Believing Promises

June 16, 2010

This was written on October 7, 2009

When I think about my dad, it seems impossible to believe that years of resistance could melt away, but then I remember God’s promises. The Bible is full of promises. I know that God is not willing that any should perish. And I know he has loved my dad since he formed him in the womb, but I am speaking of promises more personal, ones made directly to me and my family.

The first one is an old one.  Some years ago, a decade or more, our mother told us that God had promised her that one day our father would come into the kingdom of God.  My brother, Bob, reminded us of this three days ago while when me and my siblings–I have two sisters and two brothers–were on the phone together during one of our regular conference calls.

During those calls we talk and pray.  And feel a little lost as to how to best help our parents.  Or Dad now that Mom has died.

Back in June, when they were both alive, I sat on the steps outside their home, my family home, crying. I was in shock over my father’s condition and what was required of my mother to take care of him. In that moment I felt that I would never be able to go home to Virginia, for how could I leave them, when Dad was so ill and Mom so weak?

They had canceled the Meals on Wheels my sister, Kathy,  set up for them and fired the caregivers we hired to help them, yet could not take care of themselves and in the midst of all that pain, I heard God say to my heart:  Some day you will look me in the face and say ‘Well done.'” And with his words came the sense of His presence as the tight spot in my heart unwound and peace settled on my soul.

At that moment God brought to mind a time, just months earlier, when he had protected us, while we were blissfully unaware of the danger we were in. We had bought a car from my parents in May and then had let the most accident prone member of the family–my 20-something son, Sammy–drive the car for weeks while the car was uninsured because I did not realize that my mom had canceled insurance on the vehicle the day the moving truck fetched it from her home. I had mistaken assumed that I could not add it to my policy until I owned it, until we officially transferred title. I won’t bore you with the details but it took weeks for us to transfer title at first, because Mom could not find it, and then because she could not get it from the dining room table to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Yes, it was that bad. Walking 30 feet down a slope was beyond her.  God reminded of that season, by saying, “I protected you then, I am protecting your parents now.”

A few days after that fateful day where I cried out to God on the steps, I went home. On the plane I prayed, “Lord, you promised me that I would look you in the eyes and say, well done!  I marvel and your capacity for pain!  It is beyond me.  Help me to trust in your love. I know you love my dad, help me to see your plan and move in harmony with your Holy Spirit. Help me to carry your presence.  Help me to dance before you, to draw strength from your love.”

A few days later my dad fell and the paramedics who came to lift him from the floor to the bed took his blood pressure and decided, instead, to take him to the hospital. It is hard to imagine that going to the hospital was a moment for rejoicing but from my point-of-view the particular nightmare of parents-home-alone was over.  They were no longer alone, barely able to get food in their bellies.

Now our occasional sibling conference calls, which my sister, Kathy, set up when my parents first grew feeble, have gone to every other night since the doctor told us on Sunday, September 20th, that my dad has days or weeks to live.  My sister, Laurie, who is with my dad in West Covina, reports on his condition. He is afraid, not ready to die, too weak to say much–he communicates by nodding or shaking his head, or uttering a few words.

All of us wonder, Should we go to West Covina? We live in Toronto, Virgina, Michigan, Tempe and Los Altos.  My brother who lives closest has nine children, one just born this summer. My sister, Laurie, has been there weeks and weeks but since she is the only one us who does not have a job and actually wants to sort through the belongings of two depression-era pack-rats, it is all to easy to let her shoulder to burden.

My sister Kathy is there now, having flown in on October 2.  We talk almost daily. She is doing a marvelous job taking care of Dad.  On October 6th dad slipped from consciousness and she called me, as Sam and I were driving home from church, to discuss options.  Should we let him die or try to intervene?  We prayed together on the phone, but neither of felt any heavenly illumination and then there was the advanced directive. Sigh. As schizo as it seems my dad was never willing to sign an advanced directive. He was saying in essence: don’t give me medical care that would keep me alive but don’t let me die without medical intervention. Yet there it was. After talking, Kathy and I agreed that the best courses of action was for her to go to the nursing home as ask him if he wanted to go to the hospital. Even though the nursing home nurses said he was unconscious he might be aware under the surface and might rally to respond. Just days before we had tried to convince him to go to the hospital at the nursing homes urging and he had refused.  We often experienced him as non responsive, then suddenly he would say a word or two or even nod and we would realized that he had been tracking the whole time.

So Kathy went and asked but this time there was no response.  Zilch. Nada. So she asked to have him taken to the hospital.  By now I was home, in bed and we were on the phone back and forth, praying together, calling out to God for wisdom. We are a dynamic duo in these hard times. We listen, process, talk, pray and then stumble forward towards what, in hindsight, seems right.

When the doctor tried to insert an emergency port in his neck, so they could start dialysis, my father began to die.  This was the view from California.  What I experienced was a ringing phone and then a voice saying, “I am Dr. Smith. Your father is taking his final breathes.” And I heard Kathy, in the distance saying, I love you Dad, I am right here,” over and over. I began to pray and the doctor handed the phone to Kathy. We prayed in tongues, a heavenly language unknown to us, and in English. We began to sing to him–me singing on the phone, Kathy there in the room. And . . . he rallied.  We were confused and did not understand what was happening at first. The doctor had left the room and the next thing we know, someone came in to report that they were moving to a room.  “Isn’t he dying?” my sister asked.

God had given us an opportunity to try to save him, but the answer, which we had surrendered to God was, “Not yet.”  The door had closed on dialysis, but not on his life.

After 30 minutes they transferred my dad to a hospital room and I rolled over and went back to sleep. He never regained consciousness. As I was driving to work the next morning, I felt strongly that we should move him to hospice and then my cell phone rang. It was Kathy.  “I’m going to move him to hospice.”  Had we not been three thousand miles apart, we would have given each other high fives.  A month prior Kathy had found a beautiful hospice. A spacious room with light and gardens and like-minded people.  We had tried to convince dad to move there but he had not wanted to leave his familiar nursing home even through they were focused on helping him get better by prodding him to do things he did not want to do–like eat in the dining hall and exercise. But since he was going to have to leave the hospital, why not take him to a place that would support what he was already doing–dying. He was unconscious and could hardly protest, so we did what seemed best to us.

As soon as Dad was settled into the hospice a man named, Leon, brought Kathy a CD player loaded with worship music and Kathy began singing over my
dad and reading him scripture. He did not responding. His kidneys were barely working. He refused food and water.

Kathy notes that he is smiling now and says, “I wish I could see what you are seeing now Dad!”

Every day we talk and I offer to come out there to join her.  I was there on Friday, now it is Wednesday, five days later, and she has asked me to come so I
will leave tomorrow afternoon.
Everyone says he cannot live long, yet he continues to live.

Several months ago when I was discouraged, God said to me, “Dear Heart, do
you really think all your prayers have been for naught?”  We have been
praying for my dad for forty-five years.  There have been moments of hope. I remember when he asked me why in dark moments in the middle of the night, when my mom sat up in bed and shouted, “No!” the darkness had fled.

I remember him wondering why his nose healed when we prayed to Jesus but not when he practiced his religion.

Yet, he has stayed steadfastly attached to his faith, though the congregation has shrunk to a handful and we have not had a single visitor from the church where he gave his time and money for more than 40 years.

I was distraught when my mother died a year ago. A month ago when I cried out to God and asked, “Why did my mother die! Why did she die first?” It seemed like a terrible mistake. I was not ready.  I thought she was going to live and then there was the estate. We were selling the family home to finance the massive medical bills that had accrued, in part, because my father had eschewed Medicare.  In a rage a decade earlier, my father had altered his will, leaving the house to his cultic church.  Our hearts sank when we learned this bit of news.

Had he forgotten when he gave us the go-ahead to sell the house? It would not have been an issue if Dad died first, but then Mom died suddenly, so the entire estate now belonged to Dad.  What was God thinking when he let my mother die?

Then God showed me a picture of a tunnel between heaven and earth. At one end I saw two figures bathed in a bright light– my tiny mom standing next to Jesus. My dad stood sideways in the tunnel of decision, hand his chin, pondering. Then I saw him turn and walk toward the light. Was this a picture of what was to come?

A few weeks ago He said, “HE IS MINE!”
Then last week He said, “When your mom got to heaven, I said, ‘Well
done.”  When your Dad gets here, I will say, ‘You made it!'”

Another time when I asked God, what are you doing? he said, “Securing
the perimeter,” then a few hours later, “Storming the beach,” then
later “Having the victory.”

The view outside these conversations did not seem to jive with what I was hearing from God.  When I said to my dad, “You are nearing the end of your earthly journey and will have to choose.  Jesus will be there. He loves you, Dad.”  He only looked frightened. Did he not realize that he was dying?

He altered his will, a relief to us all, yet showed such fear over dying that I was downhearted. Yet again, I heard God whisper, “I am mighty to save.”

And this morning when I asked, “Lord, how should I pray for my dad?” He answered:
“It is no small thing to save a man. It is no small thing to save a
man who has thumbed his nose at God, who has said, ‘I can heal
myself’. Who has hardened his heart to the Lord. But I am Mighty to
Save!”

My heart cried out: “Lord, we stand in awe at what you are doing. You are at work in my father’s heart and mind. You are bringing him to the end of himself so that he might cry out to you. I believe. Help my unbelief.
I believe God will save him. He is not willing that any should perish.

Author’s note: My father died the following morning before I boarded the plane that would have taken me there.  I believe he entered paradise, because I believe God’s promises.

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Stalcup Whirlwind

June 14, 2010

I’m about to have an empty nest!
Saturday I drove Anna and Dan to Reagan Airport to catch a plane to Spokane. From there they took a midnight train to Glacier Park in Montana where they will embark on another epic adventure, this time hiking from Canada to Mexico via the Continental Divide Trail. I lay awake last night reading Yogi’s CDT Handbook by Jackie McDonnell.  McDonnell describes the CDT as more of a corridor of trails, parallel to the divide, rather than a single, well-marked trail.

For those of you who do not remember fifth grade geography, the Continental divide is the back bone of North America, the high ridge through the Rockies (at least up north) that separates water that flows west to the Pacific from water that flows east to the Atlantic.

When Anna and Dan first told me they were hiking the divide, I picture them astride a narrow ridge trying to scramble up and over countless snow-clad peaks and thought they had lost their minds.

But since then they have educated me. Now I understand that the “trail” is not a single path, and which trail a hiker chooses to take depends on the weather, the snow pack and their desire . . . at least some of the time.

Unfortunately, after a spring of low snowfalls, a sudden storm has dumped several feet of new powder on the icy remains of last winter’s snowpack making the highland trail they hoped to start on too dangerous to traverse. Yeap, the A-word . . .  Avalanche. So they are starting south from Canadian border later today on another trail, with a group of five other hikers, some of whom they met last year on the PCT.  They have formed a group that will hike together for the first week or so.

This is good for bear protection since grizzlies are less likely to harass a group of seven, we hope.  I try not to remember some of my own bear encounters. Like the grizzley who seemed to think he owned the ridge that was chock-a-block full of ammonites in Central Alaska. We would chase him off with the helicopter so we could show visiting scientists our fantastic fossil local and he would come roaring back. One time when we venture out of sight,  he climbed up onto the helicopter while the pilot cowered inside.

But I digress. I was writing about my empty nest. Since October Anna and Dan have occupied my basement, but in May they bought a condo in Reston, about two miles from my house and moved out, albeit temporarily.  Last Friday they moved back in–their bodies for a single night, their belongings for several months, so they could sublet their newly minted condo while they hiked.

My 18-year-old daughter, Sarah is graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology on Saturday. I can hardly wait. Last Friday was prom. She looked gorgeous in her lime green gown, yet as I drove to her boyfriend’s house in Vienna, I wondered if I had taken leave of my senses by agreeing to drive her and her date to the place where they were going to take pictures.  No one told me it was in Mount Vernon until we were in the car. We live in Reston, the prom was in Vienna one town away. Her her date also lives in Vienna, but here I was, driving to Mount Vernon–in D.C rush hour traffic on the beltway, no less–more than 20 miles away so they could meet up with their group of 42 friends, take pictures in a magnificent setting and get into two stretch limos–a Hummer and an Escalade to drive back to Vienna.

Three hours later I made it home to a wonderful supper prepared by my husband.  He had set the table out on the deck and as I sank into the chair and let out a sign, I realized that there were more places at the table than just our two. Then Anna and Dan appeared. I had forgotten that they had moved back in, for that one night. Then Sammy walked out on the deck.  The dog barked; the doorbell rang. It was one of his friends, who accepted his invitation to sit down and join us. Soon another friend appeared.

When I had first come home I had asked Sam why he had prepared the entire bag of frozen pasta. As I watched the three guys shovel it in, I wondered no more.

Last April I purchased Sarah a one-way ticket to Sydney. This is not as it sounds. I am not booting my youngest child out of the nest. She is willingly taking a gap year at Hillsong Leadership College in the heart of the city and I had only enough United mileage points for a one-way ticket.  I have promised to faithfully use my credit card so as to get her home. She will be gone from July to July, a little more than a year. I take fiendish delight in the thought of her shopping and cooking and cleaning up. After herself.

Oh yes, I feel a rumba coming on.

Then there is my beloved son, Sammy, in whom I am well pleased. My middle child. Sammy has outdone himself, graduating with honors from architecture school at UVA on May 23, the day after he turned 23. I think he is the most ambitious of my offspring and has, in the words of John Pinkston, “winning ways.”  Yes, Sammy will go far, I believe. Between his design skills and his warm personality, he will thrive. But meanwhile, the world is not bright in architecture land. Only three of his fellow classmates have landed jobs. Last spring I had strong sense that he belonging in a certain firm in Georgetown and since March I have been praying that the firm would get enough work to hire Sammy. Please join me in fervent intercession.

He job hunts, goes to interviews and hears high praise for his portfolio.  But still has no job.  Meanwhile he is painting the trim on my house, a job that should have been done ages ago, before the paint pealed on the south side.

He does not want to live in our basement, he wants to live with a group of guys in Arlington. I am sure this will happen soon, because as I have said before, I am about to have an empty nest.


In Frogland

January 20, 2010

It was just a teeny-tiny fever, hardly enough to cross the line from cold to flu and I was such a good girl, staying home from work, sleeping , sleeping. So when my friends Deborah and Tony called to ask if I wanted to go snowshoeing in Great Falls Park a week later . . . I so excited I bounded through the halls. It is the tail end of the virus, I told myself. There is just a touch of congestion and you know how breathing cold air clears your nose like nothing else.

Truth be told, after a few days inside I was prowling like a tiger in a cage. A record snowfall had hit the D.C. area the prior weekend and I had yet to be out in it.

Originally uploaded by albolivarphoto

The sun was bright on the snow. I got out my cross-country skis then decided, no, I probably was not up for the exertion of cross-country skiing. I would splurge for new snowshoes. A quick call to Tony, who was at REI in Seven Corners, and I was on my way, riding the metro dressed like Nanook of the North in my red Norwegian anorak with the real wolverine ruff, my wooley sherpa hat and gaiters. I was a little worried the metro pooh-bahs might not let me take my old bamboo ski poles on the metro (could those pointy metal bits at the ends serve as weapons?) but no one said a word.

Deborah and Tony fetched me from the East Falls Church metro stop and we were off. In the parking lot, Deborah and I tried on our new ultra modern snowshoes while Tony opted for something that looked more akin to elongated badminton rackets–I am sure they were made to be hung criss-crossed on a ski lodge wall and not to be actually worn–but he said he liked them even though he could not lift his foot more than a few inches and the back point dragged in the snow. The snow was breathtakingly beautiful and I could not wait so I forged on ahead while Tony and Deborah fussed with their equipment. Back and forth I went in deep snow, sinking in a bit less with each repetition as I cleared a section of path. This is a lot of work, I thought as I sucked in air, then womp, womp, womped my way back to where I could see the car a few hundred feet away.

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Grandma’s Cinnamon Bread

November 26, 2009

The 3 x 5 card is stiffly stained with butter, flour and who-knows-what–a mute testimonial to the fact that I am a very messy cook.  I hand it to my husband who says he is going to get up early and start the yeast rolls and he laughs.  Grandma has passed from the earth but we still have her amazing cinnamon bread recipe, yes, the one she used to make in batch at Christmastime for the postman, her pastor and the neighbors, back when she had those incredibly buff, muscular arms.

Here at last is her recipe, the very same one I used to impress my in-laws with holiday rolls.

Here is a scanned copy of the recipe which you can decipher yourself  . . . or, preserved for posterity, below is an updated translation.  And don’t limit yourself to cinnamon bread–delicious though it is–you can vary the type of flour you use and make all kinds of bread or rolls.

Cinnamon Bread (two loaves)

Preheat Oven to 350°

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups flour (the amount varies on the weather and what kind of flour you use)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package dry yeast (active dry yeast) or 2 tablespoons dry yeast if you shop at Costco
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs at room temperature

TRADITIONAL DIRECTIONS:

Mix 2 cups flour with the sugar, salt and yeast in a bowl.  Pour milk into a large measuring cup, place butter in the milk and microwave until the milk is warm to the touch and most of the butter is melted (there should be still be a soft lump of butter in the middle of the milk).  Pour the milk and butter mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix at high speed for two minutes until smooth.  Add eggs and 1/2 cup flour.  Slowly add the rest of the flour.  At some point the dough will be too thick for the mixer and you will have to turn the dough out onto a floured cloth and begin kneading the dough until smooth and elastic.

Pour about two tablespoons of oil in a bowl. Dump the ball of dough in the bowl, swish it around the bottom to coat the oil evenly and immediately flip it over so that the oil covers the dough. Cover with a clean cloth and put in a warm place to rise.

*When the dough has doubled in size, punch the dough down and cut in half using a serrated knife.  Roll out half the dough on a floured cloth until it is about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and tightly roll.  Place the roll into a greased breadpan, seam side down, with the ends tucked under.  Let rise until double in size then, bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until a medium brown.  Brush the top of the loaf with melted butter and turn out onto its side on a cooling rack.

Slice and enjoy. Makes great toast but my family usually devours it before it even has a chance to cool.

BREAD MACHINE DIRECTIONS:

Zap the  butter in the microwave, then put all of the wet ingredients–milk, eggs, butter–in the bottom of the bread pan. Make sure the butter is not hot or it will cook the eggs!  Pile on the dry ingredients over the wet and set the machine on dough.

When the dough is ready proceed with the directions above at *.


The last days of Ralph Oliver Moll

September 25, 2009

Last night we were told that my dad has only days or weeks to live. He is in a nursing home in West Covina, 20 miles east of Los Angeles.  For the last week, I have been trying to move him to Virgina so he will not be alone but my inquiries only brought bad news. He has been refusing medical care so the doctor has not been to see him in three and a half weeks, so my question, “Can he safely be moved to Virginia?” resulted in a blood test that show nearly every component in his body is badly out of whack.  His creatine levels which should be in the teens are 180. His blood has become toxic.

It is hard to lose both parents in a month. This weekend for the first time since my mother died on August 26, I began to feel almost okay, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach had eased and I could think of my mom without a visceral reaction.  But now that “kicked in the stomach” feeling has come back with the yawning fatigue that seems to swallow me.

I was always so proud of my fit, healthy parents. Trim, athletic.  In the last decade our family vacations revolved around horseback riding or hiking and I wonder, when did they start to decline? With them on the west coast and me on the east, it seems I missed some crucial turning point. I wonder, was it the accident?

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A Way Where There Seems to be No Way

September 21, 2009

Strategic thinking is one of my strong suits: my mind often ticks through options automatically. But my father’s situation: sick and in a Christian Science nursing home seemed like a brick wall at the end of the road. I was afraid that he would worsen and his fellow Christian Scientists would let him languish and even die all the while proclaiming him healed. Yet once he decided to opt for Broadview, the Christian Science home an hour west of my parent’s home in Los Angeles, there seemed little I could do . . . but pray. Why does prayer seem so wimpy? The last resort when all my heaving and hoeing has come up empty?

So pray I did. And I heard God whisper to my heart, I am still with him. I am there.  I still love him. I also heard God say one morning as I rose to consciousness, Buy plane tickets now. I agonized over the dates, praying, God, show me when to go. When you run a busy Healing Center it is not easy to leave town on short notice. It is not easy to cancel appointments, skip leadership meetings and tell your boss, my rector, that you are headed back to Los Angeles for the second time in a month. The best time seemed to be the week set aside for our family vacation. I asked my daughter if she minded going to Los Angeles and ask my husband if he minded being left behind. He reported that a tight deadline was going to make it impossible for him to go to the beach anyway. He urged me to go to Los Angeles and Sarah said she did not have a preference.

So I booked tickets, then proceeded to be dogged by nagging doubts. Should we go? After all, things seemed to have settled down. Dad was in the nursing home and Mom was sleeping a lot, recovering from months of battling cancer while simultaneously taking care of a husband who could not carry his dirty plate to the sink much less help cook a meal or carry out the trash.

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A tribute to my mother

September 2, 2009

In the days before my mother died, I would sit on her bed and rub her arms from shoulder to elbow, where she was often cold, and then from elbow to wrist, ending by holding her hands, fingers entwined.  We would sit, hands clasps and smile at each other, so glad to be together.

If she was especially cold, I would heat up her rice bag, a droopy fabric tube filled with heavy rice, in the microwave of the nursing home and put it on her feet or against her upper arms if they still felt cold to the touch.  At eighty-nice pounds and five feet tall, she was often cold.  I remembered her fretting about being overweight when I was a little girl but somewhere in her sixties she had lost 25 pounds and two inches and my recent memories were of a tiny woman who continued to shrink in every possible direction until the day she died.

She was ready to go, there is no doubt about that. The first time I saw her after I returned from Africa on August 10, she told that she was ready to go home. My sister, Kathy had moved her to Virginia on August 8, while I was in Kenya, so I thought she meant Covina, 20 miles east of Los Angeles, the town where she was born and lived almost all of her life save her college years—and the 18 days she lived in Virginia– but she meant heaven, her real home.  One week ago we buried her in Oakdale Cemetery in the nearby town of Glendora just a mile from her earthly home.

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