Incredible Generosity

Thank you all for your incredible display of generosity. In three days responses to this blog brought in pledges of $92,030 to support the effort to purchase the old Open Door Ministry for Mercy Community Church in collaboration with other homeless ministries. Penny did not think her name was worthy to be the title as many others have done much more for justice around here. But she did bless this effort and told Mercy if her name could be beneficial, she was glad to help. She truly longed to see this happen.

As our family and friends, you have stepped up in an amazing way. Thank you so much. I am in awe of your love and support and desire to see Penny’s life left with such a fitting legacy that inspires love in our city–that was Penny’s ultimate calling.

So, the bids are in for the building. The Presbytery team that makes the decision will not meet until next week to choose the winning bid. So, please be in fervent prayer that God will and is doing a new and wonderful work right here. And anyone who still wants to pledge, please send me an email (rhillrev@gmail.com).

Gratefully,

Richard

Almost There

Two days ago, I posted that we have the opportunity to secure a large grant to create a new homeless and justice center that they want to call “The Penny Hill.” Mercy Community Church is a worshipping congregation primarily of homeless people in our neighborhood and Penny and I have supported them for several years and value their leadership in our penny-hill-and-mercycommunity. All of the other valued homeless ministries in our neighborhood have recently closed, and the opportunity has come up suddenly for Mercy to purchase an old boarding house that is zoned for homeless ministry and two blocks from my house. Mercy asked and received Penny’s blessing to call it “The Penny Hill” and here is the drawing one of their members made and gave to Penny.

The challenge is to raise $80,000 by the end of today. After an exhausting and exhilarating two days, our family and good friends from churches and high school and life have pledged $59,920. That is unbelievable and so appreciated. Pledges are still coming in today and can be emailed to me at rhillrev@gmail.com. Donations are only needed if the benefactors bid of about $2 million is accepted and she secures the property. Then, folks can donate over the course of the year.

I have told Maggie and Mercy to go ahead and assure the benefactor that I will come up with the remaining portion of the $80,000 that will assure her that the expenses of the utilities, insurance and such will be covered for the first year. So, if anyone cares to still pledge, please join the effort. I would hate to lose such an incredibly generous gift from a stranger to me, Penny, Mercy Community, and Atlanta. I have been amazed at the variety of friends, old and new, who have pledged–we will make this happen and Atlanta will be left with a hill of justice and mercy named after our Penny.

Blessings to all,

Richard

A Legacy Opportunity for Penny

This has been an eventful weekend. Yesterday, we interred Penny’s ashes at Peachtree Christian Church in the columbarium next to her mother and sister. Along with a beautiful service, we were able to watch a short video that we just received that was shot in August and edited by Catie Beck who is a friend and NBC reporter. Here it is:

Also, on Friday, I met with Rev. Maggie Leonard and Rev. Chad Hyatt who are pastors for Mercy Community Church. This church is primarily homeless folks from Virginia Highlands and has met for 10 years in the basement of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church. With the Open Door Community (a homeless ministry in a large boarding house on Ponce de Leon which is two blocks from my house also) closing a few doors down, Mercy’s vision is to buy the property and host a collaborative of nonprofit justice ministries focused on homelessness. In August, they asked Penny if they could name it after her, knowing that she regretted that she would not be able to use her position as Executive Presbyter of Greater Atlanta to leave a legacy of greater justice ministry. So, Penny admitted there were others more worthy, but if it would help, they could use their name.

So, here is the incredible news! A benefactor has come to Mercy and offered to purchase the property. The bids are due on Wednesday. The sole request of the benefactor is that Mercy get pledges by Wednesday to cover the utilities and carrying costs for the first year. The challenge is to get pledges totaling $80,000 by Tuesday.

My family has pledged $12,000 and hope some of you will join us in assuring this continuation of ministry and legacy in Penny’s name. This is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and what a legacy that is being offered for Penny’s love of Christ and all people. So, if you care to join us, please email me (rhillrev@gmail.com) your pledge by the end of Tuesday or directly to Rev. Maggie Leonard  (mbleonar@gmail.com).

This is such a work of God and grace. You know, Penny could always get us to do “more than we asked or imagined.”

Grace and Hope,

Richard

 

 

Too late for us but “Our Labor is not in vain”

Penny and Subbiah.celebrate.Mar16

This week we will celebrate: on Tuesday President Obama will sign the 21st Century Cures Act with strong bipartisan support for $6.8 billion to research for cancer, Alzheimer’s, mental health, opioid addiction, etc. Early on, I also discovered that the greatest impact on medical research is the Federal budget and “our” tax dollars. So, I joined the American Cancer Action Network promoting what has become the “Moonshot for a Cure” for Cancer.” And I am celebrating.

I have been harping about the same perspective Representative Steve Cohen recently eloquently stated, “My secretary of defense is Francis Collins, because the true enemy of each and every one of us isn’t somebody in South Korea or somebody in Iran or ISIS. It’s cancer, it’s Alzheimer’s, it’s AIDS, it’s diabetes, it’s heart disease — all those dreadful, awful diseases that N.I.H. is looking for cures for.”

When Penny was diagnosed two years ago this week, we knew the odds were astronomically against us to even make it two years. We told all of you that our only hope was research, and we have been plunged into the bowels of two of the greatest research centers in the world–Winship and MD Anderson.

But what has puzzled me is why we give up fighting these diseases that rob us of our loved ones when the battle is over. My grandfather died of prostate cancer in ’84. Penny’s sister died of brain cancer in ’91. My mother died of pancreatic cancer in ’13. My cousin, Bo, a year later. My longtime boss, Lane, earlier this year. And now Penny. And with each death, we made a donation that year to some cancer organization in their name. I joined a walk one year for Pancreatic cancer. And then, we did nothing. I guess we feel hopeless to effect change. It’s just inevitable.

Early in our fight, I also discovered that the greatest impact on research is the Federal budget and “our” tax dollars. So, I joined the American Cancer Action Network promoting what has become the “Moonshot for a Cure” for Cancer.” I have never been extremely political in terms of national efforts. And I was surprised how few people, even cancer survivors, had heard of the American Cancer Society’s campaign to dramatically increase funding for cancer. Unfortunately, it was Joe Biden’s son’s death that gained attention for the Moonshot, and then again, we realize that Beau Biden and others did not live in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

I have not cried much at all, but I am today. This new moonshot to cure cancer is what Penny and I prayed for and hoped for. It won’t help Penny, but she too did not die in vain. These new efforts will help the rest of our family and friends. It will serve my boys. It will serve those ravaged with Alzheimer’s, mental illness, and opioid addictions, all of which Penny and I have grieved over with many families. I only regret we did not come up with the will to increase funding ten years ago. And I hope we will not give up.

So, this week is cause for incredible celebration! We, as a nation, are finally getting behind the efforts of our research scientists and medical specialists to enable them to fight the battle every one of our families will face. And this is a war we can all support.

I won’t post much more and will not abuse this blog with political rant to all our friends and family who have been so supportive. But I do encourage you to continue the spirit of Team Penny. Congratulate our senators and representatives! And don’t give up on our local institutions and give directly to support Winship, MD Anderson and other centers. Because the Federal budget will not solve this alone. And these hospitals are still underfunded for many of their efforts for care and support. And, they need our volunteer efforts.

I will volunteer at Winship as a Peer Partner and continue to be generous in donating to their research and that of MD Anderson.img_0012

So, let’s celebrate but don’t give up the fight as Team Penny till there is

Stage IV to No More!

No Regrets 

This Sunday, December 4, 2016, will be two months since Penny died and exactly two years since she was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. Following Thanksgiving and moving into Advent and Christmas, I thought I would simply update you that we (Richard, Philip/Jessica, Nicholas/Kenan) are doing well. We spent Thanksgiving in Montreat, NC (thank you George) where we ate, hiked and just enjoyed getting to be with each other. We are so grateful to have had such a wife and mother. Plus, the way Penny lived life fully to the very last day–and the way we were able to release her into the loving caress of God leaves us with no regrets.

Now, God is giving me signs that there is still a lot of life to live and much to still Live, Love, Laugh about. So, as others still struggle with cancer and other threatening hardships, I thought I would give a little slide show of a life lived fully. Her goal in life was to love and inspire others to love. So, consider this the Hill Christmas card and may your family and life be filled with hope, love and joy. We thank God for Penny Jane and all our family and friends!

Merry Christmas!

Richard

(click each pix to see the caption)

 

Memorial Service will stream live

The memorial service for Penny will stream live from First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta on Saturday, October 8th, 2016 at 11:00am. So, for all of those out of town or out of country in Brazil or Kenya or elsewhere and cannot attend, we hope you will join us and be inspired as we celebrate God’s gift to us through Penny as well as the ultimate promise of resurrection that we know in Christ. Penny demanded that we were bright colors and have no dragging hymns, and she wants us to gather to bolster her family and friends up in prayer and laughter as we worship in her favorite worship space and eat cookies afterward. So, if you watch from afar, wear bright colors and bring your own cookies (BYOC) and we will feel the Spirit connecting us.

Go to: http://www.firstpresatl.org/inspiration-wherever-you-are/

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Rom.8)

Live Love Laugh

Stage IV to No More

 

A Sad and Grace-Filled Day

thrift-store-dinner-16Tuesday was a sad day to let go of the one I and so many hold so dear. We had some time to prepare and call in reinforcements, and what was so gut-wrenching ended up being one of the most grace-filled days of my life. So, let me share it with you as well as the days leading up to it (thanks to the swarm of visits, calls, texts and emails I am finally getting to write what I started at 7:15am yesterday).

 The march started the day after the wedding. Looking back around July 4th when the Leptomeningeal disease almost wiped her out, I could not bear the thought of Philip getting married without his mother. That next weekend, he proposed as Nicholas and Kenan rushed home early from vacation, and we hurried to have Penny bless the rings so she would be a part of the event. They set the wedding date in December, and Penny with eyes closed insisted that she would be at the wedding. Philip and Jessica scurried to change it to the only earlier date they could find a venue, September 23rd, and even that seemed doubtful. But thanks to her doctors, nurses, supportive friends and caregivers, she made it to the wedding and you saw pictures of her dance with her boy. But she kept reminding us that her goal was not to last until the wedding but until they returned on their honeymoon.

 The day after the wedding she had a turn—she could no longer walk and we had to put her on oxygen 24/7. We knew something changed. On Thursday evening our doctor advised that Penny could go to the hospital for some tests that might help us address her declining oxygen level and weakness in her legs. Surprisingly, Penny jumped at the chance and said, “Well, let’s go tonight.”

 We had no idea she would slip so quickly. She got little sleep the next three nights as we discovered the culprit was blood clots in her legs moving to her lungs. Nicholas, Kenan, and I held vigil that weekend while Philip and Jessica rode out Hurricane Matthew and, by the grace of God, were not stranded in Aruba. They made it back Saturday night and went immediately to the hospital to see Penny. 

On Sunday, the six of us took communion together at Penny’s bedside for World Communion Sunday with Dr. Marilyn and Rev. Joe Sandifer. After communion she hugged each of her boys and started crying.  We were concerned about her getting upset, but when she pulled back, she weakly said, “I’m so happy!” She achieved her goal of seeing all her boys married (including her nephew, Aubrey, married on August 28th), which is pure grace. On Monday we realized treatment was no longer viable and brought her home under hospice care. That details the week leading up to that “sad but grace-filled” Tuesday.

 During the wee morning hours, Petal, her caregiver and I struggled every three hours to get Penny comfortable. Apparently the clots were moving. The drugs could not contain the discomfort and I finally called Marilyn at 7:00am and she scurried over with her precious preschool granddaughters, Brisson and Willow who started the vigil by dancing on our front porch. Our dear friend Kay played with them as Marilyn helped us get new meds to quickly comfort Penny. I called in the family to join us for a bedside vigil.

So many friends joined the vigil on the front porch and den from 8am until nightfall, beginning with Floyd from one of our first youth groups in the 1980s. I counted friends from seven different churches we served holding vigil during the day and several others contacted me unable to be there. Our friends and colleagues sang hymns in the front of the house as we loved on Penny in the rear bedroom. We were literally enfolded in the arms of the communion of saints—and that even included the holiness of some who are agnostic, atheist and Muslim. It was a taste of the way God will make it all one day.

 At 11:00 Penny’s good buddy from seminary days, Steve Price, showed up from South Carolina as he did every week to lead Penny in his crazy dances. And only Steve’s giftedness could have the whole vigil dancing at Penny’s deathbed, with Philip waving Penny’s arms in the air and Penny opening her eyes in wonder and joy. We moved ceremoniously to “The Prayer” by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli in such a holy moment; and then Steve led our whole vigil laughing and dancing with his signature, cheshire-grinning craziness “Star, star, star, star” and “Milk, Milk, Milk, Milk.” I have never seen such a celebration around a deathbed. What joy in celebrating Penny who continued to inspire and celebrate life with her motto—LIVE LAUGH LOVE!

 The cloud of witnesses headed out to the front porch continuing to sing hymns as family took turns assuring Penny she was not alone. Revs. Joe Sandifer and Dave Fry gathered us for a prayer and singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” About 2:30 her breathing changed. It sounded like she was taking a gulp of air and then exhaling saying, “Yeah.” So, we each started kissing her and saying goodbye and massaging her head and reassuring her: “Penny, do you know God loves you?”…”Yeah!”… Do you know Jesus has made a place for you?”…”Yeah!”…“ “Do you know I love you?”…”Yeah!”…”Do you know Nicholas and Philip love you?”…”Yeah!”…”Do you know we are ready for you to go?”…”Yeah!”…”Then, relax…relax…relax…and go to sleep and don’t worry.” And while I kissed her head and whispered in her ear, she started to relax and let go. Her breathing immediately started slowing, and slowing, and she calmly breathed her last breath with us caressing her and letting her go. It was a beautiful way to go.

 And then she lay there as if asleep and for a few hours everyone who wanted to could say “Goodbye.” Rev. Lindsay Armstrong and Dr. Marilyn led us in anointing her body and sending home. We let her go “into that good night” and into God’s hands. It was sad, but the whole day was filled with grace and laughter.st-georgeSo, we will gather this Saturday at 11:00am, October 8th, at the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, the same sacred space where Nicholas and Philip absorbed the faith, where Penny served as Family Minister for years, and where we held the wedding for Philip and Jessica two weeks ago. We will celebrate Penny’s life and the promise of resurrection. Penny said you better wear bright colors and wigs are most appropriate. This is a celebration! (Childcare is available and parking instructions can be found here.) Better get there early.

 In lieu of flowers we ask that donations be made to Columbia Theological Seminary  that is training the next generation of Presbyterian ministers to inspire people to love, to Winship Cancer Institute  which is our local research institute without which Penny never would have made it to the wedding, or designated to “Brazil Mission in Fortaleza” c/o First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta  where a portion of Penny’s ashes will be interred.

penny-ginger-cakeWednesday would’ve been Ginger’s 63rd birthday, and Penny made it to heaven just in time to eat cake with her sister and mother.

When you remember Penny, always Live, Love, Laugh.