Sisterhood……..

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Since my last blog I’ve been thinking a lot, appreciating all those who said it helped their grief to read about mine. I guess I’m being a bit feminist, but it inspired in me the notion to consider all the “sisterhoods” we women inhabit. The picture above, circa 1978, records the three married female students in the Beta class of the Carr School of Nursing at Harding University. We were “sisters” in the journey to complete our education as baccalaureate prepared registered nurses. We studied together, laughed together, cried together, doubted we would ever finish together. We are still dear long-distance friends.

Then I think about my sisters in Christ. Believers bonded together by a common faith in Jesus Christ and followers of his teachings. Prayer partners, prayer warriors, teachers, mentors. We comfort and encourage each other. The elderly model Christian womanhood for the younger and the younger for the even younger. Then, suddenly, at some point comes the realization that we have reached the age of being the “core” of the local church, as elderly saints pass the mantle of leadership to us.

Of course, there are biological sisters. I have none. But I have a beloved sister-in-law who would do anything for me. She has always welcomed me into the family as true family, not just some interloper that she tolerates because her brother (thank the Lord) loves me! She is one of the most gracious, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and hard-working individuals that I have ever known.

There is the sisterhood of nursing. We share a special bond, one of seeking to heal and comfort, protect and advocate for our patients. (People say “clients” now, but that just seems wrong–we are caregivers and they are patients!) Our humor is sometimes more than a little dark. We can spot manipulation from a hall away. We work as partners with the medical caregivers who share in our goal of helping people work through the reality of healing or face the inevitable death of this body. We cry together when we see suffering that we cannot “fix”, and we grieve together when the loss of some newborn or child or dear nursing colleague or “special” patient dies. We are a special sisterhood, seeing life both at its beginning and its end, privilege to the most private moments of our patients’ lives.

We mustn’t forget the sisterhood of friendship. Life would be such a drag without it!Friends laugh together, have fun together, commiserate with each other, support each other, acknowledge each other as special people in their world. Our lives would be forlorn and lonely existences without our friends. There are lifelong friends, like the two pictured above (I am the one on the far right.) Months may go by without a word, but the conversation seems to pick up just where it left off with each text or call or, strange concept, handwritten note. I am grateful to have multiple sisterhoods of friends–work friends, church friends, old school friends, forever friends.

Most of the comments I have received on my last blog belong to a special sisterhood–the sisterhood of loss of a loved one.  There are many “focus” groups within this sisterhood. Some have lost children–fatal illness, tragic accident, suicide, accidental overdose. Many have lost husbands, that life partner, love of one’s life, that made one whole, but now left behind as the lone part of the pair that should have lasted forever.Some have lost parents–cancer, heart disease, the many maladies that tear down our bodies. Some losses have come in the very aged, a slow, drawn out, wasting away. Some have come in the form of dementia that robs one of the loved one’s self, while their body lives on. Some losses are sudden, striking without warning, totally unexpected–accidental or sudden death. Some have lost siblings, the quality of the relationship filling one either with happy memories of childhood together or sadness over bonds broken by some foolish misunderstanding, stubbornness, or neglect and time wasted.

I guess (hope, strive, long) to belong to the sisterhood of writers. The ones for whom therapy comes in the form of the written word. We have to record our thoughts and share them in some format, sometimes to entertain, sometimes to comfort, sometimes to just share our humanity with the unseen reader world. We long to connect with the reader, to stimulate a response, to open a window into ourselves as we express our thoughts.

I wonder, female readers, how many of these sisterhoods find you in their roster? I’d love to hear about more sisterhoods, because I’m sure many others are out there, living, breathing entities that make life more bearable. And we are blessed to have them.

 

All things Downton. . .

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I confess to being a latecomer to Downton fandom. It was toward the end of the third season before, tired of hearing conversations about people and places I just didn’t know, I took the leap and became totally addicted. My daughter and I then, in a viewing frenzy, attempted to quench our thirst for all details of Downton’s past by viewing seasons one, two, and the totality of season three on DVD. Ah, the satisfaction! Season four was savored in real time as we DVR’d each episode and saved it for a time we could view together–sometime that the male members of our household were otherwise occupied. And now we are likewise engrossed in a week by week feast of the people and plots of Downton. And now I see, as I “shop PBS” that the Season 5 DVD (U.K.Edition) is “available, in stock, and leaves warehouse in 1-2 full business days”, along with a FREE Downton Abbey Sampler Pack of 6 Teas!! Who would have thought you could see Season 5 in one marathon viewing session before the rest of its devotees have seen episode four?

I’ve been attempting to decipher the elements of our attraction to the Downton Abbey saga. This is a very complex issue. I do love the fashions. The costuming is veritable eye candy, even when worn by Dowager Lady Grantham. Of interest are the different fashion tastes that have been apparent as one compares Lady Mary’s attire with that of her sisters Lady Edith and, the now deceased Lady Sybil. And then there’s cousin Rose to consider, with her youthful, rebellious, yet charming ways.

Then there’s the more intellectual enticement of the morsels of historical facts that are strewn throughout the plot. The reign of King George the V of Great Britain is the backdrop for this tale of aristocracy and those who serve them. The sinking of the Titanic claimed the lives of Lord Grantham’s cousins, James and Patrick, and we all remember his distress that a mere third cousin once removed thus became his heir. The horror of the Great War (WW I) did not leave the household unscathed. Topics of socialism, racism, sexuality, and women’s rights pervade the story. There’s more here than just romance.

But, romance there is. Sometimes my Bible-belt morality is, indeed, a bit taken aback by the turns and twists of relationships, but, through it all, one finds oneself developing a fondness for the all-too-human characters and their frailties.

But, at this moment, on this day, I think the thing that enchants me most is the freedom that the aristocracy has to pursue various interests. After all, they don’t clean. They don’t shop for food. They don’t cook. They don’t do laundry, nor do they mend clothing or polish shoes. They don’t drive or dress themselves. They have all the time in the world to do whatever appeals to their fancy.

That sounds rather, well, tacky of me, doesn’t it? You have to understand my life at the moment. I try to be an excellent healthcare provider, which occupies a major portion of my time. At my house there is cleaning and laundry and shopping and cooking to be done, and, trust me, I seem to do a lot of it. There are demands on my time that I prioritize highly–teaching a Sunday School class, singing with the church choir as we lead worship, daily devotion, regular worship, acts of service. I do not begrudge these things–they bring me joy. Yet, there is the “other thing”. I long to be a productive writer. This is the thing that gets placed on the back burner, shoved to the back of the line, listed last on “things to do today”. And, somehow, someway, I must find the discipline to make the time, focus the mind, and, as Nike puts it, just do it. Because I am convinced I am meant to do it. I am convinced I have things to say.

Perhaps they are not great things in the literary sense–I’m rather sure they’re not. But words that inspire, entertain, and tell a story–the act of drafting, editing, and sharing words like that is, perhaps, another calling for my life, just as nursing has been.

So, dear reader, send a prayer my way that I will find my way, please?

A tribute. . . .

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This time of year always makes me a bit sad. Three years ago on November 11th I was watching BlueBloods when the phone rang. It was my niece, Lisa, calling to tell me that my older brother, C.S. “Robby” Roberson was dying. The next few days would be etched in my memory unlike any other piece of my life. That’s Robby–the picture above–but I didn’t know him at the time that photo was made. I think that was his senior picture perhaps, maybe about 1962. A handsome guy. At that time I was aware of his existence but had no idea how our lives would come together and how important he would become to me, how his death would change me.

You see, Robby and I are products of the same father but different mothers. Our dad was first married to Robby’s mom, who gave birth to his brother, Bob,  and him. That was wartime–World War II–and when Dad was sent to Guam, like so many “dear John” stories, his wife moved on, establishing herself in California and the two boys with her, blocking any and all attempts for him to have a relationship with his sons. When Dad was discharged from the army, he returned to his roots here in Arkansas, met my mother, married, and fathered me and my brother, Alan. We were marginally aware we had two brothers in California. They seemed a world away.

Yet the story didn’t end there. In 1989 I received a call from my cousin, Janet. In one of those convoluted family stories, it seems that Dad’s first wife was sister to his brother’s wife. Therefore, Janet is cousin to both Robby and me. Robby had developed a curiosity, a hunger if you will, to know more about his siblings in Arkansas, and he had called her to see if he could possibly get photographs of us. Instead of sending pictures, she called me and gave me his contact information. I am forever grateful to her. Shortly thereafter, I made “the call”, announced that I was his sister, was cautiously received, and there the real story begins.

The first years of our relationship were a bit difficult. Our brother Bob had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying. Robby was very preoccupied with that tragedy. I, on the other hand, just wanted to reunite Dad with Bob before that was made impossible by either’s death. Robby was very protective of Bob, who had never come to terms with Dad’s absence from their lives, and nixed the proposal. I only once spoke with my brother Bob, on his birthday (maybe his last one). I got his phone number somehow and repeated “the call”, introducing myself as his sister, and cordially wishing him a happy birthday. He was polite but obviously uninterested, and there our nonexistent relationship ended. I thought that perhaps my relationship with Robby would soon suffer a similar fate.

But God had other plans. Robby and I chatted on the phone and wrote letters (yes, “snail mail” with stamps and everything), and, ultimately, exchanged e-mails. His letters were written on long yellow legal pads with a blue fountain pen, and he always signed them with some combinations of the signature, “Robby, your brother, Me”. We grew to know each other. We shared the current events of our lives. He talked about doing a “stake out” as a vice cop in Long Beach. I told him about my daughter’s baptism, and he commented with some dismay, “You’re not one of those ‘born again’ people, are you?” “Yes”, I replied firmly. That’s when he told me that he was an atheist. “There’s nothing after we die. That’s the end of it all.” I was troubled but knew not to push the point.

Then, call it fate, destiny, coincidence, or the hand of God, we met. I was in San Francisco at a healthcare conference. He said it was a short flight from Long Beach to San Francisco, so he and his girlfriend flew up. I think he needed a buffer for our meeting. I had one, my coworkers, who were eager to witness this reuniting of siblings. He appeared at the door of my hotel room with a rose and a striking resemblance to our brother, Alan. They had different mothers, it is true, but I guess our dad’s genes were dominant because they had the same mannerisms, expressions, vocal inflections. And, both were cops.

Robby wined and dined all of us girls, with an emphasis on the wine. I left the encounter with the sense that he was probably alcoholic, which was proven true as our relationship continued to develop. But, develop it did. The next step was taking Dad to California to meet his son and grandchildren. Then Robby came here, dismayed to find it is a “dry” county. However, he found an economy size vodka (which I think my dad poured down the drain when he thought his son was drinking too much). He and Dad talked a lot on that visit, giving Robby a better understanding of the events of his childhood and bringing Dad some closure as his health began to fail. Robby was back when Dad, after a difficult heart surgery (trouble restarting his heart when it was time to come off the pump), asked me to “call Robby”.

Then came the first surprise call from Lisa. Robby was near death with bleeding from his stomach related to his alcoholism. He was taking prescription meds with the alcohol. His home was in disarray. It was obvious now that he wasn’t just a drinker, he was an alcoholic and was drinking himself to death. He was hospitalized and, after an intervention by his family and friends, signed himself in to rehab. I wasn’t able to be there but faxed my plea for his sobriety and life.

Our relationship made a shift. On one of his visits to Arkansas, he attended Easter service at church with us. On one of my visits to him, I gifted him with a Bible. On another trip to Long Beach, he asked what I wanted to see or do on my visit. I asked to attend church there with my family, and he was right by my side. I remember being a little surprised when he recited the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly with the rest of us, until I remembered that it is integral to AA’s meetings. The girls told me they sometimes observed him to be reading the Bible, when he thought no observers were present. My daughter sent me to Long Beach for R & R with my brother, and he took me to Catalina. On the ferry back to Long Beach our boat was “socked in” by the heaviest fog I had ever experienced. I remember Robby in the bow of the boat with a watchful, vigilant expression, as though he had every sense dialed up a notch. I knew then our situation could have been a bit perilous!

Then, one early fall day in September, I’m not really sure of the year, I think perhaps 2007, Robby called. “Are you sitting down?” he asked, and then proceeded to share with me that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. In my nurse mind, I feared the worst but, of course, said nothing of the sort to him. He had surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. He by then had retired to Idaho and was fortunate to have access to an excellent cancer center. When we made a road trip to Yellowstone in 2010 we made a long detour to visit. I was somewhat reluctant to “drop in” uninvited, but my husband insisted. I had sensed Robby’s deep-seated need for privacy as his e-mails had almost stopped. I knew things were not going well. He was a shadow of himself.  His voice had changed. He still had difficulty swallowing but gamely ate some of his favorite white chili and blueberry cobbler. We headed home the next day. I thought I was saying good-bye.

Then came “the call” of another variety. Not a call of introduction, but a call of announcement. Robby was dying, in hospice. He had not asked for me, but his daughters thought I would want to know. I was on a plane the next morning and by his side that afternoon. The girls told me that he had visited with the hospital chaplain before his transfer to hospice. He had “made his peace” with God. They said he had prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, too, and that he expressed gratitude for his sister, Kat. There is a lump in my throat as I type these words. Three days later, on November 15th, Robby exited the pain of this life and entered a better place.

Why do I write this now? In remembrance. In thanksgiving. In love for a dear, good man who truly made a difference in my life. Robby was intelligent, strong, and full of passion for life. He was a good father, and I suspect, an even better grandfather. (Most of us are better the second time around, I think.) He was admired as a peace officer. He was my brother, friend, confidante, and adviser during some very difficult passages of my life. I miss him everyday, this remarkable  tower of a man that I was honored and blessed to know as my brother. I needed to reflect and share and give tribute to his life, for he is now part of who I am.

Robby and me on Catalina Island.
Robby and me on Catalina Island.

I love you and miss you, Robby, more than you know.

Out of the fog…………….

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Sometimes my mind is like this fog. Details are fuzzy. Focus is absent. Clarity of thought seems impossible. Thoughts weigh heavy and gray in the corridors of my mind. It may be disappointment or worry, grief or exhaustion,  frustration or anger, depression or distraction that renders my mind temporarily incapable of orderly, logical action. On mornings like that I just long to retreat from the responsibilities which await me. To my mind and body it seems that the best course of action would be to crawl back between the covers, burrowing down into that warm little world that I just left behind, feeling the comfort of my husband’s presence beside me, and just refusing to show up for the day’s activities. But, on most days………

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the fog gradually begins to disperse as the sun’s rays break through. I need the light to illuminate my mind and warm my heart, but how? It cannot come from my determination, for that is weak. Nor from my physical strength, for I feel I have none. The will to persevere comes only from God’s grace and the ultimate light that shines forth from His love.  I try to encourage myself to open to that light, to lean on His loving arms as they lift me up, to yield to His gentle prodding as He encourages me to carry on the work of this life. And, at last………..

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the day breaks forth in my soul, bright and clear. The blue sky is reflected in the pond as the gentle wind turns the windmill, which offers a lesson within itself. The head of the windmill turns, you know, seeking the strongest breeze. And, when it finds that stream of air, it stops in place as the wind turns the blades to create power for the pump which oxygenates the water. What if we kept our hearts and minds in constant search of the strongest stream of God’s spirit, constantly adjusting our vision and attitude and attention to seek His will for the day? And, what if, as we located the power surge of God’s spirit, we paused and let its refreshing, rejuvenating, energizing, inspiring force flow through us to bring light and love to the world around us? What would this world be like then?

Lord, grant me the grace and strength to lean on you and to seek your power this day.

A dream coming true. . . . .

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Above you see evidence of a dream coming true–the “physical proof” of my first novel. It seems I’ve dreamed of being a writer all my life. As a matter of fact, I guess I have been a writer, but, perhaps now, I’m becoming an author.

The book is NOT the “great American novel” by any stretch of one’s imagination. It is simply an inspirational romance which celebrates life in small southern towns, where life is often centered around the church. It is a love story but very “pure” by today’s standards, reminiscent of Grace Livingston Hill and Emilie Loring novels that I read as a young girl. Those novels proved to me that love stories can be inspirational and pure, yet still entertaining. I hope and pray that there are some who will still find that style of writing enjoyable and uplifting.

But, most of all, as I have seen this project come to fruition, I have become more aware of the very good things that God has blessed me with in this life. A good education, the profession of nursing, loving and supportive family and friends. And, most of all, faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As I was kindly rejected by a literary agent, I remember telling him that God would do what He wanted with this story, for it was His. And, it is His. Seeing it come to life has inspired me to try harder, do better, be kinder, be more faithful.

And so, whether it is commercially successful or not, whether it receives positive or negative reviews, whether readers find the characters as charming as I do or not, it is a success. Because dreams come true for very few, and I am one of the lucky (blessed) ones. And this process has made me a better person.

The Gardener Inside Me (or, Am I Becoming My Mother?)

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For the past ten days, I have been gifted with time–time to catch up on neglected tasks, time to bring order to my surroundings, time to enjoy my family, time to think and be and do–without the pressures of schedules or work or exhaustion. It has been a blessed time. And, a bonus is the sense of hope and peace and calm that it has brought to my life. Tomorrow the respite ends, but I pray that I will be able to hold onto that serene spirit as I reenter the work world. Above you see evidence of one of the pleasant days that I shared with my family–specifically, one morning at a local garden center with my mother.

You see, Mom is a gardener. If we had been more affluent as I was growing up, I am sure that she would have been a member of the garden club and, most likely, a Master Gardener. (Instead of waiting tables at a local diner and then working at a hospital, starting in housekeeping and retiring from work in the central sterilizing department of surgery.) She has the gift of making things grow, and she has a heart for the beauty of God’s flowering plants. Her 88th birthday is approaching, and family, friends, and acquaintances often comment how young she seems. Just this week it dawned upon me that gardening (and a big, fat, tiger-striped cat) are two of the ingredients contributing to her youthful spirit.

She comes by the love of growing things honestly. She was a devoted daughter, and we made weekly trips to my grandparents’ place when I was growing up. A part of each visit was always a walk around the yard to ooh and ah over the latest bloom on the rose or cactus, iris or daylily, or, perhaps, a tomato or cucumber plant. As a child, I was less than impressed with the two adult women as they carefully observed each plant and commented on how nicely it was doing or discussed possible cures for an ailing bush. My grandmother, of course, has been gone for many years, and now I frequently hear my mother say, “You have to stop by now and see the blooms on my gardenia” or “My azaleas are so pretty this year–be sure and look at them when you pass”. “The Easter flowers (daffodils) are so pretty this year and I have so many kinds,” she would say as she delivered an arrangement of the same to grace the dining table at our home. And, on my daily stops I ooh and ah over each new bloom, just as I heard her doing so many years ago.

And, surprise of all surprises, there was I yesterday morning, picking out lantanas and some climbing miniature sunflower-like thing and an asparagus fern, and enjoying every minute of it. Perhaps some genetic plant-loving predisposition has lain dormant in me until I became appropriately mature and appreciative of the botanical world. And, appropriately mature and appreciative of my mother. Or perhaps I am, as I am told all daughters do, becoming my mother.

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It would be one of the best things that ever happened to me, for a more loving, beloved, and godly woman would be hard to find. I often hear it said that she has the sweetest and most loving and kind spirit. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here’s to you Mom, a cutting of Aunt Georgia’s rubber plant repotted by your daughter, to grow in memory of your departed sister. Now, if it will only grow for me like it would for you! Nonetheless, I love you, more than you know.

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Self assessment (the Pythagorean way)………..

I came across this poem, which is attributed to Pythagoras. (And I just thought he was the mathematical genius who contrived the Pythagorean Theorem!) Here is the version I found:

What have I learnt where’ere I’ve been,
From all I’ve heard, from all I’ve seen?
What know I more that’s worth the knowing?
What have I done that’s worth the doing?
What have I sought that I should shun?
What duties have I left undone?

The little verse struck me as being worth both pondering and applying as sort of a self-assessment. We Americans are all about evaluation and continuous improvement, right? Just consider that we get links to complete satisfaction surveys at the bottom of all fast food receipts, as well as department and discount store receipts. The Chevy place that sold us our cars sends e-mail surveys after every service encounter. (And, when I don’t complete them, they call on the phone!) Hospitals devote money and manpower to tracking and trying to improve patient and family satisfaction.

So, I am setting out to evaluate myself according to Pythagoras’ model.

1. What have I learned? I have learned that God is good, all the time, and He has gifted us with a beautiful world to enjoy. I have learned to look for the best in people. I have learned to pursue my dreams. I have learned to take heed and act when some small voice nudges my heart to write a note or make a call or invite someone’s participation in a project. I have learned that being faithful as a Christian requires perseverance and deliberate effort, and that, even with my best efforts, I will slip and fall and have to climb back onto the pathway that is the Christian walk. I have learned that a loving husband can make this life unbelievably joyful. And, I have learned so much more. Trying to wrap my head around all the possible answers to this question overwhelms me. What would be your answer(s)?

2. What do I know that’s worth the knowing? Knowing Jesus in a saving relationship is valuable beyond measure. Knowing how to manage money, keep a neat and clean living space, be dependable at work, do my job to the best of my ability (that includes my nursing skill, I think)–these are critical to just surviving, right? Knowing how to get along with people–that’s a big one–and work in a group to accomplish goals. Knowing just how much I DON’T know–there’s the heart of knowledge and wisdom, I think. Your answer?

3. What have I done that’s worth the doing? Giving my heart and life to my Lord, Jesus Christ. Completing my education as a nurse. Teaching a Sunday School class. Raising a family. Marrying the love of my life. Loving and watching after my parents. Meeting my brother Robby after a lifetime apart and becoming the best of friends (there’s quite a story there) and the blessing of having his family as my family now in his absence. Being a superior chooser of children’s books and gifting them to friends and family (she said rather sheepishly!) I’m sure you all have many worthwhile accomplishments. Pat yourselves on the back. Now!

In case you haven’t noticed by now, this self-examination thing can be difficult (when it comes to actually acknowledging the good) and painful (regarding the next two questions, which I face with trepidation).

4. What have I sought that I should have shunned? The fast and easy road to anything that is good. And other things that I’m certainly not confessing to strangers! I am, however, acknowledging certain ugly attitudes and critical thoughts and negative motives that have sometimes characterized my words and actions. I will not press you to answer this one. It hurts.

5. What duties have I left undone? This is a good one, because, although I feel guilty about my times of procrastination or laziness or neglect of the “next best thing” upon which to focus my attention, this one can, in some regard, be rectified. Again, I won’t bore you with the details of my omissions–just be aware that I recognize them. Maybe we can all resolve to do better in this regard!

Life after all is about learning, wherever we go, whatever we hear and see. Life choices and experiences all impact the worth of what we know and the value of deeds done. Human nature drives us to seek what we should shun and leads us to omit duties that should be done. Thank you for bearing with me in my time of self-assessment. May you be blessed by your consideration of this glimpse into Pythagorean philosophy. It spoke to me.

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