Saturday, December 31, 2011

A True Titus 2 Woman

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored."
Titus 2:3-5

The world is a darker place this week. On Christmas Eve, just thirty minutes before midnight, God called home one of His saints, a bright light born on October 27, 1924. Her parents named her Sarabelle, but everyone called her Sally

I first met Sally at a Christmas dinner in the home of my future grandmother-in-law. Sally was the aunt of the boy who would, three years later, become my husband. The moment she walked in the front door the house brightened. Laughter and joy radiated from the tall redhead like light through a prism. Her blue eyes sparkled with curiosity. They didn't miss a thing. But oh, they gave back so much more than they took in. There was unmistakable love and acceptance in those eyes. 

Sally's ability to accept people just as they were came from her relationship with Christ. She had received His grace and, therefore, she exhibited that same grace toward others. Christianity wasn't Sally's religion. It was her life. The abundant life Jesus promised through a relationship with Him. 

I wasn't a Christian when I met Sally, but it was her influence -- and I'm sure her prayers -- that led me to Jesus. There was something so different, so authentic about her faith. It was an anchor that held through the bitterest storms: the death of two husbands, a son, her sister, her mother, and the pain of her own physical disabilities. The Lord was her Rock. Her Solid Foundation that never shifted.

Sally taught me well over the years. She was my mentor. It wasn't a formal thing. We never lived close enough to one another to meet regularly. But when we were together, I was a sponge; soaking up from her every drop of biblical truth in action I could hold. From Sally I learned that homes are a blessing from God to be used to bless others, and food is to be shared and celebrated with joy. I have fond memories of sitting across from her at the dinner table where we would first ask God's blessing and then she would look up at me, grin and make an oink-oink sound -- like a little pig -- before digging into her plate. It always made me laugh to see such a godly, dignified lady cut loose like that. And frankly, her action gave me permission to be myself. It's okay for a Titus 2 woman to laugh and have fun. Even to make oinky pig noises at the dinner table. Sally passed onto me never to take myself too seriously. A lesson that has served me well.

Although she didn't take herself seriously, she did take God's word seriously. She loved to study it. Daily devotions were important to her. I remember once I spent the night with Sally and her second husband Stephen. When I came out of the guest room in the morning, I tiptoed past their bedroom to the kitchen. The bedroom door was open, and I saw them sitting on the bed reading scripture together. I didn't have to ask if they did that every morning. I knew they did. It's a vision that will stay with me as long as I have brain cells. An elderly couple equally devoted to God. He was their priority. Beautiful.

I could write page after page of Sally Memories, but the dearest one I have is one of the last few. We were in my living room, not long after my husband died. Sally sat in an easy chair and I sat at her feet. We wept together. Not for the husbands we had lost, for we knew they were with the Lord, in a much better place. We wept because we had been left behind to face life without our companions. We wept for our widowhood; hers a few years old, mine still fresh. I shared with her that I had been reading one of my life verses, Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." But that for the first time the preceding verses, four through seven, held special meaning for me: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.'" God had allowed the exile of the Israelites to Babylon, and yet He wanted His people to continue on with life in the strange place they inhabited. For in time He would bring them back. He knew the plans He had in store for them, and they included a future and a hope. Sally smiled. "Those are the same verses the Lord gave me when Stephen died." We discussed how widowhood felt like exile; suddenly you're in a strange place not of your own choosing. And how those words from our Heavenly Father told us that He wanted us to go on and live life to the fullest. In time He would bring us out of our exile, but until then we were to remain faithful. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I will miss this dear lady as a daughter misses her mother. For, indeed, Sally was my spiritual mother. She was a wise woman. A gracious, generous and loving woman. A woman after God's own heart. She "fought the good fight", she "finished the course", she "kept the faith."  God brought her into my life to reach me and teach me how to follow Him. And in my greatest hour of need she was there -- as any good mother would be -- to encourage me and help me stay the course God had set before me. 

One day I'll see her again, in a place where God wipes away every tear and the Son never stops shining. I'm sure right now Sally is worshipping the King with all her loved ones who have gone before. 

As for me, I praise God for the joy and blessing of having a true Titus 2 woman in my life. Sarabelle Bausch, I want to grow up in the Lord to be just like you.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas on the Homestead

"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?" -- Gilbert K. Chesterton

It's a peaceful, rest-filled, white Christmas Day on our homestead.

More than ever before, I'm thankful to God for the gift of His Son. We celebrated Christmas Eve with a large gathering of friends (some old, some new) in Allenspark: food, music, poetry, stories, the completion of the Advent wreath, singing carols. It was all centered around Christ and His birth. An old-fashioned and beautiful evening. I'm ready for Christmas Eve 2012 right now.

Several days ago I found a recipe online for Starbucks Cafe Mochas to make at home. I tried it and it's delicious. Not difficult to make, either.

Note: I used Ghiradelli Chocolate Mocha cocoa powder, and Starbucks Sumatra coffee for the espresso.

Merry Christmas. Rejoice! For a Son has been given.

"In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory it God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'" (Luke 2:8-14)


Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Book Journey

“Reading is one form of escape. Running for your life is another.”― Lemony Snicket

Although I can't prove it, I'm pretty sure I was born with a book in my hand. My earliest childhood recollection is that of sitting next to my mother as she read to me. She wasn't allowed to hold the book or turn the pages. That privilege belonged only to moi.

The first book I read on my own was "Daddy's Birthday Cakes", a story about a little girl and her mother who each bake a birthday cake for Daddy. Soon after, "Growing Things" -- a tale of a young girl who learns to grow a sweet potato vine -- showed up on my bookcase. These stories instilled in me, at a very young age, a desire to bake and garden.

Both books were part of the Ding Dong School Book series, written by Frances Horwich and Reinald Werrenrath, Jr. and published by Rand McNally. Frances-- Miss Frances -- was headmistress at Ding Dong School, a 1950's educational TV program for preschoolers. 

Mother and Miss Frances weren't the only women who impacted my reading life. Aunt Louise loaned to me her complete Nancy Drew collection. I can still picture the books arranged sequentially on her bookcase. All in their original jackets. Beautiful, colorful, pristine jackets. I was afraid to touch them, afraid I might mar their appearance. Aunt Louise wasn't worried. "You are free to take them with you," she said. "Just make sure you read them." When I returned them to her, she raised her brows. "You've finished already?" I nodded. I had devoured them. (But only after I first removed the jackets and set them aside.)

My taste in books has always been eclectic. To me, the genre is less important than the author's ability to take me along on the journey. If the first chapter doesn't convince me to tag along. . .I abandon the trip for new adventures. John Witherspoon said, "Never read a book through merely because you have begun it." Exactly. I have a "no fault" reading plan. It may not be the author's fault -- or mine --  that I'm not into his book. Story preference is subjective. Why else would there be such a wide variety of books published?

Currently, I'm reading "The Cross Gardener" by Jason F. Wright. After 135 pages, I'm still traveling with him. A very good sign.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Corner Words

"Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." 
Stephen King, On Writing

My writing space is now a corner desk in our dining room. Not because Stephen King recommends it, but because we wanted to reclaim our dining table. I've been using the table as my work surface ever since we moved into our micro cabin, and that has limited our meals to food that can be eaten from a plate on one's lap. The bare corner between the credenza and the bookcase provided just the right spot for a new work area. We now enjoy a more balanced diet and I have the added benefit of a great homestead view. I consider the desk, which Dennis had made to order, an early Christmas present. Dennis says every day is Christmas. (Is it any wonder I love that man?)

I always enjoy discovering where well-known writers work. In her article The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why, published in Poets & Writers, Alexandra Enders writes: "Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. William Maxwell preferred 'small messy rooms that don't look out on anything interesting.' Katherine Anne Porter said she got her writing done in the country, where she lived like a hermit. Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub, Jane Austen amid family life, Marcel Proust in the confines of his bed. Balzac ate an enormous meal at five in the evening, slept till midnight, then got up and wrote at a small desk in his room for sixteen hours straight, fueled by endless cups of coffee. Toni Morrison found refuge in a motel room when her children were small; E. B. White sought it in a cabin on the shore. Due to her problem back, Penelope Lively works in an armchair, with an 'ancient electronic typewriter' on her lap, while A. L. Kennedy finds comfort in a 'monster black chair' in a room 'the color of blood.'"

C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, wrote in his office and rooms behind Magdalen College in England. Of his space, he wrote in a letter:

“My big sitting room looks north and from it I can see nothing, not even a gable or a spire, to remind me that I am in town. I look down on a stretch of ground which passes into a grove of immemorial forest trees, at present coloured autumn red. Over it stray deer. They are erratic in their habits. Some mornings when I look out there will be half a dozen chewing the cud just underneath me.”

Although I'll never reach the literary heights of Lewis, I feel a certain kinship with him every time I look through the window from my desk, as I did this morning, and see the deer descend Prospect Mountain. 

Sometimes what seems like the worst location in which to write, turns out to be the best. The Apostle Paul wrote the Books of Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians from a prison in Rome. To the church in Philippi he wrote: "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear." (Philippians 1:12-14 NASB)

Where do you write?


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Survivors by Guest Blogger David Haas

My guest blogger today is David Haas.  

David is a cancer patient advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. He writes and researches on the topics of fitness and cancer support groups in order to better the lives of cancer patients all over the United States. You can find his posts at

As someone who has lost several loved ones to cancer, and who has had cancer scares herself, I appreciate what David has to share with us. I hope you will, too. . .

Exercise Can Help

It’s no secret that living a healthy lifestyle has many benefits, but for those who have been diagnosed with cancer — whether they are in treatment or in remission — a regular fitness regimen is essential to maintaining an overall state of well-being.

In a recent study done by Dr. Matthew Buman of Stanford University, a volunteer group of cancer survivors were introduced to a strength training and conditioning program for a period of 12 to 16 weeks. The goal was to attempt to increase physical endurance, strength, and general quality of life among the participants. The analysis measured vitality, stress levels, fatigue, and other psychological elements—all of which showed significant improvements. Post-diagnosis research on women with breast cancer has shown that moderate physical activity can improve survival rates when compared with women who lead less active lifestyles. In fact, an increase in exercise may enhance both insulin and lepton levels, although a definite scientific conclusion has yet to be reached.

The National Cancer Institute is currently conducting a number of studies on the role of physical activity in the quality of life of cancer survivors. According to one report done by the NCI’s Cancer Survivorship Research department, a number of researchers are using exercise interventions to improve survivors’ emotional and functional well-being. While it is not clear if these types of interventions will alter the course of cancer, they hold the promise of reducing cancer-related morbidity and improving quality of life. They also appear to have enormous appeal to survivors eager to reduce stress and ‘take control’ of their bodies after cancer.”

Yoga is also gaining popularity as a holistic addition to the treatment of those suffering from mesothelioma and other types of cancer. Its central focus is on the individual, allowing participants to proceed at their own pace and intensity level. With an array of health benefits including improved flexibility and cardiovascular endurance, reduced stress levels and blood pressure, and increased dexterity and hand-eye coordination, yoga is an excellent alternative to strenuous exercise. 

The innumerable health benefits of physical activity are undeniable. It is especially important for those who have been diagnosed with, or are undergoing treatment for various forms of cancer. When the body is well balanced, the emotional and psychological advantages are invaluable, promoting a greater sense of stability and peace of mind.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oranges, Hard Candy and a Simple Homestead Christmas

But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty.  Then they put their hands down inside them, to make sure.  And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.  Think of having a whole penny for your very own.  Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There never had been such a Christmas. —Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)  

Laura's words remind me of a conversation I had with my mother years ago. I was five or six at the time. We were sitting at the kitchen table in the old farmhouse, sorting through a box of Christmas cards. Mom held up a card with a beautiful poinsettia on the front. "What do you think of this one for Aunt Ella?" 

I looked at the card and smiled. "She'll like that one. She loves flowers." I pulled out a card and studied the face of a radiant angel. "I think the Webers would like this one."

Mom nodded. "Me, too."

Visions of Santa loading up the sleigh with my Christmas presents danced through my head, as we gathered cards for the rest of the people on mom's list. "When you were a little girl, Mommy, what did you get for Christmas?"

She looked up from her work and stared at me for a moment. "Oh. . .we got an orange. And a piece of hard candy."

My jaw fell to my chest. She couldn't be serious. "That's all?"


"Were you bad or somethin'?"

She laughed. "No. That's just the way it was in those days."

I thought Santa had been pretty stingy in those days. But later I learned that my mother's experience was the norm for previous generations. Especially in large families like hers. They lived within their means -- even at Christmas -- and their means weren't much. 

For a long time I felt sorry for my mom and her siblings. Sorry that they didn't have a real Christmas. But not any longer. Now I think they were the blessed ones; the ones who had the real Christmas. A simple Christmas. I envy them.

Maybe that's one reason why "A Christmas Carol" is my favorite Christmas movie. The contented way in which the Cratchits celebrate their meager Christmas appeals to me.

Keeping Christmas simple in a culture that believes more is more, instead of less is more, isn't easy. But downsizing to a 624 sq. ft. cabin has definitely twisted my arm into submission to a simpler Christmas decorating style. There just isn't room to display a lot of stuff, much less store it, so that simplifies decking the halls.

This year we're focusing on simple live decorations, like this poinsettia.

And these red carnations for the dining table.

We may just have the tiniest live Christmas tree in Estes Park. My plan is to repot it as it grows and reuse it in the coming years until it's too big for indoors and just right for planting outdoors.

Dennis's painting "Taos Peace Rally" has a Christmas theme. The lamp post is decorated with greenery and a red bow. The cross is a reminder of the real reason for celebrating Christmas.

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; 
And the government will rest on His shoulders; 
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, 
On the throne of David and over his kingdom, 
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness 
From then on and forevermore. 
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this."
Isaiah 9:6-7

I'm happy we're keeping our homestead Christmas simple. Now all we need is a few oranges and some hard candy.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Take a Road Trip (But Watch Out for Stray Decoys)

“As consumers weigh the fear of economic uncertainty and the desire to create lasting family memories this holiday, more Americans are expected to choose family and friends over frugality.” -- Bill Sutherland, Vice President, AAA Travel Services 
Hood Valley, Oregon
The Reinkes joined an estimated 38.2 million Americans on the highways this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We traveled to Portland, Oregon to celebrate Thanksgiving with Dennis' two daughters. I'm pretty proud of the fact that we chose, as Bill Sutherland suggested, "family over frugality", as well as contributed to the U.S. economy. Yessiree folks, this is my plan to get the economic recovery moving (no pun intended). We do it the old-fashioned, American way -- spend money on a road trip. Get in your vehicle and hit the high roads and low roads of this great land in which we live. I'm sure right now employees of two hotels, numerous gas stations, restaurants and Starbucks across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon are saying to one another, "How about those Reinkes? We need more Americans like them -- choosing family over frugality."

Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by Dennis' daughter, was a gourmet delight. She cooks healthy food that tastes great. This is the first guilt-free Thanksgiving dinner I have ever eaten and for taste I'd put it up against any fat and calorie-laden menu out there.
From the top left: Swiss Chard Stuffing, Roasted Turkey with a light gravy, Kale and Brussel Sprouts Salad, Cranberries, Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon, Mixed Green Salad. Dessert (not shown) Kabocha Squash Cheesecake with Walnut Crust 
The Kabocha Squash Cheesecake with Walnut Crust was delicious. Kabocha squash is also known as Japanese pumpkin. I found a recipe on Food Gal's Website that I'm pretty sure is the same one used for our dessert. However, we did not opt for the Chantilly topping. The cheesecake didn't need it.

While we were in Portland, we toured Hood Valley (where I shot the photo at the top of the page), and Willamette Valley wineries. Both offered beautiful scenery. Dennis and I love old barns (as is probably obvious by the 150 year-old barn on our homestead). This barn in front of a vineyard possessed delightful character.

The Fall color is gone in the Rockies, so we especially enjoyed the colors of Willamette Valley.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Except for a scary incident on the way home, we had a great trip. Just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho at 5:30 AM Sunday, we hit a big fiberglass goose decoy that had apparently fallen off a traveler's vehicle. It lodged under our car, so we had to pull off the road. Another driver who had hit the pesky decoy before we did, had pulled over to see if he could figure out what exactly he had run over. He played the part of Good Samaritan and dislodged the decoy for us. A third driver pulled over and told us there was also a big bag of decoys in the road. It was a very weird experience, but thankfully nobody was hurt and there was no damage to our vehicles. We thank God for that.

"The LORD watches over all who love Him" -- Psalm 145:20


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will Toilet Paper Become Obsolete?

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." -- Carl Reiner

We woke up to fresh snow this morning. This must be the fourth or fifth snow storm we've had since October. When I became an adult I lost my fascination with the white stuff, but now that I live in the mountains, snow and I have become friends again. Maybe it's the beautiful white-tipped evergreens that have won me over, or the winter sunshine that paints gray shadows on the white, billowy canvas.Then again, it could be the simple fact that I work from home and don't have to navigate through the snow, unless I want to. The answer is "D"-- All of the Above.

Earlier this week, I came across a blog that I filed under "E" for ee-yew. The blogger extolled the virtues of "family wipes". These are reusable cloth wipes designed to replace toilet paper. Yes, folks. Nix the toilet paper and use cloth wipes instead. Apparently, the "used" cloth wipes are held in a designated container close to the toilet. When the container is full, a lucky family member gets the jolly job of throwing the whole kit and kaboodle in the clothes washer for cleaning. Then the wipes are dried, taken back to the bathroom, and the process repeated.

Ok, now I believe in frugality. I also respect the environment (I don't worship it, I respect it). But cloth wipes are just a little too au naturel for me. I like my toilet paper. I like the fact it's on a roll. I like seeing it disappear when I flush the commode. And I love the fact that I don't have to put it in my washer and wash it, followed by washing my other clothes in the same washer. Get my drift? 

If you think family wipes are the next best thing to sliced bread, more power to you. Just let me know that you've switched to cloth before you invite me to your house. I'll make sure I bring my old-fashioned, environmentally unfriendly, horribly expensive toilet paper with me. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. (I'm thanking God for t.p.)


Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's All Good

Egg McReinke
My husband is a self-confessed "gnarly egg" maker. Gnarly as in knotty; not  the slang word gnarly, as in gnarly, dude. The fried eggs Dennis cooks are delicious, they're just not very pretty. Mind you, I'm not complaining. For me, yummy always trumps beauty.

We've had lots of activity at the Reinke Homestead this week. Dennis has almost finished revamping his website: I like the way it's coming together, and feel a little inspired to spruce up my blog. On the other hand, I may just sit still until the feeling passes.

When he wasn't playing web guru, Dennis painted six watercolors for the Estes Park Cultural Arts Council Holiday Art Exhibition and Sale. The event will take place at the CAC Fine Art Gallery - 423 W. Elkhorn Ave., Estes Park, November 26 - December 31, 2011.

We entertained visitors this week. Early Tuesday morning, a doe stopped by. . .

A buck hid behind our barn and ogled the female . .

According to the Rocky Mountain National Park Service, the deer rut begins in November. I like to think of our homestead as a sort of date destination for these lovely creatures.

Yesterday, while working on my novel, I heard the high-pitched call of an elk calf. I gasped when I looked out the window and saw a large elk herd descend the mountain behind our homestead. . .

They came in a steady stream through our property and gathered in our neighbor's yard, across the street, before parading east, down the road. . .

I couldn't capture the totality of the herd with my camera, but there were probably close to 200 elk. The horses expressed interest in the elk show, too. . .

On Thursday we spotted two Bighorn Rams in Big Thompson Canyon. . .

I mentioned my novel earlier. Our homestead purchase and remodel kept me occupied most of this year, but now that we're past all that I've returned to full-time writing. This is my passion and what I feel created to do. Breakfast at the Aurora Borealis Cafe now has a word count of 24,500. Only about 60,000 more words to go. At times it's a daunting task, but I'm in it for the long haul. Besides, I've had some encouragement along the way. One of my devotionals is featured in Gary Chapman's new book: Love Is A Verb Devotional - 365 Inspirations to Bring Love Alive.
My devotional is on January 24.
Seven of my devotionals are also featured in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Wesleyan Publishing's Light From the Word Daily Devotional. Seven more will be included in the Summer 2012 edition. 

I don't share this out of pride, but rather to show how good God has been to me since I left everything behind to pursue my dream. I have no idea what the future holds. Perhaps I'll finish my novel and no one will like it. Maybe I'll have to go back to a regular 9-5 job. Whatever the case, I'm so thankful that He has given me this opportunity. Even if it only lasts a brief time, I can say, "It is well with my soul." 

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." --- Jeremiah 29:11

To God be all the glory.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Rest of the Story

"If we remember that God loves us, and that we can love others as He loves us, then America can become a sign of peace for the world. From here, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak - the unborn child - must go out to the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for." --  Mother Teresa of Calcutta  from speech to the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC, February 3, 1994

One of the positive things that came from resting after surgery last week was the opportunity to catch up on some reading. (The pathology report was benign. Thanks be to God.) Quite unexpectedly, I came across Michael Clancy's web site: Hand of Hope - The Story Behind the Picture. Clancy's name may not ring any bells with you, but I bet his photograph of a spina bifida corrective surgical procedure performed on a twenty-one week old fetus in utero at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on August 19, 1999 will. . .
Mr. Clancy's photograph is used with his permission.
The remarkable picture of the little hand reaching outside the womb and grasping the surgeon's finger first appeared in USA Today on Sept. 7, 1999 and became popular with mass emails. When I received it, I believed the photographer who captured the hand of Samuel Armas outside of his mother's womb at twenty-one weeks gestation would win a Pulitzer.

In reality, Michael Clancy's photo was never published in a magazine, a pre-requisite to a Pulitzer Prize. What is worse, he has spent the ensuing twelve years defending his photo and story against hoax claims, and denials from the doctors involved that Samuel actually reached out of the womb and grasped the doctor's finger. 

Clancy was hired by USA Today to cover the ground-breaking surgery. He was in the operating room at the the time of the operation. He did take photos and immediately following the surgery no one disputed that it was actually Samuel Armas' arm sticking out of his mother's womb. In Michael Clancy's words,
"A doctor asked me what speed of film I was using, out of the corner of my eye I saw the uterus shake, but no one’s hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing. The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor’s finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. I took the picture! Wow! It happened so fast that the nurse standing next to me asked, “What happened?” “The child reached out,” I said. “Oh. They do that all the time,” she responded.

According to Clancy, Dr. Bruner the doctor whose hand the baby touched hasn't talked to reporters in ten years. Dr. Noel Tulipan the neurosurgeon who performed the actual repair to Samuel's spine was interviewed In a Tennessean Newspaper article, Spina Bifida Study Vindicates Vanderbilt by Tom Wilemon, published Februry 10, 2011. When asked about the picture of Samuel reaching from his mother’s womb, Tulipan responded, “I hadn’t really anticipated that was going to happen when it happened. I tried to stay on the sidelines as far as that goes. That’s obviously yet another controversial issue. We never really got into that debate here at Vanderbilt. We tried to sidestep that.” 

Confused by all this? You're not alone. Nevertheless, Michael Clancy's story is compelling and worth reading . The incident changed his views from pro-choice to pro-life. He has shared his testimony around the country and recently released his book Hand of Hope The Story Behind The Picture. His famous 1999 photo was cited during congressional debates on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, enacted November 5, 2003.

When asked her observations of the photo ten years later, Julie Armas said, "I don't care, honestly. What I felt the picture showed is that this is a child engaging in some form of interaction. I'm a labor and delivery nurse, so I understand that Samuel was anesthetized to some degree. So if he reached out, I don't know. If Dr. Bruner reached out, I don't know. The fact of the matter is it's a child with a hand, with a life, and that's meaningful enough." - Fox News, May 2009

Mrs. Armas makes a good point, but its Samuel himself who really drives it home. "It's very important to me," Samuel said of the photograph: "A lot of babies would've lost their lives if that didn't happen." - Fox News, May 2009

Amen, Samuel. Amen.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,
   “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, 
    Stretching out the heavens by Myself 
    And spreading out the earth all alone," -- Isaiah 44:24


Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Mother's Ovarian Cancer and Me

"And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read. " -- Alice Walker

My mother gave me a love for gardening and reading. She passed on to me the shape of her hands, her sense of humor and her strong survival instincts. I last saw my mother alive on an autumn day in 1988. Had she not opened her eyes and said, "There's my baby," I might have thought I had walked into the wrong room in the cancer ward. Only her voice was familiar to me. The disease had ravaged the rest of her and transformed her into someone I no longer recognized. When she died a few weeks later, all I knew about ovarian cancer was that it had taken, far too soon, the life of my spunky, fun-loving, 76 year-old mother and left a huge hole in my life.

After Mom's death, I began my quest to learn all I could about ovarian cancer. But for a decade I discovered very little. Only that this particular type of cancer  has a high mortality rate because it is so difficult to detect. (My mother's cancer was found in stage four; it had already metastasized to other organs.) The symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague, or non-existent. This was confirmed to me over and over again as I met and talked with women who had lost moms, sisters and friends to ovarian cancer. By the time their loved one suspected something was wrong, the cancer had already spread. 

Then something amazing happened. I met my first ovarian cancer survivor in 2002. With everything I knew, what were the chances someone had lived through it? I felt like I had won the lottery. For the next twenty minutes she described her experience. It all started when "things just didn't feel right"; stomach bloating, diarrhea and general discomfort. She knew her body, and what she felt was outside her norm. Her doctor listened to her complaints, but only at her insistence did he order the tests that confirmed she had early stage ovarian cancer. He performed a hysterectomy and she went through a round of chemo. She beat ovarian cancer with faith in God and a fierce determination to manage her own health.

Ovarian cancer research has come a long way in 23 years. We now know that the risk for developing this type of cancer increases when a close relative has had the disease. And that there is a link between ovarian and breast cancer. Because of my family history -- a mother who died of ovarian cancer and a first cousin who developed breast cancer -- I'm considered high risk. For this reason, about six years ago my gynecologist at the time recommended procedures to aid in early detection, should I develop ovarian cancer. Namely, vaginal ultrasounds and CA-125 blood tests. I took her recommendation.

Fast forward to the past nine months. New city, new doctor. I've had three abnormal tumor markers, elevated CA-125 since the first of the year. I had a follow-up vaginal ultrasound which showed no abnormality in my ovaries. At that point I had a choice to make. I could repeat the test in another three months and see if there are any changes, or I could get a second opinion now. I chose the later. 

I met last Wednesday with a gynecologist who has extensive experience with ovarian cancer. He looked over my test results, reviewed my family history and examined me. Then we sat down and had a long talk. I won't divulge the details of our conversation. I'm not a medical doctor and every situation is different. What I will tell you is that I opted to have an oophorectomy, which is just a fancy word for laparoscopic removal of ovaries. I had the surgery Friday morning, along with removal of my fallopian tubes and  an endometrial biopsy. The surgery went well and I'm home recovering. On Wednesday this week I'll get the pathology results. We are praying for and expecting good news.

So why did I write this post? Well, for one thing, to honor my mother. It's because of what she suffered that I decided to do everything necessary to protect my own health. And you know, I think she'd really be proud of me for making the decision I did. 

I also wrote this for my granddaughter. I want her to know how much I love her and her brother. They're two of the reasons I had the surgery. I want to be around to see them both grow up, and maybe marry and have children of their own. 

Finally, I wrote this for anyone who is living in fear of cancer or any other fatal disease. Please, take an active role in managing your health. Take care of yourself: eat right, exercise, don't smoke, limit alcohol, get plenty of rest. Go for regular check-ups. Talk openly and honestly with your doctor about your health concerns. If he or she makes you feel uncomfortable, find another healthcare provider. There are plenty of them out there. If you're at risk for a particular disease, find out everything you can about it. There are a number of reputable medical sites on the internet; John Hopkins, The Mayo Clinic, The Cancer Institute to name a few. As they say, Knowledge is Power.

May I offer one more piece of advice and the most important? Pray. Ask God to help you find the answers you need and give you the peace you long for. He is faithful. He will do it.

"In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me." Psalm 86:7


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Friend I Aspire to Be

"A horse is like a best friend. They're always there to nuzzle you and make your life a better place." -- Anonymous

Yesterday I looked out the kitchen window and saw some serious horseplay going on in our neighbor's corral, so I grabbed my camera to get a few photos. As I watched the mare and gelding nuzzle and nibble each other, gallop and buck, I saw more than a couple of animals messing around. I saw two best friends sharing life.

The subject of friendship is often on my mind these days. One of our best friends has been diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer. We're praying for a miracle. 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in the The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, writes of friendship:
"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle 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."

Over the years, I've been blessed with friends like those Nouwen describes. Through their example I learned that our best friends are those who don't try to fix things when we're hurting. They simply come alongside us and share our pain. More and more, this is the friend I aspire to be.

"Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
Galatians 6:2