Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Appreciation of Music, Lyrics and Mercy (not in that order)!

My husband loves a song that grabs him musically. I love songs that grab me lyrically. We both have musical talent, but he is the true musician. And I'm the lover of words.

Actually, John is the one who helped me realize I'm not a musician. He told me recently, "You have a God-given talent for playing the piano. But if you were a true musician, you would have to play. I can't imagine not playing my guitar for my own enjoyment." And his words are very true. I don't think I would have been a concert pianist as a kid if my dad hadn't supplied the drive. On the other hand, nobody has ever had to push me to write. Because that is my passion.

I love reading as well as writing. If it's about my own enjoyment, I would rather read OR write than play the piano. Come to think of it, even if I was at the peak of my musical accomplishment today, I would still rather cook a fabulous meal for you than perform a fabulous song. And while you may or may not appreciate my writing, I have yet to meet the person who did not enjoy my cooking. And I appreciate the music in my life that is supplied by true musicians! Especially today.

I frequently have moments of reflection (contrasting my spiritual past and present) in worship settings. Today was one of them. There is no anger or resentment in these moments, just thankfulness. Overwhelming thankfulness. I am in awe of God's mercy and faithfulness.

If you are anywhere near me when a worship song deeply touches my heart, it is obvious because I'm a crier. I cannot sing about the cross or God's love without tears filling my eyes. I am so moved by what Jesus did for me. In the past, I remember being profoundly confused by the cross and what this sacrifice actually accomplished. It sounded to me like Jesus died only to give me a chance of making it to heaven on my own effort. He was an example of course, but not truly a Savior in the full sense of the word.

He is still my example, but He is fully -- and foremost -- my Savior.

Our pastor pointed out to us today the meaning of the words restored and redeemed. To be restored is to not only be made new, but to be made better than new. And to be redeemed is to have something done for us that we could not do for ourselves.

Am I thankful that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself?
You better believe I am.

Do I want to live a life of obedience for His glory more than ever before because I now understand the true Gospel and what Jesus has done for me?
How else could I demonstrate my love and my gratitude for the gift of salvation?!

I read this on Facebook this afternoon (via Barry Schneider)...

A visitor (seeking to console the dying Thomas Hooker): Sir, you are going to receive the reward of your labour. Thomas Hooker: Brother, I am going to receive mercy!

My sentiments exactly! The Gospel is so humbling. No more do I ever think in terms of getting what I deserve. Mercy is what I want. I know the Bible does speak of rewards and blessings that follow our right choices. But I am so humbled by God's grace, love and mercy that I never feel I am deserving of either a reward or a blessing. Instead, I am just so very grateful for mercy.

I am so thankful that I have heard and believed the Good News of the Gospel. Today I have the hope and the joy I always longed for. The riches of His love will always be enough.

These are two of the worship songs we sang at church today. I could not sing either without tears.

Forever Reign

(Verse 1)
You are good
You are good
When there's nothing good in me

You are love
You are love
On display for all to see

You are light
You are light
When the darkness closes in

You are hope
You are hope
You have covered all my sin

(Verse 2)
You are peace
You are peace
When my fear is crippling

You are true
You are true
Even in my wandering

You are joy
You are joy
You're the reason that I sing

You are life
You are life
In You death has lost its sting

Oh I'm running to Your arms
I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

(Verse 3)
You are more
You are more
Than my words will ever say

You are Lord
You are Lord
All creation will proclaim

You are here
You are here
In Your presence I'm made whole

You are God
You are God
Of all else I'm letting go

My heart will sing
No other name
Jesus Jesus

All I Need

All I need to do is worship
All I need to do is say His name out loud
All I need to do is lift my hands, surrender
And bow down
All I need to do is find Him
All I need to do is let His presence fall
All I need to do is worship
Worship the Lord

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn ~ Reflecting on Life's Seasons

I'm thinking about this song this morning...Seasons

Words-adapted from The Bible, book of Ecclesiastes
Music-Pete Seeger

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones,
a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late


It's been such a good, relaxing week. I have been too busy enjoying myself to write on my blog. And I love being able to share that after some of those previous posts sharing my struggles in recent months. I was thinking this morning about the last year and a half and how good today feels in contrast. I like to occasionally recap the CLL details for those who are new to my blog. (Feel free to skim through the stuff I'm repeating if you already know those details.)
As most who read my blog already know, my husband was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in the spring of 2007. His mom was diagnosed with the same blood cancer in January of 2008. And I am the primary caregiver and patient advocate for both of them. This is not always a full time job (other than the continual research I do). But the last year and a half has been eventful for both of them.
Ever since diagnosis, John has been plagued with swollen lymph nodes throughout his body. They were not only visible and appearance-changing, they were always tender and often painful. His CLL proliferates primarily in his nodes rather than in the blood and marrow. Marian, on the other hand, has had a very gradual progression in her blood and marrow since diagnosis, with minimal lymph node swelling. She was able to stay in "watch and wait" until October of 2010. John was treated first with Rituxan alone (in 2008), then tried periodic prednisone (which was more of a bandaid that Dr. Flinn was not in favor of) and ultimately opted for FCR (presently the gold standard chemotherapy regimen for CLL) beginning in September of 2009 and culminating the last week of January 2010.
Going through chemo was a difficult time and emotionally challenging for me. It is very hard to watch someone you love suffer and not be able to do anything other than just be present. It's a very helpless feeling. And it's an isolating feeling (even though you know you are not alone). But we pushed through, hoping John would get a long remission after treatment ended. He did not. His nodes did not fully respond (although they were reduced in size temporarily). Within a couple of months of finishing his sixth cycle of FCR, the nodes were growing again. That was scary. When your doctor looks at you with focus and obvious disappointment and says, "This is serious. This is not good." -- then proceeds to open discussion about stem cell transplant (which is considered by most a last resort option), there's a lot of fear and trepidation. I remember Dr. Flinn having to hand me a tissue that day because tears ran down my face. Tears are forming in my eyes right now just remembering that day.
I don't know that John fully comprehended the situation as well as I did, but I knew that in order for a transplant to be successful, John would have to be able to achieve a complete remission first. And there are a lot of risks and serious side effects associated with transplant (even successful transplants). There are even patients who don't survive the transplant because of complications. The success stories are very encouraging, but anyone who has thoroughly researched transplant in CLL patients is aware of the risks. The fact that John did not respond to FCR was by no means an encouraging thought. And although I do wear a good deal of emotion on my face, I was more afraid than anybody knew, including John.
Chronic, incurable illness is an emotional rollercoaster. John, who is unbelievably (to me) steady and level, started to make little comments about his mortality -- that I hadn't ever heard him say out loud -- when he did not respond to FCR.
At the time, I had recently seen exciting reports of a new drug being studied called CAL-101. I knew one patient in particular (from CLL Christian Friends) who had failed other treatments, had the same lymph node issues as John, and was getting amazingly good results from CAL-101. We had become online friends and I read his updates on the forum. We also read each other's blogs and corresponded occasionally through email. I was feeling excited about his turnaround and also about the possibility of getting John into a similar clinical trial. I wasn't sure if Dr. Flinn had a trial open using CAL-101 as single agent. But I was prepared to travel to another specialist who did if necessary. And I told John very emphatically that we would not be making this decision based on convenience. I was determined that he was going to try CAL-101 before resorting to transplant. He knew I felt so strongly for a reason (protecting him!) and he didn't object. But fortunately when I brought up the subject with Dr. Flinn at our next visit, he told us that he was participating in the same trial and John would not have to travel. He was pretty sure he could get him into this trial if that's what we wanted to do.
John was able to enroll in a CAL-101 single agent clinical trial for patients who had failed or relapsed from other treatments. Often these clinical trials are offered to patients in this category because they have fewer options. So, it turned out to be somewhat of a blessing that John failed chemo right away (if he was going to fail or relapse) because that was what qualified him for this clinical trial. And he was enrolled just weeks before the study was closed to new CLL patients. Although other trials studying this same drug have opened, most are in combination with other drugs (Rituxan and chemotherapy). John was able to take the lowest dose of CAL-101 (50 mg. twice a day) alone (no infusions). And it began to work on his lymph nodes within DAYS of his first dose. That was the end of May of 2010. And now things were looking hopeful again.
For the first couple of months, John had to be seen and have blood drawn weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly. At this point, he only has to go every other month. But about the time he was able to start going monthly, Marian was needing to begin treatment. Fortunately, a new CAL-101 plus Rituxan trial had been opened for older CLL patients who had never received any previous treatment. The timing was perfect for her, since she was very reluctant to do chemotherapy at her age (78). And we already knew that John had responded so well to CAL-101, with no side effects. That was reassuring to her (and to me).
So ... at the end of this September, Marian was preparing to begin treatment and going through all of the pre-treatment testing. She had her first bone marrow biopsy, which showed that her marrow was 90% infiltrated with CLL cells (malignant b-cell lymphocytes). We definitely were not treating prematurely. Her declining HGB, HCT and platelets were the result of her diseased/compromised bone marrow not producing enough healthy red cells. At this point, she still looked great and it was difficult for some family members to grasp that she actually needed treatment.
While John scaled back to less frequent office visits, Marian was just beginning her weekly screenings and treatment appointments. Sarah Cannon was beginning to feel like my second home. For the next eight weeks we sat most of the day (once a week) in the treatment room as she received her weekly infusions of Rituxan. It didn't make sense for her to have to drive back and forth to Evansville where she lives. So she stayed here with us.
Then halfway through her eight weeks of infusions, Marian lost her daughter to stage four throat cancer. Lillian had been fighting to survive for a year and a half. And we knew she was losing her battle. But we did not know she had so little time left. She and her husband had driven to Vanderbilt in October to see a specialist and he had not recommended more surgery. They spent a few days with us before returning to Evansville. And Lillian passed away within weeks of that visit. Marian and I went to Nashville for her weekly infusion on the way to Evansville two days before Lillian's funeral. November was particularly hard.
After Marian's last infusion she had one additional week of tests and a follow up visit. Then she did not have to return to Dr. Flinn for two weeks. So she went home and John and I spent a wonderfully relaxing and therapeutic week in Jamaica as our Christmas gift to ourselves. Marian returned for her next visit in mid-December and seemed to be doing fine except for a persistent cough that she couldn't fully get over. I bugged her a little bit about seeing her primary care physican about it. She assured me that she got a cough like that every year and it usually turned into laryngitis. She wasn't worried about it. I reminded her she had to take such things more seriously now that she had CLL and that coughs can turn into something more serious when you are immunocompromised. But then I backed off because I felt like I was starting to be a nag and I had conveyed my concern ... time to stop harassing her (or so I thought).
One of the lines you try to walk -- especially when being a caregiver to someone older than yourself -- is showing the proper respect. I tend to be a bossy person by nature. I don't mean to be. I mean to be helpful most of the time. But I know that I am opinionated and expressive and ... well, sometimes just bossy. My sister-in-law (Cheryl) says I'm bossy in a sweet way. LOL. Still, I don't think of bossy as a good quality. And I never want to make Marian feel as if I'm treating her like a child. So I cautioned her and then tried to button my lip. I won't do that again in the future. I'll just be bossy.
Marian's cough turned into pneumonia over the next couple of weeks. She had mentioned it at her last couple of office visits here. But she had no fever, her lungs were clear, and she minimized the cough. About that same time, her blood showed a slightly elevated calcium level. Some of the symptoms of hypercalcemia are the same as pneumonia. So the symptoms she did have were attributed to hypercalcemia. And she followed up with an office visit to her primary care physician at home about her cough. Her PCP diagnosed her with bronchitis and put her on an antibiotic. He also drew blood. And later that day, he called to tell her to go straight to ER and be admitted to the hospital because her calcium level was dangerously high. (It had gone from 10.6 to 13 or more.) This was January 3. Her symptoms (shortness of breath, weakness, feeling fuzzy mentally) were all attributed to hypercalcemia. So she was treated for hypercalcemia and spent two nights in the hospital, then released to come back to Dr. Flinn. The hospital diagnosis was primary dehydration and secondary hypercalcemia. I am not a doctor, but I knew that diagnosis was not correct. She did not get in that condition because of dehydration. She was eating and drinking all weekend (as witnessed by family members). If she was that dehydrated, something was causing the dehydration.
When we returned to Dr. Flinn, he told us he agreed that dehydration did not cause her hypercalcemia. It was the other way around. He put her back in the hospital here and the next morning she was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs. From January 6 to January 17, she was in Centennial Hospital. After several nights on the oncology floor, she had to spend three nights in ICU because the pneumonia was so severe and she was not getting better. The response team (which had to come to her room several times in the middle of the night) explained to me that she was in danger of taking a turn for the worse at any time and, if that happened, it would be sudden rather than gradual. Dr. Flinn decided to move her to ICU in an attempt to prevent that from happening. And after her stay in ICU, she did finally start to improve.
On the 17th, I brought her back to our house. She was weaker and more fragile than I have ever seen her. And I was worried that she might not ever be her old self again. I wondered if this health event would be the catalyst for her declining years. Quite honestly, I spent a lot of time worrying about what was ahead for her and even for me as a caregiver if she did not regain her health and strength. I felt emotionally depleted. And although I try to be the best caregiver I can possibly be, I knew my frayed edges were showing. Some days I just felt nervous and jittery all day long. I am not a good actress. My facial expression and tone of voice is a dead giveaway, even when I'm trying to fake it. I am normally so passionate, expressive and exuberant that just being quiet gives me away. I worried that Marian could sense my emotional exhaustion and might feel like she was a burden to me. She wasn't. And she never could be. Because I love her SO MUCH. But I also cannot deny that I was feeling pretty tapped.
Everyone tells you that the caregiver has to take care of themselves. But I have never completely been able to figure out how one does that. In the middle of a health crisis, there is no time to care for yourself emotionally. And when you do think of doing something for yourself, you feel a little guilty for thinking of yourself at a time like that. At least I do. And I don't think I'm alone in this. Sometimes I would escape to my bathtub for an hour or more of alone time. And while I was there trying to relax, I would wind up chastising myself for not being more selfless. My internal struggle to stay "up" all the time made me feel like a failure no matter how much everyone around me assured me that I was doing a good job. John insists that a lot of my stress is self-inflicted. And he's probably right.
January was tough. And it felt long. But my worst fears did not materialize. Although Marian is feeling her age a little bit more than she used to, she has made an amazing recovery from the pneumonia. And she is continuing to respond to CAL-101. She is so much better that I can hardly believe how far she's come since the end of January. She was here for several days this week because she had a regular office visit on Tuesday. And we had such a good time together. It was exciting and encouraging to see that she IS her old self again. And it is rewarding to know that I played even a small role in helping her through all of that.
Thursday morning before she left, we sat at the kitchen table talking and drinking coffee for a couple of hours. We talked about her ordeal and how much better she is. And how much better I feel, too. One of the things I love about our relationship (and appreciate about her) is that we can talk about anything. There is no subject off-limits. And I can be honest and real with her. She doesn't expect me to be perfect. During our conversation, she told me that she had told someone recently, "Shari is just a natural born caregiver." And she told me again how much she appreciated me and the way I've looked out for her. I told her, "I am so relieved to hear that you still think I'm a good caregiver because I knew that my nerves were showing sometimes and I worried that you would think the problem was you, when I knew it was me." She said, "I could tell when you weren't feeling good because you were quiet. But I understood. Having someone around all the time and not having your normal routine would take a toll on anybody. You just have to accept that you're human."
For most of my life, nobody ever said reassuring words like that to me. In the most significant relationships of my life, I felt that nothing I did was ever good enough, no matter how hard I tried to please people. And maybe that is partly why I am so hard on myself to this day and never feel that I do anything "well enough." Or maybe I was just born this way. Who knows. What I do know is that it feels good -- really good -- to be appreciated, loved and accepted as I am. I told Marian all of that and she so sweetly said, "I can't imagine wanting to change a thing about you. I'm thankful you are the way you are."
So, I guess you might say that I'm currently enjoying the sunshine and the rainbow (figuratively speaking, of course) after the storm. And I know it's sweeter because of the storm. Just as my life with John is sweeter and more cherished because of my past. I currently find myself more intensely appreciating the normalcy of my days and having the time to reconnect with friends I have so missed spending time with over the last few months. I'm grateful that my two patients are once again BOTH healthy and stable. And I pray they are never in crisis at the same time, since I know it's likely there will be other health issues and challenges in both their futures. But by God's grace, I'm hoping for some smooth sailing and many good years ahead.
I started this post after talking to John's older brother Harris on the phone this morning. He has been very thoughtful to call and check on me through all of this, wanting to make sure I'm okay and wanting me to know how much he appreciates me. Although I tell him, I doubt he'll ever know how much his concern and support have meant to me. He called this morning just to make sure I wasn't feeling inhibited about continuing to share my thoughts on my blog (I guess he noticed I wasn't blogging) and to express appreciation for the way I take care of his mom and his brother. I expressed my love and appreciation for him and told him his phone call got my day off to a wonderful start. And I really meant that. I like having a big brother who is protective of me. I'm the oldest and the only girl in my natural family. And I never have experienced that before. I'm sure it means more to me because I haven't.
I knew what the title of this post would be before I started writing because I feel especially impressed by how quickly life's seasons turn -- and how we need to appreciate every day. Even our gloomy, winter days. The only constant in life is change. The good news of that is that bad times don't last forever. And the bad news is that good times don't either. There will always be future challenges and difficulties to contend with. We don't know what's coming next. But that's why we have to squeeze the most out of the sunny days and truly savor them. Sunshine feels so much better after days and days of rain or snow. Haven't you noticed that?
Soon it will be spring after what has seemed like a long winter (in more ways than one). And I am more eager than ever to get out on my patio and dig in the flower pots. I'm pleased (and amazed) that I have kept two large hibiscus plants alive in my garage all winter. (Could it be that I am finally learning how to be a better caregiver to my plants?) 
I'm obviously even more pleased that John and Marian are alive and well. And that I'm still alive and well to enjoy another day with them.
In sickness or in health, I am so blessed to have them both in my life. And I have never been more thankful for each and every day.
Do me a favor. Go find someone you love. Right now. Hug them and TELL THEM how much you appreciate them. Even when we are loved, we don't always know that we are appreciated without being told. And appreciation is contagious. If I had to pinpoint the number one factor in the happiness of my marriage, it is that John and I both appreciate each other so much. And we do not take our relationship for granted. We are partners in everything and we know we can count on each other as best friends. We know we are valued and appreciated, as well as loved.

Let someone know today that you value and appreciate them.
You just might brighten their day ... like Harris did mine. : )

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love God Hate Sin

One of my dear friends is about to experience the joy of her first grandchild (a boy). And her daughter shared some pictures of the new baby's nursery on Facebook. The nursery is strikingly beautiful and boldly untraditional in its lack of "babyish cuteness." I was impressed with all of the pictures of the nursery. But this piece of framed artwork caught my attention most. The message is simple and powerful at the same time. When I read this, I thought: These two statements are completely synonymous. If we truly love God, we will hate sin; our sin.

It's easy to hate other people's sin. We don't have to be particularly godly to do that. In fact, we are woefully hypocritical in our contempt for the sins of others. But as we grow in our love of God, we will want to please Him (as opposed to focusing entirely on how well He can please us). An inability to take sin lightly in ourselves is naturally produced by a genuine love for God. It doesn't mean that we won't still have sin in us or that we won't mess up and need to repent. But we won't find sin acceptable. We won't be able to justify and minimize it. There is a growing discomfort with sin that grows in us as our love for God grows and matures. For a true believer, there is no happiness or enjoyment to be found in willful sin or the choice of a sinful lifestyle. I believe it is impossible to truly love God and be casual about pleasing Him through obedience to His Word.

Although I always believed I loved God and wanted to please Him, I used to be less conscious of sinning against Him than I am today. That is one of the biggest signs (to me) of my spiritual growth. I used to make allowance for sin my life. And if I really wanted to do something that I knew was wrong in the sight of God, I justified my conscious choice (to myself) with this argument: I am never going to be perfect anyway; therefore, I'm not going to heaven and this life is all I have. So what difference does it really make what I do? I don't want to hurt anybody. I just want to be happy."

Here's the problem with my previous way of thinking. It was completely selfish. It was all about me. I don't remember thinking about glorifying God with all my choices; especially in small, or what I would have considered fairly insignificant, choices. I really didn't believe God was intimately involved in the little details of my life. The whole perfection concept I was taught to believe was so overwhelming and so unfathomable to me, I lived in a conundrum (*A logical postulation that evades resolution, an intricate and difficult problem).

I bought into the notion that Christians who believed they had to be perfect and were striving for perfection were trying harder than Christians who believed they were saved through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. I remember hearing it said that if "they" are right, then we're ahead of the game (we just tried harder than we needed to) and we'll be alongside everyone else in heaven. But if "we" were right (about perfection), then all those Christians who weren't even trying to reach perfection were in trouble (in eternity).

Many people around me (during my formative years) made the grand assumption that Christians who did not believe the doctrine of perfection were not trying to live for God to the best of their ability. But that assumption is false and it is arrogant. I used to feel deep resentment for having had that thinking cultivated in me about other Christians. But I don't feel so resentful anymore because I realize how genuinely deceived that thinking is. Today I am more inclined to feel compassion for people who think that way than to resent them. They do not comprehend that they are actually in a more precarious position in their faith if their faith is partly in Jesus and partly in themselves for salvation.

I had a conversation recently with a couple of friends from my past. We were reflecting on what we had been taught about the concept of perfection and how we look at that word today. One friend in this conversation was trying to embrace the word with a slightly different spin than what we were taught. I was trying to explain my belief that Jesus Himself is our perfection and our righteousness. We have eternal life through Him. And our obedience is rooted in our love and gratitude for His gift of salvation rather than in a merit-based salvation where our faith is only partially in Jesus and still partially in ourselves. The third friend pointed out that we weren't really that different in what we were saying except that one of us still wanted to embrace the word perfection, and I obviously wanted to distance myself from the word. This is true. That word and that doctrine brought nothing but hopelessness to my life until I understood that Jesus was my righteousness and my perfection.

I never had faith in myself even while believing that doctrine was "the truth." This is why I lived in a conundrum of hopeless proportions. And this is also why the heavy weight of hopelessness was lifted off of me by the gospel once I understood and received it. But one of my friends expressed that while I felt a weight had been lifted, for her it almost seemed harder now. I said, "Really?"

I was at first confused as to how that could be. But it quickly made sense to me. In the environment of a rules-keeping salvation, she believed that she could live as she wanted to for now and then, at some point when it became expedient, she could keep the rules for a few weeks at the end sufficiently to "make it." She really believed that.

As she explained in those terms, I understood. I didn't say it or even think it in the moment; but upon reflection I recognized that as another example of a self-centered salvation as opposed to a Christ-centered salvation (the difference of which she now is beginning to comprehend).

Belief in a performance based salvation lowers the holiness of God to something that can be achieved in even a short period of focused attention. That concept of salvation doesn't produce "holier" followers. It only produces self-righteousness and a feeling of moral superiority; "I am holier than thou."

A list of rules and behaviors that can be checked off gives a person a feeling or a sense of control over their life and eternity. Full surrender OF THE HEART to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior does not even imply control. It is freedom. But it's not control. And only someone who is living IN the freedom of Christ can understand how one can have complete freedom without having complete control of their lives.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"American Greed" tonight on CNBC

Just a heads up to some of my friends and family. Our close friend (and John's business partner), Mark Pirtle, was interviewed for a show airing on CNBC tonight. It airs at 9:00 pm and I assume that's central time because a mutual friend posted a reminder to watch on Facebook. The program investigates the financial schemes of a man by the name of Robert McLean.

Various Stages of Development...

My daughter-in-law took the cutest pictures of the boys yesterday. In the first one, Andrew (4 on the 26th) is feeding Pax (10 months on the 26th).

That is such an "Andrew Face."

And yesterday Joshua (5) lost his first tooth...

They are growing so fast!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Healing from Spiritual and Emotional Abuse

I have recently been corresponding with a few more readers of my book. Since my book is a testimony, it has a limited audience. And since I am an unknown, self-published author, it will never be a bestseller. But it continues to sell (albeit in small numbers) each month. And I continue to hear from readers. Many of the people who have written to me were loaned a copy by someone who wanted to share it. I know that some authors might be frustrated by that because it means less book sales. But that doesn't bother me at all. I spent nearly a year of my life working on the book. I poured my heart into it. And what is most rewarding for me is just knowing that it is still being read.

I appreciate every person who has taken the time to write and share their own experiences, wanting me to know what the book has meant to them personally. I continue to hear from people I know and people I have never met. I've heard from people who grew up in the same religious movement I did and others who have had similar experiences with completely different groups and abusive leaders.

I have learned in the last few years just how pervasive the problem of spiritual abuse is. I remember once thinking that the group I was raised in was unique and that no one outside my environment would be able to relate to my experiences. But I discovered that wasn't the case at all; we were similar to other cults and cultish groups; not only in the area of control and intimidation, but even in many of our distinctive doctrinal beliefs.

One reader, who authors a blog on religious abuse has recently written about my book, sharing what an emotional read it has been for him. His experiences were with a completely different group. But he discovered many similarities between his experiences and mine.

Another recent reader who keeps in touch with me has been deeply traumatized by the same group I was raised in (just a different location) and is still in a difficult struggle to break free. She sees clearly that her life and many of her relationships have been devastated or destroyed by her association with the group, yet she is gripped with the fear of leaving and losing her "spiritual covering." She has told me that the first time she read something I had written and saw my picture, she cried for hours that night. The reason? I looked so normal and happy to her and she couldn't understand how I could be either. The "you can't leave this fellowship and find God elsewhere" message has been deeply branded into her thinking. Though she has been abused horribly by the leadership of this church, she still cares so deeply about how she is perceived and vilified for leaving. I understand that.

The brainwashing and mind control she is struggling to overcome is so glaring to me that I have at times felt frustrated while trying to help her. I want to say, "Can't you see...?" I have pointed out to her that God does not send fear and anxiety as a way to "deal" with our hearts. Men are doing this to her, not God. I have shown her how idolatrous it is to elevate a certain group of people to such a standing that God cannot be found outside its walls. I have explained to her that Jesus is her Savior and King, not a group of men calling themselves "the ministry" while putting themselves on thrones. I've said many things in my genuine desire to help her break free from the mind control. I've suggested books and I've encouraged her in other ways. And I think I have helped her, even if it's just a little.

I have made myself available to strangers because I understand their struggle and the need to talk about it with someone who understands. I have spent hours on the telephone with some who just wanted to hear my voice and have an actual conversation with me after reading the book. My husband found it kind of odd at times that I could spend hours talking to someone I had never met and have so much in common to talk about. He has occasionally made jokes, saying that I was an unpaid therapist. And I would remind him that the word for it is "ministering." That is the very reason strangers want to talk to me after reading the book; they sense that I understand what so many in their lives cannot. I can't count how many people have said to me, "Nobody understands except someone who has lived this way."

That's true of all types of abuse. And I don't have any special gifts to offer. But I do have compassion and empathy because of the difficulties I have come through. And I know that one can heal and thrive after these experiences, not merely survive. But it requires a relationship with Jesus Christ that is not filtered through another human being or a certain group of people.

What I have discovered about my own healing process in recent months is how much I have healed. Obviously, not everyone is going to write a book about their life (or even want to). But writing has been very therapeutic and healing for me. Whether God inspired me to write my story to help facilitate that healing, or He just gave me the freedom to do it, I don't know. But it has been a healing journey. I don't know if anyone heals by internalizing, I just know that I don't. I don't know that I would define it as a "need," but it is accurate to say that I have felt compelled to share my journey and to connect with other people whom I could relate to. I'm thankful it has helped others and not just myself.

The author of the blog I mentioned above recently asked me if I would consider writing a guest post for his blog. He told me that it encourages others to hear the testimonies of people like me who are further along in their recovery from this particular abuse. That's why I started writing this post.

The new reality for me is that I honestly don't find myself thinking about spiritual abuse very often these days. That's how far I've come. I believe I have pushed through so much of that. But it hit me this morning that that is no small thing. It's nothing short of a miracle for me personally. And it occured to me that just sharing that might really be helpful to someone else. I never want to miss an opportunity to help someone else by sharing what I've been through. And it occurred to me this morning, as I was catching up with his blog, how far I have come in just the last year.

When my husband was newly diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, I was on an emotional rollercoaster for quite some time just trying to process and deal with what I thought of as my shattered dreams for our lives. I was so devastated by the pain of an uncertain future and the possibility of ever losing John that I cried every day. I just couldn't get a grip on my emotions. I poured myself into learning about CLL and all its variations, treatments, specialists. I invested in online communities (in much the same way I invested in an online community to help me deal with the emotions of breaking free from a cult). That is how I deal with emotional struggle. I share and I find people I can relate to. Apparently, I'm not the only one.

I found comfort in not being the only one in my struggle. After my very, very, very lengthy introduction on CLL Christian Friends, I was comforted and reassured by others that the emotional rollercoaster was normal and they all understood what I was going through; but I would settle into a new normal. And whether I believed it or not, there would come a day when I didn't ruminate constantly on CLL and my fears. They were right. I still wish my husband didn't have leukemia. It's not an experience I would have asked for. But I no longer feel shattered by it. I'm coping and I'm finding ways to help others through shared experience. And that part is very rewarding.

Our lives are a journey, not a destination. The silver lining in every difficult experience for me is that through my own struggles, God is equipping me to help someone else through theirs. Whether it's recovering from the effects of spiritual abuse, emotional abuse or a chronic, incurable illness -- I have the opportunity to reassure someone else that a new normal is just ahead of the storm.

If you are still struggling with the baggage of having been involved in a religious cult, I want you to know that no matter how hard it is in the present moment, you CAN heal from this experience. It's a process. And there are some wounds that are easily reopened for a long time. But those wounds become scars. And then, just like physical scars, they fade until they are barely visible -- even to you. You forget you have them until something focuses your attention on them again. That is where I find myself today.

For a long time, I thought about my past and people from my past on a daily basis. I grieved lost relationships and certain people's distorted perceptions of me. I shed many tears and even suffered with anxiety. I struggled with fears of all kinds. I experienced the pain of rejection from people I loved who couldn't understand me -- and probably never had understood me, truth be known. I don't doubt that I may have perceived rejection from some who didn't even intend it. It's very typical for people who have experienced a lot of rejection to fear it and anticipate it and even mistakenly perceive it in some instances. I see that trait in myself. And I acknowledge it.

I haven't ONLY suffered spiritual abuse. I have been verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically abused in ways that I did not attempt to address in the book because it would have distracted the reader from the message of this book; which was the spiritual abuse of a false gospel. But I am well acquainted with the wounds of abusive relationships. Thankfully, I have experienced tremendous healing from those wounds as well. But it wasn't instant in any case. It's been a process. And God has used people to minister to me in that healing process. One of those people has been my husband, John. I am so thankful for him. But if I had stayed in the cult, I would not be with him. Not only because I would have feared marrying someone outside the group, but because he recognized it as a cult the one time I took him there. Participation would have been a deal breaker for him.

After having John in my life for almost eight years now, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without him. I cannot fathom a more perfect husband for me and my personality. God gave me someone who seems "made to order" for all of my needs. And he feels the same way about me (which is still hard for me to believe). To think I could have missed out on so many blessings God had for me (all the blessings that have come through John, including many cherished friends) because of the lie that God would not honor a union between myself and someone outside that group. At this point in my life and personal growth, it's almost hard to believe that at one time I was that deceived. But I was.

Do I still sometimes feel a twinge over the reality that even some of my family members don't want to be Facebook Friends with me? Does it ever bother me that even some who have expressed warm feelings toward me privately cannot openly be my friend because of the awkwardness it would cause in other relationships? Sure I do. But it's a much smaller twinge than it once was. And I accept it as the personal price I must pay for speaking my convictions openly and honestly from my heart.

In wrapping up this lengthy post, I also want to say that I am truly sorry for any pain I have caused anyone from my past with my words. In all honesty -- it has never been my heart's desire to hurt anyone from my past (or anyone in my present for that matter). I have made mistakes. I know I have not said or done everything perfectly. But my intent was never to hurt anyone or retaliate for wrongs done to me. Actually, I hate hurting people and I agonize over it when I know I have. If I have hurt you, I ask for your forgiveness sincerely. And if you will contact me personally and tell me specifically how I have hurt you, I will ask your forgiveness in a more personal and specific way. I believe I have forgiven those who have hurt me. Sometimes I have to recommit to that forgiveness because of memories that still sting. But forgiveness is not a feeling. It's an action. And I know I have released those who have hurt me from owing me anything -- including an apology.

Although my convictions are as strong as ever that I was raised in a cult, that does not prevent me from continuing to love the people I grew up with and wanting them to know that I always will.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Two ways to live, and there is no third."

I'm currently reading and enjoying "The God Who is There" by D.A. Carson. The book is reinforcing a lot of things I already know and understand. But I love how a good author (and a Bible scholar in particular) can take something I think I already understand and illuminate it in such a way that my mind grasps it with even greater clarity. There have been several instances of that throughout this book. I have been pondering what I've recently read and thinking that I might share some of it on my blog. But I hadn't gotten around to it. Then, this morning, I saw a quote on Facebook, posted by a friend. And I was reminded of my recent reading again.

I am so thankful for what God has shown me about Himself in the last eight years.

In all the years I was taught (the special revelation of "truth") that God required me to reach literal perfection in the flesh, I wondered why not one single "great person" of the Bible (other than Jesus) was ever declared perfect. Instead, there is example after example of flawed and struggling followers.

I remember wondering at times why the Bible would make such a point of exposing the disobedience and gross sins of "God's people." The Bible even makes sure we are aware of the sins of those who make up the genaeology of Christ. People did not include those details in their genaeologies in those days. And I have finally grasped why the Bible does.

There was only one perfect life acknowledged in the Bible. And He came as a sacrifice for everyone who would put their faith in Him for salvation. I'm amazed today that I could not see the fallacy of what I was taught in the past. I so wish I had opened my mind to Christian authors earlier in my life. Maybe I would have understood the gospel sooner.

In his book, Carson writes about "wisdom literature." Speaking of the first psalm, Carson says:

Two ways to live, and there is no third. There are a lot of psalms like that. They are sometimes called "wisdom psalms." These psalms and wisdom literature sometimes get tied together because in wisdom literature the way of wisdom is cast against the way of folly in a simple and absolute polarity. Wisdom literature regularly offers you a choice between two ways. That is what this psalm does and therefore why it is sometimes called a wisdom psalm.

In the New Testament, the most remarkable wisdom preacher is Jesus. In fact, Jesus is an astonishingly flexible preacher, using many different modes of speech: apocolyptic imagery, one-liners, parables, and much more. But in more than a few of his addresses he uses this basic wisdom polarity: two ways. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, Jesus offers a number of vignettes that are exactly along this line. He says, in effect, "Picture two people: one builds a house on rock; the other builds a house on sand. The house on sand is not stable. The storms come in, the water rises, the winds lash the place, and it collapses. The house that is strongly built on rock endures" (see Matthew 7:24-27). Note well: there are just two houses. You're rather missing the point if you say, "Jesus, suppose you try hardpan clay." You cannot respond to wisdom preaching in that fashion. In the same context, Jesus says, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). Once again it misses the point to long for a medium-sized gate. You cannot do that; this is wisdom literature, wisdom preaching. There are only two ways.

Now you see what is scary about wisdom literature in general and Psalm 1 in particular. If we are really honest, we must face the fact that we never quite fit the good way. [My emphasis added.] Oh, there may be times when we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night. There are other times, quite frankly, when it is a real struggle to delight in the law of the Lord. There are times when the counsel of the ungodly sounds very attractive. If there are only two ways, where does that leave us?

...most of us find ourselves in the middle, sometimes acting this way, sometimes acting that way. This is true of a man like King David himself, who is responsible for some of these psalms. King David can be described as a man after God's own heart, yet he also committed adultery and even arranged for a murder. One wonders what he would have done if he hadn't been a man after God's own heart. If there are only two ways, where does that leave David?

Wisdom literature clarifies the polarity between holiness and unholiness, between righteousness and unrighteousness. But although it clarifies, it cannot save us. If all we had were wisdom literature, it would tend to puff us up when we are doing well and drive us to despair when we are not...

And that last statement was exactly what I had struggled with all my life. I struggled most with the despair of never measuring up to even my own expectations, let alone God's.

This morning I watched a special I had recorded a while back. Barbara Walters interviewed several other famous people who had gone through open heart surgery and recovered. While interviewing David Letterman, she asked if his experience had changed him. David Letterman isn't a person that most of us would think of as "good" in a moral sense after everything that has been exposed about his life. But I saw a humility in him in his response to the question; a comprehension of his inability to meet even his own expectations. He admitted that even when wanting to improve on the person he was and make better choices, he had failed to do so. He didn't make excuses for those choices. I can't remember his exact words without going back and replaying it, but in essence, it sounded as if he was thinking, I wish I could honestly tell you that what I went through changed me and who I am. Unfortunately, it didn't do that the way I wish it could have. I still failed. In contrast to the sense of entitlement to do whatever he wanted with his life, he seemed to genuinely feel disappointed in himself and in his choices. It did not seem that he felt good about himself.

I listened to his comments from the perspective of a believer who sees that recognition of our condition is a starting place. People who already feel good about themselves do not need a Savior. Not everyone fails in the same way Letterman has. But we all fail. And if we really believe we are measuring up to the holiness of God, we are worse off than the person who recognizes how far they fall short. I refer you to the parable describing the Pharisee and the tax collecter (Luke 18:9-14).

This is the quote a friend of mine shared on Facebook this morning:

Only the person who understands that the cross is the center of all human history can understand the Old Testament. Through the lens of the gospel, the Bible truly becomes one book telling one story: the story of sinful man, a holy God, and His plan of salvation through the substitution of Himself for His people. ~ C.J. Mahaney

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marian Update: Another Good Report

I thought I would post an update to let you all know how well Marian is doing. She saw Dr. Flinn today and had lab work. She has been back on CAL-101 for a couple of weeks now and continues to respond very well. Her WBC is down to 12.5 and her platelets are up to 256 this week. Her HGB and HCT are still a little low, but Dr. Flinn explained that Valcyte (antiviral specifically for CMV infection) suppresses bone marrow production of healthy red cells. So, hopefully, those numbers will start to show more improvement once she is off that drug. She has to have two consecutive "negative for CMV" blood tests before she can stop taking it. She has already had the first one, and hopefully the blood drawn today will also come back negative in a day or two. They don't get instant results for CMV.

I have talked to Marian on the phone several times this week, but hadn't seen her since last Thursday's appointment. (She's back home in Evansville now.) I couldn't get over how wonderful she looked today. She said she still tires easily, but is really feeling good. I could tell. Her glow is back. (My mother-in-law is a beautiful woman for any age, but especially for 78 years old.)

Such a relief!

She doesn't have to go back for two weeks this time. My brother-in-law brought her to Nashville for today's appointment, but she hopes to drive herself down next time and spend a few days at
Camp Howerton ... her home away from home ... and have some fun here for a change! : )

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Question of the Day: Is it self-absorbed to worry about being self-absorbed?

*Because humor isn't always apparent in written communication, I thought I should add a disclaimer to this blog post: These thoughts are written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, making fun of myself. But there is some actual contemplation going on here as well...

Most of us have heard this statement: "A crazy person doesn't worry about being crazy." This is usually said in response to a person who is wondering out loud about their sanity. I assume most of us have at one time or another wondered, "Am I nuts to feel this way?" I sure have. And, the last few days, I have been wondering if I'm a little bit nuts to be so open about the craziness going on in my own head at times.

Referencing my tendency to emote about my struggles on my blog, I said to a friend of mine this week, "Sometimes I wonder if I sound crazy to people reading my blog." We both laughed. And she said (teasingly), "Well, I know you. But to someone who doesn't..." (Was that a really kind yes, or what??? LOL.)

I guess I was expecting her to say, "Oh, no. Not at all."


Ever since, I've found myself wondering, "Why can't I keep my thoughts to myself like normal people? I don't want to sound crazy. What if people are thinking I'm crazy?"

Although I don't have actual concerns for my sanity, I do sometimes focus too much on how I am perceived by others. And because of the insight gained from counseling and many books, I recognize that a preoccupation with what other people think of me is a form of self-centeredness. Self-absorption is a trait I find extremely unappealing. So it is not something I want to tolerate in myself. And yet I can't deny that it's there ... especially when I'm spending time worrying about it. Maybe I'm hoping that a truly self-absorbed person doesn't confront that in themselves in the same way that a truly crazy person doesn't ever wonder if they're crazy. LOL. Ya think?

Another friend and I were having a conversation about self-centeredness this week. We were both confessing our mutual tendency to ruminate on the slightest mistake made, to worry about being misunderstood and/or misjudged, to crucify ourselves over something we said that we could have said differently or better (even the smallest things), or feel stressed about how others feel toward us, etc., etc., etc. And as I'm typing this, I'm remembering that I've had this conversation with not one, but two separate friends this week. And both are friends who grew up in the same environment I did; where this kind of self-focus was actually cultivated in us. We were taught we had to be perfect. We were comparing our progress (or lack of progress) constantly. We knew we were being observed and evaluated by others --  many times on very superficial levels. And we experienced a great deal of disapproval (judgment) from other people (not God) -- spoken and unspoken -- for not measuring up to their expectations.

Some of us are definitely more susceptible to those disapproving messages because of our genetic makeup. I am in that category. So are the two friends I had these conversations with. But in the most recent conversation, we each had to wonder how much our early environment and interactions with others may have influenced and factored into this part of our personalities' development. We also both recognized that over-reflection on failures, shortcomings and mistakes are self-focused and that is something we do not want to be.

Perhaps the up side of this is that we are not in denial or even trying to be. I think all three of us genuinely want to grow and change and be what God wants us to be rather than what other people might want us to be. And I'm thankful that I have friends who can relate to me in this area. Because someone who can't relate probably does think I'm a little "out there." : )

I'm feeling so "back to normal" this week that even my own emotional struggles look a bit out of proportion to me now in hindsight. The thought has even crossed my mind that I could easily remove the struggling posts from my archives. But that would feel cowardly and dishonest. So I won't.

No matter how humbling it is to acknowledge, the truth is: I struggle to be the person I want to be. In the words my pastor often uses, "I leak." And you would know that even if I didn't confess it. But I think it's important to confess that I know it.

That is why I need a Savior ... and I always will.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fun X Three

Nothing better than a day with the boys...
My three grandsons: Pax, Andrew and Joshua.

Rested and Relaxed

I am feeling like a new person. I woke up yesterday and again today with energy and not wanting to stay in bed just a little longer.

It's been a therapeutic week for me. John and I got away for a couple of days last weekend. Monday I spent a relaxing day at home. Monday night John and I attended a party to celebrate Danny's birthday. Tuesday I met my mother-in-law and niece in Nashville for a quick Sarah Cannon visit and a fun lunch at Maggiano's. Wednesday I had lunch at Jim 'n Nick's with my friend Julie. Wednesday evening I met my friend Karen at Bonefish for Bang Bang Shrimp and Sangria. And yesterday I finally used my 51st birthday present (gift certificate to Equilibrium Med Spa) from John: a facial and hot stone massage ... with a little extra left over to try a new skincare product. I have been saving this gift certificate since last May, since it didn't expire until my next birthday.

As you well know from some of my recent posts, I've been feeling kind of ragged. But after a little extra time with John, a little solitude, a little girl time with friends and a couple of spa services, I'm feeling so refreshed and rested. I've also done a lot of reading this week, which revives me mentally.

I recently finished Laura Bush's memoir (Spoken From the Heart) and Mary Beth Chapman's book (Choosing to SEE). I enjoyed both. But Mary Beth's was the one I couldn't put down. I love her transparency. I loved reading about her life and her early years with SCC. I was so inspired by their family's strong faith and desire to glorify God. I loved this quote from the chapter Not My Plan:

"Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude." ~ Simone Weil.

That statement is so true and I have experienced the reality of it. For someone who has not, I can imagine the reaction of, "Oh yeah, right." But I have had moments of deep gratitude in the midst of suffering and heartache that only comes from complete trust in God and His plan for my life. There is such comfort and gratitude in knowing that my suffering is for a purpose and it is for my ultimate good. God has many times redeemed my suffering in such amazing and surprising ways that I could not regret the suffering for a moment In the moment, it was hard. But the joy that followed was so much sweeter and God's glory shone brighter because of it. In hindsight, I have almost always been able to see the hand of God in everything I have gone through. And I have always grown from those experiences. It also becomes easier to trust God when He has proven Himself and His faithfulness in your life through many difficult places you thought you couldn't endure.

I am currently reading Decision Points by George W. Bush and The God Who is There by D. A. Carson. (The God Who is There is the one I can't put down so far.) And I've been more consistent with my daily Bible reading lately. I am using the YouVersion online so I can read on my Droid X (anytime, anywhere). I selected the daily reading plan: The Essential Jesus, which consists of 100 carefully selected passages focusing on Jesus (Old and New Testaments). I have always read the Bible sequentially rather than topically and I am enjoying this 100 day focus.

It is 7:00 a.m. and I am headed for a workout on my Stairmaster. Then, if everybody wakes up healthy, I plan to see my grandkids and my daughter-in-law today. What a way to top off a great week!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Emotional, Confessional Blogging

Sometimes after I have written a blog post expressing (confessing) my emotional struggles and/or inner conflict, I will get private notes from friends telling me (lovingly) that I am too hard on myself and need to give myself a break for being human. I always appreciate that feedback. I thrive on reassurance and affirmation. Always have. Probably always will ... unless I make some huge and rapid progress in my advancing age! Ha Ha.

My favorite books are usually ones in which the authors confess to having a lot of my same struggles and flaws; therefore reassuring me that I am not alone or completely unique. And I have received private notes from readers (of my blog and book), urging me to keep writing and sharing my heart, because I do that for them. I always appreciate that feedback too. That is one of the reasons I often feel inspired to err on the side of self-disclosure. If it helps even one person reading, it means so much to me. I also realize that, at this point, I have quite a few CLL readers (both patients and caregivers). In that journey, as well as every other challenge in life, I have found that it helps enormously simply to know we are not alone. There are others who completely understand and relate to what we are going through.

However, another (more selfish) reason I write is because it helps me to process my emotions and work through them. I began this blog in 2007 and although I don't browse my archives regularly, I like having this public journal of my private struggles to occasionally revisit certain periods of time and see the progress God has helped me to make. There were times, obviously, when I wasn't able to come right out and say what I was specifically struggling with (primarily with regard to John's diagnosis). But to anyone reading who did know what I was going through, it was there (between the lines).

If I'm gone tomorrow, I also like knowing that what I've shared will still be accessible. For whatever it's worth. Not just for the sake of shared human struggles, CLL information and (hopefully) spiritual inspiration -- but also for the little tributes I occasionally write to the people I love.

As far as my being hard on myself ... as long as I have that struggle internally, it will show up in some of my blog posts. Just always keep in mind that, because I am so emotionally expressive, there may be times when I appear in worse shape (in writing) than I actually am (in person). Although I am by nature a very emotional person, by the grace of God, I am also resilient. So you don't have to worry about me, although I do appreciate your prayers.

I continue to battle fatigue this week. I am so tired in the mornings that I wonder occasionally if I'm going to be diagnosed with CLL next (my dad has it). But I know there are other strong possibilities at work in my physical body. And life has been stressful for the last few months. But I am feeling better. And I'm following directions and cutting myself some slack for all of the emotional stress I have imposed upon myself lately. Just thought some of you might like to know that. ; )

Marian had blood drawn today. Her white count is continuing to decline. It was just a little over 13 today (down from 53 prior to treatment). She is getting stronger and is back home in Evansville now. I took her and my niece Ashleigh to Maggiano's for lunch after Marian's office visit. We had a great time, as well as a great meal.

It was Ashleigh's first dining experience at Maggiano's and I always love being the person to treat someone to a first dining experience.