Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cows and Breast Cancer

Thank goodness for the cows. Yesterday my husband and I went to a local tree farm with Caroline, our youngest, to select our Christmas tree, a tradition we do each year. (This year, however, my other two children couldn't join us and we had their blessing to go ahead without them).

The three of us plodded along in the cold, biting wind, scanning the horizon for the "perfect tree" only to find that in most cases, the tree that had caught our attention from a distance was in fact either previously tagged, or was too tall, too bare, or just not quite right. My patience was running thin as my toes were becoming noticeably numb.

Caroline, being the astute animal lover that she is, spotted several cows grazing in the field located just adjacent to the tree farm. Although a barbed wire fence separated her from the cows, she quietly walked up to the them, and she carefully extended her hand through the fence to pet them. Several cows began to walk toward her, but none of them ventured close enough for her to touch. Her excitement mounted, however, and she quickly, albeit temporarily, abandoned the idea of finding the right Christmas tree.

At first I just wanted to walk over to her and tell her to leave the cows alone, that we needed to select a tree, cut it down, and head on home. The sun was almost completely lost behind the horizon by now, and my fingertips were feeling the drop in temperature. I had fish at home waiting to be marinated, and I was hungry. Caroline, on the other hand, was totally oblivious. Her focus was on those cows, talking to them in a soft and comforting voice.

I stepped back a bit and couldn't help but see things differently - through her eyes. She is a girl of eleven years of age, and the innocence that exuded from her tiny frame as she tried to coax the cows to come to her, well, it stopped me in my tracks. There won't be many more times when she will feel drawn to pet some dirty cows in the chill of winter. Experience with my other two older children has shown me that. As they enter their teen years, children grow, mature, and quickly shed the child-like innocence that we as adults have lost decades ago. And you know what? I let her watch those cows. I let her keep trying to touch one, and then another, through that barbed fence. I let her relish in the cold evening air, without noise, cares, or hurries.

Caroline, my husband, and I stood there looking at those cows for almost 20 minutes. She liked how they seemed to enjoy rubbing their faces along a large, fallen dead tree, and she smiled as the branches also provided a gratifying back scratch for them. She looked into their dark, warm eyes. One or two cows coughed, sending a puff of warm breath into the chilly air, and this caused Caroline to laugh out loud as only little girls can do.

Finally, we found a tree that was just what we wanted and headed back to the barn where we paid for it and chatted a bit to the shivering lady standing behind the wooden table. Then, almost as if on cue, I turned around and saw a couple that we had met about 2 years ago when we were searching for a new church. I hadn't seen her in nearly two years. We talked for a bit, and the woman shared with me that she was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She'd had surgery two days before Thanksgiving.

Her statement created a whirlwind of emotions within me: disbelief, empathy, fear, instant bonding, and of course concern for her. We chatted for quite some time, but it was the look in her eyes that was the most captivating. She asked me some of the very same questions that I'd asked other survivors when I was first diagnosed. Her questions ranged from hair loss to nausea, treatments to exercise. Her eyes were fixed on my own, waiting for the answers, searching my eyes for responses and making notes, mentally "writing down" my responses as quickly as she could. "I'll call you," she said as we parted. And I hope she does. But if she doesn't, I will definitely call her.

What do the cows have to do with this story? Simple: If Caroline hadn't stopped to really look at the cows, we would have missed seeing the woman with breast cancer. And the opportunity to speak to her in a way that only other survivors can - with sheer honesty and valuable experience - would have been lost.

I am just so thankful that I felt God's calling to wait for the cows with Caroline, because we just never know what opportunity may be waiting for us around the corner, even in a cold barn.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Positive Relationship

Whatever the cause, my nerves are frazzled. Maybe it's the hormones. Or perhaps a full moon will be upon us soon. Perhaps it's the fact that my husband's been out of town for a few days, my son's at college, and there's just not quite enough testosterone within our home necessary to mitigate all the estrogen and progesterone floating around. My daughters, ages 14 and 11, have been bickering with each other. A lot. Not full-blown arguments. Just the annoying, continuous eye-rolling, mixed with the sarcastic comments, added to the what-in-the-world-are-you-talking-about look that accompanies the simplest of questions. Neither daughter claims to have "started" any of the heated discussions, yet both feel the need to release the final word, or provide the last look of disdain, or make the last annoying sound. Sounds like the clicking of the tongue, or the audible clearing of the throat.

What is it with women/girls? My experience as a nurse, mom, wife, sister and daughter tells me that men don't act this way. They just don't. It's almost as if men simply don't have the time for such silliness. In its simplest form, maybe when young women behave in this manner it is a way for them to "rehearse" the skills necessary for survival - to win out the other women in search of finding the strongest mate. But how is a mom supposed to cope with the daily "survival of the fittest" role playing that takes place in her own living room?

I'd read somewhere once that according to some studies, there is a higher divorce rate among parents that have 2 or more daughters than among those with two or more sons. Good thing that my husband is out of town this week.

Funny thing is that I remember bickering with my own sister, when we were younger, decades ago. Maybe it's genetics? Maybe I have a dominate trait for bickering that was passed on to my offspring. Oh dear. This is getting more and more somber as I write.

I think that at this very moment, now that my two young daughters are finally tucked away in their beds sleeping peacefully, now would be a perfect time for me to settle down with a glass of my favorite wine, and wrap myself in one of my coziest afghans with a good book that I have been waiting to finish. There are some days when I need to remind myself that this too will pass. After all, my mom made it through - survived it all, if you will - so I know that I can, too.

I don't know if there's any validity to the relationship between divorce rates and raising daughters. But I'll bet that, compared to moms with sons, there is definitely a positive relationship between moms with daughters and the amount of gray hair on their heads!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Men and Pants

Okay, I need a little help here. Today when I walked into my favorite quaint restaurant, I noticed something that I've never seen before. Standing at the counter was a very large man. Probably at least 6-feet 4-inches. Masculine features. The odd thing about it was that he was wearing a skirt.

One may be wondering if the person in question was really a man. After all, initially all I could see was the back of this person. And I noticed the long, flowing, black hair, and yes ... that tan skirt. Perhaps the person standing at the counter was indeed a very tall and overweight female.

But as soon as he turned around to secure a seat, my observation was correct, and I couldn't help but notice his dark mustache.

Men just don't wear skirts in the small conservative town where I live. They just don't.

My husband was with me, so after sitting down at a small table together, I asked his opinion. The only reason he could think of was that the man was so large that finding comfortable pants wasn't possible. Men really do that when they have no other option?

So, my question is this: Why do you think this man dressed in this manner? I truly am not trying to judge, and please forgive me if I sound judgmental. I am just very perplexed as to why he would go out in public like that. Any thoughts?

Friday, September 17, 2010


A few weeks ago, my daughter tried out for the high school's volleyball team. She's a freshman this year. Both my daughters had decided to switch and are now attending the public school instead of the smaller, private one. Melissa had reasoned that one of the best ways to fit in, and to quickly become acclimated to a new school, was to try out for a team sport, namely volleyball.

The first scheduled day for try-outs was a particularly humid Monday morning. Melissa awoke at the crack of dawn, changed her clothes, and stuffed half a banana into her mouth. She had proudly donned her new sneakers, spotless white knee pads, and loose-fitting, comfortable mesh shorts. I drove her to the high school, and noticed her trembling slightly as she walked into her new school. Watching the door to the gymnasium close behind her, I said a silent prayer and drove back home.

Four hours later, I picked her up at the back of the school. What Melissa didn't realize was that unlike her, the majority of the other girls at try-outs had played volleyball competitively in past years. Along with their ultra-competitive style, the first thing that she noticed was their perfect attire, which also screamed of confidence. Melissa conveyed to me that all the other girls wore matching flat shoes designed specifically for volleyball and knee pads that had obviously been worn for several seasons and were now gray and tattered. The general look was completed by each girl sporting the same type of small, tightly fitting lycra shorts, that according to Melissa, "showed everything!" She said that she was "terrible" and stood out like a sore thumb. Every serve, according to Melissa, fell short of the net.

Disappointed, she had relayed to me that she just didn't fit in. Sobbing, she had told me that some of the other girls were mean to her, often yelling at her when she hadn't mastered the detailed "patterns" that came so easily to them. Her confidence waning with each sentence, I listened and put my hand on hers to try to comfort her trembling body as I drove. I wasn't sure if her red face was a result of the heat, or of the humiliation she was trying so desperately to hide behind.

My heart broke for he as she spoke. I told her that she didn't have to go back to the second and final day of try-outs. I also said that I would leave the decision totally up to her, but that she would most likely run into those girls in the halls at school. If that happened, how would she feel? We talked about her going to the final day of try-outs. If she dropped out now, did she want the others to remember her as the "new" girl, who couldn't do the drills, and who dressed in long baggy shorts when every volleyball player knows that those are no longer in style?

The next morning, I heard Melissa's alarm go off, just as it had the day before. And she came downstairs for breakfast, dressed for try-outs.

I drove her to the school for the second day, told her I was proud of her, and watched her walk into the building. Just as before, the door to the gym closed behind her. This time, however, my prayer was followed by a lone tear.

That afternoon, she informed me that she didn't make the team. But she said something that surprised me. She looked at me in the eye and said, "You know, Mom, I'm glad that I went back. Now I know what to expect for next year."

Melissa may never try out for volleyball again, or perhaps, with a little practice, one day she'll surprise herself and make the team. But in my book, she's not only a courageous player in this game called life, she's mastered one of the toughest drills of all: perseverance.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Kids are resilient. My previous post described the cute little bunny that Caroline and her friend rescued from the basement window well several weeks ago.

Caroline just adored this creature; each morning she'd waken earlier than most children during summer vacation and stroke, feed, pamper, and coddle her new bunny. But as nature would dictate, one morning after I'd returned home from running errands, Caroline's countenance said it all: The bunny died.

She had told me how she found the poor creature, and how she even tried to revive it by giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation through a straw. Poor child. I pictured her using a straw in a vain attempt to breathe life into this creature; her efforts, unfortunately, were useless. Her tears fell hard, and even though I never really wanted that rabbit in the first place, it was very difficult for me to swallow the lump that formed in my own throat. My eyes watered slightly, not because of the rabbit's death, but because of the effect the rabbit's life had had on my daughter.

But she buried the bunny in the back yard, and Mystie, our dog continues to sniff that area and is at a loss as to what could possibly be there.

Now, weeks later, the bunny is a distant memory in Caroline's mind. Her focus has returned to where it had been before the bunny ever came into her life, namely, her time with friends, playing her guitar, and teaching her puppy silly tricks.

I'm sure that she will always remember the bunny that she rescued from the window well, and how she held it and tried to keep it alive. For more than a week, her love overflowed onto that little creature, and even though it's gone, her memories of Thumper will most likely linger for years, if not for the rest of her life.

And you know, I don't think that I'll soon forget it either. It made me realize how something so seemingly insignificant can impact a little girl forever.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friend or Foe?

Meet our newest family member. Yes, Caroline and the sweet girl next door found this little guy along with his two siblings in the backyard yesterday. One of the tiny hares hopped away (lucky for him) and the other two were homeless, and according to the girls' account, motherless. It appears that the two lone bunnies are now officially, as far as the girls see it, adopted; one was taken in by the neighbor, and the other by my daughters.

I know, I know, it's cute as a bunny, and it couldn't have a sweeter disposition, but LET'S FACE IT - this creature will grow up! And he'll become the menace that tortures me incessantly.

Last spring, right around this time of year, my beautiful pink - and nearly four-feet high - star lilies were just on the verge of blooming, their buds almost ready to burst with color. Like a mother who nurtures her newborn baby with tender care, I watched and watered those lilies meticulously, my anticipation growing with each passing day. One morning while I sipped my coffee at the table, I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted it - a rabbit - most likely this little one's mama, (or aunt, or cousin or sister, or ... you get it) stretching up on her hind quarters, nibbling at the robust, juicy leaves located at the base of my lilies! I flew out the door and clapped my hands vigorously, but it was too late; she had chewed the stalks raw. The leaves had been sheered off from the ground up to about twelve inches of the plant. I almost cried, literally. And I'd hoped that not too much damage had been done. But, I was wrong. Most of the buds never had a chance to open, at least not completely.

So now what's a mom to do when her ten-year-old walks into the house wearing a smile larger than life, cradling this bundle of joy in her tiny hands? Upon seeing his little whiskers twitching in a way that just highlighted his innocence, I, of course, immediately experienced a hair-raising flashback of my gorgeous phantom lilies that never saw the light of day. I tried so very hard to explain to Caroline that bunnies need to be outside - and they need to be free - to roam with their families and friends.

My logic and reasoning didn't work.

"But Hoppity will die out there!" she squealed. Hoppity? She'd already named it; the die was cast.

After I again explained to Caroline that the bunnies eventually damage plants and flowers in my garden, she thought for a moment and then cried, "Well, we can put a shock collar on it so that it won't go too far into the street or into the flower beds!"

Of course! Why didn't I think of that? Let's do all we can to keep the bunnies in our yard, including using behavioral shock therapy!

And here we are, twenty-four hours later, when another irony pops up: would you believe that we are actually planning to make a trip to the pet store to buy one of those small water bottles with the little metal tube that attaches to the side of the hamster cage (which she drug up from the basement) - just to make his little life more pleasant!?!

And all this for a rabbit who is just waiting to devour my beautiful flowers once he's free.

Any advice out there? Please! Help!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Hamster's Wheel

Don't underestimate the power of a hamster.

At 7:00 A.M. my alarm clock's annoying buzzing sound jolted me from deep inside a wonderful dream, whereby I instantly woke up my family members, insisted they ate some breakfast as they appeared from their bedrooms, rushed my girls out the door so that we'd make it to church on time, after which we headed to Target to pick up a gift for my daughter's art teacher who recently had a baby boy, scarfed down lunch at Subway with my family, drove my youngest to her art class with the baby gift in hand, then drove my other daughter to horseback riding lessons, where it occurred to me that we were out of toilet paper so I stopped to pick some up, then I raced to get my girls after their respective lessons, and FINALLY returned home to chop up nuts to take to an ice cream social at church scheduled to take place in less than an hour.

I don't know, but I always thought that weekends were supposed to be a bit more relaxing than this, right?

Has anybody ever feel like you're the silly little hamster forever spinning around in that proverbial wheel? And getting nowhere?

Well, at least I'll have the chopped nuts to eat, so I guess being a hamster isn't all that bad!

Besides, there are some days when moms must be that hamster. Without moms, who would be there to get all the things done that ultimately lead to a happier nest?!?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Twenty Miles

Twenty miles. That's how far I rode on my bike this morning with three other women who live in my neighborhood. Our journey commenced at 8:30 A.M. and we finished up about two hours later, feeling tired, our legs somewhat shaky, but definitely empowered.

It's funny, but as I rode along, I was a child again. I could hear the birds singing cheerfully overhead through the trees, see the squirrels darting quickly across the lane in order to get out of our way, and smell the sweet scent of honeysuckle bushes that seemed to be bursting with their yellow color and intoxicating aroma. The overall picture reminded me of when I was a ten-year-old girl, peddling my bike and humming to myself, and wondering what I'd be like as an adult. Where would I live? Would I get married? Have babies? As a young girl, I'm sure I'd never thought it possible for someone at my age to ride a bike for twenty miles!

We stopped only briefly, and only twice, to quench our thirst. Then it was back to cycling again. Like a jet engine, the time just flew by. The warm wind that whistled past my ears and tried to evaporate the droplets of water along my forehead was a much needed bonus as we pushed forward in the rising temperatures. While peddling hard and feeling the small bumps in the road that popped up almost without warning beneath my tires - keeping me ever vigilant and always on my guard - I was that little girl again. Back then, I held on tightly to those handle bars.

And I held on ever so tightly today, too.

Today was so incredibly freeing, and uplifting, and it provided me with a gift: to laugh with others, to enjoy the scenery, and to just let go for awhile. For a period of time, this child was without any cares or worries. And you know, it felt extraordinarily good.

As we finished up the trip and were just a few hundred feet from our starting point, the cars which had been parked in the parking lot became larger with each peddle stroke. We'd completed our twenty miles, and even though there were some bumps along the way which made me grip the handle bars a little tighter and slow down at times, I'd made it. The journey was over, and instead of feeling like that child who wonders about her future, I was the grown woman who cherishes each moment. Twenty miles may seem like an impossible distance to travel, but as I prepare for the days ahead, I know that there will be the warm breeze that I'll need to propel forward and face the challenges. And I'll stop for a moment at intervals, to get my bearings, and more importantly, to rehydrate my parched and shaking soul.

The wonderful thing is that I'm ready to get on that bike and do it all over again someday real soon, one peddle stoke of life at a time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blame it on the Potatoes

If anything out of the ordinary is going to happen, it will happen to me. While I was driving home after stopping to buy some potatoes in anticipation of preparing a nice dinner for my family plus two house guests, I noticed the truck moving ahead of me. It was creeping along ever so slowly, about three cars in front. Initially, I couldn't tell what type of truck it was, but then as it crawled up the hill, I saw it - the sign on the back of the truck that read, "wet paint."

At that point, I noticed that the double yellow lines to my left were indeed looking much brighter and more yellow than usual. Almost a pretty yellow hue, you could say. But being the cautious and conservative driver that I am, I then continued along that winding road and purposefully positioned my car as far away from the center yellow lines as I could, so that my right-sided tires were as far onto the right shoulder as possible. "Surely, the yellow paint is the kind that dries immediately," I thought, "but just to be sure, I'll stay to the far right, along the white line." I had about two more miles to go, so my tires simply "hugged" the right side of the road for the duration of the trip.

I pulled into my driveway, and parked the car. Then I got out and surveyed my tires. That's when my stomach nearly fell to my shoes. You guessed it: The paint on the road had NOT dried previously as I had hoped. My left tires were the same pretty yellow color as that double line, and paint could even be seen inside the wheel well and fenders.

Trembling as I walked into the house, I collected my thoughts and took a few long deep breaths. This sort of thing has never happened to me before. The house guests were planning to arrive in less than 30 minutes, and because the truck had slowed me down considerably, I was way behind schedule on finishing making my twice-baked potatoes.

My heart raced as I pondered what to do. Would washing the car do any good? How about taking it to the car wash? Power-washing? Just then my 20-year-old son bounded into the house. "Hey, what happened to the car? The whole right side is covered with white paint!" He seemed to be grinning.

My heart stopped.

Right side? ... White paint?

I was quite sure that my son is not dyslexic. And I was even more certain that he knows his colors.

Like a madwoman, I dropped the spoon that I'd been holding to scoop out the filling for the twice-baked potatoes and flew past my son to the garage. Sure enough, the right side of the car was freshly painted, in glorious white. Then anger set in, as I pondered what had happened and remembered that there were no orange cones or signs along the road to warn unsuspecting drivers like me that they would be receiving a free paint job, and that it would consist of two colors.

Then I really felt sick. So, I did what any other normal, middle-aged woman would do at this point: I turned up the volume of my almost-on-the-verge-of-crying voice, and I phone my husband.

The volume and tone worked like a charm, because his first question to me when he heard me begin to speak (more like whimper) was, "Were you in an accident?"

Between you and me, I have to tell you that I smiled. I smiled because it was clear from his concerned tone of voice that a little unexpected paint was minor compared to what could have happened. I explained to him that there were no cones or signs to warn me of the wet paint, and after a few choice words were spoken from his end of the phone, we discussed what to do. My car is now at the shop, and at this point we're not sure if the yellow and white paint can be removed without damaging the normal blue color that is supposed to be there. We have a deductible of $1000.00 on our insurance policy.

By the end of the phone call, my husband sighed, "It could have been worse." I smiled again. THAT comment is so unlike the man who inspects the car often, looking for any dings or scratches that might have occurred along the way. "Wait 'till you see the car," I thought.

But then I went inside again and finished making the potatoes, his favorite.

"I've never seen a car with both sides painted before," the nice man from the body shop replied on the phone.

And to think that if only I hadn't stopped to buy those potatoes... I would have been driving ahead of that truck ... and I would have missed the paint on the road ... and this would not have happened ... and...

It could have been worse ... Right?

Anyone else ever had this happen?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Lady Bagging Groceries

Grocery shopping during a rainy, damp Monday morning began in its typical fashion yesterday, but the event turned out to be an eye-opener. I watched as the customer in front of me carefully placed her items on the moving conveyor belt. The store was quite busy and noisy: the beeping of the scanners, the din of the items being placed on the conveyor belts, and the rustling noises produced when the plastic grocery bags were being pulled apart by the hands of the "baggers" were sounds that were all too familiar to me.

I overheard the customer speaking to the woman who was bagging the groceries in my line. (I'll name her the "bagger" for lack of a better word.) The bagger appeared to be about 35 years old - a soft-spoken, African-American woman with a speech impediment, dark eyes, and slightly unkempt hair. Her jeans were quite worn, but not really tattered. Her smile was the kind that made you want to do the same.

As the customer unloaded her groceries onto the belt, I noticed the way she chatted with the bagger. The bagger had replied that she'd been at work since 6:00 in the morning, and she was tired. She looked very haggard to me.

"My son wants to celebrate today," the bagger said proudly to the customer.

"Is today a special day?" asked the customer, warmly.

The bagger replied softly, "It's my birthday! And my seven-year-old son wants to celebrate!"

I overheard the customer reply, "Well, Happy Birthday!" as the two women exchanged smiles.

The bagging of the groceries continued, and the customer and the cashier exchanged money. The sounds of the beeping scanners continued to fill the air all around as well.

Finally, I noticed the customer pushing her filled cart through the line and toward the exit door. Then, she changed direction slightly, and wheeled her cart away from the exit. I lost sight of her at that point, and I finished my task of loading my groceries onto the conveyor belt.

After paying for my groceries, I then noticed the customer re-approaching the same woman who'd been bagging our groceries.

In her outstretched hands, the customer held a beautiful, chocolate, six-inch round cake, which she handed to the woman.

The tired woman who'd been plugging along and bagging groceries for 7 and 1/2 hours smiled, and she eagerly took the cake from the customer's hands. I couldn't help but smile. And I smiled even more as I drove home and pictured the woman sharing her birthday cake with her little boy at home. I'd hoped their home was a quiet place where the two of them could sing, laugh, and enjoy the moment, a moment when the woman could forget about the beeping of scanners or bagging others' groceries.

It was indeed a day to celebrate, not only by the tired woman, but by me as well. Kindness knows no boundaries, and it can even be found on a damp, rainy Monday morning, in a grocery store where scanners never seem to stop their beeping, but someone cared enough to celebrate.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Choice

Childhood Love. As a child, I remember feeling the love from my parents, mostly springing up from something as basic as their smiles, the kind that made you feel like they loved you just the way you were.

Teenage love. Oh, how wonderful and yet, at the same time, how awful that love felt to me. A new crush on a boy often led to countless hours of daydreaming, my own heart racing uncontrollably when he would simply enter the classroom, and then the waiting for his much-coveted phone call. Sometimes the call came, sometimes it didn't. Eventually, the feelings faded, along with the immature love.

Marriage love. Now this is, without a doubt, the most challenging of all loves. I have learned to fully appreciate and put my trust in a saying that's stuck in my brain:

"Sometimes love is not a feeling. It's a choice."

These past few months, I have had to rely on the above statement more than I'd like to. There have been times when I'd question a lot of things about my relationship. Divorce was never an option, but I can understand how some people end up in that place. Sometimes, love is nothing more than a choice that we make in order to make the marriage work. Maybe a better way to say it is that there are times in everyone's marriage when we choose to keep loving, even though we don't feel like loving that person. Not one single bit. But we do it because we've made the choice to do it. There's not any other option.

In the long run, making the choice to love someone prevails over our immediate feelings. Feelings come and go, but choosing to love when it's the last thing we are feeling, takes much more effort. And patience. And time.

In the long run, love lasts. Feelings don't.

Love is sometimes a choice. A hard choice. There are times when choosing to love is so very difficult, almost impossible, but at the same time, when I choose to love, it turns out to be the right choice.

(This post is dedicated to Debby, whose post I just read reminded me of the saying above. Blessings to you and Tim, Debby).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bittersweet Day

One week ago I celebrated my birthday, the fourth one since I became a "cancer survivor." And each birthday makes me realize how I need to celebrate each day of my life, not just the special ones. For all of our days are special, all are meaningful, and all are blessings.

For some reason, however, April 15th was one of the most difficult days I'd had in quite some time. It was the first birthday I'd celebrated without my father present, and my heart mourned. I missed him. A bittersweet day, for sure. I don't think that my family quite understood. I tried to smile, to laugh and pretend like nothing was wrong.

The next day while out for a nice run, I happened upon a neighbor who was also jogging. She had lost her mother around the same time that my dad died. We both stopped running, smiled and gave one another a hug. She asked how I was doing, and before I knew it or could stop myself, I said, "I'm fine, but you know, I just had a birthday yesterday, and Ann, it was a very difficult time for me."

Her eyes got huge and she said, "My birthday was on April 8th, and it was one of the hardest days of my life!" We both shared our feelings and before we knew it, a few tears fell. But it was a good cry, as they say. And we both needed to do it.

In a way, even the bad days are special, because they force me to pause, take a deep breath, and look upward instead of focusing on my immediate circumstance. The difficult times continually remind me that God's hand is in all of my days, and He will keep me going, through the good and bad, no matter what.

God's always present, each and every day. He's there, even in the midst of our bittersweet ones.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From Virtues to Vanity

I'm reading a book that has really made me stop and think. In, "Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter," Vicki Courtney articulates how our daughters' views of themselves have changed over the centuries. Specifically, she argues that young teens these days typically have a poor self-image, low self-esteem, and are generally overly consumed with their appearance. Although these sentiments are nothing new or revolutionary, they should make us ponder just what we as moms and women can do to help our daughters feel good about themselves, just the way they are. The way that God made them to be.

Here's something that I found fascinating. The author notes that if we looked at journal entries of young girls, let's say those written more than a century ago circa 1880, the young women often described themselves as being deficient regarding certain aspects of their internal character. For example, they might write about how they will strive to be more patient, or to remember to think before speaking. They might also focus on how they could reach out and help others more consistently.

On the other hand, what do the diaries of today's girls demonstrate? I'll bet that an entirely different perspective pops out. Thanks to skinny models, beautiful women portrayed in movies, and a plethora of teen magazines such as Seventeen, girls probably write about their appearance, such as their weight or their complexion. Much of their concerns most likely relate to their popularity. Virtues? Are they even mentioned?

Why the shift in focus from virtues to vanity? According to the author, one major reason for this paradigm shift can be attributed to an important invention: the mirror.

The mirror has changed the way we see ourselves. Literally. And I am as guilty as the next woman - or man. I hated the way I looked when I was bald. Back then, I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. I remember loathing walking past a glass storefront because one slight turn of my head in that direction, and my reflection would once again remind me of my ugliness. Even with the wig or scarf intact upon my head, I knew that underneath it all, the real "me" was bald. Vanity. It sticks to you like gum on the bottom of your shoe in August.

Yesterday, I heard my thirteen-year-old daughter commenting - albeit, somewhat jokingly - about how a particular pair of pants makes her look fat. She's about 5'6" and weighs 115 pounds! Where have we failed as a society? Or am I to share some of the blame for her negative perception? Possibly.

As moms, as friends, let's try to see beyond that superficial mirror and focus instead on what's deep inside our hearts. Then, let's look into the hearts of our girls. They need us to be their cheerleaders, to let them know that they are beautiful, just the way God made them to be. Let's hope that we ultimately reflect attributes of God, not those of vanity.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Your Response

"Your response is your responsibility." That's not my quote, but it's one I remember hearing at a Bible study last week, a remark that was stated by a competent family/marriage counselor. In fact, as I watched this previously taped seminar on a DVD, the quote appeared this way on the screen:

Your R-E-S-P-O-N-S-E is your R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y.

There it was, staring me squarely in my face. What a wake-up call. *Blink.*

We cannot change our circumstances, but we are responsible for how we react, and how we respond to each circumstance. Sounds so simple, I know, but the quote made me stop and think, and it caused me to really ponder about my own responses to various situations. When tested, do I react with patience? Am I level-headed when pressed for time? Am I slow to anger, and quick to listen to others' points of view? Do I exude an appropriate amount of confidence yet portray humility when the opportunity arises?

No. Too many times, I'd have to answer "no" to those questions listed above. I have such a long way to go, but that quote was a good reminder to me. I repeated it to my girls, and to my husband. My thirteen year old daughter listened, but kinda rolled her eyes. She's heard me preach that type of sentiment in the past. I hope that she absorbed it, even though it appeared to roll right off her face and onto the floor ... with a nearly audible thud.

Your response is your responsibility. I plan to own that sentiment and practice it - and keep reminding myself of my "responsibility" - for as long as I possibly can! How about you?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Looking Back And Listening

It's funny how looking back at the little things in life can make such a big difference in how you feel right now. While cleaning out the bird feeders yesterday and removing the old, dried seed that was caked along the inside after months of my own neglect, I then refilled them with the new, sweet-smelling seed. All around me, it seemed, the birds chirped loudly from the treetops, as if they were scolding me, asking me to hurry up and finish this task so that they could enjoy their new food. I couldn't help but remember the days when I'd felt too weak and tired to do such a mundane task. Four years ago, while going through the chemotherapy treatments, I remember thinking that because I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, I would probably die - and die soon. During those long days, filling the bird feeders was not only physically difficult for me to attempt, but my emotional strength was tested in ways that I never thought possible.

At that time my three children were 15, 9, and 6 years old. I remember praying that I would live long enough to see my son graduate from high school, and then when that occasion passed, I prayed to live long enough to see him enjoying his college years. Which is where he is today, a sophomore in college, soon to be a junior.

Looking back four years ago, I remember filling those same bird feeders on that brisk March day, and I recall crying as I prayed to God for Him to give me another season of Spring, or another vacation with my family, or another Christmastime with my children. As I prayed, I could almost hear my kids laughing along the beach. I could hear them tearing open the wrapping paper of their Christmas gifts. But the one thing I really remember hearing is my own voice, as I begged God - day after day - for more times to be with my family.

I still pray those prayers, but at this time in my life, even though the prayers are just as genuine as they were when I was going through the awful treatments, I am now able to pray the prayers with less tears. And with less pleading.

And with more gratitude for what God has given to me.

So today as I look out my kitchen window and notice a few birds enjoying their brand new seed, chirping and flitting about from one feeder to another, I need to remind myself to do something very important. I need to remember to pray to God - each day - and thank Him for giving me this time with my family, with my birds, and with my life.

Looking back makes me look forward with a new song in my heart, and a new outlook on life. I don't ever want to get to a point where I forget to look back. I don't ever want to forget to stop and listen to - and really hear - the songs of the birds.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Is it?

Well, well, what have we here? Any idea what this thing is? I'll let you know what it isn't. It's not a balloon, or a plastic bottle, or anything else man-made.

I'll give you some clues: We found several of these while we were strolling along the beach in the Bahamas. They normally float in the water, waiting for unassuming prey to swim by. Here's the clue that will give it away: They typically have numerous, very long tentacles, stretching out to more than 50 feet in length!

Now do you know what it is? It's a Portuguese-Man-of-War! Quite amazing, isn't it? Just stop and think, for a moment, and ponder one of God's unusual creations. That bluish, air-filled sac enables it to float and drift upon the surface, effortlessly and smoothly, much like a sailboat relies on its sails to navigate across the waters. This creature never really has to search for food, or hide, or retreat, or even think. It just rides the waves ... and waits ... then drifts some more ... and eventually, its tentacles sting a poor, helpless creature, which dies.

I am so glad that I didn't go snorkeling while I was there. In fact, I preferred to stroll in the safety of the water that was merely ankle-deep.

I examined this creature, though, and I couldn't help but wonder about it. I wondered what significance it could possible have in our world. I am sure that it is part of the necessary food chain, and I haven't really researched this animal at all, but I have to say, I just can't appreciate it for anything else than its uniqueness. That's it. Nothing more, just that it is so exceptionally different, and odd, and even sinister, that I can't really understand that it could possibly have a reason for being here at all. No, I just cannot comprehend it.

But then, I don't understand a lot of things. I am content to rely on God, however, for His design is perfect, even down to the existence of this Portuguese-Man-of-War.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


We just returned home after a week's vacation. It was spring break for my son, so we'd decided to take a cruise, something we'd never done before, to the Bahamas. Here's the issue: it happened to be spring break for about 85% of the other vacationers on our ship as well.

I have nothing against young men and women enjoying themselves during spring break. I'd done it too, years ago. But for some reason, it had all seemed so much different this time. How different? Well, for starters, shortly after we checked into our cabins, it was time to line up for safety instructions on the fourth level of the ship. Many of the spring breakers joined in, as instructed, and lined up around us. Lines and lines of people, dressed in nothing more than small bathing suits, filed in alongside us. Rows of people everywhere. The smell of alcohol was everywhere, too, along with the verbal disinhibition that goes with it. Lots of curse words were tossed about, as well as laughter, and college kids yelling from one end of the row to another, as if we were in the middle of a tailgate party. I occasionally looked down toward their hands hoping to see wedding bands, wondering if perhaps some of the young couples were celebrating their honeymoons. No dice. Belly rings uniformally replaced wedding rings. And after our safety session ended, laughing young couples strolled arm-in-arm into their cabins. It seemed like they hadn't a worry or care in the world...

Let me backtrack a bit. I have nothing against belly piercing. In fact, if I had been a college kid along with these young women, in the year 2010, I probably would have been marked as an outcast without one. So, given my need to conform back then, I most likely would have had one, too. But any metal post and gem that I'd pierce into my stomach these days would most certainly get lost within the layers of the fat there, so belly piercing is not something I want to do at my age. I'm not one to judge others, however.

But the one thing I noticed was that the majority of the wait staff was comprised of humble individuals who were, for the most part, foreigners. Alex, for example, our waiter for the four days, was from India. Alex served us our three meals, never wavering in kindness, patience or promptness. We quickly became friends with him. I asked Alex if he had a family, and he replied that he did not. I couldn't help but think how lonely it must be for him to return to his cabin, alone and tired, well past midnight each night after a long day of waiting on tables. How lonely he must feel each night. I wondered if he felt at all like an outcast.

I also wondered what he thought of "us," as Americans. I wanted to tell him that we don't all act the way those college kids do, that we don't just live lavishly off of our parents' credit cards, that we don't all party on cruise ships, or walk around in public wearing practically nothing, and that we don't swear in lines or act disrespectfully to others.

The truth was that in a way, we had more in common with Alex from India than we had with the American college kids. Ironically, during the days on that ship, I began to realize that my family and Alex were on the same boat, so to speak: we were all somewhat lonely "outcasts" on a tossing ship.

Times have changed. I just hope that Alex doesn't think that those college kids represent what Americans are really like. Being an outcast can be lonely. Behaving with respect and honor is, too.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spelling Words of Life

I love making up acronyms for spelling words for my youngest, Caroline. Spelling is her worst subject. Lately, though, my ten-year-old gets a kick out of the creative ways we've devised to help her memorize her spelling words.

Take the word, "language," for example, which was on her spelling list when she was in third grade, two years ago. For some reason, it didn't click. She couldn't get it.

"I hate spelling!" She wailed! "I quit!"

The tears fell onto her lined notebook paper, and her anxiety quickly mounted. As much as I tired to help her, I was running low on ideas and patience.

"Well," I began calmly, "let's think about it differently." After playing around with the letters a bit, we came up with this acronym for the word "language:"

"Let's - Ask - Nice - Green - Unicorns - About - Green - Eggs." Once she'd mastered this saying, her damp eyes smiled with delight. She looked hopeful, almost immediately. Wiping away her tears with the back of her hand, her anxiety evaporated, and I could sense her strength and determination shining through.

The other day, two years after the birth of that particular acronym, I overheard Caroline saying that silly sentence as she penned the heading - Language - onto her paper. She'd remembered how to spell it. I remembered that day when she cried.

Last week, another word tested her capability: "disciple." This one was more of a challenge than the word language had been. But never wanting to be quitters, we came up with this acronym:

"Did - I - See - Cats - In - Puddles - Last - Evening?"

You know, sometimes, the simplest things can put a smile on our kids' faces. She was beaming as she pulled out her slightly wrinkled spelling test, which was sandwiched between the notebooks within her backpack. A score of 95% was written on the top of the page, in bright red ink. Caroline smiled. I did, too.

She may not remember everything that I try to teach her throughout her lifetime, but at least she'll know how to tackle some of the problems as she grows: taking on the challenges one small letter at a time. No matter how difficult the "words" in life become, I hope she keeps trying. Quitting? That's one word I hope she'll never need to spell.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I couldn't sleep last night. Odd thing, really. The reason for my insomnia was even more strange. I was thinking about a novel that I'm reading as part of my book club. It's called Though Waters Roar, by Lynn Austin. It's not uncommon for books to find their way into my bed; but what is unusual is for a book to remain locked in my mind hours later.

Though fictitious, the characters and situations seem so incredibly real to me. Without going into a great amount of detail, the author describes a scene where a little girl and her mother are hiding two runaway slave women. "Bounty hunters" are encircling the tiny town in search of the runaways and with the hopes of securing a handsome reward in exchange for their capture. This prompts the mother to do a very bold thing.

After placing a wooden box into the family's horse-drawn wagon and gently instructing the two slaves to hide inside it, the woman and her daughter carefully fill the wagon with firewood, covering the box. One log at a time, they determined to make it look as though their mission is to deliver firewood - as well as the two refugees - to an awaiting family, who live about sixteen miles away.

The four souls traveled in broad daylight, and the heat of the day became unbearable throughout the bumpy ride. At one intense point in the story, two bounty hunters on horseback were seen looming ominously in the distance. Eventually, the men approached the wagon, unaware of its hidden "contents."

Demonstrating unimaginable fortitude and faith, the woman stopped her wagon. She calmly asked the two men if they were "lost," all the while appearing unruffled and unshaken. And all the while she silently prayed and held on to the only thing she could truly grasp: trust.

Oh, and there's one more thing that I forgot to mention: The men brought trained dogs along with them to sniff out any escaped slave. Dogs! Imagine the terror that the women - the runaways as well as their protectors - experienced during the unrelenting barking. The two men surveyed the wagon, their minds focused on one thing: receiving a reward in exchange for human lives!

Oblivious to the ruse, the men eventually went on their way. At this point in my reading, my heart finally slowed down to its normal resting rate once again. But the reason I had been unable to sleep later is because I was thinking about the poor women hiding inside that box.

Even though the actual story was fictitious, we all know that situations such as this one were not unheard of. But what I couldn't get out of my mind as I tossed and turned was what the poor slaves must have been thinking and feeling as they hid inside a coffin-like box and waited patiently for the wagon to move on. How many prayers had they undoubtedly prayed, pleading to God for their release and safety? Weren't they feeling even a little bit claustrophobic, figuratively and literally speaking, while locked inside that box? How did they endure all of the emotional stress? Had they ever really known what blessed freedom could possibly feel like?

The bravery and courage that the women displayed humbles me, and it makes me stop short. These days, how many of us would truly risk life and limb to save another human being?

Courage...Hope... Submission... Determination... Trust...
The four women exemplified all of those traits.

We could learn a lot from our past and from those who have gone before us. Freedom is something we should never, ever take for granted.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mature and Complete - Not Yet, But Still Learning!

It's been FOUR years! February 20th, 2006, was the day I found out that breast cancer was a part of me. A big part. Never, not ever, did I imagine that it could possibly happen to me - a runner, a healthy mom of three young children, and a woman with no risk factors normally associated with the disease. Words cannot describe my emotions when I found out. Like all of us who've been through it, I think we can all agree that hearing, 'You have cancer,' are words that have affected us beyond our imaginations.

Ironically, some survivors proclaim that their cancer has actually been a blessing to them. Unlike those individuals, I cannot (and never could) tie the words blessing and cancer together. Oh, I tried, believe me. I remember numerous conversations with many sympathetic, well-intentioned people, when I valiantly tried to link the two nouns together as I spoke. But my attempts failed miserably at this ruse, numerous times. Sadly, I couldn't help but sense that oh-so-familiar, knot-like feeling growing stronger within my stomach each time I heard myself using those two words in the same sentence. I just couldn't proclaim it - and really mean it - that cancer was a blessing to me.

Initially, a big part of me actually felt embarrassed or even somewhat guilty when I was unable (or perhaps, unwilling?) to see the journey as a blessing. Yes, I realize that there are countless scripture verses that encourage us to view our struggles as blessings and to actually find some joy in them.

One of my favorite verses is found in the book of James 1:2-4: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Those verses, especially the last one, have made me ponder long and hard about the nature of becoming mature and complete. Just imagine how wonderful it will be when we find ourselves so fulfilled and spiritually whole, that we lack nothing! In other words, there will be a day when we will continuously practice courteousness, humility, selflessness, altruism, forgiveness, and sacrifice, without fail. Sounds a lot like the attributes of Christ, don't they?

So, over the years I've begun to think of cancer in a different way: I may not feel blessed by cancer, but I know that I have been changed by it. And I've listed a few of these changes below:

First, I've learned to believe in the old adage: "Never say never."

Second, people generally love the opportunity to help you when you need it, so I've learned to swallow my silly pride, at least for a little while, and ask for assistance when necessary.

Third, life is way too short to hold on to anger. When you stop and think about it, it's generally not worth it, so I try to let it go.

Fourth, birthdays will never again be days that I dread. Each birthday I celebrate is a true blessing. I can't stand it when people bemoan reaching the age of 40, or 50 or whatever birthday they happen to be celebrating. (That old "knot" starts to tighten up once again!)

Fifth, I have learned to take each day as it comes, the good with the bad. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring, and I need to constantly remind myself that He is in complete control. Fretting on my part is unhealthy, unproductive, destructive and time-consuming.

I know that I have long way to go in order to being fully mature and complete. It's been four years, and I still feel like an infant when it comes to mastering spiritual maturity. But really, when I stop to think about it, maybe the blessings that I've been unable to uncover within the word cancer have been there all along. I just need to view this struggle through Christ's eyes, not my own. Because when I do that, it is then - and only then - that I will truly be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

I am just curious, friends: How has cancer - or for that matter, any trial - changed you?

Friday, February 12, 2010

I Have A Cleavage!

Well, tonight's escapade certainly takes the cake. We were enjoying ourselves at a favorite restaurant. Seated at the round table were Brian, our two daughters, Melissa and Caroline, Emily (Caroline's friend), and I. It was a late night for us all, and fatigue was beginning to set in.

Happily enjoying my entree, and somewhat lost in my thoughts, I wasn't even looking at Caroline, my 10-year-old, when she blurted out, "Look! I have a cleavage!"

*Note: Caroline is small for her age, and she's not even close to entering physical maturity yet.*

Her outburst hung in the air. Brian's mouth nearly fell onto his lap. Melissa, who's recently found herself smack in the middle of being a 13-year-old young lady and is therefore very conscious of adhering to social mores, flashed a look of horror to me. Because the tables were located unusually close together, several people who were sitting alongside us became momentarily silent, as they, too, turned their heads toward Caroline.

Startled, I shot a questioning look at her and asked, "WHAT are you talking about?!?"

In her raised hand, Caroline proudly held up a piece of white, sinewy material that she'd just finished extracting from within the exoskeleton of her crab legs.

"Oh, Honey, " I continued, trying not to choke on my food as I laughed aloud. "That's CARTILAGE, not cleavage! You have a piece of cartilage!"

Well, at least she'd mastered the last syllable - "age." The others around our table - and for that matter, nearly half of the restaurant - embraced the humor of the moment.

Except for Melissa, who just stared at Caroline and rolled her eyes. The amount of irritation in Melissa's voice was so thick that I could've cut it with my butter knife: "A cleavage - CAROLINE - is the line that forms when your boobs are pushed together!" More eye rolling by my older daughter was again demonstrated.

Giggling around our table erupted, especially by the younger girls. It turned out to be a good night, cleavage and all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just Like Me

A woman called me today. She's a cancer survivor and a newly diagnosed one, as in two months ago. We've never met before, but a mutual friend of ours had given the woman my phone number, and she contacted me. "Can I talk to you? I have breast cancer," the soft voice began.

It turns out that we have a lot in common, both on the cancer front, and in our daily lives. As far as the histology is concerned (or the cell make-up), she too, is characterized as being HER-2 positive, estrogen positive, and progesterone negative, just like me. The reason I mention this fact is because the cell make-up typically dictates the course of treatment, the type and number of chemotherapy sessions, the necessity of radiation, and the overall prognosis. On the lighter side, she is my age, she has children who are about my children's ages, and she stated that prior to this diagnosis, she's never been sick a day in her life. Exercise is her antidepressant, and she watches her diet, too. Chillingly similar to my own life, I thought.

She asked a lot of good questions, most of them pertaining to the chemotherapy that she is anticipating receiving, beginning at the end of February. She'll need a port, a devise that is surgically inserted in the chest that delivers the medication to the heart. The port is necessary to preserve the veins in the forearms from the toxic affects of the chemotherapy. Similar to my treatment protocol, she will be receiving chemotherapy followed by Herceptin, for a total of 15 months of treatments.

I remember how numb I had felt when I heard that same type of information relayed to me nearly four years ago. I remember that my thoughts were a jumbled mess, and how the images of the magnitude of this disease circled around in my brain like some sort of surreal kaleidoscope: Hair loss ... vomiting ... my children's confusion ... my husband's inability to fix it ... my parents' looks of helplessness.

In a brief second, it all came flooding back to me, as if I were going through it all over again.

Today I tried with all my heart to speak to the woman in a way that empowered her. I informed her that being HER-2 positive is not the death sentence that it once was, thanks to the introduction and use of Herceptin, a fairly new drug that targets the extremely aggressive HER-2 cells. I told her that the doctors are very good at preventing and minimizing any nausea that might occur, and that she may be very fortunate and experience very little nausea. I told her that the hair loss is temporary and that it does return. Without sounding flippant, I encouraged her to take it one day at a time. I let her know that I would be more than happy to drive her to her chemotherapy treatments or doctors' appointments.

Most of all, I let her know that she was not alone, and that she would get through this. I told her that the road may seem impossibly long today, but I encouraged her to try to remember that this time in her life will not last forever. It does get better, it really does. One of the last things I said to her was that I will be praying for her. And I will.

We ended our conversation on a lighter note. Her voice sounded stronger and ready to take it all on. She was ready. I could hear it.

One day, perhaps years from now, I hope that her phone will ring, and she'll hear a quite voice on the other end saying, "Can I talk to you about your breast cancer? I've just been diagnosed, and I have some questions, if you don't mind."

After I hung up, I just sat there for a few minutes, and wiped away the lone tear that cascaded down my cheek. Completely at a loss, I wasn't sure who was more blessed by today's conversation, the woman on the other end, or me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Waiting ... Again!

Okay, here we go again! Ten to twenty more inches of snow are predicted to fall tonight and continue on into tomorrow! School's already been cancelled for my children. Didn't we just go through this?

I know I sound like I'm complaining, and I guess that I am. Really, though, it was less than a week ago that I raced to the store, along with more than the usual number of grocery shoppers, stocked up on the essentials, and braced myself - both with my groceries in hand and with a positive attitude - for the upcoming storm.

And I did it all again today. I waited. And from where I stood in my queue, I noticed numerous other slow-moving lines as they snaked almost endlessly through the store, filled with grumpy people, waiting for their turn. Waiting for what seemed to take forever to pay for their groceries.

Suddenly, another cashier turned on her "light" above her, which signaled that her line was open for business. The woman standing in front of me noticed that I had only a handful of items. She immediately smiled to me and motioned for me to go in front of her, to that newly opened line. Imagine that! Someone actually took the time to be considerate! Her gesture was the "sun" that made me feel warm. And it was contagious. Others smiled; they seemed to be more relaxed.

Finally, I paid for and gathered up my bag of items, thanked the kind woman standing behind me once more, and made my way to the car through the blowing snow. Ironically, I realized that today it all felt oddly different from the way it had felt three days ago. Today, instead of mentally wrestling with the thoughts of being snowbound, of shoveling my sidewalk again, of making sure that we had enough milk, it hit me: This won't last.

As much as I dislike this present struggle, it all felt so strangely familiar, and almost like I was actually getting used to it. I'd done it all before, exactly three days earlier, and I'd survived it. When the storm hit last time, Brian and I cleared the driveway, one hour at a time, one shovelful at a time. Throughout the following days, the snowplows geared up and rumbled through our development, making wide sweeping passes numerous times. The sun eventually came out, and its blessed heat actually began to melt the leftover snow which covered the roads, one tiny degree at a time.

Sometimes we focus too much on the now. We want things to be back the way they were - immediately. No waiting. No patience. We've no time for that!

So here I sit, looking out my window, feeling that odd wave of familiarity washing over me as the snow continues to fall, and the sky is thick and gray, all over again.

But I rest in the idea that this storm will eventually pass, the sun will come out once more, and slowly, very slowly, I will again see the road stretched before me. And I will continue on, just as I did before. I just need to wait ... and keep waiting ... for the warmth of the sun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

One Small Snowflake

Five degrees. I woke up this morning and sleepily peered at the thermometer, which recorded only five measly degrees as the outside temperature. Surveying my landscape, two feet of snow blanket my world. I also had just finished listening to ALL the local church closings that were broadcasted from my radio. One hundred nineteen of them, all churches whose doors are closed today, resulting in thousands of parishioners staying indoors, and undoubtedly sleeping in longer than usual, perhaps for the first time in weeks.

Five little degrees, more than 119 church doors closed, thousands of people affected. And to think that it all began with one ... little ... snowflake. Quietly, but oh, so powerfully executed. A little ripple effect.

Sometimes, the smallest things in life add up to monumental outcomes, affecting thousands of people, all across vast regions.

Make it count. Make each day count: smile to a stranger, leave an extra tip to a harried waitress, or just do something out of the ordinary for a lonely individual.

Just imagine the ripple effect that might occur. Powerful ... way beyond my (our?) comprehension.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

A good friend invited our family to a Super Bowl Party tomorrow night. She's making chili, which I love, and so I thought I'd bring along something fruity and slightly sweet, a cooler side dish that will undoubtedly counteract some of the heat from a hearty cup of chili. I received this recipe while I was at a breast cancer support group a few months ago. One of the survivors made this dish and shared it with the gals sitting at our table at that particular event. It was a BIG hit, so I thought I'd pass it along to you! Let me know what you think!

*Note: Although it calls for a lot of "chopping," the smiles and compliments you'll get later will be worth the effort!*

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries
1 medium navel orange, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium kiwi, peeled and finely chopped
1 (8 oz.) can unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 peach, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a small bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Cover, refrigerate until serving.

Cinnamon chips:
10 flour tortillas (8 inch) - (I might try wheat tortillas this time)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush tortillas with butter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar. Cut into eight wedges. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes or until crisp. Serve with fruit salsa.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

This Time

A few weeks ago, I began preparing for this coming Saturday, the day when I was supposed to drive to Penn State University. Penn State is my alma mater, and my family had planned to enjoy watching my son's college swim team (Lehigh University) compete against PSU. In preparation for this event, I'd made all the necessary arrangements: the dog was going to be placed in a good home for two nights, I'd cancelled all other commitments for that particular weekend, and I'd previously purchased a cute valentine and lots of bagged candy to give to my son when we'd see him and chat together after the meet. As the last several days crept by, anticipating seeing Patrick and watching him compete from the tall bleachers inside the "nat" (the abbreviation we used to use for the natatorium, or pool) were images that I'd happily replayed in my mind several times a day. I was so ready to go!

I hadn't been back to PSU in more than 25 years, since graduation. The student life I enjoyed back then seems like a different age in my life; I am definitely a different person now than I was at that time. Lately, and in an odd sort of way, I'd found myself really looking forward to seeing Patrick compete at the school where I studied, ate, slept, (yes, even partied) walked to classes, and lived for four years.

Now, due to the predicted storm which is supposed to dump anywhere from one to two feet of the snow beginning tomorrow morning, I find myself once again preparing, preparing not to go to the swim meet. The extra milk, bread and eggs are tucked away, just in case the blizzard makes traveling impossible. My husband's already stowed several gallons of water in the garage, just in case the pump's electrical system which delivers the energy to our well (yes, we obtain our water via a deep well, as antiquated as it may sound) is frozen again we're unable to get water. Plenty of food's here. Heat's not a problem; our propane heater works fine. I think we've got it all covered.

We're as prepared for this "blizzard" as anyone can be. Normally, I'd be feeling a sense of childlike happiness, or just plain joy, in waking up to find layers upon layers of snow. This time is different. This time I really longed to see Patrick, to watch him compete, to cheer, ironically, for the "away team," (or Patrick's team), and to relish in the college memories that I have tucked away in my brain from days gone by.

Maybe the swim meet will be postponed. But the chance that it will be rescheduled to take place 0n a weekend when we're all available to travel the two-and-a-half- hour ride is slim.

So now, as I prepare for something quite different, namely this inconvenient storm, I also need to prepare myself for missing out on a weekend of memories.

This time will be different, however.

This time, as disappointed as I am in not seeing my son compete at my alma mater, I'll remember to thank God that I am here, right now, with my two daughters and my husband, and that we are all well. We're all well, and although life throws us a curve ball sometimes and it smashes our plans, I need to keep in mind that as trite as it sounds, I'm just happy to be here. Right now, and at this time, I am so very happy to be here.

So, bring on the snow. I am as so ready!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Good Snowfalls

That's Melissa, my 13-year-old daughter, screaming down the hill as her sled glides effortlessly beneath her. I remember those carefree childhood days of anticipating the good snowfalls. There were the good ones, which are represented in the picture, and then there were the ones that were only a tease, a light dusting, in other words. Not enough snow to do anything more than create a little annoyance, in my mind, or simply lead to wet shoes and slippery school hallways.

When I was younger, it was the early morning phone call that signaled the good snowfalls. It meant the cancellation of school, since my mother was a school teacher and she was one of the first people to be contacted regarding poor road conditions and subsequent school closings. That 6:30 AM phone call was the one thing that would make my heart race, even as a child, as I waited anxiously from beneath my warm comforter to hear her response, which was usually something like this: "Okay, thanks for calling, and I'll pass the message along to Miss Fritz now." Miss Fritz was the name of the teacher who was next in line on the phone chain. My mom's words immediately signaled images of frolicking around in the snow for hours, warm hot chocolate, grilled cheese sandwiches, snow-capped sleeves, cold toes, and echoing laughter.

I smile as I look out my window these days, from my world of paying bills, doing laundry, cleaning, checking the calendar for any upcoming doctor's appointments, and just simply taking care of my family. I smile because I appreciate the fleeting moments of time, moments that are quietly captured in a photograph, but they live on - miraculously and full of life - in our minds. Moments that I often wish would last - just exactly as they are - forever.

I relish the good snowfalls, and all that they represent. To me they represent happy childhood memories. I make it a point to not take those good snowfall days for granted, because I need to keep in mind just how quickly they can melt away.

But in my mind, they never really do melt away, not entirely. Even today, I still thank God for the good snowfalls. And if I really concentrate, I can still hear the echoing laughter...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm Only Me

You know, sometimes life has a way of taking your breath away, but in a good way. Yesterday, I walked into the house after running a few errands and noticed the little blinking light flashing on my answering machine. I normally conclude that it signals yet another doctor's appointment, or maybe I'll hear a little girl's voice on the other end requesting a play date for one of my daughters.

No, this time the message was humbling. "Karen, I'm in charge of the women's ministry at my church, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to speak about your breast cancer journey. The event is in September, 2010. We'd love to have you come. Are you interested?"


The church is located 100 miles north. It's the one our family attended seven years ago, before we relocated to our present town.

The message ended, while my feelings of insecurity and inadequacy quickly commenced. They want me to speak about breast cancer? Why me? What can I possibly offer? Surely they must be able to find a better speaker, someone who's more polished or someone who, I don't know, is famous or something! What can I possibly offer them? I'm only me!

And then the darkest of thoughts invaded my little world: September is eight months away. A lot can happen in eight months... What if there's a problem ... What if ... What if I receive that awful news in the interim that no one wants to hear ... What if there's a recurrence.... And ... What if I can't travel to give my speech, so I have to cancel at the last minute, and ...

You know, I could ruin my life by focusing on the "What ifs." Instead, I need to concentrate on the "What is..."

What is true is that today I am a breast cancer survivor. I am strong and I am a believer. I believe in Christ and his dying on the cross to save me from eternal death. What is true is that I might just have something positive to offer others, perhaps some insight that God's given me that I wouldn't have right now if I hadn't gone through this trial. No matter how small I feel my contribution is to others, it just may turn out to be a big thing to someone else. I may help only one other person at that women's conference in September, but it just may be the one person that God has already preordained for me to encourage.

Humbled. That's the only way I can describe how I'm feeling. I'm only me. But I am determined to be the best me that I can possibly be.

Whatever comes my way, with God's help, I'll get through it. I'm only me, but what a strong me I am.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Kids are funny. No, there's a better adjective: perceptive. Kids are perceptive. Last evening while I was folding laundry (a task that has plummeted to the very bottom of my top 100 things I love to do list), my youngest asked me if I was cured of cancer. Just like that: an out-of-the-blue, knock-your-socks-off question.

"So, you're done now, right? You're cured of cancer, aren't you?" Caroline is ten years old. Her questioning eyes shown brightly in the dim evening light, and her auburn hair framed her soft cheeks in a way that reminded me of her innocence. Through her innocence, I'm able to see her childlike grin. I can almost hear her laughing at the little things that adults no longer find humorous, like silly cloud pictures, or a leaf that sticks to the hood of your jacket and you don't know that it's there. Her unassuming remarks allow me to step back - and to live in her simple little world - for a brief moment. Caroline's innocence is one of the things that keeps me going; it keeps me pressing on through the dark days, and it keeps me focused on God's purpose for my life.

Cured. There's that word again, that word that literally takes my breath away. I instantly stopped folding the towels. I took a deep breath, as if somehow the rush of air would give me more wisdom or, I don't know, maybe it would just give me a much coveted nanosecond of precious time. Time that I needed to put the right words together for soothing Caroline's questioning eyes.

"You know, there is no real cure for breast cancer," I began calmly." But I did as much as I could do by taking the medicines to keep it from coming back," I answered, not wanting to recreate thoughts of chemo, surgery, radiation, as well as the resulting hair loss, nausea and monumental fatigue that I'd experienced almost four years ago. I determined to keep those images from her mind. She was six years old at the time of my diagnosis, and she might not even remember many of those details now. At least, I'd hoped she didn't remember much of that time - not now. What good would it do for her to rehash and replay those gloomy events, the ones that I am often reminded of, sometimes on a daily basis?

The hair loss. She remembered the hair loss. Even before she mentioned it, I could see it in her eyes. We talked about the hair loss, and I told her how lucky I was to have her there with me to make me laugh during that difficult time.

"It will be four years in February since I was diagnosed. Four years! That's a pretty long time, don't you think? " I smiled and tried to sound upbeat; however, my comment hung lifelessly in the air between us.

She looked at me, thought for a moment, and followed my remark slowly with, "Wow ... it still must be scary for you."

She gets it. My ten year old gets it. And in her eyes, I see innocence slipping away. Forever.

I encouraged her by telling her that God has been so good to us all, and that He loves us and will not take us home to be with Him until He's absolutely ready to do so. He knows exactly what He is doing in our lives, and we need to put our trust solidly in Him, for He promises never to leave us. Not ever.

She continued to help me finish folding the laundry, and I told her that I was proud of her for helping me and encouraging me when I was going through cancer four years ago. Maybe, just maybe, when she thinks of that rough time in my life, she'll remember how brave she was. More importantly, I hope she remembers how faithful God is, each and every day of our lives.

Innocence is so short-lived. Kids can be so perceptive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stopping to Say, "You're Good."

This post may appear to be depressing at first. But please read on, for I really intend it to be inspiring.

Almost three weeks ago, my father died and we "celebrated" his life at his funeral a week later. All three of his children and all seven grandchildren rejoined with my mom to pay our respects to my dad. Cousins arrived who had traveled from other states, along with friends of my father's who I'd never met before. An old army buddy of my dad's showed up unexpectedly. And like most funerals, we wept, we talked, we hugged, and we even laughed at times when recounting funny stories during our special times with Dad in the past.

But most importantly, we stopped - literally stopped - in the midst of our daily routines to remember my dad.

There was even a slide show that displayed pictures of him from the time he was a little boy up until about four months before his death. The last picture ever taken of my dad was one of him signing my daughter's cast after she'd broken her arm. With a weak outstretched hand, he gingerly wrote, "Love you, Grandpa." To me, that picture spoke these words, "This is a good grandfather."

But one of the last conversations I had with my dad was while he was in the hospital. I was assisting him to eat. Actually, I was feeding him, an act which I am sure he never thought he'd need help doing. As I raised the spoon to his lips, I leaned over to him and said quietly, "You know that you're a good dad, don't you?" He closed his eyes, leaned his head back and whispered, "No."

My heart sank, and I'd forced myself to fight back the tears. To think that my dad felt somehow inferior, or that he'd somehow failed us as a father was too much to bear.

I again repeated what I'd said, this time with more force and determination. I was not going to let him die without him knowing that he was a GOOD dad. No one is perfect, but he was good. Very good.

My point is this: Dad may not have believed it. Because he was a humble man, he would never have admitted that he was a good dad, even in his healthy and vibrant days. But at least he heard it, and maybe they were some of the last words he heard before he slipped away.

I learned a very important lesson. I make an effort to tell those I love how good they are. "You're a good daughter, Melissa. You're a good husband. You're a good son."

There are some days when they might not believe it, but at least they've heard it. They've heard it from me.

Stop for a second, and tell those you love that they matter and that they are good people. They need to hear it; trust me, they really do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

We Could Learn A Lot From a Dog

This picture made me smile. In case it's difficult for you to view, it's a photo of a mother dog nursing her five puppies. Nothing too unusual about that except that an orphaned squirrel needed a home and was subsequently "adopted" by this caring mamma dog. According to the captions, the baby squirrel nurses right alongside the pups, sleeps with them, and even plays with them at intervals throughout the day.

I'm amazed because relationships like this don't happen every day, at least they don't occur in my little world. I have to admit that there are times when I could be a little more compassionate, or show more patience towards others. As much as I try, there are days when I just want to get my errands completed. Just today, as I pushed my grocery cart around the aisles of the store, I'd found myself at a standstill as the little old man - probably close to 80 years old - stopped in front of me, leaned in closely to a shelf to examine a particular item, and in the process, created a cart jam. I couldn't move forward, and the people coming from the opposite direction couldn't squeeze past the old man. He didn't even know that I was there, standing patiently by my cart, trying to appear polite, and hoping that he'd find the box of cereal he was searching for and move on. I wanted him to move on quickly so that I could get back to my errands and my world. This guy was disrupting my pace, and I was getting annoyed.

I could learn a lot from this mamma dog. She not only accepted this little squirrel into her brood, but she took the time to nurse it, to coddle it and to allow it to be part of her family. She didn't push it aside, although she could have done so and no one would have blamed her for it. I, on the other hand, had figuratively pushed the little old man from my "path," and I did so because I was the one in a hurry and I was the one being selfish. Impatience. Why are we inclined to be so impatient sometimes?

The old man finally found what he was looking for, placed the box tenderly into his cart, and pushed his cart forward, never realizing that there were at least three other people trying to get through that aisle but were halted as they, too, waited for him to move on. I smiled, though, as he went on his way. I smiled because he never saw the impatient looks on the faces of the others in that grocery aisle. And I hope that if I reach the ripe old age of that man, others will allow me to pass along at my own pace, too, and that I'll not see the impatience written all over their faces. That mamma dog didn't cast out another creature simply because it didn't fit in with her agenda or her own pace.

We could learn a lot from a dog.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Date

Brian and I arranged to go out to dinner last evening. Reservations were made at a fine Italian restaurant. (I had made them, of course, but I'll take what I can get). I'd previously run to the grocery store and bought those cute mini pizzas, a favorite treat that the girls could assemble themselves for their supper. I'd put on make-up for the first time in a several days (after my dad's funeral on January 6th of this year, the last thing I felt like doing lately was actually making myself look good). The girls' bedtimes were discussed and agreement was reached with little negotiation necessary. I'd determined to make this night special, to forge ahead and steal a few romantic moments with my man, sharing some wine and homemade pasta together. Just the two of us. Just a little get-a-way; a moment to forget that this world can be harsh. It was supposed to be a precious time when we could remind each other - without even using words - that life does go on even in the midst of our trials.

Finally, we were alone in the restaurant. The meal was fantastic, and for the first time in days I'd felt hungry. The wine couldn't have tasted better. Warm chocolate desserts came, along with much laughter as we shared old jokes, jokes that no one - sans my husband and I - would understand, much less find humorous. The dark cloud seemed to be lifting for the first time in nearly two weeks. And I felt good. I felt really good.

"Let's get the girls to bed as soon as we get home," my husband suggested. His eyes shone and danced the way they've done since I'd fallen in love with him more than two decades ago. We arrived home to find our daughters readying themselves for bed. I was looking forward to cuddling up with my husband after a very emotional week, after days spent apart from one another due to his job and my time away to be with my mother, when life and all of its demands get in the way of simple, coveted peace.

We turned the lights off, one room at a time, as is our normal routine. I entered my bedroom and pulled down the comforter. Even though they were cold, the sheets were more than inviting as I crawled inside them because they represented tranquility. Suddenly, we heard small footsteps as my youngest daughter, Caroline, knocked on our bedroom door. I popped out of bed, opened the door, and found her crying, covering her face with her hands. Upon questioning her, she told us that she was having nightmares, and she couldn't sleep, which was a very rare occurrence for her. She explained that she had been watching a show called "Lost Tapes" earlier that evening, which apparently had given her nightmares. According to Caroline, the show was spotlighting giant centipedes in some tropical region. A commercial for a special about vampires compounded her fears.

"I just want to sue those Lost Tapes people!" she cried through her tears. I tried desperately to conceal my laughter, as I humorously pictured my daughter appearing on "People's Court" or some such event where she'd be the plaintiff in "Caroline vs. Lost Tapes" as she attempted to sue for "damages" she'd received related to her nightmares.

We encouraged her to sleep in the guest bedroom, which is the room located closest to ours. That attempt failed, however, when she reappeared within a few moments, crying and obviously still very upset. "Can I please sleep with you, Mommy?" she pleaded.

Without a word, Brian made his way to the guest room. Caroline curled up next to me in my bed, and within seconds, I heard her soft, rhythmic breathing. Her hair smelled of strawberry shampoo, and her little body was once again relaxed as it rested next to mine. Tranquility was restored, and I drifted off to sleep, peacefully for the first time in countless nights.

The next morning, she asked me if she'd "ruined" my date with Daddy. I had mixed feelings as I pondered her question, the previous night's memories and emotions swirling around in my brain. I couldn't bring myself to expose any negativity to my ten-year-old daughter. There will be other dates. There are, however, only a handful of times when our words and actions become lifelong memories for our children to cling to when they need them the most.

"No," I answered. "Everyone gets scared sometimes, Honey. You didn't ruin my time with Daddy; in a way you just made it even more special."

Her smile told me that I said the right thing. I have to remember that Caroline is hurting, too. She lost her grandfather less than a week ago. There will be other dates to look forward to. And honestly, because the years pass so quickly, there's probably only a handful of times left when I'll have the blessing of sleeping with my youngest daughter, to comfort her in her time of need.

For the record, Caroline will not be watching "Lost Tapes" again for a very, very long time. My husband will make sure of it!