Sunday, August 31, 2008

Learning About Dad's Illness

On Wednesday, 8/27/08, we learned that my dad, age 77, has esophageal cancer. If he is a candidate for surgery, his prognosis is quite good; otherwise, not so good. He is waiting to see a specialist to determine whether he can have surgery. With the long weekend, we're having to wait so long!

Here are some excerpts from my journal from the last few days.

Wondering How To Pray (Wed 8/27/08 AM)
There's something I'm confused about. Mom called last night and said the results of Dad's stomach and esophagus biopsies were not good. They're going to the office to get the results today. I didn't know how to pray for Dad. Do I pray for his healing, or just ask for God's will? Of course I want God's will for Dad, but won't that happen anyway? What's the point of praying at all if you're not asking for something?

As I was lying in bed pondering these thoughts, this came to my mind: "You have not because you ask not." Then I immediately thought of one of my memory passages in John 15: "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit."

So I said, "OK, God. I'm going to ask. I want you to heal my dad. I want you to spare his life. And I want it to be for your glory."

Understanding God's Purpose (Friday 8/29/08 AM)
I learned something new about Romans 8:28, after all my months of meditating and memorizing. Chapter 25 of Purpose Driven Life says that the purpose God has called us to is simply to be conformed to Jesus' likeness. So my beloved verse sort of reads differently: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That's why all circumstances work together for my good, because they're conforming me to Jesus' image.

So we need to rejoice in this trial of Dad's illness, because God has a plan that is far beyond our understanding. Praise unlocks the door to joy, and we can have joy even in this terrifying circumstance.

Wondering How to Feel (Sunday 8/31/08 PM)
I wish I could figure out what I'm feeling. I think I'm sort of numb. I would expect to be crying over Dad, but it's almost like I'm afraid to jinx him. If I cry, will it "give me something to cry about"? I know a positive attitude is so important, but I don't want to suppress my sorrow.

I feel irritable and short-tempered, easily frustrated. My feelings are hurt over nothing. I feel aggravated that Bill isn't babying me. I want extra hugs, and kind gestures like flowers and cards. And I want him to KNOW this without my asking.

Finding Comfort (Sunday 8/31/08 PM)
On Friday night, I told Bill I was feeling sad--not necessarily about Dad, but just blue in general. I told him my heart felt heavy, like there was literally a weight on my chest. I asked if he ever felt that physical heaviness in his heart. Surprisingly, he said yes. He feels that way when we have to come home from visiting family in Canada. It was good to know he understood what I was feeling. He also understood about not wanting to cry for fear of acknowledging that Dad might not be OK.

After we talked, he stroked my back and arm for a couple of minutes. Then I nestled my back against his chest, and he held me so tight I could barely breathe. We stayed like that until long after he was asleep. This is what marriage is about! I felt safe, and I was thankful for this physical comfort for my hurts.

It occurs to me that the reality of death sharpens our appreciation for life and love. Knowing we could lose Dad makes our love for family much more poignant and sweet. Why can't we ALWAYS hold on to the value of life this way?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

God and Dolphins

On the second day of our vacation, Tuesday 8/12/08, we went to Sea World. It started as a miserable experience. It was pouring rain. It rained so hard that we were sure it would be one of those gully washers that comes through quickly and moves on, but it rained for hours. We bought blue plastic ponchos, and they helped a little. I was struck by how those ugly ponchos were such an equalizer. You couldn't really notice racial, economic, or cultural differences in that sea of blue. There were just a few crazy, miserable families like ours who were determined to stay.

The beluga and dolphin show was canceled because the belugas had twin babies, but the arena was open for viewing. We stood for a couple of minutes and watched the white whales with their babies. I was carried back in time by the Enya song that was playing. It reminded me of being married to Byron because that's when I listened to Enya. And it reminded me of falling in love with Bill at the dolphin show at Shedd's Aquarium. It was a complicated mix of emotions, and the beauty of the whales coupled with the ethereal music made me want to cry. I felt sad for what might have been, thankful (and a little guilty?) for the joy in my current life, and just awed by the beauty of God's creation.

I loved the grace of these massive creatures, and the way the baby shadowed its mother. I was captivated by their obvious intelligence. One of them swam up to the glass where an apparent biologist sat with a clipboard. It studied her intently and then spit several arcs of water over the glass, lightly sprinkling her. It seemed to be smiling and enjoying its own joke. I wished I could walk up and touch the glass.

I felt so small, just a tiny piece of God's giant world, and I felt sad over what we have done to the oceans. I stood stock still, bathed in beautiful music and admiring God's handiwork. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. Then Ethan started complaining that he was bored, and Bill agreed that we'd better get moving.

We stopped to feed the dolphins one more time on the way out. We quickly ran through our four stinky fish, but we stayed at the pool to watch them interacting with all the people. I talked to God mentally as I enjoyed the view. "I'd really like to touch one, Lord." Immediately, the closest dolphin swam up to us and surfaced in front of Bill and Allyson. Bill and Ethan touched it, but I hesitated a moment too long.

I excitedly told Bill and Ethan about my prayer. Ethan protested that the dolphins were swimming up to lots of people, but Bill pointed out that most of them had fish. Ethan said, "If you think it was your prayer, why don't you make it happen again?"

I told him that prayer isn't magic. But mentally, I continued my conversation with God. "I really would like another chance. I'd like to touch it this time." In just a moment, another dolphin swam purposefully to me and stopped right in front of me. I swear it looked me right in the eye.

"Well, hello," I said, and I reached out with a trembling hand to touch its chin, and then its fin as it swam away. It felt cool and smooth, and very firm.

For just an instant, I felt as if GOD were looking at me through that dolphin's eyes. I felt very loved and content. Once again, I shared my prayer. Ethan was still skeptical, and Bill was noncommittal. I said it didn't really matter; what happened was a gift no matter how you looked at it. But I choose to believe that God DID send those dolphins.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Love on the Beach...Or Something Like That

When we were planning our recent camping trip to North Padre, I was imagining Love on the Beach. Somehow, some way, I thought we would sneak out of the tent for a moment of romance under the stars, with the crashing surf just 100 feet away. Of course, the reality was far less romantic. The tent flaps were deafening in the 30-mph gusts, and everything was covered in sand. The ground was hard and lumpy, and the moon was so bright that it was like sleeping with the light on. Still, I will rank this camping trip among my favorite memories.

We arrived around 4:30 on Monday 8/11/08, and Bill struggled to erect the tent in the high wind. In fact, he said, "There's no way in hell it's going up." I just said a silent prayer and waited for him to figure it out. Of course, he did manage to get the tent up, but the wind was half flattening it, and we were afraid it would blow right over. Bill thought for a moment and then braced two of the flexible supports to the wooden picnic covering and the picnic table that he'd turned on its side as a windbreak. He used a combination of bungee cords and frayed yellow rope, and I smiled as I pondered once again the strange joy he gets from tying ropes.
The bracing made the tent stand right up, and it was quite secure. Now the problem was the sand that covered everything and everyone. There was a thin coat of sand over our entire bodies. Thanks to the cool wind off the water, I thought it was almost comfortable on our sandy, lumpy pallet of sleeping bags, comforters, and blankets. By morning, all of us had pulled on our blankets.

At first, we let Ethan watch Shrek 3 on his portable DVD player, but it made Allyson agitated because she couldn't see it well from her Pack N Play crib. So we made Ethan turn it off. He complained that he was going to die of boredom; it was only 9:00 and he claimed he wasn't at all tired. I scratched his back, and he was asleep in under five minutes.

Allyson took a little longer and kept calling out to Daddy, but finally she fell asleep, too. Bill got up to carefully rearrange her blankets--two were hung over the side of her crib to shield her from the bright moonlight, and another was tucked tenderly over her. I smiled at his devotion. Allyson slept beautifully, and Ethan seemed to be sleeping well also.

Bill and I slept fitfully. I could fall asleep, but then I'd hear the ocean and the wind and be startled awake. Or I would painfully change positions in hopes of finding a comfortable spot on the hard ground. Each time I woke up, though, I just looked up through the mesh roof at the brilliant stars and thanked God for the beauty of this place and for the even breathing of my family around me.

In the morning, we were awakened by the early morning sun and the strident chatter of seagulls. We lay there in companionable silence until Allyson fussed to get out of bed. We had a crappy breakfast of convenience store donuts and mini cereal boxes with lukewarm milk. There was sand in our teeth, and I had hair in my mouth constantly because I hadn't thought to bring a rubber band; I could barely see through my flapping curtain of hair.

We had fun in the shallow waves and at the edge of the water. We built a sand castle and collected tiny mussels, then we marveled as they burrowed their way back down into the sand. Allyson was terrified of the sand crabs that scuttled everywhere. She refused to walk on the sand and had to be carried all around. The water was warm, and Allyson was delighted with the way the waves could push us over. She was shocked at the salty taste of the water and kept spitting it out theatrically. Ethan rode the waves on his boogie board and kept shouting, "Watch this!" Bill towed Allyson around on the boogie board, too, and she shrieked with joy and a little terror.

We showered in the public bathroom and tried to keep from collecting a new covering of sand, and then we drove to San Antonio for the rest of our mini vacation. As I leaned my head against the seat on the drive out, I decided there was a sense of romance to this family time after all, and maybe it was BETTER than what I had imagined.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why I Started My Blog

Ever since I discovered Psalm 139, I've realized that my life really is a book. It's full of adventures: some fun, some scary, some joyous, and some downright maddening. Sometimes I worry when what I think I need doesn't seem to be happening, but then I remember that I can trust the Author. You know how you get lost in a really good book? It doesn't matter that you don't know how it ends; if you like the author, you know you're in for a treat. I've come to realize (on my good days), that it's like that with life.

I've been keeping a journal for about eight years, and I love going back and reading old entries because I can see how I've grown and how I've stayed the same. I've battled insecurities, won small victories, and battled them again. Along the way, I've learned to open up and love the people God has placed in my life. I'm even learning to love ME.

Some of those old journal entries--even the sad ones--are just too beautiful not to share. So I plan to copy some of them onto my blog and add some new ones, too. I figure there must be other people out there who struggle with the same insecurities and fears and hurts that I have (or different ones), and I'm hoping to connect with some of these people. Maybe we can commiserate with each other. Maybe we can encourage and even inspire each other.


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