Thursday, January 27, 2011


I am somewhat a creature of habit... Classic business suits with trendy tops and shoes in seasonal colors, favorite entree selections at restaurants, house decor placed in the best arrangement and left for years, the same menu for Sunday lunch guests. My philosophy borders on "if it works, why invest time, energy, and money just for change?" There are more important things that demand my attention. Sure I want to be in style and experience new opportunities and adventures, but not at the expense of what I consider near and dear to my heart. I have three rings I wear all the time. One was a gift when I was sixteen, one was a Christmas present from Jeff in 1985, one was my wedding ring. When I say I wore them all the time I mean all the time. Whether working in the yard, wiping down my kitchen with "a little soapy water," (the phrase in parenthesis is an inside joke I should write about another time!), water skiing at the lake, kneading dough for yeast rolls, all three rings on like a permanent fixture. I had to have the dome ring repaired once because I clapped so much at one of Joseph's football games that I knocked the diamond out! So you can imagine how I felt when Jeff lotioned my fingers in an attempt to take them off before my fingers swell to the point they wouldn't come off. He was successful with two but not with my wedding ring. I have a high threshold for pain but after several attempts to get it over my knuckle, I threw in the towel! That circle of gold had to be cut in two and pulled apart by two pair of needle nose pliers, Jeff on one side and my nephew, Adam, on the other. (It's nice having a doctor in the family)! It's just a ring, right? I try to keep my emotional attachment in check where material things are concerned. Things are going to break, be lost or misplaced during the normal course of events in life. This one was different for me. I had never taken my wedding band off since Jeff placed it on my finger as a symbol of our love and commitment forever and ever amen! After the deed was done I noticed an imprint in my finger where my ring had been nearly thirty-four years. Not only that finger but my pinky that held the heart shaped dome ring I sported since 1985! Funny thing is my pinky had been ring free for a month and the imprint looked like I had just removed it. Later that day as I looked at the imprint side by side on my left hand, my mind took me through a different thought process. I thought about the many imprints that have shaped me in my life. I can't begin to name them all but will list a few: my parents who modeled gracious hospitality, unwavering faith, commitment to our extended family and church family, and unsurpassed work ethic, family friends that showed the fun and value of relationship, summer sessions at Camp Wyldewood where I was introduced to college age counselors that blew me away with their true love for Christ (and Coach Groover who I was convinced was an angel God sent to earth!), college years that taught me so much more than book knowledge, the acceptance, influence, and love from Jeff and his family, and a vocal ministry with people that stretched my faith and loved me warts and all! (I wish I had time to write a book about the Joyful Noise years! It would be a crossover of comedy, therapy, theology, relationship, musical theory...which is a fancy way of saying multiple opinions!) There are too many individuals, situations and circumstances to name and I'm sure after I post this I will be miserable about what I neglected to mention!
Imprints can fade through time and distance. In the beginning stages of this dilemma I prayed diligently for healing. As the scripture instructs "without ceasing." Praying, begging for God's intervention, and eventually telling family/friends so they could join me in prayer became critical as my speech continued to plummet. I, in my adult life, have been able to direct my thoughts while sleeping so I know heaven was busy transcribing so many prayers! During this, I looked forward to waking up, hoping healing had taken place. If not complete healing, even improvement would suffice. After a morning run, if the house was empty, I would lay face down on the floor and cry out to God to deliver me! That is the prayer He has answered to date. Through the assistance of many, I and my family are being delivered! As more symptoms have lead to more weakness which leads to more challenges and changes, I have become consumed with myself and what I feel compelled to accomplish while I can! In this process I think my Jesus imprint has faded, and been replaced by my approach of devising a plan to complete what I think is important. I know this isn't smart for me. Having a terminal disease is not license for ignoring the imprint that has given me life! I am examining my thoughts, motives, and prayers and encourage you to do the same, making certain the right imprints for our lives have the deepest grooves!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bottle #20

Have you been in a situation and thought, am I in a sitcom? I had one of those moments Saturday. Jeff needed to run some errands and I had an idea that he could drop me off to get a manicure/pedicure, accomplish what he needed to, then pick me up! Brilliant! He reluctantly agreed but I assured him I would be fine. I had been there several times and they even call me by name when I come in. It was a beautiful aftternoon and as we drove away from the house I thought I would choose a color I hadn't used before. As we entered the salon, the first signal letting me know this might be a different experience was when no one greeted me by name. To steal a phrase from Anna Grace, "buck up little camper," you can do this! Someone familiar has to be here! As Jeff responded to the first nail technician I saw only one familiar face! Where was everyone? I wanted to ask but they couldn't understand me anymore than I could understand them! Jeff seemed hesitant but the gentleman said, "pick color." So he wheeled me around in front of the wall display where I quickly knew this would be tricky! This would feel like shopping to Jeff with 100 different colors to choose from! Jeff will do anything for me but he doesn't have too much patience in this kind of setting! Can you imagine how challenging it is to select nail polish when you can't stand up and peruse the rows of colors, talk about them, or even point to one you think might be the color of choice! On the drive I had typed that I would like a dark polish, not black but dark. I intended it for the nail technician I knew read English but she wasn't there so I showed it to Jeff. He gave me that are you kidding look when I noticed some bottles were numbered. I scanned the numbered bottles for a color I had in mind when my eyes landed on bottle #20. I have a good eye for color but wasn't exactly sure, so I typed for Jeff..." read the name on the bottom of bottle #20." He turned it upside down but the print is small and of course he didn't have his glasses! I sensed that impatient thing surfacing so I decided bottle #20 would be fine or maybe there would be one on the supply cart more like I had in mind. Not so much! Jeff helped me in the spa chair and before I could address the color issue my IPad was taken and placed aside while one nail tech rolled up my pants leg and the other was pushing up my sleeves! We were off to the nail experience with little communication. I couldn't even tell them I was a bit lopsided in the chair as the water was bubbling, the chair massaging, and clippers snipping! I tried to shift with no luck so I sat back to relax and decided even if bottle #20 wasn't the color I wanted it was just polish and would only be on my toes. Then I realized he didn't know I don't put polish on my fingernails, just clean up the cuticles, trim, and buff. So as I was sprawled between two nail techs getting the full treatment except for someone feeding me grapes he began to polish my fingernails with what appeared to be black from bottle #20! Well my initial thought for a new shade was taking place before my very eyes and I knew Anna Grace would think it was cool. But I received an unexpected shout out from five year old Hudson, "hey Nan, I like your fingernails!" Who said guys don't notice details?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.". A familiar line from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, sophomore English with Ms. Mozelle Johnson. This was the first thought that came to mind when I considered 2010 coming to an end,making way for 2011. The typical thought process of evaluating myself with regard to spiritual growth, personal behavior toward family and friends, physical health, and work performance just didn't seem to apply! Not that I couldn't stand a dose of improvement in each category, but I'm not working, I can't stick my foot in my mouth nearly as easily since I can't speak, and physical movement is saved for physical therapy to keep me able to perform basic tasks. Since my brain and emotions have not been affected, there is always need for spiritual growth if you get my drift! Even though I can't talk using words, my eyes and facial expressions can speak volumes! The ALS diagnosis was life shattering. The only thing I had experienced that even came close occurred at Arkansas Children's Hospital, April 25, 1999, when our youngest child, Anna Grace, received a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. One moment our family was rocking along doing what " normal " families do, and in a seven hour period of time our world was forever changed! We had no history, on either the Cook or Chandler side, of this disease, so how could this happen to us? I delivered her naturally using only breathing techniques to get through labor, I nursed her, I stayed home with her, I prepared healthy food for my family. I did everything I knew to provide and protect her, and yet I could not prevent this life long disease from attacking her seven year old extremely healthy body. During her hospitalization we received tremendous love and support! Anna Grace's bed had so many balloons tied on we thought it might levitate! She had Beanie Babies lining the room like it was the fourth floor gift shop! We handled this new challenge one day at a time, learning all we could to help her world seem as normal as possible even though it wasn't. What does normal look like for a child that has to be stuck 8-10 times on a good day when blood sugar numbers are in the zone considered PDC, perfect diabetes control. We partnered with Anna Grace giving her shots, (she thought Joseph did the best). Never did he put her off or complain when she asked him to help. Try relaxing when your child has to remember when to check, calculate how much insulin, and what to eat at meals or snack time when spending the night away from home with a friend. We didn't have all the answers but were committed to
helping her embrace life and not shy away from anything she wanted to try because it seemed scary to us or more complicated. Anna Grace is a college sophomore and the only thing slowing her down is me! She postponed a three month trip to study in Chile this semester and application to work this summer at Camp Sweeney, a medical camp she attended nine summers for kids with diabetes. ( please don't ever use the word " diabetic" when referring to a person. They HAVE diabetes, it isn't who they are! I abhor the word if you can't tell and it has been one of my soap boxes to strike that use of the word from everyone's vocabulary! ) So here I am, somewhat stuck at how to approach 2011 with a disease I can't control. Somehow I can't get the same rush from setting goals I know I can do very little to accomplish. Things like walking, talking, feeding myself, standing up, dressing myself, putting on makeup, or washing and blow drying my hair myself are in my past no matter how much determination I can muster. The one thing I have some control of is typing. Because I have so many things I want to write, to leave my account of thoughts, events, memories, and challenges for my children/grandchildren, I limit writing and responding to
emails or Facebook messages which is a big deal to me! I want to type 24/7, but again I have lost control. Frequently, by mid afternoon my fingers are curled under and my shoulders are void of strength to manuever over the keys except for simple words or phrases to let Jeff know something I need. I would rather communicate than eat, and I love to eat! So instead of setting New Years' resolutions I played a mind game to pacify myself! I played like I had one day without ALS and could do exactly like I wanted! So here's what I designed in my mind...

I popped out of bed for a three mile run and prayer vigil around my neighborhood, cooled down while pulling a few weeds from the flower garden, and then came inside for coffee and a protein bar to find Jeff playing his guitar, a typical early morning ritual. We chatted awhile before I called my mom to check on her and what she had planned for the day while unloading the dishwasher, starting some laundry, and folding one load that dried while I was running. It is such a beautiful fall day I decide to call Rebekah to ask if I can come pick up Hudson and Hamilton for a little "Nan" time to buy groceries, drive through Chick Fil-A for lunch and head to the park near their house to eat and play before nap time. Of course she agrees to my plan with delight so I quickly shower and get ready for the day. For some reason it is s good hair day I think as I look in the mirror one last time before leaving! I remember to grab a bottle of bubbles for part of our fun at the park as well as a wet washcloth in a ziplock bag for sticky little fingers when we are through! How many fun filled kid picnic trips have I had through my parenting years I wonder as I drive off? While driving I sing at the top of my lungs the current favorite song that I seem to hear over and over in my head and can't dismiss for some reason. I'm greeted with the sound that makes my heart skip a beat! "Hi Nan" they shout as they run toward me and wrap their arms around my legs! We pile in the car and as we are about to leave I have one of those spur of the moment ideas for a family/friend cookout, the more the merrier! I tell Rebekah to send out a blanket text invitation and get back to me with a number. The boys and I have a great time and I deliver them home just in time before falling asleep in their carseats. The rest of the afternoon is spent preparing the basics for burgers and homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream, of course. As everyone gathers I see signs of a crowd with more and more cars arriving and hear the sounds I love of the front door opening, bringing familiar voices of adults and children I hold so dear! We talk, laugh, eat, and talk and laugh some more. I'm sure there would be some guitar picking and three part harmony somewhere in the evening, or a card game while kids run in and out. Now this would be a red letter day, ranking high on the list of favorite days in my book. I know because I have had the privilege first hand many times!

The "worst of times" began for me December 2009 when I first noticed something different in my speech and has followed me to the present. But simultaneously the "best of times" occurs as well! How can that be? How can I be miserable and content, even happy while I daily struggle to hold on to the most simple physical tasks? Literally everything about my body has changed. Only my vision, hearing, sense of smell, and brain power remain untouched. Today. The answer is the love of God at work through His people given freely and continually to me and my family. It's the Acts 2:42 principle come to life! How I wish we could live that way void of crisis! To be that tuned in, that available, that willing, that generous, that loving, that attentive would truly make a difference in our churches, schools, communities, neighborhoods, friendships, and families! Here's to making the most of the new year, 2011.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Going to the Chapel...

My son is getting married today! We have gone through the prenuptial process including an engagement party, bridal showers, a family Christmas shower, a lingerie shower, bachelor and bachelorette parties, a bridesmaid luncheon, the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, and everything in-between to prepare for the grand finale, the actual wedding ceremony. We're all about celebration, as you can tell by the list of events, until the ceremony. That part when you stand before God, family, and friends to pledge your commitment, your devotion, your vow to honor this person before everyone and everything forever! The only covenant greater is the one made with Jesus, accepting His salvation offer, and declaring His Lordship over your life! Naturally, walking through these steps with Bethany and Joseph causes me to reflect on my wedding day thirty-three years ago. April 30, 1977, is forever locked in my treasure chest of life! It didn't take long my freshman year at Harding University to decide Jeff was the guy for me even though I played hard to get for awhile! After a very eventful courtship, which is a book by itself, he proposed the fall of my junior year and our wedding took place the Saturday before dead week in the spring. It was important to us to have our friends be part of the wedding and I knew after finals everyone just wants to go home, at least I always did. I committed to save my skips all semester so I could go on my honeymoon during dead week, then come back to take my finals. What a brilliant plan! On Christmas break my mom and I worked together making as many decisions as possible before I went back to school. Since she had been through this process with my two sisters, I wasn't worried. More important to me was my excitement and desire to marry Jeff, not stress over every detail planning our big day! I took a Bride's Magazine with one page dog eared and purchased that gown on our first shopping trip. I registered china, crystal, pewter, sheets, towels, cookware, and everything else necessary to start a new home. We ordered invitations, thank you notes, flowers, and cakes and chose music so the group singing could have time to rehearse. Back at school I had a busy semester cheering through basketball season and going to class all the time since I was saving skips! When the big weekend arrived, my sister, Judy, hosted a bridesmaid luncheon at her home which was a forty-five minute drive away. During lunch I received a phone call informing me the tuxes I ordered had not been delivered to the right place and had not been tracked down! Not to worry, a different style was substituted and Mr. Holmes was on his way to Dallas to personally pick them up. Jeff and the groomsmen were to meet at my house with the alteration lady in case a quick change needed to be done. Remember I lived in a small community, population 3065, so it wasn't like there were several places carrying tuxedos! I handled that ok, we were still going to have something appropriate for the guys to wear. But on the drive home it began to rain and that did bother me! Not only did I think people wouldn't want to dress up on a Saturday and get out in the rain, but the reception was at my parents' house and we were counting on guests being both in and out of the house! Our house was a big ranch style Texas home, but not big enough to hold everyone at the same time! The rain ended in time to refresh the outdoors and provide a rainbow overhead as we drove to the church building. It was a wonderful wedding and if there were other mishaps, I still haven't heard about them! There was one incident I anticipated but not my mom. As Jeff and I ran out the front door and through the shower of rice toward our decorated car, there was a mob of Chandler brothers and male cousins that swooped up the groom and proceeded to throw him in our car and drive off without me! My mom didn't catch on to the family prank and proceeded to voice her disapproval. I knew they would bring him back eventually but mom didn't share the humor in the ritual! I thought it was funny then and still chuckle when I replay the video in my mind. I believe our ability to laugh together, at each other, and at life in general has helped us enjoy liffe as a couple. You just have to be able to laugh, don't you agree? Now four months away from our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary, I can honestly report that just like my freshman year of colllege when I knew Jeff was the guy for me, i still feel the same! We've experienced better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health and we are stronger for it as long as we both shall live.