April Thirteenth

13 Apr

A poppy seed cake is baking in my oven. Its sweet, warm scent fills the house and makes me smile. When it cools, I’ll frost it with almond icing. Lots of almond icing. That’s how my dad liked it. Poppy seed cake was his favorite.

Today is his birthday. He has been gone from us for four and a half years. But we’re going to eat poppy seed cake today anyway — in memory of him.

It’s a family tradition now. As we eat the cake, we will remember my dad. We will remember the kind, godly man who loved his family and was such a special part of our lives.

As the years pass, the memory of my dad grows fainter in my children’s minds. But I don’t want them to forget the grandpa who so greatly anticipated and welcomed their arrival, who enjoyed playing with them and laughing with them and simply being with them, who held their hand, prayed for them, listened to them, and loved them.

So today, as we lick the icing from our fingers, we will look at old pictures together. We will tell stories. Good stories. And we’ll remember the gift God sent to us years ago on April thirteenth. The gift of a wonderful father and grandfather. One of life’s greatest blessings.

 

 

Just the Two of Us

2 Mar

My handsome son smiles self-consciously at me as we approach the front door of the restaurant he has selected for our dinner together. Gallantly stepping forward, he opens the door for me with just the tiniest hint of teenaged awkwardness. Already, I could tell that this would be a night to remember.

He and I have been looking forward to this dinner. Just the two of us. It’s a tradition that began a few years ago with my oldest son. You see, it’s all about height. When each of my sons becomes taller than I am, I take him out for a special dinner. Seems there’s something significant about no longer looking down when speaking with a child, or even looking eye-to-eye. When a mother has to look up in order to speak with her child, a transition worthy of acknowledgment has taken place.

At this coming-of-age dinner, we talk about things like how a gentleman should open the door for a lady. We review concepts such as the proper use of a napkin and how it’s usually a good idea to chew with your mouth closed. We discuss how it’s not the best of manners to lick your fingers in a nice restaurant, even if you are eating really good coconut prawns dipped in pineapple sauce.

But mostly this special dinner is all about fun. It’s about celebrating the life of a child who is growing up. It’s about letting him know how proud I am of him as he makes the transition from child to adult.

As I watch my son enjoying his dinner, I feel a powerful sense of thanksgiving for the privilege of being this child’s mother. And my thoughts drift. I wonder what life would be like for him now if I had not survived.

A few years ago, following my very first mammogram, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was invasive and we had not caught it early. My son, a master architect of Lego star ships, was nine years old when he found out his mom had cancer. At the time, he had been devastated by the possibility that I might have lost my hair. He couldn’t even begin to comprehend that he might have lost his mother.

Such a happy and lighthearted boy, how would he have been affected by the death of his mother? Would my husband have remarried by now? Would the new step-mother ever be able to love my children as I have loved them?

My son starts to wipe his mouth on his sleeve, then quickly grabs his napkin instead and dabs at his chin. As our eyes meet across the table, he smiles. And I am reminded that life after cancer is a gift.

The child I once held in my arms now weighs more than I do. The little boy who at one time reached up to hold my hand is now taller than I will ever be. Being a part of his life still brings me the greatest of joy.

 

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Although this was first posted a year or two ago, I had a special request to re-post it today.

 

Sneaky Stuff

24 Feb

Ranger is on a diet. That’s right. Blame it on too many dog biscuits. Or maybe the beef & cheese Gaines Burgers that he loves so much. Or perhaps not enough squirrel-chasing. I’m not sure what’s at fault. But now that his winter coat is beginning to thin, there’s no hiding the fact that Ranger is looking rather rotund.

And to think that last fall I was concerned that he was too scrawny. I worried that he didn’t have enough body fat to keep himself warm during the Idaho winter. It’s not like we let him adjust the thermostat in the dog house, you know.  

Well, he’s sure not looking scrawny anymore.

Surprising, isn’t it, how a few extra pounds can be so sneaky? (As I write this, I’m eating my second still-hot-from-the-oven brownie). This makes me wonder what other sneaky things may have quietly crept up on me unawares. Perhaps a negative attitude. A harmful habit. Selfish thoughts. Words that are quick to criticize. The list goes on.

As spring approaches, I’m thinking that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to refresh my outlook on life a bit. Set aside a time for some introspection, some self-examination. Cut back on the detrimental and self-centered stuff. Renew the focus on faith, hope, and God’s most amazing grace. Prepare my heart and mind in anticipation of celebrating the upcoming joys of Easter.

Even Ranger seems to be embracing a fresh outlook today as he gives up his afternoon nap for a race around our backyard. He will be in good shape by the time spring arrives.

Perhaps I will too.

 

His Name

10 Feb

I often hear from women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer. These women are scattered all over the nation. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Yet, they all ask me the very same question — How did I survive?

These women are not asking how I survived in a medical sense. What they want to know is how I survived the day of my diagnosis without giving up hope. They want to know how I could face a regimen of grueling treatments and yet hold onto a sense of peace. They want to know how I could fight a potentially fatal disease and still have faith for the future.

Because to a newly diagnosed person, these things seem impossible. And the truth is – they are. But all things are possible with God.

Awhile back, I received an email from a desperately hurting woman. She had lost her job, her hair, her husband, and her home — all because of breast cancer. She wrote to tell me that she had just finished reading my book. And that she now hoped to find something far more important than everything she had lost.

“I realize now that if I’m going to survive, I need God in my life,” she told me. “I just need God.”

We don’t have to be diagnosed with cancer or facing some other crisis before turning to God. Whether we realize it yet or not, we need God in our everyday lives. We really do. We need His hope, His peace, His grace. No one can ever love us like He does. It’s okay, go ahead and turn to Him now.

He has been waiting all of your life to hear you call His name.

 

 

Chasing my Tail

3 Feb

Some days I’m convinced I do nothing other than running in circles, like a dog chasing its tail. Today, for example, I had a long to-do list and several deadlines to meet. And it was house-cleaning day. I tend to be a tiny bit OCD when it comes to a clean house, so that was first on my agenda. I figured if I worked hard and cleaned fast, I’d still have time to do the other things that needed doing.

When I clean house, I always listen to Lonestar. I call it my house-cleaning music. But today, halfway through cleaning, I decided to try something different. I put on an old Keith Green CD.

I should have stuck with Lonestar.

Our dog Ranger is 100% an outdoor dog. However, a week or so ago, we moved his dog crate into the dining room so that he could convalesce indoors (don’t worry, he’s going to be fine).

Ranger likes Lonestar. Ranger does not like Keith Green. At least that’s the impression I got when he started barking and howling and rattling his crate. No way was I going to change the music for a dog, so I kicked him outside. That’s when I noticed for the first time that I had a very dirty dog crate in my clean house.

Ranger watched through the window as I stuck my head and shoulders into his crate. The old bath towels he had been sleeping on were too filthy to be vacuumed. They needed to see the inside of a washing machine. But first, I figured I had better take them outside for a good shaking. Ranger couldn’t have been more pleased when I joined him outdoors. He thought it was a game. I tried to shake the towels, but he jumped and nipped at them. Then the crazy dog, still riled-up from the Keith Green incident, started nipping at me. Giving up on the towel-shaking, I stepped back into the house and slammed the door shut.

I had dog hair in my mouth. I had dog hair on my eye balls. And as I looked around, I could see dog hairs settling all over my clean dining room. So much for trying to clean the house quickly. Sighing, I decided I was way too tired to work so hard at accomplishing nothing.

According to the experts, persistent fatigue is one of the most common lingering problems affecting breast cancer survivors. I can sure relate to that, particularly on days like today.

As I stood in my dog-hair-covered dining room, I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew.  They go something like this –Come to me, all you who are weary and covered with dog hair, stop chasing your tail and I will give you rest.

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus always knows just what we need. He remembers that we are merely made of dust – (of which I am so insistent upon cleaning!) I love how he understands our frailness and invites us to rest.

After the Keith Green CD ended, I let Ranger back inside. He curled up in his crate and settled down for a nap. Perhaps I will too.

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Sound familiar to some of you? That’s because this is a re-post from awhile back. Writing a new post was on my to-do list,it really was, but with all the tail-chasing that I’ve been doing today, no new post got written. Given the way this day has gone, I figured this old post would  be perfectly appropriate.

 

The Dark Side

27 Jan

Sometimes I get so tired of always looking on the bright side. It’s exhausting, really. And there are times when the brightest side I can find is still pretty dull. Just once, I would like to go looking on the dark side. You know, forget the rainbow and just go wallowing in a vat of stinky, negative, woe-is-me, pessimistic gloom.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing for a change?

For five years I’ve been trying to look on the bright side. That’s not easy when you have cancer. It takes courage and determination to look beyond the curse in order to find the blessing. Wouldn’t it be easier if the bright side was so gleaming obvious that we didn’t have to go looking so hard for it?

But perhaps if it weren’t for the stark contrast of the dark side, we would miss the bright side altogether.

It seems to me that God’s loving presence feels much closer when I find Him in the shadows of despair and disappointment. His comfort and peace shine way brighter through the darkness of pain and grief. His grace seems richer. Faith grows stronger. Hope dispels the darkness.

And hope is a very good thing. Because as long as we have hope, there will always be a bright side.

One in a Million

20 Jan

It has been said that cancer therapy is “like beating the dog with a stick to get rid of its fleas.” Which just goes to say that when it comes to cancer, we don’t have it all figured out yet. Not even close. There’s an organization that is determined to change this.  It’s called the Army of Women. And they don’t do pink.

The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and the Avon Foundation joined forces a few years ago to launch this Army of Women. The focus is on research — a new and different approach.

Instead of conducting laboratory research on rats or mice for whom breast cancer is really not a big concern anyway, scientists believe that the research needs to actually involve women. But it is difficult for scientists to find women volunteers to participate in research studies. That’s where the Army of Women comes in. They have created a partnership between women and scientists. Their goal is to recruit one million women.

All women are invited to participate, whether or not they have a history of breast cancer. (Men are invited to participate as well but only if they have had breast cancer or have an immediate relative with the disease). It’s pretty simple. You can sign up at www.armyofwomen.com and they will send you an email when there is a new research project in need of volunteers. If you are interested in the project, and if you fit the study criteria, you will be instructed on how to proceed. If not, simply delete the email.

There are many different types of research projects. Some just involve filling out a questionnaire. But others (and here’s where it gets a little tricky) might need a sample of saliva, urine, blood, or… breast tissue. (Okay, for those of you who are feeling dizzy at the idea of donating breast tissue all for the good of science, I’m pretty sure these samples just involve authorizing the donation of tissue that has already been removed, such as from a biopsy). As for me, being the big chicken that I am, I have only participated in the questionnaire studies so far. And, like I mentioned earlier, participants always have the option of saying no.

Breast cancer has been around for a long time. That doesn’t mean it has to be a part of our future — or the future of our daughters and granddaughters. In order to find a cure, perhaps it will take an army. An army of women.