Category Archives: The Pictures on My Fridge

Inspirational stories about some of our family friends

Ending Well and Getting a Fresh Start

        Our refrigerator has been sort of the epicenter of family and friend lore. If you’ve sent me a photo of your family in the last few years, it’s probably here! It also serves as a bulletin board and place to display the grand kids’ art work,             and when the children visit, they definitely check to see what’s up! Now, I should explain that we bought this refrigerator used 25 years ago when we first moved into Tanglewood Cottage, and it was definitely in need of replacing. Therefore, it was the first thing to be changed out.However, I have a whole section on  my blog dedicated to “The Pictures on my Fridge,” and every picture means a lot to me!  So, before I let them touch my refrigerator, I lovingly peeled off all the photos and placed them into a coffee table photo album to keep the memories alive! The shiny, new refrigerator (my first “new” frig in our 44 years of marriage) has made me stop and think about the coming year. 2018 will be a shiny, new year… full of possibilities, but without any pictures hanging on it yet. What shall we do? First of all, I certainly don’t want to neglect my family and friends, and I want to finish this year well with the loved ones who are depending on me here at home. Sadly (because I’m so limited and our kitchen is an updating disaster area for the time being), that means I won’t be doing much blogging between now and mid January, although I’ll try to keep my recipes and Song of Solomon meditations going (and anything else as time allows).

One of my girlfriends suggested that I re-post some of my earlier blogs that people seemed to enjoy a lot. That didn’t feel quite right to me, although if you’ve got some free time and are interested in any particular topic, everything I’ve written for the past almost 10 years is still recorded, and if you type a subject into the “Search” bar on the top right-hand corner of this blog, it will bring up posts that touch on that subject. I have to admit, though: The fact that I won’t be able to write much frustrates me and makes me feel like a failure! Does that ever happen to you? You have more to do than you think you “should,” so you feel like a flop? Take heart! God’s priorities are different from ours. He makes things much simpler than we do. God doesn’t measure success in productivity, but in living right and loving well: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV). If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8).

Meanwhile, I pray that God will bless and guide each of you during this holiday season. May you find joy in anticipating the good things God has in store for you this coming year, and may you fill up your days with fruitful service and a host of happy memories from loving well and being loved!

 

 

Beyond the Board to Break Through

(Written by my dear friend, Lisa…)

Do you have six seconds for a powerful object lesson?

My daughter passed the first part of her Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do and broke through 2 boards with her elbow for the first time at the test. In practice, she hit the middle of the board but didn’t break through, leaving bruises but no broken boards. It’s tempting to focus on the center of the boards because if she aims too high or too low, the boards won’t break.   The object lesson for me came from her training. She was taught that she can’t focus on the boards but must focus beyond them at the man holding them. If she aims for his chest, instead of the boards, she will have enough momentum to break through.

It reminded me that in prayer, it is tempting to focus on the challenges that I’m praying about, but that is the equivalent of looking at the board. We need to look beyond the problems to God and seek His heart, trusting Him to break through. He holds the ‘boards’ and us in His hands, and He is able. So I want to remember to look beyond to board … to the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, it says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

I appreciate the repetition: All. All. All. All. No exceptions. God is able!

So I say with confidence, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:7-9).

The Life of Bri

Every once in a while I meet someone so special that I just have to share about them. The life of Bri is extremely different from The Life of Pi (even though Bri does love pie), but to me—it’s much more heroic! Brian came into our family’s life when he and my son Daniel sat by each other in a college class; Daniel was the youngest student (14?) and Bri was the oldest (44?).

Since that time, Daniel has become a dentist and Brian earned his PhD in pharmacology, but to this day we’re all still good friends. About 10 years ago, Brian (“Bri”) brought a peach pie to our home for a potluck, and Alan was so delighted with it that Bri started a tradition of bringing us two peach pies every August when the peach crop ripened. And then, about three years ago, he didn’t come. I learned later that his father had passed away, leaving him as the sole care-giver for his very aged mother. He no longer had any time to make pies (or do much of anything fun, for that matter), and so I’ve started making a peach pie for Bri each August!

Yesterday he came over for this year’s edition. His mom (who’s now not only frail and can’t walk but is also becoming demented) was delighted to hear that he was going to visit “Mrs. Peaches” and asked if they could have the pie for supper. You bet!  🙂

The truly touching thing to me is to see Bri’s devotion to his mom. He’s put aside everything that he enjoys and said that his goal is to be successful in taking good care of his mom for as long as he can. This is the polar opposite of The Life of Pi, which was filled with adventures. The Life of Bri is filled with quiet unadventures.

(Maybe I should back up just a bit. Bri had cancer at age twenty-three, and although the radiation treatment cured him, he’s suffered a lot of side effects, like kidney failure, etc. He’s now lived longer than anyone who’s ever had the disease and treatment he underwent, but life is very challenging for him even without the added difficulties of trying to care for his infirm mother!)

I am in awe of those amazing people who give up everything to care for others. Bri is one; Maggie and her daughter Em are another duo, who are giving way above and beyond to keep their husband/father in their home, even though he’s lost virtually all ability to move from his neck down. To a lesser extent, but still heroic, is the devotion of every parent to their children and the devotion of every person who cares for others. Mother Teresa is one supreme example, and to me, Jesus is the ultimate example. He laid down his life so that anyone who believes in him may have forgiveness and eternal life! May God bless and encourage each one of you who is sacrificially loving others for their well-being! It’s a God-work!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

“Oh! What a Crowd!!”

Have you ever been at the bedside of someone you loved when they passed from this earth to the next? I heard a wonderful story recently about the last words of a dear friend’s father. Sue shared this account while we were grieving the fresh loss of her father-in-law, who was also every bit a father to her. Sue’s father-in-law was very elderly and infirm by the time I knew him, so it was a special treat to hear stories from his life at his recent memorial service. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, a veteran, a hunter, and a stellar fisherman. Best of all, he was a man of faith and grace. It was fun to watch the slide show of his life and realize how much my friend’s husband looked like his father…and was like his father in many ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bob without receiving a big, warm bear hug. He always has a mischievous grin too…like he’s just dreaming up how to tease Alan. Bob always makes you laugh!For example, Bob’s father graduated to glory just a few days before their family was scheduled to leave on a two-week vacation to the Caribbean, and one of his last jokes with his dad before he passed was that after all the years of Bob’s giving his father grief, his dad was going to get him back by dying at the wrong time and ruining Bob’s long-awaited family vacation. (He didn’t, BTW; he died at “the perfect” time!) If you are aghast by that kind of humor, know that this was not malicious teasing, this is a beautiful indication of how at peace Bob and his dad were with each other, and how deep and sure his father’s faith was that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (gleaned but not quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:8). Bob and his dad had a rare and wonderful relationship! But, the story that has stayed with me the longest was Sue’s account of her father’s last words. He was also a man of deep faith in Christ, and Sue was with him when he passed into eternity. Here is her account: “My dad said (I’ll never forget it) ‘Oh!  What a crowd!’  He was not only smiling but also had a look of awe, and his voice had the sound of awe (something else I will never forget)!  I think it’s the awe that really hit me, like something I can’t even begin to imagine as hard as I try – but I know it’s good because it was said with awe and a smile!” “He didn’t pass away until the next day but was not responsive before or after he said those words.  A few minutes before he passed he suddenly opened his eyes (which hadn’t been open for a day and a half) and looked beyond me toward the wall. He moved his mouth like he was trying to say something, but of course, no sound came out as he was too weak.  Then he was gone.” Sue says that now heaven is more than a hope for her; heaven has become an exciting reality that she’s looking forward to, where she’ll be reunited with loved ones and home with Jesus forever!  How about you? Are you ready to meet Jesus in heaven?!Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:
for I am God, and there is none else”
(Isaiah 45:22).

Ann Bjorlie’s Story: Miracles are Still Happening

Ann BjorlieDo you believe in miracles? Do you believe God answers prayer? I do, and yesterday as Ann (a spunky friend I’ve known for over 20 years) sat across from me in our tea room recounting what had happened to her recently, I knew it was a message that I wanted to share with you ASAP…like today! What happened? Well, her aorta burst, she bled out and was without oxygen for 15 minutes. Ann Recovered!And yet, she’s alive and well today!  The doctor told her that she was “one in a million,” but I think she was more than that, because no one at the hospital had ever known someone to survive this particular medical disaster. I believe it is an undeniable miracle!  There were a series of conditions that were unique and could have been circumstance, such as her surgeon being outside her room when she started throwing up blood, one of his colleagues who’d read all her charts was still in hospital (later evening), an anesthesiologist who worked with their team “just happened” to be at the hospital too, and an operating room “just happened” to be open and clean at that moment. But, the surgeon performed a surgery that had never been performed in that situation at that hospital before, with an outcome that not one person believed was possible (including my medical doctor husband). That’s a miracle in my book!Ann at HospitalThat’s the short of it; if you still have doubts and time to read the long of it, I think the details are well worth sharing. Ann was born with a congenital heart defect, but it wasn’t until January of 2015 that the problem became so severe she needed her aortic valve replaced. Ann recovered quickly, and we were all hopeful that she’d do just fine, but then, ten months later, she started having problems with being out of breath, feeling weak and losing blood. Her husband took her into the ER at Spectrum Hospital (here in GR), where they kept her overnight. I’ll let her pick up the story in her own words here:
     “Wednesday morning [December 2] began a battery of tests. I actually do not remember much from that day except having a CT scan. In the afternoon I encouraged John to go to prayer meeting for supper. He went and stayed for the meeting as well. Just as he got back, Dr. Fanning came and began to tell us I had a fistula that was touching my esophagus and dripping blood into my throat, which is why I was having black stools. Then he proceeded to tell us that they do not do surgery to repair this in Spectrum, so I’d have to go to Cleveland Clinic! He had talked with his colleagues and they simply would not assist him in such a risky surgery that had never been done at this hospital. He was obviously disturbed and was trying to let us know how serious this was. He told us that recovery in Cleveland is a month long, etc. Then, he stepped out with a phone call before we could ask any questions. We hardly knew what to ask as we were shocked at this news. Almost as soon as he left, John said, “Let’s pray.” He asked the Lord to raise me up like He did Dorcas. We cannot remember if I prayed. I think I just said “Amen” to his prayer as I was too emotional to pray. I know exactly what I would have prayed, and that is that they would find a way to do the surgery here [in Grand Rapids]. At any rate, I said to John, “Something’s happening, I think I’m going to throw up.” I began to vomit blood each time my heart beat. John held my shoulders as he sat beside me and color drained from my face.
     “Much of the following is from John’s recollection as I lost consciousness before they even put me on the bed…I’ve been told that the surgery began around 9:30 pm and lasted until around 4:30 am. I’ve read the doctor’s report of my surgery, and he says that when I entered the operating room, my pulse was barely there and thready, I had no blood pressure, blood was squirting out my mouth and coming out my rectum, they gave me multiple blood products, as I had bled out! With so little hope I am amazed at the determination of this surgeon and his medical team. I’ve since heard that not one person expected me to recover. Not one. And then, even if I did survive, they wondered if I’d have my mind, due to lack of oxygen during my bleed and before I was intubated. Would my kidneys function? Many questions surrounded my whole recovery as this hospital had never before done this surgery. Not one medical person had ever seen someone survive this rupture.
     “We thank God that we went to the ER when we did. It was a Tuesday late afternoon. All our friends, Facebook friends, and family soon became aware I had been hospitalized. What do Christians do for friends when there is a need? They pray. So by Wednesday night at prayer meetings all over the world people began to pray for my health, even though we had no idea what was wrong and how very seriously my life was endangered. I had one friend tell me via Facebook that she was praying likely at the time of my rupture. She is an hour earlier and had read I was in the hospital on FB. Do I believe in God? You had better believe I do. Does God answer prayer? Yes, He does.
     “One scripture given to me twice while in the hospital was Psalm 118:17-18, ” I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” This was read to me when Mike and Nona visited. He read the entire Psalm. Then a young man sent this same verse to me via Facebook. It was after I was released and at home that I began to realize the significance of the verse. God help me to be faithful.”
     If you’ve got even more time to hear her story, an 11-minute version from a radio broadcast is here:
Ann Bjorlie at our Kitchen Table

 

 

A Tale of Three Marathoners…from Chicago to Boston…and Back to Home!

Jess and Sam after the Boston MarathonDo you like running? Did you catch any of this week’s Boston Marathon? Boston MarathonI knew someone who was running this year, so I had a keen interest in the race, Baby Cheering her Daddy for the Boston Marathonbut it made me think about three other marathoners whom I admire
even though they weren’t running in the Boston Marathon. Baby with a Hat 1The first one is Jess, whose daughter’s cuteness (Sadie)
has adorned some of my Bless Your Baby entries. Marathon running coupleJess is totally delightful! She’s also a marathoner, and the story goes
that she and her husband, Sam, ran a marathon togetherBride and Bridegroom running a Marathon the morning before they got married. Doesn’t that put a big grin on your face? Baby with a Hat 2 Jess has set aside many of her personal ambitions in order to love her family, Baby on a jet planeand this past week she went with her husband and their little girl to Boston, Ready for the Boston Marathonwhere they cheered Sam on in the Boston Marathon. Way to go, Sam and Jess!! Baby with a Hat 3Life is a marathon, and you’re doing great! Luncheon TableLast week while Alan was at a conference in Chicago, Mom and Baby eatingI spent a blissful afternoon with Jess and Sadie, Sistersalong with two other women who are running a great race in life’s marathon.Green Rice with SaffronThe hostess, Marlene, is an Iranian Christian and always makes the most delectable, exotic meals. Baby with a Hat 4I won’t go into details, Iranean Soupbut the transition from Iran (many years ago) was at great cost to her family, and she still cares for an older brother who was never able to recover emotionally. Baby with Great AuntDespite the trials in her life, Marlene radiates a gentle kindness which makes me (and I suspect everybody else in her life space) feel dearly loved. Baby with her Great AuntShe’s the kind of woman I wish lived next door to me, and I envy her neighbors! Definitely one of those blessed, virtuous woman whose worth is far above rubies.

Lunch PartyMarlene’s sister-in-law is another rare gem. Lillian and her husband are caring for both her brother and her mother…and have been for years (in addition to rearing their own brood, a very demanding medical practice, and being very involved in their Messianic Jewish community, etc!). Baby with a Hat 5Their example of working tirelessly and extending grace to others is mind-boggling to me. I don’t think I had the metal to have lived such a rigorous, unselfish life of putting the needs of others ahead of my own. I know God certainly didn’t test me in that way. Baby with a Hat 6 At any rate, I was deeply touched by the experience of sharing an afternoon of life and love with these precious spiritual kin (same Father and all mothered by my spiritual mentor, Mommu). It was super fun, refreshing, and so encouraging!

Baby with a Hat 7Life is a long, hard marathon, isn’t it?  But, like Sadie, let’s just keep trying,
and in the end, everything will turn out right!    🙂   Baby with a Hat 8“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

P.S.—All the pictures of Jess, Sam, and Sadie (except for the pictures taken on the day of our visit last week) were taken and used by permission of Jess, who is very generous besides being so cool! Thank you!

Dealing with Cancer: Fight…or Trust?

Kari FormsmaEvery once in a while, I share the story of some dear friend who has been a major source of inspiration to me, and although I’ve told you about Kari before (Ob/Gyn with an aggressive form of uterine cancer), her recent Caring Bridge entry was so encouraging that I asked if I could share it with you. She tells a story about her father-in-law as well as some reflections on her own cancer journey.

Miracles and Waiting on His Plan

Larry’s dad developed bladder cancer a number of years ago.  It is a story of a remarkable number of medical mistakes and failures, and of God’s grace in a miracle cure. First, he was treated as if he had only a precancer, based on a misreading of the original (and repeat) biopies ( mistakes 1-3). When he repeatedly failed the superficial laser treatment, I suggested he get a second opinion at U of M.  They re-read the prior biopsies, said he had had invasive cancer since the first biopsy and said he needed to have extensive surgery, which they could not schedule for a few more months (potential failure 4). We were able to get the surgery done here in Battle Creek within a few weeks, but he had to have a re-operation 1 week later as there was an internal leak of  urine into his belly (mistake 5), however, despite extensive looking by 2 urologic surgeons, it could not be found (mistake 6). He had to live with this  with the condition being difficult to handle and making him feel ill. Eventually this healed on its own after several months.

At a followup visit several months later he was complaining of back pain so a pelvic CT was ordered which showed nothing (mistake 7, as was not high enough). When he continued with pain he got an MRI which was read in the urology office as negative (mistake 8). The final report from the radiologist correctly idenitified the multiple enlarged lymph nodes from the metastatic bladder cancer, but apparently was never read by the urologists (mistake 9.). His primary care doctor got a copy several months later, when he requested records and discovered the oversight.  Dad was then started on radiation, then chemotherapy.  After half the planned chemo, repeat imaging showed there was zero effect on the tumors and they suggested he might as well stop treatment. He was tolerating the chemo so well, after discussion with family, he decided to finish the last few cycles as it might be at least holding the the speed of growth.

While people had been praying for Dad all along, about this time there was a “laying on of hands” at his church, and extensive  prayer. Running into one of the urologists in Battle Creek I updated him on the situation. He looked at me straight in the eye and said, “You know he won’t survive this. People don’t survive after metastasis of bladder cancer, so just prepare yourself It will only be a few more months.”

Six months later his oncologist suggested a repeat CT, just to see how much the tumors had grown. To everyone’s astonishment, they were gone! All I could think was , “Well, here we go again- another misreading and a medical error.”  However, repeat scans again and again over the last years showed no sign of tumor.  There is no real explanation here except that this was a miracle.

Why am I telling you this? It helps to explain why I do not feel this is a “battle” with cancer.  So many people use these words, which I have never quite related to.  I do not feel aggressive in any way.  If determination or extra effort could cure it, I would do that.  But it is not what you have to do..  Mostly you accept things – side effects , treatments. It is really pretty passive time of waiting, not “fighting”.

I believe that the outcome is entirely in God’s hands, whether treatments “work” or not. If my life is over sooner than later (and, of course it will be over someday, no matter what) then it is because my work on earth is done.  If my life ends later, then God has more work for me to do. Either way, my only choice is to trust that God’s plans are good.  If I am asked to “endure”, that is what I need to do.  If it is to wait and see what the outcome is or what side effects I have, then waiting is what I must do. This “fighting” would be both counter productive and exhausting. I am okay and at peace with waiting to see what He has in mind for me.

So that comes to my own miracle this week.  I opened a copy of my mail today which held the paper results of my CBC (blood counts) from last Thursday.  I was alarmed to find that that doctor that read them to me missed that my “absolute neutrophils” (the most important infection fighting cells) were 420 (not the 1600 I understood he read to me on the phone on Friday.) If they are under 1500, I am supposed to put on drugs to boost them higher and/or be hospitalized. And these were taken 3 days after their lowest point! The point being, I had been in significant danger of having a life-threatening infection, instead of the just bronchitis I am now recovering from. When today I called U of M with the result, they wanted me to go to the emergency room to get treatment because they were so low. However, since the report was 4 days old, I asked and it was decided to repeat the CBC today prior to being admitted.  The neutrophils are now 2700, an astonishingly rapid recovery.

So I have been through a  harrowing time this last week, not even knowing it.  If I was “taken out”, or at least “taken down” during this time, it would have been understandable – but I was not. While I still have a pretty good cough, I no longer have a fever and have walked through this time safely.  Only God can do this, affirming my original position. You don’t “fight” cancer, you endure or journey through it, trusting “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to His purpose.”  This is true whether He decides I am done with my life sooner or later.  Just trust.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” (Psalm 138:7). Worry like a rocking chair

Kari’s father-in-law, who is “Uncle Milton” to us, is alive and doing fine today! Uncle Milton's 86th birthday partyLarry, Kari, Kathi, Alan, with Uncle Milt and Aunt Faye on the sofa.Jan. 25, 2011We were celebrating Uncle Milt’s 86th birthday in 2011. March 23, 2013This was taken just last spring, so you can see the Lord has truly preserved his life in a very miraculous way! Thank you, LORD!!