My rope …………

photo             I am obviously NOT an artist. However, the crude little drawing depicts in a very deliberate sense how I’ve been feeling. A good friend of mine often quotes a phrase that describes the survival skill illustrated by the drawing. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt I really didn’t know the quote could be attributed to anyone famous until I read a motivational piece in a nursing journal recently. It spoke of resilience and flexibility and focus and adaptation as techniques to conquer burnout. Recently those qualities have been lacking in my life. My friend also says that stress is the daily reminder we have that we are still alive. Alive I surely must be. However, I was beginning to doubt my ability to survive. This week I have been reminded of some truths. They have touched my heart and enlightened my mind and strengthened my will to persevere.They have inspired me to not only hang on to that rope, but maybe to start climbing up it to higher ground. Because the ground of giving up the fight and giving in to despair is quicksand that will only suck me down further into a dark prison of defeat. What are the truths?

  • There is more to life than just the struggle here on earth. I have a Savior, Jesus Christ, and a perfect, joyful, eternal home awaits me when this life is over. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1)
  • God has a plan for my life, and He says in Jeremiah 29:11 that it is a “plan to prosper me and not to harm me”, a plan to “give me a hope and a future.” Furthermore, He says in Romans 8:28 that “all things work to the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Yes, I may not enjoy the storms of this life, but I can know that, as long as I “keep the faith”, they are growing me into a better person.
  • Even more encouraging is the truth that, even when I am too distraught, confused, or weak to articulate my hurts and needs, God hears my plea. Romans 8:26 reminds that, when I do not even know what to pray for or what the answer is, “the Spirit himself intercedes for me with groans that words cannot express.” And even Jesus himself prayed for me as recorded in John 17:20 when He says, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’ and early church’s) message.”
  • I can do this! Not in my own strength, but in His strength. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not in my own strength, but through the blessing of loving friends and family who are constantly lifting us up in prayer as we face the challenges of these days.

My challenge now is to keep these truths fresh in my heart and to never forget the immeasurable goodness of God’s grace, love and mercy. I pray for each of you the same assurance.

If you’re happy, and you know it . . . .

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, then your smile will surely show it;

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).

I have, as many children of my generation, sung many renditions of the above verse. Things about stomping one’s feet or shouting Amenall to demonstrate one’s inward joy. But what happens when that inward joy, any outward sign of happiness, the basic desire to live are subtracted from a life? I have experienced it, not personally (although sometimes I think I may get there!), but as an observer, a caregiver, a mother. And, just to make things really clear for you–IT’S NOT PRETTY.

Our journey through this struggle has encompassed eleven years of our lives. Of course, I know it really began prior to that, but I was in the state of blissful ignorance/denial that parents sometimes love to embrace. The doubts sometimes haunt me. If I had recognized it sooner, would things be different? Would my child’s body be unscarred, her mind clear, her moods stable? Would the fear of losing her be relegated only to things like motor vehicle accidents and terrible physical illnesses and terrorist attacks and vicious murderers? Would I no longer take a deep breath before going to wake her in the morning, my heart seized with the fear that this time she would not awaken to my touch?

I suffer with her, you know. A recent relapse resulted in the most vacant expression I could ever imagine would cross one’s visage. Her eyes were deep wells of emptiness, and I knew we were, once again, in trouble. I knew that because she couldn’t hide it, and, believe me, she is the ultimate master at putting on the good front. Carefully dressing, accessorizing, making up her face, and always smiling sweetly in the presence of others. She is a loving, sensitive, tormented soul dedicated to suffering in silence so no one will be worried. Little does she realize that I see through it all.

ECT is the course of treatment at present, with its frightening and debilitating memory loss. However, she not only now smiles sweetly and silently, but also sleeps and eats and graces us with an occasional laugh that lights her face with forgotten joy. And, I will gladly and gratefully take that in trade–to replace the fear that she will finally, in desperation, tired of the torment, convince herself that life is, indeed, not worth the struggle.

Dear Reader, I know we all have our ups and downs, heartbreaks, disappointments, and generally bad days. I pray none of you or your loved ones have the burden of true, life-threatening, intractable depression. I wrote this for me–a catharsis of sorts–but also for you. If you are one of those suffering, hang in there, get help, don’t give up. If you are one of the fortunate ones who are “happy and you know it”, don’t just clap your hands. Get down on your knees and thank God, for that is one of the greatest blessings you will ever know.

All things Downton. . .

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I confess to being a latecomer to Downton fandom. It was toward the end of the third season before, tired of hearing conversations about people and places I just didn’t know, I took the leap and became totally addicted. My daughter and I then, in a viewing frenzy, attempted to quench our thirst for all details of Downton’s past by viewing seasons one, two, and the totality of season three on DVD. Ah, the satisfaction! Season four was savored in real time as we DVR’d each episode and saved it for a time we could view together–sometime that the male members of our household were otherwise occupied. And now we are likewise engrossed in a week by week feast of the people and plots of Downton. And now I see, as I “shop PBS” that the Season 5 DVD (U.K.Edition) is “available, in stock, and leaves warehouse in 1-2 full business days”, along with a FREE Downton Abbey Sampler Pack of 6 Teas!! Who would have thought you could see Season 5 in one marathon viewing session before the rest of its devotees have seen episode four?

I’ve been attempting to decipher the elements of our attraction to the Downton Abbey saga. This is a very complex issue. I do love the fashions. The costuming is veritable eye candy, even when worn by Dowager Lady Grantham. Of interest are the different fashion tastes that have been apparent as one compares Lady Mary’s attire with that of her sisters Lady Edith and, the now deceased Lady Sybil. And then there’s cousin Rose to consider, with her youthful, rebellious, yet charming ways.

Then there’s the more intellectual enticement of the morsels of historical facts that are strewn throughout the plot. The reign of King George the V of Great Britain is the backdrop for this tale of aristocracy and those who serve them. The sinking of the Titanic claimed the lives of Lord Grantham’s cousins, James and Patrick, and we all remember his distress that a mere third cousin once removed thus became his heir. The horror of the Great War (WW I) did not leave the household unscathed. Topics of socialism, racism, sexuality, and women’s rights pervade the story. There’s more here than just romance.

But, romance there is. Sometimes my Bible-belt morality is, indeed, a bit taken aback by the turns and twists of relationships, but, through it all, one finds oneself developing a fondness for the all-too-human characters and their frailties.

But, at this moment, on this day, I think the thing that enchants me most is the freedom that the aristocracy has to pursue various interests. After all, they don’t clean. They don’t shop for food. They don’t cook. They don’t do laundry, nor do they mend clothing or polish shoes. They don’t drive or dress themselves. They have all the time in the world to do whatever appeals to their fancy.

That sounds rather, well, tacky of me, doesn’t it? You have to understand my life at the moment. I try to be an excellent healthcare provider, which occupies a major portion of my time. At my house there is cleaning and laundry and shopping and cooking to be done, and, trust me, I seem to do a lot of it. There are demands on my time that I prioritize highly–teaching a Sunday School class, singing with the church choir as we lead worship, daily devotion, regular worship, acts of service. I do not begrudge these things–they bring me joy. Yet, there is the “other thing”. I long to be a productive writer. This is the thing that gets placed on the back burner, shoved to the back of the line, listed last on “things to do today”. And, somehow, someway, I must find the discipline to make the time, focus the mind, and, as Nike puts it, just do it. Because I am convinced I am meant to do it. I am convinced I have things to say.

Perhaps they are not great things in the literary sense–I’m rather sure they’re not. But words that inspire, entertain, and tell a story–the act of drafting, editing, and sharing words like that is, perhaps, another calling for my life, just as nursing has been.

So, dear reader, send a prayer my way that I will find my way, please?

A cup of tea. . .

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Lord,

I long for a little time.

Time to sit with a cup of tea,

Just you and me.

Time to be still

And listen for your voice.

My prayers have become

Lists of things for you to fix.

And I’ve lost the gift

Of just enjoying

Your Presence.

Help me, Lord,

Find some time,

Some place,

Some way

To shut out the craziness

Of the day.

And be still,

With a cup of tea,

Just you and me

Together

In the silence

Of your peace.

Holiday passages . . . .

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Years ago I read a book by Gail Sheehy titled Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. My recollection of the content is scanty, but I feel myself swept into a current of life events that feel like “passages”. Some are joyful and sweet, like the new ornament on the Christmas tree. Beside her mother’s Baby’s First Christmas ornament dated 1992 is my newborn great-granddaughter’s ornament dated 2014. Friday, December 19, 2014, to be exact. The baby is exceptionally beautiful for a newborn, and, yes, I AM prejudiced, but even acquaintances agree when they see her picture. Her mother is, likewise, a beautiful woman grown from a beautiful child and married to a really fine and remarkable husband. My heart bursts with joy at the expectation of seeing this young family grow.

There is a bittersweet element to my current passage, too. I suppose in many ways I am becoming the matriarch of my family. My age allows it. My status as mother, grandmother, and, now, great-grandmother requires it. Christmases at my mother’s house have been replaced by Christmas Eve at this house. But, am I prepared? Do I have the energy, the focus, the insight to fulfill the role? Do I have the magnetism to bind family ties closer together as my mom and dad did? Can I inspire the devotion to family get-togethers that bonded previous generations? I’m not sure I feel up to the task.

I pray that with God’s help I can fill the shoes of the previous “greatest” generation, knowing that it is only with a healthy dose of devotion to God, family, and seasons that I will succeed. So, let us make new traditions that will be as loving and long-lived as past ones, while treasuring the past in our hearts.

And, with that, I will wish all you readers–

“MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!”

The story of a coat. . . .

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There it is, a rather unremarkable Liz Claiborne, down-filled car coat with fleece lined collar, black in color. It keeps one quite warm in the frigid winters that we are reluctantly becoming accustomed to here in Arkansas. We are becoming used to them because of the introduction of “polar vortex” and “arctic blast” into the vocabulary of our local meteorologists. This coat may look somewhat nondescript, and that quality is central to this story, which is (unfortunately) all-too-true.

The reader may be aware that a couple of weeks ago we experienced here in the mid-south the rapid and brutal cooling that follows the path of an arctic front that dipped unusually deep into the heart of our great country. I doubted the predictions and left for work early one morning clad only in my usual long-sleeve undershirt, scrubs, and a fleece jacket. Mid-morning found me impressed enough by the frigid temp as I left the hospital to drive across town to the clinic that I called my sweet, always-willing to help husband and asked him to bring my heavier down coat from the closet to me. He delivered it to the clinic while I was seeing patients, and my return trip to the hospital was oh-so-much more comfortable! Thank you, sweetheart!

That afternoon everything was harder than it should have been. Procedures that should have taken 45 minutes took 90. The procedure that should have taken an hour took almost three. There was an extra procedure added on. Suffice it to say that when I finally left the hospital, I was very glad to be doing so. I drove toward home in a state of exhaustion. All I wanted was a quick bite to eat, my pajamas, a rerun of Castle while holding my husband’s hand, and deep, dreamless sleep. That’s what I wanted.

However, I generally check on my 88-year-old mother on my way in–her house is about a mile before ours–and this day was a day for a face-to-face visit. It would be a quick one, I vowed to myself. And, it was. She assured me her arthritis was not acting up too badly and the psychotic cat (that she loves dearly) was in a mellow mood. She bemoaned the fact that Thursday night TV was just unacceptable. I agreed, hugged her, and said good night.

As I approached my vehicle, I pulled a set of keys from my pocket and began pressing the “clicker” to unlock the door. No headlights flashed. I pressed the lift-gate button. Nothing. I pressed the panic button. No horn sounded. What could be wrong? I guessed the thing had batteries. I tried to open the door lock with the key, but couldn’t get it to work. After a couple of minutes of futile attempts, the wind biting the exposed skin of my face, I reentered Mom’s warm house and called my husband, for the second time that day, asking to be rescued. Soon I saw the lights of his truck and went out to show him how the stupid “clicker” wouldn’t work. And, I am just so tired, I complained. Did you bring your extra set? I couldn’t even get the key to open the door. See? And I pulled a set of keys from my pocket and pressed the door lock button, and headlights flashed and the door unlocked. I stood in stunned disbelief. Just a short while ago–but, wait. Those first keys–were they different, somehow? Reaching into my pocket again, I pulled another set of keys from it. Oh, no! I had swiped somebody’s keys! I must have picked them up unthinkingly. One of my co-worker’s is stranded at work on this awful night. And, no, I don’t feel like figuring it out, but I’ve got to……….

Once again, my knight in shining armor steps in to rescue me, his dramatically distressed damsel who was alternately in a state of panic or whining about what a terrible day it had been already and I was just too tired to deal with it. I called the only physician left in the cath lab at that late hour. Yes, she was sure she had her keys. I finally obtained the numbers of all the cath lab team that had finished the day with us. They were home and had driven themselves home. Sure, they had their keys. My husband and I drove to the clinic to see if anyone seemed to be stranded there. Nope. All appeared well. Lot empty except for cleaning staff.

My shoulders slumped. My head throbbed. It’s no use, I murmured, near tears of frustration. Go home. I’m out of ideas. And, we did. Drive home, I mean. And I ate something–I can’t remember what. And donned my PJs. But no Castle, I said. Bed for me. And, somehow, I slept.

Awakening the next morning, I was immediately aware that the key mystery remained unsolved. I readied myself for work. It was still freezing cold, and I donned the black coat. It was only as I was sitting in the driver’s seat glaring at the mystery keys which accused me from the console, that I really looked at this coat that had hung in my closet for almost a year between wearings. Somehow the fabric of the coat was not quite as shiny as I remembered. It really didn’t look the same at all. And, didn’t my coat have a zipper closure and snaps? This one has toggles?! And the cuffs are different! I became suddenly aware of the humiliating truth. I had not only swiped someone’s keys. I had stolen her coat. Granted, it resembled mine. But I HAD KEPT IT ALMOST A FULL YEAR–EVER SINCE THE LAST ICE STORM LAST WINTER!!!

The mystery was soon solved. I routinely hung my coat in the nurses breakroom on 2North, where I daily entered the hospital.Today I held the coat in question up for all to see. Does anyone recognize this coat? I somehow have the wrong coat. And these keys were in the pocket. The charge nurse exclaimed that she did remember that last year one of the nurses had searched in vain for her coat after staying at the hospital for three days during that last big ice storm. And she had had to have her car rekeyed. Had feared it stolen, as a matter of fact. She took me to the manager, who verified the story and contacted the victim, who, of course, is the daughter of a dear couple, her mother a former co-worker. (Let’s just magnify the humiliation and mortification by making the victim someone you really like and whose family you know.) As a matter of fact, the manager said, your coat is still hanging in the breakroom. We’ve wondered who it belonged to.

So, I now have my coat. She has hers. I have apologized excessively. She has been only too gracious. She did say that my coat hanging in the breakroom began to bother her through the summer. After all, her coat was missing and someone didn’t even care enough to take theirs home. It just reminded her of her loss. So, there ends the mystery of the coat and keys. But another mystery remains. A friend of mine insists that there should be a lesson to learn from this. That all such embarrassing moments that so prove our imperfection as human beings should be used to make a point, to illustrate a sermon, to teach a truth. There should be a moral to the story, so to speak. I confess that the lesson escapes me, at least for the moment.

If the reader can find one, please let me know. Till then, I’ll just wallow in my embarrassment! (Not really. Confession is good for the soul, you know!)

A tribute. . . .

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This time of year always makes me a bit sad. Three years ago on November 11th I was watching BlueBloods when the phone rang. It was my niece, Lisa, calling to tell me that my older brother, C.S. “Robby” Roberson was dying. The next few days would be etched in my memory unlike any other piece of my life. That’s Robby–the picture above–but I didn’t know him at the time that photo was made. I think that was his senior picture perhaps, maybe about 1962. A handsome guy. At that time I was aware of his existence but had no idea how our lives would come together and how important he would become to me, how his death would change me.

You see, Robby and I are products of the same father but different mothers. Our dad was first married to Robby’s mom, who gave birth to his brother, Bob,  and him. That was wartime–World War II–and when Dad was sent to Guam, like so many “dear John” stories, his wife moved on, establishing herself in California and the two boys with her, blocking any and all attempts for him to have a relationship with his sons. When Dad was discharged from the army, he returned to his roots here in Arkansas, met my mother, married, and fathered me and my brother, Alan. We were marginally aware we had two brothers in California. They seemed a world away.

Yet the story didn’t end there. In 1989 I received a call from my cousin, Janet. In one of those convoluted family stories, it seems that Dad’s first wife was sister to his brother’s wife. Therefore, Janet is cousin to both Robby and me. Robby had developed a curiosity, a hunger if you will, to know more about his siblings in Arkansas, and he had called her to see if he could possibly get photographs of us. Instead of sending pictures, she called me and gave me his contact information. I am forever grateful to her. Shortly thereafter, I made “the call”, announced that I was his sister, was cautiously received, and there the real story begins.

The first years of our relationship were a bit difficult. Our brother Bob had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying. Robby was very preoccupied with that tragedy. I, on the other hand, just wanted to reunite Dad with Bob before that was made impossible by either’s death. Robby was very protective of Bob, who had never come to terms with Dad’s absence from their lives, and nixed the proposal. I only once spoke with my brother Bob, on his birthday (maybe his last one). I got his phone number somehow and repeated “the call”, introducing myself as his sister, and cordially wishing him a happy birthday. He was polite but obviously uninterested, and there our nonexistent relationship ended. I thought that perhaps my relationship with Robby would soon suffer a similar fate.

But God had other plans. Robby and I chatted on the phone and wrote letters (yes, “snail mail” with stamps and everything), and, ultimately, exchanged e-mails. His letters were written on long yellow legal pads with a blue fountain pen, and he always signed them with some combinations of the signature, “Robby, your brother, Me”. We grew to know each other. We shared the current events of our lives. He talked about doing a “stake out” as a vice cop in Long Beach. I told him about my daughter’s baptism, and he commented with some dismay, “You’re not one of those ‘born again’ people, are you?” “Yes”, I replied firmly. That’s when he told me that he was an atheist. “There’s nothing after we die. That’s the end of it all.” I was troubled but knew not to push the point.

Then, call it fate, destiny, coincidence, or the hand of God, we met. I was in San Francisco at a healthcare conference. He said it was a short flight from Long Beach to San Francisco, so he and his girlfriend flew up. I think he needed a buffer for our meeting. I had one, my coworkers, who were eager to witness this reuniting of siblings. He appeared at the door of my hotel room with a rose and a striking resemblance to our brother, Alan. They had different mothers, it is true, but I guess our dad’s genes were dominant because they had the same mannerisms, expressions, vocal inflections. And, both were cops.

Robby wined and dined all of us girls, with an emphasis on the wine. I left the encounter with the sense that he was probably alcoholic, which was proven true as our relationship continued to develop. But, develop it did. The next step was taking Dad to California to meet his son and grandchildren. Then Robby came here, dismayed to find it is a “dry” county. However, he found an economy size vodka (which I think my dad poured down the drain when he thought his son was drinking too much). He and Dad talked a lot on that visit, giving Robby a better understanding of the events of his childhood and bringing Dad some closure as his health began to fail. Robby was back when Dad, after a difficult heart surgery (trouble restarting his heart when it was time to come off the pump), asked me to “call Robby”.

Then came the first surprise call from Lisa. Robby was near death with bleeding from his stomach related to his alcoholism. He was taking prescription meds with the alcohol. His home was in disarray. It was obvious now that he wasn’t just a drinker, he was an alcoholic and was drinking himself to death. He was hospitalized and, after an intervention by his family and friends, signed himself in to rehab. I wasn’t able to be there but faxed my plea for his sobriety and life.

Our relationship made a shift. On one of his visits to Arkansas, he attended Easter service at church with us. On one of my visits to him, I gifted him with a Bible. On another trip to Long Beach, he asked what I wanted to see or do on my visit. I asked to attend church there with my family, and he was right by my side. I remember being a little surprised when he recited the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly with the rest of us, until I remembered that it is integral to AA’s meetings. The girls told me they sometimes observed him to be reading the Bible, when he thought no observers were present. My daughter sent me to Long Beach for R & R with my brother, and he took me to Catalina. On the ferry back to Long Beach our boat was “socked in” by the heaviest fog I had ever experienced. I remember Robby in the bow of the boat with a watchful, vigilant expression, as though he had every sense dialed up a notch. I knew then our situation could have been a bit perilous!

Then, one early fall day in September, I’m not really sure of the year, I think perhaps 2007, Robby called. “Are you sitting down?” he asked, and then proceeded to share with me that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. In my nurse mind, I feared the worst but, of course, said nothing of the sort to him. He had surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. He by then had retired to Idaho and was fortunate to have access to an excellent cancer center. When we made a road trip to Yellowstone in 2010 we made a long detour to visit. I was somewhat reluctant to “drop in” uninvited, but my husband insisted. I had sensed Robby’s deep-seated need for privacy as his e-mails had almost stopped. I knew things were not going well. He was a shadow of himself.  His voice had changed. He still had difficulty swallowing but gamely ate some of his favorite white chili and blueberry cobbler. We headed home the next day. I thought I was saying good-bye.

Then came “the call” of another variety. Not a call of introduction, but a call of announcement. Robby was dying, in hospice. He had not asked for me, but his daughters thought I would want to know. I was on a plane the next morning and by his side that afternoon. The girls told me that he had visited with the hospital chaplain before his transfer to hospice. He had “made his peace” with God. They said he had prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, too, and that he expressed gratitude for his sister, Kat. There is a lump in my throat as I type these words. Three days later, on November 15th, Robby exited the pain of this life and entered a better place.

Why do I write this now? In remembrance. In thanksgiving. In love for a dear, good man who truly made a difference in my life. Robby was intelligent, strong, and full of passion for life. He was a good father, and I suspect, an even better grandfather. (Most of us are better the second time around, I think.) He was admired as a peace officer. He was my brother, friend, confidante, and adviser during some very difficult passages of my life. I miss him everyday, this remarkable  tower of a man that I was honored and blessed to know as my brother. I needed to reflect and share and give tribute to his life, for he is now part of who I am.

Robby and me on Catalina Island.

Robby and me on Catalina Island.

I love you and miss you, Robby, more than you know.