Misery loves company…usually.

They say misery loves company. And admittedly, there are times, when you’re going through something difficult, that it is a relief to come across someone who is sharing that same struggle. 

There is a special relief that comes when you engage in that quiet conversation in the corner about something difficult, scary or private.  That conversation you have where you admit out loud for the first time that you have to do something to take care of the hair that grows on your upper lip (if you have Eastern European roots like me, anyway.)  The moment you blurt out that you’ve considered putting your child up for sale on EBay.  The time you confess that you Facebook stalk the girl your high school boyfriend dumped you for.  And mentally high five yourself because you are WAY BETTER by Facebook standards, anyway – more friends, more likes, cuter kids.  Take that, former cheerleader!  (Also, we will ALL agree to ignore the fact that she is still skinny and is a nuclear physicist.) 
This doesn’t apply just to embarrassing things.  For example, I love finding someone my age who manages a team in their job like I do.  And fellow curly haired ladies.  And U2 fanatics.  And even harder things.  If you get fired and you come across someone else – someone talented and smart and cool – who has been fired, it’s like a healing balm.  
I once worked, briefly, for a really difficult boss.  My fellow coworkers – we would all convene at happy hour to share our latest woes.  
So.  You find that person who knows exactly what you’re dealing with. It’s so gloriously freeing to share something.  But I have to say, whenever I hear about someone else getting cancer, my heart just breaks a little bit.  
A young woman I know, Katy, is embarking on her cancer journey today.  Chemo, day 1.  She is a strong, health-focused woman. A wife, a mom, a fitness coach, a business owner. And she’s young. Cancer has no business being in her body.
But cancer does not pay attention to our ideas of who seems immune.  It settles in where it wants to.  
So, while I wish to God it wasn’t cancer, I’m grateful to have something in common with this tough young lady.  To get to know her.  Because she’s really awesome.  And I’m grateful to be able to pass along a little of the kind of love and support my friend, Laura, gave out so generously.  Laura couldn’t talk very much toward the end, but I know if she’d had time and words to share, she would have told me to be positive, to not be afraid, and to encourage others along the way on this strange, difficult, frustrating, painful, ugly, challenging, beautiful, inspiring, edifying, messy, sad, happy, terrible, amazing journey. 
Please pray for Katy when you pray for me.  
We’re working really hard to make cancer our bitch.  But God’s the one who can do ALL things.  To Him be the glory.     

Challenging assumptions

I regularly stumble across the fact that I make a lot of assumptions and inferences.  Some are harmless enough but some are really unfair and potentially damaging.  Example: for years I assumed that a child causing a ruckus in Target had parents that were lazy and inconsiderate.  Then I had a child, lol.  And at some point prior to that, also learned about autism, sensory processing disorders and the like.  Granted, some parents of kids who act out are lazy, inconsiderate people.  But some are crazy-amazing human beings with endless love and patience.  They are better people than I am because, honestly, when my kid freaks in public my biggest concern is that people DON’T think I’m inconsiderate or lazy – not what my child’s needs are.  Those crazy amazing parents often don’t give a hoot what you think of them – they are sorry to be annoying you, but they mostly are in it for the long haul and they’re focusing on the baby steps of helping their child make his or her way in this difficult, judgy world.

Still, my assumptions abound.  I assume if you love Disney, you don’t think about the weird male/female roles they have historically promoted.  I assume that if you’ve had plastic surgery you’re a narcissist.  I assume that if you like Joel Osteen your IQ is below average.  I assume if you like the band, Nickleback you have astoundingly poor taste.  (Don’t hate me!  I know these are totally unfair!!! Except the Nickleback thing.  That’s just truth.)
But when I challenge my own thinking, I discover that I have smart, thoughtful friends who deeply enjoy Disney magic. (And I have to admit that I have had a seriously great time on my handful of Disney excursions.). I know generous, others-centered ladies who have had boob jobs.  And I just learned recently that weird, creepy Joel Osteen basically rescued one of my favorite people with hope when she was spiritually drowning.  
I still get an icky feeling when I see a Joel Osteen quote.  I still wrestle with Disney as a brand and how much I care or don’t care about what it may or may not communicate to my kid. (Brave was pretty cool, honestly.)  I still think that plastic surgery is an odd way to spend one’s money.  
But how I’m growing is that I’m learning more and more how to accept and respect the fact that just because someone comes to a different conclusion than I do – this doesn’t mean I’m necessarily seeing the issue for what it is and they’re not.  I may have some wisdom and information and perspective that is valuable.  In many cases, I could likely “win” in a debate about it.  And I might even be right.  But I’m learning to put the brakes on my tendency to take a tiny bit of data and extrapolate, drawing broad conclusions.  
Having cancer is terrible.  But it focuses my thinking – when your life is threatened by something, you start considering how you’re spending your time and brain space.  I might not have the 50 years that most 35 year olds assume they have left to grow into an old, wise, kind person.  (And actually…you might not, either – someone is going to get hit by a bus, you know?)  So, I’m truly considering how I think and act in an effort to get rid of the crap that is in the way.  And the best part?  When I beat this thing, I’ll be like an awesome 85 year old’s brain and heart in a 30-something’s body.  And I will still judge you for liking Nickleback.  

At least I don't have tuberculosis

Last night I went to bed anxious that the impending snowstorm was going to wreak havoc on my already cumbersome commute.  I fretted about getting enough sleep (I’m coming off of a rough chemo weekend) and leaving early enough to get my Tuesday morning meeting.  

Interestingly, as I slept, I had a dream that I somehow contracted tuberculosis.  A doctor diagnosed me and when I told my family, coworkers and friends, they all insisted it wasn’t any big deal.  There was some obligation I was supposed to attend – an event or appointment or something – and everyone urged me to just go.  That I probably didn’t really have anything serious.  That it was silly to prioritize this minor problem.  The expectation was clear – go.  Be “on.”  Deliver.  

In this dream, I had a deadly, highly communicable disease, and I bowed to the pressure of expectations.  I typically don’t think much of dreams.  Mostly because mine are usually filled with mundane, normal stuff or complete, utter nonsense.  But this one seemed to have a message.
Sometimes I do not feel ok about resting, unplugging or eschewing my responsibilities.  Even in this season of my life. I don’t think it’s because people actually don’t let me.  I think I make assumptions about what is required of me.  And what people will think if I fall short.  
Don’t get me wrong – I take the breaks I need to…sometimes I’m just totally deflated and have nothing left.  But I never really feel ok about it.  I feel like I’m slacking, failing and letting everyone down.  I feel judged.  Again, it’s not anyone’s fault.  I own it.  
Sometimes I wish someone would send me away – see, I can’t send myself…someone actually sending me would be, I don’t know, permission. An allowance to unplug from my obligations.  
While a weekend at some lovely spa would be outstanding, it won’t fix my problem.  My problem, and this is absolutely not exclusive to cancer fighters, is that, sometimes, my worth is tied up in what I do.  How much I do.  How satisfied people are with my performance.  In all areas of life.
Do you do this to yourself, too?  If you think about somehow, magically, being totally free of obligations and expectation, does it make you want to just cry with relief?  
There’s good news, but it’s pretty blunt.  Jesus is the only answer to this.  My identify has to come from who I am as a child of God, wholly and dearly loved.  I am not good because I’m well behaved, productive, efficient and freshly showered.  I’m not valuable because I cook a decent vegetarian chili or can juggle 37 projects at once.  Those things are good and they make me ME.  But they aren’t what determine my worth.  My worth comes from He who created us.  I’m worth something because He says so.  Even if I’m laying on the couch eating a cronut.  
The tricky part is grappling with the feelings that come with falling short of people’s expectations.  Or, more accurately, the expectations I believe they have.  This is where it helps to have people around you that love you, and while they do want you to make your bed and go to work and send Aunt Martha a birthday card…they don’t love you because you checked off your chore list. They love you over and above and around your shortcomings.  
Once I was late to pick up my daughter from my parents’ house and I had a complete, total breakdown.  I was so afraid they would think I was being disrespectful, irresponsible, selfish.  But when I got there, a sloppy, messy, snot-filled, teary-eyed mess…I was met with grace.  
The other day I sent my husband into the snow to pick up some take-out I’d ordered for us.  Turns out, I placed our order at a different location of the Mexican chain – one 20 miles away.  When he called to tell me, I expected anger at my stupid mistake.  I had done almost nothing the entire weekend, so sick from chemo.  And the one thing I tried to do:  epic fail.  But my husband just took care of it and brought me my quesadilla anyway.  Grace.  
Grace is so sweet.  I expected ridicule.  But I was received lovingly.  And I was so relieved.  I was reminded of how God deals with me…daily.  If you want to really rock someone’s world, give them grace when they think they deserve your disapproval, your disappointment and your cold shoulder.

I’m working on my issues with fearing letting others down.  I’m working on remembering who we are in Christ.  Let’s be liberal in reminding each other of that. And liberal with our dispensing of grace.


Something really cool happened to me yesterday.  I got to meet someone who had an impact on my life about one year ago.  This was my second year attending the Jubilee Professional conference in Pittsburgh.  It’s a conference where really interesting people give blessedly short talks (sorry…typical short attention span of an 80s kid) on matters of faith and vocation.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  And they have good snacks.

I almost didn’t go because I had chemo the day before and usually I just stay home for the days following.  But I wanted to go (my wonderful mentor oversees the whole thing, and everything she does is amazing) and some nice people were willing to drive me there and home.  So I mustered up all of my energy and went.  
So, a year ago, this really cool artist, Scott Erickson http://scottericksonart.com  painted a really great piece during the talks, capturing the flavor of the event.  Then, he gave a talk.  And boy did it move me.  He talked about a dear friend of his who was sick from cancer, and how despite all of the prayers…she passed away.  And how much it sucks to watch someone you care about suffer.  And how hard it is to trust God in all of that. And how it causes you to question so much.  That was about 6 months before my diagnosis.  Since then, I have thought often about that talk.  
So when I walked in yesterday and there he was, I was a wee bit star struck.  But I had to YOLO it up and say hello.  And I’m so glad I did.  We had a nice chat and I was able to thank him for the impact he had on me last year.  That would have been plenty.  But there was more.  Some people just have wisdom, and just know what to say.  His response when I shared very briefly about my situation was basically this: “Some things require us to be brave.  I can see you’re being brave.”  
There is so much temptation to be afraid.  But God has whispered many messages to me through this, urging me to be courageous.  
Here is the awesome painting Scott created during this year’s conference.  As with cities and relationships and rogue cancer cells…God’s got this.

The best version of you

What if I treated you, every day, in every way, like you were the absolute best version of yourself?  Like you were really, really awesome.  The YOU that God created you to be.  The you He is gently pressing you toward?

That sounds hard.  I mean, much of the time we react to each other as if the other person is the very worst we can imagine.  He’s rude.  She’s immature.  They are mean.  We take the small amount of information we actually have, and then make assumptions and place labels and take any opportunity to infer that someone’s motives are the very worst. 
Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves.  Maybe it’s a form of self preservation.  We won’t be caught lying down, thinking someone was good, only to be hurt in the end!
But when you flip it around and you think about how you want to be treated, how it feels to be thought of as the worst version of yourself…it’s not only painful and cruel…it certainly doesn’t make you want to be any better, does it?
Conversely, think of someone who always thinks well of you.  Someone who trusts you.  Someone who would be SURPRISED to learn you did something unkind or selfish.  Someone who gives you the benefit of the doubt.  They overlook your offenses, chalk your rudeness up to a bad day, respond to your harsh word with a kind one, receive your grumpiness with understanding.  Don’t you just LOVE those people?  Don’t you want to really BE your best for them?  
We’re so concerned with getting taken advantage of – but it seems like maybe it works in the opposite way we think it does.  Maybe the way to bring out the best in someone is to just start treating them like they’re already there.  I know, it sounds risky and unsafe.  But I know when I think of how it feels to be treated like I’m already mature and trustworthy and kind and giving and selfless…it’s incredible.  It makes me feel loved and special and it honestly ups my game.  If you believe my motives are dark and my priorities are selfish and my choices predictably fall short, I’ll probably either give up on myself or you.  But…if you show me appreciation and admiration, I’ll go to the moon to give you my best.  I’ll give you my all. I want to be that person you believe I am.  
So, I want to criticize and judge less, and do more to help people realize their potential.  There are a handful of people who have done this for me.  I will always be grateful to you, and I’m trying to be more like you.  

So…where have YOU been?

When you have cancer, some people just come out of the wood work. Of course there are the usual suspects – those family and friends that you know are with you no matter what. But, I am back in touch with some people that I honestly thought I would never hear from again. Some of my friends have become even better friends. Some people I always thought were kind of self-absorbed have really gone out of their way to reach out and show love and care. People who don’t owe me a thing have sent cards, letters and gifts. It’s incredible and I can’t overstate how grateful I am.

But here’s the other thing. Some people…don’t. There are a few people who have become conspicuously absent in the face of this disease. At first, it just hurts. Like…how could so-and-so disappear when I need them most? I mean, what kind of person shrinks into the shadows at a time like this? A selfish person! An uncaring person. A rude, thoughtless, hurtful person.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Because there is definitely a short list of those people for me. And every time I think of them, I am just flabbergasted that they haven’t been around. Some, it was immediate and abrupt. Have not heard a peep since the diagnosis. Others more so kind of have faded away. Again, I’m totally amazed and grateful for the support I have – it is significant and fulfilling and need-meeting and just incredible. But there are little holes in my heart where those absent people should be. People that I thought wanted to “do life together” no matter what.

It’s really kind of crappy to have this illness and the crappy treatment and also have the hurts associated with people who just can’t be bothered. The imperfect human part of my heart is hurt and mad. I want to unfriend them on facebook, say mean things about them and send them a box of dog poop in the mail.

But the Holy Spirit lives in me. And what He has to say is this: People are scared.

People are scared of cancer. Scared of sickness. Chemo. Vomiting. Bald people. (I’m not one of those bald people, but people think I am, especially those who haven’t seen me.) They are scared to see a friend sick and hurting. They are scared to potentially watch someone die. They are scared to get closer to someone who (through no fault of their own, it should be noted) just signed up for a crap load of pain, drama, inconvenience and changes. They are scared to GET CLOSER to someone who MIGHT NOT BE AROUND.

I understand. I know that feeling. I’ve watched someone die. And I definitely was faced with a choice at one point – to get closer even though I knew what the end might look like. And it didn’t end how I wanted it to. It was hard and sad and heartbreaking. It challenged my faith. It made me so sad it felt like pure anguish. BUT…I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. To know that I was there means EVERYTHING. To know I didn’t shy away. I didn’t hide. I didn’t make excuses. I showed up. I brought pumpkin flavored coffee and rubbed feet and held hands and prayed. That doesn’t make me some special person. I’m only saying it because you know what? It made me BETTER. My heart is softer. And bigger. I love MORE because of that experience. I am blessed because I was there. And I would hate myself now if I had made a different choice.

So, if you’re faced with this situation, please consider a few things:

Your friend needs you. They notice you’re not around. TRUST ME. Sometimes us cancer people are forced to lay around and do very little but think, and sometimes our thoughts turn to those we miss.

If you haven’t been around and you think it’s too late now, IT IS NOT.

If you go, and you visit or call or whatever, it might be weird…but it might be FINE. It might be WONDERFUL.

If you bite the bullet and dive in even in the face of fear, you’ll learn a lot of things – what suffering looks like, how to love someone going through something hard, how to think of someone besides yourself, what strengths you have that you didn’t even know you had. How to show love when you are totally incapable of fixing what is wrong.

If you don’t, you will regret it. Whether they get better or not. I mean, seriously?! Do you really want to be that jagoff who ran for the hills at the face of adversity? (It never ends well for that character in the movie.)

And if you’re in the suffering seat – if you have the cancer or the tragedy or the crisis and you feel a little bit abandoned, consider this:

It’s not that they don’t love you. It’s just that they are terrified and they don’t know what to do. Pray for them. Do your best to forgive them and try to understand – they are broken; something inside them is a little wonky and they probably don’t know how to fix it.

And finally, I say to those of you who have dived in head first – with me or with other people that you love – especially if it scared you….you are the heroes. You are a blessing. You have made something terrible much, much easier.

Perspective, compassion and ranch dressing

Having cancer really puts things in perspective.  You kind of stop sweating the small stuff when you are literally sweating from the chemo-poison raging through your body.  Gross, I know.  

What happens when we have a Big Problem is that you scroll through Facebook and kind of shift into one long, giant eye roll as you read about people’s all-consuming deeply challenging circumstances such as the sniffles, running out of ranch dressing (someone actually posted about this once like it was a major life disruption) and choosing cocktail dress A or B which both look ridiculously good on.  You sigh as you read about a friend’s daughter not having a date for the dance (she’s 12!!!) someone complaining about the rain and your neighbor’s agonizing decision about whether to get a cockerpoo or a labrodoodle.  Eye roll.  Eye roll.  Eye roll.
You start gravitating toward people who either don’t complain (bless you, you easy going, thankful optimists out there!) or people who have actual problems.  Your heart is soft toward the acquaintance facing divorce, the friend who just lost a parent and your old roommate who just had her third miscarriage.  You even begin to feel a little bit superior to the folks bitching about paper cuts.  Maybe a lot superior. 
It’s easy to play the “Shut up, I have cancer, you jagoff” game. 
But here’s the thing.  Whatever someone is dealing with is what they’re dealing with.  I remember 18 months ago, my biggest problem was a house that just wouldn’t sell.  We agonized.  We despaired.  We prayed.  We complained.  And then, when we actually sold the house, you would have thought our moving agenda was the battle plans for taking over a small nation.  And now…a year and a half later, it seems so ridiculous.  What I wouldn’t give to have those problems.  Packing boxes?  Bring it!  But they were real and big and stressful then.  I cried.  There was arguing.  It felt insurmountable.
It’s not fair to put labels or values on others’ struggles.  Unrequited love.  Injury.  Illness. Unemployment.  Betrayal.  Financial problems.  Unruly teenagers.  Losing a competition.  Loneliness.  Infertility.  Screwing up at work.  The number on the scale that won’t budge.  Depression.  These all feel enormous when they land on you.  
What I’m learning is two-fold.  One is that I have little patience and compassion for struggles that seem significantly smaller than my own.  Two is that that’s wrong.  It’s selfish and prideful and immature.  God cares about your sprained ankle and so should I.  I’m working on it.  But you should probably shut up about the ranch dressing.  It’s gross anyway.  And a girl’s got to draw the line somewhere.