My story in three acts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

After a longer absence than I really planned (due to “light and momentary” issues), here goes for Act 2 of my story:

It seems to me that it corresponds in large part to my life as an advanced practice nurse, which started off rather sadly. My dad passed away in September before I completed my master’s degree in December. The passage above gave me comfort at the time of his death, for he was truly ready to go, tired of constant pain. My mom called about 3 a.m. on the day of his death (just a couple of days after Dad had told Daniel that he’d better “hurry up and get married” if he wanted his Papa to be there). He was coughing up blood. When I got there he told me, “There’s just so much a man can do.” My reply was that whatever he needed to do was fine. Six hours later he left this world to enter that unseen one, eternity with his Lord.

Jobs for nurse practitioners in small town Arkansas were not plentiful in 1997. While I was still working in administration and not yet through with my studies, a local cardiologist had asked what I planned to do with my new licensure. At that time I suggested that working as an extender in a busy medical practice appealed to me. However, after graduation I was actively recruited to work as a primary care provider in a clinic in my hometown. I was also interviewed for a position with an (at that point) unidentified physician in a multi-specialty clinic, who turned out to be the above-mentioned cardiologist. There were elements of the hometown clinic that were very appealing, including the financial aspects. But after a lot of soul searching it became apparent that the cardiology practice was where I needed to be. It was a good decision; the local clinic closed just a couple of years after its implementation. I believe that choice was a turning point in my life.

There have been many benefits to the employment choice I made. After more than 21 years in that collaborative practice, I have no regrets. Not only have I grown professionally, I have grown spiritually. Philosophical and theological discussions are not the routine in most work settings but have served as the stimulus to introspection and solidifying my beliefs. The example of true Christianity that he and his family demonstrate has influenced my walk of faith. And I needed that collegial relationship, because times were coming that seemed more than “light and momentary” troubles.

In 2004 our family was faced with the challenge of my daughter’s mental illness. It was a nightmarish year. A friend was instrumental in saving Cindy’s life, convincing her to seek care with her primary care physician. That encounter started us on the journey of a lifetime. Over the next eight months she was in and out of multiple hospitals after multiple suicide attempts. We faced a fragmented, overworked and expensive mental health system. Navigating the system would have been impossible without the support and prayers of friends and work family. I was juggling my work responsibilities with careing for her three-year-old son. I was back to single parenthood (I had not remarried at that time). A Christian friend recommended a depression workshop.  There I met the physician just finishing her psychiatric residency who would become my daughter’s lifeline and who continues to supervise her care today, fourteen years later. I think that was a “divine appointment.”

We have been blessed through Cindy’s strength and desire to be well. We involved our church family as prayer partners in our journey by openly sharing various elements of her illness and treatment. Cindy continues to demonstrate superb adherence to her medical therapy and physician visits, and she has become one of the rocks I lean on through hard times. Because more trauma would follow.

It’s no secret that August 26, 2015, changed my life as a mother. Our son’s death by suicide at the age of 41 years marked a turning point in all our lives. In my nursing career I had often encountered parents who had lost a child. I found myself frequently trying to express compassion by the comment that “that must be the worst kind of loss.” I can now attest, through my own experience, that it is a terrible grief made more terrible if that death occurs by suicide. That event led to my personal passion for increasing awareness, encouraging open conversation, and preventing suicide.

There were also brighter times. In 2005 I married the wonderful man who loves and supports me every day. And an unexpected benefit of my employment was that my physician/boss/friend,  who is also a licensed preacher, performed the ceremony! Living here on “Persimmon Ridge” (the name’s origin is meat for another story) in the home my husband designed and built for us is a priceless gift. His unremitting support and encouragement has allowed me to publish two inspirational novels, and he continues to be my biggest fan and self-appointed publicity agent as I pursue the dream of being known as an author.

However, through the experiences of Cindy’s illness and ongoing recovery and Daniel’s death one thing has remained steadfast–my faith. I believe in a loving God who is in control, who has the overarching plan for my life, who allows nothing beyond my potential to withstand with God’s help, and who offers an unending supply of hope. He has placed people in my life who have supported, encouraged, and inspired me. The troubles often don’t feel “light and momentary” but, rather, heavy and endless. But hindsight reveals the brighter hilltop experiences, those divine appointments, the heavenly discernment, and the benefits of just persevering in the walk of faith whatever the struggle.

There it is, another brief part of my story. My Act 2 is not yet finished but close enough to the ending for me to reflect on where I’ve been as I try to anticipate the next act. I trust in one truth:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9 NIV

I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in the design of my life. Have you?

My story in three acts

What if we viewed life as a three-act play with God as the author, producer, and director?

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 119: 13-16

I read the most interesting thing today. It compared God’s plan for our lives to a story. And, being the story-teller that I am, I was intrigued. Imagine, God in his infinite wisdom and love, designing the story of our lives! AND, since I just returned from a writer’s conference where all the discussion was about story structure versus “organic” writing where the story just “writes itself”, well, you can imagine how my mind is reeling with the implications of that!! Seriously, I kind of get it. My Act 1 went kind of like this:

Having always felt that there was a higher power who was “in charge” of my life, it was easy to see an unseen force at work in the course of my life. Brought up in the “Bible belt”, the daughter of parents who struggled financially but loved me greatly, and somehow always wanting to be at the top of my class, I had extraordinary opportunities–(which I didn’t take full advantage of). One event that impacted my life greatly was my father’s heart attack when I was 16. In 1966 Searcy, Arkansas, there was no specialized cardiology care. I often wonder how he survived until much later in life when he had bypass surgery.

Early in life I recognized the need for a Savior, and at age 11 “walked the aisle” and was baptized. Later, as a 16-year-old, I became convicted that I hadn’t fully made the commitment required of me, and was, once again, baptized into the small Baptist church our family attended. But in no way did my faith start maturing until I had experienced a lot more of life.

You see, I dropped out of fully-scholarship-funded college to marry and have two kids (boys). The miraculous provision of an extraordinary deal on tuition at a fine Christian university a few years later allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (in the second nursing class to graduate from that institution). It became evident that nursing was, indeed, my calling. And divorce and single-parenting (by that time two boys and a toddler daughter) was certainly easier because I was a professional with a college degree and a reasonable income.

There were some really challenging times, though. Middle son broke his leg through the growth plate on a forbidden three-wheeler ride. He was recognized for his scholarship in sixth grade but by his high school days was selling term papers to his classmates–his fee varied according to the grade they desired (I only discovered this years later.) He broke his arm jumping from a folding chair to dunk the basketball. He didn’t finish high school–completed his GED–and presented me with my first grandchild (who is, by the way, one of God’s best gifts to my life). Older son did not neglect to cause me some worry. There was a gunshot wound (not life-threatening)–hearing that news from an ER physician as I returned home from other son’s basketball game was an experience, to say the least. I remarked to a friend that God was preparing me for something, and that, if this was prep school, I didn’t want to go to college.

Nursing became my life. Maybe too much so. Maybe it robbed my children of some of my attention. Nonetheless, I loved being at the bedside. It was what I think of as the “glory” years of nursing. There was no “nursing” a computer or struggling to meet Medicare guidelines. The registered nurse was “in charge” and knowledgeable about all the patients on the unit. Knowing that I made a difference that prolonged someone’s life, that I could start that IV when nobody else could, that I caught the clinical clue that helped the physician make a diagnosis, meant the world to me. I advanced to middle management and then taught in a junior college nursing program for a year. Returning to the hospital where I had “grown up” as a nurse, I became the nurse administrator. Oh, there were no vice president titles for nursing back then. I was a simple DON (director of nursing), but with the same responsibilities as a VP.

Those were some painful times. The me-too movement was not alive and well, and I ended up navigating a somewhat awkward work environment which became downright hostile. I didn’t like firing people. I wanted to be back at the bedside and burned the candle at both ends in order to have some clinical time. I discovered that I was not called to be an administrator, I was called to be a nurse.

Good things happened, too. A spiritual retreat called an “Emmaus Walk” reinforced my faith. I began to teach Sunday School and sing in the choir at church. The Bible and Christian studies and keeping a journal, which often contained written prayers, became more of a habit. I wonder what my kids will think of, do with, all those books after I’m gone? Some really good pastors came and went at my church, and a couple made a huge impact on my life.

You wonder why I reveal so much of my past? Because throughout every valley, every crisis, every challenge, I knew God was real. I may have questioned and argued and pleaded and resisted, but I was certain that I was in good hands. At this point in my life, I find my self looking back and evaluating where I came from and the paths I’ve traveled. It’s only natural to wonder what comes next. But Act 2 remains to be told, and Act 3 is waiting to be lived.

It’s time for intermission. But I wonder, what is the Act 1 of your story?

 

Remembering. . .

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Do you remember the beautiful, strong web that sweet spider Charlotte weaved in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web? The story is one of life and death and redemption and has charmed and touched both children and adults for years.

A certain passage has been on my mind lately. Sunday, August 26th, 2018, marked the three-year anniversary of our son Daniel’s death by suicide. How appropriate the timing! Because September 1 began the official month for suicide awareness and prevention. The day after Daniel’s funeral, my granddaughter, Daniel’s daughter, shared a passage with the family from the book she was currently reading to her daughter, Dan’s grandchild, only about 8 months old at the time of his death. You’ll notice that my granddaughter was quite progressive in her choice of reading material for her little girl of 8 months–the book was, you guessed it, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. This is the passage she read that day, the passage she shared with family along with her comments:

This is going to be long but thought I should share with everyone. I’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web with Lorelai when we have time to read at night. It’s been a few days since we’ve had time for a chapter obviously but last night I sat down to read to her. Wouldn’t you know it was the chapter where Charlotte dies and I feel like the following quote was meant to be read by us after all of this:

“A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Northing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will wake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur–this lovely world, these precious days…”                                  (from Charlotte’s Webb by E.B.White, 1952)

Charlotte

This little lady has been weaving the most glorious web on our front window. She produced an egg sack, and, as nature goes, she has died. Watching her work and give her life for her progeny caused me to remember Kaci’s words for us as we grieved her dad. I am forever grateful that she shared with us that day.

Many of you readers have lost children by other tragedies–accidents, sudden illnesses, prolonged illnesses. We mothers and fathers experience a grief that is one-of-a-kind when a child dies. It is not the natural order of things to lose a child, and the pain of that loss stays with us until we join them in God’s presence.

It’s important, I think, to remember that the life we live after they are gone from us is important. Days and months and years pass. We should strive to appreciate and even enjoy the miracle of life as long as it is ours to live. Yes, our hearts will be pierced by moments of grief so keen that we mentally cry out or long to sink to our knees in despair. We must know those moments, but live the rest of the days to the best of our ability, with thanksgiving that we knew that child for whatever time, with hope that we will meet again in heaven, with intent to do whatever we can to prevent any other useless death, with loving understanding for the grief of other parents who have lost a child or grandchild or anyone who has passed too soon from this life.

It was no accident that Kaci found and shared those words that day. I don’t believe in coincidences, just the hand of God reaching down to comfort us in our times of need. The hurt is still with me, but so are the memories of Daniel before he lost his way. I pray for each parent who has lost a child. May God’s peace and comfort strengthen you today.

 

Staying connected…..

My clothes dryer quit drying. Annoyance verging on catastrophe for this family that does laundry almost daily. So…my husband took it apart to fix it. He is blessed with many talents. Appliance repair is one. The initial diagnosis was failure of the heating element. This would have been relatively easy to fix. Except for the reality that the machine had to be completely dismembered to get to it!

He then began assessing various relays (whatever those are) and watching YouTube videos. At the end of the second day he was at a loss. Everything checked out fine. He began putting it back together. Easier to get rid of that way.

Brother-in-law was helping at this point. He noticed a little connector of some time and unplugged and reinserted it. The machine gave a promising beep. Reassembled. Working fine.

What a lesson! When my life is in disarray, I am at my wit’s end, things seem hopelessly out of sorts–maybe I just have a loose connection! The most important connection of all–to my God!

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…………If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:4,7-9

There’s a lesson in everything, isn’t there?

A Life Sentence……..

I’ve recently been involved in a lot of conversations about parenting and was captivated by the comment that it’s a “life sentence.” I can think of worse ones, but it does have its ups and downs. Whether one becomes a parent through giving birth or adoption, the duration of the relationship is, indeed, lifelong. When you then consider the hoped-for progression of grandchildren and, if you’re lucky, great-grandchildren, filling a parent’s life, the reality of the lifelong commitment becomes clear.

Nobody ever said parenting is easy. Somehow offspring have a way of surprising parents. At lease that’s been my experience. An unexpected tattoo. Moving out when least expected. Moving back in when least expected. Relationship choices. Education choices. Sadly, tragedies insert themselves into families–the crisis of illness and the grief of loss. Through it all, the heart remains steadfastly invested in the relationship of parenting.

I looked out today and saw the two-day-old calf with it’s mother. I failed to catch a picture of it nursing but just stood and watched for a minute as it situated itself between the two adults. How special it is when a young person has more than one older adult to follow! I know my children and grandchildren have been blessed by teachers and church family and adult mentors.

Then the mother cow turned to caress her baby with her tongue. A portrait of maternal instinct and love. I am blessed to have great-grandchildren now. Children are good, grandchildren are grand, and great-grandchildren are great. My heart swells with love for each generation. I’ve found the maternal instincts only grow stronger. Perhaps because of greater maturity. Perhaps because one recognizes that not everyone experiences the blessing of multigenerational families. Even now I recognize in my 92-year-old mother evidence of her daily desire to be assured that I am healthy and safe and happy.

I wandered closer, hoping to get a clearer shot with my phone. And she saw me. Mother cow saw me. A low moo warned me not to get too close as, head down, she had eyes only for me. She was warning me. I could relate. A child’s scraped knee, a teen’s broken heart, an adult child’s crisis–all cause parents to leap into action. Even now I am on guard, wanting to protect my family from possible hurts. I love the line from the TV show Blue Bloods — “family comes first.”

I’ve been far from a perfect parent or grandparent, but I long to draw this family closer every day. I pray that someday my family can say of me:

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31;28

(And not to leave you gentlemen out–his children arise and call him blessed; his wife also, and she praises him.)

May God bless your family through you!

 

 

 

Messes. . .

Have you ever really made a mess? Like the time I tried a new “short cut” Bundt cake recipe which sounded like the cake I had enjoyed the previous week. It bubbled over and out of my pan like an erupting volcano, and I ended up with a mountain of scorched batter in the bottom of the oven. Or like the way I can make a real “mess” out of trying to express my feelings to someone who really doesn’t want to understand (teenagers come to mind). I just dig the hole deeper and deeper and sometimes begin to doubt that even I understand what I am trying to say. Or like the way I can over-commit to various obligations and get overwhelmed by my list of to-do’s?

messes2

Like this mess that our little miniature Schnauzer with exuberant energy and an insatiable appetite for paper made one morning when my husband “forgot” to kennel her. When my daughter returned to find this mess, the poor pup was exhausted and panting. It was as though, finally finding herself (once again) free to wreak havoc on all books and papers within her reach, she exhausted herself with her instinct to destroy. I say once again because there is a reason that we kennel her! (She was at the puppy beauty shop today. The groomer described her as “a little ornery.” He was right on.)

messes

After Cindy cleaned up the mess and assessed the destruction, Princess lay on her lap, belly up, a mass of fluffy black dog, completely trusting that nothing bad was going to happen to her. Pictures don’t do her justice. She turns into a black fuzzball whose features–floppy ears like silk and one opaque eye (blind at birth)–just blend together. But, she is at rest with no fear and no regret.

I wish my messes were so easy to overcome. Yes, the oven came clean. So what if I had to throw out the cake that wasn’t? I hope my family and friends forgive when I have failed to convey my thoughts and feelings in anything resembling articulate speech. And, although I may whine a bit and feel sorry for myself, I meet my commitments. I just wish I could relax like she does, trusting that no harm will come of my messes and that I will be accepted just as I am. I wish I didn’t ruminate over the misspoken words or the perceived hurt. I wish I didn’t regret mistakes so much. I wish that I weren’t such a perfectionist.

Anybody else belong to that club? “Perfectionists Anonymous”? There should be a support group. At least age offers some respite, as I find that the more years I get behind me the less I worry whether there is a little dust on the table. If only my expectations of myself were so easy to manage! Because there’s a little voice in my mind reminding me of the unfinished manuscript that keeps calling my name. The basket of clothes to iron won out today. That voice had been nagging longer and louder. So the ironing is done and I’ve opened myself up to you. And, that’s ok for today.

Perhpas Scarlet O’Hara was right. “After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Hoping your tomorrow is a good one and free of “messes”!

Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.