Friday, September 23, 2016

July 2016

While Don heaps one spoonful of Folgers instant coffee in his morning cup, I had the unfortunate opportunity to learn I need two or three to make my cup worth while. Between calls to medical personnel, teaching, and now time in Reveal Audio Studios, I haven't remembered to stop at the grocery store yet this week.

But that will change soon. Sam and Courtney are coming for dinner and even spending the night. So a food stop is next.

I was hoping Nathan would join, but he's sitting beside me in the studio as I type so I won't complain... or rather, I won't complain too much.



I wrote three songs this summer and even sang them at Eddie's Attic, a local song writer's venue way across town. Snot filled my head and congestion covered my vocal cords, meaning I didn't sound great. But the poet needed to express and the experience proved therapeutic.

Listening to Nathan record background tracks for those songs today takes me far from the week of violence. For years ago, when I recorded my first two CD's  in this studio (available here on Amazon), Nathan was in middle school, unaware that his cords held a power beyond my own.

So while families fight, politicians haggle, and rioters destroy, we're building vocal tracks, harmonizing our genetically linked voices in a way only family can.

And while you may not be singing with those who mean a lot to you, I like to believe that in some small way, you're attempting some form of harmony too. Does that make me a Pollyanna? Like I'm just trying to create a world where the good outweighs the bad?

For even as bombs blow and murderers murder, I wonder if there's any chance the quiet good actually outweighs the catastrophic bad.

Deep in the book of Romans Paul commanded, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6: 13 -14 NIV).

Even on the worst of days I wonder if there's any chance there are more instruments of righteousness than wickedness?  It sure doesn't seem like it most of the time. But for every act of evil, messengers of hope arise, providing aid in a multitude of ways.


So when July came to a close and the violence seemed unending, I spent days finishing this song. In fact, I had so many lyric potentials that I shared them at a Schreer family gathering solely seeking input.

Thus the final product is a conglomeration of verbal ideas from Papa, Deb, Mary, Sam, Courtney, and Nathan Schreer.

I wasn't going to record it today but after hoodlums trashed another city, inciting civil unrest, it seemed fitting to make it available.

Why the serious words are set to a circus-like accompaniment, I don't know. It just came out of my fingers that way and remains unlike anything I've ever composed.

May it stir your heart like it did mine.



Friday, September 16, 2016

Restoration versus Devastation: The Game Is On

The effects of coffee had long worn off as I visited with my friend Wednesday night. Curled up against a tall sofa back, I smiled when she asked, "Don't you think the bad is out there fighting against the good?"

"Ye-e-es," I agreed with drawn-out southern charm. "That's a spiritual principle for sure."

I used to quote it with my kids every morning:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities"... against the Darth Vaders of this world... (Ephesians 6: 12).

After trying to make sense of her stress and mine, I thought back to last Sunday, when it became all the more real that devastation tugs at the helm of restoration and we are caught in the middle of the war.



I posted a church photo on Facebook last Sunday. Overjoyed, I couldn't contain my excitement as I sat in a pew facing the massive organ renovation project.

For the organ that once played in Trinity Chapel on Wall Street will soon make music again in John's Creek United Methodist Church. Damaged in the notorious 9/11 attack, the organ was silenced and placed into storage. But when member's of the John's Creek church family heard about the magnificent instrument, they purposed to refurbish the pipes and move the instrument south.

It's taken years. Many years. A new sanctuary had to be built first.
But as of this summer and fall, the installation is underway.

So when I slipped into a pew on the 15th anniversary of the World Trade Center bombings, I savored the power of restoration.



Orchestra members soon took their seats. The choir processed in. Congregants stood for the first hymn and the service got under way. 

Drooling over the vast musical offerings, I sat unprepared, like everyone else, for what was to come.

About fifty minutes into the service, the pastor stood to preach. But instead of commanding the pulpit with ease, she said what I've never heard a pastor say before, "Please forgive me, but I can't preach today."

Say what?? On the 15th anniversary of 9/11??

"There's been a tragedy in our church body," she continued. "We lost a precious member this morning."

As she searched for words of encouragement, I discerned that a beloved someone committed suicide that very morning. Later I learned the pastoral staff had only been informed after the service began.

Devastation crashed over restoration, flooding our hope with despair.

After an awkward few moments, the congregants were asked to rise for the benediction, and the service ended. The abrupt conclusion punctuated the unwanted interruption and I fought to feel wonder again. The kind where the good guys win, the music resounds, and all is right with the world.

But guess what?

It's. Not. About. Me.

There's a big story being lived out, walked out, and diligently fought over. And every day we have an opportunity to join the side of restoration or to be part of the devastation.

It truly is a daily choice.

But not an easy one.




I've been swallowing prednisone for a week now and for the first time in six months, my right foot doesn't hurt at the end of the day. In fact, my right leg feels strong now that the post-surgery pain has subsided. While I'm aware the steroids may have something to do with the change, I'm still profoundly grateful for the lack of pain.

At the same time, my face pulls left. Not all the time, but enough to leave me feeling a bit tired from the pressure at days end.

Restoration.
Devastation.

They collide again.

The tug of war is in constant play. In my life and yours. I want to bask in the realm where all is restored. To float its peaceful, curative tides. But they are often interrupted.

So I'm becoming all the more intentional in my pursuit to stay faithful in the tight place of struggle. For...

"Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phillipians 3: 20 -21 NIV).

And as I wait for my lowly body to be transformed, I made a short a short video clip so you could see what's going on with my mouth. It seemed easier to make it plain rather than leave friends worried.  



video


And if you're interested in diving deeper into why we suffer, I'll link to the sermon that was preached at my home church this past Sunday. By Monday morning, three sweet friends had texted, encouraging me to take a listen.

Having missed out on a sermon the day before, I indulged, and it was well worth the time. 

The text is Romans 5: 1 -11.


Romans Part: 6 from Sanctuary on Vimeo.


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Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy with a Dash of Snarl

Not only did I just swallow two  20 mg prednisone pills, I indulged in a caffeinated pumpkin-spice-latte at Starbucks, meaning I may never sleep tonight. Never.

While I almost chastened myself for forgetting to order decaf, it’s been too long of day for that. In fact, it’s been two very long days.

And if I didn’t live inside this body, I might be convinced I’ve become a hypochondriac.

The last several months have passed in a blur of health issues I thought I recently conquered. But alas, there was more to come. And it all started yesterday as I drove home from a podiatry appointment.



In hind sight, I hadn’t been feeling like myself for two days. I struggled to maintain balance. And as I sat in the podiatrist’s office, waiting for him to deem the stress fracture healed, I noticed my glasses wouldn’t hold my field of vision intact... which means that even with my high-powered lens correction, images still split in two.

After the doc told me to wear the orthopedic shoe for two more weeks, I took my leave. Driving home, I noticed my head turned slightly to the right, easing the eye strain. Priding myself on the unconscious adjustment, I wasn’t prepared for my mouth to pull low and left.

But it did. Out of the blue. And as I drove, my facial muscles began a game of tug of war.



The right side pulled the left side back into proper alignment only to have the left side yank hard again. The resulting spasms left me snarling like an angry pirate and fighting to smile.

However, if this doesn’t go away before Halloween, I shall buy an eye patch to aid my double vision and snarl with ease when trick-or-treaters come to our door.



Once home, I collapsed on my bed, certain the spasms would calm when I woke. But they didn’t.

I taught a lesson. Sat still. Watched a new Hallmark show. And avoided talking until Don got home.

When he did and we talked, his face registered enough concern that I knew I was in trouble.

So I drove to an after-hours clinic where I interfaced with a doctor within ten minutes of my arrival. After a careful examination, she ordered a cat scan, and a long wait ensued.

By midnight I knew the scan was clear, although I have a follow up MRI Tuesday morning. For now, with no sign of a stroke or tumor, I’m being treated for Bell’s Palsy. But for reasons I won’t explain, it took all day to pick up the medicine and swallow my first pill.

So here I sit in a Starbucks, fully caffeinated and pumped with steroids, wondering what my facial future holds.

Truth?

I’ve shed a few tears. Thought about hiding away for a time. Wanted to take a seriously long, winter’s nap. But went to lunch with a friend instead.

More truth?

After a day of processing, I'm convicted that this is my moment to live what I know is true.

The King of Kings loves me. Right now. Even with a slight snarl.

This isn’t a punishment. A result of my sin. Or some sign that I’m not special enough.

It’s simply part of living in a broken world.

And broken it is.

But I know The One who heals. I serve The One who makes good from bad. And I love the way He draws near when I lay on a gurney, a bit chilled, waiting for test results.

Oh how He loves us where we are, how we are, completely in our broken state.

So I will wake and live fully tomorrow.





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Thursday, September 1, 2016

12 Days, 4 States, and a Lot In-Between

In the last two weeks, I've sipped morning coffee in seven locations in four different states, which is definitely not my norm.

So much has happened that I took a few extra days off from teaching to absorb it all. Also not my norm.

But after playing catch-up on bills, laundry, and several other things I forgot, I'm all the more aware of how out of my norm I've been.

It started in the Atlanta airport two weeks ago on an early bird flight to.... Akron, Ohio! Meet my siblings: Rara and Mark. 



From Akron we traveled to New Castle, PA to visit my parent's roots. From there we drove to Titusville, PA and spent the night close to where my grandparent's burial took place the next day. 

After much consideration I'm convinced my mom's parents now reside in an enchanted forest. Maybe it was the 21 gun salute. Or the pint sized chapel that barely held our family. Or the towering trees with the feathery pine branches.

I'm not sure.

But something surreal lingered among the tombstones, leaving me confident that death has lost its sting.




After the burial, we drove back to Akron, spent the night with my aunt and uncle, and flew home after sharing a hefty meal with family we rarely see.                                                                                                               




Storms delayed our flight and hampered the view as we headed south. But in between, we watched a sunset that lit the sky and colored the horizon.

The beauty punctuated the end of the trip well, since after only two short nights at home, my friend, Lu, and I left for South Georgia.


Last spring I became an approved speaker for Stonecroft Ministries. As a result, I was booked to speak at three women's events in Savannah and Dublin.  

Lu drove. I spoke and sang.

And when a window of time opened between events, we snuck off to the beach where I paid a $4 parking fee for a 20 minute therapy session.

The ocean had missed me.




Knowing my story, the hosts invited several women with chronic illness. Recently diagnosed with adult onset mitochondrial disease, Patti and her husband drove from Augusta so we could meet.

Sitting with her felt as rich as reconnecting with family. The mito community remains small. Few know the verbiage, the cocktail, the unique frustrations.

But Patti knows them well. And together, we will fight on.



With our tenth anniversary only days away, Don and I finally made plans to spend a few days at the beach. For those who know him well, you'll appreciate this photo of me, The Donald, and his best friend, Oswald Chambers, visiting on the sand.



Home for two days now, Eggs, our tabby cat, bolts around like her old self and order almost reigns. Another round of antibiotics took care of a lingering sinus infection and my foot seems to be healing.

So as I contemplate the coming fall season, hope wells up inside, although I'm well aware we never know what challenge may lie ahead.

"We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it" (Proverbs 16:9 MSG).

If my plans unfold as my calendar states, I'll be speaking about once a month at least through January. Within a few days, I hope to have the dates and locations on my website and amazon author page.

Maybe I can meet you there.

And whether the sun is shining or a hurricane is blowing your way this weekend, sip some coffee, take a few deep breaths, make some plans, and then surrender them before the ink dries.

From Akron, Ohio to Tybee Island, He knows best






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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Diving Into the Underworld

As I rode down my stair chair this morning, I balanced a large cup of coffee and a tumbler full of power juice. Unable to sleep much the night before, I jarred awake just in time to dress and meet Lu who had agreed to drive me to another podiatry appointment. Settled in her passenger seat, the warm liquid filled my veins and our second trek across town - in only a matter of days - began.

After relying on tramadol to get through Grandpa's last days, I realized the semi-narcotic hadn't controlled the pain in my right foot. Knowing my doctor had offered a steroid shot for nerve pain in June, I sent him an email and made an appointment. Lu drove through almost pre-dawn traffic a few days later.

However, when Dr. Tucker looked at my foot, he said, "Look, there's swelling. I think you have a stress fracture. You need an MRI."

The MRI was ordered stat, performed Sunday night, and confirmed the diagnosis. Thus, I've had a stress fracture at the base of my second metatarsal since early June. And all the other metatarsals are in "stress reaction", meaning they could fracture too.

But let's not talk about that.




Suffice it to say, my upcoming left foot surgery has been postponed again. And I'm oh so very thankful.

On Wednesday, a Bible study friend sent a prayer request text. Her husband's dear friend had died. When I read it again, I realized that not only did I know the vibrant 55-year-old husband and father who died of a heart attack on his morning jog, he and his wife had attended my book signing.




Always ready with a smile, Michael had a charm and ease that ministered to everyone who entered his zone. The world was a party and he needed to meet and encourage every life he encountered. And he did that well.

I cried more on Wednesday than the day Grandpa died.



On Thursday, I went to physical therapy, wanting to try anything to make my foot better. Signed up for "needling", I was mentally prepared for my therapist to stick needles in my foot, like acupuncture. So when she explained she would stick a needle into my muscle and move it around underneath the skin, like an EMG, I freaked.

I wanted to muster up the courage to continue, but couldn't. Weeks of pain combined with recent losses and I wept.



Relief flooded in the next morning when I learned about the stress fracture, especially when I realized needling wouldn't have helped.

But after the long night and several long days, I questioned going to Michael's Saturday funeral. I wasn't ready for more emotion.

Somewhere in the midst of those muddled thoughts, the Holy Spirit spoke, "You need to go. You need to walk through this underworld of grief with your church family. Don't be afraid of the emotion. It's not time to lighten up. It's time to 'walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil'" (Psalm 23: 4 NIV).

So I went. And surprisingly didn't shed a tear.



Michael embodied the essence of life and the overflow filled our sanctuary. Stories were told. Laughter ensued. And great strength was displayed in lives of his three girls.

"Don't feel sorry for us," one of them stated. "We  got to live with the best dad the world could offer."

And she meant it.

The service was emotional and powerful.
It was Jesus in full motion.

And Michael must have loved every minute from the place where the sky knows no limits.




The underworld continues to call. The more I read. The more people I get to know. The more I recognize the deep places of pain and loss we all swim through in hopes of processing our way back to the surface.

But maybe the real surface is on the bottom. The Psalmist did say, "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls..." (Psalm 42: 7 NIV).

Will you reach out today, this week, this month? Will you dare to breathe the air of another's under-the-surface-world?

There are beautiful places just beneath the surface.





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Monday, August 8, 2016

Just Breathe

Early Sunday morning, I woke on a blue foam mat that was stretched across the floor in my Grandpa's retirement home room. Dad loomed tall above me and asked, "What can I do to help?"

Without hesitation I answered, "Coffee. I need coffee. A big Dunkin Donuts cup of coffee."

"You got it," he promised before searching google maps for the closest brew.

I napped while he was gone, just like I had all night. Having caved to sleep around 11pm, I stirred every hour or so, checked on Grandpa's stats, and then faded back into oblivion certain he wouldn't last the night.

But he did. Much to everyone's surprise.

In fact he breathed another 19 hours before finally letting go. While his stats indicated he was hanging on by a thread, that piece of thread must have been made of steel.

But that was my grandpa. Strong. Stubborn. Determined.



Grandpa and my mom

In the days before Gramps became unresponsive I started a blog post about stillness. While my cough had abated, sinus pressure still slowed my days and as it dragged on, the continued illness made it easy to give into fatigue, aka: stillness.

Being still makes me somewhat crazy. Or perhaps I should say being still challenged my sense of self until week five and six of bronchitis unfolded. Somewhere in the midst of vaporizer steam, mucinex, antibiotics, sudafed, steroids, albuterol, grapefruit seed extract, bronchial syrup, cold and flu soup, etc., I leaned into the stillness and accepted that simply breathing was enough for now.

I didn't have to do anything to feel purpose. I just had to be His.

Like a rose.



Or a wild flower.



 Or a brook.



"Be still and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46: 10 NIV).

or

Just breathe and know that I am God.

or

Just lay in bed and know that I am God.

"... I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Psalm 46: 10 NIV).

I was still valuing stillness when mom called and said Grandpa was unresponsive. We spent a lot of time at his beside over the weekend, singing, praying, and sharing. But one memory trumped them all.

It was late Saturday night. Dad had stopped by with Lily (the King Charles Cavalier) and we'd sat around talking and laughing and waiting.

At some point, one of Grandpa's caregivers stopped by. She peered around the corner at his tired frame and immediately teared up.

"Oh Mr. Hughes," she began, "we won't fight at bedtime no more. But I'll miss you."

Her tears fell in earnest as she prayerfully blessed him and his family and said goodbye. By the time she finished, we all wiped tears, including the hospice nurse.

What got to me was that the woman who stirred our emotion only knew my grandfather less than a year. During that time, he was fully dazed by Alzheimer's.

He rarely talked, played with his food, slept for hours, and occasionally caused problems. Stubborn to the end, nurses developed a dance routine to get him ready for bed.

Lost in a mental fog none of us want to experience, he still meant something to that nurse. Something enough to make her say more than once that she will miss Mr. Hughes, my grandpa.

He was far from a perfect man. Alcoholism marred his life after his platoon followed Patton's into the Battle of the Bulge. Haunted by foxhole memories of WWII, he struggled, but fought on.

And in the end, he blessed a woman who's paid little to care for those on the dementia ward.

Be still.

Live quiet.

Just breathe.

And be healed.

Like Grandpa.


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Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Miracle Named Catherine

I have an almost eight-year-old granddaughter, named Catherine. Without indulging in even an ounce of coffee, she dances, twirls, and sings when we're together. Dance parties remain the activity of choice and due to recent summer fun, Don and I have participated in more than one.

During a recent family gathering, she surprised me by blurting, "Gigi told me you wrote an article about me a long time ago."

And Gigi, her other grandmother, is right.

Several years ago, I wrote a monthly testimony column for a small paper. By the time Catherine turned two, it was obvious her story needed to be told. For only a few months after she was conceived, Catherine's parents learned their unborn child had a diaphragmatic hernia.

In case you don't know, our diaphragms are a sheet of muscle that separate our intestinal tract from our respiratory system. When a baby forms with a hole in that muscle, their intestines and stomach often fill the upper chest, leaving little space for the lungs to grow in the last month in utero.

So no one knew what would happen to Catherine when she entered this world and was forced to breathe on her own, which made for many long months.



She came in mid-August and took her first breath, and then another, and another. Whisked away to the PICU, she was soon covered in tubes and apparatus that kept those breaths coming.

In time, doctors explained she was born with a lung that functioned at 75% and another at 25%. Her internal organs were mixed up like a jig saw puzzle, which would require surgeries in due time. But as the days went by and the breaths kept coming, she defied the odds and survived.


Catherine lived in the PICU for four months. When doctors discharged her, she went home with a trachea and a feeding tube. She didn't learn to eat until just before her third birthday, and endured a second hernia repair not long after.

After eleven surgeries (or more), scars cover her frame. Her internal organs have been set back in place (almost), and she looks like a thriving eight-year-old.

A miracle in motion.



It wasn't easy. The miracle that is Catherine involved dedicated parents, a great team of doctors, a lot of fancy medicine, and advanced medical equipment that saved her life more than once.

I know Catherine wouldn't be alive without the benefit of modern medicine. Still, when I touch her, it feels like I'm touching a miracle.

I tell her that every chance I get these days because just over six months ago, her life turned upside when her parents divorced. As her young heart processes the unwanted change and the stark reality that life is not fair, I like holding her close and reminding her of the miracle she is.




When I saw her earlier this week, my cough disrupted conversation and my right leg had grown weak from activity that culminated in our dance party. A third antibiotic roamed my system and doctors had cancelled my upcoming surgery.

Not in the best shape, I paused a little longer when I had the chance to remind Catherine that she's a miracle. The world slowed. My symptoms faded in importance. And I peered deep into shining eyes that reflect a warrior's heart.  

There, I saw a resilient life that is overcoming the odds yet again. And I felt stronger. Able. Ready to keep fighting my own fight of faith.

Her miracle gives me the courage to keep praying and waiting for my own. Which is what miracles are meant to do.

Mine may involve more scars and medicine, one breath at a time. But my God is the miracle maker. He works them out in His way and in His time. Some happen immediately while others unfold gently, like the seasons.

So while I wait, I'll hug Catherine a little tighter and longer and remind us both that God holds us even closer.



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