The Christmas Pizza: Filling up on Joy

Between over-decorating, over-eating and over-spending, the Christmas season can be overwhelming. Add the stress of creating a perfect Christmas dinner and its easy to feel cheerless and exhausted. It doesn’t have to be that way, as I learned the Christmas Neil was in the hospital.

It was only three months after his diagnosis, but deep down we all knew it was his last Christmas. Things weren’t going well with his chemo, his appetite and energy were fading, and the team of doctors on his case bounced him back and forth because no one wanted to face the Christmas elephant in the room. In typical Neil fashion, he was excited about the holiday even in his hospital bed. I had no intention of leaving him alone, so there were no decorations at home other than the few I set up before he went into the hospital. There was no opportunity for shopping except for the gifts I managed to purchase on-line. Wrapping and Christmas cards? Nope. Not even Christmas dinner. Continue reading →

The Ghosts of Summers Past


From the time our children were babies, we vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We rented the same house,  No Egrets in Corolla, year after year. It felt like our own summer house, and in fact, until they were teenagers, our daughters thought we owned it.

We enjoyed visits from relatives who came to relax with us on the beach. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Neil and I sat out on the deck every night and talked about life, shared our dreams and made plans like it was New Year’s Eve. One year we came home to Virginia and remodeled our whole kitchen so it felt more open and beachy. Another year we decided to put in a pool so it felt like we were on vacation all summer. Another time we planned to bike more at home since we enjoyed it so much there. Corolla was where Neil encouraged me to write and I encouraged him to find work he enjoyed. It was truly one of our favorite places.

The first summer after he died, I could barely face our own house without him, let alone the beach house. Last summer, I started to feel a yearning for the coast and the sand, but couldn’t bring myself to go. This summer I was ready. Continue reading →

Is There a Lesson in Those Memories?

It was one of those unusual days in the ER when nothing was going on. No car accidents, no sick kids, no broken bones – and the nurses left the department in a rare opportunity to relax at the cafeteria for lunch. Alone in the department I strolled around looking through the windows to the sunny summer day outside. As I watched, the glass ambulance doors opened and a man wandered through. He had a distinctive swaggering walk and blond hair that was long enough to fall in soft curls, but I couldn’t see his face behind the bloody towel he clutched
over it. Continue reading →

Sometimes Life is Not Like a Box of Chocolates

A baby is finally born after two days of labor as four grandparents anxiously await its arrival.
A bridal shower is celebrated with friends and family in joyful attendance, all the while knowing that in less than a month that bride will move to the other side of the country.
A student graduates from college and says goodbye to closest friends, ready to embrace the real world.
A marriage dissolves as the real world proves too difficult an obstacle.
A young driver totals a car while all involved tremble with gratitude at their safety.

All this in the span of a few days! And a mother prays, because she knows that’s all she can do. She puts all these people and situations in God’s hands.

This is life. Pain and joy happen in rapid succession, sometimes even together in the same situation. Continue reading →

Boo Boo or Fun Badge: It’s All in The Way You Look at It

My husband could see fun and adventure in everything. Years of being an ER doctor left me far more able to see danger. As he tossed each one our daughters over his head when they were just gurgling babies, I always complained, “Please stop it – you are going to drop her!” Or while he raced through the parking lot pushing them in a grocery cart, I yelled, “Neil, that’s dangerous!” barely audible over their gleeful laughter.

Once we were on a family camping trip at a local state park. Early in the afternoon we hiked around the lake, and stopped for a treat afterward at the camp store. The girls ordered ice cream cones that were far too big for their little hands, while Neil and I chugged coffee. The trail that led back to our campsite was a steep downhill path lined with gravel and dried pine needles. Powered up by their ice cream, the girls ran ahead as fast as their little feet would carry them, while Neil cheered them on. “Neil, they shouldn’t do that; someone is going to get hurt!”

I hadn’t even finished the sentence when three year old Jordan crashed face first and slid downhill on her belly for several feet. Continue reading →

What To Do When You’re Stuck On The Rock Wall Of Life

We were guests at a Memorial Day celebration. Children ran around laughing and playing, and adults sat chatting and sipping cool summer drinks. Curiosity captured the crowd’s attention when a huge truck backed up the long, narrow driveway. As everyone watched, the drivers got out, adjusted some mechanical gadgets, and slowly raised a huge, portable rock wall.

The kids swiftly lined up to give it a try, and with the complete fearlessness most children possess, scrambled to the top and rang the bell of success. There wasn’t really anything to be afraid of since they were all belted into place, and three people could climb side by side and talk to each other, so gradually the adults tried it, too.

“Come on; let’s go get in line,” Neil urged. “No, you go ahead without me.” I had all sorts of good excuses: I don’t have the right shoes, I forgot my sunglasses, I have to help the hostess, but as I watched everyone else having fun, I gradually convinced myself to try it.

With all the nerve I could muster, I started the climb. The belt wrapped around me like a diaper so there was no way to fall. Yes, I thought, this is fun and safe! Concentrating on each foot and looking closely at the wall’s indentations in my path, I slowly made my way up. I specifically avoided looking down just to prevent any sudden panic and within a few minutes I made it to the top and proudly rang the bell.

“Woo hoo!” My daughters called up to me. “Way to go, Col!” Neil yelled. I enjoyed my success and the fabulous view of fields and farmland until I realized there was a line below me waiting for a turn. It was time to go down.

Oh dear, it was time to go down. Continue reading →

A Morning Meditation

Earlier this week I sat on the dock at my brother’s lake house, determined to clear my head of the chatter that’s been rattling around in there for the past two weeks. I was going to meditate; I was going deep inside myself to my center.

I got into a comfortable position and stretched for a few seconds. Then I concentrated on my breathing: four counts in, six counts out. I succeeded a few times, and then a schedule conflict popped into my head.

But I was prepared for this! I had a pen and notebook at my side to write down any important thoughts that intruded on my quiet time. With the conflict successfully recorded on paper, I was free to put it out of my mind and go back to my breathing.

Four counts in, six counts out. Again, I was successful for a few cycles, but then I got concerned about the coffee pot inside. Had I turned it off? This was my brother’s house and I didn’t want to burn it down. After careful consideration, I decided there was still enough liquid in the pot that it wouldn’t catch fire before I was done meditating. Good. Back to work. Continue reading →

The Lie of the To-Do List

After several weeks of enjoyable but hectic travel, I looked forward to a relaxing weekend at home. There was nothing I absolutely had to do except go to church. Oh, and maybe get some groceries, since the cupboards contained only some nuts and a few boxes of Fiber One. Come to think of it, I hadn’t done any laundry in a while either…

Before long, the blank page of my weekend was completely covered by my to-do list. Then a friend called and we talked about going to the movies. I was torn. I wanted to see her but I really needed to clean those toilets. Another friend texted to remind me about the exercise class I promised to attend. Sure, exercise was important, but my kitchen was messy enough I feared cockroaches might move in. And the litter box – don’t even think about skipping that! – I reprimanded myself. Continue reading →

Missing the Present for Seeing the Future

Neil and I had hoped to retire at age 62. I knew his death would have financial ramifications, but in the last few months I started to wonder just what they would be.

In an attempt to help, my financial advisor gave me a checklist for assessing my future plans. I have to admit, this was hard. Not just because of the detailed financial budget questions, but because I had to look to the future.

Until then I had started to adjust to my present and cherish my past, but I had not yet been able to embrace my future. Neil and I dreamed of exploring the world in a little camper. We were going to drink coffee all morning, then sit around the campfire counting stars and drinking beer or wine all evening. We were going to surprise our relatives with unexpected visits. We were going to stay with friends at the beach, and while Neil napped or read in a hammock I would explore the shoreline collecting shells. Continue reading →

Trust the Pilot

Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? The pilot uses a propane fire to heat the air inside the balloon, and since hot air rises, the balloon floats upward. As the air inside it cools, the balloon descends. The pilot can’t really steer, but he goes up and down until he finds a wind current that carries him in the direction he wants to go.  The balloon can’t travel any faster than the wind – if there’s no wind the balloon just sits there in the sky. The passengers are carried in a basket made of wicker which is a fairly sturdy, flexible material, and can absorb some of the energy shock during landing.  And speaking of landing, the pilot is improvising moment to moment. He doesn’t know where he is going to land until the end of the flight based on the wind currents he finds and the geography he sees. He needs a reliable ground crew to pick him up wherever he lands. Fascinating, right?

Neil and I thought so, too, so we celebrated our first wedding anniversary with an early morning hot air balloon ride. Continue reading →