Posts Tagged ‘God



My last posting on this blog was Thursday, March 4, 2-1/2 days before my adopted daughter, Bettina Maria Ortiz passed from this world to the next. I had been careful not to say too much about her illness and approaching death. We kept another blog going called Longing for Light where she kept in touch with all of her friends and relatives. This blog, Called by Name was where I spoke about my thoughts and feelings and those were very intimate and personal.

My partner and I met Bettina about 13 years ago through mutual friends. We introduced her to my biological daughter (Darling Daughter) and they became friends as well. We grew into a family very quickly. In those 13 years we had many adventures together—a chosen family of adults. Big Dawg and I lived within a block or two of the “daughters” and enjoyed a small sense of community—something BD and I sorely missed since leaving a Christian communal church many years earlier. Life rolled along in hills, valleys and meadows until the summer of 2006, when I was diagnosed with stage 4, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, followed 2 months later by Bettina’s diagnosis of stage 3+ ovarian cancer.

We were cancer buddies, understanding each other at a place only other cancer people can know. Sometime in 2007, when the life threatening cancer we’d both endured shook our hearts and souls, we began to silently adopt each other: adopted mom and adopted daughter. Then we all began attending church together. Walking with other Christian hearts and minds, we encountered many thin places where the division between the holy and the ordinary seem very thin. All of us grew close in this adopted family, but the bond between Bettina and me seemed at times set apart…and so it was: adopted daughter/adopted mom.

When Bettina’s cancer recurred a 4th time in January/February 2009, we asked her to come live with us so that BD and I could take care of her. We did a major revision of households, complete with turning our dining room into her bedroom and having our meals on a picnic table in the kitchen. She joined our household one early weekend in March, 2009. We hoped she would be the exception to the  ovarian mortality statistics. We became convinced she would be and dreamed of selling our house in 2 years, buying an RV with a satellite dish and a Peace sign, putting on tie-dye shirts, and roaming the country as poster girls for inclusivity, Jesus-style. We called ourselves the wild ones…in terms of Mennonite church culture, we were.

Then in December 2009, concurrent with my news of complete remission, came hers of yet another poor CA125 lab result. Her last remission was only a few months. The cancer was back and by January there was nothing left to be done. Her body did not respond to Tamoxifen and was not able to accommodate another chemo cycle. At her oncologist’s suggestion, we made a visit to a palliative care doctor on January 25th and left her office with a contract for in-home hospice care. We were already in a mild state of shock when, by the afternoon, hospice appeared at our door ready to serve. For the next 2 days, there were visits by nurse, doctor, social worker and chaplain, as well as deliveries of drugs and medical equipment. Our lives took a 180 degree turn.

Through the next weeks Bettina began a leave of absence from her job and set about putting her affairs in order on numerous levels. By the third week oxygen was required. Enter Darth Vader the O2 machine, noisily and rhythmically supplying life sustaining oxygen to her increasingly compromised lungs. After a bit of time the uninterrupted hissing and hewing became comforting to me. The morphine, Lorazepam and Remeron kept her in a relatively pain-free state allowing her the pleasure of visiting with people as well as giving and receiving love and support through her blog. In the night time hours she was fond of listening to music, especially the songs from the Sing the Journey CD, on her little Mac Laptop. Toward the end of her time she’d found Comme unsouffle fragile on YouTube and would fall asleep to it. I would often creep down the stairs to see her with her head phones and eyes closed in the blue light of her half opened computer.

During these last 5 weeks of her life she earnestly sought God and was increasingly filled with the light of God. Her last public appearance was at our church on February 28, where she shared her thoughts and insights in a meditation/sermon. The whole service was beautifully constructed around her…songs, scripture, sharing and communion. She, the pastor and worship leader served bread and wine to the entire congregation, giving each person a special word just meant for them.

By 5:00 that evening she began a serious decline that gathered momentum to the moment of her last faint breath on Saturday, March 6 at 2:15 p.m. It was a very painful, but holy day. BD noticed a flock of Sand Cranes circling high up in the sky shortly before the hospice nurse arrived. A few minutes after her arrival our pastor came too. This is our pastor’s account which she posted on our church listserve:

I arrived at Bettina’s bedside early this afternoon. Her nurse had just gotten there and turned out to be an invaluable part of the spiritual circle around her for her last hour. After taking her vitals and confirming that Bettina was in a coma, the nurse helped make the decision that she was ready to be taken off oxygen. She removed the tubes and then clicked off the noisy oxygen tank, resulting in the first blessed quiet that house had seen in weeks.

The family, along with Bettina’s oldest friend, the hospice nurse, and I gathered around Bettina’s bed. The nurse asked if she had some favorite music, and we all answered in unison, “Sing the Journey!” We put on her favorite “Sing the Journey” CD’s. Her labored breathing eased some, slowed, and at long last she simply didn’t take another breath. She had peacefully slipped away while the choir sang, “Listen, God is Calling.”

Close friends from church and work colleagues came to the house during the next four hours. At 6:00 pm, her body was carefully and respectfully taken away for cremation.

This has been a holy day.

It was my privilege to be Bettina’s friend, teammate and Mamacita…to love and care for her to the very end. I have learned and am learning a great deal about holding on and letting go, the theme of our denomination’s Lenten season. I am also learning a great deal more about suffering than I ever thought possible.

This will may be one of my last postings on this sight for a while. I will be tending to Bettina’s email and blog, Longing for Light. You are invited to visit there for more information on Bettina’s story.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating Southward

Photo by Todd Friesen


forgiveness = grace

This afternoon, Graceful Spirit, the young pastor of our church came to visit adopted daughter. It was a total delight to spend this time together…a blessing. Once again I see God’s answer to my prayers coming not as I expect but creatively and constructively…all in a pattern for growth and nourishment.

I learned something that I didn’t know when I wrote my last posting, Forgiveness 70 x 7. In talking with Graceful Spirit, AD explained the reason for the visit she had made on Sunday to our former church…the visit I said I did not fully understand. I still don’t understand the personal underpinnings, but I now understand that AD’s purpose was to show the congregation, in a simple act of confession, that forgiveness was the doorway to freedom. She wanted folks to see that being sorry for hurting others was not so hard to do. She was modeling it, living it.  Seen in this light, she was God’s voice…a vessel of love: Grace



My heart is heavy and I cannot get to sleep. Adopted Daughter has begun her descent. The cancer has metastasized to her lungs. It will be all over in a matter of months…4…6? We don’t know, but I’ve been here before and I know what awaits. I feel as though something is being ripped right out of my body. I am not afraid of death and neither is she. We’ve been cancer buddies since 2006. I am in remission. She is host to her 4th and final recurrence. Her body is unable to accommodate the toxicity of additional treatment. We are reluctant sufferers—she of physical pain, I of the emotional pain of loss. Grief is what my work will be about now…letting go, a very fitting task for the Lenten season ahead. Timing is everything, they say.

AD is dying just a bit more quickly than we’d hoped, but it’s all relative you know. The physical body doesn’t give up as easily as the spirit. That’s why the descent is so arduous. Suffering Servant. At our last, if we are mindful and understand the meaning of life, we get to live our own Pasch and on to that final trip home. I was there once and I know how comforting that homecoming can feel. Medical science kept me from going home, but it can’t do the same for AD. We ask for healing, but there are many aspects to healing. It isn’t always on the physical plane. I wanted just a couple more years for her…for our adopted family. There were things we wanted to do. We wanted to play. I will have to learn how to walk back and forth through the veil the way she will soon be doing. Walking with one who is dying is a great privilege, one I want to have and feel blessed to have…but I hoped it would be just a bit later…after we lived our dreams, played our games and turned down the lamp.

We had prayed for 2-1/2 more years…to her retirement. We all were going to take time off, get ourselves a big RV, paint it beautiful and roam the country for a couple of months. We had plans to drop in on some of those churches that are having a little problem with understanding that Jesus included everyone in the kingdom, most especially the lowliest ones. We had dreams. I’m not sure I can manage dreams without Ms. AD hanging around with her effervescent optimism. Who will say, “Come on, we’re the wild ones!”

My heart is heavy and I cannot stay asleep. Jesus help me live in peace…


chain of events

I love the concept of a chain of events. According to Wikipedia, a chain of events is a number of actions and their effects that are contiguous and linked together. Then there is the fabric of events, i.e., an expansion of the chain of events, emphasizing that chains of events are intertwined with each other as a fabric. Whether chain or fabric, such experiences can give one pause to reflect and reflect I shall.

It was snowing Saturday morning as partner  Big Dawg and I packed up my 1999, All Wheel Drive, Outback with all the paraphernalia needed for updating the liturgical installation at our church from Advent to Christmas/Epiphany. I brought along everything I could think of that might be needed for this task, including an extra sweater and gloves without fingers, just in case the church was freezing cold inside…something I suspected could be the frugal case.

We arrived and were met at the door by the clean-up volunteers who generously donate their time in love. Being met at the door meant that we didn’t have to struggle with the stubborn locks that prefer to receive keys copied from the originals, lost long ago and now forgotten by everyone but the locks themselves. We hadn’t been there more than 10 minutes when I realized that I had left half the new material at home…the half I had to hang first! Although the church is only 20 minutes  from home by toll road, it was snowing and I didn’t want to disturb Adopted Daughter’s rest by asking her to bring the missing pieces to us, so of course faithful partner, BD went back for the goods.

While she was gone I was busy with all the peripheral tasks. Then after about 45 minutes my cell phone rang and then stopped. I thought BD was outside the church door waiting for me to let her in, but no…no one at the door…just snow and cold. I called her back expecting anything but her shaky voice on the other end of the line. She told me that she had gotten halfway back to the church with the pieces I’d left behind, when the hood of the car angrily flew up, crashing the windshield, breaking the rear-view mirror and leaving only a couple of inches of cracked windshield for her to see the road and steer the errant vehicle off to the side through ice and driving snow, while traffic whizzed by. While I was balancing on emergency mode with practicality and calm—a thing I do about an hour before I realize all the could have beens and go to pieces—she said she had already strapped the hood down, was looking through the sharded windshield and heading back home for another car. I had time to think about the could have beens and how it must have  felt to have been the driver: SCARY!

I was not feeling upset or disappointed or anything that I could locate, beside gratitude that no other cars were involved and no one died (especially BD). I think I was in some level of shock, not wishing to feel an additional layer of life challenges. AD’s illness required a live-in-the-now lifestyle and I was working hard at being good at it. BD was a good driver. I was grateful and not surprised that she managed so well.

When BD arrived, we got to work, finished the task and headed home in what had been the old faithful station wagon. We drove slowly, carefully and quietly so as not to disturb our querulous hearts. Once at home, we made the insurance call, took care of whatever business was in front of us and had lunch. It was later on, when I went out to the garage that I saw the car…really saw it! My heart began to sag as I took it in and realized what it must have felt like to have this big piece of metal suddenly fly up and toward, like a determined bird of prey. We talked about it then…the what ifs and the could have beens and the would have beens. BD had been cool and competent during the attack: emergency mode.

So if the latch was working on giving way, and would have eventually done so regardless of weather, what I ask, would I have done had it let loose while I was driving? I’m pretty sure I would not have been competent or cool. The possible scenarios are unnerving. I do not believe in pre-destination or anything that leaves the relevance of God out of the picture. So I take this experience to my heart and do not dissect or analyze it. God’s grace prevailed. I don’t need a reason. God has called me by name and has not let the river overcome me….once again.

Tonight we took the poor, dear car to the body shop. It has a date with the insurance claims adjuster. They will tell us and we will say yes. Weeks from now Dear Car will be ready to roll and so will we.  Grace again and again.


120+ interesting minutes

So the interview is over and I am glad to have received the grace to participate without worrying it to death. It went well and I am now quite a few hours older than I was when it started! Funny how time measures our lives forward and backward. There are a million things I would have liked to have said but the final product will be only 3 minutes, so no point in thinking about those million things. God knows all about them…the struggles, the heartbreaks, the poor choices, the joys and sorrows. When you get to be a golden oldie (senior citizen) you’ve left quite a trail.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year, how it’s been one of the most painful of my golden life. I even felt that I’d rather have 6 chemo cycles than relive any part of it. But…time! Time is a slippery bit of illusion. One wakes up and finds 7 or 8 hours have past like the turning of pages in a book, bringing up the next chapter. So today, I woke up and didn’t think much at all. Just went moment by moment doing things, waiting for the interview to start and be over. Now I’m thinking and it’s still a painful year lodged in my mind’s vision, but maybe my God will do something wonderful and green shoots will rise and sway gracefully in the breeze that is the Spirit of God.

I am an idealist and an ardent proponent of being alive while alive and doing my best at most everything I’m given to do. That includes speaking my truth and having my voice…the one God gave me and encourages me to use audibly. So I did that this afternoon. Only broke down once…when I talked about being a church refugee and not knowing how I will use my worship gifts. I can feel tears when I think about how much I have lost and how much my former church has lost. There are no winners here. It is a pointless stalemate. God does not laugh. God cries as I do—for the senseless loss, like dead bodies on the battle field.

Ah, but you wanted to know how the interview went, right? He was pleased. My dear friend who came to watch was pleased, and I have no idea.

Respectfully submitted.

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