Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Journey of Many Gifts

As a youngster my concept of giving was narrow. There was little gratitude attached, just a sense of obligation.  I was part of the privileged American middle class, and should, maybe once a week, think briefly about those who were less fortunate. I remember my younger brother complaining about having to eat his vegetables and my mother admonishing him, “There are hungry children in other countries who would love to have your serving of spinach.”

“Well, get me an envelope!” My brother had replied, as we all shared a laugh, and quickly went on with our other conversations.

When I was in high school I had a teacher who volunteered at a nursing home. He invited us students to join him, and I was introduced to the concept of giving of one’s time. I became a regular volunteer serving cookies and coffee, listening to the lonely elderly reminisce. I became interested in learning about life when bread was 10 cents a loaf, and everyone sat around the radio.  I learned what it was like to live during the great depression, and why one old gentleman who had known true hunger, never went anywhere without crackers in his pocket. I had my first true lesson in giving—I was getting more back!

Luke 6:38 ESV

“Give, and it will be given to you…”

When my younger sister was picked on I stuck up for her, ready to punch out anyone who pushed her around. Being the youngest in our family she was sometimes teased unfairly, and I took up her cause. (Okay, sometimes I took advantage of her and talked her into trading her new dolls for my old snarl-haired ones). But I had learned to give of myself, to get involved. And for decades now I have cherished the gift of our lifelong friendship.

Then in 1997, when our ten-year old son, Chris, was diagnosed with leukemia, I learned a brand new lesson—how to receive. Suddenly, the tables were turned. Fear and uncertainty, along with missed work and mounting bills invaded our world. Food was left at our doorstep. Charities stepped in to give us a place to stay while we were at the hospital. Strangers became angels whose mission was to make our life easier.

I’ll never forget the day hundreds if people showed up for Chris’s bone marrow drive. The blood bank had to send 3 blood mobiles to accommodate the record-setting crowd. When the blood bank ran out of permission forms the manager of the supermarket at the shopping center opened up his office and copier for their use.  He even sent out trays of food to feed the volunteers. Our misfortune had become an opportunity for others to give. We had become the recipients of a city-wide act of love.

“Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord…”

When Chris went to be with the Lord at the tender age of 14 he had given us the greatest gift of all. We had laughed, loved, and shared true intimacy. His last words were “Thank you for being such a good Mom and Dad. I love you.”  Is there a greater gift than a grateful child?

Witnessing this nourishing flow of giving and receiving had an impact on Chris’s younger brother, Jarrod. He grew into a young man with a servant’s heart. He was protective of others, defending a friend who was bullied at school, and scrutinizing his sister's boyfriends. Last summer, after a morning of spear fishing, he brought home dozens of fish. “We can’t eat all of those!” My husband, Rob, had exclaimed.

“I know,” Jarrod had grinned, “I’m having a cook-out.” He went to Walmart, bought a grill and seasoning, and drove his catch down the local homeless camp. After feeding the street folks Jarrod returned home with joy in his eyes. He had learned that magical lesson. The happiest people are those who give.

Acts 20:35 ESV 

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

A few weeks later our beloved Jarrod died in an accident. Once again, we have become the weak, the poor in spirit. But I am learning to look at my sons’ lives as a gift. I was chosen to be their mom for a short, precious time on time on earth. My books and my speaking have enabled me to help other families dealing with loss. www.maribethditmars.com.  But maybe, most of all, they remind me that Chris and Jarrod will be with me in heaven forever.
And that is the gift that I must continue to give to others—the gift of hope.

Luke 23:43 (NIV)

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

1 Corinthians 15:22

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from raising my Chris, who battled cancer for four years, was how to live and laugh in the moment. These cherished encounters are what my greatest memories are made of.

 I remember one of those hospital days when Chris hadn’t been out of bed for a while and I was trying to convince him to get up and walk around. This was important when his counts were low as lying flat for too long put him at risk for pneumonia. Chris agreed on one condition. I had to place his fart machine in my back pocket. This delightful device consists of a battery powered speaker that emits prerecorded flatulence noises that are controlled by a tiny remote. With the remote discreetly hidden in the palm of his hand, and guiding his IV pole with the other hand, Chris and I set out to ride the elevators.

 Like a squeaky symphony maestro Chris produced an array of musical farts as unsuspecting folks boarded the elevator. Since it was a children’s hospital we had lots of young victims! Nervous giggles were accompanied by furtive glances, seeking the perpetrator. “EWWW Mom, did you smell that?” One young man’s imagination had completed his sensory experience for him. “Shhh, honey. It’s not nice to say anything.” The embarrassed mom whispered as she scooted quickly towards the door. I suppressed a snicker as the two of them escaped at the next floor.

 After a while, I grew bolder and would let out a sigh of relief after each raspberry. Chris and I would tumble out into the hallway howling with laughter before hopping onto the next elevator.

 But we finally met our match when riding along with this one delightful woman. She was a neatly dressed, elderly lady, barely over five feet tall. The three of us were alone in the elevator so Chris really let it rip. Just as the doors opened for her to get off she paused momentarily and gently laid her hand on my arm. “Well, my dear, I bet you feel so much better now.” 

 Job 8:21 “He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”

 And indeed we did feel better. We felt better when Chris strategically placed his rubber vomit in the doorway of his hospital room. We felt better when Chris super-glued a half dollar to the floor and watched folks try to pick it up. We felt better when Chris incorporated the words “elephant poop” into each of his vocabulary sentences. We felt better when Chris made Nurse Maria sing “Welcome to Miami” before allowing her to hang his chemo. Those moments of madness were priceless. It was our way of snatching back a small portion of Chris’s lost childhood, and celebrating his spirit. 

 Psalm 126:2-3 “Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with joyful songs…” 

 Who can recount an entire day from start to finish? It is the moments we remember. The snippets of hilarity and, spontaneity—that is what makes us smile or brings a grateful tear to our eye. Chris packed more of these into his 14 short years on earth than many folks do in an entire lifetime. My hope for anyone reading this who may be struggling is that you seize every opportunity to laugh. I believe that is as close as we to get to heaven on earth. 

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Welcome To My Journey

Welcome to my blog, “Journeys of the Heart”. What a journey my life has been! Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I could tell you I am a writer, a speaker, and a retired teacher, but those are things I do, not who I am.
I am a wife, a daughter, a mother, a story-teller, and a believer. I am also a miracle. My life journey has wended its way through the laughter and tears of raising a family, the tragedies of burying my two young sons, triumph over addiction, world travels, grappling with grief, and the precious gift of true relationships.
So what is my blog going to be about you ask? All of the above, especially the relationships. In the beginning it was all about the human relationships, but now my journey leads me towards the most important relationship of all—my relationship with God, and his son, Jesus Christ.
In my first book, “Christopher’s Journey” I write about my Chris’s 4 year battle with terminal cancer. The book recounts Chris’s daily life on treatment from the age of 10 until his passing at 14 when he spent his last peaceful moments comforting us with his heavenly encounter. Despite its sad conclusion the book is full of humor and love. Tales of Chris’s jokes and gags abound as Chris teaches us to live in the moment. In future blogs I will share Chris’s antics and explain how he was responsible for jump-starting my spiritual journey. http://www.maribethditmars.com/.

My second book, “The Bald-Headed Princess” (See link above) is a middle-reader chapter book for children affected by cancer. In this story 11 year old Isabel must grapple with cancer, treatment, hair loss, and missing her friends. In the end Isabel gains remission and learns to reach out to other struggling patients.  I look forward to telling you how amazing it was to read this book to my fourth grade class (including one shy little boy with cancer) and to witness a transformation in the hearts my students!
I have several other books in the works. I don’t have contracts yet, so I can’t say much, but they are on the lighter side with characters like misbehaving teachers and an unusual eyeball scampering across the pages. I look forward to sharing those publication journeys with you.
Eventually, I will return once again to more serious fare. Last summer, our 21 year old son, Jarrod, was killed in an accident, 14 years after cancer took his older brother. Never in my worst nightmare could I have imagined that we would bury a second son. Like Chris, Jarrod was full of fun and humor, often sailing through the day on a stream of laughter. Also like Chris, Jarrod had a deep spiritual side, and I will be writing about that as well.
 In the years between the passings of my two sons the Lord worked many miracles in my life. He saved our floundering marriage, He released me from the bondage of addiction, and He has given me many opportunities to be useful to others. Now as I trudge through the pain of fresh grief, I have found a strength and a purpose that does not come from this world.
Romans (NIV) 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Last fall Rob and I sold our home and became full-time RVers. We plan to travel in the summer and return to the Sarasota area in the winter to spend time with our family, including our daughter and grandchildren. We are accompanying our spiritual journey with a physical journey. I already have RV adventures to share with you! Right now we are camped for the summer in the beautiful Asheville N.C. area. We are hiking all of the magnificent mountaintop and waterfall vistas, pausing to listen for that voice of God inside of us.
Please join me each Tuesday as I blog and share all of my “Journeys of the Heart”.

I would also like to invite you to join me Thursday, June 16th at 6:00 EST on Unity Radio’s “Grief to Grace” program with Chaz Wesley.