Monday, December 9, 2013

{day 17) Is the suffering worth it?

Is the suffering worth it?

To fight for the chance to live
Even if that day is not given?

Is that suffering worth it?

Oh...the decisions to be made
The goodbyes to be said.

Surrender, fight, suffer
Our good, His glory
I don't claim to know how it works

Have mercy on us, O Lord

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I wrote these lines about the days that decisions needed to be made about my father-in-laws treatment in the hospital last fall while he was still in the ICU. When you are making the decisions, you don't know what the outcome will be, how much longer they will live or not live, or what their quality of life will be if they do live. What difficult days. The situation has opened a fresh look at suffering for me; here I have simply tipped the iceberg with questions of fighting, surrender, saying goodbye, and the value of suffering

I haven't delved much deeper because I don't have a satisfying answer to the question. I know a theological answer to the question but I also want to address the human, emotionally raw side. If one raises the theological side too soon for those still raw, it feels like salt in the wound. Where, sometimes, the exact same answer or thought can be a healing balm.

In the end, God did have mercy on us: we did not have to decide about life support or withholding at a treatment for my father-in-law. I am so thankful for that mercy. It is a severe mercy, though, but mercy none-the-less. And the David Crowder song that I posted here comes to mind and also the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Van Auken.

Death is not easy. We walk in its shadows but know that the sun does shine. There is laughter and hope and fun in the midst of these times, too. That, too, is a mercy: it is not all sadness.
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. I Peter 5:10-11
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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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{day 18} Walking in the shadow of death

Walking in the shadow of death.
We are definitely doing that now since my father-in-law died.
But it is so interesting because I have been wanting to write about a post about walking in the shadow of death since last fall when my father-in-law's health crisis began.

I didn't really know how to write about it. Because it didn't FEEL valid because he was ALIVE not dead so how could it be that we walked in the valley of the shadow of death? Or at least it didn't feel grateful to speak of walking in the valley when he was alive. But truly, we lingered many days in the In-Between looking at oxygen levels. Doctors telling us, 'This is no longer ethical." and "We didn't think we would get this far." It was the looming shadow of death then, now it is the shadow cast after death.

Now, that he is gone, I know that we experienced a miracle.

If you look at the pictures from last year when he was in the hospital to the days before he died, you can visibly see the miracle that we experienced. God gave life. God gave Clarence the determination and will to live. He gave each one of us with a part -- the part at the right time whether it was a doctor, a nurse,or  a sibling who was the one to make the call to intervene,  or to be pushy, or to ask that question about that procedure. God used many hands to bring about the miraculous

Today, a little over one month after the death of my father-in-law, it feels valid to say that we have been walking in the valley of the shadow of death. I picture big mountains that cast shadows.

Last year we lived in the cold, looming shadow of death before my father-in-law actually crossed the line of death. Often it was cold, looming, dark, unknown, and definitely unwanted. We had  reprieve. We experienced miracles. There were the long miracles. It is amazing to see where he came from to where he was just days before he died: Days of hope, progress, and sunshine as we celebrated his 80th birthday with a pirate cake with my 8 year-old son, right before he died.

I still feel somewhat in shock that he is gone. I have been in the throes of details -- planning funerals, helping my husband, and dealing with a rear-end fender bender. I have never known the solace of being busy in the midst of grief. It has not been my role previously. It feels quite like an ill-fitting garment.

I feel so unfocused. I really wanted to focus this post, this writing on the shadow of death. But in the darkness the pathway of grief seems so dark. It is hard to describe. Much of the pathway is borne alone, especially for my mother-in-law.

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The shadow of death
Mountains high
Looming clouds
The pathway winds around to heights he cannot see
The pathway leads down
He went up
We linger down here in the shadows
Cold, lonely
But we know that he is walking without his walker
Swallowing without trouble
Eating icecream and beef
Talking with no trouble of all
Worshipping his savior
And we linger here in the shadows
It will be sunny again
There has already been warm spots
The warm hugs of caring friends
Food for many
Plants, flowers, prayers, well-wishes
Trumpet calls, flag given
Speeches given

Yet the valley loomed large
We walked in its shadows long before he breathed his last breath
The coldness of the shadows

The need to remember
Not to fear
For He is with us

He was with him in the ICU
With her staring out the window
With us and the stove light on
And the hospital calling saying they intubated him again

We felt the long, cold shadows of death
Death of the grave
Long before
The sting of the last breath

But for now, for him
He taken the last great leap of faith
His faith has become sight

He is holding my child, his grandchild
They wait for us
And one day we will sing together
Great songs of our redemption story
Oh the glories far surpass the trials of now

But for now,
We look through papers
And settle estates
And wish he was here

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Click HERE to read other 31 Dayers who are also taking the 31 Day challenge.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

{day 16} How things change in a moment

My how things change in a moment. I was over here writing the lessons I learned while my father-in-law was in the hospital. My three-post series on the Gift of Deep Submission was immensely gratifying, yet difficult, to write. Not because it has had the most hits on my blog but because in the process, I extracted from difficult days a jewel lesson for my own life.

Part of the journey yet to be written about is the path of  haltering and faltering days I would take weeks and months after my father-in-law Clarence was home. In the quiet moments after daily trips to the hospital were no longer required or bi-weekly visits to my in-law's home were not required, I would struggle with the immensity of what we had been through. People watched from afar. 'Those Jaegers they are soaring through this trial.' But, God is the one with the eagle's wings. He did the soaring. We were just along for the ride.

When He set me down on the ground, I needed to learn to walk without my flying legs. I felt lost. I wasn't where I was. Everything felt different. I knew I was changed but yet basic faith elements seemed difficult. At times I wanted to cry out-- 'Didn't all you bystanders see how hard it was? This trial we've been through?'  I'm not sure who I thought those bystanders were. I didn't direct my blame towards God but, in clarity of hindsight and acknowledging God's sovereignty perhaps my actions were denoting that I thought my way was hidden from God. Yet, God is good and kind and gracious with those of us He made from dust into His image. God reminded me to remember Him. Remember all the instances that He revealed His hands and His feet to us through real people showing up at just the right time. He reminded me of answered prayers.

But, oh my poor soul, it was still so downcast within me. It was work to praise the Lord. We had had about five months of non-crisis when I read about the challenge to write 31 blog posts on the same topic. I knew that I wanted to write The Clarence Chronicles. It was a series that had been in my head and this was just the challenge to get me to write them down. I wanted to remember the lessons He taught me and my family.

I knew it would be difficult for me to post every single day for 31 days. As the month went on and I became further and further behind, it became obvious I would not publish 31 posts in 31 days but I decided that I would just keep plugging away and continue writing the message even if it went past the end of the month.

Yet, I didn't expect things to change so dramatically about my very blog topic. Saturday, October 26th, would be the last day that my family would see Papa Clarence alive. We gave him presents. He looked radiant. He told us about the physical therapy he was doing and how they were helping him gain his balance. We felt encouraged that he would again be able to walk without a walker.

Three days later, he would be dead.We don't know exactly what happened. My mother-in-law found him at the bottom of the steps. She tried to resuscitate him, called 911, and worked until the emergency workers took over. They took him by ambulance to the hospital and he was gone.Gone from home, gone from us until we join him.

It has been a shocking time, especially after a year of hope, prayers, and progress. I am thankful that our last memories were lovely one.

I will still write of the lessons learned but I will be writing from a new place.

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Birthday Boys {day 15}

Clarence turned 80 on Tuesday, a much better birthday this year than last year. Jack turned 8 on Friday. They have often shared their birthday celebrations, including four pirate cakes. We are rejoicing that God spared Clarence's life last year and has brought him to such a place of health. Jack shares his grandpa's middle name, may he also inherit his determination, fun, integrity, and his love for family and for God.

Last year on his birthday, Clarence was in the ICU. I distinctly remember a nurse asking him if he was having a nice birthday. He shook his head vigorously 'no' because he couldn't speak due to the trach in his throat. My oldest son made him a cardboard cake. His friends from church sent him a big banner that they had all signed. One of his sons coordinated a call to him when we were there in the ICU so that we could speak on Clarence's behalf.

Clarence is so radiant in the picture from yesterday. He is a living, walking, talking miracle. He is still recouping from all that happened to him last year. Yet, we rejoice and are thankful for these days.

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare His praise? Psalm 106:1-2

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oh, how He loves us {day 14 }

When my husband found this tree root, I was so excited, not just for its shape but also because it reminded me of one of my favorite songs: Oh How He Loves by David Crowder.

In the beginning of the song he describes God's love so strong that it is bending us over like a tree in a hurricane. The words describe so much of how I felt. Bent over but then the afflictions being eclipsed by His glory and His reminders of His love for me.

In the season of 2012 of being asked to be poured out for others through emergency foster care and a long-term hospital stay, I almost felt crushed by the circumstances but God revealed Himself in ways unshakeable and obviously Him.

How could it be that I felt like breaking and also felt deeply and immensely loved deeply at the same time? 

This song describes that for me. It brings tears to my eyes as it touches the deep down soul parts of me and the work that God has been doing in my heart lately.

Here is the song.....I love this striped down version of him with a guitar in the K-Love studio if you want to skip the talking intro, the music starts one minute in.

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done 
but according to His mercy, He saved us." 
Titus 3:5 KJV

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

{day 13} 'Not my will but Yours be done' Part 3 of 3

Around the bend we have come, from DNR* to morning exercises, Kip's dad had made a turn-around in the span of 24 hours. Another answered prayer. Joy came to us that morning after the night's weeping but we still didn't have all the answers.

Kip stayed at the hospital most of the day on Saturday, talking with therapists and doctors. It seemed like more than the usual amount of activity for a weekend. Yet, the family waited for the results of the biopsy and whether or not 'the game changer' had arrived.

On Sunday night at our family prayer time, I heard my husband pray, "Father, we desire Grandpa to be healed. My father is willing to submit to you, O Lord, and so I must follow in his example." A silent tear slowly crossed my daughter Meagan's cheek.

What I didn't know when I  saw that tear falling across my merciful-hearted one was that she had been a witness. Grandpa, who couldn't speak due to the trach** in his throat, had typed on his iPad during Meagan & Kip's visit earlier in the day, "I always pray 'Not my will but Yours be done.'"

It was a gift: this call to submit to God's ways. Sometimes He just acts, whether or not we like it. He doesn't ask our permission or explain His ways. But in this case, He gave us time to unclench our fists and release Clarence into His hands. He gave us time to finally pray, "Not our will but Yours be done."
I thought we were releasing him. I thought God, in His kindness, was calling Clarence home and preparing our hearts.

Yet, God's ways are not our ways. I was ready for what I thought God was doing. Instead, God was calling me to walk by faith, not by sight. The path remained the same, with its unexpected twists and turns.

Peace wasn't in smooth circumstances or a clearly defined path; it was in Him.

 That was the gift that He delivered that weekend: peace. Himself. Not a miracle. Not instant healing. Not a way out of suffering. He gave us Himself. "He Himself is our peace," Ephesians 2:14.

It is in the reflecting and recounting that I see this now -- the deep peace, the communion with Him -- was enough when the circumstances were dire.  I don't know if we recognized it then but that's okay. That day's charge was to walk the path in front of us. We did. Part of this day's charge is to remember that gift of peace when I submit fully to God. And submit this day like I did that day.

The path stayed uncertain for quite sometime. Yet, we were more okay with it. I see that now. We submitted to the Prince of Peace and received a peace that the world does not give.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33
*DNR means Do Not Resuscitate **trach means tracheostomy
Click here to read Part I of The Call to Deep Submission or here for Part II
Click here to read all the posts from the beginning.

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

(day 12} The Gift of Deep Submission part 2

If you missed part I, you may want to read here first.

And so, we discovered that after 51 days in the hospital, Clarence had given up and was done trying. It was too much.

The medical roller coaster is tough -- ups and downs -- unexpected twists and turns. The waiting. All along there are questions of what to do. Each of us wants to do more -- the wife, the kids, the friends. Yet, no matter what we do, we still feel powerless because what he really needs is help breathing.

It seems like you should be at the hospital more. Ask more questions. Do something. But how long can you ask the children to stay in the lobby 'trying' to do their school work? Laundry needs doing. Bills need to be paid. And honestly, we all just need a break from the hospital scenery.

But, truly, the one in the crucible -- in this story it is Clarence -- doesn't get a break. Nor does his spouse. Because they are, after all,  "one flesh" of almost 50 years.

Still, we wonder if we could do something more. Did we give permission at the right time? We knew that if he lived, the interventions were all worth it. But what if we gave permission for all these interventions, and he didn't live? Questions lingered. Hope was walking a tightrope. It hadn't fallen, yet.

But this request from Clarence to no longer be resuscitated caused the hope to wobble hard. Did he have some inner knowing sign in his body that it was time? Time to face the inevitable? 

And so on this hardest of days and nights, we asked again for prayer. We received it, just like in the beginning when we truly began to intercede and also asked others to intercede on Clarence's behalf. As soon as we asked others to pray, more peace arrived in the midst of the up and downs. There was the anointing oil and the healing prayers.

This night we needed it, especially my husband Kip because he was sent to stay with Papa. Kay spent the night with their mom. I with my children. No one was alone.

Kip had never seen his  tough, determined father this discouraged before. Kip spent time straightening out details, such as the fact that Clarence had only been in the hospital for seven weeks and not six months. He showed him how much he had improved and how much he had to live for. I don't know what else he said to him or how the conversation went down.

But I know that in the morning Kip awoke between 4 and 5 a.m. to the sound of his dad doing exercises in his bed. "Weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning" was witnessed. He was such a different man that next day. So different that I felt a little crazy like I had dreamed up the drama of the day before.

 Weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning.

This was so true in this case. We rejoiced. We were a long ways from home, hope still felt fragile. But the sun was shining and our hearts were no longer quite as heavy as they had been the day before. The gift of deep submission was still around the bend. The best was yet to come. The path wasn't easy but it was worth it.
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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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The Hardest Day or the Gift of Deep Submission (Part I) {day 11}

It was a gift. A gift of deep submission. "Not my will but yours be done."

Now, gift & submission do not normally go together in my book. Yet, today as I went on a thirty-minute walk and reflected on our family's journey last year, specifically my father-in-law being in the hospital for 128 days when we thought he would be in & out in two days, now I saw the call to deep submission as a gift.

Not everyone is given time to submit. Sometimes the trial is thrust upon you whether you submit to it or not. Ready or not, here it comes.

The gift of submission was given to us on The Hardest Day. Well, that makes sense, doesn't it? Because submission is never easy. We had been in the trial -- on the crucible -- for quite some time.

It was late enough into the Trial of Hospital Visits that the car could've driven to the hospital by itself. I was comfortable with my way around the hospital. So much so that one day two different people asked me if I worked there.  They didn't believe me when I said no. So obviously, I looked comfortable around those parts.

When I walked into my father-in-law's room that day, there was evidence of blood in his lungs and in his urine.My mother-in-law always had the doctor's talk to one of 'us kids.' Today it was my turn.. The doctor was concerned that,  in addition to the complications of his surgery, he might also have lung cancer.

"This is a game changer." It was also Friday. The earliest we would know the results of the biopsy would be Monday. 

My mother-in-law had just sat down in the lobby. I was opening my mouth to tell her what the doctor had told me about the potential lung cancer when Clarence's nurse walked up. He told us that Clarence had repeatedly requested to not be resuscitated today. The nurse told us that he had reassured Clarence that that is exactly what he would do, but to us he said, "Clarence has a full code on his chart. Legally, I am bound to resuscitate him."

He encouraged us to have a family discussion.

My mother-in-law and I looked at one another. I told her about the potential of lung cancer. The two of us went into his room to ask the dreaded question. The bright sunshine filling the room contrasted with the heaviness we felt in our hearts.

She paced awhile. He looked like he was asleep. She spoke, "You awake?" He communicated that he was.

She paced some more. "Kathleen, I don't know how to do this."

"Tell him what the nurse told us. Ask him if it's true."

She sat down. She took his hand and finally asked him if he'd asked not to be resuscitated. He vigorously shook his head, "Yes." She collapsed her head on his chest and wailed, "Oh Clarence, how can I?"

Tears streamed down my face. I don't remember much more of what we did after she asked the question. I do know that eventually we got up, left the room, and made a game plan. She wanted to call her only daughter, Kay, and asked me to call her five sons, including my husband.

This was My Hardest Day. It would be my husband's Hardest Night. And it would eventually lead us all to the deep gift of submission and the best gift of all in the mighty sea of medical unknowns.

 "Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. "
Psalm 30:5
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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Spared from sorrow upon sorrow {day 10}

This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

God answered a prayer, just for her {day 9}

My eleven-year-old daughter wanted to see her grandpa. He had been in the ICU for 12 days. She was only eleven and had to be at least twelve to visit on that floor. He had been improving but after being off the ventilator for two days, he was now back on it.

From all that was being spoken and unspoken, she correctly discerned that Grandpa might die. No one was saying it, but she knew.

So she prayed.

She prayed not just for his healing but also that she would be able to see him.

Three days later, he had improved enough to be in a regular room. She was busying playing with her cousins that were in-town the first day so she didn't see him then. The following day, we were able to visit him after her sister's choir concert.

What a praise that she was able to see her grandpa. I remember her saying to him, "I love you, grandpa." He grunted back, "I love you, too." It made tears come to my eyes.

Shortly after this, though, she also saw them wheel him back to the ICU.We called Kip's mom to tell her the bad news. She took it really hard. We all took it really hard. I remember Kip & his brother consulting with the doctor to put him back in the ICU. I remember not being able to smile at all as we walked out of the hospital that night.

Yet, months later I discovered that this huge set-back to the rest of us was a huge faith-building moment for her. Actually because he was moved right after she saw him, she felt like the Lord had very specifically answered her prayer. He was in a regular room long enough for her prayer to be answered.

She says this caused her to feel confident that God was in-control and that no matter what happened, it would be okay. 

Okay. Wow. That day. That weekend. It was a hard weekend. In hindsight, it seemed premature for him to move and that we 'should' have known better to advocate something different for him? Yet, it has increased my daughter's faith to see the hand of God intercede so specifically on her behalf. An answered prayer, just for her.

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

A cheerful heart is good medicine {day 8}

Last Halloween, {day 48 of Clarence's hospital stay} the kids dressed up and visited Papa. It was super nice to bring some holiday cheer to him. The hospital routine -- the drive, the parking lot, the elevators --  had become our new normal. Therefore, it was quite natural to include papa in our fun.
A cheerful heart is good medicine. Proverbs 17:22
Click here to read {day 9}
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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Seeing with new eyes {day 7}

When I was five years old, I often went to the nursing home with my mom to visit my grandmother. Strange, humped over people tried to touch me as we walked to my grandmother's room.

"Why do they do that?" I would ask.

"Because they like children," said my mom.

Her answer confused me. If they liked children, why were they doing something that frightened me? Don't they know that children don't like strangers trying to reach out and grab them? This did not make sense.

Once we arrived at my grandmother's room, I would usually talk with her roommate because grandmother just scowled and fussed. She didn't seem to know me. My mom would tell me that she didn't feel good. On the other hand, her cheerful roommate would  insisted that I take a piece of her candy. I would be excited  but it never tasted good.

"It's sugarless, diabetic candy, "  my mom would tell me. It was a strange place this nursing home.

For years, I stayed away from nursing homes. Those experiences left a bad taste in my mouth except that it cause me to admire friends who worked in them.

Last December, we toured a nursing home/rehab center. We hoped it would be a short-term stay and the last step to enable my father-in-law Clarence togo home.

Emotions flowed through me. Memories, thankfulness, and tension fought for the center stage of my heart.

I was thankful that my husband and mother-in-law were the ones making the decision. I was just with them. We were all thankful that Clarence was finally off the ventilator, laughing, talking, breathing. Yet, a transition to another facility caused us some angst. He had to leave the facility that he was at but he wasn't quite ready to come home. He was still at risk. Would this facility provide the care he needed for him to improve?

In the midst of this, the memories of those early childhood visits to the nursing home came back to me. I realized that I wasn't frightened any longer. The residents no longer seemed like strange, humped over people.

I saw them with new eyes. Even though I didn't know them, I saw them as people with stories, with history, with wisdom. They may not even be able to tell their stories anymore because they've lost the ability to communicate but I know, simply by their age, that they have walked a long path.

I knew this now because I no longer saw Clarence the same way. His outer appearance didn't truly reflect the man of integrity, determination, and faith that he is.

My children cried the first time they visited him because he didn't look like grandpa. It is hard to see a loved one suffer. But as the days wore on, and at times looked less like himself, I admired him more and more. His true character was not in his appearance.

As I walked through the halls of the nursing home last December, I realized that almost daily visits to the hospital for more than three months had changed me. I knew -- in a way that I didn't before -- that appearance does not equal character. 
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseens is eternal." II Corinthians 4: 17-18

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

He stood for the Star Spangled Banner {day 6}

He stood up for the Star Spangled Banner. I looked around. Nobody noticed. I wanted to shout and draw attention to the man who was standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, everyone was standing. But there should have been a standing ovation for this man.

Something significant was happening in the midst of this concert crowd. I wanted to dance. To cry. To applaud. To point.

Instead, I simply stood.

This was his first outing in five months. After four months in the hospital and one month home. At this point, he had only been out of the house for doctor's visits. His first social outing was a choir concert of his granddaughter who was singing in the Nashville Children's Choir.

He stood up from the wheelchair in his vest and with a smile. He steadied himself on the arms of his wife and daughter. He stood. Evidence that God does answer prayer. Not the path we asked for but thankful for the mercy received.

I wonder how many times we miss the greatness in our midst. The truly heroic vicotries in the lives of people around us. What a victory for him to be standing in the midst of the crowd as just another audience member instead of the central focus of an ICU room. Instead of being center stage of a Caring Bridge website. Here he was just another proud grandparent in a sea of proud grandparents.

I wanted to mark time. I wanted to announce to the room filled with people that there they were, experiencing a miracle, an answer to prayer right here, right here in their midst.

Yet, I didn't do that. But there was One who saw. And that is what matters. I didn't need the world to see. We had needed God to see in the middle of the night when the hospital would call to say they put him back on the ventilator. Again. Or that they needed to give him blood. Or when we gathered around his bed to pray before we left the room. Or when we asked the doctor another question. The God who sees.

That is the main lesson that I've been learning this season. He is a God Who Sees in order to provide our needs. That same God who sees our needs sees a man standing up from his wheelchair, steadying himself on the arms of his wife and daughter.

And I am learning to be content that He sees. I don't need to announce it to the world. To the concert-goers around him. He is the God who Sees him stand, and sees me take note.

May the Glory all go to Him. Amen.

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This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

A taste of normal in a sea of unknowns {day 5}

Stuff scattered about drives me crazy. My children know this about me. My mother might be surprised to know this because she kept my bedroom door shut so that she wouldn't "have to look at that mess."

Now I will straighten up a room. It's become habit to tidy-up and to serve others.

Several weeks into this long hospital journey, I remember getting ready to leave Clarence in the ICU. I looked at his tray. A notebook, a pen, his glasses, and some newspapers were scattered about the tray. I thought, "I should straighten this up.The nurses will need some space on here later."

Yet, I distinctly remember one day that I decided not to straighten stuff. On purpose.

It caught me off-guard to prefer this scattering of stuff over neat & tidy, especially with a task that would be helpful and take less than two minutes.

Why was the urge so strong? Why did it feel more comfortable to leave a mess than to clean it up?

Because the mess felt normal.

It looked more like an end table in a cozy living room than a place to set down medicines in an ICU room.

Those scattered newspapers gave sign that life as we used to know it still existed somewhere. A mess of newspapers instead of medicine bottles.

A scattered newspapers brought hope that maybe -- just maybe -- life might resume. Yet, the questions lingered: would he return home to read the mail and bother his wife again? Would he breathe on his own again? Was all of this worth it?

We waited. A lot. That day was a quiet day. One with no visible changes.

A tiny seed was planted through a scattered newspaper that just maybe Clarence would read the newspaper at home, leave it about, and bother his wife again. Perhaps life would return to the old normal?

Was it worth it? Would he be okay:? Would he get off the ventilator eventually? I didn't know the answers to any of those questions. But I did know that that day it felt really great to leave a newspaper scattered about on a tray.

It was little taste of normal. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for is God's will for you in  Christ Jesus." II Thessalonians 5:16-18

* * *
This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

* * *

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fun in the ICU? {day 4}

"A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." 
Proverbs 17:22

Is it possible to have fun in the ICU? When life hangs in the balance, it doesn't even seem like this should be a question. How can fun even be a part of such a somber, trying experience? Yet, laughter is is an important part of the healing journey for both the patient and the care-givers, given appropriate moments.

Laughter brings stress relief. Laughter brings perspective. Laughter bonds us together.

Laughter is good medicine.
* * *
This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
 Click HERE to read Day 1 and to link to all the posts in this series.

* * *

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Clarence Chronicles: The Anointing of Oil {day 3 of 31}

"I put lotion on his forehead and that seemed to satisfy him," said the ICU nurse to my husband and I. We smiled at the news.

Peace filled the room. It was more than the low level of lighting and the slower pace of the evening shift. We felt the peace, especially from Clarence himself.

At this point in the Clarence Chronicles, it is Day 19 or 20 in the hospital. The previous Sunday, our family attended our oldest daughter's first choir concert, which was also a church service. The pastor spoke on James 5:13-16:

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up."

I felt convicted that we needed to do this. So did my youngest daughter. Even though he was improving and had finally moved from the ICU to a regular room two days ago, we felt convinced that the sermon was hand-picked for us. What we didn't know -- but God did-- is that Clarence would return to the ICU that evening, one of many deep disappointments.

Yet, even after he returned to the ICU, we pressed on and asked Clarence's pastor to come, pray, and anoint Clarence with oil. He did as we requested and brought two elders with him. The three of them anointed Clarence with oil and prayed for him.

After this, Clarence insisted that it was the 'prayer healing oil' that was helping him improve. It was what made him insist that he needed more of it and the nurse put some lotion on his forehead to satisfy him.  Peace spilled over from Clarence and into the room.

We had heard the Word of God. We had obeyed. We had asked. We had prayed. Just like any other medical crisis, we did not know upcoming twists and turns of the journey. Yet we had peace. We could see the peace in Clarence, too. What a treasure!

* * *
This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

* * *

Have you ever experienced the deep peace of God in an unknown circumstance that was the result of direct obedience to Scripture? I would love to hear your stories, too.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Breathing In and Breathing Out {day 2}

A perspective from a year ago in October (2012) : 
Breathing in & breathing out
Something I have often taken for granted.
Actually most every single breath of my life, I have taken for granted.
I have always assumed the next one would be there.

My father-in-law has been struggling for breath for over 6 weeks now. On & off the ventilator 5 times. As I run,  I am so thankful for my knees to be working again. In January there were days that I worried if I would walk without pain again. I worried that I may never able to run again. Now as I run again, my lungs struggle to keep up. I breathe deep. I ask God to help my father-in-law to breathe.

I run along.
Hope & pray
Three minute run.
One minute walk.
I am so glad to be walking & running & bending my knee.

Now I'm hoping he will learn to breathe on his own again
 I pray. I hope.
With each of my own breaths
I struggle, I breathe
May my father-in-law also breathe


Breathing in & breathing out on my run
Deep breaths that my father-in-law is struggling to take on his own
For more than 6 weeks now
He has struggled to breathe in various degrees

So many things I have taken for granted.
So many.
Too many.
As I run on rehabed legs, as I breathe deep into my lungs
Lord, please help Clarence breathe. Amen.

Six weeks and counting....
Breathing In & Breathing Out

"...He Himself gives everyone life and breath..." Acts 17:25

* * *
This is part of the 31 Day series: 
The Clarence Chronicles: Lessons of Faith from the ICU
Click HERE to read Day 1, which links to all the posts in this series.

* * *

Click HERE to read other 31 Dayers who are also taking the 31 Day challenge.
Click HERE to read Imperfect Prose with Emily.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

31 Days of Stories of Faith from the ICU {day 1)

Okay, okay, okay.... sometimes I am a dive-in, take-a-challenge sort of gal. Sometimes I make it. Sometimes that water you feel is due to my giant belly flop. Well, today I am diving into The Nester's Challenge to write for 31 days on the same topic.  For a gal that hasn't posted in a month, it seems like an unrealistic challenge-- one destined for a flop.

Yet, I feel compelled to write because the stories must be captured -- I must record the faithfulness of God to our family during our unexpected journey in & out of the Intensive Care Unit.

Last September, my father-in-law had a tumor removed from his brain stem. That began a four-month journey in three different hospitals and one rehab unit.

That time marked our family. We learned deep lessons of submission, prayer, neediness, and comfort.

I will share the comfort  that God Himself gave us -- through lasagnas, prayers, songs, costumes, annointing oil and many other ways -- to encourage you in the trial that God may have you going through for it says in II Corinthians 1:4 that He comforted us, "so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

There is comfort. There is hope. At times, there is even laughter. Every story is different. The endings are not all the same, yet there is hope for every weary heart in a trial.

May the words written posted on my blog and in the comments over the next 31 days encourage, inspire, and stir each of us to press on toward the upward call in Jesus Christ.

Come back for more stories of faith, family & fun. Bookmark this page because I'll link each post right here as it goes live to use as a handy-dandy reference guide.

{Day 1} Intro (this post) to The Clarence Chronicles
{Day 2} Breathing In & Breathing Out
{Day 3} The Anointing of Oil
{Day 4} Fun in the ICU? 
{Day 5} A taste of normal  
{Day 6} He stood for the Star Spangled Banner 
(Day 7) Seeing with new eyes
(Day 8) A cheerful heart is good medicine
{Day 9} God answered a prayer, just for her 
{Day 10} Spared from Sorrow Upon Sorrow
{Day 11} The Hardest Day or The Gift of Deep Submission 
{Day 12} The Gift of Deep Submission Part II 
{Day 13} Not my will, but Yours be done Part 3 of 3
{Day 14} Oh how He loves
{Day 15} Birthday Boys 
{Day 16} How things change in a moment
{Day 17) Is suffering worth it? 
{Day 18} Walking In the Valley of the Shadow
(Day 19} The One Thing I Miss From Crisis


Hospital gowns & gloves make a  fun picture!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jumping off a cliff

When I began our journey of homeschooling, I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. Before I jumped, I spent time reading, researching, and finding a plan. Then I jumped.

That was 9 years ago. We are beginning our 10th year of home schooling and also our first year in high school.

It feels a bit like jumping off a cliff again.

It doesn't feel like the first time I ever jumped off a cliff. Nor does it feel quite like beginning to homeschool. But it seems similar. I remember jumping off the cliff. I remember the uncertainty. I remember the rush of jumping, falling, and then hitting the water. Once I was down in the water, I thought, "That wasn't so bad. It was fun!"

But tell that to the person on the top of the cliff (or the high diving board) who is trying to get up enough nerve to jump off. The emotions, the nerve, the perspective at the top of the cliff is very different than your perspective from the water after you have jumped.

"It's not that bad."

"You're making a bigger deal than it needs to be."

Both of which may be true. But neither of those statements  help get my feet off the ground.

Perhaps it would be better to say, "I know it's hard but you can do it."

At some point, you must simply decide to do it and jump in.

And so, I have been making plans, charting courses, checking out college requirements, and state high school requirements.  At some point, I just need to trust my gut. Set aside the concerns about the risks, the worry about not being prepared enough. Sometimes people get hurt when they jump. True. Yet sometimes they have fun when they do it again and again and again. (Just ask my kids. The weekend we camped with the cliffs that are pictured; they jumped off the cliffs again and again and again. No one got hurt that weekend. And it is a favorite camping weekend memory.)

So, go ahead and jump. Really it's okay.

And so I -- we --will

 on into

We really did jump off these cliffs!
..  this thing called homeschooling high school. 

Ready or not. Here we come.

Trusting that it will be fun. Can't wait to be down in the water encouraging others to jump in. It's much easier from down there. Don't ya' think?

Anyone else joining me? Anyone else in a season of jumping into something new? What encouragement do we have for one another?

Love, Kathleen

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For days we feel like crying...

Today my heart has been raw again. I have felt like crying almost all day long. My heart is tender. Another layer has been unwrapped. This hope. This nervousness. The anxiety. The gratitude. It is all mixed up together.

This stripping away of what is important and what isn't. I am so thankful for lollipops. He can have lollipops. Flavor in his mouth. A few months ago he was begging just for an ice chip and to go home. He could have neither.

Now, he can have ice chips. Lollipops and popsicles. And he is content. And I am so thankful that he is alive. He is breathing. His mind is with us. It is him. And yet, all he can have is an ice chip here and there. He can't even swallow his own saliva. And I am grateful. And yet, there is nothing easy about that.

I am not ungrateful. He is breathing his own oxygen. He is pushing air out of his lungs and the mark goes up. Two months ago, "it was stuck." But he didn't have the lung strength to even move it.

There was the middle of the night phone call. Being put back on the ventilator. The middle of the night phone call. The light on. Intubated five times. Finally moving from one hospital to the next. Wanting to hope that they could help. was hard to keep hoping.

Hard to keep hoping when he would improve and then get worse. Hard to keep on hoping. And yet here we are still hoping. He is still here with us. And we are so grateful.

Yet, what a hard road. Intubated five times. MRSA. Pnuemonia. Tracheostomy. Wanting to die. Wanting him to wake up. Wanting him to speak. He speaks. He has woken up. He sends me email. He laughs at our jokes. And tries to do the chicken dance with us.

And today. I feel like crying. And crying. Perhaps it is for all the tears that my husband hasn't cried. We talk about how I cry for him. It is for the days when he thought he was dying. And the day he wanted to die because it was just too much. And it is crying because God has spared his life. And we can talk to him. And he can talk to us. And God has helped him be content. I've watched a man willing submit to what God has for him.

I thought we were submitting and the Lord would take him to his heavenly home. But that has  not been the road. So far. Not yet. As I read in Beowulf, "Death awaits us all." Not exactly comforting words but true. None of us know how many days that we have. And really we don't know how many more days he will have.

My father-in-law would type that he was ready to have coffee with Jesus.

He is improving. He is walking. He is working an exercise bike. He is breathing without oxygen. So why do I want to cry all day? He is moving to the next step of rehab. He is getting closer every day to going home.

Maybe I cry because he spent his birthday and Thanksgiving in the hospital. And Saturday is his 50th wedding anniversary. They were suppose to polka together. He is close. Maybe he will polka again. Maybe it is because he has suffered greatly. Maybe it's because he tells his granddaughter I love you.

I don't know exactly why I cry. Except that God is at work. He is making my heart much more tender. I am not bitter. I am tired. I am thankful for even this trial. God has worked so mightily. And I am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed.

So overwhelmed that my heart can barely even comprehend the tragedy in Connecticut. I have a 7 year old boy in the first grade here in TN. And I can't even imagine the grief that is overtaking. My heart was already full right here. In my own world. I just can't even imagine the stunned, overwhelming grief that is being experienced there. My heart aches for them, too.

And so I cry.

* * * 
I wrote this post last December. It is 8 months later today when I post this. My father-in-law was recovering from brain surgery at the time. Three hospitals, one rehab center and four months after the intial surgery (and about a month after I wrote the original post) he went home. He still has trouble swallowing his saliva but he eats on his own! Plus he's been directing an addition that is being put on their home.

I still have days where I struggle with sadness which I believe is left-over from the last few years. Today is one of those days. But this post was much better written than what I can compose today.

* * *
May it encourage someone else that they are not alone. There are days when we all feel like crying. Perhaps it is just left-over sadness. Thanks for letting me share some of it today with you.
Love, Kathleen

Linking with Jen & Emily this week.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to help in crisis Or how salsa found a ministry

Did you know that salsa has a ministry? If you love salsa like I do, you probably already know that. One of the best things I've learned through our recent crisis craziness of 2012 is how to minister to others. This is due entirely to the way so many have ministered to us and loved us really, really well.

Have you ever wondered what you could do to help someone in crisis? What do they need? Me, too. I have often been paralyzed to help because I didn't know what to do. Often the person in crisis doesn't know what they need either.  I often have not been brave enough to do anything. Those missed opportunities make me sad.

Now, I realize that I could help by doing something small. Do something in proportion to your relationship with them. Yet, the better you know someone, the better you can love them. It can be an email or a card in the mail.

Offer what you can do for them. "I'm going to the grocery store or running errands today. Can I pick up something for you while I'm out?". If they say no, accept it and move on. If they say, "Yes. Could you get some milk?" Ask what kind, buy it and deliver it.

Sometimes in crisis, you just need to know someone cares. Showing up with their favorite whatever can communicate just that. Put please do it in a non-obtrusive way. Mail it. Stop by to simply drop it off -- unless they indicate that they need you to stay and talk and just be there. Otherwise, plan to be quick.

Life is so exhausting in crisis and time to sleep, rest, or just be unstimulated is sparse. Be sensitive. They may need company. They may need a break. Each moment is different. It can change quickly. Even as quick as walking from the parking garage to the waiting room kind-of quick. 

Nevertheless, sometimes the need is salsa. Really it is.

One night two of my sisters-in-laws were coming over while my father-in-law was in the hospital. I wanted to minister to them. I would make salsa. I know they like my recipe because each of them has called me more than once for the recipe. I would be bringing their favorite whatever.

I knew I had hit the mark on the money when they showed up with salsa, too!! It was a lovely. Mutual encouragement indeed. I loved them. They loved me, too. Together, we enjoyed the ministry of salsa that night.

I don't remember the particulars of how my father-in-law was that night or why logistics caused them to come to my house. I do know that those of us doing the care giving needed moments like this outside of the hospital. It helped us tremendously to be together, doing something "normal." Usually laughter was included. 

Yes, laughter exists in crisis. It helps to deal with the stress. It helps to bond the caregivers in the craziness that abounds as the normal of the crisis season. It's a can-you-believe-this?-kind of laughter.

A picture during the medical crisis last fall of my mother-in-law, my husband's sister, our sister-in-law and me.
Salsa also exists in crisis and it is good to remember that once-in-awhile. Especially as it is a highlight moment from last fall -- an evening in the ministry of salsa between my salsa sister-in-laws.

Here is the favored Black Bean Salsa Recipe, as close as I can to how I make it since I eyeball it and taste it a lot, tweaking it to my liking.

2 cans of black beans, rinsed & drained
2 cans of corn, drained
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
tomatoes, chopped & seeded, sometimes not seeded, usually 3-6 tomatoes
garlic, lots, usually minced from a jar
lime juice, lots
salt & pepper, lots
Mix together. The longer you let it marinade, the better. But we almost always dig in right away. 

What have you found is helpful in a long-term crisis, such as a loved one in the hospital for months? What advice would you offer?

Friday, August 9, 2013

When rearranging a few boxes taught me something about priorities

The dust still settles on the stacks of books on my nightstand and my husband's matching stack of non-book stuff on his nightstand.Yet, aside from those nightstand bundles, the rest of our bedroom has been recently cleared of clutter.

I prepared our home for a stay-cation where my husband & I celebrated 20 years of marriage at home alone without children. I took many boxes out of our room. I wish I could say that I truly decluttered rather than merely moving them to another room.

Nevertheless, taking the clutter out of our bedroom has helped me so much. Not just for a 20th anniversary week but also on a daily basis whenever I walk into our bedroom. It has given me clarity about priorities in the midst of undone projects.

Last summer I began helping our girls tidy their room.  Since they come from parental pack rats, it was a big job. We were unfinished sorting their stuff when we needed the dining room to host a baby shower for a dear friend. So we put the boxes of their stuff into our bedroom instead of theirs -- to help them.

Then, as life flew on by, a medical crisis took our lives by storm. I never got back to the girl's room project. After awhile the extra boxes just became part of the scenery and attracted even more boxes into our bedroom. We have a small house. In an effort to make room for people to come over, I moved more boxes in our bedroom. And here it is -- one year later.

It symbolized our life actually.

As we made room to take care of other people, we shifted the focus of our priorities. Last year my husband and I were called to  emergency foster care, and a father-in-law in the hospital for four months.We gave up a little time for one another during a demanding season of pouring out for others.

It has been a great opportunity to grow-up emotionally and spiritually. Yet, it pushed our focus away from each other. It had to. We are finite beings with limited energy.

It happens gradually this collecting of clutter,  to-do lists, and pressures to be responsible. And yes, there are times to put the boxes in the bedroom and host the shower.

Yet, now is the time to refocus on our marriage. That is what moving a few boxes has taught me.

I  have a visual reminder that I can make our marriage a priority even though pressures remain.

To do-lists, the clutter, the boxes never really go away. It was a season of pouring out for others that demanded more of our attention. Now, the challenge is to go back the focus of one another even though other pressures remain. To realize the pressure of projects and to-do lists is not the same as a father in the hospital struggling to breathe.

We need to keep it all in focus and not let the habits of the demanding season set the standard for the normal way of life.

I do this by taking time for a walk with my spouse even though there are boxes in the dining room that have needed attention for over a year. He is more important.

That is what I am learning by rearranging a few boxes in my house.

What have you been learning lately?
Linking up with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

From here to there and back again (3,000 miles)

It's been awhile since I've appeared here in this writing space. I've driven 3,000 miles since I last posted and those are just the miles that I logged across country.I'm not counting the trips back and forth to friends, family, and camps. In this photo posed with a Route 66 mug full of steaming coffee, I am near the end of that 3,000 mile journey staying at a friend's airstream camper. What a perfect picture to depict our journeys from Nashville to Chicago to Minneapolis to Louisville and back again.. In addition to travels, here a few additional things going on in our household.

We have welcomed a new cat into our home.

We have put a new roof on the house. (Well contractors put it on but there is a process in all of it from selecting shingles to cutting a check)

We have celebrated 20 years of marriage with 6 days of hubby & myself while the kids spent a week at the cousins with their annual Cousin Extravaganza Time.

We celebrated a friend's milestone birthday with cherished friends singing 70-80s hits with a karaoke sing along, discovering once again how few words we actually know to the verses of those growing up songs.

We celebrated our niece's 8th birthday and climbed around rocks and through the rivers of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis.

This are just a few of the things that have been happnening in this corner of my world. Many thoughts have been jumbling around in my head, a few have made it onto a page or two. Hopefully soon more words will join us here.

Love, Kathleen

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