Sunday, December 24, 2017

Contentment in the Absence of Perfection

Merry Christmas Eve!  As has become tradition over the last 5 years since I've been blogging, it's time for my annual Christmas post.  As 2017 comes to an end, I'm feeling a bit disjointed.  Whereas last year we were still in a pretty thick fog after the loss of our sweet Bernice and Jonathan and I were doing our best to shore up our best friends as they prepared to lose their mother mere days after the holiday season passed, this year I think we both feel a bit of unrest.  A lack of "settle".  Life feels a bit like an amazing nearly finished puzzle you've worked on for weeks, that is frustratingly missing a chunk right smack in the middle.  Only we've been working on our "puzzle" for several YEARS...

So that feeling of "unfinished business" that we can't quite put behind us yet has spelled a bit of frustration.  We find ourselves striving for goals we know are reasonable and achievable, but they feel just out of reach at the moment.  And when I can't wrap it all in a bow and call it "finished", man does that mess with my psyche!  If it doesn't look like that perfectly perfect picture I have in my head, I come dangerously close to loosing my marbles.  That striving for and failing to obtain perfection is a cycle I find myself in more frequently than I'd like to admit...

So this Christmas season, I have had to work really, really hard at slowing down and savoring...letting go of my need for perfection.  I've had to remind myself that perfection is not the ultimate goal.  Contentment is.  And I think the picture in Bethlehem that God paints for us is the perfect reminder of that.  Many times I think the HUMANITY of the Christmas story gets lost in the shuffle.  We sing about baby Jesus and how he never cried.  We see paintings of Mary with a literal glowing halo around her head.  We set up nativity scenes depicting this angelic setting with pure white lambs and donkeys that look as though they've just come from the groomer.  We sing about how Jesus was unblemished...the perfect spotless Lamb.  And don't get me wrong...He was.  He IS!  But He was human...

He "took on flesh".  In my mind, that means He, in His perfect plan to save all of His own creation, stepped DOWN from Heaven and lived like we do.  He was the spotless Lamb...He lived a sinless life.  But y'all...he was fully human.  Mary gave birth to that baby just the same way mothers around the world give birth to babies every day.  She felt those searing pains, and she LABORED to bring Jesus into this world.  When He arrived, he was far from "spotless" I'm sure.  He took on flesh and all that entails.  Birth is messy...so was His.  And those little white lambs?  I'm sure they were not so much white as they were covered in mud and stinking to high heaven wondering why in the world this little family from Nazareth was invading their little barn in the middle of the night.  Mary and Joseph had to cut that umbilical cord, they had to clean that little baby off and wrap him in torn cloths to keep him warm.  And Mary rocked him and sang to him and comforted him, because really, that little baby Jesus was as much human as you and I are.  God wanted it that way!  Can you imagine what His experience must have been like?  To step down from HEAVEN into humanity and experience every single bit of it as a human just like us?

God didn't orchestrate this story because He wanted us to experience perfection.  He didn't come to earth as a blemish free angel with a halo around his head.  His mother was a child herself...a weary traveler from an extended family with a sordid past.  God incarnated Himself and came to this earth to give us freedom from the need for perfection.   There was not enough blood on earth to ever cover the sins of this world, and God couldn't bear the thought of our striving for perfection still not measuring up.  So He wiped out the need for perfection in that little Bethlehem stable by making CONTENTMENT accessible in the absence of perfection.  He made a way for us to connect with HIM in the midst of our imperfections...

So this Christmas season, and as you go forth into the new year, be reminded that God desires contentment from us.  He wants us to stumble through this messy life in all of our fully blemished HUMAN-ness and strive for peace and rest.  In the end, that perfect peace and rest is our reward in Heaven.  In the meantime, taking time to remember why we are even here at all is incredibly important.  It's how we keep things in perspective.  That's as much a message to myself as it is to anyone else!  God stepped down from Heaven to be near to us.  He took on flesh to identify with us.  He lived His life blame free to make a way for us.  And He died a criminal's death to atone for us.  So in the depths of your striving for ultimate perfection (depths I find myself in frequently), be reminded that perfection is not attainable here on this earth.  What is attainable?  Contentment.  May that be your gift this Christmas and always...

Merry Christmas!
Rach




Friday, December 8, 2017

Choosing Joy

So here we are rounding out yet another year. How can 2017 be coming to a close already??  I feel like I say that every year. How did 365 days go by so quickly?  2017 has been only marginally less brutal than 2016 was. 2017 started with the loss of a “more like family” friend, continued with a giant road block on our road to an MD, stumbled through a literal ropes course of nonsense on our way to then losing my sweet Mimol, followed by suffering a miscarriage, and then starting our December with my best friend having major abdominal surgery to remove a golf ball sized small cell carcinoma from her kidney. Sheesh. Uncle already 2017...

If I sit here and dwell on the negative aspects of this year, I could really go down a rabbit hole y’all. I could cry and cry about how awful life has been. How uncaring and unfeeling some people have been in the midst of all of it. How the end of this year looks SO radically different than I thought it would. Maybe radically different than I hoped it would. Or...

I can lay here and marvel at the GOOD. I can set my mind on the perfect orchestration God has laid out for this year. How incredibly GRATEFUL I am that I didn’t  have to try and  navigate all of these difficult circumstances with Jonathan working 80+ hours a week in a residency like he was “supposed to”.  How blessed I am that he and I are a TEAM and we navigate the messiness of life TOGETHER. How perfectly perfect he is for me...

I can be content in the love and support that has been poured out on me and my family as volley after volley of difficulties have come our way. My heart can swell at the thought of how incredible our friends and community and family have been. How they’ve been our backbone...our rock!  How 2017 has just been punctuated and defined over and over and over again by the generosity and selfless love of the people we have surrounded ourselves with. How our cups run over with gratitude for the people we “do life with”...

I can continue to be shocked and totally pumped at where A Different Kind of Flair  has gone in the last 7 months. From 80 pairs of fundraiser earrings turning into $1,600 donated to the American Cancer Society in honor of Bernice, Sharon, and Debbie to a shocking number  in total sales since July that makes me blush when it pops up on my calculator. How blessed I am by my customer base and how happy I am that a dream is slowly becoming a reality. Pushing through firewalls and glass ceilings on the way to things I NEVER would have imagined could be possible for this little “hobby turned Business”. And how freaking excited Bernice would be at where it is headed!

I can remember how much my Mimol LOVED this time of year and think of how excited she would be to see my house all decorated for Christmas. How elated she would have been to see some of her pieces and her recipes used on our Thanksgiving table. How I can  hear her sweet alto voice singing among the voices of my own church’s choir...

I can smile at the fact that this is the second Christmas in a row I have helped Charlie decorate his house for the season. How happy it would have made Bernice to tell all the stories of all the things coming out of those boxes. How content she would be knowing Christmas would be spent at HER house. I can marvel at the little pieces of her that I see in Greysen. Her curled smile, her love for books and music, that little twinkle in her eye. How my heart breaks and soars at the same time when I think about how happy she would be to watch Jonathan and I raise our family...

I can rejoice in the fact that my sweet Sara is RECOVERING and not requiring chemo after her surgery. I can cheer because I know that this hasn’t taken any time away from the two of us and our future of shenanigans. How happy I am that she can say she’s beat this soon. How excited I am that tonight she is HOME, and she got to see the snow in Houston!  My heart is warmed knowing she’s watching Christmas movies by her fire at home in her beautiful house...

I can feel those same butterflies of excitement when I remember getting to tell my grandmother mere days before she passed that I was giving her great grand baby #10. I can remember the joy of that positive pregnancy test!  And I can kiss my sweet Greysens cheeks and further marvel at the miracle that is his life. Like Mimol always said...he’s my miracle baby!  How special he is to me, to Jonathan, to our family. And what an amazing big brother he WILL be when our time comes again...

While the sting of loss hits hard this year on so many levels, and our “new normal” continues to evolve with the absence of Bernice and Mimol, I can still sit in my living room and honestly say “It is well with my soul”.  The warm glow of our family Christmas tree, the smell of fresh pine, the anticipation of a super fun family vacation to Disney World in a few weeks!  There is so much MORE I have to be grateful, thankful, and HAPPY about than anything else. I’m taking a stand for JOY this year in the midst of pain and uncertainty. And make no mistake y’all...it’s absolutely a CHOICE. I choose joy!  I choose to see the happiness in my little boys face as he grasps a little more deeply the true meaning of Christmas. Christ came to earth because he couldn’t bear the separation. He craved NEARNESS to us just as we crave nearness to each other and to Him. So in these coming weeks, I will bring my family close. We will sit in the warmth of our house, tell stories and remember  our Bernice and Mimol and everyone else we are missing this Christmas, and be near to each other. 2017 threw us yet another bushel of lemons. But we’re still making lemonade y’all...


Sunday, September 10, 2017

It Was Then That He Carried Me...

When I lost this pregnancy, in my anger at God for taking my child, I literally begged Him to just show up.  I felt far from Him in my grief.  I felt like He had stepped out and left me.  So I begged Him to just be present and real and obvious to me.  I wanted Him to make His presence known.  I spent about two solid days lost in my thoughts...lost in my pain.  And then, He showed up.  Or probably He was really there all along...

He sent literal hoards of cards and messages and calls from all of you.  He sent sweet faces with even sweeter hugs and knowing tears to comfort me.  He sent my Mama to put her arms around me.  He wrapped me in my husband's arms and he laid my sweet baby Greysen in mine.  He provided for my every need.  He is STILL providing.  And my cup overflows with gratitude for who He is in my life.  How He so beautifully and effortlessly sweeps His brush across the mural of my life and makes something beautiful out of the ashes...

I may never truly understand on this side of Heaven why this happened.  I'm grateful for a God who lets me stay blissfully ignorant to His incredible plans because I know I would wreck them if He let me have the reigns.  We are a week and a half out from losing our sweet Soutine, but my God has been faithful.  He never left me.  He let me be mad at Him.  He let me cry and He let me question.  He let me feel every bit of the human emotion that comes with loss.  But He carried me every step of the way...He's still carrying me today...

On that Thursday night when I went to the ER, I had a callous nurse who was fairly uncaring.  In my anger about the situation, she is the only person I told you about.  But there was another character in that story.  And she deserves more airtime than the hardened nurse.  After checking into triage, I went back out to the waiting room.  I had been pretty numb on the drive over and in the process of checking in, but when I sat down and Jonathan put his arm around me...I lost it.  I clamored for Greysen so I could wrap my arms around my baby and smell his sweet head and soak up every ounce of him.  And I wept into the soft place between his shoulder and his neck while he sat still in my lap with his tiny arms slung around my neck.  And then she was there.  My eyes were clouded with tears, but I felt her warm hand on my shoulder and I heard her say, "I'm here in this hospital with you.  Tell me why you're crying dear."  I raggedly said, "I think I'm having a miscarriage."  I could hardly get the word out.  She stood there over me and she said, "Baby, sometimes we don't know what God is doing.  Sometimes we don't understand.  But He loves you and He loves this baby.  And His will will be done.  But He will comfort you if you let Him."  Through tear-filled eyes I looked up into hers.  She was a heavyset black woman.  She was wearing unassuming clothes and she handed me a package of tissues.  She had green eyes.  I stifled the urge I had to reach up and place my hand on her cheek.  I don't know where that uncanny urge came from to touch a stranger's face.  She put her hands on either side of my face and she prayed for me.  She prayed for my baby, for Jonathan, for my family, for my comfort and peace.  And she left.  After they had drawn my blood, they sent me to another waiting room.  In that room, she was there.  She talked with people around her as if they were just casually spending time together.  I couldn't bring myself to look at her again, but there was something soothing about just knowing she was there...

Y'all...I'm not one for "out of body experiences" or "supernatural manifestations".  But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hands that touched my face that night were His.  I told Jonathan that night at home amidst my sobs that "I think that woman was God."  And he said, "I think so too.  I thought that the minute she walked up."  I told Him to show up.  He did.  In a big way.  In just the way I needed Him to.  And He's been showing up ever since.  Not for a second have I truly had to question how much He truly loves and cares for me in all of this.  And while I know I will never understand in my limited ability to grasp His purpose for things, I believe He has been gracious enough to provide me a little insight into His perfect plan...

The timing is so perfect, that I have to believe that my sweet angel Soutine was a gift for my Mimol on this earth AND in Heaven.  Her life and her purpose were bigger than me.  And while she never breathed a breath here on earth, I know she heard her Lord say "Well done my good and faithful servant."  For the two weeks I knew she was there, she brought unimaginable joy to me and my family and my sweet grandmother.  Knowing she was there was the last sheer joy my Mimol experienced on this earth.  It was the last time I heard her laugh or saw her cry tears of joy.  And the image I have in my mind is this.  My sweet Soutine, with her jet black curls like Daddy and her button nose like Mommy...her piercing blue eyes like her big brother Greysen...stood with her hand outstretched to Mimol.  And the two of them strolled into those pearly gates with Bernice's "Dance in the River" as their soundtrack.  They were welcomed with open arms and so much uncontainable joy. While I can be sad for a moment, I know it's ok not to be ok, I can't linger on the emotion of sorrow when I know what that reception was like.  When I know what MY reception will be like when that day comes for me.  My little baby girl accomplished her purpose on this earth in the blink of an eye.  Oh how He loves her.  Oh how He loves ME!  And today I cling to HOPE.  Because I know my God is faithful.  I know He finishes what He starts.  I know He is good ALL THE TIME.  And I know His plan for my life is marvelous.  That mural is far from finished...



Friday, September 1, 2017

Soutine

Writing is catharsis for me.  Reading this may be uncomfortable for you because in situations like this, so many just don't know what to say.  I don't know what to say either.  I suppose because there's nothing you really *can* say.  I'm sorry.  I love you.  I'm praying for you.  You're on my mind.  Those things seem to be the only things that feel appropriate...and somehow they also seem completely inadequate.  They are both.  They are exactly what I need to hear, and also not nearly enough...

Two weeks ago on August 15th, I decided that after 8 days of a missed period (when my cycles since Greysen was born have been miraculously regular), that I needed to take a pregnancy test.  I was at my grandparent's house visiting with my sweet grandmother who was less than a week away from going Home.  She was uncomfortable and declining rapidly...

Jonathan and I have been "trying" for about 6 months to get pregnant.  Knowing all the while that there was maybe more chance it wouldn't happen for us than that it would, we still wanted to commit  to giving it a shot.  So that night, the night of the 15th, I took an $0.88 pregnancy test in my grandmother's bathroom.  And lo and behold...two solid pink lines showed up.  I was shocked and so excited.  I walked out of the bathroom to the kitchen where my mom and grandfather were.  I said, "Look Mom" and showed her the test.  She looked at it and looked at me and said, "It's positive!  You're pregnant!" and she turned to my grandfather and said, "Pa...Rachel's pregnant!!"  And we hugged and called my dad and decided to wait to tell Jonathan until I could surprise him the next night when he picked me up from the airport...

The next morning I crawled into bed with my ailing Mimol and said, "Mimol...look!"  I showed her the test and I said, "I'm pregnant!".  And even in her only semi-lucid state at that point she gasped and said, "A baby??  Oh Rachel!  A baby!!  I could just jump right out of this bed and dance!  A baby!!!"  It was a sweet moment of pure joy.  My mom, my aunt, my Greysen, my Mimol, and my Pa all in the same room celebrating this sweet little baby of mine on the way.  My Pa stood at Mimol's feet and squeezed her toes and said, "Marc...TEN!"  I was carrying their 10th great-grandchild.  Mimol scanned the room and said, "Look how wonderful this is...everyone here.  A baby, Rachel.  A baby..."

I went home that evening and I surprised Jonathan with a positive pregnancy test and Greysen wearing a shirt saying "Promoted to Big Brother".  He was shocked and elated!  We then surprised Charlie and he was equally shocked and excited.  Tears filled his eyes when we told him.  For a week before I took that test I had been feeling that tell-tale pregnancy exhaustion.  I was semi nauseated in the mornings, had some food aversions, and of course the lovely pregnancy insomnia.  My belly had already started protruding even at just 7 weeks pregnant.  I felt those round ligament pains starting.  I bought a belly support band to keep those at bay and I ordered my favorite prenatal vitamins in bulk.  I made an appointment with a midwife and had decided that I wanted to explore home birth with this baby.  I, at the very least, was committed to natural labor and delivery this time.  I was committed to pursuing a purposeful and calm process of delivery.  Within a week of taking that test, I had an overwhelming feeling that she was a girl.  No doubt in my mind.  I kept my pregnancy somewhat secret as per custom in early pregnancy, but I couldn't help but tell a few people...we were just so excited!  And with all those pregnancy symptoms, I just knew everything was fine.  There was no way I was going to miscarry or have another ectopic pregnancy...

I buried my grandmother last Saturday after she passed the Tuesday prior.  Everything was good.  I have that sweet memory of her joy in my mind forever.  She said, "Rachel I hope I get to hold that baby" and I told her she would.  I didn't know then how true those words would be...

Tuesday this week, after dropping Greysen off at his first day of school, I noticed spotting.  I called Jonathan and he said, "Let's go to the ER babe.  I'll meet you there."  So off I went.  6 vials of blood, a pelvic exam, and an ultrasound later, the consensus was 1) Your cervix is completely closed...good sign!, 2) Your hCG levels are at 987...a little low, but good sign!, 3) There's a sac in the uterus...good sign!, and 4) Even though it's a little too early to hear a heartbeat, the sac and the endometrium look good and normal...good news!  So I went home with hope.  Hope that I was just one of those women who experienced spotting in pregnancy and it was no big deal.  Hope that my little baby girl was going to keep growing and growing.  Hope that maybe with a little progesterone boost, this spotting would just go away completely...

And then last night happened.  My spotting turned to bleeding.  I went to the ER again where a horribly callous nurse said "Well you're probably miscarrying, but we will send you to lab to get your levels checked and then probably send you home."  A few hours later, she called me into a tiny little office and said "Well your levels are in half...you're miscarrying.  You'll probably have cramping and heavy bleeding for around 2 weeks.  Don't come back unless your hemorrhaging or you have high fever.  The nurse will be in to discharge you."  She left.  I was numb.  I still am.  I walked out of that hospital on my own two feet knowing that my baby was gone.  She was gone and I will never know her here on Earth.  Another baby lost.  This surely can't be happening...

This morning, I'm still numb.  I am struggling with anger.  With confusion.  With this thought that maybe it's all just a horribly awful bad dream and I'm going to snap back awake any minute and have my pregnancy back...my baby back.  I just don't understand why God would allow this to happen.  After everything that we've been through in the last 18 months...why in the world would this be ok??  What happens next?  This was supposed to be our Year of Jubilee...why do I feel so hopeless and joyless and overwhelmingly sad??  How is this happening to us...again?  How can I be expected to get through this AGAIN?  The answer to all those questions is...I have no idea.  I don't know.  Somewhere deep in my soul I know God has a plan.  But today, I am questioning that plan HARD.  I am angry with Him and I don't mind saying it.  I know He thinks of things beyond my comprehension.  I know He's good.  I know His plans for me are good.  But I just can't wrap my mind around how THIS is supposed to be good.  How is THIS supposed to cause me to cling to hope rather than melt into sorrow?  How is this at all right?  Why did this happen to ME...AGAIN?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions.  I don't know what the future of our little family is right now.  I would love to continue hoping that more babies are in our future.  I can't help but imagine delivering another sweet angel into this world.  Watching him or her grow, nursing again, studying my baby as they sleep peacefully.  I can't help but hope that Greysen gets to be a big brother one day.  Y'all...he would be such an amazing big brother.  I can't help but hope that one day Jonathan gets to be a new Daddy again.  But simultaneously I can't help but wonder if I will never get to experience those joys again.  If what's in my future is either more infertility or more loss.  There are no guarantees either way...

Our little girl...our sweet Soutine...rests in the arms of Jesus right now.  She will never know pain like this.  She will never hurt or want or cry.  SO many people welcomed her home yesterday.  Her Daddy Ronchal, her Grandmommy, her Granddaddy, her sweet Bebe, her Mimol, and her big brother Aamon.  How I wish I was the one that was keeping her safe right now.  How I wish she was listening to my heartbeat.  How I wish I was listening to hers.  How I wish God had trusted me enough to mother her here.  How I wish He hadn't taken her Home.  While I know there is so much joy on that beautiful shore this morning, my heart is crushed on this side of the river.  My arms, my heart, my womb is empty today.  And I feel every single inch of that void...

Friday, August 18, 2017

That Sweet By and By...

As I sit and write this post, my sweet grandmother is probably within hours of finishing her course here on Earth.  In the final days and hours of Bernice's life, she talked about seeing people in her room that she didn't know but who knew her.  She talked about a woman with a rosary.  In the final days of Debbie's life she talked about a man named Ty who was "way too cute for her" and was hanging out in the room with her.  Now in these final hours of my Mimol's life, she has seen angels and is asking who all these people are in her room.  She asked me Tuesday "who those two men were"...she said "it's like they're waiting for me".  She's talking with her late mother and sister as if they're in the room with her.  And maybe they are...

There is a process that happens when someone passes from this world...a blurring of the lines between our earthly reality and the next.  There is a lack of clarity for them in what they are experiencing because they can't quite separate the seen from the unseen.  Because slowly, they begin to SEE the unseen.  I can tell you that laying in bed next to Bernice and next to my Mimol, I *felt* those "people"...but I couldn't see them.  The room is peaceful even when the person who is passing is agitated.  There's an unexplainable serenity to the environment that I just can't put my finger on...

This is not something quantifiable.  There is not a scientist in the world who can explain what happens in death aside from the organic nature of the body systems slowly shutting down one by one.  There is no black and white explanation for why they see people they love who have passed...why they see "angels"...why they hear singing...why they reach out for things unseen.  You can't quantify it.  You can't explain it...

But having experienced this passing process at different times in the end of 4 separate women's lives in the last 16 months, I can tell you that you will NEVER convince me that there's nothing spiritual about the process of dying.  I know what happens when the body organically dies.  I've seen it first hand.  I've heard the sounds, I've seen the process.  THAT part might be quantifiable if you must quantify something.  But it's what happens before all of that that is unexplainable and too perfectly synced between 4 women who hardly knew each other or didn't know each other at all for me to believe it's all just a set of incredibly uncanny coincidences.  They each took different medicines, they each were afflicted with a different illnesses, there was not a whole lot that was similar between the 4 of them beyond the fact that they were dying.  But they heard things, they saw things, they felt things...and when they were each gone there was a strange peace about it all.  I'm certain it will be the same with my sweet Mimol when her last breaths are drawn.  There is a serenity that is beyond all understanding.  The soul is not quantifiable.  It's not something you can "prove".  But you'll never convince me that there's not a realm beyond our perception occurring right alongside our reality.  And how sweet it is to know that those we love and have lost are there not waiting for us, but existing there with us in perfect peace and serenity without the confines of time and space.  What a marvelous thought, Heaven.  That sweet by and by...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

It Was Such a Sweet Moment...

The experience of holding someone's hand while they slip from this world is a heavy one.  If you had asked me years ago if I had the capacity to do what I did, what *we* did, this time last year, I would have told you there was no way I could be strong enough to handle that.  To be honest, I wasn't strong enough.  Had it not been for God's strength flowing through me, it would have crushed me.  I know Bernice would not want us to "be sad" this time every year on account of her.  She would be SO mad if she thought that's what was happening.  But there will be moments of sweetness that I will forever keep tucked away in my heart.  She would much prefer (and I would too) that when the month of May rolls around every year those special moments are what are remembered and not the moments that feel suffocating and heavy...

After we said goodbye to Granddaddy the first week in May last year, Jonathan and I went up to Canada with Greysen to spend some time with my parents.  It was a wonderful trip!  We had no idea how much we would need the rejuvenation of that vacation.  We had been keeping up with Bernice's medical concerns while we were away.  Her last chemo infusion had really depressed her bone marrow and her blood counts had plummeted.  She could feel it too...she knew she was in need of a transfusion.  So the day we were traveling back from Canada, she went up to Deaconess to get a blood transfusion per the order of her hematologist.  When we got back to Dallas we were originally planning to stay in Granbury with my mom for a couple of days.  We woke up the next morning, however, and we both felt like we just needed to be with Bernice.  So we woke up early, packed up Greysen and our stuff, and buzzed north to Oklahoma City.  When we got there, she didn't look like someone who was ill.  She certainly didn't look like someone who would breathe her last breath in 2 1/2 weeks...

The next day after we arrived in OKC from Dallas, Bernice and Greysen and I were hanging out in the kitchen.  The phone rang...it was the nurse from OU calling to give Bernice an update on her blood counts after the transfusion.  How we were PRAYING they would be high enough that she could continue with chemotherapy.  She sat in one of the kitchen chairs and I could tell in her voice that it wasn't good news.  I held Greysen in my arms and stood in the kitchen doorway and I heard her say, "Oh goodness.  Well that's just not what I was hoping to hear..."  She was crushed.  And when she hung up the phone she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "Even after my transfusion my counts are back down..."  I will never forget that the minute those words came out of her mouth, my little 1 year old Greysen leaned out of my arms and wrapped his little arms around her neck and laid his head on her shoulder.  It was such a sweet moment...

That afternoon she and I sat in the two overstuffed chairs in her den and talked for hours.  It was a thing we did so very often when we were together.  I can't count the number of hours we spent talking  in those two chairs together.  Those conversations will forever bless my heart when I remember them.  I had no idea that that afternoon would be the last time I ever got to sit and talk with her in those chairs like that.  A few short days later, she hardly had the strength to walk to the front of the house.  I will never forget that conversation that we had that day.  At one point she looked over at me and said, "I don't feel bad enough for this to be the end, but I just don't know what else they can do."  Tears were welling up in her eyes...it was crushing my heart to hear those words out of her mouth.  So I reached across the space between us and held her hand and I said, "Well Bernice, Jonathan and I have already decided that when he has to go back to Baltimore in June, Greysen and I are just going to stay here.  And I'll be here to hold your hand through whatever heavy hitting treatment they're going to recommend.  We can do this together.  But if it is the end, I'll be here to hold your hand until it's all over."  Goodness how the tears flowed then.  And how difficult it was for me to even acknowledge that this really could be the beginning of the end.  I still honestly thought we had more time!  But I assured her that I would be there by her side until the bitter end.  It was such a sweet moment...

For a few days after that, I pushed her up and down the long hallway in their home in a wheelchair.  She hardly had the strength to even sit upright for more than a couple of minutes at a time, let alone the arduous walk from her bedroom to the front of the house.  I lifted her in and out of that wheelchair, in and out of bed, in and out of her chair in the den, in and out of the car.  I put her shoes on, picked out her outfits, helped her dress, handed her her jewelry.  Jonathan, Charlie, Greysen and I took her to see her oncologist Dr. Landrum one last time on a Thursday afternoon at OU.  When Dr. Landrum came in the room she was visibly frazzled...frantic almost.  She had a list in front of her of all the drugs that had even the tiniest effect on ovarian cancer.  She had marked several of them out for various reasons because they weren't options for our Bernice.  But she was out of sorts...it was SO not like her.  She was this stoic strictly business doctor who, in this moment, was reduced to a nervous wreck.  When she finished telling us that Bernice's blood counts needed to improve before we could do another infusion, but "there are options if we can get those counts up", she looked at Bernice and said, "Can I give you a hug?"  And she leaned down and wrapped her arms around Bernice and they both cried.  It was such a sweet moment...

The following day was the first day I saw "the look" in her eyes.  If you've ever spent time with someone who is slipping from this world, you know the look I'm talking about.  It is sort of a despondent, far off look.  It's pensive, resigned, and dreamy.  When we took her to the hematologist, she hardly said anything.  Instead she sat there in a purple shirt and her favorite travel knit maxi skirt and her black silk cap and stared off in thought as Dr. Kana'a recommended two back to back transfusions and an oral steroid to try and "wake up her marrow".  We wheeled her out and into the handicapped van we had borrowed from Helen.  She sat in that van with her head propped on her hand and she looked off into the distance.  We took her home and put her in bed.  She slept the rest of the day and most of the next.  The next evening I was sitting in the bed with her while Jonathan and Charlie got dinner together in the kitchen.  I was fussing over her as became my MO in those final days.  I was sitting at her feet rubbing them with Midnight Path lotion while she smiled sweetly with her eyes closed.  When I stood up to put the lotion away she said, "Well that was strange.  I didn't know the TV was on."  It wasn't.  I said, "I didn't turn it on, but would you like me to?"  And she said, "No sweetie, it's ok.  But did you see that woman with the rosary?"  It was the first moment I realized that that bedroom was filled with angels that I couldn't see.  But she could.  It was such a sweet moment...

We had a funny moment that night when Charlie inadvertently put on a pair of Bernice's pants to go to Braums to bring back some ice cream.  It was the last time I truly heard her belly laugh.  All four of us laughed until we cried and Charlie even put on a show in those cropped pants.  Popping out of the closet strutting his stuff in her pants.  We laughed and laughed and laughed until it literally hurt.  Somewhere there is video evidence of these shenanigans.  Charlie put on *his* pants and he and Jonathan went to Braums to get her a cup of German Chocolate ice cream.  It was always her favorite.  When they returned we all four (and Greysen) sat in their bedroom and watched family movies and looked through scrapbooks.  We laughed some more and they remembered special times together and with friends and family.  It was such a sweet moment...

She began slipping ever quicker after that night.  I actually thought, at one point, that she would never make it to those transfusion appointments on Monday and Tuesday.  But she was resilient and to the hospital we went on Monday morning.  She refused to keep using the handicapped van claiming "it was just too much trouble" and insisted on hoisting herself up into the "gargantu-van" (the name we lovingly use to identify the family custom van).  On Monday they put her in the last room on the hall for her transfusion.  We were there all day as they had to type and cross her before she got a single unit of blood.  Her sweet friend Charlotte came and sat with her for a bit while we all went to grab some lunch.  When we came back in, Greysen insisted on sharing her crackers with her.  He climbed up in the bed with her, handed her a cracker, took one for himself, and proceeded to snuggle up to her.  He laid his precious little head on her belly and stayed like that for a solid 10 minutes just soaking up his BeBe.  Goodness how she loved him.  It was such a sweet moment...



Minutes after those pictures were taken they came in the tell us that Bernice's counts had not bounced back enough after the transfusion to do a paracentesis to drain the uncomfortable fluid off her belly.  I expected her to be more distraught.  But she just sighed and said "ok".  When the nurse left the room I said, "Bernice I'm so sorry.  I know you were really hoping for some relief."  To which she responded, "Well I've been praying all day that if it was in God's will for me to have the procedure, He would make my counts what they needed to be.  He must have other plans!"  I was shocked at her poise...at her faith.  Or maybe I wasn't...it was so like her.  We took her home and she let me help her get dressed for bed and give her her medications.  Later that night after Jonathan and I had gone to bed, Charlie came to our room and said I needed to "come to their bedroom quick".  It terrified me...I thought she was gone or going.  But instead she needed my help in the restroom and she was so modest she wouldn't even let Charlie help her.  She called for me by name and I came running.  After I had gotten her back in bed she said, "I'm so sorry sweetie.  You shouldn't have to do this kind of thing for me."  To which I said, "I wouldn't be anywhere else Bernice.  I was made for this and for you, and I am right where I am supposed to be doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.  I love you so much it hurts sometimes."  She said, "Thank you sweetie.  I love you so much...like you were my own daughter.  I don't know what I would do without you."  Of course the tears were flowing from both of us and from Charlie as he sat next to her in the bed.  I pressed her hand to my chest and told her again how much I loved her, how blessed I was by our relationship, and how I would be right there next to her as we walked this road.  I told her to call me if and when she needed me...I meant it.  It was such a sweet moment...

As the days continued, she slipped away more and more every day.  Her waking hours were less and less.  Her sweet friend Brenda came along side me and the two of us were Bernice's strength.  I can't tell you how blessed I was by Brenda.  How beautiful those moments were when the two of us were pouring everything we had into this woman who we both loved so much.  How moving it was to see this sweet sister-friend of Bernice's take such painstaking care of her in her time of greatest need.  What an incredibly heartwarming picture it was of selfless love and grace and vulnerability between women.  She let me take the lead in Bernice's care...somehow she knew I needed that.  She would whisk away any linens that needed washing, she would put things away in the bathroom, and she did it all without saying a word.  On the morning before we lost Bernice that evening, she and I changed Bernice's clothes and sheets while she stayed lying in the bed.  It took every ounce of strength from all three of us to complete that task and I was so spent.  Bernice hardly even came into consciousness at all in that hour and a half except to groan in pain momentarily.  Brenda and I spoke sweetly to her, I slung Bernice's arms around my neck to lift her and move her, I told her how special she was, how beautiful she was, what a blessing she was.  And as Brenda began whisking away linens as she did, I knelt by Bernice, held her hand pressed to my heart, and I wept.  I wept because I felt like I needed to do more for her that I didn't have the strength to do.  I wept because I felt like I was waning and she needed me to be strong for her.  I wept because I knew she was leaving us.  I wept because it wasn't fair what this sweet and gentle woman was having to endure.  But I begged God, raggedly and out loud, to take her quickly when it was time.  To gather her to Himself in the blink of an eye.  To end her suffering.  Later that afternoon I got a text from Brenda that said "Rachel, you are an incredible daughter.  What a picture of love.  You are Ruth my dear..."  I wept all over again...because in that moment I realized what Bernice was to me.  She has always been my Naomi.  And Brenda was Bernice's Martha.  Her sister-friend who took the lead, took the initiative, and let Bernice be Bernice. It was such a sweet moment...



And in the minutes that Bernice was breathing her last...there is nothing that I can write that can describe the desperate yet peaceful experience that was.  For a solid 30 minutes Bernice was crying out for one of us to help her.  We propped pillows behind her, moved blankets, propped up her legs...nothing helped.  We gave her morphine...we gave her Ativan.  I called the hospice nurse.  She said to just try and keep her comfortable.  Try we did...but we couldn't stop the trajectory of what was happening.  The downward spiral had started and we were helpless to stop it.  I went out of the room to nurse a fussy Greysen and Nicole followed. We talked in the living room about how we needed to tell the hospice nurse that we needed a hospital bed...or anything to help her more.  And Patrick came in the room and said, "Dads says you need to come now".  When I got back in the room, Jonathan was on his knees on the bed right next to her face gripping her hand and whispering "It's ok Mums, you can go".  She was leaving us.  Fast.  I climbed up in the bed next to Jonathan...Greysen was still sweetly nursing.  I put my hand on her leg and told her how loved she was, how beautiful she was, how she had fought a good fight and she didn't have to fight anymore.  I would take care of Charlie.  I would take care of Patrick and Nicole and Jonathan and Greysen.  It's ok.  I texted the hospice nurse and Brenda both.  All my text said was "Brenda...she's going".  Brenda and Larry and Vanessa came rushing over.  Brenda and Vanessa stood next to the bedside as our sweet Bernice breathed her last.  The life spiraled out of her in such a frantic way that I couldn't help but compare it to giving birth.  How those moments of sheer panic, that uncontrollable freight train of a trajectory, just seems to barrel through you in waves ever more consuming.  Until, in the stillness, there was no more breath in her body.  And we all breathed deep...and wept.  Our Bernice had left us...   It was unbelievable that she was gone.  But as I scanned the room in those seconds after we knew she was gone, I was overwhelmed by the tapestry of love in that room.  Bernice's hands both filled with the lives she carried in her own womb, a tiny 13 month old baby whom she had loved from his literal first heartbeat, a husband with so much love for her he could hardly contain it, a daughter in law who she loved like her own daughter, a friend who was a sister, a woman who had become like her niece, and me...her Ruth.  It was such a sweet moment...

My experience of those final weeks is unique to me.  Each of us experienced those days, those final moments,  differently.  We saw different things.  We wept for different reasons.  But we all loved the same woman.  We all desperately wanted the story to end differently.  But when the time comes for me to breath my last, I hope it is at least half as beautiful as her final moments were.  Surrounded by those she loved and who loved her too.  It was such a sweet moment...

I miss her every day...





Saturday, February 25, 2017

Year of Jubilee

As many of you may know, the close of this chapter of our lives has taken on a bit of a "twist ending" if you will.  I can't believe I actually have it in me to put what I'm thinking and feeling into words right now.  To be honest, my biggest motivation in doing this, even considering how raw it all still is, is so that you all know that our faith is still intact.  If you know me and Jonathan at all, you know we don't throw the towel in very easily.  And y'all...this situation doesn't warrant giving up.  At least not for us.  We have come to an impasse for Match 2017 which has come down to a seemingly impossible and also incredibly frustrating technicality.  It's a razor thin line of red tape that just didn't play out in our favor.  I could sit here and seethe for hours on end about how unfair it is.  How upset we both are about this turn of events.  And on and on and on.  But the truth of the matter is, the reason why it seems so incredibly impossible that this is all happening is because, frankly, it just wasn't supposed to pan out for us in this match cycle.  Good gracious...that is STILL hard to say and even harder to wrap my mind around...

We started this journey toward an M.D. more than 7 years ago.  In December of 2009, Jonathan came to me and told me that he felt an intense need to pursue medicine.  He was unhappy and unfulfilled in his present career and I hated seeing him that way.  I had nothing negative to say about his ambition to be a doctor!  As we have climbed this mountain together, it has become increasingly apparent that Jonathan has found his true calling.  He is totally in his element in medicine.  He's brilliant y'all.  He really is.  But we knew what we were taking on, in some sense, when we answered this call.  We certainly knew it wouldn't be easy. We knew it would be a LONG road and a difficult one at that.  We knew that there would be challenges and setbacks and hurdles.  And so my friends, despite this recent speed bump, we continue pressing forward.  We continue steadfastly working toward our end goal.  Weary as we are, we keep trudging along (trying not to grumble too much in the process...).  But we are taking note of this "speed bump" and trying also to learn the lessons within it...

I talked with a dear friend of mine Wednesday night.  She and her husband have been through similar trials in their lives recently and they've lived to tell the tale!  And my goodness...what a breath of fresh air it was to hear her voice (she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area...I haven't seen her in more than 2 years!) and to receive her wisdom on this matter.  She let me hash out the whole story and she let me express my upset about it.  She let me be mad.  She identified with me.  She sympathized with me.  And then she said something that was quite possibly one of the most profound insights I've heard in a long time.  She said, "You've been going at this for 7 years right?" When I told her yes, she drew upon stories from Leviticus and other places in the Old Testament where the Israelites were commanded by God to take every 7th year and make it a year of rest.  This was rest for the people and rest for the soil.  Without this year of rest, the people would get burned out and the soil would be stripped of its nutrients and therefore not produce nearly as rich a crop.  God's commandment to make every 7th year a Year of Jubilee was meant to recenter His people.  Remind them of their joy in the Lord, of His provisions, and to give them an infusion of energy, strength, and richness so that they could continue pressing forward...

My sweet friend Elise suggested that maybe this year, this 2017, is meant to be our own 21st century Year of Jubilee.  We have taken the last couple of days to let that sink in, and I think she is exactly right.  We are trying to be intentional about receiving this gift of time and rest that God is extending to us.  We are trying not to let the crappy parts of this circumstance stifle our ability to soak up the joy that will come with this rest and the richness we will be infused with when it is over.  Maybe our "soil" was beginning to dry up.  Maybe we were becoming burned out.  Well...there's more than a maybe to that one, I can tell you for sure we were getting burned out.  We have come through a crazy amount of impossible odds to get where we are.  These things are not normal.  To be frank, it's not normal to have to bury your mother smack dab in the middle of medical school.  It's just not y'all.  And it's an ever lovin' miracle that the two of us are still upright after the world's most brutal summer of 2016!  But upright we are and onward we go...

I am still wrestling with God a bit on this one.  I am choosing to receive His gift of rest even though I really want to break my neck to "fix" the situation.  He's telling me to pump the brakes, and so I will. I am not really looking for the "silver lining" yet.  I'm not looking for a reason why all of this happened.  I'm afraid I'd probably be searching forever if I gave into that!  We are both literally letting go, and letting God.  Praying fervently that He is going to shine a spotlight on each step along way so we know right where to go.  We have faith that He has plans for good, for hope, and for a marvelous future for our family.  That has not changed one bit even after Wednesday's drama!  And rather than seeing these next 12 months as a "season of waiting", I'm choosing to see them as an opportunity for rest, recentering, and rejuvenation.  Jonathan and I both SO need a breather y'all.  We would have never taken this year of our own accord.  I'm certain God knew that!  And so He has orchestrated what we need better than we could have.  Doesn't He always!  He's the ultimate parent and He loves us so well...

So here we are.  Setting out on our Year of Jubilee.  Looking forward to looking back on these 12 months this time next year and seeing all God did in this time of rest.  For now, though, here's to divine direction and peace beyond understanding.  Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.  Amen, let it be so...