Vulnerability, the Opposite of Insecurity.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brene Brown


Recently an act of vulnerability, which looked an awful lot like truth and courage, was labeled as “insecurity.”  Or, put another way, a weakness.  To see care, honesty and concern called insecurity took my breath away.  Aren’t we all past that?!  It felt like being in the schoolyard watching someone get made fun of for wearing glasses or having pimples.  Seriously!!??  Aren’t we more evolved than that??  How can everyone not know – this is where it’s at??  This is life.  Connection is EVERYTHING.  


And yet, there was the word.  INSECURITY.  That categorization made me sad and frustrated – that so many people still see vulnerability as a deficit.  But it also made me realize how far I’ve come.  I remember when asking for what you want – information, affirmation, reassurance, encouragement – felt needy and bothersome to me, too.  I didn’t want the responsibility of someone else’s vulnerability.  Anyone’s!  In my mind’s eye, I could almost see my own arms fly out in front of me, physically creating space where I needed a wide berth emotionally.  Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I’m not that person.  I can’t meet your needs.  I can’t deal with your insecurity.  


Why such a visceral reaction?  Well, Dr. Brown suggests we get curious about our emotions when we have a strong one.  It’s a brave thing to do, get curious about your emotions.  What I discovered is that I didn’t want other people’s vulnerability (and still don’t, sometimes!) because I might not be able to fix them.  Well, I learned after a time, that most often, people aren’t looking for fixing.  They generally want to be heard, and  understood and maybe even appreciated or respected.  


I also didn’t want to get into this messiness because I might have to offer my own vulnerabilities.  Yikes.  Well, with similar curiosity, I thought I should find out why that was so scary to me.  If I was honest with myself, I didn’t want to be vulnerable, because I assumed most people were like me, and repelled by vulnerability.  Basically, I was pretty sure that at even the slightest hint of offering vulnerability, I would be rejected.  Why did I think that?  Because a couple of high-impact abandonments will do that to you.  I don’t think I have any more of those than the average person does, but I have had a couple of key people in my life not show up when they probably should have, and one or two who just disappeared entirely with no explanation.  Those hurtful acts have had a real impact on me, and one of the results is a tendency to be self-protective.  I’m on a long journey of undoing that crap, with God’s help.               


I remember my life before I could make a fair observation “you seem upset.”  And my life before I could genuinely inquire “are you ok?” I used to live a life where I read the signals, made assumptions, usually that someone was mad at me, I did something wrong, I messed up.  And that this misstep of mine had somehow impacted a relationship – the friend is going to leave me out now, the new boyfriend is no longer interested, the boss thinks I’m an idiot.  And I would go into defensive mode.  Time to play hard to get, be distant, standoffish, aloof, I can’t get hurt by you if I don’t care.  I can play that game with the best of them. 


Through reading books by really smart people – Brene Brown, Henry Cloud, etc., and having relationships with courageous people I learned a little.  Not a lot.  But I learned to stop making assumptions, to stop playing the game.  To ask questions.  To offer plain spoken care and support.  To invite empathy.


What I’ve found is that sometimes you still bump up against a person who is still stuck in the mud.  They will respond to your vulnerability with harsh criticism, rejection or mocking.  They will try to shame your courage because it is so far beyond them to operate with that level of authenticity, it scares them.  Don’t let this blow set you back.  Sometimes people need space, of course, but don’t let their unreadiness for your courage diminish your care for that person.  They may not let you in now or ever.  But it’s possible you’re exactly the kind of person they need.  


Vulnerability will often cost you something.  An unhealthy, wounded, scared person might charge you a high price for your vulnerability.  Enough to hurt.  It’s still worth it.  Love courageously.  Be brave.  Don’t quit.     

God sends someone.

Yesterday I invited my coworker to join me for lunch and she explained that a pregnant teenage girl had come to one of our buildings seeking help as she was fleeing from an abusive boyfriend.  My coworker was staying with her until we could safely get her onto a bus, to a town where she has family.  I decided to stop over at that building to see how they were doing.  As soon as she walked in the room, I was flooded with feelings of why I got into this work in the first place.  I supervise a team of talented people who work together to implement strategies of fundraising, public relations, marketing, advertising, event planning, social media and grant development.  My job involves management, problem solving, organizational leadership, policy development, etc.  But this, right here, this girl, is why I started doing this 16 years ago.

I’ll call her Stephanie.  She couldn’t have been older than 18.  She was beautiful, with dark hair and blue eyes.  But she hadn’t showered in many days and had that run down look of someone who hasn’t been taking care of herself in a long time.  We learned that she was about 4 months pregnant, by a man she was fleeing from because he hurt her.  They had been living under a bridge.  While we waited, we talked with her and she shifted between making funny, clever observations that made us laugh, and sharing parts of her story that put tears in all of our eyes.  She expressed that she wanted more for her baby than living under a bridge with a guy who wouldn’t stop hurting her.

There was a time this wouldn’t have struck me as courageous – it would have simply seemed sensible, and the obvious right course of action.  But as I get older, I have seen so many people stuck in bad situations because it’s just too hard to leave, it’s too complicated, it’s too uncertain, it feels equally selfish to leave and stupid to stay,  I’ve seen people stay because they think they don’t deserve better, they are waiting for someone to rescue them (that person is never coming, by the way, so don’t wait around) or they just don’t think they can do it.  I’ve seen smart people act like deer in the headlights because they are so confused about what is best, what is right, what is worth continuing to get hurt over.  Dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships are never easy, never simple, and sometimes things really can get better and work out, and some people stay because they live in that hope.  But if someone is physically hurting you and/or your children, there is only one answer.  Even so, for so many women, it feels like an impossible choice.  

This girl left her home town at some point, maybe with this guy or maybe she ran into him later.  She thought they would build a life together especially once she got pregnant.  But he started to abuse her, throwing plates across the room, and as she said “he wouldn’t change.”  He promised to, and he would for a while, but ultimately, he didn’t.  She loved him.  She wanted to believe him.  She cried because she missed him and felt bad leaving him.  But she was resolved, and she was leaving.  I was filled with admiration for this tiny thing, with an even tinier thing living and growing inside her.  We told her how brave and important what she was doing was and she said God was giving her the strength to do it.  Brave and humble.  That’s better than I can say for most of us, most of the time.

As we were about to leave to take her to pick out some needed items in another building, a man I didn’t know came into the building.  I stopped and waved her back into the office we came out of and shut the door behind me.  It only took a few seconds to determine that he was not her ex-boyfriend – he was a service worker, coming to fix something in the building.  But in those few seconds, I realized I would do whatever it took to protect her.

I don’t share that to get credit for being a nice person or anything.  The reason I share it is this:  When you have cancer, had cancer, might have cancer again, and you’re a mom, the thing, ALWAYS in the back of your mind is what is going to happen to my kid if I don’t make it.  As a staunch Christian, you can square all kinds of things with God – His will be done, heaven will be cool, dying will suck but probably not be that scary.  People die every day, I’ll figure out how to do it.  But when you think about your kid without you, sometimes it’s enough to split your heart right down the middle.  Gut you.  Break you.  The only thing that helps is knowing your family will come through and make it ok for her and help her remember you and all of that shit that is hard to think about without crying.  But this experience reminded me of something:  Even in the very worst circumstances, where that kid has run away, been abandoned, on their own, penniless and pregnant…God will send someone.  Yesterday, he sent me (and a bunch of other super helpful colleagues of mine who did great work to figure this out.)  I was so proud of us, because I knew that any of us would have done anything to get her on that bus.      

We took her to pick out clothes and a backpack.  She had to leave her things under the bridge so he would believe she was still around – all she had was the clothes she was wearing, an ID and a blanket.  We went through our supplies, finding things she needed while she kept us laughing, pointing out who we reminded her of or what she thought of us.  I got off easy with “Cat Woman” although someone quickly pointed out “no, that’s Wonder Woman.”  Another coworker was deemed Augustus Glut from Willy Wonka, another “some kind of Disney character” and another “kitty cat who doesn’t like the rain” or “someone who would get lost easily.”  She cracked us up and broke our hearts.  What happened to get her here?  This is a person.  A precious child.  Somewhere, at some time, someone was her mother.

We got her a police escort to make sure she got safely on that bus.  She is gone now, to a safe place.  And I’m praying for the next person God sends to help her.  And the next one He sends to us for help.  May we always be ready and faithful.    

Two dragons

I had a CT scan on Friday.  We had a really busy and fun weekend, during which I ran my best 5K race ever.  I’ve never run a 5K in less than 40 minutes, and my time was 38:41 with a 12:27 pace.  I know it isn’t fast, compared to most runners, but, honestly, I was thrilled.  My follow-up doc appointment was scheduled for Monday.  I didn’t have any anxiety (or scanxiety as we cancer fighters call it) all weekend, but for some reason, an hour before the visit, I started worrying and couldn’t stop.  When we got there, I noticed that they called every person back before me, even if they had arrived after.  I started pacing, near stroke-level panic, realizing they might be putting me as Dr. Mehta’s last appointment.  This could all be a total coincidence, but there was something I was sensing that turned out to not be totally unfounded.

Being a cancer patient does all of these strange things to you, and one of them is it creates this extreme, urgent desire to read people.  You read everyone from the receptionist to the lady who takes your vitals to the nurses, and most definitely the doctor.  I wonder how, when they teach about bedside manner in medical school, how they handle this.  Do they tell the prospective doctors that patients waiting to hear news will be filled to the brim with anxiety and reading every facial expression, every word, interpreting every delay, every bit of data.  She looked at me sympathetically – something is wrong!  He frowned at my results – I’m dying, like, tomorrow.  I even read the “system.”  They didn’t email my blood work – I definitely have diabetes, leukemia, high cholesterol and zero white blood cells.  Often my interpretations end up being wrong – at times, what I thought was a sure sign pointing toward bad news was nothing more than a computer glitch.  But not this time.

He gave us the good news first.  Liver looks great.  Abdomen looks fine.  Tumor markers are very low.  But in my lungs, a previously unchanging nodule (a normal thing that lots of people have) changed.  In 6 months, it seems to have grown from 4mm to 7mm.  My doctor said he really doesn’t think it is cancer, but because of my history we have to be sure.  He said he could send me for biopsy but that it really is so tiny, it would be tough to get a piece of it and a lung biopsy is no picnic.  He mentioned a chest tube and I started getting tunnel vision and feeling light headed.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I will do whatever has to be done.  What. Ever. Has. To. Be. Done.  I promised myself I would never shy away from a procedure or treatment no matter how much it would hurt or scare me.  Frankly, I’m not scared of anything like this.  I won’t like it.  I might even hate it.  But I do what it takes.  I’m not going to get sicker because of a lack of courage.  Now…given the honest recommendation of my oncologist to wait, I’ll take it.  We’re waiting to see if it grows.  If it doesn’t in two months, we’ll check again in another two.  If it grows, we’ll do the horrible sounding biopsy.  If it’s cancer, we’ll “scoop it out” (ugh) and proceed with chemo, I assume.  After all of this, he said he thinks it’s 98% not cancer.  That surprised me.  I thought we were talking 50/50.

So how am I doing?  Not great.  Not bad.  I have truly, truly been through the emotional wringer with all of this – it has this ripple effect that touches everything else in your life.  I have experienced such highs and lows through it all – I’ve felt more alive than ever in my whole life, and I’ve also felt like death doesn’t sound so bad.  I’ve felt so fully loved, so much hope, so much gratitude, and also disappointment, anger and sadness.  I’ve been shocked both by unexpected kindness and unexpected failures.  Cancer amplifies life.  Takes you soaring one day and plummeting to the ground the next.  I’m kinda beat up, honestly.

But I think the “beat up” that I feel is more the hangover that I’m experiencing from that 45 minutes in the waiting room and exam room where I knew something was wrong, and got the “bad news” vibe before I actually heard what this news was.  I suppose there is something chemical in the brain that happens – adrenaline, cortisol, something that just floods everything.  The news honestly isn’t dire at all.  As my mentor said “2%?  There’s at least a 5% chance there is something worse in my body I don’t even know about.”  That really helped me gain a little perspective, actually.  But my brain thought it was dire for 45 minutes, and it’s still there, in that “oh shit” space, even though the data says otherwise.

I dug out a Tim Keller sermon this morning, because I know I have to think my way out of this one and the best way to do that is to listen to people smarter than I am.  It was a good reminder of what I know to be true in terms of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His purposefulness.  It also reminded me of my own responsibility in my emotional life.  There is this little fable or whatever I’ve read once or twice about there being two wolves that live inside you (I think of mine as dragons) and one is anger/frustration/unhappiness/bitterness and the other is joy/contentedness/peace/love.  They fight for control.  Which one wins?  The one you feed.

The bad dragon loves self-doubt, fear of failure, unforgiveness, performance-based acceptance, blame and shame.  I need to feed the good dragon with knowledge of God’s love and care, restful, energizing experiences, wholesome food, tough exercise, you tube videos of news bloopers, grace, people who are encouraging, fair, loving and consistent, healthy vulnerability, challenges I am capable of meeting, good books, pleasant company and prayer.  Help me feed the good dragon, ok?

 

Let's help them be brave.

Please read this short blog post first.  I kind of know this blogger via my college BFF.  She’s awesome and her blog rocks.  But I have to take a different angle on this story Jenny shares about a friend of hers. 

This is really interesting to me.  Two kids got lost in the woods while on a hike at summer day camp – ah, 16 year old counselors…probably catching pikachus instead of keeping track of their campers.  So, this 5 year old and 7 year old, they eventually come out of the woods (great job, guys!) and a woman in a car offers to help them.  She did help them.  To me, this is a pretty good story with an optimal ending.  Kids get lost in the woods, find their way out, and get help from a nice person. Great!  

But, the mom of the children, it sounds like her biggest concern is that the kids accepted the woman’s help and got in a car with a stranger.  
Hmm.  I can see how your mind might race as you imagine the worst.  And I can see it as a great opportunity to reiterate how not everyone is safe, and we need to be careful around people we don’t know.  But.  
We have become so suspicious of people, that a good samaritan’s offer to help is now viewed as terrifying.  We say “think of what could have happened!” We say “thank God they were a good person!” as if it’s a miracle.  
Now, look. I don’t blame the mom for feeling that way.  We’ve created a world where it’s the norm.  Crime rates have remained fairly steady, but the 24 hour news cycle and social media have given us a window into the most horrific things that happen everywhere, every day.  It used to be that one really bad thing happened once a year in every town, and it scared everyone for a little while. But now we know about everything that happens everywhere. So we are always scared.  We don’t get a break from our fear.  So it drives us, instead of throwing us off track occasionally.  
Just yesterday, I helped a little girl on the playground find her mom.  It saddens me to think that the mom might have felt upset that her crying child willingly came with me so I could help her.  That she might have felt relief, quickly followed by chilling past tense “what if” fear.
I mean, aren’t MOST of us good?  I want to believe that the vast majority of us are in this together.  That MOST of us, by far, would stop what we’re doing to care for a child in need.  I want to believe that my kid has a better chance that a lady offering help is safer than being lost in the woods!  Because I am that lady.  Last year, I scooped up a two-year-old who was wandering around the mall by himself and got the security people and returned him to his distraught mother.  I can’t imagine not doing that.  
I tell my child that if she gets lost in the crowd, to find another mommy. (A woman who has kids with her.)  That seems like the safest thing to do. And I really believe that if she does that, chances are very high that she will be fine.  Honestly, I also believe that even if she went up to a completely random stranger (regardless of age, gender, etc) that they would help her.  Because when I imagine her doing that, I imagine her walking up to my dad, her principal, her pediatrician.  Not the guy from Silence of the Lambs. Aren’t there infinitely more people in this world who are safe than not safe??  
In this situation, if I had been that woman, I would have maybe just called the police and waited there with them, not just invited them into the car.  But I would have felt immediately responsible and would have taken care of them until they were safely returned to their family.  I have to believe that most people are like me in that way.  
I hope I’m not alone when I say that I can’t walk around in this world believing that most or even “a lot” of people are predatory.  I know way too many heroes to think that way.  I am in a world where many of us have dedicated our careers – using what we know, who we know and our talents to help others.  I spend my days with people who write big checks of their hard earned money to provide services for people whose lives are in ruin.  I know people who put their lives on the line and leave their families for many months to go overseas to keep us safe.  I know people who go into burning buildings to get someone out.  I know people who spend their weekends visiting homeless encampments so those people have something to eat and feel like they matter.  
There are bad guys.  I know that.  I’ve met some.  I’ve spent time visiting prisons and working with violent offenders, and with women who have been horrifically abused.  I’ve spent time with kids in hospitals who are there because someone hurt them on purpose.  My heart has broken because of the evil in the world.  
But I can’t live being afraid of everyone.  Sometimes I’m tempted to live scared.  When my child runs down the street to a friend’s house, I worry for a second.  About cars and strangers and tripping on those flip flops she insists on wearing.  There aren’t enough Hello Kitty band aids in this world to account for flip flops.  But if I live scared, she’ll grow up scared.  And I can’t have that.  This world needs brave, confident girls that turn into brave, confident women.  Women who rescue lost kids.  

I fail at this.  I make too many rules and remind her too often and too sternly to look both ways.  I freak out when she’s two minutes late.  I worry that she’s allergic to something she hasn’t encountered yet.  I eye up someone I perceive as creepy at Target and physically put myself between them and her.  I imagine the worst.  But I can’t let myself be that way unfettered.   I know that you can do everything right, and bad things still happen. We can’t control everything. We have to each figure out our own balance of safety and freedom.  Let’s help our kids live brave.  And the best way we can do that is letting go a little bit each day of our own fear.  And ban flip flops. 

Along the way

I usually write a blog entry when I discover something that just connects for me.  Bingo.  A truth that I suddenly know – a problem that untangles itself and emerges solutionary (new word?) whole, ripe and well formed.  Something that helps.  Something that clarifies.  Something that heals.  I love those truths.  They are important.  They are answers to the questions.  The a-ha moments.  Oh, I do love me some answers.  Some wisdom.  Some decisive course of action.  Some powerful rightness.

But there is a tiny, fragile hint of beauty in the not knowing, too.  I just left a meeting where two people I admire were really brave.  Beautifully, inspiringly brave in the not yet knowing.  They were honest and authentic and willing to share in the midst of not having it figured out yet.  

That kind of courage isn’t celebrated enough.  
We value certainty and being on the other side of a problem too much.  The destination is palm trees and beaches.  Cocktails and selfies.  The journey is pot holes, flat tires and traffic.  It is tedious, tiresome, ugly.  It’s grumpy and impatient and loud.  Are we there yet?  

But so much of life is the getting there.  There are many to whom this is not news, I know.  But I’m me, and while I can enjoy a literal road trip, emotional, intellectual, relational, transitional, spiritual, life “journeys” seem best done quick and dirty.  Fast and simple and limited.  Fix it.  Decide.  Done deal.  
Where we’re going matters, of course.  But to a great extent, we allow the destinations to define us. And yet, who we are during the trip is, well, who we really are.  Who we are when we’re bored, overheated or lost.  When we’re behind schedule.  Out of snacks.  Achy from confined spaces.  Wishing for different traveling companions.  Unclear on the best route. Uncomfortable in the silence that magnifies the rattle.  Distracted by hopes and dreams and regrets. 
Who are we, then?  Can we be kind and humble and patient and maybe even occasionally magnificent in moments along the way?  In the uncertainty and not-yet-there-ness?  Or only when we’ve arrived? I saw it today.  And I want more of that. 

Dealing with the weeds

It’s been a good, long while since I have posted.  That is
for a few reasons.  Primarily that since my chemo ended and my last scan
revealed NED (no evidence of disease) I have been, well, getting on with my
life.  I ran in the marathon, had my 38th birthday, visited San Juan, Puerto Rico with one of my besties.  
Life post-chemo is strange.  On one
hand, it is quite celebratory.  It’s a
gift to be done with getting poison injected into my veins every two weeks.  It’s incredible to begin to heal and feel
like myself.  It’s a relief to know that
pretty much, each day I will feel a little bit better until I’m back to
normal. 
But there are things that need to be addressed.  Shifting from survival mode back into some
version of a normal life where you live like most people do but also have to find out
whether your cancer came back every 3 months, is a very complex transition.  There are relationships that need to be
attended to – with cancer and treatment, it’s kind of an “all about me” world
that is not meant to be sustained. 
Shifting back to reclaiming responsibilities from daily chores to emotional
support of other people is both fulfilling and challenging. 
During chemo, you ignore so much. 
Basically everything.  Your routine
that keeps everyone on track, your child’s behavior, your marriage, your toenails, the health
of your friendships, your bad habits, the cardboard boxes piling up in the
garage that need to go to recycling.  The
perfect example of what I’m talking about happened when I went to unearth a
cooler from the garage and the precariously stacked mountain of cardboard
literally came tumbling down. 
Crash.  Mess.  Sigh. 
If we aren’t careful everything can come crashing down, having not
been tended to for so long.  Really need to get a pedicure on the calendar, people.  
I started my yearly garden recently.  Little seeds are sprouting and flourishing,
but all around them, weeds threaten to choke them.  I find myself in a daily battle, pulling them
out at the root, protecting my tiny seedlings. 
Why do the weeds grow so fast and strong and tall while the snow pea
seedlings need so much care?  I don’t
know, exactly – I’m no horticulturalist; I just grow a mean zucchini.  But I recognize the potential negative impact
of ignoring the garden for so long. 
My life garden has more than a few weeds taking over right now.  And it needs attention.  I can’t be sure, but I think it would be
easier if I’d had the kind of cancer that tends not to come back.  I could just deal with the trauma I’ve
experienced and move on.  But this cancer
lurks.  It hides and then pounces, making
another go of taking me down.  It almost
doesn’t seem worth the trouble of pulling out the gardening tools. 

But, in Christ, we have hope. 
So much hope for so many things.  There
is hope that I’ll live plenty long enough to completely screw my life up 🙂 
so it
seems sensible to put in the effort required in order to avoid that.  I want to be my best self, be the best mom,
the best wife, the best employee, the best friend, the best version of myself I
can be, no matter when my expiration date is, or if or when I’ll have to fight
this monster again.  In fact, should I
have to fight again, I want to be my best self to be ready. 

      

Return to (sort of) normalcy

About 6 weeks ago I had a CT scan that showed no changes – NED which is cancer talk for No Evidence of Disease.  No tumors, lesions or anything funky.  For now.  This is great news.  It guarantees nothing as far as the future goes, but it basically means I’m in remission for now.  I’ll gladly take it.

This weekend has been really nice.  We have spent a lot of time outside, getting some Vitamin D and playing and reading.  75 degrees and low humidity agrees with me.  I feel more like myself.  Today, at one point, Cass had three neighborhood friends over and I was discussing books with a neighbor who works at the library.  The sun was shining, the kids were squirting water guns.  I looked around and thought – holy crap, am I lucky.  I live in a beautiful place that has had clear blue skies for a week now – not the norm for the Burgh.  I have gotten back into the swing of things at a job I love.  And, the past few days I’ve spent time with some of the best people we’ve met since we moved here.

I was thinking back to how, before we moved, I prayed daily for almost a year for good friends and neighbors wherever we moved.  Three years later, I can honestly say, those prayers were answered better than I would have been able to plan myself.  God has given me people I can count on.  People who care.  People who step up.  People who share honestly, celebrate victories and mourn defeat with authenticity and grace.  People who encourage and empathize, use emojis in just the right way and enjoy a nice Lemon Shandy. I have always had great friends.  Lots of great friends.  And I’m full of gratitude that, while relationships I formed in high school and college shine brightly to this day, I have been fortunate enough to stumble across such funny, fun, grounded people in my 30s who get me and let me get them.

I’ve also had some success in my marathon relay training.  I spent March and the first half of April quietly panicking and thinking about what a moron I am for trying this, and how I must be insane for thinking I could run alongside world champion runners a distance further than I’ve ever gone.  But on Sunday, I had a breakthrough moment in my training.  I was on my third mile (my distance for the race is 4.2 miles) and my goal for that workout was 4 miles.  I realized, looking at my phone, calculating the distance and time that, not only was I going to make it, but my time was better than I thought.  It was the first time in my training that I celebrated as I was running and thought, maybe even said out loud “I don’t totally hate this!”  It was 80 degrees, I was running in a parking lot made of black top encircling a middle school building and a slightly shady guy was controlling a drone that seemed like it might be sort of following me.  Which was weird.  But I was happy.  Really happy.  And not scared.  And not mad.  And not sad.  I feel full of life.  I feel restored.

Throughout this last battle with cancer and my frenemy, chemo, I never lost hope or gave up or went into unbridled rage or anything.  But I’ve had a lot of difficult emotions to sort through.  And dark clouds of fear and disappointment and frustration and anger have lurked nearby and even taken up residence right above me at times.  You can’t do cancer happy and carefree.  But joy is a fire that burns within us.  Sometimes the flame dies down, but those embers never go out fully if our trust is in God.  My joy is growing, fanned by gratitude and the blessing of a break from the really hard times.  It feels exactly like crossing the finish line of a race you didn’t think you could do.  It doesn’t mean there isn’t another race on the horizon, but you can look back and go “I did that!”

Who knows what’s next?  Maybe I’ll do another triathlon. Maybe I’ll get my book published.  Maybe I’ll take up water polo.  Or something quieter like sewing or photography.  Maybe I’ll go to all of those normal doctor’s appointments I have put on hold, like the dentist.  And organize that karaoke night I’ve been meaning to.  My rendition of Shoop by Salt N Pepa is legendary.    

      

  

Be still and know that I am God.

I regularly read a lot of different books that have a Christian worldview and are intended to encourage and keep me on track spiritually.  I have three devotionals:  one by my bed that I read first thing in the morning (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young) one in my living room where I do my morning prayer time (The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller) and one at my desk (Jesus Today by Sarah Young.)  I also engage with my husband and daughter nightly as we read a children’s devotional book.  I also have Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller handy as well as Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts.  Not to mention various copies of The Bible.  These books are strategically placed so that I have the opportunity to connect with them throughout the day.  When I’m feeling down, lost, confused, angry, frustrated, afraid or sad, I try to stick to the discipline of picking one up and seeking encouragement from God’s Word or publications derived from some seriously spiritual people who have prayerfully written powerful interpretations of God’s Word.  Because it’s either that, or grumble, fuss, complain, shut down, isolate, cry, stomp around or find the nearest chocolate bar.  It’s ok to do these things for a moment.  But using them as ongoing coping mechanisms has negative effects that just a dig a deep hole I’ll eventually have to climb out of.

Finishing chemo is so awesome, and I am so incredibly grateful for how much stronger I’m feeling.  I still have lingering issues and am far from 100% – but I’m better each day, and I marvel at my body’s ability to heal itself as the poisonous medicine slowly dissipates.  However, as the day of my next CT scan approaches, the dark clouds roll in and the possibility of hearing bad news just overwhelms me sometimes.  Every twinge in my body scares me – is it a new tumor?  Every moment of fatigue worries me – is it cancer eating away at some part of me, stealing my energy?  The thought of diving back into surgery and chemo and such is just…enough to make me want to vomit, punch something and crawl in bed and never come back out.

However…

All of those devotionals, every single one of them have given me THE SAME message all week.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still.  And know.  That I AM GOD.

When I linger on those words, peace rushes over me.  Many things come to mind and I am compelled to recall that God is worthy of my trust.  “Oh,” I think.  He is good.  He is good and He loves me.  He has brought me so far.  He has breathed life into me so many times.  He has delivered me.  He has rescued me.  Saved me.  Grown me.  Brought me blessings so numerous they would outnumber the stars in the sky if I tried to count them.

When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous to worry.  I’ve spent the past 20 years following this God.  This creator.  This King.  This Father.  This Friend.  This Prince of Peace.  Alpha, Omega.  He is everything, according to this book I spend so much time studying.   And yet…I regard Him with distrust, resentment and fear sometimes.

And this is why I have these books everywhere.  To reel me back in.  To stop me from going over that cliff of doubt.  To give me pause and put sense back into this fickle mind of mine.

Doubt is powerful.  But the answer to doubt is truth.  Fear is mighty.  But the answer to fear is gratitude.  And we can find these answers easily when we are Still.  And Know that He Is God.        

Healing, as needed

One could characterize the circumstances of the past few years of my life as unlucky, unfair or unfortunate.  And in some ways, they have been. But what stands out most to me is the outrageous levels of love and support I’ve received from my tribe of family and friends as well as the way God orchestrates things to encourage, embolden, strengthen and heal.  I just had a glorious overnight with Lisa Pratt Slayton, my mentor and lovely friend who has done so many kind things for me and taught me so much, and Jennifer Schlieper, my beautiful, creative, thoughtful friend who has been my truth speaker and healer many times.  These women didn’t know many months ago when this weekend of tattoos and rest was first conceived how bad I’d need it.  Neither did I.  But God did.  
I had a very hard couple of weeks recently, emotionally.  Coming down from the heightened senses of battling through chemo takes a toll. I had a lot of dark, foreboding, fearful thoughts that were quite difficult to shake or to share.  I felt like a dark cloud was above me.  I was always on the verge of tears.   
But the past 24 hours have been full of healing, hope, laughter, love, truth and encouragement.  Between the prayer breakfast – a room full of hope-filled leaders, all of the blue shirts on all of you beautiful people, the drive out of the city and through the country, the conversations of real things, the skillful hands of a top-notch massage therapist, a good night’s sleep in a cozy Inn…the cloud has lifted.  The skies are clearer.  Shalom is closer.  I can flourish again.  I even did my training run today.  Slow as molasses, but run, I did.  Thank you to each of you who had a hand in all of this.  I am so grateful.

Fighting Blind

Fighting cancer with surgery, radiation, chemo, etc is this whole lifestyle.  You put your head down with determination, you think positive, you deal with physical pain, exhaustion, you combat the side effects with medicine, home remedies, rest, prayer, massage, warm baths, lotions, creams, healing foods, tea.  You wish the bad days away and hold onto the good days, dreading the next chemo.  But basically, you’re getting through it.  You have a timeline.  You have a specific goal…get through the next chemo, and ultimately, get done with chemo.  You can’t wait to be done.  You’re jealous of those ahead of you – if someone has just one fewer treatment than you do, you are insanely envious of them.  Oh, to have just 3 instead of 4 left!!!

But then you get done.  And a few things happen.  The first is relief and celebration.  It is AMAZING to not have to schedule your life around chemo treatments and how your body will be handling them.  As the nausea, heartburn, neuropathy, cold sensitivity, joint pain, fatigue begin to subside, and as the nails, hair and taste buds start to grow back, you have a different feeling that can take hold.  Fear.

You’re done fighting.  Now we have to see if you’ve won or not.  And the enemy could show up again anytime, without much warning.  The future is filled with scans and blood tests and hyper vigilance.  Healthy, cancer fighting foods, exercise, stress reducing behaviors, avoiding exposure to nasty chemicals.  It’s easy to get swept away by the fear and the stress that every thing you do is either inching you toward or away from cancer.

This is the part I struggled with the hardest, mentally and emotionally the last time we crossed the chemo finish line.  Chemo – it takes quite a toll.  But the time after, it’s a different kind of challenge.

Primarily, it’s a challenge of faith.  This is where we have to just take God’s big, strong hand, and choose to let go of our fear.  All this time, we prayed and trusted Him we’d get through the chemo.  Now we have to trust that, no matter what, He’s got us.  He’s in control.  He’s all over this.  It doesn’t mean your cancer won’t come back.  Maybe it will and maybe it won’t.  But we’re called to a life of adventure, a life of uncertainty.  A wild ride of a life where we’ve handed the keys over the the Big Guy and believed this was the best way.  It is the best way.   We can’t control it anyhow, so why not just rest in the knowledge that the best possible tour guide, navigator, driver, event planner and travel companion is in charge.  Gratitude and trust can stamp out fear.  I’ve experienced it many times.  You simply can’t be thankful and afraid at the same moment.  One has to win out.  Light casts out darkness, not the other way around.