The Half-Way Place…

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The Half-Way Place…

A few months ago I was at a popular “younger people” clothing store in the mall purchasing a couple of shirts. The eighteen-ish year old kid behind the counter was making small talk with me when his eyes lit up with recognition. “Hey, did you use to teach second grade at such-and-such elementary?” he blurted out excitedly. “Me?” I looked around to be sure he was in fact talking to me. He was.

I laughed out loud, realizing that he obviously wasn’t a very good judge of age if he thought I could have possibly been HIS second grade teacher. And then I did the math.

Good gracious. Geez. For real?

I was, indeed old enough to have been this kid’s second grade teacher. Just barely, but the problem is, HE thought I was obviously old enough. Growing up is weird. One day you realize that other people actually see you as an adult. It’s a scary thing, because I suppose none of us ever feel all grown up on the inside.

And I’m turning forty this year, did I mention that? It’s really thrown me, and I’m surprised because I’ve never thought much about age at all. For the first time maybe ever, I am aware that there’s an actual timeline. Dreams and goals that have always floated around somewhere out there in the nebulous “someday”, suddenly feel urgent. I know too well that life can change on a dime, and that there’s no time like the present to act on those things that God has hard-wired into us.

My grandfather Zig Ziglar, was the most dedicated and methodical goal-setter I have ever known. He had an amazing way of taking a huge dream and breaking it down into small, doable mini-goals that seemed completely plausible. He made it look so easy. Now, more than ever, do I have an appreciation for his instruction in this area. I can still hear his voice asking “When are you gonna write your book Sunshine? Are you journaling all of your adventures?” I always assured him that I would and that I was. What I wouldn’t give to talk to him about all this turning forty stuff and timelines and goals.

This week I came across a wonderful book called God is Always Hiring-50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work, by Regina Brett. The title caught my eye in the book store and I spent the next hour camped out on the carpet reading. Instead of chapters, the book is divided into lessons, with each lesson taking three to four pages. The lessons were reminiscent of my grandfather’s philosophy and endeared me to the book instantly. I am only to lesson eighteen, but I am devouring the insight Regina shares and it is speaking so pointedly to where I find myself at this half-way place in life.

I don’t know the author, and this is the first work of hers that I have read, so although I sound like I’m pitching and promoting, I’m really just excited about what I’m reading. Maybe you find yourself at a half-way place in life, or feeling like God is doing something new in your heart; changing your direction or steering you towards a specific goal. Look at some of these “lessons”….

1. When you don’t get what you want, you get something better – experience.

2. Everything changes when you change.

3. Burying your talents won’t make them grow.

4. What they call you is up to them. What you answer to is up to you.

5. In the drama of life, there are no small parts.

6. Give others a second chance to make a first impression.

7. Every job is as magical as you make it.

8. There’s time for everything, but not always at the same time.

9. Only you can determine your worth.

10. Even the mistakes belong

11. If you’re going to doubt anything, doubt your doubts.

12. Sometimes the job you want is the job you already have.

13. Most of the time, the only person in your way is you.

14. God is still speaking.

Good stuff. And that’s just fourteen of the lessons. I’m looking forward to reading on, and I expect the pages to be highlighted and dog-eared to death by the time I’m done.

Each new season of life is unexplored territory. Other travelers can describe the scenery, warn you about the potential pit-falls and roadblocks and attempt to forecast the weather. But you really just don’t know until you get there, set your bags down, the ones full of your life experience, hopes and heartaches, and survey the landscape for yourself. You look through different eyes, that have seen different things. You bear God’s unique imprint and you bring that into each new season.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

I’ve always loved that quote. It challenges me to face my fears head-on and to conquer that in myself which feels inadequate. This half-way place for me is an awakening. What dormant dream has God deposited in your heart that needs to be dusted off and brought out in to this new season?

 

Present

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Present

Some mornings you sit down with your coffee and your computer, and you plan to blog. But you decide to go and pick a featured image from your pictures first, thinking it will help inspire your writing. And then you spend the next half hour scrolling through pictures of the unthinkable journey, reliving, re-feeling, re-loving and looking closely at yourself with her to see if you might have realized at the time, the moment you were in. Were you aware how very precious this moment was?  Did you give yourself entirely to it?

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I wish I could say I was fully present in each of those moments. And I know I gave myself completely to some of them. But I was tired, worn thin from midnight trips to the ER, balancing Phoebe’s physical and medical needs with the boys’ needs, and trying to hold it together emotionally. So much just ‘surviving’ in all of that. The beautiful thing, is that Phoebe was doing so much more than just surviving her cancer. A pure and perfect, deep rooted joy emerged from my daughter.

She said thank you to the phlebotomists after a blood draw, she smiled at people at the grocery store and showed them her bracelet or her Band-Aids, she hugged perfect strangers and told them how her Daddy snores, she encouraged the other cancer kids in the play room. She was on a love mission, that girl. Phoebe was always looking for someone to love or encourage or welcome into her world. It was supernatural, this sweet anointing.  It looked like Jesus. It still humbles me and instructs me to think of her love.

Phoebe gave herself fully to each moment. The person in front of her was the most important person in the world. Why is this so difficult, this singular focus? I want to zero in on and love people in this way, be demonstrative in my affection, seek people out to encourage. Grief is a force to contend with, and I know there is purpose in the pain, but it sometimes blinds me to the needs of others right in front of me. I want to push back the heavy curtain, blow the dust off my ability to really SEE, and then give myself entirely to each moment.

 

 

 

 

Props

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I still haven’t found that chap-stick. The one that Phoebe ran off with just a few weeks before her passing. Knowing Phoebe, she probably tucked it inside a little coin purse she had, or in with her nail-polish stash. All of those things still sit on the shelves in her closet. I visit them from time to time, holding her little shoes and thumbing the wear-patterns on the soles of them or looking through her pink backpack that held all of her everyday treasures: My Little Pony Band-Aids, a flip-open mirror, the last few Beads of Courage she earned at the clinic.

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A couple of days after the 2 year anniversary of her death, I painted her room. The other bereaved parents said I would know when I was ready, and they were right. I had dreaded it; just the thought of it made my stomach churn for 2 years. And then one day, I needed to do it. It became urgent almost, and I made plans to move two of the boys into her room. We listed her bedroom set on Craigslist and discussed what our response would be if someone were to ask why we were getting rid of it. “Our daughter doesn’t need it anymore.” was decided on, and it was true. A few days later when the buyers came to load it on to their trailer, I watched from the kitchen window but didn’t cry. “Just props.” I said under my breath, recalling a sermon I heard years ago about God’s intention for our material possessions. Just props that enable us to serve Him better. The thought that Phoebe had “outgrown” her furniture comforted me somehow.

She goes on, but moth and rust will eventually destroy her props. They will not last. She is the treasure stored in heaven, the furniture can go. It is not her.

These were the thoughts that enabled me to let go. Eternal perspective is fundamental in these moments. It informs every thought I have about my history with Phoebe, and my future with her. I can not imagine the extent of my undoing without a biblical framework for this pain, without an understanding of the nature and character of God.

Shortly after that trailer drove away, I set to work painting. Making space for the boys to spread out a bit, giving Thatcher a room without pink curtains and yellow walls. The brush strokes do not erase her, they simply create room for life as it is here, now. She is safe, and whole, and held, and she goes on…and that is my hope for my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is Seeing..

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It’s been more than a year since I have typed a word on this blog. I always assumed that writing through the aftermath of Phoebe’s and our family’s tragedy would be cathartic, but it has not proven so. What I didn’t anticipate was the all-encompassing fog that grief wraps around the mind. Cohesive thought becomes a luxury, and the ability to remember dates, appointments, or conversations might as well be a super-power.

Articulating the roller-coaster ride without flying off the rails into raw, unbridled emotion has also been difficult to master. It has been more simple and less dangerous to just be quiet. Trying to assign words to my pain requires that I give focused attention to it, which is difficult when so much of one’s energy is spent trying to avoid that very thing. So, I come back today, hoping that you’ll forgive my silence as it pertains to grief. I don’t yet know what I want to say about it, but I imagine that what I need to say will soon make it’s way to front of my heart and spill out here.

I don’t want to wait until all these messy feelings are neatly packaged and wrapped up in a tidy little bow to then present them as some type of accomplishment. I don’t even think that’s possible this side of heaven. My goal is to be authentic without being disturbing! Ha! I have been so encouraged by friends these past few months that I need to write again, so I place full blame on them if the writing here is found to be something more akin to the rantings of a mad-woman than the musings of my former self.

We are two years and 3 months past the loss of our Phoebe. Thatcher is now 15 months old and walking and screeching and cutting four molars all at once. I had forgotten about molars and the total upheaval of life they present for the parent of the unlucky toddler. His usual disposition is sunny and bright and extremely affectionate, just like his big sister. It’s in those moments of being hugged so hard by him, that I feel him living up to his name “Yahweh has comforted.” He is such a gift.

Benjamin is now 13 and in 8th grade. He loves to read, play soccer, hang out with friends, play board games with his dad and brothers and bake with me. He is so helpful to me. Averic is 11 and in 5th grade, he also loves to read, play football, and is a Star Wars fanatic. He is the out-doorsy, animal lover of the bunch and wears his heart on his sleeve. Deacon is 8 and in 2nd grade this year; he loves math, exploring, playing in his tree-house and board-games. His heart still hurts as the fullness of his understanding of our loss comes to him. He was only 3 when Phoebe was diagnosed and it was all very confusing for him.

Nathan continues with the Agriculture and Appropriate Technologies ministry through YWAM Tyler. The last year has been focused primarily on building training systems at the YWAM Twin Oaks ranch, appropriate for training missionaries and for replication in third world settings. I will post pictures soon that will give a better overview of their work.

I am gearing up to speak at the first Ziglar Women conference since 2012, and since losing Phoebe. It will be held in Odessa, Texas at the end of February. I am still home schooling the boys and taking opportunities to speak at local MOPS or Moms 2 Moms groups when I can. On Monday night I attended my first-ever writers group. I left feeling so welcomed and encouraged and I look forward to continuing. The first few chapters of my long-neglected book have remained untouched for over a year as I have navigated some treacherous waters. Sometimes feelings are TOO raw and unchecked, and they don’t help anyone except the author in some type of purging mode. But this is not the stuff for books, it is the stuff for diaries with little key holes on them.

Mostly, I need to practice giving shape to my thoughts again through written words. Kate DiCamillo said “Writing is seeing. It is paying attention.” And that’s what I long to do again…I long to see through the fog, to pay attention again, and to write.

 

 

Photographers For Phoebe

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Our beautiful family photos that serve as the headers for our facebook pages were taken by my dear friend at Brandi Burkett Photography. She has organized a wonderful event in Phoebe’s honor to raise money for pediatric cancer research. If you are near to us here in East Texas and are wanting some incredible, professional, beautiful family photos, and want your donation to fund research to cure Phoebe’s type of cancer, ATRT, this is your chance! Hope to see you there.

https://www.facebook.com/TheFairFight

July 26th

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Such sweet months leading up to Phoebe’s birth. I have flashes of memory: relaxing in a chair in our backyard in Mexico while the boys splashed in the water sprinkler on the trampoline, hanging diapers on the clothesline in the sunshine, picking the bananas from our tree. I was reading ‘The Yearling’ for the second time in my life and feasting on the rich ‘coming of age story’ of a boy named Jody. I was waiting expectantly for this unknown baby to make his or her appearance.

July 26th was the due date. But the weeks passed and I was patient. Mom flew down to wait with me and finally, on August 16th (!!!) my precious Phoebe Lucille made her entrance. Her timing was not what I expected, but it was God’s and I was His.

On July 26th of last year (2013) I sat in a small room in the Oncology clinic at Childrens Medical Center Dallas. Nathan sat next to me, then Mom and Dad on the other side of him. We had been in this room many times over the past year for port access, lab checks, antibiotic infusions. We had played with the toys and eaten snacks and walked down the hall to the prize closet when Phoebe had done a good job of allowing them to access her port. Any one of those little rooms in the Bright Building Oncology clinic would have been as familiar, a second home to pediatric oncology patients and their families.

But today was different because we didn’t usually come to this room for MRI results. Dr. Bowers usually met us in the MRI waiting room, gave us the good news of a clear scan, and we headed home relieved. It was a long walk from the imaging area to the Bright Building. Not long by distance, but long with fear and knowing. Even with that, my thoughts turned toward more chemo or a new treatment plan of attack.

The social worker came and took Phoebe to the play area in the waiting room. And then they told us it was back. The cancer was back, and it was already half the size of her original baseball size tumor. And that’s not all; it had spread, two new small areas on her spine showed cancer growth. The room stood still. It had only been two months since her last clear scan. I looked blankly out the window at the care passing by on the street below us. Those people, just driving by, going home from work, going about their lives I thought… and here I am in this room, trapped by this news with nowhere to run from it.

We talked about options and they were unsatisfactory, all of them. There was no good option, nothing that would offer hope, nothing to grasp to even hang on by my fingernails. Nothing that wouldn’t hurt Phoebe more or cause her permanent damage. And then we ask “how long?” and he says “two to eight weeks”. And then some discussion of hospice and it’s all a fuzzy, hazy blur and I’m knowing that I have to keep it together when I see Phoebe so I don’t alarm her. I am numb as I hold her chubby little hand as we walk down to the parking garage. She chatters away with her sweet voice, her pink sandals tapping on the pavement as she walks.

Phone calls are made on the ride home and we soldier through them without crying because Phoebe is awake and happy and asking for extra ketchup on her French-fries. And then we come home to the boys.

The boys…

Phoebe goes inside with Grammy and Grandad and we sit on the front porch with the three best big brothers in the world. These boys give meds, push water, know how to cap off an ng tube. They change diapers and help her onto the potty. They stay and cuddle with her until she falls asleep at night. They bring her extra ketchup and have tea parties with beads.

We form words out of our own pain somehow..”cancer is back, growing fast, nothing left to do that won’t hurt her more”..between sobs we somehow come to the point: “two to eight weeks” Nathan says.

Sobbing, and wailing, and boys don’t cry like this. Utter despair and “how can it be?” and “why?” and “Oh my God…” and deep, guttural cries. Such grief for boys too young. We are a family broken in heart. We will be the unfortunate survivors of Phoebe’s cancer.

It is a scene emblazoned on my mind. Tonight I revisit it to share the details, to get it out in words, to put a book-mark on this one year anniversary. I usually spend my days mustering strength to keep these many memories in check so I may continue on. A year later we are better, I think..still broken, yes. But God has given us tools and helped us draw from deep reserves we didn’t know existed in ourselves. Grace for the moment is real. We are coping, functioning, and we find joy in life, though not the unbridled joy of life before loss. Not yet.

We miss her, we ache for her, we are overcome sometimes by longing. We grieve, we look past each other having a bad attitude or a bad day and try to give grace, because a lot of the time, it’s just hurt bubbling to the surface. We are getting through.

And Phoebe, Oh I feel joy for her, such relief…that she is free from “this body of death” as Paul referred to in the Bible. No more pokes and chemo and C-Diff and hospital stays and being on isolation. No more ng tube insertions and late night fevers and 3 am ER visits, no more neuropathy or pain. I would gladly live that life again if it meant having her here with us. But it’s selfish…she’s done with all that and I am so glad for her. She handled it all so beautifully, like the bright-illuminated light that she was. Glowing and graceful and emboldened by a deep connection with Jesus that was beyond my knowing.

She was born “late”, weeks past her due date, but she was right on time. And she left earth too early, too early for this Mother’s heart. No… her timing was not what I expected, but it was God’s and I am His.