Placemats and progress!

For a year now, we’ve had a concrete slab lined with weeds in our back yard. Before the slab, it was weeds. Before the weeds, it was overgrown overgrowth. Before that, it was probably prairie, maybe a well-tended garden, but probably small town prairie.

But NOW! We have the makings of Sam’s latest vision – our tiny house guest room – complete with a loft bedroom, a functional kitchen and bathroom with a shower, and a miniature-sized covered porch – well, in process.

I am very grateful for Sam’s mixed-up crazy visionary mind with all the architectural plans that swim while he chemos and cuperates. It will be so fun to let some of our guests have their very own private house when they visit. Now…if only we can fit in a laundry area.

Yesterday, part of that mail the mailman u-turned to hand off, included a manila envelope. We opened it last night to discover that Chris and her bigger-than-big-heart had two placemats made for us by her sister, and they are absolute perfection. It was so fun to open the envelope and discover a beautifully wrapped gift inside. We will think of Chris and her sister every evening the table is set and we have dinner together.

I am very grateful for new placemats that make us feel very loved.

Also in that hand-off of mail, I received yet ANOTHER card from another Oklahoma friend, Geri. She takes really good care of the USPS these days, and we are the benefactors, because we have a STACK of forever cards from this friend who makes sure we know she is praying for us and will not forget.

I am grateful for Geri the card sender whose cards now have a prominent place on our desk, displayed for the world to see, along with Delores and Karen cards and sprinkled with cards from many others in our blessed nest.

I am grateful for a bird feeder full.

I am grateful for memories of Natia. I miss my little dog.

I am grateful I no longer have to fear. That doesn’t mean I don’t on occasion, but I also know I am safe.

I am grateful for answers to prayer that fulfill my desires, and I am learning to be grateful for answers to prayer that I do not yet understand.

I am grateful for girl scout cookies.

And I am grateful for a five hour drive to Kansas City tonight and a day full tomorrow.

Construct some gratitude.

I am grateful for the sounds of a happy bird just outside my window and children playing across the street at the park.

I am grateful for a mailman who makes a u-turn a block away from our home, just to hand deliver our mail when he saw me taking a walk.

I am grateful to hear our neighbor’s funny dogs announce they see something interesting just before bedtime.

I am grateful for knowing good friends who asked me to pray for them.

I am grateful for the anticipation of a tiny guest house.

I am grateful for the privilege to take care of Sam.

I am grateful for Carnation Instant Breakfast and a small food chopper that subs as a blender for Sam’s protein shakes.

I am grateful for time this evening to sit on the porch, take a walk, write some thank you’s, and catch up on my overdue reading.

I am grateful for the sound of construction around here once again.

I am grateful for Karen’s card she sent to me at the hospital, reminding me to just turn on the light when things seem so dark.

And I am grateful for antibiotics and a pharmacy close enough to walk to…

Overcome.

Overcome is an interesting word. To be overcome by something is to be overwhelmed. To overcome is to seize, to overpower. The word can be a negative, but it should be a positive. It certainly is for me.

I look at the picture above quite often. Each time, my eyes water. The picture is saved on my phone and is a reminder of where we have been, where we are, and who is walking beside Sam in this season of life that was unexpected.

There is rarely a day in our life now that we do not mention the names Al-Rajabi and Ashcraft. These two men are a part of our family, albeit from a distance. We pray for them as we do our daughters, our Dad, our siblings, our grandchildren.

We have experienced doctors who are doctors, and that is all. They treat. They consult. They chart. They prescribe. Bedside manner doesn’t pay their bills. But these two doctors are not just names with MD attached.

I will never forget the first day we met John Ashcraft. He walked in the room, stuck out his hand to shake Sam’s, and told us to call him JOHN. That’s his name. And then he proceeded to be himself.

He’s quick-witted and puts Sam to shame with the smart remarks and comebacks. John is also one of the kindest men we’ve ever known. He speaks to us as if we are guests in his home. He takes the time to get to know Sam and his personality, his routine, his world. He is gentle but firm with his evaluation of Sam’s condition. He includes me in the conversation. He is never in a hurry, always stays in the room until all of our questions are answered.

After Sam’s first surgery to remove the original colon tumor, we were just getting used to John’s personality and always looked forward to his smirk and sarcasm. But he walked in the hospital room the afternoon the pathology report had come back, and he sat down. His face was solemn as he told Sam the news was not good. We could immediately sense this surgeon genuinely cared and hurt alongside us.

Now three surgeries down, John is still quick-witted and sarcastic, and he is still genuinely caring and right beside us, every step of the way. He’s the guy that sees Sam in the hallway at the Cancer Center and says, “Hey, Scofield.” He’s the guy that gave Sam a firm shoulder squeeze as we stood at the counter waiting to schedule appointments after learning the cancer had spread to Sam’s liver.

Post-op, surgery #1, summer 2017. We finished up with John, and he told us he was sending us across the “hall” to the best GI oncologist and a good friend, Raed Al-Rajabi. He also smirked as he told us not to be afraid of the foreign-sounding name. Al-Rajabi was “more American than I am.” And then told us he would trust this man with his life.

Dr. Al is the pillow to John’s sarcastic wit. He speaks softly, and from the moment we met him, we knew everything was going to be okay. After hearing the cancer had spread to lymph nodes, our insides were raw and fragile. But Dr. Al walked into the room and spoke words that were calming, reassuring. Without having to say the words, he essentially gave the message, “We’ve got this. You’re in the best hands.”

Dr. Al and his team have never once made us feel like their day is packed full with appointments. We see the waiting room. We know. But when it is our time, it is OUR time. He sits on a rolling stool and just visits. He and Sam talk about motorcycles at every visit. He’s got an Indian bike, Sam’s got a Beemer. He always asks about Sam’s work, a particular vacation we might be taking, or they swap laughter about John.

And then he transitions to the purpose of the appointment. He never talks above us when it comes to chemotherapy drugs, course of treatment, side effects. He walks through it all with us slowly and matter-of-factly and waits for questions. He pillows the ugly reality of chemotherapy with lightheartedness and a genuine smile. Even though he had to give us the hard news of oxaliplatin side effects after surgery #1, he also agreed to discontinue it early, concerned that some of the side effects would become permanent. After surgery #2, he changed up the chemotherapy and put Sam on irinotecan, joking about a particular side effect, that it is also known as, “I run to the can.”

When round 2 chemotherapy involved a trip to Kansas City every other week and a weekend stay, Dr. Al came up with a plan to help us out. He relinquished the chemotherapy treatment to one of his former fellows who is a thriving oncologist in Hays, just 90 miles from our home, rather than making us drive 250 miles each way every two weeks. He reassured us, however, that he would oversee it all, and we would still be under his guidance and direction.

We leave the Cancer Center each time, overcome. Overcome with gratitude. Overcome with blessing.

We leave the Cancer Center each time, overcoming the odds. Overcoming the diagnosis.

And each time, as we walk to our vehicle in the parking garage, we acknowledge that God is taking care of Sam through John and Dr. Al and their team.

We never want to take for granted this gift.

Caregiving is not for the faint of heart.

This is Sam, in pre-op – 3rd surgery confidence intact.
This is Sam, after surgery, feeling ehh. But we were loving his nurse, Carrie, and his medical assistant, Lucas, who took such tender care of him. Lucas even came back to the hospital on his day off to check on Sam.
This is Sam, attempting his first walk with assistance, but not TOO much assistance. Tender loving care, while allowing the patient to take ownership of his own progress.
This is Sam, feeling a little more ehhhhh, about to take a turn for the worse. However, Emily and John, two of our favorite nurses, were ever-constant, always sweet and gentle, treating Sam like he was a person, not just a body.
This is Sam, but not the Sam we know. This was when life was really rough and flowers from cousin Mike and Jeri were beautiful.
This is Sam, the benefactor of another favorite always happy medical assistant, Shane, who made the misery a little less miserable.
This is Sam on his way back to the living.
Brynn and Bre, sunshines in scrubs, were instrumental in his recovery. Brynn was never without that smile – pretty sure that sweetness is permanent. Bre, in front, was one of his favorite nurses for surgery #2 and just down the hall…but she remembered Sam and made sure to come add some rays to his room this time, too.
This is Sam with a hint of a smile,
because he is under the watchful care of an angel
whose name is Missy.
Missy is smart.
Missy is a teacher nurse, and she educated us every step of the way,
wearing the invisible wings that wrapped Sam tight.
She gives shots by saying, “1-2-3-I’m-sorry.”
This is Sam, ready to go home after a long 11 days. This is Kayla, and Sam was so lucky to have her as his nurse for his last day on 7. She was as genuine as that smile.

We didn’t get pictures of Courtney or Jenelle, Andre the A on the Anatomy Tester, or Marissa, or Michael, or Monica, Alyson, Jeanene, Sadie, Kelley, D’Anthony, or Sierra. But this large nursing team that had a part of the caregiving in Room 7101 made a huge difference in Sam’s progress and eventual release from Cambridge Tower.

Nursing is TOUGH.

A year ago, a beautiful soul chemo nurse at KU Cancer Center visited with us about the reason she chose to go from working in the hospital setting to working in chemo treatment.

She said that working in the hospital was difficult, because her patients never wanted to BE there – they wanted to get OUT of the hospital. Attitudes were typically very challenging.

But working in the chemo department, the attitudes were usually very different. These patients almost ALWAYS wanted to be there in treatment, because treatment was giving them hope and life.

As we called the 7th floor home for 11 days, we were able to observe the nursing staff hour after hour after hour. In addition to the medication giving, the IV sticks and fluid changes and beeps and machines that needed constant watch and administration, we watched them speak kindness to Sam when he was doing well and when he wasn’t so well and not the most communicative.

We watched them care for Sam in the less-than-beautiful, the messy of an ostomy reversal and incision drainage. They taught me how to assist Sam by cleaning him, by moving him from side to side to change a “chuck” pad for the bed. They never acted like they didn’t have time for his many “nurse call lights.” They refreshed the room with clean bedding, taking trash, removing soiled linens and empty food trays. They brought ice chips and cups of jello.

And every time, every staff person, without fail, said, “Is there anything else I can do for you? Can I get either of you anything?”

We never sensed they were having a bad day. We never felt anything less than being the most important room on the floor. They are the best of KU Medical Center, and even though Sam didn’t want to be there and wanted to get out, this team of nurses and assistants sure do make us want to go back, just to see them again.

For the team on 7th floor in the Cambridge Tower, we are very, very, very grateful.

You can learn a lot from a trash can.

A few weeks ago, we went to San Antonio to visit some best friends. There was something at Elizabeth and Jeff’s home that stood out to me while we were there. Get past the water bottles by the bedside, custom blinds, the plush bedding that felt so heavenly and the island of all islands and the monster best TV ever. We had everything we could possibly need or want – Elizabeth had it all covered. But what stood out to me the most? In their guest bedroom and their guest bathroom, they had the prettiest small bronze trash cans. Cleaner than clean, no liners.

I thought, “Wow, I need to Amazon some pretty bronze trash cans like Elizabeth. These are really nice and of the ‘finer things’.” When I grow up, I want to be just like Elizabeth, all refined and classy.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Overland Park to prepare for a surgery, and instead of staying in a hotel like we are accustomed, we stayed in the home of Linda and Horst, good friends from our church small group. Linda and Horst are all refined and classy, just like Elizabeth and Jeff. Their home is nicer than nicety nice and bigger than bigness. Horst and Fabien eat an egg every morning from an egg shell, with a dainty little spoon. Linda brings big fluffy towels to the hospital because she thinks of things like that. But, while we were staying in their home, there was also something that stood out to me in their guest bathroom. They had a nice, white plastic trash can with a grocery store bag liner…just like our trash cans.

And I thought back to Elizabeth’s trash cans, wanting to be like her, all refined and classy.

And then I looked at Linda’s practical trash can.

And it hit me. Not the trash can. The lesson.

Refined and classy is not defined by the trash can in the guest bathroom.

Refined and classy is defined by the heart. These two couples are the definition of refined and classy, because their hearts are soft as cotton and solid as gold. They have lived life with many ups and downs. Their families are as wacky and wonderful as ours, with stories to make you melt. They are not pretentious. They don’t flaunt their refined ways. It’s just who they are, and their guests are made to feel like they are home, they are just a part of the family.

And they have opened their arms to Sam and Rhonda, imperfect and awkward, stained and still going. Elizabeth and Linda…modern day Lydia ladies, bronze receptacled and grocery bag lined.

Either way, THESE ARE OUR PEOPLE. And for them, I am very grateful.

We don’t need no snowblower where angels reside.

This morning, we got up before 6 am to see what we could see after a nighttime of snow. This particular Sunday morning involves packing, making sure the house is clean and prepared for a week in hibernation, a breakfast of champions, and loading up to head to Kansas City for the week of necessary but not so much fun.

But, in the middle of it all, I am married to Sam.

He walked downstairs in his robe in the darkness, looked out the window, and saw a snow drift at the steps of the kitchen porch and decided then and there it needed to be shoveled.

20 minutes later, he came back inside, tennis shoes caked in snow, robe frozen. Yes…ROBE.

Oh, Sam.

He sat down, huffing and puffing and asked for a hot cup of coffee and a warm apple pastry. Unusual request, that warm apple pastry, at the Scofield house of eggs and yogurt, UNLESS you happen to open your kitchen porch door to discover a gift of apple and raspberry pastries.

Did you know that angels can bake?! Or at least know where the baker bakes? And did you know that angels have a way of delivering the sweetest messages, either via sugar and yum or via handwritten words, or both?!

I finished cleaning up a few things and went upstairs to get ready and pack the suitcase. And when I came back downstairs an hour later, Sam said, “Look outside.”

Bigger than Dallas, our friend and neighbor had “roared in like a Lyon” and was scooping the whole drive, preparing the way for our departure. When this Lyon scoops, he BULLDOZES.

Did you know angels can travel by front end loader?

We had to stop by Sam’s office on the way out of this snowy town. As Sam finished up a last minute necessity, I noticed a mug on his desk. “Where did you get that mug?!”

“It was on my desk one morning, filled with candy. I don’t know who left it for me.”

Did you know angels secretly forget their coffee mugs on purpose?

It’s a very bright Sunday morning as we travel this stretch of highway post-snow storm in March. The heater warms our toes and our eyes squint in the frozen diamond gleam that blankets the fields as we pass by. Beside me, a pink gift bag is filled to the brim with every snack known to mankind, compliments of a couple in the BNW club.

Did you know some angels come in pairs, know everything there is to know about choosing just the right snacks, and even belong to secret not-so-secret society BNW clubs, AKA Best Neighbors in the World?

Earlier this week, I received this text message:

Angels also come in family groups, because not only does God create and train angels, angels train younger angels to grow up and be God”s angels, and THEY LIVE IN SMALL TOWN USA.

On this Sunday morning, I am grateful for angels, sent by God in this season we find ourselves in, who live in small town USA and send us off for a big, scary week with guardian angel house watching, kindness, breakfast, encouragement, a clear driveway, prayer support, delivered dinner, and more love than a 15 foot snow drift.
Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” -Mark 10:27 MSG

Living a real life love story…with intention.

When you go to a movie, you know it’s a great movie when you can sit in the darkness with your popcorn and escape into someone else’s world for an hour and a half. Your world is forgotten for just a little while, and the story pulls you in. You feel what the characters in the movie feel. You get caught up in the sheer happiness, or the thrill, or the fear, or the unknown, or the ache of a heart…

A few months ago, we sat in the darkness of our small town USA movie theater and watched Lady Gaga get swept off her feet by Bradley Cooper. She was a young woman just getting by but with dreams for a better life, and he was a successful man with inner demons who was intrigued by her unique voice and personality…and as the movie unfolded, a star was born.

The last scene of the movie was the first tear shed in our row of two. I sat in the darkness, holding Sam’s hand in mine as Lady Gaga sang, “I’ll Never Love Again,” and I couldn’t help but correlate my feelings with hers.

And the tears wouldn’t stop.

Don’t wanna feel another touch
Don’t wanna start another fire
Don’t wanna know another kiss
No other name falling off my lips
Don’t wanna give my heart away
To another stranger
Or let another day begin
Won’t even let the sunlight in
No, I’ll never love again
I’ll never love again, oh, oh, oh, oh

We left the theater, both agreeing that it was SUCH a great movie. The cold air hit us in the face, we walked down the sidewalk to the winter dirty truck, got in, and life went back to normal.

*****

Normal for us means routine. Routine…with intention.

Sam goes to work every morning, and Rhonda goes to her computer. We have breakfast together, standing at the kitchen island. Same breakfast most every day: Rhonda, two eggs in a mug. Sam, vanilla yogurt with wheat germ. There is small talk about the day’s plans, maybe a little discussion about one of our children or our grandchildren. Sometimes, we talk about an ongoing remodel project.

Always, ALWAYS, there is a hug, a kiss, an “I love you,” and then I watch as Sam gets into the truck and drives away, both of us exchanging a wave, a thumbs up, and a “life is too short” sign.

After spending some time with a devotion and prayer, I make my way back upstairs in the quiet of the big house and start my work day. Usually, Sam “Skypes” me when he gets settled at his desk and just tells me “Good morning” and “Thanks for breakfast, dear.”

More often than not these days, he comes home for lunch, and we catch each other up on our work so far. He might take a quiet nap for 30 minutes, but we always repeat the goodbye routine at the door, and finish our work afternoons doing what we do.

*****

In this season of life, we have some friends and some family who are hurting. It seems that break ups or relationships on the brink are all around us right now. Couples who have quit communicating or maybe never began, couples who speak unkind words but never words of affection, who disagree about fundamental life issues, who have allowed outside influences affect their commitment to one another. Couples who fabricate a happy façade until the front door closes and no one else is watching. Couples who allowed life to take over and put God on the back burner.

We have been there.

We come from broken relationships.

But God took the ashes of our own destruction and failure and granted a miracle. He allowed us to find each other and gave us the gift of loving again. We both have learned from our past mistakes, failures, and sins. We know the roads that lead to the death of a relationship, and we have chosen to re-write that map.

*****

8 years…the miracle of 8 years, building a friendship based on wanting what was best for each other.

8 years of kind words.

8 years of holding hands in prayer.

8 years of going through the worst of times and the best of times, together.

And we still are amazed that life just gets better and better with each other. God is still blessing, still answering, still carrying us, one day at a time.

*****

Sam’s cancer is a gift.

I am so very grateful for Sam’s cancer. Without his diagnosis, we might have begun to let life pass us by, making our normal so unintentional. Now, every day, we are very aware how precious and brief this life is. Every day, we pay attention to each other.

Not everyone receives the gift of awareness. We’ve been given time – time to enjoy, time to appreciate, time to live with intention. We don’t have to do exciting things. We don’t have to cross off a bucket list of items.

Our normal is living with intention.

*****

Sam comes home from work, and when he walks in the door, he always says, “Hello?” if I am upstairs. If I am downstairs, I am standing at the door when he walks in. Always, ALWAYS, we greet each other with a kiss and a hug.

We work together to put dinner on the table. It’s not my “job,” any more than it is his to take out the trash. We take turns doing the laundry. We fold together. We make our bed together every morning. We work together to live life, to make a home, to live with intention.

Some evenings, Sam sets the table. He doesn’t put the silverware in the right order, but he does use placemats. Some evenings, he’s in charge of the potatoes because he’s best at potatoes, and I oversee the green beans, because I am best at fresh green beans. We sit at the table and always hold hands and take turns to pray. And at the end of our dinner prayer, we always look at each other and say, “Thank you.”

And then we compete to solve the Wheel of Fortune puzzle first.

*****

These days, the fire crackles in the fireplace as darkness descends on small town USA. Sam doesn’t have the same energy. Maybe it is the winter. He doesn’t like early darkness – it makes his brain think it is time to sleep. I like early darkness in the winter, because it means that I have “Sam time” on the couch, all to myself, instead of competing with his outdoor projects and lawn work.

We hold hands and watch the fire and a ballgame at the same time.

When I feel his hand twitch, I glance over to see him resting peacefully. His hair has thinned with the chemo poison. His cheekbones are more refined and slightly ashen. Is it the glow of the fire, or is that his new skin color? Our team has taken the lead – should I move slightly so he will wake up, or should I let him rest…

I listen to him breathe, not wanting this moment to pass by without intentional noticing. I pay attention to the warmth of his dry, winter hand in mine. I lean my head against his droop as a prop for his uninterrupted nap. I watch the ballgame for both of us, content and blessed.  

And he rests peacefully after a long day of work.

*****

We are living our normal. Lives lived with intention. A real life love story…

Don’t wanna feel another touch
Don’t wanna start another fire
Don’t wanna know another kiss
No other name falling off my lips
Don’t wanna give my heart away
To another stranger
Or let another day begin
Won’t even let the sunlight in
No, I’ll never love again
I’ll never love again, oh, oh, oh, oh