Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Heroes

I need to write about two sets of heroes who are playing prominently in my life right now.

The first set, as I type, is on a beach in Maui. They can watch some of the world’s most beautiful sunsets over the world’s biggest ocean from their window. They’ve been there for a few days and they’re just now beginning to notice what’s around them.

Chuck and Sue Bost, my first set of heroes, are on their official decompression trip. It’s a trip they probably didn’t really want to take. It’s the we-don’t-know-how-we’re-doing-it-but-we’re-doing-it trip to Hawaii they’ve promised themselves for the last 10 years. It’s been the teeniest, tiniest, babiest carrot at the end of a big, arduous stick.

But a stick full of love.

In December 2000 Chuck and Sue gave birth to the beautiful Natalie Catherine. But before she would turn one year old, she would be diagnosed with a brain disease (Canavan, a leukodystrophy so rare my speller doesn’t recognize either of those words) that usually claims life before one year. Natalie lived past 10, to April 8, 2011. Chuck and Sue left for their decompression trip eight days later.

Over these 10 years I have had a front row seat to action-packed unconditional love. I watched Chuck and Sue tend to every need. I watched grandparents, the blessed Jim and Billie and the blessed Chuck and Betty, nurture and love. I watched the body of Christ mobilize to form Team Chuck and Sue, a team that took many forms over the decade. I watched the Bost and Harrison family navigate, in inspiring ways, the pain that you have to navigate when you realize that you’re not going to get a textbook child-rearing story.

I watched countless friends, nursery workers, family, Tuesday-group people, and nurses care for Natalie.

And I watched Dana hold Natalie.

And there is my second set of heroes.

I need to be completely honest here. After Dana and I began battling recurrent breast cancer, and we knew the outcome could be iffy, photos like the one at the top of this blog spooked me, be it ever so slightly. Seeing those two framed by the edge of a picture would send me into a little tail spin. I would think to myself that I never wanted to be looking at a picture of those two someday with both of them gone.

And here we are.

And they are heroes. They went yard on any curve ball that was thrown their way. They made the finger-tip, last-second grab in the end zone. They put the rest of us at ease while we tried to make sense of it all. And they’ve taken the brave bold steps to the Other side.

Now that photo at the top of this blog is like a giant picture window into heaven. It is a picture of resurrection. It is a picture of The Resurrection. It’s The Resurrection that tells me, and Chuck, and Sue, and Jim and Billie, and Chuck and Betty, and anybody else who held Natalie or knew Dana that there is more to this life!

Thank God.

And now back to Chuck and Sue. Before they left I wanted to give them a two-week supply of t-shirts that said, “Heroes!”--- T-shirts they could wear every day so that people would inquire of their story and then, of course, ask for their autographs. They really are 9/11-NYC-Firefighter-grade heroes. They are the most famous people on any airplane they’ll be on, any site-seeing excursion they’ll take. I know they plan to visit Pearl Harbor while in Hawaii. Their heroism is on the same scale as those who dove into oily, fiery water to save crewmates on December 7, 1941. The National Parks Department should seat Chuck and Sue behind the little table where they’ll have a couple Pearl Harbor survivors.

When I was at Pearl Harbor myself last December I met four survivors of that attack. Truly, you could gain the same wisdom on sacrifice and bravery from those four men as you could Chuck and Sue and their parents. And funny thing: I’ve heard all of them, battle survivors and care-giver survivors, say, “You just do what you’ve got do.”

It’s the hero’s refrain.

In the story of Chuck and Sue and their families, what they had to do was love. They did that heroically.

And if I might make a feeble attempt at tying it all together: Sue was the person in our Bible study on that September 2006 evening on my and Dana’s chemo eve who said, “tomorrow I’m going to look for a rainbow.” Thus began our first round of God stamps. Natalie was a girl Dane and I sort of adopted as our own, especially since our first round of chemo, which came just before Natalie’s birth, took away our ability to have kids. And on the day of Natalie’s passing I drove through a neighborhood where I, for the first time ever in this neighborhood, saw five deer.

(And here are refreshers on rainbows and deer in our story to help that last paragraph make sense.)

As a side, I think I’m actually starting a new collection: heroes. As I think of everyone mentioned above, I’m also realizing all the other heroic people in my life who have withstood, and are withstanding, near-insurmountable circumstances.

It seems only fitting, especially during this Holy Week, that I close with a reminder that Chuck and I have been shooting back and forth since long before either of us were dealing with Canavans or breast cancer: The Power of Christ’s Resurrection is in You. Which is to say (from Ephesians 1), that same power that God used to raise Jesus is able to be unleashed in our lives: on our hurt, our pain, our anxieties, our frustrations, our directions or lack thereof.

Or in reminder-speak: tpoCriiy

In my inbox this morning was an e-mail from Chuck with a picture of a sunset view from their window. I’ve posted it below. Maybe breathe deep as you look at it and say a pray for Chuck and Sue, and any other heroes you have in your life.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Dana Challenge and A Brave Heart

I thought that today, the day of Final Four March Madness, would be a good day to give a quick update on what I’ve called “The Dana Challenge.” Off the top of my head…

Shrimp salad has been made for friends on the beach. (Beautifully pictured above. Thanks for making and sending the pic Pammy!)
A mascot bracket has been completed for March Madness (and it’s not last in its competition!)
Snow skiing has been attempted FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Ski lessons have been bought for someone.
A puz with cuzz’s was puzzed just becuz.
Donations have been made to a healthcare foundation and a ministry.
Knitting has happened.
Bravery has happened.

And it’s on that last one that I want to comment. This past week I had a conversation with the director of the foundation of the Atrium Medical Center (our local hospital), a great group of folks with whom Dana worked (and loved working with). Mike, the director, said that just recently he was walking down a hallway in the hospital and passed a visitor who is battling cancer. She was carrying a copy of the foundation’s newsletter that contained a tribute to Dana. As she passed Mike she asked, “Didn’t you work with Dana?” Mike warmly responded that he did. And then the visitor said, “Dana taught me how to be brave.”

I can’t type that phrase without crying. And I can’t cry without getting up and walking. And I can’t walk without clenching my fists. And I can’t clench my fists without having some kind of resolve overwhelm me and compel me to say, “Yes! She!…Was!…Brave!” And I can’t re-read those words without clapping. And this is coming from the caregiver husband who saw her at her few “unbravest” moments, moments that would still be at the top of any normal bravery scale.

These days my mind bounces around my and Dana’s life together in no particular order. I go from the dating months to the unrequited love years (that would be MY unrequited love, another story for another time) to the first battle with breast cancer to the college years to the second battle with breast cancer to the first years of marriage to the hospice months. When I land on the second-battle scenes of chemo or the hospice months, it’s Dane’s bravery that emerges as the dominant trait of those scenes.

And I’m not sure what fuels bravery or what it is we see in each other that looks like bravery. Dana and I certainly had our anxious and fearful moments. I think what the visitor in the hospital saw, and what everyone saw who was around Dane in the battling years, was how she insisted on embracing life. Disease robs you of enough as it is, there were certain things that Dane and I were not going to be robbed of. Things like: enjoying people, mountains, the ocean, sunsets, our front porch, knitting, biking, ballroom dancing (yes, we had taken lessons for several years!). And I think bravery, especially in Dana’s case, shows up when you have to overcome obstacles to enjoy what you want to enjoy.

It’s more difficult to enjoy mountains when it’s hard to walk; but we still did. It’s more difficult to knit when your fingers are numb from a side effect, but Dana still did. It’s harder to ski when you are chemo tired, but Dana still did. It’s harder to enjoy dancing when your feet are numb as a side effect, but Dana still did. It’s harder to enjoy an ocean sunset when you’re entertaining thoughts that you won’t see as many as you thought you would. But Dana still did.

We kept embracing life.

In fact, it was in March of 2008 that Dana and I filled out our first online bracket as a couple, a time when we were certainly deep in the slog of the cancer battle. Yet I will never forget how much we laughed that night as we processed how one mascot would beat another. Yes, the slog gave us its challenges, but we NEVER let it rob us of each other.

I think the encouragement that comes from these thoughts is simply this: we all have sources of strength that can build into courage and bravery. Faith, family and friends immediately come to mind. Dana and I have been blessed with the best in all of those areas. And I guess that since we really don’t know when we’ll need to muster up bravery, we should be diligent in keeping those sources up-to-date and nurture them as best we know how. It’s just a thought.

I leave you with a lighter thought, the criteria I’ve been “publishing” as official Dana Mascot Bracketology, and the notes I made from filling out a bracket this year using nothing but mascotology. You will notice that my Buckeye reasoning left me high and dry.

But before I go, we must apply Dana’s mascotology to the Final Four, which begins tonight:
1. First we have a ram (VCU) vs. a bulldog (Butler); wow, that’s a toughee. Since I’m picturing a big horn ram, I’m thinking a bulldog would have a hard time getting around those big horns. Rams it is.
2. Then we have a Husky (UConn) vs. a wildcat (Kentucky). A classic cat vs. dog. Cats always win (a combo of ferocity and Dana’s sentimentality toward cats, even though we are also dog lovers).
3. Which sets up the match between a wildcat and a ram. Even though those rams are tough, cats always win.

So, in humble honor to my Kentucky fans: Go Cats.
Love to all,

Dana’s Mascotolgy:
1. anything with a rebel mascot (as in the South) was always a win;
2. devils/demons were always losers;
3. after a rebel, any kind of cat was a win;
4. real animals trumped cartoon animals (like the Kansas Jayhawk).
5. Birds were usually losers unless it was a bird of prey;
6. in case of a draw regarding criteria, it might come down to school colors (her preference).

Barry’s notes on using Mascotology this year in completing a bracket at the start of the tournament:
• Bulldogs vs. Huskies (the majesty of a Husky won out)
• Wildcat vs. Tiger (my first cat on cat match up, went with the higher seed Wildcat on this one)
• Orangeman vs. a Sycamore (How tough can a man be named after a color? Had to go with the sturdy tree)
• Long Horn vs. a Grizzly (Nice wild west animal match up, but had to go with the Griz, especially with respect to our Montana friends)
• Bearcat vs. Tiger (Again, cat on cat, but went with the local fave, Bearcat)
• Patriot (Bucknel) vs. a Husky (U Conn) (went with the sentimental on the Patriot)
• Temple Owl vs. Penn St. Nittany Lion (Even though the word “Nittany” defangs the lion a good bit, still, it’s a classic cat vs. a bird matchup)
• Jayhawk vs. Terrier (broke the “cartoon” rule here; even a cartoon Jayhawk can take a Terrier; a Terrier??)
• The Eagle takes the Cardinal
• The St. Peter’s Peacocks…really? A peacock? No match for a Boilermaker.
• “The Irish” is so general, but in deference to upcoming St. Pats day, they take a Zip
• Panther (Pitt) vs. Bulldog…cat beats the dog.
• Chanticleer?? What is THAT?? They didn’t make the tourney, but were given a mention in some match up copy (Costal Carolina, for those scoring at home, and it appears to be a bird of prey). Just thought I’d mention.
• Bulldog (Butler) over a Monarch (Old Dominion) every day, although beating a butterfly would be like chasing a knuckleball.
• A Bruin vs. a Spartan is an interesting matchup. Went with the Spartan.
• Almost picked the Gauchos (UC Santa Barbara) just because; and Dana would have said, So their mascot is a pair of pants?”…but they’re up against a Seminole…gotta go with the native.

• Pirate vs. a Volunteer…now THAT’s a toughee…went with the Volunteer…in a nod to TENNESSEE!
• Lion vs. Bear…(Penn St vs. No. Col.)wow, that’s a match up of biblical proportion…went with the cat.
• The Seminole beat the Irish and the Boilermaker
• A Rebel vs. a Seminole (UNLV vs. Fl State) is an interesting match up; but the rebel always wins.
• Had lots of cat on cat…had to go with the bigger cat when I could;
• Had a classic match up of a rebel vs. a big cat…in that case, the cat takes the rebel. [Editor’s note: I actually mistook here and should have picked the rebel]
• Had a Volunteer up against a big cat; almost went with the Volunteer in this case since, I think, he always carries a gun; but, cats win in Dane’s rules.

• Lore has it that half a buckeye is poisonous…and the only species smart enough to know which half is the squirrel. Since there are no squirrel mascots, and all other foes have only a 50-50 chance of choosing the non-poisonous half, the Buckeye takes the tourney.