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!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tough Question

Friends: I have a very difficult question to ask.

I'll get right to the point. On New Year's Day, 2010, my 77-year-old father went to be with the Lord.

And here's my question for anyone who's lost a parent: How do you get through the pain?

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Son's Laundry

"I'll do it when I get back!" my son Patrick yelled over his shoulder as he raced out the door. He'd finish doing his laundry after he returns home tonight. Later tonight. In fact, he'll probably stay up until well past midnight, sorting his socks and folding his washcloths and towels before packing them - actually it's more like tossing them - into his bags.

One of the things I really dislike is folding laundry, especially my son's. He's 19 years old, for heaven's sake! He's certainly capable of doing such a mundane task, and I'll bet that he does a fine job of it while he's away at college. His socks get matched, since they're all the same brand and color - white. He separates his shirts from the rest of the clothes and later hangs them on hangers in his closet. Several pairs of jeans are hurriedly squeezed into the bottom drawer of his small college dresser. When the task is finally completed, he's most likely out the door again and off to enjoy some time with his friends.

So here I sit folding my son's shirts and jeans and trying not to get irritated that I'm even doing his laundry at all. Wasn't he supposed to do this? So what if he's been irresponsible and has to stay up until 2:00 in the morning to fold his towels? He should have been more organized, and by golly, he should have anticipated this! How many time had I reminded him to do his laundry during these last few carefree days during the Christmas break?

But tonight is different. Much different. Tonight is the last night he'll see his best friend Wes for a while. Wes is now a Marine in the U.S. military, and he just completed his boot camp training. In three days Wes'll be transferred to another part of the country for further military training. And then what will his future hold? According to Wes, he'll most likely be sent to Afghanistan to serve. He'll serve people like me and you. Like my kids and my neighbors, too.

I'm no longer irritated as I fold my son's laundry. And as I remove yet another article of clothing from the enormous pile, a tear falls on my son's clean shirt. How is it that the most irritating tasks can become the ones you actually love completing? Perspective. It's all in the way that you look at the situation. Right now.

I know that there are countless moms who would love to be folding their son's or daughter's clothes right now. But they can't. Their son or daughter isn't home - not now and maybe not for a long time. Maybe never.

Thanks, Wes, for unknowingly helping to change this mom's perspective. May God bless you wherever you go.