Good byes and Good Friday

I was born on Good Friday.

In 1971, Good Friday fell on April 9th, which was the day I was born.  For this reason, even before I understood the beauty and the message of the Easter season, I was intrigued by Good Friday. And by the time I was 13 or 14, I finally stopped making the joke, “you know why they call Good Friday good? ‘Cause I was born on that day”.

Yup. I was hilarious.

But even when the laughter died, I still asked myself what makes Good Friday good? It’s like the saddest day ever, right? Taken at face value, it is the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and death- not even remotely ‘good’. More like Horrible Friday!

(Disclaimer: I am aware that theologians have long explained the assignment of the name Good Friday. I am also aware that no one reads this blog for theology- or even facts, for that matter.)

Driving around seeing patients today, I was thinking a lot about Good Friday and Easter and all that its message does to restore me. The rain, and the acute sicknesses of todays’ patients, however, had put me in quite the Good Friday funk. Looking for a perk, I scanned Spotify and put on John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulder”- an all time favorite that makes me feel warm. After singing along loudly, the playlist moved on to another John Denver classic, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” (Also famously sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary...coincidence, I think not!)

“Leaving on a Jet Plane” is one of those songs that will send tears to my eyes and put an immediate lump in my throat after just the first few bars. Ever since it was popular when I was very young, and up until now, I can sing all the words but it will always ALWAYS make me sad.

When I was growing up, my beloved grandparents lived in Arizona and we only got to see them twice per year. “Gummy and Pop-pop” would fly east to visit us at Christmastime and the four Lanes would travel west to visit their home for April break. Gummy and Pop-pop were the absolute best- loving, giving, fun- and they would, bless their hearts, turn themselves inside out for our visits. It was my ABSOLUTE favorite time of year. From the moment we landed at Sky Harbor in Phoenix and Katie and I would SPRINT off the jetway to tackle them with hugs, I would have a permanent smile on my face for the entire visit. I can not remember ever being happier than I was on those trips.

My smile would, however, immediately and dramatically disappear on departure day. The routine included getting out the suitcases, packing our airplane “fun bags”, stripping the sheets and cleaning up the bathroom as Gummy insisted we not bother. Mom would make sure Katie and I were dressed in appropriate “flying outfits” (my how times have changed) and Gummy would spray one of our stuffed animals with her “Youth Dew” perfume so we could drink in her scent during our months apart. And through this entire routine, I would be battling to not cry. I hated- absolutely HATED- leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house.

Inevitably, every year, I would lose the battle to not cry just as we would get close to the airport. Big tears would start to spill over as my Dad would double check his sport coat for our boarding passes. In those days, anyone could go right up to the gate, which Gummy and Pop would, of course, do and they would even wait until the plane took off so they could wave through the window. And I would cry and cry. Not a “waaah waaah waaah” kind of cry like a baby, just a silent and sad hiccuppy cry that usually subsided somewhere over New Mexico.

So I am not sure if “Leaving on a Jet Plane” would play on the car radio in my grandparents’ Tornado (tore-nah-dough) or the Jet plane part reminded me of the annual Phoenix back to Newark flight, but the melancholy song is still an arrow through my forty-eight year old heart.

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go,

I’m standin here outside your door

I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…”

For me, whether John Denver or Mary from Peter, Paul and Mary is singing, the image of the singer standing at the threshold of the bedroom next to their packed suitcase brings me right to the feeling of deeply regretting an obligation that is making me leave this comfortable place.

But the dawn is breakin, it’s early morn

The taxi’s waiting

He’s blowin’ his horn

Already I’m so lonesome

I could die.”

The taxi. That damned beckoning taxi. Don’t you know the singer doesn’t want to leave?!  ENOUGH WITH THE HORN ALREADY!

And it was in that verse, sung by someone deeply in love who doesn’t want to leave the one they love, but answering obligation despite the tax on his heart, was what brought me back to Good Friday.

Easter has songs. Christmas has songs. And yeah, yeah Good Friday has a famous song, but I submit that “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is a song with the Good Friday message.

(And I mean NO disrespect or sacrilege by comparing dying on a cross to a business trip- really, I get it.)

Imagine for a minute if the singer of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is Jesus. Jesus, at the time of his death, was a young man with a deep love for his people. Scripture tells us that even though he accepted his fate, he was afraid. Jesus took time to say goodbye to his friends and let them know how much he loved them. Jesus implored them to stay focused on the future he had promised them, despite the sadness they might feel from being separated from him.

Now the time has come to leave you,

One more time, let me kiss you,

Then close your eyes

I’ll be on my way…

Dream about the days to come,

When I won’t have to leave alone

About the times, I won’t have to say…..”

Obligation and necessity push the singer’s goodbye, but there is no question where his heart remains.

Oh, Babe.. I hate to go….”

Just like I hated leaving Gummy and Pop-pop’s house, just like parents hate leaving their too soon adult children at college or just like my hospice patients hate saying goodbye to their loved ones and vice versa, Jesus’s heart broke as he took up the cross and began his trek to Calvary.

Saying goodbye to someone you love can be the hardest thing we ever have to do in life. Sad. Painful. Gut wrenching. Heart breaking.

So I am back to the question, What in the “heck” makes Good Friday good?

Of course, people that remember Good Friday know about Easter Sunday. Jesus’s “goodbye” was short, not permanent and transformed into a magical and everlasting “hello again” that is the greatest story ever told.

Resurrection is cool. Way cool. And you can’t have Easter and what it gives without Good Friday, right? But is that enough to make it ‘good’? Because I still can’t stop thinking about the man- on the cross- who died- and was wrapped and buried in a tomb- that was blocked by a large stone.

We didn’t want to say goodbye to what went into that tomb.

Or did we?

Scripture tells us Jesus died for our sins. He died so that we, his beloved people, could have everlasting life.

In the season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter, followers of Jesus are asked to make sacrifices during this time. Give up something or give of yourself in a way that brings you closer to God and more mindful of his sacrifice. Some people give up broccoli like that matters at all. Some people give up meat on Fridays during Lent which is cool if you consider tilapia, salmon or lobster a sacrifice. Others, however, are more deeply called to embrace the spirit of the season: they may give up something that tries to hold power over them like an addiction, a compulsion or a resentment.

And I believe it is in those sacrifices, those offerings, those gestures that move us closer to Jesus, that we find the good in Good Friday.  When Christ died for our sins and was buried but on the third day rose again, guess what didn’t follow him out?


All. That. Stuff.


I’ve written before about the virtues of Holy Saturday, the day in between hope lost and hope restored that mirrors where so many of us live every day. Between diagnosis and treatment, devastation and relief, Holy Saturday is where we hold space. And of course I’ve written about Easter- my blog is called HOPEspot, after all. I’ve praised its gifts and reminded us that they’re there for us only if we roll back the stone in front of our own tomb and rejoice for what we’ve been given.

For those that have spent Lent praying and striving to be a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, or a better person in ways that made them get uncomfortable and dig deep within themselves, Good Friday is for you, my friends. Good Friday invites us to throw it all up there with Jesus- put your sin, your weakness, your anger, your burden up on that cross and let it die. Jesus is resurrected but your sins are not. They die today. On a cross. In Calgary. With a man who was willing to assume them all so that you could be saved.


That, to me, sounds pretty good.




Help in Humboldt

Why do I spend my Sunday mornings like this?

HOPEspotters, most of you know I am a devout lover of sports. I follow all the major leagues and teams at both the college and pro level and really put the “fanatic” in the fan for the teams I love. And while I may not be an expert at the X’s and O’s for each game, I study all the players and the coaches in order to keep current.

I am genuinely not a competitive person, by nature, which is probably good since my own career in sports forced me to get pretty familiar with the “L” column. Sure, I like to win, maybe even love it, but the thrill of the kill isn’t the thing that sports feeds me.

Following sports, from pee-wee softball to the NFL, fulfills my love of stories. Stories that provide the most fascinating allegories for life. So many stories, so many lessons.

And no one- I mean no one- tells those stories better than the team at ESPN that produces “E:60”.

On the busiest of days, I have found myself stopped in my tracks, suddenly captivated by the tale of a legless wrestler, a deaf football team, a college basketball player who survived TWO plane crashes, presented by Jeremy Schapp and Bob Ley.  And at the end of each story, I’m usually crying, often breathless, and always reminded of the resiliency of the human spirit. There’s gifts, there’s hardships, there’s redemption and there’s inspiration. Sometimes, it is better than church.

I had the chance to meet Jeremy Schaap at an ALS Fundraising Gala in Atlanta two years ago and  I went kind of ‘fan girl’ on him. He was a true gentleman and asked why I was attending the event. When I told him I was generously asked by a family who lost a loved one to the awful disease, and I had participated in her care, he was effusive with praise for the role of the hospice nurse. A table turn I did not expect. What we agreed upon in the course of our conversation was this: we loved our jobs. The people we meet inspire us and their stories never leave us. Sometimes it can be very emotional to listen to their stories, but when we allow ourselves to be open to them, there is always beauty.

So me and Jeremy… ya… peas and carrots…

Anyhoo, Mr. Schaap and his team just produced another doozy, “Humboldt Strong”. While unloading the dishwasher this morning, I turned on the TV which was already tuned to ESPN from last night’s Final Four games.

“Humboldt Strong” is narrated by Wayne Gretzky and tells the unbelievably tragic story of the horrific bus crash involving the Junior Hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, from Humboldt, Saskatchewan. On April 6, 2018, on the way to a play- off game, the Broncos’ bus was hit by a semi- truck that ran a stop sign. This catastrophic and devastating event led to 16 deaths. There were 13 survivors, two of whom were paralyzed and two with significant traumatic brain injuries. The number of hearts broken by the incident is immeasurable. The accident sent the community, the country, the hockey world reeling. It was the worst mass casualty auto accident in Canada’s history and it was another example of the unbelievable and incomprehensible fragility of life.

The story of the Humboldt Broncos can be dissected on so many different levels. There’s loss, there’s grief, there’s anger, there’s determination, there’s community spirit. There’s a lot in the mere 60 minutes allowed to the story. A story, I am sure, that only one year later, isn’t over yet.

But there was one detail, a fairly small one, in fact, that has stuck with me today- resonated, perhaps.  During this. season of Lent, this detail seemed to illuminate a timeless and often redundant question that has to do with feeling forsaken and seeking healing.

In classic E:60 fashion, the narration gets slower as the recounting of the inevitable accident approaches. The bus is shown traveling a two lane highway that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.

“At 4:58 PM, the charter bus carrying 29 Humboldt Broncos players and coaches, crossed the intersection of…. and was hit by a semi truck driving at….” “The top of the bus was literally ripped in two….” “The cargo that was carried by the truck had been spilled all over the landscape..”

“At 5:16, the first batch of emergency responders arrived…”


4:58.


5:16.

18 minutes.


1,080 seconds.

Impressively fast for the middle of nowhere. And yet… 18 minutes. E.I.G.H.T.E.E.N minutes. One thousand eighty seconds.

As I watched the rest of the documentary, I was utterly distracted, fairly haunted, by those eighteen minutes. What was it like for the people who survived the initial impact to wait 18 minutes? And I bet 18 minutes seems a lot longer when one doesn’t know if it will “only” be 18 minutes? And you’re in pain, and scared? And I think it is pretty cold in Saskatchewan, Canada in April, eh?

Eighteen Minutes.

And then I started to think less about the length of time those poor young men, and a few women, had to wait for help and more about if they wondered if it was coming at all. When your life gets literally blown apart by a semi truck going at full speed, I would imagine it would be normal, understandable, in fact, to question or even lose faith. Maybe in their panic and pain, they felt forsaken.

And then, of course, I started to think of all of us, who at times have been lying in a cold field, in pain and scared, and wondering when help is coming and if it will come at all. And sometimes, in the metaphor, we sit in that cold and in that pain for a hell of a lot longer than eighteen minutes.

“Mr. Jones, there were some unusual findings in your colonoscopy. We’d like you to schedule an MRI but it looks like the next available appointment isn’t available until next month.”

“There are clearly some abnormalities on the fetal ultrasound but things might change throughout the course of the pregnancy and the severity won’t really be clear until…”

“We won’t know how quickly this is going to progress and while there are some medications that might slow things down, statistics generally show that at Stage IV…”

“You’re leaving? Just like that? You’re leaving me?”

What about the people who love someone with an addiction and wonder if he or she will ever get “clean” (I hate that term, by the way) and sober?  Or the poor people who have a loved one that has gone missing, been taken, run away- and they lay on that metaphorical field in Canada wondering when the HELL help is ever going to come? Waiting out the storm can seem unbearable…

And maybe, sometimes, the wait is so painful, the thought of just surrendering to death seems inviting. Case in point, the recent suicides by the Parkland shooting survivors or the father of the Sandy Hook shooting victim. That man, Jeremy Richman, lay in that cold Canadian field, in apparent acute pain, so profound that the help he waited for for 6 years and 3 months, seemed for him to never come. And he couldn’t wait anymore.

And that, is terribly sad.

Just like some of the Humboldt Broncos, some bodies cannot stand the injury any longer and they cannot survive the wait. I pray that help has arrived for him, and others who’ve suffered like him, in a more peaceful and less tormented place.

My faith, my life experience and everything I stand for has taught me that help will always come- some way, somehow, some day a first responder will arrive. Sometimes it takes an excruciatingly long time. Maybe we’re not ready for them when it does arrive. Often times it isn’t in the form we expect, but I believe to the core of my soul that help always comes.

16 Humboldt Broncos died that day, but 13 survived. And after seeing the footage from the actual wreckage, that is 13 undeniable miracles. Because help showed up. It got there and it did what it needed to do.

Last year, I was giving a few remarks at our annual hospice bereavement service- an hour of remembrance for the loved ones of those who died in our program the previous year. My remarks included my “go to” phrase “I know it is never anyone’s best day when I, the “hospice girl”, shows up.” I understand the gravity of the situation if I have been called in. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the end of the service, when a family member of a former patient came up and told me, “You should stop saying that. I was thrilled when you came. I felt like we were finally at a place where Mom wasn’t going to suffer anymore. I was so relieved. Throughout the course of her terrible illness, I think it was my best day.”  

Huh. Help- in a form other than expected- but help, nonetheless.

In my limited experience talking with people who’ve battled addictions, they are often very open about their rock bottom day. In trusted conversations, they share the circumstances that caused them to throw up their arms and cry, “Mercy” and most bless that day, because when they courageously surrendered their substance abusing ways, that was when the help came. And that was when they let the help in.

Ryan Leaf, former NFL quarterback, known for being a big time ‘bust’ with a bad attitude fell deeply into substance abuse after his career ended prematurely and he wound up in prison. His life is now turned around completely and he is devoted to helping others battle addiction and prevent drug abuse, through regular speaking engagements and one on one counseling. He’s taken his painful past and given it grace by sharing his experiences with others so that they may avoid similar pitfalls. On April 1, 2019, he tweeted, “7 years ago today I woke up on the floor of a prison cell.. I had nothing to live for, or so I thought. If I had known the size of the blessing that was coming, I would have understood the magnitude of the battle I was fighting. I got up, there is Hope!! #7yearssober”

Ryan’s 18 minutes played out of the course of a very scary and lonely and painful decade, but help did come. (And look at that, I am back to sports…)

And, oh yeah, there is another really good story about fear and pain, waiting and praying, wreckage, loss and redemption. Some people call it, in fact, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and it’s final chapter is coming to churches near you in just two short weeks.

Spoiler alert: help comes. Not before sadness, not in the absence of fear, but it shows up BIG TIME.

Back in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, there is a large memorial at the site of the crash that occurred just over a year ago. The documentary shows how each of the featured ‘victims’ and their families are getting on with their lives. Clearly, there is still a lot of grief work to be done. No one is lying by the side of the road anymore, but there is still a lot of pain. The wounds are deep and large and the fractured hearts and hope and dreams are extensive. It is clear as the survivors and the family members of those that didn’t survive speak, there is a longing for help- or better said for healing- to arrive.

I hope they know that it will.


It absolutely will.

Saint-ly Lessons

When I started this blog two years ago I had lofty aspirations. I believed I would publish regularly, provide insightful content, and move towards a bigger platform.

I've done none of that.

I wanted this blog to be an expression of things I’ve learned as a cancer survivor, a hospice nurse and a mother.

Unfortunately I fear my subject matter, my passion topics, have become redundant. Add to that my aversion to offend anyone, I may be stale and boring.

Well, HOPEspotters, hang in..please. Because here I go, again!

I love NFL football. I grew up loving my family time surrounding NFL games. As an adult I’ve become an avid and passionate fan. To be honest, I don’t totally understand people that don’t follow football, but I don’t want them to quit reading- yet.

This past weekend was the NFL Conference Championships. NFC featured New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams and AFC featured Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots.

Both home teams lost. Rams beat Saints. Pats beat Chiefs.

Winners go to Super Bowl and losers painfully go home. At this stage of the season, stakes are high and outcomes matter.

Just like life.

The NFC Championship game, featuring the New Orleans Saints v. Los Angeles Rams had a highly controversial “non” penalty call. The pass interference committed by Nickell Robey- Coleman (Rams) against Tommie Lee Lewis(Saints) has been replayed over, and over, and OVER again.

The officials blew the call. Coleman committed pass interference. No one disputes that now.

For the non football followers, that game went into overtime and following an interception thrown by Drew Brees, the Los Angeles Rams capitalized on the opportunity and won the game.

The Rams victory was much to the dismay of the New Orleans fans.  These same Saints fans already suffered a last minute loss in the 2017 playoffs. These same Saints fans really love their team and struggled to comprehend the impact of the infamous missed call.


Losing hurts.


This particular loss has created a chaos of “UNFAIR” cries because of the missed call at a crucial moment. The New Orleans Saints fans have screamed with an unprecedented noise that has included billboards, law suits, boycotts and everything angry.  They are, understandably PISSED. But I am going to stick my neck out and say that there is a purpose in this.

I love so many things about sports. The thrill of victory. The overcoming of adversity. Underdogs. Hard work. Team work. So many life lessons.

Sports gives us the fantastic and attractive opportunity to exercise our necessary life muscles. The ones that help us overcome adversity. Manage disappointment. Support our team. Work hard and accept outcomes.

From the beginning of civilization, man has used sport to demonstrate superiority and mastery. But for every winner there is a loser. Historically there have always been close calls, disputed calls, perceived lack of fairness and outcomes that should have turned out otherwise.

Evidence: David. V. Goliath.

Sports friends, to be clear, I have cried the unfair cry more times than I care to remember. When I was 11 I was on a championship winning swim relay team that never got to claim gold in the final meet because of weather. When I was 14 I showed up at swim practice EVERY DAY only to be defeated regularly by a teammate with more god given size and talent.

And, please. As an adult .. a devout Atlanta Falcons fan, please don’t 28-3 me.

New Orleans, and NFL fans at large, I beseech you to remember an important and age old tenant: Life is not fair.

Life. Is. NOT. Fair.

Should it be? Sure, I guess. But it isn’t and sports is the thing that is supposed to help us PREPARE for the unfair curve balls, not cry over them excessively.

How not fair is life? I invite you to visit an infusion center at any major hospital. Please poll the cancer patients in the chairs and ask them about universal justice.

Still not convinced? Spend some time in a NICU- observe babies fighting for life because they were born too soon or battling conditions unfairly placed upon them.

Natural disasters? Not fair. Mass shootings? Hella unfair.

You want to entertain me? Sit me down with an “SC Featured” and talk to me about Eric Berry, James Connor or other athletes who know UNFAIR and came back anyway.

We can be good, try hard, do right and still get bitch slapped with a “I did NOT see THAT coming” sided with a “It is NOT supposed to be THAT way”.

Listen, I am keenly aware that my personal and professional experience may seem to set that ‘perspective’ bar unfairly high. And yet, aren’t I allowed to share my ‘perspective’ bar for the good of us all?

All of us are filled with so many passions and the world right now is angry with passions colliding. Sports are supposed to be fun passions but many of us pour all the the things we want from the world into our rooting interests.  And then when it doesn’t work out, minds are literally BLOWN.

I can imagine a few New Orleans fans I know that may read this and feel awfully salty at my suggestion that embracing the unfairness of life, as bitter as that can be, is actually the best way forward. I’ve personally spent years crying and screaming and beating my head against the brick wall in the chapel of the “life is unfair” church.

It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. If we count up and redistribute all the unfair and missed calls put out in the world, each of us would hide in a corner and pray that we only were delivered what we already had.

Fighting unfair is a losing battle.

Redirection and ultimate victory are the only remedy.


How did I learn that?


Sports. And Life.


But really a lot of sports.


“It is your response to winning or losing that makes you a winner or a loser.”



Happy Anniversary, HOPEspot!

Hopespotters! HOPEspot was born three years ago today. Three years ago, friends and family came to my home to launch this venture.  I was blessed with love and support that night. Those in attendance knew that I needed an outlet, a place to share my thoughts on life (mothering it and hospice-ing it). My husband, months before recognizing my discontent, connected me with a wonderfully creative web designer and HOPEspot was put in motion.

My husband’s initial diagnosis with my discontent was correct. My personal and professional experience was bubbling up in my throat and I needed to vent. I wanted to write but felt insecure with my talent. Three years into my blog, I still feel insecure about my talent. The majority of my followers are people that know me. Sometimes I worry their praise is equal to that of one might receive for looming a potholder because it was a useful application of time with a reasonably satisfactory product.

I started the blog with some shy, short outputs, but that time was marked by my niece’s heart surgery and there were tremendous feelings associated with that season.

Since then, we’ve explored Acts of God, Holy Saturday, 8th grade field trips and This is Us episodes that were life lessons. I’ve collaborated with very special people and felt good about this message.

I tried funny, observant, spiritual and informative. I tried to cover personal and professional and I wanted to make a name for myself as a writer. I still want that.

It is hard to try to be something bigger than I feel. I want to write about things that trouble me and yet I feel incomplete when I can’t make sense of the issues. I want to write from a place of total ego integrity, but I am too honest.

Three years ago, my husband wanted to help me start a blog so I could vent and grow professionally. Three years ago, Obama was still president. Three years ago, #metoo was unheard of. Three years ago, the shootings at the Orlando night club or Mandalay Bay had not happened.

Three years ago I felt younger- and more optimistic.

But this blog, this HOPEspot, has felt like a baby I’ve needed to nurture and help mature. As has been the case with my sons, I’ve made some errors.

I named HOPEspot for a reason. Personally and professionally, I’ve experienced times where answers and resources seemed absent. I know those moments where families look at each other with a love and a frightening void all at the same time.

Those moments SUCK.

My hope for HOPEspot was it would be a resource for those moments that could offer help and humor. If there was anything I could ever offer to families in those moments, I want to do it.

Three years in, I’m not as ebullient. Realities of disease, family, and circumstance constantly smack me in the face.

Three years in, I look back to why I started this and I come upon this:

Pandora.

Pandora was given a box she was forbidden to open. She is all of us. In predictable instant gratification, our girl opened the box and let out a host of evils she didn’t intend to release. In a panic, she closed the box, regretting the fact she didn’t follow her father’s instructions in keeping the box closed.


Thank you, Pandora for closing the box at just the right time. HOPE remained in the box. For all the hard things, I still think HOPE is the infinite remedy.

Thanks HOPEspotters followers. More. To. Come.