Father’s Day…………

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My dad passed away September 19th, 1996. I was doing my clinical year in my Master’s program preparing to be a Family Nurse Practitioner. He had been critically ill  previously that year and was in chronic pain because of long-term steroid use for temporal arteritis. Steroids are used to prevent blindness with this disorder, but steroids are a two-edged sword. His degenerative disc disease caused back pain that had grown harder and harder to control, and he had started taking large of amounts of Tylenol with codeine for relief.

During one of his previous illnesses he had become profoundly hypotensive early on morning, with a blood pressure of 60/40. My mom was asleep in the room while I sat with him, wondering if he would die that night. About 3 in the morning he was awake and looking intently up toward the ceiling. He asked what time it was and then muttered, “What are they doing up there?” Call me crazy, but I think he had a glimpse toward the other side.

Prior to that, I had always believed that he had a near death experience with his second open heart surgery. We were told that they “had trouble getting him off the pump”. When we visited in the CVICU the first time, he was still intubated with all the lines and tubes and such. But he was awake. As we spoke to him, his finger moved restlessly over his right abdomen and groin area. My mom thought he was hurting at the site where they had done his heart cath prior to surgery. But, as I watched closely, it became apparent that he was writing, “I love you.” He had not been a demonstrative father. However, after that surgery, he ended every visit with “I love you.”

The week before he died, he was scheduled for an epidural injection to try to relieve his back pain. But when he presented for the procedure, his INR (the measure of Coumadin activity in his blood–he was on the anticoagulant because of chronic atrial fibrillation with its risk for stroke) was too prolonged. Some people would say his blood was “too thin.” We went back home with his pain unrelieved.

The day before his death I took him and Mom to lunch at a little café in Judsonia. Like I said, I was finishing my clinicals that fall, and Wednesday was my day off. We had lunch and, as I was dropping them off at their house, he reached in his pocket and pressed something into my hand. It was a hundred-dollar bill. “Daddy, I’m fine. I don’t need this,” I protested. He firmly insisted that I take it. “I want you to have it.” He was proud of my efforts to complete my education. He didn’t live to see me graduate.

Early Thursday morning my phone rang. It was Mom calling for help. “Your dad’s coughing up bright red blood–a lot of it. I don’t know what to do.” I hurriedly dressed and drove the short distance to their house, the house I’d grown up in. When I walked in the bedroom, he greeted me with a hoarse, “A man can’t live like this.” He was pale and tremulous and actively coughing up blood. It was 3 in the morning.

I told him whatever he needed to do was all right, that we would be with him. An ambulance was called, and he was transported to the hospital with the request not to resuscitate if his heart stopped. At the hospital we found that, although he had not taken any Coumadin in days, his INR had continued to climb. He was bleeding into his lungs. The doctor said we might be able to slow things down if we gave him platelets and blood and such, but I knew he was ready to go. My mom and I elected comfort care. We stood beside him, holding his hand and talking to him as he wanted to talk, as he was given some medication to keep him comfortable. He was moved to the CCU for his last hours.

His last words to me were, “I love you, more than you know……” and those words have become my words to tell my children and grandchildren and great-grandchild how much they are loved. As he died, my dad raised slightly in the bed and gazed toward the ceiling. As the light left his eyes, I knew he was joining those who had come to take him home with them.

He was at peace, and so was I. But I miss him still. Thank you for being my dad. For loving me and supporting me in all I did. I love you, Dad, more than you know……….

My life is a circus……..

The classic Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its last performance last month. How sad! But I am here to tell you that the three-ring circus is alive and well, at least in my life…….

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The first ring of my three-ring circus is my role as a tightrope walker. The pressures of living as a baby-boomer, sandwich generation, healthcare professional and aspiring writer keep me precariously balanced. Add to that the pressure of longing to be a Proverbs 31 woman who could care for and provide for her family with the ultimate devotion and skill while serving the Lord and her community selflessly. She lived with a higher purpose, leaving a legacy for her family. She was a master at cultivating family relationships and friendships, old and new, with the ultimate hospitality. And she was to do it all in a 24/7 time frame! Do you think that life is even possible? I find myself constantly longer to be better, accomplish more, live my writing dream. Having impossible goals is not fun! It sets one up for a chronic sense of failure. Even though I know I do accomplish so much, it seems there is always more to be done. My expectations of self set me up to feel inadequate, even as I know that I am doing the best I can. I long to be like a woman of the “greatest generation” who could do so much with so little, for whom hard work was the essence of life. And I have heroes like Mrs. Mildred Sterling, who until just a few years ago was teaching Sunday School as she approached the age of 100 years. Or Mrs. Mary Formby, an extraordinary soul who excelled in intellect, hospitality, grace, and faith. I only hope that at the end of my life I, too, will be able to say as Paul did (and, as Mrs. Formby surely could and as Mrs. Sterling will) :

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

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The second ring of this circus is the world we live in, kissing danger (kissing the enemy?) every day. Terror attacks across the globe are common. There seems to be a pervasive streak of personal violence across our land, with daily reports of murders across our communities. And then there is the overarching danger associated with foreign powers trying to disrupt our democracy coupled with the “vanishing American adult” mentality (see Ben Sasse’s book by the same name) that has resulted in the election of a president who has never before served in private office, a president who values his own opinion above all others, a president who makes his own rules, and a president who disregards the time-honored protocols of our justice system, proven relationships with our allies, and simple human decency and honesty. His promise to “drain the swamp” is resulting in the formation of a more ominous swamp fueled by ego, nepotism, disregard for human rights and emotions, and a corporate executive, as opposed to statesman, mentality. The system of checks and balances as envisioned by the founding fathers is no longer checking or balancing power.  Political party lines, instead of ethical and moral truths, have become the guiding force in our nation’s capital. There is widespread lack of understanding of basic civic principles and, therefore, a tendency for many across our nation to apathetically ignore or excuse what is happening in the nation’s capital. Ring #2 multiplies the stresses of ring #1 exponentially. My only hope is to trust that God is in control, and that His plan will prevail.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9 NKJV)

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Ring # 3 is perhaps the most tragic. For I am seeing in evangelical circles a tendency toward judging others without remembering that we are all sinners, saved only by the grace of a loving God. In the name of Christianity, believers accept the circus in ring #2 as a demonstration of conservative values at work. I am having a crisis of faith. It is not a crisis of whether or not I believe in God. It is not crisis of doubting my salvation. It is a crisis of not understanding how we can call ourselves Christians while demonstrating and endorsing a judgmental and intolerant mentality. It is a crisis of wondering how God’s family can expect everyone to be alike–well-trained Christians who, unprotesting, “go with the flow” instead of demonstrating truly unconditional love for all God’s children, instead of hating the sin, not the sinner, and instead of recognizing the inherent personal rights this country was founded upon. I resist being the well-trained elephant sitting in the pew, obediently accepting everything said and done, silent about my own convictions.  I don’t want to be a well-trained, docile Christian, who never rocks the boat. Maybe sometimes the boat needs to be rocked. I want to be a thoughtful, kind, loving, and faithful member of God’s family, unafraid to recognize, and, if indicated, speak, the truth. Remember, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV)

AND, when questioned about how to punish an adulterous woman,

…..“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” John 8:7c (NKJV)

I, for one, am not without sin. But I am troubled and concerned and tired of the circus. I pray for a change of heart in the United States of America. I pray to turning back, not only to God, but to the fundamental truths of democracy upon which this nation was founded and to ethical and moral behavior. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus may have closed. Let us not let democracy be the next casualty.

 

Seeing the big picture……

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See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

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The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

An open letter to the President Elect…

An open letter to President-Elect Donald J. Trump:

Let me introduce myself. I am a 66 year old baby boomer, born-again Christian, nurse with a Master’s Degree. I have worked almost 40 years in the profession of nursing, the last 20 years as a nurse practitioner in a cardiology practice, all in a small city in central Arkansas. I have to maintain a national certification in nursing to do so. I am married and have children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, so the future of this country is very important to me. You would be most interested to know that I have never registered with a political party and have considered myself an independent voter for all of my adult life but I found myself becoming an “almost” Republican since it had been decades since I voted  for a Democratic presidential candidate–until this year. I’m sure that puts me way down on your list of anyone with anything of any value to say. I doubt that you will ever see what I write. There are some things that I just am compelled to put out there for your consideration, if by some miracle you should see it.

I wish I knew you better. You have been elected President of this great country. I want to respect you. I promise to pray for you. But, through all the debates and tweets and news reports, I feel I have failed to come to know you as a person. Do you read the Bible? Do you pray–sometimes with every breath–as you are making decisions that may make or break this country. Have you read the Constitution? Do you value the Bill of Rights–not just the one about bearing arms, but the one about free speech? As a New Yorker, do you remember the inscription on the Statue of Liberty–the part about sending us your weak and poor? For, you know, other than our Native American brothers, we all come from immigrants–if you trace our lineage back far enough.

You see, somehow, the performances at debates and rallies never let me meet the man that I hope and pray you are. It is unfortunate that there is no “national certification” for one to be eligible to be President of the United States. I confess that all I know about you is that you make lots of promises, you put on a good show, you resent all criticism (and reply with a demeaning tweet about anyone who dares to voice an opinion other than yours), and you are, as promised, turning Washington “upside down”.

I am afraid of so many things that your Presidency may bring. As you select your Cabinet and make some unconventional appointments, as you are blessed with control of both the Senate and the House (and soon, perhaps, the judicial system)–where is the balance of power that our founding fathers designed? I am afraid of some of your promises. The Accountable Care Act has allowed many people in Arkansas to afford healthcare. Please don’t repeal it just because it bears President Obama’s signature. Sure, it’s not perfect, but citizens can at least see a doctor now and get their medicine and go to the hospital with some hope of avoiding bankruptcy or ruined credit. Hospitals can get paid for care previously written off as indigent care. Fix it, don’t repeal it.

I don’t understand your utilization of Twitter. It just doesn’t seem very statesmanlike. Just as I am letting words fly from my computer keys, words I may regret (if I ever post this), you react so quickly to criticisms that are spoken, printed, or inferred by the press or a gifted actress or a news commentator. Let me give you a little tip–much worse things are going to be said during your Presidency because “you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Are you going to react to every incident defensively, demeaning the culprit? At first I assumed that you did it because your ego is so huge. Now I wonder if your self-esteem is poor enough that you have to “take down” anyone who isn’t your fan. You do realize presidential ratings are not like the Nielsen’s? Do you not ever regret a tweet posted in the heat of the moment? I hope you do, because then I could relate to you.

All this is said to remind you that the Presidency is not a reality show–it is reality. The reality of this office demands revealing some part of your humanity–compassion, patriotism, self-control, faith, and most importantly, humility–not just brash boasting about how wonderful you are and how you are going to make America great again. I believe it’s going to take more than you.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

The people of America need to come back to the values that this country was built upon. For too long many Americans have felt that this country owes them something, while they are willing to do nothing to help this country. Too many work the system instead of working a job. Too many protest authority instead of respecting it. Too many take the road of violence to solve their problems, and, thus, create even more problems. Too many have forgotten that “In God We Trust” is this nation’s motto.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. Titus 3:1-2 NIV

This is my pledge, Mr. President Elect, to try to lay aside my doubts about you, to remember that God is in control and that He, in His wisdom, allowed you to win this election, to pray for you, and to pray for this nation. I pray that others, including you, will join me.

Welcome 2017…….

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

I’ve been trying for days to write a blog post. I wrote a really negative one at the end of 2016, listing all the things I was “sick and tired” of. After a good bit of soul searching, I have come to realize that the thing I was most “sick and tired” of was my attitude. Many friends had experienced unexpected loss, and those tragedies once again reminded me of the grief of losing Daniel.  But now a clean slate of new days, new weeks, new months, all under the control of a loving God, who will not leave me to face the bad things that life brings alone, stretches before me. So, I am attending the Survivors of Suicide group this evening, and this is my prayer as a new year begins.

Father God,

You know my tears, my fears, my regrets, and my future. You know the grief of a Son’s death. My understanding of your sacrifice is so much more personal now. Yet, how can I compare my loss to yours? Please forgive me. Help me forget the pain of “former things”, while remembering the love. Strengthen me to avoid dwelling on the past. Lead me to let YOU do the new thing in the year before me.

There are a lot of things that I think you want me to do with my life. Nursing has been one of them. Thank you for the connection I feel with patients and colleagues. Thank you for the feeling that my work makes a difference in lives. Thank you that I have been blessed with the ability to provide for my family (I see so many who have not.)

It has been my belief that writing is also a course you want me to pursue. You seem to be reminding me of that through reminders of “Is the next book finished?” or “likes” on a blog post. Yet, in spite of these messages,  I have wallowed in grief and despondence and depression, and I have failed to invest the time and energy that I should in the work of writing. Forgive me. And help me to do better. Grant thoughts and words that can speak to others, that can encourage or inspire, that can tell a good story while honoring your name. Strengthen my will to persevere in the work, for it is work. Banish procrastination. Focus my mind. May everything that I do be to your honor and glory.

And, Lord, help me always to remember that you have a plan for all my days in this life. Help me to recognize and be faithful to your guidance. At my passing, may it be said that I lived well, loved well, and made a difference in your kingdom and this world.

I pray these things in your beloved Son’s name,

Amen

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14 NIV

May each of you readers have a blessed 2017, filled with the knowledge that God’s love for you is a reality.

A Christmas Gift for You. . .

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I was blessed with a special Christmas gift this year–a gift worth “re-gifting” to all my friends. It fit me just fine on December 23. For the earlier part of that week leading up to Christmas had been particularly dark and painful. My perspective changed on the day that I discovered a special reminder in a lovely devotional book titled Jesus Always by Sarah Young (published by Thomas Nelson, 2016).

The truths I was reminded of that day are not new. However, the  reminder came at a particularly crucial time for me. I was about to drown in grief and sad memories and worry when the reminder of several Biblical truths and imperatives became my life jacket, returning me to the shore of thanksgiving, peace, and joy that should always be our Christmas reality.

Reminder #1: Wait for the Lord.

Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

This is the hardest thing for me to do–to just wait on God’s timing. How I long to “fix” things when I see lives torn apart by addiction and the loss of conscience that it brings! How I tend to withdraw into a place of darkness when my grief is overwhelming! How I try to rush the Lord into answers, all the while knowing that His ways are better than my feeble solutions!

Reminder #2: Seek His face.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Psalm 27:8

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

What a miraculous rest is found in Jesus! He can heal the grief of the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend. He can lift life’s burdens from our shoulders. Have you ever felt those burdens as a physical weight on your shoulders? I have, all too often. Leaving that grief, that worry, that brokenness at Jesus’ feet and resting in the knowledge that His ways are greater than any solutions I might attempt is a lesson that I have to “re-learn” almost daily. After all, He is able to do more that I can ask or imagine……

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

Reminder #3: Hold on to hope.

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Self assessment: How long has it been since I have felt my spirit soar? Am I running the race of faith without weariness? Is my daily walk strengthened by a morning visit with the Lord, centering my mind on Him in prayer? Am I “rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks in all circumstances“? (2 Thessalonians 5:16-18a) Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the absence of a loved one on a birthday or Christmas? In spite of the pain of seeing someone waste a life in the throes of addiction? Even while watching a loved one suffer a terminal illness? Even when a young adult is stretching wings and pushing boundaries and worry about imagined accidents or bad choices overwhelms?

Right now, this morning, this moment, all the Biblical truths mentioned above are fresh in my mind. I am waiting on the Lord. I have sought his face. I  am filled with hope.  I have a spirit of thanksgiving, the peace that passes human understanding, and a desire to share that joy. So, here I am, praying that these words will encourage or comfort or lift up someone who is where I was on December 23. I know I’ll most likely be back there one of these days, when these promises are not so fresh in my memory. I pray that on that day, you will remind me.

Wishing a blessed New Year to each of you………

 

Lovely things…….

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I admit that people think I am little bit crazy because I like cut flowers in the bathroom, typically a rose in a bud vase. One week I was having an especially difficult time at my job as a nurse practitioner–stressful, exhausting, consuming–and my dear sweet daughter surprised me with the above. Because she knows I like having lovely things to greet me in the morning as I prepare for work and in the evening as I prepare for sleep. And some weeks that’s about the only times I have at home!

In the context of all we’ve been through as a nation the past several months and,  as brought to my attention during my “quiet time” devotional this morning, it struck me that maybe more of us need to be noticing “lovely things” throughout the day, whether working, resting, playing, meditating, praying, worshipping–whatever our minds and bodies and hearts are engaged in. Paul said in his letter to the church at Philippi:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8 NKJV

Our world is so focused on not only the disasters and wars and tragedies that happen everyday, but also on the ugly and evil and negative things that might happen. We often have such an “it’s all about me” attitude about election results or the economy or the way our elected officials govern. Isn’t it time that we paid more attention to the lovely things that God has blessed us with? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness and prosperity, freedom to work hard and play hard, freedom to think “outside the box”–freedoms for every one of every race, creed, faith, and political perspective.

If we are meditating on true, noble, just, pure, lovely, things–things of good report and virtue and praiseworthiness, might our attitudes and perspective change? We might dwell more on the beauty of God’s creation and less on the ugliness of man’s actions. We might pray for all of our elected leaders, that they would be agents of God’s plan for this country, putting our personal preferences (and votes–whether winning or losing) aside. We might pray for our nation, that we would turn once again to the founding fathers’ vision for it, as well as the belief that “In God We Trust”. We might be kinder, more civil, more courteous people. At least that’s what I believe.

So, if I want flowers in the bathroom, yes, I guess that makes me a little weird. But, if it helps me remember “lovely things”, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me of the beauty of this world that God has blessed us with, what’s the harm? And, if it reminds me that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and makes me want to serve and help others in any way that I can–is that not a good thing?

The rose isn’t there everyday–that would make it not so special, you see. But, when it is, I am reminded of “lovely things”. And, that helps me be a better me for a better day. Wishing all of you “lovely” thoughts and better days……..