Thursday, March 31, 2011

My sister Beth is the queen of photos, in my opinion.  She has so beautifully captured our time here in Cape San Blas, Florida.  I just HAVE to share more photos with you!

Art time is a favorite thing for the little girls to do in the evenings, after baths and dinnertime.

Even Breeley likes it!

Hope is footloose and fancy free!

Marley had her fair share of crazy hair days!

There were fishing boats in Apalachicola, a little town where we love to shop for souvenirs...

And Beth captured some precious photos of her family.

Isn't this the coolest perspective???

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Florida Sun Looks Good on My Baby!

My sister Beth took Marley out for a photo shoot on our last day.  I picked some of my favorites...

Isn't she the most beautiful little girl you've ever seen?

Friday, March 25, 2011


My child is smart enough to be  potty trained.  She uses the potty at daycare.  Aparently I am not consistent enough at home.  In my defense, when I put her on the potty (sometimes at her request, sometimes at my prompting) usually nothing happens.  Also in my defense, this is one thing that is in her control during this chaotic time in her life, and she is taking full advantage of this fact.

This morning she took her diaper off three times, just 'cause she wanted to.  So I finally convinced her to stay dressed and we went on with our day.  A few hours later, she emerged from the playroom downstairs and announced, "Mama, I pooped.  Will you change my diaper?  And I squished it.  I squished it on the horsey, and the airplane, and the slide."

I give up. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Comments, please...

Hi friends.

Many of you who read this blog are my friends from FaceBook.  You've left some really great feedback for me on my FB page, and I want you to know that I've read every one of your comments.  One thing that I think I've neglected to mention to you is that this blog not only helps me work through things in my life, but it's also for Marley to read someday.   It has a really cool feature in that it can be converted into a book and printed.  Awesome, right?  I want to preserve the memories that we are making as she's growing, both while her daddy was here and after he went to be with Jesus.  So I'll be going back through old photos and sharing memories from those times as well.

I would love, love, LOVE it if you would leave your comments here on this blog page.  That way when I get it made into a book, they will be there for her to see as well!  I've tweaked the settings a little, which will hopefully make it a little easier for you to do this.  That being said, comment away!

The Father's Hand

This is what we get to enjoy each evening outside the window as we eat dinner.

Being here next to the ocean makes you slow down, take a look around, and really think about the wonders of God's creation.  How He made this place just for us.  

And how life is precious, how much we take for granted.  There is so much natural beauty to be seen, if we just take the time to see it.

The ocean is so vast, and I've always had a healthy respect for it.  I've usually just admired it from afar, walking alongside it, or listening to its soothing sounds from the beach.  But when you have an almost-three-year-old, all of that goes away.  "Let's go in da o-sun, Mama!" is a sure way to get me off my lazy duff and into the salty water.  There's nothing like the delighted squeals of Marley and my niece Hope as I hold their hands while they jump in the waves that seem so small to me and so big to them...

They are so trusting, holding tightly onto my hand, even when we go deeper and some of the waves go all the way up to their chests.  The water is chilly, and they sometimes shiver violently, but still they jump and shriek and smile and yell, "That was a BIG ONE!!!".  Every once and a while they lose their footing and I feel their little fingers tighten on mine as they rely on me to right them and put their feet solidly back on the shifting sand.  All of this delights me, because I'm the grownup.  Those waves barely make it past my knees.  I have nothing to fear because I'm an adult and I can see the big picture.  I'm not afraid of the shifting sand or the occasional salty splash in the face.  I can handle it. 

Do you see the parallel here?

Who would have thought that God would use two toddlers to teach me that sometimes life is going to be a lot like the ocean.  It's big, it's beautiful, and it can be cold and scary.  It's OK to sit up on the beach and enjoy the view.  The sights and sounds are beautiful from up there.  You don't need any protection from the ocean up there.  But your skin is gonna burn (unless you're a brown girl like me...) and you're going to get thirsty and hot.  Or you can walk along the edge and look for shells and get your toes wet.  You're not going to need a lot of protection that way either.  Just a bucket and some good calf muscles.  Or you can grab hold of the Father's hand and jump in.  You're going to get cold sometimes, and you're going to lose your footing a time or two.  But He'll right you, because He doesn't lose His footing.  When the waves seem big to you, you can remember that they're never getting past His knees.  And if you can summon the joy of a two year old, when you get hit by an unexpected wave, you can shriek and smile and say "Whoa, that was a BIG ONE!".  

And then when you've had enough, you can ask Him to take you back up on shore and wrap you up in a warm beach towel and get you a snack.

P.S.  I have a confession to make.  I didn't take ANY of these photos.  I somehow neglected to bring my camera.  Duh!  My sister Beth took the ones of me and the girls.  My niece Becca and nephew Tyler took the gorgeous scenery photos.  Amazing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finally...We Got There!

A LONG car ride.

She rode the entire way like a champ!

Finally we arrived in sunny, warm Florida.  After a quick breakfast at Shoney's (hooray for free kids' breakfast!) we just couldn't wait to run off some energy...

 Marley (2 1/2)

and Hope (3) were enamored with the soft, white sand.  


Tyler (8) and Becca (7) were all about the slides and climbing.
It was Bree's first experience with sand! (9 mos.)

 Mom and Dad walked "the boys" and then settled down on a swing to enjoy the perfect weather. 

Then we were off to the beach...

I love chatting and holding her little hand.

Finally we were able to check into our house and get settled.  It had been a long drive, and everyone was exhausted.  So it was time for a video

...and early to bed!

Wordless Wednesday

(Thanks, Beth, for the picture!)

What Now?

I have spent the last 8 1/2 years of my life with this man. 
I loved him a full year before that.  
Can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to do now?

There are so many conflicting thoughts and emotions running through my head.  Let me attempt to explain.

There is one thing that I do know for certain.  I fulfilled my marriage vows to Jim to the fullest, in a way that pleased God, me, and my husband.   Before cancer came into the picture, Jim and I were unnaturally happy.  We had exactly two fights our entire marriage.  Yes, we squabbled and snipped just like everyone, but there were only two times that one of us had to walk away, take a drive, cool off.  A lot of that was due to his incredible patience and his extremely laid-back nature.  But much of it had to do with our mutual decision to stick it out, easy or hard, and work through things that needed to be taken care of in a kind, fair, and loving manner. 

Another thing I know for certain is that cancer robbed us of the complete fullness of the last years of our marriage.  When I was about 3 1/2 months pregnant, we'd noticed the first lump on Jim's collarbone.  By six months into the pregnancy, he'd had surgery and began the first of countless (nearly 100 in total) rounds of radiation.  At that point, we were both in denial, I think.  I told God that I wasn't going to lose my husband.  Then it spread to his liver.  And I told God that I didn't want to lose my husband, but if He was going to allow me to become a widow, He was going to have to prepare my heart.  Gradually over the next two years, that's exactly what He did.  Prepare my heart.  And my mind.  

The last six months of Jim's life were some of the most difficult we'd ever been through as a couple.  I'd had to help him out with remembering medications, giving him shots, and personal care off and on over three years, depending on how sick or well he was.  But those last six months were so difficult.  He began having seizures and his pain became uncontrollable.  My role as wife took a back burner as his need for me to be his caretaker moved to the forefront.  It seemed that I was constantly on the phone with someone at U of M.  It got so that the girls at the message service knew my voice and I knew them by name.  

During this time we both came to grips with the fact that unless God chose to intervene in a dramatic way, Jim was going to die.  Soon.  We both went through independent cycles of anger, sadness, resignation, despair.  You name it, we did it.  Sometimes our cycles overlapped.  Often they didn't.  We talked about it sometimes.  Not too often.  We didn't need to.  It was staring us in the face every day.  We had to work together to keep track of how many of each kind of pill he was taking so that everything stayed in balance.  I struggled to figure out what to make for him to eat so that he wouldn't get sick, or if he did, at least it wouldn't hurt coming back up. 

The cancer continued to march on, ravaging his liver, consuming his entire spine- skull to tailbone, into his pelvis and the side of his collarbone that hadn't been removed.  Then he began having seizures.  I cannot tell you how terrible it is to see your once strong and mighty husband come crashing to the floor, rigid, eyes looking at you, but not seeing you, as his body is racked by a force out of his control.  Sometimes I could see it coming and catch him and break his fall, but many times I  was too late.  All I could do was cradle his head in my lap and stroke his sweaty brow as he snapped to and try to help him reorient himself.  Or rush home from work on my lunch break because he hadn't answered the phone when I'd called to check on him.  Once the cancer had spread and broken his rib and then began to collapse his lung, the pain really began to set in.  He became so short of breath that walking from one room to another became difficult.  It was hard for him to lie down, so he'd sleep in the recliner downstairs.  I began spontaneously waking up several times at night and  going down to check on him.  More than once his breathing was so shallow that I had to stand there for what seemed an eternity just to make sure he was breathing at all.  To this day I cannot sleep an entire night without waking up.  

But it was the pain that tore my heart out.  I could help him with a lot of things.  But I couldn't help with the pain.  Oral medication couldn't help with the pain.  NOTHING helped the pain. 

It was during that last year that I began to mourn the loss of my husband. I knew I was going to lose him.  I knew Marley wasn't going to have her Daddy for much longer.  I had plenty of wonderful memories with him, but I really wanted Marley to have an opportunity to have even more.   I began looking for ways for them to spend time together that didn't take too much effort from him.  They spent a lot of time snuggled up reading books or watching cartoons.  I'd already lost my lover, and in many respects I felt like I'd lost my friend.  He was in so much pain that the last thing he wanted was for either Marley or me to touch him, even gently.  So many days I was so exhausted from working full time and taking care of the house and being a mom, that all I felt like was a caretaker.  It seemed like all I did was take care of everyone and everything.  He needed so much from me that I felt like our partnership was gone.  
But every once and a while, I would catch just a glimmer, when he was well enough to grab me in a hug and say, 
"I love you, Megan Ann.  I'm so glad I married you.  It'll be OK".  

About a week before he died, I took a leave of absence from work.  We'd been told he had about three to six months.  Obviously, that was not to be.  We'd gone to the hospital because he was out of oral pain medication options and he just couldn't take it anymore.  He was getting some good relief from the IV medication they were giving him, and his mood had improved dramatically.  I spent those last five days by his side, and  Marley was with friends and my mom.  For once the burden of care had been mostly lifted from my shoulders, and I was able to just BE with my husband.  Even though those days were spent in the hospital, I wouldn't trade them for the world.  We shared meals together.  We watched TV together.  We prayed together.  We slept in the same room.  He held my hand and he asked me to come along to every single procedure he was sent to.  We were closer in those last few days than we'd been in a while.  And then he was gone.  Just like that. 
But I was there, and there's no other place I should have been. 
Because that's what I promised. 
For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  
Till death do us part.

So, back to my original question- "What Now?".  Many of you have reached out with loving arms and asked how Marley and I are doing.  We are OK.   But can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to do now?  I get the feeling from some that I'm supposed to walk with my head down, sad and gloomy.  That I'm not supposed to be OK.  Is life a bed of roses?  Of course not.  But does it go on?  It sure does.  There are days that I wake up and I feel like a million dollars.  I am happy and content and good to go.  There are some days that I wake up and the loss hits me like a ton of bricks and I feel like I can't breathe. 

 Here's how I cope with grief, friends.  
I pray.
I cry, usually alone, usually at night, sometimes at the cemetery in Jim's big blue Dodge pickup.  
I write and share some of it with you. 
I laugh. 
I tickle my daughter.  
I seek comfort in the arms of my family. 
I seek comfort in the company of my friends. 
Sometimes I have a beer.  
I pray some more.  
I sing and worship at church, because that's the way I feel closest to God, through singing.  
I take medication and see a therapist on a regular basis.  
If it seems like I'm not sitting still and working through my grief, all I can say is-
you're not around when I can't sleep at night.  
And please remember, I've been working on this for a good year or so now.  I'm just in a different part of the reality of it all.

I love this man.  
Regardless of where life leads me and my daughter, there will NEVER be another Jim for me, and there will never be another Marley's Daddy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Florida Bound!

We're on our way to Florida! For the past 16 years, our family has enjoyed the tradition of making the trek to Cape San Blas, Florida. Whoever is able each year pitches in together to rent a big house up on stilts and spend a week on the beach, soaking up the sun, eating fresh seafood, and buying souvenirs. This year Marley and I get to go with Mom and Dad, my sister Beth and her husband Doug, and their four darling kiddos. We'll be making memories and enjoying each others' company.

But first we have to get there. Thirteen hours. Four people in this car, and two unnaturally large cocker spaniels. I hope Marley stays this content. Thank God for mini DVD players! I hope claustrophobia and/or anxiety don't get the best of me. Thank God for meds! (I'm only half joking...).

Thirteen hours in this car. Whew!

Pray for me, people! When it comes time to drive back home, we may may be flying!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stand Up..Start Over

Stand Up... Start Over.  
These seem to be words that I have repeated to myself at pivotal points in my life.  Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

When I was a freshman in college, there was a boy I loved very much.  I was SURE I was going to marry him, ride off into the sunset, have tons of little brown babies, and live happily ever after.  He was an amazing young man of God with a beautiful singing voice.  And it didn't hurt that he looked a lot like a young John Travolta.  That year he had traveled with my family to visit me at college to celebrate my 19th and my sister's 16th birthday (we share a great day!).  A few days later, on Thanksgiving Day, we got a devastating phone call from his older brother.  He'd been participating in a game of football with some family and friends when he'd collapsed.  They'd tried to save him... but he was gone.  That day the bottom fell out of many peoples' worlds, mine included.  I'd gone back to college and tried my best.  I failed my first exams ever, and professors asked what was going on.  There were days I couldn't stop crying.  It was then that writing first became a form of therapy for me.  I began to pour my heart out into journals that I still have until this day.  Some days were prayers, some angry rants, some hopeless ramblings.  Eventually God brought me to a place where I could stand up and start over.

After college graduation I started dating a man who was all wrong for me.  C'mon, don't roll your eyes.  Unless you're practically perfect, you've done it too.   And then your name would be Mary Poppins.  Long story short, I ditched him.  Extricating myself from that relationship was messy and complicated.  There was a lot of mind stuff and manipulation going on that profoundly effected who I was from that point on.  Back to the journals I went, plus some therapy.  And then he died too.  Really???  Really.  But I was determined, and God was again gracious.  

Stand Up... Start Over.

Then I married Jim.  We had four great years of marriage when we decided it was time to have a baby.  Except getting pregnant didn't happen like it was supposed to.  Finally, after nearly a year of dashed hopes, we had our positive pregnancy test.  We told everyone we knew and started preparing for the next phase in our lives.  I'll never forget the day I went in for a routine 18 week checkup.  I'd had a pretty normal pregnancy, so I'd scheduled the appointment while Jim was at work.  The doctor couldn't find the baby's heartbeat with the doppler, but didn't seem at all concerned, since babies move around so much at this stage.  He sent me back for a quick ultrasound.  As soon as the technician put the wand on my belly and I saw my baby just lying there, I knew that once again, life had spiraled out of control.  That thrashing I'd mistaken for my baby's first movements just a few weeks earlier were most likely my child dying as blood supply was cut off by a fibroid tumor.  That night we went to the hospital to be induced and the following day- July 4th- I delivered a perfect, tiny baby boy.  This time neither Jim nor I could stand.  This loss hit us both like a bullet square between the eyes.  I spent days in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling or the television, as my body went through all the usual post-partum changes.  Only there was no baby there to make it worth it.  Instead we had to go to a funeral home and choose a tiny urn to put our baby's ashes in.  God and I had some pretty frank talks in the days that followed.  I let Him know what I thought about the fact that I would be a great mom and Jim would be a great dad.  I poured our heartache out to Him.  And I started to claw my way out of a very dark pit and to...


Blessedly, Marley came soon after.  While I was pregnant with her, Jim's cancer came back.  There is NO DOUBT in my mind that she is the reason that he was able to stand up and start over so many times when he would rather have quit.  The kind of  cancer he had is not the kind you survive for so long a time as he did.  He kept fighting because he loved me, I know.  But mostly he kept fighting because he loved his little girl, the light of his world.  He was as stubborn as an ox, as strong as a bull.  He too knew how to

Stand Up...Start Over.

So, here we are, Marley and me.  I find myself standing at a crossroads with a precious little one holding my hand.  
And now it's time once again to

Wordless Wednesday- February Ice Storm

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Backseat Ramblings

Marley and I were sitting in the drive-through in one of our (read: MY) favorite places to eat.  OK, it was Steak N Shake.  Seemingly out of the blue she asked me, "Mama, do you want to be a policeman, a boy, or a girl?".  I was thinking I needed to carefully measure my response, so I said, "Well, honey, I think I'd like to be a girl today.". 

Then I looked in the backseat and noticed she was looking at this...

...and a whole host of thoughts and memories came crashing into my head.  The first one was how brilliant my 2 1/2 year old daughter was to ask me a question that gave me three options for a response.  Then the teacher in me remembered that many well-stimulated and loved (doted-on) 2 1/2 year olds can do that.  Don't get me wrong... my kid's still brilliant!  :)  She must've gotten that from her dad.

Then came the fond memories of sitting on my Papaw Payne's lap on the davenport for hours on end as a child.  He would patiently read the little descriptions of the scenes on each page, including the questions, and quietly listen while I went on and on about what MUST be happening on those pages.  He'd tirelessly tell us the name of each and every item on each and every page and help us think of why there might be a tin can next to the goat next to the barn.  Hmmm...

Which led me to the continued tradition of listening to my parents read chapter books aloud to us all of our lives, from our very young childhood through the time we left the nest.  I remember listening after lunchtime as Mom read the entire Little House on the Prairie series or Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, probably more than once.  Through her voice, and in the conversations that followed, these books and the happenings in them came alive to me, and I couldn't wait till the next chapter, then the next.  In the evenings Dad would read different books.  The Chronicles of Narnia springs to mind as one of my favorite series.  I remember coming home as a college student from my factory job, hurrying to get lunch packed for the next day and shower and chores done, because I knew I was so tired that I was going to fall asleep on the floor listening to Dad reading.  But there was no other place I wanted to be. 

Reading is the thing that transcends generations.  It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from.  If you've got a good book, and someone to share it with, you're golden.