Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Life Is

After getting about two hours of sleep last night, I finally talked with my sister this morning.

Dad is still holding on by a thread. Debbie said that after hanging up with me, she and the family would be talking with the doctor about which life saving measures (if any) they want to keep in place. Tough decisions for all.

In a couple hours, we'll be headed out to our two Very Important Appointments on the coast. And then at some point next week, there will no doubt be a long drive to Wisconsin, a funeral, a college farewell to Nathan and the celebration of Sarah's 14th birthday.

Isn't that just what life is, though? It is celebrations, sorrows, joys, tears, saying good bye to the old parts of life and saying hello to the constantly evolving new chapters that are being written every moment.

At this very moment, Dad is in the process of saying both good-bye (to us) and hello (to heaven). He is truly living out what life is.

The Last Stages of Good-Bye

The phone rang at 11:45 pm.

Steve was sleeping soundly and I was kind of drifting in and out of slumber. However, it didn't take but a second for me to come fully awake.

Just as I expected, the call was from the hospital. However, it wasn't a call saying that dad was gone. It was my sister, Debbie, calling so say that Dad wanted to talk to us.

I heard Dad's voice come on the line and I realized he was crying. He said, "Honey, I miss you so much. You've been such a treasure to me and I want you to know that I'm proud of you."

And the last thing he said to me was, "We'll all be together again."

His voice was very weak and I could hear the rattle in his chest but I could still understand clearly what he was saying.

While I was talking with Dad, Steve went to get Nathan and Sarah. Dad told Sarah, "You have taught me how to have a servant's heart and how to have a giving heart."

He said to Nathan, "No matter what you decide to do, the sky will be the limit for you."

When Steve got on the phone, Dad thanked him for being willing to preach his funeral and then he told Steve that he knew that God had chosen him especially to be my husband and take such good care of me."

He ended his conversation with each of us by saying, "I love you."

Finally he said that he had to get back on his oxygen and we hung up.

By that point, Sarah and I were in tears. She came and stood by the bed and held my hand and we cried together. Nathan went over to Steve's side of the bed and we all held hands and prayed for Dad, for Mom, and for all of us left behind.

After we were finished, Nathan laid down at the foot of the bed and we all started talking through the tears and telling stories about dad. Steve got it rolling by saying (pertaining to the late night call), "Well, Becky, your dad always has been a night owl."

And I said, "Yeah. And Mom has always been a morning owl."

Both kids giggled and told me there was no such thing as a "morning owl."

And suddenly our tears had turned into laughter and the pain of the pending loss was eased just a little as we continued to laugh and talk and cry together.

Since that phone call came, I haven't been able to get back to sleep. (It's about 2 am.) A few minutes ago, I was just sitting here and thinking back to a conversation I had with Debbie earlier in the evening. She was saying how wonderful our brother, Phil, had been with Dad all day. She said he just sat by his bed for long periods of time, rubbing his shoulders, patting his arm and talking to him.

She painted such a poignant picture that I could just see the two of them together there in that hospital room, a father and a son in the last stages of good-bye.

But I know deep down it's not really good-bye. As Dad reminded me, "We'll all be together again."

Friday, August 14, 2009

And Yet Another Change of Plans

A few things have changed since my last post. (And by the way, thank you so much for your sweet words of encouragement in the comments section; you all are so special to me!)

I just talked with my sister, Debbie, who is at the hospital with my mom and dad, along with some of my other siblings, in-laws and nephews; there are also a couple more family members en route. The whole crew is going to be staying overnight in the hospital waiting room.

I have another brother who is on vacation with his family several hundred miles from the hospital, in addition to another "unofficially adopted" brother in FL; they have both decided to wait until dad's actual passing to make the trip home.

After hearing about their decisions, Steve and I got to talking and realized that the chances of me getting there before Dad dies are pretty small. And even if he were still alive when I got there, he's been in and out of consciousness a lot and barely coherent so most likely he wouldn't even know I was there.

I did get to talk with him on the phone a couple days ago and we ended the conversation by saying that we loved each other. I guess those are the best "last words" I could ever hope to have with my dad. (There are tears streaming down my face as I write this.) And so I am at peace with the knowledge that I have said my good-byes.

What's really amazing to me is that a couple months ago, before dad's health took such a dramatic turn for the worst, I dreamed three times in one week that he had died. I know that God was preparing me for what was to come.

Tonight we'll keep the phone by the bed because we know the news could come any minute.

As it stands now, I've decided to ahead with the trip to the coast and then we'll just take it an hour at a time from there. The four of us will probably drive up north for the funeral since flying would be quite expensive. As I said, we'll just take it a little bit a time.

I'm headed to bed right now. It's hard for me to grasp that this could be the last night I'll go to sleep while my Dad is still a part of this world. And yet how happy I will be when his fragile, weary body is once again strong and healthy in the other wonderful World that's waiting for him.

Very, very soon, he's going to be one happy man!

I'll close with a part of a song I wrote:

Heaven's calling you today
So go ahead, go fly away
Leave behind your pain, oh leave behind your tears
It's time to dance, it's time to sing
And rise on resurrection wings
Though we cry for you, we'd never hold you here
When heaven's calling

Emergency Change of Plans

It looks like I won't be going to the coast to those two churches after all.

Steve and Sarah will head out there tomorrow but the way it looks right now, I will be flying out very early in the morning to Wisconsin to be with my family.

It appears that my dad doesn't have many hours (or days) left to live. He's gone up and down all day and just in the last few minutes went into respiratory arrest. He was able to be revived but things aren't looking good.

And so I'll be going. With tears. And love.

He has asked
Steve and my brother-in-law, Randy, to preach his funeral.

Thank you for your prayers.

The Laughter Won Out

My family arrived safely back home last night. Hurray!

Steve had called me earlier in the afternoon and said they could just go ahead and eat something on the road since they'd be getting home later than our usual dinner time.

However, it occurred to me that we will only have two more family meals together before Nathan leaves for school and I was loathe to give up even one of those meals.

So I said blithely, "Oh no, I'll just cook something and we can eat whenever you get here."

Unfortunately, when I said those words I had forgotten that I hadn't been to the grocery store in over a week and that my stash of ingredients for any sort of meal was dismally low. And so I scrimped and substituted ingredients and put into play some cooking creativity and finally managed to come up with a chicken pot pie. I figured that the pot pie would provide the bread, meat and veggies all in one dish and I could add a fruit salad and we'd be all set.

I usually use some canned and some fresh fruit when I make a fruit salad because buying several kinds of fresh fruit can be a bit expensive. But alas, all I had in the house was a can of peaches and a can of mandarin oranges. Can you see the problem there? TWO fruits of the same color! How unattractive is that?

I am very color conscious when I cook and am always adding paprika or parsley or some sort of little garnish to make food look nice. It just really offended every cooking sensibility I have to put out a fruit salad containing two fruits of the same color. Ick.

See? Don't you feel totally uninspired right now?

"Oh well," I said to myself. "It's the time together as a family that counts, not the color of the fruit." (Hey! I could print up t-shirts with that slogan.)

We had a wonderful reunion when they got home; Snowy was leaping and barking and running in happy doggie circles as soon as he heard the voices in the garage. I could just picture what he was thinking. "Hurray! I'm being delivered from the company of The Boring Woman!"

They started unloading stuff as I finished up dinner preparations. I got the fruit salad out of the fridge, took another sad and mournful glance at its monochromatic state and heaved a silent sigh. I thought, "Oh, if I only had some red grapes, or some bananas for a little bit of variety."

About that time I glanced over at the counter on the other side of the kitchen where Steve had put some bags from the trip. Looking into the first bag I saw a wondrous sight! Steve's mom had sent a few food items along and guess what two of those items were? Red grapes and bananas!

I just about did a Happy Grape and Banana Jig, right there in the kitchen.

Doesn't this look so much more appealing?

After we ate our chicken pot pie and multi-colored fruit salad, we talked and got caught up after our six day separation. And then (hurray!) it was time for dessert. Chocolate dessert!

Nathan was very pleased to see his very own personal portion of mousse and thought that he would add some whipped cream. Look at the intensity of his posture, the seriousness of his demeanor and the manic look in his eyes. This is very important work.

After he had added an impressive tower of whipped cream to his bowl, he got a sudden mischievous glint in his eye and proceeded to do this.

I was immediately torn between the desire to laugh hysterically and the desire to say something motherly like, "Nathan! That is NOT polite dinner time behavior! Put that can down right now!"

Just so you know?

The laughter won out.

I'm going to miss him.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Love Being Boring

Tonight will be special.

Tonight I will see the rest of my family for the first time in six days!

As I mentioned earlier, the three of them took off for Charlotte last Saturday so that Steve could preach at a nearby church and he and Nathan could do some painting for Steve's dad. Sarah went along so she could hang out with her grandparents and see her friend, Victoria.

And I stayed home because we all know how much I love my occasional bouts of solitude.

Well, as it turned out, the painting job took longer than expected and they ended up staying longer than they had planned. Which means I have been "home alone" for six days.

Some of you may find this hard to believe, but except for one 30-minute outing to the chiropractor, I have not left the house in six days! Which for me is the next best thing to being in heaven.

And what's even better is that on a couple of those days, it rained. I truly believe that a rainy, solitary day is about as good as it gets.

Snowy, on the other hand, does not love the quiet life as much as I do. I honestly think that he believes I am the world's most boring woman and he is fervently praying in fluffy doggie fashion that his other family members will soon return to our quiescent abode and liven things up a bit.

I admit it. I am boring. I am beyond boring. I am more boring than the definition of the word boring. I am even more boring than the most boring person who has ever personified the word boring has ever even thought about being.

But I love being boring.

I am perfectly happy spending hours and hours alone, doing nothing but reading, napping, watching DVD's, writing on the computer, playing the piano, eating chocolate, puttering around doing little cleaning projects, and watching rain fall.

Can you hear Snowy sighing? Can you see him rolling his eyes? And can you hear him thinking, "BOR-ing?"

In a couple hours though, the house will be filled up once again with Smith noise, which is the best and happiest kind of noise there is. And Snowy will leap from one Smithite to another, jumping in circles, barking, and even smiling, if such a thing is humanly doggedly possible.

And in one snap of one finger, life will suddenly get busy again.

Nathan will be go into work this weekend while Steve, Sarah and I head to the coast for three days. Then a few days after we get back, Nathan will leave for college (sniff, sob, weep), Sarah will have her 14th birthday (hurray!) and I'll start home schooling my sweet and funny cancer survivor.

And after that, who knows? Eventually, we'll be throwing a move to a new town into the mix and then life will get very busy, indeed.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the last few hours of my solitudinous week and being exceptionally happy that Snowy's non-exciting existence will soon be enriched by non-boring people.

And regardless of how busy life becomes, I will always say, "I love being boring."


On another subject, I've been on the phone with several siblings over the past few days and have shed some tears as we make difficult decisions about dad's situation. Thanks so much for your words of concern and continued prayers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Church Interviews And Other Smithellany

In an earlier post I mentioned that Steve was scheduled for an interview next Monday night at a church near the coast. And I was good with that. Just Steve being interviewed, I mean.

I get nervous at the very thought of being part of an initial Pulpit Committee interview and so I was extremely and incredibly happy that Steve would be going by himself while I stayed behind to iron (or is it press?) clothes and do other non-stressful tasks. (Like hemming pants backwards.)

However, since I last wrote about the interview, the invitation has now been expanded to include his wife.

That would be, um, me.

Actually, as it turns out, I was going to be in the area anyway since Steve is preaching (and I'm singing) at another nearby city on the coast this Sunday morning. So it makes perfect sense for me to go with him on Monday night.

I guess.

Although I'd rather be ironing.

Because ironing doesn't make me nervous. Ironing doesn't bring with it any long term ramifications for my future home, my future friends, my future city, my future church, or my future job.

ALL of those things will hang in the balance on Monday night.

It's just a wee bit nerve wracking. Not to mention nerve

Sarah will also be coming with us to the interview since she'll already be along for the Sunday service. (Nate is staying at home because he has to work.) Naturally, she won't be in the interview itself--although she would definitely charm their socks off. She'll just meet everyone and then hole up in a Sunday school room to read or listen to her iPod. Since Sunday school rooms are second homes for pastor's kids, she will be quite happy there.

The fun part of the weekend is that we only have responsibilites Sunday morning and Monday night; the rest of the time, we can just hang out and do touristy things. We weren't able to take a vacation this summer so at least we can squeeze some vacation type activities into those couple of days. I may even break out ye olde bathing suit and splash in the ocean. (Probably frightening all the little sea creatures who will scurry worriedly away in my wake.)

The church is putting us up in a lovely hotel and giving us a certificate to a great restaurant so that will be fun to get to act like fancy schmancy tourists for a few hours. Actually, I'm not quite sure what fancy schmancy tourists act like but I'm sure I can figure it out.

On another subject, I'd like to thank everyone who dropped by the comments section and weighed in on the subject of pressing vs. ironing. Andrea actually looked it up for us and shared an official definition.

"Pressing is a sewing term. When you iron, you move the iron back and forth. Pressing is when you set the iron down on the cloth and quickly lift it back up. According to the website, ironing can stretch the fabric and change the way it lies. That can affect the way a garment looks when it's put together."

Who knew?

Thanks, Andrea, for the info. And thanks to everyone who contributed a comment; it's always great fun and quite enlightening to read what you have to say.

And speaking of the comments section, here's another comment on a more serious note. Sheri Holthe wrote:

My family has been trying to sell our house now for almost a year with no offers even being made. I am starting to question if God wants us to move? Is He making it clear to us that we are right where He wants us? The only reason we are moving is because it would put us on the right track for getting out of debt (we are in serious debt).

My husband & I both thought that God would want us out of debt but it just doesn't seem to be happening. Do you ever question if God's plan and your plan are the same and how do we know? I just thought I would throw it out there since you are in the same house selling boat we are in.

That's a great question.

I don't think there's one person alive who has not, at some point, wondered whether he or she was doing the right thing or going in the right direction, especially when things took longer than expected to come together.

Steve and I were talking about that very thing on one of our recent walks and he referred to scenarios like that as being similar to a chess game. In chess, you may have a long term plan in mind, but you can't put it into effect until certain other pieces are moved into place.

Steve commented that in our particular situation, maybe God was still moving the pieces around the board (so to speak) and everything just wasn't in place yet for the final plan to be revealed and put into effect.

As I said in an earlier post, we're looking at our situations through a knothole in a fence while God is seeing them from the equivalent of the Goodyear blimp. He can see ALL the moves necessary to bring about His will and His plan while we only see a very limited picture.

The Bible says that our ways are not His ways; by inference, our timetable is not always His timetable. For people like our family, and Sharon's family--I'm grateful that He sees the big picture, the whole picture, and He is very much in control

Let me close by saying thank you to those of you who have been praying for my dad. After going through two difficult surgeries in less than two months (in addition to having three teeth extracted) he has had a hard time bouncing back and has been in and out of the hospital for ten weeks.

Yesterday, he seemed to be in a little less pain and had a bit of an appetite for the first time in a long time so he was discharged to a nursing home that offered skilled nursing care.

However, my sister just called a minute ago and said that last night he was in such extreme pain again that he was taken back to the hospital by ambulance. From what I can tell, there may be another surgery coming.

It's been a very stressful time for my mom; she's had a seizure disorder for many years (she also has a Pacemaker) and stress is one of the things that triggers seizures. They've been married for fifty-three years and have stood with each other through the worst kinds of storms and the best kinds of joys. It's hard not being there with them in the midst of these present difficulties.

For those of you who have been praying, it might be nice for you to be able to put a name with a face so here are a few Grandpa Campbell pictures.

Nathan "helping" my dad unload musical eqiupment back in the olden days.

A few years later . . .

A few more years later.

May your day be filled with summertime happiness!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sadly Lacking in Certain Skills

I was in a thrift store recently and overheard two older ladies talking.

One of them said to her friend, "Your clothes always hang so nicely on you. You iron everything you wear, don't you?"

Her friend said, "No, I don't iron my clothes, I press them. And there is a big difference."

And I said to my ignorant, little ol' self, "There is?"

If anyone out there in Smithellaneous Land knows the difference between pressing and ironing, I would sure like to hear it.

Also, I'm curious to know how many people even iron (or press) their clothes these days. I might occasionally spend ten minutes ironing a few things for the week ahead, but I sure don't do it very much.

I've even heard of people ironing sheets and underwear and while I admire their dedicated diligence to freedom from wrinkles, I am in no danger of starting that practice anytime soon! I'm fortunate to even get Steve's dress shirts ironed when he preaches.

And how about mending? Does anyone mend anymore? I don't mean like darning socks (and I've never understood exactly how one even darns a sock) but sewing on buttons and hemming pants.

I did sew a button on Steve's shorts last week and felt very much like Ma Ingalls (from Little House on the Prairie) as I did it. Unfortunately, I had to call Sarah in to thread the needle for me, since the needle holes seem to have gotten a whole lot smaller in the past few years.

I remember one particular hemming job I did a few months ago on a pair of khaki pants I got from Goodwill. I thought I would be really smart and iron the hem first so that it would be easier to keep the hemming line straight.

After ironing (or was it pressing?) the pants, I diligently hemmed (and hawed) for at least half an hour. (Mrs. Speedy, I ain't.) When I finally finished and proudly held the pants up so that I could view my splendid work, I saw something very sad.

Something pitiful. Something disheartening.

I saw that I had hemmed the pants with the folded-up material facing OUT!

On BOTH legs!

How in the world does one manage to hem pants backwards?

And then why in the world would a person who had done such a foolish thing write about it on her blog so that other women could be delightfully appalled by her goofiness?

Good question.

Maybe it's because confession is good for the soul.

And so I hereby confess that I don't know the difference between pressing and ironing, I don't iron (or press) underwear and I hemmed a pair of pants the wrong direction.

Is there any hope for me? Any hope at all?

Don't answer that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lessons Learned In Limbo

Long ago I came to the conclusion that the grocery store is not one of my favorite places. I usually try to get in, get the stuff, get in the car, get home, and get on with the rest of my life. Because who has time to meander meditatively through the dairy department when your to-do list is five times longer than your grocery list?

But during this transitional, limbo-esque period of life, my grocery store trips have now become 43.6% less frantic than they were before. (Don't you just love statistics that are pulled right out of thin air?)

They have become less frantic mainly because I've been making some changes to my Grocery Store Behavior. I've started to stroll instead of sprint. I have taken the time to stop and peruse new foods that I never noticed before. I have even caught myself humming (yes, humming!) as I shopped.

I've also become a sort of "stealth shopper," trying to train myself to be aware of people that I can stealthily be a blessing to.

There are a lot of elderly people at grocery stores and with some of them, I get the feeling that their grocery store outing is one of the highlights of their week. I see the look of loneliness on their countenances and when they catch my eye I feel like they are silently asking, "Do you see me? Will you speak to me?"

And when a little wrinkled and beautiful lady asks me, "Dearie, can you reach the Raisin Bran on the top shelf?" I think she might really be asking, "Do you have an extra moment just to notice me?"

In this new challenge to myself to really see the people around me, I take the time to not only reach the cereal for her but to also stand still for a minute and talk about the price of eggs. Or the hot weather. Or whatever. The words aren't important. The fact that someone is taking the time to say the words, is.

Another aspect of my stealthy commitment to be a grocery store blessing takes place at the check out area. If I have a whole cart load of things and the person behind me has just four or five things I'll say, "Would you like to go in front of me?"

It is almost comical to see the range of reactions that cross their face.

First, I see shock. Then disbelief. Then surprise. Then finally, acceptance.

They say, "Really? You really mean it?"

Like I have just offered to buy them their own island, write them a check for a million dollars, and send them to the French Riviera for a month.

I wave a languid hand in their direction and say, "Yes, go on. I'm in no hurry."

They scuttle on in front of me and the whole time they're being checked out, they keep on casting anxious looks back at me, as I though I might suddenly change my mind and leap suddenly upon them, snatching their groceries away and shoving them to the back of the line where I will then call store security and have them arrested for cutting into line.

When their things are all checked out and they're reaching for their bag, they cast one last tremulous glance in my direction and say, "Thanks again, very much!" (Like they're still afraid I might change my mind.)

And I just have to laugh to myself because these are such small things to do! Grab a box of cereal for a person and take thirty extra seconds to chat. Let a person get ahead of you in line who is obviously hurried and hassled. No biggie!

I think that busyness is a disease with many symptoms, one of which is blindness. Busyness makes us blind to small things along the way, small acts of kindness in the grocery store, small ways of reaching out and making big differences to people who are carrying all sorts of unnameable, unspeakable burdens.

And believe me when I say that I am not writing these words so that I can preach at you. I am writing these words so that I can preach at me. I just happen to have a Masters Degree in the Art of Busyness. I have blown by so many people in my life it's not even funny. I have stood in line with my mountain of groceries and made a very deliberate point to not notice the person behind me with just three cans of soup.

Because if I let them go ahead of me, I might put myself behind schedule by two whole minutes! Two minutes, I tell you! How could this universe possibly continue to exist if I were to be delayed by two minutes?

I know that in a matter of time, I will be back to my "real life," back to all the hectic happenings that fill up the days and nights of a pastor's wife. But my hope is that I won't forget these lessons I learned in limbo, lessons I learned during this time when things weren't quite as frantic as usual.

And you know what? I believe that the day will come when I will be the person standing in line with three cans of soup and some munificent person in front of me with a mountain of groceries will say to me, "Would you like to go first?"

What goes around comes around.

That's just one of the lessons I learned in limbo.