Thursday, October 29, 2009

Artificial Sweetness...A Peace Offering

Just moments after Ethan walked through the door this afternoon, he and Allyson started bickering. "It's going to be one of those days," I thought with a groan. Ethan gathered up his homework and moved from the kitchen table to his room.

Allyson traipsed up the stairs after him. "Get out of my room!" he snapped.

"Don't be rude, Ethan," I admonished as he settled down at his desk.

I started to follow Allyson out the door, but Ethan told me he needed my help with his algebra.

"What is it?" I asked, craning to catch a glimpse of his worksheet.

"I just need you to scratch my back," he said. I agreed, but I told him we'd have to leave the door open so I could keep an eye on Allyson.

Approximately two minutes later, Allyson walked in with a tray of colorful cloth cupcakes. "Would you like a cupcake, Mommy?" she asked sweetly. I thanked her and daintily nibbled at my pink-frosted cupcake, careful not to let it actually touch my lips.

She held out a white-frosted cupcake to Ethan. "Do you want one, too?" With my eyes, I silently urged him to accept this peace offering.

He narrowed his brows suspiciously. "What kind is it?" he demanded.

"Peanut butter chocolate banana!" she replied proudly.

Ethan snatched the cupcake out of her hand and stuffed the entire thing in his mouth. He proceeded to chew it theatrically.

Allyson's eyes were huge with alarm. "Ethan!" she shrieked. "It's a pretend cupcake. You can't eat it!"

Ethan didn't answer, just grabbed a second cupcake and crammed it into his mouth in front of the first one. His mouth completely stuffed, he still managed to grin broadly.

"You're going to gag yourself," I warned. Meanwhile, Allyson started chewing the remaining cupcake with gusto.

True to my prediction, Ethan spewed the two cupcakes out of his mouth. "Plehhh!"

"They're wet!" Allyson exclaimed, but she didn't seem bothered at all. In fact, she was grinning from ear to ear. "I'll go make some eggs!" she said, scurrying back to her room.

Ethan had just started the next problem when she returned with her tiny metal mixing bowl and wooden spoon. "It's scrambled eggs," she explained.

"Yum!" I said, trying to convey the right level of appetite without actually touching the spoon to my mouth.

When I'd finished, she handed the bowl to Ethan. "Do you want some eggs?"

Ethan eyed the bowl angrily. "There's nothing in here!" he growled. "Mama, why'd you eat all the eggs?"

Allyson giggled. "I'll make you some more," she assured him hastily.

She returned a minute later with the same bowl and spoon. "Do you want some, Mommy? Just eat a little, and then Ethan can have the rest."

"NO! I want my own bowl," Ethan argued. "I'm really hungry." He then wolfed down the imaginary eggs noisily while Allyson looked on with pleasure.

"Make me a slurpie," Ethan said when he'd finished devouring the eggs.

"What kind?" Allyson wondered.


"What color?"


"Put in extra artificial colors and flavorings," I called after her. "That's how Ethan likes it."

Ethan gave me a dirty look, but he was laughing. We'd just had a discussion in the kitchen about why I try to limit their consumption of artificial colors and flavors.

Allyson returned with a blue Cinderella tea cup. "Here's your artificial sweetness," she said.

So that Ethan could get a little homework done, I finally had to tell Allyson that he was getting a bit full from all the cake, eggs, and slurpies. We were all in high spirits after that, but I'm sure I was the happiest of the three. I just love to see them having fun together despite their nine-year age difference.

Another Harmonious Moment--Playing Guitar Hero Drums

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Guarding Your Heart

Guess what I did this weekend?? My friend Brandy and I were part of the studio audience for five Beth Moore Bible study segments! If you've been reading awhile, you know what that means: naturally I feel compelled to share a revelation or two.

This was my first time to hear Beth in person, and it was as amazing as I thought it would be. It was also my first time to be part of a studio audience, and that was an interesting experience, but I don't really have time to say much about that.

It was pretty hard to decide what part of the conference to share, but I thought it over and decided that the segment that hit home most with me was the one called The Guarded Heart. Here's what I learned....

We started the session by reading Proverbs 4:20-27, with a focus on verse 23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

At first, my mental commentary was, "Yes! Preach it, sister." I had heard this verse many times before, and I recognized the wisdom of it and believed that I had done a pretty good job of putting it into practice. As usual, though, Beth showed me a whole new perspective.

She started by talking about the many ways we should guard our hearts:
  • watching the company we keep
  • watching what goes into our heart (what we watch, what we read, etc.)
  • watching what we say--"What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" (Mark 7:15).
Then she talked about the heart as a wellspring, or fountain. She said that even though we often think or say, "My heart just isn't in it," the truth is that it's impossible to keep our heart out of anything. As Jesus said in Luke 6:45, "the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."

We may try to withhold our heart, or guard our heart, but whatever is in our heart is going to come out. If our heart has grown cold, we'll pour out that coldness on the people around us. If our heart is full of anger and resentment, we'll spew out rage. Whatever is on the inside--bitterness, sorrow, love, joy--is going to come out and pour over the people around us.

The Revelation
Beth took us to Exodus 34 next. We glanced back a couple of chapters to review the story of Moses coming down the mountain to find Aaron and the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. Then we read about God showing his glory to Moses, who was hidden in the cleft of a rock as God passed by.
Exodus 33:18-23, Exodus 34:5-7a
Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."

And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."...

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin....

As we read this story, I wondered what it could possibly have to do with guarding your heart. Soon, it all started to come together. It turns out that the Hebrew word translated as "maintaining" in the phrase "maintaining love to thousands" is the same word translated "guard" in Proverbs 4:23.

In the passage in Exodus, God is describing his own character: compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and guarding his love to thousands. God was very angry with his people during this time because of their unfaithfulness to him, yet he actively tended, maintained, and guarded his love for them. God often withheld his blessing when they were sinful and unrepentant, but he NEVER withheld his love.

So What Does This Mean to Us?
Beth suggested that our focus should not be guarding our heart FROM others, but guarding our heart FOR others, just as God guards his love for us. That means we must tend to our hearts and protect the love that God has placed there.

Sometimes we are tempted to withdraw our love because we've been hurt too much, and it feels dangerous to keep loving. But that is not what God intends for us. He wants our love to abound more and more through the knowledge of Christ (Philippians 1:9). Love is the whole point! In Mark 12, when a teacher of the law asked Jesus the most important commandment, he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

The tricky part is that we really do need to guard our hearts from unhealthy relationships and influences, but at the same time we need to guard our love for the very people who hurt us. Beth advised that we should refuse to support and enable unhealthy behavior, yet we should refrain from holding back our love.

One thing she said really pierced the armor around my heart. She said that guarding your heart means watching out for diminishing love. She invited us to examine our most important relationships, especially our marriages, and ask ourselves whether our love was less fervent than before. Of course, passion in a marriage waxes and wanes, but she wasn't talking about romance. Instead, she was talking about going through the motions, about withdrawing emotionally.

I took a hard look at my own heart and realized something that brought tears to my eyes. I've been growing so much in the last year or so in my walk with God, and I've found myself loving others in ways that are completely new and often delightful. But I haven't striven for that level of love with my husband. I've just been coasting, and often we've been living parallel lives. We haven't made time for each other. In past years, I would have fought against that. There would have been tears and Relationship Talks. Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped trying so hard. Either I just got busy and forgot what was really important, or maybe (probably) I took a step back and decided I didn't want to risk things getting messy.

I told Bill about this revelation tonight, and he acknowledged that this has been a very busy season in our lives. We agreed that we would work on spending more time together, for a start. And I'll be praying that God will fill up that wellspring in my heart with his abounding, forgiving, extravagant love.

How About You?
Are you guarding your heart AGAINST people, or are you guarding your love FOR people?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

He Makes Music

Monday night was Ethan's first band performance at a football game. He had to audition for it, so he was pretty excited. Ironically, though, his initial reaction to being selected was rather ambivalent--he wasn't sure he wanted to go after all because he didn't want people to stare at him.

When the big moment came, he was beaming as he took his turn on the quads. He didn't spot us for the longest time, and I could tell he was scanning the stands for us. I kept waving as casually as possible, but Bill finally made me stop. When Ethan finally saw us, he gave a big grin, but then he caught himself and turned away as if he didn't know us.

It was fun listening to all the songs he's been practicing for weeks: Funky Town, Go Fight Win!, the Darth Vader Star Wars theme. The difference is that you could actually recognize the songs; at home all we hear is the rhythm, typically beaten out on the brick hearth, the ottoman cushion, or even the hardwood floor when Ethan thinks I'm not looking.

The band sounded shockingly good compared to the concerts we endured last year. Maybe it was the auditions. In any case, I found myself tapping my foot and bobbing my head, but only in the most inconspicuous way, of course.

Allyson was bursting with sisterly pride. When the lady next to us asked if she had a big brother on the football team, she said, "No, my brother makes music... to celebrate the game. His name is Ethan." (This was a word-for-word rendition of the explanation I'd given her on the way to the game, other than the part about his name being Ethan.)

Allyson's pride dissipated as the temperature dropped. As we snuggled on the bleachers, she kept up an incessant stream of whining. She alternated between, "Can we go buy a snack? PLEASE?" and "Is it time to go home yet? Is it time NOW?"

When she wasn't busy griping, Allyson turned her energies to embarrassing us. At one point, I caught her rubbing the leg hair of the middle schooler on the row behind us. "I'm sorry!" I said, and he just laughed.

"Why did you DO that?" I hissed.

"I just wanted him to see my cute face," she explained.

"Well, don't touch people's legs," I admonished. "In fact, don't touch people at all."

She did something even worse on the way out. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Allyson was temporarily diverted when she recognized the Huskies Fight Song, which Ethan had made us practice over and over. He'd hum the tune while he did the percussion, and then he'd do little drum rolls while we chanted, "H!... U!... S!... K!... I!... E!... S!" I loved messing with him by spelling it wrong (Huskys) or shouting "Huskies!" after the spell-out, and each time he'd yell at me and say we had to start the song over. But now that it was go time, Allyson and I performed flawlessly.

Bill almost fell off the bench each time I shouted "H!" because his ear was right in my line of fire. "Sheeze!" he complained the first time. "Do you have to yell?"

"Yes!" I said. "I know Ethan's going to be watching." Sure enough, Ethan's face lit up when he saw me yelling to his drum rolls. All seven times they played the fight song, he sought me out to make sure I was still chanting.

About halfway through the game, I realized that I had not brought my camera. "Oh, man!" I moaned, already thinking of my non-illustrated blog entry. I brightened when I remembered Bill's cell phone--which he hadn't brought, unfortunately. "I wish my phone had a camera," I said. Bill gave me an odd look and started to open his mouth just as I said, "Oh, yeah. It does have a camera. But it's a pretty crappy one."

"You don't need to take a picture."

"Yes I do! It's his first game." I fumbled with my phone and finally figured out how to use the crappy camera. I took a couple of shots, but even though we were pretty close and Ethan was standing under a flood light, the blonde kid on the drums could have been anyone. I took a closeup of Allyson, and at least you could tell that she's pretty darn cute.

"I wonder how I could get the pictures onto the computer," I mused.

Again, Bill gave me a bemused look. "Maybe you can hold the camera in front of the computer and say, 'Camera! Transfer pictures!'" he suggested.

I punched him in the leg. "My phone's not that fancy.... What I mean is that other people have Internet access on their phones, and they can email their pictures or upload them to Facebook," I explained. "So, smarty pants, how can I get the pictures onto the computer?"

"Use a USB cable," he said.

"Oh," I said. "Of course."

By 8:30, the game was over and my lips were getting blue. Also, my hands were numb from clapping; the Huskies won the game 16 to 6!

Now, for Allyson's final mischief.... You know how kids like to run a stick across the rungs of a fence? Well, Allyson did that with her hand and the legs of the people that we passed. One of the men was at just the right height that she sort of slapped his butt. "ALLYSON!" I shrieked.

"Sorr-ry!" she said, not the least bit apologetic. Luckily, the man didn't seem to know who had touched him, so we beat a hurried retreat. Ethan was helping put the instruments away at that moment, so he didn't have to share in the mortification; otherwise, we might be banned from the next game.

Ethan was pretty jubilant on the ride home, though he tried to hide it. All in all, it was a great way to spend an evening.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

She Has Her Mother's Hands...And Our Father's Smile

On the way to the grocery store today, I mused about the blog entry I had planned to write this weekend. I hadn't written it because I just didn't have the heart for it. For some reason, I've been a funk the last week or so, mired in lethargy and apathy. Part of my mood could have been due to my possible infection with swine flu, right on the tail of Allyson's confirmed bout, but I think it's much more than that. I think I'm mainly exhausted from the violent mood swings associated with my dad's recent surgery. He's doing well right now and should be coming home tomorrow, but I seem to be continually teetering between crushing anxiety and giddy relief.

Anyway, as I pulled into the Walmart Market parking lot, I was thinking over two possible blog entries and deciding it just wasn't worth the effort today. I mumbled my habitual grocery store prayer without much feeling: "God, please help me love someone today."

I completed my list with a minimum of aggravation. They weren't out of anything this week, and everyone whose cart was blocking the way was polite and apologetic. Still, I felt dull and rather grumpy as I made my way to the checkout lines.

For once (on a Sunday!), all of the lines were pretty short, so I had the luxury of choosing a line based on the checker. I have several favorites, and three of them were working today. I passed up Miss Efficiency because I wasn't in a hurry and I wasn't in the mood for a lackluster greeting and a thank you that didn't reach her eyes.

Finally, I settled on the new girl. She's probably a bit older than me, and she's quiet and sweet and a little homely--until she smiles. She's also very slow, but that doesn't bother me in the least, though I worry that it might bother other people, and maybe she'll get downsized. I noticed today that the couple ahead of me didn't seem at all bothered. In fact, they engaged in a relaxed conversation with her throughout their leisurely transaction--talking about the new white chocolate Hershey kisses, among other things.

The girl--I wish I knew her name, but I'm very bad with names--became a favorite on a recent shopping trip when I watched her deal with three rude customers in a row. The first two were trying to pass some expired coupons, and she refused to take them because it was against store policy. The guy behind them in line was so smart aleck that he would have had me in tears, but she just smiled sweetly when he said, "What do you think you are? The coupon police?"

"I'm just trying to do my job," she said calmly while she waited for a manager's assistance.

I waited literally 30 minutes, in which time I made friends with the man behind me, who will probably end up being Ethan's high school band instructor. We had that almost festive mood you sometimes see during a natural disaster or a prolonged power outage, when people are determined to make the best of an inconvenient situation.

When it was my turn, I commended her for her patience and excellent customer service skills.

"I just try to be kind to everyone, and to follow the rules," she said humbly.

Today she greeted me with her usual warmth, but I knew if we were going to have a conversation I'd have to initiate it. As I cast about for something to say, my eyes fell on her perfectly manicured, iridescent fingernails.

I took a deep breath. It's still very hard for me to talk to people, especially virtual strangers. "Your nails look pretty," I said, a blush tinging my cheeks.

She blushed, too. "They're just press-ons," she admitted sheepishly, pausing in the bagging with a flourish of both hands.

"It must be hard to keep nice nails when you work with your hands," I said. "I never bother with mine," I continued, displaying my blunt-cut, naked nails. Then I jerked them back because I didn't want to distract her too much.

"I don't think that Ovaltine scanned," I said quietly, in case a manager might be lurking behind me.

"Oh, it didn't!" she said, surprised. She looked off into space, her hands still. I eyed the lady behind me out of the corner of my eye, but she was absorbed in placing her items on the belt and didn't seem to notice the delay. "I have my mother's hands," the checker said, finally scanning the next item.

"I used to hate it that my nails were like Mom's. My dad and my sister's nails grow fast and long, but mine are always breaking off...." She struggled to loop the handles of the next reusable bag over the handles. "But now I love my hands. They look like Mom's, and I miss her so much."

While she meticulously separated the cold foods, canned goods, and produce, her mother's story unfolded. She'd lost her mother to breast cancer in 2001 when she was only 62. She told me what it was like to watch her struggle for four years, and then die after only a month of hospice care when the doctor told them there was nothing else he could do.

She finished the story just as she read me my total. "I always tell my children to appreciate the people around them. You just never know when you might lose someone," she concluded.

"That's good advice," I agreed.

She smiled broadly and handed me my receipt. "Thank you," she said sincerely, looking in my eyes.

"Thank you, too," I replied with my own broad smile.

I'm not sure why the whole interchange lifted my spirits so much. On the surface, it was certainly a gloomy conversation. I guess it was the knowledge that she cared enough to converse with me. She didn't just say the obligatory "Thank you." Instead, she saw me as someone worth knowing.

I think maybe that's the real reason that her line is the longest; maybe it isn't just that she's the slowest checker. I hope Walmart realizes what a gem they have in her. (I'm going to complete the online survey and tell them so.)

Isn't it funny how a stranger's kindness could penetrate the malaise that hung on me all weekend? And isn't it funny that I prayed for God to help me love someone at the grocery store, but he prompted someone to be kind to me instead?

I'm going to try to follow the checker's advice, and her example. I'll try to slow down enough to connect with others, and I'll try to appreciate EVERYONE God puts in my path.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It Just Won't Scan

Here's one of the funny Allyson stories that I told Dad last Sunday to divert him from his anxiety over the next day's surgery....

After talking to her grandmother on the phone a couple of weeks ago, Allyson was inspired to send a letter to Nana and The Canada Grandpa. I have to admit that I cringed when she asked for a piece of paper; usually writing a "letter" takes up to 30 minutes. It goes something like this: "How do you spell 'I love you Nana?.... How do you spell 'I'?... How do you spell 'love'? How do you make a V?" With dogged persistence, Allyson writes one painstaking letter at a time until she finishes her masterpiece or decides it's too messy and starts it all over. Very rarely does she lose interest and abandon the project.

On this particular Sunday, Allyson surprised me by writing the entire letter on her own. She didn't ask me how to spell a single word, nor did she ask me to write the S for her. It turns out that she didn't sign her name as usual, and she apparently only chose letters that she already knew how to write. Here's what she wrote:

"That's a great letter, Allyson!" I said. "Do you think you should send a picture with it?"

"Yes!" she agreed enthusiastically, but she walked right past the bucket of random crayons and crayon fragments on the desk. She disappeared into my bedroom for a few minutes, and then I found her in her own room, playing on her toy laptop. I figured she'd forgotten about the picture.

On closer examination, I noticed that she had an old photo of herself--one of my favorites--lying on the keyboard.

"What are you doing with that picture?" I asked.

"I'm sending it to Nana and Grandpa."

"Are you sending it through the computer?" I asked, grinning.

"Well, I'm tryin'. But it just won't scan," she complained, perfectly serious.

I held in my laughter. "Honey, that's a toy computer. If we want to send that picture, we either have to copy it with Mama's scanner and email it, or we have to mail it in an envelope with a stamp."

"Oh, let's put it in a envelope! Can I put on the stamp?" Allyson was elated. She's infatuated with stamps of all sorts, especially postage stamps. I have to keep them hidden.

"Well, we don't use our stamps for letters to Canada. We usually take them to the post office," I explained.

"Oh," she said, deflated.

"But maybe we can put some of your drawings and your letter in an envelope, and we can take it to the post office."

"Yeah," she said, sounding skeptical.

So did we mail the letter? Sigh.... Umm, no. I guess that will be our project for the week.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yes, He is Good

I apologize for leaving some of you hanging. It's been a long, exhausting week, and I haven't been home much in the evenings. I'm sorry, also, that this is so long. It took me so long to finish it that the story kept getting longer and longer....

On Saturday, my dad was admitted to the VA hospital for his esophagectomy. He went through yet another battery of tests and the first round of GoLytely (which did NOT make him go lightly). The indignities of the day were made more bearable, though, by his favorite nurse, Cheri. She had cared for him after his gallbladder surgery back in July, and she greeted him fondly.

When I arrived on Sunday morning, Dad's blood pressure was very elevated. This was most likely due to anxiety, but knowing the pressure was so high made him even more anxious. The surgeon decided to transfer him to intensive care to get the problem under control.

Mom, Dad, and I all felt unnerved that Dad was moving to ICU before his surgery. I hated to see Dad's fear; Dad was always the protector, the spider killer, the intrepid investigator of all mysterious nighttime noises.

Cheri took Mom and me aside in the hall and told us that part of Dad's stress was that he was trying to be strong for us. She said we should encourage Dad to voice his fears instead of holding them in; that would be better for him both emotionally and physically.

We followed her advice, and Dad admitted that he was afraid he might not survive the surgery. We reminded him that God was in control, and that he had planned all of Dad's days. I quoted Philippians 4:4-7, my own trusted weapon against anxiety.

"Every time you feel anxious, Dad, you need to pray about it," I urged. "Every time. You're going to feel anxious over and over, and that's okay. Just give it to God, and he'll give you peace that transcends your understanding."

I saw tears in Dad's eyes, and I asked him if he wanted to pray right then. He nodded, and I laid my hand on his shin--there's so much sickness going around that I was literally afraid to touch him. Mom and I prayed that God would remind Dad that He was taking care of every detail, and that Dad would be enveloped in peace.

"Amen!" said the nurse who had come to transfer Dad to ICU.

The Best Medicine
While Mom and I waited in the hall, we could hear one of the ICU nurses joking around with Dad. We couldn't hear what he was saying, but we could hear Dad's laughter. We noticed that Dad's spirits seemed better, and Mom remarked that laughter is the best medicine.

I washed my hands with the heavy-duty antibacterial soap for two full (mental) choruses of "Happy Birthday to You" and then rubbed in the antibacterial gel for good measure. Then I sat on a folding chair and held Dad's hand while I told stories of Allyson's many antics--a preview of future blog entries, I said. Here are a couple of the stories I told him:
  • During bedtime recently, Allyson asked if we could please buy a baby whale. When I said we'd have no place to keep it, she said, "All we need is a lot of water.... And we'll need to buy a bunch of milk. All a baby whale eats is milk."

    I told her baby whales are too big, but she said, "We'll just keep it for a couple weeks." When I told her even newborn whales are too big, she said, "Okay, maybe we can get a baby ostrich instead."

  • Another one of Allyson's grandiose plans is to start a family band. Daddy will build a stage in the backyard, and we'll give concerts for Lola and the neighbors. Ethan will play drums, of course, and so will Allyson. Daddy will play the guitar, and Mama will be stuck with the accordion. (When I told her I don't know how to play the accordion, she said I can just take lessons.)

Dad laughed hardest when I told him what Allyson says when she toots: "That's just my bum talkin'." Allyson, like most of Dad's progeny, has inherited the dubious talent of tooting at will--and probably against her will, too.
God Is Good
It was so hard to say goodbye that afternoon. I wasn't sure I'd be able to see Dad in the morning before his surgery, and there was the very real possibility that something could go wrong with the surgery. I wanted to say everything I needed to say, just in case, yet I didn't want to imply that he was going to die. So for once, I actually said very little.

I put my arms around Dad and rested my head on his shoulder. I held him much longer than usual, way past the point when I felt tempted to pull away for propriety's sake. I enjoyed the rise and fall of his chest with his steady breathing, and I felt the warmth of his skin radiating into mine. I was a little girl again, safe in my daddy's arms.

I reveled in the love that flowed between us. I knew that it was God's love, that this was His design for a family. I didn't know how to put what I was feeling into words--I still don't.

When I finally pulled away, Dad looked at me and my sister Amy and said, "I love you girls so much."

"God is so good," I murmured.

"Yes, He is good," Dad agreed. We both had tears in our eyes. I felt he understood what I meant even though I hadn't even tried to explain.

"You're a wonderful father," I said.

"Yes, you are," Amy said.

Dad smiled sheepishly. "I try."

On the long drive home, I wasn't sure why I was crying. It was partly the joy of my father's love, and it was partly the fear of losing him. I thanked God for the time I'd had with Dad, and I told him I'd sure love to keep him around a lot longer.

I cooked dinner and got the kids in bed, and then I headed to Mom and Dad's house to spend the night with Mom, Amy, and our sister Melody. I arrived around 11:00, and we all fell into bed right away.

I rolled out of bed at 5:45 on Monday morning, a good hour after Mom had risen. We were on the road by 6:30 or so, and we made it up to Dad's room by 7:45. My sister Emily arrived a couple of minutes later.
All five of us crowded into Dad's tiny room in ICU. Visiting hours didn't start until 11:00, but Mom had been told that they made exceptions for patients who were scheduled for surgery. What we didn't know, however, was whether the two visitor limit was also waived.

Emily, the only pregnant one, took the lone folding chair while Melody and I leaned against the only spare wall space. Mom stood by Dad's side, and Amy slid down against the cabinet.

"If we're really quiet, maybe they won't notice we're here," Amy whispered, just as her shoulder bumped the button that flushes the metal commode tucked away inside the cabinet. The toilet flushed with a loud whoosh, and we all jumped violently.

"Sheeze, Amy!" someone said, and we all laughed guiltily. A large group of interns was doing morning rounds right outside the open door, but apparently no one noticed.

The conversation somehow morphed from Dad's epidural to labor and delivery stories. Dad dozed contentedly as our voices washed over him.

Shortly after Rick arrived, the anesthesia team came to take Dad away. The six of us touched Dad and said one last prayer for his safety, and then each of us kissed his forehead. Amid all the "I love you's," I think all seven of us were crying.

We waited in the hall until they had wheeled Dad down to the O.R. He looked so small and frail on the gurney. Several of us called out, "We love you, Daddy!", but he probably didn't hear us.

We decided to head down to the basement for breakfast. When we passed the Starbucks shop, I spotted the surgeon waiting in line. I smiled at him, and he gave a little wave. I knew he would need the caffeine for the long hours ahead.

Waiting and Waiting
After breakfast, we settled into the surprisingly comfortable chairs in the family waiting area. We read, chatted, journaled (okay, it was only me who journaled), slept, and attended phone conferences. Periodically, the phone would ring, and our stomachs would lurch. Usually the call was for another family, but every two or three hours, the phone was for us. Each time, the nurse said, "He's doing well."

We ate lunch in shifts so as not to miss a status call. For dinner, we made turkey and ham sandwiches since the cafeteria closes at 2:00. Just as we were finishing our meager dinner, the phone rang again. It was 6:00, about seven hours after the surgery had officially begun.

Amy hastily swallowed, almost choking on the bread. My heart seemed to stop beating as I strained to hear Amy's half of the conversation. "Hello?... He is?... Okay. There are six of us? Should we all come?... We'll be right down."

Amy told us that Dad was fine, but the surgeon wanted to talk to us down in the thoracic ICU. My chest tightened in fear. The surgery wasn't supposed to be over for a couple of hours, and the doctor wanted to talk to us. I didn't think that could be good news.

"They said Dad was fine," Amy reminded us.

"That could mean anything," Melody argued, while we hurriedly gathered all of our snack bags, blankets, and magazines.

"Yeah. It could mean 'Thankfully we were able to revive him,' " I said, and then I slapped my hand over my mouth. "I'm sure he's fine," I said weakly.

On our way down the long corridor, we saw two familiar men wheeling a bald-headed man out of the O.R.

"Could that be Dad?" I asked. "But I thought he was still in surgery."

"That IS Dad," Rick said.

Good News!
We reported to the nurse's station, and she summoned the doctor. He looked completely spent, but he was grinning. He explained that the surgery had gone exactly according to plan. They had removed the lower two-thirds of Dad's esophagus, and they were able to pull the stomach up to form a new throat. Dad was doing very well, and they had found no palpable mass in the esophagus; the pathology report would take a few days, but it looked like the cancer had not recurred at this point. This likely means Dad will not need chemotherapy.

He explained that Dad would be on a ventilator at least until the morning, but they would try to wean him off it as soon as possible. I wanted to tell him to get some rest, but I just smiled. "Thank you!" we all chorused.

"What an emotional roller coaster!" Rick exclaimed as we stood exulting in the hall.

"Yes!" we all agreed.

"Do you feel like crying?" Mom asked.

"We are!" someone said, and then we laughed.

After another 20 minutes and a flurry of phone calls, text messages, and an update to Dad's blog, we were able to see him. Rick warned us that it would be pretty intimidating to see Dad attached to all those tubes and machines.

He actually looked very good, but it was odd seeing his lungs inflating mechanically.

"He looks so sweet!" Emily remarked. "Almost like a boy."

It had been a long, exhausting day, but everyone seemed a bit reluctant to part ways. We all trooped up to the ninth floor to look at the tiny room where Mom and I would be spending the night.

We were surprised to find that it was quite nice. There were two twin beds, a dresser, a closet with no hangers, and a dorm refrigerator. Tasteful reproductions adorned the walls. The only thing it didn't have, to Mom's dismay, was a bathroom.

We posed for a couple of celebratory shots. It wasn't our finest hour as far as appearances go, but maybe you can get an idea of the elation we were feeling.

Me, Amy, Rick, Mom, Emily, Melody

Mom and I collapsed into our beds around 8:30 and slept until 6:00 the next morning. We were very relieved that there were no phone calls during the night.

Over the next few days, the roller coaster ride has continued. Dad's recovery was amazing on the second day. He was awake and trying to communicate by mid morning, and they were able to remove the ventilator by noon. After that, he was not only talking, but making jokes. We were thrilled!

But the third day--Wednesday--was not so good. His lungs were filled with fluid, and he couldn't breathe. He told us later that he'd actually thought he was going to die. A doctor placed a second chest tube, opposite the side with the incision, and his condition improved dramatically.

Yesterday, he was able to walk a couple laps around the ICU on two occasions, and he sat in a chair for about twelve hours. He was looking more like himself when Emily, Rick, and I visited him last night.

Today he is still doing well, though he is tired of having tubes in his nose, throat, neck, and chest.

If you've been praying for Dad, thank you! Please keep it up.

Yes, God is good.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dad's Surgery Is Tomorrow

Dad's surgery is scheduled for around 8:30 tomorrow morning. It should last about 8-10 hours. Please pray for God to guide the three surgeons' hands, for Dad's safety, and for our family's peace while we wait.

Thank you!

Friday, October 2, 2009

No More Pictures!

I never thought I'd hear Allyson say, "No more pictures!", but that's what happened last week. My friend Kristi got a new camera and Photoshop software recently, and she'd been saying for awhile that she'd like to photograph Allyson. Last Wednesday, we finally went for our photo shoot.

At first, Allyson ate it up. She struck pose after pose for Kristi. This was no surprise; at home she usually says, "Take a picture of me, Mommy!" several times a day.

Allyson's McDonald's Happy Meal ring, her latest infatuation, was proudly on display in many of the pictures.

After a few shots, Kristi turned Allyson loose to run around the fountain, jump off the ledges, and play in the water. She snapped shot after shot while Allyson expended staggering quantities of energy.

Kristi captured quite a few shots of us together, but I didn't like those quite as well simply because I was in them. Unlike Allyson, I had a hard time forgetting about the camera. Despite my awkwardness, Kristi did manage to get some pretty good shots.

After 30 minutes or so, Allyson started saying, "No more pictures!" But Kristi was still able to take a few more.

The photo shoot was officially over when Allyson inexplicably started trying to pull her pants off!

Afterward, Kristi treated us to ice cream at Ben & Jerry's. (We should have treated her instead!) Allyson ate hers with gusto.

Despite Allyson's complaints, we both had a lot of fun, and I think Kristi did, too. Who knew that taking pictures could be so entertaining?

Though these low resolution copies don't do the originals justice, maybe you can get an idea of Kristi's talent. I hope she can do this for a living some day, if that's what she chooses. I know we'll treasure these pictures always, and whenever I look at them, I'll think of our friendship.


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