Thursday, October 23, 2008

Watching the Angel Trumpets bloom

“For only we who believe can enter His rest” - Hebrew 4:3

The yellow angel trumpets are blooming in our backyard. I originally had dotted them all along the entire picket fence in our back yard but they started growing and expanding their trunks and branches too close to the fence. So I hired someone to come cut them all down. But he left one solitary tree amongst the line of stumps.

The blooms are about a foot long and there are about 25 hanging from the branches in golden, glorious splendor. It’s as if they are calling out a solitary message to us as we gaze out the window, “We’re still here!” I love how Johnny can see them from his makeshift bed we converted the couch into, next to the bay window in our living room, looking into the backyard.

Those flowers are truly a reminder of God’s astounding glory. It also helps us to remember that angels are watching over us, as one day flows into another in this seeming “time warp” we live in now. Each day is another notch in our belts of time that we thank God for – because we are still here.

Hurricane force winds have blown through our emotions the last several weeks. After the last chemo Johnny had a new development of pain that worried us. We had been rocking along pretty steady with our routine. Johnny’s days consist of quiet times in the living room, back and forth between the recliner and the couchbed. He watches TV or I read to him or he naps on and off all day. Sometimes he strolls out on the back deck.

Occasionally he will ride off in the truck for a few hours just to get away for getting away’s sake. But that doesn’t happen too often. Every move made away from the quiet routine at the house is a tremendous effort for him. Even the visits to Mayo for blood tests or appointments will wear him out. He is always glad to get back to the house.

So when the new pain manifested last week it rocked our world. I lay in the bed one night and listened to him for a couple hours in the middle of the night. He groaned every time he moved. He couldn’t cough easily. Deep breaths hurt him. I lay awake with eyes wide open. Suddenly the reality of the severity of this journey set in and it frightened me.

I felt a glimpse of the true possibility of actually sleeping without him. I laid there and prayed for God to give me the strength to hold on to hope that everything was all right. I prayed for the strength to be strong when Johnny was so weak. I realized how very much he has always taken care of me. Now it was time for me to take care of him. It was an overwhelming feeling to suddenly realize that what I was about to undertake was a load of love that Johnny had carried for 33 years.

The next morning I called Mayo Clinic to report the new developments. They told us to get him to Mayo’s emergency room as soon as possible because they wanted to make sure it wasn’t a pulmonary embolism. Five hours later, after heart monitors, blood tests, x-rays, oxygen, and a CAT scan, we received the good report that they could find nothing – most especially – a pulmonary embolism. Whew! Praise the Lord!

It was a traumatic day that left us exhausted. On our follow up visit to the oncologist’s office we were told that the new pain is called “referral pain” that manifests in various parts of the body due to tumor growth. They prescribed stronger pain killer to keep Johnny comfortable.

The blood test we did last Friday showed low blood counts so we had to be back at Mayo this past Monday. Then his platelets clumped so we had to go back Tuesday for a re-take. Johnny is starting to feel like a pin cushion. His veins are getting rubbery. His patience is getting thinner. So was mine. I realized that all those years I spent working in a nursing home and dealing with and counseling caregivers – I really had no idea what a monumental journey it was for them. I do now.

Johnny has been on his own roller coaster of emotions as he tries to walk towards healing, though the opposite possibility looms in the distance. He struggles as he juggles being a patient and still trying with all his strength to be my protector. A few days ago the swirling winds of emotion came to a crescendo but led to “the talk” we’ve been needing to have.

I told Johnny that we are praying and believing for his healing and a victory over death but the whole point of living that God tries to convey to us is TO LIVE EVERY MOMENT AS IF IT WERE THE LAST. I reassured him that he had done his job well of being a good husband and father and provider.

Now it was time to focus on the important things at the moment. It was time to savor love, to do the things he always wanted to, to appreciate the true gifts he was blessed with, to say all the things you have been wanting to say, to reconnect with all the people you have cherished. It was time TO LIVE while he was alive.

An important lesson I found during my own journey through cancer was that sometimes God stops us in our tracks so we will listen and hear this important message. LIVE! LOVE! LAUGH AND BE HAPPY! Isn’t that what life is all about?

I heard a local church is doing a series on that very idea. I think it is wonderful. I hope that each of you will stop and take stock of your own lives. Don’t wait for a left hook in life to “get it.” Take charge now and live the life God intended for you.

Find your purpose (which is not only to pay bills.) Mend your fences. Go find God and WORK at the most important relationship you’ll ever have. Stop running and start strolling. You’ll see a lot of sights you’ve been missing.

I wish for each of you the exhilaration of truly appreciating every breath – every moment.

Beautiful Blessings,


Monday, October 13, 2008

A Soldier's Psalm

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust.’” -Psalm 91: 1-2

I discovered the most incredible book a few days ago. I had been searching for “a Word” from God to help me maintain peace of mind, as I witness the economic crisis around the world, in the midst of our battle for Johnny’s health and remaining positive about what the future holds for us all. There is an “inspirational book” rack at our local Publix grocery store. The last couple of stops I made there I twirled the rack and perused a few books but none was just the right one.

Then I “stumbled” upon the book “Psalm 91 – God’s Shield of Protection” by Peggy Joyce Ruth a few days ago. It just jumped out at me. It was an odd choice for me because it was full of true war stories by actual military veterans and that normally wouldn’t attract me. I’m all about ideas presented in warm fluffy, feel good ways. This book was all about true grit.

But as I thumbed through the pages, I was fascinated how the author went through Psalm 91 verse by verse and explained how this was the only place in the bible that contained ALL of God’s promises to us put together in a sacred covenant. It is an absolute guarantee of divine protection in the form of a spiritual contract from God to each of us regarding our health, healing, rescue, deliverance, safety, protection and provision.

As Peggy tells us in the book, “nothing in this world can be relied upon as confidently as God’s promises when we believe them, refuse to waver, and decide to make His Word our final authority for every area of our lives.” Within the verses God tells us the key to releasing the power of those promises to us, through speaking His Word out loud and believing with all our heart that His promises are true.

But here is what really hooked me. I discovered that Psalm 91 has been called “A Soldiers Psalm” because it has been tested again and again in many wars, with many faithful soldiers, who experienced miracle after miracle in deadly battle situations, while Psalm 91 was being prayed over them, by relatives or by the soldiers themselves crying out to God. Pretty cool huh?

As I devoured the words in this book it truly lifted me up more and more as I realized – we are all soldiers in one way or another fighting our personal battles in different ways. It is all about life and death. It is all about whether or not we triumph in the ultimate victory of realizing GOD HAS OUR BACK! When we submit our lives and full control to His will as His subjects in His kingdom, He pours out His power and might to guard us and provide for us.. And all we have to do is ask.

Today is the United States Navy’s 233rd birthday. My father is a retired Navy Commander and today he toasted all members who have served. I would like to “click his glass” tonight and dedicate this Psalm to the US Navy, to Naval Commander Laurence Paul Bowdren, retired MSC, to all his friends and members who have served in the US Navy, and to all our countrymen who haved served in any armed forces, in any capacity, while showing their love of our country in performing their duties, to protect us all. May God continue His divine protection over each you.

Here is the Psalm in its entirety. I encourage you all to print this out and recite it out loud every day. The best part of it is, that it protects not just you but your whole family:

Psalm 91
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
"Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation."

God bless all of you for your cares and prayers and cards and calls and concern over Johnny and Scarlett and me as we trod the road towards victory. I wish for each of you, the courage to trust God and to believe in all His promises as you journey towards your own victory in all things.

Beautiful Blessings!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lessons in Love – The Abc’s of Love That Lasts

"Whatever the question, love is the answer"

Tomorrow is our 33rd wedding anniversary. It seems so long ago since the day we said “I do.” When I look in the mirror sometimes I have to look twice. Is that still me? Johnny frowns at the mirror now, as he leans forward to count the few remaining hairs the last chemo has left him. I tell him constantly how beautiful he is bald. He tells me my head was a lot prettier when I was bald. We laugh.

It’s funny how perception in love changes over the years. I have come to find out that what I thought love was 33 years ago, was just a faint sliver of the big picture of love. I had no idea of the magnitude of a true journey of love. I discovered the truth of love after making a million mistakes over the 33 years. Call it wisdom from the pain of being human.

I remember in my college philosophy class the professor asked us each if we could have anything in the world what would it be? I answered that I would like knowledge. He told me I had no idea what I was wishing for. He said that complete knowledge was a blessing and a curse. I now understand what he meant.

When I look back I think I could have avoided some painful mistakes if there had been a pre-marriage course on the basics of marriage and how to survive sharing your life with another as you turn “me” into “we.” Marriage is when romance hits reality! The reality you create together can be heaven or hell.

I learned a lot of lessons from making every mistake in the book. Here’s my advice to those of you in love or looking for love, for things I wish I knew then that might help you make love last now:

The ABC’s of Love That Lasts

Act Authentic – The most important thing you can do to make a relationship work is to be yourself. But do you really know who you are? Until you do, you don’t really have anything to give. Only in discovering who you are, do you know what you want and what you don’t want. Until you respect yourself others will not respect you. Write a “manifesto” about yourself and how it relates to what you want in a partner.

Balance Budget - Marriage brings two different ways of dealing with money together. It is important to get an understanding of how each individual handles their finances and come to a consensus that each understands and agrees with involving shared money and how money will be spent. Finances are one of the biggest reasons cited for divorce.

Communicate Concerns - Good communication requires two important skills. Listening and talking, How well do you listen? How comfortable to you feel telling the other person something important to you. How easy is it for you to share something when you think it might be upsetting to the other? You will always be coming back to this one so make sure it is strong and solid.

Divide Duties – Here is an area that usually is never discussed and only assumed by each other. This can be a deal breaker if not handled properly. Who is in charge of exactly what? Who cleans the house? Who takes out the garbage? Who keeps up the yard? Who washes the clothes? Who folds the clothes? Who does the dishes? Who puts the dishes away? Who mops the floor? Who sweeps? Who dusts? Who cleans up pet messes? Who walks the dog? Who changes the garbage bag when empty? Who cleans out the microwave? Who does the grocery shopping? Who does the cooking? Who is the chaffeur when the kids come along? Who handles the bills? Who files the important papers? Who cleans out the fridge? Who makes the grocery list? Most importantly – who holds the remote control?

Explore Esteem – Back to the central issue of any successful relationship – how happy are you? How confident are you? How deserving do you feel to have a wonderful mate and life? Why do you want to get married? Do you feel complete within yourself? Do you have a fullness of love that begins with a true and honest love of yourself to give to another?

Find Forgiveness – Let’s face it. Your gushing and exhilarating passion you feel for your significant other right now is overlooking a lot of real stuff about your loved one being an imperfect human being, Guess what. It’s true. Reality will rock on as the flames become a slow steady ember over time, and suddenly one morning you wake up and say “hey! What happened?” It is then you must deal with the infinite list of possibilities your true love exhibits such as snoring, farting, burping, smelling, leaving dirty laundy strewn, showing up late, not calling when they should, blowing the budget, spending too much time with friends or at work, saying things they didn’t mean (you hope), forgetting your birthday, criticizing your parents, your friends, your job, your everything. Not pulling their side of the duties you agreed on, betrayal, lying cheating etc. Can you forgive and go on? Both sides need to love unconditionally and give and take. Life happens – despite all our best intentions.

Give God Glory – The best of relationships are a true trinity with God in the middle. It keeps balance and accountability and helps to build a solid foundation for your love to grow on. God is the best referee of all as two humans clash together to forge a mighty union. Having God as a major player in the game of love paves the way for the children to come that will have a house built on love and strength.

Honor Home – Your home should be a refuge for your souls away from the world. It should be filled with peace and love and comfort. It should be a reflection of both personalities with spaces for each to feel resonance with. Whatever space you live in, no matter how big or small, no matter how cheap or expensive, is your shelter from your storms of life. You should honor that space and make it off limits to chaos or trouble. Home is where you hang your heart. It is the rock your children will cling to.

I DO Means I DO – One of the biggest reasons people need to sit down and examine themselves and each other and who they are and what they want is to be prepared to make the greatest and most binding decision of their lives which means “I DO.” It does not mean “I DO” but only if you treat me right. It does not mean “I DO” until I meet someone that I like better. It does not mean “I DO” until I get tired of it. It does not mean “I DO” until suddenly I am bored and want to be free to find me again.” It does not mean “I DO” but only if you do things my way. “I DO” means I am willing to risk everything and pledge my love to you, knowing that each of us is imperfect but we love each other anyway despite our flaws and enough to find a way to bridge our differences and help each other become the very best God meant us to be. “I DO” means you are saying to the other “I’ve got your back – no matter what.” “I DO means “WE DO” and that includes the children. Whenever you consider tossing out “I DO” remember the children are tossed too. No matter what convenient arrangement you make for them as you tear their worlds apart – they do not understand divided love or living apart from either parents.

Jump Joyfully – Love is a constantly flowing river in motion with ebbs and tides that breath life into two souls. Staying stagnant brings pollution into the relationship. Find ways to keep moving joyfully together with hobbies and activity that you share together and apart. It is important to keep healthy and vibrant to make the most of every moment and to keep the passions burning in your spirit.

Keep Kissing – Romance is a fire that must be constantly stoked. In the midst of all the ways the world can pull you apart you must stay aware of the need to make time together for pure romance. Feed your love with looks and compliments, and special gestures and acts that simply say “I love you” in so many different ways. Many people make “date night” and carry on the tradition for years.

Love Laughing – Laughter may be one of the key single ingredients that bind people together. Sharing a sense of humor bridges gaps in other areas and provides a way to connect with each other anytime. It can diffuse volatile emotions in the twinkling of an eye.

Make Memories – Life can be mundane if you let it pass by too quickly without markers of moments that were special and significant. I think every bridal couple should start their lives with a 50 volume set of photo albums to have ready for filling and filing the precious memories made along the way. It is so wonderful to look back after decades and relive the reasons you fell in love and how it blooms and grows.

Never nag – This is the number 1 no-no in lessons of love. Never, never, never nag. If you do you are breaking one of the above lessons in proper communication. One of you is losing power in the great balance of love. Go back to the basics and refresh your self esteem and confidence and approach the situation like an adult.

Observe Occasions – There is something beautiful about celebrating rituals in life. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, special occasions help us mark history and give us opportunities to stop and appreciate each other and life. It defines our heritage and culture. It gives us a sense of pride and appreciation for the good life we have.

Pray Persistently – Do not start your day without God first. It sets the stage for all to come and reminds you that there is nothing that can happen today that you and God can’t handle together. There is power in prayer and in giving thanks to our source of all GOODNESS. No matter how busy you are – God comes first – end of story. Also, there is no greater ecstasy you will find then praying together with the one you love.

Quarrel Quietly – Quarelling is warfare and as such there should be rules of engagement. How do you “fight fairly?” Keep your voices down. Keep calm. Never say anything hurtful or viscious that you will have to take back later. Stick to the facts. Never argue in front of children. It frightens them.

Respect Rights – Within a union there are still two individuals who have separate needs and habits and dreams interests. The worst thing that can happen is for one partner to lose theirself in the other person, This happens easier than you think, Both parties must give 101%. This can fluctuate at times but in a proper balance always comes back to a win/win give and take. Respect your loved one’s individuality and needs. Give them breathing space.

Sleep Soundly – Never go to bed angry. Over and out.

Tell truth – Honestly is the greatest gift you can give to your loved one. You MUST be able to trust the one you love. You must look each other in the eye and make that your greatest commitment. This is important in trusting the other never to cheat. Swear that cheating is never an option, If the other reaches the point of actually considering it, that should be the pre-agreed point where a summit meeting is called to discuss what is wrong with the marriage and how it can be fixed.

Understand Upsets – Despite all the best laid plans of mice and men setbacks will happen. How they are dealt with moves the marriage forward or backward. Going back to the basic lessons outlined above can bring your enduring love back into focus.

Value Virtue - Love brings out the best in us. It teaches us the value of virtue and creates a legacy to pass down to our children and to generations to come. What mark will your love leave on the world? Virtue is defined as an excellence and general morality. It is a code to live by. It is an effective power or force of good we give to ourselves and others. What legacy will YOUR love leave? Work hard and realize it is worth the efforts to create the kind of love that blooms and grows forever.

Wait Wisely – How will you know true love has arrived? The bible gives us a guide to look for in that which is noble, just, lovely, of good report. It reminds us that:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not parade itself; it is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not seek its own; is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity; but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…………..and now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-13

I wish for your love a thrilling adventure in life where you are able to recognize all the beauty it brings which outshines all the mistakes and pitfalls you had to overcome to finally see the light of what really matters. I have learned that “whatever the question – love is the answer.”

Despite the many ups and downs and detours the love that Johnny and I vowed to cling to 33 years ago……it was all worth the ride. And today I can honestly say that I love him more and deeper than I could ever have imagined possible.

He is my knight in shining armor, he is my best friend, he is the most brilliant man I have ever met. He has a heart of gold. He loves life. He loves his daughter. He loves me. He loves the Lord most of all.

So here’s a toast to a life of love that changed me forever and ultimately taught me that true love comes from putting God first as my teacher and the fountain from which every good thing in my life flowed. Cheers!

Beautiful Blessings,