Monday, October 9, 2017

When Death Comes Suddenly

Her name was Rosemary, but her friends called her Rosie. In our youth, Rosie and I ran in the same circles. She was exceptionally beautiful. Although our lives went in different directions, our families knew each other through the years. 

Rosie turned 60 last month and had just retired. Healthy and active and an avid tennis player, she had a husband, two sons, and five grandchildren that I'm sure she adored. 

On Friday, she went to sleep and never woke up. Death came and snatched her away, leaving her family and friends devastated and shocked.

Hearing of Rosie's unexpected death over the weekend left me shaken and contemplating my own mortality. Most people are uncomfortable talking about death, but it’s a natural part of life. We live. We will die. Some sooner than others, but we all have an appointment with death. It would do us well to think about this from time to time.

I remember when my daughter was 10, we got the call to come to the bedside of my husband’s mother. Mildred was dying. It would be the first time that my child would see death so close-up. A few well-meaning friends worried about her seeing her grandmother in “that” condition, but I have long believed that children should not be shielded from the reality of death. It's as much a part of life as being born.

Prior to our trip, I tried to prepare her for what she would encounter. Her grandmother was moving on to the next phase of her life, I told her. A phase we know little of, but fully expect to discover. Mee Maw had been faithful to her family all of these years, and now we would be with her until the end. God would carry her from there.

When we walked into the hospital room, Anna gripped my hand. It shocked her to see the grandmother she adored so frail and unresponsive. But once her initial distress passed, she relaxed. We took turns holding Mildred’s hand, telling her, as best we could, how much she’d meant to us through the years.

In my mother-in-law’s final hours, I watched as her granddaughter sat bravely beside her, singing in tearful sobs, “I just called to say ‘I love you.’” The image of the two of them—one so alive, the other one fading away—was agonizing to watch, but it’s an image I cherish, even now.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I don’t believe death is the end. I believe it is the end of our mortal lives, yes, but only a pause between this life and the life to come.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

No wonder Paul concluded his writing by saying, “Comfort one another with these words,” for I can think of no words more comforting.


***



Friday, September 29, 2017

Tips for Living a Less-stressful and Healthier Life

The following tips for living a healthier and less stressful life were passed on to me by a dear friend. She didn't write them, but I agree with everything here. What would you add to this list?


Take a walk every day. And while you walk, count your blessings. It is the ultimate anti-depressant.

Sit in total silence for at least 10 minutes each day. 

When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, “My purpose today is to __________ .”

Live with the 3 E's—Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.

Play more games and read more books than you did in the year before.

Make time to practice meditation and prayer. These provide us with daily fuel for our busy lives.

Spend more time with people over the age of 60 and under the age of six.

Dream more while you are awake.

Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants, and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.

Don't force your familial issues upon the shoulders of your children, or you'll cripple them for life. Your issues shouldn't become their issues.

Drink at least 60-ounces of water daily.

Try to make three people smile each day.

Clear clutter from your house, your car, and your desk. It will allow new energy to flow.

Don't waste your time on issues of the past, negative thoughts, or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in finding joy in the present moment.

Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. 

Problems are simply part of the curriculum, but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.

Smile and laugh more.

Be generous with compliments. They will come back to you.

Life isn't fair, but it's still good. 

Turn off technology and get out in nature more often.

Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the future.

Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

Frame every so-called disaster with these words: In five years, will this matter?

Forgive everyone for everything. It is the only way to experience real freedom.

What other people think of you is none of your business.

However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

Your co-workers won't take care of you when you are sick; your family will. Stay in touch.

Envy is a waste of time. You already have all the things you need.

Jealousy will destroy your soul and your relationships.

Believe that the best is yet to come.

No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

Even when it’s hard, do the right thing!

Call your family often. (Or email and/or text them to death!)

Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements: I am thankful for __________. Today I accomplished _________.

Remember that on your worst day there are still blessings to be counted.

Enjoy the ride. This is not Disney World and you certainly don't want a fast pass. You only have one ride through life so make the most of it and enjoy the ride.

***


Monday, September 25, 2017

A Friendship Lost ~ Monday Musings



Sometimes in life you come to painful realizations that force you to make painful decisions. Decisions you never wanted to make.

Many years ago, I lost a dear friend. She was not just a friend, but we had been best friends for 14 years. I loved her like a sister. We could talk until the cows came home and we laughed about so many things. We were true kindred spirits. She spent hours at my house, and hours pouring her soul out to me. I remember nights when she would call in a despondent frame of mind and ask, "Can I spend the night at your place?" and even when it wasn't convenient, I always said, "Of course you can."

All friendships are tested. That's how you know if they're true or not. Through the years, our friendship was tested. We would argue and butt heads, but we always stayed true to each other and to our friendship. We'd brush ourselves off after a fight, then pick up where we left off. We never shut the other one out; communication is key to the success of any relationship. I felt certain she and I would be friends until we were old and gray.

But one day I found myself facing one of the most difficult and complex seasons of my life. Suddenly, this dear friend, whom I loved like a sister, became silent and disappeared. We had always been able to talk about everything and anything. She would listen to me rant, or, in some cases, ramble; I'd do the same for her, yet, suddenly—in my critical hour of need—she had nothing to say to me, and apparently didn't care what I had to say either. No phone call came saying, "I'm praying for you." No letter came saying, "You're in my thoughts today and I wanted you to know I'm here for you." Nothing. Just silence.

A few years earlier, she had married and moved far away. Her life consisted of lots of traveling, so our friendship had already taken a turn in a different direction. There were no cell phones in those days, so staying in touch wasn't always simple, but there was still no question that we were best friends. Whenever she was in town, we made time for each other, just like the old days. But, suddenly, she was no longer friendly whenever I saw her. The change in her confused me and hurt so much. And every day that she remained distant, it felt like a knife went deeper into my heart.

For what seemed like forever, I tried to hold onto our friendship—I treasured what we had shared through the years. I couldn't imagine that the last 14 years had meant so little to her. I wrote to her several times, even asking why she was distant. Had I done something?

But no reply ever came.

It wasn't until years later that she remotely addressed the elephant in the room. I saw her one evening at a church event. When our eyes met, she came to me and made a feeble attempt at saying how sorry she was for all that my family had gone through—speaking of the trial but still not naming it, which seemed a cowardly thing to do.

By this time, I was well on my way to a better place emotionally, so it was all I could do not to laugh. It was all I could do not to say, "Is this your idea of a sick joke? Where were you when I desperately needed you three years ago? Where were you when I wrote to you and poured my heart out to you? You let me go through a heartbreaking season without the comfort and encouragement of my best friend! I waited and I waited and I waited to hear from you, but eventually, I gave up. I've forgiven you, and I still love you, but I had to move on without you. Your words mean nothing to me now, but they would have meant everything then."

Of course, I didn't do or say any of the above. I hugged her and thanked her, but I knew nothing would ever be the same. We couldn't go back. It had nothing to do with forgiveness or love. I had forgiven her and wished her only the best in life, and I still loved her, but something inside had withered during her absence. I felt as if a limb had been amputated. I had no desire to invest more time into a person who had abandoned me in my hour of need. What kind of a friend was that? And so there went 14 years of friendship down the toilet. To this day, I still don't understand why she chose to ignore me when I needed her most. I had not changed. I was still the same person I'd always been, but, sadly, she became someone I didn’t know.

Others tried consoling me regarding her absence by saying, "Maybe she just didn't know what to say."

That response has always been a pet peeve. OK. Maybe she didn't know what to say. If that's the case, all she had to do was say so. "I don't know what to say, Dayle, and I'm so sorry that I don't know what to say. I'm here for you, but I don't know what to say. I'll listen to you until dawn, but I may not have anything to say."

Believe it or not, just to be listened to would have been more than enough. Many times in our history that's all I had provided for her—a sympathetic ear. When I didn't know what to say, I always listened. It would have been enough.

It’s been almost 20 years since our friendship ended. In the early years, my memories of her remained vivid, and I thought of our happy, crazy times together often. I missed her something fierce. Today, the memories have faded. What few remain no longer make me smile or laugh. I feel nothing.

Friendships, like any other relationship, must be nourished and will be tested. Such is life. I have friends of the dearest kind with whom I’ve had major disputes, but our friendship proved to be of the truest kind, because today, we’re closer than ever before. We've been there for each other. We never let any silence between us linger.

Could I have done more to save the 14-year friendship that no longer exists? I've asked myself that a thousand times. Maybe I could have. I don't know.

As I typed those words just now, I was reminded of something I read awhile back: "There comes a time when love ceases to speak if not responded to." I think that about sums it up. I had, more than once, shared my truth, my story, my heart. No reply ever came. What more could I have done?

When a friendship becomes singular, it ceases to be a relationship, and sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath and let go.


***

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mom and Dad's House Flooded ~ Rosewood in Distress


Unless you follow me on Facebook, you haven't heard that my sweet mother and daddy were one of tens of thousands whose house flooded during Hurricane Harvey's wrath. Thankfully, they had evacuated before the flooding occurred. Last Friday was the first time they were able to go back into their home, a day we will never forget. 

Everyone says you should prepare yourself, brace yourself, understand that what you will see when you walk into a house that has been under two-feet of water for more than a week will not be pretty. I looked at dozens of photos that friends posted on Facebook. Some left me saying things like, “unbelievable” over and over. 

I thought I was prepared, but when you’re standing in the familiar doorway of the house that has been called home since 1970, the house we fondly refer to as Rosewood, and you see the devastation that is there, you realize there was no way to prepare for such a moment. 


Rosewood in all of her glory.
Hundreds of my friends, and tens of thousands of people across Southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana, know what I mean when I say the first few days inside a flooded home are excruciating—long and grueling, hard on the mind, body, and soul, with moments so deep they cannot be expressed. If the destruction of a flooded home doesn’t humble you, and doesn’t bring out the compassion in you for your family, and for friends and strangers alike who may be going through the same thing, then I’m afraid you may be missing a heart. 

It's not for the loss of "things" that we grieve, but it's the trauma, especially for the elderly, of losing a lifetime of so many things collected through the years, and being so displaced at this stage of life. My father has been very confused at times, unsure of what is going on with Rosewood, and it breaks my heart. I want to bear it all for them. The good news is, there is One who said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary, and I will give you rest." God has made Himself known throughout all of this, in big and small ways, and we know He can be trusted. 



I don't know how much of this journey I will share; some journeys are personal, but I may share more as time goes by. If you don't see me here, you can find me on Facebook. I post to a "friends only" audience, but occasionally go beyond that scope. If you want to be friends, send me a note.

Mother asked me and Gayle to thoroughly document everything in pictures for the insurance company, and between the two of us, we have some great photos. Initially, I didn’t want to share any photos of Rosewood, then I wanted to, then I didn’t. I'm not sure if I will or won't. The jury is still out.

Frankly, if walls could talk, I don’t think Rosewood would want to be seen in such disarray. It’s kinda like falling down in a moldy mud hold, then asking the world to come take a look at you. 


The Allen windmill, my precious father's creation.
We do not seek pity. We know this devastation is widespread and things could have been SO much worse. We have dozens of friends whose entire houses were covered in flood waters. The photos they've shared are breathtaking. Not much can be salvaged without extensive efforts. We are heartbroken for them.


Rosewood in her Christmas finery.
Rosewood is a two-story dwelling, so that was a blessing, and things from the first-floor that can be salvaged with a little work and effort, we are in the process of doing that. Many other things cannot be saved and now sit in a mountain of debris at the end of the driveway. I have called it the Trail of Tears. Although our treasures are in heaven, our memories are here on earth. 

It's a common scene in our neck of the woods, mounds of stuff piled high on curbs. If you drive around the little community where my parents live, or drive around a few miles away from where we live in Harris County and beyond, you will see entire neighborhoods like the photos below. 

These pictures were taken by a Houston friend, LaWanda Weidman, and are shared with her permission. This is one street over from where she lives. Thankfully, her home didn't take on water.







Until next time, sweet friends, we are thanking the Lord for His hand of protection and for the blessings we will surely uncover as we move down this path of recovery with Mom and Dad. As you can see, the road ahead is long for many people. Your prayers are needed, so thank you in advance.


***

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Unseen Hand ~ My Cancer Story


Not all cancer stories have happy endings, but some of them do. These happy endings can sometimes be attributed to advances in medicine; other times they are made possible because of faith in God, and a divine healing touch.

This is my cancer story and it all began on a crisp September morning in 1973, when my father drove me to the dentist’s office for a routine filling. As the dentist prepared to administer a shot of Novocain, he stopped short.

“There's a knot right here,” he said, pressing an area inside my left jaw. “Have you noticed this before?"

I felt inside my jaw and found the small knot. I shook my head no. I’d never noticed this before.

The dentist seemed concerned and asked if I had a parent with me. I told him my father was in the waiting room.

After a brief conversation, most of which I don’t remember, the dentist sent me and my father down the hall, where an oral surgeon examined the area in question and said he needed to lance it for a biopsy. “I will call you with the results," he told us.

A few days later, the disturbing news came. It appeared that the knot inside my jaw was a cancerous tumor. We were referred to the Head and Neck Clinic at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a complete evaluation.

At M. D. Anderson, we met Doctor Oscar Guillamondegui (fondly called Dr. Guilly by the staff), who ordered more testing before a final diagnosis could be made.

Over the next few weeks, my life became consumed by tests and people poking me. But at last, we sat in a small room, waiting for the report.

Dr. Guilly got right to the point. "The knot in Dayle's mouth,” he said, “is a mucoepidermoid carcinoma buccal mucosa—that is a malignant tumor of the minor salivary glands." He said it was rare in someone so young. He recommended immediate surgery, followed by 25 rounds of radiation, but said he wouldn’t know my prognosis until he observed how deep the roots were.

A heavy silence filled the little room, broken only by an occasional sniffle from my mother.

We asked for a moment alone before making any decisions. All year, we had planned a trip to the mountains in order to attend a Christian convention. The convention was the following week, and I begged my parents to let me go. Maybe God had a special healing for me there.

After seriously considering our options, I will always be grateful that my parents agreed that we would go to the convention, as planned. Dr. Guilly wasn’t thrilled with waiting, but he understood the reason behind it. He asked that we schedule surgery immediately upon my return.

On the last night of the convention, my father—a minister—had arranged for me to be prayed over, according to the Scripture found in James 5:14-15: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

Standing with my dad at the front of the large arena, a group of ministers touched my head with oil, asking God to heal me. It was just a simple prayer, really, but my young heart was bursting with faith. I fully expected something spectacular to happen—indicating I’d been healed—but nothing out of the ordinary occurred, at least not just then.

After the service ended, my sister and I were walking with friends to a nearby café, when I had the strangest sensation inside my jaw. It felt as if the tumor was being squeezed—like a pimple. The sensation lasted a second or two, followed by a feeling of excess moisture in my jaw—again, much like squeezing a pimple. That may sound crude, but it’s the only way I know to describe it.

With a heart filled with hope, I reached inside my jaw, fully expecting to find the tumor gone. But it wasn’t. I said nothing to no one, but kept faith in my heart. I knew something supernatural had just occurred.

The next day, we drove back to Texas to prepare for my surgery. Since The Knot was still evident, I decided to say nothing about my experience to anyone. In retrospect, I wish I had spoken up and shared what had happened with my family, but I didn't. I was afraid maybe they wouldn't believe me. I did, however, ponder it in my heart the whole way home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On Halloween night, 1973, I was escorted to a hospital room trimmed with black cats and orange pumpkins. Undaunted, I slipped on a hospital gown and crawled into bed.

Early next morning, a nurse came in with a gurney. I climbed aboard and we rumbled down a wide hallway, my family walking beside me in a solemn line. When we reached the place where we had to part ways, we joined hands while my dad led us in prayer, asking that all would be well.

Inside the operating room, a woman took my hand. "I'm the anesthesiologist,” she said. “I'm going to give you a little stick now.” Slowly, she pushed in the syringe. "What is your doctor's name, Dayle?” Even though she stood at my head, she sounded far away. I tried to answer, but couldn't. Then the room went silent, and I knew nothing.

Hours later, I lay in my room listening to Dr. Guilly describe the surgery to my family. He explained that when he reached the tumor, the roots appeared to have been—in his words—"shriveled up.” Because of that, and because of his certainty of complete resection, no radiation would be needed, just frequent visits for check-ups.

Even though my jaw stuck out like a grapefruit, I smiled a victorious smile, goose-bumps covering my entire body. Suddenly, the feeling I'd had outside the café made perfect sense, for that's precisely what it felt like—a hand squeezing my jaw. I had no doubt whatsoever that I had received a miracle of healing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last year, I visited an Ear Nose and Throat specialist about a chronic sinus infection. While there, the subject of my long-ago cancer came up (just a routine question on a form) and when the doctor asked what my diagnosis had been, he turned around sharply and said, “Well, it must’ve been a low grade tumor because had it been a high grade one, you’d most likely not be here now. The survival rate for patients with minor salivary gland tumors isn’t very good.”

I was thrilled to tell him, “I'm not sure what grade tumor it was, but prayers went up all around the country for me.” I said, “I’m sure that the surgeon did a great job, but it’s because of God that I’m here today.” The doctor smiled and said, “Well I’d never be too proud to share that kind of credit, that’s for sure.”

In summary, I am a testimony of the healing powers of The Great Physician. I don't know why God chooses to heal, or why He doesn't. My father-in-law passed away from cancer at the young age of 59, even with us praying for a miracle. I can’t explain why I received my healing; it's certainly not because of any goodness in me, or because of anything I have done. Some things just can't be explained; some questions have no earthly answers. But I do know that I'm forever grateful for God's mercy and favor. If I’m diagnosed with a dreaded disease tomorrow, I will not complain, for since 1973 I have been living as a walking miracle! Who could ask for more than that?


Merciful Father, life's trials have given my faith roots—unshakable and unmovable. Without hardships in our lives, we'd never know the thrill of receiving a true miracle. Thank you for granting me another year of living!

____________________________________________________

A version of this story appears in Silver Linings (Pacific Press), by Dayle Allen Shockley. All rights reserved.