Stayin’ Alive

I’ve tried to calculate how many Keytruda/Alimta treatments I have had since being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in July of 2019. Since I’m too lazy to go through the insurance papers to be exact, I tried to estimate and do the math myself (quit laughing). Anyhoo…. it seems to me to be around 34. If I told you the total $$ amount you wouldn’t believe it and you might say I’m not worth it..ha. I’ve been blessed to have excellent care, experienced 34 blood draws, met angel nurses and watched patients arrive alone or with caregivers.

And also let me say we’ve made 34 left hand turns at NEA Baptist, and we locals know how dangerous that is, don’t we?

Keytruda is, for my body, a miracle drug. I wish so much it was for everyone… but it’s not. The doctor describes it simply as a key for a lock…… and after lots of testing, mine matched. Optimistically speaking, the drug is now being used for melanoma, some bladder cancers, and also being tested for others. Similar immunotherapy drugs are being discovered as we speak. I want so badly for them to work for every cancer patient, and I believe one day they will. For the time being I’m surviving. My side effects are minimal and manageable. I’m definitely the fortunate one…I’m slower, I stay home more….I’ve finally come to grips with retirement and and am in awe of my grands and the joy they give me 24-7…..little stinkers.

I couldn’t help but think of this song when describing my situation…. I also have to apologize to my brother Mike who, when I came home from college with this CD, told me it was crap and that all disco was crap. Oh, brother Mike, how I wish you were HERE!!! We would laugh long and hard about that.

Those of you who have walked the cancer path, either yourself or with a loved one, are well aware of the incredible challenges. Those challenges are often as much mental as physical, aren’t they?

I’ve dealt with every emotion imaginable since my first breast cancer diagnosis in 1997. Before that I watched my precious mother suffer and die from breast cancer.

Mother

I was young. Newly married. Living in a bubble of love, the future and all the possibilities of a perfect life when she had a recurrence five years from diagnosis and died. I prayed for her to live. I prayed desperately for her to live. I could not understand why God was allowing such a good Christian person to suffer and die when I selfishly needed her so badly. I was shaken. My faith and my perfect life was shaken. Remember that it was 1985 and there were few medical options.

It was at that point I started to question. And trust me when I say I still don’t have all the answers…but I’m sure a lot closer now than I was then.

Romans 5:3-5

Not only so, but we[a] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I. love. this. scripture.

I recently sat at home on a Sunday morning because I felt rotten. My hip was killing me and I just couldn’t find it in me to maneuver getting to Sunday School and Worship. I was channel surfing, waiting to listen to my pastor on facebook , when I landed on a channel with a minister preaching on this scripture… boy did it hit me.

The first part was just thinking about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown spiritually since all of the stinkin’ cancer stuff decided to visit. Talk about perseverance and character.. how about;

  • learning to prioritize
  • appreciating my family, my friends, my church
  • a realization that living a life of purpose and legacy matters
  • recognizing pretentiousness as well as honesty
  • having hope that this life is just the beginning

But you know what? It was his take on the shame part that hit home the most. We Christians seem to be pretty certain things should go our way…. and when they don’t we shame ourselves and imagine that others shame us because illness, failure, heartache must surely be our fault, the result of our shortcomings.

It’s not.

We are human. Things happen. Illnesses, loss, ………Isn’t the answer to walk through it all….day by day….searching for what we can learn, how we can help others. and yes, to persevere and build character, always having hope.

Beauty all around

It’s no secret that times are hard. So dang many issues to deal with…So many folks at “odds” with friends and neighbors over these issues. Issues that are really important to our country, our families and our churches. A good friend told me she just wanted to stay in her bubble….and I totally get it…….Unfortunately it’s my teacher nature to want to fix things…and of course I can’t. So I spend lots of time on my patio. Jack has planted beautiful flowers for us to enjoy and enjoy we do. Not just flowers but lots and lots of music. Mostly oldies because we are oldies, but we throw in a few newer options occasionally. Our sweet neighbors may or may not agree….especially at 6:30 am.

Help

I often call myself the “cancer whisperer” but that’s ok. I try to talk and encourage others walking the path. Trust me when I tell you there are friends in my life who have done the same for me and have made a huge difference in my outlook and my journey. If I can help one person with my words, a hug or a listening ear or a nod of understanding, it will be God’s gift to me.

Hope

There is hope. Always hope. There is prayer for a better day, for healing, or simply for less pain. A gentleman in my Sunday School class commented that it wasn’t about “What would Jesus do” but instead it was “What Jesus did”…..hmm. I didn’t totally agree. I think every day we live we need to follow the example of the one who sacrificed for us.

Shout out to my Methodist friends…this John Wesley quote says it all.

Hope….for life

I know you heard my desperation a couple of years ago when I thought my beloved crepe myrtle was dying. It looked horrible. The black, sticky junk was all over the tree and all over the patio. I was heartbroken. But then we had it treated and we crossed our fingers. We hired an Arborist to come trim.. and low and behold it lived. The blossoms are falling this morning like snowflakes.

It’s alive.

Sometimes life gives us lots of black, sticky, messy stuff we have to treat. And we have hope that either it will be healed now,… or ultimately in the future.

So what are my thoughts today? I’m drinking awesome coffee, just visited with a dear friend while wearing the pjs she bought me for my birthday (TMI)…..I’m thinking about what I’ve learned since 1997….but more specifically since 2019 and the latest cancer diagnosis….

Just a few things

  • To love and cherish my family, sometime obnoxiously so
  • To have empathy not just sympathy
  • To appreciate beauty in everything..the smallest of things
  • To be a friend, a good, good friend
  • To show people I care
  • To forgive more, to blame less
  • To share love and acceptance of all of his children
  • To be thankful in all things….especially medicine and really smart doctors

And finally….. to have hope.

Stayin’ Alive….right?

And so it goes..

Last night I chose to watch a favorite tv drama… “This is Us”…. or as Jack likes to call it, “This is Sad”. Since I am a sorry, pitiful fan I had no faith that the Memphis Grizzlies were going to win the playoff game and had gone upstairs choosing the tv show instead.

Big mistake. Gut wrenching. Sobbed my face off. If you’re a “This is Us” fan you know exactly what I’m talking about

The words and music of the Billy Joel song were so poignant and fit the sentiment of the story line so well that I woke this morning thinking of it all…. and how it relates to my story.

Life is difficult sometimes. I know I’m in good company when I make this statement. I spend an exorbitant amount of time comparing my struggles to those of others and scolding myself for complaining when so many have it so much worse.

But each of us face our own battles. We trust that God listens and hears us….I’m pretty sure it’s not a competition. There are surely strategies to make things seem better… well, most of the time.

For example

Last Friday Jack and I and our sweet friends decided to go to dinner downtown. It was a beautiful night and the restaurant, a relatively new one in town, had been highly recommended by our boys and their wives as a “must”…. great food, interesting and different menu and an awesome atmosphere. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. But… I had been struggling a couple of days with hip pain (my compadre of doctors tell me the hip is shot and I need a new one) but I thought I was ok for the time being…..

And then the chair.

There was just something about it. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I twisted and turned and tried hard to make the best of it, enjoying the awesome dinner, great conversation, and other friends who dropped by, laughing and having just the greatest time.

And then I tried to stand up.

Trust me when I say “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be”….. I COULD NOT WALK. The pain in my hip was horrendous and I was paralyzed. Jack, bless his heart, was doing his best to help and our friend Jim was on the other side of me doing the same. I was mortified. So dang embarrassed! I was sure everyone in the restaurant would think I had enjoyed too much Sauvignon Blanc …ha.. We make it out to the street where Jack had parked and of course, I couldn’t get up in the explorer to save my dang life! Traffic is rolling by, as it does in downtown Jonesboro, and suddenly a car pulls up alongside of us. A young lady rolls the window down and asks if I need help. She is proud to say she’s a registered CNA and works at a nursing home. JUST KILL ME NOW. We assured her I was ok and finally Jack was able to maneuver me and my dead leg up and into the car.

It’s Wednesday after the debacle so I can laugh. But let me tell you I wasn’t laughing Friday night.

Long story short. I’ve had hip pain for years and have known the osteoarthritis existed for many of those years. But being the daughter of Irene, I decided I was able to deal with the pain. And I did. Years of bus trips, standing and teaching…… days when I came home and hit the ibuprofen bottle hard, ha.

The best example was when I took the kiddos to sing in Little Rock at the Capitol the last year I taught. In a driving rain my two bus loads of singers run (I walked) up the beautiful walkway into the Capitol and thanks to Mallory Mitchell (drama goddess) I managed to walk up the steps to the rotunda to perform.

When we took the kids to the mall for lunch and Christmas shopping I went to the Dillard’s furniture showroom, found a chair and collapsed. We made it back to Jonesboro in a thunderstorm (through construction in Jacksonville where we almost died) and I was back at the Country Club for the teacher Christmas party by 6:30.

Told you I was tough.

But when you can’t walk and nursing home workers are offering their services you finally get the drift. Let’s just say appointments are being made.

It’s a tough decision when you have stage 4 lung cancer to jump (and I use that phrase loosely) into a hip replacement surgery. Plus, it sounds so freakin’ OLD.

Vain much Suzanne?

All joking aside. Times are hard. There are so many things wrong right now. It’s tough to find humor in anything.

I have dear friends suffering with cancer, Putin is blowing the Ukraine up and killing innocent men, women and children….The Supreme Court is blowing up and people are at each other’s throats….Naomi Judd died….. good grief. I don’t dare wonder what will come next.

Do you feel me?

One of my best friends has the ability to deny. Queen of denial we like to call her. And you know what? Somedays I just have to go there. I pretend. I sleep late and watch Netflix and avoid the news. I pretend cancer and depression and mental illness and war don’t exist. Because truthfully we teachers are trained to be fixers and when we can’t fix something we tend to freak out.

In Arkansas teachers are now being accused of indoctrinating students and not training them for the real world by our next governor… so I try not to think about that either.

Can’t fix it.

But I sit here tonight listening to Jack mow the grass, looking at the beautiful patio plants outside the window, thinking about the women’s group at my church and how wonderful they are to minister to women who are overcoming adversity and entering the world, I listen to my pastor and his passionate words and encouragement….I think of my boys and their families and how precious they are and how their lives are full and good…and I anticipate a patio party with friends who have spread across Arkansas and are coming back to my house for one more night.. …

And I squeeze the love out of each minute, denying the difficult and what I don’t want to face. Sometimes denial is all ya got…

And so it goes.

Livin’ on a Prayer

Woah, we’re halfway there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Livin’ on a prayer

Apologies to my handsome friend Jon Bon Jovi………….

Prayer

In 1997 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After 6 chemotherapy treatments and surgery my MD Anderson doctor recommended a stem cell transplant. The treatment hadn’t taken care of “everything” and the stem cell (basically high dose chemo and harvesting of stem cells, then when you’re near death, transplanting them back in) was my best option. The procedure required that I be in Houston Jan-March with a good portion of that time in the hospital. Thankfully there are better drugs now but in 1998 this was the best available.

Long story short, I was in the hospital when I had a visit from a local Houston pastor. I had signed the info card that I was a Baptist so I’m supposing this minister’s job was to visit Baptist patients (before we were isolated.). The pastor entered my room and we exchanged pleasantries, then we got down to the nitty gritty. He questioned me about being healed and did I pray for it. Uh….yes…. but I added that I wasn’t certain that it was going to happen. My mother had recently died and I had prayed my heart out for her….so I wasn’t hopeful.

At this point he told me my faith wasn’t strong enough and if I believed in prayer and was faithful enough, God would heal me.

Not what I needed to hear. Not at all. I suspect you’ve felt the same…..does prayer really make a difference?

At that point I started questioning prayer, pray-ers and faith. I’m a believer, I was raised to pray, but to hear him tell me my faith wasn’t enough…well, you get my point.

My mother was a prayer warrior… BIG TIME. When I went away to college, (unbeknownst to me) she prayed that I would NOT meet the perfect guy, get married and move away.

Thanks mother. I guess, ha.

Her voice to God’s ear. Although those college years were fabulous and provided lots of fun and lifelong friendships, none of my dating relationships were anywhere close to being serious, and meeting Jack after graduation was the answer to her prayer…. and 39 years later I’m still thankful for my mother, the prayer warrior.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one included in her prayers…like I said, she was a warrior.

If you’re reading this and you know the Wilkerson family you remember that we lived across the street from the church and prayer played a vital role in all of our lives. You might remember….

  • Wednesday night prayer meetings
  • Community prayer services
  • Prayer services when President Kennedy was assassinated
  • The community prayer service when my brother Mike’s helicopter lost communication in the arctic and he was feared dead.

We prayed. We prayed a lot.

Daddy prayed too.

One of his favorite stories (decide for yourself if it was true) was that a man he was sitting next to during a particular sermon went sound asleep……..after which Daddy punched him and whispered that the preacher had called on him to give the benediction……and he jumped up and started praying in the middle of the service. Sounds hard to believe but if you knew Buster you realize how it could easily be true..ha

At our small Baptist church you had to be on your toes because the preacher might call on anyone at anytime to lead in prayer. Even if you were a VISITOR and Suzanne’s boyfriend.

King James Bible
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Let’s just say I remember very clearly Jack looking for the closet.

But seriously….. I can remember exactly how my mother would begin each prayer ….. “Our most gracious Heavenly Father and our Almighty God”..…Of course she was never allowed to do the benediction because she was a WOMAN…. (fodder for another blog post)

Daddy was a MAN and a Deacon so he was called on almost every Sunday …. and at the end of his benediction were the words “Go with us now to our separate places of abode and may thy love abide with us now and forever”

I remember these exact words because I heard them so many times….What a blessing to have parents who prayed….

So…. all of that to say this…….

We all have our own way of praying. We’ve heard hundreds of sermons about how to pray. I’m even attending a Bible study about prayer… and still sometimes we don’t pray regularly or with specificity……haven’t we all, at one time or another, posed the same question about why our prayers don’t seem to be answered in the way we want… or if they even make a difference.

It’s probably a good time for a disclaimer. I am NOT a theologian and don’t play one on TV. I’m just a normal person who is a believer and who wants to pray in the best possible way I can. As I read the Kelly Mintor book with my Bible study ladies, one statement stands out.

Prayer should be more relational than transactional…. Good words, huh. Prayer isn’t a Christmas list that you mail to Santa. It’s not….. I ask this for this so I it.. For me it’s a conversation with my creator. My dear friend Jane said it best…”Sometimes it’s just falling on your face”….confessing your hurt, your pain and your human inability to understand why things are happening. Other times I find that I’m overwhelmed by the goodness of God and I spend my prayer time just thanking him for all he’s provided….. I’m not a big fan of acronyms but a former interim pastor listed this one. It’s simple to remember.

  • P- start your prayer with praise. …. For beauty, for love, for family….for being alive
  • R- repent….. think about your words your actions or the lack thereof…is it Christ-like?
  • A- ask…. .. As the song says “Jesus on the mainline, tell him what you want”…well kinda
  • Y- yield …..Yield to his will and to the fact we are human and live in a fallen world.

For me pray is often a confession that I do not understand this life. I’m aware that we’re human and we are born to die (even if we think we can live forever.) Illness, loss, grief…..are as sure as love, mercy and forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s simply a confession that I have huge questions ….like…. babies dying, young people suffering….or why tornadoes or hurricanes or mass shootings or Ukraine… and on and on. Sometimes I cry out that I DO NOT UNDERSTAND…..

But I still believe.

“I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when he is silent…”

― Anonymous inscription left in the wall of a German internment camp

But here’s what I do believe

  • I believe that if I tell you I’ll pray for you it’s not just a comment or a facebook post. I will.
  • I believe that when healing doesn’t happen we need to pray to see what lessons are to be learned from the situation….what goodness can we find…….for me, that goodness has been overwhelming and I feel this love and goodness every day….from family, from friends, from my faith family and so many others.
  • I believe words alone aren’t enough… I believe we have responsibilities as Believers to be the hands and feet of Christ. I used to have a poster that said “prayer changes people and people change things”…… I still believe it and I look for it…..
  • I believe we need to pray and teach our children to pray. To open our hearts and have a conversation with the one true God. He knows our hearts but I believe he yearns for us to have a relationship with him…an honest, sometimes raw, fall on your face, relationship. He’s God. He can handle it.

16 Rejoice at all times. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Oh, we’ve got to hold on, ready or not
You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got
Woah, we’re halfway there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer

Hold on friends……. we’re all livin’ on a PRAYER… We hear you Jon Bon Jovi….

Let’s PRAY

Tethered

When I graduated from William Woods in 1981 the ceremony was solemn, beautiful and meaningful. Graduates lined up behind the class president who wore a robe with all the lovely embroidery of many years down the front. We were connected by, and carried, an ivy chain on our shoulders as we were led, single file across the bridge of senior lake toward the union where the ceremony would take place. At that point the ivy chain was cut and we were no longer tethered ....tied…bound..fastened..moored..secured but instead untethered and separated, ready and eager enter the “real” world.

Unabashedly symbolic but so true, the ceremony told our story.

The feeling

This week was particularly devastating for dear friend whose precious mother passed away just weeks after her father. As I tried to find just the right words to tell her how sorry I was for her loss…. all I could think to tell her was how I felt after the loss of both of my parents, my brother and my two sisters. I felt untethered……not moored, not fastened, not secured.

Untethered

At this point many would be quick to remind me that faith should be sufficient.

I beg to differ.

If you are a believer (and yes, I am) you don’t have to deny your emotional reaction to what life brings your way and the loss of family presents a special kind of grief….one that I call untethering…at least it was for me. Just as the ivy chain was cut…. when you lose someone, especially your parents.. the separation is painful and it’s real.

Mother and Daddy

I was the surprise baby. The “unplanned” pregnancy. My parents had 3 children (JoKay 14, Becky 10 and Mike 8) when I was born. Mother and Daddy were 42. I was loved and spoiled by them all. But now they are all gone. We were the family that all “got along”…ha. Were we perfect? Of course not. Were there disagreements? Certainly. But we were TETHERED to one another. We celebrated holidays together, we mourned together. We all went to the same elementary and high school. We all lived within a few miles of one another with the exception of Mike who tended to fly in and out… but always coming back home. We shared every memory of growing up. We knew each other backward, forward, inside and out…….and cherished every memory. We told story after story and laughed and cried together with each one.

So now….

Recently I was at the salon (I usually say beauty shop), getting my nails done, when two former students (they are adults now..remember I taught for 38 years so it’s impossible to not come in contact with a former student wherever I go)… when one of them complimented me on my blog. I laughed and told her it was cheaper than a psychiatrist, which is my usual response and painfully accurate. Another nail tech was giving a pedicure and asked me what I wrote about….. I took a moment and answered that I wrote mostly about what I love…..My family, my church, my faith, my friends, my profession and recently my health.

And then…

The sweet lady getting the pedi (an older than me church friend) was listening and our conversation began. Her face lit up as she shared that during COVID, when she was so afraid to leave her home, she began writing a family history for her sons and for family who lived far away so they would know how they were connected and “who was who”…. She then made copies for all of them to keep. She included stories about her youth and her parents so that they would know about her… It was a precious conversation with a lovely woman… who by the way is experiencing tremendous health challenges… but whose eyes sparkled as she shared many of her memories with me…

She wanted family…She needed the connection to happen and be remembered…Don’t we all? Simon and Garfunkel said it this way in the Bookends theme;

Time it was
And what a time it was
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago, it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you

A million memories that only I remember.

  • Mike gave me my first albums.. Simon and Garfunkel and The Monkees. I was in the second grade and mother gave me a baby doll.
  • All the men smoked on the porch of the church between Sunday School and Worship.. No problem.
  • Grandpa shot a deer out of season and Daddy was dressing the deer in the basement when our friend the game warden visited…mother was terrified our friend would hear the dogs barking and know something was up. He didn’t. Or did he?
  • Daddy was a scout in the war and crawled on his belly to snuff out the nazis
  • JoKay’s boyfriend was a skeet shooter and would win stuffed animals at every carnival and give them to me. I had around 50.
  • Mother planned a church service when JFK was assassinated and Becky sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as everyone cried.
  • Daddy was sheriff and our pastor was Bro. Outlaw
  • Somebody left the screen door open at church and my dog walked the aisle

And a million more. A million.

So….. I guess the moral of the story is to enjoy being tethered to those who know your story and share your memories before you leave. Write them down if possible. Bore your children with stories and don’t worry if you’ve told them before…they’ll remember them better, ha.

And if your loss leaves you untethered to your past…well then, make darn sure you are tethered to the present with those you love. If it’s not family….it’s fine, make them family. Take time to share and let them know who you really are.

I don’t know if you are aware but we’re all going to die. Sorry to bring that up. But time is of the essence. Get busy. Share your yesterdays but experience today with your people. If you don’t have people… well find a good church and jump in with both feet. Bond with your co worker…. heck, my sweet Cathy and Nita take care of my nails my feet and my hair and they know everything! I talk their ears off during every visit!

Oh how I pray you are bound, secured, fastened, moored….. to your faith for sure, but also to those around you. Those you love and to those who love you…and all of those in between.

Tethered.

Raindrops on Roses

Please tell me you know the rest of the lyrics and are singing them loudly…..

 

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels;

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles;
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings;

These are a few of my favorite things.Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver-w
hite winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver-white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

I’m a big fan of things.

My favorite things.

Yes, Julie I have favorite things….I have favorite coffee mugs. I have favorite coffee. I have favorite flowers and dishes and shoes. I have favorite pajama pants and t-shirts. I have favorite Christmas decorations, I even have favorite people for pete’s sake. I love things that are pretty. Pretty art, pretty clothes, pretty jewelry….and the list goes on and on.

The deep end?

I recently joined a Facebook group called, believe it or not, “Beautiful Table Settings”… BTS if you will. I know you’re thinking to yourself I have way too much time on my hands, and you’re spot on, ha. This group (BTS) posts photos of beautiful table settings and the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are evidently their high holy days. The pictures posted on the website were just beautiful! Perfect even!

Table settings to end all table settings.

Guess what? I jumped in with both feet (hands) and surprised myself with what I could do. Give me a few plates and a centerpiece and I can GO TO TOWN. In all the photos on the BTS website, tables were set with a dinner plate, salad plate, charger, flatware, napkins, crystal…. the whole nine yards. AND let me just say that I loved every one of them. Funny thing though….at both holiday meals Chase used the salad plate for the dinner before realizing it wasn’t big enough for the HAM.

But hey, my table made a really pretty picture and that’s really what counts right?

Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ll never be served on paper plates and styrofoam cups at my house as long as I can physically load a dishwasher. If the dishwasher goes on the fritz then we’ll talk, but for now I will use my real plates, glasses, cloth napkins and be happy.

But truthfully…..somewhere in the middle of all this nonsense is reality. I can’t let my obsession with “things” be more important than people.

My table is never as important as the people sitting around it.

Luke 12:34
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We Christians love to flood social media with scripture, pictures and words meant to assure readers (and mostly ourselves) that we know the real meaning of Christmas. We faithfully attend our Christmas services and most of us donate to charity…..But still we gorge ourselves on extravagant gifts, food, parties, travel….. our favorite things, right?

Guilty as charged.

I love me some extravagant gifts. I love to give them, I love to receive them! And who doesn’t love a perfect Christmas dinner!…..I’m lucky enough to have grandchildren so it goes without saying that I love THINGS that make them happy! Bring on the THINGS……

No Room for things?

Jack and I recently spent time going through Travis and Reba’s things…. which honestly felt intrusive, even though they are both gone from this world. Things…. things that meant something to them and to us.

And as I looked at a lifetime of beautiful china, crystal…..I realized that no matter if I wanted to preserve it all, I just couldn’t. I don’t have room unless Jack builds an addition on the house to store it all. Since I’m pretty sure that’s not happening I had to walk away……and this made me very, very sad.

My own mother passed away when I was so young that I didn’t feel this particular kind of sadness in 1985. Although I’m sure Becky and JoKay did. And then daddy died in 1999 when I was still recovering from my first cancer episode and I just didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to think about their things…..as I was pretty focused on my survival and my little family.

The truth is somewhere in the midst of recent events (sorting Reba’s beautiful things and my shallow addiction to the BTS website) I realized that when I’m gone nobody will have room for my things either!

They won’t know that mother, my sisters JoKay, Becky, and the infamous Ida L. Andrews (home economics teacher and principal) are responsible for my love of correct place settings, no matter if it’s expensive china or not. I will always break out in a sweat if the fork is on the wrong side. That’s unfortunately not going to change.

Nobody will understand that I carried around copies of Bride’s magazine for a year before choosing my perfect china and crystal and that it was beautifully displayed at Humphries Jewelry in Thayer on a little table with my engagement photo…. which is what we did in 1983.

It’s inevitable.

Someday my family will say ” We love her china and crystal but we just don’t have the room”………….

But guess what? They WILL have room for memories. Memories of meals, of conversations, of laughter and tears. They’ll remember dinners full of conversation and good food. They’ll remember hugs and arguments and the warmth of my kitchen. They’ll remember the tacky Santa that climbs the Christmas tree and the Santa that dances to “Jingle Bell Rock” and how we laughed when Jack teased the grands with Papaw’s fake squirrel that made those squirrel noises…memories made….

Fortunately those things don’t take up space.

There is room.

2 Corinthians 4:18

18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

May we all focus more on the “things” unseen….. the things that are eternal

but for heaven’s sake, let’s keep that fork on the correct side of the plate….

The Gift

My mother could play piano. Let me rephrase. My mother could pick out hymns on the piano. I have no earthly idea how she learned to do it because she never mentioned a teacher….. I suspect, knowing her, she taught herself. She loved music. She appreciated music. She valued music (and poetry, literature,grammar, art… and how to correctly set a table.). All of which seem sadly to have become a lost art.

But that’s a story for another day.

My daddy was a singer. I often joke that he never sang the correct words but he wouldn’t wear his glasses and I’m afraid that I’m following in those muddled word footsteps myself these days sans glasses. I try though.

What you need to know is that daddy learned to sing because back in those days (long, long ago)….churches would have “singing schools” where a traveling musician would spend a few days and nights teaching hymn singing. Sight-reading was a big part of this instruction. The shaped note method was used (look it up) and daddy was really, really good at it! Each note had a specific shape (square, triangle etc.,) and represented “do”. Daddy could pick up a hymnal and sight-read anything. It was amazing.

And he taught me to count 12/8

Since my parents were 42 when I was born these stories have been passed down to me. Growing up I just knew that Daddy sang bass in the First Baptist Church quartet and would dance in front of the tv during the bluegrass portion of Hee Haw. I knew that mother would always host and provide food when the quartet needed to rehearse and she loved every episode of The Lawrence Welk Show.

Because of them…..the gift

All of us had piano lessons (except Mike who played the trombone and used it to punch the ceiling tile in his bedroom.). JoKay, Becky and I were given lessons. JoKay and Becky by Mrs. Sanders and me by Mrs. McClelland. As many of you already know, JoKay was 14 years older than me and Becky 10. By the time I rolled around they had set the standard. Becky played piano but her gift was voice. Hers was beautiful. JoKay’s gift was piano…and she could play anything… I remember her playing “Autumn Leaves” and classical pieces while I pretended to be a ballerina, dancing in the living room. (I had an awesome imagination, ha)…..

I began piano in second grade. Mother or JoKay and Becky faithfully drove me the 20 miles to Thayer for lessons with dear Mrs. McClelland who was always dressed in a lovely ensemble with a tight waist, heels and hose. She had played for Paderewski and loved to tell stories of this honor. I LOVED HER. She taught from both the Schaum and Thompson books but also allowed me to bring a hymnal and we worked a different hymn each week.

What a gift, a sacrificial gift, from mother and daddy

When I was a junior in high school my cousin Bill Wheeler (the Principal) decided I should be in the county Junior Miss pageant (over mother’s objection) and I won with a piano solo as my talent. When headed to St. Louis and the state pageant I had to come up with something a bit more creative. Thanks to Wilma McMurtrey, Karen Perkins and Carlene Williams my talent became a medley of what music meant in my life. School accompanist, church accompanist, piano instructor and classical soloist. And I won the talent. My entire family was in attendance, even Granny Smith.

A gift.

I knew very little about voice and my lessons were a little light on technique so when I auditioned for a scholarship at William Woods it was a MIRACLE that they accepted me. Again a gift….Because I had fallen in love with William Woods College during Girls State I was on a scholarship hunt. William Woods was a private college and the money just wasn’t there. Mother said if I could get enough scholarship money to make the cost equal to Missouri State (then called SMS and where she, JoKay and Becky attended) I could go.

Thanks to music it happened.

Another gift.

So….. all that history is probably more than you bargained for wasn’t it?

This afternoon I reflect on how this gift of music has affected my life…. let’s see..

  • A 36 year career in public school music education
  • Students I loved and still love
  • Performances that made me cry happy, emotional tears
  • Listening to Chase play guitar every week at church
  • Remembering Carter trying out for all-region the morning after he quarterbacked the Hurricane to a loss to West Memphis (sorry Carter) and making first chair
  • Professional friends from Jonesboro, the state of Arkansas and surrounding states…all connected because of our love of the gift of music
  • Proudly teaching songs that contained scripture, beautiful poetry and history. Making students FEEL in their souls the pain of slavery, the Holocaust, American history and more.

So where’s my gift today. A 63 year old retiree and cancer patient?

Such an easy question. I revel in the accessibility of music provided by today’s technology. With the touch of the computer screen I can talk a walk back in time listening to artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald…..or I can enjoy the amazing music of Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton or the amazing Adele. I can worship with CeCe Winans or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I’ve never been a musical snob so my playlists are eclectic to say the least. I have a funeral list if you need it, ha. Of course it might not be what you expect.

Since I have the pleasure of a CT scan and an MRI every 3 months I have discovered music is a crucial gift while spending time in the TUBES. If you’ve had these tests you understand, ha. I mostly sing hymns in my mind. I remember the words perfectly except the poor third verses that we always ignored for some unknown reason, ha. No offense to contemporary Christian music (I actually love most of it) but it’s always the hymns I remember and sing in my head when I’m there.

I also spend a couple of hours getting chemo every 3 weeks that are made tolerable and even enjoyable because of a great set of headphones and a cell phone. TECHNOLOGY people.

The Gift.

Music.

What would life my life be without it? I can’t fathom it. Today, as I’m attempting to share my thoughts, I’m listening to a “chill” playlist on Apple Music that has included Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot…ha…

Thank you to my mother and daddy for making certain music was an important part of my life as a child. Thank you to Mrs. McClelland for those lessons, Thank you to Mrs. Gum who I adored. Thank you for introducing me to the band and the flute. Thank you to Mrs. Bull who loved band and caused me to love it too. Thank you to Mr. Heiskell who thought I could sing and taught me to love harmony while singing in choir…… Thank you to Chris and Burt Allen who taught me piano and choir while at William Woods. Thank you to Christy Clary and Cindy Winsky who taught me how fun music could be, even singing at a funeral director’s convention for tips. Thank you to Al Skoog to taught me to passionately sing the lyric….

And finally, thank you to all my professional friends who love the gift of music as much as I do….. And to all the amateurs who do too!! And to the listeners and those who appreciate every note, every lyric… I beg you to share this gift with future generations. Choir, Band, Piano….. I swear you’ll make them better people. It’s the gift of a lifetime, enriching every life….

And…. If you doubt the existence of God…. well, I can’t believe you love the gift of music. It sets us apart and transcends…..taking us away from, or maybe through, pain or helping us to celebrate what we can’t otherwise express. God gave us this gift…. I just know he did.

Gotta go, Joni Mitchell just started to sing.

Bless your heart

Tell the truth. How many times a day do you say “Bless your heart?” Extra points if you’re not from the south…..because we use it, abuse it and wear it the heck out. We use it sarcastically, sympathetically and sometimes when we don’t know what else to say…

Examples?

  • “Bless her heart, that dress was too dang tight!”
  • “She tries too hard, bless her heart”
  • “Bless his heart, his wife keeps him hoppin’ and his dog died last week”

Or

  • “Bless your heart, how can I help?”
  • “Bless your heart, I’m so sorry”
  • “Bless your heart, I’m praying for you

It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? It surely does mine. Which brings me to my issue.

Bless, Blessing, Blessed.

I have used the phrase “I’m so blessed” many times…thousands of times…almost boastfully.

Usually I’m speaking of my family, my friends…….you know the drill. But how hurtful is it to other folks who many not feel the same? How do I shout to the world what a blessing it is to have grandchildren to someone who doesn’t have them? How do I say how blessed I am to have wonderful friends to one who feels alone? How hurtful is it to declare how blessed I am to be surviving when someone listening has just lost a loved one? Or someone embroiled in a health issue of their own…. or fighting to just keep their heads above water.

When I declare my blessing am I trying to thank God but instead causing someone (most likely a much better person and Christian than me) to question why their blessing isn’t the same? When the tornado blows my neighbor’s house away and mine is left standing, do I tell the world that God blessed me and protected me? Sorry neighbor, guess he forgot about you…..yeah… that’s always a good word isn’t it? If you know me very well you understand that I spend WAY TOO MUCH time in my head. The question of a blessing is one which I can’t ignore. In fact I cringe when folks flippantly expound how God has blessed our country above all others and we are the his chosen. Really? Has almighty God decided to NOT bless other countries?

He did create the world right?

I guess I’m crazy enough to believe God loves us all the same, no matter the circumstances of our birth. Do you really believe God’s blessing is ours alone and not the starving babies in Africa or the Haitian refugees trying to flee a country torn apart by earthquakes, hurricanes and a corrupt government?

How does this work exactly?

Bless

Blessing

Blessed

Before you quit reading and assume I’m some sort of heretic, please know that I’m a believer. But I’m also a questioner. Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure that God is big enough to handle my questions…..and after all, it’s GOD so he/she knows what we’re thinking anyway! Can’t fake it kids. Recently my beloved Sunday School class studied Matthew 5:3-12. Yes, the well known Beatitudes. Words we’ve all heard and studied our whole lives…but this time my ears heard it differently. Those blessings were not of health or wealth or THINGS… Take a minute and read these verses again!!! ……Read them with fresh eyes! WHAT ARE OUR TRUE BLESSINGS?

The Beatitudes Matthew 5:3-10 Christian Blessings Wall Art image 0

I am SO NOT a theologian (as I’m sure you have already ascertained ha)…

But Here’s what I did NOT hear as I read those blessings

  • The promise of wealth
  • The promise of health
  • The promise we won’t be poor in spirit
  • That we won’t mourn
  • That we won’t feel meek
  • That we won’t search or question (like me….ha)
  • That we shouldn’t strive to be merciful and be peacemakers (convicting much?)

So……….

Bless your heart

Blessed are….

Blessings

Will I continue to thank the Lord for my life and all that I have? Surely. Every hour of every day. Will I still say “bless your heart”….. ALL THE TIME…. But, will I conflate every good fortune with true blessings from God? I hope not….. but at the very least I’ll think before I speak. I’ll be more cautious and careful with my words….. especially with those who are hurting or wondering why their hopes and dreams aren’t coming to fruition.

AND….. I’ll try to remember our true blessing is being a child of the King.

Bless your heart.

Mine too.

My Road, Our Road

Did you ever google songs with the word road in the title?

  • On the Road Again
  • Life is a Highway
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Hit the Road Jack

The List goes on and on…..

Driving back from our latest Houston journey I wondered how many trips I have made back and forth…. I couldn’t even estimate how many.

Our first trip was in July of 1997. After a more than grim breast cancer diagnosis here in Jonesboro, I was determined to head to Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Center for a second opinion, treatment, whatever. I was 39, had lost my mother to the disease, had two small children I wanted to raise, and was willing to do whatever necessary for the best chance of survival.

Many of you have heard the story ad nauseum so I won’t repeat, only to say the first road trip was a flight out of the Little Rock airport and we used a travel agent, ha.

Many of my best friends remember that time and were there to help with everything from child care, travel, phone cards (remember those) and most importantly prayer.

1997-1998 saw many trips down the road. Mostly by air but some by car. Starting monthly with the chemo, then the surgery followed by the 3 month stay for the stem cell transplant. Later, when it looked like I would survive, the road trips became a 6 month ordeal, then once a year, with most of them made solo… but never halted completely. 2016 brought another diagnosis with more frequent road trips and surgery and then most recently (2019) even more, and the road goes on and on……

We almost took the roof off of Jerry Bowen’s van in 1997 when the road took us to the Houston Galleria…..The road also took us to an NBA game to see Charles Barkley with hold the ball from the ref….. while I sat in the stands with a fanny pack of Adriamycin.

Before I learned about car services from the airport my sister Becky and I left in a cab with a very gassy driver who took the long road to the hotel.

When I was alone in the hotel and bored, the road took me to the hotel courtesy shuttle where I rode around with a driver from Africa ( a learned man with a degree) who was desperately trying to secure a Visa and bring his family to the US.

The road to Houston (America’s 4 largest city) offered us insight. The world (believe it or not) is bigger than Arkansas. Patients, health care workers, doctors….. many from other countries…. opened our eyes to God’s people who didn’t look or sound like us.

An acknowledgement that to this day humbles me, while simultaneously making my skin crawl, when fellow Christians are so darn sure the USA is God’s chosen nation and we are the chosen people. …

Not on the road I’ve traveled.

I’m pretty darn certain God created the world and all its people and loves us all the same….even if we’re rascals at times.

I am continually amazed at seemingly intelligent folks on today’s road who claim to “research” health care and find suddenly they know more than the doctors and science. Incredible actually….. I repeat, not on my road.

Science, research and doctors have kept me alive since 1997. And just like the need for a travel agent and that trusty phone card, SCIENCE and HEALTH CARE have evolved and changed tremendously.

Case in point…. when initially diagnosed with breast cancer I was enrolled in a clinical trial. A trial that included pre-op chemo. Something new to us in 1997, standard procedure now.

And let’s talk drugs. Neupogen was new in 1997….. Mother didn’t get it in 1984 and the chemo took her life…. For those of you unaware, it’s a drug that raises your white count when the chemo knocks in down (simple explanation). In 1997 I had to inject myself. In 2019 when I started chemo again I was introduced to Neulasta, a contraption they put on your arm for a steady injection during the first few days of treatment. Crazy huh?

In 1998 it was thought that a stem cell transplant was my best chance to defeat the cancer and keep it from recurring. Guess what?

THEY DON’T DO IT NOW…. because research evolved and there are better drugs and more effective treatments available.

I get my “dander” up (is dander really a word?)…. when people argue that the CDC or Dr. Fauci change recommendations for fighting this hellish virus. What can’t we understand about scientific discovery and change? Just like we tell our children… when you know better you do better!

I have to admit that not once have I gone to my oncologist and argued that his advice is different than what I saw on Facebook or Fox news… I’ve never said “how about some horse wormer with a chaser of bleach”…..

Call me CRAZY but the doctors and health care professionals I’ve been BLESSED to meet on my road have been amazingly intelligent, passionate and competent.

AND… they wear masks, they ask about my vaccination……..and I’m not offended. My freedoms have surprisingly remained intact.

My road has had many twists and turns, not the least of which has been the blessing of living to see my little boys grow, graduate from high school and college, get married to beautiful, Christian women and now to have PERFECT grandchildren.

As the song says “the road is LONG with many a winding turn”....

One of the blessings of being “older”…. looking back on my road. And yes, it’s been filled with tremendous joy, but also deep grief. The loss of my parents, my three siblings and so many friends…

You get it, I’m sure, because your road is no doubt full of the same….. especially if you’re the ripe old age of 62 like me.

What have I learned on the road? Well…. I’ve learned that the only thing that is consistent….. The one thing on the road that won’t change for better or worse?

The security found in my Faith. my God. and Love.

The rest is uncertain.

This past week my road was long and filled with anxiety and fear. And yes, I know I’m not supposed to feel that way, but it’s my truth, God knows about it and we’ve talked. I’m working on it, promise.

Anyway….

2 years after a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis I’m still on the road. Thanks to those medical professionals GIFTED by God (and I believe that’s today’s miracle) I’ve been told my road isn’t ending as soon as I thought…clear scans and another 3 months before we hit the road again.

Today my road takes me to the patio……ha…. where I can hear the JHS band (best in the state) practice. I see the sunlight after last night’s storm and can almost see the hibiscus open to a new day. But the road also stops with concern for a dear friend whose mother has COVID and another whose husband has just recovered. It takes a turn as I worry about my children who are educators and the battles they face just entering the classroom this fall….and it stops when I think about my precious grandchildren who are so vulnerable…..

I try hard to replace anger and irritation with love for those SCREAMING at physicians for simple telling the truth, or spouting irrational comments at school boards and administrators who valiantly want to save the lives of children and keep them in school.

But …….it’s getting more difficult by the mile.

The road continues doesn’t it?

One of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott (she probably got it from somebody else) is that “we’re all just walking each other home”…… We are on the road together and we need to find a way to help each other on the journey however best we can.

A dose of compassion, acceptance and if possible a diet coke or a great cup of coffee for the trip.

Enjoy the road. I’m trying.

Lipstick and a Highlight Reel

lipstick on a pig

“Some superficial or cosmetic change to something so that it  seems more attractive, appealing,  or successful than it really is.”

I’m not the pig! I’m not the pig!

Seriously though…..I get bored when I have my chemo/immunotherapy treatments. I listen to music, I listen to podcasts, and yes, I take pics. We’ve already established my “oversharing” tendency on facebook so there’s that.

Last week I didn’t have to wear the mask in my cubicle (I’m vaccinated as was my nurse) and of course I had on lipstick. Funny thing….almost everybody commented that they loved the lipstick!

Whoo Hoo, right?

hmmmm….. why was it important for me to wear lipstick? Was I doing a Lancome commercial? No. I wanted those who saw the picture to believe I was doing well and feeling great. But on this particular day I was really, really fatigued…….. and my hip and leg were hurting like a big dog…. but the lipstick told a different story on facebook.

I’m fine, life’s fine.

Why is it that others’ opinions are so important to me? Am I programmed to care what others think about me? The answer is a big ole’ yes. It’s my nature. Or is it my flaw….

I’ll bet it’s yours too.

Bruce Tippit, our former pastor and a dear friend, preached a sermon once about friendship and how rare it was to have a friend or friends with which you could be open and brutally honest, and he was spot on…..as Bruce usually is.

I’m lucky to have many of these friends in my life.

Lucky and Blessed for sure.

Recently I had a heart to heart with one of these friends who lives far away but takes time to phone in and check to see how I’m doing. The last phone call included my confessing to feeling guilty when I’m having a dark day and others are struggling with issues and events much tougher than mine.

She laughed and told me I wasn’t running for “sainthood”…… and to get over myself. EXACTLY what I needed. Later in the week she sent a pic of Saint Susannah (this Baptist had never heard of her) and reiterated that the saint position was already taken.

I’m blessed to have her.

But the fact remains.

I need the lipstick.

I need to be positive. I have 2,500 facebook friends, family and acquaintances that I need to send a positive messages to! And honestly, the more I focus on the beautiful things the better I feel. I’ve always had a few “dark moments”, even before all this cancer nonsense, so I need the self help, ha…..

After all………..

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8 King James Version

So. What do you think about this crazy social media world? Has it helped? All of those pictures of perfect people on perfect vacations with their beautiful families? Those gorgeous babies and flowers and accomplished children etc……..

Ha……YASSSSSS…. I’m guilty! I’m home all day (I’m retired and gimpy) so I post WAY too much. But dang it all, I love my family and those cute babies…… and my flowers and music….. c’mon, can’t do with them!

Highlight Reel much?

A few years ago a very wise administrator commented (while we were in a mental health session during inservice). He very simply stated that social media was a place students posted their HIGHLIGHT REEL…..when their lives probably contained more bloopers than highlights.

How’s that for wisdom?

When you’re 14 and all you see are those cute pics of perfect friends who have it all? Who have parents that love each other, who seem too perfect? When reality is so LESS than.

Oh friends, be so, so careful. Be transparent with your precious children. Discuss those highlight reels and don’t compare!

And adults…….Even if your impatiens are wilting and there’s a resident raccoon living in a tree behind your patio. Even if you feel like…well, even if you aren’t feeling well. Don’t fake it. People want your truth.

But I must confess, I’m going to keep my lipstick handy. I’ll still post when I’ve had an awesome dinner with good friends or my flowers seem especially beautiful or my grandchildren are doing something INCREDIBLE…haha… and you should too!

But let’s promise each other to be more cognisant of what’s real and realize when things look too perfect. I’ll bet they aren’t.

Be real..

Even when it’s really, really hard…

Keep the lipstick.