Tag Archives: Heaven

The Endless Cycle of Life

Fall is just about to turn into Winter. We’re past the beauty of the colorful leaves and slowly the gray and barren branches are becoming prominent. But never fear, Fall has Thanksgiving and then it’s Christmas! There’s always a positive. This time of year, more than any season, reminds me of the passage from Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under Heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

This verse is in my everyday prayer book, and I read it about twice a month. It makes me think  that life is a dance where we each have our 15 minutes of fame — we just have to reach out and grab it. It’s okay to be sad today, because tomorrow there will be laughter. And, no matter what happens today, tomorrow is a new day. It’s about the endless cycle of life. Our time will come and go and another time will come behind us.

The endless cycle of life — you can think of it in regards to everything — for everything under Heaven has a season. I feel like Fall is the end of the life cycle for a lot of things. From the leaves on the trees to the birds that migrate to warmer climates. My birds are hoarding bird seed. I can’t keep up with the demand! This week was cool at the beginning of the week, but then climbed into the low 70°-mark by this weekend. And it was blue skies and gorgeous sunsets. I think it’s our last weekend of that kind of weather. Soon another Winter will be upon us.

I was coming home from work the other night and turned onto Little Creek and at the first house on the left, the kids were playing in the leaves. Their mother was raking the leaves endlessly as they toppled into the piles, laughing and giggling. The girl had to be two years old at most and was wearing a zippered hoodie. It reminded me of a snippet of a home video my Dad took of us playing in the Fall leaves as Mom raked endlessly.

This video clip is 44 years old and I was three. I’m the one in the pink and my sister, Debbie is in the blue hoodie. The video also has my brother, Bob, Aunt Mary and my Mom (raking leaves). Even then, we loved the change of seasons! 

While I think some people can see this verse as very depressing  — to me it’s quite the opposite. I love the change of the seasons. And I love the decades of my life. Each decade has taught me something new about myself and about life. And yes, the end will come for each of us, but I truly believe, with all my soul that Heaven is a place that we cannot even begin to imagine. God has already prepared a place for each of us. Yes, I fear the end of my life as I know it, but I’ve trusted God this far. I’ll trust him along that final stretch. And life will go on and the cycle starts all over again.

Always B E L I E V E !

The Five

Did you ever see the movie, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” with Jon Voight and Ellen Burstyn, among many other wonderful actors? In the movie, Eddie, played by Jon Voight, takes a journey at the end of his life that involved a conversation with five people that had a significant impact on his life in some way or he significantly impacted theirs. And it’s realized that “the five” are chosen by God and determined by the choices he made in life. For Eddie in the movie, he had a lot of unresolved issues with the Vietnam war among other things in his life. As a side note, it’s an amazing movie and I highly recommend it. But I brought it up, because I felt like maybe I was in my own “the five” scenario while in the hospital! 

So I was admitted to the hospital for almost a week and by the second day, the doctors decided that maybe I was at risk for a blood clot in my legs, so they sent me to have a test taken to determine my actual risk. The test was like a sonogram where they put gel over my legs and used a mouse-like thing to take pictures of the blood flow. As I’m getting this test done, I made small chat with the woman doing the test. She was in her late 20’s, a pretty Asian girl. Her mannerisms were vaguely familiar more so than her looks. She asked me what I did for a living, and I told her that I owned an advertising agency in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. She looked at me and said, “Oh my gosh — I used to work for you in Zelienople.” I looked at her and realized she was one of my first hires as a graphic designer and the first person I ever had to let go after just a few months. That was very difficult for me at the time and left a mark on my heart. I wanted to crawl under the cot I was sitting on!

I had to sit through that 30-minute test, completely vulnerable — it was unnerving. She politely told me that she realized graphic design was a very crowded space and she went back to school — she felt healthcare was where the jobs were. I thought maybe she hadn’t still found her true calling, as she seemed kind of blasé about it. She gave me her email address and we parted with friendly smiles. But it was awkward and unsettling for me.

And somehow I had a glimpse of maybe how Eddie felt to relive some very uncomfortable moments during his lifetime. Clearly, this encounter for me didn’t hold the kind of significance of the five that Eddie experienced in the movie. But it made me think about how our actions today may come back around full circle. And in this case, it’s not something I could simply walk away from or ignore.

The whole situation made me think about how important it is to ask for forgiveness when we need to. This scenario was more awkward than anything else, but next time it may not be. It makes me sad for the things I can never make right. And it makes me realize that I’ll have to answer for all my actions one day. I tried to imagine who “the five” might be that I meet on my way to Heaven. If you ever get a chance to see the movie, it’s a good one.

Always B E L I E V E !

Kind of All of That

So tonight our friends Chris and Marsha met us for dinner at the North Park Lounge. It’s been quite a whirlwind of a trip home for them — dealing with the sad news that Chris’ mother, Donna had passed away late last week at age 82. I received the news on Friday morning and felt truly sad, as I had remembered Chris’ mom as a very kind woman.

That morning here in Cranberry was a gorgeous day. It was two days since the snowstorm that gave us another 7-8” of snow. And the sun was gleaming against the bluest sky you can imagine. Crisp, cold, yet beautiful. I was driving to work and came up over a crest and saw the most breathtaking snow scene across a farmer’s field. It was truly peaceful, and I thought of Chris’ mother at that moment. What a glorious day it was to welcome Chris and Marsha home during this time — I said a quick prayer for their safe journey from Cary, NC to Darlington, PA. And I pondered for a minute, as it was one of those magic moments when you realize that everything was as it was supposed to be.

I called Greg on Friday night. I decided that I didn’t want to call Chris, as he probably had a lot of things coming at him at once. I wasn’t even sure when he would be getting in. Greg and Chris had been friends for almost 30 years — and had been best buds for a very long time. They had met working at McDonalds, which is how I became friends with the both of them. And when we all went our separate ways, Greg and Chris remained very close. Greg and I talked for a long time on Friday night. I think it’s these kind of events that bring everyone together — maybe it’s just to hear each other’s voice, or maybe it’s to make sure everyone’s okay — or maybe it’s kind of all of that. Not that we needed a reason to talk — we certainly touched base every so often — always with the best intentions that we would get together soon.

We both commented on how strong Chris’ mom was through all her trials — the loss of her husband and then her daughter, before losing her own long battle with cancer. All her pain was gone now, and she was in a better place — at peace, reunited with her husband and daughter. While there’s something very comforting in that, it still must be very difficult to lose your mother. And we knew this would be a tough weekend for Chris and Marsha.

So Wednesday I started getting the strep throat that everyone else in my office was getting. Even though I had started taking antibiotics, Saturday I was pretty sick and didn’t even go to church with Tom. Sunday was the memorial service at her church in Darlington, PA, and I unfortunately couldn’t go. I was sneezing and coughing every few minutes and would have made everyone uncomfortable around me in church. It made me very sad and at 4 pm, I prayed for a nice service in her memory.

So that brings to me today! Chris and Marsha met us for dinner — it was a nice break for them to get out of the house and away from the executor duties that Chris had been doing for the past two days, along with Marsha. And for Tom and me, well I am finally feeling better and really wanted to spent a little time with them. I’m just sitting here thinking about what a wonderful evening we had. What’s the best thing about Chris and Marsha? They’re like comfort food, you know? It’s like you’ve been friends for a lifetime and it’s so easy to be with them. You know, the kind of friends where you have everything in common — you laugh at the same things — you enjoy the same everything. And, it’s like you see them and realize they’re both okay, and they’re going to be okay.

Birthday WheelGreg joined us after work a couple hours later. It was good to see him too, and we all sat around talking about some of the best times from a long time ago. And then we talked about the big anniversary tomorrow — Chris and Marsha’s 20th wedding anniversary — an amazing 20 years!!! Where did the time go? We joked with our waiter that they wanted to spin the birthday wheel for their anniversary. We told him that they were visiting us from North Carolina, and while we wished we had a birthday, we had an anniversary instead! The manager gave them a spin. And wouldn’t you know, as luck would have it — they landed on the skinniest section of the wheel — a chance to win the grand prize of a Florida vacation. Marsha was jumping up and down and everyone was cheering — you would have thought they hit it big in the lottery! The spin off is in April, and Tom, Greg and I will be going back to spin for them with 52 other people.

I know there’s a still a long road ahead for Chris, as he has the responsibility to wrap up her estate. I think the process part of all of that is actually the easier part. Wrapping up someone’s entire life and passing it to a new generation has to be difficult — maybe it’s the memories, or maybe it’s the moments you’ll wish were still to come — or maybe it’s kind of all of that. God bless you both, Chris and Marsha during this time, and always.

Always B E L I E V E.

Heaven is for Real!

RainbowI was talking with Trish at work on Monday — although I can’t recall exactly what prompted it, but she recommended I read Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. I’m sure it had something to do with this blog and one of my stories. Now, this hasn’t been the first time that this book has been recommended to me. I think most of my neighborhood has already read it and more than one person thought I personally should read it. The book was published in 2010 and it’s amazing that it’s taken me almost three years to realize something so wonderful existed. I started reading this at 9 pm last night and finished it in three and a half hours. It’s such an engaging read — you can’t put it down!

As much as I could not relate to the story itself — I could relate to something in every chapter. So much as in less than ten minutes in the book, I was weeping to the point that I had to stop reading, get my composure and then start all over again. I cried through the entire book.

It’s a story of Heaven as seen through the innocent eyes of a four-year old child and truly a journey of faith for any reader. I may not have any children of my own and am unable to relate to the intricate relationship of a father and his son (paralleled with God and his Son), but the miracles, blessings and unexplained moments in medicine — I could relate to all of that.

And what I find very weird (and I’ll use this word, because Todd used this word sometimes in the book) is the fact that I started this blog last year having never read this book or even heard anything about it in detail — and I designed this blog with myself, my brother and my sister as children with rainbow typography and wings on each of us! At the time I even contemplated if I wanted to show us with wings, because I didn’t want to imply that we were angels! What a coincidence that I used the same kind of imagery that Coltin described in Heaven (and I don’t believe in coincidences.) I mean it was very difficult for me to decide what represented “faith” for the masthead. I thought of angels, a starry night, Heaven, clouds, beautiful landscapes and so much more. I searched for days, but nothing was right. I thought about what represented love to me. Those images weren’t right either. And then I got very nostalgic thinking about the stories I would tell about my friends and family and that’s when I remembered this photo that I had on my hard drive. I pulled it up, but it wasn’t quite right. My husband looked at me like I was crazy when I had the idea to put wings on each of us! Did I have an inkling of Heaven? Or did someone from Heaven make a suggestion in my mind? Who knows, but I find it too much of a coincidence — and you know I  B E L I E V E.

I cried over a lot of things that just hit home for one reason or another. There’s a part of the book where Coltin is telling his Dad that he stayed with Pop in Heaven. Now Pop was Coltin’s great, great Grandpa — Todd’s Mother’s Father. He had passed from an accident at the age of 61. Coltin was four years old and had never known Pop or anything about him. Coltin told the story that everyone had wings in Heaven and that his wings were really tiny — and he was sad at that. But Pop’s wings were really, really BIG!

As I read the story, I guess I related Pop to my own Dad, who is already in Heaven. My Dad passed at age 62 — there were many similarities. For an instant, I imagined my Dad, clear as day, standing before me with these enormous, glorious wings, and he wrapped those wings around me, telling me that he’s been here with me every step of the way over the past 10 years. That was the moment I wept for a good 10 minutes. The vision was as clear as if he stepped into my living room — I could even feel the shadow that came over me as he spread his wings to wrap them around me. It was so incredibly comforting and so very real.

I have always thought that perhaps God answered many of our prayers over the years about my own health issues with the cancer. There were just so many things that would be unexplained — my doctors were always amazed at my resilience. I did more than beat the odds — to the point that my doctors started studying my case beyond the physiology of it.

I remember one trip that Tom and I took to the Cleveland Clinic. We were meeting with Dr. Rose for the first time. This was the second time the cancer came back, and Dr. Price recommended we go see this doctor who was doing all kinds of clinical trials with Endometrial cancer. He wanted to see if Dr. Rose had any other ideas as we had done chemotherapy the first time it came back. I was so scared, because I couldn’t do the chemo again — I couldn’t go through losing my hair again — and I remember sitting in this room all by myself waiting for this doctor I had never met. As I sat there, I prayed to Jesus — I asked him to sit in the empty chair next to me and help me get through this day. I remember that I felt like a five year old girl asking Jesus to hold my hand. I wasn’t praying to God — I was talking to Jesus. You know, we got the best news that day. I thought about that moment over the years — every time we went to Cleveland to talk to Dr. Rose. It was always the same exam room, same chairs — same empty chair, reserved for Jesus.

But I don’t think that I actually believed Jesus was sitting there. I always thought it just made me feel calmer. But now, after reading this book, I believe Jesus was there, because I asked him to be there. And I believe that he provided the answers all those times to Dr. Rose. Those amazing wonderful solutions — that he now whispers into the ears of Dr. Goodman and Dr. Rizk. And that touches my heart so deeply. I thanked him so many times for getting me to the other side and always staying with me.

I’ve always said to everyone who is worried about me or worried about me dying that I believe Heaven is such an amazing place that when we get there, we are going to wonder why we put ourselves through so much in this life to stay here. And after reading this book, I have all kinds of wonderful thoughts of what is actually like. I’ve always believed in Heaven. And now I feel like I have a small glimpse of what eternity holds for those of us who believe.

Always B E L I E V E .

“I Have Seen Many Miracles”

The title of tonight’s blog is my favorite quote from Aunt Helen’s daughters at her funeral tonight. I had the chance to talk to Arlene, Nancy and Elaine about all the things that Aunt Helen experienced the last few days leading up to her passing. I had posted earlier that this side of my family was very superstitious and had many stories of an unexplainable nature. Tonight was no exception.

Aunt Helen was on pain medication during her last week, but she was still of sound mind as she knew all those who came to visit. She would comment on things she was seeing that nobody else could see — Nancy was sure that Aunt Helen had been visited by all those who passed. Skeptics would probably say that it was the morphine causing her mind to conjure up these illusions. The night before she passed, she woke up, completely lucid and told Nancy, “I have seen many miracles.” Nancy asked her what she meant and she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.

I had never heard of anyone saying those words as the day drew near for their passing. I’ve been thinking about it all night. I believe that maybe she saw those who had passed — and that alone was miraculous. Or maybe she saw the future and saw miracles happening all around us. Or maybe she saw something even greater — maybe she saw Heaven and all the Saints and Jesus himself. We may never know until that day comes when we are welcomed into Heaven.

The Zombecks are Reunited

Heaven_soarMy Mom called around lunch time today. We’ve been catching up on Saturdays ever since she’s been working all week at the township building — she’s too tired to talk in the evenings. Hopefully her replacement will be trained soon as she officially retired December 31st!

Anyways, she called to let me know that Aunt Helen passed away this morning. She had been sick for about a month and about three weeks ago, she left the hospital to stay with her daughter, Nancy. Aunt Helen was my grandma’s youngest sister and the last of the Zombeck siblings — there were seven of them. She died at the age of 90. And my Mom was sad, but she was very happy that all of them were together again. She told me that Aunt Helen had been seeing things all week. Arlene (another one of Aunt Helen’s daughters) told my Mom that on Thursday evening she was calling out, “Laura, Laura, Laura…,” who was my grandma. She had passed peacefully with all of her children around her. And I know my grandma was there to greet her if not the angel that carried her to Heaven.

Aunt Helen was seven years younger than my grandma. What I remember most about her was that she was so beautiful. Even at age 80, she looked to be no older than 60, and her face was always so perfectly made up and wrinkle-free. Her hair was always blonde, and she never let it go to white like my grandma. I remember as a child when I learned she was my grandma’s sister that I couldn’t imagine it — she looked just so much younger — more like her daughter. She was polish through and through and spent Saturday evenings at the dance hall, dancing the polka all night long, drinking beer. Yes, the Zombeck women were beer-drinkers all the way. Aunt Helen always wore bright red lipstick every week to church. As she got older, the lipstick was not always on her lips — I guess she should have put her reading glasses on to apply her lipstick! She belonged to St. Rose of Lima, and we saw her often, sitting in the back on Saturday evenings.

My grandma and Aunt Helen looked the most alike, but you could tell that Aunt Annie was their sister too. Aunt Annie had passed in 1993, Aunt Celia in 1999,  my grandma in 2008 and now today, Aunt Helen. They were all crazy little polish women with giggles that matched their somewhat broken English. It’s the way they emphasized their words… Pam would be spoken as Paaa-am, and Carol (my Mom) would be Kaaay-roll. They came from Poland and their parents were unable to speak English well, so the children had a limited vocabulary. The brothers were the same.

All of Zombecks were very superstitious. My grandma and her sisters would quote superstitions to us all the time, “don’t do this…oooooooo — Paaa-am, don’t do that…,” my grandma would say. My Dad called them “all the crazies,” but I was fascinated by it. To this day, I remember all those superstitions and “don’t do that, ever.” They could see spirits and talk to loved ones that had passed. There were always so many miracles in the family, and they shared them with all of us that believe — even miracles when Glenda passed away last year. A few of us have some of those gifts, more so than others. When I was younger, some things happened that scared me, and I learned how to block it out. And I truly believe that the Zombeck women were very gifted women and not “the crazies.” My cousin, Barbara, Aunt Annie’s daughter is one of those with the gift. When I see her at the funeral on Monday, I know she will have talked to Aunt Helen, even though she lives in Erie, PA, two hours away. She will have known that Aunt Helen passed before anyone called to tell her.

Aunt Helen was absolutely the caregiver of the family. When my grandma was in the nursing home, she visited her several days a week if not all seven. When her daughter, Glenda was sick with cancer and living in a more permanent hospice facility, she visited her every single day, even during bad weather for more than a year. When Glenda came home, Aunt Helen nursed her every day. When my Mom had her heart attack, she was the first one at the hospital and visited every day. And this was for all of the family — she was there for everyone. She gave of herself freely and her time, and her heart was full of love for all those she knew. She lived a humble life with simple, yet deep faith.

Tonight as Tom and I went to Communion, they played “On Eagles Wings,” and I smiled at Tom. For this song represents those of who have passed in our families. And I knew at that moment that Aunt Helen had made it safely to the other side, where she is dancing the polka with her sisters and drinking a freshly poured draft beer. For they are celebrating that they are all together for eternity.

On Eagle’s Wings
by Michael Joncas

Verse One:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord: “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!”

Refrain:
And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.

Verse Two:
The snare of the fowler will never capture you, and famine will bring you no fear: under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield. (REFRAIN)

Verse Three:
For to his angels he’s given a command to guard you in all of your ways; upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. (REFRAIN)