Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TRACING the Leading

One winter activity: to trace the last 5 years through Mike's diagnosis, treatment, living, and then moving on. We knew and were reminded daily that God was walking with us and that so many friends prayed for us.
When those prayer warriors began in April 2009, no one knew what a commitment they had taken on. But they stayed with us.
We came to see God's hand in so many aspects of our living. I plan to recount as many as I can because that's where the Father taught us about His love and protection.
How, in the midst of confusion, does God get our attention? I found two early blog entries that demonstrate His presence and care.
June 2009: it's time to make some decisions about treatment. Or no treatment.
"Mike and I are facing some decisions in the next weeks. We are grateful for your prayers and we want to be good stewards of what God has given us. We will keep you posted.


The doctors and other health professionals who care for the terminally ill have a playbook with cliches’.


“I don’t have a crystal ball.”
“We’re all going to die.”
“Medicine is not an exact science.”

"We don't know."


So we met our oncologist/radiologist on Monday.


Mike: So, Dr., how do you see me?


Dr.: You are a relatively young man with advanced gall bladder cancer and no symptoms at the present time. Your cancer was not found early. That’s usual for gall bladder cancer. We do not have much data for your kind of cancer. You are a statistical study of one.


Mike: What do you propose?


Dr. We suggest that you begin a therapy regime.

(6 weeks, daily radiation, targeting the gall bladder bed; insertion of port (outpatient surgery) and 24/7 chemo)

Goal: so that the cancer does not grow back there. For how long? Not a cure. But we don’t know.

Side effects: Rad/Onc says that the chemo will be the harder; Oncologist said that radiation would be the harder; they both agree that "You’re such a young man in good health. You’ll do just fine.”


Me: As there are no symptoms at this time, what if we wait?


Dr: We don’t know. Maybe it will make no difference. Maybe it will make a difference.

What they DO know is that we can expect Mike to feel weak and ill, nothing unmanageable, several days a week. And that will mean no more flying. And the port will mean no more swimming.


The Dr. left the room and I told the hub that I would support whatever decision he made. But he pressed me and I confessed that I hated to see him give up what he’s doing right now, especially since they don’t know if waiting will make a difference.


So this week has been ‘sleeping on it’ and praying about it. Yesterday, Mike sent this to his oncologist


If I interpret (radiologist/oncologist) correctly, he advised that it will not make much difference whether I do chemo or rad commencing Sept 15, 2009.

Is it necessary to do both at the same time: Can I do one at a time, beginning with radiation? Will that make a difference?

Lynne and I do lots of fun things in the summer and we have some trips planned. Doing the treatment will kill those plans which I suppose could be changed.

If I do the chemo, I understand that I understand I must a port…when does that need to be inserted in relation to the start of chemo, should I elect to do that?

I am probably going to do both of them, particularly if it can be put off relatively safely until September.

Thanks you for the help. Please advise further.


She called this AM


"Your diagnosis is ‘microscropic metastatic gall bladder cancer.’ The therapy will be done together. If you wait for 6 months after diagnosis, there will be no benefit to therapy."

The therapy offers a chance of more time. But how much. And will it be good time?

We don’t know.


They traffic in optimism and hope at the oncology center.


So we are faced with a decision. Mike is a champ at a win/lose column comparision. This is perhaps the last time we will work this system.


We are going to be praying about this during the weekend and will ask you to join us. God’s grace will help us NOT REGRET the direction. You will be covering us, we know. Thank you, our friends."

God knows that I have a short attention span: He often answers prayers quickly and dramatically, so I won’t miss it. The day after I posted the last entry:

"Intimates know about our door bell situation.


Days after moving into our home, we accidently clipped those wires. Then “fix the doorbell” was on the job list for several months. But gradually, we adjusted and then realized that we were just fine without it. We avoided casual door-to-doors and other annoyances.


So to this day. Friends understand that we spend more time near the rear of our home and so they come around to the back door. Then, if the door is open, they call in or walk in and announce themselves.


So I was surprised when, on Friday afternoon, I answered the loud knocking at the front door and opened it to a visitor….not expected, not invited, but not unwelcome,  a local minister who offered his hand and began, “I’m not really sure why I’m here.”

He said that he had just this morning heard of Mike’s illness and something (hmmm, shall we say The Holy Spirit?) brought him to our home for the first time.


He’s not a stranger. 20 years ago, I served on a pastoral search committee that brought him to town. Since then, we had moved to another church and he had left and formed a new church. In recent years, he and I had bumped into each other on those occasions when I was treating myself to breakfast and he was meeting with a men’s group at our finest local diner.


Several months ago, he asked me to proofread a grant proposal where he recounted his life experiences for the last few years. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and is currently in remission but there’s so much more. Let’s just say that he is a modern-day Job and we’re no where near chapter 42.


Again, “I don’t know why I’m here.”


I gave him a short summary of our last few months. Then, Mike joined us. After 30 minutes, they thought maybe I had something better to do. 2 hours later, the emissary left.


All this in the context of our seeking God’s guidance in the course of Mike’s illness.


We did not speak of it until we were on our way to the lake. Then, Mike said, “Well, what do you make of that visit?”


I said I had no idea except that we had been praying and I knew that others were praying and this guy just shows up. “It must have something to do with what God is trying to tell us.”


Mike agreed and said, “It means I’m going to take the treatment.”


Ok, then I was dumbfounded. When it comes to decision-making, I am the impulsive; he is the deliberative. But not this time. We had not had time to work the win/loss column thing. He had seen the decision as crystal clear because of the visit.


And so this afternoon, I have contacted his doctor and we will meet next week to get all the particulars scheduled.


And please continue to pray. Although we realize that God’s will here is clear, today we are both quite blue.


And rejoice that God answers prayers powerfully.


Blessings to all of you. We will keep you posted."

I’ve never been one to ruminate on no-return decisions but it’s obvious that God wanted us to choose this route because He had a job for us to do.

And through His strength, we tried to follow His path.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Celebrating Love in February

Several close friends have come along side, ready to support me as we passed the BIG LOVE CELEBRATION on February 14. So, how did I ‘celebrate’?

Well, first I need to say that Mike and I were not big Valentine’s Day observers. So many times, the date fell during the week. We were both tired from work and when the kids were young, there were many more things that trumped a night out. 

I hope that doesn’t burst anybody’s bubble….we celebrated our love in many ways and on all sorts of days…we just didn’t line up for that date on the calendar. It wasn’t uncommon for me to find some little wrapped thing on  my pillow from time to time. (Mike was on first-name basis with the ladies that worked in our better department stores)
This year, especially, we in the Midwest have found that staying inside makes sense when it’s  -15 degrees outside; and the snow…so much snow…and more snow…seems to suggest we hunker down and wait for spring.

So I wasn’t primed to get all sad and sorry that I’d pass the date without tangible goodies. Here IS what I did…

I drove to Indianapolis, Ivy in shot gun, to a very nice mall that has a very nice children’s clothing store. I suddenly have lots of babies in my circle and wanted to purchase some special soft things for gifts. 

This mall had been overhauled…I don’t know when. I had to check the map to find my store. I asked the clerk. “We remodeled 3 years ago.”

I’ve been busy.

One part of the new construction: a huge food court. Right in the middle: Pinkberry. I believe this is Indiana’s first.

Pinkberry was a favorite of my sister-in-law Janelle. When the sisters visited her in Charlotte, we each got introduced to this special treat. Later, when Janelle was fighting glioblastoma, friends kept sending her gift certificates so when we made another trip, we savored more Pinkberry. I will always see her smile when I see that Pinkberry sign.  So, for 2/14, I celebrated her life and testimony with a small chocolate/hazelnut cup with white yogurt sprinkles.

I’d heard that there was even more snow coming so we had traveled down early. No matter, by the time we left the mall, big wet flakes were all over the car. Ivy and I knew that we had 40 miles to drive and we’d be on the lookout for ice and trucks and SUVs going too fast.

A friend reminded me recently that one habit of long-married folks: they continue to have silly fun together. Mike and I had all sorts of silly fun. One was to sing…loudly....we weren’t so great singers…to 50’s on 5 on Sirrius radio.

So, on my trip home, I celebrated the love of my life by belting out some Do Whaps and A Weema Whappas.

Happy days ahead here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When God Shows Up

“I’ve already heard it all.”

On those occasions when someone at my house had decided to play hooky from church, this was the justification. The very fact that an excuse was needed betrayed some guilt; and since several of us had been to church most of our lives, it seemed to make some sense.

Mike liked to say he was ‘born in the pew.’ As I know where he WAS born, this was a typical Mikonian exaggeration. I know that I spent my first Christmas in the Lincoln Park First Baptist nursery when I was 2 ½ weeks old. At any rate, together we logged a lot of Sunday School and church growing up. Then, we both attended Wheaton College where students were required to take 25 hours of Bible, theology, philosophy, and contemporary Christian thought. So, yeah, we thought we’d heard it all…mostly.

That has to pose a challenge to the man of God, the mouthpiece, whose task is to bring a word, a message, a thought, to the congregation. 

But, if you believe as I do, it is not the messenger or even the surface message that should get us to those  services. It is the Holy Spirit, that ethereal and very real portion of the Godhead that illuminates any service, if we come with even mild expectation and if we listen to Him. (I will ascribe to traditional roles here.)

I don’t know how this works with the unbeliever, but for the rest of us, we are promised that we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit so He makes Himself known, even when we are too busy, too tired, too distracted. 

And so I find myself driving out to my home church on these snowy Sunday mornings. I’m a front-row parishioner…..they told us that the music is less loud down front and that seems to be true…there’s fellowship and music and that time for illumination.

Last Sunday, as I slipped into my usual place, the band took the stage. A man I don’t know stationed himself at stage Down Left and tuned his guitar. I couldn’t help but remember that this was Mike’s spot, another reason to sit close. Then, as the band began to lead us in worship, I noticed that his part was not so complicated….some nice chords and runs…and I realized that THIS would have been a place for Mike.

Few things made him happier and more nervous than being asked to play at church. He knew, and it was not too subtle, that he was the slow one in the fast group. Some of our musicians are professional and Mike was a plugger. When asked to play, he would camp out in his music room and practice and practice and practice. He would polish his guitar, make sure that he had extra strings and show up early for rehearsal. On Sunday play day, he would pick out something comfortable and not too uncool to wear on stage and arrive early for run-through. I could watch him concentrate as he played and then smile ever-so-slightly when he ran past a challenging measure.

He loved to play with the Oakbrook Band. He knew that he was serving the Lord and that he was using whatever talent he had to that end. After he became ill, the requests to play became less and then, as he kept defying his doctors, they picked up. His last time to play was about 2 months before he died.

Whenever he was up there, friends would pull me aside and tell me how seeing Mike made them so happy. I believe it reinforced the reality of God’s power.

So, I watched the band and the guy in Mike’s place. It was grand and a bit sad.

Then, one of our pastors approached the podium and brought the message. And I, who could say that I’ve heard it all, heard something new; God had a message for me on that day. I’m always pleased and surprised when I hear it again and I hear something new. This is the power of the Spirit; I live in a close consciousness to His presence these days.

And then our pastor led us in communion: in our church, both elements pass together. We partake as we feel ready. Communion unites the believers and I believe this is the first time I celebrated without Mike at my side. And that’s when it happened.

I held the cup in one hand and the bread in the fingers of the other. I prayed briefly and then put the elements in my mouth. And then I realized that I had been weeping, probably for a long time. Not sobs or wails…just streams of tears running down my face so quickly, I could do nothing to stem them or blot them away. The lights were down although I’m not embarrassed by honest emotion. I clasp the empty cup in my fist and saw that it was shaking.

Then, the wave passed, the lights came up and the service was over. I had met closely with my God, savored a memory, and cleansed myself of some sadness.

God continues to bless me and permits me to bless others. There is much joy and very little sorrow here. And, one little piece of grief is now past.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Great Way to Spend a Snowy Saturday

I got a call the other day…actually a FACEBOOK message…from a friend of mine. He’s the music director at Kokomo High School which was to host the ISSMA district solo and ensemble competition.

That’s Indiana State School Musical Association in case you didn’t know. It looked like 7 or 8 schools, including one from 75 miles away, traveled to our school for this event. My friend was looking for helpers; I had the morning free; and honestly, I miss being around high school kids.

So I got my tank filled this morning. Students from 5th grade up were included in the mix. My coordinating parent found a nice job and spot for me:
1.    1) Keep the musicians moving.
2.     2L Check off the names
3.      3)When the performer comes out, hand him his card, marked wit his award, so he can get his medal.
4.      4)Save the judge’s score sheets until a Runner comes to collect them.
5.      5)Keep the noise down in the hall.

Some actualities came up for which I had no instructions; classroom teachers wing it all the time but I found that when you are following someone else’s directions, you are less comfortable with solving problems on your own.

I was parked outside the ‘STRINGS’ room so I got to rotate violinists, cellists and bassists, in solo and then ensemble, as they entered, played and then exited. And in between, while kids waited, some gathered around just to chat. I am still a bit of a kid magnet. Kids offered their personal tips for stage fright, they choices for costume, and their questions about where to eat lunch.

Congratulations, ALEX!!!
The schedule was optimistically packed and what was supposed to end by 11:30 ran until 1. It was so much fun to spend a snowy morning in my old stomping ground, missing the kid part of teaching.

And added bonus: my talented nephew, Alex Bolinger, took a GOLD  medal in the trombone solo.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Musings on a Snowy Afternoon

When I step back and look, really look, I marvel at how God has made major decisions so easy for me. As I’ve mentioned before, it often takes 3 taps on the head to get my attention, but these big things announce themselves with crystal clarity.

So, the closing of the Kokomo home. So, the move to the lake. And, so the stepping away from teaching at Kokomo High School, my professional home for 39 years. Because of some HR regulations, I am ‘on leave’ this year; retirement filing has a due date
 and I’m already on top of that.  
I will retire from KHS this spring

 It’s time.

I don’t want to be one of those oldsters who decry the good old days. Public Education has changed over the years as has society. I could harp of what I wish ‘they’ still did; I’m sure that some old timers had similar thoughts when I began.

I began as a naïve college grad, knowing very little, including that I knew very little. They handed me some books, a gradebook, a red pencil, (wow!) and classrooms of students. “Go get ‘em,” they said. The school board had established local goals for my classes; I had a list of the goals. It was up to me, all up to me, that I achieve those goals.

Malcolm Gladwell maintains, in Outliers, that it takes about 10,000 hours to learn a craft. That’s about 5 years of teaching time. And as I look back, that’s about how long it took for me to figure out such things as time and class management: how to read the face of the confused, bored, troubled, or bright; how to plan and execute lessons and evaluations; how to manage my personal life with my professional life; and how to raise concerns that needed to be raised and forget those that should be forgotten.

I suppose most jobs have similar skills; mine included relationships with 80 – 150 students each semester. 

I look back on those days, remembering my learning curve which was at 90 degrees all of the time, and am grateful for colleagues who nurtured me, for free. I began at a time when teachers worked without expecting extra compensation: we wrote and rewrote curriculum, tests, book evaluations, and classroom inventory. It was expected. Nobody talked about ‘on the clock.’

I’m not saying that this system was fair or right. It was the system. And everybody followed it. Over the last 10 years, the extra-classroom load has exploded: with it have come demands for compensation. Personally, I would have preferred being released from the load, letting someone else do it and collect the money. But that’s rarely a choice.
Kokomo High School back in the day

This naïve, sheltered, college grad landed in a typical school in a blue collar town. When I started, kids could drop out at 16. And at 16, they could find good-paying jobs in manufacturing. In fact, one fun thing they would do was to  come back to see their teachers, waving their pay stubs.

Sometime in the 80, local manufacturing leaders wanted to impress upon educators that those low skill jobs were disappearing and we needed to sell kids on staying in school and getting more training. Our state guys then changed the law, making 18 the age when kids could drop out of school. Somewhere else in there, attendance and graduation rates became tied to school funding. After that, schools did not want to expel even the most egregious. Schools looked for all sorts of creative ways to keep kids in school and get kids to graduation.

So, the reality was that classrooms were full of kids who a generation ago, could have been out and working. Now we were trying to get them to do algebra and advanced English. Frustrating for everybody.

Threaded through this adventure have been many attempts to craft education to meet the needs of students and society. Take good old English 9.

Since 1973, we’ve had goals, behavioral objectives, measureable benchmarks, measurable objectives, goals (again), course outlines with text page numbers (redone every time we got a new textbook), course standards, state standards, numbered objectives and whatever we have now. I can’t say what we have now as the last year was a bit of a blur for me.

And about that blur: when I started teaching, I had a great principal, a man whose goal was a cohesive staff and a motivated student body. He created a family atmosphere at my first school. I saw how staff interacted with students and knew that I wanted my own children to be a part of this. Alas, by the time my kids were in school, times had changed, not to something bad, just something different.

My first principal BLED the school colors
This first principal would let me storm into his office with my ideas about how school could be so much better; about how this or that was a problem; about what I would do if I was running things. I was too young to realize how inappropriate these audiences were. But he never winced, wiggled, or told me my time was over. He sat patiently, let me blow off steam and then would respond with something that made sense in the moment. I’m betting I amused him but he never smiled or laughed. It was as if I, the genius young teacher, had illuminated him to something new.

And his assistant was a sainted man who toiled in quiet on things like the schedule and the calendar, and who taught what, and so forth. It was also his job to guide/advise staff when they messed up.
One day, this man showed up at my door during my prep period. “Do you have time to talk?” he asked.


Someone (actually a SOMEBODY someone) had overheard me complaining about a student who had cheated on a test. I’m 99.99% sure that even then, I did not name the student. However, SOMEBODY was offended and wanted me to be reprimanded. And here came my boss to talk it over.

The entire interview took only a few minutes so it was quite a while later that I reflected on our conference.

He drew two student desks side by side, sat at one and signaled me to sit at the other. We talked. He made his point. But he had orchestrated a situation that could have been HE YELLS FROM HIS DESK while teacher cowers in corner. (I’ve had supervisors who preferred that method)

When he was done, we went back to what we had to do; no bruised feelings but points were made. What a gracious, confident man he was.

BTW, this same man showed up at my classroom door several years later, hand delivering a phone message from my babysitter. He handed it to me and I opened it. “Your daughter has a 117 degree temperature.” Before I could even react, he said, “Lynne, I’m sure this is wrong. But, why don’t you go home and make sure. I’ll cover your class until you return. And if you can’t come back today, don’t worry about it. Now, go ahead.”

His examples in these incidents, plus his work ethic and his genuine love of people…..I believe he helped make me the teacher I am today. 

I guess teaching can just be a job….and if that’s the case, it doesn’t pay all that well. But for most of the people I know, it’s more: it’s life. It’s that kid whose eyes light up, finally, when he gets it. It’s that girl who needs an extra ounce of care during a hard time. It’s the guy, the big guy, who seeks just one adult he can talk to. Sure, it’s curriculum and the art and craft of teaching, but it’s so much more.
Every teacher I know has worked through personal difficulties....I did. There’s something about the structure and schedule at school that lends a sense of control when circumstances defy control. And so there are times, within the family, some teachers stand along side that one who needs.

I may give off the aura of competence, however everybody at KHS knew of my husband’s illness. Certainly, everybody knew that the last school year was difficult. My husband was now dying. I was spread pretty thin.

My students were, typically, the best. I would make a mistake recording a grade. Someone would come to my desk with the mistake. I would apologize and fix it. So often, the student would say, “That’s ok, Mrs. B.” And I would acknowledge but tell him that I needed to do a good job for him. Then, because such things are never private, I would remind my students to keep me to the task. I will always remember with affection the many students I’ve grown to know.

But, now that last year’s fog has cleared, one thing about last year remains troubling. Our school, probably all schools, are trying to respond to new demands for accountability. I get it. Tax payers want to see what they are getting. And schools want them to be satisfied.

Multiple administrators presented information, held meetings, sent explanatory emails….explaining THIS THING each teacher was to do. Several friends who were about to retire announced that they weren’t going to do it. I believe there were some threats about withholding separation funds.
I know that several colleges held group sessions during multiple weekends to get it completed. Even if I had wanted to, that was not an option for me at this time.

I was a bit foggy anyway and these instructions were heavy in educational jargon. I would take notes, try to formulate questions and then seek answers. The fog never lifted.

THIS THING was a trial run, some sort of practice document, to teach us all how the real thing would be done. I believe the instructions changed but I’m not sure. What I AM sure of….Mike ill, teaching my classes…..that was all I could handle. THIS THING pushed me over the edge.
And still, I tried, I really tried, to complete THIS THING. I completed it as best as I could. I was told it was not good enough. So be it.

But on this snowy afternoon, I still remember my frustration at my failure in this area. And I knew that every supervisor knew that my husband was fading. Someone, anyone, all of them, might have stepped up and told me I could skip it. It would have made no difference except there would be one box not checked.

And I can’t help but compare how I was nurtured early in my career and reflect on the last semester. That compassionate touch was missing. And, I think that’s sad, not just for me but for those learning how to teach and how to support each other.

I’m sure, because I’ve seen it, that education continues to evolve. I also see clearly, that I am no longer the kind of teacher that the new school requires. All good. God has gifted me. He’ll show me the next chapter.