Out of Egypt

This is my Dad.  Charles Alphonses Wilscam, Jr.  It was on his Bucket List to travel to Egypt, and he accomplished that goal the fall of 1974.

I think my dad was born an architect, so it’s no wonder that he wanted to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Dad’s Bucket List also included marriage, having three girls, and ensuring that all become college graduates.  You gotta know that was very forward thinking in the 1950’s.

Mom and Dad gave us the liberty to choose both the university and the major, but by golly, we were going to college.  My memory is a bit foggy, but I think they even said, “I don’t care if you major in basket weaving…”    Since I love all things arts and crafts, that was not such a bad idea, but as I mentioned in the previous blog, I choose international studies at Tulane University.    Two years into the elite program, I made the phone call to tell Mom and Dad that I was changing my major to art.  While I don’t remember all the details of that conversation, I do remember telling them I didn’t want to have this big career, and spend my life dreaming of art.  While my passion was art (not architecture) it was clear early on that I was my father’s daughter.

It was a rocky go at first.  An art major requires massive amounts of studio lab time. I exhausted myself and ended up leaving Tulane my junior year with every intention of returning.  As one might imagine, it was me (the middle child) who challenged Charlie’s very soul in checking that college graduate thing off his Bucket List.  Somewhere in the  I’m on a break from college and finding myself timeline, I thought maybe earning a bachelor’s degree wasn’t for me.

Sweet Jesus, I’m going to Beauty School!

That revelation was probably the most hair-raising for my parents, but somehow Mom and Dad reasoned with me to finish my degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

As time passed, I met Dann Bosselman, got married and pregnant (in that order), and slowly and methodically completed the required hours.  Those days were not without their own hardship, as I stood in freezing Nebraska temperatures, [pregnant with Megan and resisting the temptation to barf at every moment] waiting for the city bus to take me to the university.  I wasn’t so passionate about college at that time, but I promised my parents when I married Dann that I would finish my degree.  College Graduation

Finally, in 1981 I put on my cap and gown and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (with thesis in drawing) from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  As the trumpets sounded for the mid-year graduation ceremony, hundreds filed into the arena.  The department of art students were the end of the pack, and with my brown BFA tassel swinging in joy, I filed in with the last few.  Not far into the ceremony I felt my dad’s presence.

Please picture the moment.  Hundreds of graduates on the main floor, ALL the parents in the grand stands.  Well, all but one.  With camera in hand, and pride in his countenance, there was my Dad sitting in the empty seat behind me.  While you might think that could be counted among life’s most embarrassing events, I knew first and foremost my dad was so proud that I had accomplished my degree, but he was also satisfied to have achieved another life goal.

My older sister preceded me in the pomp and circumstance of higher education when she graduated from Tulane in 1978.  I was on the six-year college plan, and followed her a few years later.  Finally, when my younger sister Adie graduated from Dartmouth in 1985, Charlie’s Bucket List item was satisfied.  Three girls. Three graduates.

It was also on Dad’s Bucket List to start his own architecture business and build it big.  The early years of Wilscam, Inc. were staffed by Mom the secretary and a couple of grade school girls (me and my older sister) that would run around the dining room table collating brochures for potential clients.  Those days were lean.

Years passed.  He added partners.  He built it big.

On August 30, 2010, after fifty-seven years in architecture at a casual staff lunch, Dad officially retired.  As things were winding down, Dad asked me to drive Mom home.  Surprised by this request, I reminded Dad that he lives with Mom, but ‘hey, if you want me to drive her home, I’ll go with it.”

Just blocks away from their front door, Mom took a deep breath and told me that Dad was no longer in remission.

My dad has cancer.  Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)  While it has been carefully managed for over two decades, the last scan brought the news that cancer is aggressively on the move.

Many have asked me if receiving news on cancer ever gets any easier.  The answer is positively, “No.”  Cancer thrusts you into the great unknown and it becomes its own wilderness.

By experience, I can tell you a thing or two about the desert times in our lives.  It was in the beginning months of Megan’s battle with adrenal cortical cancer that my pastor gave a profound teaching on the Israelites coming out of Egypt.

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Exodus 13:21

Pastor Ray, not knowing my growing obsession with umbrellas, carefully explained that the pillar of cloud, in the scorching sun of Egypt, was symbolic of a servant carrying a parasol over his master.  Similarly, by night the servant would go ahead of the master with a torch of fire.  No air conditioning in the desert by day…No street lights by night.  His conclusion was that though God led His people out of Egypt into the desert, He nonetheless carried the umbrella to shield them from heat and sun of day, and held the torch of light for the darkness of night.  Metaphorically, God Almighty was their umbrella.

I can list, absolutely, four life moments in 53 years of my life where I knew God spoke to me;  Pastor Ray’s sermon on the “Cloud by Day” was one of them.

For today, I don’t live in the heavenlies, but in real life as my dad faces five more rounds of chemotherapy.  I  dropped by my parents’ apartment Tuesday night.  Mom was knitting hats for unknown women journeying through chemotherapy at the Immanuel Cancer Center.  Both my parents were watching The Food Network.  We made small talk.  Mom and Dad wanted to know when “The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – Making the Team” would begin its new season.  I told them soon.

Mom worries that I’m underfed and got me a big bowl of soup, with lots of Cheez-it crackers on the side.  An hour later, Dad walked me safely to the car as I choked back tears knowing Wednesday would be another full day of chemo.

I’m in the wilderness…but I do know where to find my umbrella.

Key Notes:

  • The definition of remission:  A decrease in, or disappearance of, signs and symptoms of cancer. In complete remission, all signs or symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although there still may be cancer in the body.
  • I came home from Mom and Dad’s to an email from Sunni Canfill, cheerleader extraordinaire for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, reminding me to take care of myself.  I had not heard from her in weeks, and the timing was nothing short of prophetic.  I’m trying, Sunni Girl!
  • According to Trivia-library.com, “The idea of umbrellas originated among the aristocracy in ancient Egypt. The modern umbrella, with ribs of steel covered by fabric, was created in the late 1700s.”
  • In Ancient Greece and Rome, umbrellas were used exclusively for shade from the sun.  European woman began to carry umbrellas in the 1600’s, mostly as shade from the sun.

On A Lighter Note:

  • Thinking of torturing your parents and making the “I’m majoring in art” phone call?  It should be noted that I had already demonstrated a certain level of artistic talent, and my art training began when I attended pre-school at Joslyn Art Museum.
  • My literary coach, Erin Reel, told me I get only one “Sweet Jesus” per blog.
  • By golly, my children Megan and Ryan earned college degrees.
  • Wondering what The Seven Wonders of the World are?  Here you go, free of charge!  Wonder no more….Click here.
  • I look so much like my dad that when he dropped into Sur La Table one afternoon, employee Diane saw him and said, “You must be Val’s dad.”
  • I look so much like my dad that I’ve been at Sur La Table, with my dad on the opposite end of the store, and a customer said, “There is a guy on the other end of the store that looks exactly like you.  Is that your dad?”
  • I look so much like my dad that years ago at a business meeting the client said, “You and Val look exactly alike.”  My dad responded with, “I hope that’s a compliment to Valerie.”

Category: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders - Making the Team

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9 comments

  1. Val, once again you encourage in the teaching. :o)

    I think the foundation of your “umbrella” is the truth that He fills all things. He is all and all. After asking Him several months ago “What does it mean, You are all in all?'” Your pillar of cloud story has opened my eyes more to the unfolding answer to that question.

    Somehow I can’t but sense this pillar of cloud is such a picture of our Shepherd Jesus (how He leads us). And the fire by night a picture of His passionate love. But it’s the cloud that really gets me!

    Ex 14:19,20 – the cloud, besides going before them also went behind them at night! The cloud in the darkness even gave light at night! Sounds like Jesus – the darkness will never overpower the light.(Jn 1:5) Where can I flee from your Spirit/Presence – even the darkness is like light to You. (Ps 139:7,12)

    Then the glory appeared in the cloud. (Ex. 16:10) A cloud has moisture which acts as a prism (Jesus is living water, Jesus is light = rainbow. The radiance of His glory!(Heb 1:3 Eze 1:28) I wonder if the Israelites saw a rainbow in that pillar of cloud sometimes? ;o) And then remembered His covenant/faitfulness? (Gn 9:12,13)I think we do well to remember the rainbow is always in the cloud and sometimes it manifests itself (or should I say Himself?). Perhaps it’s like those sacred moments you spoke of that have no words?

    One more thought. Moses entered the cloud. (Ex 24:18) Moses entered into the glory! Can you imagine that! We are in Jesus. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Note it’s “us” – the hope of glory (which is the Father’s hope)is the “glorious riches of His inheritance in the saints”. (Eph 1:18) Oh Val, the umbrella/the cloud you have over you, the umbrella/the cloud you are giving and showing others is bringing such glory to Him. Jesus is truly being lifted up. The Father loves that! And He will draw more men to Him, which means Jesus/the umbrella just gets bigger and bigger! It really is about the fullness of Him filling all in all. May your umbrella get even bigger! Love you.

  2. Beautiful write-up as usual Valerie. I wanted to share a few notes on the pillars with you.

    The clouds protected the Israelites from the sun, kept them cool and even washed their clothing. The pillars of fire provided light, heat and protection from wild beasts and snakes.

    Both pillars evened out the land during their journeys so that rocks, hills and valleys were removed as obstacles making traveling easier.

    The pillars were also their navigators. When the pillars started to move it was the signal that it was time to pack up and move. And it was the pillars themselves that led them forth.

    In this case it was the Master holding the umbrella for the servants and was a great showing of love from God to the Israelites.

    Nancy’s question about being protected from God’s light is very astute. Though I don’t know the answer with 100% certainty I do know that when the High Priest entered The Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, it was only done inside a cloud of heavy incense which was to protect the High Priest from too much exposure to “God’s light” so to speak.

  3. Once again Val, you have moved me to tears! Don’t worry…half of the week I am holding that umbrella over Charlie, and I am honored to do it!

  4. Such enjoyable and meaningful words.What a wonderful heritage you have Val. However I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s return fight against cancer.

    A couple of thoughts popped up from the analogy of the pillar of cloud by day with the parasol. Remember the illustration you did for me for the scripture “From the brightness before Him goes His thick clouds.” Could it be the pillar of cloud was also like a protection from the brightness of His presence because He was SO CLOSE to them in the wilderness? And I wonder, in regards to the fire by night besides being light in the darkness could it have also brought warmth during those cool desert nights?

    It’s a good thing you have your umbrella because I figure His presence must be very bright where you are. And I know He’ll also keep you warm. Love and prayers

    1. Nancy, This is so beautiful, I cried. It is one for the book, literally. While Megan and I (and I’m sure Ryan, too) had moments in the agony of cancer when we thought we were on the “God hates us plan”, there were also moments so sacred that a book will never articulate how we felt near to the heart of God. I read your paragraph thinking….please say/write more about this…you are speaking to the very foundation of “Put Up Your Umbrella,” and the very truth of our lives over the last six years.

  5. Charlie Wilscam is a remarkably kind and wonderful man. I will forever be grateful for his kindness to my son Joe. He went out of his way to write letters of recommendation for Joe to get an internship while in college. He not only cared for his daughters’ college education, he genuinely cares for all college kids. I will be praying for him.

  6. Again moved to tears! Just when I think I know where you may be heading with your amazing tales I’m jolted into another realm. Yet somehow you still manage to speak right to me! My father lost his battle with lymphoma more than 5 years ago now & I too look like my father & it is always taken as a compliment although remind me one day to share with you the one time it did not. Really all I am compelled to say at this moment is I love you!

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain