Sunday, July 31, 2011

life goes on

after a spring and summer’s start full with breast cancer, it seems strange to find myself staring at august.  a normal august.  from april to june i was living and breathing and dreaming cancer.  it consumed most thoughts, most days, and most of me.  everything felt connected to it.  everything colored by it.   impossible almost,  to loosen myself from its fierce fist.  from diagnosis to surgery to recovery to results, it was what shaped my days and sharp-needled my nights. 
but here i am stepping into august.  here we are at the end of my recovery and at the end of our summer and things have calmed.  life seems to have quieted.  of course i write that and chuckle...quiet jody? really?  well...maybe not exactly quiet, but ordinary.  i find myself making grocery lists and dinner dates and longterm plans.  and it all seems very everyday, very average. which is good.  i can tell you, after the past few months, boring sounds wonderful.  it is wonderful to worry about scheduling the carpets to be cleaned and the house to be painted.  it is wonderful to deliberate over spaghetti or pesto for dinner. it is pure wonderful to fall asleep thinking about school uniform orders and new backpacks for the children.  it was only a couple of months ago when i was falling asleep under the sweat-heavy blanket of fear.   only weeks ago when i would wake in the morning wild with wondering. 
but there is a strangeness when something all consuming is no longer, when it silently slips out the back door and is gone.  don’t get me wrong, i am glad it is gone.  i am thrilled. tickled. delighted. ecstatic.  but it feels a little odd.  all of a sudden i am just jody again.  i am mother and wife and sister and friend once more.  i get up early and pour milk into cereal bowls and spread  peanut butter on bagels and apply bandaids and kisses to scrapes.  i  sort out laundry and sibling arguments and the recycling.   i am back to the mother who forgets to get gas and fails to pick up the dry cleaning and who is always low on milk and eggs and bread.  and i am back to seeing this same woman - slightly altered - in the mirror and wondering what to do with her now.  and this question rattles around inside me, what else?  what else can i do?  what else can be done?  
i mean i take this tiny white pill every morning with my orange juice and they tell me that is it - just one tiny, round pill.  nothing else left to do.  of course, i can eat all organic and exercise religiously and take expensive vitamins and get my blood drawn every three months...but that’s it? that’s all?  somehow it doesn’t seem nearly enough for something so large as a 1.9 cm tumor...for something so big as black cancer.  i am thrilled to forego chemo, but there is a part of me still wanting to battle hard.  i am a little unsure of this normalcy and nothingness.   i don’t quite trust it. honestly, i am, in a strange way, afraid to rest.   and so on this ordinary almost august day i am figuring out how to let go of the past few months.  i am figuring out how to get it up on the shelf and off of our everyday shoulders.
we are at the beach this week and it is pure, simple summer.  i sat at the ocean’s edge yesterday with the littlest one.  we dug holes and built castles and drank in the great ocean beauty.  pure delight for us both.  there was a couple nearby who kept looking our way.  i could tell they were watching.  and i thought to myself, “they have no idea.”  they watched my family of seven play wild in water and sand and couldn’t possibly imagine the horror we felt only months ago.  because this is how life works.  we pass people every day who are deep in some battle or just steps out of struggle, and we don’t know it.  it doesn’t look like it.  we don’t look like a family who felt cut off at the knees only in april. at least from outward appearances, life has gone on.
just a couple of weeks ago, i met with my surgeon for one more appointment.  before leaving his office, i looked him full in the face and said, “dr. barber,  do i have breast cancer anymore?”  i know the tumor is gone - the breasts too, for that matter - and so where does that leave me? i couldn’t help but wonder.  i told him my name was still in the church bulletin on a prayer list for those in medical crisis.  i was thinking perhaps i needed to call someone and tell them to remove me from it.  dr. barber suggested i keep my name on the list.  he said, “after all, you’re a mother of five, you could probably use some of that extra prayer, regardless.”  and he’s right.  i can.  but still i want to know what to call it.  i know when i hit five years cancer free i can call myself in remission - i can call myself a survivor, but what about now? what will i call this strange place of in between?
and so this early, summer morning with the ocean breeze soft and the family all still sleeping hard, i am back to the place i had never really left.  the place even before cancer - the listening place.  the place of wanting to hear.  same words which God whispers to this needy woman always.  whether cancer-weary or just plain woman-weary, He whispers.  “be still.” whether healthy and whole or broken and bent.  be still.  life changes always.  but He doesn’t ever.  be still.  
“be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, 
I will be exalted on the earth.”  ~ psalm 46: 10

Sunday, July 24, 2011

an orderly sort of woman

it appears, in order to write, i require a three ring circus camped out in my living room.  to put words to paper, i must have a zoo or a parade marching around the hallways of my house.  i have only just discovered this odd and unsettling fact, and i am not particularly pleased.  man and five children vacate our home,  leaving me alone for three (glorious) days to work at my craft and i craft nothing.  well, perhaps a little.  but not as much as i had planned, as i had hoped.  nowhere close. by the way,  the true story here is man and five children vacating home.  that, my friends,  is the real piece de resistance of the weekend.

apparently, i am in need of a 3 year old on my lap and the nonstop opening and shutting of office door by four other curious, questioning (possibly, bored?) children.  i am in need of an occasional, "mom!"  or an unfortunate, "help!"  hollered from a spot not far enough away.  i clearly require a ringing phone, a running dishwasher, and a burning breakfast to complete my paragraph with alacrity.  a sisterly squabble,  a brotherly duel, or a full out sibling war is essential to sharpening this writer's focus.

i have been sitting for three days in the midst of lovely-perfect-quiet.  alone with my sleek macbook and my sloppy thoughts.  alone with my stream of ideas and my head full of words.  but something was missing.  maybe i am in need of the great din of day, the big bellow of family and the terrific splash of life exploding all around me.  all over me. full at me.  i am in need of the incredible ooze of my children and their spilling sounds from underneath the door.  perhaps, my own yelling of the,  unavoidable, "i'm writing!" is necessary to fan the flame of creativity.  i am not sure.  but no interruptions and a strangely still home, though terrifically appreciated, didn't quite set me on fire. 

why is it when i do have words pouring forth, i am supposed to be somewhere or cook something or pick up someone?   just last week, i frantically dashed out of the house with car keys and laptop in arms.   i flung myself into the driver's seat and attempted to finish typing a final sentence with one hand while starting the car with the other.  no panic necessary, i checked both mirrors.  i realized en route, i had forgotten my shoes. sigh. when i picked up waiting child i carefully slid the laptop under my bag, not wanting to appear so desperate to one so young.  not wanting to seem quite so addicted.  but sometimes that's how i feel.  addicted and desperate and barefoot.  desperate to put ink to paper.  to put words to screen.  and the thing is, i have little control.  i cannot turn it on and off again. it doesn't work that way. my former english students will, no doubt, like that measly admission.

here i am, weekend wide open for writing, and i find my mind wandering and my thoughts running...everywhere(else).  i decide to paint.  to organize. to read.  to garden.  to throw away old pencil stubs.  to scrub the grout in our shower.  to color coordinate my closet.  to feed the fish (no one feeds the fish, ever). what is this?  i am forty-something years old and completely void of discipline.  i would tell you i have used it all up on five children.  that must be it - it is all their fault!  i have nothing, absolutely no discipline, left for myself.   i am no more than a dilettante.  a dabbler.  a dreamer.  at least a, late-in-life, undiagnosed case of ADD.

if i was an orderly sort of woman, i might have a schedule.  it would carve out regular blocks of writing time.  it would neatly organize the children into meaningful and (of course) educational activities.  it would remind me to have a meal slow cooking in a shiny crock pot and the table already set.  napkins folded in sharp triangles.  milk glasses matching.  if i was an orderly sort of woman the dog would be fed and the laundry folded and the refrigerator clean.  but, i have to admit, i am not.  i am a woman who throws herself and her computer into car, while forgetting her shoes.

later today, when the kids come rushing back from grandma's house, with suitcases and stories exploding, i'll probably feel a great rush of words.   i will get caught up in the their noise and somehow (then) words will unravel from the deep well of my solitary weekend.  they will slide out from behind my forehead and make their way down through my fingers.  i will itch to type.  but i won't.  a woman doesn't get three days alone and then disappear back behind the screen of her computer too soon.  no, i will go back to doing what i always do:  tapping out words in between the breakfast and babble and barking moments of life.  and it will, somehow, work.

though a weekend alone for a mother-of-many is a gift,  a treasure, a once-in-a-great-while luxury item,  it is not what inspires me.  i need the family shifting wildly at my feet.  untidy, but inspiring. i've gotten used to having them around.  my family, in all their ruckus and unruliness, unplug the slow channels of my heart.  for writing is heart.  without it, only words.  the incredible flinging of their life-noise is what stirs the pot of my stories and tellings.  my plain words become colored with love for them.  by love for them.  my love for them.  love. 

not that i mind a weekend alone every once in a while...

"fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."  ~william wordsworth

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


dearest bella grace ~

grace.  i'm so pleased we added that name.  of all things we call you, grace is most perfect.  each and every day our girl of grace. our girl of beauty.  bella grace.  beautiful grace.

one year ago tonight, i lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, in a land faraway.  the next morning we would meet you. i wondered what this long, awaited day might bring.  you, of course, and that seemed everything. but what else? what else might it unveil?  we had planned and pursued and pondered for a full year.  it seemed impossible to be on the cusp of such a moment.  under blankets deep with anticipation, i lay.  incredible thrill.  stirred grace.

but i stared at that ceiling with a hint of fear and uncertainty.  the sly what ifs began to whisper along the tired hallways of my head.  subtle doubt began to creep in close and tight.  what if something went wrong?  what if something was wrong?  what if you turned away?  what if you were afraid?  what if... wondering grace.

i fell asleep that night in china praying.  praying and praying and praying.  i prayed for you.  i was  worried about your confusion and your fear.   had anyone prepared you?  would you have even the smallest understanding as you shifted from arms of orphanage to arms of family.  i prayed for grace.  Lord, shower this tiny girl with great grace. allow her to know no fear, only a sense of being finally found.  found grace.

but even lying there, on the other side of the world, with my swirling thoughts, i was certain.  certain God had ordained every step of our journey.  certain God had orchestrated every detail of your adoption.  certain He had written your days...our days His book.  lovingly recorded, before even one of them came to be.  including tomorrow.   tomorrow grace.

our first night with you was washed in the wonder of new child things.  we sat captivated by the joy and delight of everything.  bath and story and song and bed.  we held you to us and whispered, over and over, our love.  you fell asleep in your daddy's arms that first night. whispered grace.

a mere one year ago.  tonight you sleep in a room down the hall.  i listened to you climb up the backstairs just minutes ago.  as you came, i heard your soft "good nights," to brothers and sisters - like you've been bidding them "good night" forever.  it sure seems so. natural and normal and every evening.   good night grace.

i heard you in your room brushing teeth and slipping into pajamas and giggling about something silly with daddy.  like you've been doing these nighttime things forever.   i heard a story read and a prayer prayed and a kiss given.  and i came and joined you both.  all cuddling on your bed.  all marveling at the moment. all remembering this past year.  and i sang you your goodnight song, amazing grace.

how could we have known a year ago what we'd feel tonight?  it is too big.  too vast.  too deep. we are overwhelmed with our love for you, our bella-girl.  overwhelmed with God's goodness. His faithfulness. His glory.  His gifts.  abundant grace.

soundly sleeping, i check on you.   like i do,  every single night for the sheer pleasure.  not for worry, but for the wonder.  to see our girl asleep and quiet and home.  picture of peace.  a corner nightlight casting soft shadows.  still, steady, soundless.  wordless, i watch for a moment more.  mother and child and God.  because in this quiet place, i know of His presence.  silent grace.

and so tonight, i lie in bed staring up at a ceiling,  again.  home one year.  here.  you sleep softly just rooms away.  and prayers are whispered deep with thanksgiving. hands and heart are full with sweetness dripping.  moment is caught and remembered.  treasured.  and all of it... God's grace.    

love,  mom

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the sixteenth of july

july 16th.  one year ago we boarded a plane heading for china.  heading for bella. 
july 16th.  two years ago we announced to friends our plans to adopt.
july 16th.  three years ago bella was abandoned by her biological parents.

we didn't know the reasons behind her abandonment.  we thought we'd never know.  however, many of you remember from our trip last summer, the note shared with us by our guide.  (video-you tube link included below).  we knew a note had been left, but thought it only contained her birthdate.  we had no idea how much more it held until arriving in china. this note was a gift.  a gift for us and for our bella.  we found out her parents left her in love.  their words, "we were not willing to see her staying in pain..." have tunneled deep in my heart.  oh, how i love this man and woman who left baby girl out of pain, out of need, out of love.  i only wish i could put my arms around them this july 16th and tell them...this baby girl.  this happy and healthy and whole baby girl.  i wish they could see the beauty risen out of painful ashes. 
"He has sent me to bind up the proclaim freedom for release prisoners from comfort  all who mourn and
to provide for those who grieve in Zion --
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes...the oil of joy instead
of mourning... and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair."
~ isaiah 61

july 16th. today.  bella plays at the ocean with her family.
july 16th, forever, will be a treasure.  
everything beautiful in His time...

links: * a piece i wrote last year about july 16th - 

* the finding note read by our guide,simon.  on youtube.
or you can access the video from videos posted on right side of blog.
  i'm somewhat challenged with all the linking stuff...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

a good hiding place

there's this little room under our front staircase.  it opens up behind the hall closet, behind the coats and bags and such,  and you'd never suspect it there.   a hidden room in an ordinary house.  i could have purchased our home on this fact alone.  thankfully, there were a few other selling features.   four sides of brick and a three car garage made my husband happy.  man things; solid, sound, safe.   the yard and creek (and dangerous laundry chute) captured the hearts of our children.  but i was stuck on the hidden room.  enamored with it.  i felt as if i had just walked into a  house hosting the perfect mixture of nancy drew and narnia.   a hidden room behind a enchanted forest behind fur coats.  and, seriously, it was for sale?  sold!

so we bought it.  and like anything we purchase, the hidden room was novel for a while.   the kids straightaway wrote above the doorframe, in blue marker, "welcome to narnia."   nothing fancy, just child's scribble, but it made their mother happy.  off and on, they will play in there.  it is something to show new friends and a place to pretend for a bit, but it is hot and small and even rather dirty.  i once sat in this low ceiling-ed retreat as guest of my youngest son. i noticed immediately, we were in the company of at least two spiders - closer to my head than i cared.  the romance of our hideout was quickly lost.   to be honest, it is really more a crawl-space, than it is a true room.  furthermore, if you were to enter this funny, little refuge,  the coats you'd pass through would be more on par with windbreakers,  rain jackets and maybe a couple of rarely worn, winter woolens.  there's nothing luxurious to pass through, whatsoever.   this room goes long unattended and we seem only to remember it when in need of a place to hide out.  and for that, it is splendid.  a hiding place.  a secret place.

when we moved into this house almost five years ago, our daughter, emily, was 11 years old and at the height of all things dramatic.  she told me once, if she ever heard a burglar (yes, she used the word burglar) in the house, she'd be down the stairs and inside of that room in a heartbeat.  her imaginative mind had it all figured out.  of course, the whole family was invited to join her if the need ever arose.    i am sure, at least for a while, she probably had some granola bars and a few juice boxes stashed in her safe-haven under the staircase.   she, too, had been reading her way through nancy drew and knew, even at 11 years of age, the value of a good hiding place.

regardless our age, we all need to hideout every once in a while.   maybe for me it has something to do with five children, but i have found myself, on occasion, in need of some serious escaping.  though i am enthralled with the idea of something exotic,  i usually have to settle for something a little more local - something within shouting distance.  one of my spots is a white porch swing hanging on our patio below the deck.  it has become a good place for a quick get away.  a place to swing my body and catch my breath.   it is quiet down there.  and still.   (that is, if the kids aren't perfecting their backflips on the trampoline 15 feet away and if bella isn't digging in her sandbox on the deck up above).  this little swing of interlude calms me.  it quiets the heat of  too much within.  i realize this escapism may sound odd coming from a woman who has actually chosen a large family.  and i wouldn't change my household number one bit -  i adore the entire unruly crush of them.  but there are times when i need to breathe in a space apart.  alone.  there are moments when i need to put on my running shoes and turn on my ipod and go out my back door.  somewhere else.   separate.  this remained true in my rendezvous with cancer.  more than ever, i felt the need for escape.  the need for a good hiding place.

often, rooms and swings and runs can help in the pressing times of life.  but they are not enough.  they can hide us only so well, carry us only so high and take us only so far.  at some point it is not nearly enough.  we are exposed and we are brought low.  and it is at this low point we need to go deep.  deep into the only place of real safety and true calm.  deep into my Father's arms.  "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."  ~ psalm 32:7   oh friend, i know we all don't go immediately to this place.  most of us try other things first.  i struggle so much.  all the time, in fact.  i'll somedays go to target before i'll go to the Lord.  i'll somedays hide in my closet before i hide myself in Him.   uugh.  i am embarrassed to type such weak confession.  but it's true.  often, i have to hear the burglar in the house before i head to my hideout.  i have to be in real crisis before i search for real shelter. 

so this solitude-seeking woman will continue to escape to her porch swing below.   and she will sneak out her back door with running shoes on and ipod in hand...and she will probably head over to target more than she should.  and this will help for a bit.  i will snatch stolen moments in secret places and i will catch my breath and it will be good for an small hour or so.  but if i want life giving breath and soul-deep cool, i will have to be truly hidden... in a good hiding place.  hidden in Him.

"for in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me 
in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock."  ~ psalm 27:5

"keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings."  ~ psalm 17:8

Thursday, July 14, 2011

solutions and six

i had a math teacher in high school who liked to say, "you're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem." math teacher humor, i suppose...but it works, doesn't it?  in our family, everyone contributes something.  everyone must.   there is no person too small or too busy or too delicate to help out.   there is something for everyone to do and, count on it,  there's much to do.  it is how this ship stays afloat.  the five children and man would be working their way through at least a third mother if it was expected mother do it all.  my replacement and i  would both be recovering in some asylum somewhere ... or worse.   so we all pitch in.  we all help out.  or at least that's the plan.  it is never perfect and rarely smooth.   in fact, sometimes it is even harder when we all have to help.   this pitching in means we rub elbows and bump shoulders and step on toes.  there is always someone in the way. underfoot.  it is inevitable.  our kitchen is not tiny, but come 6pm, and it begins to feel tight.  i will surely find someone standing between me and the dinner fixings and so  i am forever shooing them out.  "if you're not helping me make dinner, please leave.  go. now. out."  that is what i say.  but what i really want is everyone working together.  when i am feeling ambitious,  i hand them carrots to chop and silverware to set and something to mash.   i want each of them to have a role, a part, a place.   i want them to be part of the solution - to feel needed.  this is community and contribution.  this is family.  

the cancer provided us a crash course in the area of need.   miss independent me,  developed a  new, swelling kind of hunger for my family -  an incredible thirst for the six living under my roof.   i've always liked having them around (an understatement), but i am not sure i would have told you i was in need of them.   maybe i just hadn't ever really thought about it.   but  i cannot imagine this path without them strewn wildly about.  in the past couple of months i have often wished for a way to sweep them all into a quiet protect them from the heavy hits of the fear-pounding, but it was not possible ---  they are the ones who had to daily deal.   this was never mommy's diagnosis alone.   this diagnosis landed harsh in the laps of seven. we carried it as a family. we had to.  no one has moved through unmarked.  i  had no choice but to bring along the whole, untidy assemblage.  like it or not.  there was no hiding up in a bedroom or camping out at the office or disappearing into the woods - at least not for very long.  at some point, we all had to sit down at the kitchen table and face it.  eyeball to eyeball.  nose to nose. fearful heart to fearful heart.  

the diagnosis came on a tuesday.  by that friday every mcnatt kid had been told.  that week of telling was, without doubt, the worst week ever.  the conversations we had and the weeping moments we endured will never be forgotten.  not by this mother.  but that first weekend was easter.  and in that weekend full with rebirth and resurrection reminders,  we found the clouds parting a little.  our family had been stumbling around inside a week tomb-dark.  our days were gray.  our nights hot black.  i've never been in a place quite like it.  some of you have, i'm sure, and you know.  you know the numbing gray of disbelief.  you know the piercing black of fear's deep cut.   

easter weekend arrived just days after diagnosis.  my world had been stripped of color, when all of a sudden, i found myself in the midst of easter pastel.  at first i felt taunted.   "you're kidding me, God?  really?  you want me to stuff pink and yellow and purple eggs with jelly beans and chocolate?"  but i did.  all the while knowing this weekend had nothing to do with eggs, pastel or plain.   in a visceral way my faith was stirred deeply by the glimpse of the garden and the cross and the tomb ---  the empty tomb.  even in the very ordering of days i felt God's orchestrating hand.  oh, is He not the God of perfect timing? not that there is any great time to get cancer, but easter weekend somehow helped. 

just enough light was shed and just enough hope was felt for me to move back into my skin.  i felt compelled to do what i always do in times of crisis or need or whatever:  come up with a plan.  i like plans.  a lot.  immediately i knew this heavy stuff wouldn't be carried by me alone.  i am one of seven and i needed to find a way to bring them all in.  bring them all on board.  i knew it would be good for me...but mostly, i knew it would be good for them.  i know my children and husband well, and like any mother and wife, i knew what they needed was an old fashioned assignment...a task...a mission...a job.  the alternative was to wallow.  we weren't going to be a family which wallowed --- i was dead set against it.  heels dug in gritty resistance.  and so it began with an easter evening.

on easter evening we came together.  all seven us gathered in the midst of an easter-basket-blown family room.  it was time to roll away the stone which had been blocking us in...weighing us down...stealing our joy since first hearing.   it was time to stop thinking problem and to start thinking solution.   it was time to get rid of the gloom.  Jesus was alive.  the grave claimed no victory.  Jesus had risen!  i came to my family with card stock in hand.  a note for each member bearing their name and their assignment.  i am, after all, a woman of words and an assigner of roles.  it was time to cast this show.  time to form the team.  time to figure it out.  at least a little. i felt lame in my feeble attempt to invoke order and incite purpose.  i knew these children and this man were seeing me only through the eyes of my diagnosis.  they could barely see past it.  i could barely see past it.  but that was exactly what we needed to do.  they watched me closely, wondering all the while, if this was just another strange-mom-thing or if i had truly (and finally) stepped over the edge.  

i knew what they were thinking and promptly ignored their curious eyes.  instead i moved forward with children seated and plan in hand.  in a pretend moment of confidence, i presented my husband and children with their part to play in this new cancer drama.   this journey.  this battle.   this is my way.  it may seem simple to you.  simple and maybe even kind of silly.  it had nothing to do with medicine.  nothing to do with miracles.  nothing to do with research and appointments and strategy.  but it had everything to do with our hope.  i handed them out, one by one, explaining as i went.

bella - the joy-bringer:  there is no mistake in God's timing.  He brought bella into our lives only nine months before cancer.  she waltzes around our home with a light step and a joyful sound.  we all marvel at her delight in the ordinary.  i knew in this cancer battle i would be desperate for reminders of joy and i knew she was just the girl to bring them.

connor - the laugh-maker connor is my boy who can be counted on for something clever.  he is the child who provided the first laugh after diagnosis. "looks like we are back on the meal circuit!" he said when our first meal was brought.  we would all need to laugh.  it is, without doubt, the best medicine.  at least for me. i was sure as much as i might need drugs and surgery and treatment, i would need laughter.  connor would be my guy.

sarah - the cheerleader:  she not only looks like one in her ponytails, but five minutes in the same room with sarah and you would know why i dubbed her just this.  sarah is passionate and energetic.  she will be the girl on the finish line waving wildly and yelling loudly. sarah has a special kind of sparkle and pizzazz needed in this kind of yuck-filled contest.  i would need her with me all the way.  within days she began devising cheers and performed them for me regularly.

tyler - the prayer warrior:  this young man, my teenage boy, can pray.  every single night of bella's year long adoption process i heard this boy at bedtime pray faithfully for the healing of his sister's heart.  a sister he had yet to meet.  i know the power of prayer...and i know a powerful pray-er.  this warrior-boy has God's ear and i asked him to go boldly before the throne for his mom.  and i had no doubt he would daily go.

emily - the truth-teller:  a heavy diagnosis often brings with it lies.  the serpent's hiss is just waiting to whisper something false into our frightened selves.  there is a lot to hear after hearing the word cancer.  i would need the Voice of Truth to counter the evil one's attack.  i knew it immediately.  emily was also under attack, so i wanted her to be the one searching scripture and reporting back God's truth.  we both desperately needed to quiet the lies and calm our hearts.  this assignment was to be for both of us.

rick - the comforter-protector:  rick has always been the ultimate protector.  since our dating days in college he has attempted to shield me from anything hard and ugly and hurtful.   i remember when he refused to take me to a steeler's game, not wanting to expose me to such stuff as that.  wise, i suppose.  it has not always been easy for him to be married to a woman like me.  a woman headstrong and pretending greatly at independence and self-sufficiency.  my stubborn-self has often resisted his attempts to shield.  but i would need, more than ever, to rely on the strength of his protection and the constancy of his comfort.  and after almost 21 years of marriage,  i knew i could. 

so those are the six.  the six ready to share  their wife and mom's load.  some days we have  wanted to shut our eyes and turn our backs to it.  to pretend it gone.  to ignore the battle.  i can see it in their eyes when this urge hits.  i don't begrudge them this looking-away.  not one bit.  i feel the same way.  there have been plenty of days i have woken up and wanted to forget.   but even on these days i am reminded, often,  how blessed i am to have six others part of my solution.

we are through the diagnosis, through the surgery, and just about through the recovery.  we have gotten the results.  we know the longterm treatment, the lifestyle changes and even the risk factors.  in the past couple of weeks, the battle has calmed.  it is not over.  cancer isn't like that.  there will be daily medication and there will be regular appointments and there will always be the wondering - that awful, awful wondering.   but we will go on in our living.  with heads bent close, elbows touching.  we'll probably bump into each other a lot as we go, but we've notched, a little deeper, our part and place in this family.  we've contributed.  we've solved.  we've shouldered.  and we've needed...each other.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

fine things

this morning i watched my fourth born come down for his breakfast.  connor, sleep-eyed and slow moving.  he was sleeping in late this summer - like a teenager.   he set out his morning things:  cheerio box. blue bowl. white milk.  i watched him search for a clean spoon.  in our house, we have a way of always being low on the clean.  it was while connor rummaged through the overloaded dishwasher that i noticed:  this sun-browned-boy,  this 8-year-old-teen, was still in his bathing suit.  the one he wore yesterday to the pool.  the one he came home in, ate dinner in, rode bike in, watched movie in, and, obviously, had slept in.  blue and orange and white stripes from waist to knee.  i sat, coffee cup in hand, saying nothing.  nothing but my, "good morning."  and with eyes following swim-suited-son, moving easily around my late morning kitchen, i thought to myself, "it's okay.  he's fine.  i can live with this."  and i smiled all the way through.  and i watched him, deep and easy, in my mother love.

lately, i have noticed this happening a little more often: this finding-things-i-can-live-with feeling.  finding things which are just fine.  fine the way they are.   fine and not in need of my meddling, mother-hands.  fine and not in need of my eternal, womanly fixing.  i have always been a fixer.  a fixer of things.  a straightener of lines.  a smoother of edges.  a brusher of tangles. a patcher of  life.  there was a time when i would have made sure this growing boy of mine had on clean and (even possibly) matching pajamas.  he would have been tucked neatly into weekly-washed sheets after an evening bath, inside of a reasonable bedtime.  that is the way i have loved my children well.  arrange pillows and covers and hair and sock drawer and play dates and all things. and everything.  but everything has changed just a bit.  not tremendously.  not philosophically.  not spiritually.  i still love them well in my mothering,  i only hover around the details differently.

this has spilt over into other rooms of our life. last night we left dinner dishes in sink.  something which has almost always felt impossible. in the past,  i would stand until midnight (it sure seemed) and fill sink with hot water and suds and every manner of stainless steel and ceramic.  i had this desire to have all of it gone before sunrise.  when i come to the kitchen in bare feet and in morning dark i want to be greeted by nothing which reeks of last night's dinner hour.  i want my coffee and my calm.  i want an emptied sink and wiped-down granite.  i will clean it late into evening to preserve this chance for morning peace.  but last night we left dinner dishes in sink.  we had a few extra children eating at our table and a tremendously large spaghetti meal and you can only imagine the mess stacked high.  but we left it all.

everyone eating did bring their plate to the sink.  and they all scraped and rinsed and stacked as they have been expected to do for forever.  the counters and table were quickly addressed with soapy rag.  chairs pushed in.  milk put away.  noodle pot set to soak.  but the dishwasher was still running from the afternoon cycle.  (yes, it runs twice a day, at least, during summer).  and so i left my kitchen.  i abandoned my post of pots and pans and plates and turned my back on the spaghetti mess.  i left the kitchen and i left the house.

after an evening run-walk,  i returned home to find my pile of kids in the midst of a big plan.  this plan had nothing to do with the state of my kitchen or the piled high dinner dishes.  imagine that.  instead, they had hearts set on a movie marathon and campout in my room.  it sounded good to me and after shower taken and popcorn popped and pillows brought, we settled in.  and i was just fine with it.  i was fine with the bodies sprawling every which way across floor and bed.  i was fine with the popcorn sprinkled generously over linen-colored duvet.  i was fine with the little one knocking around at my feet and the older one's elbow in my side.  i was fine with the munching and slurping of too many children.  i was fine with the messy abundance in kitchen sink one floor below.  and, apparently, i was just fine with the 8 year old boy falling asleep in his bathing trunks.
i could live with it.  all of it. 
and i wouldn't change a thing...this very fine thing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

highlighted beauty

there is no spiritual way to write this, but yesterday i got my hair highlighted.  oh yes, honest to goodness, highlights.  at a salon.  one of those salons with candles and good lighting and clean, herbal smells and chic stylists.   chic stylists all dressed in even chic-er all black. (just for the record, i have never once in my life worn all black).  the kind of salon where they rub your shoulders and your hands and your temples and you could just curl up forever in the lap of luxury and be blissfully shampooed.  and it is heaven for an hour.  it is the only place i allow myself to mindlessly thumb through glamour magazines and forget that i have dirty floors and even dirtier children back at home.  the people at this salon have names like summer and stone and autumn and amber... i've yet to meet a jody.

my colorist (keri with a "k") tsk, tsk-ed over my dark roots.  i was long overdue she said with a thin frown.  "yes, yes i am," i replied.  and then i smiled.  i played around with exactly how to tell her why i was so delinquent in my beauty regimen.  cancer isn't the kind of thing you can throw at just any old person.  especially a person who introduces herself with a letter.  but keri with a "k" was right,  i was absolutely overdue.  jody with a "j" had scheduled her highlight appointment for the end of april, but cancelled.  with chemo still undetermined, i couldn't imagine paying the outrageous cost to be blonde.  i am not always one to be exceedingly frugal, but in this case, my husband's planets miraculously aligned, and, somehow, i was.  maybe i thought it would be easier to cut off my mousy brown hair than (fake) sun-kissed locks.  i'm not positive,  but i'm pretty sure that thought was probably in the back of my root-darkened head.

today wasn't just about getting highlights or getting pampered though.  today was about getting back into the groove.  today was about life-goes-on.  that was my thought while sipping minty tea and listening to the hum of woman-chatter around me.  i sat in a sleek, black and chrome chair feeling like any other beauty-starved woman.  hungry for something brighter and lighter and fresh.  a new me.  i haven't felt very sparkly over the past few months.  i've had this mousy kind of look.  shoulders hunched and arms poised ready to protect.   keep in mind i spent a couple weeks at the end of may with tubes full of body fluids hanging from my armpits.  armpits which, i have to tell you,  i have only recently been able to shave.  people have kindly remarked on how normal i look.  but normal doesn't quite cut it when the whole brutal, breast cancer package is revealed.  (sorry mom, i know that crosses the line of appropriate images).

let's face it, we women struggle with self-image, cancer or not.  it is just part of our fragile wiring.  i have yet to meet a woman ecstatic, or even kind of content, with every God given part. we all carry around the weight of some unattainable ideal.  but then cancer comes along and it launches an even further, greater, deadlier attack on our femininity.  we can be left impossibly more fragile.  most of us could probably come up with something we wouldn't mind having cut off or cut out.  we'd all willingly part with a wart, or two, or that flappy, pregnancy skin around our tummies or the cellulite high on our thighs. but tell us you have to take our breasts or our hair and forget about it. geesh!  do you have any idea how long it took me to grow both?  i tried short hair once.  i liked it for about an hour.  after those first 60 minutes i spent a good three years growing myself back into the ease of a ponytail.

cancer is the craziest, ugliest thing.  there is nothing beautiful about it.  it attacks us from within and without.  we clearly see the ravaged results on our outsides, but what really counts is on the inside. and isn't beauty the same?  we can put ourselves through a whole lot of ordeal and angst trying to smooth it all out and gloss it all up, and yet, if our insides remain unaddressed, we become ticking, beauty time bombs.  an ugly explosion almost unavoidable.  if i focus only on the external and ignore what is happening underneath, it will all end ugly - highlighted hair or not.  "let not your beauty be external...but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God's sight."  1 peter 3:3-4

with three girls in my house, i seem to be forever giving beauty lectures.  there have been countless mother-daughter talks in front of my mirror while brushing and braiding brown hair. they all need something different from me.  some days i have to rub in or rub off or just flat out forbid.  i come into rooms and find my girls staring in mirrors.  even the very smallest girl.  pursing lips and wiggling eyebrows.  my middle daughter is always trying to sneak past me with something on her face.  i gently point her in the direction of the nearest sink and hand her a cloth.  "you are too young," i say.  the only thing i want to see there is a smile.  "that's it.  that's all you may add. a smile,"  i tell her.   why must she think her child-bright cheeks and eyes are in need of anything more?  i don't know.  but i was young once and i suppose i remember my own sneaking and staring.

the truth of it is, even at 42, i still stare and purse and wiggle and want for something different.  something more.  will i ever outgrow this foolish desire to enhance or improve or adorn some visible part of me?  i don't know.  i really don't.  i'd like to think so.  i am a woman in her midlife, and i have noticed myself beginning to gather up pennies for that eternal fountain.  regardless, i know it is all beginning to change. shift.  slide.  "charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."  ~proverbs 31:30.   cancer may not have left me physically any better off, but it has, without doubt, given my fear of the Lord a really good boost. 

i didn't end up needing chemo and so i celebrated with highlights.  deep, huh?  i was so proud of them last night coming through the door.  i wanted everyone along the way to stop and take notice.  my boys barely looked up.  apparently they were oblivious to their shimmering mother standing before them.  but let me tell you about fleeting:  today at the pool bella stood behind me while i sat on the edge catching up with my friend, maureen.  i sensed bella's small hands in my hair.  like any little girl, she loves to brush and style it.  i felt her fingers running through for several minutes before i realized what she was doing was applying great handfuls of sunscreen to my highlighted locks.  this woman's salon look was long gone and this afternoon she walked back into her house sporting nothing more than a smeared and sticky ponytail.  i could only laugh and be reminded of another beauty lesson.  beauty is fleeting, indeed.  and life goes on, sticky and smeared and oh, so beautifully normal.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


in the past few months,  i've often heard, "i don't want to bother you with this..."  or  "you don't need to worry about that ..."   polite words expressed by thoughtful people.   like, all of a sudden, when a girl gets cancer everybody else's issues pale.  life pales and fades.  except that it doesn't.    sure, some stuff quickly lost its heat.  i could only get so worked up about that scratch on the dining room table or the burnt rolls in the oven or the always, long line at the bank.   it is kind of hard going through something big and, simultaneously,  worrying about something small.  it just is.  not that i haven't had a good-old-fashioned-mom-freak-out-moment [over nothing] since the diagnosis.  i have.  it happens.  and, let me tell you,  it's never pretty.

lately, i've been able to shut my eyes to some of the petty stuff littering life, but i haven't really wanted to close myself off from people and their problems.   in fact, i don't think i've ever been more aware of both.  it's like when you have something sad rattling around inside, you can actually see and hear hurt - perhaps even better. louder.  clearer.  it might be the echo in my ears.  it might be the ready tears in my eyes. it might be the fearful rent in my confidence.   i don't know.  but i do know i've never been more in tune with others and their troubling stuff.  could this possibly be the softening of a hard-hearted woman?  finally?  i sure hope so.  it has been a long time coming.

maybe it's a club-mentality kind of thing.  like when you get a problem large enough you can join (not for free, mind you) and obtain inner access to everyone else's issues.  i don't mean that flippantly.  i am serious.  i have never had more people write me via email or inbox or, believe it or not,  even the post office.   i have heard, story after story, of slash and pierce and pain.  i've listened to the heart-heavy-words over coffee and on the phone and even standing in the produce section.   i am so thankful for this sharing.   these tellings told me i wasn't alone.  they told me i, too, had a place to touch tender with words.  that was the message i heard.  even the saddest of stories can bring silver threads of beauty.

most of us are going through something - often hard somethings.  there is no exact hierarchy of hurting.   it wouldn't be fair to list in order of challenge the sufferings of so many.  but, let's just agree, people, we've got them.  they are everywhere.  so few of us are left unbruised. unblemished.  we can't always put our ugly, tarnished tales out on display.  it seems to be a rather fine line.  there can be such encouragement in sharing.   beautiful meeting.  even, incredible healing.  but sometimes we can't.  i know in my own family we've each had to find a place.  a place to put our sad.  a place for pretend.  a place to forget,  if just for awhile.   it has been lovely to wake and rush into a day without remembering.  but, sooner or later, it comes slamming back on the toes.  heavy things do.

in the days after april, we had to learn a little bit about masking our winces and swallowing fear.  you learn things like this when traveling through the raw times of life.  you learn a game-face.  a face which might be a little bit stoic, a little bit cool, and maybe, even oddly aloof.   i am typically a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve...and her dress and her skirt and her shoes....but, i too,  had to find a way to be cool.   a definite first - and definitely necessary.  we couldn't always, at every turn and with every question, explain how we really were doing.  we could not.   most everyone understood.  i had a few strange conversations, but, for the most part, people got it.  honestly, a cancer diagnosis gives a girl a lot of leeway.  "oh, don't mind her, she has cancer you know."  it has been one of the tiny silver linings.

there is no right or wrong way in going through something wretched, but i am sure going through with someone is good.   i cannot quite comprehend how anyone walks this kind of road solo.   it isn't conceivable.  i know there are people shouldering great big burdens, impossibly alone.  i find this heartbreaking.  breath-stealing.   how, i wonder.  how?  i mean it ... HOW?  hurting people need others.  there is something in the sharing.  i know this now,  better than ever.  passing off  just a little, here and there, lessens the load, lightens the eyes.  i haven't been able to answer every note or card or gesture, but i want you all to know how much they have meant.  each evening sitting on my bed or my porch swing or even on the curb below my bricked mailbox i have opened up a card or two or three.  your words were like honey.   sweet honey.   dripping down the dry throat of a tired and fearful and worried woman.  sweet on my sour tongue.  wet sugar to my bitter.

sometimes we doubt our words.  they aren't right or perfect or enough.  we don't know what to say to someone in struggling places. but if you ever, again, think twice about sending a note or touching a shoulder or leaving a message or dropping off cookies, hear the rise behind my word-voice now, "do it!" act on that thought, that good intention. grasp hold before it is gone and forgotten.  brief moment failed.   don't miss the chance to minister well.   we humans need it.  we all need it.  we brokenly forget how much we are in need.  whether strangely open or oddly cool, God created us for connection and for connecting.   some of us pretend to be pretty good on our own.  and we are --- for awhile.   we can all swing the all-by-myself thing occasionally.  sure.  but solo is only so good when we are under the crush of something so big.  God intended us to,  "encourage one another and build each up up, just as you are doing." 1 thessalonians 5:11.   encourage. build. drip honey. heal. be sweet. tell and be told ... just as you are doing.    

"pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul 
and healing to the bones." ~ proverbs 16:24