Beautifully Healed

The glass, automatic double doors slide open and close, time and time again during the course of the five-hour time frame where I stand front and center as a navigator and helper to those entering MD Anderson Hospital.  There are many who, like me, consider MDA a familiar place as they have undergone treatments and follow-up visits for several years or have stood by the side of a loved one undergoing treatment for a lengthy amount of time.  On rare occasions, I have visited with patients who have been under the care of doctors in the MDA system for twenty plus years.  However, every single day, hundreds enter the front doors for the first time with those closest to them in tow with a look of frantic desperation, tears, and sadness.  The appearance of being lost, confused, and the question of hope is more often than not embedded on their facial expressions.  This was true for one such woman this week as I stood in my usual place, watching patients and families pass through the doors of the greatest Cancer treatment center in the world.

“Good morning!”, I said to her as she hesitantly approached.  Her husband was only two steps behind with a folder full of lab results and scheduling paperwork under one arm along with his iPhone in hand, scrolling with his thumb, obviously hoping to find that he was in the correct building.  Each of them with their own set of concerns; he, trying to insure a timely appointment arrival and she, wanting someone… anyone, to assure her that she was going to survive her recent Cancer diagnosis.  After exchanging pleasantries, I asked to see her appointment schedule.  Her husband was more than willing to pass the responsibility over to me as it can all be very intimidating and overwhelming to a new-comer.  I flipped through three stapled pages until I found the correct date, time, and clinic address which read:  Thoracic, Elevator B, 9th floor, 9:15.  My heart sank as I quickly swallowed, took a deep breath and raised my head.  Under their seemingly dazed condition, I decided to personally escort them to their first appointment to guarantee they did not get lost in the maze of elevators and corridors, further adding to their anxiety.

On the elevator ride to the 9th floor, I learned that the couple was from Alabama and had just arrived in Houston the night before.  Obviously exhausted and frazzled to the last nerve, both were reserved in their conversation.  The elevator door opened and the three of us stepped off with me in the lead.  During the next twenty-five or so steps, I prayed for strength, peace, and a word of encouragement that I might offer to relieve the couple’s burden.  As we rounded the corner on the left, just above our heads was the official signage hanging from the ceiling, THORACIC.  Once again, I prayed, “Lord help me to be a comfort”.

The hospital has upgraded its check-in process to an iPad system.  It is pretty straight forward as one is asked to enter basic information.  However, for new patients, the sight of a computer screen in their already nervous, concerned condition can be very daunting.  The husband and wife looked at each other as if to question which one was going to attempt to sign in.  I chuckled with them and offered my assistance to enter her information to which they again gladly accepted.  After I pushed the “send” button, completing the process, I turned to them and said, “Okay, you’re good to go.  Just make yourselves comfortable until they call your name.  I want you to know that you’re in the best hands and you’re going to receive great care here.  I actually spent nineteen months in this very clinic with my mom.”  They both looked shocked and relieved to hear these words coming from me.  The woman asked, “What kind of cancer did your mom have?”  I replied, “Lung cancer.”  She responded, “Oh, that’s what I have!  How’s your mom doing now?”  With a smile on my face, I looked straight into her eyes and said, “My mom is beautifully healed”.   Her face lit up as she wrapped her arms around me.  Giving me a big squeeze, she said, “That’s wonderful!”  As I was locked in her arms, I glanced over her shoulder at her husband.  With tears in his eyes, he winked at me as if he understood. His wife was still smiling as she released her arms from around me and turned to take a seat in the waiting area.  Having completed God’s assignment, I headed back to the first floor to take my position at the front door.

The Most Offensive Perfect Photo

I find great joy flipping through the pages of stacks of photo albums containing the colorful story of my now grown children’s lives beginning in preschool all the way through college graduation. This stack of albums, with each child’s yearly photo, is such a blessing to me. I can, in my empty nest state of being, revisit the photos and memories as often as I like. In this process, I thank the Lord for the beautiful blessings that he bestowed upon Bill and me by allowing us to raise three of His precious gifts. You see, in each of their photographs, a story of who they were in that particular moment in time is captured through the lens of a photographer pushing a shutter button. In an instance, the moment is frozen and I will always be able to review who my children were at that stage in their lives held in a single still shot, mounted neatly on the page of a book.

Beginning with my oldest daughter Lauren’s first preschool photo, it is evident that she had super curly, very unruly hair. For her photo, her preschool teacher thought it necessary to brush Lauren’s tight ringlets minutes before the photographer asked Lauren to sit on the stool and say, “cheese”.  Because her teacher did not have experience with naturally curly hair, she did not realize that running a brush through the curls would only make them expand into a very large mass of frizz resembling a light socket mishap. This photo is a true reminder of all of Lauren’s crazy hair days and freckled face follies, which match her personality so perfectly. To this day, the preschool photo is one of my favorite reminders of Lauren. The Lord knew she would need spunky hair and freckles to help her become a very fun-loving mom of four.

I opened our middle daughter Katherine’s album. Her sweet dress looked a bit disheveled and her big pink hair bow is catawampus on the side of her blonde head. It looked as though her photo was taken later in the day after she consumed a chocolate cookie and red punch. Katherine is the fashion queen in our family today and would not be found to have a red punch mustache in any recent photo – in fact; she probably doesn’t drink red punch for fear of it staining her mouth. I love this photo because it is a great reminder of a foot loose child with chocolate and red punch on her face that grew into a quiet, well put-together, lover of fashion, and anything artsy, creative mom of three boys.

Oh, my one and only man-child.  Ryan’s preschool photo is dear to me because the photographer captured the mischief in his blue eyes. When I look at his photo, I am reminded that Ryan would not allow me to comb his hair before school on picture day – he didn’t have time for that. He also pitched a fit because he wanted to wear a wrinkled shirt instead of the one I had ironed for his photo. Being the third child, and very strong willed, Ryan usually got away with such issues as I chose to pick my battles with him. His photo is a treasure because I am able to relish in the fact that Ryan’s personality that I fought hard against during his early years, has developed into a strong character trait. He solved his own hair issue by always keeping it cut short. He is a handsome young man who is married now with a career and is a strong leader among his peers.

Preschool photos that mark a passage of dependence, innocence, age, development, personality, and a much simpler time in the world are tucked back into the cabinet for a later day when I want to quietly ponder the goodness of our Creator. Putting away my children’s albums, I reflected on the change in our era. We live in a society that demands perfection – not in the eyes of God but through the eyes of man.

I learned yesterday that the preschool where my daughter’s children attend, hired a photographer who under his own distasteful discretion, “edits” or “photo shops” what he deems to be imperfect about each child. I imagine in my grandmotherly indignation that this photographer sits on a throne wielding a scepter and rules where the wild things are. My mind leads me to believe he emits flames from his tongue as he flashes large, pointed, gnashing teeth. Sitting on his throne, he edits away at each innocent child’s image. In his superiority, he has an ideal child image in mind. As he chips, chips, chips away, red, yellow, black, and white all become one color, and each child takes on a perceived perfectly created image. After all, this photographer has the power to create the most offensive perfect photo – a click of the mouse, a backspace here, a backspace there, and whah-lah!

Consequently, my grandsons, ages eighteen months and three years, received photos of themselves that did not resemble their God-given unique characteristics. The older of the two had the creases removed from his cheeks and around his eyes that are a very strong trait on his father’s side of the family. The second grandson has a very distinct strawberry birthmark on his little cheek. He has a pinker complexion with strawberry blonde hair. The photographer chose to remove the pink pigment from his skin and also removed his birthmark from his cheek. Neither of the boys looked like the boys that we know and love.

I am stunned today as I think about the message that is being sent and received on all fronts in life. One must have a perfect house, perfect spouse, perfect car, perfect address, perfect job, perfect well-bred pets, perfect health, perfect wealth, and now, perfect preschool photos that do not even resemble the child. Is it any wonder that our eighteen year olds struggle with their self-image when we send a school photo home with an eighteen month old edited to resemble the world’s definition of perfection? I despairingly wonder about the children with more evident birth defects. How must these parents feel who struggle daily to have their children accepted and loved? I cringe to put myself in the position of my daughter and son-in-law who upon receiving preschool photos, had their own impressions of their children shattered based on one photographer’s ideal image.

Reopening the cabinet and once again pulling my old album out, I wrapped my arms around it and pulled it to my chest thanking God for my imperfect house, imperfect spouse, imperfect car, imperfect address, imperfect job, imperfect pets, imperfect health, imperfect wealth, and my most cherished imperfect preschool photos that serve to remind me of my PERFECT gifts, created in His own image that are bestowed upon me.

Genesis 1:27  – “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Spider Bite

I was visiting with my dad at his home one day in September, 2014. It was a beautiful, bright sunny morning. The dew was still fresh on the ground. The leaves glistened on the trees, and the birds were singing their morning praises. Dad and I slowly strolled around his yard as we usually did when we were together.

This particular morning was no different. Quietly and without much purpose or direction, we both meandered through the yard, Dad in his boots and me in my most comfortable pair of grungy flip-flops, sipping a cup of hot coffee and reminiscing. As we passed through an area of the yard less traveled, I suddenly felt something engulf my big toe, almost as though I had scuffed my foot under a large leaf or glop of mud. It wasn’t heavy but I certainly had the sensation of a foreign object on my toe. As my brain registered this feeling of oddity, a deep sting penetrated my skin. In a split second, I looked down and caught a glimpse of something scurrying away beneath the wet grass. At that moment, the pain was so severe; I did not care what the culprit was that had just injected my body with its poison. My total focus became the horrible stinging and throbbing on my appendage.

In my lifetime, I have been stung many times by arthropods such as wasps, bees, and fire ants. While never pleasant to endure, I consider myself very tolerant of any of these bites knowing that within a few minutes, the burn subsides and life goes on. However, this time was unique. I was aware that I had experienced a new sensation that was so extreme compared to past bites and stings that all I could do was hold my toe and cry as though my tears were going to wash away the trauma. Rapidly my toe swelled and contained a noticeable red dot in the center of the bite.

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Over the course of the past eleven months, I complained regularly to any family member and at times, an occasional friend who would lend an ear to the sad story about my poor toe. Because no one really seemed too concerned, I decided it was not worth a visit to the doctor. After all, I was still alive and girls who grow up in the country have a reputation of enduring more than most. Pride can be empowering! However, every time I wore a shoe, my toe ached and swelled. Recently, I grew weary of the discomfort. I decided that although the bite did not appear to be anything other than a raised dime sized circle on my toe, out of curiosity, I would use a needle to lance it. Lancing the bite certainly could not be a worse consequence than what I was already enduring daily.

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Upon the first prick of the tiny needle, a substance began to emerge that was not normal. Words simply cannot describe what came forth. Disgustingly gross! It was obvious to me at that moment that my toe was filled with the poison from what must have been a venomous spider. Looking from the outside, I had no idea what was concealed within. As the poison oozed from the wound, I felt immediate relief.

I am constantly in awe and wonder by the different ways God gets my attention. He sometimes uses small, common, and at times very painful circumstances to teach me life lessons.  I believe the Lord allowed me to carry the obtrusion on my toe and the poison within for all the many months in order that I might ponder the poison in my heart called sin. The spider bite was a poison to my body that was largely unseen by others as it was hidden beneath my shoe. Most people were unaware that the bite existed. However, the ache from the bite interfered with the way I walked, felt, interacted with others, and generally altered the way I lived out my daily life. Sin in my heart has the same effect as an ugly spider bite. Although unseen, sin hinders my relationship with God and others. Sin changes my countenance and how I view the world and myself. It is not until I lance the sin, by confessing it to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness, and allowing the poison to emerge, that I experience relief and renewed love for God and people, as well as renewed joy.

Hidden with Purpose

It’s hard to believe that ten months have passed since I held my mother’s hand and watched her slip into eternity after battling Lung Cancer for nineteen months.  It is equally as difficult to believe that it’s been eight months since my siblings and I made the grievous decision to place our eighty-year-old dad, who has Alzheimer’s disease, into a private memory care facility.

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My parents had our home built next door to my grandparent’s home and moved our family of five into the new house the summer before I began Kindergarten.  After fifty years, the house is full of all kinds of memories, some good, some not so good but never the less, it was home and we were greatly loved.  My mom told me before she died that she and my dad had made a pact.  They promised each other that they would “go together”.  Six weeks after she passed away, we realized that Dad needed more extensive care than we could offer on our own to meet his daily living requirements.  And so, the decision was made to place him in full time care.  In a way, I suppose her words were true.  They “went together”, vacating their home of fifty years; one vacating her earthly body and the other vacating his mind.  Separately, but together as stated in the pact, they vacated.

For the past ten months, my siblings and I have had the laborious and emotional task of sorting through and finding new purpose for each item contained within the walls of our family home.  One particular item, a small roll top desk that sat obscurely in the front entry hall of the house for forty years caught my eye as a piece that no one in our family wanted to keep.  I lamented over the fact that the desk had been in the family for so many years, holding all of our childhood latest, greatest trophies, sports medals, handmade pottery, and now, small photos of our own children. Being the sentimental person that I am, I was having a very hard time deciding what to do with this small piece of furniture.  I knew I did not have room for the desk and neither did any of my other family members.  I also considered that over the many years, its significance was of little importance.  After all, it was small, only had two shelves below, and absolutely no room for writing either by hand or computer.  In my mind, apart from the sentimental value, I rendered it useless.

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After several days of emotional turmoil, I decided to place the roll top desk on one of the neighborhood online sale sites praying that it would move quickly and I could get it out of sight and hopefully soon recover from the sadness of letting it go.  Within just a few minutes of posting it, I received a text message from a very special friend with whom together, we attended Kindergarten and graduated high school.  She and her husband were interested in the desk and wanted to know if they could come by and see it.  Of course I was delighted and hopeful that they would love the old piece and give it a new home! I texted my friend, Tina and asked her what her idea was for the desk.  She explained that she needed it for her computer workstation.  I knew in my heart that she would take one look at the workspace and tell me it was too small. However, I always enjoy her company so I invited her over.

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Deflated in spirit because I had already decided it was not going to be the perfect fit for her, I led Tina and her husband JimE to the corner where the old desk sat.  She walked around a couple of times as she studied and discussed with JimE whether or not it would serve the intended purpose.  I told her I didn’t think the small work area would accommodate her computer.  She silently kept studying the front of the desk with the top rolled back.  Reaching down, she pulled out a “hidden” desktop that slid from beneath.  It was more than adequate for her computer.  I was completely shocked with disbelief.  The desk had gone mostly unnoticed and unused for so long and we had all accepted the fact that it wasn’t really good for anything, unaware that it had the extra pullout workspace.  As a young girl growing up, I remember dusting it as part of one of my Saturday chores.  To me, it was only good to collect dust and waste my playtime.

I helped Tina and JimE load the little desk for its new destination in their home in LaGrange, Texas.  Sitting in the silence with my feet up and a cup of coffee in hand, I pondered how often so many of us settle for dust collecting when in fact, like the little old desk, we have other useful, God-given components hidden within us that are just waiting to be exposed, brought into sight and used for His eternal purpose and glory.  I encourage you to shake the years of dust that has been collecting, reach deeply within your soul and find that hidden talent and purpose before you, as we all will eventually, vacate.

Like a Tree

Fifty years ago, Katy, Texas was a small rice farming community seated in the middle of raw prairie land and rice fields. The family home of my childhood was built on a piece of this bare treeless prairie, in north Katy.  My dad, a natural born arborist, was passionate about trees. Shortly after our home was built, he began hauling in many different varieties of trees to improve our yard and play area.  They were not nursery-grown nor were they sizeable.  The trees he brought home, he shoveled by hand out of a road ditch, a creek bed, or a farm fence row. Before dementia affected his mind several years ago, Dad could tell you where each of the now matured trees, mostly oaks, was harvested around the greater Houston area.   Some were small and fragile, twigs, nursed along for a few months in a 5 gallon bucket until Dad pronounced his prize ready for transplant. Other trees that were a little more established when he found them, would be carefully placed, bare-rooted in the back of his pick-up truck, planted and watered immediately upon arrival at home in the evening.

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During the summer, Dad assigned my sister, Jill and me the job of watering every tree by hand daily.  For two young elementary aged girls, this was a hot, burdensome job that seemed to take hours.  Jill and I drug a water hose back and forth, across the one-acre yard, stopping at the base of each small trunk for several minutes.  A few trees, planted at a distance that the hose could not reach, required us to double up to carry a bucket to pour out on the parched ground.   Dad taught us the importance of soaking the ground thoroughly so that the life sustaining water would reach deep into the soil establishing a strong root system which allowed the tree to withstand the changing seasons year after year.  He spoke to us about the value in keeping the trees alive so that one day our own children would have large shade trees to play beneath.  It was our job to be faithful in the daily task of watering.

As a young girl, I couldn’t grasp the concept of ever having my own children or imagine how it would be possible for those small one to five foot trees to ever provide a canopy of shade for any child. However, it has now been forty-eight years since the first tree was planted. Not only did our children play for many years beneath the shade of these very large trees as Dad promised, but now our children’s children enjoy the same shade from the deeply rooted, mature beauties that my sister and I laboriously watered two generations ago.

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Much like the trees in the yard of my childhood home, God wants His children to daily water their roots with His word.  By soaking our root system in the living water that is provided by regular study of the scriptures, we will leave a legacy of mighty oaks for generations to come.  Jesus Christ is the stream of living water.  It is through the nourishment of this living water that we grow spiritually. By becoming the well-established tree rooted in Christ, we will be able to withstand the storms and trials unique to each season.

Today, where do you find yourself?  Are you a dried bush in the wastelands?  Have you been dwelling in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land? Or, were you once a vibrant, fruit-producing tree that has been choked out by moss or pestilence, as you have allowed sin to creep in? Have you been trusting in yourself or something other than Jesus Christ?   Maybe you are a new sapling, having recently received Christ as your savior and are just beginning to take root.  Possibly, you are a more mature tree with a long taproot with your leaves a little charred on the edges in need of a refreshing five gallon bucket of water poured on your parched soil. We should all strive to be like the tree planted by the water to be counted on to weather the storms of life because the storms of life will come.

A storm that has recently invaded my life is the storm of losing both of my parents; one to death and one to Alzheimer’s. After a 19 month courageous battle with lung Cancer, my mother passed away leaving behind my 80 year old dad who’s memory has been on a steady decline for the past ten years. As Nancy Reagan said about her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s, “It’s a slow good-bye”. Dad’s world has steadily become very small as he has forgotten almost everything he once knew including the names of trees. Some days, he forgets me.

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It has been difficult, at times very trying, and extremely sad these past two years for me. The role reversal of being their child to becoming the parent, broke my heart. I had to step up to make decisions for my parents and their health care as well as watching them both deteriorate to the point of death for my mother. However, through this health storm with my mother and dad, I have leaned heavily upon the Lord to find peace. By drinking daily from the stream of living water, we all find peace and our lifeline to spiritual growth and maturity in Christ.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says:  Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought for it does not cease to bear fruit.

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I encourage you to decide in your heart, that you are going to seek the stream of life, the refreshing living water, and become the mighty shade tree of protection and good fruit to those around you as God intended you to be.  Allow your roots to grow deep and become His tree, planted by the stream of living water so that when the storms of life come…you will not be moved.

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The Perfect Storm

Rain has poured steadily for hours. I sit in my chair looking out of the window watching water pour off the roof of the house. Reports of local flooding continue to flash on the television. Video clips on the news of water rising under over passes on the freeways and, other low lying areas are travel hazards for motorist. It was a day like today, as the rain falls so hard and fast that the drains can’t keep up and the water rises, that will forever be etched in my mind.

Bill and I raised our three children on acreage in Katy, Texas. We wanted Lauren, Katherine, and Ryan to have lots of space to romp and live their childhood to the fullest. Our years on Karen Lane turned out to be all that we had dreamed for them. Our family had many life lessons that would not have otherwise been experienced had we lived anywhere but in the country and we would not trade those experiences for anything.

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Most of our lessons were positive such as watching baby chicks hatch, learning to unwrap a sugar snake from one’s finger without being bitten, witnessing the birth of baby piglets, trapping an entire family of six raccoons in one night inside the barn, learning to ride a horse and getting back in the saddle if bucked off. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the twenty-six show lambs over time that, in and of themselves offered lessons that I will save for another blog.

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Country life had its hardships as well. There were always animals to feed and sometimes nurse back to health or say good-bye to, giving them over to death. Life in the country entailed mowing several acres of grass, plenty of leaves to rake, repairs were endless, and there was always a fence that needed to be mended or built. Rain is a benefit to fence building making the ground soft for digging postholes. It is also an invitation to any five-year-old boy who owns a pair of rubber boots and a dip net.  It was on a day such as today with its high water that fence building and rain created the perfect storm.

It had been raining off and on for several days. The ground was saturated and the water could not drain fast enough. Our property was several inches under water and the open road ditches were full and deep. Bill and I saw this as an opportunity to work on our fence-building project in the back pasture while our three children, ages 12, 10, and 5 were left to entertain themselves outside. Both of the girls were standing in the road just in front of our house visiting with their friends. Bill and I were so focused on getting our fence post level that neither of us noticed our son, Ryan, in his little red rubber boots, grab his dip net and head for the ditch in front of the house to catch crawfish. He had done this many times before but never when the ditches were full.

The water flowed rapidly down the ditch. Reaching the 18” culvert pipe at our driveway, it was then forced through the pipe and formed strong whirlpool suction. After running through the pipe, it continued to flow toward the creek a hundred yards down the road. Ryan began crawfishing with his dip net at one end of the ditch that was shallower and continued wading along the ditch to the culvert. As the water began to deepen, it became more forceful pulling his small dip net out of his hand. Stepping toward the net in an effort to retrieve it, the water filled his boots and pulled his body under and against the culvert pipe. Ryan straddled the pipe with his legs and clung to it with his hands trying to keep his head above water. However, the current was too strong and pulled his head under. He feared that if he let go of the pipe, he would be sucked into it.

While the girls stood on the road visiting, Katherine noticed out of the corner of her eye, Ryan under the water in the ditch. With shock and fear, she opened her mouth to scream but the words could not be found. Knowing that action had to be taken quickly, she ran down into the ditch. She stood at his head and tried to pull him off of the drainage pipe. Ryan was a stout five year old and his clothes were wet and weighted. She could not budge him from the concrete pipe. The only thing she knew to do at that moment saved his life. Placing her hands under his head, she lifted his face to the surface of the water, which allowed him to breathe.

Fear continued to run rampant and the color drained from her face. Katherine stood helplessly in thigh deep water holding Ryan’s head. After several seconds, Lauren noticed Katherine down in the ditch as well as her facial expression with its ghostly appearance. There was nothing that could have kept Lauren from jumping into the ditch just as Katherine had done. Throwing her body into the muddy water, she grabbed Ryan under the arms. With adrenalin pumping through her veins, Lauren was able to lift her brother, breaking the suction that the water and pipe had on him. She carried Ryan out of the ditch to safety with Katherine following close behind. At that moment, Bill’s and my attention turned from a fence post to the distant screams and crying of our three shocked, soaking wet children.  Making our way quickly to the front of the house, we saw the fear in their faces.  Bill and I scooped them into our arms and headed to the house as each of the kids wanted to share the frightening event of that rainy afternoon.

I give thanks often for all of the great memories and life lessons learned while living in the country. However, there has not been a rainy day since the ditch experience on Karen Lane that I have not been mindful of the mercy of God that day upon our family. Today, watching the rain slow to a drizzle, I once again relive that moment and thank Him for sparing Ryan’s life. With a sigh of contentment, I smile at the thought of that rascal boy of ours, and the two heroines living among us.

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The Last Round Up

My alarm sounded at 5:15am. I turned over and silenced it with a determined push of my finger. This day seemed in the distant future a month ago and had arrived much too quickly.   I lay in bed for a few minutes dreading putting my feet on the floor.  I knew that my feet touching the floor would set into motion the heart-wrenching plan that had been carefully thought through and about, down to every detail in previous weeks.

 

My dad, Morris Oliver, aka Papaw to our family, celebrated his 79th birthday last month. He has owned a cattle operation for forty years. Daddy built his herd over time while working as a heavy equipment operator.   My mother, Beverly was in banking and was very good at helping Dad keep up with the accounting side of the business.   Together, through trial and error, they learned the ins and outs of ranching.   As the years clipped by, we all knew an end would be reached one day…maybe, some day… the cattle would have to be sold. None of us liked to think about this chapter of our lives coming to a close. My siblings and my time with Dad at “The Pasture” has been a huge part of our upbringing as well as our own children’s upbringing. We have many precious memories that are centered on the 500+ acres of grazing land, which doubled as our playground.

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Several years ago, new development moved to Katy. As we witnessed many of the larger tracts being sold, our family became aware that the pasture would one day be developed as well, but seldom dwelled on that fact.   Within the past year, the thought has come to the forefront of our attention. Cane Island Parkway will open soon. The parkway is routed down the middle of the flat land that we fondly call The Pasture, to make way for more progress in and around Katy and the outlying towns. It was because of future progress that I dreaded getting out of bed.   I knew that by early afternoon, our lives would never be the same.

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I slowly put one leg and then the other into my jeans. Making my way to the kitchen, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee hoping that this would snap my sad self out of the funk in which I awoke. The aroma of the coffee brought the distant childhood memory of Daddy coming home from a hard day of construction labor, pouring his cup of coffee and heading to the pasture to check on the herd. Fighting tears at the thought, I quickly gathered my things, got in my car, and headed to Katy where I knew he would be waiting for me as he had been many times.  In the past, together we would count the cows, count baby calves, pick dew berries, hunt for deer, trap hogs, pick persimmons, check the pond, check the fences, shoot at coyotes, or hunt for antique bottles in the woods. At other times, we would just simply be.  Unlike past times, this day was strictly business. 

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For the first twenty years, my dad along with my brother, Sidney was able to manage a round up together. As Dad aged and the herd expanded, he hired a cowboy, Craig Zwahar along with several cowboys that work with Craig, to round up, work, and ship calves to the sale barn for him. Over the past twenty years, Craig has become a trusted friend to our family. Today, just as many, many times over the past twenty years, Craig and his men were at the pasture before sun up, with their saddled horses, cow dogs, and trailers, ready to ride. However, this day was going to be different.  The cows would not be worked and then turned back out to pasture. This would be the last round up as every animal was loaded and shipped leaving the pasture vacant for future progress.

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After the last animal was loaded onto the trailer, Craig put his hand on Daddy’s shoulder and gave him a sturdy squeeze and handshake.  He thanked my dad for his friendship and the years of fond memories that they had made working cattle together.  This chapter of life had indeed come to a close.  The trucks and trailers pulled away and we followed behind in their cloud of dust.  Daddy and I sat in silence on our way back to town.  I pulled into the small Midway grocery and bought each of us a cold, bottled, orange Fanta.  Back on the road that led home, we sipped in silence as 40 years of sweet memories were seen in the rearview mirror.

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Linear Verses Circular

I grew up in rural Katy, Texas.  My parents have lived in the same house for forty-eight years where they raised my sister, brother and me.  Just a mile down the street is the old VFW Park.  During my glorious days of childhood, most major events were held in the park with its mighty oaks, long picnic tables where three or four generations of family members held reunions and pitched washers and horseshoes.  A small merry-go-round sits among a set of swings that hang on long chains and can be pushed to the clouds as well as a very tall slide that only the bravest of children conquer.  Cane Island Creek runs along the border of the park.  I have listened to my dad many times, tell the story of digging a cave in the bank of the creek with his childhood buddies.  My own children and grandchildren have spent hour upon hour playing on this beautiful piece of our history. 

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In this same park, there is a metal building known as the “VFW Hall”.  The building was the meeting place during my elementary years for my Brownie troop where I earned my first service badge; it was also the office of the Department of Public Safety where at age sixteen, I nervously passed my driving test after parallel parking successfully.   The old VFW building also holds the memory of my first dance that I was only able to attend after laboriously begging my parents and convincing them that I would return home alive and unscathed.  After all, it’s what kids in small town America did on Saturday night.  The VFW Hall and park are probably most well known for the annual community sponsored Fourth of July picnic, beauty pageant, and fireworks until the population of Katy outgrew this old venue and had to move to a larger space in the name of progress.

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Directly across the street from the VFW Hall was a piece of wooded land.  Until a couple of years ago, this property was simply part of the green space that silently sat unnoticed by most.  It was the backdrop to the pocket of life that often churned in the park.  This green space is now given over to an assisted living complex called Heritage Park that houses many of Katy’s citizens who also once happily romped with their families in the park.  My mother became a temporary resident this week at this facility.  Her room has a nice view of the park.   Yesterday, as I sat with her, I allowed myself to briefly reminisce staring out of her window, across the street to the memorable childhood playground.    

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Since early childhood, I have heard the old cliché, “life has a way of coming full circle”.   But, as I have lived out my fifty years on earth, I always felt that life was a linear, infinite motion and the idea of a circle was puzzling to me.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I came to the realization of this elusive saying.  After trying hard to suppress the thought that kept pressing in the back of my mind, I finally gave way to the idea of linear verses circular, coming to the realization that life is not linear and certainly does not go on forever.  I pondered the brevity of life and thought that I too would one day too soon cross the street from my youthful VFW Park life to the need of elderly care.   At some point, we will all grasp that this life in the body is indeed circular with a beginning that meets an end.  Ecclesiastes 3:20 – All go to one place.  All are from the dust, and to dust all return.  The circle completed.

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The Roots of My Raising Run Deep

I find it interesting the different ways that the Lord speaks to us as individuals.  Either through scripture, other people, a song, or circumstance, He finds a way to whisper His greatness into our lives.  The God of the universe waits patiently for a time when our hearts are available and still to sense His wooing, that mysterious tug of the Spirit on our heart. I personally heard His prompting while on my cancer journey.  On another occasion, the face of an orphan in Bogota, Colombia bridled my attention. For some, God’s beckoning is through simple life experiences, and for others, the face of death escorts them to a place where they hear from Him.  For Moses, the voice of God was heard in a burning bush as Moses hid his face from the Almighty.

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Recently, my younger brother heard from the Lord through a large pile of massive tree roots that he ignited into flames.  He is a heavy equipment operator and part of his job is clearing land.  Pushing dirt, brush, debris and then disposing of the pile is all part of the process of land development, which he has done countless times.  However, I don’t believe that he thought for a second when the match was struck on this pile and the burn began that his life would forever change.

Standing six feet, three inches tall, he carries the presence of someone with whom you would not want to recon should he be incited.  His giant, paws-for-hands are hard and callused from the manual labor that has provided for his family for some 30 years.  He is big and burly and has never been known to pass up a challenging fight.  In his late teen years, his stubbornness to walk away from an afternoon scuffle in a roadside ditch with a DPS trooper landed him jail time in serious trouble with the law.  It was then that my brother took what he refers to as a “hard left” in life and stayed on that path for many years.  He was fearless, afraid of no man.  There were times that I was awakened in the night feeling the need to pray on his behalf.  He recalls these rebellious times as, “memorable fun”.  I call it God’s mercy on him because there were events that should have cost him his life had God not intervened with His grace and mercy to spare him.  In God’s sovereign timing, He saved my brother’s life on earth for a specific evening of root burning when, like Moses, he heard from the Lord.

The sun had set as his tired soul sat alone near the roaring pile of burning roots.  Nothing heard but popping and hissing from smelting dirt and tree sap as the huge pile of roots appeared hotter than Hell itself.  He sat staring into the flames contemplating his soon to be fifty years on this earth and how quickly the years had slipped away.  He was reminded of our aging parents and their recent ailments that come with growing old. He pondered his adventurous childhood – driving the old pickup truck to town without his license while Mom and Dad were at work; turning hundreds of white mice loose in the school; forever being grounded but never giving himself room to turn his life around.  His childhood mischief turned into an angry rebellion as the years clipped by.   My brother was a fighter, having a reputation for this way of existing like our grandfather before him, rebellious living and fighting was a way of life.

The longer he sat studying the hot burn, the clearer the fiery message became.  He needed to turn his weary life around.  He could hear Dad in his mind sternly telling him during those early years that “children are a gift from the Lord”, and “make sure your children are rooted in the word of God”.  Dad told my brother, “plant the seed and grow the roots”.  He said, “the roots of your raisin’ will come back to ya if you get lost”.   These words fell on deaf ears when spoken by Dad decades ago.   However, as the crackling and hissing of the burning roots stole the silence in the darkness and the fierce yellow flames rose higher, the harder it was for him to escape the wise counsel that now so poignantly pierced his thoughts and his heart.  Through the knowledge of God’s word that had been rooted in his childhood, my brother realized that the burning flames before him were just a glimpse of what the true Hell of eternity will be like.  Dad’s words from long ago gave way to an old Merle Haggard song:  the roots of my raising run deep…hope comes no matter how far down I sink, the roots of my raising run deep…In the still darkness, as the flames continued their beckoning, he began to pray, seeking forgiveness from the Lord for all the “memorable fun” he had that he now saw as sin in his life.   My brother’s “hard left” down the road to eternal Hell took a “hard right” that night.   As with all of us, the roots of our raising run deep.

Click here to listen to The Roots of My Raising by Merle Haggard:   http://youtu.be/mOnCFJFeX4g

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The Same Kind of Sufferance As Me

I found myself yesterday for over 12 hours in the emergency room at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Hospital with my mom who was diagnosed with cancer last spring.  Because of the Christmas holiday season, the hospital was at 103 percent capacity.  Doctors were not following the regular admitting process after seeing their patients.  Instead, they were routing patients through the emergency center with the idea that the patient would receive faster service.   This created a huge backlog of very ill people in a small, concentrated area for many hours.

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Mom and I settled in for the long stay in the back area of the waiting room as we witnessed patient after patient with family members or friends in tow to endure the hours together with the goal of finding at least some momentary relief from the pain and advance of their cancer.  A giant black man sitting in a wheelchair soon flanked me to my immediate right.  He appeared to be his 70’s, accompanied by his two buddies who had delivered him to the emergency room.  To our left was an extremely ill woman whose body was little more than a skeleton with skin.  She was lying on a hospital gurney wheeled against the wall to wait in agony with her vomit bag resting on her caved chest.  Across the isle from us were more cancer patients, all waiting, hoping for their number to come up soon in the computer in order to receive their treatment.

It was hard to ignore the multiple conversations in such a tight space.  My ear tuned into the conversation to my right between this big black man and his friends.  While I was entertained by much of what was said about how much he could or could not fill his bucket on a daily basis, I gathered the wheelchair bound man had kidney issues caused by his cancer.  I listened to the men talk about the topic for some time, and I tried to find humor in the subject because the rest of the room was over-shadowed with such pain and, for a few, imminent death.

I found it difficult not to stare or engage with my eyes but this man to my right was such a large person with a deep, gentle voice, I felt wooed by the conversation.  After a while, the triage nurse called this man’s name, Roy.   His friend pushed his wheelchair to the door of the triage room, passing him off to the nurse.  The friend came back and sat in his chair with the other man next to him.  After a few minutes, a hospital advocate walked over to our area and began to explain that Roy was experiencing severe kidney failure and asked the men if one of them had planned to stay with him during his time in the ER.  They both looked at her surprised and each one said “no” that they had things to do and would be leaving him alone.  The advocate sternly expressed to them that Roy seemed to be scared to be left alone but her words failed to change the friend’s decisions to leave Roy alone.  I then began to feel a tug in my heart toward this lone, ill man.

I will confess that I did not want to get involved.  I am like most in that I don’t go around looking for opportunities to interact with the marginalized and oppressed.  I don’t want to experience their shame, get my hands dirty or become entangled in the life of one of these needy people because doing so may cost me some inconvenience or worse, my reputation.  I read a book several years ago that made a huge impact on my life in how I viewed people who are different than me.  The title of the book is The Same Kind of Different As Me.   It’s a true story of how a high society art dealer with my same view of keeping a safe distance from the marginalized actually engaged directly with a dangerous homeless drifter and through his months of involvement realized that the two of them were the same kind with little difference between them.  We are all the same in the eyes of Jesus.  I thought intently about this as I watched Roy’s buddies walk out of the hospital leaving him alone in his fear.  I picked up my phone to send a text to my husband, Bill, to tell him that I was in the middle of  a “same kind of different as me” moment.  Something very unusual happened as I typed the word different, the auto-fill on my phone delivered the text with the word “sufferance”.   I was stunned as I glared at the sent text on phone screen – same kind of sufferance as me.  My thoughts began to stir.   Sufferance is by definition, “patient endurance of pain or distress without interference”.

Jesus calls us to be like him.  He calls us to a life that shares in sufferance.  For many yesterday at MD Anderson, sufferance was through cancer but for me, sufferance was in entering into the life of a needy man, to share in his fear and loneliness.  I began to process more deeply the same kind of sufferance that so many in the room around me were baring.  Myself, a cancer survivor, I can identify a little with some of their sufferance.  However, I didn’t loose my hair like my mom, or my body didn’t shrivel up on a gurney, or I wasn’t abandoned at the hospital by my friends in the emergency room like Roy to fight the cancer fear alone.  I’m extremely grateful that I did not have to endure these types of suffering during my cancer journey.

For six hours, in my safe chair against the wall, I continued to ponder the word sufferance.  I decided to walk across the room from where I sat to check on my mom’s schedule at the nurse’s desk.   The triage nurse had parked Roy in his wheelchair in front of the admitting desk.  He sat patiently holding his wooden cane across his island-sized lap.  My back was turned away from him when I heard him ask the nurse if he could get a cookie from the volunteer snack cart.  It was at that split second that I had to decide if I was going to participate in the same kind of sufferance of Christ or continue to maintain my secure distance filled with worry of loss of reputation.  I turned around to fix my gaze on Roy and bent over with my face in his face.  His big, soulful eyes filled with tears as I asked him if he had eaten today to which he answered, “no ma’am”.

I patted his knee and told him I would return with a hot meal and to save the cookies for dessert.  Handing the cafeteria cashier ten bucks for a stranger’s meal was much easier than engaging with this poor, needy man.  I placed his meal on a table near where my mom and I were sitting.   I then walked across the floor for Roy.   Wrapping my fingers around the handles of Roy’s wheelchair, I took a prayerful breath to surrender my reputation and began the short journey of sufferance across the waiting room.   I began identifying with Roy,  a poor, marginalized, man in need of a friend.  I carried the weight of his burden as I rolled him to the other side of the room and in doing so, I realized that through the sufferance of Christ, Roy is the same kind of different as me.

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