Meaningful, Enduring Relationships

beinspiredThis morning I read a very heartwarming email from my dear friend in Japan. Tomoko and I were college roommates at Pacific University several decades ago. The two of us forged a lasting bond in the months that we lived in a dorm room in Walter Hall.

A few years ago, she and our friend Keiko and I had a reunion in Portland, Oregon at her former host mother’s place. Bev lives in a very lovely neighborhood of gracious older homes, and the four of us had such a marvelous visit. We had wonderful long conversations, lots of laughter, and we went out for some delicious meals together. We also cooked frittatas, and made Dutch baby pancakes with fresh blackberries. As we listened to Keiko playing the piano, the melody of our memories transported us across the years. We visited the Farmer’s Market at PSU. Bev took us back to Pacific University where we had first become close friends. We remembered joyful times, and supported one another as we recalled tough times. During these days together, we shared our hearts, our tears and our lives.

I feel so blessed to have these women in my life. Having met Tomoko when at 19 or so, we really didn’t know what was ahead for us. She remembers me bringing her an avocado as a gift, which she loved. I told her years later that meant I really valued her friendship, because I love avocadoes! I had a few roommates from Japan my second year at Pacific, and I had so much fun helping them learn English. In fact, I thought to myself if I weren’t going to be a Physical Therapist, I would enjoy teaching ESL. I took them home to my family’s dairy farm. They loved my Mom’s delicious farm cooking.

When the time came for Tomoko to return to Japan, I missed her. She loved Oregon and we kept in touch. Some years later, she brought her husband to visit me. At Pacific, I spent a lot of time with Asians. On my wing in Walter Hall, we had a large contingent of Hawaiian women. Many of them were of Japanese descent. My roommate my first year of college was a Hawaiian of Asian descent, and Cathy taught me a lot of pidgin.

My Mom wasn’t too happy about the slang I learned at college when this English major came home speaking Hawaiian pidgin English with my friends. But Mom also really enjoyed the friends I made. Thankfully, I didn’t forget how to write or speak proper English!

God knew that in those years at Pacific, He had a clear purpose for these relationships. I planned to be a Physical Therapist, and I took all of the challenging science classes needed to enter that program. I did an honors project on Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy. As part of my research, I spent time in British Columbia doing an Externship at an amazing place for riders with all sorts of disabilities. I watched in amazement as a young woman jumped a challenging course on a horse despite being blind.

I eventually got accepted in the Physical Therapy Program at Pacific, and loved learning about this field. Sadly, some health challenges interrupted my studies, and I had to leave the program feeling lost and devastated.

However, God kept reminding me of my love for people of other cultures, and right at that time He planted within me a desire that just wouldn’t leave. I felt inspired to go and teach in China, and despite precarious health, that is exactly what I did a few years later. Had I known that I would eventually be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the organization probably wouldn’t have sent me. But by His grace, I didn’t know yet what the source of my intermittent health challenges actually was. I just knew that life would get really difficult at times, and the various symptoms would interfere with daily life a lot. So, I took the risk and those two years in China transformed my life. I discovered my love for teaching, and I found renewed purpose for my life. I taught English to medical students, and to this day the friends I made are so precious to me.

Now, as I look back, I see God’s hand guiding me through all of those years. Tomoko and Yumiko (another roommate at Pacific) were the first of many Asian friends who would bring joy to my life. I loved teaching in China, and made many lasting friendships. Just last year, I spent time with several of those dear friends when I returned to China for about three weeks.

After I finished my two years of teaching in China, I returned to Oregon, and I spent some years teaching international students from all over the world. I opened my home to these students, and often rented out rooms to people from various places. Genevieve, from Belgium, brought a lot of joy to my life when she rented a room in this house I had built on an acre. I also hosted a number of Japanese students. During those years, friends and students from Sweden, Japan, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Korea, Brazil, Panama, and Russia enjoyed spending time with me. I still have a network of friends around the world from those years.

When I think about how much friendships with students and others from all over the world have enriched my life, I feel so blessed. I am a writer and we hear a lot about building a platform. Traditional publishers require evidence of connections that might prove very valuable when marketing a book. So, we are taught strategies to build a network and establish a platform.

While I understand this need, and do whatever I can to continue making connections with others to create an email list, I smile when I think of the actual network of friends I enjoy. My years as an ESL teacher and later as a counselor provided me many opportunities to build deep, meaningful relationships with a large variety of people.

Even when health led me to stop working full-time, I developed trainings for professionals and offered counseling to others part-time. During seasons when I had to stop working altogether, I had the gift of time to cultivate relationships with many people in my area, and to stay in touch with friends far away. I believe one reason we are alive is to know others and to encourage and strengthen them. So, I have lasting friendships.

When I met my husband early in 2012, we took time to get to know each other well before we got married. When we got married about four and a half years ago, Trinity Covenant Church was filled to capacity with hundreds of friends who shared in our joy. I wouldn’t trade these real-life friendships for anything.

I love Psalm 37:3-5 which says, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and He will do it.”

Years ago, I had the desire to learn to relate to others well. I wanted to have meaningful relationships with people from many cultures. I also hoped to have my own family someday. How faithful God has been to fulfill these desires in such vivid, transformative ways.

 

 

 

 

Stolen Moments

Just a few months ago, my husband and I changed our plans and headed for Medford to help his parents. His father, Joe, had fallen and they thought his leg might be broken. They were in the midst of packing and preparing their home for sale, with the intention of moving closer to their three kids. Because of Joe’s fall, and their emotional exhaustion from the preparations to move, Jerry and I could see that they really needed our nurturing and care more than they needed help packing boxes.

Jerry cleaned their kitchen nicely, and prepared some nourishing meals for them. He noticed his Dad wasn’t eating really well, so he wanted to be sure they had some good homemade meals that he would enjoy. The first evening there, Joe and I sat outside watching the sunset. Their place was up on a hillside, so the view of the valley below was striking, and the sunset painted the sky in beautiful hues of pink, blue, and other soft colors.

Joe and I talked about his life and the things that mattered most to him. He shared some memories, some joys and some regrets. He told me that he wanted to take time to make friends when they moved. He had assisted his wife in her tax preparation business after he retired from his work as a heavy equipment mechanic, and even though he was now over eighty, and she was nearing eighty, they had just finally retired in the spring. He said that he often talked to people when he was outside in the yard, but they hadn’t had time for a lot of relationships. So, together we hoped that this upcoming move would allow them both to slow down and enjoy life together. Joe shared his heart about various things, and I told him how much Jerry and I loved and appreciated him and Jerry’s mom. For those brief moments as the sun set, we relaxed and shared from our hearts, thankful for time to connect. Jerry and I returned home a few days later, thankful for the chance to be with his parents and to help out.

Then their house went on the market, and quickly sold. Within a few days, they also found a new home and bought it. In a gated community, they had found a home they both could enjoy. Joe immediately bought fifty pounds of cracked corn and had it on a dolly near the front door. He loved feeding the ducks and made friends with the man who managed the community they now called home. Jerry and I heard excitement and joy in his voice over the phone as he told us about the ducks and the fishing right behind their home. We told him we’d come see their new place real soon.

Sadly, last week we received a call that Joe had been taken by ambulance to River View Hospital. Initially it sounded like maybe an infection had made him less responsive and unable to  wake up fully that morning. We hoped he would be okay. But the reports from ICU sounded increasingly serious. So Jerry hurried to meet me in Albany where he picked me up and we headed for the hospital. Part of the Peace Health system of hospitals, the faith-based environment spoke to us, “Peace to all who enter here.” This sign over the parking garage entry and other reminders of God’s love ministered to us as we hurried to his room.

When we reached Joe’s bedside, he had many tubes and machines hooked to him, and a respirator helped him breathe. Tears filled our eyes as we held his hands and spoke softly to him. I thought of his warm eyes that always had a twinkle in them. We never got to see those eyes again.

A few days later, we hurried back to ICU after Jerry got home from work. During the afternoon, I had held a phone in my  hands, listening as the ICU doctor shared with family and a few of us by phone that despite the continuous dialysis after the surgery they had hoped would help, his blood pressure was not adequate to sustain him much longer. He said that they weren’t giving up, but Joe would not likely make it too many more hours. He knew that Joe’s sister was trying to come from another state. Though they would see if Joe could make til the next day, he told us not to count on it. His kindness was evident, and we felt thankful for a compassionate doctor who assured us that he would keep Joe comfortable.

Again, the signs with the blessing of “peace to all who enter” spoke to my heart. Despite this unexpected turn in Joe’s health that had brought him to the hospital, Jerry and I talked about how all of our days are ordained before one of them came to be. God knew.

Jerry and I stood by Joe’s bedside, and I left the room so that Jerry’s mom and others could take a turn. Jerry lingered at his dad’s bedside. When my friend offered their guest house fifteen minutes from the hospital, we went there thinking we’d sleep a few hours then relieve the others at ICU. But as soon as we went to sleep, we received the text, “Come quickly. Get here are fast as you can.” We pulled on our clothes and rushed to his bedside.

Gathered with Jerry’s sister and her husband, and their two daughters, Jerry’s mother, and a family friend, Will, we all knew the end was very near. We asked the nurse if they would take the breathing tube out and make him more comfortable. They said that would be good for him. We sang the Johnny Appleseed song together. We told him we loved him and held his hand. Joe hung on awhile, then the monitors began to show lines finally flattening as he took his final breath.

Joe usually gave me a big hug every time we would say goodbye. He wouldn’t let go, and he’d often comment, “I don’t want to let you go.” When my own father died a couple of years ago, I told Joe that I really needed him now. I still needed a father and I was so thankful to have him in my life.

Joe’s own words echoed in my mind and heart as his time on earth gently came to a close. “I don’t want to let you go.”

Back at their new home after the sun rose in the morning, we gathered with the family to plan a memorial. All of us were exhausted. I gladly went outside when we took a break for a bit. Near the stream that runs behind their home, the ducks came waddling towards me. A man on the trail also walked up to me, and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned Joe had loved those ducks and this place. The man asked if I was talking about the man who lived in the house right behind us, and I said yes, but sadly he had died just after midnight.

The man’s face clouded and he said, “Oh no. I really liked Joe. I didn’t know he was in the hospital. We had become good  friends.” My heart felt so sad, but thankful that one of Joe’s hopes for moving had come to fruition. He had made a friend who shared his love for the ducks, fishing and for life in general.

Our time was far too brief, and our hopes for many more times together evaporated as his life came to an unexpected conclusion. But we are thankful for every moment we shared with this dear man.

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Oh, Dad. It’s so hard to let you go.

 

 

Miracles Come in Many Forms

Miracles come in many forms. I always used to say it would be a miracle if I ever got married. It’s not that I hadn’t had opportunities, but I used to wonder why anyone would choose “this,” to share my life which also involves living with a neurological disease that can make life pretty challenging.

I don’t have time to share this whole story today, but on a trip to China in 2011, which I’d wanted to make for 17 years, I spent some deep time in prayer near a beautiful river surrounded by karst peaks. In response to the cry of my heart, God assured my spirit that He would never withhold even an ounce of His love from me. Then I felt led to ask, “What else (besides this trip) might be possible that I’ve written off?” And I asked for a husband. God gave me a verse that directly spoke to that desire, and I felt this uncanny assurance that He would send me a man to share my life with. I returned home that fall with a strange peace that God had answered that prayer, and by January I met the man who is now my husband.

Hope Shines

This morning I awoke knowing I had some medical tests to endure on a hot summer day.  Of course, I hoped the results would be that the multiple sclerosis is stable and there weren’t any new active lesions in the brain or spine, but I didn’t know what the outcome would be.  This morning I had an MRI of my brain and c-spine, which took about two hours, and I hadn’t expected to receive the results before the end of the day.  So when I saw the portal message from my neurologist about test results, I felt eager to see what the powerful new MRI machine would reveal.  Surprisingly, the report was completed and my doctor already sent me the good news–no new lesions apparently and no active lesions, and another matter noticed previously had not changed, so that also was encouraging news.   We can continue with the current treatment because it is doing just what we hoped it would.   Sometimes the things we hope for in this life come to fruition.  Sometimes they don’t.  But genuine hope shines even in the midst of adversity or challenging health.  Yes, hope shines.  Thank You, Heavenly Father, for a hope that transcends all this stuff we encounter in a fallen world.  And, thank You for encouraging news in this journey with health this side of eternity.  One day disease will no longer impact anything, and MRI’s won’t be necessary, one day in Your Presence where beauty and wonder will captivate our hearts.