Monday, February 11, 2013

Loaves and Fishes

I remember the day I met Cindi.  She found me on facebook and told me she needed to drop off a gift for our family to me.  I was at Lake Cable recovering from my brain surgery and fusion.  I knew who she was through Delaney's school.  The year before her son had taken the money from a chapel challenge called "Loaves and Fishes" and through God's help had multiplied it enough to pay for his aunt's tombstone.  Around the time of my surgery I received a check from Cindi and her family.  They had committed to their own "Loaves and Fishes" project and chose us.  All said and done 36 individuals and families had given to us.   When she showed up on the snowy doorstep of my healing house and gave me the gift I knew how overwhelmingly special this woman was.  God was demonstrating specific love through her. 

After our meeting we didn't communicate directly very often on facebook.  Our children are in different grades at school, and let's face it, most moms, even in my girls classes, wouldn't know who I am, because I truly cannot be there like they are.  Last year when she posted about a high school friend who had cervical cancer and created a campaign to raise money for her and her family to take a vacation I was led to donate.  I did not do this lightly.  We were still living in my parent's basement. Our medical debt did and does remain enormous, and through our being blessed over and over by other's sacrifice and generosity we feel a particular burden when deciding how to give back wisely.  By giving I was also pledging to pray for Andrea and her dear ones and particularly for Cindi who was walking so closely with her on this journey.  I had traveled a similar road with my own friend.  I knew what a privilege and responsibility Cindi was living. 

I knew I wanted to begin "Angie's Room" in the first quarter of  2013.  There were a few other women I knew of through friends who were battling cancer and other chronic illnesses.  I had sent out some "feeler" emails to see if they thought in these cases a room makeover would be a good way to minister.  For several reasons they were not.  As I prayed for Andrea and followed her own facebook page I felt more led to talk to Cindi.  I sent her a message the last day of December asking her to call me when she could.  As I wrote in my journal about the prayerful hope God would help me in the new year reach further outside of my world to bless others He kept bringing Andrea to my mind and heart. 

I asked Cindi about more specifics regarding Andrea's living situation and especially her room and explained my idea.  Cindi said Andrea had actually mentioned wanting to make her room more organized and cozy since she had entered hospice care.  She wasn't doing well and Cindi didn't know if we really had the time to raise money for the project.  I had a little nest egg set aside to begin, but it wasn't near what is needed for even a basic change of scenery.  We waited and prayed and God moved in a special way to provide some unexpected money to Cindi and also the strength and Grace for me to know I could really do this even with my own challenges.

It happened quickly.  From January 9th to February 9th I planned and shopped (mostly online) and communicated a lot with Andrea not only about her room but also her sweet daughter's room.  It was important to Andrea that she also be blessed in this way.  My momma heart completely understood her desire for Grace to have a beautiful and peaceful place to play and rest.  Just like that God grew an idea and provided the resources and worked the details and Saturday it all became a reality. 

One of the most beautiful things to bloom is the relationships.  I have been so encouraged and overwhelmed by Cindi's giving heart and love for her friend and by Andrea's courage and strength and reflection of God in her suffering.  I believe this is just the beginning of how God could multiply this love.  I have dreams of local businesses and artists donating goods for rooms and those with physical gifts like painting and moving heavy things lining up to help on install day.  A man from church, Mike, painted a wall in Grace's room pink on Friday and Dan and Cindi were my only well bodied helpers.  It was especially wonderful for Dan and I to work together side by side.  The joy God gave us as a couple by being able to finally give something instead of take was healing.  I know for sure when we move with the Spirit and obey nothing is impossible!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Who is Andrea?

I am struggling with writing about Andrea.  I know this is in part because I am very comfortable telling you about my own journey but hesitant to speak about the unique path God has asked her to walk.  I have typed and deleted several posts and finally decided I should let you get to know Andrea through her own words.  Tomorrow I will share how my life became intersected with hers through Cindi, a high school friend of Andrea's, who blessed me during and after my brain surgery and fusion.  It's a humbling thing to be part of God connecting relationships and resources in the way He did the past few months to bring about this gift for Andrea and Grace. 

Please take some time to read Andrea's cancer journal on her caring bridge page and her background story.

Her testimony is "all about God" and will encourage you greatly.  You can watch it here.

In Psalm 31:5 David writes, "My times are in Your hands."  Andrea's faith points me to the One who holds all our tomorrows.  There are no "odds" with God.  He has written all her days.  I feel so blessed to see in part what He will make clear to us one day about all He's asking her to endure.  I know for sure He'll get all the glory!

Pictures before the story, because I can't wait!

I just have to get a few of these before and after pictures posted.  The story is coming . . .

Here are a few before shots of Andrea's room I took about a month ago when my mom drove me to Cleveland to meet her.

The room already had a wonderful cafe latte color.  Andrea had a good mattress and boxspring sitting on the floor and a dresser and nightstand we could work with.  Directly in front of her bed was an old TV tray used as a stand for her TV and DVD player.  The lighting in the room was very gloomy.  The bedding and pillows were quite old and without any headboard did not provide near enough cushion for her sitting up in bed as much as she was.  I'm sure many of you recognize the old glider in the corner.  If I had a nickel for every master bedroom I have been in where the kids are grown and the moms just can't seem to part with this piece of furniture I'd be a wealthy woman.  Andrea was all for giving it the heave ho!  Andrea is in hospice care.  She definitely needed a comfortable sitting place outside her bed not only to give her back and neck a break and get her moving around but also for the nurses who are in and out and her friends and family who want to visit her.  I only met with Andrea the one time before moving forward on the project.  She would send ideas online to me, and I asked her specific questions to help me personalize the space.  Here are some photos of how the room looked when we left yesterday.


The decal over her bed is her favorite verse surrounded by butterflies.  She has six new comfy pillows and several throw pillows added for lots of support while sitting up in bed or lounging.  Her linens are luxurious with amazingly soft cotton sheets.  The blue and white are soothing while still completely brightening up the space.  We put her bed on a frame.  This adds height and support make a striking visual difference and helps her in getting in and out of bed.  My favorite spot is her chair corner where she can sit with a cup of tea, read and pray with the "Prince of Peace" looking over her.  The large silver mirror over the dresser matches her furniture hardware and reflects the light and enlarges the feeling of the room too.  I added other silver details like a mercury glass candlestick and little vases on the dresser.  We kept some of her favorite framed photos in the mix with new details.  The new TV stand was an old favorite piece of mine I had in my foyer as a console table.  I knew right away it needed to be part of this space.  It ties in the white in the linens, little white shelves and white verse beautifully.  It gives her much needed storage for papers and medical things she had been keeping beside her bed in plain view. 

As the afternoon sun shone in and Andrea came upstairs to see her room for the first time I could literally feel the healing and peace and utter joy the change would bring for her.  God was in it from the very first thought.  Pictures of Grace's room and Andrea's story are coming later today . . .

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The first room

Five years ago this week I loaded up my car in Gaithersburg, Maryland and headed out early on an icy morning towards the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to do a room makeover for my Angie.  It was an idea born the day I visited her at the cancer center for one of her chemotherapy treatments to treat her breast cancer.  After her chemo I drove her to her home and went upstairs to her bedroom.  As soon as I saw my dear friend's space I knew she needed a brighter, more comfortable and more peaceful place to heal.

I was someone who had bought and sold new homes and been blessed to work with designers on model homes for condo and new home developments.  I had come to understand how rooms and things are really so much more when something personal is breathed into them.  My passion for beautiful spaces had an opportunity to blossom from my childhood love of decorating.  It was innate in me.  My mom will tell you how obsessed I was with checking out design books from the library.  I was fascinated with the texture and print of fabric and collecting things that were beautiful or meant something to me to add to my room.  Until I was thirteen I shared a room with my sisters, and they pretty much always let me take the lead on design.  I was most drawn to descriptive passages of people's homes in the books I read and, to this day, notice furniture illustrations in children's books before anything else.  From my earliest memory I would pass homes in the dark and peer through the windows to see what the details of life might be like inside those walls.  I imagined floorplans from just seeing the exterior.  The importance of landscaping and curb appeal were never lost on me either. 

I had read and studied about the importance of place and space on childhood development and also on healing in chronically ill or terminally ill patients.  I had just survived three months of hospitalization during my pregnancy with Danica.  The rooms there were so sterile and so depressing.  I thought I had slipped into an alternate universe of ugly tile floors, horrible scratchy sheets and blankets and really bad pillows.  I know for sure one of the things that helped me recover the most in those first weeks home from so much pain and trauma was my beautiful bed, cheerful art, comfy bedding and small details I treasured.  My life was something of history and value in my own room.  I hadn't felt that for a long time. 

I didn't want Angie's room to be the last thing on the list of what mattered.  I didn't want the pile of medical bills to be on the cluttered desk in plain view from where she would crash after chemo.  I didn't want old polyester cabbage rose bedding with wilted pillows to be her recovery place.  I wanted to surround her with simple but beautiful reminders of what she was fighting so hard for.  I wanted a peaceful space for her to rest and a cheerful place for her friends and family to visit her when she couldn't make it downstairs.  I left knowing what I should and could do for her.

I did not have any money.  Dan and I were actually losing our home after the months of my unemployment and hospital stays, failed surgery attempts for my blocked kidney, C-section and Danica's NICU stay.  We were already planning to sell most of what I just told you was so dear to me and move to Ohio to start over.  I didn't let this stop the seed from growing.  I asked Angie's mom for the names and email addresses of her friends and family.  I wrote them to see if the could help me do this thing for her.  So many answered with cards for Angie and donations of $10, $15, $20 . . . collectively enough to make some very special changes in her room.  A friend of hers from church coordinated painting the room on a night Angie's husband, Brian, was taking Angie away.  My sister, Rochelle and her husband, Doug, from West Virginia met me at Angie and Brian's home the following morning to complete the room transformation.  I left a scrapbook of cards from all the people who had donated on her bed and two very special stones with the words "STRENGTH" and "HEALING" engraved in them. 

Angie was overwhelmed with the gesture and the love.  We could not have imagined following her breast cancer fight God would ask her to fight thyroid cancer for a second time and then colon cancer.  Yes, my dear friend has had cancer four times in her less than forty years.  I know intimately how the beautiful room and especially her bed became wrought with grief and suffering and healing and healing and healing again. 

This is how "Angie's Room" was born.  I have wanted to do it again.  I have dreamed about it.  I have prayed about it.  I have talked about it.  As I have laid in my own bed months and months following surgery after surgery and unspeakable pain the seed was germinating.  I was asking God to bring me to any kind of place in my own life where I could take a passion He planted in me and grow it for someone else again.  Today He let it blossom.  "Andrea's Room" became a reality.  It was as much love and Spirit of God as anything.  I can't wait to tell you about her and her daughter, Grace, and her friend, Cindi, and show you the details of this new ministry. 

One of my favorite life quotes is from Willa Cather, "Where there is great love there are always miracles."  Angie is cancer free today.  Andrea is fighting cervical cancer and was given 3-6 months to live late last summer.  She is still here.  We are asking for a miracle.  Won't you pray for her tonight, for her husband Cary and their daughter, Grace?  Tomorrow I will post more of her story including her testimony and pictures of the beautiful rooms we did today for both Andrea and Grace.  I hope you will follow here as I seek to be faithful in God's leading to the next person who could be blessed by a room.  I have a feeling this is only the beginning.   

Monday, January 28, 2013

Who is Angie?

Angie is my dearest childhood friend.  Our story goes a little something like this . . .

"I met my Angie when I was 5 and she was 8. I remember the first time I saw her. She had beautiful long dark hair, big expressive eyes and she was gorgeous. Although we knew one another from our small church and school she was older than I was so any attention from her was very special to me. In my early teen years we became inseparable and for some reason any social barriers from the age difference melted away. We were alike in so many ways. We shared a love of words and ideas that most others would laugh at. We were dramatic and silly and very serious too. We were old souls and felt things deeply. We shared a history that could not easily be explained to new friends and certainly not understood. We were knit together by formative years of joy and pain and a rare love.

There were many years of time apart. After attending the same college I took a path of sin and selfishness, and we fell out of touch. It was only a year and a half ago when I learned of Angie's breast cancer diagnosis that I was drawn to reconnect with her. I had just gone through a long and painful hospitalization, and I knew I needed to find her and love her.

The first time we emailed and then talked on the phone it was as if not a day had passed. Although so much life had happened in between, including marriage and children, our hearts remained the same, and we still owned the pieces we had kept so carefully all those years. Angie speaks of our friendship as knowing and being known. Yes, that's it. It's a rare and precious gift."  (From a blog post on my old blog Everyday Simple Abundance written April 1, 2009)

Angie tells it like this . . .

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. ~Henri Nouwen
"About thirty-one years ago, two “old souls” met in early childhood, and the friendship was instantaneous. Monica has taught me much about finding beauty in the every day since then. Whether it was playing orphans in my backyard lying beneath the Dogwood tree, or traipsing through the golf course behind her house. Whether it was writing poetry and mailing it to each other for critiques or heading off to watch baseball games together. Whether it was crying or laughing or imagining or writing or fighting, we were always there, kindred spirits.

Knowing and being known by each other.

We share secrets from our childhood, memories of lazy days together growing up. We share a love for lilacs and poetry and all things lovely. We share a love of music and lyrics and words, of art and writing and journals. She is my go-to person for good books and good movies, and I trust her implicitly. She is a safe place to pour out my heart and she is not afraid to speak the truth in love to me. She has always reminded me to be gentle on my heart and pointed me to the Cross when I could only gaze at myself.

And she has taught me about the beauty of suffering.

She reminds me every day to live. To make it a great day. To wear today out. To focus on Christ, on holiness, on beauty. To be me, and to be happy in who God created me to be. Some days I look at her and I marvel at her beauty, intelligence, wisdom, and spirit. Her passion for truth and Christ and His glory. And I am grateful. So grateful. Because I truly think without her, I would have given up during my cancer battle and fallen into despair.

And now it is my turn. I am the one filling up her inbox and mailbox. I am the one reminding her that I’m here no matter what. That I know what it’s like when you have no strength to pick up the phone or write an email or pursue anything or anyone outside the realm of your suffering. That I am the one with no expectations. That I am her friend even if she can’t ever give me anything back. That we are strangers here and there is hope beyond what we experience in the trials of this life.

You see, those are all the same things she has said and done for me.

God knew.

God knew all those years ago how badly we would need each other then to walk through the fiery trials of today. And as we know and are known by each other, it is comforting that God knows us even more deeply.

There are no words to describe the gratitude today as I celebrate in my heart my dear Monica’s birthday. The emails are not enough: we are aching to be together today (It has been almost a year since we’ve seen each other–far too long). Thirty-one years ago we met as young girls, and time has only strengthened and blossomed our friendship. She roots me to the core, and I am always sure of her. So thankful for the gift of her life, her faith and her love.

She is my hero."  (From a blog post on Angie's blog Spring of Joy written November 4, 2010.) 

Next up  . . .  How this love became a room for healing.