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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Long and Winding Road

Doug and I live an exquisitely beautiful life, filled with wonderful experiences and the opportunity to meet amazing people.  We've traveled the world, and have friends on just about every continent.  It is a blessed privilege and I love that it is my life.  However, the price for all of it is living far from family and far from one's home land and at times, that is exquisitely painful.   As many of you know, my mother has been on the "fighting cancer" road for the past 6 years.  She has been near death numerous times and also experienced full remission.  They have been able to return to Europe twice since her diagnosis which is totally remarkable and lovely.  But I have spent many sleepless nights tossing and turning, wondering about what tomorrow will bring, waiting for that dreaded phone call that the turn for the worse has come or even more devastating, that death has finally arrived.  At times, I have felt compelled to travel back to the US under difficult circumstances, seeking to navigate the complex road of what it means for a dearly beloved person to hover between life and death.  At other times, I have felt peace in not going, even when many others felt that I should.  I have sent out emails to close friends asking for prayer, thinking that death might be imminent, asking for wisdom and discernment on what I should do, as the only daughter of  beautiful parents who live on another continent.  And then time and again, my mom has rallied and decided that there is more life to be lived.  Which is great and true to her personality.  She is a fighter, a lover of life, one tough cookie!  But cancer fights back.  Hard.  And so we watch her health go up and down and recently, it has gone down more often than it has gone up.
Last Friday night via Skype, I shared one of the more emotional exchanges with my mom.  She was trying to say good-bye to me.  She was expressing a desire to go home to a better place.  She told me that she thought she was going fast.  There were tears and heartache and the whole cycle of being there/not being there started again.  After considering my options, I just felt that at this time, in this moment, I needed to journey with my folks once again.  I do not know when death will come for sure but I did know that going and not facing death was a lot easier to swallow than not going and having to face death.  I was supposed to leave for a conference in southern Turkey with Doug on Sunday.  As much as my heart longed to participate in this gathering, I also could not see being in Turkey when truly devastating news came.  I could not see how allowing a conference stand between seeing my mom alive once again would be helpful to me so as difficult as it was, Doug and I made the decision that I should take another unplanned trip and see what the next weeks bring.  So on Saturday morning I booked a ticket for Wednesday, 11 April and will be with my parents again by Wednesday evening, 7.30 p.m. California time.
Of course there are second guesses.  My mom rallied over the weekend and is once again doing OK. But perhaps the rally came in part as a response to the news that I was coming.  I know my dad is happy for some companionship on this journey and I love the opportunity to pour back into their lives a small margin of the care and support they have given me through the years.  Of course, I am sad to miss the conference with dear colleagues and my sweet husband in a beautiful spot. But as one dear colleague reminded me, there will be other conferences.  And I worry that I have not timed it correctly, that this isn't the "right" time to take more time away from my life in Sweden, my husband, my church, my dog and yet...what is it that defines the "right" time?  It is never wrong to want to be with loved ones.  And one of the greatest gifts of our life here in Sweden is that time away to tend to personal matters is valued and granted without question.  I grieve the losses that I will incur in being away but I celebrate the gains I will enjoy with my folks.  Of course, I am thrilled that my parents live in my "happy place."  That will help me to cope with whatever surprises I meet along the way.
I love my parents.  Both are remarkable folks who have given so much to others throughout their lifetime.  It is a privilege to give back a small part of my life and time to them.  I am thankful for the generosity of my husband, who covers at church and at home, my loving church community who support me, pray for me and surround me with hope and love, and the administrators of Immanuel who have only blessed my time away.
Yes, it is an an exquisitely beautiful life I live...it's just that sometimes the beauty includes some heartache.  The road is long and winding, not straight and even.  Sometimes I have to make difficult decisions without knowing the full story.  Sometimes I have to choose to leave behind certain loved one and loved things in order to go to others who may need that love more at any given moment.  I worry that in going now, I won't be able to go later, but wrestle with the reality that later might be now, if you know what I mean.
In the midst of it all, I'm thankful for the grace that surrounds me that allows me to pursue the promptings of my heart.  I'm thankful for the big jets that carry me across the ocean to my loved ones.  I'm grateful for your love, prayers and support, even if I keep asking for it, thinking we are facing the end, when in reality it is just another step in the whole process.  This is the great mystery of life and it is impossible to plan for these things.  One can only plan to be together when the time seems "right."
So please pray for me and Doug, my mom and dad, and our church as we go through yet another unplanned transition with a still uncertain future outcome.  What I am certain of is this: I love my husband.  I love my church.  I love my parents.  And the first two things are geographically very far from the last.  And that means that sometimes I am faced with exquisitely difficult decisions about which side of the ocean to be on.  And yet, in the midst of this journey, grace has abounded and I suspect that will be true now as well.