Archive for April, 2011

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 48 hours (and in the Southeast that might have been a good place to be) you know that President Obama and the White House finally produced a birth certificate, or Certificate of Live Birth, Wednesday morning.  It was another glorious moment for Donald Trump and whether you love him, hate him, or just wish he would change his hair, he did in fact make it happen.  Trump is well-spoken with just a hint of “I told you so” in almost every conversation.  The press did their job and tried to coerce him into saying something, anything, they could make a big deal about.  Well, they got it.

In the midst of Trump’s concerns about the economy, OPEC, Libya, Afghanistan, and China, he made the comment (loosely translated), “Obama needs to stop spending his time playing basketball and start focusing on OPEC, getting those prices down.”  And there you have it.  The press went wild.  Trump is now being touted as a racist for using the name ‘Obama’ and the word ‘basketball’ in the same sentence.  Racist? Really?  Obama has had a basketball court built onsite at the White House since taking the Oval Office.  He’s played host to a number of NBA players on that same court since the onset of his presidency and he is the first president ever to hang out with the ESPN folks on live TV while predicting his final four.

Donald Trump didn’t address him as a ‘brother’, which Michelle Obama did in recalling the first time she met Obama and went on a date with him.  Trump didn’t suggest that Obama was more qualified to play basketball than run the country because he’s black (yes, I said it, he’s black).  Nor has he ever disqualified Obama to serve as president simply because of his race.  Quite honestly, I’m sick to death of every word that comes out of a white man’s mouth being twisted into something racist (and yes, I said it, they’re white).

To quote John Stossel, “Give me a break!”  If out of Trump’s entire press conference this is the only thing they could come up with to stir the political/racist pot, maybe they should put down their iPads and go work up a sweat on the basketball court themselves.

Or spend an hour with Whoopi Goldberg on The View.

About two years after my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment I hit an emotional wall.  And hit it hard.  I was struggling to wrap my brain around why so many thousands of women, a few of those thousands personal friends of mine, die from this disease.  Some pass peacefully, others in horrific pain.  Why, God?  Why did you take her and leave me here?  Those women had families, too.  They were nice people who were courteous and kind and respectful and raised their children right and made Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter magical for their families.  They worked miracles on a shoestring budget, sewed buttons on shirts and patched jeans, and never let the Tooth Fairy forget that baby tooth placed carefully under a pillow.  So why take them and leave me?  Most days I would say I like them a lot better than I like myself.

I imagine this morning and for many mornings to come there are an awful lot of folks in the Southeast who are asking that same question.  I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching the news, tracking the storms, looking out the window, listening, waiting.  And all I heard was rain.  Hard rain at times but nothing more.  I watched those storms make an inverted ‘v’ right across the area where I grocery shop, pick up my dry cleaning, and take my children to school. This morning not even a tree branch is out of place in my backyard.  The sapling cherry tree that I planted just a few weeks ago actually looks like it grew a bit overnight.

Obviously, I don’t have an answer that will cause people to sit back, throw up their hands and say, “oh, now I get it.  Now I understand.”  However, I can offer this: understanding the ‘why’ of life, at least for me, is a daily exercise for my heart and head.  When I reflect back over my almost ten years of being a ‘loud and proud’ cancer survivor, it’s the little things that help me keep it all in perspective.  When I see another woman who is obviously going through treatment, I don’t hesitate to touch her arm and ask her how she’s feeling.  What is her diagnosis?  How is treatment going? Does she have a strong support system around her? And I try never to forget to tell her she’s beautiful.  She’s strong.  And she’s a survivor every day that she wrestles her foe to the ground.

For many of us life goes on today just like it did yesterday.  Let us not forget to be tender, merciful, kind, patient, and gentle with those for whom life will never be the same.

But Do You Like Me?

I remember well the Saturday night that my now-husband and I were sitting on the sofa watching a football game on TV.  It was a college game and we are both huge fans of the SEC (read: shameless plug for UGA).  During a commercial break, he kissed me on the back of the head and said, “I love you.”  Without missing a beat, I turned to face him and asked – very seriously – “yes I know, but do you like me?”  Cue the crickets chirping.  Long, very long, ear splitting silence.  He looked at me like I had asked him for the secret to nuclear fission. 

What he heard was a question that he didn’t have a clue how to answer.  If he answered ‘yes’ surely more questions would follow.  If he answered ‘no’, it was a safe bet he wasn’t going to see the 4th quarter of the game.  What I wanted to know was simple: if you didn’t love me, would you still like me?  In other words, if you met me at a social gathering or knew me as a co-worker, would you like me as a person?  Would I be counted among your circle of friends?

It has become a joke over the years and he always laughs it off with an “I will never understand the mind of a woman” shrug of his shoulders.  But I’ve heard this question played out in movies, sitcoms, and my daughter’s 6th-grade circle of cheerleaders and softball players.  It seems to me that the female mind needs assurance that, in fact, we are not just loved but liked.  Love is one of those once-you’re-committed-you-can’t-go-back-on-it concepts.  Like on the other hand is the epitome of choice.  As in, I like to be with you, you make me relaxed and happy and comfortable and if I talk your ear off or we sit together in complete silence, it’s all good.  I want you to be one of the first people on my invite list because I know whatever I’m doing will be more fun if you’re part of it.

I think what I was really looking for that evening was the assurance that after we married and the proverbial honeymoon was over, would he still be glad he was with me? When the inevitable disagreements came and the bills piled up and there was no time for dating because the kids had baseball and dance and school projects, could we still be on the same team?  At the end of the day, if we couldn’t be ‘lovey-dovey’, could we still be friends?

I’m happy to say that after almost 17 years of marriage I think, at least on most days, my husband likes me.  He may never understand my question – it may never make sense to anyone that plays host to the male mind.  But to me and every other woman I know, from my 5-year-old niece to my 96-year-old grandmother, I believe some of the most heartwarming and comforting words we ever hear are, “I like you.  And I choose to have you in my life.”

I think it’s safe to say that deep down he’s glad I like him, too.

I killed a snake in our backyard last week.  I had been trimming the bloomed-out azaleas with an electric hedge trimmer.  When the pile of dead branches and spent blooms started piling up, I went to find the metal rake so I could move them to our ‘sinkhole’ up near the fence.  Sidebar: the builder oh-so-many-years-ago decided that instead of disposing of the trash properly as he built the house, his crew could simply toss everything up into the backyard.  Some 28-odd years later, there sits a hungry sinkhole that we feed several times a year with grass, leaves, branches, and whatever my young son and his friends decide is worthy of burying in our backyard abyss.

Anyway, as I carried the rake back to my work site, I saw him: a large black and yellow snake curled up at the base of the railroad ties.  I dropped the rake and made a quick retreat to the steps of the deck.  Apparently the vibration of the rake caused the snake to stir, and he began slithering his way back behind the railroad tie wall where my trimming had disturbed his home.  I suddenly realized that if he made it all the way in I would never see him again.  At first, that thought comforted me.  Then it occurred to me that I would still know he was out there.  Some ten feet or so away from the trampoline – and the kids.  I grabbed a huge pair of ‘yard scissors’ (manual hedge trimmers?) and snagged him around his mid-section.  Long story short, after a twisty, turney, tug-of-war I won and cut the snake in half.  He was laid to rest in a Tupperware dish with a rock on top of the lid (just in case a sawed-in-half snake could resurrect itself and escape) until my husband could get home to see my trophy of bravery.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my backyard companion was in fact a King Snake: non-venomous, not prone to strike (constrictor family), and easily tamed (please don’t tell my boys that last part).  He was in fact the neighborly kind of snake that eats rodents of every kind and is impervious to the bite of other native Georgia snakes which are venomous like the rattler, water moccasin, and a few others.  Bummer.  He was a good size, too.  Somewhere around 23″ long and as big around as my two thumbs put together.  I went to bed that night wondering if sometime in the next few days or weeks we would be overrun by rodents who had been given the green light to invade our now unsecured backyard.  No sugarplums for me – I had visions of Willard dancing through my head.

As I was relaying this story to my Mom the next day on the phone, she said almost as an afterthought, “Too bad you didn’t know what he was from the start; you might have changed your mind.”  I’ve been chewing on that for several days now.  How many times in my life have I encountered something that appeared to be a threat and reacted (panicked), only later to realize if I had only taken the time to get all the facts, I might have changed my mind?  In my defense, I have a history with snakes.  I’ve killed three in our yard in the last seven years and have been bitten by one.  Still, it has given me pause to recall at least a handful of decisions that given the opportunity and more information, I would have indeed ‘changed my mind’.

It might be stretching things a bit to say I miss ole’ Mr. Black and Yellow, but knowing what I know now, I might just have let him slither back behind those railroad ties and live happily (and well fed) ever after.

My Son’s New Crush

Sometime after New Year’s and before St. Patrick’s Day this year, my 8-1/2 year old son developed a new crush.  He went out of his way to tell the object of his affection that she was beautiful, that he loved her, and wanted to spend lots of time with her.  In general he went out of his way to romance her.  He held her face in his hands when he gave her little kisses, snuggled with her at every opportunity, and he even put his arm around her as they walked through the mall.

Much to my surprise, I wasn’t the least bit jealous of this new crush.  You see, I am the one he’s crushing on.  Yes, me.  Mom!  It happened so quickly it took me by surprise but I’ve learned a whole new love language in the last few months.  Things like:

What he says: “Hey Mom, wanna’ go outside and play basketball?”
What he means: “I’ve learned a couple of new shots and I want you to see me make them.”

What he says: “Hey Mom, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is coming on!”
What he means: “This is my favorite show and I want to share it with you.”

What he says: “Hey Mom, want some ice cream?”
What he means: “I want some ice cream but only if you’ll have some, too.”

What he says: “Hey Mom, are you coming upstairs?”
What he means: “I’m going to bed and I want one more hug before I go to sleep.”

My son has taken a huge step towards becoming a man.  He’s learning what it means to have a relationship that is not all about him.  He’s taking risks in a safe environment to make sure he gets it right.  The affirmation and attention I give him now will, to some degree, teach him what to expect from a ‘real’ girlfriend down the road.  If I shun him, he will learn to expect rejection.  If I can validate and encourage his attempts, he will learn that he has something of value to offer.  This is a dress rehearsal for life in all of its glory, with all of its challenges.

He is unashamedly crushing on his Mom.

And you better believe I’m crushing on him, too.

I’m a cancer survivor.  Ten years this Fall.  So is my Mom.  And my mother-in-law.  My Mom and I both had breast cancer.  I was diagnosed first and felt a strangely comforting familiarity when she was diagnosed almost two years later.  I knew what might possibly lie ahead for her.  I knew I could be her advocate for the best possible care because I had learned the lingo, knew the doctors, and understood that ‘chemo cocktails’ were not served on a pretty little silver tray at a party.  Thankfully, my Mom had one surgery followed by radiation.  No chemotherapy, which for her tiny frame might very well have been more deadly than the cancer they found.

A few short months later my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Again, I felt to some degree that I could serve as her advocate.  I asked questions, a lot of questions, to the obvious annoyance of her doctor.  After a disastrous first round of chemotherapy, she found a new oncologist: mine.  Even so, chemotherapy was very difficult for her.  Everything that could possibly have gone wrong went wrong with every treatment.  But she is one of the kindest, most gracious, strongest Southern women I know and she now counts herself among the few who survive this ghost cancer that gives no warning, no symptoms, nothing.

Several years have passed and she, as a result of the chemo, suffers from neuropathy.  I had never heard of neuropathy before she was diagnosed.  Apparently, it is a long-term side effect of her chemotherapy.  Basically it means that she, at times, either feels debilitating tingles or numbness in her extremities – she either feels pain or she feels nothing in her hands and feet.  So much so that last year as she was leaving a movie theatre, she fell and broke her nose.  Couldn’t catch herself with her hands to break the fall.  As a follow-up to this ordeal with her oncologist as she was explaining what had happened, he looked at her and quietly stated, “This is your gift of life.  Your neuropathy means you are still here, still alive, still capable of struggle.” 

As she related this appointment that evening over dinner, it hit me: there are times in life when pain is our gift of life.  It means we are here to experience the struggle, the hardship, the emotion, the heartbreak of LIFE itself.  What is the alternative?  To feel nothing.  To be so numb that nothing reaches our soul.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like pain any more than the next person, but given the choice to never feel anything again, I’d like to think I would choose the pain. 

Wherever you find yourself on this Saturday before Easter, I’d like to encourage you and even challenge you to embrace your pain.  It may very well be your gift of Life.

God in Dirty Water

Standing on the Jordan-side banks of the Jordan River I could hardly contain my excitement.  I felt shaky with adrenalin and a joy that was manifesting itself in an open-mouth, squinty-eyed smile on my face.  How could a simple body of water invoke such strong emotion?  It was a small river, what this Southern girl would even call a creek.  And directly across from where my feet were planted I could clearly see an Israeli guard station, flag flying proudly and soldiers watching carefully.  No white-capped rush of rapids here, not even a significant current to focus on.  But standing here, watching the bull rushes sway gently in the breeze, ‘listening’ to the quiet, I was consumed with the reality of the Word of God.  Jesus stood here.  In the flesh.  Bare feet and soaking wet hair, Jesus was baptized in this same water!  Looking around, it occurred to me that the voice of His Father from Heaven breaking this calm stillness must have sounded like thunder.
Leaving my hotel room earlier that morning, I had grabbed an empty water bottle for the express purpose of retrieving 16 ounces of the Jordan River.  And now I held in my hands my very own, very personal bottle of history.  Jesus said throughout the book of John that He was in fact “Living Water” and those words had never seemed more alive than in that moment.  Thrilled with my accomplishment, I carried my bottle up the path and set it down on a section of deck railing to wipe off the excess water.  Sealing the cap with masking tape, I placed the bottle in my handbag for safekeeping until I could nestle it safely in my luggage for my trip back to the States.  Struck by the sight of my bottle sitting on that simple plank of wood, surrounded by beautiful shade trees, I quickly snapped a picture to send home to my children by email.  They had enjoyed being able to see where I visited each day during my trip to the Middle East.
Not until I was back on the tour bus editing pictures on my digital camera did I realize what had been captured in that photograph.  There to my surprise was the bottle’s label, clear as a bell, proclaiming Truth in a way only God could orchestrate.  Pure Life, the label read, plain white words on a simple blue label.  And there, in those 16 ounces of water encased in clear plastic, was a profoundly personal moment for God and me.
Pure Life – the kind of Life that only Jesus can offer.  He IS pure life, reaching out to those in need – those who hurt physically, emotionally, and spiritually – offering the pure life of a personal relationship with Him.  Alive and real.  Not a life that looks pure on the outside, but a life that is pure on the inside because of His sacrifice, His obedience, His heart.
A few days later, my bottle and I made it safely home.  It now sits on a shelf in my office where I am reminded that God delights in surprising us with His presence.  We need only slow down long enough to look for Him to realize that He is everywhere.  I am awed by the realization that the God of the Universe so passionately desires to make Himself known to us.  Pure Love.  Pure Life.
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