Hug Like it’s Your Last

Joes grandma

We can learn a lot from this sweet lady pictured above.  Her name is Donna.  She is my sister’s husband’s grandmother.  Great grandmother to my nephew and niece.   When I think of the definition of “Fun Grandma”  she fits the description perfectly.  My sister’s picture captures her character as you can see.

How many grandmas do you know that play volleyball into their 80’s?  She is the only one I know.  Donna played volleyball regularly unless her health held her back here in these last months.  She even played up to about a month ago.  Donna is a cancer survivor having battled cancer in her 40’s.  It took another 40 years before it reared it’s ugly head again.  In the meantime she LIVED.

Being a distant non-relative  I know her from just a few family gatherings, the stories, and the impact she has had on my sister and her family.  Living 9 hours away she was able to make one last visit back in early November and was present at my niece’s birthday party.  As she was leaving that evening and saying her good byes she stopped right in front of me.  What she did next has truly made an impact on me.   Donna turned looked me right in the face and in the eyes and said the sweetest most sincere good bye.  She then hugged me so very tight.  This 87 year old volleyball player could squeeze tight let me tell ya!!!    I knew she was saying her goodbyes to everyone and she made this “non-relative” even feel significant by her sincerity.

A few weeks ago while she was still physically able she wrote in a card for my nephew’s birthday and the family waited to mail it for her so it would arrive on his birthday.  She passed just the evening before Ben’s birthday.  What a treasure her sweet words of love and encouragement in that card will forever be.

Donna has got me to thinking “What if we lived everyday like a cancer survivor?”   “What if we treated every good bye and every hug as if it is our last?”  We don’t always know when our life on this earth is coming to a close.  None of us know when our last breath will be.  None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

This Christmas hug your family tight.  Look each other in the eyes and say kind and sincere words of love and encouragement.  This Christmas have fun and laugh!!  We just never know when it is our last.

There is a Place in Grief I Can’t Allow Myself to Stay for Long

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What I am learning about grief is that there really seems to be no rhyme or reason nor any timeline it follows.  For the last year and a half or so when a memory would sneak up on me I maybe would get misty eyes, smile, and then go on.   The last few weeks the lonely feeling of missing my father is wanting to just hang around.  The way my brain works I always want to understand the “why” in everything.   There is so much happening in our country and in our world that would have deeply affected my father.  Everyday I see something on the news that I feel a thankfulness that God has protected my kind hearted father from seeing.  The day he was rushed to the Emergency Room I asked to go right in to see him.  As I entered that ER room and saw his lifeless body I felt an overwhelming comfort that God took him on home to protect him.  His face was completely relaxed, even with resuscitative tubing and wires he looked like there was no trauma, no pain, and only complete peace.  He was now home with Jesus.

A couple weeks ago I woke up feeling much like I am even again today.  I just can’t stop crying.  The desire to take a long walk and talk to my dad about so many things has been stronger than it’s been since he passed.   This particular day I actually made mention of how I was feeling on social media.  Sometimes I think we try to portray a false sense of what our lives are to the rest of the world and we don’t spend enough time being real.  Not a feel sorry for me type of real or negative.  Just a “hey I am human and life hurts sometimes” type of real.  As I sat watching our youngest daughter and her friends swim that day this butterfly kept coming around and landing on me.  It was gray underneath, but when it opened it’s wings I saw flashes of bright orange.  It kept landing on my hand and finally settled on my thumb for what had to at least have been five minutes.  I was actually able to capture several pictures using my other hand.  My thoughts were that this butterfly was a gift from God to bring comfort.  My father was always big on walking and holding his little girls hands.  He loved to hold my mother’s hand and each of his daughters hands.  This butterfly demonstrated the same gentleness.  I later posted a picture on social media and had friends who also had the immediate thought that this was my needed comfort sent straight from heaven that day.

Another reason I am feeling sad I am sure is that another chapter of my parent’s life together is closing.  Since I was the age of five my parents have gone camping in a town where they use to live in the very early years of their marriage.  After thirty seven seasons and six different campers my mom has come to the conclusion that it is time to sell the current trailer.  It is time and she has my full support, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me sad.  My father loved to camp, fish, loved this campground, this town, and so many people in it.  There are shadows and shadows of memories there and echoes of hours of laughter.  My family and I just spent a couple days there as one last time to camp.  While swimming in the campground pool something caught my eye.  With a closer look there on the very edge of the pool was a butterfly just like this one.  Cora noticed it too and said “hey that is the same kind of butterfly that was landing on you!”  I smiled and said “yes, that is a Papa butterfly.”  With that the butterfly took off briefly landed on a towel and was gone.

God knows our every need.  If we are paying attention to Him we will see and feel our comforts sent straight from heaven.  Everything is in God’s hands and no matter what happens in this life my hope is in the Lord!!!   Psalms 30:5b  “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

One evening while there I went down to the dock on the lake feeling this looming sense of loss and sadness.  As I looked at the empty fishing boat my father spent hours in and the lake he had spent countless hours fishing in everything grew very still.  The lake was reflective as I too reflected on so many memories.  The silence and stillness God gave in that moment was yet again a precious gift and it was as if God said “it is ok the lake misses him too, you can miss him.”  Precious gifts sent from heaven…  One day I will get to walk with my father along the crystal seas of heaven.  Thank you God for the greatest gift sent from heaven Jesus, your Son, sent to die for a sinner like me.  He overcame sin and death by rising again!!  Because of Jesus there is hope even in sadness, loss, and death.  Joy comes in the morning!!

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Attention to Details

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Sunday evening our town had a memorial and tree dedication service for those who had trees donated to the town parks in memory of a loved one.  There were many small details that I noticed God paid particular attention to.  Our church usually has an evening service at 6 pm the same time as this service.  We had a special schedule this Sunday that allowed our family this time free.  I was also on call for work and was not needed at the hospital during this time.  The service was held at the rose garden.  My picture above was snapped quickly with my cell phone, but I actually like the vintage blur given in the photo.  Some friends of the family donated a tree in honor of my husband’s father and he loved roses.  What a great detail.  My own father loved roses and caring for them so this was a nice time for his remembrance as well.   When we walked under the pergola a momma bird had built a next that had a least three baby birds.  We had a nice “birds eye” view under the pergola of these young ones.

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These baby birds reminded me of new life with Christ when we accept his gift of salvation.  They reminded me of eternal life in heaven and the hope of seeing our loved ones again.

Another detail was that my father-in-law’s tree was planted right next to a fellow church member’s who lost his wife this year.  This gentleman and my husband are buddies driving the church bus to pick up children and those unable to drive.

It was a great reflection of how God always pays attention to the fine details.  He knew of this little ceremony long before our church staff planned the calendar.  I am so grateful God pays attention to the details and that his timing is perfect.

Romans 8:28 ” For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Firsts and Lasts

The year of “firsts” without my dad are now complete.  All the holidays and birthdays have past and it has been a complete year since he passed.  Little did we know that this year was a year of lasts with my husbands father.  Life is full of firsts and lasts.  Each day is filled with them.  The question is do we live like every moment is a first and possibly a last?  If we did maybe there would be a lot less anger, harsh words, and a lot more celebration of life itself.

Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:   a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,   a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
   a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
   a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Look Toward the Cross

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When our family met to make arrangements for my father-in-law’s funeral my mother-in-law communicated that she would like for me to sing at the funeral.   Accepting her request I had to start praying about it right away.  “What song do I sing?  What about music?  Please dear Lord keep me from crying!! ”  Our pastor friend, the funeral director and I had pre-arranged that I would sing in a small room off to the side of the large room where the services were to be held.  First off I wanted the focus to be on Jesus, my sweet father-in-law,  the words of the song, and not on me.  Having my plan of how and when to exit to the small room I felt well prepared at the start of the service.  Without knowledge of what the three of us had previously planned another gentleman working with the funeral home closed the bi-fold doors to that small room just as the pastor began the service.  At this point there was no way to slip into the small room and obtain the one microphone without causing a big distraction.   My prayers went into even greater levels of desperation besides “Lord help me not to cry” they went to “what on earth do I do now??”  Then my eyes were drawn to the cross hanging on the wall directly above my father-in-law’s casket.  There was just enough room for me to stand in front of the bi-fold doors to the left of my mother-in-law allowing me to face the cross instead of the room full of people.  Knowing that tears are extremely contagious for me even with strangers there was no way I could look into the weeping faces of those I love and be able to sing.  The words “just focus on the cross and sing about my ‘Amazing Grace’ ”  kept speaking to my heart as I prayed.   It was easy to communicate to our pastor where to stop with the podium adorning the one cordless microphone allowing for minimal distractions to be made.  God got me through with no tears I just had to look toward the cross.   This has become the answer to everything in my life…Look toward the cross.  When times are hard and I don’t know what to do…look toward the cross.   When I feel weary…look toward the cross.  When things are going great…look toward the cross.   My hope, my strength and my help comes from the Lord.

Psalm 121:1-2 “I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter  of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

A Year Later Looking Through Photos Again

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Here we are back to looking for photos for reflecting and remembering a loved one.  A grief smack hit me when going through the girls baby albums.  I had made a “Grandpas page”  in each of their books.  Both grandpas are now gone.  I am so thankful for this promise from God because my heart is broken for my daughters.  Psalm 147:3 “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.”  A link to What Would your 50 to 100 Pictures Be https://anitalucasfreestyle.com/2014/07/09/what-would-your-fifty-to-one-hundred-pictures-be/

The Death Watch

The death watch is what I found the hardest part of nursing during my years as an intensive care nurse and honestly I think it is the hardest part of life.  My husbands father’s health has been a roller coaster since January 19th and he has not been able to make it out of a hospital setting since.  The last two and a half weeks he has been in critical condition in an intensive care unit.  One day he would take baby steps forward and the next day a step back.  With all the surgeries, medications, procedures, and treatments it became clear yesterday that his body was just worn out.  The family was faced with the decision to stop treatments and allow him to pass peacefully and comfortably.  Some death watches are quick and a shock like my father was on March 11th last year.  Sometimes they take hours or days this death watch was about twenty four hours. Sometimes a loved one goes to visit their family and finds their family member already passed with no decisions left to be made.  This happened to a friend of ours with his father just this week.  I think of those in the hands of murderous evil barbarians waiting for their execution and murder. No matter the circumstances it is so hard.  As a patient advocate it always has broken my heart for the patient as they go through the agonizing transition from physical life to death.  Memories of patients and their families keep flooding my mind.  Each experience is forever etched into my memory and has become a part of what defines my own life.

To realize that God actually came down to go through this agonizing experience of physical death is amazing to me.  Jesus’ agony started in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42 Knowing what was coming he was in such agony he sweat drops of blood.  “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  Luke 22:44

We are sinful undeserving people yet God came to face the agony of physical death as well as carry the weight of all mankind’s sin.  We still face physical death, but when we put our trust in Jesus we don’t have to face death of our soul.   We do not have to be separated from God the giver of life.   Jesus had the ultimate death watch.   As he was in agony gasping for breath on that cross with every nerve ending in his body screaming in pain he cried out “It is Finished”  John 19:30  He paid the price of sin once and for all.   He rose again in three days victorious over physical and spiritual death!!   My husbands father was a wonderful man, but through many conversations with him he wasn’t really confident in putting his trust in Jesus.  After his heart stopped and he was revived a few weeks ago we had a few limited conversations.  Every time I said to him God gave you another chance and has you here for a reason he nodded his head “yes” aggressively.  A week ago Saturday evening I found myself with the opportunity to speak with him alone.  He had a breathing mask on and he is hard of hearing so I trust that the Holy Spirit helped cross the communication barriers.  I asked him if he remembered me going to speak with him about Jesus a little over a year ago and he nodded “yes”.  I asked him if he saw Jesus when his heart stopped and they were reviving him.  Again he nodded “yes”.  I asked him if he now believed that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for him?  Again he nodded his head “yes”.    Through that whole conversation we were staring each other straight in the eyes.  We don’t get to know on this side of heaven, but if that nod of the head “yes” was sincere then that is where he is today.   God is a God of second chances and every soul is worth that death on the cross to him.  All we have to do is say “yes I believe that Jesus is the Son of God”.  If you have never said “yes” to Jesus please don’t waste another minute.  We don’t know when it may be our last chance.  John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We Can’t Protect our Kids from Life Forever

About five years ago our pet cat’s health was failing.  Each day I observed that breathing became a greater and greater struggle for him.  My suspicion was heart failure.  I knew there was a decision that needed to be made.  Not wanting to make the decision to put him down I had hoped the cat would decide for me and pass peacefully in his sleep here at home.  No such luck.  The day of the veterinarian appointment arrived and our dear pet was still hanging on.  My two daughters and I took our sweet “Chauncy” to the vet and my suspicions were confirmed.  The vet looked at me, nodded, and said “yes it is time”.  He asked if we wanted to be in the room.  I immediately blurted out “yes” not really thinking twice about what the girls would think.  My assumption was that they would want to be with their buddy as he breathed his last.  It was later that day or maybe the next day that my youngest daughter yelled at me that I made her go into that room.  Of course I apologized because I had no clue that I was forcing her.  I answered “yes” when the vet asked if we wanted to be present.  I heard no protest from the girls and thought all was fine other than the heart break of losing our beloved pet.  Once I had her look through the eyes of our cat her anger toward me was resolved.  I asked her how she would feel if she were Chauncy on that cold metal table left to breath his last with a stranger?  Then I asked if it would have been more comforting to Chauncy to be surrounded by his family that loved him?  She agreed that our presence was much better for our suffering cat.

Now we have gone from losing a beloved pet about five years ago to losing a beloved grandpa just short of a year ago.  Now the girl’s other beloved grandpa is so very very sick. I can’t protect them from the feeling of hurt and loss.  Death is a natural part of life and it is something that everyone that loves others has to face.  With the sorrow the realization of the blessing of that loved one is realized much more greatly.  It is so hard to watch those you love who were once so full of life struggle.  Life is so hard and somehow we need to teach our children how to embrace each moment with those we love.  To teach them to  be thankful for the sweet memories.  To be supportive and not turn their backs when those we love need us most.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.      

As a parent I feel a tremendous responsibility to teach my children how to truly live.

Some Times Ya just Gotta Cry

There has been a lot of stressors within our family in the last couple weeks. Health concerns at the top of the list for life stress. There have been a lot of friends losing loved ones and what seems like a lot of sad news. The health concerns have drudged up a lot of the grief and loss our family just went through ten months ago. There have been moments I have had to just go off to myself and weep. I have been doing a “read the Bible through a year” program and during my lowest time last week just happened to be reading the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.

In Joseph’s life story he really had done no wrong to find himself in the predicaments he endured. Most of his sorrow was brought upon him by the sins of others. His jealous brothers throwing him into a pit then selling him into slavery. Potiphar’s (for lack of a better word) skanky wife throwing herself at him. When he didn’t take her up on her offers she framed him and he ended up in jail. God gave him the ability to translate a cup bearer and a baker of the king’s dreams while imprisoned. The cup bearer forgot Joseph’s favor once he got his taste of freedom and left Joseph in jail. Joseph kept making the right choices and was true to his faith in God. With each valley he went through God brought him through better and with greater influence. His influence in the end brought his family back to him. He was in a position that he could have sought revenge or could choose to forgive the past wrongs of his brothers. I count at least 6 times that the bible says that Joseph wept after his brothers came to Egypt for food. One of these times was in the passing of his father Jacob. I can only imagine the emotions he went through. Loss of time with his family. The fleshly urge to be angry and hold a grudge. The humbling fact that God had turned the bad in his life to good to put him right where he needed to be. The fact that he could see that his brothers were truly remorseful for what they had done. So many emotions to cause this man who now held a powerful position to weep.

Genesis 50:15-21 is the best summary “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. ‘Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provided for you and your children.” An he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

No matter what we are going through God has a purpose and a plan. There seems to be a misunderstanding that when a person is a Christian that they will no longer weep or have struggles. The difference in going through life’s hardships as a Christian is that one knows that God is always there and always faithful. That He will bring those who love him through the valleys in life stronger and with an even greater influence than before. We may be beat up by bullies, lied to, lied about, lose people we love, but God provides an indescribable ability to forgive. He provides indescribable hope and peace. It is ok to cry. Give it all to God and see what beauty he creates from our tears.