Archive | September, 2010

The Land of U-Turns

29 Sep

We hadn’t been in Oregon for more than ten minutes when my daughter pointed out that we had already made three u-turns.

Welcome to Oregon. The land of the lost.

To be honest, we didn’t have much of a map. But really, do you need a map to drive from one side of a state to the other? We were already on the highway headed in the right direction. So how difficult could it be to simply follow the big green signs?

My husband and I should have known better. We had lived in Oregon for one u-turn-filled year early in our marriage. We knew that Oregonians have a unique way of positioning their road signs immediately after each turn-off. So when a sign says “Next Exit,” we should have known that it was referring to the exit we had just whizzed past at sixty miles an hour. Apparently we forgot. Because during our short weekend in Oregon, my daughter tallied up all of eleven u-turns. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of a wonder we ever made it back home to Idaho.

Isn’t this true in life sometimes? It sure is in mine. I’m trying to get to where God is leading me, but life is fast-paced and busy. There are many distractions along the way. And sooner or later, I miss a sign. Then I have to stop and consult the map – God’s Word. And sometimes it takes a u-turn to get my life back on track.

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A Walk Along the Beach

27 Sep

We did not have time to take one last walk along the beach.

I tried to explain this to my three children. We had to shower and get dressed, I told them. Pack our things, load the car, eat breakfast. And get to the church — preferably on time. I was already operating in high-efficiency mode. They were not.

My husband’s employer sent him to the Oregon coast this past weekend to speak at the Florence Church of the Nazarene on Sunday morning. The kids and I went along to keep him company and to see the ocean. Now, the Oregon coast is nothing less than spectacular, but ten hours is a long time to ride in the car in order to see it. So we wanted to make the most of it in the short time we were there. As soon as we checked into our hotel room on Saturday, we headed to the beach.  We spent the day exploring the shore, playing in the sand, collecting seashells, getting our feet wet and chasing seagulls. It was a really great day.

On Sunday morning I drove my husband to the church at eight o’clock for the first church service, and then returned to the hotel to get the kids and myself ready in time for the second service. But when I got back to the hotel room, the kids were much more interested in taking one last walk along the beach.

I had a choice to make. Before breast cancer, I know what that choice would have been. But now I seem to have a different perspective on life. Cancer can do that to you. The truth is – cancer has made choices like this one a whole lot easier for me to make. Practical, responsible and logical choices are now often replaced with choices that are more meaningful, fun and memorable.

So we grabbed our sweatshirts and my children and I walked out toward the ocean. The powerful waves roared against the shore, leaving chunks of driftwood at our feet. Rain mixed with salty sea spray covered our faces. A fat seagull the size of a goose screeched overhead. Sand rose up between our toes. The misty fog swirled around us.

It was a most awesome walk and one of the very best parts of our trip.

And you know what? A year from now, my children will not remember whether or not their mother got them to the church on time. But I’m pretty sure they will remember that she took a walk with them in the rain along the misty Oregon coast.

This is the Day

22 Sep

Three years ago today, I whispered good bye to my wonderful dad. I sat beside him as he took his very last breath. I held his hand as he died.

So hard to say good bye to someone you care about. So hard to let go of someone you love.

And an unwelcome reminder that cancer can be a terminal disease.

When my dad found out I had breast cancer, I think it nearly broke his heart. No father should ever have to hear that his little girl has cancer. I remember a Sunday morning soon after my first surgery. The others had gone to church, but my dad had stayed to watch over me as I slept. Not doing well, I was experiencing lots of pain and feeling sick from the medications. I also felt a crushing sense of dread at what lie ahead of me.

When I awoke, I found the house unusually silent. From my bedroom, propped up by pillows, I could see into the dining room. My dad sat at the table, a newspaper spread out in front of him. But he wasn’t reading it. He was looking at me. I had never before sensed in him such deep sadness. I smiled for him. He smiled back a little, and for a moment, the sadness left his eyes.

He quietly came into my room, and sat in the chair beside my bed. He held my hand till I drifted back to sleep.

Neither of us knew then, that just over a year later, he would be the one dying from cancer.

One of my dad’s favorite Bible verses was Psalm 118:24. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (NIV) It may not seem like an appropriate verse for remembering a day of loss and mourning. But I like to imagine that, for my dad, September 22nd is indeed a day of rejoicing and celebration as it marks his very first day in heaven.

After all, my dad always liked to point out that the whole reason we can “rejoice and be glad” is because of God’s amazing gift of salvation. Today, more than ever, I am thankful for that gift.

Backyard Barbecue

20 Sep

My husband Dan and I decided to host a casual barbecue in our backyard last Friday evening – a rather brave decision in light of the fact that almost all of our barbecues have involved a disaster – a dog-related disaster.

We invited Dan’s co-workers – science and math faculty along with their families. In preparation, Dan and I shopped for food, cleaned the patio, sprayed for bugs and mowed the lawn. An hour or two before our guests arrived, I sliced tomatoes and cut-up watermelon. Dan set-up tables and iced the drinks. We were almost ready.

Just one little thing still needed attention…

I made the assumption that this last item was on Dan’s to-do list. And, apparently over-estimating my efficiency, he assumed that I had taken care of it.

Soon our guests arrived. Around sixty people in all. They’re an awesome group and we always have a fun time together. This night was no exception. For the next few hours, Dan stayed busy on the patio barbecuing hamburgers, chicken and bratwurst, while I ran back and forth between the kitchen and patio keeping the food and drink supply replenished. From time to time, we looked out at our backyard. Lawn chairs were arranged on the grass. Guests were eating, visiting and laughing. Things seemed to be going well.

It was late by the time we said good-bye to the last guest. Dan let our dog Ranger out of the shop where he had been cooped up for the evening. We were ready to start the clean-up. But first, Dan and I took a moment to congratulate ourselves on a successful barbecue. We thought we had escaped a disaster this time. We were wrong.

As we headed out back to gather the lawn chairs, we noticed that one of the chairs was positioned at an awkward angle in the middle of the yard. I turned to my daughter Kaitlyn and asked her why that chair was setting there like that. She smiled at me. “I put it there to cover Ranger’s big smelly poo-poo.”

My ears refused to believe I had heard her correctly. “You did WHAT?” I asked.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she said, patting my hand. “No one stepped in it.”

Dan lifted the chair. Sure enough, there it was, swarming with flies. Right in the middle of where our guests had been eating dinner.

I tried to smile. “Sweetie, why didn’t you tell us so we could have cleaned it up?” I asked her.

Kaitlyn shrugged. “I just made the best of it.”

What can I say? Sometimes life stinks. And we have no other choice but to make the best of it.

A Touch of Lousiness

17 Sep

Last night I sent the kids to bed early because I was tired. By 9 o’clock I was all snug in my bed. Definitely a good thing. I like sleep almost as much as I like chocolate.

All week I’ve been fighting a lousy cold. Then I went and got a flu shot which added to my general feeling of lousiness. Since I wasn’t really that sick, I kept pushing myself and basically overdid it. Hence the tiredness. I no longer have the stamina I had before breast cancer. Maybe I’ll be stronger when I stop taking tamoxifen. I hope so. I don’t like being a wimp.

When I first started tamoxifen, I experienced awful side effects. My oncologist prescribed various medications to offset the side effects, but those medications had a long list of their own side effects. I was pretty much a mess. During that time, I caught strep throat. But I was already feeling so lousy that I had no idea I was sick on top of everything else, so I didn’t see a doctor and didn’t take antibiotics. By the time I saw my oncologist again, the strep throat had progressed. He chewed me out for not taking better care of myself. I looked at him like he was a crazy person. I mean, here I was trying to survive breast cancer and he was worried about a little case of strep throat?

Looking back, I suppose he was right. I do need to be a good steward of my health. That means I have to take breaks from time to time. You know, cuddle up on the couch and read a good book. That can’t be all bad, right? And maybe, just once in a while, I should make sure I’m all tucked into bed by 9 o’clock.

Amy

13 Sep

I have a friend named Amy.

The first time I ever saw her, she was sitting on the top bunk in the dorm room across the hall from mine. She looked confident and smart and had a beautiful smile. Somehow, I knew we were going to be good friends.

During our fun-filled years at college, Amy was my room-mate. After graduation, she stood up for me as my matron-of-honor when I married Dan. And years later, she was there for me when I found out I had breast cancer.

What are you supposed to do when your friend has breast cancer? The only thing you can do — you love her. And that’s exactly what Amy did.

One of the many ways Amy showed her love to me was by giving me a writing journal. The cover was made of brown leather and it was dotted with happy pink and yellow flowers. I loved it. You know how most people like to do fun things like riding roller coasters, traveling or playing baseball? Well, Amy knew that what I enjoyed the most was writing. And I really wanted to write in that journal. But I couldn’t. It seemed that cancer had taken away from me the one thing that I enjoyed most – writing.

Sometime later, I opened the journal and casually flipped through the first few pages. I was surprised to see that Amy had already written on them for me. She had copied down Bible verses – verses about courage and hope and comfort and love. I wondered if maybe this was something I could do.

In the next few days and weeks and months, I continued what Amy had started. In that journal I wrote down all the Bible verses and passages that had special meaning to me as I struggled to survive cancer — verses I discovered on my own, as well as verses others had shared with me. But I didn’t just write down the references. I wrote out the whole verse and even entire passages, word for word. There was something about seeing those words of God in my own hand-writing that made the message more personal and meaningful to me. I could have simply highlighted all of those verses in my Bible. But sometimes, many times, I felt too overwhelmed to page through the Bible in search of God’s words of comfort and strength. I needed those words to find me. Amy’s journal provided that for me in ways far beyond what she probably ever imagined.

Every once in a while, I still browse through the pages of that journal. The Bible verses written there remind me that God is faithful, His promises are true, and that His great love for us is endless.

Not even cancer can ever take that away.

Every Dog Has His Day

9 Sep

My family and I are celebrating today. Picture a triple-layer Gaines Burger cake covered in liver-flavored dog biscuits and topped with two candles. It’s almost enough to get your tail-wagging, isn’t it?

Shortly after our dog Ranger joined the family, he got into trouble with a couple of bees. They stung him several times on his snout and in his mouth. Immediately his face puffed up. Gigantic. Eyes swelled completely shut and foaming at the mouth. 

All three kids were sick with some lousy summer bug, but they were afraid that Ranger’s throat was going to swell shut and he would drop dead at our feet, so everyone jumped into the mini-van and we rushed to the vet’s office. Quite a drive. Three sick kids and a drooling dog. Every mile or so, Ranger would shake his head and foamy drool would fly all over the inside of the van. I really liked that part.

The good news is that we made it to the vet in time. The bad news is that as soon as we got there, the vet started poking Ranger with needles (antihistamine shots and steroids, I think). So all in all, it was a pretty lousy day for Ranger. Unlike today. Because today we are celebrating.

Birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate life. Not just life in general, but the life of a specific, special person — or dog. Birthdays give us a chance to tell those we care about that we are so glad they’re alive. We celebrate the day they were born, because that’s how important they are to us. And we can tell them that our lives are so much better just because they’re a part of it. That’s what birthdays are for.

Time to blow out the candles.

Happy Birthday, Ranger.