Saturday, December 25, 2010

Angels and bells

The Christmas story told in the Bible recounts how the angels told of Jesus birth and the star that lead the way.  Clear signs of Christ's birth and God's love.  This story was my first realization that God can communicate with his believers in any number of ways.  I have heard this story repeated every year at this time of year for the past 55 years.  Many of these years I sat in church and heard my dad read the scripture verses.  This year my dad is not here to tell the story but his life, especially this past year, demonstrated God's never ending love and grace.

The Reverend James McKinley Shaffer began his life triumphant early on September 27th.   A celebration of life service for him was held at the Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church.  Prior to his death he had given my three brothers and me a bell and told us this is how he would communicate with us after his death.  Some of us chuckled as we thought of Clarence, the angel, in "It's a wonderful Life" and the phrase from the movie that reported, "every time a bell rings and angle gets his wings."  My brothers and I each have our bell.  Dad has not rung mine yet but I believe he has let me know he is fine.

Several months ago my husband and I spent a long weekend at Hilton Head Island.  We rented bikes and rode 15 beautiful miles, some of them on the beach.  We walked 6 miles the next day as part of our training to walk a half marathon.  The day had started cool but quickly became very warm and humid.  With less than 2 miles to go I was tired!  Jay encouraged me and as we made the turn to finish the last mile a silent bike rider came up behind us and rang his bike bell.  I was startled by the bell.  We were over on the right side of the sidewalk and single file so there was no need to ring the bell.  We had been passed by at least 5 other bike riders who did not ring their bells but this time we were also right in front of the Methodist Church.  Hi Dad!

At Thanksgiving we gathered in Ohio to share the holiday with my in laws.  Our daughter. Megan, and her husband, Judson, joined us there.  We took my in laws out for dinner on Friday evening and as Megan and I walked down to a store in the shopping complex to pick up some wrapping paper her conversation shifted to her Papa Jim and what an easy going temperament he always had and how she had never heard him complain.  She had no sooner finished that statement when we both heard the bell at the church across the street chime once.  Hi Dad!

A month or so ago while Christmas shopping I got out of my car to go into Tuesday Morning.  Tuesday Morning is just across the street from Woodland United Methodist Church.  The bells were ringing at the church when we got out of the car, as they do every hour, but they were playing Fairest Lord Jesus, the same song Dad had asked me to play one more time in the last days before his death.  Hi Dad!

Last week as I sat in our family room next to our Christmas tree and quietly watched television with my dog at my side I saw Lily sit up quickly, her ears raised, her body on alert  she sat staring at the Christmas tree.  Several seconds passed and not a sound was heard but she did not move.   Silently an ornament dropped from the tree landing at my feet.  There was no hook attached.  The tree hadn't moved.  Lily stretched back out at my side.  Did my Dad have anything to do with the ornament or was it just an everyday occurrence with an incorrectly hung ornament? You can decide for yourself but I know all about my dad's and my relationship with Christmas trees and I am sure he was just wishing me a Merry Christmas.

Today we celebrate or first Christmas without him.  He would have loved the ham I cooked using his glaze recipe tweaked to perfection by him with years of practice.  He would have eaten his fair share of my homemade peanut brittle and been so happy to know that Amy was going to attempt to make it this year (a third generation tradition).  He would have recounted how he had rung the bells at the church on Christmas morning announcing the birth of our first child and his first Grandchild, Megan who celebrates her thirtieth birthday today.  But most of all he would have continued to show us his love and God's love by the life he lead.

Merry Christmas Dad!  Thanks for letting me know you are fine.  Enjoy your first Christmas in heaven.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Christmas Birthdays

Two thousand years ago in a stable in Bethlehem a woman named Mary gave birth to a baby boy and named him Jesus.  A star shined brightly over the stable leading the way for the travelers who came bringing gifts for the baby, the Savior, the Christ Child whose birth they had been told about by the angels.  Two thousand years later we still celebrate His birth.

December 25, 1980 at Saint Ann's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio I gave birth to a baby girl and named her Megan Elizabeth.  I was warm and well cared for. There was a room for me in the hospital and one for Megan.   Megan's birth had been planned for, prepared for and was waited on with joyful anticipation.  It was also celebrated by visitors bringing gifts.  As it nears Christmas day we prepare to celebrate her thirtieth birthday. 

Allow me to tell you about our trip to the hospital that night and the subsequent question we have been asked numerous times since her birth.  Christmas Eve, 1980, was cold and snowy.  The temperature was in the teens as we headed across town to the hospital.  The sky was brilliant and filled with beautiful stars and I  could not help but to reflect on Mary and the birth of the Christ Child that night so many years before.  Snow flakes dropped silently and the radio played softly as we listened to Christmas carols.  We arrived safely at the hospital and as we prepared to get out of the car I was aware that the carol that was playing was Silent Night.  What did you hear Mary on that special night?

The Nuns greeted us and we were settled in the Lamaze room.  My every need was taken care of.  Were your needs cared for Mary?  Were you comfortable and warm?  The night stretched on and labor progressed until it became evident it was time for the doctor to be called.  Dr. Cliff Raymond told us he raced across town almost spinning out on the freeway getting to the hospital in time to deliver our Christmas baby.  Megan Elizabeth was born at 6:40 AM Christmas morning.  She weighed 8 pounds 1 1/2 ounces and was 20 inches long.  The nurses wrapped her up in warm blankets and took her off to the newborn nursery to be bathed and checked thoroughly.  When she was brought into my room she was tucked inside a big red Christmas stocking!

He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and layed in the manger

I can't imagine a more perfect day to give birth than a day where people all over the world are celebrating Jesus' birth, love abounds and joy fills the air yet Megan and I continue to be asked if she feels cheated sharing  her birthday with Christmas.  Erma Bomback wrote a beautiful piece asking the same question.  I saw her column shortly after Megan was born and cut it out, had it laminated and saved it for her.

Here it is:


Happy Birthday, Jesus - and Aunt Martha and my cousin Dede, and everyone else that was born on this day.

The savior excepted, I think I know what the rest of you birthday babies are thinking.

All your gifts are wrapped in Christmas paper - as usual.

Most of the family has already whispered in your ear, "I bought you one BIG gift for both occasions."

Your Christmas cards have a P.S. on them: "Happy Birthday."

Your favorite cake is chocolate but you will get a white one with white icing, trimmed in red.

If you hear one more person say, "What a bummer to be born on Christmas," you'll slap him.

There are never any balloons on this day, only reindeer and pointsettias.

You are rarely surrounded by your friends at a party because they are at home celebrating Christmas.

My gift to you is a birthday column that is for people born on this day.

Why do you suppose you were chosen to share the most celebrated birthday in the history of Christianity?

There are 364 other days to choose from, but you were chosen to enter the world on a day when peace and joy reign. It's the best time to enter a world. Truces are sometimes called during wars - old prejudices and hatreds are put aside - and people who have never done so before reach out to one another.

No one could plan a bigger celebration of your birth. The streets are lined with Christmas greenery. Houses glow in the light of a million candles, and the anticipation of the day is almost more than a child can stand.

Whenever I hear of a person born on Christmas, he becomes special to me. Babies are always gifts, but to have an infant placed in your arms on this anniversary cannot help but invite memories of Mary holding her newborn for the first time with no less wonderment.

I think Christmas babies feel it too. Their birthday culminates in a season of magic. There has been no Bozo the clown doing magic tricks, no catered party complete with noisemakers, no planes in the sky spelling out their names in smoke. It is a day when the world turns kind.

I share a birthday in February with Rue McClanahan and Tyne Daly. It doesn't get a whole lot of attention...but then Silent Night, Holy Night is not our birthday song.

-Erma Bomback

Happy Birthday Megan!  You were and will always be the most perfect Christmas gift.  My wish for you is that you always know the love and joy that fills the world as people everywhere celebrate the other special birthday that day! 

Are you cheated if your birthday is Christmas?


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Trees

Our Christmas tree is up and decorated and it looks beautiful.  Picking it out this year was a melancholy experience for me. We stopped in Boone, NC on our way home from spending Thanksgiving with Jay's parent's.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and cool but far from cold.  There was even a Carolina Blue sky.  Picking a tree in this weather could take forever when compared to the trips where the winds have been howling and snow has been blowing every which way and any tree that looked OK would do just as long as we could get back into the car quickly.  We could take our time but we didn't need to.  The tree farm had any number of beautiful trees and after debating less than 15 minutes Adam and I had selected the tree and it  had been cut and was tied securely to our roof rack.  We were on our way.

This was probably the last time Adam would be with us to help pick the tree.  I guess I should be excited that this time next year he will have graduated from Georgia Tech, have his well earned Masters and be working in Virginia with a company he loves.  I am excited for him but sad that both of my children are going to be on their own. Sad that there will be no more arguments about which tree is the best and sad that this part of our family tradition will be changing.  This realization was not as profound as the realization that this year my dad would not be here to share Christmas with us.

Dad and I had a special love of Christmas trees.  He was the MOST patient man I have ever known.  I will never forget the year he took me, just me, to pick out our Christmas tree.  I think I was about 15 and he took me out of school early.  I was so excited to be able to have lunch with him and then go tree hunting.  We lived in Ohio and while I imagine there may have been a few choose and cut tree farms, we never went to one.  We would visit the lots with the pre-cut trees.  We visited lot after lot after lot that afternoon looking for the perfect tree.  When I didn't find what I wanted we would move on to the next lot until finally it was getting dark and Dad said this lot would be our last stop.  I did settle on a tree at that last lot but it was not a tree I was happy with.  There were some large spaces in places that would show.  I am sure I pouted and I am sure I was not happy on my way home but Dad said nothing.  He hauled the tree inside, set it in the tree stand and then went to work.  I don't remember staying around to watch him.  I do remember I walked into  the living room to see my dad wiring up branches that were too low and drilling holes in the trunk to insert branches he had cut off the bottom which filled the open spaces.  He was making me the perfect Christmas tree!  When he was done he strung the lights, all blue, and we hung the ornaments.  When we were finished and he lit the tree I stood in amazement at how beautiful and perfect my tree was.  I was ashamed of myself but Dad didn't say a word.  What an amazing gift of love and patience he showed me that day.  We picked out other Christmas trees together, sometimes even with my 3 brothers but the tree Dad and I always talked about was that tree, my tree.

This year as I look at my tree I will remember that tree and that man who loved his daughter even when she was a brat and I will pray that I have shown, and will continue to show, my children and those around me the lessons I have learned from him.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Great quote!

The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be…because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap!

~ Mary Anne Radmacher

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


At long last Fall has arrived in South Carolina.  The days are shorter, the leaves have been painted glorious shades of reds, oranges and yellows and the air is cool and crisp.  My friends who have never lived north of the Mason Dixon line are complaining about how cold it is and can even be spotted wearing winter coats and gloves.  Come on people it is only in the mid 40s to 50s!  I love this weather!

I saw a post yesterday proclaiming that since Halloween is over the "60 days of eating" have begun.  I am terrified!  I weighed in at Weight Watchers in October and was 4 pounds above my goal weight.  I paid my $13 and thought to myself this was understandable because I had just been through my father's death.  I was not concerned.  I know what to do, I just needed to pull the reigns back a bit and the weight would come off but along came Halloween.

I really don't care much about Halloween since I no longer have young children in my house nor are there many young children in my neighborhood but I bought candy anyway.  I do have a Water Aerobics class I teach and I thought I would make them treat bags but class was canceled on the Friday of Halloween week so I now have candy.  I did not take the advice I offered at my WW meeting on Saturday where I said buy candy you don't like, I bought candy I love.  So knowing I need to weigh in at WW the first Saturday in November and that I was already 4 pounds above my goal weight I sat and ate way too much candyTo tell the truth, I enjoyed the candy and could have had it and stayed within my points limit with WW but I ate mindlessly.  Mindless eating is never a good thing.

Reflecting on why I ate the candy I realized I am frustrated, disappointed and even angry about my recent injury to my foot which resulted in my foot now being in a boot for three weeks.  I am training to walk a half marathon December 11th which is six weeks away and while I did not start my training with the assurance I wanted to do this event I was just finding my Mojo again and was looking forward to the challenge.  The realization that the half marathon was most likely over for me sent me running to my dearest friend, chocolate, and so I ate.

I follow a blog entitled "Thighs and Offerings."  Kate, the author talks a lot about her self proclaimed eating disorder and it seems as though she is also experiencing similar issues with food right now.  I wonder if it is a Fall thing.  Her description of a weakness for Pumpkin Scones goes like this:  "A pumpkin scone has been far more to me than an acquaintance, and far less than a friend. Truth be told, the role it has played in my life has been that of, I don't know, a lover, an ex-boyfriend you can't quite shake, who you keep seeing and who you keep letting in and who keeps breaking your heart."  And so it is for me and mindless eating especially anything chocolate.  I keep revisiting the same habits that cause me to eat mindlessly and find myself sad and disappointed.

So I now face the "60 days of eating" with open eyes and reclaimed determination.  I know what to do and how to do it.  I am digging deep and paying attention to feelings as well as appetite and asking myself what are you really hungry for before I go to the kitchen looking for answers.  I have made a plan to get myself back on track and will weigh in at WW on Saturday even if I am still up a bit and I will be fine.  I know now I needed to shout "Hill Warning" at the top of my lungs before I picked up the bag of candy at the store and so I will say it now and repeat it over and over again until I remember what I said in my first post:  "Life is full of "hill warnings." They are the challenges you face every day that cause you to pause and evaluate. Beating the hill is about good preparation, believing in your abilities, having faith and plain old determination. I now know I will not be afraid to face the hill and climb it. I may be slow, I may reach the other side a bit beaten up but as long as I am upright and breathing as I reach level ground I will be just fine!"

Today I ate a great breakfast and then put on my boot and walked to the polls to vote.  I wasn't fast nor was it pain free but I walked and it felt glorious!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

~ Edith Wharton

I received an email this morning which began with this quote and I was struck by its simplicity.  "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."  I have had these words rolling around in my head since reading it.  I wonder how often am I the candle and how often am I the light.

Being the candle means sharing my "light" with those around me.  This light can be positive or negative.  I can choose to be positive, encouraging, loving, giving, patient and understanding or I can choose  to be negative, hurtful, angry or even vengeful.   The candle light from both of these options will affect everyone I come in contact with and may affect how they shine their light on those in their lives as well.  A candle's light can illuminate and show the way or it can burn and damage all that is around it.

As a parent, I pray I have been both a beautiful light and mirror for my children.  I have always attempted to do my best to teach them the valuable life lessons they need to live positive, loving, joy filled, successful lives.  But they also have seen my light dim and flicker as I struggled with hurt, anger and disappointment.  Those times did  not reflect the light I wished for them but they were no less valuable lessons.   My children have done well and I am very proud of the young adults they have become.  I have been both the candle, showing them the way and the mirror, living by example.  I have done my best.

My hope is that I live my life with a loving, positve, joyful outlook that allows my candle to shine as a bright and beautiful light illuminating the way for those around me and that my mirror reflects the same allowing others to see themselves as I see them.
How will your light be reflected?

Monday, October 18, 2010

To the weight I have lost...

If you know me personally you know part of my story.  If you have been following my blog you have barely touched the edges of me.  Today I can share with anyone who wants to read this, a letter I wrote to the weight I have lost.  This letter was written after weighing in at my usual Weight Watcher's meeting and realizing I had lost more weight than I currently weighed.  The realization that I was less than half of who I once was overwhelmed me and so I tried to put those feelings into words. 

To the weight I have lost:

You are gone, good riddance!  I lugged you around way too long overwhelmed with the enormity of you. You no longer have any control or power over me.  I gave you way too much of my time and my life.  I hate you!  You stole years from me that I can never replace and filled me with frustration and sadness.  You made me feel ugly and stupid and inadequate.  You made me ashamed of myself.  You cheated me out of play time with my children as they ran through the sprinkler in the front yard and begged me to join them, when they climbed trees and when they built “forts” out of discarded furniture boxes which were far too small for me to get into.  You embarrassed me when we went to amusement parks and I was too large to fit into the seats of the rides.  I hate you!   You made me hide in public places.  You kept me silent when I wanted to participate in a group for fear of drawing attention to myself.  You cheated me out of the joy of a plane trip with my husband and instead filled me with dread as I wondered if the seat belt was going to fit around me or if I was going to have to ask for an extender.  I hate you!  You made me embarrassed to laugh and dance and enjoy myself for fear of being laughed at or ridiculed.  You made me a shadow in my own life. 

 Those days are over.

 I have reclaimed my power over you and I will never see you again.   I am now less than half of what we were together.  Today I am saying good riddance to the half of me that once was you, forever.  I will not waste a minute mourning your loss nor will anyone else who has carried the burden of you.  You are dead and gone.  If I look back at you it will only be to see how far I have come.  I will be reminded of how strong and powerful I am.  I will walk another half marathon and I will improve my time.  I will fly to exotic locations with my husband.  I will look forward to someday playing with my grandchildren and teaching them how to climb trees and build forts from refrigerator boxes, and I will be in the fort with them playing and telling them about their mom or dad.  I will continue to put on my bathing suit and teach water aerobics in front of strangers who are now part of my family and I will not give a second thought to my flabby arms or sagging thighs- remnants left by you.  Instead I will rejoice that I have arms and legs that work and let them show as a prize won after a battle which lasted way too long.  I will continue to encourage others to get rid of you forever and I will support them when they come up short and try again and again and again until they too are rid of you and I will dance.  Oh, how I will dance!!  You see in the process of losing you I found me.  I will never again be a shadow in my life.  I will hold my head up and look to the future with anticipation and joy because now I know without any doubt that I was, and will continue to be worth the effort.

Before 376 pounds.  After 180 pounds!  Lost 196 pounds without surgery or drugs.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How I got a black eye at my dad's wake

The memorial service for my dad was held last Saturday.  It was a beautiful morning with a Carolina blue sky, slight breeze and perfect temperature.  We met at the church prior to the service for the committal  and sprinkled Dad's ashes in the memorial garden at the church .  The memorial service was beautiful and uplifting.  I did share my blog, "Things my dad taught me", and even managed to get through it without too much difficulty.  Two of my nieces spoke as did my nephew.  My youngest brother, Doug, decided at the last minute to share memories of our dad and our family as well.  He told me after the service he realized if he hadn't he would have regretted it forever.  He did an awesome job and I know my Dad was as proud of him as the rest of us were.

After the service we all headed back to my parent's home, changed our clothes and had a great time watching college football.  Both the Clemson and LSU games were televised so it made for some interesting watching and enthusiastic comments.  We ate well enjoying pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, chips, wonderful deviled eggs as well as too many cookies.  It was a joyful celebration of our families love for Dad and each other!

As the games ended and the building fatigue caught up with me I realized it was time to gather my things and my family and head for home.  I still had one more thing I needed to do.  The funeral director had dropped off the rest of Dad's ashes at my mom's after the service.  My brother's and I had told Mom we wanted part of Dad to take with us and she was fine with our decision.  I simply needed to put some of his ashes in a Ziploc bag (no I did not come prepared with a better container), say my good byes to everyone and head for home.  Not sure of how his ashes were packaged and not wanting Dad to experience being swept up by the vacuum cleaner I decided to take the cardboard box containing his ashes outside to the patio and do my transfer there.  I quietly picked up the box, my Ziploc bag and a plastic cup and started out the door to the patio.  Here is where the trouble starts.  

After the service at the church we all changed clothes.  I put on a nice pair of black dress pants but stayed barefooted.  I was comfortable!  Two steps out the patio door my big toe caught in the hem of my pants and I was immediately aware I was going to fall holding Dad's ashes!  In the microseconds between the realization of the impending fall and hitting the ground I visualized the box of ashes becoming airborne and Dad becoming a cloud much like the one at Hiroshima.  I could not let that happen, so I held tight to the box, banged the left side of my glasses on the concrete breaking them, hit my left cheek on the ground and bit my left lower lip.  Dad was safe in my hands in the box!  My lip was bleeding, my left cheekbone was sore as all get out and swelling and I was able to put my glasses back together.  No one in the house had noticed.  I opened the cardboard box to find a sturdy plastic box which required prying open with a knife.  Inside the plastic box was a plastic bag tied tightly shut- Dad would not have gone anywhere if I had dropped the box!  I took some of his ashes into my Ziploc bag, put everything back together in reverse order and went back inside where I put ice on my lip and cheek.  My eye was already changing colors!  So that is how I got a black eye at my dad's wake.  The one thing I can be certain of is my dad was there holding his sides laughing!  I, on the other hand, kept hearing Elvis singing, "all shook up"!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Things my dad has taught me

I am sitting at the foot of my dad's bed in the Hospice Unit at Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC.  He is nearing the end of his life.  I know he is comfortable and ready to go because he has told  me so.  Watching him slip away is both excruciatingly painful and beautiful.  He has talked of beautiful trees, a moat surrounding the most beautiful place he has ever seen and a large table with many chairs.  We are at peace.  The sound of the humidified oxygen reminds me of the sound of  a babbling brook.  The football game is on the TV and we try to distract ourselves from the sound of his breathing.  I have time to be still and remember.

Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the things my dad has taught me:

If you want to catch fish, you have to use worms and you have to bait your own hook.

When cooking, always clean up as you go.

When playing Boggle, making up words is allowed as long as you snicker while you write them down.  If you are lucky one of them will be a real word.

It is OK to eat your Nana's cream puffs for breakfast.

Patience is a virtue especially when teaching teenagers to drive or when taking  them to pick out a Christmas tree.

God is good all the time.

Say you're sorry and mean it.

Let go of wrongs.

Forgive and forget. (Yes I know those were similar but they were worth repeating)

Love unconditionally.

God always answers prayers but not always the way we expect.

Always do your best.

Never put off saying I love you.

Treat others the way you would like to be treated, especially when it is difficult.

Even grown men like to play with tractors.

When faced with a broken bike, it is a good idea to take it to a bike shop for repairs.

Pay attention to the details.

Dog names are reusable.

If you can't say something nice, be quiet.

Good people come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Doing the right thing may not be easy, and no one may notice, but do it anyway.

And finally the one that seems most appropriate on a day like today:

At the end of even the worst day there is always something to be grateful for.

Thank you God for this gracious and loving man you chose to be my father.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's grace continues

My family has continued to be wrapped in the love and prayers of our family and friends as my dad continues to linger.  God's grace continues to be evident on a daily basisOn Monday, September 20th, We were blessed with a visit from an angel that could be seen in his window.  He has talked of beautiful trees and a large table with many chairs and even beautiful balls on the ceiling.  He rests peacfully and pain free and we wait.  

Tuesday, September 21st, Jay and I visited Dad bringing along a CD of Hymns sung by Andy Griffith, a CD he requested.  The CD was called "Bound for the Promised Land" and as it played classic old hymns including "Church in the Wildwood", and "Shall we Gather at the River", he would smile and occasionally sing along. As we got ready to leave he asked for one more song.  The CD played "Beautiful Savior" and "Fairest Lord Jesus" and he sang every word.  Jay and I left blessed by Dad's gift and more evidence of God's never ending grace.

On Saturday, September 25th he was able to sit in a chair at his bedside and meet and hold his first great grandchild, Jenna.  He quickly renamed her "Jenna James."  She cooed and smiled as he sang her Three Blind Mice and played with her toes.  God's grace.   

This week has been a challenge as we can see him slipping away, but the gifts continue.  Wednesday and today he has had a harpist play hymns in his room and Mom says he will occasionally sing a word or two.  (The harpist is a volunteer on the Hospice Unit at Baptist Hospital.)  He remains comfortable and pain free but his appetite is gone.  Several times yesterday he would stare at the corner of his room and say, "I asked you to leave" followed a short time later by "one more day."   Last night as I got ready to leave the hospital I asked Dad if he would be here in the morning and he said, "yes" but when I asked him if he would still be here when I got to the hospital this afternoon he said, "we'll see."

Today is that "one more day."  We have told him it is OK to go.  In a few minutes I will be on my way to the hospital where we will tell him it is time to go.

Thank you God for the grace and love you have shown my family.  May we continue to practice all that your faithful servant, my father, has taught us both as he lived and as he dies.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

God's grace or miracle?

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

My dad, a retired Presbyterian minister, is 80 years old.  Tonight he rests at Baptist Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina where the doctors have told us they are out of tricks.  Weeks ago he and my Mom finalized funeral arrangements for both of them.  My Dad has the hymns written down that he wants sung, has talked about a special trumpeter he hopes will be available to play at his service and keeps asking me if I have my speech ready to which I continue to respond, "I am not making a speech."  He is certainly nearing the end of his life.  Will this be his life ending trip?  Tonight he told me, "no, not this time."  But the fact remains he doesn't have much more time.

My Dad's life has been a series of miracles and God's grace.  At the age of 47 he had a heart attack that the doctors say should have killed him but apparently sometime before this heart attack he had a "silent heart attack".  Silent because he had no symptoms.  This silent heart attack set up enough collateral circulation that when the blockage caused the heart attack he did feel, the blood was able to reroute itself.   He spent a little more than a week in the hospital and came home.  We rejoiced.  God's grace or miracle?

Years went by with annual trips to the cardiologist and all was well until one day he needed triple bypass.  He came through surgery well but he had a quadruple bypass instead of the triple they had anticipated.  My parents celebrated their 45th anniversary on his first post op day.  The next day he was back in ICU with multiple pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs).  He spent a few days in ICU and then came home.  God's grace or a miracle.

Several years went by and he needed to have a pacemaker implanted.  He felt better and life went on.  Mom and Dad went on a cruise up the Panama Canal and Dad was having some irregular heart beats.  When they saw the cardiologist after getting home the pacemaker became a defibrillator as well and would be ready to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm if it detected a rhythm that would not support life.  Shortly before Thanksgiving of that year the defibrillator did its job and he got shocked.  Not once, not twice but three times!  Without the defibrillator he most likely would have died.  Some would say, "great job electrical and biomedical engineers!"  I ask, God's grace or miracle?

I have lost count but I believe that same defibrillator has shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm seven times.  The last time he was shocked Dad said, "I wonder how many more times God will reject me before he allows me to come home?"   God isn't done with you yet Dad.  Grace!

My dad was able to preform the wedding ceremony for my daughter Megan as she married her high school sweetheart, Judson.  We all cried.  Grace!

Last September while in Atlanta, GA babysitting for one of my brothers, Dad became gravely ill with what turned out to be an untreated strep infection that traveled to his already weakened heart.  He suffered kidney failure which added forty pounds of extra fluid to his body and blew him up like a balloon.  The "veg", as they call it, grew on one of his heart valves and took almost 2 months of IV antibiotics to get rid of it.  This condition is fatal to more than 60% of the people who are affected.  My Dad survived.  God's grace or miracle?

He rests at Baptist Hospital fighting an unknown demon with a heart that is weaker than it was less than 2 weeks ago when he was also in the hospital.  The doctors are out of tricks but they press on.  Dad wants to be here but is ready to go.  He will be cremated and his ashes sprinkled in a garden at a nearby church.  He says his funeral should be on a Saturday so it won't inconvenience everyone but he also says NOT this Saturday.  His heart is finally wearing out, technology can do no more.  He is in God's hands now.  I know we are out of miracles so tonight my prayer is for grace.

Well done, good and faithful servant!  Sleep well.  I love you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


prayer of dedication

dear god,
you pray.

dear god,
we offer you these gifts

of our thighs
and offerings…

our thighs
and offerings.

our thighs
and offerings.

you are so young
and today express so little care

but some day you will learn
that that day, you misspoke.

i want you to know that
you didn’t.

you are a prophet
with a gift

and that which you
presented me today

was more than a giggle
at your expense.

dear god,
you pray.

and you help me
to pray too.

children’s sabbath
november 11, 2007
central presbyterian church
atlanta, ga

I found this prayer through a link on another friends blog.  The blogger who posted this prayer is a minister named Kate and her blog is entitled, "Thighs and Offerings."   

"We offer these gifts of our thighs and offerings"

I am struck by how powerful I find these words..So powerful I read them and then had to read them again.  I certainly would like to offer my thighs to God.  They carry baggy remnants of the 200 pounds of extra weight I carried around.  Perhaps if I offered them to Him he could reshape them and smooth them into thighs I would find more attractive, that others would find more attractive.  But then I read the words again and this time saw them differently.  

"We offer these gifts of our thighs and offerings"

Perhaps my thighs are the gifts just as they are.  I am a child of God created in His image.  I have flaws and bumps and wrinkles and I have saggy, baggy thighs.   But those thighs I would love to offer to God hoping he could somehow transform them as he did when he changed the water into wine are wonderful gifts.  You see, they help me stand  upright, they carry me where I need to go, I can run, jump, dance, swim, kick and on and on.  My thighs and legs can carry me away from danger and walk me towards challenges and opportunities so my thighs will be my gift today, just as they are.  Thank you God for the gift of my thighs and I offer them to you knowing they come attached to me.  

"We offer these gifts of our thighs and offerings"

Friday, August 27, 2010

You Have Such A Pretty Face!

I was en-route to teach my water aerobics class this evening when "You have such a pretty face" popped into my head. It echoed in the car as if far away but the feelings those words evoked were so close I could touch them.  It took my breath away.  "You have such a pretty face." I paused remembering how painful those six words were.  You see I had heard these words in the past as a chubby child, an overweight teenager and even as a morbidly obese adult. Each time someone told me, "you have such a pretty face" part of who I was was lost.  I retreated, wounded, beaten up, full of doubt and hurt.  Did I have a pretty face?   Were they surprised by the mass of me?  Did they feel the need to find something nice to say?   Did they think they were being kind?  You see what I ALWAYS heard when someone told me, "You have such a pretty face" was "Why is the rest of you so gross?"

"You have such a pretty face"  Thank you!  :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great Quote!

Maybe I'll learn self-love fully in this lifetime, maybe I won't. But I have learned three things: to commit to loving myself no matter what, to take care of myself when I am hurting, and, most importantly, to be grateful for my life-lessons and the teachers who make me face them.

~ Sue Patton Thoele

Friday, August 20, 2010

Shaffer dips or Thompson dips?

"Serving size 1/2 cup"    Breyers Ice Cream container

My mother loves ice cream and so my brothers and I learned to love ice cream.  Learning to love ice cream was an easy assignment!  What is not to love about something that is cold, creamy, and delicious which can be eaten in a bowl, on an ice cream cone or with a spoon straight out of the container!  Ice cream comes in so many flavors Baskin Robbins capitalized on its popularity and variety with their well known store boasting , "31 flavors."   I can't think of a time when we didn't have at least one container of ice cream in the freezer, and by container I mean large plastic tub.  My mother loves ice cream!  A dish of ice cream at my house was something to see.  Imagine an average cereal bowl piled high with three or four solid scoops of  ice cream.  Enormous and delightful!  Totally satisfying!  Chocolate heaven!  Shaffer dips.

"Serving size 1/2 cup"

My husband's family also loves ice cream.  They buy it in pints or half gallon containers, usually  vanilla.  My mother in law makes fantastic chocolate syrup which is spooned over the ice cream but the difference in the size of the ice cream serving is substantial.  Early in our dating relationship I was offered and accepted a dish of ice cream.  The bowl placed in front of me was not piled high with the 3 or 4 solid scoops of ice cream that I was accustomed to but rather was a single scoop (with a little extra)  in a small bowl with several tablespoons of homemade chocolate sauce poured over the vanilla ice cream.  I was shocked!  Thompson dips!

Jay and I continued our relationship in spite of the ice cream trauma, married and will soon celebrate our 35th anniversary.  We continue to enjoy ice cream at our home and at both of our parent's homes.  We now know that Thompson dips are the more appropriate size for a serving of ice cream but if you happen to be at our house when we are serving ice cream, don't be surprised if you are asked if you want Shaffer dips or Thompson dips.

"Serving size 1/2 cup"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Powerful Words

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

I am standing in line with my classmates waiting for the school nurse to measure our heights and to weigh us.  I am in the fifth grade in Baltimore, Maryland.   I am oblivious to what is being said or not said to the kids ahead of me as they are weighed, measured and recorded until it is my turn.  I don't know what changed at that moment, and maybe nothing did, but that exact moment is forever locked in my memory.  I step up on the scale without fear or concern totally unaware of how my life will change, perhaps forever.

It is an ordinary day in elementary school. The same kind of day we had everyday.  I have lots of friends, love school (especially the school nurse), and think the whole idea of going to the nurse for these measurements is weird, but just another part of another day.  It is fun to get out of class for a while regardless of the reason.  So we all stand in the line and wait.

It is  my turn.  I step up on the scale without a care in the world and then my day comes crashing down around me.  The nurse has just said my weight OUT LOUD - 135 pounds.  My friends are laughing!  I can't believe she just said my weight OUT LOUD.  More laughter.  Are they laughing at me?  Why are they laughing at me?  I don't remember hearing anyone elses weight as they were weighed.  Why did she have to say mine so loud?  I am ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, and intimately aware that for some reason what the nurse had said that day mattered even though I didn't understand why.

My day went on but it was no longer ordinary.  I found out I was the heaviest of the girls and the boys.  I felt different.  My friends were different.  I was different.  What I weighed apparently mattered.  I finished out the day but don't remember much of it.  When I got home my mom was there and so were my brothers but I didn't tell anyone what had happened.  I didn't want to talk about it.  The one thing I do know for sure about that afternoon was I immediately found something to eat, took it into my bedroom, closed my door  and ate hoping to feel better.

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

I am a full time elementary school nurse.   I am required by the state to record heights and weights as well as calculate BMIs on all third and fifth grade students.  I am not the school nurse who recorded MY measurements in the fifth grade.  I bring small groups of same sex students to my office, weigh and measure them silently, recording their numbers myself before showing them to the individual students.  I am occasionally surprised by the students who readily share their numbers with others but also acutely aware of the student who says, "I'm not telling" when asked by another student what they weighed or how tall they were.

My battle with my weight continued until I reached my all time high of 376 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall.  I joined Weight Watchers and began exercising first at home and then at the YMCA and have reached my goal weight having lost 196.6 pounds.

I have gone full circle.  Did the school nurse say all of the other student' heights and measurements out loud - probably.  Was the laughter after my weight was announced related to my weight?  I will never know, but what is important is I believed it was.

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hill Warning

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Loa Tzu

In September 2009 I began a training program which would hopefully prepare me to walk the 13.1 miles needed to complete a half marathon. My husband and daughter are both runners and I have watched both of them prepare and successfully complete both marathons and half marathons. I have been impressed with their determination but intimidated by the amount of training that must be done in order to be successful and injury free. After a great deal of thought I registered for a half marathon, made a commitment to stick to the training schedule, and tried to ignore the voices screaming in my head which repeatedly shouted, "Hello, are you crazy?"

I am a full time elementary school nurse, teach water aerobics 3 days a week, take a Zumba class 2 days a week in addition to a step/sculpt class 2 days a week. I have lost 196.6 pounds without surgery (thank you Weight Watchers), and have two knees which are bone on bone. I am 55 years old. I thought the voices in my head were correct-I was crazy to even think about this!

When I first began my weight loss journey the only exercise I could do was walk. I lived in a community which valued their "green spaces" and had laid out miles of marked walking trails. These paved trails meandered along a stream and continued through the downtown city area into the neighboring town. The trails were always in use and while they did have lengths of flat trail there were many changes in direction as well as elevation. My son frequently walked with me. We used the walk as a time to review spelling words, study for tests and quizzes and just to catch up on the days activites. Lugging an extra 200 pounds while "just walking" was an effort but facing an uphill grade was always a challenge. I demanded a "hill warning" anytime an incline approached no matter how slight it might be. As my weight came down and my fitness level increased I no longer needed a "hill warning" when faced with an incline but the habit stuck, and so even though it was no longer necessary, I still got my "hill warning."

As I faced the commitment I had made to walk a half marathon I was confronted with the need for a training program. I carefully searched the internet for a training program aimed at walking a half marathon and selected one by Hal Higdon. It was a 12 week program which required walking 5 days per week with the long walks on Sunday. It looked like it would work well for me. The program indicated when you were done you would be a "fitness walker." I did follow Hal Higdon's training program religiously and even managed to squeeze in helping the State Health Department with after hours H1N1 immunizations aimed at the children of South Carolina in addition to maintaining my regular exercise regime and full time school nurse job. On December 10, 2009 I successfully completed my first half marathon in 3:28. As I rounded the corner and headed toward the finish line I realized there was nothing I could not accomplish if I prepared well and was determined. I have since walked another half marathon, this time in the rain from start to finish. My time wasn't as good and I was a bit more beaten up but I was, as a good friend says, upright and breathing as I crossed the finish line.

Life is full of "hill warnings." They are the challenges you face every day that cause you to pause and evaluate. Beating the hill is about good preparation, believing in your abilities, having faith and plain old determination. I now know I will not be afraid to face the hill and climb it. I may be slow, I may reach the other side a bit beaten up but as long as I am upright and breathing as I reach level ground I will be just fine!

Hill Warning!