Life

I’m not dying. Well, I’m dying in the same sense that everyone is dying, but it doesn’t appear that I’ll be leaving any more quickly than anyone else. Cancer treatment is going well, I’m told, and all we are doing now is “cleaning up any stragglers” that may remain undetected in my body. I have 10 more weeks of “cleanup” to go, and even though I still have several years of treatment to inhibit cancer growth, things should get back to normal.

I’m not dying, but I don’t feel like I’m living, either. My current reality is completely dictated by cancer and its treatment. Because of side effects and collateral damage, I am not able to just go about my business like I did last year at this time. I don’t have the energy to jump up and make an impromptu trip somewhere, just to get out. I am sick many days and don’t have the wherewithal to tidy the house, do dishes, or play a game with my kids. Steroids are messing with my system, so I am not free to enjoy certain meals or drink my morning coffee. “Life” right now is very different.

What is “life?” What is “living?” Do we measure life by what we are physically capable of doing? Is someone confined to a wheelchair less alive than someone running a marathon? I don’t think so. At least I hope that isn’t the measure we use.

To quantify life in that manner brings us dangerously close to making judgments of worth in a person based on what they can produce or how exciting their activities are. It relegates “living” to a series of accomplishments–a tally sheet of “doing.” It means that babies and old people are barely living. People restricted by physical or mental limitations can suddenly be ranked in order of importance based on production.

This type of thinking hits home for me. My dad is confined to a wheelchair. His muscles are weak. His activity is very limited and he needs help with most things. In spite of this, he is one of the strongest men I know. I have watched him manage adversity and disability for years, and he never ceases to amaze me.

Most any man can do physical labor, maintain the house, keep things in order. But it’s not every man that encourages. Dad has time to spare, and he uses that time to invest in people. He calls to check in. He listens. He gives advice. Most of all, he PRAYS.

I would love it if my dad could pop over and fix something for me. That would fill a need. But I love it so much more that my dad will call me or my husband to pray. That is life giving.

So while I am in this sedentary season, I want to make use of the time. I want to encourage. I want to come alongside people who are struggling. I want to be a testimony of the grace of God in my life. I want to pray.

That is living.

Seasons

I don’t know how it happened. The whirlwind that was our autumn has suddenly settled down into a blanket of snow and quiet. It’s been six weeks since surgery and nearly three weeks since the start of chemotherapy. On the farm, most of the busy winter prep work is finished and daily chores have settled into a routine. My husband’s 14 hour days have turned overnight into four hour days, with time now to catch up on all the household maintenance and spend time with the family. I like this time of year.

The tree is up and 21 hand made stockings hang in my living/dining area. I hope to start soon on Christmas baking. We love to carry plates of cookies here and there, and I plan for more than usual this year.

As I look back over my cancer journey, I see seasons there, as well. There was the initial shock and grief of diagnosis, followed by acceptance and impatience to get the process started. Then came surgery and recovery, and the grief of loss. Interspersed throughout were smaller seasons of uncertainty and the unknown–those were the most difficult. Now that we’ve arrived in week three of chemo, there is a season of settling in. When spring approaches, another round of surgery will come with it.

I look forward to summer. Summer is my least favorite time of the year, but this year it will be wonderful. There will be new beginnings and fresh starts. I am hopeful.

For today, I want to embrace the season I’m in. Winter is my favorite, so that is helpful. Chemo is not fun, but it’s so much better than it could be. While I would like to be much more active, I am thankful not to be throwing up all day long. So, today I choose joy and snuggle in, warm and safe. The snow storm that brought us a foot of snow has stopped, and it’s beautiful outside. Church is cancelled. I’ll miss that very much, but God is here with us, not waiting for us in an empty sanctuary. It’ll be a good day.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Purpose

I woke up today with a bit of a sore throat. Nobody at out family gathering yesterday was sick, so I’m praying its just irritation from the humidity in my CPAP. Regardless, I’ll be laying low for a day or two and not taking chances. I think the up and down weather has something to do with it as well. We are in prime cold and flu season.

Thanksgiving with my family was wonderful. It took all I had not to hug everyone. I did hug my dad, because he’s my dad and I don’t pass that up. My husband and a few other members were not able to make it, but those who were there enjoyed the time. I’m blessed to be surrounded by some pretty amazing people!

Watching my kids and grandkids grow is a wonderful thing. My youngest daughter just turned 13, and she has had a sudden spurt of maturity. It’s sad to see my baby being so grown up, but that’s life. A blink and it’s gone.

My prayer today, made even bolder by my current situation, is that I will take each day as it comes, enjoying each one and finding blessings along the way. I don’t want to take life for granted, waiting for the next thing. Time is too precious. There are people to love and cherish. There are people who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. There is kingdom work to be done. I don’t want to waste my time.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

What is the will of the Lord? That I would be “blameless and innocent, [a child] of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [I] shine as [a light] in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering (cancer sometimes feels like that) upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Philippians 15-18 emphasis mine

I’m here for a reason. This cancer has a purpose. I pray that I will stand firm and run the course laid out for me.

Restored

Yesterday was rough, but God came through in some pretty cool ways. I had a long and wonderful visit with my aunt, who also brought supper. An encouraging card came in the mail from Stacey’s mom (see Meet Stacey), whom I have never met. My family rallied and was helpful. I was down, and the Lord met my needs.

Psalm 40:1-2 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

“I waited patiently” is a stretch. The Lord came my way on that part. But He did hear my cry. He definitely drew me up out of destructive and murky thoughts, and set me on the Rock. Today, my steps are secure.

The sun is shining, my family is healthy and intact, and I have time in my chair to rest. Pain from port placement is far less today, so I hope to get up and be active, at least for a little bit. I’m expecting a really good day.

Gifts

Oh, I have been overwhelmed with gifts. I think my favorite part of each day is hearing from someone or another that they have been thinking of me and praying for me. To feel supported is an amazing thing.

I have received gift cards, gas cards, a recliner (especially wonderful, as I am yet unable to sleep in my bed), and even a piece of exercise equipment that I never dreamed I’d own. That one is a God-story all of its own. My dear, “breast” friend and I have sent things back and forth–how fun that has been! (See the post Meet Stacey).

As wonderful as it is to receive all these things, what have given me strength for each day are all of the notes–handwritten and online–that show I am on someone’s mind. The fact that someone has taken time out of his or her busy day to let me know God has me on His mind is incredible. It is not something I take for granted.

You know those days when someone pops into mind, maybe unexpectedly? Maybe someone you don’t normally find in your daily circle. Maybe someone from long ago. Take it as a nudge and reach out. That person may not be in a life crisis, but she may well be in need of a lift or a reminder that she is not invisible. I’m here to tell you it makes a difference.

Friends in Low Places

It’s been a rough weekend. My “normal” lately has been constant mental and physical fatigue, but the last two days have brought things that have just been more than I can handle.

Small things have become big things, and big things have become bigger, thanks to my reduced tolerance for stuff that rocks my boat. Last night I apologized to my husband for my over-sensitivity, even while begging him to be so careful, so kind, so gentle. It’s not fair that he has to tiptoe, but none of this journey is about fairness, and I’m learning I have to guard myself in every way possible in order to survive.

It may appear to some that it shouldn’t be this hard yet, since I haven’t even started treatment. Some have responded to me as though they don’t really believe I’m fatigued and only functioning in low gear. It takes a lot of energy to fight cancer, and I’m told mine is the most aggressive of its type. I am my harshest critic, and I struggle to allow myself to rest. I tend to listen to the voices around me (real or imagined) and think that I should be able to buck up and do all that I am used to doing.

Then, I look at our last year. Two close family deaths. Two of our three sources of income quite literally taken from our hands, through no fault of our own. My major surgery in June. It’s been a rough haul. It’s no wonder that when I heard the cancer diagnosis, my body, mind, and soul all said “Nope. Can’t do one more thing.” and shut down.

Generally speaking, I’m doing okay with the cancer diagnosis itself. I truly am surrendered to whatever path God leads me down, confident that He has great things in store at the end of it–for me and for others. I am preparing myself for a rough winter, and most days I find joy and contentment in my life.

Every so often, though, everything comes rushing in and something reaches the core of my being and all of that comes crashing down. It’s like the old Garth Brooks song. I find myself with friends in low places. Grief, despair, fear, bitterness, anger all rush to make me comfortable there and beg me to stay.

And then, after I wallow a bit in my own muck, I am reminded that I have the greatest Friend of all–even in the low places, and He calls me up and out and back to LIFE.

Isaiah 40:29-31 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

It’s a new day, and it’s going to be a good one.

Parenting

When our kids were little, I used to get so tired. I was tired of cutting food, washing faces, wiping backsides. I longed for the day when they were older–teenagers, maybe–and they could take care of themselves.

And then that happened. They grew old enough to be responsible for their own showering, tooth brushing, and yes, backside hygiene.

The interesting thing is that my job didn’t get easier. It got harder. Sure, I could go to the grocery store without all six children in tow. I could send them to bed instead of putting them to bed. But their hearts—their hearts became oh, so much more complex. And then we added our two bonus girls, and things became even more interesting.

In childhood, children accept things as simple truths. We go to church. We love Jesus. We do or don’t do certain things, because Mom and Dad said. We work hard. We contribute. That’s just how it works.

Then, they become teens. They start to question. I remember the day my eldest at the time, about 14 years old, said to me “But what if I don’t really believe in God and all that stuff?” Y’all. The panic that struck my mother heart. I nearly wet my pants.

Somehow, God overrode my humanity and I answered “Well, that is entirely your choice. You will have to decide if being a Christian is worthwhile or if you’re going to go your own way.” At that time, she wasn’t looking to change her beliefs. She simply needed to know that the choice was hers. She needed to make her faith her own, rather than riding on the coattails of her parents’ beliefs.

Larry and I have always said “We aren’t raising children, we are raising adults.” Our goal has been to shepherd them in such a way that when they come of age physically, they will be prepared to function as adults mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

The hard thing about that theory is that letting go starts early. It starts with things like allowing a kid make a terrible purchase with too much money, knowing they will soon regret it. It’s about giving them choices, knowing they are not mature enough to make those choices wisely, but also knowing that they will gain wisdom in the process.

I used to think that parenting meant giving it my all until my children were 18 and on their own, at which point I could settle into an easier pace and “retire,” as it were, simply enjoying the fruits of my labor and, eventually, grandchildren.

Instead, I find that having teen and adult children is far more challenging. Problems aren’t solved with a kiss and a hug and a glass of water. Tears aren’t stopped simply by pulling a child into my lap and reassuring him or her. The work now is more rigorous than ever. It’s more challenging than ever. More nerve-wracking than ever.

This time of life is different than I ever imagined. But you know what? It’s also so much more rewarding. My kids are so incredibly amazing. I love watching them grow and develop as people. I hate watching them struggle, and I feel every heartache, but the growth that comes as a result is amazing. God has done some pretty cool stuff.

We have 5 adult children thus far, and I am enjoying their friendship. I am privileged to walk beside them on their journeys in life. I love that they are willing to let me be a part of their stories, and not just a spectator. And yes, I’m loving the grandchildren–7 so far! I get to walk a little more closely with the 3 kids still under my wing, and I beg time to slow down.

It is my privilege, as I see the mountain I’ll soon be climbing, to look around me and see that I have traveling companions. My children will feel my pain, and this time, they will be the caregivers.

I am humbled and blessed beyond measure.

Perspective

There are things in life that you never thought you’d say. . . out loud, at least. Like when I was on the phone with my sister-in-law and she yelled “Stop running the beaters on my curtains!” Or when I said these:

“No, you can’t be Matilda the Hun for the AWANA costume party. He’s not a Bible character. And it’s ‘Attila.'”

“If your duck is going to run around the house, she needs a diaper.”

“Son, if you keep forcing gas, you’ll have to change your pants.”

“Don’t skate on the brown ice in the pasture!”

This sort of thing is what came to my mind yesterday when I got this text from Stacey, my cancer buddy and “breast friend” (for that story, read the post Meet Stacey): “Just got the call. They approved me for a double!”

Whooping. Rejoicing. Because they are going to cut both of my friend’s breasts off.

You see, it’s all in your perspective. We’ve been praying for Stacey’s insurance to approve a double mastectomy, since that’s her best option. It’s a serious situation she’s in, and this major loss is counted as a blessing. She can see it that way because she knows the alternatives, and they aren’t good.

But it’s more than that. She can see this as a blessing because she has the support of family and friends. She has good medical care and a bright prognosis. More than that, she has trust in the One who brought this blessing to pass, who heard our prayers. He will see her through. He will see me through. And He’s given us the added blessing of walking together.

And hey, if we get the chance to trade in our nearly 50-year-old racks for new and improved models, what’s not to love?

The Journey

September 6, 2019, the world stopped turning. Plans we had made, dreams we were chasing, and day-to-day operations all came to a screeching halt. A cancer diagnosis changes everything.

After the “adrenaline week,” I crashed. I could hardly function and could barely stay upright. The emotions and thoughts of the previous week had completely wiped me out.

Since then, I’ve been introspective. Processing. What you are reading now is part of my process. . . I think and pray, and then I write. I’m sometimes surprised at what comes out. Very often, I’m more aware of my own feelings and thoughts after I have put them on the page. I’ve journaled for years, but somehow, this is different.

I know that my God does all things well. I know that nothing goes to waste, and that He brings good out of everything, no matter how terrible. Sometimes, that’s not easy to see. Sometimes, all we can see is the darkness. It’s hard to see past our pain, and harder still to see past the pain of those we love.

Some people don’t want to see past their pain. Instead, they nestle into it and make it their safe space–afraid that if they let go of the pain it means letting go of that person or thing they lost. Sometimes, I think pain becomes comfortable and we don’t move on because we fear that finding happiness and freedom means making a new start, finding a new normal, and what if we fail? What if the new thing is harder than the pain that we know?

This morning, I’ve been reading in Philippians. The Apostle Paul was a man who knew pain. He knew pain in ways I never will, and had an amazing outlook on it. I’m sure he struggled just like every other human, but He always saw that God was still in control, and that there was purpose in whatever hardship he was facing.

Philippians 1:12-14 caught my eye. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear that throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

My first thought as I applied this to my situation was I can’t compare myself to the Apostle Paul! Why not? He was just a man. He did incredible things for the Lord and advanced the gospel, but he did it by being teachable and usable. It was the power of God flowing through him that made the difference.

That same power flows through me, if I let it. If I remain surrendered and willing, if I trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, this thing that has stopped my personal world can change the world around me.

And so, this is my prayer: that these “chains” that hold me would show those around me that God is worthy of praise. That He can be trusted with every fiber of my being. That a life without Him is empty and meaningless. The day-to-day road I walk can be rocky and difficult, especially the mountain that is directly before me. But my Travel Companion is gracious and kind, loving and perfect. There is so much joy in the journey, and if even one person gains courage through me, it is a journey worth taking.

Blender

I’ve loved the same man for twenty-five years. We “met” in the nursery at the Sandstone Evangelical Free Church. Since he is two years older and went to a different school, we didn’t really interact much growing up. When I was 23, Larry and I met up at a party. We started seeing each other, and were married a year and a half later.

My husband is an honest, hard-working, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of man. He doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and you can count on him to help any time he can.

Even though Larry is all these wonderful things, I tend to get picky. In my selfishness, I overlook some of these solid qualities and get resentful that he isn’t this or that. For example, I am a person who thrives on encouragement and physical affection. I want him to come in from work, sweep me into his arms and proclaim that he’s missed me and been thinking of me all day. Y’all. He’s a dude. That alone should tell me that there’s a high probability that he’s not thinking on that wavelength in the middle of a busy day. More likely, he’s trying to grab a quick bite so that he can get back to whatever it was he was doing on the farm.

We have had conversations for years about love languages and speaking my language and things like that. In those conversations, I’m sure I’ve been more concerned about him learning to speak my language than about me learning to hear his.

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I have seen him pay attention more obviously than ever before. He has been willing to go to appointments (he HATES leaving home, going to cities, and being in medical facilities of any sort) and yet, he’s there every time I need him. He has made sure not to worry me about the added financial burden my cancer brings, though I can see it weighs on him. He sees that I get rest and that I don’t feel like an inconvenience. But maybe the biggest indicator of his concern is the blender.

In our first oncology meeting, the nurse walked us through the chemo process and what to expect. She mentioned that eating would likely be an issue and, in passing, said that maybe protein shakes would be a good idea. We spent 3 hours in that appointment learning more than we ever wanted to know. It pretty much fried our brains, so we went to lunch at a place of my choosing. Just the fact that he was willing to try a Japanese restaurant was amazing in itself, and a sacrifice. Larry is a buffet man, through and through.

Walmart came next, to grab a few things before heading home. Larry headed for the kitchenware section and straight to the blenders. Odd. He started comparing smoothie blenders and when I asked him why, he said “Well, that nurse said protein shakes would be a good idea, so I figured we better get a blender. Which one do you think would be best?”

Now, my husband is not one to spend money on such things. The fact that he spent $90 on a blender that I might need screamed loudly to me of his love and devotion. I saw then that he wanted to help–wanted to fix anything he could–even at personal cost. It humbled me. Like so many other aspects of this journey, it reminded me that things are not always what they seem or what I expect.

I am now the owner of an awesome Ninja blender with several different settings and some technology that is probably smarter than I am. I use it frequently and enjoy it. My favorite function, though, is that it shows me loudly and clearly that I am cherished by the one that I love most.