Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts on Friendship

Friendship is a treasure in most circumstances. Some friendships are draining; some friends always seem to take more than they give. But true mutual friendships are rare and valuable. Such is the one I share with this certain friend.

Sunday night I stayed at the hospital with my friend who is dying of cancer—ovarian, now liver, lungs, and who knows where else it has spread. Her body has changed immensely from when I first knew her thirty years ago, and her left leg is swollen to three times the size of mine. (And mine aren’t skinny!)

But, as usual, I left refreshed and encouraged because of spending time with her. We talked about important things; we shared trivial stories. All work together to form the patchwork of our special relationship.

We prayed together at “lights out.” We prayed together again before I left. It’s almost redundant, for I "pray without ceasing" for her—for a miraculous healing, but especially for comfort from pain and a peaceful spirit. True to form, after I prayed for her, she prayed for me in precious detail.

She knows God is in control, but she also is pragmatic enough to know that people have free will and God will let them mess up their lives if they choose. She worries about her family and what will happen to them when she is gone. Her concerns are valid; I cannot conscientiously dismiss them. Instead, I ask how I can help them after she is gone. She doesn’t know, but she’s thinking about it.

Her continued mental sharpness is amazing. She knows all her doctors, their specialties, their idiosyncrasies. She had some red spots on her shoulder and diagnosed it herself to the nurse, who agreed. When the doctor said it was probably that (of course I don’t recall the word), the nurse told him that my friend had diagnosed it immediately. The knowledge comes from fighting cancer and dealing with doctors for eleven years; the remembering it surely is a gift from God.

During the eleven years, her husband has had open heart surgery and knee replacement, among other illnesses, so their finances are depleted and beyond depleted. Friends have rallied to their cause, and I could assure her that we’ve collected the thousands needed for her funeral.

When I told other friends that we’ve reached our goal, they immediately said that they still wanted to contribute because her husband can surely use any surplus when she’s gone. When I told her that people were still wanting to give beyond what was needed, she immediately said, “Oh, getting more would be great, because there might be someone else who needs the money.” So typical that she’s always thinking of others and how she can ease their lives.

She told me about shopping for my birthday gift six weeks ago. She shared funny stories about her mother, also a beloved friend, who died six years ago. We talked about everything from getting rid of mattresses to grandchildren. I got the information to use for her obituary. There were no holds barred in our conversations.

We don’t know if she has hours, days, or weeks. I did note that she needs her pain meds long before time for the next dose. All I can do is keeping seeing her as often as possible and thinking of things to make her laugh. Laughter is one of God’s great gifts that she still enjoys to the fullest, so I’ll try to keep that in good supply.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Does My Life Show My Values?

Today I added a funeral to my full calendar—the funeral of someone I never met. But he was my friend Dee’s father, and I wanted to see her and to pay my respects.

Bill Saelinger, age 90, had ten children who surrounded his casket at the beginning of the mass. His wife of 65 years was there, with 30 grandchildren and 20 greats. The tributes given to him were impressive. Because he had to leave school after only eight years in order to work on the family farm, he stressed to his children the value of education and thus fathered a doctor, a lawyer, a pharmacist, a physical therapist, and several registered nurses.

This is impressive to me because I’ve always taken education for granted. My father and his siblings and five of my mother’s siblings had college degrees, some advanced. We were a family of teachers, not from pressure but by choice.

My mother taught grade school with only a high school diploma. It was not the traditional “one-room schoolhouse,” but instead was a more “modern” version, having three classrooms plus a lunchroom. Of course the lunchroom was merely a room with tables where students could go to eat the lunches they’d brought from home. This was in the 1940s, and the superintendent felt she knew enough to teach the children math and how to read and write.

In 1984, my father’s Tuesday funeral was attended by high school students who had been in his biology and chemistry classes the previous Friday. Last year, my daughter taught her ESL high school classes on Tuesday and had a baby Wednesday morning. I taught elementary school 34 years; my husband is retiring after 42 years of college teaching. Our son is a college professor; his wife teaches elementary school. We don’t talk about how we value education; it’s just the way we live.

A generation that didn’t have an education values it and passes that value on to their children. The dedication to education may lessen through the years as each generation gets accustomed to the privileges of education. They are still educated, but they don’t talk about it. And we can look around at later generations who decry the need for a college degree.

I see the same effect with Christian families. When people who were not reared with Christ as the center of the home find Jesus, they are on fire for the Lord and work diligently to keep their children strong and faithful. But through the generations, some of that energy and enthusiasm wanes as the Christian life may appear to be simply a routine to go through. Children don’t always have the commitment to Christ and the Bible that their parents or grandparents had. Perhaps the older generation doesn’t talk about it enough; we just live it and hope the younger generation catches on.

Just as Bill Saelinger talked about the importance of an education, we need to talk to our children, both young and adult, about our commitment and why Jesus is important to us. Perhaps our parental theme verses should be Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

From personal experience I’d add, “And as you ride in the car,” for those are times when parents and children often have the most significant conversations.

What do we talk about to our children? If your child or grandchild were asked what is most important in life to you, what would the answer be?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

God's Mysterious Ways

Another friend is dying. I remember my dad telling me, “It seems like everyone I love is dying,” and he was younger than I am now. Linda is only 56 and that is too young. Her children and grandchildren still need her.

I first knew Linda as a relatively new mother, struggling to get two toddlers to church. At that time she had no spiritual support from her husband. Her mother was a gem, a true saint of our congregation, who died only five years ago. Linda’s father lived a couple more years, and it seems highly unfair that this daughter who cared for them so sweetly would not live at least as long as they did. But we all know life is not fair--nor is death.

Daryl, her husband, for many years has been her faithful companion—helping, listening, interpreting, running interference, giving moral and spiritual support. He isn’t in good health, either, having had open heart surgery and knee replacement during the eleven years Linda has fought ovarian cancer.

In 1998, Linda wrote in a journal passed among our sisters, “If anyone would have told me eight weeks ago what I would be doing tonight, I might have been as doubtful as Abraham’s Sarah. I probably would have laughed! When I finish this journal entry and my tea, I will be having a Bible study for the first time with my best friend and husband, and he suggested it! God really does work in mysterious ways!”

Linda called yesterday morning from her hospital room in tears over a doctor’s words. This woman reprimanded Linda for requesting blood transfusions and physical therapy, saying that Linda needed to decide if she wanted to waste time and resources in the hospital or go home to be with her family for her last days. She is not one of Linda’s regular doctors and obviously doesn’t know what a fighter Linda is. Then she offered to pray with Linda, and Linda thought things were looking up. But the woman addressed her prayer to Allah, and Linda, who has had many challenges with a Muslim son-in-law, was appalled.

Eleven years of doctors and chemo and complications have depleted their meager funds, but Christian friends have filled the gap. This time the contributions are for her “end of earthly life” arrangements, and she is immeasurably relieved that Daryl won’t have that burden. Friends from nearby to hundreds of miles away responded generously when they knew of the need.

More and more, I see that there is no discounting the power of prayer and Linda's determination. Another doctor later yesterday said Linda might still have months. Linda asked me, "Where is that luncheon on April 30?"

I had feared Linda had a reservation elsewhere, but perhaps not. I think I'd better get in those luncheon reservations.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Best-Laid Plans

Days simply do not always follow the plan I have in mind. I’m sure others have noticed the same problem.

My day was set: Zumba class at 9:30, facial at 10:30, write the rest of the day. But my daughter got conjunctivitis and needed to be driven to the doctor, along with baby Finn because his dad had a job interview—nothing to be trifled with.

Fortunately, her appointment was at 9, and even with stopping to pick up her prescription, I left her house at 10:05 and decided to go straight to my 10:30 appointment. I felt sure Elaine wouldn’t mind taking me early.

But, strangely enough, as I got to the street leading to my house, en route to Elaine’s, my car suddenly seemed to get a mind of its own and swerved in, heading for home. At first I was so aggravated, fuming to myself over the extra minutes it would take. And what could I do at home for 10 minutes? Nothing productive, I thought.

And then it hit me. Perhaps I was supposed to go home for a specific reason. I became excited with the anticipation of what I’d find at home.

Sure enough, there were three urgent calls. Two were for Steve—the car repair person and the president of a board he’s on. The other was my friend Linda, who could hardly talk for weeping, but making clear that she wanted to talk to me.

Hurriedly I jotted down the numbers Steve needed to call, checked to be sure I had Linda’s hospital phone number, and left. I was a bit stunned at finding three messages that all ended with, “…so if you can call me as soon as possible….”

In the car, I called Linda and learned of the thoughtless doctor who had upset her. At Elaine’s, I called Steve to leave a message and, almost miraculously to me, he was between classes and actually answered his phone!

After my facial, though not looking my best, I suppressed my pride and headed for the hospital to visit Linda. She had settled down somewhat, but still struggled—with pain, with alarm at the doctor’s harsh judgment, with concern that the doctor had said to her, “You are not the only one suffering through this. Your family and friends are, too.”

Linda said to me, “No! No one else is suffering for me. I have it all. How could she say that?”

I said, “Perhaps she means that your family is suffering at the thought of what they’ll do without you. That’s a different kind of suffering.” She hesitantly agreed.

Already there with Linda was our close friend Marcia. Marcia and I got to chat as the nurses worked with Linda, finally getting her into a chair for a while.

We eventually had a few minutes to talk, and I gave Linda a list of friends from out of town who had sent money to help with her “end of earthly life” expenses. She was overwhelmed at the names of people who long ago had left our congregation to move across the country or just to attend elsewhere. She’d touched all those lives and had no idea how much.

As one friend wrote to me, “She will never know (until she gets to heaven) how she has impacted so many families and lives. Here she is battling for her life and Dale and I get a card in the mail from her welcoming us to our new home last week. Always putting others in front of herself. What a testimony/example!”

So now I review the day and how it turned out. I got to help my precious daughter, to spend one-on-one time with grandson Finn, help Steve get his car fixed sooner, visit with friend Marcia, encourage Linda’s husband Daryl, and spend time with my dear Linda. All great and positive experiences—so it’s a good thing God planned my day and not me!