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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bon Voyage!

Time to leave this winter chill and sail to distant shores on balmy breezes!  We're taking Dad on a cruise to the Caribbean!!!

Will be back in a week.  You can bet there will be pictures!  So, until then, know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers.  May blessings be yours this week,

In Graceful Abandon, Jane

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From Drought to Drenching

What a difference 6 months can make.  This past summer I chronicled the horrific Drought burning up our neck of the woods.  Our pond, or "tank" as it's called down here in the south, is the lifeblood of our farm for the livestock and the wildlife.  An oasis of beauty, offering a drink deep for the goats and deer, a cool, green haven for the snappers and bullfrogs, and a place of serenity for our souls.

Weeks of a searing sun and the accompanying super-heated winds caused havoc on the land, parching even the deepest of tanks. We were not sparred the trial.

This is our tank mid-August, 2011.  Heartbreakingly dry.  Praying for relief and the soaking, life-giving rains.

Fast forward to the winter rains of this past week!  Not just a sprinkle, nor a soft spring rain.  This was a flood of biblical proportions.  Well, almost!   5 inches in less than 2 days.   There is now water overflowing!

Often the trials of our lives parch the very soul.  It's so easy to become brittle and dry in the fire-storm.  May the winter rains of peace soothe the scorched hurts of the trials you bear, bringing relief you never expected.  A blessing overflowing...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Last Wishes...

Ok, I've been procrastinating.  Big time...

I've had this Thank You note staring at me for the past 6 weeks.  It's the note that I'm going to attach to the basket of Chocolate Chip Cookies to take to Dr. Davis and the Chemo Lab nurses.  After I pull myself together, that is, and actually pen the words of thanks to these amazing, gifted mercy-angels.

Except I keep clenching.  Words won't come.  How do I thank the hands that held mom close, smiled encouragement while they poked and prodded, made her laugh at their stories, and cared enough to bring warm blankets, cups of ice and snacks as she suffered through the agony of chemo each week?

Not every one will understand why this Thank You mission is so important.  But it is.  When mom fell sick with the pneumonia right after Thanksgiving, my dad took her to their local hospital.  Not to the large hospital that her oncologist worked out of.  Both mom and dad assumed that she would get some iv antibiotics, some fluids and be home in a day or two.  Without much thought, they called their family doctor and headed to the local hospital.

But this trip didn't go as planned.

That simple case of pneumonia spiraled into the beginning of the end.  With a dizzying turn of events, the pneumonia cascaded into all out body system failure, and in shock we faced an undeniable truth.  Mom would never make it out of this hospital.

Nor would she get the chance to have any closure with the oncologist who had become a close friend, a confidant, and her most ardent advocate.  It was one of the regrets that she shared with me when she realized that she wouldn't make it home. 

The conversation took place in bits and pieces as her strength ebbed those last days.  Many times she would barely open her eyes, but would whisper a string of thoughts, trailing off as the morphine gave blessed relief.

She realized her time was short.  She was tired, so very tired.  And in pain, when the morphine dwindled.  But even knowing it would be easier to let go of the fight, to lay down her gloves, she still whispered and shared...

    * She wanted us to know she would miss us, desperately...

    * She hated that this was happening right at the Christmas season, wanting so badly to be here for the family celebration...

    * She wanted to thank Dr. Davis and those sweet nurses for giving her an extra 6 months of grace...

    * She was sorry she would never get to hold Aubree Claire...

    * She wanted to know that Dad would be okay...that someone would look out for him...would make sure he ate well...would get him to the doctor when he got sick...

And she told each us at different times during that week how much she loved us...

As she whispered and reflected and shared bits of herself, we all, as one, assured her, through our tears that it was okay, that we understood, that we would take care of all these things, that we would be okay...

and that we loved her always and forever, from here to eternity.

It's understandable that the part about thanking Dr. Davis and his staff got buried in the emotional avalanche of her death and funeral arrangements.  But it has surfaced often in my thoughts lately and has stubbornly refused to leave.

So, today, I put feet to my promise.  Baking the Chocolate Chip Cookies was the easy part.  Writing the thank you note, the hard part.  I ate over a dozen cookies, nice and warm from the oven, before I was sufficiently empowered to share my heart.

Then, I got in the car and started driving before I could chicken out.  Kept the radio on the whole drive, trying not to think about the last time I walked through those chemo doors.  With mom.  Right before Thanksgiving.

Yep, it was harder than I ever imagined it would be.  I was smart and brought in kleenex.  Only not that smart, because I only brought one.  What was I thinking?  The minute I saw Bridget, Dr. Davis' nurse, I feel apart.  Bless her heart, she hugged me forever and just let me sob.  I'm reminded of Cora and the little Aborigine baby in Quiqley Down Under.  Well, that's probably a post for another time...  Anyway it wasn't pretty, but after awhile I got it together and was able to share mom's words of thanks.  She told me that Dr. Davis was tied up with a patient.  But that was actually okay with me.  I'm fairly certain I wasn't in the best shape to visit with him.  She said she would share the note and my words of thanks with him.  Then Bridget and I talked at length about mom and her cancer and her final days.  She shared that Dr. Davis had suspected mom's cancer was getting more aggressive as her tumor marker had risen dramatically the last few weeks before Thanksgiving.  He had ordered a CT scan for December 12th, and was planning to suggest changing chemos from Gemzar to Fulfirinox.  Of course, all of this is moot, since mom passed away December 4th.  But it gave me some perspective.  I know from the research that Fulfiri or Fulfirinox has some brutal side effects.  I'm wondering if mom was spared the intensity of this fight for a reason...

After I left Bridget, I went down to the chemo lab and got loved on some more by those wonderful nurses.  All offered their sympathy and support, seamlessly weaving in words of affirmation and hope for the legacy she left.  Their ministry over the cancer-weary is not to the patient alone, they soothed my sore heart in ways I can't express.

I had no idea what to expect this morning as I agonized over fulfilling this wish from mom's last days.  Facing these "demons" and going to the places mom's memory is the sharpest is as difficult as I imagined, but what I didn't know was the strength I would receive from honoring her request.  I don't really like to use the word "closure," it's bandied about so much that I feel it loses a bit of it's original meaning, but that would be the best way to describe this journey today.

Closure.  For me.  For mom.

And in the process, the tears washed away a little more of the grief and softened my heart to receive their words of hope and encouragement.

I left the medical office feeling lighter than I have in a long time.  I believe mom is smiling and nodding in approval.  Mission Accomplished.

And maybe, just maybe having a good healing cry was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Kids on the Block!

It's Twins!!

Our Cashmere herd has grown by two.  A boy and a girl!  Such fun in the barn today.  Nanny and kids are doing well!

A mother's touch...
It's universal, the awe of creation. A miracle everytime...


So, this is the Breakfast Buffet!

Hello.  Have we met?

Big brother is dying to know what all the fuss is about!

All tuckered out, napping under the heat lamps...

Welcoming these new little ones is always the highlight of our farming endeavors.  Their satiny coats and wobbly first steps, floppy ears and baby bleats make all the manure-hauling, fence-mending, 7-days a week feeding, hoof-trimming chores of the past year so very worthwhile!

Hours slip by, unheeded, as we watch the kids take in their brand-new world.  It dawned on me just moments ago, that for whole chunks of time this day cancer hasn't crossed my mind, nor spoiled the joy...  These kids are my therapy for today!

Mom and I talked often about ways to cope with the brutal reality of her pancreatic cancer, both physically and emotionally.   Being given a terminal diagnosis is like having sandbags slung around your neck, weights tied to your feet all the while standing on the edge of a very slippery slope into despair.

We struggled with the coping everyday - and many nights... 

We didn't find a magic formula, but we did come to realize that coping means different things for each of us.  Mom loved to travel, and she loved the symphony.  The coping was so much easier when she indulged in her loves.  Even when she became too weak to travel or attend the symphony, she listened to her favorite symphonic harmonies and took great pleasure in sharing stories of past trips.  Cancer would loose it's bitter hold during these brief respites.

For me, it's the farm and the animals.   Like today, while I reveled in the adorable antics of the new kids and ruffled coats of silk.  There was simple pleasure in the time spent soaking up the exuberance of new life.  Cancer took a back seat, if just for a little while. 

Pancreatic cancer can limit our ability to do the things we love, but giving them up isn't an option.  Finding ways to indulge our loves is so vital.  Whatever it is that brings you joy, opens your soul to happiness - that can be the means to coping with cancer for you.

Cancer weighs us down enough.  Every now and then I wake up to the fact that cancer is consuming my life minute by minute.  And I imagine yours too.   So, I'm giving myself permission to just wallow in the soul-satisfying, honest-to-goodness charm of this sweet face for a little bit longer...  Join me!

May your weekend be filled with simple pleasures.  Go indulge your loves...

Always in Grace, Jane

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friendship in the Fire

Just a few years ago I may have scoffed at the idea of making friends across the country through the internet.  Actually I never even thought about it.  But today, through this pancreatic cancer journey, online, I have met some amazing people.  Men and women from all walks of life, joined by a common cord.


They are strong, funny, sensitive, caring, struggling, overcoming, surviving souls.  They're called cyber friends.  Who knew that I could come to care so deeply for someone I've never met?  And yet it has happened time and time again.  It is a blessing I didn't see coming... Friendship in the Fire.

One of those friends has been a huge inspiration.  Her name is Jeanne and we "met" several months ago after she had been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Jeanne and mom had so much in common.  Both were nurses.  Both had lived healthy lifestyles, no risk factors.  Both were diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer.  Both were given just 4-6 months to live.  Both have given their doctors a run for their money!  Mom survived over 12 months.  Jeanne is passing her 6 month mark this week.  Both have chosen to live life well.

And that brings me to my Shout-Out today.  Jeanne this is for you!

Jeanne has made some remarkable decisions along this journey and one of them was to continue working out at her local fitness center.   She is working with a trainer to increase her endurance and to retain muscle mass, two big problem areas for pancreatic cancer patients.  Jeanne knows that there may come a time when her body weakens to a point that going to the gym is impossible, but until then she strengthens her body, and tells cancer that he picked the wrong girl for this fight!  She has so inspired the trainer and manager that they shared her story with the CEO, who asked her permission to share her story on his blog!  Here's the link:

One Year to Live

 Jeanne has chosen to live life well.  In the beginning she said she was "feeling robbed by the cancer."  It's so true.  What the cancer and the chemo does to the physical body can be devastating.  Jeanne choose to help her body help herself - at the gym. 

The way I see it, when you receive a terminal diagnosis there are two things you can do:

1) Lay down and get on with dying,


2) Get up and get on with living.

So many of the pancreatic cancer patients I've met have the same Live Life Well motto.  And that deserves a Big Bravo!  The example you set is a path for all who follow.  I for one am deeply grateful for the legacy of strength and hope you are living.

Continuing in Grace, Jane

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cross-stitch Marathon

You know the people around you who always look perfectly put together?  Always on top of things, never a hair out of place, the 2.5 children (well-behaved of course), adorable dog and white picket fence? 

Yea, well, I'm not her...

My life is messy, overwhelming, and sometimes just plain out of control.  If you look at me I may just as easily be laughing wildly over some hilarious nothing or be bursting into sobs over the same inconsequential nothing.  Oprah coined a phrase, "the ugly cry."  Been there, done that.

So, I have to admit, I will never be that perfect model of put-togetherness.  My latest project is undeniable proof of that:

I've been working feverishly these past weeks on a cross-stitch wedding sampler for my daughter and her husband.  I say feverishly because I missed giving it to them for their wedding (last February, 2011).  Just too much going on getting the wedding put together - needlework certainly wasn't my first priority.  And then I missed giving it to them for Christmas.   Mom's last courageous battle with pancreatic cancer complications and her passing consumed our lives.  I couldn't have found my cross-stitch bag if my life depended on it.  And I'm so okay with that...

 But now I have one more chance... their anniversary!  Only a month away.  God give me strength for the last push.  I will get this sampler done.  Maybe... Well, I would if I was a put-together person!  Of course, if that was true I would have had it done for their wedding a year ago...

And something occured to me last night as I was untangling another knot from my intensely complicated project.  Cross-stitch is so like my life.

This is a picture of the front portion of the sampler where I'm currently working:

And this is (cringe) the back of the same portion:

I really like the front side, such a beautiful rendering of this winter scene, stitches even and neat, balanced colors.  You can actually tell what it's supposed to be!  Kind of like how I wish my life might appear.  A truthful rendering of life filled with balance and beauty.  Unfortunately...

My life, in all honesty, looks like the back side.  Ugh...  so snarled up and knotted together.  Cancer, grief, struggles, pain, and tears tangled up with love, joy, baby snuggles, and husband hugs.   How can anyone make any sense of it?!

And then I look back at the front... Ohhhh, I can't wait until it's finished.  It will be a wonderous gift!

Just like my life.   Just like yours.   A gift, all the more precious because of the knots and tangles.  Somedays we see a glimpse of what our lives could be.  Motivates me to pursue through the messy snarls of life...

God sees the finished product already and it is BEAUTIFUL! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Lies Within...

"What lies behind us
and what lies before us
are tiny matters
compared to
what lies within us."
                                     ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Pause Button

Sometimes we just need a Pause Button for life.  No matter the crisis, the agenda, the to-do list, the cancer chaos - we just need to hit Stop and breathe in slow.

Today I was given the most innocent of tasks, to hold the cherub babe while she slept.  Oh, and to rock her just so, while she dreamt...

Simple Bliss...

She nestled sweet into my arms, and time slowed.  I counted feathery eyelashes and watched her rosebud lips soften into sleep.  The old rocking chair creaked as we rocked, keeping rhythm with my rusty lullaby.  My pulse relaxed, her breathing sighed easy and moments suspended...

No thoughts of grief, nor of pancreatic cancer.  No worry over dad and the desperate missing he feels.  Not even the hurt of knowing mom will never rock her... Nor whisper her beautiful name.

Just this little one and me.  Watching her sleep.  Sweetness intensified.  Time stilled.

The Pause Button.

Do you suppose that's what God intended all along?  He speaks it plain...

    "Be still... And know that I am God."
                                            ~Psalm 46:10

A supernatural Stop.  Be still.  Don't speak.  Don't justify.  Don't do.  Just. Be. Still.

I haven't done that enough, as of late.  The Be Still part.  This cancer has sucked our lives into a roaring vortex, where sometimes all we heard were words; test results, prognoses and treatment plans.  The dying and grieving has only layered on more. 

I didn't realize how much more, until I held the cherub child today.  In stillness.  In quiet.  Watching, listening, running a soft finger across her just-from-heaven-kissed cheek. 

Deep, deep inside that stillness, I knew that He was and is and always will be.

For who but a Mighty, Creator God could bring such innocent beauty out of the mess of our lives?  We need the still moments to remember just who Holds each of us.

He is Mighty.  He is Creator.  And He is Bigger than all the noise we make.

Today, I needed this time.  Time to Be Still.  Time to Know that God is.  And that is enough.

Praying you may find the perfect Pause Button for your life today.  May it be the sunset, the beauty of a child's laugh, or the warm hug of a loved one.  Take time to be still and breathe slow... Savor that moment.

Finding Grace in the Stillness this day, Jane

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Blessing in Pink

Such sweetness wrapped up in downy beauty...

Angels danced in heaven's throneroom as
Aubree Claire
graced our arms this very day!

She arrived at 1:27 this afternoon, bringing such joy we can hardly stand it!  And despite the enormous excitement generated by her arrival, she appears innocently oblivious to all the fuss!

Perhaps you will indulge me a few pictures :)

Mother and Daughter say Hello
Simply undone at first sight...

A family of three grows larger in love, hugs and kisses...

Oh, I just want to touch her!

Heaven in my arms!!!!!

I didn't know my heart could sing with such freedom again.  But this little one is such a precious promise that life continues and is Good.  So very, very Good.  For today, we taste a bit of Paradise on earth and thank the One who orchestrates such Miracles as this...

Ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, sweet button nose and simply perfect little rosebud mouth!  Our Aubree Claire, you are loved beyond reason and with all our hearts!

                               So much Grace this day I scarce can take it in...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Cow in the Road

When mom and I started this website and blog a year ago, we didn't have any idea what it would become.  It was more or less a sharing in the dark, kind of the blind leading the blind.  As we traveled this unpredictable road, we bumped into scary things in the night, stubbed our toes (and our hearts), cried together and then picked each other up and kept going...

Until she couldn't keep going any longer.  That has been the biggest, scariest bump of them all.

I'll be honest.  There have been moments, dark moments when the grief swamped, and I didn't think any of us could keep going without her.  That squeezing hard, can't get air, heart cracked right in half, crushing pain.  From the suspended seconds when we waited for her last breath right into the harsh reality of her leaving our grasp, someone has always been there to hold us.  To put their strong arms around us while sobs wracked our very souls.

I thought I understood the value of community, of fellowship... God placed us in communion one with another from the very beginning.  So wise, so very, very like a Faithful God.  For it has been the people, the loved ones, the strangers, the friends, you, that have picked us up, held me up, and kept us going.

That brings me back to the road we're now on.  This journey.  Once, ages ago, I thought the journey would be finished when mom was healed.

I didn't see the Big Picture.  God's Healing Homecoming was the Happy Ending mom received.  That was our miracle.  For mom, that was The Finish Line.  For me, for dad, for the family and friends...  the journey continues. Without mom.

But never without the community of blessings God has surrounded us with.  That community is you.  That fellowship is sweet and abiding. Nourishment to hungry hearts.  As I think on my journey right now, right here, I can't help but wonder about the website, the blog ... This community of friends, cancer sojourners, cheerleaders, hope-givers and fellow travelers.  It has been on my mind much these last few days.  Where do I go from here?

And then, this morning, I rounded the curve in our road and saw the cow...

I stopped and we politely stared at each other for a minute.  Then his gaze drifted longingly back to the pasture.  The question is begging, how did he get on this side of the fence?

Beats me, but there we were.  Me, in my little red car, on the road, where I belonged, and Mr. Angus, on the hoof, wishing he wasn't on the road getting his picture taken by the lady in the red car.  He gave me that look (same one I get from the kids when the camera comes out...)

Anyway, after much consideration, and me inching closer with that red car, he finally turned and started to plod up the road, where, much to my relief, we met Mr. Farmer, in his appropriately dented white pick-up truck.

My job as cow wrangler was done, but the picture of him staring back into the pasture has just stuck with me all day.  I couldn't help see the comparisons with my own life.  It's kind of what I've been doing for the past month, actually the past year.  Looking back with longing to how it was before....

Before we lost mom...

Before she got so sick....

Before we ever heard the word Pancreatic Cancer!!!

I feel like a tired, out-of-control, spoiled 3 year old when I say this, but

I just want it to be like it was BEFORE!!!!!

And it won't ever be.     I know that.  

It took a cow in the road to smack some sense into me!  Duhhhh!

The road I am on now, is the rest of the journey.   Just because we lost mom to pancreatic cancer, doesn't mean it's over.  Far, Far from it!  It won't be over for me until I can post on this blog, on this website, to the whole wide world that

A Cure Has Been Found For Pancreatic Cancer. 

I think that may be the Finish Line for me.  So many of you have walked the fire with us, to you I owe such a debt of gratitude, there are no words.  I can do no less than pursue the Miracle with you.

There is a cheerleading squad ringing in heavenly realms tonight for each of you.   

" Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat... Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever (pancreatic cancer fits here). And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God."   ~Hebrews 12:1-2, the Message

Mom will be chief among the cheerleaders.  She is that veteran who knows what pancreatic cancer can do to a body.   And we are the loved ones who ran the race with her, we know what pancreatic cancer can do to a soul.

This journey has changed us.  Is still changing us. 

I am only beginning to realize the significance of meeting that old cow today.  For I too have turned back to the road, plodding slowly forward (fairly accurate description, but moving forward, nonetheless), and I finally have my eyes fixed towards Home.

And just up ahead I think I see my Farmer-Father coming to the rescue...

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Stretchmarks of Love

We're officially on Baby Watch!

Our beautiful angel-in-law, Kelli, is just days away from giving birth to our second granddaughter.

What excitement at our house!  The anticipation of seeing this precious baby face and counting all those fingers and toes can't be measured.  She and Travis are busy preparing the nursery, stocking diapers and packing overnight bags for the hospital.

In the meantime, Leroy and I are keeping busy with another kind of Kid Watch.  Our cashmere nannies are growing heavy with kids as well!

There is much to do in preparation on the farm for their anticipated arrival.  While winter days in Texas are usually delightful, the nights can be chilly and sometimes downright bitter, so our job as Happy Goat Herders is to make ready the stable:

Fences to keep the predators out...And the babies in!

Heat Lamps for Warmth,

Mangers overflowing with fragrant Hay, and, of course

Alerting Daisy, our faithful Goat Guardian to the impending arrival ...

Soon the birthing pains will begin.  As mothers we endure the unthinkable, bear the unbearable to bring new life into this fragile existence.  I watch Kelli cradle her belly, the dwelling place of her baby sweet.  Her frame is distended, skin drawn taut in protection of the unborn.

All mothers experience this miraculous stretching, expanding of self to make room for the frailness of love.  We acknowledge the pangs of birth, embrace the stretching, the pulling of ourselves to the outer edges of all we think possible...

The pain leaves stretchmarks.  On skin and on soul.  We will never be the same, the marks, the scars are but a breath-taking signature of life's design.

I know mom bore the stretchmarks of leaving us too soon.  She held to life when medicine and science said it shouldn't be.  Mom stretched in a gift of grace, letting God extend Himself in her life.  Even through the pain and brutal weakness the cancer caused her, she endured to the outer edge of selflessness, bearing love and hope to each of us.

Never deny the beauty of the stretchmarks in your life, the work of stretching, expanding, enduring.  They are the signs you are full to bursting with Love and Grace,
                                       Always in Grace,  Jane

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Toasts, Hearty Hails, and Lobster Tails

Every year, on New Year's Eve, mom and dad celebrated quietly at home with a traditional dinner of steak and lobster.  They sent the old year out with a toast and welcomed the new year in together...

This year, dad faces the new year without mom by his side.  But he doesn't face it alone.  And it wasn't quiet or traditional!  Well, ok, we had a toast and we had lobster, but the evening was a non-traditional feast of merriment.

First, the toast:

Jordan, Leroy, Katie, Dad and I raised our glasses to Brighter Days, Sweeter Moments and Cherished Memories for 2012,

And then the fun began...

Katie loves lobster (as do we all), but she had never learned how to prepare it, Until Tonight!

First, the introductions.  Katie this is your lobster tail.  She named him Bob (no offense all you delighful Bobs and Roberts out there...)

Hello, Bob!

Then into the Boiling water!

Say what?!!

Bob, are you okay????

Surgery to remove the shells... Scapel, forceps...gloves!  Next time, I'm bringing my welding gloves, those little lobsters were definitely tough cookies to crack!

And not a moment too soon - the natives were getting restless!

Bob, you never looked so good!!

Let the feasting commence...

We welcomed the New Year with a Hearty Hail to the One who sustains by His grace,

"God has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
The unfailing love of the LORD never ends!
By His mercies we have been kept
from complete destruction.
Great is His faithfulness; His mercies
begin afresh each day..."
~ Eccl. 3:11, Lam. 3:22-24

May the Sweetest Beginnings be Yours,

There will always be Grace Enough for each Day.  My Love, Jane