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

 

 

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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.

 

 

What goes up…

They say what goes up must come down. Many also say people “lose their battle with cancer.” But I’m not sure a cancer patient “must come down” or that dying is losing the battle.

 Penny has fought hard and stayed up for the sake of her friends and her family. She has always felt called to inspire others to love. And as long as she is doing that she is never coming down; she is not losing the battle with cancer. penny-in-scrubs-2015

 Although our last post was encouraging news last week, on Thursday our doctor decided we should conduct some tests in the hospital to see why Penny was losing strength and her oxygen level was dropping. She had not been able to get out of bed since the day after the wedding. Penny was eager to get to the hospital Thursday night and get some answers in order to get stronger. But a night in the emergency room will deflate anyone. Then she did not sleep Friday or Saturday nights either. We discovered some pulmonary emboli as well as clots in the legs even though she is on blood thinner. These are the reasons for the rapid decline. And this decline has continued such that as of Monday night we have brought Penny home under hospice care. She is too weak to visit and the family gets some short minutes a few times per day. It is a sharp drop, but I would not say it has brought Penny down.

 Yesterday, Lindsey dropped by the hospital. She is a good friend fighting against her own husband’s cancer. Although Penny had been asleep all day, she lit up when she saw Lindsey. Penny poured her energy into lifting Lindsey’s spirits, and Lindsey thanked Penny for teaching her so much, especially that love is what it’s all about and to never lose hope.

 Penny’s life is fading but I assure you she is not down. We are shedding tears because we don’t want to leave each other, but that is not defeat. She is still inspiring others. She is still doing what God put her on earth to do.

 So, let me issue one more challenge on Penny’s behalf. She wants to inspire. She wants to help Lindsey, Mike, Rachel and others whom she mentors and is partnered in the battle against cancer. So, instead of leaving a memorial gift for Penny down the road, honor her life and join me in giving to Winship Cancer Institute who have been our lifesavers for two years. It won’t help Penny’s body any more, but it will continue her calling to inspire and help her friends who still hope for a cure. We thank all of you who have contributed to Winship through Team Penny that now totals over $5,000. I still challenge the rest of you to join the fight. Go to:

http://winship5k.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1151418&team=6863983 .

 I also welcome you to drop by our front porch for our vigil at 956 Blue Ridge and lift up a prayer. Penny is too weak to see visitors, but I welcome you to drop by and will let her know you have come to pay your respects. I assure you she will not come down and she will not lose this battle. She is inspiring so many to continue to fight and to continue to love and to cling to hope.

 We are so thankful for all your support and generosity too. You all have lifted us up, and we have so much to be grateful for. I assure you Penny is not coming down, and she is not losing this fight. Her faith, hope and love will continue to sustain us. And our God will continue to sustain her.

Live! Love! Laugh!

Stage IV to No More!

We can’t run but we can give back to Winship!

Last year so many of you joined Team Penny in the 5k walk/run for Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. Together we raised over $10,000!

This year we are unable to participate directly in the walk due to my declining strength and now Richard has a bummed knee from playing basketball with the groomsmen. So, we decided we could at least “sleepwalk” for the Winship 5k which is this Saturday, October 1st.

We hope you will donate to Winship through the Team Penny website below and designate for lung cancer. I would not be here now if it were not for Dr. Owonikoko and Dr. Curran who have successfully treated my lung cancer and leptomeningeal disease with cutting edge drugs that are beyond the evidence-based protocols. We are so fortunate to have world-reknown experts in our backyard, and they/we need more financial backing to enhance their research and care for cancer patients, not only for myself but for your families and all who are desperate for hope.

I hope you will join me and Richard in generously supporting Winship. You can go to my Team Penny page and hit the “Donate Now” button under the “Join the Team” button and it will allow you to donate in my honor or another and to designate for lung cancer research.

Click or Cut and paste: https://www.kintera.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1151418&lis=1&kntae1151418=E1C315ACA9734D1B827A5050F44EC703&supId=422688008&team=6863983

Richard and I have started with $1,000 donation and will give more later. Our goal is to raise more than $10,000 that we accomplished last year. We are so grateful to Winship and to all of you for your support and prayers.

LLL

Stage IV to No More!