How do I Know?


dontbeafraidI’m not obsessed with hummingbirds. Really. Ok, wait, maybe my friends and family (and much to my chagrin, a perfect stranger in the Wal Mart bird feed aisle) have reached the limit on what they want to hear and see about these delightful creatures.

And I know this blog is primarily about being a caregiver, and the miracles God has brought into our lives, but part of recovering from my caregiver journey has been a foray into photography and a burgeoning fascinating with birds (some might call it an obsession).

But something about birds and the way the Creator carefully crafted them feather by feather in a startling array of beauty and precision engineering causes me to reach the same conclusion over and over again: God cares for ME. I have no need to be afraid.

After all, that’s what Jesus tells us. He assures us that not one sparrow (one of the plainest of all the birds) will fall to the ground outside the Father’s care (Matthew 10:28-30).

CAHUsfemaleJust consider the miracle of migration. Our Creator hardwired birds to travel thousands of miles each year—and along the way, birds arrive at just the right time to harvest just the right fruits or pollinate just the right flowers or eat the insects.

I know God cares about my comings and my goings and he’ll be with me in each journey I undertake. Continue reading

Room at the Feeder for Everyone


Feeder FightsThe excited chatter turns to an angry buzz and I hop out of my chair to see what caused the commotion. Tail spread and wings beating furiously, a female Rufous Hummingbird approaches and stabs her beak into the neck of the Black-chinned Hummingbird who peacefully feeds at the feeder hanging outside my window.

It seems as if they have an unwritten rules of engagement that only they understand. The Black-chinned Hummingbirds avoid conflict, for the most part. The Calliope Hummingbirds sneak in between the dash and clash of the Rufous Hummingbirds, while the mere high-pitched bell-like sound of a male Broad-tailed hummingbird will clear the feeders from fifty feet away.Broad-tailed Hummingbird

If fewer than eight hummers vie for space, a grumpy, territorial Rufous can easily keep them at bay—but not necessarily because she wants nectar—simply because she can. She’ll spend hours perched nearby, ready to swoop in and stab and poke and harass those who dare approach ‘her’ feeder.

Meanwhile, the glimmer usually zooms around the house and drinks their fill at the feeder hanging on the back deck—until Ms. Grumpy wonders why she has no one to argue with, and goes in search of the rest. The process then reverses itself.

community5Occasionally, someone bigger or smaller (but more intimidating) will put Ms. Grumpy in her place, and the hummers come in to the feeders and drink their fill in peace—usually politely taking turns.

A strange thing happens when the community grows. I’ve noticed that the more hummers that join the feeding frenzy, the less likely any one hummer will succeed at defending ‘her’ territory (don’t they understand that it’s all really MY territory—and that I want them all to get along and partake until they’re full?). A strange unity of purpose forms in the larger community around the feeder as they lap up nectar as quickly as they can in order to double their weight for their arduous migration.  Continue reading

Tell Me It’s Not Melanoma!

I have a MOLE?!

I have a MOLE?!

Last week, when I stood up from the gliding rocking chair in my home office, I felt a pain/itch on the back of my left thigh. I wandered into the bathroom to check in the mirror and see what hurt (I was hoping I hadn’t picked up another tick—I had THREE tick bites this summer).

Due to the location of my owie (half-way between the bikini line and the shorts line), I ended up using my phone and the three-way mirror above the sink to snap a photo. Much to my shock, it appeared that I had a MOLE! A pencil-eraser sized, asymmetrical mole with an angry red border and uneven surface.

I texted the photo to Pedro—who had left that morning for a business trip, and asked him if he thought I should be concerned. Well, we both know our ABCs of skin cancer, and he confirmed that maybe I should get it checked out.

My uncle died of melanoma back in the 70s. I drove to urgent care (50 miles away). The physician’s assistant on duty took one look at it and said, “Hmmm. I think I would get that checked out by a dermatologist as soon as possible.” He left the room and returned with a 40-pound medical school reference tome. He flipped to the page on melanoma and showed me the photo of typical melanomas—the THING on the back of my leg (which hadn’t been there several days earlier) looked just like the first photo illustration.

The PA handed me an info sheet on melanoma and I started calling dermatologists. At 4:50 in the afternoon, I could only find one open. The soonest emergency appointment available wasn’t until the following Monday—registration day at school. I took it.

I got back into my car for the drive home with images of me hobbling around on one leg and learning to run with one of those athletic prosthesis legs. Next, I imagined all of the bills piling up (we’ve been through cancer once already, so those bills loomed large and real).

My family! What would my family do if I had melanoma?! I racked my brain (and resisted the temptation to research melanoma on my phone whilst driving) trying to remember which was the ‘good’ kind of skin cancer to have—Melanoma? Carcinoma? Neither sounded pleasant. The hour-long drive home went by in a daze while my overactive imagination ran through every possible worst-case scenario. Continue reading

Filled…and Running Over


filled

 

I feel like I’ve been filling feeders nonstop for the last week. In a mere 12-hour period, the little hummers drain FOUR cups of nectar. When I put up my first feeder at the start of last summer, we had six or seven regulars that stopped by throughout the day in between sitting on their nests and catching insects—mostly Black-chinned Hummingbirds.

This summer, even though I spent six weeks away from home, first my mom, and then my husband faithfully filled the feeders because they know how much I love watching the wondrous little creatures.

When I returned home last week, I discovered that fall migration had begun. Along with the usual suspects, three other species of hummingbirds had stopped off at our ‘avian rest area’ for free coffee, um, nectar .

And so for the last seven days, I rush to watch the feeders whenever I have a spare moment (and maybe whenever I should be writing lesson plans or cleaning my classroom). In between times, I make more nectar (they’ve already gone through two gallons).must stop

I stand on a bench in my home office in the late afternoon when the sun leaves a soft glow over our lawn and open the window next to the feeder. I aim my telephoto lens at the action (it reminds me of a scene from Star Wars with pod racers on a quest) and happily snap away.perfectruhu

Between the buzz and chatter of the birds and click of my camera, I find peace from the chaos in my life. When my arm gets tired and the light fades, I rush to download the photos to my computer and marvel at the details that our Creator included in this particular model of bird.

By beholding, I become changed. My heart rate slows. I find myself breathing deeply and even laughing as I watch the territorial Rufous hummingbirds try to fend of fifteen other hummers. It doesn’t work, and eventually they settle down and drink their fill.

Today a Broad-tailed Hummingbird with a beak deformity landed on the feeder, and the normally pushy Rufous left her alone.damaged bill

When life seems crazy and full of chaos, bad news and challenges, I know my Creator will fill me with exactly what I need—it could be a tiny bird, a gorgeous sunset or the smile of a stranger.

I cling to his goodness no matter what life hurls at me. I am filled. (tweet this)

You Can’t Cure Anyone


youaren'tthecureDear Friend,

The weight of anxiety over a friend or loved one who needs your care may have pressed the last dredges of flavor from your life. You may find the strangest things make you cry (coffee commercials, for example) at the oddest times (during a staff meeting).

You may shake your head (or your fist) in frustration over circumstances—the glacial movement of insurance company decisions or the light years it takes to schedule an appointment with a specialist when the one you care for needs help YESTERDAY.

You might wake up each morning filled with self-blame because NOTHING you seem to do makes any apparent difference in the life of the one you love. The plumped pillows, folded laundry, rides to appointments, phone calls made—none of them seem to matter to the one you slavishly pour yourself out for. If only you tried harder, you think, my friend or loved one wouldn’t be in this condition.

Or perhaps you’ve given advice to a girlfriend in crisis—and she never seems to take it and always lands back in the same crisis. Over. And. Over. Again. You might find yourself reacting with impatience to yet another plaintive plea for advice from a hurting friend. If only my friend or loved on tried harder, you may think, he or she would be well by now.

And so you suffer in silence because you either aren’t doing enough, or the one you care for doesn’t do enough—whatever the case, you feel worn out, frazzled, at your wit’s end.

Jesus offers rest for your weary soul. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). Continue reading

Why It Took Me 14 Years to Climb a Mountain


right for others
Standing on the top of a mountain called Craig’s Lookout, I felt triumphant, proud and, for the first time in years, I felt like ME.

Craig’s Lookout is not like Pike’s Peak or anything famous. It’s not even all that amazingly steep, nor dangerous, nor high. It only took me one hour and five minutes to hike up and 45 minutes to get back down. Not a big deal to some; it’s just a mountain behind the school where I once lived and taught. It’s just a mountain I’ve wanted to climb for 14 years.

I had heard about Craig’s Lookout for years from my husband who hiked it many times throughout his childhood. When we moved to that school I told myself I would climb up there, but I had a hefty newborn, a toddler and a five-year-old and taking that little troupe up steep hills and across a ravine with a large drop-off just didn’t sit well with this mama. Then, around the time that hefty and healthy baby could climb too, leukemia struck him.

I dropped everything to become a caregiver mom.

Actually, that’s not true.

I was still a mom to three children. I was still a teacher. I was still the wife of a busy principal of a boarding school. I was still the Sabbath School teacher for the cradle roll division. We still had students over to our house (when we could) and staff parties to host. And I was the main caregiver to a neutropenic, restless and hurting, leukemia-ridden precious four-year-old. His treatment protocol lasted three and a half years.

Climbing mountains was not on my agenda.

In fact, I was not on my agenda. Continue reading

God Isn’t Late


God Isn't Late
Each week a flash-mob of writers gather and exercise their writing muscles by writing for five minutes of a prompt that Lisa-Jo Baker chooses. We write for five minutes and then hit ‘publish’ without overthinking or editing. Join us! This week’s Five-Minute Friday prompt? Begin

Tomorrow a new school year will begin. I don’t feel ready. I’ve only been home since 3:30 this morning and so many questions hang in the air—the answers just out of reach like a sun-kissed sheet flapping on the clothesline when your arms already hold more than you can carry.

Fortunately, students won’t arrive on campus until August 11—so I have time to deep clean my classroom (it probably has a fine red dust coating everything), make lesson plans and prepare syllabi for the classes I’ll have in just over a week.

If I’ve learned anything this summer, it’s this: life doesn’t move according to my whims and specifications. When I see someone I love hurting, I want to run them to the doctor and get things fixed. But life—and the medical community—doesn’t operate that way.

The helpless feelings from when my husband first received his cancer diagnosis 12 years ago keep resurfacing as I try to help my friend navigate and negotiate the health care labyrinth. In between each frantic phone call and disappointing dialogue with yet another right hand that doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, I remember to breath.

The summer has gone its own crazy direction—like a kite in the wind—and I feel like I’ve been running along below, trying to keep up. I didn’t meet my exercise goals for the summer, and my time with God has consisted of a prayer journal and the ‘verse of the day’ from my Bible app.

But those verses always seem hand picked for ME. Each one has provided the bright light and beauty that pour in at unexpected times as I travel through what seems like a dark tunnel. The words of God truly are a lamp that keeps my journey from utter darkness.

Just this morning, I pondered a verse from 2 Peter 3:9. “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness…He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” These words shine into my tunnel and illuminate my fears and my need for control for what they are—a lack of trust.

My job is not to change people, the medical insurance industry, the level of care for a friend because ‘I know them better than a doctor does’. My job is to do my part while breathing in the Word and breathing out love.

I trust. He works. I wait. His timing is perfect. (click to tweet)

And so although I feel inadequately prepared to begin a new school year—to focus on my students and all that they need, I know it’s all a matter of trust. I set aside my emotions of fear (what if my friend never gets the help they need?), of blame (why didn’t I see my friend’s need sooner?) and control (there’s a difference between advocacy and being obnoxious and rude).

Do I trust the creator of the universe and his timing? I must. For without Him, I know I would never have the strength to begin.

Guide Us With Your Grace


Guide Us In Your GraceThis morning my husband texted me with this question: “What does ‘guide us with your grace’ really mean?”

Good question.

Pedro’s been listening to Josh Groban—probably as loudly as the speakers can handle, since I’m far away from home right now. In fact, I have only slept in my bed once since I turned 48 (on June 9)—my calendar shows that August has crept up and will pounce upon us in a few short days—whether we want it to or not.

It hasn’t been an easy summer. I like home. But I like family and learning more. We celebrated our oldest daughter and son-in-laws’ graduation from college. Pedro and I vacationed in North Carolina for 12 days, and now I’m spending time with our youngest daughter. Interspersed with all of the visits and memories, I took classes to maintain my teacher certification and improve my craft. Continue reading

Stuff That Doesn’t Matter

Ready to tackle the journey

Ready to tackle the journey

I spent a week sorting through the remains of what my mom already sorted through: 52 years of life in one house, 59 years of marriage. We had an estate sale, my brothers and I, not because of death, but because my parents moved into a brand new, one level, smaller house, and didn’t take much with them. The majority of their stuff lay in neglected piles in the echoing rooms of my childhood home.

I found some cool things, burrowing through a house which still carried so many remnants of our life. I found pictures of my grandmother as a baby, posing with relatives we never knew. I found “the stick” which we all felt on our bottoms at several belligerent moments of our lives. I found the hated bowl that was set by our bedsides if we were sick. Of course I emailed a picture of that to my siblings who responded with “Disgusting!” “Gross!” “Just the picture makes me want to hurl.” Followed by a quiet, “thanks for sending the picture.”pukebowl

I crawled far back under the stairs where no one was allowed when I was a child and discovered a love letter from my dad to my mom, written just a week before they were married. I sorted through special knick-knacks and ran my fingers through the container full of buttons I played with while mom sewed nearby. I found forgotten boxes of slides and home movies and came across souvenirs from family vacations. I cleaned up toys from the toy-box; Toys left from our childhood and passed on to our own children.

My brothers went through the garage which held an astonishing hodgepodge of projects dreamed of, half-finished and left-overs from accomplishments.

Each new thing we found brought us out of our corner to show the other, or to email our sister and tell the story, or ask “Do you want this?”

Our responses were the same, “I don’t have room for more stuff,” or “I would love that, but what would I DO with it?” or sometimes a “If no one else wants that, ma- a-aybe I’ll take it…”

lionsndollsBecause while we all cherished the memories, it was rather sobering to see 52 years of stuff bought out by strangers in a matter of hours as the town descended on the Estate Sale. All the things my mother had lovingly cleaned and guarded against four rambunctious children, all the different projects my civil engineering father had carefully documented and developed, all the memories hung on the walls and handicrafts from when we were kids and things we’d sent home to mom and dad from travels abroad as we flew from the nest – all gone in 2 days of estate sale.

The painful realization after a week sorting more than 52 years’ worth of memories: in the end, it’s all just STUFF. No matter how much it originally cost, no matter how many memories it triggered, no matter how many times I played with it, no matter how beautifully it looked hanging on the wall for years; it was just stuff.
You would think, coming to this realization, I would leave empty-handed. But none of us did. No matter how many times we declared we did not need any more stuff, someone would quietly tuck something away. Different things touched us each in different ways.

It’s true, I now have a little more “stuff” than I did before I went back to my childhood home. But it’s just stuff.

More important to me is the time I got to spend with my brothers and sisters-in-law, with nieces and my nephew and their children. The fun of my sorting came from taking an old black and white photo to my dad and listening to the story behind the picture. The closeness came from the emails between my sister and I, allowing her to be part of the process from far away. The importance came from the relief mom felt because SHE didn’t have to go back and sort any more! The joy came from hanging out for hours with my brothers and really getting to know them in new ways as memories were triggered, laughed at, cried at, and let go.

Stuff can never replace the important people in life.

Stuff can never replace the important people in life.

The stuff didn’t matter all that much, but the love will always matter! (click to tweet)

Bloom Where He Plants


Family pictures 065I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and the wonderful bloggers who meet each week on Thursday nights (late) and write for five minutes on a prompt that Lisa-Jo gives us. No editing. No turning back. Just write and publish. This week’s prompt? Bloom

Two different conversations, with two different friends.

But first, let me tell you why these conversations happened. We move a lot. Not every few months or anything, but my husband’s administrative job means that turnover is expected. For years we’ve not sought openings but have moved when called. We have felt, strongly, that our moves have been orchestrated by the God in control of our lives.

Our last move prompted these two conversations:

Conversation 1 – - “I get your faith and all, but don’t be a jellyfish, just floating wherever you’re sent. Control your own destiny. If you want to live where you’re living, then do so, but if you’d rather live in such and such a town, then make it happen. I just don’t buy that God, or whatever being is up there, gets to arbitrarily send us somewhere.”

Yes, I’m loosely paraphrasing a much longer conversation. A conversation that surprised me and left me feeling a little, well, lonely and sad.

Conversation 2 – - “I’m really sorry you guys are leaving _______. You will be sorely missed. You’re good with kids and you’re good at what you do. I know you’re going a long ways away, but I know that you’re the type that will bloom wherever God plants you.”

Yes, another loose paraphrase, except for that last part. “You will bloom wherever God plants you.” That phrase has stuck in my head for two years. What a compliment. What an encouragement. What a mission.

Because that IS what I believe. I DO believe there is a God up there with a much clearer picture of our life – what it COULD be, and what it SHOULD be. I’m very happy to feel led by a God who cares much more about my children than I do, who understands our jobs and the people we work for much more than we do, and yes, One who controls my destiny.

My job? To bloom wherever God plants me.