grateful amazement

finding wonder…everywhere.

Beloved is the Truth

2016 was definitely One Of Those Years for me.
Maybe it was One Of Those Years for you, too?
You know, the kind of year when your score on The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale puts you in the *very high risk of becoming ill in the near future* category.
//gulp//
The most hopeful thing I found to hang onto during the last six months of last year was that 2017 HAD TO BE BETTER.
The only way I could envision things going was UP…because…well…honestly…they couldn’t get much worse.
Could they?

So, on December 31, I made a poster with *2016* on it and then burned it to ash at the stroke of midnight…as the year turned, it burned.
It was a symbolic, fiery, and final end to one of the most difficult years of my life:
Separation after 27 years of marriage.
Unexpected, unplanned news from one of my four girlies.
Shocking, traumatic loss when my dad died suddenly and without warning – when we’d only just begun to reconcile our rocky relationship.
An unresolved health issue that took its toll both physically and emotionally.
And all of that happened in the last 180 days of 2016.

If I’m honest, 2017 hasn’t had quite the stellar start I’d hoped, but (so far) it has been less *stress-y*…for the most part. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when the calendar page turned, but it probably had something to do with glitter, sprinkles, sparkles, and buckets of confetti…and probably all kinds of time for frequent and deep soul rest. The kind of rest that would restore and refresh and redeem…and allow me to reclaim the life I’d thought I was supposed to be living.

You know how Scripture says that the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26)? Well, I’m thinking He did some big fill-in-my-blanks praying in my deep need for that kind of rest because way early in 2017, I got an email about Bonnie Gray’s brand-spankin’ new book, Whispers of Rest. And I’m telling you what – if the words on those pages aren’t a direct answer to the soul-cry-level prayers the Spirit said on my behalf, I don’t know what would be.

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Bonnie had me – and my heart – at Hello.

‘Life has gotten noisy. My heart feels frayed.
Like a child planting a seed and forgetting where she placed it, I wonder if anything beautiful and tender can break through the soil of my heart again. I try to pray, but sometimes it’s hard to find the words.’

And then I highlighted almost. every. word. in the Introduction:

‘I struggled to sleep and felt a weariness I couldn’t shake. My heart felt restless and, tossed by a sea of critical voices, paralyzed by overanalyzing and second-guessing myself.
I lost my spark. I lost the spring in my step and the song in my heart. Peace and joy were missing. I was surviving and competent, but deep in my soul I felt tired and uninspired. I knew life was supposed to be beautiful because God loved me, but I didn’t feel like life was beautiful, even though I was thankful for everything God had done in my life.
Losing my joy made me feel ashamed, until God’s whispers of rest loved me back to life. God wasn’t ashamed of my need. God understood my longing for beauty, peace, and intimacy – and He understands your heart, too.’

Truly, even simply reading those first words – before the book actually starts – had me wondering if somehow Bonnie had snuck into my world, peeked into my soul and then recorded what she found there.

As I progressed through Part One: Being the Beloved, I found myself highlighting even more – and hoping against hope that it was possible for me to fully embrace my true identity as one named Beloved, and delighted in, by my Maker.
After the events of late-2016, I felt rubbed raw, wounded, and wrecked…feeling beloved would take a major shift in perspective.
Because, let’s be honest – when the list of Hard Things that happen to you is long and heart-rending, *victim* is what you can end up feeling way more than *beloved*.
Or is that just me?

Friend, here’s the truth each of us has to choose to face: *Victim* is easy…almost a default setting that the enemy of our souls wants us to live from.
To stay in.
If we’re stuck in *victim*, there’s not much chance we’ll be able to embrace being anyone’s *beloved*…not even God’s.
*Beloved* takes some intentionality…some purpose.
Especially when things feel hard.
Betrayal. Change. Loss.

But, friend, Beloved is the truth.
Your truth.
And mine.
No matter what last year looked like.
No matter what this year is shaping up to be.
And if, like me, you need a soul-full guide on your journey to embrace that identity, please gift yourself a copy of Whispers of Rest.
It’s a forty-day journey towards hope and healing.
Like Bonnie says, ‘A lot can happen in forty days. A new rhythm. A new heart. It’s about finding your spark again. To be the Beloved. Just as you are.’

It’s a journey toward rest that’s shaking my world.
It’s a journey that’s changing me.
Restoring. Refreshing. Redeeming. Reclaiming.
I’m guessing it’s a journey your soul needs, too.

WOR just as you are.png

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Fear Makes You Flaky

There are a few things in this life that I know for sure.
The number of things I have yet to figure out far outweigh them, if I’m honest.
So, when I stumble onto something that I can put in the ‘I Know This’ column, I get pretty excited.
Don’t you?

Here’s one of those things…
(and I’m none too proud that it’s taken me this long to get clear on it)

Fear makes you flaky.

Flaky, so we’re clear, is defined this way:
~forming or tending to form flakes, or thin, crisp fragments
~tending to peel off or break easily into flakes
~tending to break apart into small, thin, flat pieces

I don’t know about you, but those very literal definitions resonate with me.

When I let fear dictate my decisions (like not attending a party because I’m sure I’ll look a fool or not going to church because the ‘Let’s take a minute and shake hands and greet one another’ time makes me certain I’ll faint or not saying hello to an acquaintance when I’m out and about because I’m sure-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt that I’ll say something stupid), I end up in thin, crisp fragments, breaking easily, and finding myself in a pile of small, thin. flat pieces.

Admitting these specific fears always garners me quizzical raised eyebrows from most of the dear souls I get brave enough to share them with.
In response, I hear such things as. ‘But you’re so good at small talk.’ ‘You seem so confident.’ ‘I would have never guessed you were scared.’

The truth is that I suffer from bouts of profuse Flop Sweat in most social situations.
I can even fog up my glasses and feel sweat rolling down my back while on a ‘normal’, ‘simple’ phone call.
It’s the weirdest thing.
And I’m doing everything I know to do to get a handle on it.

One of those ways is to acknowledge the truth that Fear Makes You Flaky.
And who, in their right mind, wants to be flaky?

Let’s dig a little deeper for a minute…
One of the definitions of ‘flaky’ at Urbandictionary.com is this:
~An unreliable person. A procrastinator. A careless or lazy person. Dishonest and doesn’t keep to their word. They’ll tell you they’re going to do one thing, and never do it. They’ll tell you that they’ll meet you somewhere, and show up an hour late or don’t show up at all.
(Just so we’re clear, I know that Urbandictionary.com is like the Wikipedia of words…with definitions provided by regular, everyday people…)

When I look at that particular definition, I see all kinds of things I don’t want to be.
But things that I know I’ve been.
And still am, some days.
Things I want to be done being.

And then I wonder, How?
How do I stop being so worried about how I’ll come off so that I can be focused on the PEOPLE around me?
How do I stop letting the voices in my head that tell me they’re sure no one likes me to crowd out the voices of the ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS telling me their stories?
How do I stop letting fear call the shots?

I think the answers to those questions lie in Simple Things…
Get to know – really know – what God says about me.
Embrace – really embrace – who He says I am.
Rest – really rest – in His love.

For so many years, I’ve known those answers.
Known them in my head.
I’ve just had the hardest time integrating them into my life, my heart, my being.
It’s a process, though, I’m sure.
And, like all processes, there will be steps forward and steps back.
Hopefully the forward motion exceeds the backward over time.

As I’m stumbling toward practicing those answers, there are a few practical things I’ve thought of that may just help…
~Show up, no matter how much Flop Sweat is happening.
~Ask good questions, then listen. Really listen.
~Get out of my head, where the Fear lives.
~Accept that not everyone is going to like me.
~Trust the unfolding of any given situation.
~Relax about having to ‘perform.’
~Know that others may be feeling just as nervous.
~Focus attention on the people around me.

I’d like to tell you that I can instantly recall all of those things in the heat of a social situation.
And that they always make a dent in the Fear.
But I’d be lying.

I can tell you, though, that I have hope in this, despite the quaking of my knees…
As I re-record with Truth the tapes that have played loudly in my head for most of my life, I believe the fear will dissipate.

And, in time, I’ll be less flaky.

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day TwentyTwo

I was laying in bed the other morning, trying to get my mind around the fact that it has really and truly been FIVE YEARS since they found the cancer that changed everything.

Yes.
Cancer changed everything.
My day-to-day.
My vocabulary.
My body.
My family.
My emotions.
My address.
My faith.
My friendships.
My views.
My dreams.
My goals.
My marriage.

Big anniversaries are weird like that, aren’t they?
When you’re in the middle of time passing, it feels a bit like walking in setting concrete.
But when you find yourself standing on the eve of a Big Anniversary, you can’t fathom how the days and years could have ended up in the rear view mirror so darn quickly.

Because things change.
All those things I listed – and then some.
They change.

Whether it’s an anniversary of a gain or one of a loss, the Change part of the equation is a given.
Especially when Big Things happen.
And we change with them.

For better or for worse?
That depends on whether we embrace the changes or run from them.
It’s both great AND terrible that we get to choose.
I pray we have the courage to choose well.
xo

~~~~~

August 13, 2013 (from my CaringBridge journal)
These days and weeks of ‘anniversaries’ ~ from the finding of cancer on July 23, 2010 to the start of chemo on November 8, 2010, and all the accompanying testing, surgeries, office visits, etc, in between ~ are proving to be quite emotionally unpredictable and roller-coaster-y for me.

Even three years later.

I guess grieving is like this.

But, boy, is it uncomfortable.

And strangely familiar.

Three years ago today, I underwent the stereotactic biopsy that confirmed the cancer that has changed the course of my life. It was the oddest, scariest, weirdest, MOST PAINFUL experience I’d had.

And, today, three years later, I am struggling.

With emotions I cannot seem to name.

Feelings I cannot seem to tame.

You’d think, after three years, that I wouldn’t be surprised. That I wouldn’t be taken off guard. That I’d be accustomed to the fact that grieving is unpredictable. That I’d at least have words, names, and strategies when emotions and feelings and memories like these pop up.

You’d think, maybe, that I’d be ‘over it’ ‘by now’.

You’d think.

But not so much.

Grieving is an odd, yet very common, thing. I’m learning more about it. And I am fascinated by the emotional and physiological effects it causes.

Grieving, in my experience, is a fluid thing. Sometimes, it’s like a flood, rising and spilling into places that are normally dry. Sometimes, it evaporates like the drips that end up on my stainless steel sink when no one wipes them up, leaving a telltale ring. Sometimes, it’s more of a gentle rain, soaking in slowly and {almost} refreshing. Sometimes, it rushes in like a tidal wave, knocking the very breath from your lungs and forcing you to squeeze shut your eyes.

Today, if I’m honest, it’s somewhere between a flood and a tidal wave.

I don’t remember if last August 13 had the same feel.

And I cannot predict next August 13.

In the interest of self-care amidst today’s grieving, I am allowing and acknowledging the feelings, even if I can’t name them. I am writing here. I will write – or draw – in my journal. I will let my body and my mind rest. If the tears fall, I will let them. I will not attach judgement to them. I will know that all is well.

And tomorrow, I will attend the funeral of a cancer friend who was so young, so full of life, so determined to beat this thing when last I saw her that my mind cannot seem to grasp the fact that she is gone Home. There is a grieving around that, too. And a gratitude for the short time that I knew her.

Gratitude and grieving.

Big, heavy things.

Even three years later.

We all want to do something to mitigate the pain of loss or to turn grief into something positive, to find a silver lining in the clouds. But I believe there is real value in just standing there, being still, being sad.
~John Green

**If you think of it, please pray for the family and friends of my friend who is with Jesus now. She left behind a husband and a very young son and many, many people who loved her and who are now just beginning this journey of grieving. Thank you!

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July 20101 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day TwentyOne

Places of Expansion.

I’ve experienced them in the physical (carrying four BIG babies and going from mastectomied-chest to reconstructed chest), in the emotional (meeting and loving a new baby every two years and parenting four girls through elementary, middle, and high school), and in the spiritual (working to forgive myself and others and learning to find God in things like a difficult marriage and cancer).

When I think about it, I have to admit not all of those expansions were super-comfortable to go through…even when the end results (babies, boobies, graduations, anniversaries, etc) were ultimately positive.
And redemptive.

Growing pains.

I remember the summer between my sixth grade and seventh grade years.
I grew SEVEN INCHES in those three months.
And, let me tell you, those pains in my bones were crazy-awful.
I can still remember them.
Almost like it was yesterday.
But I’m glad I went through them.
They are the reason I’m 5’11” today.
And even though it hurt, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I like being tall.

So here’s what I’ve come to…
I’m not sure we can get to Places of Expansion without going through Growing Pains.
Whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, though, when we can lean into the pain, there’s a good chance we’ll come out on the other side stretched, sculpted, shaped in ways that honor the incredible, miraculous genius with which we were created.

Doesn’t that sound wonderfully expansive?

~~~~~

February 2, 2013
‘My Cups Runneth Over’
{Ok, so I cracked myself up when I thought of the perfect title for this update. I mean, for real.}

In all the Not-So-Clear PET Scan / Questionable Ultrasound / Necessary Follow-Up CT Scan Business of the past several weeks, the Reconstruction Process and all its hilarity and travails kind of took a backseat here in my Journal the last few months. Understandably so, if I must say. From my vantage point, anyway.

But, now that the Happy News Phone Call is a brilliant, shiny, magnificent part of my history, it’s time to get back to the FrankenBooby Saga, don’t you think? There must be some Inquiring Minds among you, right? *For those squeamish souls who would rather not read on, suffice it to say that all is proceeding well in the reVamping of my Chestal Area. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt my feelings a bit if you choose to stop reading. Just know that you will miss out on some pretty funny-as-long-as-they’re-happening-to-someone-else happenings I’m going to share in the next paragraphs. *wink

Over the past few months, I’ve had weekly get-togethers with Cyndy (the plastic surgeon’s nurse practitioner), gi-normous needles, huge saline-filled syringes, ‘stud-finders’, and really attractive (note the sarcasm here) hospital-ish gowns that ‘open in the front.’ (For the record, in my case, that’s not much better than the ones that ‘open in the back’…I am not a fan of meeting myself coming OR going in those darn things!) After each appointment, I have had to pop some ibuprofen to manage the bit of discomfort that apparently comes with the territory when one is sprouting new TaTas. And I have alternately felt like one of those laboratory mice used to grow human ears (on their backs! Really! Google it!) and a pubescent girl in fast forward. Oh, and a Barbie Doll. (I’ll get into that in just a second…) My arms, having not had a chest to contend with these last 2 years, are slowly becoming accustomed to these ‘growths’ that can sometimes get in the way. It really is quite an experience.

This week, I got to see the plastic surgeon as it was time for him to assess how many more fills I would need before getting to the Holding Pattern stage of this whole deal. (That stage lasts 2-4 months, so that the skin and pectoral muscles that are being stretched by the expanders have time to achieve their stretchiest stretch.) Cyndy thought he’d say three more would be needed, but he surprised us both and set the Number of Fills Remaining at two. Cyndy got to use the ‘stud-finder’ before I left the office that day to administer the second-to-last one. Next week will be my final meeting with those gi-normous syringes. I have to say that I am going to miss chatting with Cyndy, but I will NOT miss those Weapons of Mass Inflation!

Here are some fascinating things related to all this Getting A Matched Set stuff:

~The expanders themselves are made of a silicone shell.They are 550cc expanders.
~I currently have 700cc in each expander. *This is where feeling like a Barbie Doll comes in. Would that I could claim her more shapely figure, her cute wardrobe, her seemingly endless list of successful careers, her fab homes, cars, motor coaches…alas, it is her hard plastic chest that I find myself possessing. I guess when you over-fill expanders, they get kinda solid. Youch.
~I will spend almost four months with a total of 750cc’s in each of these 550cc expanders. My surgery date is set for June 6, just after Dina’s graduation and a special trip to South Dakota with my mom’s side of the family.
~It is super odd to get ‘charlie horses’ near one’s sternum from the stretching of areas that maybe weren’t originally designed to be stretched like so much Silly Putty.
~I am starting to understand the brave souls who’ve walked this Reconstruction Path before me who told me that it can get pretty uncomfortable. Let’s just say that trying to get comfortable while sleeping with a couple mini boulders perched on one’s chest isn’t the dreamiest challenge.
~I’m told the implants themselves are worlds apart from the expanders as far as comfort, feeling more natural, etc. I sure hope that’s the case!

So you see, my cups really DO runneth over! Presently 150cc’s over, to be exact. And, all joking aside, I am grateful to be in this place. This Place of Expansion. There are deep metaphors that rumble about when I put it like that. Someday, I will explore them here.

For now, I’m going to find the bottle of ibuprofen and warm up my heat pack. The ‘Girls’ are getting a little achy.

Life finds its purpose and fulfillment in the expansion of happiness. ~Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

…thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. ~Psalm 23:5b

(Pictured are the Gi-Normous Syringes, Stud-Finder, and Purple Marker.)
(from my CaringBridge journal)

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Twenty

Before I wrote this piece in my CaringBridge journal, I always thought that if I had peace in the middle of something, I’d be calm, cool, collected, even comfortable. And when I didn’t experience those feelings, I worried that I wasn’t doing that Trusting Thing right enough. Like if I really trusted that all was truly being worked out for my good, it would be evident in my ability to be relaxed. Chill. Breathing deep and sitting pretty.

For me, believing that actually added to the pressure I felt.
Which turned out to always be the opposite of peace.
And it compounded the strain caused by whatever thing brought the original upset.

I wonder if maybe you can relate.

Let’s be real…sometimes the upsets are big…scary…horrible…soul-shaking.
They rattle our cages and shake our foundations.
Peace can be pretty hard to find in that kind of tremor.

From the time God offered me the image of a butterfly as an example of what peace could look like, I’ve been able to be kind to myself during the times when calming jangling nerves and quieting turbulent thoughts seems all but impossible. I’ve been able to remind myself that sometimes peace – that desire to trust in the unfolding and just be – will look a bit fluttery. I’ve been able to lean in and accept the flitting as peace like a butterfly.

I hope you’ll find peace like a butterfly today, too, friend.

~~~~~

January 21, 2013
{A quick update here – to serve as kind of a Memory Aid for me, later, when all of this has been relegated to the fuzzy and distant past.}

I have butterflies today.

Not the kind I’d expect. Not where I’d expect them to be. And not at all related to conscious worry. (Although, there could be a smidge of worry deep down…just sayin’.)

I’ve spent much of the day, flitting from one thing to the next, not quite able to focus or complete any task, thought, or sentence even. And it was about 2 o’clock when I think I kind of realized what was going on…

I have butterflies today.

The kind that cause your brain to flit and flutter from one thought, idea, plan to the next, not in any order, not with any sense of purpose, not landing any place for more than the tiniest of moments.

Distracted. Unfocused. Fragmented.

And I think it’s because of the CT scan that is scheduled for tomorrow. (*An abdominal scan has been added to the chest one originally ordered to check that reactive lymph node due to a pain I’ve had in my right side for the last month or so.) The Six Week Wait has actually gone by rather quickly and January 22 is about to arrive.

Tomorrow could be another Line of Demarcation. Or it could just be another day.

But not really.

Not just another day.

Because, if nothing shows up (indicating that All is Well), it can’t just be another day.

It will be a Day to Celebrate.

And if something does show up, it will be a Line of Demarcation.

But, if that happens, it will also be a day to remember the importance of hanging onto the words God whispered to me in that changing room over two years ago…They are going to find something, but you are going to be ok.

Hanging onto those words can make even a Day of Demarcation a Day to Celebrate, if you allow yourself think of it in terms of faith, hope, expectancy.

I don’t know if butterflies accomplish anything each time they land on something. I don’t know if they are really as jumpy as they appear. I don’t know if they realize how beautifully crazy they look in their flighty-ness.

Maybe, in spite of all their flitting and fluttering, they are peaceful. Doing what they do. What comes naturally to them.

In that sense, I can be peaceful today, too. Peaceful like a butterfly.

Doing what I do.

What comes naturally to me.

And, today, that looks like a whole lot of flitting and fluttering.

I was walking as best I could in the light of previous revelation. ~Neil T Anderson

Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine. ~Jeffrey Glassberg

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Nineteen

Waiting.

Who chooses that particular state of being on purpose?
Doesn’t it mostly feel foisted upon us when we feel least adequate to handle it with any kind of grace?
Isn’t it sorta maddening to find ourselves at the whim of some mysterious, unseen calendar?

But sometimes, no matter how we try to plan it, construct it, reason it, organize it, life is all about that Hurry Up And Wait thing.

And then there are other times when another message comes through loud and clear.
One that can be just as disconcerting as Holding-Pattern Waiting.
One that can be just as frightening, frustrating, and fatiguing as Just-Stay-Right-Here Waiting.
One that can be just as rock-in-your-shoe irritating as Don’t-Look-For-the-Map Waiting.

That other message?
It’s the one that tells you the wait is over.
That now is the time to act.
To move.
To risk.

It’s when that message is on repeat in my life that I engage in conversations with God that look an awful lot like this…
‘Um. I’m sure You don’t mean NOW. Right?!’
‘Yeah. About that. I think You have me confused with someone who is ready.’
‘Sorry. What was that? You want me to do something? But what? And how?’
‘Okay, but not until You make it clear that I have figured out the next step.’

Can you relate?

Here are a few things (in no particular order) I’m finding about being moved out of the Waiting into the Doing…
#1 – I don’t have to have all the answers right away.
#2 – Trusting the unfolding is especially important.
#3 – I’m going to get some of the Doing wrong.
#4 – There is no guarantee of success. Only guarantees of growth.
#5 – I have to let go of my fear about what other people will think.
#6 – The moving forward will not always be smooth. Or pretty.
#7 – I need to allow time for rest, even in the Doing.
#8 – Telling myself to breathe deep goes a long way in managing stress.
#9 – I can always ask for help.
#10 – There will be community built along the way.

We’ll all face periods of Waiting mixed with spaces of time when Doing is priority.
And we all have the incredibly power-filled choice to decide how we will show up in those times.
So, whether you’re in the Waiting or the Doing right now, take a big, deep breath and choose well.
I’m cheering you on.

~~~~~

December 30, 2012 (from my CaringBridge journal)
The last several days, if I’m honest, I feel like I’ve been held together with spit and feathers. In other words, tears have flooded my eyes frequently, my cheeks have been marked with many a tear track, my nose is a little red and raw from all the snot-blowing, and there have been some sleepless snippets of nighttime spent silently trying to quiet some not-so-comforting thoughts.

I tend not to be a cry-er. And I feel like I do at least a passable job of remembering to turn things over to God and not entertain too much worry at any given time. (Even if that means repeated turning over. *wink)

So this Spit and Feathers thing feels super uncomfortable to me. And I wonder if it’s just part and parcel of this thing we are all faced with from time to time: Waiting.

Here’s a sampling of what I’m learning, in the Waiting:

In the Waiting, I’m learning that it’s best just to let the tears come. (As long as I’m not in line at the store or somewhere else public. *gasp!) Stan is not scared away by them (at least not any more than any other man *wink, again) And the girls can learn that tears are not something to be embarrassed about, from their place on the sidelines. Plus, if I stuff the tears and keep them inside, they only serve to intensify that Coming-Apart-At-The-Seams feeling.

In the Waiting, I’m learning that it’s ok to cry out to God, asking for comfort. Life isn’t safe. And He never promised it would be. But He did promise to never leave or forsake me. Or you. And just because the sleepless snippets of nighttime are silent doesn’t mean God is.

In the Waiting, I’m learning that Spit and Feathers holding me together are enough for now. Because now isn’t forever. It’s just now. And, even though it’s not always comfortable, it is what it is. For now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crazy about waiting. And not just for tests and test results. I’m just not that good with it in any circumstance. It takes patience. And grace. And trust. And faith. And some level of creativity to occupy myself – to busy my mind and hands – so that worry doesn’t creep in and take over.

Patience. Grace. Trust. Faith. Creativity. All things I work on. All things I’d like to say I’ve mastered. Ultimately, all things I desperately need more of.

As 2012 comes to a close and the New Year peeks – bright, shiny, and full-of-promise – around the corner, I’m hanging on to as many of God’s promises as I can get my hands (and heart) around. Mostly the one about hope and a future (Jer 29:10-12 and Prov 23:18). And the one about all things working together for good (Rom 8:28). But He’s lead me to a lot more in the last couple days, too. Good stuff.

Happy, happy New Year to you and all of yours. As it arrives and unfolds, may you find in each day gifts and blessings and promises kept from the One who loves you, holds you, guides you, and sustains you. In the Waiting, and otherwise. *smile

If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine. ~ Morris West

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Eighteen

Soul spirals.
Those times when, despite your best, bravest efforts, you feel your heart and spirit being dragged down a whirling vortex of worries, a funnel cloud of frustrations, a tumult of troubles.
Ever have a day like that?
I’m here to tell you I can totally relate.
I can find myself tumbling at the slightest click of a trigger.
To make matters worse, I am a champion Kitchen Sink-er, too.
You know, when the thing that has your spirit gray and soggy follows you around like the little cloud Winnie the Pooh’s pal Eeyore drags with him…and then you think of EVERY OTHER REASON YOU SHOULD BE FEELING BAD…so you proceed to catalog and inventory EVERY LITTLE THING till you get to the Kitchen Sink…and you figure it CAN’T GET MUCH WORSE so you toss that Sink in there, too.
Isn’t that just thow we do?
(Tell me I’m not alone in this.)

What do you and I need most on days like that?
How do we stop the spiral?

Perspective.
It really is all about how we see those things that threaten to leave our souls tossed and turned and twisted, if you ask me.
One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, combines a couple words to paint a great word picture that illustrates the way we see is often more important that what we see…
Perspective + Spectacles = Perspectacles
Isn’t that awesome?

So there’s some hope for us Kitchen Sink Spiralers, right?
It’s as simple – and as hard – as this…
We can choose which perspectacles to wear on any given day.

(On a side note, realizing that the perspectacles that others wear may not filter things exactly the same way ours do can go a long way in promoting understanding and grace in our relationships, don’t you think?)

~~~~~

December 13, 2012 (from my CaringBridge Journal)
I’d like to say I have definitive, positive, clear, concise info to share here regarding the results of the Right Pit Ultrasound I had on Tuesday. I’d like to say that, but I can’t. At least, not yet.

Dr Reynolds’ nurse called Tuesday afternoon with the news that the radiologist’s report concluded there is a ‘hyper-avid lymph node that is reactive and possibly structurally suspicious’ and, instead of having a repeat ultrasound in 3 months, I’m slotted to have a chest CT scan in 6 weeks. My understanding at this point is that they think it’s likely nothing (and quite possibly due to the trauma from the mastectomy/expander placement and the angry histamine reaction I had to that bovine bit) but are uncertain enough that it warrants closer follow-up than originally planned.

It’s pretty much an inconclusive conclusion and that means more unknowns.

And, honestly, it’s taken me these two days to process the emotions that began cascading after I hung up from the nurse’s call. All the resiliency, all the positivity, all the faith, all the belief, all the stamina, all the hope — I felt like it was all draining out of me and pooling in a mud-colored puddle that quickly became ankle-deep and threatened to solidify like so much quick-set cement. It didn’t feel fair that #1 – the damn PET scan WASN’T CLEAR and #2 – the frickin’ follow-up ultrasound only CREATED MORE UNKNOWNS. (Pardon my blue language.)

As I felt my heart start its spiral downward, it was like the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz, minus the famous music…all the ‘reasons’ I had to throw the Biggest Pity Party In History whizzed past my mind’s eye: I had been diagnosed with cancer, I am still waiting for all the different systems in my body that went wonky from the 52 weeks of chemo to come back online, I had to leave a job I really liked, money is tighter than it would be if I still brought home a paycheck, my creativity had disappeared in the years of battling health issues, my girls have missed out on so many of the Fun Mom things I used to do but haven’t been able to for so long, the empty walls of my house that mock me because I haven’t allotted energy to hang things, the dirty toilets (and showers and tubs and counters and mirrors and floors and appliances, etc..) that scream ‘FAILURE!’ at me when the day ends and I have spent my energy for the day on something other than cleaning, the broken relationships and betrayals that have become mile markers along the way and the worry that I’ll never figure out the ins-and-outs of healthy interaction, the fears of never finding my new self and/or a new normal in all of this…sheesh, I think I even spotted the kitchen sink in the milieu!

Please, tell me I’m not alone in this. That we all spiral, with everything but the kitchen sink swirling pathetically around our heads and hearts. That sometimes the trigger is a phone call, lack of sleep, snotty kids, or even just low blood sugar. It sure would be good to know I’m not alone. Because I sure felt a tad crazy in the middle of it.

And then, this morning, I woke up super early in a darkened bedroom with the yummy Gerard Butler yelling something like ‘This is Sparta!’ over and over again as part of a dance remix (no, it wasn’t a waking nightmare…just the alarm sound on my phone *smile) and I realized that the darkness inside my heart had lifted a little. in His mercy, God showed me that each of those Poor Me’s had an answer, and those answers made up my very own Yellow Brick Road…yes, I’d been diagnosed with cancer AND THANK GOD THEY CAUGHT IT EARLY! I do have some wonky systems after all that chemo AND THAT CHEMO SAVED MY LIFE! I miss my job AND SOMEDAY, WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT, I’LL FIND ANOTHER FULFILLING VOCATION! Money is tight AND WE STILL HAVE ALL WE NEED AND A GOD WHO IS FAITHFUL IN PROVISION! I feel stifled creatively AND ALL I HAVE TO DO IS ONE LITTLE THING EACH DAY TO NURTURE IT BACK TO VIBRANCY! My girls have missed out on some things AND I STILL HAVE THAT FUN MOM-NESS AT MY CORE, READY TO BLESS THEM! The walls are empty AND I CAN ASK MY HELPFUL HUBBY TO HANG A FEW THINGS AT A TIME WITH ME! I do hear ‘Failure!’ when I look around at the grime and dust bunnies AND I CAN MASTER THE ‘LICK AND A PROMISE’ METHOD UNTIL I HAVE BUILT UP STAMINA TO CLEAN LIKE I MEAN IT! The pain of the broken relationships and betrayals is real AND I CAN KEEP TURNING THE HURT OVER TO THE ONE WHO INTIMATELY KNOWS THAT PAIN! I do worry about being able to figure out healthy interaction AND I CAN PRAY FOR DISCERNMENT AND TRUST GOD WITH THE UNFOLDING! Finding and defining my new self and this new normal is overwhelming AND I CAN ACCEPT THAT I DON’T HAVE TO GET IT ALL RIGHT ALL THE TIME – IT’S A PROCESS! And as far as that darn kitchen sink, I CAN DO MY BEST TO LEAVE IT RIGHT WHERE IT IS – IN THE KITCHEN! *wink

I am so thankful to have found this Yellow Brick Road! Especially in light of the fact that the unknowns surrounding the hyper-avid node can sometimes feel an awful lot like walking through a forest of Talking Trees or being carried away by the Wicked Witch of the West’s Flying Monkeys.

My chest CT is scheduled for January 22. I am going to pray for the strength and hope to get through these next few weeks with an abundance of faith and joy and that sweet peace that passes understanding. I’ll pray the same for you in the midst of your holidays, too, ok?

All you have to do is know where you’re going. The answers will come to you of their own accord. ~Earl Nightingale

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Seventeen

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by the theoretical and yet craved the practical.

Warm, fuzzy, sweet ideas grab me and get all kinds of juicy hope flowing through my veins.
Then that bubbly feeling is quickly replaced by my desire, my need, for cold, hard, facts and clear steps and irrefutable proof.

Take the CaringBridge journal update I shared here yesterday.
The one that encouraged taking a ‘Celebrate anyway’ stance…even in the face of Hard Things.
As I drifted off to sleep last night, pondering those words I wrote, I couldn’t help but think, ‘What does that even look like in real life?’

Honestly, I ask myself that question more than almost any other.
So it didn’t surprise me to find that I wrote the following CaringBridge journal update just days after the ‘Celebrate anyway’ one.
Trying to pull apart such a bold, inviting word.

Today, I’m recovering from honoring the emotions yesterday, so ‘celebrating anyway’ looks like breathing slow and deep, being gentle with myself, offering gratitude for this life, and just doing the next thing…all the while trusting that if I do the work to stay mindful and keep my heart open, ‘celebrating anyway’ can become second nature.

Maybe that’s the trick of it.
Realizing and accepting that ‘celebrating anyway’ will look different, even feel different, in whatever circumstance or situation we find ourselves.
And knowing there’s grace for that.

~~~~~

December 9, 2012
If you’ve had a chance to read my most recent journal update here, you’ll remember that I felt compelled to ‘celebrate anyway’ – in regards to whatever the PET scan and other assorted tests showed, as well as in each other circumstance and situation in which I find myself.

Today, and actually every day since this past Thursday when I got the results of the PET scan that showed it did NOT come back clean and clear and boring and normal, the question on the tip of my tongue is, ‘So, what does that look like anyway?’

What does it look like to ‘celebrate anyway’ when I have an ultrasound scheduled this coming Tuesday to investigate further the area that ‘lit up’ on the PET scan?

What does it look like to ‘celebrate anyway’ when wrestling my thoughts away from What If? takes more emotional energy than I care to admit?

What does it look like to ‘celebrate anyway’ when the currently unknown cause of the bright spot on the PET scan is so…well, UNKNOWN?

I am really not so sure I have what it takes to answer any of those questions – or the bajillion others that bang around my head and heart in the midst of all of this – but, in my stronger moments, I DO remember that I have on my side the One who KNOWS every unknown, who SEES inside the tissues and fibers and even the cells that ‘lit up’ on the scan, who HOLDS me firmly in His hand when I feel like I’m going to break into a thousand pieces, who GIVES me glimpses of His presence in the faces of Stan, my girls, and the dear friends who have been so steadfast, who COMFORTS me in the depths and darkness of my fears.

So, for me, at least for now, to ‘celebrate anyway’ is to lean into Him as hard and fast and deep as I can. And give Him praise for KNOWING, SEEING, HOLDING, GIVING, and COMFORTING.

There may not be confetti, balloons, streamers, fun, and games in the celebrating right now, but I trust that will come. Because I am trusting the unfolding. And I am in awe of the One whose hands are gently working out the creases.

If I come to mind in the next week, I’d covet a prayer or two for good, clear, definitive results of Tuesday’s ultrasound. Dr Reynolds and the radiologist who read the results of the PET scan are thinking that the area the lit up (my right armpit) could possibly be due to inflammation there since September’s surgery and the reaction that side of my chest has had to reconstruction. I am choosing to believe that they are spot on and that it’s inflammation and NOT CANCER that lit up. I hope to have the results of the ultrasound by the end of next week, so will be sure to keep you posted.

Until then, I’ll be celebrating anyway — in whatever way He leads me.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. ~Corrie Ten Boom

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Eleven

When I wrote this CaringBridge journal update, I had just celebrated my two-year cancerversary and had just received a diagnosis of mononucleosis. Talk about two completely different ends of the spectrum…victory and celebration on one end and defeat and exhaustion on the other.

Don’t the dichotomies of life – and their ensuing tensions – just make your head spin sometimes?
Yeah.
Mine, too.

And when my head is spinning (in a loopy, disoriented way, NOT a Linda Blair-Exorcist way, just to be clear *grin), it takes a lot of deep breathing and soul steadying and remember-practicing to grasp hold of the truth that I am most powerful when I admit and acknowledge my weakness.

Admittedly, for me, even the admission doesn’t erase the tension, the confusion, the question.
You know the one, right?
The ‘How do I survive this?’ one.
I’ve found that letting the question hang, suspended in the air, whispered by my heart, is just the invitation God needs to step in and calm my jittery, anything-but-serene spirit.
With His reminder that that question?
It’s His to answer.
In His time.
In His way.
And, even though that way, His way, is frequently beyond my puny understanding, there’s comfort in that.

~~~~~

July 29, 2012
I am powerful as I navigate this unknown territory called ‘Survival’.

I am powerful as I learn better how to truly rest after recently being diagnosed with a case of mononucleosis.

I am powerful as I look forward to getting back to the gym – back to an aggressive workout schedule that I believe is increasing the faith I have in my body and what it can do, instead of feeling like a victim of it, like it has somehow betrayed me.

I am powerful as I struggle to define friendship, the being a friend and the having a friend, after experiencing significant betrayal in that arena.

I am powerful as I hold on to hope with a tenacious grip, even when not much of anything in my current life resembles that of the one I lived just a couple short years ago.

I am powerful as I continue to be faced with decisions in and around more upcoming surgeries – surgeries that may bring a bit more of a sense of ‘normalcy’ to my experiences.

I am powerful as I remember all that I have survived even before I became a cancer Survivor.

I am powerful as I find my voice – my real voice, not the one I’ve previously put on and used based on what others expected of me.

I am powerful as I see the changes that I need to make and summon the courage to make them…even if I fall down sometimes in the changing.

I am powerful as I take the hand with which I often find myself self-consciously covering my throat and place it upon my heart, absorbing strength from its every beat.

I am powerful as I listen to the Truth and what He says about me and allow it to take the place of all the old, dated messages that seem hell-bent on keeping me down.

I am powerful as I choose to disregard the words some others would use as flaming arrows, meant to be lodged in my heart, and instead silently offer them grace edged with a measure of pity.

I am powerful as I embrace the ones who’ve chosen to stay – even when it has been messy, hard, confusing, and tiring.

I am powerful as I look behind with the knowledge that regrets can become mentors, making what’s ahead better than it could have been without them.

I am powerful as I stand under the weight of the grieving – losses of what was, losses of what could have been, losses physical and relational — but losses that will not define me.

I am powerful as I practice looking into the mirror and offering love and acceptance to the me I see – curly, thinning hair, single-breasted, heavier than is healthy, kind eyes, beautiful smile, broad shoulders, muscles in process…and realizing that the me I see is so much more than any mirror can reflect.

I am powerful as I celebrate my strength – physical, emotional, spiritual.

I am powerful as I give glory where glory is due – to the One in Whom the power I claim originates, the One Who so graciously and faithfully and mysteriously offers Himself as the Power in which I stand.

For you see, ‘He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me!’ 2Cor 12:8-10 (Amp)

…and in all these areas, at one time or another, I feel weak.

Incredibly weak.

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July 2010 – July 2015 :: A Cancer Survivor’s Retrospective :: Day Ten

When I wrote the following update in my CaringBridge journal, I was almost two whole years post-diagnosis. And the concerns listed illustrate just how much life changes when cancer upends things.
I mean, just look at all the tests and follow-ups and appointments mentioned.
That is a cancer survivor’s New Normal.
At least for a time.
And staying on top of it all – and advocating for oneself – is made all the more confuzzling when you throw in Chemo Brain and Appointment Fatigue.

When Paul says ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.’ in 1 Corinthians, I don’t think he had any clue the things our modern-day bodies would face.
I don’t think he could’ve imagined exactly what a complex thing it would be to ‘honor God with [our] bodies’ in 2015.

Honestly, I would be the first to stomp my foot and whine, ‘Paul. C’mon. You don’t get how hard it is. I’m too tired to try to figure out how to honor God with this broken, scarred, parts-missing body. Cut me some slack, man.’

But, friend, being brave enough to pursue good health is worth the work.
Having the courage to call and make appointments and follow up is worth the work.
Summoning the tenacity to ask the questions and act on the answers is worth the work.

Our bodies are a gift.
A precious, miraculous gift.
One that we’re called to steward in ways that bring God honor for His creativity and ingenuity.

So pursue good health.
Make that appointment.
Act on the answers.
And trust the One who created your body with care and artistry to be faithful in showing you ways to use it to His glory.

~~~~~

May 18, 2012
Last Tuesday, I had my SECOND 3-month post-chemo oncology appointment! (Time flies when you’re SURVIVING…and having fun! YAHOO!!) Dr Reynolds and I laugh a lot whenever I go in for an appointment and I leave each one even more convinced of the Biblical truth in Proverbs – ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine’’ (17:22) Amidst all the laughs, we discussed my iron (still in the basement, according to the lab work I had done the day before), the good reports from the clean endoscopy and colonoscopy, the questionable result of the celiac biopsy (*more on that later), and, in the physical exam portion of the appointment, the discovery of a lump in my right breast (**more on that later, too). All in all, it was a good appointment and we set the date for the NEXT 3-month appointment as I left the office!

And now, a couple quick expansions on those asterisked things:

*After hearing nothing from the GI’s office in the two weeks after the biopsy, I asked Dr Reynolds if the results were on the computer (eg –in my chart) and, lo and behold, they were (and had been since 2 days after the test was done!). After reading the results, Reynolds said that it looks like I have some level of celiac, but that’s ‘not [his] area of expertise.’ So, I asked for a copy of the results and looked them up online once I got home. Every result had the word ‘celiac’ in it. Long story short, I called the GI’s office the next day to see if I could get the results from them, figuring that I would get more info on what the next step would be (the path report concluded with the phrase ‘Clinical correlation is required.’), only to find that the doc and his nurse were out of the office for several days. When I did finally hear back from the nurse, she told me the result was ‘negative’. I had also called my nurse practitioner’s office, hoping that they had received the results as she was listed as a recipient on all the paperwork. She had not received a copy of the results at that point and had to call and request that they be faxed to her office. When it was faxed to her, she called and let me know that yes, indeed, I have, at the very least, a high level of gluten intolerance or partially treated, latent celiac disease. Not so ‘negative’, if you ask me! (My nurse practitioner said that my mainly gluten-free diet of the last 4 years was the reason the test result didn’t show full-blown celiac.) As I said in my last update, going 100% gluten-free won’t be much of a change for me, so that’s no biggie. The thing that fries me is that if I hadn’t been on top of all of this, asked for my own copy of the results, and followed through, I would be walking around thinking that all was well on the celiac/gluten intolerance front! Moral of the story: Please, please, PLEASE be your own advocate in your health care! Ask questions! Be proactive! Educate yourself! It’s SO important!

{stepping off her soapbox}

**At my last oncology appointment, I mentioned to Dr Reynolds that I had been having some pain/soreness in my remaining (right) breast. We kind of chalked it up to some overactive lymph glands picking up the slack for the missing left-side ones in the face of a bit of a cold/virus. He did say that if it kept causing me problems, I should have an ultrasound to make sure all was well. While the pain didn’t go all the way away, it came and went enough that I felt like I was able to track it as the lymph issue we talked about – it seemed like it would flare when I was congested or fighting a bug and then settle down when I felt better. I thought I’d better bring it up again at this last appointment, though, as it hadn’t completely disappeared. When he got to that part of the exam, Dr Reynolds concentrated on the area quite a bit (and it hurt like a bugger!), all the while kind of mumbling, ‘It doesn’t feel like a cancer. I don’t think it’s cancer. This doesn’t feel like cancer.’ He then said, ‘I want you to see Dr Viney. She’ll be able to determine what it is.’ This, I have to admit, took me quite by surprise. After all, Dr Viney is a breast cancer specialist. A surgeon. If he didn’t think it was cancer, why a surgeon right away? Why not an ultrasound or MRI? (These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I drove to Dina’s art show that afternoon…) I have since really come to a peace about it – Dr Viney has an amazing reputation for being able to fairly accurately determine if a lump is cancer by palpation alone, I want to have that breast removed anyway, going straight to the surgeon eliminates the waiting time that invariably comes along with testing, and, lastly, God continues to unfold the map of this journey with tenderness, mercy, grace, and love…I am finding deep rest in that!

Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle. ~Christian D Larson

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