• Pain and Promise

    “What are your plans for today?” Bri asked as he climbed into the driver’s seat next to me. We had just dropped off my Honda at the mechanic’s, and I was still trying to clear the haze of the morning even though I had been awake for hours. I leaned my head back against the headrest and mumbled, “Try not to throw up again?” He reached for my curled hand which ached from pain deep in its joints. He sighed his sorrow and drove me home.

    That’s how that day began.

    It’s been nine months since we learned there was progression of my cancer and I underwent all the subsequent testing and surgery. It’s been six months since I started new treatment protocol. My oncologist has been working faithfully with me to tweak dosages and timing. As always, she is giving me much input and days and weeks off so I can travel or attend important things in my family’s and my lives. This new treatment regimen has been hard with its impredictability. We are starting to learn what to expect when, but the last nine months of life have felt like the haze I was pushing through this morning.

    “This one is breaking me,” I’ve whispered to Brian many times. And we tweak it again, so I feel less broken. And we keep on tweaking because we know it’s working. Some days I think it’s getting easier. Days like today, I don’t.

    I see people regularly choosing their “word of the year” and I laughingly tell friends mine is “broken.” Depression and anxiety rooted deep within my heart and soul this winter, a side effect of one of my three medications with which we blast this cancer yet again. I have lived in a deep darkness these past months, but God is bringing me out of the shadows. Warm weather helps—-my physical aches and pains are less.

    Yes, my body is broken. I have been struggling with a past of very poor theology that didn’t allow lament, and I have not known what to do with the darkness of my days. I have watched my children live life somewhere in the realm of “undone” and “fearful” yet rise to hope in what is true. Their courage pushes me to see the world around me with different eyes.

    But treatment is working. I am fighting this monster with diet choices and Pilates and counseling and medications, and progression has halted for now. I am able to pace myself to watch my loves doing the things they love—running and tennis and drama. We go to movies together and have long, deep conversations about life and the power of story. We fix meals together and plan menus and work around the house. Bri and I get out together and go on dates and have game nights with friends. We laugh. A lot. We really do. I’m thankful for that. I need that.

    Recently, at one of those game nights while playing the game, Imaginiff, we were given the choice, “If Angie were an ailment, what would she be?” Options were along the lines of a headache, a sick stomach, a pain in the rear, a pulled muscle… Brian laughingly looked over and said, “Well, that pretty much describes everything she deals with.” I won’t tell you which ailment he chose. *smile*

    I don’t know how to answer friends who ask how I am doing. And many of you faithfully ask, for which I am so thankful. I often reply with, “I have good days and bad days. We just never know when they’re going to be.” Which is true. We tend to live very spontaneously. I just don’t know how to sum it all up without sounding like I’m complaining—-how do I describe to people that my hands become so raw that they burn and that I can’t pick up a pen and write? Or of my nails that split halfway down to the cuticle? Or that my scalp aches all the time and it hurts to brush my hair? That my skin feels like one big bruise covering my body and showers are physically painful? That I sometimes can’t eat because of sores in my mouth that mysteriously disappear the next day? And yet the medications cause bloating and swelling so it looks like I eat more than I do? And those are the minor side effects.

    And the mental side effects? The forgetfulness? The words that don’t come? How when I go to church, I am so mentally exhausted from having to work so hard to understand what’s being taught and sung that I struggle to find joy? That beautiful words that used to be part of my vocabulary fly over my head and I feel like a simpleton? That Brian will tell of his day and talk about things I should understand, and I’ll say to him, “I don’t know what that word means.” Or this weekend when we were camping and I kept calling “cornmeal” “cole slaw”. That I have anxiety over the weirdest things—like what if I sit on an anthill at Bear’s tennis match and the ants eat my toes off? What. The. Heck?

    How do I keep doing this?

    But how do I not? Because even with all that I’m describing, I have days where I feel somewhat well. That a good cup of coffee and a good conversation with a friend is revitalizing. That I may limp down the hill to watch Bear play tennis, but the warmth of the sun on my face and the pride in watching him compete is strengthening. That the chill in the night air may make my bones ache, but watching my Ash push through in a 3200-meter race fills my heart. That getting ready to go out may use up all my energy, but watching my girl own the stage as a Shakespearean Puck breathes life into me. That I may tell Brian he can’t put his arm around me because the weight of it around my waist is too painful, but I am calmed by the press of his body against me when I lean my head on his shoulder and know he will not give up on me.

    A couple months ago after watching the author speak on The Gospel Coalition website, I picked up the book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop. Y’all… I have gotten through one chapter. Not because it’s a hard read or because I don’t like the book. It’s because I keep going back over and over and over again to the same words because I need them over and over and over again.

    Because lament is a language I am still learning. He describes it as a “minor-key language for my suffering” and how it “provides a critical ballast for the soul.” (I had to look up the word “ballast”… a word I’ve used many times before. *sigh*)

    I have rooted myself in the psalms and in the gospels. I have listened to various podcasts that speak to suffering, and I have listened to various podcasts that celebrate the beauty of our world and our lives. I have picked up books that are simple to read yet rich in truth. And I have read others’ stories to remember it’s not just I that suffers (because it’s so easy to navel gaze) and to pray for them in their need. And I sit in that gap between pain and promise.

    And I wait.

    And some days I weep.

    And some days I revel.

    And every day, I thank Him. Because even with all this pain, He has given me another day with the ones I love doing the things I love. Another day to see His beauty.

    And I cry. And I laugh.

    A lot.

    Because the pain is real.

    But so is the promise.

  • Of Sparkle and PET Scans

    Yesterday I watched my Bear play tennis while my Bella girl curled with her head on my lap, and I stroked her long red locks. I was weary in every way. The PET scan yesterday had gone well other than some IV issues. I have a huge knot and bruise on my left hand, and it hurts to use it. Sigh. IVs will always be my nemesis.

    I steeled myself for the wait. I have treatment on Thursday and an appointment with my oncologist, so I was expecting two days of limbo. But my oncologist, who is amazing, called yesterday evening to share the preliminary news that my PET is stable. No further progression. We will talk more tomorrow, but stable is good. Treatment is stopping cancer… now if we could just get it to shrink cancer! But I will take no progression. And I breathe thankfulness.

    As I shared the news with my Bear before he began his doubles match, he flashed those dimples at me and said, “I’ll be able to play better now.” And when I whispered the news to my girl as we curled on the blanket watching him play, she tightened her grip around my legs, “My birthday will be perfect now.” She whispered back. And before supper, as we celebrated an early birthday dinner for our girl, my Ash prayed and thanked our Father that his mom was still okay while Brian and I tightened the grip of our held hands.

    Y,all, there are days when I think it all will break me; this treatment is far more difficult than I expected. Every morning finds my Bella girl holding my hair back while I throw up. She fetches me water and rubs my back and nurtures me, and I wipe away tears that this is her life. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that the mother nurtures her child? Ah, but then there’s my Bear, who when we talk about what they were like as babies and I share how I threw up all nine months of all three pregnancies, he laughs and says, “Well, you’ve just been throwing up pretty much your whole adult life, huh Mom?” And Ash throws his arm around me, shakes his head at his brother while we all laugh, and leans into me protectively.

    And I breathe thankfulness. We lament. But we rejoice. Bella girl was one when I first started this battle. She turns 13 today. Look at this beautiful life God has given us!

    I’ve had several of you ask for an update. I know I have been quiet, and my heart is warmed that you want to know how we are. I will write more after my oncologist and I have talked tomorrow, so steel yourselves for a post full of medical jargon. In the meantime, will you breathe thankfulness with me for no progression?

    And here’s a bit of three-year-old sparkle to brighten your day. I have been gifted with that sparkle every. Single. Day. now for thirteen years, I guess I can share.

  • World Cancer Day

    Midnight Cancer
    is a bottomless pit
    where voices echo
    around and around
    endlessly
    repeating the same
    prayer:
    oh
    God…

    Sooner or later, midnight
    cancer changes to
    morning
    cancer,
    brighter,
    more hopeful.
    Somewhere in the sun
    rises warm and round.
    Birds are singing.

    After a while,
    morning cancer melts
    into afternoon cancer
    where it hides among chores:
    cut the grass
    clean the downspouts
    drain the noodles.

    Later, the house falls silent
    and even the dog is asleep.
    There might or might not be rain.
    Without a sound
    you are falling,
    arms wide and circling.
    It’s midnight
    You have cancer.

    ~Mary Braddish O’Connor from her collection “Say Yes Quickly.”

  • Home

    This morning I woke and my first thought was of my Ash, my boy whom, after an ectopic pregnancy that shattered us, we were told would be close to a miracle to have. But, at the risk of sounding cliche, isn’t all life a miracle? He arrived almost three hours after his due date and we joke sometimes that he’s still trying to catch up.

    To be honest with y’all, this morning was hard. I wasn’t there to wish him a happy birthday. I love that my children wake to my voice on their birthdays, and this morning he didn’t. (Deep breath. Don’t remind me this is our future I’m seeing once he’s off to college.)

    This whole week has been hard to say the least. For those of you who haven’t seen my incessant Facebooking (sorry about that), last Friday our Coop escaped out the back storm door and grabbed—yes, you read that right, He GRABBED a skunk about 15 feet from our house. Grabbed him right by his tail. Skunk never saw it coming. Neither did Coop. His whole face was yellow from spray, our whole house was filled with the odor, and having no other place to clean him, we had to bathe him in our bathtub with peroxide and baking soda and dish soap… then tomato juice… then shampoo… and skunk odor remover spray, and… sigh, he STILL smells.

    So does our home. It permeated everything. The first few days I stayed at my parents, because I can only be in the home for a few hours at a time before my eyes swell and burn. Bella’s room is right above where the event occurred, so she can’t be in her room either. Let’s just say, it’s been a nightmare. I waffled between laughter and tears and near hysteria with both. Because, y’all, the sight of Coop with that skunk in his mouth… HI-larious! The state of our home? Not so much.

    It was a gargantuan task, but once again I am blown away by our community. Friends stepped in to take bags and bags of clothing (all our clothes smelled), our linen closet, bedding, curtains, stuffed animals, etc. and wash them for us. We’ve purged—-thrown away mats and rugs and laundry hampers and backpacks and purses and shoes and more. Bri and the boys wiped down all the cabinets and walls and hard furniture with vinegar water. Once again, my Bri rose in crisis like he always does. And he and the boys worked exhaustingly and never (I do not exaggerate) complained. “What else do you need, Dad?” They’d ask him.

    We have four air purifiers running. Meals are being delivered to us. My parents have been golden—-running errands, taking laundry, counseling me when I struggle and cleaning along with us. Yesterday a friend came over and helped me empty out my kitchen cabinets, air them out and wipe them down. We got halfway through in four hours. Bella-girl stayed with a friend from school until yesterday. And I am staying in a gorgeous, cozy loft above a garage that friends graciously opened up for me to stay in. It’s five minutes from the house and I can go over and work for a bit, then come back to my “new place” and rest.

    I’ve wrested a lot with “place” these past days. My home and my family are safety for me here on earth, and to have that taken away for a time has been hard and eye-opening. God, once again, is using these things we walk through in life to show me that He alone is my safety. He has given me the splendid gifts of my Brian, my Ash & Bear & Bella, my lovely, drafty old farmhouse that always needs something repaired. But I like to clench my hands around them and claim them as mine, when like all things, they are His, and I must open my grasp and offer them back to Him Every. Single. Day.

    I’ve questioned God… the “really, Lord? We needed this on top of my cancer?” kind of questions. “On my low week, Lord? When I have limited energy and everything hurts from treatment? Really?” And I’ve been reminded that this is not God punishing me for my lack of faith. It’s not God up there banging His head against the wall thinking, “She’s just not getting it, so let’s give her MORE struggle.” God doesn’t work like that, although I want to put Him in a box and think He does. No, God is grieving with me. And I need to know that. To be reminded of that. That He is with me, even when I don’t feel His presence, even when the struggle overwhelms.

    But y’all, there has been joy in the midst of this, too. Our friends, who are sharing their loft with me, have cared so well for my family and me. Bri comes every night to hang out with me. Last night the kids were there, too. Some evenings our hosts join us or we go to them, Rita and I already in our jammies, and we curl up next to their stone fireplace and talk and laugh and share. Yesterday she brought me chocolate chip scones with clotted cream for breakfast. This morning, Bella and I sat with her and her son in their kitchen, and we read a devotional together before school then talked of what truth without love can look like. It is gift.

    Our home is getting better. The smell is dissipating. This will end. We have friends who have had to abandon their homes and their belongings because of health and mold, friends who’ve lost homes to fires, and I cannot wrap my mind around their loss. This is just a small taste, and I ask God to give me more compassion for the hurting. And a deeper sense of my need for Him.

    My mom made Ash a lasagna yesterday and a strawberry cake (one of his favorites). She’s delivering it today, and tonight we will celebrate our boy at our “home away from home.” I’ll cry because he’s seventeen now, because time is so fleeting, because I’m proud of the man he’s become. I am wrecked just writing this. I love that boy beyond words! And when he leaves, I’ll whisper to him, “Those boys should never be sent to bed… they always wake a day older” (“Finding Neverland” is a favorite movie of mine.) And we will feel at home. Because, to end with yet another cliche—I’ve learned yet again that home is not only a place. It’s the people you surround yourself with; it’s the people you love.

    Perhaps that is why we call our church small group—those people who have taken our mess and laughed and cried with us—home group. And I spent last weekend at home with Mom and Daddy. And here, this little loft where I write, is our home away from home. And home is our RV when we travel. And heaven. Our ultimate home, because our God is there.

    And dear, goofy Coop, whom we now refer to as Meatball because of his affinity for tomato juice; yes, he’s still loved and very much a part of our home (I just don’t snuggle much with him yet… that smell!).

    Thank you to all our friends who have stepped in, who have willingly taken our mess (our stinky mess) and helped, who have reached out and cried with me and prayed with me and for us, who have been there for us as we go through yet another bump in this journey of life. Y’all are my people. My home here on earth. And I’m so grateful.

    (Also, I know I’ve been quiet lately and I’ve had several folks ask for a health update… it’s coming. Treatment has been very hard to adjust to, and some days I think cancer is breaking me, but it’s not. If you’ve read this far, just know that the treatment seems to be working to some degree! We just don’t know how much yet.)

  • The Song the Birds Are Singing

    This morning I found myself getting all verklempt as I sifted through memories from Facebook and iPhotos. I do love that feature in those apps—a sweet reminder of days gone by.

    It’s a date that will live in infamy—today being the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. And several years ago I had made six dozen of my pappy’s chocolate peanut butter chip cookies… Bella-girl just made them again this week. And I think of my pap and nan, both eighteen, drawn into a battle against world domination—-him in France and Italy, her on the home front. And I think of my Ash, almost seventeen, and I shudder.

    On this date eleven years ago I was recovering from a second thyroid cancer surgery, feeling the agony of my neck sliced open again and fearing what this spread throughout my neck meant.

    Through the years I’ve sat in the library at the Homestead for a company retreat with Bri filling my heart and mind with truth and journaling; I’ve seen the Civil Wars in concert; I’ve celebrated a Dallas win over the Redskins; and I’ve posted several pictures through the years of my loves at our favorite Christmas tree farm of 20 years!

    One of my favorites is when I learned that my five year old Bella-girl does not love “Satin”, she loves God, and I belly laughed when I saw the picture again.

    It’s easy these days for me to look to the future and fear for what it might hold, to wonder what living life will look like as I sit here today curled up under a heated throw achy and nauseous, mouth sores forming, side effects of a medication that will hopefully stop cancer in its stomp forward in my body.

    But the truth is I’ve had that question, that struggle, for decades, ever since my first thyroid cancer 20 years ago.

    And I look at all God has given us. Of the life we have lived here for His glory when we feared we might not have that life together. It is so much, y’all, so very much.

    My favorite memory of all for today is when Bella-girl was three and we sat on the front porch waving goodbye to the “brudders” as they left for school. She looked at me with those sparkling eyes and whispered, “Mommy, yet’s sing da song da birds are singing.”

    Oh, y’all.

    Yes.

    Let’s sing their song… and the song of the angels. Let’s sing in exultation, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, good will toward men.”

    He holds it all: the past, the present and the future. And as the waiting of Advent howls, the hope of glory comforts, and the love of the present surrounds us.

  • Glimpses of Our World

    Oh, y’all. Honestly, it is hard to find beauty these days, when I (and so many of the people I love) are walking in the brokenness of a fallen world. The tag line of this blog is “glimpses of our world.” We rely on His grace and His strength to get us through. Day by day. Hour by hour.

    Here’s a peak into one day. Another glimpse into our world. One ordinary day.

    {6:45 a.m.} Waking to find our front door had blown open in the night, and steaming mugs of coffee to warm me and remind me of my calling to love.

    {7:30 a.m.} Writing notes on napkins and giggling over silly puns. She calls me Marmee (from one of our favorite reads, Little Women). There’s no describing how much I love that!

    {8:30 a.m.} I’ve updated the shower curtain in our upstairs bathroom where our laundry is, and every time I see it, it brings me a smile. And laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. Laundry is my favorite task. I love to pray over my family as I fold. I have a deal with my children—during the school year, because I stay at home and have time, I do their laundry; however, they put it away. And if I hear complaints, they get to do their own laundry. See all those beautiful colored hangers? I love them! Each kid has a different color for their clothes, so I know whose is whose. (Bella is red, Ash is blue, Bear is grey/black… yes, I know I’m OCD)

    {9:30 a.m.} It has been six years since my dear friend, Kim, passed from life here to life eternal. I still pick up my phone to call her some days, and then I remember she’s gone. It is a deep ache in my heart. And worship, seeing the beauty of Jesus, helps heal.

    {10:30 a.m.) Cancer center. I made a friend in the therapy dog, and he was sweet and cozy and comforting as I waited to see the oncologist. My counts are better but still low, and I continue to be neutropenic. I will stay off one of my medications for another week and see her again. My heart is sad to think of things this weekend I will miss, but I’m thankful for small steps forward in figuring out what’s best tolerated by my body.

    {12:00 p.m.} Leaving the cancer center. Mennonite hats hanging on the racks. It struck me. I’m not sure I can articulate why.

    {1:00 p.m.} A heated throw and my own therapy pup curling up with me while I read.

    {2:00 p.m.} Driving back to the cancer center for an infusion. I go every three weeks for this, and it does not impact my blood counts. Sweet reminders from my girl that I keep in my car… and beautiful clouds as I walked to the doors. It reminded me of these words from a favorite hymn, “The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.”

    {3:00 p.m.} The view from my chair. Thankfully, the seats are heated and I curl up with my Kindle and warm blankets and a pillow. I laugh with the nurses and show them pictures of my family, and we catch up. Ten years of this, these nurses have become friends to me.

    {4:00 p.m.} As I left the center, I passed a friend who was receiving her treatment and we caught up for a few moments. We cried together as we shared the pain of walking with Stage IV cancer. And we cried some more as we struggled to encourage each other when the day-in, day-out of life feels hopeless. We know the ultimate hope will not disappoint! As I left, the clouds had blown away and I caught my breath at the clear blue of the sky and fire of the trees. Even that felt like a glimpse of hope.

    {5:30 p.m.} My children were home when I arrived home to curl up on the couch and nap again, already nauseated by treatment. Bella girl worked on her pre-algebra, and Bear stepped in to help explain to her how to make sense of it all. I love watching my children just “be” together. They really do have a bond… all three of them. It is a sweet gift to my mama heart.

    {6:30 p.m.} Taking a break to laugh at the antics of Shawn and Gus. We had a quiet evening with nowhere for any of us to go, and spent some time with one of our favorite shows. I love hearing the laughter of my Bri and my children—-Ash and Bri laugh so heartily, Bear just shakes his head and snickers, and Bella giggles with those sparkling eyes. I think I do all three, but mostly, I just revel in being with them and watching them.

    {8:00 p.m.} As I headed off to bed, Bella girl was showing us her photography project. Always looking for a creative outlet, she took Bri’s camera on Saturday and spent the afternoon outside walking our yard, setting up photo shoots and chattering to the pups and the horses and the butterflies all around. Bear helped her edit them, and here is one of my favs. It’s one of my Holly Hobby dolls from childhood.

    Yes, y’all. It is hard to find beauty these days, when I (and so many of the people I love) are walking in the brokenness of a fallen world. But here it is. Glimpses of a simple day. The extraordinary ordinary. Gifts from the hand of a loving Father, who knows this feeble frame.

    There is hope beyond the horizon.

    (The idea for this blog was inspired by instagram’s #onedayhh)

  • He’s Still There

    Yesterday did not go as planned at all. Welcome to our normal. I headed in to the cancer center for blood work, and I had my shopping list all ready for when I finished. After all, I had cards to buy and a couple things for our home, and I wanted to browse some shops for treats for a couple friends. Instead I went to the cancer center and then straight home.

    My blood work came back low. Very low. My white blood cells, my red blood cells, my platelets, my ANC, my iron… they’re all just low. This isn’t uncommon with my new treatment, and it’s expected to be a few months of changing dosages and figuring out what my body can handle. Obviously, my body can’t handle the largest dose. So I’ve been taken off of one of my pills until I see my oncologist next week and we see how my levels change, then we’ll either change the dosage or change how often I take it.

    The nurse was so kind. “You’ve done this before, so you know…” she sighed. She’s right. I’ve done it before.

    I’m housebound for a while—no public places, no shopping, no large crowds, no potlucks, make sure all my food is well-prepared, etc. If I get sick, I don’t have what I need to fight it off. I’ve done this before.

    But I’m still discouraged. It’s hard to explain the loneliness today. It’s really not that much different than my Friday would have been, but there’s something about knowing I can’t do things that makes the aloneness harder.

    A friend texted yesterday to check in on me. We had spent Halloween night at their house, our yearly tradition of chili and masquerading and enjoying the neighborhood from their porch together. After I shared with her my news, I told her I didn’t turn to the Lord in this. That it felt better yesterday to wallow instead of wrestle.

    She wrote back: “He’s still there.”

    Oh, y’all. Those three words were the best thing I heard all day.

    He’s still there.

    He’s not going anywhere.

    He’s not leaving me alone even in my aloneness.

    I don’t know what the next couple weeks will look like other than a lot of time at home with my Coopy. I will be very tired, but as my blood strengthens, I’ll get stronger, too.

    My children are scared. My Ash, who is taking Honors Anatomy right now, kept nodding and his eyes got bigger and bigger, as he said, “That’s not good.” because he understands in a whole new way. My Bear just mourned no hugs for Mama (that boy!). My Bella-girl, who is sick with a cold, sat next to me and poured those melt-your-heart crocodile tears. “What if you get sick and your body can’t fight it off? Will you have to go to the hospital? What if IIIIIII make you sick?” Her dear, sweet heart. I ache for her.

    Everyone in my family has been sick this past month. Brian just finished antibiotics. Bella came down with it a few days ago. I, so far, have stayed healthy. We wash a lot of hands, and don’t give hugs (KILLING ME!), and don’t touch each other’s food, and I have masks to wear and eat immune boosting foods.

    We do what we know is wise, and we leave it in the Lord’s hands.

    He’s still there.

    At the end of her crocodile-tear sadness, my girl whispered, almost afraid to ask, “Will you miss my recitations tomorrow? I’m the shadow in Beowulf.” So I showed up late today for recitations and stood in the back, while Brian stood almost protectively in front of me. I wore gloves and a mask, and I watched my girl creep across the stage in all her shadowy glory, and our eyes met at the end, and she smiled softly at me as I slipped back out the door to my car and my home.

    We all feel it. The sadness. The fear. The questions.

    It’s all part of the steps as we fight this disease together. I’ve heard so many stories of women who’ve been on this treatment for years and years and done really well. It just takes time to figure out how my body is going to respond.

    No, we don’t like it. The sadness. The fear. The questions.

    But we also all know it.

    He’s still there.

    And we have hope.

    (Several of you have asked about help we might need. My friend, Angela, is coming over this afternoon so we can talk through care needs, and she will coordinate. If you want to be on the list, just let me know, and I can give her your info. Thank you, friends, for loving, for caring.)

  • Tomorrow Comes

    Today I threw away several pair of fuzzy socks, remnants of a box of comfort a friend sent me over eleven years ago when I began chemo for the first time. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this. I guess because I never thought throwing away socks would bring an ache to my heart—-an ache of gratefulness for the kindness of friends years ago who spoke my love language, an ache of “look how far the Lord has brought me!”, an ache of loss, of feeling like those holey socks: years of wash and wear removing their softness and battering them full of holes. I guess because I feel battered.

    “Weakness is my lot
    Suffering is my prison
    You have chained me to frailty
    I cannot break free”

    I spent yesterday in bed, writhing and throwing up for most of the morning with a migraine. I begged God for relief. I curled into Brian’s arms. I sang through tears as gentle music washed over us, “Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.” I told Brian I wanted my mom, and he texted Ash who had driven his siblings to church. Ash found my parents and they came, and I laid in bed with my hubby and my mama while my daddy stood guard. Then I thought of friends who don’t have a mama to come, and I wept for their loss. It all feels so sad and heavy these days.

    I am stronger today, but very weak. I swept my kitchen floor and then rested. I folded a load of laundry and then rested. I have no idea what I will do next or even if I can. We don’t know if yesterday is because of my new treatment, because of changes in air pressure, because I overdid it the few days before… we just don’t know. All we know is that this is our life. One day I’m mostly fine, the next I’m not. And we continue to ride the tilt-a-whirl.

    “But this prison is your workroom
    and I am your clay
    You are not a jailer
    You are a potter
    I have not been condemned
    I am being molded”

    Ahhh… the tilt-a-whirl. I wrote of it in my last post, and my dear, dear Uncle Sam texted me. He wrote of his love, his prayers, and his memories of that ride as a child, how even when the ride stopped, the car would rock back and forth, back and forth until the attendant came and stopped the car and let them off. He wrote of that feeling of no control. But the attendant… our attendant…

    Oh, y’all. Even on days when I feel well, the car is still rocking. What may seem like control is an illusion. And I look to the attendant, and I wait. One day, the car will stop and my attendant will let me off, only this attendant, our Jesus? He will wrap me in His arms of love and welcome me home. I, like Paul, am hard-pressed between the longing for home and the ache to remain.

    “My weakness is not about what I am enduring
    My weakness is about what I am becoming
    My travail does not preach your anger
    My travail preaches your grace”

    I keenly feel my weakness. I carry the weight of my failures. I grew up in a church culture that screamed of suffering as punishment. It’s a battle to not look at my weakness, my suffering as rebuke. But to see instead the eyes of a Father Who loves me? Who knows that this suffering is molding me and making me? That I can be a vessel of grace?

    Oh, y’all, the beauty of this undoes me. All of this struggle is His grace to me. All of this… His mercy to me. To ME?

    “This prison is your classroom
    I am learning
    Your presence
    I am learning
    Your promises
    I am learning
    Your power
    I am learning
    Your mercy
    I am learning
    Your gospel
    I am learning
    learning
    learning“

    On Thursday night, we drove to Richmond to see Traveling Broadway perform Les Misérables. It was my late birthday gift from Brian. (Side note: I’m so thankful that our whole family loves musical theater and can share in it together. Side note number two: Bear is not in the picture below because he went to see it the same night with the fine arts department of his school.) I took lots of medications to combat side effects in hopes that I would make it through the evening, which I did. And it was such a gift.

    As I sat next to my Ash, he reached over and held my hand, and we cried together. “There is a grief that can’t be spoken…” washed over us, as Marius sang of his friends who had died. “Here they sang about tomorrow, and tomorrow never came.”

    But then… to weep of the hope that comes at the end, of the saints surrounding Jean ValJean as he comes home. “Do you hear the people sing?… It is the future that they bring. When tomorrow comes. Tomorrow comes.”

    Oh, y’all. I’m learning still the language of hope in the midst of this grief that can’t be spoken… of my pain, of the pain I see and hear in other’s stories, of shattered lives. We are all being pieced back together with the gospel. A hope that death cannot conquer. Beyond the barricade of the this world’s struggle… there is hope.

    The tilt-a-whirl spins wildly. We hold on for dear life. It rocks and sickens. It will slow to a stop. And our attendant will come.

    “The darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”

    Tomorrow comes.

    The eternal tomorrow.

    (I sob as I write this.)

    “Beyond the barricade
    Is there a world you long to see?”

    Tomorrow comes, y’all.

    I am learning.

    It comes.

    (Excerpts from his poem, “Weak,” by Paul David Tripp)

  • Riding the Tilt-A-Whirl

    The past couple weeks have passed in a bleary haze of either pain medication, nightmarish dreams or tears. I am struggling to put to words the answer to the kind questions y’all ask—“How are you? What have you learned? What do you need? What is the plan for treatment?”

    A week before my surgery, I started in on my new treatment regimen. I wrote of that. Of the horror of the injections… of the infusion day… of the oral chemo. Y’all, I can’t describe the mental battle I was going through each day when I would pour those six orange horse pills into their prescription bottle lid (because I am to avoid touching them if I can). To ingest them knowing how I would feel? How do I?

    I can’t.

    Those words have repeated in my mind like a vinyl record that has hit a scratch. I felt stuck. Hopeless.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    The treatment gave me an itchy, red, and sometimes oozy rash on my face and feet. Fatigue overcame, and I struggled with a malaise that would find me curled in a ball on the couch saying to myself, “Just one foot on the floor. Just start with one foot on the floor. You can do it. You can.” This would take an hour. How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    Last Monday my surgery went well. The nurse who prepped me was quite the interesting character. I’m not sure I’ve been called “Lovey” before and definitely not the number of times she called me that in the space of the hour she was with me. Lying on my bed, IV started and saline pumping, I texted my parents to give my love to my children… all the while fighting the dreaded fear of “what if I don’t wake up?” How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    The surgery went fine. They weren’t able to remove the whole lesion because it’s not encapsulated and is invasive. They rushed me (and I mean RUSHED me) through recovery—I do not exaggerate, y’all. I couldn’t form a complete sentence and they were telling me to put my clothes on. What. The. Heck? Brian slowed them down a bit, and I was eventually on my way home to warm blankets and pillows and a snuggly pup and Mama and Daddy who took care of every detail so I could just rest and recover.

    Recovery went well. Friends brought meals and the postman brought letters of encouragement and my phone rang to welcome the voices of far away friends and Friday I ventured out to have lunch with dear, dear friends who drove an hour and a half just to be with us. I can’t tell y’all how it feels, to be loved this way. How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    Dealing with recovery along with side effects from my new treatment was breaking me. There were days where I couldn’t stop crying, and when I thought of walking through those cancer center doors again, I crumbled. The phone rang on Wednesday of last week, and it was my oncologist. “We’re stopping the injections.” Those were here first words to me. “A little birdie called me today, and you need to heal from all you’ve been through, and your body will not heal and fight if your mind and emotions remain this fragile. We will find another way.”

    Y’all. That birdie was my husband—my husband who has had more work on his plate at his office in the last year than I’ve ever seen. Whose stress level is off the charts. He took the time to call and advocate for his wife in a way that shows his undying love for me. I called him, and when I heard his voice, I sobbed. “Thank you.” Was all I could whisper. “I can’t say more right now. Just thank you.” How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    My nights have been a haze of panic attacks and nightmares (I’ve had 30-plus needles stuck into my body in the last four weeks.) When the fear screams and the lies distort reality, I can battle them during the day. I can open my Bible and I can turn on music and I can listen to truth. I can call a friend and sob over the voices that belittle me into thinking I am weak and worthless and a horrible wife and mother who’s unable to be present for her family and never there for my friends and that I should be able to handle all this. (Oh, y’all, I could write a whole post on how horrible the word “should” is.) But at night? When I fall to sleep and experience the panic in monstrous ways? How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    On Tuesday I walked through those cancer center doors again. I talked with husky, tear-filled voice to those dear nurses who stopped by my chair. My oncologist was away for the week, so I saw one of her partners, who gave an update…

    Y’all, I have described it to a few friends this way—-my life feels like I’m riding a tilt-a-whirl only there is no lap belt and there is no middle bar to hold onto.

    My cancer has morphed. It is definitely spread in my neck and my abdomen. It is still breast cancer, but one of the identifying proteins has changed from positive to negative. So all the treatment plans are thrown out the window, and we will begin anew with a treatment for this specific type of breast cancer. My world spun. What? To process this information? How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    I am off all treatment until next week. The rash is fading and my strength is returning. I will see my oncologist on Thursday, and we will begin a new regimen. This one will all be oral. Two separate drugs taken once a day. I don’t know much more than that. A few things to expect—-nausea, fatigue and low white blood cell counts. But it is a hopeful treatment in studies. The oncology pharmacist told me to remember I am never a statistic with God (he is such a kind man). Don’t look at the statistics. How do I?

    I can’t.

    And yet.

    We move forward.

    Y’all. I feel my weakness so keenly. All my weakness. I ache. My bones. My mind. My heart. We live in a world that deafens with the message that we can pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. That we are strong. That we are overcomers. That whatever you dream you can do. Y’all. If getting through this were about me and my strength, I would never have survived as long as I have. I need to hear the truth that in my weakness, He is strong. That when I take those steps forward, it is because He is holding me. That His grip on me never loosens. That no…

    I can’t.

    But. He. can.

    Look at how He has answered all the fears I’ve faced in the past month!

    How far is it spreading? My bones and organs all still clear!

    Should I do the abdominal surgery? Without it they wouldn’t have found my cancer has evolved, and my treatment wouldn’t be targeted correctly.

    How can I walk into the cancer center for those injections again? An oncologist who understands the need for every part of our body to be well, and who looks for other ways.

    What if I don’t make it through surgery? I am here with my loves today. I am curling up late with Brian and making suppers and laughing around the dinner table and helping with projects and going to parent-teacher conferences and painting toenails and listening to her read the stories she’s written and driving to meetings and having long conversations with my teenage boys that melt this mama’s heart. (Look at this girl’s work space! She is my kindred spirit. An old soul, and she drives me wild with crazy mama love.)

    There are still so many unknowns. I walk with a heaviness that often weighs me down. There is routinely a lump in my throat as I go about my day. There is a loneliness to suffering that I can’t quite wrap my words around. I don’t know what it is like to be blind, but I have heard that all your other senses are heightened. And y’all, I can tell you this, that in the darkness of trial, the taste of suffering is very bitter. But the sweetness of God’s goodness? It melts over the heart, not removing the struggle, but covering it, healing it, and giving strength.

    No. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Honestly, I fear it. I fear the next procedure, the next treatments, the next side effects, the what ifs. I will pick up those pills and swallow them, and I will fight this cancer. I will cry. I will wrestle. I will struggle. I will question whether I can.

    But this I will know.

    He can.

    And in His strength, I… we… will move forward.

  • Nextiva

    Nextiva is one of the best business phone services out there due to its flexible pricing and strong feature set. With our competitive pricing and features, we deliver value-added services, and we continue to be an industry leader. The Phone Call Recorder is one of the best apps you can use to record phone calls. With Phone Call Recorder, you have control over the quality of the calls you take. Want to get further ifnormation? visit homepage here!

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