Monday, February 27, 2017

Part VIII - Where now? What do I do? Where do I turn?

I remember that life felt surreal in the weeks after Jim's death. Then I remember taking nothing for granted, harboring underlying fears that my husband, my daughters, anyone close to me, could suddenly die. It wasn't a good feeling.

And I was sad. Why did  this happen?

I buried the hurt. I didn't know what to do with it. Before Jim died, life seemed effortless. seemed pointless. I felt so empty. I felt so alone.

Nobody seemed to understand.

I went through the motions of life, covering it with bright red lipstick and stylish clothes, but I was dying inside. Although I put a good face on it, everything I once valued...being a stay-at-home mom, having a loving husband, financial security, a comfortable home....didn't buy happiness.

I was drowning in sorrow.

With time, my friends started slipping away. One told me I needed counseling. (I thought she was crazy!) Another said I seemed depressed. (What did she know?) They just didn't understand. This wasn't like losing a parent. They'd never lost a brother...much less a younger brother...They didn't know what they were talking about.

The misery was deep, continually gnawing at me.

There were other factors. My brother, who only moved to my town a little over a year before his death, had a mental breakdown as a young adult and was never the same after that. He kept to himself, being most comfortable alone or with me. He never married, he had no friends. He lived on a meager disability income, never having worked. He couldn't drive, didn't own a car. He lacked everything most of us thirty-somethings valued so highly.

Although I loved him, I wasn't particularly proud of his lack of accomplishments. So, since he never socialized anyway, many people didn't even realize I had a brother living in town. This added to my isolation after his death. How could I possibly share the trauma of his death with them?  They'd wonder why I never mentioned him before. And, then, as I explained, they'd ask what every thirty-something asks when they first meet: What do/did he do? and I'd be stuck again, having to admit that my beloved brother was a failure.

So, even after his death, I was too proud to talk about all that,

Pride was the sin that isolated me.

Caught in that trap, guilt launched a massive attack on me. If' I'd known my brother was going to die, I would have done more for him...I could have visited him more frequently...I should have made more meals for him....I should have shared my money, my time, my resources...

Whatever I did, I was sure it wasn't enough. It couldn't be enough. If only I had known...

So I slipped further into that black hole.

Finally, it was more than I could bear alone. Joe and I always had Saturday night "date nights" and I remember sitting in posh restaurants, tears streaming down my cheeks, as I confided in him, giving voice to the turmoil raging within.

I remember one particular time when, after listening to me, Joe said, "You did everything you could for your brother. You sound like you think you are responsible for everything that happened." Then he looked me in the eye. "You are not God."

His words shocked me. I was not in control? I didn't think I was God, did I? Was pride getting in my way?

I began to wonder about this God. If I had no control, who did? Who was this God?

A fellow parishioner, stopped by my house unexpectedly one Sunday after Mass. "I noticed you haven't been to Mass in a few weeks," Wendy said. "I thought I'd bring you a bulletin and make sure you are doing alright."

I didn't realize it at the time, but she was the hand of God, extending an invitation.

Then I learned about a nun in our parish who was a grief counselor. Since I could talk to her without obligation, I swallowed my pride, made an appointment and met with her.

I don't recall much about our visit, but I do remember that Sister Carleen was warm, welcoming and understanding. She recommended a book to me, and it helped open doors to understanding my grief. She gave me a glimmer of hope.

She also invited me to the grief support group that met at our church. Months later, after fighting a million excuses why I didn't really belong there, I went. Again, while I remember little of the meeting itself, I do recall feeling relieved to learn others felt like I did. Nobody judged me. Nobody condemned me. I left the church that night feeling hope.

Little did I know, I was taking my first uncertain steps out of a treacherous landscape.

I wasn't aware of it, but God was holding my hand. Leading me. Guiding me.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.

Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known. 

1Corinthians 13:12

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cancer - The Current Crisis - Got Faith?

This past week, as bone pain, brain pain and muscle aches raged, I began heading down a slippery slope of discouragement. Its been months since my last set of cancer treatments and I'd hoped for a little relief before the next rounds. Instead, I am barely able to function.  And some days, like this one, are exceedingly debilitating.

Why is this happening?

Bone pain. Searing pain. From the ribcage out. From the skull out.

It woke me in the middle of the night, when your mind is groggy and foggy. When your thoughts are scrambled with pain. 

Suddenly my life seemed so short. I felt an urgency about how little I'd done for God. I trembled, thinking about God and how fearfully awesome He is and how small and deficient I am. I felt so unworthy.

The darkness closed in on me as I began to wonder: Was this cancer a punishment? Had I not prayed enough? Was this suffering my fault? What if I somehow contributed to my own demise? Would everyone know that? Think that? Make fun of me?  And blame me?

These thoughts rushed over me like an avalanche.

Finally, I cried out to God. "Is this all my fault? Why would you be so angry with me?"

Suddenly, it was as though I heard someone whisper these words: "Turn to Jesus."

I pictured Christ hanging on the cross."Father, why have you forsaken me?"

Relief washed over me. I was in good company. I mean, if even Jesus had to wonder...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Part VII - Oh, Say, Can You See What's Happening?

With me at his side, my beloved younger brother, at age 33, died of total and sudden kidney failure. For the entire story, you can read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here and Part V here and Part VI here. Don't be afraid, the entries are fairly short, easy reads. Either way, here's a synopsis.

I'm sharing the events of that day because they so clearly illustrate the provision of God. I never want to lose sight of that. And I want you to see it too...not just in these pages but in your own lives as well.

So let's look at the astonishing events that took place that day:
  1. Unannounced, my neighbor knocked on my door that morning, insisting I check on my brother Jim. She didn't want me to wait one more day.
  2. When I arrived at Jim's apartment he couldn't move. I wanted to call 911 and he didn't want me to... so I felt immobilized....How in the world did the phone happen to ring when I placed it on the hook?  And it happened to be the visiting nurse who helped us take the next best step.
  3. How was it that my husband came home early from work that day? He never did that! This was before cellphones, so he had no idea that Jim was in the hospital. Joe insisted we go see Jim right away, instead of my plan to wait for visiting hours later that night.
  4. There's very few people I'd leave my 17 day old baby with, so I agreed to go to the hospital right away only if my friend's mother could come babysit. We called, she answered, and, yes, she came right over. 
  5. There was no mistake this happened on Joe's tennis night. Sending Joe to his tennis game gave me undivided time with my brother in what ended up being the final hours of his life. (Jim and I were close. He loved Joe too but Jim would be most comfortable with just me there.)
  6. Jim never slipped into a coma, which meant I was spared having to make treatment decisions for him. I dreaded that possibility which never materialized.
  7. The nun was delayed, apologetically arriving moments after Jim's death. But was that a mistake? Or divine intervention? Jim wouldn't have wanted a stranger in the room and I definitely welcomed her caring presence at that exact moment...How did that happen with such precise timing?
  8. And, finally, those elevator doors.... the elevator doors opened and, at the precise moment I was stepping out of Jim's hospital room, ready to go home for the night, my husband, Joe, was there, returning from his tennis game. That alone mystifies me...After all, Joe had been miles away...hours had transpired...and he the exact moment I needed him!  Who could have arranged that kind of timing? (I know Who.) We couldn't have planned it if we tried. 
Get the message? We get what we need in the moment we need it, don't we?

In the weeks following Jim's death, I remained amazed by all that. I knew everything was out of my control, and yet, everything was so perfected. I could only attribute it to divine intervention, the presence of God in our lives. I even told my neighbor Debbie that she was like an 'angel' because if she hadn't stopped by my house that day, I would never have been with my brother when he died. I couldn't believe the supernatural peace that covered me in my words, thoughts and actions that day.

The amazement didn't last forever. In fact, before long, I lost focus of the grace that filled me that day.

Instead, the dark shadow of grief soon stole my joy. 

I missed my brother. I became angry at his untimely death. I began to think of things I could have done for him...things I should have done.  Deep within, I was conflicted.

I questioned my faith. If God is good, why did He let this happen? Was Jim really in a better place? Did heaven exist? Was Jesus real?

I slipped down a black hole. I was miserable. I was lonely. I was desperate.

That's when I began my search for God.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

I've been impatient this week, physically struggling to resume life with cancer and the partnering treatments. Amazingly, I flipped to today's page in "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young and read these opening statements:

"Thank Me for the conditions that are requiring you to be still. Do not spoil these quiet hours by wishing them away, waiting impatiently to be active again."

Talk about an attitude adjustment!

It also references the following verse, which I share with you today:

My grace is sufficient for you,

for power is made perfect in weakness. 

2 Corinthians 12:9

Whatever your day holds, have a good one!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Part VI - Picking Up the Pieces

It was long past their bedtime, so the kids were all asleep when Joe and I arrived home from the hospital. Our sitter met us at the door, asking how my brother was doing.
I'll never forget the look on her face as I responded, "He died."

She ushered us into the house, motioned for me to sit on the sofa, and sat beside me, waiting to hear the story of how the events unfolded that afternoon. As I spoke, her face was filled with disbelief, care and concern.

The lights were low. It was late, although not crazy late. It was quiet. I tiptoed into the older girl's rooms and, careful not to wake them, kissed their little heads. Even the newborn was asleep, dozing in the infant swing beside us.

Before long, our sitter left to go home.

As Joe and I readied for bed, I picked up our infant daughter. She was 17 days old. We'd only learned of Jim's illness when we called to announce her arrival.

That's when life swept me off my feet.

One minute I was rejoicing in the miracle of new life; in another; I was ushering a much-too-young exit of my beloved brother from this life.

Everything felt surreal.

I cradled the baby, realizing that my time would no longer need to be split between this precious newborn and my brother. No more leaving her with my husband so I could race to the hospital. No more ignoring her while I made another heartbreaking phone call. No more listening to her cry helplessly while I picked up the pieces of my own heart.

I was all hers now.

She was the thread of hope that would carry me through a dark time in my life. Because it was about to get dark...very dark.

And was about to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

For, even though I thought He had, God never abandoned me.

Instead, He began to provide glimpses of His divine presence, like the beam of a flashlight in a dark tunnel. I would never have seen it so clearly had the tunnel not been so dark.

There was much to learn and I was just beginning.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful,
save the servant who trusts in you.

Psalm 86:1-2

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

6 Things I Learned About God

This post refers to a story told in my Monday blogs. You can find Part I here, Part II here,
Part III here, Part IV here and Part V here.  Together they tell the story of one day in my life, one day that changed everything...and taught me these nuggets of truth: 

1.  God can work through anyone. God is God.  

I wasn't supposed to be with my brother the day he died. But a neighbor I barely knew knocked on my door that day, insisting I visit Jim, who was suffering from kidney failure.

Debbie only lived in my neighborhood a few months. Shortly after my brother's death, her family moved out-of-state, and we lost contact. However, it continues to amaze me how she was a key player in God's plan that day.

We don't need to know the plan. We can trust God to provide.

2. God is trying to reach you. He's trying to reach me. Don't miss the subtle invitation...

In one of my most fear-filled moments of Jim's illness, I walked past a priest in the crowded hospital lobby. His mere presence delivered peace. Unknowingly, he was like a walking billboard to follow Christ.

Additionally, at my request, the hospital sent a nun to my brother's hospital room. She arrived when I needed her most. She prayed and read scripture.

Although, in the months that followed, I never contacted these people directly, they lit the way to find peace through the dark tunnel of grief. I started praying, reading scripture, and attending church.

3.  We are not in control...

And that's okay.

If things went according to my plan, I would not have been with Jim when he died. I wasn't supposed to be there that particular day, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I was.

That day, God put everything perfectly in place for each one of us; Jim, me, and my husband. Even today I am in awe of how the events unfolded.

4. This life isn't forever....eternity is...

So set your goals and your values accordingly.

Life is short. Eternity is's forever.

5.  With every ending, there's a new beginning...

My brother's death triggered a lifelong search for God in my life. The months that followed were dark with grief.

Then I read Matthew 16:21-23. Jesus and the disciples are heading to Jerusalem. He begins telling them that he would be arrested and beaten, killed, and that he would rise on the third day. Peter gets upset and pulls him aside, saying this can't possibly happen.

That's exactly how I felt about my brother and his death. Why did this happen?

Jesus' response hit home: "Get away from me Satan. You are thinking merely from a human point of view, and not from God's." 

What? Was there another way to look at Jim's death?  Could something good could come out of it?  Something I, like Peter, couldn’t yet see? 

6. The Journey Never Ends

The good news is that the remarkable love of God so clearly shown in the events of that day is there for us each and every day of our lives. It doesn't take a tragedy for God to show up...He is with us every every day...

So, the story goes on and on... 

Thanks for coming along with me. Keep reading. My Monday posts will continue to reveal God's loving presence in everyday life...and perhaps you'll see a little of yourself in there...

Monday, February 6, 2017

Part V - Who's Timing is That?

This is Part V of a day that forever changed my life. Come with me. Share the experience. See what you discover. 

You may click these links to access the preceding accounts:  Part I Who's That Knocking at My Door? Part II Who's That Ringing The Telephone? Part III Who's Controlling These Thoughts, Words and Actions and Part IV Who's Beside Me?

Although my brother was already pronounced dead, I couldn't believe the perfect timing of the nun's arrival. In that moment, I needed her.  Even as she entered his hospital room, her presence radiated unconditional love and supernatural peace.

She introduced herself and offered a listening ear. I told her how close Jim and I were.
I told her I'd just given birth three weeks ago when my husband called Jim to tell him the good news, and that's when Jim mentioned he wasn't feeling well.

I told her how Jim was then diagnosed with kidney failure and how, in the days that followed, he couldn't tolerate the dialysis. I told her he'd refused additional treatments, hoping the problem would resolve itself. I told her I didn't agree with that.

I mentioned Jim and I had been raised in faith, and had attended Catholic schools. I admitted I hadn't been to church regularly in years. I shared my fears regarding death.

She was easy to talk to. It felt comforting to share the experience with her and to hear her views, somewhat different than mine, because they were filtered through the lens of faith.

I don't know how much time she spent with me, but eventually our conversation came to a close. In parting, she offered a short prayer and opened her Bible.

I'll never forget the scripture she quoted. 

Even today, I can revisit that moment, that time, that hospital room. I am standing alongside my brother's lifeless body and her comforting presence. I can still hear that passage and feel the peace it delivered:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

She handed me a card containing her contact information and said she'd be available if I ever needed to talk. With that, she exited the hospital room.

Left alone, I stood beside my brother's lifeless body. The room was still, quiet. I glanced toward the window and noticed it was dark outside now. There were stars twinkling in the sky.

I still felt strangely calm.

I remained there for a few moments, I don't know how long...not too long...and then I thought, "My job is done. I don't need to stay here any longer."

I turned to exit the room. 

I still had no concept of time, but I knew one thing: I was ready to go home. My job here was done.

I recalled how, earlier, before I even suspected that Jim would pass away that very night, I'd insisted Joe go play his tennis match and return to the hospital afterwards. I wasn't sure what I'd do upon his return, but I recalled saying, "I'll tell you then." 

Well, I had my answer. It was time to go home.

Back then, there were no cellphones. Joe had no idea how the events unfolded after he left the hospital. He had no idea this would be the final hours of my brother's life. He had no idea I was ready to head home now.

His tennis game had been in the suburbs, miles away from this downtown hospital. There were six matches to play. There was an interstate and a parking garage to maneuver. There were elevators to take. 

I had no idea when to expect him.

Still covered in peace, I exited the hospital room. As I stepped into the hallway, I looked up. There, across the hall, was an elevator. Amazingly, it's big clumsy doors were slowly opening, and there, stepping off the elevator, with miraculous timing, was my husband heading towards me.

He was back from his tennis game.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you,
yes, I will help you, I will uphold you
with My righteous right hand.   

Isaiah 41:10

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Here's A Song Just for You

Rough day today in this cancer battle.  I'm sinking. That's when I turn to music to do my praying for me.

Whenever I'm tempted to look down, I look up instead and gain strength to get me through the moment, the hour, the day.

I will forever praise God.

I hope this song blesses whatever challenge you may be facing.

Thanks for listening.

I Will Sing by Don Moen

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...