faith

The Art of “B”-ing

IMG_0023[1]Today is the 24th birthday of a very special young lady named Brittany, or B for short.

I became friends with B’s parents back in college. I had the honor of standing as a bridesmaid in their wedding, of attending a shower celebrating the highly anticipated arrival of their first and only child, and of visiting that sweet baby in the NICU. Born 2 months premature, she was so small. But, her eyes. Even as a baby, her dark, beautiful eyes seemed to see through me — beyond my flesh and bone, down into my soul.

 

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Brittany with her parents, Melanie and TJ.

She enjoyed activities that most kids do — family vacations to the beach, fishing, and playing her favorite online video game with her parents and friends.

 

Brittany, or B, has often been described as being an Old Soul — a caring and compassionate girl who was wise beyond her years and always thinking of others. She had a disarming calm about her that instantly put a person at ease, was clever, and saw things in this world with those endless eyes that many of us miss.

In junior high, she would ask her mother for extra money so she could eat breakfast at school. But, she was actually using the money to buy lunch for a friend who couldn’t afford it. When she found out a neighbor’s daughter wasn’t being treated right at home, she asked her parents if they could take the girl into their own home. She lovingly helped friends through physical and emotional struggles by offering a listening ear, a strong shoulder, and a sincere heart. Unsurprisingly, she wanted to become a psychologist.

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“She always looked at people without judgement — offering to help.”

She was internally motivated to be the best she could be and, in turn, she was able to have a positive effect on those she interacted with. She wanted the world to be at peace—for us all to coexist in peace.

A few years ago, on an unassuming October Sunday, Brittany had seemed fine all day, but her mother noticed that she didn’t have much of an appetite at dinner. By evening, B had developed a fever and sore throat. Her parents gave her Tylenol, planning to make a doctor’s appointment for her the next day if she wasn’t feeling better.

The next day, she was fever-free, but her parents decided to make the appointment anyway in case she had Strep.

Her appointment was for the next morning at 8:30 am.

That night, she pointed out a bruise on her thigh to her mother. Brittany couldn’t recall how she’d gotten it. Her mom, thinking Brittany was anemic, went to the store for iron pills and freezer cups.

Brittany and her mom spent the rest of the evening laughing, joking, and talking in B’s room. Neither of them knew that it was the last night they would spend together. Brittany never made it to her appointment. She had passed away during the night, and it would be 3 long, torturous months before her parents would learn what had stolen their 17-year-old daughter from them.

Cancer.

Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL), a rare and fast-moving blood cancer, had secretly and silently taken her life in a matter of days. An oncologist assured her parents that her passing was swift, and that she had felt no pain, but their mother and father hearts were broken in unfathomable grief.

Today, on her birthday, we remember Brittany—delightful, intelligent, witty, beautiful Brittany. We miss her. We remember her joy and light. We wonder at the woman she would have become.

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“She got the meaning of life at such a young age and knew that giving and loving others was what life meant to her.”

As a teenaged girl, she had cared for others and put her compassion into action on a daily basis. Although she planned on a future in service to others, she hadn’t waited until she grew up to start changing the world around her. She took opportunities as they came—always touching lives for the better and demonstrating the art of B-ing—leaving each of us who knew her better than she found us.

Cancer can’t change who Brittany was, or diminish the love she left behind. Her love is her legacy, and her spirit calls to us, even now, to B more than we have been.

B more present. B more aware. B more kind. B more loving. B more generous.

To B her legacy.

 

 

 

 

No Picking at Your Past

3863_1140532066489_4079474_nNight before last, I slept in a bed for the second time in two weeks. My son, Cub, whose leukemia is currently in remission, has been in the hospital for 13 days with a fever caused by a random spore that “thrives in the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.”

When I woke up, I felt refreshed, and hopeful. We had finally, after more than a week of spiking fevers, discovered the cause, and were applying the cure. Cub will get to come home soon, and things will get back to our new normal. But, something didn’t seem quite right with my idyllic musings. My face hurt. More accurately, my chin hurt.

My gingerly exploring fingertips were met with an angry hot protrusion. A blemish. A big blemish.

I groaned. What am I? Fourteen again? Sigh.

Before I even got out of bed, my mind was flooded with memories – awkward memories of braces and boys, misery and missed opportunities, layers of embarrassment over family secrets and a negative-on-the-number-line low self-esteem. Blemishes.

Have you noticed that your past seems to pick the most vulnerable times to pop up in your life? Like, when your child is sick, or you have money problems, or relationship issues?

God’s Word says, “Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

When your past rises up and tries to drag you back to places you’ve outgrown and overcome, don’t go. Turn instead toward the new path. God promises to make your direction clear in the confusion of the wilderness, and to refresh and sustain you in the draining isolation of the desert.

Your now and your future need your full attention. Leave your past in the past. You don’t need it anymore, dear hearts. ❤

The Beginning

Cub black and white schooljpgMost of us start our day with the idea that it’ll be routine. Most of us don’t expect a cataclysmic, life-altering, devastating event, unless maybe it’s Monday.

October 20, 2014 was a Monday.

I started the day as I do most Mondays – in a rush for work. I kissed my son goodbye (it was his last day of fall break), scrambled to find my keys, and forgot my lunch. Like I said, routine.

Later that morning, I called the pediatrician’s office to schedule a follow up. Cub, my 5 (almost 6) year old son, had just finished a course of antibiotics for pneumonia, and the doctor had thought he heard a heart murmur. Hence, the follow up.

Receptionist: “Oh, it looks like we have an opening at 1:45. Will that work for you?”

Me: “That’s perfect!”

Off work early on a Monday, spending the afternoon with my little boy – a nice break from the mundane.

We didn’t have to wait long to see the doctor – just long enough for Cub to enjoy the fish tank. The doctor said Cub’s lungs sounded clear, and there was no hint of a heart murmur. It must have been caused by the pneumonia and had faded away.

The doctor and I shared a bit of small talk as he typed in the computer.

Me: “So, last Friday at parent/teacher conference, Cub’s teacher mentioned that she and some of the ladies at the school thought that Cub was looking a little more pale than usual. What do you think of that?”

Doctor: “Hmmm…well, let’s see.”

He proceeded to examine Cub’s eyes, palpate his neck and stomach, and look at the palms of his hands.

Doctor: “You know, he does look a bit pale, but the whites of his eyes don’t look yellow, so I don’t think he’s jaundiced. Let’s just do a blood test and check it out.”

We walked down to the lab where they did a finger stick, and we were told to go on home. They’d have the results later that afternoon and would give me a call.

Fifteen minutes later, Cub and I were in the Sonic drive-through. I was buying him a slush – green apple – for being good at the appointment, when the doctor’s office called.

Receptionist: “Mrs. Robertson? Are you still in town? We’d like you to come back to the office. There was something in Cub’s lab work, and the doctor wants to do more tests.”

It wasn’t what she said that made my heart beat faster. It was how she said it – something in her tone. A depth of compassion that felt out of place.

I told her we’d turn around and be back in fifteen minutes. I called my husband and told him to meet us there. I willed the ice that was snaking through my veins to back off and focused on my breathing while stealing glimpses of my son in the rearview mirror. He slurped his green slush and played with his straw – oblivious to the fear building in my heart. I tried to soak him in – to surround his little self with all of my mother’s love, to protect him from something for which I didn’t yet have a name.

Thirty minutes later, Cub was being admitted to the hospital for further testing. His pediatrician had told me that Cub’s counts were exceptionally low – so low, in fact, that if an adult had those numbers, he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. The doctor was kind, politely hedging around the elephant in the room. But, because of my mom’s recent battle with leukemia, all the terms rang familiar. Too, too familiar.

I stepped up close to the doctor, and asked, “Do you think it’s leukemia?” He said, “With his counts, that would be a very real concern.”

The next few hours felt like a dream sequence. A part of me holding onto the vague possibility of a virus, but nothing could push away the very real probability of a cancer diagnosis.

I was able to make a few phone calls. I helped the nurses hold down my son while they put an IV in his ankle. I tried to explain why we couldn’t go home just yet. I smiled and ordered him macaroni and cheese from the cafeteria.

Around 10pm that night, the hematologist took me and my husband to an empty room where she had set up three chairs. A very gracious woman, she explained some of the tests they had done, and a little bit about the functions of various blood cells. Then she told us she believed Cub has Leukemia.

I heard her words, delivered with compassion and professionalism, though I tried desperately to reason against what my heart already knew to be true.

Childhood Leukemia. Probably ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). Over a 90% survival rate. It’s the most common childhood cancer, and he has good odds.

Good odds. Good odds? I hate that term. It makes me feel like I’m betting on a horse.

I wish I could say that I was that person who knew from the very beginning that everything would be alright. That I knew God would heal him. That we had nothing to fear. But, no. I wasn’t, and I’m not.

No. In those first few heaving moments, my raw, primal terror was louder than my faith. I have lived enough to know that we don’t always win. Win. How could I guarantee that 90% win? My mother’s heart went into an adrenalin-fueled panic. Cub has to be in that 90%.

My husband and I sobbed while the doctor sat and held our hands. We sobbed while she prayed over us and our son. We sobbed while she waited for us to catch our breath.

Then, we talked. “We will have to transfer him tomorrow. You have three options for where to start treatment. Barnes, Kansas City, or St. Jude. We are a St. Jude affiliate, so if you go there, you can do some of your treatment here. But, the choice is yours. I’m not trying to sway you one way or another.”

I looked at her, putting my hand on her knee. “If this was your son, where would he be tomorrow?”

She smiled. “There’s no doubt – St. Jude.”

I sat up, shared a knowing look with my husband and nodded my head. “Then Cub is going to St. Jude’s.”

I waited until Cub fell asleep to run home and pack a bag. It was midnight, and I had no idea how to pack.

My oldest brother drove an hour and a half in the wee hours of the morning to spend the last few hours with us before the ambulance took us to Memphis. When I called him to tell him, the words barely came. Leukemia. Saying the word in relation to my son was like rolling rocks around in my mouth. Awkward. Foreign. Painful.

After a nearly 5 hour, non-stop ambulance ride, we arrived in Memphis around noon. I never saw the outside of the hospital as I was riding in back with Cub, but once I stepped from the ambulance into the breezeway, I was swarmed with kindness.

We were quickly moved from a holding room to Cub’s room on the pediatric leukemia ward. That first day was a blur of doctors, nurses, social workers, a chaplain, child-life specialists, a dietician, and many, many tests. Who knew a little five year old boy could be so brave?

At some point later that evening, one of the nurses lovingly kicked me out. “Go get some coffee,” she said.

I wandered around a bit, unusually disoriented from having no points of reference. I foraged something to drink and some peanut butter crackers that I ended up not eating. I went into the little parent’s room adjacent to Cub’s room, where my little bag was sitting on a pull out bed that I ended up never using. I realized that I hadn’t brushed my hair since sometime yesterday afternoon, and I had probably better set myself to rights. I grabbed my makeup bag and headed into the bathroom.

There was no mirror. None.

At first I was confused. Was it hidden somewhere? On the back of the door, perhaps? Nope.

Then, I was a little agitated.

Then, I was grateful.

I didn’t see what I expected to see. I couldn’t see the bedraggled, exhausted mother spent from her own desperation. I couldn’t see the traces of mascara that my tears had left behind or the little-girl-lost expression in my brown eyes rimmed with red.

Instead, I could see what I wanted to see. I could see what I wanted Cub to see. And, I realized while standing there in front of a blank wall, that this situation does not have to define us. Cub and I don’t have to fall into any preconceived ideas of what a mother and son “doing cancer” are supposed to be like. I didn’t have to be the mom I expected to see. I could be the mom I wanted to be.

So, I blindly combed my hair and tucked it into a clip. I washed my face, put some Burt’s Bees on my lips, and threw on a smile for Cub. I decided I get to be the mommy I want to be, and the mommy Cub deserves, not the mommy cancer says I have to be.

We’re doing this together, and Cub gets his mommy every. step. of. the. way. Not some washed out, hollowed reflection of her. He needs all of her, and that’s what he’s going to get.

I couldn’t help but wonder if someone knew what we mothers would think on our first night, standing in front of a mirror. And, maybe that’s why there wasn’t one on that bathroom wall.

Sweet Suprise

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To say that a five year old can be impatient is an understatement. For them, the air is still electrified with constant discoveries assailing their senses in the best of ways. They are Magellan, Marco Polo. And the world awaits. How could they stand still? Why should they?

We adults, on the other hand, have spent several decades in conditioning. Our eyes closing to the wonders around us, and we would-be visionaries grew up to have mortgages and car payments, too many to-dos, toilets to be scrubbed and schedules to keep. We barely have time for sleep, let alone for dreaming. Really dreaming.

A few months ago, my little family and I were standing in line on a soccer field, waiting for my son to have his picture taken. The adults, myself included, were standing and staring, reining in the occasional stray child. The nonconformist rebels.

My son and his little friend were trying so hard to be still. “But Mommy, my body is telling my brain that it just can’t stay still much longer!”

Then, it happened. Her words came out of my mouth, unbidden. My mother telling my son and his friend to sit and look for a four-leafed clover. As she had told me to do countless times in a life long past.

Their bodies were still, for the most part, and their wills were occupied.

The little patch of clover at our feet that I don’t really remember seeing in the first place, was dotted with miscreant dandelions. Pretty patches of yellow in a sweet patch of green. They looked and looked, but never found a four-leaf. But during his search, my son occasionally picked a dandelion or two, and a couple of fragrant clover blossoms, and gave them to me.

“Mommy, I picked these just for you! Will you keep them forever?” Blue eyes hopeful.

“Yes, of course I’ll keep them forever.” A hug and a kiss, and a mother’s hand brushing against his freckled cheek.

I hold onto them for a while, then tuck them into the little side pocket of my purse.

Today, I was looking for something. A boring, grown-up something that I knew was in there somewhere.

Frustrated, I take everything out. Wadded up napkins, receipts, a pen, more receipts and some loose change.

My fingers scrape the bottom seam, and there’s something not a penny, or a Tide stain stick. Something soft and delicate, dry and crumply.

I draw it out. My little wilted waiting bouquet.

It had survived months in the crucible of my life on the go. Pounded down, smothered, by bills and checks and keys and my cell phone. Day. After. Day.

Still, they have color, and fragrance, and shape. Identity.

We were all Magellan once. I think we all are still. Where are you keeping your dreams? Your mind’s occupations? Are they dormant, glazed over by an “I want coffee,” “when will this day be over,” or an “I’m so tired?”

Go. Outside. Breathe Deep. Look for the four-leaves in your life. Look up. Look down. Search. If you don’t find one, it’s okay. You’ll find something else. Just keep your heart open.

My weight loss journey, May 16, 2014

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So, this is me, like 100 pounds ago. I was a size 4 or 6 in this picture. Cute, huh? 🙂 At that time, I sure didn’t think I was cute. My then husband and I were about to file for divorce. He was leaving me for his girlfriend who, in his words, wasn’t as nice as me, but was more attractive. Girls, can I just say right now that we are all beautiful in God’s eyes? It took me years…no, DECADES to really start to understand that thing that I’d heard over and over again through the years. That I am God’s precious daughter, and that He loves me. He knows my heart and created me from the inside out, so he knows the sacred secrets of my innermost being, and sees that they are lovely.

He thinks you’re lovely, too 🙂

This summer, I go into the season the thinnest I’ve been in 3 or 4 years. Now, that’s not necessarily saying much as I’ve gained and lost the same 10 pounds for the last 3 or 4 years, but I’ve finally crossed the threshold and am on my way down again.

The last week or so, I’ve experience something new that I’ve been wanting to share with you. It’s peace. I don’t feel driven to lose 50 pounds in a month, or 100 pounds in 3 months. I feel a new peace with my journey that I can’t quite explain, but I know where it comes from – that same place that brings us all peace that we can’t fathom – our Father’s heart. It was always there, waiting for me and, for some inexplicable reason, I find myself with open arms, accepting it.

If you’re somewhere on a journey, whether for weight loss or forgiveness, healing or a fresh start, I encourage you to open your heart. Open it to the world around you – to the friends and family who love you, and the God who adores you. You’re not alone. You are worthy. You are enough, and you are lovely.

Where are you looking?

Some of the most meaningful conversations between my son and I take place while I’m tucking him in at bedtime. Several weeks ago, he was having a hard time being quiet during nap time at school. One night after a few days of being “clipped down” in class for giggling with his nap-time neighbors, I was trying to encourage him once again to make good choices the next day.

“You can do it, honey. I know you can be quiet at nap-time tomorrow.”

“But, mommy, I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because when I open my eyes and look at “friend #1,” he always makes me laugh.”

“Hmmmm…well, why don’t you just turn your head the other direction?”

“I do! But “friend #2″ is on that side, and he makes me laugh, too!”

“Well, then just keep your eyes closed until you fall asleep!”

“But, Mommy!! What if I have a bad dream??”

Have you ever felt that trouble followed you no matter what direction you took? You walk down a certain path, and there it is, waiting for you. So, you try to do the right thing and turn to go another way, and what do you know? There it is again. If we can’t escape it, we hope to at least ignore it, but that doesn’t work, either. It finds us.

What are we to do? How do we avoid trouble? I’ll tell you what I told my son when he told me he couldn’t do the right thing because he was afraid he would have a bad dream. His little blue eyes were worried. Anxious over this thing that none of us can control. How could I reassure him? I couldn’t, so I didn’t pretend that I could. “You might have a bad dream, baby. But, you probably won’t. And, if you do, it’ll all be okay because it’s just a dream and it can’t hurt you.”

He was disappointed, but not much. He accepted the truth quickly, and we moved on to a story and a song. The next day, he slept at nap time and didn’t have any bad dreams.

As adults, our concerns are usually more substantial than a bad dream. “Can we pay the rent?” “Can we get a second opinion?” “Can our marriage last?”

Psalm 16:18 says, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (niv)

We don’t have to run away from our problems, and we don’t have to try to ignore them. But, if we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, our problems will fall to the periphery of our vision. We will still have to deal with them, because they are not going to disappear, but we won’t have to deal with them on our own. To have God at our right hand means that we trust His council. He is our most special, most trusted advisor. We look to him to guide us through and past our problems and bad dreams.

Is there something you need to turn your eyes away from and put your focus on God?

What we Leave Behind

 

20140714_095551In the past, my mother had expressed concern over what she had to leave for her children. I remember her being disappointed that she didn’t have a lot of “valuables” to pass on, or a large inheritance to divide amongst her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I would try to reassure her with words like, “Don’t worry mom, you’ve done so much already.” Or, “Mom, that’s not what matters.”

Still, for my generous mother who was a child of the depression, she was worried about supplying our needs far into the future – a future that she would not be able to reach into to help solve our problems.

My mother had known depths of need in her life that most of us are never burdened with experiencing. And she survived. And she made sure we did, too. It may not have always been fun, and it most definitely may not have always been pretty, but we did it. She did it.

Even after giving her family the greatest of gifts – love and inspiration, courage and strength, she worried. Mothers worry 🙂 What kind of legacy could she leave?

A few nights ago, I found my mother’s legacy in the words of my five year old son. As I was tucking him in for the night, stories read and songs sung, it was time for prayers. What had been a nightly request for grandma to feel better had turned into a nightly request for God to tell grandma hi, and that we love and miss her. That night, at that point, shiny little tears started pooling in my baby’s eyes.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I ask.

“I miss grandma,” he answers with the tiniest of sniffs and the biggest, bluest eyes. He looks at me, questioning. Hurting.

“I miss her, too,” I answer as I wrap my arms around him. “Why don’t you tell me something you miss about grandma?”

I smile to myself and in the milliseconds before he forms his answer, I anticipate a flood of responses. Grandma always had Tootsie-Rolls in her candy dish just for him. She and Uncle Jon always had a bird feeder that needed filling, or a hole that needed “dug” with his little plastic gardening set. Freshly baked cookies with milk in his special blue dinosaur cup. Happy memories.

“I miss her loves!” The words burst out and hang in the air, a look of desperate longing in his little face.

My heart is full of surprise and amazement at the depth and authenticity of my son’s wise-beyond-his-years words. He’s walked beyond the Tootsie Rolls and plastic shovels, Christmas presents and quarter bribery for his good behavior into the heart of the matter – into what really matters.

I held him in my arms and agreed that grandma gave the best loves.

“You know, grandma’s loves are up in heaven. That’s part of what God takes with Him when we die. So, all those loves are still there for you.”

He smiles a missing-his-first-tooth little boy smile and starts to blow kisses to heaven, giving some of the love back that had been poured in.

My mother left a legacy greater than riches or material security. She left a legacy of love that will reach far into the future for generations to come. What will you leave behind?