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...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poetic Perfection

I begin this post with so much anticipation on my heart that my fingers are literally trembling.  There is so much I want to say and so much divine inspiration in my soul that I can hardly decide where to begin in my sharing.  In my life I have found a few patterns that have popped up during "defining moments".  As a budding college musician, the music of Frank Ticheli punctuated some of my defining moments as a musician.  My first year as a Texas All-Stater, he was my clinician and we played American Elegy (that link is to the recording of the 5A concert band in 2002...I was third chair horn in that group that year).  My soul was stirred...I was never the same again!  It marked my embarkation into "real" musicianship.  Then later in 2007, in April before Jonathan and I were married the following June, I was the principal horn in the OU Wind Symphony.  Yet again, the music of Frank Ticheli was part of that defining moment.  I had witnessed Jonathan having a seizure for the first time just 2 days before my final concert of my college career.  And there I was...charged with performing the somewhat "obligato" solo at the beginning of Ticheli's Sanctuary (do yourself a favor and listen to that link while you read the rest of this post) as not only the final piece of the concert, but also my final performance at OU.  What a Sanctuary it was that evening, as I sat on that stage in Norman under the direction of the amazing and moving Dr. William K. Wakefield, and played that solo and that piece with tears in my eyes the whole time.  I can't tell you how I made it through that concert without ending up weeping on my knees over the spiritual experience that it was for me.  God reminded me then that He is always in control.  He marked the end of one chapter and the opening of another with such poetic perfection that I was overcome with gratitude and anticipation...

So here I am today.  Mere hours away from the "launch", if you will, of yet another epic chapter in our lives and simultaneously the poetically perfect closing of another.  I married a man who has joined with me in such legendary leaps of faith in 10 years that I can't even describe to you.  If you'd told me nearly 12 years ago when we went on our first date that our lives would look like this today,  that we would walk the roads we have walked hand in hand, I would never have believed you.  We have waded through valleys, climbed impossibly high mountaintops, taken crazy scary risks, and reaped SO many rewards.  Just a cursory look at what our partnership has looked like over these nearly 12 years makes my heart soar to places I cannot even put into words...

Back to punctuation, though.  In January of 2014, I began a Beth Moore study with my soul sister Sara Henderson called Believing God.  At that time, Jonathan and I had decided to pursue IVF in hopes of conceiving our miracle.  Thus the launch of this blog!  That study was incredibly impactful. The whole theme of it was that "believing in" God doesn't go far enough.  We need also to BELIEVE HIM and believe that His promises are true.  Believe Him when He says He will finish what He starts.  It was life changing for me...paradigm shifting!  And so we stepped out in faith toward our precious miracle, just as the tagline on this blog says, and we believed God every step of the way.  The morning I took that positive pregnancy test I said, "God, I am so incredibly elated right now!  But I know that in my life, this is not the end of the struggles I will endure.  So remind me, when I find myself in another valley, that you are faithful and that you finish what you start.  That you are who you say you are.  That you have plans for GOOD.  Bring me back to this moment."  Y'all...my Greysen baby is getting ready to be 2 years old in a couple of months and God is pressing me, pressing me, pressing me to share with you how He is molding my heart and mind and soul right along those same lines today...

This month I began yet another Beth Moore study called Entrusted.  God is, yet again, with poetic perfection, closing one chapter and opening another for me in my life with divine punctuation.  He has brought me back to that moment, just as I asked Him to, time and time again in the last 8 months as we have walked some of the deepest and darkest valleys of our lives in this time frame.  He keeps saying "Rachel...remember I am faithful.  Rachel...remember I finish what I start.  Rachel...remember *I* am the One who set this whole thing in motion from the start.  Remember!"  Because I am human...because I am a worry wort...because I am ME...this "remembering" has not always been easy.  It hasn't been as simple as saying "Wow this is terrible.  But I see what a miracle Greysen is so I know it will all be ok."  If I sat here and told you that it was as simple as that, I would be lying like a rug y'all!  It *should* be that easy, but it hasn't been.  Sucker punch after sucker punch has been hurled our way over the last 8+ months.  We are so weary!  I have so wanted to be as solid as I would need to be to put aside the worry and let God DO what He does so well...finish what He starts with poetic perfection!  I'm such a control freak y'all...

But here we are today...

I told you...mere hours away from the last page of this chapter being turned.  Why is it coming down to hours you ask?  Well for us, those sucker punches have left us in a position of waiting...waiting that is somewhat heavier than it would have been had May 2016 not been such a beating for our family.  The profound loss we experienced in May had all of us walking through a cloud in the following months.  That haze had a major impact on Jonathan as he went into his board exams.  It's not simple y'all.  God has woven some major complexities into this tapestry of our lives.  Without being too cryptic, a finish line that we wish we could have crossed back in October has stretched far beyond that mark.  We are awaiting our final passing test score STILL.  The reporting period was February 1st through February 22nd.  Literally less than 1% of people who took the test when Jonathan did have not yet received their scores.  We are among those 15-20 people in America right now (cue eye roll and weepy face emojis here).  Tomorrow we are supposed to get our scores.  We know they will be passing.  But guess what?  Here's a little tidbit so you can join me on the edge of my seat tomorrow morning, tomorrow at 9:00 PM EST is the deadline for submitting Rank Order Lists for Match 2017.  So literally more than 7 years of work are potentially culminating in things coming down to literal HOURS here.  If we don't get scores or if they're late or if for some reason there is a hang up on ERAS and we can't get them updated on our application in time, we will be bumped out of the Match for this year (again...cue weepy face emoji).  Holy. Heck.

So why is God drawing this out?  Why would He choose not to just give us the scores last Wednesday when 99+% of the test takers received their scores??  Y'all..I don't know.  But this morning He stirred something in me while I was in Bible study listening to that fiery Beth Moore do her thang.  2 Timothy 1:7a says "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but one of power".  If I sit here and tell you that it is easy to admit that we are struggling, I would again be lying like a rug.  In reality, I worry that if I make bold claims like "He's going to finish what He starts" and tomorrow doesn't pan out like we'd hoped...I worry deeply that you will in some way doubt His power.  But you know what?  I'm just gonna grab ahold of that POWER Paul is reminding Timothy of.  I'm going to put it out there y'all.  He's gonna finish what He starts.  For cryin' out loud, if He can create a LIFE inside of my body despite my barrenness up until then...can He not do this??  Of course He can.  And He will.  Are you as revved up as I am about this?  Are you ready to see what He does??  Lord knows I am.  I'm ready.  I'm ready to exalt Him in the closing of this chapter.  I'm ready to trust Him with the next.  And I want you to come along with me...with us!...for the ride!  I'm trusting that Jeremiah 29:11 is true.  That He has plans for our lives, and that He knows them well.  Plans for peace and a future of continuing to say YES to His callings no matter the risk.  He has plans for a future filled with HOPE for the Womack family...

So if you think of us, say a prayer for us.  Tomorrow around 8:00 AM we will know the tentative trajectory of this whole thing.  By tomorrow evening we will hopefully be, with poetic perfection, turning the final page on this chapter in our lives.  And I want your prayers to be answered just like mine will be.  Promise me you'll send up your own volley of praise to Him when I get to report on His poetry.  I promised Him there would be an uproar... ;)




Saturday, December 24, 2016

Why A Mother?

Every year for the last 5 or 6 years, I have written a "Christmas post".  This year, I spent quite bit of time considering what I would write about.  What about this Christmas is profound in my mind and heart?  Well, to begin with, this is our first Christmas without Bernice.  That alone is profound enough!  But 2016 has given me new insight into why God chose to come to earth as a baby.  Part of that insight has to do with Bernice.  I have seen what an integral role she plays in this family.  I've always known she was the backbone of the Womack clan, but her absence sure magnifies that.  Some of it has to do with watching my own mother, even as the mother of 30 and 32 year old daughters, spend so much of her energy pouring encouragement, love, compassion, and understanding into the lives of my sister and me.  Still more has to do with watching one of my dearest friends wade through the grief of losing her own mother.  I've watched how profoundly impacted she and her little family are by the loss of a mom, a mother in law, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt.  And further still, as this heavy 2016 comes to a close, I find myself holding the hand of yet another of my closest friends as she steps into the role I took on in May for my Bernice.  Caretaker of her mother-in-law who she cherishes so deeply.  Since her mother-in-law has only sons, no sisters, and her mother is no longer with us, my sweet friend has stepped into the role of "God appointed daughter".  And I'm struck once again at how God knits stories together so seamlessly...

I considered for a good long while why God chose to incarnate himself as a baby.  There's the quintessential answer that "babies are vulnerable" or "a baby is the least likely to be a king".  But I think there's more to it than that.  You see, God created the heart of mothers. We are created in His image, and I believe that the heart of a mother is near and dear to His own heart.  He knew that He had to come to earth, live the perfect life, and die to cover all our sins.  I suppose, if I were God, I would want to enter this world in the gentlest way possible.  Especially since He knew what He was walking into!  He wanted His first breaths to be drawn nestled on the warm chest of a mother.  He wanted the first human who touched Him to have the soft hands and tender warmness of a mother.  He wanted the first sight that His heavenly eyes gazed upon to be the kind eyes of a mother.  And He knew that He wanted and needed a mother to help Him walk the road He would have to walk on this earth.  He needed her support.  Her guidance.  Her patience.  Her encouragement.  Her compassion.  He needed her to be firm but also mild.  He needed her to have that mother's intuition...

So this Christmas, if you have a mother who is still here with you, give her extra attention.  Sit close to her while you open presents.  Thank her for the meal she is preparing for you.  Enjoy the joy in her eyes as she watches her family delighting in the magic of Christmas.  If you are missing your mother this year, take several moments to remember her warmth.  Remember her compassion.  Remember what she did to make your holidays merry.  Remember how she impacted your life and how she continues to impact your life in her absence.  If you are a mother, take a moment to soak in your family and be reminded that it is a heart like yours that God chose to be His "soft landing" when He came crashing into our world...

I like to think that Mary did know.  She knew the treasure she was holding.  The phrase "and she pondered these things in her heart"...that sounds just like a mother to me.  Mothers know more, feel more, do more than they let others think they do.  Mary knew.  But regardless of who He was, she loved on that little baby, raised that little boy, and supported that great man until the bitter end.  I know she would have done that whether Jesus was the Son of God or not.  She was there when He drew His first breath, and she was there when He drew His last.  And God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose a mother to be His guiding light on earth...

Merry Christmas, y'all.  Thank God for your Mom and give her a few extra hugs this weekend.  Remind her of her incredible worth, and, if you're a mother yourself, be reminded of yours...







Saturday, October 22, 2016

Let The Mountains Move


Yes, yes, yes. About 4 1/2 years ago I sang for the last time at our church in Houston. I sang Christy Nockels' song Waiting Here For You. At the time, we had just been accepted to medical school and were about to embark on our great adventure, but we were still waiting on an answer from God about our baby hopes. The song says "If faith can move the mountains, let the mountains move". God has required BIG faith from us during these past 4 years of following His call. Bigger faith than we realized it would require when we said yes. And here we find ourselves in a situation similar to the one we were in around February of 2012. Feeling like we had answered His call and yet He wasn't paving the way in a way that we could understand. In short, we went from feeling like we had made the exact right choice to feeling like maybe we had totally screwed up. A set of quite unfortunate circumstances had landed us in the position of feeling like everything we had sacrificed was so much effort put into the wrong thing. I remember weeping in my boss's office the day he got a rejection letter from a school we were certain he would get accepted to. I went home early that day, and we cried together over what we thought we had lost. We sought counsel from our pastor who told us "Keep pressing forward. This is one shut door, but another one will open."  We felt abandoned. We felt crushed. But we kept pressing forward...

If we had known what life would throw at us over these four years, I can tell you with full confidence that we would have NEVER gone through with medical school. If we had known beforehand, we would have never had the guts to say yes!  But we said yes, knowing nothing about what the next years of our lives would look like, and He's been providing ever since.  Let me tell you, though. It has not been without trials. It's been hell y'all. It's been hard on so many levels. If you even knew the half of it, you'd wonder how we are still at this thing. And you'd wonder how I know that, no matter what, God will finish what He started.  Today we feel broken and worn down, but we are clinging to the promise God made to finish what He starts...

When I got pregnant with Greysen after all the turmoil of infertility and everything it took to conceive him, I remember praying to God and asking Him to always remind me of His faithfulness in this aspect of my life when I inevitably began questioning His plans to prosper me and not to harm me in the future. When I married, do you think I ever thought it would be 7 years before I was able to have a child?  No way!  But He finished what He started then, and He will do that now. Even if the path of this doesn't go the way I thought it would. God called Jonathan to be a doctor, and so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that is precisely what will be the outcome of all of this...

If our faith in Gods timing and His perfect will for our lives could move mountains, let me tell you...Kilimanjaro herself would be moving right now!  I have no clue how this all gets worked out. I have no idea what's on the other side of this mountain we are climbing. I don't know what our lives will look like in 10 years. What I DO know is that the masterpiece He is creating...the magnum opus of mine and Jonathan's life work...the culmination of His call and our obedience...will definitely be something marvelous. All these other setbacks are equal only to smoke in mirrors. These bumps in the road are meant as distractions...antics to diminish the magnitude of the blessings He is orchestrating in our lives. But just as the volley of praise was sent His way when our sweet Greysen made his debut, we will give Him all the glory when this journey is over. Hell, high water, loss, disappointment...it doesn't matter. He is still sovereign. He is still the Master Artist of our lives. And His plans cannot be derailed. The trajectory of His purpose cannot be thwarted. And so Jonathan, Greysen, and I will continue being swept along His steadfast current. We will continue to say yes even when throwing in the towel seems like the easier choice. Let those mountains move...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

We Are Expert Leapers...

Sooooo...we clicked submit!!  Residency applications are officially sent!  With the exception of Jonathan's board scores (which should be in within the next 4 weeks or less) and one letter of reference (9 of our programs require a special letter from the chairman of Internal Medicine at Ross), everything is DUNZO.  Such a weird feeling!  Honestly I thought I would feel more relief than I do.  I guess it's just because there are SO many unknowns still.  And also because the control over the process is now completely gone!  Our future is in the hands of the 92 program directors who will download Jonathan's applications today and the next few weeks.  It's exciting and daunting.  Jonathan is wigging out about his board scores being in on time and I'm wigging out because of this chairman letter.  But the bottom line is that it's all going to come together the way it's supposed to...

We did a little "thinning" of the programs on our list as well as changing up a few things.  So here's the final list of states/number of programs that we ended up with:

Alabama - 4 (Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile)
Arkansas - 1 (Little Rock)
Arizona - 6 (Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tuscon)
Connecticut - 8 (Bridgeport, Danbury, Stamford, Waterbury, Derby, Farmington, and Norwalk)
Washington, D.C. - 2
Georgia - 4 (Athens, Savannah, Augusta, and Macon)
Hawaii - 1 (Honolulu)
Kansas - 2 (Kansas City and Wichita)
Kentucky - 1 (Lexington)
Massachusetts - 8 (Cambridge, Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, Salem, Boston, and Burlington)
Maryland - 3 (All in Baltimore)
Minnesota - 1 (Minneapolis)
Missouri - 4 (Columbia and St. Louis)
North Carolina - 2 (Greenville and Wilmington)
Ohio - 5 (Cincinnati, Columbus, Canton, Cleveland, and Kettering)
Oklahoma - 2 (OKC and Tulsa)
Pennsylvania - 9 (Danville, Harrisburg, Hershey, Pittsburg, York, Allentown, McKeesport, Philadelphia, and Bethlehem)
Rhode Island - 1 (Providence)
South Carolina - 1 (Myrtle Beach)
Tennessee - 3 (Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Johnson City)
Texas - 15 (Longview, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Lubbock, Amarillo, and Odessa) 
Virginia - 3 (Norfolk, Roanoke, Richmond)
Washington - 1 (Seattle)
Wisconsin - 4 (La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Marshfield)

So there ya have it.  The 92 potential programs we could be headed to in July.  That 75 potential cities that we could be living in here in a short 9 months.  Like I've said before...the possibilities are endless!  Now obviously, some places have a higher probability than others.  Some cities, like Houston and Dallas and Baltimore and a few others, have multiple programs in that city that we've applied to.  Also, Jonathan has built a rapport with the staff here at St. Agnes and has completed an "audition rotation" here, so that also ups his chances of matching here in Baltimore.  But in reality, it's basically a total craps shoot.  I connected with this app called Match Prism and we have been adding ratings and what not for the criteria that we know about the programs so far.  Obviously this may change if/when we get an interview at a program, but for now our top 15 programs have been shaken out and now look like this:

#1-Universtiy of Oklahoma - OKC, OK
#2-University of Arkansas - Little Rock, AR
#3-Memorial Health - Savannah, GA
#4-George Washington University - Washington, D.C.
#5-University of Texas @ Austin Dell Medical School - Austin, TX
#6-Methodist Hospital - Houston, TX
#7-Hershey Medical Center - Hershey, PA
#8-Virginia Commonwealth University Health System - Richmond, VA
#9-Medical Center of Central Georgia - Macon, GA
#10-Baylor University Medical Center - Dallas, TX
#11-Carilion Clinic - Roanoke, VA
#12-University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson, AZ
#13-Methodist Health System - Dallas, TX
#14-St. Agnes Hospital - Baltimore, MD
#15-University of Kentucky Medical Center - Lexington, KY

Now...we will be ecstatic if we get interviews at any of these programs, but we are keeping a total open mind about where we will land.  We did a little exploring in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago when we were there for Jonathan to take his board exams.  Surprisingly enough, we kind of LOVED Allentown, Pennsylvania and also Hershey.  Adorable little towns and BEAUTIFUL medical centers!   Here in a few weeks we will be traveling south to head home from Baltimore and we are planning to drive through the sites in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee just to get a feel for those areas and their medical centers.  Killing two birds with one stone!  There is a part of us that is longing for the "comforts of home" which translates to landing in a place that is close to family and friends (ie-Dallas, Houston, OKC, Tulsa, Birmingham, or Montgomery).  But there is an equal if not larger part of us that is excited about the prospect of another adventure!  To be honest, I like the idea of adventure as long as it comes with a dose of comfort.  Meaning, I want to live in a place where I can put down roots.  Find a church, connect with a community and other mothers, live in a house that feels like home, get Greysen connected with some little friends, etc.  We have to consider that the place we end up in could be (God willing) the place we welcome another baby (or maybe 2!).  It will be the place we stay for 3 years!  We will do holidays there.  We will live there longer than we lived in the house we bought in Houston!  So it has to feel right. And we are praying that it will be the perfect fit...we know it will be...

So now...we wait. Again!!  Programs can download Jonathan's application today.  We *could* begin hearing about interviews in the next 2-3 weeks.  It's all very exciting and also nerve wracking. I am excited to begin coordinating interview travels.  As interviews begin being offered (with any luck), we will be able to consider living in some of these places in earnest.  They will move from "it might be cool to live there" to "we might live there in June".  Heavy realities!  But here we go y'all.  Taking yet another leap in our series of leaps over the last 5ish years.  We are expert "leapers" at this point...






Friday, August 19, 2016

We Still Win...



Here I sit. In my car with the passenger side window busted out and glass all over the passenger seat with the AC blasting and my baby asleep in the backseat.  I don't even care that I'm wasting gas sitting in a running car even though wasting gas means more money out of my pocket. I just don't care...

This afternoon, just as I got Greysen down for his afternoon nap, a neighbor of mine comes banging on my door to tell me my car has been broken into. I hadn't even been home an hour. Thankfully they didn't steal anything. Well...nothing but my morale that is...

I can't even say that I'm surprised. I wasn't surprised in the least. It's just another thing. Another thing designed to break our stride (as if we've had much of a stride in the last few months...it's more of a limp than a stride these days...). Remember when I said in my last post that everything wonderful that has happened in our lives in the last 6 1/2 months has been simultaneously punctuated by something annoying/devastating/sad/demoralizing/etc.?  Well it's true. And now with these final few months upon us, the spiritual warfare is stronger than ever...

Have you ever read Screwtape Letters?  Or This Present Darkness?  If you haven't, I would encourage you to. Both are about the simultaneous existence of good and evil. Whether or not you believe there are spiritual beings among us (angels or demons or spirits or whatever), there is no denying, at least in my life, that darkness, like a dirty moth to a flickering flame, is drawn to Light. A sort of "where there's smoke there's fire" kind of thing. Why do bad things happen to people who love the Lord?  Well my humble opinion is that evil is constantly rooting for Glory to fail. And so it pulls out all the stops to either squelch the Joy altogether or at least diminish it substantially by any means possible...

Getting accepted to medical school?  BAM. Your mom has stage 4 ovarian cancer. Getting ready to have a baby? BAM. Jonathan and Matilda get in a rollover car accident. Getting ready to graduate medical school?  BAM. Your mom dies, your confidence in your testing abilities is shot, and now your car is vandalized. Ugh!  We Womacks just can't catch a break...

However, in everything so far, we have still praised God along the way. We have 
clung to Him, we have given Him the glory, and we have refused to let any counter forces diminish our joy in the receiving of blessings. Now is no different...

But can I just say, for a moment, how freaking sick and tired I am of this push and pull nonsense?  I am just SO over it with this crap. I love my Jesus, but I let the four letter words FLY today. All with my baby on my hip. And I'm not even sorry about it!  God is stronger than this spiritual warfare. He will prevail. I know what happens in the end of our story.  I KNOW that we finish this thing out strong. And evil, if you're listening, you suck and you lose. Seems like a lot of wasted energy to fight a battle you've already lost! Come at me bruh. I dare you. I have the best spiritual armor there is!  Impenetrable. Unwavering. Indestructible. Invincible. And there is not a damn thing you can throw at me that will make me decide that Jesus is not better...

There is good and there is evil at play in our world all the time. I choose to side with the good guys. I choose joy. Even when that joy is laughter through tears while I sweep out the glass of the broken window on my hoopty car (cuz it was the only one we could afford).  I still win. We still win. We might look kind of haggard as we cross that finish line, but cross it we will. Black eyes, bloody noses, broken bones and all. And we will be whole when we do...