The sixties had just come on the scene, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the future was uncertain. Ah, but young love was not! It seemed to be the most certain, undeniable fact in these two teenagers' lives. Dottie and Rex were high school sweethearts, who at eighteen years of age, eloped on the 14th of December in 1963 while on a long outing. They survived a near fatal car accident when his vehicle slid out of control on an icy bridge while coming back home. After returning, they didn't tell anyone for over a year, until they broke the news on New Year's Day in 1965 to their family about their secret marriage.
I'm sure when they took their vows, they thought, of course, yes, in sickness and in health, but that must have seemed like an eternity away from their young minds' perspective.
Eight years later, I was born, and my little brother came along thirteen years after me. Their marriage had been good but had entered into some hard and difficult times with their parents' serious health problems, stress at work, sending their oldest off to college, having a five-year-old at home and some major depression issues that were a side effect from taking certain prescribed medications for lowering cholesterol. All of this put a tremendous strain on their marriage. In June of 1988, there was a diagnosis of breast cancer made just six months before their 25th wedding anniversary.
I tried really hard to surprise them that special day, with a cake I had made after they came back from their celebratory date night. It was a surprise all right, but in a disappointing way. I used granulated sugar, instead of confection sugar for the icing, so it was grainy, instead of smooth. My mother was so kind and patient as she showed me how to fix it. I was in tears, because we knew her cancer had been extremely aggressive, with her undergoing two mastectomies just months apart, and I wanted that night to be PERFECT for them. (Ok, I can hardly read the screen now. It has been almost 27 years since that night, and this is the first time I am seeing her again so clearly in the kitchen.)
In February of 1989, they headed to Duke University for five specialized Chemotherapy treatments to see if she would be a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. The procedure was considered experimental at the time and Blue Cross Blue Shield stated they would not be able to cover it for that reason. However, our church, Briarwood Presbyterian, had rallied around them and raised money to help.
They were there for almost a week and celebrated Valentine's Day in a hospital room.
They received an out pouring of love from their church, family and friends and the hospital staff was wonderful to them!
Their smiles, in the picture below, are amazing to me, especially now as I understand more fully the enormous amount of physical and financial pressure they were under at the time. If she was a likely candidate, the bone marrow transplant would cost somewhere around $100,000.00 out of pocket. After this visit, she would go home and deal with the side effects.
My dad had a sweet cousin, Teddy Jean, who had died of breast cancer years earlier. Her widower, Joe Griffin, called my father and said he would pay for the full cost of the bone marrow transplant! My parents were tremendously touched by Joe's concern and generosity. Joe also ended up losing his second wife to cancer and then passed away from cancer himself. His willingness to help his late wife's cousin's wife is a huge testament to the kind of man he was.
Sadly, it was determined that the first five of those chemo treatments didn't work, they would be going back in March for five more attempts.
The picture below is one of my favorites. Despite the two radiation and ten chemotherapy treatments that left her bald and worn out and the fact that the doctors couldn't find an effective round of chemo that would help them move forward with the transplant, my mother had a supernatural peace that carried her through to June 9th, when she went home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ at just 44 years of age. She died almost exactly one year to the day after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She once called out to me from the bed that hospice had brought to our home and pleaded with me not to let the small stuff stress me out. She must have overheard me say something in a tone of voice that alerted her, and she told me that I sounded like her before she got sick. I remember that conversation and thought, yes, I will try not to let myself get caught up in frivolous worries, but years later, as a mom myself, I realized it wasn't that easy.
Nobody wants to get sick or see a loved one go through a terrible illness. However, LOVE GROWS stronger and deeper through sickness. I saw it with my parents, who struggled in their marriage, just like everyone else struggles.
A couple of months before she died, I walked in on a very tender moment between them as they sat on her hospital bed, I thought about how difficult the years had been for them earlier and now, it was though they were . . . going to write falling in love for the first time, but it was much more meaningful than that . . . loving each other more, faults and all, than they ever had before, since meeting. They were sitting on the side of her bed, facing the warm sunlight shining so sweetly through the window, surrounding them in a loving embrace. With their backs to me and the door. They were unaware that I had walked in her room. I had, in fact, frozen when I came upon this sacred, Holy sight. Matrimony, after all, is referred to as Holy. For she was bald and both of her breasts where long gone, but they kissed and it was the most tender and memorable, most romantic, passionate kiss I have ever witnessed. All the hurts, disappointments and troubles they had accumulated over the years seemed to melt and fade away in that one moment. A moment that I was privileged enough to witness as their child. Normally, the sight of seeing one's parents kiss, would bring on a wild case of the dry heaves, but this beautiful sight rendered me silent, still and taught me that love was so much deeper and meaningful than I had ever imagined. In fact, God has continued to show me that over and over again through the years. But in that specific moment, I knew that was the kind of love I wanted to have and be able to give someone else.
Jump ahead to January of 1999, after almost ten years since she passed away, I found myself walking down the same aisle that her casket went down. We were married by the same Pastor Wilson who used to visit my mother and encourage her while she was sick and led her funeral service at Briarwood. Scott and I owe a lot to Pastor Wilson, he really took time with us to prepare us for marriage and told us how responsible he felt before God to make sure we fully grasped the commitment we were about to make before a Holy God.
So I knew, that with our marriage, we would have our own set of trials. Now, when I say I "knew" what I really meant was I had NO IDEA, what marriage would have in store for us. How can anyone, really? Even with all that I had seen, I still was blinded by youthful bliss. Sometimes what you learn by seeing doesn't fully sink in until you experience it first hand. However, witnessing THAT KISS was the initial start of a very important lesson.
Years into our marriage, the honeymoon phase was certainly coming to an end. We had times of frustration with each other and doubt. It was especially hard when I experienced postpartum depression after our first son was born. We still had our share of good times, but I was feeling and sounding more "stressed out" as the years went by, which was the very trap my mother pleaded and warned me about during her last days.
Starting in September of 2012, we had our house broken into, our youngest broke his arm and our oldest fractured his heel, Scott lost his job and I had major cancer surgery in April of 2013. It was a daunting time, but funny how one's perspective changes from the view of a hospital room. While I was recovering from a physical surgery, God was performing a type of spiritual surgery on my heart. Ironic that I was 44 at the time? It seems strange.
I felt so close to my mother even though I hadn't seen her in 24 years. All that she was trying to share with me on her death bed all came back and I GOT IT this time! Turns out, humility and forgiveness go a long, long way! Just trying not to be stressed out didn't really work for me very well. I had to repent of some things, and I spent a lot of time telling Scott how sorry I was for letting small stuff get to me and how my actions had negatively affected our relationship. He was gracious to me and just like the husband is a type and shadow of Christ, he walked with me, changed my bandages and even volunteered himself in other many selfless ways to help the process of my healing.
I don't deserve his love and I definitely don't deserve the love of Christ, but they are precious GIFTS to me that I will forever treasure! I'm going to praise and thank God daily! Instead of criticizing, I'm going to appreciate my husband and let him know it daily. I'm still a work in progress, but hey, there's progress going on and I am not the same. The lesson learned from my parent's most passionate kiss is being worked out on a daily basis.
Fall of 2013, Scott and I standing in front of Emory University Hospital, celebrating what God had brought us through and the lessons learned. My youngest now wants to play Legos, so I'm off to focus on him and tell him how much he means to me. Life is short and precious, don't let stupid stuff get in the way.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this and I hope it blesses you!
Stay humble & BOLD!
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105
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