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I open the door for a morning walk for the last time in Tucson with confidence that you are about to head home too, but with a confluence of emotions. I sweep away the dead leaves and twigs from the orange tree that have fallen since I swept yesterday. I want the road ahead clear for you.

Even though I’m short on time, I’m ending my trip the way we started it. I’m walking the path we walked the morning before you went to the hospital—the bookend on this journey. It’s cold and I have to pull my hood up. I wish I could grab your hand like I do sometimes just to tell you how much I love being together. It’s so small and soft and the thought of it brings both tears and smiles.

Can you feel what I’m thinking about you from your hospital bed? I think you can—so connected are we. I think that love thought is love shared on a level that is unexplainable. The same goes with ill-will. Who are we kidding? Beneath the unspoken silences of our lives, there really are no secrets.

Although I am getting on a plane today and 2,000 miles will separate us, our hearts will be like next door neighbors and as your big sister, I want to leave you with a few (post) operating instructions.

Your Dr. Aziz has been a doctor like all doctors should be doctors—able to understand their patients physically but can also see into their intellects and emotions. He never tossed research at you to explain things. He saw you and, like an angel checking in for a visit, told you something I don’t want you to forget: you have done a good job taking care of others, and now it’s time to take care of yourself.

Be patient as you adjust to what your body has been through—you know, little meals, lots of protein, go easy on sugars and fats for now. I left some easy to make packages of sea bass and chicken in the freezer and made little bags of fruit for your smoothies. Tuna, egg and chicken salad are in the fridge, lots of yogurt, and good soups—tomato, chicken noodle and coconut vegetable (I went back for more of the coconut but they were out. Darn it all). Oatmeal, graham crackers and Saltines are under the oven cupboard and I couldn’t resist the bread I left on the counter. The Ensures and Smart Waters are in the garage. Those little things I could do…

As the shifting shadows move across the mountain range when clouds pass the sun, listen to how others make your feelings shift and move, from light to grey and grey to light. Be honest about your limits. I do think our bodies are good protectors of our hearts if we will just pay attention. You know the warning signs—hooked up to that machine I called R2D2, your heart was monitored. Without it beeping warnings at you, you’ll need to check in. Relationships are ever shifting.

Remember when Mom got sick? We had to care for her as she had always cared for us. That was hard for us at first and it never stopped being hard for her. You are so much like Mom. But, honestly, I’ve been getting whiffs of her Rain perfume as I write all this down and I can hear her saying, Joanie, you need to let others step up now. Let others help with cleaning and shopping and cooking. And, Miss Hostess with the Mostest, accept guests in moderation.

The past ten years have been a steep climb for us both. Love backfires. It doesn’t go according to plan. People hurt us, we hurt them. People leave and people die. Those are the rocky narrow edges where we reach out for God’s Hand for support. But as hard as those rocky jagged edges are to maneuver well, they end up less challenging than the wide road we take without Water, where we pull others along when they need to do their own climbing.

God has His continual handy work to do on us before we can begin to truly love others well.

We’re sisters. I know we’ve had our share of fights and disagreements, but what is love that it can remove all the stings? There are only shadows of memories now where I wish I had loved better, or known better how to love. I was too consumed with myself. I guess maybe that’s what growing up is—becoming un-self-consumed.

We know now that if we love because we need something in return, it will only drain us. It’s long and it’s slow, the process of being made into the person we’re designed to be: the person who can love well and wisely. We will never get it right on this side of heaven but we move closer. The higher up, the thinner the air. We need to depend on His Breath at the mountain peaks, on His Spirit to fill us.

Surrender—surrender our little inadequate securities for the One True Security. There is no magic formula; the climb to glory is slow and steep. But we can trust that being on the right Path, with the greatest Teacher, we are learning to Love better.

Healing is happening beneath those sutures but never forget that real healing of body, mind and spirit comes from our spirits with God’s Spirit.

So sweet sister, I leave you stocked up for your return home, and with clean sheets and towels. You take good stock of your soul needs, Joanie Baloney. I promise I will do the same.

Oh, and there’s a potted daffodil. Set it by your door as a reminder that spring is coming and with it, renewed life for us all! I love you.

“See, now I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I’m making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

I wish it were one of my own but your neighbor Steve caught the picture of the awesome red Tucson sky.

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