Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"in the weeds.."

She's been sitting in my tree for over a week.  Sometimes, forward facing.  Sometimes, backwards, with just her tail feathers hanging over the edge.  I've never seen her move.  Ruffle her feathers.  Turn her head.  Blink an eye.  She is just devoted and determined, to help nurture those babies nestled in their shells, until the time to enter this world, comes to fruition.

We've even had to mow around the tree, and yet she stays.  Its poured rain.  Yet she remains.  Steadfast.  Strong.

Crosby takes up residence below the branches of the nest, and not a squawk is heard.  

I marvel at her resilience.  

She is teaching me through her maternal instincts.  How to live "in the weeds," or in the midst of watching and waiting.

Mourning doves are rich with symbolism.  

Their distinctive “wooo-oo-oo-oo” sounds are evocative and are often associated with grief over the loss of a loved one.  How fitting this is to me.  And yet...

But far from representing loss, "the symbolism of mourning doves gives us optimism with its spirituality. Beyond their sorrowful song is a message of life, hope, renewal and peace."  

The "lip dub" video below will uplift you so!  This is Horizon Middle School- both Nolan's and Colton's school.  Mr. Brian Cole the Orchestra teacher,  with the help of two students, orchestrated and produced this masterful Lip-Dub video using over 1400 of the schools students.  

Colton was picked to play a small role that comes at about the 1:42 mark- you'll see him pulling someone on a scooter going backwards.  

With the students decked out in their orange and black "Spud Pride," colors this whole video was shot in just one take!  With nothing but an iPhone, and a lens attached, 1400 kids lined throughout the halls of the school, lip synching to some popular songs.  It all ends with a huge celebration of confetti, dancing and a ginormous balloon drop.  

With just over 17, 000 views, we would love to see the viewership grow if you are so inclined to watch even part of it.  

If the clip below doesn't play you can see it HERE on Youtube.

I think my presentation with Dr. Hysjulien, for the Embrace series presentation,  went well last week.  I spoke about "Living your Legacy," to a room full of Sanford nurses and staff people.  Tears and laughter were in abundance, and I hope that someone walked away with an idea of how to begin living their legacy.

I even was honored with a surprise.  A classmate of mine, that I haven't seen since high school, showed up to hear me speak.  Thank you Penny!  I was so touched by her thoughtfulness, and loved getting to spend time with her.  

I saw Dr. Panwalkar yesterday.  

Have you ever watched Top Chef?  Or one of the competitive cooking shows?  At some point, I picked up the term "He/She, is in the weeds."  Its like the finish line is approaching, and you're sweating, prepping, and preparing food at max speed, with little idea if you'll finish the dishes, before the guests arrive- who are hungry.  Not just ordinary, hungry.  They are ravenous- famished- starving.

I feel a bit like I am "in the weeds." Searching for a way through, for a treatment to utilize, before those ravenous cancer cells grow and multiply and spread.  

So after weighing some options, I think we've landed on the plan of seeing an Oncologist at the Brain and Spine Cancer Center, of MD Anderson, in Houston, Texas.  She has helped several other women like me, with breast cancer metastases, in their brain.  

So Dr. Panwalkar initiated the referral process, and we will wait and see. 

In the meantimes, I've been extremely humbled by all of the love shown to me by all of you.  Your grace-filled words and deeply felt care and concern, truly help me get through each day.  So much gratitude- so much.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rain of Grace

Ann Voskamp says…

"Grace holds you when everything else falls apart — and whispers that everything is really falling together."

It's always the little things.  The Birthday Cards that arrive, unexpectedly in the mail.  She is the coolest of friends from Texas, and she loves us big.  The boys, with neither of their Grandma's with us any longer, have felt the empty space in a tangible way.  They still hovered by the mail box, hoping for a little Birthday acknowledgement.  The day after they stopped looking anymore, cards arrived, from Texas.   I may have been the giddiest one of all.  There is an ache within me, for me to fully know, the boys will celebrate birthdays.  That they will be loved, and cherished.  That the community that has surrounded us, will keep them at their center.

Last Tuesday I met with the Neurosurgeon, Dr. Adam Jackson.  He shook hands with us as he walked into the room, swiftly striding over to the computer on the desk next to me.  

No moments of small talk.  No getting to know one another, conversationally.  He jumped in, with the hardest words, right away.

"Well, you are stuck between, a rock, and a hard place, aren't you?"

"Blink.  Blink."

I've stopped being able to absorb more sadness.  I'm detached in a way, but facing forward, listening to the stark reality of his words.

All I can do is stare blankly, and blink.

I'm sitting rather precariously on my seat, observing.  Wondering where he is about to take me.  He is going to go on, despite anything I might say.  So I sit.

He flips on the screen and my scan springs to life in mere moments.

He begins to tell me, anatomically, where my tumors reside.  As he begins pointing out the structures of my brain using terms I have vaguely heard before, I suddenly flash back to Graduate School.

The professor was Dr. Dahlhouse.  He was short statured, but had a booming voice.   He had moved from Jamaica, and his accent was thick.  He was funny and warm.   He was passionate about the human body.  And despite our limited time together,  he wanted us to have an in-depth look at the complexity of the human body and how it all worked.  So our Anatomy & Physiology book, was a Med School book,  used at UND.  

I literally used to sit with a dictionary, trying to decipher the words being used in each sentence of that book.   The amount of sheer memorization in that class, made it feel like a full time job, on top of which, we had to decipher some of Dr. Dahlhouse's accent. 

Suddenly, Dr. Jackson, wheels back in his chair.

I'm jolted, back instantly, in the exam room.  Dr. Jackson is no longer verbally dissecting my brain.  

Instead, he is asking me a question.

"What do you want to do with your life?"


"Because if you want to sit in a boat, and fish all day long.  I might be able to help you."

"We can make a long incision along your hairline, and peel it all back.  Then we'd make the hole and drill through the bone and resect whatever we can of the tumors."  

I'm suddenly feeling more Grey's Anatomy, and where is Dr. McDreamy anyway?  

But Dr. Jackson goes on.

"But if you want to talk.  Or form sentences.  Or use words.  Or think.  Then this is probably not the procedure for you." 

"Blink, blink, blink."

"Because you look like you're highly functioning right now."

And since the first rule of medicine is to "do no harm."  Then I shouldn't do surgery on you.  Its far too risky.

"As is any needle aspiration of the tumor for a biopsy.  Too risky." 


Do you know how hard it is for me as a brain surgeon,  to tell you I can't do surgery on you?"  

Do I know…?  No, I know nothing.


"I'll tell Dr. Foster I think we should watch and wait. " 

"But if you should decide you do want to proceed, than please feel free to contact me again."

Double blink.

"Grace loves us when we are at our darkest worst and wraps us in the best light."  
~Ann Voskamp

A week later, and I still don't have any answers.  And neither do the doctors, so far.  I've tried to do some internet research, but I've clicked away each time, because "darkest, and worst" are in bold face everywhere I turn.  

So I turn back to Ann Voskamp, who is  prose-worthy, as well as praise worthy.

And she says:

"You don’t have to know how to do it all.
You just have to choose to be all here, right where you are.

His grace meets you in the moment — and you will miss it if you are worrying about future moments.
Lock your thoughts in this moment — and you get to live the freest of all."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, Colton!

Colton, how is it possible you turn 13 today?  Two teenagers- in one house?  

I've joked for so long about my "shot glass" list of desires.  No bucket list for me.  Two boys, turning 13 and 15 just 3 days apart?  I'll take it- another small moment and a milestone- I'll savor and celebrate.  

Oh Colton, where do I start?

Your big brown eyes are soulful, and the way your nose crinkles when you laugh brings joy to my life.  You could not be more opposite of your brother.  While Nolan is here to lead me into uncharted territory and expand me, your calm demeanor is the honey that both sweetens my soul and anchors me.  

You're smart, funny, stubborn, sensitive, imaginative, loving, and a still a bit of a Mommy's boy.  You wiggled your way into my heart from the very start, and have notched out your own way in this world.  

I realized the other day, I can't do all the "little boy" things I used to.  You'll let me grab your hand for a minute, but no way could I hold it.  I can hug you quick,  yet, it's occurred to me you don't really desire me to hang on too long.  But in your wise beyond your years way, you seem to know, it is I who needs to hang on, for just a little bit longer.  

I look at Nolan and I see all the things he can and will most likely do with his future.  I look at you and have no idea.  But what I've realized is that I can't dream a big enough dream for the things I think you will one day do.  

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy Birthday, Nolan...

Today you turn, 15, Nolan!  You're able to start working on your driver's permit, and have already staked out the Suburban as your car of choice.  You shot up to 6 feet tall, this year, and in so many ways are more, man, than child.  

So many hockey "doors" have started to open, and your mentors have seen us through, trying to figure out how to navigate, the opportunities coming your way.

All of this, despite having to learn to tolerate a lengthy healing process.  And yet, your work ethic hasn't been deterred for long.  The shooting tarp has been thoroughly christened with new puck remnants all over it, as you moved back outside to shoot.  

I love that I see the goals you want to achieve, taped to the bathroom mirror downstairs.  You face them every day, and the numbers may change, but the manner in which you conduct yourself, doesn't.

You even signed up for an extra session with your trainer, Joel.  So you lift weights at 6 in the morning, and then you do another full session of cardio.  You're so excited to be feeling better and ready to push yourself into meeting your new goals. 

Finally, this last week, you quietly received the biggest gift of all.  When you were asked by a coach to do some skating, you were officially cleared to get back on the ice.  A twinkle is back in your eye.  

Yes, its been a rough Spring.  The hockey season-ending concussion you suffered, took its toll on you physically and emotionally.  We're thankful for all of your friends who came through and spent time with you, and offered encouragement, and supported you.  

During one of your darkest days, you tiptoed into my room, where I was trying to rest so I could go back and be with Mom.  You searched through my closet, my bookshelf, then asked if you could look in my drawers.

You were sheepish when I asked what you were looking for.

"My Hands-on Bible."  

"Mom, do you ever just want to feel closer to God?"

"I just want His words close to me, so I can understand better what all of this stuff means."

I laid next to him for awhile, while he shared feeling lost.  He was sad about Grandma, and without saying more, he grabbed my hand and held it a minute or two- he has few words for my cancer.  So we just hold it between our hands.    

My heart sweeps with pride for this young man one minute, and aches for the little boy, the next.

That little boy, who was just 3 when he provided the perfect material for me to launch my writing…

My favorite Nolan story...

When Nolan was three he had gone to play the Sunday golf game with his dad one April day. It was unusually warm that day and got up into the mid 60's. It was just warm enough to catch us off-guard and Nolan experienced his first sun burn. He howled when I gave him his bath that night. He could not fathom how that red got on his skin. We put some ointment on it and put him in bed and he was much better in the morning.

A few days later after his bath he came to me. We'd had one of those days. I was in bed, emotionally drained and exhausted. Its hard to be three. Its even harder to be a parent of a child who is three. I was startled to see him creeping into my room. His eyes were downcast. His voice was somber and serious. "Mom, he said, his voice filled with resignation, "I think I'm dying." I got up from the bed. My mind started to spin.

I said "Nolan, what is wrong?"

"My skins coming off," he said. "I must be dying."

I said, "Nolan, what have you been doing? Did you get into something? DID YOU PUT SOMETHING IN YOUR MOUTH?"  I was so unprepared for his confession.

"Oh mom," he said, "Every day I do. You tell me not to, but I do. I just can't help it."

"What Nolan, tell me what you put in your mouth?"

"I ate grass once," he said. "I eat dog food all the time. Oh, and I licked the bottom of my shoe. Yesterday I tasted the side of the car and its pooey mom, don't ever put your tongue on it!"

By now I am trying to hold my sides that are jiggling from the laughter trying to escape.

"Now my skin is coming off. Mom, I'll probably be going to heaven tonight. Don't be sad.  I'll miss you!"

I am leaning over inspecting what I realize is his skin peeling from the sunburn and hugging him at the same time.

"Oh Nolan" I managed to choke out.

As I go to get some lotion he tells me he has to use the bathroom. I holler at him to close the door.  He is in there a long time then suddenly comes around the corner and he is smiling. "Mom! I've got it," he says. "Do you think God goes potty? Because if he does, and he closes the door, I'll just sneak down from Heaven when he isn't looking and give you a hug so you won't miss me too much."

And with that he ran back to bed.

Love you, buddy.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


From the book "Broken Open," by Elizabeth Lesser. 

"In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget, 
falls drop by drop upon the heart, 
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
~ Aeschylus

Mary Ann "Brainerd" Held

We sent her with a secret tucked in the pocket of her jeans.  For reasons, one might never imagine.  We retold the story, over and over again.  It was fitting that it was told at her funeral, by my cousin Rob.  To me, it epitomizes who she was.

When growing up, my Mom often said Grandpa Brainerd was very strict.  At meal time, you and your 3 sisters, and 2 brothers, had better show up on time.  

It was my Mom's younger sister, given the job of going off in search of my Mom when dinner time neared.  Off she'd run, looking in all the usual places.

But then there was that one time.  When Carol ran home, having not found my Mom.  Her Dad questioned, and she had no reply.  

Where was Mary Ann?

Somewhere past the start of the meal, my Mom came running home.  Grandpa very sternly asked, "And where have you been?"  

Mary Ann, having experienced the sting of Grandpa's discipline measures more than once, knew she had to have the perfect answer.

So she carefully reached in her pocket and pulled out a dollar bill.  "I was babysitting and I got this!" She exclaimed.

"Oh, well then, sit down and eat."  

It was later that mom finally shared her secret with Carol.  Just in case, she was ever late, mom ALWAYS carried a dollar bill in her pocket. 

It was just a couple of years ago that my mom had me buy a notebook for her.  She was making her funeral arrangements.  But instead of just writing down what she wanted, she got busy on her phone.  She called each person she wanted to do something, and asked.  It was all written out in her notebook, what she did want, and what she didn't.

So she wore her favorite jeans.  Her Hershey's Kiss necklace.  Her Concordia College sweatshirt.  She encouraged us all to dress casually and wear Maroon and Gold if we chose- although we didn't spread the word on that very well.

Still, Mom's service was filled with the kinds of things, and people, and stories, that shouted "this is So Mary Ann."  

The beautiful flowers.

My hockey moms.  Nolan and Colton literally beamed when they saw so many of our hockey families showing up.

My brother, Lee, in the middle, with two of his Concordia College friends.  


Mom's first line of her journal said, "Rob to speak."  No more needed to be said on that one.

My cousin Rob, has the gift of gab, one might say.  Not only is he a story spinner, but the humor he infuses leaves you gasping for air as your sides split, while your face floods from tears at the same time.     But he also ministers to you, because at the root of everything he does, is his faith in God, which he openly shares.  Oh how he had us on the edge of our pews, soaking in all of his funny, wise and faith-filled words.  I wish I had them to share with you.  But what I do have is the memory of being swept up in the emotion of it all, along with the sound of the distinct crinkle of the plastic kleenex wrappers,  getting a work out with all of our leaky eyes. 

Because we needed faith in unfathomable ways.  Our loss that week was double.  

Because while my Mom, Mary, hovered near Heaven's doors…surrounded by my brother, Lee, myself, and Mom's older sister, Marlene... Rob said, "God must have been whispering "come,"  and not only did Mom listen and go, but 24 hours later so did Rob's stepdad- Ernie.

Yes, our beloved Uncle Ernie, went to be with Jesus, just 24 hours after Mary Ann did.  Marlene, Mom's sister, and Rob's mother, lost her sister one day, and her husband the next day.

Ernie had sat in his recliner, watching basketball on tv, saying "this will be the last basketball game… of the season."  But when Marlene went to awaken him for bed, Ernie's spirit had gone.  And while none of us were ready for him to go, Rob's words brought comfort.  Ernie must have heard Jesus saying, "Come."  

Our family must have heard too.  They came pouring in from all over,  surrounding us with comfort and memories, and love.  Friday and Saturday for mom, and Sunday and Monday for Ernie.

Back to mom's funeral service.  Mom hadn't asked just one person to speak.  Paul was one of Mom's supervisors at Concordia, and very much a kind and loving friend of Mom's for years, was also asked to speak at her service.  Paul wove a story around the 5 things he had learned from my mother.  He also had an understanding of mom's humor,  and shared part of the retirement story they had done for her.  In a training video they interviewed my mom many times.  Then they cut the clip of the infamous words she shared over and over again…

Be busy.  


Stay busy.


Keep busy.


Get busy.


Just stay busy.

Or something to that effect.  I forget how many times they caught her saying it- but it was many- and so typical of my Mom.

We think in honor of Mom we may have to donate a plaque to Concordia Dining Services, in her memory.  

The "Mary Ann Held- be busy- award."  

Paul went on to pay a loving tribute to Mom in the simple and yet profound way she conducted herself in life. 

After the service, as we lined up in our cars, with Mom leading the way.

We were struck by how the light lit up the beautiful flowers, and a white and warm glow hovered around Mom the entire way to the cemetery,

Then true to my Mom's heart's desire- her "boys" carried her to her eternal resting place- all wearing their Concordia colors.  The newly appointed Captain of the Cobber football team, Rob's son, Eric- wearing his jersey, #9. Nolan wearing his Dad's #26 Cobber baseball warm up, Andrew- also a Cobber football player, Duane and Emil, two co-workers of moms, and then my brother Lee, also a former Cobber football player.  

Despite our sadness, we stood as family, together, in honor of our Mom.  

Her eternal resting place is beautiful.  She is next to our Dad, and right by her Mom and Dad.  Rick's mom is just a few rows over, as well as our nephew Hunter.  

I've been rocked to the core with my Mom's loss.  I'm still in the wee-early stages of mourning.  I just know that my mom was a bridge to so many parts of my life I hadn't realized.  And now its just me.  And the loneliness that sneaks in, when you feel that abrupt disconnection, is truly the journey through "the awful grace of God."  I am convinced- through- is the only way back to the light.

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

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