Friday, April 30, 2010

The Journey Takes a Tour

A tour through the five boroughs of New York City, in fact. Tomorrow I leave for the Big Apple with “buzzin” (beloved cousin) Cara and her husband Aaron. We’ll meet up with “other buzzin” Kirby (Cara’s sister) and her boyfriend Philip. Aaron, Philip and I will do the ride, with about 30,000 other bicycle riders---a 42 mile jaunt through all five boroughs (for you non-New-Yorkers, that’d be Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island). So we’ll be riding through the canyons of Manhattan skyscrapers, the greenery of Central Park, and the neighborhoods and bridges of the other famous boroughs.

This is an official “run to the fire” event in several ways. Dana and I have loved New York City. We have loved our “buzzins.” And we have loved to bike. When we were first married some friends gave us some old bikes. They were 10-speeds, but old. We decided to see if we actually enjoyed biking before we decided to purchase new bikes. Before long, we were true biking enthusiasts. So our first, and perhaps only, high-end purchase as a couple was two Cannondale hybrid bikes (part road, part trail bikes; bikes that came to be affectionately known as “the ‘dales”) ….and they were 21-speed bikes! Soon biking was our outlet: the country roads of Preble County, the flat trails of converted rail lines (Ohio is sorta famous for those, and we have several in our area), the beaches near Seaside, Forida, and sometimes our neighborhood streets in the spring and fall.

Our rides became a staple of our relationship. We would talk. We would laugh. We would process. We would dream. We talked theology. We talked about Pud.

They also accentuated our differences. I liked to see how straight I could ride, thus promoting efficiency. Dane liked to swerve and curve, promoting asymmetry. I liked to avoid trail detritus. Dane loved to crunch, seeking twigs, leaves, etc., to snap under her tires. At times of silence, while we rode past nicely quaffed farm fields, Dane would be thinking about “the love” and I’d be wondering how they got those corn rows so straight. I liked wide open, sun drenched trails. Dane liked riding through the cool tunnels of overhanging trees. We both came to love and embrace each other’s riding philosophy, which was a great picture of our relationship.

Over the last couple of years our rides became a rebellion against all we were facing. “Take THAT chemo” we’d say, as we clicked off a 35-mile ride between Waynesville and Yellow Springs.

And so this Sunday I will be riding on my Cannondale. Aaron or Philip will be riding Dane’s. We’ll be riding in a tour that Dana and I had our eyes on doing together. We’ll be riding in a city Dana and I both loved. I can’t wait to spend time with Cara and Kirby and Aaron and Philip. We’ll remember our sweet Dane. We will laugh. We will cry. I will seek out some twigs to crunch, and will certainly be thinking about “the love.”

I will run to the fire. Or in this case, ride.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lilac Day

Today was lilac day.

I’ve been watching them bud in our backyard. And I’ve been wondering: when will I try to smell a lilac? Lilacs have had a special place with Dane and me, and it’s been a deeply embedded fearful question through our entire cancer journey: What will I do if I ever have to smell a lilac without Dane?

First some back story. For me, I was first introduced to lilacs when my childhood pastor, Bro. Haney, gave my folks a lilac bush many, many years ago. As I think about it, not only did Bro. Haney introduce our family to the art of being a lifelong learner of faith (or at least me, the rest of the family may have already been there), he also introduced us (or at least me) to fine woodworking, bird watching, and lilacs. When he gave us the bush, which was years after he had moved on from our church, he said it would take a few years to bloom. Which it did…most of my high school and college years I think. And then it bloomed. And bloomed. And it introduced me to the compelling fragrance of lilac.

For Dana, her lilac roots go back to her elementary school days near Chicago. On a particular day in the spring the school would have “Lilac Day” and all the students would bring lilac branches and blooms from the bushes in their yards (or acquired surreptitiously from public parks). The entire school would smell of lilac—-for days! Those innocent days of elementary school and a fragrance filled school ingratiated Dana to the compelling fragrance of lilac.

And shortly after we were married and settled into Middletown, we found lilac. We were married in March, and by April we found a park (Sunset, for you Middletown friends) that was lined with lilac bushes. We would drive to the park several times a spring to “take a hit” of lilac. And then 10 years ago we moved to a neighborhood within walking distance of that very park. But bonus upon bonus, our house had MANY lilac bushes, which were unbeknownst to us, having bought the house in the leaf-barren days of late fall! Of course, every spring we still made our trek (by foot, by bike, by van) to Sunset park for the “official” sniff of spring. And this included the spring Dane was first diagnosed with breast cancer 10 yeas ago…the spring we moved to within walking distance of the park, in fact.

And so, every spring of our married life we’ve made some sort of pilgrimage to the park. Since breast cancer round one, it was also our one time to declare something along the lines of: “Alive another year to smell the lilacs.” Even when we weren’t in the middle of a breast cancer battle, we knew we faced uncertainty. We didn’t talk about it much. But when we smelled the lilacs, we let ourselves go there.

And so today, I stopped and took my “official” sniff. It wasn’t planned. It was spontaneous. I had already taken some practice sniffs with the bushes in our yard. I had driven past the park on an errand run and noticed the flowers were about three-fourths bloomed. On my return trip I simply said, “What the heck.” I stopped the van and sniffed.

I’ve learned how to cry-drive, cry-ski, cry-golf (sort of), and cry-talk. But you really can’t cry-sniff. You sort of drown when you combine those activities. So I pretty much took a sniff, and just cried. It was a good cry. And a very sad cry.

Had we actually had an opportunity to process life and death the way Dane and Bear processed everything else, I would have asked “What should I do when I smell a lilac?” I had actually been thinking about that question for a long time. But I can see now it wouldn’t have mattered what Dane might have suggested.

There’s no good teaching point or God stamp moment on this story. It simply stands at face value. I will say, it was good to smell the lilac.

Love to all,

P.S. I just noticed a new comment on the blog asking how my Sunday morning talk went at the golf event; the comment made me realize I did leave that one hanging. I think things went pretty well. I feel that, despite myself, I said what I was supposed to say (and despite being distracted by my little travel clock I had put on the podium, forgetting the clock was 10 minutes fast!) and received a good portion of gracious encouragement from the folks who were part of the service. In fact, just today I received a note from Dan, the NCCAA director, thanking me for my words and sharing that God was still moving through the words and experience. As an FYI, Dan noted that he saw two deer in the woods off his deck a couple days earlier, saying that he will never look at deer the same since that talk. Also, his wife Kelly sent me a pix from the event showing over 50 pelicans in “gratitude” formation. I love those two people.

I’m up for letting God use this journey however He’d like to use it, if at all. The golf event was a gracious cocoon to help me get to that point.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

God Stamps Continue

In my last post I talked briefly about the golf event I attended over my and Dana’s anniversary weekend. I wanted to add a little more info and share YET ANOTHER God stamp that occurred that weekend. It wasn’t all just cosmically bad golf.

The organization hosting the event was the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), a great group that provides national affiliations, tournaments and missions trips for small Christian colleges across the country. This event, which I’ve attended three other times over the years, is a fund raiser for the organization. They bring in PGA pro golfers to play with us amateurs. It’s a great group of folks who I have come to love and appreciate over the years. The director Dan and his wife Kelly are walking forces of encouragement. In fact, I had cleared my InWord speaking slate for the spring/summer, but this event bubbled up in recent months and seemed a good thing to do.

My task at the event was to share the message during the Sunday morning worship service. Of course the only subject material that seemed appropriate to share was to talk out of my and Dana’s journey and to relate the wonderful God stamps that He mercifully graced us with along the way.

That seemed like a doable task.

But the Saturday evening prior to my sharing on Sunday, I was hit with the enormity of what I was planning to share. I had stepped out on our fourth floor balcony to collect my thoughts, which went something like this: Other than the Carepages and this blog, I had yet to share publicly (in “speaking form”) about this journey. I realized there on the balcony that, not only had I not spoken about this journey, I had NEVER spoken about something so personal, something so deep. I also realized that I was sharing my take on some very obvious movements from God—the God stamps (the rainbow and the deer). I was overwhelmed with the thought that I was not up for this task. I even felt a wisp of loneliness, I think because I realized that if anything is to be shared from this journey, I am the one who is to share it. Without Dane. It’s OUR journey, but now….

After actually saying out loud the words “I am not up for this task,” I turned and looked at the fountain below—a fountain I had actually “cursed” a bit because its fountain noise kept us from hearing the God-made ocean noise just a few hundred feet away.

And that’s when I something special in the spray of the fountain. You can see it in the picture at the top of this blog. I grabbed my friend Dave’s camera and snapped this picture, using the last remaining space on his memory card.

It gave me some resolve. And I might add, or you might recall, that the Saturday this happened was our anniversary day. Nice touch, God.

If you’re new to this blog and not sure why a rainbow in a fountain would be so significant, you may want to scroll through the blog archives to February and check out the post “Where is God?”

As you can tell, He is SO with us.

Love to all,