Friday, April 27, 2012

It's my first quiet morning in the house in two weeks.  No need to rush to get a shower.  No one to attend to.  No services.  No visitors.  No major plans.

Two weeks ago today, I went up to the Kirklin Clinic to sit with my parents for part of their day there.  My mother had her final radiation treatment on her head, and she was scheduled for her first new chemotherapy treatment on the liver.  What we did not realize was that it was the first day of the spiral down, the beginning of the end.

As I scrubbed my children's bathroom on Wednesday, I went over it in my mind.  When was the last time I had a real conversation with my mother, one in which we both talked and responded to what was being said.  It was two weeks ago today.  I sat in the little room with her and told her a Madalyn story.  Everyone, especially my mom, loves a good Madalyn story.  She laughed and ate a cookie.  It was so simple, so ordinary.  But that was it.  By the following day, she was slipping away, and there were no more real conversations.

I know that this is what it will be like for the rest of my life.  Recounting moments and chats.  Reliving scenes in my mind.  Wondering what she would say, imagining her laughing along with me, trying to paste her into present situations in my mind.   This grief thing is so strange to me, so deeply internal.  Truth is that grief is so different for each person.  What I feel is different from what either of my brothers feels and especially different from what my dad is going through.  Yet we all grieve.

This morning, as I type, I am surrounded by flowers and plants.  I think the pollen count inside my house is officially higher than in the air outside.  But there is something so comforting in the beautiful blooms.  Almost every arrangement I brought home has Star Gazer lilies in it, which was my mother's favorite.  She would be so pleased.  There is a beautiful green plant at my back window, and there are many still at my parents' house.  So many people who sent their love even if they couldn't be there.  There are a number of cards that I haven't even read yet.  The love that surrounds our family is unbelievable and such a God thing.  I am so very thankful...

But still, we will wake up each day with a little piece missing.  Well, to be honest, a big chunk missing. My prayer is that Jesus fills that empty spot as only He can.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In celebration of Her...

We buried my mother yesterday.  It was a long day full of a variety of emotions, but we were able to celebrate her life and found comfort in knowing where her soul is right now.  Below are the words I shared with friends and family that were there....


There is a huge part of me that cannot believe we are here today, this earthly part of me that is so deeply sad.  But then there is another part of me, a part in touch with a Peace that cannot be understood by an earthly mind, a soul that rejoices for my mother, who is also my Sister in Christ, who has risen to claim her prize.  I picture her restored… all the scars from surgeries and procedures that covered her body are no more.  Those pesky stretch marks from three pregnancies have been erased.  I imagine her hair as a never ending silky stream flowing from her head.  And surely there is no grey hair in heaven.  Perhaps she is walking side by side with God Himself just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden amongst the brilliant blooms of flowers she has never seen before in colors that cannot be imagined.  She is reunited with those gone before her… the grandmother who died long before she was born, her mother who went to be with Jesus just three months ago today.  And finally reunited with her only earthly sister, one she lost so suddenly over thirty years ago.  I can hear the laughter in my heart.

If my mother could say one thing today, it would be thank you.  She would want to thank her angels on earth that ministered to her over the years she battled cancer.  There were the food angels… all the good Southern ladies who know the way to make anything better is to feed people.  The food angels had a difficult task in pleasing two opposing palettes – my mother, who would eat most anything you put before her, and my father, who has more selective taste buds.  Somehow these angels kept their bellies full and satisfied.  There were visiting angels, the people who took time out of their busy schedules and visited my grandparents in the nursing home when my mother was physically not able to do so.  They will never know the relief in my mother’s voice over the phone when she was able to tell me how they were doing without being there herself.  She also had the cleaning angels who came to clean the house for her, dusting and vacuuming and mopping floors.  These are the chores we ladies don’t enjoy doing in our own house, but my mother’s angels came and did it with a smile.  Last, but certainly not least, were the prayer angels, every single person who whispered a prayer for my mother’s health and strength.  We will never know how many of these lovely angels there were, but we are forever grateful to each person who prayed for my mom and our family.  The strength and love that we have felt through this supernatural web of support has been unexplainable.  I want to thank not only the angels here in this room today but God as well for each one of you.  Praise be to God that His amazing Love and Mercy lives today through the kindness of these angels on earth!

I have searched the pages of my Bible for just the right Scripture to share today, one that would fit just right.  Everything pointed right back to the Proverbs 31 woman.  And when I revisited the passage, I understood why.  Listen as I share from Proverbs 31:10-12, 28-31:
A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The best gift my mother ever gave me was her example of what a wife should be.  My generation doesn’t have many examples of a Christian wife, but I was fortunate to grow up with one as my mother.  I missed the formative years of the marriage, the ones both of parents alluded to as I grew up, the years where more patience was required on my mother’s side, more grace for a still maturing young man.  My father will tell you he didn’t deserve my mother, and perhaps that is the truth.  But maybe there was something else at work within my mother… maybe she had a love within her that no one here on earth deserves, a love that never runs out even when things are tough or disappointing, mercies that are new every morning, and grace that is free.  To my father I would say that that she loved you with a Godly love, one that makes no sense to the outside world, exactly the way it was intended to be.  And you loved her back with that same kind of love, one that pushed and pulled in all directions and made you the man you are today. 

She also gave me the example of how a Christian mother should be.  She wasn’t perfect, mind you… there was that one time when I was little that she promised to take me to the zoo and didn’t make good on it.  I don’t know why I remember that day so well, but I sat at the kitchen table playing with Play-Doh, and I let her know that she was a liar for telling me she would take me and then not.  She did not respond to me.  Funny how I don’t remember her losing her patience with me ever.  Now that I am a mother who happens to lose patience with her children several times a day, I am hoping she just had a good way of hiding her emotions.  But maybe it’s because by the time I came along, she was already worn out from raising Trey and Todd who were only thirteen months apart.  She said she rushed Trey to grow up and didn’t baby Todd enough from the very start, but I think she made up for it over time with lots of back scratches and home cooked meals. 

I will rise and call her blessed every day of my life.  I will thank God for her every day.  In the 35 years I had with her, I received more love, more sound advice, more blessings than most people receive from both parents in a lifetime.  I will remain forever grateful to my Creator for placing me in her womb, for selecting me to be her daughter.  I am forever grateful to have watched her fight the ugliness of cancer with such strength, dignity, and honor.  I am forever grateful to know that when she reached the gates, she claimed the reward we are promised through Jesus.  By His Grace, by His amazing sacrifice, we are saved.

And to my mother, I will simply say these words… I will see you soon.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I was so conflicted all afternoon about what I should do.  Stay or go home.  I missed my husband and my children, and I was exhausted from the week of back and forth and two nights there in the house.  But I wanted to be there for her.  Back and forth all day... I tossed it over in my mind a million times.  I finally asked myself, "If she could speak right now, what would she say?"

"Go home, Tamara.  Go be a wife and mother."

And so I did.  I told her in her ear the last few things I needed to say.  Though she was unresponsive, I know she heard me.  No one can convince me otherwise.  I released her, and she released me.  It's the way it should be.  She raised me to be a woman of strength just like her.

The house was quiet and dark.  My father and older brother were by her side.  She breathed her last around 1:30 and saw the face of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I made the drive back down in the black of night, a few headlights shimmering in the distance.  I talked to Him the whole way, and I came to a conclusion.  He did not take her a moment too soon.  I got the very best of her, and for that I am grateful.  We left nothing unsaid.  We never lived a day in hostility with one another.  The beauty of our relationship will live within me forever, though I am forever changed without her here.

I touched her head.  It was cool, and it became real.  I smelled her perfume and picked up her makeup.  I looked through her dresser drawers.  I soaked in the surroundings and wept quietly.  My precious Mama has gone ahead of me.  If I know her well at all, I know what she is doing... she is counting the days until she can see us all again.  She is with her mother and her sister taken so many years ago.  She is cancer free.  She is who God created her to be... a perfect, radiant being of pure Light and Love.  And for that I am thankful.

I can't describe the feeling that Jesus has washed over my soul the past several days.  It's a strange peace, one that I have read about in the Word.  I am deeply sad for the loss of my mother, but I rejoice for my sister in Christ that has been made whole again.  Trying to reconcile the two will prove difficult, but it is what I must do as a believer.

I am certain I will find myself asking this one question in my head over and over again for the rest of my life... "If she could speak right now, what would she say?"

"Keep moving forward.  I will see you soon."

Sweet Heavenly Father, Creator of all life, I praise you for my mother.  I thank you for placing me in her womb and honoring me with such an amazing example of what a wife and mother should be.  I ask You to fill in my holes now... where I am sad, soothe me... where I am weak, strengthen me as only You can... where I am angry, calm my spirit.  Thank You for the thirty-five years I had with her.  Thank You for letting Your Love shine through her... in Your Holy Name I pray, Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Waiting...

The little wheels bounced on the roughness of the blacktop, and the cart made a dreadful noise as I pulled my keys out of my purse.  "Are you enjoying your Sunday so far?" she asked, all bright and cheerful in her tee shirt which matched the skin of a granny smith apple.

I wanted to stop, sit my rear end on the parking lot below me, and switch back and forth between weeping and screaming.  No, I wasn't particularly enjoying my Sunday so far, and that was the reason why I didn't want her to help me out with my stupid groceries anyway.  It was just a few bags, like one too many to carry them out with no buggy.  I didn't need the help, nor did I want it, but she seemed so eager, so I gave in.

"Yes... it's been a pretty good day.  Thanks."  We shuffled the bags into the trunk, making small talk about something else cheerful.  I smiled and played along with the game.  She wheeled my cart back into the store and I shut myself into my car and took a deep breath watching other customers walk in and out of the sliding doors wondering what their Sunday has looked like.

I went down to see my mom.  Things are not good.  Friday her blood work revealed that her liver functions are decreasing rapidly.  She showed a significant decrease in functions from the week before and has retained quite a bit of fluid.  Her oncologist went ahead with the chemo scheduled for the day, but he let us know that if this one did not knock it down, things would go down hill fairly quickly.

As of today, she is comfortable and in her bed.  She is lucid but sleeping a lot during the day.  She is able to eat some and enjoyed her lunch and a piece of cake while I was there.  She is tired.

Right now, we sit in wait.  She will either take a turn for the better or worse.  We wait and watch and minister to her needs in the meantime.

There's something maddening in the waiting for all of us... the thoughts of what is to come float randomly through our heads.  The fear of the unknown weighs heavily on our hearts.  The grief begins to thicken in our blood.  The decision the lay it all at the feet of Jesus becomes a moment to moment choice like each of my mother's breaths that are labored from the scar tissue around her lungs.

It's hard to lay such a burden as this at His feet, even though you know it's the only choice.  It's hard to let go of it, to surrender full control, to allow yourself to admit that there is nothing to be done but wait, pray, and love her.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Sunday... I've sat down to blog about it, but just been unable.  Here's my best effort:

My morning began with thoughts of my grandmother.  Easter was usually shared with her from an early age in my life.  It was more than just that Sunday.  It was a trip to Hancock's weeks in advance to pick a pattern and fabric for a dress.  It was a trip to the mall for shoes and a matching purse.  It was fittings and pins and final results.  It was plastic eggs with change inside, secured with sticky transparent tape.  It was ham and cornbread dressing and black eyed peas.  It was a picture in front of the large oak in her yard.  It was azalea blooms, bumble bees buzzing in the delight of the pollen, thick blades of green grass between my toes.  Everything about Easter was my grandmother.  The newness in the air, the food, the gathering of family, the creating of something pretty and pastel to wear... it was her and all she did well.

This was the first year in my life that it wasn't a possibility to see her on Easter Sunday.  Though I can't tell you the last year I spent the holiday with her (it had to have been about eight years ago), it hurt my heart.  I missed her so.  I miss her now.

We drove down for church with my parents.  My brother, his wife, and daughter drove over from Mississippi.  My other brother and his wife were there as well.  We were all together there in church, my parents, my brothers, and me.  I sat beside my mother, and despite the sadness in my heart for many reasons, I could not contain my smile.  A year ago, I had sat in church with her with the belief that it could be my last Easter with her in my life.  But I was wrong.  We came so close to losing her just six weeks ago, but we didn't.  I have felt her slipping between my fingers so many times, but she is still here.  I am amazed.  I am so thankful.

After church, we went to my parents' house.  There was food and family and plastic eggs.  There were pictures outside in the sunshine.  There were moments I will always remember.  There was faith in the air.  Faith in not what is seen, but unseen, something so far beyond the loss and pain of this world, something at work within, just below the flesh and bones.  Something real.

After we got home, I found myself in this weird emotional place, trying to balance my feelings about this world and the one that lies ahead because of the first Easter.  I called my living grandmother... I just needed to hear her voice.  I feel myself holding on to the people who have created me, knowing that one day soon, I will stand on my own with what I've been taught and shown.  Knowing that sooner than I will be willing, I will have to release two more women into the Kingdom.  I am eager to do so for their sake, reluctant for myself.

Today, my mother begins a new chemo treatment to fight the cancer in her liver.  She enters this new phase already tired... brain surgery just six weeks ago, a daily oral estrogen blocker flowing in her blood, and five treatments of radiation have already left their toll on her body.  I pray the side effects are minimal for her but drastic on the cancer.  Join me in this prayer if you will, please.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Carry the Death...

Let me share with you a Scripture that has peppered my devotionals in the past couple of weeks.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  So then death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.  {2 Corinthians 4:7-12}

I've read this before, probably had to memorize the first portion of it back in the day in a Bible class or two.  I have most likely listened to a multitude of sermons about treasures in jars of clay, my father being one of those ministers.  But, for some reason, when I read this passage a couple of weeks ago, it meant something different, something radical.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus...

I have spent a lot of time as I read the Scriptures focusing on the love, the grace, the Resurrection of Christ.  Those are the positives, the pretties, the parts I was missing all along the way before.  But here lately, I find this other side to things.  The ugly side, if you may.  Perhaps my new approach to the Scripture has to do with the point of life I have reached, a place where there are more divorces than nuptials, more cancer than new lives born, more heartache than I ever dreamed existed in life.  Everywhere I turn, the ugliness of life is there, the bitter truth, the imperfect plight we are destined to live.

Nothing has changed.  In this life, we will have many troubles {John 16:33, Jesus}.  It has been proven time and time again.  And yet, how easy it is to forget what was suffered for us.  The ugliness of the death of Jesus.  The bitterness surrounding it.  The sorrow.  The hopelessness and literal darkness that occurred as He breathed His last breath.  The fear that must have enveloped the Body of Christ, the first Christians, in watching the man they believed to be The Son of God killed before them.

That's the death of Christ.  That's what makes us feel a little uncomfortable.  That's what doesn't make sense in our mortal minds as common sense tries to reconcile the gracious gift given us through the ugliness of death.

See, somehow I like the notion that I have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead living within me {Romans 8:11}.  But to think of carrying that cruel, undeserved death around in my soul feels a little different.  Not quite as lovely and pretty and polished like a modern-day Christian should feel, right?  But if I believe it... if I really believe the whole story of Christ... then I should live each day like He died for me.

I stop for a moment and think how grateful I would be if someone died saving my life today.  Say a stranger leaps in front of that proverbial bus and pushes me out of the way just in the nick of time, sparing me so I can go on living my life and being a mother and wife.  I will be bold enough to say that it would radically change my life... I would be forever grateful for each breath, for each moment with my family from there on out.  So why I am not that conscious of what Jesus' death means to me today?

To live intentionally in the mindfulness that Jesus Christ died for me... that is my challenge as a modern-day Christian.  To live with the lashings on His bare back, the mocking voices, the nails, the crown of thorns, the sword in the side... to live with it fresh on my mind every day.  What a challenge indeed!  What gratitude and sacrifice I owe to Him who bore the pain of all my sin!

I want to carry the death of Jesus around in my body so that the life of Jesus will be revealed in my body.  Let Him shine through all I do.

Sweet Savior... I am humbled by what You did for me.  There are no words of gratitude grand enough to thank You for Your Death.  I want to honor You with my life.  I want Your Death to live inside of my soul so that I may shine the power of You life through all the many cracks in my little jar of clay.  In Your Holy and Precious Name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Best Friends

The year was 1984.  Velcro and Caprisuns were still fresh phenomenons.  We were both selected for a new concept at the little private Christian school, the combined second and third grade class.  Chance made us friends.

We both had brown hair and brown eyes.  So many striking similarities, but yet so different.  Back then, I was the more quiet of the two.  We were both equally competitive and bright, and I remember her getting the coveted perfect attendance award that year.  I would have gotten it too, but I yacked all over my desk and missed a few days with strep.

I moved away the summer after fourth grade, and then back again right before the ninth grade school year started.  I remember calling her when I got back, and then running into her at a youth group thing at church, and we just picked up right where we left off.  That's what friends do.  Their hearts remember one another, and time and space become irrelevant.

Eighteen years later, she is still my bestest friend.  I am definitely the louder of the two of us now, but we are both still equally bright and competitive.  We now buy velcro shoes and Caprisuns for our own children, which still seems crazy to me.  Do the powers that be realize they have entrusted the two of us with real children?

She's the one I can send a random text to at any time during the day or night.  Most of them would make little or no sense to anyone else in the world, but they do to her with no questions asked or judgements made.  She's one of a hand full of people that I can ask to pray for me, and I know without doubt that she will.  She knows me to the core of my soul, and I know her the same.  And today, I celebrate her on her birthday.

Happy birthday, Erika!  Hope it is a lovely day!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The past five days have been a bit of a blur.  I fought a tough chest cold last week, and just as I thought I was on the upward trend, Madalyn came down with a nasty little stomach bug.  Right in between the two illnesses came my mom's check up in Birmingham complete with scans and three different doctors.

Here's the news... there's no sign of a tumor in her brain!  This is unbelievable news for her!  My biggest fear was that in the month that she spent recovering from surgery and reclaiming her physical functions the remaining cells in her brain would rage within her and grow.  But they didn't.  The radiation oncologist wants to do an handful of radiation treatments to the area to kill off whatever may be lingering behind.  I can't express how gratefully surprised I was to hear this news.

The cancer in her liver displayed a little growth, but this was really of no surprise to us since she hasn't had any chemo since the week of Thanksgiving.  Her oncologist is not at all discouraged.  In fact, my mother told me that he said something along the following terms to her (I am paraphrasing, of course, as I wasn't there to hear it myself): "Some people may tell you that this is the end, but don't believe them."  Can you imagine having this man on your side?  A seasoned oncologist with such hope!  I thank God for having him on my mother's side... he is an amazing health advocate.  Amazing.

So the plan is this: radiation beginning this week, and then they will explore some other chemo options to treat the liver after radiation is finished.

I can't put into words what it is like to be my mother's daughter.  She has set before me this unbelievable example of strength and faith.  I am so blessed to have her and to watch her battle cancer.  I have learned so much about life just by observing her in these past two years as she has continued to beat so many sets of odds.

Please continue to keep her in your prayers as she fights!