Monday, May 23, 2016


“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy's flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” 

 Ann Voskamp

The air shifts as we reach the winding gravel road.  Our voices still, and we visually feast on the richness of the land.  We're here... and its begun to feel like "we're home."  We're a mere 45 minutes from our homes, but yet it seems like a distant place and time.

We've never been to Carmel of Mary, in May.

As Roxane pulls into the driveway near the guest house,  we simultaneously breathe deep, delighted by the fragrance of lilacs and giggle as our actions mirror each other. We know what awaits us... we know.

Its early evening and as Roxane busies with some work, I step out of the house.  Sensing the sun lowering I simply stroll around the grounds.  With the magnitude of the quiet, and the pure absence of any responsibility you'd think I'd have some profound thoughts.  But its like my head heard the word, retreat, and my brain said "sure, why don't we?"  

So I simply allow myself to soak in every little nuance of light, and the smell of earthiness, and feel the energy of the wind, and renewal that comes with the season of spring. 

And I start to wonder about the horse?  Will she be waiting in the field?  And I haven't seen the guinea hens in a long time, have they survived this harsh environment so different from that of their native land?  

As the sun lowers I merely work at opening my heart to whatever story may unfold.  

The sun shines bright the next morning as we prepare for mass at 7. It's Pentecost Sunday, and we'll meeting with Mother Madonna later this afternoon.

As we leave the chapel, my first surprise visitor saunters off in the distance. Roxane and I hear the unusual squawking before we even see her.  She seems alone.  She flies up on the rail of our porch, then hastily retreats as we draw near.  

Soon enough we're heading back over to the monastery for lunch.

The sisters always prepare home made, delicious meals that we fondly look forward to.  Shortly after morning mass, the bell rings, beckoning us to come.  The meals await on a turnstile which we gather and bring to the dining table, where Roxane and I dine alone.  And on this day?  A slice of cake with a lit candle in celebration of the Pentecost- or the church's birthday. 

Its after lunch that I slip outside into the warmth of the sunshine.  

It isn't long and I see her.  She is who I've longed to see... Ann's words echoing in my mind...  

"Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks."

She's on bended knee, and doesn't get up the whole time I walk around the outside of the fenced pasture, speaking to her.   Her ears perk up but still she doesn't move. So I whisper my thanks as I pray she is ok.  Several times I make a trip out to visit.  She is always laying down near the same spot. I have no one to ask.  

I saunter off to discover what new sights I can uncover.

I notice such small details.  Like how everything seems to be leaning and bending, creating paths that invite you to walk along.  

I go and visit Mary.  

As I walk all the way around her, I see it.  Mary's hand.  Open, outstretched.  Ann's words echoing in my head again...

"...Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. "  

I walk on... in and about the big trees lining the road.  I possibly walk by it at first, but then I see it just below the arching tree branches. 

"...the small..."

The tulip is bending and leaning too... just the one.  No other tulips in sight.

I'm near the edge of the grounds now, near the road. I'm watching the willow tree branches dancing in the wind.

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”  Bruce Lee

I circle back, my steps reaching into the thousands today, and yet physically I feel strong. I'm emptying, and filling at the same time.

I go all the way back to the pasture behind the house.  Checking on her one last time.  She's up!  She is eating, and I quickly offer thanks for her well-being.  

Later in the afternoon, Roxane and I go to meet with Mother Madonna.  I've written a note with some prayer requests to leave with the sisters. I tuck a donation inside, knowing the sister's live off of the giving of the community.  With the lessons of "bending and leaning," freshly seeded in my mind.

"And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” 

 Ann Voskamp

As the light shines through the dark clouds, the sunbeams stream down over the top of the bell tower. It's time to leave and I'm already longing to return. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Happy Golden 14th Birthday, Colton!

Colton, you were "golden" way before you turned 14 years, on this 14th day in May.  But you are so excited for this day!  You just want to take some buddies golfing and then go out for pizza.  You simply wanted "time" with your friends doing what you love to do. You didn't even ask for anything from us for your big day- no gifts.  Of course, that makes it all that much easier to get a little something for you.  True to who you are, your eyes light up and I'm really lucky, because you're nose  crinkled for me too.  While sorting through some old things you really liked the old clock radio that Grandpa Willard used to have.  When you discovered we found one you could also charge your phone on?   Pure bonus!  

Going back through your early years is such a treat for me.
You were such a "big" baby we called you "Bubba" for the longest time, but to see your long and lean limbs and torso these days, Bubba just doesn't cut it anymore.

You are your mother's son.  You are the peace keeper, the calm maker and the care taker.  You have bonded to me fiercely and are the first to throw your arms around me unabashedly.  I love how open and generous your spirit is.  You're the first to curl up with me when I rest and then you look at me with your big doe eyes and long lashes and say so sweetly "Can we please watch my show?"  It doesn't matter what I am in the middle of watching, how can I resist those eyes?

Those same eyes that laser right through when you are mad.  Your nose crinkles at the top, your eyes light on fire and then your nostrils flare- we call those "Power Ranger" eyes and whoever is your target is in trouble when you reach your boiling point.  But less and less often those big doe eyes fill with crocodile tears first, and if they start to spill, mom is still the first thing you seek.  My heart still beats an extra beat when I see those tears that melt me on the spot.

More than anything, you're funny as heck and crack us up with the things you say. I went back and found this little gem from several years ago.  We called it... 

Dear Colton's future wife,

When Colton tells you one day that "meatloaf" has chocolate spread over the top of it, could you just go along with him?  Oh, and nod your head when he tells you his mother made it with ham? I've stood on my head so many times trying to get the boys to try various dishes I make for supper.   Colton has always had an aversion to meat.  But I am learning that if you give a dish a creative name,  like "sugar-and-chocolate-covered-no-thats-not-meat-underneath-surprise-loaf," you stand half a chance that they will take a bite.  So what if he only heard the "ham" part of the hamburger.  And I can get by with calling brown sugar and ketchup "chocolate."  Please, future wife, forgive me. 

The little turkey ate 4 pieces and swears its his favorite meal EVER.  It was such a hit, just wait till you see what we're having tomorrow night...  "hey-thats-not-tuna, noodle casserole,  with yep- those-are-green-skittles-inside."  

Flash forward to today.  He is still thin as a rail, although he has shot up to almost looking me right in the eye.  While he still leads with his whole heart, some things have changed.  Golf and pizza are waiting until tomorrow. But for his meal with his family today?  We're going to Buffalo Wild Wings.  The kid has suddenly gone crazy over eating, meat! 

To the moon and back- Bubba Jack- love you- all the way there and back.  

Tonight, my friend Roxane and I are headed off to the Carmel Monastery for a couple of days of retreat.

I always bring along prayer requests that the Sisters so graciously receive.  Does anyone have a request for prayers? Please leave in comments below.  

I'll be back in time for a doctor appointment and infusion on Tuesday...  and hopefully picture galore from Carmel.  

~all shall be well~ 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Happy 16th Birthday, Nolan!

Happy Birthday, Nolan!  I wonder if it's selfish on my part, that I want to celebrate today, too?  Whew, Nolan, you were not an easy labor!  Dr. Johnson warned me I should never share my birth story with any soon to be mom!  From the moment my water broke and it was the color of "pea soup," my birth "plan" went right out the window.  It was the day I would discover who was really in charge of how this thing would go- and it was not me.  

"A boy is truth with dirt on it's face,
beauty with a cut on its finger,
wisdom with bubble gum in its hair,
and the hope of the future with a frog in its pocket."
-- Author Unknown

From a 16 hour labor, and 4 hours of pushing, with both the mighty-vac trying to help get you out, and then the mighty forceps that finally turned you and sprung you free... whew, boy, you were a labor of love.  

Every day, you've stretched me.  Made me reach higher, while digging deeper.  Helped my arms grow wider, and my love to multiply in ways I've never known.  You've helped me see the world in ways I've never thought possible.    

Like when you were 2, and decided to shower your freshly cleaned nursery, with baby powder, while you were supposed to be napping.  Not a surface was left untouched.  And when I tiptoed into the room and found you climbing back into your crib?  You beamed at what you had accomplished.  I huffed my way to the vacuum, as mad as I could be.  I cleaned, and dusted, and worked my way through trying to restore order... only to turn and see you standing there.  With a big cheesy smile on your face, and that darn bottle of powder, you gleefully held it up and squirted the last few shots out of it, then danced underneath the shower of it...

And you got me.  I collapsed in the sheer absurdity of it all, tears streaming of frustration that quickly turned to laughter.  It WAS funny.  I was truly just beginning to see the world though new eyes. You and I, from the very beginning, have forged a bond together that can never be broken.  

 You've never stopped teaching me since.  And I long to know, where you're going to take me next?  Your impish smile, never-ending thirst for activity and adventure, and ability to still reach your arms all the way around me, enclosing me in a hug that could carry me forever.  

At six days old, and now sixteen years old... at just six pounds, and now 6 foot tall, I think of that book we read over and over again...

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.” 
Robert Munsch

Friday, April 29, 2016

keen eye

It was Dr. Panwalkar that summarized what the last 6 weeks have felt like, "Wow, " he said on Tuesday, "you've really been through it this past month!"  As the days blurred into weeks and now months have gone by, it does feel like a lot when you go back and add it all up.

Yet the irony that always remains, is that Dr. P suggested going back to a higher dose of Perjeta, because I seem to be recovering from the c-diff.  But he did tell me it was my decision, and he'd go along with whatever I felt.

So I put my faith in him and ultimately, I know its with Him, and said yes lets do the higher dose.

You see, I've been whispering the same word, prayerfully, over and over again... strength.  Help me find strength.  Please, help me find strength.

While I've come to know the prayers are answered, what has been such a revelation to me, is that often they don't come the way I think they will.  

Awhile back, we were given the gift of hockey tickets to go and watch the University of North Dakota play their last home game of the season.  

I didn't know I was already coming down with C-diff, having just finished antibiotics for strep throat. Usually, travel and anything related to hockey gives me such a lift.  

But despite the great game day atmosphere, the awesome play of the Sioux, and the big win that night- I couldn't ever get past feeling sick and uncomfortable.

I squirmed in my seat.  I tried to sip a sprite.  I rejected food. I just felt miserable.  

I was relieved when it was time to go.  

We fell in line with each other, realizing we needed to head in the opposite direction, against the crowds streaming out.  So we watched for an opening, and suddenly I saw her.

A few yards down from us, the crowd seemed to diverge around something, then come back together in front of us.  

A woman was shuffling her feet, her arms looped over a walker, and her head bent so far forward, you could only see the top of her head.  Watching the effort it took her to pick each foot up, and get it to align in such a way to carry her weight forward, was something to behold.

And she looked to be, completely alone.  

How could she see where to go?  Her head didn't come up, not once.  People streamed in and around her in a steady flow, as she slowly steered herself forward.  Oh the trust and faith she must have, that she would be okay somehow.  

I could only stand and watch.  What could I do to help her?  I would startle her to even try and say something to her.  Plus I was jarred in between Nolan and Rick, truly nowhere to go.  When she finally passed us, she left a gap behind her that the rest of our family could squeeze through to the other side of the hall.  

What just happened?

We all walked quickly to the truck, but my thoughts still followed her.  How would she get home?  How would she fold her walker up?  How would she steady herself to get in a vehicle?  How could she even zip her coat, or put on a hat or scarf?  How?  

As we sat shivering in the truck, waiting for it to warm up a bit, I finally couldn't keep my thoughts quiet any longer.  

Had anyone else seen the woman with the walker?  The one who seemed all alone?

Its Nolan who speaks up.  "You mean the one bent over?   She wasn't alone, her husband was up ahead of her.  I saw he had keys in his hands, I wondered if he was going to get the car?  She looked like it hurt to walk.  I couldn't even believe she'd be at the game."

I'm stunned.  My hockey obsessed son, just mirrored my very thoughts back to me.  There sure were a lot of hockey things we could have all been focusing on. But the way we see things, has clearly been transformed.  Our eyes more keenly aware, of those on margins, much like ourselves.

Its Rick who speaks up next.  He turns and smiles at me, before he says over his shoulder to the boys, "she was probably there cheering on a grandson, not letting anything get in the way of doing something she loves.  Pretty amazing, how dedicated we can be to what we love despite the toll it takes on us."  

The image of her circles my brain on the way home.  When I prayed for strength?  I had hoped somehow it'd be given to me.  That I'd feel bolstered, reenergized, or renewed somehow.  What I didn't fathom, is that the epitome of "strength" would parade before my very eyes.  My keen eyes that now see- that if she has the strength to do THAT, than surely, I have the strength to do THIS. 

I've started so many blog posts- but not had the capacity to sit and finish them.  So here are a few tidbits from the past couple of weeks.

My completed art project - my photo transferred onto this beautiful piece of wood.

Along with a fantastic meal, a sweet friend gathered goodies in a bucket and this one I've turned to time and again.  

So many gray, gloomy, drizzly days in a row lately. But these keen eyes?  Help me see the extraordinary in the ordinary precisely when I need to see it most.

What do your eyes see more keenly these days?

Monday, April 11, 2016

a year ago

It was a year ago this past week, that my dear mom, Mary Ann, went to Heaven.  But even as I feel physically, more like Snoopy up there in that photo, emotionally, I have felt peace.

My word, choose, was what I decided to use as my guide this past week.  I just wanted to be open, to feel what may come- grief, loss, sadness, and sit with it, then "choose," to let it all go.  Empty, to fill, with joy, with love, and peace.

I'm still in the throes of c-diff.  But Flagyl seems to slowly be knocking it back.  I still have a few days left of antibiotics, and will hopefully be able to rid myself of the bacteria completely. Food is a challenge, and energy elusive, but He sprinkles grace in all the ways that nourish me, despite what it may seem.

My friends put together a sign-up genius meal plan, and it's already close to full!  The very week, I can use a big dose of "motherly" love, is when comfort food starts streaming through my door.  My words to express the depth of what I feel, elude me, but my thanks-giving transforms into thanks-living, and I'm still numbering my gifts into the thousands, literally.  The food, the love, the ahhhs of my boys with stomach's full and in spite of what I lack to mother them, they are filled and then, so am I.  

It was infusion time, last week.  I was expecting I'd have chemo on Tuesday. Despite how I feel, I still need to keep cancer at bay.  Yet, as my stomach churned,  and I was running to the bathroom all morning, I was wondering how I would do this? 

Its my nurse, on Monday, and her gentle touch, and soothing tone, that begins the sprinkling of grace. She inserts the needle for blood work, as she tapes and smooths the ragged edges, and re-tapes the tubing, her eyes brimming with light and encouragement. Her hug wraps 'round me as she says goodbye, she sets the gentle tone for the week. She "mother's me," in a way, and I feel my own mother near.  I leave, more confident I am prepared for chemo the next day.

It's Erin, the PA I see, Tuesday. So many have reached out through email to me, asking about the latest news from Dr. P,  whose calendar is simply full.  I'm fighting against feeling like such a burden as a patient, in a system that is both first rate, and at full capacity at the same time.    

We breeze through the appointment that day, all things seem stable, and chemo is a go.  I'm quickly settled into my infusion room, and then Marissa, the artist, comes.  
I've always said if you choose, so often what you choose, comes to you. So this day, I'm choosing joy, instead of sadness and grief.

Marissa shows me my new project we had started.  (I'll show pictures when its done.)  But the process, of transferring this sunset photo onto a piece of wood, is soul soothing.  

And as we work, in and out, nurses, and providers, and smiles and energy flow past my door- as joy seeps into my heart, bathing it in a warm glow.  

~all shall be well~

Slowly, I'm more out of bed, than in bed.  Food starts to have taste again, and is more tolerated by my stomach.   

I'm greeted by these postcards, from my book club friends, who wrote to me from their last meeting place.  Thanks girls! 

I spent an entire day last week, reading through my old blog posts about my mom's last years of life.  And then I stumbled across this gem...

If ever anything surmised the true sass and wit of my mother, her the Lucy, me the Ethel- capturing the hilarity of that day and living it again, fills me so.  I can only imagine the shenanigans that began the day my mother entered her heavenly home.   

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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