Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Giving Thanks

 "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  --1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Thanksgiving Eve has descended into these hills; it's dusky outside, and I can hear the occasional rifle fire (hunting season is upon us). Normally this day is spent doing cooking and baking prep ahead of our big gathering tomorrow: my husband's parents, siblings, niece and nephew, aunt, and cousins all get together at his parents' house for a huge meal, and we look forward to it all year long.  

Last Wednesday I began getting sick, and by Wednesday night I was Quite Sick.  Today is Day 8 for me of covid--my second covid infection of the year (the first was a very mild one in January).  Although I rarely catch even a cold, and I bounce back from illness fairly quickly, this virus has been protracted and difficult, with a whole host of unpleasant symptoms--although fortunately, none have been scary!  Just exhausting, lingering, and aggravating. And painful--my sinuses hurt!

We are not able to go to my in-laws' house tomorrow.  It's fine--I don't feel well enough to go right now, anyhow--but it's also hard.  You see, I didn't realize how the orphaned child within me longed to gather together with a family and have a normal-feeling holiday. I haven't had a normal holiday since last Thanksgiving. Every holiday since last Christmas has been clouded with the pain of the reality of my father's illness and his impending, inevitable death.  It has been a hard year. I miss the comfort of family gathering around food, without the specter of cancer overshadowing it all. I was looking forward to the happy conviviality of our Thanksgiving meal. 

After my Dad died, Annie asked me--are you an orphan now? I assured her that no, I am not an orphan.  Orphans are children! And I'm an adult. 

But the deeper truth is this: even though I'm an adult, and adults cannot be orphaned, I feel it.  My grandparents are all gone, and now both of my parents have died.  I'm so fortunate to have aunts and uncles, a stepmother, and in-laws who all love me in a similar way, as parents do.  But they're not my parents.  My actual parents are gone, and I did not realize how lonely that would make me feel, especially at holidays. There's something that existed that is now unraveled, a thing that can never be restored: mother, father, two daughters. I am not at all alone! I have my husband and children, my sister, and a lot of other relatives who love me.  But I still miss my parents. I still feel sad that they are no longer here with me.

I am thankful tonight for the 23 years I had with my mother and the nearly-45 years I had with my father.  I am thankful that although I have been sick, I believe I'm healing along an upward trajecotory. I am thankful for sweet Allison for bringing potato-bacon soup to us this afternoon, to neighbor Kate for the elderberry syrup and chicken noodle soup, and to the inventor of the Neti Pot! :)

This too shall pass.  And we'll have our own little Thanksgiving here--not as elaborate, but still special.  Rejoice always.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Saturday, November 19, 2022

A True Story of God's Provision (and a Prayer Request)

 "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever;

with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known

through all generations." -Psalm 89:1


Let me tell you a story--which ends with a prayer request. It's one of those stories of how God looks after us and paves the way before we know what we'll need.  

First we must go back to the summer of 2021, back in the days before my father had cancer. For some reason that summer, for no sensible reason at all, I decided that instead of booking us into a hotel during our annual New Year's trip to Charleston, I would splurge on an Airbnb. So I found an adorable house that was just a couple of blocks from my Dad's place--a really tough thing to find in his neighborhood.  I booked it for late December/early January.

Fast-forward to late December: my father had just been re-admitted to the hospital at MUSC, brutally sick with We Didn't Know What Yet, and the doctors were chasing it down while he went in and out of hospitals.  We went to Charleston a day early and stayed in a hotel, and our Airbnb host kindly let my family check in early the next day while I was running back and forth to the hospital.  In the course of our texts she mentioned that she'd just spent 10 days at MUSC as her husband had treatment for cancer. They're in their 40s with two young children.  And I thought, wow, do I ever know *that* situation.

So I told her about my husband and we bonded a bit, acknowledging what it is like to be a parent, to have a very sick spouse, and to feel the fear and loneliness those things can entail. 

My Dad kept getting sicker.

We had to stay longer, and she reached out to offer the place for more days.  I readily accepted.  The screened front porch had become a spot for me to really lay my worries and anxieties on God during early mornings. It was a soft place to land for us; I fell into bed thick with grief and exhaustion every night. It was so much better than a hotel. The house was beautifully-decorated, sparkling clean, and perfect for us. I knew that God had somehow orchestrated this in His wisdom and kindness.


When we decided to settle up she refused payment for the extra nights.  She wanted to help us like so many had helped her. I was humbled and touched by her kindness.

One time after that--in the late winter, I think--we exchanged quick texts saying One Day We Should Meet. We never followed through--life is busy!

Fast-forward to August, when I was in Charleston for a week taking care of my Dad during his second week of brain radiation.  I had to drive him all the way to Mount Pleasant--about a 20-minute commute from his neighborhood--to the radiation facility.  On that first day that I took him, we walked into the waiting room, and I looked at a woman sitting there, whom I'd never seen before in my life, and I just *knew*, and I said her name.  She looked up.

In the Charleston metro area there are over 800,000 people and she and I just *happened* to show up at the same office at the same time on the same day.

Yes. Wow. To say we were floored was an understatement.

At the end of the week she and I went out together to talk and share stories for a couple of hours.  Her husband's cancer, like my Dad's, is considered incurable. Since then, we've spent time praying for her family every night. 

Will you also pray for this sweet lady, and her family?  They are believers, she is solid in her knowledge that God takes care of things, but still: that is an excruciating road to walk, especially with young children.  

Thank you for praying!


Friday, November 18, 2022

On Children, Cancer, and Loss

This autumn has flown by--I realized yesterday that we are already 8 weeks into the season.  "Where the time does go?" to quote Annie's Venezuelan ballet instructor. :)

Here's something that many people in my life have asked about, and that I thought it would be useful to write about: how we handled talking to our children about my father's terminal cancer diagnosis. This year I've seen my children make sacrifices that are not asked of most people their ages.  I've seen them watch their grandfather go from healthy to extremely sick.  And they handled it beautifully.*

Here's what I think helped.

1) Being transparent. Over the course of the year I had several people ask in hushed tones do your children know it's terminal? That question always took me by surprise.  Why in the world would I not tell my children the truth about the fact that my father would die soon?  Why would I set them up for a shock like that? From the beginning, when he was diagnosed in January, I made it clear to Annie and Finn that he would not outlive the cancer.  They understood that all of our traveling this year--and it has been significant--and all the sacrifices they've made--also significant--were occurring because the clock was swiftly ticking down on my Dad's life.  We had hoped he'd survive a year past diagnosis; he survived almost exactly eight months.  In those eight months we packed in so much time together.  

My father died at 6am, and my husband was at work.  I wanted to tell Annie and Finn the news myself, via Facetime, but I wanted my husband to be home.  When they were all gathered on the sofa together that afternoon, I said "I have good news and I have bad news, and it is the same news.  Pa graduated to heaven today.  It's bad news for us because we will miss him so much, but it's good news for him because he's with God." And my children did not actually cry during that Facetime call--or after, from what I've heard.  They *got it.* They were sad, but they expected it (when I went to Charleston that last time, I knew I would not come home while my father was still alive).  They were well-prepared.  We all were.

Being transparent also depends on the age of the child. I would argue that transparency is essential at any age, but of course a 3-year-old will have a totally different comprehension of a situation than a 16-year-old will.  Put it into the terms they can understand. I am not an advocate of scaring children with the harsh realities of the world (yes, I lean to the side of sheltering, and I am convinced that my children are more emotionally secure as a result).  But when a situation is personal to them, such as the illness or death of a loved one, it's important to be frank and open to answering questions.  

2) Focus on what matters most.  I neglected many housekeeping tasks in my own home over the past months, but I made it my business to not neglect my children's hearts.  Talking through their questions or heart issues took total precedence. I also prioritized my own health (sleep, some exercise, nutrition, no overwork) because that makes me more capable of taking care of their needs.  Annie and Finn are what you might call "well-adjusted" as a result of this. Ignore the non-essentials in life (the closets and the gardening will have their day eventually!) but never neglect or ignore a child's heart.  

3) Do little things as you can to bring joy into life.  A croissant from the bakery, a day trip to an interesting spot, cuddles on the sofa, a movie night with blankets....during a really hard time you cannot plan *big stuff* like trips. So just do sweet, tiny things and know that they're enough.  They are!

4) If you're a believer, be sure they understand what death is.  Again, this is one of those topics that must be handled in an age-appropriate manner.  My children understand that death is inevitable for us all, but also that God didn't create us for death (which is why, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, He "set eternity in the hearts of man").  They understand that this world is not the only thing, and that death is the end of one thing and the beginning of another.  They are sure to have lots of questions.  Don't interpret these as "doubts" and don't be afraid of them.  I always tell my children that I'm so pleased that they're asking good questions, because that's the first step in getting good answers.  You don't have to be a theologian to answer their questions well. Just do your best, ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you, and trust. My children understand that death is a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:51-55) and that we shall all be changed at the moment of death.  Having witnessed death myself more than once, I can assure them that this is absolutely true. 

5) Pray for guidance, pray continually, pray without ceasing!  The Holy Spirit will help guide you and give you words and direction when you don't know what to say or do.  


*Note that the death of a grandparent is quite different than the death of a parent.  Although I think these 5 suggestions are applicable when a parent has a terminal illness, I know for sure that that situation is much harder for children.  Trust that Romans 8:28 is true, and do whatever is necessary to help a child grieve and heal.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

What Does the Resume Say?

 I recently--and completely by accident--spotted a position for a part-time attorney at a local organization: 10ish hours a week. Hmm, I thought.  I wondered if I could look into it. I have no wish to work full-time, but a few hours a week could be an interesting fit, especially given this season of life--I am finally "freer" than I have been in the past, and I wouldn't mind dipping my toe back into the legal world. I do love research and writing!

I unearthed my resume, blew off the dust. I looked at the grades, at the awards. I looked at the descriptions of my master's program, which I attended on a full tuition scholarship, and I looked at the interesting things I did in law school.  I looked at my descriptions of the work I did when I was practicing law. It made me smile to remember how accomplished I was.

Then there's a blank period of fourteen years. Nothing really "resume-worthy" took place in those fourteen years, except a modest smattering of published articles.  It's a huge, gaping hole.

I looked at the page and realized that all the best work I've ever done has been done during the time of that gaping hole.

The past decade and a half look unimpressive in terms of my resume, my legal skill-building, my networking. And yet this has been the happiest, most productive, most fruitful period of my life. In those years I have worked hard at raising my children.  I've cooked and cleaned, re-learned how to sew, taught myself to knit.  I've taught my children to read and do math, read thousands of pages of books to them, introduced them to the world and, most importantly, to God. I've cried over my own weaknesses and been stunned at my own strengths. I supported my husband through a difficult year of cancer treatments, and I walked with my dad through his final months of life, right into his brutal last moments. I shepherded my children's hearts through those challenging times.  I nursed children through illness and baked birthday cakes and volunteered at ballet performances and read Shakespeare and managed our household...and, by the grace of God, I've stayed in good spirits through it all. I have grown exponentially in my faith and character, although I'm well aware that I'll never be perfect. (Alas!)  I am changed--and all for the better.

Many, many years ago I turned down the opportunity to be on law review in law school in order to be more present for my family, because my sister and I had just lost our mother. I should have known then that I was setting a precedent that I'd never be able to break. 

I don't know what to think about my resume now.  It seems so incomplete. So inaccurate.

(Perhaps for fun I'll write a *real* resume that accurately reflects my adult life!)

As I pulled into the grocery store this evening, thinking about Annie back at the house with a sore throat*, and what she might need or want, and how unglamorous my life is, and how much money I most certainly do not make, and about an acquaintance who just won a big victory in a trial, the words of Luke 10 came to me--"Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." 

May it always be so, whether I practice law, raise children, pull weeds, write poems.  God will always provide what I need, and my job is to trust, and to try to choose the good part.

*Please pray for Annie!  She spent a day doing cartwheels on the beach yesterday and today she's in bed with a fever.  My poor girl.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Auf Wiedersehen, Papa

 My earnest-yet-irreverent, larger-than-life, sincere-yet-witty, gentle giant of a father graduated from the burdens of this earthly life at 6 am on the first day of autumn.


My sister, stepmother, and I were with him.  There is so much to say--about God's mercy, about the timing of it all, about the brutal last hours, about what it feels like now that I have witnessed both of my parents die--and neither were pretty, easy deaths.  But I don't wish to say much at this point.  Only that I believe God is in all our tomorrows.  He is ever-present.  He has experienced a painful, traumatic death.  So I trust Him.

Somehow, through the grace of God, I was able to eulogize my father a week after his death without a meltdown. It was so, so good to do that.  It felt right.

After two weeks in Charleston, I came home to the mountains and found that fall had descended; the door on summer was resoundingly closed.  Crisp mornings, swirling leaves, turning colors.  

The season has, once again, irreversibly shifted.

Auf weidersehen, Papa. Godspeed. And thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, September 9, 2022

My Finest Hour

 When we were in Charleston last weekend, my father was concerned about getting his boat moved; he's hoping to sell it soon, but he's unable to drive his truck right now, and my stepmom cannot drive it because it is so souped-up that the transmission is unbelievably touchy, and you have to engage *every muscle* in your left leg and back to change gears.  And you better hope your leg is really long.  Backing the truck up to the boat in order to hitch them together was simply a task too daunting for them--and as anyone with manual transmission experience knows, you've got to be awfully responsive on the clutch to get a large truck backed up without stalling out.  

My father consented to allow my husband to try this task, and my husband essentially took one look at it and gladly handed the job to me. Thanks to my father, I've got a lot of experience driving manual transmissions, including trucks with a lot of torque. 

Well!  I backed this Ford F-350 up *perfectly* to hitch it to the boat trailer, and it was a true Moment of Triumph for me.  In spite of the touchy clutch, gears that don't want to be found, and more torque than I've ever encountered in any vehicle ever, I did it!

Dad, peering out of the kitchen window, had tears in his eyes as he watched me.  "How could I be so stupid!" he said, clearly remembering that I'd been taught by the best (him--obviously :)). He was so pleased that we were able to move his boat for him!  I am glad we could help. And lots of credit goes to my husband, who is the very best at giving calm, clear, and helpful instructions--why is he not an air traffic controller, I do not know!

I celebrated with a victory lap around the block. 

It's the little things, you know?  

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Calling all Oregonians

 I have a great favor to ask any of you West Coasters who are familiar with the city of Portland.  My husband and son are heading there next month for a boys' trip: a couple nights in Portland, and then time on the coast and near Mount Hood.  We are trying to make some plans and learn more about Portland.  They're staying at the Hyatt Regency (attached to the convention center, I believe).  If anyone has any information on the area around there--let's say within a 5-block radius (restaurants, crime, whether it's reasonable to walk around a bit--we've heard some dodgy things about Portland), please let me know.  Finn was excited to check out Old Town/Chinatown, but reading some reviews on TripAdvisor has changed our analysis--it seems Chinatown doesn't really exist anymore, and it's not a very safe area.  However, Finn is still hoping to visit the Lan Su Garden: maybe a taxi cab would be helpful here? 

If you have any advice or tips, please do leave them in the comment section here or feel free to email me if you'd rather keep it private (thejoyfulhouse@gmail.com)

Thank you!