Lessons from Nana – Keep looking forward…and forward to…

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Our girl gave Nana such a thoughtful Christmas present this year. Shopping for her was a challenge. What do you give someone who knows they are dying? Someone who only has months to live and has come to terms with it?

My SIL shopped for pajama sets, a great idea! I got fuzzy socks to go with the pajamas, her favorite body lotion, and her favorite snacks since some days Nana doesn’t feel up to going downstairs to the dining hall for her meals. These are all useful and she was happy to receive them.

But our daughter did something uniquely different for Nana. Knowing she struggles with Alzheimer’s, so she made her a photo album with the thought that seeing family faces would be comforting to Nana. Awesome idea!

Needless to say, Nana cried when she opened the album. With lots of photos from past and recent, and it was fun to go through them naming faces and places. It was a wonderful walk down memory lane.

However, every time she came to a photo of her late husband, the best FIL anyone could ask for, she said the same thing each time. She gently placed her hand on his photo and said with a smile, “I have a feeling it’s not going to be long before I see him again.”

I replied, “He’s cuing up the band and lacing his shoes. He’s got a dance ready for you.”

I’ve never seen a couple who love to dance more than them. For decades, I watched them jitterbug and slow dance every chance they got. It’s one of my favorite memories of them together. Dancing. Twirling. Hand-in-hand their bodies moved together as if they were one person…and after 40+ years of marriage, they indeed were one.

They finished each other’s sentences, knew each other’s thoughts, understood their strengths and weakness, and always found a reason to laugh together.

From enjoying nightly ice cream while wearing shorts in upstate New York when it was negative degrees outside; to soaking up hours of sun on Florida beaches; to attending church and being involved in numerous ministries together; to never missing a family event at which my FIL always said with tear-filled eyes, “Thanks for including us,” these two were each other’s lives.

She’s felt his absence for the past 15 years. A piece of her died when he did. Her heart packed its bags on the day he drew his last breath and she has been ready to join him ever since.

But she’s said something so interesting to me over the past 15 years regarding his passing. She says that her prayer has always been to not let her feel the full weight of his loss.
And God has granted that request.
She tells us that she only remembers the good times they had and recalls very little about his illness, the ICU, his suffering and his death.
She credits God for granting her request to block that part of their life out so she only remembers the good.

Beautiful.

However, even more beautiful is that she is looking forward to seeing him again in heaven. She knows that she knows he and her family & friends are waiting for her.
I encourage her with Jesus’ words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14: 1-3)

Since they are both believers, my FIL is indeed waiting for her. He’s been saving a dance for her for 15 years. I can only imagine how they will glide across Heaven’s streets of gold to the rhythm of angel voices.

It is great fun, and so good, to look back on photos of wonderful memories and remanence over stories told a thousand times.

Nana, and all believers, also have a whole lot to look forward to.

Only God knows the day he will call her home. She believes it won’t be long. The doctors agree.
With her time left on this earth we’ll keep sharing photos and memories. We will continue to bond over stories past and present.
And we will, with great anticipation, follow Nana’s lead and look forward – and look forward to – all that is to come.
The eternal party is just getting started…

Lessons from Nana…Sojourn

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I tidied up while Bruce assisted Nana with her cell phone at Nana’s apartment the other day. She’s not only battling angiosarcoma but Alzheimer’s as well, and some days working the phone can be a challenge.

He played her voicemails on speaker while Nana sat quietly in her bedroom holding the phone in her hand as she stared into the distance listening to friends’ messages.

One of the messages captured my heart and spirit. I stopped what I was doing and just listened. Nana’s friend left a warm and loving message. She told Nana how much she and her friends miss her in NY and that she’s never far from thought or prayer. But then…

Then her friend did THE sweetest thing.

She said, “I know this is just a message, but I want to leave you with this.” She began to sing Amazing Grace. Nana’s friend sang Amazing Grace in the voicemail. A huge lump welled up in my throat. It felt like her friend was right here in the apartment, sitting with Nana, encouraging her spirit through song.

What happened next caused me to sit down in full attention to the moment.

Nana started to sing along to the message.

These two ladies, who have seen so much throughout their many decades, who have been married, had children, buried loved ones, lived through wars and presidents and social change, sat together virtually and sang Amazing Grace.

There are no words. It was one of the most precious moments in our entire Christmas season. Nana didn’t realize, or if she did she didn’t care, that Bruce and I could hear. She simply sat on the side of her bed and sang a favorite hymn with her dear friend.

I know there will come a day when Nana will join the choirs of heaven, leaving only the echo of her voice behind. Her friend knows it, too. And that is what is so tender. Her friend is helping Nana finish her race.

In that last mile, when runners are exhausted, their legs cramp, and with dry mouths they push through the fiery burn in their lungs and know its now or never to commit to finishing the race. It’s also known that most runners quit in the last leg with the finish line nearly in sight.

Nana’s friend knows this, and in the most beautiful way, she showed up to run with her. Through her words and song, she reminded Nana of who she is and whose she is.
She encouraged Nana to keep running when the body desperately wants to quit, and with Amazing Grace she strengthened Nana’s spirit so it will direct her body to keep running.

I’ve told my kids their whole lives that if they have just a couple of friends, those who are there for the long haul, those they wholeheartedly trust and can lean on no matter what, then they are rich beyond measure. It’s better to have a few close forever friends than many fair-weathered friends.

Nana has this relationship with her friend. A woman who fought the awkwardness of calling; overcame the discomfort of not knowing what to say; and mustered the courage to sing in a voicemail and to be there for a friend she dearly loves.

Nana’s friend touched all of us that day. Her call challenged me to be that kind of friend. It challenged me to let others be that kind of friend to me despite my insecurities.

Friends sojourn. They cheer, challenge and choose to show up no matter what. “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).

I will never forget the example Nana’s friend set, unaware that anyone besides Nana would ever hear her message. Truly, God’s amazing grace is with Nana and is meeting her needs right where she is, right when she needs it.

Whose journey can we encourage today? Which friend needs a glass of water through kind words, a hug through prayer, or companionship to simply feel loved and remembered?
Let’s lace up our running shoes and get sojourning. There are races we are called to help run.

Lessons from Nana…Keep your sense of humor

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My mom always said, “You can laugh or cry so you mind as well laugh.” Mom and my MIL share this perspective.

Nana calls herself Silly Salli for a reason. She CHOOSES to stay silly. Fun. Lighthearted. She CHOOSES to laugh instead of cry. In fact, since the angiosarcoma struck in June of 2018, I have yet to see her cry about it. She’s gotten teary over the prospect of leaving family and friends, but not over having this disease.

People process life in different ways. The other night, my family had a great convo about cathartic vices. Some of our tribe cry, some listen to music, some go for a run and others veg in front of the tv. Processing is different for everyone because we are uniquely made…and that’s okay as long as the measures are healthy and safe.

So for Nana, on a bleak winter day, when it took mustering a lot of strength for her doctor’s appt, she still CHOSE to have some fun with it as seen in the pic below. I call it her “Elfie,” lol.

She didn’t want to be there. She didn’t want to have to talk at nauseam again about the angio and show yet another doctor its devastation. But she did, and she did so without complaint.

She CHOSE to smile through her weariness. She’s not of the mindset to “fake it till you make it.” She really does believe humor is her superpower. I agree.

I truly admire her ability to frame the bad and sadness with a spirit of gladness. She looks at her cup half full and believes in her core that no matter what happens to her body, humor is a CHOICE which nothing can take from her.

As she scooted her walker toward the exit, doing a little two-step soft-shoe along the way, she caught the eyes of a few nurses watching her with quizzical glances. Nana smiled at them and said, “Hey! I’m Silly Salli! It’s who I am!” Then they all started laughing with Nana’s contagious cheer.

If Nana can hang onto her humor in the battle for her life, I am challenged to unearth my sense of humor that layers of stress and hurt, emotion and angst have slowly buried in my heart over far less critical matters.

In this new year, let’s CHOOSE to find joy and happiness, laughter and lightheartedness, which are the fibers of our heart that God wove together to hold life’s ups and downs.
Let optimism and positivity shine through the darkness just like Nana did on that grey, cold day.

Even when the issue isn’t happy, we can be joyful. As believers, we’re not faking it either. After all, it’s not in our humanness that we find this power. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). It’s our CHOICE to look for and welcome the sunshine.

I pray that today, where God is shining a smile into the dark things of life, you will have eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to process and a heart to accept that even in the midst of the hard, we can lean on humor to lend us a hand out of the pit.

Lessons from Nana…Hope & Perseverance

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It was a gray, cold day as we sat in silence in the doctor’s office.
Nana wasn’t feeling well. She had a headache and was dizzy; two chronic issues with which she’s suffered her entire life.

Searching for conversation, I noted as I stared out the window how cozy the cloudy skies looked. Trying to spark a positive thought, I remarked how they make me feel blissfully sleepy and how wonderful it would be to curl up on the couch with a fuzzy blanket.

She replied, “Bleck.”

Oops, I forgot for a minute that she can’t stand overcast, cold days. My bad. And my fail as that didn’t work to uplift her spirits.

The doctor entered and we discussed her current health topics. But the overlying topic is her cancer, and it was why we were there. There’s just no good news. This type of cancer has one end. She knows it and I highly admire her strength to face it head-on.

The cancer has progressed. She’s living on borrowed time. As we sat together and the doctor did his thing, the only words I found hiding in my heart which peeked out merely as a weak whisper, overcome with empathy and enough panic for the both of us are, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

There is nothing else to say. There is nothing else we can do. For someone who likes to git ‘er done, I can’t do anything to heal her.

It’s then, as the doctor filled out paperwork and I stared awkwardly down at my shoes, she said with melancholy, “Just get me to Christmas.”

There was palatable silence in the room. A moment when the doctor paused his busyness and I gazed at the bare trees enveloped by ominous clouds. No one spoke.

But I prayed in my heart, “Amen, Lord. Let it be so. Please get Nana to Christmas.”

Her words haunt me. They won’t let me go. They’ve gripped my heart for days and I haven’t understood why. Then, God reminded me it is because they sound familiar. They feel familiar.

He led me to think about Joseph and Mary on their trek to Bethlehem. There were a couple of different routes they could have taken. Most speculate the distance was 70-100 miles which is anywhere from a 7-10 days walk. They mostly likely chose their route based on the terrain for her pregnant sake as well as the regional and social climate towards Jews where they had to pass.

It’s common thought that Mary rode on the back of a donkey. Nine months pregnant, riding on the back of a donkey, can we even begin to imagine what that was like?

I’ve ridden a mule. They are slow, but you also feel every move they make. Every bump and dip in the ground. Every shift of their weight to each of their four legs with each step. The jostling of the rider when the beast shakes the bugs from its face. The rider thrusting forward when the beast stops to eat or to itch its foot. The abrupt halts for reason or no reason at all. And the rider continually shifts their weight to counterbalance. There is constant movement between person and beast to maintain their cohesive center like a gyroscope.

It’s not a smooth ride. And to take that ride nine months pregnant, with a bladder bouncing up and down, the back and its vertebrae continually stretching and compressing, tense neck and shoulders working hard to coordinate with the legs and back, and leg muscles flexed tight to hold their grip, with the baby kicking and moving, not to mention hormones and all that comes with them – as woman who’s carried three children, I give total creds to Mary.

However, she could have also walked and used the donkey to carry their things. Given a donkey’s stubborn nature, they don’t make the best transportation. They are temperamental and unpredictable. They walk when they want, stop when they want, and let you think you’re leading. Given that, it could’ve been safer for Mary to walk. But walk all that way in her condition? Bless.
Who knows if she walked or rode? The Bible doesn’t give us those details, but we can look at cultural life at the time…and even today where donkeys are used as the baggage carrier, not the vehicle.

Either way, walking or riding 70-100 miles in one trip, fully pregnant, how many times she must have prayed under her breath, or even out loud, “God, just get me there. Get me to Bethlehem.”

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of a government-required census. The birth of Christ that we celebrate had yet to happen. And this is what Nana is hoping for…to live long enough to celebrate Christmas, the birth of her Savior, one more time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”

How hard the heart struggles to juggle the two; joyfully celebrating the birth of our Savior while feeling the tangible weight of eminent death of a loved one.
I’ve been here before, caught in a paradox of eternal life colliding with earthly death.

It was 1994 and Granddad had been suffering from lung cancer for the past three months. (It was actually the past five years, but the medical world kept reading his x-rays wrong and finally caught it…too late.) He was taken by ambulance to the ICU on December 23rd. My grandmother, husband, sister and her husband spent Christmas Eve in the ICU family waiting room taking turns to see him while obeying the hospital’s one-visitor-at-a-time rule.
We slept on the pleathor sofas and only went home to let out our dog, Molly, and feed her and our cats.

I brought Christmas paper plates and napkins, the banana bread baked for Christmas morning, and a cassette player with a cassette tape of Christmas music with me so we could somehow salvage a teeny bit of the feeling of Christmas at the hospital.

On Christmas Eve, I prayed one prayer as Granddad’s death was near. I prayed, “God, please don’t let him die on Christmas day. I don’t want his death to overshadow Christ’s birth for the rest of our lives. Please, not on Christmas.”

God answered that prayer. It was the morning after Christmas, December 26th, when the nurses rushed all of us into his room. It was time.

Suddenly, God commanded something utterly audacious of me. He told me to ask Granddad if he wanted to recommit his life to Christ, a deathbed confession of sorts. My Granddad was a good man. Giving, caring, kind. He attended church every Sunday. He tithed. He read The Upper Room devotional every single day. He blessed our meals and was an honest man.
However, I never heard him profess Christ as his Savior. Tho this wouldn’t be rare as he was a man of few words.

I deeply wrestled God with this request.
I said, “Who am I to question his faith?”
God said, “Do it.”
I pleaded, “I am the baby of the family. It’s not my place.”
God said, “Do it.”
I begged, “Please don’t ask me to do this. I’m not comfortable with this.”
He said, “You have to do it, and do it now.”
“Okay.”

So, I did.

Physically shaking and feeling like I was going to throw up, I gathered all the courage I could find in my 24 year-old self and stuttered as I searched for the words that would be both dignified and respectful to Granddad, the patriarch of our family, as he laid there unable to move or speak.

I leaned in close to him and looked into his crystal blue eyes, and with a quivering lip I asked, “Granddad, would you like to recommit your life to Christ?”
I choked back the lump in my throat and gripped my neck which was stinging with pain and stress. I said to him, “I know you can’t talk, so if you want to, just nod your head.” Then I waited with bated breath for his response. Afterall, this was God’s idea, not mine.

Shockingly, he stared back at me and nodded yes. I was stunned and speechless!

“Okay. I will pray the prayer for you out loud, and you nod your head in agreement at the end, okay?”

He nodded yes.

I gently rested my hand on his arm and prayed. I wasn’t eloquent or wordy. A simple prayer owning sin and asking for God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ’s bloodshed and death on the cross and resurrection – all confessing he is our Lord. Amen.

Granddad nodded in agreement and within moments…he died.

I felt sick to my stomach and relieved at the same time. My insecurities almost made me refuse to do what God was asking. But thankfully God chases after us and won’t let us go like the Good Father he is when he draws his children close.

The emotions of that Christmas bring back mixed memories. But they also remind me that God answered my prayer of waiting until the day after Christmas to call Granddad home.

I’m thinking about Mary and how she must have prayed to make it to Bethlehem so her baby could be born in a proper place – though little did she know there’d be nothing proper about a stable for animals as Christ’s first nursery.

Yet, who defines proper? We can’t understand how our King could be allowed to be born among the animals and their waste. However, if that is the starting point to his life on this earth, then with whom can’t Jesus relate? Who is beyond his understanding? For whom would he not have compassion?

And as only God can orchestrate, Mary, Granddad and my mother-in-law are woven together in the salvation trifecta of life, death, and death after life.

Only God can create a way for life and death to coexist and give Hope a voice amidst the longest journeys, scariest moments and darkest hours.

Hope fuels Perseverance. It gave strength to Mary mile-after-mile. It gave Granddad the will to wait for one last prayer. It gives my mother-in-law the courage to suffer until Christmas so she can participate in the joy of the One who makes everyday worth living. The One for whom we would give our lives. The One who will raise us to eternal life at our last earthly breath.

Christ is our eternal hope. He is the reason for perseverance. He was these for Mary, he is for us, and he is for my mother-in-law.

Where the doctors give us no good news for Nana’s prognosis, we hang on to the Good News that cannot be governed by the laws of nature.

Read Luke 2:8-11 with me. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (emphasis mine).

Mary cradled the Good News in her arms. Grandad clung to the Good News in his last breaths. Nana fights to celebrate the Good News one more time on earth before seeing Jesus in eternity.

What are you hoping for this Christmas? Why are you persevering through the days leading up to it?

Perhaps you are hoping to make it TO Christmas. But perhaps you’re hoping to make it THROUGH Christmas. Perhaps you are at peace with either, if you can only persevere in the meantime.

Is your prayer for life like Mary’s, or regarding death like mine? Is it somewhere in the vast myriad between the two?

In this season of hope, I encourage you to persevere. No matter the journey you’re asked to travel, circumstances beyond your control, or news you must accept, may the hope of Christ sustain your heart. May perseverance breathe life into your soul.
May both refocus our attention on why we are celebrating the News that is GOOD All. The. Time. 

 

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.👊🏻💪🏻💝