When your friend is dying

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*Update: A few hours after I posted this, I learned that my friend passed away.*

My friend is dying and I’m painting the bathroom.

That’s all I could think about last week as a gallon of Sherwin Williams helped color our bathroom walls blue. Up and down, up and down the roller went until I paused to refill my tray. Some melancholic song was playing on my phone in the background.

Thirty-nine is an unacceptable age to die. And barely 39 at that. You’re not even over the hill yet. Not even halfway done.

I know this stuff happens and that we may never know why, but it still sucks. It’s horrible, heartbreaking and sucks. I’m tired of people having cancer.

My friend has been a fighter from the beginning. We aren’t close, but I’ve known her for about eight years now, first as she and her husband joined our pre-marriage class, then as they joined our small group at church. We went to their wedding and celebrated when they adopted their daughter. I went to an ovarian cancer fundraiser and watched the husband run in teal heels.

But now it’s getting close to the end. No one wants to come out and say it, but it’s true. We can tiptoe around it, talking about how she doesn’t have much time left or how we’re praying for the family as they move forward, but she’s dying. I hate it.

Instead of planning vacations, juggling work and kids, lamenting over house projects and whatever else almost-forties do, she’s getting weaker, frailer and about to leave a little girl behind. And a husband of seven years—such a short time.

Unless something miraculous happens—and I’m not discounting that possibility—she won’t have another Christmas or birthday or anniversary. Her plans for the future are from here to tomorrow. I almost feel guilty as I settle into a new house, making plans for new countertops and wondering where I’m going to hang that picture.

I know I could drop dead in five minutes. Any of us could. But knowing death is around the corner … well, I can’t imagine. Not at 39.

At least she’s had lots of friends visit. That’s huge. I’m kicking myself for not knowing her condition sooner and planning an earlier visit myself. Now it’s too late, no more visitors, although I hope she liked the card we sent.

Things like this always bring up the words “wake-up call.”

“Life is short,” people say, and of course it’s too true. It makes me wonder why any of us waste time arguing about insignificant things or whining about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. Life is truly a gift, and today will never be repeated, so why don’t we treat it like that?

In the middle of all the sadness, I can’t leave out the one bright spot, the one thing that makes me happy.

I will see my friend again.

From our time together, I know her soul to be secure, destined for a place she’ll no longer live in pain or be frail or have cancer. The C word doesn’t exist there. I’m still sad and devastated for her family, but content knowing where she’ll be after this. I know not everyone can say that about people they’ve lost, but I sincerely hope whoever is reading this can say that about themselves.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Leaving the familiar: Moving, part 1

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Our first home. Cute, isn’t it?

This time next week, I’ll be calling a different place home.

All our things should be out of the house I’m currently sitting in, and I’ll likely never see the inside of it again.

I admit it’s a little sad. This is our first home together, and there have been lots of firsts here: first holidays, first guests, first time buying real furniture, first landscaping attempts and first arguments as a married couple. It’s where I fell in love with the coffee shop around the corner and where I trained for our first 5K. We’ve had so many great moments here, along with some tough ones, and it’ll be weird getting used to a different place.

A different route home, a different grocery store, a different spot for the dishes. New neighbors, new paint colors, a new key on my key ring.

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Dreaded moving boxes

I’ve been ready to move for the past few years, and now that it’s happening, the reality of it strikes me during the most mundane moments. Like when I’m walking across our bedroom, unloading the dishwasher or waiting to turn right out of the neighborhood.

A week from now, I won’t be doing that anymore, I think. At least not in the same places.

We’re moving only an hour away, but it’s far enough to feel like a completely different community. I still don’t know where a lot of things are there, so I expect I’ll be GPSing my way through the first couple of weeks or so.

The thing I’ll miss most is the friends who live close by. It’s not like I’ll never see them again, but distance has a way of making it harder to keep in touch. Although I’m pretty good at it and I really don’t want to lose these friends.

I’m ready for this move, and I know we’re going where God wants us. Why there, I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m 90% excited and only 10% nervous.

Over the next weeks, as I Google new vets, research dentists and get used to climbing stairs again, I’m sure the new normal will set in. In the meantime, we need to find a day to make one last trip to that coffee shop.

 

5 things people assume because I’m a writer

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Ten years ago, I started my first blog. I’ve always loved to write—ever since those first-grade writing assignments on super wide-ruled paper—and over the years, it’s become my outlet. It’s therapeutic. My best form of expression. And my job.

After writing for my high school and college newspapers, I got my first “real world” job as a reporter at a local paper. Five years ago, I switched things up and started writing and editing for a ministry.

Thousands of articles, dozens of news briefs and four blogs later, I’ve come up with a list of things people assume about me because I’m a writer.

1. I need more journals in my life.

Right this moment, I have four empty journals on my bookshelf. A fifth one is half empty, and I just gave two to Salvation Army. Of the seven journals, I purchased one of them myself, and that was because it had my name on it. (Well, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but same thing.) The rest of them were gifts. I know a lot of writers take time to journal, and I do appreciate each one I get—especially if it’s unique—but I just don’t use them. That’s what this blog is for! I do, however, go through lots of pens and always appreciate a new pack of Pilot Precise V5s.

2. I read a lot.

This past weekend, my father-in-law asked what I’m reading. I expected the question since both my in-laws are readers, and unfortunately I didn’t have a great answer. “Well, I just finished a book I started a year ago,” I told him. It’s true; I started a book months ago, then put it down, and just picked it up and finished it last week. I have three others that are half read. It’s almost embarrassing—I come from a family of readers, for goodness’ sake—but frankly, after reading and writing at work all day, I don’t necessarily want to come home and read more. Plus, most of what I do read isn’t in book form. It’s news articles or other blogs. So when people ask if I’ve heard of so-and-so-author or such-and-such-writer, many times I haven’t. (It feels good to confess that.)

3. I always know what to say.

If you’ve ever gotten a birthday, wedding, anniversary, congratulations, thank you, get well soon, Christmas or sympathy card from me and Pete, I probably wrote it. I’ll set the scene: I’m sitting at my desk one evening, pen poised over a card, trying to figure out what to write. “What should I say?” I ask Pete. “You’re the writer,” he says. Sometimes the words flow, and sometimes they don’t.

4. I’m making a mental note of your grammar errors.

OK, this one is true. I’m constantly finding spelling and grammar errors in everything from menus, posters and pamphlets, to magazines, books and billboards. You can afford a billboard but can’t have someone run the words through spell-check first? I admit I do the same with emails, Facebook posts and blogs. Sometimes even texts, although I’m more lenient on those given the quick nature of communication. I know not everyone cares about misspelled words and comma abuse like I do, but at least proofread. Poor Pete has to hear my corrections all the time: “They misspelled ‘marshmallow’ on the dessert menu.” … “This ad needs a comma.” … “The church bulletin should’ve lowercased ‘director’ in this context.” I can’t help it; they jump out at me. The worst, though, is when I make a mistake myself. (Yes, it happens.) I once caught a spelling error on this blog from two years earlier and immediately changed it, completely horrified.

5. I’ll gladly read your résumé.

This one is actually true, too, with a small caveat. When people need a résumé proofed, a letter edited or a recommendation written, they often come to me. And I like that. In fact, I do the same thing but in different ways; I go to my crafty friend for help with projects, I go to Pete with help fixing stuff, and so on. When people come to me with something to proof or edit, it says to me, “You know what you’re doing, and I trust you to do a good job.” I take it as a compliment, and I thoroughly enjoy trying to make the letter/email/whatever else sound better. What’s not so great is when the text in question has been sloppily put together, assuming I’ll fix it all. Not cool. I may be a writer, but I have teacher-like tendencies and need some effort here.

So what about you? Do people assume certain things about you because of your job or hobbies?

How long should I keep praying?

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There’s something I’ve been praying for a very long time … if you consider six years a long time. It certainly seems like forever when you pray for the same thing nearly every day.

Toward the end of last year, I was getting discouraged. Truth be told, I’ve been discouraged on and off throughout the past six years, but it was really coming to a head last fall. Over and over, I heard Psalm 13 in my head: “How long, Lord?”

It was around the same time I kept coming across messages on the persistence of prayer—on the radio, in devotions at work and in the devotional messages I was reading on my phone. Just last month, I read a particularly encouraging post about waiting on Boundless.org.

OK, I’ll be persistent, I thought. But for how long? When should I stop praying about it?

I wondered if maybe God had already given me an answer but I just didn’t realize it and kept praying in vain. I wondered if He was trying to change me instead of the circumstances, but, I reasoned, even if I change, the situation has to change, too. It has to. It’s too toxic, too destructive.

This can’t possibly be His will long-term. … Can it?

I know God’s answers aren’t always what I expect. Sometimes He answers no. Sometimes He says wait. Those are valid answers, too. It’s not just “an answer to prayer” when I get what I want.

On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t endorse giving up.

So how do I persist without begging? How do I approach God in confidence without questioning His will?

I always come back to this: God is God and I am not.

I trust that He’s smarter than I am. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be much of a God. He knows why things happen, whether we understand them or not, and as Creator of the world, has every right to operate in His own time. Who are we to argue with that?

I know my prayers aren’t falling on deaf ears. I know I’m not praying to an imaginary presence in the sky. I’m praying to the God who knew me before I was born. The God who calls me by name and whose presence lives in my very soul.

I also know through experience all the many ways He has answered me in the past. I have emails to friends and page after page in my prayer journal to prove it.

And so, after six years of praying for this particular thing, I’m still praying. Yes, I’ve taken brief breaks now and again when I’ve grown tired of praying for the same thing, but I always come back to it, hoping and believing I’ll someday hear a “yes.” Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe it’s just not time yet.

Has there ever been a time when you were ready to give up on praying for a certain thing? What did you do?

 

Conversations with Emily

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There are 16 years between me and my sister. I was a freshman in college when she turned 2.

With such a big age gap (my brother claiming the middle spot seven years behind me), Emily and I have a lot of interesting conversations. Two years ago, I posted this on Facebook:


If you haven’t talked to a 12-year-old girl on the phone lately, this is what it’s like, courtesy of my sister:

On math

Me: “Do you like math?”
Emily: “I have mixed feelings about it. I like it when I get the answers right.”

On revealed secrets

Emily: “I like unicorns.”
Me: “I used to have a diary with a unicorn on it.”
Emily: “I know.”
Me: “What? … What do you mean you know?”
Emily: “…”
Me: “Did you read my diary?”
Emily: “Yes! Hahahahahahahaha!”

On watching My Little Pony

Emily: “I’ve seen all the *psssshhhhhhhh* episodes on Netflix.”
Me: “You what?”
Emily: “I’ve seen *pssshhhh* My Little Pony *psssshhh*”
Me: “I can’t hear you; you’re muffled.”
Emily: “Oh wait, let me change my position. I’m upside down.”

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Just last week, I had another fun conversa … well, really I was listening in on a monologue. Emily is 14 now and a freshman in high school.

On boys

“I have boy problems. There’s this guy named Ben who messaged me on Instagram and asked if he could eat lunch with me. I didn’t even know who he was! … He doesn’t have any pictures of himself on Instagram, but he said he sits near me in lunch in the blue hoodie. And I was like, ‘Oh, Lord, he’s the one who’s hunched over.’ … I asked my friend to sit next to me at lunch so he couldn’t sit there.”

“Then my friend Dillon, he’s super muscular now. He was showing me his calf muscle and it looks really weird. It looks like a plateau! Uuuuggghhh!”

On gym class

“We have to run around and I always get sweaty. I don’t know what to wear!”

On school in general

“We have to make a PowerPoint about zombies for Career Exploration. It fits into the lesson somehow.”

“Mr. Ford is my history and geography teacher and he’s really cute. I think it’s because some of his family is French. He kinda looks like an elf. To me, elves are really cute.”

In response to my phone call to double check the above facts

“Are you blogging about my life?”

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Calendar flip flop

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I’m obsessed with flipping my calendar.

Yesterday morning, I was itching to flip it to February even though February was still a day away. The same urge crops up every last day of the month, so I’m constantly fighting the temptation.

Am I alone in this?

I think the obsession goes along with my love for planners and office supplies. I like to be organized, prepared and accurate, so being in the right month is pretty important. I’ve even been known to flip others’ calendars if they’re a day behind. (That I blame on being the oldest child.)

It’s like when you’re a kid and want to grow up ASAP. When you’re older, you can stay up late. When you’re older, you can have your own phone. When you’re older, you can drive and eat what you want and sit at the grownup table.

As a kid, you want to get there as quickly as possible, but once you’re there, you often wish you were a kid again—and that you had fully appreciated childhood when you were in it.

Sometimes I’m in such a rush to get to the next phase that I don’t fully enjoy what’s in front of me. It’s great to look forward to things ahead, but if I’m so focused on what’s happening a month from now or next year, I can miss the now moments. I may be so eager to begin a new day or month or season or chapter in life that I’m not reveling in today.

I admit I’ve wished for a difficult day to be over, but even in the tough times, I can find small things to be grateful for or take time to grieve or learn from mistakes instead of wishing the day would hurry up and be done already.

Older and wiser folks have told me how time seems to speed up with each passing year, and there’s no going back. Today is the only Feb. 1, 2017, there is, so I might as well make the most of it.

Besides, March will be here soon enough.

 

Stealing my grandmother

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An Alaska cruise with Mamaw in 2009. She got up early during our vacation, saying she’d need more time to get ready in case her hair “doesn’t lay right” in the morning.

I’ve been in clean-out mode the past few weeks, rummaging through my closet, emptying out drawers and putting my life’s possessions in piles as I declutter. There’s the throwaway pile, the giveaway pile and the keep pile, and since I haven’t been feeling very sentimental lately, the last pile keeps getting smaller.

Part of my minimization efforts include tackling four shoeboxes full of cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, thank you cards and so on. I’m a words person and love reading what people have written to me, but after years and years of collecting cards, I decided it’s time to pare it down, keeping only the really special ones.

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“I’m ready!” Headed to D.C. in 2011.

That’s how I came across a couple of letters from my grandmother, dating several years back.

As I read the first letter, I was caught off guard. I started crying just a few sentences in, and within a couple of minutes could hardly catch my breath, like someone punched me in the gut. It reminded me of what used to be and what never will be again.

I’m fortunate that both my grandparents on my mom’s side are still around and that I’ve always been close to them. But in the past several years, my grandmother’s mental health has declined.

At times I get angry—at this aging process, at the fact that she doesn’t try harder to take care of herself. Other times I’m amused—at her no-filter comments, at her quips about getting older. And sometimes I’m disheartened. It won’t get better. It won’t get easier. And it scares the bejesus out of me that I might find myself in the same boat someday.

Mamaw was valedictorian in high school. She was a math whiz and kept the books for my grandfather’s business for over 30 years. She taught Sunday school for what seems like forever and loved to write just like I do. She was a fantastic cook. I remember waking up to the smell of bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

Now I have to mentally prepare for our conversations. During one of our recent ones, she told me it was raining four times during our 30-minute chat. She’ll talk about all the things she has to do even though she doesn’t. Or the contest she’s about to win although we all know it’s a scam.

She doesn’t cook anymore or teach Sunday school. I can’t remember the last time she wrote me a note.

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A safety run pre-departure on our cruise ship to Alaska.

I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents and still do. I want to sit in their living room with no particular topic of conversation as the grandfather clock ticks in the background.

But it’s hard.

Reading her letters brought back memories of the Alaska cruise we took in 2009—just the two of us. She called it “the trip of a lifetime.” She wrote about the Sunday school lesson she had to prepare and the beans Papaw brought in from the garden that she needed to cook.

In a letter she sent while I was studying in Australia in 2007, she shared how happy she was that I was traveling but asked me not to make a habit of skydiving. She told me about her new Kodak camera and how she was learning to zoom. “I’m still trying to learn all the ins and outs and what all the different buttons are for,” she wrote. She told me about the creative writing class she was taking, too: “I’ve been working on my first short story. … If I have to shorten it much more it will lose some of the interesting parts and I don’t want it to be dull.”

She wrote about things that I’m thankful for, but that I’m sad are in the past. Dementia is stealing my grandmother away from me.

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Taking a ferry in Charleston, S.C., in 2012.

Next week I’ll celebrate my birthday, which I’ve always loved. I know some people get depressed when they’re a year older, but so far, I’ve enjoyed it. What I don’t like about aging is that certain memories get farther and farther away.

Mamaw still knows who I am and is still happy when I call or visit. We carry on conversation and laugh. Over Thanksgiving, I showed her pictures from my trip to Ireland as she commented on how beautiful it was. She always wanted to travel more (Papaw is a homebody), so I’m beyond grateful for our trip to Alaska, as well as subsequent trips to D.C. and Charleston.

But it’s different.

And as much as I like to change things up, there are some things I wish could stay the same.

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“Sometimes yet, I am still awed at how everything just fell in place.”
—A Dec. 16, 2009, letter from Mamaw about our Alaska cruise.