Crystal carrots.

crystal carrots

I am grateful for the sound I hear just outside my upstairs window while I work, sound of snow melt off the side of a very old home in the glorious sunshine of a beautiful February day.

I am grateful when the bread I make turns out better than expected.

I am grateful for anticipation of a fun weekend in San Antonio.

And I am grateful for memories, both good and bad. They have had a part in who I am.

GI Joes and GI Jans.

angel wing

I am grateful for angels in our life right now.

I know there are angels all around us. I believe in God’s unseen army. I am certain that as we travel, we are spared tragedy as the tires slip on patches of ice. I am certain as I sit here in my home on a daily basis and work at my desk, that I am spared devastation from a short in a wire or a spark of a fire. I am certain that as we go about our routine lives, there are countless prayers answered because someone thought of us and lifted us up to our Father and He answers with rescue and with unseen protection.

I am also certain He answers those prayers with the army of angels we can see. I believe, because I am Thomas, the one who sees, the one who feels, the one who is shown on a daily basis so that I do not doubt His presence.

These angels might be:

  • a sister who calls and leaves a happy voicemail.
  • a friend who checks in with us on an almost daily basis and was worried about our travels this past weekend.
  • a brother who keeps us updated with his latest bathroom project.
  • an oldest sister named Anissa who took charge and braided her sisters’ hair when Ama was too busy to take the time.
  • friends who inform us that church is canceled due to icy roads.
  • a devotion sent to me by my soul sister.
  • a wonderful neighbor who shares their Wi-Fi password when our internet goes down.
  • a person who asks how the caregiver/care worrier is doing.
  • text messages from the January cooks that make me smile as they continually ding my phone with happy conversation among them.
  • a little 5-year-old Anjalie who wasn’t directed but just marched right in and started helping load furniture on a frigid and icy day.
  • a Dad who is “okay, but I’ll get over it,” and always makes me smile.
  • a friend who sends the perfect text messages and emails at just the right time because God laid us on her heart and knew her message would resonate.
  • an Oklahoma friend who sees a great card and sends it to us because “it fits.”
  • a sister and brother-in-law who took an entire day to entertain our grandchildren and give Sam an afternoon of rest.
  • people who post thoughtful messages of encouragement and support on CaringBridge.
  • a pleasant DirecTV technician.
  • friends who understand why I do not respond and love me anyway.
  • an unknown blogger who seems like a friend and takes my current crisis and throws it to the wind so that I can focus on something else and laugh for a few minutes.
  • four grandchildren who left remnants of themselves all over the house by way of a lone sock, a hair tie, a colored page, fingerprints, evidence of boredom through homemade Valentines and snowflakes, and the most beautiful “made by granddaughters” sugar cookies, so that I may constantly be reminded how very blessed I am.

cookie

Yet, I will reJOYce.

winter songbird

I stumbled upon this poem yesterday, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I think I should memorize it.

You have to believe in happiness

“You have to believe in happiness,
Or happiness never comes.
I know that a bird chirps none the less
When all that he finds is crumbs.

You have to believe the buds will blow,
Believe in the grass in the days of snow.
Ah, that’s the reason a bird can sing,
On his darkest day he believes in Spring.

You have to believe in happiness—
It isn’t an outward thing.
The Spring never makes the song, I guess,
As much as the song the Spring.

Aye, many a heart could find content
If it saw the joy on the road it went,
The joy ahead when it had to grieve,
For the joy is there—but you have to believe.”

—Douglas Malloch (1877–1938)

I am grateful for birds that sing.

I am grateful that if I have to be away from home, at least I am here in a place that I love.

I am grateful when an elevator works, but I am also grateful for stairs that exercise my stagnant self.

I am grateful for a tv remote control. And more than 3 channels. And color. And an end to that rolling annoyance that used to be – I don’t even know what it’s called, but anyone under 45 years of age has no clue what I speak of, I am certain. But I do miss the fascination I used to have with the record player arm that just knew how to raise up and lower down on a record and find the right groove.

I am grateful I grew up before all this technology became the norm.

I am grateful that I can choose not to listen to unsolicited advice.

I am grateful for Chinese food, delivered, on a freezing rain kind of day.

I am grateful for messages that seem to fit exactly what my heart needs to hear in the moment.

The joy I give you transcends your circumstances. This means that no matter what is happening in your life, it is possible to be joyful in Me. The prophet Habakkuk listed a series of dire circumstances that he was anticipating, then he proclaimed, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” This is transcendent joy!

I am training you to view your life from a heavenly perspective – through eyes of faith. When things don’t go as you had hoped, talk with Me. Seek My Face and My Guidance. I will help you discern whether you need to work to change the situation or simply accept it. Either way, you can teach yourself to say, “I can still rejoice in YOU, Jesus.” This short statement of faith – expressing your confidence in Me – will change your perspective dramatically. As you practice doing this more and more, your Joy will increase. This training also prepares you to handle the difficulties awaiting you on your pathway toward Heaven. Rejoice in Me, always. – from Sarah Young’s, “Jesus Always,” February 5 (emphasis by Rhonda)

I am grateful for new shoes that I really like.

I am grateful for a friend who listens and doesn’t mind the ugly unload.

I am grateful for others like me who wear it all on their sleeve.

I am grateful for flowers in winter.

I am grateful for memories of Mom’s hot chocolate mix…the stuff with powdered milk and powdered sugar. Mmmmmm.

I am grateful for anticipation of a great night of basketball. Who in the world am I. I do not recognize my old self…

I am grateful that I always have a to-do list.

I am grateful that bills are paid and there is still money in the bank to give to others.

Finally, I am grateful for the word, “yet.” Even though, I will. In spite of, I will.  Yet, I will reJOYce in the Lord.

Like the poem says. The JOY is there…you just have to believe.

Life is not intended to be simply a round of work,
no matter how interesting and important that work may be.
A moment’s pause to watch the glory of a sunrise or a sunset is soul satisfying, while a bird’s song will set the steps to music all day long.
– Laura Ingalls Wilder

winter chickadee

Appreciating quiet days and peaceful nights.

boat

I have days when I am quiet.

I have words that are battling to escape from my brain and my mouth, but I also have sense to do a “Delmar” and just remain quiet. For many years, my mom spoke for my dad, while he remained quiet. I am sure he had much to say, but he had the sense to keep the words inside.

The past few days have been a battle inside, and I am grateful for the sense to keep the words inside.

Yesterday, I drove all afternoon, and Saturday we drove all afternoon. Approximately 750 miles this past weekend. I like the feeling of road noise and peace as the miles go by. I sometimes imagine in my head as I drive, “No one in the world knows exactly where I am in this moment…” When we are driving at night and I sit in the passenger seat, I like to watch for houses with a lamp on, imagining the peaceful and quiet evening happening on the inside and wishing I was at home with an accent light and a sherpa throw draped over me.

I am grateful for good tires, a clean car, and a tank of gas.

I had the privilege of talking to my baby girl for over an hour on Saturday. I cannot remember the last time I had an hour long conversation with my baby girl. That makes me sad all at the same time I feel inexpressible joy that I had an hour long conversation with my baby girl.  I would love to have recorded the call, just so I could hear her voice over and over again.

I am grateful for a phone call that brought inexpressible joy.

As we were driving on Saturday, there were many, many miles of quiet awe. It was fascinating to explore a part of the country I knew nothing of – where roads were few and ranches were marked by brands. The only signs of life were the angus that dotted the landscape and the hawks that soared above us. In a previous form of myself, it would have caused tired eyes and a road nap. But now, I want to take it all in. I want to see and appreciate the beauty of the quiet, the inspiration of that which I do not know.

I am grateful for the figurative and literal road less traveled.

solitude

I have days when I am quiet.

It might be that my soul is anguished about something in particular. It might be that it is just a female rite of passage that causes emotions to be extra tender. It might be that there is a settling of acceptance of the way things are.

Or it might sometimes be that there is joy that is unspeakable.

I am grateful for quiet days, whatever may be the cause.

It is good to proclaim My Love in morning and My Faithfulness at night. Proclaiming this love is exceedingly good for you. When you declare the wonders of My Loving Presence, you are strengthened and encouraged. This glorious blessing flows into you more fully as you speak these words out loud. Let this delightful declaration fill you with joy inexpressible and full of glory!

Ponder some of the qualities of My Amazing Love: It is sacrificial, unfailing, priceless, boundless – reaching to the heavens. It shines so brightly that it can carry you through your darkest days. When you get to the end of each day, it is time to proclaim My Faithfulness that reaches to the skies. Look back over the day, and notice how I helped you navigate your way through it. The more difficulties you encountered, the more help I made available to you. It is good to give voice to My Great Faithfulness, especially at night, so that you can lie down and sleep in peace.  – From Sarah Young’s “Jesus Always,” February 4

solitude 1

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Today was chemo day. They aren’t very fun and involve:

  1. very early mornings
  2. packing up all the things to get through chemo and necessary equipment to continue the office job/work from a treatment room
  3. driving a very long drive
  4. dealing with chemo brain – tasting and smelling everything yuck even before the taste and smell are reality
  5. doctor assessments and actual chemo
  6. driving another very long drive back home

We thought we were one step ahead this morning at 5 am. We were proactive and changed an ostomy bag, retaping and resealing so there would be absolutely no possibility of any accidentals on this lovely 4 degree day of January.

We ate a fast breakfast of grapefruit, bagel, and eggs and loaded up the laptop, the bag of snacks, the paperwork, the extra supplies JUST IN CASE the no possibility of any accidentals was unrealistic, the two drinks, and our coats for this lovely 4 degree day of January.

We were not ONE HOUR down the road, when Sam announced,

“Oops, I crapped my pants.”

I am paraphrasing, based on a Saturday Night Live sketch from the late ’90s of a commercial for the Oops I Crapped My Pants adult diapers.

But seriously. He did.

Except that when it happens to an ostomy recipient, it happens right there in the front of your belly, right down the front of your very comfortable sweat pants. You know, the ONLY pair of very comfortable sweat pants. You know, in the middle of the darkness on a lonely highway before 7 am, witnessed by only the moon and a stadium of stars.

Sometimes you just have to laugh so that you don’t cry.

Fortunately, we had plenty of wet wipes, a new ostomy bag, and all the supplies. Fortunately, where we were headed also provided a WalMart with new sweat pants and underwear. Fortunately, we were NOT on Scofield time today and had 5 minutes to spare. Fortunately, new sweat pants were on clearance and no one in their right mind ventured to WalMart at 7:45 am on this lovely 4 degree day of January.

Fast forward to our very first meeting with our official home-away-from-home oncologist, 2nd in command under Dr. Al-Rajabi, Roberto Rodriguez.

(We have been attempting to meet this rock star of an oncologist – handpicked by Dr. Al – for four treatments now. Dr. Rodriguez is swamped, and so we have been under the watchful care of the temporary team of doctors in Hays. No problem. They are great. It’s just that Dr. Rodriguez was a fellow under Dr. Al at KU, and Dr. Al only relinquished control of Sam’s treatment IF we were seen by Dr. Rodriguez out here where the cowboys roam. Suffice it to say, Dr. R came HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.)

So today was THE day.

We sat in the room, waiting to meet this guy, when the door opened wide and the first words out of his mouth after his introduction and handshakes were, “I see we’re going to have a problem here.”

Heart stoppage.

And then, he pointed to Sam’s K STATE WILDCATS shirt, big as Dallas, and my K State purple t-shirt peeking out from under my hooded warmth.

This guy BLEEDS red, blue, and Jayhawkiness. I don’t believe I have ever met a more KU-KU’er.

Sometimes you just have to laugh so that you don’t cry.

And from the moment he began to give Sam CRAP about collegiate loyalty, we knew we were in the best hands, once again. He was like the Tasmanian devil whirlwind, handling Sam’s extensive paperwork and going through all the details, talking faster than a highway ostomy change, giving Sam time and attention.

But he also did something else.

He got real:

At one point, he asked Sam what the long-term looked like.

Sam expressed his desire to finish all 12 treatments before undergoing the ostomy reversal and lung and liver resectioning surgeries. And once that is over, we’re done.

“Woah, woah, woah.” Or something like that.

Dr. R went on to get real. He got pretty serious. He told us that when a patient is diagnosed with metastatic disease, there isn’t a “done.”

Reality is, Sam will face some sort of treatment, most likely, for the rest of his life.

Cancer cells have gone outside the contained area. It’s a crap shoot to know exactly where they are in the body, and oncologists are doing their best to eliminate them all, but when cancer spreads, you treat. He DID acknowledge that there ARE the stories of God’s miraculous healing, of cancer tumors being plucked from the body via surgeries, and there is absolutely no evidence of cancer years later – and that is what we pray, hope, and believe – but we cannot just “be done.”

Tonight, I am grateful for another pretty amazing KU doctor who has joined our team, even though he has a KU tattoo and disparaged our purpleness.

I am grateful for his frank discussion in that treatment room this morning.

I am grateful that God set that moon and the stadium of stars into place, put Roberto Rodriguez under the leadership of Raed Al-Rajabi, and then planted him in Hays America at the end of a stressful morning drive.

I am grateful that God is in charge, not us.

I am grateful that God is never “done.” He’s always at work.

And I am grateful for sweat pants on clearance and a trash can for the oops-I-crapped-my-pantsiness.

Sometimes you just have to laugh so that you don’t cry.

 

Three lessons from the ashes.

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Sometimes, I sit on the couch and watch the fire in the fireplace. Yesterday, I took a short afternoon break and parked myself. I had been tasked with keeping the fire burning while Sam was out enjoying the day with a log splitter. However, I got distracted with a dust rag and a vacuum — two of my friends in low places — and I let the fire die.

When I walked into the room and remembered, “Oh, the fireplace!”, I had to begin again. So I got the biggest, burliest, heaviest log we had, thinking, “That’ll last a LONG time.”

Ri-i-i-i-ight.

It took four firestarters, quite a few strips of newspaper, constant use of the poker and stirring of hot coals from the previous Sam fire, and a lot of parking on the couch to watch and wait and beginning againing before that fire was back to where it needed to be.

Good grief. I didn’t have time to sit on the couch and watch the pot that wasn’t boiling. We had company coming over. My effort belonged with the dust and the dirt.

Big logs are not the best logs to start a fire. I knew this. I was just trying to cut a corner and get back to my friends in low places.

Sam had counted on me to keep the fire going. Dust rag and vacuum…or Sam’s confidence in me. Hmmmm.

firestarters

There are lessons here…lessons that I am taking to heart, kind of.

  1. When the fire dies out, it takes effort to get it going again. 
  2. When the fire dies out, it is much more sensible to start small.
  3. When the fire dies out, if you want a fire again, you have to make it a priority.

You might think by “fire,” I am talking about the relationship kind of fire. I am not. Although, the three lessons would correlate. Besides, I DO have a relationship in my life where I need to apply the lessons, but I digress.

**********

I received a phone call last week.

It was like one of those little firestarters.

On the other end of the phone was a representative from a fairly well-known publishing company. We visited for a little while and she asked me to describe the story I want to tell. And then she said something like, “I don’t care if it takes you two more months or 10 more months. Get your manuscript done and let me know when you are ready. Women need to hear your journey.” 

I am sure she says that to everyone – she’s in sales – but it was a spark for me.

A successful match to my worn out striker strip.

fire spark

And then, two days later, I visited with a new friend who knows nothing about my journey, and she commented, “Rhonda, YOU NEED TO WRITE A BOOK. I read what you write about Sam on CaringBridge, and I would read ANYTHING you wrote. Seriously, you need to write a book.”

A newspaper strip to a hot coal that was just sitting in a heap of ashes.

**********

Many years ago, I took my high school choir to Colorado for a week and made arrangements while we were there to meet and have dinner with an author who lived just outside of Colorado Springs. Several students and I loved his books, and he and his wife were gracious enough to spend some time with us. While we visited, Robert told us that when he writes a book, he secludes himself for several weeks at a “home away from home” and just writes. No distractions. Concentrated focus.

comes a horseman

I cannot imagine how I will ever be able to seclude myself for several weeks and just write.

And…they’re back. Those inner friends in low places, dusting and vacuuming away the dream.

However.

I do know that:

  1. when the fire dies out, it takes effort to get it going again. (Schedule writing time on the calendar.)
  2. when the fire dies out, it is much more sensible to start small. (Try one thought at a time, then a few sentences, one paragraph, and then one chapter.)
  3. when the fire dies out, if you want a fire again, you have to make it a priority. (How important is this to me?)

Today, I am grateful that on the other end of a phone conversation, Yvette used a poker last week and stirred the embers.

I am grateful that Diana is “sitting on the couch” and just watching the beginning againing.

And I am grateful for three lessons that rose from some ashes and grateful for a story that is still glowing somewhere underneath.

hot coals

Void = painful to the heart.

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I am grateful for normalcy.

Normalcy looks different these days. No longer does it include busy evenings filled with Bingo at the local assisted living facility, choir practice, Bible study or small group, CASA visits, watching “my shows” on “free” nights in the bedroom, stressing over lesson plans in my head…

No longer is normal a “walking on eggshells” feeling, a sense of the unknown, an unspoken misery of never hearing “I love you” and never feeling loved.

Normal evolved as I evolved. Normalcy is comfortable now. Normalcy is like a sherpa blanket and good book.

Normalcy now includes soft jazz playing throughout the house, quiet dinners at the table, basketball games on the TV and evenings in front of the fire, long walks in our small town USA, an occasional video call with grandchildren, verbalizing our dreams about who we need to go visit, trips we want to take, things we want to do. Normalcy involves projects and creating the home of our wishful thinking.

Normal is wearing Chiefs hoodies to church and being okay with the quirkiness. Normalcy looks like quiet Sunday morning drives on country roads, stopping to take a pretty picture here and there of ice-covered weeds in a ditch, of late night pickup rides to go find the perfect spot to watch a full moon in the stillness. Normalcy is ice cream before bed, and bedtime before 10 pm. Normalcy is hearing “I love you, dear” many, many times a day.

I am grateful for this normal life.

But I am also grateful for a return of the void.

void
/void/
noun
1. a completely empty space.

I’ve had some serious voids in my life in the last 10 years. Like the void in my life six years ago when my Mom died. I missed her. I missed her so much it was painful to my heart. Shortly after, I began calling Bingo at an assisted living facility nearby and a group of elderly ladies became my “moms,” giving me someone to love every Tuesday night for four years.

I had always wanted to be a CASA volunteer, and so I spent 45 hours in training and gained a new friend in Mariah, my CASA child and “adopted daughter,” since my girls were now absent from my life. I missed my girls. I missed them so much it was painful to my heart. But God gave me Mariah and filled the empty space with her. Mariah is still a part of my world, although she is now grown and living life without the need for a CASA mentor every week.

I gave up my vocal music/piano teaching career and thought I would never have the opportunity again to be with students, when God provided an opportunity to be involved with our church youth choir as an accompanist, thanks to Kevin Bogan and Joyce Blakesley…and encouragement from Sam to step out of my box and introduce myself to Kevin one Sunday morning. I missed being with kids and playing the piano and being a part of music. I missed it so much it was painful to my heart. But God gave me CORis, and through that experience, I met some of the best kids ever, some unforgettable memories, and I met Lisa and her daughter Abbie. I met Doris and her son Matthew. I met Kim and Kaitlin. I met Fabien and his parents, Linda and Horst. I met Grace and her parents, Roxanne and Bob. CORis led to a few piano students again. And the friendships we made through CORis led to a small group with Linda and Horst and Roxanne and Bob.

It’s kind of amazing how life takes a different direction. Never would I have imagined that the void, the empty feeling, the despair of a broken heart, would lead to some of the most fulfilling experiences, memories, and relationships of my life. I just had to follow my heart and not allow that fear of stepping out of my comfort zone stop me from doing new things.

God had plans, if I would just listen to that void.

The void is back. 

As Sam and I fight his cancer and walk that road, as we have made a new home in small town USA, as I continue to adjust to a career at a desk in my bedroom in our home, the normalcy is wonderful and serene. It is mostly without drama. But the void is back. There is something more out there.

I am grateful for a high school waitress who sparked a conversation over pancakes on Saturday morning, and Sam’s willingness to explore what we can do to open ourselves up to serving God in small town USA, to fill the void, follow that “God nudge,” and make a tiny difference in someone’s, or someones’…lives.

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