No, I Am Your Father

My Mom called me. It was 5:15 am. Her voice was calm as she said, “I think he’s gone.” I drove as quickly as I could – a thousand thoughts racing through my mind. I expected the call so it wasn’t a surprise, but some moments just can’t be imagined. When I got to her house, I hugged my Mom close and tried to absorb her pain. I went in to my Dad and saw him laying there peacefully. I put my fingers to his neck and felt for a pulse. He was warm and I watched his chest, expecting it to rise and fall, but it didn’t. I gently held his wrist and checked for a pulse. His hands were cold. On September 23rd, 2014, my Dad left his earthly body and went to rest.

More Than Enough

This year is coming to an end and there’s a few details I need to wrap up. Before now, I couldn’t bring myself to do a “cancer” update. I wanted to make it through and, perhaps, even forget about it all. However, God has been faithful in so many ways and I realize I need to finish the chapter before I can move on. And, I recently learned that some friends were concerned I had died. So here goes…

The last three weeks of external radiation and chemo were difficult. When people ask me what I learned from all of it, I tell them I didn’t realize how much more I had to lose. Without going too much into the details, the two things I lost during my final weeks of treatment were my dignity and my value.

I went from eating “some” food to avoiding all food. I chewed for taste but then I lost the ability to taste. Gatorade turned against me and even water became an enemy. The diarrhea became severe and my potassium levels dropped significantly. I ended up getting several IV re-hydration treatments. At that point, I was totally unproductive and felt like I had nothing of value to offer the people around me. I stood in the margins and watched as they moved through their days. I needed to be there, to understand what it felt like to be in that place, and to be so loved by people around me that my soul found its way out before my body did.

And that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned. People get left in the margins because they don’t have anyone that holds on tight when things get messy, when life gets so complicated and there’s no hope of rebuilding, when the ladders you depended on no longer exist.

Which brings me to the last few weeks of internal radiation. I had five treatments – each one required an operating room and sedation. The actual treatments only took 15 minutes, but the preparation took hours. The IV needle became more and more difficult to insert because of the dehydration. I had one good vein left and lidocaine helped the needle make it through the scar tissue.

My champion, through internal radiation was my niece, Hannah. She hung on tightly and wouldn’t let me attempt the journey on my own. After the first treatment, I didn’t want to do anymore. I begged her to make an excuse so that we didn’t have to go back, but she insisted. And two treatments turned to four and then we had only one left. All those hours of staring at the ceiling and trying not to move began to fray the neatly tied strings holding me together. And then we were done. No evidence of disease. For now.

Some things I expected to happen…never happened. And some things were unexpected: The amount of time I’d need off work, the effects of radiation on my joints and muscles, the way I view God the Father, the mountain of bills left behind, the many people who love me. It was a journey I needed to take and I am thankful that His Grace was more than enough.

Wading in the Water

Untitled-3 Well, that was an interesting week.  It’s now the middle of my third week of chemo and radiation. I’m happy to say I’m doing well. I still have my hair and no nausea. I only have two more weeks of chemo treatments. Weeehooo! It’s getting a bit more difficult. The combination of therapy is rough at times, but I’m managing it and working around the hard parts. The radiation treatments are daily, so there’s no break from the torture. This week will actually be my first full week of radiation. With each spin of the x-ray machine I ask God to protect my organs and that the radiation will be effective where it needs to be.  As the radiation accumulates, the lining of my intestines gets torn up and, well, stuff happens. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s temporary. Thankfully, all the tissue will regenerate over time.

     Eating is a bit difficult. My new diet consists of Greek yogurt, hummus, beets, peanut butter, bananas, cheese, deli thin turkey, naan and pita. Gatorade is my new BFF. Thanks to my niece Hannah, who has arranged and army of people to care for me – including herself -I have iced cold Gatorade all day long. My potassium levels are low and the Big G meets that need. Water tastes awful and caffeine is my temporary enemy.

     More than likely, I will need to start working from home a few days a week. The day after my chemo treatment is difficult. I get really bad headaches that cause dizziness and pain. And my gut doesn’t appreciate the dual day of treatment, so it likes to beg for attention. It’s just better for me to be at home and close to my bathroom on Wednesdays. Thankfully, my boss is a gem and she encourages me take care of myself. I actually forgot this was an option.

     Last week was difficult. We took my Dad to the E.R. where they determined he had crushed two vertabrae. They transported him to St. Joseph’s in Lewiston where he underwent a procedure to insert glue into the vertabrae to relieve some of the pain. It worked! (Insert Hallelujah here!) They kept him at St. Joseph’s to treat his wounds and help him stabilize. His nurse, Karen, was a blessing beyond our wildest dreams. She was kind to us and helped us understand how to get my Dad the care he needed.  We received several visits from Joe Rosales, who prayed with us. This was a gift that we needed more than we knew. I am so thankful for Rachel and Joe for their kindness to us these past few weeks.

     It was a difficult week for my Mom. We traveled back and forth to Lewiston every day. Fortunately, my radiation treatments were in the building next door, so we combined our efforts and got it done. On Tuesday, St. Joseph’s released my Dad. My Mom and I transferred him to Good Sam’s, as they were unable to pick him up. Unfortunately, my Dad had to sit in the car for almost 45 minutes while the staff located a wheel chair. Not a good moment. I ended up late for my chemo treatment and just about lost my mind. It worked on my Mom’s last nerve, too. I hated seeing her like that. But we all survived and my Mom can drive over and spend time with him whenever she wants to. She sits with him for lunch and dinner and gently reminds him that food is necessary. Her nights are lonely and her days are complicated. She could use some TLC from anyone who cares. I would love to have her come home to a bag of groceries on her doorstep, a loaf of tasty bread, a card with kind thoughts, and any little acts of kindness that would say, “We know this time is difficult for you and we want you to know we care.”

     This phantom verse, “God helps those who help themselves,” is attributed to Ben Franklin and to Hezakiah 6:1, which is not a book of the bible. In fact, it’s not even biblical. Proverbs 28:26 tells us that, “He who trusts in himself is a fool.” Been there…done that. Toss this one out. And then there’s this little gem: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Ummm…Yes. He will. Who started that nasty rumor? The truth is, God wants you to trust in Him, to lean on Him, to let Him carry your burdens. And He comes to you, as the body of Christ, and helps you. The difficult part is when the body of Christ doesn’t pay attention and fails to care. This is a huge failure on the part of the church – to bear one another burdens. And when we need help, we don’t ask for it, mostly because there might be a little voice in our head that says, “Everyone has excuses, just like me, and they don’t really want to help.” And if people are unloved inside the church, that means the people living outside in the margins, the people who have no support system in place, no family to care for them, no Jesus to visit them, are often devastated when God doesn’t show up to help. We need to get better at this.  We need to find time in our lovely, perfect families to look around and carry the burdens of others. All it takes is a willing heart. And sacrifice. And time. And…less excuses. Pull together your resources, open up your arms and invite people in. If we can create shalom – allowing people rest and restoring people to flourish – we will be more like Christ to a hurting world.

In Sickness and in Health

Fifty-eight years ago, my parents said “I do!” I wasn’t around back then – not even a sparkle in their eye. Nevertheless, I’ve had a front row seat to it all. If I had to choose, I would not choose their kind of marriage for myself, but it’s worked for them and they’ve managed to stay “in it” all these years. There have been a few times when I’ve given my Mom permission to leave it, begged her to, but she remained committed to her vows and politely told me to “butt out.”
     A marriage between two people is never between two people, regardless if the marriage is dotted with children. It’s a testimony to the world of sacrifice, forgiveness, commitment, endurance, and restoration – it’s a testimony of Christ. A good testimony, a bad testimony, and something in between. And children watch and learn. Family watches. Friends watch. Neighbors watch.
     My Mom is an amazing woman. Today she’s sitting in the hospital room with my Dad. His health has failed dramatically over the last two weeks and she is no longer able to care for him like she’s done for 58 years. His pain is severe due to broken vertebrate from a fall and there is no treatment except for easing the pain. In addition, he’s developed an infection from laying in one place for too long. Moving him was unbearable, for him and for us.
     We’ve spent quite a few hours talking about what all this means. She told me, “I thought we had more time.” But is there ever enough time? How much time would be enough if you knew it was coming to an end? She blames herself for his fall and I cannot take that from her. I gently remind her that this is his story, too. And falling was inevitable. I look at her face and I know she is grieving for the man she’s already lost to dementia, to the thought of her future without him by her side, and for that moment when she can’t care for him in any of the small and big ways. She has given her life to his comfort in small acts every day, for years. He has been a king in our home, and she has served him with gladness.
     I’m not close to my Dad. When I was a kid, my friends would all tell me how great my Dad was and how lucky I was to have him. And I believed them and saw him through their eyes. But when you have a front row seat, you see things and hear things that friends don’t. You sit at the dinner table, hear the harsh words spoken behind the front door, and withstand the long hours of silence and selfishness. And this is the Dad you remember. My love for my Mother and my desire to protect and defend her from my Dad came early in life. Were it not for those years, I am convinced I would not have the overwhelming compassion to care for women and children today. I am thankful for this gift, this grace, this life lesson.
     Several years ago, I started hearing teaching on “Father Hunger” and started to believe the nonsense. I’m convinced it was formulated to make men think more highly of themselves than they should. Did I make choices in my life seeking the love that was missing from my Dad? Possibly, but I also had the love and support of an amazing Mother who filled in the gaps and raised me to be strong, independent, and courageous. So many children are fatherless in this world due to stupid wars, selfish men, and love of empire…surely there is another answer. And I began to see that teaching children to know God, the Father, from an early age, is far more good for the soul. A loving Father God who seeks to restore our souls and continually reminds us of His love is more than any earthly Father could ever be. It wasn’t until I was able to change my expectations of my Dad, to see him as simply a man made in the image of God, that I was able to love him and confront him and see beyond all the spoken and unspoken hurts of the past. We sat and talked and I told him things I needed to say, we made peace, he asked for forgiveness and we forgave the past together. And I never thought that day would come, but God is faithful.
     So now my Dad is nearing the end of his story. I have mixed emotions. I hate seeing him suffer and I want it to end. I want him to have “more time” because that’s what my Mom needs. There are so many unanswered questions that only God knows the answers to. Does my Dad have a relationship with Christ? Will I see him again? Nevertheless, I pray this for him:

Heart, body, and soul are filled with joy.
For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.
You have let me experience the joys of life and the exquisite pleasures of your own eternal presence.
— Psalm 16: 9-11

Signs and Wonders

Friday wasn’t supposed to be significant. It’s my friend Pat’s birthday so that makes it special, but other than that, it was only slightly important because my long-awaited doctor visit had finally arrived.

     When I lost my job in January of 2013, I also lost my healthcare. Up until that point in my life, I had never experienced life without healthcare. I was out of work for nearly eight months, got a job in August (insert Hallelujah here), and got a urinary tract infection in September. The job was a temporary appointment and I still had no healthcare. At that point, my finances were somewhere between “please stop calling me” and “my stellar credit report has died a terrible death.” So… the doctor visit was not an option.

     In October, I bought a UTI kit from the dollar store and the results were positive. In November, I called my doctor’s office and inquired about UTIs and the cost of treatment. The “oh-so-friendly” woman told me I would have to come in for a visit because they could not diagnose me over the phone. I said, “I realize that. I’m just trying to get an idea of what the visit will cost me since I am currently uninsured.”  She informed me that the visit would run me $100, antibiotics around $300, and there might be more tests needed at an additional cost. And…I decided I could live with the discomfort.

medical     In late February of 2014, I started to feel a little more uncomfortable, I began talking with women about my symptoms – even though it was awkward and slightly humiliating – and I started to feel a dull pain and became a little concerned the UTI might have moved to my kidneys. My temporary position became permanent (insert Hallelujah here) so I decided to wait. Thankfully, on March 1st my health coverage became effective (insert a choir of Hallelujah’s here). I immediately made an appointment. When it looked like my medical cards would not arrive in time for the appointment, I called to let the doctor’s office know. Oooooh! Not good news. After 14 years with the same doctor’s office, they wouldn’t consider back-billing my insurance, so I had to cancel the appointment and wait until I had the cards in my hand. Those beautiful plastic cards arrived and I called to make an appointment. I was told the only female doctor was no longer accepting new patients. Did I want to see a nurse?

     I looked around for a new doctor in town and made the appointment. The night before the appointment, I went to bed and dreamed I was lost, couldn’t remember where the doctor’s office was located, and arrived so late the appointment had to be rescheduled. Needless to say, Friday morning, when I was reminded someone was borrowing my car for the day but would drop me off at the doctor, I felt a wave of anxiety run through me. Later that morning, I left my office and stood at the curb watching for my car. When I got the call to say my car wouldn’t start, I was less than gracious. With just a few minutes to spare, my Mom picked me up at the curb and dropped me off at the doctor’s office. The reception area was empty (insert cricket sounds here). The receptionist informed me I was seven minutes late and just stared at me.  I reached deep, down in to my heart and pulled out an ounce of kindness and asked, “Will the doctor still see me or will I need to reschedule?”

     The self-diagnosed UTI turned out to be cervical cancer. Somewhere between “your cervix looks bad” and “You have cervical cancer,” I lost a little piece of myself – the piece that needed to go in order for me to grow. When I realized I was holding my breath, I exhaled, closed my eyes, and found the courage to tell God I was thankful and would follow Him wherever He wanted to take me. I actually can’t remember much of what the doctor told me: stages, treatment, hysterectomy, and waiting for the results.

TheKing     The last few days have been raw, cold, and numbing. I’ve suppressed more emotion than I ever thought possible, though I’m quite sure it’s been more difficult for the people who love me. I’ve said and thought some silly things, gazed into dark spaces in my mind, and googled things that sent me on a roller coaster ride of emotion. I’ve discovered there are things in my life I need to be rid of – the unnecessary stuff that serves no purpose. I’ve grieved for the hundreds of women and children that aren’t being loved right here in my town. And I’ve thought about how much of a fight I’m willing to endure, if any.

     On Sunday morning at church (insert Hallelujah here), Marty Solomon (Real Life on the Palouse) delivered a sermon, “New Beginnings,” that reminded me why I need to fight to be alive.  I am a ruler chosen by a king who reigns in righteousness. I am a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, a stream of water in the desert, and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. And loving and serving people is the most effective way of reaching a fearful, hardened heart. I have no other reason to be here if I’m not going to do what Jesus commanded.

     Today I learned that my cancer was caught in the early stages of its destruction and will be treatable. And I am thankful. I’m not altogether sure what that means right now; nevertheless, I am ridiculously happy! No matter what happens, from here on out, I will continue to love the people He sets in my path and I will expect Him to perform signs and wonders through me. I am loved by an awesome God. And even if He chooses to take me home, I will gladly follow.

 

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