Lessons from Nana…Christmas expectations

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Bruce and I helped Nana put up her tree yesterday. As she looked through her bag of ornaments, and we scurried around setting up decorations at exhausting warp speed, she stopped and said, “You know, it’s okay not to put everything out. Let’s just do the sentimental ones.”

Nana wasn’t feeling great. The pain from her cancer was strong. She loves Christmas, and crazy as it sounds to me, they’ve been known to leave their Christmas tree up in NY until March!!!!!!!

This day she was tired. And she ponders her grim prognosis more.
But what I love is she has the wisdom to know when to say when. Tucking some decorations and ornaments back in their boxes doesn’t mean she has any less Christmas spirit. This season she knows her limits and is okay to listen to them.

She said, “When I sleep I just want to feel the quiet.” To her, that means less is more this year.

Like Nana, let’s embrace the permission to say when. Whether it’s decorating, cooking, shopping, or social commitments – of which this beautiful season brings many – let’s keep our lists simple so that when we rest we can feel the quiet of the sacred Silent Night.

And instead of diminishing Christmas with less bells & whistles, it can actually make the season mean even more. More time to reflect. More energy to spend with loved ones. More sentimental moments. More of our focus on the One for whom this giant birthday party is all about.
Nana is more than good with less. Let’s follow her example and simply enjoy the true meaning of Christmas. 

Lessons from Nana…The Plan

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So thankful for Nana’s dermatologist! She caught a squamous cell carcinoma this week. That makes two cancers now for her.
BUT, I love that even though Nana has been through the ringer with her health the past two years, she keeps fighting. Her battle plan is:
* Trusting the Lord will take care of her
* Prayer, prayer and more prayer
* A positive attitude
* Choosing to take action when she can
* Enjoying the moment
* Staying flexible
* Choosing to stay strong
* Knowing her limits
* Rest & sleep
* Finding humor in the situation
* Working the plan
* Choosing to be happy everyday
* And of course, chocolate 
I like her strategy! Combine this with our weapons of faith (Ephesians 6:10-18) and she’s unstoppable!
I can learn a lot from her. 

Lessons from Nana…Stay positive

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While at the dermatologist today, she said “Block negativity. Don’t let it in!”
Yes ma’am! Let’s run with this on a cold, rainy day. Lean in to the cozy places and spaces. Embrace the clouds that are dust of God’s feet. Rest in His presence. Feel the rain nurture. Put on your favorite music and blast it!! Enjoy this day God has made and the fact you are here to live it.👊🏻💪🏻💝

Lessons from Nana…The decision

Image may contain: 2 people, including Kristi Buttles, people smiling, eyeglasses and closeupAs anyone knows who has traveled a health journey, things can change on a dime.
Nana will not be having surgery nor radiation. She knows she is dying and she is finding peace with it.
Today in the radiation oncologist’s office, the NICEST doctor spoke softly and slowly to her. His amazing nurse stood behind him, quiet and caring. Truly healthcare professionals are real live superheroes.

He listened to Nana talk about having a terminal illness. All three of us hung on her every word.
She said, “The key is to not feel sorry for yourself. That’s it. It’s that simple. I trust God to take care of me. And with the days I have left I’m going to enjoy them.”
The doctor replied, sitting motionless on his stool, captivated by her words, attitude and outlook, “I wish you could talk to other patients. They could really hear this.”
To which she said smiling, “I’d be happy to.”

I swallowed down hard the lump welling in my throat. This wasn’t the time or place for that. Then I counted my blessings that I was there today. Sitting in a small exam room under grey skies and a chill in the wind outside. Sitting among other families who have no joy, no peace. They snap at each other in the waiting room…as we all wait for our names to be called.
An appointment that made me weak in my knees, as it is the last time to finalize a plan with all doctors on board. An appointment I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend, or had the strength to attend.

But to hear her talk so openly about living and dying, I tried to let every word, every smile of hers seer itself into my memory. This is, in fact, her legacy.
Every time she said with a smirky grin, “I’m a tough old broad, I can take it,” flashed a timeline of 30+ years with her, and I sat in amazement that yes, yes she is a tough old broad.

She’s the last of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. She’s buried her husband, parents, brother and SIL – who was her best friend, and her niece. She’s moved and moved again trying to keep up with the undertow of life pulling her into its current.
There’s so much. Just so much water under that bridge that could’ve made her drown.
But she kept swimming and smiling.

Just yesterday, as we left Waffle House, she literally danced her way out the door with her walker as the music played overhead. I laughed and she said laughing back, “Hey! I’m never gonna get old!”

She is so right. Nana, you are so right. You will never get old. God has planned a day when you will push that walker to the side and two-step right into heaven.

And when you’ve finished your Father/Daughter dance with Abba, our Father who is in heaven, there’s going to be a very familiar man, who has waited 15 years to dance with you, asking you to dance again.
You two danced together for more than 40 years. I have no doubt he’ll que up the choir of angels and you guys will dance again.

Thank you, Nana, for showing me how to be strong in spirit when the body is weak. How to laugh instead of cry. How to rise above instead of being pulled under.
You are dancing your race beautifully. We’ll dance with you until it’s time for you to change partners.
In your words, keep being Silly Salli. We’d expect nothing less and want nothing more. 

College Survival Kit

It’s that time of year! You know it’s college season when every twin XL memory foam topper in the city & on Amazon is sold out, lol.

I wanted to put together a send-off gift that would be both functional and fun so I scoured the Internet for ideas. Some were very clever but not functional. Others were incredibly functional but not personal. So I started from scratch. Here’s the end result! Borrowing the packing bubble idea from Pinterest, the rest of the ideas came from endlessly wandering around WalMart anticipating what would make the transition to college a little easier. 🙂 It was a lot of fun to make the labels with a personal software program.

The black gift bag symbolizes a chalkboard and I used a white chalk marker for the verbiage. The gift bag’s name tag and ribbons tying the tag to the bag are in the school’s colors for a personal touch.

The school inception gift – bags within the bag! 😉

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On the go or studying inside – a high protein snack kit with chicken salad & crackers and a water bottle

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Get well soon – A can of chicken noodle soup; a bottle of hand sanitizer; a pack of tissues and an Echinacea tea bag

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Celebrate the good stuff! – A single-serving cake mix packet; microwavable mug; spoon, party blower and confetti

Celebrate the good stuff! – I photocopied the box of cake mix

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Running late – A packet of instant Starbucks iced coffee & a pack of breath mints.

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Stressed Out – packing bubbles to pop

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Just because 😉 – a bag of mixed candy

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Stay Safe! – An Uber gift card to jet if needed

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Mistakes are okay – An eraser with a personalized rice crispy treat

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Have fun!!!! – A frisbee and a deck of cards

 

The Mammogram

Today was my yearly mammogram. However, the doctor was concerned about something and ordered a 3D diagnostic test plus an ultrasound.

I’ve had a mammogram every year since I was 26. Believe me when I say I’ve gone through every emotion possible over the years. But this time, I was full of angst. I had not seen a doctor’s concerned expression like that since my first test. And because she was concerned, so was I. I haven’t slept well for days and have had terrible dreams.

On the way there, a familiar song came on the radio. “I lift my hands to believe again. You are my refuge, You are my strength. As I pour out my heart, these things I remember, You are faithful, God, forever.” I often lift my hand in the van (safely) in worship. Today was no different and I gave Him this appointment all over again.

However, worry unlocks the gate in my mind and lets my imagination run wild! I thought about the worst-case scenario. So, what WOULD I change if I was told I hadn’t much time? Evidently a lot according to my rambling thoughts. Hmmm….

While waiting in the office, I caught a friend’s smile from across the room. She is a special friend to me; someone with whom conversation is always thoughtful and deep. She is a tender soul and is a compassionate and kind woman. She is Chinese and noticed my necklace that I often wear. She said, “Your necklace. It is the Chinese symbol for faith.” “Yes,” I told her. “I bought it in China and wear it almost every day.”

It began a conversation where we talked all about faith, her family in China and her home country’s lack of faith in God. She talked about faith and trust and how we are called to live it every day. I smiled and listened. She had no idea that I had this same exact conversation with God mere moments before walking through the heavy, wooden doors.

While she talked, I noticed a woman walk in with her husband. He was gentle with her and protective of her. He waited in line with her. He wrapped his arm around her tight while she filled out her forms on the couch. They sat close, folded into each other…and waited. When her name was called, she slowly stood up. He still held her hand. He held her hand until the steps she took toward the technician pulled their tender hands apart. His back was to me, but after the door closed behind her, I saw him wipe his eyes and nose.

I thought about their journey. Was she in the beginning, middle or post cancer? Was it cancer or just a horrific scare? Was this her first mammogram? Her tenth? Had she lost a loved one to cancer? What made this appointment so hard for them? I don’t know them, but I deeply cared about them because, without a spoken word, they told a beautiful love story.

Still listening to my friend, we talked about faith. I wondered if this man, who sat directly behind her, could hear – and if so, what did he think about our conversation?

My name was called. I hugged my sweet friend and we parted. I know exactly how this goes. No deodorant, no perfumes or powders. Use baby wipes just to make sure. Undress from the waist up and put on the disposable blue half robe with white snaps, open in the front. Then wait for the tech to come get me. Yep, got it. This was my twenty-first time.

It took a little while for the tech to come back, and Fixer Upper played on a small tv monitor in the tiny room with well-worn magazines and sugar cookies under a glass dome for patients. I thought, “I can worry or I can relax and watch tv. Either choice doesn’t affect the outcome of the test.” So I watched tv, ignoring the pit in my stomach and lump in my throat as I kept seeing the doctor’s concerned expression play in a loop in my mind.

Every year I forget to take Motrin first. Shoot. Mammograms hurt. They really do! Not gonna lie. But, it’s short. As the tech worked through the process, I gritted my teeth and held my breath, squeezing my eyes tight, she said, “Now place your hand here.” I had to raise my arm to the spot she wanted.

Just then, I sang to myself, “I lift my hands to believe again. You are my refuge, you are my strength. As I pour out my heart, these things I remember, You are faithful, God, forever.” It was not a coincidence that song played on the radio as I pulled into the office.

See here’s the thing. I believe God and I trust God. Period. Walking into the office I quoted Psalm 139 in my mind over and over. “Every one of my days were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Walking out I quoted the same verse.

I praise God that my results are normal. I felt my knees grow weak from relief on the way to my van and I shed happy tears in the parking garage. I was so ecstatic that after putting back on my bra I turned to leave the dressing room, topless! :O

But, I also carry love for my precious friends who are my age and are also mothers – one is suffering from spinal cancer and the other from lung cancer. So I don’t even want to quote the over-used phrase, “God is good” for me, lest someone think He is bad for my friends.

None of us know the number of our days. I can get a pass on this breast test, but then be killed in a car accident on the way home five minutes later.

The reality is that what we’ve all been given is today. Not tomorrow. Today. How are we going to spend the 86,400 seconds that make up this day?

Wiping the tears away, I recounted the list I had made about what I would change if the tests had rendered a different result. What do I do with that list now?

And on the matter of faith, I need not look farther than Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They had a moment with King Nebuchadnezzar that I have used to define my life in words for the last three decades –

Daniel 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

God can do anything. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Why He does some things sometimes and not others other times I have no idea.  But I know He is sovereign. He sees. He knows. He cares. He fights for His children.

I think we get tangled up in our thinking that this life is our happily ever after. It’s not. This is a life where we were born into sin and live in a broken world controlled by the enemy of God. Does it have awesome highs? Yes! I can name many. But with the mountaintop comes the valley in this life.

For children of God, our perfect life still awaits. Our reward awaits. Hebrews 11:39-40 says it best, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Unless Jesus comes back first, we are all going to die. My pastor said it well once, “We’re not afraid to die. We’re afraid to suffer.”

As a believer, I only have today to make it count for Christ. Do I want to stay on this earth longer for my husband, children, family and friends? Yes! Do I want to complete the work He has called me to (Phil. 1:6)? Yes! Do I have hopes, dreams and goals? Yes! Does it utterly break my heart to hear of people who don’t get that chance? Absolutely!!

I read a story of a married mom with young children. She was dying of cancer. The family photo in the article had all of them piled on Mom & Dad’s bed like a sleepy Saturday morning. They were smiling while playfully knotted in the sheets. She said she wasn’t afraid to die, but she “loved her life and wasn’t ready to leave the party yet.”

My heart BROKE for their sweet family.

Those us of who haven’t been told a time or date still have a time and a date, though we walk around in a hazy stupor as if that were the farthest thing from reality.

Maybe it’s my age that I am acutely aware of how short life is. Nah, it’s not my age. I learned that lesson when my mom died when I was only 16 from breast cancer that spread to her lungs in less than a year. Since June 13th, 1987 I have never lived a day in a euphoric state of ignorant bliss that life should be our Disney princess dream.

No, that life is coming. And because it is, even today I had a brief moment of sadness that I am going to have to wait a little longer to see God face-to-face. The overriding joy is that I get to see my family’s faces tonight, and Lord willing, tomorrow.

Lying on the table during the ultrasound, I stared at the ceiling, trying not to peak at the monitor because I have no idea what I’m looking at. But, every single time she paused the ultrasound gun and snapped a picture I thought, “Is this something? Did she find something?” And I peeked at the screen. With each time, I wrestled with what to do with my emotions. “Is this where I fall apart? Is there where I run to the roar? Is this where I stand strong or emotionally crumble and weep?” I only had one answer.

I said to God, “I did my part. Now you do yours.” Meaning, I came in for the mammogram. What you do with it is up to you.

It is a familiar, though not very eloquent, prayer because I’ve been praying this prayer since I was 14. Not about mammograms, but about our roles in our relationship, His and mine.

I am not a “saved by works” girl (I’d NEVER, ever be able to do enough to save my own soul!!), but we do own the first step. We have the choice to believe. When I made that choice when I was 14, I gave Him my life and I’ve never taken it back.

He’s had every second, minute, hour, day, month and year of mine in His hands. When I chose to follow Christ, I have never looked back. So I see life’s timeline in a continuum of sorts. This life is just a blip on the radar; a piece of a much larger puzzle. There is so much before and after it and so many parts to it.

I accepted the cost of following Christ no matter what back then and still do today. My only prayer is that the suffering I am called to experience (physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual) for Him draws others to Him so they will know God as their One True God and Christ as their Savior.

So whether that is to succumb to an illness I cannot control; be killed while serving others for Him; or live a long, healthy life and quietly pass in my sleep – I just want my life AND death to bring others to life through His saving grace. Through medical tests, gunfire I recently heard while we were on mission, and dashing to my car in a massive thunder and lightening storm last night, I want every second to count for Christ.

The solar eclipse is coming and people are so excited about it. It makes me wonder how many rotations this ‘ol world has left. How many rotations does this ‘ol girl have left?

I am somberly grateful for my good report today. It makes me pray harder for my friends who are suffering from this wretched disease that I hate with a fiery passion. But I can tell you one thing, these women are running an amazing, magnificent race – one worthy to be called a child of the King.

Whatever may come my way, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whether God chooses to walk in the fire with me or deliver me from this life through it, either way I will follow Him. I will continue to lift my hands to Him – in the car, during a mammogram and in every moment in between.

I want my life to be seen as a symbol of faith, like the necklace that rests on my chest. I want people to look at me and say, “Your life, it’s a symbol of faith” like my friend said of my pendant.

Whatever has to happen to make this reality, come what may. Because I believe God and I trust Him. We are inseparable, like the couple in the waiting room. He is gentle with me and protective of me. He holds me tight. The difference is that He never lets go. He walked with me into the mammogram. He kept me company in that tiny room. He drove home with me in rush-hour traffic. He sits with me now. Why? Because I asked Him to. Will you?

Mission-heart lag

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When people hear that we’re coming home from a mission trip to Guyana, their response is always the same, “So there’s no time change. That’s great! No jet lag!”

I wish that were true.

It would be far easier to feel the physical effects of jet lag versus the emotional, mental and spiritual effects of mission-heart lag.

This year in particular, I packed my bags with a quivering lip. My hands loaded luggage ready to go. My feet refused to move, longing to stay.

Three airplane rides home were heavy, weighted with quiet moments staring at the floor, out the window at the clouds, or lost in the darkness of my eye mask, trying to block out the world.

Logic says that it should get easier to go on mission trips. I’ve been blessed to be a part of several all over the world. But my heart disagrees. Sure, I’m much more able to handle the sights and smells from a traveler’s perspective, but the stories and circumstances behind those sights and smells haunt me long after the last load of laundry has been washed and put away.

The long-term effects of corrupt politics, poverty, a lack of resources and all forms of abuse grip my heart and won’t let go. Over the years and across continents, I’ve served the perpetrator and the victim; the ill and disabled; those voiceless and powerless; the hard-hearted; the tender and a kaleidoscope of backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, personalities and religions.  So why don’t I just tick the “do good” summer box and move on?

Because these are real people and our real God loves them. They are valuable and matter as much as anyone else in the world and it makes my heart ache to know that there is so much still to do in places where the world has turned a blind eye.  The hurt continues. Abuse continues. Poverty continues. Helpless and hopelessness continue long after luggage has been claimed and the pause button on our lives lifts as we re-enter what we know as normal.

Time change or not, there is definitely a mission-heart lag, as so there should be. If not, the trip was merely an adventure.

Coming home, there are things about here I can’t stand. But there are things about there I can’t stomach.  When I’m here, I want to be there. When I’m there, I know I need to here. With every mission, my heart splits farther in two.

Air-conditioning is wonderful. A hot shower is marvelous. My own pillow and puppy, they’re the best. But so is listening to exotic tree frogs serenade us in the evening on the porch of a home in the middle of a foreign country. Nothing compares to looking into the eyes of a soul who is amazed we went all the way there for them, and then to realize that this God we speak of did so much more by sending His Son for them.

Kr2Our home this evening is still as jazz plays faintly in the background. Everywhere I look there is travel clutter. The exhaustion from a twenty-two hour venture home has numbed the urgency to make all of the mess go away. So to forget it all I schlepped to the grocery store to fill an empty fridge. I found myself drawn to the aisle with some of the ethnic foods we just enjoyed there. I will look for guava in everything for a long time. I’ll make roti bread and cook-up rice with chicken to remember the flavors of mission. But it’s not the same as being there.

I think about those who denied accepting Christ when asked; precious babies sleeping on mamas’ shoulders; the reluctant, mischievous teens in the back row; the mothers (of a different religion) who looked on with both gratefulness that we came, and skepticism toward our motives; and those who were just passing by and stopped in to see what all the hullabaloo was about as we sang with the kids, washed their feet and gave them new shoes.

I can tell you countless awesome stories of those who asked Jesus to be their Savior; men and women, boys and girls who asked for prayer for their families and themselves; and those who traveled a long way just to be a part of the celebration. I thank God and rejoice over each one. But, for those whose story doesn’t include Christ, they are why I continue to go.

Leaving the grocery store this afternoon, the bagger began chatting with me. She asked how my day was going. I responded with a soft, “Fine, thanks,” hoping she’d leave it at that. Then she asked, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Her question was like a tiny hole punctured in a balloon as I felt the last bit of energy deflate. I mustered up a smile and response, “I don’t have any plans. We just got back in town and I’m really tired.”

(Could that be the end of conversation for now, please?)

“Oh yeah, from where?”

(sigh) “Guyana.”

“Cool. Were you there for vacation?”

Wait for it….

“No, it was a mission trip.”

Any other day I’d be ecstatic to talk about all things mission. Today, I just needed milk, dinner and tissues to wipe the tears from my eyes. My response was the Pandora’s box for a delightful, but draining conversation. She was so sweet. It was me who crawled to the car playing all the social cards in my hand.

There’s a lot to unpack and put away strewn about the house, but there is much more to unpack in my heart. The problem is I don’t know where to put it all. The demands of daily life and international mission life have little overlap in this season, sans the insane, and very thankful, amount of fundraising we have to do to afford going. A few pictures on the wall and some local, handmade trinkets on a shelf help to be something my heart can focus on as I move through the day. All of our personal effects still smell like Guyana, just like they smelled of burnt wood when we returned from Africa. The same is true for smells unique to the other countries which now have pieces of our hearts.

At the end of the day, this mission was just a shift, if you will. Helping and encouraging those working in the mission field full-time. We took a shift to go and be salt and light to them and those they serve.

I gave it my all, but feel like it fell far short of what is needed. Jet lag is something that can be slept off. Mission-heart lag can’t be shaken off, nor should it be. I hope and pray the pains of mission never go away, lest I forget the needs and fall into a pleasure coma of the society in which I live.

I am haunted and humbled by what I’ve experienced. Come quickly, Lord. Until then, I’ll keep going wherever You lead.