the prepackaged lectionary was nearing the end of a 3 year Lectionary cycle.   Nothing new here today, nothing that hadn’t been sitting on that preacher’s shelf for at least the last 3 long years.

Sitting there in the pew wallowing in my cynicism I was hardly listening as the Gospel Scripture from Matthew 5:43-48 was read.  Blah, Blah, Blah, “…for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The words hit me hard.  I didn’t hear much after that.  Like a stubborn child in the toy department who has just been told no, I was kicking and screaming.  Like the loving parent who has just said no, God picked me up and with a gentle force, carried me away from what I so desperately wanted while I was throwing my tantrum.  It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

The floods came up.   My hands balled to fists.  My heart raced.  I wanted to hang on to my anger.  All of the scriptures and songs of promise that had been ingrained in me since birth like,  “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and,  “Nothing can separate you from the love of God,” (Romans 8:35-39).  They washed over me like a tidal wave.  Grief came flooding out of me as I sat there in my seat.   None of those familiar verses claimed fairness; instead all of them claimed faithfulness.  The God of the universe, who is faithful and loves me entered my pain and reminded me that God wasn’t going anywhere.  And all that from a moment in the lectionary… huh?  Talk about rockin’ my world!   After that day I was still angry, still bitter, still in such anguish, but I wasn’t alone and I knew this was not a punitive act on God’s part.  It wasn’t a punishment.

I take comfort in knowing even Jesus grappled with these very human emotions.  Fully God and yet fully man.  I can’t even really wrap my brain around that.  Jesus understood why I begged for this to not happen, why I was so very angry.  Knowing He would be betrayed and brutally executed, my Bible says Jesus “fell on His face and prayed.”  That seems to be on the level of pure desperation.   Jesus begged, “Let this cup pass from me…” (Matthew 26:39) When Jesus was dying His extremely painful and brutal death perhaps He was angry or felt betrayed when He cried out in a loud voice,  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthey 27:46)

Sometimes on a particularly tough day I still catch myself in a little wave of anger about what feels like the injustice of it all.  When I see someone abuse their body over and over and live to enjoy another day, or I hear of a grandparent who basically ignores their grandchild, or I call my dad and he’s heating up a TV dinner and sitting in front of a Basketball game for the 3rd or 4th time that week I want to recoil and strike out at God.  Yeah, those are the times I have to take a deep breath and remember that day in November 2004.  The rain came down, the floods came up, and wise woman, who built her house on the Rock?  Her house is still standing still.

Excuse Me While I Rant! On Being and Doing

Last night Parent-Teacher Conferences were held at the Junior High where my daughters both attend school.  Both of my girls earned great grades, all A’s and one B for both, and are reportedly “a joy to have in class, helpful, ask great questions, and are dependable and hard working.”  Both of my girls were also lightly teased by their teachers for talking “just a little” too much.  Hmmmm… imagine that?  It was one of those nights where I was so proud to be their mom!   All in all it was a great night, but despite their glowing reports I didn’t leave the school without heavy concern.

The order of the night was to meet each teacher and discuss the progress and concerns of our students.  Teachers were seated at their own tables and in typical arena style parents took turns having their individual meetings.  Since there are few concerns about the girls’ academic progress, I decided to take the time to ask each teacher for more specifics about the content of the classes that my daughters take from them.  It was an interesting view into the world of today’s 7th and 8th graders.

It was at one of these tables, with a teacher that was new to our school this year, and seemingly new to her teaching career, that all of my internal sirens started wailing.  It wasn’t her fault.  The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind here.  She teaches my oldest in a class called Framework for 21st Century Learning.  This class title has intrigued me and I have been curious about what content the teacher is going cover.  As I learned last night, the class covers a lot of basic life skills like balancing a budget, how to manage debt, and write a resume.  It was when she began talking about writing resumes with 8th graders that my “lizard brain” began twitching.  The earnest young teacher began explaining about the variety of aptitude tests that my daughter was taking in class and how after taking all of these tests my 14 year old daughter would be prepared to enter high school with a very good sense of what classes she should be taking to prepare her for her future career or further education.  It was all I could do to keep my emotions from totally popping on this well-intentioned teacher.  Ahhh, she had no idea who she was talking to!  Let me give you a little back-story…

I grew up in a very traditional (even though it was “blended”) family in an age where the times for women, well, they were a-changin’.    My mom went to a year of community college until she married my father, whom she had met the first week of school.  I was born literally 9 months after their wedding, and my brother almost 2 years after that.  On occasion she took jobs to supplement the family income, but they were certainly not considered a career.  My parents divorced, and for the brief time mom was single she worked a J-O-B to put food on the table.  After she married my dad she was a full time stay at home mom until I was a senior in high school.  My dad was a 3rd generation paper mill worker.  He was a faithful and reliable union employee who put in a very respectable 40 sum years.  He once corrected me when I referred to his job as a career.   It was a job, and nothing more.

I was a young girl coming of age in the 1980s, an era when women were entering the work force in record number.  The opportunities that a college education could afford me were exciting and I had dreams of  ‘having it all’.   Title 9, Rowe Vs Wade, the Feminist Movement, like it or not ladies, we were the children born of that labor.   Despite this, it wasn’t all ‘Woman Power’ on the home front.  Now, I want to be clear that the home I grew up in was not an oppressive environment for women, there were just not a lot of opportunities for exposure to what was really out there.  As I prepared to enter college I was excited to one day pursue a career and I think my parents, particularly my mom, were excited too.  Although they never said such a thing, it felt like the acceptable career choices were for a woman to be either a nurse or a teacher.

Since I was the weak stomach type, I was forever being encouraged to become a teacher.  I have great respect and admiration for teachers.  In many ways I see myself as a teacher.   I loved the coursework for my Human Development degree, but being a teacher of little children in the formal sense of the word was a career I quickly ruled out once I became a student at Warner Pacific College.  It took me at least a year to divulge that information to my parents.  They handled it well, but I was constantly being asked what I was going to “do” with my Human Development degree, and honestly I didn’t have a clue.

I was discovering that College was a perplexing environment!  On the one hand I was attending a Liberal Arts College exploring Human Development through the lens of an institution that heavily engaged the Humanities.  This was an environment where I was discovering and exploring all sorts of things about people and life in general, the Human Condition and the correlations between all disciplines.  On the other hand I was learning that College is not Vocational School.   I was learning to be a thinker and not do a specific skill.  This was confusing to me.   I had come to College with the preconceived notion that much more of the latter would be happening. The focus was about who I would be, not what I would do.   I have come to understand and believe this is so much more important.   I am forever grateful for that experience because it has irrevocably changed who I am.  It now really bothers me on a guttural level that as a society we place such a high value on doing and not being.

So this is the place I was coming from when I met my daughter’s fresh-faced teacher across that table.  As we spoke I could see the chasm of differing opinion opening up between us.  She began to explain to me that after each student had taken all 6 of these aptitude tests they would have a direction on which to plan their high school career.  Seriously.  From the tests of 13 to 14 year old 8th graders.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think aptitude testing can be a valuable tool for identifying interests and talents in specific areas for people who have had a wide exposure to various experiences.  When I was the same age as my daughter I was certainly not prepared to take tests that would gage talent and ability, and future success in specific areas.   These test that are being taken while she is still in Junior High could affect the trajectory of her educational career!  Furthermore, I would have to say that I don’t think aptitude testing should be the focus of educating kids this age anyway!  Shouldn’t they be allowed to explore, discover, and (dare I say) mature a little bit before they are shoved into the press that will sieve out any creativity, or desires to experiment with something new?

I guess this is what happens when society has a system in place where it is of utmost importance for each one of us to become the sharpest cogs in the wheel, when it is most important to be very knowledgeable and smart about one certain thing in a very quantifiable way.  Science is like that, math is like that, philosophy, character, and thoughtfulness are not, but it does not make their discipline any less valuable.  I shudder to think of our community, our nation, and our world without all of those things.  All of those things work together to bring out the best in all of us.

Somewhere along the way I once heard someone described as being “An inch wide and a mile deep.”   When we become so focused on only the things that we are good at or have a natural aptitude for we loose creative problem solving skills, we loose patience for those who don’t think the same way we do, and we become myopic and ego centric in our views.  We become an inch wide and a mile deep. That’s not the hope I have for my children’s education.  Quite frankly it isn’t the hope I have for anyone’s child.  When we put kids into a funnel that drains into a specific bottle we limit their exposure to so many things and we change who they can become.  I see this as such a colossal tragedy.  It’s a big world out there, shouldn’t they have more than a short 14 or so years to find their place in it?  Shouldn’t we be more concerned about who they will be than what they will do?  I sure think so.

5 Years Ago Today…

October 25, 2009

5 years ago today…

I have heard it said that the healing comes when you tell your story, and so it is for purely selfish reasons that I am telling mine.  Healing… what is that anyway? It’s such a neat and tidy word, and really I hate using it.  After 5 years it sure looks a lot different than I thought it would, but then again I guess that when wounds heal the big ones often leave scars.

Life was pretty blurry in the weeks heading up to the day I refer to in my mind as Black Monday.  The Saturday night before, my not quite 3 months old son had just slept through his first full night.  Being sleep deprived was only part of it, I also did not want to admit to the post partum depression that had wrapped its tentacle around me and had stolen me to a dark depth.  After all I had just given birth to a beautifully perfect son, I had 2 great daughters, and a wonderful husband who loved me very much.  I was living a real live Cinderella story.  I was supposed to be happy and I was worried about that.

I had spent the weekend being the nurse to my husband who had just had a minor surgery.  My two older daughters were at my mother’s house so that I could take care of my ‘boys’.   We watched the 2nd game of the World Series that day.  There was magic happening at Fenway Park and the entire country was under the spell.   The Boston Red Sox were well on their way to making World Series history and breaking the famed “Curse of the Bambino”.  They were looking for a miracle, and by the time I went to bed that night I would be too.

At some point in the weekend my dad brought the girls home.  I called my mom to thank her for having them and she reported to me that she had been so sick during their visit that it was a relief to have them there to help her out.  I remember worrying about this because she had been sick a lot lately and that just wasn’t like her.  There had been a lot of discussion about her frequent stomach pain and nausea and what she should do about it.  She had been tested up one side and down the other, poked, scoped, and scanned.  Nothing was showing up and we were all getting concerned.

Later that evening my mom called to tell me that she was going to go to the Emergency Room.  Her thinking was that if she went to the ER with a presenting persistent pain, the doctors there wouldn’t let her go until they figured out what the problem was.  She was desperate and had to find the answer.  When I hung up the phone, even though it was getting late, I set about the house cleaning.  I had this intuitive feeling that I needed to get a good cleaning in because I might not have the opportunity to get it done again for a while.  I was almost done vacuuming and was planning on calling it a night when the phone rang again.  It was my dad.  He seemed calm and said they were going to be doing some further tests on my mom and that they would be keeping her all night.  I asked him if he wanted me to come to the hospital and keep him company.  He said no and we hung up.  Before I could get the vacuum put away the phone rang again.  This time it was my mom.  She spoke quickly and urgently in a hushed voice.  She said, “Please come now, there are spots on my liver.”   I told her I was on my way.

I went to the hospital alone that night.  It was now close to midnight and not practical to tote 3 kids and a recovering husband out that cold and foggy October night.   Besides, in the 15 minutes it had taken me to drive to the hospital I had solved the worst-case scenario with one word:  Transplant.  A person can live on a donated liver.  I was her daughter, I’d be a match, I’d donate part of mine, and we’d both live to tell about it.  Solved.  It wouldn’t be easy, certainly inconvenient, but we’d manage.  Everything would be fine… and with that pep talk, I entered the Emergency Room.

I don’t remember how I ended up at her room, but I remember entering the tiny observation room.   She was alone and with her eyes closed.   There were IV bags hanging and machines flashing numbers and wavy lines, and I assumed she was sleeping.  As I walked to her bedside and took her hand, she looked up at me.  In that moment that our eyes met I knew she was trying to tell me something no mother ever wants to tell her adoring child.  She didn’t say anything as I draped my body over her chest and began to cry.  I knew I had just walked in to my worst nightmare.

A few moments of silence went by before we found our way to the difficult conversation we needed to have.  She told me how the doctors had discovered several “spots” on her liver and how no one was being very specific, but every one was acting very urgent.   At some point I became aware of the gentle and steady presence of my dad in the room.  He knew I had kids to get off to school in the morning and an infant to attend to, so he urged me to go home and get some sleep.  They would have some of her test results back by the morning and we would need our rest in order to make decisions regarding her treatment.  Everyone was being very careful not to use the “C” word yet.   I left that night still unsure of exactly what was wrong with her.

On the way home my mind drifted to a memory of a shopping trip I had made a few years earlier.  I was at the mall shopping for a purse at Meier and Frank.  It was a rare shopping trip because I was alone and as I often do when I’m alone, I was people watching as I shopped.   In front of me was a large table full of purses that were neatly set out in rows according to size and color.  Across the table from me, shopping for just the right hand bag was a very stylishly dressed woman who looked to be around her 70s.  She was taking various styles of purses and trying them out in front of a full-length mirror.  Eventually she found a nice one and turned to her shopping partner and asked her what she thought of it.  The other woman wasn’t pleased with the bright color of the red purse and suggested a more practical brown.  Well, this just frustrated this woman and she turned to her friend and said something like, “Mother, we just have different taste in color.  I’m getting the red one!”

It was the word “Mother” that really caught my attention, and I smiled and silently chuckled as I pictured myself in that same situation some day with my own mom, who had me at 19.  I just knew that was going to be us one day.  In my mind was a picture of my mom, who regularly told me (and anyone else she thought should know) that she was going to live to be 100, and me, her geriatric sidekick!  We were well on our way to those days because we already enjoyed each other’s company very much.

I cried myself to sleep that night feeling more afraid than I had ever felt in my entire life.

After a few hours of fitful, tearful sleep I woke to the realization that the night before was not a terrible dream, but in fact an unfolding reality.  In a fog, I sent my daughters off to school, my husband off to work, and took my son with me to the hospital to learn about what the overnight tests revealed about my mom’s health.  I arrived to my mother’s new hospital room, stroller and baby in tow, to find my mom in her hospital bed, surrounded by several people.  Some were new faces, doctors, nurses, and some were familiar, a couple of her friends and one of the church pastors.  It was among this sea of people that the “C” shot was fired.  It was as if her words were shot from a loaded pistol.  “It’s Cancer.  They can’t take it out.  It’s everywhere.”

I wanted to dissolve.  I wanted to push everyone out of the room.  I wanted push the rewind button and search for the moment this dreaded disease invaded her body.  I wanted anything but this moment!   Again the wave of fear gripped me and I felt paralyzed.  This time I didn’t cry.  I sat down at a chair next to her bed and watched as the universe whirled around her.  I was numb.

It wasn’t at all like I thought it would be, to hear those words, “It’s Cancer.”  I thought there would be an immediate mobilization of the troops.   I began to think of questions that there appeared to be no answer to.   The answers were things like, “We’ll know more after a test/surgery/procedure.”  When will she have that test/surgery/procedure?  “In a few days…”  Nothing was immediate…  I kept picturing the ticking time bomb inside her body and wondering when MacGyver was going to show up with his pack of rubber bands and paperclips and save us?  Do these people really know what they are doing?  Why is this going so slow, don’t they know my mother’s life is on the line here?

I don’t really remember the rest of that day.  I know that the words, “Terminal” and “Hospice,” were used, but by that point I was unable to comprehend what those things meant for me.  When I left the hospital that day I felt angry that the rest of the world hadn’t ground to a halt because my mom lay in a hospital bed, a victim in the War on Cancer.  In fact life didn’t slow down and it certainly didn’t stop.   By Wednesday, October 27, 2004 the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series shutting the Cardinals out in 4 games.  I was praying for my miracle too.

It’s Gimmelwald not Grindelwald

For the past few weeks I have been watching a lot of travelogues and reading a lot of travel guidebooks.  Happily, I have reason to do this!  My husband, who is a professional musician, is going to be giving some concerts in Europe next summer.  Lucky for me, I will get to tag along and we’ll only have to pay for my portion of the expenses and any additional sightseeing we decide to do.  I’ve been very excited about this opportunity ever since it started shaping up at the end of the summer!

I know that this trip is still many months away, but I am a planner.  A planner with wanderlust…  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I like to plan the trip as much as I like to take the trip, but I do like it.  A lot.  This trip will be taking us through Switzerland, so for the last few weeks I’ve spent much of my spare time watching anything on the region I can get my hands on.  (I like to start by watching travelogues and then read about what caught my eye.  Kinda’ like window shopping!)  Along the way I have made notes about Swiss towns and attractions that make the region we are going to be visiting special and unique.

One of the travelogues I enjoyed watching was made by Rick Steves.  He visited the exact region we are going to be visiting and I made tons of notes about all the interesting sights, train transportation, and the towns to see.  It was very exciting!   In my notes I wrote about how while watching the DVD, my husband and I really thought it would be neat to see a town I noted as “Grindelwald.”

We listened intently as Rick Steves toured this idyllic alpine town that is not even accessible by car.  I began looking for this charming town in the stack of guidebooks we have checked out from the library.  It was a surprise to find so much information on this remote little town in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  I was delighted to find many options for accommodations in and around the community and went to bed a few nights ago sure that we had found the perfect little mountain hideaway to explore for a few days along our trip route.

This past weekend my husband made a trip to the bookstore to buy our own copy of the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book.  We often use his books to help us plan a sensibly priced vacation and have found he has lots of great advice.  I was eager to read what he had to say about the little gem of a community he showed on his documentary, the town that had me dreaming of a life in seclusion with fondue and chocolate.  I flipped to the section on the Berner Oberland and read with anticipation…

On a very neatly boxed couple of pages he gives a quick run down of the places and names in the Berner Oberland and what each has to offer.  This was the page where I came to understand that I had it all wrong!

There in the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book, on page 130, it was very plainly written, “Grindelwald: Expensive resort town, not to be confused with Gimmelwald.”  On the line before this he lists the town, “Gimmelwald,” and gives this description, “Wonderfully rustic time-warp village overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley; good home-base option.”

Oh…

Well that changes everything!

Isn’t that just the way a faith journey can go?  So many times along my path in life, I’ve been busy making plans for a destination I only think I am interested in and it is only when I have paid close attention to my guide and my guidebook that I have been able to arrive at the destination my Guide intended.

I am finding myself at a new intersection again.  My son, my youngest child, is going to start Kindergarten next fall.  When he was born I felt a strong call to stay at home with him until he went to school.  I say call because over the past 5 years I have felt like my ministry has been to serve my family.  I have felt God guide me on that path over the last 5 years.  It has been a gift and I am so glad I’ve done it, but I see that huge intersection looming in the distance, and I’m a little weary.   Where do I go from here, straight ahead, stay on target?  Turn Right to Grad School?  Turn Left to the work force?  How ‘bout a U-Turn, this time to adoption and parenting a preschooler once more?  I want to make sure I’m looking at the map God has for me, listening to God’s divine voice as my travel guide.

My ears are open Lord…

Grindelwald seems nice...

Grindelwald seems nice...

but, it's not really Grimmelwald.

but, it's not really Gimmelwald.

(And in the end I think we’ll be staying in Lauterbrunnen!)

The Goalie

Sunday was my son’s first soccer game, not just first of the season, but first game ever.  He’s five so I anticipated it would be pretty cute to see him out on the field in his “you’ll grow in to it” jersey and matching socks so long that they were only inches from the hem of his shorts.  It was an exciting day and we were all petty pumped to see the game.  When we arrived to the field we found his coach and left him with his teammates.  The team warmed, up while the rest of my family and I took our places on the sidelines.   It wasn’t long when we noticed that the coach was preparing our son for the position of Goalie, which he played for the first part of the game.

The players took their positions on the soccer field and the game began.  That’s when for me the unexpected anxiety began!  I watched as player after player came toward him dribbling the soccer ball between their feet.  What I wish I could say is that as each different player approached the goal area I watched as my son swiftly and deftly defended his turf, but this was not the case.   The opposing team quickly scored a few goals.   As the wild little band of soccer players traversed the field, my son remained in his designated spot and appeared to have no interest in the action happening just feet from him.  He mostly ignored it and instead preferred to scratch his leg… wave at his dad, sisters, and me… look at the goal net…   Soccer game?  What soccer game?

I was beside myself!  Keeping things in perspective was getting harder and harder.  I restrained myself from shouting, “Get the ball!!!”  I didn’t want to make a scene and be one of ‘those’ parents who constantly coaches from the sidelines.  I didn’t want him to be embarrassed and I didn’t want to embarrass my husband and daughters.  I didn’t want him to miss the ball because he wasn’t paying attention.  I didn’t want to see him fail…  Ouch!  Did I really say that?  Did I just say that about a 5 year olds soccer game?  Boy have I got a lot to learn!

I couldn’t believe how watching the ball coming toward him gave me such a feeling of panic and as I watched the game, it began to dawn on me how much this little ball game was like parenting.  I found myself remembering the times that my mother would try to reason with me about all the typical teenage subjects.  Dating of course was a favorite concern of hers.  I remember the dread every time I had to ride alone in the car with my mom, for fear she would use the car for what I viewed as a mobile torture chamber!  If I think back to those days I can easily remember the pitch of her voice and the way her lips would thin as she spoke with determination and authority with just the slightest hint of desperation.  During the soccer game I began to realize how I was that parent now.

Watching my kids struggle is something I have done a few times over the last 14 years.  I have seen my daughters each take blows from life that would take the breath of even the greatest athlete.  I have seen them struggle with issues far more adult than their own years.  I have felt protective, but mostly for them the things they face are not things they have brought upon themselves.  This little game was just a tiny taste of what I’m sure my mother was swallowing whole on those car rides.  She could see her player in the game of life.  She had been to many a ‘soccer’ game and knew a bit about how it was played.  Seeing me in charge of guarding the goal, it was hard for her to stay on the sidelines and let me experience defeat.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have confidence in me, it was that she knew that at some point everybody misses, everybody looses focus, everybody… looses.   She knew these things because she had lost a few times too.  And I have.  And he will.   Somehow we all make it!

Preparing My Goalie

Preparing My Goalie

The Moment Anxiety Set In...

The Moment Anxiety Set In...

Maybe we should explore the Martial Arts?

Maybe we should explore the Martial Arts?

Defending the Goal!

Defending the Goal!

My Mom Likes to Sleep In!

Last night I stayed up way to late!  It was just one of those nights that I couldn’t sleep, but this morning I was so tired.  As I was trying to schlep my body down the stairs, my brain was desperate for an excuse to crawl back to my bed.  Despite the pleading from my body, it was time to get up.  Mornings are not my favorite…

For all of my parenting years this not being a ‘morning person’ has been a problem.  You see, I have been blessed with 3 curious and energetic morning children.  You might even be able to call them night owls, because frequently they were up before the sun, only for them it was morning because they had already slept enough to no longer be tired!  From my bedroom I could often hear them as they opened the cupboards looking for snacks and rummaged through the house by the light of the TVs blue screen.  My husband would refer to this a being “on patrol”.

When my daughters were going through their morning patrol phase I was single parenting.  In an effort to keep them corralled for a precious few more moments of valuable sleep I would confine them to my bedroom.  During that time, which was usually not longer than an hour, I would remind them that mommy likes to “sleep in” and they would watch a movie.  At the foot of my bed they would sit, their bare little feet dangling over the edge of the bed, while I came to terms with the fact that morning had indeed broken.   I must have really stressed to them how important these few extra minutes were to me, because they were very good at not disturbing me as long as their video played.

It is now officially Autumn, so thinking of that today as I was helping my son get ready for his day at preschool, I remembered a little story about his older sister when she was around his age.  She was a pm kindergartener at a private school where I also worked at the time.  One day upon my arrival to work her teacher caught up with me in the school hallway.  She said I had to hear what my daughter had said in class the day before in school.  Now those are words every parent wants to hear out of the mouth of their child’s teacher!  I waited with a fair amount of anxiety as she began to tell me her story.

Mrs. D was preparing the pm class for the upcoming annual field trip to the pumpkin patch.  The class was getting very excited as she told them to make sure and wear their grubby clothes, to bring their lunches, and most importantly to make sure to come to the am kindergarten class time.  She stressed to her students how important this last instruction was because if they did not arrive on time in the morning with the am class they would miss out on the field trip.  Upon realizing that this would require her to come to school early, my daughter began to cry.

In a concerned tone Mrs. D told me of how she noticed my daughter’s tears as they sat in circle time the previous afternoon and she asked her why she was crying.   She said my daughter told her that she was very sad that she was not going to be able to go to the pumpkin patch with her class.  Mrs. D was concerned because my daughter was quite broken up about this and asked her why?   A wide smile broadened across Mrs. D’s face as she told me what my daughter’s explanation was.  My daughter said, “Mrs. D, I can’t go to the pumpkin patch, because MY MOM LIKES TO SLEEP IN!”

As they say, out of the mouths of babes!

An *Awkward* Moment!

A funny thing happened on the way out of the restaurant tonight.  I was standing in the jam-packed entryway of the Olive Garden waiting for my kids to catch up to me after leaving our table, when suddenly a man’s voice was quietly whispering something in my ear.  It was a disorienting sound in the busy restaurant.  I wasn’t expecting it, so boy was I shocked when suddenly I felt the distinctive pat on my backside that is the unmistakable signal of flirtation!  My husband is out of town this weekend, so I knew it was not him, and I was most definitely not expecting that kind of attention!

It all happened so quickly that when I turned toward the young man, it appeared that he was still unaware that it was my rear he had patted and not the person he had intended!  It wasn’t but a second when he turned toward me again and was immediately aware of his error.  His embarrassment was visible as his face turned a burning shade of red.  He spoke clearly this time with his apology and I could tell that he was flustered and worried that I would misinterpret his misdirected advance.  It was as if I could see him standing on the trap door that he was trying to will into existence beneath him and the young man would have done anything to fall through it at that moment!

I felt sorry for him, standing there so repentant and embarrassed.  It’s not like he was purposely being crude with me.  Let’s just say the whole moment was *awkward*!   I laughed off the incident, waving my hand and saying, “It’s ok…” as I looked away and hurried my kids off to the car.  I didn’t want to make a big deal out of an honest mistake.  As I walked to the car my girls were giggling, obviously aware of the accidental groping, and we all had a good laugh about it in the car on the way home!

Oh, there’s probably some pearl of wisdom to glean here, but for us tonight it just gave the kids a reason to have a good laugh at their ol’ mom!

My Girl, Sports, and Life Long Fitness…

I wrote this last week, but I’m posting it here today…

Today I was inspired and proud.  I watched my little girl, and by little girl I really mean very quickly growing up youngest daughter, in action at her first ever Volleyball game.  She was fantastic!

Earlier this summer my girl and I were in the car driving somewhere when she asked me why when I was a kid I was never in sports?  This is a subject I have never been very comfortable with.   In my family of origin I was the “artsy” one while all of my siblings pursued athletics.   Most of what I told her she already had heard before…like how my brothers were both natural athletes who were gifted with physical talent, and I felt like I was clumsy and awkward, like how my sister went out for the volleyball team and the track team (She’s now a PE teacher), and a favorite family story where a 7th grade me decided to join the Pacific Junior High basketball team and when after a week when the coach announced that we were going to practice our “lay-ups” I looked at him utterly puzzled and asked the question that ended my WNBA career, “What’s a lay-up?”

That day in the car, I told her how I had always wished that I started doing something sports or fitness oriented when I was young, because maybe some kind of sports activity would have helped me establish a love for lifelong fitness.  I told her about entering the Gold’s Gym for the first time and how it took me 2 ½ years, yes years, to even step on the weight room floor!  I told her about how a few years ago I began to realize that God gave me this body to serve me!  It’s not the other way around and in order for my body to serve the needs I have it needs to be healthy and able.  Fitness is the key to that.  (We talked about food too of course, but I’m trying to stick to the exercise part of the “diet and exercise” balance.)  We talked about how physical health, for better or worse, is a lifelong journey.

My girl is a lot like me.   If I had and get a nickel for every time someone tells me how much she looks like me, I’ll be able to retire to Paris!  When she was little, her grandpa called her my little magpie.  As a parent it’s hard to watch when your child struggles with the same things you do, especially when you feel like they are some of you own personal failures.  In the car that day, I told her that I’m not looking for a “Gym Barbie” body, but a body that functions better.  Perfection isn’t what this is about, and I don’t expect that from her either.   Some days are good and some are not so good, just keep going.  Keep at it and even make friends with it.  As a tank top I work out in reads, I told her to be “a force 2B reckoned with!”  Neither of us are runners, but we made a pact that day to run in a race someday together.  I don’t know when or where that will be, but I’m still in!

Since that day in the car I have had many ups and down on my journey towards physical fitness.  Some days I feel like a triumphant warrior, and others like a fragile egg.  I hired a trainer to teach me and mentor me and that has helped.  You know what they say about putting your money where your mouth is!  I am seeing the benefits, and new challenges are ever present, but most of all I have begun to set the example I want to set for my girl.  The example that you are never to old, out of shape, inexperienced, unskilled, and that you CAN muster the confidence to try something new to make your life better.   So today I sat on the bleachers

and clapped for the Spartans, and for her, but in a way I guess, I also clapped for me and for the changes I have made that are a turning point for both of us.

That's my girl!

That's my girl!

The Price is Right and U2

I went to a small Christian Liberal Arts College in Portland, OR.  Warner Pacific College was a great place to go to school.  I loved it there, got a great education, made life long friends and totally enjoyed myself!  I have no regrets about my college years, for the most part…

It was my sophomore year in college and the meeting I was attending took place in the small auditorium known as CCM 1.   A dozen or so of us had gathered for a meeting with the class officers to discuss what we were going to plan as class activities for the year.  We had a small budget to fund our scheming and scheming was what I had come to do!  I remember faces in the room, but not really who said what, and that doesn’t really matter anyway.  What I do clearly remember is thinking that this was a meeting of fun suckers! (Sorry to all my fun loving WPC friends, but that’s what I remember!)

The person in charge of the meeting opened the floor to brainstorm for suggestions of what we should do as a class social activity.   The usual offerings were made, “How ‘bout a pizza party?”  “We could rent some videos!”  “Let’s go Ice Skating at Lloyd Center…” Blah, blah, blah, is what I thought.   I was thinking this is College people!  It seemed to me like a stodgy list, so that’s when I sent out my offering to the collective brainstorm…  I blurted out, “What about if we used the money to go and try and to get on ‘The Price is Right’?”  Visions my friends and I decorating our ‘I LOVE BOB’ tee shirts, of carpools of giddy college kids making the pilgrimage from Portland to Burbank with the high hopes of landing on Contestants Row, and winning Free Cars and Trips to Hawaii, were where my mind was at!  Wasn’t college supposed to be about being spontaneous and a little crazy?

The room fell silent as every eye fell upon me.  My off beat and whimsical idea was met with deadpan faces.  Someone in the room asked me how I thought we could get everyone there, someone else was worried about how much money a trip like that would take.  In short, nobody was in. Who were these college student imposters, I wondered?  My idea had been shot down faster than the dreams of an over bidder in the ‘Show Case Showdown’!  As I sat through the rest of the meeting, the words in Bob Barker’s voice, “Vicki, Vicki! Come on down!” were quickly circling the drain.  There would be no trips to Burbank, no yellow nametags shaped like price tags glued to our chests and no Plinko winners.  In the end, I don’t even remember what our class activity ended up being.

Had my hair-brained idea been well received it may very well have been a disaster.  My idea was unconventional, but we weren’t going to be downing beer bongs, or performing for the producers of a Gone Wild video.  I was just a girl in college wanting to do something spirited and out of the ordinary.  That’s an impulse that the realities of life have done a pretty good job of suppressing in the adult me.  I’m not usually like that 19 years old girl in my story anymore.  Somewhere along the way the grown up version of her lost that spirit of spontaneity and good clean fun silliness, but I’m working on it!

This past weekend my husband and I made another pilgrimage of sorts.  We took a trip to Chicago’s Soldier Field to watch my all time favorite band, play the opening concert on their North American tour.   I have loved the band U2 since the mid 80s.  When they did their Joshua Tree tour in 1987 I was a full fledged fan!  (As I remember it, the closest they came to my hometown was Vancouver BC and I knew there would be no way I was getting there!) In all these years that they have been touring I have never managed to get to one of their shows.  You know how these things go… a bill to pay, a baby to find a sitter for, a job you can’t get the time off from, you pick the excuse, I had it and made it… but this time I just went for it!

It was as if I was as free and as spontaneous as the girl who wanted to see U2 over 20 years ago.  We waited like groupies for the band to arrive to the stadium and bought concert tee shirts and programs, and took lots of goofy self-portrait style pictures of ourselves to document the occasion.  From the moment the drumbeat of Breathe came pounding out from the center of the massively erected stage I was a wildly excited fan!  I didn’t sit down the entire show!  When it was over my voice was raspy from all of my cheering and singing to the top of my lungs!  It was great to be so care free and I had a BLAST!  All moments of pure youthful spontaneity that I will surely never forget!

My husband Randy and I at U2 in Chicago!

My husband Randy and I at U2 in Chicago!

Our view of the Magnificent U2 Stage!

Our view of the Magnificent U2 Stage!