Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.
Today around noon, I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.
Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”
Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.
Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!” Today, I crossed milestone.
Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her. She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.
On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)
Today, Vanessa met her sister.
Today, I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.
Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.
With the boys back in school this week, I’m longing for the smell of fall candles, cooler evenings, and a pot of chili, but we are in our hottest time of the year here in Florida. I wonder if I’m the only woman who gains weight in the summer and loses that weight every fall and winter. I suppose it’s because I tend to hibernate through the hottest months and when that first breeze kisses my cheek, I take a long stretch and become alive again. I’ve told my peoples I’ve decided to become a European. I’ve outfitted my bike with saddle bags, mirrors, head and tail lights, and a cell phone holder. I’ll be the biggest bike nerd in Dr. Phillips. I have a plan to fit exercise into my day, get ready for it… I will bike to the grocery store. Of course, I know this seems a bit counterproductive exercising to get food, but I see it as a way of shooting two chickens with one bullet. Contemplate my brilliance, I can only buy that night’s dinner ingredients, which will keep me from buying anything unnecessary. Save money…loose fat…fetch dinner. I see it as a win-win-win. Make that three chickens. The truth is I’ve been seeing that middle-age monster lurking in the shadows and I know he’s out to get me!
There are times our heart needs to get into shape in a spiritual sense as well. When we’ve had an absence of hurt or joy in our lives, our heart can go into a complacent hibernation. Sometimes, this is caused by protecting our heart too much, by tucking it in a dark cave.
This week, we celebrated my daughter Bella’s fourth birthday. Every year when her birthday rolls in I can’t help but think of my sister Tricia. When I announced I was pregnant with Bella, it didn’t go over so well. We found Tricia an hour later sobbing on her friend’s sofa.
“I’m so sorry Tammy,” she said. “I’m happy for you and Jay, it’s just this… while you are getting ultrasounds, I’m getting PET scans, while your body is creating life, mine is creating cancer, while you are looking forward to the day you meet your baby, I’m dreading the day I say goodbye to mine. You’re looking forward to the future, while I’m holding on to the past.” It was a painful irony.
The next morning, we stood outside our parent’s home riddled with guilt for the pain we caused the other.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” I said. “I would’ve felt the same way. I want you to know I wasn’t trying.”
“I know God is giving you this baby to… ya know… keep you busy so you’ll keep going when I go.” She smiled and placed her hand on my belly. “You’re already showing.”
“My body knows what to do by the fourth one,” I said.
Her eyes met mine. “When she comes, I will go,” she said.
Although she whispered the words, I jumped back as if she’d punched me. “Wait, No, You don’t know everything Tricia Baines. Besides, I know you’re wrong because Jay only makes boys.”
She grabbed my arm. “I know okay.”
The moment Bella propelled herself into my world, my heart stretched between conflicting emotions of incredible joy and wrenching pain. I smiled through tears at my tiny baby before Tricia’s words flooded my memory, and I let out a sob. Tricia happened to be in a Virginia hospital bed as well that day. True to her prophetic statement, she died around the same time my baby was born, exactly nineteen weeks later.
After she passed, I kept having these terrible chest pains. Convinced my pregnancy had put a strain on my heart, I underwent an EKG, and a stress test. When the tests results were in, Jay and I sat in the cardiologist’s office for a consult. I knew he was going to tell me I’d need some sort of heart repair, but instead he looked up from his file and said, “Everything looks good. Your hearts in good shape.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense, my heart hurts.” I said pointing to my chest. “I’m having this sharp stabbing pain.”
“Have you experienced anything traumatic lately? Have you been under any strain or anxiety?”
Jay nodded. “Her sister died.”
“That’s not it!” I said pointing at him. “I’m fine with that. This is physical pain.”
“That’ll do it to you.” The doctor turned around in his chair dismissing further objections. “Looking over your tests, your heart is great. Our bodies have a way of letting us know when we’ve experienced something difficult.”
Every Bella birthday, I celebrate the day my heart stretched and in the looking back, I’ve come to realize a stretched-out heart can only hold more. My larger heart holds more compassion, empathy, and love than it did before, allowing more blood to flow through…more life. I believe sometimes God lets our heart stretch between pain and joy so we can feel a tiny bit of what He felt as He watched His Son die on the cross. He must have mourned watching the pain and suffering of His Son, all the while feeling great joy for the birth of salvation for mankind.
Has there been a time in your life when your heart stretched? See it as a blessing. Or do you feel your heart has been in a complacent hibernation? Stop protecting it. It needs exercise. Pull it out of the cave.
There are seasons when life becomes filled with too much. Too much stress, too much sorrow… too much work…just plain too much. That has been my season this summer. I’ve had a summer of too much illness, not my own (thank you Jesus), but in the ones I love. My summer started with my friend Vanessa who’s battling brain cancer (you can see her story starting here: Half Naked and Picking Weeds) and took a turn for the worse in May. I left Vanessa’s hospital bedside and flew to Virginia in June to take care of my mother as she underwent kidney stone surgery, while there Daddy became sick. After they recovered, I returned to Vanessa’s hospital room. In July, another dear friend of mine contracted a terrible infection in her knee that could have been fatal. It was off to Tampa to visit her in the hospital. She is still at home with a port in her chest administering daily antibiotics. In July, we almost lost Jay’s father, and drove up to Ocala to visit him in the hospital. After, my son Christian began suffering from a bleeding throat and had to have a tonsillectomy. He’s still recovering today. Last Wednesday, we drove to Tampa to be with Vanessa during her MRI consult. After receiving great news in June that her cancer had almost disappeared, we heard terrible news that it was not only back but spreading rapidly. The doctor told her without chemo she had two months with chemo, she’d have sickness and maybe four. It was all just too much!
I’ll admit it, on the drive home,I was bit testy with God. I sobbed until my eyes swelled shut, and told my husband I was darn mad. I wanted to know why God allowed us to get so excited over great news to only crush us with terrible a month later. I suppose I’ll never understand all of that. Maybe, it’s not my place to.
You know when your Momma tells you to “settle down.” Today, I’ve settled down. I have to accept God’s sovereignty in the lives of those I love, and I’ve decided to truly surrender your life to God means to surrender your loved ones, hopes, dreams for your future, health, and even your anger to the One who holds it all in His hands. Besides, everything that happens to us first slips through His perfect fingers anyway. And His hands… that’s a good place to put the too much too. So, when you feel like you’re going through “too much,” place it in the hands of the God who loves you so much. That’s it for today. A little sad and tired to write more. Have a great weekend!
I threw the broken seashells behind me and placed the perfect into my pail. My toddler, Bella followed behind selecting her own shells. The water swirled around our legs. I kept glancing back to insure she wasn’t swept away by the undertow. Later that evening, I returned to the beach to clean up, and peered into our pails. My bucket was a quarter-filled with the perfect shells, hers overflowed with all the broken I’d discarded. Immediately, I felt the familiar nudge when God wants me to see beyond what is physically there.
I have a tendency to wade in the waters of perfection-obsession. Perfectionism can be debilitating to a writer… an artist… an older Momma, filling me to the brim with the “not enough” syndrome. My writing doesn’t grab the attention enough, my paintings aren’t riveting enough, as a mother of a toddler I’m not young enough. Perfectionism’s return is always void, always costing me an empty bucket of unfulfilled hopes.
That night on the beach, I dumped my shells and slipped a couple of Bella’s shards into my jean pocket.
Bella is a lover of the broken, the imperfect. I am thankful.
When we snuggle in the chair at night, she raises her brows, and tells me to do the same. She traces the lines on my forehead with her little finger and tells me she has lines too. For now, rooted in innocence, she sees my lines as beautiful, and I am grateful.
I’ve worried about my Bella, thought about the unfairness of it all, being stuck with the older version of Momma. The one bearing sags of four pregnancies, diminished eyesight, and with three other children- an over-filled calendar. The Momma with lines around her eyes left from a life of laughter, sprinkled on occasion by the heaviest of clouds.
Bella watches me put on makeup. “Mommy you’re pretty,” she says. I smile, the lines appear in the mirror, trying to taunt me, but I remind myself they are evidence of a life well lived. I am living proof a bucket filled with broken pieces produce blessings in a lifetime. The crooked legs I was born with, still want to dance. A creative mind that daydreamed in school, now creates paintings and characters. A once naive and trusting spirit brings laughter to the joyless. A broken heart that feared commitment, still leaps at the sight of my husband. A memory that couldn’t retain history dates, remembers life’s tiniest details. A weak faith has endured testing and strengthened. A girl who wanted to take on the injustices of the world now shows mercy to those around her. A twenty-something’s unwise choices has produced wisdom. It is the broken pieces about us that can produce full buckets of God’s glory.
Occasionally, we need reminding, God loves us no matter. Just like Bella, walking along the shoreline picking up the pieces I’d discarded, Jesus walked this earth and picked up the broken, washed up, and rejected. His final act of love for a broken world was to break Himself on the cross and rise from the tomb, leading me to my ultimate blessing… I have a Savior who’s perfect, so I don’t have to be.
Are you chasing perfection? Chasing the lie? Do you spend more time worrying over the sags, bags, cracks, and lacks? Do you work harder to impress the world or to please God? Do you compare yourselves to others on social media? Don’t sap the joy out of your life with perfection-obsession.God loves those broken, tired, wrinkled, and baggy parts, my friend. Nestle into His grace, and while you’re at it, spend a little time this summer picking up the broken seashells.
There are huge uh… fruit of some sort growing all over it. I believe it’s grapefruit, but I won’t know until the day it ripens, which for weeks I’ve been monitoring its progress.
“How’s the fruit?” Jay says when I walk in the door from the garden for the umpteenth time.
After several months of this, I contacted a specialist on all matters of the universe, Dr. Goggle and found it takes 11 months for grapefruit to ripen on the vine. ELEVEN MONTHS! I mean goodness gracious, I could die of scurvy before this fruit ripens! Kudos to the citrus farmers out there, I crown you Saints of Patience.
Since Half- Naked and Picking Weeds was posted, I’ve been sitting with Vanessa in her apartment while she tells me her life story. Her apartment is dark, because her eyes hurt, and I squat at the foot of her bed with pen and notebook. Somehow, we work through her sentences one by one, word by word, and I’m able to understand. (The brain tumor has affected her communication skills.)
These past weeks, her head has been hot to the touch. So much so, one day I placed a cold cloth on it after rubbing it with oil. There was a bump rising up on her skull, along with the anxiety in my gut. Time was running out…or so I thought.
Her mother Joan came into the room, “No Tammy take that cloth off. Jesus is using heat to heal my daughter.” I removed the cloth, remembering my sister’s hyperthermia treatment in Germany, where a doctor heated her body up and iced her brain to fight breast cancer. How ironic, Vanessa’s brain was heating up now on its own.
Last week, my husband and I met Vanessa at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. While we waited for her MRI consult, Vanessa wrung her hands, I reached over and squeezed them in her lap.
“Oh my gosh, I’m just so anxious,” she said.
I touched her head. “You know it’s weird, but your head’s not hot and that bump has gone down. You look good and sound better since the last time I saw you.”
“I know. I feel great,” Vanessa said.
Finally, we were called back to speak with the doctor. The doctor turned from the monitor and asked her, “Are you sure you haven’t received any other treatment?”
“No,” Vanessa shook her head. “I’ve been on hospice.”
“Well, this is incredible. You only have one tiny spot of cancer left. Here,” She pointed to the monitor, “at the base of your brain. You can see, the swelling and the tumor have all shrunk. I suggest you get off hospice and start getting some physical therapy right away.”
Vanessa laughed. Her mother cried. I sat speechless by it all. (Speechless is a word rarely prescribed to me.)
You see, I’ve struggled with this whole cancer thing since my sister’s diagnoses. I’ve been asking God if He ever heals miraculously in the USA. I’ve read of many healings in developing countries where there is no medicine. Although, I’ve prayed for a miracle, I admit my faith is weak when it comes to healing. Sometimes, hopes hurt, and when they’re dashed to bits it takes time to recover. So, we build a wall around hopes and tread the perimeter with caution.
I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this way.
Around two months ago, Vanessa was given two months to live. Her tumor grew and swelled her brain to a point where she wasn’t conscious. Two hospitals washed their hands of her and sent her home to be on Hospice, but God had a plan. The miracle comes when there is no other option.
After her MRI, I sped a squealing Vanessa zig-zag down the hallway to the check out. Behind the check-out desk there was a sign on the wall. The sign was incomplete, but I knew it was meant to be noticed.
“Vanessa, look what that sign says.” I whispered in her ear. “It says, Be still.”
She nodded. “Be still and know that I am God,” she said.
Perhaps, that’s why God allowed my tree to produce something to teach me to be still while He brings uh… something to a ripened state. Hmm…Maybe that’s why He’s brought me Vanessa. So, I’ll just wait…and continue praying….and maybe wiggle in my seat a bit.
Perhaps you’d like to share how you struggle with being still, being patient, and letting God. Until next week…
(Please note: If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of Half Naked and Picking Weeds, I suggest you scroll down and read those first as this is a continuation of it.)
Out of the Boat
I asked Vanessa what she wanted everyone to know. Before the words slipped from her lips, she closed her eyes to concentrate on forming them. “Every day counts,” she said. “I want them to know, every day counts.”
Every day counts. Even the humdrum days? Even the days when the kids are driving us cray-cray? Even the days we can’t wait to slam our bedroom door and disappear under the cool sheets because the to-do list whipped our butts? Even that day when her head is wrapped in cold rags and she has to wear sunglasses because her eyes hurt from a cancerous tumor pushing against her skull? She would tell you…yes, even that day.
I’m convinced there are days of our lives that count more than others. They weigh more in value on eternity’s scale.
The doctor didn’t lie when he said rotator cuff surgery was painful. I’d given birth to four children and after surgery the pain sent me moaning on the floor rocking back and forth. He’d stated my arm was so tore up it looked like an eighty- year old woman’s with an old tear and new. For six weeks, my arm was in a bulky sling and I couldn’t hold my baby, so I borrowed Vanessa’s arms.
You can’t help but get personal with someone who’s loving your baby. Her affection for Bella built the foundation of our friendship… our sisterhood. One day she casually mentioned that she worshipped the Hindu gods, Allah, and the Christian God.
I laughed. “What are you doing covering all your bases?” I said.
“Oh my gosh!” She burst out laughing. “Yes, I want to be sure I get it right. Besides, I think they’re all the same anyway.”
“You should look into the characteristics of each of them, that’s how you’ll know if they are the same,” I said. “I think you’ll find the Christian God is far more personal. He’s the only one out of the bunch that gave His life for mankind. He’s the only One who loves us whether we love him or not.”
I walked her out that day and knew when I closed the door, God just opened one.
The next afternoon, “So, how do you worship all three gods?” I said.
“I have three altars in my apartment. I’m drawn to the Christian God, so I go to church on Sunday, but I have a Hindu altar, an Allah altar, and an altar with a cross. I pray at each.”
“What do you pray about?”
“I just want some direction you know? I want to know what I should be doing in my future,” she said. “I’d like to use my experience with cancer for something good now that I’m healed.”
It amazes me when God opens a door. Sometimes, it’s just a crack, while other times it is thrown open so wide the light is blinding. Soon after, over the phone my father told me what he taught in Sunday school that week, the story of Paul’s travel to Athens.
“When Paul arrived in Athens he noticed all the gods and altars scattered around the city,” Daddy said. “but there was one altar titled the “Unknown god,” and Paul stood before them and told them about that God, our God. You see, baby, they were trying to cover all their bases, as many people do today, but in doing that, they are lost.” (Acts 17: 16-34)
I was blinded by the light.
The next day, Vanessa sat across from me at the kitchen table. Praying she’d understand, I slid my open Bible across the table. “Before you go, I want you to read something.” I pointed to the passage.
After she finished, her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! That’s me!” she said.
“You said, you were praying for guidance and for your next purpose in life. How can God lead you if you haven’t made Him Lord?”
“I don’t want you to do anything for me, but you need to think about that,” I said. “God will never lead you if He’s not in the lead.”
She promised to think about it. I wasn’t there the day Vanessa chose to make Jesus Christ her Lord. God placed the seeds in my hands, I pushed them under the soil, and moved on to tend to the weeds of life, but God sent others to water it.
After I recovered, Vanessa remained Bella’s babysitter one day a week until Bella started preschool. Jay, my husband, then hired Vanessa to work at the office for him and his brother Shaun. She was so happy to be back behind a desk. One Thursday morning, Jay stopped by her counter.
“Why are you sitting there?” Jay said. “Come join our Abiding study in the conference room.”
“Really?” She jumped up and followed him.
She sat in a men’s Bible study every Thursday morning learning how to Abide in Christ. Between Jay and Shaun his brother, Vanessa had two very determined men pouring Jesus into her on a daily basis. She told them she’d made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.
It was then…the cancer returned.
Last week, I wanted to hear from her own lips she’d made a decision. I swabbed her bald head with a cold cloth. Our relationship had come full circle I was now at her home.
“The last time we discussed God, you told me you’d think about it. Did you?” I said.
“Yes, I chose Christ.” she said.
“Did you tell Him that? Ask Him to take your life?” I said.
“Yes, I did.”
“You’re undertaking the most important assignment of your life, but you know that don’t you?” I said squeezing her hand.
Vanessa nodded. “I do.”
“You are just as much a sister to me as Tricia was. Our relationship is eternal.”
“Really?” she said.
“Yes, in fact if Tricia wasn’t a Christian you’d be more of a sister to me.” I hugged her.
I’ve never seen a faith so strong in someone so new to it. How does she know He’s a loving God when as soon as she gave her life to Christ, her cancer returned? I’ve pondered this. I’ve asked God why didn’t He allow her some healthy years to use her faith for Him.
Then, I glance at Vanessa she’s filled with a peace that is not human. She knows God loves no matter what she’s going through. If anything in this life can give us comfort, it’s this…our circumstances are never indicative of God’s love.
What a relief! Having a bad day? God loves you! Husband’s left you? God loves you. Your son has passed away? God loves you! Your addicted to drugs or alcohol? God loves you. You’re sick with cancer? God loves you. Praying to the Hindu gods or Allah? God loves you right where you are. Vanessa’s proof of that.
It’s time to harvest at the farm. There are rows of heavy vegetables curling the stems. I don’t know about you, but there’s something satisfying about snapping them off and filling a bucket. We load them in the back of the ATV and drive them up to the farmhouse. In the sink, we wash them one by one, preparing them for the job they were born to do. Nourish.
Just like those vegetables waiting to be plucked off the vines, Vanessa’s story will become someone else’s spiritual nourishment. In time, someone will be walking ankle deep in the dirt and weeds of this world and feeling empty. They’ll wonder is this all there is to life? They’ll witness the light and color of a young woman’s faith and want to consume the invitation of salvation for themselves. The circle of life is eternal.
When Vanessa’s time comes, I’m so sure Tricia will run up and greet her at the gates of heaven. “Vanessa! I’ve been waiting for ya. What took you so long?” She’ll give her a hug with a hard pounding on the back. “Welcome home, sister. Welcome home.” She’ll wrap her arm around her shoulders. “So you gotta tell me, is Tammy fat? I sure hope so.”
If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.