• National Daughter’s Day

    I wounded my daughter the other day. She was sharing some exciting news, and I answered thoughtlessly. She sat quietly in the car and as I apologized, she said, “It’s okay, Mom.” She was working hard to hold back tears and my heart ached, because my carelessness meant pain for her. Pain that I couldn’t fix. “It’s not okay. It’s never okay for me to hurt you.”

    Once we were home, I turned to her in the kitchen. She is only one inch shorter than me now, and I could look her straight on. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, and I could see the two different shades of brown glistening. I told her how much it hurt me that I hurt her, that I was careless with her heart, and she grabbed me in a hug and we cried together in the kitchen.

    Fast forward a few days, and I picked her up from school and stopped for gas and we belted out pop tunes at the top of our lungs. I love that she chooses the same harmonies as I do, and I ache that my paralyzed vocal cord makes me raspy so my belting is something just above a whisper. When we arrived at home we danced in the kitchen and laughed until there were tears in our eyes. A different kind of tears this day. And Brian walked in, confused, which only made us laugh some more and he shrugged and muttered something about not understanding women.

    And just a couple days ago, we sat on the couch together and I listened as she unloaded struggle after struggle to me. Struggles I can identify with deeply. And I told her of my own teenage years and all my questions and the dark places I would go. And I shared of the light of Jesus, and we promised to be real with each other and encourage each other on our very hard days. And, teary-eyed, she placed her head on my shoulder and smiled, then said with her best Valley Girl voice, “I’m so glad you’re my bestie.”

    I gaze at her sometimes when she doesn’t know it, mesmerized by the light that shines from her, and I cannot fathom that she would believe she is anything less than beautiful. I marvel at her, and I tremble at the gift God has given me in her and what an amazing responsibility He has given me to love her well. We read devotionals together and write quotes to each other and spend our days singing song lyrics back and forth and watch our favorite shows and drink hot tea and bake together and gather flowers to fill our home and curl up with good books and tell each other about our days. And I miss her when she heads off to school. There is a literal ache in my chest as I watch her wave and ride off with her big brother each morning.

    See, here’s the thing. It’s easy for me to get self-focused in my parenting. To worry that I am not enough because of all things I cannot do that I think moms should do—all the things cancer has stolen from us. I make it all about me being the perfect parent so my kids won’t leave home and talk about how dysfunctional we are. The reality is, I mess up. A lot. There are things I would love to have as a do-over. There are careless words and assumptions I’ve made that hurt my children. And I am nowhere near perfect. None of us are.

    But I know the One Who is, and I point my girl to her perfect Father. He will never fail her and will only work for her good. And all these things… the hard conversations, the apologies, the forgiveness, the laughter, the sharing, the singing, the lessons learned from suffering are all just part of the letting her go and be who God created her to be, for after all, if she tried to be anyone else, who would be my Audrey?

    Happy National Daughter’s Day, my dearest. I can’t believe you’re mine. I’m thankful you’re His. I love you… more… most.

  • Jumpstarting My Heart

    “I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”
    ― Sylvia Plath

    Many of you have asked how I am doing with another new chemo and the lingering effects of the chemo reaction I’ve had, and the above quote describes my struggle well. I’ve been holding many things close these past months knowing that even my words cannot explain them or do them justice. There is much that has happened emotionally that has wrecked me in the past months. And there is much that is wrecking me physically, too. It wears on the spirit and the mind, and I am weary.

    I am still learning the ins and outs of my newest treatment and which side effects to call in about or which ones to jot down and discuss with my oncologist or palliative care specialist. There are side effects that mirror side effects of heart failure, so it’s an always wondering if it’s chemo or my heart. And it is exhausting to live every day wondering if it’s progressing more because of the physical pain.

    I am relearning the withdrawals and deposits of life. Resting in the mornings so I can carpool my girl to practice or go to tennis matches or celebrate Star Wars day with my fam. Last week Bri and I triple dated and went out to a restaurant for the first time in fifteen months. (I’m so thankful for vaccinated friends!) Each of those things depletes me and I spend hours, if not days, in bed afterwards. I am so thankful to be living life again.

    But at the same time I am exhausted.

    In every way.

    And I realized along the way with this last scare, I flatlined like I’ve done before.

    And in the flatlining I found myself asking the same questions I’ve asked before, “How do I do this?”
    How do I live and love? And how do I laugh?”

    And then the asking turned to God, “Where are You in this? What are You doing?”

    The last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time in bed because of my pain. I’ve treated the pain with medicine and movies, but I’ve also read good books and listened to great sermons online, because I know that even if I feel like I’ve flatlined, I can’t stop looking for life.

    I look at Thomas, the doubting disciple. He gets a bad rap being remembered as The Doubter, if you ask me. Because, yes, while he doubted, his doubts led him to ask questions, questions that led him back to God. Questions that led him to see Jesus for Who He is, and He cried, “My Lord and My God!” Thomas the Doubter is Thomas the Believer.

    And it was this week that God pulled out the paddles and jump started my heart, because I was struck with how I’m not really seeing or hearing. I’m not taking steps. I’m looking and asking, but I am blind to His works and my ears are deaf to His whispers. I’m asking, but I’m not reaching out and putting my hands into the scars and touching and seeing and hearing His voice.

    And I realized:

    If I’m so busy asking what God is doing, I tend to forget all God has done.

    So I stopped asking what He was doing and only asked for Him.

    He is working, friends.

    The tears still slosh. My heart still skips beats. But He is working.

    And in the working, there is life.

    There is hope.

    Your hope is not that you understand your past, present, and future, but that the Lord of all three holds you in the hollow of his hand. (~Paul David Tripp)

  • Of Pulled Rugs and Tapestries

    It has happened again. The rug, Pulled out from under our feet and we are struggling to regain our footing.

    Reeling. Sad. Clinging.

    I battled fevers, rash (covered every part of me except my soles and palms), and pain last weekend and until the middle of last week. I was on all kinds of medications to combat it and lived in the mental fog of either pain or drug induced fatigue. I slept little and wept much.

    I have been off the new chemo for over a week. The chemo we prayed and fought for. The chemo my oncologist felt like was the next good way to fight.

    I saw her yesterday–the amazing woman who has fought for my life with me for almost thirteen years. We learned last week that she is leaving and relocating across the country. I grieve this loss deeply. I’m weary of loss. In the lives of my friends there has been highest of highs and lowest of lows this past week. On Saturday, we reeled with the death of an older neighbor across from us, one whom Brian had been faithful to care for when needs arose. We are shaken.

    Reeling. Sad. Clinging.

    One of my chemo nurses, and a friend from church, sat next to me in the lobby to see how I was doing yesterday. His presence in that moment as I waited in the unknown was such a gift. The new plan is to restart my oral chemo at half dose tomorrow and then I will see my oncologist next week to see how I’m doing. I have all the necessary medications should my body respond this way again. She is treating me cautiously. As we talked about next steps, I crumbled. “Is this the last one? At what point do we reach the end of treatment possibilities?” Her hand rested on my shoulder and she looked me deep in the eyes. “There are still plenty in the arsenal to fight. And I’m here for two more months. We will figure this out together.”

    Oh, friends. How I will miss her in my life.

    As she shared her plans for the future, we both teared up and she told me how she would miss me.

    “I have learned,” I told her as we cried, “God is never not providing. He has used you to provide for me these past thirteen years. And He won’t stop because you’re leaving.”

    I believe this. I do. But I am so very sad.

    Reeling. Sad. Clinging.

    I am tired of the rug being pulled out from under us, but at the same time, I accept that this is our life. Incurable cancer does this to you without warning.

    But here’s the thing. He puts it back. The rug, woven through with the tapestry of our lives. Our God puts it back. He doesn’t leave us floundering and trying to get our footing. And each time it is pulled from under us, we get to see the Rock we’re standing on. And each time He puts it back, the Rock feels firmer under our feet.

    I wonder.

    May I use some hopefully sanctified imagination here? After all, as Frances Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian is the really free man–he is free to have imagination. This, too, is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

    I wonder if that rug will sit on the floor of our mansion in heaven? I like to think that I’ll see it, that I’ll run my hands over it and remember His goodness…

    “See that?” I’ll say, “That green? That’s the grass in which we smothered our bare feet, trying to taste the goodness of God’s earth. And that? That gold? That’s the gold of sunsets we watched out the window and marveled at His beauty. The black? That’s the inky darkness of long nights, of midnight cancer… but every black strand turns brilliant yellow as the light emerged. And this red? It’s the cut of every knife, every incision into my body, every needle hunt and prick, every scar. And the blue? It’s the water He gave me to drink through His Word. Look, there’s the pink of ribbons friends wore to honor me. This purple? That’s the laughter of my children. There’s a lot of purple in there. And white… the purity of my Brian’s love for me, an example of Jesus, and a reminder of life. And look, more red… Jesus’ blood shed for me. And this one, look how much of this clear strand there is. These are the unseen prayers of those who loved us, their tears. My tears are over there on that shelf in a bottle. Theirs are in bottles, too, but this rug is woven with them, too. And look at all the different shades of skin. These are the arms of those who carried us through. And all of it, a remembrance of His faithfulness to bring us through. Shot through with His mercy, goodness and grace. Isn’t it the most beautiful tapestry you’ve ever seen?”

    I have sat on the phone with friends and with my parents this week to weep, enveloped in words of truth and care. I have poured out my heart and rocked in Brian’s arms. I have wiped the tears of my children. And I have prayed and prayed for the hurting ones in our life.

    Reeling. Sad. Clinging.

    We are held.

    And through it all, the beautiful tapestry in my life grows ever more lovely.

  • The “Scawy Pahts”

    The last few days have been hard. The writer in me wants to come up with a more dramatic word, but my brain isn’t quite working.

    A brief update… and then a few words I wrote ten years ago.

    I’ve been on my new oral chemo for nine days now. The side effects were difficult, and my oncologist has worked with me to manage them. Last evening my body exploded (well, not literally) and then exploded some more today. I’m covered chin to toes in a boiling hot, itchy rash, running fevers and struggling with a roller coaster of pain. She thinks my body just finally said, “Enough!”

    I’m off the chemo for the weekend and taking a litany of drugs to combat all the side effects, so basically glued to my bed or the couch in a fog. If my fever spikes, I’m to call whomever is on call this weekend and will probably have a hospital visit. She thinks that’s unlikely, because she thinks my body just is fighting all the “bleh.”

    To say I’m not scared would be a lie. But even in mental fog, faith still works. I’m holding onto Jesus, and He holds me fast.

    When Bella was four I wrote the post below… I’m thankful God had me write it. Because I can go back and remember His faithfulness.

    “Hither by Thy help I’ve come.”

    ~~~~
    Moooommmmyyyy!” she cries, untwisting herself from her spot on the floor and running to curl next to me on the couch. “I don’t like this pawt,” she whispers as she pulls the blanket to cover us both, “Hold me?”

    I put down my coffee cup and look down to see big brown eyes pooling with tears. I wrap my arm around her and then pull her even tighter. I pick her up and cuddle her into my lap, all the while whispering, “It’s going to be okay. You’ve seen this before, remember?”

    She nods, not tearing her eyes from the movie scene and whispers back, “I know she’ll be okay. I KNOW it. I just need you to hold me fow the scawy paht.”

    Soon the scene passes, the intense music fades and my little Bella returns to her contortions on the floor. She is happy and calm.

    She just needed to be held through the “scawy paht”.

    I sigh, picking up my coffee mug again, falling into silent reverie.

    She is me.

    Only I’m not crying over a cat falling into a river.

    I’m crying over life.

    It can all feel so overwhelming.

    Like my Bella, some days I just need to be held.

    And I find there are a lot of “scawy pahts.” Each second is unknown. I’ve felt what it’s like to have the world drop out from underneath me, and I know how tenuous all this is.

    It’s easy to work myself into a frenzy of fear. Easy if my hope is here… easy if my world is here… easy if my eyes are here.

    But they’re not.

    Like my Bella, the calm I can find is that I KNOW.

    I know how it ends.

    God wins.

    All of this mess that life can be… it won’t follow… it CAN’T follow me into eternity.

    But still in the trial, there are days when I just need to be held.

    And the beauty of His promise is that He is holding me all the time not just for the “scawy pahts.”

    I’m held, no, I’m engraved on the palm of His hand. I can’t fall out. And His hand will carry me into eternity whenever that is.

    And all of this? This fear? This pain? The “scawy pahts”?

    None of that is engraved with me. Just me. Me and Jesus.

    And I’m held.

  • No Matter the Season

    “No matter the season, the song is the same.”

    My dad and I were discussing how hard the winter months will be this year. Taking down the Christmas decorations and sending kids back to college and increased cases with the pandemic. The cold, dark days feel a bit more dreary.

    Then the call came in yesterday. A PET scan early next week, so they’re moving chemo and my appointment with my oncologist to later in the week so we can discuss results. The very next day, my Ash will return to college.

    It feels like every year begins with us drinking from a fire hydrant of unknowns and tests and changes. I was a bit undone, to say the least.

    All of the what ifs? swirled through my brain. What if my increased pain means…? What if my tumor markers rising means…? What if they can’t use my port and I have to suffer hours again of infernal hunting and pecking for veins? What if the news is bad, very bad, and then I have to send Ash away to process it on his own? The rabbit trails, y’all! I’m good at chasing them.

    “Oh, I’m prone to wander…”

    A sweet friend of mine, who is battling cancer and finishing her last round of chemo today, texted me. My dear friend, Bethy, called. Other friends responded to my fears with “I’d be a mess, too.”

    And they asked. They asked how I’m doing. They shared their hearts for me. And they spoke comfort over me.

    If there’s anything I’m learning in this crazy virus-laden and politically upheaved world, it’s that we must all listen to each other. And listen with understanding. My friends showed this to me yesterday. They didn’t try fix it, they didn’t preach how they thought I should respond… they listened, they understood, they loved, and then they spoke or prayed truth over me.

    Truth that I am loved unrelentingly by my Father. Truth that He delights in me. That His mercy and goodness follow me (literally running after) all the days of my life.

    “But You’re prone to chase.”

    I’ve said it a lot this year. 2020 was extremely difficult for me physically, mentally, emotionally. Increased pain. Increased nausea. Drug-interactions that left me debilitated for months on end. Drug allergies (that scared my poor Bear half to death when he had to call Brian to come home quickly because Mom’s not okay). Increased depression. Increased anxiety and intense panic attacks that come on suddenly and with no apparent cause. I’ve fought to live well with my loves. And still through it all, I’ve battled myself over my inability to serve my family and friends the way I long to… how absent I have been from their lives. And how excruciatingly lonely it is to suffer.

    And yet. My friends still came to me with care, with truth, with no judgment, with love.

    And Jesus.

    “Nothing in my hands I bring.”

    Nothing to offer, and yet, He comes close and I call Him Friend.

    Friend.

    Y’all, have you ever thought about how intimate that is? That Jesus is our Friend?

    I’ve had this song on repeat the past couple days, because I need to hear truth over and over and over again. The songs His people have sung through the ages. He doesn’t change even when my circumstances do.

    “No matter the season.”

    So if the winter months are dark and dreary. If the pandemic continues to rage. If my scans come back with progression. If there is no relief to my pain.

    All the what ifs?

    There is no what if? about Jesus.

    His faithfulness remains the same. How great He is.

    I’m clinging to that today. My soul may not be singing very loudly today, but He knows the words.

  • This morning my Bella read our daily Advent reading to me. If you look closely, you can see the script on the inside of the book, a gift from my dear friend, Bethy. We had to stop several times while Bella read because I was so sick. I’ve been up since four a.m. with nausea and pain, and she always finds me to rub my back and bring me water and waits tenderly beside me in the throes of my struggle.

    I cried today. A lot. The years of battle are wearing me down. And I told her how thankful I was that the incarnation meant Jesus came near to us. How I just wish I could touch Him, to know He’s near because today He feels so far away. She snuggled in close and stroked my Bible. “Touch Him here, Mama.”

    Oh y’all. What gift she is. How kind our Father is to give me my children as helpers and truth tellers. How in the stinging ache of cancer’s loneliness, He gives me the touch of her comfort… which is a tangible touch from Him.

  • The Mountains We Cross

    “Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness… This is the kind of faith that can be developed and displayed only in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.”
    (~Nancy Guthrie, “Holding on to Hope)

    It has been 23 years since the first time I heard the word cancer spoken about me. Five times in 23 years, and I will never get accustomed to hearing that word spoken about me.

    This week marks six years since my breast cancer progressed to stage IV. Since my breath stopped when I heard, “There is no cure.” I am one of the 18% who have lived more than five years. In four more years, I pray I am one of the 10%. Four more years… that is, God willing, Ash finishing at CNU and Bear and Bella graduating and us becoming empty nesters. We refinanced our house last week, and there were moments as we talked about how quickly it could be paid off, I found myself thinking, “How are we planning that far ahead?” How do we plan when there. is. no. cure?

    But how do we NOT plan? We don’t stop living. We can’t. We won’t.

    There are days when my mortality is smacking me in the face and I can only weep, and there are days where I stand confident in the truth that He has numbered my days. There are days when I cannot catch my breath and wheeze after I climb stairs and there are days where I take mile walks with my pup and my girl. There are nights where I writhe in pain and nights where I sleep soundly for six hours. There are moments where I cannot open my Bible because I am too weary to wrestle again and times where I can’t stop devouring every word. This journey of faith is not an easy one.

    I have not been well lately.

    I am struggling through some medication changes and side effects and increased bone pain from treatment and depression from my treatment and weaning off the old medications to try the new ones. It has been a debilitating few months, and having my family home sheltering in place to protect me in love during this pandemic has only opened their eyes to how weak Mom is… and opened my eyes to how I tend to place my value on my own productivity. And I struggle with my perceived not-enough-ness.

    Before COVID-19 my family would leave and head off to work or to school, and I would do small chores and rest so I would be strong in the evenings and able to go to all the things with them and live life with them. Now they are home and they see just how much time I spend resting, and they are understanding more just how bad this is. How Mom has strength for so little.

    Oh, but y’all… here is what is true.

    My strength may be small, but I will always have the strength to love them deeply.

    Bella and I wake earlier than the boys and we make coffee and chat about the day as we empty the dishwasher together. We curl up under warm blankets and read a devotional and we pray. Bella makes us breakfast and we talk about school or the musical (she has a named part! They’re doing it like a movie this year to keep the children safe. It’s so fun hearing my songbird in her room every day). Then we grab Coop and run up the back stairs about 10 minutes after Bear’s alarm blares. “Let’s go get him!” And Coop jumps on his bed and nuzzles his face and Bear starts his morning with a smile and a groan. I make him hot chocolate to sip during classes and his day begins hearing of my love.

    Bri comes down freshly showered and grabs breakfast and coffee and goes to the library nook for his office set-up to begin his work day. Bella and Bear start virtual classes. I throw a load of laundry in or pay some bills and then sit at the table with my girl as she works, and I listen to a sermon on my AirPods and read and write. I love the accessibility the internet offers and just how much good stuff is out there. I listen to poetry podcasts and sermon series (just starting one on Ezra and our faithful God). Then I nap. Then it’s break between classes and I help Bella with English paper ideas and listen to Bear on the phone with a friend trying to figure out Analysis homework (I would be of absolutely no help there). Then class number two. I switch laundry loads, do a little meal prep and then nap again.

    Cancer is a lonely disease, and the loneliness has been intensified by the pandemic. I live like I do during flu season a couple months a year, only even more cautious… and with no end in sight of living this way. And the hardest struggle has been that my family sees just how weak I am. Every time I throw up from treatment, my Bella girl is there. She’s bringing me water and holding my hair and rubbing my back, and I weep. “It’s not supposed to be this way. I’m the Mom. I take care of you.” And she rubs my back harder and she says, “Mama, no one is independent. This is where you need me, and I’m here.” And I marvel at her… at her wisdom and nurturing heart. She dreams of being a kindergarten teacher and a librarian one day, and as I write this, tears fall as I think of all those young ones who will have the joy of knowing Bella’s love.

    And when I go there… I also go here: “Please God? Please let me be here to see it? To watch the lives of my family as they grow and change and please let them run hard after you?”

    We just watched “Fellowship of the Ring” on Saturday for pizza and movie night, yelling “Nerd!” laughingly at each other whenever one of us would quote the movie before the quote actually came. At one point, during a hard pass, Saruman’s voiceover speaks as the fellowship climbs, “If the mountain defeats you, will you risk more dangerous road?”

    Y’all, I feel defeated these days. The mountain of treatment is hard. My body is so broken and I’m in constant pain and my depression is crushing and my chemo brain is so bad. Some days I do wonder if this mountain will defeat me.

    But then I sit on the phone with my Ash for an hour and talk through life and questions and struggle and hear all about his love for college. And I laugh hysterically with my family on family game night. And we go on family drives through our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. And I curl up to read with my girl and we share quotes from our books. And I sit with my Bri and we plan next steps for small facelifts we want to do inside our weathered farmhouse of a home. And my Bear drives me on errands and we talk about life and dreams. And we have patio dates with friends and porch date sermon and worship times. And, like every family, we work through hard things, and we fight and we forgive. And this looks nothing like defeat.

    My friend, Donna, mailed me a mustard seed a while ago. “One for you and one for me.” she wrote. So that we could remember faith as small as a mustard seed. She’s an essential worker in a nursing home, and the stuff she deals with… sigh. Y’all. This pandemic is awful.

    Faith as small as a mustard seed. Will the mountain defeat me? Perhaps. But that tiny seed sitting on my dresser for me to focus on every day reminds me the mountain can be moved. And I will, in the strength God gives me, fight even more dangerous road… I will fight for my life and my loves and I will, as the psalmist says, “live to declare the works of the Lord.”

    My faith has been shaken by cancer. Shaken hard.

    For 23 years cancer has been part of my story. But y’all, the sureness of my Father God’s love for me cannot be shaken. And that has been far longer than 23 years. That has been from eternity past. The mountain cannot ultimately defeat me; neither can more dangerous road.

    And so, like I’ve said ever since I started this blog fourteen years ago: we will live.

    We will live today for Jesus, caring for each other, for our family and friends and for our neighbors.

    God still owns tomorrow… and He owns the mountains we have to cross, too.

  • For today…

    … simple today.

    Outside my open window…birds chirping in a harmonious call and response… neighbor mowing spring’s early growth.

    I am thinking…about generosity and how we are all human.

    I am thankful for…children who are faithful to serve when asked, a cozy bed for after-chemo recovery, technology that connects when we can’t be together, porch swing conversations, my Brian working from home, Cooper snuggles.

    From the kitchen… a yummy lunch prepped by my girl, leftovers in the fridge, pork loin waiting to be grilled.

    I am wearing…yoga pants and a fleece for comfy curling.

    I am creating…next week’s meal plan, a quarantine playlist, a list of new recipes to try with what we have on hand.

    I am going…to stay at home. Please, if you can, do the same.

    I am reading…The Secret Keeper, What We Keep, Suffering, Just Mercy and The Turquoise Table. Just kind of depends on what mood I’m in.

    I am hearing…Bella-Girl singing show tunes in her room. “Just you and I defying gravity…“, the squeak of the back door as Bear opens and closes it on his way to work outside, Bri whistling, Asher talking with a friend.

    Around the house…squished floor pillows, strewn socks, open windows, textbooks, disinfecting wipes, artwork and more artwork.

    One of my favorite things… sharing life with friends—-bearing burdens and celebrating joys.

    A few plans for the rest of the week… family game night, finishing up our Star Wars marathon, working together on house projects.

    Here is a picture thought I am sharing… Taken on a walk with Bella girl. I love stained glass and steeples.

    What happens matters, my friends… it all matters

  • God Can, God Cares

    Recently, in my Facebook memories, a picture popped up of Bri and me with dear friends who were our campus ministry leaders at JMU many years ago. I wrote:

    On Friday, they stopped by to see us, and it was sheer gift to laugh and cry, to reminisce and to dream, to see through it all God’s faithfulness to them and to us. They have taught us so much in the twenty-plus years we have known them, but always, always it comes back to this: He is faithful.

    I have been quiet last week. Part of it is that I had chemo and was down for a few days. Part of it is that there are things going on in life that aren’t for me to write about. But they are hard places that Bri and I and others are stepping into as helpers.

    On Tuesday of last week, my faithful Daddy by my side, we tromped into the cancer center with our bags of books (we bring several because you’re just never sure what mood you’ll be in and what you want to read) and awaited my appointment. After seeing one of my oncologist’s colleagues, they sent me to my chemo chair. I’m at the point now where they just tell me where to go and I walk the halls with Dad to find my spot, waving at the nurses, many of whom I consider friends. After chemo, we made our way to another part of the hospital for my MRI of my arm, stopping to grab a ham sandwich and some coffee.

    They were wonderful and the MRI went smoothly (or as smoothly as lying in a tube six inches from my nose with my hands strapped to my sides can be.) I am so thankful I’m not claustrophobic.

    Afterward, I returned to the cancer center for a few more things and getting my port deaccessed. I was at the hospital almost eight hours, and weariness oozed from me as I climbed in Daddy’s car to head home. The phone rang not two minutes later. The doctor had received my MRI report and there is NOT cancer in my muscle.

    Deep breaths. Thank you, Jesus.

    It appears to be physiologic which means injury of some sort. I will discuss with my oncologist when I see her again. In the meantime, I do struggle with pain in my upper arm, shoulder and neck. By the end of the day it feels debilitating, and I. Am. Done.

    Next week I will see the radiation oncologist to discuss treatment for the adrenal gland, and we will move forward from there.

    Deep breaths. Help me, Jesus.

    Y’all, my hair is coming out in droves. Handfuls when I shower. Our vacuum is more full of my hair than Cooper’s. I know this treatment that I’m on can cause thinning but this is way more than thinning. And I wonder if there is a connection to the cancer in my adrenal gland. And I wonder at what point I will shave my head again and go back to wigs and scarves and hats. And that makes my heart very sad.

    But in the midst of sadness, He brings joy. I was able to help plan and celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary party for my parents on Saturday. There were quite a few moments where I had to catch my breath and swallow that lump in my throat as I looked around the room and saw so many people who’ve known me since birth. The hugs and the tears and the laughter and the celebration. What an impact my parents have made on the lives of so many. (Bonus: I ordered way too much food so we have lasagna and salad to feed us for the week.)

    All in all, I am doing okay. I’m thankful for the “yes” God gave us with regards to my arm. He is worthy of praise no matter what the answer may be. And I have friends right now that the answer seems to be a lot of “no” right now. God loves them no less. We are all moving forward to the final “yes” when we see our Jesus face to face.

    In the meantime, we cling to truths that our friend Dan has ingrained into us with his life and teaching:

    Look at the cross, delight in the resurrection, hope in the future, share with the world, encourage the saints. God can. God cares.

    He can, y’all. He cares.

  • Careening and Spinning and Sliding. And Held.

    Wednesday night, I curled on the floor in our den surrounded by my youth group high school girls. As we concluded our Bible study, I looked around at them and said, “Cling to God’s sovereignty. It’s hard, y’all. But the world is never spinning out of control. It’s only spinning out of OUR control.”

    Y’all. It sure feels like it’s spinning out of control… careening and tilting, and I feel like I’m sliding off trying to grasp onto something and my fingertips just squeal and slide.

    Deep breaths.

    The oncologist called this morning with results of my PET scan, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all the information. I’ve talked with her twice and gotten clarification on some things. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face—my oncologist is amazing. She went over my scan in detail with the radiologist so she could talk with me about where we go from here and I wouldn’t be left floundering over the weekend.

    Here are the facts (trust me, I’ll get to the feelings):

    —the areas of concern that they’ve been watching over the past year are continuing to disappear. The area in my abdomen that they biopsied last year is gone.

    —my tumor markers continue to drop (one is in the normal range). Tumor markers are not an accurate indicator for everyone; however, they have been a good predictor for me in the past.

    —but there is new spread in my abdomen. It’s actually in my left adrenal gland.

    —there is also uptake of the radioactive dye in an area of my left triceps muscle. While it is very rare, breast cancer can spread to muscle.

    Deep breaths.

    —because of the lessening spots, the low tumor markers, and the time spent examining my scan, both my oncologist and radiologist believe that the area on my triceps is probably muscle injury (a tear perhaps) rather than cancer. But obviously they can’t say for sure. Either way, this would account for a steady increase in pain I’ve experienced in my left shoulder, neck and back.

    —she has ordered an MRI for a better look at my arm and shoulder.

    —also because of the lessening spots and low tumor markers, she will keep me on my current chemo regimen because it seems to be working to a good extent.

    —I will have targeted radiation to the adrenal gland.

    Deep breaths.

    —I am overwhelmed by the hard. But thankful for some encouraging news.

    A friend recently posted an article about Toby Mac, the Christian music artist, whose son died unexpectedly this week. Toby wrote: “We don’t follow God because we have some sort of under the table deal with Him like we’ll follow you if you bless us. We follow Him because we love Him. It is our honor. He is the God of the hills and the valleys. And He is beautiful above all things.” It wrecked me.

    Because, y’all, I’ve been living my life recently like it is an under the table deal. I’ve struggled with anxiety, a LOT of anxiety of late, and I’ve struggled with distance from God. And I’ve been envisioning a God who is standing with his arms raised up waiting to drop the other shoe because I’ve not been a good enough daughter to him. And that’s not our Father God at all. Rather, He is the God Who, like my own father prayed this morning, “isn’t standing with His arms raised in judgment. He’s running with His arms outstretched to hold me close to Him.”

    I’m overwhelmed by His kindness. I’m fearful, yes. “Don’t you see that we are perishing?!” the disciples screamed in the stormy boat. Yes. He sees. In fact, Jesus was there precisely because we ARE perishing without Him. To save us. If God sent His Son to die for me, to save me, to bring me to eternal life with Him, how can I doubt that anything else in my life is not for my good? It’s all for my good.

    The flood still feels overwhelming. If I look ahead to what my days will look like… appointment after appointment after appointment… more procedures…the burning and fatigue of radiation, my knees buckle. But living in tomorrow is exhausting. Because we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

    So we sit in the sadness today. Not frenetic or panicky. This could be much, much worse, and I’m thankful it’s not. Just sad. And heavy.

    And we do the next thing. Lord willing.

    We will go to dinner with a dear friend who is in town for JMU’s Homecoming.

    We will go to the football game tonight at the boys’ school, and we will stand on the field at a pink out for breast cancer game, and we will honor our Ash for senior night.

    We will celebrate tomorrow at our third wedding of the fall, another heart friend who has been a kindred since the day she introduced herself to me in the chemo room many years ago.

    Bri and Ash will go to another college visit (I may or may not join them) at Virginia Tech (this pains my JMU Duke heart).

    Bear will attend a Young Life retreat and worship our Father, “Because I need to, Mom. I need to worship.”

    Next week we will go to work and school and play volleyball and tennis and have drama club and I’ll have chemo and we will enjoy our annual chili night for Halloween with friends…

    And we will live.

    Today.

    Honest about where we are.

    Thankful for the kindness of our good, good Father.

    And finding our careening, slipping, squealing, sliding lives stilled by the hands that hold the universe in His.

    (Thank y’all for praying for us so faithfully. For loving us so well. We are blessed beyond measure by you.)