Priorities

Today, I’m thankful. I’m here, I’m breathing, I’m not in pain. I’m sitting outside the barn at a barrel race, waiting for my daughter to run.

I haven’t been to many races this year. I’ve been working, leading 4h, keeping house, and a host of other things that have kept me too busy to enjoy the small things, which are really sometimes the big things.

I’m looking ahead to the next 6 months of my life, praying for the best, preparing for the worst, and realizing that my window for “normal” life is pretty small.

In three weeks, I’ll have surgery, closely followed by 4.5 months of chemotherapy. I’m at peace with all of that; it just makes me more conscious of moments and days, rather than months and years.

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Tonight, I’m tired. But I’m so blessed and happy and even more grateful. I just fed 13 kids from age 12 to 22. Hospitality is my very heart, and when my house is full, my heart is full. The meal wasn’t gourmet–not even close. It was mac and cheese with hot dogs and chips. But it was FUN, and relationships were formed and built upon. This is life. This is important.

So tonight, when I lay my head down, I’ll be exhausted. I overspent my energy and may regret it tomorrow. But I’m content–and so grateful for this day.

Good Medicine

Humor is a big part of our home. We like to laugh and we do it often. I’m realizing it’s sort of a love language, here. If you’ve hung around long enough to be teased and ribbed, you’re IN. You’re part of our tribe, for better or for worse.

Sometimes, teasing goes too far and feelings get hurt. That’s not okay. But generally speaking, we can all take a joke and enjoy the give and take. We try to be good about checking in with one another to be sure we aren’t hitting tender spots that need protecting, not poking.

Several days after diagnosis, we sat around the table playing a game of Exploding Kittens. No kittens were harmed during game play, and if you enjoy junior high type humor, you should check out this game. Anyway, the game was rather slow and subdued on this occasion–an attempt at normalcy even though everyone was feeling the full weight of our situation.

After the game dragged on for quite awhile, my husband played a mean card on me. Without missing a beat, I looked at him with my best pathetic face and said “But. . . I have CANCER!” My poor kids looked like someone hit them in the gut. My husband just shook his head and replied “I knew that was coming.” I laughed, and that was the beginning of healing.

As soon as I was able to make light of this serious situation, it freed my family to be themselves and be normal. You see, there isn’t a guidebook to this sort of thing. Nobody knows what I really feel inside or how I (or others) may construe anything anyone else says or does. In the simple act of laughter, the dam burst and I think everyone felt like maybe, just maybe, we will all get through this.

Cancer is not a laughing matter. But it’s also not the beginning notes of a funeral dirge. We can survive this.

They say the mama is the barometer for the household. She sets the tone and so much depends on her attitude. My family knows when I’m not okay. They know when something is off and when I’m faking. I pray that through this, I can teach my kids that authenticity is not only okay, it’s necessary to life. Even as I write this, I am learning it myself. I can cry. I can be sad. I can be unsure and apprehensive and scared. But I can also laugh in the face of adversity and show the world that there is joy in the journey, no matter how rough.

Exposed

I got a package in the mail today. It was kind of creepy. I ordered it myself and I knew what was inside. Still creepy. With trepidation, I opened the padded envelope and found an entire head of hair.

They tell me I’ll lose my hair after my first cycle of chemotherapy. Now, y’all, I don’t consider myself to be a vain person (I’m learning I’m much more vain than I ever realized) and I just figured when I go bald, I’ll wear hats. Hats are cute; I like hats.

Then I started thinking. In addition to my kids requesting that I get a wig, I realized that if I don’t have one, everyone everywhere will know that I have or have had cancer. It’s not a fact I care to hide, but it’s also not my favorite topic of discussion. And so, I ordered.

The wig is cute. On a stand. On my head, mmmm, maybe. At the moment, I’m just trying to be as prepared as I can, since I likely won’t care much to be shopping once my hair falls out and I’m a puddle of tears.

Losing my hair is a harder thought for me than losing my breasts. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I think part of it has to do with dignity–women my age aren’t meant to be bald. We rarely are bald, and in fact spend quite a bit of time in the pursuit of good hairstyles. Something given at birth is being stripped away against my will. I realize mastectomy will also strip something away, but it’s different. That part of me is shielded from view and protected. My head is just right out there, seen by the world.

Enter vanity. Or rather, expose vanity. I don’t think it’s wrong that I feel grief at losing my hair–not at all. However, it WILL grow back. Maybe it will be even better! And yet, that’s not a comfort. I’m still stuck.

I think, at the core, this is an issue of surrender. I have come to terms at the moment with having cancer (this is something I know I will have to do time after time in the next year). I have come to terms with surgery and mastectomy, and I am willing. My hair, on the other hand, is something to which I’m clinging. Perhaps it’s as simple as having my outside be as exposed as my soul feels right now. Maybe it all comes down to vulnerability. When I walk around now, my battle is private. Strangers, and many people I know, aren’t aware of my situation. In due course, it will be glaringly apparent to the world.

Maybe I’m not ready for that. But I’m working on it.

Meet Stacey

Just a few days after my diagnosis, an out-of-state friend messaged me with a few prayer requests from her church. She mentioned that a woman there had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Being the extrovert that I am, I asked for her name and immediately barged into her world. I’m so thankful I did. It turns out Stacey was diagnosed 4 days before I and was facing a very similar journey to mine.

We hit it off, and Stacey and I now check in daily. We don’t know each other well, but we have some pretty amazing things in common, not the least of which is an abiding faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are a year apart in age (no need to specify who is older–ha!), both have a number of children, etc, etc. It seems we are both married to comedians, as well. My husband said “Hey, maybe you’ll become “breast” friends!” to which hers replied “Yes, keep us abreast of the situation!” I have a feeling this witty exchange will be drawn out for months. . . much longer than it deserves to!

I have heard many great success stories since my diagnosis. It seems everyone knows someone who had it and survived and lives an abundant life. As wonderful as those stories are to hear (and they are!!) nothing compares to having a Sister in Christ who is walking the very same road as I, at the very same time. Over the next many months, we will understand each other like no one else does.

Some would call this coincidence or great luck. I have no such illusions. The Lord God has planted us in one another’s lives–maybe just for a season, maybe forever. Proverbs 17:17 says: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Stacey and I share a sisterhood that was born for this journey—this adversity. Praise God.

Pushing Forward

My daughter Wendy came to me last evening to tell me that God had put a verse on her heart for me. I always pay attention when someone comes to me with something–it’s how the Body of Christ works.

Mark 3:10 He had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.

The verses prior to verse 10 tell that Jesus was speaking to the crowds and so many had been healed and wanted to be healed that He had to sit off the shore in a boat so that people couldn’t crowd him as he spoke.

People believed. They saw Jesus working and ministering and healing and they wanted it for themselves. I am one of those people.

I haven’t felt the call to pray for miraculous healing in my situation. I do pray for that often in other situations, and I believe completely in God’s ability and desire to heal miraculously. Rather, I am deeply convinced that God’s work in my life and potentially the lives of others will come through my walking of this dark road–willingly.

And so I see from the verse Wendy gave me that I must push forward to touch Him. I must keep my eyes ahead and upward, trusting Him to complete His work in me and through me. I will need those nearby to remind me of this. I haven’t even started treatment yet and I am so very tired. My body is fighting this cancer with all it has. . . literally. Add to that the emotional and mental components, and going into the journey I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m fighting discouragement and I haven’t even begun to run the race.

So pray for me, my friends. When God brings me to your mind, ask Him to keep me focused on the prize, not distracted by the rough terrain.

Defenses Down

Today will be a tough day. This will be my first Sunday in church since my diagnosis. There are so many people at First Baptist who love me and truly care about my family. I have a pastor who preaches the Word and loves his people. The worship team helps to usher us into the presence of the King. So what’s the problem?

Church is where my defenses come down. Nothing moves my emotions and bares my soul like corporate worship, so I predict I will be a mess. When my friends offer a kind word and a hug, it ruins any bravado I may have had and the waterworks start. I’m sure this is a perfectly healthy and normal way to react, especially given the circumstances, but it’s hard for me.

You see, I’m the caregiver. I’ve fed and cared for a farmer for 23 years. I’ve raised or sheltered children for almost as long. I love and live to see that others have what they need. Not much makes me happier than when people enjoy my food or want to hang around my house.

Now, I’m moving into a place where, for a prolonged period of time, I will be the one who needs to be fed and looked after. I will be vulnerable and needy and I hate that part.

I have learned, in theory, that for every person who wants to wash feet, someone must be willing to let their feet be washed. Now, that head knowledge must make the journey to my heart.

Not Just My Story

I’m getting a lot of attention these days. I don’t like being the center of attention. I do appreciate all the caring and loving people surrounding me, for sure. I love that God is raising people up to encourage and support me.

Today, my son turns 15. I have one son and 7 daughters. As I think about his life and pray for him this morning, I’m very aware that this whole cancer deal isn’t just about me. It’s part of his story, too.

He’s turning 15 and learning and growing in life and just found out his mama’s got cancer. You know the bond between boys and mamas. . . and as far as he understands, his mama could die and leave him alone.

After he learned the news, he came into my room and asked if I wanted a hug. YES! I will always want a hug from this guy. He leaned down (He’s 6’5”) and held on tight while I sobbed. That was a moment that will likely never leave either of our memories.

The same is true of my daughters–my strong, lovely, amazing daughters. This is part of their story, as well. They are the ones who will fill my shoes for the next 6 months or so. We are all going in strong, but the day will come when we are all weary and tired and maybe angry.

And my husband. I can’t imagine getting the news that a spouse has cancer. I pray I never know the feeling, but I know Larry feels it deeply. It’s a major part of his story. I told him yesterday “I’m sorry, dear, but if I have cancer, you have cancer. That’s how it works. . . if you do it right.” And so we walk this part of the story together. And he’s been amazing. God blessed me beyond measure to give me this man.

When we go through something tough in life, we tend to think and wonder about what the purpose is. What’s God doing? Why is this happening? Some of us look inward for the lessons we think we are supposed to be learning and think our struggles are only about us. How often we miss the other pieces of the puzzle. Since our lives are all intertwined on one level or another, what is tough for me may be tough for someone else in my life, and maybe this difficult thing is actually me being a tool in the Maker’s hand so that someone else can learn and grow.

Regardless what will come of this situation I’m in, I know that it’s not about me. Not entirely, anyway. It’s about His higher purpose. And I am willing.