Tuesday, May 31, 2011

may 21st - one year later

may 21st 2011.  this year:  surgery.
may 21st 2010.  last year:  words written in my blog:

God is allowing me these rose-colored pictures as encouragement.   He knows i know enough to be more than intimidated in bringing home a child with a heart condition.  but, He is not allowing me to set down too long in that overwhelming place.  He is encouraging the sunlight.  He is encouraging the sweetness.  He is encouraging the beauty that will be ours regardless.  i am so very thankful. 
                                                                                          ~ "nesting" ~ entry: may 21, 2010

what a difference a year makes.  just one year ago we were nesting.  readying our home and our children and our selves for the addition of a little china girl we planned to call bella.  we couldn't even truly imagine what was ahead.  we knew big changes were coming, but it was almost impossible to wrap our minds around what this meant.  i poured myself into the physical readying as we anticipated the long-awaited child.   i thought about paint color and bedding and tiny shoes and tea sets, but sometimes in the middle of all those lovely images i found myself making an abrupt stop and wondering.  i stopped and wondered about what life might look like soon.  we knew bella came with some serious medical needs and we didn't know exactly how she was doing or what quite to expect.  we were getting next to nothing in way of updates.  all of us, at times, felt overwhelmed by the unknown.  by the unclear.  we certainly felt ill-equipped.  but we continued on, sometimes worried, but mostly, busy and nesting and choosing to trust all of it came from our heavenly Father.   He had brought us into this world of international adoption.  He was bringing us to bella soon.  and He would very much continue to bring.  to bring enough strength and enough grace and enough faith and enough hands and enough space and enough time as we added her to our family.  looking back now, almost a year later, i can tell you, He Did.  oh, how He Did.   in fact, He brought all of it abundantly.  He brought us blessing which we never imagined possible.  He brought us a little girl impossible not to love.  He brought us a sunny child with a repaired heart, beyond our hopes.  He brought us closer together as a family.  He brought us community unbelievable.  He brought us joy unspeakable.  He even brought us deeper in Him.  and throughout these past 10 months He has continued to bring.

may 21st, one year later,  i was brought to the hospital.  i was brought to a place of Great Taking.  a part of me was removed.  amputated.  after all this bringing why must God now suddenly change His course and Take.  i won't tell you those thoughts haven't run through my sad heart.   i am a woman and i hurt for what is gone.  it is so much more than a physical wound.  that is only the tiniest, most minute part.  so, it is easy for me to sit here in my hurt and view these past weeks as a month of Great Taking.  but i know my God. and i've seen how He works.  and i know He is a God who loves to bless and provide abundantly....even in loss...especially in loss.    He is a God not limited by words or definitions.  He is a God who can even, miraculously, bring while He takes.  He isn't defined by our simple, small minds.   again, it might be hard to conceive, but sometimes God Chooses to Take Away in order that He might Bring Even More Abundantly.... in ways even better and bigger than imagined.  (just fyi: i am so not talking about my physical reconstruction here, lest you get any ideas)...i mean, that sounds kind of crazy in a way, but isn't it possible?  and if it is possible, isn't it wonderful?  and if it is wonderful, isn't it worth it? and if it is worth it, then can't i Still Praise Him?

a year ago i wrote, "He is not allowing me to set down too long in that overwhelming place."  i know better today what that means. i certainly have a new understanding of "that overwhelming place."   He encouraged us all the way through the many hard steps to our bella.  He is encouraging us all the way through the hard steps of my health.  one year ago we couldn't even understand the blessing He would bring....in many ways, we are the same today.  we can't begin to imagine.  i know there are some obvious differences.  but i assure you last year there was a great deal that was unknown, unclear and untried.  we were choosing to forever change the face of our family.  last year it was the blessing which came with addition. this year, the blessing will come with removal.  there is no magic formula.   God provides.  He provides in both.  His provision knows no limit.   He provides when we unclench our controlling fists and surrender. when we let go.  we learned this lesson a little last year.  we are continuing to learn.  always learning.

He gives and takes away.
He gives and takes away. 
and still my heart will say...
blessed be the name of the Lord.
i've sung those lyrics over and over.  countless times.  i may have even sung them thoughtlessly.  maybe flippantly.  i am not sure if i will be miraculously changed now.  i'm not sure if i will always be able to deeply and truly and perfectly connect with what i sing. say. pray. promise. proclaim.  i am still selfish and i am still sinful...and even after a cancer diagnosis, i am, at times, flippant. adoption didn't miraculously perfect me.  and i am pretty sure breast cancer won't miraculously perfect me.  but i know God is doing a perfect work in me.  it may not be finished anytime soon...so don't hold your breath.  but i know He is using all of this in a miraculous way.   He uses The Giving and The Taking.  The Addition and The Subtraction.  The Lovely and The Unlovely. The Easy and The Hard.  He uses all of it.  and still i choose to say blessed be His name.   

"the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; the name of the Lord be praised."  ~ job 1:21

Friday, May 27, 2011

a hard day

yesterday was hard.  there is just no way around that word sometimes.  hard.  the day caught me off guard.  i woke with plans for one kind of outcome, and instead ended up with an entirely different kind.  but isn't that the way it goes every now and then?

that morning, i waltzed into my surgeon's office wearing real clothing,  jewelry, makeup and a smile.   i was determined to make sure everyone took notice of how well i was doing.  fighting.  surviving.  living.  five days out of surgery and pridefully i wanted this man to look at me and say, "wow!"  must my pride always rear its ugly head?  must i always be in pursuit of high marks...good grades...and words of praise?  am i really going to turn something like my illness, my recovery and my health into some kind of twisted competition?   but that was exactly where i was headed yesterday morning.  things changed however. things do.

initially dr. woods did seem a bit surprised, and even pleased, with how well i was doing.  how good things looked.  how big my smile.  but i watched his expression shift as i began to recount for him my self-decided milestones.  all of a sudden this renowned doctor's countenance darkened.  his eyebrows furrowed.  his mouth frowned.  and i could visibly see his seriousness as he decided to put me in my place.  "jody, let's talk about the risk factors here.  jody, let's talk about just what will happen if you don't take it easy.  extremely easy.  jody, let's talk about why your situation is a bit riskier than the normal recovery."

when he had visited me in the hospital, post surgery, he had kindly reiterated the fact that i would have to be gentle with myself.   he breezed over my boundaries and made sure i understood how very little i should do once home.   he spelled it out in a lovely, but fuzzy,  visit with my husband and me in room 246.  but after our opening discussion in his office yesterday he realized he was dealing with someone who might be slightly in need of more direction.  he would need to be firmer.  louder.  clearer.  no more mr. nice guy.  it wasn't that i was attempting to be flippant, reckless or cavalier in any way.  i have a deep and decided respect for the medical profession and their recommendations.  but i am walking a tenuous line here.  this line which on one side tells me to have a fighting spirit and a positive attitude and a dig-deep mentality and which on the other side uses words such as prudent, easy, careful, cautious.    i am telling you, it didn't take breast cancer for me to realize i am sometimes quite challenged with this balance.  and the bottom line is i am headstrong and stubborn and hate to be dependent on others for anything.  yes, pride. always pride.

so there i sat on this doctor's examining table,  feeling greatly exposed and, honestly, a little sheepish.  he wasn't messing around and he was doing everything he could to make sure i understood this.   i had not only had a bilateral mastectomy five days earlier, but in the same day of surgery i was reconstructed.  so my body is literally recovering from two types of major surgery.  recovering in two different directions.  on one hand we have the trauma of amputation and on the other hand we have the tenderness of rebuilding.  there are lots of stitches and sutures and pressure.  and it all needs to be perfectly in place and well protected.  this is not a time to prove anything to anyone.  this is not a time to show my athletic prowess or my positive outlook.  this is a time to be careful.  now before you think i was doing pull ups or playing a tennis match, i assure you nothing of the sort was taking place.   but i was probably skirting the edge a little,  as i am known to do.  when the scolding ceased,  i slunk out of his office outfitted in a cloud of uncomfortable sobriety.  my tail absolutely between my legs.  and suddenly my jewelry and lipstick felt a bit foolish.

from that appointment we went directly to meet with the genetic counselor.   so if my cheery discussion with dr. woods hadn't completely grabbed hold of my attention, the next discussion of my DNA and my genetic mutations certainly sealed the deal.   my friend, meritt, and my sister, jess, and i sat across the desk from the counselor and had a great big, lovely conversation about genes and mutations and statistics and probabilities  and results.    for my biology-brained-science-teaching sister, this was somewhat fascinating.  she sat there, on the edge of her seat,  taking notes and asking questions and absorbing all of it.  i won't say she had a glimmer in her eye and i won't say she was completely in her element...but she was close.  if this hadn't been her sister and her own family history we were talking about, i am sure i could have described her as enthusiastic.    i listened to the dialogue between jess and our genetic guru and i had to pinch myself a time or two to stay with them.  to keep tracking.  but it was hard.   i kept thinking about lunch and my next dose of pain medication.  the horizontal blinds in the office were hurting my eyes and what i really wanted to do was eat some kind of casserole, take a couple percocet and lay down my head - carefully, of course.    instead i was asked to swish my mouth with scope three times and leave samples of my DNA (spit) in a plastic vial placed before me.  this sample was to be overnighted to salt lake city and tested to see if i carry the gene for BRCA1 or BRCA2.    why is this such a big deal?  well, if that mutation is indeed positive,  this cancer becomes no longer just about me.   as a mother of four biological children and as a sister to a few siblings, i am struggling with all of this.  i signed some papers and shook some hands and left feeling weighted by the wait for yet another test result.   it occurred to me as i exited her office that in two weeks i will have information about my genes, my oncotype, my chemotherapy and my longterm treatment....all at once. all within a few days of each other.  and before we even located our SUV in the parking deck my mood grew darker still.

i climbed (ever so carefully) back into the car to head home.  my sister drove.  my friend fastened my seatbelt, held my purse, positioned a pillow, handed me my phone.... i was capable only of closing my eyes.  that was my big achievement for the moment.  eyelid lowering.  i felt kind of lowered myself.  still in need of that casserole, those pain meds and that nap, i wanted to curl up in the front seat and cry.  i could feel the wash of self pity begin to slither itself over me.  i could hear the voice of The Angry One start stirring up within me.  "why you?  why this?  why now?"  his hissing voice loud in my ear, "this is no fair.  you deserve better.  where is your God, jody? why is He doing this to you?"  my body was now in full blown hurt.  my defenses dull.   i could feel my stitches and my swelling and my disappointment.   i could feel the bruising of my tissues and my ego.  i was sore all over and i wasn't sure anything was going to touch it.  comfort.  sooth.  at least not today.

self pity.  it is there - always hovering over me.  i can sometimes reach out and touch the bubble suspended just above my head.   i can even poke it. but carefully.  it might easily pop and easily pour and easily leave me swimming in its dark.  it does that.  we've all felt its slithering surface urging us deeper into our wallow. and it is sneaky.  always sneaky.

the day went on much the same way.  i won't recount for you each moment of hard.  but once we decide on hard or stressed or unfair or challenging or difficult....it does not disappoint.  it comes.  it comes readily.  heavily. i came home from those appointments not quite the same woman.  and i slunk around my thursday with a little less sass.  my family could tell.   but that night as i lay in bed.  pillows propping arms.  tubes protected.  bandages tight.  i began to pray.  and as i prayed i became more and more aware of my mis-steps throughout this day.  i became aware of how The Angry One, The Evil One was lurking and looking for his way in.  for his foothold.  i became aware of how quickly he was ready to pour over me the ointment of self pity.  to drown me.  just say the word.  he needs no encouragement.  he is always ready to hiss and slither and seduce and drown. eager to do so.  

i think it was at this point that i was certain the battle had truly begun.  i had thought it began on the day of diagnosis.   and if not that day, then surely, last saturday,  on the day of surgery.  but no... as i lay there in bed it became clear:  this is my true battle.  and this hissing serpent my true enemy.  satan doesn't want victory over my body.  he wants my mind.  my soul.  my spirit.   his main objective isn't my body crushed with cancer.  his desire is my spirit crushed with cancer.   i can lay here in all my post-surgical trauma and feel the tentacles of pain...but these tentacles are temporary.  i know this.  but i also know satan wants to use them as a place to put his sharp foot.  his claws.  to begin his dig.  and this is the battle. and it has, indeed, begun.

and so yesterday was hard.  but even in this hard Jesus spoke clearly.  He pricked my mind and prodded my spirit.  He woke me from my fuzzy state of pride and pain and medication and mess  and He reminded me in the lateness of night for my need to be ready.  to be on guard.  to be aware. to be prepared.  this battle is not gentle and the stakes are high.  body...health...life...yes.   but mostly mind...spirit...soul.  

"O Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, who shields my head
in the day of battle --- do not grant the wicked their desires,  O Lord."
~ psalm 140:7

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

power tools, pride and pain

it seems overnight i've gone from a woman who might scale a ladder while cleaning her own gutters to a weakling who finds picking up her toothbrush an incredibly daunting task.  my first night home, i stood at my sink eyeballing this heavy hygienic instrument.  just the thought of reaching for it made me wince. seriously, i am talking about a toothbrush here.  i've always taken great delight in digging my own holes and lighting my own fires and painting my own walls.  just last summer while home alone for a weekend,  on impulse,  i decided to epoxy the floor of our three car garage. if you can believe it, i was positively giddy about the whole project - even the precarious first step of acid washing the surface.   that has always been me.  and, i might add, That Part of Me has driven my father crazy, my brother crazy and, without doubt,  it drives my husband crazy.  several months ago when he was leaving for a long business trip he literally made me promise to leave his new chainsaw alone.  "hands off jody!" he said.  he knows me well.  sometimes i can't help myself.   it is not that i have a great love for power tools...but i suppose i do love a little independence...a little challenge.

don't get me wrong.   my romantic spirit adores the idea of chivalry.  what woman isn't crazy for the shining knight in white armor...the gallant stead...the sweeping off of feet...and, of course, the castle high on a hill.  i have always been enamored with this idyllic way of life.   picture with me the delicate damsel in distress, adorned in gowns of silk and flowers in flowing hair.  there she reclines on velveteen pillows of purple high up in her castle turret.  can't you just see her?  let's face it though, not many of us are sitting around in castles or turrets with daisies woven into our golden curls.  this just isn't happening.  i am much more likely to be the mother in mayhem clothed in a stained t-shirt.  i rarely wear silk.  the only thing adorning my ponytail might be, on occasion, some peanut butter or some touch up paint.  and chances are if you catch me reclining it will most likely be upon a pile of laundry in need of folding.  it doesn't hurt to pretend though.  so i've learned to keep all of that idyllic stuff in my little fairytale box and, on occasion, i pull it out.  my reality is not harsh.  i won't pretend that it is.  but i have deliberately chosen to be a strong and capable and resourceful woman.  perhaps a little lacking in the romantic ideal, but terrifically and pridefully independent.

then my picture became clouded with cancer.  and suddenly there was no power tool or determined spirit or achievement large enough to make much difference.  and i can assure you, i am finding little about this which would qualify as fairtytale-ish.   yes, i can fight. yes, i can have a good attitude.  yes, i can try everything alternative.  i can and i will.  but i had to face the fact that i have, for the first time in my life, come across something of gigantic proportion.  the tumor itself wasn't so big.  but everything around it sure seems to be.  the mystery, the treatment, the decisions,  the results, the future....everything else feels monumental.  overwhelming.  massive and ugly.  it has also stripped me of my desire to look at the big picture.   there is so much unknown.  i feel, all of sudden, like a bona fide damsel in distress...and there is absolutely nothing romantic about it.

i came home from the hospital yesterday.  so glad to be home. but frustrated.  everything here reminds me of a different jody.  climbing the stairs to my bedroom required my husband's arms.  it took a step stool and two people to get me into my bed.  i am dependent on straws to drink and pillows to prop and medication to numb.   my girls brushed my hair and my boys went for water.  a friend dropped off a meal and another one ran to the store.   i needed help last night squeezing toothpaste on my toothbrush.  and this morning my sister had to shower me.   oh friends, i cannot tell you how hard this is.  i feel as if the layers of pride are being physically peeled off my stiff body.  i am raw underneath.  it hurts.  it hurts so much to have to ask for the 99th time for someone to hand me this or scratch that.   i am not a good patient.  not one bit.  while in the hospital, my calves were wrapped up in massaging compression pads which helped keep my circulation going.  how did i go from running miles on a treadmill last month to having my legs kneaded by a machine?  this just doesn't make sense.  i am walking around my home with bandages and tubes and medications and it all just makes me want to flee this unsightly sick ward.   i feel wounded.   i know i am in need of all the helping hands which come to my rescue but i fear i may snap at them before this is over.  i feel like a toddler who in her moment of frustrated and false independence yells, "i can do it! let me!"  except that i can't.   not right now.

i am overwhelmed by the beautiful help.  the hands and hearts and feet which come daily to assist: my sister who has taken a week away from her own family and busy life.  my friends who show up with flowers and cards and candles and books and health food and brownies.   i look at it all and it makes me want to cry.  tears flow with the fullness of what they bring.  they don't bring things.  they bring love.  they bring whatever it might take to let their weak friend know she is loved.  how lucky i am.  and still i sit like that disobedient toddler wanting desperately to do it all  by myself.  my way.   i am not asking to go out and hit 100 tennis balls, but i'd like to be able to dress myself.   in the past, i've clearly taken for granted the pleasure of pulling back my own hair in a ponytail.  i thought this morning i could handle the shower, until i realized i couldn't  even open the shampoo bottle .  i stood there in the hot water and felt the hot tears of my neediness well up.   i wasn't ready for this kind of dependence. this kind of reliance.  i am the big sister.  i am the strong woman.  what has happened?

and so i sit tonight in my bed.  my laptop resting carefully on a pillow before me.  the computer which my son brought and the pillow which my daughter arranged in the bed which my husband  has gently placed me.  my eye catches in the corner of the room a cobweb.  its stringy dirty-ness blows in the air-conditioned breeze.  i cannot do a single thing about it.  i sit here and watch it blow.  taunting me.  and though i'd love to hop out of bed and whack it right out of here...i can do nothing.  nothing.  it is only a cobweb and it will not conquer me.  but it is a reminder of where i am this week.  weak.  it will get better.  all of this will get better.  i know that.  but it is hard to see past my immobility and my bandaged body.

i want to believe i will never again take for granted good health.  i will always treasure my strong arms and able body.  but even now, i can't promise this will be true.  it should be.  i should learn this lesson well.  it has been a hard one. and it may become even harder still.  but i know the stuff i'm made of.  and i know that it is easy to forget the valley.  we are forgetters.  we allow our circumstances to dictate our emotions and create all kinds of vows and promises and decisions to change.  and then we turn our faces and our stiff necks and we forget.  we walk out of the dark wood and climb out of our deep valley and we have forgotten once again.  instead, we return to our determined selves and our pretend fairytales and lose sight of our desperation.  our neediness.  

so on this evening...just a few days out of surgery i am stopping to take note.  i am pausing to feel the pain and see the wounds and remember my neediness.  it hurts.  i don't want to acknowledge any of it.  but i must.  these are the very things which bring me to my knees and to His feet.  these are the sharp rememberings which open my eyes to the beauty of brokenness.   it doesn't feel good right now.  at the moment i look anything but victorious.   but i believe in my God and i know deep in this broken body...

when i lay myself down
when i bow before
when i fall at His feet
when i break
when i hurt
when i call
when i cry....

He comes. He sees. He hears. He hurts. He heals.

"the Lord is faithful to all His promises
and loving toward all He has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall 
and lifts up all who are bowed down....
the Lord is near to all who call on Him,
to all who call on Him in truth."  
~ psalm 145

"He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds."
~ psalm 147  

"but He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient
for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." 
~ 2 corinthians 12:9

Friday, May 20, 2011

few words...but His

it is late tonight and i am tired.  the day has been full.  fuller than normal.  the laundry finished.  the dishes washed.   my bag  packed.  the instructions  printed. the arrangements  made.  the alarms set.  the children kissed and hugged and tucked into bed. fears shared. tears shed.  prayers whispered.  tomorrow we go early.  i could certainly think up one more thing to do before leaving.  there is always one more thing.  always something.  because we are people who do things.  and now this woman who does things must look ahead to a period of time without all her doing.  i will leave it behind.  at least for awhile.  i am content in letting it all be.  content in letting it go.  i am in content in being done.  i am content. i am at peace.

i have few words for what tomorrow will bring.  there is little more to say.  the Lord goes before me and that is truly all that matters.   He holds the balance of my life whether i am in surgery for 8 hours or puttering around my life for 8 hours.  it belongs to Him regardless of place.  regardless of diagnosis.  regardless of prognosis.  i am His. and i am at peace. 

i may have very few words of my own tonight...  but i have His Word...

"give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever....
in my anguish i cried to the Lord,
and He answered by setting me free.
the Lord is with me;
i will not be afraid.
what can man do to me?     
the Lord is with me; He is my helper.
i will look in triumph on my enemies.
it is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
it is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
all the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the Lord
i cut them off.
they surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the Lord
i cut them off.
they swarmed around me like bees
but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord
i cut them off.

i was pushed back and about to fall,
but the Lord helped me.
the Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
shouts of joy and victory 
resound in the tents of the righteous;
the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!
the Lord's right hand is lifted high;
the Lords right hand has done mighty things!

i will not die but live,
and will proclaim
what the Lord has done!." 

~ psalm 118

Thursday, May 19, 2011


when i first began teaching - like a hundred years ago - i would get butterflies in the pit of my stomach before each class.    i was fresh out of college and teaching high schoolers only a few years younger than myself...some of which even looked a few years older than me.  yes, i was even asked once by a staff member for my hall pass.   those were interesting years.  i would spend hours each evening preparing for the next day's lesson.  researching and reading and readying my notes.  each lecture needed to be perfect.  each activity applicable.   it was a control thing, i'm sure.  i felt if i could just get my arms around all of it....if i could just make sure i left no rock unturned, no question unanswered, no thread unravelled...the day would be a success.   i took tremendous comfort and even pleasure in my prepared-ness.  i am sure pride also entered heavily into the equation.  it always does when it comes to me and my performance.  (i cringe writing that).  anyway, that was eons ago.  i haven't been in charge of a classroom in at least a century.  i loved it.  i miss it.  i also miss that Really Prepared Person.  i wonder sometimes what happened to her.   i am not sure my kids and husband would recognize her today. 

as the years have passed and the children have multiplied my level of preparation has dwindled - dramatically.  sometimes i watch myself in action now days and wonder who is this woman...and what has she done with the real jody mcnatt?  the one who worried and planned and prepared so carefully. so thoroughly.  just recently one of the kids asked me what was for dinner.  it was a stroke shy of the six o'clock hour.  my reply, "umm...i'm not sure, i haven't thought about that yet."   i pretended not to notice the hint of dismay (possibly even disgust) on this young one's face as they registered my lame answer.  "isn't six o'clock a bit late to be thinking about dinner?"  the wise child refrained from verbalizing his thoughts.   he didn't need to.  i knew.   i know.   i know motherhood requires a great ability to think ahead...to plan ahead.  i do this as much as one frazzled woman possibly can.  but often i find myself more and more okay with figuring things out as we go. going with the flow.  i've noticed lately,  life seems to throw some curve balls anyway.   so as i've aged i have pretended to reinvent myself as flexible,  resilient,  easy-going.  i am a woman who knows the fine art of bending.  i bend.  i am a bender.  i have convinced myself this is the mark of maturity and wisdom and confidence....but i am afraid it has more to do with me just being worn-out,  old and exhausted.

i am very often the woman scrambling out the door in the mornings.  kicking myself in my lack of prepared-ness.  wondering why in the world i didn't think to pack a bag or a lunch or the car the night before.  i've been caught in the checkout line without my wallet...in the carpool line without my shoes...and in the dinner hour without even a hint of supper.  i've been caught in a rainstorm without umbrella...in a car without gas...and in a frenzy with no plan.   i can't say i am proud.  but i do choose to say i'm resourceful.  i can bend.  and i do. often.  it has a lot to do with attitude.

there are some things, however, for which we really can't prepare.  cancer might be one of them.   i wasn't prepared.  it wasn't on my radar.  i wasn't watching and waiting and ready.  not one bit.  i had no plan in place. i heard the news and my first thought was, "you've got to be kidding me."  seriously.  i almost couldn't absorb it all.  it seemed unreal.  an impossibility.  surely God would have prepared me.  given me a warning - some kind of dramatic literary foreshadowing.  surely.   but it seemed not.  there it was...rain out of the blue, blue sky.  me in the midst of my running around ... and then voila! foot-sweeping news.  an unexpected blow to the gut and i, once again, felt like a woman unprepared.  a woman scrambling through the door of life with no Plan B.  no escape clause.  no evacuation route.  i spent at least a week or two in the "you've got to be kidding me" phase.  i mean i just couldn't figure it all out.  i simply wasn't prepared.

but as the weeks have gone on, my eyes have continued to open wider.  to become a bit clearer.  i am seeing things i hadn't noticed originally.  i am recognizing the marks of God's preparation.  He was very much readying me for a time such as this.  He was.  i wasn't aware of it.  i wasn't listening for it.  but it was there.  little things.  big things.  even that literary foreshadowing i mentioned above.  it was all there.   a friend pointed out one example - something i had written a few weeks prior to my diagnosis.   in my Being Still blog i posted an entry on march 25th, "moonlight and holiness"....  i write in that piece the following words...

  but what if we have to be burned?  what if we have to taste tears of pain and disappointment and even,  sorrow?  can that hot-white piercing of moonlight be good for us?  you already know my answer.  i am not pretending to like it.  i don't.  i already confessed my instinct to nestle down deeper into the soft flannel comfort of numb.  i would rather not see my dirty layers and dusty soul exposed for what they are.  with pricking and piercing comes tearing and torn.   i am not always ready for that kind of abrupt exposure.  i am hardly ever prepared for that kind of pain.  but it comes.  i cannot stop the moonlight.  i cannot secure the shutter always.  forever.  i may desire to languish deeply in comfort, but my God desires to work even more deeply in me.  His work in me is more than moonlight through the haphazardness of loose shutter.  there is no mistake in His piercing.  no accident in His pursuit.  He wants me.  all of me.  He wants the deepest recess of my heart.  it belongs to Him.  and no matter how much i yearn to pad it with the cooling items of ease, He will expose it.  there is light to be shed.  there is dirt to be seen. and there is healing to be had.

i wrote this 3 weeks before my diagnosis.  at that point cancer had not even crossed my mind.  this post came though with great conviction.  conviction that God really does bring us into the fire for our greater good.   for holiness.  for something better.  i realize this seems fraught with paradox.  it doesn't make sense.  i get that.  i certainly didn't have any idea just what He was leading me into. but read the entire moonlight piece if you get a chance.   i know some of you are reading this post and this blog and all you can think is, what kind of drugs are they feeding this woman.  no drugs.  not yet.  (that will be for next week - i plan to take them, by the way, needed or not).  i know this stuff is hard to wrap your head around.  but stick with me...there is a next chapter to all of this.  even if we don't always have the chance to read it...it will be written.

but back to being prepared.   sometimes we are and we don't even know it.   God's timing is perfect.  i am trusting that.  i had other plans this spring.  this summer.  but He has brought me to This instead.  i am not completely sure about The Why just yet.  i might not know that answer here on earth.   but i am here.  and though i feel, at times, like that scrambling morning woman searching for her keys and shoes and sanity...i know God is leading me.  whispering to me.  calling me.  holding me.  ahead of me.  behind me. preparing me...  
preparing FOR me.

"no eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared
for those who love him ----"  
~ 1 corinthians 2:9

Monday, May 16, 2011

in the boat

it was last night sitting over emptied supper dishes when i began to see the fear creep back into the eyes of my children.  all of a sudden our final weekend was finished and as we shifted plates from table to sink we could not ignore the fact that only week days stood between all of us and my surgery.  in our house we know just how quickly those week days can go.  sometimes we blink and it is friday.  i'm afraid this is no exaggeration.  

plates to soapy water.  silverware piled high.  we sat ourselves back down at the half-cleared, crumb-covered table and began our let's-look-ahead talk.   rick and i didn't want to overwhelm the kids with details, but it was time to start laying out the framework of what to expect. we wanted to give them some of the information.  some of the plan.  we wanted to allow the children to ask some of their many, many questions.   we talked this dirty business over dirty dishes in an after-dinner, dirty kitchen.  our stomachs full,  our hearts heavy, but our heads light.  untethered --  liable to float right out of this surreal conversation at any moment.  it seemed only the weight of our simple supper held us loosely in our chairs.

the past week or so we have come closer to normal.  appointments slowed down.  mom cooked dinner.  not quite as many phone calls and messages and cards arriving.  our shell-shocked faces smoothed and softened.  the children stopped tip-toeing around me.  i even started wearing mascara again.  things were just calmer. steadier. but last night i could see fear hovering around the edges of their eyes...their faces...their questions.  palpable.  all along we have been using great amounts of humor.  it has been our coping mechanism.  but last night we had too much to discuss and there wasn't much space left for anything light.  it was time to be clear.  it was time to bring a bit of order to this cancer mess.  seven of us sitting around wooden oval in a dirty kitchen on a sunday evening. 

rick and i took turns trying to explain this coming week.  next weekend.  the week following.  appointments.  schedules.  rides.  sleepovers. meals.  they all listened intently.  except for bella.  oh to be bella right now!  gloriously unaware in her three year old world.   she hopped around the table... singing and dancing and putting on her evening after-dinner show.  happily oblivious.  joyful as always.  the rest of the kids listening hard. serious focus.  sarah just wanted to know when she would be able to see me after the surgery -- who she played with and what she ate seemed unimportant to my 11 year old tender hearted girl.  but seeing her mom post-surgery was everything.  it was her only question.  "when? but when can i see you, mama?"  the rest of the kids had some questions.  but not many.  they were terrifically somber.  as we ended our time together in prayer it was everything i could do to keep myself from crying.  face and eyes and teeth clenched hard against hot tears.   the kids have seen the many tears of this mother's.  oh, yes.   i think it healthy for them to see.  it is okay.  they witness my anger and my joy and my disbelief and my frustration in life...it is okay for them to witness some tears.  once in awhile.   but tonight was different.  i knew it was time to hold tight against the torrent.  we were all too raw and bedtime was all too close and everything, yes, everything, felt too fragile.  we were less than a week away. the ugly countdown had begun.

but it was an hour or so afterwards, hearing emily gather together her younger siblings, when i could hold back no longer.    she, fifteen and determined,  assembled them in the living room with a plan.  "i have a plan, guys," she explained.  "every night before bed, let's all get together and pray for mom and her surgery. i think that's what we should do."  as i worked at my desk in the office nearby, i could hear their whispered words mingling together.   words sweet as honey to my mother-ears.  so thankful for the coming together of children.  heads bowed low.  so thankful for the gathering of their hands and their hearts in something other than brother-wrestling and trampoline tricks.  but heartbreaking too.  bittersweet knowing the pain and fear in their trembling voices which cause them cling.  to each other.  to Jesus.  this has been my prayer from the start of this unwanted-awfulness:  my children growing closer to Him.  softer hearts.  tender spirits.  tighter grasp.  deeper depth.  i know my God will not waste this.  He uses every bit of this pain.  every ounce of the fear will be used.  transformed into something good.  it will smooth rough edges...soften hard hearts...break footholds...humble pride...sift sinners.  it will.  He will.   and that is what makes it possible tonight.  possible for me on this monday evening to tuck five children into beds and hear their prayers,  kiss their young cheeks and walk out of their rooms.  it makes it possible for me to look into this dark night and feel peace.  a week day already coming to a close.

don't get me wrong, i will have my moment this week.  oh, you can be sure.   it may be while packing my bag for the hospital.  it may be while kissing the children goodbye.  it may, very well, be something as simple as pouring milk in a cup.  i don't know.  but i am sure there will be a moment or many moments when my hands will shake and my mouth will go dry and my stomach will churn.  i am sure of it.  because even with peace and hope...i am human.  i am a woman who wants to soften the blow to herself and her loved ones.  i want to pull a blanket over all of us and wake up to a new morning.  brighter. gentler.   i am afraid, like my children, of how hard this storm might be.  will be. already is.

this fear makes me think of the disciples in the boat.   Jesus was right there with them.  they could see Him.  but He was sleeping.  and the storm came violently.  Jesus slept.  His head on a cushion.  they sat there in His very presence trembling.   ringing hands and shaking shoulders and fear overwhelming these men.  grown men.  strong men.  these followers of Christ.  these disciples.  fear.  incredible fear.  and even with Jesus in the same boat...an arm's reach away...they were terrified.   of course my kids are afraid.  my husband afraid.  i am afraid.   but Jesus woke and with three little words brought incredible calm, "quiet! be still!"... it says in mark, "then the wind died down and it was completely calm."  (mark 4:38).   on this monday night before my surgery, i am unsure as to what the wind will do....but so certain Jesus has those same three words for our family.  He is in the boat. right with us.  closer than an arm's reach away.  we need only listen to His voice in the storm.  praying we will hear His voice in this storm.  quiet.  be still.  

in my dish-dirty kitchen there hangs a sign.  i can see it from my seat at our oval table.  it sits just above the kitchen desk.  the desk which is also laden with mess of busy living:   papers to sign.  bills to pay.  piles to file.  a piece of string.  sticks of gum.  dull tipped pencils.  spools of ribbon. a fishing lure.  summer reading books.   signs of life.
black and white the words read:

p e a c e
    it does not mean to be in a place
   where there is no noise, trouble
  or hard work.  it means to be in
      the midst of those things and still
            be calm in your heart.


the source of that quote is unknown...  (or so says the sign hanging above my desk).   but, tonight i know with confidence...
Jesus is in the midst of this mess.  
He is in my kitchen.  
He is in this storm.  

Jesus is in the boat. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

gold and silver and something beautiful

there was a moment today when i forgot. for just a minute i wasn’t a woman marked with breast cancer --- i was bella’s mom coloring chalk rainbows on our afternoon driveway. 

there was sun on my head, laughter in my ears, and before my eyes, a wisp of a girl up on her tiptoes with a handful of purple. 

i felt like myself.  
i felt real.
i felt normal.  
and it was wonderful.
for a few minutes today i failed to remember. i listened to my sarah recounting the dramatic details of her fifth grade day and watched her dig through the refrigerator in her after school hunger. my girl never took a breath: cheese out on the counter, crackers from the pantry, steady stream of words---

this quiz. 
that friend. 
at recess. 
during lunch.
in class. 

on and on ... and terrifically on. i stood wiping down granite while she flitted from story to story. my butterfly girl. and i didn't feel like a patient or a sick woman, i felt like her mom. 
another stolen moment arrived later in the evening while out running errands with emily: she flipping through music and attempting to persuade me of the need for new clothes and me quietly preparing my defense. normal stuff. everyday and average. the distraction of debate. not over anything grand and eloquent or dramatic and dire, just her pressing wardrobe need for more shorts.  

but a pleasure. a pure pleasure to escape from the remembering. i am a mother of a teen girl with a great passion for her outfits. of course she has, it is real. and wonderful.
since diagnosis day, april 19th, it has been difficult to think of much else. i have never in my life felt quite so consumed by something so ugly.  i have never felt quite so cloaked in something so mind-heavy. so anxiety-bringing... something so fear-wrapping.

when my mornings empty of children, i put music on and go about my household chores. this has always been my routine. but recently the music has been quiet. oh, it is on and it is there, but i am elsewhere.  

i windex a window and i think of cancer. i pull sheets up on a bed and i think of cancer. i toss a salad and cancer is all over my thoughts. i can feel the insidious disease spreading.  growing. 

i realize my tumor probably hasn’t changed much in this month of knowing, but the disease itself desires to eat away at my spirit. every day. all the time. on the prowl. relentlessly gnawing. the battle is beyond daily. it is hourly ... every minute. and each hour and every minute, i must fight to extinguish the flames and deflect the arrows. i am exhausted like never before by this constant companion. this uninvited adversary.    
i don’t want to be known by it---i decided that right from the start. this will, i am sure, refine me.  but i will not allow it to define me. and, be assured, there is a great difference.  neither one easy.  
re fine:  
re·fined  re·fin·ing
1: to free (as metal, sugar, or oil) from impurities or unwanted material
2: to free from moral imperfection : elevate.
3: to improve or perfect by pruning or polishing <refine a poetic style>
4: to reduce in vigor or intensity
5: to free from what is coarse, vulgar, or uncouth

intransitive verb
1: to become pure or perfected
2: to make improvement by introducing subtleties or distinctions

i have always preferred perfect. i like things just so. anyone living with me can speak to this issue. and what an issue it is. truthfully, the idea of becoming free from moral imperfection and becoming elevated and improved all sounds rather lovely. the thought of becoming pure and perfected seems quite desirable. i mean, who would resist such a suggestion. i am ready to embrace those ideas with great enthusiasm. but let’s face it, none of these things come through the comforts of life. not one automatically happens while coasting downhill. i know this. i’ve known this. i’ve even feared it.

because i have always known if God was going to do a work in me it would not be a pretty process. there is too much imperfect. too many impurities. far too many items reeking of coarse and vulgar and, yes, even uncouth. i cannot pretend they aren’t simmering beneath the heat of this surface. i am already feeling their boil. and the temperature has only begun to rise. but this is God’s doing.
“i will bring (them) into the fire; I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.  they will call on my name
and I will answer them;  I will say, ‘they are my people,‘ and 
they will say, ‘the Lord is our God.’”   ~ zechariah 13:9  
oh friends, i don’t want this heat. i am absolutely afraid of this cancer- fire. the refining. the testing. does anyone possibly desire these? probably not. i have always thought of myself as a competitor. an athlete. a challenge-accepter. a bring-it-on kind of gal. but this feels different. of course, i have no choice and will take it on ... face the challenge ... compete when necessary. i'll do my best to be battle ready, but you know it is not of my choosing. 

i wouldn’t choose this fire, this hard refining. no one really does. some of my friends write to me of my strength and my positive attitude and my well-equipped spirit. but, i have to tell you, i have grave doubts. i know me. these are nice things and encouraging words, but i am pretty sure there is little in me which can conquer --- anything.  j

ust a few days ago i had to select a vegetable for dinner and felt myself becoming unglued. it has been that kind of a week.  i know a grand part of this refining plan is to empty me of myself: my strength, my vanity and my scant bits of power.  empty me so i can be filled. 

emptied for filling.  

dying to self. becoming weak to find strength. confusing stuff, i know. i won't pretend it all makes perfect sense. this is not about digging deep within me....it is about digging deep in my God. i know this is hard to understand. i wish i could write out a road map of explanation --- for you. for me. 

i am always open to talk further. be warned, however. you might not want to debate too roughly with a woman a week away from an ugly operation. i could either haul off and hit you or break down into a weeping ugly mess and leave you feeling sheepish and terribly guilt ridden. 

perhaps we should wait for saner days. let's debate then.

so it's pretty clear, i don’t desire the fire, but, guess what ... i do long for the silver and gold.  

oh, how i want it. i know God will use this scorching heat of cancer for something beautiful. it is how He works. He has promised me this in His word, to “bestow on them (on me!) a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” - isaiah 61:3.   

oh gosh, do i ever hold on tightly to that promise. i know the fire will do some damage. there will be some ashes. it might sound more gentle to just try really hard to improve. to be more determined. to work harder. 
but, let's face it, i could put myself through every self-help seminar available...read every self-help book on the shelf...and i would be no more helped and no more beautiful then when i began.  

the process of refinement is not about our choosing or about our determination, it is about God’s plan and His appointment. His appointment which was in place long before any self-help ... long before me ... long before time.

hard to imagine, but He ordained the day i would learn of my cancer and He has ordained the day when i will be cancer free. one way or another. my hope is not in earthly hands or earthly medicine. it is in the hands of His plan. 

i know cancer can be beat and life can go on. i am planning on that mightily. but i will always carry some kind of cancer.  cellular or spiritual. we are cancer carriers. all of us. there is always something insidious eating away at us. attacking our minds...hearts...spirit. we are consumed by something. for me, right now, it may be cancer, for you, perhaps something else. but don’t be deceived, we are diseased people living in a broken world.  
i fear this post may have taken a somewhat depressing turn with all this talk of fire and ashes and disease. that wasn't my intention. but remember, these hard things are temporary.  they are only for a time. i began my writing with the Joy of my Forgetting. someday this will all be behind me. and someday your particular struggle will be behind you. but it will always be a part of me ... of you. 

and someday, dear friends, when we hold those crowns of beauty ... He has promised there will be silver and gold.