My Thanksgiving post

Because of my exploration of gratitude, I’ve been paying special attention this Thanksgiving.  I am watching closely to see what people are thankful for.  Oh, Facebook, you make it so easy to do non-scientific research.  I notice that when people post what they are thankful for, it is always first and foremost, family and friends.  Second, people thank God (or the Universe or whatever they believe allows them to have these entities they are grateful for) for their home, their jobs, the relative safety of living in this country.  They thank for overcoming an illness or being sustained through one.  They thank those in the armed forces, police, first responders.  They thank for their pets.  For good food.  For nice weather.

Some that were unique and interesting:  

Thankful that an older relative saved old photos to look at now

Thankful for dinners without electronics

Thankful for coworkers to brave difficult work alongside

Thankful I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner

Thankful for a black Friday shopping partner

Thankful for a mom who can be counted on

Thankful for the ability to pay it forward

We are wired to be thankful.   It comes spilling out of us when prompted. Gratitude is the right response to this wonderful life.  Even if we don’t feel like our life is wonderful right now, or if this has been a really hard year, as it has for some of us, it’s possible to see beyond the cloudy, dark moment caused by pain, loss or fear.  The world is abundant!  Hope is just beyond that dark cloud.  And sometimes dark clouds bring rain and rain makes things grow, and that rain from that dark cloud prompts what will eventually be a needed harvest.  Harvest requires rain.  The thunder and lightning that come with it must be withstood by the hope of that harvest.

God has blessed us with such freedom, such hope, such opportunity.  Especially in suburban, rural or fancy urban American areas where most of my peeps live.

Yesterday, I spent the first half of my day at Light of Life Rescue Mission where I work.  We have a number of different programs and services, and one is to serve meals to those in need.  We serve breakfast and dinner 365 days a year.  On Thanksgiving Day we serve over 1,000 meals to hungry people.  This is the seventh year I have done this, and it is a miracle every year.  It is many miracles every year.  It is miraculous to me that people care so much to help that our volunteer spots (Over 100) are full by early October.  It’s a great problem to have to have to turn away so many willing hearts.  It’s a miracle that so many people who are in need can experience a warm, lovingly prepared meal, served by gentle hands, surrounded by kind spirits, offering up God’s love to any takers.

I watch the faces of those who come for a meal.  I carefully make eye contact and say “Happy Thanksgiving.”  The responses vary.  “Thank you.”  Quiet, nervous, maybe a bit ashamed.  “Same to you!”  Hearty, booming, possibly intoxicated.  “Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.”  Humble, Appreciative.  No response.  A nod.  A high five.  A hug.  A shy smile.  It’s no chore to me to do my part to provide this food (mostly I manage the people who do the real work, and just make sure everything is as it should be, like a surveillance plane, way up in the sky, noticing all that is well and the small things that need adjusting.)  It’s no chore to help a young mother find a winter coat for her little daughter.  It’s my great joy, in fact.  I actually have to step away, at times, to not be greedy, and allow others the joy of helping.  I step back and I watch a nervous volunteer carefully check tags, looking for a 5T size coat.  I watch two men calmly decide who the really cool leather jacket fits better.  Strangers until that coat.  One holds the other’s belongings as they try it on for size.  Jovial.  Laughing.  Knowing there are plenty of coats for all.  I bow my head grateful that we don’t have scarcity today.  Food for all.  Coats for all.  One only need a bit of patience to wait in line for a short while.  A man and  woman sit down on the ground and find comfort in each other.  They can’t stay there, because they are in everyone’s way, but the sweetness and the miracle of their claiming that grassy spot for a few moments to rest and feel safe and calm, surrounded by the love and care of so many people who want to reach out, to bless, to give, to love.

The news cameras and the reporters with their pens and microphones come to see.  They come to share the story.  The story of blessing and gratitude.  They don’t know, but they bring glory to my God as they share this work on their tv stations and their newspapers.  We don’t have to say it.  We know who does all of this and what great things He is up to.  Craig Wolfley, former Steeler and current broadcaster, and my friend, stood up to share in the chapel that the real miracle is that for all of us, the one in 100,000 NFL player, the lady next to him with stage 4 colon cancer, the drunk fellow in the back row, the ex-con by the door, the suburban stay at home mom spooning gravy, the lumber jack looking guy answering the phone at the front desk, the Hispanic family who doesn’t speak English but followed the trail of blessings to our doorstep – Jesus came for us all.  To scoop us all up from our messed up ways.  He knows it all.  He forgives it all.  All that we are ashamed of.  In Him, we have eternal life, and we begin an epic adventure of faith.  Faith that allows people like me to have astounding hope that crushes all fear.

As I wrap up my challenge of writing down 1,000 blessings I’ve been bestowed with, I wonder how I lived before.  Not noticing.  Not making note.  Not thanking as a practice.

I’m thankful to write this.  I’m thankful anyone would read this.  That it would bless anyone in any way.  It’s what I have to give.  My observations organized into ideas and then words.  I hope you like it.  I hope it matters to you.  I hope it is a blessing to you and that it might somehow make it’s tiny way into your long list of things you’re grateful for.

Our downfall: ingratitude

I can honestly report to you that I am doing OK. I do not feel afraid right now.  Something has been allowing me to live above my circumstances. Allowing me to live up higher and float slightly above the reality we face.  It’s not illegal drugs 🙂 or tired cliches of God not giving me more than I can handle.  It’s not a unicorn farting sparkly fairy dust or a mantra.  

It’s gratitude.  My readings and listenings and thinkings and prayings have led me to a special place of thanks.  I’m grateful.  For my life so far.  My family.  My friends. My job. The love of many.  Everything is a gift.  I’m reading this cool book that is right in line with this.  It’s called One Thousand Gifts.  (Score another one for my mentor, Lisa.) It’s encouraged me in this thinking.  
Our problem is entitlement, and not just the millenials.  All of us.  Between Hollywood, fairytales, and everybody’s Facebook highlight reel, we think we deserve a loving partner, our health, freedom from pain, a dog that doesn’t chew the couch, a DVR with endless memory, perky boobs, a sweet ride, a head full of hair and perfectly above average children.  
That’s what seems “normal” so we think we deserve at least that.  So and so has it, why can’t I?  
There are a few problems with this thinking:
-people have more problems than you think they do. Believe me, I know. Because when you have my kind of problems, people reach out and tell you their problems.  Which I love and see as a gift.  Seriously.  People have illnesses they don’t want to tell you about, pain that is difficult to share, shame that requires medication and worries that rattle them to the core.  But their family photos look sunny and fun, their smile is firmly plastered and they are deeply committed to making you believe everything is fine.  (Unsolicited advice:  Be a safe haven instead of a competitor.) 
-most of the world has nothing close to those things you think you require in order to be ok. Much of the world is inhabited by people who are not sure where their next meal is coming from, if their sister will die during childbirth, if a bomb will destroy their home, if the water is safe to drink or if an anaconda will eat them. (The last one is sort of made up.) 
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones.  Put here by God and your ancestors hard work and decent genes.  Forget about the facelift and the $400 sneakers (unless you can have them AND truly be thankful.  Which, I think, is hard.) 

-if you feel entitled to those things, you can’t appreciate them.  And you’re missing so much!  Look around your house…The one that isn’t big enough or nice enough.  Can you give thanks for it? Try.  Your kids/spouse/brother are crazy.  If only they would just…  Stop.  Look at them.  They are so great.  Just give thanks for them. 

-perfect isn’t normal.  You know what is normal?  Some mix of monotony, love, tragic loss, fun, boredom, physical pain, pleasant enjoyment, white hot fear, depression, hilarity, relief, dullness, excitement, betrayal, surprise, anger, healing.  That’s a lot more normal than a perfect family that never has any problems.   How about we expect to have problems, small and occasionally big, and learn to respond with a thankful heart – yes, crying, screaming and such is fine for a time.  We all have to experience difficult emotions one way or another.  But there is great comfort and opportunity on the other side of that wall of fear you think you can’t get over.  There is a ladder nearby.  It is called Gratitude.

When you begin to see everything as a gift, your perspective changes.  Realizing you’ve been acting like you deserve something is a wake up call.  You’ll think “why?”  Why have you acted this way?  This entitlement?  Because you do good stuff sometimes or try to do less bad stuff, or you go to church or don’t swear or something?  That’s very common and understandable but let’s be real – it’s bad theology and simply not how life works.  Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer.  Shit happens.  To really great people.  

But there is so much hope in letting go of the entitlement. 

Your heart grows and your brain relaxes and you unclench your fists and you begin to take in the scenery a little better.  Set backs are less devastating, because…look at all of these gifts!  Maybe you didn’t get the Malibu Barbie, but there’s a freaking Cabbage Patch Kid over there!

Yes, there is cancer.  That nasty thing.  But also…

There is a friend who would move mountains.  A mom and dad at the ready.  There’s a good job.  A strong husband.  There’s your aunt who really loves you.  There’s a cold drink.  A warm bed.  A fluffy cat.  Your little girl with mischief in her eye and love in her heart.  There’s The Golden Girls when you can’t sleep.  

And if you see that there is a gift giver and He is the mighty captain of this ship, and He is big and good and generous and very skilled at steering.  Well, then you can enjoy the gifts and enjoy the ride.  

The world is amazing. People are awesome.

It’s true that there are some real jerks out there. The guy who cuts you off in traffic. The jagoff who doesn’t hold the door for you when you have your arms full and a four year old in tow. The cashier who seemingly joyfully closes her lane just as you walk up to the register. That Succop kicker guy who single handedly ruined the Steelers chances at the playoffs (ok, ok, it was their own doing, I know.)

But let me tell ya something. People are also really awesome. Here are some examples:

The nurse who jokes around with me when she pokes through my skin to access the port in my chest to administer poison and steal samples of my blood to the extent that I look forward to seeing her.

My mother who helps take my mind off the icky stuff going into my veins by chatting, letting me teach her stuff about her iPhone and playing games like Scrabble.

My dad who reads my mind and makes homemade, ridiculously good chicken soup.

My husband who plays pharmacist (did you take your pills?) housekeeper, chef and World’s Best Dad while I’m out of commission.

The owners of this place and the owner of these places and this web site who all donated to my crazy 5K fundraising project, which you can learn about here Seriously, go learn about it and donate. I am the number one fundraiser of the WHOLE MARATHON right now. Go look now before someone ousts me (which is definitely going to happen.)

This lady. She is ridiculously awesome. Excellent writer. Funny as all get out. Lover of Pittsburgh. Friend of the homeless and sick children. Generous beyond measure.

Also tons of individual friends have donated, bringing me significant joy. (and a sense of “oh crap, I really need to run this race to avoid public shame!”)

My friend who I haven’t seen in about 15 years, who made me two handmade hats for the cold weather!

The friends who have sent me tea – the only thing I can drink during Chemo Weekend. We are having The Pittsburgh Tea Party when this crap is over and done with.

The friends who have given me cool scarves to wear because the cold air just is horrible.

The staff on my team who have sailed the ship beautifully while the captain is barfing below deck.

Senders of cards and packages – you have no idea how this brightens my day!! Mail time (Blues Clues reference for the parents out there) is the best!

The friend who sent me the GREATEST LOTION KNOWN TO MAN that is keeping my hands and feet from horrific side effects from one of my chemo meds. This lotion is magical. So is this friend.

The friend who has three biological kids, five adopted kids and a full time job who cooked me freezer meals and got me a Wonder Woman snuggie – this woman deserves an award!!!

The friends who have whisked my child away to do fun stuff.

People who read and share my blog. I am still blown away that anyone besides my mom reads this.

So, you…I say to you…

Milestones on the Cancer Journey

So I had major abdominal surgery six weeks ago. It’s the thing that launched this crazy situation we’re in. We thought the surgery was The Thing to worry about getting through. Little did we know that was a cheerful, sunny walk in the park that led to the scary, poorly lit, ivy covered, rusty gate marked CANCER that we had to walk through. I have this tendency to wave my hand dismissively at that surgery. The surgeon who performed it did an excellent job and while his bedside manner made me want to hide under the covers, he removed not only the mass that caused this mess, by not screwing anything up, he also removed many obstacles for me. The connection could have leaked. I could have ended up with a colostomy bag (eeeeewwwwww.) There could have been a massive infection. All kinds of things could have gone wrong which could have jeopardized my life or delayed treating the cancer for six months.

I have been pain free from my surgery for about three weeks. I had a very fast recovery which I attribute to largely to God answering about one million people’s prayers and a little bit of my sheer, mule-like will. See, the doc not so politely noted that I am not a particularly thin person and lingered on the notion several times that due to that, it would probably take me a very long time to recover. To which I thought “Awww,that’s so cute how you don’t know who you’re dealing with, here.” And I basically said “Hey, you do the surgery right and then get out of my way.” Jagoff.

So, naturally, I was zooming up and down the hallways by the second day post-op, sweating and muttering swear words under my breath like a crazy person, with that stupid IV tower clunking along, just to spite him. I walked three times as far each day as they suggested I try to and they released me from the hospital 3 days earlier than expected. Take that, Doc. Also, I registered for a 5K that will take place a couple of days after my final chemo treatment. I will be there. I will finish. Even if I have to crawl.

Some of this post is about the will to accomplish that which seems difficult, overcoming obstacles and basically telling a guy with 12 years of post-secondary education who would go on to essentially save your life, to shove it. But it’s also about milestones.

Successful surgery. Awesome.

Getting discharged early. Great.

First “solid” food. Yum.

Returning to work to be with my crew.

Mort the Port is installed.

Starting treatment.

But the best thing, by far, happened yesterday. It’s been six weeks since I was allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. That is, well, most things. Including a 40 pound preschooler. She’s been patient and understanding that she can’t torpedo down the hallway and launch her adorable self at me. She’s been gentle and careful. Until this moment…

Thankful for Cancer


Thankful FOR cancer? Yup. I know, it’s crazy. Let me explain.

Do I enjoy having cancer? No. I am praying like crazy every day that all of the cancer cells are gone and they never come back. I am kind of mad that I have cancer. I mean, it’s totally not, like, fair. Not that anyone deserves it. No one does. Or maybe we all do, depending on how deep you want to get from a theological perspective. But I definitely hate it that I have cancer. I hate it that my life has been so totally disrupted. I mean, I’m busy. Not just busy getting my nails done or something, but busy raising a daughter to be a (hopefully) really great person. Busy raising the operating budget of a large nonprofit organization that helps homeless people. Busy kicking everyone in my league’s butt at Fantasy Football. You know…important things. I do not like feeling tired. I am nervous I will lose my hair (but maybe just the hair that enjoys to appear on my upper lip? Please, Lord!) I hate it that I have to be so “all about me.” I like to help other people with their problems. It’s unnatural for me to be the recipient. I hate all of this medicine I take. I am tired of doc appointments. My hands and feet don’t feel normal. So…don’t get me wrong. Cancer blows.

But I’m still thankful. I mean, what good does sitting around crying and worrying about it do? Bitterness is dangerous. It chokes everything around it. Have you met someone you would describe as bitter – embittered by some bad thing they feel happened to them? Do you want to hang out with them? Me neither. Some emotions like fear and sorrow are legit, of course. It would be inauthentic to pretend they don’t exist. But, in my opinion, they ought to be acknowledged, invited to stay for a short while and then politely asked to leave so there is room for better emotions like hope and peace and confidence. The long and short of it is this: God is working together all things for my good and His glory. Sometimes it takes a little effort to bring our minds back to that truth. But what a solid place to live from!

I am thankful to be thinking about the things I am thinking about, in terms of who God is, who we are and how we are to approach life. See previous blog entries for a lot of thoughts about that. I am thankful that it is possible to have HOPE every day. I am thankful I am not sicker. I can drive and walk and work. THANKFUL for that.

I am thankful that this has pushed me to think seriously about what I eat and what products I use. I have learned a lot. I have also confused myself and stressed myself out quite a bit. But I’m learning new things.

I am thankful that cancer has brought a few familiar faces back into my life. We all let friendships fade for any number of reasons. But serious illness snaps us all to attention and reminds us how much we love some of the best people we’ve had the blessing to know.

I am so thankful for the kind things people have done for me. Seriously! So much niceness! So much thoughtful generosity. Just this week:

-meals delivered to or prepared at my house by people who are encouraging my new, developing eating habits.

-someone saved me a parking spot with their car. like “here, I’ll give you this one so you don’t have to walk in the cold.”

-home-roasted coffee beans, delivered to my desk

-lovely visits over lunch at favorite restaurants

-treats dropped off with sweet notes

-offers of child care

-wine deliveries

-a text that meant the world to me

-people sharing my blog with others – I can’t believe anyone but my mom reads this, so that is pretty cool.

Being thankful for something that on the surface is very bad.  It’s the stuff Scripture is made of.  The last shall be first, the first shall be last.  Weakness leads to real stregnth.  To receive, we must give.  Jesus won it all by the humble act of losing everything.  Rejoice in ALL circumstances.  (Not just the ones that involve cake and ice cream or healthy babies or a sale at Anthropologie.)

I am thankful for the perspective that comes from a diagnosis like this that points to toward valuing each moment and each day a little more. Seeing more clearly, noticing things I haven’t before. Directing my thoughts toward things that are worthy of my brainspace. “Did I make it count, today?” I ask myself. Was today as rad as it could have been? Did I love as fully as I can? Did I let go of the things not meant for me, and cling to the big, wonderful things? Did I trust God more today than yesterday? Did I yield my own will to His? Did I look for the opportunities set before me? I may have many more days on this earth. But if I have one or 100 or 20,000…I’m living like I mean it, yo. That is something to be thankful for.