Saturday, December 31, 2011


Blowing out birthday candles - December 2011

Some ideas are hard to get used to.

Being back here in the states I see the strong leaps forward that are forshadowing the way that the world will change.  There are no pay phones anywhere - there is no need with cell phones dominating the airwaves.  Supermarket check out lines are self-serve, where we scan the SKU labels ourselves to everything from grapes to chips.  There are fewer and fewer used book stores, or new ones for that matter, the victims of the ever-present Kindle, ipad and smart phones. 

"I will never get used to the idea of reading on a screen," I have lamented for the last two years.  I treasure some things far too much.  Change, regardless of how fast it is marching, is hard to accept. 

Now we enter 2012 - and say goodbye to 2011.

It has been predicted that on December 21, 2012, the Mayan calendar will complete its thirteenth cycle. According to the Mayan belief system, the world will end .  The Mayans  conceived the concept of the ZERO (the absence of value), which means they were brilliant, but they also believed that the world was a horizontal plane with four corners.  They were also known for sacrificing the friends and enemies to appease the gods. 

 If you don’t believe the Mayans, there is a long list of prophecies and beliefs (all of which predict planet-wide doom) that either make you scared or fall asleep.  I have lived long enough to know that most predictions are balderdash, even though I have said goodbye to the world I grew up in: an economic superpower that insulated me from any knowledge of a world economy. 

This year the hammer of change has driven home some never-forgettable changes. No matter where we live or how we have grown up, we have seen unusual global changes in 2011.   Some have been awesome and monumental.  Others have been devastating.  Growing up in California, I walked on tetonic plates that shifted often enough for me to know that no ground was solid, and our world was constantly moving. 

Personally, our changes in 2011 have been monumental.  We have said hello to Alannah, our newest granddaughter, and have said goodbye to  Mario's brother, Anthony, all in the matter of four months.  I have seen people come and go that I thought would be friends forever...and in the same place.  I have forgiven and been forgiven more than I care to admit, cried a river of tears and laughed years into my life. 

As I look back at our year, each month, week, day and moment have held oodles of life: and all that comes with it.  Change is hard, change is good.  Life is full of change...and it pulls us downriver with it.  Over the years I have learned to swim, catch my breath and bandage my head wounds.  I have also been surrounded by some awesome friends and family, who have pulled me out of the rapids at times.  Thank God for them.

Speaking of change, our twenty six year old son is hosting us in his house for the next few days.  It is genuinely humbling to stay in the dwelling of your son, be welcomed by him and then be handed a Christmas gift that he didn't make himself - a kindle.

"Don't worry, mom," he said, after reading my flabbergasted expression. "I'ts not the same as reading a book, but you can download any book any time." 

It took the wind out of me.

I love it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Today I woke up to a beautiful, December day typical of California winters. Some see it as dull and overcast: in reality, it's a crisp, dramatic display in contrast. The minute you walk outside it's a wake up call: a slap in the face, going from warm and safe to the wide awake winter calling you up to full alert.

It is my 24th wedding anniversary.

Mario and I were married on a day like this. I remember crossing the parking lot of the small church in Tracy, decked out in a white, flowing gown, followed by my sisters, in their bridesmaids gowns, all of us carrying flowers and freezing. We stopped in the middle of the lot, screamed our heads off, and laughed...and then went into the church, where my kids and my father were waiting in the entryway.

Mario was at the altar, with his SEVEN groomsmen -- and he had the flu.

Our wedding, like our marriage, was not an execution of perfection. It was full of unpredictable things that I could never have foreseen in the planning. Instead of perfect, it was fun. Instead of Bride's magazine it was a collaboration of family to be a labor or love. Our wedding was such a prophetic picture of our marriage that I could have seen the whole thing in full view (at least so far).

I have been married to Mario, the most predictable and steady man I have ever known, and have been given the endless freedom to be Janet:a Mahler symphony, a sizzling sparkler, a Marin Scorsese picture. I have been unpredictable and emotional...and full of gratitude for the man that God gave me. We love each other and frustrate each other and work together and admire each other.

We are a study in the beauty of contrast: a shocking California winter day.

A stunning display of drama and warmth on the inside.

I'm a little biased, but not much.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I couldn't wait to write today, being away from a dependable keyboard and a computer screen for a few days. We're staying in Citrus Heights, with friends, and I woke up, ran downstairs and asked Mario to set up the his ipad.

I used to make fun of ipads, saying they were for the selfish and the spoiled: now I praise God for this one....

And I can't describe how conflicted I am writing this morning.

Today I am 49 - it is my birthday. I love my birthday and love reflecting on all I have seen and learned and lived through in the year. This year I am speechless...kind of.

In our world of tumultuous events, 2011 will be a record year of tumultuousness. When things are so dramatically painful in a year, there is a tendancy to downplay the celebrations. Christmas, anniversary.

I had the best Christmas, and a very hollow feeling as well. I thought of a favorite poem this morning as I woke up: it is called A Confederate Soldier's Prayer. It is anonymous - alleged  to have been found on the person of a fallen confederate soldier at the Devil's Den, Gettysburg.

It was written during a time of great sadness and confusion, most likely written by a battle-weary soldier near the end of the war. It is a graceful, beautiful way of seeing that God gives us what He knows we need, not what we want. Today, I give it to you, all who are reading, as my birthday gift to you. May it be our prayer together today, one of thanksgiving.

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Click here to See "Carol of the Bells" with lyrics

My niece, Selena is my sister Colleen’s second daughter. She almost floats, she is so positive, always looking forward to the next thing…always thinking that anything can be done.

One of the things she thinks can be done this year is that our Ryan Christmas Carol time (done shortly after dinner and right before gift opening) can include “Carol of the Bells”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is piece done by a full symphony with a bell choir and children singing parts, in rounds. It is faithfully performed for her majesty, the Queen of England, and the Danish royal family to begin their Christmas.

I have a guitar I haven’t played since last Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, the Ryan’s are musical, my parents voices have both been singled out by the choir directors they have known, and I am a great amateur player of several instruments. The Carol of the Bells isn’t exactly Silent Night or Hark the Herald Angels sing.

It is Selena who I can’t say no to. Don’t we need the Selena’s in our life?? The ones who believe nothing is impossible?? Someone who gives us something to look forward to in times of awkwardness and tragedy?

In each overstated sound of the bells, I can see snapshots of the past year: Vince, Alicia, David, Joe, Harmony smiling, Alannah’s birth, my daughter’s sadness, my son’s dilemma, my nephew lonely, Shane turning 18, Anthony’s sickness, barefoot children in the township, losing friendships, Mario holding his head in sadness, Mario laughing. Tears, wanderings, theft, attacks, weddings, funerals….bing, bong….merry, merry merry, merry Christmas! Merry, merry, merry. Merry Christmas.

With my brother in law gone, my family disjointed, money problems, physical hardships….there is a joy in me that resembles hope and moving on, all done in the time of family Christmas.

After all, Selena reminds me of myself.

Merry Christmas

I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.
Anne Frank

Monday, December 19, 2011


Me in the Dining Room of my parents' house
This morning I woke up in my parents' house: the house I grew up in.  Being here with my parents has been an awesome, beautiful time, but I am sharply aware of being separated from Mario, who is with his brother, Anthony, in a hospice clinic in Tempe, Arizona.

I'm still feeling the slow jet-lag, occupied with nagging thoughts of Anthony and his pain... and emotionally antipating reuniting with Mario today at the Sacramento Airport. 

So, when I woke, I reached for my Bible, knowing I should.  I instantly corrected myself.  Why should I feel like I have to spend time with God?  In this case I gave myself a break, knowing my attitude may not match perfection in the heart, but God would meet me.  After all, back home Mario (preferring to study on the peaceful back porch) make concious decisions to spend time with me.  His perfunctory gestures are easy for me to accuse or to see through, but in his heartm these gestures are born out of a sincere desire to keep our relationship alive, so I accept them.  It is in times like these, that we often end up sharing our hearts, or laughing, or in other ways -- enjoying each other.  What had begun as duty has ended up in intimacy.  So are my quiet times with God. 

This morning, I read Isaiah 55, the mainstay of God's amazing promises and love to His people.  In it, the comfort of His love washed over me, and I relaxed into the knowledge that God has our whole lives in His plan, His hands.  In the familiar onion skin of my travel Bible's pages, I hear the voice of my Father, encouraging me, assuring me. 

After this, still being too early to stir in my parents' house, I returned to reading a short story I had begun the night before: Goose Pond by Thomas Williams.  It is about a 58 year-old man, Thomas Hurley,  who has just lost his wife to cancer and returns to his childhood home to "wander the woods", and to grieve her death.  In its deep corners, Goose Pond tells of a man's grief process, deep and full of regret, unable to help his dying wife in her pain, unable to stop the terrible destruction of cancer. 

The story gripped me from start to finish.

Because of Mario being back with Anthony, being able to see the destruction of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on his body,  and being virtually unable to do anything, Goose Pond hit a deep part in my heart.  It also gave me empathy for men, their desire to be strong and to fix things, rather than to "be there" or to "share their feelings" or "get real" with the family who is doing the same near-by. 

In our conversations on the phone, Mario is riddled with pains of being unable to stop the destroying effects of mutant cells bent on destruction.  His prayers are fervent, and full of faith, and in the middle of a vigil of watching over his younger brother, who weighs about 110 pounds now.  His face and skin are unrecognizable to Mario, used to seeing his brother a like-image of himself: strong, baby-faced and wryly humorous.

As I listen from the living room where I spent my youth, Mario outlines a detail of horrific change and non-change.  The slow advance of the disease in its final stages have not altered Anthony's awareness of what's going on.  He is still inside Anthony, and recognizes Mario and all others, knows what is happening and sees the outcome of death as a possibility if God doesn't heal him in the final stages.  His time  with Mario has been a blessing of brotherly love that has gone for years unspoken between them. 

Mario says that leaving will be traumatic.  

I finally decided to get up and write all of this down, purging in a way that I know how.  I rose from the hide-a-bed, got on my mother's bath-robe and looked at myself in the mirror.  I smiled at my reflection. 

I actually look like my mom, greeting me as I wake up in the morning. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


Anthony with Renee, June 2011

Sometimes we believe in reasonable predictions, especially the ones that make sense. 

If I hear a weather report (given to me by a licensed meteorologist) that says it will rain tomorrow I will make plans to carry an umbrella. 

The problem with predictions is that they make us listen to the voice of the predictable.  Our lives are filled with the unpredictable, unexpected events that make life feel like a roller coaster. 

One of the most recent of the unexpected events was when Mario’s younger brother, Anthony, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June.  It was in its advanced stages and characterized as “highly aggressive”.  Mario immediately flew out to see him, visiting with him and hanging out, and saying awkward goodbyes, knowing Anthony was not expected to live until Christmas.

How do you say goodbye to a brother who is younger than you?  How do you watch him --from a distance – physically struggle with the beast of lymphoma?  All you can do (from a distance) is pray... and we did. 

The announcement of Renee (Anthony’s only daughter) expecting her first child (Anthony’s first grandchild) was a huge blessing.  In the blessing was a hidden dagger of knowing that Anthony might not survive long enough to see the birth of his first grandson: March.  

Of course we prayed for a miracle, but we also listened to doctor’s predictions.  We grieved, watching the disease progress, lately seeing the once-strong Anthony move into hospice care.   March seemed an eternity away.   

Every morning for the past month we have woken up and checked email to see Anthony was doing...  in truth, to see if he died.

In one email from Shirley (Anthony’s beloved wife) was a picture of Anthony.  The drastic change in his appearance from June to now was astounding, and we grieved for this...together and all alone at the same time.

Last month, I blogged about the grief of the past days with Anthony (click here to see it). It affected Mario and I differently, but together we experienced sleeplessness.  We slept fitfully, only hours at a time.

Saturday morning, Mario came into the room with a printed email.  I expected the worst, but as he kissed me, I could tell Anthony had not passed away. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked, groggy but alarmed at the same time.  “Is it Anthony?”
“No,” Mario said, handing me the email as I sat up.  “Renee had her baby.”
I (in the vernacular) flipped.  “WHAT?? IS SHE OKAY??  IS THE BABY OKAY??... Does Anthony know?”

“Not yet.”  Mario smiled and looked happy, so I calmed down as I reached for my glasses.

In the foggy black and white I read an email from Shirley:

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 12:41 AM   (The times are South African, so subtract 9 hours to figure the USA times – and it will explain why we were sleeping)

Ø  Renee is having a C-section right now to deliver their son. Ultrasounds show both Josiah and Renee are strong, but her cervix opened and the amniotic sac prolapsed and Josiah's umbilical cord is positioned between his head and the cervix. The safest decision for delivering him without causing oxygen loss or anesthesia issues on his underdeveloped lungs was to give a spinal to Renee rather than an emergency c-section under general anesthesia. He is only 27 weeks, 4 days along so he will need incubation, on a ventilator and spend months in the NICU if he lives, Lord willing. I have not seen Anthony today since this started this morning and then she was airlifted to Banner Desert Hospital (1/2 mile from our house)where there is a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  I will tell him when I know the outcome. We are waiting for word. Please pray.

Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 1:50 AM:

Ø  Little Josiah was born at 3:03 pm and both he and Renee and Josh are fine.   Josiah went to NICU but doctors were impressed with his vitals. Praise God!
Shirley's picture of Renee and Josiah

With it, Shirley attached a picture of Renee looking at the camera, her hand touching her young son, who slept next to her in a protective crib.
Joshua (Baby Daddy) and Renee look at baby

Ø  Renee, Josh and Baby Josiah are doing well.
Josiah Michael Anthony Ferguson
born 12/9/2011   (December 9, 2011)
2 lb. 7oz. 14 3/4 in long   (1.22 kg’s)

When Mario woke that morning, he was able to see that Renee was okay, the baby looked healthy (although very premature) and he emailed back, in a semi-dumbfounded state:

Ø  Wonderful Shirley... have you been able to tell Anthony yet?


Mario and Janet

Shirley wrote back soon afterward:

Ø  I told Anthony last night and showed him pictures. I am in the process of getting him over there to see him in next 2 days, hopefully tomorrow . It has been cleared with the NICU today but I have to ask the on-call hospice doctor to write the order allowing him to go. Until it is cleared with the doctor, and time frame agreed upon so Renee or Josh can escort us up to NICU, I won't tell Anthony of the opportunity to see his grandson Josiah, until it is 'a go'. Why disappoint him if it isn't approved?  

Anthony really wants to see you Mario so I told him he needed to live long enough, then!! It might be necessary to come early if possible -play it by ear.

Love you both,  Shirley

Here is where I stopped reading.  The first thing I had to do was to get up and see the pictures that were online. 

Mama Renee (already out of bed) adjusts Josiah's mask.

I was amazed.  Amazed and surprised and dumb and joyful.  How amazing... how amazing that I was wrong.  Anthony is alive to see his grandchild.  How amazing that Josiah is breathing.... How amazing. 

I stared at the computer until I finally broke out of my trance and turned around to see Mario.  We hugged and kissed and celebrated.  It was a miracle.

In the next few hours we told anyone that would listen.  The next day at church we shared with anyone who would listen.  Many knew Renee, since she had lived with us four years ago here, for awhile.  Everyone seemed as gob-smacked as we were.  It was the most incredible news...

Until I woke up this morning...

The image of Anthony touching his baby grandson made us both cry, and the caption underneath the picture of him, written by Renee’s sweet husband, Josh, was even better:

Ø  Wow.  Kinda hard to see with the Ultra violet, but this is Renee's father Anthony who was told he may only have a few weeks to live. So despite his best efforts, he still lived to see himself become a grandfather! God is good.

Shirley’s caption (she is out of focus in the background) was :

“Josiah at 45 hours old a brief moment with his mask off while they adjusted it!  Anthony and I were able to touch him in the incubator earlier today!”

Even better...Mario made arrangements to fly to Arizona right after we land on Friday.  He will go without me, but will get to see Anthony, should God keep him until then.  Through the combined frequent flier miles of us and our generous son, David, the flight is “free”.

God is good.

Predictions are not guarantees.  Sometimes they fly in the face of faith.  Thank GOD that He is bigger-- He is faithful when we are faithless. 

Can I hear an AMEN!!!???

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Emma Beare's 501 Must-Read Books 

Last night I forwent my reading to pick up a book that has been on my shelf for awhile.  It is called “501 Must-Read Books”.  A compilation based largely upon opinion and poularity, I enjoy it all the same. 

It is broken up into 8 sections: Children’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs, Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers and Travel.  Before all of my friends who are Fantasy Enthusiasts feel slighted, that genre is grouped into “Modern Fiction”. 

As every reader knows, it all begins with Children’s Fiction.  After picture books, a child who graduates to “chapter books” is, statistically speaking, a reader for life.  Little Women, Peter Pan, the Oz series, etc., are all outlined in the book and given a very opinionated (but amazingly accurate) synopsis.    As I read through the pages of recommended childrens fiction, I am happy to say that I have read most of these as an adult.  I hate being left out of secrets, and great books build communities.  Like families, who enjoy the secrets that all have experienced, the author provides an experience for the readers to share inside of their pages.    Instead of seeing the invitation to really drink in an experience, much of my ADD childhood was spent “pretending” to read these books.  I only later opened their pages and received the miracles of their words.  There are many of the Children’s classics I haven’t read, and I’ll plan on getting to them soon. 

Classic Fiction is where I live.  I can’t begin to tell you how many nights I have sat at the feet of Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen, drinking in their worlds, being the proverbial fly on the wall.  In its recommendations, 501 Must-Read's left out a lot of my favorites, but stuck close to the required reading of most universities.  In its pages, I found a lack of the Southern Hemisphere, which is understandable since most of the Classics are Roman or Greek or English or French.  Still, it is a comprehensive list of sheer beauty, and last night was punctuated by “Ohhhhhh” as I remembered first reading some of the recommended books.  It was my first introduction to greater structure of thought, words that achieved timeless beauty.  Words that I first saw in college, and considered boring,  later became personal.  Once I decided to read "The Classics", the wording became understandable and gorgeous.   I was, frankly, surprised that I could understand them, since I had not been formally schooled in appreciation.   “Classic Literature”, as they call it,  is really the hallways of imagination and beauty that has since given birth to modern literature. 

History (my father’s favorite reading genre) ranged from Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus (an Ancient Rome historian) to Che Guevera’s A Revolutionary Life.   I have Herodotus’ Histories on my bookshelf, but it has never been read, and I grew up knowing that Will and Emily Drant were to be admired...but I can say that History (like Science Fiction) is not a genre of choice. 

Memoirs was a stunning collection of recommended reads that I have only tasted.  It made me thirsty to read more, describing the personal diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who, apparently set the standard for memoirs.  I’ve never read the famed book, composed over nine years of the authors life, but quickly jotted it down on my “need to read” list (ever-growing).  Also highlighted were Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, and Kafka’s Diaries.  Sigh... not enough time to hear all of the stories.  Memoirs have a way of making you feel like the author’s friend. 

Modern Fiction.  I perused through it, seeing many that are now housed in book stores under “Classic Fiction”.  The new classics are gorgeous, and I never thought I’d say so.  Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian writer Chinuna Achebe, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So many new authors that have elevated language and stories to beautiful, eternal blessings that do more than provide entertainment: they become part of us once they are read.  On and on the selections went...until I fell asleep.

I woke up to a familiar sight: my husband tenderly taking away the open book from my chest, removing my glasses and smiling, “You did it again,” unspoken.  

He shut off the light and I drifted off.

Will I ever be one of them?