Sing for the joy that's found in setting up the pins and knocking them down

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacred Schedules and Earthly Eyes

Today is surgery day--bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  I'm up early because the blowing wind outside was keeping me awake and it also gave me opportunity to squeeze in one last cup of coffee before my 8 hour pre-op window closes.  I can honestly say that I'm not even very anxious about today.  The bag is packed, I've got the kids taken care of, my sister-in-law arrived last night to be my driver and overnight nurse at the hospital, my brother (who just happens to do mastectomies as part of his daily work) is driving to meet us at the hospital and care for me once I'm home.  Everything is in place from a practical stance.

Eric should be here.  He really should be.  He sat beside me when we put these plans into motion and he really should be here to see this through.  But he's not and as Christians we throw out phrases like God's perfect plan, perfect timing, all in His control, and on and on. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't just a little frustrated with God's timing.  The straw that is weighing heavy on the camel's back is that at this moment my father is in a hospital bed four hours away from me while my mother dozes in an uncomfortable recliner at his side.  He's fighting his own horrible battle with cancer and his prognosis is not nearly as glamorous as mine.  I want to be there, they want to be here.  We ache and pray for each other and say through tear-filled eyes, "thy will be done on earth..."

I remember a sermon on this type of topic and the pastor used this phrase repeatedly in reference to God's ways, "I wouldn't have done it that way..."  These questionable story lines have always been a part of my life.  I wouldn't have given a great man a bad heart.  I wouldn't have put a truck in the intersection when that dear girl rode her bike across the road.  I wouldn't have given that couple a sweet baby just to take it away.  I wouldn't have taken that husband while his wife battled cancer.  There are so many things I would do differently through my early point of view.  The pastor's point was not to condemn God's ways, but to show that they are higher than ours.  What we see dimly, he sees with complete clarity for all times past, present and future.  Even though I believe it enough to base my whole life on his plan for me, it doesn't make it easy some days.

There's a song that I loved when the kids were little call "Parade" by Go Fish.  I still think of the chorus and sing it in my head on mornings like this:

You see the whole parade 
From the beginning to the end
You know the route that my life will take
You know exactly where I've been
Cause while I only see what's goin' by in front of me
You see the whole parade.

So today, I'll keep walking in this parade, one step at a time, believing that someone with a better plan and a better view than me has laid out the whole route of my life for my good and the good of His people.  I know those are just nice Christian words, but I either believe them or I throw in the towel and take my place on the curb.  I'm choosing to keep walking and to believe.

Isaiah 55:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Going Public

WCCO came out and filmed me at my work about 6 weeks ago.  The story was about how cold capping can help cancer patients keep their hair through chemo treatment.

I've attached a link to the segment, but honestly I can hardly watch it.  Of course there are the natural things--I wish I had lost 20 or 30 lbs before they filmed me, I wish I could have cut, colored and styled my hair (all forbidden when you're cold capping) and do I always shrug my shoulder like that when I'm talking???  There are plenty of things that only I see when I watch it--I see someone who wishes they spent more time in intentional prayer, not just a fall-back plan when sleep escapes you at 4:00 in the morning.  I see someone who worries about the effects of all of this on her children and wishes they were more open about how they're feeling.  I also see a woman who more than any thing would like to go back to being 10, riding her Shetland pony and getting called into the house to sit down to a warm meal surrounded by family.  It's hard to stomach that woman's life--it's hard to accept that it's the story of my life.

So why did I do it?  Primarily, I wanted to get the word out there about cold cap therapy.  I've talked to so many women who admitted that losing their hair was far more traumatic than what they had anticipated.  I'll admit something to you.  I was terrified of cold capping--far more nervous about it than the chemo itself.  I wanted people to know that it was tolerable and my result was fantastic.  I also wanted to publicly acknowledge my amazing co-workers who have been right beside me through this whole process.  My home is forever changed by Eric's absence but at work I can get lost in meetings, emails and phone calls.  All things that keep me moving forward and help me adjust to the new path my life has taken.

Marc, who was also interviewed for the story and whose wife has become a dear and admired friend, is one of two people that I mainly work for.  The other is the CEO of the company.  Our CEO was the first person I told about my cancer.  I received the call at work and I knew that this news would greatly impact my work life.  I walked straight into his office and told him.  He embraced me, I shed some tears and he said, "I know I can be pretty demanding but when the chips are down, I'm the guy you want in your corner.  You're like family to me and I've got your back."  He has never failed on those promises.  I honestly cannot say enough good about all the wonderful praying, laughing co-workers that I'm blessed with.

So here's another piece of my cancer story.  Cold capping was a choice that I feared was based in vanity, but in hind-sight gave me back the ability to at least fake a little normal in my life.  Please feel free to contact me for any additional info around this very "cool" option for keeping your lovely locks when you're fighting something ugly like cancer.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Emergency Rooms

Sunday was often an emergency room day.  This morning as I lay in bed wondering what our day holds, I remembered that.  We would have been busy on Saturday--running errands, driving kids, working in the yard.  Somewhere during those mundane, life-filled hours his heart would have slipped out of rhythm.  We would assess the situation and decide that Sunday morning was as convenient as any time to right the situation.  We'd tell the kids the night before that we were making an early morning trip to the ER and hopefully we'd be home by lunch and then depending on how Eric was feeling we could be at church by 4:00.  The emergency room was always less appealing than the heart hospital on Monday, but that would mean that someone else would have to get the kids home from school and I would either miss work entirely or be the uncaring wife who had sent her husband into the hospital alone, only to pick him up after work hours--I had played both roles so many times that both of us had lost count.  Emergency Room Sundays gave us time together to fix a problem, without creating additional ones.

We usually got up around 7:00 so we could make the 17 mile trip.  We figured this timing sandwiched us between the Saturday night crowd and the Sunday morning snow shovelers, runners and falling elderly.  Depending on the weather and time of year, we'd make predictions during our drive on how many rooms would be ahead of us.  There's always the drunk in room one, sleeping it off.  The elderly lady with chest pain in room two and someone probably just looking for pain meds in room three.  I would drop him off at the door so that he wouldn't have to walk the steep incline from the parking lot and by the time I made my way in he was usually safely behind the glass getting his vitals taken by the nurse.  I'd glance over the waiting room to see what we had for competition.  Full waiting room means full emergency room.

We'd quickly establish that we had been through this drill far too many times and that we weren't some crazies who had been using some online search engine to figure out if we were really sick.  As we walked back to room 15--our room--we'd glance at the rooms we passed making mental checks of which predictions were correct or incorrect regarding our fellow emergency room clients.

As we waited for our "staff" we'd say a little prayer that the nurse would have a personality and that the doctor wouldn't be young.  Young doctors have to do everything by the book--they can't help it.  Older doctors--or better yet, ones we've seen before--make this whole process faster and less painful.  The nurse would come in--with or without a personality--and take Eric's vitals, ask it he was having any pain, shortness of breath, yada, yada, yada.  They'd ask him to repeat his name and birthday a couple of times, which he'd always follow by rattling off his patient ID number which would impress them like nothing else.  They'd laugh and realize that we would be the easy room to deal with and that we had run this drill before.

Alone in the room, we'd talk about every day things mostly--what was up for the week, if there was someone who could cover for Eric's Sunday school class, if a prescription needed to be picked up.  When the conversation would lull, he would look at me and say, "I'm so sorry to put you through this."  It seemed such a silly thing to say, but I'm certain he said it every time.  I would shrug my shoulders and assure him that he wasn't alone, we were in this thing together and that I was okay and I was married to the bravest person I would ever know.

There are two visits that mostly stand out in my mind and I document them mostly so that they don't slip away from me as so many things do these days.  The first was years back, one of our early Sunday runs when these ER visits seemed more serious and less routine.  I looked at him and said, "I know you must be weary of this."  He assured me that he was just fine and things would be back to normal soon.  I told him through tears, "If you can go, then go.  I won't blame you for leaving all of this behind for what's waiting for you. Who's to know if you're ever given the choice, but if you are, know that we'll be fine and we'll be there soon."   I'm sure that he thought I was just being dramatic, but in that moment and even today it was important for me to let him know that he didn't have to continue to struggle for us, that he had some silly permission from me to pass from this life to the next.  I needed him to know that I could continue without him if that were my only choice and that I loved him enough to not want to see him struggle in his earthly body any longer than he had to.

The second was the Sunday after I was diagnosed.  As he was being attended to by various medical personnel, we made eye contact and he saw that my eyes were filling with tears.  I was overcome with the notion that the two us would be switching places.  That I would be the one in the bed, being attended by nurses and doctors and that he'd be sitting in my chair.  In my head I remember thinking, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this."  I didn't know how I was going to play the role of patient and I was even more concerned about him playing both roles.  My cancer would, Lord willing, be gone some day, but he would always carry his heart.  He smiled in a way that wordlessly understood all the sadness I held inside and said, "Why don't you take a walk, I'm in good hands."  I quickly exited and made my way through the maze of hospital halls that had became all too familiar to me.  I found myself in the elevators in the Piper Building which leads to the offices of the Virginia Piper Breast Center--where I would find myself for appointments over the next days.  As I stepped off the elevator I stood face to face with the entrance to the office.  It was quiet, doors closed, a soft glow back-lighting the row of three delicate tea cups that decorated the ledge above the office name.  It was beautiful, tastefully decorated, inviting under any other circumstances.  The crippling part was that this beautiful office was going to be the ugly scene of the reality of my life.  I traced the elegant lettering on the cold, glass door.  Without warning, a sob worked its way out and I quickly retreated to a nearby bathroom.  As I slumped to the floor I wept all the tears that I had bravely held in for the last couple of days.  I cried for our life that had been forever changed, I cried for my husband sitting in an ER bed, I cried for my kids getting their own breakfast at home, I cried for the future which terrified me, I cried for the unfairness of it all.  I wanted to bargain with God--get me through this, give me healing, heal my husband's heart, spare my children all of this...but I all I could pray in that quiet bathroom stall was "help".  It's all that would come out and it seemed the only word to utter at that moment.  Some days it's still my prayer of choice.

So on this sunny Sunday morning, I have to smile at the strange fact that today I woke up wishing I could make one more Sunday Emergency Room run.  They were sweet days where the world stood still for a few hours and we got to love each other in sickness and in health.  In those heavy moments we had conversations that erased hard words and wiped away future regrets.  They were snippets of time where we were allowed to find sabbath rest in the love that God intended for us to enjoy not only on his holy day, but each and every day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Manageable Grief

I cry a little every day whether I want to or not.  Usually the tears come on their own, but if they don't, I sit down and figure out how to make it happen--maybe some pictures, listening to an old voice mail, breathing his shirts in deeply, reaching to the cool side of the bed, there are a thousand things that bring tears these days.  It's my plan to stay ahead of it.  I know it's probably a useless exercise, but it's my way of taking manageable bites out of my giant sized grief.

This plan probably fits my personality.  I would like to think that I'm the type of person that would love a huge surprise party, but I'm not.  I would wonder how in the world I had missed the signs that something was being planned for me.  For me, I also enjoy the anticipation of something.  For me the planning is an important part of the whole thing.  I think that's how I felt about Eric's death before it happened.  I didn't want it to catch me off guard.  We would live an event and then I would replay it in my mind without him--not everything we did, but certainly many things.  It became a way of life.  We would do a family Christmas, I would take maybe a minute to think about the whole thing without him, make a note that I could probably survive that and then I'd move on and the thought was gone.  This mental game was usual wrapped up with the thought, "I could do it if I had to it.  It wouldn't kill me." When I admitted it to Eric he would say it was a little morbid and no doubt it definitely was.  He warned against those thoughts ruining the joy of our present life and I assured him that it really didn't.  In a strange way it probably made me very thankful that he was there in that moment and I didn't have to do things without him.

What I couldn't anticipate was the emptiness that would go along with doing these routine or sometimes wonderful things without him.  We laugh, keep it together, fool the untrained eye, but inside we all feel a little fake.  He was our compass.  We took more direction from him than I would have ever imagined.  Being able to imagine this emptiness would have crippled me, stolen my joy.  I'm thankful for those limits to my imagination over the years. 

I shed my tear today when I signed paperwork at the dentist.  There his name was, on the line right above where the well-meaning hygienist asked me to sign.  He would have never known that there was anything more than routine to him signing a silly dental consent form.  But today, it caught me off guard and gave me a perfect opportunity for a manageable bite of grief. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

For the love of death poetry...

In Bart's funeral homily he made mention of Eric's love for poems about death.  Any of our children will tell you that he had several of them memorized and recited them often to us.  This was probably his very favorite, or at least it was the one that we heard most often.  As I've read it after his passing, I understand why it was his favorite and now is mine.  It was how he lived and how he faced the hard things that came his way.  I think we have a new appreciation for these words as we face our future.

How Did You Die?
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there – that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;
It’s how did you fight and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t that fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
-Edmund Vance Cooke

Scout Eulogy - Written and Read by Sam Fredrickson

Our Scoutmaster Died Last Week… But He Was Prepared

Eric Rynders, our scoutmaster, died on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. Eric defined the scout motto, “Be Prepared” or, as he liked to say it, “Semper Paratus.” Eric taught us all that being prepared was not about the gear, the gadgets or the stuff.  Instead, being prepared is a state of mind. It’s being able to take whatever is around, including your own intellect and the camaraderie of others, to solve the problem at hand.

Eric had a congenital heart defect that he learned about when he was 15. Because of this he had a pacemaker and an internal defibrillator. This changed the way he lived. He had to limit his physical activity, his stress level and how he ate. Eric didn’t treat these as setbacks. In fact, I would argue it augmented his contribution to the troop. When it came time to comfort homesick scouts at camp, Eric was our guy. 

When it came to teaching critical thinking, Eric was our guy. When adult patience was at a minimum, Eric kept us all focused on the reason we were adult leaders – to create fine young men who would inherit our country. Armed with his Dutch oven, charcoal, lengths of rope or his insatiable curiosity of how things worked, he taught many boys, myself included, lessons that will last a lifetime.

Although many of us benefited from Eric being prepared for life, we need to pay even closer attention to how he was prepared for death. Because of his heart condition he lived each day knowing that he might not live to a ripe old age, but also lived each day in preparation for a long life. Eric knew his time on this earth may be limited and this attitude caused him to live fully and love his family dearly, knowing they may grow up without him. Henry, Beatrice and Simon deeply understand that they are among the most cherished kids that ever walked on this earth. Eric had prepared his children.

Likewise, Eric and his wife Dawn knew that life could be fleeting. They had a storybook romance. They knew how to enjoy each other’s company, laugh heartily (the man did have a loud laugh!) and resolve their differences before the sun went down. Theirs was a marriage of grace, love, humor and forgiveness. Eric was prepared with his wife.

Also know that Eric was a devout follower of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Eric knew that his own physical heart would fail him some day, but that his life was redeemed in Christ. He's awaiting hisnew body right now, but meanwhile, his pain is gone and he's in Paradise. Eric was prepared for eternity.

What more of a role model could young men ask for than a man who was prepared for life, prepared for death and prepared for eternity. May we all be as prepared as Mr. Rynders.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Wife's Tribute

This was read during Eric's funeral service by my dear friend, Tess Bademan

I met Eric Rynders during my first year at Dordt College in NW Iowa.  We met in passing and eventually found that we had friends in common and our paths intersected more often.  He loved living in Florida, he loved Coco-Cola, he loved driving fast cars, he loved wearing shoes with no socks and a hundred other things that made him interesting to me.  I also quickly learned that his heart loved the God who made him and that every day he felt the burden of telling others about his faith.  I also found out that his physical heart was broken.  There were medications and cardiologists, scary things for college kids, but Eric took it all in stride as a part of his daily routine.  We were kids, it was easy to focus on the freshness of new love and life was a long road ahead of us filled with endless possibilities. 

I always said to him “I think after college we’ll go our separate ways and somewhere down the road when we haven’t found anyone else, we’ll find eachother and get married.”  Our ways never separated and we soon found ourselves part of a love that would need to travel through life together.  We talked about his heart.  I told him that I loved him enough to be with him for a day, a year or a lifetime if God allowed.  It didn’t matter to me.  Any time was worth something and now I know that no time is ever enough.  We married six months out of college and would have been married 22 years on the 20th of this month.  I have known a deep love and cherishing that all wives would hope to have.

We married, we made plans, we lived freely and innocently with the hope of years and years to live out our plans, our dreams, our convictions.  Having children was always a part of that plan and God blessed us with our three.  Henry, our first born--our first run at figuring out what it was to be parents.  Your father was so very proud of you.  He told me so often, “Henry gets it.  He’s a big picture kid.  People are drawn to him and he’ll do well whatever he does.”  He knew that his health forced you to grow up quickly and that saddened him, but he was so comforted by the man God was forming you into.  It was perfect that you were there helping him in those final moments because you bravely put into action all those things he hoped he was teaching you.   Beatrice, his sweet girl.  He always said that one of his regrets in life was that he wished he had known me since the day I was born.  When you came along looking and acting like a little copy of me he got his wish.  He loved you deeply.  He loved your persistence to learn and conquer new things.  He loved his little girl and struggled to watch you turn into a young woman, but knew you were growing into something amazing.  Simon, our youngest, our comic relief.  You taught all of us to take life a little less seriously when we needed it most.  You have inherited your father’s sense of humor--as well as his ability to change the words of any song into something a little more entertaining.  You reminded him so much of his own little brother—which terrified him a little, but brought him so much happiness.  You were his joy.  Eric loved being a father and to look at the three of you—it was his most successful earthly contribution. 

Eric filled a room when he entered it and he filled our lives to the brim.  He was the bravest man I have ever known.  He faced every trial with a calmness and sense of humor that amazed those who knew him.  His faith was the solid rock that he walked on each and every day.  He taught us to appreciate every day that we are given.  Because of his leadership and example to our family, we must now take those lessons and bravely face the days and years to come.   He was an amazing man and we were blessed to call him best friend, husband and dad.