Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection

Power Lines and Parabola Trees

Up the road from my childhood home are Parabola Trees. That isn’t their proper name, of course. My siblings and I dubbed them as such when I was in junior high or younger. They used to be quite ordinary, common trees, on the edge of an ordinary front yard along an ordinary country road.

Then it was noticed that the trees were growing beneath the power lines. In fact, the leaves at the top of the trees might have touched the lines if they stood on their tip toes. Something had to be done. Instead of trimming the whole top of each tree though, the powers-that-be decided to cut out the branches most directly beneath the power lines. The result was a deep and vacant U in the center of the tree. An upturned tunnel. Thus the name, Parabola Trees. It proved a lasting solution, as that empty space has never filled back up with new growth.

It feels a bit like my sister’s cancer is sawing into our family like they did to those trees. Core branches being cut out. The threat of creating an empty space that cannot regrow.

A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother. A friend. A giver. Core branches.

It also feels as if our prayers for a miracle are like begging the city workers to stop sawing and then petitioning them to move the power line rather than trim the tree. It’s a petition that’s difficult to expect to succeed, rendered even more unlikely if the workers were already as far along as the cancer in the cutting.

We petition anyway. We ask, and we believe in our cause. Reaching out to everyone we know, we encourage them to take up the same petition. We are certain there is power in the numbers dedicated to the cause. We keep asking, and we keep believing because, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

We know that if He chooses, He can move the power line and leave the tree intact.

It’s Cheryl’s 54th birthday today. I enjoyed some time with her and others in my family for the first time in months. Celebrating with her today, praising God that she reached this birthday, leaves me longing for certainty that she will reach the next one and the next and more.

I’ll wrap up these thoughts by sharing what I wrote in Cheryl’s card today, repeating to myself again that we do believe.

Happy birthday, Cheryl. You are a warrior in the truest sense, fighting relentlessly with faith in your battle and hope in the success of it. We love you and we believe in what the Lord can do.

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Family, Hope, Personal Reflection

Teatime

Sometimes you have to sit down with a cup of tea and lemon cookies, pretending the table that stands in your kitchen was still in its former home. You have to see your grandmother sitting across from you at that table, her table. Her hand is holding yours besides the lazy susan that always stood on that tabletop, filled with jams and butter and spoons and honey. Sometimes you have to hear her ask if you’re ok. Sometimes you have to admit you’re not, as her warm, wrinkled fingers squeeze yours.

I’m doing some self-caring this afternoon. It’s been an angry-sad, sad-angry day. One of those where it’s hard to tell which is the stronger emotion. The yoga mat is coming out as soon as I’m done working. I’m promising myself I will sit down to relax with my husband after the kids are in bed, no matter how many dirty dishes need washing.

I think the best thing my husband has done for me in this hills-and-valleys journey through my sister’s cancer battle is encourage me to feel whatever I’m feeling. No pretending it’s better than it is, or pushing to change those feelings.

I’m feeling them. The feelings lead to thoughts. Before I started typing this, I was thinking about lilacs. Lilacs are the flower and the scent most intimately linked in my mind with the women in my family, including my grandmother. And my sister Cheryl. Then I thought about how another association they both share in my mind is birds. Birds outside kitchen windows, in feeders and houses and garden baths.

My thoughts are rambling now and so am I.

Those hallmarks in my memory are set for life, I believe. I also believe they were lovingly picked by God to be The Beautiful in amongst The Difficult when I think of these dear women.

My hope is to call to mind the former more often than the latter.

Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

We Don’t Know

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t feel like writing it.

I thought about writing it immediately after reading my sister’s message Friday night. I thought about writing it first thing Saturday morning, when I saw other family members’ social media posts. I wrote it in my head while I made breakfast for my kids. Still, I avoided sitting down at my computer and typing it out. Instead, I scrawled out some notes I didn’t want to lose, and went for a run.

I ran and I thought.

I thought about what I’ll feel toward God if the cancer takes my sister in the end. I thought about the anger I’ll experience. Would I feel it toward Him? Toward everything? Or maybe toward nothing, a fiery arrow of anger with no target for release?

I thought about timing, wishing pointlessly that I could tell God my preferences and they’d be taken into account with weight equal to His wisdom. Timing. If the cancer has returned, if her remission is slipping away, why is it happening during a pandemic? When we can’t be with each other? When hospital stays are endured alone, with no visitors? Timing. Her second grandchild is on the way. Growing, developing, taking shape in her daughter’s womb. A gift. A rainbow baby. I have some things to say to Him about timing.

This post sat in my head the remainder of yesterday but I knew I needed to write it this morning. Sunday morning, barren of congregations gathered to worship and pray as one. This is exactly when I should write it.

The reason to write is simple: to ask all of you to pray for my sister’s healing from lymphoma. Simple, and something I’ve done several times already. Why the avoidance, then?

I didn’t want to write it because it feels too much like admitting defeat. Feelings can lie though. They’re masters at it. Asking for prayers is not admitting defeat. It’s admitting faith.

Due to 35 days straight of low grade fevers, and being bedridden for much of that time, they have tested Cheryl for any possible explanation for her symptoms. The only one reasonably left is that the cancer is relapsing. The doctors have admitted this to be the case and she will undergo new scans and biopsies to check the truth of it.

We don’t know yet if the cancer is growing again.

We don’t know yet if God has a miracle for Cheryl.

I’m going to stop getting ahead of myself and admit that just as much as I don’t know the former, I don’t know the latter either. So, I ask you to pray. I ask you to believe in your prayers. I’ll do the same.

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Cheryl and her husband Tom, March 2020
Advent, Christmas, Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

God Does Not Sleep

Christmas doesn’t always bring a person home to a warm hearth and an idyllic pause in the strife of our days.

I typically post only on Facebook about my sister Cheryl’s battle with aggressive, advanced lymphoma. Periodically, I have asked for prayers and support from family and friends while sharing the current status of the fight. The nature of the battle now brings me here, to a broader collection of family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

Cheryl will spend Christmas at the Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, MN. Under the superb care of their doctors and nurses, she and her beloved husband Tom are awaiting the delivery of her genetically modified T Cells to be transplanted back into her ailing body. These cells, with newly gained superpowers, will try their hardest to attack the cancer cells that have spread and grown in recent months. She has literally been sustained this month by chemotherapy and steroid treatments, biding her time until the T Cells are ready.

As Christmas, that must joyous of celebrations, approaches, the only gift my faithful sister hopes for is life.

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Cheryl, her husband Tom, and their children Catrina and Ryan, 12/14/19

I can’t write that without tears streaming down my face. At least once a day, I let the tears fall and plead with God to restore Cheryl to health and vitality. I release the valve for a few moments and allow the sadness, anger, and feeble hope to rise to the surface. Cheryl’s warrior spirit has taught every member of my family the astounding depth of true faith and strength that come from a divine source.

From-the-heart honesty: I don’t want any more lessons. I want healing. I want Cheryl to land on the right side of the statistics and odds. The only thing I want us to learn in the weeks to come is that miracles do happen.

Please add your prayers to mine. I rest in this: God does not sleep. He does not look away. He does not set us down from our place in His hands.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

 

He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade
on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day,
nor the moon by night.

 

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 121

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Cheryl, me, and my children Annabelle and Timothy, 11/24/19
Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

Run Harder

I ran this one for Cheryl. On my drive to the 10k trail race I ran this morning, I made up my mind to dedicate the run to my sister.

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Let me tell you about Cheryl.

Cheryl is my oldest sister. She is a beautiful, generous, resilient rock star of a woman. She is a bottomless well of faith. Three times, Cheryl has come out victorious against cancer. Today, she is a patient at Mayo Clinic in her fourth battle. Her hardest battle. I’ve witnessed the physical misery, the sadness, and the loneliness for home as she spends more strings of days in a hospital than outside it. I’ve watched the decisions to fight, to believe, and to hope. I have seen real faith.

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So, this morning, I set the purpose in my heart to run for Cheryl. I kept her in my thoughts as I waited at the starting line with 110 other people about to run 6.2 miles through the woods. As we all headed up the first hill, a steep one right after the start, I said a prayer for her. When I ran through easier stretches along meadows, enjoying the sun-soaked fall colors, I prayed for her to have easier days. While I trudged up the frequent hills on the trail, breathing hard and wanting to walk, I thought of my warrior sister fighting for her life and I said to myself, “Run harder.”

Eventually, I crossed the finish line. I felt strong, much stronger than when I ran the same race last year. My body surged with energy and I smiled as I reached the bottom of the last hill with the finish line only yards away. When I crossed that finish line though, I nearly broke down. I felt the tears pressing against my eyes, trying to escape. I felt my breathless lungs become even more constricted as a sob rose up in my throat. Then I saw a coworker standing with other finishers, drinking their water and eating their bananas, as we all do at the end of a race. I stepped over to where she was and exchanged a high-five with a smile and a compliment to her race. And I was ok. The very brief conversation made that sob dissolve and those tears retreat. I was relieved to save my crying for later, when I was alone with my thoughts.

Today, I wore the Warrior shirt designed by friends of Cheryl to support her and her family, and there were a handful of times that I glanced down at the word across my front and thought, “Run harder.” Run like Cheryl fights. Run like Cheryl believes and hopes. Run harder.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31, RSV

Family, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

What Zoe Said

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Shannon counted the broken steps on the abandoned lighthouse’s staircase.

Nine.

When she reached the lantern room, a pair of mourning doves departed in a hurry through a hole in the cupola. The space held only cobwebs, discarded birds’ nests, and a smattering of broken wood. Years ago, the massive lantern was removed. The glass window panes were gone too, with some spaces boarded up and the rest open to the outside.

Footfalls sounded on the stairs below.

“Shannon?” Oliver’s voice echoed up the lighthouse. “Are you up there?”

She nodded, all words hitched on her vocal chords until she moved to an open window frame and sucked the lakeside air into her lungs.

“I’m here,” she managed.

By the time she heard her brother reach the lantern room, then felt his shoulder press against hers, she’d squashed the mutiny of her emotions. Oliver’s head turned from one direction to the other, taking in the state of their old haunt.

“Time hasn’t been too good to this place,” he said. “When was the last time we were here?”

Shannon watched his forehead wrinkle as he tried to remember. There was a sprinkling of gray in his brown hair, and fine lines beside his eyes.

“Fourteen years,” she answered. “You were twenty-four, I was twenty and Zoe was seventeen. It was after her high school graduation party.”

His expression cleared and brightened. “Yes, we sat out on the gallery and talked until a thunderstorm rolled in.”

“Then we sat in here until it passed.” Shannon nodded. “I remember my shoes were ruined in the mud as soon as we started walking home. Zoe took them and threw them in the woods.”

Oliver laughed. “Of course she did.”

“She said I’d be stronger without them, whatever that meant.”

A rope of silence coiled around them. For a minute, they both yielded to it, then Shannon snapped its hold.

“Sometimes I wish I believed in reincarnation.”

Oliver raised his brows at her. “Why?”

“Another chance,” she whispered. The threat of mutiny swelled again within her chest. “For her. For me. So I could hope. Maybe we could do better the next time around.”

He slipped his arm around her shoulders and she settled into his side, resting her head. His steadying heartbeat drummed in her ear. When the wind off Lake Huron brought a shiver, Oliver hugged her a bit tighter.

“She was so sick, Ollie. How did we not know?” Shannon asked, her voice laden with desperation.

“I don’t know,” Oliver admitted. “When Mom called and told me what happened, it knocked the air out of my lungs. I still feel like I’m trying to catch my breath.”

“Did she really hide it that well? Or did I not pay attention?”

He didn’t offer the automatic consolations she’d received from friends in the past week. Together, they stared in the direction of the turquoise water, barely visible through the tangle of overgrown pines and birches surrounding the lighthouse. Waves, heard but not seen, slapped the rocky shore.

“I’m glad we don’t believe in reincarnation, Shannon.”

“Why?”

“That night of Zoe’s graduation party, when she was talking about college, and art, and traveling, and everything she was determined to do, she said something that stuck with me for a long time. I’d forgotten about it, honestly, but it came back to me this week.”

A fire-red cardinal landed in the limbs of the nearest pine. It flew to the next tree when Oliver continued.

“She said, ‘He knows how many days I have, but I don’t.’”

“I remember,” Shannon said.

“Do you remember how badly she wanted to make us understand?”

The memory washed over her. She heard the rise and fall of her younger sister’s voice, and saw Zoe’s dark, unflinching eyes and her hands lifted and gesturing.

“She had on purple nail polish that day.” Shannon raised her fingertips to her lips. “I can’t believe I remember that.”

Sliding her calf-length black dress to her thighs, Shannon climbed through the open window frame to the gallery encircling the lantern room. The decaying boards groaned beneath her feet.

“Be careful,” her brother called before sighing and climbing out after her.

Shannon stepped cautiously over one of several gaps in the walkway. Finding the lengthiest series of sturdy boards, she gripped the cold steel rail and sat down with her legs dangling over the edge in the wind. Oliver joined her, wariness pinching his features.

“Zoe said, “I don’t know if I have any more days, but I know I have today. I’m going to live like today is all I have.’”

“Yes,” Oliver murmured.

Shannon’s voice rose in agitation, “But don’t you think that’s a terribly dangerous way to live?”

“I do,” Oliver said, his expression guarded. “Don’t you think pretending it’s not true is also a terribly dangerous way to live?”

The cardinal landed on the gallery railing, two yards from where they sat. A song, sweet and brief, came from its lifted chest and yellow beak.

“Oh!” Shannon yelped, for her left shoe had slipped from her foot and dropped.

They watched its plummet from the gallery to the ground, and in that fall—with its tree branch collisions and flips—Shannon saw more than her black leather, two-inch pump hit the ground. She saw her choices. Her refusals to choose. Her fears dressed up as wisdom. She saw her sister and all the signs of what came.

Oliver leaned over the rail, shattering her momentary trance.

“I think I see the old path over there. I might be able to get the shoe if I….”

She kicked off her other shoe and stood, not waiting for it to land.

“Leave them.”

Her brother looked up at her. “It rained last night. Plenty of mud on the way home.”

She smiled back at him. “Maybe I’ll be stronger without them.”

*This story was published in “Ever Eden” literary journal, Fall 2019 issue, August 2019.

Faith, Family, Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Plans and the Preposterousness of Them

I made a lot of plans for August. Confidently, I planned. It all seemed so reasonable. It felt good.

#1 was returning to a fitness routine. After four weeks, the mild back injury I’d been not-so-patiently waiting to heal was cleared up. I joyously began easing back into running and strength workouts. I set a goal to exercise in some manner every day of the month of August.

Secondly, I set up a giveaway to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Hidden Legacy. I pledged to readers to spend the week sharing tidbits about my experiences in the past year.

I plotted (pun intended) novel-writing plans.

I signed up my son and myself for a 5k fun run.

I bought tickets to attend a concert this week with my husband.

I planned. And God said, “Nope.”

Sometimes my plans align pretty well with what He has in mind. Other times, God shakes His wise head and plays the divine intervention card.

This time the card came in the form of appendicitis and an appendectomy. What started as (supposedly) some bad indigestion warped into terribly painful stomach cramps. After a full night of sickness of which I’ll spare you the details, it took until Saturday morning to identify that the pain was gradually intensifying on the right half of my abdomen. Cue the alarm bells!

Urgent Care, E.R., surgery, recovery, and now home, thankfully, sans appendix.

Plans change.

I won’t pretend I’m not frustrated. Or disappointed. Or sad. This simply isn’t how I wanted the last weeks of summer to look. When I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself though, I remember that my sister had surgery on the same day and it’s her fifth hospital stay in a month. I remember that unlike the woman screaming in pain on the other side of the E.R. exam room but insisting she couldn’t have painkillers due to a past addiction, I’m able to control the pain with strong medication. I remember that I have a husband who will do anything for my wellbeing, and a large family who rallied in prayer for me all weekend. I remember the Cross and the holy wounds. I remember this is minor and temporary, and “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).