Monday, December 22, 2008

Sight vs. Insight

As a child, my greatest fear was The Dark. Anything could happen in the dark and it wasn’t anything good. Dreaded creatures lurked under my bed and in my closet awaiting opportunity. I had a recurring nightmare that I was alone in the dark and something was chasing me and I couldn’t run. Wide-eyed, heart pounding, I cowered night after night under my blankets, my only defense a battered, one-eyed teddy bear that I held between me and the vast expanse of my shadowy room. But I am way past that kind of fear now…or am I?

As an adult, I know there is nothing in my closet or under my bed except stray socks and dust bunnies. But my fears grew up along with me and the dark things I wrestle with now can loom far greater in my mind. For the past decade, I have faced a disease that threatens to rob me of my eyesight. During the course of aggressive medical treatment, I developed thick cataracts on both eyes rather suddenly. These were not typical, age-related cataracts that come on gradually over decades, but aggressive growths that rendered me legally blind in a matter of weeks. First, I had to relinquish my driver’s license—no small loss to an independent, free-ranging soul such as myself. Before long, I needed help crossing the street and stepping up stairs. I spent a good deal of time rocking on my front porch, brooding in a suffocating fog. What could be worse than living in darkness, I wondered…

One day, I was out stretching my legs in the safety of my familiar backyard with our aging dog, Kylie. I was on my cell phone, which I had programmed to voice command because I could no longer see the numbers, and I glanced up to see Kylie hunched over in the neighbor’s lawn doing her business. I was appalled. Cleaning up after a German shepherd is not like cleaning up after a poodle. You need a manure spreader, or at least a wheelbarrow, and I was sure that I would not be able to locate the mess without help. I looked guiltily over at the yellow blur that was the neighbor’s house and detected no movement. I put my hand over the phone and hissed, “Kylie, come HERE!!!” Bear in mind the dog was 12 and deaf as a rock, so I had to close my phone and raise my voice to a venomous shout, “KYLIE. GET. OVER. HERE.” She didn’t move and I was filled with wrath over her disobedience and my own inability to control the situation. All of a sudden, I felt something against my leg and looked down. There was my old, hearing-impaired dog—leaning against my leg, tongue lolling, perfectly at peace. She never heard me call for her. She hadn’t been in the neighbor’s yard at all. She had never left my side. I sheepishly walked over to inspect what I had believed was my crouching dog. It was a bush. I’d been standing outside yelling at a bush.

Around this same time, I was riding in the car with my perfectly sighted spouse. Always the backseat driver from the passenger side, I did not concede this role even when I could no longer see my hand clearly in front of my face. Cars and trucks materialized without warning from the fog ahead of me making travel a truly frightening experience. “Ron!” I gasped, clutching my door. “Don’t go so fast! Aren’t you following that car awfully close? What’s that? What is that car doing?! SLOW DOWN.” And my husband, a conservative driver with a spotless driving record, reached over, patted my leg and said, “Dawn, can you see the road?” I scowled by way of reply. I could hear the smile in his voice when he patiently replied, “Then trust me. Let me drive.”

Throughout these dark days, I considered often words from 2 Corinthians 4:18: “…we do not look for things that can be seen but for things that cannot be seen. For things that can be seen are temporary, but things that cannot be seen are eternal.” Similarly, 2 Cor.5:7, says, “We walk by faith, not by sight. I struggled with what those words meant. If we can’t walk by sight—looking for the landmarks we see, what we remember, what is apparent and obvious and logical—then what will direct us? What, exactly, is faith? The book of Hebrews, chapter 11 verse 1 explains, “Faith is the substance of things we hope for, the proof of things we can’t see.” Combined with the previous verses cited, I conclude: We live our lives by the reality of what we hope for, proving to be real the things that are invisible. If I live my life (walk a path) that is clear to me—I am living only a shadow of what is real. The really real stuff? I can’t see it.

I am happy to report that two cataract surgeries corrected much of my vision loss from nearly two years ago and I am back to driving and reading and looking at people’s faces again. But I have not forgotten my musings from the darkness of those days. A heightened appreciation for physical sight has made me increasingly aware of how blind I am in so many other ways. It’s caused me to give new consideration to the admonition, “remove the plank in your own eye before you help your brother with the speck in his.” My blindness to my own shortcomings causes me to distrust my own judgment of what is right. How can I know my own way much less the path someone else should take? I am reduced to yelling at bushes or snatching the wheel to avoid imagined disaster. Sadly, I am unable to see clearly around that enormously cumbersome obstacle…myself. I am always in my way.

So, while I continue to ask God to heal my eyes, I also pray He who has perfect sight will open the eyes of my understanding so I won’t be reduced to living these brief days distracted and preoccupied with the glitter and baubles that will all too soon crumble and fade like cheap toys from a Happy Meal. I don’t want to stumble around in the dark trying to convince others I know what I’m doing—all the while looking for the Boogie Man over my shoulder. I need God’s light in my darkness; the insight He can give is more valuable and lasting than physical sight. To know, to understand, to discern and value what lasts forever is the key to living a life full of hope that will produce the reality of all we don’t currently observe. The Apostle Paul once told his friends at Ephesus, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph.1:18, 19)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Day in the O.R. with Dawn

I am thinking of using this photo for my driver's license.

I've been learning that, since our days are not unlimited in this life, it really is a shame to waste one or wish it away. I had plenty of time to think of that Monday when I got to sit for over two hours in a hospital gown, tethered to the bed by an IV in my hand, awaiting eye surgery. It was a stormy morning in St Paul and my surgeon was stuck in traffic. We had left Amy and Ryan's shortly after 6 AM to allow ourselves plenty of time since this was a new hospital to us and the roads were bad. We checked in at a vacant lobby that was lavishly decorated for Christmas and featured a floor to ceiling aquarium embedded into one wall. Of course, I had to touch it and was filled with lust. We had only five minutes to wait before Becky came to get us so I could "get situated."

I have decided my new motto is going to be, "This is the day the Lord has made, I will have some fun in it." Pre-surgery holding areas do not lend themselves to entertainment or distraction of any kind, giving you plenty of time to invent new life mottos. The idea is you're there to recite a brief medical history to the anesthesiologist as he reads the same thing off your chart, get an IV of Ringer's started, and head to the OR. So I had a unique view of life behind-the-scenes in my cubicle positioned as one spoke off the center hub of the surgical unit. I could see other patients coming and going - patients (all of them my parents' age or older) who needed help dragging their IV poles and holding their gown-backs closed paraded by me to the only bathroom adjacent. Most of them were here for cataract surgery, a procedure I have begun to regard fondly for the straightforward operation it is. I watched them leave for surgery, come back from surgery, and leave for home while I waited for my surgeon to come. The workspace was filled with staff in blue scrubs, talking on the phone, looking at pictures of each other's children on computer screens - a mix of work and play so early in the day.

One way I deal with the stress of medical procedures is to learn as much about the people taking care of me as I can. Becky, who prepped me, was a 35-year veteran of the nursing force. (These are always the people you're happiest to have insert your IV.) She told me the IV would all be worth it when I finally got, what she called the "Don't Give a Damn Drug." I laughed. I asked questions and found out she has two daughters - one who teaches Spanish Immersion to 2nd graders in Minnetonka. She's engaged to be married in August and Becky is looking forward to grandchildren. Her younger daughter lives in Milwaukee and works for a low-end retailer who's doing so well, she will get a big Christmas bonus. My anesthesiologist Dr. Bryan came in next. I asked him, "So, is that your first name or your last name?" He looked puzzled. I said, "Do they call you Bryan Bryan?" He said, "You can call me Roy." When he heard I was from Fergus Falls, Roy asked me if I had ever sat on the otter and I found out that he has 4 children - three who played hockey here and a daughter who will graduate in the spring and who's looking at schools in California where it's warmer. He hopes she'll go to Bethel. All the technical things checked off the list, Becky and Roy left to take care of other patients and I went back to leaning around the curtain, gown agape, watching the goings-on in the hallway, hoping to reel in another victim for conversation.

I am continually struck by how young medical people are and they grow increasingly juvenile with each passing year. Some of the interns I've seen look like they don't shave yet and their voices still crack. On this morning, one youngster toddled by bearing a tray of pastries that looked like it could feed Paul Bunyan and his friends. My stomach growled politely, unaccustomed to being denied sustenance at this hour. One lady at the desk who was making appointment reminder calls took a big bite out of what looked like a chocolate donut and wiped her mouth on a napkin.

"Are you SERIOUSLY going to eat in front of people who've had nothing by mouth after midnight?" I called out from my cell. She looked up and laughed. She had the toddler bring the tray to me and let me pick out what I wanted - an apple fritter - which they sealed in a Ziploc and marked with one of the name stickers from my chart, for me to eat after surgery.

I was the first to see Dr. G blow in from the outside still wearing her winter coat. "HI!" I yelled, waving with my free arm, "It's me, your favorite patient!" She smiled and came to my room first apologizing, then complaining about the closed roads. (She's from Florida and these winters have got to make her crazy.) I love Dr. G and just seeing her cute face made me feel more relaxed. That, and the sure and certain knowledge of the labeled apple fritter in the next room. Jinna, the nurse anesthetist, joined us and we talked some more about my past procedures. Jinna commented on my colorful history and summarized by saying, "You poor thing..." That was a mistake on her part. I immediately felt impoverished. Poor me. That's right. I am here for SURGERY. Dr. G leaned over me to put numbing drops in my eye and I yelped in pain. "What WAS that?" I gasped. "Dawn, the same numbing drops you have put in your eyes all the time," she held up the bottle for me to see. Dr. G told Jinna, "She is just SO done. All these surgeries, all at inconvenient times - when her grandchild was due to be born, when her daughter was graduating. Numb her really good - make her comfortable." My eyes burned with tears that she remembered all these details about ME. I am one of hundreds of patients she sees all over the world. I stared hard at a watercolor beach scene on the wall until the tears reabsorbed.

Dr. G emptied a tube of numbing gel into my eye, put a permanent marker check above my left eye and I was wheeled into the OR. I looked around at all the bright lights and trays. A new girl, Deb, came in to drape my face and strap me down with tape and velcro and heated flannel blankets. Dr. G asked someone to turn the radio from Christmas music to country and we got started. Throughout the hour-long surgery, I felt a lot of pressure, an occasional rinse of cold liquid, and some pain. Several times I told them that I maybe needed some more "Don't Give a Damn Drug" in my arm, as it didn't seem to be working. I was giving a damn. Dr. G just said, "Well, I think we'll numb you up with another block," and gave me more in my eye. From under my drapes, there was nothing to see. I asked if a guy could still breathe good under all that paper and someone said, "That's why you have oxygen in your nose, remember?" Oh, yeah. My surgery eye was all doped up and all I could see from that eye was dark and light and vague awareness of people moving. To make the time pass, since the IV drug wasn't apparently going to help with that, I talked. I conducted a full-on interview with Dr. G, asking about her daughter's college plans, her mother's visit from California. I gave her advice about her aging cat who's drinking a lot of water - since I am almost a veterinarian. Then I asked her about everyone else in the room - who they were and what they were doing. She patiently explained, working the whole time with her scalpel and sutures. There was some discussion about electronic medical records and Dr. G had them look up the size shunt she put in my right eye in April. "You don't remember, do you?" she asked. I told her I thought it was a ten and a half. I asked if eyes bleed a lot when you cut them and Dr G said, "Some do. Yours isn't." I said, "Good." I told her that I made Christmas cookies and brought for her. She said, "Really?! That's GREAT! I think I'm the only Jewish person I know who puts up three Christmas trees." I said, "Well, these are Hanukkah cookies, actually. The gingerguys have little hats on their heads." She laughed again. You'd think we were two friends talking over a pedicure. I remembered I was having eye surgery when she asked, "What were your pressures the last time they were checked?" And I said, "Maybe in the low 30s." She said, "Well, judging from how hard your eye is, I'd say it was at least 50 today. Your old trab has completely closed. I'm going to put in a tube now and release some of the pressure." Audible exclamations signaled the eruption of an ocular geyser. Dr. G told me when she was finishing up with the sewing on on the donor skin. I told her I was a little creeped out by the donor skin. She told me what part of the eye it came from and that it was a good gift, really, as the person who gave it didn't need it any more. Unfortunately finishing up took longer than she expected because she had to redo one part of the stitching three times when she couldn't get it to lay flat. I patiently waited for her because no one gave me any other options. Then, it was over. I got a good rinsing, more gel, and lots of bandages. Then I was off to recovery and my apple fritter and my smiling husband. When I left, an hour later, the nurse who helped me to the car thanked me for being such a fun patient.

After the block wore off, I had a miserable afternoon and evening, but felt better yesterday when I went in for my post-op. Dr. G was delighted with her cookies and exclaimed over the little yarmulkes on the gingerbread. I really AM her favorite now, I think. She also was very happy with her work under my eyelid and my lower pressures and explained to me why she operated with so little anesthesia. "Every time Jinna gave you more, you stopped breathing. So, I'd lift your chin up and have her back off a bit. I wanted to use the local as long as you would tolerate it. I didn't care if you talked the whole time. I didn't want to intubate you." I apologized for my chattiness and thanked her for not intubating. She said, "Hey, every patient on that table is ME. I do what I would want done for myself." Is she not great?

So, I am home today, not bending or lifting and trying to not make dramatic movements of my eyes as I am wont to do - it hurts. Some kind souls plowed out our driveway and brought over two meals. I have Stephie home to wait on me. We plan to watch a lot of TV and pet the cats. Thank you SO much for all your words of encouragement and prayers. I can't even tell you how much it means. Now....I'm off to rest...and have some fun in this day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Eye Surgery

Some of you have asked for more by way of explanation as to my upcoming eye surgery, so--here you go:

This surgery Monday will be my sixth in less than three years. I have a condition called Idiopathic Uveitis with Cystoid Macular Edema. Uncontrolled uveitis is a leading cause of blindness and the CME is the eye's response to inflammation; fluid-filled cysts in my maculas that cause decreased vision and permanent vision loss--similar to what people with macular degeneration experience. After seeing numerous doctors and undergoing every test they know to do, there is no explanation why my eyes persist in episodes of inflammation--other than my body just does not like my eyes--an autoimmune response. By the time I was diagnosed four years ago, I had already lost much of the central vision in my left eye. When I began losing vision in my right eye, specialists initiated aggressive treatment including off-label, immunomodulators and steroids; first as drops, then systemically, and finally as injections into my eyes in order to save the sight I have left. (Unfortunately, I am what they call Steroid Responsive, meaning that, not only does my body not like my eyes, it does not like the help that's being offered either.) Use of steroids caused my pressures to rise dramatically and my first two surgeries were to create drains in my eyes called Trabeculectomies--where the surgeon created a kind of raised bubble under my upper lids with a shunt from my own tissue to drain off the excess intraocular fluid. These "trabs" worked beautifully for awhile and my pressures returned to normal. (Left untreated, elevated pressures damage the optic nerve and also lead to blindness. oh yay.) The fun was not over yet. Almost overnight, I developed thick steroid-induced cataracts. For months I couldn't drive, read, or see faces clearly. It was like someone had covered my eyes with thick Vaseline. When doctors could no longer see IN any better than I could see OUT, I had two more surgeries six months apart in which cataracts were removed, new lenses implanted, and we crossed our fingers. Eventually, I was able to return to driving and reading and looking at all the things I like to see.

In the past year, I have had two more episodes of inflammation, more injections, and the initial trabs began to fail. In April I had my fifth surgery in which a Baerveldt Shunt was implanted in the white of my eye under my upper lid.. The device looks like a fingernail-sized manta ray which is grafted over with donor skin and the "tail" of the ray--a clear drainage tube--is threaded out through my iris to shunt away excess fluid. I call it my bionic eye. :-) This first implant was very successful. After six months of recovery time, my pressures have leveled off in the teens from highs last Spring in the 60s. (Normal eye pressures are between 10 and 20.)However, the pressure has been creeping up in my left eye for months so, on Monday, I will have the same surgery in that eye.

This ordeal with my eyes has been quite the roller coaster ride, as you can imagine. I've struggled with dry eyes, sore eyes, watery eyes, blurry vision, double vision, floating spots, and blank areas. I've had frequent headaches and even nausea from all the visual disturbances. And, while they have been able to get me seeing 20/25 on eye charts on a good day and I am thrilled that I can drive, my detailed vision is permanently damaged from all the repeated swelling of delicate eye tissue. When I look at a page of print, it is as though someone has taken an eraser and rubbed out random words and chunks of words. I don't see well at night and I have trouble distinguishing between some colors. This will not improve. In the past four years, I have seen the best specialists in the country and have had wonderful doctors who are doing all they can to save my sight. But I am not thrilled at the prospect of another surgery. There is a long recovery period with this kind of procedure. I can't bend or lift (even my darling grandbabies) for eight weeks. It is uncomfortable afterwards with stitches that rub, blurriness, and many, many drops that burn like crazy. I'll need to make frequent trips to the U for follow-up as this is not something that anyone local is familiar with. I find I am often the source of a kind of medical Show and Tell when I go in as most doctors have never seen what I am sporting under my lid. They gather around for a look and say, "Aaahhhh..." (Yes, it IS charming. Especially the younger interns who have all the appeal of little boys poking a dead frog on the sidewalk. I would be the dead frog.) So, I'd appreciate your prayers on Monday that the surgery goes well, no infection or inflammation develops afterwards, no permanent drooping of the lid occurs, and that I'd have energy to enjoy time with family over the holidays. I'm sorry if this got long. I don't often go into this kind of detail, but at least if it's in writing, you can skim! Overall, I am so thankful for what vision I DO have. I am also deeply grateful for friends like you who care so much about me. Thank you for all your expressions of concern and love and for walking through the valley with me. :-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas 2008

For the first time in...many years, I am not sending out Christmas letters. This will be my first year doing a cyber-letter. Call me Scrooge, but we are trying to save a buck. Ho ho ho!

We've had a busy year, filled with all the things that make the parents of any senior in high sc
hoola bit crazy. After a full year of college visits, applications, and auditions, Stephanie (19) is happily settled in at Bemidji State University where she is a freshman majoring in music. Her senior year was a blur of concerts and plays and "lasts" which we enjoyed to the utmost. In April, Ron and Victoria and I were able to go along on the band/choir trip to New York City as chaperones and thoroughly enjoyed taking in the sights, seeing plays on Broadway, and watching our musicians perform. A week after we got back, I had to have an extensive eye surgery and was so thankful for wonderful family and friends who helped with Stephie's grad party.

In May, Kimberly and Peter gave birth to their second son, Sawyer Matthew. Cohen (2 1/2) is the model big brother and can make Sawyer laugh faster than anyone else. Pete keeps busy remodeling their house, landscaping the yard, working at Floor to Ceiling, and refereeing basketball games. Kimberly is still working a couple nights a week at SCS and has gone back to work Saturdays as a stylist for Salon Eclips. She fills the boys' days with ECFE classes, story hours, and trips to the park.

In August, Amy and Ryan had their first child, Paisley Juliana, and I was honored to be present for her birth. What an amazing experience that was to be part of such a special moment in time! Amy has been able to stay home with Paisley--enjoying all the delights of homemaking, but still doing some contract work with Church of the Open Door. Ryan loves his job as a project manager with Merrill Corp. and is working on site in the Bahamas this week. He hosted a deck-raising party at their home this past summer, working together with his dad, Ron, and Peter to construct a beautiful new deck on the back of their house.

Michael (21) continues to deliver pizza for Dominos, but switched to their Fargo location when he moved there in August to attend college. He is undecided on his major and is taking general/business classes.

Victoria (11) is in the 5th grade. She swam on the local swim team for her 5th season this summer and is rapidly perfecting the backstroke. She is in her 6th year of piano and her 2nd year of trumpet. She keeps our house full of music! Victoria also got her own "baby" this year for her birthday. The baby is a Ragdoll kitten named Mimzy and Victoria is getting in lots of mothering practice!

When Ron is not at his job with Synstelien Community Services, you can find him working on some project in the house or yard. This past year he put in a beautiful pavered patio behind our house, along with lots of landscaping work. (Thanks Loren and Darlene and James and Heidi for your inspiration and muscle!) He also laid wood floors in our basement and put in an extra bathroom for our guest suite. I am in my 3rd year working as a para-professional at Victoria's school and I love my jo
b working with 1st and 2nd graders and serving lunch. My main focus is to stay ahead of everyone else's schedule and drop everything when our kids come home. I hope to get caught up on my scrapbooking in 2009!

With all the new babies around here this past year, Christmas is more wonderful than ever. I think
sober thoughts of Mary--a real person--who gave birth to a real baby in far from ideal conditions. And, as I watch my daughters with their sweet and perfect babies, I think of that young mother long ago who wiped a tiny nose, kissed little feet, and lovingly cared for a child who would all too soon grow up and become far more than anyone ever dreamed. I can't hear the song, "Mary Did You Know," without tearing up at the line about her kissing the face of God. How did God dare do it? Sending His Son here is unthinkable--like us sending Baby Sawyer or Baby Paisley to be raised by wolves! (And not friendly ones, like in The Jungle Book, either.) In the very first days of His life, people were already determined to kill Jesus until they finally succeeded three short decades later. God sent His Son--as a ungrateful, undeserving people. As I sit looking into the eyes of my newest grandchild, love like that is beyond understanding and I am in awe of what was really given to me at Christmas. Wishing you the unsearchable riches that are yours in Christ this season....

Dawn, et al.

Sweet little boys

Sweet little girls

The best things in life are not things.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Selective Memory

This past week, we were at my parents’ house, sitting around digesting Thanksgiving dinner, when my mom pulled out a box of photos she found for me. In the box was an old report card of mine from sixth grade for the 1972-73 school year. I was excited to open it. What I remembered from sixth grade—what I’d always told my own kids from my elementary years, “Yes, I got good grades. What? Oh, A’s and B’s I guess.” And, while I remember myself as an animated, vivacious child, I don’t recall being a brat. Imagine my surprise when I opened up this yellowed bit of cardstock with my name written in neat cursive on the front to discover a single A and the rare B. Most predominant was the letter C and…what’s this? D’s in math…and reading comprehension…and music? Are you kidding me?!

Glancing over to the Social Development side of the report, things went from bad to worse. “S” stood for Satisfactory and “U” for Unsatisfactory. My card was peppered with U’s for Effort, Listening, Follows Directions, Conduct, Finishes Assignments, Works to Ability…all in one single report period! My eyes traveled to the bottom of the card where I saw my mother’s signature, “Mrs. Alden Thompson.” Apparently, she saw this harsh evaluation of her firstborn yet permitted me live to adulthood.

Seeing that report card brought back a flood of memories. I remembered liking a boy all year that completely ignored me. I was not friends with the popular girls. I was clumsy in a strange body, mortified about my sudden burst of height, desperate to disguise my beanpole figure with bulky shirts. My glasses were ugly, my teeth crooked, and my feet huge. I couldn’t walk without tripping. I slouched. I chewed my fingernails. I worried a lot. I worried about the Vietnam War, and contracting rabies. I worried something would happen to my parents, that I might faint (again) during the Christmas program, and that I might never stop growing. I was scared to death of my band teacher and was convinced Mrs. Wick had it in for me. (Who could blame her?)

History and The Present have a way of colliding when you have children. You unwittingly revise the past in order to set the bar high for your offspring. (Who would be inspired if they knew the truth about Mom and Dad?) I have given birth to five people who made it through grade school getting far better grades than I ever did. Yet if they dared come home with so much as a C or a check beside “Uses Time Wisely” I was all over it! Unfortunately, editing my own history made me less tolerant and compassionate than I should have been.

I find it interesting how vastly different two people’s memories can be of the same past event. The person with whom I share the most childhood memories is my younger sister, Renee, and even our stories of the same events don’t always match. We sometimes argue over really important stuff such as which of us the dog liked best or who threw the first rock that started a war with the boy next door. I have to admit that I remember so little of what really happened in the past and what I do remember is entirely one-dimensional. I can only see things from my very limited perspective, from my own vantage point, as if the entire world revolved around me. I realized recently, that I have constructed my own personal, skewed version of history. Like a mental scrapbook, I have chosen certain events that I have ceremoniously glued into my subconscious and adorned with stickers and fancy fonts so that they look far better in retrospect than the original. Yet, what I have left out? Did I save only the pleasant memories, like great report cards, and photographs full of smiling, carefree people—the things that make me look good and make my life seem perfect? What about the failures, the sad things, the disappointments? My memory scrapbook is incomplete and inaccurate because I don’t know what it is in my life that I should be saving and what should be thrown. Who can help me sort through this tangle of memories accurately?

People talk of going off to “find themselves” as though solitude and introspection will give them the answers they need. We can truly only know ourselves in context of our relationships with others. It takes humility for me to be willing to see myself from the perspective of someone else. My view alone does not give me a complete picture. Ultimately, there is only One who has perfect recall of every moment of my life. He saw my body before it was fully formed in my mother’s womb. He saw my tiny heart begin to beat and noticed when I found my thumb. He was present at my birth, and later when I said my first word, alone in my crib, before even my parents heard and celebrated. He saw the joy on my face when I took my first steps and learned to ride a bike. He saw the bullies on the playground and in the classroom. He saw when I was the one doing the bullying. He saw how desperately lost and insecure and anxious I was. He knew what no one else did. He knew I needed Him. He alone is able to make sense of all my life’s experiences; past, present and future. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says,

Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.”

How can I ever understand myself apart from God? I can’t. Now my vision is blurry. There is much I don’t see, and what I do see often doesn’t make sense. But I know that God will take it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and one day show me how it all works together for His good purpose; without editing, without dishonesty, without hypocrisy. In the meanwhile, I approach His throne with confidence. He knows it all, what do I have to hide? Why should I be ashamed? The one past event that matters most is that God loved me so, He gave His only Son—not to condemn me, but to give me life. And one day, I will know as surely as I am known. That’s something worth remembering

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Guide

Ron and I had the marvelous privilege of chaperoning 200 high school band/choir students to New York City last April. Our five coach buses emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel filled with wide-eyed tourists ready to see the sights and procure vast amounts of street-vended merchandise. Our seasoned guide permitted us as much liberty to explore Manhattan in small groups as he deemed safe but, the balance of the time, we moved from place to place in a solid block of humanity six deep and spanning an entire city block easily identifiable as out-of-towners by our lavish “I <3 NY” attire. At those times, our only goal was to keep our eye on the guide’s umbrella waving overhead through the sea of people and stay with our group.

On Day 3, we trooped across Brooklyn Bridge en masse and headed for the 911 memorial at Ground Zero. The mood was both somber and eager as we anticipated visiting such a meaningful place. With admonitions of proper protocol ringing in our ears, we trooped behind the bobbing umbrella. A few blocks from our destination, our guiding icon did a strange thing. It weaved across a street, with our large entourage stopping traffic in both directions, then re-crossed the same street half a block later. Then the umbrella stopped. We couldn’t see the guide under the umbrella and, at times, we couldn’t see even his umbrella. People began to complain, sitting on curbs and leaning against buildings to wait. Some were hot. Some had blisters on their feet. Some were hungry. Some worried we wouldn’t make the next engagement on our agenda in time. When we resumed walking, we crossed the same street for the third time, turned around, and went back the way we’d come. Even the highest of spirits had crumbled by now and sincere grumbling broke out in the ranks. What are we doing? Is he crazy? Why are we going back and forth across this same stupid street? You can imagine.

As it turns out, our guide knew stuff we didn’t. Leading our entourage, he came to a road that was blocked by police security and had to make a sudden change of plans. He couldn’t stop and explain his actions to our satisfaction until later. He wasn’t able to take a poll to see how we all felt about the situation or have us vote on what we thought was the best course of action. He just had to act. And those of us in the back who couldn’t see what was going on quickly became frustrated. We doubted the guide’s intelligence, his kindness, his sanity.

As I recall that experience with the NYC tour guide, I realize that I often respond like that to God’s guidance. He sees the whole picture that is my life from beginning to end—and not just my own personal life but with intricate wisdom understands how my brief existence interconnects with other people both dead and living and yet to live—in one seamless continuum. Many times it seems God is taking me on senseless detours and I rant: Why are we turning around? Why can’t I go there? We aren’t supposed to end up here, it’s not on my itinerary! This doesn’t make any sense! I grit my teeth, seething and incensed, though I am unable to see above my own head or the crowd pressing around me. Somehow, I feel I am in a position to judge Him who sees and knows all, to counsel the loving Father who is responsible and trustworthy from generation to generation. Humbly, I am reminded of the Proverb, “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Do I, with my limited knowledge, foresight, and vision really want to chart my own path? I think not.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pennies on a Rug; Reflections on Living and Dying

I've given considerable thought about dying in recent months as I pray for a friend who is terminally ill. This past summer, my daughter Amy lost a young friend in a hiking accident that left us all stunned and bewildered. And though I realize it is hard to die, it is also really hard to LIVE in light of the inevitable end of life as we know it. And I’m painfully aware of the fact that how we die is often a reflection of the life we have lived.

I often find it hard to focus on the life to come. Amy and I were recently contemplating the brevity of this life and I told her, "We don't really live like we believe in heaven. We're like a child sitting on a rug playing with our piggy bank and our few grimy pennies. What difference does it make if we have 9 pennies or 29 or 79? It is a pittance. Our heavenly Father stands holding out handfuls of precious jewels and pure gold--eternal riches--yet we obsess over the sticky pennies in our hands because it's all we know. To lose those pennies is an unthinkable tragedy to us because we don't really believe that there is so much more.”

My pennies might look a little different than yours. I believe that each of us has a Theme Trial in life. For some, it is finances—real pennies on a larger scale. For others, it might be health or broken relationships. Yet the common denominator is every one of these things is temporal. Because anything that we can lose--a business, our health, the life of a loved one--is an insecure anchor, pennies on a rug. We need to learn to set our eyes on the riches that await us in order to have any purpose or joy in this present life.

Every day I struggle with what I have lost of my vision--choosing to ignore what is literally in front of me 24/7. Every day I am tempted to worry about losing more. Nerve damage has occurred in my retinas that will not be restored in this lifetime and I mourn what is lost. This is as good as it gets for me, visually, this side of heaven. The realization of this fact is a continual mental battle. If I don't remind myself that something better is ahead, it makes successful living today impossible.

One day, I was sitting in [yet another] surgeon's exam room having just shown her pictures of our new grandson. She said, "You have a beautiful family." And I replied, "I am very blessed. This stuff with my eyes is just sand in my shoes in comparison." This woman knows that I have been through. She has performed two of my last five eye surgeries and is well aware of my uncertain prognosis. But what I am trying to relay to her, and more to myself, is the importance of Perspective: I have been blessed beyond anything I deserve just in this life. How much more does God have waiting for me? More than I can dream. So every day, I do what I can do, then rest. I know that God cares more about me than I can possibly know. The protector of my life is never tired and never sleeps. He is paying attention to every detail that concerns me and nothing can touch me outside of His control. He continues to hold me in His hand and has me exactly where He wants me--having to depend on Him. It is a good place to be; living this life in abundance and looking forward to the day where every tear will be wiped from my eyes, I will see His face clearly, and know Him as He already knows me. Now that is good news!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Elegant Dinner In

Ron and I were treated to an elegant dinner IN tonight. Our 11 year old and her friend, Annie, escorted us from our living room to the dining room where they had taped one of the lace dining room sheers to obscure our view of the kitchen. We were handed menus handwritten in crayon from a music stand/hostess station. I started with the Iceberg Lettuce &[unpeeled] Chopped Carrot Salad. Ron had the Nacho Platter (chips with leftover beans I had meant to throw out earlier this week, and melted cheese.) The main entree was Tuna Helper, which was only a little gritty because the chefs forgot to add the seasoning packet until after the pasta was cooked. The vegetable du jour was corn--boiled over and burned onto the ceramic stovetop. Dessert was chocolate pudding served in our fancy dessert dishes and we ate it with rubber covered baby spoons for a very special effect. There were only a few powdery lumps in the pudding. Only one dish got broken. The waitresses/chefs seemed happy with the dollar tip we left each of them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Remembering Kylie

Kylie on her 10th birthday

Most of us don't get to know in advance the time of our birth or death. They are just dates on a calendar that mean nothing until they become important enough to remember. It's a horrible thing when it falls to you to choose a day for something to die. It seems unnatural and wrong...

We got our German Shepherd, Kylie, in the late summer of 1995. She was 12 weeks old, mostly black with some tan markings, and over-sized floppy ears and paws. She was darling. We were living in Willow Grove, PA at the time, in a small church parsonage which we filled to bursting at the seams. Kim was almost 15, Amy had just turned 13, Michael 8 and Stephie 6. We had a small fenced yard for Kylie to run around in but I took her everywhere I went to socialize her. She went to soccer games, to the park, on long walks around the city. She was incredibly intelligent and learned quickly. We taught her not to jump or lick or bark without a reason. She learned to sit, heel, stay and go to her crate the first time she was told. She loved to ride in the car. Over the next year, she grew into a large, dignified black and tan dog of nearly 100 pounds and strangers on the street frequently stopped to tell me how beautiful she was.

When we moved our family back to MN in the spring of 1997, we had Kylie flown home on Northwest Airlines. I'll never forget the day we picked her up at the airport. They let her out of her crate and she raced to us, crying for joy. I have never before or since heard a dog make a sound like that. We brought her home to our house on Clear Lake and she got to enjoy the best kind of dog life you can imagine. She never had to be tied up and rarely was she kenneled. She had the run of our large, shaded lot and three story home. She cooled off in the lake during the hot summer days and laid on the carpet outside our bedroom door in the winter. We took long walks down country roads nearly every day where she chased rabbits and gophers in the ditches and was as happy as a dog could possibly be.

Kylie was an observer of many family changes. In August of 1997, our 5th child,Victoria, was born and Kylie took her arrival in stride. Since we had never treated our dog like a princess, she didn't feel upstaged in any way by the appearance of a new baby. She endured endless poking and pinching from a toddler without a growl or complaint as if it were her duty to do so. Ours was a busy, noisy house over the next 8 years. There were endless parties, company, clients and staff for our business coming and going. Kylie was the perfect hostess, announcing arrivals and then politely stepping aside. She didn't like arguing and she'd show her disapproval by quietly getting up and leaving the room if one of the kids were being punished or if some conversation between adults became heated. That's when we knew we were out of line: "Look! Now you've upset the DOG!"

Kylie was a protector, so you had better approach the house with confidence--especially at night--something more than one teenage boy had to learn the hard way. She guarded our house against anyone she deemed suspicious and once chased our tentative dentist back to his own car when he came to inquire about furniture refinishing. Why did he run? she seemed to ask as she stood panting outside his rolled-up car window. She killed skunks (thanks so much) and woodchucks that dared enter our yard at night and bore on her body the scars to prove it. She maimed dozens of garter snakes and crushed bees with her bare teeth. Kylie was a brave dog.

Kylie enjoyed the simple things in life--a good roll in the grass to scratch her own back, a nap on the porch--feet wildly chasing something in Dreamland, a ride on our pontoon boat. Once, when we'd neglected to bring her along on a family outing, she raced almost halfway around the edge of the lake barking at us to come back and get her. If we were out swimming in the lake, she'd check on us from the end of the dock and even swim out to us if we called her. Kylie loved People Food but manners kept her from stealing it either from the kitchen counter or easier targets, such as small children. Many times, she would sit patiently and watch a child with an ice cream cone or other treat just waiting in case something dropped.

Kylie was a good sport and was happy just to be wherever we were. In 2006, our family sold the lake home and moved into town. If Kylie missed the country, she never let on. With failing eyesight and hearing, she seemed content with her new apartment in the garage with heated bed and her own door to a fenced-in kennel. Rabbits and squirrels freely frolicked mere yards away and she never noticed. The past couple years, she was no longer bothered by loud 4th of July fireworks or thunderstorms.

Kylie was my companion. In her old age, she was content to follow me around the yard as I pulled weeds or watered the flowers or simply rocked in my chair on the porch the long weeks when my own cataracts were too thick to see anything. She understood the fine art of just hanging out--no distracting chatter--no constant nudging to be petted. She just wanted to be with me.

Unfortunately, dogs wear out much too soon. Over the past year Kylie continued to fail. She couldn't hear us when we called her from five feet away. She couldn't see my hand if I waved it inches from her face. Even her sense of smell was fading and she spent a lot of time with her nose to the ground trying to find me when I was right in the yard with her. She'd bang her snout into my leg, then sneeze, and wag her tail as if to say, "Oh, HERE you are!" She began to stumble more and it was an effort for her to get up from a resting position. If I moved furniture or plants in the yard she'd crash headlong into it. Just watching her ascend and descend the four steps to our porch was excruciating. But she wanted to be as close to me as possible, so I let her struggle. Lately, she had become indiscriminate about where she relieved herself and I knew I couldn't put off what needed to be done.

This morning, I made her favorite breakfast of eggs and fed them to her along with a few other treats from the fridge which she daintily took from my fingers. I took my time brushing out every inch of her thick fur while my own tears rained onto her back. When I got out her leash, she perked up like a puppy and cheerfully hoisted herself into the backseat of the car shunning the help I expected she would need. As we drove to the vet's office, I looked back at her. She was smiling, her eyes half-closed, face to the open window.

My last moment with her was to bury my face in the softness of her head, right behind her great big ears where the fur grew short and silky. I sucked in the doggy smell of her and felt my heart break. I couldn't bear to even look back when I left the clinic.

My heart is heavy as I contemplate all that I've lost today. It seems like more than just a pet. I feel saying good-bye to Kylie was like signing off on more than a decade of my life. Our family was so young when Kylie came to live with us. Since then, four of our children have graduated and left (or are leaving) home. Two have married and are parents themselves. Ron and I are older and grayer. His parents are both gone. It's not that I dislike change. Some is good. I like hellos and births. I hate good-byes and deaths. I am sad because you can't have one without the other. I miss my dog already.....