Tag Archives: Thankful


This week I found myself again passing along a piece of wisdom and advice to a new friend from a wise old friend. Years ago after major surgery, my friends and colleagues were showering me with food and gifts and loans of books and videos to help me pass the time in recovery. While my friend was making a drop off, I protested how unnecessary all of this was. She stopped me dead in my tracks, asking me what I’d have wanted to do if it was one of them? “Help”, I had to sheepishly admit. Well, she said, then this was my gift to them…letting them help me. I had no good rebuttal.

Exactly a decade later, I again had the chance to practice being on the receiving end when Megan became ill. This time I got my friend’s advice right. So many people, even strangers, stepped forward to help us get through that time that it was almost overwhelming. But I let them. Showers of cards and gifts arrived at the hospital, from as far away as Europe. Peoples of literally every faith prayed for her. A dear friend’s sister-in-law, who I’d never met, became my first and only friend in Little Rock. She offered me clean clothes and a shower, to bake in her kitchen if I wanted, and the healing love of her golden retriever. Though I couldn’t bring myself to tear away from the hospital to take her up on it, it was deeply comforting to not feel alone in that strange city. That generosity repeated itself when another stranger had a care package and helpful advice waiting for us when we transferred to Cincinnati. Another friend texted me nearly every day for the four months in the hospital, just to check in; I’ll never forget that she was always there if I needed someone to talk to. An old friend from my hometown asked if there wasn’t some familiar treat she could send me. My instinct was to say no thank you, I’m fine. But I knew she just wanted to do something, anything. For the next several weeks, I was warmed by her kindness every time I broke into a box of the world’s best cashews. I’d learned my lesson. The year Megan was sick was by far the hardest of my life, and I’d undo all she’s had to endure in a heartbeat if I could. And yet I look back on that traumatic time with some measure of reminiscence for the love that so many showered on us. It’s an incredible reminder in this often ugly world that good and love will always win.

It’s now my turn to pray for and do what I can to support my new friend as she goes through her significant trial. And I’ll continue to pass along to others in need the wise words given to me all those years ago. It’s now my turn to receive the special gift of giving.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”  –H. Jackson Brown Jr.


Walking In My Shoes

I have a $5.87 pair of Walmart tennis shoes full of memories. I can’t seem to part with them, though I’ve gladly purged everything else associated with that dark time. I instead occasionally choose them from the closet, strap them on, and begin my trip down memory lane.

Three years ago this month, I took my baby to the ER after dinner. After ten trips to the doctor and countless tests and scans in the last six weeks, we still had no answers, only agreement with a mother’s diagnosis that she was very sick. We’d watched her mysteriously but steadily deteriorate until that night, when we made yet another desperate attempt to get her help. After a couple of hours at the ER, we got our first distant hope of an answer, from a doctor who said she needed to be at Children’s in Little Rock. He saved her life, the first of several times to follow. After another hour waiting for an ambulance, I learned there were none. How does an entire region of half a million people run out of ambulances? At one in the morning, I signed her out of the ER against their wishes, gassed up the car, and started off on the three hour drive. We arrived at Children’s at 4:30 a.m. with the clothes on our back…we were finally going to get her answers and relief. It ultimately took another two and a half weeks for those answers, as she careened to critical. Complete treatment was still months away. I knew none of that yet when I found myself at Walmart, 36 hours after driving to the ER, needing everything from a toothbrush and toothpaste, to a jacket in July and warmer shoes than my little slip ons, since they keep an Arctic temperature in hospitals. The cheap tennies fit the bill, and I’ve had them ever since.

As the months went by and remission kicked in, our worry began to fade that we’d need another sudden run to the hospital. We finally unpacked the overnight bags we’d kept at the ready for so long; the shoes now sit next to their colleagues in the closet. When I now occasionally pull them out, they take me back, to a time of crushing fear and stress. But somehow they haven’t stored up any residual bad feelings. Instead, they remind me of how far we’ve come, of what we survived. The memories aren’t good, but the ending was. I learned how strong I can be when I need to, which is useful, because I know the day will come when I will need to be that strong again. When I do, the shoes will be there to remind me that I can.

“Life is tough, my darling, but so are you.”  –Stephanie Bennett Henry

As Good As It Gets

This is my favorite movie title. The Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt movie is pretty good, but the movie title is awesome; it’s become a sort of life’s motto for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been unbelievably blessed. I’ve got three really cool kids with my high school sweetheart; I have a job I love and colleagues I like; and we don’t have big money worries. I realize how few people can say all of that. Yet life is still challenging. I struggle, just like everyone does. Some of my struggles are obvious even to those I know only casually, while others are known only to family or very close friends. Sometimes I get really weary…no one goes through life without baggage or scars.

But I also know how good I’ve got it. I may get tired and stressed, but I wouldn’t trade my life and problems with anyone. I thank God for every day, and pray for His help to be better and stronger tomorrow. This is definitely as good as it gets.

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life. You just hang around until you get used to it.”  –Charles M. Schulz



Everyone in my immediate family has surgical scars. It’s one of the things I’ve always pointed to when highlighting ways we’re alike, even though we don’t all share DNA. When the girls were little, our new puppy “played with” a beloved stuffed Tigger, requiring surgery to repair; even Tigger was proud of the scar which made him one of us. While I’ve pointed to our scars to help us focus on what makes us family, I also wanted the girls to be proud of the scars from the heart surgeries which saved their lives. Little did I realize this lesson would come back to teach me one day.

Megan and I were passing time recently on one of the long drives to Little Rock, retelling family folklore. It comforts us both, somehow, to process our past as we face a somewhat scary future. I was sharing the story of adopting her kid sister when I realized, for the first time and with the full clarity of hindsight, how much fate intervened so that our youngest would end up a McCleary.

We were a few months into the adoption process when we discovered that I had a stomach tumor. We spent the next six weeks on a cancer roller coaster, which included a major and unpleasant surgery. By the time we got the all clear, we needed time to recover from some pretty deep scars, both physical and emotional. When we eventually restarted the adoption process a year later, our little peanut with the million dollar smile joined our family.

I now realize that without that unwelcome interruption, we would have ended up with the wrong daughter. While I’ve long been grateful for the gifts of perspective that specific trauma gave me, it hadn’t dawned on me that I owe the very makeup of my family to those scars. But I suppose that’s often the case, isn’t it? Our scars make us who we are, not just shaping us inside and out, but acting as serendipitous detours which help get us where we end up. Thank heavens I was never really in charge of shaping my life after all…if so, I’d have gotten it very wrong.

“Scars show toughness:  that you’ve been through it, and you’re still standing.”  –Theo Rossi


“I have learned the true definition of hell.” That was written recently by a mother watching her child suffer, fighting one of the deadly histio diseases on its relentless march through another defenseless body. It’s a horrifying and helpless feeling. My heart breaks for the parents as well as the children when I read their stories.

When I look back on the nearly five decades of my life, I realize that two general phases have cycled back and forth through it all. There are stretches of okay, middle of the road times that have lasted months or even years, interrupted by wrenching, stressful bottoms. The truly wonderful moments haven’t been stretches at all, but just that…moments. But I’ve been blessed that the vast majority of my life has been spent in the averages versus the lows. The lows sure stick with us, though. I remember a stunning level of detail from those times. I am grateful not to have had more of them and am right now walking a leisurely country road.

Then suddenly you get a peek into someone else’s life who is at this moment deep in the pit, and you remember what it was like to be there. All the details–the overwhelming emotions and scars you still carry–come rushing back. And it hits you:  those middle of the road stretches are the good times. You haven’t been cheated out of some third, higher level of bliss, in spite of what modern media and our consumer culture try to tell us. Life will never be perfect. Any time of my life where we’re all relatively healthy and safe and together, with a sound roof over our heads and enough to eat is good. Yes, life is very good.

“Life comes from physical survival; but the good life comes from what we care about.”  –Rollo May


A friend recently shared an old joke with me that if you ever want to make God laugh, tell Him that you have a plan. I love that, because that’s exactly who I am. I’ve always been a planner, which is just my face-saving euphemism for control freak. I’ve recently faced a big decision that removed much of my control through the process. It has proven a wonderful, frustrating growth opportunity in which to learn to trust God.

Learning to trust God–that sounds simple, and it is. But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’ve had to tell myself over and over again that God’s plan is perfect. Every time I found myself getting stressed out over it, I realized that I had tried to take back control of the decision, to figure it out on my own. And every time I recognized this and gave it all back to God, a strong sense of peace immediately followed. Why did it take me this long to discover this amazing secret to managing stress? Of course I know why…I’m stubborn and thick-headed and fiercely independent. These are all assets which can serve me well in some aspects of my life, but not in my relationships, including with God.

So I have learned another valuable life lesson, better late than never. I am thankful for the peace this lesson has brought me. And I am especially grateful for a God who does not give up on me.

“The most important lesson that I have learned is to trust God in every circumstance. Lots of times we go through different trials, and following God’s plan seems like it doesn’t make any sense at all. God is always in control, and He will never leave us.”  –Allyson Felix

Ronald McDonald House

I used to think that Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide temporary housing to family members of children in hospitals, are a good idea. I was wrong–they’re actually life savers for those who suddenly find they need them, something that’s hard to appreciate until you’ve experienced it.

When we packed our car a year ago with enough stuff to last us the expected six month hospital stay 700 miles from home, we were literally driving into the unknown. Topping our list of stressful uncertainties was, of course, concern for our daughter. The vast majority of HLH patients require a bone marrow transplant to save their lives. But BMT itself carries significant risks, and as an Asian adoptee, the chances of even finding a good match for our daughter were low. Then there is the unimaginable disruption of indefinitely splitting your family in two, especially heading into the holidays. How do you keep life and school as normal as possible for your other child? How do you juggle work so the paycheck keeps coming in? What do you do with the family pets in the shuffle? The list is long and overwhelming:  even with the tremendous support we received from family and friends, we were always in full-on coping mode.

Enter RMH. After a couple of weeks of living in the hospital with our daughter, a cherished room opened up across the street. Basic but functional and clean, it featured a real bed and, best of all, a private bathroom. Plus a very pleasant surprise:  volunteers providing a wide variety of services. There was entertainment, ranging from music to puppet shows to story time. I even got a chair massage one day. But the best volunteer service was the meals. When you’re away from home for an extended period, home-cooked food is quickly missed, especially when the next best option is the hospital cafeteria. These wonderful people, from a different business or organization every night, gave up an evening to make us tacos or chili or spaghetti. Normally a picky eater, I was beyond grateful for every single meal. As a Walmart associate, I was touched by the local Target store team which brought plush Spot-the-dog toys for the children.  I love that dog, now sitting on my daughter’s dresser.

So if any of you live near a RMH and are looking for a community service opportunity for your work or church group, please consider RMH. The meal or toys or music or quilts you provide will, trust me, make a difference to families going through the roughest time of their lives. Your gift will be in showing them that they are not alone.

“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”  –Jane Austen